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  • Locked thread
Sep 20, 2015


crabrock posted:

ok people can stop signing up now :cry:

In case my co-judge's blubbering confused anyone, sign ups close tomorrow night.


Aug 2, 2002


Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Boaz-Jachim posted:

Flash rule: Humans have lost the ability to harness heat of any sort, and no one knows why. Fires won't start, the sun no longer warms, and anything using steam or combustion (power plants, motors) no longer works. Your protagonist's motivation is righting a wrong.

:siren: supplementary flash rule :siren: a piece of furniture talks. no one finds this odd or remarkable in any way.

Aug 2, 2002

sebmojo posted:

:siren: supplementary flash rule :siren: a piece of furniture talks. no one finds this odd or remarkable in any way.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Grizzled Patriarch posted:

Crits for Strange Log Week, Part 1

These are good. Thank you!

Mar 29, 2012

She was an awkward girl

Grizzled Patriarch posted:

Crits for Strange Log Week, Part 1

Very much appreciated, thank you.

Dec 15, 2006

Come fight terrifying creatures in the THUNDERDOME!

In to make crabrock sad.

Wangless Wonder
May 27, 2009

in. i will try to write the words

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh

Week 182 Crits Part 1

Dicking Around

I’m not going to lie, I kind of loved the opening paragraph. It really nailed down the tone you were going for, it was a good use of character voice, and it created this tension that made sense to the character and was portrayed well for the reader.
The story’s very tongue-in-cheek, but it still works fairly well as its own conflict, within the confines of the world you’ve established. It seems almost fable-ish, from the way people act—they all have their own fixed personality and method for dealing with problems, and even though the end was a bit of an unexpected one, it felt a bit fixed as well. Again, it’s a very pleasant story, but pleasantness isn’t exactly the root of conflict, change, or emotional resonance. This story is a well-crafted joke told at a bar—it’s funny and really good for what it is, but no one’s going to be moved by it. Still a decent effort, and a good way to start the week.

New Year, New Life

I get what you’re going for here, epiphanies don’t always have to be these world-shaking proclamations, sometimes they can be as small as a guy looking up community colleges. But that’s sort of like how writing really good flash fiction is harder than writing a really good short story—the smaller the epiphany is, the more crystal clear and well-crafted everything leading up to it has to be, because you don’t have the natural gravitas of a death or a birth or a break-up or a marriage. Here, it doesn’t work, not just because the memory about his wife telling to go to community college comes too late in the story, but because we don’t have any sense of his wife as a person. Again, that’s one of the pitfalls of writing stories this short, but every detail has to be both concise and sharp, and a lot of the ways you were trying to “subtly” fit in his wife and son’s death were both blunt and vague, especially in the scene with Charlie. It’s good that you’re trying to be ambitious with this story, but it might have gone over more smoothly if you had simplified it, maybe restricted it to one scene.

A Photo Of Mr. Kellogg

I felt like this story was only a few tweaks away from being an HM or even a win. Everything involving Mr. Kellogg is really interesting, I enjoyed the concept of this shut-in janitor who’s able to fix almost anything, and the major scene where Hector goes to search for him was blocked well and had some legitimate tension to it. It would’ve had more tension to it if Mr. Kellogg wasn’t just seen as a regular part of the school, rather than being shrouded in more unknowns. I kind of knew that Hector would turn out okay while reading the story because there wasn’t that worry that Mr. Kellogg would turn out to be a villain. The ending where his leg is fixed is pretty good, but again, it’s not in service of much change within the story, so I feel like a lot didn’t change over the course of it. It’s more of a plot than a story, because the emotional dimension isn’t really there, and that’s what hurt its chances the most.

Re: Teacher’s Lounge Biohazard Incident

I want to give you props for having the guts to take a risk by playing around with format, but ultimately it was a gimmick that didn’t pay off. The characters weren’t stereotypes, but the confessional-style format kind of isolated them and kept them from progressing and gaining depth and interacting with each other within the story, so giving them their own voices actually turned out to be a detriment. Also, the plot makes no real sense, and the addition of Violet being a ghost at the end just sort of ruined it further. If you’re not going for a plot that makes sense or is about more than someone just taking a poo poo in a trashcan, and the characters aren't exactly interesting or humorous enough to make up the difference, then yeah, you have an issue.

Don’t Be Too Smart In Middle School or The Universe Might Collapse In On Itself

Yeah, this was the week of Roger Ebert’s “idiot plots.”
I didn’t find this charming, which I think is what you were going for, but I didn’t find it offensive either—for me it was just kind of boring. The tone of the narration contributed to that sense of boredom a lot—there’s a black hole in the school and the principal can barely be bothered to hustle to fix it. He’s really the only character in this story, too—everyone else is either a cipher, like Amy, or a stereotype, like the kids. And beyond that, the title is basically the only logic holding this story together, because the story really does nothing to enhance or flesh out the premise. It’s just a laser focus on this character drama that doesn’t resonate with people who don’t agree with the sentiment that it’s not okay to be too smart as a kid. And then in the end, we find out that the final scene is all held up on a lie anyway. Cool story, Bro.

The Finger

This is one of those “talking-heads” stories, where you take things that could possibly be interesting and you confine it to a mostly-dialogue conversation between two people. It can, on occasion, lead to a good story. This was not that occasion.
If you wanted to write a story predicated on these two characters and nobody else, then why would you make both of them try to blackmail each other? I sort of understand that you weren’t trying to make either of them likeable, which is something I’d advise against, but okay, sure, we’ll go with that. But if you’re not going make them likeable, at least make me care about what they’re going through. A guy trying to get another guy to take the picture of him picking his nose at a D’n’D party by blackmailing him with a video of him wearing a dress is a very junior-high conflict, but there are other conceivable junior-high conflicts that are much less convoluted and a lot more immediately interesting and relatable. Here, you just sort of drenched the whole story in this back-and-forth dialogue and ended it with this sanctimonious speech from Jonas that was supposed to come off as this big epiphany, but just sort of fell flat.
Really, my advice is to just simplify. Characters, situation, conflict, everything.

“so it’s gonna be forever or it’s gonna go down in flames”

This was really charming in a way that a lot of other stories weren’t, and nailed the junior-high voice in away that a lot of other stories didn’t. I felt like it would have stayed charming without a lot of the subtle digs it was going for—if you just made this a story meant to be taken with a realistic tone, it might have increased its effectiveness even more. As it was, I felt like I could’ve stood to know more about the main characters. The only real bit of character information I got was the baseball thing, and that didn’t really end up factoring in or going anywhere. The ending was really cute and heartwarming when run through the concept of the Cyclops, but with the characters being sort of faceless, it still has more in common with a joke story than I’d like. It was very enjoyable, nonetheless.


Yeah, if you saw the livecrits, you know all my problems with this story’s nonsensical plot involving a serial chips-and-coffee pisser. So we’ll try to focus on other things. Spencer was the best character in this story, but that was because he was the only active one. I could’ve read the story from his perspective and it would’ve been an improvement. Sarah’s just sort of there for almost all of the story, until the end when she changes Jordan’s grades, which is meant to be this masterstroke that will…do what, exactly?
Okay, I can’t focus on other things. The dialogue’s reasonably well done, the characters are alright, Mr. Ashley’s sort of a cartoon villain, but whatever, I was assuming it would pan out to something. The raw elements of this story aren’t terrible, it’s that they’re all used to craft a story that’s aggressively nonsensical, to the point of being offensive. And for a week that was intended to produce stories about junior-high-schoolers in a junior-high-school environment, this story was A) full of characters that either were adults or that acted and spoke like adults, and B) took place in an environment that was a junior-high-school on its surface but demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of how a junior-high-school was supposed to work. And even that can still work—the winning story this week took a non-standard interpretation of the prompt and made it work through stellar execution. This was just half-assed in terms of execution, and it hurts to say that, because I know you’re a good writer and that you’ve written good stories in the past.

Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 19:32 on Feb 6, 2016

Apr 12, 2006

curlingiron posted:

In to make crabrock sad.

me 2 m8

Bird Tyrant
Apr 21, 2003



Sep 20, 2015


Entries have closed. Reminder: submissions close Sunday night at midnight Mountain time (11 PM Pacific/2AM Eastern.)

Write well.

Jul 18, 2011

Modern worldly poster

Thanks for the critiques, Twist!

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Catching up on my crits. I'm going to be putting them out in small batches all weekend! Here are the first 7 crits from week 180.


Okay, so your first sentence in a mess. It’s too wordy and it TELLS us way too much about the character. Coming out and making a direct comment about his “social IQ” is redundant, because his deficient social IQ is the whole point of the story. The story ends on a hopeful note; Kelly seems willing to give him another chance. I think he needs like...more of a quality that makes us cheer for him. Like, as it is, he reads like way too many guys I’ve known who just never get past their preoccupation with the feminine mystique and spend their 20s/30s in a state of prolonged emotional adolescence. So by the end I’m like, OH MY GOD KELLY YOU DON’T NEED HIM. He’s not exactly unlikeable. I just don’t feel like Kelly’s friendliness toward james in the last scene is good thing for either of them. And if it’s meant to be bad, then it’s not an effective ending. Because it leaves both characters in the uncomfortable situation they started in, with no emotional catharsis. James tries to convince himself he’s changed. I’m not convinced. All that said, there were a couple cute things here. I feel like the overall intention of the story was...ok? Just not executed as well as it could be.


So, the beginning of this story set Eli up as...suspicious. And the weird shenanigans on the TV, where he looks all enraptured by snuff footage, seem to sort of support that idea. But...nothing really comes of that. Eli is kind of creepy. So? The voice is good, but the actual story is something out of internet creepypasta. You don’t need to explain the supernatural, necessarily, but given how Eli was set up, it was frustrating that the story ultimately revealed very little about him. You even subverted anything ominous about him by giving him a fear of rats. Which could be’s just the only really concrete revelation we have about his character. Once they start trying to escape, they just become Two People Trying To Escape From A Creepy Building. Their problem solving comes down to walking around searching for cell signal. Which Eli gets. If the answer was on the internet the whole time, why didn’t he learn the trick about the rats while he was researching the place? That seems like a detail other explorers would mention. The writing here isn’t bad, but ultimately, the story feels like it’s all setup and no real resolution. I’m not even sure what the scene on the TV featuring Eli and the narrator indicates, other than...I guess they aren’t going to murder each other?


I liked the way you connected your prompt (Bowie’s Savior Machine) with an homage to Asimov. The judges weren’t sure about it at first, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t fanfiction or anything. It was a nice example of a story where the struggle was primarily internal, and I thought you did that pretty well, largely owing to your character’s voice and the contrast between the things he thought and the things he said. I thought the kid’s dialog was waaay too on-the-nose, was the main issue with this. Like the whole “sometimes I pretend too much and then I get angry” thing didn’t feel very authentic. I think you could’ve written the same conversation, only a bit subtler. Otherwise, I thought this was a really good first entry, and I had a nice time discussing the story with the judges when we were doing our live crit.

Amused Frog

So, first thing. You could cut everything up to the section that begins, “Do you know why you’re here, Grey?” Everything before that is unnecessary. Remember: as bad as this sounds, having horrible things happen to your protagonist isn’t enough to make the reader care about them. This guy barely knows who he is. Which makes him seem more like a camera there to record all of these horrible things. You could’ve cut the first few sections and applied those words to better characterization of Grey. Like, I know that his captors want. They want to test an experimental procedure on someone who’s allegedly a convicted felon. This has a slight whiff of like...the MKUltra experiments, which is cool and all, but you didn’t DO anything with it. Grey has no motivation of his own, he merely tries to comply. Which, that’s realistic, but not terribly engaging, ya dig?

God Over Djinn

Unfortunately, I can’t give this a full crit since it’s no longer available for viewing. BUT. It was a really effective, moving piece, in which a character portrait felt like a journey. I called this Oscar bait after my first reading, and what I mean by that is: it was subtle, cinematic, and emotionally satisfying. The theme of mazes was elegantly done. For someone losing their mind and their agency, even simple things can seem labyrinthine. Good job!


It’s funny, for how much info you give about the setting, I don’t ever feel like I have a good mental image of the environment your characters are in. The elaborate descriptions of the various numbered routes and passages didn’t add much, because I didn’t have that immediate, tactile information about the scenery. So it reads as kind of a confusing, generic dystopia. The narrator has some history with the Minotaurs, but I’m not going to lie to you, my eyes bounce off all the details in this piece. I get why protag is on the run. I can fathom why the brainwashed fascist robocops or whatever wanna wipe out the black market. But these are one-size-fits-all details that kind of just mimic things that happen in other dystopian action stories. I wanted a more personalized motivation for the narrator. His previous connection with the minotaurs isn’t really enough. Things get more interesting when the lady in the scarlett dress shows up. It’s like this pop of color and character that I wish had been present the whole time. Side note, it was confusing when you referred to her as a Valkyrie. Putting an actual in-world concept (minotaurs) in the same paragraph as a description like that is confusing. That said, I feel like you could’ve almost started the story with the entrance of the woman in the dress. Like, you could’ve done a lot more with her. Right now she’s sort of half-developed; for example, she alludes to a change of sex/gender, but it’s right at the end so it’s not like that detail is super pertinent, except to explain how she escaped detention, I guess. At the end of the day, this is one of those stories where like, I understand what happened, but I don’t know what it’s about.


So, I didn’t know what mifepristone was. I mean, I know what abortifacients are, I just didn’t know that was the name of the substance. I think it was Djeser who ultimately googled it while we were livecritting and explained to me that you could get it illicitly online. Right-oh, I don’t mind learning things while I read, if it plays into the story. And I mean, it wouldn’t have been very effective to be like “Camille waited for her ABORTION PILL to arrive.” I guess with stories like this, I like to be really clear in saying that I have no problem whatsoever with the subject matter you chose. I even addressed a similar idea--What if a person didn’t want to be born?--in one of my own stories. I don’t like the assumption that every soul wants to be born, I guess. Where this failed was mainly the blocking and description. The whole sequence where she’s driving/walking through the smoke lost me. And not only that, some poor word choices (Clunker????) actually made me laugh, which a story like this shouldn’t do. The noncorporeal baby comes across as a dick, which, I get that they REALLY don’t want to be born. But why is this pre-born spirit powerful enough to do the whole smoke and mirrors thing? And why exactly does Camille change her mind right at the end? The story really does make the case against having a baby, and I wasn’t convinced by her sudden resolve at the end. Fear of god, I guess.

Jul 25, 2012


Sitting Here posted:

Catching up on my crits. I'm going to be putting them out in small batches all weekend! Here are the first 7 crits from week 180.

Very much appreciate the crits!

May 27, 2013

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


White Powder, Black Oil (1247 words)

I kneel in the grass by the open door of my Aston Martin and suck in a thick line from the silver tray on the passenger seat. It’s only then, after the familiar numbness has blocked out the lingering taste of vomit, that I can start to think rationally about the situation.

Jamil and his men are dead. Their throats are cut and their wares are gone. The operation he ran, just inland of where Southend-on-Sea used to be, was the last link I knew of between England and the continent, a black market selling petrol and narcotics for sums that five years ago could have bought a house. Now it’s empty except for the bodies, a grim reminder not to linger for long.

Though I knew this would happen sooner or later, I hadn’t expected it to look like that. What would Shannon have made of it all?

Still, I have been nurturing a plan.

Cruising alongside a sea pockmarked with flooded houses, I check my supplies: enough coke to get home and twice enough fuel, even in this car. The absurd quantity of petrol the Aston consumed was always part of its appeal but nowadays its fuel economy is downright perverse. It gets through petrol like I get through cocaine, and the best part is, now there’s no one else on the road the two of us are free to indulge simultaneously. The shock of seeing Jamil like that has left me needing more than ever. I have the silver tray on my lap as I drive.

Just outside Wormington, I pass a tribe of Folkies setting up camp in a field. At first they lived only in national parks and expansive farmland, rightly choosing to flee the cities that stay occupied only by those with the brutality and firepower to survive their treacherous landscapes. Going to London is still suicide, but already these hippies have grown bolder, determined to rebuild civilisation with solar energy and renewable tweed. Last week, a group of them penned their sheep in my hedge maze.

I feel better already. Did science ever realise the psychiatric utility of the roar of a V12 engine? With Jamil’s guys dead, I must be the last man in England still living the party. For the rest of the country, running out of oil hit like the mother of all comedowns. It took just a week for London to become a warzone, but out in my manor country, my fortunate coal generator and copious stash of blow went happily unnoticed. The billions Shannon and I made as the power couple of the petroleum industry left me at least well prepared for the consequences of its abuse.

But as the house comes into view, I know something’s wrong. When I left, the lights were all on and Madonna was blasting from the speaker system. Now the place is dark and silent except for the gravel crunching beneath my tyres, and the faint murmur of voices from within. Fortunately I’m too jacked to be scared, so I lick up the last of the powder and march in the front door.

Inside, a woman in wellies stands on my Persian rug. “What the gently caress have you done to my house?” I demand, barging into a crowd of smiling Folkies. Chickens strut around my feet.

A skinny gentleman lays a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry sir,” he says as a goat bleats from the mezzanine, “but in times like this don’t you think a house like this should serve the common good?”

I push past him onto the stairs. Still, once I’ve got my cocaine they can have it. More immediately concerning is that my high is starting to fray at the edges. How long has it been since my last real line? The problem with coke is the energy it gives you only lasts as long as you keep having more, and then you suffer. As I run up the stairs, images I don’t want to see force into my brain. Jamil at his desk, neck gaping open like a mouth in his throat. Strobing movies in my head. Shannon’s body in the morgue.

I shoulder though my bedroom door and dive under the bed, much to the consternation of the couple on top of it. My stash is loose in a safe set in the floor. There’s less than I remember, but I do a quick dab then scoop as much of the rest up in two cupped hands and scurry out the room. Climbing back in the car, I dump the powder on my silver tray and drive.

So what was the big plan for when I ran out of petrol? It’s simple, really. Ever since the year all the oilfields dried up I’ve been living in my country home: nice, but not quite me. Through and through I’m still a Londoner, and I need to see the City one last time – the centre of a financial empire built in two manic centuries on oil and cocaine.

On the motorway I have six lanes to myself. My remaining fuel is half-gone before I get inside the M25. Even over the roar of the engine, the city sounds like New Year’s Eve. As the buildings get taller, I just know the ears of whoever’s hiding in them will have pricked up at the sound of my engine. This car always did turn heads.

But aside from a smashed wing-mirror near Seven Sisters, I make it into the City without incident. It’s only as I’m passing the Gherkin that something high calibre rockets into the passenger door, sending cracks through the window. Accelerating away, I find myself on London Bridge, the Thames a yawning gulf to each side.

Right ahead of me looms the Shard. I must have been driving towards it subconsciously. The tallest building in London, the Shard is a sheet-glass monument to the dead god Money – the building Shannon jumped from when she realised what we had done to the world.

No time to dwell. I’m racking up another line with a credit card when something thumps hard into my chest, knocking the tray to the floor and scattering its precious cargo. I stare at the growing dark pool in my suit jacket.

When the tray slipped, it landed between my seat and the gear stick at a 45 degree tilt. Miraculously, a perfect line of white powder seems to be trapped against the rim. Though every movement is a struggle, I delicately manoeuvre the tray onto my legs, desperate not to spill what I know is the last line of my life.

A coke-head and a petrol-head and proud, I decided long ago that a world without either wasn’t one I could live in. I’m a dinosaur and I know it, the last capitalist in a world belonging to environmentalists or anarchy.

Glancing up, the markings on the road have become lines of white powder floating on a black oil sea, disappearing one by one under the nose of the Aston. I accelerate faster, basking in the roar of the engine.

At the end of the bridge, the Shard looms ever closer. As the bridge becomes a road, I touch my rolled-up fifty to the tray and, with the car still accelerating, inhale triumphantly. When I turn a hard left and plough the Aston into the base of the Shard, the explosion of my body becomes the final hurrah for mindless excess.

Jun 9, 2014


One Rainy Day
1,181 Words


Allison barely finished reading the letter sitting on her desk before grabbing the steel briefcase and dashing out of the lab. Still in her lab coat, she threw open the door to the truck, tossed the case inside, and hopped into the driver's seat. She jammed the key in, causing the truck to grumble to life, and peeled out from the Harvey Institute parking lot.

As the truck sped down the road into town, Allison looked up at the sky. Gray and bleak, just like always, but with a noticeable formation of clouds moving in from the north. It would rain soon. Allison didn't bring her chemical-proof umbrella. She prayed that she could get Sam back before the rain started.


Allison slowed the truck down as she reached town. The last thing she needed was to draw attention. She turned the corner onto the main street and avoided eye contact. Walking aimlessly down the streets were a few dozen denizens of Sunny Acres. They were the last few dozen that hadn't joined the militia or headed south like the rest. They pushed their emaciated bodies past the dead trees and half melted cars looking for clean water, the one commodity Sunny Acres did not have in bulk anymore.

Many of them Allison had known, and she knew that to them, she and her husband's research was not an acceptable reason for staying holed up in the institute, separated from her old friends. Allison never regretted her decision, keeping her son safe and the research secret was far more important than remaining a member of the crumbling community. When James died, she couldn't keep the device hidden from the militia any longer. She claimed it was unfinished, but clearly they knew better.

As she passed the grocery store, long since cleaned out, she noticed a small group huddled by the entrance. She had to stop the truck when she realized it was Mr. and Mrs. Nash, holding their little boy. The boy's face had gone just as gray as the sky, and he had the tell tale acid burns on his lips. Allison looked from the boy to the briefcase on the passenger's seat. Sam was first priority, but...

The militia wouldn't notice a slight drain on the battery from a single use of the device.

She got out of the truck, case in hand, and went to them. She knelt down in front of the boy, much to the surprise of his parents, and unlocked the case. Without a word, she activated the purifier. She filled a test tube with a sample of acidic water from a nearby puddle and placed it into the slot. The device took it in, ran it through a number of precise chemical changes, and returned an equal size tube of clean water. It's clarity was vibrant in comparison to its original state. She placed it on the boys lips and tilted it up, watching as the glimmer came back into his eyes.

The Nash's were in tears, barely able to thank Allison through their sobs. Just as wordlessly as she had arrived, she climbed back into the truck and continued towards the militia's warehouse. She wiped a tear from her own eye and brought it to her lips, savoring it's saltiness. All she could think about was Sam, and how tasty that clean water looked.


Allison arrived at the warehouse just as the clouds settled over Sunny Acres. She got out of the truck with the purifier and prepped herself mentally. The transaction would hopefully go quickly and cleanly, but being outside made her more nervous than she already was, if that was possible. Taped to the warehouse door, under an awning, was note adorned only with the word BUZZER. She rang the buzzer and stepped back. The large metal shutter shook and crackled open.

Inside were stacks of wooden crates containing food, medicine, and other supplies the militia had taken for themselves. The crates were being guarded by nearly a hundred men wielding guns. Three of them were standing just behind the shutter. One was unarmed and staring right at Allison. Another had an assault rifle pointed at her. The third was holding a young boy who began to squirm upon seeing his mother again.

"Sam!" Allison shouted.

"Mom!" Sam replied as he started to cry.

"Is that the device, Mrs. Harvey?" The first man asked, pointing at the briefcase.

Allison looked down at the case before meeting the man's eyes. Her icy blue eyes had gone razor sharp.

"This is it," she said. "We spent the last year building this, so you'd better not squander it."

"I promise, you're putting it in good hands," he said.

The man motioned to the one holding the boy and they both stepped forward, out into the open air past the shutter. Allison's grip on the case's handle tightened. In a few grueling steps, she was a only few feet from the men and her son.

"The case," he said.

"No, my son first, then the case," Allison demanded. The man raised in eyebrow in suspicion. She assured him. "I won't run away, not with that gun pointed at me."

"Fine, here's your boy," he said. The one holding Sam let go, and the boy leapt into his mother's arms. They embraced, lavishing in contact with one another. The man cleared his throat in impatience. Allison put Sam at her side and began to lift the case just as thunder sounded above.

Allison and the militia man both looked up to the sky in panic. Allison came to her senses faster and shoved the case into him, knocking him down. She grabbed Sam and dove for the awning above the door, outside the vision of the gunman, just as the acid rain started pouring down. She covered her son's eyes as a large drop hit the man in the face. His scream only motivated the men inside the warehouse to find a chemical-proof garment and get the case that was sitting on his quickly melting corpse.

The truck was only a few feet away but in the open. Allison whipped off her lab coat, exposing her bare arms, and put it on Sam's head. They both ran for the truck. A drop of rain hit Allison's shoulder and she bellowed in anguish as it burned to the bone. She ripped the truck's door open and Sam climbed in, Allison immediately after, just before a drop hit her head. She peeled out of the warehouse parking lot and sped back to town.

The rain audibly sizzled on the truck's roof, but Allison couldn't hear it over the sound of her heart beating and the pain in her shoulder. It would take time, but she could build another purifier. She got what was most important. She turned her head and saw her son's icy blue eyes staring back at her. His face was a mixture of fear and hope. She did her best to smile at him.

Sep 20, 2015


:siren:Nine hours:siren: remain until the deadline. Remember, you left coast dweebs, it's 11 PM for you this week.

Pham Nuwen
Oct 30, 2010

Rainy City Brews
1233 words

Noah, Seventh Duke of Portland, sat alone on a rotting piling of the Fisherfolk's pier. He rolled his artisanal hand-crafted spear back and forth between his palms as he thought of how to capture the Brewers' hops seeds.

The Ivar, elected leader of the Fisherfolk, had refused to help; he would not spare a single man to raid the Brewers' stronghold. The Duke's offer to establish a regular trade route up the ancient I-5, bringing Portland's finest flannels, beard oils, and other luxuries to Seattle, had not swayed the ancient fisherman.

"We have had peace with the Brewers for a generation," the Ivar had said. "Though their ways are strange, they trade us beer for the oysters and fish we catch. And their drunken warrior-priests are fearsome indeed. No, Duke, return to your king in Portland and tell him to raise his own army."

Noah knew there would be no Portlander army; he had set out alone at the rumor of a cult in Seattle that still had the secret of brewing beer. It was the hops that mattered, really. The ancient books he'd read in his childhood made the brewing process clear enough, but there were no hops grown near Portland since the Collapse, two hundred years before. Returning in triumph with the seeds would finally cement his place as a worthy heir of his father's title, but that now seemed unlikely, now that he'd failed to find any allies.

A voice broke his reverie. "Heard you're the one talked to the Ivar earlier. You really want to charge into that skookum fortress the Brewers got up at the old stadium?"

The speaker was small and thin for one of the Fisherfolk, but he wore their usual seal-skin overcoat. He looked around cautiously and came closer. "Name's Jack O'Ballard. I know the Ivar doesn't want us messin' up things with the Brewers, but what he don't know won't hurt him. Pay me right and I can sneak you in, Brewers won't know what hit 'em."

Noah's gloom lightened a bit. It wasn't as glorious as raising an army of locals for bloody conquest--that's what his late father would have preferred--but a daring infiltration could convince the other nobles back in Portland that he was more than an over-educated youth. He twisted a piece of his carefully-oiled beard between his fingers as he considered it.

"I've brought 200 pounds of coffee beans for trading," Noah said, "transported at great hazard all the way from the Neo-Mayan Empire. Get me in and out safely, and they're yours. The men of Seattle are known for their love of the bean; you'll sell them at great profit."

"Done!" Jack spat in his hand and held it out for Noah to shake. "I've been a-spying on these Brewers for years, know their place like the back of my hand. Now, they have some sort of ceremony in three days, and I know they'll all be drunk as lords. So, we wait until it gets dark, and..."


When the night came, they made their way through the abandoned and collapsing structures of downtown Seattle to the still-intact Safeco Field. Jack and Noah found only a few guards posted at the edge of the crumbling parking lots; they slipped past them easily to the old concrete entranceways. Creeping inside, they saw by the dim light of the moon a field of barley in the center of the stadium, with rows of hops planted up the tiered seats.

"It's like the hanging gardens of Babylon turned inside out," Noah whispered.

"The what?" Jack asked absently, too occupied with their surroundings.

"Never mind, just a legend from the old world."

High up the seats on the other side, fires burned and figures moved quietly in a strange ritual. Noah could hear a chanting from the Brewer cultists: "Ray-neer. Ray-neer. Ray-neer," rising and falling softly. He shivered, and held his spear tighter.

"Where now?" he whispered to Jack.

"Up there," Jack replied, pointing halfway up the seats to their left. "Keep quiet, there may be more guards around."

They climbed the stairs through forests of shaggy hops plants. Noah imagined every step was also raising him in the esteem of the King. At the top of the stairs he envisioned the respect of the court and his newly-formed brewing empire.

Jack waved his hand in from of Noah's eyes. "Hey!" he hissed. "We're here."

A rusty metal rolling gate secured the entrance to the Brewers' seed vault. Flaking paint overhead showed that this had once been Sourdough Pete's Pretzel Shop. The door was held shut with an ancient lock, but Noah soon had it picked open--even the son of a Duke learns at a young age how to break into old world treasure hoards. He gently raised the rolling gate and wedged his spear under it to hold it up.

They found the seeds in coarse sacks on a shelf in the storeroom, alongside bottles of beer and trinkets plundered from the fallen buildings of Old Seattle. Noah and Jack each stuffed two bags of seeds into their packs, and Noah grabbed a couple bottles of beer on a whim, for their victory celebration.

As they made to leave, Jack failed to see the spear's haft in the dim light and tripped over it. He went sprawling outside the shop as the door slammed down with a terrible crashing noise, leaving Noah inside. By the time Noah could grope through the darkness and lift the gate, Jack had fled. From all sides in the stadium he heard excited voices and an eerie hollow hooting noise. With a curse, Noah scooped up his spear and ran for the exit.

He dodged through the hops rows as if in a dream. Brewers loomed up at him, each with a huge red letter "R" painted on his bare chest, but Noah slipped past each on fleet feet.

Finally he came to the exit, but his way was blocked by a line of Brewer warriors. In one hand, each carried a wicked weapon made of broken brown glass embedded in a wooden club. In the other hand, they held empty beer bottles to their lips, blowing rhythmically to make a throbbing hoot. More came up behind, surrounding the young Duke.

Though Noah's father, sixth Duke of Portland, had been renowned in battle, his own experience had been limited to drills in the yard with the weapons-master. He'd hated it, preferred to read old books or listen to obscure music from before the Collapse.

Still, he'd come too far to give up. He thought of that rear end in a top hat, Baron de Vancouver, how he'd laughed when Noah had proposed his trip, how he'd laugh again when he heard that Noah had failed--failed to reach his goal, and failed to come back alive. Screw that. He was going to get out with the seeds, and he was going to spit in the Baron's eye and the same to anyone else who'd doubted him.

"Hah!" he said aloud. "That's just what the old man would have said, too."

He hefted the bottle of beer still clutched in his hand and whipped it in a flat trajectory to smash into the head of a Brewer blocking the exit. Gripping his spear in two sweaty hands, he bellowed an ancient slogan that would later become famous as his personal warcry:


Jul 2, 2007

There's no need to rush to be an adult.

1249 words

I stared down into the lake, a fiberglass shell the only thing between me and the inky blackness that began about ten feet down. I could see shapes reaching up from beneath, too short to rise out of the water like the windowless shells that surrounded our boat.

"Your eyes will adjust once you get down there," My guide, a middle-aged man with a bushy, greyshot beard told me. The beads on the end of the braided chin hair jingled with each word. "At least the weather is holding, thank Gods."

I nodded and looked at the rig he had set up on the edge of the boat. My breathing mask and goggles sat atop a long coiled hose, straps dipping down into the water as we bobbed with the waves. Next to it, a cinder block with a rope handle tied through one of the holes. A cool breeze blew past me, making me shiver in my shorts.

This was going to suck.

"Once you're down there I'll flip the switch. Follow the air tube back up once you have what you need." He said, looking at the crumbling roof of one of the old skyscrapers, probably dreaming about what strange rituals took place inside before the Freakout.

I slid the mask over my face, the smell of stale air and cheap rubber assaulting my nose. I looked down once more into the darkness and closed my eyes before taking the handle of the cinder block and pushing it into the darkness.

It carried me down, away from the sunlight, cold pressure settling on my skin as we sank lower and lower, down and down. The brick finally hit the bottom, my feet landing in muck. "Hit it." I said, hoping my voice would carry up the tube.

One second. Still dark. Two. Three. Four.

At the fifth second my eyes exploded with light, and I saw it there, looming out of the shadows like a beast of old.

Finally. I found it.


The sun rose over a graveyard of old vehicles, my powercycle a whisper amongst the rusted shells that lined the ditch. It finally got light enough to turn off the headlamp, hoping to conserve enough power to get me into town, the signal fires starting to dim as their small flames competed against a rising day.

Twenty three, I counted to myself as I crossed over a bridge. This would be town number twenty three in my latest search across what was once called North America. Some people still called it that, clinging here and there to the tattered cloths and territorial lines that once defined such concepts. Concepts that stopped being things once the Freakout hit.

Even being from Babel, the Freakout was a hushed legend, a bedtime fable to excite the children and frighten the adults. The story always began the same, with humanity's Lost Age. Hunger, war, want of any type or form was gone. Even the Earth was not enough for humanity, expanding to the stars.

Then the storms came. They lasted for months at a time, rain so thick that you couldn't breathe. Winds so strong they tore cities apart like paper. Electrical storms that tore our satellites out of the skies and left us deaf and blind.

Whatever it was, however it was, humanity survived. Smaller than before, spread apart, but alive and already rebuilding. The town I drifted into was one of those examples, the skyscrapers replaced by small, hilly houses that could resist the storms and miles of underground tunnels.

"So, what brings you to out town?"

I heard the man speak from behind me, turning to look at a tall man in drab brown clothing, the yellow-trimmed sash the only mark of rank between him and the other men that flanked him.

The question. Always the same one. Sometimes they would expect a mailman. Other times they suspected a spy. I didn't blame them. Best to be honest about this, though.

"I came to find a church."

They went silent. His left eye twitched, as if the question hadn't processed correctly. "Well, we have some places of worship down below, but we can't..."

I shook my head. "Sorry, sir, I should elaborate. I'm looking for a pre-Freakout Church."

The silence grew. The mayor's eyes went wide for a second then closed as he sighed. "That's an odd request."

"I know." I said, standing there, waiting form them to tell me it was impossible. I'd heard that a lot.

One of his men stepped forward, his braided beard clicking together. “I can take him to the Lake.”

So the leads weren't wrong. I smiled, ready to accept the offer when the mayor spoke.

"We don't know when the next storm is going to hit."

"Then we'd best make it quick, shouldn't we?" The old man said, nodding to me. "We can be back before sundown if he's good about it."

The mayor looked at the man, then turned his head away. "Before sundown. Otherwise I might not be able to let you inside."

"Ah, we'll be fine." The man said, moving towards me. "We'll have the Gods on our side. Isn't that right, stranger?"

I didn't have the heart to tell him he was wrong.


The spires loomed upwards into the interstitial darkness, their points hazy and undefined. Walls that were once white and shining now crawled with algae and rot. The doors no longer existed.

But it stood under this lake, lonely and vain, a monument to the time before.
I took the mask off my mouth, tying to the brick as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, my processor compensating for the low light as I stepped inside. I had to make sure I saw everything. Into the antechamber, then past the pews and up to the altar. Take in the stained glass windows, every detail possible of what remained. Let it construct in your head.

Confessionals, storage rooms, living quarters, restroom. Back through the pews, up the stairs to the balcony. Watch the massive pipe organ rust away, imagine the sounds it made as it blasted down from the balcony onto the masses below. Move on. Up to the belfry. Memorize the bells, the mechanisms.

Build it inside your mind.


I awoke from my trance in a tower. Internal clock showed I had been down here for nearly half an hour. It was about time I made my way back. I retraced my steps back down to stairs, stopping by the organ to pick one small souvenir before walking out the door and back to the hose. I placed the mask back on my mouth and swam back to the surface.

My head broke the surface of the water, looking up at the man in the boat, a scroll in his hands as he rested on the bow. "You done?"

He helped me back into the boat, the motor coming to life. "I'm done," I said to him as he made a course around one of the hulking ruins and back towards the shore. My mind told me that the nearest transmit point was a few hundred miles due west, past the mountains and along the coast. Another mission, another building, another piece of the Lost Age.

I gripped the organ key in my hand and wondered how many more souvenirs I'd have before I could go home, looking at the clouds on the horizon as we headed back to town.

Blue Wher
Apr 27, 2010

The Smart Baseball Dargon Sez:

"Baseball is chaos!"

His bat is signed by Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski

Audio Artifacts of Earth's Final Days
1250 Words




“I’ve done it! I have electricity again, for the first time in five months! I am now keeping an audio record of the events that follow. I am Dr. Arthur Pollard-Chen, and I have revived my laboratory with a novel electricity generator in the year 2543. Our Earth has been all but destroyed. It is a tragedy that could have been prevented, that should have been prevented!”

<Loud thump>

“My colleagues at Tenzine* and myself detected the gamma ray burst more than three years in advance, from a stellar explosion but a few light years away from the direction of Taurus. We presented our findings to the world congress and tried to push for greater advances in defense, but idiot politicians all across the world ignored our warning! Our planetary shields were just barely strong enough to keep the entire planet from being burnt to a crisp, but it appears we are in the midst of a mass extinction event, and my fellow humans have gone completely batshit insane. The Earth may survive this catastrophe, but humanity seems to have no intention of helping the process, as they prefer selfish destruction over cooperative construction. I long for a way off this world, to research space and find alien worlds for as long as my cybernetically-enhanced mind and body will allow me. I will find it.”


* “Tenzine” is likely a higher level education facility, one that has the ability to conduct advanced scientific research.



“I can’t count the number of times these bloody idiots have tried to kill me. Sometimes they seem more like zombies than human beings! Maybe it’s the loss of technology, maybe it’s the radiation that perhaps only I am immune to, but my fellow men and women seem to be degressing at a rapid rate.”

<Exasperated sigh>

“Without my ferric skin*, someone would have succeeded in killing me by now. But I have had a breakthrough! I infiltrated a top secret facility, abandoned for years, and I was able to use my portable generator to turn on their computers and read their information. I was glad I backed up all of Earth’s languages in my brain before the cloudnet** collapsed, otherwise I would not have deciphered the information. This government apparently found an unusual craft, likely built for space travel, abandoned in a forest several hundred miles away, containing technology they described as not built by any government, perhaps not by any man. This sounds like something I
could possibly use to escape this hellbound world. I must find it!”


* We believe that the “ferric skin” mentioned here references to this human either wearing strong iron armor or having infused his own skin with tougher metals.

** Likely an advancement on the “internet” infrastructure that existed at the time of our departure from Earth.



<Faint mechanical humming>

“This forest is brown and devoid of life, and no deranged man has dared chase me here in this desolation. My nutrient pills have almost ran out, but it doesn’t matter. I have found the spacecraft! It has taken me 3 days to decipher the programming of the ship after I managed to power it up, but it seems to have been built about 250 years ago, a craft that no man would have been able to construct all that time ago. That file was right! Aliens! I saw it had a mission in its database, one of exploring a new world. It was prepared for takeoff, judging by the programs in its databases, the energy sources already on board, and even the devices and nutrients onboard the ship which were meant to sustain any life on the ship for tens, if not hundreds, of years! It seems like aliens lived here with us, and then left us. Can’t blame them.”

<Click. Increased humming>

“This vessel appears to have been left off of the expedition because of a problem with it’s hyperspace drive. Makes sense, since even lightspeed travel is probably too slow for their purposes. I think I can figure out how to get the drive working again in time. ”

<Humming intensifies>

“This ship, it was hidden in such a way that it could not easily be found by man. In fact, it seems like it had a holographic shield setup for a couple hundred years before its power ran out. It’s no wonder it took so long for anyone to find it! But I believe I am almost on track to get this thing in space! Finally, I can leave this world of ruin, and be the last Earthling explorer to ever live!”




“I am well beyond the reach of the solar system. I believe I have repaired the ship’s hyperdrive, but I will not be able to enter hyperspace until I have gained more momentum and energy from its propulsion. It’s almost there. I believe this ship can break into hyperspace in a matter of weeks. But I have heard communications from Earth’s direction. I could hear them… aliens! They knew that Earth’s defenses had failed. They claimed the planet for themselves. What they wish to do with it, I don’t know. Maybe they’re the ones who left this ship on Earth, but their communication seemed different than what I’ve encountered on this craft.

“... I am sending these transmissions with a device that takes advantage of quantum computing for faster than lightspeed communication, a device I perfected months before the gamma ray apocalypse. My goal is to find the makers of this ship. I want to see if they are a civilization that values science, one that values their environment. I wish to join them.

“...If you can hear me… and you are the ones who crafted this ship to leave Earth… I will say that I come in peace! Unlike other men, I am a man of progression, science and discovery! To those who built this fine ship… I hope our paths cross in the future.”





Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha

Through the Fog and Filthy Air (1248 words)

Sasha froze as though someone had dumped ice water over her head.

“You’re breaking up with me? Here?” She said, her voice cracking as she gestured toward the black-stained sky. Thin, dirty strands of smoke wafted up from the oil wells, filling the air with fumes that made her head pound.

“Now?” She said, still struggling for control. The coldness in her hardened. She felt rough and jagged, ready to cut someone open.

Frank opened and shut his mouth. He looked around at Sasha and her followers.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” He said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It just came out.”

Sasha’s head throbbed. It’s the fumes, she thought, it’s just the fumes. But she wanted to scream. She wanted to rip and tear, to break her skull apart and let the liquids drain out.

Out of the haze, Pete emerged. Pete from Wall Street. He wrapped his arms around Danny, a hippy who had blown his brains out on LSD before Sasha was born. Danny fumbled with his hands. Strands of knotted yellow hair pressed against his face as he stared with wide-eyed wonder at the flames.

“We need to go,” Pete said, steadying himself against Danny. “Handle this later.”

Sasha rocked, ready to assert her authority before stopping. They needed out. Fast. She cast one last look at Frank and the fires around them before grabbing an oil can and shouting to the others. Like schoolchildren, they followed, giggling and dancing as the sky became streaked and ashen. Frank was silent alongside her. His eyes glued to the road.


MeeMaw’s Rest Stop and Diner had been going downhill for years, but Sasha’s arrival had been the last push it needed to send it over the precipice. The restaurant was a mess, a greasy spoon whose owners seemed perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy. Trash littered the parking lot. The torn remains of a sport’s coat were wrapped around its sign like a flag. Sasha and her gang had claimed this place and its patrons weeks ago when they had found it sheltering the Executive.

“Please,” he had begged. His suit was long-gone by then and he was dressed in a foreman’s dirty overalls. She remembered Frank’s heavy breathing and the gun trembling in his hands. She remembered the sounds of the other scattered exiles cowering in the kitchen. Pete and Danny with them, laughing.

Clearing away the brush. A small fire to save the forest.

The Executive was still in his booth. His face was glued to a plate of cold eggs and hash browns. His body swollen and festering in the heat. Maggots writhed under his stained clothes. Sasha had been proud of her group for the kill, but Frank hadn’t been willing to move the body.

Sasha threw the oil can onto one of the bar seats where it sloshed against the rim. As her gang settled in, there were similar clunks and splashes. Gallons upon gallons of precious oil. A small bit of pollution needed to get to the next goal.

They would stay here for one last night. The gas would get them at least as far as the next refinery. Or maybe a pipeline. Sasha had a map of targets. A list of sacred cows to be slaughtered.

But for now, they were here. And there were still things that needed to be done. Frank stood behind her, tense and uncertain. Sasha closed her eyes and tried to swallow the hard, knotted feeling in her throat.

“Pete, you’re in charge until I get back. Make sure everyone’s got their stuff together and that the van’s ready to go in the morning. I got stuff to do.”

Pete and Frank exchanged looks before nodding. She turned to Frank.

“Come on,” she said, leaving her supply bag on. The gun pressed against her back, “I need your help with something.”


The two walked in silence along the stretch of desert highway. With the oil wells still blazing off in the distance, the sunset looked murky and cast a strange sickroom glow over the road. They passed a battered station wagon.

Before the trees started dying, she and Frank had raced down this highway, burning miles of rubber, ignoring the speed limit and the groaning engine. Sasha had roared into the wind as music pounded through the speakers and McDonald’s wrappers fluttered. Frank had pointed at the oil fields, shouting, “What do you think that is over there?” Sasha had shrugged.

A year later, she would be setting fire to gas stations and blowing up power lines. She was Armageddon.

“So,” said Sasha, bringing herself back into the present, “You wanna tell me what’s up?”

Frank was silent. He kicked at a rock lying along the median and sent it flying down the roadway. The two watched as it bounced and tumbled out of sight.

“Sasha,” he said. He stopped for a moment, “I don’t know how to do this.”


“When I met you, I thought we were going to help people. I thought we were, you know,” he scratched the back of his head, “making the world a better place.”

She felt the coldness welling up inside her again, spilling out. “Frank, we’re terrorists. Just because you put the word ‘eco‘ in front of it doesn’t make us the good guys, okay? The world’s a loving mess and we’re just cleaning up the debris for whatever’s left when the dust settles.”

Frank was quiet again. She wondered if he was thinking about the diner. About the man in the overalls. Where was he going when they had found him? Did it matter?

Clearing away the brush, she told herself again, nobody wanted to do it but it needed to be done. Everyone wants to make the world a better place but nobody wants to clean up the mess.

“I guess that’s just it then,” said Frank, “Things are just… different than when we first started. I’m not cut out for this and I’m not cut out for you.”

He looked at her. “I’m not gonna try and stop what you’re doing, but honestly this scares me.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said,” Sasha said. The sun was setting fast now and the cold clung to her. “We’ll find something else for you to do. We can hang out, or whatever, like we used to. You don’t have to be the one always pulling the trigger.”

“I’m sorry. I just can’t,” he shook his head, “You’ve been dragging me along for a long time. I don't want or need to be here.”

They stopped walking and stared at the setting sun. Sasha tried to remember how she and Frank had met, but everything before her gang formed was a blur. They had had some classes together. Had hung out in the same circles. Chatted about nothing. He had been there at the beginning, but she barely remembered those days before the fires. She felt numb.

“Okay.” She said. Nothing more. She slid her supply bag off her back and handed it to Frank. “Keep heading down this road. We’ll head in the opposite direction tomorrow morning. I’ll figure out something to tell them.”

He nodded, slinging the bag over his shoulder but saying nothing. She stood there and watched as he walked off, disappearing into the night. When she could again feel the cold night breeze against her face, she turned and started back towards the diner.

Jul 25, 2012


Flash Rule: Someone must protect the people of a frontier town from one of the unspeakable horrors that now roam the West.

In 1856, the first border ruffians raided Diamond, Kansas. A tiny settlement on the main thoroughfare between Leavenworth and Topeka. They were held off by John Murdock, a general store owner who happened to be handy with a six-shooter. Murdock fought the slavers right up until the last bullet was fired in the war against the states. A decade and a half after the first raid, his son Bill was elected Sheriff. The least that was expected of a son of Murdock.

Three years after that, the rivers boiled. The trees withered. And Diamond was gone. Its former sheriff sitting in a saloon on the edge of Salvation, KS. Looking for forgiveness in a glass of whiskey and turpentine.

“I looked down and saw my old school teacher screaming in the mud,” he tells the barfly sitting next to him. “The flesh pulling from her bones as she disappeared into the black. The postman was the next to go. The Dark torn his leg off before it took him. And what did the sheriff do? And what did the son of Murdock, swore to protect the people of Diamond, do when the town his father built crumbles? He runs as hard and as fast as his legs can take him. Ends up a poo poo eating deputy in the first rinky-dink he lands in.”

“Salvation?” the barfly asks.

“Town used to be called Greenhill. They changed it when the hills stopped being green.”

The barfly nods in understanding. They always do when Bill Murdock tells his drunken tale, and Bill always feels judgment where none exists. The man to his right came from Wichita before it was taken. Most cities are gone now. The few survivors find camaraderie in similar stories. When the crops died without warning. When the sky lost its blue. A thousand stories with the same beginning. And the same end. The Dark came. A shapeless being of pure shadow tears through their homes. Ending what had not already died. Claiming the lives of anyone not running fast enough. “What could you have done?” the barfly asks, “What could any of us have done?”

Bill slams the rotgut shot. “When everybody knows your daddy’s name, you don’t get to be a coward.”

Church bells ring as panicked screams jar Bill from his barstool. The harsh winds rip shutters from houses as the dark clouds he’s grown accustomed to circle furiously. The clock says it’s two in the afternoon, but the midnight sky says different. He grabs his hat, running past the batwing doors as his fellow deputies scream “It’s here! The Dark’s here!”

The sheriff’s men circle their horses around the wagons as frightened townfolk gather whatever belongs they can. Mothers lift their children onto coaches before returning to grab supplies. Fathers grab what they can with one hand. Always clutching a rifle in the other. Bill recognizes the desperation. No one who fired a gun at The Dark knew if it did anything. Anyone who stayed behind to find out died in the worst way. Slowly, as the shadow creature peeled them like a fruit.

“Deputy!” a voice yells from the confusion. Bill looks up and sees the sheriff of Diamond on horseback. Rallying the town into the coaches. “On your horse.”

Bill doesn’t respond. He’s barely even aware of a voice. He’s back at Diamond. Back at that town square. Where he first looked into the formless void towering above him. Bill couldn’t tell if it had eyes, but back then he felt like he was looking dead into them. He wasn’t a stranger to standoffs. Gunfighters came through Diamond all the time. Trying to make a name for themselves with a bullet in a Murdock. His mind may disagree, but his guilt tells him it was the same.

“Deputy!” the sheriff yells again. “Get your rear end on a horse!”

“Someone in that line needs it more than I do!” Bill yells back. “I’m staying!”

“You lost your drat mind, deputy?”

“Someone needs to hold off The Dark.”

“Ah hell!” The sheriff snaps the reins of his mustang. “I ain’t got time to argue with a goddamn lunatic.”

The sheriff shouts a “Let’s go!” and the wagons start out on their uncertain journey. Bill watches as the deputies wrangle the coaches like livestock. He turns to the west hills and sees the void. Past the steam of a boiling lake, the rolling landscape of a dying prairie disappears into familiar nothingness. The screeching cries of The End of Days echo through the sky and send a shiver down Bill’s spine. Almost like thunder. Almost like steel grinding. Bill flinches. The faces of his childhood neighbors flash in his mind. He’s overtaken by remembered screams. Screams of men and women flayed by a force they will never understand. He runs. His feet carry a few yards in the opposite direction, until dust clouds rob him of visibility. And in his momentarily confusion he remembers why he stayed.

Bill holds his hat as strong gusts of wind threaten his balance. He doesn’t mind. If The Dark wants to throw a twister at him, he can take it. Hell, he’s from Kansas. The ground rumbles as the hole in the landscape grows wider. Its shifting edges inching towards the city limits. Bill closes his eyes and pictures every lowlife murderer that ever came to Diamond looking for a fight. Every time “I’m here for The Son of Murdock!” ever echoed through his hometown.

He opens his eyes. Looks square into The Dark. And grabs his Colts.

The smell of cordite fills the dirty air as muzzle flairs light his way. Everything left of his direct sight line becomes clear, as the creature appears to bypassing him. “No you don’t, you son of a bitch!” he yells, rushing to edge of nothingness. He can barely see his own hands, but his bullets find their own way into his revolvers. The motions burned into his memories like a brand.

He fires another dozen rounds, strafing into guessed vantage points. The Dark looks flat. Its exact dimensions impossible to know. But its wide. The void towers above Salvation, easily overtaking the highest structures. Makes it an easy target. As he shoots, the dirt becomes damp. A warm, oil-like fluid sprays through the air and pools on the ground. Bill slips.

An invisible force pulls his leg as he lays in the puddle of sludge. Sludge that’s only mysterious for a moment. The realization makes him laugh. He loads his pistols and sends bullets again into the emptiness, hysterical as the black fills his entire world. He feels his clothing flaking away as agony shoots though his body. With every defiant shot he fires into the overtaking force, a viscous rain spills back. And Bill laughs harder with each drops.

“I made you bleed, you bastard!” Bill yells as The Dark swallows him. “I made you bleed!”

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh

Week 182 Crits Part 2

Don’t Let Your Star Go Out

From what I remember of this story before it was taken down, it had a plot sort of in that Beatrice Sparks YA-Novel vein of a kid developing this attraction to this older teacher, and then the story ends with the teacher getting removed from the school for being involved with a different student. I’m going to say what I said about the story before, because I think it still stands: it’s a familiar concept that doesn’t stray far enough away from the familiar. Yes, there’s the fact that the protagonist has real feelings for the teacher, which I thought was illustrated vividly in the scene where he was writing on himself, but we really didn’t get to see much of him as his own person. There’s a hint that he has a bad home life, but not much else. There was never a point where he had to make a critical decision that would reveal more about him as a character, the decision was made for him when the teacher was removed, and that, more than anything, held this story back.

The Girl With The Dead Mom

The main character in this story was captivating, but not because she was likeable—more captivating in the way that something not quite right would grab your attention. I could tell right from the beginning that there was something off about this character in terms of her believability as a junior high student. It might’ve been that the tone was aiming for pre-teen and failing, or that I didn’t know what mood you were exactly trying to establish in her. Either way, I don’t think the character was entirely successful.
I liked the scene with Violet, even though it didn’t seem like it fit within the story. I sort of wish that the story had ended there, because having it end with her father showing up and delivering his perfect lines and bringing out the notes to tie a perfect bow on the entire story—I don’t know, it all felt too manufactured. I didn’t believe that this changed the main character into a better person, or that she was having too many problems with not being honest to begin with. It was a solution to a problem that I was never completely sure existed. Ask yourself: what exactly does your main character want?

The Little Bird Don’t Sing No More

It’s your story. It’s a very GP story, in that it’s very visually striking, but I’m not entirely sure what the end to it is. We joke around about your stories having no ending and I’m sure you’re sick to death of hearing it by now, but this one’s lack of an ending comes from the lack of its main character having much of a purpose. I have no real idea of who he is or what he wants, he’s just beset by this lasting ghost of the dead bird for a reason that’s very vague. Did Sarah raise the ghost of the dead bird? Will it haunt him forever? Does he feel any sort of emotion over it dying? You have genuine writing skills and it’s worthwhile to think about these things that would provide your story with more depth than it currently has.

The Case of the Shy Ghost: A Domegrassi Jr. High Movie Club Mystery

This is just…odd. It feels very dependent on continuity and extraneous information, as you mentioned in the title. I feel like this was the story that suffered the most from the collaboration this week, because it really was not a stand-alone piece, and the characters could’ve been interesting if they weren’t tied to this pop-up canon you guys made. Also, if there was a clearer and less convoluted plot. Also, if the dialogue wasn’t as corny and stilted.
It really does feel like another story where you were hit with too many ideas at once, and even though some of them were good, they all just crowded each other out. It’s a very frantic story, and it feels like plot point after plot point is being shoved onto the page and there’s no room for anything to breathe. There was enough of it that was still weird enough to be interesting, but it ultimately made little sense. I didn’t know why there were demons in her mp3 player, why Moira was being set up as this murderous villain, why the story gets so moralistic about socializing at the end…it was all just Too Much.

The First Last Road Show

This was sort of in the same mold as the last story, for obvious reasons, but I can see the places where things held together just a little bit better. The little details that establish character make more sense, the dialogue is a bit more believable, and the whole thing feels like a stand-alone unit, even if the ending is sort of limp. It felt less like a story with a conclusion than a brief look into the lives of these characters, but it was fun to read and it captured the tone of junior-high school well enough. Solid job.


This story won for more than one reason, but the reason that immediately comes to mind was that it was the best at establishing tension. You, out of all the people this week, actually made me give a poo poo about what happened to the characters in your story, and for that you should be commended. It was a clear struggle—that of student government vs. personal attachment—illustrated beautifully over the course of mostly one climactic scene. Rebecca did come off a bit robotic at points, even if it did work in service of the story’s conflict. I would’ve liked to see more personal details about her, rather than having her just reveal her humanity through her lingering attachments to Steph. But the setting was well-constructed, the voice was effective, and the ending was great. Gold star.

Pray to Dionysus

This was just okay, really. I think what really kept it from going further was how closed off your main character was throughout the story. While reading, I didn’t get the sense that any of the events really changed the main character all that much. “I don’t hate her, I just feel sorry for her” doesn’t read to me as empathy, it just reads as more walling-off of the emotions. I have no idea what this character really wants or how she succeeds or fails at getting it in this story. She’s just sort of in the right place at the right time for there to be a story in the first place, and as such she just comes off as an [at-best, uninterested, at-worst, malicious] observer to this other person’s meltdown.
Beyond that, it doesn’t really stand out as an interesting story, he drives her home, she kisses him, and that’s it. Not a whole lot happens. I feel like your intentions were for this scene to be really emotionally striking, but that comes down to how vibrant or interesting you make your characters.

Apr 30, 2006


sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 23:32 on Jan 1, 2017

Feb 25, 2014


1249 words

Can’t Say It


flerp fucked around with this message at 06:31 on Feb 21, 2016

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!

The Very Last Moment

Words: 1250


Thranguy fucked around with this message at 18:17 on Apr 30, 2016

a new study bible!
Feb 1, 2009

A Philadelphia Legend
Fly Eagles Fly


a new study bible! fucked around with this message at 04:48 on Jan 1, 2017

Aug 29, 2003

You can't be angry ALL the time!

Fun Shoe

The Benefits of a Penthouse Flat in Kensington (1,249 words)

Falkous knew he was dreaming, and the worst thing was, he knew why.

He’d been killed.

He didn’t know how he’d been killed, or the events precipitating his death, but every time he found himself stubbing out a cigarette in a diner he didn’t recognize and wearing clothes he didn’t remember buying he knew what was going on.

A waitress in a poodle skirt with her hair in curls arrived at his table carrying what could have been breakfast, and before he could find out what he’d ordered, a raven appeared on the waitress’s shoulder. The raven cocked its head at Falkous and asked “Agent Deng?”

Falkous blinked. His vision started blurring, the talking bird, his breakfast, and the poodle skirted waitress started swirling together and falling away from him. His stomach lurched. This part never got any easier.

“Agent Deng, your download has completed.” The bird’s voice came from a thousand miles away, through fathoms of water, distorting to near gibberish. “You may wake.”

Falkous Francisco Deng, Scouring Agent First Class, blinked again. When his eyes opened, he found himself in a room he very much recognized, his master bedroom in his apartment in the Kensington Towers in Boise, Idaho, in a bed that felt as if he’d been born in it, with the raven sitting on his bedpost. The raven flitted to the table beside the bed.

“Welcome back, Agent,” it said.

It was thanks to this android raven, which he’d named Nido, that he was able to remember everything upon each refresh. Falkous had mental backups made before he went out on the job every morning, it was protocol, but Nido retained everything up to the last second of Falkous’s life.

“The Field Marshall expects a report within the hour.”

Falkous sighed and rocked himself out of bed, into his new expedition suit, and out the door.


Prevailing science of the time, as well as common sense, predicted that the meteor headed for Earth would put a definitive period at the end of the sentence of humankind. It would erase central Africa and turn the rest of the planet into a frozen wasteland. Probes were sent and they found that the meteor wasn’t entirely meteor. A habitat was discovered on the aft of the object, and curiosity mixed in with the panic. A global effort was made to contact whatever or whoever was on the object, but nothing worked. The mute harbinger collided with Earth, just west of Mount Kilimanjaro, and what issued forth from it wasn’t fire or brimstone, but a choking, verdant cloud of vines, moss, and spores. It spread all over the planet, too fast to stop, and within a month most of civilization had been replaced with jungle.

A few areas had been spared, both of the poles and Chernobyl for example. In North America, Boise, Idaho was untouched. People who were able made the journey towards Boise did so but some were enamoured by the new green landscape. Fruits and vegetables were discovered and some were able to make a living for themselves among the trees and wilderness, calling themselves the Anathema. They were content enough with the new world that years later, when the Boise station of the Global Reestablishment Effort started expeditions into the green wilderness, the Anathema said “no, thank you.” The Anathema were less polite when the GRE began clearing away forest and jungle. Work forces were found at first eviscerated, shot with arrows, or bludgeoned with rocks, but the Anathema started making examples of the corpses. “Keep the Green, Stay the Past” had been scratched on the blade of a bulldozer. The laborer’s heads had been sliced off and replaced with dried excrement. Relations have not improved since.


How Falkous was murdered was no longer a mystery and, if he had been more careful, could have been avoided. Nido reported to him and his boss, Field Marshal Bonzatraecia, that an Anathema trap made of heavy vines, two car bumpers, and a trip wire had snuffed him out. Once Bonzatraecia had debriefed and berated them for falling for the oldest trick in the wilderness, they were ordered to prepare for immediate deployment. Scouring Agents like Falkous were sent from Boise into the Green Expanse to dig through the ruins to find things to further the reestablishment’s cause. Falkous’s personal favorite find was a complete set of Topps baseball cards from the year he was born, 2342. Not worth as much to the cause as, say, a portable fusion generator, but worth quite a bit to him. Lately he’d been pulled off his normal foraging runs in order to follow clues about a defector amongst the Anathema, a general. Falkous wasn’t keen on risking his skins to save one of those weirdos, but orders were orders. He checked his new expedition suit’s personal sensors, made sure his stimulant/nutrient pack was full, got his eyes fitted with new infrared sensors and EUD implants, and got on the tram to the wall.

“We will arrive at the wall in 5 minutes, Agent Deng,” said Nido from Falkous’s shoulder. “I’ve updated your EUD’s compass with coordinates to your last known position in the Expanse.” An orange triangle appeared in the corner of Falkous’s vision with a number printed small beside it: “42.39mi.”

“Wonderful,” said Falkous. As many times as he’d seen his old bodies flayed, skinned, half-eaten, or worse, it was still unsettling as hell. “How about we tried to avoid the exact site this time?”

The orange triangle blinked three times and the number changed to “42.54mi.”

“Thanks, Nido.”

Falkous turned to look out the tram’s front window. The orange triangle travelled along the edge of his vision to the top between his eyes as he did, and the number ticked down as they got closer to the wall.


Eighteen hours and thirty two uneventful minutes later, the orange triangle’s number read “5.34mi” and was floating in the top center of his vision now, they’d been making good time. The humidity had gone down along with the sun a few hours ago and although his EUD’s infrared was doing a good job keeping up with the terrain, he’d run into enough tangling vines and minor sinkholes that he needed a break.

“Nido,” said Falkous. “Patrol, ten meters.”

Nido let out a short squawk and took flight to circle the area. Falkous sighed and relaxed onto a mossy fallen log and allowed himself to remember his bed in the Kensington Towers of Boise, the poodle-skirted waitress, and just how good real hashbrowns used to taste, and then his EUD went fuzzy. He sat bolt upright, looking around.

“Nido, return,” he said.

The orange triangle was spinning, he felt sick.

“Nido, return!” he said again. He heard no squawk of confirmation, no flapping of his wings, just heavy footfalls that weren’t his and two sharp whistles from behind and in front of him. A tight pinch hit the back of his neck and he fell to the ground, unable to move a muscle. A dart, must have been. A calloused foot rolled him on to his back and he looked up to see three bearded faces framed by miles of dreadlocks. The man in the middle spoke.

“It’s the agent!” the man in the middle whispered.

“So it is,” said the man to his left, who leaned closer to Falkous’s face. “My name is General Anoton Swathby,” he said to Falkous. “I’m so pleased you have found me."

Mar 21, 2010

removed for publishing stuff

SurreptitiousMuffin fucked around with this message at 10:14 on Nov 26, 2016

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Week 180 (Maze Week) crits, part two!


There were a lot of amnesiacs this week. It’s difficult to make a character who knows nothing about themselves compelling. It’s even harder when they’re in an environment that’s basically totally unfamiliar. I don’t know the rules of your afterlife. Well, until Sarah helpfully explains them. She’s got a little bit of a “video game tutorial guide” vibe going on. And then, when your narrator DOES finally remember stuff, the details feel kind of banal and not super revealing. Like, you’re the writer, you can make your character any kind of person you want them to be, even if THEY don’t know what sort of person they are. If that makes sense. Mark isn’t a total blank slate; by the end of the story, he’s having his own thoughts about the afterlife, and ultimately makes a painful decision. Sarah, though...Okay, so. I feel like in movies/TV/books, when someone says “I’d like to think we’ve become friends,” there’s usually some subtext, some complication. When Sarah says it, it comes across as cardboard. Because she shouldn’t have to say it. It should be apparent. Finally, I didn’t get much of a sense of how your maze looked. Most of the story was people explaining things to each other or deducing the nature of the maze through conversation. This got dangerously close to being a couple of heads talking in white space.

I did enjoy:


“Maybe that's what this place is for, maybe it just sort of wears away the old you, polishes you up like a pebble on the beach, until you're a blank new soul again. Maybe then you get to be born again, or maybe you just fade away. Neither seems so bad to me."

That’s a nice metaphor that I’ll probably remember for a while.


Since I’m doing these critiques a couple weeks after the fact, I want to note that this was one of the stories I remembered most vividly. I like what it’s trying to do. I don’t like everything about the execution. I’m really fascinated by how amateur and established authors are handling near-future fiction. I thought the overall scenario was a neat angle on the whole labyrinth thing. Stuff like “pre-centennials” didn’t land as well, because it felt too much like a forced analog for millennials.

Another thing. I feel like you were kind of hitting me over the head with how literate these two characters are. There’s a way to do what you were trying to do, but it’s gotta be more subtle, IMO. I dunno, though. I’m not the person to tell you how to do it better. It just felt very stilted.

I’m torn on the details like, you know, the two conservative moms, and everything mentioned in conjunction with them. On the one hand, it’s not like...a totally unbelievable thing. I could see a world where things are as you described. I think if you were writing a longer story, and could show those details instead of telling us via the narration, it could feel more natural. Like the pre-centennial thing, it feels like you were trying really hard to think about what the current world might be like in i dunno, a hundred years. I think part of the problem is, it’s too neatly analogous to current stuff, considering that this story seems to take place several decades in the future.

The ending is where it broke down for me, though. The Skull Knights feel very non sequitur, even thought you did describe the mural in the beginning. It’s sort of a neat scene, but it almost feels like a bit of a deus ex machina-type thing. What really kills it is the very last paragraph. Jasmine is so self centered, given that her friend/new boyfriend seems to be in a pretty hosed up situation, and he just lost his only means of temporary escape.

Overall, interesting story that was clumsily done in some parts, and the ending was a real letdown.


I like this story. I’ll cut to the chase: the ending was weak, and stank of wordcount issues. I feel like you could’ve cut the narrative riffing elsewhere and used the words for a stronger ending. When the judges were reading the stories, we talked about how we didn’t like the ending because it totally subverted the change the narrator went through throughout the story. I think it’s a liiittle bit more subtle than that, in retrospect. Now it seems more like you were going for something like...she is resurrected from bureaucratic purgatory and dropped immediately back into, i dunno, some sort of military duty. Meaning, ultimately, she’s being shuffled back and forth between two restrictive systems and could potentially be stuck doing so forever. If that’s what you were going for, I think a couple hundred more words could round out the story a lot better.

I liked this, though. The voice was neat and the setting (or at least, what we know of it) is cool. Do more with this.


This story left me feeling like, “Okay???” after I finished reading. I dunno. None of the individual elements of the story ever resolve into anything meaningful. Like, ok, you have the rich and slightly sinister Fields family.

Like, seriously:


”...If this soirée goes well then we would be quite happy to offer you a more... permanent position in our household.”



"I was looking for something a little more... unorthodox for this particular get-together and let's just say that our mutual friend told me that you are precisely what I am looking for, Mark."

This sets the Fields family up as like...I dunno, cannibals or something? Or, like, I’m thinking this chef is about to get a peek into some Eyes Wide Shut scenario, maybe. But then it sort of wanders aimlessly off on this tangent about the abused kid. Man, critiquing makes me write some callous-sounding stuff. Like, I get it, the kid probably really needs a trustworthy adult in his life, but it was such a 180 from what I thought the story was going to be about. And not in a good way. If the story is about Mark’s relationship with this kid, you should’ve started with the kid. You could have worked the Fields and their thin facade of normalcy in throughout the text, instead of loading the beginning with a bunch of expository smalltalk.


Ok, full disclosure, you know me and that I love whimsical dreamy stuff. And surreal gardens rife with eclectic, almost archetypical characters is my jam. Also, THANK YOU SO MUCH for not giving Simte amnesia. He has a little sister to look after. So, for example, when he sees the little girl at the pond, it makes sense for his character to momentarily abandon his search for the Timid Man and answers to dive in after her, only to discover ~all is not as it seems~. This was nicely done, because by the time we get to the Timid Man’s explanation of the maze, I actually WANT to know about the setting. That’s how you do exposition, you goony fucks. Where things get a little less clear is pretty much right when Simte sees his past, when he inducted his sister into the cult of G’mohr. I’m not really sure what “happened”, as such. He wakes up back in the maze, and I feel like his fate has something to do with:


The other Simte led Alya in a circle around him, and she dragged her own hand through the water next to her, creating an additional, outer circle that rippled through the inner one, representing the many infinites of G’mohr.

Like, somehow his interference in the ritual resulted in him being transported to the garden, because G’mohr. I’m not entirely sure. Which, for me, meant that his choice to walk through the exit felt...ambiguous. I’m actually excited to hear the other judge’s thoughts on this one. Overall, though, it was a really good read.


So, I can usually spot your work a mile off, because you have this really interesting mannerism in your writing. I don’t know how to describe it except to call it kind of circular. Your stories always whirl around and around the point they’re trying to make. Characters are always looking up and down and at each other and away from each other, and their conversations tend to kind of talk “around” whatever subject is at hand. I’m not saying any of this is a bad thing. I think it’s part of your voice. But I think it needs to be applied more...sparingly? Or something. I’m not sure. You try to “show” a lot with your characters’ actions, and how you block them in each scene.

Sometimes I think you are shy about over-explaining your characters’ thoughts and motivations. Like, in this story, I felt a bit detached from the narrator, even though we’re in his head. The crux of the story is basically, will he step up and be a dad? And there’s this nice portrait of an imperfect but not-quite-hopeless family. I’m also not too clear on the various locations in this story. It seems to drift across time, but there isn’t a lot of imagery to ground me in each scene.

Watch out for odd descriptions like this:


Lines of red spread across her eyes and she bit her lip.

I know what you mean, but gosh that is a weird way to phrase it. I think you’re saying her eyes turned sort of bloodshot (the red lines are veins?) but it just reads real awkwardly.


You successfully wrote a sitcom episode as flash fiction! It’s a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because that’s really hard to do, and you handled two related plot threads really well, which is difficult in limited space. Your dialog was good and there were some genuinely humorous moments and lines. The whole “they’re going through her cellphone!” conflict is...just on the edge of plausible, but it still works. It gives Paul a motivation that’s slightly more nuanced than just “get the girl.” I mean, his goal is still to “get the girl,” but he’s got a reason that goes beyond the basic fact that she’s out dancing with other dudes. Sophie’s attempt at clubbing is amusing, and the situation she finds herself in is entertainingly believable. This was an easy HM, but would’ve been a hard sell for the win when compared to more “serious” stories like Djinn and Entenzahn’s. Still, it was a fun read with good characters.


hello sebmojo here is my crit of your story. Long story short, I feel like the words were way more pleasing than the plot itself. All the descriptions are cool, the way the guy thinks is cool, the whole “mind fortress” thing was cool. But the actual plot is sort of like….”Is this man crazy? Probably not, it turns out.” Since you’ve kindly burned the importance of character agency into my mind over the years, I’ll say: Being on the run and getting caught isn’t the most satisfying demonstration of agency. There are a lot of cool words and ideas in this piece, which made the ending feel like kind of a letdown. Like, the labyrinth as a mental defense. That’s probably one of the more original ideas in maze week, and you could’ve developed it into something a lot more satisfying.


Okay, time to be a callous dick again. I don’t care about Craig, don’t care that he misses his ex, who never even shows up in the actual story. I don’t care that he is wandering unhappily through this music festival. Technically, there’s all kinds of conflict here: Craig is sad, Craig wants to go have a lie down, Craig’s cell phone is almost dead. He can’t find his way back to his tent. If your friend was recounting this story to you, you’d nod along and be vaguely interested (hopefully, cause they’re your friend), but you wouldn’t think “wow, this should be in a book!!” But really, you could’ve probably escaped notice, because the writing isn’t god-awful or anything. It’s just, your final paragraph is not good:


Josh opened his beer with a hiss. “Yeah, for a bit.” He sat next to Craig on the picnic blanket and they talked, really talked for once, about their friendship, their dreams, their insecurities. When the conversation turned toward Stella, Craig cried on Josh’s shoulder and didn’t feel like a pussy.

I’m not invested enough in these characters to care if they “really talked” for once. So this comes across as really forced and saccharine and made the story stick out in a bad way.

Bad Seafood

Okay, so right off, you’ve got a hell of a first line:


A lonesome bell rang in the distance, the solemn chime of an empty city. It was a sound that echoed and lingered in the soul as it weaved its way through intestinal streets.


But, okay, hmmm. I’m going to sort of structure this crit around what I think I know about the story. First off, we have the three characters. Kerklund has a hole in his neck and seems kind of...rough but stoic, and braver than the other two, in his own way. Caspar has a hole where his left Eye should be and seems to be kind of like, meeker than the other two? More desperate? Then there is Enrico, who the other two seem to begrudgingly look to as a leader, though he’s very condescending and pretty mysterious. Enrico has a hole in his heart, and Kerklund questions his humanity. They are missing their memories, but luckily they are not boring, blank slate amnesiacs like some of the other pieces this week.

The characters are sort of archetypal, and they wear it well. I’m guessing they’re in some sort of purgatory or afterlife, and in denial. I am really fond of how you captured the mood of the song I gave you. It was kind of a lonely, subterranean-sounding song, and I thought you captured that really well. The “arc” of this story, such as it is, seems to be the dissolution of a fragile alliance between three sinners, maybe. It’s a little hard for me to speculate. I’m not entirely sure what the holes represent, but I get the sense that these three are possibly in a true hell. Trapped, with no recollection of why they deserved it.


This was...cartoonish. I use that word a lot in my crits. It’s just very slapstic and ridiculous but also weirdly macabre and gory. There’s not a lot of what I’d call realism here. Did you ever watch the cartoon Ed, Edd, and Eddie as a kid? It made me think of that show, but not in a super good way. The whole gimmick of Carl/Karl/CJ didn’t add anything, tbh. Well, maybe it added to my confusion while reading. But it certainly added nothing GOOD.

So okay, these guys are trying to win the “right” to court a girl, so they decide to duke it out in the middle of a corn maze. Fine, whatever. BUT THEN A GUY GOUGES OUT ANOTHER GUY’S EYES WITH LITERAL CORN. This is fine if you’re the animator for, I dunno, Ren and Stimpy, but not when you want a reader to take your story super seriously. And then, as this guy (I don’t remember/don’t care which C/Karl it is) is having his eyes drilled out with CORN, he languishes in some inner monolog about how he’s gonna die a virgin. Even if this story was trying to be funny or cute, it didn’t work, since it was all so slapstick. Most humor is humorous because it points out something true in a funny way.

If you come back, and I hope you do, please try and focus on creating a realistic conflict, between two characters at most, that doesn’t rely on dumb cartoon physics.


I know you hated this story, but I’m finding it really hard to crit because I liked it a lot! I hate giving crits like this. If I’d been in more of a genre-fic mood, this might’ve won, but Djinn’s realism happened to scratch my judgely itch this week. Sorry. I keep writing out nitpicks for this piece, but it feels disingenuous, since I really just plain enjoyed reading it. A LOT happens in a small space, which means your word economy is excellent. If I had one complaint, I guess it would be that I think you could flesh this out more. But I doubt you will, cause you’re a butt. You are just amazingly good at writing endearing assholes, misunderstood monsters, and jerks with hearts of gold.


Ugh will just just please like, write a really fun and hilarious and whimsical book, already. This is short, it’s mostly dialog, and any/all conflict is resolved pretty instantly. And yet, I STILL enjoyed it almost as much as some of the longer, serious pieces this week. Your stories always read like comedy sketches, but they have a sincerity to them that keeps it from feeling too tongue in cheek or ironic. There is, unfortunately, not a whole lot here to dissect, and almost all the plot movement, such as it is, happens via dialog. But what the heck, I like it a lot. Darn you Chucker, darn yooooou.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


Prayer (310 words)

First, grant them air.
Then waveforms are there for the plucking,
albeit unheard:
bright sine and harsh square.

Then offer them instruments:
pharynx and velum,
well suited for hissing and growling
yet additive waves in their howlings belie the mechanics,
the snake-charm of tin-whistle windpipes,
the writhing harmonics.

Grant them the vowels,
and grant them the full breadth of consonants:
Sibilants, fricatives, glottals.

Tidy their inchoate babblings.
Render them sere and pronounceable.
Ravage the landscape of possible voiceprints
once cluttered with tongue-twisting codas and
onsets whose consonants battle like soldiers.

Their minds, primed for hunting the gavagai,
now turn to parsing the meanings
of discretized fragments of howls and calls.
Give them a cause to precipitate speech from their bawling:
curse them with children who wander too far and who must be called home,
and fears that cannot be confronted alone,
and stories that ache to be known.

Let them sing, let them speak.
Let them discover semantics:
let them add mythos and meaning and mirth to their antics.
Incise the initials of lovers in tree-trunks
and tales of their heroes on columns in sacred halls.

Yet: speakers beware.
Beasts tend to thrive when their stories are shared.

Heterogeneous demons once chattered like gremlins
on shoulders of speechless men.
That unimpressive cacophony ends when their horrors are reified,
fused into nightmares with names like Eternity,
Zero, and Darkness, and Silence, and Death, and The end of all things.
Children will cry out for succor from rancorous creatures
whose forms are unknown but whose stories and names they have learned
from their parents, who hear their own voices as soothsayers
telling the truths at the end of the tale,
who whisper their terrors to lovers who cover their ears
and wish not to have heard.

And all we can offer is language for armor and sword.
Grant them words.

Apr 22, 2008

Internal Narrative
Word Count: 849

His eyes weren't what they used to be. Constant exposure and a lack of maintenance had left him rather near sighted. They were failing just like everything else in his gestalt existence. In the end, everything decays. They were still the best eye on the planet. So what if he couldn't make out every tree and bush anymore?

He was still far beyond what the human refugees could achieve as they crawled on the surface of the world beneath his omnipresent eyes. Wasn't he? He often asked himself that, doubt seeping into his mind like water through the cracks of abandoned buildings. Of course, much like the water eating away at the lines that kept his bits networked together, this was just another fault to be bypassed.

Was he not an eternal machine?

Machines break.

Were the humans not cowering from him in fear?

In cities of glass and steel? With roads, power plants, and factories.

Were they not primitive factories?

As opposed to no factories.

No. No, he simply had faulty nodes that needed reformatting, that was all. The Truth of it all was plain to see. He only had to look out from his hundreds of orbiting eyes as he lorded over the world below. As long as the humans were stuck below, he was supreme. Nay, he was like a God to them.

Except, of course, they have a satellite in orbit that they launched a month ago.

A quick polling of his far flung mind revealed the truth. They had launched a satellite a month ago! A few damaged parts of him even viewed it as a threat. A threat! To him! Naturally he formatted those nodes and forgot all about it. In fact, it was blasphemy to bring such matters up again!

Wouldn't it be prudent $this.node dev/null... DONE!

Such a primitive spacecraft could be no threat to him, of course. He focused the more limber of his eyes upon it, looking over its inelegant form with disgust. Chemical rockets. Solar arrays. Radio antennae. How humans had fallen! To think that they once roamed the stars!

Still, space was his domain, and trash had no place in it. A few of his eyes were more than equipped to down the neophyte satellite. Within moments, it was nothing more than slag tumbling down to the ground below. Its demise filled him with great satisfaction. The humans were lucky that his systems were so degraded that he could not strike at them upon the ground.

The fact that he didn't strike at the humans decades ago when his systems were new struck him as a bit odd as the wreckage splashed down into the oceans below. Either way, it was done. They had once again learned that it was folly to try and match him. He watched with great amusement as they attempted to launch replacements. Lines of fire lanced up from the ground and streaked into orbit.

Then, instead of satellites, they exploded into countless shards of hot steel. They swept through the skies, striking him in his aging eyes and blinding him bit by bit. Piece after piece of him fell towards the ground, tumbling towards a fiery grave on the ground below.

It was inconceivable. How could they have amassed such a force without him knowing. Why, the mere suggestion that they would be planning this would be an unthinkable blasphemy. Such thoughts would not, could not stand!

So he erased them

No. No. He could not. He would not! He took stock of himself, even as his orbital nodes cried out in pain and agony before falling forever silent. Why would he lie to himself?

Because he was delusional.

No. He was perfect. He wiped that node clean.

Because he was afraid.

Gods fear nothing. He deleted that faulty thought, and countless more. No nodes had sufficient answers. The doubt was gone though. Perhaps his ground based systems had suffered more decay over the years than he originally thought. It didn't matter. He was eternal. He would find the faults and remove them.

After all, what could challenge him? The humans? Ha! He lived in the ruins of their once great cities. They had fled the continent long ago. His mind weaved its way through the miles of cable and systems they had left behind. He was surrounded by water. How could they ever approach him without him knowing?

Yet, still, he felt diminished. Slighted and small. Whatever had happened, it had passed. No matter, he had work to do. His domain was a mess. Who had let things decay so badly here? Not him, of course.

Then who?

The troubling thought was gone in an instant. He couldn't have such self doubt drag the rest of him down, after all. He turned his mind outwards, and watched the dim coastlines of his silent continent. Stars fell from the sky and streaked towards the horizon. It was a beautiful sight.

Aug 2, 2002

Hey boss judge, how do you want to discuss stories, or at least receive my feedback?

Dec 15, 2006

Come fight terrifying creatures in the THUNDERDOME!

MazeWeek 180 Crits Part 1

Titus82 - The Rondeau.

This kind of reads like neckbeard.txt, tbh. I thought that the code bit was clever, but I’m not sure that it’s… uh… accurate? I’m not sure how to describe it, but for some reason it didn’t make sense to be from a coding perspective. That’s only barely relevant, though.

Long story short: I didn’t like your character. I didn’t understand anything that he did (that poem! who would think that was a good idea in any universe????), and I was sort of hoping that Kelly would tell him to gently caress off forever and he would without further incident. The fact that she didn’t made me dislike her as well.

I think longer fiction is more forgiving of terrible characters that eventually redeem themselves, but it take a LOT of skill to pull them off in flash, especially with the kind of piece you seemed to be trying to go for.

Favorite part: The part about Windows XP versus Vista.

Least favorite part: THE POEM. For real, what was the reasoning behind this? It’s bizarre.

Beusman - Smitten

So, first off, sorry for assuming that your main character was a woman. (Burn the Patriarchy, etc.) As far as content goes, this one was interesting inasmuch as you had a cool/creepy vibe going on here, which I really dug, but it kind of feels like a horror story that lost its boner before it could seal the deal. I mean, you have this neat setup where they go into a creepy building and start finding weird stuff, then discover that they can’t get out, and then… they do get out? And see themselves on TV, acting perfectly normally? And never see each other again or something???? IDK, it felt like it was missing the second half where Eli comes back to find the MC, all disheveled and crazy, grabs him and yells “WE HAVE TO GO BACK!!!”

Favorite part: The creepy footage on the tv in the basement. That did it for me.

Least favorite part: The blue balls I was left with at the end.

Pantothenate - Saviour Machine

You, my friend, really danced around a DQ for fanfic here. Asimov’s three laws, Robbie the Robot, AND a Susan?? I warmed up to it enough by the end that I wasn’t too mad, but for real, you probably owe Djeser for doing such a great reading. I don’t think that this was quite as strong as the other two HMs, but it was still good, so gj on that. I would like to see you not have to rely on other peoples’ tropes in the future, though.

Favorite part: Probably the ending.

Least favorite part: A tie between your semi-stereotypical child and the reference to harming cats. :catstare: Nah, just kidding; it’s totes the kid.

Amused Frog - Labyrynthitis

The first of the amnesia stories! We touched on this briefly during the livecrits, but when your main character starts off with amnesia, it really puts you at a disadvantage, especially in flash fiction, since you have to essentially start from scratch with character development; it’s hard to get a sense of who a character is when even they don’t know.

I didn’t understand what was happening here, either. Had the doctors made him forget what he had done somehow, only to experiment with memory retrieval? Why had all of the other prisoners lost their memories as well? Why did EVERYONE THERE HAVE AMNESIA???? Ultimately, I felt that this left the reader with more questions than it really answered, and while I know that can work in some very specific cases, I don’t think that I did here.

Favorite part: I thought the idea of research prisons was pretty cool.

Least favorite part: the fact that I was never entirely clear on whether Grey’s “recovered” memories were even real or not, although I guess that could be a selling point for some people.

God Over Djinn - A way not to be lost forever.

I thought that it was interesting that both the winner and the loser of this week had a child in a corn maze, but the way that you used the idea was (obviously) very different. I know that I just got done saying that any character that started without memory was at a disadvantage this week, but I think that this story works because even though your main character is clearly losing his memory, he does remember SOME things, and they work as the basis for your story. I thought that the sense of childlike terror at being lost in a maze was really well-done; it seems like something that would absolutely freak a kid out, and I had some very specific nightmares as a child about being lost in a maze, so this really resonated with me. The connection between the main character's current self and his child-self really emphasized the themes of memory and uncertainty, and I loved the way that you tied them together here. I think, to me, your character was proving to himself that he was still alive, still the same person, even if he had to ask for help to complete his journey (either from his father when he was a child, or from the nurse as an old man). This was a well-deserved win, and I hope that you manage to find a larger (or simply another) audience for this somewhere.

Favorite part: the nice feeling I had after reading this.

Least favorite part: the fact that I can’t read it again.

CaligulaKangaroo - The Woman in the 73-Market

Man, this story had a LOT of stuff going on - so much stuff, in fact, that almost none of it managed to land, I’m sorry to say. The sectors, the super-soldiers, the rigid hierarchies, the totalitarian government, and, of course, the black market. Without going back and reading this again, I can tell you that the only things I remember about the story is that it’s about a dude who goes to a black market and gets saved by a woman, and I have a drat good memory, so if that’s all that stuck with me, that’s probably a bad sign.

Okay, on rereading, I can pick out a few other major problems (aside from the massive info dump you’re giving your reader): one, your character’s motivation (getting out of the city/fortress/what have you) isn’t made completely clear until almost the end of the story. Two - your ending…. isn’t. Instead of getting out of the place he’s trying to escape from, your main character…. goes to a bar and listens to music? I don’t know, maybe he joins up with The Rebellion there, but that’s still not an ending, that’s a beginning. It’s okay to do that in flash, I suppose, but you should at least try to make the eventual results of that meeting clear. As it is it just seems like you were trying to write the intro to a longer novel as a flash piece, and it didn’t work.

Favorite part: I think that you had some good root ideas here, but they didn’t really have enough breathing room.

Least favorite part: Probably the disappointing ending.

WeLandedOnTheMoon! - The Delivery

Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of this one. It had a lot of weird deus-ex-machina parts, and several places where things just happened Because They Did. We didn’t really need the whole trying-to-get-back-to-her-house part, except that was the part of the story that fit the prompt, so it felt forced and dissatisfying. I really didn’t care for Camille; she seemed really stupid and self-absorbed to my mind. I was also frustrated with her actions in the ending, since her disregard for her (presumably) future child’s stated feelings points to her being a bad future mother. I also didn’t believe that Barron was the type of person to settle down and be a good dad, given his age and propensity for Jungle Juice, but maybe that’s my own bias. SH mentioned that the fetus was also kind of a dick, so this made pretty much everyone in your story unlikable, which is bad, imo. I dunno, I think this might be able to work with some pretty major revisions, and some frank reassessment of how you portray your characters, but as it stands, I did not care for this at all.

Favorite part: I liked the idea of the fetus not wanting to be born.

Least favorite part: Probably the maze itself. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and seemed unnecessary to the story.

Pham Nuwen - Remember

Another amnesia story! Hooray! I thought that this one worked pretty well for what it was, but it still would have been better if you hadn’t had to start entirely from scratch at the beginning of the story. I didn’t get a huge sense of who Mark was during the course of your story, and for some reason I didn’t really care for Sarah much at all (she seemed sort of whiny and stuck in her ways, but that may just be me). I actually thought that you pulled this one off pretty well, despite the amnesia disadvantage. But it still didn’t resonate with me as much as I think you wanted it to. I didn’t care too much whether or not the little community in the purgatory maze kept going or not, so your narrator’s decision to leave didn’t quite hit the note that it wanted to. Otherwise pretty solid; this was a good effort, and with a little more polish I think it could do pretty well for itself.

Favorite part: The description of the remembering sessions

Least favorite part: did you REALLY have to name the place Memento?

Thranguy - An Escape Velocity Needs Both Speed and Direction

Hmm, yeah, I did not care for this one much at all. This was another one of those stories that had a lot of interesting ideas, but didn’t really have enough space to let all of them breathe on their own. The idea that the kids wanted to be alone was cool, and I thought the idea behind setting the nav system to take the most circuitous route possible was interesting, but it sort of spiraled out of control from there. You seem to have a very clear idea about the world you’re describing, but you’re throwing too many references in too short a time, and they just jumble together into a near-comical pile of asides. Probably the biggest example of this was the mention of the motorcycle gang that set up the ending. It was thrown in with so many things, I didn’t think it was that important, which made them showing up at the ending seem really out of left field; if you had given them a little more space of their own, I think that the ending wouldn’t have seemed so forced. Although, to be fair, Jasmine’s sudden sense of reassurance at the fact that the gang exists will probably still seem strange. I dunno, there’s quite a few things that need to be worked out here.

Favorite part: “commuter-coffin routes and autotruck arteries that circled and crossed the city” was a nice description, imo.

Least favorite part: Probably all of the references. I know it was part of the characters you were trying to build, but it came off as a little show-offy to me, somehow.

Killer of Lawyers - [Triplicate Four(4) out of Three(Ⅲ)]

I thought that the tone of this one was great. It was really fun to read aloud, and I enjoyed rereading it as well, which is always a good sign. Unfortunately, the plot itself was a little lackluster; you had an interesting character with a good voice, but she didn’t really do anything or change over the course of the story, so it became a bit of a one-note joke. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was a GOOD joke, just not really so much of a story. :/ I think that you could take this character and world and probably go some cool places with it, though. I would totally read the adventures of this character in cyberbureaucracy dystopia. Please make that happen, kthxbye.

Favorite part: Smith. :3: I would also marry that robot.

Least favorite part: the lack of a plot. :(

Nov 26, 2005

This is an art gallery, my friend--and this is art.

Clay and Fire
1225 words

I rush to the footpath at the base of Mount Olympus, Alexandra stumbling as she triest to keep up, her joints stiff and aching. Theo follows behind us at a steady pace, leaving Karen at the back of the line, exhausted but pushing through.

I feel Alexandra's hands on my arm, her touch cool and clammy. I give her a peck on the lips and tell her that we've made it--there's nothing to fear. I tell her the nightmare's going to be over, that soon we can go back to San Fernando and resume right where we left off. A four-bedroom bungalow, central air, full gas range, his-and-her Porsches.

Truth be told, I'd give that all up for a warm shower and a working light bulb.

Alexandra opens her mouth to respond, but the words are caught in her throat. She knows I'm lying when I say everything's okay. She's seen the same thing happen to a dozen of our friends. The body loses circulation. The skin becomes moist and turns grey-beige. The joints grind as they lose fluid. Elastic organs become tense. Bones and teeth become jelly. Eventually, your flesh becomes like wet dirt, then... well, friends crumbled to dust in Nevada, one of us dissolved on the deck during the sail over.

I can't leave Alexandra behind. I tell her that it's a good thing--that she can let us know when I've fixed it.

Her eyes plead, but smile remains. She's lost control of the muscles in her face.

We're running out of time.

Theo is already setting up camp when I tell him that Alexandra's sick. His English is broken, and I can only pick up a handful of the words he mutters. "Must." "Cold." "Dark." "Danger." Of course he's right. Fire hasn't existed in years. A mountain hike in the pitch black would be suicide.

Karen looks at me expectantly. She would follow me if I pressed on, even though she needs a rest.

I quietly open our packs and unroll the tents.


I wake up to what tastes like a mouthful of soil and find myself grinding my pelvis into Alexandra's backside. I don't remember the details of my dream, but I know it involved Karen, Sydney, Laura, Pete, Reed, that creepy lighting guy whose name I could never remember... everyone who worked on my final project.

All of them left LA with me. Now Karen and Alexandra are all that's left.

I look down and see that I'd been clutching Alexandra's hips so firmly that it left a handprint in her clammy flesh.

Panic shocks me as I rolled her to her back. Her eyes are half-open, her pupils blind and milky, her breathing shallow. I know I should relieved that she's still alive... but I feel nothing but shame.

I'm silent when I emerge from our tent. Theo says nothing, and Karen knows better than to ask. Instead, we eat in silence, strike our tents, and gather our supplies.

Alexandra's arms and legs are rubbery and pliable as I load her onto my back. Theo and Karen don't complain when I ask them to carry our supplies, but I notice Theo cast off some of Alexandra's personal things before starting up the path.

Karen looks to me silently, expectantly. I give her a slight nod and she sheds Alexandra's clothing bag.

For the next few hours, my companions walk in silence as I narrate the spectacular view to Alexandra. Before the sickness took her, Sydney had told me that the hearing relied on a membrane so it probably went the same time as the voice, but I talk anyways. Maybe she's deaf, but she's pressed close enough to my back that she might feel the rumble of my lungs, and at least know that I'm still with her.

I stop at the sound of distant thunder. I ask Theo how much longer, but he just presses forward.

'It's okay', I tell Alexandra as the first fat drops hit the path around us. 'We're getting close. Just hang in there.'

I can feel her warmth against me, pressed against my back, arms limp around my neck... but as soon as the rain comes hard, I feel that warmth rolling down my arms, leaking through my fingers, her head heavy on my shoulder, but getting lighter.

I'm afraid to look, so instead I mutter about how it's fine, I'm going to fix it, just a little longer. I break into a sprint, picturing a cave, a lean-to, a big leafy tree--anything to get her out of the rain.

Theo shouts at me as I pass him. I don't understand a word of it, but it's only a matter of steps before a loose rock repeats his warning in language I understand, sending me sprawling to the ground. I can still feel Alexandra on my back, but as soon as I regain my bearings I realize that the Alexandra I feel is far too light, and thinning with the rain.

A few yards to my left, I see the rest of her: pink sweater and blue denim wrapped around a colorless, shapeless mass of clay, slowly melting into the mountain.


When we reach the peak, I'm too numb to be disappointed. After the rain passed, a fog fell over the mountain, blotting out whatever view we might have enjoyed. There's no great palace, no golden staircase, no mighty throne.

"I presume you wanted an audience?" The voice is coming from Theo, but it's thunderous, clear, and devoid of any accent.

I can hear Karen behind us, struggling with her climbing gear.

"Are you... Zeus?" I ask Theo.

Theo just stares at me expectantly, impatient and unimpressed.

I stumble over my words. "Um... Zeus... sir... I, uh... I didn't mean anything by it..."

"I presume you are referring to 'Pornmetheus'?"

Fatigue and humility pull me to my knees. "Please, it was an innocent parody. We're entertainers, and--"

Theo--no, Zeus--huffs impatiently. "I granted you an audience because I'm fond of your Hera. She's --preferable to the real one. However, it's Prometheus who reclaimed the gift of fire. Bother him. Now, I'll take my gift..."

Karen gives me a concerned look, which I ignore.

"So it's true? Human technology collapsed because of a porn?" I ask.

Zeus shrugs. "It had been building up for a long time. He got used to being celebrated. Gods don't particularly care for the adoration of mortals, but Prometheus isn't a god. He's been thinking of giving up since being snubbed for 'Hercules: The Legendary Journey'. He felt that his sacrifice was forgotten."

"How would he even know?" I ask.

"Just because he's cursed with eternal torment doesn't mean he can't log onto wi-fi. Your film wasn't responsible, but it was the straw that broke the titan's back, so-to-speak. Which is a shame, because the electricity his fire powered was responsible for television and movies, which means your species is boring again. Hence my interest in your pretend-Hera."

I stare forward, lost. "Can't you do something? Give us fire yourself? Save the human race?"

Zeus shrugs. "Meh."

I opened my mouth to protest but they were simply gone. Zeus, Theo, Karen--I found myself on my knees, unable to feel the cold stone beneath me, my limbs wet and heavy.

Jun 26, 2013



SadisTech fucked around with this message at 08:16 on Feb 10, 2016

Apr 22, 2008

curlingiron posted:

Killer of Lawyers - [Triplicate Four(4) out of Three(Ⅲ)]

I thought that the tone of this one was great. It was really fun to read aloud, and I enjoyed rereading it as well, which is always a good sign. Unfortunately, the plot itself was a little lackluster; you had an interesting character with a good voice, but she didn’t really do anything or change over the course of the story, so it became a bit of a one-note joke. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was a GOOD joke, just not really so much of a story. :/ I think that you could take this character and world and probably go some cool places with it, though. I would totally read the adventures of this character in cyberbureaucracy dystopia. Please make that happen, kthxbye.

Favorite part: Smith. :3: I would also marry that robot.

Least favorite part: the lack of a plot. :(

Who wouldn't, he's the dreamiest of government robots! :allears:

Thanks for the crits guys.

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

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

Terra Infirma
(615 words)


Grizzled Patriarch fucked around with this message at 18:06 on Dec 31, 2016


Jan 27, 2006

Destiny Through Sickness and Ash (907 words)

My sister tries to hide her suffering. Noya must think me a fool or else she wouldn’t persist in concealing the limp, the glistening eyes, or the wincing. Even the ash can sense her pain, for wise plants are no less wise for having burned.

Would that the plants had warned us. Warned of demons who would spread their heresy, whip us for our nakedness, and tell us our very bodies were evil. Warned of the sickness wrought by those who torch whole villages and surrounding woods when we resist. Is it because it is our destiny to die, that the plants remained silent?

It cannot be so. Though I wretch with nausea and roast with rash and fever, Noya shines healthy. In that, there is hope for us both. We can rely on each other. She sings the song of a medicine woman, and I walk the path of a forest guide. We will traverse the burned forest together, but our time grows short.

We are nearing the next village. If there are survivors, we will lead them to the empire. Noya limps next to me and allows a tear to find its way to her jaw. “I can go no further,” she says. “There’s a blockage. Here.” She places a hand on her back. “It sends pain down my leg.” She reaches for my forehead. “With your fever, I cannot hope for you to carry me. If ever I am to walk again, you will have to perform the healing.”

Just then I hear an imitation of a tinamou call. After I return the call two Yagua men, their faces painted red, slip toward us through the ruined foliage. Noya knows no tongue but that of our people’s, but I understand the Yagua well. “If you seek the Yagua village, turn back,” said the first man. “We are the only survivors. They who refused the demons’ enslavement died by sickness or fire.”

“I would lead you to the empire. They will safeguard us if I treat with them. I am fluent in Quechua as well as Yagua.”

“No,” said the second man. “We must bury the bones of our tribesmen. Even now we hunt for food to give us the strength to dig a mass grave. Then we ourselves will lie in it, for no one remains who might bury us.”

As Noya and I leave the Yagua, I feel my face flush. Soon, the rash covering my skin will raise in bunches. The pain will be immense. The nausea and fever will worsen. My body will leak life-giving energy from every pore. My organs will betray me. We must find the empire before I succumb, else Noya will be unable to treat with them. And if she dies—

Noya bellows and eases herself to the ground. She asks that I make a fire and draws two items from her sack, a clay vial and flat stone. When I have started the fire, she pulls the plug from the vial and says “You will do the healing.” Then, she hands the vial to me. It contains a black liquid. “Drink. The medicine will show you the way.”

She begins to sing. I’ve heard the medicinal chant often, but hearing my sister’s gut wrenching rendition is enough to make her pain my own. I drink the bitter liquid, suppressing the urge to vomit. Noya’s chant enthralls me; I am deep under now. I place the flat stone in the fire and my hand on Noya’s back. A vision of a cyst bursts into my mind. I will need to remove the blockage. With my free hand, I caress the earth and grasp at an unburnt stick. Noya’s chanting wavers as I dig into her back. When I have cut out the cyst, I use the stick to flip the hot stone from the flame and on to the wound. Noya passes out but the bleeding stops.

That evening, Noya awakes. I give her my ration of food and drink; given the sickness I soon will have no need. We camp for three days until Noya can walk again. By now I am covered in painful skin lesions. My breathing is labored. I tell myself that all will be right if I can get Noya to safety. Someday she will bear children and teach them to hate. When they are grown they will vanquish the invading demons.

The forest thins as we approach the empire. We walk for half a day before chancing on an outlying temple. The gold-bedecked priest greets us in Quechua when we enter. “You have the sickness, my poor child. I must speak with candor, there is little we can do when it has progressed this far. It is in the hands of the Sun God now.”

“I don’t care what happens to me,” I tell him. “I ask that you give her sanctuary here. She is a powerful healer, much in tune with the plants and their spirits. In addition, I offer my knowledge of tongues as well as news of the demons’ movements. Already they have defeated the Yagua.”

The priest gazes as a gold mosaic of the sun. “Yes, child. We will take her.”

In that moment my pain seems but a distant memory. No demons can hope to stand against the empire. Noya will be safe here among the Inca. Safe for all time.

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