In Lieu of Getting Out
Kelvin was the only person in the junkyard when the ball of light lowered. Kelvin was thoroughly drunk and singly focused in the way alcohol makes you. The light appeared as he drained his second bottle of wine.
“You fuckers,” Kelvin screamed. He hurled an empty bottle of red wine towards the light. He blinked rain from his eyes. It was hard to judge the size of the ball. If it was far away, it was massive; if it was close, it was tiny. “Take me!” Kelvin pleaded.
An aurora of blue haze waved in the air above the junkyard. Kelvin reeled, jaw dropping. He shouted something unintelligible. Mud squished beneath his slippers. The ball of light shrank. Without moving at all, it zipped upwards until the clouds swallowed it. Kelvin howled.
He woke the next day cold and wet on his couch. His hangover was the word ‘regret’ pummeling his brain and guts. His phone buzzed and he checked the screen: Therapist. He transferred his body into dry clothes and ran out the door.
“I, uh, drank last night.” Kelvin coughed and looked at everything in the room besides his therapist. He swept his hair back with a tentative hand.
“Can you forgive yourself?” his therapist asked. Her voice sent icy pain snaking through his head and down his spine. “We worked on that last time you relapsed.”
A warm pause. “Of course.”
What he wanted to say, that he kept seeing a UFO, that he wanted it to take him, stuck in his throat. Instead: “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”
The lie was easier to manage by nodding. “I won’t do it anymore. I didn’t even like it, anyways.” A bit of humor. He laughed and moved onto a different topic.
Night. The junkyard. Kelvin, sober, sat on a tire and craned his head back. No sign of the UFO for a little over a week. The stars wheeled as Kelvin’s night passed. He went back to his apartment at dawn. Disappointment and defeat paralyzed him. An ache had settled in his chest over the night.
“How does one move on from an obsession?” he asked his therapist. He met her eyes. Her name was Anna. “I’ve given up drinking and I’ve worked on myself for almost three years now. But I still feel off. Listless, I guess.
“When I’m at work I imagine the years spooling out in front of me, each year the same as the last except I’m a little bit more achy, more tired. I’m obsessed with this idea that I need to change things up. But also that I’m unable to.” He went silent. He had said to much, but it had all been true.
“Maybe you will, Kelvin. But there’s also nothing wrong with desiring more. You might not be able to get it out of your current job but you could get it out of a relationship or a hobby. Some other way of bettering yourself.” Anna folded her legs under herself. “Let’s take a second to reflect on how far you’ve come, just in the past year.
“You got out of a toxic relationship. You quit drinking. You acquired some enriching hobbies. You have a concrete sense of self. You’ve done a lot more than you realize.”
He nodded. The session ended. He stopped at the hole in the fence that would lead him to the junkyard. He took the deepest breath of his day and then kept walking, all the way to the library.
The meeting had just begun when Kelvin slipped in through the door and sat. A pile of ufology books in the center of the table. The introductions went around: Bubba, abducted when he was three; Gretchen, whose brother was abducted and never returned; Fran, hospitalized for a time after claiming she saw UFOs all the time. Then Kelvin.
“I’m Kelvin. I saw a UFO, multiple times. But it’s stopped coming. I thought it was going to take me away, to something, anything. But I want to move on.” His introduction was met by cold stares.
Gretchen said, “Do you think any of us have moved on? Do you think we’d be here if we had?” She looks to Bubba. “You moved on, Bubba?”
Bubba shook his head. “Had another flashback yesterday,” he said.
Fran blinked behind her glasses. “I’m doing much better, actually. It’s taken a lot of work. Are you in therapy?” She tilted her head toward Kelvin in a manner Kelvin associated with curious children.
“Yes. But it’s stalled a bit.”
“My advice,” said Fran, “Cultivate patience.”
Kelvin thought back on Fran’s unhelpful advice from the perch of a bar stool. The bartender did not bother to replace his empty glass of water. He smiled to himself. Perhaps Fran's advice wasn’t useless at all. His therapist was right, anyways. Things were looking up.
He dragged a damp cardboard coaster towards himself. With a pen he drew the orb of light, the waves of blue energy. A little stick figure for himself. He chuckled. When he got home he stuck the coaster on his refrigerator.
It had happened. It might not happen again. Kelvin could accept that.
|# ? Jan 7, 2019 03:46|
|# ? Sep 21, 2021 09:16|
Roughly one hour remains to submit!
|# ? Jan 7, 2019 04:08|
A Natural Selection
They were always laughing at him.
The rich idiots he called friends. The so-called comedians on television. His father. He had to force himself to stop scrolling through Twitter and to disable the Google Alerts going to his e-mail. He’d already lost one phone after hurling it from the balcony of his penthouse apartment and, as his fingers squeezed tight, realized he was close to losing another, this time in the savanna.
Hands shaking, he flipped to his newsfeed and found everyone everywhere was still posting the same tabloid headlines.
Francis Foucault Narrowly Escapes Rhino Attack
OH S**T: Video of Botched Nature Expedition Goes Viral
Charging Rhino Sends Rich Idiot into His Natural Habitat
The screen reflected his bared teeth. He choked down a snarl. He was going to wipe the smirk off every smug late-night host. No one was going to read his indignant tweets aloud, painting him as a spoiled brat, calling him a corncob. (What the gently caress did that even mean?) He was going to show the world he could fend for himself. He was going to prove he wasn’t a joke and he had returned to Kenya to do it.
He was going to murder that goddamn rhino.
“Darling,” said his girlfriend-slash-secretary Audrey. her hands gripped the wheel of their Jeep and her eyes did not move from the pale fields of the conservancy. “You’re crushing my hand.”
Francis jumped and almost fell out of their rickety vehicle.
“I’m just trying to get psyched up, okay?” He said as he righted himself again, making a point not to apologize. Audrey knew better than to interrupt him when he was in one of his moods and she had been nothing but a headache since they landed in Nairobi. Her initial bemusement about his mission had frozen into an icy fury when she realized how truly and deeply he was committed to avenging his reputation.
Last night, she’d slept on the couch of his hotel suite.
“It’s not like I’m a bad person,” he said in response to some imagined argument. He’d been stewing over her quiet rejections for the past few days. “I go to fundraisers. I donate to charity.”
“And I’m sure this adventure will do wonders for your reputation. People will be begging for your money after this.”
“It’s not about—. It’s not just—. It’s the principle.” Francis sputtered, and his cheeks reddened. All his responses suddenly seemed dumb when he said them aloud. “You can’t understand what I’ve gone through these past few weeks, the humiliation.”
There was a minute of quiet before he added, “The dumb things are going to go extinct anyways.”
“Hm.” Coldness radiated off her despite the beads of sweat glimmering on her neck. Francis made a mental note to dock her on her performance review.
They were plowing deeper and deeper into the park now. It had been ages since he had seen another visitor or ranger. With his battery dipping into the 30s and the sun turning a sickly orange in the sky, he was beginning to give up hope when something caught his eye in the distance.
At first, it was a small splotch. He squinted at the horizon as their Jeep bounced across the savanna. The splotch grew larger until he could make out the pale grey beast ambling lazily across the grass. Its wrinkled head turned toward the loud sputtering of their car.
They both froze. Francis’s heart beat in his chest and he gripped tight against Audrey’s fingers. “That’s it!” He rasped. His fury seemed to have frozen. “That’s it!”
The thing stared at them for a second longer before turning back, bored, and trudging away. Audrey let out a deep breath next to him and wriggled her fingers from his grasp. Something inside her seemed to snap.
Before he could say anything, she was out of the Jeep and digging through their supplies. There was a sound of metal unlatching and something heavy being dragged from its container.
“Out.” She said when she had returned. In her hands was the rifle that Francis had paid for, the one he’d forced Audrey bribe customs agents and conservancy workers to ignore. It was the most expensive thing he could find online.
Still dazed by the sight of his target and attacker, Francis found himself stumbling from the passenger’s seat. The weight of the rifle pressed into his arms. The safety was off.
“Go ahead, hot shot,” Audrey stared at him, loathing etched across her face. “You wanna be a big-game hunter. You wanna go full Joseph Conrad out here, then go right ahead.”
He looked down at the gun. He looked up at Audrey. “I don’t get the reference.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
“You don’t get to fun of me!” He yelled, fury bubbling back up in him. The rhinoceros turned to face them again, its curiosity piqued. “Everyone is always making fun of me!”
“Maybe it’s because you’re an insane, entitled weirdo who wants to kill a goddamn rhino because someone made fun of you on the internet!”
“They keep calling me a corncob!”
“What the does that even mean?” She screamed.
“I don’t even—.” He squeezed his hands and the world erupted as the rifle went off in his hands and the barrel slammed into his face. He staggered backwards and fell into the dirt. Something in his back pocket cracked.
“My phone,” he moaned, getting to his feet when his ears had stopped ringing. “Audrey, I think I broke my phone.”
But Audrey was quiet, her gaze fixed on the enormous creature glaring at them.
“Francis,” she hissed.
The rhinoceros huffed and shook its head. It stamped its feet into the ground, kicking dust into the air. The creature’s friendly curiosity had been extinguished by the sound of the gun.
Francis opened his mouth but could only whimper as the creature lowered its head and charged toward them.
|# ? Jan 7, 2019 04:11|
Swimming and Sinking
Two days after the reservoir flooded, the birds were swimming in it, and Andi figured it was probably safe. The liquid in the reservoir didn't look promising -- a dull purplish-grey, still fizzing with faint carbonation, like the worst store-brand soda -- but they hadn't had anything that close to water in the reservoir all summer. School was starting soon, and autumn nights were too cold anyway; if they were going swimming before spring, it had to be tonight.
Andi watched the reservoir birds out her window until dark, then shot off a text to Kayla. Once she got a reply ("ok" -- and that was Kayla for you, always distracted), she changed clothes and laid down with a book to wait out the night. Her parents' bedtime ritual was always the same, and Andi could time it down to the minute: a whistling teakettle, the first half-hour of the late show, then lights shutting off and "goodnight, honey!" yelled down the hall. After five minutes of darkness, Andi threw her jacket and swim shoes on and headed out the door.
Before she could start the familiar walk to Kayla's house, Andi saw her friend's silhouette leaning against the reservoir fence. It was strange to see Kayla take initiative, but it was kind of nice. God knows she didn't get out enough, between the games and the chat rooms and even a couple of old-fashioned pen pals; it seemed like Andi always had to drag her out of the house, often enough that she almost felt guilty. Only the reservoir ever held Kayla's interest, and maybe, Andi realized, that was why she was considering going swimming in purple-grey carbonated muck. "Hey, Kayla," she said as she joined her by the fence. "What's up? You psyched?"
It took Kayla a moment to look up. "Oh, hey. Yeah, I guess so?" Maybe it was the darkness, but something in her face looked more tired than usual: cheeks loose and pudgy, hair in a messy ponytail. Geez, how long had it been since Andi'd seen her in person? A week or two? Summers always got busy, but she should have made time. She'd have to make up for it these last two weeks. "Wonder what that stuff even is," said Kayla, and cracked a very slight smile.
"Yeah, it's wild," Andi replied, trying to chase her thoughts away. "C'mon, let's get in before the Neighborhood Watch ladies see us." She climbed onto the bottom rail of the fence and hoisted herself over, then offered Kayla a hand to do the same. The two of them put on goggles and nose plugs, but when Andi stripped down to her swimsuit, Kayla didn't move. "Wait, are you going in in your clothes? I bet this stuff is gonna stain."
"Easier this way," said Kayla, and before Andi could ask why, she waded in to the ankles, the mud of the reservoir shoreline squishing nastily underfoot. Andi hastened to catch up; the clinging mud seeped into her swim shoes, and the liquid was sticky, cool but not cold. Kayla was up to her knees already, and Andi stayed right behind her. The liquid fizzed and popped around her as it reached her waist, then her shoulders. Andi took one last deep breath and submerged.
She could see through the murk, just barely, and mostly the glowing light from the reservoir's deepest point: the portal, the one that filled the reservoir from God knows where, with God knows what. She'd swum the reservoir before, but she'd never seen the portal active. Was this thing still filling up? Maybe that was why the liquid around her seemed fresher, fizzier, than the stuff at the top: heavy but buoyant, easy to swim in but hard to sink into. Andi kicked frantically to try and dive deeper. Progress was slow, but soon the bottom of the ravine came into view, littered with the decayed shapes of old reservoir-filler. Something in Andi wanted to go deeper, but the fluid was getting fizzier, bubbles forcing their way past her nose plugs, and her lungs were starting to burn. Time to surface and maybe call it a night. But where was Kayla?
Kayla was deeper. Andi could see her now, propelling herself down through the shadowy grey with power and ease; Kayla'd always been the better swimmer. She was headed towards the portal, Andi realized, and forced herself to dive deeper to meet her. Andi made a few frantic gestures, to warn her away, that it was time to stop.
Kayla locked eyes with her, shook her head, and dove into the light.
Andi froze. The bubbles carried her to the surface.
There were fewer questions than she'd expected. "These things happen sometimes," the detective told her, "when kids get portal-mad. It's not your fault." Kayla's parents didn't blame her, or even talk to her. There was no funeral. Kayla was just gone, a sudden hole in her life, and slowly the hole filled in. Her parents called it "healing." It felt worse than the pain.
After the soda-stuff drained out, the reservoir was dry for months. It started filling again in midwinter: first with strawberries, a feast for the birds, and then with colorful plastic toys that the neighborhood kids grabbed to scatter all over. Andi stayed away, kept her head down, and focused on school. Kayla had wanted her to take senior year seriously.
In mid-March, two days before spring, the reservoir filled with letters. Andi saw it as she was walking home from school: the whole ravine filled with a sea of envelopes, at which a few grackles were disappointedly picking. Every envelope was powder blue, Kayla's favorite color, and sealed with a daisy sticker like her pen-pal letters.
Andi dropped her book bag, hopped the fence, and dove in.
|# ? Jan 7, 2019 04:41|
Submissions for Week CCCXXXV: Pictures Worth a Thousand Words are now CLOSED!
Although the failures of Your Sledgehammer and Djeser will haunt us all forever, we still achieved a roster of nine stories. Good show, Camera Club! Anomalous Blowout, curlingiron, and I will meet soon to decide who lives and who dies. In the meanwhile, enjoy the glow of resolution fulfilled.
|# ? Jan 7, 2019 05:30|
I have just realised, off the back of an IRC convo, that my crit record is less than perfect. Because this annoys me, here is a crit of The Computer Scam by Erainor.
This story is boring. Louis is - explicitly - boring. The way Louis scams the company is very boring. Oh and then he fucks up in an extremely stupid fashion and gets caught. The end.
I think this is a proto-story. It contains the potential to become a story, but is not one yet. It contains the outline of a plot but fails to generate any conflict, tension or sense of resolution. Characters exist but we have no reason to care about them. It is formed of grammatically correct sentences and paragraphs but fuuuuuck they are long. Oh and the punchline is awful.
For this story to work you needed to make the reader feel sympathetic towards Edward and then create suspense about whether or not he was going to get away with it.
As I recall you got a second chance in this particular week and did a better job with your other story, so, if you're still around, you should come back and try again.
|# ? Jan 7, 2019 06:06|
Results for Week CCCXXXV: Pictures Worth a Thousand Words
Considering that the winning story of Ghost Week involved photography, maybe it shouldn't surprise me that so many of your photograph stories, including the winner, involved ghosts. That makes me wonder what other prompts we could turn into ouroboroi. If someone ran poo poo Week, would everyone submit mysteries? A thought for the ages. But you aren't here for philosophical musings; you probably got enough of those in this week's entries anyway, so let's shake this post like a Polaroid picture and see what develops!
THE WINNER, by amicable consensus, is Staggy! Two judges found your ending unsatisfying, but what luck for you: almost everybody fell over at the finish line this week, and the rest of your story is surprisingly engaging for something trapped in one place. Congratulations on landing the first win of 2019!
An HONORABLE MENTION is hereby presented to Yoruichi for a story that both fought against and danced with the beauty of her photograph. Alas, none of us were happy with your ending either. David's struggles still earned enough sympathy that more of us liked his story than not.
THE LOSER--oh, this grieves me, QuoProQuid. You had a Jenga tower made of rhinocerotes! What happened? How did you go from that to a wanker in a Jeep firing a rifle by hugging it? I don't know, nor do I know what "corncob" even means, and for this uncertainty I shall never forgive you.
Thank you all for a mercifully atrocity-free start to the year. Critiques should be forthcoming. Good luck, Staggy--we'll staple your picture to the Winners' Wall while you start the next show!
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 04:29|
Overall I thought it was a great week, good work everybody!
Sitting Here - Old man has an aneurysm and might be dying, might be alive
Nicely done, well written piece. I am wondering how many people will be doing death in their stories, so it might not stand out.
This seems to be a character study on Edward, and I say this because there isn't a choice or consequence in this story. The conflict might be that we are wondering if Edward survives, but I think the main draw of this piece is the character.
It works, we get little snipped of Edward's character wonderfully told in your style. I didn't understand if Edward died, or if Edward had survived and we were seeing the aftereffects of having an aneurysm. During the last half I found my enthusiasm slipping, and I didn't see any answers to my question. This resulted in relying on your prose to see me through, which it did, but I would have been more satisfied if I had know what exactly happened to Edward.
Still, it is a well written piece. I think if it stands out it could HM, or Win.
Exmond - A horrible waste of words
You should have waited and posted after a non-death story, annnnd you might have wanted to switch your first and second paragraph. It's payday, so failures will get the Umaru Avatar. (Unless I fear the person, like sebmojo).
Yoruichi - Lets go for a hike I don't think I can do!
A nice little tale that I think reverts the "death resolution" trope, if you get to the end. Neat use of the prompt. I think your start could be improved by ditching the one hour concept. I like how you revisit the glass portion at the end though.
I think the tone of "Guy goes for hike, the physicality of task is hard, mentally beats himself up" runs a little thin in the middle, you can only repeat him beating himself up so many times before it starts to get unlikeable.
The last bit, at 10:53 is where everything pays off. I like this part a lot, like hes just hating himself, hating life and bam - it's over. You've done it!
I think if I cared a little more about David at the start, or had a bit more of a mystery, this would reach HM territory for me.
Staggy - Dead dad worries about daughter
First sentence didn't grab me, polish it up a bit. This seems to be another character bit, and it works. We got a daddy in a grave. I like how at the end, he learns to kind of let his child go, but I don't really see much of that at the start or middle. It makes sense, all parents care about their children, but more emphasis might have made this land better.
I like the bit where the father is wondering if she has fallen into the wrong crowd or drugs, good use of tension there. Along with the writing, I think this does well.
HM or win.
Thranguy - Here's my weird idea about fishes and oh poo poo I need to end the story
Love the idea, and I think this story is going to stand out this week. Start is a bit crunchy and your language around the fishes takes a bit getting used to. I found myself having to reread sentences to make sure I understood what was going on, and it was because of the way the fishes were named, or some of your prose choices.
The story is well done, but the end bit feels a bit rushed. It goes for an emotional ending, and I think nails it, but it still feels a bit rushed.
Pham Nuwen - ErlKing The Elvis Impersonator stops at Lotaburger(?)
The mystery of why these guys are here, combined with the Elvis references, makes this interesting and has a but of humor. The swerve to the fae is also nice, but I wish you would have been a bit more clearer if we are working with an Elvis Impersonator, or for the ultimate pun, the musician Earl King. As it is the Elvis bit just hangs there.
The ending makes our protagonist slide into the idiot department. Like even tired, I think Earl would get it that he now has magical powers. I also took it that Mr. Jameson keeping the diner open might be related to the ErlKing's appearance.
Typo: Did you mean LotaBurgere's in your first sentence?
I think this is a good piece, could even submit if you are willing to work with an editor to tighten it up.
HM or Win
Apophenium - UFO and Alcoholics Anonymous UNITE!
Good start, gets my attention right away. I don't really feel much for Kelvin apart from my normal enthusiasm when reading a story. You have this section where you go over Kelvin's backstory, but it's being told to us by a new character, so the impact is lessened. Still, the start has some kind of weird fun energy around it.
QuoProQuid - Story about a redditor that shoots a lion, but its a rhino!
A funny story that stands out for sure, but I always feel a bit bad when I read these stories where clearly the protagonist is the scum of the earth and you should laugh at them. It's tough to balance a protagonist like that, make sure everyone is in on the joke while making the protagonist believable. I think it's done well here.
Personal preferences aside, the only thing I could think of improve in the fate of Audrey, she's innocent and sympathetic , we don't want her to get hurt. Clean that up and if your willing, submit it to get published.
Typo: "You don't get to fun of me!"
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 04:36|
Short Crits for Week CCCXXXV: Thumbnail Previews
My horrifying critique backlog inspires me to take a page from my 2014 yearbook and post the notes I made as I read your entries. In an ideal world, you'll get full-form crits later. These are substantial enough to assuage my guilt in the meanwhile, though as they're based on initial reactions, it's possible I've missed nuances (or annoyances) that time and reflection may reveal.
Sitting Here, "The Turns of Edward Smith"
Picture Thoughts: The story this inspires could be about furniture, could be about a carousel, and hopefully won't be Something Wicked This Way Comes fanfiction. I'd guess there will be at least a touch of magical realism or surrealism.
Ghosts? Interesting! A sour old man? Potentially cliche. The two together? I worry this will end up in grumpy-old-man-learns-to-open-his-heart territory.
Aww, but he's hurting for his granddaughter more than himself. Maybe that's a lesson he doesn't need.
Is this one of those carousels with a brass ring, and could he grab it to escape? Asking for a ghost friend.
This carousel seems to be going a long time without repair or change.
I know the carousel-in-a-furniture-store is straight from the image (and I'm liking this illogical carousel in general), but I wouldn't mind some hint of what the heck it's doing there. That goes hand in hand with noticing the lack of age and wear on the ride. Either it's magic or SH is handwaving some details that could add to the story.
Huh. There's a bit of learning-to-open-his-heart after all, though it's slanted more toward learning-to-have-fun, and... I'm not convinced endless time on a carousel would teach that lesson, honestly. The plane solution is a little contrived since Edward hasn't made so much of a change that it makes sense he can suddenly escape. He never did seem that grumpy; his sourness was an informed attribute.
In the end I enjoyed reading this, I enjoy Edward, I enjoy the probably-magic carousel, but I don't think the progression from Point A to Point B is natural.
* ******************** *******************
Exmond, "A Death's Purpose - Lullabies For The Soul"
Picture Thoughts: A café or cafeteria, huh? We could be looking at a vignette if the entry takes place all in one room, and I hope it doesn't since talky diner pieces don't usually end well, but I'm immediately interested in where this might go. A lot of human drama can happen over a meal.
Good starter paragraph. I'm interested in where this is going. Then I hit the second paragraph and I'm interested in a less positive way: what looked like a human story is going to be about sheep-angels and comma splices, apparently.
Withholding information about something like the "cousins" doesn't make me want to learn more.
Subprompt: check, and well done.
Okay, so this ends up being a philosophical piece more than a story--a commentary on human nature and human demise with next to no plot and only one character worth knowing. The dead man and his regrets are pretty good, however, and the omniscient viewpoint adds something there. I like that Kim doesn't remember him; that's tragic (for him) and exceptionally human.
The weakness other than the lack of plot is the narrating creature(s) and their nature, which is never quite clear; nor is the cousins'. They're some sort of floaty voyeur spirit thing born out of and enthralled by human defiance of death, I reckon. One sort of floaty voyeur spirit becomes another by taking on negative human emotions. All right, but... I care more about the dead man than about these creatures or their musings.
Exmond's writing has improved quite a lot on the technical side, and stretches of the prose are rather good. This is by no means a disaster. The fluffy things are dull, though, unfortunately.
* ******************** *******************
Yoruichi, "One Hour"
Picture Thoughts: Yoruichi wins the Natural Beauty Sweepstakes. There's no question this is the most gorgeous image, but it could almost work against her depending on where she takes it. It's epic enough that of course a story could be set there, so if the entry has any weaknesses, the photo won't be to blame.
Oh, no, not more ghosts? Is everybody going to be dead this week?
Maybe he's not dead. It sounds like he's just sick. You have my attention, Yoruichi.
Augh! "Okay" has four letters! (Could be an NZ vs. American thing?) Pease is an amusing typo regardless of one's version of English.
Although I like David--who is convincingly sour--and what I can discern of Alice (who is less developed and more of a standard supportive GF so far, but she works), the trudging through exhaustion and despair is getting tedious... which, to be fair, is fairly meta. Oh, and good, it looks like we're here. Just in time!
This is a vignette, and David's emotional turnaround in the last section is too pat. It's the "Not if. When" that gets me--where did this confidence come from? But the last line is nice. The prompt and subprompt are both dealt with well, especially in the way that the piece denies and then embraces the photo's beauty. Possible HM, possible win.
* ******************** *******************
Staggy, "Life in Stop Motion"
Picture Thoughts: A clock on a castle! I've watched so much Inspector Lewis and Endeavour that I immediately think of Oxford. An Oxford story would be rad. The blurry car wouldn't catch my notice if the story title didn't make me think it may be more to the point than Castle Timepiece, but I imagine Staggy could do interesting things with it.
I want some more commas in this second paragraph.
More dead people? We're officially to the point where the week has A Theme. That's not good news. Stories following A Theme have to be all the stronger to stand out from a pack of similar ideas.
Fewer cows, dammit.
Spell out numbers below 100!
This is close to a vignette too, but the concept is interesting enough that I don't mind so much its musings on the human condition; they're presented through the lens of a feeling, frustrated, human narrator, which helps. But as with the first ghost story, I don't understand what brought the sudden change--from still motion to full motion, in this case. His daughter is getting married. That's lovely, but what about that allows him to see it? The story doesn't otherwise hint at the grace of God. I'm also left hanging regarding why the father is suddenly all right with missing his daughter's life, though I suspect the idea is that all that matters is that she's well and happy. Which is sweet in theory but a bit incredible in practice, and being okay with not knowing the details of her isn't exactly heartwarming.
I like this one as ghostly vignettes go, but it will probably fall in the middle of the pack. (Later note: for me, it did, but its position in the upper middle made it a viable consensus choice.) The technical errors are slightly distracting but not enough so to cause real damage.
* ******************** *******************
Picture Thoughts: I'm digging this strange plastic(-ish) fish skeleton hovering above the water. If it turns out to be a ghost fish, though, so help me--
Hmmmm. A ghost fish that isn't dead. All right, I can live with this. Not sure about the species/genus names, though, since xeno is distinctly Greek and pescium is closer to Latin. Strange purple death fish? I sort of doubt it, at least the purple part.
"Its bones we're gunmetal black." Oh, Thranguy.
Uh, okay. The ghost-alien-whatsis fish are fascinating, and the descriptions of them are beautiful. I would love to read a story about these creatures. Unfortunately, they're side dressing on the brief scrap of story Thranguy presents here: Jess and Colin's marital troubles get precious little of the word count but are apparently what the whole thing is more or less about. That's just odd, and the entry feels like it's either a badly made story centaur, a fragment of something much larger, or both.
The excellence of the fish ought to spare Thranguy any negative mention. The misapplied focus ought to prevent any positive. He should come back to the ghost fish, though. They're great.
* ******************** *******************
Pham Nuwen, "Hospitality"
Picture Thoughts: This is my actual favorite of all the pictures. Call it nostalgia for snow, call it a fondness for small-chain burger joints, but I want to read whatever story could happen at the Lotaburger. Don't let me down!
Lolaburger. That sound you hear is my silicon heart breaking just a little.
I hear Jay's Diner has staff so rad it's unholy. (RIP, Jay.)
too'," Pham says, and I die inside.
Is this a gang of Elvis impersonators? Is that what I am seeing here?
Oh God, it is.
ELVES IMPERSONATORS. I hate Pham Nuwen so much.
The song titles are just killing me in a way that rides the line between good and bad. Well done? I guess?
You know, if he'd left off the last bit and trusted me to spot the Elf/Elvis thing--which I drat well did--the ending and indeed the whole story would be better, since Earl's last spoken line reads too much like a punchline.
This is so goofy and stupid and yet kind of fun that I can't call for Pham's demise, but he's running a serious risk of being the weakest Elvis in the herd. The subprompt is subtle enough that I'm not convinced it's intentionally present--save in the sense that the story resolves, but really now?
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apophenium, "In Lieu of Getting Out"
Picture Thoughts: I thought for ten seconds about calling this out as too blurry to be a picture of anything, but that glimpse of a store(?) and streetlight(?) through rain is appealing to me. I want to see something cool done with it, though. A vague or halfhearted relationship to the picture would be especially displeasing.
This title isn't borrowed from Sitting Here's Week 333 effort, is it? I should hope not.
Mmm. Aliens. Potentially interesting and potentially disastrous.
apophenium's playing around with phrases, and some of them work okay: "His hangover was the word ‘regret,’" "transferred his body into." It's not that easy to come up with an unusual phrase that's easy to follow.
This therapy session is allowing him to exposit about Kelvin's psyche in a believable way, but I'd rather more were shown and less were told.
While I like the UFO support group, it barely goes anywhere and then the story's over. Too-easy acceptance and optimism are another Theme of the week. Kelvin's freedom from obsession is achieved in two words from a stranger, it seems, and though it's possible that could actually happen, it's awfully narratively convenient. In fact, that conclusion is so weak that it might edge out the Elvises. We'll see.
I will say that by making the focus Kelvin and his problems rather than the aliens, apophenium avoided disaster: there are some abduction tropes present, I suppose, but this isn't a same-old-same-old UFO story.
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QuoProQuid, "A Natural Selection"
Picture Thoughts: Anyone should be able to do something with rhinos stacked like Jenga blocks, but will it be good? The photo is unusual enough to lead to magic or to a tortured attempt at magic. It probably won't lead to J.C. Penney, to my eternal sorrow.
At first I thought this man was extremely self-centered to think comedians were laughing at him, but now I get that he's a celebrity. I'd rather read about a famous man than one with delusions of persecution; we're off to a good start.
What the eff does "corncob" even mean?
QPQ's capitalization could use some work.
Oh, so Francis is still extremely self-centered. I wish the late-night hosts had been wrong about him, although I imagine that would be difficult to balance with the rhino-poaching business.
"You don’t get to fun of me!" Oh, yes I do!
Are rifles that easy to fire? Did he have his finger on the trigger? Why?
The corncob thing goes unexplained. Alas, I may have my loss vote here. I liked reading this more than I did Exmond's, it holds together better than Thranguy's, there isn't an Elvis in sight, but Francis is a one-dimensional rear end and his ending hits me as improbable. "Self-centered corncob gets what he deserves, the short story" would be much more interesting if it involved a literal corncob.
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Antivehicular, "Swimming and Sinking"
Picture Thoughts: This photo has "omen of horrible death" scrawled on the back next to the date, and I don't know whether I hope Antivehicular goes that route or not. It would be a shame to waste a good murder site. On the other hand, anything dark has to be to some extent expected.
Uh-oh. There's no better portent of death to come than "X figured it was probably safe," other than buzzards. Also: swimming in purple-grey fizz? Egads.
Lay, not laid. I'll give AV a reluctant pass on "ok" in this context.
Okay, really? Swimming in sticky, staining liquid of that color? Really? Someone somewhere might want to do this, but Andi's so aware of the nastiness that I'm finding her willingness hard to believe.
She opened her eyes in it? These girls have cell phones. They have television. They have things to do that won't get their eyes eaten out by soda worms.
All right, so it's magic. I'm afraid AV held that card too close to her chest for too long. I'd bet I was meant to twig earlier that this was something other than industrial waste, but I didn't, so I've spent a few hundred words with my skin crawling.
This is a case of magical realism not working out. The casual dismissal of Kayla as "portal-mad" is awkward; portals needed to be a thing from the outset. Furthermore, Andi is not the character to whom a story happens. Kayla is the person who acts, Kayla's the one whose life leads her to make this choice, and Andi's life is not much affected. I do see why it's better to keep what's beyond the portal vague, but I think Andi should have been more active in the story--or else her friendship with Kayla should have been deepened. Stuff like the parents' bedtime ritual could have been cut to show more of Andi and Kayla together.
I would actually put this in the lower half of the week, but it should be safe.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 04:59 on Jan 8, 2019
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 04:39|
Crits for week 335
Here are the crits I said I would do. Overall I thought this was a strong week. Or rather, almost a strong week, if so many people hadn’t run out of time and/or words and fluffed their endings. There were lots of good ideas, interesting characters, good prose, and face-plants.
The Turns of Edward Smith by Sitting Here
I enjoyed this on my first read, but the more I look at it the sillier it becomes. The purgatory Edward is trapped in doesn’t make any sense. Why is he trapped? Why does he make peace with being trapped and then keep trying to escape anyway? Why is jumping on a plane the key to entering the next, err, plane of existence? IS THIS WHOLE STORY AN ELABORATELY CONSTRUCTED PLANE PUN?
Bits of it are awkward. The granddaughter initially seems important but never reappears (I was waiting for him to spy her buying a couch or something) and the transition to the furniture store felt like it was just there to make the story fit the photo. The interesting bits - his attempts to talk to the living and to escape - happen outside the story.
And wtf is going on with this ex-carnie night janitor who sings war songs for some reason best known only to himself? Why does the carousel, now on display in a furniture store, still have power?
It is really let down by the lack of characterisation of Edward - I do not care at all whether he escapes this mildly inconvenient purgatory or not. But on the upside the prose is good and the images are nice.
A Death's Purpose - Lullabies For The Soul by Exmond
I had to read the first two paragraphs a couple of times because it feels like there’s a shift in POV. I think technically both paras are from the perspective of the angels, but it read like it switched from third to first person.
Overall this story feels like it’s missing its central character; you’ve described everything around the man’s death but not the man himself. Because I’m not invested in the nameless protag I’m not sad that he dies or happy that the angels are there to comfort him.
It seems like a lot of effort has gone into this story at the sentence level (maybe too much - more on that in a minute) but not enough standing back and looking at it as a whole. Is it about the guy who dies, the angels and their relationship with humans, or the process of death itself? I felt like this story was trying to lead me to some sort of deep statement about life, but instead I was just wandering around confused by references to cousins and sisters and parents with not enough to guide me.
Some of the details don’t add up to a coherent picture. For example, you open by referencing a girl he wants to ask out, but then she never comes up again and instead he dies pining for Kim. You describe the angels (or whatever they are) as fluffy and white (I am picturing cherubs with little angel wings) which is at odds with the overall serious tone.
At the sentence level, for me the prose felt overwrought - you’ve buried your ideas and concepts under such a pile of pretty words that I found it hard to work out what the story was about. I’d say dial it back 20%. At the moment the prose has an unnecessarily melodramatic tone.
Life in Stop Motion by Staggy
Ooh this is good. It’s a story of grief from the other side, and the sense of a slow letting go is very clearly portrayed. I liked the images of him trying and failing to get further from his grave - the sense of desperation and futile struggle are really well done.
The descriptions of the daughter are really good and I shared the protag’s frustration as she ages and it becomes harder and harder to decipher what’s going on with her life. This made the story a frustrating read but I’m ok with that because it’s the point.
My one negative comment is that the story doesn’t totally stick it’s landing. I wasn’t totally sure whether the ending is supposed to be her wedding - the bouquet implies that it is, but I thought maybe too much time had passed and we should be seeing her as an older woman now? The fact that we see her crying had also primed me to expect something sad, so I briefly thought we might be at her mother’s funeral.
In any case, the idea that now she’s getting married her father can stop worrying about her feels unsatisfying and slightly distasteful. But maybe I just don’t like weddings - other people might see this as an appropriate signifier that she is living as a happy adult now.
Fishwatcher by Thranguy
This was going great and until it crash-landed. Jess and Colin are lightly sketched but a believable couple nonetheless, and I was totally intrigued by the ghost-fish-things.
So why on earth is the ending about her losing the ability to have kids? (Was she pregnant at the time of the accident? This wasn’t clear). And I really wasn’t following when you wrapped the whole thing up with some adequate sex. I suspect you ran out of time.
More about the crazy fish things please.
Hospitality by Pham Nuwen
This started pretty good and then unravelled. I liked the weird late night vibe you set up, and I was intrigued about what was going on with this gang of elves. But the way he receives a blessing in lieu of payment was a bit anticlimactic, the “Earl King” bit felt like a reference that I didn’t get, and “Elvish Elvis” is a terrible note to end on.
The biggest problem is that the story ends at the beginning. I wanted to hear about the consequences of this weird encounter - what did effect did his new power have on Earl’s life?
In Lieu of Getting Out by apophenium
“Kelvin was thoroughly drunk and singly focused in the way alcohol makes you.” I had to read this sentence several times before I decided it wasn’t a typo but just a very awkward construction. Not a good start.
The rest of the story felt disjointed rather than following a clear arc towards Kelvin’s acceptance of his situation. First you set him up to seem like a raging alcoholic (he’s drinking in a junkyard in his slippers), then the second quarter of the story is him having a dull conversation with his therapist where he appears to be doing fine. Then in the third quarter we meet a bunch of new characters who don’t matter, and then by the end he has accepted things for some reason.
The problem is there’s nothing in the story’s events that explain why Kelvin has been transformed from a drunk who literally screams at the sky to a calm dude who is moving on with his life. Except for his therapist being good at their job, I guess.
A Natural Selection by QuoProQuid
This is pretty well done. The characters are good and the descriptions of the setting are clear. But it feels incomplete. I wanted to know what the consequences were of the second rhino attack. Do they die? Does it get filmed again? Does he learn any sort of lesson? It feels like you ran out of words before you’d quite finished your ending.
Swimming and Sinking by Antivehicular
I confess I didn’t get this story. It seems like a metaphor for something but I don’t know what.
I think you needed to set up more clearly that the reservoir wasn’t ordinary. At the end you talk about how it filled with strawberries, then toys. I think if you’d included this at the beginning that would have set the reader up better to expect weird poo poo to happen. As it is I was expecting a story about two teenagers struggling with their lives and so was quite confused when one of them goes “portal mad” (why is there no funeral?) and then starts sending letters (from the other side of the portal?).
It feels like you ran out of time with this one. The ideas are cool and the characters are good, but it needed another draft to sort out the ordering and make sure it was clear to the reader what you were trying to say.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 05:57|
Thunderdome Week CCCXXXVI: Best of the Bestiary
Judges: Staggy, sebmojo, Djeser
So we all know that goat's blood is hot enough to melt diamonds, right? And that a wild rear end will predict the equinox? Good - just wanted to make sure we're all on the same page here. There are a lot of fantastical creatures out there and, as usual, our true understanding of them peaked around the 10th century. So let's write about them!
Here's how this is going to work:
But for a bonus twist I'll tell you another astounding fact about your chosen animal that science has so far not discovered! Drop that in your story for an extra 200 words to play with.
What to Write: Good Words. I'm going to relax things a bit and say you don't have to feature the literal animal in your story but if you don't, then you need to make the thematic link to the animal crystal clear. Please make sure to include what makes your beast fantastical.
What Not to Write: Just to nip anything in the bud - don't just anthropomorphise your beast and call it a day. I'm not going to call a complete ban on it but please put in more effort than just making a fursona. In addition, the usual rules apply - No erotica, fanfiction, nonfiction, poetry, political satire, political screeds, GoogleDocs, quote tags, or dick pics.
Sign-up deadline: Friday, January 11, 11:59pm USA Eastern
Submission deadline: Sunday, January 13, 11:59pm USA Eastern
Staggy fucked around with this message at 10:24 on Jan 12, 2019
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 08:10|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 09:00|
in and bonus fact me.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 09:19|
Yes OK give me
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 10:04|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 10:18|
And thanks for the crits, y'all.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 10:47|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 10:58|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 11:31|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 11:35|
In. Hit me with some awful bonus fact.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 11:54|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 14:24|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 14:44|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 15:07|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 16:09|
The Siren's call makes me in, y'all.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 16:48|
In with a
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 16:54|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 17:11|
In with bonus fact!
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 17:30|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 18:00|
Your beast is the Weasel.
in and bonus fact me.
Your beast is the Duck.
The presence of a duck is said to prevent night terrors.
Yes OK give me
Your beast is the Pelican.
Your beast is the Bonnacon.
Your beast is the Alerion.
Your beast is the Leucrota.
Your beast is the Yale.
Your beast is the Stag.
In. Hit me with some awful bonus fact.
Your beast is the Caladrius.
Wise men know that the caladrius cannot stand the light of the moon.
Your beast is the Bear.
Your beast is the Onocentaur.
Your beast is the Dog.
Your beast is the Kingfisher.
The Siren's call makes me in, y'all.
Your beast is the Hedgehog.
In with a
Your beast is the Crocodile.
Your beast is the Wolf.
In with bonus fact!
Your beast is the Nightingale.
The heart of a nightingale beats on after death and many believe that it confers the gift of prophecy if eaten quickly enough.
Your beast is the He-Goat.
Some minor clarification going up in the prompt post in a minute or two so make sure to check that.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 18:50|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 19:04|
Your beast is the Bee.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 19:19|
in bonus fact plz
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 19:30|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 20:23|
in bonus fact plz
Your beast is the Lynx.
A lynx has no organs; inside it is as of the earth.
Your beast is the Hydrus.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 21:00|
Sitting Here - The Turns of Edward Smith
Quite an attention absorbing photo. I tried to peg a date to when Edward possesses the carousel on the basis of the U.S. Air Force song (guestimating the sixties). Edward’s experience through the passage of time is easily the highlight. Not sure how to feel about the ending (is he not now confined to the plane?) but I commend the fidelity to the photograph.
Exmond - A Death's Purpose - Lullabies For The Soul
I’m getting a Meister Eckhart feel to this (at least from what I know through Jacob’s Ladder) which is an attitude I don’t agree with. For this reason, my thoughts on this piece are probably more coloured than I would like to admit, tinged with frustration. The guy dying in the cafeteria seems an excuse for the narration to make conversation to the reader. Is the narration trying to appeal me to take its position? It does seem to care enough for me to think positively of their intentions, though not enough to be persuaded to act otherwise if we dissent.
Yoruichi - One Hour
Simple but relatable. Even though the ending can be seen, I find myself surprised that for how abrupt it is, the attitude flip still feels right. I think just the three words of the penultimate paragraph drives the point effectively.
Staggy - Life in Stop Motion
In addition to the strong sense of time and change, I think the biggest credit to this story is the distinct double narratives, one privy to us, and one we can only venture through hints. The pay off by way of the parallel peace/resolution in a way doubles the catharsis.
Thranguy - Fishwatcher
There are two narratives I’m reading out of this. One is a world populated by a fauna of aerial phantom fish triggered by a cataclysmic event. This same cataclysm triggered a trauma that’s ruptured Jess and Colin’s relationship. Beyond the cataclysm linking the two, I can’t decipher any further connection between these two narratives. I think there’s more potential in pursing the Jess-Colin relationship, but it is the less developed of the two.
Pham Nuwen - Hospitality
There’s a hint of a rich man / poor man folk tale template that could have been further developed in the Lotaburgers vs Jay’s Diner dynamic, and some lyrics from “A Little Less Conversation” that I feel could have been snuck in. Neither of which are necessary for what still stands as a satisfying story on its own that cracked a smile.
apophenium - In Lieu of Getting Out
As off-put as I was by the time/location shift, the structure seems intentional and warranted through Kelvin’s frame of reference. That, and Kelvin’s de-personalized outlook caught my attention (“transferred his body into dry clothes,” his therapist is not even named until the final revealed session.) Not sure how I feel about the story as a whole – it feels Kelvin is resigned to a fatalism that I can’t fault him for.
QuoProQuid - A Natural Selection
It looks like the inspiration on object over place put this story on the wrong footing with the prompt request. Setting that aside, it felt like the story started off as though it would sympathize with an oblivious jerkass, but that doesn’t happen. Getting just desserts served should be satisfying, but it lacks an impact here that I can’t put my finger on, except to unhelpfully say a progression of Francis’ assholery would make his topple more cathartic?
Antivehicular - Swimming and Sinking
There’s a hint of Enigma of Amigara Fault that I’m sensing from this, but I don’t feel it’s aiming for horror or mystery. The presence of the portal seems to blindside me just as much as it does Andi, even though the reservoir already had a reputation of attracting portal-mad kids which she knew of but didn’t take seriously. We get a hint of Kayla’s disconnect with reality to justify her pursuit of the portal. Andi’s end motives to seek the portal seem more out of attachment to her friend rather than herself being portal-mad. The ending doesn’t leave me feeling anything.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 21:41|
as always, thanks all for the crits!
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 23:07|
In and please do flash me.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 23:20|
ing to complete my outstanding judge crits for Weeks 305 and 306 before the deadline for this week's story.
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 23:29|
|# ? Sep 21, 2021 09:16|
|# ? Jan 8, 2019 23:36|