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Nov 16, 2012

redemption arc here we go

in :toxx: let the sounding commence


Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Saucy_Rodent posted:

In this round, with a sound

Distant Demolition

BurningBeard posted:

In for a penny, in for a sound. Whatcha got?

Fish Scales Scraper

Thranguy posted:

In, sound me up.

Sailing Boat, Bow Wave

Tyrannosaurus posted:

In. Sound me, please.

Zaanse Schans Sawmill


crimea posted:

redemption arc here we go

in :toxx: let the sounding commence

Lego Bricks Dump

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
I hosed up my wrist. It hurts. If your story is good, I will probably say fewer words. If your story makes me say more words because it is bad, I will be angry.

My ratings are almost completely arbitrary don't read too much into them


Sometimes it is ok to tell a simple story. Be careful though, because sometimes the story is too simple, and then it isn’t very satisfying. I liked the beginning of this! My problem is that you establish that Cas can’t project his psychic call far enough to summon help. That’s a good pickle for your space capybara to be in! Rather than have him cleverly solve his problem, however, it turns out he just needs to try very hard to overcome that limitation, which makes the resolution not so satisfying. Also, you can omit ‘space’ from ‘space capybara’. If I could I would make a thunderdome rule against putting ‘space’ in front of beings/objects that exist in outer space.

Wrist rating Ow Ow Ow


Swamp Fremen. Cool. Well-written sci-fi, though the whole climax feels a little contrived. I was wondering why the alien went out alone, considering there’s enough of a rebel human population to justify all sorts of sci-fi security measures. Personal pet peeve: I do not like it when characters run at the baddies with an anime BLARGH, only to be predictably cut down. It didn’t seem like a tactical choice, though Laita ends up using Jonas’s sacrifice tactically.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow O


Could stand a line edit, but overall well executed. You hit on an insight: clinging to the past is masochistic, but as I was reading this, I had to admit to myself that I would probably do exactly Alyssa does in this story.

Wrist rating: O

Simply Simon

Watch out for things like this:


Steven’s arm lunged to the side, making Mark jump back.

A lunge is a whole-body motion propelled by the legs. In general, it weakens your prose to describe limbs as acting separately from their owners like you’ve done in the above example. We can tweak the quoted sentence just a little bit to read a lot stronger, using a better verb for the motion of Steven’s arm:


Steven swept his arm out to the side, making Mark jump back.

But of course, the most important thing in that paragraph isn’t that Mark jumps back, it’s that Steven sweeps aside the paperwork obscuring the stopped clock, revealing that Mark is attempting to stall!

I actually like the premise and escalating tension of this story quite a lot, but there was a little bit of awkwardness in the execution.

Wrist rating Ow Ow Ow Ow (-2 ‘ow’ modifier because my arm verb tangent was totally voluntary)


The premise is pretty decent. A mute black protester finds a way to make their voice heard through an awesomely putrid combination of smells. I’m in. A lot of people would have been tempted to go science fiction a la the Elcor from Mass Effect, which would have annoyed this particular judge. In theory, grounding your story in the real world is a good choice, since you don’t have to burn words on worldbuilding and can focus instead on developing character/conflict.

In theory.

In execution, the tone of this submission awkwardly straddles the line between thinkpiece and fiction. In general, I think it’s impossible to separate fiction from the cultural, political, and economic context in which it’s conceived. I don’t think writers in 2020 should necessarily shy away from topical subject matter, and I don’t believe they are obligated to create an “escape” for their readers. That said, I didn’t like reading this entry because it’s half soapbox, half wish-fulfilment. I would have rather spent time with this character in a proper story, with dialog and description. I think “show, don’t tell” is prescriptive garbage, but in this case your story is all tell, to the point where it reads more like a Medium article than a narrative.

Finally, let’s assume that you are brilliant—enough so that you could conceivably submit a pseudo-thinkpiece to a fiction competition and force the judges to admit it’s the best piece of writing of the bunch. poo poo, this is Thunderdome, anything could happen. You still didn’t hit the mark with this piece, because most of the words are spent telling the reader things that anyone who’s been paying even a little attention in 2020 would know. There wasn’t anything especially thought-provoking here, as much as I wanted to feel invested in the narrator’s justified rage and anguish. A piece like this needs an angle or a central metaphor—an allegorical underpinning that speaks to something true about the human experience.

Wrist rating Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow


I hate to be like “this is what I would do” but your first sentence kinda begs a “this is what I would do.” You can ignore this part of the crit if you want.


The lash cut the air and sliced through the skin on my back.

This is fine. But as I was reading it, I thought it would be more slick if it read:


The lash cut the air then the skin on my back.

Eh? Eh??


Man IDK what to say about this so I’m gonna start by telling your story back to you as I understand it. 3000ish years ago a philistine dude obtains the Ark of the Covenant after a battle with Isrealites. Opening the Ark makes him seemingly immortal; the second half of the story takes place immediately after his release from a contemporary prison, whereupon he meets his parole officer on the beach. There are a lot more little details, some of them nicely described, but they’re poorly focused and don’t offer me much insight beyond the broad summary I just gave.

This leans way too heavily on historical (maybe pseudo-historical I guess) events; it feels too “plotty” to be a satisfying pair of vignettes, and too vignetty to be a satisfying plot.

I am curious how much outlining you did. I am not an outliner myself, but this is a story that would have benefitted from what I’ve seen described as a “reverse outline”, where you take what you’ve written and distill it back down to the key beats. I would have cut the first section down a LOT, possibly broken the story up into a few vignettes across time and developed the character that way.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow (-1 ‘ow’ modifier because my opening sentence tangent was totally voluntary)


This was nice, and funny. It gave me a good and sad feeling. Thank you friend.

Wrist rating: O

Something Else

I want to like this because it’s a truly unique POV. But I don’t understand why the clouds hate people so much. I don’t understand why the narrator rejected Cane’s orders, only to turn around to be pointlessly cruel themselves. I don’t understand why Cane has a name when nothing and no one else in this story does. There’s just a lot I don’t understand, even though in theory I want to like this story a whole lot.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


Pretty good concept, thin characters, rushed ending. Fast read, pretty good writing.

Wrist rating: O


This is written like a slow-burning horror film and the ending visuals are kind of incredible. That said, as I was reading I got antsy for any sort of dynamism—a change in mood, in pace, in the actions of the characters, but the story kind of holds one pitch until the bright crescendo at the end. The son feels like a non-entity who is there purely to be the object of scorn and disappointment.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


The other judges liked this a lot. I liked it okay, mostly at the end, though. I thought the family was too “as you know, Bob” about the history and lore of their heritage. I would have rather more of those words go toward the conflict between Dimi and their grandfather.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


You got a fairly insane hellrule and I’m impressed by what you did with it. The characters were kinda flat, relying heavily on outlaw tropes to distinguish themselves from each other, and I had trouble picturing a lot of what was happening around them but...given your prompt, I think you did pretty good! I physically recoiled at the ending line, though. THANKS DAD.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


I love this, very real.

Wrist rating: O


This was a really cool nibble of dystopia that made excellent use of its flash rule. I think Pace himself is the weak point; I fully acknowledge the limitations imposed by your prompt, but he’s less a character and more of a vehicle for the unfolding situation. Which is kind of appropriate, given the premise of the story, but...even so, both the character and the situation felt a little remote.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow

Anomalous Blowout

Nice prose, a vivid bad guy...until he gets snatched up by a badder bad guy, whose motivations and qualities are a lot less distinct (well, other than the “being a terrifying moving light” bit, that is a very distinct quality). The narrator…call me cynical but as soon as they self-described as a coward, I felt pretty confident they were going to make an uncharacteristically noble last stand, and when it happened I felt frustrated that they didn’t listen to their cowardice at a moment when running away was probably the wisest option (sorry Tanser, RIP).

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


Okay, so: on a line-by-line level, there are a lot of things I would change. Conceptually...I think I liked this a lot more than my co-judges. You attempted to describe a world unimaginable to humans, populated by beings we could never hope to relate to. I liked the sense of an ebb and flow to life in the void, a sort of equilibrium between eldritch horrors.

Wrist rating: Ow O


This was good and funny why did you DQ you bad man!!!

Wrist rating: :|


Your first paragraph unspools information in a really weird way. It takes a few sentences to establish what’s happening: a stranger has Horado pressed against the wall by his throat. Horado has trouble hearing what the stranger is saying because he’s preoccupied with the hand strangling him. The hand is cool to the touch, but with an odd patch of warmth in the palm—Horado speculates that the skin is not artificial, indicating that the stranger is likely not an employee of ‘Mariposa’.

The above summary is the order in which I would have set the scene. In the case of this story, you start with the unheard words, then move to the hand around Horado’s throat. We don’t actually get confirmation that a dude is pressing him against the wall until *checks* the third paragraph.

As for the rest of the story: It’s pretty decent, though Horado’s dialog is almost entirely asking questions and saying “oh”. Arnall shows up, is bad, then dies. Eryl is the most interesting thing about this story; he’s trying very hard to act selfishly, but ultimately can’t bring himself to be that way in the end. The thing with the pocket watch came out of left field, so I was left feeling like I missed something.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow Ow


This is...a ride. On the one hand, I can’t say I wasn’t on the hook to see what happened. On the other hand, both of the characters have such weird reactions to everything happening in this scene, like the murder-ranger shouting “Nice!” when he gets hotsauced in the eyes. In my headcanon she’s a serial murderer too, and will take up the mantle of murder-ranger.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 23:29 on Jul 7, 2020

Jul 26, 2016

In. :toxx:

Smack me round the ear chops with some audio.

good pormtp and wordcount combo, btw. nice.

Apr 30, 2006
I'm in :toxx:

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

steeltoedsneakers posted:

In. :toxx:

Smack me round the ear chops with some audio.

good pormtp and wordcount combo, btw. nice.


Australian Magpie

Jan 20, 2012

One More
799 words
flash: Ambience, Florida Frogs Gathering, A


MockingQuantum fucked around with this message at 05:45 on Jan 5, 2021

Jun 14, 2020

Critiques for Week 413

This is likely the first and last time where i will do a mass critiquing of submissions (i was encouraged to do some, but this week i felt like doing all so everybody could benefit and decide if they want more feedback like it in the future). But consider this to be an invitation to exchange critiques with me anytime, reach out to me any week and if I have the time I will gladly do it. To me Thunderdome is a training ground, a way to hone the skills which i know must be sharpened to accomplish the things i am determined to accomplish. Critiques are like whetstones to me, and I could always use more, the more words of feedback the better. I tried to include something constructive in each critique, but some were really good and might have more praise than anything.

In order of submission (stealing sebs abbreviated names):

Yoru -

Mocking -

Sparks -

Simon -

Crimea -

Barnaby -

Something else -

Ceighk -

Burningbeard -

Pthpthya -

Applewhite -

Flerp -

Thrangles -

Anom blowout -

Baby ryoga -

R H I N O -

Kurona bright -

Saucy rodent -

AlmightyDerelict fucked around with this message at 00:40 on Jul 10, 2020

Jul 10, 2010
In for a sound, I'll :toxx: since i missed one .

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
yeah sure in, give me something good

e: oh ok :toxx:

Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 03:01 on Jul 10, 2020

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

kiyoshimon posted:

In for a sound, I'll :toxx: since i missed one .

Manoa Ambient Test

Ironic Twist posted:

yeah sure in, give me something good

e: oh ok :toxx:

Under The Highway

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
fuckit in :toxx: for a sound

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Sitting Here posted:

fuckit in :toxx: for a sound

Ocean Waves at Point Reyes

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Signups are closed.

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

📡scanning🛰️ for good game 🎮design🦔🦔🦔
Prompt: Inside an abandoned lead mine

Echoing Questions
800/800 Words

Her mind is a cave, empty and dark. On a stalactite, rivulets through tiny cracks gather in a droplet. Slowly, it grows round and plump. Finally, it separates, a beautiful sphere before gravity distorts it on its way down, down to the stony ground. In the utter silence of her mind, the impact thunders like a tsunami wave eradicating a coastal village. The wave smashes against the cave wall, bloodies itself against the coarse rock, and ebbs away.

The next drop hits, another thunderclap, and this time attempts an echo. With each impact, the sound is less distorted. Until the question contained within each drop is as clear as the liquid: Who am I?

It throws itself around the mind-cave, the tiny confined empty space, and finds only silence in the darkness. In desperation, the question clings to the other stalactites, vibrates them with the force of its soundwave, and with constant repetition, manages to dislodge more drops.


A memory of answers sobbed.


A syllable, a defiant cough.


A final sigh of defeat.

From everywhere, the droplets fall, and their impacts dredge up all the other questions, and worse: the answers slowly pried from her.

Who is their leader, Xiaolin?

Like summer rain that catches you outside, without protection, the water flogs her mind.

It’s Zheng.

Zheng, Zheng, always Zheng. So many questions about Zheng. The drops containing them are a monsoon storm, she can’t see beyond the water’s veil. It fills the cave, up to her knees, her hips, her bosom. Xiaolin drowns in Zheng. Only the top of her head remains in air. Above, a stalactite like a sword hanging by a thread, and from it

another drop

another drop

another drop.

Each one a different interval, a different volume, a different force of impact. No questions now, only water, drip drip drip without an end, from irritation to annoyance to a sledgehammer striking down, every time, and in between the impacts, Xiaolin cowers, and hopes the questions will resume, with them the beatings and even worse, just to stop the water for a moment.

But in the cave, her head submerged, the silence and darkness reestablished, she realizes something. Like the first drop to start this downpour, these new ones are also loaded. With a question that cannot find the walls to echo; she’ll just have to listen very hard. Or give up, take a sobbing breath and drown.

She cannot. Her mind, the subterranean prison, won’t let her out, but also shelters. She is safe now from the fists and sticks. But the drops remain. So what choice does she have? She listens.

Who is Zheng?

When she finally makes out the words, it jolts her from the drowning pool, her head shoots up and crests the surface; she could have stood up all this time, but the droplets beat her down. The question was asked with her own voice, so the answer, for once, can be given freely.

My beloved.

Xiaolin opens her eyes; the cave isn’t dark at all. From its luminescent walls, Zheng’s face smiles down on her. She feels a drop form from her eye, it hits the water with the sound of relieved laughter.

Then another impact from the stalactite above. She hears the question clearly now, a stranger’s harsh voice again.

Where is Zheng?

It strikes her like a waterfall. Remembering the kicks against the back of her knees, she crumbles. The central question, the one they had her endure the water torture for. The whereabouts of leader Zheng, beloved Zheng. The secret for which she was taken and had suffered so much to protect.

But did she?

Xiaolin trembles in the ice-cold water, feels the walls close in, the stalactites like the teeth of an iron maiden. Did she betray her Zheng? Did the drops break her spirit after all? Should she, then, let the cave collapse on her traitor’s mind and die the death of madness?

She knows that there is only one way to find out. And so she lifts herself to stand beneath the stalactite, each drop like an icicle plunged in her brain, and she endures. Because each drop jolts her memory, pieces together a little more of what exactly happened during torture. The single question about her secret, and the answer she did not give




a –

The drops have stopped. Xiaolin looks up. The stalactite is dry.

She smiles, and Zheng smiles back. The cave walls crumble, but his face remains. Her eyes and mind stay open.

“You’re back,” he breathes. “We found you catatonic…”

“I needed to remember if I kept your secret,” she says.

As they embrace, his heartbeat is the only thing she hears. The sound of water in her head is drowned out forever.

Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica
A kinda weird thing that happened while I was on a backtracking trip in Israel

545 words - Distant Demolition

Following the sounds of metallic crunching, I leave the dry forest and come across something overgrown and crumbling as it's being picked apart by big machines.

It's a ruin, a little village to be exact, quite unlike the heroic Jewish fortresses and lush mosaiced synagogues tour guides had chosen to show me around Galilee. This is newer; weary concrete instead of storied marble, one of the Arab villages that used to dot this countryside before 1948, and now it's being chewed by gargling engines.

A demolition worker on the ground sees me, and he must immediately recognize me as a tourist despite my ethnic Arabness, because he speaks to me in English. 

"HEY! WHAT'S UP?" he shouts over the mechanical cacophony. 





The workers don't seem to mind my presence. I sit and lean against the wall of one of the old huts and pull out my lunch. I eat my pita and jerky under a dry sun surrounded by grinding and pounding.

They haven't gotten to the mosque yet. It's a small building, made of the same crumbling sandy concrete as everything else, distinguished only by its domed roof. It's not like the mosque my parents would bring me to at home in Minneapolis, sprawling and ornate. I suppose it's this land's version of the little country churches you see driving across America, not built to impress but to be a simple home for worship.

What did it look like when this place was abandoned? Was it all at once, a burst of screams and sobs and mortar fire, or was it orderly and agreed upon? How long has the mosque stood as a husk, entered only by the backpackers who happened to wander its lonely route?

"STOP!" I yell.

"WHAT'S UP?" says the guy I was talking to before.





"COME ON MAN!" I yell.

He chuckles out a sigh, and says something Hebrew into his radio. Slowly, the chugging bulldozers and wrecking balls sputter off.

"Go nuts," the guy says. 

I walk into the mosque. A few beer cans litter the floor from years or decades ago, and a crack in the dome let's in a ray of gentle light.

It's completely silent, but it's not supposed to be, so I pull up a prayer chant on Spotify. I have no mat, so I kneel on seventy years of accumulated dirt on the concrete.

I don't know how the spirits of the people who lived in this little village will feel about an American tourist being the last to pray here, but for some reason I don't think this place deserves to go out without the simple blessing of a lonely memory.

And then I'm done. I stand and exit. I nod to the construction guy and the machines roar to life again. As I continue on my way past the village, they swallow the old mosque, and expel it from history. 

Apr 12, 2006
the axe forgets
551 words


Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 21:25 on Jan 8, 2021

Nov 16, 2012

Excerpt from the serialised adventures 'Fortune in the Mind's Eye'
Word Count: 800

“This is it,” Professor Will Fortune said as he laid eyes on the expansive chamber which lay at the heart of the Psycho-Zone. “This is where we’ll find our prize.”

Emerging from one of the hot, mucus-lain tunnel which connected each chamber in the Zone, Fortune and his crafty companion Jude the Blue surveyed the room which rolled out before them. Immediately apparent were the materials the chamber was made out of – large multicolour Lego bricks clicked together haphazardly, with putty in the cracks between them. Great columns of scaled-up alphabet blocks rose to the darkness of the room’s impossibly high ceiling. Through all of this pulsing vine-like red veins and heavy globules of brain matter grew and blossomed in patches. The disembodied sound of heavy breathing, barely audible when the two men had entered, had become absolutely clear.

Fortune was the first to step foot in the chamber, landing a foot unevenly on a sloped path of jumbled blocks. “Watch your step.” He warned to his fellow Psychonaut.

“I’m just glad we’re wearing heavy boots. These things would nick the hell out of your feet.” Jude replied, grasping the straps of his backpack and glancing down with disdain of the walnut-like tissue which seeped out in the gap between two sharp edges. This organic material, the two had already tested, was a match to the Zone’s creator, an insurance salesman named Jimmy Bates; one of the rare (increasingly less so) cases of a human consciousness exploding out into the real world upon death and creating a strange new landscape in the blast radius. When Bates had keeled over, he had taken a good few blocks of downtown Pittsburgh with him, encasing the area in a growth-like dome which men like Fortune were devoted to studying and exploring.

“So, Doc, we’re in the lowest part of the Zone, the end of the maze, and Bates’ sacred sanctum is full of kid’s stuff. What’s your diagnosis?” Jude asked while upholstering his rifle and searching the walls for suitable sniper nests.

Fortune examined the plastic rubble at his feet, rolling a small chunk between his fingers. “We’ve already seen – and survived – chambers relating to Bates’ various traumas. Here we enter his safe place. You’ve seen his personal files; Bates had an indoor childhood – building blocks, and games of imagination, rather than playing outside with others. His mind associates this as a time when he was safe, and happy – so it built this place to keep him so.”

Jude laughed humourlessly. “If there’s no outdoors, where’s all the light in this room coming from?”

Fortune looked around and stroked his square jaw. “My guess is some form of bioluminescence.” He continued walking as he spoke. “The theory I’m more and more convinced of is that since the Zones are born from living matter – humans – they themselves, in their entirety, continue to be so. You might consider that plastic you’re standing on to be alive.”

Jude was taken aback. “Alive? Doc, the outer shell of this thing is like rock! We spent a whole day trying to find a way in – it’s like a cave system! You’re telling me this whole thing is living?”

“You volunteered for this expedition, Blue. Don’t tell me you’re losing your stomach after all we’ve seen.”

“Some things even a tour of duty don’t prepare you to see, Doc.” Jude scratched his head, and continued to follow Fortune as the burly professor jumped down into a clay trench.

“This room could contain the answer to our questions on the nature of the Zone!” Fortune shouted to behind him. The next words were almost out his mouth before he saw a glimmering in the plastic rubble.

A spherical glass object, cloudy like a marble and about the size of a soccer ball, lay patiently in a crevice made by the meeting of two spikes.

Fortune, experienced Psychonaut that he was, had never seen one – much less thought it was real. With both hands he grasped what he now recognised was human consciousness in material form, super-heated, warped, and cooled by the strange processes of the Zone.

Jude’s voice rang out in the distance.

“Watch out, Doc!”

Stomping towards Fortune was a huge construct – a thing of simple mechanisms bound together with pulsing and bloody brain matter. As its full form was revealed Fortune recognised the familiar shape of a wind-up toy robot, with grimacing painted face and vacant eyes. The explorer dodged just in the nick of time as the thing brought down a crushing arm, sending the orb rolling away.

Fortune reached for his gun, but was interrupted by another swing from the toy menace which missed him by a hair. Pressed against the putty wall, he attempted to lunge around the thing – and succeeded, darting between its trunk-like legs.

The robot swivelled on its axis and threw down its weight on the interloper below. Fortune found himself pinned beneath, blood draining from the thing’s joints onto him.

“Blue!” Fortune cried.

A shot rang out, echoing through the chamber. A bullet whizzed through the robot’s head and landed in the clay. Fortune pushed off his now-limp adversary and caught his breath. The orb was nowhere to be seen.

He was about to thank Jude before another shot ran out, and Fortune’s knee exploded.

“Ha!” Perched high above, Jude whipped back his smoking rifle and met eyes with Fortune. “Looking for this?”

Jude carried the gleaming orb under his arm.

Fortune hissed through clenched teeth. “D-Damnit!”

“Can’t trust anyone these days.” The sharpshooter wore a wicked grin. “Good thing this beauty should be worth a dime or two! Thankfully your theorising gave me time to rig this place with explosives enough to collapse the whole thing. Should’ve checked my backpack, Doc!” He held up a detonator.


Jude disappeared into a smoke cloud. Fortune desperately dragged himself away as he heard the place erupt. Plastic boulders cascaded from the ceiling, creating a terrible, sharp cacophony. Fortune’s breathing and the breathing sound in the chamber were synchronised.

Jul 26, 2016

547 words

The sewing machine clatters like a snare in Satan’s drumline - out of step, off-tempo and cracking its way through the mids of life’s ambient mixdown. The sun-bleached plastic cladding rattles as the collection of shafts and gears inside shakes out an off-kilter paradiddle.

Despite the noise, the space is still. A middle-aged woman hunches over the sewing under the single, small window. She’s hedged in on either side by a cupboard and another small sewing table. The table’s doors are flung wide open, thread and sewing patterns hang mid-spill out of the drawers. Dust motes hang in the air, luxuriating in the streams of light tumbling through the window.

Her fingers hold the material tight, guiding it under the foot to the ever-descending needle. The cloth stands out in a sea of beige and navy bolts, a searing hot flash of magenta ready to be paired with the white-and-turquoise-chevroned leg she’d already assembled.

They’d chosen it together on the weekend. Her son had even convinced her to buy an extra metre so that he could have a matching shirt to go with the shorts. She enjoyed those trips, they’d go for morning tea upstairs in the department store next door afterwards and he’d tear around the toy section.

She let her eyes climb the wall in front of her and drift out beyond the window. The southerly had started to whip grey clouds up and over the hills, hustling them along as they grew darker. The washing on the Hills Hoist was already starting to flail and flap in anticipation.

She dropped her eyes back down to the shorts, working to a new timeline now. The needle raced to outrun the weather. She doesn’t know that the shorts will only get one wear before her son comes home and tearfully explains that they are a “girl’s colour” and he won't wear them again. Today, they’re a beautiful pair of shorts made from material that he chose especially.

She doesn’t know that tomorrow she’ll be back in here crying, after yelling at her son for wasting her effort and the family’s money. Weeping in a mausoleum to failed craft projects, bolts of cloth that never became skirts or curtains. The monstera plant in the corner sits and watches without emotion today, and will do so again tomorrow.

The rhythm of the machine is a rich groove now, not steady, but driving forward in short bursts before sinking back into an adagio.

She doesn’t know today, and still won’t know tomorrow that she’s not crying about lost time and wasted energy. Her son won’t know until he has children of his own, decades later. He’ll wear shades of blue for years before embracing other colours again, and even then it will feel like some kind of transgression.

Today though, she finished the shorts. She calls out to her son as she finishes joining the two sides together. He careens down the stairs, almost bouncing off the walls before breaking into a run, feet slapping across the concrete garage floor to the sewing room. He beams at the shorts, a vision somehow made manifest through his mother’s magic. In the quiet of the room, they embrace.

The first drops of rain start tapping out a weak rhythm on the window.

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice
Sound: Creaky dock - Underwater Hydrophone Recording

The world does not care about us
~785 words

Zakide dragged his leg irons across the rough wood, seeking respite from the pain. His skin beneath was raw and hot. He touched it, gently, and a blister burst hot liquid that mixed with the encrusted salt. The sun swam in his vision. He clenched his jaw tight until the pain faded.

The little boat wobbled when he moved, sodden planks groaning beneath his weight. It was late in the day, the sun lingering above the unbroken horizon. A whisper of a breeze floated across the water, so Zakide dutifully held up his sail. It was crude—just a small scrap of cloth recovered from the wreckage, held aloft in his arms. But it worked, a little. The bow of the boat rotated northwards as the breeze nudged it forward.

The sea was still but for small ripples that lapped up around the boat, a low murmur of pops and gurgles as they broke against the hull. Nothing like the ravaging storm that had shattered the slave ship days ago, a thunderous detonation of wind, water, and fury, the hand of an angry god reaching down to crush the white man’s ship. They’d hammered the hatches shut, blocking escape, and the cargo screamed and cursed as the ocean flooded their shackled bodies. What became of the white devils Zakide didn’t know, but when the hull collapsed and the shackles tore away from the wood he swam, dragging the chains behind him, upward, with all his strength, until he broke the surface. He watched the slave ship go down as he gripped a capsized lifeboat, hearing panicked voices echo over the mountains and valleys of the storm ravaged ocean.

His companion stirred, pressing a small bundle tight to her chest. One eye opened and watched him as he maneuvered his sail against the little breeze.

“The wind does not care about us,” she said.

Zakide grunted. His tongue felt thick and swollen. She was right. Yesterday it had brought them a little rain, a puddle of fresh water caught in his sailcloth, but that was all.

He remembered her from the ship. She’d birthed the child a month into the voyage. Against all odds it had survived the disease and dehydration of the hold. And maybe even survived that calamitous night, although Zakide had not seen it move or make much sound since he’d found the woman, clinging to her child and a tangle of debris, and pulled them on board.

The breeze subsided as the sun sank lower. Dark figures moved through the water around them. He peered over the edge of the boat, watching shapes shift and shimmer below the surface.

“The sea does not care about us,” she said.

The boat creaked as she shifted the cloth wrapped bundle in her arms. Zakide nodded. Again she was not wrong. His stomach felt like a clenched fist, cramped and angry. He was a fisherman before, working the rivers near his village each day while his mother and sister wove fabrics and shaped clay. With a net it would be so easy to catch endless fish here, to sate his stomach, heal his aching muscles. Instead they slipped past in silence, just out of reach.

The last vestiges of the sun sank into the horizon. A bird appeared in the sky. It circled above, descending with each lazy loop, until it alighted onto the surface of the water no more than ten yards off their stern. It watched him with large, golden eyes flecked with black. Zakide had seen birds like this near the Port of Mocambique, gulls with white heads and bodies and black wings. He’d watched them circle the sky from the iron and stone enclosure of the slave pen, jealous of their freedom, though they never strayed far from land.

Like the elusive fish below, this last thought circled and slid through Zakide’s tired mind.

“The world does not care about us,” she said. She wrapped her bundle tighter.

The bird squawked, extended its body upward and flapped its wings. As it rose into the sky, a strong breeze gathered over the dark water. Maybe she was wrong. Zakide grabbed his sail and held it up. The boat lurched forward, knocking him off his feet and onto the hard planks below. His companion barked a contemptuous laugh at his foolishness. But then he heard another sound. Over the lapping of the waves and creaking of the old wooden boat, a soft cry came from the bundle within her arms.

Zakide stood and faced the wind, the sea, the world.

“No,” he said to them all. “But I do,” and held up his sail.

Apr 30, 2006
Sound: Australian Magpie

Scourge Them With Roses
586 words

The chatter of the magpies dwelled in all the shadowy places of the field, as Ivan cut through the rattling wind on his bike, and Michaela, who’d only reluctantly accepted Ivan’s invitation, pedaled in his tailwind. In her opinion, it was too early to do anything more strenuous than fill the teapot, but after rehab, she was trying to say “yes” to more things, if only so she could feel proud of conquering her sluglike instincts.

Ivan pulled over beside a patch of wildflowers, the affirmative skid of his bike tires on the dust a relief to Michaela, a respite from the keeping-up. She pulled over next him, catching her breath, as Ivan unzipped his bag and rustled inside for two half-frozen bottles of water. They were friends now, but his sweaty scent reminded her of humid evenings in bed, staying up too late. The happiest bits of sobriety. She took the proffered water bottle, listened to the amorous squabble of the magpies, and squinted up at the orange light of sunrise glimmering through the peppermint trees.

“Got attacked by one of them last week,” Ivan said. “Nasty.”

“Happened to a friend of mine,” Michaela said. Actually, this was the paranoid fixation of a woman from group therapy; she’d seized Michaela’s shoulders before she stepped out for fresh air to warn her that the magpies would digest her eyes. In the hospital yard, she never heard any organic sounds. It was all the roar of the air conditioning and the squeal of car wheels on the overpass.

“That’s why I’ve got to stay in shape. Never know when you might have to go one-on-one with a mama bird,” he said, and Michaela was touched by the puffery in his tone, the sense that for all the nights he’d cleaned her vomit out of the bathroom sink, he still needed her respect.

Michaela took a sip of water; the condensation was already making her hand slick and wet. “So you outran them, did you?”

“She got a few licks in,” Ivan said, and tilted his neck to the side to show an angry red mark that was either a half-healed magpie peck or a fresh hickey.

The squawking peaked in a staccato salvo of noise, and she was grateful for the interruption, especially one so pure and feral. He was squinting up at the trees and through the flowers, like he’d hoped to identify a culprit.

“I’m glad you dragged me out,” Michaela said, and meant it. “I forget the way the morning feels when there aren’t people around.”

“All you need is a bike and a couple of spare hours.” He zipped up the bag with chastening speed. The unspoken words, Michaela surmised, were you don’t need me.

“Everything’s impossible until you do it,” she said. It was what her counselor said almost every session, and it was trite but true: going a day without drinking, going back to work, making her own meals instead of frozen lasagna. Ivan smiled without teeth.

She saddled the bike and adjusted her helmet. The magpies were really making a racket, cawing as if to commend an especially righteous sermon.

She kicked off, pedaling fast on the long, dusty road to feel the thrill of her own velocity. Behind her, something was whooshing through the air. It was probably Ivan, but she hoped it was a magpie; that it would pursue her from the crispness of this morning to a heavier afternoon, buoying her with the satisfaction of a narrow escape and a story of her own.

Jun 14, 2020

Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and...
798/800 words

The candles are burning low, allowing darkness to creep closer. It’s the last hand of the night, though Gregor seems like he wishes we’d play more; he’s still wide awake.

“Royal flush,” Duncan proudly exclaims.

Gregor and I groan and throw our cards to the center of the table.

“Well look at that, not even Gregor the Great can best me!” he cheers.

The room is full of memoirs from Gregor’s glory days as a knight of The Order, his unkept armor collecting spider webs, his shield and family crest hung above the hearth. Duncan grabs Gregor’s greatsword from the wall and throws it over his shoulder triumphantly.

“Devils will probably run back to hell at the mere sound of my laughter,” Duncan says, letting out an exaggerated laugh.

Gregor slams both his hands on the table, it shakes the candles and one cup falls over, spilling ale onto the surface.

“You’re a fool if you think that laughter makes devils run! If anything, it’s the other way around,” Gregor said angrily.

Duncan and I exchange glances then look back to Gregor. He’s usually not so serious; I wonder what’s gotten his goat? The old knight sighs, he grabs the greatsword from Duncan and returns it to the mount on the wall.

“I’m sorry Greg, it was just a joke.” Duncan recoils in shame.

“No prospective knight within a hundred leagues of The Mouth would dare to downplay devils,” he says, staring at the greatsword. “Sometimes I wonder if you even realize what becoming a knight means. Maybe you aren’t ready.”

The wind soughs against the window. Duncan, shaken by Gregor’s words, slips back into his seat: eyes glued to the dripping ale.

“Come on, Gregor. No one understands Duncan’s dreams better than you.” I say with concern. “You’ve seen Dunk swing a sword, you know better than anyone that he’s got what it takes.”

Gregor turns to me, then to Duncan; his tirade hit harder than he thought.

“I don’t doubt his strength,” Gregor puts his hand on Duncan’s shoulder. “But having a tall stature and a powerful swing only go so far when facing devils. The real thing is much different than it is in the stories that you’ve heard from Old Tom.”

The wind is howling now; there is a quiet sound of a metallic moan coming from outside. But I ignore it, my focus is purely on Gregor: his eyes are wide, and he’s visibly distressed.

“You actually saw one, didn’t you?” I ask.

The room is very still, Gregor never told anyone in town that he saw a devil in person.

“Tell us, please Gregor. If I’m to become a knight I need to know,” Duncan pleads.

Gregor begins to pace, scratching his head.

“He’s right. If he shouldn’t take them lightly, then who better than you to tell him why?”

Gregor stops and shoots me a quick glare. There’s no way he can avoid it now.

“It was a nightmare,” his throat tightened. “It was walking around the edge of a burning cottage. It was only a silhouette. All the horses stopped and turned wild when it looked at us, somehow, I knew it was smiling. Then came the laughter, a terrible noise unlike anything I’ve heard before or since. It echoed through my very soul, and I still hear it when I lay my head down to sleep…”

The candles in the room flicker, we’re both unable to say a word. The metal moaning came again, louder now. A crash came following it, sending shivers down my spine. We all turn to the window.

“drat, the goat’s gate must’ve broken its latch again” Gregor moves to a cabinet and grabs a cord of rope. “You boy’s think about what I’ve said. This will take just a second.”

He goes out into the night, the door slams shut behind him.

A few moments pass and we hear it again; the crash vibrates through the room, and every candle blows out. Duncan and I jump from our seats and race after Gregor.

We rush through the door and turn the corner. It’s so dark I can barely see. My eyes widen and my jaw hangs loose. Gregor’s goats, they’re standing upright on their back hooves, front hooves twisted together as if holding hands, motionless, forming a frozen circle in the grass. There’s a large red stain at the center of the ring. The gate crashes against the latch again, it sounds different, a quiet laughter weaved into hellish reverberations.

Duncan slowly stumbles toward the road. I follow. The wind howls and the gate crashes again, and again, more frequent than it should. The laughter, louder and clearer with each crash. We run, but still hear it echoing in our heads… moaning and laughing.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Word count: 790

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 12:20 on Jan 3, 2021

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
Another Prick in the Hall
791 words
Prompt: Under The Highway

I wish the fuckers running this metal murder maze had just killed me instead of making me a receptionist.

“So what are you here for,” I say, playing the memory game on my phone, not looking up at the guy who just came into the lobby. He has a ripped blue dress shirt and a stiff-rear end haircut, and he looks like he wants to murder everything in his path. There are hallways to the left and right and the chunk-shunk-clunk sound is coming from both of them.

“I’m here for Juliette,” he says.

“Sure,” I say.

“I’m here to bring her back to--”

“HR department’s down the hall,” I say, pointing to my left. “Just take about ninety-eight lefts and rights.”


“Ask Bruno. He’ll tell you. He has the code to the bathroom, too.”

The jacked guy with the stiff haircut gives me a look, then sprints off down the left hallway.

I go back to playing my game. Red-green-yellow-green-blue-blue-red. Fuckers. Why not let the dead stay dead.

Operatic death metal is rampaging through my headphones, the only thing that keeps me truly relaxed. This whole labyrinth murder den is made of steel, from the walls to the ceiling to the floor, which means I get to hear everything that goes on inside it, all at once. I hear the skittering footsteps of all the people that came here looking to have their wish granted, revive their dead wife or dead daughter or dead Burmese tiger. I hear the revving engines of the Grinders, cutting swathes of destruction through the metal corridors, wilding on wheels big enough to turn a golf cart into a sheet cake. Mostly, I hear the walls of the maze itself, those goddamn steel walls all day long, just clank-clunk-whunk, shifting and sliding and smashing against each other and sounding like a drunk, angry orgy between a dozen particularly virile filing cabinets.

I would’ve hung myself with my headphones by now if I wasn’t so worried about breaking them by accident.

There’s a noise coming down the left hallway, slow hydraulic steps, and my shoulders slump.

I turn up the volume on my CD player.

The whooshing hydraulics stop in front of my desk.

Red-green-yellow-green-blue-blue-red-blue-yellow-red-green. The screen flashes the word SUCCESS.

I take off my headphones, look up.

Bruno’s staring at me, blood spattered over his torso and the top of his metal piston legs. There’s a scrap of blue fabric slung over his chest like a bandolier.

“I hate this loving place,” he says.

“Hi,” I say. “You’re welcome, by the way. For the assist.”

“Yeah, thanks,” he says. “They said they lost the upgrade paperwork again. You believe this poo poo?”

The clank-whunk-shunk is reverberating through the center of my skull. “Yes,” I say. “I believe it. They’re cheap. If they were willing to spend money on your wheels, I’d have a real office instead of this open-plan poo poo where I have to hear the sound of The Telltale Tin Man Dick smacking me in the face every time I take these headphones off. So if you don’t mind--”

“Yeah,” Bruno keeps going. “Makes sense why I keep seeing those same patterns in the maze over and over.”

“No poo poo.”

“You really think they lost the paperwork?”

“I think you should go ask them,” I say, twisting the headphone cord in my hands.

Red-green-yellow-green-blue-blue-red-blue-yellow-red-green-blue-red-red-yellow--gently caress--

Down the hallway, there’s the sound of turbo-charged engines and wheels, swallowed up by another chorus of horny filing cabinets.

“What did you wish for, Holm?”


“What did you wish for?”

I want to scream, but--


The screen flashes SUCCESS.

I look Bruno in the eyes for the first time. “I wished,” I say, not cracking a smile, “to meet fun singles in my area.”

“Piss off,” he says, looking away.

“You wished for a cure for your cancer, right?”

“Yeah,” he says.

“And this place cured you, instead.”

Bruno turns and walks down the right hallway.

“And that’s why they gave me this job,” I say to the empty lobby in front of me. “Because I get people out of my face.”

I look back down at my phone game.

I stop.

Clank-shunk-whunk. Clank-shank-clunk.

I tap my headphones. Tap them again. Fiddle with the duct tape holding them together.

No dice.

The lobby doors open, and a short dude with a shaved head comes lurching out of the fog at me, lunges over the front desk.

“I need...I need--” he rasps into my face.


“Bruno,” I yell.

“I--my wife--”

“Bruno,” I yell louder.

Bruno comes out of the right hallway, legs pumping. “Yeah, Holm?”

“Let’s break out of this hellhole.” I point at the shaved-head short stack in front of me. “You’re hired. There’s Diet Coke in the fridge.”

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
Prompt: Ocean Waves at Point Reyes

Sea to Sea
750 words

Morgan wakes in the pit of night and licks salty sea foam from her lips. Not a dream, then. The slitted eye of the ocean-mother is passing over the world.

Down to the waterfront, where the ferris wheel is quiet, where the fish ‘n chip shops rest their eyes behind barred facades. She pauses, breeze ruffling her skirt, and considers the locked gate that stands between her and the end of a particularly long pier—her destination.

Too many shapes in this world. Paths and the gates that block them. Bodies and the clothes that restrain them. If only she were water, unencumbered by skin and bone...

She rests her palm against the chain links of the gate and whispers, “Please, let me be like water.” There’s a sympathetic slap-slosh of waves against the pilings below the pier, but Morgan remains as she is: solid, and useless.

It takes her the better part of an hour to shove the dumpster—pungent with the remnants of fried fish—over to the gate. It’s just tall enough that she can alley-oop to the other side, skirt umbrellaing out around her legs. Once over, she strides toward the end of the pier under a bright and bulbous moon.

Finally: as far out over the bay as she can get without stealing a boat. The steady rolling applause of the waves fortifies her, lets her forget, for a moment, the imbecilic audacity of what she’s about to do. She closes her eyes, aims the thresher of her attention at the ocean’s ovation.

The populous din of the waves is like a stick of string cheese; she peels it apart, the sound of each eddy and current coming away like strands of mozzarella. Once separated, the strings of individual sounds hang in her mind’s eye, undulating like sunlight seen from below the water’s surface. There are thousands of them, coiling licks of noise, aquatic morphemes—the materials with which she’ll build an offering worthy of Tiamat, mother of oceans.

Working with her eyes closed, Morgan takes a few luminous threads of sound and braids them together into a pillar. She hears the water around the pier respond in kind: the slither of conflicting currents coming together, shaping themselves according to her will. The braided pillar of water heaves itself skyward, kicking up a cold, wet wind that crackles against Morgan’s eardrums.

The changing soundscape gives her new language to play with: morphemes building into words building into ideas building into structure. There’s a sad irony to imposing a shape on water when she herself wishes to embody its shapelessness, but the cathedral is the only symbol in the human lexicon powerful enough to provoke the attention of a god.

So Morgan describes a cathedral, sound by sound, pillar by braided pillar, ignoring the growing pressure between her ears. She opens her eyes a crack, finds herself staring down the center of a translucent colonnade, the pillars backlit by the full moon. In the distance, the red baying of sirens; even in the deepest part of night, her work was never going to go unnoticed.

Morgan closes her eyes once more, thrusts her arms into the air for emphasis, and bends the oscillating sound threads in her mind's eye into graceful arcs. The pillars of water respond in kind, jetting up and over, a series of perfect bell curves, forming a tunnel of archways whose feet come stomping down in unison on the surface of the bay.

A shockwave of water slurps up and over the pier, knocking Morgan off her feet. She pushes herself onto hands and knees. Fatigue blackens the edges of her vision and her head feels like a bowling ball on a daisy stem, but she raises her gaze to witness the success or failure of her offering.

The moon is a handspan above the horizon, perfectly framed by the cathedral vault of the row of arches. Slowly, languidly, the cratered lunar facade rolls back, revealing a sky-blue marble bisected by a vertical slit. A draconic eye—Tiamat’s eye.

“Please, Mother,” Morgan begs, too exhausted to fully articulate her desire.

Blood gushes from her nose and over her lips, and doesn’t stop. Under the eye of the ocean-mother, Morgan bleeds out of herself, tricking down between the slats of the pier, dripping into the churning water below, leaving a smiling shell in her wake.

The great slitted eye closes, the cathedral falls, and Morgan spills joyfully over a city that can no longer contain her.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

Sound:Bow Wave

728 words

"Do you see that?" said Martins, gesturing vaguely toward the ocean ahead of us with his glass of white wine.

"Water?" I said.

He laughed. "Such little imagination, Astra. You can do better."

I thought for a minute, answers rising and calling. Calm? Too pedestrian. The color, the Deep purple-blue of sunset? Too literal. What is he looking for, what would make him smile? I had it. "A grave, professor."

Smile he did, and laugh. "Indeed, the world's largest open grave. Hurricane shipwrecks and mutinous sailors made to walk the plank, human cargo tossed overboard, and a thousand more misfortunes must litter the bed far below us. No wonder sailors are superstitious, even now propitiate Poseidon or Neptune when the stars demand."

I was already pregnant, with Alexandra, already knew it somehow on a biological level, just below consciousness. She was conceived four hours earlier, in his cabin, just after he hung up on the satellite call with his wife and shut down the computer, cut us all off from the world. We knew it was coming. It was an open secret, that the chart on file to Hispañola was a fiction, that our true destination was Havana. When Martins flipped that switch it turned real, urgent. Exhilarating.

There was a commotion, towards the rear of the Earnest O. We turned around. Martin started walking quickly in that direction, and I followed behind.

There were almost twenty of us onboard. "Martins, his harem, and their uncut eunuchs," my roommate Kelly had said. The dynamic was a bit more complicated than that. But not much. Some of us were more realistic than others about the relationship. Twenty, and among us only Martins and Geoff were any kind of use as sailors.

Faster, shoving past classmates, to the stern, where the disruption was happening. Li, eyes red with tears, perched on the rail facing us. Geoff, pleading with her, arms outstretched. Martins, ahead of me by a stretch, saying something I can't make out, reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder.

Geoff swung around, decking Martins hard, drawing blood near at the corner of his lip, knocking him to his knees on the deck. He growled like a tiger, pouncing from that position. Geoff twisted his body as Martins came at him, giving a little shove, and Martins ran into the rail and flipped over, into the roiling wake-water below. Li was falling and screaming too, and I'll never know if she was knocked off by the jolt when Martins hit the rail, or if she just decided to lean back. Then Geoff did another damned fool thing and dived off the stern after them, after Li at least.

The rest of us weren't much for sailors, but we had learned the basics. I was shouting out orders and people were mostly following them, slacking the mainsheet, getting the lifeboat ready to go.

The lifeboat came back with Martins, shivering uncontrollably, one arm broken, unconscious and unresponsive. They hadn't seen any sign of Geoff or Li.

We went out in that boat at least a dozen more times, through the night and a few more past dawn, trying to use the light when it didn't catch the water and blind our eyes. We never saw another sign of them. Neptune had taken his due, and wasn't done with us yet.

Martins didn't wake up, stayed in bed shaking, fevered, stirring for brief seconds to babble incoherently before collapsing again. We did our best, set the arm and kept him warm. When we dripped water into his mouth he could swallow. His computer wouldn't reboot and connect us back to the world without a password none of us knew.

I stayed in his room the whole day, watching him breathe, trying to translate fever-mutterings into potential passwords with no luck. Cleaning and changing him, after the inevitable. Sleeping in short naps. And when night came, I went upstairs, passing the vigil to Suzanne.

Nobody else had done a single useful thing all day, seemed like. And we weren't helpless, weren't hopeless. We had charts that we were smart enough to figure out how to read, the stars, good weather, and precision timepieces so long as batteries held out. Provisions for the full voyage. And me leading since nobody else was stepping up. God, or Poseidon or whoever, help us all.

Jul 10, 2010

The frenetic clanging of an old metal alarm bell, silent for years but now brought to attention by electrical impulses emanating from miles away rattles through her bones as she pedals the bicycle faster and faster, past ruined fences and abandoned checkpoints. She thinks of school fire drills, as the metal disc rhythmically screams for soldiers that will not come, to warn people who have left this place long ago. She rides on. The screaming bell stops, the shrieking metallic whine echoing along the walls of the canyon and fading away, and for a few moments there is only the hard sound of wind as she glides over the cracked and wet pavement of the abandoned base. Then slowly, from somewhere over and across the hills comes a low warbling siren intrudes the nighttime silence, a deep low horn that revs up higher and higher, building to piercing undulating scream that holds across the sky for several long seconds. A second siren from another side of the canyon joins the chorus, a long wailing ships whistle sound, as the twin alarms join in an end of the world cry that chills her deep to the soul, the familiar harbinger of tornadoes, air raids, nuclear Armageddon and Hollywood disasters. harder now, rushing alongside her ears as she pedals faster, navigating through the darkness by headlamp to find the private road that leads to her sister as the sounds of apocalypse reverberate through the canyon. It begins to rain, water splashing across her face in wet smacks as the sirens plateau and warble and undulate in the echoing darkness. She rode on.

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Submissions have closed.

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

:siren:TD414 Judgement:siren:

I had opened my heart to sound this week, daring to hope for a cacophonous blaring of prose trumpets, but for a week focused on sound it was awfully silent, and not particularly deadly. As a quick reminder, the extremely short and adequately clear prompt requested a single scene in which sound was integral (which I would interpret as “more than just set dressing, forming the focal point or backbone of the scene”) and described in ways that were evocative, interesting, and stylish. A surprising number of entrants went with primarily visual descriptors stretched out over multiple scenes, which was certainly a choice. Very few utilised sound in a way that could be described as integral to their scene.

But before we get to the rankings, let us blow raspberries at the failures: sebmojo and BurningBeard both had the audacity to ask me to spend at least fifteen seconds hitting the “random sound” button on, and rewarded my labours with crickets. I’m sure the fine folks at freesound would appreciate being the recipients of your donation toxxes:

At the low end of this week, bonus points awarded for actually describing sound were not enough to save kiyoshimon’s buzzer beater entry, [Untitled]. Good job getting your submission in, but I’m afraid you’re the loser of the week.

Some spirited judgechat swirled around the murky bottom, but in the end we settled on AlmightyDerelict’s mouthful Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and… to be singled out for a Dishonorable Mention. Special demerits were awarded for failing to fulfil the promise of the Chekhov greatsword, and a much-ballyhooed unspeakable tale of woe that boiled down to a cabin burning down and a horse getting spooked.

Like skin on cooling soup, a few stories rose higher than others. Sea to Sea by Sitting Here earns an Honorable Mention, largely on account of the sheer audacity of building a metaphor for the sound of the ocean on string cheese. Another Prick in the Hall by Ironic Twist also HMs, not only for its lavish office furniture erotica but also because sound was integral to the story, which, again, not to harp on it, but that was really the one thing I asked for.

Our winner this week, though, is sparksbloom. Scourge Them With Roses is economical with its words but deep in its development of character, propelled by an elegant interweaving of sound throughout. Congratulations, and ascend to the throne!

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Week 414: In From the Field and Through the Bad Words We Go

This week, most people injected 1-2 minor descriptions of sound in their story, some of them possibly by accident. Strangely, in a week that asked specifically for “evocative, interesting, and stylish depictions of aural experience,” this was largely avoided by almost all of the stories. Judges were left baffled by this avoidance.

Another thing I noticed was stories/scenes that felt very formulaic. This led to a sort of mediocre mulch of stories. A lot of them had extremely bland characters in a fairly generic setting that tried to end with an emotional moment—but the ending was inevitably undermined by the weak characters.

One More
Summary: Woman wakes from cryosleep as they land on a planet. They are, apparently, trying to find a habitable planet, but have to land to check it out first for some reason. Yay, this is it. An aside: here’s your story in video game form.
What Sounds On: This story is about delivering emotional catharsis: relief, after so much tension, worry, and failure. The structure helps successfully do this. The story also has a good sense of visuals and place. It conveys the setting and genre quickly and easily. The reader is never lost.
What Sounds Off: The emotional resonance of the story needs work. The story starts very slow, and the characters (the protagonist and Damien, though I don’t even know I can count the latter) are blank slates; we don’t get a sense of who they are. I would guess that you could strengthen the landing of the ending by strengthening at least one character so the reader feels for them. Details like “Good Luck>>>23rd Times a charm” clue the reader in on what must have been a harrowing journey, but it’s only alluded to, not shown or felt. Details like her slowly waking up could be cut, details like what the interior of the ship looks like could be paired with the protagonist’s emotional reaction to the sight. The prompt also was looking for an emphasis on sound, but until the end, you mostly focused on visuals.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5.5

Echoing Questions
Summary: A woman who has endured torture needs to escape her mind-cave to reunite with her love.
What Sounds On: The opening descriptions contrast a water droplet with a tsunami. While ‘eradicating a coastal village’ could be cut from that, the contrast does inform the reader the cave is not real. It’s also pretty clear to anyone who has heard of water torture that Xiaolin has experienced it and is trying to resist it. You certainly find a way to make a sound central to your story and play with that sound.
What Sounds Off: After awhile, the story is somewhat muddled; too much abstraction is going on in the walls of the mind-cave. The metaphorical parallels that were so informative at the beginning of the story tell us less and less as the story progresses. More importantly, there’s an opportunity cost: We don’t get to learn anything about the setting, the circumstances, why (beyond love and vaguely that he’s a leader) Zheng is so important, the time period—so the impact the ending is going for doesn’t land as hard as it could. Perhaps we need to see concrete moments through brief flashbacks of Xiaolin’s memories showing us why Zheng is so great. Finally, despite living in Xiaolin’s mind for a bit, we still know little about her.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5

A kinda weird thing that happened while I was on a backtracking trip in Israel
Summary: An American Muslim hiking in Israel (woah, brave) finds Israeli construction workers bulldozing an empty Palestinian village. Before they smash the mosque, he has a quick pray.
What Sounds On: As much as the all-caps dialogue annoys me, I will admit it conveys the noise of the story well. The resolution is… a nice little thing. Obviously it’s this sort of insufficient little gesture, but it’s the protagonist taking an action.
What Sounds Off: The double spacing. Come on! Aside from that, I expected some tension and conflict around the protagonist praying at the mosque. How do the construction workers (almost certainly Jewish) react? I was surprised there wasn’t much conflict over this, knowing the history of the region. His action might be more meaningful if he had to do something brave to accomplish it, or it felt like he was putting himself at risk. The protagonist is also too blank a character. We know his faith, we know it came from his parents, but we don’t really know anything about his history, specific cultural background, or how those things affect his emotions. The story as it is now is a light breeze that passes easily and quickly. Given the heaviness of the subject matter the story tackles, that feels like an injustice toward it.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4

the axe forgets
Summary: A space janitor cleans his dead friend off a warp engine after corporate made an ‘oopsie.’
What Sounds On: The setting is made clear quickly: the corporate dystopia and disconnected leadership is made clear through the italics. There’s some strong visuals near the end: “I have to believe that his eyes, his gasps, his tear stained cheeks, are nothing more than a continued biological response from a man long dead.” is your best line, getting at the willed cognitive dissonance of the narrator trying to navigate this traumatic experience.
What Sounds Off: The teeth thing. Immediately, I stop and look at the story sideways, going, what? There’s a lot of words dedicated to this, but it’s so strange it does more to take me out of the story than it does to emphasize the theme of body horror I see the piece going for. We don’t know much about the narrator or Jimmy; strengthening their characters through some method would help build the emotional strength of the story. Speaking of places where the emotions could be ramped up, that hammer moment would be a perfect place to inject some really disturbing sound descriptions. Which are missing, by the way. There were a lot of great opportunities for sound stuff to make it in here!
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4

Excerpt from the serialised adventures 'Fortune in the Mind's Eye'
Summary: Two pulp adventurers explore a physical mindscape looking for brain-treasure. One betrays the other in a mindshattering cliffhanger. Get it? Mind-shattering? Because he exploded the… right, right.
What Sounds On: The idea of random people having their brains explode into mindscapes is cool. Is that what the old game Psychonauts is about? It does read like a silly serial, given ridiculous characters, random betrayals, and a cliffhanger.
What Sounds Off: “upholstering his rifle” nice. The action blocking, short as it is, needs some work: “he attempted to lunge around the thing – and succeeded, darting between its trunk-like legs.”—you throw the reader into disarray by describing a lunge to the side, but then having him actually go forward, between the legs. Sloppy. I also have a hard time buying that Jude rigs this whole cave with explosives in the middle of a conversation that he is also a part of that wasn’t particularly long. Again (seems to be a theme this week) we see a story without much in telling us who the characters are, not much developing them, and certainly no growth. I also see very little in terms of soundscapes. The end block is the only place where sound descriptions stood out. Things like the protagonist seeing a weird orb he’s literally never seen anything like and instantly knowing what it is is silly. The premise is neat, but the story itself is very uninteresting.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3.5

Summary: A mom makes a pair of special shorts for her son and they’re happy. Tomorrow, he will get made fun of for wearing them and they’ll both be sad.
What Sounds On: This story is mostly about capturing an emotional moment between a mom and son, and a little bit about how small moments can lead to big effects (e.g. associating colors with being a girl). The opening line has a good sound to it, the last line has a recognizable sound to it.
What Sounds Off: This week has a pattern of stories all sort of doing something similar. Yours falls into that same-y-ness: Your characters are ambiguous, vague beings. We know little about them. You paint a scene well enough, then aim for an emotional moment at the end. The embrace is fine, but without knowing these characters more, or perhaps their struggles, it isn’t as impactful as it could be. You allude to wasting money (though if they have a garage and a sewing room then their financial woes can’t be too bad), but that could be part of a conflict. In the end though, there’s no dialogue, little character, and an unresolved conflict (the son still feels bad about certain colors) so the story/scene’s landing is weak .
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4.5

The world does not care about us
Summary: An enslaved man escapes a slave ship that wrecks in a storm on an anachronistic lifeboat. The woman on board gives up hope, the man does not.
What Sounds On: This piece gives us a brief foryay into a scene. The conflict—adrift at sea—is quickly established, though it’s more about if there is hope left than finding a safe port.
What Sounds Off: Small details stand out. “Lifeboats” feel out of place on a slave ship. One is not going to hear voices at a distance in a storm at sea. Referring to the baby as “it.” Sharks circling the boat in the open ocean feels cheesy (‘dark figures’ technically, but they’re totally sharks). Describing a seagull. We don’t need a seagull described to us. Again (because it seems like all the stories did this this week), we know so little about these characters its hard to connect with them. “Fisherman” and “from Mozambique” is just not enough to make the reader feel them. I read the line “the world does not care about us,” and wonder where it comes from. What made this woman give up hope, specifically? We need details. Small histories. The story feels generic. There’s also not a lot about sound in this week about sound.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5

Scourge Them With Roses
Summary: Two people go for a bike ride.
What Sounds On: Not a lot happens in this scene, but it feels like Michaela grows as a person, and that this is one step in something she has been working hard to do. The two characters feel a lot more complete and real than most of what I’ve read this week. Tiny flashbacks that relate to the present like “They were friends now, but his sweaty scent reminded her of humid evenings in bed, staying up too late” are solid and doing double-duty. There’s hints of characters having complex feelings over the past/present relation: “Ivan smiled without teeth.” The scene is functional.
What Sounds Off: Well, you’ve got your magpie noises, but what else? There’s a few details of your soundscape, but over and over you’ve just repeated that the magpies are squawking. Things like “as Ivan cut through the rattling wind on his bike” are good, and we need more of stuff like that. Last, while the scene is functional, it chooses a moment that is nice, but not very impactful. There’s a lack of plot, and only a reference to a larger conflict. (Obviously there’s only so much one can do in a single short moment).
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 6.5

Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and...
Summary: Two-and-a-half knights play cards, yell a bit, then one gets gotten by the devils he was talking about.
What Sounds On: You get your mood-details in, from creepy creaking noises to wind howling to candles blowing out. All classic stuff.
What Sounds Off: I get annoyed at royal flushes in fiction. The odds are worse than 1 in 600,000, so I assume Duncan is cheating, but there’s really no indication of that (or purpose for the card game at all, really). The narrator is very much a non-character in the story. There’s also a sort of saccharine coincidence to going straight from a spooky story to oh no the spooky thing is right here! So perhaps the story causes it, but the creaky-gate sound occurs before the story and the goats all seem to have planned it out ahead of time, so the textual evidence doesn’t support that, even if your title wants it to. The characters need work. Duncan is the young wanna-be knight, Gregor the grizzled veteran, but there’s not a lot beyond that. Finally, the piece is going for horror, and so more of it needs to be dedicated to a building creepiness and scary moments. Gregor’s tale is pretty dull; the goats standing in a circle is better. Also, you have Chekov’s Greatsword, but then Duncan, man with the sword who wants to be a knight that fights demons, just runs off when confronted with standing goats.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3.5

Summary: A boy on an coming-of-age quest picks a peck of poisonous puffer, relaxes, makes weird noises, then gets handed his spirit-mcguffin.
What Sounds On: The initial conflict is established well; Ilje needs to complete a quest but gets a venom shot (poison is injested) complicating his task. The plot is neatly wrapped up through the actions of the protagonist (though more on that below). The scene embraces the prompt with its focus on sound.
What Sounds Off: Onomatopoeia (plrrr fooom foom) is probably not (zzt zzt) the way to go here. The story attempts a challenge of conveying music through the written word, and that’s really hard, and I don’t think it succeeds. A large part of the story is dedicated to him needing to meditate his way through a venomous sting and then compose music. This, apparently, attracts the water spirit he needs to touch to succeed, but it doesn’t feel earned. The character is rather blank. We know what he wants, but not much else about him. We don’t know anything about the secondary characters (Mystic Treeja, Kayja). We don’t even know anything about the plot-critical water spirit, the nature of which would be relevant to discuss since it might foreshadow the resolution.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 4

Another Prick in the Hall
Summary: A front desk attendant, annoyed at her job as a help-desk resource for Orpheus-analogues, at last loses her precious headphones and decides to escape the underworld.
What Sounds On: The story conveys wry amusement at a Percy Jackson-esque modernization of a combination labyrinth-underworld. It evokes mythological Greece and modern corporate alienation. The character Holm makes a decision, at the end, that changes her circumstance, showing small growth. There’s dialogue and action that characterizes, a conflict, and—a strange rarity—sound. And the sound is crucial to the plot and characters, and a consistent thread as well. Nice work on incorporating all the elements you did.
What Sounds Off: The humor didn’t quite land for me, and the ending felt vague and not fully realized. Part of this is, I think, that Holm doesn't quite let us see enough of her character through the wall she's put up. I didn’t feel much or understand Bruno all that well.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 5

Sea to Sea
Summary: A woman wants to become water, so she sneaks out to the ocean and does water/sound magic to please the ocean goddess and then maybe dies or becomes water it’s hard to say.
What Sounds On: Your descriptions are original, I’ll give you that. You play with sound and create weird ideas as Morgan constructs her water-sound-string-cheese cathedral. There’s some lines I really like: “The slitted eye of the ocean-mother is passing over the world.” “The braided pillar of water heaves itself skyward, kicking up a cold, wet wind that crackles against Morgan’s eardrums.” You have a character with a desire that they must struggle to get.
What Sounds Off: This starts weird, but then it starts describing waves as like string cheese and you’ve lost me. The story is difficult to penetrate. That is to say, I have no idea what the gently caress is going on once she’s hopped the fence and is in the ocean. We go from fishy dumpsters to aquatic morphemes. I don’t know the nature of Tiamat, how this water-sound magic she uses works, why there’s red sirens blaring, and last, what happens at the end. There’s a reason Morgan must want to reject her body and become water, but the character is not fully understandable by the reader, as we still know so little about her. I wanted to know more about Tiamat and her slitted eye gazing over the world and the character, but learning about neither, the story left me annoyed and confused. It just really isn’t my jam.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 3

Summary: Drama erupts on the USS Bad Decisions. No, that’s too flippant. Okay: Martins recruits a bunch of college students for a trip so that he can have sex with most of them. The only other sailor, Geoff, gets made about [something] and fights Martins, who falls overboard. Li and Geoff jump in after. The latter two go missing, while Martins goes insane/delirious because his arm broke or something, leaving the college students to run the boat. Only the protagonist actually tries though.
What Sounds On: Marins comes off as a pretentious sleezebag fast enough. There’s a plot, and more alluded to.
What Sounds Off: You’ll notice the summary here is longer than every other summary this week. That’s because you’ve tried to cram 7 episodes of this soap opera into 3 scenes pretending to be 1 scene (because the prompt asked for 1 scene). Because so much is crammed in, we miss critical things, like who the characters are, what they want, what the conflicts actually are (such as between Marins and Geoff). At a certain point, the story just stops with the dialogue altogether and summarizes these long scenes of search and rescue, comfort, and problem solving (violating the prompt restrictions). The summaries are extremely short and generic (“We went out in that boat at least a dozen more times”). Lines like “No wonder sailors are superstitious, even now propitiate Poseidon or Neptune when the stars demand."” annoy me. Just pick one sea god; no need to reference both Roman and Greek versions. Neither is associated with the stars, either. “I was already pregnant, with Alexandra, already knew it somehow on a biological level, just below consciousness.”—weird line. Marins getting a dunk and breaking his arm shouldn’t lead to babbling madness, but there’s no textual evidence for a supernatural event, so it’s just conveniently coincidental. Finally, there’s not much in the way of sound here in this week about sound.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 2.5

Summary: A woman cycles through a post-apocalyptic landscape while noises occur.
What Sounds On: You describe a spooky siren chorus. This focus on sound technically fulfils at least one prompt criteria.
What Sounds Off: You forgot a title. And a word count. And jammed everything into a single paragraph. And decided against having a character with any development. Or a plot. Or consistent tense. Given the proximity to the deadline, this reads like a low-effort attempt to not fail, so I’m not going to spend a bunch of effort critting it. I would guess the primary thing you could work on for your next entry is planning ahead so you have enough time to create something worth reading.
Largely Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 1

Apr 30, 2006
Week 415: Killing Monsters With The Power of Love

I really like the American literary magazine The Sun. (This is not the British tabloid.) The Sun has this kind of hippie aesthetic – they usually have a long-form interview with an activist or someone involved in social change, there’s essays and fiction that are sincere, down-to-earth, and emotionally rich, but my favorite section is Readers Write. The magazine readers will respond to the week’s theme (like “Smoking,” or “Boyfriends & Girlfriends”) with a vignette, just a couple of paragraphs. They vary in tone. Sometimes they’re treacly, sometimes they’re striking, evocative, and human. As an example, here’s the section from the most recent issue.

When you sign up this week, I’ll assign you a Reader’s Write section from one of the magazine’s issues. You’ll read the vignettes from that column and find one that appeals to you, ideally on an emotional level, and you’ll use that as inspiration for a story about slaying monsters.

Monsters can be literal or metaphorical, whatever works for your interests and writing style, but the main thing I’m looking for this week is use of emotion. I want you to take your monster-slaying story right to the edge of “too much emotion” and stop just short of saccharine.

Although the prompt uses vignettes as inspiration, I’m not looking for you to write one of your own – beginnings, middles, and ends are good here.

Word Limit: 1800
Sign-Ups Due: Friday, July 17, 11:59 PM EST
Submissions Due: Monday, July 20, 7:30 AM EST
Additional Rules: No erotica, no essays

Judge: sparksbloom

Monster hunters:

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
in, absolutely

Apr 12, 2006

Apr 30, 2006

Ironic Twist posted:

in, absolutely

"Lessons," 2004

"Right and Wrong," 2014

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Put it all together.
Solve the world.
One conversation at a time.

K in

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

:siren:TD414 Crits:siren:

Mocking Quantum - One More
This will become a theme with the crits to follow, but the single directive for the prompt this week was to write a single scene where sound was integral to the progression of that scene, with emphasis on the evocative, interesting, and stylish depiction of aural experience. While sound does eventually feature in this story, it’s not until the last scene (note that there are several scenes here). That last scene is quite nicely done; adjectives like “skirling” and “swaddling” are good and interesting choices, the latter being especially unusual and evocative of the relief the protagonist feels upon finally finding a habitable world. But because the entirety of the story up until that point is establishing a kind of desperate and cold sci-fi world, it feels a bit mundane to have the doors open at the end and have it just be frogs -- setting aside the biological implausibility of the parallel evolution of amphibian life on a wholly separate alien world, it feels like a lot of effort spent building up to a relatively pedestrian punchline. I think the issue here is probably feeling compelled to hew too closely to the provided sound; I think that the story would work better if a somewhat less literal approach were taken to interpreting the nature of the frog sound. Still, not bad at all.

Simply Simon - Echoing Questions
The narrative construct of representing Xiaolin’s mind as a cavern is an interesting touch, and I like the way the use of repetition evokes the echoing of the original sound sample. There’s always a danger, though, when fiction is staged within the imagination of a character; fiction is already an exercise in shared imagination between author and reader, and when the author is asking the reader to imagine the imagination of an imagined character, it starts to get up-its-own-butt Inception-style awfully quickly. It would have been rather simpler, I think, to set this same scene during the interrogation of Xiaolin, which would have given you more word-count to get into the sonic space of the real scene, as opposed to focusing on abstract representations in an imagined scene. I’d also suggest that the characterization here doesn’t have a lot of flavour; it’s a pretty standard (and rather dinosaurian in TYOOL 2020) damsel-in-distress setup where a tortured lady refuses to give up the goods on her rebel beau, buoyed by the power of her love. It felt a little bland to me; some extra spices would help give the mix some zazz.

Saucy_Rodent - A kinda weird thing that happened while I was on a backtracking trip in Israel
This felt tonally all over the joint to me. The basic plotline is that an American tourist of Arabic descent manages to wander nonchalantly onto the active demolition site where Israeli construction workers are demolishing an Arabic village that was abandoned, as it’s implied, for fear of violence. This tourist then manages to get the workers to stop briefly so that he can pray one last time in the still-standing mosque. That’s some pretty heavy and hot-button subject material, and one of the reasons why it’s dangerous territory for a two-page story is that there’s an immense amount of background cultural complexity that is actively resistant to simple distillations. And you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this, but the idea that an Israeli demolition crew is going to call some Arab-looking tourist “bro” and be totally cool with stopping work so that this guy can go pray in the mosque for a second feels almost comically off-base. I don’t really see how the characterizations or dialogue would change if, instead, the story was about a guy who decided to stop in at one of “the little country churches you see driving across America” that was about to be demolished -- and that feels like a somewhat insensitive construct to transplant into modern Israel. I’ll also note that setting a story in a place like Israel gives ample opportunity to work with descriptions of sound, but sound was not at all the focal point of the story here.

Tyrannosaurus - the axe forgets
I love me some good body horror, and I always have time for some Alien-style stickin’ it to the man, but this one didn’t hit the mark for me. The cuts back and forth between the Zuckerberg-testimony and the warp-mutated Working Joe reduced to barfing up teeth were a little on the nose, even by the standards of the genre -- that said, the corporate contrition was almost uncomfortably pitch perfect. Where I get sad here is that this is a week where sound is the thing. You’ve got a splattered mess of somehow still conscious human goop being literally ground under the unyielding piston of capitalism and doomed to cough up radioactive teeth: the sonic opportunities here are, to understate things wildly, ample. It just feels like a bit of missed potential.

crimea - Excerpt from the serialised adventures 'Fortune in the Mind's Eye'
There’s some fun pulp work here, and I do like the idea of human brains exploding into gnarly mucosal labyrinths stuffed with Lego bricks; it does feel, however, that the attempt to cram an entire story, complete with reversals of fortune and inevitable betrayal, into the limited word count left you with little room to expand the descriptions. Most of the descriptive work here is visual, with the primary sonic backdrop being the description of the Zone’s breathing. I’d be inclined to slow things down a little and give the narrative a little more room to breathe; as it is, it’s a bit of a chaotic sugar rush. Also, watch out for some odd turns of phrase -- things like “Jude laughed humorlessly” are a bit of an oof, and I don’t think you actually meant for Jude to “upholster” his rifle during their mission.

steeltoedsneakers - Threads
The opening here was great, but I don’t think it really fed into the tone of the story all that well -- you’ve got this wild chaos that sets up a promise of a dynamic and full-blooded scene, but I feel like it’s let down by the relatively mundane nature of the story being told, which is a fairly quiet yarn about some magenta shorts. So, there are some really quite good flourishes here, but they’re not balanced by the structure of the story they inhabit -- the effect is kind of like when character actors emote way too hard in a movie, except here it’s a sewing machine. Still, there’s some good sound work here, and I think that it could have worked very well in a more red-blooded kind of story.

Hawklad - The world does not care about us
This is another story where the subject material is extremely heavy, and the story that is woven through it feels too slight to carry it. You’ve got these characters who’ve, as you tell us, suffered unimaginable trauma and terror for months, and through further disaster have somehow found themselves alive, but in a highly precarious situation. This is really, really heavy stuff, and the way the story builds and ends on a note that broadcasts as triumphant (because Zakide manages to catch a bit of wind in a hand-held sail on a life-boat in the middle of the ocean) doesn’t feel like it’s treating the trauma that these characters have been through with sufficient respect. The realist details that are woven throughout don’t match with the almost cartoonish flavor of the plot progression. Those issues aside, with specific regard to the use of sound -- it’s generally fine, but not what I’d call integral. The sound work adds adequate flavor to the scenes where used, it’s set dressing rather than a primary driver.

sparksbloom - Scourge Them With Roses
I thought this piece was quite good -- it had the strongest character development of the week, and the allusions to the larger story surrounding the scene were, I thought, quite tastefully done. I didn’t initially have it marked as a winner, though, largely on account of the fact that while there is plenty of sound going on in the scene, the sound isn’t the primary driver here. The external threat presented by the magpies, true, is what helps Michaela reframe her perspective, but it’s more about being physically attacked by the birds rather than something explicitly tied to the sound of their calls. It’s a good story, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly solid exemplar of the narrative power of sound. I’m also not quite sure what an affirmative skid of bike tires is -- I at least flicked through some sub-definitions of affirmative looking for clues but didn’t come up with much. Anyway, it’s a good story and a deserving winner, but I’d say there are some further opportunities to explore the sonic spaces presented in here.

AlmightyDerelict - Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and...
There’s potential here but it’s pretty rough -- you’ve the bones of a decent fantasy horror story, but there are a lot of issues. Personally, I think the use of present tense gives it a kind of casual feel that doesn’t fit as well as a past tense would, and using past tense would also let you explore the space of memory a little more effectively. As a sound exercise, sound is the instigator for why Gregor goes outside, and it contributes some decent flavor but falls short of driving the narrative. But the primary reason why this story landed shorter of the mark than others this week was a matter of construction; there’s a build-up towards the reveal of the demon at the end of the scene, and the circle of goats with their hoofs intertwined is pretty cool, but then our valiant knights-to-be just… run away? There was foreshadowing with Gregor’s sword, and with the poker game, and Gregor’s story (which didn’t really feel as terrifying as Gregor was selling it to be), but none of it felt like it paid off. This comes down to what people mean when they talk about the importance of keeping your story promises -- every story makes some kind of promise to its reader in the way that it opens, and the art of writing a satisfying story is making sure that you keep those promises.

a friendly penguin - Laugh
There’s a lot of sound in here, and it’s clearly an important part of the story with regard to how Ilje survives, but there’s an overreliance on onomatopoeia that doesn’t end up working particularly well. There are only so many sounds that are amenable to being sounded out with syllables in the mind, and unfortunately most of the sounds you’re trying to convey here are not among them. I’m not sure if that was the idea behind Ilje thinking about recreating noises with his synthesizer; that part was an interesting juxtaposition between the worlds of water spirits and music technology, and I think that if you had leaned harder into that idea this would have been more successful. The coming-of-age trial that instead formed the focus of the story felt a bit well-worn, but I would have loved to read a scene about some kid plugging a water spirit into his modular synthesizer.

Ironic Twist - Another Prick in the Hall
I liked this one a lot, the balance between funny and cruel was very nicely done, and it’s got a killer opening line. The description of the murder maze reconfiguring itself and sounding like an orgy of angry filing cabinets in the process was both exactly the sort of thing I was looking for prompt-wise, and funny to boot. I also liked the bleak humor behind the idea that Holm was fine with being forced to work reception at the murder maze, funnelling would-be wishers to their gruesome deaths at the hands of Bruno, but that the headphones breaking was the last straw that made this whole gig untenable. On the less-good side, the memory game stuff took up a fair bit of the story space, and I didn’t feel like the payoff for that was particularly strong -- presumably it indicates that Holm has a good memory, and therefore is in good shape to escape the maze? But still: sound was actually integral to this story, and I am extremely grateful for that.

sitting here - Sea to Sea
This is characteristically earthy and rich work from you, sh, but I also think this wasn’t much of a stretch for you -- like, there’s maybe a few unusual spices in the fondue, but the curds are all classic magic-girl-makes-a-pact-with-the-moon-and-becomes-the-ocean. It’s good, but it’s more like a dependable Monterey Jack than a funky Stilton or a creamy burrata. Still, if there’s one thing that I will take away from this week, I will never again hear the ocean and not think of string cheese, and what a marvelous gift that is.

Thranguy - Turbulence
I thought the premise here was interesting, with a creepy and pompous academic taking his harem of students (“classmates” seems to imply undergraduates, so maybe this is a study-abroad program gone creepily wrong?) on a border run to Cuba, but I got bogged down in all the action and ended up being mostly confused about it all. I wasn’t sure why Geoff was angry with Martins, or why Li was threatening to jump ship, or what exactly the relationship was between Martins and the other students, or how Martins managed to survive with a broken arm in the ocean, etc etc. Sound-wise, I didn’t feel like this one really made much of a go at the prompt; the descriptions of sound are good, but they’re not propelling the story forward.

kiyoshimon - [Untitled]
This feels like a pretty low-effort scribble to get under the deadline, and to its credit it actually does feature sound quite extensively -- I’m not entirely sure what any of it has to do with the protagonist and her bicycle, though.


Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica

Jun 14, 2020



Jan 20, 2012


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