special Thanx 4 the Crit / brawl me chili combo post
|# ? May 31, 2020 14:25|
|# ? Sep 25, 2022 17:48|
Choosing a Path
The black vaporous cloud doesn’t disappear. I know this from beneath my sheet because I feel things. See them too. It won’t stay hovering for long before dive bombing me, looking for entry. My eyes and mouth are closed. I’m holding my nose, but at some point I’ll have to breathe. It will seep up my nostrils or down my throat, coiling itself around my lung or kidney or heart, squeezing until I cry out and Mama comes running. Yelling, “Maria, give in, I beg of you. There are worse things in life.”
I’m fourteen and have been chosen. For two years I’ve endured nightmares, visitors from the other realm and, more recently because they’ve grown impatient, bodily invasions. Papa says they won’t stop, even if I endure until I’m eighteen and leave this village for Quito to study art, they’ll follow me. He says I’m avoiding the inevitable.
I hold my breath until I pass out. It’s not the first time, but before I always saw black. This time I’m floating in a sea of crimson. It’s neither pleasant nor foreboding; it just is. Until the cracking of bones echo like a voice traveling into the depths of a cave and back again puncturing my ears, traveling the length of my body, searching for an exit.
At breakfast Mama places a mug of tea in front of me and insists I drink. She tells me when I was born, my “cabeza grande” forced itself into this world and broke her tailbone. The pain was unbearable, but she was comforted because it was a sign.
“Of what? That I'd be a pain in the rear end?”
Her gaze is silent and cunning, like a jaguar. “You’ll drink and listen and not disrespect me again.”
Mama doesn’t usually talk like that, so I take a sip of tea to stop myself from more backtalk.
“A spirit guide came to me that day telling me to swallow the pain, for one day she who caused it would become great and powerful. That she would have visions like no other shaman in all of Quichua history.”
The spirit got that right. I continue to drink the tea. It tastes like brewed cacao leaves, but has an unfamiliar sweetness to it.
Mama’s voice starts to sound like a lost howler monkey. “I know you’ve been visited by spirits since you were young, but they’re no longer willing to play your childish games. I have seen the marks on your body you’ve tried to hide with your scarves. They’re getting angry. It is time, Maria.”
My head is growing light, and the walls of the room expand. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Papa and Tuntu, the elder shaman from our village, standing like statues. The pounding of a drum begins to beat time with my heart, and I am no longer in the room.
I’m lying on a rock at the top of a mountain. An eagle swoops down coming within inches of my naked body. A whirlwind picks him up, swirling him around and around before dropping his stunned body upon my abdomen. I lie still waiting, for what I do not know. I only know I am to wait.
When I lift my head from the table, Tuntu announces that I have not been chosen in vain. I have an extra rib bone on my right side. My destiny has been confirmed.
And does tricking me into a trance count for anything?
In three nights time there will be a dance ceremony and my fate will be sealed. According to everyone, I’m blessed with a sacred gift. I should be honored. So then why do I feel like my life is over?
Tuntu calls me shamanka before he leaves and informs me the spirits will send me a new name soon.
The drums are calling my body into involuntary movement. I’m wearing mock wings of feathers, since it’s been determined the eagle is my spirit animal. Oh that I could fly away. Claws have been attached to my sandals. They scratch the ground with every step. A fire burns, cuts through the darkness. Chanting surrounds me, but I remain silent. I am to wait for the words and sing them to the sky, but the words do not come. What comes is a pair of bear-faced spirits. They each hold one of my hands, sending my body into a frantic frenzy. Surprisingly, I am not afraid. With their other hand they peel away my skin, my muscles, my organs, until I am only bones. Bones clanging the hollowness that is my soul, as they jerk one direction then another. I’m still fighting it. I refuse to let the words escape my mouth. The bear spirits open their mouths wide and clamp onto my jaw. It cracks. A song I do not recognize soars from my lips creating a canopy above me. My body spins around until, at last, I fall to the ground. The drum stops. Tuntu comes to me, lifts me and chants the words scratched into the dirt: I am Kikoma.
No one in the village calls me Maria again.
The next morning Tuntu welcomes me into his hut. The walls are lined with dream catchers and headdresses and relics the likes of which I’ve never seen. A jaquar skin is on the dirt floor. He motions me to sit. Places a carved wooden box in front of me.
Inside lies a collection of broken animals bones, mostly from chickens and other birds.
“These are your tools. They are sacred. I will teach you all I know, but you must open your soul to the voices of your eagle spirit. He is your true mentor.”
For a week I’m obedient. I listen to Tuntu’s every word, drink tea, and fall into trances that last for hours. On day seven, when I enter the hut, I find Tuntu dead in his bed. Finally free.
The morning sun sends a beam into the open door, illuminating the box on the floor. While water is boiling for tea, I search Tuntu’s possessions for what I need. I choose the tea that earlier had taken me on a journey high above the earth: flying above the sea, feeling the wind ruffle my feathers, viewing the earth below as the artistic wonder it is. I drink and open the box.
I reach into my soul and chant the words I find there.
When I awake, I’m holding a mobile made of sticks, string, and chicken bones. It’s the most beautiful work I’ve created. I hang it on the threshold of the door. Watch as it blows freely in the breeze.
The sun is setting, a red ribbon flaps across the darkening clouds. It’s then I notice the silence. Not a bird is singing. Not an insect buzzing. Not a child laughing.
I walk the path leading to the village. Along the way, dead birds scatter the ground. Coming out of the brush, I see the first human casualties. My younger brother Julio and his friend Miguel are lying on the ground next to the river, lifeless. I go hut to hut. Find everyone resting in peace. Even Mama and Papa.
An unexpected joy runs through my bones. I’m free.
|# ? May 31, 2020 18:05|
flash: bear bones waking from hibernation before the actual bear does.
thaw // bookends
The myths teach the seasons dream too. Winter once dreamt she'd coaxed a bear into her bleak grip. Play it back and she'd been asleep. The bear emerged to spring sunshine laced with birdsong. Acorn pinwheels breezed into its fur. It didn't shake them off. For it knew when it wanted it could wash itself in the river. The snow thaws to slush as Winter sleeps. But when Winter sleeps she dreams.
Please tell Winter to shut up.
Grand-mere's song themes Arendr's song though no summer arrives in the Leviathan's guts. Still Arendr sings the myth to the Leviathan bred from the ocean to swim the void. Swim and chamber the living. Grand-mere joined the dead hours ago yet it feels like ages since Arendr's eaten. Eaten of Grand-mere's ancient flesh. Could be the Leviathan whose insides churn Grand-mere. No, something's wrong. This is true yet untrue and Arendr must tell Winter to shut up to know it. The myth came alive in Grand-mere's song and now the season is a voice Arendr can hear. Can hear or let sing or, Goddess, tell to shut up.
Arendr has cried and shook for the Leviathan. Singing tired her and now she needs to hope It's on its way and that way leads to a home. The gut-churn of the Leviathan will not flay her before they get there. The gut-churn of the Leviathan was based, or so the Elders said. The Elders that bade her and Grand-mere enter the Leviathan. Enter through its translucent skein of gossamer hair-teeth. Bade, not made, it was clear, though for Grand-mere when the Elders spoke it was the same difference. Not doing what the Elders tell you to do is spitting in their faces. Arendr thought their faces could use some moisture. Gnarled things, they'd been...
Still she's now eaten the last food. The Leviathan hasn't stopped, Despite the stomach walls lined with blub-flesh she's freezing. Tears fall from cheeks she feels the bone of, pressing through skin she sees from her wrist is white as snow.
No mistake made, Mess thinks. as the Heart-song ends. The dead silence of the Archive was overcome the fading way a paper cut overcomes skin. The mousy Archivist, faced waxed and waned with years of this silence, gazes at him with somber eyes.
"Most don't stay for the whole song," the Archivist says, "when melody becomes dirge. The parting was joyous yet the journey troubled. The sainthood staked at parting was in the end forlorn."
"She made it," Mess says. "We're here. The Leviathan's bones set the scene for a class 9 Civ. Our spires reach the stars. Isn't that the point?" His blood pounds despite the silence. His youth wastes away in this place of ghosts. So learning gets you an outlook bleak as Archvist lips. Lips set like smiling is something other Chonyid do. These lips are about to ask of him for something, but please shut up, he thinks in disgust.
For summer arrived today and with it the etching that each life carves in the life of young Chonyid. Mess doesn't have the time or patience for askance. Askance or, Goddess forbid, a weary fall of shoulders in telling of some bookend moral. It's a story every boy on Tuthao knows. There is the telltale fissure of shoulder blade to set of neck. Mess breezes away, out of the Archive and through the Catacombs and into the light of first summer's day. The Archivist can eat his own words like Arendr ate her old and dead.
The first summer's day of Cycle 13 heats blood. Young Chonyid - offspring of Arendr and the lover she took of the folk living on Tuthao she named Fay - wrap themselves in gossamer silk. This recalls the hair-teeth of the Leviathan, drapes their bones on summer's first freezing night outside. Summer's first freezing night brings with it fevered vision. The beating heart of the First Goddess visits through the deep freeze as dreaming. In this dreaming she submits to the Father God of the Fay. No other trace survives them.
The blood remains and there is none else. By now the young have lost their friends. Cycle 13 begins with spring's thaw of friendships. Some friends you have no time for and to some you say things that don't come back. Some ancient stirring decrees you should face this kind of thing alone. So he's mused faultless by such blind old ones as have reared and taught him but still hates himself and others. He chews the bitter root of his hatred and hikes the gossamer silk to hood his head as darkness falls.
So lost in his hatred he misses the fracture which opens his thatch to the sky. He sees stars flicker into sight though, first few than many but pulsing in the same electric ribbon of time as if joined in fate by unseen forces.
It's the Archivists old bones he hates most and he tells himself not to release his hatred as morning breaks. Knowing he will stokes the flame harder. It chars each cell walling in his blood flow. When his memories make it from the past to his present knowing they are steeped in poison, darkened to the black of ash, and he hates more than he'd ever thought possible all those who've ever...
if they'd ever...
"I'm underwhelmed," Inanna says. "Though they've called me so many ways and so many names I wanted to be soft this time. Like, you know, the summer rains that fell on me. Before there were too many of us and we had to ship out our young and old."
She's all thorns. Briar and nettle, edged in crescents honed and delving the air, shades of auburn twixt to even dried blood. Standing true through it all like a spire yet she may as well be lain, right now, mightn't she? Make you hurt, she thinks. It'll make you hurt but of course at the moment of truth there is no hurt so what matter even the pain that bookends it?
And of course Aeterne looks noble and regal, slab of chest like ridged diamond, His only edges. He's a fantasy of white light here because the Fay could always blood their myths through time, bend the genes of their brood the way they wanted. What they wanted was an action fantasy to speak for them when they were long gone. They can remember it in boys on summer's first freezing night of the 13th Cycle.
It's a curse, she thinks, and then because it is over with soon enough it's forgiven. And the boy will release his hatred, and the first thing he will do is go to those he spate, and beg for their mercy. They will gift it with golden smiles. Well, she thinks, it's not loving good enough. Not good enough because I go through this again, again, and each time I'm the bitch. Queen of frost. And I am She who He must put up with even though it is Him who takes me.
She knows the look in his face as He gathers himself to speak with that chiselled mouth. It's the look of someone who's about to tell some bitch who like all bitches has sprang from seed to please shut up. Her hand wavers in what would be slap if the two were yet close enough, but is instead the waver of spurning. He can't take it and draws closer. His face contorts.
What does the boy see? She wonders this, dim as if in fugue. Because how to mistake that look for something else than vile hatred? The crease in His lips stands out against their waxen sheen. No real boy's lips were ever that smooth. No, she knows the lips of real boys and they are always cracked. They always sting to the kiss like paper wasps brushed aside.
Now Aeterne spits out his hatred and wrestles her to the ground. Inanna marks her cuts in him. Proves both of them in the boy's dreaming eyes as the stars blaze above against a sky reaching midnight fast. Wanting to cry, she dashes Him again instead, on and on, in his tender places. Yet when she sees Him next the wounds will have healed and she will still be ugly. This boy, destined to lead or follow, will either way forget the nooks of theme. He will bring with him how the ugly art withers before the noble ravage of teaching. Get old. Become ancient and teach the young.
Teach them, among other things, that the stars shine even in death.
Even in death the old flesh loves.
|# ? May 31, 2020 18:45|
rear end GHOST!
In the dark ancestral crypts of the savage Nuulvek people, a sorcerer lurks. If his people were to ever find out he invaded the sacred caves, he would be ripped bone for bone and scattered across the unsightly plains of Galgooga, never to join his ancestors the glorious Eternal Steakhouse. But his spell requires ghosts, and ghosts haunt only here.
He takes out a scroll, and marks its etchings in the sand by magelight. Then he breathes warm air along the etchings, muttering the word for fire in a long-dead tongue. Then he softly chants the Nuulvek national anthem, which was actually the Sengarr tribal anthem before they were conquered by the Nuulvek who quickly realized their new slaves had a much cooler anthem. Then he lays down an offering to the spirits, a brand new graphing calculator he hopes he spent enough money on. Then he breathes warm air on the etchings again. Then he shouts:
"Ancestors of the Nuulvek, enter into my bones and bring me new strength!"
The bones lining the crypt rattle and spit neon green dust from their eyes, which converge upon the sorcerer and spin around him. The spell has worked.
"Aw man, who pulled me out of the Eternal Steakhouse? I was just about to get my order of all-you-can-eat shoestring potatoes!" says the ghost in the sorcerer's skull.
"You are here to enhance me intellect, and show me visions of the unknowable," says the sorcerer. "I swear, upon your release, you will receive an honored place in the Eternal Steakhouse, in the seat by the taxidermy doe."
"What about me?" says the ghost in the sorcerer's humerus. "What was I brought out of the Glorious House of Reliably Pretty Good Wings to do?"Crew
"You can make my arms turn into little volcanoes when I flex them, like in a cartoon," says the sorcerer.
"Know what, that's actually pretty sick," says the humerus ghost. "Can I sit in the smoking section, which the Eternal Steakhouse still has, when I am released?"
"I don't see why not," says the sorcerer.
"And what of me? In life, I was High Queen of the Nuulvek, and made many of our great conquests, personally driving the Royal Humvee into battle during Desert Storm. I sit at right at the sacred bar in the Eternal Steakhouse, where it always my birthday, and I am always entitled to a free margarita. How shall I enhance your power as you pave the road to glory in blood?"
"I dunno, what bone do you have?" says the sorceror.
"Let's see, I am housed in your…no. Oh no. No no no no no. Oh no. No no no no."
"Hahaha, sucks to suck," says the skull ghost. "Looks like you're an rear end ghost."
"What, seriously?" says the ribcage ghost. "When I was alive I was shift manager at a Denny's, and I got ribs and the High Queen got the butt? This is amazing."
"I'm sure I can do something cool from the tailbone," says the ancient High Queen. "Tell me, great sorcerer, how shall I assist you?"
"I think you can change the color of my poop," says the sorceror.
"And turn it to poison acid as you launch it across the battlefield?"
"No, just regular poop. If it makes you feel any better I think you can make little designs, like sparkles and stars."
"How dare you! I should be revelling in my holy reward, and you turn me into a common poo poo decorator? You shall face my cursed wrath!"
"Nah, I don't think I will. See, I'm a powerful sorcerer, and you're an rear end ghost. Alright, you guys ready to kick some rear end?"
"Yeah!" shout the ancestral ghosts housed in two hundred five out of the two hundred six bones. The sorcerer starts to ascend the crypt staircase. But in the dark, he trips on one of the steps and falls backwards on his butt.
"Ooh...ow...my rear end...I think my tailbone's broken," moans the sorcerer as the spectral form of the High Queen seeps out of his backside. She stands over him with a deeply displeased expression.
"Uh, ya know, I don't think I need my poop decorated after all. You can get back to your free margaritas," pleads the sorcerer.
"Oh I will," says the queen. "After I have my revenge. ROYAL HUMVEE!" The ghostly form of the Royal Humvee materializes around her.
"What? Humvees can become ghosts? How?" screams the sorcerer.
"The same way our clothes do," I guess, says the queen. She hits the accelerator and charges at the still-seated sorcerer. Desperately, he flexes his biceps, but the tiny volcanoes do nothing against the tough ghost-humvee armor.
The sorcerer opens his eyes and smiles. He can't believe it. He's in the parking lot of the Eternal Steakhouse. Even after all of his horrible crimes against the ancestors, he has obtained the divine reward. He walks into the building.
"A table for one," he says to the hostess, looking around at the bountiful vintage street signs that decorate the Holy Restaurant.
"Sorry, we have a little bit of a wait," says the hostess. "Here, take this, when it vibrates, we'll have a seat open for you."
"Cool," says the sorcerer. "How long is the wait?"
"About twenty minutes," she says. Suddenly, her professional smile curls into an evil grin. "But in twenty minutes, the wait will still be twenty minutes. And the same thing twenty minutes after that. And twenty minutes after that…"
"No, no, no, this can't be happening," says the sorcerer. He storms out of the Steakhouse. He finds the sign for the restaurant: ETERNAL STEAKHOUSE. But something is wrong: STEAKHOUSE is written on a separate tapestry. He rips it off. Tears come to his eyes and he screams curses at the sky.
The sign now reads: ETERNAL APPLEBEE'S.
|# ? May 31, 2020 20:26|
The faded glass of the bathroom mirror was a portrait of Doctor Anderson under fluorescent light. The exhausted scientist stood there for a while studying his features – his round face, the weeks’ worth of facial hair, the asymmetry of his left side, the crooked smile and slow eye which the palsy had given him. He looked like he had lost weight – his work had kept him from the canteen more and more. His hands ran over his face, massaged his jaw and his throat, and he hummed a childhood tune so as to keep his voice from falling into disuse. He hadn’t spoken to anyone – that is, not to himself or Catherine – for maybe four days. Recently they had stuck to their own haunting grounds, his and her wings of the labyrinthine bunker.
Anderson’s footsteps echoed through the concrete corridors on his return to the lab. The door to the brig was half-open, and on the walls in regular intervals of twenty feet was a screen displaying various things – the temperature and radiation level in and outside, a map of the facility, and in large typeface read ‘EXTERNAL COMMS: NULL’ which remained unchanged since they lost contact with the Antarctica bunker a while ago. When Anderson reached the door to the lab, it seemed to him that the sound of footsteps continued for about a second after he had come to a halt. Cat? Was that you? Despite himself, he peered over his shoulder. It must’ve been nothing. He should talk to Cat today, he thought to himself, it would do no good to go stir-crazy.
Bones in the body are living tissue. They have their own blood vessels and are made of living cells, which help them to grow and to repair themselves. In Anderson’s lab, a dozen metal slabs bore skeletons of various species and completion. On the stainless steel tables which ran the length of two of the four walls, various tools, saws, solutions, beakers. On another wall, the lab computer, a massive clicking, wrurring behemoth that stretched to the ceiling, waited for input. On the far side, an elevator led down to the morgue. Anderson walked over to a slab and continued where he left off – he picked up a skull which had two small pick-like wands jammed into the scalp and cheekbone. These devices were connected with red wire to a metal, black box by Anderson’s feet, and then by more wires to the computer. With the right side of his lip, Anderson managed a smile as he examined the skull, and the readings the computer gave off on-screen. He didn’t realise he was on the verge of discovering the consciousness of bones.
A screen on the computer buzzed. Looking over, Anderson ran his hand through his greying hair and pushed a button. The screen began broadcasting the image of a woman, perhaps in her mid-thirties, with jet black hair running down her shoulders. “Good morning, Doctor.” Said Cat, giving a little mock-salute to the camera.
Anderson pretended not to be happy to see her. “Morning, is it? I must’ve lost track of time.”
“Bright and early, if that made any difference.” The woman shrugged. “Don’t feel too bad, I’ve been keeping strange hours myself.”
“Really? Done any exploring?”
“I’ve been in A-Wing all week – mostly in comms. You know that. Besides, there’s nothing to explore. I can map the whole thing in my sleep.”
The woman gave a polite smile. I wish I could say the same, Anderson thought to himself, feels like this place shifts around me sometimes.
“You should come over,” Anderson suggested. “There’s been some very interesting developments in my work.”
On the screen, static concealed a small laugh. “You must really miss me if you’re inviting me into your lair, Doctor.”
The Doctor, in jest, played defensive. “You used to be very interested in what I got up to. Let’s say noon?”
The hesitation in Cat’s response was perhaps a nanosecond too long.
“Noon, then. I’ll just finish up here. See you soon, Doctor.” Cat’s arm reached out to somewhere besides the camera and the feed flicked off.
As Anderson was left looking at his hunched reflection in the monitor, he felt a tingling at the back of his neck. A sensation creeped up to him that he wasn’t alone in the room.
Swinging round, he was greeted only with the room as he had left it, the skull with the electric spikes plaintively facing the door. Alive, yes, but inert. Anderson quickly calmed himself with the thought that he had more to fear from a lab rat than a pile of bones. After all, without musculature, sensation, a mind to store information, the matter in front of him held all the complexity, less, of a cracked egg. Cat was right, he did miss her.
He missed people. Cat was a good companion, sure, but she was content with her own company too often, which Anderson envied her for. They had experimented, shortly after they found themselves alone together, sleeping in the same bed. Both agreed, after everything that happened outside, the feeling of human warmth had become too sickly-sweet. One place, two people; in the spirit of self-reliance, Cat surmised they should regard each other as neighbours, which Anderson thought was perfectly rational.
Anderson did not have long to reminisce before the readings from the skull-device began to blip on-screen. He stared for a long moment. This couldn’t be right – perhaps the radiation was playing tricks with the equipment. Data indecipherable to all but the Doctor pored across the monitor. His bewilderment grew – there was something happening in the collagen of the skull. In that organic mix of proteins and cells, a wave crashed. Anderson started examining the black box at his feet, then hurrying back to the computer, flipping switches and turning dials. Inexplicably, he felt himself break into a cold sweat. He moved without thinking, his hands acting out of muscle memory of years of using this machine.
There was a soft ping from the morgue elevator.
Anderson turned and froze. Mechanisms were moving and the elevator doors slowly parted. Feeling a stiffness in his legs, Anderson took one step, then two, closer to the door. He felt prickling on the left side of his face. From the elevator, all that emerged was a sickly yellow light from the fluorescent bulb on the top of the car. Just an electrical fault, he thought. Just like what’s happening to my body right now, an electrical fault. Some neuron’s not firing right, which is why I feel so compelled to keep walking to the elevator. It’s probably that I’m sad I’m alone, is why I’m so delicately getting on my knees, laying on my chest, pressing my ear to the elevator floor, he thought to himself.
At the bottom of the shaft, quiet on their slabs, were the remains of most of the original inhabitants of the bunker - the state when he found them had inspired Anderson’s current study in the first place. Anderson lingered in the elevator car, seemingly waiting to see if anything would happen, if anything would make a noise. Deep within, something stirred. With enough effort, Anderson pulled himself up and shambled nauseously to a chair in the lab. He felt intensely disconnected from his body, like an internal tug of war. The tension within him built and built – he threw his head into his hands and gnashed his teeth together – how unbearable! Cat can’t see me like this!
In the lens of the passive camera indented into the computer, Anderson’s heavy figure leapt upright, and like a mad animal dashed to the picks which were still wired to the skull on the table. The camera recorded the skull being picked up, and then thrown violently to the ground, shattering into shards. Anderson’s frame ducked below the table, obscuring it to the computer. Furtive noises echoed through the lab, and then a howl of pain as Anderson reared up into view again. One pick was jammed into his back cheek, where the jawbone connects, and the other jutted from his temple like a horn. Anderson’s body started shambling back and forth, like he was just learning how to walk, and a rogue arm smeared blood over his twisted face.
In some of Anderson’s books, the oriental belief of Animism was mentioned. Everything living had a soul – trees and flowers, birds and wolves. Even the simplest organisms, a solitary cell, might have some drive, some primordial conscious.
Cat rapped her knuckles on the lab door. “Doctor?” she said. “Sorry, I’m a little late. I don’t want you to think I’ve been avoiding you.” She pushed against the heavy iron. “Could you unlock this for me? I’ve been feeling kinda funny and I’d feel better with some company.” No reply came from the lab. “Doctor?”
Slumped on the other side of the door, Anderson was writhing calcium. Strips of skin dangled from his face and from behind ugly flesh the bone glinted out. The morgue was a calcium garden, the bunker’s denizens born again in globular mass.
|# ? May 31, 2020 21:00|
When my U-Haul arrived at Miriam’s house, there was a dead cardinal on her step. After I’d been laid off, I’d spent three months burning through my savings and the remnants of the goodwill I had with my friends. All the while, I’d been telling people “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can always go live with my sister. She was profiled in the New Yorker,” I’d say, never really imagining that I’d actually have to do it. And now I was there, overgrown lawn, dead cardinal and all.
Miriam opened the door and Titus, her bruiser of a cat, barreled out of the shade of a hibiscus bush and rubbed against Miriam’s legs. “You brought me a present,” she murmured, not looking at me. I wasn’t sure if she was talking about me or the bird.
“Hey,” I said. “I can’t thank you enough for–”
She waved a hand, still missing my eyes. “‘S’fine. Don’t get to use my guest room enough. I don’t like the thought of it sitting there, empty, sterile. You need help?”
She helped me unload the truck and bring the things into the guest room, while Titus wove between our legs and we minded the cardinal. We said little, which was usual for us; even when we were kids, Miriam would say as little as possible before slinking away to her bedroom and engross herself in modeling clay. Sometimes the silences were comfortable. More often, I’d wonder what was behind them – if they had sharp edges, like the claws and teeth in her sculptures.
As I returned to the truck, I saw her pick up the cardinal with a pair of vinyl gloves and carry it inside the house.
Titus was sitting on the bed when I made it back, cleaning himself. I bent down to pick him up, and he snapped his head back and bit my hand. Cursing, I stumbled into the bathroom and ran my hand under the water, trying to bury the thoughts of tetanus.
Miriam knocked on the bathroom door. “Ouch,” she said.
“Your cat’s a little bit of a shithead.”
“Hm. He likes space.”
“Okay, but he was on my bed. That’s my space.”
She was silent for a moment, looking at the linoleum. “He’ll figure it out. Once you’ve settled in. Once he knows your scent.” She opened up a high cabinet and handed me a package of bandages. “I’m glad you’re here, Kate,” she said, as she turned and walked away.
The next weeks were rough. In between lethargic, this-probably-won’t-work-out-so-why-try job searches, I spent my days dodging Titus. Aside from biting me two more times, he ruined my favorite blouse, pouncing from half a room away onto my back to quash a fly.
And I was dodging Miriam, too. I’d started to take more notice of the bone sculptures that decorated the hallway shelves. They were simple things, just a couple of tweedy thin lines crossing each other. I’d thought they were geometric abstractions at first, but I’d started assigning meaning to them. A talon. A fist around what might have been a neck.
And then there was the time I’d walked into her in the backyard, working over a tarp with a scalpel and forceps, extracting bones from one of Titus’s victims. Titus lay in a sunbeam, licking his paws.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
Miriam didn’t look up. “The bones are for me. The rest is for Titus.” She picked out a wet-looking organ with the forceps and placed it in a casserole dish. “You’re welcome to join us.”
My stomach churned. “Maybe later.”
One afternoon I returned to my room to find my bed covered in feathers. The one window was wide-open, screen and all.
I slammed it shut, gathered all of the bedding and took it downstairs to the laundry. Miriam was working in her study with the door closed, but I could still hear the rhythm of her patter. The clip of scissors on sinew, aggravated sawing, a brittle crack. A frustrated grunt.
In the dining room, a half dozen of her sculptures sat on the mantle. I remembered one from the photograph in the New Yorker piece. Some curved bone, half-cracked, jutting out of an avian skull. The journalist called it “bleak but familiar,” to which Miriam had answered “What’s familiar?” That was the end of the section.
To me, it had always reminded me of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who took a metal rod in the head and lived the rest of his life as a temperamental jerk.
Titus came in through the cat door, and I connected to Phineas, feeling that flash of pure id cross me. I looked right at Titus as I batted the Phineas Gage sculpture onto the floor and watched the skull split in two.
The knock on my bedroom door came an hour later. Miriam was holding a cake platter with the splintered remnants of the sculpture in one hand. “Can you explain this?”
I glanced at the lobotomized leftovers. “I’m not an art critic,” I said.
Miriam held the plate out, blinked several times, and looked down, standing stony and immobile.
“It was probably Titus. I can just see it – he thinks it’s a real bird and goes flying after it, but--”
“Right.” Miriam untied her hair, and met my eyes for once. “That doesn’t make sense. Tell me why you waited so long to call me. Why you don’t spend any time with me. Why you write your name on all of your food.”
“The last one’s easy. That’s so you don’t eat my food.” I took a deep breath. “Look, you get that people can find this whole aesthetic a little creepy, right? My bed was covered in feathers today – loving feathers. That’s not sanitary.”
“Oh,” Miriam said, and she almost smiled. “I think that means he thinks you’re part of the family now. I get the bones. Titus gets the flesh. You get the feathers.”
“Look, I’m honored, but I don’t want the feathers. I want a job and my own place and I want to not feel stalked by a feral animal wherever I go. I don’t want to have to figure out which Tupperware container is full of bird hearts and which one has leftover bolognese sauce. And, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to look at these loving morbid tchochkes every time I leave my room.”
Miriam turned around for a second. I could hear her breathing, short and staggered, and I could imagine her swinging around, bone knife in hand, its destination my chest. Instead she just said, with her back still to me: “I’d say you don’t have to stay. But you don’t have anywhere else to go, do you?”
For once, I was the one without anything to say. Then an acrid pungent smell filled the room, as Titus brushed by Miriam, with a skunk carcass in tow. He dropped it at my feet, looked up at me, and meowed.
When no one moved, he meowed again. “Do you use skunk bones for anything?” I asked Miriam.
For the first time since I moved in, she laughed, and the three of us went down to the kitchen for rubber gloves and tomato juice.
|# ? May 31, 2020 22:03|
The War for Your Soul
All babies can see demons, and you were no exception. From the day your mother brought you home, we have been inseparable.
You watched me stomp around your nursery in all of my gnarled red glory, and you giggled. You noticed the goop-spewing pustules on my backside, but instead of shuddering in disgust, you just bit your foot and grinned. Each night you slept blissfully, as my leathery wings formed a shield around your crib.
It's a good thing I was there to protect you, too. The angels had put a price on your soul, and I was the only thing that could stop them.
See, back in the old days, angels used to show up and tell people what to do all the time. Long story short, it got out of hand, and God shut that whole thing down. Henceforth angels were restricted to their basic administrative duties on Earth: to usher a soul into a viable embryo, and to collect a soul upon the death of its vessel. (We demons have no such handicaps.)
The system worked for thousands of years. I certainly enjoyed myself all that time. There was some delightful slaughter. And the angels seemed to be living their best lives too. But something changed with God. The people He'd created on Earth began to ignore Him and the paradise He'd built. Each year, fewer and fewer souls were clean enough to pass through Saint Peter's checkpoint and enter Heaven. The party was over.
God got depressed and sulked off into the cosmos somewhere. The angels, ever valorous, have largely abided His rules in His absence, but they're desperate. They collect souls with abandon, at every opportunity, as clean as they can get them. Maybe they're planning to float a barge piled with souls out into space, like catnip for an idle God. Perhaps they'd rather build their own Heaven and start anew.
It didn't matter to me why they wanted your soul. My only concern was that you got to keep it. That night, in your nursery, while your skull plates fused across the last few millimeters of your tender fontanelle, I made sure of it.
I was singing you a song when the first angel appeared in the doorway. It looked like all angels do: tall, tan and slender, with a glowing aura and a pair of feathered wings. I don't bother trying to identify them anymore. There's hundreds of them and they all look like siblings. Not like us demons; there's a thousand different kinds of ugly between me and the next imp, and each of us can lay claim to a thousand more.
But I digress. This angel also wore a little bowler hat. They all have some insipid affectation.
It came at me with its dukes put up, wings outstretched as an intimidation tactic. I dodged its rush and grabbed the end of one wing, spun around and flung it through the roof. It blasted past another pair of angels that were just landing. They moved through the house like it wasn't there; it both was and wasn't, in a spiritual sense. I'll explain it when you're older.
The angel on the right had a scar down one side of its face that must have been intended to look sexy and mysterious. When it opened its mouth to quip at me, I stuck three of my thick fingers in its mouth, ripped off its jaw, and used it to staple the angel's face to its backside.
The one on the left unsheathed a glimmering katana. It was wary of me, circling around at a distance. I beckoned to it, thumping my cratered chest. Finally it charged, and I side-stepped. I grabbed the angel's sword arm and thrust my knee up, destroying its elbow. But the angel was crafty - it flipped the katana to its other hand and plunged it between my ribs. It hurt like home, but I punched down and snapped the hilt off the blade. I twisted the angel around by its useless arm until the shoulder ripped apart, then held it down with its own hand and stomped it into pulp.
I looked over at you. Snoozing, peacefully. When had that happened? For a moment, I was disappointed. I wouldn't have minded an audience for these rear end-kickings. Your delighted, baffled grin shining up at my dance of death. I only had that moment - in the next, I heard the sound of wings on air, and the soft click of… I shuddered.
Without turning around, I jammed a finger into the wound between my ribs. The broke-off katana blade that was still lodged inside me shot out of my back and pinned the angel to the wall. I took my time in turning around to face it, to let all the jagged textures of my grotesque appearance reveal themselves to it one-by-one.
The air filled with clickity-clacks as the angel shuffled around, trying to free itself from the blade before I reached it. But I reached it. I took hold of the angel's wings and pulled them up. The katana blade cut the angel down through its bowels. It moaned softly, stopped struggling, and rested its head on my shoulder. I spat - the scent of those things always disgusted me. With a little jump for leverage, I pushed the angel's wings down until the blade came up and split the skull cleanly in half.
That must have been when the cavalry arrived, because the next thing I knew, it was angels jumping all over my back and slithering around my knees, going for body blows. I was glad for the heavenly host, to be honest. A fight where I can turn my mind off is one I usually win. I only remember flashes of what happened then.
Feathers swirling like a bloodstained blizzard. A tuxedo t-shirt unable to stop my claws from breaching a brittle breastplate. A stack of angels writhing on the katana like so many crumpled receipts. My thumbs hooked through the holes in a pelvis, snapping it in half. My foot spurs snagged on a spinal cord, from the front. Two floating ribs in my hands, ripped out of their torso and plunged into eye sockets. Dripping entrails draped around my horns.
When the angels stopped coming, I slowly came back to myself. Their perfumed blood coated our spiritual battlefield. I'd been hurt too. My black blood sagged forth, the sign of a hard-won victory. Somehow, you remained asleep - dreaming, no doubt, of something simple and sweet, like your mother's hair. Your skull was nearly whole. The moment had come.
I shrank, lengthened, flattened, and rounded. Like a wisp of smoke played in reverse, I sucked myself through impossibly small soft spot in your head, and nestled myself next to your soul. The gates of bone crashed shut above us. Thus our fates became entwined.
I can tell you're less than enthused, hearing our story like this. I know you'd have liked to have a choice in the matter. But it could be worse. Imagine your mother, awakening to find your body cold, your soul snatched away by dispassionate angels, just trying to meet some heavenly quota. Imagine life eternal in Heaven for your soul - sure, they say it's nice, but by definition it rejects the pleasures of the flesh.
Instead, you have me. Your protector. Your cellmate. And, if you like, your advisor. Complete transparency? Yes, indeed, I want you to sin. A long life of sin without repentance is all I want for you. But if you choose to balance it out with virtue, I can't stop you.
You don't have to decide right now. I'll just be here, observing, and at times whispering. Look inward when you're ready, and I promise, you'll find me waiting.
|# ? May 31, 2020 23:47|
Word Count: 1210
Flash: Some milk, good; lots of milk, bad
a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 11:56 on Jan 2, 2021
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 01:06|
A Paper Horse, a Ghost Queen and her Flamingos, and a Space Hippopotamus, by yoruichi
Having a shtick is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s fun for in jokes, but on the other hand in jokes are cancer (or at least diabetes, or some other high mortality non-communicable disease). Where it can be good is where it gives you an opportunity to dig into something that clearly matters to you and find out what’s going on under the surface. I’m talking of course about yoruichi and horses, and with no less than three horsey flash rules this was always going to have a little freckles in it, but in fact it doesn’t come out the worse for it. This is still in the tdome wacky paddock, but there’s some whiffs of deeper meaning, and it’s both fun and funny. It feels like a story written just before falling asleep, and it relies on a constant flow of absurd images, of which ‘Grawk!’ said a flamingo wearing a tuxedo may be the zaniest, but there’s an oddly articulate dream eating hippo to come so who knows. This kind of dreamlike and then and then stuff only has so much in the way of legs (just like your protag) though, so it’s good you wrap the end up in a nice bow, and settle your prose down to bring the story to a peaceful satisfying close. I liked this a lot, it’s the right kind of fluffy silliness with just enough substance to not regret reading it.
Sudoku, by sitting here
You set the scene for structural brain fuckery with the title, for which much thanks, so the reader is prepped for what this is - a set of fragments that (are intended to) cohere into a singular whole. It’s kind of a neat trick, but it is a bit of a trick, since it offloads the task of assembling meaning onto the reader, and the montage effect means that you get a shadow story filling in the blanks. That said, it works here, and it’s a strength of the piece. The words throughout are lovely, shifting gear from elevated to mundane. I think this suffers a little as a thunderdome piece because judges have to read fast, so the (intricate) interweavings between cells of the number puzzle can be lost, but there’s also a rigid internality to its focus on a single personality or moment that lightly repels the reader, like bringing the north poles of two magnets together. Put that next to the ‘maybe next time’ ending and I think I see why this was an hm rather than a win. A beautiful, complex piece of work though and the prose and imagery is never less than delicious.
ROBOCASINO: A Johnny Backflip Adventure, by saucy rodent
Wow yes so there’s a gear shift. This story wears its tdome wacky colours on its sleeve right from the title, and there’s no harm in that - some stories just wanna have fun. They can have fun while not putting double spaces between each para tho, so plz to be working on that. Also, if you’re going to do insane wacky td adventures, I think it’s worth trying to have them be fun stories without all the insane wackiness! The quirky campbells soup drinking usain bolts et al are carrying 97-114% of the load here. Anyway, enough words, you wanted to write a dumb story and succeeded. Next.
Lessons in Empathy, by simply simon
Fixate is a transitive verb, which means that you can’t fixate, you need to fixate on something. I’m pulling this out as a heads up, but really your whole first few paras is extremely muddled - there’s a worthwhile set of components, i’m even quite interested, but you’re unpacking a single moment into a big old flashback and a revelation and a bunch of peoples reactions and none of it lands because we don’t really know or care at this stage. I think you’ve put a lot of thought into these empaths fighting each other and there’s some solid e.e. Doc smith pulpy energy in the laser blasts being deflected by the precisely angled doo dah (though the protag is a bit too perfect so it’s not as exciting as it should be) but even putting aside the gawky prose, there’s no real weight in the ending - why not have the empath on the station be Scoen the mentor? At least then the beginning and end would be a little unified.
Pie Rats, by sparksbloom
The preceding story was an awkward mess, but it did have energy, and I found myself missing that most keenly while reading this dreary bubble of ullage. Rats are in a tin, they potter along, some stuff happens, there are ships. The rats are telepathic, I guess? There are pies. THE loving END.
The View from Up there, by Thranguy
This could easily have veered into the wacky, but doesn’t by way of grounding nearly everything in it, you’ve got solid motivations for actions, the details all have a place to live in the overall story structure, and: it’s got a cold war jet fighter shooting down a dragon, badass. Where it falls down is probably a lack of anything else, because all the bits are in service of that core conceit, you get to the end and it seems a weeee bit contrived. Why was the starfighter immovable and immortal? Because the plot required it. There’s not much outside the universe of the story, for all that you go to so much effort to ground its happenings. Fun read, though.
Grim, a friendly penguin
Pegasi as any fule kno, is the plural of pegasus, not pegasuses. Though Pegasus was the name of the winged horse, like idk Jeff, rather than a name for the species so it’s all made up really. This is not my only quibble with the story - more important is how blase our protag is, to the point of being fairly insufferable. She doesn’t give much of a crap about any of the weird poo poo happening in her library, and when she starts being all about the fibonacci sequence is about where i start scrolling down to see how much more there is to go. The fundamental issue is the story doesn’t take itself seriously, but isn’t funny either - see thranguy’s for an example of how to do the former well. Are people really waiting outside the cryptid infested library in droves wanting to browse? Does leah just intrinsically know how to oust mythological weirdos from stacks, is that something they teach in schools in your world? Is the lack of a strategic vision for a board presentation in any way interesting or exciting as the central conflict in a story? All good qns to ponder imo
Just passing through, by anomalous blowout
So this treads similar ground to a bunch of the others and won by doing it more slickly and having some nice crunchy relationships and a well tuned understanding of what to change about our current dreary reality and what to leave as is. I like the hint of change at the end, and the brothers’ relationships ring true. A decent winner that makes the reader smile and ponder the numinous underpinnings of our own world, though now having read the whole week i might maaaaybe have leaned towards SH’s mad logic puzzle for its willingness to push the structural boat out further in a fairly dreary week? who knows.
A request, by Uranium Phoenix
I think I understand muffin’s complaint about some of these stories feeling stretched out, this is a prime candidate. We have a long trip, a yarny bit of chit chat where the guy oh gosh does some mansplainin i hope you punish him for that, story, and then there’s some wizardry but it’s all a plot and she gets all locked up but then she gets out and talks to her ex gf who WHAT DO YOU KNOW loved her all along and they leave, making sure to silence the naughty king who might have had an opinion about having his kingdom get skeletoned or w/e but shh the ladies are talking. There’s two issues with this, one is that the core conflict is rather dull and too quickly resolved (what if she’d said ‘no’? Isn’t that more interesting? Isn’t the necro wizard just as insanely smug as all the people she’s criticising for that very quality? Could that have been productively explored?) and the other is that the tone doesn’t know what it wants and veers from intense fantasy windswept sand swirling to casual buffoonery with ppl being all snipsnapped up into little cages or booped on the nose or w/e. Some pleasant words along the way though.
Tea and regrets, by JABC
Yeah, so this is decently hung together pulp that doesn’t really stray more than an inch from the formula despite its tolerably well executed Comparative Mythology 201 stylings. I like the vividness of your prose, the characters are enjoyably sassy if cliche, and i didn’t get bored reading it. Think of ways you can twiddle the knobs when you’re doing stuff like this though - you already flicked the setting and mythic reality knobs hard over, why leave the ‘insanely predictable, y/n?’ one untweaked, it’s right there
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 04:20|
It is possible to transplant the bones of the dead into the bones of the living, but there are often consequences.
flerp fucked around with this message at 15:51 on Aug 25, 2020
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 05:46|
Old Things Unearthed
Bone Lore: Some cultures find it immensely disrespectful if you DON'T wear the bones of your ancestors.
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 21:45 on Jan 10, 2021
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 06:10|
Never Would Again
Yaz is on the stage, slapping out notes on the bass. He's bending and distorting them into microtones, forbidden occult frequencies that rattle and shake bones from within. The audience becomes an instrument, and Yaz knows how to make it scream with perfect pitch and rhythm.
Kevin feels the throb in his arm, right where he broke it near on ten years earlier. It's an odd memory, now that he thinks about it. He has clear memories of the hospital, the weeks in the cast. But the event itself is a blank. An itch inside his bone.
Sarah feels the sonic wave pass through her, feels an unaccustomed sensations she thought she was long since done with. The sympathetic vibrations in her hip stir physical memories, separate those few joyous nights from the many miserable days.
Bernie is transported, remembers so clearly he's almost there, driving potholed rural roads at dangerous speeds, the cheaply-built suspension letting him feel every crack and divot, playing the road like a phonograph album, his spine serving as the needle.
The King's tomb is empty. They covered it up, of course. And spread the ludicrous tales of his survival as a second cover. The truth is simpler. Someone stole the body. Someone stole the bones. They passed through many hands in the occult community, were consumed and transformed, bought and sold. A small piece ended up in the possession of Yaz Marrow, still Yaz Piercegarden to his family and the IRS. He slips it out from under the binding strings, and plays the drop with a pick carved from Elvis Presley's own pelvis.
Kevin is there, right there, in the yard, running for the fence. He feels the pull on his arm, wrenching. He turns, and sees his father. He wonders why he can't seem to see or recall what his father's face looks like. It's just a blur of skin, no features, surrounded by a crimson glow. Then he feels it, is sure his bone is breaking again, right now, at the concert. He sees his father's face, a twist of rage and cruel joy.
Sarah dances, pressing close to strangers who react with game bemusement. When one partner is overcome by a fresh note that strikes some bone inside them she slides toward another. She realizes that she has missed dancing far more than the more intimate forms of company she's been denying herself.
Yaz vanishes in the chaotic aftermath of the only concert performed of the planned tour. The rest of Phalanx have short and tragic careers, joining and leaving trails of wreckage in their wake.
Sarah finds a surprising number of eager dance partners in her community, some with some skill, some substituting enthusiasm. Kevin returns to therapy after nearly getting arrested breaking into the cemetery holding his father's grave. He was too drunk to find it and has no idea what he would have done if he did, he explains to interested nods.
Bernie chases the experience itself, seeking dozens of grainy phone recordings of Phalanx concerts, transferring them to other media, digitally manipulating away background noise. He transfers them to vinyl, pays vast sums for river-polished pebble to tape to coaxial cables.
One day he sees a posting on an audiophile forum offering a truly unique object, a sonic relic, his for a price he could never justify. A fingerbone. He hovers over the link, thinking budget and sacrifice. He clicks, regrets, starts the process of cancellation, then changes his mind again. Two weeks later the package arrives. Under the padded envelope the contents begin to thrum in sync with the faint music escaping a pair of discarded headphones.
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 06:20|
They Don’t Play Honky Tonk in Harkus Bend
‘Course, you wouldn’t know it to look at me, seeing as how my appearance has been charitably described as unkempt, and my home is less stately manse than a rusted shack on the edge of the Badlands, but I do in fact trace my line back to aristocracy and I’ll thank you not to forget that overly quick. Grandma on my mama’s side was Eleza ren Dorff, of those ren Dorffs, and while Grandma never liked to talk much about her early life -- so long ago, she’d always say, can’t hardly remember what was real and what was childish daydreams -- the strong implication was that the proverbial silver spoon had been firmly lodged from day one.
Like all bright children, she went through a phase of being real into dragons, visiting the Imperial Museum in Voorma as often as her nannies could be compelled to take her, spending hours drawing pictures from memory -- all of them terrible, I must admit, it was for good reason that I was expelled from Radifa Academy at nine years old -- and reading every book she could get her hands on. A childish infatuation, her family had said, she’ll grow out of it in no time. But here they were wrong, for neither the first nor last time, because Grandma entered the University of Anket at the age of sixteen and went on to be recognized as something of a paleontological prodigy. Seems every kid dreams at some point of being a dragon scientist, but for Grandma the dream came true.
Or so it seemed; as a young paleontologist, because she came from money, Grandma felt like her colleagues treated her differently, like her family’s money was part of the reason for her admission to the university, not just academic merit -- and of course it was, because nothing’s ever black and white that way, but that’s the sort of thing that’s hard to sit with when you’re young -- and so when it came time for her to pick a dissertation topic, Grandma decided she was going to aim big. She was going to go to the Badlands, in search of a complete Boraeozoic fossil. Her advisors tried to discourage her, to shepherd her in the direction of safer, more genteel research topics, but Grandma would have none of it. She hopped the next cyclotrain to Hota, and then hauled via nuclear wagon all the way east out towards the Badlands, dragging trunks filled with dig equipment behind her.
This was way back in the middle of the nuclear renaissance, remember, when folks could still find hot rocks just laying around on the ground. By virtue of a suspiciously generous grant awarded by a ren Dorff subsidiary agency, Grandma commandeered a top of the line sandwalker to carry her out into the wastes. Folks knew how to travel back then. Folks with money, that is. But all the money in the world couldn’t change the Badlands from being what it’s always been -- rugged, hard territory, blasted over by electrical storms and howling twisters. Back in Anket, they figured Grandma’d last a week, two tops.
Grandma spent an entire year combing the badlands, stopping into frontier towns to resupply and send reports back to her advisors in Anket. And she made a few finds here and there, plenty of coprolites, a fragmented -- but complete -- baculum, a scattering of Mekrassian-era teeth with preserved serrations, but nothing like the big find she was looking for. And so it was with a low mood that Grandma first arrived in Harkus Bend.
Harkus Bend, at the time, weren’t nothing more than a few shacks huddled around a mostly dry well, and those of you smartasses snickering that little’s changed in a hundred years don’t know how good you got things nowadays. But you can’t call yourself a town without having a bar, and as Grandma’s sandwalker staggered into town on the last rays of a low red sun, the Harkus Bend Saloon was jumping.
Now, even after a year of hard living, there was no denying that Grandma was a looker -- it’s from her that I got this attractively shaped honker, which some’d say was my mug’s sole redeeming feature -- and she was no stranger to attention. Grandpa said that when she came through them swing doors and shook the silt out of her long dark hair, everybody’s jaw just about hit the floor. And the band, of which Grandpa called himself the leader, plumb forgot about their instruments for a hot minute.
But for all the jaw-waggling in the bar, the most caught off-guard was Grandma herself, because up there on the tiny little stage by the end of the bar was the most devilishly handsome man she’d ever seen -- let’s not forget that I’d been in the Badlands for a year on my own, now -- with a pair of hammers held loose between long, graceful fingers, standing in front of what was unmistakably the entire rib-cage of a Boraeozoic Ammopterus juvenile specimen.
Well, Grandma wasted no time and marched right up to Grandpa, put her finger in his face and demanded to know just what the hell he thought he was doing, banging away on a priceless specimen for the sake of some dusty honky tonk. And those of you that knew her, you know how she could be when she got riled. Most ordinary folks would’ve just handed over the bones right then and there with a heartfelt apology.
But Grandpa weren’t ordinary folk, he was Ebor Jukkora. And Ebor Jukkora most certainly didn’t play honky tonk. So he smiled right back in Grandma’s face, teeth yellow from years of chewing mong, and he offered her a deal -- he’d play her a number on the bones, show her what he could do, and if, when he was done, she still wanted to take his bones back to some faraway museum in Voorma, he’d give them up gladly.
To hear Grandpa tell it, he played for Grandma like he never played before, like he was taken over by the spirit of some ancient dragon, evoking a spirit that had been stranger to the Badlands for aeons. Noone ever played the bones like Ebor Jukkora did that night, not before, not since. The bottles shattered on their shelves, and the toughest men and women alike in that joint were driven to awe-struck tears, at least in Grandpa’s telling -- isn’t that right, he’d say to Grandma, back when they both were alive and old together, shooting the dust on their porch as the sun went down. And Grandma would smile at Grandpa, and she’d say: yeah, you were alright.
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 06:52|
The tale of Stepping Tiger
Before she became known to some as the avenging Stepping Tiger, who strikes fear into the hearts of wicked men, she was a young orphan girl in a small village at the edge of the western desert, known only as Slender Mole. The day her life would change forever began as any other day- she was wrenched from sleep in her bunk crammed between her fellow orphan sisters by the cruel governess that ruled with an iron fist for the day's chores. Sweeping in front of the orphanage she did not notice the strange man who eyed her across the alley.
Later she was taken to a small back room. The strange man conversed with the governess, who then ordered her to sit, and soon the man was poking and prodding her. Seeming satisfied, the man said a few words to the governess, placed a small bag at her desk, and left.
Terror filled Slender Mole, made worse by the governess' pleased- yet not pleasant- expression. "Don't worry miss Mole," she said. "Today is joyous- you will no longer be a burden to us, this man is in service of a great king, and soon you shall become his royal concubine and want for nothing."
She was given a long bath, and brought alone to the courtyard. A succession of the most beautiful women she had ever seen arrived, dressing her in strange clothes and jewelry, applying sweet smelling tonics to her hair and skin. It felt like a game, like she played with her doll. There was one woman, slightly more plain looking than the rest, who seemed to be the only one who spoke her language, badly. She was constantly giving her advice- telling her that the king she was to spend the rest of her life serving was a great man, but that she had to be careful to serve him dutifully. She rambled on about innumerable things she had to do- how to step, when it was appropriate to look at him, how to pour tea- many things she could not understand, but one detail lodged with her- soon her initiation to her new life would be sealed with the binding of her feet, who would make her into a proper woman. She had chanced to ask one question, "Does it hurt?"
The face of the one woman who spoke her tongue seemed to shift for a moment, then she smiled, "Only for a short bit, look" she lifted up her dress, she saw that this grown woman's feet were indeed small, intricately bound, and the same size as her own.
After she had been prepared with hair and skin treatments, perfumes, new clothes, and a slew of instructions she barely remembered, the footbinder arrived. She saw in the upper balconies some of her former sisters glared down, ostensibly lost in their tasks, but she now realized they looked at her with jealousy- none of them had been chosen for such an honor, they would stay in this orphanage if not their whole lives, then for as long as they were useful- none of them had been so chosen.
The footbinder was an old woman, not beautiful like her other attendants. She sat mixing a potion of the ground bones from the foot of some animal, a mixture of things smelling sweet and foul, herbs and spices and what looked like blood, which her feet soaked in for a long time. They felt cold. At last the footbinder raised Mole's feet out of the concoction. She had said a few strange words, taken her small foot, and then- with a shuddring snap she felt the small bones in her foot forced into a strange position. Before she could cry out the footbinder began to wrap her helpless feet and toes, she looked desperately for her governess, anyone, but before she knew it her other foot was being snapped all the same. She cried now, not for the pain, but of betrayal.
Barely able to walk after the procedure, and wearing new strange tiny shoes over her throbbing bandaged feet, she was given a bejeweled cane, and helped into an awaiting pavilion. She sat on a small soft cushion behind drapes men carrying her now, towards the royal caravan, away from the orphanage, from her old life. She saw the man she had sold to, had had her feet mutilated for, only once- her curtain was lifted, and before her the curtain of an even bigger pavilion was lifted and she gazed upon the face of this king for the first and only time- he made almost no impression on her, he wore a great wrapping on his head and a thick beard and was slightly fat. The king gave a brief nod of assent, it seemed she was acceptable, and his curtain fell away, and his servants began carrying the both of them to join the caravan. She clutched her doll- the one thing she was allowed to take from the orphanage- and cried.
After some time, they had stopped at a well in the desert for water. She had told one of her new handmaidens she needed to relieve herself. She was given privacy to totter away into the desert, clutching her new cane and her old doll. Later, making her way back- only- she realized she had left her doll somewhere. Hobbling back now to the place in the desert- she searched high and low, but she couldn't that doll, the one thing linking her back to her old life. Near tears again, she made her way back to the caravan.
Only- the caravan was gone. It had left without her- perhaps her servants had noticed she was not in the pavilion- now she was stranded in the desert- and might die there.
She began limping around for help, following the caravan tracks until exhausted she fell to the sand, weeping.
"Young girl, why is it that you cry?" a voice from the desert, she looked up, a strange man in a turban stood near her, not looking at her, leaning on a staff. She saw that he was blind.
"I was to be a concubine for a rich king," she said, "but I wandered away from his caravan, now I am lost forever. My feet are newly bound, and I cannot hope to reach them now."
"But you are not lost," the man said, "You are found-. Come with me," The man said.
They made their way the desert temple where the man introduced her to a woman wearing a shawl.
"An orphan girl," he explained to her, "Sold to the king of the west, she was lost in the desert."
The woman in the shawl smiled. "You are safe now child. What is your name?"
"Slender Mole," She said. "But the King was to give me a new name, once I became his concubine."
"That will not happen now," The woman said. "You will be given a new name, of your own choosing, or you can be Slender Mole for the rest of your life. You can stay here as long as you wish. This is a safe place."
But one day they came for her. She recognized the strange man who had taken her. He spoke.
"You have in your temple a girl that belongs to the rightful king of the western desert," he said. Turn her over and no one will be hurt."
"This is a sacred place," the blind man said. "There will be no fighting here. If the girl wished to go back she will go back."
The girl who was shedding the name of Slender Mole appeared, "It's me you want." She confronted the man, "I'm not going with you."
The kings assistant chortled, "You don't have a choice." "We have warriors and archers. You cannot resist us. You will return to your master."
As the legend goes, the woman who had become thenceforth known as Stepping Tiger stepped forth and slammed her foot upon the ground, and instantly, the floor of the earth cracked open and swallowed the king's advisor, the caravan, the army and servants all. Historians will say that it is all legend, that the girl, if she ever did exist, was simply recaptured and became one of many concubines in waiting to another petty desert monarch- if he ever existed either. They say that this explains the destruction of the temple, and of whatever sect was practiced here being lost forever. But some take the latter view, and to this day, the story is told of Stepping Tiger, of the holy woman of the desert who would not let herself be taken to be bound to the wicked king, who stepped forward in righteousness, and by the power of God destroyed the entire court of a wicked king, his mighty army and entourage, leaving nothing but bare sand where they once stood.
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 06:58|
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 07:05|
Well when I said "boners of the week" in sign-ups, I wasn't anticipating things to be as bad as they got, but boy, this week dredged up a truly staggering four DMs in addition to the loss.
The reason I explicitly banned magical reanimated skeletons is because I worried not doing so would result in a lot of samey stories, but it turns out there was a lot of sameyness regardless. Some of you really leaned into your flash rules in ways that I appreciate, and I'll go into that in more detail in my crits.
First interred into the DM crypt is take the moon, who wrote a story that had more proper nouns than coherent thoughts. I'm not opposed to stories that crawl up their own asses, but there's got to be something relatable in there. Next up is a friendly penguin, who wrote an entire story from the POV of a bird that just sort of narrates its own backstory. Crimea also scored a DM with a story that felt like a sequence of events happening around but not to its protagonist, who just stood there like an anatomical model. Salgal80 is also off to the DM crematorium for similar reasons to Crimea--a story about a protagonist who supposedly yearns to be free but mostly just passively stands there until we discover she's been yearning for freedom in the very last paragraph.
The worst of the worst though, was Saucy_Rodent, though not by a terribly wide margin. Your story was simply a hairsbreadth worse than the rest, many of which were pretty bad. Enjoy your new avatar, roll up your sleeves, and try again.
Most stories that didn't DM this week were all still sort of middlingly bad for reasons we get very in-depth into in our various crits. I won't veer down that path now for that way lies sadness. The squishy soggy middle-of-the-pack stories were so indistinguishable in quality that this week we will be awarding no HMs.
The only story that immediately stood out to all three of us as top tier stood out to me not only because it fully embraced its absurd premise, it managed to balance absurd comedy with a sneaky, slithering menace in a way that, to me, embodied the spirit of Bone Week. And that was our bone buddy Something Else, who appears to be on a bit of a winning streak!
And as a SPECIAL GIFT to you all, facilitated by our recording wizard Sebmojo and the knife's-edge wit of co-judge Yoruichi, we present: 80 minutes of live-critting whereupon we dissect every single one of your boneheaded endeavours. Inside you will find: specific advice! Bad bone puns! Lots of talk about asses! And hopefully some good writing advice. Marvel as we come to our consensus live on air! Listen to us discuss what it truly means to embody the essence of being a loser!
Please enjoy this special gift, Bonerdome.
Something Else, your nonstop parade of angel murder and your cheery demon protagonist have secured you a spot upon the bone throne. Rise up and prompt us.
Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 11:17 on Jun 1, 2020
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 10:29|
THUNDERDOME WEEK 409
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
I prompt you all this week with teamwork. I want to read stories about groups of people (and things) who work together well. Your words themselves should also use teamwork, such that they are good together, instead of bad.
If you ask me for a flash rule, I will give you a picture of two or more animals that you may or may not draw inspiration from. Be warned that if you do this and then just make the animals your characters, the story better blow me away.
This week's limit is a magnificent 1777 words!
Sign-ups will end on Friday 6/5 at 11:59pm PST
Submissions will close on Sunday 6/7 at 11:59pm PST
Something Else fucked around with this message at 06:12 on Jun 5, 2020
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 20:38|
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 20:40|
In and flash
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 20:41|
In and flash me
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 20:54|
Bone Judge Crits
Choosing a Path by Salgal80
You lost me with your opening sentence, because a “black vaporous cloud” could be anything from an actual cloud in the sky to smoke from a fire to anything in between. By the end of your first para I could picture what you were describing, but it’s not a good start if the first sentence makes you go, “huh?”
The first third of this feels like unnecessary set up; the actual story starts after the ***. That’s a banging paragraph btw. Alright this is starting to get interesting now-- WAIT EVERYONE IS DEAD. What?
You should have cut the first third and used these words to add another third on the end, where you show how the protag deals with/reacts to all these deaths and bring the story to some sort of resolution rather than ending at the beginning of a longer tale.
thaw // bookends by take the moon
Dude I love the way you absolutely go for it with your prose but I couldn’t make head or tails of this. The story opens with two characters - Winter and Arendr - but then in the next section we’ve got Mess, then… some other people, then Inanna and Aeterne… Who are these people? Who are they to each other? Where is this story set? What is even happening??
I think an abstract setting could work if the characters were clear, or vice versa, but you’ve got to give the reader something to anchor themselves to. Unfortunately this felt to me like not much more than a dreamy mess.
rear end GHOST! by Saucy Rodent
Please know that before I read your story I amused myself by shouting your title out loud several times. So, thank you for that.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be the high point of this reading experience. Most of this story is boring dialogue, then some brief but zero-stakes action, then a joke about Applebees. Now, because I am from a tiny island at the bottom of the world, I don’t know what Applebees is, so this was completely lost on me. The random “crew” typo was funnier than most of the jokes.
One Body by crimea
This story is a lot of things not happening. Two people not talking to each other. A scientist not discovering the consciousness of bones. Not going down to the basement. Not noticing what was going on on his computer. And then he’s dead. The absence of action is not as interesting to read as the actual action would have been.
You give the closing line of your story to the bunker’s denizens, about whom we know absolutely nothing, so that was a bit of a nothing ending.
A Present by sparksbloom
Finally, a good opening line.
Oh, wait, is a cardinal a type of bird? I thought you meant a guy from the Catholic Church with a funny pointy hat. This isn’t your fault, but I am very disappointed.
This is pretty weird. You do a good job of conjuring up the strange tension in this household. But the fact that the protag is acting like a bit of an ungrateful brat distracts from the story for me. I like that she makes amends with her sister at the end, but the tone of the ending felt out of kilter with the rest of the story.
The War for Your Soul by SomethingElse
I was loving this until about half way through, when the action (which was some good pulpy fun, don’t get me wrong), started to drag on. The ending was pretty bland. I’m not sure where I thought this was going to go, but it feels like it just lost its energy and fizzled out.
Bone Tree by a friendly penguin
Hmmm ok this is almost all boring lore and backstory. There’s nothing in the story to make me care about either character. The thing the story is actually about - the crow getting a new body - only happens in the last para and then it’s over. And the last line is terrible.
Little Piece by Flerp
You do a good job in this piece of conjuring up that sense of hopeless confusion that comes with grief, but as a story I found this unsatisfying. I didn’t really feel invested in these characters, and there’s not much of an arc - just a textbook portrait of grief.
Old Things Unearthed by Antivehicular
I like this. It’s a simple and gentle piece, but unlike some of the other nothing-happens stories this week, this one has three believable characters (you do a good job of giving life to the dead step-father’s character), and ends with a pleasingly understated resolution. I like that the dead step-father was a good guy, who was doing is best to be a good step-dad, and that it’s her own childhood behaviour that Chelsea has to make peace with.
Never Would Again by Thranguy
I don’t really get this I’m afraid. It’s very short, and I think this works against it. These characters needed a bit more space to make this a satisfying read.
They Don’t Play Honky Tonk in Harkus Bend by Barnaby Profane
This starts off sounding like the story is about the narrator (let me tell you about myself, it all started with my grandma…) but ends up being a story about how grandma met grandad. The beginning, middle and ending are all fine, it’s just they don’t match.
The tale of Stepping Tiger by kiyoshimon
You should have capitalised ‘tale’ in your title it looks weird in lower case.
Oh dear your entire story is packed into your final paragraph; the rest is all very troupe-y and unnecessary set up. A story that started with an escaped concubine discovering hidden power to protect the desert temple that saved her would have been cool. Unfortunately you did not write that story.
|# ? Jun 1, 2020 20:55|
Thanks for the previous critiques of my work, I have read my previous entries again with previous feedback in mind. I apologize I was not able to enter sooner but now I would like to be "in" and request a flash rule.
|# ? Jun 2, 2020 07:57|
Thanks for the previous critiques of my work, I have read my previous entries again with previous feedback in mind. I apologize I was not able to enter sooner but now I would like to be "in" and request a flash rule.
consider yourself, ""in"
In and flash
In and flash me
|# ? Jun 2, 2020 17:33|
In and please flash me.
|# ? Jun 2, 2020 22:33|
in, toxx, flash
|# ? Jun 3, 2020 11:33|
Thank you for the audio critique! I'm in, flash me some animals.
|# ? Jun 4, 2020 07:13|
Written crits for last week. Pardon the complete lack of formatting, Awful App ate it twice and I'm a tired baby who ain't gonna input all that poo poo again.
Salgal80 - Choosing a Path
Intriguing opening paragraph, if a little vague. You’ve got me. Let’s go. “Searching for an exit” is a legit creepy line, this is setting a good tone so far. I’m a sucker for trippy visions even if these are a little bit cliche. In the middle bits the sentence structure gets a little “I am doing/feeling a thing, another thing happens, I observe another thing” which gets redundant, good thing to watch for. The paragraph about the extra rib could really be punchier--I want to know your protag’s thoughts on discovering she has an extra friggin’ bone!
The passive voice to open the second scene is detracting from the immediacy of the stuff that’s happening to your protag I’m afraid. Who attached the wings and claws? Make them the subjects, describe the actions of the people who are doing this stuff to her.
The grammar is unravelling a little bit toward the end, a few visible typos, be careful to proofread before you post.
You rely on the word “send” a lot and it is almost always a very weak verb that could be replaced by something that more actively reflects what the sentence’s subject is actually doing.
The imagery in this piece isn’t bad, but your protag lacks desire and direction. This feels like a series of things happening to them which they passively endure. If you want this story to be a struggle about freedom, you need to mention that the character wants to be free early on. Have them take some steps toward freedom and fail. Then it will be all the sweeter when they finally succeed.
Take the moon - thaw // bookends
Really strong opening, love the imagery and the sense of wonder it’s evoking so far. Gets a little heavy-handed with the proper nouns but overall the voice is strong and I like the combativeness of it. Reading further on, the second section is also nice but starts to get a little overwhelming with the Proper Noun Things that don’t seem to relate much to story things. Still, this feels like a solid skeleton (sorry) that could stick its landing. Let’s see…
The middle bit is starting to lose me. Too many introduced themes and concepts and it isn’t really tied together in any coherent way. The prose is still decent and some really good imagery here and there but you’re running out of space to tell a story where these threads all weave together. The briar and nettle paragraph is pretty purple.
The ending had a bit more action and characters making choices and doing things, but unfortunately the beginning didn’t adequately tie these avatars of the seasons to any actual narrative or plot so it feels a little haphazard.
Saucy_Rodent - rear end GHOST!
Some bits here that have given me a chuckle, but about ⅓ of the way in it feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever. Needs a proofread. The urge to skim was pretty powerful by the end. I’ve seen you do zany comedy well, Mr. Sauce, but this was not one of those times. This felt like a series of references strung together, not even really jokes. There’s a maxim about TV writing that says in a well-written script, you should theoretically be able to pick a line at random and someone who is familiar with the characters can tell you who is speaking. There are a lot of characters in this and they all have the same voice.
Crimea - One Body
I like this opening, you paint a good picture of your protag. They say opening a story with someone looking in a mirror is almost universally a bad idea, but in this case with the palsy it feels like something a newly-palsied person would do a lot, exploring how their face has changed. The line “he didn’t realise he was on the verge of discovering the consciousness of bones” promises us something p cool even if it’s a little on the nose.
The convo with Cat felt a little bland, hope to find out there was some subtext there that becomes relevant later. Liked that line about the cracked egg.
Nitpick alert - Anderson is not “seemingly” waiting in the elevator to see if anything will happen. He’s doing exactly that. It’s easy to fall into using seem or seemingly as a crutch, but stop and ask yourself if it’s really an appropriate word for the sentence and image you’re trying to convey. Since this scene is from Anderson’s POV, we know exactly what he’s doing, there’s no seemignly about it.
This takes a veer toward the passive once we switch to the camera POV, and while that makes a certain sense, it removes the reader from the action and lessens the impact.
This is another story where stuff just kinda happens to the protag. We learn in the background that he’s been doing stuff but he doesn’t really make a lot of active choices, nor do we get to find out how he feels about the fate that befalls him.
Sparksbloom - A Present
Nice opening line. I’m intrigued. You have a nice way with painting a detailed picture despite not slathering the scene with details. Good prose. This has a nice gothic vibe and I can feel the walls of the story closing in as each scene progresses.
Oho, I like the protag spitefully acting out against the cat. This is good. The dialogue between the sisters feels very real for a strained sibling relationship.
The ending does just kind of… fizzle, though. It’s a nice image to end on, but I wish there was more callback to something earlier in the piece, more consequence for your protag’s choice with cracking the skull. Nothing wrong with a happy ending, but this one felt like there was little tension leading up to it.
Something Else - The War for Your Soul
This is a playful take on a baby-haunted-by-demons story and I’m liking it from the get-go. The voice is nice, if a little Good Omensy, Your demon character is very likeable. My only worry is that we’re opening with a LOT of infodumping even if it’s pleasant infodumping and I hope you don’t run out of wordcount to cram a story in here.
Ah, here’s the story! Love the bowler hat line. Loved “I’ll explain it when you’re older.” There are a dozen great little lines in this and I can tell you spent some time crafting the prose on a sentence level. You describe the action scenes concisely and they’re always entertaining, even if the tap shoes bit veered a little into too-clever territory.
The moment where the demon slithers in feels very earned and is cool as hell.
Really enjoyed this one from start to finish.
A friendly penguin - Bone Tree
I like the folktale vibe of this even if the initial formatting and lack of set dressing made it a bit tough to immediately immerse myself in. Good creepy lore here with the bone tree. The prose gets a little lazy in parts and the voice feels sometimes like it’s trying a little too hard to be folksy, but it’s overall an interesting read that’s compelling me forward toward the end.
Overall, I feel like this story was an almost-just-not-quite. The crow works, but your chosen human is very bland and their dialogue isn’t particularly interesting. It all feels like generic comic book placeholder “exclamation!” type dialogue rather than what a real person might say. Still, with a bit of polish this is the sort of flash I could see a magazine buying if you were into that. It tells a complete story end to end and your protag is clever and it’s delightfully weird, but it’s dragged down into only-slightly-above-average by the flat human character and the abrupt beginning.
Flerp - Little Piece
Some decent images opening this one up as well as a protag who’s got a likeable voice. I find the father’s thoughts on mortality very relatable. As the story progresses, I enjoy this crackpot dad! Still, we’re getting decently far into the piece without a ton happening. The dad has died, but the son isn’t really doing much about it. He’s mused about the dad’s thoughts on death a few different ways but it isn’t treading any new ground.
Nitpick time - not sure how bones can “crumple together like ashes.” Bones are pretty solid and brittle don’t crumple, they just sorta snap.
The ending isn’t bad, a little trite. You handle the pain of loss well as well as the way the human mind grasps at what-ifs in the face of tragedy. Ultimately this ending doesn’t knock it out of the park, but it’s perfectly serviceable and it has as few nice lines. I can tell you spent time on it.
Antivehicular - Old Things Unearthed
I love how much you convey with so little sentences here - the relationship between the sisters, the nature of the protag in contrast to her sibling, the desolation of a small Alaskan coroner’s waiting room. By the end of the second paragraph we’ve got some great character and great worldbuilding. This is off to a fun start!
As the story progresses, I’m just immersing myself in it like a warm bath on a cool day. This is good writing, concise and informative but still pretty when it needs to be. There’s a forlorn core to the story that I feel like you’re chipping away at and slowly revealing.
Man, oof, this is one of those stories that just gets to The Truth Of The Thing. I was an angry stepkid once and I did a lot of things I regret and it’s very true how that stuff sticks with you as an adult even as you know you were young and shouldn’t be held fully responsible for the decisions made by your imperfectly formed prefrontal cortex.
The macabre jewelry chatter at the end is a perfect note for this and the reconciliation doesn’t feel forced. I really enjoyed this story and I think it’s one of yours - like the one about the dead guy’s ghost haunting the tractor - that I’ll think about for a while.
Ultimately if I was going to HM any story this week, it would have been this one. However, I think my inclination to HM it is based solely on how bad everyone else’s was, since there were enough nitpicks with this one that it wouldn’t have stood out in a stronger week. Still, it says a lot of nice things and I am glad you wrote it and that counts for something.
Thranguy - Never Would Again
Hahahah oh my god, this rules. Vivid scene-setting with few words, a lot said with a little prose, and who can resist a guitar pick carved from Elvis’ pelvis. This is a short and sweet little tale that only sets out to do one thing but does it really well. I think perhaps the transition from bone-vibrating cosmic Elvis bone rave to “concert’s up and everybody went home” was perhaps a bit abrupt but otherwise this was a solid vignette. However, I don’t think it was quite a story. It’s the negative space left by a story as it walks through the room. As I say in the audio critique, it’s the wake left behind in a story’s passing.
If fleshed out a bit more, I think this idea would have worked well and would have been an HM candidate. Unfortunately, it was just a little too sparse. We don’t learn enough about who these people are and how their narratives are connected for this to feel like anything other than a collection of nice, well-described images that ultimately only relate to each other a little and just sorta pass on by without leaving a lasting impression. Still, I like the idea, and if you did develop this into something longer or a little more solidly sketched-out, I think the premise is solid. Your prose as always is groovy.
Barnaby Profane - They Don’t Play Honky Tonk in Harkus Bend
You set an immediate scene with a few words here - Badlands, mentions of crumbling aristocracy - and your protag has a unique voice. By the second paragraph I’m quite invested in palaeontology granny and I want to see where her adventures take her.
Really enjoying your worldbuilding as we move into the middle bits. This feels like a golden age of sci-fi tale with a hint of Borderlands. The ending comes on kind of abruptly, and I was curious that a reason for the framing device wasn’t ever revealed. We never learn anything about the person telling this story, not sure if that adds or detracts from it really. The last line is very charming and lessens the blow of the abrupt ending though. Overall a solid piece in a week that was overall very weak. It stood out, for all its flaws.
Upon a second reading, I do think the beginning of this piece sets up the end for failure. You start out with the narrator explicitly telling the reader they aren’t what we think they are, but then you never really explain what we think they are or why they are actually something different or why that even matters. If you’d stuck to the old lady and her how-I-met-your-grandaddy story I would have rated this much higher. As it is, you promise something in the beginning that you never deliver on, and in the future I’d watch out for that, either ensuring that the story you establish in the beginning is the same as you end on, or just remove those bits with a thorough edit.
Kiyoshimon - The Tale of Stepping Tiger
There are a couple bits in this beginning that hint that it’s some sort of xianxia. A couple bits more to anchor us to the setting would have been helpful, but that’s what we get so that’s what is poppin’ into my head. The prose is adequate if not especially punchy. I wish the protag had a bit more character. She’s fairly generic throughout the whole thing, and this is another story where a sequence of stuff just kinda seems to happen to her without her driving much if any of the action or doing much other than exactly what could be expected of her.
This reminds me a lot of many many Chinese light novels I’ve read over the years, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does however mean that if you’re going to lean on so many genre cliches, you’d better do it in an interesting way or at least in a way that delivers something solid if not totally new.
I like the dichotomy of broken-boned bound feet vs. stomps that shatter the very earth’s crust--there is a powerful image and a good story nugget in that. Unfortunately, it shows up at the 90% mark rather than the 10% mark, so rather than seeing your protag explore her power and explore the imagery of tearing apart the world that’s oppressed her with the very feet her captors broke to hobble her, we instead are left with a feeling of what might have been.
I do like the way you subverted the trope of the meeting of the king. I was wincing that he’d turn out to be an evil fat rapist because that’s a very common trope in these kinds of stories, but you pleasantly surprised me and the way you just breeze by their meeting feels very true to real life.
|# ? Jun 4, 2020 09:26|
week whatever muffin judged idk im not looking it up
first thoughts were comments i had when i first read your story when i got back home, more details are after
first thoughts - things just happen to this horse so no real rhyme or reason and the horse just ends up becoming a horse because it asked which idk couldnt that have happened earlier?
more - this story is a nonsense story, thats for sure, but it doesnt rly work for me because the character is very passive. weird things just happen to this cardboard horse, and things just happen around it and it doesnt rly build to anything super interesting. the prose was kinda workmanlike, and it didnt quite have the heft needed in its prose to sell these fantastical elements to make me go whoaaaaa. also, i dont rly get the resolution because like, why did anything happen? the horse always wanted to be a horse, and then the ghost lady couldve done that from the start but just didnt??? idk it felt kinda dumb to me thats all it took was the for the character to say they want the thing that they said they always wanted.
first thoughts - self indulgent and exceedingly purple. kinda weird and i rly didnt like anything outside of the grounded kid moments but maybe thats because im hosed in the head and i find immortal god empresses boring, who knows
more - i kinda get what’s going on, but also, not rly, but, unlike the above story, the prose is a lot more colorful and interesting that even when i dont know whats going, the words push me along decently along. i do like the parts with the kid, especially that first intro, i was like hell yeah lets go this is my jam but then god empress stuff got too vague for me, which kinda threw me out of the story. its a fun ride, though, and theres a lot of weird nonsense that doesnt track for me, but i dont rly care that much because the prose was interesting enough.
first thoughts - ok the only line that made me kinda chuckle was “were getting laid tonight” but also i didnt actively despise every minute of it, so thats a plus
more - this is better than the previous comedy stories of yours, mostly because it had a decent premise, but also had a few other jokes sprinkled here and there. the backflip/frontflip stuff is a good thing to center the story on, and is a nice bit of irreverent humor. it doesnt quite land into the upper echelon of extremely funny since it kinda felt a prefunct and obvious, so the jokes never landed in quite an absurdly funny way. but it was better and i didnt hate it so success???
first thoughts - this was actually kind of a cool scifi thing going on during the first half and then the second half had two random characters show up and also the protag could go super saiyan? and then control souls or something? idk lost me by the end
more - i actually really enjoyed the first half which, for a sci-fi story, big success because i usually hate this poo poo esp given that the first line made me so worried id hate it but it was cool. it had a nice premise, nice morally grey stuff going on, nice tension, nice stakes, it was going great for the first half. i liked the premise of empaths and i liked the power being less about being capable of super power, but understanding people and taking advantage of that but then the second half started and immediately went downhill. two new characters got introduced out of nowhere, and then he gets sent to the ship and goes super saiyan, which was like, boo man. the cool part was using the knowledge of others to outplay them, but now he’s just a god ig. and then the bad guy is just kinda over the top evil and the ending i guess was kinda cool, but also, i dont know why he can suddenly control souls to murder people. i mean, its not it doesnt make sense, but i feel like i was watching a dbz episode where you powercrept the hell out of the protag to the point where it lost what i rly liked in the beginning.
first thoughts - oh he has telepathic powers? ok then……
this is kinda cute but also kinda just like things happen and sort of fabley idk about this one tbh, i like bits and pieces of it, but the whole feels kinda underwhelming and there’s a lot of “things happen just because” moments.
more - i wanted to like this much more than i did because there’s a lot of things to like. a rly cute rat pair, one a telepath? flying squirrels? a kinda fun and cute story? so what fails… its hard to say exactly. some of it is in the plotting, a lot of things just sort of happen instead of being real moments. like, the rat said, “dont you have something you used to love” and because of that one statement, that squirrel turned around which was weird because like, if somebody told me that, id be like yeah what about it? idk it just felt like there were things building up to a moment, and then those moments just kinda didnt happen.
first thoughts - this is a lot of build up for a very limp jet v dragon fight
more - this story feels very constructed. the intro is actually pretty decent, and i liked the grandpa stuff talking about dragons but i was not expecting this to take a fantasy twist because i thought it was a fun story said by the grandpa. and then things transition awkwardly to a guy murdering elf, and then them running away and then years pass by for some reason until the elf finds them again and murders their friend and then okay time for the jet v dragon fight and it just kinda happens and is not interesting at all. this is an odd story because like, nothing in here really works. the transitions are awkward and the individual moments themselves arent that interesting, so you would think this story is trying its best to reach its climax, but then its climax just kinda sputters out, so nothing rly works here.
a friendly penguin
first thoughts - what is with all these seemingly normal stories that end up just being arbitrarily magical
this somehow makes less sense than all the stories before it when i feel like this should be rly simple
more - this is a really sloppy story. its all over the place in its logic, and rly doesnt want to let the reader into the logic. things kinda happen, but there’s not a lot of excitement in it? like, there’s some weird stuff, but the tension feels low and the stakes feel low. this is another “just so” kind of story, where things happen without motivation or reasoning, and its meant to kinda be carried by its ridiculousness or silliness, but the prose, again, doesnt lend itself to rly carry this story, where things are kinda hum drum despite the craziness.
first thoughts - kinda cool, but also kinda dull and the resolution felt way too easy for such a long story
i think my main problem with this story its length, which, while the concept is, on its own, interesting, im not sure if it can carry a 2.5k story, esp because i find the resolution kind of annoying because it was odd. like, idk, im not normally a person to nitpick an ending, but it ended up feeling like it was a solution that was always kinda present? and like, the argument of “youre a lawyer shouldnt you do something” is one that i feel like shouldve happened a long time earlier and the lawyer person shouldve used that earlier… idk it didnt really land to me as a strong resolution because it felt like it was just too obvious and simple? like, theyre struggling rly hard, and then the guy just makes like a phone call? and the emotional arguments and issues are just kinda resolved in an unsatisfying way. im not sure, but the resolution stands out really harshly in my mind as just feeling unearned.
overall, though, the story is technically fine, but it can get kinda dull w/ its logistics, altho the premise is enough to kinda push the story along. i can see people get bored w/ it, but i think thats an inevitability with this kinda piece, and i think is fine, but i wonder about if there’s some trimming that can be done to make this slimmer so its less likely to outlast its welcome.
first thoughts - kinda cute ending, but hey it wouldve been nice to know the character’s motivation before all this crap happened, huh?
more - this isnt terrible, and it might have been a lot stronger if the motivation of the protag was revealed much earlier. its fun enough, but rather bloated, altho i think i wouldve enjoyed this story quite a bit more if the central conflict was like actually there so we could care??? like, you have the old lover line, but i actually kinda regarded that as a sort of lie, or omission, or something, but its vague and mostly useless because like, old lover is nothing to get us attached. so for most of this story, the character is trying to do a thing we dont know for most of the story, and then they just get the thing done when they talk to the lady. idk, i feel like the story needed to be much more centered on the actual conflict, and then we could like, care about the protag and what they want?
first thoughts - what is this anime crap
this is just littered with a bunch of cliches that just kinda run through me without me enjoying any bit of it. its all boringly predictable and lame and i still dont know why people are so focused on doing noir but without doing anything actually interesting with it. idk, im rly not a fan of this one just because it was so cliche-ridden that i was intensely bored the whole way through. decently fun in concept, and probably fun to write, but absolutely nothing that i would want to spend my actual time on.
|# ? Jun 4, 2020 23:19|
FABULOUS PRIZE FOR BAD WRITERS ALERT
Good afternoon, Thunderdome. A cool contest prize has fallen into my pocket, and given the state of the world, I'd rather put it to use than use it myself.
I have up for grabs a full short story critique from bestselling writer, Tiptree scholar, PKD award winner, yada yada yada Meg Elison. If you don't know Meg...
Meg Elison is a California Bay Area author and essayist. She writes science fiction and horror, as well as feminist essays and cultural criticism. Her work has been on the Otherwise (formerly Tiptree) longlist, nominated for the Audie Award, and won the Philip K. Dick Award. She has also been published in McSweeney’s, Shimmer, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Catapult, Terraform, and many other places.
I believe this covers a story of up to 6,000 words. Meg is an incredible editor and if you have a piece you've been tinkering and thinking about shopping to magazines, this is a good chance to get some very talented eyes on it before you start submitting it around.
Rather than simply giving this away as a prize to a winner of a TD round, I am raffling this prize off for donations to The Loveland Foundation, which is providing 8 free therapy sessions to Black women and girls in the US.
The rules are simple:
Everyone who donates $10 or more is in the draw. If you want to donate more, this is awesome. If you want to, you can donate on behalf of a goon who may not be able to afford it (or just a buddy you like!) to nominate them for the prize, and that is also cool. On the form, fill out 'Team Thunderdome' as your team so we can track totals.
PM, email, or Discord PM me screenshots of your receipts. Email is atlacoya+sa at gmail dot com.
Closes a week from today. This post authorised by all the necessary blood royals.
Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 01:17 on Jun 5, 2020
|# ? Jun 5, 2020 00:44|
rubber loving stamped <3
|# ? Jun 5, 2020 00:52|
e2: W/e lol but I donated. I'll try to figure out some way of proving it if anyone cares
take the moon fucked around with this message at 22:47 on Jun 5, 2020
|# ? Jun 5, 2020 01:16|
I'm in, flash me some animals.
in, toxx, flash
In and please flash me.
|# ? Jun 5, 2020 06:10|
Entries are closed!
|# ? Jun 6, 2020 07:30|
The Ghost Room
Jackson fell asleep on the couch to the white-noise chatter of some nothing sitcom and when he awoke at a miscellaneous nighttime hour, Tanya was no longer seated beside him. Assuming she had simply gone to bed, he went to joing her, hoping that maybe in half-dream she would take warmly the sort of touch she took waking with stiffness. But she was not on the bed when he opened the bedroom door. He called her name, but she did not answer. He started to worry, until he heard her soft footsteps coming from the ghost room.
They had an unfinished space in their apartment, a converted mansion attic, that was as big as the rest of the apartment put together. They had dubbed it the ghost room upon moving in for its mundane kids-haunted-house creepiness. It was a joke at first, but the name outlasted its own meager humor value. They used it as an enormous closet.
Jackson wondered what Tanya was doing, but not enough to investigate, so he went to bed.
"What were you doing in the ghost room last night?" Jackson asked. He had gotten home from work just minutes earlier, and was picking up hard cider cans with ashy rims strewn about the living room. Tanya sat glassy-eyed on the couch.
"Just a bit of organizing," she said, not looking up.
"Why? Isn't the point of having a storage room to have a place to put you stuff without having to organize it?"
"I just wanted to."
"Why? This room's filthy. The kitchen's filthy. The bedroom's filthy. Why is the ghost room the priority?"
"Don't get mad at me, I don't need that right now," said Tanya, massaging the scars running up and down her arms.
Jackson sighed loudly and intentionally. "Okay. I'm sorry. Can you please just pick up a little when I'm at work?"
"gently caress you, I'm trying, okay?"
"Sorry." He placed his trash bag of butt-filled cans on the kitchen floor, then collapsed on the living room carpet, leaning his head against the couch. He put on a reality show, and it was enough to numb his brain.
When he woke up in the middle of the night, Tanya was again in the ghost room. Jackson tried to open the door, but found it locked. He didn't know that locking was something that door could even do. He huffed an exasperated "I love you!" through the door, and threw himself into bed.
As Tanya went out to the porch that Saturday to smoke a cigarette, Jackson tried again to open the door to the ghost room. Again, it was locked. He stepped out onto the balcony.
"Hey, I was hoping to do a little painting this weekend, but the canvases are in the ghost room," he said. "Can you unlock it for me?"
"No," Tanya said. "That's my space."
"Uh, no. It's our storage room. I would like you to unlock it for me."
Tanya angrily blew cigarette ash off the balcony. "So I can't have anything that's just mine?"
"Not if my poo poo's in there too, no," Jackson said, and stormed back inside. He walked straight to the ghost room and pulled out his key to the front door.
The lock turned smoothly and easily. He shrugged and went inside. After pushing a broken air conditioner out of the way, he saw something his senses could not comprehend. He felt nauseous, and ran out to the balcony. He threw up over the railing.
"Hey!" Tanya said. "The downstairs neighbors are gonna…"
"What in literal hell is in the ghost room?" Jackson said, wiping puke off his chin with his forearm.
"You're not supposed to look at that! You know I'm into witchcraft stuff," said Tanya.
"Sure, moon phases and crystals and burning sage. That's not what I saw. Is that a torture chamber? A sacrifice room? What are those insignias? Where did all that blood come from?"
"Don't worry, that's my blood," she said.
"Great! It's your blood, that makes everything fine, I guess!"
"Okay, I can explain, just please don't be mad at me."
"FUUUUUCK!" Jackson screamed. "Don't be mad at you? A month ago you were planning on making me find your body. You were gonna make me tell the story to so many cops. You were gonna make me apologize to your parents. And there was no way you didn't think about all of that when you decided to run that knife up your arm, you just didn't loving care enough about me, about anyone, to think for a single loving moment what kind of hell you were gonna throw everyone into. But I can't be mad. I have to be nice. I have to be understanding. I have to be supportive. That's my job, and your job is apparently building weird demonic shrines in the storage room, so all things considered, I think I've done a pretty good loving job not being mad."
"Oh no! I was gonna make you so sad that you wouldn't kill yourself? I can't imagine that level of sadness!" she said. "Trust me, darling, you'll get over it. You have no idea what's it like to be in actual pain, to be me, to not have enough blood to open the Channel of Krilnath."
"What are you even talking about?" he screamed.
"Oh," she said. "Was that weird?"
"YES! SUPER WEIRD!"
"I...I'm sorry. I sometimes forget where it ends and I begin. It can trick me into believing the things that it thinks are the things that I think. I don't know whether I tried to kill myself or if it tried to kill me."
"What?" he said. "Come on, we can talk about this." He opened the door. She ran inside.
"It's coming out!" she said. "Be careful!" She opened her mouth and it started pulling itself out. He gazed in horror. It looked like an enormous black crab except it had way more legs and way less everything that wasn't legs. As it spilled onto the living room floor, he grabbed the fire extinguisher off the wall and started pummeling at it. It acted like nothing was happening at all.
"That's not gonna work!" she cried. "Get to the ghost room!"
He didn't hesitate. They grabbed hands, ran down the hall, swung open the door, and thrust themselves into the unfinished attic. He slammed the door behind them as it lunged to get it. It clawed at the door with its pincers.
"Please! Let me in!" it shouted in Tanya's voice.
The couple held the door with their backs and gazed at the bizarre altar with its machinery made of their unused stuff.
"What just leapt out of your mouth?" said Jackson. "Is that like, an alien?"
"I suppose, in a way, it's like an alien from hell," said Tanya. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. It's been with me since I was a kid, but it's gotten a lot stronger in the past few months, and it's taken over just about everything. I thought if I told you, you'd think I was crazy and that you'd run away."
"Please don't be sorry. I'm sorry I haven't really been present since...well, I'm not really the most present guy, am I?" He smacked at the crab legs reaching under the door with his fists. "In a way, I'm almost kinda relieved. For the first time in months, I can see the woman I fell in love with. So, uh, how do we kill this thing?"
"If I knew I would have done that by now," she said.
"Okay. Is there anything it doesn't like?"
"I don't know," she said, dodging a leg that burst through a newly made crack in the door. "It doesn't like anything, and in the past few months it talked me into thinking that I don't like anything either."
"Okay. So it doesn't like the stuff that you do," he said. "Do you know where we put that box of your old witchcraft stuff?"
"Yes!" she said. "I moved it out of the way two nights ago to make room to build the Beacon of Bal'Kazur."
"Great!" he said. "You go grab that, and I'll hold the door." Tanya kissed him and ran towards the shrine. He stood to use all his limbs to keep the door shut. A hinge snapped, and the demon's started to wrap around all sides of the door.
She returned with a cardboard box with "WITCH poo poo" sharpied onto the side. She dropped it on the floor. He ran forward and grabbed a stick of palo santo, letting the creature throw the door off its remaining hinge. She pulled out a wooden Baphomet figure out of the box and pointed it at the demon. It wretched backwards.
"Throw me a lighter!" he yelled. She complied, and he caught it. He lit the palo santo and jabbed its lit end at the demon.
"No! Stop it! That hurts!" it screamed in her voice. She threw the Baphomet at it; its long shriek sounded like her at first, but quickly disintegrated into a monstrous gargle. Its many legs shriveled into its ethereal center.
Jackson slapped the palo santo against her singing bowl, and the demon evaporated into a cloud of smoke.
"Is that it?" he said. "Is it dead?"
Tanya inhaled deep, and the smoke came in through her nostrils.
"No! We have to get it out! We have to kill it!"
"No," she said. "I wish I could, but it's okay. I need to keep track of how strong it's getting. And I need you to help me with that."
Jackson smiled. They sat on the couch and cuddled up as they put on a well-deserved mindless sitcom. And so the three of them lived in that rented mansion attic: he, she, and it.
|# ? Jun 7, 2020 16:39|
Bella of the Brawl
The air is black with fearstink when Bella hears the pitiful sound: a whimpering amidst the fluxating forest of human legs, lonely and rustcolored, a mallet strike against Bella’s proud doggy heart.
Where? Where? Hello? Where? Hello?
Bella is indifferent to the human chaos around her. This is a thing they do, take to the streets, muck up the air with fearful black, putrid angry green, adrenal red, mark corners with the dayglo orange notes of piss. Layers of piss, all of them talking over each other, babbling urinary nonsense.
They’ll do this until the dark, until the heavy tread of armored trucks rumble the street, cruel growl in Bella’s ears, followed by the tan scent of leather boots, explosive bursts of lightningolive-sting over the sensitive whorls of Bella’s nose. Air hostile to her eyes, smoke dulling her already unremarkable vision to nothing.
The armored trucks haven’t arrived yet. Bella can still melt into the close shadows of ramshackle alleyways, curl up like a little bag of garbage, keep her ears down. But…
Hello? HELLO? Where? Here! Hello?
The pitiful yipping goes on, a tall, sharp needle piercing the muddy din of human voices. All of Bella’s instincts are telling her to run, go, hide, be safe, but it’s as though her dainty paws have fused with the uneven cobblestone. Muts like her die this way. She’s nosed their corpses, smelled human hands and human munitions in their fur.
Bella lunges into the crowd, grumbling deep in her throat. Catlike she moves among the groves of legs, ears down, tail low, following the creamy stamp of footpads, a single doggy scent in the morass of incoherent human smells.
Sri is barely out of puppyhood, a longlegged gangly thing, collar around her neck, leash slack on the ground. Knees jostle her, none of them belonging to the noodle girl. Sri can’t wrap her mind around the noodle girl’s absence. There’s no such thing as a Sri without the noodle girl, so then the noodle girl must be nearby, and Sri must call for her.
Big clomping feet step on her leash, unheading. The air is ripe and yellow with human sweat, tigerstriped fear black.
An answering bark takes her by surprise. A tan, ribby street dog materializes out of the forest of human legs and growls go.
Sri dances up on her hind legs, tail wagging, not feeling playful but driven to playful gestures by the frantic energy of the crowd and, now, the agitating presence of this strange dog. A shoed foot lands on her leash, pulls it taut, yanks Sri by her neck back down onto all fours.
Go! Go now! The tan stray shows her teeth to Sri.
Go where? To who? Noodle girl is here. She must be, because Sri is here, and Sri has never been without noodle girl. Frustrated, she returns the stray’s rude growl. Go!
Bella intuits the problem as soon as she gets close to the pup. Dogs with leashes are led. Sri has a leash, doesn’t understand that she can walk the street without a human hand on the other end. Won’t move until she’s told.
If Bella could just get close, worry at the simple knot connecting the length of rope to Sri’s collar…
But no, the pup isn’t having any of it, growling and yipping and prancing away whenever Bella tries to come near. There is usually a kind of doggy chivalry to these meetings, the smelling of backsides, the circling, the mock-chase, but there isn’t time for that. The humans are still pouring into the streets, bodies tightpacked in an agitated heave of smells, voices barking in unison. Bella’s hackles raise. Her body has been through this too many times before. There is only pain and fear here.
She lunges forward again, this time toward the carelessly flung end of the leash where it rests on the ground. The rope is thin and rough, prickling her tongue, rubbing painfully against an abscess in one of her gums, but she locks down on it with all the strength in her jaws and pulls, backing up between trunklike legs.
And, at the familiar tugging around her neck, Sri responds, taking one step, then another, toward Bella.
The dogs get partway to the edge of the crowd, but now the taut leash is tripping humans up, making them wobble atop their big meaty trunks. A few fall. Many kick at the dogs, aiming for ribs and haunches. Not just Bella, but Sri too. Bella snaps at knees and ankles, snarling, working her way back to the pup, emboldened by pain. Pain means it’s time to fight, and Bella has scrapped with the best of them.
Sri doesn’t understand this feeling, only knows that every time the blunt toe of a shoe connects with her ribs she wants to run and run and run and run but she can’t, is trapped in this evertightening grove of stinky bodies and the ministrations of their feet.
Bella emerges once more from the crowd, her dainty paws scrabbling over the cobblestone, snapping at anything that comes close to her snout.
Here! Here! Sri yips, desperate.
Bella takes up the leash between her leash again and pulls, and now Sri is thinking of noodle girl, there at the end of the leash where she belongs. Just follow the tug.
A brief thinning of the crowd gains the dogs passage to the side of the street, into shadow and cool wet rotten smells. An alley. Bella is breathing hard and Sri scents the bruised ochre tang of blood in the air. Dog blood. She whimpers agitation.
Bella tries to lead her further down the alley. Sri braces her paws against the uneven stone, defiant. Bella is weak, tired, injured, and now Sri can smell it. The other dog is much older, reeking of inflammation and tumors, spewing hot aggression into the air with her every breath.
From further down the alley, the scent markings of a pack of feral dogs. Sri’s hackles raise. There is only dangerous confrontation for her and Bella if they go that way, Sri knows it the way she knows the wag of her own tail.
Sri flattens her ears, falls into a low-to-the-ground stance, and takes an experimental step backward, tugging at the leash in Bella’s jaws. Bella snarls around the rope, wrenches her neck like she’s trying to snap the spine of a rabbit, doesn’t give so much as an inch in spite of her injuries.
From down the alley comes a sound more alarming than the baying of a pack of strays: footsteps, human, fast and regimented. Their smell precedes them, more yellow sweat, more black fear, and, wafting among those, the bluegray scent of propellant. Bella’s tail goes low and she drops the leash, bolting for the alley, leaving Sri no choice but to follow or face the heavybooted things coming up the alley.
The dogs flee as the humans in the alley smash into the humans in the street. Screams in the wake of their clickclacking paws, then a roar, a big oxen bellow from the crowd. The twilight grows hot with the sounds and scents of violence.
Bella, wheezing, lets the younger dog pull ahead. They’re on a mostly empty side-street now, populated by a few heavybooted humans standing around with their weapons in hand. One of them takes a lazy potshot at the dogs, misses Sri’s haunch by inches, but the pup is oblivious. Her tail is high, ears alert and forward facing. She knows where she’s going.
Bella slows to a trot, then stops, whimpering, when Sri leads them to the open air market. She’s skulked around the market’s edge many times, drawn in by the mauve come-hither of fats and meats and grease, only to be chased away by rocks hurled from the hands of children at the direction of their parents. The market is not a place for dogs, and yet Sri trots confidently toward the rows of stalls as though she’d marked the whole place herself.
Bella waits for the angry voices, the thrown stones, but the market is empty, and Sri progresses unassailed, leash dragging jauntily behind her. The older dog limps after the younger, driven by fear and pain to be part of a pack, even if it’s only a pack of two.
They approach one of the shopfronts that lines the market, a noodle shop that’s been hastily boarded up.
Here! Here! Hello! Here! Sri barks happily at the sheets of engineered wood.
Bella doesn’t understand. If barking at buildings accomplished anything, every dog in the city would do it.
Wounds and exhaustion come to collect their toll. There is a roar in her senses, like the din of a human crowd but coming from inside of her, and now she’s on her side on the uneven brickwork of the market square, resting. Leaving. Going peacefully into that place where all dogs go, having done their good work on Earth.
Noodle girl gives Sri a fond scritch between the ears, then goes to check on the old stray, who’s napping peacefully on a pile of dirty rags and aprons. Bella issues a halfhearted warning growl when noodle girl comes near, a surly old lady noise that’s more scold than threat.
From the front of the noodle shop comes the sound of customers laughing, chopsticks clacking on bowls. Everything in its right place as far as Sri is concerned.
When noodle girl has left to attend to the front of the shop, Sri slinks over to Bella, sniffs at the stitches in the old dog’s side and snout. She’s certainly never met a dog who smelled like that before, but then she’s never met anything like Bella, dog or human.
Sri curls up against the old lady and the two dogs drift together into sleep, while in the distance victorious fireworks bloom over the people of the city.
|# ? Jun 7, 2020 22:21|
Assignment: Write about a problem at your house and how it was solved.
Teacher: Mrs. Mueller
By Kim Lyons
Bug Off, Bushy Tail
Some people think squirrels are cute creatures with bushy tails that harmlessly go around collecting nuts. They’re wrong. They’re annoying thieves. Just ask the birds.
Our family loves birds, especially my dad. So, there are multiple bird feeders in our yard. The problem is, the squirrels love the bird food and will do anything to get at it. My dad has tried everything to stop them. He even bought an expensive feeder that was supposed to keep squirrels off, but it didn’t work. I guess squirrels aren’t as dumb as they look.
Anyway, my dad was at the end of his rope and decided he had to take drastic measures. He hatched a plan that included my mother, brother and me. My dad did the legwork by spying on the squirrels for over a week to determine their habits: when did they feed, how many were there, that kind of thing. My mom was the seamstress. My brother and I had the biggest job if you ask me.
So, one Sunday morning at 6:30 dad woke us up and made us get into our costumes. My brother complained and mentioned something about his allowance better be double this week. I’m the good daughter, so I just did as he asked.
In the yard, our dad put us into position behind two bushes and gave us our instructions. When we heard three knocks on the window, that meant the squirrel, for there was only one of them, was entering the scene. We were to jump out making loud shrieking noises and chase it. I tried to tell dad, I couldn’t see a darn thing in that costume, but he didn’t listen.
Things were happening as planned. Knock. Knock. Knock. My brother and I ran out shrieking and running around, presumably in circles. I tripped and fell, breaking my ankle and my brother ran into the bird feeder knocking it down. Seed flew everywhere. We never even saw the squirrel.
Because I broke my ankle, dad declared the project over. Rocky won.
I like your title even though it is kinda stupid.
It’s in chronological order and I understand it.
Your brother sounds cool. I liked when he asked for more allowance. How old is he
though? I couldn’t picture him.
How did you feel about getting up at 6:30 on a Sunday? Are you really that “good?” I mean I don’t want you to make things up, but wasn’t there any conflict about doing this from your family at all?
What was your mother doing?
OMG, I love squirrels!
I’m not all that interested until the squirrels come in, so maybe consider starting with that or something and then maybe give the background later. Like Mrs. Mueller says, “hook the reader.”
Maybe give an example of something your father tried to do in the past.
I’d like to know more about how you felt during this whole thing.
Good job following the topic of the assignment
It’s solid organizationally and keeps my interest for the most part, but it would be better if you added some more description and maybe even dialogue.
I don’t know if you realize it, but you never said what kind of costumes you had on. I was wondering the whole time.
Think about adding some senses into it and describing the action scenes more.
I like the “Knock. Knock. Knock.”
You seem to have gotten some sound advice from your classmates. I’d consider what they had to say. I’ll add that structurally and grammatically it is a solid piece. It fits the assignment and you made attempts to engage the reader. You have an introduction and brief conclusion, so the piece works as a whole. You attempt voice (“I guess squirrels aren’t so dumb after all” and “I couldn’t see a darn thing…”), but I agree with Sammie. It would be nice to see more of you in the piece.
Try to avoid cliches like “My father was at the end of his rope.” Nice try at using language, but this one is old. I bet you can be more creative. Finally, think back about the literary devices we learned this year: metaphor, simile, imagery, pacing, and see if there are places you can use them.
Enter the “Muse,” featuring….
Metaphor: School assignments are rule books. But, hey you need to make the most of it. Your family is ripe for a metaphor. Just saying, you guys are a bit fruity.
Simile: I don’t know, I’m like, missing some similes here. Take your bro for instance, how was he running around? And, don’t laze out and use an adverb. They’re so lame. And like, what about your yard? You act as if you’ve never been in it. Hit me up, man.
Imagery: I’m not seeing it. I want to see a movie in my head when I read. Put me in the scene, girl. I want to smell the birdseed and feel the costume. Fur me, baby.
Pacing: What. Is. Going. On? This piece is putting me to sleep. Change it up and give me a squirrel scene that makes my heart race, my chest heave, my breath run out. I wanna pass out like I drank too much with Simile last night. Just kidding. But, seriously.
Assignment: Write about a problem at your house and how it was solved.
Teacher: Mrs. Mueller
By Kim Lyons
Saturday Morning Cartoon
Our family is sitting at the breakfast table, a Saturday morning cartoon. Mom’s sizzling bacon, Robbie’s playing some video game, I’m reading Twilight for the third time, and dad’s staked out by the window with binoculars.
“There you are, you bastard.”
I’m the only one to look up, just in time to see Rocky, as my dad has unaffectionately named him, run like an Olympic gymnast, flip over the deterrent cone, and stick his landing. He proceeds to slide his tiny rodent hands into the feeder, stuff his cheeks full, and flee before my dad even hits the door. I have to be impressed with skills like that.
The escape does not deter Dad who is screaming like a Cherokee going to war, running through the backyard brandishing a broom, telling Rocky if he comes back he’s going to be one dead squirrel. God, I hope the neighbors are away.
To bring today’s episode to an end, Mom yells that breakfast is ready. As we swallow scrambled eggs and crunch toast, were blessed with Dad’s tirade about how people think squirrels are so cute, but they’re a menace, and how he doesn’t work hard to pay for bird food just to have them eat it, and how he feels sorry for the chickadees. As usual we’re mostly ignoring him until he announces “the plan.”
“The plan” involves all of us working as a team. It appears Dad is the director and we’re the players, even though we never tried out. We have to show Rocky who’s boss. This includes intimidation using prey since he’s not afraid of humans. Mom is to be seamstress, Robbie and I the actors.
Mom complains, “I don’t have time to make coyote costumes, dear.”
“I’ll cook dinner this week,” Dad counters. “Operation Rocky happens in one week.”
Dad’s tone signals the conversation over. I honestly don’t know if Robbie registered any of it, him being six and all. As for me, I hoped Mom would secretly rebel during a conversation in bed that night, like parents do on TV, or that Rocky would find an easier bird feeder to attack, and all would be right with the world again.
Evidently that conversation never happens and Rocky likes a challenge.
The next Saturday at 6:30, Dad rustles me out of bed, throws a costume at me and says it’s time.
“Dad, it’s Saturday.” I roll back over.
“Exactly. Be downstairs in ten. This isn’t an option.”
As I’m slipping on the costume, it scratches my bare legs. I think how the military is the perfect job for Dad. Mom’s in the kitchen tying my brother into his costume when I slink in. He looks ridiculous. He turns and laughs.
“You look funny,” he says.
The plan is Robbie and I will hide behind a bush until we hear three knocks in the window, at which point we’ll jump out and chase Rocky, supposedly scaring the bejesus out of him, and he’ll never return.
As we’re heading out the door, Robbie says his allowance should be double this week, and I tell dad I can’t see a darn thing with the hood on, but he’s mission deaf.
Robbie and I are in position. Presumably Dad is at the window with his binoculars. We all wait. And wait. Robbie starts digging a hole with a stick looking for worms. I elbow him, whisper to cut it out.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Go, and don’t forget to howl.”
Robbie leaps from behind the bush and makes for the feeder with his stick like a sword-fighter. I let out a howl and run around in circles. I can’t see Rocky but I’m assuming he’s there somewhere. I step in a hole. Fall. Hear a crack. Cry out in pain.
Robbie turns, bumping into the feeder. Birdseed flies like coins from a slot machine. Rocky’s on the ground stuffing his face, runs off. Mom and Dad hurry outside. Episode two is over. Rocky wins again.
At dinner that night, after spending hours at the ER, Dad announces Operation Rocky is officially over. I secretly rejoice, thinking life can go back to normal.
“Ah, man, I wanted to be a star.” Robbie says.
“What are you talking about?”
“Show her, Mom.”
Mom hands me her phone. There on Instagram, in all our coyote glory, my brother and I are forever immortalized. 358 likes already.
I want to die.
Then I see Rocky dancing along the patio railing, and I have a new mission.
|# ? Jun 8, 2020 00:39|
"I'm sorry girl..." Kevin held his llama down, patting her softly down the back of her long neck. The animal was tied down, and lay on her side in the snow, her broken leg jutting out. He looked up from her to his friend. "Zeke, what's her name again?"
"Her name is Lucy." Zeke replied, flat and emotionless, absorbed in the gravity of the task before him. "Make sure she doesn't see me coming."
"I'm sorry Lucy... I truly am." Kevin whispered to the animal that had carried them up the mountain. Then as an afterthought he added: "Thank you, Lucy."
As Kevin held Lucy in his arms, keeping her eyes on him, Zeke crept up from the side, and in a flash, bent down and cut her throat with his survival knife, severing windpipe and arteries. Lucy shuddered in Kevin's arms, letting out a short, dull murmur as her blood poured out into the snow in spurts, then stopped. Kevin let go of the now lifeless llama and backed away.
"Thank you," Zeke said, wiping the knife in the snow. "I know that wasn't easy for you." Kevin said nothing, turned away, and looked at the fading sun between the clouds and snow.
Zeke proceeded to strip the animal's fur, and soon he had a fire going from some dry sticks and the zippo lighter he had thankfully kept in his coat when the avalanche happened. Kevin looked away as he did this. He sat across from Zeke, his side to his friend from Colorado, and thought about the events that had brought him to this point in his life. This was supposed to be a fun trip. He'd flown in from California to meet his friend who'd moved out to the mountains. They had rented Llamas from Zeke's friend Bob who owned a ranch where he raised them. It was Zeke's idea for a trip, they would ride up the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. Kevin had never ridden anything so much as a tethered pony in a circle as young kid, but riding llamas into the rocky mountains sounded like a fun adventure at the time.
Learning to ride them was tough at first. "You gotta be confident," Bob, the trucker-hatted, middle-aged owner of the farm had told him as he first tried mounting up. "She can sense it if you're scared. Think of it like riding a very well trained dog." He looked sideways at Kevin. "You like dogs, kid?"
Kevin wondered if there was any sort of subtle anti-Asian racism in the statement, like some implication his people were more used to eating dogs than petting them. It was something he'd always been on edge about whenever traveling outside of his native California or around a lot of white people.
"Eh, I'm more of a cat person, really." It was the truth, he'd always preferred cats.
"Well son, you think of it this way." Rancher Bob smiled. "If you think you can do it, you can do it, and she'll see that confidence in you. You treat her right and you'll be fine with her."
Awkwardly at first, Kevin mounted Lucy, as Bob and Zeke took him around the ranch. It was kind of like riding a big dog, he thought, and as he got more confident the riding became easier. "Good girl." He patter the big animal on the back of her neck.
After showing them how to ride, the rancher rode them to the start of the foot of the mountains and bid them happy trails. Kevin followed Zeke who had ridden this way before. They had food and supplies for six days and nights- three nights up the peak, three nights down. On the first night they camped in a small meadow that was to be their first rest on the way to the peak. They tied their llamas down near some grass that poked out from the snow, set up tents, and got a fire going. As they snacked on sausages and crackers, Zeke stretched out and relaxed, got out a bag of weed and proceeded to roll a joint.
"Wanna toke?" He offered it first to his friend. "I grow it myself."
"Nah, stuff makes me paranoid, you go ahead though." Kevin hadn't smoked since school, and was still a little uneasy about the whole trip. Zeke lit up and got out a couple of beers- a hoppy IPA for him, and Kevin who didn't usually didn't drink had wanted to try a coors light on top of the rocky mountains, which Zeke had laughed at.
"What should we drink to?" Zeke asked.
"I don't know man, how about, old friends and new adventures?"
Zeke smiled "Hell, I'll drink to that."
They said cheers, clinked bottles, and drank. And then-
That's when he heard the rumbling. Low and slow at first but it went on longer and got louder. They looked up. Snow was coming barreling down from the peaks. Kevin watched in shock as a wall of snow came down towards their camp. He stood up, silent, transfixed. There was no time to get out of the way of that much snow. He held out his hands, bracing himself.
The wall of snow rushed forward and hit them, snuffing out their fire and washing away their campsite. He felt his whole body picked up and moved bodily. There was a moment when Kevin thought- so this is it. This is how I'm going to die.
He remembered waking up against a rock wall. His back hurt and he couldn't breathe or see anything. Panicking, he struggled out of the snow, digging himself out until he could get himself air.
"Zeke?" He yelled. His body was soaked. It was freezing. "ZEKE?!" He yelled.
"I'm over here!" He was close by. Kevin trudged through the snow and found him covered in snow at the edge of a cliff. He bent down and helped his friend up. Dazed, the two took stock of the situation. The campsite was gone. The sun was nearly down and it was dark and cold.
"Lost my fuckin joint". Zeke joked. Kevin said nothing. Then he realized something. "The llamas are gone." He pointed out where the meadow lay, now covered in snow. They were tied down right here." Kevin felt a pang of sadness, after a day of riding he had just started to feel close to the animal.
After an hour of searching they found one of the llamas, the soft white one, Kevin's, poking her head out of the snow and bleating. "I found her!" He shouted. He rushed to her, digging out the snow and putting his arms around her. That was the last time he had felt hopeful since the avalanche.
That was eight nights ago. Soon they realized- their supplies were gone, the trail was covered in snow, impassable. One llama was probably dead, and the other, Kevin's, had a badly broken leg and could barely walk. The fun adventure was over. After being stranded in the mountains without food or supplies or hope of rescue they had made the difficult decision to kill their remaining llama for food. The mood now was decidedly different. They had no tents, no food other than Lucy's meat... It gave him a shiver to think this animal had a name- why, why did he ask him her name? She was just meat now. Zeke seemed to be taking this rather well.
Zeke broke the long silence, "so how are you doing, man?"
"Not good man." Kevin told the truth. "That was a hosed up situation."
"It's okay. You did good. I know it wasn't easy." Zeke patted the snow off his coat. "You know, llama meat's a delicacy to the Ghurkan people of Nepal, they fry up big llama kebabs, and-"
"I don't wanna hear about it." Kevin rolled over. "I just want this to be over."
"I'm sorry man," Zeke sighed, "I shouldn't have said that, I'm just trying to keep things light, you know?"
Zeke rolled next to his friend, back to back, to keep each other warm near the fire, as they had done every night. It'd been awkward at first, but a necessity for survival. Now as the days went on and tensions rose higher, it was a small act of mercy. Kevin felt the slow rise and fall of Zeke's breath as his friend slowly drifted off to sleep next to him. His thoughts bounced from hating and blaming Zeke, for the doomed trip, for the slaughter of Lucy, for his quite possible death in these mountains. But he couldn't hate him, he was doing his best to keep them alive, to ensure that they would get rescued, that someday he would see home again. He fell asleep thinking of home, of his family, of warm beaches, and, eventually, of the llama he had ridden, cradled in her last moments, and helped to slaughter.
The next day Kevin felt sick. The llama meat, delicacy or not, sat uneasy in his stomach. He felt like throwing up for a long time. They had stored some of the meat in the snow and ice, and were rationing it, unsure of how long they would be trapped here. The plan was to keep a fire burning every night and hope they would be seen. Zeke was running low on lighter fluid, and keeping it burning was a source of anxiety. Kevin wondered if his friend's pot habit had saved them or doomed them.
"Bob expects us back in six days," Zeke had said. "It's now been eight. He knows somethings wrong now, he'll send somebody to look for us."
Five more days passed that way. Days of keeping the fire lit, of eating llama meat, piece by piece, of drinking snowmelt, and huddling around their fires for warmth. Finally, on the last day they heard another sound. Not the dull thundering rumble of snow, but a low rhythmic whir, a man made sound.
"Zeke, you hear that?"
The whirring got louder and louder. Kevin's spirits rose as they saw the red and white rescue helicopter rise over the edge of the cliff. Kevin got up ecstatic, new energy surging back into his body, furiously waving his arms at the chopper. Later from the helicopter he looked down at the site where they had been stranded for two weeks as it grew smaller below. He remembered how it felt to come face to face with death, how certain he was that he was going to die there, and of the llama who gave her life so that they could survive.
|# ? Jun 8, 2020 06:57|
Delphina, Trevor, and Pip
Summer came quickly that year, one night chilly enough for heavy blankets and the next afternoon a swelter too hard for the window AC to keep more than one room bearable. And they came with it. It was the year I found out where I came from, underneath the shade of an ancient oak. The year of my first serious kiss in the back seat of an ancient Honda Accord. The year we buried Kevin.
Summer came quickly and we fled for the climate controlled consumer haven that called itself Northridge Mall. We met up in the food court, Sasha and Kevin and me. And it's there that we saw them, drinking lemonade in perfect synchronization and watching us like we were a group of vaguely amusing trained rabbits.
A lot of people would tell you that they were identical, apart from the hair, and, you know, Trevor being a guy. That's not quite true, though. They were the same height, very close to the same build, the same bone structure in the face. You could take a picture and think, yes, there are no other differences.
Except that you couldn't. Take a picture of them.
In motion, though, there was no mistaking one for another. Coal-haired Delphina's every calculated movement showing amusement, contempt, and challenge. Trevor's always darting eyes behind those snow-white bangs, looking for escape or advantage. And Pip, lovely Pip with the uncombed apple-red mess, carefree. Indifferent. But...
We introduced ourselves. It's not something we did much, those days. But Delphina gestured, and we might as well have been three marionettes, gliding across the mall carpet, dancing so as not to be tangled on our strings, on our lines. They were new in town, visiting for the summer, in need of guides. We were eager to oblige, to show them what little the town had to offer.
It was summer, the days long and slow. They were creatures of the day, all of them. Each day we parted just before dusk, dropping them off downtown. Our brains could not even entertain the thought of lingering, even just to learn which hotel they stayed in. I drove Sasha home in my car, and Kevin headed home in his, and the next morning we would meet up for breakfast.
"Vince," Kevin said to me on the phone, I think it was the second night, "This, this is weird. Messed up."
"A bit," I said.
"Sunday night," he said. "The belfry. Tell Sasha."
We were paired off, Sasha with Trevor, Kevin with Delphina, and me with Pip, and as the days grew longer our outings took more of the character of dates. Strange dates. Risky behavior. They would stand in traffic, playing chicken with the oncoming cars, gracefully dodging at the last minute.
"Do you want us to try?" I said.
"Would you?" asked Delphina. Kevin nodded immediately, but Sasha and I did too right after.
"Please don't," said Pip.
"You're never any fun at all," said Trevor.
Other days we returned to the mall. Shoplifting and other petty crimes. Delphina passing bad checks for hundreds of dollars worth of clothing. Me, introducing Pip to proper music, to Bowie and Prince and Johnny Cash, in a train of five-fingered CDs covering all the classics. Trevor started fights, had Sasha raid the left-open till at the exact moment in the confusion. One time we got caught, me and Pip and four pockets full of candy, dragged off to the loss prevention office. The mall cop started yelling at us, just ready to call the real police when Pip walked up and whispered something in his ear. The mall cop turned redder than her hair, then ash white, then glared and said "Get out." Pip laughed for the rest of the day, out in the parking lot, as we chewed on stolen taffy.
Each Sunday we met up and talked about them, thinking we were less under their spell with them not present. We said unkind things about them to prove that we could. But we still thought they were probably the coolest people in the universe, that it was fun to fall under their control. We convinced ourselves that we had a safeword.
Things got more personal, more intense after the solstice, as the days grew shorter and cooler. They asked us where people could go for privacy, in the light of day. We mentioned the belfry, a disused room in the old church with a faulty lock, but they shuddered at the idea. There was a small graveyard, shut down, full up, mostly of interest for hobbyists and students out to take rubbings off the old stones. That was more their speed.
My first serious kiss, with Pip, parked in that cemetery, hands and tongues wandering to dangerous places. The sensation of movement beneath us. A moment of panic realizing we literally were, then two lurching motions, throwing me against the upholstered interior, as the Accord dipped into the culvert, then stopped at the bottom. I was bruised about the body, while Pip seemed untouched.
We saw Trevor laughing as we emerged. Sasha told us what happened, that he had snuck in, shifted it to neutral and disengaged the parking brake. He tossed me the keys, but it didn't have the power to climb back up in reverse. So eventually all five of us pushed the old thing back up to the pavement-Delphina watching and affecting a yawn.
In August we went camping, out to an old cabin Pip and I had found out exploring. It had a heavy steel padlock. Trevor popped it off with ease and a piece of twig, and we were in. It had two bedrooms and a kitchen with a wood-burning stove. We'd brought our own sets of sheets to lay over the hard mattresses.
Trevor took me aside that day. Told me to help Delphina with dinner. Which basically meant cooking dinner as she stared disapprovingly. I cut onions, discarding pieces too thick or thin or the wrong shape. I carefully scaled an fileted a salmon. Just as the fish went into the pan we started to hear noises, from one of the bedrooms, loud passionate noises. Then the front door opened and Sasha came in, from a run to the outhouse.
Delphina screamed with rage. I followed her to the bedroom door, saw Kevin and Trevor, saw Kevin riding Trevor hard. "Stop," she said. Kevin did. "Come here, dear."
Kevin pulled out and started walking. "Oh God," he said. "Oh God oh God oh God Sun-"
Delphina reached out and snapped Kevin's neck. He fell down, twitching for a few seconds, then stopped.
"You really are no fun at all," said Trevor. Then Delphina's back arched and her face contorted with pain, a hole opening in her belly bleeding blue. She fell, melting away. Sasha stood behind her, glass-eyed, empty. The stove's iron poker fell from her hand to the floor.
"Now, how to set the rest of the scene?" said Trevor. "A twisted love triangle? I think you should be wearing less."
We started undressing, Sasha and I. Slowly, like a born loser in a game of strip poker. One shoe. The other. A sock.
I saw Pip, in the window. She winked, and I suddenly realized I didn't have to obey Trevor. I pulled off the other sock, then put it down next to the first, then grabbed the poker and ran at him. I swung it downward, and it ripped him open from right shoulder to the middle left of his chest. He melted, then the both of them began to boil, to sublimate on the wooden floor.
We buried Kevin in the woods, deep and wrapped in the bedsheets. When we got back it was as though he hadn't even existed. At his parents' house there was another son, Darryl, who we had never heard of. He smiled a changeling smile as he told us to never come to this house again.
I spent the rest of that summer looking for Pip. Which meant being a major jerk with regard to Sasha, not being there for a friend who needed me. I spent most of the next five years trying to make up for that and never came close.
I found her, or she let me find her, on the last day of summer. We went back to the graveyard. She told me to forget her.
"I love you," I said.
"I could make you stop," she said.
"I don't think you could."
She dropped her glamour, her spells, and I saw her as she was. Not entirely human. With a bit of tree, a bit of bird, a bit of smooth skipping stone. But still her. I kissed her, and she kissed me back, with a tongue like thorned branches. I tasted my own blood, but did not stop.
We embraced, against a crypt wall, with desperate haste, shedding clothes, coming together in climax just as the sun set. She said "Thank you," and "Goodbye" as autumn leaves peeled off her arms and legs, one by one and then all at once, leaving a whirlwind-suspended shape of leaves that fell groundward.
One got stuck in my clothes. I put it in my high school junior year yearbook, where it is still now.
|# ? Jun 8, 2020 06:59|
The Shortest Distance Between Two Points
Prompt: Teamwork, sled dogs
Duncan often showed up on my doorstep when he had nothing better to do. Since he was on a scrubber's pension and not burdened by employment, that was "all the time." I heard the familiar double-honk of his VW outside, then peeked under the curtain. I heaved the window open, already preparing to tell him sorry man, not today but then I saw the weird assortment of duffel bags strapped to the roof of his van and hesitated.
And then he saw me. A wide, kid-on-Christmas-morning grin cracked across his face.
"Come on, man!" He waved excitedly up toward me. "Going for a drive tonight! You're not gonna miss this one!"
I looked back over my shoulder, where an empty apartment and a lone humming computer terminal were all that beckoned me to stay. I'd been planning on claiming another shift on the feeds that evening, since lord knew I wouldn't be sleeping anyhow. But Dunc's bizarre pile of junk and the mischief in his voice were enough to tempt me away.
Duncan embraced me so quick I had to pry him off to lock the door.
"You won't regret this," he said, clapping me on the back as he finally relinquished his hold.
"I never do."
He pulled a wounded face. "If that's the case, why don't you come out more often?"
Some of us have to work, I almost said. But I caught the words in time. It was true, I had to work and he didn't. But Dunc didn't have to work because he'd donated a year of his life to the cleanup efforts. A year of hard labour with only a rubber suit between himself and whatever glowing sludge the sea spat up. Who knew how many kinds of cancer were duking it out in his guts now, how much time he had left to spend that pension. Dunc being Dunc, he thought it was a great deal.
"Don't worry," he said, eyes narrow mischievous slits. "I know you've been busy. Now get the gently caress in!"
We piled into the VW, which rattled off down my street toward Cabrillo highway. I hand-cranked the window, watching the view. The tiered stilt houses, the old mission revival church with its red-tiled tower--the piled-up pieces of the promenade were still there, though you had to have seen the pictures to know what fit into what. The whole promenade looked like a jigsaw puzzle someone had unboxed and tipped out onto the beach.
"Man," said Dunc. "Don't look at that poo poo."
We drove parallel to the highway until we came upon a gated development, and I knew then that this was another one of Dunc's grand attempts at getting the band back together, another thing he did from time to time with his surplus of free time. There was no way Akim was going to tag along, though. His daughter was, what, eighteen months old?
But before I could open my big mouth, I spotted a figure in a brightly-striped windbreaker slipping through the gate. Akim waved, tossed his pack through the window, and climbed into the backseat.
"Dude," I said. "Did not expect you'd be able to get free."
Akim smiled in a cautiously subdued way, fishing a hand into his pocket. He offered Dunc and I a pack of gum, folding a stick into his own mouth. "I don't like leaving Nic alone with her mama too long," he said. Even if you didn't agree with the gated communities, with the special dispensations handed to families who could still bear children, you couldn't deny that raising one was about the most important work one could do. The birth rate alone was apocalyptic, and that's not even counting all the ones that didn't come out completely healthy. I rubbed my chest, ashamed of the weird, awkward pang I felt there whenever I thought too hard about kids.
"It's a special occasion," Dunc said. And then, to me, he finally explained: "Sean's back."
I blinked hard. The world tipped sideways out from under me. My guts fell out of my body and plummeted through the bottom of the van and straight into the earth's crust. I had to have misheard him.
"You what?" I asked, certain I'd mistaken the words.
That sly smile crept back up Dunc's mouth. "You heard me. Our prodigy son returns."
My head was still spinning so bad I didn't even correct him. Sean was back.
It’s funny, the people you end up sticking with. I couldn’t tell you the last time I spoke to someone from high school, but the five of us from the Santa Cruz Middle School Surf Club were inseparable. It had been me, Dunc, Akim, Sean, and Louie against the waves—and the world—since pretty much the day we met.
Then the rift opened up in the sea and everything changed. Akim and I got recruited into the drone fleet, helping with cleanup. Dunc and Louie joined up with the scrubbers, trying to disperse their fleets of nanobots into the ocean quicker than the rift could poison it.
Only Dunc came back.
And Sean, after Louie died, he just… disappeared. I got a postcard from him years later, postmarked from Anchorage. No one had seen him since.
Duncan wheeled us out of town and up onto the onramp. Within a few miles, the smooth, freshly-paved highway turned to poo poo, cracked and neglected and weed-riddled as we passed out of the city limits.
We passed by the tangled, overgrown jungle of the former state park. The sun was sinking lower, and I could spy little outcroppings of light within the growth. Who knew who lived in there now.
Duncan turned off the highway and onto a dusty, unpaved access road. A trio of skinny, scruffy dogs scattered as he nosed the Volkswagen westward toward the sea. I wanted to ask him if it was okay, getting this close to the water. We hadn’t talked about it much, just sort of danced around the trauma the way guys our age do, but I know whatever he’d seen down there, whatever had happened to Louie, it had hurt.
But when we emerged from the trees onto a boat ramp of all things, I knew Dunc had thought this through.
And there, standing on the jetty, was Sean. His hair and beard were out of control now and he wore a beanie down low over his brow. He looked like some real bush Alaska poo poo, face full of harder angles than it had been when he left. But he smiled when he saw us, and when we piled out of the van, he and Dunc wrapped each other up in a hug that lasted so long I honestly felt a little left out.
Then they started unpacking the poo poo strapped to the roof and something clicked in my head: the boat ramp, the mysterious junk, Sean’s reappearance.
“We’re going out on the water?”
From one of the rooftop bags, Dunc unpacked a tightly-bound bundle of vinyl and straps. It still had the scrubber corps logo stenciled on, though it was faded with years of sun and use.
“You stole a lifeboat?”
Dunc slung an arm around my shoulders and squeezed.
“So many questions,” he said. “How about you just live in the moment a little and help me unpack.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I unpacked. Akim hauled a compressor out of the back of the van and hooked it to the raft, beginning to inflate it.
“So how was Alaska?” I asked Sean while we worked.
“Pretty. Deserted. Colder than a witch’s tit.” He grinned through his beard.
“What did you even do up there?”
“Trained sled dogs.”
I squinted at him. “Bullshit.”
“It’s true!” Dunc said at my back. “I’ve seen the pictures!”
Unpacking our kit, working in concert to heft the zodiac raft out into the shallows, fitting the outboard and the paddles and all the little bits and pieces into place, it felt for a moment like nothing had changed. There was a tangible gap, an emptiness to my side where Louie would have been, but also that rising excitement, the way I felt when I carried my first boogie board out to the waves, when the sea was unchanged and new friends were waiting.
By the time we were ready to shove off, it was dark. I expected us to hesitate more, to consider what we were doing. The water was clean, so the reports all said, but it wasn’t the same Pacific we grew up with.
But, oddly, we didn’t. There was no moment of ceremony. No words, but no silent hesitations either. Dunc just beckoned for us to get in, then locked up the van and waded out to meet us. He hopped in, opting to use the oars over the outboard for now.
“Why the manual transmission, chief?” I knocked him on the forearm as he rowed.
“You’ll see,” he said. “You’ll see in a bit. The motor disrupts ‘em too much.”
With all that had bubbled up out of the ocean when that rift had opened in the seabed, those words gave me pause. But they didn’t quite strike the bone-deep terror they might have, simply on account of Dunc’s tone. That same mischief, that wait-and-see promise.
It took a few minutes, but soon the reason for our slow rowing became apparent: a blue trail began to bloom behind us. As the raft passed through the water, the crests of the little rolling waves began to glow where we’d touched them. First the light was distinct little motes, then it blossomed into a serpentine river of phosphorescent blue.
“Bioluminescent plankton,” Akim whispered. “They’re back.”
The sea, for all we had done to it in our battle against the rift, was healing. Sean leaned over, not quite brave enough to trail a hand in the water just yet. The glow limned his features from below, lit blue fire in his eyes.
We hit the crest of a wave, the raft bouncing. Sean toppled forward, caught off-guard in his moment of reverence. Without thinking, I lurched forward and grabbed him, pulling hard on his forearm to ensure he didn’t fall.
And that was the moment when the pause came, that silent hesitation. I thought about falling, about how he almost drifted too far out before the gravity of this place, of us, hopefully drew him back. For a moment, our eyes met, and I would never say these things to him aloud, but I hope I conveyed them: I’ve got you. We’ve got you. We’ve all got each other.
|# ? Jun 8, 2020 07:00|
|# ? Sep 25, 2022 17:48|
Well the deadline appears to be upon us and there's still only one judge, so I will be second judge this week
|# ? Jun 8, 2020 07:01|