i have zero interest in brawling anyone.
|# ? Jan 29, 2015 18:45|
|# ? Dec 4, 2021 05:21|
Line crit from Black Metal Week for Benny Profane.
Prompt: Dreams of Apocalyptic Parasite
HIT PROMPT? Pretty much (Dreams of Apocalyptic Parasite)
WORD COUNT? Yes
RANGE OF EMOTIONS? Pretty much
FLASH RULE? Hit (Someone speaks one word too many)
Overall thoughts: With only a few minor issues, this is a well-written, enjoyable story that hits the prompt nicely. I suspected when I read it that you'd go far in Thunderdome - grats on your HM in Spaceship Week by the way. However, there's not much in the way of conflict/resolution. This was an HM candidate for me as I'm a stickler for grammar, clarity and good sentence construction, but in the eyes of the other judges that wasn't enough to save it from a slightly lacklustre story.
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 01:45|
Thank you Maugrim -- that was definitely worth the wait, I really appreciate the careful critique and I agree with every point you've raised here.
Oxford comma 4 lyfe.
e: vvvvv Thanks for the linecrit, Seb, lots of really helpful stuff in there. Much appreciated!
Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 15:47 on Jan 30, 2015
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 02:17|
DreamingofRoses: The Farewell
I gave this an A- on my first read which I suspect was overgenerous. Let's see... huh. Okay so you start out with a bland opening followed by a catch-up infodump which makes me frown a little; I think you could have found a better way than flashback summary to present all the parts of the story where stuff actually happens. But there's a strong throughline to the story and it actually has some decent emotional juice, so I will knock you down to a B+ and a firm approbatory nod.
Asap-salafi: Its fire torments it
ok so poison, drinking, dead, sad, blood, oh fee fee, wtf. 'and he suddenly realised for a second that his little brother was a real monster, he was, as the people called him: FEE FEE... THE MONSTER...' dude this is star wars opening crawl level pompous and the rest is just laughably bad too. Your characters are damp cardboard, the plot is nonsensical, basically nothing happens. Also: Don't do flashbacks ; try and get the hang of writing where one thing happens and then another thing happens and you aim to only make the reader burst out in gales of hysterical laughter when you're writing something funny on purpose, k C-, downgraded to D
Bad Ideas Good: The Baker of Lagash
The strange foreign rhythm to your words in this, which I find weirdly charming, does not overcome the essential pointlessness of this tale. Have characters that face problems and overcome them rather than just surrender to them, not because everything needs a happy ending, but because it's just more interesting to read. C-
Jonked: The Citadel of Dwarves
Hey Jonked how ya doing. I really hated this on my first read because you appeared to be trying and failing to do a blank verse rhythm, and that's still true, but I'm coming round to my co-judges view that this really isn't too bad as a rumpy dump tale of vaguely lovecraftian spelunking. One thing; don't use 'did' to make your lines work, it's terribly clunky, just rephrase. You've also got a bunch of infelicities, badly chosen words and tense errors, but I'm revising this from a D to a C+
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 03:46|
Some linecrits for flash rule havers
Prompt: Dreams of Apocalyptic Parasite
Prompt: The Miasma and the Leprosy
The Farewell (1,000 words)
The Sweet Smell of Success
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 08:09 on Jan 30, 2015
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 07:08|
And last batch of judgeburps
chthonic bell: Defilers of dark corpses
Camp necromancers having hijinks is an under-served niche and this is a sterling example of the genre; lots of good specificity in the words, and the world building is gracefully incorporated or hinted at as required. not sure the choice of present tense adds much, though. A-, probably not far off an HM
Walamor: Screaming at Hecate
DEMONAX. man that really is a fun word to type and there's some layers of meaning there too (because he hits demons with an ax). This has a sort of lollopy charm and the characters are all sort of derp derp invading hell and then it sort of just stops and goes back to the start? I was somewhat puzzled and in a story this straightforward that shouldn't be happening. I chuckled at wasting Charon the boatman, though surely someone would have thought of that before? Maybe not, death is p stressful. B
Dr idle: Glorious Altars of the Blood-Red Insanity
here is a list of things you should improve for your next story: 1. have consistent tenses 2. spaces between your paragraphs 3. not having an entire pointless first section that could be cut without hurting the story 4. not have an entire second section that could be cut without hurting the story 5. not have a baffling out of nowhere hard left into fantasyville in the third section D-
JABC: The Choices of Dead Men
Huh, this is actually p tight JABC. A nicely sketched character duel, and well-delivered mythic tone that sits comfortably with the good detail choice, and ending on a nice ambiguous image. A-
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 07:58 on Jan 30, 2015
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 07:51|
hey last minute spaceship buddy
gently caress. I thought it was 4 PM my time, not 3. gently caress.
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 09:40|
In with The Pied Piper of Hamelin
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 15:43|
Thank you to everyone who has critted my works these past few weeks.
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 18:42|
And last batch of judgeburps
Wow, thanks! I'm happy to see improvement from where I was when I started.
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 19:00|
Roughly twelve hours to sign your name in The Storybook of Legends~
|# ? Jan 30, 2015 19:41|
Thanks for the crits, and I hope I can use the advise to write better stories. If I can get steady access to wifi I'll eventually try to do some line crits -- it's hard to post them on my phone.
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 01:27|
Signups closed (three hours ago).
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 11:23|
As penance for my sins of terrible writing and toxxing myself I will do line crits on any story requested for the next 5 people who ask.
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 15:24|
As penance for my sins of terrible writing and toxxing myself I will do line crits on any story requested for the next 5 people who ask.
Do my last story? It was for Anathema's competition week
Mercedes fucked around with this message at 21:23 on Jan 31, 2015
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 19:08|
Goddamn double post.
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 19:08|
As penance for my sins of terrible writing and toxxing myself I will do line crits on any story requested for the next 5 people who ask.
You can tear into my story from last week, if you'd like. I'd appreciate it!
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 20:40|
As penance for my sins of terrible writing and toxxing myself I will do line crits on any story requested for the next 5 people who ask.
I'd appreciate your thoughts on mine from last week. I'll be happy to critique one of yours in return
|# ? Jan 31, 2015 20:43|
"What are you going to do when you see her, Miska?" Salasar asks as he pulls tight on his harness straps, his body sinking deep into the command chair. He's slotting a neural jack into his wrist, the long cable running out from a mirrored connector near the center of the monitors of the blossom-like glass cockpit. Monitors like polychromatic petals set into the spherical cockpit's front. He slides his visor down.
This is an alright opening. The dialogue I feel shouldn’t be there. The description of his actions are interesting enough to make me want to read without prompting from a question that is fairly obvious in its setting up of the plot.
"Dunno yet, I think I'll flip a coin," I say as I kick off from the cockpit and drift backwards into the cabin.
“Between flatlining her or kissing her? Second choice seems a bit hard, buttoned up,” Salasar adds.
“I'm about to jack you an orbital superiority vehicle. I like to think I'm resourceful.”
This is a fun little interplay between these two characters. Sets up who the protagonist is well.
Red light bathes two squads of boarders, suited for EVA and breach. Strapped to them are null-recoil rifles of a dozen different makes, and they trade chatter. The robotic drones not locked-in for the burn are crawling towards their slots – their sleek, insectoid bodies folding up, maneuvering jets firing to seat them into the hull. Soon, AR displays over every passenger read green, just as I find an empty seat and pull myself in.
Interesting enough. I’m curious to know more about the drones, do they fight or are they like UAVs? Let’s see if I find out.
“But, I might wind up doing both,” I say, pulling the harness overhead. Cold bodies and hot bodies all around me, squared away. AR reads everything's secure. “We're locked in Sal, prepped for boarding.”
“About time. We're dropping out of spacial disrupt in t-minus five minutes: in geosync, right on top of the O.S.V.” The circular door to the cabin lazily closes, the levers on it wheeling shut. “Venting atmo. If you're not sealed, you deserve to suffocate,” he says, as the HUD sensors verify dropping pressure with a sinking bar.
This sentence reads fairly clunky. It’s steeped with language that people familiar with Sci Fi would know or would they assume they know, but the jargon doesn’t help the flow. Describing what it is wouldn’t help either. I get that is what the characters would use since they are in universe, but as a reader it’s a bit disorienting to read.
Body to my right is named Lacam, and he's cracking his knuckles. Red diagonal lines run across the matte, dark gray of his ballistic plating. To my left, Asja, mouthing silent lyrics behind his visor, dark features lit by helmet readouts.
Alright you’re setting up some minor characters and Lacam is the brute and Asja is maybe the smart rear end or the coward? I like the description of Asja more than Lacam’s.
Nerve rituals, over the shrinking seconds. Mine's double-checking the cybernetics – eye lenses focusing, tracking my own fingers waved in front of me, musculature diagnostics running as slight twitches in my body. I hold off on the surge. Two minutes of waiting don't need to seem longer, even if they're my last.
The first sentence is a little unwieldy. If you say it aloud it doesn’t flow well.
“Mommaship says t-minus sixty seconds,” echoes Salasar.
At that, I reach for the NR Rifle, unlocking it from its rest, pulling it tight to my chest. “Salasar?” I ask, in those last seconds.
“Thank you. I owe you a fuckton,” I say, seeing the timer run through the thirty sec mark, the numbers flashing red. The hull shakes from final correction burns. Asja is holding his hands out, supplicating a power not here.
“Ha. Yeah, well,” Salasar replies, interrupted by a deep breath. “Nobody refuses Dead Pirate Queen Miska and lives for long.” Ten seconds, with a low frequency tremor, or hum ringing in my molars and the bolts in my bones.
I say, comms off, “nobody agrees with Dead Pirate Queen Miska and lives for long.”
So our protagonist is some badass pirate queen. I feel like you could add to her character a bit more with her “pre game” ritual to build this up.
A shockwave of numbness pushes through me from back to front as the warp field collapses, my breath following it out of me. Before I can gasp back, a hard clank tremors through the dropship fuselage – magclamps disengaging – before I'm shoved via inertia into my seat. Engines roar to send the dropship spinning down towards the target. The boarders around me yell and whoop over prox comms. I'm breathing through clenched teeth. Smiling.
I like this. It shows even though she’s done this so much it still gives her the satisfaction of knowing she has survived when the dropship succeeds.
We're accelerating continuously from the park. G's tug at my softer insides, but the synthetic musculature and dermal weaving just sits there. For these moments, parts of me that felt a part of me for decades feel alien, invasive, and heavy.
You should remove the bit about the synthetic staying still. The next sentence does the same thing without being as showy.
“Getting chop! Shi-” ends Salasar as my visceral introspection ends and holes flash open through the foreward hull, flak lancing through the plating. Comms fill with screaming. Wall panels vanish in chunks as if devoured by ravenous creatures. Slamming my fist down into the emergency release button, the harness bursts off me and I kick out of my seat, pulling at a corpse's head to fling myself free of this larger target.
Naked freefall, with the world Iberya and rocket exhaust trails spinning around me. Guidance jets on my suit fire and I'm wrenched back into a more stable trajectory – almost lose grip on the NRR.
Don’t invest so much in thinking your reader still remembers that your word for a gun is NRR. If you can call it a gun just call it a gun.
Iberya itself is thousands of kilometers to my right, with my feet pointed down towards the dagger-silhouette of the target O.S.V – and I'm falling towards it. On my left also down, the kill-drifting dropship – glittering micro-bursts of jet fire signal drone dispersion and other survivors fleeing the wreck. I look up, and 'above' me is that industrial chimera that was once a warp-cradle and a dozen other freighters and combat vessels – Mommaship.
Your descriptions of where things are in relation to the character are a bit confusing. On my left also down, is a very hard statement to understand while reading a story. Maybe below me and on my left would work better.
Twitch the right way, and the jets on my back fire hard, accelerating towards the O.S.V.
“Reaver squad, Brigand squad, mission is still go,” I yell over comms and under silent rocket launches, from both the Mothership and the O.S.V. “Drones, hit point defense. Meat, rally at point bravo,” bravo being midcraft, nearest the CIC.
“Reaver and Brigand consolidating. If we want to take this ship, we move as one,” barks Antom, second down the chain on Reaver. Thrusters cut out when I hit a suicide velocity. “Drones are away. Where are you Miska?”
I like that you refer to the infantry grunts as meat. It’s a nice little touch.
I fly past their hardsuits. Fifteen boarders, with green IFF. “On the way,” I tell them, looking up, seeing them firing jets to follow. Shimmering dots, also with faint green auras, denote the drones already on their strike – either launching micromissiles to remove point defenses in brief flashes of fire and shrapnel or just slamming into them.
Okay I know what IFF is because I’m a nerd and play ArmA and Combat Mission, but your audience might not. Maybe explain what the acronym means Clancy style or use another way to describe it.
Orbital space around us grows laced with railcannon slugs and rocket fire – Mommaship behind us aiming for weapons emplacements on the O.S.V, and at Kinetic Support Vehicles further ahead and behind us, nearer the zenith and nadir, but the O.S.V. Is making killshots – trying to find a single bridge to hit and decapitate the vessel.
Again the heavy use of jargon pulls me out of what is supposed to be a cool scene of ships duking it. The kinetic support vehicles is what brought me out this time. Were they introduced earlier?
It looms ahead of us, no longer some delicately suspended stiletto, but a massive sword of Damocles hanging over the planet. Red collision warnings blink on my helmet and I twitch on the reverse thrust, engaging the mag-boots. Antom performs some haptic gesture, and the drones start consolidating around where we're set to hit – seven of them, crawling on the O.S.V's bleached hull, making a perimeter around the airlock.
This is slick. This is what more of your action scenes and descriptions should be like.
Bracing for impact, we hit the hull heavy, magboots holding us tight. The surviving of Reaver and Brigand move in for breach, and I open the access panel. Pulling an interface jack from the suit's wrist, I signal for them to get ready.
Jack in, drop the digital payload: an exploit-based ICE-Breaker lancing through the security systems and freezing the status changes. Malware tricks the system into giving us access clearance, and the airlock cycles open – the double-slab door with diagonal seam splits, a cough of lingering atmosphere spitting out. We file in silently – four drones, five troops from Brigand, me leading.
This is great! You introduced your new idea of ICE-Breaker unobtrusively and show it’s function without over detailing it!
“Make for engineering,” I order, “and look for the onboard server. Use your copies of the ICE-Breaker to gain access, then you can get control of power and manually control the thrusters.” Asja nods, still alive, drawing his rifle as pressure equalizes, and the door opens into the hull. Tubular access ways, filled with low-intensity white light. I take point.
No targets behind or ahead, and I wave clear, before pulling on a hand-hold and launching myself towards the CIC, fore, pulling two drones with me via silent comm command, and then directing them ahead. They obey, crawling on the walls as I drift down the corridor. Impacts rattle through the hull.
When I drift close enough to the CIC to hear the orders chatter and situation reports, I hit the surge. Time slows to a crawl, the drifting lazier, and every sound and motion sluggish – save for mine, cybernetic muscles keeping pace with the adrenal-analogue flush dumping ice over my nervous system. I pull the rifle up, micro-thrust balancing me out as I aim into the room – drones jetting inside.
So that is what surge is. Neat. This was a cool payoff after you mentioned it in passing during the prep for the drop.
The room is spherical, every surface either covered in digital screens or processor housing, chairs are held in position facing the walls of the chamber by struts jutting from between glowing monitors. Keyboards and control elements line arm rests, and the crew manning them are in uniform vac suits. Long, black hair flows subtly over the back of the Captain's chair, disturbed the moment one of the other officers yell.
He doesn't get the chance to finish a word – I fire a round through his shoulder, gas jets on the rifle pushing down and forward, to stay level. The drones jet into the middle of the room, barrels clicking out of their angled body housing.
“Cataliona?” I ask through the suit's speaker, from the entrance to the CIC, activating the mag-boots to stand on the access ring. That current of hair in the command chair shifts again, and her shoulder leads her head moving out from in front of it. Silver rank bars gleam on her epaulettes. And she has a scar now, right on her cheek, the rest of her face wearing something that's not shock or surprise, darkened against the bright monitors behind her.
A solid introduction to the character. I assume gave her the scar or led her to getting it.
“Miska?” she asks, in a whisper. “Miska, you bitch!” she yells, slapping the harness release and pushing herself out of the seat. She grabs the back of it and flips herself around, drawing a pistol. I pull the trigger before she can aim, another crack sounding in the chamber, her gun blasted out of her hand and slamming into one of the monitors, shattering it. The force twisted her finger, leaving it bleeding.
Her response seems a little childish given who she is as a character.
“I was about to tell you to not do anything stupid,” I say, glancing back at the other CIC officers – they stare, unmoving. I signal to the drones to cover the access corridor, and they rocket past me, leaving the glowing room and its drops of glinting blood. “Too late for that.”
“Oh, me not try anything stupid? You stage a single-ship assault on an O.S.V. In the middle of a planetary assault -”
“And now I have my hand wrapped around its throat, do I not?” I'm not sure if she even cares about the pain – nothing betraying injury, save for itself and micro-tremors in the arm. “I'm getting you out of here, before you write yourself into a bad chapter of history.”
“At least I'm writing it, now!” she yells back, pushing her thumb against her dark blue breastplate. “I have my life and a place in a newer order. You just keep dying, over and over. You loving zombie. Do you even have a face anymore? A heart?” She's baring her fangs, hot tears in her eyes. “Can you even bleed?”
Alright we’re getting to the heart of the story now. Cybernetics and what they do to humanity. I want to give you some credence by saying you did a good job of building up the tenuous relationship between man and machine.
I keep my gun trained on them, force a deathgrip to steady aim as I unseal and pull free my helmet. Eye to eye, now with only an ironsight between us.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Who cares?” I ask, letting the helmet go as another seismic rattle rings through the hull. “Better dead or alive than just one more tool. You're too smart Cataliona – you know they're going to put all the blood this unifacation war has spilled on your hands. Toss you out like a spent mag.”
“What option did I have? They offered me a pardon. A position! More than you and your frozen corpse did in a decaying orbit over Mandala!”
You’re dumping a lot of exposition right before the end of the story. It’s bogging down what should be the crescendo.
I pull a coin out from an empty pouch, as the heart I still have starts to get tight, empty. I fling it up against a flat surface – calling the sides silently, until it clinks off and ricochets back. I grab it, then look down, opening it – a leering bust of some long dead conqueror judging me.
I let go of the rifle, klick off the mag boots and kick myself towards Cataliona. She swings a punch at my face and I take the sting, water in my eyes burning before I shut them, grab her, and kiss. She struggles, with one arm. She bites my lip. There's the taste of metal.
“Stand down,” she orders.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 01:54|
Critiques for Week CXXIII: The Surreal Life
I don't blame you guys for how little I liked this week. Well, not entirely. The prompt asked you to tackle a genre many of you probably hadn't tried before, and while the lack of experience showed all over the place, in almost every case there was a clear attempt to meet the challenge. These crits address how close I thought you came to the prompt, but landing to the left of surrealism didn't hurt anyone very much. Failing to tell a comprehensible story was another matter!
No matter how well you did, it's cool that you gave something an unusual a try. It's unfortunate that sometimes broadening your writing horizons means falling flat on your face.
December Octopodes, "Time Traveler's Bastard 1117 Words"
What happens: A man discovers that he's his own father through time-travel hijinks and erases his existence because ??
This entry ended up being representative of the general quality of the week. That's not a compliment. Except for Billy, your characters didn't behave like real people. Jane decided to cheat on her husband with Sam on the basis of twenty-nine total and banal words exchanged. Sam--in the middle of a migraine!--went along with it because...? Clearly he was as dumb as a bag of hair, but he didn't feel anything about his situation when he was confronted with a weirdo trying to pick him up, when there was another weirdo in his lap, or when he woke up in the past/present/future. What was supposed to have happened there, by the way? Did he travel backward in time to meet Billy, or did he wake up in the future? It read like the latter, but getting his mom pregnant with himself would have had to involve going back to the past. Making everything confusing isn't the key to surrealism; there should still be a story with meaning underneath all the weird. In this case, there wasn't.
Most of the story was bland dialogue. If you'd dropped some of the chitchat and focused on what Sam thought and felt, maybe you would have escaped the DM, since you had a vaguely comprehensible sequence of events even if they did amount to a dumb version of Back to the Future.
****** ****** ******
ZeBourgeoisie, "The Steel Castle"
What happens: In this close cousin to systran's "Aliya's Hat," the protagonist is programmed by pills rather than by headgear, but a puppy still dies. He breaks through his programming long enough to waltz with a vat of goo because a dog told him to.
I'd guess you shoehorned your situation prompt in rather than letting it shape the story. The dog dream had so little to do with anything else. I don't see what the instructor intended to accomplish by killing the puppy, and unfortunately, that bit was strongly reminiscent of systran's better work; the judges who'd read that one picked up on the similarity right away. The dog's connection to the vat of gel was vague at best, much like the nature of the gel, what its purpose was, etc. Why did Lance have to be driven mad with pills in order to work with it? The end would perhaps have been more powerful if the goo hadn't been so generic.
The motif was one of a man escaping into love and madness from a world that wanted him to be a neurotypical/properly programmed/emotionless cog in a factory machine. Like his goo, he'd been changed by chemicals. As with his goo, there was almost nothing else to him. That premise was more ambitious and interesting than the mother-boinking-time-traveler escapade it followed, but too much of it came off as a scrambled mess of weird that didn't cohere.
****** ****** ******
What happens: Two parents work together to get through the trial and ritual of their baby's first birthday.
The narrator and Jen were believable--if stereotypical--parents, with the narrator concerned about how much it cost to keep his son placated and Jen always indulgent. The idea conveyed by the story was the clearest yet: the parents gave their child gifts that reflected their dreams for him, but he grew out of them and into his own path. Not a new idea, but it had some heart. I liked the way it ended even though I kept picturing Tom Hanks in Big.
You overdid it with the weirdness, though. Some of the elements, like buying the baby wads of cash (with what?), the baby as an accountant (which doesn't match the ending), the open-pit-mine cake, and the 'rites according to custom' were superfluous weird for weird's sake; they were unsubtle reminders that things were SURREAL! Bleah. Still, you had enough human feeling to provide contrast, and the story was among the best of the early entries as a result.
****** ****** ******
SurreptitiousMuffin, "the watchers from on high"
What happens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YvAYIJSSZY
It would have been surreal if you hadn't had some of the clearest, smoothest writing of the lot. Your strange visuals were appropriate to the mood and theme. Centering your story on Gee Men may have been a mistake, though, because right from the start Trevor came off as a paranoid who could well have been hallucinating all of it. When somebody believes government agencies are reading his thoughts through his phone, I no longer assume anything he thinks he sees or hears is real. That hamstrung the effect. Worse, 'we are being watched' is a worn, tepid theme. You didn't do much new with it beyond the televised announcements that Trevor peed himself and couldn't get it up. As much as a relief as it was to read a well-written piece clean of pointless weird, this was on the dull side: competent, but not that much more.
Your use of your prompt was fantastic, though--I laughed when I checked it after reading the story, and maybe more specific personal taunts from the intrusive world, less about databanks and Gee Men and waterboards, could have livened up the premise with dark humor. In any event you gave us a story of strangeness that we could read and understand without wishing for sweet death, and that got you into the top five, easily.
****** ****** ******
Roguelike, "The Court of Last Resort"
What happens: Cards both existent and nonexistent gamble with chess pieces, the winner determined by who has the best move (Alekhine's Gambit, etc.). Somehow the outcome of the gamble is tied to justice; 'hands'--or moves, or whatever they are--are verdicts. Or juries. Something like that. The Four of Clubs is a straight cop in what one supposes must be a dirty world, although its dirtiness is an informed attribute. He plays against four characters with more than a whiff of Alice in Wonderland about them in an attempt to win a case that will determine... something. Even though he wins, he loses. TL;DR: Damned if I know.
I'm tempted to let this crit be nothing but a series of ellipses.
There was just enough here to convince me you were trying to tell some sort of story. Nothing was quite purple-monkey-dishwasher levels of random. It was damned close, though, and if you didn't throw a whole deck's worth of ideas at the wall in hopes something would stick, you did a bang-up job of simulating it. Disjointed, dull, toeing the line of fanfic, and badly formatted just to add insult to injury, this was the rare confusing piece that I didn't care to try and untangle. Maybe there were deep references amidst all the jargon; maybe they flew right over my head. It didn't and doesn't matter. I wasn't even slightly intrigued.
Four's allergy to losing--or to bad luck; I couldn't tell which, but then they were one and the same in this context--didn't matter either. I'd be startled if you didn't shove it into a story you wanted (for some reason) to write anyway.
Maybe you took the phrase 'deliberately defy the rational' too much to heart and didn't figure we'd need to a breadcrumb trail of logic to follow. I sympathize, but for a story so chaotic to also be so boring was a mortal sin.
****** ****** ******
Hammer Bro., "Going Home"
What happens: A nucleoside tries to get home in time to eat tacos with his wife and child, but caffeine interferes.
I can tell you exactly what I thought when I realized I was going to have to dig through Wikipedia to learn more about Adenosine, its chemical formula, its relation to caffeine, and what Sera and Endo might have represented: Again? If I've ever said anything to give the impression that requiring research in order to sort out your stories is a good thing, I apologize for that grave disservice. This answer to your mundane situation is cute and a little bit clever; it would have been more clever if it had been more clear. There was a dab of human feeling in Aden's desire to have tacos with his family. Your molecule or whatever he was came off as more human than some of the week's homo sapiens protagonists. I liked it at least a tad. The story told wasn't worth the extra work at all, however; not much happened, and Aden's opposition dissolved, so he won through by no particular virtue of his own. The Persephone story had interesting ideas underneath the hood. This one was comparatively bland.
Does looking clever matter more to you than telling a story? You make some of your entries difficult to appreciate, apparently on purpose. Maybe that's not your intent. Maybe you're aiming to teach while you tell, but you keep going beyond what an average reader should be expected to know and failing to put in enough context. You have wit and inventiveness on your side, though, so I'm glad you keep submitting even if I occasionally want to strangle you.
****** ****** ******
blue squares, "A Ticket to the Fair"
What happens: A pretentious snob returns to his rural roots to report on the Illinois State Fair, and he sees stereotypes everywhere he looks. As he gulps down food, he transforms into a stereotype himself, but he realizes that the fat hicks around him are courteous, friendly, and happy. End result: he stops being ashamed of his Midwestern heritage.
The story nearly drowned in the inaccurate stereotypes, more's the pity. I see what you were going for, or I believe I do: you set the protagonist up as so scornful of the people around him that his epiphanies came as a welcome surprise, and the ending gave the story a warm glow. Some of the stereotypes you put in the story couldn't be chalked up only to the main character's perception, though. Having spent a lot of time with my family in rural Indiana, I'm fairly sure that sweet tea, cowboy hats, and cowboy boots are much more Southern than Midwestern. My kin confirmed when I asked them that rural Illinois isn't like that. I hope it goes without saying that random gay slurs aren't an everyday game among Midwest children. It could be that, like the food conveyor belt, the exaggeration was part of the surreality, but meh. You didn't go far beyond generalizations I've seen elsewhere. Like your tone and use of ten-cent vocabulary, it's heavy handed, but not enough so to ring with absurdity.
The first line stolen from David Foster Wallace was absurd in a bad way. Cite the source if you're going to copy that directly, even for a joke.
Those were the weaknesses I saw in the work, but it was one of my favorites nevertheless, because it incorporated the situation, used surreality in service of story, had an arc, and was not at any point a bunch of nonsense for the sake of nonsense. I enjoyed reading it more than I did most of the other things on the table. The ending redeemed to a significant degree the things that bugged me early on. It would have been too sweet if he'd gone back home to stay. You let him remain a New Yorker, and I like that as much as I do his recognition of value in a lifestyle he had held in contempt. This would have been stronger if you hadn't tried to ride piggyback on another author's style, but even as it stands it does you credit.
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theblunderbuss, "A Minute's Silence"
What happens: In an obvious monkey's-paw deal, a man agrees to a free trial of peace and quiet. It turns out that you can't relate to people you tune out, and Jones cancels his subscription.
A few stories this week were what I ended up calling Yet Another Cutesy Twilight Zone Episode. Here's the first. This story is so TZ it hurts. Other than the vast excess of scene breaks--you split fewer than 1,200 words into nine scenes! Nine!--there was nothing wrong with the writing. Despite the specific mention of magic that took this away from surrealism and into contemporary dark fantasy, I got into it after the first scene. I stayed interested through scenes two, three, and four... but then it dragged long. The ticker tape made no sense as it didn't follow logically from the salesman's promise of silence. (I know, I know: surreal. The absurdity was otherwise so low-key though that this stuck out as ill-fitting garnish.) Jones did jack to solve his problem beyond telling the salesman no, and the salesman didn't fight him, so the story didn't offer much struggle or accomplishment. It was an Aesop with the subtlety of a gallumphing wildebeest. On top of all of that, it was predictable; the sum of these parts was a yawn.
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Paladinus, "One Painful Visit to a Doctor and a Peculiar Journey within and without a Single Room"
What happens: A doctor and a patient who might just be the same person ramble at each other about pain. God confronts them because ?? and lectures them for a bit before disappearing. Everybody who hasn't read Roguelike's story wonders how this didn't lose.
I speculate that half-drugged philosophical exchanges are better suited to college lounges after midnight than to flash fiction. Much of this was dialogue between two insufferable characters/two sides of one insufferable character, and when God came in, He was insufferable too. Even if everything had been as clear as a crystal bell this would not have been fun to read. But it wasn't clear! I think, based on what God said, the debate over whose name was Joshua, the debate over who felt the pain, the Doctor's compulsion to punch the Patient, and a few other points, that the Doctor and the Patient were the same man; the Room may have been the inside of his head. That would explain how the two could have been one and yet also have seemed physically distinct. The clues pointing in that direction were the only thing I liked about the work, so I hope the reading is correct. If it is, I got what you were going for more than I understood what Roguelike was trying to say. Roguelike thus got my loss vote by a razor-thin margin.
This is a terrible story. I'm rooting for you, though, Paladinus. Sometimes there's something in your work, a good idea or a thoughtful interpretation of a prompt, that makes me want to like it. In this case, I dug the concept of two men fighting as it was slowly revealed they were the same man caught in a pattern of self-hate--assuming that was ever the idea. The tedious talking and lack of logic anywhere killed it dead, but at least you had something worth your effort. So keep writing. Keep trying to improve.
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Nethilia, "Take a Chance"
What happens: Leon's childhood friend, Monica, wins a wish with a scratch-off ticket and uses it to kill her abusive husband, leaving her free to be with the guy who has pined for her all these years. It's less exciting than it sounds.
Yet Another Cutesy Twilight Zone Episode. There were no surprises, and the conclusion was as saccharine as rock candy dipped in molasses. The aim in terms of genre was probably magical realism rather than surrealism, but the Make a Wish! tickets were straight-up magic, used for an end that was expected, dull, and trite. Everyone in this piece was a role more than a character: the Concerned Love-in-Waiting, the Sweet Woman Who Naively Married an Abuser, the Eeeevil Husband. Monica was incredibly open about Rudy beating her for a woman who'd hidden it until then. It read to me as too casual; her spirit didn't seem broken; she didn't seem angry; she didn't seem frightened. I'd wonder if she manipulated Leon for pity, except she couldn't have known she would win the scratch-off and be able to land him as a replacement husband. I suspect this was a serious misfire of whatever mood you were going for.
That she bounced right from her relationship with Rudy to kissing Leon was mildly distasteful to me, gesture of kindness or not, old friends or not. Take some time to sort yourself and your kids out first, woman! The ease with which she changed tracks fed into my impression of her as a woman who could have left her rear end in a top hat spouse at any time, and that made her using her wish to kill him not at all heartwarming.
Side note: Every woman doesn't react the same way to abuse, of course. If Monica were real I'd be slower to question her desperation, but she's a fictional character and unconvincing as such.
The second and third paragraphs were blocks of exposition, not all of it necessary--I didn't care about the details of Lenny's shift--and none of it graceful enough to avoid infodump status. Maybe you could have spread some of that information out over the course of the story and started with Monica walking in? The cliche situation didn't help. You can write, but this entry contended for the title of Most Boring, though its dullness was nearly a welcome reprieve from the week's more "interesting" offerings.
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crabrock, "Painted Lady"
What happens: A girl attracted to wet paint finds a replacement for her murdered lover: a can of Blue #123. (The same number as the week, huh? Cute, though it took me a long time to see it.)
You didn't go far enough. I could almost end the crit right there. The concept of a woman who loved paint had promise as a clever response to your flash rule, but as the other judges have said, the surreality didn't come through. I never thought for an instant that the paint was alive--Sandy was just a nut. Do you know, I didn't believe in her affection for the murdered red either: she painted over the corpse of her beloved without any qualms. Jeeze! Cold-hearted much? I wonder about other things too, such as her parents not finding that spray bottle (could be explained by them being such bad parents they didn't take her unhealthy obsession seriously, I guess--look at the way they left the painted room uncleaned and unlocked) and how Sandy expected a deadbolt to keep anybody out for long. Even if it did, wouldn't she have run out of paint and water before she died? Starvation takes a while. Maybe she'd choke on paint fumes or something. You could argue I shouldn't care about any of this in a genre that isn't intended to be rational, but because the surreality is so slight, my mind approaches it in the same way it would a non-genre story about a crazy person.
If you'd borrowed a page from ZeBourgeoisie and his goo and had the paint react to Sandy in some way, shown it living and moving, then the death of the red would have been darker and the romance with the blue more poignant. The places where human logic and reason were missing wouldn't have stood out, I suspect. You could work this idea into something that would be weird in a good way. In its current form, it's as flat as dry paint.
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Entenzahn, "A surreal story about zoo feeding"
What happens: A lion named Randy takes lessons from Fido-sensei in embracing his inner dog as a strategy against hostile gazelles.
Too wacky, though you lashed the wackiness to a plot. Thanks for that. Some parts of this read like a five-year-old came up with them, in the sense that they were imaginative but came out of nowhere: gazelles controlling humans with satellite modules, at war with lions because...? This stuff didn't say anything with its goofiness. On the other hand, there was some depth to Randy learning to be a dog, so while that too was pretty drat bizarre, I was interested in where it led. The story wasn't enough fun to get away without having any meaning, so it's a good thing there was at least a hint of one.
Randy's dog training seemed like a manipulative scheme by Fido to get hold of Randy's food, and Fido seemed like a dick. I wanted Randy to wise up. Good job subverting my expectations, but Fido was still a dubious example of the kind of dog he was training Randy to be. There was the puzzle too of how Randy's behavior convinced the gazelles he was a dog. Surreality, I guess. He still had giant claws and fangs; this resolution was kind of stupid.
Grizzled Patriarch and Bad Seafood agreed that this was a talking-animal story with some nonsensical elements instead of true surrealism. It was mild fun nevertheless, a cut above the week's bleak average.
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Gau, "Notes to Self"
What happens: Different aspect of a writer's mind argue with one another in what turns out to be a pep talk better suited to Fiction Advice.
In judgechat I said I didn't know why you submitted such a thing, and I still don't: I can't believe you were out to tell a story when there was so little story present. A rah-rah writing pep talk is so out of place in a Thunderdome round, though, that I can't believe that was your goal either. Nothing about it was surreal, so I'm not sure you meant to fulfill the prompt, and nobody made a mistake per se except for you... good grief, could that have been the idea? Was it a meta response to your mundane situation? Probably not. Maybe the answer is more simple: you were stumped for ideas or time and took a shot in the dark.
It flew wide, to put it mildly. I wouldn't have given it a DM on my own; unlike the true poo poo superstars, it was coherent. But at least one other judge was altogether annoyed by a combatant delivering a writing lecture, and that is a hard choice to defend. You preached, you preached specifically to people who'd heard all of it before, and you wrote about writing, doing none of those things well.
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Sitting Here, "The Undeliverables"
What happens: A doomed Mail Recovery center and one particular worker within it begin to receive dead letters in the form of tiny people. The worker saves them from the incinerator, but she can't deliver them, and they aren't content to tell their stories to her alone.
Yours was the story in the round that I most wanted to like. The idea was neat, and the little letter-people were engaging. Each letter was a tiny narrative within the narrative, a fragment of a life and a history. Reading them made me nostalgic for a time when letters were more common. I disagree that there was anything the least bit natural about the dead letters becoming people suddenly; that didn't rise from the Postal Service's decline at all; the line was heavy handed in a way that cutting 'So it seemed natural when' would fix. The concept and tone had a lot of charm otherwise, and by keeping your surreality to one point, you avoided the problem some people had with wackiness gone wild.
My vote for the win went to this piece, but I couldn't fight for it. The story at its heart was stronger than Tyrannosaurus's, though he had a better tone. It stumbled hard on the ending, however, and racked itself. The question of how that postal worker could help the letters got an unsatisfying answer. Would a museum want modern letters from ordinary people? Why? Storage seemed a more likely fate than an exhibit, and that would be no help at all. I didn't want those little people to end up stuffed in a box or a drawer or under glass. Nor did I get how telling their stories to strangers instead of the people they were meant for would satisfy their need. It felt like a story of how these tiny people went from one crappy situation to another.
No judge liked that conclusion, so it says a lot about the relative strength of this entry that we still had such a hard time choosing the victor.
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Fumblemouse, "Infamous Jack's"
What happens: A lounge singer wants to break into stardom. When her voice starts to fill an empty suit, she sees her chance, but her boss somehow ruins everything.
If Sitting Here's entry tripped at the end and racked itself, yours dove face-first into the pavement, shattered its nose, cracked its teeth, and was then trampled by a pack of stampeding llamas. As she did, you kept your surreality narrow and intense. The empty suit drinking alone at a table, slowly filled out and made into a loving man by Patricia/Patrica's (darn it, Fumblemouse) heartfelt song--what a great visual! The setting and characters didn't snag me, but I was ready to forgive that until it all collapsed as surely as the suit. I don't get what your last two paragraphs were trying to say about Jack or about Patricia's relationship to him. My best guess, looking back at how dramatically Patricia's singing was described and yet how tepid the audience's reaction was, is that Jack fed off of Patricia's music and drained its power for himself. He wouldn't let her escape; he took the magic from her song before she could finish it. Since he set up the situation in the first place, he must have been a sadist on top of that? I don't love this theory, but it's all I've got. I don't like the uncertainty one bit. You would have contended for the win with a clearer finale better supported by the text.
Side note: Along with misspelling your main character's name, you didn't capitalize a song title properly, put two single quotation marks where there should have been one, mentioned 'my last night her at Infamous Jack’s,' and had a good few other minor errors that, to be fair, most readers probably wouldn't notice.
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Jonked, "Be Kind, Rewind!"
What happens: Some guy rents the movie of his life from his local video store. For some ungodly reason, this "story" is told in reverse.
When Jeza did a version of this gimmick in "All Fall Down," it worked--mostly--because the order of scenes was backwards. Not the order of sentences. Every scene in his piece made sense, and the reversal of chronology allowed for realizations to dawn as new information was uncovered and much that had first seemed true turned out to be false.
It didn't hurt that he had a story worth telling in the first place. This one just features a guy viewing a shortened biopic of his own life. It's not interesting. It sure as hell isn't worth struggling through the gimmick. Reading a piece with this structure was a pain in the rear end that I undertook because I felt obliged. In places you cut corners to make it readable at all, and it showed: 'Beth handed me a beer. I handed her the tape.' 'My mother is lying in her death bed, weak and frail. Suddenly, she calls out, and I run upstairs.' Those sentences don't make sense in reverse because then you're saying 'her' and 'she' before specifying who 'her' and 'she' are.
I wonder what you were thinking: the trick added nothing to the story, and your mundane situation didn't call for it. An experimental style should give the reader something, whether a richer narrative or an interesting reading experience. It should justify its existence. Yours did the polar opposite.
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Benny the Snake, "Last Call"
What happens: A complete dick runs into a future version of himself and is transported to a parallel universe in which he's been even more of a dick, and he manages to become his most dickish self yet when he runs around slashing people up with a straight razor.
Oh, hurrah, gratuitous violence and unlikable characters and rebellion against authority figures who are in the right. A dash of dumb mechanical errors that suggest crappy proofreading, too! I can tell I'm reading a Benny the Snake story. If it doesn't embarrass you that you'd still write two people talking within the same paragraph after all the crits and one-on-one help you've received, it drat well should. You need to read and internalize some grammar guides. Elements of Style is an easy recommendation, but Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Lapsing into a Comma have a breezy humor and a sardonicism respectively that make them less dry. You could also try out the Purdue Online Writing Lab. Maybe self-study would help you in ways individuals haven't been able to do.
Your main character was an rear end in a top hat. He found out that he'd killed two people in a drunk-driving accident, and all that troubled him about it was that he'd hosed up. There was no remorse. His father was completely right to hide Drew's girlfriend's location from him--not the least because she didn't want to see him. And was it concern for Sam that drove Drew to put a
If you meant the reader to feel anything but disgust for Drew in either of his lifetimes, you misfired completely. If you intended him to be an irredeemable bastard, mission accomplished, but it was a bad choice. The premise was straight out of The Twilight Zone (though not cutesy, I'll give you that), neither fresh enough nor fascinating enough to carry a hateful-yet-boring protagonist.
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Your Sledgehammer, "Conversations with Bobby"
What happens: A man receives phone calls from his childhood self and is encouraged by them to put a dream in motion.
Yet Another Cutesy Twilight Zone Episode, and the motivation for and results of Bobby's calls would be weak even for TZ. All that came of something as weird and wonderful as phone calls from the past was that Robert quit his job and bought his boat a little faster. He was going to do both anyway! In fact, working until he had enough money to last him a while was a more sensible plan than chucking it all in as soon as he had enough for the boat! Lordy. It was kind of like if Robert had summoned all of Hannibal's elephants out of history so they could press flowers for him with their mighty feet. So little payoff for something miraculous was not the kind of surreality for which we hoped.
But even given that, you had one of the more pleasant stories to read, however schmaltzy. Maybe you would have picked up an HM if the change in Robert's life had been more extreme. Your characters were fun, and your prose was on the right side of competent. It just didn't quite seem like a story worth telling. You could fix that.
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J.A.B.C., "Processing Error"
What happens: Wacky aliens turn off Earth's gravity by mistake, changing the dull lives of the planet's dull inhabitants in no appreciable manner.
Two entries in a row full of scene breaks? Your indicators are of visibly different lengths, too. What's with that? Yes, I'm focusing on formatting oddities to avoid having to talk about your story. That's a bad sign, if you hadn't guessed.
This was so aggressively boring. It opened with someone waking up to 'another dreadfully boring day,' and it trudged on through scenes of boredom. The nameless (why?) protagonist didn't get excited even when he started floating through the air. The guy was a yawn personified. I swear he wanted a life of ennui and that was why he so quickly returned to his car. Do I need to tell you that boring people being bored aren't fun to read about? And everybody in this whole drat world was so dull that within five years they'd settled back into their routines without any significant change. Come on!
Removing gravity wouldn't work like this, either. I'm not a physicist, but I'm pretty sure there would be no gentle floating, certainly no sitting on a wrecked car, nothing but people being drawn up into space to die. Earth wouldn't be able to hold its atmosphere, so anything that had to breathe would eventually suffocate. A lot sooner than in five years, I suspect. Now, this could have worked--surreality!--if you hadn't brought in the aliens who explicitly muddled with a law of physics; by acknowledging science at all (sort of) you got me questioning what I might not have if you'd left the phenomenon unexplained. Those aliens were dumb anyway. They were goofy without being funny and belonged in some wacky sci-fi story, if anywhere. The piece ended up ping-ponging between the dull and the stupid, and neither mood was improved by the presence of the other.
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Ironic Twist, "Retreat"
What happens: Jane is disturbed at too-early-in-the-morning by her rejuvenated neighbor, who thinks 4:30am is an appropriate time for a baby shower. There may or may not be time-travel hijinks. Jane shoves her neighbor out into a suburban world, then sits down at the typewriter that isn't in her stomach just before the one that apparently is starts trying to write its way out. TL:DR: Damned if I know, redux.
We were too easy on this. It was more enjoyable to read than Roguelike's but nearly as much of an incoherent mess. It was as melodramatic about the Agonies of Writing as Gau's, albeit less cutesy. It never crossed the line separating weird and wacky; that's nearly all I can say in its favor.
Was the idea that Jane could have had a child in 2004 but passed up the opportunity in favor of writing? Was she reliving that choice in a more literal way? Was she even awake? Finding out this was a prolonged dream sequence wouldn't surprise me one iota. Alice appeared (at 4am, I reiterate; Jane not remarking on that was one more pointer toward a dream) and disappeared again without becoming a character. There was no storyline to link the strange images, some of which were good in isolation. The whole might as well have been a description of a drug trip for all the sense it made or meaning it conveyed. Your sentence-level prose was good, but prose isn't everything by a long shot.
One more thing: Jane had terrible cramps before her period started and didn't think anything was wrong? That struck me as odd, less in a surreal way than in a does he know how that works? way.
All that said, the imagery was indeed good. With a stronger thread tying it together and less of a dream vibe, it might have been an intriguingly weird piece. Alice needed more connection to events. Events needed more connection to each other.
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What happens: Aliens.
Ancient Aliens is surreal only in that it's on the History Channel and not on Syfy where it belongs. This was the one story to miss the genre completely. It wasn't terrible, and the prose was decent if prone to overlong sentences--check out all those commas in the third paragraph! I wouldn't call it fascinating, though. There wasn't any plot, nor much energy. The replacement of the fossil alien with a fossil avian was a nice touch that gave it a bit of sparkle.
If I ignore the genre misfire this is pretty okay, but too little happens in it to merit a comparison to a Twilight Zone episode, cutesy or otherwise.
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Tyrannosaurus, "A Series of Serious Beats"
What happens: A man shoots a sea monkey and then reviews it on Amazon.
Everything I liked about this story was tied to how you told it. The tone was spot on. There was a hint of artistic condescension in the vocabulary choices that was undermined by the absurdity of what exactly those words were saying. The situation was strange nigh unto insanity, but the protagonist's emotions made it somewhat meaningful, and little if any of the weirdness came off as superfluous.
The story part was thin. Strange things happened, and nothing was learned. The conclusion--the Amazon review--was funny and clever, yet it rendered the events even more hollow than the idiocy of the protagonist already had. That guy's willful blindness read as moronic rather than tragic. If the signs of his wife's infidelity had been slightly less impossible to misread by anyone with the mental capacity to wipe his posterior (the thousands of moans of "Oh, Gregoire" were perhaps where that line was crossed), the situation might have had more pathos and the concluding joke would have been less fluffy.
My vote went to Sitting Here, but I remained ambivalent about whether her engaging-but-crippled story or your weightless-but-skillful style was more worthy up to the end. You mastered the genre requirement as no one else did; I can't complain about the result.
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Boozahol, "Career Change"
What happens: Lazy Valkyries invite a mortal woman to Valhalla, and her friend follows them there.
Time and rereading haven't improved this sequence of careless, nonsensical events a jot. How did Claire and LaShawndra end up in a random metaphysical diner? I don't know, and the limited evidence suggests that neither do you. Why were gods worried about money? I don't know, and the limited evidence suggests... etc. Why, if they were so worried about the budget, would they hire an unremarkable mortal as a new Valkyrie? I don't know, and you get the gist by now. Random, dumb, dull, pointless, and rife with mechanical errors this was, but surreal it was not, and the amazing thing is that it was still better than the losing stories. I won't blame the prompt for all your problems, but it definitely wasn't kind to you.
Throughout, LaShawndra observed events, but she did little and felt less. The characters and their situation were so poorly developed that I gave no flips about any of it at any point. You depended a little too much on external knowledge of Norse mythology, I think--I'm not sure the man sneaking away from the restrooms was Loki, but that's the only guess I have that makes sense of his actions or existence.
Learn to punctuate dialogue correctly. You capitalized words you shouldn't have, and you used periods where you should have used commas and vice versa. The errors were frequent enough to leave a bad impression.
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systran, "The Amalgolem"
What happens: Wealthy men and women donate parts of their body to the formation of an amalgolem, a creature of impossible beauty with an inclination toward prostitution. They experience the sensations of another life through the organs they've contributed.
The shock value in this one almost worked the way shock value should. It wasn't completely cheap. The striking opener led to dark, weird places so strange that I had no idea what I thought of the story, whether I liked it or hated it or considered it good surrealism. I suspect you came a lot closer to the prompt target than most. The ending tipped it too far toward juvenile, though; after that conclusion, the sense of deeper meaning in the rest was watered down.
Lana McIntyre's section was strongest. I don't think it's coincidence that it was the one section that sidelined sex. As someone tried to tell Lana that her daughter was dead, she was enthralled by the emotional connection the amalgolem had to its lover. She saw the love in the amalgolem's life that she didn't realize or didn't care she had neglected in her own. She viewed it all through an opium, reality-blocking haze. There was a lot to unpack there, and if the next section hadn't stopped dead on the concept of a man being buggered with his own dick....
The final section wasn't just a vulgar idea--it carried its own theme of self-obsession--but it was short and abrupt and hilariously unsatisfying given givens. I hope Weiss enjoyed his ending more than the judges did. It read like you hit a wall, scrabbled for a way to finish the thing, and decided a literary whoopie cushion would do. If the ball hadn't tumbled out of your hands there, you would probably have had my vote to HM at least, since all your weirdness had a point buried somewhere in its heart.
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Bad Ideas Good, "Family Troubles"
What happens: A man estranged from his family returns to his odd homestead to receive an unwanted inheritance. Opening the object changes the story's viewpoint and setting to the life of Bad Ideas Good as he buys fast food.
The first paragraph beguiled me briefly into thinking that here might be another possibility for the win, as the oddly-built house above an ever-boiling sea was such a beautifully strange premise. You could have taken it to wonderful places! In the second paragraph, my hope dwindled. As the third collapsed into a distasteful disaster of poor formatting and worse mechanics, I knew no honors would be given. When it turned into weird, meta Thunderdome nonfiction, I imagined, with a wistful smile, your head stuck on the end of a pike.
This is flatly terrible. You made no use of your great setting. Your mechanical flaws were so severe that I disliked reading the prose. Why the hell did you have multiple people speaking within the same paragraph--don't ever do that!--without any dialogue tags to tell us who was saying what? You didn't punctuate dialogue properly, you omitted commas, and your choice of the present tense was a bad one for an entry so otherwise difficult to read. All this is without getting into the problems with the story itself. The meta thing came off as dumb and self-indulgent; the box was a magical artifact. The characters were thin, insofar as they could be distinguished from one another. I didn't care about them. There was no plot or arc or change or anything to make this more than a pointless vignette ending in a dull thud. Did you really use your meta section to explain something about your story? I can't tell. The box wasn't a tiny thing nobody ever noticed. If something else was meant to be the source of a curse, I confess I missed it.
Good on you for sticking around and fighting on, but I have the feeling that surrealism is not your strong point.
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curlingiron, "And The Days Go By"
What happens: A woman is visited by another version of herself, who convinces her that she is not and will not be happy with the life she's living.
On its face, this story belongs on Lifetime: Television for Women. Maria is in an unsatisfying marriage on the verge of turning abusive, apparently. It's time for her to shuck her domestic existence and follow her dreams! That's not inherently a problem; this premise is a bit worn, but it can certainly work. You gave it a heavy-handed, cliche treatment--on the surface. More about that shortly. Further, the scene (because it is a scene; there's no plot) reads like a Meaningful Dream Sequence from a melodramatic movie. Somehow it doesn't feel like any of that stuff--the baby, the burning ring--actually happens to Maria.
There's another way to interpret this. Maybe Maria's doppelganger isn't her True Self fighting to break out of a prison of domestic complacency. Maybe this other self is Maria's self-destructive impulse, convincing her she isn't happy when she is, convincing her that her husband would beat her when he would never, because after ten years of marriage she sees greener grass outside the fence of her house; never mind that the bright color could be in her imagination only. It's easy to interpret the second Maria's motivations thus, because you never convince me her marriage is bad. The doppelganger says so, sure. Shows, not so much. This second interpretation may be intended, and if so, I like the attempt to present a story that looks so different from different angles, but... the ending with the Gentle Rain of Rebirth (gah) makes me think I was never meant to doubt Maria as a victim of her marriage. I'm afraid I don't like that reading much. Not only is it very familiar, but it depends on me taking way too much on faith.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 00:37 on Dec 30, 2015
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 02:16|
Sitting Here Crit
Nasatya and Dasra first met in the eternal gardens on Brahma's chest, where the trees and flowers gently rise and fall with the eldest god’s deep, slumbering breaths.
An incredible opening. Very subdued but powerful in its simplicity.
They met again on Earth, as Woman-Like-Deer-Path and Tusk-Cutter-Man in the last glacial period. Their lives moved at the beautifully brutal pace of the paleolithic, sweating together on the hunt and between the bed furs.
Beautifully brutal reads a bit overwritten in comparison to the rest of the paragraph that is simple in its prose.
They met again as Hephaistion and Alexander of Macedonia.
They met again in December of 1914, as Niles York--British infantry--and Anselm Krause--a German Sergeant--during a football game in no man’s land. When the call was given to go back to the trenches, York slipped a pack of cigarettes into Krause’s jacket pocket. Neither saw each other again that time; neither survived 1916.
I’m really liking the idea here. Of two people who can’t be separated by time.
“In 1967, Nasatya was called Susie Sometimes. She was twenty-two years old and lived deep in the heart of Zeitgeist, America, working at a nicotine-stained watering hole. Dasra, known then as Jack Dallas, would stumble in every night with his malcontent and electrified posse of post-beat, post-Kennedy poets, and they would thump their chests and exhale stanzas like smoke. Once, Jack leapt up onto a tabletop and started reading an excerpt from Story of the Eye, stomping over table after table, spilling drinks until his worn leather boots were slick with beer and liquor.
You have an incredible command over description. Exhale stanzas like smoke is a beautiful loving line.
““...The horror and despair at so much bloody flesh, nauseating in part, and in part very beautiful, was fairly equivalent to our usual impression upon seeing one another,” Jack read in a voice like narrow thunder. As he finished and sank silently into his chair, the bar erupted with hoots and hollers and stomps. Susie Sometimes clapped fast and fervent. Jack noticed. When Susie bent over his table to gather the spilled glasses, Jack put a gentle hand on her wrist--”
I assume that the poem is supposed to be a bit empty because that is who the character is. Otherwise I’d tweak that a bit
“And then they sped off to Makeout Peak in Jack’s T-bird and vowed to go steady forever,” said Paris, and further silenced Helena with a kiss. Helena rolled away to the other side of the tousled bed, holding her notebook to her chest.
“I’m an idiot, aren’t I?” she said to the wall.
Paris scooted over, molded herself against Helena’s back. “You really wrote all that ‘cause of me?” she asked.
“You,” Helena said.
Paris waited. The afternoon light crept across the dingy room, making dust motes and cassette tape cases sparkle briefly.
The description as nice as it s kinda eats into the nice rhythm these two have going on. But I assume you want there to be an uncomfortable or otherwise elongated silence there and the sentence is a nice way to do that. But for me I’d like it more with if it was just Paris waited. Makes it seem more trying on her that way.
“You make me feel like I remember things that never happened.”
“Am I your muse?” Paris said, her lips brushing against Helena’s ear.
Helena rolled over so they were eye to eye, nose to nose. Their breath was a singular thing, heavy and damp. “You’re more like a map home.”
Their breath was a singular thing is a tired phrase when describing star crossed lovers. It’s commonimity doesn’t fit the rest of your unique descriptions.
Nasatya spotted Dasra by the green water at the Banganga Tank. The Mumbai skyline was a glass and gunmetal contradiction to the contemplative stone steps and placid waters in the foreground. Nasatya let her sandals clack on the steps as she approached Dasra. He didn’t look up from his tablet.
gently caress you’re good at descriptions, glass and gunmetal contradiction is excellent.
“It’s uncommon to see a young man come to such an old place,” said Nasatya.
“It’s a place to be away from my wife and stay out of trouble,” replied Dasra. His finger swiped lazily across the screen. Nasatya sat down several feet away.
“Have we met before?”
At that, Dasra looked up. Their eyes met. Nasatya breathed deep and felt the wordless rush of memories flow between them, as cutting and powerful as an underground river. It was the experience of catching up to a memory of the future, of tracing a wave’s path all the way back to the first shore it ever kissed.
Dasra frowned and went back to his tablet. “Sorry, don’t think so.”
Nasatya flinched like she’d been slapped. A stony cold crept down from her cheeks to her neck, and black spots swarmed at the corners of her eyes. “Are, are you sure?” she breathed. She’d watched him for weeks. She knew him. He was hers, and she was his.
I don’t feel this paragraph is as strong as the one above it. It feels a bit more hollow in comparison to the others.
“Are you going to faint?” He’d set the tablet down and was watching her with distant concern.
“I don’t know,” she said, leaning back against the step above her. The sky spun slowly on its axis overhead.
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Dasra said. He was closer now. His arms were around her. He let Nasatya rest her head against his chest.
“Would your wife consider this trouble?” Nasatya murmured against the solid heat of his body.
I really like the understatement of this line, so much so I think the metaphor about wildflowers isn’t needed. Both we know and they know they are meant for each other cosmically. This highlights that so well.
Dasra stiffened, but didn’t push her away. After a long moment he said, “some think marital bliss is being together forever, never apart. You know wildflowers?”
“Well,” Dasra said, “try growing wildflowers if you’re always trampling down the soil. You’ll have a sad, barren garden. But let the soil stay loose, let it soak in the rain and the air, and your garden will surprise you.”
He gently detached himself from Nasatya. When their eyes met again, the alternating current of shared memory was still there, but subdued to a trickle.
“I leave my wife in the afternoon so she can surprise me when I come home in the evening. And she’s happy to see me after I’ve been gone, I think.”
Nasatya lowered her head. “It was my mistake,” she said.
When Dasra had gone, Nasatya sat for a long time by the Tank. Soon, night fell and hazy city light made the sky an inscrutable black blanket.
“Aah,” Nasatya moaned, her eyes closed. He was hers! She knew it the way her lungs knew air from water. She was his. He knew it, but was in denial.
The water in the Banganga Tank was black as the sky. She almost didn’t see the disturbance on its surface. Curious, she crouched down on the lowest step at water’s edge.
Enough, someone whispered in her ear from a thousand light years away.
Tears of relief poured from her eyes and fell into the growing whirlpool forming in the Tank. “My map home,” she whispered before springing headfirst into the churning water.
Natasha opened her eyes, found David already awake and watching her. The nanite and oxygen-laden isolation fluid drained away, leaving them slick and naked and still entwined in the dream tank.
Soft light and soft voices from beyond the plexiglass. The heaviness of her true body. The lingering sense of psychic overlap with David. Her mind processed these things at a snail’s pace, but David’s eyes were sharp and true and real, and they held her attention like a parent comforting a child after a nightmare.
The tank’s lid swished open. Soft towels descended from above, gently patting the pair dry. Any remaining nanites would, of course, have been remotely deactivated at the end of the sim, harmless as sand.
Natasha let soft-spoken caretakers help her up out of the tank and into a robe. She looked through the floor-to-ceiling windows, which afforded a penthouse view of the city beyond: whimsical towers with staggered floors and private forests for every household; the whole metropolis pulsing and thinking, alive with nanites. Nothing forbidden to anyone, no food or delicacy or entertainment out of reach.
In a word, paradise.
She looked back across the room, saw David accepting water from the caretakers. Already, her heart hurt to be near him again. She savored the feeling, the multitude of emotions. Romantic longing was a flavor she thought had left her palate when youth left her body.
David caught her watching him. Knowing passed between them, a private signal on a private frequency.
I had to reread this a couple times to get a feeling for what it meant. If this was added to work into the confines of the prompt I understand. But I personally feel like this part cheapens the entire piece. It makes me feel that the cosmic relationship between the two is fake and constructed, I get that it is. But the piece was much more interesting without this.
The garden on Brahma’s chest rises and falls; leaves flutter with his breath. Nasatya and Dasra duck mischieviously through the trees, an endless game of touch-and-go. Their laughter rises like incense to Brahma’s ears, and the eldest god smiles in his sleep.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 02:19|
I genuinely appreciate that you're an effortful reader, and am a bit ashamed when, like many times, I feel I could've done better. No regrets on Winter Wine, though
Feedback, hindsight, and the sudden deadline are an excellent regimen. The 'dome is good exercise, even if I've yet to leave its confines.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 02:57|
Echo Cian fucked around with this message at 20:01 on Feb 27, 2015
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 08:33|
Scarlet Dance of Death 1393 words
Trouble danced into my office. I say my office, but really it's the Resurrection Jazz bar I crawl into to end my night.
"I need your help." She said as she kept up a soft shoe shuffle. The shoes were blood red, and attached to legs that went all the way up. Her dress swayed while she changed over to a tap routine.
"Lady, you look like you need a dance partner, not some drunk." For as long as I can remember I've been fixing unusual problems. New Orleans breeds trouble, and not all of it can be fixed by ordinary people.
"Please, ever since I slipped these on I can't stop dancing. Everyone I asked said the guy at Resurrection could help. It's been six hours." I took a closer look, she's not exactly young anymore, but not really middle aged either. The sweat was running down her face, and her eyes shined with despair.
"So let's say I could help you, what's in it for me?" I might have felt bad, being so blunt, a few decades ago, but that had washed away between the whisky and that drat promise.
"You can keep the shoes, and I'll pay you. Please, anything you want, just help me." She was waltzing with nobody, but I could probably turn a nice profit from the shoes.
"Alright lady, just stick to the easy stuff and I'll have some kind of answer for you by the end of the night. Hey Sam." The bartender who had been consciously ignoring us looked up. "Get her something to sip on while she's on her feet, it's gonna be a thirsty night." I walked out and the funky smell of the French Quarter assaulted me. I took a few turns and then headed for an alley that's only seen if it wants to be. At the end of the alley I opened up the plain door and stepped into Gomorrah, the best little den of scum and villainy in town. I walked up to the bar and ordered a Bloody Mary. Then I headed for a corner table and sat straight down.
"Jovan, so good to see you. What the gently caress are you doing here? Last time you were here half the bar was itching to kill you, and after the riot the other half doesn't like you much either." The creature that spoke wore a business suit, but with no humans to worry about he proudly let his freak flag fly. His face was covered in scales, and his eyes bulged out of his head. He flicked his tongue over his eyes as he continued to stare at me.
"Erioch, I can't say that I want to be here either. A mortal got her hand on some cursed shoes though, and she's making quite a scene over at the Resurrection. So the question that came to my mind is who the hell is loving with the peace? You know the powers upstairs and downstairs don't like it when things get too flashy. So tell me who the gently caress is responsible and we can keep this from the big shots."
He sneered as his tongue flicked over his eyes. "Why should I tell you when I can do a better job of cleaning up myself?"
"Because you first heard this from me. Whoever is doing this is a big enough player to either curse the shoes or keep getting them quiet. Now I know demon magic, and those shoes were some powerful stuff. So tell you what, I'll do the dirty work and you can claim the glory from your bosses downstairs. How's that sound to you?" I heard something heavy approach, behind me and was up on my feet instantly. I flicked the chair up into the air and spun around driving my leg into the thick neck of a big red bruiser. Something important sounding snapped and he collapsed like a house of cards. I turned and faced Erioch. "Last chance, talk or suffer."
"It's Guil, okay? I can't touch him, and as far as I know the contract is legit. As far as I know he's got approval. I think the guys downstairs are angling for a war. I don't know why though, business has been up."
"Good to know Erioch, and hey, better luck next time." I walked out the door and grabbed a taxi for downtown. Guil was a bigshot, and he preferred skyscrapers to streets. As I entered the building the security guard stood up to try and stop me. I flashed a toothy grin at him and he thought better of it. Guil gives the mortals working for him a fighting chance, but that requires the intelligence to back down. I hit the elevator and smiled when it stopped between the twelfth and fourteenth floors. I like the cliches.
His secretary resembled a blond bombshell from the covers of magazines, but I've seen Rodentia out of her work clothes and it ain't pretty.
"Hey Rody, I need to see your boss."
"You know you need an appointment."
"Yeah, so I'm making one for right now. You're not going to make me ask mean are you?"
She paused and it got a little dangerous for a moment. The tension vanished when the intercom crackled.
"Send him on in, I don't feel like calling for a cleaner at this hour."
She shrugged her shoulders and buzzed me through. Guil was sticking to the rules and appeared to be a tall, powerfully built man in a pinstripe suit.
"Jovan, you've been making waves tonight."
"I could say the same, those shoes aren't exactly subtle."
"Well there's something about the classics. I have to say it's one of the better curses I've ever made. That girl wanted to move like a goddess, and she'll keep dancing till she's dead. Nothing can stop those shoes."
"That's not what I want to hear Guil. This is way too loud for either side to really be happy, and that could mean war."
"Yeah my bosses have run the numbers and have decided to give it a go. So I didn't really have much say in it."
He kicked up his feet and that's when the windows shattered. Glass came flying in and I felt some of the larger pieces bite into me. Guil was less fortunate as he had a sword buried in his throat. Standing on the desk above him was a figure dressed in a black body suit. She was gorgeous, and except for the enormous white wings on her back. She turned to stare at me.
"You are fortunate not to be on my list leech, but we will soon shine a light in every corner of this dark city. Run and hide while you still can." A woman like that is not to be toyed with lightly. I made my way to the elevator and let Rodentia know she needed a new boss. On the ride down I thought about what I had learned. I was clearly in the middle of something way bigger than I like. When I finally came in near Resurrection Jazz I knew what I had to do.
"Hey lady, bad news. Your feet or your life, choose one."
"What?" She had kept going strong, and one of the more adventurous regulars was tangoing with her. He spun and dipped her low, but when he stepped away she kept on dancing.
"Lady those are your only options unfortunately."
"I want to live! What do we do?"
"Sam, ax me." He pulled the ax out and tossed it over. I got both her feet in a clean sweep. As she collapsed to the floor Sam brought over the bandages to patch her up. The cut was clean, and she had drunk enough to not quite understand. We were fortunate that Resurrection had only regulars at this hour, as they were aware I dealt in the stranger side of New Orleans. We carted her up stairs to one of the bed rooms, and then I got a broom and gently herded the still dancing shoes to the broom closet.
I ended up pointing her in the direction of some good prosthetics and took only a nominal fee. Things were heating up and hopefully I wasn't going to be caught out in the sun.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 09:27|
hey pretend that slash through is spoilers instead, or not, your call
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 09:28|
Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 19:01 on Dec 30, 2015
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 16:34|
Finding Marlene - 1453 words The Juniper Tree
Sam Althaus had no reflection in a mirror. He couldn’t go into direct sunlight and he couldn’t stand on holy ground without bursting into flame. But his voice could be recorded and he had the most beautiful voice anybody had ever heard. So, as the first vampire pop star, his voice took over the world.
“Does he always wear those sunglasses?” the mic tech asked the technical director during sound check. They were in the safety of the control booth and there was no danger of being overheard.
“Always. Scarf too.”
“Why? It’s not like he gets cold.”
“I heard it’s to keep his head from falling off.”
“That doesn’t make any --”
They quieted down when Sam entered the recording stage. Sam gave them a thumbs-up. The technical director said into the booth mic, “Okay, Sam. First take. Start when you’re ready.”
The tape spun up. Sam sang a song of love and loss, of longing and desire. He sang of a beautiful woman who was unbearably sad. The song made anyone who heard it sad in the most exquisite way. It flew to the top of every chart.
“I don’t want to give another interview.” Sam said to his manager.
“This one is big. International stage big.”
“I’m tired of this,” Sam said. “I sing for myself. You just found a way to capitalize on it.” His manager saw a brief flash of fangs, but pushed the issue.
“Then you sure picked the wrong industry if you wanted to remain anonymous. You have to realize that your condition attracts you a lot of attention.”
Sam thought for a moment. His manager couldn’t help but think that Sam looked like a predatory animal when he was deep in thought. Like a lion. Sam grinned, all teeth. “At least the paparazzi can’t hound me for pictures,” he said.
Sam gave his hungriest stare to the interviewer. He had no intention to eat the man, but being the world’s first vampire superstar, he had a persona to maintain. This threw the interviewer for a few minutes, but then the good questions finally came.
“Why music specifically? You could be doing anything with your eternity. What drew you to sing?”
“Since I don’t breathe I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with forcing air through my vocal folds. I’m not constrained like humans with their singular focus on breathing to staying alive. It affords me greater range.”
“That tells me why you’re good at singing, but not why you sing.”
Sam liked the interviewer despite himself. He chose his next words very carefully, knowing he was going to bare his heart far beyond what he expected.
“I don’t remember much of my life before I was turned. Just brief glimpses, flashes. My first new memory is of Mother, she found me left for dead and gave me a second life. Or un-life, or un-death or whatever you’d want to call it.”
“What happened to Mother?”
“She perished. Singing is how I cope.”
“How many are there like you?”
Sam could only shrug.
“What’s your most persistent image from before?”
“I don’t know,” Sam lied. He thought of the sad woman from his song, the thought he couldn’t shake. Sam then realized something. Fame could work for him both ways. It was a way for the world to find out about him and a way for him to find out about the world. So then he said, “Just a name that pops up over and over. Marlene. I’m not sure who she is, just that I loved her and she was very important to me.”
That captured the attention of the world. Millions of letters poured in from men and women claiming to be Marlene. Most were bogus, the strongest connection being names that started with the letter “M” or names that rhymed with Marlene. A few people said that they felt like they were a Marlene in a past life.
Sam started his own record label in order to handle the spread of his message. He called it Juniper Tree Records. When asked what that meant, he would laugh and say, “It’s a Christ allegory. Junipers are evergreens and I’m alive when I should be dead.”
Sam thought that if he could get his face out there, somebody might recognize him. Photographs were out, and so was video. He hired an artist to paint his portrait, but the thing caught on fire halfway through. He tried to have a marble bust made, but it crumbled.
But Sam still had his voice. The more he sang, the more memories came back to him. He could sometimes see Marlene in his mind’s eye during the dark hours of the night when only he was awake. Sometimes he could even see flashes of color in those memories. He recorded a new album called “Gold Chains and Red Shoes” after what he saw. The lyrical imagery was more concrete, less abstract. In it, he sang about his childhood home. He realized he had a father. He wrote a song about his father’s heartbreak. He remembered a good man who was made weary by the world.
Then television producers offered him a reality show. People would go out and search for Marlene and would-be Marlenes would in turn audition for Sam. They could even make a hologram of Sam to show on the air. Sam vetoed that idea, remembering the other art projects that bore his image. He figured a hologram would probably short circuit the grid and burn the whole studio down.
Week after week the show shoved a parade of Marlenes at Sam. At first he just met them and shook his head no when they elicited no memories from him. Ratings were high, but the producers wanted to push it further. Soon he was going on dates with Marlenes. Then he was living in a house filled with them. All televised and beamed globally to a rapt audience. Eventually the search took up all his time. The more time he spent searching for Marlene, the less time he spent singing. Eventually his memories started to fade. The ghostly images he held in his mind of Marlene melted like the mist.
He left the show. Packed up his guitar and left town.
He went around, played shows in dive bars, sang on the street or in subway terminals. He played anywhere people would listen to him. His manager couldn’t get ahold of him. A trail of angry lawyers followed him around the country, waving the contract they claimed he broke by leaving. They followed every rumor of a singer in sunglasses and a scarf playing in a bus terminal or a public park, but Sam was always gone by the time they arrived.
It wasn’t easy for Sam. He could only travel at night and the blood banks where he stole his meals had heavy security. But the more he sang, the more clear his memories became. They beckoned to him and drew him like a magnet.
He spent days huddled and locked up in the bathrooms of cheap hotels. He duct taped the seams of the door so no stray sunbeam could get in. He had long since ditched his cell phone. It was too easy to track. One evening, just as the sun set, Sam woke from a dream to hear his room phone ring. He didn’t answer, there was nobody who could actually be looking for him here. The ringing didn’t stop. Sam ripped the tape off the door and crossed into the gloom of the room. He avoided patches of fading sunlight and answered the phone.
“Sam, is that you?” It was his manager.
“How did you get this number?”
“I’m your manager, it’s my job to know what you’re up to.”
“Then how did it take you this long to find me?”
“I’m not a very good manager. Come home, Sam.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m so close, I can feel it.”
“Stop chasing useless things. You have a life here. Live it.”
“Just stay there, okay? Stay there and let us pick you up and bring you home.”
Sam hung up the phone. Thirty minutes later he was on a bus out of town. A few nights later he played a set in a nearly-empty dive bar. His voice was solid. The patrons were entranced. Some moved to tears. Sam liked playing to people face-to-face like this. He liked watching people as his music flowed over them. He liked being able to see their eyes. He could see his memories reflected in them. Then, in the back of the bar, eyes streaked with tears, he saw Marlene.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 20:10|
Black Projects - Word Count: 1548
“Ah! General! You’ve arrived!” Dr. Hoffman approached his guests with open arms, his Germanic-accented voice echoing across the cavernous aircraft hanger as he called out to them. “I was beginning to worry!”
“Sorry about the delay Doctor.” General Barksdale’s gruff, impatient tone didn’t make his apology seem all that convincing. “We’d gone to your laboratory first, but they told us you were on the other side of the base.” The humorless four-star general was obviously not very keen on having to play hide and seek with scientists in his employ.
None of this fazed Dr. Hoffman, who acted the gracious host, beckoning them further inside the darkened, empty chamber. “Please General, it’s no problem at all! I’m thrilled you were able to make the time to come out here in the first place! After all, it’s such an honor to have-“
“Doctor, let’s ditch the pleasantries, shall we?” Barksdale removed his peaked cap, handing it off to a young lieutenant as he ran a hand over his closely cropped silver hair. “The oversight committee has three other facilities on the chopping block for budget cuts- with yours at the top of the list”
Hoffman shrugged lackadaisically. “A regrettable misunderstanding by our elected officials. However, I can’t hold it against them. After all, they’re not privy to some of our more sensitive projects.”
“From what I’ve been reading in these reports, Doctor, you haven’t had many projects going on here to begin with.” Right on cue, yet another man in uniform handed the General an open file folder. “According to the statistics I have, your productivity is at an all time low. You haven’t seen a project through to completion in years.”
“General, please! That apparent dip in productivity can be explained!” Hoffman was gearing up for his big pitch, appearing more like a salesman in a labcoat than an actual scientist. “It’s simply a matter of quality over quantity! As chief of research, I haven’t had the resources to delegate to other, more frivolous pursuits. Not with the highly sensitive, highly advanced project we have underway now…”
Barksdale resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I don’t have a lot of time doctor. If you have a last ditch plan to save your lab, get on with it, pronto.”
Hoffman chortled with glee, taking a few steps back to address all of his ‘guests,’ smoothing over his lab coat and clearing his throat before launching into his meticulously practiced speech.
“General, gentlemen, you are all very much knowledgeable on the topic of deterrence: the concept of dissuading your enemy from any attempt at attacking you. While this can be accomplished in many ways, fear is the most common method. Terrifying your enemy into holding fire for fear of what might happen next.”
The professor paused for dramatic effect, adjusting his glasses. “And what weapon is more terrifying, more fear instilling, than one that the enemy can’t even see? Not simply invisible to their radar, like one of our stealth bombers. But invisible to their naked eye!”
A combination of skeptical and incredulous expression swept over the assembled military men, the General in particular letting out an impatient sigh. “Invisible? Really?”
“I know it’s hard to believe General, but that’s not even the most amazing part!” Hoffman was gearing up for the hook of his speech now. “This vehicle isn’t simply invisible to everyone. After all, an invisible weapon can be a dangerous hazard to friendly troops on the battlefield. And it doesn’t exactly make for an exciting recruiting video now does it?”
Barksdale was tempted to make a comment about Hoffman’s patronizing examples, but he stowed it away for now. “You’re telling me that, not only have you made this thing invisible, but ‘selectively’ invisible? How is that even possible?”
“A multitude of factors my dear General!” As Hoffman spoke, he was already pulling a small remote control from within his lab coat. “By monitoring body language, voice patterns- even brain waves! This machine is packed with enough sensors to scan any target it encounters on the battlefield, checking the results against our databases, and determining if the subject in question is an enemy of the United States. It then adjusts its optical camouflage accordingly, rendering itself invisible to the target, revealing itself only to friends and allies!”
Sighing again, Barksdale was growing rapidly impatient with Hoffman’s theatrics. “I don’t suppose you have a working prototype of this ‘stealth machine’, professor?”
“On the contrary General, that is why I had you meet me here in the test hanger, rather than my lab! I wanted you, and your staff, to be the first ones outside of my team to feast their eyes on the future of warfare!” Hoffman aimed his remote at the center of the hanger, where all of the overhead lights had been conspicuously turned off, leaving a pitch black void in the middle of the room.
“Gentlemen! I give you, the XM-1837!”
With a tap of a button, the lights all turned on at once.
To reveal, that like the rest of the hanger, the now illuminated section was completely empty.
“Now I know it’s perfectly visible to you and I, but that’s because it all perceives us as friendly,” Hoffman explained in a casual manner, replacing the remote in his pocket. “If it were to detect us as threats to the American way of life, why, it’d be no more visible to our eyes than a dust mite.”
The officers all kept their faces impassive, but it was with that line he spoke that the doctor noticed a cacophony of emotions play out in their eyes; realizations of both confusion and horror. A few stole glances at one another, wondering if they were- or weren’t –seeing what they were. Even the General’s default icy expression seemed to be hiding a sudden and profound look of anxiousness.
Hoffman was positively giddy. But he still had to seal the deal. “So, what do you think General?”
“Well.” Barksdale seemed to have deflated a great deal since when he came in the door. “I think, that it uh…” The other officers looked to their leader, hanging off his every word. It was obvious none of them wanted to say anything about what was (supposedly) in front of them before the General spoke. The onus was on him to decide what the ‘truth’ would be for the rest of them.
“…that it’s some drat fine work there doctor! I obviously underestimated you- a mistake on my part!” The formerly gruff face had a toothy grin on it now. “But, you can’t blame me! Not when I had no idea you were working on something as amazing as this- which I see, right here, in front of me, of course! Boy, I’d hate to be considered a threat to freedom and democracy by that thing, I’ll tell ya!”
The flag officer punctuated his praise with a nervous laugh, looking back to his entourage for support. “Luckily, us true blue Americans patriots can see it just fine. Right men?”
The other officers launched into their best sycophantic agreements, a chorus of support for their superior’s views as they all sang the praises of the amazing machine- which they all agreed, was completely visible in the middle of the room.
“Yes Doctor, I think I can report back to the subcommittee that your lab should be top of the list for continued funding. We can’t have something like this-“ the General proclaimed, gesturing proudly towards the empty center of the hanger “-losing our support. I can see it now: every terrorist from here to Hyderabad will be cowering in their caves! The Chinese will spend billions trying to make their own, and the Russians will devote half their spy network to trying to get information on it!”
Everyone shared a hearty, forced, laugh at the idea, with much talk of glory and victory by way of the magnificent new weapon. Handshakes and goodbye pleasantries were exchanged, and the General and his followers were on their way, heading out to break the bad news to the other facilities that all of their funding would now be going to project XM-1837 once Barksdale made his recommendation to the appropriations subcommittee.
After the last of the military group had left the hanger, Hoffman’s assistant emerged from the shadows, where he had watched the entire spectacle from start to finish. The look on his face was one of both relief and astonishment, as he shook his head in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that actually worked. I mean, they have to figure out its all fake sooner or later, right?”
Hoffman simply shrugged, looking perfectly content with way things had played out. “Probably. But who knows when that will be? And by then, will they want the entire world to know that they spent millions, maybe billions, on an imaginary weapon?” He scoffed. “I think not.”
The assistant shook his head again, sighing heavily. “Man, I gotta get out of government work. Maybe get in the private sector where they have half a brain.”
Hoffman allowed himself a chuckle at his assistant’s comment, and at a funny thought of his own: there had been a shred of truth in his presentation.
Fear definitely was a potent weapon.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 20:22|
The Bre Men
Prompt: The Bremen Town Musicians
Word count: 1545
Ben slammed the phone down. “poo poo! Pete’s out,” he said.
“Well gently caress, what’re we gonna do without a drummer?” asked Roy.
Ben, their lead guitarist, glanced around the living room. They were at his parents’ house, where they were supposed to meet on their way to the bus station. Tom, their bassist, was leaning back against a wall. Roy, their vocalist, was sitting on the couch. His great uncle Cliff, not a band member, was in his wheelchair in the corner, looking out the window.
“You guys know anyone?” asked Ben.
Tom shrugged. “No one who’d go on a last minute bus trip.”
Ben hit the wall with his fist. “His bus ticket isn’t even refundable. And the drat instruments are already halfway there!”
Roy looked at the Battle of the Bands flyer he was holding and then threw it on the coffee table in disgust. “That’s it for The Bre Men, I guess.”
Cliff spoke up from his corner. “You know, I used to drum, in my time.”
Tom and Roy exchanged a glance. If Cliff had been a good drummer, it wasn’t in any recent decade. They couldn’t imagine this decrepit old man playing anything more technical than Little Drummer Boy.
“Well, I dunno, Uncle Cliff… you don’t really fit our image.”
“Can you perform without a drummer?”
“No, not really I guess.”
“Then what other options do you have?”
Ben raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, looking at Tom and Roy and shrugging. “You guys got a better idea?”
Neither of them did.
While waiting for their bus at the station, Roy looked around at the crowd surrounding them. His mouth opened in surprise and he turned to Ben, excited. “Check it out man, it’s The Throbbers!”
Ben looked around quickly, interested.
“Who’re The Throbbers?” Cliff asked.
“Another local band. We never met ‘em but we’ve been to a few shows. They’re way more popular than us.”
While it was true that The Throbbers were more popular than The Bre Men by a comfortable margin, all this meant was that they were able to book gigs in local clubs rather than dives.
“Must be on their way to the Battle of the Bands too,” said Tom.
“Let’s go say hi. Would be cool to hang out with them,” said Roy.
They walked over to the other band, Ben pushing his uncle’s wheelchair. Roy put on his best smile and said, “Hey guys, you’re The Throbbers right?”
“We’ve been to a few of your shows, you guys rock!” added Ben.
“You going to the Battle of the Bands too?” asked Roy.
None of The Throbbers even spared them a glance. “gently caress off,” one said.
“Uh, sorry, we just thought-“
“I said gently caress off, we don’t know you and we don’t want to.”
There was an uncomfortable pause as The Bre Men first looked at The Throbbers, then at each other. They walked away, embarrassed. Tom overheard one of them snickering and calling them worthless nobodies.
“Wow, what the gently caress was that?” asked Ben.
“A bunch of dicks,” said Tom.
“Forget ‘em,” said Cliff. “We’ll beat them, no worries.”
Ben didn’t seem convinced. “Hey, put your ear-buds back in, Uncle Cliff. If we can’t practice you at least need to learn the songs before we get there.”
Cliff shrugged. “Already got ‘em memorized. Ain’t the first time I hear ‘em.”
“You heard our stuff before?” asked Roy with a grin.
“Sure, son. Got nothing else to do in my chair all day. You guys sound good, and you’ll sound even better with a good drummer.”
Roy burst out laughing and looked at Ben. “Your uncle’s got guts. I like him.”
Tom didn’t look as amused, “Would you mind putting the buds back in anyway, Mr. Cliff? We’ve been waiting for this show for a long time and we want to be as good as possible, despite the situation.”
Cliff gave Tom a mischievous wink and slid the ear-buds back in. Tom thanked him.
They arrived in New York a few hours later. The ride had been uneventful, which was a relief. They had sat in near the front, which helped avoid awkward moments with The Throbbers, who were all the way in the back. Tom had thrown a few dirty looks at them, but they seemed to go unnoticed.
Walking out of the station, they saw a man holding a sign on which “The Throbbers” was written.
“Woah, those assholes got a chauffeur?” asked Tom.
“They must be getting bigger than we thought,” said Ben.
Cliff grinned, “Let’s find out just how big.”
Ben frowned and looked at him, puzzled. Cliff called out to the man holding the sign, “Hey, over here! We’re The Throbbers!”
“Uncle Cliff, what’re you doing?!” hissed Ben.
“Pipe down. They deserve this. So do you.”
The original Bre Men watched as their newest member lied to the chauffeur. The chauffeur accepted the story without question. After all, he’d never seen or even heard of The Throbbers before this job. He opened the back door to let the band into the town car.
“Dude, someone’s gonna catch on and we’ll be disqualified or something,” Tom whispered to Ben.
Ben shrugged. He wasn’t comfortable with it either, but The Throbbers were dicks.
The rest of ride was silent. The driver didn’t drop them off at a hotel but rather directly at the venue. Seems like The Throbbers weren’t planning on staying overnight – or were hoping to crash somewhere. Someone who could only be one of the show organizers, considering his headset and clipboard, walked up to the group.
“Who’re you guys?”
“The Bre-“ started Ben.
“The Throbbers,” said Cliff, cutting him off.
The man looked at his clipboard. “Alright, you guys are on soon, you can start setting up on stage 2 as soon as the current set is over.”
They thanked him. Roy pointed to a truck pulling up to the building. “Check it out, that’s our instruments, right? Good timing.”
The driver got out and opened the back of the truck. Ben jogged up to him and said, “Hey, this for Ben Francis?”
“Yup. Got any ID?”
Ben presented his identification and signed the offered form. The trucker pulled their instruments out of the truck, but they were on their own to get them inside. It took a few more trips than usual, due to having one less able body available.
The venue was setup in such a way that there were two stages, so that one band could set up their instruments during the others' set.
As they were setting up, one of the organizers asked “Hey, why does your drum kit say The Bre Men? I thought you guys were The Throbbers.”
“Oh we… we changed our name and couldn’t replace the drums in time,” said Roy.
“Heh, guess that explains why The Bre Men didn’t show up. You guys signed up once for each name, huh?”
“Yeah sorry about that, hope it didn’t mess up your scheduling.”
“Nah, The Bre Men were in the last few slots anyway,” said the organizer with a wave of dismissal. He then walked away to check on another band.
Once everything was set up they went backstage, where Cliff was waiting.
“You ready, Uncle Cliff?” asked Ben.
Cliff raised both drumsticks in one shaking hand, giving a thumbs up with the other.
“This is going to be a disaster,” Tom whispered to Roy. Roy shook his head.
The organizer who had greeted them outside walked up and said, “You guys are on.”
The Bre Men ran out on stage. The hall was packed. Ben had never played in front of such a large crowd before. It occurred to him just how terrible of an idea impersonating The Throbbers was.
“Hey everyone, we’re The T-“ he began, then thought better of it. gently caress it, we’re this far in already. “We’re The Bre Men! Hit it, Uncle Cliff!”
He turned around to point at Cliff, who was not behind the drum kit yet. He was still struggling with getting his squeaky wheelchair across the stage, the wires and cables making it difficult without anyone pushing him. He managed, inch by squeaking inch, drumsticks between his thighs, to make his way to the drum kit. The hall was dead silent. One lone, mocking guffaw rang out.
Once behind the drum kit, he reached down to grab his drumsticks, fumbling and dropping one. It rolled across the floor, out of his reach. More laughter. Ben’s stomach dropped like a stone. Why did they think this would work? Roy had to walk over to pick up the drumstick. Cliff gave him a nod of thanks.
Uncle Cliff held both sticks up high, as steady as he could, which wasn’t much, and stared at the crowd.
“We’re The Bre Men!” he shouted. “gently caress The Throbbers!”
As he launched into the first riffs of their song, the crowd fell silent again. It was the most flawless drumming Ben, Roy, Tom or anyone in this room had ever seen. Cliff began playing faster and faster. The crowd went wild. And with every pedal hit, every cymbal clash, every rhythmic snare, Ben started strumming his guitar and knew they had it made.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 20:45|
What I Do for Love
It’s a good thing beauty lasts forever, Desmond thought. He admired the damned impressive landscape on his girlfriend. His hand connected with the booty meat hidden beneath Ramona’s red cloak.
She squealed and reflexively punched him on the shoulder. Desmond spiralled through the air and landed rear end up in a thorny bush. “Shnookums!” she called, running daintily to where he struggled to free himself.
“I’m good!” Desmond announced shakily. He always forgot how freakishly strong she was. He recalled the hospital visit after they had sex while she wore her cloak for the first time. Besides the multiple rib and pelvic fractures, it was the best sex in the history of man.
Desmond limped up the forest path to her father’s wooden cabin. As they made their approach, the door slammed open revealing a large shadowed figure with bloodshot eyes.
“Daddy!” Ramona ran into the embrace of the hairiest man Desmond had ever seen. The sheer volume of hair on his body kept the flannel shirt from ever touching his skin. Desmond craned his neck to look the woodsman in his steely eyes. He swallowed a lump.
“This is my boyfriend, Desmond,” Ramona said, dragging Desmond closer to what he was sure was imminent death. “Baby, this is my daddy, Bruce.”
Desmond cleared his throat and awkwardly offered a hand. “Hi.”
Bruce growled. He turned, then sat in a chair that was comically too small for his size.
Ramona urged Desmond forward. “He wants to tell you something.”
This was it. This would be the day he died. His tombstone would say, Here lies Desmond. He hosed the wrong man’s daughter.
“I, uh, hi.” He flushed. “Sorry, already said that. I wanted to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
Bruce’s sudden, manly guffaw caused Desmond to recoil and protect his soft parts with his arms. The laughter cut out with a growl and Bruce loomed over him, still taller even though he was seated.
“Boy, you think you’re good enough for my Bunny-wunny?” Bruce’s glorious mustache waggled as he spoke. “What do you do?”
Desmond looked up at Bruce with trepidation. “I’m an Art History major with a minor in-”
“No boy will take my Bunny-wunny into a road of poverty!” Bruce roared, spittle flying from his mouth.
“Daddy! I love him!” Ramona clung to her father, nearly disappearing into his arm hair.
Bruce shot a look at Desmond with fire in his eyes.
“Sir, I would do anything for Ramona.” What on earth has come over me?
Bruce screamed and tore his flannel in twain. The briar forest of chest hair puffed, flicking shiny gleams of sweat outward. “You will prove to me if you have what it takes to be a man in a contest of strength.” He stomped by and shoved a steel-bladed axe in Desmond’s chest, knocking him over a chair. “Come boy.”
Outside, Desmond found himself staring up an old redwood tree. “You want me to cut down this tree before you punch your tree down?”
Bruce cracked his knuckles and eyed his target, a tree as wide as his cabin. “You best get started, boy.” When his fist connected with the tree, dirt flew up as the roots strained against the earth. “I won’t be long.”
Ramona is the finest girl in all the land, Desmond thought. I’ll never find anyone as hot as her if I fail here. That rear end. I would kill a man’s dog and eat it while looking him straight in the eyes for an rear end like Ramona’s. He lowered his stance and held his axe to his side like one would a sword. The world around him slowly dimmed and the fury of Bruce’s hammer blows faded until the tree was the only thing in focus. He felt the tree’s life force through his feet. The thrum of insects living in the branches-
“Watch out Desmond!” Ramona’s voice cut through the fog.
He looked to his right. The tree Bruce had been beating on was falling toward him. Desmond shifted his grip on the axe. Like a viper, he uncoiled and the axe head whistled through the air.
Both his redwood tree and Bruce’s falling tree exploded in splinters, dust and dead ecosystems. Desmond dropped the axe to the ground and staggered out of the cloud of tree debris.
Bruce fell to his knees as his moustache pulled free of his face. It fluttered like a butterfly and crossed the distance to Desmond, attaching to the lower half of his face. “Boy, how did-”
“Man,” Desmond corrected him. His shirt billowed and hair curled up out of his collar.
“Man, yes, of course,” he said, blushing. “How were-”
“-was I able to chop both trees with one swing of an axe?” Desmond said, his glorious moustache wiggled as he talked. “I majored in Art History, that much is true. But I have a double minor in Samurais and Lumberjacks.”
“That’s a thing?”
Desmond revved the engine of the motorcycle he and Ramona are now sitting on. “I went to a For-Profit school.”
Bruce nodded. “Ramona, make sure to invite your grandmother to the wedding.”
Ramona waved at her father. “I will daddy! Thank you!”
Desmond placed aviators on and hit the throttle, dirt and debris flying back. “I’ll see you in a few months, ‘Dad’,” he said. They sped down the forest path, backlit by the setting sun.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 23:00|
The Shepherd's Daughter - 1345 words Sleeping Beauty
Once upon a time, a shepherd girl lived with her parents in a stone cottage by the sea. They were poor, but they had everything they needed to live, and they were happy enough. The only cloud in her sky, as she grew older, was that they only saw other people when she helped her mother drive the flocks to market, and that was only once a year. Her name was Agnes, and she was lonely. She wished for a companion of her own age, to wander the hills with her.
In the summer of her thirteenth year, a thunderstorm frightened the sheep and split the flock, and Agnes chased the lost ones far from home. Dusk came down and found her caught in the open. She had been out at night many times before and had no fear of wolf or bandit. The hills were her home, and she sat under a tree to wait for morning to come. On the wrong side of midnight she heard the bleat of a lost sheep and got up in the dark, calling out to the silly creature, following its cries. It took her until dawn to catch up, and she found herself in a part of the hills she had never visited before. The valley before her was thickly coated in gorse and thorns, twisted into a maze that would have daunted the bravest warrior, and in the middle sat a tiny cottage of stone, just like the one Agnes lived in with her parents. The poor sheep was caught in a thornbush, all its struggling just getting it more stuck, and Agnes spent an hour calming it and cutting at the thorns with her knife until she could let it free. It fled back up the hill.
Agnes should have gone after it, but the mystery of the little house among the thorns called to her and she walked along the edge of the tangled plants until she found a way in that looked a little easier. Many times she had to turn sideways and squeeze between prickly bushes, or crawl on her belly under thick, spiky brambles. Her clothes were sturdy but even so, by the time she emerged in front of the little cottage she was bleeding from half a dozen shallow scratches and her shirt sleeve was ripped to shreds. The cottage itself was small and slumped, as if the very walls were weary. Nothing stirred in the tiny clearing amid the thorns. Even the air seemed still and lifeless. As Agnes drew closer to the wooden door, she looked down and saw a mouse lying on the cracked stone path. At first she thought it was dead, but it was so strange to see it there in the open that she crouched down to peer at it, and saw the furry little side rising and falling with the mouse's breathing. Not dead then, asleep. But what could leave a mouse sleeping out on the path?
She stepped carefully over it and put her hand on the door. It stuck at first, but a little pressure overcame its resistance. Inside, the cottage looked very much like the one she lived in at home. She had somehow expected it to be coated in dust and cobwebs, but in fact it was clean, as if someone had just swept the floor and tidied up and then stepped outside. Coals in the hearth still glowed faintly as if the fire had just gone out. The sleeping chamber was separated from the living space by only a curtain of rough linen, and a dim glow came from behind it. What kind of witch might live here, in this silent house in the thorns? Agnes took her knife in hand and eased herself as quietly as she could across the stone floor. She stopped to take a breath, and gather up her courage, and carefully pulled the curtain aside.
A boy of about Agnes's age lay on a thick mattress of stuffed straw, covered to the waist in a warm wool blanket. His hair was of thick, copper curls and his skin was milk-fair, with a spray of freckles across his nose. He was dressed in a good wool shirt and his hands had been folded on his chest. Just like the mouse, he seemed dead, but Agnes watched him closely and could discern the faint rise and fall of his chest. A candle sat on the windowsill above his resting place; it glowed, but the flame was still and did not flicker.
Agnes watched for a long time, hardly daring to breathe, until at last she could tell herself that there were no nasty surprises waiting here. Just a boy asleep. Even so, she kept one hand on her knife as she reached out the other to touch his, to shake it. His flesh was warm and living, but he didn't stir. Not even the rhythm of his breathing changed. Agnes grew bolder and shouted in his face; she took him by the shoulders and shook him, but all that happened was that his hands fell from his chest and she felt guilty for disturbing his peace.
She folded his hands back on his chest, and left him there to look around the cottage more carefully. She found two more mice, sleeping where they lay, but no sign of any other person, no clothing or food left in the house. She sat down a while on a wicker chair to think about what to do, and decided at length that she would leave, being careful to mark her way, so that she could tell her parents about this place. Perhaps someone in the big town would know what to do about a boy trapped asleep.
She stood over him for a minute longer, and then, because he was fair of face and beautiful, and because in her heart she felt sympathy for his loneliness here in this little house, she bent over him and kissed his forehead. To her great shock he gave a sigh, and his eyes opened. They were sky-blue and clear and he gazed up at her without fear; she was the one more afraid, and started back against the
curtain. Behind her in the cottage she heard the panicked skittering of mice. The candle flame flickered.
"You have awakened me," he said, and his voice was soft, and he smiled at her so sweetly that her fear left her. She sat on the bed beside him and he told her his story. His name was Peter and he had lived just such a lonely shepherd's life as hers in the valley. On one dark winter's night a traveller had come across the hill, and pounded on the door, demanding food and shelter. His parents had of course let the traveller inside, and done all they could to provide, but the traveller's appetite was endless, and he ate up all the food they had laid by for the next week, and drank all of the good wine. At last Peter's father had spoken out and told the traveller he must leave, or they would surely all starve, and the traveller had laughed and thrown off his rough cloak to reveal a tall, beautiful fairy lord.
"If you are so concerned about starving," he said, "I will take away this extra mouth from your table!" He pointed at Peter, and that was the last the boy could remember. He didn't know where his parents might be now; he supposed they had left him there when they could not wake him. The thorns had grown up after they were gone, and he had been asleep here now for who knew how long.
"Come home with me," Agnes said, and he agreed, smiling. Hand in hand they fought their way back through the terrible tangle of thorns, and hand in hand they made the journey back to the house of Agnes's parents by the sea. And if they have not died, they are living there still.
|# ? Feb 1, 2015 23:32|
El Toro Delgado - 1095 Words
The amber glow whirled around the room. Carlos spun the bronze ring and watched it hoping it would answer his questions. Even after all these years with him the ring had never lost its luster. Not once did he have to clean or polish it, even when he dropped it down the cliff and it roll and bounced all the way to the visitor center parking lot. Not even a scratch marred the ring’s perfect luminescence. it started to slow and he readied his hands to spin it again. The door opened as Carlos ripped his hands apart to set the ring on its precarious course again
“I found something i didn’t think I’d find at the swamp,” Larry said a bit out of breath. He hooked his foot around the door for his arms were full of tools. A machete, dungarees, a propeller to an airboat that was missing two of three blades, and Hurricanes baseball cap.
“What could that be? A body? A brick of cocaine floating in muck? Maybe a bar so we can finally stay drunk enough there to kill mosquitos when they bite us?” Carlos raised one eye from the ring to follow Larry dump the debris in the corner.
“The gators were awake,” Larry said matter of fact. He strode into the kitchen and lifted the door off a lime green fridge. The handle had been broken for months but neither one of them had enough in the fridge to care enough to fix it. He snagged a bottle of beer and popped it open against the refridgerator door.
“But it’s the middle of winter. How the hell can they be awake already?” Carlos was almost distracted enough by the news to not prime the ring to spin again.
“Well something stirred them up. Made real pissy too. They were after the airboat something fierce,” Larry said.
“You think it could be the boat?” Carlos’ eyes filled with greed at the mention of the word.
“Well either that or the government finally decided to clear out the debris,” And they both shared a laugh together.
“We’ll go tomorrow in the morning. Pack the survival kits too.” Carlos snatched the ring and went to ready himself for the trip to the glades.
Tires chewed through the bog as they bounced along the road to their cabin. Carlos clutched the ring in his hand. The truck bucked as the made their closer, their bags and gear would jump up only to be restrained by the cargo net tied haphazardly over the bed.
A small clapboard mound was barely visible through the trees. A camo tarp folded messily over some PVC was their carport. Carlos knew enough about his partner to untie the cargo net from his seat and wait. Larry whipped the truck into reverse and slammed the brakes right before the dock. Their gear spilled into the air boat ready to go. Larry gave a pleased smile and clambered out the truck.
They sped along the swamp, deftly missing as many logs as they could. And for those they couldn’t miss hoping they wouldn’t be the one that punched a hole through the hull. Carlos had the ring wrapped around his left hand like a knuckle duster and the other rested lamely above the trigger guard of a faded rifle. It was a habit he had learned when young when travelling the swamps to always have a rifle ready to shoot a gator if it jumped up in the boat. Not once did it ever happen to him or anyone he knew but he wasn’t going to let himself be the bad example for others to doubt existed.
“So how will we know when we find this marooned ship Carlos? Lots of boats gone missing here,” Larry’s hand moved erratically to move the yoke.
“Larry not many of those boats are a Spanish Galleon. It would be pretty difficult to miss. Even for you.” Carlos looked back at his buddy as he said this.
Larry bit his lip and squinted at the sun. Carlos still hadn’t seen the gators that his buddy had talked about. Maybe he hit the Mescaline a little too hard yesterday. The shimmering of the bog and hallucinogens never seemed to mix well for Larry. Time before last he crashed the boat into a tree thinking he has saved the president from getting T-Boned. It wasn’t until Carlos had him repair the hull that he finally understood why he didn’t have a medal.
Carlos felt himself slide towards the bow of the ship. Larry let out a swear in confusion. The bow had dipped down and now as it rose back up it brought a twelve foot fanged monster into the boat. Larry rolled out of the boat and tried to swim for the nearest mangrove in hopes he could climb it for safety. Carlos raised the rifle and pulled the trigger at the gator’s soft underbelly. The hammer fell flat and made a soft click. Terrified he brought the gun up into the creature’s belly in hopes to impale it The barrel tore through the softer scales and the gator whimpered as it fell into the boat limp. Carlos brought the ring above his head and slammed it into the gator’s skull. After a minute the fragments of skull stopped flying up in his face and he looked around for Larry.
“Larry!” Carlos shouted across the swamp.
“Boss! Are those gallon ships kinda like sail boats?” An echo whispered behind Carlos.
“They’re wooden and they have sails, though this one’s should probably be rotted!” Carlos looked around trying to place his friend. A faint rustle came from overhead. Carlos readied the ring for round two. Larry’s head popped out.
“Nice gator!” Larry was shimmying along a branch to drop into the airboat.
“Larry what was that about sailboats?” Carlos asked as Larry fell into the boat, his fall cushioned by the corpse of the gator.
“Oh I found this cool wreck over there. It has a big bull on the front of it,” Larry sat on what was the gator’s head and readied the boat.
The ring gave a warmth in Carlos’ hand. A bull masthead can only mean they found the ship. El Toro Delgado.
The airboat moved it’s way through thick mangroves. Carlos hacked at the roots with a machete with a spirit he never knew he had.
As they passed through the grove the light struck Carlos. There in front of him was a handsome bull, its nose ring clearly missing.
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 00:26|
The Wild Man and the Scepter - 848 Words
The house of the wild man is tall and ramshackle like his ageing frame. It is draped in vines that in spring flower white like his beard. I come to him when I need things. He stoops through the doorway with two cups, tea for me and hot water for him. He loves me because I freed him from my father. I am the hero of the town.
He looks at the floor with his little watery eyes. He can never meet my gaze.
“This time I cannot help you,” he says, “I do not have such a thing.”
I draw the knife he gave me. “You lie, wild man.”
He cringes. “Never, my sweet, not to you. I do not have it, but I know where it might be found.”
“The scepter grows colder every day. Soon its power will be gone and with it my Father’s. We need another. Tell me or I will send you back to him.”
The wild man sips from his water, hot with the power of the scepter.
“Before I tell,” he draws scissors from his rags and snaps them twice, schnick-schnick. “A lock of your golden hair?”
Though my hair is beautiful It is a price I pay gladly. He puts it on his mantelpiece next to my tooth that he pulled and one of my fingernails.
The scepter is west, under the mountain the priests speak of. We are not supposed to go there but I am the hero of the town. It is several days journey, even on my bicycle, and the going is tough. It is warded by spells inscribed in a hand known only to the priesthood. Some are chiseled in stone, others are made from metal or plastic or concrete. They become more frequent as I head west so I know I am getting closer. I feel tired.
The priests speak of three dangers. First are the cats. They come at me from the shadows, green tipped fur standing on end. Their claws are as sharp as the blade of the wild man. They are strong, but I am stronger. I cut them and they die. I run my hand through my sweat-shiny hair and it comes out in hanks. I have seen this in those whom tend the scepter.
Second are the flowers. They carpet the ground and move against the wind. I move through them and they open. Their pollen smells sweet like rotting fruit. The bile in my stomach rises and my skin itches. I breathe slowly and pedal hard, trying not to crush the flowers. I grip the handlebars tight and my fingernails loosen and some fall from my hand, lost among the blooms. I move quickly past the flowers.
At the base of the mountain is the third danger. A grey metal door, rustless and inlaid with silver filigree etching. Only the priests know the rites of entry, but my wild man has wisdom older than theirs. I wrap my hand in rubber and grit my teeth, then take the knife he gave me and press it hard into the etchings. There is light and pain like I have never felt, and the black rubber fuses into my palm. I open my mouth to scream and a tooth falls from my mouth. My heel crushes it to powder on the concrete. The door swings inward.
Inside it is bright and white and clean. There is no smell and no sound. Plastic panels glow like open windows so I cast no shadow. I crouch in the corner and pour the contents of my stomach on the floor. Black and acrid they shame me. They do not belong here and neither do I. I pedal for a long time, and as I go deeper it gets warmer. The final door is different from the others. It is decorated with skulls and crosses and a thousand other symbols I do not recognize. It is yellow and black and huge. It pushes open as if weightless.
Beyond the door are the scepters, not one but thousands of the dull grey metal cylinders. They are neatly stacked in long boxes, with rails running along the sides like coffins. It is hot in here, my skin is on fire, but I am the hero of the town. I have rope made of strong plastic. I tie the box to my bicycle and begin the walk home.
I wake in the house of the wild man. He is sitting opposite me, holding my knife.
“My beautiful hero boy,” he says with a warm smile. “You have done so, so well. Your Father has his scepter,” my eyes clear and I see my cage, “and you are my reward. Though perhaps you are not so beautiful any more?”
He holds the knife up to my cage. It is polished to a mirror. I see my face. My skull is smooth and hairless, my scalp blotched with red. I open my mouth and see only three teeth.
“Now let’s clean you up. The priests want some time with you.”
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 00:31|
Make a Wish
“Three wishes,” the stone whispered to Farah. “Three wishes.” She turned the pebble between her fingers, the blue-speckled rock smooth on her skin. She’d found it in the gardens, amongst dahlias and jasmines, and it spoke to her and her only.
She’d tried to find out more about the peculiar stone, but her husband, Prince Kamir, had found her in the library and dragged the book right away from her. “Women do not concern themselves with such things,” he’d said. “You should read something more jovial, if at all. Why are you not in the gardens? The sun is beautiful and so are you.”
“Of course, beloved,” Farah said, and did as she was told.
That night, Farah admired the view from her chamber more than ever: the lights of city dancing in the distance below, far beyond the palace walls. The blue-speckled stone gleamed at her from the bedside table. She held it close to her chest. “Three wishes,” it whispered, and she whispered back, “I wish to be taken away from here.”
The stone was silent for a while, then hummed. “Two wishes,” it said. “Two wishes.”
The next day a minstrel visited their court. His name was Cuvo the Magnificent and he sung to them of faraway lands and ancient times. He was a handsome fellow, and his tales made Farah’s heart leap, yet Prince Kamir seemed to listen more out of politeness than interest: his eyelids dropped with each verse, and soon he excused himself, as he had business to attend to.
Farah stayed behind and asked questions of the minstrel: had he really been to that place, or had these things really transpired, or had there really been a giant called Ognobar who hurled a mountain at the gods? “Of course!” Cuvo said to each of these questions, and put his hand on his heart with a wink. ”All is real, and Cuvo only speaks true.”
“If only,” Farah said, “if only I could see these places.”
“Ah, my beautiful hostess, if only I could show you.”
There were things in the minstrel's eyes she had seen in many other men - hope, intrigue and a bit of lust. “Would you truly?” Farah said, and she already knew the answer. She lowered her voice. “So meet me at the garden by midnight, and we shall escape.”
The suggestion took Cuvo quite aback. “But mistress, this humble minstrel would never--”
“It will be worth your while, I swear,” she said, and smiled, and she knew she had him right then.
They left the palace under cover of the night, shrouding Farah in the guise of rags and mud. Cuvo was as good an actor as he was a bard, and he spoke for both of them: he was a drunk philanderer and she some silent whore. The guards had no reason to keep them from leaving. The minstrel led her right out, and they left the city the same night.
She stayed at Cuvo's side, and their new life together turned out quite exciting. Together they wandered from town to town, along bustling trade lanes where they met jovial merchants on their wagons, or grim-looking mercenaries in gleaming armors, or simple peasant folk travelling the roads. Cuvo showed her all kinds of places, markets with their smells and sounds, pubs and smoke-filled dens where he would perform at night, for change and a bed and a warm meal for each of them.
The wandering minstrel was quite smitten by Farah, and from what little money he had left he’d buy her presents, sweets and exotic fruits like she’d had in the palace. “Good against homesickness,” he’d say, and wink. And yet, she didn’t miss the palace at all.
Instead she took to exploring the streets, more and more often on her own, while Cuvo performed elsewhere. As much as she enjoyed listening to him, she’d soon learned all his stories by hard. He didn’t seem to mind, at first. They still spent the days together, laughing and joking and dancing, and at the end of each night she came back to lay with him, for she really felt deeply for him.
But the distance began to grow. It was superficial at first: Cuvo stopped bringing presents. He introduced her to people, but he did so half-heartedly, and conversations often moved on without her. Some nights he didn’t even join her in bed, and she woke up to Cuvo fully clothed and reeking of mead. Sometimes he wasn't there at all.
One night the festivities downstairs were so loud that she woke from her sleep, and Cuvo wasn’t there. She found him in the tavern hall, his face buried in the bosom of another wench. Farah’s fury stuck in her throat, pushed down by the dread of a broken heart. She slinked back off into her room, unnoticed.
That night she clutched her stone closely to her chest, and she made her second wish. “I wish for Cuvo to stay with me,” she said. And the stone hummed, and whispered, “One wish. One wish.”
“Your child will be a healthy one,” the doctor said. “Praise the gods!”
“Praise them indeed,” Farah said. She stroked her belly and smiled at Cuvo, who faintly raised the corners of his mouth back at her.
They stayed together as a couple, although the rings under Cuvo's eyes, the brief statements that made up most of their conversations, made it clear that it was more out of duty than love. He didn’t bother to cover up his nightly exploits anymore. He was away all day performing for money, and Farah would spend the nights home alone, looking up into the stars, wondering when her man would come home and stink of alcohol and women.
They'd gotten themselves a clay hut, and after many weeks in the same city Farah's sense of adventure had waned. The crowded streets, their colorful markets and exotic visitors, she knew them too well. She investigated the back alleys instead, places she hadn’t dared going to before. It was here that she found the spice merchant.
He was eloquent and pompous, and he spoke to her of lucid dreams so real that life seemed a cheap illusion. He presented her with a pipe, and a pack of herbs. Dreamgrass, he called it.
The coming weeks turned into a haze. The dreamgrass showed her a new world, like lifting the veil of a shadow theater and looking at the lights beyond. She barely noticed Cuvo coming and going. They only spoke to fight about the money they didn’t have, money that had mysteriously started disappearing.
“I’ll hold on to it,” Cuvo said. “Women are bad with money. I should have known.”
But Farah couldn’t live without the dreamgrass. So she sold the only thing she had left.
Patrons were easily found. The city was full of desperate men, and she was still beautiful. With each suitor she earned enough for a few more specks of dreamgrass, and each day she consumed a little more of it.
She never learned if it was the roughness of her patrons, or the dreamgrass, or maybe just the grief that had silently nagged at her from within, but one day she woke up to bloody bedsheets, her skirt glistening red. Cuvo wasn’t there. She dragged herself to the doctor alone, and returned a teary-eyed wreck.
Her baby was gone. Cuvo said nothing at that. There was nothing to say.
That night, the whisper of the blue-speckled stone rang louder than ever. “One wish,” it said. “One wish.” She clutched it to her chest and said, “I wish to go home.”
The stone hummed, and then it spoke no more.
The royal guards found them next morning, the door to their room bursting to splinters as the armored men forced their entry. Cuvo barely got out of bed, slurring insults at the intruders, his fist raised to a half-hearted punch in broken stupor before he went down, blood travelling from his nose in a wide arc back to the steel fist that had shattered it. Farah clutched the sheets to her chest and froze, and stared off into the distance.
It was the last she’d ever seen of Cuvo. They were taken back to the royal palace in different wagons, tried before different courts. Him before a judge, her before the Prince, who chided her and had her lashed for her infidelity. But she survived. The great Prince Kamir could not afford to publicly execute his wife.
Cuvo wasn’t quite as lucky. She didn’t attend his beheading. Instead she hid in her bed, sheets over her head, rocking back and forth and finally crying herself to sleep.
When all was over, the flickering lights in the city below had lost any meaning. She spent her days in the garden, far away from windows, books and tales. She surrounded herself with the scents of the flowers now, the jasmine and dahlias. Some of them faintly remembered her of the smell of dreamgrass. That was behind her. Outside. The palace walls shielded her from the outside.
The blue-speckled stone was smooth and cool in her hand. It said nothing.
She threw it across the wall, into the outside world.
They deserved each other.
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 01:17|
Queen Takes Queen
Queen Sorienne dismounted from her horse, eyeing the door to the cottage with a sense of resignation.
"Are you nervous?" said the horse. His penchant for speaking was a source of irritation than wonder.
"It has to be done," the queen said. "Now graze for a bit while I talk to the person inside."
The horse gave a human-like nod, and walked off. Sorienne took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" said a voice sounding like her own.
"The Queen of the realm of Falada," said Sorienne. It was a half-truth, like many of the things she had said in the past few months.
The door swung open, and a face peeked out, the features strikingly similar to the queen's. Clad in roughspun clothing, the true Sorienne smiled at her pretender. "Aren't you coming in?"
It was smaller inside, for barrels and barrels occupied most of the space. The two women conferred around the minuscule dining table.
"My name's Jemi," the better-dressed woman said, gray riding clothes concealing knives and a small crossbow. "I'm sorry for, well, taking your place."
"I don't blame you. Every girl dreams of being a queen," said Queen Sorienne. "Beer or cider?"
Jemi stared at Sorienne's cup with apprehension. "Whatever's weakest, please."
"Well that's a shame." Queen Sorienne downed her own cup of cider in one gulp.
"How are you, Your Highness?"
"Just 'Sorienne' will do. I like it here. Townsfolk's nice, simple people. I've found out I have a talent for concocting drinks. And you?"
Jemi's smile frayed along the edges. "Difficult, but rewarding. Mostly difficult, though. Your husband... he went back from campaigning and he's pressuring me for an heir."
"Isn't that wonderful?"
"No!" said Jemi, and the cottage shook from her outburst. "I don't love him. I don't like him at all! I've got better table manners, even when I was still a serving girl. And he's got this huge, bushy beard..."
"I like the beard," said Sorienne, "but do go on."
"As I was saying, he's also loud and obnoxious and keeps bringing up his, um, conquests in polite conversation. How did you handle him?"
"Oh, I kept to myself," said Sorienne, already on her third cup of cider. "I was a princess of Blucher. You know, neighboring kingdom, nice tobacco exports. My mother, the queen, sent me to Falada to marry the king in a political alliance. And so I did. And right then, the king goes ahead and violently annexes Blucher."
"That's awful!" said Jemi.
"I suppose it is. But my troubles were only beginning. We played an elaborate game of hide-and-seek as I evaded his advances. I feigned sickness for months, then he started campaigning again, which made me safe for a bit. One day I went riding, saw a stream, thought it good to bathe in there. You know the rest."
Jemi buried her face in her hands. "I'm so sorry. But when I saw your face, I couldn't help it," said Jemi. "We might as well be twins. But I'm still amazed that no one in court could tell the difference."
"That's because no one looks at the queen long enough, because of the king's temper," said Sorienne. "I'm sorry you don't like it, though."
"I wasn't prepared for how boring life was," said Jemi. She had merely taken a sip of her drink, just to wet her throat. "I had a passageway constructed from my room to the library, where I could be alone. Then I tried running the kingdom. It wasn't that hard, which makes me wonder why the king's so eager to go out there make more enemies."
"He is a buffoon, you know."
Jemi sighed. "Anyway, it was fulfilling and I thought things were looking up, but then your husband returns and demands that we consummate our marriage, so here I am."
"What are you planning, Your Highness?" said Sorienne.
"I'm going to save our kingdom. And I'm going to need your help," said Jemi.
"What's in it for me?"
"Oh, I'm not interested in that. In fact, that's why my mother married me off to the king; he may be a ruffian, but he wouldn't hurt his wife. And there's no one else to succeed the line, anyway."
"I'll make it worth your while, I promise," said Jemi.
Jemi returned to the castle with Sorienne, the real queen, disguised as a chambermaid. It was easily the most exciting moment of her life, and a morbid part of her was thrilled to be caught.
Alas, no one took notice of an extra chambermaid, not even the fact that she bore more than a passing resemblance to the queen.
The king, upon learning that his wife has returned, immediately pressed her on to consummate their marriage.
"Sure, sure," said Sorienne, who had switched places with Jemi. "On one condition, though."
"Name it," said the king, brimming in anticipation.
"Let's do it in my quarters. I'm most comfortable in my own room."
Arrangements were quickly made. The queen dismissed all servants and sent for Jemi, the chambermaid.
"Everything okay?" said Sorienne.
"All preparations have been made," said Jemi. She tried not to look at the man she despised.
"There is something different in you," said the king. "Your manner has become... coarser."
"Why, it's the current fashion in court," said Sorienne. "We're trying to understand the common folk by mimicking their mannerisms. It's been proven to work. We can expect a bigger levy this year."
"I see. That could be useful." The king looked at Jemi with a curious eye. "My queen, why does your chambermaid look exactly like yourself?"
"Is she?" said Sorienne, taking on a condescending tone that would have made Jemi slap her under different circumstances. "Look at how her nose is subtly larger and out of proportion, and the location of her mole, which placement is less perfect than mine. But her likeness amuses me, so I employed her."
The king did as he was told, which gave Jemi the chance to slip a drug in his drink. "Truly you are my lovely wife and queen," he said. "But there is enough of me for both of you. Let her join in."
Jemi trembled, jostling the silverware in her hand. The two women shared a look.
"After you, my dear," said Sorienne.
Excited, the king stripped of his clothes, leapt into bed, and did not move.
"Is he out?" said Jemi, trying to look at the king's beard and nowhere else.
"You gave him sleeping medicine for the horse. He'll be out enough," said Sorienne. Just as planned, they switched places.
"That's a relief. I was getting itchy in your dress," said Sorienne, adjusting Jemi's bodice.
"Now what?" said Jemi.
"Now we restrain him."
They tied the king's arms and legs. Jemi picked up a pillow, held it over the king's face, and finished the deed.
Queen Sorienne dismounted from her horse, eyeing the door to the house with a sense of resignation.
"Are you nervous?" said the horse.
"Not at all," said the queen. "I have a question."
The horse blinked. The queen had never confided in him before. "Speak."
"Which queen do you prefer, me or her?"
"I prefer the one who is feeding me," said the horse.
"Thank you," the queen said. "Now graze for a bit while I talk to the person inside."
The horse gave a human-like nod, and walked off. Sorienne knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" said a voice sounding like her own.
"The Queen of the realm of Falada," said Sorienne.
The door swung open, and a face peeked out, the features strikingly similar to the queen's. Clad in merchant silks, the true Sorienne smiled at her pretender. "Wow. Now you've gone and done it. No one's mistaking us anymore."
Sorienne touched her cheek, tracing the scar that ran from the side of her eye to her chin. "Someone has to defend the borders. That damned king, giving me more work to do. How are things?"
"Business? Business is good. Wanna drink?"
Sorienne smiled. "Gladly."
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 03:41|
The man in red made Vasilisa love being afraid.
Every day at noon, after watering the vegetable garden, she watched for the man in red as he barreled down the dirt road.
She heard him before she saw him. The air filled with a high rumbling sound, not the gentle pitter-pat of the man in white who woke her up in the morning, or the flat clump-clump-clump of the man in black that came as she drifted off to sleep, but a tat-a-tat, tat-a-tat sound, like raining gunfire, percussion along her spine.
She looked back towards the house, where her mother was waiting.
Vasilisa’s mother was as round as Vasilisa was slight, as boisterous as Vasilisa was calm and quiet. She would beat Vasilisa when she disobeyed, and in the next moment she would sweep her up into her arms and squeeze her against the folds of her stomach, crying tears of love. And in the next moment, she would flop down into her chair and bellow at Vasilisa to do the dishes. It was a smothering kind of love, like the love a fat, splayed flower blossom has for the thin green stem that supports it.
Whenever Vasilisa called for her mother’s attention, her mother rarely responded right away—most of the time sluggishly, belatedly, sometimes not at all. This was how Vasilisa began to believe she might not exist. She took to walking with her hair tied back, her arms and legs extended behind her, imagining she was a pair of floating eyes, free from the confines of her body, from the confines of her mother.
The square wooden shack Vasilisa and her mother lived in was alongside a dirt road that led west, to a bustling village miles away. Every so often, her mother would walk to the village, coming back with cheeses, cured meats, and tales of unscrupulous youths and snide shopowners that tried to take advantage of her kindness. Vasilisa grew up afraid of the village, and held her mother closer in her fear. She grew to know fear as a familiar emotion, to live with it as an unwanted but helpful presence in her life, much as she was but a presence in her mother’s.
But this was a different kind of fear.
She turned back towards the road.
All at once he was there, and then he was past her, moving with the force of the sun itself, in a rush of searing dust, her blonde hair whipping in front of her.
Vasilisa would replay the two seconds over and over in her head for the rest of the day, remembering him as a flowing flash of red, his long hair like blood-soaked silk, sitting atop a horse that kicked up ashes and flexed its copper skin. She stared after him, filled with something warm and coursing, feeling like a dandelion seed caught up in a gust of summer wind.
She dreamed of the man in red seeing her and stopping for her, helping her onto the back of his grand, stampeding horse, and taking her off to places she had never seen before. She would watch all of the wonders of the world fly past as she held onto his broad waist, felt his warmth along her skinny arms, the smell of smoke in her hair and clothes.
This time, she had worked up the nerve to walk close enough to touch the side of his horse, trail her fingertips in sweat droplets the color of sparks. She had looked up at his passing face, but he never turned to look at her.
As soon as she entered the house again, her mother slammed the door shut behind her. “You’re not going out there anymore.”
Vasilisa turned to look at her mother. “Why?” she asked, speaking more clearly than she ever had.
“Because you’re my daughter, and because I said so, that’s why,” said her mother, standing against the door with her arms flat against the wall. “You belong here, with me, not with some man you’ve never met.”
Vasilisa was so used to obeying her mother’s orders that she nodded her head and went to her bed without stopping to think. She was surprised when she found herself crying into her pillow, thinking of being stuck in the vegetable garden, of being buried in dirt up to her neck while the sun beat down on her face. She cried until she fell asleep, and her mother didn’t say a word.
Vasilisa awoke the next morning, an hour before noon. She laid in bed for a half-hour counting the minutes in her head, hearing her mother sing to herself as she puttered around the fire.
She sat up, and walked towards the door.
“Vasilisa, I need you!” she heard her mother say. Vasilisa said nothing, just opened the door, her eyes pointed straight ahead.
Vasilisa planted her feet in the middle of the dirt road, faced herself eastward. She shifted on the balls of her feet, stuck her face out in front of her.
The air ahead of her began to shimmer and rumble.
“Vasilisa!” her mother screamed.
She could see him approaching, just a red dot in the distance that grew to the size of a pea, then a marble, then a grape, then a charging horse bearing down on her like a ravenous comet, burning away everything she could see—
Vasilisa shut her eyes—ground her teeth together—waited—
She heard a high-pitched whinnying in front of her, like the sound of mountains grinding against each other. Felt a rush of hot air she could barely bear.
She opened her eyes.
He was stopped in front of her, looking down at her with piercing eyes, pupils like lit wicks on red candles. Her mouth hung open. She tried to say something, but her voice caught in her throat.
“Buonasera, signora,” he said, his voice low and thunderous. He motioned her to the right with a gloved hand. “Per favore.”
“S-scusi,” she said, taking a wide step to the right.
The man in red stared at her with wide eyes, nodded, and then he was gone again.
She stared after him, dust collecting at her feet. Her mother was yelling something, but she couldn’t hear it. It was her turn to not exist.
She began to walk towards the village, following the sun as it moved in the sky.
It was almost the evening when she finally reached the limits of the village, the last traces of sunlight escaping to the west. She stood to the side and watched as the man in black rode his horse past her, through the center of the village, and off towards dusk. She shivered.
Once the man in black had gone, the villagers came out and began to celebrate.
Vasilisa gazed in awe at the strings of colored lights and blazing lanterns. She wound herself into the crowds of people and began to dance, mirroring their movements, feeling the music rise through her. As she danced, she noticed people staring at her. Every pair of eyes made her feel a foot taller.
Vasilisa threw herself headlong into the festivities, tasted and felt and heard everything she could gather into herself until she was an entity of sensations. She felt like life was living her for the first time.
Suddenly, the darkness exploded into light, shriveled under the sun’s rays as it appeared in the sky.
Everyone stopped singing, drinking, dancing, stripped from the cover of night.
The village was silent, save for a high rumbling in the air.
“Buonasera, signora,” the man in red said in a voice as sharp and sensuous as boiling wine, bringing his horse to a halt in front of her.
“Buonasera, signor,” Vasilisa breathed back, wondering if this was a daydream or a regular one.
“You moved for me,” he said, “and I will move for you.” The man in red leaned over, offered his hand to Vasilisa.
She immediately took it.
Her back arched as the sun’s energy raced through her. The whites of her eyes flashed orange, pink, deep red, then the white of a solar eclipse. Her blood rushed through her body in surging waves, flowing from the crown of her head to the backs of her heels with every heartbeat.
She pulled away.
The man in red was still there, looking down at her. “Come with me,” he said to her. “You need never want for me again.”
She could see her long hair hanging past her trembling eyes—it had turned the color of his hair, the color of fed flames shimmering in the night.
Vasilisa’s dream flashed through her head again, of clinging to his waist, her legs wrapped around the back of his powerful horse, holding on tight for the rest of her life as the entire world rushed by her eyes, countless mountains and deserts and wide oceans, moving past her at incredible speed as she wound her arms securely around him, forever safe, forever afraid, never letting go—
As everyone watched, Vasilisa stepped forward and hoisted her leg over the horse’s back, steadied herself, a tight smile on her face. She whispered a soft sentence into the man in red’s ears like whistling steam:
“Drop me off anywhere.”
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 04:02|
Bearskin Cloak Guy
(Elements: Deal with the Devil, Bear cloak. 1445 Words)
The doorbell rang. It was the devil. They'd be wearing the clothes and body of the delivery guy, holding the pizza Gil had ordered twenty nine minutes ago. He came down the stairs in no particular hurry. This leg of the negotiation process was merely a formality, and the devil's appearances had become commonplace. In the form of postal workers hand delivering bills, sickly birds on the windowsill in the process of leaving a mess, or pornographic performers suddenly addressing Gil by name during lonely midnight viewings, he and the devil had slowly circled an agreement.
He opened the door, brimstone and pepperoni gusts mixing with the stale hamper stench of his apartment. He slid his credit card onto the oily box held aloft before him. The devil placed a sheet of parchment next to it, the yellowing becoming darker as it soaked up grease.
"Sign here." he said.
A red tipped quill was suddenly present in Gil's hand. He scratched his name clumsily with the feather's odd balance. His card sizzled into the cardboard, taking on a sheathe of blackened carbon.
"Superb. Beautiful. You're now a Deluxe Brimstone cardholder, my friend. Congratulations. Let me just get your change from the car."
The devil's use of language was perfectly measured to hide only half of his disdain, and proudly display the rest. Gil held the pizza, and watched as the pizzaman's body rummaged through the trunk. He came back to the stoop with an even more filthy heap than the pizza. It was a ragged bear skin, clotted with dessicated fat and strings of viscera. It was carrion with sleeve holes cut out. The devil held it up by the ears, letting its weight drag the rest down onto the concrete.
"So I just wear this, right?"
The devil didn't nod.
"It was all in the contract. You wear the cloak, you don't shower, you don't brush or floss, you empty out your medicine cabinet, and you save a lot of money on detergent. You can flush, but none of those blue water tablets. No barbers. No razors or scissors. No tweezers. If anything is unclear, I'll have my people contact your people. Three years."
Gil pocketed his card, set the pizza box down on the steps, and allowed the devil to clothe him. It was a bit tight around the shoulders, and already he could feel sweat percolating up around his neck. He turned around to shake on the deal, say goodbye, and formalize the completion of the deal, but there was nothing but a black singe mark on the sidewalk, and a disgusting amount of scintillating automotive fluids spelling out "rear end in a top hat" where the pizza car had been parked. Typical devil stuff.
Gil grabbed the pizza, and kicked his apartment door close. Dropping the box onto his bed, he dug through his pocket to retrieve his grime encrusted card. He had sixteen tabs open on his computer, ready for his payment details. The checkout processes were only hampered by the number on his card changing each time he used it. The security code on the back, 666, was easy enough to remember after Gil had rolled his eyes at it twice.
After a few hours of reveling in filling up carts and checking out, signing up for streaming services and game accounts, he tossed himself onto his mattress and let the furry mass of the cloak smother him to sleep. The release of pleasurable reward chemicals into his brain had already been blunted. Was this hibernation?
The next day, an hour past noon, he untangled his legs from the cloak and stumbled to the fridge. Could he drink water in a way that'd rinse the grime of last night's pizza from his mouth? The stink of charred pepperoni was wrapped around his gums. He decided on cola, instead of chancing it. The day was filled with playing online games, purchasing cosmetic goodies from their built-in cash shops, and waiting for last night's next-day-shipping to arrive. He half expected every brown shorted deliveryman to slyly ask him how the cloak was working out, but instead they all avoided eye contact. The pens they let him use were blue or black.
Months swam by, and aside from a bird tapping at his window after he wiped his face off on his pillowcase too vigorously while waking up, the deal seemed very much in Gil's favor. His status online was higher than ever. His generosity and enviable gaming rig, as well as nightly streaming in the kooky bear cloak had garnered him a few thousand followers. His skin was pale and damp, and he often kept the hood of his cloak as low as he could. His few trips outside to buy smokes at the corner store were delayed until it was as dark as possible. It was during these times that the cold night air seemed to cleanse him as much as he could hope for.
He engaged in arguments frequently, defending his lifestyle and "character" as "bear cloak guy" constantly. He filled his days with the same rituals he always had, and though his utter lack of hygiene itched all the way down to his bones, only occasionally wondered what the ultra rich people he heard of on the news had given up to attain their wealth.
About one year in, he decided that he'd have to start utilizing his wealth to its fullest extent. He peeled the hood back from his wet strings of hair and began looking at travel websites. He didn't have a passport, and he knew he'd be out of luck if he had to be searched. He could drive across the country, but even with solid air conditioning he'd hate having the sun on him for any sustained amount of time. A bus might work, but he wouldn't want to force anyone to sit next to him. The day ran by, and before the night ended, resolved to simply get his smokes for the next day and put it on hold.
The landlord left notes about the odor from his place, and Gil countered by hiring a maid service. He streamed games nearly ten hours a day, and as inquiries about his personal life and health increased, an elite team of moderators banned people for the slightest impropriety. His tips to the local pizza place had increased, and even though the regular driver (who had once been possessed by the devil) made goodwill efforts at smalltalk, never looked him in the eyes. Didn't they know who he was? People had written articles about Bear Cloak Guy. He'd done blogcast interviews. People paid attention, and donated money.
The remaining years shed away rapidly. The air conditioning was not enough, and it was two hours past noon, and Gil was laying in bed trying to will some of the accumulated grime out of his eyes and ears and mind. There was a knock at the door. He spent ten minutes ignoring it as it returned and returned. He hadn't ordered anything in months, none of his pre-orders were due for weeks. He wobbled out to scare it away. He opened the door, the greasy smear of bear face lowered down over his own. He saw the Animal Control van covering up the faded "rear end in a top hat" grease spots. A man in mirrored shades and a brown suit not unlike a deliveryman was sizing him up.
"We've got reports of a dying bear loose around these parts." he said.
It was the devil. Gil let him talk.
"Impressive. Really nice. You had three years with nearly unlimited funds and, well, you did..."
The devil feigned peering over Gil's furry shoulder into the hovel packed with cardboard boxes and soda cans.
"Well, through history, others have accomplished far more with far less. But, the terms of the contract have been met. I've arranged a spa day to turn you back into a human. I plan on telling you all of the things you could've done with your resources."
Gil felt his spine straighten as ten pounds of hide and grime were lifted from it. The cloak was gone, and he was chilly in his damp sweat ruined v-neck shirt and boxer-briefs. The dried lines of muck in the creases of his arms were as dark as tattoos.
"I dunno, I've got plans." Gil said.
He turned to a box near the door and began clawing it open with his food stained fingernails. The devil may've arched an eyebrow behind those shades as Gil pulled up a clean and well tailored fur cloak from the box.
"I'm streaming tonight."
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 04:03|
(In the archive)
docbeard fucked around with this message at 15:04 on Dec 28, 2015
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 04:09|
The Farmer and The Wolf
The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids.
There once was a goat farmer who earned a meager wage selling milk, wool, and mutton with the help of his three children.
In the dead of an autumn’s night, a wolf knocked upon the farmer’s door and said, “Hello poor farmer, winter draws near and I demand that you open your gates and bring a goat for me to eat.” The farmer thought to protest, but cowered when he saw the wolf’s razor sharp teeth glint in the moonlight.
In shivering fear, the farmer replied, “Of course, I can spare a single goat if that would suffice.” The farmer opened his gates and brought a sickly goat to the wolf, who sunk his teeth into the goat with great haste and viciousness until nothing remained. Then the wolf crept back into the darkness without as much as a thanks.
The next week, the wolf knocked on the farmer’s door again and said, “I am here for another goat. The one you gave me last was sickly and did not satisfy my hunger.”
The farmer replied, “I cannot spare another of my cattle. My wages are paltry as it is and you will leave me without food for my own plate.”
“If that is what you wish, then maybe I should eat one of your children instead,” the wolf said as he inched into the doorway.
Finally, the farmer conceded, “Please, not my children. Follow me and I will bring you a goat of good health and taste.” The farmer again opened his gates and brought to the wolf a healthy goat and then watched in dismay as the wolf tore it apart before the goat could make so much as a peep. Then the wolf slunk back into darkness without a word.
Distraught, the farmer expressed his hopelessness to his sons, “What can we do? This wolf will surely return every week until we no longer have a goat to our name, and then he will turn upon us.”
The next morning, the eldest son approached the farmer and said, “Father, we have an idea that will rid us of the wretched wolf.” The three children walked their property until they found a boulder as large as the youngest son. They rolled it home, and for five days the oldest son chiseled the rock until it was in the shape of a goat.
The farmer looked over their statue and said, “It was a good idea, but surely the wolf is too keen to be fooled by such a display.”
The middle child said, “I will fetch a bucket of goat’s blood and bathe the statue in it so that it may trick the wolf’s nose,” and so he did.
“Maybe it would trick the wolf’s nose, but surely his eyes are not so poor,” said the farmer.
The youngest then said, “I will fasten wool to the statue so that it may trick the wolf’s eyes,” and so he did.
Finally, the farmer relented and agreed to their plot of trickery.
Just as expected, the wolf again knocked on the farmer’s door and demanded a meal. The farmer brought the wolf to the decoy goat, but the wolf paced about the statue suspiciously.
“Why does it not move?” the wolf asked.
“It is likely scared stiff by the menace of your glistening teeth,” replied the farmer.
The wolf smiled, and in an instant, snapped his jaws upon the statue and his teeth shattered into a hundred pieces. He howled in terrible agony and cowered back into the night, never to be seen again.
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|# ? Dec 4, 2021 05:21|
EVENING OF THE LAST DAY
THREE HOURS REMAIN
before the mountain closes and no more children get inside.
|# ? Feb 2, 2015 04:58|