here are some more Week 400 crits. I'm trying to have all of them done tomorrow but my home "workspace" is not great so it's been very slow going. sorry!
a friendly penguin - Level Two
This is a really cool second layer to T-rex’s story. It’s a mirror image, an inversion, and a nested story all in one. They really do read like who halves of a whole, and the ending of your piece does a lot to validate T’rex’s piece; it really paid off in the moment where Daniel is at the edge of the roof asking the monkey if he’s going to kill himself, and the final image in the story, when Daniel’s failure to light the match causes a crisis of faith in in at least two tower-layers (if I understand the logic of the nester towers correctly, it seems as though Daniel’s perceived failure would have a huge ripple effect up and down the tower layers). Such a cool little inversion. Overall, this is the highlight of the collaborative efforts of Team Jailbreaker. Good job!
As for the individual strengths of this story: The writing is pretty good. I never feel particularly close to Daniel because we’re watching him from the robot monkey’s POV, but he is an interesting character, a little evocative of the biblical Job. He is living out a nightmare scenario—his faith is truly meaningless, and he literally is being manipulated by uncaring “gods”. His hunger for piety and absolution will never be meaningfully sated.
Similar to how I was a little underwhelmed by T-rex’s presentation of 12-step/Narconon-style therapy, I wish the religious elements here were not so on-the-nose Christian and puritanical. This story is good, but if I think too hard about the religion-as-control element, I feel sort of like I’m having a conversation with a teenager who has decided they are no longer going to attend church. The story looks at me very earnestly and rebelliously and says, “Religion is the opiate of the masses, dad.” I think it was a missed opportunity (as with T-rex’s story) to utilize the fantastical nature of the setting to imagine a more unique mechanism of religious/chemical control.
Ultimately, both of these stories leaned a little too heavily on my knowledge of the prompts and setting to tell their stories, so it put them at a little bit of a disadvantage to those stories that had more standalone power. Still, entries like these are what make the “world” of these shared prompts feel more persistent and lived-in, so thank you (you too, T-rex, if you read this)!
Uranium Phoenix - When Life Gives You Radioactive Potato Snacks, You Should Figure Out What To Do With Them
The opening is great. We are dropped immediately into the jaunty POV of a journalist who just got chucked into the deep end of the pool. She immediately scans as confident and plucky, and I want to read more about her. This is how you set up an adventure story protagonist. Loryin’s (lol)studious attention to code violations is a nice touch—it’s a good way to lampoon the comically dystopian Voidmart setting while instilling your character with a useful quirk.
Sidenote: thank you for writing a customer-facing email that doesn’t include inexplicable redactions!
I love the way that Rosa Kool-Aid Mans onto the scene, literally crashing through a wall, ready to offer The Scoop to the intrepid journalist. There’s a gleefulness in the way you make the story happen—a brief, on-the-move dialog exchange establishes that both characters believe they have good reasons for doing what they’re doing, and that it’s only natural that they should team up.
I like Rosa as an affectionate parody of an aimlessly outraged activist. I think anyone who does activism or attends protest is familiar with the sort of personality who thinks wanton destruction is the same thing as effecting meaningful change. Loryin is a little more sensible, but she definitely has an overinflated idea of her importance of her investigative journalist activities; you get the sense that she kind of hopes the powers that be will come down on her because that would legitimize her presence in the tower and make her a true whistleblower.
As for the ending: lol I’ve seen the episode of TNG where Picard rules lawyers the xenophobic aliens too. That’s not a critique, but it seemed too quippy to include in the ‘competencies’ section.
I think your title does the story a bit of a disservice. The titular tots aren’t really that important to the story, and the way they’re used at the very end takes the story over the edge from “pleasantly implausible” to “ACME brand cartoon climax”. It absolutely reads like a wordcount crunch issue, and I found myself wishing that you’d found a way to resolve the story using a pre-existing element (Loryin’s rules lawyering) rather than a last-minute prop (radium-infused tater tots). It’s like a weird inversion of Chekov’s gun; it’s rarely satisfying when the protagonists win a fight with a tool acquired in the final act, unless attaining that tool was the purpose of the previous acts.
Rather than a slapstick fight scene, it might’ve been nice to lean into Loryin’s encyclopedic knowledge of code violations and had her go toe-to-toe with an AI or something (in this headcanon Rosa sneaks around and smashes the CPU just before Loryin wins her rigorous battle of logic.
I dunno. I really loved the first 2/3rds of this, but the final fight scene felt a little two slapstick, even though it did contain some of the elements I wanted to see.
Black Griffon - Double dipping
The standout feature of this story is the interaction between Siren and Pint. Pint is clearly horrifying, but Siren’s affectionate way of addressing him is very endearing. The ending of the story is bizarrely hilarious, with pint having consumed some or all of the eldritch symbiote that seems to be part of the tower—which is made evident when both he and the tower light up with friendship feelings for Siren.
This gets points for creativity; I largely don’t know what the gently caress is going on, but I love the idea of this carnivorous horror rippling through the tower walls and floors in the form of hundreds of mouths and impaling metal stakes. Siren is caught in the middle of a little bit of a kaiju battle sort of situation, though she is firmly on the side of both monsters and is mainly trying to mediate between them. I like how she has a dramatically different relationship to the structure vs Pint; in same ways, her connection to the structure is stronger, since she seems to have the ability to link with it and direct its actions, while her relationship with Pint is part handler, part colleague, and part friend.
I don’t think you needed Siren’s dialog with Parasol. Their exchanges seem to exist to tell the reader what’s going on, and are fairly generic. You could easily have conveyed the same information through the narration instead of dialog. There’s some cool stuff about how she’s starting to hear Parasol before its transmissions actually reach her, but it’s kind of one weird and freaky detail in a story that is comprised at the atomic level of weird and freaky details.
Like many stories this week, you leaned a little too hard on the judge’s knowledge of the setting, and skimped out on some essential description. For example, the third sentence in your story is this:
Now, I know you’re talking about levels in the tower, but you should still do a little “establishing shot”—a sentence or two of description that lets the reader envision your character’s position within the set and setting.
One to fifty has been silent for hours, fifty one to seventy three has gone silent over the past twenty minutes.
In general, this story had a lot of that sort of vagueness—the things I could imagine were very cool, but it took a little bit of rereading to piece together what was going on because you glossed over a lot of description.
dmboogie - ..way down, all the way down, all the…
Did you sneak a peek at the Jailbreaker chat somehow?? Your towers-within-towers mention is eerily similar to their shared premise if not. Intentional or not, it added to my sense of a shared world.
Anyway. I’m a sucker for stories about impossible love, and the narrator’s fascination with Loewe manages to stay just on the endearing side of creepy. It’s a little bit like the contemporary phenomenon of parasocial friendships—a listener’s one-sided affection for a podcaster, for example. It’s easy for me to believe that the narrator would, in the end, be strongly motivated by a desire to protect Loewe from the futility of trying to escape to the next level. I like that there is an almost protective quality to the narrator’s fixation on Loewe; they are a little horrified at the revelation of the multi-layered nature of their reality, but that horror is overriden by love~
I also enjoyed the narrator's monologues at their own overseer. It makes it easier to believe that Loewe is fully keen on the idea of being crushed on by the person in the next surveillance room up. It’s easy to imagine a long chain of these silent relationships, with all the operatives putting on little performances for their unseen observers.
I’m going to give you the crit that all authors hate getting, which is that this story is basically fine. What makes it fine, instead of great, is the way you allocate words to the different elements of your plot. You spent a decent chunk of the story lovingly crafting the whole watchmen-watching-the-watchmen security deal, as well as the narrator’s infatuation with Loewe. It’s not bad stuff, but at a story this length, it’s better to start closer to the climax—the moment when alternate Loewe bursts through the door with other escapees from the next tower down.
For example, it doesn’t matter that the narrator’s infatuation started “precisely two weeks after” they started working as a security tech. A lot of the narrator’s idle musings about the security apparatus don’t [i]initially[/] matter—it would be more effective if they were sprinkled throughout the story. There’s nothing wrong with the first few hundred words, they just aren’t very efficient at this length.
So maybe you give us one moment that crystalizes the narrator’s affection for Loewe; watching him sing could be it. Rather than give us the whole backstory, show the readers one small (one-sided) interaction that implies a pattern of such interactions. The actual conflict of this story is the alternate Loewe’s appearance. That is when it becomes personal for the narrator, and really weird for “our” Loewe, who presumably is really fuckin weirded out by seeing his terrified doppleganger.
You could have gone so many directions with that. Maybe the narrator ends up helping the alt-Loewe, interfering with security measures to keep him safe. Maybe Loewe tries to save his other self, and the narrator has to choose whether or not to stop him. I could think of a million things.
Alternatively: choose a story climax that fits the tone of your opening. Instead of having this bombastic invasion of dopplegangers from another tower, maybe the primary conflict is something more personal and mundane (even if cataclysmic tower drama is still happening in the background).
Applewhite - Neighborhood watch
I like the way you described the mechanic of the emotion-seeking goggles! Specifically, I like that objects carried the residue of their use (and mistreatment). Also, I enjoy that the person using it is apparently very low on empathy; seeing emotional residue would be incredible, but this guy doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate that.
Sasha is a pretty good unreliable POV character. For a little while I genuinely thought he was stalking some idiot kids, and the things hinting otherwise were subtle enough that they could have been part of the general void weirdness.
The ending feels very Twighlight Zone. Sasha’s ultimate fate feels justified, and it’s easy to feel good about because he didn’t actually hurt anyone. I don’t think turning someone into a living security camera is something any government or organization should do, but in Sasha’s case, it’s poetic, and he’s not exactly miserable. He has been fully assimilated by the fascists! Albeit in a dehumanizing way. But that is the price we pay for safety and security.
Sasha as a character is fairly unnuanced, so while the ending does feel like a payoff of sorts, I can’t say I really enjoyed riding along with his POV. I don’t have to like him, don’t have to condone his actions, can find him totally repugnant, but since we spend the whole story with him, I was hoping for something more developed than “delusional wannabe cop”. He’s kind of one note the whole time, so while it’s satisfying to see him get his comeuppance, it’s also kind of a tidy tale about a bad thing happening to a flatly bad person.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 00:21|
|# ? Feb 6, 2023 17:05|
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 00:22|
Crittin as I go.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 01:09|
in, assign me a deep cut, please
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 01:19|
FLASH!: Your story cannot have any fighting whatsoever.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 01:20|
Here's a bonus crit of Solitair's "Harbinger," because I've been thinking about it some:
First of all, like Chili already mentioned, the character names here are a lot to take in, particularly as the very first thing we see. (I have a particular pet peeve for characters whose names are extremely on the nose for their magical powers, as with the twins Apollonia and Selenicus here; this is maybe forgivable because they're actually supposed to be gods, but the initial setup doesn't make that clear at all. I read about Generals and Lords and their protege in a tent, and I think wizards or such, not gods.)
Also, Triana is a dragon, I think/guess? This is genuinely a tricky subject. I know it's kind of gauche to just say "this character is a dragon," but indirect description can be a touch too indirect.
The scene in the tent establishes that there's a ritual going on to stop a crisis, or problem, which is never explained in any more detail. This felt really weird to me when I was reading it; even a little bit of magi-babble about "correcting the celestial disjunction" or something would make this feel more plausible. I feel like you're not bothering to explain the problem because you know it's ultimately a decoy, but the reader doesn't, and it feels weird that something that's apparently terrifying the characters and requiring a worldwide response is left so vague. (It doesn't help that we have gestures towards there being more, like the thing with the New Gods, that's just not followed up on in this piece.)
That brings me to what I think is the major problem of this piece: Tiana's status and her character progression through the story. The initial scene in the tent, as I mentioned before, conjures up the general image of a junior wizard who's competent but terrified of what she's about to. It's established that she's a sovereign of some form, and probably some kind of advanced being compared to the magisters, but still, she doesn't seem all that confident. And then the sky erupts into boils (?), and this somehow gets her angry, and thus completely confident? And she's actually an Old God and an unfolding tesseract-dragon? That's a cool mental image, but it's a huge whiplash, and I don't think the transition from "nervous about this prepared ritual" to "completely prepared to destroy this screaming mouth in the sky with my supreme deific power" doesn't really work as stands. I feel like Triana either has to be more confident at the outset -- more assured of her power and of the planned solution -- or experience more of a moment of fear and uncertainty before the divine wrath takes over. Honestly, maybe both? I can also see it working if the manifestation reassures her in a "great, something I can just kill!" way, although I'm not sure that works with the character of an Old God who spawned an enlightened age.
Another problem with this piece is that you're trying for fairly elaborate imagery but not always being precise about your language. A few bits that jumped out to me:
Instead, the sky erupted in boils, blanched itself to a jaundiced yellow
I don't have a clear mental image of boils on the sky -- points of light? Points of darkness? -- and the language in the next clause is pretty sloppy. "Jaundiced yellow" is redundant ("sickly" might work better, or "the color of jaundice") and "blanched" doesn't make sense unless the sky started darker yellow.
Several brains liquefied, and the rest struggled to maintain solidity.
"Several" feels like an understatement for a catastrophe of this level, and I'm just not sure the melting-brain visual works great -- a brain physically melting feels more like a schlock horror image, and I have no idea how anyone would struggle to keep their brain from melting. Minds breaking might make more sense?
Anyway, my point is to be extremely clear and careful with your figurative language, because that's the only way it really has impact.
One of the problems with critting this piece is that I'm not sure how many of the moving parts here will matter for the rest of the story. Were this intended as a stand-alone, I would 100% cut the aside about the New Gods, and I'd even consider cutting the initial conversation with the other sovereigns entirely, to use that time on clarifying who/what Tiana is and what the crisis at hand is. That said, these forces might matter more in the narrative to come, and is a good example of why this probably needs to have more novel attached to it before a full fine-polish edit. If they do matter more, I'd consider ending this chapter with some kind of allusion to what's happening to the other gods/sovereigns; how wrecked is the rest of the world right now? Or is that for the rest of the novel to establish?
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 01:28|
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 01:30|
in and give me somethin good
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 02:49|
Week 401 Crits of Wildly Varying Quality
A quick general note that you’re probably all going to scroll past anyway: There were quite a few of you who fell into the same trap this week, which was trying to pace a novel chapter like a short story. I saw a lot of people rushing to cram in detail, and I understand the desire to get your intentions down on the page so the reader understands where things are going, but it really harmed the pacing and weight of a lot of otherwise decent stories this week. It’s not what you’ve been training to do in TD, and I understand how frustrating hearing that will be for some of you, but I went into this attempting to judge these as novel chapters, so my expectations were much different from what they normally would be.
I would also like to say that I did not think that any of these were irredeemable in any way, they all just required different levels of reworking. If you liked your idea this week, then keep working on it! I would be more than happy to be a first reader for a lot of these stories, assuming you don’t want to kick my rear end once you read my crits, so don’t get too down on yourself if you didn’t do as well as you hoped. Novels are like babies, and if you’ve been harboring this idea for a long time, it can absolutely feel like a personal attack if someone else didn’t like them.
tl;dr WRITE MORE, I’M RUNNING OUT OF QUARANTINE READING MATERIAL!!!
See-Sayer - high-mid
The second paragraph seems to cut a little of the intrigue you’ve introduced in your first; this probably isn’t the most compelling opening you could have chosen. It’s a good start, but maybe a little slow.
I enjoyed this a lot. I liked the glimpses of the society (the ending especially was a good hook), I felt for Thun and liked her. Your characterization if both her and Wepa were solid. I would definitely buy this. For me, the decision for the win came down to if I could only buy one book, which would I choose. I would come back and buy this book on my next trip, though.
Blackfeather - low
I strongly dislike your opening line. It’s a weird Navi-from-Zelda feel and just turned me off immediately. Related: do people actually call one another little brother in English? I feel like that is a huge anime-tell, and that may be what’s annoying me. Just change “little brother” to Soring and you’ll fix it well enough.
You seem to be dancing around the fact that these characters aren’t human, but your descriptions are super vague and it’s very frustrating as a reader. I appreciate that you’re trying to avoid an exposition dump, but you can tell me what they actually look like while things are happening. Just up the amount of description in the same places and you’ll be good.
What are Himari-style braids, Google just keeps showing me anime poo poo. Okay, further reading leads me to believe it’s a province in your world, so you’d probably be better off with something like “braids in style in the Himari region” just to add some context.
You have so many weird and awkward turns of phrase in here, a lot of your worldbuilding feels out of place and forced. You keep dropping words in without definitions, or, even worse, words with their definitions that absolutely don’t need to be there. Like this part:
Stepping outside was like walking into a hydrakathra’s fiery maw. Within seconds, sweat rolled down the crease of his spine. He raced through the streets of the Grove between girthy half-tree, half-stone structures called mabokiin, where most residents lived on this peculiar little river-island.
I don’t know what a hydrakathra is so your simile is meaningless, and the bit about the mabokiin is some ‘keikaku means plan’ level of unnecessary. You can leave out what they’re called unless it’s actually important to the story. I feel like so many people who want to write fantasy feel compelled to be the next JRR Tolkein, but you don’t actually need to invent a new language to write in (and please trust me on this because I absolutely did when I was in high school and it was as dumb then as it is now), you just need to write something that makes sense to the reader. I will not remember the word mabokiin so I’m just going to have to keep looking it up every time it’s mentioned, which is more effort than I want to spend on bird people. Making up words and names is fine, just save your linguistics degree for things that are actually important or interesting.
Anyway, I would not buy this book.
What You Can’t Leave Behind - low-mid
I hated this one… less. You’ve got some okay characterization and quite a few really weird turns of phrase and tense confusion. Your first line in particular is arresting (and not in a good way), since it feels like it hops between past and present tense. I’m somewhat interested, but this needs a strong editing pass. Your characters also hit on some stereotypical woman archetypes, and really need more to make them real and not obnoxious. Also, stupid quibble: while as a math teacher I appreciate the compass/protractor joke, this was pretty unbelievable and seemed forced. Why the hell would she have a protractor in her Adventure Bag? I don’t even have a protractor in my Actual Geometry Teacher’s Bag.
I think that you were trying to give some insight into your character’s personalities, and while I can see glimpses of what you were going for in there, I think this needs a revision or three more before I would buy it.
Our Curse - mid
This isn’t super compelling, and you have a few weird tense shifts that bother me. The stuff about the ring goes on a bit long; it’s a lousy hook. I’m guessing from your title that something is up with the ring, but if that’s the case then you should lead with that. If you opened with her not being able to get the ring off before she goes out for the night, it would be okay to then go into the ring’s description and backstory, since you’ve established an interesting property of the ring so the reader is willing to continue reading. As it was, I was under the impression this was a Stella Gets Her Groove Back/Eat Pray Love finding-herself-after-the-divorce story, right up until the ending when she still couldn’t get it off and I remembered the title. I still don’t know if I would buy it, but it may just not be my genre.
Bread Alone - mid
Hmm. An interesting premise, but felt sloppy and a touch overblown to me. I’m sure chili probably touched on this in his crits, but as someone who works a lot with teens and also started therapy at 15, some of this made me cringe. I see what you were trying to go for, but I worry about it being… I don’t know, misleading about a heavily stigmatized but desperately necessary subject? That is entirely my own personal biases and anxieties speaking, however, and I do think that you have something there that’s worth exploring further.
Regardless, I do think this needs a rework to clean it up, and if I’m being totally honest I’m not sure any publishing house would touch this (Being Jesus is not a superpower that I imagine going down well, at least not in the US). I could well be wrong, though! I don’t think I would buy it, but would look it up later to read the reviews.
The Conquest of Paradise - mid
So the issue here is that by having your POV character be High As Balls, you’ve made it difficult for your reader to distinguish the real from the unreal. Maybe that’s intentional, but it turned me off as a reader. I like your ideas (do please tread carefully around the ‘Drunken Injun’ trope, though), but I don’t think I’d buy this. It’s definitely got some good stuff in there, so I’d be interested in seeing you continue with it. Honestly this is probably suffering from the same issue that I saw from so many pieces this week, which was trying to cram too much into too little space. I’d like to see a little more time given to establishing the setting and getting a feel for the world as it is and what the MC’s place is in it. It’s very counterintuitive, because it’s the opposite of what we usually push in TD, but I’d really like to see this given more room to breathe before we get into Huge Conflict Time.
I Think, Therefore I Am - low
I feel like maybe this was fun to write in a sort of manic stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but it was not fun to read. It was not fun to decipher what was happening, and the golem pastiche was neither entertaining nor cute. You could cut 80% of this and it would be a huge improvement.
I would say focus more on characters and less on what’s “happening.” For me, interest comes less from events and more from relationships and feelings. I know that that seems to contradict what I said about cutting out so much of your character’s inner monologue, but for all that I’ve read about your golem’s conscious experience, I have no idea who they are. How are they feeling about this experience? Are they scared because they don’t know what’s happening? Are they angry at being forced to obey? Do they sympathize with mage guy? And what’s up with mage guy? How is he feeling? I wanna know what made him turn to dark magic? It’s okay to leave the reader wanting more, but in exchange you have to give them something.
Up in the Holler - high
I’m into this. I appreciate that you didn’t fall into the trap of trying to have a complete arc like so many of the stories did this week, and this is definitely up my alley. You’re a teeny bit coy at times, but that’s not as great a sin in a novel as it can be in short fiction, and you show enough glimpses of what’s to come that I’m not frustrated by it. It’d be on the potential checkout list, at the very least. Maybe not as compelling to me as some of the others, but I would carry it around the bookstore for a while for sure. Sorry I don’t have more for you. :/
Copyright Trademark - high
Aced the first line. A+
You have a lot of good zingers in here that could definitely wear out their welcome, but I feel like you’ve handled this pretty deftly. I can’t decide if I love or hate the Amazon scrip bit, though. It’s hilarious NOW, but idk if it will age well.
The description of Rose is maybe borderline too much, and it’s hard for me to say why. Probably just because it feels like the type of description you give to a Love Interest, and I like her too much already to want her to just be that. I also worry that you’re setting her up for Trinity Syndrome, but I will trust you… for now.
Yeah, I’d definitely buy this. You hit my scifi comedy pressure point pretty good. This is also exactly the kind of book that my husband would hate, but he doesn’t like fun, so screw him. I felt like a kind of a dissenting voice in the judges panel, but comedy is SO subjective, I feel like it’s important to remember that while it may not work for everyone, this still works.
Iterate - high
I lol’d at itsyaboy1488.
“retrochronological meta algorithm” is a touch too buzzword-y. Reign it back a bit here. My concern with this second character is that it would be very easy to fall into some Men In Black-style tropes. It’s okay to have a cynical bureaucrat as a character, but do give them a few other character traits, as well.
I’d probably buy this, although to be fair I did give you a prompt that was specifically something I love, so that’s to be expected somewhat. I like what you did with it, and I was interested in seeing where it goes. My ONLY point of contention is that I’m not entirely sure you know where this is going, but given that you were starting completely from scratch that’s okay. Also who am I kidding, I never know 100% for sure how anything I write will end before I get there. You’re fine.
All is Fair in Love and Wrestling - low-mid
I really hated your first line until I realized MC was a woman. Sorry, it just came off as stereotypically neckbeard-y. As it is I’d still work on making it more nervous and less creepy.
***This section of screaming about Having to Read Anime has been redacted***
Tiny quibble, but: is pro wrestling really ‘mainstream’ in Japan? I always got the impression is was more of a fringe thing, but I’m perfectly willing to be wrong and also it doesn’t matter at all I’m sorry the anime is breaking my brain aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
This really reads like you were envisioning an anime when you wrote it. You just have so many overblown descriptions and tropes that you’re skirting/unabashedly leaning into that it’s hard for me to criticize as a piece of written fiction outside of that context. You need to tone down some of your hyperbole (calling her girlfriend a goddess is okay maybe once, but it feels like part of an overarching pattern that comes off as weird), and reign in your said-isms (just say “said,” it’s fine). I would also like to see some more characterization of both MC and Girlfriend. I sort of got a vague sense of who MC might be, but it feels like Girlfriend is only ever described as Sweet and Pretty and it feels very hollow.
Would I buy this? Maybe if it were a manga. But a novel? No.
(I’d read the webtoon tho. (DON’T YOU DARE JUDGE ME))
A Chance Meeting - mid
This feels... unsatisfying. The conflict you set up at the beginning gets resolved way too easily, and I kept expecting Miles to reveal a doublecross that never happened. Maybe that’s just my expectations of short fic talking, but I would like to see a little more difficulty in resolving the incursion of a military ship. This was just a little too easy for me to find it satisfying.
Would I buy it? I’d think about it. Maybe if it were on sale in paperback.
Songs of the South - high
The first word had me worried, but that’s a drat good first line.
Yes, yes, yes, please more. Now, please.
The tiniest possible quibble I have is that aren’t people with mutism usually born that way? It seems unrealistic that she would have never talked as a newborn or toddler. I guess it’s reasonable for the time period to not distinguish between physical mutism from birth and later-onset or non-physical mutism, but that was my first thought when I read your ending.
Still. More, please. M O R E
The Happily Hereafter - low-mid
Nazi line is funny but the plurality is weird. Not sure if “Dis” is a typo or a name; there’s not quite enough context clues to figure it out, either.
Wow, okay, I was on board and then you had this HARD tonal shift to Santa trying to shlorp up his guts. It reminds me of the transition between the first and second scene in Reservoir Dogs.
Unfortunately, I hated Reservoir Dogs. *takes drag from cigarette, stares into the distance*
I know the temptation is to vary your word choice to mix things up, but please do NOT do that with the names you call people. It’s annoying and unnecessary. If you start calling him Santa, keep calling him Santa. You do not need to switch between every possible variation of Jolly Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Mr. Claus, St. Nicholas, etc etc etc. I’ll allow the first one before the page break, but after that you should just stick to one name.
Man you are trying super hard to be funny, but pop-culture references don’t land quite as well on the page as they do on tv (re: “to shreds, you say”).
Why are there lines extending off into eternity but you can also just literally walk up to a counter and complain about being dead? Shouldn’t that counter have the LONGEST line? Who wouldn’t want to demand to speak to Limbo’s manager?
Oh my god he actually asks to speak to the manager.
This doesn’t feel so much like the opening to a novel as to a short story I wouldn’t want to read. You have a decent enough setting, but as soon as MC meets Paul
Harbinger - low-mid
Uhhhhhhhh, not super sure what happened here. You’re using a lot of really big words for the sake of an old-timey mythological feel, but it’s significantly distracting from your meaning and clarity.
So I think what’s happening is that Dragon Lady MC thinks she is waiting to fix a problem on earth under the direction of Sun God and Moon God, but then when she tries to attack the Big Tumor in the Sky she realizes that Sun and Moon Gods are bad and blows herself up to spite them? That is what I got out of this.
Your ending raises a lot of questions, but I’m not even sure I’m asking the right ones, since your description of events is so opaque.
I probably would not buy this.
Oceanworld Chapter 1: The Trident - low
The biggest thing I am struggling with here is caring. I have no reason to care about this person, you’ve given me nothing of who they are or why they are out here, and you’ve put a bunch of “thing happen” on the page like you’re acting out a scene with dolls.
Openers are weird in that you really can’t rush things. Books are a different beast than short stories, and if you make the opening too fast, it robs it of potency.
Man, this is So Much Exposition.
It feels like you’ve squashed an entire third of a book (minimum!) into this supposed first chapter, in the process robbing your story of any weight or interest. If you want to rework this, I would spend the same amount of words on just up to the end of the Titan call-to-adventure. You need to make your reader care.
Would not buy.
How To Get Over Your Ex - mid
I’m too tired to go into how obvious under the bed would be as a place to look for the money. This was competently written, but it felt boring and formulaic enough to distract me from your skill as a writer. I genuinely never thought I would say this, but you need a gimmick to make this stick in anyone’s mind enough to want to read it. I’m going to need just a little bit more of something to buy this.
Unburdening - mid
Hm, okay. I’m not not into this. Could be decent, although it’s hard to pick out how long this could actually spin out for, since it feels like you’ve played your hand a bit early with the reveal (although I do acknowledge that it was only to make your adherence to your flash clear). It has the definite feel of a middle reader’s book (not necessarily a bad thing), and I probably would have bought this when I was younger. I also probably would have complained about the way they drew the dragon on the cover, but that was me with basically any dragon book.
This is interesting but more than a little confusing and very slightly up its own rear end. You’re also suffering for obscuring an interesting concept behind unclear language. I like what I could make out of your world, but I don’t think that I would buy this because I’m not totally sure what it is.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 03:38|
Kiss the Bride
Song Flash: Old, New, Borrowed, Blue: Pick Two and use them.
Word Flash: There's at least four characters in your story.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 04:06|
in and give me somethin good
Three Way Love Affair.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 04:09|
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 04:31|
100% in for Elton! I'll take a song assignment and a flash, please.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 05:31|
Yes hello in give me a song please I don't mind which I don't think he's ever written a bad one.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 05:40|
Song Flash: This song has no title and your protagonist has no name.
Standard Flash: Take your characters on vacation. Wherever they are, it's not home.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 06:19|
Yes hello in give me a song please I don't mind which I don't think he's ever written a bad one.
Bennie and the Jets
FLASH! You cannot use the name Benny or any variations or variant spellings (such as Ben/Benjamin/Benita Applebum/etc) or have jets.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 06:23|
In, give me a song
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 08:01|
knocking it out of the park with these good and useful crits
also I'm in, gimme a song
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 09:35|
and a flash
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 09:36|
Gimme all the flashes u got
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 09:48|
In, give me a song
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 11:20|
knocking it out of the park with these good and useful crits
Texas Love Song
FLASH: Guess where your story takes place. Did you say Texas? You're right!
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 11:22|
Song Flash!: your story must include a literal stone crocodile.
Word Flash: Tell that one toxic friend, "Yo, lose my number."
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 11:27|
You thought a simple ban could destroy me! Pfftt... In, flash plz.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 15:26|
You thought a simple ban could destroy me! Pfftt... In, flash plz.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Song Flash: Butterflies matter in the story.
Word Flash: So do at least two postcards.
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 23:59|
in, I'll take a song and a flash please
|# ? Apr 16, 2020 08:47|
in, I'll take a song and a flash please
Word Flash: Your story must take place in either the Spring or the Fall.
|# ? Apr 16, 2020 18:15|
100% in for Elton! I'll take a song assignment and a flash, please.
May I have an assignment pls? Think I got missed, a fact that I also missed until now.
|# ? Apr 16, 2020 20:54|
Week 401 Crits -- PART 1
All stories were read in judgemode. If anyone wants to discuss my crits or your story in more detail, please send me a PM or (more usefully) find me in Discord. Happy to talk. Also I started out doing full crits but quickly realized that would take… A long time. And I only got through... Three today. The rest will come tomorrow.
Comments about the week:
This week differs from every other week of TD that I’ve been a part of, as the requirements of writing a good first chapter are very different from the requirements of writing good flash fiction. Flash fiction must be complete within the word count--the entire story that the author sets out to tell has be finished, all its ideas communicated within those words. The same is not true of first chapters, by definition. It makes the idea of writing a successful first chapter a lot trickier, as you still must have some semblance of an arc, to give your reader an idea of the direction of your story, without actually just writing the whole story. (Of course, add to that the idea of writing a first chapter to be judged in this format, and it gets trickier still). All that to say, mixed results.
This week also brought out a lot of earnestness from you poor sweet domers. When the prompt is to write the first chapter of your novel, well, that gives us a taste of what’s in the hearts of domers, and... of course you all want to write nerdy world-buildy sci-fi and fantasy. With very mixed results.
The writing, from a mechanical perspective, was not so horrible. The biggest issue was clarity of description, which I think had much more to do with a desire to world build and come up with inventive stuff than with ability to write words--except, well, definitely too much purple prose.
My crit format is as follows:
Plot summary: A simple, objective reading of what happens in your story. This will be devoid of analysis or commentary. This helps me to make sure I have a handle on the literal plot of the story, for the purposes of the next two sections, and hopefully helps you to understand how your story read, from a clarity standpoint.
Story Analysis: A critical reading of what your story is about--the themes, ideas, motifs, moods, etc. Sometimes, this is what you intended it to say, sometimes, it is not. Sometimes, your story isn’t supposed to mean anything, so hopefully this section will help you understand what your story communicates, even unintentionally.
Commentary: My actual opinion about your story. I’ll give you my reaction, my opinion about the success or failure of the story, my opinion about story choices, plot mechanics, etc.
Fuschia tude’s Unburdening
Plot Summary: An old, apparently immortal man named Bonn moves into a vacant shop in Paris, just before the French Revolution. He sets up a laboratory of sorts, in which he creates all sorts of concoctions (with apparently controversial ingredients). The local children come to gawk at him, though they all soon lose interest, except for one small child, who continues to return. Eventually, the girl, Racine, enters the shop, and the two form a friendship: Bonn creates (his laboratory is actually a kitchen, apparently), Racine tastes. She has quite discerning taste, and apparently dislikes much of what Bonn creates--which makes sense, because, as Bonn admits, he has a poor understanding of human taste. Bonn also reveals some minor details about his past: he is independently wealthy, and has previously served for an unnamed king. Years pass, Racine appears less and less, and Bonn considers moving on to a new place (because, despite his grouchy nature, he apparently valued Racine’s friendship quite a lot). Then, suddenly, Racine appears, disheveled, and it is revealed that she has aligned herself with the revolution. Bonn steps in to defend his friend, and reveals his true dragon nature in the process.
Story Analysis: This story is about friendship, and its power to reveal our true nature. Though Bonn is initially quite reticent to engage with anyone, it is through his friendship with Racine that he learns more about humanity, and that ultimately causes him to reveal himself as a dragon. When it appears that his friendship with Racine has withered away, he considers leaving Paris for some new lair. The friendship between Bonn and Racine also speaks to the power of friendship to inspire loyalty, as Bonn comments that he owes nothing to the soldiers and the King of France, and reveals his true nature, putting himself in danger by doing so (he does mention loyalty to an old king, incidentally, which indicates that loyalty is an important subject for Bonn, and more complicated than we can resolve through what’s given here).
Bonn is an example of a being uncomfortable in his true identity, though for what reason we cannot discern here--it could be due to hostility toward dragons, toward him particularly, or perhaps he has a desire, due to envy, curiosity, or some other reason entirely, to be human. Racine is a clever young girl with little interest, apparently, in the friendship of youth until she enters her teens, as she apparently prefers the company of a taciturn old man. Perhaps this is part of what leads her to join the revolution.
Commentary: A firm no mention for me. There is something here, in the friendship between Racine and Bonn, and in the exploration of Bonn’s past life. This reminds me a bit of LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle (particularly in the early relationship between Ged and Tenar), a little bit of Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind (with the allusions to Bonn’s presumably legendary status in the past). However, this story suffers from a lack of excitement. Part of the problem of judging only the first chapter is that, you, as the writer, have (perhaps) some idea of what will come after; we have none. You need to hook the reader, but also build enough context for us to understand where we are. This gives me enough context to discern that we are in France on the verge of Revolution, and tries to drop a couple of breadcrumbs pointing to Bonn’s mysterious nature and past. Unfortunately, I felt little reason to want to know more. This can often be the problem with taciturn characters, which is fine if the other characters carry you, since that will provide room for them to blossom. If the grumpy old man is your main character, you need to give me some reason to care--his personal stakes, his motivations, something. We get so precious little.
There are some perspective issues here, which is always tricky with characters with hidden identities. The story is clearly from his perspective, and we have access to his thoughts, but the story also wants to hide some things from us.
The first line is presumably direct commentary from Bonn (and if not, if from a third party, that’s another issue/question), but then, immediately after, you refer to him as ‘an old man’. Then in the next sentence you give his name. This can be confusing, as I had to question whether the old man was different from Bonn. I figured it out soon enough, but those sorts of details can make your story readable or challenging.
The insufferable thing about immortality is it never ends.
Here is a simple case of confusing antecedents. Because you mention that Bonn sees a small child, I expect the next bit of description to refer to the small child. It actually refers to Bonn, of course, but it took me another moment to puzzle that out. Again, small issues, but can be significant to the experience of the reader.
One day, as he was inflating a glass vessel, Bonn saw a small child with disheveled hair watching from behind the door. He was a short man, with a white ring of hair starting from his temples, and only small tufts of hair above.
This story also suffers from having to reveal your character’s dragon identity, because of the flash rule. I don’t hold that against you, but it does weaken the ending to the chapter. Feels a bit rushed.
Thranguy’s How To Get Over Your Ex
Plot Summary: Lise is breaking into her (newly) ex-boyfriend Derek’s house, the night after walking in on him with another girl. She left without a word that night, so is back the following night (while Derek is at work on the night shift) to gather her belongings. While looking for her things, she discovers a duffel full of cash, which she is certain Derek is not capable of possessing (by honest means, at least). She decides to take this duffel almost without a thought. As she is packing up, a car pulls up--not Derek’s. She hides under the bed with the duffel. Men come in, drop something on the mattress, discuss the money (intended to frame Derek), and the opportunity to skim a little for themselves, then go searching for it. They don’t find it, so they leave. Lise comes out from under the bed and finds the other girl on the mattress, now dead. She returns to grab the money, resolved to find the killers and clear both Derek’s name, and hers.
Story Analysis: This is a story about how getting in bed with assholes is a really bad idea. This goes for Lise, of course, but also for Derek (both with red-head--an rear end in a top hat for sleeping with a cheater--and with these shadowy setup men) and Red-Head (for sleeping with Derek, who is an rear end in a top hat). It’s also how about thugs willing to steal from their boss (presumably) are also probably not smart enough to check under the bed. It’s also about the importance of checking your calendar.
Not sure there is much else here yet, and I don’t know if there would be, given the straightforward nature of this crime caper.
Commentary: This story was much more compelling to me than it was to my co-judges. This HM’d on my account, while my co-judges found this to be pretty straightforward and boilerplate. That probably speaks to something about this story striking me in a particular way; draw whatever conclusions you choose. I also read this story second, which means I was not yet suffering from setup fatigue (as would definitely become an issue later).
I appreciated the premise here, and the setup as a first chapter. I appreciated the brevity (advice some others this week desperately needed). Reading this made me look forward to both the adventures of Lise, but also the pairing of Lise and Derek as unlikely buddy cops, given Derek’s recent unfaithfulness and new status as ex-boyfriend. I was intrigued by Lise, clearly a person with some particular skills and a seemingly unflappable nature. The prose was solid, if unspectacular. Basically, this was a generally solid story, while many of the other stories this week, to me, were not.
SlipUp’s Oceanworld Chapter 1: The Trident
Plot Summary: Cleon, adrift at sea and floating on a barrel, drinks seawater. This apparently summons the titan Oceanus, who offers to save Cleon in exchange for his stealing the trident of the god Poseidon. Cleon, we are led to believe, agrees (though it does not explicitly say so). He is then rescued by some former-Myrmidons-turned-’pirates’, led by Captain Xenius. He gives these men the wine barrel he was floating on, then provides these men with the plan to steal the trident (though omits some key details). They agree. They sail west, find the city of Atlantis, which rests on the back of a giant turtle (which surfaces right next to them, conveniently, but does not capsize them, also conveniently). They lay siege to the city, fight a bunch of crabs, lose a bunch of men, and wind up in the temple. While Xenius is fighting a giant crab, Cleon grabs the trident, and immediately feels its power. After killing the crab, Xenius asks for the trident, but Cleon reneges on their deal. He commands the turtle to dive, it begins to do so, and Xenius flees, while swearing that he will kill Cleon.
Story Analysis: This story is about the dangers of trusting strangers, and about the seductive and corrupting nature of power (unless Cleon is actually already a bad guy, in which case, mostly the first theme). Oceanus trusts Cleon to carry out their deal, with little knowledge of his trustworthiness (aside from the presumption of a debt owed); Xenius trusts Cleon, with no knowledge of his past, character, or motivations. Bad choices all around.
Also, this story is about how you definitely should not leave your trident of power just sitting around unguarded in your very obvious temple throne room. I mean, come on, Poseidon. Maybe the crabs were supposed to be the guards, but Xenius and the Myrmidons are just hella badass. But Poseidon definitely should be able to afford some better guards.
Commentary: This is… Not a good story. Partly, I have no interest in Greek mythology as a story setting; it’s typically very one-dimensional in its portraiture and lacking in nuance. So take that for what you will as evidence of whatever bias. Even so, this story has other problems. The biggest one is that The Trident is not a chapter, it’s like a third of a full novel, in terms of plot. And all that Plot means very little room for characterization, atmosphere, tone, etc.
A first chapter just needs to hook. I know (and can guess at) most of the plot here, but I care so very little about it because I care so very little for these characters. Cleon is a mystery. I know nothing of his story, aside from his involvement at Troy and the capsizing of his ship. To be fair, perhaps that is planned for chapter 2, or whatever. But I should at least have some sense of his character. Speaking of which…
Pretty sure Cleon is the bad guy, and Xenius is the good guy. Not sure that is what you want, because you have set up Cleon as your protagonist, and Xenius as a very clear antagonist for him (along with Oceanus and Poseidon, obviously). Xenius, however, is much more sympathetic. His home has been taken, he has lost his leader (though I doubt the Myrmidon’s would be unemployed for long, despite the death of Achilles), and he and his men are simply looking for adventure and spoils. They fight without fear. And they are the betrayed party. Cleon just sort of seems like an opportunistic dickhead. Just like Xenius, I understand little about his past, his character, or his motivation, so I have no reason to care for him or even to be interested in him.
On a mechanical level, the pacing of this story is not great. Because you are attempting to stuff so much plot into 1823 words (over your word count, btw), you flit between racing forward in plot exposition, then pausing but momentarily for a bit of description, then racing, then dialogue, then racing. No time to breath. It also makes it difficult to understand at times.
Many of these issues could be solved on a second pass, of course. If this is a story you believe in, by all means, expand it. That would solve a ton of issues, honestly. This needs more atmosphere, more detail, and waaay more characterization. Figure out who you want us to empathize with, and give us reason to do so.
|# ? Apr 18, 2020 07:35|
quote isn't edit.
|# ? Apr 18, 2020 11:08|
May I have an assignment pls? Think I got missed, a fact that I also missed until now.
Also Closed. I gave y'all four extra hours. Write away.
Get in the Discord and bother me if you wanna judge these people.
|# ? Apr 18, 2020 11:09|
Here are a few more week 400 crits. sorry these are still going slow. I'll try to make it up with quality??
Schneider Heim - What is home, but each other?
I really enjoy that your two characters have their own story—a pair of fantasy protagonists plopped into a dystopian Voidmart setting. This kind of feels like another in a string of adventures, which is refreshing in a week where stories were tightly focused on the conflict as described in the prompt (which is good, don’t get me wrong, but a little variation is nice). Building on that, it’s nice to read about a couple of friends. Not even best friends, just amiable roommates. This week was full of chance encounters, one-sided interactions, betrayals, and jealousy, so the empathy and concern your characters show each other was a nice palate cleanser.
The central conflict is personal and reasonably realistic. Being a fantasy adventurer is pretty cool, but Eyja isn’t wrong for wanting a life where she can pursue her music in relative comfort and safety. I enjoy that Eyja and Maril don’t consider each other, like, ride-or-die lifelong buddies, either, because it gives this moment a quiet dynamism: you get the sense that both roommates are kind of just now realizing that maybe their friendship matters more than either of them thought.
A couple bits made me smile. I like the bit near the beginning where they’re talking about their possibly-deceased friends and time fuckery, and a couple lines later Eyja is thinking about doing a Nudist Lutist cover. The fact that she’s not taking this very seriously gives the impression that this has come up a bunch. And of course the ending, which Maril reveals herself to have been waiting outside for Eyja the whole time. It’s a very cute story, and you can’t help but feel happy that Ayja and Maril are sticking together.
It’s hard to avoid a little bit of as-you-know-Bob dialog as exposition when you’re writing this sort of story. The primary conflict is between two friends, so the primary means of plot advancement is going to be through dialog. But then you get lines like:
You’ve been a vagabond all your life, not by choice but by necessity.
That might be something you say about someone, but it’s unlikely that you’d say that to them. It’s dialog that’s purely for the reader’s benefit, so it weakens the believability of the conversation. Have you ever listened to two strangers talk and realized you could basically piece together the subject of their conversation? Sometimes it’s obvious, of course, but a lot of the time, any given statement is carrying in a lot more information than the surface meaning of the words. Generally speaking, when people talk about one thing, they are implying a whole bunch of other things—it could be how they choose their words, their tone of voice, their body language, the life experience implied by an anecdote. Anything, really.
I can’t really advise eavesdropping, but maybe next time you’re in public (uuuuuh maybe not now, though), you could let yourself hear the conversations happening around you and see if you can piece together something of the bigger story of the people conversing.
Thranguy - Void: ‘Where’ Prohibited
Everyone tends to be very THE VOID when writing for this week, but few stories ever really explore the void conceptually or thematically. You do both! This is probably the writerliest story of the week; as the story progresses, there are musings on the nature of the void, and those musings culminate in the narrator’s understanding of what they must become at the end.
Big points for creative use of the tower setting. The levels aren’t just up and down but seemingly arrayed across all of time and space. One of the coolest bits is when our protagonist finds themself injured in an old battle in a far away place, but a version of that battle where nonsensical things are happening. I’m not drawing a comparison, because you’re clearly doing your own thing here, but I recently read This Is How You Lose the Time War and was reminded pleasantly of that book at points in this story.
I predictably liked that Good Vibrations was playing in the elevator. I like to think that traversing the transfinite floors takes exactly the runtime of that song. I was reminded pleasantly of one of my favorite details in the film Dredd, which was the inclusion of Matt Berry’s Snuff Box theme song at a couple points in the movie (and particularly, in relation to a sympathetic character). There’s something about a well-placed anachronism that bridges the gap between the world of the reader and the world of the story.
Finally, I love the scope of the ending. To stop the jailbreakers, Voidmart has to create another God. Writing this crit, it occurs to me that this story is probably the closest we’ll get to understanding the void behind the mart. The revelation that void+voice=God is as good an explanation as any for the limitless capacity of Voidmart to produce goods and infrastructure. I loved the detail that God, as far as Voidmart is concerned, is just another position that can be made redundant (even if it takes a few centuries).
This story is mighty in many ways but none of the characters feel particularly ‘present’. The narrator is more or less a camera, though there is a little bit of wryness when they are ruminating about their fellow combatants (like the lady who got her brain put in a GUN DINOSAUR). The jailbreakers are sort of just a background presence, like persistent flooding or a strong wind. Even the leader is indistinct, appearing only to fail at the hands of a new God. The CEO is the only character with a little spark, but I think that is largely because she is kind of an established character within the shared setting. You had words to spare; I didn’t need a detailed character portrait, but a little more texture to your narrator would have more solidly grounded me in their POV.
And since I commented on Good Vibrations above: I am not sure the Vonnegut comparison serves quite as well, because you’re kind of just saying “I was unstuck in time, like a character who was also unstuck in time”. This is absolutely a nitpick though and may or may not be skewed by my love of the beach boys.
Yoruichi - Immaculate
I enjoyed this Voidmart take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. This story has a strong, albeit depressing point of view: anyone given the opportunity to displace the consequences of their behavior onto someone else would do so, even someone who knows what it’s like to be the recipient.
I like the penultimate bit of the story, when
Looking back at the story though, I guess it’s
I think my only real problem with this story is that it’s not really clear what
Lastly, I would’ve liked to have
Anomalous Amalgam - New Beginnings
Well, I’ll say this: you did something because Surreptitious Muffin threw himself bodily in front of a DM for this story. I happen to think Muffin is pretty clever, so I decided to call in the stay of execution and give it some more thought. Nobody likes to DM a story that they end up liking later, once the pressure of judging is off.
So, now that I’ve had more time to consider this piece on its own, do I like it?
I don’t know. I’m going to type out what I think happens and maybe that will help one of us out.
So you’ve got the quadrilliard and they’ve got some big ideas. Somewhere in the pandimensional VoidTower One (I assume the “many-layered reality manifold” is VoidTower One) is an unoccupied residential zone where thought and reality are a lot more fluid. The quadrilliard sees the potential in this: they want to create a thoughtform with godlike powers, then shape it for their own purposes, or according to the purposes of the High Concept, maybe.
So, part of the creation of the quadrilliard’s thoughtform involves the painful transformation of an ‘organic’ into this moldable godlike thoughtform. I don’t actually know what’s going on with that, so here’s some headcanon: the quadrilliard became the sovereign of the abandoned residential zone where the freaky psychic poo poo was happening and repopulated it with residents. As a consequence of the leaky brainwaves, the residents have fused together into one gestalt being? And the quadrilliard sort of creates a pocket reality to comfort it as it undergoes the agony of total amalgamation??? IDK man I’m doing my best over here.
Anyway they have a conversation about free will or something, it’s very oblique. Ultimately, the quadrilliard seems to decide that it would be better to disperse the thoughtform across all “mind and life”, seemingly imbuing all living things with the agency of the thoughtform, and call it a day.
The denouement sees quadrilliard’s people acting as liaisons between i guess humanity and whatever the gently caress the quadrilliard made the “Organic” into (or allowed to become? It’s unclear). I’m still not sure about that aspect, though I like the idea that whatever the quadrilliard created has hosed up the upper levels of the tower to the point where even void-infused beings can’t meaningfully inhabit them. It certainly offers a terrifying answer, from the jailbreakers’ perspective, to the mystery at the top of the tower.
If I’m off base with any of the above, it’s not for lack of trying. I appreciate the ambition of this story—in a way I’m reminded a little bit of Thranguy’s story, since he also conceived of the tower on a pandimensional scope. I think that’s a cool thing to do with the setting and I don’t think the idea is totally irredeemable, but...well, meet me down in demerits.
Oh hi there, thanks for coming.
Let’s start at the top. Your first sentence sets a pretty dismal tone. I understand why you would write a sentence like that; you want to let the reader know that we’re dealing with beings who operate outside of our concrete, linear mode of reality. But guess what bucko, your words still have to mean something. What’s an ‘abstract schism’? What am I supposed to imagine when I see that word pairing? Why is this qudrilliard addressing an ‘abstract schism’ with a ‘fleeting memory’? A fleeting memory doesn’t sound very important.
Your second paragraph is actually fine. The reason it works is because, yes, you introduce us to the quadrilliard of ideation, which is very whimsical, but you pair that with something easy for me to understand: the quadrilliard has a motivation! And that motivation is to become a sovereign of a place so they can accomplish a task. That’s something I can wrap my head around, even though I don’t fully understand what the quadrilliard is or what their world is like. There’s not a set ratio for this sort of thing, but in general, every time you introduce something weird or highly specific to the world of your story, you should also offer the reader something familiar—a relatable character, an understandable (if not relatable) motivation, some concrete setting detail. Something along those lines.
I have no idea what the Organic is. Same with the High Concept. They’re referred to throughout the story as though the reader should be able to infer what they are, but there aren’t enough context clues. Like, the thoughtform seems to be part of the quadrilliard, but somehow is also the Organic? The High Concept could be the design for, or the will of, the tower itself. I just don’t know.
Bottom line, I feel as though this story is sort of a take on the creation of God and the generation of free will, but I almost hope I’m wrong because that makes this a long, arduous road to a small, overcrowded house.
|# ? Apr 18, 2020 23:25|
Prompt: Original Sin
Vier set Katy’s green glass pipe down and exhaled sweet smoke into the October air. “Marvelous,” he breathed. Water ran off his bare shoulders, down his back and over the length of his silvery tail, half on the stern of the old houseboat and half stirring up the sea.
“Good poo poo, fishlips,” said Katy, dipping a fishstick into a puddle of ketchup mixed with mayonnaise. “Easier to get it nowadays. You could probably snag an afghan and a wheelchair and roll in there yourself.”
Vier coughed. “Why would I ever do such a thing?” he said, running his fingers over the pink pearls and conch shells woven into his beard. “I already have such a wonderful delivery system in place.”
“Oh, piss off,” said Katy. It was fully autumn and all the electricity in the boat was out and she couldn’t get a guy to come fix it until Monday, which was why she had to go to the 7-11 to microwave seven fish fingers and why her hair looked like a nest abandoned by junkie sparrows. “I should hook an anchor to a barrel of THC oil and bomb your parliament with it. Start a merman drug war.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time you dumped your refuse into the ocean. Also, I wish you wouldn’t eat that in my presence,” said Vier, making a face.
Katy held up another fishstick, waving it around. “Huh? Got a problem, Moby?”
“Yes,” said Vier. “You know I detest mayonnaise.”
Katy snorted. “Goes well with the salt.”
Vier giggled, his eyes flashing green in the dying light of the day. “I remember. You dumped an entire container of table salt into the ocean. Onto me.”
“Because you wanted to dry up all the water.”
Vier twirled the pipe around. “Were you using this at nine years old?”
“Gimme that,” said Katy, snatching it from his hand. “You’ve had enough. And anyway, I paid for it that day. You yanked me in and ruined my flip-phone.”
“Yes,” said Vier. He rested his chin on his hand. “But you met a mer-boy that day. I think we could call it even.”
Katy rolled her eyes and cashed the rest of the weed in the pipe. “And I got to kiss a mer-boy a week later.”
“That you did.”
The sunset stretched across the sky, purple and red, sprawled and magnificent. Katy’s head buzzing. “You taught me to keep my head underwater without freaking out.”
“Yes,” said Vier, looking up at her. “It took forever. You wouldn’t open your eyes.”
“I didn’t want to get salt in them. You just kept telling me to listen to my own heart beating--”
“And then I finally calmed down, and opened my eyes, and the light was shining through the green water, and the floor was miles under my feet, and your face was right in front of my face, and then we…” Katy looked down at her shoes. “..kissed. And that’s when I knew.”
“Oh?” said Vier, leaning forward, anticipating. “What did you know?”
“That I was born a lesbian.”
Vier flicked his tail out of the ocean, splashing water at Katy.
“Hey!” Katy spat salt water out of her mouth, cackling. She shook the drowned embers from the pipe bowl onto the deck. “You’re lucky this was all burnt up. I’d’ve made you pay for it.”
“With what?” said Vier, sliding his tail back into the water. “You’re broke.”
Katy fell silent. She took a deep breath, then looked off towards the horizon.
Vier looked up at her again. “What’s wrong?”
“Deanna wants to move to Harrisburg.” Katy looked away. “I’m selling the boat.”
She listened to the waves rippling, stared at the pockmarked plastic table, at her two untouched fishsticks.
“You’re selling the boat,” said Vier.
“It’s--it was a piece of poo poo when I got it, and it’s a piece of poo poo with a bunch of money duct-taped to it now,” said Katy, her voice hard. “If I can get anything for it, it’ll help us buy an actual house.”
“An actual house,” said Vier.
“Correct,” said Katy. She still couldn’t look at him.
There was more silence, then she heard him slink back into the water.
Katy sat there for another hour, until the last of the light had trailed off into the night sky. She tapped the table with her fingernails, picked up the pipe, then set it back down.
There were no stars out.
She thought: this is what the ocean looks like when you’re staring up at it, like you’re cloudwatching. On a clear day, you see an elephant, a maple leaf, you see two kids up near the surface who don’t know anything about anything locked in a kiss, because they think it means something.
When it’s overcast, though--
There was a splashing sound.
“Vier?” she called out.
There was silence, and then, a booming baritone: “The ocean has spoken.”
Katy jumped about a foot in the air, fingers scrambling into her pocket for her phone. She found it, hitting the flashlight button.
Vier leaned over the open platform at the stern, eyes wild. “The windswept tides have been rewarded for their vigilance, and they now deliver swift justice onto the head of one Katy DeMarco, denizen of the land known as Delaware.”
“Vier--” Katy said, then stopped as he held up a hand.
“All the voices of the depths rise up in unison, and the trembling finger of the gods draws forth--your forever burden.” He pointed at her, and she shrank back. “Behold!” he yelled, reaching behind him and revealing--
A pale purple conch bigger than her hand, encrusted with salt and sand.
Katy stared at it for a moment. “Uh.”
“Behold--” Vier coughed, then started again. “A gift from the Nautilus Royalty--Enclave--Grotto? Kingdom. I present to you.” He toyed with his beard, looking off to the side. “Take this with you as a token of our friendship.”
“Oh,” said Katy.
“But, uh--beware! Beware, that thy must return it to the sea once every year, or every few months, specifically this stretch of sea, and dock, in order to--in order to replenish it with the energies of the ocean, and present it to its former bearer, along with a tribute--a tribute of--” Vier paused. “Of the most potent land vegetation. Greenery specifically.”
A smile crept onto Katy’s face. “How potent are we talking?”
“The most potent. The potentest--”
And then the wind rushed out of his lungs as Katy threw her arms around him, smiling through her tears.
“You smell like salt,” said Vier, smiling back.
|# ? Apr 19, 2020 22:37|
The Mesozoic Hop
The jungle rattled with energy, like a radiator about ready to crack open and blast hot steam across the canopy. Rampant chaos filled the air, from the clickity-buzz of primitive dragonflies to the stompity-whomp of massive dinosaurs, thundering across the dense plateau. But somewhere far below in the underbrush, there was an outsider whose heart beat out a steady rhythm as they darted from fern to fern.
The chameleon suit hugged Suzie's lithe body in the deep shade at the base of a towering conifer. They kept their voice low as they spoke, in case the fossil record failed to reflect a creature that could hear them. Nevertheless, they couldn't keep the bubbling excitement out of their mouth.
"Dr. Jenkins, I've got eyes on a duckbill herd, looks like four, or… no, five females and three males. Acoustic signatures suggest a tyrannosaur on the jungle periphery. And oh, wow, you should see this foliage, it's… the flowers alone--"
"Focus, Dr. Alsup," sneered Howard. "Stick to the protocol. You're not looking for flowers. And you don't need to tell us what you 'have eyes on'. Your suit's AI and sensor array will do so just fine."
Suzie cringed, then cringed again from knowing that the computer array back in the lab would be reporting their first cringe. They took a deep breath and smoothed themselves out. Howard was right, in a sense - Suzie was on a mission, after all. They had studied, trained, and beat out all of the other candidates to be the one that got sent. Their one dream in life, since the moment they learned that time-travel was proven possible, was to come here, to the Cretaceous, and learn all they could. They were not about to gently caress it up.
A little scrumble of small mammals hustled past, like wirier capybaras. Suzie didn't have a name for them - so they gave chase. Over thick roots and between snaking vines, they ran after the unclassified fuzzballs. The forest gave way to a grassy clearing and Suzie stopped short, trying to keep a bead on the animals.
"What are you doing, you imbecile?" Howard urged in their ear. "Go after them!"
Suzie shot into the grass, hoping that the chameleon suit could keep up with the quickly shifting background. They didn't make it a dozen steps before a colorful creature landed right in front of them. It was a dinosaur, covered in red and blue feathers, about the size of a shetland pony but with a tail at least as long as the rest of its body. And it definitely saw Suzie.
They held perfectly still as the dinosaur reckoned with the blurry outline of the chameleon suit, favoring one eye for the looking. It sniffed at the air, making a series of chittering honks that Suzie almost felt might be an attempt at communication. It looked Troodontid, but that taxon was dubious. Maybe it was something new.
"H-hello," said Suzie. The dinosaur opened its mouth a bit and click-wheezed, as if trying to mimic the word. Its interest was piqued - with its wingtip claws digging up dirt, it circled around Suzie, checking them out from all angles.
"Evasive maneuvers! Ee-VAY-sive, muh-NOO-VERS, Dr. Alsup!" They winced and subtly ran the edges of their thumb and forefinger across each other, feeling the haptic pads catch, like invisible velcro. The screaming voice in their ear got quieter. Of course Howard had a point, and probably had the university muckity-mucks screaming in his ear right then. But somehow, it didn't matter. Something else was happening then. Something that Suzie had to see through.
The dinosaur stood before Suzie almost expectantly. "My name is Suzie," they said, feeling ridiculous as they placed a hand on their chest. The dinosaur mimicked the gesture, its shimmering elbow sticking high up into the air.
"Tch'chort," was the sound it made. Could that be a name? They pressed their pinky finger into their palm and touched a knuckle with a thumb - the input to start an AI language-mapping program.
Suzie repeated the sound as best she could. "Tch'chort." The dinosaur trilled and jumped around in a circle, flapping its wings and sending up a cloud of dust! It looked like a rooster, dancing in a ring. But this was a wild, pure exuberance. Suzie couldn't help but laugh, sharing the emotion.
Somewhere behind her, something cracked and groaned. A shattered tree fell off the line with a thundery-thump! In the dappled shadows, a Tyrannosaur eyed them, with blood on its maw.
Suzie and Tch'chort locked eyes, and took off at a sprint. Tch'chort was faster - must faster - but the human managed to keep up. BOOM - BOOM - BOOM came the chasing footfalls of the Tyrannosaur behind them, growing louder.
Suzie lost sight of Tch'chort, just as the Tyrannosaur's steps seemed impossibly close. Their hands fumbled with the haptic controls, trying to activate the sequence for life support in case of emergency extraction. Then, they felt something under their arms. They thought it must be the enormous teeth of the Tyrannosaur, lifting them up to catch them in its jaw.
But then they heard flapping wings, and they kept rising higher. The Tyrannosaur drifted past underneath them. It was Tch'chort, with talons hooked under Suzie's armpits, flying them to safety. "Oh, wow," breathed Suzie, taking in the primeval landscape from this vantage. Tch'chort looped its long neck down to look at her, with a curious hoot.
They flew through the setting sunlight and landed on a rocky outcrop that looked like a giant stone crocodile. It seemed secluded and safe. "Thanks," said Suzie as she got her footing. Tch'chort acknowledged her with a few clicks, and turned towards a group of others of its kind that were landing. They all started screeching and honking at each other, in a way that seemed less than random to Suzie.
"Is it working?" Howard's voice rose in volume in her ear, unbidden. "Finally! Dr. Alsup - Suzie - you can't just shut us out like that! Do you know how much is on the line here? How much has been spent?! We are extracting you, immediately! Put your suit into life support mode, NOW!"
"No," Suzie shouted. "Haven't you been paying attention? These creatures have language - they have intelligence! This one has accepted me. It saved my life! I have to stay here and study--"
"Not. A. Chance, Dr. Alsup. Activate life support mode NOW, or you'll never set foot in the past again. I knew I should've done this myself and not sent some silly little grad student girl. Ridiculous!" As Howard blathered on, heat prickled Suzie's cheeks. Pacing back and forth, she turned around to find Tch'chort and its cohort watching her. Tch'chort stepped down to her and hooted out something. She activated her suit AI.
"Any translation for that?"
The smooth, flat voice of the AI replied, "Language analysis is incomplete. However, I have this rudimentary translation. It said, 'Tell that one toxic friend, lose my number.'"
Suzie grinned. "You know what, Tch'chort? I think you're right." She snapped her fingers hard, silencing in the voice in her ear. Tch'chort hooted and jumped, which sent the whole group of Tch'chort-alikes into hysterics.
But the sound of it wasn't chaotic. It was music. Half a dozen individuals of the species, syncopating and harmonizing their voices. They even beat out a rhythm by slapping their tails on a hollow log!
Tch'chort held out its elbow to Suzie, and they obligingly took it by the arm. They twirled and jumped and danced, and kicked up dirt, and hooted and screamed and gibbered nonsense until the moon rose, high and small, among the stars.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 02:18|
"Keep your eyes on the sky tonight! We've got some unique meteorological activity that's drawn quite a bit of attention to our little town. Amateur astronomers, scientists, astrologists, and prophets have all gathered for the largest meteor event Texas has seen in centuries."
"The Messiah's chosen Angels have descended from heaven to prepare us for Armageddon. Repent now! Save yourself from eternal damnation in the ever-loving arms of the Lord!"
"This particle storm is unlike anything we've ever witnessed... we keep trying to explain to the news and public that it's not meteors... it's something far more fantastic. Actual materials from another dimension traversing through our own in a rare interstitial phenomenon that lends credence to froth and foam-based reality theories. This is revolutionary."
Jed pushed a callused thumb into the faded arrows of his remote as he searched for something to watch, but could find nothing outside of long-cancelled reruns and nonsense about this sci-fi mumbo jumbo that had brought a whole host of loons to his small Texas town.
“Ain’t poo poo on tonight.” Jed grumbled towards the kitchen where his wife Deborah, had been putting away dinner’s dishes.
“Figures with all that fuss about this meteor shower.”
“I know, I just can’t believe they cancelled the game for this mess. It’s a drat shame.”
Deborah chuckled at Jed’s surliness, and he began to groan something in protest when the living room exploded with light.
* * *
There isn't much that goes on in Pleasant. It's a small town, with a smattering of people stretched out across 5 miles of interstate leading into more populated places, but it's home, and for the first time ever, the slow dying, nowhere town has more attention than it knows what to do with.
However, prior to all the excitement, you'd just find farmers, small business owners and oil-field workers trying to eke out a living. That was until today…
Staring at the ichor-covered mass that writhed on the floor in front of him Jed failed to stifle a scream that escaped from his throat as high-pitched whine that quickly modulated into a deeply unsettled baritone timbre.
One second, Jed’s complaining about the lack of programming to his wife, and the next he’s staring down something breathtakingly hideous. Pale-green, parchment-thin skin hung slack on bulbous segments of abdomen that seemed impossibly fused with the wood floor of the house.
Hooked, chitinous, appendages scrambled to move the organism as it reached some type of painful recollection of its surroundings. As it tried to heft its mass from the floor, it discovered its incomplete materialization as sections of its abdomen ripped open leaking out viscous orange innards.
Deborah was in the doorway to the kitchen now. She dropped a plate she was drying and the broken fragments of it scattered over the floor like fleeing rodents.
Her lips trembled as she struggled to find any words that could make sense of her situation, but as Jed reeled away from the injured creature, she could only muster a scream nearly as inhuman as the thing in her living room.
Jed had backed as far as he could into his recliner, and it toppled over giving him a moment of clarity as he was startled away from the waking nightmare.
He scrambled to the closet behind him. Clammy hands quickly grasped the worn brass handle and flung the door open.
His Remington and a box of slugs was locked away at the rear of it. His fingers flooded over the combination pad in frantic desperation. Deborah was still screaming. That thing was still bleeding. Nothing made sense anymore.
Then Jed sniffed at the air. Something tinged with subtle spice like cinnamon, but openly sweet like honey permeated the room.
Jed turned towards the thing at the center of his living room with the shotgun in hand, but seconds too late.
He loaded two slugs into the gun and leveled it at the creature and found himself unable to pull the trigger.
Then slowly, but surely, as he stared at the creature, intent on destroying it, he felt those feelings of fear and animosity slowly begin to fade as the scents overtook him.
He noticed strange nodules opening like tiny geysers on the creature, and from those orifices flowed that saccharine, mind-altering, mist.
He set the gun down, then fully aware that he was no longer in control of his own movements, moved to draw the curtains closed.
Deborah glanced at him with wary eyes then at her own limbs that jerked about as if they had a life of their own, and the realization crept over her that she too was no longer in control of her body. Jed and Deborah made their way towards the creature like clumsy marionettes.
Fell to their knees and began chewing free the fused flesh and kneading the masticated remnants back into the wound.
* * *
Jed rocked in his recliner with his shotgun on his lap. The postman was beginning to smell, but he had come to close. Came to the porch. Saw the chrysalis. It wouldn’t let him live. Jed had to kill him. He had to.
Clutched in the dead postman’s hands were two postcards and Texas Monthly. The postcards were mostly ruined, but Jed could make out block letters spelling Niagara Falls in the crimson pool they now laid in, and it donned on him for only a moment, that the world did still exist outside of their home.
Even with the dead man lying on their floor with a satchel of undelivered mail on his side. It was those postcards that managed to tether what was left of his frayed mind to reality.
That bit of consciousness was short lived, however. He fixed his eyes on the glowing cocoon and each throb and shift of it sent unspoken directives to its unwilling wards.
Deborah came and sloughed off orange excretions from the outer layers of the chrysalis with a plate fragment from the plate she had dropped weeks ago and manically devoured the otherworldly substance, leaving an equal portion for Jed to consume which he took eagerly. The event would happen soon. Soon their lives would return to… what would their lives return to? How could they explain any of this? Jed had murdered a man at the behest of a thing.
He and Deborah fed off it, relied on it, had even come to love it in the weeks they spent nursing it back to good health. Their whole world had been consumed by this creature, and now, it was coming to an end.
They both knew the change would occur any day now, and although deep, incomparable, relief was the unspoken gift that would accompany their freedom, they couldn’t help but also feel inexplicable pangs of loss.
They wept with crooked, forced, smiles at the insanity of their situation as Deborah used the plate fragments to retrieve more excretions.
* * *
The change occurred at night. Jed and Deborah stood motionless like mannequins for hours as the thick outer layer of the chrysalis began to decay and weaken allowing the form inside to break free.
Two clubbed antennae curled out from the chrysalis followed by a marble-smooth face with two black oval eyes. Four humanoid arms that ended in elongated inhuman hands peeled away sections of the remaining cocoon until a creature that resembled Jed and Deborah stood in front of them, somewhat human and somewhat insect.
Then voluminous wings unfolded from its back, bright and ornate. It flapped its wings, slowly at first, and then powerfully, fully, until it appeared as if it were flying in place.
Then as quickly as it had appeared, it had vanished leaving behind incomprehensible ruin.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 04:37|
A Life Well Lived
I’ll never forget my first death. Her name was Mary Somers, and she held my hand in her soft, wrinkled one, and told me it was her time to go. I’d trained for this, but I panicked and told her I had to go get the Sister. She patted my hand kindly and said she had some business to attend to anyway.
“It’s not fair, she’s ninety-nine!” I said to Sister Charlotte as we made our way back along the corridor.
“Pish-posh, she’s had a good life.” The Sister shook her head.
“I mean, she was so close to-”
“Shh,” Sister Charlotte hissed as we neared the door that I had left ajar. She signalled me to wait.
There was a whispering sound coming from the other side of the door. It sounded like voices. Many voices. The television was off when I’d left the room, I was sure of it. Mary was surely not strong enough to have got out of bed to switch it on. Besides, it didn’t sound quite like the television.
I leaned closer to try to hear what the voices were saying, to try to see around the gap. The Sister slapped me on the arm. I knew it was intruding, but I just wanted to hear.
The door slammed.
Sister Charlotte opened the door. All was quiet inside. Quieter than before. Mary lay motionless, her face relaxed with a ghost of a smile. Sun beams poured in from the window and settled on the bed. Mary’s eyes remained open, staring directly into the sun.
“Oh no, she’s already-“
“Now don’t you go upsetting yourself, girl! She had a good life, and she was certainly blessed for so many to come and collect her.”
I put my hand over my mouth.
Sister Charlotte began untucking the sheet on one side of the bed and signalled for me to help her on the other side. Together, we drew the sheet over the head of the almost-centenarian.
I walked over to the television on the other side of the room. I could see its plug out of the socket and resting on the floor, but I knelt down to double check anyway.
“You know, not everyone can hear them,” the Sister told me, “you’re fortunate. Or unfortunate, depending on which way you look at it.”
That day, I didn’t ask who exactly had come to collect Mary. But as time went on, I would witness many more collections. I knew then that Sister Charlotte would become my mentor in more than just nursing.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 05:00|
“I have a plan. Do you trust me?” asked Cindy.
Cindy’s one of a kind, let me tell ya. She hasn’t left the hospital since I got in. She’s obviously been sleeping in her car. One part of me wants to give her poo poo, it’s cold and who knows who could walk by, but the other part of me is just happy she’s here. I need her.
“Sure do,” I answered.
She smiled like a Chesire cat and plucked the sensors monitoring my heartbeat off my chest and stuck them over the heart of my comatose roommate. The machine skipped a beat and then continued beeping right along.
“Dropkick is playing the show at Tapman’s tonight. We’re going,” she said as she peeked her head out the door.
Oh poo poo, I love Dropkick. It must be Saturday. I had marked today off on my calendar a month ago but I hadn’t counted on some drunk rear end in a top hat crossing three lanes into oncoming traffic and hitting me head-on. I’ve been in this bed for a week now and I haven’t even stood up since. There’s no way I could make it.
Cindy disappeared and popped back in a moment later pushing a wheelchair.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked. She shrugged.
“Next door, now come on. We're gonna be late.”
I can do this. I pulled myself to the side of the bed with my right arm and put my right foot down on the floor. Then I swung my whole body around into the chair, which was pretty awesome considering my left leg was a velcro burrito and my left arm was in a sling.
There were two problems. My catheter and my IV, the latter of which was feeding me a cocktail of saline, morphine, and ketamine. Cindy dumped her purse out, grabbed her wallet, and then stuck my piss bag into it and hung it off the back of my chair.
“Fashionable,” I said with a smirk. I don’t think Louis Vuitton had this in mind when he designed it.
“Don’t know what to do about that though,” she said, pointing at my IV.
I had an idea. I threw my robe around it and hung a hat over the top.
Cindy laughed and shook her head. “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Let’s roll!” I said as she started pushing me outside, with me holding on to my IV.
We made it just past the common room, an area with a few chairs, a table, and a TV when we saw a security guard on his cell turning the corner.
“poo poo,” Cindy cursed as she pushed me into the common area and held her hands behind her back. I caught myself on the table just in time and barely managed to keep my IV upright.
“Oh hello,” said the old man at the table, whom I had just noticed, “and hello to you too,” he said to my IV.
“Hi,” I said politely. I repeated it, throwing my voice so it would seem like my IV was talking too. I turned around to peek at Cindy and saw that she was talking to the guard.
“Would you two like some tea?” He asked, offering an invisible teapot. I nodded and he poured one for me and one for my IV too.
“You’ll have to drink that fast, or you’re going to be late.” He said. How did he know?
That’s when I felt someone grab my chair. Oh no, was it security?
Nope, it was Cindy.
“We’re clear,” she said as she started pulling me backward out of the room. I held on to my IV and cheers'd the old-timer with the imaginary tea in my free hand.
“We’ll have to take ours to go! Thank you!” I called back to him as we left. The hallway was clear now and we raced to the doors to exit the surgery wing.
And plowed through the giant swinging doors, which whipped open with force.
“I’ve always wanted to do that,” said Cindy with glee, which turned into horror when she saw the look on my face, “Oh poo poo, did I hurt you?”
“Actually… no,” I said looking at the IV, “This is some drat good stuff.”
“Thank god, I'm sure I would've had to make it up to you,” she said as she hit the elevator.
“It would've cost ya an arm and a leg.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s only your left arm and leg. You’re all right!”
We laughed as she pushed me into the elevator. I hit the button for the lobby and that’s when we saw him. My doctor.
He saw us.
I’m not supposed to leave.
He broke into a jog, then a sprint. I started mashing the close door button.
The door started sliding closed, but it was too late. He managed to stick his foot in the opening.
“Where do you think you’re going?” He asked me, his face as red as the queen of hearts.
“We were going to see Dropkick,” I said, defeated. We were so close.
He relaxed. “Dropkick? drat, I wish I could go but I couldn’t get the time off. Here, take a twenty and get me a shirt. And uhh… Don’t be gone too long,” he said as he slipped my incredulous rear end a bill and walked away.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 05:38|
It was almost two years earlier that we'd made first contact with the alien. It, standing on an anonymous office rooftop in downtown San Francisco: shaped almost like a person, smooth full red skin bearing no features, no face on that bobbing red head. It stood, right where the urban updraft crested the building. And it was hot, physically hot. It radiated heat, warming the cold California air of the roof as experts gathered to greet and study it.
But it didn't attempt communication, didn't reach until the scientists, in frustration, tried to literally poke it with a stick. And then it disappeared, replaced by frigid and ozone-rich air.
It showed up again, in other places around the city. On the bridges, on the rooftops, in alleyways. On the piers at Fisherman's Wharf, among seals unperturbed by the interloper. Always unresponsive, always vanishing when touched.
Eventually it just became part of the city's lore, something for tourists to hope to see. A small industry of imitators emerged, men in red leather standing near a tip jar imperturbable as the Buckingham Palace guards. You could always tell the difference. The fakes didn't shimmer the air around them in waves of faint mirage.
I saw it twice. The first time was a few days after it appeared, when we were all supposed to call in sightings to the authorities. It was near the Chinatown gates at midnight. I didn't call it in. I just nodded and walked on by.
The second time was in the morning, the sun barely peeking out, the same place as before. "Hello," it said.
Its voice was layered and slightly out of sync with itself, and seemed to be partly coming from behind me. "Huh," I said. "So you talk."
"Will you show me things?" it asked.
"What do you want to see?" I asked.
"Everything," it said. "But there isn't time for that. The important things."
So I did. I've had old friends come to visit before. Showed them some of the touristy places, some of the real ones. I did the same with the alien.
The weirdest thing was how few questions I had for it. I asked for its name. "I don't have one," it said. I didn't believe it, said there must be something, something it thought of when it thought of itself, something others could call it.
"You do not understand," it said. "My people. We burn. From each instant to the next, what we are is destroyed, and created again. Different each time. What use is a name when the one who starts saying it is gone before they finish?"
At the end of the day, it said "This was enjoyable. Shall we do it again, tomorrow?" I nodded.
I knew well enough that I couldn't go home, that it would be a zoo of reporters and officials. There was a hotel I could go to, one where I knew the manager well enough to call in favors, to get a room not connected to my name or credit line. My phone nearly melted when I turned it back on, mailboxes full, even the ones that seemed to have infinite capacity before. We were all over the news, all over the web, the subject of endless scrutiny and speculation over a single day. I ignored it all, and called my boss. He was excited like a fanboy by it all, insisted I feel free to take as many days off as I need for this, fully paid. I was sure he saw dollar signs somewhere in all this.
It had a fascination with death, that second day. I showed it graveyards, memorisls, murder sites famous and obscure. "You must have death, where you're from," I said.
"All the time," it said.
"I mean, real death. Ceasing to be entirely." I said.
"What does it matter to a tongue of flame if another follows it or it is the last?"
"A lot of people think it matters a lot," I said. "It's why some people have children. Or why others make art."
It asked to spend time with me again the next day. I agreed.
That night my phone made a noise it never had before. Serious men from the government had come calling.
"Ask it about the ship," they said. They sent my satellite pictures of a massive object in space, moving fast, headed for the sun.
Eventually, I did. It was interested in art that day, in the museums, in the Kerouac landmarks, in the graffiti covering old tunnel walls and decommissioned railway cars. Toward the end of the day, I asked it.
"It is ours, yes," it said.
"I bet you're the only one who hasn't heard this joke before," I said. "A scientist said he was going to go to the sun in a rocket. 'But won't you burn up?' his assistant asked. 'No,' he said. 'I'll be completely safe. See, I'm going to land at night.'"
It stood there silent for a while. "You do have jokes, don't you?"
"We do. I see. Yes, it is a good joke."
"Why are you going to the sun?"
"There is...a door in the heart of any star. They can go to others,if you have the right key. We came through that door long ago, and will return through it soon. Will you give me one more day?"
The phone made the serious men sound again that night. Government scientists showed me equations, talked about energy and discharge and asked me to ask questions I could barely even understand. I told them I would.
It was interested in justice that last day. We sat in the audience of a courtroom while serious men in black suits whispered to the judges to proceed as normal.
"Are you judging us?" I asked.
"No," it said. "Perhaps, a bit."
"When you go through the sun-gate," I asked, "What will happen?"
It hesitated. "Nothing," it said. "A little flash."
We saw that there was a wedding scheduled at the courthouse, and it asked to be one of the witnesses. We did, with more prompting from the serious men. Then we watched the sun set on the Pacific.
"You know," I said, "Every other time I've been on a fourth date I've gone to bed with the guy."
"We are not compatible," it said.
"I know," I said. "That's the way it usually goes."
"Listen," it said. "The version of me this afternoon was not fully truthful. It is not me any more. There is danger. The flash will be very bright. Blinding. But you will be safe."
And then it was gone, the red shell collapsing like an empty suit, which I guess it was. The men following us collected it, handling it with hazard suits and thick gloves.
On the news the networks all reported a change in the trajectory of their spaceship, a speeding up, sending it to the sun several hours earlier, and when it hit, the Pacific Ocean was bathed in bright light. Hundreds struck blind on the islands specking that blue hemisphere, even more hit with severe sunburn and lifelong added risk of melanoma.
I started to giggle, startling the various handlers that hadn't let me out of their sight since it left. I didn't explain. They wouldn't have understood anyway.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 08:16|
Everything In Its Place
word count: 1105
prompt: Three Way Love Affair
“Hey, sweetheart,” I say as I shut our apartment door. I place my shoes in the rack—precisely, even with each other and with the shoes on either side. Not a habit I possess naturally, but Laura will comment if they’re out of line. So, into the line they go. “There’s a note here, for… You, I guess.”
“Hi, honey,” she says as she pokes her head out of the kitchen and smiles sweetly at me. “A note for me? Who from?”
“I don’t know.” I walk into the kitchen, where Laura is pulling a tray of asparagus from the oven. “It just says ‘Laura, my love’”.
The tray of asparagus jerks ever so slightly, then Laura smirks. “You’re being funny, aren’t you? Did you write me a note?”
“What? No. I found it jammed in the door.” Laura’s smile falters. “Sweetheart, who is this from?” I ask.
Laura’s eyes dart to the note in my hand. Then, slowly, deliberately, she sets the asparagus down, wipes her hand on a dishrag, and turns to face me.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
Her voice shakes gently. I look up from the passenger seat, where I am hunched over, rifling through my bag. Her smile twitches nervously. “Yeah, sweetheart. What is it?”
“Wait,” she says, as her smile broadens and her eyes flash mischievously. “Not yet. Not here. I have something to show you, first.”
“Okay,” I say with a nervous chuckle. My anxiety begins to crest its arc like a failed rocket. Laura loves to be mysterious. She giggles and cranks the music, and we drive through the city. Her cascading brunette curls bounce along with her head as she sings loudly, and so does my heart. I love this woman, I realize.
“We’re here,” she whispers, and I belatedly realize the car is off. We are in a part of the city I don’t recognize, high up on a hill. “Come on!” Moments later, she is out of the car and racing up the hill across the street. I scramble to follow.
My breath catches as I top the hill. The half-light of dusk silhouettes Laura against the bay below, her sundress billowing gently. A field of poppies stretches halfway down the hill, stacks of buildings running from there to the water. The lights in the homes are just starting to turn on. Across the bay, the disappearing sun casts it’s bright pinks and pale yellows on the horizon. I walk down and wrap my arms around Laura.
She turns in my arms to look at me. My heart flutters. “I love you.” My heart stops.
“I love you, too!” I blurt out, as my heart kickstarts itself back to life. Laura laughs.
We sit there in that field until, one by one, the lights blink off, and the moonlight is all that’s left.
I sit in our apartment until, one by one, the lights blink off, and the moonlight is all that’s left.
Used to be, a night to myself meant a cold beer and an old record, or a movie, or some Chinese food.
Laura is out tonight. She still won’t tell me his name.
So, I sit in our silent, meticulously arranged apartment, and I can hear my heart pounding in my chest. Palpitations. Mostly harmless. Late in the evening, the tears come. I whisper, afraid to disturb the stillness. “I miss you, babe.”
“I miss you, babe,” Laura says as she leans across the table, taking my hand in hers and looking at me with concerned eyes and a soft smile.
“What do you mean?” I say, and look down at my dinner. I pull my hand back and shovel a forkful of veggies into my mouth and proceed to chew them into non-existence. “We live together. I’m confused.”
“You can barely look at me, honey.”
She’s not wrong. I force myself to swallow, and then I force myself to drag my eyes up to hers. They resist. It’s been a month and a half. She can’t live without me, she’d said. I love this woman. She can’t live without both of us, she’d said. I wanted to die.
“Honey, this isn’t going to work if you’re not here,” she says, and her smile is anything but comforting. My mind flashes to silent nights, when she was conspicuously, specifically, not here.
“It’s just, this is all so hard to handle, Laura.” I look at her smiling, perfectly made-up face and her perfectly arranged curls, and I can feel my face flush. “I’m not sure I can do this. I’ve tried to understand, to get used to… sharing you. I—I don’t think I can.”
Laura looked at me and nodded, and reached her hand out again. I flinched, but didn’t move. “I know what you need, honey. Let’s go back.”
“Our first date.” She smiled brightly. “Let’s go to the sea!”
Let’s go to the sea! her text had read. Now we’re jogging back up the street drenched from head to toe in seawater, laughing hysterically.
All Steven told me about this girl was to pick her up from work at 4:30. Well, she is a dream. Beautiful, fun, adventurous, funny. She started calling out directions the minute she got in my passenger seat. We get along famously. We’ve got the same taste in music. We share an appreciation for grand vistas.
“Let’s jump in the ocean!” she says, and we jump in the ocean. She pulls two towels out of her bag as we reached the car, because of course she has two towels. We drive home.
“That was great,” she says. “Let’s do this again soon,” she says.
“Absolutely,” I say, as I pull up to her apartment. “Without a doubt.” She pecks me on the cheek, then darts out of my car and up the steps. “Goodbye, Laura!”
“Goodbye, Laura!” I say, forcefully. Laura turns to look at me from the edge of the parking lot, where she is waiting for me.
“What?” she says, with the first signs of confusion I have ever seen on her face.
“Goodbye, Laura,” I say, calmly. I wasn’t sure I meant it the first time, either. I am sure now. “I’m breaking up with you.”
“Honey, what do you mean?” Her face, her perfect face, teeters on the edge of composure. She takes a few halting steps toward the car, and ugly tears begin to well in her eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, I’m cool with that,” I say, as I climb back into my car.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 08:18|
|# ? Feb 6, 2023 17:05|
If you get in before judgement, I'll include it as a non-DQ.
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 12:18|