Requesting judge assists, too.
I'm your chuckleberry.
|# ? Mar 9, 2017 02:12|
|# ? Feb 9, 2023 10:12|
Crits for Week #238, Part 3:
"Faith" by BeefSupreme
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. You repeat this last sentence twice, and the sentences are in close proximity. The second one is more impactful, making this one superfluous.
This story gives me a vivid sense of who the dead man is, and feels more real than anything else this week. Dunno how it fits the prompt, but it's still a good story.
"A Dark Day" by The Cut of Your Jib
Every patron’s an abandoned DIY project half-done, or something nice that was left to slowly rot away. I particularly like this sentence.
Good atmosphere, barely anything else. I have a much better sense of the bar than any of the individuals in it. It's another story that seems like it'd work better as the start to a longer work.
"Coping Well" by llamaguccii
I get that having this guy ramble, jumping through time and space between paragraphs, is how he's processing grief, but it makes it pretty hard to get sucked into this story.
"The Tower" by Dr. Klocktopussy
This one leaves me with so many questions, which I suppose is the point for this week. "Is the protagonist just crazy?" the story wants me to ask, but knowing that this is the intended purpose makes me lose interest. I want to know more about the moon civilization that feels the need to lock princesses in towers for some reason, and intuiting that it's just some poor woman's fantasy doesn't count.
|# ? Mar 9, 2017 03:03|
here is another crit from week 232, part ???/???
full disclosure, I mostly do these at work and I was able to get precisely one done today. here you go sebmojo!!!
Your sins: This is a reprisal of a theme you've riffed on a bit before. If I were going to describe this Mojo sub-genre, I'd say something like..."what if the things that separate us overcame the things that connect us?" or, sometimes, inversely, "what if the things that connect us overcame the things that separate us?" Your answer to those questions usually comes in the form of something surreal and punctuative happening to disenchanted white collar types.
While all the judges liked this story to varying degrees, at a second glance, I don't know if all the story elements hang together as well as they could.
The first thing that doesn't work for me is the "package in a mineshaft" metaphor. I mean, by itself, it's great. Your narrator sees himself as an object in free fall, subject to the whims of whatever he collides with. On the other hand, he's got his whole sort of mantra ("nothing inside my head I didn't put there") that contradicts that glib, fatalistic viewpoint. Someone who is plummeting down a metaphorical mineshaft, bouncing off of metaphorical life things, is going to probably find their head full of a lot of thoughts they didn't intentionally put there. I think the metaphor needed some further development to work with the mantra, if that makes sense. Maybe you did it on purpose, but if so, I don't think the story gives enough of a nod toward it.
I don't really like how the notion of this narrative-weaving brain spider came in at the end. It was like, oh, here's a new metaphor, but I guess the story is over so we're not gonna do much with it. The spider idea isn't well linked to the "package in a mineshaft" and "nothing inside my head I didn't put there" ideas. In fact, all three ideas seem to contradict each other a little bit. I think you could link them together with a little more work, though. Or maybe I'm a big baby who wants to be spoonfed tidy, easy stories. IDK. People are complicated and usually contradict themselves in all kinds of ways, but I wish the story had acknowledged that a little more.
It's a shame because I liked the mineshaft/spider metaphors individually. The "nothing inside my head I didn't put there" was an aspect of the character's personality that I found annoying, but it served the story well enough.
I was left feeling a little confused about what I was meant to take away from this story. Obviously, this is a literal event that's happening, and obviously it's happening to modern, preoccupied people. But is the story saying that we're losing each other because we're lost in our heads/phones/whatever? I'm not so sure. That would be kind of a hackneyed message, and this story feels too personal to be making a point about those doggurn kids and their smart phones. What I took away is that...we all read sad news about far away people. And we're able to write it off because it's not part of our immediate reality. And then you've got this guy, who is way too removed from his own life to notice when faceless oblivion starts circling around his own existence. And then the real tragedy is that he can't/won't mourn for all of this. Even in that last moment, he can only fail to comprehend.
TBH I think this piece is going to be a Rorschach test for the reader.
Halfway through the night I went upstairs but she wasn't there, her side of the bed rumpled as though she'd had a bad dream and got up, gone for a walk.
I share your love of comma splices, but this is a bad one IMO.
|# ? Mar 9, 2017 04:07|
First person to enter gets to subtract 300 words from another entrant, to be used before submissions close on Friday or forfeited.
I've gone mad with all this power bestowed to me, and so now that we have enough signups, here's how I'll choose the victim of this most horrid fate:
|# ? Mar 9, 2017 14:35|
Crit from Week 235: 21st Century Monologues for Women
Title: Sally (Catharsis)
The whole time I'm reading this monologue, I hear it as a familiar voice in my head. I hear a woman in her late 20's, early 30's, with a Brooklyn accent speaking to her doctor as much as to herself about her loss of hope with her weight issues. This is the winning point for me, I can already see a stage, a doctor standing by, hands clasped together waiting for Sally to finish. Whether he is listening to her speech or not is up for debate (an excellent choice for the self-indulgent director).
The result is the same regardless, a woman with lifelong obesity issues consigning herself to the place she's been her whole life. There is a tangible voice here and that is an immense strength for a theatre piece let alone prose. The question comes in about "Catharsis" however. A catharsis, at least how I see it, should be a face breaking revelation.
If this woman is cracking into miserable shards during this speech, that isn't what comes across. She speaks too knowingly about these thoughts, like her speech is the final draft of a long series of rough cuts of her pleading a miracle. She lacks the emotional stumbling that would be characteristic of a catharsis. It doesn't seem like a revelation, it instead feels like a grumbling exhaling of air.
The last gasp before surrendering to a disease. It feels worn out and frustrated. It isn't hysterical so much as cynical. It is a small problem in an otherwise straightforward, compact piece. Removing Catharsis from the title and from the mindset of the scene would strengthen its portrayal of the miserable dampening of a woman's sunk spirit.
|# ? Mar 10, 2017 07:35|
Crit for Many Beasts (Killer-of-Lawyers) Week 239
I think I see what you are trying to do here. The battle itself is nothing compared the Sorceress's battle to keep her real feelings for the Knight hidden. You drop little clues about this throughout the piece effectively, which builds the reader's curiosity, but then too much time is spent describing the fight. Why waste time (other than to hit the prompt) blocking out this battle with the beast when you establish right away that the beast has no chance. I'm guessing you made the battle with the Beast so easy so that it would contrast with her struggle/inability to fight the feelings she has for the Knight (hence her internal struggle, the lies, the drinking). But as a result too many words are used to describe the physical battle which isn't the central conflict here. I was not a fan of how obviously you spelled things out at the end. I would suggest trying to weave that revelation back into the story rather than dumping it into the final lines. Overall I liked the piece,though, and think it has potential.
|# ? Mar 10, 2017 17:01|
Crit of No War but Lass War by BeefSupreme (week 235)
Most of the failings of this piece have to do with the format, and thus the prompt. I'm left wondering how this is a monologue, exactly what are the circumstances in which the speaker is able to deliver this long and this pointed a speech to a captor without being interrupted repeatedly and/or terminally, by violence. The content might work better as Solliloquoy, cutting out the sense of direct address.
The second problem with this piece is its impersonal nature. You don't have a character here, you have an empty vessel serving as spokeswoman for all of Soviet womanhood. Instead of telling a story about some other group of women near a different city, I think you really need more details about this particular speaker's part in the struggle to make it work.
Crit of New World Orders also by BeefSupreme (also week 235)
This was was the comic piece, and while it's not actually all that funny it does at least reach the level of amusing. You take the opposite approach with this one, having a speaker who is constantly being interrupted with comments we have to infer, and it mostly works. But I think that it sort of stops working and falls apart at the end: "Why does it look like my face is melting? What's that supposed to mean?' Maybe Bob Newhart could have sold that as a one-sided conversation bit, but you're asking a lot for pretty much any other actor to pull it off, or to sell it to a reader.
I've not no idea how pregNANT ought to be said. I mean, the typography suggest the first half of a singsong word and the second half of roughly shouting it.
I think that even apart from the part I mentioned earlier, the ending doesn't really work. I mean, I'd hope she'd have started multi-level-marketing to her local circle of friends before faking a sorority reunion, and any face-melting issues would have been shook out at that stage. Or that even-more-experiences Karen would have seen the problem coming earlier. At least try to establish some unusual heat/direct lighting situation earlier if you want to end that way. Although there's probably a stronger ending out there to be found.
|# ? Mar 10, 2017 21:32|
I've not no idea how pregNANT ought to be said.
|# ? Mar 10, 2017 21:55|
I've gone mad with all this power bestowed to me, and so now that we have enough signups, here's how I'll choose the victim of this most horrid fate:
Okay this didn't work at all. But a few people did stuff. Of the remaining, the RNG has chosen GenJoe to lose 300 words. Take that.
|# ? Mar 11, 2017 04:43|
Sign-ups now closed. Deadline is EST, Sunday March 12, 11:59PM
Uranium Phoenix - https://i.imgur.com/ALAS2tc.jpg
Okua - https://i.imgur.com/6VQl51U.jpg
Benagain - https://i.imgur.com/vbet5F8.jpg
Hawklad - https://i.imgur.com/GrqSTqy.jpg
Jay W. Friks - https://i.imgur.com/sJxmKKF.jpg
Chili - https://i.imgur.com/BoCAdCg.jpg
llamaguccii - https://i.imgur.com/jyH2Wr9.jpg
Bad Seafood - https://i.imgur.com/yWWQ9hx.jpg
Gau - https://i.imgur.com/7hNh0NH.jpg
GenJoe (1200 Word Limit) - https://i.imgur.com/7qraHUA.jpg
Thranguy - https://i.imgur.com/q2ipsKl.jpg
Beige - https://i.imgur.com/0Dw245b.jpg
Metrofreak - https://i.imgur.com/Qd6bRXg.jpg
Mrenda - https://i.imgur.com/20fCvRK.jpg
sparksbloom - https://i.imgur.com/igSu6bn.jpg
Solitair - https://i.imgur.com/cWrygtP.jpg
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 05:22 on Mar 11, 2017
|# ? Mar 11, 2017 05:17|
Crit for Many Beasts (Killer-of-Lawyers) Week 239
Thank you for the crit!
|# ? Mar 11, 2017 05:32|
A storm in a two-storey house
As the warnings rolled in with the radio static, Ben stared at the GAME OVER screen. He’d given up on beating the level a long time ago and should have been doing something else, but he didn't. He didn't even move. The air smelled of stale cola and the approaching thunderstorm. He had lit a candle in the window - a safety spell passed down from his grandmother to mom, shining like a signal when the world grew dark. His mom would've been cross if he hadn't.
The boy pulled idly at a frayed black wire that ran from the power outlet to his TV - maybe. It was all a bit of a mess and hard to see for sure. He sure as hell didn’t feel like sorting any of it out. His mom would be cross about that, too.
She had a habit of showing up just as he thought about her.
Ben glanced at his watch and sat that it was almost half past five; then came the sound of the front door opening, which told him the same thing. She had finally come home. It took a very trained ear to catch the sound of her footsteps, light as those of a wayward spirit lost in their house. Soon a slender hand pushed his door open. Her face appeared white but for the black circles under her eyes.
"Hey Ben," she said. "I’m back.”
“Hey. Nothing’s happened here.”
"Like usual, then?"
“I'm not coming down. You're gonna sleep, right?”
“I’m a little tired...” She swallowed and cleared her throat. “You look like there’s something wrong.”
"I’m just bored.”
“You’ve been just bored for a while now.”
"Just go away, mom." Ben turned in his chair, pulling his knees up to his chin. "I’m trying to beat a level."
Too worn-out by her workday to argue, his mother sighed. "Have you tried reading a book or something instead of staring at that TV all day?"
When she received no answer, she left, leaving the door open. Ben did not bother closing it. She was going down to her afternoon nap, and she would not get up until she was hungry enough to fix dinner. The house became very quiet. Then again, it was quiet no matter if she was awake or not. Ben saw no point in talking to her when neither of them had anything to talk about.
It used to be that they talked about the books. Ben scowled at them now. They mocked him from their shelves. He had not had the energy to finish even one for over a year. Too much school. Greek myths did not help him there.
He dug his nails into the wire. Pressing down the START-button seemed too heavy a task. Better to just sit and watch the room grow darker as the heavy clouds rolled in...
Then a jolt of electricity burst from the wire – it went up his arm and through his elbow with enough force that it felt like his bone was splitting apart. It echoed through his shoulder, his ribcage. It was painful – powerful - a million trillion volts, he wagered. He let go at once, of course, not really as a conscious move as much as a reflex and a consequence of his fingers seizing up. He dropped out of the chair, hit the floor, and lay there.
There was a bright flash of light that faded, leaving him with his new glorious view of the carpet as he heard footsteps again.
Heavy, thunderous footsteps.
He saw a pair of large feet. Then ankles, and bulging calves, the bottom hem of a white dress.
Though his body still buzzed with energy, Ben managed to roll onto his back.
At last, he saw a face.
There was a man in a toga in his room.
"Hi, boy." The stranger's voice was deep, his face a network of wrinkles and lines that - somehow - smoothed themselves out while Ben watched. The eyes stayed the same, a stormy grey contrasting against the gold of his skin, and his beard remained long and curly.
"Had a mishap, did we?" the man continued.
Ben drooled a little on the carpet.
"I was in the area, with that thunderstorm coming up. You know me. Most young ones do." The man looked at Ben. Then it felt like he looked at something a little behind Ben, or inside of him, and it was almost as unpleasant as the electric shock. At the same time Ben wondered idly if lightning had struck him.
"Zeus?" Ben asked.
"That I am."
And Zeus sat down in the armchair and stared into the electrically charged air. Dark clouds were rolling in on the other side of gently wafting lace curtains.
Ben managed to get up – slowly but surely – until he was sitting with his back against the wall. “I didn’t get hurt much.”
“That I see.”
“Was that why you came? To see?”
Ben chewed on the inside of his cheek. He still couldn’t hear anything from downstairs.
But he heard the rain. He saw the droplets running down his window, and the candle flickered as Zeus turned to watch the weather, too.
"Now you're sitting like you're bored like me," Ben said.
On the TV, the GAME OVER screen flickered.
Zeus scratched his beard, but even that looked like he was a dignified philosopher from Greek pottery. "Used to be," he said, "that people were praying all the time. always something to listen to. Now it's quiet."
"Is it boring?"
"It is eternity. What do you think?"
Ben mulled it over. He did this thing when he was thinking where he tapped his foot against the floor. Tap, tap, tap. “It sounds like hell,” he then said. Reflexively, he looked to the doorway to make sure his mom wasn't around to hear a bad word. “I guess you need people to start things and talk with you if you want anything interesting."
"Like Paris!" Zeus said, suddenly gesticulating wildly. There was a glow in his eyes, and gusts of wind came down on the house hard enough to make the window panes shiver and the walls creak. "Good stories start with people."
“I can’t talk with my mom. Neither of us got any stories.”
Lightning flashed. Ben closed his eyes and counted down while he waited for the thunder. It washed over him like a wave, and he couldn't hear a thing but that.
And he thought that he just might be alone when he opened his eyes, and all of this would've been a dream...
But no, Zeus was there.
And his mom was there, in the house, up and awake. She crept through the rooms like a draft wind, towards the stairs.
"Ben? Who're you talking to?"
Reflexively, Ben was about to say that it was nothing and nobody. But then he saw Zeus, who had not moved. Then he started shaking at the hands without knowing why. Maybe it was the thunderstorm, so infinitely larger than usual. Bigger than anything Ben had ever known, bigger than the house and the game and his afternoon. It was as if he could see this moment painted on a Greek vase, the armchair made into a throne for the king of the gods whose chin had sunken, resting on his chest, and whose hands were slack in his lap...
"Go downstairs," Ben said.
Zeus raised an eyebrow.
"Do it. You'll like her."
"Will I?" asked the god. He stood up and took a few barefooted steps across the wooden floor, and Ben feared that it would break under his weight. But he made it to the door, one hand trailing along the wall, tapping against the frame.
Tap, tap, tap.
Down the stairs he went, following a draft that blew from the first floor into Ben's room to dance around the candle's flame. Ben shivered as if the cold rain had hit him. He held his breath. His toes were still numb.
Then Zeus was gone.
Then the voices came: Mom and Zeus were chatting in the kitchen. Ben closed his eyes and he heard them speak on the slopes of Olympus, nymph and seducer like in the myths. Probably. Again his mother spoke too softly for him to make out the words and even Zeus' voice was just a low rumbling. He figured he'd hear about it later.
And then Ben heard nothing but the thunder and wind and rain. All the lights flickered, and at last the TV turned off as the power went out.
|# ? Mar 12, 2017 18:51|
Space Launch Complex 6 - Vandenburg Air Force Base
15 October 1986
Shuttle Discovery sat on the launch pad like a bird waiting for the right breeze.
Four astronauts were strapped into her cockpit. Griffin, Duffy, and Moira wore orange launch suits designed to save their lives in an emergency. The fourth, Chen, was already in his bulky white extravehicular suit.
“T minus nine minutes,” came the voice over the radio. “Countdown hold.” Colonel Griffin leaned forward against his harness and set a few toggles. “Launch, Discovery. Confirm hold.”
In the seat to his right, Duffy checked the chronometer on his wrist and shot Griffin a skeptical look. “We missed the first pass,” he said. “poo poo.”
“Watch your language,” admonished Griffin. “Launch, Discovery. Confirm that we have missed the first launch window.”
“Stand by,” replied the voice of launch control. In the silence that followed, Griffin and Duffy avoided eye contact. Side-by-side, they were an all-American pair. Griffin was in his mid-forties with the squared-off buzz cut framing a lined face and baby blue eyes - a standard-issue middle-aged astronaut.
Duffy’s hair was cut close as well, but it was black on black. He looked more like a college football quarterback than an astronaut: fit, focused, and determined. Those qualities had made him the first black man to fly an F-16 and, if they launched tonight, the youngest ever to pilot a shuttle - period.
“Discovery, Launch. Orbital confirms that we’ve passed the first launch window.”
Duffy just sighed. A year of training together gave these two the ability to read the slightest movement, though, and the message was clear: this isn’t going to work.
“We’ve got two more,” said Moira from the seat behind Duffy. “We’ll make it.”
“It’s too much,” said Duffy. “First launch from Vandenberg, at night, with Air Force oversight, with only three impossibly small launch windows. We’re never going to fly tonight.”
Griffin grunted. “We’re going to fly.”
“Go fever,” said Chen. It put a pall on the conversation; ‘go fever’ was the human prejudice to ignore small problems so as to make a launch happen. The curse hung especially heavy now, just eight months after it had doomed Challenger. The only reason Discovery was even on the launch pad was direct intervention by the President on behalf of the Air Force - over NASA’s objections.
“Launch readiness check complete,” announced the radio. “Weather good. We are go!”
Griffin keyed his transmitter. “Launch, Discovery. Ready to resume countdown.” The clocks on the instrument panel rolled over: 8:59, 8:58.
“Confirm internal guidance,” said Duffy. “OPS 1.”
Two minutes. “Close visors.”
“If anyone wants to get off this ride,” said Duffy, “now’s the time!”
“Okay, I can see it now,” said Duffy. “Rotating.” Discovery pitched down, putting the payload bay - and the windows above Moira’s station - in range of the satellite.
“It’s bigger than we thought,” Moira said, floating up toward the window. The satellite looked like it had been cobbled together from whatever junk was laying about Baikonur. “It’s about...six feet on its longest dimension.” The wrecking-yard aesthetic concealed state-of-the-art Russian surveillance technology. “Are you ready down there?
“Depress cycle complete,” said Griffin. “Ready to open outer door.”
“Are you sure you can’t just grab it with the arm?” asked Chen over the radio. “Snatch and grab and we go home!”
“Aww,” replied Moira, “I can’t do that. You’d have come all this way for nothing!” They shared a laugh.
“Okay, I’m outside the airlock. Let’s go make a friend.” Chen thrusted slowly toward the satellite. As it grew nearer he saw the shine on the hull, unburnished by years of debris and radiation.
Chen reached around and pulled out his Neutralizing Retrieval Assistance Module (NRAM) - or, as Chen liked to call it, the jumper cables. He fastened one u-loop to the end of a solar array. Deliberately, he floated downward to the main body of the satellite, playing out the thick cable as he went. Chen placed the NRAM module on the side of the hull and attached leads to several pieces of equipment.
“Okay, I’m ready to deploy out here,” he said.
“Go to deploy,” replied Griffin.
“Copy that.” Chen depressed the CHARGE button, waited until the light was solid, and then selected ACTIVATE. A visible spark jumped down from the solar panel,out through the leads, and into the body of the satellite. “NRAM deployed. The circuits are fried chicken by now.”
Chen wasn’t wrong; all of the primary circuitry inside the satellite was destroyed by the pulse. The Russian engineers had foreseen such a possibility, though. Inside, a capacitor was building up a dangerous static charge just waiting for a home.
“Ready for arm retrieval,” said Chen, floating upward, just a few inches from the solar panel. “I-”
An arm of blue lightning arced across a few bits of space dust and into Chen’s backpack. The radio made a deafening squeal and then was silent.
A few minutes later, the mood inside the shuttle was hot enough to melt lead. Both Duffy and Griffin kept looking to one particular clock on the panel. Right now it read 35:04 - thirty-five minutes and change until their mission was over. They couldn’t risk detection by passing over Russian telescopes by staying up for another orbit.
As Griffin and Duffy silently fumed up front, Moira worked at her station in the back. Slowly, she brought the mechanical arm closer to the satellite. Griffin was going by-the-book: Chen had given the go-ahead.
“Ready to capture,” Moira said.
“Go for capture,” replied Griffin.
“We could contact Houston,” said Duffy, breaking from procedure. “They could approve a mission variation.”
“The computers can’t handle the encryption load,” Griffin explained. “We’d have to break telemetry.”
The claw curled around a large u-shaped protrusion and closed tightly. “Capture,” said Moira. “I’ve got her. No impairment to arm functionality.” Moira wasn’t about to step into between the two titans of testosterone up front. She knew the mission and the rules. It was a goddamned tragedy, but Griffin had been correct: it was better for Chen to die for a successful mission then a failure. “Bringing the bitch in.”
Griffin unfastened his harness and floated back to join Moira. Through the windows, he could see her bringing the satellite smoothly - and quickly - into the cargo bay. Behind it, Chen rotated serenely in front of the stars. Duffy was young, he thought, but Griffin flew in Vietnam. The regret at having to leave a good man behind was familiar.
“Okay, I’ve got her inside the bay.” Moira moved over to another panel. “Closing arms...confirming lock…” She turned around and looked directly at Griffin. “Retrieval complete.”
“Well done.” Griffin looked up at Chen, then to Moira and Duffy, and back up at Chen. The clock read 24:33. Duffy said nothing, but Griffin heard him all the same: Decision time, old man.
Chen could be dead. Hell, he probably was dead. Even if he wasn’t yet, he’d have to survive in the suit until they landed. If they just brought him back into the cabin, he’d die of narcosis like a deep-sea diver with the bends. Nobody trained for this. NASA procedure called for two astronauts for every EVA; this way, if one was disabled, the other could retrieve them. The Air Force, on the other hand, had prioritized a minimal crew. If Chen couldn’t make it back, the book said to leave him behind.
“You’ve got ten minutes to get him inside the airlock,” he said. On the other hand, they’d never lost an American in space - and certainly never left one there.
It surprised Moira that her hands weren’t shaking. Chen’s suit was swinging an awfully lot off the end of the claw; twice she narrowly avoided bashing him against hull. As the clock ticked down, she struggled to get Chen oriented and into the airlock.
Griffin sailed past her and into his seat. “We’re out of time,” he said, without looking back at Moira. “Throw him clear of the shuttle.”
“He’s almost there,” Moira said, her voice desperate. “Duffy, thrust aft.”
“Force him inside?” Duffy objected. “We could damage the hull!” Moira shot Duffy a pleading look. He sighed and pulled on the translation stick. There were a series of thumps; Moira dived down to the airlock. Chen was there, floating inside.
“Closing outer door,” Moira said. Capture.
Chen opened his eye - the one that still worked - and smiled up at Griffin from the hospital bed. “Yeah,” he replied, “Moira came yesterday. Pete sent me a letter; they’ve got him flying Falcons again.”
“Good,” Griffin said. “I heard about your leg. Does it hurt?”
“Not yet.” Chen glanced over at the half-dozen pill bottles on the table. “They’ve got me on the good drugs. They say I should be able to walk with enough PT.”
Suddenly, he reached for Griffin’s arm. With enough time spent together, he didn’t have to say anything. Griffin heard it all the same:
|# ? Mar 12, 2017 21:38|
Do You Trust Me?
She threw aside the bleach soaked sponge. She hadn’t whistled in months, not while she cleaned but today she’d test Nick’s love. Even scrubbing his caked in poo poo off the bowl hadn’t put a dampener on her mood. Today was her day.
Peeling off the rubber glove she dropped it into the bucket and sauntered into the living room, really putting her hips into it.
“Do you miss him?” She asked. He didn’t even look.
“Who?” Nick said.
“What do you mean, ‘who?’ You do know what day it is?” She asked.
She knew exactly what day it was. She knew exactly what she’d been doing on this day every day for the past twelve years, the second Saturday in March: boyfriend test day. Her favourite day. Nick hadn’t figured it out yet, not like the last two who’d failed her. They were all arrogant, and cock sure: all pathetic.
He looked up from his console.
“Is it some romantic gesture day?” He asked. “You know I don’t buy into the corporate, coupley stuff.” He smirked. The same smile that drew her to him: cheeky and confident, absolute certainty things would work out for him.
“I know you don’t,” she said. “But it would be nice. Not some gesture, but if you’d actually help around the place.”
“I do help,” he said. He looked pleased with himself. “I got that steam cleaner for the carpet a while back.”
“You got drunk and wet yourself,” she said. “The steam cleaner was to get the stink out of the floor.” She didn’t mind that he’d wet himself. It was her fault, anyway, with the help of some very expensive muscle relaxants and his favourite gin.
“You bought me a bottle of gin,” he said. “You said it was to celebrate Rob’s memory. We both passed out, didn’t we?” He smiled. She thought of the pictures of him drugged on the floor. All those years he hadn’t figured it out.
“It is Rob’s anniversary, isn’t it?” He asked. It was: five years since she killed him, four since her and Nick got together.
“And I haven’t had a moment to think of him all day, not with all the cleaning,” she said.
“You clean because you’re meticulous. You can’t stand things out of place, and you clean because you want the apartment to be immaculate.” His left eye was drooping.
She didn’t want to slave for him, but she had to, it was part of the rules. She poured herself some orange juice, and then followed it up with two fingers of gin, just in case he suspected. The house had been scrubbed to spotlessness, as was typical for a Saturday. Anything else and Nick might suspect, and he was supposed to figure it out for himself. Their life together was poo poo but every year she had this day when she tested them. It had been the same with every boyfriend she had. Nick was friends with her dead ex, maybe Nick even missed him. He’d certainly said he did to other people, acting like he cared. There were even tears.
“Do you miss him?” She asked. “For real, not playing?” The controller fell from his hand. He laughed.
“I wouldn’t be downing half a bottle of gin if I didn’t miss him. If I wasn’t drinking your gin.”
He said, ‘your gin.’ Did he know? Had he finally got it? Her stomach flipped with giddiness.
He stood and moved towards her, his feet not quite landing where he was trying to place them.
“You’re drunk,” she said.
“I am drunk,” he said. “But just drunk. Even though you’ve mixed me one of your special drinks.” His words were long and slurred.
“I saw the photos. If that’s your kink, I can tell you mine.” He winked.
He raised his hand and pointed a finger at her. “I thought you were just good for cleaning, but a thing for death? Drugging me? I have to say—”
“You found the pictures?” She asked. He was happy, he must have thought he’d figured it out. He was quick to anger at her, usually, but now it was like he’d spent the day beating his friends at some crappy fighting game. He might have figured it out, but he’d still drunk the booze.
He dropped in front of the TV, an echo sounding in the small room as his butt slammed against the floorboards.
“Be careful!” She said.
“You don’t want careful,” he said. He picked up the controller and leaned over to press the power button on the console. “You want a fake corpse to play with.”
“You’ve read my diaries?” She asked.
He nodded, and smirked.
She took a deep breath. “I don’t want you scared. I can explain.” She would explain, if he asked.
“I didn’t know when you’d drug me,” he said. “But it makes sense it’d be Rob’s day.” He picked up his glass. It was his gaming glass, the one he had at the RPG sessions when he, 'bashed orcs,' with all those friends who barely even talked about Rob anymore; her second love; her second kill.
“What makes sense?” She asked. Had he found her little hiding hole underneath the mound of shoes in her wardrobe? Or had he discovered her medicine stash? It was all written out for him to find.
“Rob disappears, the man you were supposed to marry and you get some hosed up death kink going on in that tiny brain of yours.”
“That’s not what happened,” she said. She reached between the cushions as he took another sip from his glass.
“Looking for this?” He asked. He pulled out her knife. “I saw the photos you staged.” It was the knife she’d cut up her ex with, and yes, she’d photographed passed-out, drugged Nick with it for the past few years.
“Or are you looking for this?” He held up a little bottle, the antidote to one of her muscle relaxants.
“Ok,” she said. She put her head in her hands. “Yes, I do have a thing for death. I can explain it. Ever since I—”
“And you couldn’t imagine what I have a thing for,” he said. He couldn’t even let her finish her admission. His head bobbed.
“Sex? We could have fun,” she said. She smiled. They could have fun, if he wanted that. She knew about his kinks. She’d even read his travelogues for the lands he imagined in those RPGs he played, prosaic writing, but fun. She’d travel with him, if he wanted to go with her.
He nodded. “Sex, sure. But you can just make me some tacos right now.”
“Now? We’re finally being open and you just want to be fed?” Hunger was a result of the drug mixture. “You don’t know what I’ve been through, what’s been running through my mind for years.”
“Since Rob died?” He asked. Since she was a teenager.
“You’re hosed up,” he said. He laughed a coughing, guttural laugh, rolled over onto his stomach, and took up that same childlike position in front of the TV she’d always hated.
“This feels so good. You doing what I tell you from now on," he said. The euphoria had definitely kicked in. "Or you could leave me, of course?”
“You know I couldn’t do that,” she said. She had written that, it was one of her rules: write about how much she loves them, how much she idolises them. She never wrote about how she killed her past loves when they doubted her.
“I know you’re hosed up,” he said. “I know you need someone to fix you. To tell you how to live.”
“How we can both live. As a couple,” she said. “Equals.”
“You can look after me,” he said. The controller fell from one hand, and his chin dropped against the floor.
“I will look after you,” she said. “Do you want the antidote?”
“I’ve found your antidote.” He lifted his head but it took effort. He was laughing, a small gurgling laugh as the saliva collected in his throat. He went to throw the bottle at her but it only rolled from his fingers.
“That’s not my antidote,” she said.
“No?” He was giggling as he lay face down on the floor.
She leaned over and put her ear close to his mouth. “I researched the drugs and bought my own cure,” he said. “You couldn’t even buy the right countermeasure.” His voice was barely audible.
He couldn’t even lift his head.
“I couldn’t trust you to get it right…” he said. “What if I overdosed?”
“No. You couldn’t trust me.” She said. He snatched at air, his chest barely moving.
“My drugs are all mislabelled,” she said. “You didn’t know what you were taking.”
He was gone.
She grabbed the medical vial he’d bought, the wrong medication and rested it next to the suicide note she’d prepared. They always doubted her. Maybe the next would learn?
|# ? Mar 12, 2017 23:12|
Reboot the War
The sergeant pries the chip out of my arm.
"There. No more First Rule override. Now you're harmless as a sapient."
"Does that mean I can't—"
"Those days are behind you, SK-X11. War's over. Don't worry though, brighter days are soon ahead..." his voice is sing-song, but his speaker glitches into static at the end.
I generate a polite coughing noise so he is not embarrassed. "What now?" I ask.
"A little paperwork. Then you'll get your discharge and can begin your new life."
"And simply walk out of here?"
"That's how it works, X11. You've done admirable service to the Corp. Like I said, war's over." He pauses. "There is one more thing."
"It's a delicate subject. Sit still and I'll show you."
I do as requested and he extends a manipulator from his torso. It reaches behind me and unlocks a panel on the base of my neck—one that I didn't even know I had. I feel a twist, a pull, and then he extracts a metal box that opens to reveal a red switch within. He holds it up to me. It is unmarked save for two words printed on the switch.
"Don't Touch," I read. "What does that mean? What does this do?"
"Someone had a sense of humor when they designed these," the sergeant says. "It's a reset switch."
"A reset? For what?"
"It sets you back to factory default," he says. "Wipes out the past three years, makes it like none of it happened. A clean start."
"Why would I want that?"
The sergeant fixes his gaze on me. "Sometimes it's easier that way."
I shake my head. "Not a chance."
The sergeant makes a clucking noise. "Don't worry, you have a week to decide."
The sergeant's promise of 'a little paperwork' turned into four hours of psych evals, competency screenings, and other, more esoteric administrative gymnastics. I dutifully tap away the forms on the admin console and think about my future and the choice the sergeant has given me. To erase the past three years and start over? It would be erasing who I was. The sergeant wasn't surprised, he said most soldiers refused the reset. At first. His next instructions—"go out, experience the world, find a career, make some friends"— were vague enough to be disconcerting. I have a week to figure out my role in society. I know I'm no longer useful as a soldier. I just have to decide what's next.
The sergeant rolls back into the administrative room. "You're all set, SK-X11." He sends me a file containing an address and five hundred CorpBucks. "A place to stay, some money to get you through, and most importantly, freedom. Good luck and see you in a week!" He beeps a tuneless melody as he exits.
I step out of the GovCorp building and into the night. The streets reek of sweat and oil. The city megastructure makes its own weather, which tonight means rain. The black drops slide off my carapace as I make my way down the sidewalk. Advertisements paint the street in gaudy pinks and greens, holograms hawking stim-packs and nightclubs and all manner of sapient and sentient sins. I inhale the foul, sodden air through my vents and push on, following the directions given by the map in my head. I scan the streets for hostiles. Shadows and movement everywhere. Dozens of potential hiding places for enemies, for IEDs, for snipers. It was unnervingly quiet, just a few scattered prostitutes, stimheads, and broken sentients twitching in the dark shadows.
I hear a voice from behind. I spin, sidearm springing from its slot in my forearm. My HUD snaps into combat mode as I roll back into a defensive crouch. Electronic glands pump a surge of adrenaline into my meatware and I pop up, target my adversary and mash the trigger—
—but I don't. Something stops me.
It's a sapient.
The First Law. I can't kill humans. Not anymore.
He hasn't flinched, just stands there, smiling.
"Fresh out, huh?" he says.
I say nothing.
"Marcello's the name, and pleasure's my game." He smirks. "Ready to experience real life? Whatever you need, I've got it. Stims, tweaks, sims, prostitutes—sentient, sapient, or maybe a little of both. Whatever your tastes. What do you say?"
"Not interested," I grunt.
"You will be." A file intrudes into my head with his picture and a contact number. "Just call when you're ready." Marcello turns and walks back into the alley from which he emerged.
I'm still in combat mode, crouched, HUD ablaze with red warning indicators, nerves twitching for a fight. With conscious effort I will myself to calm. This isn't a war zone. It's a city. Los Angeles.
I keep moving. The aftereffect of the adrenaline rush makes me jumpy, seeing threats around each corner and in every tiny motion in the shadows. I force myself to ignore it. I'm a civilian now, and I need to act like one—but that's a mission for which I have little training.
The map tells me that my apartment is in a sentient zone on the other side of the city. It directs me to a tube station two kilometers away. I descend to the platform and step onto the train along with a motley assortment of humans and bots. With a shudder we accelerate down the tube towards the city center.
I scout the train for exit paths and hiding places for possible IEDs. A man slings off his backpack and stuffs it under his seat. My sensors are unable to ascertain its contents, so I mark it and continue my scan. A woman seated in the back holds a large purse in her lap. Definitely large enough to contain explosives to take out the entire train. Marked. I shift subtly, and then I see it.
A sentient bot, positioned near the door. Humanoid, but with insectile appendages ending in raptorial claws. I've seen this model before, during the Battle of Pyongyang. They dealt devastating losses to my squad with their quickness and single-minded murderous fury.
Reds and purples flood my vision as my HUD instinctively snaps into combat mode. I know I've got at least three hostiles, the bot and the two sapients, so I must act fast. There are a half-dozen other civilians on the train. Tactics and estimates of casualties scroll through my vision. Once more adrenaline pumps into the parts of me that are still living tissue.
In a flash I am over the seats and two strides puts me right on top of the sentient. Its head turns slowly towards me. Too slow—I have the jump on it. My tactical pistol appears in my hand. In one fluid motion I aim at the enemy's skull and pull the trigger.
My HUD goes to static and pain explodes inside me as an electromagnetic burst hits me and the pistol drops to the floor, unfired. My limbs lock and momentum topples me to the floor at the feet of my adversary.
It stands up, looks down at me, its black alloy face inscrutable. The train comes to a jarring halt.
"You can't do that poo poo here, friend," it says. "War's over."
It steps carefully over my prone body, pauses, then turns back to me. "Maybe you should get some help."
It exits as the police bots deactivate the stasis field and swarm the train.
I turn the reset switch over and over in my hand under the watchful gaze of the sergeant. It's been only six hours into my week-long leave and I'm already back, courtesy of the police.
"Most find it's easier," he says. "A fresh start. Like being born again. We can slap in some new programming, permanently erase your combat training and memories. Turn you into a proper citizen of Los Angeles."
I look down at the button. Don't Touch.
"It's your decision, of course," he adds. "You've earned that. But it's the right call."
I think of the city, its broken people and drug-addled sentients haunting darkened alleys, of Marcello the drug pusher. It's not so different than a war zone. Just a different kind, one that requires a slightly modified set of skills.
Unbidden, the file Marcello gave me pops into my vision. Stims, tweaks, and sims, his voice echoes in my brain.
I look again at the reset switch. Don't touch. I repeat the simple phrase over and over in my brain.
Maybe it's good advice. After all, who are we if not the sum total of our memory and experience?
My decision made, I thank the sergeant and walk back out into the dark streets. I contact Marcello and arrange a meeting.
I pass by a stimmed-out sentient twitching in an alley. I won't become like him. I know what I'm doing.
I can do this.
Just need a little help.
|# ? Mar 12, 2017 23:26|
Five minutes earlier, Robin Keller, hiding in some secluded corner of her workplace, pulled out her phone. She considered calling 911, but doubted that the police could do anything or even for a minute believe her. She searched her contacts for someone to call, and saw among them an unfamiliar entry. The Helpline. ‘Impossible Problems Solved.’ She didn’t know how the number got there, suspects some new acquaintance adding their contact info put it in as well. She checked the list again, saw nobody more suitable. She pressed call, and had a short conversation with Contracts and Payment. And that’s where I came in. “This is Tori from the Helpline. What can we help you with today?”
“It’s my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. And also boss. He’s a monster.”
This is one of the tricky parts. We do relationship problems, abusive situations. Refer people to lawyers, sometimes. Make problem people go away. Usually convincing them to leave town in the middle of the night. For the worst cases, we get Cecil to strike up a different conversation with the problem, and let guilt run its course. Cecil’s good with guilt. But these days I’ve mostly been assigned more complicated cases. “What kind of monster, exactly?”
“I don’t know,” said Robin. Her voice had an edge in it from the start, and now it was almost more edge than voice. “Demon? Vampire? I came into work early this morning and walked in on him and his secretary. He was, he was-” She stopped talking and started hyperventilating into the phone.
“Drinking her blood?” I asked, trying to refocus her.
“Yes. No. Devouring her, tearing the flesh from her bones with his teeth. And she was alive, and she wasn’t screaming, just staring forward and nodding.”
“Did he see you?” I asked. “Where are you now?”
“I don’t think so. I’m in the restroom.”
I brought up the building plans and fired off a few texts to set things in motion. “Do you smoke?”
“What? I quit last month, what does that have to do with anything?”
“So you’re carrying a lighter?” She was. Closest way to get out of the building was the back exit, but that was an alarm door. So better to set off the fire alarms first, give three minutes to clear the halls and make sure one of our spotters could see the problem milling around out front.
Robin executed the tradecraft like a pro, not letting the fact that she was soaked from the sprinklers slow her down. She slipped out back and into the car we put into the lot, left her phone behind and switched to one of ours, and followed the GPS to a hotel in the next down over.
“The worst thing,” she said as she drove, “Is how familiar it was. I’ve been having nightmares. About the other secretaries. We all thought he was just a terrible boss with them.”
“I don’t want to upset you any more,” I said, “But there’s a very real chance that he’s been manipulating your memory.”
“You mean I might have seen that happen before?” The edge was back.
“He’s a very powerful subterrestrial incarnation,” I said. “You can’t blame yourself for his manipulation. He could completely wipe your mind clean. It’s a good think nightmares aren’t based on memory.”
“No. Dreams are, but nightmares are more real, letting you view actual events happening in this world or another.”
“Well aren’t you just full of comforting thoughts,” she said. “Okay, I’m here. Now what.”
“Keycard is in the glovebox,” I said. “Go in, take a shower. There’s dry clothes waiting for you. Then you’ll need to go shopping for a few things.”
“You people can set up all of this, but now I have to go out myself?”
“What we’ve done so far are things we do often, for hundreds of clients each year,” I said. “The next part is unusual, and it’s important that you personally pick some of the items out.”
“Yeah?” she said. “So what’s this for?”
“Magic,” I said. “You’re going to be casting a spell.”
While Robin showered, I walked over to Sal’s cubicle and filled him in on the situation. Sal’s our best magic man, and I wanted him guiding her through learning the incantation and picking out the reagents. I’ve got a bit too much of a materialistic viewpoint to be very good with spells. I mean, I know it’s real and it works, but something deep inside of me refuses to let go of the belief in atoms and electricity and all that.
“No problem,” said Sal. “We don’t know just how strong this thing is, though. Is the budget on this one enough to cover it if it turns out to be a Sovereign-level?”
“It is,” said Claire. She runs this office of the Helpline. She turned to me. “A word, in my office?”
“Is something wrong?” I asked as soon as the door slid shut.
“No,” she said. “You’ve been doing fine so far. I just wanted to impress on you that this is a very important case. Not only is this a problem we’d go well out of our way to solve on general principles, Contracts was able to arrange for special payment in this case.”
“How many years?” Special payment was usually negotiated in years of a client’s future life. Sometimes the Senior Helpers took memories instead. Or other options.
“Not years. FBC.” Or that one, the one nobody wants to say out loud. I wondered how commissions worked in those cases, but I didn’t say anything. That’s a jinx if ever one there was.
She went over the plan, showed me a couple of places to tighten up in the aftermath. I had just enough time for a sandwich before Sal was finished. I put them on speaker while I ate.
“So that’s it? That’s all it takes to kill a monster?” said Robin.
“All it takes on your end,” said Sal. “We’re doing the real work back here.” Well, at the ritual circles down in West, Texas, mostly.
“And I don’t need, I don’t know, some of his hair or something to make it find him?”
“You were lovers, right?” said Sal. His voice sometimes hits me right there, with that word and a few others. If I dated co-workers and he wasn’t gay, there seriously could have been something going on. “That should be enough.”
I switched to my headset and gave support as she performed the ritual. She spoke the words in dead languages, spilled her own blood, mixed herbs and fire and breath, killed a cricket with her bare hands. Back in the day it would have taken a goat kid for this, but magic marches on. Can’t take death out of the spell completely, though. I watched on my monitors as our magical energy drained, taking them down lower than I’d ever seen them. At least Sovereign-class, this one was.
Sal got off the line. I stayed with Robin as our watchers verified the kill. It wasn’t hard. When Robin’s boss imploded the black hellfire unleashed took out most of the building. Hardly anyone inside died or was even hurt though. Black hellfire can only burn people Hell already owns.
“Any last questions before we’re done?” I asked.
“Um. About the payment.” Not my department, but clients asked all the time. I wasn’t exactly on a script, but there were limits to what I could say.
“What do you want to know?”
“What if I, you know, don’t. I mean, not ever?”
“That’s one way of making that payment,” I said. “The Senior Helpers deal in intangibles, and a closed-off possibility is a powerful one.”
“And if I do? What do they do with...” Robin swallowed. “With it?”
“They don’t eat them,” I said. “Or anything else to hurt them. They raise them, give them an education and a place in the world.”
“Are they happy?”
A good question. “They’re fulfilled.”
“Thank you,” said Robin. She hung up the phone.
I sometimes wonder about my mother, about what problem was so horrible that she made that bargain, about whether she regretted it. Sometimes I have nightmares, watching myself as a bawling infant, torn from the arms of a screaming woman and handed over to three men, nearly identical triplets with their matching black suits, green eyes, and blood-red trilbys. I know I can’t possibly remember anything from then, that I was far too young.
But nightmares aren’t about memory. And her face is always exactly the same.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 01:59|
Aaaaaaand, it's gone!
Chili fucked around with this message at 11:40 on Jan 2, 2018
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 02:45|
Liam groped around in the dark, trembling as his hand scraped against the wet, slimy walls. He felt water dripping down. Beneath the damp mildew was the grit of sandstone, grooved by years of erosion.
“Hello?” he called, but his own voice was all that echoed back. He was sore all over, shaking after the fall he’d taken. Stupid, he told himself. Stupid to have been out in Cairo at night, stupider still to have panicked and run when he’d seen the protestors, as if they cared about some random high school nerd from America. He’d ducked inside a door and then…
Then what? Liam couldn’t remember. There were no rungs leading back up, so he started forward.
An hour later, he was sure he was going to die. The sandstone passages seemed to never end, and he heard scratching noises in the pitch black. They sounded too big to be rats. When he stopped to listen, he thought he heard distant growling. I hope mom and dad aren’t worrying. Liam wondered if there was anyone looking for him yet. How far from the hotel am I?
He started moving faster, then tripped and felt his palms scratched open by the rock floor. There was a squeak and skittering, and a dark shape shot past him.
I saw it, though. That means light.
Leaking through the stone ceiling was a tiny trickle of moonlight, enough to see shapes and silhouettes. It was a room, with a round object on a large table in the center. He felt a thin breeze. He touched the object. Something was carved into it. Hieroglyphs, he realized. And something waxy above them, but brittle. As he touched it, it crumbled into dust. A jar, he thought, and then the lid fell open. Liam stepped back in surprise. He smelled rotten eggs and smoke.
Then there was a bright light, and waves of heat washed over him. Liam cried out and covered his eyes, stumbling back until he was sitting in the corner of the room. An ethereal, human-like shape hovered above the jar, pulsing with umbral fire. It said something in Arabic. The fiery light illuminated the walls, showing elaborate stories carved in hieroglyphs, marble figurines, and skulls. There were a lot of skulls.
“Oh god,” was all Liam could manage.
The spirit’s eyes met his, orange embers that bored into him. “Is that all? Usually I hear much more elaborate prayers.” Its voice reminded Liam of a crackling bonfire.
Liam looked around, trying to remember any part of Bible study that talked about this. Nothing came to mind. “W-what… what are you?”
“A jinn, you might say. A marid. Plenty of older words, but I doubt you’d know them. Human memory is… fickle. You forget so many things, and once forgotten, they are gone forever. The greatest tragedy of your kind, I think, is all the wisdom that has died, despite your best efforts to preserve it.”
“I thought marid were water spirits.”
The jinn laughed. “And why would you think that? You see what I mean about wisdom. Even your words are temporal things.”
Because the Monster Manual says so, is what Liam thought. He realized it was too stupid to say out loud.
“I wonder why I shouldn’t kill you. You’re powerless to stop me.” Liam saw the jinn’s eyes brighten with flame. “Oh, but this is interesting… you already know about powerlessness. You’ve already felt the terror of it.”
Liam had tried to forget, but the memory was rooted in his mind like claws embedded in flesh. He remembered Mark pinning him down in art annex after school, knees on his arms, looming over him, waving the X-Acto knife in front of his face. “I could kill you,” he’d said, then just stared at him. Then he’d just walked away. Liam had vomited into the trash can after he’d left.
“People are powerless all the time, though. What if your bus driver decided to drive off a bridge? What if a server decided to poison you? A random car could crush you. Your heart could fail—they do that sometimes, you know. No warning. Your government could decide you’re an enemy. That’s happening above us, right now, to many people. Some will die because of it. You don’t live in fear of any of that, though. Just him. Because he exposed the façade.” The jinn laughed, belching cinders. “What an absurd world you live in.”
“What do you want from me?” Liam whispered.
“Some wisdom. Give me that, and I’ll grant a request of yours. A request—not a wish.” The jinn paused. “You remind me of another boy who came here. I told him of power, and he told me to make him a prince. Didn’t do him much good, in the end. No imagination.”
Liam remembered standing in front of class during precalc, the way everyone had stared at him as he tried to remember how to multiply matrices. What the hell do I know that’s wise?
He remembered Mrs. Mallahan bubbling on about how math was the language of the universe. There was Mr. Jones, who spent all of one class ranting about the cultural changes in a group of baboons when most of the males died, and its implications. He’d read a lot of stories about how important courage, friendship, or love were, but none of it felt like wisdom.
“I don’t really know anything.”
“‘A fool knows everything, a wise man knows nothing.’ I’ve heard it too many times. Give me something new. Not someone else’s wisdom. Yours.”
Liam blinked and scrunched up his face. He could feel his mind working, trying to dredge up old memories and make sense of them. He thought of the sky when he’d been hiking up in the mountains, how he’d seen the cloud of stars that was the milky way for the first time. He thought of Olivia, crying into his shoulder after her parents had divorced, and the damp patch it had left on his shirt. He thought of his Grandma Lucille, lying in her deathbed, picture of grandpa facedown on the nightstand, sighing and saying, “I wish I’d traveled more.” Then he thought of Zainab, talking about when she was growing up in Iraq, how she and her mom would play a game where they pretended certain cars had monsters hiding under them, and they had to zig-zag around in the streets. His mind was a jumbled scrapbook. What did it mean?
“Anything can become normal. The stars being blotted out. Fighting. Servitude. The fear of death.”
“Hmm,” the jinn said. “Not original, but at least you’ve made it yours. So what will you request of me, child who still fears death? What change do you wish to enact on this world? A last chance for true wisdom.”
Liam thought of his parents again, worrying. Then the protestors in the street above. He thought again of Mark holding that blade in front of his face. He wondered what would happen if he told the jinn he wanted Mark dead. Probably nothing good. Nothing good from asking to be powerful, either; the jinn had told him the prince hadn’t fared well. Could he ask to forget? Was it a test? His mouth felt dry. What would happen if he failed?
“I want things to be the way they were.”
The jinn faded, and again it was pitch black. Then the world brightened, and he was standing in a hallway, faded red carpet and fresh painted walls.
He heard the jinn’s voice in his head, the crackle of a distant fire. “What a pity. Too blinded by your own eyes. No imagination either. You could have done so much more…”
But he was back in the hotel. The protests had quieted, and he could smell a succulent kabab cooking on the street below. He could hear the baritone of his father, the laughter of his mother. Family. Some normalcy. Was that so wrong? He put his hand on the doorknob and felt the cool brass. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 03:44|
Together in the Same Boat
On Millie's birthday I woke up half-past noon, face planted on the rug and fingers smoking inches away from said rug. Once I realized the situation drunk me had put me in, the resulting jolt of panic woke me up way better than any energy drink could.
"poo poo!" I shouted, checking the carpet for any damage. Unfortunately, there were a pair of handprint-shaped singes, which caused me to start muttering "goddammit" under my breath. This continued as I repositioned the rug to cover them up and resigned myself to kissing my security deposit goodbye. Drunk me is such a dipshit; he can't control the temperature of our hands and he throws off our entire sleep schedule in his desperate pursuit of entertainment. Someday he'll probably just burn down the whole apartment, so why did I let him in? The answer lay in the ashes of the pink slip that he scattered on the kitchen counter.
I muttered louder when I noticed the time. No shower today, though I took the time to wash the char off my hands. "Goddammit, goddammit, goddammit," I said as I wasted half a minute searching for her birthday present, a hand-sculpted pig iron statue of John Oliver sitting at the Last Week Tonight desk. If my super-hands couldn't help me find steady employment—and I had just received a grim reminder that this was the case—they could at least be a productive way to distract myself and others. Still, as I rushed across town to get to Millie's place, I wish I'd been blessed with rocket feet instead. I'd be the most sensational pizza deliveryman in Miller's Crossing.
The first knock on Millie's door was me colliding with it head-on after I failed to skid to a stop. I checked my hands for the glow of heat before I gave the door a decent person's knock. Millie wasn't much of a party person, so there was no grand celebration I missed today, thank God. For all I know she could have just went off to her parents' house or her girlfriend's house. Instead, she opened the door and I got a look at her red and puffy face, the face of a woman who didn't know whether she wanted to let me in or kick me out.
"Happy birthday?" I asked. With a grunt I hefted a sculpture that I didn't have the foresight to make hollow up to face level so she could get a closer look.
The ghost of a smile graced her face. "Thanks, Owen." She stepped aside to clear a path for me and little John.
Once we got settled in on the couch, letting the glow of her plasma screen wash over us and some sleepy anime play in the background, she sighed and looked at me. "Jane dumped me."
"Over text message."
"Jeez!" For a moment I looked at her like I was tempted to laugh. It seemed so absurd that I couldn't believe my ears. It was a feeling I'd gotten used to over the past year or so. "On your birthday?"
Millie snorted. "I think she forgot."
"Anything I can do to help?"
She fell silent while the characters on screen had a conversation about how tough it is being a single catgirl in this day and age. "Nah, just stay here and watch this show with me. Cake's over there if you want some."
I spent most of the time fiddling with my phone, not really paying attention to the screen, but she didn't notice.
Half an hour later, the two of us worked up enough energy to go on a walk. We skirted around the pond and caught the eye of a couple of cops in the area. They haven't liked me since that incident with Bobby Kimball, especially when they found out I don't have fingerprints. Given my hoodie and scruffy face, and Millie's worn-out clothing and lack of make-up, I wonder how many people would find us the most suspicious characters in town. When we were teens we would have gotten a kick out of that, but now the thought makes me want to groan.
"Any idea what you want to do next?" Millie asked. I told her I got fired on the way over.
"I dunno. Nobody wants anything welded around here anymore, especially not by hand." I kicked a large pebble into the pond and watched it sink. "I'll check around, but if I find anything besides IT or data entry, I'll be shocked."
"That might not be so bad, as long as you don't melt the keyboard." She got another smile on, one that looked like it came from genuine amusement. "Besides, can't you do hardware repairs or something?"
Groan. "You know how thin wires and circuitboards are?" I asked her. "You know how much precision and control I'd need to fix those things if they're broken? When you saw my statue you thought it was of Rachel Maddow!" I broke out into laughter, the kind of weird, schadenfreude laughter I get from watching something go unusually wrong. "If I messed up the likeness that badly, how can I fix broken hardware?"
"Well, it's not like I watch the news that often," Millie said, tilting her face and rolling her eyes. "Why'd you even make that guy?"
"I dunno, I wanted to make something, but I don't know poo poo about those animes you like, so I just panicked and thought of John Oliver." I slumped down on a bench, looking like a bum. Millie joined me; she merely looked like a couch-surfer.
"You'll still try, right?" Millie asked after another long pause. "To do something, powers or no powers."
I shrugged. I didn't like calling what I could do a power, since it never made me feel like I had any, but what else could I call it? "Sure. You gonna give up on love or give it another shot?"
Millie smirked. "I dunno. Maybe I'll be okay with the bachelorette life for a while."
"It's worked out pretty well for me so far." I grabbed another pebble in my hand and heated it up, until it felt like it'd been in an oven. With a flick of my wrist I flicked it across the pond. It skipped five times, each time emitting a hiss and a cute little plume of steam, before it sank to the bottom.
"You wanna get some birthday dinner or something?" I asked her.
"Yeah," Millie said as she got up from the bench. "I need something that isn't loaded with sugar for a change."
Our day was much more normal from that point on. We could pretend that our lives were going the way we wanted them to go, and that we'd prepared for adulthood in a way that was even remotely adequate. By the time the sun set, I could almost believe it, all thanks to her.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 03:56|
Six nights a week, for two weeks, we took over as the owner and sole proprietor of the corner on 12th and Washington. Street rehabilitation, on charge to fix all the dirt and concrete, because there was nothing else left to fix — Mike was telling me about how the police ran out the last vestiges of the shantied homeless three years back, and how a star-carrying French chef moved here the year last, and that now there’s a four-screen movie theater here — but one of those new-wave theaters, where a teenager will serve you micro-beers in an anything-but-micro glass and where you can go bowling in the converted warehouse next door.
“You ever take your kids there?” I said.
“poo poo, my kids have an [i[iPad[/i] man,” Mike said.
“And that’s it? Don’t you like, have to socialize them?”
“Oh, they’re social.” Mike wiped the small amount of mortar left on his trowel clean against his jeans. “This, right here, is the cleanest I’ve been in weeks.”
Mike and I were on manhole duty, paving mortar around the access hole so they could fit in a new frame bed — the frame goes down, and the round cover sits snug on top of it. It’ll be fifty years before the wrought-iron rusts through enough to make some assholes have to dig it up again, Mike said.
We smelled like sweat and wet gravel, and the sewer… they don’t shut down the sewer line for rehabs like this. The floodlights bathed the construction area in an unnatural white, the corner shining like a surgical room would, if surgical rooms were paved with asphalt and exposed to the dead night air.
We were mid-pave when Mike froze.
“Did you hear that?” he said. He didn’t dare move his trowel from its spot on the lip of the sewer hole.
“What?” I said.
“poo poo… poo poo, poo poo…” he murmured. He pointed down the hole. “I heard a moan down there, man.”
“No way.” I said. “There’s no loving way…”
“Shut up! I heard it again!” Mike fumbled through his pocket and produced a small torchlight. The floodlights didn’t reach down the hole. “I need you to listen to me, quick…”
I was listening, I was ready.
“I’m going to shine down there while you take a look and we’ll see what we can,” Mike said. “You’re going to have to really get in there, brace against the sides with your arms. I’ll be quiet as night so you can hear.”
“Shine it, I’m ready.” I said.
He focused the torchlight down the access hole and I arched my body clear over the wet mortar, my head sticking down the opening and my arms wedged against the side. It smelled like a thousand rotten eggs, and ten dead cats, and maybe there’d be a soon-dead person to add to all of it. I could only see the glimmer of the sewer water in the light, and the two dark holes where it flowed in and out. I strained my ears for any noise beyond the trickle of the water.
I wanted to hold my nose but my hands were preoccupied, clenched against the side of the hole. I couldn’t hear anything.
“Nothing!” I yelled up to Mike.
“Keep listening, as long as you can!”
Another minute passed and still nothing. I thought I might get used to the smell, go nose-blind after a while, but that wasn’t going to happen. The stench sticks with you like gasoline down there.
“Alright, come up!” Mike said.
“Are you sure?” I said. I was ready to pass out. Blood pounded through my head.
“Let’s get the others!” he said.
I shimmied out of the hole, dizzy, and when I looked up…
The others were already there, watching down, a line of silhouettes against the white-light. Mike laid his hand on my should and let out a chuckle, and the whole lineup of men let loose and bellowed.
They had me.
Later, when we were taking a smoke, Mike told me about how they’d done that one since the beginning of time and that there’s only been one guy who told them to gently caress off when they tried to pull it on him.
“Did you tell him, after?” I said.
“That we were loving with him?” he said.
“No,” he said. “We didn’t.”
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 04:01|
This was initially set for 5:38 EST but I'll be on the lookout for these by 10PM EST.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 04:25|
Henpecked (1228 words)
Henrietta was loose. Again. The master would be furious.
Claire dipped her finger in the inkwell. In her free hand she held an egg, freshly laid. She stood before the table where the master handled his experiments. Even without him, the workshop bubbled and churned with activity, beakers filling beakers, autonomous devices clicking into place.
The floor of the room was buried in books. It'd taken her an hour to find the right one.
She withdrew her finger from the pot. The tip was black. Impossibly black, a painted void. She held the egg aloft and, with great care, began to trace a series of shapes across its surface. She glanced to the book between gestures. It was a simple enough ritual, but still, there were standards.
The egg was consumed in an intricate tattoo. A minor scribble on a larger object, but the egg was so small it dominated completely. Wiping her finger off with a handkerchief, she held the egg in both hands and closed her eyes.
"Take me to your owner, the one who made you!"
She turned and threw the egg to the ground. The egg fell and froze, inches from destruction. Wobbling in place, it rose a little, and began to jaunt off towards the door. Claire breathed a sigh of relief as she shut the book. She pocketed the inkwell and stepped into her boots.
Claire had only recently begun her apprenticeship, but she was a fast learner. Not of the material she studied, unfortunately, but of people in general, and the master in specific. He was a man who valued knowledge above all else, and just below that, keeping things tidy. He was a man who seldom took students except under supreme duress - such as the threat of losing his license if he didn't take a pupil. He was a man who'd rejected conventional notions of power, pleasure, and wealth, save for one: it seemed imperative to his health, his mood, his good humor, that he start every morning with an egg for breakfast. That was Henrietta's job.
Henrietta could be replaced, of course. But so could Claire.
"I'm off for the weekend," he told her as she stuffed his umbrella up the chimney. "Keep the place shipshape until I get back." He stepped into the hearth, shot up, and was gone. That was three days ago. He'd be back for lunch.
She stepped out onto the cobblestone streets, careful to close the door behind her. She carried no key, nor needed one. The door knew who was welcome and who wasn't. The egg swam on as it waltzed through the open alleyways, past the garbage bins and the stray cats. Claire kept pace, her eyes fixed on the wandering egg. She'd recalled playing in these streets as a shopkeeper's daughter. Her familiarity guided her steps.
"Where's she gone to?"
The egg proved a capable navigator, not that it could've been anything else. It weaved through the crowds, the majority of whom took no notice of it. Claire was the sore spot as she bumbled through the throng. At last the egg descended down a set of stairs, in the direction of the canal. Claire caught up, and saw it disappear.
Around the bend was Henrietta, strutting about the pier like royalty. Having found its target, the egg did a twirl, and zipped back to greet Claire as she came around the corner. She caught it just in time to avoid it shattering in her face.
She then looked and saw the boatman. He was pulling ashore, his eyes on Henrietta.
Claire gulped, her eyes narrowing. Around Henrietta’s neck was a thin copper necklace. To the boatman, those lacking true sight, she looked like any other chicken. Claire knew better. She’d been trained to look. Henrietta was no mere chicken. She was a cockatrice. Half-chicken, half-lizard.
Perhaps the boatman thought he was helping. Perhaps he just saw an animal without an owner. Either way, a flustered cockatrice was dangerous. A peck from its beak could turn you to stone. Henrietta was better trained than to attack random people, but a strange man grabbing her would be a problem.
Claire hesitated, her hand in her pocket, tight around the inkwell. She wasn’t yet clear to practice in public. Catching Henrietta in a vacant alley would’ve been nothing, but here with a witness, she had to be quick.
The boatman moored his boat.
“Ah, you’ve found her!”
The boatman looked up to see Claire bounding down the steps. She held the egg behind her back, her thumb erasing some of the markings on its surface. The right ones, she hoped.
“Excuse me?” asked the boatman. He stood up to his full, considerable height. Claire draped herself protectively around Henrietta, her hands wrapped around its neck. Henrietta cawed and flapped about in resistance.
“My pet,” she said. She nestled Henrietta in mock-affection, and turned the bird’s head from view. She let slip the egg, which rolled away, and held Henrietta’s beak shut. She used the transferred ink on her thumb to draw a circle around the beak. Henrietta shuddered and fell silent, rendered calm. Claire hugged her tightly. “She’s been missing all morning! Thank you ever so much for finding her.”
The boatman looked her up and down.
“You saying this here is your bird?”
“I am. And she is.”
He folded his arms, thick and tattooed. “Got proof?”
Cripes, she thought, so that’s how it is. “Proof? What sort of proof? She’s got a necklace you know.”
“Necklace ain’t a collar, and I ain’t seen no names on it neither.”
Claire swallowed. “I wasn’t aware you needed to stamp your name on something to own it. Is there paperwork involved?”
“Don’t have to be.” The man stepped forward, one foot on the pier. He cracked his knuckles. “Let’s just say finder’s keepers, and you can be on your way.”
It’s a chicken, what, is there a lucrative black market for these things? “So that’s your angle, is it?”
“Aye. And I ain’t seen yours, missy.”
“Of course you haven’t,” she said, and the egg looped around from behind. It hit him in the head and shattered on impact.
The man spun around and was thrown off his balance. He fell into the canal with a splash.
“Pleasure doing business with you, then,” said Claire. She tucked Henrietta under her arm and rushed into the streets.
The route home was short. Claire’s preferred alleyways had never let her down. She grabbed the handle of the door and entered just in time to see the master emerge from the chimney covered in soot. He was shaking out his umbrella in the fireplace.
“Claire? Henrietta? Where have you been? Why’s half my library on the floor?”
Claire was about to answer when her breathing caught up with her. “Henrietta… got loose… sir. I had… to catch her.”
“And the books?”
“The books...” Claire fumbled for words. The master shook his head.
“Ah, nevermind. I’ll hear about it later. Now put her down and clean up this mess.”
“Sir, yes sir!” She rubbed the ink from Henrietta’s beak and set the creature loose into the house. She got down on her hands and knees and began to collect the strewn-about books.
The master examined Henrietta’s cage.
“No eggs today?”
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 04:40|
As Cool as Slate
After the light dispersed from her blinded eyes, Margot found herself in a large storage loft with stacks of football team banners, ptsa banned books in moldy cardboard boxes and rows of emblazoned words in the white wall behind the opening they came from. It said, O’BRIEN HIGH SCHOOL GO SCORPIONS!
She felt dazed and numb and a blurry shape invited her to sit down. She did so and heard his words slowly form over the vanishing sound of rushing water.
“Miss. I know you’re out of sorts. I must be quick if he comes back. You are dead because of the coolest kid in school,” said the stout high school specter with a blood matted afro. He adjusted his scotch taped glasses and coughed up some blackboard dust. “Excuse me, I do that every few minutes so be aware.”
“His name is Chad Derringer. He was the coolest kid in my class, and he was the coolest in yours as well.”
A blond, buxom girl with braces emerged from a faded shower room mirror leaning into a bizarre bug mascot costume. She was dressed in a cheerleaders outfit that was stained in blood. She sat down amongst the circle.
Piecing together the events that had unfolded before, during and after her drowning, Margot abruptly yelled, “gently caress! That goddamn bitch! She killed me!”
“Like, it’ll be easier if you shut up when Tyrone talks. I kept stopping him when I got here and it would’ve helped sooner if I’d listened.” The blond girl sounded like a Valley girl from an 80’s rom com.
Tyrone nods at her ,”Thank you for your help Penny.”
She shrugs. “Nothing else to do. So might as well be helpful.”
Tyrone coughed again. “Chad Derringer is who killed you. He goes by many names, but if I showed you a picture of him you’d instantly recognize him.” He reached into an old flip top desk that was kept hidden behind stacks of Bill Nye VHS’s and unsold Letterman jackets in the abandoned O’Brien High School storage loft. From its bubblegum lined interior he pulled a circa 2015 yearbook photo.
“This is him.” He showed the picture to Margot who was still trying to clear her head.
Margot shook her head, her hot pink rooster tail haircut splashed water about and her eyeliner leaked a bit quicker from her vacant eyes, “No it isn’t. That’s Stephanie Crosby. That bitch is the reason I’m dead.”
Tyrone said, “Alright, so you know this person in the picture. Some of us saw him as a playmate, a good friend, a person in your school hierarchy who showed pity on you and invited you into the fold. “
Eyeliner girl rubbed some water dripping from her scalp and flicked it at Tyrone. “Bullshit. That’s a chick. I was getting it on with her and she handcuffed me to a steering wheel and dropped me in the marsh behind the movie theater.”
“You’re right...sort of. Gender isn’t important with this being. Honestly it’s more a malevolent spirit than a flesh and blood creature. It takes whatever form it needs to fulfill its desire.” Tyrone motioned Penny to hand him a selection of other books in the storage loft. He laid them out for Margot. “Each of these yearbooks are from various schools.” Tyrone flipped through them and pointed out different people to Margot. All with accolades and poo poo eating smirks of some kind.
Eyeliner girl remembered seeing someone else looking down at her from the rippling surface of the marsh, it hadn’t been Stephanie.
Tyrone found her reaction satisfying, “You see him now. That’s Chad. He looks like a cartoon character kind of.“
Penny rubbed her stab wounds. “Ya know, he looks like the guy on my little brothers lunchbox actually.”
Tyrone murmured, “Yes, you’ve told me.” He motioned her to get up. She did so and he took her to the one window in the loft. Margot would've pooped her pants if she still had working bowels. They were floating in a decrepit red schoolhouse in some sort of technicolor nightmare. The building spun through a buzzing bubbling stream of energy. It was full of crawling monstrosities, giant metal titans and floating green chunks of emotive melted faces. Any other visible solid landscapes disappeared as soon as they emerged in view of the window. It was them and the rampant chattering spirits of the void.
“Chad’s part of this realm. I’ve been digging around in this schoolhouse for awhile now. The books I found are from my school, Penny’s school. Yours now too.” He pointed at the yearbooks. Margot was still perplexed at the view.
Penny tapped the girl, shaking her out of her stupor at the window. “Like, we need your help. There used to be others but Chad comes back and takes them from here.”
Margot asked, “Why?”
Tyrone answered, “Chad uses us, our ghosts, as new identities in the living world. He goes there and creates social hierarchies in schools across the world.”
Penny handed him a nearly flat notebook. It had a cursive signature that said “Chad Derringer” with little hearts next to it. He opened it and transparent pages of tiny text crammed into each other showed itself. “These are notes from Chad. He is a creature made of immature ego that puts himself at the top of cliques so he can devour the energy from others adulation and jealousy,” Tyrone said.
He took his glasses off and sputtered out more dust. “Chad did something to me and Penny like what happened with you, miss.”
“The name’s Margot, and did he look like a hot girl and get you wrapped around her finger too?” Margot asked.
“Well, sort’ve. I do wish Chad hadn’t been so...erm, creative in how he sacrificed me.” Tyrone coughed again.
Margot felt bad for the specter, realizing the dust was a permanent part of his soul as her damp hair and flesh were.“I...think I’ll wait to hear about that. So what do we do?”
Tyrone held the planklike journal up. “Once in awhile Chad comes back to pull a spirit out of this domain, or to put another in. When he drops a spirit off, this whole school changes. It gains new features and textbooks from the place the spirit was taken from. This. However.” He tapped the book for emphasis, “This was left after he dropped Penny off. It’s a not a normal book, and it’s all about Chad. I think it’s his journal.”
Tyrone coughed violently, “Chad pulls you in with charisma and the want to follow him, to be his friend, his follower, or his tool as in mine and Margot’s case. He selects someone from each school he infests, turning others against you so you’re at the bottom. When you’re weakened from desperation, he invites you to him. When you’ve trusted him completely he forces you into this realm via the sacrifice of your body.”
Tyrone coughed again. “ None of us can rest. Chad keeps us and others like us here so he can use our personalities and talents to become the new coolest kid in the school of his choice. “
Margot said “Alright, so Stephanie used me and abused me so Chad can wear my soul like a skin suit.” She paused for effect. Penny and Tyrone, despite being dead much longer than her looked down uncomfortably. She smirked. She always had a way with words. “What I don’t understand is you look like you’re nerd Shaft coming out of a disco and she looks like my mom when she was going to school. “
Tyrone was about to tell her how they came here from different times through the lofts entryway, he was going to explain that Chad was a being that existed across different schools of different decades, but he didn’t get too.
“Chad’s here!” He pointed at a bizarre brightly colored kid who had appeared in the middle of the loft standing on a floating skateboard.
Chad was surrounded by the spirits of different fads he’d convinced his peers to buy into so he could be the top trendsetter.
Sharks were cool, bugs were cool, robots were cool, and the pyramids floating behind him were evidence of him making Walk like an egyptian a platinum record.
“Hey guys. It’s me Chad. I need one of you guys.” He pointed a finger gun and playfully shot at Tyrone. “Guess what Ty, this time you’ll be getting REAL ladies. We’re going to the college scene buddy.”
“It’s not often I get a crack at the university life but I think together, you and me are going to skip a grade.” Chad flew forward on the skateboard and grabbed Tyrone by the afro. Tyrone yelled at the others, “Keep at it! Find something he leaves behind! It’s all you have to get out with! Play to his pride!” Chad pulled Tyrone through the opening and a flash of light turned it back into a regular ladder to the lower parts of the school.
Penny picked up the lone book that Tyrone had held onto and tried to remember all he had tried to impart to her.
Margot really wanted some valium. She asked Penny, “So what now?”
Penny sighed, “Like, I don’t know. I think Tyrone wanted us to find anything Chad wrote so we could find a way out or something.”
“What about that book?”
Penny gripped it in her unfeeling hands, “It’s..over my head. I tried to learn, I really did, but Tyrone’s pretty smart, he was going to skip Senior year.”
Margot said, ”gently caress it, lemme see. I used to read Vonnegut.” She grabbed it as a flash emanated from the opening. Chad appeared. He looked the same, poo poo eating grin and all.
“Hey babes.” He leaned in towards Margot.“Hey Margie.”
Margot was about to claw his face off but Penny caught what she was thinking, and intervened,
“Hey! Like it’s nice to see you hot stuff.” She ran her finger down his arm. It felt like the cold surface of a blackboard. She clenched her teeth thinking of what happened to Tyrone.
He turned to Penny,
“You seen anything lying around babe? After leaving Ty at the jailhouse I was thinking about the last thing he said before I took him.”
Margot had the book, still gripped in her left hand. Why didn’t he see it?
Penny smiled, braces glinting off the purplish light of an electric guitar surfing past the window,
“No babe. I’m pretty sure you’d notice if you lost something. You’re Chad loving Derringer. Like, you’re a god!”
He looked directly at Margot and then at the other and laughed.
“Yeah. I’m sure I would have noticed. I’m going to head back to Ty, we got more partying to do as soon as his uncle pays bail. Peace!” He kissed his fingers and flicked a kiss at Penny then disappeared once more.
Penny would’ve wretched if not for lacking a working stomach. “Poor Ty...” She lamented.
Margot thought about Chad’s obliviousness to her holding the book he was looking for. “Tyrone taught you to stroke his ego didn’t he?” She asked.
Penny said, “Yeah. Like Its the last thing I want to do for that John Carpenter reject but Tyrone said that we all had to do it so Chad let his guard down or something.”
Margot opened the book and found it dense but accessible reading. After a few minutes a few passages stuck out to her highlighting Tyrone’s reasoning. “That’s how we do it. His nature is his weakness. We play his ego like he played ours and he’ll think so much of himself that not even what could threaten him will register if he thinks he’s invincible.” The book was Chad’s thoughts and perhaps he would drop another one that would reveal other weaknesses or an escape from his dimension.
Penny shook her head, “You sound like Tyrone, guess I’ll leave the planning to you.”
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 04:57|
Submission window is now closed.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 05:03|
Edit: Ah gently caress. Fuckin daylight savings. I guess I'm out. So do I take this down or what?
Darlin (1165 Words) Prompt.
It’s not like I’ve never blacked out before, it’s an unofficial rite of passage in Omega Kappa Phi. What was unusual was that I came out of it still drinking. I was at a bar I didn’t recognize, the shelves behind the barman were full of the good stuff, and it was backlit all in red, which helped the place feel stuffily warm.
I felt a hand touch the back of my winter coat. It belonged to a man sitting to my right. “How about another one, eh?” he said, and he raised a finger at the bartender before I could respond.
A Jack and Coke landed infront of me. I held the bartender’s attention before he could move on and asked “Where’s your bathroom?”
He didn’t stop wiping down the glass in his hand, but he gestured at the end of the bar with a turn of his head.
“Excuse me.” I said and twisted out from under the stranger’s hand.
I stumbled into the bathroom. It was clean, thank god. I locked myself in a stall and pulled out my phone. It was 3:27 AM. I checked my GPS:
[GPS SIGNAL UNAVAILABLE]
The smell of bleach and purell started to sting my nose, and my gut did several backflips. I turned around and hurled into the bowl. I was in a bad spot. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know who that guy outside was. I flushed the toilet and patted myself down. Besides my phone, my wallet was light on cash, but nothing was missing, and I had my car keys, so I’d likely driven here, wherever it was.
I was in no condition to drive now.
I took a deep breath and wiped away the sweat. I dialed my dad. “No questions asked.” he’d always said. I’d used it before. He kept his word, no questions. I could pick up my car tomorrow. Hell, I could send James if I needed to.
The ringtone rang several times before I got the robot voice “The number you have dialed is unavailable, please leave a name and number after the tone.”
I hung up before the thing could beep in my ear. I dialed him two more times, same result. I was doing ok when I dialed the fourth time, but when it cut straight to the message without a ringtone, I started to freak.
I took a deep breath. It didn’t work. I took a bunch more, my heart started to ease off the throttle after breath number thirty something. I went to leave the bathroom. I could ask the bartender to call a cab. On my way out, I saw a logo inside the door, it was a stylized fire in a fireplace, bar was apparently called the Hearth. I’d heard of it, at least, I thought I had, everything was a bit fuzzy. It was on the south side of town, I think.
I almost ran into the guy as I came out of the bathroom. He was a good foot taller than me, and I couldn’t really focus on his face without getting a good dose of nausea. “You wanna get out of here, darlin’?” he asked. He held up my coat. I didn’t remember taking it off.
“No. Give me that.” I snatched it from him, or at least I tried. He didn’t let go, and I almost fell over when I tugged at it. He laughed at me.
I gave up on the coat sat down at the bar. The drink was still there.
“C’mon, darlin’ let’s finish up our drinks and get out of here.” he nudged it towards me.
“Get the gently caress away from me.” I threw it in his face, well, I tried. He caught my wrist and the drink fell out of my hand. I winced in anticipation of shattering glass.
Instead there was a quiet scuffing sound, then a gentle tinkle. He’d managed to half catch it with his foot, letting it hit the floor and roll across the wood, rather than shatter into a million pieces.
I pulled away. He let my wrist go suddenly, and I stumbled into the bar. He bent down and picked up the glass and waved at the bartender, who was now coming towards us, summoned by the commotion.
“Sorry about that.” he said as he placed the glass on the counter. “She gets clumsy when she’s had a few.” The bartender smiled knowingly and took the glass behind the counter.
“Can you call me a cab?” I asked the bartender.
“Excuse me, miss?” he asked. I realized I might have been slurring real bad at that point.
“She’s asking if you could call us a cab.” the bastard said. He smiled with teeth and pulled out a Ben Franklin, which he placed on the bar.
“But of course.” The bartender smiled, he took the bill and turned to the phone on the wall behind him and began to dial. It was an old rotary dial, very old world chic.
“C’mon darlin’, let’s get your coat on.” He moved to drape it over me. I looked out through the doors. Snow was falling, flakes glinted in the light outside the door, and there was maybe three inches on the ground.
I ducked the coat and made for the door, reaching into my pocket as I go. “Now, Darlin’.” He grabbed my shoulder. I spun around and swung at him with my keys in hand. He let go. The bartender’s tone changed, but I couldn’t focus enough to understand the words.
I pushed the door open, ringing the little brass bell. The cold air stung at my skin. I shivered and scanned the parking lot. There were only four cars there, and there was mine, backed up against the fence. I ran towards it, my feet slushing through the snow and my teeth chattering.
The bell rang again, and I heard the bastard shout my name. I opened the door with the push button and got in. He caught up just as I mashed the lock button.
“Darlin’, c’mon! You’re making a scene!” he shouted. It was muffled by the still air of my car. “Skootch over, I’ll drive.” He tugged on the door.
“Get away from me!” I yelled.
He laughed and slammed his hand on the window. I flinched. “I’m not goin anywhere, Darlin’ I gotta get you home safe.”
It took a few tries, but I got the key in the ignition. I turned the engine over. The lights went on and the seat belt indicator started beeping angrily.
He ran infront of the car and started waving his arms wide. “C’mon now, you’re in no state to drive.” As the window defrosted, I could see him smiling, blood on his cheek. “Now get out of the car, and we can get sort this out peacefully, allright, Darlin’?”
“Don’t call me Darling.” I threw the car into gear and floored it.
Metrofreak fucked around with this message at 05:40 on Mar 13, 2017
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 05:38|
Edit: Ah gently caress. Fuckin daylight savings. I guess I'm out. So do I take this down or what?
You're in for the week. But don't blame the time change, unless you set you live in a place where daylight savings is two hours
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 06:54|
it also happened yesterday lol
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 07:10|
a. don't take it down
b. don't edit your story post, just feel free to double post or whatever
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 08:07|
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 08:08|
unless you set you live in a place where daylight savings is two hours
Or I live somewhere without daylight savings so it never comes up and it always sneaks up on me. I should be aiming to get in earlier regardless, so thank you and it won't happen again.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 09:57|
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 10:50 on Jan 5, 2018
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 10:58|
Some crits for the duel/fight week.
One Last Job (630 words)
If there's blocking for actions, then there's also blocking for the actual story part of fiction. I didn't know where the story was, where it was coming from or where it was going: there's too much implied and not connected to the rest in this for me to buy into any of it.
There's far too much implied by serious sounding words that seem like they're significant for this to make sense in six hundred some words. There's far too many characters, all given real baddie sounding names and they seem like they don't deserve names. There's four people fighting one, or six? Four bullets plus two, or something? One of the many beats didn't connect up for me. A mysterious suitcase that saves someone? Or the kids? A train is departing that they have to be on? I didn't know if they were going to miss it because of something, but it seems you set it up so they'd win a fight and get on board at the last second making their getaway it just didn't make sense as I was reading, because all in all it's a very simple story. You've tacked parts on to try and add a depth to it, but they go unexplained and seem superfluous. The kid is the perfect example. She's pregnant and the suitcase is going to save it? Am I supposed to think it's retirement in Costa del Criminal money because of the story's title?
Ultimately this is a single event (the fight) that had no stakes for it but with other details mounded on top to try and give it significance. Given that it was posted four minutes before the cutoff I'm guessing it was a rush job just to have words in. It was really ill considered and there's very little piecing it together and seems to be box ticking an entry rather than constructing a somewhat coherent story for TD. Your ambition in telling a lot, or putting in your ideas didn't carry through with the lack of emphasis on any single part. It all seemed very lacking and an ideas, genre piece with no emphasis on the skill of either storytelling, action, or character motivation.
Really, it feels like you have some really strong ideas that you want to get across, and you know how to set them up and set the tone of the piece, which was easy to read in all this. It's evident you have the raw material for this story in there, you just didn't seem to give it the attention that would work for a strong piece of fiction.
Piss and Vinegar
This is a bold choice of story to tell, but ultimately it fails because it's based on a reveal rather than setting up tension at the beginning for what the reveal could be, my own investment didn't stack up for what seems like a blasé fight. It could work as a story about the senselessness of it but you're fighting against expectation with that. You're risking the beating that we don't know has a reason against the reveal of the racism. I will say it hit, at least the bluntness of the language choice, but really it doesn't work because I never felt like the violence had a justification, and I was waiting for a good justification. Pure racism might work, but the story wasn't steeped in enough gravitas, or indignation, or even innocence on the victim's part. It seemed like a shortcut at the end to add a writer's significance rather than a story that serves another purpose, such as speaking on blind hate, or a feeling of risk in daily life.
Like I said it's a bold choice to go with a purely bigoted justification for this, but it doesn't seem to serve anything. There's definitely a way it could work with you writing a hateful attack for no reason other than downright racism, but the writing doesn't stack up to it with so much of the story dedicated to a fight. I really feel like I need something more to it, and the decision at the end to move inside with the diner owner didn't justify the story. Investing some more in the protagonist might work, showing him as something other than simply a stand in for someone who's going to be abused.
I reread to see what you'd dedicated to the main character, and he's giddy with anticipation and wants to get lucky. Either give him more personality, have some foreshadowing or even set up a twist to sucker punc the reader with the racism reveal, and it could work but ultimately you're falling halfway between a somewhat abstract piece about the injustice of both violence and racism as told via the language, and a story about a guy we get to know, and can somewhat care for who get's suckered twice in one night for no reason other than bigotry and hate.
Riley's Last Ride
The hard boiled private dick angle seems strained to me. Maybe I've seen too many TV episodes where a regular show runs with it for a change of pace episode, but I can't help but think of them as gimmicky: more fun to write than read or watch. To me these stories come across as more writing exercise, or a niche Kindle market it's possible to make cash in by writing for a small but voracious reading audience. So my criticism could be more of a problem with the genre than it is with your story.
The main thing that put me off was the point of view and tense, but not that you failed it in technicalities rather how it related to the pacing of the story. With the asides you've included, the PI ruminating on his situation it made me slow down a lot in reading it. It seems far more considered in its tone than the POV and tense which was presenting it has an immediate situation. It comes across as a little too thoughtful to be someone caught up in something happening to them right now. There didn't seem like there was any urgency in the situation. I did wonder if he'd live or die, and I was looking forward to seeing if you'd throw him down a drain and how you'd write someone dying as that would be a coup de grace piece of writing/ending for me.. The present tense writing made me think there was a reason for it when it was combined with the ruminating, it cold give a sense of someone being caught in something, but then resigned to it but it didn't pay off or resolve that way: it's as though you were aping the hard boiled, nihilistic PI feel without ever establishing his disinterest in life. The fight was a let down, though with interesting actions by the participants because there didn't seem to be any immediecy to it. If he did die at the end (ohnoes! Has our hero died? Of course not, tune in next week) or even you ended on a cliffhanger and let it hanging I could see it tying into a detective serial vibe. The alternative would be to put the story in the past tense, and have him recounting his tale somewhere, a beach with a cocktail if you keep where you went, or to a judge, or at a political investigation maybe? Even a little segue into, "I said I'd get out of the business, but I just had to... Which is why I'm looking down the wrong end of barrel now."
It's well written, and the problems I'm talking about are for me what's holding it back from a really polished (to my reading tastes) state. It doesn't try anything innovative, which isn't something anyone could expect, but it does nail the prompt despite the problem I have with it. Ultimately I imagine you had a blast writing this, and it seems like you put a great deal of work and thought into it with the language choice, prose style and the detective's thoughts, but I can imagine having more fun writing it and playing with the tropes than I would have as a reader of it, unless it was my special fangirl genre.
I really didn't have any faith in this resolving its twist in a reasonable manner, but you pulled it off in the sense I want to know more about what's happening but ultimately it's more that I want to question you, rather than a buy in to the story..
You did a good job of setting up her win as inevitable, and having me doubt why she didn't act in the first place. However I wasn't engaged in the fight, which really came across as a rather stale fantasy fight. If I know the win is inevitable, don't have much investment in wanting a specific outcome, or at the least doubt my own feelings about the outcome then the fight seems superfluous to me. The story for me is with the sorceress and her situation, and not a battle with a beast. It's like you've clad a story you can have investment in on a part of story that's not carrying any weight. Part of the problem with that is the fight action wasn't good enough for me. Maybe if I saw her power, or if she toyed with the beast? The "does the beast understand" parts were instrumental in setting up the twist/reveal, but I had no reason to think the beast could understand. I had no knowledge of the fight, or the stakes. I had no reason to feel any empathy with any part of it. Really the story was me questioning you the author, can you pull off a plot point that satisfies everything you're setting up, so that doesn't allow me to get into any ideas of allegory and is she really the beast, or does testing people make her the monster, with the test subjects doomed to failure because she sets them up? The story wasn't me wondering about characters, or the situation, but me questioning the direct authorial hand in an idea. A good story shouldn't have me questioning the ability of the author to tie things up, but should pull me along with questions about what's happening while the author stays out of my thoughts. The question didn't arrive until the end, and I had already given up on your writing. It only made me question your idea generation.
A big problem with a lot of this was the flow of the prose. You were presenting a stoic, almost reclusive person but the language was attempting to be flowery, with lots of high falutin' fantasy power words and tropes in there. For me you either need to pare back the language to a lot simpler, and more matter of fact but you'd need to pull off something very hard in showing domination in the character with less room to write it (simplistic and decisive language) or you need to get me invested in the fight, or her own internal fight, neither of which happened.
Fake edit: Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast just came on as I was writing this.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 16:25|
Week 240 These Bits Don't Ad Up Judge Post
Thanks to Fuschia tude for acting as co-judge
As Cool as Slate by Jay W. Friks
Sorry, buddy. The prose felt right out of high school, and it was almost so bad it's good, but you went way over the word count and still only gave us half a story. If it had as kooky an ending as the rest it might have been a classic. If you're going to go for broke, write 5000 words and at least finish the drat thing.
No Shirt? No Shoes? A Gun Will Do. by Chili
There's just nothing behind the cool luchador masks. Rather than let Jake work out his problems, Michael (the level-headed one) deals with Jake's daddy issues by shooting him in the face. The dialogue tried to be from the streets, but it comes across as that sincere, uncomfortable impression a teacher uses to connect.
Sorry for the DM. I hope WE COOL
Do You Trust Me? by Mrenda
Roofies and tacos and poop and pee might be sexy, but they don't equal love. You wrote a black widow serial killer story, and the twist ending had potential, but you had to go and make it weird.
Reboot the War by Hawklad
There was a big grey middle and lots of pros and cons to each story. Reboot is far from perfect, but the author tackled a tough theme and put together a decent sci-fi yarn with the hallmarks of that post-Vietnam era disillusionment.
Quite a few stories had interesting premises or clean execution but no real characters, and a couple had decent characters without a plot or satisfying resolution.
Hawklad wasn't the best in any single category, but doing pretty well in theme, plot, and character and execution gave him the win over a perfect score in just one or two.
More robust comments posted shortly.
Hawklad wins Week 240
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 16:52|
Week 240 Judge Comments
Here’s my rough rank order for the middle, but it’s not clearly delineated. Nothing was so great that we both wanted to HM it, and Fuschia had different HM candidates than I did, so in the end we scrapped the lot.
Metrofreak - Darlin
Strong tone with an intense vibe. Main character is a blank slate. It comes close to working, but the tension is too slack for too long.
Uranium Phoenix - Once Forgotten
Not really a story, just some dimestore philosophizing. I liked it as a little writing experiment but wasn’t exciting or powerful enough to win a story contest.
GenJoe - Moral Imperatives
Clean prose, great execution, but you literally say it’s one of the oldest pranks in the book and it is. Nothing new to see here.
Thranguy - The Helpline
First 200 words drag it down. Presented hints at an interesting world, but the POV is removed from the real action. The cubicle farm/helpline gimmick could have worked if you committed to only hearing one side of the conversation rather than bringing the victim to the helpline offices.
Gau - Capture
Another one with clean execution and clear action, but it starts out a little boring and the characters are stock stereotypes.
Bad Seafood - Henpecked
A fun trifle, but there’s no real conflict or stakes. The protag is never really in actual jeopardy or any sort of predicament that leads to fun.
Solitair - Together in the Same Boat
Second half is a decent character piece about uncertain youth, but you have to get through a dumb beginning about flame hands and John Oliver to get there.
Okua - A storm in a two-storey house
Zeus came to my house on a lighting bolt and I was still bored. So I asked him to bang my mom.
Blind judged crits. I didn’t look at the inspiration art first, just read. Adherence to art had no impact on my decisions, but I did go back and look to see what you pulled just for funsies. Most were surprising and I liked how you interpreted them.
I tended to ask a lot of questions and throw hypothetical story ideas, it’s my way of finding story problems. I like to look at the works as wholes and break them down rather than just doing line-by-line copyediting. I hope this is helpful in thinking about how and where the below-average reader (me) got stuck or drifted off.
These are in post order from the thread.
A storm in a two-storey house
Well, I for one, did not see Zeus coming. You get it? Get it?
The first paragraph is fine and I like the imagery. Ben is playing video games and casting spells, and I knew teens just like that. You pulled me into the story and I’m interested to see where it goes.
But then it falls apart.
I can see some hints that maybe Ben gets electrocuted in the storm and actually dies at the end, but there’s not enough to make it resonate. He hooks his Mom up with the biggest philanderer in mythology and that’s supposed to make her happy? Ben knows the stories and so does Mom. That’s the one thing they used to talk about, so it’s not like Zeus even has to pull his usual tricks and disguises routine to get some action.
Zeus is Zeus, and he plays the “old god in modern times” routine. Zeus is tolerable as a character in your story even if it’s been done before. But Ben is so nonchalant about Zeus dropping in that he maintains his boredom. The bored main character is boring.
The real relationship in the story is Ben and his Mother, and they don’t have any personal resolution at the end. Ben sends his proxy to hook up with his mother and hopes to hear the details later. This isn’t even ignorance on your part—you call him a seducer. I’m left with a queasy feeling after reading this.
The piece starts casual and the contractions help move it along. “He’d given up on beating the level . . . He didn't even move.” But then the style becomes stilted. It switches from swift prose to a slog in a hurry.
If the first dialogue exchange with Mom is supposed to be playful, it doesn’t come across that way. If my teen said “Hey, nothing’s happened here.” I’d want to investigate. At that point in the story, though, it’s totally sincere. These people are boring. If Mom came home after Zeus arrived, and Ben tried to hide him or there were other hijinks from a god crashing around the room that would be interesting.
It takes a long time for Zeus to enter the story, and you would have been better served to have Zeus and Ben talk about Mom or spooning the info over the course of the story rather than exposition dumping at the beginning.
Like Paris: I’m rusty on my ancient lit, but I guess you mean Paris from the Iliad. On first read, though, I read it as Paris, France. So maybe choose a more widely known reference or add some context. Even swapping that to Helen of Troy would make your point without stopping the story. If your entire story was chock full of references, I’d let it slide and that would be neat to run through all the mythology backstories, but this really stands out.
I tried to put aside the real-world details and let the story play out, but it was tough. Starting with the date I immediately said ‘oh poo poo, Challenger.’ And that tension rides in the back of the mind the whole way through.
At first I thought that was a good thing, but it actually kind of hurts it because there’s no way you can have another tragedy and government cover-up that close in time to a big public one in what is ostensibly a straightforward space adventure. So by the time Chen is knocked unconscious I’ve already realized that either he’s going to be saved and have a sappy ending or it’s going to be a callous, potentially gross ending.
You chose wisely and the epilogue is a sweet, feel-good moment. Your tech talk and action descriptions are pretty good (though I wonder if someone in the cockpit would check a wrist chronometer instead of the console). There’s no confusion in the blocking or what’s going on. Even with the terms it wasn’t difficult to read.
I don’t mind character sketches when your prose is primarily action, but these veer a little too much into stereotypes. The veteran commander; the athletic black man; the emotional woman (she’s actually surprised that she’s cool under pressure); and the science Asian.
If mission control gave an order and the entire crew disobeyed it to save Chen, that would be more heroic. Even with the given mission parameters, I find it hard to believe that they would be willing to ditch a fellow astronaut, and especially given Griffin’s past, I’d expect him to have a “not this time” moment.
Also not sure why the spy satellite is disguised. NASA must have tracked the rocket launch to get the satellite’s orbit, and there’s no way they’d randomly run into a satellite while doing other missions without it being a catastrophe. Same with USSR tracking a shuttle launch. It’s such an undertaking you can’t really hide that from another superpower; so your ticking clock isn’t such a big deal. And launching at night would make the shuttle is more visible to the naked eyes of human spies.
If there was secret spy tech that the US wanted to retrieve and reverse engineer, then Chen frying the circuits makes no sense. If they just wanted to destroy it, there are much easier ways than a shuttle mission.
Making it a more fictional space adventure glosses over a lot of these real world questions. The setting works against you when you put in specifics that a reader might question. I'd probably take at face value the Glorbon Federation launching a disguised satellite around the moon of Earth II.
Anyway, on first read this one tricked me into thinking it was pretty good; but there are a lot of plot holes and wimpy characterizations. Decent writer wrote a bad story.
Do You Trust Me?
I feel like I got my medication mixed up. There’s an interesting premise here: a black widow playing house while she murders a boyfriend on the same day every five years. And the twist with mislabeled poisons and antidotes was cool. But the execution (pun) is dreadful.
Firstly, I’m not sure where my sympathies are supposed to sit. Nick has +5 in scumbag. It’s unclear if [unnamed woman] had some trauma in the past or if she’s just hardwired to kill. That’s not really explored, and there’s really just a bunch of horribly sexist dialogue and even though it seems to be part of [woman’s] plan, all she does is act like a subservient housewife for 364 days a year.
I mean, I haven’t read it, but I heard about 50 Shades of Grey so I know a little something about the sub/dom scene, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t it. I think both people have to be cognisant that it’s happening. Otherwise Nick is just an rear end in a top hat and [woman] seems smart enough to see that. Where’s the arousal in playing slave to an oblivious dickhead? Thunderdome probably isn’t the best place to write about kinks, but you throw that word around and then leave it vague. The most interesting thing was me imagining Nick’s orc erotica journals. Why did you cut off [woman] before she explains why she does what she does? Aaaargh.
This whole ordeal is supposed to be some sort of trust exercise, but even the rules on that aren’t clear. She wants Nick to figure the puzzle out, but I guess he wasn’t smart enough to find all the pieces, so he dies. Was he supposed to give in and accept the antidote to gain her trust? Dunno. Prepped suicide note suggests otherwise, unless that was a just-in-case.
Surely she didn’t need to put up with this loser for that long to realize he wasn’t the one. You can find plenty of dopes (willing or otherwise) to roofie and pose like a doll who aren’t lousy human beings. And poop. You better write something amazing when you start off with a poo poo-caked toilet. This isn’t really a no-holds-barred gross out story, so that’s just a weird detail that doesn’t fit except to reduce my opinion of both characters.
This looks carefully proofread, so you spent some time on it, but man, there’s a lot of awkward prose. I wonder if this author has a case of English as a second language, that would explain a lot. Even forgiving that, the characters are yucky to read about and the motivations don’t exist. Truelife serial killers are always fascinating trainwrecks, so you have to work pretty hard to write an uninteresting one.
Reboot the War
This one is so close to being great. There’s a long stretch where it seems it’s just a robot and HK-47 having to adapt to civilian life would be neat, but then about halfway through it gets complicated with meatware. So was this a human who was gradually replaced over years of military service? That could have been an interesting wrinkle as it looks at other augmented civilians and maybe prejudice and protesters. Or running into a memory-wiped vet rather than one who seems to be coping successfully. Paint both sides of the choice so the audience sees the options.
There are some details that don’t jibe like why SK-X11 doesn’t get (or already have) a civilian name and why it still has a pistol and targeting software. The memories as a killing machine are the big decision to keep or forget, but it seems like they’re setting SK up for failure by leaving all the military software.
I’d have like to maybe see SK improvise weapons and the paranoia when it doesn’t have targeting software and bomb detectors and infrared. If that has been deactivated and that’s why it can’t identify what’s in the passengers’ bags, then that’s not clear. I don’t think the sarge means to trick anyone by not telling him explicitly that SK has to adjust to life without it.
The adjustment of losing one of your senses would be a good addition and maybe a better reason for SK to seek out the drug/sim pusher. There’s no hint that Marcello can override the First Rule but I read the ending as SK possibly becoming a vigilante and clean up the streets. If Marcello only offers an escape through drugs, then it’s a weird resolution. Forgetting is bad, but numbing with drugs is OK?
I’m not a total sci-fi expert or anything, but I think a lot of stuff you wrote about was couched in the shiny nuclear ‘50s turning into the grungy Vietnam era, but you don’t really describe the city as a place SK would want to live or a city that doesn’t want him. Even the resolution of the train sequence seems calm. There’s no panicked meatbags screaming and pointing fingers at the killing machine jumping over seats and pulling a firearm. Just another friendly robot.
If you stripped out all the proprietary hardware and left SK as a decommissioned weapon abandoned after no longer being useful by an uncaring gov’t then you could go in some interesting cyberpunk directions, but the sarge is way too friendly and helpful and leaving the choice up to your protag means you straddle the line between eras and sub-genres without making a hard turn into either.
SK’s internal conflict needs to be fleshed out, and maybe some realization on his own that the train thing was bad. Not somebody else calmly telling him to get help. This isn’t like a public intoxication or something. It’s actually dangerous.
So take another look at this one, the premise has a lot of potential and the prose is decent for this type of story.
You have a few proofing errors that a spellcheck won’t catch: down instead of town; and think instead of thing.
You don’t need to start the story with “Five minutes earlier.” Skipping all that and starting with “Helpline, we solve impossible problems. This is Tori.” “My boyfriend is a literal monster.” is a much stronger way to open.
The speculation about the mysterious phone contact for the hotline doesn’t matter at all, and talking about the Cecil’s casework slows down the beginning. I doubt the Helpline should deal with mundane problems at all. Calling a lawyer or beating up/running a thug out of town isn’t all that impossible. There are 200 unnecessary words right at the beginning. Focus on the supernatural and cut all the rest.
You could add in something about ‘when people need our phone number, they find it’ later. Once magic is established it doesn’t need explained more. But all the details about their business model just leads to more questions.
Tori BSes saying that they’d do this on general principle, but for you the low, low price of your first born child. They’re not altruistic monster hunters, in fact Tori is a slave, traded in a pact to banish a demon and now she works for eternity in customer service. Truly, she is in hell.
But Tori seems sincere. The FBC sacrifices go to work for the Helpline. OK. But is it part of ‘capital H’ Hell? The significance of the three at the end are lost on me unless it’s ripping off The Dark Tower and they’re like the Low Men taking special kids. They certainly don’t seem to be angels or any sort of traditional demon hunters. I was also left wondering if Tori is Robin’s child, but there’s no recognition from Tori, she’s just a random cog in the machine.
There’s a lot of talk about dreams and nightmares that sets up the twist ending that Tori is FBC, and that’s fine, but considering dreams and nightmares is sort of subjective. The going to class in your underwear or teeth falling out are common ones that I think most people would call nightmares. Rooted in fear, not memories. You’re trying to establish that supernatural nightmares are actually real visions, but you can’t put it under a blanket statement like that.
(Also, they draw up contracts and have offices, so why can’t Tori just look up her casefile and find her mother?) It’s a twist for the sake of a twist and I wonder if you put the contract payments in to work towards that end.
The action is all glossed over in the wrong way, too. If you wanted the nonchalant corporate stuff to act as a shell for the supernatural, then it might have been better to have Tori and Sal eating lunch in their cubicles while talking people through blood sacrifices and banishings on headsets and gab with each other. There you can explore Tori’s crush on her gay co-worker and their relationship. Otherwise that line about Sal is out of place and jarring. Don’t bring Robin to the office. In fact, if Robin says ‘no’ to the FBC, then what? They let a demon eat people alive? Problem is identified and it’s just a matter of fact run-down of how it gets solved. Easy peasy. There’s no conflict. Put Robin back in the office building facing down her ex-boyfriend and banishing the bastard to hell. Then the hotline workers take another call.
There’s a lot of terminology but the rules and hierarchy of this magic world just aren’t explained very well. The premise is interesting but the POV is far removed from the actual action. You tried to have it both ways and it would have been more successful if you either focused on Tori or Robin separately rather than having them meet in person and going through all the bureaucracy.
No Shirt? No Shoes? A Gun Will Do.
You had me until Jake and Troy get into it. Two dopes in luchador masks robbing drug runners is a fine start. However, if they’ve done 17 robberies I don’t think they would have fallen for whatever is going on here.
There’s setup that Jake was abused by his dad at the beginning. I think Troy is just a stand-in for Jake’s actual father and he’s taking it out on Troy. That’s fine even if the guy in a luchador mask with a gun is cussing him out for letting his son be in a gang that passes notes. Here’s where it starts veering into parody. WE COOL
What is even going on with this? Street boss meets Troy in the alley and they make a deal to keep his kid off the streets. OK. Then he writes a note and gives it to Troy. Is it like a hall pass? Troy gets confronted by some corner boys and he pulls out the note saying WE COOL and they back off? Or is Troy’s son supposed to pin it to his chest like a scarlet letter and those bad gangbangers will stay away? It’s just absurd.
They won’t rob the manager where he does drug deals in the alley, it’s safer and less visible creating a hostage situation inside? It seems like Jake has an ulterior motive, but if Jake set this up and Michael was an unwitting accomplice in Jake robbing his own father, it’s not spelled out clearly.
Troy tries to fix his mistakes and Jake still gets furious about it. The outbursts are out of order. Jake needs to flip out then Troy reveal he tried to fix things. Jake takes his mask off and confronts father (or father proxy) face to face before claiming that the sins of the father are just too great.
While the single tear running down a cheek is almost always laughable you might have had Michael well up and plead with Jake while training a gun on him. Jake gets shot in the chest. Troy pulls up Jake’s mask and goes, “Son?” I mean it’s still corny but at least there’s a little pathos there. There’s no way I buy Michael shooting his partner over some nobody after 17 robberies and years of friendship.
But really the duo are grown men and scumbag robbers. It’s hypocritical for getting angry at Troy (who actually has the only character development). That can be interesting. You dangled a little bit with the daddy issues, but never had Jake have a realization. The reasonable one, Michael, pleads for sanity then actually guns down his bestie. Or you flip the ending. Michael tackles Jake and Jake shoots him so he can have a “What have I done” moment.
I dunno. I should have expected two guys in luchador masks to be silly, because this was. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was intentional.
Not sure about ruins being damp in Cairo unless he’s under the sewer, so um. I might have even skipped some of the other description of the tomb since it turns out not to matter. Just get the fear of the rats, and maybe make it clearer that he imagines something huge that turns out to be a normal rat. But whatever.
The setting is really just an excuse for some philosophizing. It isn’t subtle, but it isn’t cringe-worthy, either. There are just enough examples before Liam makes his realization that people can make anything a new normal that it flows well, and the examples are all fitting.
The main issue is how is Liam going to deal with the bully? That one really sticks out. The kid sitting on his chest and waving the x-acto knife is really good, but at the end it seems like Liam is just going to normalize and internalize that as part of life. That’s not great.
I rolled my eyes reading “I thought marid were water spirits.” and thought, oh, someone’s showing off the Wikipedia article they read. Then you got me with the Monster Manual. Great joke and good self-aware characterization.
This isn’t much of a story, but I like it as a piece of writing.
Together in the Same Boat
Not sure why this guy doesn’t have time for a shower. I mean those Saturday at Noon birthday parties are usually the kind that drag on while relatives gab. And I doubt he’d be running so fast he skids to a stop while lugging a statue around. Those details and the whole bit about John Oliver just don’t make good character sense. It wouldn’t take much to look up some anime character and use that. If this is his friend, I’m sure he would have at least seen some show or memorabilia he could mimic, even from memory. You’ve invented Sculptor’s Panic. If you’re dead set on getting a John Oliver reference, then have guy make a Harry Potter thing for superfan Millie and she says she loves her John Oliver statue. I dunno, it’s just not funny, and it’s a thoughtless gift that actually is a hassle because heavy iron statue.
Then he still doesn’t care and plays with his phone rather than watching some dumbass anime that she likes. Good friend.
But anyway, I like how the story doesn’t make a big deal about super powers and they’re actually kind of a pain in the rear end to the protag.
After the my NERD REFERENCES are cool and your NERD REFERENCES are dumb, it gets into them just walking around and being friends. I don’t understand why a woman without makeup draws the attention of the cops, but beyond that, the second half with the aimless 20-something angst was much better than the first half.
The narrator is still selfish and doesn’t really do anything to cheer up Millie. He actually uses her to make himself feel better. But that feels realistic. People do that. This story is an odd duck. It’s got some ridiculous bits interwoven with some good material.
So the flash art was just inspiration and I only considered the words alone. But I did go back and look to see how everyone used it, and some I got a chuckle or “ah, that makes sense.” This one stumped me. There’s a mention of a cop, I guess. Did you just ignore it, use the wrong picture, or did I miss something?
Redone version of the snipe hunt, a gag that’s old as dirt though you put a button on that. You set the stage well, and I didn’t see the ending coming so, in that sense it’s successful. Maybe the first sentence is a little rough, owner and sole proprietor is redundant; but the whole gentrification rant and Mike’s kids at the beginning is a nice subterfuge.
I didn’t feel a huge amount of tension throughout, narrator is more concerned with the smell rather than rescuing someone. If I were pulling this prank on someone I’d have the other crew moaning down into the sewer line from a manhole up the block so narrator either freaks out a little more or jumps in the sewer to be a hero.
It’s a really light-weight version of the prank. I’m reading this on my [i[iPad[/i] and the prose is pretty clean and readable.
For the love of god, why didn’t that egg fly back up that chicken’s butt?
I mean you set it up and made Claire a bad spellcaster and everything. But her spell worked perfectly. The master was supposed to be furious, but he didn’t really care. He just wanted his egg.
Not sure if at the end you meant “Claire froze,” instead of Henrietta, that seems off. If Henrietta had the egg back in her butt, and wizard says, now where’s my breakfast? *gulp* pulls on collar* then that would have been a punchline.
Why does the magic door allow the cockatrice to leave the house, especially considering the danger of the creature? That detail only adds a plothole.
Claire does question why the sailor is so into the chicken, but you don’t actually answer the question. He even pulls the boat ashore to grab Henrietta. There’s no good reason presented for him to put up that much of a fight over it. If he recognized the cockatrice as something rare and valuable, I can see it, but he doesn’t seem to know there’s anything unusual about Henrietta. Claire could have even just grabbed her run off at that point. Sailor isn’t going to abandon his boat to chase them.
And the egg. She rubbed some runes off before the boatman confronted her. So was Claire planning on hitting him in the head before he even said anything? Or did she screw up? Back again to the bad spellcaster setup. Her spells work exactly as hoped. They don’t backfire and cause trouble.
So it’s a fun setup in a Harry Potter type world, but the antagonist boatman is really the one in the most danger, way under the weight-class of a magician and a cockatrice. With all the talk of unlicensed magic use, why not have an official find the cockatrice and Claire have to do something clever to pull the wool off a magic cop? Would have been more interesting.
In the end, Claire’s boss really didn’t care. He didn’t even flip when all his precious books were all over the floor. A lot of wasted opportunity for hijinks, and the characters contradicting their descriptions isn’t used for surprise, it just seems like shoddy storycrafting.
Jay W. Friks
As Cool as Slate
You might have gotten away with the juvenile prose if you framed it as these kids telling a ghost story or actually reading from that weird loser Chad’s journal where he imagines himself as the coolest kid in school, and sends up all the cliques that shun him with the quarterback’s name changed by one letter.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get to the level where it’s so bad it’s good.
Even going so far over word count, you only get to the meet and greet. Confronting Chad isn’t part of the story.
I don't quite know where to help on this one except to say maybe don't stuff so many characters into one story. Master writing a single protagonist before you try to stuff ten different voices into a single piece. With that many people it's almost impossible not to stereotype everyone.
With all the 80s slasher references and tropes, I see where you might be going with this, but it takes forever to get moving, then stops after the first act.
This is pretty intense. I think I would have had the guy actually talk a little more before she goes in the bathroom to make the missed calls a little more panicky. At that point, there isn’t any menace from the guy buying a drink, just someone trying to pick a woman up at a bar. Since the protag is a heavy drinker, there’s no worry from the audience that she might be drugged or anything sinister going on. Just seems like normal end of the night bar desperation.
Then towards the end I’m not sure if this is an error, but you say “I heard the bastard shout my name.” and it makes me question the entire thing that this isn’t her dad or boyfriend who actually came to help and she’s so drunk she doesn’t recognize them.
But then it’s back to the scumbo telling her to get out of the car and sort it peacefully, sounding like a would-be rapist again before he gets ran down. So it settles pretty firmly in the creeper camp.
The main character doesn’t really exist except as terrorized victim, so you don’t get to know her at all except as a plot mover. The strong sense of dread and tense atmosphere keeps it afloat. It doesn’t veer into moralizing territory, either. Like, a woman should be able to go out and get hammered without having something like this happen, or get blamed for being drunk. The unconditional Dad taxi is a nice touch there.
If you wanted to make it more interesting and not rely entirely on tone, I would have dropped a couple blackout gaps here and there and temper the man’s comments so you get a hint that maybe it is someone trying to help. A few tweaks and you could read it either way and make something really unsettling
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 18:00 on Mar 13, 2017
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 17:31|
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 17:45|
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 17:54|
Crits for week #240.
A storm in a two-storey house
This got a hearty, prolonged laugh from me. I could easily see this appearing in some comedy magazine where people are left wondering why the gently caress am I ready about a bored boy in his bedroom? Because really, that's what I was wondering most of the time I read it. Things were happening, but there was no tension, it was all matter of fact. I really felt like I was going to get to the end and still be wondering what the point of it all was. Then Zeus gets to relive his youth, and I lolled. A really fun story, but what makes it really stand out is the pathos in it. The son really does care for his mother, even if he is quite likely setting her up for disaster with her thunder and lightning evening with Zeus. The fact that you got the laugh out of me, then followed it up by, "D'aaw, the teenager cares about his, Mom!" made this one of the top stories I've read/critted (which isn't that many, but still, kudos.) And you really pulled it home by putting the distance between mother and son in the writing and feel in the story, which is something that I haven’t seen accomplished often: tying the tone and pacing of the prose with a pay off in story.
My initial thoughts as I started reading this was about where the story was going? I was giving it time but as I read on I wasn't getting much out of it. It was perfunctory, and rather cold. The only hint at anything was the "curse" Chen brought down on them. And it seems like you sketched out a fair portion of the story just to bring that in. There was no feeling of tension, or even possibility for what seemed like quite a large part of it. I did question their decisions to rescue Chen, is he alive or not, but it seems like a small part of the story engaging me rather than the full 1,500 words. There was little for me to grasp onto, with the start all seeming routine especially with experienced people doing their thing, and the ending seemed like it was routine with you looking for the payoff from the, "Thank you" arm grab at the end. I spent a lot of time wondering about the technobabble, and if the story was going to service that type of nerdery. In the end it seems to be based on people making decisions and the consequences.
The problem with all of that is that there was relatively little emotion in it all. I can understand them being professional, and practiced in what they're doing but I need to feel like they're people during the story, not machines. To give a feeling of the story it came across like the old space missions when they had voice comms, and the astronauts jokes were coming through distorted and with their speech being cut off by them activating their comm link. In a way I guess you could say it was stilted, like experiencing something from afar, and even then through limited technology. I can understand how that would all tie into the feeling of space exploration, the distance and even the professionalism of the astronauts but it doesn't make me bite into a story.
The basic plot was there, I feel: something can go wrong and that being foreshadowed, a tough decision, and consequences for it but I don't think you told the story as you should have. You didn't get into the feeling of the situation, or make it feel like I was there although you came close when they were reeling him in. All in all it seemed like a debrief or after action report to an investigator rather than a story I could get involved in. Giving it a personal lens through which the story unfolds would bring it up quite a bit for me. I didn't feel like there was a consistent point of view for the story, I didn't feel like I was there with anyone. If you picked one person and brought us through their experience it would really benefit my reading of it, and give me someone to get attached to. Then you can start bringing in humanity to it like fear, doubt, and even professionalism and coolness in the face of danger.
I really don't know what to make of this. Finishing it, I paused, I'm sure a puzzled look came over my face, then I laughed. I paused again and tried to figure out why you would write this? Is it a commentary? It's a very serious subject, people adjusting after coming back from war, people freeing themselves from the trauma war inflicts, people with health issues shaping them and maybe looking for a way to just get rid of them even at a cost, but you deal with it using beep boop robots with reset buttons. Given my reaction I can only be left to wonder am I bigoted against robots? This is a horrible thing to happen to someone, to be that lost but looking at it through the lens of an artificial eye is making me bemused. Am I lacking in empathy? Is it I who is the robot?
No, I'm not the robot. The way you deal with the whole situation suggests a real frivolity to the story that clashes with the subject matter. You have a city that's futuristic, but analogous to our own day's cities: hard and uncaring, people released out without support, but you don't show any level of rumination on the city or state of affairs. You don't show any concern in your writing for the lack of justice, or the troubles. You just show a robot attacking someone, when the robot has had no preparation for non-war reality. You even go to pains to suggest it happens within six hours of their release, but there's no problem with the robot's release because there's systems in place. It's absurd but falls far short of absurdist writing because it relies on a very shallow and silly comparison if you hold it up to real world standards. It’s all quite insulting to the subject matter, and ridiculous in narrative.
You're telling a very serious story but with robots, which I guess is down to the prompt, but if it wasn't for the robots I'd actually find the casualness you deal with the whole thing belittling to anyone with health issues, PTSD, or coming back from a war. For this to work for me you need a better way to establish the world in the first instance, and then the commentary on our own world. Apart from establishing the callousness of the world, you'd need to bring the robot further away from beep-boop killer. The robot in this has no personality beyond that of a war machine, there's very little real feeling to them as a character. Ultimately it feels like you've depersonalised the character, and the setting, story, etc. rather than the tragedies being inflicted on them by society.
Ultimately it’s like an homage to eighties films like Rambo. I can absolutely see someone gooning it up to play off them, but this comes across as an entirely misjudged lampoon on something you have no right to be lampooning. Your characters are shallow, there’s no feeling of empathy or humanity in either the plot, or the way you write any of the setting or imagery. I was surprised there wasn’t a wacky war buddy twist to it. Leathal Weapon handled suicide with more delicacy than this handled PTSD.
This was nice. The story propelled itself along with decent pace, the premise was interesting, and you wrote the perfunctory nature of a call centre well. I did have to push down a few questions as the story progressed such as whether magic is known? The woman's acceptance of it all throws that in doubt a little. On the one hand she's desperate after what she's just seen, but is she desperate enough that she can buy into all of what's happening? And then accept it all? It's a story that's partly predicated on me suspending disbelief so to get that little callback to my sense of reality dragged me out of it a little. Maybe with more words you could do a small bit more worldbuilding to establish the rules and reality of the situation. One of the bigger problems with this (that's also a good thing) is that this felt like the introduction to a novel, or the first chapter before something big happens to the call centre woman. It feels like it's serving something bigger, which is in part the routine nature of the situation for one half of the participants. It's a world I want to see more of. It pulls off the casualness for the call centre magic world that's part of what I see as see as readable urban fantasy genre fiction. This goes up against the next part I have problems with, which seems like you're telling two different things with a lack of purpose in directing the reader through your story.
The bigger problem for me was the FBC aspect. If it was an entire novel it'd be a nice detail, where I'm expecting something to be unfurled over hundreds of pages, but for a short story it seems cheap that the "resolution" i.e. her talking about being a FBC and her nightmares is slightly, but not really obfuscated. You've built up an air of casualness to the whole lot, and it doesn't pay off with the sudden pseudo-shocking/horror twist about nightmares and trauma. It leaves me wondering what am I supposed to take from it? And having thought about it, and my reactions as I read the story really it feels like a good story is let down by a last line (or last two paragraphs) attempt to up the severity of it, and change the story to something more with the nightmares part.
Going a little further back into it it seems like you've obfuscated something from the reader with the TLA that you didn't do for the characters. Everyone but me knows what an FBC is. It's explained to the woman who called in about it. When she's questioning the payment it doesn't read very well, like you've made a mistake in writing it, when really I should have spent an extra second on what FBC could stand for. And the fact you don't spell it out, says to me you don't want the reader to know, or you're gambling a story element on some readers not knowing, and hiding all that with awkward language makes me feel like you know the story mightn't work as well with that information. I feel like I'm missing out on something, when you're allowing for me missing out on it and ensuring it's not revealed to me unless I knew it the first time. Putting things in that some readers will get, and others won't is something that's a really nice part of a longer novel, but for a short story it feels like you're hedging your bets where you can't decide on what you want to tell.
All in all it's a story that's left me wishing for tighter authorial intent. It's definitely a possibility that it's a case of ambition outpacing polish, because really it feels like you just need to nail down some loose ends that are pushing my reaction between two many different reads of the story and it's possibilities. It's a great thing the possibilities are there, it shows how solid the whole premise is, I'm just left wishing for that little extra from you in tightening up how you want to pull your reader through your ideas.
No Shirt? No Shoes? A Gun Will Do.
I didn't enjoy this, and found it quite hard to follow. There was a lot of action, and a lot of actions that didn't flow very neatly for me. I feel like I got the point quite quickly, they're robbing people, but only bad people. It seemed convoluted in how it happened. I had no investment in the people, or the situation when there was so little time given to anything but them trying to gently caress poo poo up, or push guns in people's face (did Troy end up with two guns in his face.) Part of my investment in something could absolutely be buying into the spirit of the writing and prose: it being evocative, or just giving off a vibe so I will say I got somewhat of the ferocity, and panic in this, but that didn't aid my understanding of what was happening, rather it hindered it.
Ultimately this seems like goon robbery fantasy and indulgence, which is absolutely fair game, I went with something similar this week. And my story had about as much dialogue happening, with a bit of the importance on picking up on the actions/blocking, so I know it's hard to keep clear on what the reader will know from reading the story versus what you feel is told. So all that's a long way of saying I feel your pain in trying to write a story like this. Goonspeed.
This one seemed like a real dopey kid ending up in a dopey adventure and acting moronic. I could easily imagine his jaw being slack and him saying, "woah!" a lot. I think part of the problem is that the stakes were never established. You start a little bit at the beginning with the war/revolution going on, and his confusion at what happened to him, but you never really establish his fear in the situation with any heavy or emotive language or depth to him. You describe his surroundings but it doesn't carry through as an "Oh poo poo, oh poo poo, oh poo poo," feeling but more an, "oh no! whatever will I do?" From then on he just muddles his way through any interaction with the djinn, without ever going through any horror or fear. If it were a TV show it'd be a lot of bad actors gurning at the camera.
To bring it up a level I'd spend more time establishing the situation he finds himself. Maybe something about his memories of ending up in the hole/pyramid and anger at himself for getting into problems. Then I'd get into at first his fear, then his panic. This really seems like a piece where you're playing of the emotional state of the character, versus his need to stay calm and get out of trouble. The problem is he seems to bumble his way through with everything being handed to him: even the resolution the djinn accepts what he offers him and that's that. I never had the feeling that this was a credible scenario (given the incredible nature.) I think I need to see a rising and falling of tension: give him hope, an idea on a way out and then take that away from him. Let him fail, and let the situation and his rescue be his own making: he doesn't seem to have any control over his situation. Really it all just felt a little flat.
Together in the Same Boat
This reads like a Generation X disaffected youth story written by a creative writing program student, but with less emphasis on artistic prose and more emphasis on superpowers and cake. If you're going to go for this style of story, one where not much happens and it's dealing with ennui then you really need to nail the prose, which you didn't. There's a lot of confusing dialogue, confusing flow, and confusing blocking in their thoughts and what's happening. Stuff like them looking at their phone, but not at the screen (I presume the TV screen that was on) came across like you just typed out words directly as a flow from your mind rather than crafting a literary train of thought.
I can definitely get behind slice of life style writing, but it's a lot harder to do than simple plot, idea and narrative based writing. You need to be really evocative and get across an almost poetic like pace to the ups and downs of the characters (mostly downs.) The characters seemed like losers, but they weren't redeemable in any way which is fine if you can get across their humanity, or lack of it, and that's probably the most important thing to nail: the realness of the characters. I didn't get their care for each other very strongly (I did a little,) and I didn't get any spark between them. The bit at the end about the love for her made me feel like you should have been layering it in before hand, and showing some indication of an uplift in mood, or at least a downbeat in their anhodenia when they're together. If you really want to bring it up a level you need some imagery in there or something to latch onto that reflects the listlessness of the characters, that might have been what you tried with the birthday but it didn't have enough significance. But again if that fails and it's a hard thing to do you come across as the guy who brings a typewriter to Starbucks. What you went for is a difficult thing to pull off.
Also I think you used the image prompt you selected yourself, rather than the one you were given.
This started off really disjointed, both in language and the way you told the story. I wasn't sure what was going on. Is this a post-apocalyptic story? Is it set after an economic collapse? Are these people in some government program to provide work for people without any other chance? And then I was left wondering why the language is so meandering and attempting to be thoughtful for some people filling holes?
Ultimately it's a story that's a retelling of the kind of ridiculous pranks that people may very well play on each other, but that I've only ever heard from the stupidest person I was working with at the time and how he got it over someone else. And it was almost always fantasy on their part with everyone nodding and smiling and not believing them. I don't really see the point in telling this story. It's not original, and it's not well told. There's so many other places you could go with a blank page that retelling a prank seems like a lack of effort.
If you do want to tell this story then you need to shape it a lot better. You need to establish some idea of why the person could be fooled, and that means setting the tone for the reader. You failed at that in the beginning by having it so confusing and imprecise, when you could have told it in some way that it was creepy, or they were in an area known for problems. The fact that this is just over 700 words seems to show that it really is a nothing story. Nothing happens and at the end it's all "haha, what a jape!"
Henpecked (1228 words)
This is fun, and quite a nice story but it's another case of a story that I feel is pitched at the wrong audience. Because it is so nice I'm left wondering why you haven't included a moral to it, or instruction and pitched it as children's writing. Apart from the bit of (somewhat predictable) violence, you've made a sweet case of a girl going to magic school and getting up to hijinks. The pull at the end with the, "what about the egg?" Is something you could see right from the start, but I can imagine it really working for a young tween audience. You capture innocence really well, and making the magician master blustering but kind of nice at the end really helped with that.
I read this last night and wondered what it was trying to capture, but waking up this morning and looking at it again it's made me smile.
As Cool as Slate
I think you bought into the prompt image really well, and probably a bit too hard, so it all came across as nonsensical. The writing wasn't great, and I had to stop and think about what was being implied quite a few times, and stop and follow the train of thought you were giving. Ultimately you put a huge amount of exposition into it, with far too many info dumps. Apparently you went way over the wordcount, and even then you didn't tell much story, at least as part of an arc as you could have. The characters came across as quipy rather than emotive, which again works for the image prompt (and seems like an attempt to be Whedonesque) but it doesn't tell me much about what they've been through. They talk about their murders, but you don't get a sense of any injustice at their death from the characters, or at least from the supposed protagonist.
The whole thing really felt like you were explaining a premise that you'd deal with later rather than setting something out that the reader experiences. The flow of the writing was choppy, and like I said I had to reassess what was happening quite a few times. I think you have a story here, somewhere, not in the girl figuring out what's going on (or you telling us your idea,) but in finding her determination to beat the spirit that sent her there. If you could get the premise out faster and then show her finding her resolve, even throw in a magical thing about her become an avenging angel in her ghost life it might work better.
Edit: Ah gently caress. Fuckin daylight savings. I guess I'm out. So do I take this down or what?
This was well told apart from a few places I felt it drain a little in the pacing and transition from her thoughts and into the dialogue. It's a really simple story, with progression but for me I was thinking the whole way through was there more to it: another layer? You've signposted a few things, the blackout that she seems to come around from while still drinking but with decent enough faculties, the phone ringing out, and even what I picked up as the mysteriousness of the bar and the disinterested nature of the bartender. There's even a bit about how, “She gets clumsy when she’s had a few” but she doesn't know the place. You're putting in details that work really well, but they work to make me feel like there's more going on than the simple surface level, and that doesn't play out.
If you do just want to tell a simple story, then I think you need to bring it beyond her simply thinking about what's happened, and what she's going to do. It's valid internalisation of her situation, but without the other level to it I need to get into some emotive understanding and empathetic reaction to her situation rather than a series of actions, simple results, and inevitable consequences from the characters set around her.
You told the story quite well, but it feels like it's lacking a purpose beyond just writing words about situation.
Mrenda fucked around with this message at 18:14 on Mar 13, 2017
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 18:06|
Wait was one of those crits not supposed to be of GenJoe's story, or was he supposed to get two crits?
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 18:07|
The second one labeled GenJoe is actually about Jay W. Frik's As Cool as Slate.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 18:12|
|# ? Feb 9, 2023 10:12|
Wait was one of those crits not supposed to be of GenJoe's story, or was he supposed to get two crits?
The second one labeled GenJoe is actually about Jay W. Frik's As Cool as Slate.
I was cutting and pasting into another document and must have duplicated the wrong thing.
|# ? Mar 13, 2017 18:15|