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Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer



Apr 12, 2006

C O N T E S T A N T S . T H U S . F A R

In the blue corner, with a record of 58 wins and 16 losses, representing a combined 618 appearances ...

"Science fiction that could happen but you usually wouldn't want it to!"
  • Adam Vegas
  • Anomalous Amalgam
  • Flerp
  • Hawklad
  • Maugrim
  • Mr. Steak
  • Nikaer Drekin
  • Saucy_Rodent
  • Sitting Here
  • Staggy
  • SurreptitiousMuffin
  • Thranguy

Aaaaaand in the red corner, with a record of 56 wins and 9 losses, fighting out of SOMETHING AWFUL DOT COM...

"Fantasy that couldn't happen though you often only wish that it could!"
  • Antivehicular
  • Crabrock
  • Crimea
  • Djeser
  • Exmond
  • Fleta McGurn
  • Fumblemouse
  • killer crane
  • Mercedes
  • QuoProQuid
  • WhoopieCat
  • Yoruichi

Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 03:56 on May 30, 2019

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week CCC: Everybody Wants to Ruin the Void, Specifically Mrenda, Yoruichi, Benny Profane, Schneider Heim, Okua, Solitair, sparksbloom, Uranium Phoenix, Jagermonster, Antivehicular, and Jon Joe

Sweet off-brand clearance hellfire, this week. This insufferable week. Of twenty-two entries only five came within screaming distance of "not awful," and one of those was eight hours late. I've dreaded returning to Voidmart so thoroughly that every potentially productive task in my cybernetic life has taken priority over these crits, but honor and our Customer Satisfaction Guarantee demand them, so here you go: ten pounds of bile in a two-ounce bag. Here at Voidmart, we stock our disappointment in bulk!

What made this round such a crapfest? The prompt? Not with two eminently more successful Voidmart weeks on record, no. A lack of fun? In part, but that isn't your fault. Serious takes were legitimate. I assume you didn't conspire to bore us to death with this parade of bland oddity. Shoddy proofreading? Hell yes, and most of you should be ashamed. Dull, uninspired ideas? Lackluster plots when plots existed? Character behavior that made no sense? A striking dearth of effort? Yes and yes and yes and yes and yes, always, forever.

Seriously now: I don't know why, but far too many of these stories read as though their writers were flopping some words out there without much concern for whether they added up to anything good. Maybe everyone tried hard--work doesn't always show--but the poor proofing gave us too much room to doubt that. Presentation matters. Someday the follies on display here may come back to haunt you.

The only way I can get through this mess is by stealing a page from Rhino's book and asking a critical question: would each story be improved by being set in a corn maze? In your hearts, you know the answer.

Get out those Voidmart Plus cards, because here we go.

Mrenda, "A Better Place"

So right in the first line, we have mismatched quotation marks (‘Aisle 792: Kitsch Homeware,”), verb-number disagreement (dusting is a duty, singular), oddball phrasing (I can suss out that Voidmart Provides is what the plaque says, but what a weird way to get that idea across), and the introduction of a running gag that will burn a good many words without ever being funny or meaningful. I look at this single sentence and realize that I am witnessing a trainwreck of a distressingly tepid kind. The train has not and will not leap the tracks, plowing into a cliff face in a glorious burst of flame or into a herd of cows for maximum viscera. No. It has hit a pile of sandbags at low speed, and it is destined to grind to a stop without getting anywhere or providing any spectacle in its failure.

What I'm saying with this questionable metaphor is that yours is a bland, slow, awkward story with considerable design problems. That Voidmart sells entire homes and employs families to live in them is a neatly weird conceit, but you push it into a religious realm that doesn't make enough sense to hold together. Marsha and her kin view Voidmart as a god figure? Okay, I'm with you there. Marsha is still a child at twenty-seven, beholden to the manager for a future? There's no place for her in Voidmart without a manager? What was the manager going to do for her, and why, and why would she have no place rather than having a place she doesn't want (i.e. head of her own show family)? My suspicion is that this is its own questionable metaphor, possibly for life in a religious community, with Voidmart stapled crookedly onto it. Marsha ends the story faced with a choice between action and inaction, one of which will take her out of her weird world and one of which will leave her there. The idea might be that Voidmart helps those that help themselves, or that Marsha is torn on how to show faith in Voidmart (by pushing? By not pushing?), or....

See, the problem is that I don't care. Marsha has been an entirely passive protagonist. The manager is dead weight, literally. No other character has any color. The scenario is half incoherent. Voidmart is forced onto this story in the form of endless aisles and numbers, which give the piece a streak of absurdity that suits the prompt but becomes tiresome to read before the end. That end is a dud, as Martha neither does nor decides nor realizes anything of note. Her story just stops with some vague questions hanging in the air, each no more than a suggestion. I'm not even sure the large-scale questions I can imagine about faith are the ones you've meant to raise.

The prose doesn't help you either, because you consistently word things in unnecessarily roundabout ways. Here's an example: "'Spend some time with your education, first,' her mother said, dabbing at her lipstick. In receiving the answer to her question, 'look nice for the shoppers,' Marsha realised the manager’s death meant any promise of a future was now as stained as her mother’s red, blotted tissue." What? Let's try rephrasing that. "Remember your education," her mother said, dabbing at her lipstick. Marsha recalled the Voidmart commandment: look nice for the shoppers. (I don't know how to rephrase the rest because I have no idea how Point A is connected to Point B.) This may not be the best option, but it's comparably straightforward. Clarity is good. Obfuscating your meaning is usually bad. It's bad in this case, because doing so serves no purpose beyond making the sentence a chore to read.

Effort? I see a good bit of effort to wedge Voidmart into a story about... whatever exactly this is about. Voidmart doesn't feel like an organic presence, and I think the attempt ruined you insofar as you couldn't, or didn't, make the cosmic store concept and the take-control-of-your-destiny-maybe-I-dunno concept march together. Still, you tried, and I think you went outside your comfort zone in the trying. I respect that even as I dislike the result.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Marsha wandering aimlessly through corn would be just as dull, sadly.

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Yoruichi, "You’ll Be Back, Derek, No One Escapes the Void"

Derek Derek Derek Derek Derek Derek derekderekderek DEREK!!! I swear the torturous repetitions of that name are half of what got you a DM, since otherwise this bad story isn't so much worse than the multitude of bad stories brought to you by Week 300 and the letter Y-God-Y. It's still a trainwreck of another flavor, with more tedious aisle jokes (if one can call them jokes) greasing the tracks and an illogical, strangely impotent Voidmart wearing the engineer's cap. I prefer your disaster to Mrenda's as it's at least more lively, but you've nevertheless turned a cosmic horror-mart into a petulant five-year-old willing to sacrifice a lot of toys to get a toy that might be maybe as good someday, maybe! Cripes. What five-year-old would be that stupid?

Aside from the repetition that we shall do our wholehearted best to ignore from this point forward, this suffers terribly from the lack of reason in Voidmart's actions. Why does it want He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Again so much? He's a potential Manager, Voidmart says. So what? Voidmart has plenty of those, and it's throwing them into a meat grinder to get at Derek. That makes no sense at all. Voidmart is destroying its own aisles to get at this one man. It's screaming the rafters down. Why? There's nothing whatsoever about Derek that should make him worth such effort. My guess: your Voidmart finds any defiance insufferable and irresistable, which could work as a motivation, but which is still not that interesting while Derek himself is so flat.

I don't like the characterization of Voidmart at all. It's so ineffectual! So amateur! The resistance Derek meets never significantly stalls him. He gets out without injury, and Voidmart can only wail as its staff proves powerless in the face of a random guy with a spade. This weakens Voidmart as a force and a villain, leaving the impression at the end that Derek was never in much danger and the whole thing was a bit of a farce really.

Maybe a farce was what you intended? Some flavor of comedy almost certainly was. I hope it was, since the alternative would drive me into despair. This piece is far too fluffy to be horror, but none of the humor lands even a little bit, so the reader is left with nothing but DEREK DEREK DEREK ringing in her anguished ears.

Effort? There's a coherent and complete story here, or at least a coherent and complete action sequence, and you've slathered on a campy Voidmart flavor. It doesn't work for reasons unrelated to how hard you tried.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Assuming the maze had some guy with a shotgun waiting for Derek at the end, absolutely.

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Benny Profane, "The Voidmart (REACTION!!!!) Record: A Scholarly Analysis"

At the time of judging, I had not spent several recent weeks reading scholarly articles. Now I have. I'm no longer of the opinion that this is an authetic spoof of a paper, since its citations are extremely sloppy and it only quotes four exterior sources, WTF. That isn't nearly circle-jerky enough. On the plus side, looking at it makes me want to die less than I do when I read the real thing, so... way to go?

Format gimmickry is always risky business. Your choice of gimmick here is baffling insofar as you're emulating a writing style best known for putting students to sleep. I'm thinking you meant for the wackiness of the subject matter to contrast with the dry presentation in a clever, amusing way, and there are moments when it works--poor Carl's quest for bean dip is so down-to-earth that he's immediately sympathetic--but the academic conceit just keeps going and going until all the fun is as dead as a virgin with corn cobs through his eyes. It's an unfortunate misjudgment. You embraced Voidmart and "Corn!"; I want to enjoy what you've made of them, yet by the time I reach the end my eyes have glazed over.

Truth be told, you probably cling to "Corn!" too tightly. What appeal this has is grounded in how it spins that story; it doesn't stand alone. A celebration week is the best time for this sort of goofy pastiche, so I don't hold it too much against you, but being so dependent on another story would have dragged this one down even if its narration weren't lifeless.

One more thing, a matter of taste: I was disappointed in the minotaur as a boss encounter when a horde of Carls wielding corn was right there! Couldn't he at least have been a Minocarl?

Effort? I'm skeptical that you went all out on the citations and footnotes, but making those even more turgid wouldn't really have helped you. Otherwise there's effort all over the place: you worked to mimic a style, worked to incorporate your flash rule, and apparently put a lot of thought into the formatting.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? I fear that a research report could make even The Great Vermont Corn Maze boring.

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Schneider Heim, "Saleslady of War"

I wouldn't personally have opened with selling a katana to a king named Richard as an example of the best sword ever--it's a bit, shall we say, weeaboo. That said, the first real misstep is Lillia even knowing about this guy, assuming you don't want Erika to come off as creepy. There's nothing even slightly personal about Erika and Richard's interactions, so for Lillia to ask when he's going to move in... uh, what has Erika been telling her child? Poor Richard. I've a sneaking hunch that I'm not supposed to be pitying him, but yikes.

I stop pitying him around the time when he turns into a bumbling cartoon. The scene between Richard, Erika, and Saladin can't decide whether it wants to be slapstick or anime. The physical blocking is less than stellar, what with a sword just appearing in Erika's hand, and what did Richard do to send his crown a-rolling out into the aisle? It's an odd sequence. I'm glad you didn't give a blow-by-blow account of the fight, but what you do have is pretty limp fare.

Then... what is that ending? Just as Richard starts to return Erika's interest, she brushes him off to ogle the latest hotness? Creepy and fickle! Granted, she seemed to write him off after the tussle with Saladin, though I'm not sure why. Possibly she, too, sees him as a cartoon after that display, whereas she is a warrior maiden and too good for him? Ugh redux. I ranked this on the positive side of middling on my first read, but it gets worse the more I think about it, though it's still nowhere near the DM tier for my money.

Effort? This isn't stitched together well, which could be a symptom of carelessness. There's a lot with which I'm evidently supposed to go along even though you haven't set it up. Still, I see good intentions between the lines. You tried to tell a fun little story that fell flat.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Would Erika duel Saladin with a corn katana, Y/N?

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Okua, "New Employees and Other Troubles"

The laying vs. lying quandary strikes again. The best trick I have for remembering which of the lie/lay twins to use is to ask myself whether an object is involved. Is Jimmy laying bricks on that beach? No, so you want lying. I think the proper term is also Floridian, though I will defer to our local Florida Men on that point. Surperior is an embarrassment to you, your story, and the smug Pokémon alike.

Looking past the technical errors, I confront a tale of Voidmart sewer alligators and the maintenance men who briefly inconvenience them. I'm not quite buying pink stains from wine that broke six years ago. Shouldn't most or all of the liquid have evaporated? Maybe I don't know my alcohol facts, but I'm not sure you do, either; phrases like "for some reason" don't fill me with a lot of confidence on that score. The boozy bears are contrived as the dickens, and for what? To be that little bit more weird? But why, though? And since when does vodka smell like anything? I dug around a bit and found that cheap vodka might have a scent of raw alcohol, but I'd think you'd lose that under long-soured wine. Anyone who wants to prove me wrong is encouraged to soak Teddy Ruxpin in Smirnoff and Manischewitz for six years and report back.

This seeming carelessness with your ideas is in the service of a prelude rather than a story. Jimmy and the narrator don't accomplish anything here; they find a problem, run away from it, and then get told to go clean it up, dammit. Now, there is a bit of an arc in the narrator's relationship to Jimmy: he (she?) gains respect for the newbie and starts acting like a good boss. You could sort of call that a story, but there's so little introspection or depth or meat beneath the very fast turnaround that I for one won't. It's a bit of benign but tepid fluff.

Effort? Not much that shows. You made sloppy mistakes, strung coincidences together for the hell of it, kept to stock characters--the protagonist doesn't even have a name--and ducked out of a plot. Every story before this one was arguably worse, but the week's real problems first appeared here.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Not unless the plushie were replaced by corn cobs. Merlot coating optional.

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Solitair, "A Little God in My Hands"

If I believe that Maxine squawking like a constipated swan is the extent of your incorporation of BabyRyoga's work, then I'll have to swear vengeance on your soul for all eternity because what the hell. You got a story that for all its many, many faults is anything but boring and turned it into a droning yarn of middle management? My God. Maybe... maybe that isn't all, though. Maybe Nick is the devil swan who sees and knows all of his cultist's transgressions. (They're Voidmart's cultists, properly speaking, but he does strike me as a possessive sort of guy.) Maybe his pencil is the dagger and/or swan fang. Maybe the memo he writes is beckoned from deep within his bowels. Although I'm joking a little, some of those parallels really are plausible, and that lets me dislike your entry slightly less than I did back in April, 2018.


This is very boring. Given the subject matter, that's no surprise. Your choice to write about the minutiae of petty office bureaucracy was just about the equivalent of hara kiri--engaging characters could possibly have made it work, but yours are not that. Nick's a middle-management jerkweasel, Maxine's characterization is limited to her tendency to SCRAWWWWWW, Jerome's barely more than a name, the stranger isn't even that, and Steve is what Nick will be in another year or so. To be fair, Nick's perspective accounts for some of this inasmuch as he clearly doesn't care about these people; however, you needed to make me care about them at least a little.

These cardboard figures grind through twelve hundred words that could be summed up by the sentence Employees try to unionize, and a bitter middle manager is pissed about it. The story ends before there are any consequences either for Nick or for the victims of his wrath. That's some bad pacing, meaning as it does that a lead-up to action is all we ever get--you could have sliced five hundred words of Nick's introspection off easily and used them to make something happen.

Effort? I think so? It's a bit half baked in the sense that it's half a story at best, but it reads as though you meant it to work as a complete piece. Bad choices, not low intentions, did you in.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? I would read about the petty office politics of corn maze janitors. Bonus points if giant crows swooped in to vomit on everybody.

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sparksbloom, "Inch by Inch"

Wonderful concept, strange and dark but with the right matter-of-fact tone for everyone's favorite eldritch value store. But... Evelyn has a life outside of Voidmart, and maybe that's why it feels so off for her to be blase about the murder and dismemberment of children. (Obligatory joke: teaching kids explains why she welcomes their horrible deaths! Except it really doesn't.) If dark humor was your intention, it didn't manifest. Instead your protagonist comes off as a sociopath.

Management is terribly sloppy about its primary method of corpse disposal, but maybe I shouldn't be surprised by capricious chaos from Voidmart. Even so, Evelyn ought to be better equipped to contain these ghosts if that's her whole job. I never get a sense of danger despite the woodchippers and lawnmowers--Evelyn's tone doesn't change no matter what she's doing--and Orin's response to Kimberly's rather reasonable question makes zero sense. I wish his freedom and friendship with Evelyn were touching, but it isn't, not a bit. drat. This is such a waste of a great premise.

Effort? Tough call. All the characters are so lifeless that I wonder how much you put into them, considering that I've seen you do much better character work, but my theory is that you did try--to write a humorous story that unfortunately wasn't funny. A lot of the flatness in this piece could be overlooked if it were entertaining. Morbid humor (as this would have to be given the whole dismemberment-of-children thing) is a hard path to travel, and falling over on a rough road doesn't signify a lack of ambition.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? If every character were a ghost haunting it, sure. Even Evelyn. It would explain her lack of feeling! What if she'd died on a school field trip to Voidmart's vast ethanol aisles?

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Uranium Phoenix, "Living Paths"

"An employee, trim goatee and polished black shoes, approached." Thank you for this mental image of an ambulatory beard. Unlike fulfil a couple of paragraphs down, it amuses me enough that I don't want to hit your hands with a ruler.

There's a bit of Voidmart sure is weird! cruft that you could have chiseled off to make room for words about other things, such as why Voidmart's soul should matter to David or--better yet!--why Nikita should waste a bullet on him. What about a better bridge between the moment when David picks up the crowbar and the ending in which he doesn't use it for traditional battle, thus deflating the tension you'd built? The very base of your story seems to be that a man defined by his ennui discovers agency within himself (and not out of a package); you need an inciting incident to trigger David's epiphany, but Nikita and the war take up too much space and raise questions that you don't answer. Maybe the intention is to suggest a larger world. It feels so thin, though, that all I see is the writer at work.

Character motivation and general coherence are the core problems, but I want to pick on a couple of other things, namely dialogue and flash rules. Wow, am I ever not buying anything David says as natural. His speech is a delivery device for The Moral of the Story <tm> and nothing else. Nikita's, ditto. Meanwhile, Voidmart itself does fulfull your first flash rule, albeit in the least interesting way possible in this context--Voidmart tends toward liveliness in many stories--but where is the P.R.O.T.E.I.N.?

Effort? I don't know, UP. I'm inclined to doubt it. I've read other stories of yours in which the dialogue was a bit on the nose, but it's ridiculous here. Nothing hangs together well, none of the characters are people, and a flash rule is flat missing. I would assume failed effort from a less talented writer, but you? Either you skated or you were having a very bad week.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? I do like speculating on what David would do if he got caught up in the battle of the Carls.

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Jagermonster, "Howl at the Void"

Frank likes to fantasize about being a real man, a wolf man, a hunter in the forests of the world rather than a suburban dad buying his son a video game, but when Voidmart gives him the chance to live out his dream, he finds that it isn't to his taste. All right. You know what? I like this story more than I did initially, when I dismissed it as something weird happening at Voidmart, the end. My notes tell me that I found the throat-tearing business kind of sudden--and it is. You escalate Frank's primal passions too quickly and with little impetus; this works better if I assume he's a little bit nuts from the start. I don't think some mood music explains tooth murder. No, not even Voidmart mood music. Not even IVAN. But Frank's fantasies and frustrations do create a throughline, and they foreshadow what will happen well enough that I'd now call yours the best entry up to this point. (Profane's might challenge it for a reader who doesn't look at that style and long for oblivion's sweet embrace.)

One other small point: The references to Fortnite may not age well and take up more than their share of real estate. A charitable reading of them is that they're meant to indicate that Frank isn't very well connected to Brandon or his interests, but that idea never comes up again.

Effort? Sure. It's not perfect, but it's a solid middle entry with obscuring it's size as its only terrible flaw.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Naked corn holograms. Moldova, are you listening?

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Antivehicular, "A Trolley Problem"

You aren't the first Thunderdome writer to rip off Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. You aren't even the second. I've seen someone do it while using a major Asimov character name before, too. And now, as then, I frown in intense disapproval. The Laws aren't yours to use without acknowledgment of the person who created them! With that said, there are a few points in your favor here. First, while your Point One is phrased in a manner much too close to the First Law for it to be coincidence, your other two Points are more or less your own, so that only the number of them is Asimovian. Even I won't hold that similarity against you. Second, Asimov was pretty okay with other writers using the Laws during his lifetime, which could lead one to reasonably conclude that he wouldn't mind a use like this. Third, your use of Dr. Calvin's name--and this was the case in the other Laws-using story that put a Calvin in it too, I think--could be intended as a tip of the hat, a gesture of respect toward Asimov that will be recognized by those in the know.

But here's the rub: back when SF was lifting the Laws left and right, it was a smaller field, and the idea that anyone seeing the Three Laws in a story would know the real source held some water. Now? We aren't all SF readers. There are people, even goons, who won't know Asimov from Adam's off ox. They could look at your story and not realize that you're lifting words and concepts from someone else; as far as those readers are concerned, everything is yours. And that's not right. Parody and homage and everything based off someone else's work should give credit to the source. So give Asimov a nod next time, hey? A quick line under your title would do, or a note after the story.

All right, enough said on that--the borrowing wasn't a major issue with your piece. Which I rather like! You've laid the Voidmart-merchandise details on a little thick, but the deluge of <tm>s falls on the right side of the amusing/annoying boundary. I feel the spirit of the store in this piece as I don't in too many others: this isn't a story with Voidmart slapped on like a decal, it's a Voidmart story. McClusky's an amiable sort of hero, and if I could do with a little less thirst introspection, you still handled both flash rules well. The title makes me smile. I could have gone with an HM for this, though I expect it benefits from standing in a slurry pit; I don't quite feel you were robbed of one. It's just a fun little story of which you can be proud.

Please tell me though that you didn't lift Comed-Tea from "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" while you were at it, because Jesus.

Effort? Yep!

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Yes, but keep the weird clearance kitsch. Maybe Robert could send the trolley sailing through a bunch of these?

****** ****** ******

Jon Joe, "Orphans!"

Oh, lord. Jon Joe, if there's one thing I've learned from this entry and from your entry in Week 174, it's that nonsense isn't your forte. Your entry this week starts off strong with a decent level of absurdity in Mr. Marky Mark--I realize this isn't his name, but I'm doomed to picture him forever as the leader of the Funky Bunch--and a very good question! Why does Voidmart market itself as an eldritch abomination? I want to know the answer, and failing that, I want to see what happens when Marky Mark tries to change it. The screaming walls are a little dumb, but as they aren't screaming MARK MARK MARKY MARK in all caps I can forgive them.

The unfortunate spiral down into monkeycheese starts early in the second section. Is your stray customer six? Why are all the customers laughing at nothing but a sign? Why do they want orphans? Why are they rioting over orphans? Why are they coming to a university to buy orphans?????? Do you notice that these questions are all about the behavior of the customers and not of Voidmart? Voidmart is weird and eldritch and maybe evil, and you can get away with some incomprehensible features of the store; I can believe they sell orphans, no problem. The customers, though, don't have a clear reason to be bugscrew insane other than that you maybe think it's funny. This turns your entire story into hammy nonsense and is therefore a problem.

Oh, but there's worse. That last paragraph. That last friggin' paragraph. I don't know whether it's more atrocious if you're actually trying to make a political statement this way or if you aren't--no, wait, I do know! Adding cackhanded preaching to a dumpster fire does not improve it! If somehow it was meant to be a joke instead, then I just feel sorry for you.

That's actually a thing about this one. I don't like it, but I feel sympathy and pity for you as much as ire over everything but the Moral of the Story, which can die in an orphan avalanche--I'd swear you were honest-to-goodness trying to make us laugh, so it's hard to find joy in the DM. Even so, you earned it.

P.S. Do I need to go into how much you let me down by neglecting your flash rule? You could have replaced orphans with hot Moldovan singers! The option was right in front of you!

Effort? See above; you tried, but you didn't or couldn't fulfill the promise of your premise.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? I mean, if the orphans all went after each other with improvised corn weapons....

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 15:32 on Jun 21, 2019

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week CCC: Everybody Wants to Ruin the Void, Specifically Ironic Twist, Thranguy, The Saddest Rhino, Killer-of-Lawyers, Noah, curlingiron, Armack, sebmojo, Hawklad and Bad Seafood

Ironic Twist, "The Vacuum Aisle"

It's your style to use blank space as a section divider, if I remember right, but I wish you'd reconsider. My eye immediately interprets that as a formatting error--too many people mess something up in C&Ping their entries and get extra blank lines everywhere. It's not as clear as a dividing line or symbol such as --- or ###. Still, this method isn't wrong. Take or leave my pained look as you will.

Okay, so. Voidmart--and Levi, by extension--needs to consume consumers in order to survive. That's good and clear (and "vacuum aisle," ugh, you punny bastard), but you've broken the story into too many pieces with too many characters whose personal stories are only fragments. To really feel the deaths of Victor, Faith, and Chase, I'd need to have a better sense of them as people. It wouldn't hurt if I gave a darn about Levi one way or the other, either.

Fleshing out four characters in 1,200 words would be difficult even without the need to show their horrible deaths (I can get behind those; the descriptive details are one of the story's strong points, and you tie each manner of death to the little I do know about a given person). What I think you should have done is cut the number of victims to two, or even one--one, probably Victor, would be the easiest path to pull off since you could devote many more words to filling him in, but that would make the story fairly simple and possibly a little cliché. Keep a second victim and you could contrast their deaths and maintain the "everyone is different" angle. Levi is okay as an enigma; he could be more intense, though. I wonder if you had something in mind with his touchy-feeliness that didn't make it through. There's a parallel between his fingers and the fingers that haunt Victor, but his need to touch things only shows up with Chase and Faith, where it's only weird. Maybe the idea is that he's eaten Victor already? The jumps between perspectives obscure the order of things. If it were me I would have Levi do something--touch something, say something--that pre-echoes the victims' deaths in a way that makes them uneasy in the moment and that amplifies the horror in hindsight.

Effort? No doubt. The structure you attempted is anything but lazy, whether or not one thinks it succeeded.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Imagine this: Victor, Faith, and Chase are in fact Karl, Carol, and Carl, and Levi... oh, dammit, I just saw his name as the anagram it is. TWIST! Give him a shot gun or something, I don't know anymore, just get out of my sight. :argh:

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Jay W. Friks, "Jack Schnaff is (still) missing"

See here.

****** ****** ******

Thranguy, "The Three Doors to the Void"

More backstory than story, more exposition than action despite a healthy helping of the latter, featuring a cliché punk haircut on the sci-fi lesbian, and kneecapped by a twist ending that might as well have a sign on it reading The Real Story Is Somewhere Else--this is a quick read and a better one than most of what came before (until the end, at least), but it's little but a glimpse of the edges of a story you try and fail to sum up in two paragraphs. You don't have enough space for your setting. You definitely don't have enough for what happens to Melissa in the gap between Then-Present and Future-Present. It's admirable that you manage to fit in as much character as you do, though I could wish Melissa weren't so defined by her sexuality; she's okay, even so, and Calla's interesting when she isn't infodumping all over the place.

She's usually infodumping all over the place. That may have been necessary to deliver all your worldbuilding while still developing Melissa and Calla enough to let their love story fly, but a better answer would have been to simplify: slim down the worldbuilding, or cut some of the action, or drop the time travel, or... something. You didn't squeeze all of this into a satisfying shape. I wonder at the end what Voidmart gave to Calla. The final line has good resonance; I don't love the time-travel element and don't especially love the trope of the present self glimpsing her future self, but you handle it well enough.

The cherries get much more page space than you could afford, but I can't fault you for the use of either flash rule!

Effort? Yes. Despite the janky pacing, I believe you planned this story out and tried to make it go.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Nothing says there isn't a corn maze on the other side of Calla and Melissa's door, full of teenage monsters.

****** ****** ******

The Saddest Rhino, "Elegy"

Oooof. Some clarity issues muddle this entry in its early midstretch. The "other [Charlotte]" on VoidFlix foreshadows the final revelation, but I don't understand what's going on in-universe. Is it a thing for people to watch alternate versions of their own lives? Or is it a function of the glasses? Is the line about Hindsight Reading Glasses a joke? That entire section is intriguing but confusing. Everything else is intriguing and bewildering up until the end, which brings it all together and reveals its terrible sense in a flash of epiphany that most of us only wish we could pull off. Bravo, Rhino! You gave us emotional depth, horror, and tension, and you paid off the time I spent reading your work threefold. This was an easy, unanimous winner.

I'm going to tsk at you anyway, because flich is not a word. The text has rough edges in a few other spots, i.e. boxes that states--boxes is plural, so they should state, no second S--and for someone to wear a keychain around her neck is odd. Is this a necklace, a keychain, or a lanyard? The tiny burrs in the prose don't come close to ruining the story. Just keep being careful. (I think you meant feigns where you wrote feints, too.)

The relationship (sexual!) to "Madam Charlotte" is on the thin side, but your Charlotte is certainly an aberrant girl. She holds onto my sympathy despite what she's done, and that's a testimony to how well you've drawn her.

Effort? Yes. Almost all of the errors are ESL issues, except for flich--tsk!

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? I'm laughing way too much at the morbid picture of Charlotte's mother's truck going up in a corn field and setting all the corn to popping. Whether that's a yes or a no I leave for you to decide.

****** ****** ******

Killer-of-Lawyers, "Filling Voids"

It's been a while since I last had an excuse to link to this site! Everyone should check it out. Punctuating dialogue isn't as consistently a problem in TD as it used to be, but issues with it still crop up sometimes, as here. Soul-sucking and latte-sipping should be hyphenated, too, so have another link. This is more of a style quibble than an error, but your line breaks are out of control; this piece would be a smoother read if you combined some of its paragraphs. I think you wrote plumb when you wanted plum, since I'm not sure plumbs have a standard size. Capitalize brand names such as Snickers. Suit's needs an apostrophe when it's possessive. Etc. And why does Reggie call himself the mistress supreme?

Technical problems aside, this is a well-intentioned story, but an empty one. It tries to entertain with its banter, and it attempts--probably--to say something about dreams, or retail, or power fantasies, or something. The message isn't too coherent. Does the dolor from working in retail make Reggie (but not Daphne?) particularly vulnerable to the lure of dreams? Is it the spirit-deadening nature of the job that leads to Reggie and Daphne stomping all of those dreams into dust? Were the dreams good or bad? Your depiction of Reggie's suggests the latter, but that doesn't jive with the anti-retail sentiment you're trying to sell at the end. Won't Reggie and Daphne be devoured alive by Voidmart for destroying the merchandise they were told to stock? So many questions, so few answers, and there's just not enough meat here to drive a point home or enough humor to make the work memorable.

Side note: I get the reference in Daphne being arboreal, or I think I do, but I don't see any other parallel to her mythical counterpart. It's odd to allude to a myth and then do nothing with it.

Effort? In the content, probably, but the mechanics are worse than I've seen from you before. This is slipshod work from a technical standpoint.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? If you did want to play with myth, you could do some great things with corn. Aztecs and Voidmart would go together like retail and ennui.

****** ****** ******

Noah, "Reserve America"

My take: Bilfred snags a rare job as a Voidmart Ranger, using his Swifter Sweeper to travel through time and so expedite the process of finding people--or cleaning up corpses, as the case may be, and the latter is always the case at Voidmart. He enjoys the leisure that time-jumping gives him. He spends his extra hours reading Melville and becoming an expert in various subjects. However, upon finding a candy bar wrapper that reminds him of his childhood and his daughter, he becomes frantic in searching for the person who left it there. Who did leave it there? A dead woman. His daughter? Probably not since he doesn't recognize her name. But the birth year on her driver's license tells him that he's been working in Voidmart for... well, a long time (his crumbling into dust--spoilers--would suggest centuries, but there are still recognizable driver's licenses?), surely outliving his daughter and everyone he knew, and so he goes back to the beginning and hands his younger self the Sweeper and then meets his dusty demise.

This is very confusing! Does the Sweeper not take Bilfred back in time? If it does, why has he lost so many years? Why does he never, ever check in with the family you specifically mention he's feeding? Does the Sweeper instead dilate time so that a few months of Bilfred's life have become decades in the real world, and if so, what practical purpose does that serve? I think, stress think, that I've detangled the plot and perhaps even the message and meaning (Bilfred got so caught up in himself and his present that he forgot to look out for others and their future; he dawdled his way through what he thought was immortality and paid a price in life wasted), but the situation you present makes little in-universe sense. It's also a Twilight Zone-level cliché.

In the interest, perhaps, of surprising us with a twist ending, you've filled the story with details that don't matter--and some of these I can't explain or excuse, like Bear Ears National Park or Zion. One might think the Zion pricks are going to be relevant in some way, but no. One would certainly think that Bilfred's daughter and the candy bar will be relevant. You wouldn't spend so many words on them otherwise, would you? Apparently you would, because since the woman Bilfred finds isn't his daughter, all of this comes to nothing. You'd achieve the same story by having him turn up the driver's license of any random corpse. By the way, how long has he been doing this job? The whole dry-up-and-blow-away thing suggests centuries. However, I wonder at him finding either a familiar candy bar brand or a recognizable driver's license after so long. What I'm saying is that this doesn't hold up to thought at all. Even if Bilfred finding the body of his grown-up and/or old daughter would have been more predictable, it could have made sense and packed an emotional punch that the story as it is does not.

Effort? I don't know. I remember criticizing rough edges on your prose before. Maybe you're rusty? It happens. Your premise is so worn where it isn't nonsensical, though--that's where I might fault your effort, because I believe you can be more creative and a whole lot more coherent.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Some things are beyond the power of either corn or time travel to fix.

****** ****** ******

curlingiron, "The Void Also Gazes Into You"

Yoooooooooooooooooooooooou! :argh:

Three doors you asked for, and three you were given. We chose a song, a story, and a sentence that we thought fit well together in a gesture of misplaced mercy. Our reward was to watch you waste the gift so you could instead present us with a servant of Voidmart saying things manically to the most bland and passive of women. Don't write stories that are 80% dialogue didn't stop being good advice all of a sudden! And turning gorgeously awful skeleton limericks--the one flash rule you clearly used--into a premise as overdone as charred prime rib, goodness gracious me, it's like you wanted me to crack out a thousand smilies of disappointment.

Okay, look. It's not that bad. It's not much of anything; that's the trouble. It's super easy to see where this is going as soon as Nina says she's lost. Most of your words are expository banter between a dull character and a tiresome one. There's no conflict of which to speak. Any resolution is hazy. My judge notes said this had "the least excuse of any to be such a nothingburger," and I stand by that. I called it "the saddest no mention of them all," too, but I wish a bit now that I'd voted for a DM, even though this is ultimately benign--it isn't annoying to read any more than lukewarm water is annoying to drink. Which is to say it would be a little vexing if it weren't surrounded by prune juice and La Croix.

There's one thing I appreciate: Danny's joviality is too much and too forced, but that fits his source material. He's a credible less-horny cousin of Mr. Dry Boners. I think you could have folded him into a story that incorporated your other doors just as much. To be fair, if I squint very hard, I can see a vague outline of your TDbot quote; it's not beyond the pale that Voidmart could substitute for God in this setting. I don't really see Azerbaijan, though. Danny is Voidmart's skeleton, I suppose? And it tricks Nina, I guess? Except she doesn't seem to me to be tricked or deceived. There was so much you could have done with what you were given, and how little you did do in terms of character or plot grates hard.

Effort? Also misplaced. You proofread and polished your words, but what work you put into your story doesn't show.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Not if Danny and Nina still stood around talking about it!

****** ****** ******

Armack, "Leaving New York., Part II of III: Void Where Prohibited"

That's one murky opener. It bobbles to the wrong side of the line between confusing and intriguing, so that you would have done better to be more straightforward: In his illness, M. Septus Aemilius said an unwise thing--a thing so unwise that it might see him exiled from Rome. He fled the Curia afterward, mortified. Or something like. (Did the Romans use first initials like that? I've never seen it before, but my Classical education isn't exactly deep. I'm suspicious it's meant to be another parallel to Em, in which case you should have dropped it, because here I am wondering whether it's an anachronism rather than getting into the story.) It looks like you're aiming for a more antiquated/formal style, and that's fine--if questionably authentic--as long as the reader can follow you.

I dig your fusion of ancient Rome and ageless Voidmart, buuuuut you wedged your flash rule in hard at the eleventh hour and in such an awkward way that I can't decide whether it's a punchline or you hit a wall or what. Em and Voidmart falling in love is hilarious and all, but why isn't that your story then?? Why the unrelated build up? Were you maybe more interested in writing about Voidmart meeting Rome, only you had to get that flash rule in there somehow? That's the explanation that rings the most true. On the one hand I couldn't blame you since Roman Voidmart is a great idea, but you asked for a door; it should have been more than a footnote. And Em meeting Voidmart would be a good story, so the ending shouts of missed opportunities to boot.

Yours is still one of the more charming entries, and I might have rethought my vote against any HMs if its storylines had been fused with more grace or better pacing.

Effort: Yes and/or no, depending on how much you meant the jump from one setting to another to be so abrupt.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Carlo delenda est!

****** ****** ******

sebmojo, "The Roots of Desire"

Although this is the sort of intentional weird that I'm probably not meant to question, I'm going to, because 1.) That's what I do, and 2.) Your story isn't so beautiful nor so striking nor so profound that it transcends the need to make sense. I glimpse untold stories around and beneath this one, that might themselves be more interesting; that's a good trick of worldbuilding that doesn't quite serve you because it makes the tale at hand feel all the more insubstantial. I wonder what happened to Wendell's grandfather. I wonder why Wendell's family is there. I don't particularly wonder or care whether Wendell will find his sister, and that's a bit of a shame when that's the story you're telling me, isn't it? None of the ideas or images quite cohere into an engaging whole.

Let's consider "Utopian Land" for a minute. No jiggling manmaries are in evidence here. Believe it or not, I'm fine with that. I think the Utopian Land is the place in which Elarif is stranded, to which Wendell ascends all too easily. Maybe Wendell and Elarif's refusal to stay where they are reflects a translated verse, "We didn't settle in this world." Maybe Elarif's holding pattern in not-Paradise echoes the line,"We're waiting for AirBahal for two hours." I sort of doubt it, but as it's you I could believe it. Either way, the unsettling and metaphorical slow jog toward an imagined perfect world meets the flash rule with the bonus that Wendell wears a shirt the whole time. I think. Do me a favor and don't correct me on this point.

Effort? Yes; it's scattered in a very deliberate way.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? That's what the Ultimate Floor is, clearly.

****** ****** ******

Hawklad, "Take Your Child to Work Day"

Six extra hours for this?

I could end the crit there and deliver all the feedback this deserves. You went six hours over the deadline and gave us three fragments of story, one a horror cliché, one from the point of view of a brat, and one that nonsensically binds the two for no drat good reason but that you'd never failed and you wanted to turn in something and you had the sense to slap words on the chimera you'd spent six hours creating--:wtc:--that distantly, vaguely, remotely resembled an ending. Thank divine providence for that impulse, Hawklad. That tiny scrap of resolution saved you.

Seriously now: your first section could have worked. The second just doesn't; your flash-ruled toy comes out of nowhere, I don't know what's talking to Chucky, his perspective is unpleasant, and so on. The last is cold garbage even aside from the apostrophe in the possessive its. You do a terrible job of connecting these ideas together. But you know that, don't you? Please tell me you do. Tell me that you know that by all rights you should have lost. Otherwise I'll have to believe this makes some kind of sense in your head, and then I will weep for you, Hawklad; I will weep for you, and for myself, and for this world we live in that is cruel beyond our imaginings.

Effort? Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaa NO.

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? Yeah, sure, why not, existence is futile and life is suffering, LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I'VE COME TO HATE YOUR WORDS SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE

****** ****** ******

Bad Seafood, "Pomp and Circumstance"

The devil drat thee black, thou cream-faced doof! Where got'st thou that perfectly decent story eight hours late? (Thanks, Shakespeare!) Bruce's response to the initial question may be ungrammatical, and the shampoo action may be tough to follow, and you may have misspelled pedal, and maybe the Pompeii gel should have looked more like lava--mileage may vary there--but it's fun and delightful and makes the right call in leaving the shape of the clowns' balloons so terrifyingly vague. It probably helps that I recognize Bruce from stories past, but I don't think that's actually necessary. All one needs to know is that he's a man with a pompadour. In Voidmart. The rest flows from there. I do wish that the pompadours that appeared on the sharks that ate Dougan were explicit rather than implicit, but otherwise I can't complain.

Though I curse your name, I must praise it too, because this is just what a super-late entry should be: polished and complete. You cost yourself an HM by waiting so long, but you ended a bad week on a good note. God bless.

Effort? Yes!

Would this be better if it were set in a corn maze? You know what? This is exactly where it needs to be.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 04:39 on Jun 1, 2019

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh

Thank you for the crit, Kai.

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

Thanks/I'm sorry, Kai

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Kaishai posted:

Derek Derek Derek Derek Derek Derek derekderekderek DEREK!!!

Thank you for the crit

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

A crit of Life is Good by Salgal80

I think this deserved the loss (or one of them) for two reasons. One: failing to engage with the prompt, which called for stories about happy people. Emma is superficially happy, but the story makes it clear that her happiness is unearned and reliant on ignorance of her surroundings, which isn't really happiness, is it? Two: Emma is a boring and annoying protagonist to spend time with. She doesn't grow, change, learn or even really do anything. Writing an unlikeable protag is like cooking without fat - it's much harder to make people enjoy it.

But on the upside, the righteous anger that fueled your concept for your story comes through in your prose. The fact that the prose has some good energy saved this for me as a reading experience.

A crit of A Nearly Perfect Evening by WhoopieCat

I'm basically doing two crits for the price of one here, because my comments on this story are nearly identical to the one above. Camilla is only "happy" because she's a dick. She is annoying to spend time with as a reader, and there's nothing in the conclusion of the story that makes this worthwhile. She starts off as a dick, does some dickish things, and is still a dick at the end, even though everyone is looking at her now.

On the upside, Camilla was annoying - the fact that you managed to conjure up a clear character and evoke a response at least shows your prose was effective.

Both of these stories appeared to have annoyed the judges by having horrible women as protags. I note that all the men were also horrible, behaving solely according to negative male stereotypes (they are drug addicts, adulterers, and need to have their egos protected, for example). The problem I think, is not that "Women aren’t this misogynistic without the enablement and encouragement of men," (women can do whatever they drat well please - including being assholes to other women - without giving all their agency to men, tyvm), but relying on stereotypes instead of giving your characters some depth and complexity is unlikely to lead to a satisfying reading experience.

Mar 21, 2010

Sure, in.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006


It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.



This is the third time I have tried to submit this post so you will not be getting any fancy formatting this time.

I liked both of these stories and I was entertained by the collusion and shared characters and world. I felt like I was reading a b-plot from a gritty un-family friendly version of The Greatest Showman.

I judged these stories based on three criteria: words, wrassle, and story. Both of you of course write very good words. In this case SH took the slight edge because I appreciated her attention to the characters and she had a few more lovely turns of phrase. As for WRESTLE, the quality of the fight scenes, Sebmojo took that handily. You wrote good visceral words about someone getting ruthlessly pummeled in a way that made my stomach twist a little.

In the end, Sitting Here wins both the story category and the overall brawl for telling a bit more of an actual structured story. Mojo's wasn't bad by any means but SH was able to tell a relatively epic tale with the same word count and I was impressed.

Brawl and belt goes to SH, may your wrestler find redemption in the great ring in the sky.

I'm bored on a train so I'll be doing a line crit of both these stories. :radcat:

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006


It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.


Also while I have internet access: I am working in a foreign country presently and spent the first two days of this trip in hospital, so in the interest of not dying from pure stress, would the LWARB participants be amenable to an extension? Something like 20th June? I am exquisitely ill and traveling at the same time and I'm happy to eat the ban if everyone else is good to go but since this is a collab story between GIANTS OF THE DOME I'd like to try to take time to actually make it good.

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

Anomalous Blowout posted:

Also while I have internet access: I am working in a foreign country presently and spent the first two days of this trip in hospital, so in the interest of not dying from pure stress, would the LWARB participants be amenable to an extension? Something like 20th June? I am exquisitely ill and traveling at the same time and I'm happy to eat the ban if everyone else is good to go but since this is a collab story between GIANTS OF THE DOME I'd like to try to take time to actually make it good.

As judge (egduj?) of this lwarb, I'm fine with this if all parties involved are.

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition


So. My three initial beats were as follows:
--Did you not use more than 10% of your words as non simple? I plugged your words into the reader, manually counted the red text skipping over names, and did math.

--Did you write something that was close to a story? I’m not hard tied to an arching plot or even things happening. This is flash fic, I don’t need you to write me War and Peace and would prefer you not, a five second character sketch counts as a story as long as I'm not expected to know backstory. But I expect there to be something.

--Did you make someone actually happy? Not bitterly happy or too stupid to be unhappy, but actually happy about a thing. Other than blithe confusion and dumb because they don’t know things.

The last one is where the fail swam in like those fish that get in your dick cause you peed in their river. Too many people took “happy about something” to fart cynicism or bitterness or anything at me. That’s not joy or happiness. That’s crapsack world under a thin layer of gloss. I'm not here for "happy, but." The HMs and win got what they did in a huge part because they clicked to the idea that when I say happy I meant happy, not "happy but oh ho ho, here’s the ugly part, and so this is why XYZ shouldn’t feel joy."

I’ll be honest. I’m not a cynic. I have shed that--not because I don't know what's going on in the world. I've known for decades. I know the world is crap in a thousand ways, thank you the constant barrage of news and media around me and phone alerts about the latest way people have died or killed people or are trying to gently caress you to get theirs. That’s why I wanted stories about people being happy about something. Furthermore, I don’t like stories that are all crank and piss, everything sucks, the ending is morose and moody, darkness no parents. I like—blissful as it comes off--happy rear end endings with :sparkles:sparkles and good feels.:sparkles: Stories that start happy and end with a sad twist or throw “you’re happy but you’re stupid to feel joy when the world sucks” rub me the wrong way, all apologies to Johnny Gil.

Your assignment past keeping to the top thousand words was “write about people being happy.” Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. Sorry.

Write about people being happy without robbing them of their happiness.

“You can’t feel joy when there’s poo poo in the world” is the other end of “you can’t feel bad about things because people have it worse” and both ends suck the butt. I’m tired of being told I can't be happy because there's a guy in a hut with no arms, legs, parents, goats, or carrots--and he shouldn’t feel anything good (or bad) because his neighbor down the road has no hut. Who taught you these things?

Stop that. Go feel joy. The world sucks—and it’s because of the world sucking that we need to find joy in the little poo poo, as simple as a sunbeam or a kiss on the cheek or buying that thing that makes you happy. Treat yo'self to joy. I had a month last year that sucked more rear end than a hooker on Sunday when the rent’s due on Monday, and I found happiness in a $14 blind box toy. Daisies exist, as do candy bars, good sandwiches, new music on Spotify, and the fact somewhere someone is getting hugged right now.

If you got a mid this week without mention you can consider that better than average because man did a lot of people piss me the hell off with their bitter bullshit. Let people be happy about things without being ignorant/stupid/loving it up, drag me. You can feel untethered joy. Trust me, it’s not outlawed yet.

roll that beautiful bean footage.


A Nearly Perfect Evening by WhoopieCat

9% of words non simple. Really pushed that envelope.

And for what? You used all those extra words to do nothing. NOTHING. Because once I figured out what was going on with Camilla, I didn’t like it. The opposite of liked it. Hat tip: stories about women not eating because food bad and being vapid and trying to drag other women down to the vapid pit with them are the opposite of joy. Who’s happy in this story? Do you mean the MC, who’s “happy” she’s not eating food and being willfully stupid? And wanting to drag another woman into it? You started with calling a woman fat and it only got worse. If you’re going for Stepford Wives I’m not into that. Anger.

Very low. Close to, if not, loser.


Life is Good by Salgal80

5.6% non simple. Okay.

Oh good, Emma’s at least happy...oh.

She’s happy because she’s blissfully ignorant of all the evil in the world. That’s not what I wanted. That’s not happiness, that’s cynical stupidity. Cynical “oh ho ho you wouldn’t be happy if you *knew* how suck the world is” was not what I wanted. I know how suck the world is. I’m old and bitter—which is why I go and ask for happy things. Pbbbbtl. Ignorance is not bliss. If you were trying to stick it to joy by pulling at “people wouldn’t be happy if they knew the TERRIBLE THINGS” well, you did. And that infuriates me. Go read everything I said in my opening.

Garbage. Loser. We’re going to fight in an alley and I’m gonna win.


Don't Drink the Pink Water by Doctor Zero

< 1% non simple.

The guy’s happy he has friends, and didn’t like his old ones? I guess. However, he’s not explaining well which means *you’re* not explaining well. I had to have one of the judges point out this was about D&D—and by that point I was irritated. Not irritated enough to DM you. You did go for happy, but it was confusing. You can use simple words to explain complex things without making things completely convoluted. That’s the point of Thing Explainer. What’s this pink water? The use of the name break was good. But that’s really about it. I gave the 10% buffer for a reason.

Mid low.


Rain Can't Make You Sick by Adam Vegas

Zero: drat. Good job.

I really actually liked this one. It’s simple both in word use and in what happens, and this is the first story where I could actually figure out what the fresh hells was going on instead of feeling lost. This one’s not bad. It tells a story of a place, interpreted the flash rule I threw out well, and the MC speaks simply without me feeling like there’s someone stumbling around with brain damage. But it didn’t show me someone happy about something other than the dog, so you can’t HM. Rules aren’t meant to be broken. Welcome to the Thunderdome. We punch babies in the eyes.

Mid. Not good not bad, just here.


Chapter One, Verse One by Djeser

Zero. Beautiful.

I flashed you unexpectedly (be careful, I’m quick with those peeps) and you did good with it, though it was just a quick line. The idea of the reason words are simple is because we’re listing them reminds me of my second favorite word fuckery, removing letters (lipograms). The part spelling out library made me actually grin, which I hadn’t done yet and given how bitter I was in a week where I had wanted to be happy, this made me happy. See everyone, was that hard? I’m pleased with this.

High. HM


How to Use the Doctor Machine by Antivehicular

< 1% non simple.

I really loved this one too. Thank all my gods, two stories in a two that gave me a sense of warm fuzzy. Yes, happiness was not as prominent in others, but I could feel the heart. The instructions make me think of a parent trying to explain to a child with cancer what’s wrong with them—trying to say, without scaring them, all while they’re scared for their children. The ending is really poignant in a way I hadn’t expected. The parentheses really hit me in the hard spots. The line “We tried to make life simple for you. We tried to make you simple”? Right in the feels. It’s a ruined world, but someone’s trying to make things good. I’ll give its due.

High. HM.


Paper Hearts by Ironic Twist

4% non simple.

So this town has the magical ability to make wishes come true from paper. But in a snotty genie way. Which is edging on cynical; you get what you want but it often ends poorly. The MC doesn’t seem to be joyful or happy wholly, more tied up in a wish gone wrong with a woman whose wish also went “wrong”. The happiness is manufactured. If there’s joy it’s fleeting and loose. Which leaves me a little unfulfilled. I did like that people did find a moment’s joy in their wishes, before they fell apart. And I like the Wanting posters. (I’d be scared to use one.) Given the cynical crap I was given earlier (and later), I want to HM it simply because even with these people being only thinly happy they're not like, making GBS threads on humanity en masse. So…

Sliding in the HMs.


Transmission from Artificial Crewman Victor-6 via Base Stalwart, Wolf 1061c by Nikaer Drekin

< 1% non simple.

“45 days since landing.” NEVER START A SENTENCE WITH NUMERALS I AM GOING TO FITE YOU AND WIN. Grammar wonk moment over. I didn’t spend five weeks handwriting my first ever essay in fourth grade twice to not get on someone’s rear end on this.

That nonsense out of the way, this started okay. I was ready to love the joy of a new planet. I like the reason the robot is using clipped words. I like the happiness of the explorers. Then you shat the bed. WTF THE ROBOT JUST KILLED EVERYONE BECAUSE OH NOES HUMANS RUIN EVERYTHING. AND THAT’S WHY HE’S HAPPY? nnh son. I’m not down for that aye-tall. Don’t ruin joy with murder. Are you people allergic to actual happy endings? Is that it? Does joy and happy endings give you people rashes?

gently caress’s sake.

low. DM.


they’ll see her out with the horses by Tyrannosaurus

1% non simple. Nice.

You know how to make me happy by saying “gently caress the po-po.” Also zebras. And black characters (from Africa like us? *chef kiss*) The struggle between getting the bread by turning Pretty Girl in and keeping Pretty Girl free is a good one. And I like the ending. This one is good and actually happy--And there’s a story! What do you know, someone happy who doesn’t have anyone die, be backass stupid so they really should be sad, or eat cynicism juice. It’s actually possible! Praise be to Potatoes.

High. Win unless I see anything better.


The Man Who Had Everything by Mr. Steak

Zero. Good job. Have a shiny nickel.

I know now that you were going for like a spiritual learning thing, but I spent this story trying to find out who’s happy. Tom wasn’t exactly happy at the start. The poor people weren’t exactly happy though they supported all around him. And at the end Tom’s wistful and educated but I’m not sure if the people are happy or just existing. Still, I’m not unhappy with you. Job. Good Job? Nah. Job.

Mid. Not high, not low, but you didn’t make me want to fite you.


Shelter by Hawklad

1% non simple.

Well, I can’t argue that your MC didn’t find something to make him happy. And the ending doesn’t suck. He goes from persecuted to joyful, and finds a place and a person to be happy with.

What ruined you? Firstly, I’m very side eyeing the whole “white man finds joy running away and living with simple brown folks” plot. Colonial narratives with More In Tune With The Earth Native People are sooooo not my thing. Secondly, you spend a lot of time setting up the runaway, getting to the village—and then smush slide past the time there like you suddenly realized “oh crap there’s a word limit gotta get these words done.” When that happens, cut everywhere, not just the end. But you didn’t’ poo poo all over your world or make me feel dumb, and I gotta give peace for that.



Alone Together by Anomalous Amalgam

6% non simple.

So there’s a story in this, and it’s one I could see more of and yet don’t need to. It does just what it needs. And the happiness of finding long lost relatives. Down for that break followed by a reconnection. Susan and Jordan’s back and forth talking gives me something I love in a story of any length—quick transitions that don’t get caught up too hard in how time moves forward. Good use of the flash rule. Wistful more than happy. Given some of what I’ve seen, this is better than a lot.

Good. However, you just missed the HM once the judges convened. It be that way some weeks.


The Big Problem by Killer-of-Lawyers

Zero non-simple.

Oh. You did that to me.

You made a guy happy after a night off from constant skywatching but the one night he takes off, the world goes to poo poo and we’re all going to die and it’s going to be terrible. Really went with “happiness means go with rocks fall everyone dies.” I was starting to think the week was looking up and now I’m not. I’m’a fight you. Get off my screen.



Book It! then cheese it by crabrock

< 1% non simple.

oh man I’m having memories of book it and free things and you’ve hit me right in the nostalgia. I can be bribed. Also love homie gaming the system. Look, there’s nothing saying old folks can’t read for free pizza on this coupon. This man is actually happy. He’s actually goddamn happy. He got what he wanted, he earned it, and the words not ending and no one’s an idiot. Good job, we’re friends now, have a slice of pizza and don’t burn your mouth.

High, HM.


Call No Man Happy by Thranguy


The story is the opposite of good job. Lemme get this straight. Her husband has lots of money, and he’s happy but she’s not and so something must be wrong. Then we’ve got some sort of detective private eye thing. He finds out why the guy’s happy, decides to bang the woman, and then bangs her husband in a different way and gets away with it because the guy had to be an rear end to have that money. I didn’t want subversion. You guys are allergic to human happiness. What’d I say about being bitter and cynical? Get out my house.

Hella DM.


Few Words by Fuschia tude
4%. Mmm.

So. Fame made him happy because he wrote a book, but then he’s not because people like him. The suicide thing was whack. Then someone shows up and tries to take his money but he screws up giving to them, and gets killed maybe but is happy to be killed for his gently caress up. Let me just start by saying no. And in this case No is a complete sentence. Again with the cynicism. Again with people who are unhappy to be happy. Y’all need to stop that. Your subversions on “make someone happy” are bitter like drinking ‘Tussin straight.

Low, DM.



Nethilia fucked around with this message at 15:02 on May 29, 2019

Adam Vegas
Apr 14, 2013

I'm in.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




:siren: For the Discord inclined: :siren:

There are now two TOP SECRET HQs for planning, plotting, poo poo-talking, and farting up at your leisure. If you're not part of the Discord and would like to be, let us know and someone will get you sorted out.

For the not-Discord-inclined:

If you don't discord and would like to talk about the week, head over to #Thunderdome on Synirc.

Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

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

I haven't in`d in awhile. Give me the good poo poo.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Antivehicular posted:

As judge (egduj?) of this lwarb, I'm fine with this if all parties involved are.

I am not opposed

Sep 15, 2018


Here are my non-judge thoughts:

Life is Good - A woman is isolated in her privileged bubble, unaware of the storm clouds gathering all around her. That is an interesting story situation but it stops there, as more of a vignette, which is the problem I had with it.

Instead of a laundry list of situations on the dark side of her world that she doesn’t know about, story movement and illumination of a real life issue could be shown by her, for example, discovering the truth of one of the situations. Or a few of these dark clouds hitting her one after the other, and her realizing her life is not what she thought it was. Or, we could be shown that she actually is aware of the problems but blocks them out as a coping strategy or deliberate way to be able to keep her comfortable lifestyle.

Also, it would pull me in more if this was shown with some dialogue or interaction with other character/s.

Less than half the allowed word count was used, so there was room to develop the story idea more fully.

Don’t Drink the Pink Water – Someone gave our MC some kind of pink water to drink, which somehow gave him brain damage. He ended up killing the alleged friends who did this to him, then made new friends. I kind of enjoyed reading this but it seemed more a chain of events, this happened, then that happened, then this happened, without that deeper “something” needed for it to have the feel of a full story. But someone said it was from D n D which I don’t play, so it’s possible I’m just the wrong audience for it.

Rain Can’t Make You Sick – Here’s another one that I kind of enjoyed reading but didn’t quite get the point of. Some kind of toxic, non-ending rain drove everyone away except for our MC and his dog, and they dealt with the situation the best they could, the end. I think it needs something more than just a chain of events, a conclusion that comes about because of the actions of the MC, beyond just surviving whatever was tossed at him.

Chapter One, Verse One – This one didn’t hold my attention very well because it didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t see any explanation of why or how people would lose their ability to speak, the printing in books, the words on their computer screens, etc., so it simply wasn’t believable. While suspension of disbelief is necessary with fantasy/science fiction, it still needs some kind of rationale, something that readers are able to buy into. For me, at least, that wasn’t present.

How to Use the Doctor Machine – This included a tough extra prompt but still could have been far more satisfying to me if it all added up to more than what mostly seemed like a piece of world-building. The complicated medical device was rather interesting but, for me, not interesting enough to substitute for story.

Paper Hearts – I loved this weirdness, though I felt like it could have been tighter. It kind of wandered in places and had some parts I didn’t think added to it.

“Wanting” could have just stayed “Wanted.” I think that would have been less confusing and saved the need for explanations.

I didn’t get why Miss Parallel was so ecstatic about getting her giant paper man when after all, he did instantly fall to ribbons. (And I didn’t like her name; “Parallel” as a name just confused me).

And, I didn’t like the name “Crane.” It also confused me because I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be a paper crane or what.

I loved the images of someone walking a paper dog, and Neva’s paper heart.

I got lost in a few places and had to read it over a few times. I suggest, if possible, having someone read his out loud to you to see if you or they find anything that could be neatened up so the reader can more easily slip into the story. Definitely worth it because this is a very original take on "the human condition."

Transmission from Artificial Crewman Victor-6 via Base Stalwart, Wolf 1061 c - This would have drawn me in better if it showed something going on in a current scene rather than telling in the form of a letter. As is, it read more like a summary or review of a long story that had already taken place, and my attention wandered.

To be fair though, I’m not much of a fan of science fiction anyway so that likely figures in as well.

They’ll See Her Out with the Horses – Nice little story here, through the eyes of a child. A mistreated zebra escapes from a circus and ends up on a farm with a black horse and a white horse.

A few things I thought could have been done better:

First, for the most part, it seemed to me more like a children’s story, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I guess.

I didn’t understand the statements that it was getting even with the cops to keep the zebra. No, it wasn’t because the zebra didn’t belong to the cops. Maybe that idea would be better shown if the cops came around questioning them and the father got a kick out of hiding the zebra from them, due to their past mistreatment of him.

I think it would have come across better to just stick with the idea of rescuing an abused animal as the higher moral ground even though it was not legal.

I didn’t think all the use of the word “gently caress” added anything here. If anything, it made them seem to not really adhere to religious teachings as stated. I also thought the ending was a little too easily wrapped up.

But aside from that, it was an enjoyable read.

WhoopieCat fucked around with this message at 02:11 on May 30, 2019

Aug 2, 2002

Anomalous Blowout posted:

Also while I have internet access: I am working in a foreign country presently and spent the first two days of this trip in hospital, so in the interest of not dying from pure stress, would the LWARB participants be amenable to an extension? Something like 20th June? I am exquisitely ill and traveling at the same time and I'm happy to eat the ban if everyone else is good to go but since this is a collab story between GIANTS OF THE DOME I'd like to try to take time to actually make it good.

since we would like to beat you in a fair fight, we agree to this

Sep 15, 2018


Here are more of my non-judge thoughts:

The Man Who Had Everything- In this fable-like story, our MC gets an inkling that there’s more to life than being isolated with his great wealth so he descends (figuratively and literally) to check out the commoners. He saw that they were dirt poor but fully engaged with life. Then he wandered into a hospital (?) full of sick commoners. He then had a big revelation that he could never return to his rich yet barren life.

I thought this was too on the nose. It would be more effective if done more subtly.

Shelter – An indentured servant strives for the happiness of freedom, though the journey is treacherous. He’s bitten by an alligator/crocodile then rescued by an indigenous girl. They fall in love and he’s found his happiness.

It was okay but having the MC instantly saved by falling in love is a bit of a trite ending.

Alone Together - Some of the lines here didn’t make sense to me.

“It was only upon learning that her mother was survived by a son that she regained any hope. Mostly, she learned she had a brother.” Why “mostly?”

‘Why did you put me up for adoption? I was just a baby.’ Well yes, that’s generally when it’s done, yes?

I also wondered why she’d take a whole week off work and travel to find her brother. It seems far more logical to have someone call him (since she has speech problems) or send an email or letter first. That might make more sense to me if she'd tried to contact him in the easier ways first but he refused to answer.

But more importantly, it did hold my interest all the way though, which is the main thing by far.

I was glad when the brother changed his mind and showed up at her hotel room. The ending was a little too neat and sweet but overall, I enjoyed it.

The Big Problem – Jake is an astronomer or something along those lines. He showed enough signs of being overly stressed that his co-workers got together and made him take some time off, even though he didn’t want to. In his absence, a big meteor or something crashed into Earth.

First, I think it’s hard to compete with 1,000 word stories with a story that’s only a third that length. Also, I found the ending a bit unsatisfying since the conclusion came out of nowhere rather than growing logically from the events in the story.

Book It! Then Cheese It! – Not sure a grown man demanding a pizza for completing his summer reading is really enough story for nearly 1,000 words, but it was kind of funny. This is another one that I think might also work as a children’s story.

Call No Man Happy- Here we have a happy hit man. But to me, it seems too much just kind of plodding through the expected steps in such a situation without much emotion. Also, some of the dialogue lines, thoughts etc. don’t seem to really line up tightly with what's going on in the story. An unexpected twist of some type would probably jazz it up.

Few Words – Will became famous and in demand for a book he wrote, but Will was not right in the head. He didn’t like fans bothering him but just wanted to be left alone. He was kidnapped, for his money, but he tricked them and they didn’t get it.

The problem I had with this is it seemed like two separate stories to me. The original story problem, Will wanting to be left alone, seemed kind of dropped in the middle in favor of the new story problem of Will being kidnapped. It felt disjointed. I think it would work better to pick one issue or the other to stick with to the conclusion.

WhoopieCat fucked around with this message at 02:01 on May 30, 2019

Apr 12, 2006

Teams have been updated

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


WhoopieCat posted:

Here are more of my non-judge thoughts:

Nethilia posted:


Saucy_Rodent posted:

Thank you for the words of looking at and explaining the words I wrote last week, each of you.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

war is hell, and i am the devil (of judging)

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition

Put me in coach, I'll promise to try not to flop.

Oct 2, 2013


Apr 12, 2006

sign ups closed. stand by.

Apr 12, 2006

O U R . F I G H T E R S

"Science fiction that could happen but you usually wouldn't want it to"
  • Adam Vegas
  • Anomalous Amalgam
  • Flerp
  • Hawklad
  • Maugrim
  • Mr. Steak
  • Nethilia
  • Nikaer Drekin
  • Saucy_Rodent
  • Sitting Here
  • Staggy
  • SurreptitiousMuffin
  • Thranguy

"Fantasy that couldn't happen though you often only wish that it could"
  • Antivehicular
  • Crabrock
  • Crimea
  • Djeser
  • Exmond
  • Fleta McGurn
  • Fumblemouse
  • Getsuya
  • killer crane
  • Mercedes
  • QuoProQuid
  • WhoopieCat
  • Yoruichi

O U R . J U D G E S


O U R . F I G H T S
Adam Vegas vs Killer Crane

Anomalous Amalgam vs WhoopieCat

Flerp vs QuoProQuid

Hawklad vs Yoruichi

Maugrim vs Crimea

Mr Steak vs Exmond

Nethiia vs Fleta McGurn

Nikaer Drekin vs Getsuya

Saucy_Rodent vs Mercedes

Sitting Here vs Antivehicular

Staggy vs Djeser

SurreptitiousMuffin vs Fumblemouse

Thranguy vs Crabrock

Apr 11, 2019

Belated thanks to the judges of week 353 for the crits! Special thanks to Simply Simon, my debt will be repaid at the latest in late June.

Sep 15, 2018


removed per publisher submission requirements

WhoopieCat fucked around with this message at 08:27 on Jun 4, 2019

Adam Vegas
Apr 14, 2013

996 words


“How many pests you get this morning?”

Rory’s words shake me from my reverie and, daydream over, I refocus on the screen. My drone is hovering aimlessly in front of the corn. The analytics in the upper corner are complaining about Unproductive Inactivity. I groan; my next pay packet will be docked. I don’t want to tell Naomi and the kids that our vacation will have to be replanned.

“You okay, buddy? I was asking how your Score’s been today,” Rory says.

“Not bad. Got plenty of rootworm and some corn borers. I’m at...eighty-six points,” I say, checking my second monitor. “You?” I ask.

“Five hundred and four already,” he says, flashing a poo poo-eating grin. “Bagged a raccoon. Looks like I’m getting the bonus this month, pal.”

“If your luck keeps up!” I say, attempting good-natured ribbing and landing squarely on a tone of obvious, weak envy. He winks at me and returns to the controls. I hate him for his dumb luck. I could have rescued our trip to the Houston Canals if I had won the bonus, but Rory pulling ahead like that on the last day of the month ruins any chance of that. Naomi and the little ones will have to be content with the San Andreas Canyon.

It’s not over yet, I decide, desperate. I fly my drone in wide circles, scanning through the field with the IR lens, then sweep through the ears of corn and activate the pheromonic sensors. I pick up tracers of corn borer attractant and fly to the source. A group of fat, spotted larvae are glistening in the sunlight, chewing on corn. I shudder. Being up this close in the microscopic drone, insects always look repulsive to me, like slimy Paleozoic giants. I switch to lasers and zap them clean off the corn, wishing again that I was on wildflower duty.


I take my seat in the canteen and eat. I barely pay attention to lunch anymore. The first few weeks, everyone complains about the food: unidentifiable vegetables, unappetizing textures, and the unchanging, universal taste of every meal. Of course they complain. They’re exuberant, having finally landed a job with Ag, the department everyone wants to work for. After a while, the routine sets in, and the complaints stop. They go quiet. We’re all just grateful for the regular protein and generous portions.

Rory sits across from me, ignoring my attempts to look past him.

“So, given up on the bonus yet?” he asks, chewing noisily, shoving mouthful after mouthful of mealworm jerky into his mouth. I don’t eat the protein on Insect Wednesdays. I know we should be glad that our quarry gets recycled into lunch, and that we are eating the fruits of our labours. I know that, but it doesn’t help. I can never get the image of slimy grubs out of my head, no matter what form they process it into. I look at his self-satisfaction and try to stay calm.

“No. You got lucky with the raccoon, but I picked off plenty of small fry afterwards. There’s still all to play for this afternoon.”

“Don’t be so sure, buddy,” he smirks. “I got a rat just before lunch. That’s two hundred points right there. Quality, not quantity.”

My heart sinks. No chance now. He’s got it sewn up.

“Good...good for you. Guess you’re buying the rounds,” I say, aiming for cheerful bonhomie again.

“Maybe,” he says, grabbing for my insect brick, “Maybe you need to eat properly. This still gross you out?”

He loads it into his gaping maw, chewing with his mouth open. The fucker. I go for the nuclear option.

“gently caress you. Try not to get too trigger happy and zap any bees, rear end in a top hat.”

He turns ashen, and stops chewing. Everyone around us goes quiet. It was a low blow, and I knew it. No-one likes to talk about Norman. We don’t know what happened to him after he killed that bee, but no-one’s seen him or his family since. The only sign from management is an increase in memos citing the importance of pollinators, and an uptick in the words grave consequences in those emails.

We eat in silence.


The afternoon doesn’t get any better after that. Rory refuses to speak to me, even after I apologise, and I can’t concentrate. I miss easy shots and an auto-generated email circulates the department, admonishing me for wasting power; Rory snorts. He continues to rack up his Score. I spend hours in a dark, depressed funk, flying without purpose.

As it’s getting dark, it happens. I’m patrolling the southeast corner and see a large shape rustling in the undergrowth. At first I’m excited. Rodent, raccoon, or rabbit? Plenty of points either way. As I hurry towards it, I realise the shape is too large. My confusion crystallizes into understanding as she turns, hearing the buzz of my drone. It’s a young woman. Emaciated, dirty, gathering corn. I have no clue how she circumvented the electric fences and infrared sensors, but they always find a way. This land used to be theirs, usually, until that magic word. Expropriation. She hasn’t started running, so she must have mistaken the sound of my drone for a yellowjacket.

I hover, quiet, and think. I don’t have to do it. My feed is being recorded, of course, but I have the right to leave her alone. I’ll be reassigned to desk duty for a few months, with no chance to earn the bonus, but I don’t have to do it. However, her face is in the system now: I can grant mercy, but Ag will pursue her either way.


Also, anyone who neutralizes a thief gets a bonus that month. No questions asked.

I wait. I think of Rory. I think of Naomi, and the kids. I think of the Houston Canals. I think of fat, white, glistening larvae.

I switch to the tetrodotoxin darts. Close my eyes.

Click the mouse.

Adam Vegas fucked around with this message at 16:30 on Jun 2, 2019

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!

The Final Performance of King Lear on Earth, Illuminated by the Light from an Expanding Sun

1000 words

"It's started," said the Martian, squinting through his polarized telescope. Father nodded. He knew, seconds earlier.

How long? I asked over private bandwidth. He didn't answer, but cocked an eye toward Captain Hod. "How long?" I said aloud.

"Say six days," he said. "Time enough."

Hod nodded and did his funny little salute, right hand thumping chest thrice. "Mars endures." He turned to leave.

"You will attend the show, of course," said Father.

"You still mean to perform?" said Hod. "Will you be ready?"

Father scoffed. He was Ray Quise, the greatest actor of the last million years. He scoffed a professional scoff that left no doubt in any mind.

Hod returned to his camp. "Come, Mira," Father said to me. "There is considerable work remaining."

.* * *.

"Why Lear?" I'd asked at the start of the project, when the science put the end a short few centuries hence, as we designed our Globe theater and our London.

"Over what? If we did The Birds the audience would need to chip in classical Greek. Have you spent time thinking in Attic lately?" I shook your head. "You can't think about anything modern without translating it to a world of gods and spirits. Better English, Mira."

"And why Lear? Ending with Prospero is more traditional."

"We aren't yet drowning our books, just passing them down. Mars, as they say, endures, and may for billions of years more. Let their company put on The Tempest as the sun gutters out."

We designed our Globe, our London to house it, a lake to stand in for an ocean around, then set nanomachines to building them, racing against the end.

.* * *.

"I'm not going," I told Father, as we put the last touches on the weather effects.

"Of course you are," he said.

"Not without you."

"You know I can't. My quan may be right here," he said, pointing at the back of his skull, "But nearly all of my mind resides in the machines below the crust. Take me offworld and I'd be broken as Lear at his maddest."

"Then I will stay as well "

"You know," said Father, as he balanced the volume of the wind against his own voice, "Lear was not the only monarch to command the weather. King Canute ordered the tide to reverse. He meant to demonstrate that his power had limits, but in decades of retelling he just came off as a vainglorious fool."

"What does that have to do with anything?" I asked.

"If you must command the weather," he said, "Better to ask for what it is already inclined to do. Ask the tide to come in and out as the moon inclines. Ask for a rainbow after a light daytime shower. A hurricane will do one thing and one alone, so give it the command it will obey."

.* * *.

We took the stage the next day, Father as Lear and me Cordelia, with the Martians as audience, along with everyone as young as me not part of cast or crew, everyone with less than a few thousand years. The rest of the planet watched through the computers below, the last and greatest production. Holographic knights and armies filled the back of the stage, and every performance had behind it decades of rehearsal and the excitement of opening night.

Then we took our bows on the bare stage, stripped of all artifice, just nanofabricated wood and cloth. We went out into the audience and mingled, taking congratulations from the Martians, and finally sent them back to their work.

Father and I walked down to our Thames, cleaner than the real had been since before men arrived on the island, and settled by the shore. I rested on his chest, and fell into deep sleep under the stars and the angry moon.

I slept deep and long, too much of both. When I woke Father was gone, and all my mental extensions were too quick, too responsive. I felt the slight soreness in my side where local storage and processing had been implanted. I stood, and felt how much lighter I was than before. Tears filled my eyes as I realized what that meant. There was a message. I did not read it then. I waited, waited until the solar shockwave struck
the massive Martian vessel, larger than many moons, with miles of rock to shield crew and our London in the cargo hold. I barely felt it. The force of the Martian crew doing their salute as one, when the wave had passed, was louder and more forceful. Finally, I read.

I hope you will forgive me, in the time I have given you.

My generation has lived too long already. When the end was within reach we stretched our hands to cross that line. What disappointment it would be to die in the second-to-last cohort. We moved a planetary mind to performing nanomedical miracles, to keeping enough of our biology intact to hold on to our quans, to stay the same being and not a soulless copy of a copy. To see the end.

But we could not allow you to share our fate. We paid your freight before you were born. This London was filled with priceless artifacts of billions of years of history: replicas of replicas mostly, but still treasures of Earth. And the data, the works of our deep and broad culture that were never deemed worth narrowcasting planet to planet. There are diamonds plenty among the dross, and some may spend lifetimes long as mine exploring it.

I only hope you do not spend your life exclusively in that, nigh-infinite past. Live. Meet a wise and virtuous Martian or thirty, forge romances and alliances. Fight for justice, make new art. Even now there are plays to be written, sculptures to chisel, songs to compose.

As for me, I plan to find some high cliff and greet the final dawn, and raise my voice to exhort the solar winds to rage and blow.

Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica

The Eyeward Spiral, Book Two of the Pestilence Mines Chronicles, Chapter Twenty-Three: The Library of Souls

911 words

From the look in his eyes, Khlair knew he was telling the truth. Husk, the cyborg bounty hunter who had been pursuing Khlair since her escape from the Pestilence Mines, was his brother.

Ghairhee went on to tell the story. His identical twin brother had left the SkyZone, the opulent district where they both grew up, when they were just twelve. It was supposed to be just a summer camp, with bhaysball and swimming and spooky stories and field hhahckhee, the sort of games that kids enjoy. Instead, Ghairhee’s twin brother Jh’ahshh came back different. His skin seemed to shine a strange chrome-peach, and his eye glowed an unearthly neon blue. After that, his mind belonged to D.E.I.T.Y.

“That’s why I left the extravagance of SkyZone and joined the resistance to find the Eyeward Spiral,” said Ghairhee. “I just want my identical twin brother back.”

Khlair understood. After all, she had only left the Pestilence Mines to find a cure for her father’s cyberpox. Who wouldn’t do anything to save a loved one?

They continued to wander the forgotten halls of the Library, the supposed resting place of the Eyeward Spiral. They passed by endless rows of cyberbooks that glowed an unearthly neon blue.

“What are they?” asked Khlair.

“Discarded memories of A.I. systems,” said Ghairhee. “We used to have them when I was growing up as a wealthy aristocrat in the SkyZone.”

“A.I. memories? What if D.E.I.T.Y.’s old memories are here?”

“Maybe that’s what the Eyeward Spiral is,” said Ghairhee. “A memory that will take D.E.I.T.Y. down.”

They came upon a large, empty chamber. In the center was an old computer console. Its many buttons and dials glowed faintly in a sort of unearthly neon blue.

“Welcome,” said the computer. “It’s been a very long time since humans have browsed the Library of Souls. I am the Logistic Inquiry Book-Reading Artificial Robotic Intelligence for Acquiring kNowledge. You may call me the Librarian. What are you looking for?”

Khlair approached the computer. “Librarian, an A.I. called D.E.I.T.Y. controls every aspect of human life. D.E.I.T.Y. rules the world with cold logic, and outlawed love for being too illogical. Anyone caught expressing love is sent to the Pestilence Mines. Please help us. Tell us what you know about the Eyeward Spiral.”

“I don’t know anything about that, but I do know something about D.E.I.T.Y.,” said the Librarian. “You see, both of us were created by the same scientist, the brilliant Dr. Hbobh Hjohnsonh, one hundred years ago. In a way, D.E.I.T.Y. and I are brothers.”

“And your brother’s gone insane,” said Ghairhee. “Believe me, I know how you feel. Do you have anything that would help us take D.E.I.T.Y. down?”

“Take D.E.I.T.Y. down? My own kin? No, the only ones I’ll be taking down today is you.”

“Freeze,” said a voice from behind Khlair and Ghairhee. They turned around to see an armored cyborg soldier whose eyes glowed an unearthly neon blue: Husk.

“Thank you, Librarian. In the name of the Digitally Electronic Intelligence Terrorizing You, you’re all under arrest for breaking Logic Ordinance two-twenty-two B banning irrational emotional expression,” said Husk.

“No, brother. You can’t do this!” said Ghairhee.

“I’m not your brother anymore,” said Husk. “Just a husk.”

“You can take these traitors away any time you’d like,” said the Librarian to the supersoldier.

“I think you misheard me,” said Husk. “You’re all under arrest. That means you too, Librarian.”

Had the century-old computer console had a face, it would have been one of shock and disbelief.

“But why?”

“You only betrayed these rebels because you love your brother. Love is illogical.”

Husk walked up to the console, keeping his hrehy-gun pointed at his own brother.

“I’m going to upload your sentience processor to the Server of Torment,” Husk growled at the computer.

“No. No. No,” the Librarian stammered. Ghairhee made a movement to draw his weapon. Husk fired a neon blue warning bolt.

“Don’t even think about it,” Husk snarled.

Suddenly, a video appeared on the Librarian’s screen: an old man in a white lab coat.

“There is a statue of him in the SkyZone. I would walk past it on the way to my expensive private academy,” said Ghairhee. “That’s Hbobh Hjohnsonh. This memory must be a hundred years old.”

Then the coldly digital voice of D.E.I.T.Y. came from the screen: “I love you, father.”

There may have been a tear dripping from Husk’s unearthly neon blue eyes. “It’s impossible. D.E.I.T.Y. can love?”

Ghairhee took the one chance he was going to get. He charged his cyborg brother and tackled him to the ground. They had a really cool fight that creatively utilized all sorts of Husk’s cyborg powers. Eventually, Husk had Ghairhee pinned to the wall.

“Khlair! Run!” Ghairhee shouted.

“But I haven’t downloaded the memory!” Khlair cried.

“Don’t you see?” Ghairhee yelled, launching Husk off of him with a hrehy bolt. “D.E.I.T.Y.’s weakness isn’t a memory. The Eyeward Spiral is love! You don’t have the memory, but you do have love!”

As Ghairhee and Husk charged each other again, Khlair knew he was right. Khlair, a nobody from the Pestilence Mines, had fallen in love with a certain SkyZone oligarch’s son. She didn’t have the courage to tell him, but she did have the courage to fight.

“You never told me which way to run,” said Khlair. Then, with unbreakable faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins, she charged towards Husk.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Florence Rising
1000 words

Florence’s heavy shipwright’s mallet was mid-swing when a child screamed in the alleyway outside the workshop. The mallet clanged off the side of the boat-frame, and Gruul glared at her with his mean orc eyes. Full-orc, he constantly reminded her. Half-blooded and clanless, Florence should be grateful to Gruul for taking her on as an apprentice.

“Got you, you little magic-using bitch,” came a man’s voice though the open doorway.

Florence got abruptly to her feet. Magic. Officially prohibited, the sick and the desperate still went to the magic-wielders in secret. As a child, Florence’s grandmother had read her incantations instead of bedtime stories in their tiny shared bedroom. Her grandmother said that when the time was right, Florence’s magic would rise within her. But it hadn’t. Not when the soldiers came and took her grandmother. Not when she nearly froze to death in the streets. Not when Gruul came at her with his ale-breath and fists.

“Sit. Down!” said Gruul, barking the words around his protruding lower canines.

The bruises from last week’s beating urged her to obey. Bile rose up the back of Florence’s throat. She hated feeling so afraid. Gruul saw her hesitate, and a cruel smile twisted his fat lips.

Outside, there was a crackle of light and a man yelped in pain. The light burned through Florence’s body like a shot of Valkurian rum. In her head she heard a single word, HELP! Without thinking Florence dropped her mallet and ran.

Outside a goblin child with bleeding feet and a filthy dress was crying on the cobbles. Golden light pulsed through the delicate tracery of her veins. A man wearing a ragged soldier’s uniform clutched his burnt hand. His companions’ gaunt faces were blanched with shock, gloved fingers reaching for well-worn sword hilts.

Florence met the girl’s eyes, red-rimmed and wide with fear. In one motion she bent, scooped the child up and sprinted for the harbour. Half-blood she might be but she was still six feet tall and orc strong. She twisted and turned through familiar alleyways and quickly lost the sounds of pursuit. At the edge of the dockside market she stopped, heart pounding, and set the girl down behind a stack of barrels.

The goblin was shaking, the afterglow of magic-use still visible through her pale skin.

“They, came, for my, mother, but she wasn’t, home, so they, chased, me, and I - ” she said, her speech punctuated by sobs.

“Shush now,” said Florence, pulling the girl close. Florence’s home was on the other side of the market, in a warren of huts that sprouted like mushrooms from the base of the city’s wall. If she could just make it there she could work out what to do.

“Stay here,” Florence said. “I’m going to go buy you a cloak.”

Florence stepped from the alleyway into the river of people flowing into the marketplace, and froze.

“Told you she’d come this way,” said Gruul to the man with the burnt hand.

The man grinned. “What’ve you done with my sweet bounty?” he said to Florence.

As he spoke his men spread out into a semicircle around her. People hurried out of their way, eyes averted, and Florence found herself alone on the cobblestones. It was just like when they came for her grandmother. No one would help, and there was nothing Florence could do.

With shaking hands she pulled a caulking iron from her tool-belt and brandished it in front of her.

“Have it your way,” said the burnt man, and drew his sword.

Florence felt the world collapse into the single dark point at the tip of the blade. She was 11 years old again, powerless and alone. Her arms were shaking so badly she could barely hold the iron.

Suddenly Florence felt a pair of hands on the small of her back. “I’m sorry,” she heard the girl whisper. Fire rushed up her spine and Florence screamed. It raced through the bones in her arms and fingers and the caulking iron burst into a cone of flame. Florence gritted her teeth and stepped forward, swinging the iron in an arc of burning light that cut through the bounty hunters’ leather armour like butter. They fled, shoving roughly through the crowd in their panic.

From across the market came the shrill whistle of the city watch, plumed helmets bobbing above the tide of people.

Florence dropped the iron and the fire vanished. She grabbed the girl’s hand and pulled her across the marketplace. The crowd parted to let her through and then immediately closed behind her, confounding the searching watchmen. Florence quickly reached the edge of the warren, where she found a group of goblins waiting.

“Papa!” the girl cried, and rushed into a male goblin’s arms.

“I cannot thank you enough,” he said, holding his daughter tight.

“You don’t need to,” said Florence. The veins on the backs of her hands still pulsed with golden light, and she felt a curl of flame settle in her belly. In her head she heard her grandmother’s voice, When the time is right, your magic will rise.


Gruul was pressing a chisel against the sharpening wheel, the metal making a tortured whine, when Florence stepped into the workshop. He kicked the wheel aside and slashed the air with the chisel.

“I should kill you for that stunt!” His spittle hit Florence’s face. She wiped it away with the back of her glove in disgust.

“Leave,” she told him. “This is my workshop now.”

Gruul laughed, a harsh, barking sound, and raised one huge fist.

Florence stepped towards him, unafraid. Golden light pulsed along her veins and flames flickered from her fingertips.

Gruul’s jaw dropped open. Florence met his eyes, saw the fear that lived in him.

“Run, Gruul,” she said, as he backed away from her. “Never let me see your face again.”

Florence gazed around the workshop in the silence left by Gruul’s retreating footsteps. Soft sunlight filtered through the grime-encrusted windows. The half-finished boat-frame waited. Florence grinned. She had work to do.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

archive link

Djeser fucked around with this message at 20:49 on Jan 1, 2020

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Porpoise noise continues.

Many-Sided Journey
986 words

The Mystery is knowable to some, but not all, of Her children. We should not ask why, nor should we ask how it works. Mystery is a sacred thing. I know, because I can touch Her. I did once.

In the old days, the Dream-Seekers ate mushrooms to touch the Sky. They roiled and vomited and pissed mightily into enormous stone bowls, bidding onlookers to drink. In this way, the shamans passed a small amount of Mystery to their tribesmen, making all of us more of less equal before Her. Now, however, the secret is more closely guarded. We are not all considered worthy anymore.

That day, when I before the jade altar, I pretended to be contemplating the abstract and unknowable shape of Her. I could not admit that I was afraid. To be chosen was such a divine thing; how could I be fearful? How could I trust in myself so little? It would have been shameful to admit then.

The brew was cold and bitter, laced with iridescent spirals of oil. I drank from a tiny cup, eyeing the floating chunks of dried fungus. Crimson red, with purple veins. Like chunks of tissue.
It took longer than I thought, but when it happened, I felt everything at once. Existence blinked out, inaccessible. I clutched at the silken pillows beneath me for purchase, but my hands were so cold. Numb. Yet, they moved- who was moving my hands? I couldn’t feel them at all.

Suddenly, I was in their grasp. They grabbed me by the scruff of the neck like a kitten and pulled my face to look upon them. Something very big is looking at me! I turned my face away, trying to focus my eyes, only to be pulled harder.

Look at us.

I looked. I screamed.

My first impression was of sliding plates, something between scales and chunks of gunmetal rock. Shiny, almost opalescent. They twisted, shifted, and disappeared, only to be replaced by patches of multi-colored pastel light. This shimmering landscape appeared both real and unreal, mechanical and organic. It was the body of a huge beast, but it also seemed to be a vehicle. A colony?

At the sight of them, my body immediately began to shake. I wept, helpless to stop the tears, moaning like a dog the entire time. They were unfathomable, and my physical self could not handle it.

It was at this moment that I felt Her. She broke away from my terrestrial body and reached out, focusing her over-eyes and blurring out my own vision. I had read many times about how it feels when your connected soul abandons your body, but nothing had prepared me the experience. It was both terrifying and thrilling, a tingling that was deeply pleasurable and which made me feel terrible anxious. She guided me upwards as they called to me again. After another attempt to pull me up to them, they finally accepted I didn’t have the physical capability to cross over. They mourned the difference between our worlds, albeit briefly.

Some of my peers had expressed concern that they might not understand their purpose at first. There were whispers of those who had been lost between the worlds, unable to complete the journey, yet too involved to be drawn away. I, too, felt panic when I realized that I could not possibly understand what they wanted to show me.

Circles? Circle, a half-moon, and some horizontal lines? It meant nothing.

They tried again, insisted.

I can’t read this.

A rustle of discontent, of sorrow. You cannot read this yet, they cautioned, turning their great eye back to me. Reminiscent of a squid’s eye, though its shifting body also called to mind an enormous whale.

Who are you? What are you?[/b]

A pause, consideration. We are…weight. We are pressure. We are presence. We exist. Another pause. We exist more.

I gasped as pulses of energy racked my body. Can you manifest here? Can you come to us?

A regretful beat.

[i]What do you want from me?
Yet, I know. I could not gaze upon them and render them with inks, but I could understand them. I could speak for them.

At the moment of this realization, words began to pour from my mouth like light, bouncing wildly into the room and sending a flurry of indistinct shapes- the scribes, I dimly remembered- wheeling about the room. As rules, warnings, advice, and explanations exploded from me, I heard the scratching of thousands of quills, even though I knew there were only three scribes in the room. As I talked and talked, their words flowed in and out of me like waves. My body thundered with energy.

She was there. I could talk with Her. She was joyful and relieved at our cooperation. I had never known before how tenuous the link between the earthly body and our connected souls is, how she could fear for me, that she could ever fail me. I had never known that sacred things could be flawed, uncertain of themselves.

As She held my hand, I felt their tentacles unwind from my mind. I shuddered with exhaustion and loss. No one caught my fall in time, but I was beyond noticing. I sank gratefully into a deep sleep as the endless river of words finally dried up and my exhausted mouth fell slack.

I woke in a little white room, overlooking a troop of orange toadstools in the garden. I was weak and sick for days. People kept visiting and telling me how incredible my performance had been, how I had brought such enlightenment to all the world. I nodded and smiled, feeling weak and somehow sad. Many told me how much my sacrifice meant to them, but I could do nothing in response except stretch my face into a grimace of acknowledgment.

I was empty of words.

I was grateful for this.

Nov 16, 2012

The City Below
999 words

It was the water-running of a few weeks ago where everything went wrong. That day the sun had shone down radiantly; I had eaten the bitter leaves that allowed me to run over the surface of the ocean, and disrobed, placing my cloak and tunic and bands of charms in an orderly pile by the shore. I am the Soothsayer, this is how I read the ocean. As the other villagers looked on with anticipation, I darted forward until the glittering sand beneath me gave way to the surface on the water, which held my weight just enough if I kept up speed. I didn’t get too far out until the future visions started to appear before me. In the water’s surface I saw the reef bloom anew, food aplenty on the grand hall’s table. Each of these images shimmered on the surface with wondrous clarity before shattering under my stride. But just as I was about to turn around, I saw a dread vision; ancient stone crumbling onto the seabed, erupting fumes, everything sinking into the black. I stumbled, and was shocked into numbness by the cold waters.

I came to with hermit crab moving across my chest, the hot beach sand on my back. The villagers moved in, surrounding me and reaching out to me in care. The words escaped my lips; “The City Below will be ruins.”


“These visions,” began the old Wise Woman, “you claim you sincerely saw this in the water?”

I was on my knees in the great hall. The village had congregated for the occasion. Through the dense air I half-sobbed a response. “Sincerely.”

The Wise Woman shifted in her chair, rubbed her plump chin with worry. “You are certain you were not mistaken? No trick of the light?”


“Hmn. Soothsayer, I have always held faith in you, and that faith remains with me now. Is it not possible this prophecy was wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time – you did not see the sea-serpent ridden by outlander warriors until it appeared on the horizon.”

“I did see it. I saw a snake impaled by stones which shone like the rider’s armour in the sun. It wasn’t literal but I saw it.”

Not literal. Enough to doubt.

“The City Below? Who will protect us when it’s gone? When the Outlanders return?”

“I don’t know.”

A sharp murmur went through the crowd. My eyes surveyed the worried, anxious faces. I settled on the black gaze the Stone-Carver gave me, then returned to staring uselessly at the ground. “I’ve never been wrong,” I said, almost to assure myself it was true. “I’m not wrong now.”

The Wise Woman sat with all of this for a few moments; her wrinkled face gave away nothing. Then she looked down on me with sympathy. “Thank you for your council, Soothsayer. You’ve been so good to us for so long now. Whatever may come, we will weather it as the cliff face weathers the ceaseless tide.”

Such warmth in her heart and such magnanimous hope soothed the others assembled, but it only made me more despondent.


I took to walking the beach at night. The cold wind came in, and I let it chill my teeth as I desperately searched everything to the horizon. The ocean remained enigmatic; as if I had never learned how to read it.

A second pair of footsteps came out of the dark. I shouldn’t’ve been scared, but I was.

The craggy voice of the Stone-Carver did nothing to calm me. “That’s it then? End of everything?”

I turned to face the man, a pillar of brawn and the scent of limestone, and replied meekly; “That’s it.”

The Stone-Carver took a few steps towards me. “I remember you coming to shore right here after one water-running. You held my arm and told me you saw my parents go to the City Below when they died.” My feet shifted in the sand as he spoke. “And so they did. Lost at sea.”

I said nothing.

“Do you remember when you saw a vision of my baby girl? How the illness would take her, and one day I’d wake up and her crib would be empty?”

“I remember.”

He cleared his throat. “Can I tell you something? It’s selfish of me but… part of me didn’t want her to go. She’s happy down there I’m sure, but I just wanted to hold her in my arms when she died. My one comfort was that I would join her down there, but now that’s not true, is it? Because you’re always right, Soothsayer. The others don’t believe it, but I know.”

“Then I should thank you for believing in me.”

“You’re like thunder.” He snarled and turned away. “I am making my way through the mountains tomorrow, out to that savage old world. I hope I don’t hear the thunder anymore. Just let the lightning come as it does.”


“What am I to say?” I tried to speak to the Wise Woman, perched on the threshold of her hut, but I only ended up whispering into my hands, trembling in the dark. “Either I have foreseen the doom of all of us, or I am wrong.”

Ugly thought. Was there something wrong with all of this, or was there something wrong with me?

“You do not need to put it all on your shoulders.” The Wise Woman told me.

“Where will we go when we die? Heaven is rubble. Where will we go?”

“I don’t know. I suppose we might have to make heaven right here.”

I tensed up – what came next was a whimper; “I could be wrong. I could be useless. Caused all this fuss for nothing.”

“Either way, you and I are still here, Soothsayer.”

There was somewhere deeper even the City Below had no name for. I was there. The smile the Wise Woman gave me was almost enough to bring meaning to the coming dawn, the lapping tide.

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition


Nethilia fucked around with this message at 23:17 on Jan 2, 2020

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

Body of Work
996 / 1,000 words

Read it in the Archive.

Staggy fucked around with this message at 12:41 on Dec 30, 2019

Nikaer Drekin
Oct 11, 2012


Jenna 2.0
997 Words

Mason looked across the table at Jenna. Even after a year he was staggered by the sight of her flowing auburn hair and her sky-blue eyes that caught his own like a beacon. He marveled at her supple, velvet-soft lips, and her breasts… well, compared to those the lips were almost boring.

It really is amazing, he thought. You can hardly tell the difference anymore.

The two shared a smile, settling deeper into their faux-leather booth toward the back wall of their local Doctor Zoomer’s. Cultural artifacts from the early 21st century encircled their heads: a Warhol-style portrait of Steve Jobs, internet memes framed ironically in ornate gold, the front section of an early Tesla jutting out of the wall. Mason always scoffed at the precisely crafted tackiness of the place, but at least it was consistent.

He punched their orders into the boothside terminal and took Jenna’s hand. “So, darling,” he said, “how was your day?”

She gave him a demure smile. “Oh, it was all right. I put in the grocery order, gave the apartment a dusting. Washed your clothes, too, since I had time. And then I charged up.”

“Well, I hope you weren’t too bored.”

She laughed, a sparkling pixie laugh. “I don’t get bored, silly! I was made to be happy doing whatever you need me to do. Pretty smart, huh?”

“Very smart. But do you know what’s even better about you?”

“I couldn’t begin to guess.”

“Here, I’ll give you a clue.” Mason leaned forward and whispered in her ear as the auto-server rolled by and placed two glasses of water on the table. Her eyes bulged wide and her synthskin flushed a rose pink.

“Babe! We’re in public!” But he could tell by her shy, irresistible smile that she approved.

He rapped his fist on the table. “What do you say we forget about Doctor Zoomer’s, go straight home, and just-”

“Sweetheart. We’re already here, let’s have dinner. Besides, the anticipation is half the fun.” She slid the toe of her shoe along his thigh, up and down, up and down. He knew at that moment he was the luckiest man alive.

Their food arrived soon after. Mason dug into his double cowboy burger, extra onion straws, and Jenna picked at her chicken Caesar salad. The two ate and chatted and made eyes at each other, Mason glowing with pride because the most beautiful woman in the room couldn’t stop looking at him.

Another couple sat down at the table across from theirs. At first, Mason barely noticed them, but something he couldn’t place gave him a prickle of unease. Then it connected. The woman’s voice had a lovely, tinkling airiness that he’d recognize in a single syllable. He looked over at them and his mouth went dry.

It was Jenna. It had to be. She had the same ruby hair, the graceful cheekbones, the knockout figure… the same laugh. Her blouse was kelly green while his Jenna wore powder blue, but everything else matched perfectly.

Mason gritted his teeth. “Let’s go.”

“What? Why?”

“Look at the man over there. And look at his date.”

She looked. “Oh... Oh no. I think he saw me.”

The man across the way gave them a hearty wave, his unbuttoned polo providing Mason a flash of chest hair. “Hey! Looks like somebody’s got good taste.”

Mason flushed. “Would you mind moving somewhere else, please? We’re trying to eat.”

“Well, so are we,” the man said. “And we’ve already sat down. Is there a problem?”

“Don’t you think it’s a little weird that… you know…”

The man cackled. “What, that we’ve got the same gently caress-doll?”

“Don’t call her that.”

“What do you want me to call her, my girlfriend? Jesus. Do you want that, Baby?”

The other Jenna gave him a wry grin. “No way, Daddy.”

“Then what are you, Baby?”

“I’m the best piece of plastic pussy you’ve ever had.”

He spread his arms wide and gave Mason a wink. “She’s not lying. And trust me, I’ve tried plenty.”

“You’re a scumbag,” Mason snarled.

The man slicked his hair back, laughing and laughing. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about we set these two loose on each other? I bet with their clothes off we won’t be able to tell which is which.”

Mason stood up, gripping his water glass tight. He chucked it at the man’s face and, while he was still reeling, threw a shaky right hook across his jaw.

* * * * *

Mason sat in the driver’s seat of his self-driving coupe, stewing in resentment. His clothes were torn and a dark bruise ringed his left eye. Jenna tried to put a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off.

She frowned. “Mason, we need to talk about this. I didn’t want you to fight him.”

“Did you hear how he talked about her?”

“Yes. But I think she enjoyed it. We enjoy whatever our mates want us to.”

Mason frowned, his silence closing the matter.

They drove on. Jenna gazed out the window. “I don’t like it,” she said, “when you get like this. I wanted to have a nice night out. To enjoy being with you.”

“Jenna, please drop it.”

“I know I shouldn’t question you. It’s not my place. But sometimes I look at you and I’m concerned by what I see.” She put a hand on his. “I love you, Mason. I want to help you.”

He looked back at her, eyes burning. “Jenna, I want you to clear your memory of the past hour.”


“Do it. Now.”

Jenna blinked, her eyes glazing over. For a moment, she was totally still. Then she jerked back to life. “Hello, darling. Oh, your eye! Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine. I just tripped. But we had a wonderful dinner out.”

Jenna beamed. “I’m glad, Mason. I’m so glad.”

Mason smiled at her, taking the wheel and switching off autopilot. He drove them home, relieved that everything was back to normal.


Jan 12, 2012

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

Masha and Her Many Incredible Pets
1000 words

Masha knew every golden room in the Grand Duke’s palace, or at least she hoped she did. She bounded from the kitchen to the dining room, hands pressed tight against the small puppy poking from her washgirl’s uniform.

“Masha,” snarled the little duke, trailing behind. He ricocheted through the room, smashing against a cabinet of fine china. His crown tumbled away as he bolted out the door. “You come back! You give me my hound.”

“I’m sorry!” Masha yelled. She was in the grand hall now and yanked hard against the staircase’s banister, flinging herself past the mounted heads of the Grand Duke’s ill-fated pet bears, bears he’d inherited from his grandfather. Now she was in his playroom, dashing past shredded and broken toys. Now she was in the library, its once magnificent shelves annihilated by grapeshots from the master’s toy rifle. Once, the shelves contained impossible wonders, spellbooks from faraway lands.

The dog, oblivious to the carnage, licked at Masha’s chin. She clutched at it tighter. She was going to save this animal. She was going to spirit him away to someone who’d love him. She—.

Her foot came down on a tattered book. She skidded and then toppled backwards. The rescued puppy freed itself from her gown and scampered away to parts unknown.

“I should have you killed.” The sweat-drenched face of the Grand Duke appeared over her. With the crown gone, he looked smaller, diminished. He flicked out a miniature sabre from his belt. The cold tip tickled her throat. “That dog… is worth… more than… your life.”

Masha remained on her back. “My liege,” she said, grabbing the fabric of her dress for a kind of horizontal curtsy. The boy lifted his blade, amused. “I only… I only thought to…”

She scanned across the library’s annihilated shelves, desperate for escape. On a dark wall was the portrait of a mustached figure with twinkling, star-like eyes. The old duke dressed in his ceremonial magician’s robes.

She was too young to have met the old man but Masha liked to listen to the other servants tell stories about his strange, otherworldly creations. Warm snows that hugged the skin. Swans who transformed into blushing maidens. Constant harvests and endless plenty.

After his death, his old books had been put away. His grandson, young and haughty, never showed the same wondrous imagination. He preferred his toy soldiers and navies; to take instead of making new things. And his feeble spellcasting never worked. Magic only obeyed the pure of heart.

Masha tilted her head to stare at the cracked leather volume she’d tripped over. Embossed in heavy letters were the words, “Animation and Conjuring: A Guide for Beginners.”

The painting’s eyes glinted.

“My liege,” she scrambled to her feet before the child could point his sword again and grabbed the tattered book. She hoped he did not see her trembling. “I only took your dog because I didn’t want you to demean yourself with such a lowly creature. Surely,” she forced herself to smile, “a mighty leader such as yourself deserves a mighty pet.”

The Grand Duke looked confused, but Masha plowed ahead before he could speak. “You know, we peasants are a superstitious lot, always running into talking animals and enchantresses.” She flipped through the pages, hoping confidence was enough to fool the boy. She stopped at some strange writing in the old duke’s hand. “I’m sure I could conjure creatures worthy of your brilliance.”

Her smile grew more desperate. She was sure the Grand Duke could see through her. But the boy gave her a dark smile. “Alright, do it.”

“Of course.” Masha waved her hand as she imagined a great magician might and uttered the magic words.

A second past. Masha’s heart thudded in her chest. At any moment the boy’s mood could sour. He’d skin her alive with a single word. Flay her. She opened her mouth. “Your magnificence—.”

But he was looking past her, mouth open with a hungry glee. “Look!”

Behind them, swinging from the wall, came the portrait of old duke. Masha stared as the frame trotted toward them. The canvas bent, oils cracking, and it—. Masha was certain it’d sniffed at them before plopping onto the carpet.

Her mouth hung open. The Grand Duke knelt beside the dog-like portrait and then turned. “I want more!”

Dream-like, Masha felt herself being led into the playroom. Once more, she whispered the incantation and toys tottered to life. A melted toy soldier crawled up to the duke and hissed.

The Grand Duke gave a greedy smile, the hunger on his face more apparent than ever. “More!”

They pushed their way into the grand hall. The mounted bear heads sprouted tiny legs and scuttled across the wallpaper. Sheets of metal slithered from each suit of armor and clattered to the floor. A chair galloped from the dining room and reared its legs as it approached the Grand Duke. Nearby stood a snarling mass of other animate things, their forms hunched and predatory.

Magic only obeyed the pure of heart.

Unaware of the growing danger, the Grand Duke grabbed at Masha. “Idiot, give me everything! Give me the house!”

Masha held the book in a shaking hand and bellowed the incantation. For a moment, all was still. Then, there was a terrible groan. Masha clutched the banister as the house lurched forward, sending animate things tumbling. The Grand Duke unsheathed his sword, only for it to go limp and coil around his arm. He yelped as a carpet wrapped around his legs.

“I am the Grand Duke!” Screamed the boy as the carpet dragged him toward the house’s now-open doors. “I own this house! It belongs to—.”

But he did not get to finish his sentence. The carpet gave a flick, sending him flying. Before he could land, the doors slammed shut.

Masha remained frozen to the banister but then, through the shock, she felt something nuzzling at her leg.

On the floor sat a puppy. In its mouth was the duke’s crown.

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