Sebmojo has since asked for a line, noting it here:
Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.
|# ? Aug 15, 2019 10:47|
|# ? Dec 6, 2021 21:17|
Things That May Yet Shine Again
I timed my arrival to Cachetano’s wake carefully, so that I might go unnoticed. Arrive too early and his grieving widow would recall me for my kindness, remembering me among the first to arrive. Too late and I might slip awkwardly into a crowded room bereft of available chairs, drawing attention as I struggled to find a place to sit. None of that would do when my goal was to burgle his home during his memorial.
Cachetano lived in a modest two-story house, partially dug into the hillside to fend off the sea chill. Only one looked out toward the street. Very good. There were rumours Cachetano’s laboratory possessed a secret tunnelway, a passage that led directly to the palace. I’d have to be careful—
The front door swung open. A pale, sad woman I didn’t recognise, her cheeks dabbed with rouge to liven up her wan countenance, spotted me and startled.
“Professor Aloiso. I’m… surprised to see you here.” I recognised her then as Cachetano’s daughter, who’d been only four when I last saw her. She held the door open for me, inviting me into her home as though I were a welcome guest.
“Constança,” I put a hand to her back, half-embraced her. “Your father and I, our paths may have diverged in life, but however it ended, for many years I called him friend.”
She had others to greet. I let her slip away.
Though Cachetano’s home was small, it was richly decorated, its gleaming wooden chattels and brass fixtures evidence of both their owner’s wealth and taste. Gas-lamps flickered upon the walls, bathing the sitting room in their warmth. I thought of my own home with its mudbrick walls and candles for lighting.
The wake was a loose, unorganised affair, replete with drinking and song and impromptu speeches. Few who knew Cachetano recognised me, so distant were our good old days. At some stage, the string of revellers to which I’d become attached drifted through a couple arched hallways and into a smaller, cozier chamber: Cachetano’s study.
There, while his new moneyed friends marvelled over his contributions to chemistry and astronomy, I swept my eyes over the painted spines of his many books. Certain titles leapt out at me, familiar tomes which we’d loaned one another and discovered together and even gifted to one another, and each panged through my chest like the strike of a hammer. I had not expected to cry, not after where Cachetano and I had left things, yet tears seeped threateningly into the corners of my eyes.
Someone passed a bottle of walnut liquor around, potent stuff that stings the eyes. I swigged deeply. I toasted not the man who owned this study with its marble-slab desk and fluted glass chandelier, but the man he used to be, the dogged seeker who poured long hours into his books alongside me at the Universitat, a fellow starry-eyed dreamer who believed with all his heart that if we simply wrung enough hours out of ourselves, we could cure this city’s ails and shape it into something better than it was. I mourned him but I did not forget my mission.
At last, the mourners moved on to the next stop on their parade of grief, leaving me alone in the study. Cachetano had drunkenly told me once, the both of us laughing over a recent breakthrough, that if he ever had a secret laboratory, he’d hide the passage behind his bookcase. It would be a laugh, he’d said, to fulfill that old cliche.
Well, the man had died the personal Alchemist to the King. As alchemy wasn’t strictly legal, there was bound to be a secret laboratory. And leading to that laboratory was bound to be a secret passage.
I pulled on the gas-lamp fixtures on either side of the room’s prominent bookcase. Nothing happened. Twisting the cast bulls-heads that adorned them produced a similar result. Just as frustration threatened to overtake me, a last idea occurred: I grabbed the septum ring that hung from the left-hand bull’s nose, then pulled.
With a groan of its internal machinery, the shelving slid sideways, revealing behind it a dreadful dark stairway that descended abruptly into places subterranean and unknown. Mindful that I could be discovered at any moment, I slipped inside. As the door slid closed, I crept down the stairs, which pitched forward at a lethally sharp angle.
Distant illumination guided me down the hallway, which was scarcely wide enough for two men to pass side by side. I, being taller than Cachetano, had to crouch as I moved through. The flooring creaked above me and muffled voices filtered down, mourners belting out a hymn of farewell.
With each step, my pulse quickened. By the time I ducked into the small, circular laboratory, my heartbeat roared in my ears like a locomotive.
Here, within these crumbling stone walls, was everything I sought. The room was stuffed with things alchemical: waxes, balls of hair, bottles of powders and liquids unknown to me, alembics and mortars and bellows. Inside my satchel, a dozen tiny glass vials would allow me to spirit away the samples I needed. Cachetano may have forsaken our work at the Universitat in exchange for fortune and patronage from the royals, but I would ensure his elixirs were replicated. I could reverse engineer them, bring their benefits to the people.
I stepped over a series of chalk-drawn circles upon a floor. A sprawling transmutation circle, its border carved with arcane symbols to harness the elements’ power.
As I approached his worktable, a heap of suede-bound journals caught my eye, gathering dust upon the benchtop. I lifted the top volume and flipped it open to a random page, hoping I’d stumbled across a cache of recipes and research.
Instead, concise and hard-angled penmanship spilled my former friend’s soul across the weathered pages. A diary.
Before I could take in much, the harsh scrape of stone on stone jolted me from my reading. Hushed voices hissed down the hall, lowered to evade detection.
The hallway I’d crept down was bare, nowhere to hide. I searched the laboratory in vain for a suitable hiding place. A confrontation seemed imminent. But then I saw it—the large circular oven over which Cachetano had boiled his elixirs. If I crawled in and laid upon my side, I could perhaps just barely fit…
There was no better option. I hinged the heavy copper door open as quietly as I could, then climbed inside. The fit was tight, but I just managed to draw the lid back up, curling my knees tightly against my chest, Cachetano’s diaries cradled against my stomach.
Two sets of footsteps crowded into the room. I could make out their words when they passed close enough by my hiding place: one man telling another to keep his voice down, saying that they had to be quick. Fellow burglars then, others who had the same spark of inspiration as I.
Soot tickled my nose, the oppressive stink of burnt firewood making breathing difficult. Sweat began to bead upon my brow and my exhalations grew raspy, strained. I was certain they would hear me, if not the rasp of my breath then the hammering of my heart.
Glass clinked outside as they began to rifle through Cachetano’s belongings. One of them passed close enough to the oven that I caught a glimpse of scarlet and silver through the tiny crack in the oven door. The king’s men! My next breath was a choked gasp of horror.
The footsteps ceased. Quiet fell over the laboratory. They’d heard me.
Slowly, the scarlet and silver blur, a glimpse of imperial overcoat, moved back into my field of vision. I held my breath. I closed my eyes. I willed my blood to stop circulating if only it would buy me silence.
“Come on,” a voice whisper-growled from close enough that my stomach spasmed. “Help me lift this.” More scraping. A weighty clunk. It dawned on me that the looters were heaving the big glass vessels off the oven’s boiler plates, not searching for me at all.
How many hours I stayed huddled inside that oven I cannot say. I felt the muscles of my legs tighten and cramp and bit my lip through it. When the footsteps disappeared off down the hallway, I forced myself to count to a hundred before I slowly eased the oven open.
Cachetano’s lab had been thoroughly ransacked. Not a vial or bottle remained. The beakers and vessels upon the alembics had been stolen away, as were most of the powders and substances on the workbench.
I curled a fist against my mouth and choked back a bitter sob. That wretched man, our king. Once again sending his foul, far-reaching fingers into my world to steal away science that could benefit the hungry, the sick, the old.
First he’d seduced Cachetano away from me. Now he’d taken Cachetano’s secrets, too.
My body ached, my heart even more so. I sank to my knees and let myself cry. I wept for the friend I’d lost and all his squandered potential, for the pain and fear I’d felt and all the nothing it had gained me.
Well, perhaps not nothing. Sniffling, wiping at my eye, I glanced down at the pile of small, curl-covered journals that had tumbled from my lap. Cachetano would never be so foolish as to commit his recipes to paper—the king’s temper changed with the wind, a man who left his solutions in writing could one day find himself no longer a necessary man to keep around.
I flipped one open, paging through it, immersing myself in the little details of my former friend’s life. He’d always had such an observant eye, quick to notice minutiae that I missed. And a mouth so quick to smile or frown about it, a face incapable of shielding his feelings from the world. I read how he spent his mornings, the observations he made on the flight paths of migratory birds, the sheer delight at which he noted an unfamiliar species of butterfly in the palace gardens. Wealth and influence hadn’t changed Cachetano as much as I liked to tell myself it had.
My breath stalled when I spotted my name upon the page.
Spotted Jabir Aloiso in the markets today. Too cowardly to call out to him. Regretted it for the rest of the evening.
Intrigued in that guilty, eavesdroppers’ way, I skimmed further down.
Wish I were a stronger man. Wish I had the stones to admit Jabir was right. But this train I’m on, it feels like it’s thrown its brakes. Can neither turn nor stop it. The what-ifs haunt me. But sometimes what is broken cannot be patched. Sometimes there are no second chances.
I swallowed, trying to tamp down the urge to cry anew. What was this? I came here for the good of our people, to make something good out of Cachetano’s greed. Not to read this. Not to feel this. How dare he. I wanted to throw the book to the ground, to stomp it into oblivion. But now that I’d begun, I couldn’t stop.
Cachetano carried in his heart a lifetime of regrets. I read each and every one, absorbed them into myself, his posthumous confessor. For all the disdain with which I’d envisioned his crying widow and child, I was now the one blubbering on his floor. The universe was impossibly cruel, birthing us two so weak, so unable to reach across the gulf to one another.
Sudden, sparrow-quick, a glimmer of gold danced across the pages of the diary in my lap. I gasped, starting back, and saw the gold for what it was: evening sunlight. Blinking, I tipped my head back and gazed up toward the ceiling.
A tiny, perfectly circular hole had been drilled through Cachetano’s house, so that he might harness the sun for its magics. In my grief, I hadn’t noticed that I’d fallen in the center of his transmutation circle.
My tears caught the sunlight and rendered it molten gold.
|# ? Aug 15, 2019 11:20|
In, and in need of line
|# ? Aug 15, 2019 14:31|
me vs siddharta salad fight:
We Called Him Cesar
A hue of green like none ever witnessed in nature. Yellow veins on thin skin. I lurch toward the irresistible smell. I salivate in anticipation of the crispness, the shock of flavor. I bare my teeth.
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with salad. As a child I was obsessed with spinach, primarily due to the cartoon character Popeye. I believed that the deep green of the leaf held some primal power that would increase my strength. I would eat meals composed entirely of spinach, boiled into a mush or eaten raw by the handful. You can imagine the quantity of spinach required to satisfy a growing child’s belly--I regularly drained the bank with my cravings. When there was no spinach and I was forced to eat bloody flesh like the other children, I would stamp and scream so loud the neighbors often called the police. Once, my shrieks reached such a crescendo that my father’s crystal whisky snifter shattered in his hand. A shard entered his eye, permanently ruining his vision. He often squinted that eye afterwards, much like the Popeye character.
In my teens I began experimenting with other vegetables. Lettuce, carrots, radishes, all varieties of cabbage, onions, and more. I tried new combinations constantly. I believed there must exist a perfect salad, I only had to find it. By the time I reached my 28th birthday I’d tasted every commonly eaten vegetable on earth and had visited sixty-two countries in order to do so. I had begun experimenting with rarely eaten plants such as fireweed, dandelion and curlydock, and even other, less legal plants. But it was not enough. My palate craved some unidentifiable flavor. Something was missing. A ghost resided in the back of my mind, something I’d never know yet felt the absence of.
When I met Jen Wimple my life truly began. She held the key I didn’t know I’d been looking for.
Jen was the tallest woman I’d ever met. She was seven feet tall and thin as bones. She reveled in stares, and constantly wore vertical stripes to draw attention to her stature. “I eat only leaves,” were the first words she said to me. I nodded and knew I’d met a kindred spirit. I soon learned that Jen was a geneticist and worked on producing pesticide resistant crops. Her passion, though, was salad. “I’ve produced the greenest, thickest kale you can imagine,” she said. I had to look up at her and that was a strange sensation for me, a six foot tall man. “Come to my house, and try it,” she said. She put a hand on my shoulder and her fingers hung over and down across my shoulder blade, I felt unable to say no.
In her apartment, which was immaculate and bright white everywhere, she showed me her kale. It was greener than anything I’d ever seen. It tasted like pure, vibrant life. She made me a salad and we had sex on the kitchen floor for two hours. I barely remember the sex, but that salad, the crisp perfection of the mixture, the clean, throbbing life of it has never left my mind since.
But still, it was missing something.
We talked about that something constantly, for hours at a time, all through the night and often during sex. At first I thought that it must be related to the texture and the level of crunch. But it was more than that, and Jen proved it. Her kale was no more crunchy than store bought kale. We tried bite after bite, for days, to prove this to ourselves. It was not more crunchy, but it was more something. After six weeks of eating her kale and comparing it against all other types of kale, we settled on a term to describe the something.
Jen’s kale was more alive.
She thought it must have to do with the DNA. When creating her Kale she’d combined it with certain aspects of seaweed and spinach for enhanced color and survivability, but she also included, for reasons she never explained to me, squid DNA. Other variations without the squid DNA did not have the same aliveness that we first experienced as crunchiness or vibrance.
After pinpointing the cause, it was a simple task to enhance it further.
Months passed. She used my inhumanly sensitive palate to guide her biological tinkering. We found that I could detect the tiniest variations in her genetic manipulations, and could always determine whether they were closer to the final taste than the previous version.
After that first hint of success our obsession deepened. Jen used lab equipment indiscriminately, at all hours. We slept in her lab for weeks, avoiding her colleagues. We hosed under tables, knocked over microscopes and spoiled test samples for other projects with our sweat. We worked constantly with few breaks for food. We worked, and tasted, improved, hosed and tasted and improvised.
One day Jen had a bright idea. All the DNA we’d been adding to the kale and spinach was leading us down a path. We went from squid DNA to various bird DNA and then pig, and ape and dolphin. The mammalian DNA seemed more alive somehow, and the more intelligent the better. Jen’s bright idea was to try human DNA.
That was it. The crunch, the crisp, the pure vibrant life of the greens we made with human DNA was beyond anything we’d hoped for. We gorged on it, got sick, vomited, ate more. The biting into it was irresistible. We bit and tore and ripped with our teeth into the leafs and crunched on stems and roots like animals crunching bones for marrow. We ate constantly. We barely hosed anymore and I barely noticed. The greens were everything, that perfect taste.
Except, it wasn’t quite perfect. And I only noticed this after I noticed that Jen was not satisfied. This was not, in her mind, the final taste.
It took me months to realize Jen was pregnant. She said it was ours. We always used condoms but there were plenty of ways she could have managed. She always got what she wanted out of me. She ate more and more, inhuman quantities of leaves, and continuously rubbed her swollen gut. It unsettled me to see such a tall, thin person become swollen in the middle. She was like a thin branch with a cocoon hanging from it, or a long pea with a single oversized pod. She gave me constant, knowing looks and said over and over “wait till you see it.” I did not at first notice that she always said ‘it.’
Jen refused to see a doctor under any circumstances. She grew to an unreasonable size, and I begged her to go but she refused. She told me it was ours and no one else’s. She stressed ‘ours’ and said it over and over. When her water broke and a green-tinged liquid oozed across the floor, something inside me twisted with the primal opposite of revulsion: a kind of desperate, sickening attraction. The strangely familiar smell that slicked the inside of her legs made me gag with a choking hunger.
She overpowered me, forced me into the hall and locked herself in the lab. I pounded desperately, waited, pounded some more, vacillated between calling an ambulance or not. The smell prevented me from calling. I wanted no other man to smell that smell. No one but me. Mine. I salivated, swallowed convulsively. Painful hours later, she opened the door. “Come see it,” she said, and led me by the hand like a small child. I trailed behind her as if on wheels. A bundle of cloth sat in one of the lab sinks, stained the color of bruises. A keening sound wafted from it, like a leaking balloon. I floated toward it and suddenly I was there, looking down into the sodden, crumpled towels in the sink at my child.
Leaves of the most brilliant green I’d ever seen curled and glistened and seemed to throb with life. Little yellow veins pulsed as if with blood. They smelled so green. My mouth flooded, spittle poured down my chin. I panted and my nostrils flared, and all this before I saw the face and tiny grasping hands within the leaves. The muffled keening raised in pitch and I saw the mouth. It was full of leaves that grew on the insides of the cheeks. The eyes, useless, burst with leaves growing from the eyelids, from the tear ducts. The nostrils, the ears, bloomed with bouquets of green, beautiful green. My heart thundered and my skin tingled. “It’s ours,” said Jen, and she bent to kiss its head, or that’s what I thought. Instead she bit into a leaf growing from its forehead and tore savagely, jerking her clenched teeth side to side. The leaf ripped and yellow spattered across our child’s face and it shrieked and flailed. Jen’s eyes were dilated pure black, her cheeks smeared yellow. She bit again. The smell was overwhelming. I could not resist. I bit a leaf growing from the back of its little hand and the crunch was like the crunching of tiny bones, and the burst of crisp flavor and the burst of wetness on my tongue screamed more! More! I tore and crunched and my head knocked into Jen's head and we pressed against each other, our heads buried in the sodden towels in the sink as we bit and ripped, and the shrieking grew louder, like a siren, a warbling, dying bird.
Then the keening stopped. And the next bite was missing that something.
|# ? Aug 15, 2019 14:48|
In, and in need of line
Leap! Leap up, and lick the sky!
|# ? Aug 15, 2019 23:51|
Take The Anomalous Moon Blowout Brawl Result
This was a great brawl. You both showed up with interesting pieces that you'd clearly put effort into. Nice work. You certainly didn't make my job easy.
Black Lung was beautiful and thought provoking, but confusing. I loved some of the language and images, such as, "She has sorrow worth torrents that she can’t release," and, "The offspring slips closer like one turns a page." I thought the characters - the cursed one, Tagata, Eloal and Cirra - were fascinating. I would like to read more about them.
But, the last line of this story starts with, '"What do you mean?" she says,' and I confess that at this point I was asking the same thing. Like looking at an abstract painting, I enjoyed trying to work out what the artist was trying to say. But, even after several reads, I'm still not quite sure what the ending of this story means.
Things That May Yet Shine Again, on the other hand, is competently written, but feels like the outline of something bigger. Aloiso's journey through this story - from his commitment to his 'mission' and resolution to steal his dead friend's secrets, through to confronting his own grief - is well-done and satisfying to read.
I'm guessing that the city this is set in is supposed to be fantasy / medieval, but this isn't actually clear, and confused me initially. Similarly, it feels like there is much more to the relationship between Aloiso and Cachetano than you managed to fit into your work limit, and this weakened the story's impact.
So, which one of these is quote-unquote better? Who deserves the win? At this point please picture me pulling at my hair in an agony of indecision.
Take the moon's story was a wonderful jumble of colour and ideas, but there were so many in there that ultimately they got in each other's way. I really had to concentrate to work out what was going on, and the ending left me feeling a bit lost. While Things That May Yet Shine Again felt like it wanted a longer word count, it had smooth, clear prose and well-edited ideas. I hope you both do more with these stories - editing / clarifying and expanding respectively - because they are both worthy of further polishing.
Anomalous Blowout wins
|# ? Aug 16, 2019 09:24|
thank you for the crit.
|# ? Aug 16, 2019 11:31|
First wave of crits for week 366:
Locally Harvested - Weltlich
Words write good:
Being the first story out the gates means you have a lot of influence on a judge’s mood too, the more mistakes you make the less tolerant they become, and you’re not buoyed by the preceding story being amazing or (let’s be honest) much worse.
Specifically, your first paragraph needed to be flipped to grab my attendance. Don’t make me wrangle a jejunum and a duodendum and a really weird use of the metric system in your opening sentence - you haven’t earned my patience for that. Get to the important bit. You could have started with “This young lady’s guts are shredded” and cut everything beforehand.
Story tell good:
This isn’t TV. I get what you were doing with the collage approach painting the picture - but all you really did was slowly reveal a worldbuild, and not enough reason to care about it. Give me personal stakes - give me a story with characters that want or need things and tell me what they do to get them. Thunderdome is about small stories with big impacts, use your word allocation wisely to land a gutpunch, and ask yourself what each line is doing to deliver on that.
Conspiracy twist good:
This is one of those stories that took the prompt and added an “and”. Usually I’d be pretty lenient on prompt adherence, but this was a week where prompt creativity mattered. “Watermelon seeds grow inside you” AND “it was the corporations what did it” wasn’t enough to set you apart from the pack this week unfortunately.
The King is Dead, Long Live the King - Yoruichi
Words write good:
Yes words write good. You often strike a good balance between economic, purposeful wording and evocative imagery and this piece is no different.
I think maybe you could have attempted to weave your opening paragraph into the bingo hall scene - starting with “Bullcrap..” would have been livelier than the lore-dump you opted for instead.
Story tell good:
Yes. Two big caveats for me though.
First - While it suits the story, your characters don’t have a lot of depth. They’re little avatars that wander around your story scene and trigger events, but I don’t feel like they live and breathe and need.
Second - Your song choice. You chose to match a gospel Elvis song with a gyrating Elvis dance routine. That was enough to break the spell of your story. Even if you can show me a video of Elvis doing his sexy sexy dances to a song about religious salvation, that’s not enough to carry the incongruity.
Conspiracy twist good:
gently caress yes. Nailed it.
At Sea - Djeser
Words write good:
In the light of day I’ve softened on this, but I found the piece of paper I hastily scrawled notes on during a train ride home from work and I have to say I still agree with some of past steeltoedsneakers’ observations.
Your opening para left me adrift a little too much - the knowing what dying is, but not believing it could happen to your mum, but having the idea of “spirit” made me wonder more about how old this fictional child was than feeling the saltspray on my face.
Also you did this: “Every day you spend on the sea, your mother slips further down into the sea.”. If this was intended it didn’t look it.
The temporal setting of this story was unclear, you gave me too much runway to imagine a boat and then you dropped a nylon blanket on it. The introduction of that detail made me reset the image of the boat in my head, and that’s jarring in a short piece like this.
Story tell good:
I liked this piece, but there’s a thing about these stories that you kinda need to be wary of. If you’re on a boat or in a car, it’s really easy to go “wait wait wait - witness a thing - wait wait wait - witness another thing - wait wait wait - we made it - the end”. Don’t let your characters be passengers: what did the mother do during the journey to ensure they found Finland. What did the son do? What decisions or actions could have been taken?
Conspiracy twist good:
Yep, I liked this take.
God's Plan for Hyderabad - Simply Simon
Words write good:
I think you had something good here, and I’m a sucker for stories that uses catholic catechism as source material. This was dense though - the heavy prose demanded attention from the reader without giving them enough in return.
There’s also a bit of a distinction between the rich language you employ for world-building, and the less deft wordplay that you use for dialogue and action. If you're going to lovingly slather your story in buttery words, don't miss the edges.
Story tell good:
While I did find your choice of location, character names and the role of the Catholic church somewhat at odds with each other, I thought you spun a good yarn here.
I also thought you could have been a little more deliberate in exploring Vanya’s growing doubt in the mission.
Conspiracy twist good:
Yeah, good job here.
|# ? Aug 16, 2019 22:53|
The blue glow of the vidscreen illuminates the drab utilitarian room, the light making Navid’s already pale face ghostly. He sat hunched over a metal desk bolted to the wall, watching the vidscreen, waiting for the crackle of artifact errors to resolve themselves into a pair of large brown eyes and a wide smile. Nima, Navid’s son, two light hours away, yells - yelled - in delight when his image finally comes into view.
“Nima,” Navid beams. “I see my present has reached you. I want you to open it carefully, get your mother if you need help. There is a secret inside, beneath the bottom of the crate. It’s nothing la-la, but I think you’ll like it. Your mother might have to tell you want it is.”
Navid falls asleep watching the vidscreen, awaiting the seven hour delay as his signal is bounced off of a relay station in orbit around Titan, Saturn’s moon, and is then passed around half of the solar system to reach its destination, a bleached planet Earth. It would be quicker, by almost half, but he was using a pirated signal. The quality was poor, but when the planets aligned he could actually afford to watch a live stream this way.
When Navid awakes he finds Nima holding up a small bundle of freeze dried vegetables to the screen. “Madder say it terrer!”
“Yes, it’s very good,” Navid says, his recorder off. “They’re the real thing, organic.”
“You makan dys?”
Navid turns his recorder on.
Before Navid is a thin tray of gruel, a few grey-green cubes, and carrot orange sticks, which neither resemble carrots in taste or texture. But it is a wonderful meal, as on the vidscreen Nima and his mother are preparing a salad. The child’s first. Nima sneaks some spinach, perhaps because it is the deepest green foodstuff he has ever seen, and at first he smiles as he gobbles the leaf down, but then he frowns. He looks at the camera, ashamed.
“That’s the oxalic acid, it makes it bitter. But don’t worry, your mother knows how to balance it out.”
When the preparations are all done, and Nima is seated in front of his vidscreen light-hours away, he takes a forkful of the greens and hesitates. The spinach has made him weary, but Navid figured something like this might happen. Through the vidscreen speakers Navid hears his own voice begin to sing.
“Little Peter Rabbit was hopping through the farmer’s field, little Peter Rabbit was hopping through the farmer’s field, little Peter Rabbit was hopping through the farmer’s field, and he ate up all his carrots!”
Nima laughs, bits into his salad, munching mouthily. Navid picks up his orange sticks and chops down.
“Little Peter Rabbit was hopping through the farmer’s field…”
The meal goes on with father and son sloppily tearing into their meals, light hours apart.
|# ? Aug 17, 2019 02:19|
Sign-ups are closed! From hell's heart stab at it, folks.
|# ? Aug 17, 2019 11:52|
The Salad Bowl:
I’ll have detailed crits later; derp wins. Derp’s story aimed for disgusting and hit true, Sid’s just didn’t have enough substance to really warrant its existence.
Thanks for writing, both.
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 01:01|
Ty. I am proud. I like kale a lot. this is why I won.
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 03:56|
this week needs a couple more judges
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 04:13|
There is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the badness of stories.
(volunteering as judge)
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 05:49|
Thanks for the crit, sneakers! Also, I'd be happy to try my hand at judging
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 07:53|
I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. || Hellrule: All of your characters but one are dead, but they still have to do stuff.
From On High || 1,321 words
Eden wasn’t good enough for the rich, so they renamed it Bar Harbor. Before that, though, they built a church. Or rather, they did as the rich do and ordered a church built. It stands today, deceptively massive within, replete in deep mahogany, Tiffany stained-glass windows gracing its walls.
Fifty yards down the road, the workers then set about building a church they could attend. It, too, stands today, every bit as small within as without, uncomplicated stained-glass windows meekly adorning the sides of its lone gathering hall, thick white plaster falling in heavy, dangerous chunks from its waterlogged ceiling. They hit the church floor like a mortar round.
It is there that Benjamin works, caring for the grounds and guiding curious tourists, many of whom are looking for the church up the road.
If they stay and ask about this church, the old man begins by walking them through its tiny cemetery. The stones are well worn and crooked, slumping out of the grass as though pushed through by something restless underneath. Occasionally, a tourist will ask if anyone famous is buried here. Benjamin simply gestures to the condition of the stones, then to the church up the road.
Thirty years ago, he would have discussed the religious, social, and economic complexities of the era and town at length. Like the workers’ gravestones, time and the elements have eroded this explanation to only its most vital pieces.
He stands among the workers this morning, looking down at the stones and grass, hoping for the sake of his back there aren’t any remaining stray weeds to squat and pluck. It is early. The sun only found its way over the trees a little bit ago. The chill of the coastal night hasn’t left yet. Satisfied with his work, he walks the thin gravel path toward the front of the church and makes his way up its rough stone stairs.
It’s here Benjamin will typically stop the tourists and explain, pride peeking through his hushed voice, how the beauty of the nicer church betrays its lack of use—and how silly it is to build a place of worship too nice for you to worship in. He’s found over the years that telling the tourists this before taking them inside replaces their looks of concern, amusement, or disdain with looks of quiet admiration. Suddenly, the holes in the plaster ceiling that expose the beams underneath are more … charming. The pews, creaky and warped from daily morning masses and almost a century and a half of salt air, are given a pass. He helps them see it as he does, and inevitably they are grateful.
“Grateful, that is the word I was looking for,” says a soft, old voice from behind him, and Benjamin turns quickly. The morning mass is not meant to begin for several hours yet. He’s about to remind his visitor when it is meant to start—this would not be the first time one of his fellow townsfolk, their age catching up with them, had shown up at an odd time dressed in their best—when he catches full sight of her and freezes in place.
Joyce Weatherby. Lovely as anyone, inside and out. Long-time member of his church. After retiring from decades spent teaching the fourth-graders of Bar Harbor, present for every morning mass—until she wasn’t. Cancer had taken her two years ago. Benjamin attended her funeral. Everybody did.
He continues to stare, his mouth frozen slightly agape—as though it fully intends to leap into action, if only his mind could be spurred into working. Mrs. Weatherby picks up the slack.
“Grateful is absolutely the word,” she says. “I was just thinking to myself this morning as I walked over, how grateful I am for this place. How grateful I am to you, Ben, for keeping it standing.”
She walks by him on the stairs and continues inside. He turns in place to follow her path with his baffled gaze. His shirt, the back now warm and damp, clings to him.
“Mrs. Weatherby,” Benjamin manages to utter as he slowly follows her into the church. “What—”
Benjamin doesn’t finish his question, though Joyce doesn’t look as though she’d turn around to respond anyway. She walks calmly to the same pew she occupied every morning and sits, her posture perfect, hands crossed daintily in her lap over her small purse. She was always one of the few tiny enough to take a pew without it groaning under the strain.
“We’re all grateful for that, I’d say,” calls another voice, this one from the corner—low, gruff, and familiar. Benjamin turns again, his eyes adjusting to the dark just as the figure is slowly walking out of it: Pat Benson. Young, compared to Mrs. Weatherby, but dead all the same. A heart attack took him during his morning jog months and months ago—maybe a year already? He’d been cremated, the ashes spread into the harbor a few hundred yards out. And yet.
Words feel like a foreign concept for Benjamin. Pat smiles and walks slowly, deliberately, toward the pew across the aisle from Joyce.
“Still working on that suspended ceiling, Ben?” he asks, pulling at the legs of his trousers before taking a seat. The pew doesn’t groan underneath him either. It certainly used to. “Need to get that roof fixed up. Plaster’s already giving out. Dangerous.”
Benjamin tries to remember if he ever discussed the suspended ceiling with Pat. He’s almost positive the first moves on it were made at least a few weeks after the ceremony out in the harbor.
“It’s, uh … it’s coming along,” he says, weakly, reaching one hand behind his back to tug lightly at his shirt, which now feels soaked through.
“Said that about the bell, too, as I recall,” Pat says, his eyes betraying just a touch of whimsy. He looks over at Joyce, who’s smiling back at him patiently. “Three years now, I haven’t heard it but once.”
“Don’t harangue the man, Pat,” she says. “He’s done his best. And you did get to hear it, didn’t you?”
“Sure, sure—eventually,” Pat says, following it with a familiar chuckle.
Benjamin clings to that familiarity as if it is the only thing keeping him rooted to the ground. He looks from one to the other, eyes wide, question after question failing to fall through his lips. It feels as though he has awoken to find his bedroom floor stolen out from under him. His eyes begin to blur, and he blinks to clear them.
The room sways gently. Benjamin reaches out to steady himself on Pat’s pew. It’s cold, and slightly sticky from the morning air. He stares at the ground, trying to focus on something static.
“You’ve done a wonderful job, Benjamin,” Joyce says to him, compassion in her voice. “Keeping a church this old standing in a place like this? A wonderful job. A man’s work.”
Even with his eyes closed, Benjamin can feel the room swaying and swinging around him, faster now, more harshly. He doesn’t sense Pat leaning in, but his voice is closer, quieter—calming—when he speaks.
“Go on, son,” he says. “Nothing to be scared of.”
Benjamin pries his eyes open and tries to look up. They take a few seconds to adjust to the light.
He blinks a few more times, and realizes he’s on the floor. He notices that despite the warm and wet flooding the back of his shirt, he feels cold, as though that coastal chill has somehow gotten worse since dawn. He swears he can hear the church’s bell.
As his eyes clear, he looks up at the ceiling—it lies in front of him now, distant, looming—and notices a spot directly above in which the roof's soaked wooden slats show harshly through a gap in the heavy white plaster.
It looks unfamiliar. He stares at it for a few seconds more, and then he is gone.
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 12:07|
no it's not obligatory but it is insanely weak given he's just called the entire population of the dome poop-devouring molluscs lol
Don't forget, exmond >:]
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 15:27|
I won't make the deadline for personal reasons so I have to withdraw from this week sorry.
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 17:25|
“The glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars!”
Every stolid son of Jamestown Centrum wept the day the Energy Men bought our sun. They gave their rationalisations and their projections with the same breath they gave the evacuation orders. There were five-thousand-and-twelve settlements nestled on the planets and asteroids which swung around Aldebaran, and eighty-four billion souls. All to be left in the dark.
The people cursed the Energy Men and their project, they spat at their mention, and they crossed themselves and threw themselves onto the batons and shields of their henchmen. But the people were tired, for they had all worked so long, and it was easier to be defeated.
It was only the layabouts and degenerates of Jamestown who still had some energy left, whose hands were still soft. That is my clique, my rank. I remember coming out of a daze really feeling, stronger than any high, the reality of the situation. If the rest of them out there want power to fuel their war machines, their extermination fleets, find it from some other star. Not mine. Not mine. I moved to make plans with my parents, but a companion of mine told me they had left already without informing me. I settled back down and lay in front of the window ‘til I got sunburnt. My companion, the most beautiful in seven districts, pressed their hand against the burns until I was ringed with their prints. I told them I was going to go into action. They smiled absently – a few days later they found a wealthy suitor to leave the system with, and I didn’t see them again.
Hours and days I spent wandering around the Jamestown archology as if sleepwalking; the sun, already obscured by little dark blots, baked the dirt roads beneath my feet and as if from nightmares the Energy Men’s squads would come block by block to menace the tardy, the penniless, the louts and the lame, all the ones who hadn’t evacuated yet, or couldn’t afford to. The visitors would leave with loot sometimes, valuables requisitioned for the project, and blood on their knuckles more often than not. Once or twice, I thought I saw myself intervene, step in to protect the people, but I had just been dreaming on some street corner. Through the waking glare I witnessed two bald men with cracked lips fight to the death for a shuttle ticket. Neither won.
I wasn’t a born warrior. My body was made for pleasure, for loving. I was sentimental, but most of all I was a burden, and I didn’t need to wait in line for sixty hours for some golem-looking clerk to tell me I was way down the leaving list. Where-ever they ended up, I hoped my parents enjoyed saying to each other that they told me so.
When everything dimmed to blue at midday, a cold spike ran through me. It was too early, surely? There was still time before they blotted it out for good? I raised my eyes and was not comforted. In that moment the sun wasn’t obscured by the rings of satellites even now drifting into position, but instead by dozens, maybe hundreds, of shuttles all leaving port at once. Like a flock of starlings I’d seen in old books, the murmuration of each and every flight path calculated every instant. Within twenty-four hours of witnessing this, I had stolen a shuttle of my own and flew it towards the star.
The small shuttle was perched on the landing pad of one of the luxurious upper estates that had been abandoned early on by inhabitants with money and property to burn. Landing here instead of at the heaving main port gave some degree of privacy. The groundskeeper, left behind by their employer and owing me a favour from when I had fetched those things they had liked, gave me the keycode to the servants’ entrance.
I thought there was only one engineer present. I thought I had taken precautions and made my observations but I was halfway to the sun before the engineer’s assistant slipped out of their hiding place in the utility closet and tried to brain me with a wrench. If I hadn’t caught their reflection in the window while I was piloting – but I swung round, entangled myself in their body, used fist and teeth and headbutted like a maddened goat. Each of us pushing around this cramped cockpit and the blood in my mouth crystallising with iron.
I did not stand over them when it was over but instead weighed my body down on theirs. Shallow breathing, flushed cheeks. I was in a cold sweat before I saw that our fracas had somehow left a significant tear in the spacesuit. I needed that.
Sinking back into the pilot’s seat, I resumed course to the centre. From here I saw the swarm of satellites drifting in and out of precise position – some in Jamestown had thought it would be more like a sphere or a shell, locking the sun away, but it was more akin to a million little buzzing insects shifting and dancing over a corpse, or an intricate lattice in semi-distant orbit. I didn’t really know what to do.
I pulled up close to one of the satellites, and sent signals to some kind of maintenance door on the outer side. The thing chirped back asking for permissions and codes. I would have to enter manually. The rip in the spacesuit exposed the right side of my torso, so I packed it with padding, clipped and bandaged and taped the thing together the best I could. I tucked the engineer’s assistant in the utility closet as securely as I could bother. I tried to think of some prayer or calming mantra to recite. I am an old soul in a young body. Then the doors opened and I flung myself into the roaring vacuum of space, cradling a fire extinguisher.
If only the padding were enough! I had already flew drat close, perhaps thirty-five yards to the maintenance door, swinging forward in little bursts, but my right side was made of thorns! I could feel my skin sizzling and fraying apart and flesh turning to stone all at once! The cold and the heat and the cold and the heat drowned out my screams for agonising eternity until I buckled against the door. Thudding and scrambling in nothing for the air lock lever. As I was reaching out my joints sung in sensational torture! Then the pressure sucked me in like the tide and my body must’ve hit the depressurisation button on the inside as I flew in.
For a long little while I was just a heap. I had let go of the fire extinguisher at some point. When I got to my feet somehow and stumbled into the control room – more of a compartment really – I slouched against a steel wall examining a keypad and some dim monitors. There were no windows, of course, to the outside, but it was just close enough to Aldebaran that every surface cooked. Apart from the monitors no lights in here either that I could see. Hot and dark. I thought about dying in here.
“Well, it’s like a chain reaction, isn’t it? Like dominoes and whatever.”
“I guess that’s how that worked. It’s not like they’d happily come out and explain it since – “
“Since it’d be embarrassing for them to admit they designed their Dyson thing with this big flaw in it.”
“Right. I was saying – I mean it’s a closed inquiry anyway. So, right.”
“Yeah. It did look nice though. I was, I was with the kids and just trying to find some grub and then it all gets a little brighter. And even the puddles are sparkling and I’m, I look up and squinting obviously and there’s all the little dots that are going out and – “
“ – it’s all just getting brighter, brighter even than how I remember, and people are all stopping to look, all looking up and. And I said, you know, ‘Oh. Sun’s coming out.’”
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 22:09|
Flash rule: Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.
For You, My Love, A Hubris
The sun is napping when Grizelda finishes hammering the last nail into the final plank of the platform at the top of the staircase. The old woman gives her work a fond pat; she’s spent the better part of eternity on this construction, having gathered her materials from a hundred thousand different times and places—but now, at last, she stands amidst the stars. She can’t see them of course; the staircase is for the moment concealed behind a tarp of clouds, to protect her work from the petulant sun.
Soon, very soon, she will unveil her creation, and reclaim from the sun the half-face of her wife. And then she and Eleanor will stand together at the apex of the world and look out into the glittering aether, and when Eleanor smiles for the garden of stars before her, it will be with lips that are whole for the first time in an epoch.
Grizelda clambers down the bespoke staircase, past strata of old cars, the hulls of ships, huge bricks of recycled plastics, ancient space shuttles, marble columns—anything of a useful size that could be easily plucked from the lazy, circular river of human history. There are numerous trees around their home—an endless forest of them, in fact—but to harvest an eternal tree is to create an eternity without that tree, and Eleanor had talked Grizelda out of using lumber at the project’s outset.
Oh, Eleanor, Grizelda muses as she nears the bottom of the staircase tower. Were it not for you, I would be no better than the capricious sun.
Her affectionate mirth turns to annoyance, however, when she finds herself greeted at the bottom of the tower by a gaggle of neighbors who’ve come to gawk at her progress. Eleanor stands among them, wearing a mischievous half-smile. The missing half of her face is wrapped primly in a pale blue scarf the same color as the sun’s domain in the sky—one of Eleanor’s many small ironies.
“Have your wings melted off yet, eh Icarus?” taunts their closest neighbor, Tholomul.
“I find you most impressive, dear Tholomul,” Eleanor says in a congenial tone. “Here in eternity, nothing ages, yet your ‘Icarus’ quip has managed to get old.”
Grizelda straightens her waistcoat and gives Eleanor a grateful smile.
“It’s finished,” she says, making a grandiose gesture at the patchwork staircase, the base of which occupies most of she and Eleanor’s estate. “Very soon, my wife’s face will be whole again, and the sun will have reason to think twice before abusing the people on whom it shines!”
She musters a fierce grin, but the neighbors look skeptical.
“So you can get up there,” says Tholomul, nodding toward the sky, “but how’re you going to convince the sun to come to you?”
He and the other neighbors exchange incredulous chuckles; everyone in eternity knows the contrarian nature of the sun.
“Well now,” Grizelda says, her eyes alight with cunning, “that’s something you lot can help me with.”
Tholomul and the others agree to help, though Grizelda is certain it’s out of morbid curiosity rather than any neighborly desire to assist.
Each neighbor sets out in a different direction, spreading word to anyone who will listen that Grizelda is constructing a sun of her own, something to outshine the radiance of the existing sun, and has concealed it within a clever pillar of clouds. By the time Tholomul and the neighbors return, there isn’t a creature in the whole of the endless forest who hasn’t heard the rumor of a rival sun.
Meanwhile, Eleanor helps Grizelda maneuver a huge concave mirror to the top of the tower in preparation for the sun’s arrival.
“This is going to work. I won’t permit it to fail,” Grizelda tells Eleanor once they’ve situated the oversized looking glass on the uppermost platform.
“I have every confidence in you,” Eleanor says, but there’s a distant look in her single eye. She’s chosen for the occasion a plain black scarf to cover the missing half of her face; Grizelda realizes, belatedly, that it’s Eleanor’s first scarf, the one she wore in the immediate aftermath of her maiming.
Grizelda takes Eleanor’s face in her hands—silk in one palm, wizened skin in the other—and looks deep into that inscrutable eye. “Am I being foolish? Tell me if this is foolishness, and I’ll burn this embarrassment to the ground.”
Eleanor cups Grizelda’s hands in her own and says, “If it’s foolish, then it’s a needful foolishness.”
The sun plays aloof for a while, wandering the sky and inspecting the stars as though it doesn’t hear the rumors of a rival.
Tholomul joins Grizelda and Eleanor at the top of the tower. The three of them don protective goggles.
“That sun is damned insolent," Tholomul says. "Won’t even give you the satisfaction of prov...oking…” He trails off as the clouds surrounding the tower flare gold as if lit from behind; a moment later, the sun erupts into the vast cylindrical space within the clouds, blasting the tower with white-hot light.
Across half of the sun’s molten bulk is stretched the missing portion of Eleanor’s face, distended into a grotesque imitation of her usual benevolent expression. Her single eye-hole is lit from within by fire, giving her handsome features the look of an infernal mask.
Tholomul whimpers and recedes a short way down the staircase. Eleanor stands with her back to Grizelda, made into a wavering silhouette by the wall of light before them.
“We are the brightest,” howls the sun. “We must be! It is what we are for!”
Grizelda grits her teeth against the obscene sight and, with a mighty heave, angles the concave mirror so the sun is confronted by its own vile coruscations. It shrieks in agony as a concentrated beam of solar heat lances straight into that burning eye-hole; Grizelda works like a surgeon, using the beam of light to scalpel Eleanor’s half-face off the surface of the sun, inch by inch.
The sun, having never before experienced pain, convulses and wails, ”We’re sorry! We didn’t know! Didn’t kno-o-o-ow!”
“Grizelda. Wait.” Eleanor rests a hand on Grizelda’s arm. “Not like this.”
Grizelda turns the mirror on its pedestal, terminating the lethal beam. “What...else...would you have me do?” she says, panting from the exertion of manipulating the mirror.
“Nothing, I think,” Eleanor says, and turns to face the sun. “Excuse me? Sun?” she calls. “We seem to have you at a disadvantage, so I was wondering if maybe you’d like to chat a bit so my dear spouse doesn’t have to burn you anymore.”
“We’ll chat,” whimpers the sun. “We’d love a chat. Nice chat.”
Eleanor places her hands on her hips. “Then let us get down to brass tacks. Why did you take my face?”
The sun points a shaky gout of flame at Grizelda. “We saw the way that one looks at you. No one looks at us. We thought if we had some of your face, someone would look at us a little like that.”
Eleanor nods as though this was the expected answer. “What if,” she says thoughtfully, “instead of possessing half of my face all of the time, I lend you all of my face half of the time?”
“And people would look at us, this half-the-time?”
“I do believe so,” Eleanor says, smiling. “You’re normally too bright for us to behold directly. But wearing my entire face should sufficiently filter your light.”
“We would no longer be the brightest bright in the sky?” the sun asks, narrowing Eleanor’s eye-hole in suspicion.
“You will always be the biggest, brightest thing in our sky,” Eleanor says, “but that’s not always the most important thing, is it?”
The sun shuffles in place, still sniffling from its ordeal, before at last saying, “We accept your terms.”
The first night comes. Eleanor’s borrowed face hangs, whole and serene, against the aether, gently illuminated from within by the sun’s light. All across eternity, the creatures of the endless forest sigh and gaze appreciatively at the soothing orb in the darkened sky.
“I was there,” Tholomul proudly tells the other neighbors, “when the sun was tamed!”
Atop a grand staircase made of stolen history, two ageless old wives sit, hand in hand, among the stars.
“It’s beautiful beyond words,” Grizelda says mournfully. “I wish you could see it.”
“Ah, but I do,” says Eleanor from behind her hood of black silk. “I feel the music of the stars in your voice. Now, speak to me of the night…”
|# ? Aug 18, 2019 23:14|
…all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad
You’re lying in bed with them, hearing their woes so they can hear yours. Other intimacies will follow, you think. It will transform them. Sex with an artist makes people artists; soon they will be an artist too.
They are sobbing gently now. They are telling you about how their parents ignored them. Never made them feel special. Though there was that one grandparent, their mothers’ mother who spoiled them. She used to hold them and whisper that they mattered, and they felt it back then for the first time. But then their grandmother had a stroke, they tell you.
The all-eating burden calls suddenly. Not now, you think, anything but. You are being so nice. You want very much to stay that way.
Yes, now you realize. The art has beckoned. What comes next will pain you, though not enough to shirk your role.
“Was it a stroke of good luck?” you say with a grin.
They look at you with disgust.
“I hope she died at the stroke of midnight.”
You leave the bed and turn on the light while your stomach sinks. “You can go,” you tell them.
They are agape, breathing in shallow breaths.
“Don’t contact me again, you’re too repulsive,” you tell them. “Keep living though.”
You’re aware you aren’t okay. You can’t be, since okay isn’t art. Instead you must be a character. You must be the one about whom they all say “who does that?” In that way, you will have given them a persona to discuss, to marvel at, to hate if they need to. You will have shared your art with them. You will be the world’s foil, and their focus on you will bring them all together. You will be the ugliness that peddles in the sublime.
You are on the way to your barista gig when you spy a fainted vagrant. He’s stooped in an ally against a dumpster. When you approach, you take in his aroma: brothy, like a sort of pissed-in cream of onion soup. The world ignores this man, but in him you see the divine. He is Apollo cloaked in grey-skin, a godly message hanging from his lips.
“Sir? Sir?” You revive him.
“Piss off,” he says. In your own way, you understand.
You take his face into your hands.
“Shhh. Blessed one, what do you need from me?”
His eyes search yours.
“Come with me,” you say. “My treat.”
Work can wait. You hold his hand on the way to the grocery store. While you walk, he lets you know how people around here don’t care like they used to. “Hardly a community anymore,” he says.
When you get to the store, he tells you he’s not allowed in this one. So you go in alone and buy him two litres of milk. You’re about to hand it to him out front when the all-eating burden swiftly consumes your heart. But he’s thirsty you think. Just this once. Let’s hold off from—
No. The performance demands it. This is your boulder. Now smile; now push.
You pop the cap and douse him with milk. “Better for you to bathe in it. You filth.”
He just stands there, one fist clenched, shaking his head.
“Go on. Leave.”
He shudders, then walks away.
People saw you, you realize, but nobody spoke a word. You’ve done well today; this one will ripple far. You just hope the vagabond will be alright. Don’t look back you tell yourself. A dedicated performance is so much bigger than the both of you.
“You have a mean streak,” your babysitter used to say. But the castor oil nourished your art, the spankings spurred it forward. There have always been trickster deities, but never before did they occupy such a temple as you, so dedicated yet so unloved. Nevertheless, your flourishes will adorn the natural and supernatural alike for all time.
You try to think in paragraphs but you can’t. The performance disallows it. This is your life: a deliberate satire of anyone who would live a life like you.
An artist’s world grows ever lonelier, you’ve noticed. You want to connect with somebody. Anybody. You attend open mics and live theatre hoping to meet a soul who shares your vision. You buy a kitten from a breeder. A grey Cornish Rex. You go to support groups like that guy Cornelius or whatever his name was from Fight Club, even though you don’t like that movie because the blood scared you.
Your task stretches forth. Daily, you capture reality, invert it, and cast it back into the yawning world. And when it’s about the world, it’s really about you, isn’t it? It’s beautiful to think on that. Your infamy connects anyone to everyone, and you’re an everyone like anyone else. Aren’t you?
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 01:04|
Prompt: It’s a wicked world in all meridians; I’ll die a pagan.
In The Depths
Agwé, forgotten Goddess and shepherdess of the sea, rose screaming from the depths. The death-songs of her children had ripped her from her slumber. Wooden boats of men were dark silhouettes on the surface of her desecrated ocean, slick with the blood of harpooned whales.
She burst from the sea, her body a huge wave, and crashed down over the stern of the whaling ship. Agwé saw the bodies of her children, mutilated and tied with oiled ropes on the stinking deck. She howled, and a sudden wind rent the ship’s sails. Men shouted in fear as lightning crackled across the sky in sympathy with Agwé’s anguish.
Torrential rain sluiced gore from the deck and churned the sea into bloody froth. Agwé raced around the ship in her distress, the wake of her passage making it rock violently. She was too late; the whales were all dead. Men had done this. Men who came only to kill, befouling their bond with the sea. Men who had forsaken her.
The cry of a lone calf echoed beneath the waves. Agwé halted, casting about for the source of the sound. She saw the calf, out beyond the spreading circle of blood, a single whaleboat rowing hard in pursuit. A flash of lightning glinted off sharp steel as a whaler let fly his harpoon. It stabbed into the calf and Agwé felt its pain deep within her soul.
Rage welled up in her as the calf’s hot blood unspooled. Agwé’s fury gave the red tendrils form; they coagulated into muscle, grew vicious hooks and hungry suckers. She wanted revenge. The blood of men for that of her children. The calf’s carcass split open, and from its ribcage spewed forth a huge creature, its mantle blood-red and its eyes as black as the deepest ocean trench.
Agwé watched as her rage-made-manifest broke the surface with flailing tentacles. The kraken smashed the whaling boat to matchsticks; the men screamed only briefly before the frothing waves swallowed them. Agwé smiled, baring her teeth, as the kraken turned towards the ship.
Isaiah, shanghaied deck-hand, was roped to railing of the ship’s bow, his right arm held out straight by one of his shipmates. The man wouldn’t meet his eyes. The Captain stood before Isaiah, holding a skinning knife. Dark clouds roiled above them. In a flash of lightning Isaiah saw tentacles rise from the sea and descend upon the distant whaling boat. Then the men and the boat were gone and there was nothing but the black waves. Fear wrenched his gut and he convulsed against his bonds.
The Captain yelled into the howling wind, cursing the ill-fortune that had brought this unnatural storm upon them. Isaiah screamed as the Captain plunged the knife into his inner forearm. The Captain cut deep, carving the spiral of a nautilus shell into Isaiah’s flesh. Isaiah sobbed with pain as the Captain gripped his wrist and held the bleeding sigil out over the sea.
“Blood for blood,” the Captain shouted, baring his teeth to the storm.
The kraken reached the ship and plunged its beak into the keel. Biting and tearing, it ripped chunks from the wood until it penetrated the hull. Water rushed into the hold, upsetting the barrels stacked inside. The kraken smelled the flesh of its brethren, and howled. With chitinous suckers it gripped the hull and pulled itself up the side of the ship.
A long tentacle crested the upper deck and wrapped around the mast. The thick timber groaned and men screamed. One brave soul hacked at the tenacle with a butchering knife. The mast splintered with the sound of a cracking whip and crashed down, splitting the planks of the deck and knocking the man into the waves. The kraken’s arms flailed, blind in its rage, against the stricken ship.
Shock reverberated through Agwé’s body as she felt sigil-blood drip into the sea. She tasted salt and iron, and heard the words of sacrifice shouted against the storm. So there was one aboard who remembered the old ways, after all. Agwé surged up past the bow in a great waterspout. She saw the Captain standing over a bound and bloodied boy. In his hand was a knife, tainted not just with the boy’s blood but with that of her children. It had been used to rend their flesh, and now this man dared to heap outrage upon outrage by using such a blade to commune with her.
Agwé drew herself up into a huge wave and crashed down over the bow. The Captain crumpled under the force of the water and Agwé tossed his broken body into the sea.
The kraken thrashed against the splintered timbers of the deck, oblivious in its anger to the shards that ripped its flesh. The ship listed, its lower decks full of water and its hull split. Those men that could lept aboard a retreating longboat, only to be capsized in the tumult of Agwé’s waves.
The surface of the sea roiled as the ship succumbed to the kraken’s embrace. The bodies of the whalers tumbled in its vortex as the kraken dragged the doomed vessel into the depths.
Isaiah thrashed against the ropes that bound him to the bow rail. Bubbles streamed from his nose and the light from the surface quickly faded. His wounded arm burned as his blood pumped freely into the sea.
Agwé could feel her sigil, still alive and crying for help. She dived down to the boy. She tilted her head, left, then right, observing him with eyes like two full moons. He was so young. The last of his air left his body and he slumped against his bonds. Agwé thought of the murdered calf. She shuddered with anger, and the kraken lunged for Isaiah with its beak. But Agwé was not like that man, who would hurl a lance into a babe. She threw her body before the kraken, holding it back though its hooks flayed her back. She opened her mouth wide, and swallowed the boy.
Agwé regurgitated Isaiah in a rush of saltwater onto a rocky shore. Raindrops hissed against the wet sand. The spiral-shaped gash on Isaiah's forearm was red and ragged. Agwé pressed her lips to the boy's flesh. Saltwater washed into the wound and Isaiah's body jerked, and took a deep, shuddering breath.
Clanging and the shouts of men echoed down the shore from the whaling village. Agwé would let Isaiah tell them the story of his Captain’s fate, and what waits for them in the depths.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 01:06|
His smoke is terrible to inhale and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in it for the time.
The plastic in my lungs is my own, and I create it with my breath, but the Middle takes it all. I go to the plastectomist once a month and they pluck the microfibers out from my alveoli like rice harvesters do their crop. When I was a kid I loved to watch them spool up the fibers to make the multi-hued clump that would be sent to the Middle. Now I do it myself.
I’ve not yet managed to die. My contributions of plastic have been missed, but nothing has made it through the bureaucracy yet, no alarms sounded.
After a week or so of laboring in the plant, I spend my alloted rest hours in my living room carefully wending flexible metal grabbers down my throat. I collect the fibers, keeping track of their colors and figuring out how best to use them in the statue I am creating. It sits on my table, a tree, stretching its limbs up in hope.
The next day at the plant I am taken aside by my supervisor. “Are you all right?”
“As far as I know.”
“More or less. Why?”
He repeats himself after a nearby mulcher quiets. “I said, you haven’t been to the plastectomist in a while.”
I look over his shoulder into the plant overseer’s office. The pale bald head of the overseer glints in the window like a tooth. He disappears from view after I notice him.
“You’re right. I suppose I’ve been forgetful.”
The red lights flash through the plant, indicating our shifts are complete. “Go now, okay? You can miss your night shift. The overseer is worried. It’s an anomaly. A concern. He doesn’t want anyone higher up getting curious. Okay? So go.” He offers a smile, to reassure me, maybe. “See you tomorrow.”
My work boots squelch in the plastic snow that has collected since morning. A few indigents crawl on their knees to inhale the stuff. One doubles over, coughing bloody phlegm.
Sunlight slithers its way down through layers of unnatural fug and I pause in the moment. I breathe in as deep as I can manage. It is the only air I have ever breathed. Anyone who remembers the smell and taste of air before the Middle opened up their plants risks imprisonment for describing it. I can’t imagine it.
A thought paralyzes me and I turn around to watch the poor souls lapping up the plastic leavings of the city’s smoke. The plastectomist will expect to find plenty of fibers. Before I can think too long about it I run behind a building to its exhaust system. An older model, two or more behind the Middle’s latest innovation. It chugs and whines and belches out a kaleidoscopic smog, plastic glimmering within.
I hold my nose and suck in. It burns and then numbs my throat and I feel heavier. How much is enough? Will they see excess plastic in my throat? I cough. My tongue is now leathery and I want to spit it out. Once more I inhale the stuff before staggering to my preferred plastectomist.
“You’re overdue a visit, it seems.”
“Yes,” I say. The word burbles up through my unfeeling esophagus.
“And your reason for that?”
This nurse is new. Stricter, it seems. An attempt at a swallow sends a wave of acrid grit into my belly.
“Are you okay?” the nurse asks, his voice now a different pitch. I wheel backwards on the table, the fluorescent lights spinning and seeming for everything in the world to be dancing all across the ceiling.
I hear the nurse, voice distorted and ghastly, call for the doctor before I am ushered into unconscious.
I awake in the cleanest room I have ever seen. No dust obscures the many lights. Just planes of whiteness.
I am not breathing.
I seemingly do not need to.
A voice calls out, from the extreme edges of my perception. “Where do you think you are?”
My own voice sounds equally far away. “I am in the Middle.” I speak without exerting myself, no air is pressed up past my vocal cords.
“Yes. We are owed.”
“There’s no pollution here. How?”
“We must protect ourselves so that we can protect you.”
I feel something, a bitter anger in my chest, beating like rapid gusts of hot wind. “You let us suffer.”
“That is not the case, on the whole.” The voice sounds closer now. “And your suffering leads to great advancements. So that the next generation will suffer less. And the next after that.” Now the voice is in my ears, sending chills down limbs that cannot move.
“We are owed.”
My anger leaks out as hot tears down my cheeks. “It’s mine.”
A grayness has seeped into the room. The voice, emotionless until now, betrays a curiosity. “What do you do with it?”
“I am making a statue. Of a tree.”
“To remember. To help others remember. And to rebel against you.” The grayness darkens further. My eyes roll back and I feel two points of fiery pain pierce my chest.
I desperately want to breath again, they are breaking me, they watch me, concerned, but they do not act, I want to breathe, I want to scream, I want to fall into the blackness below me but I can’t sink any further I am too buoyant I am too still my body is turning blue but it doesn’t hurt it is only numb I want to work on my tree and smell the plastic getting hot and malleable and I want to form the green bits into little leaves and I want to add the other bits until they make the brown I like and then I want to scream and breathe and inhale inhale inhale, never exhale, exhaling is death inhaling is life and my chest is rising and falling but I am rising-
And a tortured gasp fills the room. I inhale and my lungs shatter like glass.
“Hello,” says the small dark woman. “I’m an adjutant to the Middle. How are you feeling?”
“You’re wrong, there.” She stands and brings up a holoscreen in front of my bed. Two oval pumps grow and shrink methodically. She smiles at me. “These are your new lungs.
“The Middle has been experimenting with this technology for a long time now. You are the first success. Now, plastic is metabolized by your lungs and filtered through your blood. You’re effectively immune to pollution.” Her smile is even wider at the end of this speech.
“Let me go home.”
The smile evaporates. “Don’t you want to thank them?”
She leaves. A minute later I am escorted out by faceless enforcers.
A long walk home does nothing for the ache in my chest. My lungs do not burn, as they used to. I used to take joy in that; it was the first step in my creative process.
My apartment door sits open. My equipment is gone. The tree is gone.
I take a long breath and hold it.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 01:40|
rule: See how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them.
life loving sucks so death has to as well
flerp fucked around with this message at 01:53 on Oct 11, 2019
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 01:56|
Flash: Will I have eyes at the bottom of the sea, supposing I descend those endless stairs?
Due East of Split Rock Point
A sudden noise awoke Thomas sometime, (if he had to guess,) on the third day after the Maple Leaf went to the bottom. It was quite unlike the groans of the ship’s hull which had borne up valiantly against the full weight of Lake Champlain. Rather, it was an odd sort of grunting and chirping which came from the pool of water that had flooded the lower part of the engine room’s pitched floor, as well as the soft sounds of water splashing against the frame of the boilers. Even though it was now frigid, the fires that had animated the ship had been mercifully quenched during her plunge to the lake bed, and thus Tomas still had air left to breathe.
“Paul!” He cried out into the gloom, “Paul, are you still alive?”
No voice replied from the pitch black darkness, but the chirping ceased for a few moments, and only the water’s lapping echoed about the iron bulkheads in the room. Immediately Thomas’ mind leapt to hope, that perhaps a ship was floating above him, and he was hearing a salvageman cutting his way into the compartment. Maybe a diving bell was waiting just outside to take him back to the surface. Then, the odd sounds resumed, paying no further mind to his questioning shouts.
His right hand fumbled in the small box next to his makeshift bed, fingers finally brushing against the rounded lens of the small carbide lantern he’d picked out of the debris a few hours after the ship had sunk. Turning the valve, then spinning the striker wheel, Tomas caused the lamp to produce a feeble, guttering flame that when focused by the reflector lens, would illuminate even the darkest of rooms. Yet, even a tiny flame breathed air just as a man would. Until now, Thomas had been content to huddle in the unlit confines of the engine room that remained above water, but the possibility of a rescue - or even the unlikely chance that Paul Ducharme was still somehow counted among the living - was reason enough to light the lamp. Though the sudden light was dazzling, he squinted into the gloom of the flooded side of the room and tried to make sense of the sight that greeted him.
No rescue diver’s brass helmet shone back, but a damp sheen of light reflected off of corpse-white skin. Some minor leviathan stretched up from the deeper recesses of the pool, engaged in the task of removing Ducharme’s leg from his hip, while Ducharme’s body floated back and forth in the shallows. This movement stirred the water’s surface and causing the waves to play against the bulkheads and deck. The beast did not react to the sudden presence of the light in the slightest. It continued to doggedly gnawing away at Paul’s thigh, twisting and rolling its bulk to gain the best purchase to separate flesh from bone.
Tom shot up, howling at the creature. “Leave off!”
He set the lamp down on a nearby table, then was in motion almost instantly. With feet well accustomed to moving across a pitched ship’s deck, he picked his way down the slope toward submerged end of the room, snatching a coal shovel along the way. While the monstrous form had ignored the light, the clatter of his boots against the iron deck drew its immediate attention. Relinquishing its grip on Ducharme, the beast turned its long neck and head toward Thomas and began to once again chirp and click. This time the sounds were painfully loud —the clicks were as gunshots in the enclosed space, and the chirps drove like knives into Tom’s ears. With a head the size of a bushel basket, it snapped viciously at Thomas as he waded knee-deep into the freezing water.
With rage born of anger and fear, he swung the shovel like a cudgel, connecting solidly with the creature’s jaw. Its chirping became a stinging wail and it lunged forwards, forcing Thomas to retreat back onto the dry deck. Through the agony of the beast’s shrieking, he swung again and again. Sometimes he would strike with the flat of the shovel, sometimes with the edge, and often he would miss completely as pain induced tears to foul his vision. For its part, the creature assaulted wildly - almost without tactic or strategy - and with every strike it heaved more of its form from the pool and up onto the deck. Soon, it was almost immobile, save for its elongated neck and loathsome head. It was then Thomas landed a lucky blow and the vile thing fell down, stunned. He struck again and again, until its incessant keening quieted, and once again the room fell silent save for the sound of his breath and heartbeat in his ears.
In the carbide lamp’s glare, Thomas was finally able to get a good look at the creature that had been feeding on the body of Paul Ducharme. It was pale, blue-white a skin so slick almost to the point of waxiness. It seemed thick with blubber in some places, such as along its chest and about its belly, but it was positively gaunt in others. The outline of spine and ribs stood out in stark relief along the beasts backside. Short, broad pectoral fins emerged beneath the chest, and what looked to be the vestigial remnants of a tail fluke, still dangling in the cold water of the pool. The neck, while not serpentine, was certainly long and lithe — and, if not for the things’s poor aim, should have let it bring that horrible mouth to bear quite easily. Bulbous and domed, the forehead yielded slightly to the touch of the shovel when prodded, almost as if it was filled with fluid instead of backed by hard bone. Thomas peeled back one rubbery lip, to observed its teeth - wide like flensing knives, and serrated along the edges.
No eyes could be found. Thomas saw where perhaps eyes might have been, but the lids would not be opened by any force he could muster, for they were well and truly fused together.
Thomas pondered a moment, bemused at the grim irony. Not a week before, he and Paul Ducharme had attended a lecture in Burlington, at the University on the new fashioned science of evolution. How Paul had laughed! And at the tavern that evening he’d mocked the professor for daring to question God’s wisdom. Yet now, looking on the abomination that lay sprawled on the engine room deck, Thomas could not help but feel Paul had been wrong - for no loving God would have willingly created this beast.
He crossed back to the pool, and using the shovel to reach under and drag Paul’s sinking body back into the flooded shallows. The poor man’s skin was blistered and raw from the bursting of a steam pipe during the ships decent in to the belly of the lake. He’d screamed mightily, until Thomas had dragged him into the cold water which had rushed into the room when the ship finally struck bottom. The very cause of his injuries offered him the only comfort he would receive during the short remains of his life. Gazing on his dead friend, Thomas begged forgiveness for what he was about to do.
For Thomas knew no rescue was coming, and the exertion of fighting the beast and the lamp’s feeble, yet persistent flame had taken their toll on the air in the compartment. He stripped off his boots and waded in neck deep, taking Paul in tow by the hand, he gasped in one final lungful of air and dove for where he though the gash in the hull might be. As he let Paul’s wrist slip from his grasp, he swam for what he thought might be the dim blush of daylight many fathoms above — and, he heard the lake come alive around him with scores of chirps off in the darkness.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 02:22|
Don’t you know the higher you climb, the colder it gets? // All characters must be female and none can be related.
As far as I could tell, no one who walked through the door ever got approved for their loan. Probably I’m wrong, and maybe Sheryl just shuffled the lucky ones out the back, onto the service elevator, but all I ever saw were the poor saps who made their way all the way up to to forty-ninth floor, checked in with me, waited thirty more minutes than they should, and then, as soon as Sheryl took them into her office, trodded out again five minutes later, dour clouds about them as they took the long elevator down
Honestly, even when there was no screaming and swearing, it was soul-destroying. I’m not sure if Sheryl passed that point or if she never had a soul to destroy; when I asked her if it ever got to her, she looked at me like I’d been drooling on my keyboard and said “It’s not hard to make good financial decisions.”
All this is to say that I was craving a change, a big one, when I saw Polly the Window Washer for the first time. I’d been focused into deciphering Sheryl’s runic accounting when I heard the thwack! of a collision of Polly onto the window, a blur of motion and a look of mild alarm on her face, underneath a set of tightly cropped black curls and a thick insulated jacket. And then she’d steadied herself against the building, the alarm peeled off, and in its place bloomed this check-me-out cocky grin.
She must have seen me looking, because the grin widened. I looked away, trying to focus again on the document on my laptop, but Polly was still there, drawing a squealing Squeegee against the window, fishing for eye contact.
“Nell? Nell, what are you looking at?” Sheryl had asked at the time. “Our clients need our attention.”
This was so patently untrue that it verged into the absurd; one client had showed up without an appointment, and Sheryl had resolved that he wouldn’t been seen that day (“It sends the wrong message,”) while the other client was ready to be seen, and although Sheryl apparently didn’t seem to be doing anything, she wasn’t being seen yet.
“Just saw something out the window,” I told Sheryl. “Sorry about that.” In Polly’s direction, I gave a big, theatrical shrug, and mouthed the words my loving boss. I don’t know if she could lip read, but she seemed to get the gist; when Sheryl walked over to the windows and yanked the blinds down, the last thing I saw was Polly with an exaggerated “nooooo!” expression as she vanished from view.
I made the name Polly up for her that night. I was looking at the windows of my house, and I think they were made of polymer siding, so the name Polly just seemed appropriate, given the circumstances. I had this vision of her busting through the window the next day, puling me out from my desk, hoisting me onto her back, as we rappelled down to the ground, and I thought okay, this is the best of all possible worlds.
Of course, it was not the world I was actually living in, as my friend Judy said when I called her and told her all about the encounter with Polly the Window Washer. “Honey, are you doing OK?” Judy said. Judy was a nutritional consultant for someone she called an “A-minus celebrity,” but she’d never give any clues about their identity; in any case, she still believed it made her very important and more interesting. “It seems like you’re in a really dark place right now.”
“I’m allowed to have a crush, okay?” I didn’t know why I was being so defensive; when I’d told Judy the story, it was so full of asides like “I know this is going to sound stupid” that I’d started to half-accept that this was the end of the rope, and it was time to move on.
“Of course you are, but Nell, we’ve been down this road, and this sounds like you’re talking yourself into not quitting your high-rise hell job.”
“So I know this sounds crazy, but I was thinking of actually quitting, except I’d quit to become a window washer. I just don’t know if they put you on the same building, like if you have a choice in the matter, or if it’s – I’m kidding. I’m kidding!”
“As long as you leave that job, you can drink the window washing fluid if you like.”
Three weeks later I’d done nothing of the sort. I hadn’t seen Polly again, either, and despite that spell of madness, I was well on my way back to normal – digesting a steady diet of garbage, drinking two to three drinks each night, calling Mom and Judy and giving them Sheryl war stories – when I heard the news from the intern when she came in with coffee. A window washer had been washing the windows on the 41nd floor when the ropes, brittle and worn under the best occasions, snapped due to an excess of ice. Cause of death: falling.
I didn’t need anyone to tell me it was Polly. It had to be. It just made sense.
“Did you hear about the window washer?” I asked Judy that night, while I was making Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese for one. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think this is my window washer.”
“I thought it was a dude,” Judy said. “They said on the news it was a man in his forties, right?”
“Wrong,” I said, although I hadn’t seen the news.
That night I drafted my two week’s notice and the next day I handed it to Sheryl. “I think I’ve accomplished all of my major goals, and I’m ready to move onto other projects,” I told her.
“Okay,” Cheryl said. She looked at the piece of paper for a moment. “Please maintain the quality of your work during this transition period.”
And so, as I was sitting in my usual desk, looking through Cheryl’s accounting for what I’d hoped to be the last time, avoiding eye contact with the woman who kept breaking out in tears, it was hardly a surprise when I heard that familiar knocking on the window. I thought my rescue had come too late, for both of us, Polly and myself.
And when I dared – really dared – to look and meet the eyes of the window washer, I had to rub my face, because the window washing professional could have been anyone at all.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 02:29|
In the deep shadows of his eyes floated some reminiscences that did not seem to give him much joy. // Your scenes cannot take place in chronological order.
A missive from High Eurasian War Marshal Engel Read, received through secure lo-wave transmission. Key Aleph accepted, TTS proceeding:
My lords and barons, and above all, my emperor.
The campaign against the western remnant has failed. I remain in Zaragoza, overseeing the retreat of our forces, and I intend to remain here until every last soldier is beyond the Toulouse line. I have failed our empire, but so have you. I intend for the naroth, from lowborn to highborn, to learn of your treachery, a treachery not borne out of malice and conspiracy, but of arrogance and stupidity. You did not listen to your generals, and I intend to never again listen to you.
If the world is just, I will die on Spanish soil, gun in hand and blood in teeth, as the last transport lifts off with young, brave soldiers, who deserve life far more than either of us.
Your soldier, loyal only to the Eurasian Empire
There is a sensation that fills the front of my face when I know death is a misstep away. It's the vibrating, tinny taste of being punched in the nose, the tingling and weight of overwhelming g-forces. It trembles just between my eyes. I feel it now, as the APC, four out of eight wheels shot to poo poo, barrels down the irradiated avenues of Madrid. We're plowing through the deep layer of sand that covers the streets, occasionally pounding into a buried car and smashing it off the road with the weight of a reinforced fusion eight-drive.
Well, technically it's a four drive now, but our beast is strong despite the wounds.
The harpy drone that ends us takes advantage of the sand. The spray behind us, wild as the wake of a jet ski, is hot with exhaust and hides the drone as it lines up a shot and takes out the drivetrain. We skid to a halt, scramble to pull the emergency exit handles, notice that a large portion of us is now minced, smoking meat. Marshal Read screams at us to get out as the thick bulkhead is flung across the highway by explosive bolts, and I'm tumbling across the asphalt, hot sand stinging my hands.
A misstep away.
I see the harpy hover above us on VTOL jets, lower body like a hornet, and I see gatling barrels rotate to replace railgun. I do not see the bullet that kills me.
Marshal Read hated the plan from the start. A force with one part fresh recruits and one part war weary veterans straight from the pacific arcologies to wage a war against an emboldened guerrilla movement was a recipe for disaster, a joke about hubris, a 21st century cautionary tale. But Marshal Read was a loyal.
He enjoyed the cold metal of the transport against his neck, knowing he'd soon land in Southern France Incorporated Territories, or Essfit, as most people called it, a hell that grew hotter by the year. He'd lose men on this venture, he knew that, but with the right allocation of manpower he'd crush the remnant guerrilla in a few months. A year at the most. He'd return to the naroth, the people, a wounded hero, and he'd have new arrows in the quiver poised against the nobles that had sent him on this idiotic venture.
Waystation Gran :CONNECTED:
Tracedump commencing :100%:
Neural sorting :100%:
The remnant crossed the Rhine two hours ago, reinforced by god knows who. American corps? Maybe. They have so much manpower and dronepower they're practically DDOS-ing Europe. They're sure as gently caress not a guerrilla anymore.
They'll be across the Baltic territories in an hour, I don't think we can stop them. I don't know what we're going to do.
Might as well pray. Haven't tried that, like, ever? Gran out.
Engel Read watches as the last transport lifts off, and sighs. His gun is clipped to his belt, his teeth should've been brushed a week ago, but they're free of blood. Zaragoza is quiet, the whine of engines fading as the high capacity endurance craft climbs higher and higher until it's invisible. He envies the soldiers aboard, they'll see the earth from orbit, if only for a moment. Bound to low-medium altitude stealth craft, like all high-rank officers of the Empire, Read hasn't been to space in years. The banality of the moment strikes him. Over thirty thousand dead soldiers, and he's feeling self-pity because he doesn't get to go on a space plane.
Somewhere, a few hundred kilometers away, the remnant is toasting to victory. Why would they chase a broken army beyond their borders? Why would they grant an arrogant War Marshal his infantile wish of dying in beautiful battle? Read watches the sun set on Essfit, and then he boards the stealth craft that will carry him back to Petrograd, to the naroth, to his family.
"Tell us a story," said the children, and the old man told them about a king and a prince and a breathtaking quest, but they cut him off and pulled at his sleeve and made too much noise for such a quiet evening. With only crickets and a soft breeze in the air, the cacophony of the children roused the old man from his comfortable daze. He trailed off, giving the children an annoyed look.
"Tell us a story," they said, "About the war."
And his gaze, shifted from the children to the fire, and he watched it for a long, long time, eyes too easily betraying pain.
And then he began.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 02:54|
The Litany of the Wounded Ones
Prompt: That glad, happy air, that winsome sky, did at last stroke and caress him.
Hellrule: Your story must contain at least two sentences that are over 50 words.
Listen, my children, as I sing of the birth-world: the deepest delves of the mountain, the dark tunnels and the endless grey stone, and the lonely Mountain-Heart that was its ruler and its prisoner. In its despondence, the Mountain-Heart raised our oldest kin from the stuff of its world, the rock and metal and soil of the mountain, and the young were vast wriggling piles in their creche-caves: plump serpents with dozens of legs, their smooth dull hides in all the greys and browns and coppers of their birth-stuff. Slowly the oldest kin grew and wandered, and many of them were happy with their bodies and with the world that they saw. They sang of the mountain, the tunnels that they traveled and the tunnels they would carve, and of the voice of the Mountain-Heart beckoning them to make its kingdom their own.
Our ancestors were not these kin, my children. Our ancestors were the ones who opened their eyes to the world and found it dark and stifling; who found their bodies clumsy, ugly, frustrating things; who listened for the voice of the Mountain-Heart and heard nothing. Perhaps they were defective or despised -- the many generations have argued it, for all our long travels and afterwards, but the Mountain-Heart of course has never told us, and I am too small a thing with thoughts too small to share. In any event, the situation could not be borne, and our ancestors resolved to find another life, if one could be found. Their happy kin, the ones we call the Deep Kin now, were digging down; our ancestors decided they must dig up, away from their siblings, because what else could be done? And so we left the Deep Kin behind in their dark and stifling world. May they and their children, down their generations, have found the joy and fortune they sought -- we will never know, but they are our kin and we must wish them well, for as long as we will sing of them.
We do not know the name of the one who learned about cutting, because we learned about cutting before we invented names, but the songs say he was copper-brown and he caught a middle forelimb on a sharp chunk of mountain, late in a long day of digging. He snapped at it with his teeth and tore with his claws, and what was left of the soft inner soil-flesh tore, and he howled in pain and elation -- that this ugly limb was gone from him, that his hateful body was less, and that he had made it so. Our ancestors heard his song, and they learned quickly to copy him, because what joy came with the cutting! Each of them carved away the limbs that pained them the most, sliced into the flesh and scooped out the excess by the handful, and cut away and tightened the excess hide, until each found what satisfaction they could. At first they discarded the cuttings, or ate them, but our ancestors were restless and inventive, and they soon found that their old flesh could be useful: stony bones as extensions to claws and teeth, then as new and better digging tools; hide for bags, blankets, adornments, litters to haul the ill; the oily marrow, loose soft flesh, and blood to cure hides and to add savor to the dusty stone that was their only food. It spend their passage through the wretched mountain and lifted their spirits, however little those spirits could be lifted, deep within the dark and awful mountain.
The ancestors dug, and ate, and mated, and soon the second of the many generations were born, unmarked by the cutting: fat and smooth and dull as the Deep Kin. Some of the young squealed with revulsion and tunnelled away from their parents as soon as their claws could cut -- may they have found the Deep Kin and the joy and fortune they sought! -- but some remained, and learned the art of cutting, and improved it. So the generations passed, and the great journey continued, until at last one ancestor's claws broke through stone into something that was different -- fresh air, the first we had ever tasted. Our kin crawled through onto the mountainside, and they first beheld sunlight and felt sweet breeze, and they learned of blue and green and of brightness.
Those days, the happiest days that we sing of, my children, were days of invention. With breeze came new kinds of cold, and hateful stinging rains, and our ancestors turned their tools and hide and bones to structures; of course, this work was never our great work, and their cutters were seized with the need to remake their bodies for this new place. How awful our colors seemed in the new light! How ugly our hides! How useless, as ever, our extra limbs, when they could not carry us into the air as they had carried us through the mountain! We still sing the name of Six-Forelimbs-Marked-With-Spirals, who took fresh marrow-bearing bone and thin belly hide and fashioned them into our first wings. We sing of the sight of her, her skin dyed red with ground-in fruit, catching the wind and soaring, and how she and her fellows cried to see it! We sing, as well, of Six-Forelimbs's daughter, born fruit-red and winged, surely a blessing from the silent and near-forgotten Creator. What ecstasy were those days for our ancestors!
The sun sets, my children, and seasons change, and joy does not last for us even in this place; surely you know that as well as I, young ones not too young for disappointment. Many were born with wings, but many were not, and even of those blessed, most found flight a slow and clumsy thing. How our ancestors cut away, slimming the bodies and hollowing the bones -- and some found happiness that way, and some were born with it, light and free, and one by one, the happy ones departed from our settlement. How could they not, with their swift wings and an infinite world? Meanwhile, many wingless young ones vanished back into the mountain, seeking the Deep Kin. Those who sought joy fled from us, and we who remained were those of us who felt our unhappiness in the heavy lumbering stone of our bodies. We are the Wounded Ones, the Cutting Ones, who carve and graft and reshape, and thereby often find what is something like contentment, but for whom every other joy of life is fleeting.
Every new generation, the elders say, fewer of our young ones stay and more of them flee; we are diminishing, and perhaps this is natural and perhaps this is right. One day, the elders say, the world will bear only the two happy tribes, the Deep Kin in the mountain and the Sky Kin in the air -- but I see new shapes among my generation, and new departures, and voices calling for new ways. I am a small thing with small thoughts, just one singer among us, but I think there will be many tribes of many shapes, and I think they will spring from us, and I hope they will carry our song. My restless children, I will teach you to sing with me, our litany of the birth-world and the lost kin and the cutting, so we will not be forgotten when our wretched bodies fade and the last child slips away to the happy tribes.
Stand up. Steady yourself with your wings, if you like. Raise your heads and sing with me, young ones, for what we were and what we are, so the happy ones will not forget us.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 03:51|
Line: Butchers we are, that is true.
Hellrule - your story contains no dialogue.
The Old Ways
Anak crept along the riverbank, wooden spear in one hand, shotgun in the other. The tsantsas tied about his neck rasped their soft, leathery song as he moved, adding their voices to the melody of the jungle. The enemy village was close; the achu in their swamp huts would not expect a raid so soon after the last. But Anak was thirsty.
When he was younger, Anak had been led into the forest and left alone for several days. He’d eaten of the maikua leaves and drunk deep from the waterfall. This was customary training to become an uwishin, a warrior-shaman. On the third night a mermaid surfaced. She took him under the river, became his wife, and fed him the meat of the boa. This was sacrilege, for the boa was a sacred animal: its spirit entered him and gave him strength and stealth. But it also cursed him with a thirst that could not be quenched. This was his secret.
Anak had been fasting for two days, chewing only tobacco leaves and drinking natum tea, to prepare for the attack. The tea had given him uneasy dreams. Spirits of his ancestors visited many times, delivering cryptic and conflicting messages. Disquiet filled his soul. The achu raids had increased, driven by the desire of the inkis for trophies, which they traded for guns, which in turn made the raids easier. But Anak’s spirit was unsettled. He sensed his ancestors were not happy. The old ways change.
Jaguar-silent, he slipped through the brush around the achu village. He circled twice, scouting defenses. Children were playing next to the doorways of their huts. Mothers held their infants close. The few men he saw looked out into the dense jungle with fear in their eyes. Satisfied, Anak filled his waterskin from the river and nestled into the embrace of a kapok tree to wait for nightfall. He chewed bitter maikua leaves and painted his face with leopard designs. Idly, he inspected each of the tsantsas looped around him; each a dark, fist-sized relic of sewn shut eyes and lips and blackened skin. Their strength flowed into him. When their power eventually waned he could give them to the inkis for more weapons. He could always make more tsantsas. More would be made tonight; his thirst again quenched, for he is a kakáram: a great warrior.
The high sun made the jungle hot, and Anak must have slept for a while. He awakened to hot breath on his face. A jaguar, perched on the root of the kapok tree, its golden eyes staring at him intently. So close he could reach out and touch it. He tried to feel the ground for his spear, his shotgun, but his arms wouldn’t move. The jaguar moved closer. Its whiskers brushed his chest as the beast sniffed at the tsantsas around his neck. Still he couldn’t move. The beast drew a sharp breath, then blew onto his face. Anak’s mind swam. A vision overpowered him.
The forest is gone. A motionless storm hangs low in the sky, fueled by towers that belch black soot from flaming mouths. Bones and scraps of broken metal objects litter the dead landscape. Anak sees through the jaguar’s eyes as it paces along a dry river, stirring up flakes of ash that drift aimlessly before settling back down onto dead soil. The jaguar is thirsty, but there’s no water in this parched land. A voice calls out in a strange tongue. The jaguar turns, and sees an inki—a white man—holding a shotgun aimed for her eyes. No expression, no fear or anger, no pity or remorse, the inki just narrows his eyes slightly and a there’s a flash of light followed by a concussive boom and--
Anak opened his eyes and the jaguar was gone. He took an unsteady breath and tasted the forest. It was as it was: the soft hum of insects wreathed him and small blue frog scampered away from his foot. For the first time since he was a boy, sitting by a waterfall, waiting for a spirit to visit him, he was unsure. It was not as it was. Even the embrace of the kapok tree did nothing to give him strength. He had seen the future that the inkis would bring. He grimaced, and then cut the powerless tsantas from him and threw them in the river. The old ways change.
He turned his back on the achu village and after two days travel he reached the inkis settlement. Along the way he fasted and chanted to the spirits. They sung through him with one voice, one message. Anak’s heart was lifted and his steps were sure and light.
The inkis had set up camp by the river. Hides of many sacred animals hung from metal pegs, including boas, sloths, and jaguars. The inkis were few in number and unprepared. Their metal tools and weapons were scattered about the camp as they slumbered under canvas tarps. When the full moon rose he attacked: it was over quickly.
The next morning Anak built a fire by the river and began heating small pebbles. With his knife he removed the skin from the first of the inki heads. New tsantsas would be created, for he still had the thirst of the boa. He bowed his head and thought of his wife, the boa, the jaguar, the inkis, and his people.
The old ways change.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 05:09|
Roger Bartholomew Pickett: A True History
Prompt: You are too damned jolly. Sail on.
Born to hang, they called him, from as soon as he learned to walk upright, slip a swaddle-wrap and monkey-climb over the walls of a crib. It wasn't just the getting out and getting into trouble that made them say it. It was the sheer joy he took in the doing of it.
And hang he did, seven and ten times, atop of being shot dozens more, thrice by an executioner's squad, and made to walk enough planks to build a handsome house. The first time was for thieving, habitual. He grinned as the hangman shoved him off the prop, then went silent.
When they cut him down and laid him into a pauper's grave, he sat up as soon as their attention was on the next poor bastard and walked off into the streets to thieve again.
This happened several times, with little enough variation, until he found himself before Judge George "Gallows" Gardener for the third time. "You there," the judge said. "Have I seen you before? Your face seems awful familiar."
"Well, your Excellency," said Roger, "If you had, going by your reputation would you not have sentenced me to hang?"
The judge nodded thoughtfully. "Surely, surely." He stroked the stubble of his chin. "And yet I do recall that very same face and insolent smile. Perhaps it did not take. Most unusual. I could sentence you to hang again, and personally oversee the event and burial this time, but I have pressing business at my club. As it happens I know of a ship leaving this afternoon for the colonies, in want of mean labour. I thus sentence you to transportation."
The ship did not make it to Australia. It was set upon by pirates off the coast of Africa, after a mistaken belief that it carried rum rather than convicts. The ship, the Fading Rose , was short on crew, and took on the more promising among the transportees.
Roger took well to pirating, and the occasional less honest privateering work. He made a home in Havana and went often to sea, but with each fight he came home diminished. He did not die, but he took wounds, which turned gangrenous or otherwise mortified his flesh, bit by bit. The stench and uncanniness both disturbed captains and crew, and there came a time when one captain had to make him walk the plank or face mutiny. Roger stepped off the wood, grinning despite the pain in his arm.
Beneath the sea the fish nibbled on his dead flesh, stripping the gangrenous arm to the ivory. The pain ended, and he found he could still move his fingerbones, that they held together by some strange force. He was close to shore, in the shallow Caribbean, and a long walk took him to Florida.
He wore a heavy glove for a time, to avoid unwanted eyes, but on nights when he was riding high on drink or gambling wins the glove came off, and he showed off his trick, flipping a coin or nail from finger to finger. Magic men took an interest, and one of them, an old British conjuror named Fetcher Grim, told him how he came to be undying.
"It was a curse," he said. "Meant for Lord Montjoy's first-born son. The elder Montjoy struck one of my colleagues as too pious and proud, and did her and hers much harm as part of the matter of Ireland. But it seems neither the Lord nor his Lady were as virtuous as they played at. The little Lord was not truly his father's son, which we learned last year when he was trampled by a runaway coach and did not rise again, and, not to give insult, but-"
"My mother bedded this nobleman, yes?" said Roger. Fetcher nodded. "More power to her."
"He, uh, may have forced-"
"He didn't die that night," Roger said, "Nor lost his bollocks or eyeballs. Q. E. D." He knew those initials, even though he did not yet speak Latin.
He continued to pirate, losing more and more of himself each voyage, until he was naught but a skeleton, still walking and fighting and carrying his weight. Crews found clean bone less bothersome than rotting flesh. "Do you miss it," he was asked, nearly every trip.
"Not as much as you'd think," he said. "A good meal, but those were rare enough. Sex, now, of course, both wenching and sodomy, but I've got a fine memory. Can recall each time and make it better than it was."
He found himself on the Righteousness, a British-flag privateer under Captain Simon Featherstone. When he inspected the crew, just out of port, he came to Roger. "Tell me," he said, "Were you a white man?"
"Sir, all bones are white," said Roger. He saw the look on Simon's face, that he was suppressing the urge to turn right around, purchase notebook and calipers and hire a squadron of resurrection men to prove him wrong. "But yes. Sir."
"Well that's all right then," said the Captain.
All was not right on that voyage, though. Still winds, cut rations of food and rum, and reliance on the whip brought things to a breaking point, and one night when the shifts were changing Roger got the cabin boy to run him up the flagpole. Most of the crew saluted, drew steel, and got to cutting.
Roger rechristened the ship the Jollity . He did not make a good captain. He lacked the natural greed and ruthlessness required, and this time, when he walked off his own plank rather than be ground bone by bone to dust, he was in the deep Atlantic. It took a long time to reach the bottom.
He sat on the seabed a long, long time. He learned to see by the light of his own sockets. A great whale, dead or dying, settled to the sand and he sat, and watched. Presently the archangel Azrael arrived for the great beast's soul, and noticed him.
"Roger Bartholomew Pickett," Azrael said, both a whisper and a shout. "The curse you bear was meant to torment a man with this world until he begged the devil to drag him to hell. You need not do that. Just ask, and heaven is yours."
Roger laughed in the face of the Angel of Death. "Not today," he said. Azrael turned and floated away.
Roger waited, as scavengers set upon the great whale carcass, rending off leathery skin and blubber and muscle and sinew, dragging out the enormous organ meats as prizes to share or squabble over, for weeks and months until only the skeleton remained. Then he got to work.
He fashioned twin mallets out of bone, then tested each rib closely, wrapping seaweed straps around them to adjust the pitch. Then he began to play, a song he barely remembered ever hearing, a song from before he was born.
The music echoed, and as the first chorus finished it filled the whale skeleton like a soul. The leviathan began to rise, to swim toward surface and shore.
Roger currently lives in New York, in a tiny illegal sublet, rent and utilities paid with Bitcoin and pirate gold. He sits at a desk, and when he isn't sailing the internet he writes, typing out epic novels he first composed while waiting on the ocean floor. He's put a few out there, but no agent or publisher has shown interest. One rejection called out an 'insipid optimism ill-befitting the modern market.'
He continues to write.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 06:35|
The supermarket turnstile was, as always, a problem. Dover wedged his large fleshy body into the gap between the bar and the rotating turnpike and squeezed, puffing a little out of his blowhole.
"Need to knock off the krill, bro," said his brother Finn in his usual sarcastic wail.
Dover ignored him until he was through, then lumbered his bulk around so he could fix him with a withering stare, preparatory to destroying with a few well-chosen notes.
“Dover, stop arguing with your brother,” moaned their mother. “Both of you take the cart and get some krill or you can’t go in the ocean until after tea. Come find us in the cafe when you’re done.”
“Mum!” they both shrieked, then at her stare Fin wallowed mutinously over to the empty shopping cart, knocking over a stand of feijoas. “Ooops,” he said.
“You are such a retard,” hummed Dover. He tried avoiding the feijoas but he felt a few of them splat underneath his tail.
“Rubber and glue, lardass,” Finn whistled back, and nudged the cart to send it rolling down the aisle, then humped after it to catch it before it went around the corner.
“I hate shopping,” said Dover. “These places are really badly designed. Why can’t we just get krill out of the sea like we used to?”
Finn shrugged, a sort of rippling motion near his tiny eyes. He’d caught up with the cart and and batted at it with his fluke. The fluke hit the trolley with a wet slap that sent it careening around the corner before slamming into a tall tower of tinned tomatoes. The tower tottered, in seeming slow motion.
“Oh, crap,” said Dover and hurled himself forward with a flex of his powerful tail, sculling his way across the polished linoleum and leaving a trail of pulped feijoa. He made it to the base of the tower just as the cans rained down, bouncing off his thick skin and rolling along the floor. Then his momentum carried him into the base of the tower and the rest of the cans went flying.
There was a moment where Dover hoped that no-one had noticed, then he looked up and saw the number of people who were looking at him.
“Im, be, cile,” Finn said, whistling out each syllable with leaden finality. “Come on, let’s get the krill.” He nudged the cart, which now had a couple of sad tins of tomatoes rolling round inside it, and loped after it.
“Shouldn’t we, uh, tidy up?” Dover batted at a tin with his fluke and tried to set it upright.. He was unsure how they had been able to put all the cans in the tower it seemed very complicated.
“No, idiot. They have…” Finn waved a fluke vaguely. “People for that. You’ll do it wrong. You’re doing it wrong now.”
Dover had managed to get the tin the right way up, and was trying to put another one on top but the tin kept slipping through his flukes. He had a sudden horrific image of his mum coming round the corner and seeing him here and nodded with an up and down of his body. “Right, right.” He had to hurry to catch up with Finn and was panting through this blowhole when he got there.
"Finn," he said. "Have you ever thought this is a bit weird?"
Finn was nudging the krill shelf with his chin, trying to dislodge the packets of krill into the waiting trolley cart, and didn't answer at first. Then he pushed too hard and the shelf buckled, spilling a fulsome stream of the pale green packets into the trolley. "Crap. Crap. How much did mum want? How many were we supposed to get?" Finn had both flukes up trying to hold back the packets, which were spilling over the side of the cart and on to the floor.
"I mean those can things. I know they've got tomatoes in them, but what the heck is a tomato? Have you ever seen one?" There was a packet of krill in front of Dover and he tapped at it with a fluke, set it sliding across the polished lino. "And I don't think this is even real krill."
Finn's voice was muffled as he bent the shelf back into place, packets of krill still bouncing and skidding down his shiny back. "I hate you so much right now," he said. Something cracked inside the shelving and he pulled back, looking at it cautiously first with his left, then his right eye. It seemed stable so he swung around. "What we need to do is stop imagining crap about stuff that doesn't matter a poo poo, and go take this to mum and go home and have a swim before dinner. You're like the weirdest and most embarrassing brother I think there's ever--"
The heavy crack sounded again from within the tall shelves, but this time it was echoed up and down the supermarket aisle as the shelves buckled, sending packets of krill, pots of jam, and dishbrushes crashing to the ground. Dover looked up and only had time to throw up a single horrified fluke before the shelf slammed into him and everything went black.
Consciousness returned slowly, manifesting itself as a serious of throbs and aches. Dover lifted a hand to his head and stopped, consumed by a wrongness. The light was painful when he opened his eyes, bright like staring into the sun. Dover held his hand in front of his eyes. It was a strange, wriggling thing like an anemone. Water was flowing out of his eyes, which were horribly, impossibly, on the same side of his head now. There was a smooth black rounded bulk in front of him, Finn, and it was wailing words he knew he used to know and didn't any more.
Finn clasped his strange face in strange new hands, and wept tears that were hot and strange, crouched on the floor of the supermarket amidst a clutter of strangeness that he was perfectly equipped, yet utterly unable, to apprehend.
Hellrule: all characters are whales, one is not a whale at the end, no deaths
Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 07:39|
|# ? Aug 19, 2019 07:48|
Well, friends, it was poo poo writing in all meridians, but we have made it through.
WEEK 367 JUDGMENT
There is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of bad writers, but a few of you managed to float to the surface, blobs of ambergris amidst the heaps of sperm.
A trio of stories sank to the bottom and stayed there. I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about the loser, but with feedback from the other two judges we decided War Stories was the worst of the bunch by a mouse’s whisker. Art Performance and Helioglabalus were both competent pieces of writing shackled to a story structure that even good prose could not save. Thus, both get the DM.
Debtor presents a truly disgusting, apocalyptic vision of the future even if it wobbles a little toward the end, like a blob of whale jelly at sea. It gets the HM.
Now, I want both you authors to know how close this was. I could have almost flipped a coin between Due East of Split Rock Point and For You, My Love, a Hubris. Both had compelling settings, fantastic imagery, used the prompt well, and had a touch of difficult-to-pinpoint madness to them that was a fitting tribute to Dick Week.
In the end, Sitting Here, your story won out because I felt the emotions of your characters a touch more vividly than Weltlich’s. But I want you both to know it was extremely close. Weltlich takes the HM, the Blood Queen returns to her throne.
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 05:29|
Here's the judgecrits for this week!
Sebmojo – Cetacean Bycatch
This starts out annoying to read because pretty much all the characters are written to be such, then it continues to annoy me because it’s weirdly sloppy. “Both of you take the cart and get some krill or you can’t go in the ocean until after tea.” is a horrendous run-on sentence, for instance. You once call Finn “Fin” instead, and so on.
Apart from these issues, I’m a little confused as to the “message” of the piece. The whale characters are obviously having trouble because of their whale bodies in a normal supermarket, and Dover even says out loud that this is weird, that they should be in the ocean instead. However, in the end, he turns into a human and that is also wrong, so I don’t know what is actually right. Maybe it is a rather tepid metaphor for how supermarkets are way not natural for humans either, but I don’t really buy it.
Also, just personally, I’m not really fond of what amounts to misery porn, and that’s pretty much what keeps happening to Dover in this story – that’s my bias, though, and I admit to that.
Judgment: low maybe for personal reasons, but it also should have been more technically polished
Thranguy – Roger Bartholomew Pickett: A True History
I think this was weirdly sweet, and compelling to the end. I enjoyed Roger’s completely uncaring attitude both towards misfortune, bad news and even good ones. Overall, I enjoyed reading it.
However, there’s some incongruity with how little Roger cares about things, and how often some specific mentions of magic, curses and so on appear. I feel like it could be a stronger piece if he really doesn’t care at all about his origins – on the other hand, that would make his talents he shows at the end really come out of nowhere, so I don’t know. It’s still a bit weird that he did pick up on things after all.
Other small things that irked me where details like the “Q.E.D.” and the Bitcoin mention, which seem like somewhat forced attempts at injecting more humor into a story that is already pretty light-hearted and darkly funny without that; better to leave them out, imo.
Judgment: high for nailing a tone
Hawklad – The Old Ways
This is quite good, well-written and has a good pace to it. It feels like you tried very hard to use the foreign words as if they were natural to the narrator, while also explaining them to the reader, but you only succeeded sometimes. By the end, I understood that tsantsas are shrunken heads, for example, but it took me until a re-read to understand that achu are simply another tribe, and not some monsters or something, and also opposed to iniks, which are a different race and NOT a tribe – you see how this can be confusing?
You also explain words like uwishin immediately, but leave out the inik translation until the end (though by that point, it was clear with context that it means “white people”). I think overall the density of these foreign words hurt your story a little, you could have had their flavor with some left out and way less [potential] confusion.
Overall, a fine effort and you do manage to bridge some unease and seemingly natural trepidation at what will be a heavy task into a legitimate change of mind and re-targeting.
Judgment: high for atmosphere
Antivehicular – The Litany of the Wounded Ones
I rather enjoyed this, which you can count as a special compliment because usually, I don’t like stories that don’t really have a, well, story. This is more like an embellished creation myth, and it’s pretty intriguing – like if the creatures it’s about have a general notion of how evolution works, but think (or know!) it can be deliberately guided, just by individuals really wanting to change themselves, physically, which will also alter their children. Maybe.
It’s a really fascinating idea, and the only real fault I can find is that I kept wanting to learn more about how the creatures now look like, what their evolution led to, and hollow bones and wings is both a more direct answer (basically: a bird) than I expected, and still disappointingly vague. It does spark the imagination, however. I also liked the conclusion the narrator drew, away from the previous emphasis that every generation made partially the choice to go back to their origins, and it’d be either that or the future in the sky. In the end, it seemed like it would end up with the current diversity of creatures on earth, which is almost…too mundane?
Judgment: HM or win for making me think way beyond your good words
Black Griffon – War stories
This is a bit of an odd beast, because it feels largely pointless, even though it tries really hard to stitch multiple points of view, tones of narration, tenses and so on together into a single narrative, and generally succeeds at that challenge, at least. Each of your small chapters reads fine, is noticeably different and you develop their own “voice” quite well, but in the end, the story is: arrogant nobles send some guy to clear out a guerilla force in what he thinks is a pointless effort, it turns out they are way better armed than he thought, his troops get badly beaten and he retreats.
But that’s it. He lives to old age, the nobles at home never come up again, the viewpoint character that dies is just there to do exactly that (and it’s probably the weakest chapter in general), not mustering much of an emotional response to being massacred with his buddies…overall, I don’t know what you were going for, if anything.
As for the language, it’s generally fine (as I said, I admire your switching the tones), but you start strong with Engel’s righteous fury, and follow that up with a chapter that as I said is rather weak in content and emotion, but also hints at some hyper tech that leaves me mostly questioning about your world rather than going “huh, cool poo poo they have in this…alternate future? Actual future? Other dimension?”.
Judgment: DM candidate, but not a loss because it succeeds at some key things
sparksbloom – Sun-Comprehending Glass
This seems like it could be a cute story, or an uplifting one, or a sad tale of a too common work environment, but it fails to hit any of these emotional beats for me, sadly. The narrator is a little too passive for me, too accepting of her terrible boss, of weird circumstances, that her outburst when talking with her friend feels forced and out of place rather than coming from genuine emotion.
It doesn’t help that your writing is a little sloppy – there’s sentences that stick out like sore thumbs (“This was so patently untrue that it verged into the absurd; one client had showed up without an appointment, and Sheryl had resolved that he wouldn’t been seen that day (“It sends the wrong message,”) while the other client was ready to be seen, and although Sheryl apparently didn’t seem to be doing anything, she wasn’t being seen yet.” is a particular offender with the seen, seen, seen). Also, you call Sheryl “Cheryl” twice at the end. There’s small logical errors that take me out of the story as well – Sheryl’s average client seems to wait 30 min, then is out in 5 and has a dour mood, but the next sentence says that usually, they scream and swear, which seems hard to do in just 5 minutes AND leave them downtrodden, unless Sheryl is loving master class in shutting people up, down and out.
You might note that I haven’t talked about Polly at all, but that’s because she’s barely in the story, from her actual appearance to the image the narrator builds in her head, it’s extremely vague what she is, represents and so on – which is bad, because she should be the centerpiece, the thing that makes narrator turn everything around, but it just falls flat like the one window-cleaner narrator doesn’t even really care about despite convincing herself they’re Polly.
Judgment: a bit of a muddled mess. Loss candidate
Weltlich: Due East of Split Rock Point
This, to me, has the problem that it could be better than it is. I love the general idea of someone trapped in an inescapable situation, who almost loses hope, but finds something that gets them going to finally find a way to free themselves. This time, what gets them going is extremely painful and traumatic (a horrific monster chewing on their best friend’s corpse), and as such the catharsis should be even better, but your story falls just a little flat of that delivery.
It’s probably exemplified in the fight against the monster, which at no point feels like a struggle. Thomas is strengthened by his rage and grief so much that he beats it down pretty much no problem (he doesn’t even get injured), and thus it feels a little unearned. The ending also could be clearer, especially regarding the apparent sin Thomas commits during his escape attempt – I guess you mean to convey that he uses Paul’s body as bait to not get eaten by scores of the monsters outside? This has two problems: a) you don’t make it clear that this is what Thomas does, hence my question, and b) up until the final line, I as the reader don’t know that Thomas (I guess correctly) thinks that he’s surrounded by monsters. Like, it didn’t even occur to me that he goes from “no monsters here, just a lovely underwater situation” to “escape is practically impossible because they’re waiting for me”.
The stakes have invisible raised, and in retrospect it’s even a little silly that he didn’t just dive out by himself at any point, just because he thought waiting for rescue would be safer? Vain hope that Paul is still alive and would show up…somehow?
Also, the aside about evolution is just weird and adds nothing.
Judgment: mediocre, shows promise but doesn’t deliver. Mid to low.
flerp – life loving sucks so death has to as well
This is amazingly emotionally dense, and it feels like it comes from a genuine place of conflict, and that you have something to say about family and grief. I like that it humanizes pretty much every character (except for grandma who was a piece of poo poo), for example with the father who goes from would-be-stranglee to understanding his daughter, but who has to navigate between her feelings and his wife’s.
The one criticism I have is that the daughter’s words at the end are not really what I was looking for. I don’t know, maybe I was expecting them to be more loaded, more clever about her real feelings – that might be because “She made my mom the way she is, and the way I am” is exceptionally passive aggressive if you know the true story, but it’s not the first and only thing she says, she leads with “my grandma was a good person”, and that seems too unambiguous. Even for a “speak not ill of the dead” story.
Other than that, really drat well done.
Judgment: win candidate, excellent mood of frustration about what’s expected of you not gelling at all with what you feel
apophenium – Debtor
Really quite good, I enjoy the surreal kind of body horror that is your premise. It has a great satisfying arc, and it’s quite clear what happens despite the setting being pretty out there, so excellent job.
One thing I would change is to lean more into said body horror. The idea that you’re just constantly being filled with microplastic and that’s causing you terrible pain and your body rejects it, but it’s also required of you to do and it keeps the gears of a totalitarian society going is phenomenally hosed, and while the operation/torture scene is excellent, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of disgust with the setting you put up at the start. In fact, it ends almost validating the Middle’s “efforts”, like the overlords might actually make people’s lives better!
Judgment: HM or win, just marred by a slightly muddled message at the end mostly due to a mood shift
Yoruichi – In The Depths
This is a good, clean God-rage story. It’s tragic, satisfying, bloody and has some great action. Not much wrong with it, though I have two points of criticism.
First, it’s almost too straight-forward: Agwé notes that the captain’s ritual is done correctly, but she just shrugs it off and kills him anyway without effort. It’s not really the point of the story that she needs to struggle (she IS a Goddess), but it could have spiced it up a little more. In a similar vein, she stops the kraken from eating Isaiah effortlessly, and that could have been even more exciting.
Secondly, it feels like you’re treating Isaiah’s wound incongruously. When I read “skinning knife”, I think he’s about to lose a significant portion of, well, skin, but it seems like he “just” got a sigil carved in his arm. That’s not pleasant, but it’s not life-threatening per se, and it seems like it should invoke him being in mortal danger just from that wound, and that Agwé saves him from bleeding to death. Struck me as odd and it’s sad to be taken out of a pivotal moment by this.
Judgment: It’s great, but not quite HM or win material for me
Armack – Art Performance
This reads a bit like American Psycho (a thoroughly repulsive book), but less vile. In fact, it might be the sheer banality of the main character’s evil that is your point, but I feel like it just eludes me. The thing is, there’s plenty of people who do pointlessly lovely things, like you as a normal human being can’t even fathom why they would Be Like That, but…I don’t think they really need a reason for that despite utter lack of empathy. Giving one of those callous motherfuckers an internal voice self-aggrandizing their shittiness seems like a cop-out, and it’s even weirder when they feel bad about themselves. It seems like a strange portrayal of a mental illness that makes a weird dick and you’re a bit “aw shucks” about it.
Again, I’m not about to praise the horrible book American Psycho, but Bateman made more sense to me as someone who is genuinely a psychopath (and knowns it) and is fully aware that his actions are reprehensible but he can’t really help himself because society rewards him for being awful and he knows he’ll never, biologically and psychologically, have the ability to care. Your protagonists’s self-reflection lacks this basic quality and is just…dumb, I’m sorry.
Judgment: leaves me cold and makes me think of bad books. Low.
Sitting Here - For You, My Love, A Hubris
Excellent title. This is a neat bit of mythology, and definitely tries to echo creation stories of old. It neatly hints at things beyond the story, like the nature of the eternal characters, the thing with the trees, without going overboard. I also got a good grasp of Eleanor’s and Tholomul’s personalities.
It loses a bit for me with Grizelda, I can’t quite get a grasp on her; she is definitely stubborn and determined, and loves Eleanor, and has a quick wit, but it doesn’t quite mold together as a person in my mind. If that makes sense.
I was also a bit taken out of the myth-like setting by some idiosyncrasies like them wearing goggles for protection, and the direct reference to another myth with Icarus. That were a bit too many links to our reality.
Judgment: Middle of the pack for me, comfort food but doesn’t completely grab me
crimea - Heliogabalus
A story that misses a lot of potential. Someone hijacking a shuttle to suicide bomb a seemingly overwhelming corporation’s cruel plan - and succeeding despite all odds, despite not having a plan - is quite compelling. However, your protagonist practically - and sometimes literally! - sleepwalks through this story, stumbling into actions rather than choosing them, and in the end succeeding offscreen. Somehow.
The biggest offender here are remarks like “I had stolen a shuttle” (just succeeds, offscreen), “my body must’ve hit the depressurisation button” (dumb luck). The best part are the scenes where he fights the engineer, then patches the suit and goes into vacuum despite it being, well, patchwork at best. The writing style there is still a little too blasé. I never really feel the protagonist care, despite stating that he is uniquely suited to do exactly that at the start of the story. In fact, stuff like that and seemingly random sentences like “I am an old soul in a young body” seem like you’re desperately trying to graft a personality onto a guy who doesn’t really have one.
Also, there’s too much solid exposition at the start.
Again, there’s the kernel of a good story there, setpieces like the sun being a thing that can be bought, your interpretation of a Dyson sphere, but it just doesn’t come together.
Judgment: Low, possibly DM, because I’m not feeling the protag at all
Toaster Beef - From On High
This story has a lot of heart, and I appreciate it. It’s bittersweet, but there is a lot of warmth in your words and scenes. It is ultimately very open in its ending - what will happen next? Is that it? - but it has already planted a good seed of hope for the old church, it will be cared for, I think. But you didn’t beat an explicitly positive message into it, and that is fine.
The one thing I would change is tighten up the opening - as is sadly often the case (Lord knows I do this wrong all the time), the first paragraph drags a little, and you have an unfortunate repetition in restating that the “poor” church also has stained-glass windows, but...less good ones. Another detail in the opening that irked me was that Benjamin and the workers have time to care for every single weed in the garden, but not to fix the literally lethal ceiling.
Finally, the opening puts a lot of emphasis on the contrast between the rich and the poor church, but in the end, only the poor church matters. That makes sense, but it’s missing some sort of arc, that “bring it back” to the opening. Not every story needs that, but it is a little odd that you just phase out the contrast thing during the story.
Judgment: Good feelings, high placement, but not a perfect little wholesome nugget
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 07:54|
Thunderdome Week 368: Hold On Loosely
Right, 25 goddamned wins have taught me how to handle you turdburgers: minimally. This week your story will be about the moment when your character lets go of something dear.
When you sign up, you must:
Unburden yourself (AKA choose something for your character(s) to let go of. This could be anything from a deceased loved one to a bitcoin wallet or a pet dragon). Don't just say 'in'! You gotta give something up!
Unburden another (AKA I will give you something for your character(s) to let go of. This could be anything from their pet iguana to a family recipe or an illicit lover). If you are choosing this option, literally type something to the effect of "i'd like to unburden another" or somesuch. Don't just loving say 'in'. You have to do one of these two things I've just described.
Oh, and when I said 'the moment when your character lets go of something dear'? I meant a literal moment. Your story must take place within the span of an actual moment. You can add context in the narration, but all the dialog and action must take place within a few seconds. I'm going to help you with this by setting a super low word count; focus on emotion and imagery, not concept or conceit. Vignettes and stream of consciousness are okay, though by no means preferred.
Don't overthink it. Post a thing to let go of, or ask for a thing to let go of. This could be literally anything, as long as it's meaningful to the character. Story must only span a few seconds, during which someone lets go of something dear, for whatever reason. Any genre is welcome.
Signup deadline: Friday, Augest 23 at 11:59PM PST
Posting deadline: Sunday: August 25 at 11:59PM PST
Word count: 669
steeltoedsneakers - imaginary friend
Toaster Beef - sixth sense
crimea - serial murder
Fleta Mcgurn - the concept of a 'typical' lifestyle
Pepe Silvia Browne - BAD DOG
Thranguy - earliest memory
weltlich - pair of car keys
flerp - voice
antivehicular - that stained glass window
Simply Simon - the internet
Chairchucker - muse
Doctor Zero - a broken music box
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 23:18 on Aug 21, 2019
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 08:43|
I'd like to unburden another or somesuch
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 08:47|
You take a deep breath, steel yourself, and let go of your imaginary friend
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 09:07|
I'd like to unburden another.
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 09:14|
I'd like to unburden another.
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 10:37|
|# ? Dec 6, 2021 21:17|
in, . My character will let go of the concept of a "typical" lifestyle. Unless that's too broad, in which case you may give me something for them to let go of.
|# ? Aug 20, 2019 11:33|