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Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer

BeefSupreme posted:

oh hell yes in and flash let's get crazy

A job opening

Jon Joe fucked around with this message at 15:34 on Apr 4, 2018


Aug 7, 2013



In with the literary classic

A contest to see how many billiard balls you can stuff in your mouth

Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha

yeah, assign me something or whatever

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer

QuoProQuid posted:

yeah, assign me something or whatever

Game show

Mar 21, 2013

Grimey Drawer
I know it's totes gauche to comment on a crit, but the power of double entendre compels me...

Kaishai posted:

Barring a secret career as a wet nurse for Lord Edward, you've cheated in a frownworthy manner, as neither bellfounder nor baker nor nurse nor martyr nor natural disaster is he.

Before Easter Service, Harrison sat alone in the front pew of the church within Lord Edward's splendid new castle on Swallows Hill. By his side lay an untouched easter bun, apparently made by Edward's own humble hand.

Don't frown, Kaishai, just check out my buns!

(Thanks for the crit, too. Much appreciated.)

Apr 30, 2006
In. Flash me.

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer

sparksbloom posted:

In. Flash me.

Hunting contest

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat
Where are the LOSERWINNER avatars? :saddowns:

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Sham bam bamina! posted:

Where are the LOSERWINNER avatars? :saddowns:

in the same place as you're hopes/dreams

Bubble Bobby
Jan 28, 2005
In, a contest where people go back in time to kill hitler

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

Bubble Bobby posted:

In, a contest where people go back in time to kill hitler

if this flies i'm in for a contest where people go back in time to gently caress hitler

don't worry, it won't be erotica. if you get a boner it's on you


Mar 21, 2010
I already mentioned it but in case anybody missed it, drunken judgeburps for all your shitweek stories appeared on my twitter. More indepth crits coming later.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
In with competitive barbecue.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




in with tree climbing

e: obviously it's competitive

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


alright in and flash me

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer

Uranium Phoenix posted:

alright in and flash me

Laser tag

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
In, ambient music competition.

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer

Ironic Twist posted:

In, ambient music competition.

Just make sure it's not a thinly veiled metaphor about how you ~feel when domin'~, and you should be clear of the DQ

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh

Tanz! posted:

Just make sure it's not a thinly veiled metaphor about how you ~feel when domin'~, and you should be clear of the DQ

nah, that's more along the lines of

Apr 12, 2006
In, university funding

Jon Joe
Oct 19, 2011

Grimey Drawer
Entries have been tallied!

The competitors have taken their position!

Get ready.



Submission deadline: Sunday, April 8, 11:59pm USA Eastern

Feb 18, 2014

This statement is a lie!
Super on Time Judge Crits for Week 284 (Leonard Cohen week)
“Yellow Light” by sparksbloom
Holy poo poo, Leonard’s voice actually sounds good in this one. Story’s pretty good, too. I like the touch that this isolated life has kept the narrator so stunted that even though they’re dissatisfied with their job, they can’t imagine anything better, and they just make the smallest change in the end. It’s subtly wrong, and fits well together. It may or may not be Kafkaesque; I haven’t read enough Kafka to actually tell, but this seems like it’s close enough without being completely beholden to that attitude. 7/10.

“Fleeting Moments of Comfort” by Exmond
You’re getting better. Still pulpy, but that’s what you like, and it’s working out to be a more functional story, an actual store as opposed to a cardboard front with the word “STOR” painted on the side. Still got some typos here and there, though, especially when the narrator recounts the first thing said to him. I don’t think that was how he phrased it, like he was quoting someone else. More typos. Okay, I guess it’s not actually pulp because you’re focusing on this woman’s emotional distress. Good job overall. This isn’t getting an HM or winning, but I don’t want it to DM or lose, not unless everything else this week is a gem. 5/10.

“Three Days” by flerp
First story so far to tie in to the imagery of the song so explicitly, possibly because it’s the first featured song to have tangible, physical details. Your sentences so far are short, and it’s having a positive effect on the story that I can’t quite put my finger on. You used “costed” instead of “cost,” which is either a regional choice or a mistake. This is a well-executed mood piece about dying love, I think, with some ambiguity about the days counted in scars mixed in. Not my thing per se, but still a contender. 7/10.

“A Choice” by Guiness13
Competent, but nothing I haven’t seen before. Aside from a few pretty phrases here and there this is a pretty plain story to read. I can’t say I knew where this was going, but that’s only because I’m distracted and in a hurry right now. Not bad, but not that good either, and considering the cool song you got that’s a shame in its own right. 6/10.

“Obsidian Rain” by CascadeBeta
The whole Ashwalker thing you came up with could be an interesting idea in another context, but here there’s not a whole lot to go on. I don’t know and didn’t gleam anything about this world other than that some guys are part lava and can control obsidian through magic. I don’t know what Cyn was doing or why those other people were beating him. This plays like a sliver of a whole, much like that other story I liked a couple weeks ago, but that story drew a convincing world and you stopped with one superpower. Some might disagree with me, but you should have taken better advantage of the wordcount limit. Also, no idea how this ties in with the song you got. 3/10.

“The Porter” by Crain
Okay, starting out very literally from the first sentence. “Another slice of Turkey” oh I get it hahahahaha. This story comes off like it’s trying to be a joke; not a comedy, but like the author is having a laugh at/with Thunderdome (but you’re new here so I doubt that’s true). I don’t usually like stories like that. But I can’t be sure. Reading through your story a second time now just so I can understand what happened in it. The “out. Side. Outside.” thing isn’t funny and doesn’t really match the tone of the rest of the story, much like the Turkey thing above. Was the Turkey thing even intentional? I know you meant to use a lyric from the song at the end, which is right up the nose. This was an annoying one. 2/10.

“By Nature” by Sitting Here
This song sounds like there are twanging rubber bands in the background. Not one of his best afaik. The attached story is better. See, CascadeBeta, this is how you use your words to make me believe I’m seeing another world. It feels like if Neil Gaiman tried his hand at writing a constructed world fantasy like that Ken Liu book I read once. It’s interesting how this trickster god is trying to grapple with his own nature once it starts actively getting in the way of what he wants from life. I’d like to see more of him, not that this will ever be a guarantee in Thunderdome. As this stands, I don’t think I’ll give it the win, but it’ll probably HM. 8/10.

“Spirit of Ceremony” by Jay W. Friks
Oh, I know this song. I forgot I listened to the Songs of Leonard Cohen album a few years back. Good times. Anyway, two comma splices in the first two paragraphs isn’t a good sign. Much like Exmond, your ability to proofread your stories needs work, but also like Exmond you had a pretty good idea that you should definitely revise and tinker with at some point. Maybe immerse us deeper into the work of morticians if you want to add more flavor? You have a good start with that paragraph on body preparation; maybe there’s room to expand on it. I think you have the better concept this week but Exmond has better prose. 6/10.

“Solstice” by Djeser
So this reminds me of that one Philip Seymour Hoffman movie, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and that’s not a bad thing even though they’re not that similar beyond someone killing a family member in a hospital. Good job focusing on the ambivalent, shameful emotions that the main character feels in this situation instead of the obvious, expected outpouring of grief. I mean, this is kind of obvious in its own way, but if there’s a more ingenious way to handle the comatose/dead family member event I haven’t thought of it. 7/10.

“The Sisters” by Fleta McGurn
I think I have a soft spot for relationships like this, that are abrasive on the surface but tender otherwise. “Baby bird noises of strangled delight” is a nice phrase. Wait, no, the relationship actually is that abrasive and I only thought it was tender. Nice. What a bummer. Sometimes things don’t work out and it’s so disappointing. I can relate, and this might be a bit too real for me. Better cut myself off now before I get personal. 8/10.

“A Newcomer’s Guide to Afanasi” by Antivehicular
drat this song’s good. The situation you describe sounds too good to be true. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does, at least not explicitly. I don’t have a problem with this, having thought the same thing about the setting of Terra Ignota for similar reasons, but Terra Ignota has a plot and conflict. This doesn’t, and thus I can’t exactly call it a story, now can I? If I’m going to voluntarily read a piece where nothing happens, it’ll probably be an impression of a mood and a moment, and that mood will probably be negative. You write that everything in Afanasi is great(?), and I think “Okay? So?” 5/10.

“A Scarf’s Life” by sandnavyguy
I like it. Flows well, touches on a bunch of clear sentiments, doesn’t waste time, neat premise. In terms of downsides, the situations depicted in the scarf’s life lean on the melodramatic side, and they’d be so much less interesting if they weren’t linked by the framing device of being framed in terms of an inanimate object. I also think that being able to read the thoughts of the orphan who imagines stuff about the scarf is a misstep; I liked not being able to read the thoughts of the scarf’s previous owners, having to imagine what they thought of it and of their own lives, but you couldn’t sustain it the whole way through. 7/10.

“The Hated Enemy” by Uranium Phoenix
I’m noticing that the conflation of love and espionage is a running theme in Leonard Cohen songs. Another good worldbuilding piece in service of an old plot. This one I actually did predict as I was reading it. Despite that, the names used are interesting, and I’d like to know what the logic behind them is. I’m mildly curious about why there’s a place called Tangshan in the Americas. 6/10.

“With Apologies to Some Guy in Montreal” by Sham bam bamina!
Okay gently caress off guy for blaming everybody else when you’re dumb enough to spend all of your savings on lottery tickets. Good job provoking that visceral reaction out of me. You’re starting to win me back now that you’re making GBS threads on jazz, though. Piano guy hogging the spotlight is kind of tapping in to why jazz keeps bouncing off me. If narrator guy wasn’t prepared for wild, attention-hogging improvisation, why did he think he could be a jazz musician in the first place? I would have liked this piece better if you committed to making GBS threads on jazz instead of succumbing to clichéd romanticism at the end, but this is still a pretty good comedy piece. 8/10.
(yeah I completely misread what you were going for here whoops)

“In mortal chains” by sebmojo
What’s the point of this? This seems like you’re not even trying, but you still have ingrained talent and experience that makes it close to passable anyway. Once again, it bothers me that a writer isn’t even close to using the wordcount they’re allowed to use. A thing happened, and I’m supposed to feel something, but the account of it happening is too cursory for me to care. 4/10.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Prompt: the Loebner Prize

Chainmail Onesie
May 12, 2014

of "Thunder Dome!
Prompt: Kenjutsu

No Left-handed Swordsmen (1873 Words)

Tomorrow, by dawn’s light, I will endure Sanada Shigenari’s final affront.

Dusk is falling by the time I finish the last of the chores around the dojo. Floors washed, walls scrubbed, courtyard swept. This all used to go much faster, when every student of the Tenshitō-Ryu would stay after class to help. When the Tenshitō-Ryu still had students.

I sweep to the last flagstone, gliding between successive tenkan. The broom casts a long shadow westward, pointing back toward the dojo. Would Hachiba-sensei would be satisfied with this housework?

Probably not. I can’t help but smile.

I walk the line of the shadow back into the dojo hall, leaving the shoji open. Everything is laid out on the central tatami, where I kneel to change. Kimono, obi, hakama, tabi, shortsword, longsword. The two scabbards press tightly against my hip, where the obi holds them- an old, familiar, reassuring ache.

The kusarigote comes last- I shrug out of my kimono to pull it onto my right arm. Smell of worn leather, icy prick of autumn-chilled chain links. As I pull the kimono back on, my thumb brushes the embroidered crest of the Tenshitō-Ryu. I go tense.

Breathe, Yorubei. From your centre, not your throat.

I breathe, raise my right arm to the fading light. Watch the fingers splay in silhouette, then vanish as I make a fist. I laugh. “What do you think, Hachiba-sensei? Do you think dear Shigenari will rise to this bait?”

My voice is as hollow as this empty hall.


Sanada Shigenari’s first affront upon me was to be born a more natural swordsman than I ever could be.

We met as boys in the dojo, many years before Hachiba-sensei’s disgrace- the children of meagre provincial families. The Tenshitō-Ryu was a strong school, back then, the ideal place to make accomplished swordsmen from young nothings.

It rained heavily on the day we first approached the Tenshitō-Ryu’s gates to plead for tutelage. As we waited for the head of the school to receive us, Shigenari watched me in silence. Perhaps he sought to appraise me, there and then.

Hachiba-sensei arrived in his own time. He regarded us from the archway with the tireless, piercing stare we would learn to live under, speaking only after we were thoroughly soaked. “Hold out your hand.”

We did so. My hair began to escape its tousle beneath the force of the rain. Hachiba-sensei sighed, pointing to Shigenari. “Inside.”

As Shigenari bowed low and stepped beneath the archway, he glanced back at me, eyes flashing with something like victory.

Without looking at me, Hachiba-sensei grasped my outstretched arm with alarming speed. “Go home, child,” he rumbled, turning to go back inside as he released his grip. “…There’s no such thing as a left-handed swordsman.”

The gates boomed shut in rebuke. I sank against it, snivelling into the rain, cradling the fresh bruises on my left wrist.


I shut the gates of the old Tenshitō-Ryu by lantern-light. They slam with the weight of a falling corpse.

Thunder rolls in the night sky as I head through town, warming my hands within my kimono sleeves. I slip my jingasa on before the first droplets of rain land, pattering softly against the straw. Leaves and scraps swirl on the wind, sweeping down the main road, pressing the hakama’s pleats stiff against my legs. Amongst the debris, a torn sheet tumbles into me.

I peel it from my shoulder, recognising my own hasty brushwork after a moment.


This is one of many sheets plastered up in the town square- prior to their posting, I did not bother to consult the members of Sanada Hoshikage-Ryu regarding the declaration. It was not a request.

The sheet flaps from my hand, crumpled, as I continue into the gloom, down to the old forest road. “I won’t be long now, sensei.”


Sanada Shigenari’s second affront upon me was to be faster and stronger, right-handed, than I ever strove to be.

Two days after our first meeting, Hachiba-sensei found me still at his gate, prostrated beneath the archway with my hands and head in the dirt. Some time thereafter, he let me clean the dojo and sleep beneath the archway. Then he let me watch lessons. I was a year beneath the roof of the Tenshitō-Ryu before I ever held a bokken in my hands.

“Breathe from your centre, not your throat,” Hachiba-sensei had instructed, cutting through bamboo-and-tatami targets as though they were air. “The right hand drives the sword. The left is nothing more than a rudder.”

Of the many times that we were paired, I could never spar against Shigenari and win. Every time would go the same: by the time we had both settled into a stance, a tiny smirk would play on his lips, as he discerned my exact strategy. I fought by the tenets of our training, assumed every form as we had been taught, stepped as we had been taught, cut as we had been taught.

It was no comfort to me that, in time, the other disciples could not stand against Shigenari and win. As Shigenari learned to best even the yudansha, then become yudansha himself, I imagined I saw Hachiba-sensei’s brusque reticence turn to quiet admiration for his prodigious student, to wordless unease and finally to low, quiet fear.


I spend much of the night walking the forest to reach Hachiba-sensei’s grave. Less time is spent speaking to Hachiba-sensei, less yet in prayer. I lay my swords flat in the moss, careful to keep their edges turned away from the headstone. I leave in silence.

Fingers of a red dawn stretch from the East as I arrive at the gates of the Sanada Hoshikage-Ryu. Shigenari and his yudansha- Hachiba-sensei’s yudansha, once- are already waiting in the threshold. Hijikata, one of Hachiba-sensei’s oldest former disciples, stands ready to hand Shigenari his longsword. A narrow-faced official, a magistrate, stands to one side with his scribe, a boy barely past his gempukku.

I look down, drawing a rolled tasuki from one sleeve. When I look up again, Shigenari has crossed the space between us, his longsword thrust into his obi, nearly within three swords’ lengths of me. He halts as my gaze meets his, a deadly calm behind his eyes.

“Don’t do this, Yorubei,” Shigenari says softly. If I knew him less, I would think he were pleading with me. “Forget this- you needn’t come to us as an enemy. There is a place for you in the Sanada Hoshikage-Ryu.”

“The Sanada Hoshikage-Ryu,” I repeat slowly, evenly. Loudly. The magistrate lifts his head, motions to his scribe.

I pull the tasuki taut against my sleeves, revealing the kusarigote on my right arm. “I know you like to cut for the wrist, Shigenari.” The armoured sleeve clinks. “Do you think you can cut around this?”

Of course he can.

Shigenari falters, sighs. “Yorubei…”

“I have not come to speak, Sanada Shigenari. Show your sword, or mark your fear for mine.”

Something like pity- no, contempt- registers in Shigenari’s dark eyes. His longsword sweeps from its sheath with slow grace, dawnlight catching on the blade in threads of gold and scarlet. He wheels it carefully back over his shoulder to wakigamae as I draw my blade up into jodan.

Shigenari watches me. The faintest hint of a smirk play at his lips.

That’s right. You know exactly what I’m going to do, Shigenari, you conceited bastard.

The rhythm of the duel begins.

Toi-maai – the range of disengagement. We circle, tracing a void ring in the muddy earth with our heels. Shigenari’s blade held behind the pleats of his hakama, left elbow extended. The obvious target.

One, two - I dart forth.

Itto-issoku no maai. Killing range- one step and one cut ends everything.

Sen- the moment of attack.

I begin my cut, diagonal descending, whipping my longsword towards Shigenari’s collar.

A flash of gold and scarlet, blinding.

Shigenari’s arms crossing, cutting upward.

The fingers of my right hand tumbling in the wake of his sword, perfectly cut targets falling in the autumn chill. Fire and agony along my slashed knuckles.

So far, so good.


Sanada Shigenari’s irredeemable affront was, when it needed him most, to leave the Tenshitō-Ryu.

It was early one morning, just before dawn, when I found Hachiba-sensei in one of the inner rooms, cleansed of his disgrace. I never understood the nature of this disgrace- the yudansha would not speak of it, least of all Shigenari. All that I really understood was what I found in that room- the poem set to one side, and the short dagger clenched in Hachiba-sensei’s hand.

Hachiba-sensei’s disgrace does not matter to me, but it seemed to matter to the yudansha. Surely they feared that it would destroy the reputation of the Tenshitō-Ryu. It was certainly destroyed when they followed Shigenari, fleeing to his new school.

The Tenshitō-Ryu was my life, and I was never good enough for it. And they all threw it away.

Shigenari threw it away.

And now I endure his final affront.


The remains of my right hand part with the hilt, blood dotting the hilt wrap as it moves.

Hachiba-sensei always advocated targeting the right hand in sparring practice. Without the right hand, the sword would lose its drive, powerless without the strength of the right arm. The cut would falter, the sword falling from the left hand’s weaker grip.

It would, for a swordsman favouring his right hand.

I loosen my grip for an instant, slide it up towards the bloodied section of the hilt where my right hand had held it.

Flash of gold and scarlet. Shigenari’s sword turning like a wave, ribboning up toward a second cut.

I tighten my grasp, and finish my first cut one-handed.

Shigenari’s eyes, glazing, see mine as the rhythm breaks. He stands frozen as my sword found him, his own blade still raised overhead. His sundered chest pulls, ribs grasping at the sword that split them.

The world becomes small as I sink to my knees, blurring all around. I hear Shigenari crumple to the earth, shouts from familiar voices at the gateway, cries of outrage and grief. Grief I did not hear for Hachiba-sensei.

Amongst the clamour, the unmistakeable click and rasp of blades flying from their sheaths.

“Enough!” Hijikata’s voice. What might be his blur steps between me and the blotted crowd of the yudansha. His next words are gripped with despair. “This duel was fought fairly, and now it is over. Step back, all of you.”

“I… Record that Sanada Shigenari was struck down in the first exchange of cuts,” says the magistrate finally, somewhere far away to my ears. “By a stroke to the collar. The swordsman Nemura Yorubei made the cut using only his left hand.”

I hear my own laughter, distant as though in a tunnel, as I press my sleeves black-and-crimson against the slashed mess of my hand. “Magistrate, do you know nothing of kenjutsu? There are no left-handed strokes. There’s no such thing as a left-handed swordsman.”

May 31, 2007

Writing is fun!

Thank you for the crits! Also can you be a judge for every prompt?

Bubble Bobby
Jan 28, 2005
I'm Gonna Git You Hitler! (1750 words)

First attempt

My first try, I nearly got laughed out of the competition. I nearly died too, but honestly, I think I would have preferred that over the humiliation I got. They dropped me right into central Berlin, 1941;. Not a chance in hell. I already had the worst odds of any Fuhrermörder ever—a thousand to one, and they didn’t get any longer than that. I couldn’t quarrel with the handicapping. A black guy who didn’t speak German—what the hell did they expect?

Some unamused Nazis strung me up near the Brandenburg gate, and as the noose cinched and my vision blurred all I could see was Shondra, saying, ‘you the stupidest motherfucker on the planet’ over and over. Dangling above a sea of angry, blue-eyed krauts, I realized she was right. The final gulp of air wheezed out of me, and then at the last moment the Time Cops busted in with their power armor and nova rifles, frying the Nazis into neon sludge and delivering me back to the studio with the drat rope still around my neck. The audience howled with laughter, Shondra in the front row, shaking her head in disgust.

You might be thinking: won’t mucking around in the past change the future? Long story short, no. The producers explained it to us in excruciating detail, but as far as I understood, the past was like a giant museum exhibit we could mess with as much as we wanted. Unless we got killed; then we were gone for good. But the time cops did their best to prevent that. The audience wanted to see Hitler bite it, not us.

Anyway, this was right in the middle of Dieter Kreuzer’s five-year streak, and after he’d been awarded the Golden Luger he found me backstage, icing down my neck and shoulders. Smirking, he nudged me with the gun, and made some crack about how I hadn’t exactly acted like Arnold Schwartzenegger out there. I didn’t really know Dieter back then, so I thought he was just busting my balls in a friendly way. I soon found out that no, he was just an rear end in a top hat. It’s one thing to win, it’s another to strut around like a fighting cock when you’re a porcelain-skinned aryan who speaks perfect German. I mean, talk about a layup. But that’s why he was the favorite, year after year. I vowed revenge.

Second Attempt

Shonda said I must have been crazy to try again, and she wasn’t the only one who thought so. When Dieter saw me among that year's contestants he covered his mouth like a giggling school girl. But despite last year’s poor showing, my ratings had been good—everyone likes a clown, apparently—and the producers offered me a raise if I returned. Besides, I was a dreamer at heart. That million-dollar prize kept me awake during my German lessons. I had this recurring fantasy of winning, showing Shondra the new a 24-carat diamond ring I'd bought, and then flinging it into the garbage disposal, just to see the look on her face.

I fared only slightly better my second time. They threw us for a loop—1901, kid Hitler. Those turn of the century Austrians looked at me like an escaped zoo animal, but at least they didn’t string me up at first sight. I made it as far as the train station before I got word that Dieter had already thrown little 12-year-old Adolph off the roof of the Vienna schoolhouse. That rear end in a top hat thinks he’s so slick. Five other Fuhrermörders in the building, and only Dieter can find the kid? I always suspected there was tomfoolery afoot. A producer with a vested interest, if you catch my drift. They wanted to keep their boy on top. Screw the whole lot of `em.

Third attempt

What’s one more year, right? This time we landed in 1915, world war I Hitler. By now my German was pretty good, and I kept my gas mask on everywhere I went, so nobody could tell I was actually black as their goddamned forest the krauts were so proud of. Posing as a reporter, I actually made it to the big man’s unit, was halfway down into his trench before an artillery strike blew me backward and fragged all 25 members of his company. Dieter had gone to the French side, directing mortar fire with a stolen lieutenants’ uniform. Motherfucker was clever, I’ll give him that.

After Dieter returned to a standing ovation, he gave me a little condescending wink: better luck next year kid. Later, I told him he would have made a great Nazi, they would have showered him with all sorts of medals and crosses. He seemed to take that as a compliment. rear end in a top hat.

Fourth Attempt

Shondra said if I tried again this year she’d leave me. Woman, I’ve had StG 44s pointed at my face. You think I won’t call your bluff?

My odds had increased to 500-1, and I was feeling optimistic. I’d studied my history, was almost totally fluent, and figured that despite my racial handicap, I still had a shot. I told myself win or lose, this would be the last time.

Then I saw where the machine spat me out, and things got really interesting. Berlin Summer Olympics, 1936 baby. Maybe someone up there was looking after me. Or maybe one of the producers put down a grand on my 500-1 rear end and decided I could use a leg up. Either way, for once I wasn’t the only black person in 1000 miles. I spotted Dieter outside the stadium; he was losing his cool, trying to buy a ticket from a scalper. Meanwhile, I strolled inside like a celebrity as people gawked and flashbulbs popped.

Man, that crowd was in a frenzy. A hundred thousand crackers screaming and shouting for their fuhrer. Dieter had finally made it inside and was conferring with a group of other pasty Fuhrermörders in the lobby, shouting at each other over the roar of the crowd as the opening ceremonies started. Always scheming, these guys. I knew I didn’t have much time to come up with a plan, not if I was going to beat Dieter to the punch.

I made my way down to the locker room, and who should I find standing outside but Jesse Owens himself. He was mobbed by fans, including young German girls, which I don’t think the man upstairs would have been too happy to see.

It was no secret where the Fuhrer had parked his ugly rear end; his box overlooked the festivities, crammed with people. People were trying to wrangle Jesse for a diplomatic visit. He didn’t look too pleased, but sure enough he and his entourage began to make their way upstairs, with me tagging along like I was just one of the gang. Nobody looked twice at me. When we reached the box, old Adolph didn’t come out, but that motherfucker actually waved at Jesse, can you believe it? I scoped the scene, but there was no way to get any closer.

Discouraged, I went down to the street level and saw a Wehrmacht soldier smoking a cigarette against a wall, the back of his truck just left unlocked. And wouldn’t you know it, in there was a box chock full of those twisty grenades the krauts love so much. I tucked it into my pants and hooked back up with the rest of my brothers just in time for the opening ceremonies. All the athletes from the different countries strolled across the stadium, just feet away from the Fuhrer himself. As I passed, I was so close I could almost see the food stuck in his mustache. Under my shirt I cooked the grenade, and as soon as I was a few paces further I turned, chucked it, and ran like hell, so fast that Jesse Owens would have been proud. I didn't get to see the boom, but I tell you, it’s a good thing the time cops bust in to evac me right away, because those Germans were not happy.

Suddenly I was back on stage, the crowd going absolutely crazy, and the next thing I knew this tall dude was presenting me with a giant check and champagne bottles were popping, and it’s all a little hazy after that, but it was one of the better nights of my life, no doubt about that. I even managed not to say ‘I told you so’ to Chandra after she pulled me into one of her smothering bear hugs.

But the look on Dieter’s face was the real prize. He was dumbfounded, I mean befuddled, in complete disbelief that a black man from New Orleans had ended his five-year streak of Hitler homicide.

“You are lucky,” he told me, between puffs of his stinky European cigarette, “Someone on the board has taken a fancy to you.”

I simply said, “Luger don’t lie,” and flashed the golden pistol in front of his scowling face.

I thought that’d be it for me. I got my money, my respect, I got Shondra to finally shut her trap and I got Dieter’s blood boiling. How naive of me. During a lull in the festivities the producers pulled me aside. Your ratings are through the roof, they told me. You come back next year, you’ll get as much money as you want, comfy drop zones, easy scenarios, you name it. I wish I could say I told them to shove it, but a million only goes so far these days, and those dollar signs were doing the cha cha in front of my eyes. And that crowd chanting my name didn’t feel too bad, neither.

Eighth Attempt

Who’s the star now, baby? I’m the star. Dieter sulks backstage, chain smoking, and shoots me his Bavarian death glare as I pass. It’s been a while since he tasted victory. Maybe he forgot its sweet, tangy flavor. He steps out onstage, and the crowd actually boos him. I can just feel how much he hates me. But hey, buck up there, Herr Kreuzer. A little healthy competition never hurt anyone.

I put on a real show for the people now. Having fun with it. I strut out in full pimp outfit, cane, feather in the cap and everything. As I lean back in the machine and strap the goggles to my face, I stare intensely out into the crowd and shout: “Time to show this motherfucking honkey Hitler who’s boss!”

They just about lose their poo poo.

Apr 7, 2013

Running Free
1,776 words
Flash rule: Parkour

Jenny caught up to Stewart as he joined the throng of students hurrying to the far end of the school.

“Heading down to watch the race?” she asked as she wrapped her arm around Stewart’s shoulders, pulling him off balance.

Stewart tried to smile back at her. “Yeah, Samantha and Peter are running. I thought I’d cheer them on.” He began to shrug Jenny’s arm off but the taller girl pulled him tighter.

“Bet you ten dollars they won’t win.”

Stewart sighed. “Of course they won’t. They’ve never done this before, and Robbie McCorkell has even been train–”

“Never heard of him,” Jenny interrupted.

“Really?” Stewart tried to keep pace with Jenny’s longer strides, still weighed down under her arm, annoyed at her interruption. “Tall kid in Snell, messy hair, looks a bit like Tom Holland?”

Jenny looked blankly at Stewart. They were passing the drab, grey huts of the temp block, and ahead was the rugby field that marked the start of the race. Stewart could clearly see Robbie McCorkell jogging in place amongst the others taking part and pointed him out.

“Nope, not ringing any bells. Doesn’t matter anyway, after today we won’t ever see him again – we’re done!” She grinned widely. “No more uniforms, no more sitting in class all day if we don’t want to–”

“No more assembly,” Stewart quickly added, trying to add his voice.

“Right, yeah! No more assembly!” Jenny was close to jumping ahead, dragging Stewart along with her. “We’ve just got to get through the holidays and then we’re off to Otago!”

“You know I still haven’t decided.”

Jenny gave him a gentle push as she unwrapped her arm. “Seriously? Come on, you’ve been thinking it over for what, three months? Do you honestly think you might prefer staying at home?” Her tone felt almost accusatory.

“I just want to be sure I pick what’s right for me,” Stewart replied quietly as he crossed his arms across his chest and stepped aside to let another student through, leaving some space between him and Jenny. They were almost right in the thick of the crowd now, the excited chattering and jostling enveloping them. Stewart tried to stop to say goodbye to some classmates, but Jenny dragged him on.

They were close to the front, and Stewart craned his neck to peer through the crowd. Samantha and Peter were standing near them, trying not to look too nervous as he gave them a quick wave. They smiled and waved back.

Jenny bumped against him with her shoulder and grinned. “Race me,” she said.

“What?” Stewart stared back in bewilderment.

“You heard me. Race me.” She leaned down uncomfortable close to his face. “If I win, we’re going to Otago together next year. If you win, you can stay up here by yourself but,” she raised a finger in front of Stewart, “you have to come down and visit every chance you get.”

What?” Stewart repeated, “You’ve got to be joking.”

“I’m not. Race me.” Jenny dropped her bag at her feet and pulled her sweater over her head.

“Neither of us could possibly win,” Stewart began.

“We’re not racing them,” Jenny replied jerking her head towards the racers, “just each other.”

“Do you have to do this?” Stewart protested. “Why can’t I just watch?”

“Oh come on! You and me. It’s just one race – and you finally making up your mind.” She turned back and grinned in his face again, gently shoving him. “Come on….”

“You know what, just, fine. I’ll do it.”

Stewart took his bag and sweater off while Jenny clapped her hands together.

“Yes! Come on, we haven’t got long,” she said as she grabbed Stewart’s wrist and began dragging him through the crowd,. Stewart tried to steady those she shoved aside, apologising for them both, until they broke through the edge and took their place next to Samantha and Peter who both looked surprised.

“Jenny put me up,” Stewart said and Peter smiled sympathetically.

“Yeah, that checks out. Feeling up to it?” He gestured to the path ahead of them.

“I guess,” was the most confident reply Stewart could give just as the teacher in charge took their place to start the race.

“Okay! Racers ready?” There was a loud cheer from the starting line, and an uncertain nod from Stewart. “Alright then. On your marks… Get set…. Go!”

The crowd gathered behind them let out a roar as they began sprinting up the hill by the side of the rugby field. The more athletic students cleared it easily while the less physically inclined scrambled behind them, tripping over the uneven ground, grasping the ground to keep upright. A few lost their balance, but Stewart and Jenny managed to reach the top without falling over.

Ahead the course wound itself between the school buildings, the path littered with desks and chairs. Already far ahead the fastest students were gracefully leaping over the obstacles, stepping across the backs of chairs that fell loudly to the ground as they passed. Stewart and Jenny reached the first obstacle neck and neck, Stewart ducking to crawl under the heavy table while Jenny used a stool to propel herself on top of it. The table shifted as she jumped off the far side, and Stewart pulled himself quickly to his feet, banging his arm against the table leg as it moved and swearing at the pain.

Jenny was just a few metres in front of him, trying not to trip herself up as she wound her way through a minefield of plastic chairs that went tumbling whenever she touched them. Another student on his right fell over, scattering the chairs and clearing enough space for Stewart to slip through and gain the lead.

The buildings grew narrow between the music and science blocks, where someone had tried to make things more exciting by laying a trail of bunsen burners across the path. Hopping easily over the wall of fire, Stewart leapt up onto the picnic table, gaining confidence as he ran quickly across it and leapt to the next, leapfrogging from one to the other. His arm stung but he felt untouchable, unbeatable as he easily cleared the tables and swung himself down to the ground from an overhanging beam. He let out a cheer of excitement and chanced a look behind him just as Jenny shoved past and sent him sprawling.

They had reached the far end of the school. Ahead Jenny had already leapt off the drop down to the lower paths by the gym, but Stewart chose to carefully lower himself down, not trusting himself to leap head first off the edge and costing him precious seconds. He rounded the corner to see the end of the path leading into the hill at the other end of the rugby field.

Jenny began to pull further away on the final stretch, leaping down the hill towards the finish line. Stewart leaned forward, trying desperately to catch up, pumping his arms faster, feet pounding the grass, gasping heavily with effort. His throat was parched and sweat was beading on his forehead as he pushed himself harder under the glare of the sun. He kept his eyes fixed on Jenny’s back, his arm still stinging, fists clenched, eyes fixed forwards, the impact of his feet on the ground jarring his bones with every step but still he couldn’t get any closer.

With a grunt he found a new, desperate burst of speed just as he reached the flat of the rugby field. The crowd had formed on either side into a long corridor, their cries and cheers deafening, and Jenny was already halfway down it, but Stewart didn’t slow down, not so close to the end, he was gaining on her, right at the finish line, almost close enough to grab her but it was too late and he came stumbling across barely moments after her, collapsing to the ground in exhaustion.

He could hear Jenny’s roars of triumph as he tried to pick himself up, bent over double, hands propping himself up against his knees, gasping heavily. He could feel bile building up in his throat and swallowed quickly to keep it down.

Jenny approached him, still bellowing loudly, and clapped Stewart’s back, nearly sending him stumbling to the ground.

“We did it! We actually did it! Oh man I feel incredible right now!” She pulled Stewart upright and into a tight hug while continuingly loudly in his ear, “We did it! Wasn’t that amazing?”

Still panting Stewart pushed himself free and took a step back. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that again,” he managed to gasp.

“Neither,” Jenny laughed. “That was rough. But,” and she flashed another wide smile, “I won. I beat you. Which means you’re coming with me!”

Stewart paused for a moment. Took a deep breath. Imagined driving his feet into the ground, and looked Jenny in the eye.


Jenny’s grin faltered.

“No,” Stewart continued, “I’m going to stay.”

Jenny’s grin faded entirely as she stared at Stewart. “No, that wasn’t the deal,” she said.

Stewart stood still, holding his arms tight against his side to stop them from shaking. “It wasn’t, but I made up my mind. I don’t want to go down–”

“Alright, weird time to decide but you’ll still come down and–”

“No, stop it! I don’t want to go to Otago with you.”

Jenny took a step back. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes, I do,” Stewart replied softly. He took a careful step. “Look, you can be a great person, but everything’s always got to be your way. I don’t think I ever wanted to go to Otago, but you wouldn’t stop and listen for just one second.” He stopped and raised an arm halfway towards Jenny, before letting it drop to his side.

Stewart was close enough to see the tears in the corners of Jenny’s eyes, and began to feel his own welling up. “I don’t want to stop being your friend, but I do need some space. Do you get that?”

Jenny looked down at him, all elation gone and replaced with exhaustion. She took a deep breath before beginning, “I’m sorry, look if I was maybe a bit too much I can back off a bit, I can–”

“It’s okay,” Stewart continued. “Look, can we just leave it at that for now? Please? It’s our last day.”

Jenny paused to swallow. “Alright then. Sure. Let’s go. But,” she said as she turned to leave, “will you maybe still come to visit me during the break? Think about it?”

“I’ll think about it,” Stewart lied.

Apr 21, 2010

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

1335 words
Prompt: Chess

The old master played chess, a quarter a game. Technically a wager, but there wasn't any way one of us kids could ever win, so it was more like the price of a lesson. School was nothing but advertisements and test prep.  I got my real education twenty-five cents at a time, getting beaten badly board after board.

“Most people your age don't last this long,” was the first thing he said to me outside the language of the game. “Your father making you  come? Keeping track of you with-” In place of a last word, he features vaguely upward, toward the drone-filled sky.

“My mother,” I said.

“Well good on her,” he said. “I'm Ben Doakes. You?”

“Jude Stafford,” I said. Jude, not Judy. Nobody at school would use it, but I hadn't given up on making it stick.

“Stafford,” he said, lost in thought, taking my pawn. “Any relation to Ellen Stafford?”

“My mother,” I said. “You know her?”

“Knew her,” he said. “Give her my regards.”

She didn't react any way I could tell when I did. She kept street chess on the list of things I could spend my time and money on without getting in trouble later.

It got frustrating. I practiced, against the trainer-level computer chess games, got okay against level after level of them, but didn't ever come close to winning against him. One day, when I was mad as hell at the whole world, the day Sam and Ellie decided they'd rather be a couple than in a triple with me, when I'd lost my Queen’s Rook in exchange for just a Knight, I just lashed out, swept all the pieces off the board.

Ben picked them up and put them back on the board. I started to stand up, ready to slink away. “Sit back down,” he said.

He started moving pieces, fast, walking through each move of the game. When the got to the very last move, he looked at the board for a second, and nodded.

He rotated the board a hundred and eighty degrees, swapping out positions. Then he took his next move. I played his position. He still beat me, reaching an endgame with the remaining Rook. It was a long game, and we kept some of his other opponents waiting. As I got ready to leave, I saw the other man pat down a twenty, saw Ben pull out a chest, like a fishing tackle box, from under the table. He took pieces I didn't recognize out of it, put them on the board, and began to play.

I asked him about those, the next time we played.

“Those are the fairy pieces. When you start beating me we’ll start using them,” he said.

“The guy last night could beat you?” I asked.

“He could,” Ben said.

I watched their game, through the dronefeed. Ben had trounced the man. “He's not as good as you,” I said.

“True,” he said.

When it became clear he wasn't saying anything else, I said “Just how did you know my mother?”

“Cruelly,” he said, “But better than most.”

I got the story, in tiny pieces from Ben and from Mom, over the next year. They were rivals, both in love with a kid named Kurt back in High School. Kurt was an rear end. Messed up, but still an rear end. Played them against each other. Ended up jumping in front of a train, and left an awful little note calling them both out. Kurt’s parents kept it from going public, but they found out about it eventually.

“So we had to be friends after that, right?” said Mom when I had put it all together.

I figured out how to beat Ben, and put my plan into action. Got an advantage in pieces and position. “Now,” Ben said, “Empty your pockets.”

I was caught, my phone on the table vibrating out the next move in a simple code, as dictated by a grandmaster level computer program.

“Clever enough to figure it out,” he said. “Let's see if you've learned enough to finish without the robot coaching you.”

It was a long game, but I won it, slipping out of two stalemate traps along the way. “Nicely done,” Ben said, handing me back my phone and quarter, and adding a quarter of his own. “Next time, we use the fairy pieces.”

“It's not that a computer can't learn how to play with these,” he said that next time. “But nobody bothers to teach it to them. Anyone can get a standard chess player good enough to beat any human player. Anyone who can get one custom made for each set of pieces had better things to do than hustle twenty bucks off of an old man.”

We played with dozens of pieces over the next months. Archbishops that bounced off the edges of the board, Elephants and Maharajas and Leopards, combining moves of the ‘real’ pieces. A checker, escaped from that other game with capture captured by leaping over and the inability to pass up on a jump. For each of them he had a pair of pieces in black and white, expertly carved or molded to match the rest of the set. My favorite was the Bumblebee, which moved like a Bishop but captured like a King, and left the board after any capture.

We played through my Senior year and into the summer, with those pieces. I won, on occasion, even without the use of a computerized cheat. And then I left for College.

I expected to take up the game again when I came home for the summer, but I never did come home, with a trip across Europe and an internship and an ill-conceived experiment with a polyamorous commune and a much better internship, and then I started working, and succeeding. When it was time for my first wedding I paid for my family to come out to my new home town. The second was an entirely telepresence affair, and the third a furtive little gathering planned and executed in a weekend in Juneau. That's the one that's stuck, so far, knock wood.

So I didn't come back home for more than twenty years. When I did it was for Sam’s funeral. I'd never really forgiven him, but I did forgive Ellie a long time ago and she was the one it was all for. But I could only handle her for short stretches, and Mom for even less, so I found myself out on those same streets.

Ben was still there. I shouldn't have been surprised. He's the same age as Mom, and she's still up and kicking. Nobody hardly died these days, I thought while in town for a funeral.

I put down a hundred dollar bill. “Remember me?” I asked.

“Oh, I remember,” Ben said.  “Phone on the table.” He got out the chest. It was fair.  I could have afforded to commission a fairy chess algorithm on the fly.

I sat down. He took out the Bumblebees and a few new pieces he had to explain to me, and we got to playing.

“Been following your career,” he said. “Tell me, do you think your parents are proud of you?”

“Mom cashes my checks,” I said. He went quickly on the attack.

“And your father?” he said.

“Never knew him,” I said. Unless I'm looking at him I didn't say. The thought had crossed my mind from time to time, but I doubted it.

“Tell me,” he said, “What do you think you've learned from the game?”

I considered. Not to give up too soon? To see any battle from both sides? To cheat when the odds are insurmountable? To be ready to deal with completely new challenges?

“Just about everything I know,” I said.

“drat straight,” he said, taking my Bumblebee with his Knight and forking my Queen and my Chimera. I was going to be down a hundred bucks tonight, at least.

Apr 10, 2013

you guys made me ink!

Strada Chiusa (1853 words)
Contest: Street Racing

Matteo groaned while dragging the roadblock, and his knee joints emitted a pitch not dissimilar from the rusted fence as it swiveled open. Behind the fence, Giovanni carefully pulled up the Toyota Corolla. Used racing cars tended to be tatty, Matteo thought, but his E100 was in a league all of its own; its frame was dinged all over, the interior a collection of reassembled stock parts, and its paint, once a bold red, now seemed to have been applied with a dry mop.

Matteo put the warning signs back in place before returning to the car and swapping places in the driver’s seat.

“Huh, guess they really are replacing the mountain road with a bridge,” Giovanni mused as he got into the passenger seat.

“All the better. No incoming traffic to slow us down,” Matteo said. “I heard they’re tearing the asphalt sometime next week.”

Matteo drove the car to the stop sign that divided the rest area from the winding mountain road. Back then, it had served as the starting line, the irony of which brought a nostalgic smirk to his face.

“So, tell me. How did you pull it off back in ‘96?”

“Truth be told,” Giovanni sighed, “I can’t remember. Why do you still care about beating a twenty year-old record?”

“I promised you, back then, that I would beat it someday. Today is someday. Next week is too late.”

“Whatever. You still owe me that beer.” Giovanni held his thumb over the stopwatch and said, “Counting down?”

“Go for it.”

On the count of zero, Matteo floored the gas pedal. The sound and smell of burning rubber brought him back to a place in his mind he had forgotten, to those summer days, ages ago, when he was crowned King of Mount Grappa. His racing club back then were small fries, but he was their ace, and every village knew his name.

The drag races along the industrial waterfronts, testing his engine to the limit.

The close-call drifts in the mountain passes, testing his endurance until his leg cramps forced him home at sunrise.

The countless afternoons spent peering over Routard maps of Italy, plotting out the next circuit, discovering breathtaking sceneries and desolate roads where none had ever raced before. But Mount Grappa was his home turf, and this road always held a special place in his heart. Without dispute, it was his.

Until Giovanni beat him.

The finish line, an underpass followed by a roundabout in an olive orchard, dragged Matteo out of his reverie, and he let his Corolla come to a rolling stop between the trees.

“Eight minutes and fifty-three seconds,” Giovanni said.

“I’ve still got it.”

“Eh. It was OK. What was my record again?”

“Eight twenty-two, and you drat well know it,” Matteo said. It wasn’t going to be easy to shave off half a minute from this performance, but it could be done. When he was nineteen, Matteo had done it in eight minutes and twenty-eight seconds.

“Another warm-up?” Giovanni said.

“Yes, I need to get a feel for drifting again.”

“Whatever you say,” he smiled.

Matteo drove them back to the top of the road, and positioned himself at the stop sign.

“Ready? Go!”

This time, Matteo incorporated a gentle drift along the first, long curve left. Well, comparatively gentle. By its nature, a drift is a teeth-chittering affair, and the car churned dangerously on its axles as the uneven, ancient road bent into a hard right. Despite drifting this turn over a hundred times in his youth, Matteo held his breath until his tires gripped a straight piece of track again, letting out a deep sigh only when they reached the finish line again.

“You okay, pops?” Giovanni asked.

“Look who’s talking. You aged like milk.”

“Ha! I saw you clamping that steering wheel ‘til your knuckles turned white. Were you that tense when I beat you, too?”

“gently caress off.”

“Any way, eight thirty-nine.”

Matteo rolled his shoulders and stretched his legs between the olive trees. In the distance, the sun skirted the edges of the mountains, covering the hills and road in a deep orange hue. He got back in the car.

“Still can’t believe some moron from Brindisi rolled up our mountain and set the record.”

“Wasn’t even trying.”

“gently caress off.”

“No, really,” Giovanni held his hands up defensively, “I just asked if I could give your road a whirl. It’s you who decided to make a contest out of it.”

They drove back to the stop sign in silence. On the way down, Matteo’s turns were tighter, his straights were faster, and his drifting more fluid. But remembering that day in ’96, Matteo knew this run didn’t cut it either. Giovanni had done one run down the track to get a feel for it, and smashed the record on his first real try. Nobody from the racing club could set the record straight afterwards.

It was over when word had gotten out.

And Giovanni, by then, had skipped town and continued his search for the perfect mountain road elsewhere. With the new king out of town, and only an impossible time trial left in his wake, Matteo had no way to repair his reputation. Not long after, the racing club disbanded.

They came to a grinding halt right after the underpass. By this descent, the sun had long passed the horizon, and the first stars were faintly visible in the twilight above.


“Eight thirty-one.”

Matteo stared at his dashboard. “Okay, so, now what?”

“What do you mean?”

“How did you go faster? I’m thinking back on my own record, and I can’t go any faster than I did back then. We did this road, what, ten times today? I’m not going to find the trick on my own.”

“As I said, I really don’t know. I just went and did it, I guess.”

Giovanni grabbed a pack of cigarettes from his inner pocket and offered one, which Matteo refused.

“Bullshit. There has to be a trick to it.”

“Well, you better find it quick. It’s a three hour drive home for me.”

Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, Matteo gnashed his teeth and finally said, “I’ll pay you your hotel.”

“Come on, man. I did you a favor driving all the way up here so your dumb rear end could have some closure, but my wife will think I’m cheating on her if I spend the night in Grappa. I wanted to humor you, but this is going too far.”

They drove back to the top and did the descent several times. Every time, Matteo’s time fluctuated around eight thirty, never quite progressing towards the record, nor even his personal best.

Around midnight, Matteo slammed the brakes halfway the descent and punched the steering wheel.

“gently caress!” he yelled.

“Idiot! What are you doing?”

“I slowed down too much in that turn, no point going on.”

Halfway through the U-turn, Giovanni yelled back, “I’m done with this! Just get me back to the parking lot and I’m going home!”

They got out at the roadblock, and opened the fence together. Giovanni walked back to his own car, a family sedan on the parking lot, his shoulders lowered in frustration and, perhaps, a tinge of sadness.

“I always knew you hated me,” Matteo said.

Giovanni stopped just short of entering his car.

“Why?” he finally asked. “I barely know you.”

“Exactly. Why?”

They stood beside one another, overlooking the valley illuminated by the streets and villages far below. It all seemed so distant, now, and only the faint notes of music, emanating from one or other party in the dale, interrupted the calm of the mountains.

“All I wanted to do,” Giovanni said, “was race these beautiful roads.”

He left his sedan again and locked the doors. “Mind if I take your car for a spin? My own is hardly suited for these kinds of speed.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know. I came all the way up here on a whim, might as well do this road one last time before they tear it open.”

Reluctantly, Matteo passed him the keys and took the passenger seat. Giovanni inspected the driver’s seat, the clutch and handbrake, and said, “Real nice car. Still the same you had back then?”

“I could never part with it,” Matteo admitted.

Giovanni made the engine roar a few times. “I sold my Mazda, you know.”

“A Miata, was it?”

“Yeah,” he said wistfully. “I miss it every day.”

Giovanni cleaned his glasses on his greasy blue shirt and ran his hands through his graying hair.

Then, he began his descent, not frantic, but calm and leisurely, as if he were taking in the sights. Halfway through, he slowed down to look at the valley, and he took his next turn as wide as possible, sliding in a beautiful motion over the asphalt. No shocks, no shuddering, but merely the low humming of the engine and the high-pitched squeal of the tires.

At the bottom, he came to a gentle halt and closed his eyes. “This is a good road, you know. Lots of curves, some hard, some wide. And that final straight to cap it off. Do you want to try it?”

“I’ve had enough,” Matteo said.

Giovanni sighed. “Not to break the record. Just for fun. It’d be a shame if your last memories of the road were those of frustration.”

Matteo thought deeply, then slowly uncrossed his arms. “Right.”

They drove up, then down, and up again, and down, several times. Matteo felt a certain simple joy which he had lacked earlier that night, the simple pleasure of feeling your car as an extension of yourself, the natural fluidity that came with years of experience and intimacy with your car. He took a curve as widely as possible, letting it drift for as long as he could, then taking a corner with acceleration before the straight. He experimented, discovered new ways in which his old Corolla reacted, and was shocked to find this old reliable could still surprise him in new and exciting ways.

Matteo and Giovanni switched between driver and passenger seat between each descent, and they took in the road to its fullest.

Around 2 AM, Giovanni finally broke their rhythm and said, “I should really drive back to Brindisi now.”

“I understand. I have to say, I didn’t expect to have this much fun again,” Matteo said as he walked Giovanni back to his sedan.

“That’s rather sad, you know. Why drive if you’re not having fun?”

“I don’t know.”

Before he left, Giovanni took a cigarette and offered his last to Matteo. “One for the road,” he said.

“If you insist.”

They took slow drags, savoring the moment as they leaned on the guardrails around the parking lot. “I think you beat my record on your seventeenth attempt, by the way,” Giovanni finally said. “But I wasn’t measuring the time.”

“Eh,” Matteo said.

“Eh, indeed.”

This was the last time he would ever drive down this mountain pass, Matteo knew.

But to be honest, he didn’t mind.

May 31, 2007

Writing is fun!
The Bandit and The Lady
Fashion competition
1954 words

Her escape was going well, the king’s men were a few leagues behind, but as they arrived at the ferry crossing her hopes were dashed like the waves against the jutting rocks of the bay.

At the bay was a small raft, the locals called it the royal ferry, and it was full of crates, crates that were stacked, as if forming a fort. Men rushed about stuffing the ferry full of more crates. At the head of the congregation , pecking orders like the head chicken, was a tall lady.

The Bandit got off her horse, looked longingly at the saddle bag of stolen loot, a necklace stolen from a fool of a woman, and motioned for her band of merry men to dismount. As soon as she had taken a step, one of the dock hands slammed into her, a standing obstacle had not been accounted for, and the crate smashed against the ground. Seeing what the commotion was the Lady came clucking by.

“Excuse me, Madame, but our need is great.” The Bandit said as she got up. “My father is just past the river, and he has fallen ill. I have returned to see him and must make great haste.” It might not exactly be the truth, but it would do.

The Lady wafted herself with a white fan, as if this mere interruption was enough to send her on airs. “Mademoiselle presumes much of herself. Perhaps she can see this as a lesson in patience.”

It should be noted that the Lady was not cruel or unjust. But rather had priorities of her own, and one that she wished to not indulge.

The Bandit, whose fiery blonde hair did not match her temperament, was having none of it. She approached the Madam, each step increasing her ire.

“Perhaps if the Madame didn’t have so many clothes there would be enough room on the ferry for me and my merry band, though judging by her appearance the finest clothes may not help her.”

“Well, I daresay your comments are much unwarranted.”

“As unwarranted as your presence” the fiery blonde interrupted.

With a snap of her fan the Lady strode forward. The dock hands dropped crates and rushed to their Lady, the merry men took a step forward, hands to their sword. The girl took an impudent step forward, hand on her quiver of arrows.

“Let us duel like nobles, like debutantes. With grace and fidelity that only a lady of resources and spirit can. Three rounds, victor gets to cross the ferry?”

With a nod, the duel was started. Each duelist commanded her group to setup a temporary boudoir at the end of dock. Crates were stacked, drapes were thrown about, and the fashion stage was set. It should be mentioned that fashion dueling was a long honored tradition, one entrenched in nobility and magic.

“Mademoiselle, while our duel is most honorable, it is rather lacking a wager,“ The Bandit said as she looked among her stolen outfits. “The ferry crossing is the prize, but it is lacking the zest, the danger, that such a duel should call for.”

The Lady raised an eyebrow and raised her voice so she could be heard. “I am surprised, one of your stature knows the protocols of duels. Very well, what wager do you propose?”

“Your fan should make a fine prize, a memorable memento of our duel.”

“Agreed, and if I win, I shall have a moment of your time. A discussion with you should prove just as memorable.”

The Lady was silent, for she was putting on her best battle dress, and for the first time the Bandit wondered if this was a bad idea.


The Lady came out first, with a black dress whose ruffles crescendo in a tip of elegance around her. A small black hat laid atop her blonde hair, tipped not in indifference but in loyalty to the crown. She was a contrast, a dark shadow against the warm summer day, a reminder that darkness gathers when light shine. Her smile though, reminded everyone, that it is under the cover of darkness that trysts, happy drunken nights, and love is formed.
The men, clearly out of their element, for they were mere ants to the ladies presence, cheered at the spectacle.

The Bandit girl marched out as the waves splashed across the dock. She was wearing a blue dress, that seemed to reflect the very essence of the ocean. The ocean swelled, as if to meet her, and the waves splashed against the dock. She laughed, an easy, a laugh full of wonder and youth, and the sun shined down on her. Her necklace, golden in color, reflected the sunlight to form a cascade of colors as she walked; green, red, the deepest blue. All of these shone when you looked upon her. She was like a new morning day, a promise of rebirth and joy, and the land acknowledged her presence.

The Lady stood beside her, and was found wanting. Honorable and just, she tipped her hat in difference. “Point yours.”


They were back at their makeshift boudoirs, each picking from an array of clothes.

“You know, I am on the lord’s business here,” The Lady said as she shimmied out of her corset and primped her hair. “There has been a bandit plaguing the area, why not a week ago Miss Saunter lost her gold necklace.”

To her credit, the Bandit only paused for a second before youthful endurance and impenitence took heed.

“Well, one might wonder why the lord requires a towerful of crates to catch a bandit.”

The Lady ignored her comment and continued, “Some say that her necklace could shine all the different colors of the rainbow, though on Miss Persaunt it simply looked tacky.”

Both ladies came out at the same time, and each well equipped for battle. Water wafted up and over the dock, and the Bandit merely laughed as the water sprayed her, her blonde hair still getting wet even though it was covered by a summery straw hat. She strolled casually, an impish skip in her step bouncing her bright yellow dress. She held a picnic basket, opened it and spun out a quilted blanket. With a flourish she laid out the blanket and laid down on it, kicking off her sandals.

The waves continued to slam against the dock and the Lady daintily raised her blue parasol to prevent the water from hitting her. The water bowed before her, droplets hitting the area around her regal crown and blue velvet dress. Her black heels clicked as she approached a puddle and with a white-gloved hand she primly waved it away, and the water obeyed her commands. She walked past the Bandit, gave a small regal nod, and looked out to her subjects. She smiled and waved to them, a queen looking out at her subjects, a queen parading for everyone to see and the Bandit knew she had lost, for a girl out for a picnic looks quite silly compared to a queen on parade.


The third round arrived and the Bandit looked out at her array of clothes, most of it stolen, but all of it hers. She ran a hand over a fine vest, over pants that were made out of rose petals and paused. While all of it belonged to her, it wasn’t her style, it wasn’t who she was. No, win or lose, she would go out as herself.

The Bandit came out, her blonde hair splayed up in a delicate rose, each petal feathered out with delicate precision. She was wearing a red kimono, with flower petals flowing down it’s robe. As she walked the trees shed their leaves and floated around her. The gentle breeze turned into a tumultuous hurricane, leaves whipping around her and she threw the kimono to the wind.

She was wearing a simple leather cloak, brown in color, along with her riding gear. Clad in leather jerkin, sword at her side and quiver on her back. She was her father’s daughter, a bandit true and true. Any who doubted it would just have to look at her smile, warm and malicious, and find the truth. She pulled out her bow, a simple thing that looked more like a bundle of sticks, and fired a few arrows into the trees. Thunk-Thunk-Thunk, the arrows landed with practiced precision on top of one another.

Her band of merry-men cheered and she let out a howl of joy, a wolf's howl, with them.

The Lady came out, wearing a white blouse with a low v-neck, but on top of it a simple leather vest. Her hair was brushed back, no longer forming a noble’s bun, but an authoritative ponytail. As she walked the breeze played with her red cape, but a single glare from her quieted the wind.

She walked to the end of the dock, the greaves armoring her legs giving an authoritarian clank to her step, and she looked out at the hollering men, the dock-hands and the other civilians who had gathered. With practiced finesse she unsheathed the sword at her hips, put it to her forehead and saluted the crowd.

A quiet stillness surrounded the docks, and a heavy silence fell upon the crowd. Suddenly, she snapped feet together and saluted, not a soldier saluting her king, but a commanding officer saluting, showing an example to their troops. The crowd snapped their feet together, and even the Bandit had her hand half raised in salute. The victor had been decided, the Lady had won.

“Well, I do believe this was fun, Mademoiselle.” The Lady said, finishing her salute.

The Bandit’s face turned red, either from embarrassment or rage.

“I must say, your outfit suits your name, Rose the Bandit. Miss Persaunt’s necklace looks better on you than her.” The Lady patted a mall bench overlooking the ocean “Now, let me have a moment of your time.”

Grimly she stood up and acquiesced to the Lady’s demand. Her very nature screamed against it, but honour stood her fast.

“I take it you have the other items, Madam Bonacieux’s dress, Mademoiselle Trevelyn’s hat?”
The bandit simply nodded, and raised her nose to look down on her opponent. She may face death, but she would face it with dignity.

“Your last outfit, your blonde hair does not make a good rose. Such a folly seems beneath you, why do it?” The Lady smiled at her, with deadly politeness.

The words came out stiff, but they were the truth. “My father, he wished for a red-haired son, so I was a double disappointment. I told you the truth, I am to see him, and that is the outfit I shall wear.”

The Lady stood there for a moment, her face hidden behind her white fan.

“Well, I suppose I shall have to forfeit the ferry to you, Mademoiselle.”


“Haven’t you heard, Madam Bonacieux’s dress has been found, it appears a bandit has lost her luggage at the ferry, and I must stay behind to investigate the rest of the contents.”

Rose stood there, mouth agape, and then slowly nodded. And then with a slow grin asked “Has Madam Persont’s necklace been found?”

The Lady laughed behind her fan and thought for a moment. “Well, if it has not been found than shall simply have to continue searching, chasing after the bandit.”

Rose smiled, rallied her men, and went onto the ferry. As the raft cut through the waves, Madam Persont’s necklace shone in the sunlight, around her neck.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

Djeser fucked around with this message at 20:10 on Dec 31, 2018

Jun 27, 2007

I had a beer once with Stephen Miller and now I like him.

I also tried to ban someone from a Discord for pointing out what an unrelenting shithead I am! I'm even dumb enough to think it worked!
County Bylaws

1,154 words

“Welcome everyone to the 73rd Meeker County, Minnesota Staring Contest; Brought to you by the local Lion’s Club. Woo! Yaaay!” Cheered Bill, providing his own backing in the auditorium populated by 10 other people. The last of the participants had shoveled their way into the auditorium, quite literally given the snow packed February that had been raging for a couple of weeks now, and had signed in. Bill tried to sign a few more people up so they could actually do a quarter finals, but no one else was interested.

“Well I know that you all know the rules, buuuuut we actually have a new contender this year! So before I get into the nitty gritty of our little contest on his behalf, let’s meet our newest member of the community!” Bill pointed to an the odd man out in the crowd and waved him up to the front “stage” about 7 or 8 times before the man finally joined him.

“So Mr…Quabnn…Quabanan…-“

“It is pronounced ‘John’” Said…John.

“Haha, I doubt that but okay there,” Laughed Bill as he put the man’s sign-up sheet back on the table, “So how long have you been with us now?”

“Precisely 6 months, the minimum amount of time to establish residency in this county.” Replied John.

“Convenient! Well then welco-”

“He can’t compete! He’s an alien!” Screamed a woman from the seats.

“Technically not against the rules Jenny, he doesn’t need to be a citizen, just a country resident and he showed me a utility bill tonight so-“

“No! He is literally a space alien!” Jenny screamed again.

“Oh, well, yes. He is a 7ft tall broccoli monster…lizard broccoli monster. Also: You’re just now bringing this up? He’s been sitting here since before you got here; a little rude Jenny. But, but, again, technically not against the rules,” explained Bill, “plus it’s not like he’s asked for anything terrible for his ‘prize’. Which brings me to what I was trying to get to…”

Bill went into explaining the basic rules for the County Staring Contest. The simple goal is to outlast your opponent by not blinking; the winner then receives one thing (that they submit ahead of time to be checked) from the County chair as a “prize”. The prize could potentially be anything the winner wanted as long as it was feasible, didn’t violate any laws, and wasn’t an undue burden on the County budget (this was a fundraiser after all). Thankfully in recent years the requests have been things like a “park anywhere pass” or just new sports equipment for the little leagues.

“So any last questions, John?” Asked Bill, as he grabbed the rule book off a folding table.

“So I just need to keep at least 1 eye open during the contest? Can I simply keep my other eyes closed until I need them open?” John asked as he demonstrated independently blinking his 12 eyes.

“Oh no. Technically you must keep all your eyes open and facing toward your opponent. See here? No ‘winking’ for an advantage.” Explained Bill as he mimicked John by winking he two eyes back and forth.

“Then if eye contact is necessary I will simply use my nictitating membrane and keep my eyes moist.” Chuckled John as he revealed another trump card.

“Teeeeechnically no. It says here that the use of any lid like structure used to close over the eye in order to maintain moisture counts as a blink.” Explained Bill again, trying to mime that action too, to little effect.

“Then what about the ancient woman Susan? Look at her eyes, she is clearly using a membrane like mine right now!” Complained John.

“Haha, those are cataracts. Susan’s blind as a bat.” Laughed Bill.

“Then she cannot see and cannot compete!”

“Technically the rules don’t say anything about sight, just that your eyes are pointed in the direction of your opponent. So we’ll just point her in the right direction and let ‘er go!”

“I think I should have spent more time researching the actual rules of this contest…” John sighed, taking his seat.

Ultimately there were only 4 contestants including John. Jenny Lost to Susan in the first round, partially so that she could stop staring into her milky white eyes. John went up against a young boy who could barely sit still and lost when he looked away to talk with a friend. This left John and Susan for the final round. Bill helped walk Susan over to her chair and John locked his 12 eyes onto her defective two. Susan stared somewhere over John’s left shoulder. Then with Bill’s entirely anti-climactic “alright go” they were off.

One minute went by without any issue, both competitors merely looking, or as close as they could, dead on at their opponent.

Five minutes in and John was sweating, but this was yet another trump card. He was doing his best to wrinkle his skin to funnel the sweat into his eyes to keep them wet; Susan just stared on, barely even moving.

Ten minutes in and even the sweat trick was failing John, the extra sets of eyes were far more of a detriment than he first realized.

After twenty minutes Susan was carted out by the EMTs having died at roughly the eight minute mark, leaving John the red eye’d victor.

“Well John, congratulations. It’s a shame that Susan died like that but considering her situation, and that her prize was a burial plot, I think we’ll be legally obligated to honor her request anyways. So are you ready for your prize!?” Chimed Bill, as he clapped towards the few who had remained to finish off the meager snacks.

“Yes. Do you have the deed to my land here or do I need to go to the County Offices to pick it up?” Asked John.

“Welp, we’ll need you to pick out a particular spot for your 4 acres, so please come on down to-“

“What do you mean ‘pick out’? I requested those exact coordinates.” Snapped John.

“Oh no… Technically we can’t give you that land. There’s a nuclear waste dump there. We figured you didn’t know that and just wanted any old open 4 acres.” Bill said, opening up a property map for the county.

“Yes, I know. My people are going to mine that material to use for our own purposes.” John was beginning to look worried.

“Well, I do apologize, but you’ll have to talk to the federal government about that land. We can still give you any other plot though.” Bill said patting John on the back, trying to comfort him.

“I do believe I am going to die.” John sighed, looking dejectedly at the ground. A slight whining sound starting to emanate from him

“Oh it’s not that bad. You can find other options…” Comforted Bill.

“No, I just heard my kill collar activate.” John corrected.

“Oh, too bad…” Said Bill, stepping away.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
Can You Hear Me
Prompt: ambient music competition
1757 words

As the last few notes trailed off into silence, Vivia couldn’t stop smiling. She knew she might’ve been acting a poor sport at that moment, but she couldn’t help it. Her teeth were the best thing about her. They matched the rest of her--clean and polished.

It was the day when the contest entries would be reviewed and evaluated. The Diamond Conference Room of the Swann Envoy was packed with a fleshy spectrum of creatures, from human to humanoid to human-like to homunculus to unclassifiable. It was an opportunity for, as Benjamin Swann put it, “cultural outreach.” “Ambient music is the art of simultaneously enhancing a space and creating one through sound.” “We want all guests at Swann Hotels to feel at home in any of our rooms, and we want to find an ambient sound that affects the beating hearts of people from all cultures, no matter their solar system.” The Swann Envoy was the largest hotel on Mars, and having your own composition play in each and every room, in the hallways, in the lobby, in the atrium--it was an incredible opportunity, to put your own personal stamp on something so large. Like a monument you could never see, only hear.

She and the other competitors sat in a row of metal chairs facing the other side of the long conference table, where Ben Swann, CEO, sat, flanked by other high-level associates within the Swann corporation.

Vivia preferred wearing light colors most of the time, pastels and eggshells, because usually they made her stand out more against the red earth--but looking at all of the creatures around her, she felt...boring, almost. Completely uninteresting. But then again, it wasn’t a beauty contest. Then she felt a bit bad, looking around at the other competitors, flash drives clutched between fingers, swallowed by gooey phalanges, clasped in metal prosthetic digits. She wished they all could win, that there could be a room for each of them in the hotel, a room for each one of their stories. But the contest stated that only one of them could win. Swann was about utility and universality. The rooms needed a sole signature sound to match the signature decor, the clean edges and white marble. And Vivia believed she had it, knew she had it, after looking at the judges and how they reacted. After looking at Ben Swann. He hadn’t changed his expression much, just closed his eyes and listened, but she could see the hint of a smile, that small crick in the corner of the mouth that he’d given to no one else’s piece. She was ecstatic. She felt like money hot off the printing press. Music danced in her head, and she tried not to squirm in her seat.

Vi-vi-a. Her name was its own sonic signature, a three-note ascending scale. The way she heard in her head was the way nobody else could ever hear it, her own close-kept secret she wrapped around her shoulders at night. It was intertwined throughout the loops of her ambient piece, buried in sound up to its neck so that everyone could hear it but only she could listen for it. Like the sound of a ringtone, or a doorbell. Everybody loves receiving a long-awaited phone call. Everybody loves welcoming an expected visitor. Vivia pictured a giant spider, a kindly spider, like Charlotte from Charlotte’s web, but bigger and fuzzier and a pale, ivory white, splayed across the ceiling of a Swann hotel room, spinning glistening webs of sound on thin extended legs, swathing the room in fine white silk. Curtains and sheets of familiar melodies, tight pings of resonance like the tines of a music box. An eight-armed hug through music.

“We will begin the final piece up for submission,” she heard Ben say.

Vivia opened her eyes just in time to see the alien at the other end of the row of chairs stand up. He (she? they?) extended his limbs, which Vivia could see were completely covered in feather-like things colored a deep iridescent red, that swiveled in the air, reaching out and tasting it. Vivia wanted to laugh, looking at him--he looked ridiculous, like a sports mascot. She put a hand over her mouth, bit down on her tongue, and leaned back in her seat, careful to focus. Whatever was going to come out of that speaker, she didn’t want to miss a single second of it. Who knew what sort of garbled throat-singing noise was about to fill the room. No, that’s mean, she thought to herself. He’s probably very nice.

The red bird-creature crept forward and placed a flash drive on the table, without making a sound, then turned, walked back to their seat, and sat down. “Alright,” said Ben. “Thank you, first and foremost for your contribution.” He picked up the sound drive and inserted it into the wireless speaker, then pressed the play button. Everyone in the room looked at the speaker as the first few sounds rang out--everyone except Vivia, who was still looking at the bird-creature, sitting in the chair at the other end of the row, a calm expression in their solid black eyes. She couldn’t help it. There was something, something about--

--and the music was in her head before she realized it was there.

It was--thick. Deep and sonorous. Like--

--a silent explosion--

--like if a dark cloud of smoke could talk. Like if a mushroom cloud had one big vocal cord running up the center, spilling out tiny gouts of flame like flecks of flammable spittle, yowling and rumbling.

She looked at Ben, who had his eyes closed still, before looking back at--

--she had never seen people like them before. They made her laugh, with their feathers that didn’t look like feathers, the bristles as hard and tight as comb teeth, rubbing them back and forth to grind sound into the air and communicate. From the ship’s window, she could see her father speaking to one of them, the tallest one, who stood back with their limbs folded, watching her father as he talked. A young child, about as young as she was, clung to his hip as he waited for her father to finish speaking. She wondered if they knew the parrot from that movie with the genie--

--and she screamed as something like firelight shot from the arm of the bird-person and struck her father in the chest, screamed and screamed as he staggered back, screamed and waited for him to hear her--

--and the last few notes trailed off into silence.

She heard the sound of polite applause from everyone around her. Everyone had a calm expression on their face, in direct opposition to hers.

“I think we’ve heard all we need to hear, haven’t we?” said Ben Swann, addressing the rest of the suited creatures flanking him. They made noises of assent. Ben extended a hand to the bird-creature. “It’s settled, then. Congratulations.”

Vivia froze.

Wait, what?

The bird-creature stared back at Ben, eyes unmoving.

“Wait.” Vivia stood up.

Ben stared calmly back at her. “Yes?”

“This…” She shook her head. “This isn’t supposed to happen.” Her head was pulsing as she tried to form the words, but they wouldn’t come, just the sound of machinery grinding together, sparks flying. “ told me that it was nothing. That it was a done deal. That I was supposed to win.”

Benjamin Swann sat back, his hands folded. “I beg your pardon? I never said anything of the sort.”

--“It’s nothing,” he said, when she pointed at his chest, where the light had knocked him back. Couldn’t speak, mouth frozen tight, only pointed again and again--

--”It’s nothing.”

“It’s nothing, you said.” Vivia held her hands at her sides, her fists clenched, another tri-tone playing in her head, now, do-re-mi, do-re-mi, yes-you-did, yes-you-DID-- “Dad. You promised. Stop lying.”

Ben stood up, knocking his chair over. “Excuse me--”

“What did this human say, just now?” intoned the bald crystal alien sitting to Ben’s right. All across the table, the judges stared at Ben, mandibles clicking, necks craning and swiveling.

“No matter, gentlemen. We have made our decision.” He stared at Vivia, stared through Vivia. “I suggest you leave, immediately.”

Orange fireballs blooming from red earth.

Explosions of anger against her eyelids.

She turned and stormed out, down the hall, into the elevator, up to the top floor, down the paneled hall, into her room, and as soon as the door was closed behind her, all of her anger erupted.

An alarm clock, a white-fur-rimmed picture frame, gold-tasseled-throw pillows, all went sailing across the room towards the expensive musical equipment her dad had purchased sight unseen for her over the years. Drawerfuls of gel pens and stationery clattered loudly against the synthesizer keyboard set into the wall, made sounds like a googly-eyed cartoon accordion being kicked down a flight of stairs, krack-skrankle-crank-wonk, beating all the music in the room to death and kicking it in the ribs.

Vivia stopped, stood in the middle of the room, breathing sharp breaths through her mouth, imagined steam shooting out of her ears. The same feeling in her stomach from when she was four years old and she pointed at her father’s scarred chest over and over again, couldn’t speak, could only point.

For days after her father got back on to the ship she would just plink at her toy piano with the pastel eggshell keys, trying to drown out all the sounds she thought she heard looking out the window, across the vacuum of space.

Explosions of anger against her eyelids.

Orange fireballs blooming against red earth.

Silence behind a spaceship window.

Now she remembered.

“It’s nothing,” her father said.

She fell back on her bed, stared up at the light fixture in the ceiling. Her heart was still pounding. She imagined all the rooms in the Swann Envoy pulsing with the sound of smoke, the sound of a mushroom cloud with one giant vocal cord, the sound of an entire village disintegrating under corporate-sanctioned mass murder, the sound of a lone survivor in a silent world. Playing out of a speaker right next to the minibar. She needed someone to tell her how to feel, right now, as she tried to cling to that name, that musical signature, Vi-vi-a, in her head, but there was always the low rumbling of crackling bass behind it, the sizzling of hundreds of voices dying in their throats--

--like the sound of smoke, in the vacuum of space.

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

House Special
Flash: Drinking Contest + 200 words
1807 Words

cptn_dr fucked around with this message at 06:13 on Dec 31, 2018

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Prompt: tree climbing

Freeroot Climbs Toward the Celestial Branches
1800 words

Freeroot started her journey up the side of the world just before firstlight, when the thinnest threads of pale morning slanted through the celestial branches. Most of the warren was still asleep, but there were a handful of nightwatch folk about. They saw her off with as much enthusiasm as they could muster after a long, uneventful shift.

Above the warren was Harvest Reach, and Freeroot stuffed her pack with as many larvae, berries, and sweetmosses as she could pick without slowing her pace. She even managed to grab a few of the succulent air plants after which she was named. Her pack was full sooner than she would’ve liked, owing to the stacks of palimpsests, fresh parchment, quills, and ink.

An angry shout rose up from the warren, made small by distance. Freeroot smiled.

“You lying blotch of barkrot,” Lowbranch roared. “We shook on it!”

Freeroot could just make him out, if she squinted, clambering up from the warren to the Reach, swinging hand-over-foot across the rough barkscape.

Freeroot hurried up the side of the world. She was lighter and faster than Lowbranch, her deft hands and feet pulling her from handhold to handhold with reckless surety. She was glad for the exertion; it took her mind off the very minor pangs of guilt she was feeling after doing a bit of very minor deception. Perhaps she’d agreed to set out after nightwatch turned over to dayguard. Perhaps she’d promised that they’d share their findings on the way to the celestial branches. But if she moved according to Lowbranch’s pace, he would find a way to take credit for her research, as he had when they’d studied the worldroots together. Until she outran him, he would overshadow her.

So she fled upward, into the high places of the world, where few dared to venture hand or foot.

Before long, she’d outpaced Lowbranch and his protestations. She paused on a gnarled outcropping of bark to drink rainwater from a clear puddle. Her thirst quenched, she turned to look out at the forest. Other worlds loomed hazy in the distance, too vast and too far away to meaningfully perceive. Above, their entangled branches formed the canopy, the roof of all known worlds. Below, the forest floor was an endless plane of livid colors, interrupted only by the roots of the various worlds.

Freeroot knew from observation that the multi-hued stuff on the forest floor was a kind of moss, and that it piled up in great heaps that housed hives of massive insectoid predators. Nothing that ventured to the forest floor survived for long, which meant the only hope for travel between worlds lay in reaching the intermingled canopy of celestial branches.

She arrived at the edge of the Reach a little before midlight, ahead of schedule. The boundary was marked by tattered warning scrolls, but artificial delineation was hardly necessary. Beyond the Reach, plants basked in higher quantities of the precious light that fell through the canopy. Everything was bigger, more verdant. The animals tended to follow suit. Predatory birds with hooked beaks made their home here, as did jawflies and spiders big enough to eat the burliest warrior.

In between sampling the edible bits of the foreign biome, Freetroot scribbled notes and sketches on what parchment she’d brought with her, careful to fit as much information on each page as possible. She would need to make notes all the way up to the celestial branches, and her supply of parchment was finite.

Every so often, she cast a glance down the length of the world, half expecting Lowbranch to be hot on her heels. The old scientist was nowhere in sight, which saddened Freeroot, just a little. In his prime, he’d been a leader in modern observation, a revolutionary of empiricism, and the fastest climber in the warren. Time had made him slow of mind and body, slow to accept that the protege might someday outpace the master.

Eventually, the plants gave way to a pale green lichen. Each spidery tuft was bigger than Freeroot herself, and gave off a noxious fume that made her eyes water. When her hand brushed against one of waxy fingers of lichen, her skin broke out into angry red blisters within moments. She sat on a narrow ledge of bark, clutching her hand and growling for the pain that throbbed in her wrist like a jawfly bite.

She took a piece of parchment between her toes and started to write with her good hand:

I have decided to call the lichenous substance ‘venom beard’, named for its appearance and propensity to upset the skin upon contact...

Having made her notes, she gingerly took a sample of the venom beard for later study. If future expeditions were to pass this way often, they should have a suitable countermeasure for the painful effects of the lichen.

The pain subsided into numbness after a while, and Freeroot was able to drain the blisters with the tip of one of her quills. She tested her numb hand, found it still capable of pulling her weight along the bark. She resumed her ascent, taking extra care to avoid the venom beard.

The lichen was endless. Freeroot hauled herself from handhold to handhold, shaking from a fatigue that wasn’t entirely due to the climb. Soon, her whole arm was numb. Then her shoulder. She pulled herself onto a shelf of bark and curled up on her side, clutching her numb arm.

“If you’d asked me, I would’ve told you about the witch’s hair, you stubborn grub.”

Freeroot looked up through blurred vision, saw the hazy shape of Lowbranch hanging from a lip of bark just above where she lay. She made a face that was half smile and half grimace as relief and indignation fought for primacy inside of her.

Lowbranch dropped down to her ledge and withdrew a water skin from his pack. “I’ve even brought along an antidote, no thanks you to. Nearly rushed up here without my britches on, what with you running off before the agreed time.”

“Venom beard,” Freeroot murmured. “Witch’s hair is a stupid name. It’s venom beard.”

“We can argue about it after you’ve had a few gulps of this,” Lowbranch said, holding the skin to Freeroot’s lips. She sipped the thick concoction, found it sweeter than she’d expected.

“I added a bit of honey,” Lowbranch explained in answer to her surprised expression. “I could never drink the stuff without it.”

“I think I can move on,” Freeroot said, testing her numb arm. It tingled whenever she put weight on it, but seemed strong enough.

“Oh, no,” Lowbranch said. “We’re going back to the warrens. We’ll start this fool’s errand another day.”

‘No true exploration occurs under ideal conditions, since ideal conditions are a hallmark of the familiar,’” Freeroot spat, quoting from one of Lowbranch’s own essays. “We can’t assume there will ever be a better time than this. You can go back if you want, but you can’t make me.”

Lowbranch gave her a long look. “I was wrong to present our research as my own,” he said. “If you go back with me now, I’ll go to the council and tell them. You’ll get the credit you’re due.”

“What I care about now,” Freeroot said, “is touching the celestial branches. Seeing what no one else has seen. Going where no one else has been.” She gripped the nearest barkface and hoisted herself up, pausing to gauge the strength in her numb hand. Satisfied, she resumed her climb. The edge of the lichen field was near, and beyond that, there was only open bark.

Lowbranch wrapped a long-fingered hand around her ankle and held firm.

“I’ll kick you,” Freeroot warned.

“Fine. But you’re not going any further,” Lowbranch said. “You’re in no condition to--” he cut himself off abruptly and drew his lips into a narrow line.

With a sharp movement, Freeroot freed herself from his grip and scrambled up and out of reach. “To what?” she demanded. “You’ve clearly already been this far up. So why don’t you go on and tell me what you found that wasn’t worth sharing with the rest of us?”

Before he could answer, she was off, scrambling hand-over-foot up the barkscape. A few times, the venom beard brushed her skin, but the antidote was still strong inside of her, and her skin merely reddened instead of blistering. She could hear Lowbranch’s exertions behind her, but they grew less and less audible as she outpaced him.

She cleared the lichen field and found herself on open bark. Nothing scurried or flew or grew; everywhere Freeroot looked, she saw naked, lifeless wood, and the celestial branches appeared no closer. She gritted her teeth against exhaustion and flung herself up the side of the world.

Every now and then, Lowbranch’s distant voice wafted up as if on the breeze.

“...not how you think,” warned one fragment of voice.

“Let me explain,” pleaded another.

“...goes on and on!”

But Freeroot only climbed faster, even as lastlight faded to night. It was only when she absolutely couldn’t pull herself up any higher that she finally rested. She fell asleep with half-chewed berries in her mouth, and slept until well after firstlight.

When she awoke, Lowbranch was there, crouched beside her like a bony funeral bird. His eyes were sad and tired, and it was obvious he’d spent the whole night catching up to her.

“No one deserves the burden of knowing what I know,” he said as soon as Freeroot’s eyes opened. “But I’m not going to let you get yourself killed in pursuit of folly.”

“Tell me,” Freeroot growled, pushing herself into a seated position.

Lowbranch took a deep breath. “It's infinite,” he said, gesturing upward. “You can climb as much as you like, but the canopy will always be out of reach. Every day, your pack grows lighter, your supplies thinner. And the branches grow no closer. The climb never ends!"

“It sounds to me,” Freeroot said, “like you didn’t climb high enough.”

“You can’t climb past forever!” Lowbranch said, spreading his arms wide.

“I can try,” Freeroot said. She flexed the fingers of her injured arm. Her muscles were stiff as wood, partly thanks to the lichen’s bite and partly thanks to sleeping on uncushioned bark. She looked down at her mentor. “If you can keep up, maybe I’ll let you take partial credit for what I find.”

Without waiting for a reply, she started up the side of the world, eyes fixed on the ever-distant celestial branches. If I die, let my bones be a waymarker for explorers to come, she thought.

A short while later, she heard the unmistakable sound of Lowbranch huffing and puffing below her. In spite of herself, she smiled.

Jay W. Friks
Oct 4, 2016

Got Out.
Grimey Drawer
Truth and Courage

(#1998) (Prompt: Russian Roulette)

In the darker, rainier parts of old-world Europe, in a warehouse that once contained casks of phosgene and mustard gas, a monthly game of Russian Roulette is played.

A lanky man with bright white hands spread out a trio of documents for Lewis and his challenger Helga. Him, like all the staff that Lewis has seen, wears a porcelain red mask. Quarter sized eye holes and a vent mouthguard decorates the face of it. Helga felt her guts twist in anxiety every time the masks looked her way. It felt like death was sizing her up.

This one explained the contracts with a slow, dignified air, “Before you sign that last part, please make sure you have designated who receives your prize funds.”

Lewis glowered at the legalese, “My parents are rich enough as is and I don’t have anyone waiting for me back in the States. Just do whatever with the money.”

Helga couldn’t believe a young man like Lewis was willing to die for nothing. If she had his health and money, she’d be taking her son and his wife on vacation. She coughed, took another suck off her oxygen, and checked to make sure her son's name was spelled correctly.

Without the contest, she would have left them with little to make a life out of. The strange masked people must have known that when they invited her.

The Lawyer checked the documents and said, “A judge will be here momentarily to discuss the rules with you. Until then, you may have whatever you want from the mini fridge and there is wine and champagne on the rack there. Do not try to leave.”

He stepped out the sliding doors. The chipped and smelly basement floor of the warehouse didn’t fit the lavish accouterments these people had installed. There was expensive hand-carved furniture decorating the office. There were exotic, aged wines sitting in the same racks as regular old Andre Champagne. The cheese and berries in the mini fridge had names that only his parents would recognize.

Helga asked Lewis, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

Lewis ignored the old woman. She looked down in defeat. He didn’t want to give anyone, let alone some stranger, the story of his descent into sorrow. He fingered the rosary in his pocket and thought about who he’d been six months ago. A hard-partying college drop-out, flying the EU on his parent's dime.

Then he met Colette while sobering up one morning in Paris. She was trying to save the life of some guy OD’ing on the side of the street and conscripted Lewis to help. The way she expected it of him made him feel strange. It had been a long time since anyone expected anything out of him other than to be drunk at 4 am and to never keep a promise.

He was encouraged by her and he stayed with her until the medics arrived. She thanked him and he asked for her phone number. They had a modest dating life together, he didn’t tell her about his parentage as he wanted Colette to love him as himself. She was a Catholic, a hard-partying one, but possessing a thicker layer of scruples than Lewis was used to. He converted for her and asked her to marry him.

She said yes and he took her back to his place, bedded her and told her everything about him he’d been keeping secret. She was hurt by his secrecy but seemingly understood it after he explained why.

She was a brilliant actress. When he left to meet his parents at the airport she stole everything valuable from the summer home. He never heard from her again. His parents, angry that they’d come all the way to find their house looted and credit cards stolen, cut off his funds and told him to come home.

He tried to hang himself after his parents went back home to close their bank accounts. The rope broke and he laid there on the floor sobbing with the rosary in hand. A broken heart was new to him, but the part that made him crack and try to end his own life was an unsolvable question.

Did she leave him because he lied or because he told the truth?

Now here he was, drinking from the bottleneck of 180.00 Dom Perignon, about to risk everything. He came here guided by sorrow. If he didn’t die by the game, than he’d find another way.

A petite woman in long purple robes silently strode into the office. Her mask was blue porcelain with one eye hole and a mouth slot shaped like crab mandibles. She spun around and directed Lewis to sit. The scrape of wheels on concrete echoed outside.

“Let me introduce you to your partners.”

She pulled two cases from beneath the desk, inside one was an ivory handled Nagant M1895.Inscribed on the handle was “Coraggio”. In the other was the same kind but with a rosewood handle, dyed red, inscribed with “Verita”.

The judge peered through the darkened hole of her mask. Helga got that feeling of Death counting the seconds down. The Judge nodded. She’d come to a decision about the two of them. Lewis felt a similar discomfort at that nod. Questions that had been hidden by his depression rose up from the muck, What did these people want? Why did they run this game? Who were they? Lewis got vibes of the Illuminati from their masks or something like Eyes Wide Shut.

She said,

“The game ends when one of you is dead via gunshot. Ending the contest from any other cause besides a bullet renders the contest void for the contestants and the audience. An automatic loss is given for hesitating to shoot. An automatic loss means we shoot you ourselves. The timeframe for a call of hesitation is 10 seconds. We will be keeping time. Each of you is given a pistol, there is a single bullet in between the both of them. ”

Lewis said, “Despite the rumors I’ve heard about this game, I’ve never heard about the losers deaths being reported to loved ones besides via the check. I’m having doubts you’re actually going to risk our lives at all.”

“Your point being?” The judge said.

“That point is, I signed a contract for a life or death game. How do I know this isn’t some elaborate prank that’s never been exposed?”

“Look outside.” The judge pointed out the sliding doors. The wheels the two of them had heard earlier had parked in front of the doors. Lewis looked out and laying on a rolling cart with was the chilled corpse of a gunshot victim. The left temple of her forehead was dug out and a flap of skin and bone hung loosely from the brow.

Lewis fell backward in shock, he’d never seen a dead body.

“Wha-why are you rolling that around?!”

The judge said, “We like to give them some exercise once in awhile.”

Lewis couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You KEEP the bodies? Why?”

A triangle bell rang far down the corridor. The masked man guiding the cart pushed it out the double doors to the freight elevator. The judge picked both guns up, “It’s time. Head towards the bell.”

Helga got up and grabbed her cane and oxygen tank. Another masked man emerged from the doorway and extended his hand to her.

“Would you like assistance miss?”

She thought about swatting it away but as she stared into the holes of the mask she felt something strange behind the darkness.

“It will be alright.”

A voice spoke to her, not from the man but from the mask he wore. It whispered into her mind and she felt something percolate from the depths of her desperation and fear. Hope flew upwards and she found herself taking the man's hand. She walked with him down the corridor as people started to sing in unison. It was a Russian song, or at least that’s what she thought. It shifted to Italian, to Spanish, to Chinese and she heard a sentence of it in the queen’s English.

“And you will watch a scene unfold,
beneath a layer of glass and gold.
Time will fly out from the mind,
leaving this moment forever kind.”

Lewis felt piss running down his pant leg as another man helped him up. Fear had reignited inside him. He looked at the judge, “What do you gain from this? Just answer me that.”

The judge shook her head, “Only those who found truth and courage are allowed to know that.”

Lewis heard the voice of the man behind the mask, “1,2,3,4-”

“I’m going! I’m going!” Lewis rushed down the corridor and burst through the swinging doors of the largest room in the basement. The singing stopped.

Sitting to the left and right were crisscrossed wooden beams that once held drums of chemical weaponry. Hundreds of masked figures sat along the beams staring in unison at Helga and Lewis. A faceless, masked village, single-mindedly colorful at the onset their favorite past time. Helga and Lewis sat down on two benches facing each other.

The judge appeared from behind a raised partition made of bales of hay and gravel. Four other men and women stood with her. Lewis studied Helga. She was impassive, any doubt that’d sat upon her face was now behind its own mask.

The two revolvers were handed out. Lewis got Verita and Helga got Coraggio. The judge sat at the end of the bric-a-brac partition.

“Aim the pistols at your temple.”

Helga did so. Lewis shook the gun in a vain hope he could hear the bullet rattle.


He jumped and pushed the gun against his head.

“Every time I say go, pull the hammer and squeeze the trigger.”

Helga swallowed. Lewis watched the bulge of spit go down her throat. Helga knew this could be the end but she’d had a long life. Her children would gain so much from her playing the game. It was redemption for all the times she wasn’t frugal and didn’t think of the future. Something else empowered her as well. Excitement.


*click* *click*

Lewis felt another trickle of pee surf down his leg.



Heavy breathes. Uncontrollable heavy breaths.

“1. 2. 3. 4. 5-”



*click* *click*

Helga felt hot. It was weird, it wasn’t from fear or nerves.



“I can’t. I can’t do this.”


“Ahhhhhg!” *click*



Lewis tasted the sweet wine from the rack, he tasted the cheese and berries. It would all be gone. No more sensations.


He couldn’t do it.



Lewis did it.


The audience gasped. She was glassy eyed and her gun had fallen from her fingers. She gripped her chest.

“I can’t. I can’t move my hand.” She wheezed.

Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell.

The judges surrounded her and one tenderly touched her wrist.

“Heart attack. I guess she was in worse shape than we thought.”

Relief from Lewis, “So that’s it? The contest is void right?”

The crab mask judge shook her head. She took her mask off and placed it on Helga.

“Pick the gun up.” Said a woman missing the top of her head.

“You’re dead. All of you.”

He picked the gun up. The madness of everything made it easy.

Helga got up. She picked up Coraggio..

Lewis laughed, “So does this mean I get to join you all afterwards?”

“I don’t know. Have you found truth and courage?” Helga said.

Lewis’s macabre humor left.



Helga’s gun was empty.


“I don’t wanna die.”


“It looks you found truth at least.”



Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)
Together, Their Best Shot
Prompt: Magical safe-breaking
1998 words

The plaza was full of anticipation. Merchant prince Zendar Grimm walked in front of the humongous safe, silencing the crowd.

"Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary people. I am here to announce the Third Annual Open Safe Bounty by Grimm Corp. Every year, I am giving a bounty of ten million crowns to the person who could crack our latest, state-of-the-art safe, as well as a top security position in my company.

"Much of our breakthroughs in magical security have been a product of this competition. Mages from all walks of life have toiled for riches and glory, and we are happy to provide them the opportunity to prove themselves. A win-win situation, if you please. So, are you up to it?"


Mika looked at the safe. It was huge enough to store a dragon's hoard--he couldn't even fathom the logistical challenges involved in bringing the all-adamantite safe into the plaza. This would be his first time to participate, so he listened intently.

Grimm went over the rules. Over a seven-day period, each participant had one chance per day to crack the safe. Crack it and you win. That was it.

Mika spotted Ferlis in the crowd. His former thesismate was unabashedly wearing his Academy robes, having secured an Assistant Wizard position straight out of graduation and being the only one in their batch to do so.

Mika went over to him. "Shouldn't you be in the Tower?"

"My next class is still in two hours. Still haven't gotten a job, Mika?" Ferlis grinned. They had been thesis partners. Friends. "The Tower's always in need of more janitors. I'd be more than willing to endorse you."

"Last time I checked, an Assistant Wizard can't endorse anyone," Mika said, noting the change in Ferlis's grin. "Do you even teach, or do you just stand there awkwardly as the real Wizards perform the lecture?"

"At least I have a job."

"Pretty low-hanging fruit there, Ferlis. Sorry." Even with his rejoinder, Mika became acutely conscious of his clothes. Having dropped out of the Academy, he was forbidden to wear robes that marked him as a mage. For all that anyone cared, he could be a baker.

Ferlis was about to open his mouth when Grimm proclaimed the Third Annual Open Safe Bounty to begin. The crowd started lining up, eager to have a taste of the challenge. There were plenty of possible tries, enough that trial-and-error was a viable strategy.

"Let them try. I need to prepare for my lecture," Ferlis said, turning around with a dramatic swish of his cloak and walking away.

Mika felt a pang of envy. He should be wearing those robes with him. If not for what had happened. He swallowed his pride and joined the queue.


It was their thesis defense. Wizard Archibald sat as single panelist for Mika and Ferlis. They had been inseparable since their first year in the Academy. No one expected aristocratic Ferlis to bond with middle-class prodigy Mika (the son of a baker and an alewife), but after five long years they had conspired to present a thesis worthy of the prestigious Golden Mage prize.

"It's just you today, Wizard Archibald?" Mika said, as they readied the magi-tech contraption they designed and built.

"Yes, but don't think I'll be letting you off the hook that easily," Archibald said, punctuating his last statement with a wink.

"Setup's done," Ferlis said. There was a certain shortness in his breath. He was uncharacteristically anxious today.

"We're ready, Wizard," Mika said.

"Then begin."

"The contraption before you is a financial intelligence magi-machine," Ferlis said, his warm voice suited for the demonstration. "It allows the user to have a timely and accurate overview of the world's financial markets, from stocks to bonds to commodities like Merlin trading cards."

"It's like financial news reports on magi-vision, but you can access it whenever and however you want," Mika said.

"I'm not much of a finance person myself," Archibald said. "Do you have calculators for, say, compound interest?"

"That was one of the first features we built, Wizard Archibald," Ferlis said. A smile was slowly forming on his bright face. He was in the zone, Mika thought. "Here, let me demonstrate."

He keyed in some values and pushed a button. The magi-visual display showed a neat breakdown of a portfolio's value over time, along with some eye-catching graphs that Mika was proud to have made.

Archibald pored over their paper. "Please continue."

Ferlis went through the features of their creation, with Mika filling in additional details. Right before the last feature, Mika noticed that his aetheric meter was acting strange, and he whispered to Ferlis.

"We're on the verge of passing and you want to open up the magi-machine?" Ferlis whispered back.

"Something's not right. We'll fail if it malfunctions."

"No." Ferlis hissed. "Maybe your meter's off. You should've replaced it like I told you."

"Is there a problem, young mages?" Archibald said, head tilted to the side.

"No, Wizard," Mika said. "We'll need to--"

"Proceed," Ferlis said, cutting Mika off. "Our last feature, historical reporting, can be accessed like this."

Mika held his tongue. Most of the time Ferlis was right, anyway. But his meter was acting up even more strongly than before. When he looked up, their magi-machine was lighting up in the wrong places.

The first blast of overcharged aether from the magi-machine split Wizard Archibald's table into two, narrowly missing the man. "Contain it!" he yelled, brandishing his staff and shielding the entire room, preventing any possible damage outside it.

"This can't be happening!" Ferlis said. He reached for his wand, but a crackle of aether sent it flying away.

"Ferlis!" Mika said, throwing himself at his friend as the magi-machine exploded. As the smoke and debris subsided, Mika saw that Wizard Archibald had shielded them as well.

"Failed," the Wizard said.


Mika opened his eyes. It was the third day. First two days were clear failures. He had had an idea to use a mage-in-the-middle attack for the second day, but the aetheric transport layer security held. He had not practiced magic since the accident, but he was starting to re-acclimate himself. He had not gone so far with Ferlis without skill or talent.

His phone rang. The tiny display showed a number and name he had not seen in a while. Ferlis.

"Why are you calling me?"

"To gloat at you," Ferlis said. He cleared his throat. "What's your progress?"

"I'm hitting the aetheric transport layer. What about you? Up to your favorite hobby of cracking passwords?" Ferlis used to try and pick every lock in the Tower and got lots of detention for it. It was a wonder how he managed to graduate just a year late.

"I've gotten to crack two. Two-and-a-half hours per password."

"You should try another tack."

A snort. "I don't get you. Cracking passwords is easier than what you're trying to do. Are you a masochist?"


"Good luck, then."

"Did I hear that right?"

Ferlis sighed. "I'm not going to repeat myself. Goodbye."

The line went dead. "You could've let me return the favor," Mika said to the receiver.


Mika woke up to the sounds of Ferlis getting dressed up. He rubbed his chin and was half-surprised to feel the beginnings of a beard. His head throbbed. Oh, he had drunk himself into a stupor last night. Again.

"You should get water," Ferlis told him sideways. He was fussing with his hat. It just had to be crooked at a precise angle.


Ferlis sighed. "And you should go to class with me. We can finish our thesis within another semester."

"Actually," Mika straightened himself and looked at Ferlis levelly, "I'm dropping out."

"What? After everything we've gone through? After everything you've done?"

"I screwed up, Ferlis. You wouldn't be delayed if not for me. I should've--"

"Stop." Ferlis pulled up a chair and sat down, his hat forgotten. "We've gone this over a thousand times. The blame is shared. Don't monopolize it. I should've listened to the meter, listened to you when you wanted to inspect the magi-machine."

"I don't want to be a mage anymore," Mika said. "I'm leaving the Tower tomorrow, and that's final."

Ferlis opened his mouth and closed it. He stood up, his fists clenched. "You'll regret this," he said. And he was gone.

Energized by their argument, Mika started to pack his things. He kept thinking whether he should show up in the registrar's office with his beard or not.


On the fifth day, Mika called Ferlis again.

"Any luck?"

"Hmph. There are seven layers of passwords I've cracked so far, and I don't know how deep that well goes."

"You're not going to make it."

Ferlis sighed. "Much as I hate to admit it, you're right. What about you?"

Mika explained all his efforts to sniff the aetheric packet and steal the key's credentials. They were all in vain.

"A valiant effort," Ferlis said, "though still incomplete. If you had actually graduated..."

"I'm not giving up," Mika said.

"Oh? A change of heart?"

"I guess I just didn't want to disappoint you again. And I guess I'm sick of playing Perfect Phantasm XIV at home."

Was that a glimmer in Ferlis's eye? "Let's meet at the coffee shop. It might be possible to synthesize our efforts."

"A collaboration?" It wasn't forbidden in the rules. But they would have to split the winnings between themselves, and most mages were a selfish lot.

"I'm rich," Ferlis said. "I don't need the gold, and I have a job already--someday I will be Head Wizard. I just want the challenge.

"And I thought I could run into you again."

"Okay. I'll go." There were a hundred different things Mika wanted to say. But they had a safe to crack together.

Ferlis smiled. "Be there in thirty. And shave that beard ."


True to Grimm Corp's expertise, the safe remained uncracked on the seventh day. The sun was beginning to set, heralding the contest's conclusion. Grimm was in his sharpest merchant prince robes, personally overseeing each entrant who stepped up and tried to crack his impregnable safe.

Mika and Ferlis were next in line, waiting at the bottom of the platform's stairs, ensuring that each mage would conduct their safe-breaking with a modicum of privacy.

The current entrant sighed as the safe displayed the words Access denied. Grimm smiled, shook the dismayed mage's hand, and sent him away.

"It's our turn," Ferlis said. He had that look in his face that Mika hadn't seen since their thesis defense.

"Ah, a partnership!" Grimm exclaimed. "How atypical. Please, show me what you can do."

Mika produced an arcane key out of his pocket. He inserted it into the lock, and together they recited an incantation.

The key glowed green, sending tendrils of aether into the safe's security routines. The on-board display glitched. Debug mode on, it said. The key started to vibrate, fighting the safe's countermeasures.

Open lock? Y/N

Right before Ferlis pushed the key, the screen changed again. Access denied. Mika pulled the key out--its tip was hot to the touch.

"Nice try!" Grimm said. "Almost got it. What are your names?"

"Ferlis Clarenet, Assistant Wizard of the Tower."

"Mika Octavier." He sighed. "Unemployed."

"You're unemployed?" Grim said, his brows furrowing. "Why don't you come to our office tomorrow? We'll draft you a lucrative job offer. What do you say, Mr. Octavier?"

"Can I work part-time?" Mika said. "I'd like to return to the Academy and finish my studies."

"If he had graduated, we would've definitely cracked your safe," Ferlis said, beaming.

"You mages and your love of titles," Grim said. "Come anyway. Let's work something out."


They walked back to the old coffee shop.

"Disappointed?" Mika said.

"Quite the opposite," Ferlis said. "I won't go easy on you in class, though."

"I expect nothing less."

"Welcome back."

Mika looked up to his friend. He would catch up to him, and they would walk together again.

Mar 21, 2013

Grimey Drawer
Crits for Broadly SF Week

We interrupt this lame session of people posting stories on time with some crits.

I've included a To improve: bit. Just my opinion, take with large grain o' salt. Stories are in order of how much I liked 'em.

Benny Profane - They shoot Koalas don't they

General Comment: I really didn't enjoy this one. The setting seemed plausible, which was a plus, but the biggest problem was that the story just kind of started with a scene of potential drama, and then moved on to a conversation that really didn't develop anything.

What I didn't like: A lot of the sentence construction was clunky. The very first sentence...what is the subject of that sentence? You're just waffling along in the hopes of hitting something worth talking about. This will not engage a reader.

Also you have two main characters - but which one is the protagonist? It should be Alice, but she does literally nothing.

What I did like: Plausible setting, believable dialog - only problem is, it didn't really say anything. It's a fairly by-the-numbers post-apocalyptic setting, but the setting isn't the problem, it could set up any number of interesting stories with an Australian flavour, but doesn't here.

To Improve: Set up something for the protagonist to do. Is hit her first time to shoot? How does that change her. Are the incoming people getting rarer and she contributing to Human extinction?

Cptn_dr - Solitude’s Not For Everyone

General Comment: My fellow judges hated this one slightly more than I did. I did get a slight rush of whatever chemical signifies 'humour' to my brain with the punchline, but even I could recognise that it came at the expense of an actual story.

What I didn't like: Well, the punchline. It's a shaggy dog story and the best they tend to engender is a groan. And the hair of the dog, as it were, does a lot of setting and worldbuilding but there's no dramatic force to it, no push for the character to be involved in anything so it becomes a chore for the reader to follow along with it.

Also, the science is pretty dodgy. If cosmic radiation hosed up electronics your average spaceship is kind of borked.

What I did Like: The writing was clear and set the scene visually very well, but just didn't describe anything particularly interesting

To improve: You could make the 'cosmic radiation' a more localised effect (mining stations near unobtanium deposits suffer from mysterious breakdowns that require delivery services - now you have both a reason to travel and mystery to solve.

Also, remove the drat joke. It's terrible and pretty much the whole reason you lost.

AreYouContagious - Echidna

General Comment: I thought this had a lot of potential. Clear situation, though perhaps too much jargon for a general audience. Pacing issues - it took a long time to get anywhere interesting. I suspect my main issue was the plot twist, however.

What I didn't Like: I found it very difficult to believe that sentient beings had been marked as property - it seemed to come out of nowhere. If there had been some earlier indication that the setting was that dark it might have been more believable. Also - there was too much time spent in flashbacks - time that might have been better spent with the children and giving us a reason to care about their fate. The backstory alone just wasn't sufficiently interesting to pull us into the story, and a character who hides in labs and has no other life also fails to intrigue.

What I did Like: I'm a huge fan of Nancy Kress's Beggars series, and this reminded me a lot of that, so I was hopeful. Your tech seemed to hold together under cursory (non-scientist) examination, so that's also a plus.

To Improve: If you can't be arsed describing what CRSPA does, then invent CRSPA++ and describe that. Give us more of the relationship between mother and children, and a reason to think these children are special and worth saving, or, failing that, more reason to fear for their alternative fate.

Feedmyleg - The God Hole

General Comment: The shock jock entry. The entire first part of this comes across as gratuitous and unnecessary. You'll gain a bit of TD notoriety for sheer chutzpah (not a bad thing) but it's a gimmick and it won't hold up past initial img macros. I'm grateful that the rest of the story wasn't awful, though, because it was shaping up as a shocker.

What I didn't Like: There's not a huge amount of difference between what the protag does and mere castration. We'll apply the general SF rule of allowing on flagrantly untrue thing to set the wheels in motion and we still have the fact that the ptrotag ends up contemplating what is essentially, and knowably, suicide for not particularly well-explained reason, and yet, strangely and irritatingly, the ending is entirely predictable from the moment the death is mentioned. This is not a good thing - it means you've gone too obvious in your choices.

What I did Like: The actual story structure is sound, coming out as a kind of body horror 'Tales of the Unexpected'. Once you get past the initial bollocks, there's the core of a good idea in 'anti-aging surgery disasters in near futuretimes'

To Improve: Strip the bollocks and make the tale more unexpected.

ThirdEmperor - The Friendly Machine

General Comment - again, a story that basically went nowhere, an excess of worldbuilding with no real story behind it.

What I didn't Like: the opening goes on for three paragraphs describing the machine, but by the end of it I still have no idea what your story is about. Who is finding the machine 'glorious'? At the least I can tell what the machine does - and it is intriguing, but I don't know that it's three paragraphs interesting, especially as you story doesn't even really delve into the whole digital immortality side of things. The entire story was someone having doubts and then failing to do anything about them.

What I did Like: The descriptions, as out of place as they were, basically worked. I was intrigued by the machine and wanted to find out where you would go with the story. Unfortunately, you didn't go anywhere. I think I'm starting to repeat myself with these crits.

To Improve: Start with a perspective - let your protag see the machine and let it mean something to them from the get-go. The machine itself, nominally the title character, barely gets a look in (despite some nice descriptive work). It could be ripe for some kind of body horror as it smiles and chats like a barber as it dices you. Really, anything but the fizzle here.

Uranium Phoenix - The Wheel Turns

General Comment - A believable world and an almost believable and almost charmingly Eeyore-ish protagonist, quite acceptable in SF. This is the point where the stories really turn around and become worth reading in themselves, even if flawed.

What I didn't Like - The basis of the story, its action point, is just a conversation - a discussion that Admat-23 'wins', which isn't in itself intrinsically interesting

What I did Like - Despite what I wrote above, I think there is something to say for the 'little victory' that is won here. Not all SF needs to have a big action set-pieces, a walk alongside someone on part of a larger path could be quite satisfying and this was definitely worth the attempt. It just needs a little more meat on the bone. I also liked the fact that the ending quite sinister - I'll destroy you all, just as soon as I've finished filling these paperclips was one of the more memorable appraches to an end this week.

To Improve - Develop the character a little more - there's the beginning of an interesting character there, but you may need to contrast Admat with another interesting character to get him to shine, so that his victory feels like it's been won rather than explained.

Youriuchi - Braaains

General Comment - There's a lot to like here, in a breezy story with a fair few nice touches, but the ending just didn't quite gel.

What I didn't Like - The title was a bit of a turn off, to be honest, as the whole brains thing kind of gave away the ending, but overall the piece was pleasant and kept my attention. The relationship stuff was possibly a bit twee, but just avoided the mawkish so I wasn't overly concerned. I have no idea what 'Jared’s perpetual lackadaisicalness' refers to in that context - did something get cut? Also - the ending. It was foreshadowed by the smell, but I'm not really sure how it all worked.

What I did Like - Lots of character details being shown and not told, lacadaisicalness aside. This was enough for me to feel favourably disposed towards the characters (I have, in the past, enjoyed crappy soap operas of various types).

To Improve - I think the audience needed to be let in on a bit more what was happening in order for the final sacrifice to have punch. Was it something that came from within or without the environment?

Ironic Twist - Lovelybad

General Comment - I read this about five times, and didn't have a bad time, but I was disappointed that either it was too obscure for me (always a possibility) or there wasn't actually much there.

What I didn't Like - In the end,it just seemed too much style over substance, (though I did like that style). By the end I had no idea what the appearing image was all about, who had set it or what it really meant. "Lovelybad" itself just seemed an odd juxtapostion to use to carry any sort of meaning - it didn't fit with the style of the piece.

What I did Like - there is definitely something here, or I wouldn't have tried so hard to come to grips with it. It's enjoyable to actually, physically, read, it flows and has the skeleton of a story.

To Improve - I'm actually a bit torn on this. You could either provide just enough more detail for the penny to drop, or you could hack away at the skeleton so that it's more purely surreal. In some ways, I suspect you suffered from the judges because we wanted to engage with it and give the story the benefit of the doubt that it wasn't an obvious tale, but didn't feel rewarded by our efforts. So perhaps ask the question "what is the experience you want the reader to have had at the end of the story?" and push in that direction.

Obliterati - The Last Shot of the War

General Comment - I'm not a huge fan of war stuff, so to get a good score from me you had your work cut out for you. Thankfully, this story managed to engage me on a couple of levels.

What I didn't Like - It took me a long time to figure out who was who - perhaps some stronger identification would work - you refer to 'the lieutenant' twice before you actually use his name, for example. I also wasn't completely won over by the vengeance aspect. Assuming I've read this correctly and it was Jaito's murder that was being avenged at the end - we needed so reason to think the relationship was worth avenging (or an indication that Takamura needed to be removed for other, stronger reasons also than historical preservation). Also - I'm not entirely sure what protag is still doing there, to be honest. He stayed there even after the lieutenant left? Why?

What I did Like - I liked the whole concept of drones dredging up old munitions (just as the protag dredges up the past), and despite my later qualms about some of the circumstances and motivations, when I initially read it I enjoyed the flow of the story and the way the plot revealed itself. The ending felt almost earned, but still satisfying. And perhaps the strongest aspect of it was the evocation of the setting. Some good word choices put me there, which provided some realism that enabled me to slide over some of the oddness of the plotting.

To Improve - Strengthen Jaito/Protag relationship and perhaps define the protag more - with some insight into his motivations.

Tyrannosaurus - Brutus, thou sleep’st. Awake, and see thyself.

General Comment - Fun and occasionally funny Sci-Fi with a serious bent

What I didn't Like - The whole shakespeare quoting thing really rubbed me the wrong way, for some reason. It went on too long and veered into pretentiousness. Purely personnel reaction, admittedly. The father/mother thing didn't really seem to fit too well with Julius Caesar either. Also - if this pattern has been happening for quite a while, what is it that is different this time? Why is shakespeare such a factor at this point?

What I did Like - There's a feeling I get when I read a story that just has all its elements click into place at the end - this story had that - which is no mean feat when you've got multiple clones with different motivations and knowledge to wrap up a story in.There's a great deal of juggling and you don't drop anything in the process, which is no mean feat. Kudos.

To Improve: You could very easily expand this. There's a wealth of interesting character possibilities with your number brothers and their world. I note the world itself gets fairly short shrift - perhaps explore the environment they are in a little.

Thranguy - Agency

General Comment - I really enjoyed reading this one, more than the other judges, I think, but the exploration of philosophical themes in genre is the kind of stuff I dig. It is very much my Jam.

What I didn't Like - As others have noted - it wasn't super clear why the aliens would go ahead with this kind treatment. Clearly they have no choice, but why this method? Why the room set up like this and the armoured shell? Why one on one? This seems like an extended interview for 'uplift' but can one person make the decision for humanity, and if not - why are they doing this? What is the potential benefit, even if they lose/die?

What I did Like the overall conceit - to contrast the free will of the uncivilised with the strait-jacket of perfect morality. This is fertile ground and you should , um, plough it or something.

To Improve - I think you might be selling yourself a bit short with the setting. I get the whole noir aspect - a man, a desk, two chairs, a gun, a morally perfect alien - but you could have fun expanding that. What if prior aliens were Giant, or gaseous? How would their interrogations work? Or if you stick with the setting - what else can happen there. The russian roulette is good, but it may need something further - the flashbacks just aren't quite enough action to keep the attention of those not genetically predisposed to this sort of thing.

SurreptitiousMuffin - g = Gm/r2

General Comment - Something different, but nonetheless enjoyable, this had its own voice that was both poetic and narrativey, and entertained me enough to make me return to it to uncover more of its secrets. That return was rewarded with further understanding and appreciation.

What I didn't Like - The endless-eyed dude. Who was that, exactly?

What I did Like - This succeeded in a lot of ways that other entries didn't. It had a dreamlike quality but the facts of the story were discoverable, it had a unique tone that was both poetic and readable, approachable and possessed of humour. It's hard to pull this kind of storytelling off without it descending into irritating wank but I thought you succeeded here, Delaney-ishly.

To Improve - some elements/orders of the timeline are buried, either a little deep for discovery, or because they weren't salient to the immediate plot, or you hadn't really thought about them. Bring them forth.

Apr 12, 2006
a competition for university funding

Tyger tyger
1799 words


Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 19:19 on Dec 25, 2018


Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
The Essence of Good Barbecue
(1,420 words)
Prompt: Competitive barbecue

Read it in the archive.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 19:12 on Jan 2, 2019

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