Journey to Zion
It was hot when they set out for Nevada. Frank driving, with Mother Adelaide alongside him. The middle row held Mother Janey and Mother Maeve. The two girls, Dora and Elizabeth, were in the way-back.
Frank whistled cheerfully. Adelaide gave him an indulgent smile and patted his knee. “You’re certainly happy today, Father,” she cooed.
“Darn right I am!” Frank peeked at Dora in the rearview mirror. Unlike her younger sister, who was happily waving to the rest of the family, Dora looked slightly shell-shocked. “I’m happy to be doing the Lord’s work today,” he said, a little louder.
Dora jumped, momentarily looking guilty, then dropped her head.
It was a beautiful day in God’s chosen country. Frank had a good baritone, and he raised it in praise of the Lord. Adelaide hummed along placidly, knitting when the road was smooth enough, and the other wives joined in with their full-throated, joyful voices. Elizabeth also shouted along- the poor girl was tone-deaf- and together they made a merry noise.
Frank kept his eye on Dora as he exited on to the highway. Usually she was his little songbird, but not today. Adelaide caught his eye and made a disappointed little moue.
Clearing his throat, Frank asked his women, “Can anyone tell me the story of Abraham? Girls?”
“Abraham was a righteous man,” Elizabeth began with mechanical recollection. “God led them out of the wicked city of Ur and they traveled to Egypt. They lived there for many years, but their lives were not blessed with children.”
Frank met Dora’s gaze in the mirror. “Dora, tell the next part of the story.”
Her quiet voice came hesitantly from the back of the van. “Sarah and Abraham wanted to have children, but they were too old. Sarah was ninety. But they prayed to God and God told them Sarah would have a baby.” Dora took a deep breath, then continued. “Several years later, God told Abraham, ‘Show me how strong your faith is. Take your only son Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him in My name.”
“How did Abraham respond?” Frank prompted.
“And THEN,” Elizabeth interrupted, “They traveled for three whole days, and then Abraham took Isaac alone to an altar, and Isaac asked him where the sheep was they were going to sacrifice, but Abraham said there wasn’t any sheep—“
“No, he didn’t, Abraham just told Isaac not to worry about it.”
“Pipe down, Lizzy. Dora? Finish the story.” Frank let a bit of authority creep into his voice. God may have tested Abraham, but privately Frank wondered if a houseful of fractious women wasn’t his own divine trial.
“Abraham found a rock, and he told Isaac to sit on the altar. Then he…he raised the rock. And God stopped him.” Dora took another deep breath. “God said to Abraham, ‘I believe that your faith is strong. I have tested you and you have passed.’ And God sent a ram instead, so Abraham sacrificed the ram. Then they went home.”
“Good girl.” Frank pulled onto a side road and slowed down a bit as the dust flew up. “This lesson is especially important for you two. Sacrifice is painful, but all of us have a duty to Heavenly Father. Tomorrow, I sacrifice my two most precious jewels.”
Elizabeth giggled. Dora blanched.
That was the only unpleasant incident on their first day. Ten minutes after leaving their hotel on the second day, Frank was pulled over by the police. Upon seeing the popsicle lights, the girls immediately fell into loose-limbed feigned sleep. Janey and Maeve sat with their hands folded. Adelaide started knitting a fraction faster.
“What’s the problem, Officer?”
He was fat, white, and mean, like every rural cop. He had no compunction about peering directly into Frank’s window, and he sneered at the sight of the passengers in their long braids and prairie dresses. “License and registration, please.”
Frank had them ready in his lap. The cop took his time reading, then asked, “Long way from Texas, aren’t you?”
“We’re heading to California.”
The cop was chewing gum, although Frank could still smell cigarettes on his breath. “Long way.”
“Yes, it is.” Frank silently begged Heavenly Father to intervene.
“You folks stopping off in Nevada, by any chance? Caliente, Nevada?”
“No,” Frank said blankly.
“That your wife?” The cop rudely pointed at Adelaide.
“Yes, this is my wife, and those two in the middle seat are her sisters.” That, at least, was not really a lie. “The two young ladies in the back are my daughters.”
“These your daughters, ma’am?”
“Of course,” Adelaide respond, flushing a bit. “Should I wake them up? You can ask them yourself.”
The officer did not respond. He just peered at the two sleeping forms. Finally, he said, “The manager of the hotel y’all stayed in last night is my neighbor. Real nice lady. She called me after y’all left, saying there’s something funny going on. Y’all wouldn’t happen to live in Zion Creek, Texas, would you?”
Frank laughed dismissively. “Officer, we’re members in good standing of our local ward. I can give you the bishop’s number right now, you can talk to him.” Frank silently prayed that the cop wasn’t a Mormon- long shot out here- and wouldn’t know what he was talking about.
He was right. After a tense moment, the cop’s laziness won out over his suspicion. “Drive safely, sir,” was all he said as he handed the documents back to Frank. He gave the girls one last look, then walked away, shaking his head.
Frank waited until the cop was out of sight before turning around and grinning at the family. The women cheered, and the girls in the back made exaggerated snoring noises as their father laughed. Even Dora was smiling.
“I asked Heavenly Father to intervene and look! That fat old fart couldn’t stand against our righteous mission.” Frank started the van and swung back into the flow of traffic.
The motel was a long, featureless box. Its turquoise paint had been bleached to a sickly sky-blue, and its windows reflected nothing. Dingy lace curtains sagged behind the glass. The only other car in the parking lot, a red Landrover, was covered in dust. “Daniel must have driven all the way from Colorado City,” Frank mused aloud as he pulled in next to the truck. “Janey, you and Maeve run on in now and see if Daryl’s girl can’t find you something to clean that truck with. I can’t have my girls riding off in a pumpkin!”
Daryl’s girl was a worn-looking woman of about thirty, heavily pregnant, and almost as colorless as her surroundings. She gave them a tired smile as they walked in, dragging their garment bags and suitcases. “Brother Johansson,” she said politely, but her eyes slipped past him to Lizzy and Dora.
“Mother Carrie, right?” Frank beamed with pleasure, ushering the two girls forward. “The lucky brides are right here! Say hello, girls.”
“Hello, Mother Carrie,” Elizabeth intoned dutifully. “Can we get changed now?”
Frank laughed in pretend embarrassment, secretly pleased that his daughter was so eager. “She’s a little excited,” he said, laying his hand on her skinny shoulder.
“Well, of course she is!” Mother Carrie’s voice was brighter than a plastic daisy. “May I ask how old she is?”
“Lizzy’s fourteen, and Dora here nearly two years older.”
Mother Carrie’s smile didn’t change. “Such a blessed day.”
“Yes, Brother Daniel’s already like family. His father married my daughter Arlene.”
“I remember her,” Mother Carrie said, pulling a bag out from under the counter. She moved with some difficulty, her protruding stomach covered by a fresh yellow apron. “That was two years ago, wasn’t it? Very pretty girl. Such lovely hair. Looks a bit like Dora here, doesn’t she?”
Dora peeked through her bangs and smiled awkwardly at Mother Carrie.
“That she does. They take after their mother.”
With perfect timing, Adelaide swept in, holding the heavy garment bags. “Here come the dresses, for two pretty lasses,” she sang. “Isn’t this fun, girls?”
“Now, we’ve been driving all night, and I’m sure the girls need a shower before they meet their bridegroom. I certainly do!” Adelaide fanned herself dramatically. “So much dust!”
“You did it all at once?” Mother Carrie asked, pushing a garment rack out from behind the counter. Elizabeth and Adelaide immediately began hanging up the clothes.
“No, we left Texas yesterday, stopped for the night, and came the rest of the way today,” Frank answered. “Eighteen hours, altogether.”
“Land sakes, you must be exhausted!”
Frank trailed the women as they pushed off down the hall, laden with bags. Then he noticed Dora lagging behind.
A quick flash of anger rose in his chest. “Dora Lee Johansson, you just better start moving!” he barked.
Dora looked up at him with huge eyes. “Yes, Father,” she whispered, but did not move.
After a moment, Frank walked over and put his hand on the back of her neck. Dora lowered her eyes. “Dora Lee, this is your destiny. The prophet has received word from Heavenly Father Himself that you and your sister belong with Daniel Hall. You cannot change God’s plan and you certainly can’t change mine, so you just march yourself into that room right now and start getting ready for your wedding!”
Dora still did not move.
Frank was out of his depth; this was not his job. The women were supposed to look after each other. He suddenly felt a deep appreciation for Adelaide; she usually kept these spurts of feminine capriciousness carefully hidden from him. But Dora was a good girl, and no doubt frightened of an unfamiliar man, which spoke well of her character.
“Now, look here, honey—“
“Boys are snakes,” Dora whispered. “They’re poisonous snakes. We’re not supposed to touch them.”
Frank steered her towards the sagging couch in the lobby, pushed her gently down, and sat beside her. “You’re a good Priesthood girl,” he began uncertainly, “and you’ve been a good student. You’ve learned your lessons well. But the Prophet has spoken, and it’s time for you to put away childish things. You’re a woman, and you’re going to be a mother soon—” here Dora gasped— “and you must keep sweet and be obedient. Now, go into that room and get pretty for your husband.” Softening, he added, “You’re a beautiful girl, and you’re going to make a great wife. Now go on.”
Slowly, Dora went.
Two hours later, Daniel Hall knocked on Frank’s door. “It’s time, Brother Frank,” he said, his ruddy cheeks reddening further with pride.
“That your daddy’s suit, son?” It looked familiar.
Daniel straightened proudly and brushed imaginary lint off his unfashionable lapels. “Yes, sir. He married three of my mothers in it, and I hope it gives me just as much luck,” he explained.
“Well, I don’t think you have anything to worry about with my girls. Lizzy and Dora are just as sweet as they could be. Lizzy’s a good little cook, Dora likes her music, and they’re both hard workers.” He gave Daniel a paternal pat on the shoulder. “And if they’re anything like their mothers, you’ll need a bigger house soon enough!”
Now Daniel’s cheeks were flaming.
The wives and Mother Carrie had obviously worked hard on decorating the dark little room. There was a heart-shaped bower with tulle bows and fake roses- Mother Carrie must have had it in storage- and a bevy of pink and white balloons. A homemade banner reading “Daniel and Dora” hung above an identical one with “Daniel and Elizabeth.” The bed had been covered with a satin spread, and rose petals scattered all over. There was a door between that room and the one next door, covered in Mylar wrapping, like a wavery mirror.
“Well, here’s the groom. Now where are the lovely brides?”
As if on cue, Janey pulled open the shiny door and Frank’s daughters stepped through.
Elizabeth was beaming and giggling in a ruffled white dress with pale yellow trim. It sagged a bit in the bodice, but she had sewn cabbage roses of the same yellow all over, and more roses wreathed her head. Dora’s dress was plain white, with just a bit of lace around the throat and cuffs. Her hair was pulled back in the same long braid as her sister. Someone, probably Lizzy herself, had tucked a yellow rose behind her ear.
Frank was struck by how young they looked. He was so proud- proud of his girls for their obedience and for being placed at such a tender age, and proud of his three lovely wives for all their clever work.
He held out his hands. “Young ladies, this is Daniel. Come say hello before we start.”
After the ceremony, Frank stepped outside for a cigarette. Night had fallen. He stiffened as he heard a police siren in the distance, then relaxed. The windows in the little motel were all dark.
Janey and Maeve joined him. “Well, Father, Elizabeth went first,” Janey said proudly. Her eyes were red from crying, but shining with hope and love.
“Dora offered to let her have the first two nights, actually.”
Frank frowned a little, shook his head. “That won’t do, Mother. They’re both wives now and they need to share their duties equally.” He handed Maeve the cigarette butt and she stubbed it out. “I’ll go talk to her mother about it.”
As Frank entered the lobby, he heard the faint, choked tones of crying. Not a young girl of fifteen, but the throaty sobs of a woman. He looked around for the source of the noise, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere.
No answer. The sobbing went on.
Frank passed the door to the wedding room, then the room Adelaide and Dora shared. He listened carefully, but didn’t hear any crying. Gingerly, he took a few more steps to Lizzy and Daniel’s room. Again, he heard no tears.
Towards the end of the hall was a door marked “Storage.” Slowly, he approached.
When Frank opened the door, Mother Carrie was standing with her back to him, crying into her apron. She turned and looked at him, her face wet with tears and something like shame, but said nothing. They held each other’s gaze for a long moment before Mother Carrie wiped her face, smoothed her rumpled apron, and walked past him with her eyes on the floor.
“Romantic, isn’t it, Mother?” His voice carried a warning.
Mother Carrie stopped walking momentarily. “Yes,” she said simply, “I suppose that’s the word.”
Frank waited until he heard her settle back behind the check-in counter before taking out another cigarette. He lit it in the hallway. She wasn’t going to stop him.
|# ? Apr 30, 2017 19:24|
|# ? Dec 6, 2021 08:03|
Sea Shanties - 1310 words
Beneath the shallow waves the sandbar was an outline of pale green, almost luminous. First Mate Brecken and his assistants pushed their boats ashore and waded onwards, sinking a little further into the green with every step, the sand sucking at their boots. The sun was already gone but its reflection wavered on the horizon. Just light enough.
Brecken roped the ship to a pillar of black granite where the last crew had driven iron rings into the stone. His two companions went from rock to rock stringing barbed chains along the edges of their little island. He lit a candle as the last light faded and dripped wax onto wads of cotton. They met and pushed the plugs into their ears, speaking in hand gestures.
In the distance, the ship that brought them shrunk away to nothing but a speck on the horizon.
All secure. Shullet motioned, pointing in the four directions and clapping his fist to his palm.
Light beneath the waves. Kur tried to sign. A wiggle of his hand, a downward thumb, a point to the candle. Brecken only understood what he meant because he'd seen that light himself, the first time he'd done this.
That's fine. He was trying to be reassuring and failing badly, by the look on Kur's face. The light made the shadows look deeper and the boy's fear look worse. It was good sense to be afraid on his first outing in the Silent Trade.
I think I saw a whale. Shullet could do a drat fine whale impression by candlelight. It kicked its shadowtail up across the rocks. Probably he thought it would lighten the mood. The trouble with Shullet was, he'd been out here too many times, and started to see the funny side.
"Shut it with your whale." Kur snapped. He said more, but Brecken was only so good at reading lips, and the rest was lost save for the ocassional curse. He pointed to his ears and motioned for silence.
Except for the push and pull of the tide around their legs, the next minutes might have been time standing still. Then the song started. They didn't hear it and didn't need to, they could see the world around them hearing, and everything was more. The white sand underfoot grew brighter until it underlit the whole of the ocean and showed the shadows swimming beneath; Graceful serpentine shadows with human arms.
Brecken passed the lantern to Shullet and grabbed the music box from within the boat. It was heavier and colder than it should have been, looked like a plain cube of iron except for the lid and the lever that swung it open.
He waited for the song to grow, for the oldest seawitches to crawl up on their favorite rocks and join the chorus. Having only soft, fish-like bones they hardly looked human at all, their slick grey skin hanging like an ill-fitting mask, but Brecken knew that wouldn't matter if he heard their voices. He almost did. As more and more joined the song, the faintest notes crept into his ears and made the world seem bright. The wind pulled at his curly hair in an exposion of cold and movement and the scents it carried. While they sung, every experience was more.
He pushed the lever down and the box snapped open. A soft explosion of silence carried out over the waters, stilling everything, taking sounds Brecken hadn't even known he'd had, the rush of blood through his veins and the squeak of his boots. The song was swallowed up. The light vanished and the sea beyond their narrow footing in the shallows went inky dark.
He pulled the lever back and the lid snapped down and all the sounds of the world came roaring in again, louder for having been briefly missed. The box was warm and thrumming in his hands. Even through his plugs he heard the witches' screaming. Brecken's own heartbeat was nearly deafening, and every breath rustled the hairs in his nose. A fishwoman had seen them, was sweeping through the waters towards him and all he could do was stare dumbly.
She caught one of the chains with her underbelly and tore herself open on it, thrashing up into the shallows in a tangle of scales and shrieaks. Schullet stepped into the slick of black blood and finished the business with his sword. The others made no attempt to help. They weren't brave creatures by any means.
Kur was gone when Brecken thought to look. His boots stood in the sand and Brecken should have remembered to watch him.
"gently caress!" He grabbed for Shullet's lantern and lifted it overhead, manipulating the lens and mirrors to send two flashes towards the distant ship. It was already turning around to fetch them. The sails were visible in the distant dark.
Shullet slapped him on the shoulder and pointed. A metal hook on a wooden pole, some farming tool rusted beyond recognition, was jabbing up out of the water and trying to snag their chains. Shullet took a step forward, cleaved it in half just past the metal, and caught a second spear in his gut as it came jabbing out of the dark.
Brecken caught him and pulled him away. They had figured out the chains. So he threw Shullet back into their boat, picked the box from the sand and tossed that in too, and undid the chain on the far side. Hands grabbed for him as he ran through the surf and pushed out to sea.
Cold fingers got his ankle. Brecken grabbed for the saber at his hip and another set of hands got there first, crushing his right arm to his side. For a moment he clung to the boat with his one hand, before he realized they were simply stronger, and gave up his hold to lunge for Shullet's sword in the moment before he was pulled under.
The sea closed over his head and he opened his eyes to a wavering, foaming world. Lights burned far beneath. He swiped for the witch pinning his arm back and split her neck open. With a kick of its fishy tail the other let go of his leg, launched upwards and wrapped her thick arms around his neck instead. The tail coiled over his legs and he stabbed and stabbed, hitting himself more than once, feeling other impacts with flesh not his own in the dark.
Finally he realized she was already dead, had stopped moving long before he stopped cutting, and fought to pull free of the dead weight. The burning pain in his lungs had begun to turn into something cold and numb when he finally kicked up towards the distant surface.
He saw the sleek two-masted ship cutting towards him, scaring the seawives away. He saw their little boat upturned with its rudder bobbing uselessly in the air. He drew a breath and dived again.
Brecken saw Shullet falling, found his companion at the end of a unfurling trail of blood. Shullet kicked and pawed the waters blindly. He saw the precious box falling faster. Sweeping past his friend Brecken grabbed for the heavy thing and fumbled, struck the lever and sent the lid swinging open. The sea wasn't dark at all. The uncorked witchsong echoed through the bright water and came in through the ear where his plug had been knocked loose.
The box slipped from his fingers again as he forgot what he was doing and who he was. All he knew was he wanted to hear more of the song. He chased it downwards, leaving Shullet to drift and bob limply back to the ship and the sky and the earth. All those were for suckers. Brecken was headed for the world of witchsong and distant lights.
|# ? May 1, 2017 01:09|
It was Marco’s bright-fuckin’-idea; swan up to water-haulers, fire off a few stolen government codes, find some ridiculous infraction and use it as pretence to ‘confiscate’ the cargo. There were so many governments in this part of space that you were always breaking somebody’s rules. Marco, with his droopy moustache and sad little eyes, looked like a harried bureaucrat. Three of ‘em would go in: Marco, playing a rule-loving police lawyer, Gilroy as the don’t-gently caress-with-me spacecop, and Kat as their tech aide. Marco would find a loose wire, Gilroy would shout until the target was quiet and feeling guilty, Kat would go onto their computers and erased any data on the ‘transaction’ so the real cops couldn't follow it up.
“This is RimPol cruiser Hebe to unknown vessel, please identify,” said Kat.
Nothing but static on the comms. Scans showed a water-hauler, probably Neo-French, heading to the outer rim colony worlds. Big slow thing, but well-crewed and well-armed. Gilroy paced up and down the bridge with his hands in his pockets. He wasn’t swearing, which was comforting and worrying in equal measure. The whole gang crowded the bridge. It was so quiet, you could hear people chewing their nails.
Convincing the mark was always the hardest part: once they thought you were friendly police on an inspection run, they’d let you come and go as you pleased. There was a script, but it got hairy as soon as the target didn’t follow along. Silence coulda meant a lot of things. Kat tucked a strand of bleach-white hair behind her ear, and rubbed her fingers over the cross around her neck.
“Hebe to control, you’re in an unmarked zone. Please identify immediately, or we’ll initiate blade-docking.”
That usually sent ‘em running to cooperate. Blade docks were meant to keep the target ship intact, but everybody had heard a few horror stories about ships getting torn in two. Nothing on the comms but silence, though. Gilroy’s magboots crashed across the grating. He was getting ready to shout; Kat ducked down and covered her ears –
– and the board lit up green on all corners. Their target ship rolled over like a cat waiting for a belly-scratch, and thrust out a docking tube. Everybody sank down a little, and somebody whistled.
“Busted radio mast?” said Gilroy. Kat nodded, and said nothing.
The docking tube was ancient tech: canvas draped over a steel lattice. No air, no grav. You can’t move too quickly in space, or you’ll start moving and never stop: every step must be precise. Kat gripped her cross even harder -- only a few layers of canvas between her and the void. She could hear warm radio-static from her headset, and nothing else.
The depressurization room lay open before them, like a wound in the ship’s side. The lights were off. They stepped inside, and the doors slammed shut behind them. After the hiss of depressurization, sound returned, but it didn’t – just a different timbre of silence. The inner door slid open, and they stepped inside.
They walked through empty hallways, and the only sound was their boots clicking on the steel floors. The lights were on, the place was clean, and there was nobody to be seen.
“Doesn’t look like a fight,” said Gilroy. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
Kat nodded. “Trap,” she said.
Their words echoed off the steel walls.
“You smell that?” said Marco. Kat sniffed the air, but it was what you’d expect -- metal, grease, touches of disinfectant.
“Smell what?” she said.
“Oranges,” said Marco. He smiled, and laughed. “Oranges. I haven’t had them in years. I didn’t know you could even grow them this far out.”
Kat didn’t know what oranges smelled like, but she guessed they coulda smelled like spaceship hallways. She shrugged.
“Sure,” she said, “I smell oranges. Let’s get out of here.”
“No!” said Marco. “I gotta have those oranges!”
She grabbed Marco’s arm. He was shivering. His pupils were dilated and empty.
“Are you high?” she said. Marco laughed, then he punched her in the jaw. Her head cracked against the wall. She saw spots, and smelled the iron-tang of blood. Gilroy shouted something, and she heard the clank-clank-clank of boots running away down the ship’s hallways.
“YOU loving, YOU-
poo poo,” said Gilroy. Kat felt somebody pulling her up. She opened her eyes. Everything was spinning. The smell of blood was overpowering, but she was happy to see there wasn’t a lot of it on the walls. She ran her fingers through her hair, and they didn’t come back as red and sticky as she’d feared.
“You alright?” said Gilroy.
She took a deep breath, and nodded. “Gotta g’mrco” she mumbled. The con wouldn’t work without him, after all. She took a moment to regain her composure, then radioed the Hebe. She began to speak, then realised there was no connection – only static. By the look on his face, Gilroy had figured out the same thing.
They staggered back to the airlock, Gilroy with his arm around a limping Kat. She tried to access the holo-interface, but the doors stayed resolutely shut. The off-centre crack between them seemed to sneer at her. The smell of blood was overpowering now. Could she have internal bleeding in her brain? If that was the case, she was a dead woman walking. It didn’t seem like such a little punch could do that, but human beings were terrifyingly fragile things.
“Get me to the bridge,” she said. “Can probably crack into the ship’s systems from there; surely somebody left a terminal open.”
“Aye,” said Gilroy. “Looks like the crew here left in a hurry. Bridge it is.”
He drew the gun.They didn’t actually have any bullets, but a fake-policeman needed a gun on his hip. It’s little details like that that tend to trip people up. You could walk in with a full cardboard uniform and nobody would notice, but God help you if you got the shoulder-insignia wrong.
She leaned on her boss, and they staggered up the polished hallways. The only sounds were their boots, and her heavy breathing, and static on the comms.
The elevators were off, so they had to take the winding stairs up the bridge. There were smears of fresh blood on the wall here. Very fresh – Marco’s? She thought the idiot was clean, but apparently not. Once a junkie, always a junkie. Up and up they went, and the rank smell of blood cloaked everything: too much smell, not enough blood.
“You smell that?” said Gilroy.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s horrible.”
He looked confused. “Yeah,” he said. “H-horrible. That’s it. What was I thinking. It reeks. It’s like rotten butter.”
Well, she didn’t know what butter smelled like either. A rich man’s food and no doubt. Gilroy had been military, and army lads got fed better than kings. What if must have been like, to go back to civilian life.
The stairs planed off. The doors ahead of them lay wide open. As they approached, Marco leapt at them. Kat and Gilroy both fell back against the wall.
Marco stood over them.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. He grabbed a nearby i-beam, and rammed his forehead against it. Bones shattered with a wet crack.
“Beautiful.” he muttered. He leant back. Gilroy stood to stop him, but he wasn’t fast enough: Marco smashed his head against the wall one last time, then slumped and went still.
“Jesus loving Christ,” said Gilroy. “Holy loving, I mean, - gently caress.”
“Yessir,” said Kat. “We are in accord.”
She stood and brushed herself off. Marco had left a slick grey-red mess on the wall. His skull lay open like some grotesque bone flower. They stood a moment in silence, then moved on. There was nothing else to do.
The bridge was practically stoneage tech -- still running on some old Window OS. She’d never seen anything like it before, but she had a knack for these things. The network’s secrets unfolded before her. The logs were standard up until two days prior, when they picked up a floating object in space.
CRYSTALLINE STRUCTURE. SCANS NOTE POTENTIAL BIOLOGICAL ELEMENTS; REACTS TO WATER LIKE IT’S ORGANIC. EQUIPMENT ONBOARD NOT UP TO THE TASK: KEEP IN HOLD. SURELY SOMEBODY WILL PAY FOR IT.
nothing. Empty logs. The automated systems registered escape pods leaving and --
The world was blood -- the reek of it, the play of it across uncut skin. She cried out. She wasn’t on the bridge any more. She was floating, and something hung above her. It was different, though the word hardly does it justice: it was totally different in ways we have no words for, because we spent words like “totally” and “different” on cheap imitations. It was other, weird, alien, unknown and unknowable.
And she realised it wasn’t blood. It was speaking to her, in its own language. Blood was a word, though she didn’t know what it meant. Oranges were a word. Butter was a word. It wasn’t malevolent, but it was con
dused it was lost it was not
In its rightful place it was be
autiful it was awesome as God is awe
some it was terrific in that it brought terror
it was panic in that it was like Pan -- truly alive, and terrified
Lashing out and
Gilroy shook her awake. The world around her smelled of metal and grease, with touches of disinfectant. It smelled of nothing. You cannot thrust somebody into God’s light, then cast them back down to earth. She screamed, and there was something heavy in her hand, and there was the rich, beautiful reek of blood as she brought it down on Gilroy’s head again and again
For a moment, she could touch heaven. She smiled. A nearby radio crackled to life. “This is Hebe,” it said. “We sent crew aboard, but have had no contact. Unknown vessel, do you read? We’re sending another crew aboard. Please open your airlock or we will be forced to blade-dock.”
Kat staggered to her feet, and to the ship’s ancient controls.
She smiled, and picked up the microphone.
|# ? May 1, 2017 03:59|
Read it in the archive.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 20:25 on Jan 1, 2018
|# ? May 1, 2017 05:43|
The Bulldog And The Barman
CUE MUSIC: TOM WAITS - GUN STREET GIRL
THE BULLDOG AND THE BARMAN - NIGHT
A black pair of mirror polished OXFORDS move towards us with purpose.
From further out; pinstripe slacks - military press.
Further still... Sport coat to match, black vest, and a crisp white & green tie. An ensemble bound together by a burnished gold tie clip & cuff links.
The suit takes a seat on a BAR STOOL; one glossy toe tapping along to the beat.
On the far side of the bar MARCELENE ARSENAULT, early thirties, approachable and confident celebrates victory in a game of BAR DICE with a shot before coming to serve the REGULAR JIM seated next to our WALKING SUIT.
I think this is it for me tonight though... you may not have cleaned me out-
He digs through his WALLET for a tip; inadvertently flashing at least a grand in LARGE BILLS before leaving a fiver on the bar for Marcy.
REGULAR JIM (CONT'D)
-but you will if I'm not careful.
The barmaid looks down at Jim playfully pouty expression.
If you don't have the stomach for this place I can't keep you here. I just find it weird that you're bailing in the middle of a hot streak.
Marcy folds up the tip before wiping down the bar.
I'm down two hundred already Marcy... I'm... I just can't...
Tell you what Jim. I'll give you an easy one.
She fetches two empty BEER BOTTLES from further down the bar; setting them before her customer with an authoritative THUD.
If you can light a match using only these two bottles I've got your next drink and your cab home.
What's the catch?
Marcy turns to the back wall; proceeds to dig through drawers in search of a MATCHBOOK.
The wall behind the bar is a single MIRROR in which we finally see the man inside the suit.
DOMINIC KINSEY, mid thirties and calculating, flashes a smile bright as a full moon.
Mind if I get in on this action?
Marcy's search stops cold as her eyes shoot up. She knows this voice.
Her gobsmacked expression bounces off the mirror to Dominic.
Dominic smirks back then;
He looks down and sifts through his own nearly empty BILLFOLD - removes a note.
Dominic drops his last fifty dollar bill on the bar with practiced nonchalance.
General Grant and I think this clever fellow's got your game made in under a minute.
Marcy slaps the MATCHBOOK down hard on the bar; she stares down Dominic harder.
She looks to Jim - he's obviously drunk and fumbling to light a CIGARETTE with one of Marcy's MATCHES.
Well Jim, this stranger seems to think highly of you. Ready to leave him disappointed?
Jim flips through the c-notes in his wallet for an eternity before pulling out a fifty.
Cigarette unlit in his mouth he drops an extra hundred on the bar.
REGULAR JIM (CONT'D)
Fuggit! Make it an even two between us.
Marcy spirits a thick ROLL OF CASH from her jacket & antes up. She peels off a pack of twenties and adds them to the pot.
Her arm raises.
Her focus shifts to her wrist and the GOLD WATCH - too rich for even the most successful of bartenders - that it wears.
Sixty seconds to light a match using only two empty beer bottles and…
She points to Jim who immediately sets to work on the problem.
He rubs the bottom of one bottle along the side of the other; glass shavings fall down onto the bar.
This prompts Dominic's smirk to widen nearly as instantly as Marceline's morphs into a defeated grimace.
The bartender locks eyes with her newest customer.
How'd you pass him the answer?
Why'd you offer a bar-chemistry bet to a tenured chemistry professor?
Fire shines in their eyes as the bravado between them gives way to affection. Smoke rises between them.
Maybe I wanted to see if your intuition was sharp as I remember it...
The cherry of Jim's smoke paints their faces red as the victorious drunk blows a smoke ring in complete defiance of the NO SMOKING sign staring at him from the CASH REGISTER.
I think that's my cue to leave then feuhorbe…
The drunk fights with his coat as he rises from his bar stool.
REGULAR JIM (CONT’D)
Looks like you’ve got some catching up to do anyways.
He struts off like a dog with two dicks - leaving Marcelene struggling with the decision to tend bar or catch up with an old friend.
For a moment she settles on the latter; pouring out two vodka-clubs.
Don’t worry about a tab, Jim walked with your cut.
He seems an honest fellow, I’m sure he’ll return it if he remembers.
Correct me if I’m wrong but in doing so that leaves you flat broke, doesn’t it?
Dominic raises an eyebrow.
Don’t be surprised Keeps. Shame may not be an emotion you feel very often but it is also not one you’re very good at hiding.
(into his drink)
Not as rusty as I’d have thought it seems.
So how long have you been out?
Dominic checks his watch.
Six hours give or take.
And your first thought was to come harass an old colleague?
Actually my first thought was that I needed a new suit to visit her.
He looks around the posh establishment. Sighing at seeing it filled with YUPPIE BUSINESSMEN and CAPITALISTS.
I’m surprised you haven’t been killed in all honesty. This bar used to mean something to our ilk.
He finishes his drink; finding a new one fixed before he sets down his glass.
Back in the day this place was a friendly port to any and every charlatan, scammer, & con-man who walked through that door. The Bulldog And The Barman was to a grifter what Saint-Malo, Tortuga, or Nassau was to a pirate in the golden age...
Dominic plays with his straw for a moment; a wave of his hand and it becomes a tiny umbrella.
Now here you’ve gone and turned it into Mar-a-Lago…
Marcy sips from her glass, garnishing it with Dominic’s conjured umbrella.
She leans in close to Dom; her breath falling soft on his neck.
Maybe it still is… Maybe it’s more… Maybe now those same swindlers can come have a drink and pull in a score.
She pulls away ever so slightly - leaving just enough room for the proposition to stand between them.
You know it really was a tragedy that you got pinched; not least because of how comfortable we were getting working with each other.
Dominic’s turn to lean in this time; he brings his drink to just below eye level.
I’ll raise a toast to that.
He presses the glass to her lips, stops suddenly, raises a finger.
You remember the time we infiltrated that boiler room scam right?
Marcy shakes her head while attempting to bury her smile in her chest.
Not a chance.
Dominic looks straight through his old colleague. Once more her eyes meet his.
Not even for Keeps Kinsey will I subject myself to that level of humiliation again.
A puppy dog stare from her friend and she finally relents.
Alright Keeps, you get one - but I get you back and we can’t be the only ones
EXT. A STREET - MOMENTS LATER
REGULAR JIM checks the time on his cell phone.
He lights a cigarette, leans against a wall & waits.
ACROSS THE STREET; the bar he just left.
INT. THE BULLDOG AND THE BARMAN - MOMENTS LATER
The music is louder now - younger even; the crowd channeling the energy of the music cheering on a scene of debauchery.
MARCELENE removes her jacket; setting it on a stool she climbs up onto the bar.
EXT. A STREET - MOMENTS LATER
REGULAR JIM flicks his cigarette into the gutter as he crosses the street
INT. THE BULLDOG AND THE BARMAN - MOMENTS LATER
As before; then DOMINIC pours a shot into Marceline's belly button - several MIDDLE MANAGERS and YUPPIES join in on the process with their own parties.
EXT. A STREET - MOMENTS LATER
REGULAR JIM opens the door and crosses the threshold into;
INT. THE BULLDOG AND THE BARMAN - CONTINUOUS
From somewhere in the crowd.
HEY! Jim’s back.
He makes his way to the bar with a keen eye on DOMINIC & MARCELINE exchanging body shots.
He checks the angles on arrival at his destination; the STOOL with MARCY’S JACKET.
He drops his wallet and almost bowls over Marcy in his stumbling attempt to recover it.
REGULAR JIM (CONT’D)
Sorry Marcy… I just realized I left with some of your friend’s money.
A ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL exchanges hands from Jim to Dominic.
Thanks man, good to know there's still honest people in the world.
No worries mate. I’d expect the same from you.
He tucks his wallet into his breast pocket before turning for the door again.
Right then; best to not keep a cabbie waiting.
Wish I would have had money to bet on that man’s honesty.
He places Mr. Franklin in his wallet & looks up to Marcy.
It’d do me well to get back to the hotel too. I’m in the penthouse at the W if you’re interested in a job. Briefing on the mark is at Noon local.
I’ll be sure to make it there.
She gives her client a kiss on the cheek and a slap on the rear end as he heads for the door.
EXT. AN ALLEYWAY - LATE NIGHT
REGULAR JIM tosses a ROLL OF CASH into the hands of DOMINIC.
Did you count it yet? How much is here?
Well let's work on figuring your cut then…
INT. THE BULLDOG AND THE BARMAN - SIMULTANEOUS
MARCELENE throws on her jacket having closed out the last till.
She herself down around the pockets; confused.
Frantic; she whips the jacket off and digs as deeply into the pockets as possible.
Anger mounting she turns out her pockets - her wad of ill-gotten gains is gone.
Her hand finds something; she pulls out a blank playing card with a message marked on it.
Thanks for selling me out to the cops.
Two years I was away Marcy…
Two years and I knew it was you that ratted from day one.
This is only the beginning.
P.S. Your bar is stupid & your clientele sucks.
She crumples the note in an angry fist.
EXT. THE CITY - EARLY MORNING
The sun rises for a free man.
END OF SHORT
|# ? May 1, 2017 05:46|
The Memory Thief
flerp fucked around with this message at 21:15 on Oct 11, 2017
|# ? May 1, 2017 06:13|
The Blue Colby
"Listen you battery licking screw ups! I'm giving you one final warning. If you try to crack that vault in the next room, you're gonna regret it."
The old man's voice sputtered out of the speaker below the security camera. Colby undid his belt and mooned the camera while his girlfriend Maggie threw a rock at it. It shattered the lens. Colby complained, "Oh c'mon Maggie! You should’ve waited till he saw that.”
"That" referring to his rear end. Maggie grabbed him by the belt, "Put your pants on. We're lucky the old man can’t call the police. The last thing we need is him doing something stupid because you had to act like a teenager."
Colby made a frowny face and began work on the door to the room. He reached for a clothes hanger from his duffel bag. A bunch of random and homemade lock picks jangled on it. He used a diaper pin with a soldered grip. Laying his big ear against the door he slid his face around its surface like a sponge on a pan.
-click- he jabbed it left -click- -rattle- he slid his head down to the base of the door handle -click- -clack- he moved the diaper pin in a small v-click- it opened. The speaker spoke up with an ear-splitting screech. The rock had messed the wiring up but it still worked,
"Goddammit! That camera wasn’t easy to put up! I had to cover every inch of cord in nitride! Do you know hard it was to get all that?!”
After a long whining sigh, “I'm warning you kids. If you get into that vault. Your lives are done for. I don't stay here because I want too, I stay here to try to convince people like you to stay away from what’s in there.”
Maggie looked into the room beyond. It was 10 feet wide from the left and right of the entry and 3 feet long from the entry to the wall. In the center of the wall was a ringed vault door.
Colby licked his lips and said, "Maggie! you were right! This has gotta be some good swag he's keeping."
She was still doubtful, the room looked weird and the ease involved was even stranger. The old man was “warning” them? She grabbed Colby to keep him from going ahead. She thought about what she knew about the Vault.
Two days ago
Whenever her uncle got drunk and grabby, Maggie left for a hike into the wilderness. She would find Colby sleeping under the bridge nearby. He was kicked out of his mom's house on a consistent basis. During that stroll she ralphed down some blueberry muffins Colby stole. He was making plans again for the both of them.
He was telling tales of stealing copper pipes and breaking into the jewelers all so Maggie could go back to college. He was sweet but Maggie knew Colby was an airhead and would get put in prison if he kept up his shenanigans. She had to talk him out of it before he got in real trouble.
She told him that her boss might let her live in her basement giving her an out from her uncle. He shook his head, “That’s great of her but you’re smart Maggie. You still need a good bit of money so you can get away for reals.”
Maggie said, “From what. My uncle won’t give a crap if I live with Lenore.”
He coughed up crumbs as he hastily replied, “But it's not enough. My mom went through what you did Maggie. She only got clean because my granddad took her in. Look at her though. She got out of the family bullshit with heroin but she’s still drinking like it’s her last day with a liver. She didn’t go anywhere even after getting away from my dad. She just moved into a different kind of bullshit. You need a fresh start.”
He inhaled some air and finished his speech, “The words you know, the stuff you’ve told me about. Hell, you can read to the end of a dictionary.”
She blushed and murmured, “I was bored and my uncle got us banned from the library again.”
He laughed, “That’s why you’re the one who should get out! You read when you’re bored. There ain’t nobody like you around her. By the way, I think I’m going to kick your uncle in the junk when we get back. The last time I did it he left you alone even when he got soused.”
She smiled, “You’re just as incredible Cole. You’re thoughtful. If there is anything you impress me with. It’s being thoughtful.”
He waved it off, “Bullshit. I care about you and sometimes mom. That’s it.”
He yanked his right ear, “Though I do got quite an ear!” He jangled the clothes hanger of keys in his bag and winked at her.
She laughed. He stopped in mid jingle and pointed at something off of the dirt path. She noticed it too. A little flash of light. She went in to look.
From a cluster of blackberries, she sat on Colby’s shoulders and spied. There was an old man leaning out of a window of an ancient three-story house. He was fastening a nest of black cords to a hook he had welded to the gutter. The cords looped and dangled from nearby trees to a generator below the elm out front.He sprayed something out of a tin canister onto the cords.
There was no road into the property and yet this old man had been living there. He was dressed in dark red robes and had soap white skin. He looked like a retired cult leader. She decided to ask her boss Lenore about the place. She had a lot of knowledge about local history whether she wanted to know or not.
Lenore owned the pawn shop and told Maggie about it during her time reworking the store books the following day.
She said, "My aunt told me to stay away from that place on account of what happened to her son. She said Lars tried to break in and when he came back he had a fat ruby about this big." She made a fist to illustrate.
"He was going to rest for the night and see what it would fetch with the local jeweler in the morning. He wrote notes for his friends so they could rob the place too.”
Maggie pulled a breathing mask onto her face as she sprayed air freshener into a collection of old helmets. She asked, “What did the notes say?”
Lenore said, “The notes Lars wrote sat in a frame in my aunt Marie's tea room. Normally I wouldn’t remember anything that far back but you’re in luck. She was so heartbroken for so long. I looked at them every time she started crying when she was babysitting me.” Lenore closed her eyes and breathed out her nose. It was a sad memory for her.
“It was three numbers. Number one said that the house messed with electronics. Lars told Marie when he walked inside the battery in his digital watch shot sparks and so did his flashlight. It turned out helpful for him because he figured the owner wouldn’t have phones. Beats me why it was like that up there.”
She continued after she found her cigarettes in her purse. Maggie stopped spraying into a Pickelhaube anticipating Lenore would light up.
Lenore continued, “The second part was that the vault was tricky. According to Lars, he spent an hour on the lock and didn’t get anywhere. It was only until he went into the upstairs and forced the owner to give him the key that he got into it.”
“Who was the owner of the house?” Maggie asked.
“Some teenager I guess. According to Lars, he was white as a ghost. That’s all I know. Anyway. Number 3 was the weirdest part.”
Lenore stared off into the distance. She was remembering the last part and how frantically it was scrawled.
“Number 3 was barely legible. Marie thinks something bad happened as he was writing it. It said ‘I feel cold and sick and I’m getting colder’. It was nonsense after that and at the end of the gibberish It said, ‘momma I’m sorry’.”
Lenore sweated despite the cold temperature of the storeroom. Maggie saw the aunt’s desperation turned into fear in her niece.
That night, Colby tried to pick a fight with Maggie’s uncle. It didn’t end well. The man took out a knife and backed Colby out the door and then kicked Maggie out. Colby apologized again and again but all Maggie heard was the jangling of the pick ring in his sweater.
She decided that she’d see for herself if fist sized rubies are a real thing.
Maggie bit her lip. She thought about escape routes and if she had the right kind of first aid kit. Colby hummed a Ramones song while he fiddled with the Vault. He was sweating. The note wasn’t kidding, it was a hard lock.
She thought about the look in Lenore's eyes as she spoke about her Aunt. Maggie had been driven by anger to come here and now it was dwindling away to a small flame. She didn’t want Colby to get hurt.
Maggie said, “Colby. Maybe we should go. I don’t think.”
The vault swung open.
Colby backed away and held Maggie’s hand. A pitch black tunnel was behind the vault door. The sound of sifting sand and a few guttural whispers emanated from the darkness. At the edge of the pit before the border of the ringed vault were two small gems. One was a sapphire and the other was a ruby. They were both barely the size of a fingernail.
Colby lit his lighter and poked his arm in and scanned for anything else. He put a knee into the pit when Maggie grabbed him roughly.
Maggie said, “No. Let’s go.”
Colby looked invested which wasn’t a good sign at this point.
He said, “You said a fist sized ruby. These aren’t fist sized at all.”
She shook her head, “No Colby. Let’s go.”
He sighed and leaned out. He closed the vault up.
They were on the bottom floor and Colby shook his head at the entry.
He asked, “Are you sure about this? There’s gotta be some good poo poo in a weird thing like that.”
Maggie roughed up his hair and embraced him, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get Lenore to let me move in sooner. Maybe you could stay with me?”
He grinned from ear to ear, “Really? I hope she doesn't mind springs rocking at odd hours.”
She laughed, “It’s a futon and you might have to sleep on the floor. It’s pretty small.
He opened his mouth but stopped as he peered over her shoulder.
The old man was there. In his crimson robes and his face that might have never been exposed to sunlight. He pointed at them and yelled,
“I did my best! I was told to watch it and persuade! That’s it! The rest is on you kids. “
He glanced at some of the wires he had hung up on the bottom floor.
He seethed and spoke ominously, “Between you and me though. It was for YOUR benefit I tried to install a security system. If I had finished maybe you’d all get the idea not to take from Mu.”
Colby began to run. He stopped when he saw Maggie wasn’t moving.
She said, “Just a second. I’ll be there. I think I can handle one old wizard.”
Colby gave her a bemused look and booked it.
Maggie faced the old man standing at the top of the staircase and asked him,
“Are you Mu?”
The old man cackled, “No! I am the appointed caretaker of this place where Mu peers from. You have taken something that Mu leaves only for fools.”
She asked, “First of all. If it so dangerous why don’t you cover it with a brick wall? Second, of all we left the two stones where they were.”
He shook his head, “I can barely leave this house due to the nature of my mission. The security system was the best I could do with the short amount of time I could spend away.:
He went back upstairs and spat on the floor. He turned and glared at Maggie.
The old man firmly warned her, “One has been taken from Mu. Which means only one will enjoy the reward.”
He slammed the door to his sanctum.
Maggie blanched. Colby had pocketed a stone. She ran at breakneck speed after Colby. She yelled,
“Colby! Colby where are you?!”
She couldn’t see anything out here in the dark. She took out her lighter and flipped it.
A small flame flickered far away in the darkness beyond the road. He was signaling her.
She rushed to the flame, heaving gasps of breath all the while.
Colby was leaning against a tree. He had a blue stone the size of an apple in his right hand. Veins of crystal grew into his skin and he shook violently. She reached for the stone but he jerked it away.
“No!” He said.
He gasped painfully. Sweat poured off his forehead in torrents. His skin was peeling as if from a heat rash.
She reached for it again and he held it away from her.
“What are you doing?! It’s killing you!”
He shook his head.
“It. It will burn you... Flay you…. I can’t give it... Take it after.”
He collapsed to his knees She tried to pry his arm away from it. He wrapped his body around it in a fetal position.
“Go to school...Get out... You’re fun. I like you…”
She grabbed him by the shoulder and dug her nails in. She shook him with all her strength,
“Goddammit! Let go of it! No!”
His face crinkled like paper in a fire. Veins and muscle exposed themselves from his retracting skin and boils popped up in every newly exposed area. He shuddered and let out a long scream. The stone rolled away from him.
It was the size of a human heart rather than a fist. After watching Colby’s body turn to ash and sitting in the wilderness for a remainder of the night she touched it. It was just a giant gemstone now. She left it there and went back into town. She came back later to find the house to firebomb it.
No matter where she looked, she couldn’t find it. Now that she thought about it, Lenore hadn’t said that her Aunt Marie ever got the police to find the lonely old house. It probably disappeared for a certain time. It made sense why the old caretaker couldn’t leave for long.
She came back to the tree where Colby had died. The stone was still there. She poured the shoplifted vodka onto the stone and lit it on fire. She knew it wouldn’t burn even it wasn’t cursed.
It seemed appropriate to burn it at least once. If anything, it would remove Colby’s left over fingerprints from its hosed up grasp.
The world's largest cut sapphire has been found in our fair town as of last month. The finder of the stone has asked for complete anonymity. It is to be put in an international auction.The finder has asked that it may be named after a dear friend. The Blue Colby will debut for potential buyers at an estimated price tag of fifteen million dollars. Speaking of jewels, a local man was arrested for indecent exposure at the library-click-
|# ? May 1, 2017 06:22|
Djeser fucked around with this message at 20:21 on Dec 28, 2017
|# ? May 1, 2017 06:58|
ETGGLH is now at this link right here
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 08:17 on Aug 5, 2017
|# ? May 1, 2017 06:59|
This is why I don't toxx.
Flesnolk fucked around with this message at 19:56 on May 1, 2017
|# ? May 1, 2017 07:01|
Submissions should be closed around now.
However, they're not.
They'll stay open until I've finished reading the stories already in.
And that will be that; no additional mercy for toxxes.
|# ? May 1, 2017 07:01|
way too fuckin many words
House calls were usually Malik’s least favorite part of doctoring. In-home patients were high-maintenance, needy people. Malik turned up, poked them with needles, told them to take their medication, and generally frowned and tutted. He was, in the eyes of his many elderly or disabled patients, a weekly supervillain.
Senator Hugo Silva was different, though. He was a cunning lawyer, a brilliant politician, and a compassionate human being. He was also terrible at taking his oral antipsychotics. After decades of well-managed schizophrenia--no one beyond his wife and loyal housekeeping staff were aware--he’d had an incident. Malik didn’t know the details, but he supposed years of medicated stability had given old Hugo a sense of false security, and he stopped taking his pills. Favors were called in, the thing was covered up, and the American machine chugged onward, none the wiser.
Malik approached the senator’s home, which was a modest house in a woodsy neighborhood just outside of Olympia. The front door opened before he could ring the doorbell. Senator Silva himself stood in the doorway, wearing a button down shirt sans jacket or tie. His big, merry belly strained against the buttons.
He held his arms out toward Malik. “Get in here, you lanky sonofabitch!”
Malik allowed himself to be embraced roughly, and clapped Hugo on the shoulder in a brotherly fashion. The two men had a good rapport, but the over-enthusiastic greeting was all for show. The senator had been very candid about the reasons for this modest deception: if his opponents knew about his diagnoses, they would crucify him. So Malik came over under the guise of an old friend from the senator’s college days back in Texas.
Once the door closed, Hugo’s smile dimmed. Malik followed him into the living room and they sat side by side on the sofa.
“How are you feeling?” Malik asked while Hugo rolled up his sleeve.
The senator grunted. “Headed to Seoul tomorrow, to visit a friend. Crossing my fingers that Pyongyang doesn’t get feisty while I’m there.”
“Things are really on edge over there, huh?” Malik asked as he prepped Hugo’s arm for the olanzapine injection.
Hugo grunted again. “It’s always more complicated than the TV soundbites make it out to be, I’ll tell you what.”
Malik was intrigued, but that wasn’t what he was there for. “I was more asking about your physical and mental wellbeing,” he said gently.
“Ah. Well.” Hugo cleared his throat. “You know. With my condition. You have good days and bad days, but they’ve mostly been good. Especially with--” he raised his bare arm, which glistened with disinfectant.
“So you’re feeling good about going to Korea? Not too stressed out?”
The senator barked out a laugh. “It’s a good stress. The stress of dealing with things head on, having my finger in the pie instead of someone else’s.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Malik held up the needle and bit back a question: Why was a congressman playing diplomat? “Alright, one dollop of sanity, coming right up.”
He administered the injection and then spent another half an hour chitchatting with Hugo. Nothing else was said about Korea, but the senator always had entertaining gossip from Washington DC.
Malik pondered the visit as he bid Senator Silva goodbye and went back to his car. He’d always wanted to be a force of objective good in the world, on the cutting edge of altruism. So off he’d gone to medical school. He was well-known locally, even had his own private practice, but he didn’t have his fingers in any pies. Administering vital antipsychotics to the senator let Malik feel like he was brushing up against matters of global significance.
He decided he was feeling pretty good, good enough to go straight to the bar from Senator Silva’s house.
This one would be easy, Cassie decided as she watched the doctor enter the bar. She was parked a discrete distance down the street, having trailed him from the moment he’d left the senator’s house. Malik Davis was single, handsome, puffed up on his on perceived self-importance. His dossier painted a cliche picture: a moderately talented doctor who’d endeared himself to the aged and the wealthy, who catered to people who considered themselves too good for the plebeian confines of a clinic.
“Show no fascination with his profession,” Cassie’s handler had advised her. “He’s accustomed to his patients’ respect and adoration. Let him wonder why you’re so unimpressed. Don’t be rude, though--feign polite interest, but make sure he knows you’re faking it.”
Standard procedure was to wait at least ten minutes, give her mark time to settle in and start on his first drink.
Cassie used the time to practice different expressions in the mirror. In the seven months that she’d been working as a--
Well, she didn’t really know her official job title. But it paid generously. And anyway, so what if her face felt less and less like it was her own? She’d discovered it made her happy, to see all the ways in which she could be a tool.
Her face was a very useful tool.
The bar was a favorite of the college kids from Evergreen State. The inside was artfully cluttered with big booths and long trestle tables. Everything had that pre-destructed, faux-rustic look that the hipsters liked. Malik was in a corner, having commandeered a whole booth for himself. He stared down at his phone, absently sipping at a cocktail.
Cassie didn’t hesitate. She waded through the crowded bar, directly for Malik’s table. It was important not to hesitate. When she was new to the job, her first instinct had been to hang back at a distance, make bedroom eyes at her mark, and wait for him to reel her in. But a full frontal assault didn’t give them the chance to think, to come up with reasons to say no.
Malik looked up in mild surprise when Cassie reached his table. “Mind if I take a seat?” she asked.
She’d introduced herself as Mica. First she was at his table, then she was in his car, then she was sitting on his couch, her legs tucked girlishly underneath her.
Malik excused himself to the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face. He was still feeling the buzz from the gin and tonic, but that didn’t explain why he felt so drat good about this stranger in his living room. For sure, she was a pretty girl, in a strange way; her eyes were just a little too big and her nose was just a little crooked from, Malik guessed, a childhood sport injury. But those subtle flaws drew his eye, and then it was hard not to keep exploring her features.
She was...compelling, he decided. Her voice was low and even. She didn’t giggle flirtatiously or play with her hair. When Malik told her he was a doctor, she’d raised an eyebrow and said, “Okay but so, what do you do for fun?”
“Building relationships with my patients is a kind of fun,” Malik had said, thinking of Senator Silva.
He toweled off his face and gave his reflection a stern look. Take a risk for once, he told himself. It’s not like you’re the one flying into a potential war zone. He wondered again about old Hugo. What could an aging senator do in Seoul that the White House or the Pentagon couldn’t? He got that rush again, the faintly exciting sense of being tangentially involved in global intrigue.
By the time Malik returned, Mica had abandoned her spot on the couch and was inspecting the artwork hanging on the living room wall. She exhaled sharply when she noticed an elaborate ink drawing.
“Is this an original Beardsley?” she asked. The drawing featured a cloaked woman walking beside two elegantly rendered peacocks in a lush garden.
“It is,” Malik said, coming to stand beside her. He breathed deep, realizing, now that he was so close, that Mica smelled incredible, like moist earth soaked with warm honey. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to live inside an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. They’re all so…”
“Mesmerizing,” Mica breathed. Even her breath had that sweet, summery smell.
‘Mesmerizing’ wasn’t the word Malik had intended to use, but it didn’t matter. It was a better word than whatever he’d been thinking.
First she was at his table, then in his car, then on his couch, and now she was in his bed. Mica preferred to be on top. Her rhythm was slow and smooth, always too much but never enough. Her lips were locked on his and they breathed as one. Sometimes she gasped strange, poetic sweet nothings into his mouth.
“I want...to...I want us inside of us...inside of something...so big...want to unfold inside of you…”
And so on.
As she finished, she cried, “I feel everything!” and Malik couldn’t help but finish with her.
It went on that way. An hour of coy, combative, or inspired conversation, then a frenetic, gasping tumble between the sheets. When Malik wasn’t with Mica, his thoughts were mostly of Hugo Silva. There was nothing about him in the news, which Malik supposed was a good thing. He was anxious to have the senator back, to give him his meds and check in with his mental status.
You’re obsessing, he scolded himself after spending the better part of an hour Googling any and everything relating to Hugo Silva.
One morning, a week into the senator’s absence, Mica did not get up and go home like usual. Instead, she stayed and made Malik breakfast while he sat, slightly perplexed, at the small dining table. She set a dubious-looking omelette in front of him with an apologetic smile. “I’m not much of a cook, just wanted to do something for you since you, you know, help so many people.”
It was the first time she’d expressed any admiration for Malik’s career, and he was caught off guard. He swallowed a sudden, unexpected surge of emotions. His eyes watered and he blinked away tears. He’d delivered babies and bad news, but nothing had ever evoked this particular response. His breath hitched in his chest.
“I’m sure it’ll be delicious,” he croaked, and reached across the table to squeeze Mica’s hand. She smiled.
Cassie led Malik back to his bedroom, where the sheets were still tangled and fragrant from the night before. It was always so goddamn easy. She didn’t even have to think about what her face was doing. Once she started a job, the necessities of the task shaped her expressions, her words, even her emotions. The experience she’d given Malik was as real as it was calculated.
She had her handler to thank for that, she supposed. The nameless, dark-haired woman had recruited Cassie and put her through endless training and drills. That time was a blur of decadent parties, precision hookups, and strange word association games played late into the night. Most of it was lost in the haze of recovery; the handler had fished Cassie out of a deep opiate addiction, and it’d taken her a while to find herself in sobriety.
It was easy to take the control away from addiction and give it over to the hard-eyed woman and her anonymous employers. Cassie didn’t know why she slept with the men she slept with or said the things she said, but it didn’t matter. She felt capable and in control when she was on a job, something she’d never experienced before being found by her handler.
Cassie let Malik take her in a number of positions. Her handler had explained that deep mouth-to-mouth contact was only necessary during the first five days of copulation. After that, if Cassie was for some reason still loving them, it didn’t matter. So she laid back and let Malik do all the work. There was that feeling again--the sense that she was spilling into something cavernous, and paradoxically, that the cavernous space was spilling into her. She and Malik were bricks being sealed into place with mortar, cells forming in a body. The cell that was Malik felt feverish and bright, like a campfire doused with too much lighter fluid.
After they’d finished, Malik collapsed beside her on the bed and stared adoringly into her eyes. Sometimes, if she stayed with a man long enough, he started to feel what she felt when they made love. She could tell this was the case for Malik. It was time to go in for the close.
She reached out, traced the hard, dark line of this jaw, and said, “I need you to extort three million dollars from Hugo Silva.”
The blackmail challenge was the final phase of Cassie’s part in the operation before, she assumed, her mark was handed off to another operative. It was all very covert and compartmentalized. Her handler assured Cassie that she would be shielded from any fallout of her actions on behalf of their mutual employer, and so far that had held out. And the pay was really, really good. Cassie could’ve bought mountains of heroin--or, hell, cocaine--with the money she was bringing in from her work. Yet the urge to use had completely abandoned her. She didn’t so much as drink coffee or take aspirin unless it was situationally appropriate. She was utterly free.
Malik’s eyes went from soft and loving to wide and confused as he processed her words.
All she knew about Hugo Silva was that he was a politician, and all of them had all kinds of dirty secrets. If he was a congressman, he was probably at least partially responsible for ruining the world. Cassie’s conscience was at peace.
“I need you to extort three million dollars from Hugo Silva.”
The words should’ve been laughable. Malik should’ve cracked up and playfully tickled Mica’s side. But her face was so tenderly earnest. Maternal, even. Her expression said please, do it for your own good.
“Hugo is a good man,” he said weakly. “Why would you...why should I even…?” Tell her to leave, a part of his mind demanded, but it was a distant, muffled part. He was still half-lost in the strange visions he’d had while having sex with Mica. He’d been part of a kingdom--not as a citizen, but the earth and the trees and the water. Mica had been the queen, and behind her throne stood something gargantuan, fleshy, and potently alive. As his body thrusted and moaned, his mind soared upward, lifting out of the fertile earth of the kingdom and reaching toward the thing behind the throne. Nothing else in his life had ever felt so excruciatingly good.
Mica’s eyes bored into his. She knew what Malik had seen.
“Is there more?” he asked, knowing he didn’t need to explain the origins of his question.
“Yes,” Mica whispered, “so much more.”
Senator Silva returned to Olympia the following day, just in time to receive his dose of olanzapine. Malik moved through his morning clinic duties and afternoon house calls in a daze. He’d expected to feel anxiety, to be angry with himself for going through with this absurd, unthinkable thing. Instead, he coasted through the early hours of the day on a wave of strange contentedness.
Around three in the afternoon, Malik made the scenic drive out to Hugo’s modest house in its forested neighborhood. As soon as his hands were on the steering wheel, he noticed that his skin looked dry, even a little cracked in places. Overdid it with the soap, he thought, and made a note to pick up some moisturizer on the way home.
On the way home from blackmailing a united states congressperson. He wanted that statement to have some weight, to instill some horror or regret in him. Instead, he felt a rush of warm, bubbling satisfaction. The sensation was almost narcotic in its potency. I’m going to blackmail a congressman. I’m going to blackmail a congressman. Every repetition of the thought brought the same surge of raw pleasure.
This isn’t normal, some part of him warned, but the thought was quickly snuffed out beneath a tide of raw dopamine. By the time he reached Senator Silva’s house, he was addicted to his task.
The front door swung open as Malik approached with his briefcase-turned-covert medical bag.
“Get in here, you old bastard,” Hugo cried, spreading his arms gregariously. Once they were inside and the door was closed, Hugo turned to Malik and gave him a quizzical look. “Something funny?”
Malik was taken aback. “What?”
“You got this big ol’ grin on your face like you’re about to drop a one-liner, or something.”
Malik had assumed his face had been making a congenial expression, but now he realized he couldn’t tell. He decided to ride it out. “Just relieved you’re back and in good spirits,” he said.
Hugo ran a hand through his thick coif of greying hair and frowned. “I’m glad it seems that way. Truth be told, things didn’t go the way I’d hoped. See, I wasn’t over there in any official capacity. Just playing golf. But sometimes, schmoozing with the right people can make all the difference…” he looked down at the floor. “Anyway, I don’t think I really did much good.”
“Let’s focus on looking after you for right now,” Malik said, steering Hugo gently into the living room. The old senator let himself settle onto the sofa, where he leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes.
Malik opened his briefcase to get the necessary supplies, then stopped. His hands were dotted with little beads of blood. An image sprang to mind: him trying to pull a glove over his cracked, bleeding hands, feeling his skin tear as it rubbed against the latex. He shuddered a little. No gloves, then.
“I do hold out hope that the titans of the world know better than to clash directly with each other,” Hugo was saying. He was still reclined against the generous cushions, eyes closed.
“I’m glad we have people like you trying to see to that,” Malik said. He sterilized the injection site, then drew the medication into the syringe. Hugo still hadn’t moved or opened his eyes, apparently lost in whatever frustration or regret he felt in the wake of his trip.
Malik stared at the needle in his bare hand. Then, gingerly, he touched the needle to the tip of his tongue, and rolled it around there until it was coated with saliva. His mind sang with pleasure. Yes, this, yes, this, yes, this, yes, this, his heartbeat chanted. He administered the shot into Hugo’s meaty bicep, and then it was done. The senator grunted and sat up, blinking.
“All done,” Malik said. He thought he was smiling. “Hugo, I need you to do something for me now.”
“Anything for my ‘old buddy from Texas,’” Hugo said, his eyes glimmering with a trace of his usual humor.
“I need you to pay me three million dollars so that I don’t go to the media about your condition. Because I really, really think I might do that if you don’t pay.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and held it out to Hugo. “Into this account. All the information’s there.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Hugo said quietly. “If you’re in trouble, I can help you.”
“You don’t understand,” Malik said, and he could hear the manic tinge in his own voice. “I’m like--I’m like a loaded spring. I get the money, or sproing! Off I go. Unless you kill me. Or something.”
Hugo gave him a long look. His face had gone grey and sunken-looking. “I oughta,” he said, then sighed. “Should’ve seen this coming. At least I know I’m making waves with someone, if they got to you.”
Malik stared at him, uncomprehending.
“Yeah, I’ll get your money, you piece of poo poo,” Hugo said, hefting himself to his feet. “And you best keep showing up here on schedule to give me my medicine. I won’t be intimidated. The money will take a few days, mind you, but if you’re working for them, you know I’m good for it.”
Malik couldn’t understand what was happening, why it had been so easy. Blood roared in his ears. The sense of ecstasy and yes, this had evaporated. Now he needed to get out get out get out get out, go, run, be elsewhere.
“What the hell are you still doing in my house? I said I’d have the money. Now fuckoff back to whoever bought you and tell them it’s done.”
Malik didn’t have to be told again. He stood up, walked briskly to the door, and let without looking at Hugo.
Then he drove. The cracks in his hands were opening weeping blood and bus that stained his shirt cuffs sickly red and yellow, but he didn’t care. He followed a winding, two-lane road that snaked its way into the wilderness. When he rolled down his window, the air was sweet, like moist earth and honey. Mica was out there, he decided. They were connected, now, and she was going to draw him down into warm, shallow water, into the silt, down beneath the lily pads where everything was slow and simple.
He pulled off at an obscure trailhead that led down into the fragrant wetlands. Stay on the trail at all times, a sign cautioned. Do not feed the animals.
Malik laughed and laughed, his voice booming through the trees as he made his way down to the flat, boggy expanse of the swamp. The dirt-and-honey smell was this as syrup, and his mind sang for it. He waded out in waist-deep water, eased his way through the long grass and spindly trees. By the time he saw the cracked and bloated bodies of the other men, there was no Malik, only the singing of the scent in his senses. He sank down into the shallow murk beside his brothers and let his gaze drift upward, to the latticework of tree limbs against the sky.
Cassie was walking home from her latest hookup, an adulterer who worked for the Center for Disease Control, when her phone buzzed with breaking news. She tapped the notification, which brought up a live news stream.
“Senator Hugo Silva was hospitalized today after allegedly assaulting the president of the United States at a White House dinner” the newscaster said. The feed cut to footage of the event: there was Senator Hugo, wild-eyed and sweaty, shaking hands with the president. She was frowning, her eyebrows furrowed with concern. She leaned in, as if to ask Hugo if he was alright, and then the senator grabbed the president by the cheeks, pulled her mouth close to his, and hocked a wad of saliva straight into her mouth.
Then he collapsed, and the clip ended.
“Sources say Senator Silva was a longtime sufferer of schizophrenia, which he concealed from his constituents, but doctors say they haven’t ruled out other medical factors. We’ll have more on this story as it develops,” the newscaster said.
Cassie closed the app and stuffed her phone in her pocket. She had the sense of something massive looming over her, looking down on her. She was not afraid. She’d done well. She was a good tool, and would be until she wasn’t anymore. Then, maybe, she would follow the sticky-sweet perfume down into a bog and sink into the warm arms of decay…
She tossed her head like she was trying to shake raindrops out of her hair. Strange thoughts had plagued her mind when it was idle, ever since she’d gotten sober. But the main thing was that she was grateful to be useful. It was something she’d never imagined for herself before meeting the handler.
As she made her way home, she passed a storefront with particularly reflective windows, and realized her face was locked in a broad smile that she couldn’t feel.
|# ? May 1, 2017 07:02|
Love We Can't Jump Over
gently caress. I’m stuck.
You’re listening to 1620 on your dial, WXBL, home of the all the oldie hits in Glen Falls. This one goes out to you, Helen. Have a groovy day.
I’d done a tag like that about a million times. All the old biddy names were interchangeable: Helen, Mildred, Fanny, maybe a dozen others. Probably the only listenership I have left. There was a time when the dulcet baritone of Diamond Dave meant something in this town. Used to hobnob with the glamour set and the mayor’s cronies on my complimentary pass to the country club. There was a time when declaring yourself a radio disc jockey meant something. That’s probably the only reason I still have a job, they’re too afraid to force this old icon into retirement. I mean, I had to suck up one paycut after another, until I was cheaper than some syndicated broadcast, but I’m still here, sitting behind the console, spinning my personal collection of 45s, fixing the frayed leather in my chair with a roll of duct tape I brought from home, looking into the other booth that’s just a bank of computers.
Some sad, old relic sitting at the picnic table out back taking lunch alone. I watched a spider take its time across the hot pavement. I sat down and took a swig from the hip flask that Sinatra himself signed, though the autograph is worn to invisible, and just as I did, that little spider popped out of the mulch around the half-dead elm under the fluorescent ‘X’ where the borough marked it to be cut down, and waited. I was done for the day, I’d never be relevant for the drive-time shift ever again. So I watched as fingers of shade stretched across the parking lot and the spider followed, testing the bright outline of naked limbs every so often and recoiling. It played the patience game, scurry, test, scurry, test. And as I emptied the flask, the shadow fingers hit the wall across the way and the critter zipped into a hole in the crumbling mortar between bricks.
Bryce pulled up in his hybrid just about then, and sat in the air conditioning waiting for me. I’d been waiting on the bench for nearly six months, just couldn’t bear to tell him that my hours had been cut again, and I only worked in the mornings. I climbed in the passenger’s seat with a groan, the old booth chair was hell on my back. He leaned in for a kiss, and as always, I took a quick look around first. Couldn’t break the habit. We got married in some hippy dippy wedding on an unseasonably cold North Carolina beach with a female priest back when he had hair like The Cure and I was still in shock I survived the Seventies. When he was young and I was not-so-young. But in this town, it was still tough.
“I know you were smoking,” I said to him.
“I should have frisked you for your flask,” he replied.
Defined by the habits you can’t quit. But neither of us really cared about that. Concern, yes, anger, never. His stubble had more salt than pepper, and the doc put me on a low-sodium diet after I had my first cardiac event. Every so often I’d wake up from a nightmare that he’d left for greener pastures, and roll over to grab him tight. And every time, he’d kick me off because I was so sweaty. I saw the age on my spotted, beef jerky arms.
Bryce had the Hamilton soundtrack on for the umpteenth time, but that little spider lead me to the promised land. In my quick little glance around I realized two things—that I was sick of hiding, and it was time to marry Bryce for real; and I saw how to pay for it. The brick façade on the neighborhood bank bowed out like a sailor coming home from shore leave.
Bill Crampton got elected mayor for the eighth time when he was 70. He retired shortly after, or rather was forced out. He didn’t understand my call, but I didn’t need him to. He was the perfect distraction, whether he knew it or not. I know they were waiting for ol’ Bill to drop a racial slur or some classist nonsense and get some viral video fodder, but the old boy fell right into the politician groove. It was all fake, but I watched the entire procedure unfold on the six o’clock. If I had enough left over, I’d throw it to the orphans and everybody wins. I imagine there was an orphanage around somewhere. That didn’t matter, ol’ Bill went where he liked and the cameras followed, and I’d never be implicated.
I saw what I needed. The ventilation duct, surrounded by crumbling mortar on the parking lot wall, lead directly into the vault. I trained a little for the next week, and Bryce rolled his eyes as much as he encouraged while I bicep-pumped the rubberized five pound weights like a hundred times a night.
I felt stiff the first couple mornings, and maybe there was a little tone after a day or two so Bryce can suck it. All I had to do was one pull-up to get into the ventilation shaft.
The grate on the ventilation shaft was easy enough to pry off, the bricks around it were easy to pull down. Gus the night guard was easy to bribe; the video poker in the pizza place only cost a quarter a go, and a roll of coins left on the machine was enough to distract him for an hour.
So that brings us up to speed.
Me stuck halfway in that vent just waiting for the morning tellers to come in and this old idiot hanging over their heads as they count out the cash for the main street businesses that still came in for their daily doses of ones and fives.
And I’m not proud to say it took them a while to even notice the torso lurching over them while they counted out the registers and collected the retail night bags. I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything.
Then old Bill Crampton, on no instruction but his own, showed up again to check on his fake paper kids and announced to the long row of tellers behind their tall counters that there was a man stuck in their wall. They let him meander about, and maybe I should have taken his lead to act like the doddering old man who wants to be relevant. I couldn’t squeeze nor shrink away. I was jammed tight around the love handles, clearly stuck in the way that the news crews love.
Could I play senility? Ol’ Bill already set that trend for me. It might work, but then Bryce showed up. Hey buddy.
The news crew was there. Confession time. “Bryce—I just wanted, well, I don’t know what I wanted—but maybe for us to be permanent. Will you marry me?”
I reached towards the safe deposit box that held Mrs. McClusky’s rings. It was a known quantity, the high school was named after William McClusky. Bryce rapped the lock with his knuckles and said, “You want to steal Mrs. McClusky’s rings? I mean, I do like a diamond, but this is ridiculous. I’d be happy if you just let Channel Five know what you’re thinking.”
“Do I have a choice?” I asked as the goddamn news crew made their way into the vault. I didn’t have any makeup on, and certainly wasn’t ready for an interview.
But HD leant a certain honesty, and I finally saw that spider crawl across the floor as I spilled the beans.
It was half fake until I leaned into it: “You’re watching Diamond Dave as he tried to steal a diamond worthy of his lover, Bryce, and gently caress it (KDKA ate the FCC fine on that one) we’re getting married.”
Bryce taught me about foster families and the way Children and Youth Services work as the cops pulled me out of the wall, and how wrong I was about how orphans don’t really exist these days.
I dunno. I begged his forgiveness about a thousand times. He understood why I wanted Ol’ Bill and Ol’ Gus in the wedding party. But we never got for real married. That sucked. But I get it, Bryce never wanted to be my sidecar.
More than sucked, I never wanted anyone else to be my sidecar. Nah. Bryce was my engine. He ran the show. You can blow it and make up for your mistakes, so long as your tuchus isn’t hanging out the rear end end of a vault. Sorry, love.
But then Bryce, just as I was getting carted away in cuffs, said, “Yes. Finally.” And he had a ring made of Juicy Fruit wrappers that was better than all of Mrs. McClusky’s jewelry put together.
|# ? May 1, 2017 07:02|
Subs closed now.
Judging probably tomorrow evening, depending on the cojudges
|# ? May 1, 2017 08:23|
|# ? May 1, 2017 16:22|
I will judge this forthcoming brawl. I love fights, so you better not let me down ska
Didn't fail so let's go...
SkaAndScreenplays fucked around with this message at 18:15 on May 1, 2017
|# ? May 1, 2017 18:11|
Didn't fail so let's go...
BRAWL: SKA vs SH
A lovable, persistent loser challenges an established heavyweight. Any kind of contest will do: a fight, a game of chance, a battle of wills, a pissing match, whatever. Feel free to ask for flash rules
Due at 12 Noon PST on 5/8/17.
or go home to your mama
|# ? May 1, 2017 19:08|
BRAWL: SKA vs SH
|# ? May 1, 2017 19:11|
BRAWL: SKA vs SH
|# ? May 1, 2017 19:14|
Week 247 Results
So, apparently I must have stolen last week’s win from an ancient pharoah’s tomb, because the Curse of the Mummy fell upon this week, in the form of no less than four different stories that were basically versions of The Mummy’s Curse. Lots of crimes going supernaturally wrong, lots of protagonists dead by the time the story ends, and not nearly enough fun.
There were some exceptions, however: Sittinghere’s Sickly Sweet and The Cut of Your Jib’s Love You Can’t Jump Over had enough good prose and charming characters to earn HMs. And Uranium Phoenix ascends the blood throne for Even the Gods Get Lost Here, a story that delivered everything I wanted from this week, not least of which was a well-crafted story.
On to the negatives. flerp scores a DM for The Memory Thief, for aggressively low stakes and not actually having anything to do with any crimes we could find.
And that brings us to the losers. On the one hand, we have a story dealing with challenging subject matter that manages to be too bland to evoke even the revulsion it should, Fleta Mcgurn’s Journey to Zion. And on the other hand, we have the worst of the four Mummy’s Curses, a rambling uneven narrative with far too much confused and pointless prose burying the few high points, Jay W. Friks’ The Blue Colby.
Where there are two losers there must be a loserbrawl, since these losertars don’t grow on trees. So the two of you each have until Monday (May 8) midnight PST to deliver a 700 (max, but try to get close to that cap) word story about someone putting something back where it belongs. With no supernatural elements whatsover. Hopefully one of you will write well enough to lift the week’s curse.
Meanwhile, welcome back to the Blood Throne Uranium Phoenix!
Edit: Also part of the Mummy's Curse: Forgetfulness. In particular, forgetting to formally DQ Djesers...thing. Because, yeah, c'mon.
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 21:40 on May 1, 2017
|# ? May 1, 2017 19:24|
|# ? May 1, 2017 19:55|
I call blood steward
|# ? May 1, 2017 20:16|
|# ? May 1, 2017 20:18|
My Judge Crits
For me this was a week where ambition fought against proficiency. On the one hand there were a few stories that put themselves out there and attempted something even though they generally failed in reaching the heights they sought. The other side was stories that were proficient but told a tired tale.
The other judges talked me around to The Mummy’s Curse stories. In general they were written coherently, but did nothing to free themselves from the shackles of unimaginative plotting. The premise being repeated so often didn’t help any of them stand out.
There was a big gloop of mediocrity to a lot of the stories, and both HM’s took the accolade because an element(s) made them stand out more than the others while still not having the strength to summit a win. There was no story that brought about a strong reaction from me in feeling or thought while managing to be written without flaws. It was really a week where I felt like I had to compromise as a reader for every story.
Journey to Zion
The presiding thought as I went through this was about the deceptive joviality of the main character and how that would contrast against the inevitable doom and evil that was sure to show. For me it's natural to presume a dark underbelly as soon as religion is presenting with an attempt at lightness. I kept waiting for a turn in the style of prose, or a turn in actions or thoughts, and what did come didn't have enough weight for me. Ending with a slight revelation of his evil didn't chime because it's what I was reading into it the whole way along. Nothing in this was a surprise, nothing turned my thoughts on what happened or what was to come. There was no moment where the light tone of his actions and beliefs was put against the dark nature of what was happening. I think that's down to the power of what was revealed. I wasn't looking for a surprise. I was looking for a turn in the style of prose, the descriptive language used, the mentality of the people. In the end the callousness was lampshaded against one of his wives but it wasn't a strong enough telling. This is a simple story, and the depth in language and prose didn't do enough to carry it for me. You did really well in establishing the casualness of Frank at the beginning, and his lighthearted belief in his mission so that added to my disappointment by the end when his darkness wasn't given the same treatment, or wasn't managed with the same level of accomplishment in the writing. A large part of that was that there wasn't enough time given to a reader to fully absorb his evil, and to live it vicariously through your writing of it. You've already committed to and succeeded in writing his "happy" and "light" side. For me you needed to have the same success driving into his admitted darker side, which wasn't there with enough strength in the prose.
Sea Shanties - 1310 words
This didn't do very much for me until the very end, when I started cheering everyone dying. I think a lot of the problems was that everything seemed so matter of fact. The description was serving the purpose of exposition in a lot of places, but it was a pretty simple premise to buy into. And because it was somewhat expository it didn't carry enough weight in setting a feeling or a mood. I didn't have any feeling reading the story as it wasn't very evocative. There was no sense of midnight daring, risk, or struggle. With writing such a simple story you really need to nail the prose and make my imagination kick up as a response in kind to the storytelling. Another problem was there wasn't any conflict to buy into. If there was some more about the other characters, such as commentary on them from the main character I might have some feeling for them and need for them to survive. Even him pointing out how their youth, or lack of experience was endangering them all could up the tension when we don't see what's happening to them, or feel they're putting the whole operation at risk. You could show the whole group struggling together to not succumb to these sea monsters and have me buy into their shared fears. you may have been going for an element of hubris and tragedy, humanity meddling with things they know not, but there was nothing setting them up for the fall at the end, and no indication of them deserving it. For a story with a premise that's probably cropped up since people have been sailing (and of course the title is Sea Shanties) you didn't take it far enough or tell it with enough aplomb for it to really shine.
This falls into the same problems that Sea Shanties had, a simple story that needs to rely on prose but the prose not having the weight or feeling to carry it. Straight away you're signalling, at least to me, that there's something spooky with the ship they're about to rob and from that point on it's about execution in doing so. There were some attempts at getting across that feeling. The crew were sensing smells, something explicable at first but as it goes on it indicates things are untoward. You spent a lot of times on smell, but the gravity of the language, either in inspiring awe, foreboding, ill-ease or any vicarious feeling or sense wasn't there. You tried similar with the occasional visceral violence, but you didn't dwell on it long enough for it to impact. I felt like you were letting the action and abruptness of the action stand for what you wanted, but for a story with no twists or turns, or mystery and suspense you really need to focus on the evocative parts of your writing, which failed. The feeling of unease needs to be persistent through out the story, or really hit home once it's revealed, but this didn't get that across. It's definitely not an easy thing to write, especially if you're to keep the plot as simple as it is here, so it would take revision after revision to really nail it and it didn't feel like you managed that here. I do feel it stands above Sea Shanties, partly because there were less moments that threw me out of the story, and although it's a fairly typical tale it's not riding completely on something so typical as sea-monsters. Your more coherent plotting and writing, and the smidge of "newness" in it being sci-fi pulls it above that story.
Whereas other stories were lacking in imagery, this was too reliant on them. The interaction between the characters didn't come across as believable, the premise and risk of the heist wasn't established well enough, and the ultimate downfall didn't speak of any great human foil or flaw. The writing was serving the purpose of the rose imagery, but it didn't carry the rest of the story. If you had established some form of hubris, a bigger nod towards the importance of the city, or the sin of trespassing there then it could work to foreshadow the fall at the end. You needed something to make somewhat more tragic and strike at some idea of human purpose, both good and bad, hopeful and despairing. Another problem with this was how detached the whole story felt. Reading it was like viewing the event through cloud of unreality. There was no real tie to the story, nothing that hooked me into any of the people or the place. I didn't relate to them or feel for them, either with love or hate. If you had given more insight into the thoughts of one of the characters, or show their feelings or reactions to what was happening then it could really lift it up. Really, the whole story made me feel dissociated from what was happening as a reader. That dissociation can really work, and has worked in other stories before where something draws you at the resolution of the story, and all the imagery and detail suddenly stands out in relief and everything is contextualised, but this didn't achieve that. Their fall wasn't telling in any way, and their pride didn't stand against any idea of impropriety. Finally, it felt like the rose imagery was a little overblown and something you wanted to write because you were enjoying it rather than giving to a reader for purpose. By the end I wanted some weedkiller.
The Bulldog And The Barman
This was a bold statement. Writing a screenplay for a heist film with those films such a cultural cornerstone of cinema really made me want the writing to pay off, but ultimately it didn't. With reliance on dialogue and stage actions there was little room left for you as a writer to convince me of the weave of the story, and without the action being portrayed visually you didn't carry it well enough for me to get over the parts that dropped me out of the story. The dialogue felt somewhat contrived, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Heists are contrived, and if you had achieved admirable plotting and a significant story it could have worked as a pastiche, but there were too many details that let it down (she leaves her coat full of money lying around? She's actually carrying enough money in a single night for it to be a big win for them and a big loss for her?) There were all the beats in this that are necessary for this type of story; the misdirections, the attempts at charm, the back and forth between two people thinking about conning each other, etc. But the entire thing wasn't as convincing as it would be if you had written it as a normal short story, and I think a lot of the problems with it would have shown up in that writing. Then when those problems showed up you would have had your prose to address them and bring the reader along with the story. If I had read this as just a short story, maybe in a lit mag I'd be more dismissive of it, but for TD and with the prompt I have to applaud the effort, problems with the story and all.
The Memory Thief
This was a really interesting premise, but it felt more like a slightly fleshed out premise than it did a full story. All the writing was believable, and I was drawn through the story, but it didn't go far enough in letting me see some of the world. If there was some character struggle, probably from the woman dying then it might have made a more insightful piece. For a story about someone whose job is erasing memories it read a little like a guy sleepwalking through a boring office job. The part about the cost/charge coming later was a great hook, but I didn't see it go anywhere and that was a big let down. The story felt like it ended halfway through what was intended. I can't say too much about it because there isn't enough for me to really comment on. The best thing I can say is I'd like to read this again with a lot more work and consideration put into where you want to go with it, and what you want to say to the reader. You've made me interested in what you're saying, but you didn't say anything of interest. There's so much going on, a dying woman, a woman who hates her life and husband(?), a man who helps people with these issues (or is he really helping?) the cost of erasing something that's part of you, the cost of being a person who in some way destroys people's minds, etc. There's so much going on here that I'd like to see explored I was disappointed that it didn't happen.
The Blue Colby
This was a bit disjointed, and I often wondered why you were telling me things and what purpose telling me those things was serving. You put a lot of extraneous information about the spookiness of what was going around the main plot but it didn't really serve a greater purpose. There were no extra characters for me to buy into, there was no mystery or foreboding added to the main story that couldn't have been gotten out of a tighter main thread, there was nothing adding significance to event, all the extra parts seemed quite superfluous. This really seemed like you wanted to write a longer story and were adding parts in rather than really sharpening up the first level of the story. Apart from that the mix of people and the occult aspect of the story didn't really work for me. It wasn't strong enough in either aspect for either setting element to really play off the other. Rural gothic could work, but you need to nail both aspects of that before you combine the two. You also need the setting and detail to work more for you, and the details of the world and the characters actions need to speak more. For me the writing was let down by you not letting imagery, or detail of the world or their actions speak for the story. The characters were also really superficial, I didn't feel any sense of realness to them or their thoughts and it felt like you were telling me what I should think about them rather than letting their characteristics speak for them. This story can really be held up against Sickly Sweet. Where Sickly Sweet was super focused, and for me too focused for such a long story this wasn't focused enough. If the two stories could meet halfway in what is important to them, and in giving the reader breathing room in the world to take in extra details (something you did too much of, and Sickly Sweet didn't do enough of) it would make for a much more balanced story. You have a large world, with a lot going on and you need to pare it down to something more essential than what you have. If you step back and look at what you really need to say it, and have more deference for your style and prose saying it it would make this story work a lot better.
Even the Gods Get Lost Here
This was a really simple story, and didn't have much to say other than telling the story of a heist with good action. And it was good action, and it was well written. I followed along with interest, and just as I was getting a little annoyed at the length of the storytelling something happened to drag me back into the plot and action of the story. The writing was decent, and there were only a few occasions I had to double back to follow along, and by the end I had enjoyed a nice yarn. The problem I had was the lack of ambition in the story. There was nothing hugely significant in the story, there was nothing that spoke to me at a deeper level, there was no insight on any aspect of humanity, or even the world you had established. That's definitely an issue I have with this week in general, that nothing made me step back and assess any ideas I have, or feelings about myself or the world, but I'm mentioning it to you because your story was one of the few that was properly enjoyable on a surface level. This read a little like the story version of a summer blockbuster. If you enjoy action and 'splodes, and magicians magicking then you might get more out of it, but because it propelled me along nicely I was looking for something more. Your sense of timing in when something happened, and when to move the story along worked well but without any real depth or insight to the characters (the only time anything like that came up was the nightmare scene) and without any threaded metaphor throughout the story it felt like fast food writing. As someone who enjoys the occasional Burger King meal this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and with this week's writing it was enough for it stand above most of the other stories for me. The easiest way to add weight to this would be to focus more on character conflict, seed more of the doubt between them that you touched on. Working them off each other with suspicion could add that level of humanity necessary to elevate it. Ultimately it did need something to elevate it, especially as there was no deep secret exposed, no mass conspiracy, or no lurking shadowy world. It needs that bit more, but it's solid enough at the moment to work on the immediate level.
"And then they die..." I can understand wanting to tell a story about characters coming to a decision and the difficulty involved in that. I have no issue with alluding to a lot of action happening off camera, and things being talked about that happened elsewhere. The problem with these types of stories is that they're really hard to pull off (but when someone does I absolutely love them.) The problem with this was the characterisation wasn't strong enough. In the middle of it you wrote about how they were all in silence, and that was the big problem I had with this story. The characters were far too silent, and they didn't stand up as characters strongly enough. A large portion of it is just describing who's who, what they're like and a little of what made them that way. To make this work you needed to rely on their interaction filling in all those pieces. There was no real drive to what they were saying, and any argument or difference they held against each other felt like it could be spoken by anyone. Similarly, the decision wasn't that difficult in the end. They decided they'd kill him after someone said they must. If you're not achieving with the characterisation then the conflict at the centre of their debate needs to stand up a lot more strongly (really you need both the conflict and the characters.) It felt like you wanted the situation they had to decide on to stand for itself, the significance of it to amount for as much as possible. You need to write it though, and make me buy into it. This needs more telling dialogue, and better characterisation and it's certainly possible to achieve because you had the template for everything there. The character ideas were strong, the premise was strong, but it felt more like you wrote those ideas and spelled out those characters rather than letting them speak for themselves and give potency to their action. "And then they die..." Which was a really disappointing ending, and with the problems that went before that ending only amplified them.
This was really well told, and the prose really zipped along finely telling the story but there were problems throughout that pulled me out of it. First of all it felt really claustrophobic for a story with "way too fuckin many words." And it wasn't a good claustrophobia. It was an easy read but everything was so purposeful in driving a point that there was no room to relax with the story. This might have worked if there was tension in the story to go along with it, but I didn't feel tense reading it, I was just interested in seeing what the purpose of the Senator setup was. In the end the Senator setup was some strange Twilight Zone type thing, and it felt like an excuse for a story that could almost be believable. I say almost believable because there were moments throughout where the suspension of disbelief and my buy in to the story fell away from me, and I was left questioning what the characters were going through, and why they were being so thick. The ending of it seemed to be an attempt to include those elements by saying it was mysterious forces, but the story did nothing to make those mysterious forces a reality of the world. I think that can in some way be tied back into the drive of the story. If I was given room to ruminate on some of the weirdness, or it gave me pause rather causing me to reject what I was being told it could have allowed for the reveal at the end. The story straddled two things, simple spying and weird poo poo, and it wasn't believable singly in either of those, nor as a mix of both. The story was probably the best mix of ambition and decent writing for me, but it failed in its ambition. Other stories were less ambitious, but nailed what they were going for. The coherency in the writing and skill in pacing made it stand out, but there were a lot of flaws that held it back. For me it needs to be put in a drawer for a few days or weeks, and looked at with fresh eyes. There could be so much more, as is staked out throughout the story but it doesn't tie everything together satisfactorily. It read like a good writer's first draft focusing on a story, with writing that could carry it but with the story not in place firmly enough.
Love We Can't Jump Over
I had a real/love hate thing going on with this. The opening was superb, and the voice of the character so strong it nailed me to my seat. Then it segued into the second paragraph and I was pulled out of it. This continued throughout the story with parts of it that I loved, and parts of it that made me wonder if a second person had jumped into the writer's seat and continued typing up from where the first writer left off. What made this story was the warmth for the character that shone through. It was the only story in the whole week that made me feel something, and though the guy was a big derpy failure I couldn't help but find him idiotically charming. I smiled reading this, and I wanted to love it with all my heart, but some of the jumps between plot points, scenes and settings, and simple description of what was happening didn't flow well enough to keep me smiling the whole way through. This story needs another few passes from you, and the eyes of an editor because there are parts of it that made me think there was more going on in your mind that you didn't or couldn't get across to the reader. This story is charming as a motherfucker, and the best of what I've read in an evocative sense, but needs real work in clearing up the flow. If you can make more clear the progression of what's happening, why it's happening and how it's happening you have a winner of a story.
|# ? May 1, 2017 20:38|
Week 247 Crits
I was listening to the soundtracks from the Ocean's movies while I read your stories, and it helped a few of you, and it really did not help others. Although I blame the stories for that, not Danny Ocean. Stories were scored 1 to 10. Not read in judgemode.
A couple of broad stroke criticisms: nobody knows how to establish stakes. These are crime stories, people. If I'm going to care about the crime, the heist, the whatever, I gotta know what the stakes are. What do these people want? Why do they want it? What are they willing to do to get it? What happens if they don't? I mean, come on, have any of you even seen a heist movie before?
Secondly, tone. Very few stories this week had any sense of fun and adventure. Or, you could go the film noir direction, go dark. Of course, that requires a strong voice. Few had that, either. Where is your sense of style, people????
Free Offer: I will do a full critique for three stories from this week. First come, first serve.
Fleta Mcgurn - Journey to Zion
Lotta names in the first two paragraphs. Lotta names in general. This story... I mean, there is a crime here, sure. And I guess there are some semi-elaborate machinations to make it happen? Not really, actually. Okay, here is my judgment: this story is boring, and bad. There are interesting elements. The justifications a person has to accept for these kinds of actions, the rioting emotions of the various participants, the collaboration of a range of people to keep it secret. I wouldn't say you really delve into any of them, though. You made 2400 words seem really long. Nothing exciting happens. There is almost no tension in this story.
I think part of the problem is that you tell this story from Father Frank's perspective, and I don't like him. I don't empathize with him. I don't feel anything positive toward him. I do feel for Dora, but we get nothing approaching a satisfying ending for her, OR, alternatively, a deeply impactful tragic ending. There is a version of this story from Dora's perspective that hits way harder, probably. Or, maybe there is some elaborately planned escape, with the collaboration of the mothers, to flee the clutches of Frank's zealous hands. THAT is a story I would read.
ThirdEmperor - Sea Shanties
I have some problems with your prose, particularly your descriptions. See me after class. Your blocking in the action sequences is not great. Makes it hard to follow the action.
I have some problems with this story, too. The tone is weird. It's very serious? Except it's a story about sailors stealing the Siren's Song. Where's the magic in this story? Where's the adventure? Problem two: you take way too long to reveal what it is these guys are doing. I guess if you're really sharp, you could piece it together simply from the fact that they plug their ears with wax, and they're in the middle of the sea. But I can't think of a good reason to withhold that information. This is a heist, and usually heist stories set up the stakes early. Come to think of it, I have no idea WHY these guys want the Siren's Song.
The ending is fine. I don't think it's bad, but I also don't think it's good. It's fine. It makes sense. I wouldn't call it satisfying. I guess part of that is I have no clue what the stakes are, as I mentioned above. I also have no clue what sort of reaction his crewmates might have to the loss of both the song and to these men. Also, does the song reach the surface? A better sense of some of these things would make this a stronger story.
SurreptitiousMuffin - Radio silence
Your words are good, as usual. This story starts off like a fun caper, and ends like any of a number of alien horror stories. Actually, it reminds me of an Erogenous Beef story, about some weird psycho-killer plant in space. Anyway, This story is pretty decent, has some solid tension, a few decent WTF moments, but ultimately I have a hard time calling this a crime caper. I also don't think you developed the characters nearly enough to make me care. Marco, in particular, is only really established in the rearview mirror.
Kaishai - Rose Gold
An actual crime caper! And a halfway decent one at that. Good prose, clear stakes, competent construction. Rare things, this week. I think the characters aren't particularly deep, though they do have relatively clear motivations. I'm not sure if the ending is supposed to be a twist, but I think it's telegraphed a little too heavily. Of course these assholes aren't going to get the gold they came for, not in a city that has supernatural roses in it. And the girl is a bit too pure to be an interesting character. Also, I think the rose imagery is a bit heavy. Anyway, decent story. I liked it just a hair more than the other judges.
SkaAndScreenplays - The Bulldog and the Barman
Come on, man. This isn't a short story. I know the prompt doesn't say no screenplays, but should it have to? Perhaps you had this idea already working in your mind, and so it came out this way... But it doesn't make the story better to read. Screenplays are designed to be translated to the screen; prose isn't written in this format for a reason. It's not the best format for reading a story.
Other than that obvious problem, this isn't a bad story. It's obfuscated by the formatting, and it takes waaaaay longer than it needs to, but there is a tidy little con job in here, with stakes and established relationships and whatnot. Too bad about the other stuff.
flerp - The Memory Thief
So, a short little riff on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Okay. Except it's not particularly interesting. He says 'no names', keeps it simpler... And this story is simple. But not to its benefit. We really just don't have enough information to make this story worth anything. No stakes (which you even actively minimize, through the condition of her cancer--when you say that it doesn't really matter if he screws up because she's going to die soon anyway), nothing about our protagonist, nothing really about Marleen other than that she gets annoyed by her husband of 47 years. We never find out what he wants from the deal. I think this story is bad.
Jay W. Friks - The Blue Colby
""That" referring to his rear end." This is bad, and now I don't like your story. Not a good start.
Story needs more description, especially early. I need to establishing shot, here. Where are they, what's it like, why can't the man call the police? Anyway, I'm glad to see your formatting has improved, dramatically. This story has waaaay too much exposition, though. Also, it's way too long. And it's convoluted as hell, which is fine, but it's not convoluted in the fun way. There are so many different things going on, but none of them deepen the characters in any appreciable way--they mostly just move the story forward.
It's also another story that ends supernaturally, but I can't really find a reason for it. The all-consuming sapphire doesn't have any symbolic nature, nor does the house it came from, it appears. If it did, I might buy it more, but it doesn't. Not to my reading. You've clearly got an inventive mind, Jay, but it often seems as if it's all just spur of the moment, rather than well designed.
Djeser - Why I didn't submit this week
Some good reasons imo
Uranium Phoenix - Even the Gods Get Lost Here
Finally, something with some adventure! Good prose, actual tone, interesting characters and character motivations (and interactions), fun action, a solid story. It is pulpy, and as one of the other judges mentioned, a bit brainless, but it is fun. And I am susceptible to pulp. One of the few stories that made me feel like the reader had even a passing knowledge of crime fiction, or heist movies, or anything of that ilk.
Flesnolk - Mohave Evenings
The sheriff can just casually recognize a Bugatti Veyron? Also, your prose is purple. Trying a little too hard with the descriptions.
Holy hell get to the gotdamn point. This story is boring as poo poo. You had an unlimited word count, and you spend all of having dudes talk around this thing they're maybe going to do? Come on. And if you're going to hold hostage the story of the village, at least make it interesting. At least make it important.
Also, Christ, all that, then they just get ambushed? Like, what? This story has no stakes, no tension, mostly because you waste all this time trying to characterize these dudes through half-baked dialogue rather than establishing just what the hell is going on. The only remotely interesting thing that happens in this story is when dudes with assault rifles bust down the door. Start your story where it's interesting.
Sitting Here - Sickly Sweet
You are correct, way too many words. This is pretty good. There is a crime! And a complex effort to pull off the crime! Of course, I think one of the limitations of the story is that we don't get a sense of what's actually going on--we get the street level view, but we never see the man behind the curtain. Who is actually extorting Silva? What are they doing it for? Did they mostly want him to stop getting his meds? Lots of questions. I'm pretty sure that's not what you're interested in, though, but I still think it's a limitation.
This is about addiction, I think. Cassie/Mica replaces a chemical addiction with an emotional one, founded in con jobs. Malik is addicted to feeling important, I think. I like the work you do to establish character motivations; that's the strongest part of the story, I'd say. You have some distracting typographical errors, particularly toward the end of the story, which I'm assuming is a time thing more than anything.
I didn't really dig the supernatural element of this story. It sort of comes out of nowhere, and I don't really understand why? I was digging the characters, the setup, all that, but then, this weird bog shows up and starts swallowing people. A better ending and I think this takes the cake.
The Cut of Your Jib - Love We Can't Jump Over
Wait, is this a story about Diamond Dave, Bay Area musician/DJ/pop artist? Ah, drat. Not actually. Anyway, this story is decent. I think the voice you're trying to establish gets in the way of the required exposition of plot details. And the plot itself doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Nevertheless, this story establishes well a lived-in relationship between these two characters, even if it fails to really establish the stakes for Dave's heist. Why marriage is so important to him, and why he needs McClusky's rings.
But, yeah. Good character work saves this one. This has a bit of a Travis McGee feel. The voice you establish, which I maintain gets in the way of story details, makes for a charming lead and one of the few stories with any emotional attachment this week.
|# ? May 1, 2017 21:19|
Crits Against ‘Literature’
Fleta McGurn: Journey to Zion
The opening is nothing special (and may be introducing too many characters too fast and possibly in the wrong order), but it does economically establish a situation. Although possibly the wrong situation? I initially thought of a priest, three nuns, and maybe some novices or wards, but this may be more of a Mormonesque (cult? No, just the Mormon faction) group marriage thing in the next few lines?
Retelling the story of Abraham is a bit of a waste, here, since you’re not bringing anything particularly new or interesting to the tale, not giving their unique perspective (and come on, Hagar is right there, part of the story that gets skipped over) on it.
I’m not sure how to feel about this one. It certainly falls into the category of ‘being entirely too cute with the prompt’. And more than that, well, I thought that you had too many character in it but the real problem is that you don’t have any, not really. Nobody in this story is displaying any actual agency, not even Frank. A Frank with a rock-solid faith might have driven an interesting story, if you’d allowed him to encounter any actual adversity against his goals. A completely depraved Frank might have allowed a different story to be told. But we have a cypher here. His having enough nonmormon in him to have a cigarette habit could have added depth to a stronger character, but there’s not enough there for it to play off here.
About agency: imagine the version of this story where instead of how you end it, we get to the actual ceremony and someone (you could use any of the female characters for slightly different results) shouted out “Where is God now to stay your hand, as He did Abraham’s?”, and then the consequences played out. (Which reminds me, the story of Issac is pretty much exactly the opposite of on point here...)
I mentioned in the prompt itself that sex crimes would be a hard sell, and I don’t think that you’ve gotten over that hurdle. You’re simultaneously dealing with some deeply disturbing subjects and delivering a boring story, and for that you end up as my loss candidate, by a hair. (1/10)
ThirdEmperor: Sea Shanties
The opening doesn’t grab very strongly, partly because it barely has any character in it at all. The description is doing its job without doing much more, and the action is pretty minimal. This could be a story where you’d be better off starting later than you did.
Okay, I can get behind the idea here, pirate/divers descending in with a magic box to steal the siren-song of the sea witches. Solid. But I’m not sold on the execution. Part of that is the ending. This feels like the kind of nautical tall tale that ought to end in an ‘and I alone lived to tell the tale’ equivalent (and doing that kind of ending would let you go first person and thus get a stronger sense of the main character.
I think I was wrong about the beginning: you probably should have started this story considerably earlier, and given time for your characters to be developed in more depth and make a reader get to know them before they have to go silent.
I suspect this will be in the middle of the pack. (5/10)
Surreptitous Muffin:Radio silence
A good opening bit. My concern is that you have too many characters in it. (I’m particularly wondering if Kat will have enough to do in the story.) Or not, it looks like Kat may be the viewpoint character, in which case introducing her so late doesn’t work well in 3rd person. The narration is very informal for 3rd person, too. (I really hope the theme this week isn’t ‘stories that should have been in 1st person but couldn’t because the viewpoint character dies and people know I hate that.’)
condused? Should probably be ‘fused’, what an awful place to put a typo right in the middle of your gimmick...
Okay, not dying at the end but quite possibly insane.
This is very similar to the previous entry, from the same kind of ‘thieves attempt to steal the ineffable and are punished for their hubris’ part of the collective unconscious. Different in the details, of course. This one does a better job with the characters, I think. I find the ending a bit unsatisfying: this has enough elements of a first contact story that I’m wanting a little more understanding by the end of it, and there’s enough ambiguity (is she okay now, and able to help the crew safely loot the ship or warn them off? Or is she in a state where bloody murder is the only way to recreate her religious ecstasy and is going to lure everyone in the crew to their deaths?
Probably still in the middle group? (6/10)
Kaishai: Rose Gold
Strong images in the opening here.
And we have another viewpoint character dying at the end. Sigh. Thunderdome isn’t working under the Hayes code; criminals don’t need to suffer ironic deaths by the end of every story.
And in this case I’m not sure how deserving these deaths really are. Why do the roses (and Maigrette) accept the Minister’s/Queen’s rightness in owning and hiding all this wealth, anyhow? I mean, it might make sense if the riches were the property of the city’s dead, but for some reason you go out of your way to make the gold something that was put there after the plague was over.
Middling, I guess. (6/10)
Ska and Screenplays: The Bulldog and the Barman
A screenplay. Interesting. And a soundtrack. Early on, it’s not sufficiently clear that Marcy is the barmaid, feel like the all caps naming convention inherent in the format could have fixed that.
The story here is entertaining. You have some actual characters, which helps. But the actual plot is a bit predictable, not straying nearly far enough from the subgenre’s tropes to be interesting, not doing enough to put the reader (viewer?) on the side of the eventual victors.
High so far but probably going to be short of a mention. (7/10)
flerp: The Memory Thief
The actual opening isn’t much special, but the opening dialog is enough to get me interested in this concept.
I like the technical side of this one. I do have one complaint, though: once you’ve set up ‘we’ll talk about what the protagonist gets out of this’ in the first scene, you shouldn’t end without going back and pinching that thread off. Wait, no, two complaints: I don’t see the prompt here at all. This guy does not appear to be doing anything essentially crime-like, considering that the owner has asked them to remove the memory.
Highish quality prose dragged down to the low area for those reasons. (4/10)
Jay W. Friks: The Blue Colby
The opening is fairly strong. I’d have hyphenated battery-licking and screw-ups, but okay. But ‘a frowny face’ wrecks the narrative tone completely and pulls me out of the story when I hit it.
The first flashback is not good at all: too much exposition, both direct and in the form of ‘as you know Bob’ dialog. There are a few good character bits in there, but most of it is just wasted words that aren’t even particularly relevant to the ‘what she knows about the vault’ question we got into it with.
Things aren’t going well for thieves this week, are they?
Low, second serious DM/loss candidate of the week. There are some good bits to it, but too much bad between them. (2/10)
Djeser: Why I Didn’t Submit This Week by Djeser
DQ, obviously. But good on you for propitiating dread tdbot.
Uranium Phoenix: Even the Gods Get Lost Here
drat, that’s a fine opening paragraph.
“The Cat’s Erie”? The Cat’s Aerie would be an interesting play on words, but does Erie mean anything other than a great lake not present in this presumed secondary world? I looked it up, and no, no meanings apart from the lake and its Native American origins.
The dialog in the second scene shouldn’t work (too little tagging and blocking, too many talking heads). But it does, just barely. I suspect that the section could be improved, but it’s already doing the job better than it has any right to.
Should be ‘was so renowned’. Malek’s dialog is a bit too exposition-y. I mean, I think that’s a character trait, but you’re laying it on a bit thick.
Anyhow, a good story all around. And the clearest hit on the sort of story I was hoping to read this week. The jargon gets a little thick toward the end, but definitely the best story so far, my pick for the win. (10/10)
Flesnolk: Mohave Evenings
Comma between Kingman and Arizona. Strong opener otherwise.
‘even now’ isn’t right in a past-tense story.
Things really really aren’t going well for criminals this week.
This story is all character without enough plot. We learn about these peoples’ war crimes, but nothing at all about how they’ve parlayed them (or some other thing, for that matter) into exotic-car-drivingly large fortunes. And when it appears briefly that the on-screen characters might display a little agency and move a story forward, everyone gets slaughtered.
Not nearly as bad as you seemed to think it was in irc. In the middle group, I think. (6/10)
Sittinghere: Sickly Sweet
Opening has some substance to it, shows a bit of character, but isn’t as eyegrabbing as it could be.
Opening is slow but interesting. No sign of crime so far though. Ah, split point of view. The criminal side so far is a bit less interesting than the mark, although maybe the cageyness about what the plan here is will pay off interestingly?
Okay, some good words here. I still think that Malik is a far more well-realized character than Cassie, though, possibly because his personality shows up more indirectly, while Cassie’s narration is more flat. There’s a part of me that wants to know at least a bit more about what the conspirators’s motivation behind all of this is
HM, falling a bit short of the other good one so far. (9/10)
The Cut of Your Jib: Love You Can’t Jump Over
Okayish opening. I’m having some trouble placing the setting, time-wise. Music on AM radio? But he talks about syndicated stations too, so ?
Okay, it’s clear that this is set in the present, abundantly clear later on.
So I have no idea what’s happening in the paragraph starting ‘Bill Crampton”. He somehow got a retired politician to visit a bank on live tv? Needs to be clearer.
Okay, that was sweet. And it probably came the closest to having an actual criminal get away with a crime that the reader can cheer him on for. I mean, he didn’t get away, but he got something sort of like what he wanted anyhow. Possible HM. (8/10)
|# ? May 1, 2017 21:54|
Week 248: A Vision of the Future
Here's another prompt that's closely related to sci-fi. Like with the aliens prompt, the idea is to explore something about people, using some sort of technology as an excuse. It's not about predicting the future, but saying something about today by extrapolating one part of our present.
For example, George Orwell's 1984 has surveillance technology as a key part of his story, but he uses that as part of his warning about the dangers of totalitarian states, which was very relevant at the time given both the recent prominence of fascism and the nature of Stalin's Soviet Union. Or, Isaac Asimov's I, Robot thinks about how if robotics and AI technology advance far enough, humans may not be the best governors of humanity, which obviously says something about people and society without the dystopia of Orwell.
Obviously, the future will have a lot of technological differences, not just one, but in a short story, you generally want to limit yourself to 1-2 technologies tops, otherwise the entire "story" is just spent explaining your tech and how it works, or things get to confusing. Your story doesn't have to be sci-fi. It can be near or far future, though the latter is difficult to do well.
Your task is to
1) Choose a technology from the list (I can write a longer description of the technology if you explicitly ask for it, but honestly, just Google it). You can also propose your own technology. If it's good, you can get up to +150 BONUS WORDS. However, if your idea sucks (or is already on the list and you didn't bother to check) you can LOSE up to -200 WORDS!
2) Write a story that involves that technology
3) Say something about people or our present society
Feel free to pick anything from this list. Multiple people can pick the same tech.
Want an added challenge? Choose a MYSTERY TECHNOLOGY by ing and saying something in your post about how you want a MYSTERY TECHNOLOGY. Gain a bonus of +250 words, plus the opportunity to uncover more bonus words. Gambling and mysteries are exciting! Try not to use someone else's tech from here.
Word Limit: 3500
The usual rules of no erotica, fanfic, rants, etc. apply. No poetry either.
Signup Deadline Friday, Midnight Pacific time
Entry Deadline Sunday, 10pm Pacific time
-ThirdEmperor (toxx; box 1)
-Jay W. Friks (toxx; box 6)
-Fleta Mcgurn (toxx; box 3)
-Thranguy (toxx; box 9)
-Fuschia tude (toxx; box 4)
-BeefSupreme (toxx; box 7)
-Hawklad (toxx; box 8)
-Tyrannosaurus (toxx; box 10)
-Some Strange Flea
-GenJoe (toxx; box 2)
-The Cut of Your Jib
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 07:32 on May 6, 2017
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:07|
Gimme the first MYSTERY TECH BOX.
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:21|
You got Space Elevator! A giant, taunt string going from earth to space used to cheaply (but slowly) get stuff into orbit. It comes with 0 bonus words.
Gimme the first MYSTERY TECH BOX.
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:26|
I forfeit to Fleta and will take the loss for crime week Thranguy. Sorry for spraying curse jizz all over your nice crime lab.
In for a mystery tech box 6.
Jay W. Friks fucked around with this message at 00:32 on May 2, 2017
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:29|
You got Cure for Aging! Medical technology can now prevent aging and all the related problems that causes. It comes with 0 bonus words.
I forfeit to Fleta and will take the loss for crime week Thranguy. Sorry for spraying curse jizz all over your nice crime lab.
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:33|
you know those pictures where a dude's face is photoshopped so it's melting into his cellphone, then your aunt shares it on facebook like ***IT MAKES YOU THINK!!1***
please don't be like that this week
if it becomes lovely Black Mirror week I will come to your houses and poo poo in places you will never find
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:40|
gently caress this poo poo don't do it, you're better than that
|# ? May 2, 2017 00:41|
I forfeit to Fleta and will take the loss for crime week Thranguy. Sorry for spraying curse jizz all over your nice crime lab.
Friks, I thank you. Now write that spooky hospital book!
me with boxx 3 (cuz it rhymes).
|# ? May 2, 2017 01:05|
Friks, I thank you. Now write that spooky hospital book!
You got Alien Wormhole Technology! Humanity has discovered a device not originating from this solar system that can open up small wormholes that can transport matter near instantaneously. The exact nature of these wormholes is up to you! It comes with +150 BONUS WORDS!
|# ? May 2, 2017 01:13|
I forfeit to Fleta and will take the loss for crime week Thranguy. Sorry for spraying curse jizz all over your nice crime lab.
Well, that's unfortunate, and not just in that it probably means that a mummy is going to take us all out one by one over the course of the summer. But whaddayagon'do?
I mean, apart from going in with a for box number 9, that is.
|# ? May 2, 2017 01:19|
You got Artificial Intelligence! Computer programs that can think for themselves. The details are up to you! It comes with +175 BONUS WORDS.
Well, that's unfortunate, and not just in that it probably means that a mummy is going to take us all out one by one over the course of the summer. But whaddayagon'do?
|# ? May 2, 2017 01:23|
In with smart pills technology
|# ? May 2, 2017 01:41|
gently caress this poo poo don't do it, you're better than that
or do it gently caress the police
|# ? May 2, 2017 01:56|
|# ? Dec 6, 2021 08:03|
In. Who knows what the future will hold? I sure don't, but I'm guessing it's a lot like [BOX 7]
|# ? May 2, 2017 03:39|