“No wind, Captain.”
Kimball’s report was the same as it had been every morning for the past fortnight. The sea was calm as glass, reflecting a merciless sun, and the mainsails hung slack. There wasn’t even enough of a breeze for the Union Jack to show her colours. The storm that had driven the Annalisa before her for the five days prior had been a time of sleepless panic, but Captain John Harding was starting to wish he were still trapped in the maelstrom. Anything was better than this calm.
“Drop the water ration to a quarter,” he said, though he’d been taking quarter rations himself for days. He was starting to imagine how the noose would feel. Would his neck break first, or would he dance on the rope? They blamed him for trying to outrun the storm, but waiting would have meant months in port, half a world away from home.
He went to his trunk and found Emily’s locket. The single blonde curl of her hair looped around his finger like the ring he’d given her. He only hoped he hadn’t left her with child on their last night. She was still young enough to remarry, if he hadn’t.
“John,” Kimball said, too upset to stand on propriety. “You can’t stay in here.”
“I know.” He found his jacket, and started to prepare himself.
“Borden died last night.”
So that was it. Borden was too well-liked for his death to go unanswered. “Should I prepare a few words?”
Kimball shook his head. “They dumped him over the side at dawn.”
Borden was injured during the storm when a spar came down. Rot set into his leg before anyone could tend to it. Sawbones took it off at the knee once the calm set in, but it was too late.
“None of them wanted to wait for season’s end,” Harding said bitterly. Even now he didn’t believe he’d made the wrong decision. Bad luck and worse weather had left them in this predicament.
“It was your order to set out,” Kimball said. “Everyone knew the risks, but we trusted you to lead.”
The Captain was quiet.
“You’d best hurry unless you want to hang in your smallclothes.”
Harding reached for the flintlock pistol on his desk but something in Kimball’s eyes made him set it down. He’d never been a violent man, and it wouldn’t change anything. “Do I get any last words?”
“As you like.”
He thought about what to say. He could curse them all to hell. Beg for mercy, as pointless as that might be. His threats would be as empty as his promises had been. He tucked Emily’s curl into his breast pocket and adjusted his hat. “I’m ready, then.”
Kimball led him out of the cabin, as he always had. The entire crew was waiting on the deck for him. The sun beat down on their tired, gaunt faces. Half-rations for two weeks had taken weight off even the swarthiest. Harding knew he looked as haggard as the rest of them, and he felt a pang of regret, and a brief moment of clarity.
It wasn’t their fault that he’d never see Emily again. It was his.
Hans grabbed him by the arms and dragged him towards the mast. The rope was waiting, the pulley that would send him skyward to kick the air under the flags. It was rougher than he’d imagined, tight against the skin of his throat. They paused, as Kimball had promised, to let him speak his piece.
“Borden was a good man,” he said, removing his hat and looking up at the cloudless sky. “You’re all good men, and I failed you. I’m sorry.”
The Union Jack stirred slightly. Harding’s eyes bulged. “…wait!”
The pulley snapped; the rope went taut.
Kimball, god bless him, had followed his friend’s eyes and seen it too. And as John Harding soared upwards he pointed and gave a shout. “Wind! There’s a wind, boys!”
Hans jerked the pulley the other way, and the rope went slack. The still kicking Captain fell back to the deck like a wounded sparrow. It was a miracle he didn’t break both legs on the landing.
“John!” Kimball dropped to his knees and rolled him over, loosening the rope as quickly as he could. No one helped him. But no one moved to stop him either.
Harding wheezed and choked and spat blood from where he’d bit his tongue. Air, he couldn’t get any air! Like the empty sails, his lungs were useless. And then, like the sails above him, they filled again with a single great gasp. The ship creaked like the bones of an old man as it moved for the first time in ages.
“Wind…” His voice was a croak that could barely be understood.
“Aye,” Kimball said, trembling with emotion. “That there is, Captain.”
“No,” Harding said. He pressed his hat, which he’d never let go of, into Kimball’s hands. “…Captain.”
Kimball looked up at the rest of the crew, still in shock. They were all watching to see what he’d do. He made his decision, and held the hat up like a trophy. “If someone else wants this, say so or hold your peace.”
For a while no one answered.
“There’s another storm coming, Captain.” Hans finally said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder. In the west, black clouds were building with alarming speed. It looked worse than the last. “If Harding wants to promote his first mate, as he’s indisposed…”
Captain Kimball didn’t hesitate to make his first order. “Back to full water rations, and put the kegs out to catch the rain!” A half-hearted cheer went up in answer.
He picked his friend up and half-carried him back to the cabin. Harding grunted a question, and Kimball gave a tired laugh. “Why mutiny when there’s a chance to get home? They can always hang both of us later.”
“Good man,” Harding managed.
“Save it for when we see London.”
|# ? May 29, 2016 17:54|
|# ? Dec 3, 2021 00:59|
“All right, this is it. This is the last one.”
Fionn placed a tin of beans on the low wooden table, the sole piece of furniture in the ramshackle room, a tiny candle the only other thing resting on it. He could just about see the outline of Kennan’s face staring up at him from the corner of the room.
“The last tin of beans?” he asked.
“The last tin of anything. Once we’ve finished this, we’re completely out of food. Nothing else in the storage room but dust and cockroaches.”
Kennan bit his thumb before running his hand through his wiry beard.
“That’s not enough to feed three people.”
“No poo poo it’s not.”
Fionn’s heart jolted as Steffie emerged from the opposite corner. She picked the tin up and turned it over in her hand.
“And there’s nothing left in the supermarket, right?”
Fionn shook his head. The building was nothing but a husk, ransacked by countless travellers before them. They had been lucky to find even a few meagre tins scattered about by the time they’d stumbled upon this ghost town.
The trio were silent for a moment. The candle’s flame flickered, the wind finding its way through the tiniest of gaps in the boarded up windows.
Steffie broke the silence, cursing under her breath, before turning on her heel and walking out of the room.
“I’ll go and grab the stuff from upstairs,” she said, before she disappeared into the gloom. Fionn sighed, before he picked up the tin, stuffing it into a rucksack leaning against a table leg. Kennan ran his hand through his beard again.
“Just as I’d gotten used to living in this place, too,” he said.
“You and I both know this was never gonna be permanent,” Fionn replied, swinging the rucksack onto his back. “Hiding out in a rundown old house in the middle of some backwater town? That was never the goal. We’re going to make it to Waterford.”
The air was still, as the trio left the house. Fionn knew this wouldn’t last. They all knew it. This was the quiet before battle, and sooner or later there’d be another snowstorm. Maybe it’d be brief. Maybe it’d be as strong a blizzard as the first one, the one that had hit the British Isles so suddenly and so quickly, the one that had wiped out so many people so very quickly.
Maybe it would be even stronger this time.
Fionn tried not to think about that as he trudged along the road, slightly ahead of Kennan and Steffie. It was slow going. He had been through this hamlet multiple times, back before the world had become frozen, but his whole perception of distance and direction had become warped, now that everything was covered in ice and snow. He simply picked a direction and prayed it was the right one. Kennan and Steffie followed him. They didn’t have anywhere else to go, after all.
Hours trickled by as the three of them meandered forwards in silence, a single goal in mind; reach Waterford. Waterford would be their Eden. Fionn had grown up there, had lived most of his early life in the area, and now it was his only hope of sanctuary. He’d heard whisperings, brief moments of radio crackle, rumours overheard from other passing groups, that Waterford had managed to keep things under control when so many other towns and cities had fallen. It wasn’t much to go on, but in this wasteland, ‘not much’ was all they had.
Occasionally they passed other groups of people, each heading their own way, each with their own Eden in mind. Some were heading to Munster, some to Limerick. Some poor group had heard Dundalk was still functioning alright. Fionn didn’t wish any of them luck. They had to be wrong. It was the only bit of hope he had left.
“God, I’m starving.”
Fionn and Steffie both ignored Kennan, acting like the wind, growing stronger and stronger with every passing second, had drowned him out. They shared his sentiment, of course, but what could they do about it? They’d been lucky enough that the last store they’d passed hadn’t been totally ransacked. They could only wait until the next settlement they stumbled upon. Maybe it would be another town or village. Maybe it wouldn’t be until Waterford.
The storm was really starting to pick up as they slogged through never-ending fields. The wind nipped at any bits of exposed flesh it could find, and if there was none at first glance, it snaked into Fionn’s clothing to find the faintest gap between cloth and skin. The moonlight was their only guide, and it was a fickle one at that. It took a good minute for Fionn to see Steffie’s outstretched arm, pointing towards a large barn, about a mile in the distance.
Fionn’s legs were burning by the time they reached the building. He and Kennan used what little strength they had left to wrench open the main door on the third attempt, and they slipped inside. It was still cold, but it would be enough shelter, hopefully, for them to survive the night.
They lit another small candle and huddled around it, half-in, half-out of sleeping bags, still clad in coats and jackets. Fionn fished the tin of beans out of his rucksack, and passed it around. The three of them ate in silence, before Kennan spoke up through a mouthful of cold beans.
“So how much further d’you think it is? To Waterford, I mean.”
Fionn said nothing, staring past him into the distance. Steffie glared at Kennan, who didn’t get the message.
“I mean, you lived around here before. You’ve gotta have some idea of where- “
“Kennan?” Steffie said. “Shut it.”
Kennan’s mouth closed, and he shoved the tin of beans in Fionn’s direction. He retreated into his sleeping bag. After a while, Steffie did too. Eventually, Fionn was left alone, staring into a tiny flickering flame.
|# ? May 29, 2016 18:00|
Falling to pieces - 940 words.
My right arm lays twelve feet away from me. It just fell out of its socket without any warning or pain, leaving a black hole in its place. A sense of strangeness washes over me as I realize I can still feel and command it. Without a body to guide it though, it just twitches and flops like a fish on the ground. I feel the urge to stop and take it but my time is running out so I continue riding my bicycle as best as I can manage with a single arm.
A car crashes against a store behind me but I don't turn anymore, it's the sixth or seventh in a while and I've lost count already. A part of me hopes that one of those cars will swerve and crush me putting me out of my misery. I could end it immediately by killing myself but I need to find Zoe and my feet keep pedaling. I don't know what awaits me or what I'll do once I get there but thinking about her keeps driving me forward. This ordeal might just be a freak accident of the universe or a twisted joke from a higher being but I simply cannot afford to abandon hope.
It appears as if constant motion slows down the process of dismemberment. The people who hid have fallen apart already, forming horrific piles of severed limbs that twirl and crawl over the ground. They somehow remain alive despite being split into dozens of hole-riddled pieces. Their moans and groans and scratches and thumps still echo within my ears. On the other hand there is the possibility that I'm completely mistaken and this is not a matter of motion, but of will. Perhaps even of pure randomness.
A man runs out from a burning house. He has no lips or jaw so his eyes do all the screaming. His leg separates from his body and he falls. I stop beside him and he opens his eyes widely, begging me to kill him. Or at least, that's what I choose to believe. I grab a piece of crooked metal and jab his head but skulls turn out to be sturdier than I had anticipated and the only thing I manage is to scrape the scalp off his head. He cringes and gurgles so I hastily stab again, this time aiming at his eye. The metal pierces cleanly and he slumps motionless against the cold concrete.
A dog's head crawls awkwardly towards me. That poor animal has no clue what's going on, probably for the better. He even looks happy with his tongue flopping about. As I look at him my ear falls off and I get jolted back into reality. I have lost too much time already, my life is expiring soon and there is no more room for worthless speculation or mercy.
The town hall appears before me and it looks just like everything else: black piles of smoke emanate from crashed cars and limbs without owners thrash from side to side. There are also corpses of lucky bastards who killed themselves. I drop the bike and run towards the entrance but as soon as I get to the door an unbearable pain interrupts me. I look at the ground attempting to find what piece has fallen from my body but there is nothing around. The pain persists and my gaze turns to the empty space where my right arm had been: something must have crushed it. I feel like I'm going to faint but I push through the pain and make my way to the staircase jumping over several body parts that wander aimlessly along the hallway.
I reach Zoe's office at last and the door is closed. I attempt to open it but something is stuck behind it. My left eye pops out of my face, eyelids and everything. It rolls through the ground and stares at my feet while the eye on my face still looks at the door. The double vision makes me dizzy and I helplessly turn to puke. After recovering I close my left eye -which I can still control- and manage to focus and pick it up. It won't stick to my face anymore though, so I do the only thing that will let me continue without distractions: crush it under my foot. The pain is excruciating.
The office door trembles rhythmically after every one of my kicks, giving in bit by bit until there is finally a space for me to enter. I squeeze in and sidestep the desk that had been holding the door shut. Before me lays a mound of Zoe's limbs, writhing and breathing as if it were made of worms. One of her green eyes looks at me from the floor, it begins shedding tears. I pick up her lips to kiss them one last time and they reciprocate the motion.
I push the desk away and place her featureless head against the door frame. I slam the door shut with all of my might, spraying the office with blood and brains. I'm left with no time to weep as my chest gets torn from my waist and I crumble onto the gore, my joints splitting from each other and turning me into another pile of bones and flesh. My remaining eye happens to land facing a picture of Zoe and I, sparing me from witnessing my own demise.
Hours pass, then days. Thirst, hunger, silence and pain are my only companions. The world becomes a blur and it pulls me into the dark nothingness as my consciousness fades away.
|# ? May 29, 2016 18:36|
I Have Evolved My Progeny As It Pleased Me
I picture my hands strangling Protocol Director Neyl before he can breathe out the next words. My knuckles bone white. An end to the Neyl problem once and for all.
Instead I stand there clutching my drink as he tells me that the funding’s been slashed. No, not slashed, obliterated.
“Reality research is important, Neyl,” is what escapes my lips. I look for grounding. “It’s more important than the Fatestry, or any of that other stuff.”
It’s true. And I had counted on him. It’s a protocol director’s job, pretty much, to take the priority shifts, internalize them, and secretly subdirect funding to get to us anyway. I called Neyl a friend when he reached it. Now I don’t even know him anymore.
All the short-sightedness should stop with him, settle into his marrow, calcify there. But one look in his eyes and I can see he didn’t even try.
“We need to focus on military efforts,” he says. “Comes from above. Not my decision.”
And I consider hurling my drink in his face but instead I sip it, swish it in my mouth, and tell myself it tastes better than his screaming would feel.
We’re going to get atomized in thirty days.
That’s the deadline we’ve given our rival nation-state Aras to disarm. But the scions of the Psychic Arm have predicted they won’t disarm. Why would they? They’re as strong as us. Instead, ironically, that’s when they’ll strike. I saw the head priestess of the Fatestry telling Minister Prime that. His face blanched so badly I thought they had exploded his brain. They would never do that, though.
I dated a scion once. She said she didn’t need to explode anyone’s brain. She was happy just to see the future. The future’s a gift from heavenly bodies, and when they shine on you that’s all you need. When I asked what the future was like I expected a non-answer. I can’t tell you for cosmic reasons, you weren’t meant to know, or maybe a placeholder like, you’ll find two red crystal shards tomorrow and look suspiciously at everyone on the way to the wealth cavern.
Instead she told me that the Fatestry was all messed up. We’d be vapourized inside of a year. The players at the top blew it somehow. We weren’t going to see the edges of the universe. We weren’t even going to see beyond the drowning pool we called Yatroth, pitch black and orbited by fragmented asteroids.
I broke it off after that, always associated her with bad news. But that’s why I studied so hard, defended my thesis until it seemed bulletproof. Joined the Reality Researchers, cried when they renamed me. Everyone looks down on us because we don’t care about the Fatestry. But we can tell you why the Fatestry’s meaningless, and if you’ve got a soul, you’ll listen.
So what is reality, really? All my colleagues have theories. That’s what makes you a true Researcher, you fantasize. You fill in the pieces before there are pieces to fill in. I have one that I came up with while scattering my mother’s ashes. She believed in peace and love and hope. A flame in the dark type. Her last wish was for me to scatter her ashes from the terrax of my tetrablock cube. So she could fall on the streams of life that whorled through the capital, land on pawn and player alike.
I watched the wind take her and composed a theory, like a poet might compose a poem or a psychic a foretelling.
As a species, we call ourselves Biloxir, but I don’t think there’s any proof that’s what we actually are. I don’t think there’s even any proof that we’re alive, that we have souls, that there’s any meaningful destination we can ever reach. No matter how hard we try.
I think we’re motes. I think we’re being programmed, or our reality is being simulated, or maybe the natural frequencies of the universe are duping us. I think we’re dust, we always were and we never became anything more. Every cycle of the asteroid fragments that refract us light from distant stars, I spend studying reality, only to see it crumble away in my hands. It entrances me, spills through my fingers, lands at my feet. Until in the end I look in myself and see nothing at all.
Dust motes, drawn to each other, so we have someone to hear us shout that we’re something else.
I think it over as the cycles pass. See my chances of proving my theory evaporate. The gloom has been settling for days and now it enshrouds us. We don’t talk to each other. We just go to our cubes and stare at the fragments, try to process the glints of light that make it to us.
My ex is waiting for me one night on my terrax. It’s invasive, I think, to use her scion abilities to find out where I live. I think about it further and realize that I don’t actually care. She hands me a half empty flask of the stuff that gives scions their power.
“What do you see, when you look up there?” she says.
I swig it. “The shreds of light’s last gasp to reach this awful planet.”
“I think it’s a message,” she says. “It’s beautiful even if we can’t decode it.”
In my brain, my mote’s fantasy, the scions’ drink, the deep illusion, reaches the empty places. I can see Neyl, waiting for the end like me. He’s alone on his terrax. In the background I hear the sounds of crying children. I see apathy in his eyes as they go unconsoled. I see him there, and I see a blinding light, a silhouette, disintegrated, to dust, to truth and vanishment.
“It’s okay,” I say.
|# ? May 29, 2016 19:31|
The Rest Is Violence
Casey turns the corner, sees someone running towards him, reaching into his pocket. He shoots the kid three times in the chest. It's his first week on the job. He checks the body. No gun. Phone. Picture of a young black girl in glasses frozen on cracked screen, 'have you seen my sister' in blocky text beneath. Casey panics. Partner Hank calms him down. “No witnesses, no cameras, so no problem,” Hank says. “We can make this right.”
Hank hands Casey a .22. Casey does what he's told, puts it in the kids hand and fires twice into the alley walls. Gets his words just right for the review. “I was in fear for my life.”
“From a .22?” razz the other cops. Casey sees the prank, learns the lesson. Anything smaller than a .38 makes a shameful story. He collects his own drop pieces, taking guns off perps who can't complain. He follows up on the girl, finds out she went missing a week back. He gets nowhere. His bosses tell him to stop wasting his time.
He gets busy. Work cases. Hank shows him what's what. Casey learns whose money to take and who to bust for bribery. He learns how to hold the line when protests turn to riots. He faces down broken bottles and Molotovs behind his riot shield, gets a medal pinned to his chest. He does favors: a license plate look-up here, a lost or found piece of evidence there.
The favors are returned. Money, always money and help hiding it when bad habits don't eat it all. Hank introduces Casey to The Spot, a club with classy whores to every taste and big discounts for members of the force. Everybody has a type. Hank's is freckled ginger girl-next-doors. Casey learns that his is long-haired Asians with big doll eyes and broken English.
The favors get bigger. Hank tells him about Liv Franklin, a rookie one year behind Casey. “She won't play ball,” says Hank.
“She going to IAB?” asks Casey.
“Rat squad?” scoffs Hank. “No, they're all on board. She's going Federal. Time to prove yourself. This is direct from the Judge. He wants it fast, and he wants it messy.”
Casey balks, stalls, makes excuses. Then pictures show up in his inbox. The alleyway shoot, Casey squeezing the .22's trigger with the dead kid's fingers. No words, no demands. He gets the message. He gets it done. He makes it messy. He hates how much he enjoys it.
Casey moves up the ranks. Hank introduces him to the Tanners. Judge Zeke Tanner sets the tone at court. Lila Tanner sits on dozens of boards and committees, pulling the strings. “They're brother and sister, not married,” warns Hank. “It's an easy mistake you don't want to make.” The Tanners mix old and new money, all dirty. Their family compound is just outside city limits. Official police details protect out front and the garage. It's good overtime work. Casey's done it before.
There's another driveway in back. Guarding that's special duty, top dollar duty, duty demanding discretion. Hank gets Casey on the late night shift. Good pay for standing around. It's quiet enough back that Casey can hear. Sex noises, male and female, and a third person screaming. The Tanners' voices are unmistakeable. It's almost funny, then it isn't, than it is again. The first few nights Casey banters with Hank to drown out the noise. Then they run out of things to say.
One night the screaming stops abruptly. Hank gets a call, tells Casey that a delivery is coming. The van arrives a half hour later. It barely stops as someone is shoved out the door. She's familiar to Casey. The pieces float together in his mind. Not the exact same girl, of course. But everybody has a type. The Tanners' is bookish black twelve year olds.
Casey forces a grin. “It was a test, back when I started. Not just some random kid, someone they needed to make go away.”
“Look at the detective here,” says Hank. “Of course we had to know what kind of po-”
Casey shoots from the hip to the gut. Hank's .44 is in his uselessly twitching hand. Casey fires twice more. Headshots.
The girl stands shock-still. Casey empties his wallet, hands her a fistful of twenties. “Run,” he says. “Run until you reach the state line, and then run some more.” She runs.
The back door opens and out walks the Judge, phone held to ear. “-fully this one will last longer,” he says. “What the hell-” Casey shoots him in the eye. Judge and phone fall to ground. The phone's screen cracks, distorting the picture of Lila Tanner, one eye absurdly larger than the other.
Scrambled noises from inside, then cars start up on the other side of the house. The engine sounds come from the phone as well. Casey watches the door, watches the road and sides of the house. He sees nobody.
“Pick up the phone, dead man,” comes Lila's voice from the grotesque on the phone. She stretches the last word like taffy.
Casey picks up the phone, clears his throat.
“You're dead,” says Lila. “And your family, and anyone else-”
“My ma's been dead years. You kill my pa and you'll be doing me a favor.”
“Then think of yourself. The things that I'll do. If I were in your shoes I'd shoot myself right now.”
“Figure there's nothing you can do to me I don't deserve,” says Casey. “Course, I also figure the same goes for what I can do to anyone you send after me.”
Casey drops the phone on the grass and reloads his weapon as he walks away. The gargoyle-face spews threats and obscenities. He counts his bullets. Enough? Dumb question. There aren't enough bullets in the world.
|# ? May 29, 2016 19:46|
Check Engine Light On
The sound of static wakes me, as the speakers pour great heaps of white noise across the control cabin. It rattles the base of my skull until the entire bulkhead is buzzing around me, and it’s irritating as all hell, but at least it kills the silence. There’s just been too much silence, lately.
I try to blink away the haze of my meds, and watch the noise pattern on the video array overhead. This is good. At least our AV power is back on, if not the actual signal uplink. I guess I can’t expect Satyam to handle both of those jobs, but it feels like he’s been out for hours and Jesus loving Christ, how long does it take to wiggle one transmission tile back in place?
Then again, it’s not as if I can really get out there and do it myself. Mellowing to the static, I settle back against the bulkhead and let a fresh wave of numbness flatten my head into an infinite line.
I’m ten, maybe twelve seconds into this ride when the lights flicker. poo poo. Did Satyam somehow gently caress up the lighting circuit to get the AV going? Without thinking, I spin to look around the cabin and only have myself to blame when this turns into a zero-gravity tumble. I reach out to grab a wall-rung, but there’s only my stump, so off I go. After a half-dozen somersaults, I come to rest in our designated trash corner and realise that the lights are back to normal. Satyam is braced against the airlock as he fiddles with the catches on his suit, his helmet tilted towards me like a gigantic, gold-lined fly’s head.
“You need a hand there?” He asks as he unplugs a set of valves at his collar, his voice crackling through the speakers. His radio is still on.
“That joke is wearing thin and you loving know it,” I sigh, kicking away spent nutri-tubes and empty vitamin strips. I almost tip forward into another tumble, but I manage hook my boot into the useless remains of the garbage hatch and settle unsteadily into the Trash Zone. “What took so long?”
“What took so long-” His voice sputters overhead as the helmet finally comes off with a satisfying pop. He looks at me through a mess of unwashed hair, sweat and stubble, and has to shout over the harsh resumption of speaker noise. “What took so long is I’m not qualified for this poo poo, and my engineer decided to file for disability.”
I shrug, and turn my head to look out Viewport 3. We’re in geostationary orbit, so I guess it’s not that much of a surprise that one of my hands is still floating out there in plain view. The meds hit me again, and for a second it seems to be waving at me. Hi, dipshit. I wave a stump back sluggishly, not wanting to know whether it’s still bleeding under the medical tape or not.
I suspect the murder weapon is twisting off somewhere near Phobos, by now. I’d love to meet whoever developed our main communications rig. As far as planar focal arrays go, I guess it was a decent piece of tech. The mechanical steering was a bummer, though, especially when it failed right while I was trying to run maintenance on it. The jitter in the rotator was enough to detach the dish straight into my outstretched arms, and, well… I’m glad Satyam was also suited up, and quick with the duct tape for my sleeves.
I look away from the viewport. Satyam is staring at me, expectantly. I blink at him. “What?”
“I said, I couldn’t get our signal back,” he shouts, bounding across the cabin toward me. As he lands, a half-dozen empty cartons scatter off amongst the mess of cables and dismantled control panels that deck its walls. “...I think we need to talk about what the plan is from here on.”
“We talked about this,” I mutter. “I think it’s a good one. Okay, maybe a little uninspired, but-”
“I’m serious. I’m already moving us out of orbit, Ray.”
“Great,” It comes before I can think of what to say, angrier than I want to sound. I think my dose is wearing off. “Crash this fucker into the Martian landscape. Let Musk’s team find the black-box. Blow the lid off this whole mess. I’m looking forward to this whole Posthumous Hero thing, personally.”
I’m not sure why I’m so pissed about it. Ever since the hands went bye-bye, death just seems the inevitable next step. I just don’t feel like strategising my own demise.
This whole thing was so screwed up from the start, anyhow. It turns out that when you use knockoff reality TV as the sole funding source for your colonisation project, your mighty research vessel ends up being designed modularly by fifty different contractors and integrated by shitheads. Someone must have known this before launch. We didn’t.
Not me, nor Satyam, nor Erica, nor Xiang, nor Stefan.
The latter three probably realised it when the first critical system failure happened, two months back. I suspect they didn’t appreciate getting stuck with the lower three-quarters of the ship. At least Satyam and I managed to keep the life-support module on our quarter.
I realise I’ve had my eyes shut. When I open them, Satyam is crouched over me with a sachet of water in one hand, his other a loose fist. In Viewport 1, I can see the orbital glow of the planet’s surface pitching toward us.
I look up at Satyam. My lip quivers.
“Hey, just… just keep me nice and hosed up, okay? I don’t want to know what I’m doing for this.”
There’s a sad look in his eyes as he opens his hand. The last pain meds gleam in his gloved palm… by Christ, I hope they’re all for me.
“Sure, Ray,” He says with a tired smile. “I got you covered.”
|# ? May 29, 2016 21:46|
I'm sorry, but you're hosed
The iron bull or the flaying knife?
Don’t look at me like that. I’m not the one calling the shots here. I mean, yeah, in here, with the chains and the thumbscrews. It’s my domain. But you know what I mean. It’s my dad. He’s making me do this to you.
I’m just as innocent as you.
Hell, I like you. You were nice to me, even back before this whole vendetta thing, you know, when our families were all roses and daisies and nicely worded letters. Even then my father hated my guts. Me, the devil’s breed, the ginger bastard. You took me in when he wouldn’t have me anymore, and it was a bit odd being your servant, or, what did you call it? Retinue? But it was decent living, and even better, it pissed off my father, so thanks. No, seriously. I’ll never forget that.
That’s why you get to pick how you die. I know the choices aren’t great, but it’s all I can do.
I don’t want to do this. I’ve always kind of admired you. Growing up in that estate with its marble pillars and fine art statues and grape vines growing from the walls, those vines, so rich you can just go there and pluck ‘em any time of the year… it gets to your head. It sure would have gotten to mine. Your family has its own brand of wine, I mean goddamn. But not you, not Sir Lennard McTallister who haggles with Lords to buy bread for the poor.
Yeah. I could let you run. I don’t know if you’d get far, but I could.
But I won’t.
I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to end well for you.
I know. It’s not fair. You weren’t the one loving ma behind my dad’s back. You sure as poo poo didn’t beat your uncle within an inch of his life in retaliation. No, you’re the opposite of that. Regardless of how much bad blood was spilled in the recent months, you always took the high road. They say you defeated two assassins at once. They say you spared their life. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly speaks to your character.
Really pissed off my father anyway. Because you didn’t just beat him. You made him seem petty. So I guess this is why we’re here now. You’re as much to blame as me.
Calm down. Don't make me tighten the screws again.
So if it’s any consolation to you, this isn’t going to end well for me either. Because my father doesn’t just want you dead. He wants you to suffer, and he wants you to suffer at the hand of your best friend, of that ginger bastard, that guy your own dad told you to never, ever trust. It has to be slow, and it has to be nasty, and it has to be me, because that’s going to hurt the old McTallister even more, that I used your own good nature against you when you I lured you into that alley.
Then who do you think gets it next? Who do you think dies a slow and painful death? It’s not like my dad likes me now. He just needs me, and my use expires after this. So if it’s any consolation to you, everything I’ll do to you now? I’ll get it back.
But here’s the thing: I’ll have played my part. Just this once. Lured you into that ambush, took you out, made the poor old McTallister cry his crocodile tears. My dad will remember that. He won’t remember me with the same fondness that old men have of their good old days, he definitely won’t cry at my funeral, but he’ll be there. The sarcophagus will be empty, for the obvious reasons. He won’t see me go under. But he’ll be there, and somewhere, deep down in his head, inside this old, complex web of grievances and accounts, he’ll have a checkmark under my name right next to the part that says “Has been useful just once in my life.”
And that’s good enough for me. Because I’m still his son. And despite all he’s done to me, well...
You know how it is.
Alright. I’m droning on, but this isn’t going to get any easier. So I’ll ask you again.
The iron bull, or the flaying knife?
|# ? May 29, 2016 23:29|
My Brother's Keeper
As my brother rises to his feet, I find the stench of his psychiatric hospital suddenly overpowering. Gone is the smell of disinfectant and death and deodorized air fresheners. In its place is urine and blood. The odor of something senselessly alive. Something that refuses to die.
He grabs me, smearing his oily hands across my face. As his lips curl backward, I see the gaps where yellowed teeth used to be. He is on top of me, all spittle and nails. I bring my hands up, but the nurses are already pulling him off. They curse as the living quarters descends into pandemonium.
“YOU DID THIS. YOU DID THIS,” he screams, writhing and smashing against the blue scrubs. He jams his elbow into a nurse’s eye and she lets loose a guttural howl. The other patients are pushed by another group of nurses out a side door, all weeping and screaming. “YOU’RE KILLING ME.”
I am forced to look away by a heavy hand on my shoulder. A doctor leads me towards the nurse’s station. I realize that I’m bleeding.
“Don’t worry, he says with a sympathetic but mechanical smile. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying. It’s the illness talking. We’ll take a look at his medications.”
Before the Haldol and Thorazine, my brother and I did pot in his van. We sat, windows sealed, giggling and coughing. Passing the joint to one another and admiring the white wisps as they curled and spiraled in the darkness.
“You know they’re stealing from me,” he said between inhales. On some days, he remembered to shower. On others, he smelled exotic, like curdled milk and old fast food wrappers. “They want my money, but I won’t let them have it. I won’t do it.”
I giggled as he leaned his head against the passenger’s side window. Sometimes, he would let me sit in the driver’s seat and watch as I tightened my hands on the steering wheel. The foam felt good, strong and elastic.
“Yeah, I dunno,” I said, feeling guilt creep and excitement creep into my face. It was wrong to indulge his fantasies. It was worse to bad-mouth our parents. After the diagnosis, after dropping out of college, they had bought him a small apartment a few blocks from our house. Every month they would pay the rent and buy him groceries. Every week, we would visit and, ignoring the heavy foreign smells, clean the apartment from top to bottom. Then, sneaking back after dark, he would whisper dark conspiracies into my ear.
Our father had seduced his high-school girlfriend.
Our mother had hired a private detective to follow him around.
His college roommate had drilled holes in his head.
But he never had any conspiracies involving me. He knew where we stood. He went crazy and got people to take care of him. I was only neurotic. I would have to get into the best schools. I would have to work. I would have to make sure that we stopped being the family that people talked about in hushed tones. They didn’t say it, but our parents had poured all their hopes into me. And that weight was immense.
He inhaled and looked over to me. “I should tell them, y’know. We should tell them that we won’t be their sick puppets anymore.”
I was struck suddenly with an idea. A self-destructive but liberating idea. I turned the car keys and squeezed the steering wheel. My brother looked at me, his yellow teeth shining against the darkness.
“Why don’t we tell them, then,” I said.
I decide not to come back until the bruise heals. When I do, I’m led to my brother’s room by a small woman. She’s no Nurse Ratched but she feels imposing. Malignant.
“Vegetative symptoms,” whispers the nurse. She creeks open his door. I see him slumped in a chair with his eyes glazed. “He’s been like this since we changed his dosage. After he…”
The silence between us could fill the Grand Canyon. I nod and she turns away. When her footsteps finally dissipate, he cracks a smile. He scoops two bright blue pills out from under his tongue and puts them on his knee. Saliva oozes over them. I sit across from him.
He leans toward me, cracking his disused joints. His tongue runs over the gaps in his teeth. “No one ever cared about you. Not even Mom and Dad. You were an accident. A mistake.”
I say nothing.
“The nurses talk about you after you leave. They know what you’ve done. They want to put you in here with me. They wanna box you up, box you up like a Christmas present.”
A hot sickness rises up in me. I want to grab his face in my hands and scream. I know he’s looking for a reaction, but I can’t stop myself. “You’re sick. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Is that so? Is that so?” He giggles. “If I’m sick, what does that make you?”
We never made it home. We never even made it two blocks. As I roared down the road, feeling powerful with the steering wheel tight beneath my fingers, something had skirted into the road. Something small and delicate, now smeared across the road with bright flowers blooming from her head. I felt my future obliterate.
“It wasn’t my fault,” I said, as my brother opened the car side door and rushed towards the small, ruined thing. He was on top of her, his eyes wide in surprise. “It wasn’t my fault.”
“But did it have to be your fault?” Whispered a small, conspiratorial voice in my ear. After all, it was his car. Everyone know's he sick and broken. Iit’s not like he would care. He’s never going to have a future anyway. All you have to do is run home before the cops show up.
From the road, my brother looked at me, already knowing the decision I would make.
|# ? May 29, 2016 23:54|
They killed hope when they shot the Saint. I reached him first and saw the blood blooming across his chest, seeping to the ground where he'd fallen behind his apple crate podium. I gathered him in my arms, felt his pulse fade, heard his breath whistle from a punctured lung. I laid my cheek against his to hear him whisper, "Lauren, remember--Love them. Until their shields break. Until they lay down their weapons. Love them. Remember."
His eyes closed peacefully. Like he'd fallen back to rest. Like the blood soaking his robes was only paint in some artist's portrayal: rose blooms to convey the beauty of his personality. He'd drawn so many to him. To his last breath, he thought it would end. Thought they could listen. Thought that anyone gave a drat.
Five of his followers died in the panic. The guards claimed that someone there shot first; I'd only heard the bullet that killed the Saint. The council deemed burial too costly, so they dumped the bodies into the canyon. Then they tossed in his flowers, some buckets of pitch, and torches. The industrial district smelled burning meat for a week.
Those flowers. Roses, hibiscus, cornflower--anything we could find, we brought him. I wore the crown he made me until it wilted. Just imagine it: an adult, walking around with a crown of flowers. He gave us the only beauty we had in his being, in the flowers he loved. He spoke like each one of us was dear to him. He taught me to sing properly, and we sang the goofiest songs we could find together so we had something to laugh about. I loved him. I loved all he meant to us.
And I tried to love the guards and the council anyway, as I'd been trying for the two years since the Saint began preaching. I tried to understand them, as he’d told us to: they were scared of what was different, they had families to care for too, they would see in time that we wanted nothing but what we deserved as humans.
But he'd said all that before they shot him in cold blood, when no one carried a weapon. When he didn’t have a violent bone in his body. The only times I’d ever seen him angry, he’d erased the emotion like he was wiping off a slate, just so he wouldn’t worry anyone. I’d tried to get him to open up about it, but he laughed it off; he said we were already angered enough without him adding to it. He’d treated our minor injuries. Even animals he found on the street.
I finally knew, after they burned the bodies like bad wheat, that they didn't care. They weren't scared; they wanted to be feared. They didn't care about our families, so why should we care about theirs? We were animals to them. Roadkill. We were nothing.
Realize: The Saint was what kept us together. One look at his smile, and we could believe when he told us that things would work out. He believed things would improve. He believed in his cause. In us. All of us. All of them. Everyone in this damned world. He loving believed...
I led the march down Third Avenue with the ones that agreed with me. When they showed up and drew guns without even warning us, we did nothing. I thought it might be the last chance: prove that we didn’t want to fight even without the Saint, maybe they’d finally get the message.
Ansom must have seen them before the rest of us did. He jumped in front of Becca, but they both went down. He was screaming at us to run, so we did. I was the only one that drew my gun, but I didn’t hit anyone. They left their bodies for hours. We got back to them before they got dumped in the canyon, buried them ourselves. They’d shot Ansom four more times for good measure. The wounds didn’t have much blood around them, so he’d already been dead.
Could a farmer love the weasel that slaughtered his henhouse--not out of hunger, but for the fun of it? I begged the Saint to forgive me, if his spirit was still out there somewhere; but we couldn't love monsters.
So I got guns too.
Some of us still want to hold to his teachings, but it’s pointless. He'd been wrong the whole time. Blinded by idealism. Or just willfully holding onto it because the alternative was giving up, and he wouldn't give up when he wouldn't let us give up. The greatest man I’ve ever known, trying to protect us from our own anger, with nothing to fall back on but his reassuring smile.
That’s gone now. We'll never see it again. Nothing’s going to get better. I warned the ones that don’t agree with this, but the Saint was in my arms when he died, and I buried Ansom and Becca when they did. I can’t hold any more corpses.
I’m leaving this for whoever cares, or for the court, if it comes to that: This isn’t starting anything. It isn’t going to end anything. There isn’t an end until we’re dead or they are, and we don’t have armor.
So I’m sorry, to everyone who’s going to suffer the fallout. But I’m no loving saint.
|# ? May 30, 2016 00:04|
The Shape of Human Hearts
Grizzled Patriarch fucked around with this message at 18:08 on Dec 31, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 00:10|
A Plea to the Little Bird
flerp fucked around with this message at 08:11 on Jun 3, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 00:40|
archived on the site
Mr Gentleman fucked around with this message at 17:02 on Jun 7, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 00:57|
Week 198 Crits, Part 1 of 2
Thank you for the crit!
|# ? May 30, 2016 01:04|
In the highways, in the hedges
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 15:13 on Jan 2, 2017
|# ? May 30, 2016 02:53|
On Soft, Dark Wings
Thistle scraped welts across Ian's legs and summer sweat greased his skin, yet his thoughts were all for the orange flicker in the weeds. Hssst! The edge of his net rasped the grass. The coveted monarch darted away and soared up beyond his highest reach.
Other wings spread and danced above the field, pure white and pale yellow, black spotted with blue. Ian dropped the net and caught a cloud-colored butterfly between cupped hands. To prove to himself that he could: he'd brought home plenty of its kind and let them go again, as he let this one go, with pleasure. But what was that, over there? That glint of deep green and gold?
Ian waded toward a clump of Queen Anne's lace. The gleam flashed as wings closed and opened. He'd never seen their like, and that was something after two years of dedicated chase and study. The creature clung to its flowers as Ian reached for it, stayed put as his fingers enclosed it. Its inky legs tickled his palm.
He ran back to his house, abandoning the net. "Dad! Mom! Come see!"
His parents had been sufficiently jaded by his discoveries that Ian had time to coax the butterfly onto his mother's spider plant and fetch his field guide before his father came up from the basement. "Nothing in the book looks like it, Dad. It could be something new," he said.
His father was good enough to not quite laugh. "In our old cornfield?"
"See the color? It's so dark, and those gold spots don't match any markings in North America." They glittered in the light through the window; so did the dust they'd left on Ian's fingers. "It's crazy calm, too. I bet you could hold it."
Ian's father suffered to have the butterfly on his wrist for a few seconds. Ian's mother, when she joined them, let Ian put it in her hair and take a picture before he set it free. Over supper Ian compared its shade of green to scarab beetles' until his parents firmly changed the subject.
After supper, he lay curled on bedsheets soaked with his vomit.
Cramps grabbed his guts and shook them; he moaned in fever. Cool mother-hands wiped his face the first time and held him while his father changed the bedclothes. The second time Ian soiled himself, he called for those hands, and distant retching was the answer. For the third he was unconscious, dreaming of flutters in the dark.
He woke in filth. Hollowed. Weak. "Mommy?" Somehow he peeled himself from the bed and stumbled out to the hall, to the bathroom. "Dad?"
His father's body had fallen onto its side beside the toilet, and the fumes of bowel and bile were so strong that Ian gagged as he screamed--with no response, so he knew, knew with all his heart what he'd find in his parents' bedroom, but he still ran there as he once had from other nightmares. And he was wrong, as it happened. His mother hadn't died in there but just outside, on her belly, as though she'd tried to crawl to the phone or to him.
Ian knelt by her head and wrapped his arms around it, burying his face in her hair. The beloved brown curls were spangled with gold. Like dust.
So were his fingers, still. So was his father's wrist.
He staggered out to the field and its Queen Anne's lace, where green flashed in the morning light. Ian snatched the butterfly and tore it apart while it struggled. His strength was enough to ruin the soft, dark wings and scatter them on the ground. To break the frail legs and smash the head. To cry then, bewildered, at what he'd done.
Wings fluttered on over the field, pure white and pale yellow, black spotted with blue, gold on deep green. The latter gleamed as far away as Ian could see, too many for one boy to catch and out of his reach far too late.
|# ? May 30, 2016 02:55|
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 21:57 on Jan 2, 2017
|# ? May 30, 2016 03:51|
Brooke thought it was the worst moment of her life when she watched her brother struck by a crossbow bolt to the neck and her uncle who cared for her like a daughter run through by a spear, killed with two other men whose savagery led to this point. She had been acting on adrenaline for the past few minutes, but now began to feel a great sorrow knowing she was going to die, standing alone in the forest next to her fallen kin, and facing down the longsword of a highly armored knight wielding it in two hands.
“Drop it.” He said, referring to the axe at her side she had instinctively reached for. “Knife too.” She followed orders.
The other knights regrouped, crossbows, spears, and other weapons pointed at her at all times. They were escorting a priest and had stumbled upon their robbery, her mind foggy with the details of when and how the killing began. “Banditry’s punishable by death.” said the swordsman. “You’ve likely killed your share of men, no reason why we shouldn’t do the same to you.”
The priest spoke. “There is another way.” He slowly walked forth, his black robes swaying in the mud but never getting dirty. “There is always another way.”
One of the knights seemed to catch on. “He’s right. She joins the legion.”
“Bullshit,” spoke the one with the sword at her neck. “She’ll never survive.”
The knight retorted “You saw what she did when that griffon broke loose; look how many drat TREES there are here! You think you or I could’ve made those shots?” The knights considered it. “The hell you care what happens to her anyway?”
The other knight was defeated, sheathed his sword. “She joins the legion.”
“Mark her.” The priest approached, bringing his hands to his lips before touching her right wrist. It was a bolt of searing pain that made her cry out, a burn marked into her flesh, the scar tissue forming the appearance of an iron band around the skin. It marked her purpose, and would kill her if she left it unfulfilled.
She had to journey to hell.
“Let her keep her weapons.” Spoke the knight who had nearly killed her moments ago. “She’ll need them.”
For nearly a full day Brooke travelled, pushing her horse and herself to their limits. Her wrist hurt when she slept, waking her and only easing when she pushed forth towards her destination. For the last third of the journey her horse had abandoned her from fear, her muscles in flames as she ran the entire way. She finally arrived at the gates to a citadel scorched with flame, the burning in her wrist being the only thing on her mind as she pounded on the iron knocker. She caught her breath for a moment, enough for two breathes before hearing the door open. She looked up, seeing a knight decorated in what immensely heavy black iron armor.
“Why are you here?” He spoke.
She couldn’t find words. She simply held up her wrist.
The man took several moments simply looking at her. She was flushed and still catching her breath. He waited a while before speaking, “The legion takes all. We venture into combat in four hours.”
She looked into the dark slits of his helmet. “I’ve just ventured a full day, I haven’t slept in hours, I haven’t had food, I’m… I’m not ready.”
He yanked her inside and closed the gate. “You will never be.”
She had only slept a few minutes after preparing her armor, and she was now forced to march again, this time into the gates of hell. Her wrist had still hurt the entire time, unceasing in its dull agony.
Past blackened woods they wandered through smoldering stone gate, on a bridge they’d build over a river of countless corpses and bones, most of them small. The entire place howled endlessly with screams and what sounded like churning. The other legion had formed a large circle around her while they started hewing down walking corpses with heavy hammers and axes. As they made their way deeper, the corpses grew more bloated, some to grotesque proportions, oozing towards them and shrugging off slices as they wailed. She started firing off arrows. One violently spewed bile, melting a soldier to the bone as it rinsed over him. They were not as bad as the cudgel wielding titans who took out multiple soldiers only with one blow, but would rise again after being struck down. She noticed this of certain legionnaires too, how they would shrug off mortal blows and keep marching towards the endless slaughter that was their duty. She watched as another soldier was bitten by a giant spider, only to scratch at the wound violently before countless tiny spiderlings burst from his abdomen.
“You hold that drat line.” Said a black-iron clad axeman, his obsidian blade spattered green and red with the fluids of thousands of battles. He waded towards the chaos before being engulfed in flames, along with the spiders and many legion in a violent firestorm as the floor erupted in a state unforgivingly common in the landscape.
Her leg was sting with thorns from some hellish plant. The wound was already bleeding through her armor, purple and red. She already felt faint, feeling the blood loss. So this is how I die, she thought. Already in hell… she nearly laughed to herself. It was the lack of blood she thought.
She remembered trying to pass out, but the pain in her wrist brought her back. She remembers being strung up for execution, being fed some insatiable hunger. It was a maw that stretched ceaselessly into a void, a horror indescribable. She remembers being quickly and brutally devoured.
She was roused from her sleep.
“We fight now,” said a man handing her an axe, his wrist wrapped in an iron band.
Her wrist hurt. She knew it’d only stop when the killing began.
|# ? May 30, 2016 03:57|
Submissions are closed.
Toxxes and failures, you have until I wake up on Monday to submit. You'll be DQed but I'll still at least comment on your piece.
|# ? May 30, 2016 04:06|
TITUSFLERP BRAWL ENTRY (otherwise known as the winner.)
OK so these are both really pretty bad, though neither have egregiously bad words so that's something. I wasn't a huge fan of flerp's spiderflerping and its cretinously straight up magic realist spider but at least it was a story, with the requisite degree of squinting. titus gave me a lightly storified version of a musical history essay and that don't fly round here sonny bono no it don't.
Judgment: Flerp by a stanza or two.
|# ? May 30, 2016 04:31|
Submissions are closed.
That's a wrap on DQ time, not that it matters since none of you failures actually managed to submit.
Judgement will come.
|# ? May 30, 2016 16:11|
WEEK CXCIX JUDGEMENT
The ashes have settled and we've buried our dead. The storm's past, Thunderdome, and I'll have to say you weathered it pretty goddamn well. There was a lot of good stuff this week. I guess human misery is a perfect fit for the arena.
First, let's take a moment to remember those who didn't make it. ZeBourgeoisie wrote an otherwise forgettable story that took a drastic turn into the "literally hosed" with a side dish of lizard porn. Jitzu_the_Monk had an unfocused, much too on-the-nose piece that features a literal Trump dictatorship. We'll put a Dishonorable Mention on both of their graves.
Those two at least had bodies to bury. Not so for Chili, who told us a poorly formatted story about one-dimensional characters, leaden with grammatical errors and probably the worst non-violent ending the 'dome's seen in a while. You've lost, Chili, but the bright side of being disintegrated is that there's nowhere to go from here but up. If you're serious, stick around and build yourself a new body out of words and bloodied steel.
Now, on to happier matters. Many of you survived, hale and hearty, with a few new metal as gently caress stories to tell your descendants. Sitting Here gave us an effective portrait of depression and desperation as everything falls apart around you. Kaishai deftly managed the transition between her story's innocent, idyllic first half and grim, visceral second half. QuoProQuid told us a vivid story of family and mental illness while confusing all the judges with his *((*))* scene transitions, seriously dude what the gently caress was up with that. Tyrannosaurus brought a refreshingly lighthearted piece with good character chemistry and humor that still gets some good punches in. flerp's story was only on prompt if you squinted and it took me a couple readthroughs to realize it was related at all, but goddamn was it so gorgeous that I ultimately didn't care. These five intrepid souls get Honorable Mentions.
One man, however, stood above the rest, unscathed and a monument to quality. Grizzled Patriarch, with his simple but very effective story of a husband and wife trying to communicate through a language barrier while the apocalypse slowly encroaches, will triumphantly sit atop the blood throne for week 201. As something special is being cooked up for week 200, please let Sitting Here or the thread or someone know if that'll be a problem.
Blood Queen, spotlight's yours.
dmboogie fucked around with this message at 22:16 on May 30, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 21:37|
Blake Butler, "Damage Claim Questionnaire" posted:
- HOW WILL YOU REMEMBER?
I'm a picky bitch when it comes to despair and as such I was significantly harsher on most of the pieces this week than my co-judges. Many of you still fared okay, though. I think the fact that this prompt placed special criteria on both tone and ending gave a lot of submissions structure and kept them from just sputtering out at the end, as they often do. Let's trot out our latest selection of unhappy endings.
The Emperor – ZeBourgeoisie
Well, this did give me the impression that everything was hosed and never going to get better, but not where the plot was concerned. By the time this ended I didn’t even know what tone you were going for; it was caught halfway between an awful joke and an even worse Kindle Unlimited erotica single. On a more technical level, your imagery was weak, your dialogue was missing commas, and your phrasing was awkward in several places (“legs that were like twigs which wobbled beneath his scrawny frame” – only one of those articles is necessary, and the syntax is a mess besides).
I don’t know if you decided you had no good ideas for this prompt and decided to just fart something out early to avoid being a no-show, but crap like this does no one any favors, least of all yourself. Next time at least give it a few days and see if you can write something that won’t make people think you jack off to naga princesses.
Swan Dive – Ironic Twist
The first sentence is awkward. The arrangement of your blocking made my eyes go in all different directions and kept me from getting pulled into the story – you’ve got the legs, the man, the vomit, the floor, and then the reference to a “NapCab,” which my sheltered little self is not familiar with and made me go “wait, a nap-what” instead of reading further. Better to prioritize your nouns and then cordon them off into a couple more sentences for clarity’s sake.
You found your feet quickly after the opening, though. This is one kind of story I was hoping to see from this week, a smaller, more personal piece that conveys hopelessness mostly through implication, rather than everything being covered in blood and tears and fire. The dire state of our protagonists’ future is couched mostly in euphemism and quick, lively dialogue, and the backstory is nothing special but kept brief enough to do its job and move on. I don’t sort pieces low-medium-high like some of the judges, but this was one of the better ones.
The Stroll – Chili
This reads like a beginner’s piece, so I don’t want to rant and rave too much, but even if you’re just starting out you should know enough to actually put your periods at the end of your sentences. And dialogue that follows an attribution is broken by a comma: “At least,” he added, “if the rest of the sentence follows the attribution itself.” You usually need some form of punctuation at the end of every quoted phrase, unless it’s inside parentheses. English! It doesn’t know what it’s doing.
Amateur errors aside, your paragraphs are badly broken up – you’re way too friendly with the Return key, a lot of those lines can be consolidated into bigger paragraphs – and your characters come and go without much to distinguish them. You’re missing words (“wearing a most devilish,” what, exactly) and suffer from a lack of editing overall. And you didn’t really meet the prompt, which is a bit of a problem. The picayune stakes and loving absurd conclusion aside, someone can relapse in an eating disorder and still come back from it later, which leaves the possibility that things can, in fact, get better. Not a good showing. Baguette and tag it.
Landslide – Sitting Here
I’m not big on open displays of emotion, which is probably why I found this technically sound but irritatingly maudlin. The title drop felt gratuitous (and it didn’t help that the metaphor in which it appeared was probably the clumsiest in the whole piece), and there’s a bunch of holes in the story that need filling in order to keep it from feeling like a series of Lifetime movie channel moments – you’re measuring the father’s love of his wife against that of his kids, but we never get any idea of his relationship with the former even in implication, and the “internet cult” thing the daughter was into is left vague enough to feel like a dropped thread. As for the ending, I’m assuming that the note of hope in the last line is self-delusion, but only because the prompt demands no possibility of betterment; if not for that, I’d probably be confused as to your intent.
On the other hand, this is one of the very rare stories that seems to justify second-person perspective (I hate second-person, as a rule), since none of the others provide appropriate distance to events, and the writing was strong throughout despite my issues with the tone. Still, this’d need further development to feel like a complete story and not a disconnected sequence of transparent tearjerkers.
Neural Network – Screaming Idiot
The vast majority of this was exposition and it bored me. You dedicate too much time having someone natter on about the mechanics of what amounts a shoddy cross between District 9 and the Matrix and not enough setting a scene or establishing character, which means I don’t give a poo poo about anything that happens even if I know what’s happening. The brief description of Jack in the car was clear and well-presented, but everything after that was on a downhill slope.
Most of the prose was unremarkable besides – the dialogue smothers most of it and I’ve already mentioned my feelings about second person. This can be expanded into something better, but right now it tries to cram too much information in too small a space and becomes a lecture instead of a story.
Deliverance – a friendly penguin
Too many characters, too much dialogue, no sense of the stakes or the plot, and missing punctuation to boot. My eyes glazed right over this because I wasn’t given the chance to picture this town or its residents as anything but a series of weak archetypes so none of them deserved my attention. It’s generally a bad idea to try and pack such a huge cast into such a small wordcount, because you wind up with a bunch of interchangeable assholes standing around and doing nothing for the duration of the story, which is what happened here.
The Rain Beneath – Maugrim
Good scene setting in this one. The world’s alien but recognizable and the characters are sketched out well enough to keep me invested. A lot of flash shorts in less realistic settings seem to get snagged on minutiae, but this includes just the necessary details to get us to the ending, which didn’t have much impact but at least shied away from any of the silly twists that were going through my head – I’m just grateful it didn’t try to pull something like “the invaders above were humans all along” or anything like that. Factor in the strength of the language and this is probably a winner candidate.
Depressive Realism – Jitzu_the_Monk
Epistolary! Was wondering when we’d get one of these. Shame it isn’t very good.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with the writing itself, but the concept is like a weaksauce version of sebmojo’s recent Brawl entry and it doesn’t do enough to sell the “depression empowers the conscience” angle, instead retreating into inane memes and sneering vagueness from the second half onwards. The tone of that last article in particular irked me. So losing touch with one’s emotions turns people into smug, fascist assholes? I have strong feelings re: Republican voters as much as the next person, but I don’t see the correlation.
I don’t see many directions you could have taken this idea that wouldn’t have come across as cliché, but this wasn’t much better and the language just doesn’t do enough to sell the idea. Waste of the format.
Cold Morning – J.A.B.C.
When it comes to building atmosphere, this was like a case study in how to get it wrong. Your protagonist is deluded as to the nature of her situation (a twist that I saw coming less than halfway in, and was disappointed when it resolved exactly as I expected it to), but that doesn’t mean you need to dull all of your imagery with mundanity as well. You spend too much time narratively nattering on about how Jeri thinks everything is totally fine rather than gripping the reader’s imagination with actual details of the environment, leaving most of the story’s scenario relegated to a lot of tedious expository dialogue in the middle.
Jeri’s character is what kills it, I think – she’s not very interesting and doesn’t even stick to the delusion conceit, freaking out at the very end only to bury it again. Stephen King’s short story “Under the Weather” does something very similar to this, but is more successful because it concentrates on fleshing out its protagonist first. This one had a boring protagonist intruding on description of the setting, and as a result neither of them turned out well.
Doldrums – mistaya
I’ve always been interested in the setting of becalmed ships since I first read about it in one of Bruce Coville’s short story collections (don’t remember the name, it’s been over fifteen years), and the first half of this piece did that scenario justice, to me – the dialogue and description feels accurate enough, and the story maintains adequate tension throughout. I got briefly confused when you switched surnames after Harding handed over the Captain’s hat, but that can be easily fixed by just dropping the “Captain” moniker entirely and sticking to the men’s actual names for the whole of the piece.
That said, you screwed up the prompt. This story ends on a hopeful note, with the ship again catching the wind and the hanging temporarily averted, which is pretty much the opposite of how it should have been. Don’t know why you put this much effort into the writing only to screw the pooch at the last minute, but it’s a shame that you did.
Cocytus – Pippin
Another generic apocalypse; this feels like a coloring-book edition of The Road. I’m guessing that the twist was they’d actually come across Waterford and it was so razed that the protagonist didn’t know it, but I only guess that because it was telegraphed so hard that the piece probably couldn’t turn out any differently. Beyond that, there’s very little forward movement here. Some people get names, they’re miserable, and then the story ends. Meets the prompt but not much else.
You might have come out better if, like other pieces this week, you’d devoted more time to character-building and less to exposition. I don’t need to read about why these people are squatting in an abandoned house or how everything got so wrecked in the first place, because I can glean that from the general tone of the story and its imagery throughout. You’re just wasting time by further explaining stuff I’ve already surmised for myself.
Falling to Pieces – Chernabog
An interesting idea that turns pornographically violent and ends with a wet fart. At least you formatted properly this time.
One thing to keep in mind if you continue submitting here is that Thunderdome is populated mostly by pissy, miserable adults, and we’re not really fazed or interested by descriptions of gratuitous violence. Droning on about how much pain the protagonist is in, or about gore and crushed limbs and so on and et cetera, is a waste of space. This, plus useless exposition like “I have lost too much time already, my life is expiring soon and there is no more room for worthless speculation or mercy” or descriptions of how the protagonist can totally control his dismembered limbs like you’re describing the world’s shittiest superpower all add up to a story that’s got only 900 words and about 600 are dead air. You had a decent concept and apparently no idea of what to do with it.
So, not good, but still one of your better stories so far. It helped that you cut out the reams of worthless dialogue that showed up in your other submissions. Try and stay that course.
I Have Evolved My Progeny As It Pleased Me – spectres of autism
Well, here’s a candidate for “best title of the week,” at least.
I’m gonna level with you, dude – you’re a good writer, you’ve got the fundamentals down pat, but I see a pattern in your pieces and I don’t like what I see. You constantly get seized up in metaphysical philosophical sci-fi gobbledygook and it often leaves your stories ending without much having happened or any reason to care because you’ve buried it under all these sludgy layers of navel-gazing and jargon. Who gives a gently caress if these people are called the Biloxi? What is the use of describing something as a “terrax?” “We can tell you why the Fatestry’s meaningless,” says the protagonist, and while I can glean what the Fatestry is (because it’s a somewhat uninspired portmanteau) I don’t get the implications of that or why I should care.
Bad genre fiction gets too caught up in the genre’s trappings to bother telling the story and that’s what happened here – any greater statements you tried to make on inevitability or ineffability or whatever didn’t land because the “worldbuilding” choked them out. Clearly you’ve got your own idea of how to do things, but my advice is to start stripping away all this cruft when you’re writing pieces this short. Your worlds aren’t interesting enough to deserve the attention you’re giving them.
The Rest Is Violence – Thranguy
I think it was a mistake opening with a subject so, let’s call it “topical,” to recent real-world events. You’re good as always at setting the pace and describing action, but the way you retreat from mundanity of evil into hard-boiled noir turns the whole thing into a farce – it doesn’t give appropriate respect to the subject matter you’re cribbing to kick off your story, and comes across as awfully tasteless. You also didn’t really meet the prompt; yeah, sure, the protagonist’s probably screwed, but things are certainly less hosed at the end than they were at the start. All that’s in his future is a blaze of hard-boiled glory. That’s less Chinatown and more Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Check Engine Light On – Chainmail Onesie
Dialogue attributions begin with lowercase letters if they don’t follow a full stop. This is a pet peeve of mine.
Besides that, this one was competent. Your character voice got a little heavy-handed in places; there were lines you could have safely cut, like that “by Christ, I hope they’re all for me” near the end, and some of the profanity got tiresome, but otherwise you set up the characters’ dire circumstances with a reasonably deft touch and some of your descriptions, like the one for Satyam’s helmet, were nice and evocative. The “knockoff reality TV” funding angle seemed pointless, though, since it was neither foreshadowed nor followed up on and was a needlessly odd excuse for system failure. Still, a moderate success overall.
I'm sorry, but you're hosed – Entenzahn
Little on the nose with that title there ol buddy chum amigo pal broseph
This bored me because it was such a foregone conclusion from the very first sentence, and also because I’ve recently seen it done better by Roberto Bolano. Your use of voice is decent, though the phrasing comes off as anachronistic compared to the torture devices and familial values you’re describing, but the scenario itself is knockoff Game of Thrones Ramsay Bolton bullshit and every beat was so predictable that I found myself skimming. Torture is fine but torture porn is dull, and your narrator here spends so long banging on about the obvious that the story wears out its welcome even in such a tight word count.
Also, he’s a prick. I mean, yes, clearly that was intentional, but he’s a prick in such rote ways that I couldn’t even muster the effort to be repulsed by him. That brief aside regarding his relationship to his father was the one point where he felt like a proper character instead of an archetype, and it quickly left in favor of an ending that consist of more smug so-sorry tongue-clicking over how screwed his victim was. You’re in a bad spot when I read your piece twice and all I can picture is Iwan Rheon’s baby blues.
My Brother’s Keeper – QuoProQuid
I have a weak spot when it comes to sibling relationships. This was the first piece that left me feeling kind of disturbed.
Cut the last sentence from the first paragraph, that’ll give it more impact. Turn the all-caps dialogue to proper lettering, all-caps always looks amateurish. You belabor the point a little in the paragraph where the narrator describes his parents’ expectations for him. Beyond that, this fulfilled the prompt successfully enough so that I feel kind of uncomfortable examining it much further. Took me a little bit to unravel the timeline you’d set up, but that might just be because I was a little rattled by the ending. It handles heavy subject matter without wallowing in misery, which is a tough balancing act. Winner candidate.
Demons – EchoCian
Too much abstraction. You keep going on about how great and pure the Saint is but to such a degree that there’s no humanity to him, so I don’t care that he’s dead and don’t understand why the narrator would, either. The setting is also very obscure, since your language and tale of oppression says “Les Miserables” but the guns and fascist jackboots are more “Occupy Wall Street meets The Purge.” It’s a story where the characters are sketched too vaguely to leave any impression in service of a plot that doesn’t matter, and the end result is something so insubstantial I had to refer back to it twice just in the time it took to type up this paragraph. Misery loves company; grim endings only have bite if they’re somehow relatable. Neither the Saint nor his followers were relatable, so neither was their story.
The Shape of Human Hearts – GrizzledPatriarch
This is how I like it to be done. You have some weird sci-fi device in the collars, an approaching apocalypse in the wall of light (which reminded me a lot of Justin Taylor’s short story “Tetris,” you might be interested in his collection everything here is the best thing ever), but the story’s focus is on the personal, the two characters’ weariness and failing communication. I don’t get caught up thinking about the larger details, because they’re just background noise to the well-rendered personal conflict.
Despite that, I’d argue that the wall of light needs a few more references throughout the piece, because I largely glossed over it in the opening line and did a double-take when it showed up again in the end – it might be better as a persistent background object, contrasting the couple’s anxiety. Besides that, I liked this one, especially given imagery like the kind you showed off in the third paragraph. It’s a story with a lot of heart. No, I’m not going to apologize.
A Plea to the Little Bird - flerp
Tediously sentimental. It’s hard to take your narrator seriously when they sound like a Disney princess with a concussion. The one decent line I noticed was your third paragraph, particularly “there’s wolves waiting for the fire to die,” which neatly encapsulated the sick state of the world outside; everything else was drowning in twee rhetorical questions and vague details that did nothing and went nowhere. The central device did nothing for me and, much like an automobile with a busted transmission, that means the rest of the machine’s totally hosed.
Poor Little Terry – Mr Gentleman
I was about to rip you a new one for missing an apostrophe and a capital letter in the first dozen loving words, before realizing it was deliberate character voice. Lucky you.
I actually enjoyed this overall, though I think you misstepped in a big way by not committing to your gimmick. Moving away from Terry’s voice in the final section blunted the ending badly, and that bit could have probably been cut outright and still fulfilled the prompt. The rest is rough around the edges – you could stand to put your apostrophes back in since their absence doesn’t contribute to the voice much, some of the parantheticals could be cut and several images compressed or removed – but other details, like how Robbie’s name is consistently the only thing capitalized and the neurotic repetition of certain phrases and suffixes, were solid and kept the pace lively up until the end. You had a good thing going here, so there was no need to pull away from it at the last second.
in the highways, in the hedges - Tyrannosaurus
I didn’t find this funny, which kind of kneecapped it out of the gate because you were clearly trying to be droll with that opener. That aside, “siblings scrabble for snakes in the aftermath of the apocalypse” is an innovative twist on the concept, and the relationship between the narrator and his sister is one of the stronger ones portrayed this week. Also liked how the ending remains ambiguous in a way that fulfills the prompt no matter what, which is a trick no one else quite managed to pull off. I think you pulled back into seriousness early enough to keep the cheeky tone of the beginning from undercutting the tragedy of the end, but that uneven mix still left a weird taste in my mouth and kept me from enjoying this as much as most of your other work.
On Soft, Dark Wings – Kaishai
Man, that is some potent-rear end butterfly poison.
The sharp descent from idyllic twee into sickness-clotted horror was effective and well-demarcated and the imagery was appropriately gruesome, but past that I’m reaching to find things to say about this one – it was a grim little vignette that did its job and left, without much in the way of significance or deeper meaning. It’s well-constructed enough to be effective in the moment, though, so I’d still rate it among the better entries this week.
Emergence – sebmojo
This has its share of typos and formatting errors, probably because you bashed it out in the space of, I want to say three hours going by what I saw in the IRC. But that’s still no excuse for all-caps dialogue, dude, you should know better.
I enjoyed the harsh deadpan of the dialogue between Henry and Priscilla and the prose itself was competent enough, but after Henry hangs up the phone the story doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself – you get some meandering action with the evacuation of the other employees and an ending that misses the prompt harder than any other submission this week. Henry forges a new relationship in the aftermath of loss and makes his way to safety. That’s an unambiguously happy ending! A door closed and a window opened. The window should have been locked.
I would have given this a tentative thumbs-up despite the overall roughness, but you hosed it with that denouement so bad that I’d be tempted to hand out a DM if I did that sort of thing. There’s procrastination and then there’s just not giving a poo poo.
Legion – Toastghost
The uneven spacing between your paragraphs to denote section breaks drives me nuts. The reason people usually fill in those gaps with asterisks or the like is because it keeps a double-return from looking like a formatting error (which appear here as well), so just do that in the future.
This was a complete mess. Tense changes, typos, a setting ripped from the generic fantasy handbook, one-dimensional characters and a plot that does nothing and goes nowhere and falls over dead instead of ending properly. I wish I could write “STOP DOING MEDIEVAL” in the ‘dome’s OP in 40-point font, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen in end in anything but disaster. This had all the investment and authenticity of a Lego set and was about as solidly constructed as one, too.
Oxxidation fucked around with this message at 04:06 on May 31, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 21:39|
Week CXCIX crits, part one of three
Plot: One day, aliens attack. Then they rape all the men.
Thoughts: Your protagonist is a non-entity, which means this story is just about watching the alien invasion play out. But without giving the protagonist any personality traits, there's no stakes, since the only thing worth caring about is the fate of the human race. The invasion itself comes off as a series of invasion tropes. There's the hypnosis, the weird sexual fascination of aliens with humans, and the description of the aliens themselves. But without a reactive character, this is just a stock situation told in a straightforward way.
I think this story is going for a pulpy, exploitation feel, but if so, the tone isn't working because the story beats aren't landing -- there's not enough specific, imaginative detail to put the oomph in this story.
The prose is fine and there's an attempted arc, but I wish there'd been more vision and stakes to this story.
Plot: Swanze is released from prison and comes after Joel, a fellow member of an organized crime syndicate who sold him out. But Joel knows that their lives are both in danger, and then the mob enforcers come to the door.
Thoughts: Overall, this leaves me kind of lukewarm. There's definitely things to like here. There's a noir-influenced vision here, and for the most part the piece is successful in realizing that tone. But occasionally it seems like a parody of itself. The similes are a little over the top, and "pain" and "blood" are repeated a few too many times each.
There's a creeping dread and intensity in this piece, which I liked, but I'm ambivalent about the way you've achieved it. The protagonist gives Swanze a "can't you see what you've done?" monologue, but the story suffers from a lack of uncertainty, and yes, Joel comes off as a passive character whose most important action is describing a situation. And the ending is pure cheese, basically.
Plot: Molly is a binge eater. I think she's in a psychiatric hospital but I can't really tell. She's being held down by doctors for nebulous reasons. Then her fellow patient (?) Kitty gives her a master key. They walk together and they get to a room filled with bread. This is malicious.
Thoughts: Mechanically speaking, you've got some serious issues punctuating dialogue. I'd definitely read up on a grammar guide for that.
I generally prefer stories that don't do a lot of worldbuilding, but I'm at a huge loss as to what's even happening in this story. Why is Molly being held down by doctors? Because she ate too much? The whole lockdown, medical-on-staff thing makes me think this is a psychiatric hospital, but later you mention it's a school. Like, a boarding school, maybe? Or some dystopian school? There's no context for this.There's no context on why Molly has blackouts and can't pay attention to anything, and you've characterized her as being entirely empty aside from her animalistic urge for food. Honestly, this makes the story seem kind of mean.
And the ending is patently ridiculous. It's the worst ending I've ever read in a Thunderdome story that doesn't involve death, toothbrushes, or janitors. I'm not sure what's even being attempted in this story.Are we supposed to feel sympathetic for Molly? Contemptuous? I don't like Kitty, because she's clearly malicious, and I'm pretty sure that's intended. But you’ve made it out to be like Molly eating bread is a tragedy for the ages, when it’s just very very silly.
Plot: The protagonist lost his wife. His son becomes an addict, and his daughter gets sucked into a murderous cult. The protagonist is severely depressed and is hit hard by his son’s hard fall, and realizes he hates that his kids are still living.
Thoughts: I really, really love this one. The protagonist is intimately detailed, and I especially love the stuff about the cat. It works as metaphor, and it also works as a great way of showing this guy’s emotional state: drained, assuming the worst, hopeless, without telling us these things directly. The punchy prose means that the bleakness doesn’t become a dull dirge. And I love you you don’t underline that maybe Dad’s cruelty toward his son caused his relapse.
I’m really impressed at how much emotion and definition this story packs into less than a thousand words, especially the relationship between the father and son. And I like the way the story ends -- the whole pretense of normality. A lesser story would have ended with the second-to-last paragraph, with that shocking, bare sentiment, but the actual last paragraph adds complexity, realism, and staying power to this story.
Plot: It’s the robot apocalypse. The protagonist is told that they’ll have a job to protect the brains of humans that power the sustaining neural network for the robots. But the twist is it was all a dream put there by the robots.
Thoughts: This story doesn’t really work for me, but I think it’s interesting. Let’s start with the twist. I think this feels a little like a cheat, but I still kind of like it anyway. It’s also straining for a kind of poignancy the story doesn’t really earn with the “we owe them that much,” but I still like the idea of it, even if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s also an interesting way to explain the second-person, but the generic “you” means that the story’s thick with worldbuilding without a lot to latch onto. The effect is like a choose-your-own-adventure book without the choice; pulpy and ultimately frustrating.
And before the twist, the protagonist’s lack of agency or a sense of self really makes the pace of the story slower and more meandering than it needs to be. I guess the twist explains why Jack spends so much time monologuing, but before we know that it’s just an exposition dump. There’s good ideas at the center of this, but so much of this story hinges on the twist that this doesn’t work as a story.
Plot: Jessup is a huckster. A town is in political and economic troubles and has only a prophecy as hope. Jessup wants to fortify the town but changes his mind and hopes to gain the town’s wealth by taking advantage of the prophecy. But unbeknownst to Jessup the prophecy also involves his own exile.
Thoughts: So the ending of this story requires me to believe that Jessup is resourceful to build himself up from nothing, but not resourceful enough for him to learn the full prophecy he’s taking advantage of. I’m not buying it. And I’m especially not buying it as a twist.
I like the attempt to use a mythic structure for this little tale, and I like that it has a clear beginning, middle, and end. But the prose and the dialogue is too stiff, even for something like this. The biggest offender: “‘What idiots,’ Jessup mumbled, failing to forget his past.” I wish that you’d done more to show us that Jessup has a history of taking advantage of people, instead of just telling us like this.
The Rain Beneath
Plot: The protagonist and their companion travel in a gondola across the failing firmament, which belches toxic dust on everyone.
Thoughts: Oh goodness, that’s one purple second sentence. And that’s probably my main issue with this story. The prose is pretty, but it’s often unclear. I’ve read this twice and I’m finding it difficult to imagine the orientation of things. There’s oil from burning slime on earth, and then there’s toxic dust from heaven, and the protagonist is sailing up into heaving in their gondola -- or are they sailing across the earthly sea, trying to avoid the heaven’s dust?
But even though I struggle with comprehension, I think there’s a wistfulness in this story that I really connect to. This straining for connection with what you’ve got, even if you’d prefer something better, or this sense of mourning the falling world. Which is why it’s disappointing when the companion dies, or falls out of the gondola, or gets murdered, and the blocking is really muddled.
Plot: There’s a new treatment for depression. The researcher’s wife disagrees with his methods. They’re divorced, the planet sinks into dystopia, and she’s labeled a fringe lunatic.
Thoughts: I like the experiment with form here, but I really don’t like the condescending message of this story. Whatever the intent, it comes off as an anti-psychiatry screed because there’s just not enough substantive characterization or events to give the dystopia you’ve concocted any nuance. You’ve got Deborah as your tragic hero railing against preventing depression, but she treats depression as nothing more than “feeling bad sometimes.” And if there’s a satirical intent that that’s how society treats depression, or how negativity is sanctioned in public, then maybe that’d be something interesting to explore in a larger piece with more nuance.
I know my issues with your themes probably isn’t the best crit, but these issues were pretty hard to look past, and there just weren’t enough other interesting elements for those to distract me.
|# ? May 30, 2016 21:44|
The week 200 post will be up within a few hours fyi
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 22:12 on May 30, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 22:08|
Armack fucked around with this message at 22:54 on May 30, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 22:17|
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 22:57 on May 30, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 22:25|
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:02|
Week 199 Crits
Catastrophe: Alien lizardmen.
I do like the descriptions of the lizard folk, but that’s really all this story has going for it. Your (nameless, dammit) protagonist is a complete non-entity, and while being forcibly married to an alien is a pretty bad way to end up, the concept isn’t given enough time to be anything more than a “huh. That happened.” completely out of left field. Low pile, possible DM.
How hosed: Literally hosed. Hey, somebody’d probably be into it. Also, tons of people died but that doesn’t really seem matter.
Catastrophe: Spring cleaning.
The dialogue is snappy and does a good job at establishing the history between Joel and Swanze. I like the way the man in the raincoat is set up at the beginning of the story, and he gives the ending an excellent sense of menace, and I loved how tired Joel felt in general. High pile, possible HM.
How hosed: Had time to say their prayers, at least.
Catastrophe: Binge eating?
Okay. Uh. So, Molly’s in what I assume is a youth mental institution for an eating disorder? That’s an alright foundation for a story, but unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere. We don’t learn anything else about Molly other than what I just typed, and Kitty is a completely one dimensional villain. Why did she feel the need to lock Molly in the kitchen? We get told that Molly was bullied by other students, but that’s it.
Their relationship isn’t established enough to make the betrayal meaningful, and “Kitty just hosed with Molly because she’s a bad person” isn’t compelling. Finally, I find it hard to believe that Molly could be trapped in the kitchen in the first place. Were there seriously no other doors? No way to call for help? You make the CCC’s staff seem really incompetent, and I’m not sure that’s what you were going for. Also, there’s a lot of proofreading and formatting errors. DM/Possible loss.
How hosed: Eating disorders are a serious problem but I don’t see how Molly is much worse off at the end of the story than she was at the beginning, to be honest.
Catastrophe: A shattered family.
Using a second-person perspective is a risk, but it really paid off here, making everything feel infinitely more personal. This is a very mundane, very real tragedy, and it paints a vivid picture of desperation and spiraling depression. One niggling thing: the daughter’s internet cult things is barely touched upon, and thus seems kinda random, along with seeming like a Slenderman reference. HM/Possible win.
How hosed: Given a miracle and a few decades, you might become a human being again.
Catastrophe: The machines have taken over.
Huh, another second-person story. I was kinda iffy on it at first, but once I hit the change in perspective it made the twist even more effective, imo. The story does a good job of humanizing (ha) Jack, which is good because “you” feel more like a plot device than a character. I’m guessing that was the point? Still, having the first three thirds of your story be basically exposition hurt. The “using humans at batteries ending” seemed cliche at first, but when I went back and reread Jack’s speech about why the machines need humans, it was a good enough explanation for me to warm up to it. Mid pile.
How hosed: “You” no longer exist.
Catastrophe: Death of the king, death of the law.
First off, I really like the concept of commoners having to deal with the ramifications of political king-fuckery, but I think the execution fell a bit flat. Jessup’s character of a retired criminal with a penchant for speeches is interesting, but I find it really hard to believe that he would know enough of the prophecy to be able to believably pass himself and Sammy off as the chosen ones, but somehow not know about the whole “cast out without aid” part?
Other nitpicks: there’s a decent amount of grammatical mistakes, mostly involving missing punctuation. I also don’t really like how you mentioned Jessup’s wife exactly once in the beginning of the story and then completely neglected the whole “my wife was kidnapped” thing, and I found it gross and unnecessary to mention Sammy’s mother being raped in a throwaway line. Just saying she had been killed would be leagues better imo. Lower mid-pile.
How hosed: I mean, it’s not the greatest situation, but Jessup was established to be kind of a badass, and there really wasn’t anything left for him in town anyway.
The Rain Beneath
Catastrophe: The sky is falling? The sky broke? Idk man
Your characters are alien in a very cool and creative way, and the prose is gorgeous, but unfortunately it’s also purple in the sense that I don’t have a clear idea of what actually happened. Why did the gondola tear? How did Parell’s mate die? I get the impression that something fell and broke the rock they were landed on, but I have no idea if that’s accurate. The angels of dust are cool, imagery wise, but I have no idea if I’m supposed to know what they actually are. The “Your language does not have enough words for slime.” line legitimately made me laugh, at least! High-pile.
How hosed: I don’t know how it’s happening, but I’m pretty sure that this civilization is going to die.
I really don’t know how to feel about this one. The conflict’s supposed to be that neuroshaping is making people less emotional, but the last article has the most emotionally charged language out of all of them? What the hell’s even going on in the third article? (The Trump reference was much too on-the-nose.) How did this obviously harmful technique become publicly widespread without years of testing for harmful side effects? Is the plot seriously that making people less emotional will lead to them electing Trump? This piece raises a lot of questions but doesn’t answer anything, and I’m really just left confused. Low-pile, possible DM.
How hosed: Trump dystopia, 2023.
Catastrophe: Ambiguity. Snow?
I was worried that this was going to go down a ~zombie apocalypse~ route, but I’m glad it left things ambiguous. I liked the “cozy apocalypse” tone, but it felt a bit forced. There isn’t that much to Jeri’s character other than “in denial” and the ending was so obvious that it didn’t really affect me. Mid pile.
How hosed: Already hosed. Jeri’s got food, at least.
Catastrophe: Funnily enough, doldrums.
All in all, I liked this story a lot. I was hoping that people would take the “darkest before the dawn” approach to poo poo loving up, and you managed to endear both Harding and Kimball enough to me that I was legitimately relieved when both of them made it out alive, while still leaving their ultimate fate ambiguous enough to still be on-prompt. Harding accepting his hanging was an especially powerful moment. High pile/possible HM.
How hosed: We’ll see when they get to London, I guess.
Catastrophe: Snow, again.
Even though nothing really happens, you painted a pretty good picture of what’d it be like to trudge through snow-hell Britain. Unfortunately, that picture is “kinda boring.” I think going with a trio of characters with this word limit was a bit risky, and it ultimately lead to characterization being spread a little thinly between the three. Kennan complains, Steffie swears at Kennan, Fionn leads? Thin as it was, I did enjoy the dynamic between the three, and I’d love to see you expand on this concept with more words to work with. Mid pile.
How hosed: It’s a long road to Waterford.
Falling to Pieces
Catastrophe: oh poo poo oh gently caress why.
Well, uh, this piece does a really good job at being gross and unpleasant and body-horror galore, so good job on that, but it also means I don’t want to look at it any longer than I have to. I don’t know what it is, the present tense, maybe, but something about the sentence structure gives everything a very rushed and stream of consciousness feel, which fitted. The ending is a case where ending with protag death/violence actually fits I guess??? God I don’t want to think about this anymore. Higher mid-pile.
How hosed: aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
I Have Evolved My Progeny As It Pleased Me
Catastrophe: Nukes, I guess.
I feel like this gets a bit navel-gazey at times, and it’s also got too much techno-babble. Throwing a bunch of made-up terms at the reader isn’t really something you want to do for a 1000 word story. Not much really happens beyond your (nameless, godDAMMIT) protagonist musing on the nature of the universe, but the prose and the conflict between Reality and Fatestry are both well-written enough that it works out, imo. The narrator’s ex is a pretty interesting character especially, for the screentime she has. High pile.
How hosed: The future refused to change.
The Rest is Violence
Catastrophe: ludicrous corruption
Well, the title was accurate at least. It’s an unpleasant story about unpleasant people, but the narrative of a dude doing increasing heinous poo poo until he eventually draws the line works, imo. I found the intro unfortunate in the sense that you’re using something that happens all-too-often in the real world as part of an otherwise over-the-top noir story. Mid-high pile.
How hosed: Four less murderers in the world, at least.
Check Engine Light On
Catastrophe: Screaming in space
A good story about staring death in the face. Ray and Satyam have good chemistry, and the last line is effective. The “knockoff reality TV” line felt jarringly out of place, though, especially since it’s a pretty important element that is mentioned exactly once. I think it might have worked better if it had been a legit space mission that just went wrong because space is loving dangerous? I dunno. Mid-high pile.
How hosed: Black-box blues.
I’m sorry, but you’re hosed
Catastrophe: Either the iron bull or the flaying knife.
Well, that’s an unfortunately straightforward title. It’s a monologue, but a pretty effective one. Lennard is characterized well enough through the little we hear about him, and though I really wasn’t feeling the torturer’s character at first, the paragraph where he explained his motivations actually got me feeling sorry for the poor bastard. Unfortunately, he’s still a huge prick that I’d rather not have spent a story with. Mid-high pile.
How hosed: See the title.
My Brother’s Keeper
Catastrophe: Careless driving.
Goddamn did you succeed in making a (nameless, dammit) loathsome protagonist, but you managed to flesh him out enough that I can see why he framed his brother. The (ALSO nameless, seriously, just giving him a name would actually save you words) brother is also sympathetic, and thankfully not one-dimensionally mentally ill. HM, possible win.
How hosed: It was his fault, all of it.
I'll have the rest up within the next couple of days.
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:26|
WEEK 200: Taters Gonna Tate Fuckers
200 weeks. Almost five million words. Hundreds of unforgivable crimes against literature.
Pretend I wrote a big, heartfelt retrospective here. You fuckers know you've made something awesome, you don't need me to tell you that. If you're feeling nostalgic, check out the Archive's classics page for a
This week, we are going back to the simple spark of idiocy that started it all:
“Man agonizes over his potatoes.”
1000 words. No bullshit.
Ha ha just kidding it wouldn’t be Thunderdome without bullshit. In that spirit, here is a bunch of complicated and unfair bullshit and you assholes are going to sign up and enjoy every minute of it.
Everyone who signs up will receive a flashrule of some kind. Which flashrule you receive depends on the day you choose to sign up. Everyone who signs up on Monday gets one rule, everyone who signs up on Tuesday gets a different rule, etc. The flashrule will be revealed at the end of each signup day.
There will be a cap on signups. Each day is allowed a maximum of ten signups. Anyone who signs up after that gets booted over to the next day. You are welcome to use this information to gently caress each other over in any way you can conceive of.
Good news! If your day reaches the ten signup limit, you get a nice or at least benign flashrule. If your day fails to reach ten signups, you will probably get a mean, bad flashrule. Other things might cause the judges to issue painful flashrules to all signups on a given day. Judge sass, bad kayfabe, whimsey...
If we hit 50+ signups by the signup deadline on Friday, everyone gets the “good” flashrule for their day.
THE WINNER(s)(???) will receive some sort of glorious prize or boon.
Final signup deadline:
11:59:59 PST on Friday, June 3rd
11:59:59 PST on Sunday, June 5th
Man agonizes over his _______
spectres of autism - The moon is a psychotic mistress; Slice of life in a world filled with a ridiculously inordinate number of cats.
Flerp - you have to write about potatoes, specifically Purple Peruvian potatoes. Additionally, your story must be set somewhere in South America.; No commas; 'zaftig'(twice)
C7ty1 - zoo/divorce; "Man agonizes over his vertigo."
dmboogie - "Man agonizes over his tornados."
Pippin - "Man agonizes over his domino."
Thranguy - The worst jellybean; Flashrule: "Man agonizes over his mosquitos."
See this post
Newtestleper - grawlix, nugatory, mellifluous, vituperation, kerfuffle; Your entry must contain a prominent product placement for Subway that extols the virtues of Eating Fresh (tm) in a manner that is earnest, sincere, genuine, etc. and not snide at all.
a friendly penguin
CANNIBAL GIRLS - Scalene love triangle; "Grammar Mercy: -1 Mistake: For the first person to quote this, I will ignore one grammar mistake in your story that I would have otherwise held against you"; ""Man agonizes over his stilettos."
Entenzahn - Your story must involve someone who has to find some genuine goddamn humility and ask for help/a favor;
Mistaya - QUICK AND DIRTY
Chernabog - "Grammar Mercy: -1 Mistake: For the first person to quote this, I will ignore one grammar mistake in your story that I would have otherwise held against you."; someone is crushed to death by an avalanche of ironic consumer goods
Ironic Twist - two souls chasing each other down the same drain. CAN'T BE DEPRESSING.
See this post
The Saddest Rhino
Hammer Bro - drunk in charge of a warship
Mr Gentleman - Your story must feature a real-life, contemporary celebrity as a main character.
Titus82 - your protagonist has narcolepsy
See this post
Chainmail Onesie - No character may speak
Carcer - three characters, two secrets, one crime
Paladinus - your story is set in the mesosphere
Marshmallow Blue - 'Grawlix', 1275 words
Tyrannosaurus - 'crapulous'
Carl Killer Miller - your story takes place on an ancient titan
Arivia - your protagonist is an optimist
anime was right - (anime flashrule only due to special circumstances)
magnificent7 - must contain any two of: young whippersnapper, proving old farts wrong, changing the world, rocking, growing old, overdoses, Fentanyl.
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 19:36 on Jun 4, 2016
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:37|
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:41|
Heyo, I'm in.
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:41|
im in for the first gay
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:42|
Crimes against literature?
let's do this. in
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:44|
I'm getting in on the ground floor.
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:45|
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:47|
I'm in, so you can boil me mash me stick me in a stew
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:49|
Dunno if I'll have time for this but how can I resist, In.
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:51|
Good crits. Much obliged.
In for this poo poo.
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:52|
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:52|
|# ? Dec 3, 2021 00:59|
That's 10, bitches.
|# ? May 30, 2016 23:53|