Haha right let's get down to it. In
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 00:34|
|# ? May 19, 2022 15:13|
I felt self-indulgent so I did a reading of an inter prompt that people seemed to like.
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 00:53|
We interrupt your literary hara kiri for an important announcement!
On August 5, 2018, Thunderdome will turn six! This calls for celebration in the form of a special prompt, which will cast its frosted shadow over Week 313--that is to say, the week following this one. The winner of the current round will judge Week 314 instead.
We'll post a reminder as judgment draws near. For now, prepare your silliest hats.
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 01:13|
Crits for Week 264 - Dystopia With a View
This was… not a good week overall. A lot of you hosed up the prompt. A lot of stories just felt like they drew from the same generic well. But fittingly, the winners were far, far above the rest of the pack. Here’s ya crits.
Exhumed by 5D AUTISM SPEX
There are moments where I can genuinely ride the mumbling, incoherent flow of this story. You didn’t pull it off well enough to lift yourself above the mire of mediocre stories, but you definitely captured the rhythm of a YA protag’s inner monologue as you babble out fact after fact about this world.
The issue is, the style you went for clashes with the actual bones of the story. A story about a society without language doesn’t work when it's packed full of specific facts and information. A YA story doesn’t work when so much is withheld, especially when it’s as basic as ‘why did the protag murder his friend’ and ‘why did the mean lady murder the protagonist’.
On a final note, the drones were actually really pointless in the story, and a sign that you may have gotten too wrapped up in the tech of this setting at the expense of the people. Failed the prompt. Low.
Decomposition by Noah
The imagery at least clicks for me. It feels good, it feels tactile, I can dig it. Where you falter is in introducing the Slug. There’s just not enough focus to rise over the dense prose elsewhere and capture the attention it needs for the audience to feel Errol’s fascination.
The second stumble is hiding Errol’s revelation from the audience. By the time he sees Denson,I’m confused as to whether this is the first Slug to escape, and if so, why is the initial incident treated so casually? The emotional thread of this story just isn’t strong enough. You treat big moments, like Errol thinking of his family and sparing Denson for their sake, without any real gravitas.
I dunno. The words were pretty. Low.
Override by Fleta Mcgurn
I love the efficiency of worldbuilding shown here, and with the quick-paced, crystal-clear story I’m honestly having trouble stepping back and engaging the critical side of my brain when I read it. The mix of light-hearted humor and sympathetic embarrassment was perfect for telling the story you wanted to tell and this was one of my favorites of the week. High.
The Unclean Animal Not Suitable for Sacrifice by Captain Indigo
A movie called The Lobster exists and, sadly, its shadow hangs over this whole story. They share a sterile and tightly controlled world. A dry humor. A protagonist who faces transformation into an animal. Maybe you’ve never seen or heard of the movie, and even if you have, it’s fine to wear your influences on your sleeve, but it really hurts this story’s ability to reach a truly surreal place when I’m constantly drawing comparisons between it and another work.
That said, I really enjoyed the prose, which is descriptive and crisp. The world is interesting but you took a detour from exploring the truly engaging part, these people’s incapacity to handle any image or thought that breaks the norm, and instead gone on a horrorshow of a detour, during which the protagonist handles the mutilation of his body with a stoicism verging on robotic. This had a lot of potential. Medium.
Diana, Hunted by QuoProQuid
Something in this story never quite clicks. The ending is so harsh, so out of proportion to Diana’s conflict with her mother that it just doesn’t seem like a logical consequence of their mock feud. It doesn’t help that the story doesn’t really delve far enough into the performative elements of Diana’s life for it to feel like a show - I don’t think anyone would be watching this stream, unless, as is vaguely possible from the sparse worldbuilding, everyone else is living in extreme poverty and crowding around their screens for a glimpse at Diana’s life of relative opulence.
It’s technically well-executed, and there’s a glimmer of a few appealing ideas, but the cheap ending doesn’t bring them out or resolve the conflict in any satisfying way. Medium.
Sunday by unwantedplatypus
This reminds me a lot of my own early Thunderdome pieces, in that it’s full of stuff but seems afraid to reach for plot, character growth, and actually trying to cram a full story into the wordcount. There’s not much to crit here; there’s not much here. Failed the prompt. Low.
Like the Old, Dead Fairytales by flerp
This is well-paced, technically beyond reproach, and it all builds towards a powerful kick. That said, I don’t like it. The central issue the lack of a main character who’s anything but a cipher. Without someone to empathize with and view the emotional arc through, it’s just the reader feeling the story directly, and while you pull together enough familiar and striking elements to hit all the emotional buttons, there’s not a lot of depth here. The ending is emotionally strong but not particularly deep and your better pieces manage to explore far more complex emotions. High but I know you can do better.
Day of the Dog by Hawklad
Could you write a more interesting story next time? Not necessarily better, worse would actually be fine, but christ, have some loving ambition. This is just a cut-n-paste apocalyptic wilderness, with dogs standing in for your generic Mad Maxian slavers - but no actual exploration of dog society or how the world has changed - who fight cats because of course they do. No real characters just a pregnant lady thrown in as cheap motivation.
This was only spared a DM because it seemed wrong to DM something for being aggressively generic in a outright bad week. I got angry reading this a second time to crit it. Failed the prompt. Low.
To live without by Fumblemouse
It’s always a bit cringey for a story to exalt another work that really exists. But the characters’ cringey and awkward love-story brings that back around to intentional, and it’s wonderful. This could have easily won. I like so many things about it, from the moment where Elspeth doesn’t see her love reflected in the protagonist’s emotional signal, to the ending, which is the most any of these stories sold me on the actual sense of living, day to day, in dystopia.
My personal favorite.
Neon Demon by Wizgot
There’s something especially groan-inducing about military fiction, and this definitely lands in the category. The emphasis on stuff without the intent that it should inform the reader of the world or the characters, just stuff-for-stuffs-sake. The refusal to just shove the rote minutia out of the picture when they fail to serve the plot. By the time we’ve actually learned anything about the characters, welp, they’ve gone and thrown themselves off the ship to join a fungal hivemind. Good for them. We don’t get to learn much about said hivemind, of course, because we’re too busy soaking in the details of the ship itself, about the government’s spooky surveillance files, about apocalyptic work camps. What damned this story was a total failure to prioritize the actually interesting bits, to the point that the characters suicide is laughably abrupt. Failed the prompt too. Low.
The Detainee by SittingHere
Yea this was a rough prompt. You sorta made it through, if the reader takes the stance that the story’s exaggeration of autism-spectrum traits is partially propaganda this society is feeding itself about how they’re the superior iteration of humanity. Still, it can’t escape coming off as a little exploitative.
You would have done better to focus on the interplay between the interrogator and her prisoner, where the story’s conceit is more naturally presented and impactful; the normie’s manipulation feels genuinely gross and violating in a way that sells how this society, this new normal, could justly frame the old as barbaric. I liked that a lot. I would’ve liked it more without the rocky start generating its own sense of unease that, unfortunately, bleeds together with the intentional disgust the story tries to stir up later. Medium.
Grass Null by Jay W. Friks
I came back to this with vague recollections of finding it endearing the first time round. A second reading only hurt that, sadly, because it forced me to contend with how much padding this story has; how many limp jabs you take at Monsanto, which, trust me, you don’t need to invest that much effort in getting the audience to hate.
I think there’s one core problem here, and that’s that you never quite manage to draw a line between lawns and whatever they’re supposed to represent, emotionally, to the audience. It’s all very nice to have a story where the rich deny the poor some basic dignity. You even hit on something charmingly absurd in having it be lawns. You just needed to dig a little deeper and explore something more emotionally complex. Failed the prompt and the drat wordcount. Low.
Untitled by Tyrannosaurus
This story has an intricate sense of purpose, where all the small details, although they’re mostly about the routine of these sad devoted people, feed back into building a sense of the absurd world the story occupies. There’s very little here that doesn’t serve two purposes. It allows for a really understated sense of humor that I flat out love, a cavalcade of sensible chuckles against a backdrop of building claustrophobia. You don’t quite land the punchline to all this; the abrupt cut of the ending is punchy, sure, but I think there was something more to be had from the last bleak moments you veered away from. High.
I, For One by Thranguy
Well, I can’t really give a cogent criticism of this when it’s missing its latter half. I’ll just say I liked what you had going, with the gaudy and pointless expedition, the bizarre ocean life. This coulda been my jam. Failed the prompt. Low.
Breeds Contempt by Fuschia Tude
I’m a stickler when it comes to detective stories. This does not pass the bar with its pacing issues, pointless explanations, and, let’s face it, irrelevant mystery that was never going to be resolved within the wordcount. It’s just a vehicle for - what? The characters aren’t intriguing enough to be a study. The world is too bureaucratic to be fantastic. There’s not a lot as far as comedic potential. This was a conceptual mess, propped up by the promise of a payoff that was never really going to come due.
So, y’know, it’s appropriate it starts with babbling about cryptocurrency. Failed the prompt. Low.
The Adding Assistant by Dr. Kloctopussy
There are so many ideas crammed into this one piece it was never going to hold them all with any clarity. There are even two distinctly different styles of prose here, one a fast-paced YA voice and the other a description-rich fairytale style. For what it's worth, I preferred the latter. Underneath the generally confused nature of this story I can see something worth drawing out, the tale of how Arthur fucks up so badly he brings down the kingdom and becomes the ruler of the ruins; I think if you had to cut anything, cut the middle with Morgana and cut Elaine and just focus on Arthur muddling through catastrophe.
Like a lot of your stories this is a young adult focused fairytale, but I think it's one of the stronger and more unique pieces you've put out in that vein. Not quite strong enough, and you do seem to fall back on some bad habits, but it has potential. Medium.
ThirdEmperor fucked around with this message at 02:46 on Jul 25, 2018
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 01:17|
Some Week 305 crits for your feeble brainmeats:
Offerings for the Dead
Right off the bat you have some pretty obtuse sentence structures. The prose is a bit bumpy to read throughout, and there’s a few unnecessary words that trip things up too. In “The only time of day that Trey and Nana ever were in the same room together” the word “ever” is redundant, you’ve already established the fact that it’s the “only” time. Same thing later with “Eventually on one night, [...] Nana finally asked him…” Don’t need “on” as it’s implied and is a weird phrasing to boot, don’t need “finally” because the fact that you include this sentence makes it clear to the reader she hasn’t asked before, which is reinforced by the opening “eventually.” I’d even argue “eventually” is unnecessary since you go on to make it clear Nana’s been mulling over the question for days. In general the grammar and word choice in this is rough, redundant, and inelegant. It’s written like you don’t trust the reader to put together things that are pretty clearly implied. On the other hand, I don’t think you did nearly enough to set up the fact that they can see (or think they can see) spirits, nor was that tied into the point of the story very well. The story hewed close to the prompt but there was too little here for me to feel engaged or interested in these characters.
Messiah and the Devout
Overall pretty good story. I liked the conceit, and I think it was a good choice to focus on the difference between people who ostensibly share the same core belief system, as it highlights the nuances between the characters rather than broad stroke misunderstandings. I felt like the Mother-god people were maybe a little overly cultish, but I’ll chalk that up as an issue that would probably go away had it been a longer work. Here, though, their whole impregnation thing felt a bit heavy-handed. Also I was a bit meh on the ending. It seems strange to me that this random guy would wander off with her after almost no interaction. I needed more of him and who he was, why he was in conflict and how his conflict helped to drive the viewpoint character forward or change her somehow.
I can’t really fault this story on a technical level--it was functionally pretty solid and readable, if a little heavy on narrative summary over actually playing out scenes. But honestly it was kind of a miserable story to get through. It was depressing, which isn’t a criticism in and of itself, but it was depressing in large part through inaction. This was a story built around a complete avoidance of conflict, with no real point of focus to anchor the reader. There’s nothing particularly interesting about a character being in a lovely situation and just… refusing to try and get out of a lovely situation. I feel the story shouldn’t have ended with him leaving, it should have started with it. Whatever happens in this character’s life following him leaving the apartment will be 100x more interesting than stubborn inaction, regardless of what it is.
There are some bright moments in this one but I think it has a few issues that really muddy it. First off, this may be monumentally stupid advice, but I think the story would have been better served if it was just the center section, even if it means losing the initial introduction of Derek. Framing that section as a flashback within a larger story immediately creates a kind of intellectual distance, when really it should be engaging me emotionally throughout. Also I don’t feel the beginning and end added anything that couldn’t have been accomplished just as effectively in the main body of the story. Other than that, it was alright. Some of the dialog felt pretty stilted or contrived to me, though I don’t spend much time around teenagers anymore so what do I know. I would have liked the scenes to be a little more active, as is they tended to be recounted rather than letting me watch them play out in time, which is another shortcoming of the flashback approach, I think.
Hard to say much about this one, since it feels like it probably isn’t finished. Nothing really happened in a way that was interesting or engaging. Also the St. Cloud newspaper is the Times, so I can only assume this fictional Gazette is about 400% more interested in covering any news of real note.
This was another story where not much happens in a week mostly consisting of not much happening, but I was still on board with the story because the language and imagery was immediately engaging. I felt like this character was a little undefined, but not too bad. A good friend of mine grew up on AFBs and this story reminded me a lot of his childhood stories so I think you captured that unmoored feeling that a lot of military brats grow up with, well done. I’m glad I knew what the acronyms meant going into the story; PX is probably easy enough to figure out from context but I feel like the story might lose a little bit of context if you don’t know PCS ahead of time, maybe just calling it Permanent Change of Station would have worked fine? Or I’m bad at titles, that’s much more likely.
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 05:53|
Crits for Week 298 - Featuring Idris Elba
It’s impressive how little this week sticks in my mind, besides that one ittle, horrifically rapey, mishap. The best stories rose to the exalted rank of, uh, okay. Decent. Solidly constructed with characters and maybe some emotion.
I gotta say. You folks don’t seem to put much faith in Mr. Elba’s acting range. I see a lot of stories about sauve criminals and not a lot else.
Fire in the Hole by Chili
I don’t have much technical criticism to offer because this is a story that has, more or less, reached its apex. It is well constructed. It has emotion. It implies more than one layer to the father and son’s relationship. Does it offer up a strong role for a dramatic talent? Hell yes, more than any story this week, I heard Elba’s voice in the dialogue.
And if there’s any criticism I have to offer it’s just that. It’s a little too neat, both as a screenplay that would theoretically star Idris Elba, and as a story. This week we asked for good starring roles and this story was almost inevitable; it’s Oscar bait. I always want to see a little more ambition in a piece, even at the cost of technical perfection. High.
I Met my Father During the Zombie Apocalypse by Yoruichi
I’ve critted this in private and won’t subject you to the public excoriation, no matter how well deserved it is. You know what you did. You wrote a Medium story.
A Mother and a Father by derp
I do enjoy the imagery. I really do. There’s no real arc here, just a lady who keeps ignoring her better instincts, maybe hypnotized, and eventually meets a bad fate. I’m not sure what here was meant to showcase an actor’s talents. I don’t walk out knowing much about any of the characters or the world or why anything is happening; there’s no logical or emotional thread for me to follow here, only things happening. Medium.
Memories of You, Hovering in the Sky by Exmond
Well, you’ve seen Dark Tower.
I actually like the joke. It’s kind of an anticlimax but it's also kind of sweat and the dog food bit sets it up nicely. The issue is, between setting it up and knocking it down, you crammed a whole bunch of bizzare cosmological gunslinging down the reader’s throat with nary a moment to breathe, and why? What purpose did it serve? When you compress it down to such bare bones there’s no time to build tension, no real sense of drama or consequence.
Honestly, I suspect the only reason any of that happened was because you heard ‘Idris Elba’ and thought ‘oh hey he was in Dark Tower’. The end point, the punchline, would have been served better by you toning this down many, many notches, maybe to a simple gunfight between a lone wanderer and a few desperados. Low.
Finnt Visits the Potion Master by Bubble Bobby
So for what it’s worth, on the off chance you slink back to read the long overdue criticism of a story you pretty well knew went over like a lead balloon, this is the most interesting story of the week. Even before the whole thing.
Frankly, I was hooked from the start. The mutilated, overwrought fantasy language and eclectic worldbuilding, that couldn’t be more an arrow aimed directly at my story-readin’ heart. But then we hit the long, overly expository middle, the interminable tough-guy dialogue, and I started to wonder - wait, was all that not intentionally bad? My heart sunk as this story tried to deny its glorious badness and wear a straight face. By the end you try to loop back around to ‘humor’ but, well, we’ll get to that.
I know you - assuming you ever read this, which you won’t - think we’re all overly sensitive and your big punchline is just fine. It’s not, and I’ll lay out why, but let me also make this argument from another angle that the hypothetical Bubble Bobby might give more credence.
This is a loving Vin Diesel movie and you know it. Let me see. Hardboiled men of ambiguous morality flexing their tough-guy wits in endless banter, dressed to the nines in a mixture of modern and fantasy aesthetic? Vin. Goddamn. Diesel.
But you know what? You were given a job, to showcase an actor’s talents, and neither Diesel or Elba are gonna sign up to be an attempted rapist. Yes, you have protested that the rape would never happen, but what is the audience going to think of a guy who’s only motivation is to force a woman into sexual servitude? Not a lot. That’s not an Oscar role.
And finally, I’ll come at this from the angle you intended, taking the whole scenario as a joke. Putting aside, even, the whole issue of transphobia, because we don’t really need it to argue that this story is bad: ‘Actually that girl is/was/previously-had-the-genitals-of-a-guy’ is a just a tedious, lame and worn-out joke even on its own terms.
So Bobby, if you ever get the midnight urge to go read some crits of your piece de resistance and get mad about how unfair we were, if you ever read this as more than a hypothetical, hey. gently caress you. Fite me.
You just keep on going by SurreptitiousMuffin
This, here, is a role with depth. I love the weird musing tone that wanders through thoughts of aging, the vastness of the sea, and the chase for this lost love who is, thankfully, not at all raised up or romanticized but clearly a flawed doofus. It’s got a lovely sense of melancholy and genuinely poetic longing. The one thing that nibbled away at my immersion was how every note was set, with unerring precision, just where it would be found, across the entire sea. Maybe it was magic. It doesn’t much distract from my enjoyment of this story.
My favorite of the week.
No Bite by sparksbloom
The title is spot on. This story has, yep, no bite. There’s a concrete arc and a final choice here, but you know, waiting the whole story for the main character to work up the nerve to make a change, that’s a big ask on the audience. At the end of the day the most your character has to be proud of is running away rather than doubling down, and leaving a kidnapping victim in the hands of a man who would, very clearly, kill her if it advantaged him.
If the whole story leads up to the main character overcoming some fatal flaw, y’know, maybe that flaw shouldn’t be the whole of their character. As he drives off, what do I care, he’s lost his sole defining characteristic and is now a total null fleeing into a blank future. The closest this brushes to something interesting is the brief attempt to use class politics to justify the crime. There was maybe something there. Low.
The Rock by Thranguy
Reading this in the middle of other stories brought out its worst flaws, namely being rushed and somewhat sparse, but I liked it better on the second go-round, or at least saw more potential to be expanded on. The bad is that you rush to sketch out these vast cosmic happenings, almost entirely bare of description, without giving us enough reason to care. It feels slightly edgy, slightly teenage atheist. Really, it just serves as a way of delivering us the end note, the idea of an avenging crusade come out of this hellhole prison to fight the goddamn devil. It’s not the kind of idea that ‘Dome even offers the space for, so I understand stopping on that note and leaving it to the reader to imagine beyond, but I wish you’d found a more engaging way to reach that point, maybe one shines some light, any light, on the protagonist’s transformation from apathetic prisoner to avenging angel. Medium.
Decision Matrix by sebmojo
This story doesn’t work any better backwards than it would forwards, and there’s just not much here. More focus on that all important middle beat, where he gambles away his future to try and impress his wife, that was where you needed to burrow in. That was your moment to build a character arc that really bridges the gap from rebellious kid to reluctant criminal, that makes the journey feel like a tragedy of errors rather than an inevitably. As it is, putting the poignant childhood flashback last only steals heat from the demise at the beginning. There’s no magical way to flip this story. There’s also no strong role for Idris Elba to inhabit here. Low.
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 06:56|
I felt self-indulgent so I did a reading of an inter prompt that people seemed to like.
this is rad btw
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 07:13|
this is rad btw
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 09:19|
Very cool, Jay W. Friks.
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 09:42|
Can I please have my Avatar so I can stop looking at Trump's ugly mug?
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 16:28|
bowing out for the week. I don't got the mind for writing currently.
|# ? Jul 25, 2018 22:10|
This was a bad story, possibly the Worst story. Its woes started with the name- use your titles with care in flash, it’s an important part of the impression you leave a reader with, both as they start and finish . I like titles that mean one thing as you read the story and another once you’ve finished, but don’t just slap down a dumb made-up name that sounds like incontinence medication and call it good bc: it is not.
This lack of goodness is something of a theme, as is stultifying cliche. Lines like ‘the epitome of female perfection’ are a gooey confection of bland and lame and your story is studded with them. The other key flaw is the pov, which sits over your protags shoulder and comments, repeating itself and giggling at its own retarded cleverness. Theres nothing ironic about signing away your soul, its literally the most famous thing the devil does. Anyway why does a client have to be found innocent? Just deliver a goddam washing machine to their door and get them to sign for it then bam you gottem, hope you like an eternity in satans butthole jack. To be clear this is the key twist in your story and it makes the vaunted cleverness of urine lady look a little shabby.
The last para, too: (skipping over lucifer because he plays no actual role in the story) when an immortal being of evil gets locked up then its not chilling. Its good! She was apparently kind of dumb so perhaps she was the author of her misfortune, hm makes u think.
Regular cleaning is essential for good oral health
This goes for the extended metaphor of the teeth and the impacted bullshit of being a human and does it in a very competent way, enough that i was sort of vaguely arguing for it to win but on a re read it plays its cards a little too straight. Theres a character, whos metaphoring away in the dudes mouth, and he kicks out his useless loser brother without too much mess or fuss just like he cleans out the tartare sauce or w/e. It could have worked better if there was more of a contrast between the dentisting and the brothering, but as it is the protag is as robustly unsentimental about his junkbro as he is about the impacted purulence of his day job. Good words, and a nice enough portrait, but doesnt amount to anything much more than a metaphorical paraphrase.
Respect for the dead
Nice title, has a sweet barb in it since there is a distinction we understand at the end of the story about how differently the protag and the townsfolk might view that. I liked this one a lot, and argued for it to win, though not too vigorously. I like the detail of your setup, which takes a terrible cliche and at least traverses it from an interesting angle. It could also do more with the protags outburst, which is the heart of the story. Im not sure it need the mortician sisters, it would probably be stronger with just the two guys, but i can imagine how you could have usefully injected another point of view with one of them. The ending is also a little eh, and i think the deadweight of the sisters contributes to that.
So this suffers from bad toddler talk - ‘me tummy not all full of food’ made my face scrunch up like a squeezed up face cloth - but more crucially its just a set of things that happen, and that kicks any potentially interesting drama down the road. Consider, you could have done the entire story in a para and started at the end with her getting the car. What does her having spent the savings on the car actually mean for her and the family? I cant say i care a lot, but i care an importantly fractional amount more than i do about what you gave us.
This is solid genre piffle, well executed throughout, but with a queasy undercurrent that doesnt quite land for me. Afaict its a templar/assassin sort of dealie with duelling secret organisations, and the protag is playing a double bluff to insert misinformation into their yadda yadda, but its just a bit too pleased with its own subtlety - if all his efforts to escape are fake, then why should i care about his fancy goddam paperclip? You suggest the two sides goals in an offhand way, but its unclear why your protags confessions will have any influence on the struggle between them, so the reader is left with nothing much of anything except a vague desire to play Spider, and Web again.
Live and let dye
Oh god that title what were you thinking. Do not think it again. It doesnt even make sense, because noone gets dyed, its just a miserable collection of phonemes that fills me with rage. The rest of the story is very nicely delivered, pivoting from pin sharp realist detail to magical flimflam delivered with the confidence that you need in this kind of thing. My one real reservation is the ending, which seems to imply she could get arrested for doing voodoo which to my knowledge isnt a crime on the statute books unless you live in, idk, Liberia. Theres also some kind of hair metaphor you could have done more with; why does it matter that hair isnt digestible? I feel like you could have linked her identity issues with the magic criming in a more interesting way rather than have it be basically set dressing. The title (bc as we discussed your story is untitled) is a good way to do this, just adding a little extra acid burnt skull meat to the hairy body of the story so 2 speak
Gifts of the gods
So this is the standard slightly tainted fairy tale words that we’re fairly familiar with from the estimable ms shai, and it conjures its world tolerably well. A particular strength is the jewel descriptions, v rich and fulsome they are. I think the reason it doesnt quite equal the sum of its parts is that it rests on bland, broad statements about the gods and a duchess or w/e who is so evil its disappointing she lacks a moustache to twirl. It also does the regrettable trick of ending with a … to be continued, where the protag and his sassy little chum roam the land with their magical jewel peacocks. So lots of nice words, but not as satisfying as it shouuld be.
|# ? Jul 26, 2018 11:35|
Hey shitsicles sign up. TD runs on blood
You, reading the thread debating signing up, sign up!!!
|# ? Jul 27, 2018 04:05|
yeah maybe you'll make me mad and i'll scream at you
|# ? Jul 27, 2018 06:48|
There's a severe deficit of idiot-baby entrants to ruin this week with their awful words so I guess I have to rectify that for you nerds. in.
|# ? Jul 28, 2018 03:04|
A Drop of Venom, Captain Person, B-
I didn’t pick up any elements of the story that were southern or gothic. It was true to the flash rule though.
The driver was effectively set up as someone who was an evil killer. So much so that there wasn’t really any suspense. The kid is in over his head, this woman wants her next fix, and the fix won’t be what’s in the vial because the title implies it’s an instrument of murder.
I’m not sure how the killer is going to continue her killing spree if she insists on using a poison that she’s running or run out of. She could theoretically keep it going a bit longer though if the story were pushed back to the 90s. She could pay at the pump using stolen credit cards without fear of cameras everywhere tracking her past moments or watching her live.
I completely forgot about finishing the crits after getting better. Doh.
|# ? Jul 28, 2018 05:35|
I'll give my blood. In.
|# ? Jul 28, 2018 08:29|
I'll give my blood. In.
You're late, but I don't give a gently caress. The more the merrier. Added you to the list.
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 00:31|
Week 310 Results - Ghosts? Check! Whiskey? Could’ve been more.
cptn_dr post your head judge crits or I will feed your soul to my ghost butler.
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 09:34|
Sorry! to get them up by the end of this coming week.
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 09:45|
little over 10 hours left, everyone. If I'm waiting on stragglers, I might leave submissions open a little while longer since I'll probably be up late tonight anyway because of reasons.
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 18:44|
There better be at least a 100% submission rate this week, or else
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 19:22|
little over 10 hours left, everyone. If I'm waiting on stragglers, I might leave submissions open a little while longer since I'll probably be up late tonight anyway because of reasons.
Head judge don’t wimble wamble what is the deadline? (Another couple of hours would be great...)
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 19:36|
Head judge don’t wimble wamble what is the deadline? (Another couple of hours would be great...)
Don't tell me what to do, worm.
But since we've only got 7 and a half hours til the deadline and no submissions, I'll move the deadline to 8am central time tomorrow morning
Please submit. I'd like to read your stories.
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 21:31|
*clicking noise turns into grinding noise*
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 16:20 on Dec 28, 2018
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 21:58|
... we've only got 7 and a half hours til the deadline and no submissions...
This is completely normal, by the way, with very few weeks as exceptions. TDers are as notorious for their last-minute submissions as they are for ruining everything.
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 21:59|
Family comes first
Flash rule: must contain the word "ramshackle".
Read it at the archive.
Staggy fucked around with this message at 21:25 on Jan 3, 2019
|# ? Jul 29, 2018 22:57|
THIRDSITTING BRAWL ENTRY
brought to you by extreme intestinal distress
Kyle didn’t even flinch when the hotel clerk asked to authorize $450 on his debit card. He and Ashley had saved up twelve-hundred dollars for this trip and meticulously planned out meals and activities to make the most of their remaining budget.
As they carried their things to their room, Ashley said, “This place is nicer than I expected. You always hear people say Holiday Inns are generic, but you can tell they put a lot of individual touches into this one.”
“Mmm,” Kyle said. The beige walls and unobtrusive art begged to differ, but Ashley was happy, which made him happy. She could wear rose-colored glasses all weekend as far as he was concerned.
Their room was near the end of the hall. Once inside, Ashley quickly set about unpacking their things, putting clothes in drawers, arranging personal items on the vanity, acting as if they were staying two weeks instead of two days. Kyle sat cross-legged on the bed and reviewed their itinerary.
A wall-shaking thump from the room next door startled them both. Ashley cocked her head, listening. Kyle inwardly cringed; getting away from loud neighbors had been part of the appeal of the trip. After a few moments of silence, Ashley shrugged and went back to unpacking.
“We could always ask for a different room,” Kyle said.
"What? Why?” Ashley furrowed her brows. “Let’s not be those people.”
The thump came twice more while they were getting ready to go to dinner, but if Ashley was resolved to ignore it, Kyle wasn’t going to push the issue.
He tried to imagine, as he often did with his neighbors at home, what the person on the other side of the wall could possibly be doing to generate such a sound. His mind conjured an image of an aged, muscular bald man practicing handstands against the wall of his room. Ashley had once put her foot through the drywall in their living room doing the same thing, so it wasn’t entirely far-fetched.
They returned from dinner a little drunk, tumbled into the room and onto the bed, and began undressing each other with an enthusiasm they were seldom able to muster in their own bedroom.
Kyle hesitated, but Ashley kissed him all that much harder, pressing her mouth against his, so hard their front teeth collided with a bony sound that made him shudder. His body responded to the urgent need in hers, though, and seconds later he was back in the moment, thinking only of touch and smell and soft, breathy sounds.
The TV rattled on its wall mount. Kyle was too deep in his senses to feel anything but distant dismay that something was threatening to pull him out of revery. Ashley wrapped her legs around him and dug her fingernails defiantly into his back. He bit her shoulder and didn’t let go. Their lovemaking turned jealous and animalistic, a war for total sovereignty over each other’s attention.
The thumper thumped one last time before evidently signing off for the night. Kyle found himself staring up at the ceiling, watching for the periodic wink of red light from the smoke detector. Ashley snored softly next to him, having fallen into her usual post-coital coma.
After a handful of slow, silent hours, Kyle got up and dressed himself. He stepped into the bright, beige hallway, pausing to make sure the door closed quietly behind him. He didn’t go to the thumper’s door right away. Instead, he went and inspected the contents of the vending machines near the elevator, then read brochures for attractions he didn’t care to see.
Soon there was nothing to do but return to his room. He walked down the hall to their door, then took a few more steps, which put him in front of the thumper’s door. There was no room number. Unlike the other doors, this one had a protective metal plate on its lower portion.
It was one of the closets housekeepers used to store their carts, he realized.
An implication reared its head in his mind.
He reached out as if to knock, then retracted his hand. He looked up and down the hall, then got down on all fours and pressed his ear as close as he could to the tiny gap between door and carpet.
There was a whisper of movement from the other side, faint enough to be the sigh of an air conditioner or the rush of water in a pipe. Faint enough to be anything, really, he told himself, but he stayed that way until he heard the elevator ding at the other end of the hall. He bolted back into his room before the boisterous group of late night drunks could spot him.
Ashley was awake. Streetlight from the window glinted in her open eyes, but otherwise she was indistinguishable from the tousled heap of blankets and pillows.
Kyle looked at her for a long moment, waiting for himself to say something, saying nothing, becoming entrenched in the moment, as though he might turn into a stone grotesque and forever watch over this interval in time.
Sunday morning came. Kyle and Ashley approached the front desk with dark circles under their eyes and hollow smiles on their faces. It’d been a good trip, they told each other, but the hotel was less than impressive.
“How was your stay?” the round-faced middle aged woman at the desk inquired sweetly.
“Great!” Ashley said.
“The room was noisy,” Kyle blurted.
“We never get noise complaints from that room,” the woman said, the sweetness all but evaporated from her voice. “But I’ll discount your stay by fifty dollars for the trouble.”
Kyle opened his mouth, closed it, offered a thin-lipped smile and said, “Thank you. I’d appreciate that.”
They left the Holiday Inn hand in hand, fifty dollars richer for the inconvenience of an anonymous thump. Kyle gripped Ashley’s hand hard, but if it hurt, she said nothing.
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 01:37|
Everett punched me in the face as soon as I opened the door. I staggered back and he stepped inside, slamming the front door behind him. I touched my face, looked at my hand. No blood. “What the hell?” I said.
He shoved me further back. “Yeah,” he said. “Exactly. What the hell, Cal?”
Everett was my little brother, a year and a half behind me. We were past the age where my years were anything but a disadvantage. Still, Ev was never the violent type. If I had to, I could beat the crap out of him and we both knew it. He threw another punch at me. I caught his fist in my hand. “I don't know what you're talking about,” I said. It wasn't exactly true. I had one idea, but I didn't want to think it could be right.
“We dug out the foundation at the Bolland house this morning,” said Everett.
Yeah. That. gently caress.
Happier times. Everett, moving in with Stacy, right out of high school. The economy was booming then, houses coming up everywhere. She was already talking kids while I helped them move into the new apartment. I knew her, knew them both better. I suggested they try a dog first, and Stacy’s eyes lit right up like watery spotlights. I gave them a check to cover the pet deposit and she took straight off for the nearest shelter, came back with a black Collie mix puppy with a notch in his left ear. Named him Beetle and she and Ev played with it the rest of the night while I broke down boxes.
A month later, when it was Everett's turn to go up to Columbus and visit with mom, that puppy vanished, as if into thin air. Stacy had no answers to give, and I could almost believe it, how out of it she was. Ev let it drop, but took me aside at work, told me I should make a point of checking in on her those weekends.
“Who knows,” I said, reaching into a cabinet for two shot glasses. Ev wouldn't come at me while I'm carrying good Bourbon. We were both raised better than that.
“What?” he said. “Everyone. The whole crew was out when they found the bones. I had to report it in.” Ev drank. I followed and poured two more shots.
“What did you tell them,” I asked.
“You mean, did I say I recognized her clothes?” Everett let that question sit there on the table for a long minute. “No.”
It might have been better if Ev picked someone else for the Stacy watching duty, but we weren't either of us swimming in friends. Stacy and I did have a history, back before she and Ev first hooked up, in the late end of high school. We dated for a minute or two. She was my first, I was her second.
So we had history to start reminiscing over, while I was keeping her company and drinking with her to keep her from drinking alone or doing anything harder with strangers. And once we were too far gone to remember we knew better, we tried to relive that history.
We got into a pattern, a habit, a rut. Even after mom passed we found excuses to see each other. We'd check into an hourly rate motel, spend one or two hours on top of the bedsheets, and then I'd give her a loan of a few hundred dollars I knew I was never getting back. We both pretended what we were doing was nothing like what it would have been if we were strangers.
“Why?” asked Everett.
“For you,” I said.
“Bullshit. You took away everything I had-”
“You think you're not better off now, with Mary?” Only the table between us saved me from another sucker-punch. He settled for doing it with his eyes.
“She was three months pregnant,” Everett said through grinding teeth.
“You think I didn't know that?” I said. “She didn't stop drinking, didn't stop with any of the other poison either.” I stood up. Everett clenched his hands tight on the table edge. “That kid was never going to come out right. Maybe it would have been stillborn, or maybe it would have lingered in pain four years while the hospital drained you dry.”
“I don't have to listen to this,” said Everett.
“You know where the door is,” I said. “I gave her the money to take care of it, three times. She knew it had to be done, but she couldn't do it because she'd look at you and how you thought a baby would change everything.”
“And even if it did by some miracle manage to be born alive and healthy,” I said, “Well, you remember Beetle.”
Everett leapt up, bouncing the near legs of the table on the floor. “You can go straight to hell,” he said, and walked out the door, not bothering to close it behind him.
I tried to end it. Stopped showing up for our meetings, stayed late at worksites in case she tried to find me at home. I knew I couldn't avoid her forever.
She found me, near to midnight at my office trailer on the Bolland site. Came on strong, said she missed me.
“Missed my money you mean,” I said.
She grinned. “That's right. And if I don't get it I'll tell your brother everything. We’re going to need a lot, once the baby comes.”
I reached into my desk drawer, pulled out my gun, and shot her. I held my hand over her mouth and nose until she stopped breathing. Then I waited to see if the shot would bring sirens. It didn't. I wrapped her in a tarp and dug a shallow grave, under where the concrete would be poured the next day.
It's funny, the things you don't think about, the way memory is more made up than not. At that moment, when I pulled the trigger, when I felt her stop breathing, I believed everything I told Everett about why I was doing it. Protecting myself was part of it too, but only a small one.
But as I got my things in order, signed documents giving Everett my interest in the business and the house, and took my gun out of the locker, I started asking questions I had forgotten the answers to all that time. Why did I have the gun there? Every other time it stayed locked up. We'd had vandalism at that site, but not more than I had on other sites. And why was the foundation ready to pour that next morning? What kind of excuses had I been making to delay it until then?
If I'd ever settled down myself, ever started a family of my own, what I had to do next would have been harder, maybe even impossible. Was that more fooling myself, thinking I was putting work first when it was all for Everett, to be ready when this day finally came?
I reached my hand across the desk, briefly considering the easy way. Not for long. I grabbed the phone, not the gun. Two phone calls, one to a lawyer, one to the police.
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 02:48|
His brother’s bones were small and had retained a milky white hue despite eight years underground. Fern imagined the muscle and flesh that had hung to these bones. Fern had been right beside Dominic while he was strangled. The murderer had nearly strangled Fern as well, but had fled at the last second. A deep purple bruise lived permanently on Fern's throat. The trauma brought an unseemly gruffness to Fern’s voice.
The bones had been scratched from the various dirt dwelling insects. Fern hoped the witch would still be able to conjure up his brother’s spirit.
Fern's head swam from the noxious incense in the witch’s tent. He held tight to the satchel of bones and waited for the witch to finish with her current customer, an elderly man with a face wet from tears.
“Ask her where she kept her wedding dress, please,” the man said. He held out a brooch to the witch who took it in a pale hand lined with tattoos.
“There is not much of her left in this brooch. Do you have any more of her jewelry? Or money she handled?” The witch put on an air of apology, though Fern doubted she had any qualms taking the man's money.
“I just want to bury her in her wedding dress. Please.” The man broke down again.
“Okay, it's okay, let me try.” The rich incense smell thickened as the witch began her incantation. She muttered to herself for several minutes.
Fern nearly yelped when the witch spoke again. She spoke with the voice of a much older woman with a southern dialect.
She said, “Dearest husband I sold my dress during the drought all those years ago. I am so sorry for hiding that from you. I will be able to rest in whatever you have. I love you, dear, and I miss you.”
Her eyes shimmered and she exhaled and the spell was over. The man, bawling, handed her a hefty coin purse and left with his head in his hands.
Fern stared down at his satchel, unwilling to move. The witch's stare fixed him to his seat. But she grew impatient and stamped over to him.
She grabbed his chin and forced his gaze upwards. “And what do you need, whelp? And can you pay?”
Fern held back tears and stammered out his request. “Someone killed my brother and they locked up my father for it. But he didn't do it. Please help me prove it before he's executed.”
Fern's ears burned with shame but he blinked away his tears and met the witch's stare. “Please,” he said again, holding out the bag of Dominic's bones. He thought of his father whom he had not seen in some years. His father, wrongfully accused. The witch took Dominic’s bones.
“This won’t be like what you just saw,” she said. “This child will not speak through me. But I will hear him, see what he saw.” She took a shuddering breath and sat to work. A chill ran through Fern as the witch gripped Dominic’s bones. The smell of incense disappeared. Instead a dry hotness filled Fern’s nose. His throat felt tight and his lungs ached.
Several moments passed in silence, where Fern could not exhale or inhale and his back muscles seemed turned to stone. He and the witch let out a breath at the same time and met each other’s eyes.
“Your father killed your brother but he did not have the heart to finish killing you. He lied to himself about that fact in the hopes that you two could have a good life together.” The witch paused but could not read Fern’s expression. “You should let them execute him.”
Fern slept in on the day his dad was to die. A gentle couple had let him a room in their small inn, provided he help with chores. His room under the peak of the roof held a cot and the satchel of Dominic’s remains. He looked out onto the peaceful snow of the night before and worked up the courage to leave his warm blankets.
His patrons eyed him sidelong when he came down for breakfast. He waved them off. “I’m all right,” he said. They left him alone.
Fern walked the few leagues to the jail despite the cold. By the time he stood before the headsman’s chopping block his whole self was numb. He did not recognize the first condemned man, nor had he heard of the crime. The thud of the axe did not startle him at all.
Three more times the axe swung before his dad was brought out. His crimes were read by the headsman. In the pause where onlookers could raise new evidence to stay the axe Fern stayed quiet.
Spluttering, Fern’s father yelled, “Boy, did you speak to the witch? She told you it wasn’t me, yes? Boy!” And on like that. Fern just stared and waited for the blood to spill.
And then it was over. He trudged back to the inn and slept the rest of the day.
A week slipped by and Fern found himself apologizing profusely to his hosts. He had not helped out around the inn at all and had been so distant the innkeepers thought he had ran off or killed himself.
“We understand, Fern. We just want you to take care of yourself,” they said, or Fern assumed they said. “You can stay on here as long as you like. And you can leave if you’d rather. I’m sure there’s something better for your than working at our tiny inn.”
Fern threw himself into the busy work of innkeeping the next few days. One night he woke up with a strange smell in his nose. He hastily scribbled a goodbye note and ran out into the darkness.
When the witch went to gather her herbs and other goods she nearly tripped over a mass in her tent’s entrance. She looked down upon the sleeping boy. Fern awakened enough to ask, “Are you taking on apprentices?”
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 03:43|
Crits for Week 307, Unitary Will
Overall thoughts: decent to good work with a challenging prompt. Nobody went totally off the rails, although quality did vary some. If there was an issue with this week, it's probably that several stories went for just illustrating human willpower as a static situation rather than really having an emotional arc in play.
Jay W. Friks, "Ox"
This story was somewhat contentious this week, and it's kind of difficult to write about, just because of its take on its subject matter. As someone who struggles with depression and has ended a friendship over said friend taking the protagonist's stance on suicide, I find elements of this story frustrating and infuriating to read. If Phil were a real person, I would probably have to grab him by the shirt-collar and shake him while yelling... but, of course, this is a work of fiction, and the story does an excellent job at depicting Phil's justification for the choices he makes. It's infuriating, but it's also powerful, which is what got it the win.
In terms of constructive criticism, I feel like there's not much that can be offered content-wise; it's a very solid story that knows what it wants to say in terms of plot and character. My advice, as always, is to be careful about your mechanics and polish. You may want to consider having someone pre-read for that stuff for you, if you're comfortable with that.
The first sentence of this is really killer, but I had a hard time getting into the piece afterwards. I presume the idea is that the apparent condition of the trees really represents Archie's own feelings about his father leaving, which is why things swing back and forth so readily, but it ends up creating a muddled throughline for the story. I think it would probably help if Archie was a little less able to readily compartmentalize his emotions into stoic farmer fatalism, so the readers were better able to follow the flow of his emotional arc here.
Before I reread the story, I was planning on suggesting that Archie's Ma be a little bit more present in the story; upon a re-read, I realize she has a fairly decent amount of screen time, but she really has little psychic presence in this story. It's okay that she can't help Archie with the apples directly, since that's a plot point and all, but it'd be nice if she had a little more heft as an emotional figure and was more fleshed out. The characterization here is quite barebones for a story that's really about the characters' emotional states.
Thranguy, "Then God Bless You"
This one feels competent but dry to me. This is one that feels more like a study of a static emotional state to me, more than an arc; while Tariq makes a desperate decision towards the end, it doesn't really read like he's making any kind of choice that represents a shift in his character, just acting out the path he's already set himself on. He's already determined to survive, and he takes from a dead acquaintance to do that. Maybe if Tariq and Dozan had known each other better, or if Tariq had been more trepidatious about things already, this would have had more impact; as it is, this feels like a story that has its thesis statement and illustrates it, with no surprises.
Benny Profane, "Midnight Sun"
This was my other frustrating piece of the week, in sort of the opposite way of Jay's; it's skillfully and slickly done, but so hollow. The father is well-drawn, but he's such a stock Jewish comedy figure: he's cheap! He's irritable! He's legalistic about his faith! I think the only way this guy would have really worked is if we'd had the story from his perspective and he'd been able to develop some nuance. The perspective of his kid keeps him very surface-level, and the kid doesn't have enough personality (or, really, any personality at all) to justify taking the POV slot.
It doesn't help that the outside POV means we don't get a good idea of what's actually going on with the dad getting rid of things. If he's actually planning on moving to Fairbanks, then the story ends with a dumb punchline. If he's not, and that's just a joke he makes to break the ice with his kid, that's got potential, but the story doesn't make that remotely clear. Maybe my judgment is colored by the previous stories in this week, but I feel like the "packrat starts giving things away" behavior we see here is actually serious and alarming (my first thought was "Dad's planning suicide, huh?"), and I don't like the story just undercutting that with a joke ending.
Pedantic note: while Fairbanks is far enough north to have very long days in summer and very long nights in winter, it still has sunrises and sunsets all year, albeit at very inconvenient times. If Dad's plan is sincere, he's going to be really disappointed.
cptn_dr, "A Little Fall of Snow"
Another competent piece that feels more like a snapshot than a full arc. Most of this, I think, comes down to the telling vs. showing issue that so often comes up in TD. I don't entirely fault you on this -- it's very hard to effectively show a character's history in this word count, especially in a story that's mostly immediate action -- but this story errs to far on the side of just stating "this character is a perpetual quitter and is trying not to do that now with their life on the line." With the pain and wandering focus, I think you could have afforded slotting in a brief flashback or two to specific life events that might establish the same thing.
Mercedes, "Just One More Hit"
Okay, just to start off: I'm going to maintain that the DQ of this piece for speculative elements was appropriate. While the technology this story was based on might exist in the real world, it pretty clearly doesn't exist in a form that can get a quadriplegic back into the boxing ring, let alone at multiple price points/quality levels as is a plot point here.
That said, this piece has other issues too. Flynn never quite rises beyond the level of a stock aging-boxer character, which is a problem for a story about the protagonist's emotional arc; I feel like this is more an arc about losing will, not regaining it even with failure. I would have been interested to see an ending where, say, Flynn clearly loses the fight, possibly even in an undignified way, but maybe feels like having control over his body at all is a moral victory? I guess the implication is that he's completely screwed, but that's the least interesting way for the story to end, in my opinion.
Fuschia tude, "Pain-staking"
This is a pretty good little story, and I definitely considered it for a positive mention. On the showing vs. telling axis, this is pretty much all show, which definitely works for me; I particularly like the detail about Ferra being in prison long enough to be amazed by the way doors work in the outside world. I think this is a fairly straightforward arc, without a lot of lofty ambitions, but I honestly thought it worked for what it was pretty well, and I appreciate that it's not cluttered.
QuoProQuid, "Take a Gander"
On a technical prose level, there's nothing bad about this story, but it fails pretty completely at having an emotional arc or clear throughline. The initial conflict is fine -- Harry dealing with the soul-sucking process of job applications and feeling like a burden on his family -- but it's not really clear where the events of the story actually take him. I guess the idea is that Matteo and his birds are helping him focus on staying human, but it's hard to get that from even a fairly charitable reading of the text, given that it cuts off before we can ever get any real reaction from Harry to what's happened. (I confess I was also confused as to why Harry was so panicked about it; Matteo reads as old enough that his going to the park on his own isn't any kind of immediate danger. Is it just Harry feeling terrible about letting the kid down?) This mostly feels unfinished and unfocused.
Kaishai, "O My Daughter"
On the subject of focus issues: this is a strong piece, but I think it would be improved by a refinement in focus. While the section in the daughter's house is well-written, I'm wondering if it's even necessary -- I think we could get some of the same introspection while Elodie is in Venice, and I think giving the Venice section more word count and room to breathe would improve it a lot. As it stands, it feels slightly rushed, and the somewhat neat tying-up at the end feels a little unearned. Still, this does describe a well-considered and nicely-told emotional arc, and it earned its positive mention.
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 04:03|
Good crits, thanks!
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 04:24|
Very good crits, on point. Thanks!
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 04:36|
SoliQuantum/MockingTair Brawl Entry
2269 Words, Most of them Bad
Super Magic Galaxy Scouts GOOOOOOO!
The giant, fleshy top hat broke through the atmosphere with a shuddering pop, streaking with heat towards the expanse of concrete below. Police barricades held crowds of people in check, in a way fear no longer did. Sarah pointed at the monstrosity, calling out, “Here it comes! drat it, the scans were wrong. It’s a Tricky Topper. I’m charging my Starshine Aura now!” A glittering curtain of haze began to accumulate around her and took on a tint to match the seafoam green of her combat suit.
Three other women stepped back into the glowing aura with practiced coordination. Lane brandished her tangerine-colored bo staff. Daria splayed a suit’s worth of red-limned playing cards and brushed raven-black hair from her eyes. Maria, dressed in a pale silver, began barking out orders with bored precision. “Looks like it’s coming in hot, so be ready to take it out while it’s stunned. Scrap the formation drills we worked on, they won’t work on a Topper this big. Surround it and keep it guessing at which of us will hit it next. And if you get an opening for a Galaxy Power, take it, don’t wait for my mark. Chances are good we have more hats on the way.”
“Or if we’re really lucky,” Lane mumbled, “the Haberdasher’s on his way.”
“I wish,” Daria said with a wry smile. “I sure as hell could use the overtime.”
The four drew close, shoulder to shoulder, their sleek combat suits radiating magical blasts of color as they readied themselves for what was bound to be a brutal fight.
As the monstrous hat drew closer to the clearing, it sprouted four spindly, birdlike hand-claws in quick succession, each large enough to engulf a person. The hat landed on the four outspread hands in a way that was almost graceful. It shook for a moment before settling onto the ground with a series of pops and creaks. Four huge, catlike eyes split the matte black of the body of the hat, fixing their gazes on the women, now deep within an aura of crackling energy.
“MUST... DESTROY... GALAXY SCOUTS,” the hat announced, not speaking the words so much as transmitting them through the concrete below. The crowd behind the police cordon, made up of both long-time fans and newcomer tourists, reacted to this erratically. The old hands clapped and whooped, the unfamiliar gasped and flinched. One nervous-looking man even screamed.
Sarah looked to the screamer, sighed, and looked to Maria. “Well, let’s get this over with before someone wets themselves,” she said, and swept her hand through the aura surrounding her in a delicate motion reminiscent of an elegant dance. Bursts of light flew from the aura, coalescing into needle-sharp spears as they neared the Tricky Topper. The other three Galaxy Scouts dashed into position to unleash their own onslaughts.
The crowd cheered and clapped, though two fans bedecked in Galaxy Shout memorabilia noted they looked a little sluggish this week.
Two hours later, Maria tied her hair up in a ponytail, noting in the locker room mirror that her roots were going grey. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply, gripping the faux-marble countertop in a futile attempt to stop her hands from shaking. Coming down from the magic rush was harder every year. She wondered again whether she could just stay in Scout Aspect indefinitely. None of them had ever tried. Corps Command wasn’t sure what the possible repercussions could be, and the strange, massive manta ray-like beings that bestowed the powers on Maria and her friends didn’t exactly respond to questions very clearly.
A locker banged closed behind her, and Sarah came around the corner to join Maria at the mirror. Sarah shot her a glance that had become almost ritual at this point. “I know,” Maria said.
“It’s getting harder every time. They’re only getting stronger, and we can’t stop aging, magic or no magic,” Sarah said, each word practiced and meted out carefully, as if she was afraid of scaring Maria away with a poorly placed emphasis.
“We have a duty. We swore to protect the earth,” Maria said, meeting Sarah’s eyes in the dingy mirror.
“Yeah, we swore alright, when we were seventeen years old. Until then my biggest concern was what safety schools I should apply to, what the hell was I supposed to say when a manta ray carried me into space and asked if I wanted to save the world?”
“You could have said no. They made that clear, none of us were backed into a corner.”
“I didn’t want to say no, not then. I didn’t know I was committing to a lifetime of fighting poo poo falling from the sky, Maria. Twenty years! Twenty goddamn years of this, with no relief!” Any amount of Sarah’s measured calm had evaporated. Maria dropped her eyes to her shaking hands. It didn’t feel like twenty years. It felt like a thousand, or none. It all depended on who they were at that moment.
Maria knew what Sarah was building up to, having seen this particular ultimatum creeping up in her rearview mirror for months now. If she didn’t cut her off now, Sarah’s head of steam would carry her right into a decision, no matter what any of the rest of the Scouts had to say about it. “So what, we should walk away from it?” Maria turned to face Sarah head on, standing too close, as if her height advantage still intimidated a woman who’d fought aliens for over half her life. “Think how it’ll hit all the other squads if we walk away. The original four call it quits when they get too tired? What a brilliant message to send to people laying down their lives in a fight--” She caught herself too late.
“A fight that won’t ever end? That’s my point. We all behave like nobody else on the planet has pieced together the fact that this fight will just keep going. We’ve fought the same space villain things so many times there are people at Corps whose sole job is coming up with statistical models on which ones we’re best equipped to fight in what weather conditions. If we walk away now, we set a precedence. Fight for the people you love, do it well, put in your time, and if you’re lucky, you get to go home to a normal life at the end of the day.”
“There is no normal life anymore!” Maria said. Sarah’s reaction made her realize that she was practically screaming. A small gasp filled the silence, and Maria spun around to see Lane and Daria, along with a squad of fresh-faced teens, no doubt returning from training drills judging by their flushed, and now terrified, faces.
“No, there isn’t,” Sarah agreed, after a silence tense with expectation. “But my kids need me alive. There are others that can save the world. My time is done.” With one last, piercing look at Maria, she turned and walked out the door.
The last month had not gone well. Maria had managed to hold the rest of the team together, but something was wrong. Sarah’s departure broke their tactics in half, given how much they relied on the protection of her powers. Lane had taken it on herself to scour the ranks of new Scouts, looking for someone who could, if not replace Sarah, at least fill the gap her powers had left in their roster. Nobody materialized though. They’d long known that the artificially developed powers of newer Scouts never worked quite the same as the original four.
Attacks happened almost every three days after Sarah’s departure, as if someone knew the original Scouts were weak. Maria held them together, until one day when Daria simply didn’t show. Lane had been hurt badly in that fight, and was in no shape to continue.
So Maria sat alone on a bare, wooden bench in the locker room, in a fugue of memory. She could see all the celebrations over the years, the near defeats, the secrets shared, the celebrations when Lane got married or Sarah’s first baby was born. Maria’s life had never been normal, not in any meaningful way, but Sarah was wrong. This was a life, and a good one. What she was doing was meaningful, it made a difference, it had to. Twenty years of fighting had to be worth something.
The alarm blared, jarring her from her reverie and launching her to her feet. A young scout burst into the locker room. His eyes rapidly scanned the room, and his face seemed to drop when he realized Maria was the only one present. “It’s the Hatter himself, ma’am,” he said, his voice shaking. Maria couldn’t tell if he was excited or terrified. Likely both. “Should I get the active unit to take care of it?”
Maria was sickened by the compassion in his voice, like he was talking to some broken invalid. “No. I’ve fought him plenty of times. I know his weaknesses. Tell the active unit to stand down.”
The fight was brutal. A half hour had passed with the two of them chipping slowly away at each other, and with each Moonbeam Strike that hit home, Maria hoped it would be the last one needed. But she saw the reality she’d been ignoring. Behind the magic, behind the team and the friendship that had sustained them and channeled whatever otherworldly force gave them their abilities, she was human. One human, against this freak of nature that was as inhuman as they came.
The Hatter began to lift the brim of his stovepipe hat, revealing the dark abyss. The black hole began to pull in everything around it, including Maria. She gripped the concrete as best she could, charging up a Moonbeam Strike with what little conviction she had left. It struck her as her fingers began to ache against the strain: this could be it. This was the real possibility of death in a way none of them had ever thought was possible. Or had they all looked their own mortality in the face, just not her? She was the only one dumb enough to think she was immortal, to buy into the seduction of the magic. Well, she thought, I guess I’ll be an object lesson for all those cadets watching.
The cadets. She wasn’t alone, not as long as there was a crowd of greenhorns and avid fans watching her being slowly pulled to her death. Maria discharged the gathering magic so it fluttered away into the air, lacking the cumulative force that would have turned it into a viable attack. She scanned the crowd for the green star insignia borne by cadets, found two twentysomething girls at the front of the cordon. Maria gave them a nod, and they came leaping over the barrier, pulling Magic to their suits with such rapidity it made her wonder if they were just waiting for her signal.
The moment they moved, all hell broke loose. Cadets appeared from everywhere, led by four full Scouts--the active duty unit, no doubt--charging the Mad Hatter, loaded with so much accumulating magic it made the air crackle around Maria. There was a loud pop as one of the police officers at the cordon drew her service pistol and began firing at the Mad Hatter, briefly disorienting the figure. Briefly, but long enough to let Maria scramble on all fours to the barrier, where a crowd of civilians jumped forward to pull her to her feet. She was shocked, puzzled at how ready this unexpected backup had been. The fight proceeded without her, as if her last-minute plea for help had been all part of the plan.
A hand dropped on to her shoulder. “Do you see? They don’t need us to fight for them. They just needed us to show them fighting was worth it, that if we kept fighting, we would keep living.” Sarah turned Maria around to face her. “This isn’t our fight anymore.”
Maria shook her head to clear her confusion. “So you’re saying I--we--should give up and walk away?”
“I never said we need to give up. What do you think I’ve been doing for the last month, hiding under a rock? We’ve been coordinating this attack. I told the cadets the time would come when they needed to step in and help you.”
“So you prepped them for my failure?”
“Knowing when you’re beat isn’t a failure. Walking away from these fights alive after twenty years should be seen as a success. We gave them hope as the front line of Earth’s defense once. Now we can show them that protection will continue, even with us gone.”
Maria gripped Sarah’s forearm, uncertain whether to draw the woman into an embrace or throw a hard left hook at her serene face. Eventually she did neither, only shaking her head. “You knew they’d beat me.”
“I knew they’d beat all four of us, eventually. I just couldn’t let them kill my friend in the process.”
“Well I guess I’d better get used to early retirement.”
Sarah drew her into a hug. Maria resisted for a few moments, before being overcome with exhaustion and deflating into the other woman’s arms. Sarah whispered in her ear, “I hate to break it to you, but you start teaching at the Academy on Monday. I’ll pick you up at 7.”
As Sarah walked off, a smirk on her face, Maria smiled, and almost started to follow her. Instead, she charged up one last Moonbeam and leaped back into the fray.
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 04:46|
Just a reminder that the winner of this week will be judging week 314, NOT 313
come say happy 6th birthday to TD in the meantime! Prompt will go up sometime tomorrow, while the judges deliberate the results of this week.
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 09:11|
it’s not cool to be scared
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 19:23 on Dec 25, 2018
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 09:54|
I was Born with Water in my Veins
The creaking boat noses through the mist and I see the dark outline of the island, the home of my mother’s people. Its curved hills remind me of the profile of her face, finally still after months of sickness and pain. Tears fall at the memory.
“You are going home,” the boatman says. “You should be happy.” Yes, I tell myself. I am, and I should be.
My aunts welcome me with warmth and love and I am overwhelmed. I haven’t seen them since a single childhood visit but to them I am family, not a stranger. They are tall, strong women, so unlike my mother and I, small and delicate of limb. They talk to me of my mother, reminisce about when they were girls. I smile, wanting to please them, although I do not share their memories. My long-dead father they avoid mentioning; they blame him for my parents’ elopement. My aunts slot me into the gap their youngest sister left behind, and I do my best to fill her role, because I can see it makes them happy.
Life on the island is hard. Food must be chipped from the rocky soil or wrestled from the sea’s cold grasp. When I was a child my mother told me stories about the islanders. She said their feet grew roots that twined deep into the island’s heart, and its blood could nourish them even through the most barren winters. The islanders share a fierce joy at their connection to this place, pride in the independence of their windswept home. But I miss the warm grasses and gentle rivers that raised me, the freedom of my small family’s wanderings. I am afraid of the islanders, of the way they claim me, irrefutably, as one of their own. Their blood is too thick, and I fear I will drown in it.
They give the task of caring for my grandmother to me. As the eldest unwed member of her line it is my duty. As a child she scared me; even then she had seemed immensely old. Now, as an adult, I see her sunken eyes are frightened. Her mottled skin tears so easily, and her hands are made useless by arthritis. She can do nothing for herself, only wait for the island’s goddess to finally relieve her suffering. I clean her, this stranger, when she soils herself, and humiliation cuts us both. Am I so unnatural, I wonder, that I feel no love for this woman, only distaste at the things I must do for her? But my aunts, those daughters who supposedly love their mother so much, can barely hide their guilty relief at passing on this burden.
I sleep in my mother’s childhood bed. Little fragments of her are preserved in this long unused room. A few dolls, a child’s favourite books. What was she like, I wonder, when she lived here? Did roots grow from the soles of her feet to tap the island’s veins? If so then how could she have torn herself away, to drift, happily, with her husband and child? Did she miss the warm, suffocating embrace of her family? I realise, only now that she is dead, how many things I should have asked her.
My aunts include me in their endless gossip about the other islanders. They tell me about the people my mother knew at school, who she was friends with. They talk as if these people are my friends too. I have inherited them, I realise, although they have no interest in me. No one asks about my life, where I grew up or how we lived. It is like my mother died when she left the island, and now I, her substitute, have returned. I should be grateful for the gift of belonging that these people offer me but I feel nothing for this place.
“You are so like your mother,” my grandmother whispers to me one day when we are alone. I stare at her, startled; her moments of lucidity are so few. She puts her swollen fingers on my forearm. Her hand is light, as if all its substance has ebbed away. “She was different from her sisters, so rooted to this gloomy place. I always knew your mother would drift away.”
Her eyes close, but I sit and hold her hand anyway. I tell her, with tears dripping from my chin, of what my mother was like. My mother, the person I knew, and I realise this is the first time I have spoken about her since she died. It hurts, this release, this letting go, but it is also a relief.
When my grandmother dies her breath rattles just like my mother’s, but my eyes remain dry. My aunts organise the funeral. They are efficient even in their grief, and they tell me what I will do, where I will stand, my role and my duties as a member of the immediate family. But I don’t belong here. It is water, not blood, that flows through my veins.
The boat creaks as it noses through the cold dawn air. Soon my aunts will wake, and find me gone. There will be a scene, no doubt. But someone else will carry out my role at the funeral, someone who knew and loved my grandmother. The boatman doesn’t ask where I am going. I couldn’t tell him even if he did.
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 10:28|
Paper and Ink
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 23:30 on Jan 1, 2019
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 12:58|
So it was written, so shall it be done. Submissions are CLOSED
cascadebeta, you were the only one who didn’t turn in a story. For shame. Please try again next time, I’d like to read your writing. Everyone else, thanks for turning something in. Overall, this round was pretty good.
Invisible Clergy fucked around with this message at 14:20 on Jul 30, 2018
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 13:10|
|# ? May 19, 2022 15:13|
Haha right let's get down to it. In
|# ? Jul 30, 2018 13:13|