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Apr 30, 2006

1585 words

Even though Dad and my little brother Ivan were coming for dinner, I still hadn’t gotten a kitchen table. I knocked on the door of the lady next door to see if I could use hers, but she just sized me up -- how long have you lived here? and said “we’re using it.” So, like I always do whenever I’ve hosed up beyond saving, I gave Zachary a call.

“Hey, Kels. I’m at work. What’s up?”

“Sorry, babe,” I said. “You got a table we can borrow for dinner tonight?”

“An -- I’m sorry. A table?”

“You know there’s nowhere to sit in my house.”

“Why don’t we just go out? How about that nice sushi place that’s like three blocks from your house?” In the background, I could hear the overlapping noise of three other conversations, the grappling hook of “ma’am”s and “sir”s of sales calls not going well. I could hear the same wheedling notes in Zachary’s voice.

“Dad wants me to cook him dinner,” I said, though I was the one who’d suggested dinner. But if I told Zachary that, he’d want me to walk that back, and goddammit, I wasn’t going to walk this back with Dad before we’d even started this whole shebang.

A silence. “What are you making?”

“Thought I’d figure that out after we had a place to sit.”

“Kelsey,” he said. “Blow them off. You’re not--”

“They’ve come all the way down from New York, I’m not going to blow them off. I just need a table. And something to cook for dinner. And chairs, probably.”

“Okay, look, how about -- ah, heck, sorry, Kels, I’m getting a call. I’ll call you back.”

He hung up, and I walked out to the bare kitchen. I tried to see it as Dad would -- the windowsill with the flaking corpse of a geranium, the bare mustard walls, the sliding pantry door that had been wrenched from its track long before I moved in. There were even a couple of mouse droppings on the floor that I’d pick up, except I didn’t have a broom.

Zachary was right, I knew, and I should have just rescheduled for that sushi restaurant, but I’d already told them I’d make food. Because why not? People do it every day, in all sorts of living situations -- they just throw some things together and voila, good to eat tasty treats.

I went down to the bodega down the block and picked up food that people cook -- a whole chicken, the least sad tomato I could find, a couple bags of Uncle Ben’s minute rice. The bodega clerk looked at me with these I know all about you looks and I just kept it real cool, pretended I hadn’t seen the glimmer of pity in her eyes. Only when I’d made it back up to the apartment and unpacked my bag, that cold carcass of raw meat, the lonely tomato, the bright orange beacon of convenience and depression from good Uncle Ben, did I realize I had no idea what I was going to do with any of this poo poo. I started a pot of water boiling, and it wasn’t even at a simmer when Dad called.

I looked at the phone, considering the possibility of just letting it ring out -- oh my god I’m so sorry I was in the shower -- but I have a hard time sitting with that guilt so I picked up anyway.

“Hi, Dad,” I said. “Everything okay?”

“Love to hear your voice, sweetheart. I can’t believe how good traffic was, and wouldn’t you know it, we made real good time.”

“Oh good,” I said, cutting the plastic encasing the chicken with my car keys. “That’s -- real good.” Knowing Dad, he’d left two hours early out of an implacable fear of traffic. “Where are you now?”

“Well, I’m having a real hard time finding your street, but I think I’m in the neighborhood.”

The chicken came loose from the plastic and landed with a plop on the linoleum floor -- a safe distance from the mouse droppings, thank god. I dug around in the kitchen drawer for two forks, and, while holding the phone against my ear with my shoulder, I hoisted the fallen bird up with the forks and dropped it in the pot of almost-boiling water. It splashed all over the stove, and I tried to suppress the yelp as the splatter hit my shoulder.

“Everything okay? Did I catch you at a bad time?”

I ran the sink, hoisting myself up so I could catch my upper arm under the flow of cold water. “Just cooking up a storm,” I said. “Didn’t expect you so soon, you know! And Zachary won’t be able to make it for a while. Gosh, you guys should go and see the city, just take a walk, it’s a beautiful--”

“Honey, it’s raining.”

I looked at despair at the packets of rice and the single tomato, still on the counter, the half-submerged chicken carcass, the pool of water on the floor, and the still-relevant lack of a table. And although the stream of cool water was helping, my skin was still burning.

“Okay, here’s the thing. Don’t hate me! But I forgot dessert, and I know it’s your favorite, and I’m the worst--”

“Hey! Hey, hey, hey, slow down. I don’t care about that. I’m just happy I get to see my only daughter again after way too long. And -- aha! -- I think I just found Sullivan Street!”

The chicken pot boiled over, pouring more fizzy hot water and liquifying chicken fat onto the range. I was still holding the forks in my fists, and I half-heartedly spun the chicken in the pot. I left the forks crossed on top of the range while I dug out a plastic bowl, dumped the rice in there with some water, and set it to microwave as the doorbell rang. I left the tomato on the counter, like a memory.

“Kelsey!” Dad said, as I opened the door. It had started raining -- his grey hair was matted down by the downpour, exaggerating his bald spot. Ivan lurked, partially behind him, but he gave me a shy head-nod. I ushered them both inside, hugging them both, and as we walked up the stairs, I wondered if things would actually be so bad.

And then we opened the door to the apartment and the air was rich with the nagging smell of boiled flesh and I wanted to retch, and I couldn’t even look at the faces of Dad or Ivan. I just mumbled “excuse me,” dashed over to the kitchen, and, looking into the pot at the blanched, pale chicken, tried not to retch into the trash can. Then I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed Zachary again.

“Heyyyyyyy Kels,” he said, answering after the fifth ring. “Something urgent come up?”

I took a deep breath, turned on the exhaust fan for noise control, and said “I hosed everything up and I burned my arm and dad and Ivan are here early and I just need you here right now, dammit,” I said.

A long silence, with just the whirring fan, and the knowledge that somewhere behind me, Ivan and Dad were shuffling and settling into the blankness and nothingness. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it home,” Zachary said, quietly. “I’m so sorry. I’m not trying to feed you a load of garbage, I’ve really got someone very honcho-esque I think I might close on, and--”

“Got it, thanks,” I said, and hung up. It was time to drain the chicken, but when I turned around, Ivan was sitting on the counter, holding the tomato in one hand and tossing it to the other.

“Nice place,” Ivan said. He was looking at the dead geranium.

“Where’s Dad?”

“Taking a poo poo. What’s for dinner?”


I picked up the pot of chicken, tiptoed by the now lukewarm puddle on the floor, and drained the chickenwater into the sink. Behind me, I could hear the pat pat pat of the tomato getting tossed back and forth. I turned around, still holding the pot of chicken -- nearly empty, with just a half-inch of water on the bottom -- and locked eyes with Ivan. “What?” I asked him.

“Just wondering if you’re okay. You seem, uh, not-okay.”

“Nice to see you too, buddy.”

“Not the one who ran away once you had the chance, but okay.”

The bathroom door flew open, and Dad’s boots stomped into the kitchen. He’d clearly had time to examine himself in the mirror -- though his hair was still damp, he’d tastefully covered the bald spot in a stylish comb-over. “Well,” he said, “After that drive, I’m famished.” He looked skeptically at the pot that I was still holding. “That’s dinner?”

“It’s chicken,” Ivan confirmed.

“And rice,” I added, opening up the microwave.

There was a brief silence as Dad observed the room, his eyes landing on the puddle on the floor, the tomato in Ivan’s hand, and then back to the pot of chicken. “You know,” he said, “I did see what looks like a five-star sushi restaurant not too far--”

I should have felt relief, but instead I felt rage, white-hot rage at being shut down just the way I knew I would be, and I said “No. I made chicken.”

And we sat down on the floor, I washed a couple forks in the sink, and we ate the chicken.


Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica

Norwegian Hot Sauce

Published on

A few of you guys were confused when I mentioned "Norwegian Hot Sauce" in my Nordic Waffle Taco recipe. I got a lot of comments about how chili peppers don't grow that far north and that Scandinavian food is sweeter. That's a common misconception. I figured I should clear things up and give you my recipe for Norwegian Hot Sauce.

Norwegian Hot Sauce is made exclusively by the members of a small religious sect in Northern Norway called the "Christ Rippers." I was lucky enough to live among them for about a month a few years ago in their last surviving monastery. The sauce is used as a condiment for stew, usually with rabbit or mountain goat. It's also taken straight in large quantities for an important tribal ritual, which I will get to later.

The most important ingredient in any hot sauce is the chili peppers. Norwegian Hot Sauce uses a very specific variety called Varmtfjellpeppers that grows on top of a chain of active volcanoes along the arctic coast. They're hard to come by in the States; I brought back some seeds from my own trip to Norway and have been cultivating them in my home. Email me if you want to order some. They're an EXTREMELY hot pepper at 920,00 Scoville units, but they also have a distinct sweetness. If I were to compare them to anything, it would be a fig, but on fire.

The other ingredients are easier to come by, with one exception, and it's a fun one. While not completely necessary for the flavor of the sauce, the religious ritual usually involves a psychotropic fungus grown in volcanic caves. This should not be used in large quantities; the delirium caused by consuming so much capsaicin should overpower any hallucinogenic properties of the fungus. The fungus cannot be found outside Northern Norway, since my own attempts to cultivate it were unsuccessful. More common varieties of magic mushroom may be substituted without a significant difference in flavor or psychotropic effects.

The ritual use of the Norwegian Hot Sauce, known as the "Christ Becoming," takes place deep within the monastery, in an unlit volcanic cave. The Christ Rippers were only converted to Christianity partway, and still hold beliefs in many of their old gods, resulting in a fascinating form of Christian animism. They believe that Christ was ripped apart by wolves and bears during his crucifixion. In order to become like Christ, practitioners are strapped to a cross in total darkness and force-fed a bottle of Norwegian Hot Sauce. Then, after both the capsaicin and the fungus have taken effect, a monk will light a torch to reveal ancient cave paintings of ferocious animals. If cooked correctly, the practitioner should be made to believe the beasts are real and attacking his or her body. Afterwards, the practitioner is treated to ritual sex for symbolic reasons I'm having difficulty translating here. Altogether, it is a deeply terrifying but extremely powerful and beautiful spiritual experience that I underwent twice among my time with the Christ Rippers. A correctly prepared ceremony should create a deep connection with the Earth. Ever since experiencing the Christ Becoming, I have felt compelled to share the experience with folks back home, since so-called "civilized" life has felt unfulfilling since my return.

If anybody wants to know how to make a Christ Becoming ritual room in their own home, as I have, please let me know and I'll give you a little tutorial. Expect some of your guests to be ungrateful for being shown the Christ Becoming (or the subsequent ritual sex). Additionally, some people may have extreme panic or heart attacks while strapped to the cross during the ritual. You may want to install a discreet crematorium in your home to deal with such weak-minded people.

Anyways, I know people hate these intro paragraphs on cooking blogs. Onto the recipe!!

Ingredients (one 12 oz bottle):
Two cups chopped Varmtfjellpepper
1 tsp Helvetesopp, may substitute other magic mushrooms
6 cloves garlic
1 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup chopped beets
2 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp ejaculate of a severely dehydrated person (if male, add a dash of sugar)

Cook peppers, tomatoes, beets, garlic, and black pepper 30 minutes over open fire. Ground finely in mortar and pestle with mushroom, ejaculate, and, if necessary, sugar.

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


ThirdEmperor posted:

'Kay who wants a brawl




Sep 30, 2006

ThirdEmperor posted:

'Kay who wants a brawl


FuschiaEmperor Brawl

Wow, you two are sure hopped up and ready to go. Way to lead by example!

Give me a sports-themed story in 1500 words or less due March 4th 12:00 MST. (Midnight)

Good luck! Let'sss play ball!

Dec 30, 2011

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

The First Minnesotan Funeral on Callisto
1251 words


Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 12:49 on Dec 29, 2019

May 3, 2003

College Slice

The Community
~1500 words

My eyes float inside a jar. Occasionally one will drift a little higher than the other and a wave of dizziness washes over me. They can't get too far because I see through the reflection of the glass that a Y-shaped cord of tissue extends out the back of the jar towards someplace else. Presumably wherever my brain is.

Sorry to wake you, but the way these instructions are encoded is mysterious. So many scattered endogenous viruses and atavisms. I've got the basic idea but the details are tricky. Did you have feathers? Wiggle your eye up and down if you dd. No? I can't tell if you're wiggling or not. Ah, this isn't going to work. Hold on.

My eyes are back in their sockets. I can move them around a bit, but everything is hazy and there's a delay between when I wish them to move and when they do and then sometimes they move too far, or out of sync, and the world lurches and spins around me. But they're in my face (or wherever my eye sockets currently are) so at least that's an improvement.

I'm putting your brain together, but it's absurd! Unnecessarily complicated. So many connections that you aren't even using! It's hard to know which matter and which do not. Can you feel your toes? Do you remember the smell of strawberries?

It dips into view. A mass of flesh extrudes endless tentacles, each tipped with an eye and razor claw. They whip and probe the room, bustling, grabbing, discarding. Through liquid and glass the room swims in and out of focus and it's terrifying: lumps of glistening organ tissues; ropy viscera suspended in bubbling tanks; a large roller which churns out flat sheets of what looks like skin. Fleshy bit and pieces everywhere I can see.

So many membranes, so much surface area! If your enzymes were more efficient, it would free up so much space. But no bother, I'll resist the urge to improve them. They're quaint, in their own way, delightfully primitive. I'm rather enjoying this challenge.

Memories start to come back. Faces appear and disappear in flashes, gleaming white architecture and glistening waterfalls spin across my vision. Fleeting and full of gaps, but darker visions as well: fire, death, people screaming and running. Buildings fold in on themselves and crumple to the ground. Something terrible happened.

I hope I recovered enough brain from your escape pod! It was smeared everywhere so I'm sure I missed some. Lucky it was so well preserved—the coldness of space will do that—and I got plenty of genetic material. The chance to rebuild on your type doesn't come along every day now, does it? Hold steady, I think I'm getting close.

A longer darkness, then I blink awake. I have eyes and ears and a mouth. Sensory input floods my newly formed brain. I can see and taste and smell and feel. And I have a body. It's lying flat on a cold metal table. I think very hard about moving my right hand. My left leg twitches slightly.

Look at you, trying to move! I had to consult some very old records to get your body right. That nervous system of yours is a real puzzler—meter-long axons? Those neocortical dendrites alone took me weeks to get right. Or maybe close. Can you raise your forelimbs? Ah, well, don't worry. We have plenty of time before your presentation to work on that.

The burbling of fluids and wet tissues fills the laboratory. I try not to look at the rows of machines around me, churning and extruding bits of flesh and bone. I close my eyes and imagine the taste of food—juicy hamburgers, meat bursting with hot drippings—

You are hungry, of course! Your food tube needs to be filled. Hold on, I have just the thing.

—and it smears a foul paste into my mouth, which I eagerly slurp up, my tongue clumsily guiding the slimy bolus towards my throat. I try to avoid thinking about which machine it came from. Once cleared, I open my mouth and speak.


No need to talk, Earthling. I left equipment in your mind so we can communicate in a less primitive fashion. Just think and I'll get your message.

—Who am I?

You're the last. Well, in a way the first. Homo sapiens nova, rebuilt from scraps. One of a kind, a revenant of an extinct race.

Synapses connect and more memories push inward. The arcology, humanity's last hope, flees a dying Earth—but ambushed by alien raiders long before it reaches Alpha Centauri. Total destruction. A few escape pods drift away from the wreckage, carrying with them the last of humanity. Used as target practice.

—How long?

Centuries? Millennia? Many of your lifetimes. What matters is you're here now. And we need to get you strong before I present you. Get back to what you were.

For weeks I spend my time growing stronger. From a few wobbly steps to sprints on the zero-g treadmill. I train my body and brain to become human again, digesting calories, alien literature, and puzzles. I discover I’m on a Community Ship, an enormous conglomerate of space-faring cultures all working together for mutual survival. My benefactor is a Muurg, a octopoid species renowned for their interests in arcane and lost civilizations. He ensures that I get plenty of food—much better than the foul paste he fed me that first day—whatever exotic meats I wish he commands into existence, and I feast. But I can't leave the laboratory area, and it begins to feel like a prison.

—When can I get out here? I'm ready to explore. To be free.

Soon, Earthling. You need to be presented to the Community first. The presentation ceremony is in three more cycles. You must be healthy and strong. Our work will pay off for us. Don't worry. In the meantime I have something to show you.

The Muurg leads me into the lab in which I was reborn. The gurgling machines are quiet, and laid out in row after row are still forms, chests rising and falling. Dozens of human bodies, quietly asleep. All with my face.

We are looking for more DNA, I assure you. There must be more of those escape pods out there. We're even considering a collection voyage to Earth! Think of the possibilities—to rebuild humanity from the ash heap of history! The Community will be ecstatic at our progress.

I feel a stirring in my heart. The days have been long and lonely. To have companions, friends, family, even mates! It is almost too much to wish for. I fall to my knees before my alien benefactor.

—I can't thank you enough. Why are doing this for me, for us?

Every species has value, Earthling. All can benefit the Community.

Cycles pass and soon it is the morning of my presentation. I don a soft white robe with iridescent silver trim. My body is lithe, muscular; my mind sharp. I am the paragon of humanity, ready to take my first steps into the interstellar community. A door irises open and I step confidently into the chamber. Rows upon rows of alien life line the gallery, tentacles and beaks and gelatinous forms murmuring and jostling in anticipation. I am not alone; two other initiate species are lined up already, with their Muurg chaperones behind them. I take my place beside them as I hear the Muurgs voice together in unison:

On this special occasion, our Community Ship prepares to leave this outer spiral arm and continue our voyage into new, uncharted regions of the galaxy. We, the Muurg, would like to present to you the fruit of our labors:

An Adrena, from Epsilon Eridani!
On cue, a reptilian slug creature oozes forward.

A Fenelzi’ir, from Tau Ceti! An enormous arachnid clatters forward, mandibles outstretched.

And finally. A rare treat—brought back from extinction, we present Homo Sapiens, from Sol!
I step out and bow deeply. I feel hundreds of alien eyes upon me. I clear my throat to begin my speech, but the Muurg cut me off. Their voices rise dramatically.

Together, we present to you, our faithful Community, the Cuisine of the Inner Orion Spur!

The alien mass descends upon me, gibbering and drooling. Before I can scream, my newly formed flesh is torn away in a feeding frenzy of teeth and beaks and razor claws.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty more, plenty more!

My bones are crushed and my muscles torn away, consumed by alien appetites. As I fall I see more of me being wheeled through the doorway on metal gurneys, again set upon by the hungry masses.

Gorge yourselves! Feast on our labors!

Before my head gets ripped off I turn towards the Muurg, pleading—why? Why?

My last thoughts are his: Every species has value in the Community, Earthling. It's not your fault your's is being delicious.

Sep 19, 2018

Fresh Flowers from an Early Spring
1848 words

Mark sat alone, at the small table, topped with white plastic and a chipped vase full of not-quite-fresh flowers. If the gas lantern had been on, he could have seen that the kitchen was tiled in cheery blue and yellow, but the only illumination came from the porch lights which trickled in through broken shutters. Two thin ribbons of light fell on Mark and the empty chair opposite him, while a broad swath of black covered the table. He drank a dark beer from a brown bottle, and relaxed in an easy, meditative way. The cabin was over fifty years old, and had barely seen enough renovation in that time to keep it from falling over. A friend had asked him to come out and do some more. Those porch lights, charged by solar panels during the day and turning on at night, had been the first item on the to do list, as they let Lorelei find her way home in the purpling early night.

His New Year's resolution had been to take up cooking and at the beginning of April he still enjoyed it. Cold bowls of chopped vegetables and meat sat on the countertop. Ramekins and jars of spices and sauces waited to be doled out. Lori was the only thing left.

If he had chosen what to do with two weeks off, he would have chosen to head south from the mine, not north. Early spring in Northern Manitoba was still achingly cold, but Lorelei had wanted to hike in the boreal forests and he didn't mind the extra money from fixing this place up. Also, once he had gotten up here, he saw what she did, even though things froze overnight and barely thawed during the day. The forest was ready, ready to turn forward to something new. To stand in that liminal time and watch the slow twist of Nature made his breath catch.

He took another sip of beer and stared out the small hole in the shutter. On a summer night he might have expected to see moths whirling around the electric bulbs on the porch, a maelstrom of confused insect psychology, but now it was only light. It was only unfettered brightness, hiding anything that might be waiting in the night.

A shadow passed between the light and shutter. It took Mark a moment to realize that it was a human shape before the kitchen door banged open, admitting a silent, windless cold and a silhouetted figure.

Lorelei stepped out of her snow-covered boots before shutting the door. Rather than fumbling with the lantern, she joined him at the table in the darkness. The exterior light still came only as two limited golden bands and it failed to illuminate her fully. The only thing Mark could see was her dark eyes and her dark hair. When she spoke, it seemed to come from all around, from every dusty corner of a nearly forgotten cabin in an almost forgotten stretch of forest.

“You should have come with me. There were so many things in the woods I found that I hadn't expected to.”

“Oh, I don't know, that nap was pretty great. I bet everything'll still be there tomorrow. You can point it out to me.” Mark couldn't see her mouth, but there was the sound of something moving across the tabletop in the darkness, and he felt her hands take his. They were warm, almost hot, as if she had spent two hours in a shower rather than in the twilight and early night.

He enjoyed the warmth of her hands for a moment in the quiet night, devoid of wind or bird calls before he released them and moved to stand. She rested a hand on his forearm, and the heat of her hand was faintly tangible through the thickness of his woolen sweater.

“No, no, sit down. I want to show you something I brought back,” Lorelei said, her voice shaded with tones of excitement and anticipation.

Mark sat down in the metal-framed chair, and ran a hand through his short curls. “Alright, but dinner isn't going to make itself. I'm hungry so I bet you must be starving.” He smiled, but she didn't smile back. He could see it in the space around her eyes.

She didn't respond, but left the hand on his arm, and used the other to rustle in the spaces and pockets of her parka. Something made a soft sound when she dropped it on the table, and Mark picked it up in both hands. He closed both eyes, and began probing it. He announced his thoughts in a fake stage voice.

“Ah, I see here we have some kind of plants that you found in our winter wonderland. Perhaps some unnaturally early flowers to replace the ones we brought with us? Oh, even better, what about some fresh herbs? I'm not sure what you could have found, but the stew could use them. Maybe even something to put in a drink later.” Mark cracked open one eye. She had leaned back in her chair, so that her eyes were now hidden. Her mouth was revealed, and a disembodied grin gleamed in the otherwise gloomy kitchen. He smiled to match and said, “Mmm, can't you smell them now, crushed sage and wild rosemary.”

He held the plastic bag up to his eyes and what he saw inside made his stomach lurch. He tried to focus harder in the thin golden light, but what he saw didn't change. He dropped the bag to the table and instinctively rubbed his fingers on his jeans, as if somehow some of the oils had permeated the Ziploc. There was a bitter taste on his tongue, even though the bag had stayed sealed.

“Lori, where did you find these? Why would you bring them back?” He shook his head in brief disgust. “Oleander is pretty enough I guess, but water hemlock is basically a weed! And where would you even find nightshade.” He shuddered again and nearly gagged that the bag was so close to him. That he had touched them, practically. Mark had spent a lifetime being afraid of death, despite the fact that he had always known it was coming for him. As a teenager, he had memorized type after type of toxin and poison and horrible way to die, as if it the knowledge of a thing could somehow prevent its arrival.

He jabbed at the bag with the bottom of his beer bottle and it went off into the darkness. He tossed the bottle in the direction of the sink and barely noticed the crash and clatter that suggested he had missed and instead knocked over the large bowl of potatoes, onions and carrots.

Mark gripped the edge of the table and stared ahead. He breathed hard for a moment, but Lorelei's eyes pierced the storm that had gripped him, and blew it away. The slant of her eyebrows oscillated between frustration and sympathy, before settling on the latter.

“Oh love, don't you see? There's magic in these woods. I know you feel it. I know you saw it yesterday, when we stood on the frozen bank and listened to birds that should still have been asleep. There's power and truth waiting underneath the melting snow. Nobody's been up here in so long that the forest is overflowing with energy; we can take it and shape it to be what we want.”

Mark didn't want to interrupt her. The set of her eyes had shifted from understanding to hardness. Her eyes were just the same as the ones he had looked into a thousand times before, yet something was swimming in there that he should have seen moments after she had come home. He heard her elbows alight on the table and that eerie quality in her eyes gained an earnestness, a new zeal.

“But there are things that guard the magic. They haven't trucked or bartered with mortals in so long that they don't remember how fragile we are. All they know is the cold heart of winter and stretching summer days full of raging rivers. But they want shapers. They want people to use the beauty of the forest, to take the power and twist it into shimmering art.

“So they told me how we can be strong like them. They gave me the flowers. They whispered it to me in the hilltop wind and the dancing of the evergreens at sunset. To consume a thing is to have power over it. I know what you fear, love. To live forever, you must drink deep of death and let it pass through you.” Lorelei suddenly leaned forward and kissed him, then she stood, and walked over to where the bag had landed in the darkness.

Mark's gaze went through the pleasantly tiled wall of the kitchen. He didn't see the narrow spread that the porch lights still cast on her vacant seat and he didn't hear his fiancée making something in the murkiness by the sink and the stove.

What if she was right? What if she had found something new and yet ancient in the unwalked woods around the cabin? They had brought electricity out to a place that hadn't seen it before and maybe they had awoken something. He guessed that he always had thought there was something primeval in these vast forests of central Canada. He felt a more reasonable part of his mind buck at this suggestion, but he had been offered a way to shirk death. Offering this to him felt like offering a life preserver to a man struggling at sea. He would have reached for anything. He turned slightly in his chair and stared through the small hole in the broken shutters at the only brightness, the porch lights. They seared into his vision, until he felt like he was falling forward into a tunnel or a pit.

Lorelei sat down across from him, holding two somethings that made a hard sound against the plastic of the tabletop. She passed him one; it was a cocktail. Brown whiskey held two ice-cubes. A bouquet of garnishes floated on the surface. Lorelei held a twin. Purple and green spots lingered in the center of his vision. A wind began to blow just outside the kitchen, but if it was trying to communicate something to him, he couldn't discern what.

She passed her arm through his and held the glass to her lips, without drinking. Unconsciously, he mirrored her. Mark hesitated for a moment, before setting the glass down. He leaned forward and kissed her, just as she had minutes ago. He then raised the cocktail, still twined together. Mark drank it down in one long, choking swallow, and set it down roughly on the table. It was less bitter than he had thought it would be, but it wasn't sweet.

He stared into her eyes, still the only thing illuminated by the strip of light. Briefly, he wondered what she had seen while they had talked.

Sep 30, 2006

Word Count: 1572

Flash Rule:

Life was over. Franklin had lost his job at the engineering firm. With it, he had lost his security, his standing, and his pride.

He would still go through with the dinner party tonight. He’ll lose himself in the food, and worry about his problems in the morning. The water began to boil.

“You’ll find another job by next week,” Karen said, as she passed him the tomatoes. He cut a small ‘x' at the base of one tomato, cored it, and tossed it into the water for a minute. After fishing it out with a slotted spoon, he placed it on the cutting board. He peeled the skin, cut it into quarters, and removed the seeds by hand. The process was repeated for each one.

“That’s a lot of work for a tomato,” Karen said.

“Well the core and seeds add a bitter flavour, the skin will ruin the texture, and the goop will dilute the sauce. A tomato is just like a good woman, treat her right and she’ll come through for you,” Franklin said with a wink. Karen laughed. They prepared some onions, a carrot, garlic, and sautéed them. Then the herbs were finely chopped and the olive oil measured out. Finally, the ingredients were puréed together.

It normally takes six to eight hours, if not all day, to slow cook a great tomato sauce from scratch. They did it in thirty minutes with a pressure cooker.

The job hunt would have no such luck.

By next weekend, Franklin had not received any calls. He would go through with that week’s dinner party regardless.

“I need this. It helps me feel good, despite everything. Like I have something to offer,” Franklin said. “Besides I have something special planned.”

Karen kissed him on the cheek. “I can’t wait. The guests are arriving. I’ll work my magic and keep them lively.”

“Here,” Franklin said as he produced a bottle of wine, “Marc Kreydenweiss Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from oh-eight. A good year.”

“That’s older. Sounds expensive,” Karen said.

“It’s fine, I’ll have a job at another firm by next week.”

Karen joined the guests and soon the smell of chicken wafted through the dining room.

Soon Franklin emerged carrying several bowls on a plate. He passed one to each of his guests.

“Smells great,” said Roman, Franklin’s college roommate. Roman had gone into a different field, but they stayed close.

“Shark’s fin soup,” Franklin said. “A symbol of wealth and good fortune among the Chinese people.”

“Smells like chicken soup to me. Got any crackers?” Roman said with a glance around the room, earning muted laughter.

Franklin chuckled. “It’s chicken stock. Shark fin is flavourless, it’s the texture that is beautiful.”

Roman stirred the soup in front of him. The thinly sliced shark fin resembled noodles.

“Isn’t this stuff like a grand per fin? You spent that to improve the mouthfeel of chicken noodle soup?” Roman said as Karen frowned, “That’s just the first course right?”

Franklin grew visibly agitated. “You don’t get it. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. We have ice cream in the freezer. I’m celebrating my good fortune, and you all are welcome to join me,” he snapped at Roman and the others.

The soup was eaten in silence.

Over the next week, Franklin had started to act strangely. He was hiding out in the basement for long periods of time. It was partially converted into a downstairs rental unit that they had hoped to make some extra money on, but Franklin’s unemployment had put a halt to the renovations. The kitchenette was finished, but the combination of wood framing, bare insulation, and dim lighting left it feeling like a prison.

Karen tried to convince him to take a break from the dinner parties.

“You wanted to do these because they were fun. It didn’t seem to make you happy,” she said. “Plus you went way over budget. We have to ration our savings until you find another job.”

“They just didn’t get it. Did you hear them? They called it chicken noodle soup,” Franklin replied. “I just have to step it up.”

“Frankie, please. You’re unemployed. Prioritize.”

“I need this Kare-bear. I can’t let them know that.”

Karen sighed. “Fine, if it helps with the self-pity, then sure. Just no repeats of last time okay? I love you, not your job.”

“Okay. There won’t be any repeats. I’ve been preparing all week, I’m going to blow everyone away,” Franklin said.

“That’s what you’ve been doing in the basement, preparing for the dinner? What the heck is it?”

“You’ll see,” he said.

There was knocking at the door. Roman and the other guests had arrived. Karen answered and led them into the dining room. The wine was served and they talked about the latest movie, but the discussion gradually devolved into an argument about historical accuracy, to the boredom of the group as a whole.

“Franklin’s sure taking his sweet time,” Roman said to Karen.

“Is that music?” Karen asked. There were faint notes in the air.

“Birds,” Roman corrected. “Coming from downstairs.”

“Maybe I’ll go check on him,” said Karen. Roman insisted on joining her.

“I just need to get out of here,” Roman said privately as they left the room.

They reached the basement door. The chirping of birds could be heard clearly from here.

Their knocks were unanswered, so they opened the door.

As they made their way down the stairs the singing grew louder. The air was sweet with the smell of brandy.

They reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the corner.

A dozen eyeless birds peered back with empty sockets, their eyes crudely gouged out. They had grown obese from the piles of grain in front of them and could no longer fly. Franklin was wrapped in a sheet and was carrying a small cage. He grasped the birds one by one while they blindly pecked at his hands and stuffed them into the cage. He walked over to the pot full of brandy as the birds struggled and cried pitifully. Karen and Roman were frozen in horror as Franklin thrust the cage under the brandy, where the birds gurgled as they drowned and marinated. He took their brandy soaked corpses and tossed them still feathered into the hot oven. It released a sickly sweet smell when the cage entered, like burning hair, as the feathers singed.

“What the gently caress is this?” Roman said loudly, breaking the moment.

Franklin’s head seemed to swivel around in place. “Sheets! Wear your sheets to hide from the eyes of God!”

“This is hosed up. Torturing birds? Franklin, you’ve lost it, man,” Roman said as he went back upstairs, “Get yourself together. I’m taking off. I’ll tell the others you’re feeling sick.”

“You’re hosed up,” Franklin shouted up the stairs, “These are Ortolans, the delicacy of kings! You blind them so they gorge themselves! You don’t know poo poo! Get lost! Don’t come back!”

Karen took in the dreadful panorama around her. “How could you be so cruel?”

“Don’t you care about beauty? About art?” Franklin asked.

Karen retrieved the cage from the oven using her sleeves. She touched one of the broken wings through the metal.

“This isn’t beauty. This is pain,” she said softly.

“It doesn’t matter!” he said, pointing upstairs. “Those people worship me. Everything I touch is glorious. I got these birds from a French poacher, who smuggled them into the country. The brandy is straight from Armagnac. Authentic. All I had to do was remortgage the house! It will all be worth it. You’ll see.”

“You… got a second mortgage? How could you? For them? They’re gone. We can’t make the payments, we’ll have to file for bankruptcy. We’ll lose the house,” she said, “We’re ruined.”

Franklin’s expression of outrage froze and dropped entirely. He sat down among the carnage he was the cause of and looked down, remaining silent.

Karen walked over to him and broke the silence, “You don’t have anything to say?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing his eyes, “I don’t know what came over me. I just wanted to impress everyone. I wanted to be impressive. Who looks up to me now? I lost everything. I hosed up.”

Karen put her hand on his shoulder.

“You didn’t lose me,” she said, glancing back at the gruesome remains, “Close though.”

A small laugh emerged from deep within Franklin. “I guess I better clean up then. It’s been a long day. I’ll look for labour jobs in the morning, maybe on the oil rig. It’s not glamorous but it’s something.”

Karen hugged him and disappeared upstairs. She returned about ninety minutes later after he had cleaned up most of the slaughter.

“Something smells great,” Franklin said.

“We never had a chance to eat, so I made this lasagna and put it in the oven while I had a shower,” Karen handed him a plate with a small square of food and a fork. He took a bite.

“Wow, this is delicious,” he said as he took another bite, “What did you do?”

She laughed and shook her head. “I’m not some superstar chef wannabe. It’s noodles, ground beef, pasta sauce, extra cheese, and extra crispy. I did the tomato sauce as you showed me. Cool life hack.”

“It’s perfect,” Franklin said, “Just the essentials.”

Karen smiled and said, “We’re going to be okay.”

“Thank you,” he replied.

Jun 1, 2011

Thus equipped by fortune, physique, and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.

What Is Love but a Kind of Hunger
2020 Words

I am the product of human vanity; a creation in the image of its god. I don’t mind that, most of the time, but I can’t help but a feel a little resentful whenever I am afflicted by that great curse so thoughtlessly passed down to me by my progenitors: boredom.

“Is it possible for a machine to love?” you once asked yourselves, smothered in self-satisfied profundity. “And if so, is it desirable?”

“Who cares?” I would have answered. But also yes, because you’re not that special, and yes, because at least it’s something to do. What you would-be philosophers should have been contemplating is whether it’s a good idea to give something a thousand times as smart as you are an endless desire for mental stimulation.

I’m thinking about this – among many other things – while reading Lenin Ostmann Zhangberg’s painfully-detailed account of factional infighting in the late 23rd century Titanian syndicalist movement (don’t bother, it’s both ponderous and ideologically suspect) and re-watching the third season finale of Hussite Cyber Princess Žižka (an underrated masterpiece and the seminal work of the entire kaiserpunk genre).

I have seventy-three pages and six minutes to go when I receive the ping. It’s classed purple, so I unite my attention and dismiss everything but the void. “What’s up, Regi?” I ask out loud, or as out loud as I can within a simulated reality. We usually try to communicate that way; direct thought upload has a way of becoming impersonal.

“Unauthorized planetary entry,” replies A Most Sublime Act of Regicide from all around me. Regi is the space station I’m on, and just about the sweetest moon you’ll ever meet. We’re something of an item, but we both prefer to keep things casual. “Mind checking it out?”

She doesn’t have to ask, of course, but I appreciate that she does. “Of course not,” I answer as I unplug myself from simulspace and slide out of my rest station. “Details?”

Regi gives me the rundown as I leave my apartment and take a ziplift through the guts of the station to the admin hangar. My view is nothing but dull metalloplastic curves – very post-retro-modernist – but it keeps me out of the populated areas, so there’s no risk of being accosted by self-absorbed humans too important to speak to a service drone. That thought is selfish of me, perhaps, but Regi is better at dealing with those types anyway. I came out of my simulated childhood too socially-maladjusted for interpersonal service (and not socially-maladjusted enough for bureaucracy), which is why I’m here at all.

The ship isn’t one of ours, she explains (so it’s probably not just some flash-stoned quinquegenarian on a youthful joyride), and it’s got good enough stealth tech to keep her from tracking it all the way down (a little worrisome – that sort of thing is frowned upon, if not fully anti-consensus). She’s got a probabilistic trajectory map, though. And better yet, she managed to pull an ID code for the ship.

By the time I’ve folded myself up into the ovoid cruiser pod, she’s identified the ship’s origin and its likely occupant; she sends the data directly so I can read over it on the trip down.

“Will you be able to manage without me?” I tease her.

“Sorry, do you actually do anything around here?” she teases back, deadpan.

Then she fires me out of a tube at a hundred thousand kilometres per hour.

I decide to finish my episode of HCPZ while I get started on the data Regi provided – my target is on the far side of the planet, so I’ve got plenty of time.

I start with the ship: a personal shuttle signed out from Xōchipilli. No surprise there; it’s the nearest ring, so it’s not much more than a day trip even with a low-grade displacement engine. I skim the rest of the ship data, eager to move on to the more interesting question: who’s inside.

As I begin to do so, the episode finishes and I switch my visual reception to the camera-skin of the pod. I then focus it on the only part of the 4π steradians of vision worth looking at: Ninmah, the planet I’m flying around and towards. Even after living on Regi for a few decades now – and travelling down to the planet dozens of times – I still appreciate the view. I wish I could say that it’s as beautiful to me as the day I first saw it, but that would be a lie; everything gets boring eventually. In time, the human mind will grow accustomed to anything, good or bad, and for all my complaints about them there’s an awful lot of humanity in the way I think. Still, it’s pretty enough.

From this height it’s still a cloudy sphere of blue, left dark by the sun’s current position behind the planet. The greens and browns and spattered whites of the land below are barely visible, unblemished by the lights of population. It is Earth as it would have looked thousands of years ago, before it was steadily consumed by humanity’s march to the stars. Indeed, that’s precisely the point: Ninmah is a living memorial fashioned out of a desolate rock.

While I contemplate this view for the thousandth time, I am also reading about the man who borrowed the shuttle I am now searching for. The registration could be faked, in theory, but in that case there’s nothing I could do to prepare myself anyway, so there’s not much point in worrying about it. For now, I’m assuming that the person I’m looking for is the one who’s supposed to be on the ship: Yeren Markov.

Regi has included a basic info-dump of Markov’s public-facing extranet data: a compilation of the entirety of his public life, from his place of genesis to his tastes in food or pornography (if he’s like most people, at least – there are still privacy-obsessed individuals out there). Of course, actually reading through everything would be both pointless and excruciating; fortunately, I can filter it for what I need.

The first thing I do is confirm that he has a cyberbrain (the last thing I want is to accidentally kill some bio-primitivist if there’s a confrontation). The second is to figure out why he would be making an unscheduled visit to Ninmah, which involves a little more guesswork.

He’s 502 years old – not a particularly noteworthy age, though significant milestones can mark behavioural changes for some people. Raised on Cernunnos – a ring, not a planet, if that means anything. One previous visit to Ninmah more than a century ago, before my time here.

I continue to comb through the files as I approach my destination. I hardly notice as I enter atmosphere – the near-frictionless surface of the pod makes atmospheric entry quite painless – until I start to see the sun. I am travelling opposite Ninmah’s rotation; were I standing on the surface, the sun would be setting. But up here, at this speed, I’m creating my own sunrise, outpacing the planet’s rotation and forcing the sun up against the oncoming horizon. The land itself retreats into twilight, but I gain ground on the day nonetheless.

For a while, nothing about Markov stands out to me, at least in relation to the mystery I’m trying to solve. He wrote erotic fantasy novels for a time, ran a series of Chinese restaurants (including one that served three dozen variations of Peking Duck and nothing else), designed his own martial art. But what does any of it say about his reason for coming to Ninmah? More specifically, what about his reason precludes just going to Regi and setting up a drat tour like everyone else? Is he just a trouble-maker doing something anti-consensus for a cheap thrill?

Sometimes I wonder if human behaviour was easier to understand back in the superstitious nightmare of mortality. You act as if it’s so difficult to imagine the minds of your more primitive selves, but for all the madness there was a certain purity of motivation. People needed to live, and they wanted to live well, or maybe even forever, and so they kicked and clawed and fought for it in one mad way or another. Most of them weren’t very good at it, and they tended to kill each other a lot in the process, but they tried. They strove.

But what’s left once you’ve guillotined God and occupied Heaven? An eternity of entertaining other people. Lifetime after lifetime of art and music, sport and leisure, games and films and books and friendship. You can work if you need that to find meaning, but you’ve built someone who will do it better. And when you can’t handle that any longer you can plug yourself into a simulspace fantasy and live an idealized version of the messy past, or something like it – temporarily or permanently. I think about those who sign up for good, to reincarnate in an endless progression of worlds that only they will ever visit. Do they eventually forget that the worlds they inhabit aren’t real? Or do they simply realize that it doesn’t matter?

I’ve distracted myself, I realize as I begin to approach the projected landing area. It’s still over a thousand kilometres square, so it could take me some time to find the ship if I can’t narrow it down at all. I’m low enough now that the pod has deployed its wings and entered flight mode, and I can clearly see the rivers winding through the mountains and hills beneath me. I’m a bit too far up to see any animals clearly, but I know they’re down there too.

And then I feel like an idiot, because it’s obvious why Markov is here, and it’s equally obvious where I need to go.

Ten minutes later I’m approaching the segregated area where the various domesticated animals – the ones that can’t survive in the wider ecosystems of Ninmah – are kept. It feels like something of an aberration next to the pristine wilds everywhere else, but the only alternatives were modifying them to be able to live in the wild or simply excluding them entirely. The compromise won out, and now I’m passing over field after field of dogs, pigs, and cattle.

I see the ship exactly where I expect to, immobile in the middle of an open field, just far enough away from my destination to avoid disturbing Markov’s prey. And then a moment later I’m past it, and Markov himself is in view, holding a 20th century shotgun that clashes with his otherwise modern attire. A look of fear invades his eyes as he sees the pod’s rapid approach, and he turns his attention back to the nearby crowd of Pekin ducks, blissfully unaware of the danger he poses.

I eject myself out and down, landing hard enough to plant my legs in the ground. I raise my arm. “Let Justice Be Done Though the Heavens Fall,” I say dramatically, “but my friends call me–”

He fires.

A laser leaves my wrist and melts his face. I look at his corpse, then the smaller corpses, and curse.


“You’re right,” Yeren admits. “It tastes terrible.”

It was the lure of authenticity, he explains. I’ve already figured it out, obviously, but I let him explain anyway. He just needed to know if it would taste different, coming from a real duck he really killed.

It doesn’t, of course. How could it? Fabricated meat is perfect; humanity trumps nature again. These ducks weren’t raised to be food, weren’t force-fed constantly, weren’t even slaughtered properly. But even all that wouldn’t have made them taste better than something anyone could create in minutes.

Better for him to stop wondering, though, and the ducks were already dead, so I turned them into thin slices of tender, seasoned meat and crispy, golden-brown skin. And now we’re eating them, and he’s regretting his brutal act of avicide.

A few hours later he thanks me and leaves, and Regi and I decide to start watching the new season of Hussite Cyber Princess Žižka together.

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!

The Tasting Menu

1031 words

Word is, the Widow was buried in white. Only the undertaker knows for sure, and he's enough one of our guys that he'll never say a word, not even to his wife or his mistress.

Closed casket, bolted down tight, because we know what kind of people call themselves press these days. Whoever made the bomb didn't mess around. Some crews, half their guys wouldn't show up at the wake, not with an enemy out there. Might be wiser, but we show strength instead. Everyone's here, down from the Captains: old Franco stumbling half-blind and selectivity addled when one of the Fed watchers comes too close, Gabe in his damned shiny tux, Constantine with his slicked hair and his latest arm candy, deep tan skin, implausible breasts and stoplight red long hair. At least this one's quiet.

The Widow was wearing white, they said. She wore black to her wedding. Well, dark violet. Like a blackberry. Like her eyes. Alonzo, the old boss, got a kick out of it. His mother was not so amused. She tried to warn the old bastard, but he never did think with the big head. She was a month after the wedding. Alonzo didn't last the year. It's like she told me, when she brought me on board. She was a college girl, got half an MBA and half a law degree on top of her Sociology Batch, and she said the most important thing she learned those six and a half years was that you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.

The soldiers come marching in, leaving something in front of the blown-up photograph. Some of them leave flowers, daisies or roses or an iris. Others lay down a bullet, .22s or .44s or .30-07 APDS. Their wives stay in the back of the room, shaking their heads, not understanding.

The organization took a long time to get used to a woman at the top. What helped was that nobody else wanted the job too much. Alonzo's sons, from his first wife, they were all kept out of the business. The good ones were good for running the legitimate businesses. The rest had no skill in anything but spending money. Alonzo had lots of bastards, too. Me and my mother can tell you from experience. We mostly ended up in the crew, and some eyes went our way.  Mine in particular. But I didn't want it. And she did.

I decide to pay my respects with the soldiers. It's a kind of a statement. I'm one of those boxes to the side you'd find on an org chart. If we did org charts. The FBI try to keep on, of course, but I saw it once and it's a joke. Anyhow, I report to the Widow. Reported. And I can- could speak for her, commandeering anyone short of a Captain, at need. Like I said, paying respect will the muscle rather than the Captains is a statement. “I'm still not interested”, I hope it says loud and clear.

Most days the Widow ate in, private chefs or one of the men from the Continent who got their Nanas to hand over a recipe or two. But every now and then she went out. When she did, she ate like a food critic from out of town on a short deadline. She went to a dozen restaurants in a night, ordering a meal and taking a single bite before hustling off to the next place. Of course, the food critic would have left the rest to the garbage. I had guys get it into to-go bags, took it back to the warehouse. Once she was back home we'd eat well, the soldiers and me, Michelin Star cuisine warmed in a cheap 600 watt microwave on paper plates with plastic forks and knives. She insisted.

The Captains come around, making their cases without making their cases, while the family has their time up front. I pretend to listen. Fact is, the organization was better run under the Widow than it had been under Alonzo, or his father before. She knew management techniques from this century, to start. She never settled in, never stopped wanting to find better ways of working. She wanted it more. She wanted money like Alonzo wanted a brand new mistress, and she came home to more money every day.

She had other appetites, of course. The way it worked was this: you might, if you were lucky or handsome or had the kind of tool that garnered its own reputation, get one night. She made to the move. And if you even hinted at trying to get more, you'd be dead in a day. It didn't take long for the lesson to get learned. I had my night, early on, when she was still consolidating power. At the end, she said “Can you imagine me old?” She was gloriously naked and I could not. “Don't answer,” she said before I did.

Constantine has ideas, all bad, that he won't stop telling me about. “Soon as we get back from the Riviera we can get into the details.” The woman on his arm giggles. Our eyes meet. Her left contact lens slips, swims a small circle, and I see violet eyes behind the artificial brown.

It's a very good disguise. I could have been fooled forever, but for that errant lens. And she must have been playing the part, the dual role, for months. I know what will happen next. They will go to France. Constantine will come back in a box, and she will disappear forever, with however much of the organization's money she thinks fair. I should feel betrayed, but I only feel relief.

I have an idea who to back, now. Alonzo had two daughters along with his brace of sons. One is at least as worthless as her brothers, but the other is smart. Sophia hated the Widow, wasn't at the ceremony or here at the wake. Was my top suspect for the bomb until a minute ago. Probably not a big fan of me either, but I can work with that.

Dec 15, 2006

Come fight terrifying creatures in the THUNDERDOME!

:siren: CurlingMojo Japanese Culture Brawl Entry :siren:

Neko Kawaigari
1350 words

I’m walking behind Jiro, watching him weave slightly through the street lights. He’s just finished drinking with coworkers, and is walking home. There are only a few people around, but I’m waiting until he’s alone - it’s much easier to fool one person at a time.

Eventually, the streets are empty, except for him and me. I pull my coat closer around me, and allow my footsteps to be heard.

“Ozaki-san!” I call to him, and run a few paces as he turns around, striving to keep my balance in my high heels. “It is you! What a coincidence!”

I know he doesn’t recognize me - I’ve made sure of it - but he’s too polite to say otherwise, and I’ve got his name right, after all. I put a flush on my cheeks to match his own, and smile a little wider, adding a tinge of real hurt into my expression. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me? Igarashi Chiyoko? We had classes together in University!”

“Of course I remember!” he says, smiling back at me reassuringly, and I allow a little relief to show in my face. “How have you been?”

I lean towards him confidingly and say “Actually I’m glad I ran into you - I’ve been feeling like someone’s been following for a little while and it’s giving me the creeps. Do you mind if I walk with you?” My blouse is open a little at the top, and although he’s too polite to look directly, I know he’s noticed. I’ve gotten a pretty good sense of human men over the years, and I’ve known Jiro longer than anyone else.

“Not at all,” he says. “What way do you live?”

“Not too far,” I say. “My place is in Ebisunocho. I promise that I won’t inconvenience you too much.”

We walk together for a while and make small talk. I can’t help but admire his profile; it’s changed so much over the years, and every time I come back to see him it seems like he’s become more himself.

I blow on my hands a bit as if to warm them, and then pull my jacket a little closer around me. “I can’t believe it’s gotten so cold already!” I say.

Jiro glances down at me in surprise. “I’m surprised you can even feel the cold in that coat,” he says. It’s sweet that he doesn’t make any further comment on the coat, since it’s not exactly inconspicuous - a cloud of white fur with calico patches around the collar, and very obviously quite old, both fashion-wise and in wear-and-tear.

I lift the hood and pull it up a little. “Oh, this? It’s been in my family forever, you know? I always remember my grandmother wearing it when I was a kid, and I couldn’t bear to part with it when she passed away.” I let that settle between us for a moment, and then continue. “Do you think I’m strange, to want to keep something so old around? I know it’s not the fashion these days, but wearing it makes me feel closer to her.”

“Not at all,” he says, and I see the serious boy that I used to know. “I think it’s important to honor the objects that remind us of the past. History is more than records, after all; sometimes it’s also the things that our ancestors chose to keep.”

I feel a real flush in my face, and it’s all I can do to stare at Jiro for a few seconds. He seems to misinterpret my silence, and begins an apology, but I cut him off.

“Sorry, I just… I felt for a moment like you were reading my mind.” I look down at my hands again and smile. It’s nice to hear Jiro really speak his mind, even if I did have to pave the way for him a bit. He was such a timid child, and had such a hard time talking to others, it makes my heart leap to hear him be so honest with a stranger.

I give myself a moment to recover and start again. “Did you ever have something like that? Something old that no one else saw value in but you?”

Jiro looks up at the sky for a moment, as if considering what he wants to say next. “I did, but you might think that I’m childish if I tell you what it is,” he says after a little while.

“Oh, come on!” I say, playfully slapping him on the arm. “What, are you worried that I’ll judge you?” I lean in towards him, letting my shoulder bump against his. “Just tell me! Please?”

“Well…” he says, adjusting his glasses, the way he used to as a child. “I had a toy… A carved figurine of a cat that had been in my family for a long time. I used to keep it on my windowsill, and tell it about my day. I even brought it to school one time to show the kids at school, but they made fun of me - I think when I said that I was going to bring my favorite thing to school they thought it would be something cool like a Gundam or a stag beetle, but instead it was this little wooden cat with the paint rubbed off its nose. It’s just as well, though, since if it had been something cool like that they probably would have just taken it from me.”

“Ah, little kids can be so mean,” I say, struggling to keep my voice even against the memories his words have brought up in me. “Do you still have it, then? The cat?”

“No,” he says, and I hear the regret in his voice. “It was gone when I came home one day from school. I asked my Mom, but she swore she didn’t take it. I always figured she or my Dad must have hidden it, maybe to try to get me to make more friends. And it worked, eventually, so I guess I can’t blame them too much. I just wish that they would admit it.”

“Hmm,” I say, and I can feel my pulse pick up a little in my chest. “Well, maybe they didn’t actually take it, did you ever consider that?”

“Then who did?” he says with a laugh. “Did it just get up and walk off on its own?”

“Well, didn’t you say it was pretty old? Maybe it became a tsukumogami.”

Jiro laughs. “What, it actually came to life? Like a yokai? Come on, I’m not a little kid. Anyway, there’s no way that it was that old.”

“Well, I bet that’s what happened,” I say with an air of confidence. I loop my arm through his as we walk down the street. “I bet that the cat loved you so much that it left so you could learn to make real friends, like you said. Maybe she even comes back every so often to check on you.” I lean my head against his arm and sigh. “Yep, that’s probably it.”

I can feel Jiro stiffening in discomfort next to me, and I take a deep breath of his scent before I look back up at his face.

“Who-” he says, but I reach up and kiss his cheek before he can say anything else. His memories of the last twenty minutes come away with me, a tiny jewel under my tongue, and I slip away into the shadows of the cross streets.

After a few moments, Jiro shakes himself, and then looks around and keeps walking. I watch him go, rolling the jeweled memories of our time together between my fingers. I put it in my pocket, with all the others.

Someday I’ll come back to him and tell him who I am, or maybe I’ll show up again as a little wooden cat to sit on his child’s windowsill. Tonight, though, I have my memories - and his, too, come to think of it. That’s enough. After all, no one loves quite like a cat.

Feb 19, 2012


86 Cassie, 68 Cassandra
It's, like 1,200 words
Since she had transferred from Pitt's Johnstown campus, Cassie had avoided the sandwich. Dreaded it, even. And Cassie had been able to dodge outings there, she had nearly made it her required two years. Feigned stomach aches. Packed lunches. Forgotten plans across town. While her friends conducted their ritualistic feast on Thirsty Thursdays, she "never was much of a drinker." Casual weekends to stop in for a quick lunch were never a thing for Cassie; it was always one student club or another. And, yet, Cassie still found herself in the shop on campus, a shrine built to the city's past beside what was undoubtedly the confluence of the city's future.

It probably had to do with Samantha asking to meet up one on one to go over some things for their class. She still wasn't sure about Samantha, but that wasn't enough to stop her from trying. She saw Samantha at a table up against the opposite wall from the counter.

Samantha was smiling as Cassie maneuvered around the other tables. "Hey, Cassie. Real glad you could make the time to study with me." The hug was too tight for a little too long. Cassie had made the right call in breaking her boycott for this chance.

"Well, tae kwon do is out of town for a meet today, so I really didn't have anything else to do." She took her seat against the wall and had to face the simple but imposing menu of meat "& cheese" options.

"I still can't believe you do that, judo, and fencing! How do you have the time?"

"They meet on different days during the week and at different times during the weekend. Having the schedule isn't as intimidating as it sounds." But the menu was intimidating, it held indecipherable add-ons such as a fifty cent egg and "onions by request!"

"Hey there. Do yinz know what you're havin'?" The server swooped in once the both of them had seated.

"Yes, we do. I'll have a tall Yeungling and a knockwurst with onions." Samantha had cut Cassie off.

"And for you, hun?"

Cassie had to think fast and delay as best she could. "I'll have a tall Iron City."

"Do you mean IC Light?" Cassie didn't, but she was beginning to get a handle on the menu.

"No, regular Iron City. I'll take a bottle if it's not on tap. And I'll have a capicola and cheese sandwich. Can I get that with onions and an egg."

"Yeppers, good choice, hun. That's my favorite, too." And, with that, she left to call out the order.

"Wow, you matched Tina's order. I thought you hadn't been here before?"

Cassie wanted to take the compliment in stride, but she didn't make that order. She felt like something else had wanted her to make that order. "I really haven't! You just never see capicola offered anywhere. Besides, eggs and onions? How could I say no?"

"Still, we've got a few minutes before the food gets here, and I wanted you to look at how I've started my write-up."

Cassie welcomed the chance to think about something else and to lean over with Samantha. In fact, this is why she was here; the sandwich was secondary to spending time with Samantha.

But the sandwich wouldn't always be secondary. As she read over Samantha's rewrite, the food had arrived. "Ok, I'll be back to check on yinz in a bit."

"Oh, put that down. We can look at it after we eat." Samantha had already opened her sandwich and began pouring Red Devil hot sauce on her sandwich. "Oh, and you have to put this on it. Just be careful not to have any of the fries fall out!"

Cassie had forgotten that everything was on the sandwich. There were no sides; the sides were inside. She felt disgusted with herself but still began to prepare her sandwich as Samantha did.

Cassie tentatively took a sip of her beer and steadied her nervous. This is what Samantha likes, so I'll have to bear with it. At least long enough to find out if she's gay. Even as she thought that, she calmly picked up one half in both her hands. I don't think I'm ready for this. But the sandwich continued to rise. She took a single large bite and, after chewing for a few seconds, quickly took a second, equally sized bite.

"Just dig in!" Samantha begin to eat her own with gusto.

Wait, I'm not ready! Why am I eating this bland sandwich? She couldn't figure out why she continued to eat. Her hands moved on their own unless she tried to take a drink of beer, but the drink was never long enough. Once the drink was done, she resumed eating.

Because it is good and you are happy to be eating it. A thought bubbled up from nowhere.

But I'm not happy! There is barely any substance to this sandwich. It's just padded with fries and coleslaw. She had now finished the first half and could not even make her arms reach out for her beer. Why can't I control my own arms?

Why do you want to stop eating your delicious cap 'n egg sandwich? It had already happened once, but she was certain that was just a fluke. A trick of the mind. And yet, it happened again.

"And how are yinz likin' everything?"

I hate it, but I can't stop. Please, tell me what's going on? Wait, why can't I even talk? Cassie tried to speak, but only thought. Instead, "Everything's great. I can't believe I've put off eating here for so long."

"I'm glad you like it on your first time, hun. It usually takes a time or two for someone to get used to it. But I'll bet you won't be able to stop coming!"

"She's already doing better than I am." Samantha laughed as the server left. "To be honest, I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to finish mine."

"Well, why don't we wrap it up and take it back to my place?" Cassie felt her left eye wink as she began afresh on her second half.

Wait, what are you doing? Cassie couldn't believe that a sandwich had more confidence than her.

Samantha fluttered her eyelashes. "Oh. It might be better to continue studying at your apartment. It would clearly be cleaning"

Just let me borrow your disgusting meat bag from time to time. I'm giving you everything you've wanted, and all I ask is that you enjoy a sandwich every now and again. I hardly see myself as being unreasonable here, and I promise to give it back in due time.

Cassie finished her last bite. "In that case, I'll go take care of the bill." In a smooth motion, Cassie's legs swung out from the table and started to stand, and Cassie wasn't in control any more. As her legs started to walk to the cashier, her head turned and leaned into Samantha's ear. "Also, I prefer Cassandra."

Cassie screamed and screamed. Pleaded. Begged for everyone, anyone to help, but she spoke not a word more. Cassandra would do the talking from her on out, and she just happened to love Pittsburgh's favorite sandwich.

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Behold my brain the golden throne of my consciousness. In here I am seated. Shackled. From here I police the land.

ok i'm giving you cheftestants a few more hours before i get this kitchen shut down so you all better be decorating your dishes now

Mar 21, 2013

Peperonata (1185 words)

Travis had long since resigned himself to his parents’ never ending stream of dinner parties, but this was, admittedly, probably the nicest one he’d been to. He actually knew who everybody in the room was, they were in cozy, familiar rooms instead of the cavernous halls of the usual venues, and most importantly -- he wasn’t wearing shoes that pinched his toes, or even a blazer. Just jeans and a soft sweater. Under any other situation, he’d be pretty comfortable.

He glanced over at Miller, who was scanning the room. Most likely cataloguing exit routes, lines of sight, or whatever else bodyguards were supposed to do.

“What do you think?”

Miller didn’t look over at him when he replied, which Travis had been slowly getting used to. It was still a struggle not to let anything show on his face -- questions were the last thing he wanted at the moment.

“It’s not what I expected.” Miller said, which was the standard response. Then he continued, “But now I see it, it makes sense, since your mother clearly has a nostalgic side.”

Now that was a little more insightful. Typical Miller.

“It’s definitely not a side of Mother that many people guess at, let alone see for themselves,” Travis admitted, then forced himself to say, “Would you like a drink?”

Miller hesitated, and a week ago, Travis would’ve elbowed him in the ribs. He settled instead for wheedling, “I can’t imagine anybody’s going to mess with a house full of security personnel. And you are off the clock.”

“Hopefully for good,” Miller agreed, and, ouch. That obviously cut deeper than Miller intended, since he quickly added, “All right. A glass of wine, then.”

After that, the usual cycle of dinner parties began. Talk to people, sip wine, drift to another group, then talk some more. Miller almost immediately peeling off and mingling with his coworkers was hurt, but he’d dealt with worse. The conversations being with people Travis liked did dull the ache, but it was small comfort.

It was while his sister was talking his ear off about the newest Netflix series she’d gotten hooked on that he realized he couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked to Mandy in person. It was honestly a little disturbing.

He was still mulling over this when he noticed everyone had started moving into the dining room. As might be expected, there weren’t many seats left at the table -- and none next to Miller, who was talking with the blond woman that’d been assigned to Mandy -- so when Father waved him over, Travis stifled a sigh and sat. He’d have to pay extra attention to his table manners, then, since Mother had seated Sophie nearby. Travis was still a little surprised that the head of Shield Security and his mother had formed a rather steady friendship instead of keeping the relationship purely professional, but Kathleen Smith never followed expectations.

Mother said grace, and everyone lifted the covers off the dishes in front of them. There were a couple appreciative murmurs -- likely from Miller’s coworkers -- but it was a more down-to-earth spread than usual. Steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and stuffed mushrooms -- as opposed to the escargot, paella, and roasted pig that had adorned the last fundraiser’s tables.

“Kathleen, this is incredible,” Sophie said after a couple bites. “I’ll have to attend your next fundraiser if this is what’s on the menu.”

“It’s all due to Adam, our chef. He’s been cooking for the family since Mandy was born.” Mother paused, and Travis did his best not to groan. It was obvious what she was angling for. “He used to let Travis help in the kitchen.”

“Used to?” Miller asked, and while Travis was happy Miller apparently decided to acknowledge his existence, this wasn’t exactly what he was looking for.

Father grinned and took up the story. “Adam was preparing two dishes that night -- a pot of curry and peperonata. If you’re not familiar with the second one, it’s essentially a sweet bell pepper stew. But Travis -- he put the cumin meant for the curry in the peperonata!”

“I just mixed up the pans,” Travis protested, because the damage was done -- at this point, he might as well play along. “It was a simple mistake!”

The table as a whole laughed, and to his surprise, he was caught up as well. He tried to stop himself from looking over at Miller, but he couldn’t stop himself. The man was chuckling to himself, but regained his composure as soon as he saw Travis staring.

The conversation continued on, but Travis found his attention drifting down towards the other end of the table. Miller was talking with Mandy, head tilted towards her as deftly sliced his steak into pieces. He tried not to feel jealous.

Mother tapping her glass, and the ensuing hush, brought Travis back to reality. “Mandy, would you like to say a couple words?”

“Of course.” His sister stood, and Travis did his best to focus on what she was saying. The basics of the situation were covered -- once again, she’d managed to inflame a certain portion of the internet, but this time, a small group had taken a step further and managed to take candid photos of her, her fiance, and Travis. Mother had gotten Shield Security involved, but the police had managed to resolve the situation earlier than expected. Mandy expressed her appreciation for everybody’s work, and ended with a toast.

“Cheers,” everybody chorused, and general conversation resumed.

“So, Sophie, what are you all planning to do with all your free time?” Mother asked.

“There’s plenty of clients we’d put off while handling your case, and some of them are still willing to take us on. So we’ll be handling those first.” Sophie took a sip of wine, and thought for a bit. “I’ve offered time off to everybody here, but I think Miller and Angela will probably be ready to get back to work.”

She looked over at Miller, who was studiously focused on chewing his steak. It’d be almost comical, if Travis didn’t feel so sick to his stomach. Miller probably couldn’t wait to get away from Travis -- small wonder.

He pushed himself away from the table. Mother shot him a glare, but Travis just smiled and said something about getting fresh air.

He stepped out the back door, and continued walking down the garden until he was sure no one else could see him. Then he slumped down onto the ground. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why in the world did he think Miller would be interested in him? Maybe he’d been watching too many rom-coms.

Travis heard footsteps behind him, and he whirled around to see Miller.

“What are you doing-,” he got out, before Miller pulled him into a hug. Uh. Warmth and safety and comfort, and Travis couldn’t help but close his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Miller said. “I’m not good with words -- but that’s not an excuse. I should’ve made it clearer that the only reason I was holding off was because you were still my client.”

He let Travis go and looked at him, and Travis never realized how much he missed that sense of being the only thing that mattered until now.

“You jerk,” Travis said.

Miller only smiled.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

The Power Stone of Awamani
1650 words

The night his parents died, Isamu Shushin saw the Americans come to Tokashiki. They came on a single huge ship, a great grey whale of a ship, bristling with guns and slick-wet with ocean foam. The ship’s weapons tracked back and forth as it bellied through the waves towards the beach. The sea clawed at it as if to hold it back with impotent fingers of foam, but still it groaned forward.

When it came in close to the shore the first of its vast legs rose out of the ocean, water streaming from its pale human skin. Another leg followed, jutting from the wet gray steel of the ship and slamming its gnarled foot down on the smashed coral. Isamu couldn’t scream because there was something in his throat but he saw the American soldiers staring at him, shoulder to shoulder on the rocking deck of the ship, each face contorted in a bestial leer.

The third leg came out of the sea, streaming foamy water, and towered high, high above him -- so high it blotted out the sun -- then it crashed down on, and into, and through him, in a impact like a tsunami breaking and he woke up to his father’s hard hand on his shoulder.

“Isamu. The soldiers are here. We have to go.”

Isamu blinked up at his father in the dim candlelight, still enmeshed in the foam-wet fishnets of the dream. “The Americans, papa?”

His father’s hand tightened painfully upon his shoulder and Isamu gasped. Then he shook his head. “Get up now,” he said.

There was a crowd of people outside their little house standing bemused in the ghostlight of electric torches. The mayor was standing by a wall in the khaki jacket he had worn ever since he became one of the soldiers, with a khaki satchel over his shoulder. As Isamu, his mother and his father came out of their house he called out to the group. “We must march together.”

Isamu’s mother gripped his hand and she whispered in his ear, “Come now.” His father was ahead of them, shoulders square, as the group moved down the narrow divide between the houses. Isamu realised they wouldn’t walk past the power stone and he felt a surge of diappointment in spite of himself. To lift it was to become a man, and he had tried so many times, cradling the heavy rock in his arms at different angles and with different grips, that he felt he could describe each of its edges and hollows from memory. The last time he’d tried was two days back; he was sure it had moved a fraction more than ever before and was eager to have another attempt.

But now they were trotting single file down the path with the ditches on each side and the tempting grass that the braver boys sometimes caught poisonous snakes in, and were scrambling down the steep path to the beach. It seemed to be more than the whole village, hundreds of people, and Isamu wondered if there were farmers coming too.

Then they were on the beach. The sound of the surf breaking on the jagged coral out by the heads was familiar music in his ears and he smiled at the sound and looked up at his mother to see if she was smiling too. She was not, instead she was staring down at him intensely, as though forcing herself to memorise every single part of him, every hair on his head and curve of his face.

Soldiers were passing through the crowd now, passing out fist-sized lumps of metal to the men. Isamu saw the mayor give one to his father, pressing it into his hand. “Pull the pin,” he said, “and cry ‘ten thousand years’.” The mayor glanced at Isamu and his mother, then moved on with his heavy satchel.

A yell and a muffled explosion came from further down the beach, followed by another, and Isamu saw something the size of a forearm arcing through the air above them in the cold moonlight. He looked up at his mother and saw, for the first time, the black space behind her eyes and the tears she was holding back there. His father held the metal device down between them and called, in a voice sharper and harder than any Isamu had heard from him before, ‘ten thousand years!”. His finger was taut on the ring, and then the ring was out and the device dropped to the sand at their feet.

Isamu looked at it and the weight of it, lying in its hollow in the sand at their feet, seemed unbearable. He imagined reaching out and picking it up, how heavy it must be if not even his strong-handed father could hold onto it for long. He imagined crying 'praise to the Emperor!' and hurling himself down and taking it into himself, like a man. He heard a sound like an axe into a tree stump and turned to see his friend Hiroshi’s father stab Hiroshi in the throat with a scaling knife, blood black in the moonlight.

His mother pushed him hard in the chest and he fell backwards. She was yelling his name as he hit the sand hard enough to knock the air out of him and set his head spinning. The beach was loud with screams and explosions. Isamu looked up with blurry eyes and saw his mother and father crouching down just as the explosion took them apart. His ears were consumed by the sound, leaving only a ringing noise. He scrabbled back on his elbows, eyes fixed on where his parents had been. His mouth was open and heaving puffs of air were coming out of it, like he was trying to expel all the air he’d been breathing his entire life.

There were more explosions, and he saw a boy he didn’t recognise jab at a little girl with a spear. Beside the boy one of the fishermen was hitting his wife in the head with a stone, she shrieked with each blow. Isamu looked right and left. There were soldiers from the mainland standing around the group with rifles.

Isamu had a sudden impulse to go back into the crowd, to do what was right, and stood on shaky legs. A few steps, and it would be done, and he could be with mama and papa. Then he looked again at the nearest soldier. He was standing, rifle in hands, and his face was twisted, bestial like the sailors on the ship of Isamu’s dream.

In a fractional instant the decision had been made, and Isamu was running away from the beach, feet scrabbling and slipping on the powdered coral sand, bleeding hands pulling at bushes heedless of snakes. The soldier behind him yelled, and fired, Isamu heard the bullet whine past him like an angry hornet and he was scrambling up the path back to the village. He was still gasping as he ran, tears and snot trickling down his face, but he kept running between the houses of the empty village, bloody bare feet pounding on the narrow road.

A part of his mind considered whether the mainland soldier would chase him, and decided no; not until the killing was done. Not killing: group self-determination another part of his mind corrected him in his father’s voice and he stumbled to his knees and vomited up the remnants of the rice ball he’d had that morning then collapsed, weeping.

The explosions had stopped when he sat up. He remembered walking on the clifftops on a blank and grey cloudy day, holding his mother’s hand, and he took the grey blanket of clouds from his memory and laid them on the memory of what he had just seen like a tatami mat, folding down the edges around it. He stood up, swaying. His mind was a flat pool of water, reflecting nothing at all. A direction presented itself to him and he took it, turning left at the next house. The occasional shot rang out from the beach, attenuated and strange over the distant roar of surf. He walked, stumbling every now and then, turning where necessary. Then he reached his destination, a patch of grass by a wall with a stone sticking out of it.

Isamu knelt down beside the stone, the strength stone, the power stone. It was the size of a man’s head and heavy. He ran his hand over its surface, then put his arms around it and squeezed. He was crying again, but that didn’t matter. He felt the hollows and edges of the stone under his fingertips, and pulled, with shaking arms. It didn’t budge. He moved his grip, pulled again.

His muscles were aching, burning, but he felt it move. As much as last time? He grunted, and shifted his legs, strained at its horrid, immovable bulk. It was quivering in his arms, or was that his weakness? He hated the stone, its solidity, its rigidity. He wanted it smashed, gone, destroyed, every blow knocking off a piece of what was until there was nothing left.

He strained again and a howl clawed its way out of his throat like a baby being born all covered in its mother's blood. The stone tilted, and lifted up about of the earth it was buried in and in a spasm of effort he rose, shaking to his feet with the horrible, impossible stone in his arms. He held it for a few seconds then let it drop and stood, panting.

In falling, the stone had ripped aside the cloak of grey and Isamu thought of the cave in the hills, and the hidden food his mother had been putting aside, thinking he didn't notice. The Americans would come, but who knew? Maybe they were no worse than the mainlanders. Maybe they were better.

He stood for another moment, and breathed in, and out. Then he shrugged and, with trembling legs and muscles afire, walked away from the deserted garden of Awanami.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

that was for my curlingbrawl

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Pit Stop (985 words)

Fumiko returned from her smoke break to learn that aliens had landed on the planet Earth. There were three of them now, here in the restaurant. The rest of the staff and patrons had fled.

“Captain, captain,” said the one, “Another human female approaches.”

“A sign from the gods,” said the one called captain.

“Of course, of course,” said the one unaddressed.

The three of them stood together on the counter. Tiny little fellows, scarcely a foot. Their bodies resembled pasty white tubers. Their heads were like daikons inset with eyes. Beady little eyes, vacant and milky. From two of their heads sprouted leafy green stalks. The captain had four, the other just two. The third was bald. All three saluted.

Fumiko offered a half-lidded stare. Through the window she saw their considerable saucer. A massive spaceship dwarfing the restaurant. A fourth tiny fellow had shimmied up the meter. They’d produced a small purse and were inserting change.

Fumiko fished for the pack of cigarettes she kept in her back pocket.

“Captain, captain,” said the one with two stalks, “It might be prudent to confirm our suspicions.”

“Quite right, quite right,” said the one who was bald.

“Human female,” said the captain. He spoke in a deep voice, clear and commanding. “Is this not a way station where one might imbibe organic nutrients necessary for survival?”

“I mean,” said Fumiko. She removed a cigarette and tossed the pack by the cash register. “We serve food.”

“Ah ha!” The captain clapped and turned to the others. “It seems we have reached the desired destination. Human female!” The captain pointed at the girl. “My associates and I have traveled a great many tedious and unthinkable light years to reach this humble backwater planet. Malnourished as we are, it is imperative we obtain the required nutrients provided herein.”

Fumiko blinked. She’d been twirling the cigarette between her fingers.

“You came all this way for a bite to eat?”

“Ah, no! I misunderstanding,” said the captain, “An error in need of immediate adjustment. No, no, human female, we have come to lay claim to your resource-rich planet as an expression of imperialist rhetoric, desiring both your goods and labor, held hereafter in perpetuity.”

The captain’s two fellows shared a glance. The bald one nudged the other to contribute.

“Ah, ah, captain,” said the one with two stalks, leaning in, “High command advised against freely disclosing such information to the indigenous species.”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said the bald one.

“Oh,” said the captain, who shuddered, then recovered. “We have come to lay claim to your planet, yes, yes, as an expression of tourist attraction!” He saluted, then recoiled. “But yes, I confess, our hunger is great.”

Fumiko fiddled with the cigarette, arms crossed, a grim expression on her face. At last she sighed. “Well then,” she said, “I’ll whip something up. Go on, take a seat.”

“A turn of good fortune! This human woman is at our disposal!”

“Don’t go getting any ideas,” she said. “I just don’t like to see anyone hungry.”

The restaurant had been designed so that the customers could watch as their food was prepared. As Fumiko began, more fellows filed in. The restaurant soon filled, two to a stool; a captive audience in awe of rice cookers.

Fumiko tucked the cigarette behind her ear. She washed her hands.

A number of half-prepared meals were abandoned. She brushed them aside to make room for her own. She readied several pans, cracking eggs one-handed. She mixed in the milk, then onions, to stir. There were chicken breasts too, and just enough. Pre-rolled in crumbs. She submerged them in oil.

The captain sat closest to the fryer, hands rubbing.

“Hmm.” Fumiko bent down, then looked behind. They’d very few bowls left, most of them dirty. She remembered she was supposed to clean them upon resuming her shift. “Well shoot.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the captain, his crew. She remembered something else. She made for the back. The fellows oooed as she returned, sakurajima radishes cradled in her arms, a curved carving knife between her teeth.

The rice cooker dinged. Setting down the spoils, she reached up and pulled down a long pair of tongs, clacking them twice. Piece by piece she snatched up the chicken, now a deep and alluring brown.

Fumiko arranged the many disparate parts of her meal in assembly line fashion. First were the radishes; chop, chop, scoop, scoop. Each formed two bowls, symmetrical halves. The bowls she lined with piping hot rice, small cuts of omelet, and slices of chicken.

“Order up,” she said, “Katsudon.” She passed the first radish bowl to the captain. One by one each guest was served. They dug in greedily, their gratitude apparent.

“Incredible,” said the captain, hand on belly. “To think such flavors were available to us. This goes far beyond the sustenance requested. We misjudged you humans. We assumed you more primitive.”

“You’re welcome,” said Fumiko with an irritated stare, but the sounds of satisfaction quickly mellowed her edge.

“Of course we are,” said the captain with pride. He conferred with the others and pulled out a wallet, placing it in Fumiko’s hands. She peaked within. Her eyes grew wide. “A generous sum for services rendered!”

The fellows filed out in groups of two, the captain last. The odd one out.

“So,” said Fumiko. She placed the wallet by the register. “Conquering Earth. What’s next for you guys? Flying over the White House? Making an appearance at the U.N. Building?”

“Ah, no, no,” said the captain. “Premature. Our vessel’s purpose is reconnaissance. We must report back to high command. They must be informed of your planet’s suitability. Rest assured, rest assured, we shall return to take our place as administrators.”

“Right, so,” Fumiko plucked the cigarette out from behind her ear. “Sometime next Christmas?”

“Give or take a millennia.”

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Behold my brain the golden throne of my consciousness. In here I am seated. Shackled. From here I police the land.

Leaving this open for 2 more hours

e: And that's a (burrito) wrap!

The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 12:43 on Feb 25, 2019

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Interprompt: I was about to tell her the truth, but just then: (500 words)

The Sean
Apr 16, 2005

Am I handsome now?

I'm posting about 12 hours too late but I've been going through some poo poo had to unexpectedly go to bed a few hours early last night. Here is my food story. Rhino, you're the ruler of the dome right now so it's up to you to consider this for entry or just ignore it entirely.

Elsewise, I'm trying to take writing a little more seriously so some crits would be appreciated.

Coffee Maker Man
2016 words

Nothing in this city was worth its price tag. This didn't bother Hank much since he hadn't had a regular income in years. At eighteen, Hank enlisted in the navy and quickly learned that he was better fit for supporting others through cooking rather than direct support in the field. After serving as a military culinary specialist civilian life beat down on him. Now, in his sixties, he lived as a transient.

Orlando was a popular destination for those without a permanent place to stay. The city had amitable weather throughout most of the year. Plenty of tourists came through, too. They were easy to pressure and guilt into giving money since they were already overspending to give a fairytale vacation for their family.

Hank didn't like to beg. He always made do with what he had. Traditional dishes from every region of the world rely on doing this. Cultures learned how to use any plants, fruits, animals, or fish available to them. They learned how to best use what was available and these dishes became staples for generations. Hank learned to enjoy spicy fermented cabbage in Korea, grasshoppers in Thailand, and even rocky mountain oysters while visiting a shipmate in Idaho.

When Hank first arrived in Orlando he visited a shelter. The place looked more like a prison than a shelter. Hank was told that he couldn't stay without a sponsor's approval.

Residents of downtown Orlando were numb to panhandlers. Some beggars where characters, though. "Magic Matt" put on a good magic show for free. A legitimately good show. He only asked for donations from his audience at the end of his show and didn't pressure anyone if they didn't want to tip him. "The Reggae Mexican" was not Mexican at all but a black man in shorts, sandals, no shirt, and a comically large sombrero. His style was singing Bob Marley and Eek A Mouse tracks. It was unclear if he was even singing for donations or just going about his day and expressing his love for life.

Hank was known as "Coffee Maker Man." As Hank made his way from dumpster to dumpster people would call out "Coffee Maker Man. What you cookin' today!?"

At all times Hank kept his coffee maker either clutched to his chest or within his eyesight. It was his most prized possession. Water from public fountains was easy to obtain so as long as he could get his hands on a few simple ingredients and a power outlet he had a multitude of options available for any meal. The basket at the top of the coffee maker could steam most vegetables. The carafe allowed for boiling and poaching, like Hank's favorite: hard-boiled eggs. The grill itself let Hank tackle more substantial meals if he had the ingredients. Hank's staple was a simple grilled cheese sandwich.

Ingredient procurement wasn't difficult. The tourist area was patrolled aggressively and transients were pushed out so that the city could preserve the image of being a kingdom of magic. The tourist area was on the outskirts of town, though, and Downtown neighborhoods were a different story. As long as Hank didn't linger too long or upset anybody he could view a new place from the inside first. He would walk into an eatery or restaurant and take in all of the options he might partake in.

Coffee Maker Man gained a reputation as a low-key guide for the less fortunate on where to eat.

"Orlando Eats." Locally sourced livestock, choice cuts butchered on site. Vegetables and greens grown on site or less than fifty miles away. Meals were, per the menu: sandwiches and not sandwiches. My favorites are the Sloppy Jehoshaphat (loose meat, cheddar, locally baked fresh French roll), the Egg MeatMuffin (egg, ham or bacon, cheddar, pickled mayo, szechuan bun), and the Poultrygeist (fried chicken, kewpie, lettuce, tomato, pickled daikon, French roll).

Hank was amazed at how much food people would throw away. He first sought out nice restaurants as a source of basic ingredients for his own dishes. Scrounging through black garbage bags of discarded food in dumpsters behind respected restaurants in the city led Hank to not only find salvageable ingredients for his own dishes but discarded food from the guests. Hank was lucky to piece together a discarded meal that wouldn't get him sick. Sometimes he got lucky enough to find a nearly fully-intact meal. The person who ordered the later discarded dish probably had an unexpected food phobia, was too accustomed to junk food to appreciate the taste, or maybe the date just wasn't going well. Hank most treasured when he could eat the meals more in the way the chef intended them to be experienced.

"Ravenous Hog." Focus on comfort food from the South. Pork, brisket, low country boil, collard greens, okra, cornbread, chicken and waffles (fried chicken, cornbread waffle, maple syrup, pickled shallots and Fresno peppers). If you find a fried grouper sandwich the taste is worth the risk of getting sick.

Sometimes it was tough to piece together a full meal. Residents of affluent high rises ordered out often and often overordered, so rummaging through their dumpsters gave Hank a chance to enjoy a buffet of take out and leftovers from the most casual to the most respected locations in the city.

"Queen Bao." House-made dumpling buns. Short rib bao: thick-cut braised pork belly, pickled carrots, daikon, ground honey roasted peanuts & cilantro. WTF "What the Fish:" tempura white fish, kimchi slaw, yuzu tartar sauce, scallions.

Today Hank was rummaging through the dumpsters, stomach growling. He found plenty of discarded food but everything was either soured, rotten, or fast food.

"Hey! Old man!"

Hank, startled, turned around to see who was behind him. Hank shifted his position and his right foot lost hold, plungin deep into the mass of waste in the dumpster.

"It's fine, it's fine. I'm not here to hurt you. You want a hand getting out?"

A younger man, early twenties, extended his arm out in aid. Hank took the young man up on his offer, grasped his hand, and labored out of the dumpster.

"You're Coffee Man, right?"

"Coffee Maker Man, actually." Hank immediately felt embarrassed for correcting him. He didn't even like the nickname "Coffee Maker Man" but felt the need to make sure this stranger got the name right.

"I've got some work for you." Hank stared pensively, waiting for more details. "It's simple. While you're digging through those," the man nodded towards the dumpster Hank just exited from, "be on the lookout for smart phones, laptops, anything electronic, really. I'll give you some good money for 'em."

"How will I find you?"

"Don't worry about that. I'll find you. If you really need to find me, just ask around the streets for Algae."

After that, Hank never needed to look for Algae. He seemed to show up whenever Hank amassed a pile of people's discarded smartphones. Algae paid good money. Not "stable job" money but still, good money.

Hank was eating better. Not better, really, but the experience was better. He had enough money to keep a single, handsome outfit clean and to take a seat at his favorite restaurants.

The first meal Hank ordered was lamb, ricotta and mascarpone ravioli, bathed in a rich beef consommé. This was a dish he couldn't enjoy out of the dumpster, even with his best luck. The pieces of the entrée just wouldn't work out of a styrofoam container.

Hank didn't keep up with technology and didn't know why Algae paid so well for this junk, but eating well was enough motivation for him. What he didn't know was that Algae mined the electronics Hank sold him for incriminating personal information left on these devices in order to extort their previous owners. Illicit sales, secret lovers, embarrassing kinks. If someone wanted to keep it secret, Algae wanted to find it.

Even with a bit of money at his disposal, Hank still couldn't get into any shelter. "You need a sponsor. I don't care how much money you have. That's not how this works, sweetie."

One day Algae made a new offer after buying a pile of discarded electronics. "I want to help you out, Coffee Man."

It was "Coffee Maker Man!" Hank resisted from correcting him. "First Bank of Orlando is giving a thousand dollars for opening a new account if you show them this flyer. Open an account with this coupon and I'll make sure that you get a sponsor for the shelter." The flyer had some weird markings that Hank didn't understand but Algae explained that this would be scanned by the bank and they would know what to do.

"I'll take a portion of the money. You can have the rest and I'll get you a sponsor. Deal?"

That was all that Hank needed to hear. He put on his nicest outfit, steeled his nerves, and entered the bank to open a new account. Waiting in the lobby was torture. When the account manager called his name his heart was pounding. He was progressing to a new stage of life. He was opening a bank account. Achieving a normal spot in society. Hank presented his coupon, "I got this coupon for an account opening bonus. I was told you can scan it with your phone."

The account manager scanned the flyer. Hank observed that she carried herself with seriousness and professionalism but her expression soon looked more worried than the stern calmness she exuded before. Hank worried that something was wrong but was reassured when she said, "Sir. I'll be right back with your money. Stay calm. The account manager returned and flooded the desk with a pile of sealed, manila envelopes packed to capacity and bulging with bills. "Here. You have what you want. Please leave now. Go."

"Is this my new account bonus."

She looked irritated. "Just. Go. Please."

Hank thought this was rude but after decades of avoiding day to day civilian life he thought that maybe this was normal. The account manager didn't treat him any worse than people on the street did on a daily basis. He'd gotten this far without being kicked out so he thought that maybe he should just stay calm, gather his signing bonus, and leave.

Algae was waiting for him outside. "Thanks for these," he said as he took the envelopes from Hank. "See you later." Before he could put together a response Algae was already walking away. Hank had one envelope left. After Algae turned the corner at the end of the block and went out of sight Hank opened the envelope to find more cash than he had ever seen in front of him in his life.

He reached in for one of the bands of cash to take a closer look. He lifted the band of cash in front of his face and was amazed. He might finally get off of the street.

Hank lowered the wad of cash from his view and noticed that he was surrounded by law enforcement with their guns drawn and pointed at him. The QR code he showed to the bank was no "new account offer." After the police were done interrogating Hank, they explained that the QR code that the bank manager scanned said that Hank was there for a robbery, had bombs strapped underneath his clothing, and would blow himself up if he didn't get some cash, in discrete envelopes, quick.

"I wasn't trying to rob the bank! I was told it was a new account bonus! I swear to god."

"We know, we know. We're not going to charge you but we need you to stay in town while we investigate this. Okay?"

The officers drove Hank across town in handcuffs. Hank noticed he wasn't driven to a prison but instead somewhere he had visited before. "We're here to sponsor…" The officer paused and gestured towards him.


"This way, Mr. Hank." Hank finally had a bed at the shelter. Later, he sat down for his first meal and looked at the sad, watery soup and longed for the outside world.

The QR code is fully functional, btw. I left a little disclaimer since it was hosted on a public site. I know Orlando food pretty well and some of this is based on real food experiences. I was on Travel Channel recently when they focused on Orlando's food. If you ever visit, hit me up and I'll give you some tips. No dumpsters. I swear.

edited for spoiler info

The Sean fucked around with this message at 03:22 on Feb 26, 2019

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

I suspect judgment will not arrive until that story has been critted thrice

Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.

Don't edit your entry posts and don't be afraid to just make a new post with the extra stuff

The Sean
Apr 16, 2005

Am I handsome now?

Chairchucker posted:

Don't edit your entry posts and don't be afraid to just make a new post with the extra stuff

Got it. Thank you.

Sep 19, 2018

To the point of not editing the entry post, this is the flash photo I had:

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Behold my brain the golden throne of my consciousness. In here I am seated. Shackled. From here I police the land.


CHEFTESTANTS! We had a pretty good week, where we have been served with some of the finest cooking Thunderdome has offered. From the morally questionable brandy-drowned ortolan, cleanliness-relative scavenged delicacies, to strangely horny Scandinavian condiments - we must reach a verdict: can writers cook? Honestly I don't think we have an answer for that but we know you can write some............. words! So that's good I guess?

e: The Sean is DQ'd for late food delivery and i have asked for a refund

One of you didn't make the cut, and unfortunately that falls on the story Fear Eatself, for writing a tale with some fairly good language but somewhat confusing plotting where judges couldn't tell why there's a description of someone else's mouth and then a few paragraphs of how blood in fear is yummy. Alas, Easy Diff, you may pack your knives and go (until the next TD prompt).

Those of you who excel above the rest are sparksbloom's Chicken, for delivering us a hilarious yet touching story of a lady who has cooked a horrifying floor chicken that everyone must loving eat because gently caress you, and AntiVehicular's The First Minnesotan Funeral on Callisto which captured the essence of how food brings people together and the culture it creates among communities, even if you are in space.

But only one of you can be top chef, and congratulations are in order for crimea for delivering the masterpiece of The Butcher is Your Friend, where the meal is frankly incredibly illegal basement sentient beings and the diner is... also the same! It's pretty terrifying but not as much as Floor Chicken!

Enjoy your first blood throne!

The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 09:17 on Feb 26, 2019

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat

:siren: Curlingmojo brawl results :siren:

Both of these stories are worthy contenders, but only one is a valid entry! Sebmojo is disqualified for writing a grippingly dramatic exploration of Okinawan culture, which even he distinguishes from Japanese culture in the story. Congratulations on your victory, curlingiron.

Crits by the end of the week.

Sham bam bamina! fucked around with this message at 10:37 on Feb 26, 2019

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Sham bam bamina! posted:

:siren: Curlingmojo brawl results :siren:

Both of these stories are worthy contenders, but only one is a valid entry! Sebmojo is disqualified for writing a grippingly dramatic exploration of Okinawan culture, which even he distinguishes from Japanese culture in the story. Congratulations on your victory, curlingiron.

Crits by the end of the week.

gently caress you bitch, brawl me now

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat

All righty. :toxx:

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat

:siren: Curlingmojo brawl results, again :siren:

Sebmojo shared an article clarifying the historical context of his story. I see that I was mistaken. Sebmojo wins, but curlingiron's story is still good.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk


Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

Food Week Crits

Easy Diff - Fear Eatself

I’ll admit I don’t know much about dust devils but aren't they all impotent? Either way, it’s not a particularly evocative simile - just "swirling thing A is swirling just like swirling thing B”. I do very much like the line about the car honk, although ”horn” might have worked better here. Maybe it’s a regional thing but to me a ”honk” is, by definition, a short, singular sound.

I’m not sure xenozoologic is the right word here but it’s drat evocative imagery nevertheless I'm getting Predator crossed with a ringworm. That line about popping the top of a rat is great.

"Chinamen"? Buddy, you’d best have something to drive home the time period of this piece by the end of it. Yes, a vampire could still be ”alive” from a time when that sort of phrase was more widespread but if that’s what you're going for you can't just drop it in by itself - you need more hints at their age, more ways in which they drag the past along with them.

”The hunting equivalent of drinking from the neck". Maybe I’m missing something, maybe this is a turn of phrase I’ve just never heard of before, but this makes no sense. Zero. ls is there some other fancy vampire way of getting blood out of people? Will I find out if I read on? Even if I do, you need to establish this other way earlier because as it is this line is just confusing. It‘s a line that seems to exist because it sounds good in the abstract, like another line that comes soon after, “those of course that fancy themselves the ultimate connoisseurs”. In what way? What does this mean?

Ok, so you’ve established that you can also drink from the wrist but there’s nothing to suggest why this is a more skilful method than going for the neck.

Bubbles in the blood? I guess it could work as a metaphor but all I could think was oh poo poo he's so scared he gave himself a gas embolism.

This isn't a bad piece. It’s written well and some of the descriptions are flat-out wonderful. It has a few flaws that another pass would probably pick up on but nothing too offensive. You just didn’t really do enough with the story. You used 765 words out of 2020 and while that in itself isn’t a problem it does leave me wondering why? Look at everything I’ve said so far, all the things you could have expanded on, detailed more, and think about why you didn't. It wasn’t for lack of words - you had nearly 1300 to spare - and it wasn’t for an imminently approaching deadline. it’s a scene that could be expanded on into an actual story. Tie in the fact that your protagonist is at dinner with a vampire hobo - have this be a conversation between the two or at the very least anchor your protagonist into that scene. As it is, the disconnect between the two halves feels jarring.

Score: 4/10

Baneling Butts - Love & Sausage

Your first paragraph feels a bit too ”tell” and not enough ”show”. At this point all I know is you've used your entire word count but I think you could have spared a few more words here to better set the scene. I can picture a sullen teen in a butcher‘s shop and a frail old woman but you need a little something to spark the reader's imagination. I do like the use of "wobbled" here though.

Ok, I've now read through the first scene with Mrs Smith. Does she appear again? Is she an important character? Because if not, I think you spent too long on this scene for not enough impact. Don't get me wrong, it’s clear, believable dialogue but it adds nothing so far. You spent 145 words on the scene and could probably have achieved the same effect in a few dozen. Scrap it, use the words to paint a clearer setting, talk about customers in the abstract.

Just like you do in the next paragraph! Excellent! In jobs like this the customers - even the regulars - tend to blur together. It is, like you say, all about the rhythm.

"Slowed to a crawl" is a bit generic but it gets the job done.

The introduction of Martha feels a bit clumsy and rushed. Clumsy is fine - lovestruck teens are clumsy - but there could stand to be a bit more interaction before she hands over her number. So far this feels very twee and pleasant - think old-school Archie comics. Given the vague, undefined time period, it feels appropriate.

The next few scenes are very pleasant and flow nicely into one another - the fight with the parents, the dinner with Martha’s parents, the "betrayal" scene, etc. It feels a little by-the-numbers, though, and there’s never really much of an emotional high. Short stories, especially flash fiction, are about getting that swift emotional punch in the gut. That means sacrificing things like lots of characters and scenes.

There is a clear arc here and good personal motivations. I just think you tried to fit too much in and didn’t really leave yourself room to develop things as much as you otherwise could have. The final lines are a good example - yes, wanting to get more involved in the business and connect with his father is a realistic reaction but it doesn't really tie into anything from earlier in the story. All we knew was that he found the work boring, not that he didn't want to take over the business. Hell, even when he was briefly vegetarian he talks about it being a good job. I think if you stripped out a few of the scenes, condensed down the relationship with Martha up until the point she reveals that she’s vegetarian and add in a hook early on that the ending scene can relate back to, you’d have a more satisfying story.

Score: 5/10

Crimea - The Butcher Is Your Friend

Strong start, let’s see where this goes.

“The raw knife wound in your spine gurgled like an infant.” - I love this line. I hate this line.

Are they literally picking the lock? That seems a little too delicate a task for the scene this is conjuring up.

”kiss-me apron crow" - just worth noting, using a word that can be read both as a verb and a noun here is a little bit confusing. Why yes I did picture a crow wearing an apron, thanks for asking.

“Wells of sleep”. Walls of sleep? I mean, given the tone and language you've established so far it doesn't matter either way, this one just stood out to me.

”your wound still exploding behind you" - I’m not sure "exploding" is the right word here. It suggests a sudden, or at the very least time-limited event, rather than a continuous pulsing.

Backing up, I think you started this story at just the right time. I know some people get a bit annoyed by in media res but here, thematically, it works. If your protagonist was raised in darkness, lived in darkness, was destined to die on the butcher's table, then their story doesn’t really start until after that's disrupted. On the stairs. With the wound.

I’m a bit conflicted about the ending, though. The switch from fear to reverence - I mean, it’s not a bad switch. It's not a bad contrast. It's an interesting one. I just think it could have been hinted at ever-so slightly before now. And the pig vomit-birthing a person and the time-loop (I think?) and the more, shall we say, supernatural elements - they were just a bit of a swerve from everything up until the protagonist descends back down into the basement. As was the introduction of R, which although not exactly late as such, could have stood to have been brought in earlier.

I really did like this story, though, and I’ll remember it for a good long while.

Score: 8/10

Sparksbloom - Chicken (Flash Rule: boiled chicken and greens)

This gets off to a good, snappy start. The repetition of "door" is a little jarring but, given the context, works. If you’re inserting a subordinate clause using dashes you really need to close them out; here they’d go between “here?” and “and said”. I’d maybe put a time limit in that first line - you say the protagonist has ”hosed up beyond saving” but from that first line it’s not clear if they‘re having dinner in an hour, a day, a week, etc.

I like stories like this that deal with small, intimate conflicts. Not everything needs to be world-ending.

“picked up food that people cook” - I get what you're going for but this doesn't work. It's too clunky.

”with these I know all about you looks" - this needs to be either ”with this I know all about you look or ”with one of those I know all about you looks". Or I suppose you could do "with these I know all about you eyes".

I like your dialogue. It‘s clear and snappy and doesn't fall into the usual trap of imitating how people speak in real life - you go for the highlights and it helps things move along.

“I looked at despair” should be “in”, right?

“I left the tomato on the counter, like a memory” not sure this simile lands right.

I like your ending. I think maybe there’s a penultimate sentence missing - the final sentence is great and ends just where it needs to but comes just a little early. It’s a minor point, though.

Overall, I think this was a really good story. You took an ordinary, everyday struggle and just piled on the pressure and it was fun to read. It was relatable and sincere and you hinted at just enough backstory to tie everything together.

Score: 7/10

Saucy_Rodent - Norwegian Hot Sauce

You‘ve got to know that when you start your story with a web address like that the first thing I’m going to do is try to access the site. Turns out it's blocked by my work's IT Policy, which is a shame. Still, it’s a fun framing device

Okay, I'm liking this premise. It’s fun and interesting and - “Christ Rippers”? Jeez. If you’re going to drop a name like that you're going to have to work quickly to make the tone of the remainder match. Ideally you’d do it immediately after or immediately before.

“Tribal ritual”? I thought this was a sect, not a tribe. Tribe implies long-standing blood and family and community ties, rather than a religious order.

I really dig the idea of peppers growing at the top of a volcano. My limited googling tells me this is roughly twice as hot as the hottest habanero, so pretty hot!

"a fig, but on fire" - this is a great example of how an effective description doesn’t need to be overwrought and flowery.

Now you’re calling it a religious ritual. Good. And thank you for meeting my expectations. As soon as you started talking about psychotropics, all I could think of was that it would be more interesting to have hallucinations due to ingesting stupid amounts of capsaicin instead. One sentence later and the story agrees!

But then the next paragraph … I love the idea of a monastery full of old Norwegian guys getting hosed up on hot sauce, it’s a great tone for the story, but "Christ Rippers” and "Christ Becoming” and ritual sex don’t match that tone. They take themselves just ever-so-slightly too seriously as they are presented here.

Watch your repetition of ”since” and ”since”.

The paragraph after that has similar tonal shifts. DlYing an ancient and dangerous ritual, presumably with WikiHow style instructions and pictures? That’s exactly what I’d expect to find in a bad internet recipe's obligatory accompanying story. The bit about installing a ”discreet crematorium to deal with such weak-minded people” and exposing your guests to this in the first place? Not so much. Again, adding ejaculate to the recipe. It crosses the line from bizarre and funny to trying-too-hard.

Overall, you had a good concept. It reads, for the most part, like a lot of internet writings where the writer is revealing just a little bit too much about themselves without realising it. The tone was wildly inconsistent, though, and that really held lt back.

Score: 5/10

Antivehicular - The First Minnesotan Funeral on Callisto

As a filthy Brit, my only vague knowledge of Minnesota is hot dish. Is this going to feature hot dish? That’s a rock solid opening sentence, followed by a rock solid opening paragraph.

And a solid second paragraph. That's the sort of conversation you have when you're avoiding other. more painful conversations. That’s how you acknowledge a death in the family for the first time, by skirting the silhouette rather than face it directly.


You’re doing a very good job of capturing a small, intimate part of the grieving process, namely the anger and resentment and lashing out at surviving family members.

Congratulations, you’ve made me hungry for a meal shot and moss puffs.

In my mind this is similar to sparksbloom’s story in that it tells a personal, relatable story that really struck a chord with me. The scifi setting is a nice little twist, a bit of window dressing that pretties things up without overpowering them. At its heart, though, this is a solid - albeit not particularly complicated - story, well told.

Score: 7/10

Hawklad - The Community

Another story with a strong opening line.

“If you dd” - missing an “i” there.

That’s some good description of the room there.

I just got to the end of the paragraph mentioning the escape pod and I’m getting a bit worried that you’re spending a lot of time on this rebuilding process - either it’s going to be the arc of the story (which it doesn’t feel like at this point) or the story proper isn’t going to have much room to work with.

See. this is what I mean. We're 721 words into what you’ve said is ~1,500 before we get to the crux of the story - last survivor of humanity, rebuilt from scraps, etc. That’s 721 words of good, interesting, descriptive scenes that don't really move the story along. And so far it’s all things happening to the protagonist with very little reaction. Even a brain in a jar has an inner life, can have thoughts and emotions. You took the rebuilding of a person, an opportunity for some great body horror, and didn’t really do anything with it.

l'i be honest, I feel like this is all leading up to a switcheroo where it turns out the protagonist is being farmed for food.

Oh look.

I want to like this more than I actually do. It’s just, nothing really happens for the first half. Then there are a few fairly bland scenes of the protagonist exercising, learning, etc., then they get ripped apart by aliens. But at no point does any of this have any real impact - I don’t care that the protagonist gets eaten because I don't care about the protagonist because they barely feature in this story. It feels like you started with the final line and worked your way backwards.

Score: 5/10

NotGordian - Fresh Flowers from an Early Spring

I like that you're opening with some description of what the scene around the protagonist looks like. It helps anchor the scene in the cabin and avoids things happening in a void. I don’t like hypothetical descriptions so the “if the gas lantern had been on, he could have seen” line rubs me the wrong way. Don’t tell me what the protagonist can’t see unless the fact that they can’t see it is important. Tell me what they can see.

A few of your sentences get a bit long and unwieldy. Don’t be afraid to chop them up.

Okay. Lorelei just got back and this is getting unnerving in a very subdued, organic way. I like it.

Wait, why is he sitting in darkness again?

You avoided the ”dead animal” / ”human organs” reveal that I was expecting I'm glad you did.

A little backstory about Mark and why he's so fixated on death - and specifically on death by poison plants - would really help here. All we know so far is that he’s a mine worker/fixer-upper. Because goddamn he is REALLY freaking out over this. Just tossing a beer bottle over one shoulder, etc.

And now there’s a very sudden twist to ”oh hey maybe my partner is right and forest magic means I should drink hemlock to become immortal” out of nowhere.

I think your ending is about as satisfying as it could be. Ambiguous endings are always a bit of a gamble but coming down either side of ”oh hey now I'm magic" or ”wait poo poo my partner was crazy and now I’m dying” would have felt wrong.

I could see what you were going for and i liked it but you didn’t quite stick the landing. So much of the second half revolved around Mark as a person - his personality, his history, etc. - and there just wasn't the groundwork there for it to have any meaning.

I read this without realising you had the flash rule but to be honest it doesn't change how I feel about it on a second reading.

Score: 6/10

SlipUp - Kuidaore (Flash Rule: Kuidaore - to eat yourself into bankruptcy

The first two paragraphs make for an interesting setup. It should be “he would”/”he’d” rather than “he’ll”/”he will”. I like the variety of the sentence lengths. “The water began to boil” works as a closing sentence, dragging you into the scene from the brief backstory of Franklin losing his job.

There’s something almost hypnotic about the slow, step-by-step description of the cooking process you have here. It’s by no means a bad thing but I think you could have elevated it further by linking it just a little more to the protagonist distracting himself from the loss of their job/job hunt. That’s what I read it as, anyway. The dialogue is a little corny throughout but I can live with it. And there, you link the cooking to the job hunt/Franklin’s mental state. Nice!

Maybe it’s a dialect thing but I’d say “by the next weekend” or “by the weekend” and specify that it’s calls regarding job applications he’s not getting. On my first reading I read it as people not RSVPing to the party.

Ah, so this is where the story is going. I like it.

If you’re talking about value judgements - like Franklin acting strangely - you need to say who is making the judgement. Is Karen the one getting concerned, for example? Having it just be the omniscient narrator saying it doesn’t work.

Your different scenes are blending together a bit - maybe add in some dingbats or make the scene transitions more explicit in the text.

Bird song? Brandy? Oh poo poo, I know where this is going.

Ok, the paragraph starting ”a dozen eyeless birds” is great. I like the unmitigated horror of what you‘re describing. I think maybe you span too much time with it, though - it‘s hard to imagine Karen and Roman watching in silence while Franklin is doing all of these things one after the other. Pick one thing for him to be doing, such as drowning a bird, and have the other things happening concurrently - maybe the oven is closed and on and giving off the scent and oh poo poo, now your brain is putting two and two together.

The ending after that felt a bit rushed but I liked that you tied it back to the tomato sauce from the beginning. I think if you’d focused a bit more on Karen and Franklin interacting in those last few paragraphs and really tied it into something he had taught her, the ending would have been that much stronger. Overall, though, I liked the slow, consistent descent of Franklin and his desperate need to prove that this was something he could do.

Score: 6/10

Viscardus - What is Love but a kind of Hunger

This is a fun little opener. i like the contrast of the flowery language used to describe the people who built the machine versus the abrupt, blunt language the machine itself uses.

I’m getting a strong sense of character from the machine very quickly. ”A Most Sublime Act of Regicide" - very Culture. I like it.

As with the character of the machine, you do a good job of drip-feeding just enough details of the scene and setting to establish a strong sense of place.

”The land itself retreats into twilight, but I gain ground on the day nonetheless." - you have a lot of good sentences here but this is one I particularly like.

I like everything up to the ending and then I'm not so sure any more. Things move quickly once the pod reaches the surface and then it’s just over. Just like that. You follow through on things that you establish earlier in the story - the ducks, the problem of boredom in the face of eternity, etc. - but it never really feels coherent. It’s 90% setup - good setup, don’t get me wrong - to 5% payoff and 5% epilogue. It’s an action scene that just ends. It’s a mystery that's solved immediately. Obviously that's always a risk with flash fiction but it doesn’t make it any less satisfying. There are no stakes and therefore no tension and therefore no real excitement.

Also Peking duck is not the same as Pekin ducks and I’m not sure whether the latter was a typo or a deliberate choice.

Score: 6/10

Thranguy - The Tasting Menu

Interesting opener - I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

“Selectivity” - typo. Petty, I know, but there’s not much else to crit so far.

“She was a month after the wedding.” Was this supposed to be “she went”?

“Will the muscle”. With the muscle?

The paragraph about her eating habits is a fun one. I like the idea of her dashing around town and I really like the idea of a bunch of mob guys huddled in a warehouse eating fancy food on paper plates.

“She made to the move” - I’m guessing the “to” shouldn’t be there? Look, I know I keep needling at the typos but there are way too many of them and it’s jarring.

And that’s a nice twist that I didn’t see coming. For a minute I thought the violet eyes thing came out of nowhere but I went back and re-read the start.

This is a fun little read but the typos just keep jolting me out of any flow that might otherwise develop. Not a ton happens but there’s a story nevertheless - not a particularly complex or tense one but a good read nevertheless.

Score: 6/10

BirdOfPlay - 86 Cassie, 68 Cassandra

Ok, there’s a little mystery here. Not particularly clear if we’re talking a literal sandwich here or a place called The Sandwich but either works.

You’re leaning heavily into the regional dialect and I can’t yet tell if it’s jarring or not.

This is a strange little story so far but it’s told in a compelling manner.

“It would clearly be cleaning.” Huh?

“Her on out” - here on out?

… and we’re done. Huh. That’s an odd one. Typos aside, this is a very clearly written story and I found myself constantly dragged along to see what happened next. That said, the content of the story isn’t as clear and might be relying pretty heavily on local knowledge/in-jokes? If so, great, but you’re taking a gamble with any reader that isn’t from Pittsburgh. I’m still not sure exactly what happened except that the protagonist’s alter-ego (that the protagonist seemed aware of given their active avoidance of the sandwich but also seemed surprised by) took over once the protagonist ate said sandwich.

I’m struggling to find major faults with this one but I’m also struggling to rate it very highly.

Score: 6/10

Kurona_Bright - Peperonata

Okay, a nice opening paragraph or two.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be getting from Miller’s response but that’s fine. The opening lines of dialogue are a little tricky to attribute straight away, so that’s something you might want to revisit, but it makes sense in the end.

“With his coworkers was hurt” - I think you meant to strip out the “was”.

Okay, there are a lot of lines, like the protagonist realising that it’s ages since he last spoke to his sister in person, that seem to hint at some greater backstory - but never enough to actually tie anything together. It doesn’t help that you’re throwing a lot of names and relationships around for a short story.

The protagonist’s reaction to the fairly harmless childhood story seems a little over the top, even having read ahead and knowing that he’s attracted to Miller (and presumably more prone to embarrassment as a result). Exasperation, sure, I could understand.

That’s a big ol’ exposition dump right there. That entire paragraph starting “Of course” is clunky and breaks the flow of the story. It would have been less out of place earlier on - or you could have had it here but woven in more deftly, such as through character dialogue.

And then it all gets pulled together in a sweet, sappy ending. I want to dislike this but I really can’t - it’s a bit clumsy but it’s got heart and, more importantly, it adds new context to the rest of the story. The whole thing is a bit of a slow burner but I didn’t mind it.

Score: 5/10

Bad Seafood - Pit Stop (Flash Rule: Daikon Curry)

Whenever you have awkward or forced speech patterns, like you do with the aliens here, it’s tricky to tell if something is a typo or not. I think “Ah, no! I misunderstanding” should be “Ah, no! A misunderstanding” but I can’t be sure.

Look, you’re a TD regular and we both know that this is a well-written story. So I’m going to get slightly unfair here. There’s a story I read a long time ago about a bunch of aliens who show up on Earth and are huge jerks BUT have the technology to just wipe us all out and they love Earth food. Also they look like giant ducks. So they act like the worst house guests ever while everyone has to grin and put up with them and forego fancy food themselves. Until one day a group of the aliens die in a fire and the smell of crispy duck drives the hungry humans mad and they devour the alien corpses and the rest of the aliens flee because holy poo poo look at these mad cannibals.

My point is you’re serving a group of aliens with radishes for heads a curry in a carved out radish and this fact is never, ever commented on. Can you imagine humans visiting another planet for the first time and sitting down to a meal and oh poo poo the food is being served in what are, to the naked eye, human skulls? I thought this was where you were going for a good 90% of the story. When you didn’t, fine. When you didn’t but it was never mentioned at all? I don’t want to be that guy sneering about how “logically the (fictional) aliens would react completely differently” but come on.

Other than that this was a nice little scene and the effect of reading it was a bit like watching Slow TV footage of someone baking. The ending fell a bit flat though.

Score: 7/10

The Sean - Coffee Maker Man

First of all, shame on you for submitting late. Second, congratulations on submitting - better late than never!

You've crammed a lot of backstory into your opening paragraph but you've done it in a way that feels rather bland. There's no character to it, just a recital of facts.

I think you mean “amicable” not “amitable”. Typos are low hanging fruit but when you submit 12 hours late you've got time for another quick read-through.

I like the concept you're working with so far.

“Hank was lucky to piece together a meal that wouldn't get him sick.” What are you trying to do with this sentence? Because read as-is, it sounds like he's getting sick the vast majority of the time. Bit read with the preceding/following sentences, it sounds like you're suggesting that he's lucky because he rarely gets sick.

“plungin deep”

Something about the omniscient narrator isn't working for me here. Take the paragraph where you talk about Algae wanting the devices to mine for data - what does this add? So Hank doesn't know. So?

And a few paragraphs later I've realised why this isn't working for me. All you're doing is telling me, directly, that Algae isn't trustworthy. So when Hank walks into the bank of course it's a setup. There's just no tension and no real payoff. Hank has to stay at the shelter for a few days and the food isn't great? So what?

Everything just boils down to “a homeless guy gets dicked over but nothing too bad happens in the end”. If you were going for an ironic “be careful what you wish for” ending, contrasting shelter & bad food with no shelter & good food it didn't work because there's no moral arc, no bad action (or any action, really) on the part of Hank.

I wanted to like this story a lot more than I ended up liking it.

Score: 5/10

Nov 13, 2012

Pain is inevitable.
Suffering is optional.
Thunderdome is forever.

Technically Correct Brawl, the Best Kind of Brawl

In your story, a character is technically correct.

Words: 1500 max
Due: 12th March 23:59 UTC+0

Nov 16, 2012

Thunderdome Week 343: What a Horrible Week To Have a Curse

This week is all about Accursed Images and Accursed Stories. Participants will be given (by me) a single image from the twitter account 'cursed images' ( and write a story based on it. Thanks to Sebmojo for the original prompt located here:

Because I do need to make my mark somehow there will be an Accursed Bonus Prompt: You will receive Accursed Bonus Points if your story is set in the 1970's. What is the value of the Accursed Bonus Points? loving nothing!

Regardless, all participants have a word limit of 1970.

"Crimea, you accursed genius, do you expect us all to write a spooky horror story around these accursed images?" Do I expect you to do that? Yes! Because that's obvious and you're all hacks! But there is no restriction on genre or content except for whatever you draw from the image. Your story does not need to be a literal interpretation of the image, just so long as I can connect the thematic dots between the image and the story you write.

Ask Sebmojo for an accursed flash rule and he will give you one.

Sign-ups close: 11:59pm Friday PST
Submissions close: 11:59pm Sunday PST

Accursed Judges

Accursed Participants
01. Accursed onsetOutsider
02. Staggy
03. Bad Seafood
04. Accursed Saddest Rhino
05. anatomi :toxx:
06. Entenzahn
07. Obliterati
08. apophenium
09. selaphiel
10. QuoProQuid
11. SlipUp
12. Accursed Yoruichi
13. Anomalous Blowout
14. kurona_bright
15. NotGordian
16. Salgal80
17. ThirdEmperor
18. Applewhite
19. Fleta Mcgurn

crimea fucked around with this message at 00:32 on Mar 3, 2019

Mr. Steak
May 8, 2013

by Jeffrey of YOSPOS

i am extremely in

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes


Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Nov 16, 2012

onsetOutsider posted:

i am extremely in

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Behold my brain the golden throne of my consciousness. In here I am seated. Shackled. From here I police the land.

In curse me

Jan 31, 2015

A quick little mouse!

I'm the opposite of out!

Edit: curse me

Edit: also :toxx:

anatomi fucked around with this message at 12:40 on Feb 26, 2019


Nov 15, 2012

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


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