I forgot that I'm supposed to be painting my living room this weekend.
a new study bible! fucked around with this message at 11:24 on Sep 22, 2017
|# ? Sep 21, 2017 23:37|
|# ? Sep 26, 2021 03:36|
|# ? Sep 22, 2017 16:57|
Good name. I'm rooting for u
|# ? Sep 22, 2017 17:33|
In and flash rule
|# ? Sep 22, 2017 19:24|
My JudgeCrits for Week 267
Ma! He’s Making Eyes At Me (Burkion)
I thought your use of the child’s voice was pretty good in this one, with the repetition of certain phrases and the general simplistic and optimistic outlook on her lovely life. Hit the prompt squarely, even including the title in the dialogue. The twist is predictably gross and uncomfortable, as the album cover foreshadows. Some of the phrasing was a bit clunky, but the prose churned the story along and I never got bored with it. The challenge for you writing this was the child’s perspective, as it doesn’t allow for much character development or insight into what’s really happening during the audition. But Lilly’s perspective is suitably chilling and her abandonment by her mother, while not surprising (foreshadowed as it was by her big sis going missing), was handled pretty well and suitably creepily. I was unsure about the ending – the guy obviously bought her for her lung power, did that have something to do with his oxygen machine? Was she going to replace that somehow? If that was made more explicit it may have ramped up the horror further.
Edit: after seeing your post in the other thread, now it makes more sense. Not sure how I missed that.
Love on the Rocks (derp)
The imagery of the ice drew me in and I loved that it was paid off so nicely in the end. You do a great job of ramping up the crazy throughout the story, but it’s earned – digging through her shattered emotions and overreactions really sell the trauma that she’s experiencing. The prose is evocative and tight, and as the story reaches its climax it effectively portrays the confusion and angst and anger, and then the calm that Teresa feels when she reconnects (so to speak) with her lover. The cannibalism is probably not totally necessary but adds a certain ick factor that I didn’t hate. Not much to critique overall, except I also noticed the name repetition that Tyrannosaurus did; at least it was an easy, two-syllable name so it didn’t seem overly clunky. Very close to being the winner.
Why did the bee hum? (Exmond)
Surrealism is a tricky beast. It needs to be grounded enough in reality for the reader to understand what is happening, and use what is different and unexpected to point a finger back at something about the human condition. Good surrealism done right illuminates the mundane with the fresh light of weirdness. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t really do this. The voice of the bees is preachy and off-putting, lecturing without really telling our protagonist anything of real value. The snapshots we see of Richard’s life seem disjointed and don’t revolve around a coherent narrative. I’d suggest thinking about what your story is trying to say: is it the stated moral of the last line (about family)? Then start with that and work outward, because nothing previous in the story really hinted at that theme. But the biggest problem for me with this story is Why Bees? I don’t see how they are the moral superiors and narrators of human lives that they seem to be in this story – what has given them this right? Why should we listen to what they have to say?
Hands and knees (Okua)
This was nicely evocative and the emotional distress is vividly written. I liked the emotional punch of the kid who has hosed up and all he can think about is his mother’s disapproval, but is it enough to hang an entire story on? Why does he have this obsession with his mother? What is hosed up about his brain that he can’t live alone? Not much happens in this story other than the kid crawling around on the floor and then his Mother shows up and doesn’t stab him. I see you were going for a psychological horror here but I am left wanting more about his history with Mother, why is she such a central figure in his life? Why does he crave her judgment and approval? Why is he so regretful about the choices he has made? Given a bit more meat on those bones I think I would have liked it more.
The Frogs Remain (Thranguy)
I thought this story was decent. I did have some problems with it. When they first arrive at the biker camp I felt the protag was much, much too blasé. There’s blood everywhere, his brother pulls his gf out of the trunk, and he just sort of stands there, reminiscing. Then conveniently Charlotte gets out of her binds and escapes (albeit briefly). Then she’s pissed at him about Tommy, an event which occurred in the distant past. I don’t really get her motivation – she was trying to infiltrate the family, but why? Wouldn’t just killing them right off the bat make more sense?
The frogs drinking blood and taking over dead folks and turning them into frog-zombies is pretty cool, although it’s pretty random how it unfolds. I wish more time had been spent on this, rather then the conflict between the protag and his brother and all the family history. Where did these frogs come from? What is their purpose? Also I have to admit I didn’t understand that line early on about how there weren’t any women anymore, are they all controlled by the frogs? Maybe I missed something deeper here. Finally, the open-ended conclusion to the story felt like a bit of a cop-out to me. Maybe I’ll make it, maybe I won’t doesn’t really satisfy.
Hell Mary (Friks)
Great title. Weird random capitalization issues. Proofread your poo poo. Keep dialogue and dialogue tags together in the same paragraph, you keep starting new paragraphs when you shouldn’t. I liked the protagonist and I liked the creeping psychological horror that unfolds as he delves into her psyche regarding her revelation. The way that Mary subsumes her and the next morning how he asks how she’s doing is chilling. I would have HM’d this but for the proofreading and dialogue tag issues. The idea of the flesh existing for pure carnal desire, and how that turns into the horror of “Hell Mary” as the receptacle from that desire is well described and truly horrifying. I could have HM’d this but the proofreading problems ruined it for me.
The Lamb Feast (Captain Indigo)
Really, you had me at “rough grunts of anal penetration” but I stayed for the feast. Overall this isn’t bad, and the prompt was squarely hit with the family. Unfortunately, the two guys were just observers of the bacchanalia, casting aspersions and judgment from afar. This would have been a stronger story if it were from the point of view of a member of the family, watching their brothers/sisters/parents shed their holy patina and go full beastial mode. My other complaint is the incredible speed they went from holy to unholy. Seemed like all it took was a bit of booze and the toilets overflowing and then bang Grannie’s got her ankles in the air. Obviously they are repressed and this is how they let it all out but that could have been foreshadowed better earlier in the story. Maybe a lustful leer or somebody sneaking booze would have shown the reader that under the holier-than-thou exterior lurks something more sinister.
This was a really fun story to read. I loved the idea of the hapless ghost, trying his best but unable to haunt this woman but she just blames everything on her cats. The dialogue is punchy and realistic. His relationship with his brother is interesting---all his brother wants to do is get him to accept his apology, but due to his ‘pigheadedness’ he won’t, and that becomes his undoing. You used contrasting phrases back to back (eg ‘He looked like the dude from Jag’ He didn’t”) which reminded me of the Arrested Development narrator gag but I think you only did it 2 or 3 times so it wasn’t overdone. Overall the protag gets his come-uppance and the story is immensely satisfying. Great writing, just not quite as much actual horror to push it into the win column for me.
The Chalk Line (Mocking Quantum)
Decent. The thicket that traps souls in it is pretty cool. Some capitalization problems, although they seemed intentional but not sure the reasoning behind it. It was awfully convenient for the plot that Sammy had no idea about the thicket, even though it had killed his dad. I might care more about Sammy had I actually met him, instead he is totally absent from the story. Same with old-Neil, from before. As a central figure in the story fleshing him out a bit more would add some depth to this. A lot of time is spent describing the chase, the stuff used to make the line, the one tree he rests on, slowing down the advancement of the plot. When he encounters his uncle the story picks up a bit and gets more interesting. I found the ending unsatisfying: Jo is told that by following the path he could show Sammy the way out, but then he himself just gets subsumed and becomes not-Neal? What ever becomes of Sammy? Given that the search for Sammy was the whole first 1000 words a bit more resolution (even if its not a rescue per se) would’ve improved the story. Overall middle.
Risky but I like it. The prose gives me the sensation of being inside of something, an intensely personal viewpoint that paints a picture of the world from the inside out. The descriptions of the emotions as this individual adds more people to himself is suitably disquieting, but the fact that his motivation is not just pure evil – he’s just trying to understand himself, really – adds to the depth of this protag’s worldview. Tying it back to his mother at the end provides effective closure to the story. Not much else I can say, crit-wise because I really liked this.
All Things Are Now Empty (QuoProQuid)
This one is quite well written; the prose is clear, descriptions effective, and the plot moves forward nicely. I tried to do the back-and-forth time shift in my last entry so I know can be challenging to pull off. Some of your transitions are great, like when you jump from the sickening horror as she realizes her face is shredded right to “Surprise – Merry Christmas!” It’s jarring and effective. Your graphic description of the aftereffects of the car crash are great – gory, horrifying, visceral. Every time you switched to the past, however, I wished we we back in the present. Not sure if that means the past story just didn’t grab me, or if the juxtaposition is just too much for my brain to handle in one story. Perhaps the family drama just doesn’t have the emotional impact compared to the scene in the car, although I could tell you tried to ramp it up to match. I liked the way you ended both stories with the same theme, ironic as it was, as things certainly didn’t turn out okay. I guess in the end my real complaint is that I’m having a hard time identifying the overall theme or point of this one.
Eden’s Island (Fourplay)
There’s a lot of little things in this one that are very characteristic of newer writers. I think the biggest advice I would give is to really think about each character a little deeper. What do they want? What’s their motivation? What is keeping them from getting what they want? Most of your characters feel like cardboard cutouts with very little agency. The stilted dialogue doesn’t help. Read it out loud and see how it sounds to your ear. If it doesn’t sound like how humans actually talk, take an axe to it and chop away all the extra words. You could hang a good horror story on the bones of what you’ve got so far, it would be a good exercise to take the crits you’ve received and revise this one. Looking at your own work with a critical eye will improve your writing a ton.
Index Case (Benny P)
Gross. Writing is good. Plagueflies infecting humans is a decent idea, nothing really new here however. Protag is more of an observer of unfolding events, I didn’t like how passive he was. When he finally gets something to do (after the sheriff orders him out the back of the house, things finally happen to him directly rather than him. More of that early would have helped this story. Get rid of the sheriff, or have the protag be the sheriff, so he’s actually doing something. Feels like the extra character is masking the impact this story could have had. The descriptions sell the body horror and the final calamity as the hallway collapses beneath him very well, it’s gross and uncomfortable to read, and it saves this one from the middle pile.
Big character/expository dump at the beginning that doesn’t drive the story (and doesn’t seem to really relate to what happens in the rest of the story, plot-wise). The writing is pedestrian and describes the events without really delving deeper into them. Probably because much of the action is viewed through a screen, I felt like there was a distance between the characters and the action up until the end. But really I don’t care about any of these characters and I’m glad the bugfungus killed them. How did the bug get there in the first place? Who sent it? Why did someone target their ship? Without motive the crime seems just sort of random. I never really felt scared or worried as I read this piece, as it was just a mediocre description of the events as they unfolded without any particular voice, character development/complexity, a weak setting, and some gratuitous gory bits thrown in.
|# ? Sep 22, 2017 20:54|
Bearer of the Heavens
In and flash rule
|# ? Sep 22, 2017 23:20|
In and flash rule
everything is true, everything is false
|# ? Sep 22, 2017 23:47|
you are all horrible monsters that need to be punished Speak up if you agree and want a savage flash rule branded on your hide.
I have to completely revisit my concept, so yes please.
|# ? Sep 23, 2017 06:59|
I have to completely revisit my concept, so yes please.
pigs are actually very clean animals
|# ? Sep 23, 2017 12:55|
derp fucked around with this message at 19:12 on Oct 17, 2017
|# ? Sep 23, 2017 16:36|
I just realised I haven't closed the signup window. I think everybody has a card but if they don't, lemme know.
SIGNUPS CLOSED, SUBMISSION DEADLINE IS 11:59pm Sunday EST
I REPEAT, EST. EASTERN STANDARD TIME. IT HAS JUST BEEN DAYLIGHT SAVINGS IN SOME TIMEZONES SO MAKE SURE YOU'RE WORKING ON THE RIGHT TIME. THERE WILL BE NO DEADLINE EXTENSION.
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 04:12|
Crits for week 266
FuckArabella, Captain indigo
Sort of a high stakes play with the berzerk high concept of people spitting universes at each other in service of a sub-high school spat, and it just about makes it, but I think between the minuteness of the stakes, the incomprehensibly gigantic scope and the sketchy characterisation - e.g. the Ixion that set the whole thing in motion doesn’t even appear, a missed opportunity - it falls flat. Definitely not bad and an impressive slab of words - this could have been appalling, but I’m sad it ended up only decent.
Monster killers and child stealers, Exmond
This probably deserved its DM for being sort of clunky and cack handed, but you know what - it did actually have a bit of a point for all that it’s wafer thin redemption narrative was poorly delivered. Exempli to the gratia, the last piece made me feel nothing for all it was nicely turned, this one actually had an emotional payload even though you can’t quite deliver it elegantly yet.
The details that sunk you were various, but all pretty fixable - what you did well is clearish action, characters who clearly cared about stuff and a messed up character in the dad with teh potential to change.
Fighting Words, Taciturn Tactician
Slick enough little yarn, lady tries to be better, it’s difficult but then she manages woohoo. Good words, nothing that leapt out at me as awkward, but still the shift feels unearned - so Amber stopped fighting because she cared about Mary just that much! So what! This is a I WAS IN THE CAR AND IT WAS GOING TO CRASH BUT THEN IT DIDN’T CRASH SO I WENT HOME story, and as some rando on the internet i feel entitled to more.
Sema, 5D Autism Spex
Sup, spex. I’ve always liked your cybertronic fever dreams, but lets see if this one hangs as a story rather than just as a whirling cloud of word-bees…. And yes, it really does. You sketch a cyberpunky sort of underclass with immense assurance, and while this is a snip out of natisha’s story, it doesn’t feel like you’ve cheated us in what you choose to show - it’s a pivotal decision and we understand, sort of, the stakes. Beautiful words. Prob would have angled for an hm for this just for its elegance, depending on how the rest pan out.
What kind of fool, thranguy
I flatter myself that I do good opening paras, and I’d be happy to have written this one - sets the stakes, packs information about the protagonist and their situation into every word and makes it clear that a decision needs to be made. And you keep on with the good storying in the flashback that takes up most of the story, nicely brisk Burroughsian stylings (whiskers twitching like a geiger counter is just this side of too cute, but it works because the language around it is clean and clear) that contextualise the first para. The dopey shmuck bit at the end is maybe 70% as good of an exit line as I like to think you couljd have come up with, feels like you could have gone one step further, but it’s not terrible. Good piece.
The adventures of [Prtagonist], jon joe
Also a good opener! I’m pumped as poo poo to find out what happens to this adventurer character. And, aw man what’s up here. I actually think what you’re trying to do is very clever, and if it was a bit clearer it could have been great, but you can rely on people reading your story once in thunderdome, mayyyybe twice. On my third read i still don’t have a clear idea on the sequence of events, poss b/c dumb, but still. Keep doing crazy stuff like this tho, it was close to a really neat story in a cliched genre that always benefits from fuckery. Oh and it’s ‘ludicrous’ events unless the events are an early 00s rap concert or car chase.
Old Breed, hawklad
Yeah, this is a small and lovely piece - attend, domers, 80% of the art of flash fiction is telling a story that is exactly the right size for the number of words so it nestles in the palm of the reader like a baby bird. This is one such - two lines of recollection, brisk sketching of environment and character (e.g. the protag’s war buddy, we get a lot about him without too many words) and a nice simple parallel between the Japanese soldier and the fish, with a clean, blunt finish. Gj and clear winner so far.
Though, just fyi, ‘it’s’ is only ever short for ‘it is’ you illiterate motherfucker.
People vanish every day, Quoproquid
Great opener, suspending the possibility that the invisible people are actually invisible then dropping it with a nasty thud. I’m not sure this really pays off its strong start though: you set up the world, then basically nothing happens apart from the protag’s presumed betrayal. For all the good words and creepy future worldbuilding, I probably would have argued for giving Spex’s an HM over this.
Heart of a dog, Trex
Aw yeah this is tight and nasty and very good indeed. Strengths include the dialogue, effortless control of tone (e.g. the loaded understatement of ‘it was upsetting to watch’) and some well-deployed details. There’s a fairy tale cadence that works very well with the three ‘-est’s.
Weaknesses include having the actual story happen after the end, and a serious lack of attention to character safety, never ramp a train kids it’s really not worth it. Still, gj, deserving hm.
Last call, steeltoedsneakrs
So lots of decent words here, though ‘filling them with a golden warmth’ is a phrase that should be held back for involuntary urination. I like your barlady with the detachable arm (though I’d think she’d want both arms for cleaning? Idk, it’s been a while) and I like your mugged fella with teh shitweasels etc. I raise my eyebrow at the flashback from door opening to Angus walking down the street - you should have cut that last line before the jump and it would have worked much better. The bigger problem, as you well know, is that it’s not actually a story, it’s just a setup. Still, it’s a decent setup and I’m guessing you ran out of time so all good m’friend.
Hammond’s new clothes, Magnificent 7
Aw, poo poo this is banging. Tight little opener, I can see his prissy little face in two lines, and the details of avoiding the puddles are really well chosen. There’s a simple and believable problem for him to struggle with, the hobo is nicely drawn, and their interaction is really good - I’ve read dozens of stories where the protagonist would be much more of an rear end in a top hat but he’s just a regular rear end in a top hat and it works. The turnabout is cleverly and subtly delivered, and it felt overall like a story I’ve read before but in a good way, like an interesting remix of cliched elements in a way that made them new again. Would have been comfortable pushing this for an hm, nice work!
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 10:29|
mojo did you ever do my poopcrit
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 17:49|
i really appreciate all the thought and effort put into these crits, some even from people not required to. thank you all for your thoughts, its helpful reading others thoughts on stories other than my own, too. also, i've never been part of a writing community that wasn't a big circlejerk of back patting, so this is pretty refreshing. thanks!
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 18:33|
Crits for week 266
Thank you! I'm taking this advice and trying to improve!
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 18:43|
Miss Cauldron was having a bad week. None of her students took her house-magic courses seriously, the teachers made little jokes behind her back and she had just bungled up the demonstration on how to strengthen crystal-wards. The same crystal-ward that kept the dragon in its stable... Now she was looking up at 1,000 lbs of trouble, trouble that she was responsible for...
With a mighty roar, the dragon smashed through its stable and turned to face her. Her heart pounded in her chest as her eyes widened and a scream crept up her throat. From behind her, she heard the panicked screams of her students and she snapped to attention. It wouldn't do for a teacher to fly off the handle when a problem presented itself. She turned to the students and failed to smile, “I have everything under control.”
The dragon, its breath hot and heavy on her face, stalked towards her. Rubble from the stable fell all around its massive frame. Her legs shook as she backed up into the ruined crystal-ward, now a smouldering mess. With one quick motion, the dragon scooped her up and swallowed her, and the destroyed crystal-ward, whole.
Students screamed and ran as their teacher vanished inside the massive gullet of the dragon. The students flung spells at the dragon, but they were only house-mages, trained to clean and repair things. Some of the more advanced students flung firebolts at the dragon but they merely bounced off of the grey leather skin of the beast. The dragon let out a large roar as it advanced on the panicked students.
Suddenly, a dozen silver tipped arrows sunk into the dragon's wing. Winged hawkmen, the school's guard, emerged from the skies to the students' whoops and hollers. The dragon used one large claw to cut the meddlesome arrows of its wing and roared at the kettle of hawks. The hawks descended upon the dragon, their wings glistening in the noon-day sun. Fireballs sizzled through the sky as the dragon tried to shoot down the attackers. The hawkmen whirled and twisted, letting the sun's rays blind the dragon. Once they reached the dragon, they split in every direction and unleashed their spears, stabbing with precise strikes.
One of the hawkmen landed next to one of the students and with a rough voice commanded “You there, inside now!” He pointed at another dazed witch “You. Run and tell the others to evacuate.” As students rushed to follow his orders he surveyed the terrain. The stable areas were a good place to fight, lots of open space for his men to do hit and run attacks on the dragon and not get bogged down. The surrounding buildings had brick walls that could be used for cover. The hawkman pointed his spear at the dragon and joined his fellow guards.
As he rushed forward the dragon turned towards him and aimed a jet of flame at him. He jumped into the air barely avoiding the stream of fire and motioned for the other guards to follow. They flew high out of range of the flames and gathered together, readying another attack.
The dragon snarled in frustration and jumped back. As it landed with a massive thud it grabbed one of the crystal-wards with its tail and flung it into the air. The crystal-ward flew through the air, between the largest clump of hawkmen. The dragon shot a fireball at the crystal, causing a concussive force to expand from the crystal into the heavens. The concussive force smashed into the flying guards and they fell to the ground.
The dragon let out a grin, licking its lips. Drool oozed out of its mouth as it advanced upon an unconscious guard. A few dazed hawkmen stood up and tried to defend but they were easily knocked away with one swing of the dragon's massive front legs. The dragon let out its long tongue, entwining the guard's leg and started to pull it towards its mouth. The guard dangled above the dragon's maw when suddenly the dragon started coughing.
The monstrous beast stepped back and gagged. It straightened its neck and hacked. Tossing the guard aside the dragon coughed up a slimy object wearing a large hat. Miss Cauldron, holding onto a full intact crystal-ward like her life depended on it, stared defiantly at the dragon. She stared at it much like she did with any of the many of her misbehaving student, with a mixture of defiance and promise of ruination. The dragon was the first to flinch.
Miss Cauldron had no idea what to do. In a few seconds, she had encountered more danger than she had in her entire lifetime. She was lucky she had been able to repair the protective crystal. She was a house-mage, trained in cleaning pots with a flick of her wand and repairing wards. In her peripheral vision she saw a student waking towards her. She waved him away yelling, “Don't get close I have this under control.” She did not have it under control. “I know exactly what to do!” She had no idea what to do.
She slowly moved her head to survey the scene, never letting the dragon out of her sight. A few of the braver students were hauling unconscious hawkmen guards away. The wiser students were running away, avoiding broken crystal-war shards. The dragon hunched its shoulders and laid low to the ground, eyeing her with a wicked glare. It was then that she had an idea.
She was always taught that magic was a part of you. She was never adventurous and never bold. She always found it fitting that she could never fling fireballs or teleport. She could simply fix things and set things right. Magic seethed through her as she thought of the one thing that mattered. She was a teacher of the academy. She had students to teach, students that needed to learn that a teacher of the academy does not run away. No, they stand firm and fix things.
The dragon leapt towards her as she raised her wand defiantly. She planted her feet firmly into the ground and envisioned a large canyon bracing itself against the flood. The dragon lifted its face and let loose a huge gout of fire. The crystal-ward beside her warbled and started to crack as fire licked all around her. Her incantation turned into a scream as she loosed her magic on every broken crystal-ward in the vicinity. She ripped her magic through time, on every past incantation that had failed, on every charm that had shattered and on every failed spell. She gathered them in herself and did the only thing she knew how. She fixed them.
The crystal-ward next to her cracked in half as the dragon thrust its head towards her. She didn't even notice as the dragon's maw closed around her head. She had a perfect crystal-ward in her hand, interlaced with every failure in the past millennia, and she bound the dragon to it.
The dragon screamed as crystals shot from the ground, fell from the sky or simply appeared from thin air. The monstrous beast slammed its wings at the witch and howled in frustration as its attempts simply rebounded against an invisible wall. The dragon's eyes went wide and it stopped attacking. It clawed into the earth, only to meet an invisible wall. It flew into the air, only to be brought down by lightning. Every attempt at escape was blocked.
Miss Cauldron slumped down to her knees and took a deep breath, her whole body trembling from the effort. In front of her was a large crystal, larger than any of the other crystal-wards. Behind the massive crystal, the dragon stalked, angrily clawing at the invisible walls surrounding it. The witch looked up and let out a large smile as her students ran towards her. The guards got up and lifted her up on their shoulders and everyone cheered.
The next day Miss Cauldron walked towards the dragon-stables. Teachers that used to make jokes behind her back now gave her a slight bow. She waved at her group of students and they cheered as she walked down towards the ruined dragon-stable. Construction had already begun on containing the dragon around the new crystal-ward she had created. But that wasn't why she was here.
“Pop quiz time students. Your test for today is to fix all of this by period end.” she said as she pointed at the destruction the dragon had wrought.
I got you a Deathbringer Regent fresh from the shops
Focusing on having a good opening line + paragraph that reveals conflict
Focusing on punctuation
Focusing on dialogue tags
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 18:48|
mojo did you ever do my poopcrit
no indeed, watch this space
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 18:51|
The adventures of [Prtagonist], jon joe
thanks for the crit, it is me who is dumb
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 19:49|
Super On-Time Judge Crits for Week 252: Your Cardboard Protagonist Was Here (Part 2):
“The Wall of Rejected Classes” by crabrock
I was going to compliment you on your willingness to experiment with form in a setting where you are given a limited amount of words with which to do so, but right now your image links are broken, leaving imgur-shaped holes in your story. Leaving that aside, I like the idea of doing something with classroom graffiti in hidden places intrigues me, but you just use it as an excuse for a meet-cute between two people I don’t care about. Kind of a waste.
“Under Glass” by Kaishai
One of the better ones this week. It’s relatively well-written, though the prose isn’t truly amazing, but what carries it for me is that the ideas tap into things that I worry about sometimes. What happens when someone’s attempt to leave a sign of their existence after death fails, and that memorial dies too? Is one life worth the price of many such memorials? This works pretty well, and I don’t have any problems with it, either.
“Coda” by Sitting Here
The winner, and I can see why it won. I didn’t take to this very well for a couple of reasons. First, it took me a while to understand the true implications of this story. That’s my fault, and I’ll concede that this story was more ambitious than I was prepared for. Before I got to the ending, though, I was put off by some prose choices you made, mostly the italicized voice interjections. “Her mind was empty except for don’t let the thing in the dark get me” is a bit jarring. “The panopticon! they all screamed in horrified unison” is even worse. It reads like a deliberately antiquated bit of prose, and I would prefer that you fully commit to that instead of doing it by accident. I’m not even sure if you used the admittedly cool word correctly; it’s meant to refer to a place where one person can secretly watch anything in a much larger area. The beast technically functions as such an area, but goes beyond mere surveillance. Also, how did Jamillah know it was a panopticon just from seeing infinite herselves for a split second? In retrospect, the ending of the piece does a lot to make up for how it initially threw me off, but I don’t know if I’d agree with giving it the win.
“Illumination” by Bad Seafood
Very sweet. I liked it pretty well, though there’s not a whole lot of substance to it. It’s just a nice story of people from different walks of life connecting through a shared interest. Still, the monks seem more like real people than the ones who argue over letters of the alphabet, even if this story doesn’t go deep into monastic culture.
“Eagle, and Shark” by sebmojo
I have no idea why this dumb, bullshit story got an Honorable Mention. It’s a straightforward, dull mystery with no surprises that revolves around loving dick graffiti. Is the joke here supposed to be that everybody is taking this so seriously when it’s just a cock and balls, albeit carved into a historical artifact? That alone doesn’t make it funny to me. It would have to be hyper-exaggerated, like Entenzahn’s story but with a better structure and comic timing. This just fits in the uncanny valley of why should I give a drat. I’m disappointed in everybody now.
“Graffiti Bros: Graffic Adventures with Julius Caesar” by Entenzahn
So this was a half-assed, hard to follow monkeycheese shitpost that deserved to lose, but I don’t hate it that much more than sebmojo’s story. I’d actually argue that this story has more potential; it just needs more of a point and much more subtle winks to the ridiculousness of the setting. As it stands, this story’s winks are more like sharp jabs to the ribs. I like the idea of the torture-seeking Jesuses, but you don’t really have room to squeeze it in at the last minute after you spent so much time on the graffiti Julius Caesars. It’ll take a lot of work, but maybe you can get a good Barkley Gaiden scene out of this.
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 20:21|
Crits for week 266
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 20:26|
There was a craftsman for everything.
If you wanted a vase, you could go to a glass blower. If you wanted a muffin, you could go to a baker. If you wanted a novel, you could go to an author.
But not everything in life was flowers and cookies and curling up with a good book on a big comfy chair in the afternoon sun. Sometimes you needed a different sort of work done. The kind of work that you couldn’t find in a brightly lit shop on a friendly city street.
That was when you turned to Beetleback Alley.
Beetleback Alley had as many names as there were cities. Pressgang Row, Shipwreck Street, Debtor’s Junction, Turncoat Avenue… every city called it something new, but they were all Beetleback Alley. Always a side street, just hidden enough to never know it was there, but obvious enough on discovery not to appear a secret. Never on maps. Never obvious from the outside. And always in shadow, even in the desert towns.
It would always be Beetleback Alley to John. That was the name his father told him in hushed tones as they hid beneath the floorboards, listening to the heavy footfalls of soldiers above.That was the name he whispered to a guide who put on a grim expression and showed him the opening tucked between an old post office and a laundromat.
John had visited Beetleback Alley many times since then.
The first thing John had needed was a poison. That was easy. The poison brewer’s shop was near the entrance, and the shopkeeper asked only for money.
The next thing John needed was someone killed. Even a death was something you could craft, after all. But it was deeper down the alley than the poison brewer’s shop, farther from the path back to the bustle of the city.
The man in the deathmaker’s shop asked for money too, but also demanded a favour at a later date. He didn't bother to explain what would happen if the favour was refused. John already knew.
Weeks after the deed, John received a letter with instructions.
He bought a suit in a shop on the east side of town, then a pair of cufflinks from a shop in the north. He threw one cufflink away in a trash can on the west side, and attached the other to the suit. He threw the suit away in a dark alley a few blocks from the first cufflink. Then he bought a vanilla ice cream cone and pretended to trip, spilling it on the first man in a large hat he saw. He apologized and convinced the man to let him pay for his suit to be cleaned.
He went home and burned the letter, and the price was paid.
A day later, John saw a news article about a murder. He didn't read the details. He was better off not knowing.
For a while after that, John tried not to use Beetleback Alley. He still needed things, but he tried to do them himself. You couldn’t buy a death in the normal city, but you could buy the tools to build your own, and try to teach yourself the craft. Soldiers weren’t true craftsmen, so some skill gave you the edge, even when there were more of them.
It was years later when he came back again.
No longer was he a child, hiding under the floorboards and sneaking poisons into drinks. No longer was he a teenager, huddling in foxholes and needing someone else to kill important people while he struggled against the foot soldiers.
But even now, some people were out of reach. And sometimes, death wasn’t the right thing to craft.
And so once again, John walked down the dark passage to Beetleback Alley. All of it was technically the alley, but John always felt that it didn’t truly start until you’d turned the corner and could not longer see the entrance back to the city. There was where pavement gave way to dark cobbles, to where flickering, ancient streetlamps illuminated the collection of grim storefronts with a sickly yellow light.
He walked past the poison brewer’s shop, past the deathmaker’s shop, and deeper into shadow, to a place where the alley had twisted and turned so many times that John didn’t even know what direction was north anymore. There, tucked away in a shop with barred metal windows, was the painsmith.
The poison brewer had been a normal woman. She could have run a bakery without anyone noticing, if her talents had been different. The deathmaker was a little different; he looked normal enough at a glance, but if you spent any time with him, there was something eerie, a pervasive wrongness like someone wearing a fake skin. But if you’d glanced at him on the street, you’d never have noticed.
The painsmith could never fit in elsewhere in the city. At first he’d thought she was wearing strange jewelry, odd bits of metal on her arms and some kind of helmet on her face. But as his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that they were part of her. As if pieces of her had been torn out in chunks and metal poured into the hole. One of her eyes was steel, but when he opened the door it turned towards him and focused on him as naturally as the organic one.
“Ah, a customer,” she said, something akin to a smile crossing her face. “What is you need today?”
John stepped into the shop and closed the door behind him. He knew he had no reason to fear being overheard here, but he took the precaution without conscious thought.
“I need a pain,” he said.
“For who?” The painsmith asked, tenting her fingers. One of them was constructed of twisting wire with loose ends that sparked when she moved.
“For a politician named Franklin Basleby,” John said. “I need to give him the pain of loss. The pain of losing something irreplaceable to the corruption of those in power.”
The rebellion had lasted as long as John could remember, but they weren’t strong enough to simply brush the old rule aside. They had to destroy it from within.
The painsmith seemed to ponder for a moment, and then drew out a calculator, punching numbers into it and making thoughtful noises. John waited for her to finish. He knew that the price she quoted would not be something he could pay with the contents of his wallet.
“I can craft this pain,” the painsmith said, at last. “But it will cost you much. More than you can afford, but less than it will be worth.”
“You say it is more than I can afford,” John said carefully. “But is it more than I can pay?”
The painsmith smiled. “Ah, you are familiar with this place.” Her wire finger sparked again as she put down the calculator. “You are correct, John Weston. It is a price you can pay, if you truly desire this pain that much.”
John nodded curtly, unable to bring himself to speak the words.
“Firstly, you must give me your capacity for taste,” the painsmith said. “Next, your ability to feel pleasure from touch. You may still feel sensation, but never again draw joy from it.”
John said nothing. It was a steeper price than he had ever paid, but he would pay it.
“And lastly, you must give up what lies beyond your life, and accept a new fate.”
John hesitated. He was not a religious man, but he was a cautious one. Beetleback Alley was full of those who knew more of reality than him, and he had never known them to take a price as a joke. His life he would trade, but…
“That is my price,” the painsmith said, cutting off any argument before John could voice it.
John thought for a moment. He considered the trail of dead he had seen. He considered his father’s head, spread over a wall. He considered his mother, covered in his father’s blood and her own and weeping. He considered the plan he had carefully built and spent years of his life realising.
“I accept,” John said.
John looked up at the sound of the bell on his door. There was a young man there, nervous, but full of the conviction that John could remember having, centuries ago. The conviction that led one to pay any price, deal with any force, if it was what you needed for your goal.
“Hello,” John said, his voice low and hollow, his face barely illuminated in the pale light that came in from the streetlamps in the shadowed alley outside. “What death do you need crafted?”
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 20:57|
I was locked up, when the witch's owl came to life. One moment, the owl was a wooden carving, the next it was alive. Its wings became mottled feathers dancing in the breeze, and its eyes glowed like twin suns. It opened its curved beak, stretched its sharp talons, and spoke with a voice like thunder.
“The wise woman requires medicine.”
Then it was a statue once more. That was how I came to be sent to the witch.
Since birth, I had been warned of her. I had been told that she would snatch me in the night if I told lies, or would pluck off my limbs and devour them if I stole. However, she needed medicine – if we didn't send it then she would cast a spell and turn all the children to sparrows, or she'd fly over town in the dead of night and no woman or animal would have a healthy baby for thirty years.
I walked with feet that felt as if they were wrapped in chains. Nobody who had been sent to the witch had ever been seen again. I could feel the law man shaking as he escorted me through the woods, up the path and into the dark copse of trees where her shack stood. Nobody came here. It was a wonky little building of mossy wood and creeping ivy. A thin plume of smoke was curling up lazily from the crooked chimney and a dull glow came from the murky windows.
“Sorry, George,” the law man muttered. “Just the way it had to be.”
“I didn't do it.” I protested one last time.
He put the medicine in my hands.
“If you try and run, I'll chase you down and you'll be crawling to the witch with broken legs. Don't make me chase you, George.”
The door was a rickety piece of oak with a bird carved into its face and I stood there, staring dumbly at it, for what must have been minutes. A terrifying melody seeped through the wood.
“George!” the law man hissed.
I took a deep breath and knocked. The song halted mid-note. Then, slowly, the door creaked open. In the shadows, the law man slunk away.
The inside of the witch's shack was surprisingly spacious. I shivered as I looked at the huge iron cooking pot in the corner of the room, bubbling atop smouldering coals. The walls were lined with shelves, upon which sat more books than I had ever seen in my life. Tiny birds roosted among the library in nests, or simply huddled together. Every few moments a little winged thing, a sparrow or a thrush or a crow would flutter across the room from one space to another, or soar from the window and out into the night.
And in the centre of the room stood the witch. She was tiny, probably five foot tall altogether. Her skin was the colour and texture of a walnut shell, but nasty clever eyes burned from within the wrinkles of her face. Her hair was the colour of winter mist and there was so much of it that she wore it piled atop her head, threaded with knitting needles, yet it still seemed to spill down to the floor in every direction.
“Come in,” she said with a voice that sounded like a creaky floorboard.
Whether on instinct, or by some kind of magic, my feet carried me inside. The witch raised her hand and wriggled a bony finger and the door closed behind me. We stood in silence for a moment, staring at each other in the flickering fire light.
“What did you do?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
I found myself unable to answer.
She waited for a moment, then rolled her eyes and tottered towards me. I found myself frozen in place, unable to run.
She plucked the package of medicine from my hand and took it over to a rickety desk covered in blood and deep gouges. A rusty cleaver was embedded in the wood, handle upwards. My blood ran cold as she reached into a basket, pulled out a pig's head and tossed it onto the table with a splat. The witch opened her package and poured the contents of the medicine over the head. She tugged the cleaver free effortlessly and began hacking the meat to chunks.
“What did you do?” she asked again.
“I didn't do anything,” I said sadly.
“What do they think you did?”
“They think I murdered my wife.”
She clucked her tongue and nodded, then continued to hack at the meat, before throwing it into a wooden bowl and dropping it to the floor. She waved her hand and behind me, the door creaked open again. A mange-bitten black cat stalked inside, regarded me for a second, then proceeded over to the bowl and began to feed. She stroked its back fondly, then hobbled over to a large wooden rocking chair.
“And you didn't?” she said.
She nodded sagely, then motioned to the other chair in the room. It was old and crooked and dusty. I obediently took a seat.
“And this is your punishment. To come and see me?”
“Yes...” I said.
I suddenly felt the fire inside me die and fat salty tears welled up in my eyes. My nose began to run down my chin. I sniffed and took deep breaths of the warm smoky air, but I couldn't regain my composure.
“Why would they send you to me if you did nothing wrong?” she asked with a curious smile.
“I don't know!” I bawled. Despite my fear, I felt shame that the monstrous woman was seeing me cry like a child. “It wasn't me. She was killed. Our little girls too. I was spared. I slept through the whole thing and of course nobody believes me! They even found the axe beside me in my bed! But I never did it! I never did!”
“Then why did they send you here?” she asked. When I looked up she was clutching a fine cup of steaming liquid that had materialised from nowhere. As she sipped from it, I could smell spices.
“Because the truth don't matter, it's what everyone believes that counts.”
“Dear, please calm down. I'm not going to eat you.”
I sunk deeper into the seat and fought the urge to bring my knees up to my chest.
“I've been told about you since I was a boy,” I said.
“You're still a boy,” she laughed.
“I'm no boy!” I cried.
“To me, you are,” she said with a sigh, “and that just proves your point. I'm no monster.”
I stared at her mutely.
“A long long time ago, I was just the wise woman who could talk to birds. When the village folk needed to know things that only the birds could see, they came to me and brought me gifts to say thank you.”
Her eyes became duller, as if she was staring into the past rather than the fire place. There was a brief scuffle atop one book shelf as a pigeon tried to land and other birds shuffled and cooed and pecked at one another.
“I was the medicine woman. I healed the sick, predicted the weather for them. I treated livestock. I delivered their babies. They would hold them up and I would kiss them for good luck and they'd gift me cheese and wine at Christmas. They called me the augur. Then one day a preacher man came to town and he helped build the church and suddenly I wasn't a wise woman, I was a witch.” She swallowed hard. “It took three generations for me to go from saviour, to crone, to heretic to monster. I've never hurt anyone, young man. Ever. The prisoners like you they send me, I take what they bring then send them north to start new lives in West Haven or Sanctuary Point. I've never harmed a person who comes here. But you're right. It doesn't matter what the truth is. All that matters is what people think happened.”
She climbed out of her chair and waddled over to her books. She took a piece of parchment and a quill and began writing. After a few moments, she placed a page of scribing in my hand.
“Forgive me,” I said. “I don't know my letters.”
“I can't bring your wife and children back, but I know what happened. It was Heath Weaver. He coveted your wife and your life. He stalked in to your home by night and killed them. If you take this to the sheriff, I think he'll trust me, dear.”
A dry, hot rage spread through me. My eyes stung with it.
“All this, all this you're telling me. It's true?”
“Aye, it's true,” she said. “I'm fed up of being the witch. Maybe I need to make more effort. Maybe if I show everyone that I'm the augur again, instead of rotting up here in my bitterness, they'll think of me kindly.”
She turned and stared out of the window. Through the dirty glass, she looked down at the fire lights of the town below. Watching her, carefully, I took a few steps back towards the wall.
“It would be nice to be gifted cheese again,” the old woman said. “It would be nice to...”
I tore the knitting needle from her hair and plunged it into her neck. My stomach turned as blood pumped over my hand. She tried to say something, but her words came as a moaning drawl. I pulled the cleaver from the table, threw her forward and chopped through her neck. It took five strikes altogether to sever her head. The birds inside the room became a whirlwind of panicked, frantic beaks and talons. I took her blankets and lit them in the fire, then set her thick woollen curtains alight.
I felt no pride as I dragged her head back to the town. She had been an augur, not an ogre. But it didn't matter what the truth was. It just mattered what people would think had happened. I would be the hero who had slain the witch.
As I arrived back at town, the witch's owl statue was burning. People were beginning to gather to stare at it. The witch's head hung by her hair in my fist as I made a line for Heath Weaver's cottage.
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 21:22|
ty for the crit sol
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 21:45|
What News of Trilanthol
As best as Gorm knew, they were the last remaining pack of the great nation of Helm, four turtles slinking through the dark forest, heads down to avoid predators, more often than not on all fours like the unraised. There was Hufax, a great warrior once, now stooped and near-blind with age. There were the sisters, Chessa and Saj, silent scouts and trackers, the ones who knew the time-lost and danger-strewn way to the Giant’s Throne. And there was Gorm, warrior trained but spear yet unblooded, sole survivor of the pack’s last clutch.
And there was Zackray. Not of the pack but family by long association, otter-kind, a priest who worked tirelessly to convert them to the ways of the otter-nation’s God. Gorm found his religion silly, as did the rest of the pack. A God you could carry around on your neck was too small to matter, too small to carry the weight of history, of justice, of debt. But Zackray knew things, things outside of the sisters’ experience, things not even found in the chronicles Hufax kept when he could still see well enough to read and write. When they crossed the land of tall grass, he knew where the old bridges were, knew what to collect to pay the beaver clan’s tolls, knew what further gifts it would take to keep them from passing word of the pack’s presence to the eagles and hawks. When they reached the Far Forest, Zackray knew which of the strange new berries and mushrooms were toxic and which were safe to eat. He was a useful person to have around, more than worth having to listen to his stories of the tiny God and the great city.
“All of the raised lived together in Trilanthol,” he began the tale as he did each time. Gorm was minding the stones, where their dinner slowly cooked. His mind filled with thoughts of better days, when it was safe to cook meals on open flames rather than rocks heated in decoy fires, collected quickly while Chessa and Saj waited in hunting blinds, eyes trained skyward. “Raccoon and dog, cats great and small, turtles of land and sea. Raised clans now lost for generations; lemur and ostrich and hedge-pig. Even the dread birds of prey were there, peace-bound, patrolling from above for King and Council.”
Gorm scoffed, as usual. As though such outlandish beasts had every truly walked. As though any bird could be trusted outside of a cook-pot. But Zackray was a good storyteller, he had to grant that. He spun a tale of the city, of a war with the rebel horse-tribe of the plains, as they ate. Small unraised beasts, fruits, and the eggs of unraised fowl. Zackray refrained from the last, as ever, as his religion demanded, which struck Gorm as one more count against the faith. It kept him alert, a good thing. He had first watch of the night, as the others slept.
He heard noises, two hours in. It was a strange forest, with strange noises, and it was important not to raise false alarms. The pack needed its sleep. But the noises kept up, deep rumblings that Gorm felt in his shell. He quietly woke Saj.
“Can you hear it?” whispered Gorm as Saj cleared her eyes.
“I can,” she said. “Wake the others. Quietly.” Saj gathered up her weapons.
Gorm complied. Chessa and Zackray nodded silently as they woke, and prepared to fight. Hufax started, and made to speak loudly before Gorm put his hand over the old turtle’s mouth. “Ambush,” he said, likely too soft for the elder to hear, but his gestures conveyed the meaning. “Voles.”
The furred killers burst from the ground, spraying dirt, outnumbering them by half. Chessa charged at the leader, drawing deep wounds with her twin blades. The voles countered, lashing with chain and spear. Chessa’s legs were caught up by the links, and a volish spear struck home, piercing her throat. Her sister entered a battle frenzy, setting upon the mammalian foe, hurting them badly, slaying one, but there were too many.
“Run!” commanded Hufax.
“But-” started Gorm.
“Run,” said the elder again. “I’ve no chance of reaching the throne, but I can still hold a line.” Hufax raised his spear as the wounded but victorious voles approached. “Run!”
Gorm ran, Zackray beside him, hearing the sound of battle behind them, shouts and clashes of sword against fur, spear against shell. He heard a pained yell in the elder turtle’s voice, and had to fight the urge to turn back, to look. Seconds later he was glad he had resisted, as he saw a pair of eagles diving at them, talons grasping vicious double-bladed scythes.
The words of his training came back to him. To strike too soon is to give your foe a priceless present. He held his spear as the eagle flew closer, closer, so close he could see the sunlight glint in its opal-dark eyes.
Gorm struck. His spear drove true, splitting the seam in the bird’s hide armor and digging deep, shattering fragile bones, tearing into heart and lung.
The other eagle was upon Zackray, had already hurt him badly. Gorm judged he had no time to work his spear free, so he let it go, drew his dagger, and set on the raptor with blade and beak. It turned, swung its weapon Gorm’s way. He ducked, head into shell beneath the reaping metal, and struck blind with his knife. The eagle tried to take flight. Gorm held his weapon tight and let it tear a deep gash through the bird as it rose. It flew, bleeding and unsteady, for a few dozen feet, then plummeted to the ground.
Gorm saw to his friend, helped him stand. The otter’s left shoulder was cut badly, leaving that arm useless and bleeding. They kept moving as long as they could, waited for another attack. When it did not come, they began to rest.
“If we’ve any luck,” said Zackray, “We’re close to the Throne now, close enough that even the Red Aerie wouldn’t dare attack. You should be able to find it, tomorrow.”
“We’ll find it, you mean,” said Gorm.
Zackray coughed. “I said what I meant. I’ll like not make it to morning, and not be fit to move if I do. Now hush. I have one more story to tell, and one favor to ask.”
“Whatever it is, I’ll do it,” said Gorm.
“A dangerous offer,” said the priest. “Luckily, all I ask is that you carry my God to the throne with you. If you still call me friend. Have you wondered what became of Trilanthol?”
“Only a million times, Zackray,” said Gorm. “You never tell that story, no matter how many times we’ve asked.”
Zackray smiled, then winced. “It’s a dark story, and a sad one. There was a famine year, and then another, foodstores stolen and sold for profit to enemies, hoarders hunted down by mad mobs. And then, there was betrayal.”
“By the birds of prey?” said Gorm.
“No!” shouted Zackray, grabbing Gorm’s shounder. “Of the birds of prey, and the reptiles. By us. By the mammals, all of the mammals save the dogs. We sent those warriors off raiding, and while they were away, we stole into the nurseries where the eggs were stored, and-”
“Yes. War followed, war on every street, fire and flight and stone buildings toppled and fields sown with salt. It was the end of that era, and the beginning of this world, this endless war of all against all, with no alliance more grand than eagles and voles hunting together, or a band of turtles accepting the help of a repentant mammal.”
Gorm said nothing before sleep, and if he had any idea what he would say to Zackray in the morning, it was wasted. The otter was still, motionless, dead. Gorm carefully lifted the God from his neck and pondered it. If it could be so small and yet still bear so much guilt, perhaps it was not as weak a God as he had though. He put it around his own neck and walked, deeper into the forest.
As the beams of sunset started to light shafts of dust in the lonely forest, he found the clearing, where the great stone throne stood. It was covered in dull dusty gems that seemed to hold weak glimmering lights inside them, independent of the reflected sun, and in it sat the giant, hairless, scaleless, featherless, like a shaved bear or a porpoise out of water. It slept in armor, with a weapon close to hand.
“Giant,” said Gorm, struggling to remember the ritual. “A supplicant comes.”
The giant roused itself in its throne, hand reaching to the hilt of its sword, but not grasping it. “It has been some time,” it said, each word a bit strange on Gorm’s ears. It looked at Zackray’s God dangling from his neck. “What news from Trilanthol?”
“Fallen,” said Gorm. “If it ever stood.”
“It stood,” said the giant. “Tell me what you know.”
Gorm told the tales, best as he could remember from Zackray’s stories, out of order, and told what he knew of Hufax’s chronicles for the fall of Helm, in tears at the end. “We came seeking safety, but what does that matter now that I am the last of the turtles?”
“There will be more turtles,” said the giant. “In new lands, far from your enemies. They will be as untrained youths, but will have you to teach them. All those lost will be reborn.” He waved his hand. The throne’s dull gemstones lit up, and a strange conveyance rose from the ground.
= = =
“I wonder how things will turn out, this time,” said the giant.
“He knows of Trilanthol,” replied the thinking machine inside the throne, his only companion on his lonely journey into deep time. “Perhaps he will build it again.”
“I wish we could help, could do more-”
“Our time here is done,” said the machine. The giant had given it a woman’s voice, so long ago.
“Is it?” said the giant. “When we gave them words, it was our words. Does that make them doomed to make our mistakes?”
“What other words did we have to give?”
“I don’t know.”
“He knows of Trilanthol. And of how it ended. Perhaps he will be vengeful, and the cycle will continue. But I think we can at least allow ourselves the hope that he will instead be wise.”
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 23:04|
Apparently there is some Daylight Savings confusion going on. For your assistance, here is an EST clock. You have, at the time of posting, about four and a half hours left.
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 23:36|
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 23:36|
Can't make it. I got an eye infection a few days ago and have barely been able to manage my writing for grad school this weekend, let alone a story on top of it. I thought that I'd be able to pull through, but no. What I have is about half of what I had planned.
Also, will people please stop saying "daylight savings"? It's not a goddamn bank account.
|# ? Sep 24, 2017 23:52|
Also, will people please stop saying "daylight savings"? It's not a goddamn bank account.
Well there goes all that money I've been putting in it, I guess
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 00:03|
Bearer of the Heavens
This had been a pretty unusual contract, all things considered. As far as Jerermy could understand, he and his team had been working on some sort of military-grade biometric button for the past eighteen months. With the mountains of specs and requirements the g-men had mailed over, it had to be something important, but with government contracts, you could never tell. When they’d finally gotten something that met their customers’ expectations, he’d been rewarded with an all-expenses paid trip to some secure facility in Watertown, South Dakota to install and test the drat thing.
He wasn’t sure what to expect going into this gig, but he hadn’t been expecting to be literally locked in a windowless room. Upon arrival, he was escorted though the building by two men with pistols and walkie talkies on their hips, buzz cuts, and matching scowls. When they arrived at the room, one man stood guard outside and the other led him in. The door closed behind him and he heard the unmistakable sound of deadbolts as the thug in the room with him grunted and pointed at a lonely, screenless console with a lovely-looking swivel chair and two binders.
Installation was a bitch and a half. The installation specs were about as clear as they could be considering what had been done to the console. Nearly all of its identical switches and buttons had been covered in black electrical tape so that he could only guess at what they were for. In the four hours it had taken him to install the button, his babysitter stood in the corner of the room next to the fire extinguisher and scowled at him.
It was finally testing time, and Jeremy would soon be able to put all this behind him. He read the directions for the first test scenario aloud, “Step one. Insert the included test scenario card into slot three on the console.” The binder contained a small plastic baggie containing what looked like a card key you’d get from a hotel. He glanced at the console and frowned. There was only one card slot that he could see in the un-taped area of the console. He shrugged and continued. “Step two. Flip the toggle directly to the right of the newly installed button.” He made sure to double check that such a toggle existed. “Step three. Press the button with your right thumb for at least three seconds and confirm that the indicator light above the recently flipped toggle turns green. Note: The test card is keyed to the right thumbprint of Jeremy Nelson.” His name appeared to have been stamped in with an honest to god rubber stamp. He wasn’t sure where they had gotten his thumb print.
He read the instructions one more time to make sure he wasn’t missing anything and followed the steps. The indicator light did not turn green, but a lot of other things started happening at once. An earsplitting klaxon started playing over the intercom, and the fluorescent lights in the ceiling turned from sickly white to bright red. The gorilla in the corner screamed at Jeremy not to take his thumb off the button, and held his radio up to his ear to hear it over the blaring alarms. Jeremy wet himself. Either a few hours or a few seconds passed. Then the man in the corner blurred from his corner to Jeremy’s side and unloaded the room’s fire extinguisher all over the console and Jeremy’s hand and forearm.
Jeremy had never actually seen a fire extinguisher used in person. Until this moment he had been reasonably sure that they didn’t emit a thick foam that was hot to the touch and hardened in seconds. Upon further reflection, Jeremy was reasonably sure that that was not an ordinary fire extinguisher. He didn’t have a chance to ask because as soon as the man tossed the empty canister to the side, the doors unlocked and he hustled out of the room leaving Jeremy alone and glued to a foreign surface for the first time since college.
After what Jeremy estimated to be about an hour, the lights went back to normal, and the alarms stopped. No one reentered the room.
A few more hours passed before there was a polite knock at the door as if he had been in an examination room at the doctor’s office. A slim man wearing a black business suit and carrying a tablet stepped into the room and introduced himself. “Hello, Jeremy. I’m Director Harlowe. Make yourself comfortable.”
“Let me the gently caress out of here, you pshycho!”
“You aren’t going anywhere, Mr. Nelson,” Harlowe remarked, “and watch your mouth.”
“B-but I have a girlfriend, and a family! They’ll wonder where I’ve gone!” Tears were beginning to well up at the corners of Jeremy’s eyes.
“You do not.” Harlowe said with a smirk. “You haven’t spoken to your parents in three years, and you haven’t been on a date in about half that long. The only thing in your depressing little life that would miss you is your cat…” Harlowe glanced down at the tablet. “Chairman Meow? Either way, it’s being rehomed when they clean out your apartment.”
“Why is this happening?”
“What’s happening is you’re now a secret agent on a mission of utmost importance to national security. Congratulations on your promotion, Agent Nelson!” Harlowe reached out to shake the hand that wasn’t plastered to the control console.
A part of Jeremy had wanted to be a secret agent ever since his dad introduced him to James Bond. This was not what he was expecting. “I don’t want to be a secret agent. Please let me go.” Jeremy tried.
Harlowe withdrew his hand and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Does the phrase ‘mutually assured destruction’ mean anything to you?”
“If your thumb leaves that button, twenty of our nuclear warheads will launch in a first strike against… another country with a nuclear arsenal. It doesn’t matter which one,” Harlowe said with an uncomfortably level tone. “And that country has more than enough warheads ready to go for a retaliatory strike that they can and will remove New York, Washington, this building, and Chairman Meow from existence. At this very moment, the only thing keeping everything we know and love alive is your thumb and the hunk of plaster that’s sticking your hand to that console.”
“How long is this… mission going to take? Can’t you just unplug this thing and let me go?” Jeremy’s hand had already been numb for hours.
“Now, Agent Nelson,” the words ‘Agent Nelson’ were starting to sound more than a little condescending to Jeremy. “I understand that until today, you were just a contractor in charge of installing this one button, but trust me. We cannot simply unplug this console. The process of modernizing our arsenal has been hosed in ways you couldn’t possibly comprehend from the very start. We also cannot simply sever your arm and leave it sitting on the button. Believe me we’ve discussed it, and it would gently caress with the biometrics in ways we don’t want to think about…” Harlowe took a moment to collect his thoughts. “As for the duration of your mission… it’ll take as long as it takes. Now that the immediate pants-shittingly terrifying global incineration has been averted, there are dozens of other things we need to take care of before we can even begin thinking about how to resolve your situation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to attend to the next potential global emergency on my list. One of our boys will be in shortly to give you a pager that you can use to signal that you need something. Good luck, Agent.” Harlowe was out the door before Jeremy could think of anything more to say.
Jeremy sat for what seemed like an hour. Eventually, the door opened to reveal a sandy haired young man in khakis carrying a Rubbermaid washbucket. Jeremy swiveled his chair to face the man, his arm twisting uncomfortably behind him.
“Hello, Agent Nelson. I’m Special Technician Dale Ryan, but feel free to just call me Dale. I’ll be your gopher for the next couple days until we get a better system in place.” He set the washbucket on the ground next to Jeremy’s chair and pulled out what appeared to be a Life-Alert button hanging from a bright orange lanyard. “This is your new best friend. If you need anything, I’ll be over as soon as I can to see what I can do to help.” He placed the lanyard around Jeremy’s neck as if he were awarding him the gold medal for Olympic incompetence.
Jeremy glowered at him.
Next, he produced two bottles of water and a package of breakfast bars and set them on the plaster slab. “For now, this is about as good as it’s gonna get, but eventually, we’ll have someone around to take meal requests and help you stay as comfortable as possible.”
Finally, he pulled a thick, unjacketed hardcover out of the pail and dropped it with a thud on Jeremy’s plaster shackle. “We’ll have the books that we’ve recovered from your apartment shipped here sometime soon. Here’s something for you to read in the meantime.”
Jeremy picked up the book and turned it so he could read the spine. “Rainbow Six?”
“All I could find on short notice. Is there anything else you need before I go?”
“I need to go home,” Jeremy said.
Dale chuckled as he walked for the exit. “Just press the button if you think of anything.”
“Wait!” Jeremy called as Dale was closing the door.
“I gotta take a piss!” Jeremy called out.
“That’s what the bucket’s for!” said Dale in a singsong tone as he closed the door and left Jeremy alone to prevent the sky from falling.
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 00:56|
One Last Job
One last job, they said, and then they'd get him his memories back. But he couldn't even remember what he'd forgotten. A family, they told him. A wife, a daughter. The government had taken them away from him and when he hadn't gone along with it willingly they took away his memories of them too. They took away his job and home and left him drifting on the street. But he couldn't remember any of that.
The people who had found him told him this. They showed him pictures; himself, younger, with a single streak of white in his hair, standing next to a smiling young woman. The pair of them again with a toddler laughing on a beach that looked nothing like the grim gray city he was currently in. Another picture of the girl, slightly older with a gap-toothed grin. They showed him pictures of buildings too, but nothing seemed familiar to him.
He didn't remember his life being taken from him, but he knew it had happened because he could remember it happening to other people. Someone who had been drifting on the street with him vanished one day, and he saw them again a week later in nicer clothing, laughing and talking with a bunch of businessmen. They had looked at him with confusion and pity, the unknowing stare of a stranger. He remembered it happening again and again, people showing up on the street only to be slotted into other roles with no memory of their previous lives.
The people who had found him told him that the government did this regularly, playing with people's lives and shuffling them around, rearranging memories and eliminating dissident thoughts. He believed them and agreed with them that it had to stop, which was how he found himself on top of a tall building just across from one of the cities major banks. They had to get people to take notice.
“You think this'll change anything?” Kenzie asked him. “Like, really change things?”
He glared down at the bank, then looked up at the sky. A storm was rolling in, full of dark clouds and thunder, and the zingy smell of ozone in the air made him feel like he'd drunk too much coffee. The copper conductor on his back and the battery on his hip felt heavier than usual, and there was an itch under his gauntlet that he couldn't reach without taking the thing off. All of that combined with the knowledge of what he was about to do was making him irritable.
“What do you mean, change things?” he asked. “Of course it'll change things. They can't ignore this.”
“They ignored the last one.”
Kenzie avoided his eyes.”The newspaper-? Y'know what, nevermind. Forget I said anything.”
Newspaper? He wracked his brain and came up empty. “What newspaper?”
Kenzie shook her head and stared down at the bank. “It was some other plan, nothing happened. You must not've been in on it. Forget it.”
He stared at her curiously but let it drop. “They can't ignore this,” he repeated. “There are too many minds to wipe clean, too much damage for them to say that everything's okay. If we can just get people to understand what's going on-”
She flapped a hand at him, clearly as irritable as he was. “You don't have to pull the whole spiel with me. I know it by heart. Get ready.”
There was something underneath her words, a weariness that hadn't been there before. He wasn't sure what to make of it; usually she was the one full of fire and passion. It wasn't like her to sound... tired.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the smell of ozone and impending rain. This was his favorite part. This was the thing that made all the planning, and bickering, and sleepless nights wondering if he was really missing out on a life he didn't remember, worth it. The wind picked up suddenly, pulling at his hair and clothing, and rain speckled the side of his face where the breeze blew it in. He could hear rain falling further away with a light pattering noise that approached like a wave of sound, rushing forward until he was hit with heavy rain that instantly soaked his clothing and plastered his short hair to his scalp. The knot of anxious exhilaration in his gut tightened and he nearly jumped out of his skin when thunder boomed overhead. His eyes shot open, already crackling with energy of their own, and he squinted up against the rain to see barely imperceptible streamers of fuzzy blue light connecting him to the sky above like grasping ghostly fingers. Straining for a connection, he touched the sparking battery at his side.
There it was, the barest hint of fingers brushing the clouds and then lightning roared into life, jumping through the streamers, positive to negative to positive down through to the conductor on his back, through wires and insulated tubes and bone in a swirl of hypercharged electricity to the battery that glowed and hummed down to his arm and the gauntlet. Time froze, raindrops hanging in the air for the split-second before the thunderclap. He looked down at the bank. A package, a charge, placed just so. He pointed and lightning leaped from his fingertip, from the gauntlet, from the supercharged battery, from the sky, and jumped down across the street to hit the small box that someone had placed just so moments before. Thunder cracked, reverberating in his bones and the stone under his feet, the deafening sound overwhelming and muffling the dull thump of the explosion below.
They were too high up to be hit by shrapnel and debris and the rain kept the dust down near the ground, so if he hadn't been looking already he might never have known anything had happened. The street below was chaos. Blood and grit and stone and bodies filled the street, the bank obliterated and the two buildings next to it heavily damaged. He can't smell anything but the rain.
Kenzie recorded it. They stood in silence for a few minutes before she turned off the device and slipped it into a pocket.
“Come on, let's go.”
They hurried across the top of the building, disassembling the conductor and cramming the tubes and gauntlet and battery into a pack that he slung onto his back before beginning to climb down the side of the building towards the balcony they had come up from. The rain made their handholds slick and unreliable, and both heaved sighs of relief when they were on the balcony again. From there they would take interior stairways back to ground floor and take advantage of the confusion to slip away. He looked over at Kenzie as they entered the building and left dripping footprints on the rug by the doorway.
Kenzie stared at him dully. “I'm fine.”
“You seem...quieter than normal.”
She shook her head, wringing out her long hair with her hands to leave a puddle on the floor. “I've been thinking a lot about what we do. Why we do it.” There was a pause punctuated by the dripping of water.
He shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably. “Because the government-”
“I know,” she snapped. “Playing God with memories. But do you really think what we do will change anything if they can just wipe away the memories of the attack? You think anyone's gonna mourn people they don't remember? We take video but no one would believe it anyway.”
Something she said earlier came back to him. “Wait. You said something about a newspaper.”
She gave him a tired look. “Same effort, same result. I'm leaving. You should come with me.”
“Leave?” The word slipped out and disbelief carried it to the floor with the water droplets. It landed in a puddle and dissolved. “Why?”
“There's no point anymore,” she said. “I'm not throwing away my life for this anymore, and neither should you. Look at you. You remember having that much white in your hair?”
“But what about my memories?” There was a knot in his stomach. He was so close. Just this one job and he was out, he was done, he could take his memories and go.
“They're dead,” she said. “Your wife and daughter weren't reassigned, they're dead.”
The knot tightened.
“I'm out,” she said.
Her head blossomed into a mass of thorns and blood-soaked flowers.
“I'm sorry to hear that, Kenzie. I really am.” Elliot stepped out of the shadows of the room, holding a short metal baton attached to a tube, to a battery, to a metal box he wore on his hip. It was almost like a silver version of the lightning conductor.
“I suspected you were giving up on me,” Elliot said, “but I was really hoping otherwise.”
The man found himself immobilized by vines that wrapped around his arms and chest, holding him upright as Elliot approached.
“This is going to be a little fiddly, but I can do it. Hold still.”
“You killed her!”
“I did.” Elliot's eyes bored into his. “Hold still.”
Vines gripped his neck. The baton was raised and the tip of it pressed against the back of his head where skull met spine, the machine whirred to life, and there was a deafening crack of lightning and thunder within his skull.
He found himself kneeling on the floor, his clothing and hair dripping wet. A woman lay on the ground in front of him, an unrecognizable mass of thorny vines and flowers sprawling out where her head should have been. That would be Elliot's handiwork.
“Government spy,” Elliot said, walking into frame. “She took your memories. Lucky for you,” he held up a silvery baton connected to a metal box via tubing, “I got her little memory stealing machine. This'll make getting your memories back a cinch.”
He got to his feet unsteadily, thrown off balance by the heavy pack he wore. That was right. One more job and they'd get him his memories back.
Flash rule: I can't remember what it is I've forgotten
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 01:18|
Aaaaaaand, it's gone!
Chili fucked around with this message at 11:42 on Jan 2, 2018
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 01:44|
Dell rubbed her fingers against her eyelids until dark spots blossomed across her vision. In the other room was something that could be described generously as the wailing and gnashing of teeth. She was seriously reconsidering her career in espionage.
“He’s trying to make us look like a bunch of idiots!” Screamed the Director. His first slammed with such force that a painting in the hallway rattled. The board room was supposed to be sound-proof, but there were rumors that J. Edgar Hoover had infiltrated the construction crew to sabotage the building’s design.
Either that or some secretary had gotten tired of trying to guess what her boss was mad about and had drilled holes in the walls.
Dell shifted her weight from one leg to the other, hoping to be called in. The Director’s voice boomed through the walls. “We used to fight communists and terrorists! We used to be something. How’s anyone supposed to take us seriously when we keep getting caught with our pants down with this— this—.”
Dell had a good idea why she had been called upstairs. Someone had hacked into the agency’s website. Either the IT folks in the building were having some difficulties scrubbing the assailant’s message of the site or they had heard about the Director's mood and called in sick.
“Sir,” Said a voice. Either the Deputy Director or the Special Assistant to the Director had just made a fatal error in trying to calm her boss down in the middle of a rant. She guessed the latter. He spent too much time dealing with normal people, shaking hands with university kids and attending conferences. “Sir, it’s honestly more of a nuisance than a threat to national…”
His voice trailed off. A second voice tried to reason with the Director. “Really, hacking a website is more like tearing down a poster than…”
In her mind’s eye, she could see the Director’s withering stare. Years ago, the Director had made a name for himself by sending disliked agents off on suicide missions to unpleasant countries. Dell’s first year in the agency had been spent in Moscow, trying to train pigeons to divebomb in the mouths of communists and unsavory kleptocrats. The Director had been so impressed with Dell’s work that she was sent off to infiltrate a Papal Conclave, which had been fine up and until she had been elected Pope.
A third voice jumped into the silence. “Personally, sir, I think we need to muster the full might of the United States of America to counteract this dangerous and persistent threat.”
There was a grunt of approval, followed by the sound of chairs scratching against carpet. “Alright, send her in.”
Dell’s first objective was trying to control the muscles in her face. Behind the crowd of old, white men was a projector displaying the agency’s website. Gone was the “About Us” page and the stock photos of smiling desk drones. In their place were the same words, repeated over and over.
“ARUGULA, ARUGULA, SHOW ME THE BAMBOOZALA!”
“It’s not just the website,” grunted the Director as if reading her thoughts. “Every password, every code phrase in our system has been replaced with…” He gestured a hand toward the projector. Dell tried not to imagine a field agent pinned down in a desert and desperate for back-up screaming the words…
She swallowed a giggle and looked at the assembly of men. Everything about the situation was stupid. “And you want me to…?”
Dell already knew the source of the attack: Dick Daniels. He had been one of the Director’s best agents, until he was sent off to the Western Sahara to ruin a child’s birthday party. Something had gone wrong and he had gone mad wandering in the desert. When he returned stateside, he had turned his abilities to more nefarious purposes.
The schemes had started small. E-mail and eHarmony accounts from high-ranking government officials leaked to the press. The White House was painted eggshell. But, Dick had gotten more audacious and aggressive. During the last presidential debates, he had hacked into the audio feed and removed the candidates’ voices. Anyone tuning in would have heard the two walking around stage while making wet, fish-like noises with their lips. A few weeks before that, he had forced an evacuation of the Boy Scouts Jamboree by releasing lions and tigers and bears into the crowd.
The animals had turned out to be harmless, drugged, declawed, and defanged. Still, the episode had made the agency look stupid and unprepared. The Director ranted about getting outmaneuvered. People asked why the agency existed in the first place.
The Director motioned toward the Deputy Director, who zoomed in on the webpage. Dell squinted. It was difficult to see beneath the obnoxious, repeating text, but etched along the bottom of the page was a small message in white text.
“Stay tuned! Watch the CIA bungle Snow Dragon!”
Dell racked her brain for clues. For an adult man, Dick had always had a strange fascination with dragons. His mission to Western Sahara had been codenamed “Operation Fire Dragon.”
“We’re hoping you might be able to track down he before he strikes again,” said the Deputy Director, sidling alongside his boss. The two wore the same tie.
An almost identical man, the Special Assistant to the Deputy Director nodded. “We’re still not sure what Snow Dragon is, but, knowing Dick Daniels, it can’t be good.” He grabbed a folder from his another of his clones, the Special Assistant to the Deputy Director in Charge of Strategic Service Operations in Europe and North America, “We’ve tracked him down to a warehouse in Cleveland and we need you to bring him in.”
Dell sighed. She had been hoping that Dick would shack up somewhere a little more exotic.
The Director glowered. “We can’t afford any screw-ups, Dell. Technically, we’re not even supposed to be operating domestically, but I’ll be damned if I wait for the FBI to take this guy in and steal all the glory.” Dell pretended not to see the sudden surge of desperation behind the Director’s eyes. She wondered how cabinet meetings went and whether the president ever called. The two had had a rocky relationship since the Director accidentally toppled the government of Andorra.
It was deeply pathetic.
Dell swallowed her frustration and shrugged. “I guess I’m going to Cleveland.”
She parachuted into Cleveland near dusk. The Cuyahoga River coiled in the setting sun, a grime-covered serpent dotted with abandoned factories and warehouses. Dell had hoped that someone would ask her why she needed to parachute into a city with regular commercial air traffic, but the Director had not even batted an eyelash at the request.
Too obsessed with getting Dick, she thought as she floated between the city’s only two major buildings. He’s willing to okay an illegal airdrop to the Midwest, but not willing to give anyone a raise, or stop using the agency to send people on suicide missions, or…
She landed between a group of awe-stricken locals. She was not sure why she suddenly felt so angry, but she wanted the mission to be over. She stormed toward Dick’s headquarters: A brown brick apartment building near the waterfront. As she opened the door, she became aware of the whir of video cameras focusing on her. Speakers lined the wall.
“Dick!” She shouted as she entered the building, gun raised. “The jig is up! Operation Snow Dragon is kaput.”
Static arced through the air. There was a pop and Dick’s voice seemed to surround her. “Oh, hellooo, Dell! It’s so lovely to see you again. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?”
She pushed herself up a flight of stairs, following the wiring toward its source. “Look, Dick, I’m really not in the mood. Come quietly and don’t be an rear end. If you make me look stupid…”
She reached the top landing. Nervousness crept into her body. She had not run into so much as a bodyguard. Aside from a self-inflicted airdrop, the mission had had no danger at all. She still didn’t even know what Snow Dragon was. Could it fit inside an apartment?
“Oh, Dell,” Dick said, “I could not dream of making you look any more stupid.”
She kicked open the door and rolled behind a sofa. There was no gunfire. No excitement. She stood up. Dick carried a tray of cookies and drinks. Video cameras lined the walls. On a table was a laptop streaming live to YouTube. She saw herself reflected infinitely in the little video.
She lowered her gun. “What is this, Dick? What are you playing at?”
He set down the tray and went to pour a cup of coffee, drawing out the suspense. “You know, part of me was hoping that you would prove me wrong and that the agency would do a little more research before sending in the cavalry. But I guess it's still dropping agents in the middle of nowhere because of the whims of upper management."
Her frustration flared again. She pointed the gun at Dick. “I’m done playing games, Dick. Where is it? Where’s Snow Dragon?”
He ran his tongue over his teeth.
“Oh, that’s the joke.” He giggled and pointed toward the laptop. “There’s sno’ dragon. There never was one. Now, give a nice wave to our viewers.”
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 02:06|
For the People
The sacrifice didn't show fear until the moment before Davien thrust the dagger into her chest. It only flashed for a second. Until then she had been the picture of composure. He did not hesitate or falter for it.
He swung down hard, thrusting the sharp blade between the ribs directly into her heart. He felt it throb and pulse as she gasped a last breath. The throbbing stopped. The gem embedded into the pommel started to glow red, easy to see in the darkness of the night. He glanced from side to side. All around him were other clerics, each standing in front of their own sacrifice. As the lights of the gems began to glow more brightly the circle of clerics in the aedis could be seen clearly. One hundred lights all shining, blasting the darkness away.
His neighbor pulled the dagger from his sacrifice and Davien followed suit. They made their way to the center of the circle they had been arranged in. Master Haven was standing at the focal, cloakless, still and arms outstretched. One of the clerics, not Davien, was first and he approached Master Haven, bowed, and thrust his dagger with the glowing pommel into the shoulder of the man.
"Ze legato". Davien heard the man say. For the people.
There were twenty daggers in Master Haven by the time Davien got to him. Almost all of them had been drained of their light. Only the fresh ones casts crimson rays over the dark blades around them. He found an open spot near the kidneys and thrust. 'Ze legato'.
He stepped back. One after another the clerics thrust their glowing daggers into their master and the light that they had extracted from the sacrifices was drained into him. Davien and the other clerics moved out of the floor of the aedis and went to the first balcony to watch the ritual finish.
It was a solemn event, years of planning and preparation to construct and carry out this ritual, but Davien couldn't help but feel excitement rising up within him. This was the day, or night rater, that they would end the wrong in the world. This would be the moment in history that would forever be marked in story and song. The ritual of defeat. The end of the suffering, the temptation and the final redemption of man.
From the balcony Davien was able to see the light of the very last dagger embedded in Master Haven fade away. The aedis was dark for just a moment.
Until Master Haven opened his eyes.
Pure white light poured from them in an unbroken beam. Those lights lit the aedis in an unnatural glow. Everything the light touched was made pale. Another beam of light shot out as a dagger fell from his shoulder, the wound not an open sore but a bright source of light that exuded from him just like his eyes did. Another dagger fell and another and soon Davien had to look away to keep his eyes from burning at the sight of it.
He looked to the edges of the circular aedis. The tables that their sacrifices had lain upon were gone and the bodies were on the ground, splayed open so that they looked like a pile of meat and organs, not the beautiful women who had walked into the aedis.
The Runewardens were on task now. With their giant brushes, they were sopping up the blood seeping from the bodies and writing the runes that they had spent decades perfecting right on the dirt in the blood of the sacrifices by the light of the Master.
Davien knew the purpose of the runes, but had no knowledge of their making or construction. The first set of runes went along the outer perimeters. Wide marks in shapes and curves that repeated every ten feet and interlocked with each other. These were the barrier runes. They would protect the city, protect the world from what the inner runes would do.
He heard a cleric behind him wretch. The scent of the bodies and the blood had floated up to the balcony. It smelled of iron and poo poo. Some of the clerics weren't used to it. Some of them liked it. The cleric behind him wretched again. Davien was neutral about it. He knew this was the smell of their righteous defeat of the monster who knew their name and he could bare it. The sacrifices had embraced their part to play and so did he.
The barrier runes completed, as the last line connected with the first, the red lines in the ground turned black and the aedis became tinted with blackness. It darkened enough to allow Davien to look again at the master. He was now hovering a few feet from the ground. Arms still outstretched and light still pouring out from one hundred and two points on his body.
The Runewardens were doing their final work now. The barrier complete the summoning runes must be written. With the sacrifices now drained of their life essense and the blood of their body spent to cast the barrier, the Runewardens must use their own blood to make the much more finely detailed runes of the summoning. They had all cut their forearm open and drapped a towel around it to keep the blood from spilling and ruining the runes. Smaller brushes now dipped into the folds of cloth to soak the blood and then paint the ground.
One of the Runewardens passed out and two others picked him up and dragged him outside the summoning runes. They could not leave the barrier. Not of them could.
Davien didn't see the final rune put in place but he knew when it happened. Thunder boomed from above, shaking the balcony violently. When it stopped he peered into the barrier.
His hands trembled as he took in the sight. A being. A monster, twice as tall as Master Haven stood inside the summoning barrier. It was grey skinned and slouched over. Only tattered rags loosely hung for clothing. The forearms of the monster weren't connected directly to the rest of the arm, a gap of air separated them and yet their moved as though they were still attached.
Most noticeably though was the sword. The monster had a sword but didn't carry it. It wasn't sheathed at his waist of held in his hand but stuck through him, the hilt standing feet above his back and the point staring at the ground, it was stabbed straight though his heart, and yet Davien knew that this was not an injury. The sword was a part of him. He knew this because he knew this monster. This being. This god.
This was not the one they were supposed to summon.
They were meant to summon evil. The evil that tore at their minds and pulled at their bodily in sinful and lustful ways. There were there to defeat it once and for all. They has assembled to free the world of it's sins.
With one lazy swing of a bizzarly disconneted arm the monster swatted the glowing Master Haven into a plume of glowing dust.
Screams from his fellow clerics erupted. Their cries were not for the loss of their leader, as they had known that none would escape the barrier. The cries were for the failure. For the world would not know peace again.
"Brothers!" Davien cried out. "The barrier will hold. The Demon is contained and our purpose lives on." He believed it. "Our struggle will not be in vain unless we give up."
Some of the men were still screaming and some of them were squatting on the floor sobbing. One of the men grabbed Davien by the arm.
"Do you know who that is?" He asked, panic and uncertainty pouring from his voice.
Davien nodded. He felt a wave of heat from behind him. From the barrier. He turned. The Monster was still standing in the focal but his arms were raised and he was standing up straight, the sword running through him now black, as if it were soaking up light. The heat intensified. A buzzing sound started to drone.
"Who?" The man asked. Shaking Davien's shoulder. "Who is that?" He asked.
The heat flashed like a stoked kiln, rippling their robes with a new wind. The buzz turned to a whine and then a shrill vibration that shook the balcony just as the thunder had.
Then there was silence. The air was cool. The barrier had fallen.
Davien turned to the man, who was still holding the shoulders of his cloak and staring directly into his eyes. "Who?!" The man demanded. As if it could matter now.
"Defeat." Davien said, as plumes of dust exploded around him.
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 02:21|
In the darkness, he heard a muffled voice. “Mr. Harris? Mr. Harris? Are you awake?”
My head, heavy. Can’t move it. It’s being held in place. Who’s that? Face blocked. Full-body suit. Want to respond. Can’t think of a word to say. I’m sitting up. Can’t move body. Restrained? What’s on my mouth? A breathing mask? It’s bright. Can’t move head. This is the only place lit. I can’t make out what’s over there. It looks old. This chair feels the same. What’s that humming? There’s a beeping. Where am I? One of my ears feels blocked. Are those tubes? Where are they coming from? There are bags hanging from poles connected to them. There’s a tube leading to a bucket. Why is it stuff coming from it so dark? The floor is stained.
From behind him, he heard a voice, authoritative and also with the same muffle. “Hello, this is Doctor Alexi Artzt of the W.H.O. recording this message. I will be documenting my experimental surgery to remove the parasite I’ve named, Artztia cerebrallis, from a human host. Assisting me is nurse Jamie Wells. For the purposes of this recording and for confidentiality, the patient from here on shall be referred to as Mr. H. Mr. H. was one of many individuals found to be infected with A. cerebrallis. The hypothesized primary source vector of transmission is discussed by me and my colleagues in another recording. Both I and nurse Wells have put on quarantine suits for the procedure as there is a potentially high risk of infection due to transmission of bodily fluids.”
Every thought was a chore. Every word he heard was a puzzle. Nothing made sense. It was like a waking dream. Doctor? Am I sick? One of many? So there’s others. Someone important maybe. I’m infected? With what?
“Nurse, are we ready to begin?”
“Yes, doctor. The patient looks to be conscious, but we can’t get any response.”
“We know he’s past Stage 1 then. Mr. Harris, can you move your fingers for me?”
Stage 1? Who’s Mr. Harris? Is that me? Move fingers. Which are those? Are they these?
“Good. He doesn’t seem to have reached Stage 3 yet. Let’s finish this as soon as possible. The patient has been left conscious for the procedure to monitor their cognitive functions; however their body has been secured to prevent any potential harm to themselves or ourselves in the event of any potential physical spasms or panic by the patient. We have already opened the patient’s cranium to locate and remove the parasite as well as try and reduce the damage it may have caused to the patient’s brain. Initial observations from the exposed portions of brain show that the cerebrospinal fluid has largely mixed with the trademark black fluid associated with the parasite. The viscosity and density of this fluid is much greater than the normal CSF surrounding the brain leading to symptoms that largely resembles standard encephalitis. Mr. H. currently seems to be in Stage 2 of the infection as indicated by a much more severe confusion and difficulty engaging in any significant cognitive activity. Motor function is still possible, but limited.”
“Doctor, I’ve spotted the head of the parasite in the temporal lobe. There are lesions in the surrounding brain matter. The antiparasitics don’t seem to be affecting it however the sedative we used on the patient earlier seems to have affected the parasite. Dissection and removal may be the only option.”
“Agreed. Keep an eye on the patient as I begin extraction procedures.”
From behind him, the nurse returned to his field of view. “Mr. Harris. We’re going to begin the removal of the parasite in your brain now. If you can talk, please do so as it will help us gage your current condition.”
I haven’t been able to speak. I need to talk. Say something. Anything. Just a word. Even a sound.
The doctor paused. “Aphasia. The temporal lobe damage has affected his language centers. It should recover once we’re finished.”
“That’s good at least. Just keep trying, Mr. Harris. Hopefully, it’ll improve as we go.”
“Indeed. As I clean the area surrounding the parasite to prepare for removal, I can confirm that it is the source of the black fluid that is commonly the first indication of infection by A. cerebrallis. It is unclear as to what purpose it serves, but it’s likely it provides protection against the host’s immune system as well as providing a more hospitable environment for it and its offspring. In our patient’s case, it seemed to leak from the ear indicating that the initial infection came aurally, presumably by aerosolized particles from another infected individual entering the ear canal or being submerged in a contaminated body of water.”
Black fluid? That tube. It’s coming from my ear? How much is there? So it’s infectious. That’s what the – are they space suits – are for? It went through my ear? When? How? Was I swimming? Maybe in a lake? No, I was a kid then. My father was teaching me how to swim. Not a lake. A pool? I never learned to swim at a pool though. The first time I went into a pool was in college. I can’t have gone to college. Wasn’t last week the prom? That doesn’t make sense. I had a wedding. Or was I just at one?
“Doctor, he seems to be straining and his EEG readings look to be increasing.”
“Good. The more of this fluid we drain and replace with the body’s CSF, the better the affected areas of his brain is functioning. It’s actually quite interesting. Once this is all over, I’d like to take the opportunity at some point to analyze this creature and its secretions if this doesn’t land me in too much trouble.”
“Excuse me. Let’s continue. I’ve finally gotten a hold of the parasite in a pair of forceps. The body looks to continue down into the internal auditory canal. Strange. Was it trying to move out backwards as it grew? Or did start growing inside the ear canal while its tail remained outside of the brain? This is also something to study further at another time. Complete removal of the parasite is necessary, but it may also damage part of the inner ear in addition to the already damaged temporal lobe. While it is risky, it looks to be our best option to minimize damage to the patient.”
“Is there any other way, doctor?”
“Our resources are limited and if we were to try and extract it more carefully, we run into the possibility of running out of something while also trying to remove the lesions and drain as much of the secretions as possible. It is possible to leave that for another surgery, but there may be unforeseen complications between then and now and given the number of other people that may need to have the same operation performed, I would say the risks are outweighed by the potential benefits. Agreed?”
It’s getting easier to think. I guess what they’re doing is working. What happened to me? I was driving, right? To the hospital probably. That would make sense. I was sick. Was I with someone else? I think so, but who? I was in a hurry too. When did I get infected? It could have been at any time I guess. Where am I now though? This doesn’t look like a hospital. This chair is made of wood, and the tile on this floor looks ancient. Where the hell am I?
“Primary extraction of the parasite has been completed. Nurse, the status of the patient?”
“Everything is reading fine and he seems to be conscious and thinking. Should I examine the patient to determine their full cognitive level?”
“We’ll have to do that after we finish. At this rate, we won’t have enough time to put back this equipment before the staff find out they’re missing. Administer the sedative at this point as well.”
“Mr. Harris? Are you awake yet?”
He groaned. It took some time for his thoughts to collect, but they eventually found themselves. He was in a cot and there was an aching in his head and his back. He touched the part of his head where it ached. Bandages. All around him was the hum and whir of vehicles mixed with the chatter of people. There was no one else there besides the person who called out to him standing at the tent flap that served at the only way in. “You’re the nurse, right? How is everything? Is it gone?”
“As far as we know, yes. We’ll have to run some actual tests to see how well you are, but given the alternatives and how prepared we were, it’s a miracle we can get you talking in complete sentences.”
“What do you mean?”
“I guess you don’t remember. There was a sudden outbreak of parasitic infections. Thousands of people in the area suddenly having the same symptoms you had and all ending up, partially brain damaged and eventually they either succumb to infection or end up in a coma with a large chunk of their brain being food for a parasitic worm. You were just lucky to come in at the same time me and Dr. Arzt were looking for ‘test subjects’ at the hospital. While it was probably not the most ethical thing to do to someone, given how you turned out, I’d say it turned out for the best.”
“Where am I?”
“A W.H.O. camp. Too many people, not enough beds. Me and the doc pulled some strings to get this place all to yourself since we still need to check you motor functions and everything. It’s looking good though.”
He sat up in the cot. It was still hard to think. Trying to reach out for certain memories was like trying to remember a dream. The harder he tried to recall it, the further it slipped from his mind. He knew he was forgetting something, but he couldn’t figure out what. “Do you remember why I came in? I remember rushing to the hospital because I was sick, I guess. I can’t really remember much else afterwards.”
“You actually came in talking about your wife. She was already in late Stage 2 when you arrived and the doctors there were already swamped.”
“I never had a wife.”
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 02:28|
Looks like I was able to finish it after all!
Mawl barges through the throne-cave's door in a regal clatter, cutting off the argument. "An' anoth'thing!" the goblin king slurs through the stockade of his fangs. "Tell 'at sonnabitch 'e's dead tomorrow morrin' an' 'at's final!" The cowering servant who had followed him in bows low and hurries out, dutifully slamming the door behind himself.
Mawl's cauldron of a gut sways as the stout body behind it, laboring beneath a crown of gratuitous dimensions, settles into the thick royal cape, whose red velour serves as unacknowledged upholstery for the solid gold throne. In all fairness, there are better things to make a throne from – its unyielding surface is uncomfortable after more than five minutes (though none who sit on it would ever admit that), and the soft metal has sagged and bowed over its centuries of liberal use – but what goblin king would settle for anything less? A crass folk with crass tastes, the goblins have exactly the throne they want, and they wouldn't give it up for all the other thrones in the land.
They would be much better-off if they traded it for even one.
Deep in the slumber of drink, the crown having toppled from his little head to join the treasure piled high about the throne-cave's floor, the king is now dead to the world, and the discussion resumes. "Oh, fair enough. You're right. If it didn't count in '43, it doesn't count now." Like most disputes over scoring, this one was short-lived. The enchanted throne's twin ruby-eyed heads have been at this for nearly as long as their home has seen use, and the pace of the game has been smoothed by time into a steady current.
Time was when it was more than just a game. It wasn't for their complacency that a wizard trapped Kaspar and Ferrin in a gaudy golden chair, and from the beginning, they were determined to make the most of their lot. But after a few decades of trying to rule by proxy, they were forced to concede that it wasn't worth the trouble – the goblins were simply too stupid and incompetent to carry out any of the heads' ambitions. Strategies of escape proved equally fruitless: No amount of irritation or trickery could make the goblins part with their greatest treasure, and of the brave adventurers who managed to breach the throne room, those with the ability to help knew better than to give their trust, and those who trusted the throne's heads bungled their plans as badly as the goblins. Eventually, resigning themselves to fate and seeing the whole farce for what it was, Kaspar and Ferrin decided to play along: Two points for putting a goblin on the throne, one for each goblin he killed. Mawl's ascent was a gain for Kaspar, but it did little to abate Ferrin's lead, 2371 to 2029.
Kaspar hates that he's losing, not because he takes the game seriously but because of a pet superstition that being in the throne's right arm entitles him to better luck. Why does such a trivial comfort have to be so directly repudiated? He takes some small solace in having won this last argument, hoping that it portends bigger victories. As Kaspar stews in his hope, the snoring of the sleeping king is joined by another sound: Crrreeeaaak...
The intruding servant steps silently toward his king with a softness and delicacy almost inconceivable for his kind, taking care to avoid waking his better as only a true lackey in abject fear of a beheading can. He picks up a fallen goblet from the floor and refills it, gingerly placing it within the king's reach on the throne's arm, and turns to go, when he hears a whisper.
Grode turns in surprise, wondering who else could be here in this deepest cavern under the goblins' mountain.
"Grode. Luggum has poisoned the king's wine. You can't let his plot succeed."
"Who'zat?!" Grode nearly shouts in astonishment, but he is able to stifle the outburst to a stage whisper.
"Someone who knows, Grode. Who knows what goes on around here." The glinting red eyes of the head in the throne's right arm bore into him, and there is no mistaking now who – what – is talking.
Mute with shock, Grode manages to nod and picks up the goblet. He backs toward the doorway, inch by inch, not daring even to breathe. As his heel passes the jamb, it connects with an advancing toe.
"Wot the bloody-"
"Shh! Don't wake the... king... oh, you bastard."
Luggum has not poisoned Mawl's wine, but he has been Ferrin's favorite for a successor, and Kaspar has just put a wrinkle in that plan. Luggum draws the dagger that he had meant for the king, only for it to be knocked from his hand by an empty goblet. The fight is between them now; all thoughts of Mawl or poison flee from their minds, replaced with that most fundamental goblin drive: He hit me? Gonna hit him!
As the goblins beat each other, oblivious to all else, a guard on his rounds approaches the entrance to the throne-cave. Seeing an altercation, he follows his rigorous training as a goblin guard and joins in. Baff didn't get to patrol this deep in the mountain by sitting on his goblin hands.
As the fray grows in size, its volume escalates to match. The oaths and insults, the flesh striking flesh, echo through the passageways and draw more to the spectacle. Before long, a mob of brawling goblins is battling it out in and around the throne room, caught up in the glorious orgy of combat, moved as one by a symphony of sounds more beautiful than any music to the goblin ear. There is looting. There is even a bit of loving. And through it all, the drunken king sleeps...
Until a flying tooth buries itself in his nose. A sneeze, a plume of blood, ricocheting enamel, and the king is on his feet, angry as he can be through his daze.
"What in the name o' the GODS is goin' on in my chamber?!" bellows Mawl. He is paid as much mind as can be expected. "Out, the lot of ya!" He can only stare in rage as this unwashed horde – not that he bathes especially frequently himself, but he knows what's supposed to separate kings from knaves – trashes his royal trove. And this after they had the gall to wake him up!
"Y' worms! You kneel before your king!" What a loathsome insult this is! His chamber, his treasure, his kingdom, and these imbeciles are trampling any sense of his authority like dirt in their idiot fight. He's been king for two days, but he feels the wrath of two lifetimes. And despite his contempt for it, he can only join the melee.
Seized by hatred, he grabs the first weapon he can find: his crown, lying next to the throne. And with the full force of his goblin strength, he hurls it at the biggest, nastiest reveler he sees...
It misses. It connects with a pile of treasure at the wall behind. The mess of gold, stacked tall into a corner, is too heavy and secure to be dislodged by a single blow – but the magical elven sword balanced at the top wavers, then plummets toward the stone floor.
The blade sinks into the rock up to its hilt with a deafening TWUNGGG like an enormous tuning fork. Cracks CRACK into the rock around it, branching out from each of the blade's edges to the edges of the chamber. The stone is sundered. The goblins are stricken. The silence is concrete.
In a great gush, lava floods the throne-cave and races up through the goblins' web of tunnels within their mountain. Streams spew forth from the mountain's sides, while the top is blown off in a deafening rush of ash and dirt. Goblins – the lucky few – fly through the air, flailing madly on their way to the rocky ground. A stronghold that had stood for millennia is destroyed in a single bloody sneeze.
Somewhere deep in the heart of the mountain is a twisted, melted mass of gold. It isn't pure gold; there are other metals, like silver and steel, and gems stud the mass's folds and furrows. Two of these gems, rubies, strain somehow in the direction of two others. And though nobody can hear it, buried in solid stone, a voice mutters:
"I suppose I win."
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 02:38|
Leo was high above the vast Etetr desert when his skimmer stalled out. The black sand dunes below, which turned to brilliant mirrors wherever the wind had shaped them smooth enough to catch the sun, tumbled and tumbled, an alien chessboard. The spires of the city ahead hung upside down and then twisted out of sight entirely.
The wind slapped against the cockpit walls. Leo fought the controls until the rigid frontal wings straightened to catch the wind beneath them, and the wheel almost ripped from his hand in the long, sickening moment before the skimmer swung from falling to gliding. The dorsal wings that should’ve been fluttering, blurring, propelling the skimmer on and up were trailing ldemonly through the air like translucent ribbons.
Now that he was falling in a long, shallow, maybe-survivable trajectory, Leo had time to panic. He turned in his seat and punched the wall of the engine compartment behind him. “What in the Nine Names is wrong with you?!”
“Oh, well,” a very small and very flat voice responded, “Doesn’t everyone deserve a break?”
When Leo turned back he was out of time; a dull demonact trembled through his guts and everyone bone of his body; grains of dark sand glittered like diamonds as they were strewn through the air.
His jaunty green ship was a tangle of spars and splinters. Leo had built it by hand. Not his own hands, but still! He wriggled free of the cockpit, tried to walk but crumbled at the knees, so crawled from the wreck and heaved himself up onto a great boulder have submerged in the sand. He reached into his own mouth and fished out a bloody severed piece of his own cheek.
A panel fell away from the skimmer’s carriage and a small - very small - man lifted his balding head, his ugly childish face, up from the smoke uncoiling from within. “Eurgh. Don’t see what all the fuss was about, it wuz only a little break.”
“Demon! I abjure you, return to your duties at once and restore my ship!” Leo drew powerful signs in the air, tossed in curses from every dead language he knew and some he didn’t.
“Naaah.” Wriggling himself up and out, the demon flopped down into the sand. In the space behind the panel, a kind of filthy nest had been lined with chip wrappers and rag cloth and the odd sock. Something like a gear-toothed hamster wheel rocked back and forth, empty.
“You- you little poo poo!” Leo was out of dead languages. He rose and stumbled to his beautiful ship and, careful not to touch the searing metal, peered into the contraption’s guts. Sure enough, a broken motivator. All the prodding bits had gone dull. The pilot light heating the hot irons was out. “Get back to work!”
“Eeeh. I’ve been pushing that wheel for, what, five years?” The demon was so monotonous, so slow to speak, that Leo had time to pepper in a few more choice insults before it finished, “So I think I’ll just nap for a year or two.”
“I’ll die out here!” Leo wailed, and when that failed, stomped over to loom in the demon’s sun and fold his arms and more-or-less pout. “I have been called to court by the king himself, and you will not delay me.”
“Alright, I won’t.”
Leo nearly kicked him, but that would be a fine way to break his foot; the little man’s blood and flesh and bone had all come from common cattle, but his soul was cast iron. Instead, Leo scuffed at the sand and tugged at his hair and dug into the blasphemies, but the little man only said,
“Well, that’s all fine. I was just thinking, eh, it’s all a little pointless. I was peeping through a hole in the floor and there were all these bits of ruins in the sand I thought, eh. Might as well take a vacation.”
Oh, joy. Oh great sweetness of existence. An existential engine. And just when Leo thought the very rock bottom depths of his soul’s exasperation had been plumbed, a great booming voice came, somewhat muffled, up from the rock he’d rested on before.
“He’s right you know. Built half of those myself and was very proud, but they simply didn’t last.” With each word the sand gusted up, until a great stoney face was revealed.
“No! No he isn’t and no you’re the last thing I need!” Leo kicked sand back down into the pit, filling the stone giant’s mouth as it tried to respond. “No no no no…”
He paced, turned, paced back. Finally he flopped down too, the sand warm and soft underneath him.
“Now yer getting it.”
Leo cocked an eye. “I do miss a glass of wine and honey. Oh, and serving girls to bring it, of course…”
The demon nodded along with the obvious truth of that.
“A little villa right about there…” He didn’t bother pointing any particular ‘there’ out. All the there’s were more or less flat sand. “You must be looking forward to retirement.”
When the demon didn’t answer Leo tried, a little more obvious, “I’m sure you know all about retirement.”
“Well, once you work enough, you don’t have to work anymore. And you get a nice little villa somewhere like this -” This lovely, lovely wasteland Leo wouldn’t be caught dead in. “And probably quite a bit of wine, supposing you work hard. I think that stone fellow was probably caught slacking.” From beneath the earth, there was a grumbling.
“Well, I suppose I’ll try to fix up the skimmer and head on alone…” There was a blur of unwashed hair and the stench of engine grease, gathering up the broken bits and, in a kind of whirlwind of motion, kludging them into a fair-serviceable crawler. A miniature hand emerged from the engine block and gave him the thumbs up.
Leaping into the carriage before the demon could think better, Leo threw all levers and turned all the toggles and revved it towards the city distant, where somebody could fix his motivator and maybe remind the little bastard on who’s say-so he was existing. Really, the ingratitude of demons...
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 02:40|
The death Mrs Smith
I was visiting my old school chum, Mrs. Agatha Smith over the Christmas season. It had been nearly a decade since we had started this holiday tradition, after her husband’s funeral. We were joined by her two nephews William Smith, an entomologist, and Henry Darcy, a stockbroker. Her three servants were also there, Mrs. Baker, the cook, Beckett, the butler, and Martha, the housemaid. After diner, on the twenty-eighth of December, conversation had turned to the weather.
“It looks like we might snowed in. The man on the radio said it might be a record-breaking snowfall,” remarked Mr. Smith.
“I will call Beckett and make sure that the furnace is well-banked up with coal,” said Mr. Darcy.
“Now that the weather has been thoroughly discussed, can we commence with bridge?” said Mrs. Smith.
Ah, yes, bridge. I normally would not bring this among ladies, but would you like to make this game a little more interesting? A wager of a shilling on the outcome of the game?” said Mr. Smith.
“Your gambling will be the death of me! If you ever bring up gambling again, I will throw you out of this house and disinherit you. I am going to bed.” said Mrs. Smith, as she immediately left to go to bed.
“I shall also retire, bridge is impossible with three, and I refuse to play the more degenerate games you may get up to.” I said rising.
I had slept peacefully that night until my slumber was broken by a blood-curdling scream. I put on dressing gown and picked up the fire-poker. I went to Mrs. Smith’s room where the scream had originated. Martha was there with Mrs. Smith’s breakfast, and on Mrs. Smith’s chest was the largest centipede that I have ever seen. Mrs. Smith did not look well, so I used my fire-poker as a rapier and skewered the disgusting insect. I set the fire-poker down and went to feel her wrist. I had served as a nurse in the war, and I could feel no heartbeat. My oldest friend had died. As I hung my head to cry, her nephews finally came to see what was the matter.
“We were out the Beckett, trying to see why the telephone was out. It looks the snow broke the wires. The snow is over the ground floor windows. What is with all the screaming?” asked Mr. Smith.
“One of your specimens has gotten loose and your aunt is dead! You should never have brought them here! They could have killed all of us!” I said, brandishing the fire-poker.
“I need these for my research. I went to the ends of the Empire to get them. I designed their terrariums so they could not get out. Here I will show you” said Mr. Smith.
“Don’t show your collection to Miss Crewe. It would frighten her to death and we don’t need another loss today,” said Mr. Darcy.
“No, I will go. It is the least I can do for my old friend,” I said.
In one part of the attic, a laboratory and specimen containment area had been set up. The largest of the terrariums had its mesh lid off.
“I swear I put the lid on the tank tightly the last time I fed Matilda. The lid is too heavy for her to move. She isn’t poisonous. I could have become a professor with what I could have learned from her. I was so careful,” said Mr. Smith.
“Your aunt was old, and even though she let you have the insects in the house she told me that if she ever saw one of them free, she just might die. You are one of the beneficiaries in her will. She disapproved of your gambling habits-” I said.
“I loved her, she was the only way I could even do any of my research. I have never played for stakes larger than a pound.” he interrupted.
“Who has access to the room, then?” I asked.
“Everyone, I don’t keep this room locked. My living specimens were enough to keep most people away.” Mr. Smith answered.
I went back to Mrs. Smith’s bedroom. I wanted to see her one last time. Besides the fire-poker, which had been removed, everything was as I had left it not fifteen minutes ago. Her face and hands were ashen and her muscles had seemed to have contracted slightly. There was teacup on the nightstand next to bed. There was a grainy substance in the bottom. Mrs. Smith never took sugar in her tea, the only lady I have know not to. I picked up the cup and saucer and brought it to the kitchen.
“Mrs. Baker, has anything changed with your mistress recently? She seems to have started taking sugar in her tea.” I said, showing her the contents of the teacup.
“Nothing has changed with Mrs. Smith directly, she still does not take sugar in her tea. She has had a little trouble with her nephews recently, Miss Crewe,” said Mrs. Baker.
“What sort of trouble with Mr. Darcy? I know Mr. Smith keeps gambling and bringing home insects, but Henry always seemed like such a good boy.” I said.
“Mr. Darcy has been reluctant to get married. It seemed like he has fallen in love with a music hall actress. Mrs. Smith never approved of his choice. He has picked up some of her bad habits, I am surprised he does not drop his h’s,” she replied.
“Did Mrs. Smith mention disinheriting Henry?” I said.
“I have never heard directly, but her disapproval of Mr. Darcy’s behavior always seemed a bit harsher than Mr. Smith,” Mrs. Baker said.
Mr. Darcy had left with Beckett to get the doctor. I took that time to peek into his room, to if I could find any clues. He had not left any letters out in the open, but I took a look at the blotter. I read the phrases “soon to be able to”, “she would not approve”, and “matrimony will be bliss”. Nothing else was readable. Then I saw the empty bottle under the bed.
“It was snowing so hard we was only able to get half-way to the nearest house.” said Mr. Darcy.
“I know about Dahlia the dancer. And I know what you did last night. How could you kill your own aunt?” I asked.
“I had hoped the centipede would do the trick and it would be easy death. She had read my letters and I was going to be disinherited as soon as she could meet with her lawyer. I have failed at business and I would have to fall back on my inheritance.” said Mr. Darcy.
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 02:57|
“Judith, we don’t believe in demons,” I said.
“I’m telling you Micah,” she said, “it’s right through there, in my garage. I have in chained up with silver. I read they don’t like silver.”
“Judith, that’s werewolves. Which also don’t exist.”
“You told me you were a Satanist, so why don’t you believe me?”
“Satanists don’t believe in demons. We don’t even believe in Satan.”
“It’s in my garage,” she whimpered. She stared at the ground and began shaking.
“Hey, no crying now,” I said and wrapped an arm around her. “You say there’s a demon? Okay, let’s see it.”
“You can’t see the demon. It’s invisible.”
“Right. Invisible demon. Of course.” I looked over to Judith’s neighbor, a middle aged woman, who had stepped outside and was now staring at us. It took a second, but she looked away.
“You don’t believe me!”
“Okay, just take me to see the demon.” Judith frowned. “Er, hear the demon. It must make awful noises, right?”
“You can’t hear the demon, either.”
“Then how do you know there’s a demon?”
“I can feel it.”
“Just to be clear, when you say you can feel it, do you mean you can touch the demon? It has physical form? Is that what you mean?”
“No, I can feel it with my sixth sense.”
The neighbor was talking on her phone, as far from us as possible. She glanced at us, so I scowled at her. To Judith I said, “Okay, let’s go inside in and you can tell me more about the demon, like how you chained it up even though you can’t touch it.”
“You still don’t believe me!”
“Listen sweetie, you say there’s a demon, right? So it shouldn’t matter if I believe you. If there’s a demon, I’ll feel it myself. We need to go inside first, okay?”
“What if the demon hurts you?” Judith asked. She hugged me like she really believed it.
“How would the demon hurt me?”
“It breaths fire.”
“Did it breath fire at you?”
I hugged her back, tighter. “Were you hurt?”
“Just a little.”
“Show me,” I demanded. I looked her over closely now, searching for burns. Her dyed-black hair was untouched, as were her pink shirt and blue jeans. Her bare feet, toes gripping the grass, were the same.
“Then show me inside.”
“If you think that’s best,” she whispered.
I nodded fervently and pulled her towards her house before she could change her mind. I made sure to flip off the neighbor as we went inside. Judith hesitated on in, but I did my best to assure her. I said, “I’m a Satanist, so I’m sure I can handle one lame demon.”
"Silver Found at Scene of Tragic Electrical Fire"
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 03:19|
Jay W. Friks fucked around with this message at 04:10 on Jan 3, 2018
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 03:23|
|# ? Sep 26, 2021 03:36|
Very Fine People
Word Count: 1742
It didn’t take long for the homeless people of Fresno to gather in the shady shadows of the trees in Woodward Park. It’s difficult to say who was the first to return, but there were several plots of grass so compressed from bodies curled, too stiff to move in the night, that the blades grew flat. One woman, younger than the crow’s-feet which framed her clear green eyes would suggest, stroked the twice stitched glove of her right hand over her dog’s head, pausing every few seconds to drag her jagged nails behind his ears. Her eyesight was poor in the early morning light, but she could make out the figures of several new arrivals, lugging their belongings over the hill that bordered Yosemite Freeway. She wondered how much traffic there would be before noon.
The new arrivals always came with the cans they’d collected, but couldn’t cash in. It happened slowly, one recycling center closing in the north of the county, a week later the south. But when they shut down the heart of Fresno the people had nowhere left to go. They’re ruining our quality of life. That was what the city council claimed, bold enough to print their words and circulate them throughout the county. Their disgust invigorated the working-class citizens, too disgruntled to reassess the true cause of their suffering. They rallied together to drive the homeless out of the urban distract, tossing half drank bottles of pop at their receding backs. When I look around I don’t want to see trash.
But they didn’t see trash. They saw criminals. A childish fear of boogie-men inspired by the gentle clinking of aluminum in abandoned allies demanded an ordinance. A law. Not by the people, not for the people, but by the corrupted city council against the already disenfranchised homeless population. Without discussion, without debate, the verdict was passed, deafeningly final. We don’t want them here.
And so, they came to the park. A park some remembered sleeping in before it was criminalized. A part with bathrooms and running water and trash cans and benches and lots of places to rest. A park where some had watched and others heard Shakespeare performed, monologues of centuries old suffering carried on the heated currents of summer nights. Those were the best nights, when park rangers with misplaced airs of authority could not make them leave, could not refuse them the courtesy of plastic white chairs. Amateur actors shook their hands after, thanked them for being there.
But it was late January and cold. The soldiers huddled together, forming alliances over a similar taste in rations and whose dogs could manage to get along. The woman stopped petting her dog, a mangy Shepard mutt with unruly tuffs of white amid his mostly matted black coat, and shaded her eyes, squinting into the distance. The new arrivals were closer now and she could distinguish better between their forms. One was a man of average height who appeared to have bandoliers of crushed cans slung like sashes over alternating shoulders. She made a mental note to ask him if he had a screw driver.
One of the people in her primary party had been asking the camp for a flat head since the previous night. The young tinker had been fashioning belts out of the crushed cans with twine he’d found behind the maintenance shed by North Friant Road. Early in the night before his inexperience showed as he forced his screw driver through a particularly defiant bit of aluminum with enough strength to snap the tool in two on the metal trash can on which he worked. He shrugged, pushed the shards into the can and reassured her he would find another to continue the work.
The second figure was petite, probably a woman, but the slight frame and the shaggy shoulder length hair made it difficult to say for certain. She appeared to be wearing a trash bag with the plastic straps separated to rest over each should like a backpack. It bulged in various places and threatened to tear. The couple appeared to stop at the stream which cut through the park to rinse off, the smaller of the two dropping her cans onto the river bank beside her boots and wading knee deep into the water. Satisfied with her observation of the newcomers, the unobserved scout wiped the sweat from her eyebrows and brushed her thin fingers through her prematurely greying hair. Her dog leaned back against her calves, contorting his body to alternate between scratching and biting the fur above his tail.
The green-eyed woman’s name was unimportant, and unknown to many, but as she limped down the hill through their makeshift encampment all the soldiers she passed nodded and waited to continue their conversations until she had passed beyond earshot. They had all heard the story of how she had chained herself to the compressor at the final recycling center. Those who had stood beside her and then dispersed when the police arrived, threatening forced, spoke in hushed whispers, and commented on the way her eyes shown. The way the sweat ran into them and still she stared, her teeth white and straight, gritted against the government goons who tried to pull her free. She kicked them, swearing, her pale pink Converse connecting over and over with their shins, ankles, calves. Finally, they struck back against the girl, small and insignificant, covering her sweat drenched tank top in fresh blood from the gash in her lip where knuckles had beat them against her canines. Another connected with her knee, pushing the muscles in her thigh back into the sharp teeth on the compressor’s lower panel. Blood pooled from the deep wound down her thin calve, absorbing into her white ankle-sock and turning it a deep red within seconds. She snarled, dark hair thrashing as she cursed their inhumanity. These people survive on 5 cents a can! How greedy are you people?
The government never listens to the people it oppresses. But she wasn’t oppressed. She was a student at Fresno State studying Criminal Justice in her 3rd year. She was barely old enough to drink and vindicated enough to fight for a marginalized group of people she’d been raised to shy away from. The earned her limp that day and the scar the sliced through both lips and smiled independently on the rare occasions when she laughed. But mostly she only stared into the distance, fixated on the battle she’d chosen to fight. Her aluminum armor chest plate glinting in both the rising and setting sun as she waited. She’d commissioned it from their first self-proclaimed blacksmith only a week after she’d gotten out of the hospital after surgery and a week before he’d gone in too late and died of pneumonia. She hadn’t cried when he’d died. Several of her the homeless friends died beside her in the first months before they took over the park.
Woodward Park has seven shelters that can harbor a rough estimate of 1,250 people, but those numbers refer to people who are accustomed to having their own space. The park was seldom frequented, nor maintained, in the late fall and early winter and it took several months before the surrounded areas realized the immense amounts of homeless squatters who had taken up shelter there. On New Year’s Eve their numbers were over 2,000, with more and more pouring in as midnight approached, drawn by the desire to start the New Year with hope for a better life. Some of the newcomers were not from the streets of Fresno. One man was rumored to have traveled from Alabama on foot and hitchhiking whenever someone was feeling generous enough to offer him a lift. Another claimed he had been a professor from a college up north, but no one knew where. They believed him though when he gathered them around the fire and lectured on social justice and the rights of men and women regardless of residency.
But the green-eyed woman knew his words wouldn’t matter when, inevitably, the government came. The news crews had come first, timidly as though they would be mugged, their cameras stolen to be pawned and their vans raided for half-eaten cartons of Pringles. But after the local stations surviving several interviews they received national news coverage. The professor who always wore a tattered tie and a plague doctor mask and had a habit of wheezing when he spoke became the face of the movement. But one involved was ever confused on who was the leader. So, when she limped through the encampment with her hair braided back and her aluminum sword piercing the sky they untied their dogs and followed.
She wove back and forth over the hills of the encampment, rallying her soldiers. No one asked what was going on, or where they were going, or if they were coming back. The dogs ran between the hordes and nudged the hands of people who were not their owners, stopping to gnaw on the scraps that were freely given. Occasionally a man would open a pack of cigarettes and pass it to his left. The pack would move down the line until the final cigarette was drawn and the empty pack was dropped to be trampled under hundreds of feet. Sometimes a person would not have lighter, but before they could ask one would be pressed into their hand. They lit their cigarette and pocketed the lighter. Neither expected it to be returned.
At the crest of the final hill in the west the woman turned to speak to her soldiers, but found that they required no rallying cry of battle. Their eyes shone with conviction even as their legs quivered beneath their aluminum plates. One man near the front, who looked barely of age, timidly lifted his sword. The woman threw back her head and thrust her sword up in response, a deep laugher rolling up from the pit of her stomach and reverberating across the hills.
Beyond the crest of the final hill and in the shutdown Yosemite Freeway below news crews’ cameras flashed safely behind an armed national guard. Broadcasting to America the haunting finality of her laugh, the arch of her carved smile and the haunting words of a voice, not her own, over the clinking of aluminum against metal shields.
Now, there are very fine people, very fine people, on both sides.
|# ? Sep 25, 2017 03:34|