Hey Saucy Rodent and Mercedes sorry for taking so long to judge your hissy fit. To make it up to you I'll beat both of you bloody until you're no longer capable of feeling these frustrated feelings.
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 16:49|
|# ? Jun 25, 2022 22:50|
Mercedes and I, once the fiercest of enemies, are joining forces to defeat a common enemy: slow judging
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 16:49|
If you write as fast as you judge, SA might not be around for you to post your story
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 16:51|
crawling out of the stress dungeons to get in
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 20:21|
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 20:53|
Also I’m in for this week.
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 21:13|
Quote isn't edit; thanks, phone
|# ? Jul 3, 2019 23:41|
In, with another to stay on track
|# ? Jul 4, 2019 10:12|
ah yes what is the opposite of out could it possibly be in
|# ? Jul 4, 2019 10:23|
Brawl with derp!
Da-In had been at her new school for less than a week when she realized it wasn’t going to be a permanent position.
There were lots of reasons to feel this way- the mediocre lunch, the overly friendly old man gym teacher who stank of soju even in the middle of the day, the lack of mixed coffee packets in the staffroom- but the main reason was Sunny.
Sunny was tall, with a bowl haircut and big glasses. She looked like a sweet middle-aged lady, with her paste jewelry and sensible twinsets, but within an hour of working with her, Da-In knew she was trouble. First of all, she was weird- she went by her English name at all times, even in her personal life. Where most teachers cajoled or spoke firmly, Sunny would shout and smack. She berated the children for their spelling and lined them up to receive individual scoldings every morning instead of having a typical morning circle meeting. Most teachers would have been sharply reined in by this late stage in their career, but since Sunny was so terrifying, people just bowed their heads and meekly accepted her as she was. There were whispers she had had an affair with the school director, many years ago when she was newly hired, and so she had carte blanche to do what she wanted. Da-In just thought she was too mean and vindictive to bother arguing with.
Da-In’s hands were shaking with exhaustion by the end of her second week. She was blissfully alone in an unused classroom, washing the windows and tidying up. This was not her job, exactly, but Sunny had decreed she was to remove years of gunk and fingerprints from the filthy room, because “we might need it someday” and because Da-In was only a trainee. Da-In watched her hand dip into the washbucket over and over, rhythmically, mesmerized in her tiredness by the scum of prismatic soap bubbles. She could taste her after-work beer and noodles already.
Finally, after nearly two hours of scrubbing, Da-In sat down. As she noticed the sun was setting, she thought: after this, I can go home. There’s one place she cannot make me do anything.
Almost as soon as she finished that thought, Da-In’s head dropped onto the desk. Her eyes almost crackled as she closed them.
She awoke later with a start and a gasp. The classroom was dark.
Da-In lurched to her feet, groggy and disoriented. As she struggled to rise, her foot knocked against something…wooden?
The classroom furniture was all plastic. Where was she?
Da-In drew in a sharp breath. “Hello?” she called weakly. Her hands found a wall, scrabbled along until they hit a light switch. She flicked it on.
Somehow, she had gotten home. Da-In let out her breath in a giant blast.
“You breathe too loudly for a proper young woman.”
The sound of Sunny’s voice made Da-In choke. She whirled around to see the older woman sitting on her bed, arms crossed, a stern look of disapproval on her face.
Shock kept Da-In from screaming or attacking the intruder, but she did back up against the wall, trying to keep her eye on the door as well as on Sunny. “Why are you here?” she whispered.
An affected look of hurt. “I brought you home, of course,” Sunny said, putting one hand on her chest and blinking.
“Thank you…” Da-In rubbed her forehead. “Um, I’m sorry for the trouble. I was just—”
“Yes, I noticed you hadn’t come home, so of course I came to find you,” Sunny interrupted, calmly taking a pouch out of her big black bag. “I see you don’t have any healthy food in the house, just noodles and snacks.” She tsked. “You must take care of your health, Da-In. You have a lot of responsibility now. No wonder you’re falling asleep.”
Da-In stopped. “You noticed I wasn’t home?” she repeated. “You live across town…where you waiting for me, Sunny?!”
Sunny was impassive. “You’re a teacher now,” she said reproachfully. “You are so young, Da-In. You need more training to be successful.”
A bubble of anger wrote in Da-In’s chest. “Thank you for your help,” she said shortly, “but I think it’s time to go home now. I’m very tired.”
Sunny didn’t move. “It’s time for some professional development,” she said calmly.
Da-In ran to the door and punched in the door code as quickly as she could. It flashed red, stayed locked. She tried again.
“I had to change it, of course. Your code was very easy to guess.”
Da-In’s heart was pounding. “Sunny,” she began in her calmest voice. “I don’t understand this. I’m sorry I fell asleep. It’s just been really busy, and—”
Sunny shook her head. “No, Da-In. This is a problem with you. I noticed it right away. You don’t understand discipline. You don’t have any. You need to learn how discipline is created before you can be an effective teacher.”
“Where’s my phone?”
Sunny didn’t answer. She calmly opened the zippered pouch and drew out a hammer. “Hold still, Da-In.”
Through a haze of pain, Da-In could see a man on TV. He looked foreign, maybe American, with wild hair. She couldn’t quite understand him, because he was screaming. Or maybe because she herself was screaming.
“Watch, Da-In. Listen. You must be able to listen effectively.”
Deceptively strong hands gripped her head, pulled it up. With her hands bound, with her legs out of commission, Da-In couldn’t struggle much. The effort of keeping her head up was too much; she lolled downwards, saliva streaming from her open mouth.
The hands pulled her up again, held her this time.
“What’s he saying, Da-In?”
From the depths of her scrambled brain, Da-In tried to find her English. It would have been hard for her to make out the words even at the best of times; the singer’s voice was raspy, and he was banging hard on some preposterous instruments. “I don’t understand,” she mumbled.
A sharp crack against her left big toe. The pain was so strong, she felt it in her teeth. “Translate!” Sunny insisted. “This is your responsibility!”
Da-In moaned. She tried to listen. “He’s…it’s something about the moon? The moon is made of…cheese?”
“Good.” Sunny dropped Da-In’s head. Gratefully, Da-In crumbled into a fetal position, drawing her bound and mangled feet closer to her body.
A pad of paper dropped next to her head, alongside a pen. “Tell me what he’s saying, and I’ll write the lyrics down,” Sunny said, her voice as calm and bright as morning. “We’ll check to see if they’re appropriate, and then we’ll translate it, so the students have both sets. Then we can have an English singing competition! Won’t that be fun?”
Da-In was choking on her tears, but managed to listen. “The…bigger the moon, the f-f-fatter the…I don’t know that word, I can’t hear him.”
Her second left toe this time. “This is your responsibility.” She gave Da-In a moment to writhe in renewed pain. “If you can’t do this, you can’t teach English. You can’t be a teacher. You have to be perfect.” Her voice was rising in volume. “You have to improve! We can’t work together if you can’t do the work. Why are you making this so difficult? Why do you make everything so difficult?!”
Da-In heaved. “Please, please, stop, please…”
Sunny raised the hammer. Da-In cringed, shut up. “Tell me what he’s saying.”
Gasping, Da-In choked out the rest of the song, stopping only twice and losing only one more toe. Even in her current state, she couldn’t help but wonder what Sunny planned to use the song for. The words didn’t make any sense to her.
Finally satisfied, Sunny shut down YouTube and turned off Da-In’s monitor. “You must remember to turn these things off when you’re finished,” Sunny said disapprovingly. “I shouldn’t have to do everything for you.”
Da-In’s head was pounding. She drew herself in tighter as Sunny deftly cut the binding around her feet, then hands. “Mama,” she cried.
“Don’t be childish, Da-In. You were doing very well.” Sunny smiled at her, seemingly upside-down from where she lay. “If you continue to do well, we won’t need any more professional development sessions like this. Hmm?” She waited, her expression darkening. “Answer me!”
“Yes, Sunny,” Da-In gasped.
Sunny gave her a pat on the head, almost absent-mindedly. “Don’t worry. I am the best teacher in the school! Many teachers come to me to improve. You must understand our unique situation at the school.”
Da-In lay still.
“I’ll pick you up in the morning, yes?”
Da-In said nothing.
“Let me know what hospital you go to, and I’ll drive you to school.” Sunny entered the door code, opened it, then paused. “Oh, don’t close the door, or you can’t get out. I’ll tell you the code when you return to work.” With that, she left, the door wide open like a howling mouth.
Sunny sat in her classroom, humming pleasantly to herself. The students had scrubbed the classroom to a high gloss and were working in absolute silence. She felt unusually peaceful. It was always this way after professional development.
Director Kim rapped on the doorframe. “Sunny-teacher, a moment, please?”
Sunny stood up, preparing to exit the classroom. One of the boys in the back whispered something to his friend. “Ya!” she said, pointing at the guilty party. “In the back. Arms up. If you put them down before I return, you’ll do it again until I’ve decided it’s been long enough!”
In the hallway, Director Kim smiled. “Sunny-teacher, you must demonstrate these classroom management skills to the trainee. This is your responsibility as a teacher.”
“Yes, Director,” Sunny said readily. She felt a smile automatically brighten her face.
“Miss Da-In,” Sunny interjected.
“Yes.” He exhaled mightily. “Miss Da-In did not come to school today.”
“Yes, she injured her foot.” Sunny shook her head. “These young teachers…they’re so foolish. How could she be so clumsy?”
“It doesn’t demonstrate diligence.”
“Certainly not. I tried to call her and encourage her to come to school, but she irresponsibly lost her phone, as well.” Sunny sighed.
Director Kim paused. He gave her an odd look. “How do you know what happened to her if she hasn’t called you?” he asked.
“Oh! Email. I received an email from the hospital. Yes, they told me to pick her up tomorrow,” Sunny half-lied. “I’m sure she could have come today. So lazy.”
Kim nodded. He took another deep breath, straightened his spine, and clasped his hands behind his back. “It is our duty, and it is a very…sacred duty. Education is so important. But-“ and here he put his hand on Sunny’s shoulder, making her skin crawl- “It is your job to educate the new teachers.” He squeezed. “It is your responsibility.”
Sunny nodded. “Of course, Director. I understand perfectly.”
“Perhaps you could intrude Miss Da-In to some professional development?”
Director Kim smiled. “You may need to do it again.”
Sunny lowered her head. “Yes, Director.”
“You may need to do it several times.” His hand was squeezing harder now. She remembered her first week with him. “As you know, a professional development failure at this stage will require you to re-train. I’m sure you don’t want that.”
“Yes, Director. I understand”
“Very good.” With that, Kim walked away.
Sunny took a deep breath, ran a hand through her hair. She punched in the number for the hospital. Da-In had to return to work as soon as possible. There was a lot of learning to be done, and Sunny did not want to be in the role of student again.
|# ? Jul 4, 2019 14:01|
Some secret part of Captain Jack Hacker never thought the day would actually come, yet here he was, just outside the operating room saying goodbye to his wife and kids. War was never easy. Especially war with aliens.
“Goodbye Maleficent, Tucker, Jezebelle,” he said, and gave them each a loving pat on the head.
His wife (the youngest of the three) said: “Jacky, don’t go in there, I don’t want to lose you, baby!” Her big eyes were wet with tears and her lithe body squirmed in the agony of her worried love.
“I’ve got to go, baby,” he said. “I’ve got to do this for humanity.” Humanity, he thought, what was humanity anymore after this?
Just then, some construction crew who were working in the facility, which was recently damaged by an alien strike, walked by carrying a large pane of glass. Jack looked in the reflection at his sexy young wife who looked even younger than her 19 years. She sure was hot. Then he saw his own bulging muscles that tightened his sharp military uniform. His curly dark hair made him look way younger than his 51 years. His son, Tucker was tall and had a strong jaw and manly blonde hair that he got from his mother, Jack’s first wife, who was sadly killed in the Apnalix war. Then Jack noticed his daughter, Jezebelle, she was also tall, but had bright red hair that she got from her mother, Jack’s second wife, who was killed in the Yeezoo war.
What a pretty family they all made. But that would all change soon. It had to, if anyone was going to survive this new war with the Boonati. He sighed internally. His poor, innocent family didn’t know the half of it. They had no idea the hardened, badass killing machine their father was about to become.
“I love you all, please try to remember I love you when I come back out these doors.” He gave them all another hug, and gave his wife one last squeeze on her rear end. He’d miss her most of all.
He went through the doors which closed behind him like an ominous mouth, and quickly two doctors were at his side, ushering him onward. “It’s time, hurry,” said one, a tall, very attractive woman, he had time to notice, before they rushed him through empty, white halls toward the surgery room. “HURRY!” the other one shouted, a shorter, bald man. “The human race depends on us!”
In the surgery room Jack Hacker laid nobly on the operating table and a bright light shined on his eyes. Masked doctors leaned over him and held tools toward his face, then everything went dark.
Jack woke to complete darkness, and tried to open his eyes, but couldn’t. He realized then that it wasn’t darkness he was experiencing, but a complete absence of perception. There was simply nothing. He tried to scream, but couldn’t. Tried to move, but felt nothing, not numbness, but simply nothing. His brain roiled in turmoil, all he could feel was anxiety, fear. Emotion was his only sense.
A static filled his awareness and suddenly there were sounds. A woman spoke: “Jack, can you hear?”
He thought with as much energy as he could: Yes! And heard a synthesized voice say “Yes.”
“Ah good, that’s working,” said the same woman, which Jack now presumed to be one of the doctors who’d brought him in. “Hold on,” she said. “You should be able to see soon.”
Vision faded in from the black, but unlike before, Jack could see in all directions, up, down and all around.
“Wh...what’s happening?” he asked, though he still couldn’t feel his mouth moving. He saw the entirety of the operating room, the two doctors who’d ushered him in, and... on the operating table, a body. The face was covered with a sheet, but he recognized his own uniform. “Tell me what’s going on!”
“It’s alright,” said the woman doctor. The other bald man doctor said: “Yes, it’s okay. The procedure is complete.” They were on opposite sides of him and yet Jack felt he was somehow looking them both in the eye simultaneously.
“But, my body,” said Jack. “The new armor and weapons...”
“I’m afraid that was all a lie,” said the woman. “My name is Dr Spizak, and this is Dr Hibble, and we work for BRAIN. That is Brain Removal for Autonomous Interstellar Nexus. It is a government operation, and since you are a member of the military, your body is technically a weapon, and therefor property of the government. We can do whatever we like with it.”
“Brain removal?” Jack felt he should be screaming, but the voice came out in the same automatic tone.
“Yes,” said Spizak. “You see, human bodies have become nothing but a liability. Soon, you will understand.”
“Yes, you’ll see,” said Hibble, and threw his head back and laughed. “You’ll see everything!”
“What?” Jack didn’t shout. He couldn’t. “What will I see?”
He could fly, he soon found out. They’d attached an antigravity engine to the bottom of his brain. The bottom of ...him? He was his brain now: a floating brain with attached speaker and camera so he could see, hear and talk. He was an abomination!
But somehow he felt better... clearer. He could think about things he never had before. For instance... why had he always felt such an urge to kill anything non-human? Now, as a brain he felt different. He found himself wondering about the snippets of alien language he’d heard, and how it might be possible to speak with the Apnalix and the Yeezoo, whereas before, he’d only felt revulsion and desire to destroy them. Also, he wondered why he so rarely spoke to or visited Tucker and Jezebelle? Why had his previous marriages failed so spectacularly, and why in God’s name had he married a 19 year old? Jack had a hard time listening to the doctors as he struggled with these thoughts.
“...will be able to survive easily in the vacuum of space.” Spizak was saying. She’d been talking for near an hour about so many things, and Jack could hardly absorb any of it. “So, you’ll be heading to orbit soon, with the others.”
Jack noticed for the first time that Spizak was pulling at her shirt rather often. Then he noticed that for some unfathomable reason she had the top three buttons undone and her enormous breasts seemed ready to fall out at any moment, especially when she kept pulling the fabric and holding her chest out that way. “Excuse me, I’m sorry,” he interrupted. “But why are you dressed like that? Are you even a doctor? What is going on!”
Spizak nodded and smiled and buttoned up her shirt, then picked up her blazer, which was draped over the chair. “Yesterday,” she said, “you’d be having very different thoughts about how I’m dressed, wouldn’t you?”
Jack wondered: what have I become? And why do I feel so good about it?
The next day he arrived at the launch pad, but instead of a space-ship he just saw thousands and thousands of brains floating above the launch pad. Each one gave off a faint, electrical glow, and sometimes they sparked across to each other like open wires. The doctors urged Jack to fly over to them and mingle before a big announcement was going to be made.
As Jack flew toward the brains he felt a strange sensation of other thoughts washing over him--other feelings and memories. He felt a deep connection with all these people, thousands and thousands, all in the same situation as him.
At first the brains were all level out across the ground, but as more arrived, it just seemed natural for some of them to float up, and the whole group shifted into the shape of a sphere of brains floating above the ground. Jack found himself near the center, surrounded by thousands and thousands of brains. The different memories and emotions that sparked onto him from the others were so familiar and so vivid, that he often got them confused with his own memories.
Spizak spoke into a megaphone: “Human BRAIN of earth! You are the next generation that will save us from ourselves!”
Jack heard a dim roar of applause and looked down at the sea of onlookers he’d just noticed. He also noticed that he was seeing through the cameras of the brains on the outer part of the sphere. Somehow they were all connected and seeing through each other’s eyes.
“Up there, in orbit,” continued Spizak, “is a vast army of Apnalix and Yeezoo who have teamed up with our newest foe the Boonati, to destroy us! But war and violence has never solved our problems! It does not work! It has never worked! It’s up to you, the brain of our species, to find a new way to end this constant death, forever!”
The crowd cheered again. The sound, like rushing waves, rose up to the brains and filled them with confidence.
Jack got the idea--or maybe it was the idea of some other brain nearby, he couldn’t tell anymore--that they could all speak as one. Each brain used their own voice to speak in unison, a synthetic, yet booming voice fell on the crowd: “We will.”
The brains rose like a cloud of released balloons. Jack felt himself merging with them. All the memories and feelings of thousands of people spun and intermingled and coalesced into a single personality: that of humanity.
They used their electric powers and the antigravity to gather air around themselves as they rose, and in this way they took their own atmosphere into space with them.
Beyond the earth’s atmosphere the stars were bright as diamonds spilled on black velvet. Humanity’s brain propelled itself onward, out to the massive alien fleet waiting to destroy the planet. The ships hung over the earth like a million arrows ready to fall and pierce it to the core.
“We come in peace!” shouted the brain with all its force. It threw little bits of air at the Main Ship to carry the sound. Then, the brain, which was the new singular consciousness of humanity, realized that within its many combined personalities, there existed some research and translations of the Yeezoo language. So the brain shouted instead: “Yooboonoozoo! Ooo ooo boo boo! Woo!”
A tense moment passed, then the Main Ship opened its door and all the brains flew inside. The door shut behind them like an ominous mouth.
Inside, the brain of humanity looked around, and was shocked to see... other brains!
Several Yeezoo brains floated over to them, and said “Hello, we have learned human language out of respect for your new form.”
The brain of humanity was too shocked to reply, so the Yeezoo continued: “Yes, we also have become brains. You see, every species in the universe evolves to this point. The Apnalix, and the Boonati also have changed in this way. We detected your world centuries ago, and have journeyed here to help you, but every time we approached we were attacked. We had no choice but to defend ourselves, and many died. We managed nonetheless to transfer some technology to your people, and bit by bit, you learned what you needed to learn. And now, like us, you have become BRAIN. And now, humanity is welcomed to the Galactic Coalition of Beings!”
Everyone stood up and clapped.
Over the next decade humanity shed its hormone fueled bodies and became pure thinking brains without anger or lust, which are the leaders of all kinds of wars. Humanity worked together with their new friends, and so consciousness spread throughout the galaxy. It was a time of great prosperity and expansion, and everyone was happy, except for people who really wanted to have sex, because they couldn’t anymore, since new brains had to be grown in tubes.
|# ? Jul 4, 2019 20:31|
I'm back to the Thunderdome and in for this week! Get ready for my good words, losers.
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 01:47|
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 11:37|
My apologies for how late this is, good writers.
WEEK 358 CRITS
Surreptitious Muffin - Milk and Honey
I like this; the writing is very solid and there’s some nice turns of phrase. ‘Pain hollowed him out like rot in a tooth’ is great. I find the exposition a little confusing, perhaps because I’m not that au fait with NZ history - are the Prussians stealing corporate gold to fund the war effort, or is it just opportunistic robbery? But overall, it’s well written, and I like the quiet pathos of it taking place in our protagonist’s dying moments after the climactic explosion, rather than the detonation being the focus of the narrative. The language is spot on, too - a lot of people write nineteenth century dialogue/thoughts in far too archaic language, but this is good. This scores high.
Saucy_Rodent - The Southern Ladies Tea-Sipping Competition
This kind of satisfies the flash. I like the idea of satirising ex-slave owners who suddenly find they have no real skills during the Reconstruction, and the tea competition idea is good and could have been very in keeping with a social comedy, if it had been a narrative scene rather than presented as an article. However, the satire is too overt - you spell out and comment on how lovely they are, rather than letting the characters and their actions speak for themselves. On top of that, why is your story written as if it’s an article in a cultural history journal? That’s not necessarily a bad way of telling this story, but it’s not a social comedy.
It’s...not great, overall. I really wanted to love this, but while the thrust of the narrative is good, the execution is clumsy. I think the ending especially falls down - it’s completely believable as an outcome, but if you’re going to end with a false rape accusation and a lynching, you need to spend a higher proportion of your narrative on it, otherwise it feels throwaway. I also really dislike the last paragraph; it’s pointless and contributes to the sense of the audience being told how to feel.
WhoopieCat - Budget Travel
This is very bad. The conceit is good; the idea of someone literally knocking your rear end into another century is funny and I can get behind it. I do also like some of the jokes - there’s some loving atrocious puns, but luckily for you I like atrocious puns. The joke about your narrator cluelessly asking for ice is also good.
However, that’s about all there is good to say about this. The language is appalling - all of your nineteenth century dialogue sounds like it’s been taken from the 1611 King James Bible. People in the 19th century basically sounded like us, with some more formality and structure - they certainly didn’t go around saying ‘I hath been bewitched’, especially working-class farmhands like your supporting cast!
Also, while this is partly just a pet peeve of mine, I hate the use of ‘Then it all came back to me’ - characters suddenly recalling everything that happened to them in order to exposit the backstory is lazy.
In general, the narrative doesn’t go anywhere or leave us with much.
BIG FLUFFY DOG - The Rosebery Club Detective
So, I’m in two minds about this. Transplanting the idea of a fandom-obsessed nerd cosplaying as their favourite anime into an elderly, stuffy member of the House of Lords who’s become engrossed in Sherlock Holmes is funny, and historically appropriate - the Holmes stories were so wildly popular that Conan Doyle received a myriad of death threats after killing Holmes off in The Final Problem.
However, this just doesn’t stick the landing. We meander off into nothing very much happening, and it ends up suffering from an attack of ‘who cares’ - why not have some real conflict to see how far Byck will go to inhabit his character, or (trite as it is) have him accidentally happen upon a real conspiracy? As it is, we just sort of chuckle at him and then wander off.
On a more positive note, the final line made me smile; that was wry and funny.
Simply Simon - Hearty Stew
Good focus on the flash; I especially like the way transcendentalism is presented as a choice to be taken, rather than the objectively correct cause. Story itself is fine, however the writing is clumsy and the dialogue is especially stilted. That lets the narrative down.
Thranguy - From the Notebooks of Barron Tuesday: Secrets of the Sunken City
Really goddamn good. Fits the genre perfectly; the choice to use fragments in order to illustrate a much longer narrative is a great idea. Enjoyable pulpy story, and nice details (like Attic Greek being a precursor language to the lost civ, etc.) I like this one a lot.
Staggy - The Ghost of Oakchurch Hall
This is also really, really good. It apes the sensation novel style perfectly, with a slow build full of dread and mystery, creepy characters, and a nice unresolved secret. The nuts and bolts of the writing in this are fabulous. My only note is that a lot of time (and words) is spent on the first few paragraphs, whereas I would have liked more of the narrative to be devoted to the big reveal and denouement. Still excellent, though.
Shotaro - The Survival of the Swaggart
I didn’t like this as much as the other judges. I thought it was pretty good, and the dialogue is particularly well-written. However, there’s some really clumsy lines (‘his smile was full of hate, and his eyes were full of malice’) and I couldn’t find any connection with the narrator. I also think that the well-trodden ground of a creature that is too terrifying to describe is something that has to be invoked carefully to work, and here it just feels like a cop-out to me.
Derp - the 1800’s
Great title there. (It’s 1800s, no apostrophe, if anything.)
In all seriousness, this is a good one. There’s a real poignancy to the parents and their dialogue, artfully combined with dark slapstick as everything surrounding the corpse photography goes wrong. This made me feel creeped out, sad, and laugh all at the same time. Good work!
Anomalous Amalgam - What the Life Tree Demands
Bleh. I feel bad, but this one was just kind of boring. There’s some flashes of good description (in particular the description of the creature, and I like ‘gory permanence’) but the narrative feels workmanlike and obvious, and the ending is rushed.
Fleta McGurn - A Strange Diary Found
This is pretty good. I like the voice of your narrator in particular - it’s close to being twee, but it comes off as a good portrayal of a rebellious young woman. The voice does a lot of work, here, in fact, because I find the story itself to be silly - the monster isn’t scary in the slightest, and the method used to kill it is funny but dumb. Language and voice are great, though, so it makes me want to read more of this young woman’s adventures.
Ironic Twist - Circle
Yeah, I didn’t like this at all. The other judges loved it, so it was spared a DM from me - but I found it to be a meandering, woe-is-me narrative of what seems like unrequited love. The setting and language are fine, and you turn a nice phrase, but I just really wanted to slap your characters!
Solitair - Paid in Blood
Hell yeah! This is exactly what a penny dreadful should be: thrilling, violent, and action-packed. You hit your brief perfectly and it’s a fun heist story with good one-note characters. I like the choice of having your protagonist be the scared new blood rather than a hardened criminal, and I like the ending a lot. My issue that Cutter’s whole deal comes out of nowhere, and feels kind of unearned.
(Also, to be really picky, ‘Main Street’ is a very North American street name. It is picky, and there are roads in Britain called that, but it does take you out of the feeling of Victorian London heavily.)
Viscardus - Upon Odin’s Gallows
This is brilliant. You spent all that time in the Discord worried about what constituted a scientific romance, and if you were going to hit the beats, and then you went and did it perfectly. The language is great; captures the feel of a 19th century writer and provides good alien, hallucinatory description. It really has the feel of something Darwin might produce if given ayahuasca, and I like the communitarian one-ness of the Tree. The sad, quiet ending is the perfect way to wrap it up. We all really liked this one.
Antivehicular - Threads of Silk
A nineteenth-century midwife detective! Hell yeah. Go and make that into a novel, because that is a fantastic premise and you pull it off well. I like the setup, I like the way we follow Greta’s deductions, and Erik is a well-fleshed out and sad portrayal of a man, given the word limit.
The only problem with this is not really a fair thing to bring up - because you’re in a word limit, you don’t have space to explore or do much detective work, so we skip straight to the climactic scene and happen upon the murder in mid-disposal of evidence. Eesh. But like I say, it’s extremely difficult to write a satisfying detective story in a flash fiction word count, so I can’t hold it against you too much.
I’m not even kidding about the novel thing. This would be so good if given space to breathe, and interspersed with actual midwifery. If you don’t do it, I will, so get on it!
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 13:25|
Let’s start wtih derp:
Your opening paragraph is bogged down by cliche wording and a lack of general intirgue. There’s a better to handle intergalactic warfare then just a pithy throwaway line at the end.
And wait his wife is the youngest of three, including his daughters? Like, I’m sure that’s not what you meant but this is so drat confusing.
OK, yeah, this still confusing going into the third graph. I can’t tell who’s talking.
“Just then, some construction crew who were working in the facility, which was recently damaged by an alien strike, walked by carrying a large pane of glass. “ Come on derp, read this out loud and tell me it sounds like anything apart from a hot mess.
ABout 400 words in and I’m not seeing anything addressing the prompt of conflict between two people. I’m hopeful it’s coming, but it should have already been a part of this story.
Gonna stop the run-n-gun critting of this, but suffice to say: right now, I am not on board. I’ll provide some overall feedback following this, but let me know if you want more in-depth stuff.
Ugh, OK, breaking that because I’m now well over halfway through this thing and you’re still not even glancing at the prompt. This is basically a black mirror spec script and I certainly didn’t ask for that.
I barely want to finish this. The prose is clunky, the topic you’re going for is immensely on-the-nose and heavy-handed, and I don’t care about this dude.
Well, within the first 100 words you introduce a relationship that has some interpersonal conflict. You’ve already kinda won this because I’m not angry anymore. Yours to lose now, let’s see how you do!
Little quibbl so far (about 300 words in or so) is that I don’t really know what Da-In’s position is in the school. I’d like to.
We’re at Da-In’s house and I’m liking this a lot now. I keep on getting confused about what’s going on but my confusion matches Da-In’s and when I want to learn more, I do almost right away. This is good story-telling.
Read the rest qucikly. Well done.
My overall take away from your story is that this is one hosed up educational system! By the end, I’m not as sure about your handling of the prompt. It’s not so much about two people who can’t get along, but at least that conflict is there. This is mostly well done and I did enjoy reading it.
Verdict: In an absolute knockout, fleta takes this one.
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 15:55|
Thunderdome - Week 359 - Relationships - Judge Thoughts
Derp - Trophy
Employer & Hunter
Your opening paragraph is a bit clunky. Something about the sentence lengths all being long and run-on. It’s distracting from the scene-setting.
Having said that, the paragraph with the contracts shows good, varied sentence length and structure. It still feels a bit rushed but it starts to build up character nicely.
Okay, I’m only a little way in but you’ve made a thoroughly unlikeable PoV character. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but let’s see where you go with this.
… and next we have them straight-up hunting what is heavily implied to be the pregnant last-of-its-kind elephant. And then it ends with a textbook Mass Effect-style ambiguous morality ending. That’s it.
Let’s back things up slightly. You draw a parallel between the two roles that the PoV character inhabits - that’s good! You even suggest that it is the role of hunter that dominates and that this bleeds through into the role of employer - the saving of fired employees’ profiles as trophies, for example. The thing is, that almost feels unintentional despite the fact that it clearly isn’t, because there’s no depth there.
In fact, there’s no real depth to any of it. It’s just Jeff Bezos going on safari and realising that he can do whatever the gently caress he wants and what he wants to do is cartoonishly evil. The only real character development is the PoV deciding that the only truly immorality is when they don’t get to do whatever the gently caress they want.
You obviously thought about the prompt and you have some good words but this needed, at bare minimum, a). Something to happen; and b). Someone to root for.
Crain - Balancing Act
Sister & Rival
There's an alarm going off. It's important. Only you can hear it and you don't know what to do.
I think you do a good job setting a solid - albeit simple - scene for the story pretty efficiently. You worked the prompt in well and I thought you did a good job with the flash rule too - it’s not what I was expecting, which I always like.
Your dialogue fell pretty flat, though. It comes off as pretty robotic and lacking in voice and never really rises above an exposition dump. You could have summed it all up in a line or two of narrative voice, which would have benefited from being inside the PoV character’s head. Maybe try reading your dialogue out loud, see what sounds natural.
The ending bugs me a bit too. It just … ends. It doesn’t really have much of an impact because there’s zero chance for the PoV character to respond or react. There’s also no real foreshadowing that Martin knew something was up or was planning this. Stories don’t have to have happy endings and there’s nothing wrong with dropping the MC in it at the end but this felt more like the setup to Act 3 than it did the ending.
Djeser - She and You
Sister & Child
The language you use for the opening paragraphs is lovely. Scratch that. It’s all lovely.
The strict paragraph structure you use doesn’t detract from the story, given the prompt. It enhances the duality of the description. It works to set up and carry the plot without every actually stopping to explicitly set out what happens.
Simply put, you do an excellent job of telling a simple but bittersweet story through suggestion, implication and contract between the Sister character and the Child character. What do you want me to say? This is good.
Anomalous Amalgam - The Student and the Grandmother
Student & Grandmother
One day at a time
I like the world you’re building here, I really do. Lost in Space/Robinson Crusoe antics? Great. FTL via unreliable and poorly understood ancient phenomena? Great. Ancestral AI? Great. I just think you run into a few traps with it.
Firstly, you throw out a lot of in-universe concepts that don’t add a whole lot and are a bit jarring whenever they crop up. Capital-L Light is probably the worst offender. It just feels a bit like telling me the MC’s suit has a built-in sound system, only it’s called a Sonic Suite and doesn’t impact the plot. In longer stories you could develop this for worldbuilding flavour, if nothing else. Here it’s just taking up a limited wordcount.
Second, you don’t explain the rules of the world so it feels flat when you solve the problem. It’s not particularly clear what a Relay is, even at the end. It’s never clear why the solution is particularly clever or impressive (and therefore interesting) because we don’t know what was stopping the MC from thinking it up themselves. Without any real stakes or concrete obstacles, it felt rather deus ex machina.
Third, you leave some pretty big dangling threads - and that’s after using up your wordcount establishing them in the first place. Like the time dilation / slip - a whole lot of words to set up “so I guess nobody’s coming looking for us any time soon”. Or the entire discussion around the nature of the riftgates. It’s a nice discussion but it has absolutely no impact on anything that happens.
Good stuff but there’s no real try-fail cycle or struggle. I just like the image of the MC flying around with the AI ghost of her grandmother for company.
Tyrannosaurus - Cosanguineous
Grandmother & Hunter
Your story has nothing to do with Red Riding Hood. It does, however, feature wolves.
I like the direction you take the prompt and the flash rule. It’s just that not a lot actually happens in your story. At best, the idea that the boss is grinding them down, trying to force them to quit, only comes in halfway through the story in terms of wordcount. Then, boom - he’s dead, grandma straight up killed him. The end. There’s no creeping dread, no real suspense.
Also, why is he trying to force them to quit? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, I’m sure you could come up with a reason but you didn’t. Is he evil? Is he not? Having an overzealous and overprotective grandmother character could be a lot of fun, especially with the closing realisation that the baby is in the house with the extended werewolf family - but there’s no groundwork there. Everything is just neatly laid out without much impact.
Barnaby Profane - Exuviae
Prisoner & Teacher
The last thing you need is another secret. This one, however, is different.
I don’t mind your incredibly long run-on sentence in that first paragraph. It flows well and it matches the scene of continuous, blurred-together travel. The next paragraph is a bit clunky though - “A just staggeringly beautiful Indian woman”, for example.
The rest of the story doesn’t benefit as much from the run-on sentences. Don’t be afraid to vary your sentence structure, if for no reason other than readability.
As for the story itself, there’s a good contrast/theme of being trapped and being free. It could be developed more, though. For all that Jothana isn’t allowed to leave the rehab centre, that point never really gets driven home. As such, when she escapes to buy chocolate it doesn’t have much of an impact. There’s nothing about what happens if she’s caught, for example, or the dangers of being lost in a country whose language she doesn’t speak. It feels lighthearted, which is fine, but also inconsequential, which isn’t. Still, I appreciate an unambiguously upbeat ending.
Thranguy - The Modern Cronos
Master & Master
Two men enter; Three men leave
I’m a sucker for bombastic dialogue and you’ve got that in spades.
You didn’t need the paragraph about how the Master never tried to gently caress the assistant. I was more than happy to just assume that by default. You just made things weird and not in a good way.
Honestly, this just feels like weird for weird’s sake. There’s nothing very engaging to back it up. The toxic master-assistant relationship could have been a lot of fun to explore, so it’s a shame that didn’t happen. The assistant wants to kill the master but previously lacked the conviction. Why? The “god” wants them to kill. Why? There are the barest hints of lovecraftian horror but there’s just no meat on the bones.
Black Griffon - A Family Business
Father and Partner (i.e. cop, etc.).
Your characters must start as strangers and end as rivals.
I’m not saying your language here is “pretentious, presumptuous and annoying”. I’m not. Just keep in mind that you’re throwing around quite rich language at the same time as you write this - it comes off as a little bit meta. It doesn’t help that for all the description, I can’t actually picture the city. It’s empty calories.
This is nitpicky - and I appreciate that you felt pressured to rush a submission - but you needed another proofreading pass. “The langue”. “Letter in simple font”. “A smal tin can”. There’s more.
“Gold inlays on titanium, letter in simple font betraying remarkable craftsmanship in the layering of alloys to create a sign that told more than the name of the store.”
This is - ironically - overwrought. It means less than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t flow.
I realise the above comes off as rather negative - I think it just boils down to everything feeling rushed. I like your choice of scenes - I like the way they set the pace, even if I’m halfway through and still not sure what the story is trying to be. Your characters feel real and given some of your prose, your dialogue is relaxed and believable.
The story doesn’t seem to start until the 2/3rds mark, unfortunately. All of a sudden something is happening - but then it’s all over. We never really get a clear picture of why the son seeks to take down the father - presumably for abandoning him but that’s not really explored. Given the scale of the scheme - given that the son condemns an entire city to a slow, agonising death just to frame his father - you need rock-solid foundations of character and motivation right from the start. Otherwise you get this story, with a seemingly affable protagonist who is only revealed to be a mass-murdering sociopath right at the end.
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 18:56|
Thanks for judging and for the crits, Chili! gg derp
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 20:17|
Thanks to Staggy for crits as well. You illuminated something I've been unsure about when it comes to my writing, so it's both useful and appreciated.
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 20:38|
seems the subtlety of my prose went over some heads
to be expected
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 20:55|
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 21:26|
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 22:48|
seems the subtlety of my prose went over some heads
If you're salty, I will brawl you when I have time.
|# ? Jul 5, 2019 23:01|
Pardon my gush. IN
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 00:10|
Also I appreciate the crits, there have been several and I am due for some of my own
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 00:14|
If you're salty, I will brawl you when I have time.
I'm down. i lost my mind a bit for my previous two stories but i'm feeling saner now. lets do it
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 05:09|
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 05:28|
I'm down. i lost my mind a bit for my previous two stories but i'm feeling saner now. lets do it
I can't get promise to get anything done until 8/1. So if someone wants to step up and judge, that'll be when I can get it done.
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 12:44|
I can't get promise to get anything done until 8/1. So if someone wants to step up and judge, that'll be when I can get it done.
Derp and Chili, you're on my calendar. Prepare.
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 13:36|
I meant to say that I could have an entry done by then, so you don't have to wait until then to start it. Your call though, oh glorious judge.
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 14:31|
Oh, hey, signups are closed.
One judging slot remains.
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 15:06|
I meant to say that I could have an entry done by then, so you don't have to wait until then to start it. Your call though, oh glorious judge.
Good, I shall prepare.
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 16:19|
The only thing slower than Getsuya’s judging is waiting for a prompt for the Mercedent v Getsuya brawl.
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 16:40|
The only thing slower than Getsuya’s judging is waiting for a prompt for the Mercedent v Getsuya brawl.
yeah okay sure already judged getsuya's last one but if it makes u shut up then ill judge
prompt: magical realism horror
no word limit
due the 19th before midnight in california
rodent and mercedes u can collab to make one piece, or submit two different pieces or whatever and then ill just arbitarily decide who wins
|# ? Jul 6, 2019 17:38|
Chairchucker fucked around with this message at 12:33 on Jul 9, 2019
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 19:04|
Sorry, I’m Not Flying Again
flerp fucked around with this message at 01:51 on Oct 11, 2019
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 20:12|
Death and life walk side by side in the hospital.
I work in acute care inpatient areas. That means not the intensive care units, not the specialized cardiac care areas, not the emergency department; just the general wards where anyone might find themselves if they have to stay the night or the week in the hospital. People come to the hospital to get better and to learn what they will die of. Life begins and life ends in these places.
I am a registered nurse. Generations of my professional predecessors and I have cleaned up blood and poo poo, monitored heart beats and lung sounds, wiped brows, kept company, administered medications (whatever the medical profession is calling medicine at the time), and collaborating with doctors to care for patients. These days a nurse doesn't have to wear white, there is always another color of scrubs that is the dress code. After seven years of avoiding it, I've come back around to white half the time. It's a badge of pride: a nurse is in contact with bodily fluids and colored liquids of all sorts, and to maintain white clothing through the shifts, through the days is a testament to your attention to detail. It's what my professional ancestors wore and people still react favorably to it. I'm easily recognized in white, as opposed to the patient or visitor having to know what the color code is for the particular hospital. Is red nursing? Phlebotomy? Volunteers? An accident? White is always nurses.
I was not wearing white the day he died.
I was charting and my coworker, who had been a nurse at that hospital as long as I'd been alive, was making rounds. I heard her voice through open doors, though I didn't catch the words. She came out of one room and went into the next.
“Lazarus?” We'll call the patient Lazarus, though that was not his name.
The tone of her voice alerted me and I craned my neck to see over the monitor. Her next words were considerably louder.
“I need some help in here!”
I stood and saw the patient, Lazarus, in the chair. His face was a shade of gray-blue that people who are alive are not. My coworker was beside him and shaking his shoulder, which did not move as it should. She then slammed her fist into his chest: the precordial thump. It's no longer recommended by the latest guidelines, but old habits die hard and it's a quick thing to try. It didn't hurt him. This man was dead.
I called the emergency number that was posted in prominent places on phones and on cards we carried with our name badges. In a voice I hoped was calm and collected but was probably not, I told the operator what I needed.
“Adult code blue, seven south, room five.” The operator would send the page to the code team as well as announce it overhead. Then the team trained to help with such emergent situations will come running, as well as anyone in earshot. There are always too many people at a code. Whether from morbid curiosity or a desire to help, it's always a crowd. Before they all got there, I tore around the desk and into the room at the same time as three others.
Time dilated. It felt like fifteen minutes since my coworker walked into that room, but it had probably been no more than two. The five of us there lifted the dead weight of Lazarus into the bed, since it would be impossible to do chest compressions in that chair. It was surprisingly easy; adrenaline let five average people move 150kg smoothly and without effort.
The code ran like a demonstration in the classes we all take to prepare for this. One nurse started chest compressions. Someone started writing down times and actions, someone else cleared the room as much as possible. We got suction set up and brought a mass of brown flecks and liquid out of his mouth; had he vomited and choked? Not important now, we attached the defibrillator, all reaching around each other, side by side and smashed together, ten hands and five voices working together.
Except that it was so loud. A hospital ward is not always a quiet place, with people in pain, carts of food or medication or people or cleaning supplies going past, and so many different alarms beeping. During a code or other emergency, everything is much louder. It's very important to get communication right, but there's more beeping and shouting, and the adrenaline hit everyone is experiencing just adds to it.
The emergency doctors arrived and took charge, and the noise increased. The most experienced nurse quickly placed an IV in the patient's arm. We started fluids - one nurse holding a plastic bag above her head and squeezing so that sterile fluid shot down a tube and into the dead man's veins. The surreal focus of what had to be twenty, maybe thirty, professionals was all on coaxing one heart, one brain, one collection of cells and fluids to come back to life.
We paused chest compressions to let the defibrillator read the heart's electrical rhythm. A brief, erudite argument about the rhythm was interrupted by a nurse near Lazarus' head.
“He's grabbing my balls!”
Everyone went silent, staring at Lazarus' face, whose lips appeared to be trying to form words.
“He has a pulse!” There was a collective, happy relaxation of tension. Team members smiled. The recorder started gathering names for the code record. While computer charting is the standard, most codes are still written down on scraps of paper, on glass windows with dry erase marker, on scrub pants with sharpie, on bare arms with pen. This was when we all realized how short a time had passed, that all these things happened in the same sixty seconds.
Life is a tenuous thing, though, and Lazarus lost his pulse. We restarted chest compressions and gave medications that can help save life but can also cause the loss of fingers. A doctor was calling in the team of specialists who could thread a fine wire through Lazarus' veins into his damaged heart, look at the pattern of injected dye through a real time xray, see what was wrong, and hopefully fix it all through a little cut in either his wrist or his groin.
Lazarus gasped back to life. As we prepared to transfer him to the ICU where one nurse would watch him, his heart, and the medications until the cardiac catheterization lab was ready for him, he spoke with us. He was surprised and a little embarrassed by all the fuss. He asked what had happened. He pulled some specks of brown out of his mouth and asked us not to tell his wife that he had been using chewing tobacco. We laughed and agreed, and he left our unit with the team.
The gathered crowd scattered, back to their duties. I helped clean up the tornado-like whirlwind of plastic wrappers, empty syringes, and supplies from the room. Tiredness set in and a sense of accomplishment. Lazarus was alive for now because of our efforts.
That's the amazing thing: he was dead. He had no pulse and was not breathing. His heart was not conducting a rhythm consistent with life. When we finished there, his heart was beating, he was talking, and he was alive.
Most of the time, we don't see patients again who have gone to the ICU. Some of them die, some go to other units after their stay, others get transferred to other hospitals. Lazarus came back to thank us. He made as complete a recovery as possible. He walked back in, living and breathing in the physical space where he had died.
There are tales from years ago of people coming back to life, people drowned and coming back, or even buried and coming back. Humanity has seen this before. It is different to see it with your own eyes. It's different to know that there were a hundred thousand branching moments where Lazarus' path could have changed. Where Lazarus could have stayed dead and never come back.
I am a registered nurse. White sometimes symbolizes death and nursing is there for death. White also symbolizes life and nurses are there for that, too. Life and death walk this hospital and I with them.
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 20:18|
A Mormon Ghost Story
Disclaimer: This story contains beliefs and practices that have absolutely nothing to do with the actual beliefs and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Elder King - my missionary companion - was shivering from his fever on the bottom bunk, making the whole bunk bed rock. We had been to the hospital that day to get him some medicine, and the other two missionaries in the house and I had given him a blessing of healing before bed. At this point all we could do was wait it out and hope his fever didn't get any worse.
I was drifting in and out of sleep when, as I opened my eyes, I found Elder King's sweat-drenched face a inch from my own.
"Elder," he said. "Get up. We are under siege."
Let me tell you a little about Elder King. He had been converted from the Jehovah's Witnesses to Mormonism and he preached Mormonism like a Jehovah's Witness. It was with him that I had my first and only experience of being thrown out of someone's home on my mission, as he got a little too aggressive in condemning a family to Hell if they didn't hear the words of our prophet. You may think, over the rest of the story, that I am embellishing the way he spoke about things. I assure you I am not. This guy was a little package of pure melodrama.
So, caught up in how deathly serious my sick companion appeared to be, I slid out of bed. As I got up he ran to the other room to wake up the other two missionaries and herd them into our room. Looking at all of us, who had our undershirts untucked, he wrinkled his nose and said:
"Gird yourselves properly, Elders."
So we tucked in our undershirts. This, along with every other weird ritualistic thing you are about to hear, was not an actual Mormon rule.
Once we were properly 'girded', he explained the situation.
"Satan just tried to kill me," he said. "I fought him off, but I believe he is still here in this house, trying to destroy us. We must break the chains with which he bound me and expel him from this place."
My first assumption was that he had some kind of fever dream about being attacked by the devil, but I kept my mouth shut about that. I had once tried to tell him that sleep paralysis had a scientific explanation and wasn't a sign of possession only to have him say "Shut your mouth, Elder, before Satan fills it with more lies."
Besides, it's not like our church didn't believe in possession or exorcism. We don't have a big ritual we do for it like some other churches, but I'm pretty sure I could cast out a devil if I needed to. The other two Elders were caught up in Elder King's intensity, so we all just followed his lead.
He asked each of us to look up one scripture from each of the 'standard works'. That's what we call the 4 different sacred texts we use; the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants. I don't remember all the scriptures, though I do remember that he was requesting specific verses from memory. The only one I remember off the top of my head is 1st Nephi 3:7 from the Book of Mormon. It's about obedience to the commandments of God and everyone in the church knows it by heart since childhood.
After one of us would read one of the chosen verses, Elder King would hold out his arms, clenched fists upward. Think of how a prisoner would hold out his hands if he had handcuffs on. That's what he was going for. He then told us to pass the actual physical book of scripture between his arms. To 'break the chains', you see. Once we did that four times, he let out a shuddering sigh and sank to his knees. After taking a few deep breaths, he said a long prayer of thanks for the power of God vanquishing the Devil.
Cool, all better, right? Actually, this is where things get interesting. As you can tell from the way I wrote about his fears, I wasn't really buying his story about Satan taking the time to personally attack four 20-something guys trying to preach the gospel in Brazil. I just wanted whatever we were doing to be over so I could go back to bed.
But, as soon as our strange little ritual was over, it started to storm outside. Our cheap little house shook as wind howled all around us and rain lashed at our windows like it was trying to smash its way in. My skepticism was replaced by a strange feeling of oppression, like some kind of force was squeezing in on me.
"Be vigilant," Elder King warned. "This siege is not yet over."
Each of us returned to bed, but this time Elder King wasn't the only one drenched in sweat.
Laying on my bed, I tossed and turned. I wandered in and out of strange nightmares and flashes of heat and cold. At one point I lay awake in the dark, and I heard something through the storm. Over the howling and whistling of the wind and the pounding of the rain I heard a tapping. Tap, tap, tap. Eyes closed, I listened to it. Whatever was making the sound, it was not staying in one place. No, I could hear it growing nearer and more distant. As I listened, I began to visualize the path it was taking. The tap-tap-tapping thing was making a tight, square circuit around the outside of our house, going in and out of my hearing as it went around the far side. Never did it slow or miss a beat or seem hindered by the raging storm outside. Just that constant tap tap tap infiltrating my dreams and freezing me to my bed with fear.
Once it was light, we cleaned our house thoroughly and knelt down to perform a dedication. This is an actual prayer members of our church perform to bless their houses as sanctuaries from sin and darkness. We also set up a meeting with the mission president to talk about our experience and receive spiritual reinforcement from him. After that one night, we never experienced anything like it again.
Later, in the light of day and with my rational mind regaining its power over my emotions, I would tell myself that the tapping I had heard was the loud ticking of our alarm clock rather than the clicking of cloven hooves or the shiny shoes of a well-dressed man on the sidewalk outside our house. I would tell myself the 'attack' was nothing more than a fever dream, which had one missionary frightened intensely enough to catch up his housemates in the emotion.
But, I also know that I am a light sleeper, and would never have been able to sleep regularly with a clock that ticked so loudly. And, I remember the sense of distance and movement to the sound I heard that night. I also remember vividly the feeling of some great force squeezing down on me as if to crush me in its fist.
Regardless of what really happened, it was a night that reminded me those who believe in God must also believe in the Devil.
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 21:14|
The Man Who Was Too Calm
On one far too early Sunday morning a phone screamed in my ear. I took one glance at the clock showing 7 a.m., wondered just a bit and answered drowsily with my standard friendly greeting. The response was less friendly.
“Simon, did you drive drunk yesterday?”
This was a bizarre first question to be confronted with, rudely roused from the righteous rest after a Saturday well-spent: playing video games alone in my first apartment, having moved out at the mature age of eighteen. What made the question even weirder was the one inquiring.
“Grandma, first of all, no. Second of all, what?”
She then proceeded to tell me in her terse, efficient and pitiless tone about the what and the why. This night, around 3 a.m., someone had wrapped my car around a tree pretty far away from here and done a runner. Because the insurance was in my grandpa’s name, he and grandma were told before me. She, always glad to be a bearer of bad news, and not going to let emotions get in the way of Occam’s razor, had phoned me right away getting the obvious question out of the way.
She told me that the police would probably be visiting me soon, and, all information transmitted, hung up. She is an early riser, so I doubt she got woken, annoyed and now hoped to catch some more sleep; this was just how she has always been, and I’ve never minded. After all, we are a very calm family. I knew that my simple “no” was enough: she trusted it, and that was that.
Naturally averse to freaking out, I lay down in bed again to think. I was not sure if I was too tired to process the bad news correctly or just afflicted by characteristic ennui again, but I couldn’t really bring myself to care about the car. My first, a gift from grandpa, the most wonderful man I have ever known, his gentle warmth the perfect counterpart to his wife’s spine and words of steel, delivered with a love honed to mechanical perfection. No emotion like that resonated in the old Opel, just two years younger than myself. Angular and functional German engineering in a humble small car frame, sturdy but not hardier than a tree.
I decided that my feelings needed time and I needed to be more awake, so the obvious solution to both was what I wanted anyway: go back to sleep. And that’s exactly what I did, sinking back into a void of calm blackness, escaping the confusion of what might as well have been a dream to begin with.
The doorbell two hours later shattered that faint hope like a high note does glass. My eyes shot open imagining a windshield post-crash; this was real, and the police were here, and I was in pajamas.
No matter, of course. Two officers got greeted by my easy smile, I invited them in with an apology and offered a coffee. They seemed a bit taken aback, so I explained my composure.
“I know you’re here about my car, my grandmother told me.”
The younger of the two, more in shape and better shaven, cocked his head.
“And this doesn’t bother you…?”
I pondered for a second, trying to find the truth behind my feelings, because I’d been raised to treat the police with respect and don’t lie. My soul-searching produced: still nothing.
“It was insured, of course, and quite old – a shame, I liked it, but not enough to lose sleep over.” I indicated my outfit. “My offer of coffee still stands?”
This was the first unexpected visit in my very own place – I wanted to be a good host! The pair was rather not up for pleasantries, though, and ushered me into clothes and then their car. Immediately the questions started.
“Did you drive drunk yesterday?” I joked about having gotten that question before as I denied it.
“So if we were to test your blood alcohol content, we wouldn’t find anything?”
This took me an uncomfortable second to answer, as I recalled the beer I had with dinner yesterday, so…how many hours ago…?
I felt the atmosphere in the car shift, and caught myself from narrating my thoughts to prove my total honesty. Instead, I tried to give them a confident “No”, as I kept reassuring myself as well that no, of course this would not matter.
“Did you lend your car to anyone?” No. Parked on a public space at 2 p.m., then off to a single player game, which meant no alibi. But why? Surely they couldn’t think that I…?
It took another ten minutes of questions at the station, gradually increasing in intensity, until I realized that they honestly thought that I might have crashed the car myself, which from my point of view seemed completely absurd. How could I be so calm then?
“How could you be so calm?”, asked the more dedicated cop. “People usually freak out when the police shows up to tell them their car got crashed.”
I was getting annoyed at this point, but had no explanation to give except my personality. Which of course wouldn’t fly with this guy. The other was a bit friendlier, but mostly out of apparent boredom. To this day I wonder if they tried a good cop – bad cop routine. This is a feat completely impossible for German policemen, and the thought hilarious in a vacuum. In the moment though, it was simply frustrating, because they would never be able to unnerve me enough to “spill the beans”, let alone of a crime I never committed.
One thing, however, almost broke my congenital calm: a bomb dropped on the bunker of my confidence, the real reason for their pushing the perpetrator role on me. They took over an hour to tell me this, and I was at a complete loss for words and relaxed explanations: the key had been in the ignition. The car had not been hotwired.
For the first time during this entire affair, my heart rate rose, and I had to actively fight for my calm, a scary feeling. I grasped for familiar, and familial straws, and told them to ask grandpa, who had purchased the car for me and polished it up a bit before handing it over.
“You know, you can just tell us if you had an accident. There is nothing to gain by lying.”
Because the bored cop was busy with the phone, the motivated one had switched to the good cop routine, and the situation had reached the level of surrealism that I was just accepting. I kept to my story that there was no story, and wondered how we had spent two hours with this nonsense already.
“Getting aggressive will only serve to incriminate you.”
My tone of voice had betrayed me. A tiny lump of dissonance had grown into something resembling actual worry: why were the keys in the car?
But finally, before I had to re-evaluate the true worth of calm detachment, bored cop returned. And told me grandpa had come through, as he always used to do. While handing me the first, he told me about a second set of keys in the glovebox, and that I should probably immediately remove them to put them somewhere safe. And I told him sure, and, well, didn’t worry about it.
Again, motivated cop simply could not grasp that I had not cared about this detail, or about the whole car in fact, but that’s the way of things, and eventually, he had to give up. Besides, the car was a complete wreck, and I had no injuries. There was, from the beginning, no way I could have crashed it myself. But tell that to a bored and a disgruntled policeman on a Sunday morning.
Only bored cop was with me now, crouched over his computer, filling out a form, finally deciding that they’d treat this as a robbery. Or a theft? The program misbehaved, and bored cop cursed a lot. And then, in a moment that did shape my worldview more thoroughly than the previous, tepid lessons about perhaps being a little too calm, he turned to me with a sigh.
“Did you ever think of becoming a police officer?”
“Not really, no.”
“Good. Keep it that way.”
I instantly knew that they would never find the people who stole my car, and I was right.
Two weeks after this Sunday, when everything had gone back to normal (there had never been a reason to freak out, as I had known all along), grandpa gave me the car’s contents salvaged before he took its carcass to be scrapped. This is how I obtained a free CD with Eurodance remixes of popular songs that hadn’t been in the car before Sunday.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s still fingerprints on there. I have yet to unpack and listen to it.
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 22:59|
I Want Candy
I’d like to thank everyone for coming to services today. Numbers have been a little low lately, and I was starting to worry that maybe my sermons- for lakc of a better word- were leaving people a little cold. So, now that I see our congregation is more or less back to its usual size, I thought I’d let you all take a look into my past. My root. My inspiration, if you will, for the person I am today.
I just wanted candy, I swear. The kids who go to Religious Ed always came back with candy. I never got candy; my mother was a health nut. The best I could hope for were carob-covered rice nuggets, or something qually horrible.
Here was my plan:
1. Tell everyone I’m a Christian now and have to go to Religious Ed.
2. Get candy.
3. Eat candy.
4. Have a reliable weekly source of candy, and also people will stop picking on me for not being a Christian.
I still think it wasa good plan. It’s not my fault that I didn’t realize that I was absolutely, totally, and completely going to Hell. You’re laughing, but it’s true! I found out, when I was six years old, that I’m going to Hell.
When I came home that day and told my mom I needed the Bible right away, she just gave me a confused look. I had to admit I’d gone to Religious Ed. Dad had signed the permission slip without really reading it, so I thought I would get away with my scheme.
“I told you three times no,” my mother said in exasperation. “You know what those people did at the town hall meeting, Jenny! They threatened to kick you out of the school! Not that they could, but that’s not the point. I said no.”
“Mom! Just tell me where the DARN Bible is!”
She looked . Finally, she made a crabby noise and said, “I don’t know if we have one, Jenny. If we do, it’s in the basement.”
So I thought, maybe I’ll get out of Hell for a little while for going down there, because the basement is scary and gross, and I hate it. But I took a flashlight, and I went anyways. I was totally prepared to do whatever I needed to do, except if there were spiders, in which case I was going to die and also I was going to have to ask my dad later. And get made fun of for being scared of the spiders. At that point, though, I was going to be able to talk to God and Jesus and ask them for stuff because I was going to be Christian as soon as I touched that Bible. That means you get to ask for stuff and they have to give it to you because that’s the deal.
I was pretty lucky because the flashlight had batteries and because the Bible was on a shelf, not in a box. I smacked at it with my brother’s hockey stick until it fell off the shelf. No spiders. Clutching it to my chest, I marched past my mother with my nose in the air. Once I was upstairs, I broke into a run, sliding under the bed with my rabbit in one hand and the Bible in the other.
Let me back up.
It had started out really well. I sat next to Alyssa DeSantis on the bus and she let me wear her watch for a minute. When the bus driver asked me why I was there, I chirped, “I’m new!” She didn’t call my mom or check with the teacher.
Alyssa and I held hands on the way into the church. There were beautiful puffy flowers on either side, and they smelled amazing. The church had stained glass windows, which were cool, but also a little weird. I had seen stained glass windows at the Greek church when I went with Grandma. They mostly looked like ugly people making weird faces, were made up of many little pieces in different colors. These looked newer, but not as nice, and were honestly kind of boring and simple- just a picture of sheep, or two praying hands. They were a lot easier to understand than the Greek kind, but not as cool.
Two old ladies appeared and, without saying a word, launched into some religious song. Everyone stood up and sang along. I didn’t know the song, so I just stood up and moved my mouth. I tried to move it a lot to show that I was really interested.
Everyone sat down and one lady started talking about Jesus. I couldn’t see the candy anywhere. She went on and on about how Jesus was good, and nice, and loved everyone…I mean, even I had heard that stuff before. I tuned out.
After a few minutes, the lady said, “Oh, we have a new student today.” Everyone looked at me, and I smiled.
“What’s your name, dear?”
“I’m Jenny Mitchell, and I’m in first grade, and, uh, I’m seven?”
“What church do you go to, dear?”
“Uhhh, we don’t go to church,” I told her.
I was pretty used to kids making a big deal out of that, but I never thought a grown-up would do it. She looked really sad, but it was fake. Do you remember that? How grown-uyps would say they were sad, and look at you really sadly, but you just knew they were actually angry? “People who don’t go to church go to hell,” she said.
I didn’t say anything. There was a weird feeling in my throat, like someone was pushing their fist against it.
“Your mommy, and your daddy- do you have any brothers or sisters?” I nodded. “Yes? You’re going to hell. All of you will be going to hell.”
My eyes watered. I really didn’t want to cry.
“You’re going to hell because you don’t believe in God.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I could lie, and say that I really did believe in God, but then God would know I was lying. If he was real. And also I didn’t really want to say that I believed in God, because I didn’t want to lie about something important, and also because people picked on me all the time for not going to church, anyways. So I just blinked.
She talked for a little while longer about how people who don’t go to church are bad, basically. I had a really weird feeling as I stood there. I knew that she wasn’t being fair. It was the first time I had ever absolutely known that something wasn’t fair, and it was pretty comforting. At the same time, though, it was also really scary, because I had always operated under the assumption that what was right would automatically be acknowledged. So, that was my second revelation: just because you’re doing the right thing, in your point of view, doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing. In fact, you might be a villain.
I barely noticed when she finally told me to sit down, even though she forced me to remain seated for the rest of the class because I obviously wouldn’t know the words to the songs. She reminded me of that pretty often.
Going back, no one wanted to sit with me on the bus.
Oh, and I got my candy. It was a candy necklace. I normally loved candy necklaces, and tried to save them forever, but something made me crunch the whole thing in down in a few vicious bites. My cheeks hurt from the sugar.
The fear of the unknown, the helplessness of being a child, was really what sent me scurrying under the bed. I didn’t really believe that lady at church, and I didn’t really care about Jesus, but she told me that Bible was a weapon against things that would hurt me, and I had no better sense than to believe her.
A lot of things happened after my mother found me under the bed and coaxed the story out of me. First of all, they stopped giving out candy at the religious education classes, which didn’t win me any friends. Second, my mother was branded a Satanist and good, pious people threw dog poo poo on our lawn.
I guess what I really wanted to say was that, without this experience, I never would have seen the true righteousness of our Lord and Savior. I never knew about the struggle against the darkness, what people do in an attempt to avoid evil, and it really opened my eyes. It wasn’t long after this that I found my path. What I was born to do.
So, today, I really want to thank that woman- whatever her name was- because without her, I wouldn’t have found my way. My destiny, if you will. She said it first- I’m going to Hell! Hail Satan!
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 23:10|
|# ? Jun 25, 2022 22:50|
348 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW
You are moving against the tide on a busy street in an unfamiliar city. A cafe leans towards you, the lace-curtained flat above precariously balanced, like a toddler riding atop their parent’s shoulders. Potted cacti, narrow wooden benches and mismatched cushions are arranged in a simulacrum of retro coziness on the pavement. You have only to accept the illusion, and you could be so comfortable here. The open front door exhales steamy coffee breath, and breathes you in.
You step over the sloping sill and take in the mounds of green on the counter; a pyramid of granny smiths, a metal bucket full of kale, and avocadoes in a wooden trug. The blackboard menu promises to be whole and organic, foraged and free-range. It is poor people food, for the rich. Wholesome, healthsome and guilt-free.
You realise the man behind the counter is watching you. He has a Korean face, a thin moustache, and a Billabong t-shirt. You dart to an empty table and sit down, facing the window, and tuck your handbag between your feet. The table is Queen Anne style, its delicate legs wobbly.
On the wall to your left is a framed picture. It is a photograph, manipulated in development so that image is indistinct and the colours are a wash of reds and pinks. Rectangular red forms jut out into a hazy pink ocean, like some sort of huge, brutalist wharf. Similar shapes are reflected in the top half of the frame, hovering in the sky like a ship in a sci-fi movie. A price tag is stuck to the wall next to it. You could just buy it, you realise. You try to imagine what that would feel like, and shake your head.
Outside the window light rain is drifting down. The sun catches the falling drops; they could be snowflakes, or petals. You blur your eyes and watch them dance through the air. Car tyres shush across the wet asphalt, a quiet counterpoint to the baseline of the cafe’s house music. Billabong comes to your table. Your bentwood chair creaks as you turn to face him, and order a pot of sticky chai tea.
The floor of the cafe is laid with red and white rectangular tiles, lovingly arranged in a tessellated pattern that looks like sharp-edged flowers. There is a gap where the floor should meet the wall below the window. Past the dust bunnies you can see a lost pencil nestled against the wall’s bricks. You wonder if the bricks are simply resting on the dirt, with no real foundations, like so many Victorian terraced houses. A potted palm tree in the corner does a poor job of concealing where the crack continues up the wall, meandering through the off-white render before disappearing under the moulded cornice. That there is comfort and beauty in this old building’s imperfections is another illusion, you think, yet you smile as you see a spider scuttle from the crack in the wall to its web in the corner of the window.
You startle as your tea is placed in front of you. The teapot is tall and cylindrical, decorated with pink elephants marching past a background of blue palm trees. The tip of the spout is chipped, the inside thickly coated with tannin residue. The cup doesn’t match; it is plain white and tea-stained. You lift the teapot lid and with closed eyes inhale the rich smell of ginger, cinnamon and honey.
A girl sits down at the next table, a splash of colour like a flock of rosellas, and you drop the lid back into place with a clink of ceramic. She is wearing beautiful dark red Dr. Martins, a green skirt with a high, flattering waist, and a pink shirt patterned with yellow triangles. The toes of your own scuffed tan boots are tucked against your handbag. Your pale jeans are too big around the bum, and you don’t know if your loose maroon knit jumper is fashionable. Horses gallop on gold chains hanging from the girl’s ears. You finger your own empty earlobes, and wonder if any of their multiple piercings are still open.
Suddenly the girl looks up and smiles. You instinctively smile back. The tables are very close together. You are going to say hello; the air is already in your lungs. You will ask her what it’s like to live here, about what she likes to do. You will imagine yourself in her life, wearing brightly coloured clothes and talking to strangers in cafes with peacock confidence. The words are heavy on your tongue.
The girl waves, and her friend joins her at her table. They share an embrace, and you quickly look away.
The picture on the wall is a just photograph of an old city street lined with skyscrapers, hung on its side. You liked it better before.
You cradle your tea cup in both hands, the butts of your palms touching and the tips of your middle fingers meeting inside the small, round handle. The chai is thick, sweet and richly spiced. Small fragments of tea leaf settle at the bottom of the cup. You uncurl you legs from under your chair and stretch out your tight calf muscles. Reaching down you retrieve your phone, and take a picture of the smiling elephants. You send the teapot photo to a close friend, with no accompanying message, and then you put your phone back into its pocket in your bag. You will let yourself check for a response later.
The cafe’s bathroom is up a rickerty set of stairs, on a landing where three more tables are jammed. You have to step over the shopping bags of a woman and her teenage daughter to reach the bathroom door, which squeaks. You pause in the doorway, realising that you have left your handbag unattended at your table. The girls at the table next to yours are laughing. It will be fine, you tell yourself, and with a little frisson you let the door swing shut behind you.
The worn linoleum floor of the bathroom slopes towards the back of the building. On the door of the stall is a poster advertising a concert. On it is a drawing of a man’s head. He is screaming. His skull is split open and his brain bulges out, the cortex unfurling into worms that writhe across the paper. Underneath, in red block lettering, the poster says:
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizards!
Saturday 6 July, the Wild Rover.
On your way back to your table you again finger the holes in your earlobes. You pour out the final cup of chai from the teapot. The tea is over-brewed now, bitter tannin cutting through the sweetness of the honey. You take out your phone. Waiting for you is a picture of an alleyway lit by a giant lightbulb. You smile; there is no accompanying message. You write, I’m going to see a band of Lizard Wizards, and hit send, daring yourself. You know that there is a version of you for whom this is true, if only you can find her.
You drain the last ginger-sharp dregs and stand up, shouldering your bag. Your belly is warm, and the cafe is beautiful. The front door exhales you out onto the street, and you join the flow of the city.
|# ? Jul 7, 2019 23:28|