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Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Thanks for the crits, RandomPauI and Chili!

Also, in.


Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat

magnificent7 posted:

I set out to write something that wasn't deep nor imaginative, but rather amusing and stupid. I'll take my eleventeenth loss and this time I'll wear that motherfucker with pride. If I made y'all laugh, and it wasn't due to a retard joke, then I'm happy.

Thanks for the crits, I'll be over in the corner playing with my feces if anybody needs me.
A Domer after my own heart.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




magnificent7 posted:

I set out to write something that wasn't deep nor imaginative, but rather amusing and stupid. I'll take my eleventeenth loss and this time I'll wear that motherfucker with pride. If I made y'all laugh, and it wasn't due to a retard joke, then I'm happy.

Thanks for the crits, I'll be over in the corner playing with my feces if anybody needs me.

Hmmmmmm well sadly this week I was looking for deep and imaginative. But you do you, the most important thing at the end of the day is that you're happy with your output.

Chin up kid, I'm sure the people who got a chuckle out of your story appreciated that small moment of distraction from the boundless suffering of samsara

Sep 22, 2005


Sitting Here posted:

Hmmmmmm well sadly this week I was looking for deep and imaginative. But you do you, the most important thing at the end of the day is that you're happy with your output.

Chin up kid, I'm sure the people who got a chuckle out of your story appreciated that small moment of distraction from the boundless suffering of samsara
I was happy with it, I think. Thanks. I know every TD loser says "Oh yeah? Well I meant to suck horribly, so haha joke's on you." I was not intending to suck horribly; just stay clear of Hemingway Cousteau.

As much as I'd like to be in, it ain't happening. Family reunion time.

Oct 9, 2011

Sitting Here posted:

Chin up kid, I'm sure the people who got a chuckle out of your story appreciated that small moment of distraction from the boundless suffering of samsara

Jokes on you, the know escape from samsara is through the elimination of attachment and through following one’s dharma, suckers.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

joke's on you, sithrak, the blind gibberer, tortures both good and evil for all eternity

Sep 22, 2005


who are you people.

Oct 9, 2011

Djeser posted:

joke's on you, sithrak, the blind gibberer, tortures both good and evil for all eternity

I will need to do further research into this, but it does sound legit.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Hmmm I don't want signups to get lost in the chatter, so maybe this is a good time to post another link to the chat thread

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe


Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe

UP Crit for Kiwi/Coffee Brawl

And here's my final thoughts:

Yeah, so this just works. We all read muffin’s story first and thought he had it on lock. Then yours came around. If I recall correctly, I was the only judge who picked this for the W and I’m still bitter about it. The tone of the piece is consistent and serves the plot incredibly well. It’s chilling through and through and you managed to grip me and put me right inside Lethia’s psyche. The solid opening helps foreshadow the doom to come and through that all you even managed to reach an optimistic, and believable ending in a story wrought with terror and trauma. This is good work. I want you to take this to people better than me and get it better; it could go places.

Jan 27, 2006

ibntumart posted:

In for a penny, in for a pound or whatever unit I get.

Also, much appreciation for the crits, judges! chili, if the offer for further critique is on the menu still, I'm interested.

You shall have the pack. Whether you want to think of "pack" as units of animals or of manufactured goods like cigarettes is up to you.

Benny Profane posted:

Thanks for the crits, RandomPauI and Chili!

Also, in.

You shall have that Talmudic unit of time, the Shaot Zmaniot

You shall have that unit of time: the fortnight

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:

In for a penny, in for a

wait, someone already made that joke.

In, please.

Jan 27, 2006

Carl Killer Miller posted:

In for a penny, in for a

wait, someone already made that joke.

In, please.

You shall have that biblical unit of length: the cubit

Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.


Jan 27, 2006

You shall have that unit of linguistic meaning: the morpheme

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004



Jan 27, 2006

You shall have the unit that groups bovines, deer, and zebras: the herd

Sep 22, 2005


Heh heh.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




ha ha ha well once again my toxx was overambitious and I have no idea if i'll actually have all the crits done by Friday night on the dot. Def this weekend though.

here are 5 crits to tide you over

Week 306 crits (part 1)



This one is pretty straightforward. A pair of crows are taking the day off from humdrum crow stuff to slide down a snowy roof. We learn about a couple humans they interact with, one friendly and one not so much.

One of the crows has a stick and it’s good!

They slide down the roof. The crow observes that snow is a lot easier and more fun to slide down than a rock. All in all, a pretty good crow day.

Expression of intelligence:

Play is really important to intelligent animals. An ever-growing number of youtube videos reveal that corvids in particular seem to love doing things simply for the sensation or exhilaration of it.


It’s hard to say much about this because it’s so brief and written in a very simplistic voice. I sort of get what you were going for with the emoticons. The crow’s internal monologue is advanced for an animal but still perhaps not up to the challenge of describing abstract things like emotions. I think there were other ways to express that, tbh. I wish this story had been longer and more immediate and tactile; maybe the bird doesn’t know how to describe its emotional states, but it experiences the sensation of the snow really vividly.

This borders closely on being “prosaic animal voice describes thing,” though you do manage to avoid falling into that pitfall by putting the focus totally on the play aspect. I just wish this had been developed a little more, lengthened, and crystallized into something really tactile and vivid.



A magpie returns to an old haunt after being gone for a year. It’s a house, charred and skeletal. The magpie has brought a gift--a silver hat pin--for the occupant of the house, but something is off. No one comes out. At this point, it’s intentionally obvious to the reader that the person who lived in the house isn’t coming back, and may have died when the house burned down. The magpie drops off its hat pin and flies away.

The next day, the magpie comes back with a companion. They warble at each other, trying to sort out what’s going on. Eventually, the companion nudges the first magpie into the burnt out house. Nothing happens. The magpies poke around for a bit, until the first magpie notices a closed door. With a bit of cooperative effort, the magpies use a bit of ribbon to turn the door handle and get into the closed-off room.

On the wall is a human-shaped shadow, and the magpie is momentarily overjoyed! But there’s no human casting the shadow. It’s just a shape on the wall. The magpie is pretty bummed about this; the human was the only reason she’d returned to this place after winter.

The next day, she brings her fledglings to the house. They’re quickly joined by several other birds, all bearing gifts for the empty house. Once the gifts are deposited by the shadow, the main magpie hops up and draws a little magpie next to the human “shadow”, and at this point it’s revealed the silhouette is a scorch mark, presumably created by a nearby nuclear detonation.

Expression of intelligence:

The magpies in this story show a penchant for using tools and an inclination to befriend humans, both things that smart birds do. Also, the birds seem to recognize that the human is gone, probably dead, and they honor the deceased--another behavior of social, intelligent animals.

This is the first of the “animal cleverly gets in/out of something” stories.


This story successfully shows intelligent behavior in magpies, but we’re not given a lot of insight into how the magpies are processing things internally. My favorite stories this week definitely gave the animals an inner monologue, some window into how they’re thinking and feeling. I gather the magpies are confused, then perhaps sad, but those emotions are shown in the form of behaviors.

I feel like the exploratory bit in the middle goes on too long? The door-opening bit was cute, and I like when the magpie hung upside down, but it didn’t really add anything to the overall story. It ended up feeling a little padded, like you could’ve done this in fewer words.

That said, there’s a fair bit to like about this piece. The focus is purely on the magpies, but we can gather a lot about what’s happened to the planet based on this one, small event. The ending left me feeling melancholy, but hopeful; in your version of the nuclear apocalypse, it seems that small, kind creatures inherit the earth.



The protagonist is an octopus. The story begins with the octopus evading a shark with its masterful camouflage skills. The octopus reveals that the key to evading predators is to not simply mimic the reef, but be the reef. They note that those who merely pretend die.

The shark gives up and leaves our octopus alone, but all is not well. The octopus is troubled by intrusive thoughts, memories of a time when they were captured by humans and nearly made into food. To combat this, the octopus tries to take control of their environment, foremost by creating a shell mosaic in their den.

Even when the octopus sleeps, there’s no respite. They have vivid flashbacks to being caged, seeing chunks of their own kind everywhere, piles of corpses. The octopus gets out of the trap and buries itself under a mound of corpses until they have opportunity to crawl over the edge of the fishing ship, back into the sea. This, as one would expect, is deeply traumatizing.

When the octopus wakes up, some sea creature or another has messed up their mosaic. This is kind of the breaking point; nothing feels right, nothing can be fixed. They are doomed to carry these painful memories around without respite.

The octopus decides to suicide by shark, but inadvertently startles it away by “unreefing” too suddenly.

Finally, the octopus realizes that perhaps the only way to find release and relief is to let themself be taken by humans again, and finally play out the terrifying experience they’ve been reliving constantly to its final conclusion. They will become meat, but the nightmare is over.

They feed on the bait, fall into the trap, feel themself pulled up toward the waiting fishing boat, feeling elated and fearless. They are no longer pretending.

Expression of intelligence:

The ocotpus’s mastery of camouflage belies a grasp of strategy and method that goes beyond instinct. The emotional complexity, the unfortunate capacity to relive trauma, is one of my favorite expressions of intelligence this week.


There is a typo (“Evidently not competent to die…” I think the word ‘enough’ is missing) near the end of the story, but I don’t have any other criticisms. This story is a short, sharp punch to the gut.

I thought it was interesting that the octopus notes that those who pretend die, because in the end, the octopus is a bit of a pretender--trying to make themself believe that things can be okay or even just normal after such a traumatizing experience.

At the end of this story, I felt angry and sad. There was a brilliant catharsis to it, but that didn’t stop me from having visceral unpleasant emotions about it. Which is what made the story good! It was just very impactful. It left me feeling curious about how treatment for trauma and mental illness in cephalopods would work. Ibntumart kind of addressed that, albeit a bit more clumsily, so it might be worth taking a look at their piece if you haven’t already.

You could probably shop this around to lit mags, so i’d advise taking it out of the thread if you have any inclination to do so.


Curly is an octopus who likes puzzles. She likes finding them, figuring them out, and showing other octopuses how to solve them. Currently, she’s trying to figure out a puzzle inside her new home. She’s recently posted up in a recently sunken ship, but it’s full of a bunch of corpses still strapped into their seatbelts. After fiddling with a buckle for a while, she manages to unclasp it and release the corpse to drift up and join its stiff brethren.

There’s a ‘bloop’ noise outside, which curly ignores. She focuses instead on some box mounted on the wall of the sunken ship, wondering if it contains food.

Another octopus interrupts her: Spots. Curly is initially annoyed at this intrusion, but Spots informs her that there’s a really big puzzle outside. Curly immediately changes her tune and heads out to see what’s up.

An airplane has crashlanded in the sea, but somehow the pilot is still alive. He’s not in good shape, though, and the cabin is filling up with water. Curly quickly sorts out that this guy will die if they don’t somehow get the cockpit open so he can escape, so she attempts to break the glass, in spite of Spots’ skepticism.

When that fails, she looks to the pilot. He sort of indicates a circular shape, so Curly looks around for something circular on the exterior of the plane. She finds what is presumably a cockpit release of some kind, but it won’t work.

Then it does work!! The cockpit pops open and the pilot is free, except not quite. He’s tangled in his seatbelt, but Curly is able to free him, because an octopus who figures out how to unlatch seatbelts in the first act should use that skill in a life-or-death scenario in the third act.

The pilot washes up on the shore, unconscious, and Curly follows him, wrapping a tentacle around his ankle when he doesn’t move in kind of a sad, sympathetic gesture.

The world of land-dwellers appears to be at war. Which explains why there’s a surplus of vehicles sinking. Eventually, a big wave wakes the pilot up and he barfs on the beach for a while. Then his comrades see him and carry him off the beach. Curly disappears back into the ocean.

The two octopuses do a little happy dance, then Curly goes back to tidying up her sunken ship home. Except now that she’s had the experience of being invested in a human’s wellbeing, she’s not so sure about all those bloated corpses floating around in her would-be house.

Spots turns up as Curly is trying to pull one of the corpses through a hatch to discard it. He’s like “why are you throwing away perfectly good food” and she’s like “it feels wrong” and gives it to Spots, who has no reservations about eating sapient animals.

Curly goes back to the crashed plane and goes to sleep behind the pilot’s seat.

Years later, Curly is still happily living in the mysterious and complex plane. At one point, she seems to release oil or gasoline from the tank, but she seems pretty enamored with its color.

She notices a land-dweller on the shore. This is odd because the war is evidently over and the island, presumably no longer of strategic importance, is mostly abandoned. It turns out this human on the shore is her old friend the pilot! He’s sitting with his legs in the surf, apparently playing with a Rubik’s cube. Curly is attracted to the click noises it makes as it turns, and quickly figures out the game of the puzzle.

After passing it back and forth for a while, Curly and the pilot say their goodbyes, so to speak. Curly gets to take a souvenir with her though: the pilot has left her the Rubik’s cube, which she takes back to her plane.

Expression of intelligence:

Solving puzzles for fun kind of combines problem solving and a need for play in intelligent animals. Your octopus also seems to be able to recognize individual people and remember them, as well as interpret complex gestures from another species(the cockpit release thingy).


I didn’t have a lot of patience for this story at first because the narrative voice is very young. I was like, ugh here comes the Pixar film. And to some extent, the story remained fairly pixarish throughout, but it wasn’t as simplistic as I was worried it was going to be. Curly actually undergoes a fairly complex personal arc. She goes from enjoying puzzles to solving a puzzle in a dangerous situation to feeling concern and compassion for a creature totally foreign to her. That compassion leads her to feel things about other deceased humans, who previously had just been food that happened to conveniently come with the new “puzzles” aka sunken ships.

I didn’t really like the names. It added to the childish feel at the start of the piece.

Going back to the “Pixar” effect: we live in a world full of films about plucky, clever animals doing improbable things. I don’t even like most pixar movies and have only seen a few, but I couldn’t help imagining this story in their style of animation. I think it’s because there’s nothing especially alien about this octopus. It’s a clever animal in a story that needs to be about a clever animal, so she does delightful clever animal things and there’s a happy ending.

I did enjoy the backdrop of human warfare; you successfully painted the pilot’s story in a few light brush strokes, which was a nice surprise in a story that otherwise felt a bit prosaic.

Overall a decent piece that was just a little too surface level to compete with some of the weirder, more baroque octopus stories.


Three crow buds are crowing around when they spot a bit rotting bear carcass in the woods. This represents a pretty hefty meal, so they descend to the ground and make a big show of declaring this THEIR rotting carcass covered in bugs (they’re particularly partial to the bugs, which are easier to eat than flesh). After a bit of bluster, they break down laughing and then set out to call a loving quorum.

Basically, all three crows gotta set out in different directions and tell two other crows about the feast. Those two will till two more, and so on and so forth until every nearby crow knows about the meal. The narrator crow does this, then circles back to dig into the grub.

The crows eat mostly in silent cooperation, working together to tear apart the tough bits of flesh too tough for one bird.

Then a big old rook lands on the carcass. She’s real tough looking with a scar down one side of her face. This is apparently Grammar, a bird who was old when the oldest crows were babies.

Our narrator isn’t sure what to expect so he flutters up into the branches and other crows follow suit.

Grammar, in “fancy” parlance, states that she’s here to partake in food and stories. She assures the crows that she’s not there to take away anyone’s fare share. Lastly, she asks who discovered the bounty; after a moment, the narrator pipes up, taking credit for the find. He then asks Grammar if she’s gonna be “chill”. Grammar is a little annoyed at this point, but is like yeah of course i’m chill (not in those words).

The narrator flies to the ground and lets the others know it’s ok to come down too. Then he asks Grammar what’s up. She reveals that she’s had a vision that she’s going to die soon, and she’s decided she wants to pass down her many years of knowledge. Not only that, she wants to make sure every crow parliament (feast) is an event where stories and knowledge are shared, for the good of all corvids.

After a little skepticism, the narrator decides he’s down with this. He notices the other crows are listening to him when he talks to Grammar, really taking what he’s saying to heart. He sort of realizes that he’s gonna die one way or another, but maybe if he can pass down his knowledge, in a way he’ll live on, and so stories will give his life meaning even after he’s passed on.

Once everyone agrees that parliaments are gonna be crow storytelling time, they dig into their feast.

Expression of intelligence:

This story mostly focuses on the gregariousness of corvids, their inclination to socialize and work as a group. It also implies intelligence through the crows’ ability to organize and adhere to rituals.


This is probably the most charming piece to not receive any win consideration. I thought the tone was fun, but the crows were a little chavy, which made them feel kinda anthropomorphized. I didn’t feel so much like I was reading about an intelligent animal as I felt like I was being shown an animal analogue to a human archetype. It’s a subtle distinction, and I don’t fault anyone for taking the approach you took, but the HMs/wins tended to feature more animalistic animals.

This almost has the feel of a just-so tale, “How the Crows got Their Stories” or something. It’s less a plot arc and more of an explanation for why crows behave the way they do.

Otherwise, pleasant read, just a little light on the cool themes some of the other stories delved into.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 03:47 on Jun 22, 2018

Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why did you fail Thunderdome?


Jan 27, 2006

You shall have that unit of momentum: the kilogram meter per second

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

:siren: Thunderdome Recap! :siren:

Pictured: a store devoid of horror, humor, or meaning.

After another trip down Voidmart's innumerable aisles courtesy of Week 300: Let's Make a Void!, Sitting Here, Ironic Twist, and I fill out customer-satisfaction surveys. The scores indicate nigh-unalloyed disaster. Who could sell her soul to the Elder Gods in peace with DEREK DEREK DEREK booming through the store? Never mind the host of shady employees trying to lure us into back rooms for nefarious purposes. And if you get me started on all the incoherent nonsense, we'll be here longer than any time-traveling janitor. Twist brings some joy with his Captain Beefheart voice in our rendition of Jay W. Friks' "Jack Schaff is (still) missing," but we're unhappy with this week, and it isn't all kayfabe. Buckle up.

“I just don’t get it, cute and useful orphan. Why can’t things be better?” I asked.

Episodes past can be found here!

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 03:20 on Jun 23, 2018

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.


Jan 27, 2006

You shall have that European pecuniary unit: the ducat

Jan 27, 2006

Signups closed. Don't forget to adhere to every provision in the prompt.

Jay W. Friks
Oct 4, 2016

Got Out.

Grimey Drawer

Ox (#1099) (Prompt: The Furlong)

Another day at Burger Barn. Summer. 90 degrees outside and 110 in the kitchen. Kelly the waitress and Bryce the cook talk. She’s counting tips. Bryce animates his words with restless hands, flipping burgers from muscle memory. I try to listen to them over the cycling of the sanitizer. This is what a citizen talks like. I’ve been told to look to simpler things for happiness.

Bryce is happy to talk to Kelly about sci-fi films and his dog. Kelly questions him on his kibble choices and advises organics.

It’s boring, but not the kind you can fall asleep too. The kind that makes your eyes widen and search around for a way out. I don’t want to be a citizen but I’ve been told it's the correct path.


it's hot in the kitchen. My cycling mind makes it three times worse. Count every drop of sweat crawling, eyelids trip over themselves to keep from being blinded, it’s pooling in my palms. Heat is hell and life comes from heat.

Leave it alone.

Pull and tug at the halter and yoke.

Obey sense.

I have people who worry about me. What I want is wrong.

Repeat that back to yourself.

Kelly and Bryce get married. They invite me. Pretend to laugh and people will want you around.

I hate the sunlight. I hate the suits and dresses. I hate this sugar poo poo cake, pig rectum on a stick, squealing women and drunken men.

Kelly tosses a bouquet. Bryce pulls a garter off Kelly. My sister is there, she knows Kelly from Walmart.

“Get up there and try to catch it, bro.” She makes the word “bro” sound like the funny kind of fakeness.

“No.” I flatly say.

She and her husband give each other a look.

If I don’t do what they say they’ll put me back on Thorazine.

“I could use some exercise.” I relent.

They smile, and I dutifully lunge for mythological marriage, hooks in my cheeks.

October. Burger Barn. Two years: a feat on a spotty record. A layer of grease coated me every summer when I was getting ready to kill myself. Now that I’m working again, the grease follows me in any season, no matter how much I scrub.

The doctor doubles my appointments near the anniversary of my last attempt. He’s suggesting stronger pills and that I stay at an in-patient clinic if it gets too hard. I don’t agree and say the pills make life worse than it already was.

Halloween comes and I go to bed.

I have a dream. My mother is alive and she sits out in the Subaru, waiting in the driveways of strangers houses while I get candy. She ripped up a bed sheet and made me a mummy. She’s grumpy but playfully steals a Twix from my green plastic pumpkin. I say nonchalantly, “You were just joking the entire time. You’re not dead.”

She gives me a knowing smile. Relief washes over me. I’m still 8 with plenty of time until I recognize myself. Plenty of Halloweens to enjoy. All the empty fixtures of childhood are ahead.

Wake up. I rip the sheet from the bed and cut it into strips. I make a new mummy wrap around my broken bloated body and run outside, paper bag in hand. Three steps out.

I look ridiculous. I head inside and do what any functional adult is expected to do: drink until I blackout.


Three years. Burger Barn. I have another panic attack on the anniversary of.

Bryce plays with his wedding band, sitting next to me at a booth,

“I can’t keep doing this Phil. If you don’t want to work, don’t come in. I could have called in Pedro.’”

Business is booming, so is the pressure. That is a favorable result of sane men working towards a sane goal.

I want to tell him once again that I didn't choose this, I get deja vu.

Repetition for other peoples benefit. Repetition for an acceptable dream. Repetition so that other people can tolerate you without feeling guilty.

Something calls out from deep in the medically clamped down parts of my spirit.

I have a flashback. I’m seeing my sisters face when I told her the truth. She’s asking about me because I’m happy for the first time in a long while.

“If I tell you, will you respect it?”

“Yes. Just tell me.”

“So you won’t call the police?”

“Police? Phil, what are you talking about?”


I’m watching Eraserhead with her. A lamb fetus devours someone. She’s keeping her eyes on me.

“I won’t tell, I promise Bro. ” I thought she meant it.

Take a moment. She knows me well enough, she'll get it.

“I’ve rented a hotel out on the coast. I’m going to head out there in October. I’m going to shoot myself in the head at night when it gets cold enough, there’s no people on the beach that way. I trust you to let me do this, so I’m telling you so it won’t come as a surprise.”

Her expression deadens. Her eyes search frantically for something.

I say, “I’ve wanted to die for a long time. It's been a weight off my back since I decided to do this. I’m ready now. I want to go with that peace in mind.”

“What’s wrong with you? How could you tell me this?”

She’s angry. She doesn’t understand.

It doesn’t change my plans. I made it to the beach to take ahold of my own destiny. I was brought into the world unwillingly. This would be the first thing that would be completely my own.

My sister had a P.I track me.


The first time I thought about it, I was 10 and trick-or-treating. The last house on our road had this huge family in it, two cars outside. The mother looked crazy, the father wore out, the kids loud and angry. They made their own prison and stayed in it.


“I won’t be a prisoner,” I say.

“What?” Bryce says.

I give him a genuine smile.

“I quit.”


No one knows I’m here. The body I never wanted will be gone, the mind that never worked will be quiet. A peace I’ve dreamed of waits in the coldest part of dusk. The water goes in and out to a cycle imposed on it by external forces.

I’m don’t accept the cycle. I’m not a beast of burden. I choose this.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Here's 5 more crits from week 306. Gonna try to have the rest out before judgment this week, so i can write my 307 crits as i read.



Elmore Stanley is an octopus, and in this setting, octopodes seemed to be shapeshifting aliens who are covertly investigating Earth. They’re not super impressed with human intelligence or biology, though Elmore seems pretty proud of the information he’s gathered about us. In fact, he has a pretty high opinion of himself overall.

He’s just about to finish his two year shift on Earth, or die, or both. I’m not too clear on that point, actually. Maybe he says the thing about dying in the beginning because he dies at the end of the story. Anyway, he’s gotta mate before either or both of those things happen.

We find him just having eaten an ex girlfriend? Who is a shrimp? Then he turns his attention to Eleanor, another octopus. Conrad, who I guess is her octopus boyfriend, isn’t around, so Elmore makes a big show of changing colors and patterns to impressed Eleanor. I guess he figures he can win her over.

Except he’s not showing off to Eleanor, he’s showing off in front of Conrad, who’s altered his appearance to look like Eleanor. Elmore isn’t pleased by this; he’d had plans to copulate with Eleanor, then face-gently caress her with his penis tentacle. Instead, he gets in an altercation with Conrad.

This altercation seems pretty one-sided. Conrad basically rips Elmore apart tentacle by tentacle as Elmore laments that he’ll never get to bring his report on Earth home.

Expression of intelligence:

Being advanced aliens.


This crit is really for anyone who wants to write humorous stories.

This story did something I specifically asked people not to do, which is anthropomorphize animals. These creatures are basically people with tentacle dicks. The have human names, in spite of being octopuses as well as aliens. I get that this story is the equivalent of an Adult Swim-style cartoon vignette, but I…wasn’t looking for that this week! I wanted stories and narratives I wouldn’t necessarily find in any other week. So first and foremost, that’s why this took the loss over the other two negative mentions.

The events of the story itself aren’t super compelling if you don’t get much out of the joke. Elmore calls himself a devourer of worlds, or whatever, but he’s clearly kind of just a sleezy dude being a dick on the job. He’s edgy and vulgar and lol woops he tried to gently caress a dude and now he’s getting ripped apart and he is hella pissed, bro. None of these elements really work to subvert each other in a surprising way. Guy is a dick with a big ego, acts like a dick with a big ego, gets punished by another dick. The trajectory to your punchline, as it were, is very straight and predictable.

Elmore talks himself up a lot, and I guess the humor is supposed to be in how easily he gets owned, but that’s not enough to carry this story. “Guy thinks he’s cool, actually sucks” is a very basic and common setup for comedy, but the humor comes from making the guy suck interestingly. One of my favorite shows, Peep Show, features Jeremy, who thinks he’s cool and talented but is in fact an idiot, rear end in a top hat, and horndog. What makes that character hilarious is the absurd nature of his fuckups, and his dry, charming, self-aware inner dialog. Elmore’s narrative is crass, egocentric, and heavily colloquial, but there’s nothing that sets him apart from any other impotent villain-type character.

Finally, I don’t like the sort of “interior” first person narrative. I feel like I’m inside his head, yeah, but I’m not seeing through his senses. I’m locked in the dark, jizzy closet of his mind and he’s like, phoning in the details of what’s happening outside. This style of narration CAN work, but if it doesn’t work, it distances your reader from the story.

All that said, i recognize this was a light attempt to have fun. This crit isn’t because I’m angry at the story and hate it. I think it’s a good object lesson in what can go wrong with comedy writing, but apparently a couple people were amused so it didn’t even go all that wrong, I guess. I guess.


This story is mostly all in the details, so forgive me if the summary is rather simple:

It’s winter, and a raven is hungry. She finds an old deer carcass, but other animals have already stripped it down to the marrow.

She flies on, finding no sign of food until she spots something odd down in the forest. It’s a car, with two corpses inside. One of the doors is partially open, but not enough for the raven to get in. She finds an appropriately-sized branch and wedges it in the door. She expends a lot of effort trying to figure out how to apply enough leverage, but eventually the door opens.

Once she gets in the car, the first order of business is to munch on some delicious eyeballs and lips. Then she sets about pulling apart the corpse’s soft bits and burying them in various caches. Once that’s done, she uses a stick to cover her tracks.

Her survival secured for a little while, the raven is able to drift asleep.

Expression of intelligence:

Tool use, problem-solving. Anticipating problems and taking preemptive action (when she covered her tracks).


There are a number of stories this week, pretty much all on Team Corvid, that provided an excellent illustration of behavior we know to occur in intelligent animals. The problem is, the story doesn’t go much beyond that. All the details are crisp and the description is appropriate, so it’s not that the writing is an obstacle, it’s just that the story is basically “animal needs food, acquires food.”

I recommend taking a look at cptn_dr’s story. They did they same sort of narration--not much insight into the thoughts and feelings of the animal--but there is more of a story, something to add emotional gravity to what is essentially a behavioral sketch.

Otherwise, this was a decent bit of writing. Could use a line-by-line edit but I don’t have time to do that byyyeeeeeeeee



Black, a jackdaw, defied common wisdom and stole from a ghost. This doomed him to be haunted by said ghost, but he didn’t mind because he liked the company. Except one day, his ghost friend disappears, along with all the rest of humanity.

Black wants to get to the bottom of this. He asks other jackdaws what the heck happened, but their responses are varying degrees of unhelpful. Finally, it’s suggested he ask a raven.

Ravens trade secrets. To get a secret, you need to give a secret. Black finds a raven and tries to exchange a secret (fratricide, although i forget if this is Black’s secret or his ghost friend’s) to find out what happens to ghosts, but that particular raven can’t help him. The raven suggests Black go ask the Raven King about it.

Well, the Raven King won’t give up such a huge secret unless he gets a huge secret in exchange, so Black is going to have to go on a mission for secrets to trade. He travels a lot and meets tons of other jackdaws, even meets a lady who he almost considers courting but doesn’t.

Black gets a bunch of seemingly human secrets, left behind after everyone disappears, perhaps. These secrets seem to have some objective value, because while they don’t seem particularly relevant to ravens, they do enable Black to successfully trade for bigger and more important secrets. Eventually he’s offered a secret more relevant to birds, a lost song, but that’s not something he would trade to the Raven King, so accepting that secret would effectively end his quest.

He can’t bring himself to give up, feeling that his ghost friend would still haunt him, in an absent sort of way, if Black didn’t find out what happened to him. So he accepts a different, human secret and soldiers on. Eventually, he finds a secret suitable for the Raven King: “which of Odin’s two ravens would devour the gallows-god’s good eye after Fenris slew him at Ragnarok, and which would settle for those of the Wolf.”

So he finds the king, hands over his secret, and asks the fate of ghosts. The Raven King is like, why would you want a small dumb secret like that, wouldn’t you rather know about infinite food or bird-sized explosives to use on your enemies? But Black is resolute.

Finally, the Raven King admits he doesn’t know the fate of ghosts or men. Black flies off, saddened, but finds solace in the fact that he did everything he could to learn the fate of his ghost friend. He returns to the Raven King and obtains the secret of the infinite food cache, from which he makes a generous donation to some nearby jackdaws.

He sort of tries to settle down, but it just doesn’t feel right. He tells the other jackdaws the secret of the infinite food cache, and immediately feels the weight of that secret leave him. Then his hits the road, realizing as he goes that he sort of accidentally obtained another secret: the Raven King doesn’t know the fate of ghosts. With that in hand (foot?) he flies off to get the lost song from before.

Expression of intelligence:

The corvid proclivity for retaining and sharing information.


I’m torn on this one. It’s very charming and moves along at a good pace. On the other hand, it feels less like a story about corvids and more like a myth or folktale that happens to include corvids. It’s more like a cloudy lens into humanity than a clear lens into corvid life. I was happy someone went with the fantastical approach, but I guess I wanted something centered more on the sorts of myths corvids might have. I’m not even sure how human secrets, most of which are dependent on cultural context, would get into corvid parlance.

I like the idea that all the humans are gone but we’ve left the Earth littered with secrets, and that other creatures with their own stories would trade those secrets like beads or something. I think it was just...the specificity and (in some cases) modernity of some of the secrets snagged my attention in a way the more folksy corvid bits didn’t. So these bits of secret-detritus, which do little except exist as macguffins, seem particularly prominent when juxtaposed against the more mythical-feeling lives of birds.

Overall a good piece, just maybe one knob-twiddle away from what I was looking for this week.


Cascade-of-the-long-octopus-name is on a mission from god. Well, the Scintillations. Cascade is a member of a religious order called the Golden Rosettes, who revere something called thee Scintillations, and she is trying to spread the faith. She’s alone in this; most of the other Rosettes don’t think missionary work is a terribly good idea.

The challenges inherent in this become clear when Cascade approaches the den of an old female octopus, who is having none of this religion business. Through this encounter, we learn that the Scintillations are a source of abundant knowledge; they’ve even granted the octopuses tools, like a bag for carrying things, a knife for cutting things, and a strange artifact that Cascade describes as a piece of the Scintillations. The Scintillation chunk evidently displays dead people.

The old octopus is like “No thank you, not this time” and sends Cascade on her way.

Cascade is just a little bit bummed about this, so she finds herself some sea drugs (more knowledge from the Scintillations), beds down in a hole, and trips balls with her little Scintillation fragment.

Under the influence of the hallucinogenic kelp, Cascade sees the first acolyte, a pearlescent octopus who seems to display all the wisdom of the Scintillations on her skin. Cascade is transfixed, trying to grasp all the meaning and knowledge she sees there. At the tail end of her vision, two symbols emerge on the first acolyte's skin: a symbol meaning “return” and a symbol Cascade doesn’t recognize.

In the morning, she considers the meaning of the vision. She figures “return” means she should either go back to the old lady octopus, or back to Golden Rosette HQ. She decides to check back with the old octopus to see if she’s changed her mind about joining the Golden Rosettes. What Cascade finds there instead is blood in the water, an a bunch of newly-orphaned eggs. The old octopus is dead and her children will likely never hatch without care.

Cascade is filled with revelation. She will take these eggs back to the Rosettes and pass on information to them. She realizes the symbol she saw in her vision was “teach”. Rather than just pass knowledge on to other acolytes or her own young, Cascade can use this batch of young to effectively start the first octopus school.

She hurries back to the Scintillations, knowing they’ll guide her in the rearing of young.

Expression of intelligence:

Language, organized religion, the beginnings of academia, mysticism.


In a week with many hard-hitting good stories, this was one of my favorites. It’s just so delightfully weird, a really well-imagined take on octopus myth and religion.

Cascade herself manages to be precocious, open-minded, dutiful, and sympathetic without seeming particularly human. You get the sense that she’s pretty odd, even within the context of her religious order, but that her oddness is to the benefit of all octopus kind. It was easy to imagine her going on to be regarded as the legendary founder of the first organized schools, or something. She manages to feel like a figure out of an authentic history.

I don’t have much to critique about this, really. It would’ve been in serious contention for the win if Armack hadn’t rolled through and punched all the judges in the gut.



An octopus has been captured and put in a tank which is located in I believe a restaurant. Humans (“inflexibles”) seem to keep lots of aquatic animals in cages, taking them out only to cut them up and eat them. The octopus understandably wants to escape.

It notices that humans use a door to go outside and surmises that if it could get out of its tank, it could use that door to get back to the ocean.

The octopus’s plan is pretty straightforward: get the humans to open its tank so that it can escape to the outside. It surrounds itself in a cloud of ink, then prepares to launch itself out of the tank when the humans remove the lid to find out what’s going on. The lid is open and the octopus escapes, but it is quickly caught and placed in a more secure enclosure.

In his new prison, the octopus finds that its tank borders the tanks of other creatures like it. These ones dress themselves in shells and debris, and have developed an actual language and culture. They tell the octopus about something called society, and how a certain aptitude is required. The octopus believes it will pass their final test, and this is how the story ends.

Expression of intelligence:

Planning, strategy, adapting to new situations. Incredibly baroque use of language.


As you can see from my summary, the actual events of this story are relatively straightforward. I’m not entirely sure I have the setting right; it sure seems like this tank is in a seafood restaurant, but the ending calls the setting into question, because how did these octopuses develop a culture if they’re presumably getting eaten on a regular basis? There’s just so much I’m not sure about, in spite of how much narration and description there is.

Which brings me to the voice. I can really clearly see that you thought a lot about how an octopus would perceive things, and worked to express that with the voice of the piece. The problem is that the over-complicated descriptions of things that any human would be able to identify at a glance was tedious to read. It added a lot of padding to the story, and made your octopus sound more like an alien or a robot.

I was most interested in the other octopuses at the end. Was their ‘society’ limited to the series of tanks they’re stuck in, or have they somehow integrated into the human world? I suspect it’s the former, but there was enough ambiguity that I wasn’t sure. At any rate, you shoved the most interesting aspect of your story to the very end.

This wasn’t a terrible take on the prompt; it’s very evident that you were making a genuine effort at writing a nonhuman perspective. The execution just left a lot to be desired, for the reasons stated above.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 21:27 on Jun 23, 2018

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe

Wassail - Unit: Fortnight
1,050 Words

Pa left yesterday, and now, the trees will die. I don’t know why he left, and I don’t care. He’s his own person, after all, and I’m able to take care of Ma, and the kids, just fine. We’ll be alright. We don’t need him. It's fine, and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. There’s a bigger concern: The Trees. Without him to tend to them, they’ll surely die. Ma asks me to do it this year; I suppose I’ll have to.

I set out to the orchard and regard the rows of our prized Jonagold Trees. They’re the only ones of their kind in all of Dorset, and they’ve been in my family for years. A good harvest season ensures that our bellies stay full through the year. We can hardly afford to eat the apples ourselves. Instead, we sell them in the market as a luxury: The Davie’s Jonagolds. We also trade away a bushel or two to the nearby cattle farm to ensure that our plates are filled with hearty stew through the long winter.

I walk under the rows of trees searching for apples, as I’ve done so many times before with Pa. The branches of the trees seem weaker to me than they have in season’s past. Almost as if I could reach up and snap them with little effort.

I collect a sampling of ten fallen apples. They aren’t perfect yet, and they aren’t ready for harvest. But, I’m not harvesting. That’ll come in two weeks. I measure the diameter of the apples with care, as Pa taught me. I write down the measurements of each, and determine their averages: five centimeters.

They should be six.

I reach up to grab a fresh apple from the nearest tree. But, I’m too short to reach. I look around. These lackluster apples are far too high for me to pick alone. I’ll need to bring out the ladder and move it about. I'll never get them all... this wasn’t supposed to be my job.

This is all Pa’s fault.

He’s doomed us. He’s doomed us all. He abandoned me, my mother, and my sisters. The Jonagolds know it, and they are not pleased. Heat swells within me and I glare at the apples resting on the ground. I boot one into a tree. It explodes into a satisfying array of pulp, fiber, and droplets of juice. I punt another, and another, and when my anger swells, I curse my Pa’s name, and I stomp on them directly.


Bits of apple cover me as I cross the threshold into the home.

Ma’s stirring a stew of lamb, carrots, and potatoes over the fire. She asks me about the measurements. I lie. She sees through it.

“Don’t think you can protect your mother from the truth, Archie.” She says to me as I sit at the table.

I sigh, and wait a moment before I confess to her, “It’s not good Ma. They’re small, and the trees look sickly.”

“Well, there’s nothing you can do to change things. Do your best, lad. That’s all you can do at this point.”

A thought occurs to me; she’s wrong. I can change things.

“I love you Ma!” I shout as I kiss her on the cheek, and return to the orchard.


The song. Pa likely didn’t sing it before he left. No wonder the trees are so lacking. Our song is a well-kept secret. While the other farmers sing the traditional Wassail, my great great grandfather composed an alternate take. While the Jonagolds themselves do deserve some of the credit for their bountiful yields, the song ensures that they perform at their best.

I extend my hand and reach out to graze the trees as I walk past them. This will work. Everything will be fine. The sun warms my cheek and the bark of the Jonagolds tickle my fingers as I offer my family’s song:

Wassail the trees, that they may beare
The Jonagold’s reddest Peare:
For all of The Davies will you bring,
As we sing to you, Wassailing.

The sun falls behind the crest of the hills surrounding our farm, but I don’t stop wassailing until it’s gone completely and the air turns frigid.

“That’ll have to do.” I say to the heavens.


The days pass. I check the orchard on the first few, but the trees don’t turn. My plan failed.

I stop checking on the fifth day. We’ll probably all starve to death, but what’s the difference? Everyone dies, some sooner than others. We’ll be sooner.

Ma must notice my change of heart.

“What’s wrong, lad?” She asks me as she tends to my sister’s lessons in numbers.

“Nothing,” I say. “It’s over. The Jonagolds aren’t going to yield what we need. I’m not going to check on them anymore.”

“You don’t sound like yourself, Archie.” She says to me.

“Maybe I’m just different now.”

“I suppose you’ll have to be now that your father’s-”

“I’m going out.” I interrupt. “I’ll check on the trees again. It’s time to harvest anyway. ”


The branches seem to be lower than they were two weeks ago. It feels ominous, and I wonder what the trees are trying to tell me. Fortunately, now, if I time it right, I can jump up and grab some of the lower hanging apples.

I jump, and try, to grasp at one of the larger ones I see. My timing is true, and I return to the ground, fruit in hand. I wipe it on my shirt and crunch into it. Every season I forget how wonderful they taste. My mouth dances in a symphony of sweetness. My knees weaken on the second bite, and I sit down as I finish the apple.

The size of the apple may not be just right, but the taste is still there. And, though I won’t have the assistance of Pa, and it may take a little bit longer, I’ll get most of these apples down in time. Nothing will be the same without Pa, but that doesn't mean it’s all over. I’ll have to keep on pushing.

I think these thoughts, and as I do, the branches seem to be even lower down still. I wonder what the Jonagolds are telling me.

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:

Sorry, have to drop out this week. Work things. If anyone wants to read about a guy getting severe kidney failure from a chick fil a sandwich, I can post that instead.

Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give

Crits for Week 302, Invisible Bartertowns

This was a pretty enjoyable week to judge! I appreciated that everyone approached the prompt with plenty of thought and creativity, and while the low-end stories were rough and some of them felt rushed, I didn't feel like anyone phoned it in this week. Lots of good stuff here.

SurreptitiousMuffin, "What Ukto Saw"

This was one of my favorites of the week. It's carried along by really strong imagery, and I think there's a good balance of epic sweep and specific detail; the visual of the prisms in particular, first containing decaying bodies and then gradually becoming objects of beauty, is very striking to me. There's some good detail use to convey the passage of ages, too, like the gradual shift in understanding of Ukto (and resulting vulture-based consequences).

The major issue I can point to with this story is that some of the details end up a little distracting. I know there was some confusion among the judges as to whether the mentions of men and husbands, and the lack of any referenced women, meant this was a single-sex world or not, and I'm not sure the random hyper-long lifespans lent much overall? Speculative detail is fun, but sometimes it can cause confusion if it's not directly contributing to the narrative. I also found a few phrases where the prose didn't quite work with the tone; "palliative care" and "tacky" feel really modern-English to me. Overall, though, this is a strong piece.

CantDecideOnAName, "Of Eluse, before the lightning"

There's some potential here, and the prose is solid, but this piece feels excessively bland and lightly-sketched to me. The tone feels more encyclopedic than narrative, and it makes the story feel kind of dry. I'm also not completely sure what's going on with the cataclysm -- a huge lightning storm, I guess, but apparently a permanent one, or at least one that lasts months or years? That's kind of a big thing to not explain, in my opinion.

I feel like this story would have been served better via starting shortly after the cataclysm, in the near aftermath, and exploring that period more tightly. It would allow you to still establish a feeling for pre-cataclysm life while bringing the disaster to the forefront and be more juicy in terms of narrative. This is really a bit too much of an overview.

Uranium Phoenix, "A Place With No Name"

This is an interesting, enjoyable piece of cosmic fantasy whose biggest problem is really just not hitting the prompt. I think it might have done better in Fumblemouse's subsequent week; in this one, it's hard to get around the fact that the place in the title is more a prop or plot device than a properly-realized setting. I think there's some good experimental stuff going on with the prose -- reverse chronological order can be tricky, but in this case it's made a bit clearer by the huge gaps in time -- but it just didn't fit the week well enough to be in contention, I'm afraid.

Solitair, "Trompe-l'œil"

Writing these crits on a second read, I like this story a bit less than I did on initial judging, but it's still quite good. The major issue here is that it's a little bit overambitious in terms of throwing ideas out, to the point that they don't really have space to breathe or gel; things like the bat-city architecture not being accessible to travelers, the bats' level of visual function (and how they painted all of this, anyway), and a lot of other scattered setting details end up more distracting than anything. Still, I feel like the core idea of a city designed by a disabled minority to force visitors to interact on their own terms, to be the ones forced to adapt to a hostile environment, is strong enough that it carries the piece.

Sham bam bamina!, "Technically Not Fanfiction"

I think you know what went wrong here, but just to be explicit: this is a pretty solid story, with an interesting premise and a nice use of voice, that self-sabotages spectacularly in the last paragraph. This would have been a contender otherwise, so that ending was immensely frustrating! I think my notes on the judge doc may just have been "GODDAMMIT."

I don't want to hammer on about this, but seriously, don't do stuff like this. I'd rather read a an awkward piece that presents itself sincerely than something really good that pulls out a move like this at the end when it falters. Even a bad ending would have still kept this story on the judging table, but the way it ended dropped it straight into the loss slot.

Fumblemouse, "The Truth of Hamaall"

When it came to entries that treated this explicitly as "Calvino Week," this was the one that ended up strongest, and I feel like the edge that gave it the win was this sort of unity of theme. The setting honestly isn't the strongest or most interesting of the lot, just solid enough; what really gives it the edge is the final analogy to the discovery of the self, and the way it really sticks the landing in that regard. A lot of pieces this week came up a little short (or a lot short) on their endings, but this one nailed it, and I think that's what gave it the win in a strong field.

Thranguy, "Furthest from the Moon: An Abbreviated Lexicon"

And on the subject of pieces that didn't stick the landing... hoo, boy. I was totally on board with this for most of it, as it created a weird fantasy world, but then we clanged into the final dialogue and the illusion was broken for me. This is a world where the Abrahamic religions have been lost and the people are single-sexed, but we still get references to Harry Potter and Godzilla and the word "wiseass?" This is probably just a matter of taste, but that final dialogue clanged so hard with the Dying-Earth-style "insanely far-future weird fantasy" feeling of the rest that it just soured me on the whole story.

Kaishai, "They Sing in Veneta"

This story was in heavy HM contention, and I feel like the main reason it didn't end up with one is that we decided we didn't want to give out that many HMs. The other reason, although I think it's secondary, is that this isn't as strong in terms of philosophical bent or metaphor as the rest of the week. There's certainly something simmering under the surface for me with ideas about desperation and transhumanity... but mostly, this is a well-written, pretty fantasy story. There's nothing wrong with that.

Flesnolk, "Every Night in San Rafael"

On the flip side of "They Sing in Veneta," this is a story that took its edge from the metaphor at play here. This is one of the few stories that went for magical realism instead of full fantasy, which is an interesting choice, and I think it does a good job following through on its base concept simply and well. My major issue is that some of the word choices are kind of ponderous: "from whence the clouds come" and "never seen thereafter," which aren't awful but probably didn't need to be there. Still, this is a good, solid work that chooses and hits its target well.

sebmojo, "Before the Big One"

I worry that a DM may have been a little harsh for this piece, which has a lot of good ideas, but it feels half-baked. I really wish it had centered more of the tiny little nugget of emotional reality at its core, where the protagonist encounters his maybe-wife and gets brushed off: this sort of immense tragedy of living in reverse, where you've lost so much and are sleepwalking through a half-remembered and disorienting past, and how that can readily lead someone to commit what amounts to esoteric suicide. The setting stuff, by contrast, isn't really as important or interesting, which may be another reason why this didn't do that well. I mostly wish there had been more focus and polish here, because there's a germ of something interesting and some rather pretty bits of prose.

crabrock, "987 words"

If sebmojo's story was half-baked, this is a set of ingredients set out on a counter, full of tasty potential but not quite realized into anything. There's an arc across the vignettes, to be sure -- the rise and fall of this collection of chained planets -- but it feels a little sparse at this point, not quite gelling into a complete narrative. It doesn't help that there are several sloppy mechanical issues ("Angel" being typed as "Angle" once, "photos" for "photons," an incorrect "it's") that suggests that this is more an assembly of thoughts written quickly than a fully-developed piece. The ASCII is kind of neat, but it's not really a story, is it? And the poem... the poem's not great.

I'd love to see a version of this that was refined into something of substance. Seriously, there's potential here. It jsut doesn't work in its current form.

Bad Seafood, "Head of State"

This feels short and rushed, like you were trying to get your most basic ideas onto the page quickly, without a lot of room to flesh them out. It's a shame, because I think you could probably flesh this out into something interesting, but it needs a lot more development than what we get. For one thing, I'm not sure a child's viewpoint is the best for this as a story, since it mostly means Henrietta's being exposited at. Maybe Henrietta's father would be a little better -- really, is he a true believer in this idea, or just being a bit of a tyrant of his own? -- or the mayor, who must have a lot of their own feelings on the matter. (I found myself wondering how the mayors are chosen, and if this is in any way a voluntary position. Hell, maybe look at a mayor at midterm in this village. How and why do you try your best when you're dying by firing squad in a year regardless?) But, yeah. I suspect you know this, but this is rushed and skeletal. If you want to keep playing with the idea, I'd say go for it; it's not a bad starting point.

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!

Then God Bless You

Unit: Farthing

959 words

It is not as easy as it sounds to just lie down and die. We are machines built for survival, and our souls are made for struggle, and God is great. So I did not lie down and die, even with everything I have held or loved in ash and ruin. I took what I could sell to the fools who still thought things might get better, and I left, heading north.

“You have the money?” said the criminal. I did, went to get it out. I had no experience dealing with such people, so I made a mistake. A wiser man, a man of such experiences or who had thought the matter through would have had the fee ready, separate from their other cash. I didn’t. He saw. “The price has gone up,” he said.

“How much?” I asked. He grinned to break his face in half. I had no other options. He took what I had, assigned me to owl group, and shooed me away.

“Another owl, yes?” said another man, loitering close to the criminal.

“Yes,” I said. “What does it mean?”

“When we have to cross open ground,” he said, “It will be in groups. The guide will make the call of the owl, and it will be our turn. I am Dozan.”

“Tariq,” I said, and clasped his hand. “You are, I mean, your name. They do not care for your people, where we go.”

Tariq smiled, warm even against the late day’s heat. “True,” he said. “Nor I for them. I should be heading east, yes? But one cannot get to Britain from Iraq.”

“You have family there?”

“Cousins. We share a name and a grandfather now with God. It may be enough.”

It would not be virtuous to show my envy, so I kept silent. What relatives I still had, at least as distant as Dozan's British cousin, had fled south, not leaving the country, as though things would get better, as though the war would not one day follow them.

We set out after evening prayers, crawling on hands and knees through narrow ravines, clambering over short barbed-wire fences, making no unnecessary sound. We moved at a forced march pace. The criminals, the guides passed around water bottles when we made a too-brief rest. There was barely dregs left when it reached me. The sprint was coming, soon.

The distance had looked tiny on the maps, but now, in the dead of night, it seemed immense, many ballfields end to end, all in open sight for the patrols. We took position at the edge of the ravine like infantrymen ready to go over the top. The screech that came was like an owl rather than a whistle. It was time to run.

We ran together, Dozan and I. There were few others in our group. A mother and her child. None of the guides. We ran, forcing our breathing as quiet as we could. The woman cried out. I turned around. Her leg was caught in something.

“Keep moving,” said Dozan, at a loud whisper.

“Quiet,” I said.

“Too late for that,” he said. “It's as I feared. We're the decoy group.”

“The decoy?”

“While the border guards are gathering us up and sending us back to the other side the rest will be sneaking past.” We kept running. “It could be worse. They could have sent us through a minefield.”

The thought hadn't occurred to me, and I nearly stopped in my tracks. “How can you be sure?”

“You'd know. Trust me.”

There was a loud blast, and I thought for a second that I had hit a mine, that my troubles were over. Then another, and I noticed that the woman was no longer screaming. There were more shots, a burst, another. There was a rise in the terrain ahead. I dashed toward it, pulling ahead of Dozan. A third burst, and something slammed into my back. I fell forward, over the rise and into a narrow, dry gully.

I was facing the ground. I tried to move, but there was something weighing me down. I turned my head. It was Dozan on my back, still, lifeless. I rolled out from under him. Blood made a dark spot on his shirt in the moonlight, right at his heart.

It is not easy to lie down and die. The soldiers would be around, and soon, to confirm their kills, to eliminate witnesses, to do whatever unclean thing they had planned for the corpses. But our souls are made for struggle.

I silently begged forgiveness as I quickly went through the dead man's pockets. Just two small coins, one to each pocket, to stop any jangling noise. I only had one good pocket so I only kept one, not enough to spend on anything, good only for luck and with a bad track record for that. His wallet was as cash-empty as mine, but I kept it too. We didn't look much alike, but neither of us looked much like the young man in the pictures. I could be Dozan, to strangers and relations near to strangers. If things were reversed, I would want him to use anything he could of mine. God is great, and God will be the only judge that matters. But all that came later. There, in the ditch, pockets full, shirt soaking through with the blood of a comrade’s last heartbeat, I crawled and clambered away, my soul nothing but the struggle, nothing but the need to reach a village, to take any charity offered and work at any job that doesn't offend God, to cross the next border and the one after, as many as it took to find a place of asylum.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 10:13 on Dec 30, 2018

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

A Little Fall of Snow
993 Words
Unit: League

I lie on the icy ground, gasping for breath, the tears that stream from my eyes freezing on my cheeks before they even reach my beard. I stare up at the sky. I don’t think I’m ever going to move again. I glance down at myself. My leg juts out at an unnatural angle. It should hurt more. I should probably be more worried that I can’t feel as much pain as I expect to, but right now, I can’t bring myself to care that much. My mind wanders away, unable to focus.

--My whole life, I’d always wanted to hike the Arctic Circle. I kept putting it off, planning but giving up, saying I’d do it next year. I finally commit to it, and now it’s going to kill me. Is that irony? Probably--

I inhale and a wave of pain – red hot, nauseating - sweeps over me, bringing me back to the here and now, though the world goes fuzzy around the edges. I guess I don’t need to start worrying about not feeling it now. The worst of it passes, and goes back to a dull shriek on the edge of my awareness.

They’ll tell you about the Swiss cheese model, that disaster only happens when everything goes wrong at the same time, but sometimes all it takes is one small mistake and then everything’s over, and you’re freezing to death thousands of miles from home, hours away from the last cabin, meters away from your emergency pack. I turn my head – twinges of pain, not enough to stop me – and eye up the pack, its contents strewn across the snow surrounding where it fell on our way down.

--I never saw a lot of snow, growing up in a subtropical city. Always imagined it would be pristine. Down here it’s stained red--

It would be easy to just lie here forever. There’s not much point to trying. I don’t know if I’ll be able to reach my emergency kit. If I do, I don’t even know if it’ll still work. If anyone will come find me. Everything has already gone wrong, why would they start going right now? I’ll just freeze in the cold and the dark. But if I can just crawl those few meters more, maybe I’ll –

--The sky is full of lights, great ribbons of colour dancing slowly across the darkness above me. Someone’s up there, dancing--

Maybe I’ll be able to call for help. I don’t feel any desperation. It would be so easy to just lie here and fall asleep. But I look up at the sky, and I can hear something, in my ear, in my mind? A voice, calling out to me from far away, telling me to move, to pull myself to safety, that to give up is to admit defeat. That I shouldn’t accept another failure in a life full of them. That I always give up just too soon.

The voice warred with the comfortable feeling of warmth that had settled itself over my body. This wasn’t so bad, after all. Still. Quiet. Almost peaceful. But the voice is still there, louder now, screaming. It sounds like it’s coming through a bad radio connection, harsh and buzzing. I can’t sleep with all this noise in my ears. I ignore it as long as I can. Snowflakes settle in my beard, on my eyelashes. I’m drifting away, the voice is fading. Then a surge of pain catches me off guard, jolting me awake, and I can’t ignore the voice any longer.

-- He’s standing there at the top of the hill, silhouetted by the setting sun. He yells at me to hurry up, but he’s got laughter in his voice. I always stop just too soon, he says.  He’s not unkind, but he’s also not wrong --

It takes some effort, but I haul myself up and over, onto my stomach. I only scream a little bit. Slowly, one hand over the other, I pull myself towards the small satchel that housed my emergency gear. I didn’t know it was possibly for the body to hurt this much and not just shut down from the pain. Time contracts, tunnel vision sets in. Reach. Drag. Switch arms. Repeat.

-- Sometimes way out above the arctic circle people go mad with hunger and isolation, and trudge out into the endless night in search of meat, driven by nothing but the will to consume, determined to strip the flesh from the bones of the first creature – or person - they run into --

I reach the emergency kit, scattered in a narrow arc in around the satchel. I don’t know how long it took to get here. 17 minutes? An hour? An instant? An eternity? I’m here, I did it. The voice is quiet now. I can’t feel my fingers anymore, but I can see that they’re still there, the tips buried in the red snow. I blearily take stock of the objects closest to me. A radio, a flare gun.

I reach out and hit the SOS button on the radio, and leave a smear of red along the side. It squawks once, loudly, then starts beeping slowly, rhythmically. My leg feels like it’s throbbing along in time with the beeps. Was that it? Is that enough? No, there was something else I had to do.

I stretch out my other hand, fumble about in the snow, and find something - the flare gun. My frozen fingers fumble with the small device, but I manage to shoot a flare into the air above me. I turn my head and, out of the corner of my eye, watch the bright speck ascend into the sky and mingle with the eerie lights above me as I feel myself descend into the warm embrace of unconsciousness. I don’t know if I’ll wake up. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. But at least I didn't just quit.

Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give

Crits for Week 305, Tacos and Potato Olés and Nobody Posting

My main frustration with this week is obvious and has already been stated, so I'll just move on. The stories that actually got posted were all solid for the most part, with the loss going to something unfinished more than something bad.

Spark That Bled, "Offerings for the Dead"

This is a decent piece, but I feel like the voice is a bit dry and the focus and pacing could be refined. We don't learn enough about Nana for the initial stuff about her convenience-store work or her misgivings about an exchange student to have much weight, so I think it may have been better to cut that and start straight with the encounter at the dinner table, letting the story spend more time on the eventual reveal about Trey's thoughts on ghosts.

Speaking of which... I wish the story had been a little clearer about why Nana views that sympathetically. My first thought was that she herself is actually involved with ghosty stuff (with the convenience-store job maybe as a cover?), as foreshadowed by her being "at work" so much, but it's not really clear whether that's driving her or just an understanding/appreciation of where Trey's coming from and why he seems a little flighty. Either could potentially be a good story, but it needs to be refined and brought to the forefront a little more.

For a first Thunderdome entry, this is pretty solid! Figuring out pacing and focus is a problem everyone has sometimes. I hope you'll keep writing, because I'd like to see what you have to say.

Sitting Here, "Messiah and the Devout"

Going into this story, I was broadly aware that it was an installment in a series of stories about this Messiah, but I deliberately chose not to read them to make sure this story stood up on its own, and I'd say it does. It's clearly an episodic piece, but that's not really a problem? In terms of plot beats, it works efficiently and well to set up the situation, conflict, and resolution.

The character voices in this one are interesting and, overall, I think work all right. I wasn't sure what to make of the narrator's detachment at first, but I suspect this is an intentional element of the character, that she's over-sanguine when things get weird. The treatment of the titular Devout is also very good; there's a light enough hand used that they're not cartoonish, and it makes sense that the narrator would trust them initially, even as it becomes clear to the reader what's going on. Pretty deft.

Captain_Person, "Eviction Notice"

First off, shoutouts for probably making the best use of your song. This story is extremely "Spent Gladiator 2," and I respect that.

This piece is a really good evocation of depression and learned helplessness, and its major problem is just that the events don't really hang together. It's clear enough why James stays, certainly -- a lack of options, a certain need to not abandon his home, that sad hopeless hope that if you just hunker down everything will work out somehow -- but it's not particularly clear why he finally leaves, or why the landlord has let things go on for almost a year without involving the cops. If things more clearly came to a climax, and if there was more clear sense of action or choice (or the effects of indecision), I think this would have been a real contender, because the voice is great and heartrending. It just needed more meat of story.

Thranguy, "Fissures"

I liked this one quite a bit. There are a few weak points here -- Daphne's arrival at the lake seems a bit convenient, and the opening prank is kind of lame -- but this is a nice, rather sweet sketch of an emerging friendship between fragile people and the gradual rebuilding of trust. I also think it's a much stronger story for the lack of supernatural elements; it would have been easy for Derek to be an actual ghost, but it would also have been cheesy, and I appreciate the psychological reality of this.

QuoProQuid, "A Mistake"

This is obviously unfinished -- really, not quite even started, since we don't get to the part of the story where anything much happens. This is well-written enough to suggest something interesting will happen, but I'm guessing there was supposed to be much more that didn't get written before it was time to post, especially since what we get doesn't really address the prompt or the song, which I presume the story would have gotten to in time if it had gone on. (Well, we have some frivolous spending on display from "Fault Lines," and maybe Alice's issues with getting in have something to do with cultural misunderstanding, but that reading feels a little charitable.) To be frank, this almost feels like warmup-exercise writing, the kind of thing one does to get practice with character and voice but will eventually be edited out to get to the action. That's perfectly fine, but it doesn't make for a successful Thunderdome submission, unfortunately.

Djeser, "PCS"

This piece was in win contention and would have HMed if I'd decided to give out any mentions this week. Ultimately, we decided it had some issues with character voice; our protagonist is clearly a fish out of water, but sometimes she felt more like a Martian than just a kid getting used to non-military-base schools, and she's a tiny bit of a cipher otherwise. Still, as someone did this song and dance for eighth grade, the mood of the story -- the feeling that everyone but you knows what's going on and has known everyone else forever, along with the desire to cultivate any friendship, however awkward -- is very familiar and kind of quietly poignant. This is another piece that I think benefits a lot from psychological realism and makes me glad I ran a week with a realistic focus, so thank you for writing it.

Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.

Just One More Hit
Word count 1008

Flynn’s dead limbs itched miserably. It usually did whenever he felt the most stressed. Honestly, he was pretty much stressed all the time these days. He finished the prepared statement to the press conference room, as empty as it was. There was an irritated looking reporter and what had to be a sleeping homeless in a chair in the back.

“I always said that I could beat any fighter with my hand tied behind my back, and now I’m putting my money where my mouth is.” There was an awkward pause as he looked at the only attendee. He lamely added, “Thank you for your time. I’ll take any questions.”

The reporter glared, letting the silence drag. Finally, he shook his head and cleared his throat. “You’re in a wheelchair!” he said, shaking his opened hand in Flynn’s direction as if to say ‘see!’. “You move around by blowing air into that straw there! How the hell do you expect us to take this serious?”

Flynn set his jaw. He expected this, but it still stung. “I had my physical and I have my sponsors. I’ll be back on my feet and in fighting shape in no time. I’ll be fit to defend my title.”

The reporter muttered, “Of all the of the dumbest bullshit… I need a new job,” but his naturally loud voice still allowed Flynn to hear.

The homeless guy shifted in his seat and started to snore.


Flynn stared ahead with vacantly with red-rimmed eyes. Frankie, his trainer, paced the empty gym nervously. Gunmetal fingers rubbing the stubble of his jaw.

“Sponsors get mighty skittish when there’s negative press involved, Flynn. You knew this was gonna be a long shot, but now…” Frankie trailed off, stopping to think.

There was a heavy pause while Flynn’s eyes came back into focus. “We’ll just go to Jimmy’s. We can get a loan. You know we go way-”

“Let me boil it down to the simplest of terms. No sponsors, no neural links, no fight.” Frankie, squat as he was wide, towered angrily over Flynn with his metal arm folded across his chest. “And if you go to that loving Limb Shark… you and me - we’re done.”

Flynn swallowed a lump in his throat. He then licked his lips, mentally preparing himself for this fight. “I need this, Frankie. Frankie, look at me.” Flynn blinked rapidly, not wanting the tears to roll down his face. Not now. He was done with that weak poo poo. “I said look at me!”

The sudden rage got Frankie’s attention.

“Ever since-” Flynn pressed his lips into a tight line. He breathed deep, his nostrils flaring and started again. “I need this fight to happen, no matter what. If I have to take another month of all this pity I’m going to off myself. I am so sick- I want to be normal. I want to be seen as normal, and if the price I have to pay is to go see Jimmy, then gently caress it, I’ll do it.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” Frankie said. “You get what you pay for Flynn. And if you pay that slicer to do neural work, you’re asking to be fried. I can almost guarantee. He cuts too many corners.”

“I need to risk it. If just for one fight. After that, I’ll be able to afford to do it right proper.” Flynn set his jaw, the muscles twitching. “If you force me, I’ll do this myself. But I want you in my corner. Hell man, you are my corner!”

Frankie, with arms still crossed, drops heavily on to a stool with a scowl on his face.


Flynn felt his heart hammering away in his chest. It felt right. Across the ring was Two Hit Tony, glowering at him; bouncing on his toes and working his neck side to side. The crowd. Oh the crowd. Flynn closed his eyes and let that cacophony of noise wash over him. Vibrate through him. He was home again. It felt right.

He heard the referee’s voice cutting through the noise, calling him forward. Tony swaggered up as well. Tony’s going to be put into the ground.

The bell rang, and the gloves went up. They circled each other, testing the distance, checking the reflexes. Flynn weaved, keeping his head moving; snapped a jab. Quick. Hard. Right through Tony’s weak defenses. Muscle memory still there. Slid past a straight punch. Jab. Jab. Clean hits. Tony looked irritated. Good, keep him on the-

Tony dashed up, faster than he had any right to. He jabbed and Flynn moved his head to the side. A feint. Flynn see’s the red of the glove scything through the air. He pulled his arm up to protect the chin. Too slow. A brilliant flash of light and his head snapped to the side. He stumbled forward and clinched Tony, his legs feeling like rubber. The referee separates them.

Flynn felt an itch in his arms. Something’s wrong. He brought the gloves up, but his arms are slow to respond. Tony jabs and every hit lands. Flynn can’t move fast enough. Crushing hook to the body. Now to the right. Now to the left. Every hit, Flynn felt his control over his body slipping away.

No, this can’t be happening. Flynn counter attacked, but his arm looks like he’s paddling through water. Tony ducked under the swing and the counter hook made Flynn half twirl and drop to the ground.

Flynn heard the referee count. This can’t be it. He tried to get up, but his limbs wouldn’t obey. This couldn’t be end. No way. It’s gonna be just like the movies. The referee’ll reach nine and he’ll get up and finish the fight in a dignified manner.

Flynn watched the referee wave his hands over him, signalling the end of the fight. As the moments dragged on everything blurred. He blinked and tears streaked down his face. That’s it. That’s the end of the fight.

That’s the end of his fight.

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


1096 words

Ferra tried all kinds of odd jobs when she got out of prison: gas station attendant, vacuum saleswoman, medical transcriptionist. But it was too confining, grating, degrading, and she couldn’t handle being cooped up all day. The one job she stuck with longer than a month was ranch hand. Her few times on horseback had been cherished childhood memories; the owner was about as lazy as laissez-faire came; and she had a knack for catching and bringing in wild horses.

“You got something,” Mac told her after another rewarding day. “Wouldn’t have thought a woman could do what you just did, but…” He shrugged. “You did it.”

“What’s that mean?” she asked, her eyes slitted.

“It takes skill, what you’re doing. Quick thinking. Oftentimes some good arm and upper body strength. But you pick it up fast.”

It was a far cry from how she had been when she had first showed up, barely able to tie a knot. But she worked at that skill constantly, slow and methodical, because it was something she could take and practice on her own. Tie the rope tight, Mac had said. Keep it taut. Leave this part here just loose enough that you can adjust if necessary—adjust to the specific circumstances you find out there. Ever since getting out, Ferra felt most at ease working alone. She chafed at riding instruction, but gritted through it.

Now, she had her eye on a wild stallion, standing apart from about a dozen off in the distance. A dapple gray with a white mane. He eyed her cautiously from the side of a hill, keeping his distance. He’d evaded their grasp for months, but this morning, he was her target. This was her first solo outing, now that she had proven her skill in bringing in mustangs (and a couple of recaptured escapees), and she aimed to make a splash.

She nudged her horse forward. The stallion looked up, then suddenly bolted, and the other mustangs followed suit. She kicked off into a gallop. She knew how to separate him from the rest of the pack. The hunt was on.


After Ferra had completed her sentence, her sister-in-law came to pick her up from the prison. They didn’t talk about much on the ride home. Theirs was a chilly truce, dancing around the topic of Mark without ever mentioning him, or self-defense, or arguments, or terror. They had trod that ground before, and settled on an undeclared cease-fire.

They pulled into the driveway and Grace popped out and sprinted up the front steps. “You can stay,” she called back to her newly ex-con half-sister, as if it was an afterthought. “A while.”

Ferra clambered out of her in-law’s car. “Get back on my feet,” she offered.

Something seemed off. The door, she remembered. She closed the door. It crunched.

“Shut it,” Grace said, eyes gray silence that said everything. “Harder.”

After a fumbling with the handle followed by a slam more to her liking, she disappeared inside, leaving Ferra on the walkway clutching the bag of personal items taken from her when she first went into lockup. Half of the clothes no longer fit. She stopped caring years before.

Ferra didn’t last a week at Grace and Stan’s. The clashes with her sister-in-law and brother-in-law were too much—over lack of maintenance on the property (it had been her mother’s before she died, then hers until that night, and now it was Grace’s through some dimly recalled chain of events), how they let the dogs destroy the place, how they let their children talk to her.

Her time on the inside had stripped her of all her patience, among other things; things that she was better off without, as she saw it. She just had enough, one day, and set off on her whirlwind tour, doing short stints on mindless jobs, brief stays on old friends’ couches interspersed with sporadic renting.

But what made her first pause and wonder, that first night in the creaking house where she had last lived as a free woman, had spent several awkward teenage summers, had last seen her mother alive, was her bedroom door. The paint was chipped and peeling, and the floorboards below were speckled with matte off-white, but she was entranced by the door swinging open and closed at her own touch.


I got you now, you bastard.

Ferra had tracked the Mustang miles from the ranch, into the foothills of the mountains. Finally, after hours of seeing him over a ridge and approaching only to see him bolt away again, as they zigzagged over hills and valleys—finally, he was wearing down, his reactions becoming slower and slower. Now, before a wide river heavy with spring snowmelt, he waited for her, panting and gasping in the slanting evening sun, his breath cloud catching the sunlight as if it was deep winter.

Ferra carefully edged down the slope. Something in her that she knew was not rational, something that she had stopped denying had been there all along, wished that she was armed, that she could feel the cold steel digging into the flesh of thumb and forefinger before the flash and the crack of the report—deafening indoors, but out here it would be lost in the wilderness, with perhaps a whispered response from the mountains to the east—and see him fall, in slow motion, see him gasping, bleeding, eyes staring up, and no threat, no longer a threat, not going to be a threat, ever again.

But she wasn’t.

What she was armed with instead was a rope, tied and knotted, and a horse, well-fed and trained for endurance, up against the wild exuberance and inexperience of youth. She knew that all too well. She set off at a gallop.

It turned out the mustang had one last chase left in him.


Mac looked out of his ranch house that evening at just the right moment. Seeing Ferra ride up, with the broken mustang trailing on the rope behind her, all he could do was shake his head. He wasn’t surprised; not really. If anyone could have brought this horse in, it was her.

He walked out to greet her, keeping a safe distance from their latest acquisition. “Mighty fine. I think you’re about to drive the other hands out of their jobs,” he said with a cockeyed grin. “If they’re not careful, I’m liable to just hand their pay to you.”

“Night, Mac,” Ferra said, barely smiling as she led both the horses back to the pen. But inside, she exulted.

Unit: the herd

Jan 12, 2012

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

Take a Gander
1100 words
Flash: A gaggle

Harry struggled to keep his eyes focused on the screen of his laptop. The white glow of the Word document made his eyes feel heavy and swollen. The copy-paste prose of the cover letter, stressing his “excellent research and analysis skills” and “diverse experiences,” was painful to read. He moused over to his e-mail and refreshed. No new messages appeared.

He pressed against the balls of his eyes until shapes appeared. He was such a disappointment.

“Hey, do you want to hear a fact about birds?”

He blinked as purple splotches dissolved back into his sister’s den. The couch, his makeshift bed, looked as crumpled as ever. The pictures on the wall displayed family portraits and vacation photos. His suitcase, packed with the remains of his college apartment, sat open in a corner by a large flat screen television. A wadded shirt labelled “Class of 2017” lay on top.

“Did you know that a Canadian Goose can dive thirty to forty feet underwater? They do it so they can get food. Do you wanna hear another?”

Harry looked at the small creature beside him. His cousin, Matteo, had an exhausting enthusiasm and a seemingly infinite love of birds. When he had arrived a few weeks ago, the kid had been obsessed with cardinals. Then, it was eagles. Now, he had moved onto geese. A set of binoculars, a gift from his mother, hung loose around his neck.

In Matteo’s large, round eyes, Harry could see his reflection squirm.

“Hey, Teo,” Harry said, trying to meet the child’s gaze, “I’m a little busy so...”

He trailed off and gestured toward the computer screen. Matteo looked at it and squinted, as if trying to assemble a puzzle in his head. Then, he turned back to Harry.

“That’s cool, but did you know that Ancient Egyptians kept geese as pets? Can you even imagine that?”

“Teo, is there something I can help you with?”

Matteo giggled and gave him a knowing look. “You knooooow, my mom just got me these binoculars.”

Harry said nothing.

“And I really, really want to go to the park really bad.” Matteo lifted up his arms. “So why spend all day locked up in this crummy room when you can go outside to look at a bunch of geese with me?”

Matteo looked at him as though he could not imagine anything better than looking at a goose.

Harry tried to imagine what would happen if he tossed his laptop aside and spent time chatting about birds. He tried to imagine days of unemployment stretching on to weeks. He tried to imagine his sister’s growing impatience as he festered on her couch, a growing source of shame, a black hole of wasted potential. People would talk. He’d become one of those people who had to work a crummy minimum-wage job and never amount to anything. He’d be one of those people that high-school guidance counselors used as a cautionary tale. “Don’t think that just because you got good grades you’ll get a job after graduation,” they’d say. “You don’t want to be a burden on others, do you? You don’t want to be dependent on other people.”

Harry gripped the edge of the couch as his heart thudded in his chest. The purple splotches returned to his vision. The cursor on his screen blinked again and again. He took a deep breath in and out, aware of Matteo’s stare.

“Yeah, sure. Listen,” Harry said as his heart rate returned to normal. He scratched his pajama shirt, now aware that he should have changed out of it hours ago. He needed to get Matteo out of the room so he could work. “Why don’t you give me some time and maybe we can go to the park later.”

“Really? We can go look at all the birds together?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever… Just, give me, like, a few minutes and you can go see as many birds as you want.”

Harry bent back over his computer as Matteo’s shape bounded out of the den. Harry sat for a few seconds, watching the slow blink of the cursor before he began to type slow, laborious sentences about his “deep enthusiasm” and “devotion to the ideals of…”

He flicked back to his e-mail and refreshed. Then, he checked his Twitter feed. His monitor's cursor blinked. He walked around the room and tried to focus on his breathing. A minute of procrastination ticked into an hour. He needed air. Just for a minute.

Harry opened the den door and stepped into hall. “Matteo, I’m ready to go.”

Silence. He strolled past the front door and opened the door to Matteo’s bedroom. Discarded toys littered the carpet. A paused video game blinked. The house’s silence descended on him, seeming to crush his lungs beneath its weight.


He walked back toward the front door and turned. The door, usually shut, swayed in the wind. A small pair of shoes were missing from the rug. In the grass, a set of footprints led toward the street.

Harry froze for a second as his brain struggled to assemble disparate events in his head. Ducks. Park. Twenty minutes.

Then, the world rushed into focus.

“poo poo.” He said, running back to the den to grab his shoes.

“poo poo. poo poo.” He stumbled through the cluttered room. His leg caught on the laptop charger, yanking the computer from the coffee table onto the floor. The screen turned black as it tumbled to the floor.

“poo poo. poo poo. poo poo.” He was running across the lawn, his feet half inside his shoes, his pajamas billowing in the light afternoon breeze.

He ran until the pleasant spring air felt like needles in his lungs and pain swelled up beneath his ribs. He passed by a confused woman and her dog. He didn’t care if she stared. As the park came into view, he pushed himself into a sprint. A pond with geese came into view and then, mercifully, a small figure with a pair of binoculars.

“Teo!” He shouted, feeling the damp earth soak into the heel of his socks. He felt ready to vomit. “Teo, I swear to God.”

The small child turned and waved. “Hi there, Harry, whatcha doing?”

“What am I doing? What am I...” He came to a stop and curled over, almost deaf from all the blood pumping in his ears. “Do you have any idea—. Do you even know—. Your mom—.”

A small hand patted him on the back. “There, there.” Harry looked up to see Matteo handing over his binoculars. “Aren’t the birds pretty?”

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

O My Daughter
Unit of measure: Ducat
(1,090 words)

Read it in the archive.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 19:14 on Jan 2, 2019


Jan 27, 2006

Submissions closed. Anyone who hasn't submitted and who wants to DQ rather than fail may post their story prior to judgment. I will crit all DQs.

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