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  • Locked thread
Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

i eat muffins for meals. whole muffins. gently caress that muffintop only bullshit

also chili is often made with beef




Apr 21, 2010

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

BeefSupreme posted:

i dont know what to believe anymore

Believe this:

Additional Flashrule (by request as it happens)

Something that feels like this music while having nothing to do with its source
Magnificent facial hair

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Oh and Beef or Muffin....

I will accept a flash rule from either of you.

Whoever is first.

Come at me.

Mar 21, 2010

BeefSupreme posted:

i eat muffins for meals. whole muffins. gently caress that muffintop only bullshit

also chili is often made with beef


this is bullshit. We all know the only thing Beef can eat is a dick.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Chili posted:

Oh and Beef or Muffin....

I will accept a flash rule from either of you.

Whoever is first.

Come at me.

Famous basketballer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

this is bullshit. We all know the only thing Beef can eat is a dick.

wrong beef dick #NotAllBeefs

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Chili/Muffin, I will also take a flash rule

from EACH of you

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk


carry on gentlemen

Mar 21, 2010

BeefSupreme posted:

Chili/Muffin, I will also take a flash rule

from EACH of you
'In the long darkness of space, nobody can hear you sobbing quietly because you're kinda a sad sack'


Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe

BeefSupreme posted:

Chili/Muffin, I will also take a flash rule

from EACH of you

Pfft, I knew my amazing display of brass balls would lead to a one-up.

But whatever.

I'm giving you three choices.

1. A standard flash rule: If your characters talk, they do so while their mouths have food in them.

Or you can take a flash handicap

On your honor, you must:

2. Type your whole story with only one hand.


3. Listen to this on repeat, at any point that you're adding or fixing lovely words to your story.

Choose anyone of those three, and post your choice before you start your story.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Chili posted:

1. A standard flash rule: If your characters talk, they do so while their mouths have food in them.

this is going to be fun for Sitting Here I am sure

I am reading this as a request for a flash rule. As such:

You must incorporate verse of some kind (poetry? rap? don't care) into your story.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007

BeefSupreme posted:

You must incorporate verse of some kind (poetry? rap? don't care) into your story.


Feb 25, 2014

Sitting Here posted:



Apr 16, 2007

In. :yikes:

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice
Yeah, okay IN also.

Feb 18, 2014

I'm closing off the crit trade offer here. This is plenty, aside from the tardier judges.

BeefSupreme, "More Human Than Human"


For 30 minutes, nobody moved a muscle. We just watched the numbers drop on the screen, as we approached our warp-drop. thank you for saying 'drop' twice in the same sentence The warp screen was up, so we couldn’t even see outside. We just… stood there.

A small, soft voice broke our reverie. It was Meiko, ever the voice of reason. “We should strap in, for warp-drop.” and also here


There it was.

A planet.

Hospitable to human life.

Uninhabited by humans, thus far.

Completely unclaimed, according to the computer.

Home, perhaps.

I'm not averse to singling out individual sentences like this.

However, the best ones only use one such sentence in close proximity.

This is overkill.


Marshall, Liz, and I headed out of the ship, while Meiko remained behind. “yYou got us, Meiko?” Liz asked. Meiko replied in the affirmative. We set off toward the tree line. The ship computer had identified a clearing there with some sort of activity.

We walked in relative silence. But for the color this phrase reminds me of medieval fantasy, not science fiction, the planet felt like Earth. The trees looked like Earth trees, the grass looked like Earth grass, the air felt like Earth air. It was actually… disconcerting. We walked between trees, just like each of us had, back on Earth—only here, the light from above was blue. Excitement, though, never left the air. The clearing the ship had identified was coming up, about a half mile away. we quickened our pace.

Soon, we could see it, through the trees, a wide circle of light. What was in it, we could not quite make out, but there was certainly movement. We could hear it. Rustling, banging, what sounded like—voices? I held up my hand. We stopped. This whole paragraph is awkwardly worded.


“She’s going to be fine.”

“What?” I looked up. Meiko was looking at me with big eyes.

“She’s going to be fine. The wound is shallow.”

For the second time in as many days, I cried rivers. This time, Meiko joined me. I reached an arm around her, and we both sat on the ground, and cried for a long, long time. Why the tears all of a sudden? Is this shallow wound just the last straw that kept Sayid and Meiko from holding in their pain anymore? Seems weird.

In summation, what happened to the rest of the story? This seems like it's leading up to something else that never happens. It's not satisfying to just leave off on this planet, having encountered no greater obstacles than a single doppelganger, and I don't think you meant to be so withholding. Also, the situation with the UN deciding to ship refugees into space seems a bit too absurd to fit in with the rest of the story as presented, and the characters on the shuttle are interchangeable. I wish I knew what you were getting at here.

Deltasquid, "Aquariums"


But I do know the last waiter who became unwell has smashed the aquarium. Does he actually know this or is it just a gut feeling based on his own experience?

The story makes it seem like there'll be a slow build-up to the fish's influence on the narrator and then the payoff comes almost immediately. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I wish there was more here. I really like the imagery of the restaurant turning the fish inside-out for the sake of making upper-class twits feel like they're eating something special. Maybe make that more visceral. Now that I think of it, why isn't the narrator the one smashing the aquarium at the end? Why do we get resolution on the restaurant in a distant "and then I heard this happened" epilogue?

Feb 18, 2014

Also, put me in, coach. For the regular prompt, not whatever else is going on ITT.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Solitair posted:

Also, put me in, coach. For the regular prompt, not whatever else is going on ITT.

u can brawl too if u want it bad enough

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Sign-ups are closed, everybody write good words now. Or at least write words.

Apr 22, 2008

Oh, sorry. I only can type words.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
so apparently this is a thing

sebmojo posted:

Hi thread, the something awful best dog invitational has started and we need to win!

I feel that real strongly.

As creative convention we are obviously best at creating poo poo. Obviously.

So write the best dog and post it in that thread by 3 March. Great will be your glory!

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe

Sitting Here posted:

so apparently this is a thing

Butterscotch should be our dog. :colbert:

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Chili posted:

Butterscotch should be our dog. :colbert:

post noms in that thread then there will be a knock down drag out voting thread later in the week where you can use brutal fiction words to explain why you're dog should win it all

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


The format for these crits is:
-Prose: Brief mention. If there’s not a lot here, it’s mostly because your prose is fine/good.
-Prompt/Ideas: Lots of words
-Story: Lots of words
-Bottom line: Quick summary, then anything else I feel like ranting about that I didn’t cover.

I wrote these all before reading what other people had to say in their crits (judges excepted), so chances are if I’m saying the same thing as you got in one of your other crits, you should maybe listen. If I’m saying something totally different, I’m right and they’re wrong. Fact. Okay here are the

Week #237 - A Way for the Cosmos To Know Itself CRITS

-Prose: Rewrite your first sentence. You’ve made it too complicated, and that undermines its effectiveness as a hook. Actually, rewrite your entire intro, or cut most of it. It rambles on a bunch. Your prose is functional (grammatically, mostly descriptively) but not very engaging. You also need to work on trimming your words down to what they need to be; lots of sections have a lot more dialogue or exposition than necessary.
-Prompt/Ideas: If you’re going to have scientists examining an alien, they need to do science things. Showing the alien movies seems stupid and unscientific. You also have several sci-fi characters recite some sci-fi 101 poo poo about assumptions to each other, again, on day 16. So, what, they haven’t talked about it ‘till then? To skip ahead, the idea of the alien appearing everywhere to this guy is fun, and the speculation about it being a preparatory mechanism to get other creatures to acclimate to it is nice commentary on how people will get used to just about anything—and Garvey shortly does get used to it. You seem to have intended the nature of Bob to be mysterious, but you really only introduce one plausible explanation for the dreams/hallucinations, so there’s no mystery to it.
-Story: With aliens, a government is probably going to recruit top scientists. These guys sound like morons who don’t give a poo poo about anything, only 16 days into first contact. These are, like, the shittiest scientists ever, then. Next, your intro sections are really boring and don’t add anything. Cut the hell out of your first section. What do we really need to know? Or, rewrite it to make it exciting. A bunch of boring characters being bored makes your reader bored, and you don’t want your reader bored. Have them doing. It doesn’t need to work, but protagonists should be doing things, even if they fail. These are scientists, allowed exclusive access to communicating and observing an alien; can you imagine anyone at NASA who would go “well, this is boring now” after 20 days? Hell no!
-Bottom line: The idea of an alien that starts to appear to people (in dreams, in reality) in contact with it is interesting. The story surrounding it is mostly boring.

-Prose: Here’s another hook that needs work. I would go from the protagonist getting the job and asking what happened to the last server right into the “not ill, just… Unwell” part as soon as possible, because that’s your hook. You have some solid descriptions that give us a sense of the setting without overdoing it.
-Prompt/Ideas: The best I can get out of this is some light commentary on consumption and excess of humanity. I don’t think that’s all you can do with this; you’ve implied this isn’t the only alien that can mess up people’s minds. There also might be something interesting in exploring what happens with people’s internal voice is uncontrollably verbalized. As it is now, I don’t think you did much to explore human nature.
-Story: You do the rising tension well, steadily showing the protagonist’s insanity, but not drawing it out too long. The ending is okay. It resolves part of the conflict (fish are trapped; they’d rather die), but not in a way that’s especially interesting or revelatory. It does not explain why all the other restaurant employees are immune to the fish, or so similar (in knowing to dogpile the newbie, all the waiters looking similar with their pencil mustaches). You implied something strange going on with the people in the kitchens, but didn’t resolve that part. The setting is fun and serves its purpose.
-Bottom line: A serviceable story, mostly solid, but lacking more than that.

Five Years After Christmas
-Prose: Solid.
-Prompt/Ideas: Wonderful ideas. I like the idea of a broadcasted, cultural Von Neumann machine, and the idea that other species might propagate their own culture, adding to a sort of strange amalgam of culture and experiences that mix together. It’s a very different way that other species might connect to each other in the cosmos, but intriguing, and it immediately makes sense, given the difficulties of space travel. If you haven’t watched Arrival, I’d recommend it since it has some parallel ideas about language—you’ve already got that thinking in a language changes the way people think, but it might give you some more ideas. Anyways, you’ve got linguistics, geo-politics, some hints about the society-changing technology in the broadcasted code code
-Story: First tip is clean out the intro. The hook wasn’t all that strong, and it seems to go on a bit with the exposition. Focus on trimming that down, maybe use that time to establish characters as well as they discuss the changes or setting. That’s the case for the first few sections too, I think. The weakest part of your story is the characters. They all seemed bland, to the point where we don’t even care all that much when one dies, and when they do die, it seems like for a really stupid reason. The bit about the twins being genetic clones wasn’t relevant. If you expand the story, I’m sure it could be, especially with how it could connect to your themes of individuals/groups/codes spreading themselves, but it was a revelation no one cared about here. What you do well is academics. These seem like real, interested students talking to each other about a topic they’re passionate about, and what I also like is that there’s not one right answer, just possibilities and evidence. Things like “post-Chomskian” are great because they sound exactly like the kind of language or term you might here in a linguistic-focused program at a university, and lend credence to the setting. You could easily keep going with the story, exploring the conflict you’ve set up between the people who essentially want to broadcast Earth’s culture and those that want to remain independent. However, your ending is excellent, and wraps it up, remaining ambiguous but still satisfying.
-Bottom line: This story took risks and aimed high, and was the most intellectually engaging of any of the stories.
-More: Initially, the judges were saying that you could just cut the murder part completely, because a murder happens and as readers we all didn’t really care. However, thinking about this, I think there’s a lot of potential here. One theme you can interweave in the story is the destruction of the individual (among other things), so a single death happening could be contrasted with making the reader really feel something for the death of a group. Or, keep with the idea that as long as a group is 3+, they’re fine. I don’t know how intentional it was, but the characters are pretty weak for the most part, and we don’t really care about what happens to them. You could try and make us care less about individuals, and start to think of the groups as people (perhaps through how the characters act as members of that group). Better yet, shift it from us caring about a character to caring about their entire group and its functionality. It would all be tricky to do, but could parallel your themes and conflict of moving from individuals to groups and how language and society change.

-Prose: Serviceable. No problems here.
-Prompt/Ideas: My first thought was this was the slime-mold inspired story, since you have intelligence that grows with numbers. This isn’t a new idea, but it is one worth exploring. However, this is less the point of view of a collective species and more an omniscient narrator, who remembers everything and knows everything. The narrator knows how many asteroids were successful at landing, it remembers the lives of even small spores that must have forgotten a lot since they were reduced by chemical warfare or fire. The narrator knows what’s happening to spores in other solar systems, and that they’re all doing the same thing now (hiding in ships before growing). In that sense, you’ve completely avoided the actual interesting idea, which is exploring a continuous living organism that can grow and shrink in intelligence, persist, but not keep all of itself; fragment, but be able to rejoin. Since you had 5000 words, you could have tried to tell a story like that. The other idea, that life we encounter might not consider us sentient or anything other than fuel has also been explored, but again, you don’t have enough here to say anything interesting about that, from either perspective.
-Story: This isn’t much of a story. Alien planet dies. Spore-guys journey, some hit Earth, they try to colonize it and accidentally fight a war with humans, escape on human spaceships, persist. Technically you have a conflict and resolution, but not an interesting one. The story lacks tension.
-Bottom line: You have ideas worth exploring, but you didn’t explore them. There isn’t much of a story, and it was short and boring. Other people liked this more than me, though.
-Also: Meteors don’t have fiery tails; those are comets. Also, “meteor” as a technical term refers to an object entering Earth’s atmosphere; a meteorite is one that has landed, and a meteoroid is one of the bits moving around the solar system. Yes, I know no one uses them correctly. Also the poem doesn’t really do anything for your story.

-Prose: This was fine. You did kids well enough. You had some nasty descriptions of sores and stuff that were appropriately gross.
-Prompt/Ideas: This reminds me of alien terraforming stories, where an alien decides to make Earth habitable for themselves and doesn’t seem to realize there’s a living thing they’re destroying (or doesn’t care). That part is left deliberately ambiguous, and you use that to set up a survival post-apocalyptic story. This genre of stories tend to say something about humans. Basically, people either band together or attack each other for resources is the usual trope. You appear to have done that here (she helps her family, brings the shotgun out for others), which I’m not enamored with.
-Story: The hook and intro implies something’s wrong with time, that the kids can’t age, and the problem is that things aren’t changing. This implies the end will be a significant change. Instead, the story morphs into being about the kids dealing with their own disease, the black sores and worms. Either Chelsea and everyone else is dead, or maybe a bunch of kids randomly messing about with pharmacy drugs figured out a cure! The latter doesn’t seem likely to anyone but a 10 year old I guess. The part about time stopping is ignored, and I don’t see the big change the story promised at the start. I think the other judges also mentioned the ending as the weak point of this story.
-Bottom line: Your story shifts from its initial promise to the ending for a different story, one about trust, not change. If you can deal with that major problem, and maybe ditch some of the cliché dystopian stuff, I think you’ve got a solid story.

Colorado Star
-Prose: This is good writing, that creates distinct characters with their own voices, establishes their motivation, with accompanying dialogue and description. You quickly establish the setting and tone.
-Prompt/Ideas: This struck me as a parable, which each character rooted strongly in symbolism. We have the character with simple regrets and wants (teeth, then meteor), desire for ignorance through bliss (Billy), fame and fortune (Maddy), and then your protagonist, who is looking for purpose beyond that.
-Story: We feel sympathy for the protagonist because of how quickly Sally is abandoned by he companions, and that she’s willing to treat this alien object like an equal, not for her own greed. The motivation of both the star and Sally is told, not shown, but within the genre that’s fine; they’re off to find belonging together.
-Bottom line: Concise, developed and sympathetic characters, seems to do exactly what it sets out to do. Good stuff.

Collective Soul
-Prose: Fine. The alien is a bit hard to parse (obviously), but the surrounding exposition and dialogue usually made it pretty clear what X was saying. However, reflecting on the comments below, I feel like since X’s language is so ambiguous, you could introduce misunderstandings and conflict through that. A great example of a translation ambiguity/error causing tension is Arrival, if you haven’t seen that movie.
-Prompt/Ideas: The idea you had was the strongest part; it created an interesting character (X) who can’t really conceive of individuals. When it sees a human causing other humans stress, it sees them as we might see cancer; a part of a whole to be excised less it threaten the whole. Then, of course, it doesn’t understand how that creates more stress. You do run into some problems here: How could X possibly understand the conversations it heard before the linguists taught it anything? Also, I can buy that it might be able to, say, smell cortisol and so know what humans are stressing other humans, but how does it know bad/good? I guess that becomes a bit nitpicky, but that threw me a bit. There’s also things like “It didn’t understand names” but then it understands the name of a town, and can name a collective (Area 51). I get what you’re doing, though. Also, X is super-obviously sapient so I don’t know why Jensen even questions that.
-Story: This is where you run into problems. The conflict is “why did slime mold alien kill some humans?” and that is resolved; it was trying to help. The story lacks tension, because basically everyone is cooperative and nothing goes wrong in the story itself. No characters really ‘change.’ The story engages on an intellectual level, but no more. Since I’ve been reading some Isaac Asimov, I’ll note that the dude was nerdy as hell and loved his thought experiments, but he also made sure to put characters in danger, have them disagree, and create lots of tension and problems that keep the story engaging on multiple levels, and you might consider looking at some of his stuff to refine doing both. I did like the resolution; that the mold still wants to help, and wants to know how to solve the ‘dysfunction,’ but Jensen can’t even conceive of a way to “solve” the problems humanity has so doesn’t really understand the question and assumes a failing on X’s part. That’s good stuff.
-Bottom line: Interesting ideas, boring story, good resolution.

Two and the Same
-Prose: Serviceable, mostly, and a bit confusing in other places. I need more specific details, visuals, and
-Prompt/Ideas: You have the potential here to consider a profoundly different form of life, but they sound like a conversational human. You have the potential to explore God, afterlife, and the union of two consciousnesses, but don’t really do anything with that. Ideas are mentioned, but not explored. Also, your world is inconsistent: “While I have the means to send information faster than the speed of light…” gets contrasted with “I can’t fix radioactivity” and “I can’t bend the laws of physics.” Okay, but you just told us humans don’t know the laws of physics, because this creature already ‘breaks’ one.
-Story: Why is Khatri collecting samples in some vague tropical climate right next to a mountain when there was this nuclear threat? What was the nuclear threat? One big bomb? A full nuclear exchange? This is left too vague, whereas the characters seem absolutely sure Earth is doomed. There’s a whole lot of confusing things going on with anything related to this apocalyptic event, so your setting needs work. Also, to nitpick at details, there were several things that broke me out of the story because I’m a huge nerd. The nuclear blast is close enough to hit them with the shockwave, but not incinerate them? The tsunami is close, but they have time to scramble up an entire mountain? How high? How long does it take them? Because they’re partway up a mountain (enough for you to describe Nate as on the ‘lower part’ of it later) and still get hit, which tells me the size of this nuclear blast must be enormous, but only now do I get the information to deduce this. And again, how did they know there was going to be nuke that ended the world? What the hell is so important they’re sampling? Basically, you need concrete details here. They’re sampling crabs. The nuke detonates a mile off the shore. They’d thought the reports of tension between X and Y were overblown so now it was a desperate scramble to avoid the tsunami before it hit them in a matter of twenty minutes. Of course, none of this matters because it’s just a setup for a universe-tentacle to monologue at someone.
Some other things: Your protagonist is a dolt. “Ahh, a infinite being is descending from the sky *trips and falls*. She also doesn’t talk like a scientist, or seem to think like one. “Hey I can save your consciousness, otherwise you’re going to die.” “NUH” *crosses arms*. The protagonist annoyed me, which is not good because you need us to like them in order to make the ending where she reunites with Nate emotionally resonate. But I never at any point gave a poo poo about either of those characters, so that needs a bit of work.
-Bottom line: The core of this story is about two people who love each other and are going to die, who are united in mind to live. There are better ways to tell this story, and I hope you have something interesting to say about what that might be like. There’s potential, but right now it’s bogged down in a huge mess of flaws.

The Long-Winded Shortness of Breath
-Prose: Fine technically, but feels rather pretentious/overdone. It does give the leaf-aliens a voice. Things like “clawed tentacle” and “peel our spines” are vivid descriptors, functionally find, but you need adequate context for the specific details to do things. You have descriptions, but no setting. Monologuing, but no conversation. A structure (sentence/paragraph repeat), but no plot.
-Prompt/Ideas: Meh. You’ve announced intention to critique humanity’s need for purpose, curiosity, pride, and belonging, but you haven’t done actually done it. I hate to use the phrase ‘show don’t tell,’ but… yeah. You also (I hope) attempted to make the aliens a narrator with their own biases. However, this is just an alien ranting for a bit, ironically, about things it apparently can’t know about.
-Story: Non-existent mostly. Humans are experimenting on a thing they found. Why? Where? What? Who knows. Nothing is explained. There’s no protagonist, antagonist, action, or conflict.
-Bottom line: Next time, write a story. I think exploring the ideas above would be interesting, but you have to explore them through a story, not have a leaf tell us people suck for 300 words. Also, vibrations are sound. Don’t tell me they can’t hear sound then tell me they communicate by vibrating.

-Prose: This was fine. You define the fungus and Eric’s voice distinctively enough
-Prompt/Ideas: I guess it has something to say about racism/classism/prejudice, but doesn’t say much. Initially I missed that commentary and almost gave it a DM because of that. I don’t even think the prejudice thing is very consistent through the story; Eric doesn’t like Cyrrovaen because it’s a mushroom, but the guard is both rude (don’t give a poo poo) and respectful (tips his hat, I’ll get the scraper—unless that’s supposed to be a slight?). Is the mushroom representative of an underclass or ethnic group, or a stand in for… what?
-Story: Crap. This just wasn’t an interesting story on any level. Guy in jail with fungus. They talk. Fungus gets out. There’s just so little there. You had plenty of room left for a story, but didn’t tell one.
-Bottom line: Almost offensively boring.

Loud Until Silent
-Prose: This was a confusing, seemingly unedited unrevised mess. There were errors all over the place, and the formatting problems make an already hard-to-follow story even harder to understand. Quote someone else’s story to see how they formatted it, then do exactly what they did for dialogue and paragraphs, because wow. Your descriptions are good in places.
-Prompt/Ideas: The only redeeming thing here is turning the “alien abduction” trope on its head, and having the protagonist go willingly to brain examinations because that’s better than going back to a dead family and war-torn country. You explore this thematically through the contrast of noise and silence. This breaks down because the story itself is difficult to follow, and the grammatical and formatting problems are extremely distracting. The thematic problem of noise/silence I’ve described in “Also”; also, you only explore this in a shallow way. That’s true with your other ideas too.
-Story: Extra-dimensional aliens who have been studying humans take Omar and examine his brain, with his permission, removing him from the war. His brain is examined, and he goes to live with some folks. The end. One of the biggest problems is that your protagonist makes a single decision the whole story; otherwise, he does nothing. This is not good. “Protagonists,” in the words of Brandon Sanderson, “need to protag.” This just a bunch of stuff happening to a guy, stuff he has no control over and he never sets out to try to control. You could be going for commentary on the powerlessness of individuals in the face of catastrophes—like war—that they have no power over, but in order for that to work your protagonist still needs to be trying to do stuff, even if it fails.
-Also: I haven’t been following the Syrian Civil War too closely, but it’s really clear that neither have you. I can say this: It doesn’t depict life in Aleppo. I’m pretty sure you just googled to find a neighborhood of Aleppo and then made up the rest. Maybe I’m wrong! But that’s how it came across. As writers, I think we have a duty to do honor to the lived lives of others, and so if you’re going to depict Aleppo, you need to do enough research that it feels real. As it is, the experience of your character does not line up at all with the experiences of the people who have lived there that I’ve read about. People are not making elaborate fume vents and pipes for their poop; the food (and Aquafina water bottle!) you describe is very western. War in general is long periods of silence punctuated by short bursts of incredible noise. A better war to set your story in would be World War 1, where bombardments in some areas went on for days or weeks.
-Bottom line: A confusing mess of formatting with shallow ideas barely explored and critical pieces missing.

-Prose: Perfectly fine prose. Good descriptions.
-Prompt/Ideas: The idea you seem to be tackling here is people trying to do the right thing, even if they realize that in the end their single decision will not be the one that matters; They abandon the planet and its riches, knowing that someone else will come and take them, probably without the same moral constraints. This could easily be read as commentary on colonialism as well, so there’s plenty of idea to go around. The idea that these are creatures made of sound and hurt by sound is… well, I’ll set aside my disbelief.
-Story: This has a fine arc. I guess Jim is the protagonist, because he’s the one that changes, and the narrator stays static. One of the problems I had was the relationship between Jim and the narrator is implied to be close to equal, and only later is it revealed Jim is the narrator’s boss. The “the guy took all my money/everything so I shot him” felt a bit corny. I don’t really know how important the ‘narrator killed a man’ part even is. I’m having trouble elaborating on why I felt the story feels weak. The dialogue rambles on a bit, and could be trimmed. The narrator’s interaction with the Bible felt shallow, and not especially relevant to the core of the story. The narrator immediately grasping that their sounds hurt the sound creatures (and even that there are sound creatures) felt convenient. Other things, like “cops”, printouts, a fire in the engine (combustion engines?), and the modern tone of the dialogue made it feel a lot more modern than its implied setting, which felt off.
-Bottom line: A lot of small problems in the story detract from what is otherwise an okay piece.

The Grand Escape From Humanity
-Prose: The prose felt a bit overdone in places. The voice of the narrator felt too modern for a Spanish conquistador. It really didn’t feel like the 1500s though, which was a problem because that’s your setting.
-Prompt/Ideas: I didn’t really feel like I ~got~ this story. Maybe I’m a huge idiot! Well, that’s definitely true, but the basic message I got from the story is “humans are bad at taking care of pets, I guess.” Or maybe it’s, “what if idiots let a really big jellyfish into the ocean and it ate everything?” Okay, I guess you were going for a horror angle. But it mostly reminded me of how dumb people in Florida released their pet pythons, lionfish, and other exotic creatures out into the wild because they were too incompetent to take care of them and created an invasive species epidemic, and now lionfish threaten the entire Gulf ecosystem. So I really, really hate your protagonist because of that. I had trouble seeing any real purpose behind the story. What is it trying to tell us about people? I couldn’t figure it out.
-Story: I didn’t understand the character’s motivation. Test it, I guess? Then get high off it. I don’t know why he was in that temple ahead of the soldiers, or how he found out about it, or why he kept it so secret, or why he was stupid enough to take it to the harbor. The story itself is well organized, but I think I just need more a reason to care about this character and his passions, which means you might need to add something to the beginning, or some good this creature could do that makes us want to root for him taking good care of it. His decision to take it out the harbor would be better if it was a desperate attempt to save what he thought was a dying jellyfish. Or maybe it would have died, and so his dooming mistake was made of compassion rather than idiocy.
-Bottom line: I guess this is a pretty solid horror story, but it didn’t resonate with me. I think the biggest thing its missing is a good reason to care about the protagonist.

-Prose: This was probably the best overall prose, with good dialogue that does work, concise descriptions, and minimal exposition that still gives us a good idea of the setting. You’ve intentionally littered your prose with specific language that reinforces the themes and ideas.
-Prompt/Ideas: This story was about exploring the human side of contact, the lives that might be changed in less expected ways. You explore loss, relationships, and obsession. By focusing on the minute, rather than the grand, I think you help build our connection to the character; the perspective they’d see this from is much like the one we might see a similar event from. The characters speak in such a way and are recognizable in our own lives.
-Story: The protagonist wants her husband back, wants things back the way they were even though that’s impossible (a good analogy for first contact). She tries to talk, then she tries art. They drift farther apart. It’s clear that even with her project, they’re done. I did get annoyed at Heather; but as much as I dislike people who cling to failed relationships, it happens all the time. And the ending seems to give her some peace of mind, though it’s not quite satisfying.
-Bottom line: Excellent overall writing with the strongest characters out of any of the stories. Good stuff.

-Prose: No problems here with the descriptions.
-Prompt/Ideas: So this story is about loneliness and the need for connection. Those are extremely human needs, projected onto a planetary intelligence. I’ve seen this idea before with the Gaia hypothesis, a crappy Orson Scott Card story, and plenty of ancient mythology. Inevitably, human values sort of have to be projected onto the planet-organism so that you can deal with something that makes even some sense. The question, then, is how well is it implemented?
-Story: This is another piece I felt was less of a story. It has the basic structures: planet is lonely, people land on planet, get scared, return, communicate. Woman communicates directly, merges as her body explodes, she gets out, goes to a ship, planet is sad, woman builds moon, they marry, basically. This technically follows a classic narrative arc, but so much of it is just listing events and emotions. Imagine if it was a romance between two people. A story written about two people like this would be awful to read. We need to connect to the two principal characters, and the biggest thing this story is lacking is that. I don’t care about the woman; I don’t know anything about her. What do they say? What is at their cores that so dramatically changes both the planet and woman? You need to get into the details, I think, because otherwise the story is too vague to really connect on an emotional level. I almost think it would be better to explore this from the perspective of the woman and why she falls in love/obsession with the planet in the first place.
-Bottom line: This explored the idea of planet-organisms, but wasn’t implemented in such a way that I cared much about the protagonists. With that missing, the story felt lacking. This story has also been done a lot; in almost every ancient mythology, in sci-fi, and a million times in other forms. The implementation has to be a lot better for this not to get lost among all the other stories like it.

Last Flight of the Konstantin
-Prose: This was okay. It had some good descriptions interspersed. The ending part where Baran is shooting the farmers, suiciding his ship into the corporate base, and stealing the shuttle to the other ship was really confusing. There is some significant bloat. For example “Baran ran his hand through his greying hair and felt the thin stripe of a scar on his scalp. It couldn’t be. “How dare you. This isn’t right.”; cut “It couldn’t be.” and “How dare you.” There’s a lot of repetition like that.
-Prompt/Ideas: Corporations are bad! They’ll harvest animals for useful parts! Okay. Technically this follows the prompt but it doesn’t have any interesting or new ideas, and it sure doesn’t say much about people.
-Story: I really disliked this story the first time I read it. It felt like it drew from a host of clichés: astronaut wakes up from stasis into a new world has been done to death in sci-fi. The colonialist narrative has the outsider Baran as the savior of some indigenous species (also done to death in a variety of genres) and then amnesia to top it all off, which felt like a way to avoid answering a whole bunch of questions about the holes in the story. Holes like, how the hell is a 1000-year old museum-relegated ship able to fly, never-mind deal with a vessel 1000 years more advanced (and why was that not employed, nor have any sort of defenses or more than 2 crew)? The two farmers basically put up no resistance, and Baran pretty much just murders them because he was getting mad. Baran is not a likeable character. Why he doesn’t remember jack-poo poo/was frozen/was woken up/where he got his antenna implant is not explained, so not only does this story have gaps, it also doesn’t even feel like a complete story (reinforced by the fact that Baran is leaving on another adventure).
-Bottom line: This was a bland, cliché story with a bunch of unanswered questions for no good reason.

More Human Than Human
-Prose: This was serviceable. Many of your descriptions are bad because they reveal that you know less than what middle-school children are supposed to know about space (literally, based on the Next Generation Science Standards), which is pretty dang harmful to the story.
-Prompt/Ideas: This is where I’m going to put my critiques of the genre. The story has its own issues. Okay, one, don’t start your hook in a sci-fi story with a list of a few extremely common space objects. It’s like if I said “The vacuum cleaner contained every kind of garbage you could imagine: dust, hair, more dust, and dirt.” Then, you tell me about “undiscovered chemical elements,” that you have pictures of. Well then it’s not undiscovered, is it? The glass of spaceships is not called a windshield. Also, please look up how far away things are in space. 100,000km is nothing. It’s 384,000 km between Earth and the Moon. Next, if this was sci-fi written in the 1930s, I could forgive you for having an Earth-like planet with trees and grass just like Earth and a blue sun, but this is just lazy. The aliens can sort of look like people, apparently, and are quick to stab things. We learn nothing else about them; no mysteries are solved, no aspect of human nature explored. You might as well have not included them because they serve no purpose.
-Story: The entire premise of giving refugees an infinitely-replenishing warp-drive equipped space ship because that’s cheaper and easier makes no sense, nor does the idea that, like, 4 people is just too much to accommodate for the UN’s presumably innumerable space stations. Also, books and music are digital, presumably even easier to get in the near future and… well. I could go on. None of your characters are sympathetic. ““Whoa poo poo is right,” I said. I hadn’t cursed since my childhood. I’d gotten slapped by my mother for that.” was one of those lines that made me cringe and lose faith in the goodness of humanity just a little bit more. Then your unlikable characters stumble onto the planet they found and act like complete idiots, then get away. The end. The massive problem here is that your entire plot is about resolving their refugee status, and you never do that.
-Bottom line: The only thing that saved you from a loss was the fact that it wasn’t riddled with errors and confusing, and had a plot, even if it was all-around-bad.

-Prose: The descriptions are good, you’ve got some nice sensory details here. The biggest problem here was how confusing it is. “Navigation was by flattened trees, each beech trunk a compass needle straining for the point of impact.” is a hard hook to lead with, because it doesn’t make sense until you realize the trees are splayed out like at Tunguska from an explosion, which takes a bit because “meteorites” are mentioned in the third paragraph. You also jump around in time in the first few paragraphs. There’s also strangely worded and ungrammatical sentences to worry about, like “As much as she kept one hand tight on Muzz’s skinny shoulder, and one eye on the sky.” That’s your ending line, it should be jarring.
-Prompt/Ideas: It’d be cool to have a story about discovering a strange object/alien from the Kuiper belt. However, you didn’t do that. You mentioned it as a thing, then the story ended. You do have something about people, who will try to exploit even the destruction of their civilization to get money. Your alien-rock: Would it be able to see the constellations like we do from Earth, or would its distance cause distinct differences? I feel like the view would be different enough. How does the alien-rock know English?
-Story: As far as I can tell, you might have the start of good story here. The premise is great. Aliens are attacking the Earth by slinging comets, asteroids, and other poo poo at Earth. People, even as their cities are being flattened, go “that’s good money, harvesting these asteroids that are killing us all!” It does run into problems—people aren’t going to be able to get very much metal by hand, and the markets for the materials would all tank, but eh, it works. I guess I’m assuming its aliens throwing asteroids at them. It could be Space Companies, rebels in space stations, or mining companies that don’t know how to aim, but maybe it’s aliens? I don’t think you ever explained who was throwing the space rocks at Earth though. That seems, uh, important. Who owns the helicopters? What else is going on? All these interesting questions, potential plot points, or sources of conflict are ignored. There’s not really a story, just the start of one, and you had plenty of words left to try and tell it properly.
-Bottom line: This could be a good story if it wasn’t done at the last minute, and explored the interesting element it introduced. Oh and Kuiper belt objects are mostly going to be ice, but this is an alien-rock thing so it doesn’t need to follow the rules.

Edit: My eyes were glazing over by the end of this and I maybe forgot to proofread a crit or two. Let me know if I screwed yours up and I'll fix it.

Apr 22, 2008

Thank you for the crits!

take the moon
Feb 12, 2011

by sebmojo

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice
Crit was spot-on, UP. Thanks!

Oct 30, 2016

Black mold 1594 words

Thranguy posted:

Use in your story:
A building that used to be a library

It was a while since I had last gone to the library, and I had expected a little decay. A few books taken away from the shelves, a new crack in the plaster, more cancelled magazine subscriptions. I knew it was bad times, and the building was only a few years older than me. But I had not expected that the automatic doors would move aside to reveal dead silence and bare walls.

I had found shelter from the rain, but the cold followed. I was hurting right down to the marrow in my bones. Didn’t want to think about it. Instead, I went around the grand room inspecting stacked cardboard boxes and piles of pages. Disassembled bookcases. All of it was marred by white lines and dots where the booklice and beetles were gnawing. A big black spider crawled across a row of encyclopedias and further away, a young man stood hunched over a crate.

"Come to have a look?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"It's all free.”

“They’re shutting it down?”

“Two weeks ago. Now they’re selling out of the stock.”

I wondered if either of us knew who they were.

The young man's sleeves were bunched up around his elbows, and sweat shone on his brow. I could only imagine that dragging those crates around was hard work.

“I thought it was an awful waste to let the books get thrown out, so I'm trying to save the stuff worth saving,” he said.

It looked like it would take a long while to find anything in this mess, but I had nothing better to do the whole afternoon. Dennis wouldn't come around until evening, and I didn't feel like sitting around just waiting for for my son. It would make us both worry. I asked the man his name:

"Jason." He stepped back when I approached, keeping distance. I didn't know what to make of it. His name had made me think he'd be sociable.

"Jason was my husband's name," I said.

"Huh. That’s a fun little coincidence."

"I don't know if 'fun' is the right word."

"You're right, you're right." Jason smiled. "Can I help you find something?” He gestured to the room, and his right sleeve fell down and covered his hand. He should have hemmed it, or have had someone do it for him…

"...I'd like something that lasts,” I said. “Something long. One of those you could use as a brick."

Jason made a very particular face with everything scrunched up and squished together. Then he started going from crate to crate, fishing out novels here and there. It was a joy to watch the spring in his step so unlike Dennis' slow lumber, or the way his fingers brushed against his lips when he was thinking. He felt the books more than he looked at them, tracing spines and leather bindings and mold.

“This one.” He caressed the book’s cover: a blaze of fire behind the pitch-black silhouette of a Paris skyline. "Man, it was tough to get through - but it was worth it. And it looks you've got a lot more time than me to read, so maybe it won’t take you four months like it did me. You might as well take the sequel and the third one, too."

I didn't like him thinking that I had no better use for my time than sitting in an armchair, but he said it with a smile and so kindly that I didn't mind. "I'll take them."

"If it's the whole series, it's going to be heavy... I'm guessing you have a car outside?"

"I walked," I said.

Jason looked to the window, to the rain. “Really?”

"It's bad weather, I know. But you're being silly if you're about to say I shouldn't go home in it. People treat old women like paper, like they can't even get a little wet."

He lowered his gaze, and head, and shoulders, sort of shrinking in front of me when he realized I wouldn't budge. "Take my phone number,” he then said, scrawling the digits on an old stationery pad left on the old librarian’s desk.
“Call me when you’re safely home. Just so I don’t worry.”

I took the note and the books from him. Immediately, I could feel he was right. The stack was heavy and hard to carry even in a plastic bag decorated with the faded logo of the library. It was a matter of principle now, so I went out anyway, leaving lights of the ex-library behind me.

By the time I was home, Dennis had let himself in. From the hallway, I could see his dark jacket hanging on the back of a kitchen chair. Blue light from his phone shone on the slowly rotating ceiling fan. My home smelled like his cigarettes and hand sanitizer - only when he was gone would I start to smell my scents, the bedsheets, my coffee and potpourri.

I waited in the hallway, but the shivers refused to go away.

God, the rain had been bad.

God, everything ached. Jesus was cruxified on the wall behind the door, and I had not gotten around to dusting him off in a while.

I straightened my back, and the books fell from my frozen, stiff hands.

Dennis saw me. He didn't look half as happy about seeing me as the young Jason had. Nowadays he said "Mum" like people say the name of a dog down the road when it barks late for the fifth night in a row - "Why were you out, mum? You know you need to stay in bed.”

"Why do you keep going on about that?" I asked. Just because he had insinuated that I might be tired, I decided not to lay down. I took the chair opposite him, tried not to slouch - and failed. I was tired of this same conversation beginning again. "Son. I'm old, I know. No reason to stop living...“

Dennis rubbed his eyes. "I just got off the phone with the doctor-"

"The new one?"

"Yes, the new one that you've had for months-"

"He doesn't know what he's talking about."

"He says that you need to come in for treatment and start taking this seriously." Dennis sighed. A few months ago, there had been more fire in his voice when he said things like this. Now, I was finally wearing him out.

“I have been in-“

“Ages ago! And you left early!”

I laid my hand on the oilcloth between us. Maybe I expected him to take it, but I wasn’t disappointed when he didn’t. "I'm aging, son. It happens. It's alright. And growing old is not a disease. I’ve still got so many years left in me. It’s hard for you to get used to, but I’m just creaking a little, that’s all."

Dennis stood up. His voice rose to levels unprecedented, except for perhaps when he was a small child yelling about candy. "You're ill, mum. Do you want to die? Because that's what's going to happen if you go on like this."

"No! No." I shook my head. "Not at all. I want to stay alive and read and tell Jason that I finished his book. Listen to what I’m telling you. I know myself. I'm just not sick."

"Okay," Dennis said, talking to his reflection in the kitchen window now. "Mum's lost it."

"I'm talking about the other Jason - I met him down at the library earlier today."

"The library's closed."

"I didn't know that! He was there, giving me books."

Dennis sighed. Then he drew back and put on his coat. "I don't want to do this. I just… can't right now, ok?"

"Ok," I said.

"I left the lasagna in the fridge.”


“Try to keep it in you.”

Then he was gone. It was fair enough that boy needed space sometimes.

But the door slammed and I was there alone with all the hours I had in front of me.

Eventually, the rain stopped.

I stood around for a bit, shivering. I felt like I was not in my body but in the thin layer of rainwater on the kitchen-floor tiles, spread around, shimmering, impossible to gather together. Finally, I made it to the wall where my phone hung. I pressed Jason’s number on the white-worn buttons.

His voice sounded different when he picked up. Older.

He asked, “Who’s this?”

“Just me,” I said. “I’m safe and home.”

I thought I heard someone on the stairs, but it was nothing, just the building creaking. And the rain hitting the windows. The clock ticking.

“Good.” Something rustled on Jason’s end. “If that’s that-“

I interrupted him and surprised myself. Words pressed their way out with a taste like vomit lingering on my tongue. “Did I look sick to you?”

Jason cleared his throat. “Uh. Why? I mean. I guess. A little, but it might’ve been the light-“


“Yes.” His voice was just deep enough now that the hairs on my neck stood up, and Itightened my grip on the phone.

“Thank you, Jason.” I wanted to repeat the name. I said it rarely now. I couldn’t say it without thinking about how my husband had looked when he died, white as the sheet on the hospital bed. My head hurt – perhaps I was getting a head cold from the weather – and I sunk down on a chair. A spider crawled across the ceiling, skittering from crack to crack. “Thank you very much.”

Apr 16, 2007

That way of hers

I will always remember her every move. The way she prepared coleslaw salad for example, it drove me crazy: How she swayed her hips as she cut the cabbage, how her cheekbones gleamed under the window light, her dainty hands covered in moisture. Her apron would always be tied in a bow, just slightly to her right side, and her brown hair always bundled up in a perfectly tight bun. She'd turn every once in a while to throw a gentle smile at me, as if checking I was still there. The inherent swagger in all of her actions was unreal, hypnotizing even.

I need not smell her coconut and roses scent to remember, for I can easily conjure it up in my thoughts, as fresh and real as it has always been. She did not like the overwhelming nature of perfumes so the only scent that remained was that of her soap. Details like this may seem irrelevant, but they are what define a person as much as the person defines the quirks and peculiarities themselves. These details belong to each person and them only, traced by their own existence. So that coconut and roses scent was my wife's, of that I am certain.

The disease slithered in silently, like a burglar in the middle of the night. At first we didn't notice. The signs were there, don't get me wrong, but they were not readily apparent. She would forget a thing here or there. 'It's just her klutziness,' we thought. A thing misplaced or an event overlooked. Eventually her movements changed, slightly but definitely. Small things, like the way she cut vegetables or how she carried herself through the hallway. Her potato salad did not taste the same. Even the light seemed to be off, bouncing with a different hue or refraction after touching her skin. It was almost as if I was watching a different version of her, a fake one. An interloper who had perfectly duplicated her body but had failed to inherit her mannerisms and demeanor.

When one is married for such a long time you start to notice these things, everything. You really do. You notice the pattern and the inconsistencies and ask yourself if this is the same person you married. You realize the change is not on purpose, 'It is all on the mental illness,' you reassure yourself. And yet you hold some degree of resentment. It is unavoidable. The important part is to remember for the both of you. To know what is hidden within that husk of a person who stands before you.

The illness got worse, it is degenerative after all. She'd stop in the middle of a sentence and ask me what she was doing. She could be holding a knife or writing a letter or taking a shower. Anything, really. And I'd just stare sadly, my lips frowned in a sympathetic thin line. I'd calm her down and explain what was going on. To this day I can still hear her reply: 'Don't worry luv, everything will be okay,' Her voice soft and mournful.

Oh yes indeed, I will always remember her every move and her every feature. She may be gone but I still see signs of her wherever I look, in the sky, the sea and the stars. I see her clearly in my mind's eye; her visit foretold by the sweet scent of coconut in the air. She enters wearing all white, her favorite color. The rhythm of her steps may be off but the timbre is still hers. I feel her warm breath as she softens my pillow and we stare into each others' eyes.

“Rose, luv. Guess what's for lunch today?” she asks.

I don't answer but she places a dish with coleslaw salad on the table. She walks up to the window and opens the blinds in that way of hers, wrapping the cord around her hand and pulling firmly. The tight bundle of hair on her head is there but the color is wrong, blonde. The bow behind her apron is off too, right in the middle. I ask her about it. Did she change? Is she trying a new look?

“Don't worry luv, everything will be okay,” she answers.

I try to wake up from my vision, to yank myself out through sheer force of will. I thrash violently in bed but my attempt proves futile, I am still here. Her lips form a sympathetic thin line as the meds begin to flood my system. She then smiles at me, though it is not an honest smile. She holds resentment I know. It's not her fault, I don't blame her. I am like this because destiny itself defined me as such. She picks up a clipboard and begins writing as my consciousness slips away. Her presence brings me some solace at least, she will never abandon me.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Cleaner (1593w)

Detective Williams leaned over the rain-soaked corpse while I gave the crime-scene boys a big bill and suggested they enjoy a drink later. Williams turned her back; she made a show of peering over the body, made it clear she wasn’t watching me pay off the cops. After all, you never know who’s watching. I returned with a wallet fifty bones lighter.

“Ten minutes,” I said, without enthusiasm. No one wanted us back here, least of all ourselves. We shouldn’t be behind the police tape. In the same sense, the weatherman said it’d be clear, so it shouldn’t be raining, and Chief Bernard Black was supposed to be safe at home after a hard day covering for the mob. At this hour he should’ve been serving his wife her postprandial beating.

Instead, thanks to a respect for Truth and Justice that only President Grant can inspire, we were trespassing on a murder scene, Black was entering livor mortis, and it was goddamned pouring.

“Already looks like the same perp,” she says.

“You sure?”

“Garrotte marks, piano wire. Guy stood behind the victim, nearly yanked his head off. Couple of stab wounds in the back, but not much blood. Heart must’ve stopped before they were made.”

I didn’t need to look; I’d already seen the deep purple bruises ringing the stiff’s neck.

She brushed mud off her coat. “Sooner we’re out of this alley the better.”

We slipped under the police tape, and I nodded at the returning crime-scene team. Williams ignored them, went to the car. It’d been five years since she’d resigned her badge and gone private, but she’d never gotten used to the so-called dirty part of the job. That’s where I came in. It was an arrangement that worked for both of us; she had cleaner hands, I got cleaner streets.

“Who called it in?” I asked the cops.

“Old lady who lives up the street. The greengrocer.”

I expressed my thanks with another few bucks and headed for the car. A thin shadow staggered out of the dark, hands in pockets. I stepped back, then relaxed, but Williams jumped out of the car, gun drawn. “Hold it!”

I motioned for her to back off and addressed my assailant. “Careful, Charlie. You’re gonna get killed one of these days.”

Charlie the Worm was built like a sapling, face and breath soured by whiskey. He stared hangdog at Williams’ gun and said, “I done seen him.”

I gently turned the conman around by the shoulder. “Why don’t you head back the tavern and let us do our job?”

Williams holstered her gun. “Tape recorder’s at the office. We’ll hear you out there.”

Charlie nodded, gazing at the police down the street. He itched a boil on his chin. “I saw you an’ the cops, detective. Rent’s coming due…”

I snorted. Charlie slept in dime-a-night flophouses; the only thing he rented was liquor. But Williams inclined her chin; that was my cue. Sighing, I fished a filthy fiver from the bottom of my pocket and flicked it at Charlie. “Get in.”


I unlocked the frosted glass door to our one-room office. On the glass, Williams & Pruner, Associates. From above, I heard the telltale bedspring creak that told us the brothel’s clientele was undeterred by rain.

Williams flicked on the sole electric light, a bare bulb hanging from a naked cord, pulled two chairs to her desk and got a reel of tape from a drawer. I poured Charlie two fingers, which he sniffed before sipping. Williams started the tape.

“I was in the saloon celebrating ‘cuz I’d just had a horse come in,” Charlie said. “But the barman don’t like me and kicked me out. I was walking, paying no mind to nobody, thinking about where to drink next, and that’s when I seen it.

“There was two men, one tall, one short but in a real nice jacket, and I thought to myself, golly, Chief Black! I just heard him on the radio, talking about how he’s gonna clean up the city. So I hurry along to get a better look, and I see the two o’ them go into that alley. I had a real bad feeling.

“Then the tall guy comes back out, and he tucks a pipe into his jacket. I hide an’ he leaves an’ I peek in the alley. There’s Chief Black lying on his back with his face broke in.” He sniffles and blows his nose on his sleeve. “That’s it.”

“You get a good look at this tall man?” Williams asked.

“Sure did. Taller’n you or me, Miz Williams.” Charlie looked at me and then at Williams. Neither of us were smiling. A drop of greasy sweat plunked into his whiskey, and he took another sip. “People like Black, or you, detectives, you’re the big fish. Guys like me, we’re the little fish. We take the leftovers after you big fish make the kill. But that means we know where the big fish are eating.”

I shoved the whole bottle of rotgut towards Charlie. “Gift from us to you, my friend.”

“Thanks, detective. I guess I didn’t really see him. Maybe from the side, that’s all.” Charlie drained his glass, tucked the whiskey into his jacket and scurried out the door.

Williams shut off the tape. “You think he actually saw anything?”

I shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe he just wanted some dough. Guys like him, they don’t see it like we do. We see an opportunity for justice, a chance to right a wrong. He sees the guy at the top of the ladder getting bumped off, and he thinks he’s about to move up a place or two.” I got my hat. “C’mon, let’s visit the grocer.”


The widow Barton lived above her vegetable shop. She showed us to the rear window in her bedroom. It overlooked the alley. I leaned out and, craning my neck, I could see the scene. The cops were finally hauling the corpse into a van.

Williams got her notepad out.

The widow fidgeted with her thick-lensed glasses as she spoke. “I was just listening to the radio, and that nice Chief Black was on with Mister Mayor. I was so glad to hear him speak. No one wants to say it, but it’s about time someone stood up to the mob and told them enough is enough. Why, just this week two gangsters were murdered. And right in this neighbourhood! It used to be so nice here, but then all those Italians moved in and now I get woken up every night by their guns and fighting.”

Williams cleared her throat. “What did you see, ma’am?”

“Oh, yes. I heard the guns, pop pop! So I go to the window to give them a piece of my mind, but I look in the alleyway and there’s no one outside. I look up and down, and there, just up near the street, I see Chief Black come in. There’s someone else in the alleyway, and I hear Chief Black shout — that’s how I knew it was him, he has such a lovely voice.”

“What did he say?”

“Oh, well, I didn’t hear that much. Maybe it was hello? It’s so noisy these days, with the automobiles. But Black was surprised to see him. It was an ambush! The man in the alley stabs Black in the chest, and Black falls right down. I called the police straightaway, and look how fast they came! They’ll catch the murderer, I’m sure of it. They’re professionals.” The widow glared at Williams. “Unlike some people.”

The widow rambled on about the good old days for another ten minutes before Williams and I managed to edge our way out the door.


We circled the neighborhood for another few hours, asking drunks and dealers what they’d seen, but even dead presidents couldn’t draw out any more witnesses. It was quarter to four when we got back to the office. We were both baggy-eyed, but we had to review the facts, as they were known, to make sure nothing slipped through.

Two witnesses, two very different accounts of the murder, both of them reliable as a lame racehorse. There was one thing both agreed on.

There was one murderer. Whether he’d guided Black into the alleyway or ambushed him there, whether he used pipe or knife, whether he struck from front or back, there was one killer.

The official modus operandi remained the garrotte, the same as a half-dozen other murders in our district. The victims varied: small-time felons, mafia made-men, bent cops. But Chief Black towered over them all; a keystone had been yanked out of the bridge that connected City Hall with the mob.

Williams looked tired beyond her years, but I knew her mind was whirring. She glanced at me. “The widow’s just a crazy old lady. But Charles worries me.” She hitched up the collar on her coat and bade me goodnight.

I knew my cue. I tucked a length of piano wire in my pocket and left via the fire escape, headed towards the tavern in which Charlie always drank. I tucked myself into the shadow of a doorway, waiting for Charlie to get kicked out. Around the corner, Williams would be shivering in the alleyway, hand on knife. Conman by conman, chief by chief, we’d clean up this city.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


I promised to do some crits from the week before. Most of these were written before judgement, but a few (Concrete Divide and Hard to Blame) were finished just now, though all crits are based on first-impression notes I took my first read-through and a second closer reading.

Week 236: 3-Card Prompt: 6 Crits of some stories, 2 many words
Format: First impression, strengths, weakness, other stuff

Change by Okua
My first impression was that it was good, it conveyed a sense of sadness, and it was about learning to move on. It has lots of little sharp details I like, like the crumbled invitation that she keeps, the rhinestone bras, and the red rope give a good impression of the setting with sparse language. There was also a clear theme of gambling, and the goal of the main character is clearly defined. The weakness is that it didn’t feel like there was much tension. Things had been settled already, and it’s just the main character coming to terms with that. It seems like the narrator does, but it’s not totally clear. Has the narrator changed? It’s a solid story, though.

You Can’t Learn That On YouTube by Twiggymouse
My first impression was it was bad. “Guy screws up hunting boar; dies.” There. The story. What is it trying to accomplish? It has a narrative arc, it has passible description, but it felt like the story didn’t have a purpose besides “make sure I got all 3 magic cards in it.” Why do we care about the main character? We don’t. Why did you kill him? What is the point? It’s an easy way to end the story, sure, but not the best one. This could have been something about recovering from a mistake and a tense survival story, but it just felt like a sequence of things that happened.

Concrete Divide by Kenfucius
My first thought at the end of the story was “dang,” and that there was no real resolution to the problems of the story, but that seemed to be the point. As a disclaimer, I’m not familiar with the historical references in the story, so I’m reading it from that lens. The conflict was built well, and the title, subject matter, events, and symbols all keep hitting on the them of divide. I like the journey through the years that shows how these societal divides propagate. It also shows that prejudice can be both learned and unlearned, as we see with Kieran and Mick. The snapshots of the story, that frame the conflict but not really anything beyond revenge and harassment, seem to put forward the idea of the pointlessness of the conflict. Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and all that. With the sad smile between divided friends, you do offer us a bit of hope at the end, but at the same time, the fact that (I think?) Mick is helping build a permanent wall through the town as a “solution,” implies it will go on a lot longer. I think the major work to be done in this story is pruning the pieces here and there that aren’t strictly necessary and don’t play to the story’s strength, like shrinking Kieran and Mick’s conversation about getting a job, or adding key details (is Mick helping build the wall or not?) that reinforce your theme. Here and there you might also prune some exposition. Overall, though, enjoyable read, and an interesting story.

Interrupted by Benagin
My first impression was, okay, guy gets hit by car on delivery, gets a concussion, then, um, goes and gets the tube, which apparently he had the whole time, and delivers it. I got that the tube is symbolic, that while the accident crippled him, he was able to discover a part of his old self that hadn’t changed, but I feel like there’s a better way to do it. “Things were different. He was different…” implies a lot of time has passed, like months, so I got hung up on why the hell he still had that tube and how he’d kept it. Since it’s distracting, I think maybe ditch the courier part and just keep his attachment to the bike, and keep the self-revelation there. Finally, solid descriptions; I liked the sentence “a wide gap in his memory opened… blood” a lot.

The Sharing Economy by WLOTM / a new study bible!
My first readthrough, I enjoyed the heck out of this story. Well, first paragraph I didn’t like, because I was thinking of Uber and rolling my eyes, then it became clear what was being shared and I was hooked. It’s a neat concept and the tension ramps up really high. I cared about the main character, because she’s an underdog being forced to sell herself to pay rent, and that’s the kind of person I want to root for, and you make Marlene unlikeable enough quickly enough that I needed to root against her. Ren feels in danger, and that kept me engaged. You have good descriptions (swamp bubble giggles, the way you describe Tom and his knife). The resolution felt a bit weak. I wanted something more; Marlene escaping makes it feel like part 1 of 2. If you wanted, this is a story that could be expanded a lot. If it was, you’d have to address some of the things that sort of don’t make sense when you think too hard about them, like why this industry is so poorly regulated and all the other ways society might have changed because of this technology, and how riders get in and why what they use can’t be tracked like any other device. But overall, I enjoyed the ride, and it had the most intense tension of any of the stories I read.

Hard to Blame Eve by Chili
-When I got to the end of the story, I thought it would have been nice to see a second temptation the narrator falls for before he realizes how long he’ll be in there for. The other thing is that this is a pretty sadistic jail, and I think the big thing to hammer it home is we need is to feel more sympathy for narrator. Best way to do that is show his best side when he’s on the phone with his sister, I think. They you can imply he’s there for good, and it’s more impactful. I felt like the voice in the story was a strength, giving the narrator personality through dialogue and description. The weakness is our lack of sympathy for the narrator, and perhaps the other inmates. These are all old men who should have been out, but they all seem pretty blasé about it all. The message I got was sort of a critique of the addictive nature of consumerism, with perhaps commentary on the nature of our prison system and how it works to keep people behind bars, rather than to reform them. An interesting idea, an overall solid story that will be stronger with a few key revisions.

Apr 10, 2013

you guys made me ink!

1553 words

I, Sir Alaric

“Marco, my boy, tell me truthfully. Have you ever shared the bed with a woman?”

There was chuckling from our three companions. The young squire averted his eyes from mine, and his face reddened from ear to ear. After several seconds of watching him hesitate, I put my large, calloused hand on his shoulder, upon which he looked up from the dirt road in front us.

“Is this important?”

“That’s a ‘no’ if I’ve ever heard one!” Miles cried out behind him.

“Have you never carved the moaning statues, friend?” Roland played a few sad notes on his lyre as he said so.

Even Camilla, bearing her signature cat-like smile, put her hand on Marco’s head and jested: “No way! Even I have slept with a woman!”

I had to raise my hand and call for silence multiple times before the laughter died down. After all, the starry-eyed teenager had requested to become my squire to learn about the ways of demon-hunting, not to be ridiculed.

When I had everyone’s attention again, I said: “There’s a succubus in that abandoned mansion, my boy, and I want to make sure you are aware of the dangers ahead of us. You see, a succubus exploits your sinfulness. Her beauty is one few inexperienced men can resist, and before you know it,” I traced a heart in the air with my fingers for emphasis, “she’s got you under her spell.”

Still slightly embarrassed, Marco asked: “What about you? Does she not hold influence over you?”

I straightened my back and stroked my white, well-groomed beard, mostly for effect. “Of course not. My moral fortitude is beyond reproach.”

“There’s also ways to temporarily immunize yourself,” Miles remarked.

“Really?” Marco innocently raised his eyebrows.

“Yeah. Like a trip to a brothel.”

Miles pulled up his belt in an exaggerated manner, and I had to calm everyone down once more. “All right, enough joking around. Let us rid Greenvale of this creature of the night.”

We stood up from the boulders we were resting on, stowed away our snacks and donned our armor.

“Marco, as this is your first real job, I want you to stand back and watch the professionals handle it. You might learn a thing or two.”

“Yes, Sir Alaric.”

Clouds gathered as we followed the final stretch of road. Beyond this winding forest trail, past the wilted trees and rusted gates, within the decrepit walls of the once-luxurious mansion, I could sense evil; I vowed to keep my companions safe as long as I drew breath.

In front of the manor, a large series of steps lead to the front double doors, which bore a massive, intricate lock. I gave a gentle push, cautious of rattling the door, and as expected, the entrance was sealed.

I turned to Camilla: “Do you reckon you can pick this lock?”

“Piece of cake.”

While we were waiting, Roland mumbled some verses to himself. Marco asked him which ballad it was, as he couldn’t recognize the tune.

“Oh, I am merely polishing a new serenade, commissioned by Sir Alaric himself.”

“Cool! What’s it about?”

“Sir Alaric.”

I nodded approvingly. “Roland has been in this trade long enough to recite the songs of over three hundred heroes of old. We agreed that it was time for him to compose his own song about our great contemporaries, and I could not imagine a more qualified poet to chronicle the legacy of Sir Alaric.”

Roland, in turn, bowed and said: “And I could not imagine a more worthy patron. Speaking of, which epithet do you prefer? The Fearless, or the Dauntless?”

I briefly weighed the options. “How about the Magnanimous?”

“I… Will attempt to fit that in the verse. Somehow.”

“Good man.”

We heard Camilla grunt and turned back to the door, which swung open after a solid tug. “This one was a bitch to open. It was rusted shut and I had to oil it four times before the insides budged.”

“Shoulda just kicked it in,” Miles said.

“Have you seen this door? You’d be playing hopscotch by yourself for weeks.”

The manor had gone through better days. Little light shone through its small, stained windows, and the ancient wooden floor was covered in a carpet of dust, which left imprints on the planks as we gingerly walked through the main hall.

“I can sense her,” I whispered. “On the top floor.”

We drew our weapons, except Marco, who was only wielding a torch, and unsteadily at that.

The aura of evil drew me to the master’s bedroom, which was located at the top of the stairs from the main hall.

I double checked when we got to the top, and smiled. “She’s here. Ready?”

Without waiting for a reply, I kicked the door in and charged through the frame with a raised shield, roaring like a lion, until I came to a full stop in the middle of the room.

“Halt, foul demon! Your reign of malice ends here!”

Only the soft crackling of Marco’s torch broke the ensuing silence.

Arising from the king-size bed, very slowly, was a purple-skinned woman with small, black horns on her head. She lay on her side, one hand on her long legs, and gave us a sleepy, sultry look. Only a few strategically placed blankets covered her womanhood. The flickering of the torch cast dancing shadows over her face.

I felt she tried to cast her spell over us, and brushed it off. “I will have you know that I am Sir Alaric the Dauntless and Fearless! I have been hunting vampires, imps, genies, demons and other villains for over thirty years! You hold no power over me!”

She opened her eyes more clearly now, then threw her head back and laughed. Not elegantly as expected, but with malice.

“You have already lost, old fool.”

I turned around, and saw my companions, raising their weapons against me. They looked right through me with blank eyes, as if they had taken psychedelic substances. I cursed them for their weakness, but this was merely a temporary setback, as I knew the spell could be broken.

However, as skilled as I was with the blade, I realized I could not turn my back on my allies to face the demon just yet. I’d have to disarm them first, then strike their bewitcher while she was defenseless.

Roland was the first to act. He reached for my sword-arm, but I knocked the wind out of him with the edge of my shield. Using the flat of my blade, I struck him on the head, and he crumpled like a rag doll onto the floor.

Miles followed up, and pushed against my shield, forcing me to back up into the bedroom and find my footing. After a brief struggle, I feinted, and he lost his balance, falling on his knees to my left. Before he could get up, I drove my knee into his forehead, and he too was out for the count.

Camilla fired an arrow from her crossbow. I handily caught it with my shield, charged forward, through the door, and shoved her down the stairs. She tumbled to the bottom, foul language punctuating every thump on her way down.

I made my way back to the bedroom, where I came upon Marco, wielding a candle holder like an improvised mace in one hand, and holding the torch high in the other. I’d have to get through him to face the demon.

“Don’t even think about it, my boy.”

“Sir, I can’t… I can’t let you do this.”

And I understood he was too far gone for reasoning.

I rushed forward, and aimed for his upper arm with the flat of my blade. He parried with the candle holder, though he gritted his teeth in pain afterwards. I blocked his half-hearted counterattack, and that was apparently all the energy he could muster.

Raising my sword for the coup de grace, I said: “I’m sorry for hurting you, but you leave me no choice.”

To my surprise, Marco dropped his weapons, closed his eyes and stood there, trembling, with his arms shielding his face. I pulled my blow right at the last moment, and waited to gauge his reaction.


Those charmed by a succubus generally did not give up halfway through a fight.

Content that witnessing my martial prowess had apparently broken the spell for Marco, I turned my attention back to the succubus, who was probably hiding somewhere in the room by now.
“It’s over, you demoness! You’ve got nowhere to run!”

Marco cautiously opened one eye, and mumbled: “She left.”

It took me a few seconds to process what he’d said. When it dawned upon me, I threw my sword to the floor. “drat it! She must have used you to stall for time and fled! I even warned you all that she’d lead you astray with lust!”

Now Marco was shouting, too. “There are more sins she could exploit than lust, you idiot! I thought your reputation was earned, but they should just call you Alaric the Arrogant instead!”
His face revealed nothing but pure, seething indignation.

I opened my mouth to protest, but stopped myself just short of making an unconvincing rebuttal.

For the first time in years, I felt humbled.

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Aaaaaaand, it's gone!

Chili fucked around with this message at 11:39 on Jan 2, 2018

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice
Journal, Pages 467-472
1595 words

That bitch Brittany rolled her eyes at me during math today. Mr. Gardner did that thing where he sits on the corner of my desk and leans over to check my work. It's so creepy and obvious, like that teacher in Wild Things. So I look away and there's Brittany, rolling them so hard I though she might tip over in her chair.

Then that geek Jonah drops his pencil and it rolls under my desk. He was all "can you grab that" and I was like "no way, I don't need your germs," and he gave me this weirdo stare. He was wearing that same look next period in gym, too. We were doing ping-pong and of course I got paired with him.


Tammy Fowler and Jake Leibowitz played against us. Jake is pretty cute and funny and Tammy is well, you know Tammy. Starved for attention so she's a total snitch. Teachers love her.

So we're playing, and I'm mostly trying to avoid any accidental physical contact with Jonah so we're losing pretty bad. Whatever. But Jonah is weirdly competitive and getting super angry. He's muttering and swearing slapping his paddle on the table. Like he really cares about this dumb game.

We end up losing the game on a ball that I just basically ignore, and Jonah loses his poo poo. He starts spitting, says a bunch of super racist things about Jake and his family, like Nazi kind of stuff, and Jake's like whatever it's not worth it but I can see he's getting mad. In the end Jake just tosses down his paddle and walks away, and that's it.

Of course Tammy won't let it go, so she's off to find Mrs. Chesterfield, our PE teacher. Which leaves me alone with mouth-breathing Jonah.

And then it hits me. That weird stare in math class, frothing at the mouth in gym — I know why he's upset. He's totally into me. He's trying to impress me, show he's a winner. He's actually trying to get me to pay attention to him! So that's why he's freaking out. It's kinda funny but totally sad, of course. I would never go out with him.

Here comes Tammy with the teacher. Jonah turns and runs away.

Ms. Chesterfield doesn't chase him, she just stands there like she didn't want to deal with this anyways. Eventually she goes back to her chair and magazines so I sneak over to where I hid my phone under my gym towel and watch Netflix for the rest of class.


"Oh my God, he likes you?" Mariah can't believe it.

"I know, right? It was so sad when he told me," I say. We're in the lunch line and I'm piling mac and cheese on my plate.

"What a geek. I'm so sorry. That must have been so awkward."

"Totally," I say. "It was pathetic. He's so weird."

We weave our way through the crowd of middle schoolers to the table by the window, where the cool kids sit. Trey and A.J. are already there, and they've saved us our usual seats. I give Trey a big smile as I slide in next to him. He's super popular and really cool.

"Hey Trey," I say, my voice rising an octave. "Guess what happened to me today?"

"Hey Chels. What's up?" His body spray smells reallly good, like flowers, but more manly.

I tell him how Jonah asked me out in gym class and freaked out when I told him no.

"Oh my god," he says. "That's so funny. What a loser." He pauses for a moment. "Hey are you going to help decorate for the Valentine's dance after school?"

I wasn't planning on it, but if Trey was going to be there—"Totally! Just need to text my mom to tell her to pick me up later."

"Cool. It'll be fun."

A thrill shivers through me. He asked me out! I give him my sweetest smile and look across at Mariah, who's trying to play it cool, but I can see in her eyes she's totally jealous. The whole scene reminds me of an episode of Liv and Maddie I watched last night.

A few tables away I see a figure stand up. It's him — Jonah — back from wherever he ran to during gym class.

Trey and A.J. notice him too. They look at each other and both stand.

"Watch this," Trey says.

He goes up behind him and just as Jonah is about to dump his tray into the trash he gives him a huge shove. Jonah falls forward and I swear to God he almost ends up in the trash can. It's so funny! He turns around and then A.J. shoves him too. Then he gets that weird, crazy look on his face, like he wants to kill someone. Just like gym class. Trey says something to him that I can't hear over the lunchroom noise and then Jonah's face goes totally blank. Like nobody's home. Which is even weirder, right? Trey gives him one more shove and Jonah spins awkwardly, puts his head down, and stumbles away. Trey and A.J. high five each other and Mariah and I giggle. Mariah has a little bit of a funny look on her face, though.

She's totally jealous.


It took a million texts and three phone calls before I finally talked with my mom. She sounded sleepy and I had to repeat myself a bunch of times before she promised to pick me up after school. That's how it's been since her boyfriend moved in. They go upstairs and lock the bedroom door and seriously don't come out for two or three days. Then he'll leave and she'll go back to sleep, and I'm alone watching Netflix and eating cereal all day until she finally gets up and goes shopping. Or sometimes I'll take money from her purse and meet Mariah at the mall.

I hope she doesn't forget to pick me up again. Last time was so embarassing.

After school Trey and I are working on a poster in the gym and having a great time. Not only is he funny and smart he's a good artist, too. It's going to be an "Under the Sea" dance and so we're drawing jellyfish and dolphins on the poster using markers and glitter paint.

The doors bang open and Jonah walks in.

At first I can't believe it. He's dressed in black, which isn't unusual. But he's also got black paint on his face, like he thinks he's in the army or something. He's wearing a long black coat down to his ankles.

Jonah looks around the gym at the kids hanging streamers, blowing up balloons, and making posters. His eyes fix on us and he gets that blank look again.

Like nobody's home.

I giggle. Obviously Jonah isn't in student council so it's totally weird that he's here. And his costume is ever weirder. I look over at Trey, but he's not laughing. Instead he looks a little scared. He stands up and starts backing away and I notice that Jonah is walking directly towards us, face expressionless.

This is going to be so awkward. Both of these guys like me and they're probably going to fight each other. It's going to be like the movies, where the guys fight over the girl and then she goes home with the winner. Which will totally be Trey. He plays football and is way bigger than Jonah.

A real love triangle with me at the center.

Then Jonah steps right onto our poster and I'm like "hey!" but he ignores me and keeps walking.

"Yo, man, what are you doing?" Trey asks. His voice shakes.

Jonah pulls out a handgun from under his coat and points it at Trey.

At first I'm sure it's a toy, a part of his costume, because this can't be happening, right? But then there's the loudest noise I've ever heard and Trey goes flying backwards.

There's blood and I can't hear anything over the ringing in my ears. My leg muscles are frozen and even though my mind is screaming they don't respond. Jonah stands there and watches Trey bleed on the gym floor.

Time stops.

Jonah turns towards me and I can see a faint wisp of smoke coming from the gun. He looks right at me but his eyes are unfocused, like he's looking past me at something else. He points the gun at me.

"Hey, Jonah, I'm sorry. I mean, like I'm really sorry," I hear myself say. I put my hands out, like they might block a bullet. "I didn't mean anything I said. Didn' t mean any of it."

I don' t even know why I'm saying this. I just want this show to end. Jonah snaps back into focus and now he's looking right at me.

"What?" he says. He pauses, then speaks in a voice thin and tired: "I don't know you. I don't even know your name."

Which makes no sense because of the whole love triangle thing.

His eyes look sad. He raises the gun to his head.

That's when Mr. Gardner comes out of nowhere and heroically tackles him. I remember the gun skittering across the floor and the teacher yelling for help. Trey rolls over and makes a gross gurgling sound. But that's it. My knees buckle and I fall to the floor.

As the blackness closes in I realize life may be even more like the movies than I thought.

Feb 18, 2014

The Party Line
947 Words

Dear true believers,

It's been a while since I last updated, and I owe you an explanation. It involves that most dreaded of beast, drama on the internet, and if that sort of thing makes your eyes roll out of your head, then I apologize for being honest with how I use my time.

Not only do I spend a considerable amount of time combing through comments on my own blog, I also like to check and see how my stories do on various parts of the internet. You might say that I shouldn't let the haters get me down, but I want to improve my ability to stimulate my audience, and what better way to do that than to hear the word on the street? I fully expected to see the usual disconnected grumblings about my mistakes, which I might be able to connect into good advice. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that someone on Goodreads had given in-depth reviews to several of my short stories, to the point where he's starting to get a significant following, by Goodreads standards.

bizcasfri, as he goes by on that site, always puts his reviews at over five hundred words each, and with my stories he often tops a thousand. Some of those words were on point, especially when it came to structural and metaphorical issues, but at other times he seemed to miss the point of the story entirely, going off on odd, accusatory tangents that go so far as to besmirch my integrity as a writer. I could have left him and his followers alone with those misconceptions, but he still seemed like a smart guy with some good ideas whose advice I'd be ill-advised to dismiss, so one day I worked up the nerve to talk to my most prominent critic.

Our initial conversation didn't go well, per se, but it could have gone worse. After the usual are-you-really-THE-Rich-Andrews vetting and his initial skittishness at being reminded that people can respond to his criticisms, I drove the conversation into mutually beneficial waters, where we exchanged ideas on how best to write a story. He seemed awfully insistent on correcting me on sociological issues, but when I pressed for a more thorough education on the subject he turtled up again. I was perfectly willing to learn more about his values, but it seems he isn't often willing to talk about them, except on his own terms.

Each conversation continued to deteriorate more and more until I found that he'd blocked me. I yearned to ask him what faux pas I committed that made him so ill-disposed towards me, all while he continued to crank out reviews that got even more sensational and vitriolic. Thankfully, my webmaster gave me some help in that regard, and with her help I managed to resume our conversation on Facebook, with Jen acting as a proxy between us. (By the way, thanks a million, Jen! I owe you one!) The two of us managed to get bizcasfri, a.k.a. Tyrone Bell, to open up a lot more in that context, and for much longer. Unfortunately it couldn't last, and Tyrone eventually fell down the same road that led him to break off ties with me on Goodreads, except this time the parting was far more histrionic.

At this point I was concerned that, in addition to the misinformation he spread regarding my work, that he would do something drastic that he and his loved ones would soon regret. With more help from Jen, I discovered the next step of the process and sent Tyrone a cautionary message telling him that I'd be paying him a personal visit for his own safety. With a fraction of my nest egg I flew over to Tampa Bay, a decent place to live if you don't mind the humid air and the feeling of a low-rent miami without the glitz and glamour.

He lived in this pueblo-looking house in a middle-class part of town, and didn't answer me when I knocked on his door. For hours I sat on his doorstep, knocking on occasion and browsing the web on my phone. (By now we are well into the period of sparse activity on my part that some of you have noted with concern, true believers!) I only caught a glimpse of Tyrone once, glimpsing at his window when he happened to have the curtains open. His room looked sparsely decorated, his face haggard and unshaved with bloodshot eyes. After one more knock on the door, I approached the window, at which point he shut the curtains again. Sadly, I had to cut my attempts at conversation short, as I remembered a prior engagement and opportunity to promote myself to the more receptive citizens of Tampa Bay.

I just got back from that fine city yesterday, and now I turn to you, true believers, because Jen and I have reached the end of what we can do for Tyrone by ourselves. His reviews of my work continue, and have reached the point where I can call them unhinged and slanderous without a trace of hyperbole. The atrocity tourism crowd, drawn to his lurid lies, have spread his name around like wildfire, especially in the wasteland of Tumblr. Put simply, Tyrone needs help, and all of you are the people who can give it to him. He lives at XXXX St. Margarets Ave., Saint Petersburg FL, 33710. You can reach him by phone at (813) XXX-XXXX, on Twitter at @bizcasfri, and by email at

Good luck, true believers. Perhaps one of you can be more loquacious than I, as unbelievable as that may sound.

Awesomely yours,

Mar 17, 2009

Haunted (973 words)

When Nate was young, I used to tell him the house was haunted. Night after night, he’d get it into his head and come knocking on our bedroom door, usually around two in the morning.

“Dad! I heard something downstairs!” he’d cry. I’d have to reassure him, let him sleep in our bed (I made him promise not to wet it, I am eternally grateful for him upholding that particular bargain). It worked out ok, given that most nights he came knocking were when Lauren’s filming ran late, or she was otherwise busy. He had a sense for it, I suspect he just missed her.

Lauren never approved, but I encouraged his imagination. When he was four or five it’d be simple ghosts, strange people wandering the house, doors that opened and shut at night. I told him the story of a woman who’d died in the house, how she starved to death during a harsh winter and now would raid the pantry when no one was looking. The morning after that Lauren and I had a brief panic when he wasn’t in his room. We found him in the pantry, passed out on a bag of rice with a broom in his hand and a pot on his head. I was in the doghouse for a week, but I still think it was pretty funny.

As he got older, the stories always changed. It was the mummies when he was seven. That was the only thing he could ascribe creepy moaning to. Personally I blame Brendan Fraser. Lauren blamed me for letting him watch it, like I did it on purpose, like I could help falling asleep with the TV on. At least it was something silly and not anything by Barker or Carpenter.

When he was nine, he swore he saw a monster. I still have the drawing somewhere in a filing cabinet, it’s actually kind of creepy in that way kids drawings can be, a weird skinny person all in black with giant round eyes and some kind of lamprey mouth. I mean, I couldn’t put it on the fridge, given that it was the source of his fears and all, but I was proud of it anyways.

He set traps around the house once. Lauren actually rolled her ankle on a Hot Wheel that was dropped off a ramp by a little tripwire type setup. He told us he thought there was a girl living in the crawlspaces, said he heard scratching at night. I yelled at him, I’m not proud, but he’d gone too far. He didn’t speak to me for a week. Still piped up when I asked what toppings to get on pizza, though.

He got the message, and stopped waking us up in the middle of the night. He even stopped seeing and hearing spooky things for a while. Course, any moaning for a while was easily attributed to mommy being on vicodin, And once she went back to work the house felt quiet. I also attribute this to the mini fridge we got for the basement. Sometimes I wonder if we’d have this problem if we had taken the room by the stairs instead.

A few years later I was at a neighborhood barbeque when Jason, Bobby’s father, asked about our haunted house. Nate’d gotten real good at ghost stories it seems, kept them out of the house, his friends loved em. I told Jason we built over an old Indian burial ground, his wife interjected with “Native American” we had a good laugh and enjoyed our brats and beer.

Thirteen and onwards was a less weird time for Nate, what with kids getting really into horror movies round then, I guess being allowed to go to PG13 flicks flips a switch, gets you all pumped up for the R.

Nate got into creative writing. He’s pretty good at research, as I learned when he tossed a folder marked “Dad’s bullshit” onto the kitchen table. It was a good little summary of our neighborhood. Some local history, some crime stats, no murders, no burial grounds, no starving winters (I mean c’mon, the neighborhood got developed in the eighties) maybe we could be haunted by some tweakers and taggers, but that was about it.

We had a good laugh over it, I let him have a beer. He told me he wanted to go to NYU, wanted to do screenplays. I wasn’t cosigning NYU money, one mortgage was enough to last me a lifetime. Literally, if the bank had a say in it. I talked him down to Columbia (Chicago, not New York).

I miss him, he writes less than he should, but facebook lets you chat on video now. He doesn’t call that much, but it’s fine. We call him, maybe once every week or two. He posts his projects online, Lauren says they’re really well shot, I believe her. Kid’s got a bright future. Says he’s working with a buddy to do a horror flick on the cheap, something about shadow men I think, he’s had to do some rewrites. I can’t wait to see it.

The house is quieter these days. I guess it’s what they call empty nest syndrome. Lauren deals with it better than I do. She likes being able to film in the living room. She keeps asking me to break out the stud finder, put in some eye loops. I keep telling her the kid’s gotta come visit. I swear, he’s gonna bring a girl home to meet us some day and Lauren will just be on the couch in the gasmask. Eighteen years without getting caught and she starts getting sloppy the second the kid moves out, I swear. The papers keep telling me he’s probably gonna move back home anyways.

It’d be a laugh, at least.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

958 words

I just saw my first dead body. The morgue had called me during class; I ignored it at first. I called them back a few hours later, while I had a break between classes. They asked me if I would come down and ID a body they believed to be my father’s, then they gave me an address in La Habra, California. I said there must be some mistake, my dad is in Boise, Idaho this week. That may be true, they said, but that’s where the body is, and you’re the nearest listed family member, and would you come check the body for us anyway?

There was no mistake. It’s my dad’s body. My dad has this unmistakable beard. It’s full and thick, like an untouched forest. I’ve never seen anybody else with a beard like it. I’ve started growing my own beard recently, but it’s no match for my dad’s. His name is Karl Pudlowski, but everyone calls him Moses, because he looks like he walked out of the pages of Exodus. He often jokes that it’s his best feature, that it gives him his strength, like Moses’ beard. I don’t think he’s actually read much of the Bible—clearly—but he always was a true believer.

He is also most certainly dead. My father’s other defining characteristic, aside from his beard, is his presence. He alters timelines when he walks into rooms. There was the Before Moses time, and the new After Moses time. And everybody in the room would know the precise moment he entered. The air changed. I knew the moment I walked into this room. The giant walk-in freezer has its own special air, frigid and motionless and harshly lit, but I could sense over the top of all that my father’s presence. It’s different, though, like the vestiges of an extinguished campfire.

I haven't seen my father in over 5 years. He and my mom split when I was in high school, and I stayed with mom in San Diego until I graduated. He moved up to Seattle with his band, The Revival. He always talked about how they were going to bring back rock music. Said there wasn’t much of a scene in San Diego, all the action was up in Washington. I’d never seen him play—he always said I was too young—but I figured I’d catch him when they came through town, since I was at school in LA now. He’d send me letters, telling me how they were doing. I tried to look them up, but I couldn’t find them, and I told him that, but he told me the rock scene was all underground now, and you could only get the real news from the right people. He’d send me Polaroids of him on stage, with his prized Fender Stratocaster and his glorious beard filling the frame. He must have been killing it up there.

Until now, I had never thought about my dad’s death. Hell, I’d thought he was basically invincible. This one time when I was six or seven, there was a rainstorm outside, and I was sitting there watching TV with my mom when he comes into the room. “I’m going to the grocery store,” he said. “Please don’t, Carl.” I don’t know why she said that. She cried for a bit while he was gone. When he came back, blood was running all down his face and through his beard, and he had cuts all over his arms. “You will never believe what just happened,” he said, and proceeded to tell us about how the car got struck by lightning, causing him to lose control of the car, and the car had wrapped itself around a tree. Glass had shattered everywhere, and he was all cut up, but totally fine, otherwise, so he’d walked home. My mom cried some more, though I’m pretty sure they were happy tears this time. He’d also managed to save some of the groceries—only the beer, though, and he’d lost one of the cans in the crash, he said.

I’m still not sure why he and my mom separated. My father had always been good with people. My dad liked to throw parties at our house, invite the band and all his friends. Every once in a while, my mom would start yelling at some woman or another. She could be like that, sometimes. My dad would always come in and break it up before anything bad happened. He knew how to handle my mom when she got like that. He’d always make sure to check on the other woman afterward, too, make sure she was okay.

The last I’d heard from him was about a month ago. He’d sent another letter, said they were going on tour for a bit. Seattle to Spokane, through Portland, through Boise, down to Nevada, then through Northern California and back up to Seattle. He said he was sorry, there weren’t any gigs in LA right now. I said it was fine, I’d catch them on the next tour.

The police told me they’d found him in an apartment in La Habra. Said the neighbors called it in. I guess my dad’s presence really was unmistakable, even after death. They said he’d been living there for 4 years, though. I don’t know what to do with that.

An orderly had me sign a clipboard, then she handed me a bag containing his possessions. There wasn’t much. His wallet, a set of keys, a cell phone. A small bag with a handful of little white pills.

The cell phone lit up with a text message: “YOUR LATE FOR YOUR SHIFT AGAIN CARL”

I don’t know what to do with that.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

A Dark Day
1379 w

I slip out to the bar under the cover of darkness. There were never streetlights on this stretch and the pavement’s uneven; but I’ve felt every crack and jumble in this sidewalk a thousand times. Feet just know where to go, so I let them lead. Sometimes it takes longer than the ol’ brain would like. But I always get there.

Once in awhile, I’ll catch a voice, “Hey buddy, you OK?”

I’ve always shrugged them off, “I’m not going too far.” So what if I’m stumbling a little? It’s the sidewalk, not me. I got this. What are you supposed to say, anyway, when a stranger offers an arm to steady you and maybe help you home, but you’re heading down to the Lighthouse with a pocket full of booze money?

So I just shrug them off and stagger on. A little faster to get on my way and out from the stares I can feel burning into my back. It’s never anger. I’d be fine with that. Or if they just cruised on by with the blinders on like I wasn’t even there. So there’s nothing to even note their passing except the ghost of light perfume on the breeze as they brush past. No, pity burns the hottest. That fire fills me up and beads up on my forehead. The sweat comes out cold, and lingers until I wipe it away.

Then, there’s the smell of slightly rancid fry-grease mingled with some pot smoke, and before I turn the corner, I know I’ve arrived. The cook’s out back behind the dumpster taking a break from the kitchen. “Come out with your hands up,” I shout. There’s a clatter.

“Relax, Billy. It’s just me, Dan.”

“Oh, hey, man. You want a hit?” The question whistles through the gap where his front teeth used to be as he holds as much breath in as he can. He puts the little one-hitter in my hand, and it’s just enough to lighten the pressure in my head and put that feeling of electricity right behind my eyes.

He gives one of those knowing laughs like he’s just done me the biggest solid in the world, then he’s back to work and I head in. The Lighthouse used to be a nice place, but the rustic, unfinished timber beams around the entrance haven’t been oiled in forever. I can’t help but run my fingers over the jamb, and it’s always the same—sandpaper and micro-splinters.

Inside’s the same too. Every patron’s an abandoned DIY project half-done, or something nice that was left to slowly rot away. It’s tough to pity upwards, and, at least here, I’m near the top of the pecking order. It’s perfect.

Old Jeff is just finishing up on the karaoke machine and I’m barely inside when he announces my presence on the mic like some wedding reception. “Dan! Long time no see!” He says that every night. Regulars humor, I guess. We’re both always here.

But he’s good for a round or two if I sing for my supper. So I always do. I’ve belted Sweet Caroline so many times I don’t need the screen. Everybody bah-bah-bahs along and before I’m done, there’s a shot at the bar waiting. There always is. It’s routine.

With the puff from Billy and the singing I feel like my head might float away, and I’m glad I have a couple rolls of dollar coins in my pocket to keep me weighed down. Have to go to the bank special to get them, but at the end of the night, sometimes it’s just too hard to keep track, and I wouldn’t trust Tom the Bartender to give me the right change if I accidentally gave him a fifty instead of a five. The little slugs of fake gold work just fine. Two for a beer, two for a shot. Four for a fancy drink. I imagine Tom just takes the same coins to the bank and the cycle repeats.

I’m scratching a notch in the edge of one of those coins to test my theory when Joanna hops on the barstool beside me. Don’t have to turn my head to know it’s her. You can time the deflation of the vinyl cushion under her bony rear end. One mississip, two mississip, three mississip. Slowest hiss in the business.

“Buy me a drink, stranger,” she says. Regular humor, again. But I flick three coins out of the roll and place the notched one on top. Joanna likes getting a little umbrella in her drink.

“How’ve you been, Joanna?”

“Oh, you know. The usual. My ex is up my rear end about the kid—Little Mike’s is seventeen and if he wants to drop out, then I can’t stop him. He’s working down at the garage and he’s good at it. They make those custom bikes, hot rods or whatever they call them. Big Mike keeps pressuring him for college, and well, you know. Some people aren’t just cut out for it.”

Tom the Bartender delivers her umbrella drink, and she continues until she’s just kind of white noise. Before long the entire place is a background hum. Then Joanna decides it’s time to pay me back for the drinks and she takes my hand. Leads me to the bathroom.

With my forehead pressed between her shoulderblades, I breathe her in, and through the piss/disinfectant haze she smells good. A lightly perfumed ghost. She bites down on the knuckle of my thumb as I’m taking her from behind. I grab her face, running my fingers down her cheeks and over the dimples of old acne scars and imagine she’s encoded her own sadness as a secret message there, just for me.

Then she reaches back to grab at me and knocks my glasses to the floor and they go sliding. I feel around to grab them off the floor before they get too contaminated and I pass over something unmistakable in her jeans pocket, slung around her ankles.

“Joanna, is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

“I’m scared of Big Mike, Dan. He gets angrier every time I see him. He’s going to do something. I’m scared.”

“OK.” I separate from her, and hike my pants up. This wasn’t fun anymore. “Look, if you want me to do something. . . .”

“Let’s just stay here until closing and then hopefully it’ll be too late for Mike to come around the house and cause trouble.”

As if on cue, I hear a barstool get knocked to the floor and the shattering of glass. There’s a shout.

“Oh god, it’s Mike. He’s here,” she says. She hustles her pants up and fiddles with the gun. There’s a click as she flips the safety off.

There’s more noise outside. Old Jeff yells, “He’s got a gun, everybody get down.”

“Get down,” Joanna commands. “We’ll crawl out. If he catches us in here, I’m dead. I’m turning off the lights.”

I feel my way to the door and slowly push it open. Joanna crawls behind me. She screams, then lunges over me, knocking me flat on my belly. There’s a scuffle and suddenly the gun slides right into my hand.

“Danny,” Joanna shouts. “Hurry. Help! Shoot him!” I don’t like this one bit, but I don’t have much choice. Joanna needs me.

The gun wavers in my hand with each pulse. My whole head throbs and the only thing I can see is throbbing red specks. I can’t do it. I just lay my cheek on the cool tile and squeeze my eyes closed. It’ll go away.

“Danny!” Joanna screams and a man comes dropping down on top of me. Heavy cologne. I just do it. Bam-bam-bam. It echoes like the karaoke response. Then nothing. For a long while.

“Joanna?” I say. Nothing. “Joanna?” I call again. Nothing. Then she whispers, “Don’t worry Danny, we didn’t see a thing. Did we, Mike? Grab the register and let’s go. Oh, here’s your sunglasses, Dan. But maybe don’t wear them when the cops get here, yeah? Those eyes are your alibi, killer.”

Then I hear Old Jeff finally rousing his fat body. “Oh, god,” he says. “Tom’s dead. You killed him.” I never saw it coming.

Sep 2, 2016

Coping Well
Word Count: 856

It’s nearly 3am and cold. I can’t decide what smarts more, the pain in my fingers as I type this or the deep chill that has set into the tip of my nose. I’ve found though I am right handed, my fingers on that side are habitually the first to go numb. When I rub my hands together to warm them, the left recoils instantly, unwilling to sacrifice its own heat for its companion. Maybe hands aren’t companions. Maybe hands are enemies from birth or from the first moment an infant chooses one over the other to hold a fork. Maybe this is how the other hand gets back at the favored. Maybe heat regulation has something to do with rejection.

When I first rejected his plans I thought I was justified. They were ill-conceived, stupid, impulsive. How did he think he would survive the desert heat of Burning Man? Or the winds built up in valleys and snow covered grounds of Desert Hearts? He, who would regulate the temperature control in our studio, never letting the heat creep above a mild 75 nor drop into the slight chill zone of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. I shushed him. Reminded him of how frail, how fragile he was. I tucked him into bed to dream impossible dreams and I fell asleep contentedly in control beside him.

I never had trouble sleeping, but now the bed is cold and empty and I have been rejected. I have been pushed from our room, from our life, like an unwanted dog cowering into the comfortless street by cruel circumstance. The room I rent is small, cramped and shared. My roommates, to whom I seldom speak, laugh loudly and blow smoke rings across the living room. I sit at my desk, cold, my back to them, and try to remember. I watch the fan blades that never tire spin through the haze as my mind circles itself, trying to catch wind of what went wrong.

I try to remember why I wanted, so desperately, for him to curb his ambitions. I scroll through old conversations, my eyes drawn to the passages where I degraded his dreams, reducing them to implausible impossibilities. My eyes flicker over the words, I hate you. They do not linger long enough for me to note who wrote them. Does it matter? With a cat clawing up my leg to nuzzle onto my lap I feel the sharp nails of his hopeless coffin digging into my flesh. Why did I paralyze him? Why did I clip his wings?

I have 659 pictures saved of him on my phone and none of them look inherently happy. I try to remember if any of them captured genuine expression, but the smiles we shared seem fake. The atmosphere was real though, that I can remember. The faces of strangers, a blur of arms covered in kandi, half upraised, legs in motion, neon moments of communal expression. I see the streams of light in the starless sky, strobing, pulsating with the beat. They’re bright, like we used to be when we were still building, moments from the drop in my heart, when everything began to fade away.

I smell his pillow. The one we traveled with, took into hotels even though they always provide them. This one is small, flat, and gray. It is covered in drool and sweat. I know it’s disgusting, but it reminds me of when we kissed our way into the New Year, as the DJ dropped the song he’d called in the car on the way there. He was always right about everything. I wrapped my sweat covered arms around his neck and told him it was a lucky guess. I thought he would always be lucky.

When the car crashed, his neck snapped. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I took too much Molly in the parking lot before the show. Maybe I checked my phone. Maybe I changed the station on Pandora. Maybe I was laughing, or crying, or…

The therapist I see on Thursdays when I have the motivation to go tells me that grief contorts the memory. She says it takes time for loved ones to heal, to begin to remember things as they actually were, not as we would like them to have been. I think that’s bullshit. Rationally, I know there was nothing I could have done, but…

Every night I listen to the voicemail. The choked sobs of our friend on the other line, the line I couldn’t bother to pick up sitting on my mom’s couch, mindlessly watching an 11 year old pipe a cake on Kid’s Baking Championship. I listen to her crying and begging me to tell her what to do. I listen to her begging me to save him.

He’s not breathing. Oh, God. He’s not breathing. Where are you?

I decide a car crash is impractical. Delete the file. I flex my fingers to get the blood circulating. Maybe I’ll drown him in under 1,000 words today. The therapist says it's good to set goals. The therapist says I’m coping well.


Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003

"It's DIE!"
The Tower

Goodbye, my love.

Dr. Kloctopussy fucked around with this message at 19:06 on Jun 8, 2017

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