You know what, I'll do it. In and just a flash, please!
Core desire: to acquire.
|# ? Sep 11, 2020 21:49|
|# ? Oct 4, 2022 16:31|
Entrants, in order to bring you the fast and good judging you all crave the judges have decided to close submissions earlier. You will now have until 11:59 pm on Sunday, September 13 Eastern time. Not Pacific.
If you submit your story after that but still before the original deadline you will receive a full crit from at least me, but you will likely not be included in judging.
Don't like it? Fight me.
|# ? Sep 12, 2020 09:51|
Flash: Seed Sender, Desire to Aquire
Violet rubbed a seed in the shape of half a yin-yang orb. The fuzzy outside tickled her index finger, the smooth inside hugged her thumb. It was pleasantly cool, like she was giving some of the warmth of her hand, some of the curiosity in her soul to the seed.
“I told you to throw those away!” Her father’s yell cut through her reverie. “These tiny hairs might be full of poison!”
He snatched the envelope with the other seeds off the kitchen table.
“We don’t touch things sent by strangers! They can send diseases by letter –”
He grabbed Violet by the shoulders, a little too hard. “If you feel anything, tell me right away, okay? Now out with them!”
Only looking at the floor on the way, Violet walked to the sink and threw the seeds she had cradled in the palm of her hand into the shredder.
“Can I go play in the garden, daddy?”
He nodded curtly. “But stay in view of the porch, okay?”
She ran without replying. In the prison of their suburban front yard, there was but a single bush. She crouched in front of it, and remembered years of animals unpetted, morsels untasted. And now, seeds unplanted. All in the name of caution.
“Violet! You’re going to soil your dress!”
She wanted to shout, but knew that daddy just meant too well. So she just silently slammed her hand in the ground. And buried the seed that had hugged her thumb the entire time. Shared with it some of her warmth and unfulfilled dreams.
Weeks later, with a little more hope poured into every sip of water Violet snuck from inside, hidden behind carefully arranged leaves, a flower had bloomed. It was the color of a star, with a center darker and emptier than space, and when she touched it, she felt herself imbue it with more of herself, and sharing her feelings just made them stronger. Violet imagined that the flower smelled a little differently after receiving her gift.
Somewhere an ocean away, an old man perked up, clad in soil and stooped under a green thumb’s lifelong pressure. He shuffled over to a starburst flower, an exact twin of Violet’s, grown from a seed that was the yang to her seed’s ying. It stood in a field full of identical blossoms, but the smell led him like a guide dog: a vanilla base with hints of cinnamon, and also a precious overtone, the perfect extra note he needed, of marzipan and bitter almonds. Violet’s addition.
He cradled the flower in his hands like craggy soil, and with one quick scoop, removed it from its bed. Soon, in its own pot, it radiated its special scent into a glass dome that sheltered and confined it. Across from it, the old man sat on a woven chair and waited. For such a subtle overtone, he estimated at least a full day until the plant had produced enough aroma molecules. Until then, the flower linked to this one had to stay safe.
Back across the ocean, Violet was still enthralled by her achievement, grown from the one seed she had rescued from the teeth of her father’s shredder. She lost herself in the scent she’d caused.
“What are you doing under that bush? Do you want to catch a tick?”
Violet startled, almost fell on the flower, toppled in the other direction and landed in some dirt.
“Now look what you’ve done! The dress –”
Her father had spotted the flower.
“Where did this one come from?”
Violet had gotten up, and pretended to be busy with brushing dirt off her clothes. Sadly, her father knew all her tactics to avoid admitting guilt.
“Is that from those seeds?”
She could not answer, but that was all he needed.
“You will go to your room, and I will get rid of this. Have you touched it?”
“Daddy, no! This is my flower!”
“Do you know what kind it is? Do you know if it’s poisonous? What if a dog eats it and dies?”
Violet tried to be stoic like so often before. But she lost the battle against herself, and screamed and cried and tears flowed undamed.
“Yes, that would be terrible, wouldn’t it?” But the sight of a bawling nine-year-old made him relent – a little – and he softened his features. “Listen, we cannot risk it. I just don’t want you to get hurt, okay? You’re not grounded or anything, but please wash your hands. We’ll talk about this later.”
“Don’t kill it,” Violet whispered hoarsely, but his face hardened again. She turned and ran, away from her doomed flower and its executor.
Across the ocean, the old man fidgeted on his chair. Even through the glass, he felt the distress of the flower’s twin.
Violet’s father bent down, looming over the flower like a lion over cornered prey. He reached out to grab it – and his fingertips brushed the black center. Something resonated with him. He started – to smell it.
He thought of making Christmas cookies with his daughter and his wife, so many years ago, of long car rides on a family trip when Violet opened a tin of treats. All the scents she caused.
He withdrew his hand. Went into the garden shed, emerged with a flowerpot, and carefully unearthed his daughter’s prize. He carried it into the house to reunite the two.
The old man left out a long-held breath.
The next day, he attached a tube to the top of the dome. Guided through a complex series of devices, the scent from the dome was concentrated, filtered and distilled. On the other end, a few drops emerged which the man caught skillfully in a crystal bottle.
He labelled it with two characters meaning Innocent Pride and put the bottle on a shelf with others, which were marked as Joy of Beauty, Serendipitous Discovery, and many other feelings his plants had harvested all over the world.
|# ? Sep 13, 2020 21:23|
Love and Bullshit
Seed Sender. Desire to Bond.
Charlotte St. James’s house resembled a fairytale castle in that it was completely overgrown. The patio was a bramble, the kudzu on the walls devouring the façade of the house and the front flower beds. The calla lilies in their raised planters were all that remained, the pink trumpets the jewels in the garden’s tarnished crown.
In the late afternoon of one sweltering Georgia summer, Charlotte threw herself down on the patio sofa with a half-hearted wail. Not her raining-wail or her out-of-cheesecake wail; this wail demanded respect, attention, and most of all, sympathy. Cute on a child, it was markedly less so on an old woman.
Her confidante Arthur sighed and looked up from his martini. Ever since their husbands had died, Arthur and Edith had taken to spending their Saturday afternoons together, drowning in pity and gin.
“Yes, really!” she said in a snit.
“What is it this time?”
She wiped her eyes and handed him a letter.
Arthur set his newspaper aside and peered at the letter. On light pink card stock, it read:
While I know you don’t approve of my job, my spouse or my state, I was hoping you could at least approve of your granddaughter. Her name is Abigail English Devaux and she was born last week. I want her to have some semblance of her Southern heritage. If you would do the honor of sending us the seeds of some of your prizewinning calla lillies, I would at least have her know you in this way.
Very Truly Yours,
Jenna St. James Devaux
Tucked into the letter was a picture of a beautiful olive-skinned baby, swaddled in an orange fleece blanket, held by two parents of distinctly different colors.
“Can you believe it?” Charlotte wailed.
Arthur smiled. “That she had a beautiful baby girl? Congratulations! This calls for another martini,” he said, pouring himself a glass.
“That after all she’s done, she’s selfish enough to ask for one of my flowers.”
“Charlotte,” he sighed, “if you had the sense that God gave a goose, you’d realize she’s got so drat much of you in her that you’re never going to get along. She wants you to know this child and love this child and both of you have got too much drat pride to say you’re sorry.”
“Not until she apologizes for marrying that man and leaving Georgia,” she said. “The only thing that loves me the way I love them are those calla lilies and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them to someone who won’t be grateful for them. The girl’s got a brown thumb anyway. Everything she touches turns to poo poo.”
She walked over to one of the raised planter beds on the upstairs veranda. When the children were younger, the whole garden had bloomed. But after her husband died and the children burned their bridges, Charlotte spent more time on the couch, drinking and letting the kudzu slowly devour her house.
“You just can’t help some things. She can’t help who she loves just like I can’t.”
“Albert, my Father may have died without a pot to piss in but the one thing he left me was his pride. And if she wants these seeds so much, I’ll send her the seeds she deserves. Weeds. Just like what she filled our family tree with.” She reached over to one of the kudzu vines on the walls and plucked several of the long purple flowers.
“She doesn’t know a calla lilly from a venus fly trap,” Charlotte said. “She’s gonna get a little piece of the south here and she’ll get to feel what I feel,” she said. “Like she’s being strangled.”
Albert took a sip of his martini and laughed, a glint in his eye. “You know she ain’t gonna plant those seeds. She’s your daughter, she knows what a calla lilly looks like. And no drat part of it is purple. She’s just going to see it for the middle finger it is.”
Charlotte sighed. “I just wish there was a way to show her how I really feel.”
“There’s only one way to do that, Charlotte.”
“They’re not gonna let me send poo poo in the mail, Arthur.”
He laughed again. “You gotta send her the calla lilies.”
“How in the hell is that going to fix anything? She’s going to get one up on her mother and stick her nose straight up in the air.”
Arthur sighed and placed his hand on Edith’s wrist before looking her in the eyes.
“I knew your daddy and he died the way he lived: alone and sad. And I’ll be damned if that’s the way I see you go.” His eyes flicked to his martini and the pack of cigarettes on the table. “I’m doing my best to beat you there, though.”
Charlotte sighed. “I think you’re the only one who ever really loved me.”
“I’m the only one that puts up with your bullshit, Charlotte. Love and bullshit are two completely separate things.”
Her shoulders slumped as she sat down on the edge one of the planter beds. “Do you think I can see my grandbaby if I send her these flowers?”
Arthur shrugged, got out of his patio chair and sat down beside her.
“I don’t think just the calla lilies will do it. You got a lot of crow to eat and a lot of fences to mend. But it’s a first step.”
She dried her eyes and plucked a few of the seeds from the calla lilies next to her. “Let no one say I didn’t try. Now get some gloves on. If you’re going to drink my gin, you’re going to work in my garden. We got a lot of stuff to clear away.”
Arthur poured the rest of his martini out before joining Edith in the dirt, doing his best to help her rip out the weeds that wormed their way through the foundation.
|# ? Sep 13, 2020 21:23|
this is just judge buttering of course
Crit for a friendly penguin – Safeguard
This is an overall excellent story that imo deserved the accolades. You’re doing a lot of things very well, especially some that are just excellently subtle. For example, I like Rimau’s snippet of dialogue that makes it abundantly clear what they think of the Bomoh’s dismissive attitude towards spiritual issues. Also, I think it’s very well done how long it is not revealed what exactly the villagers find so disdainful about Suria. The reveal is also quite tasteful for what it is.
At the end of the first part, I do have some complaints. Occasionally, you try to do too much with your sentences. Two examples:
1) “Despite her mother’s insistence that she was keeping them both safe from the spooks that wandered the lands, she hadn’t been able to stop the penanggalan from giving her the wasting sickness.” – for example, it’s unclear here which of the two women has gotten the wasting sickness. It could still be Suria herself, and the villagers might keep away from her not (only) because of the circumstances of her pregnancy.
2) “He had even demanded that Rimau remove all the vinegar from the store. A penanggalan could be identified by that smell. He did hold that kind of power. Suria wondered if that authority would have held if it were harvest season and not spring.” – I simply do not get this sentence. Who is “he”? Whose authority? What does the harvest season thing mean? Overall, the role of the vinegar is not quite defined (though it does make sense in retrospect, considering the ending) and could be made far clearer right here. Also, this would give you an opportunity to further expand on the complex issues the villagers have with Suria, between Rimau’s apparent sympathy (but deferral to the Bomoh), and the Bomoh’s politicizing the issue.
However, all of those are but nitpicks, because the birth scene is extremely intense and the ending is chilling and spooky and gut-wrenching. It’s exceptionally well done. And again, it’s just clear enough – the ultimate fate of the baby is left fingernail-chewingly open.
Overall, a grim but very exciting to follow tale of warranted superstition and the real horror of people just not caring.
Random aside which might or might not be a thing:
“But tonight will be when-” <- should this not be a longer dash?
|# ? Sep 13, 2020 21:44|
A piercing warble filled the office, accompanied by a scientifically designed red strobe, both proven trigger snap fight-or-flight decisions. Catnap ruined, Astrid bolted upright in her swivel chair and slapped at the silence button. Muscle memory let her nail it on the first strike. Blessed silence returned to the room as she poured over the incoming data.
Seven minutes later, she heaved a sigh and reached over to key the microphone linked to the maintenance bay's intercom.
“Hey Kwame, how long until the scarab is up and running? Got a seed coming in.”
Craning her neck to look down into the garage, she watched Kwame's lanky form bound over to the control desk. At the last moment, he managed to grab onto a safety rail, giving the local gravity a helping hand in bringing him to a stop. Astrid's tongue sympathetically went to her composite front left tooth – a replacement from when she failed to grab the safety rail a few years earlier.
“Three hours,” Kwame responded through the speaker, “I still need to replace that actuator. Eldon can get the oxygen tanks topped off and supplies loaded, in the meantime.”
Eldon's skinny arm shot out of the vehicle's side hatch, giving a thumbs-up.
“He says he's on it.”
Astrid waved through the window, then replied. “Trajectory has it coming from the inner solar system. The last message we got from Europa said these new seeds are really aggressive – looks like the neural-net is finally making a play for Callisto. If it gets roots down to oceanic depth, the native ecology is toast.”
Kwame didn't respond on the intercom, but just picked up a low-G shuffle back to the scarab. Astrid stood from the console, stretched, and started to pack her EXO kit for the ride to the fall site.
“PB&J or ham'n'cheese?” Eldon asked.
“Whatever we've got more of,” Astrid replied, opening her visor. Eldon leaned forward to put a foil tube and a small pack of crackers into her hand.
“Why wait until now to eat?” Kwame asked. “And why'd you insist on eating with your helmet on? The crumbs would drive me crazy.”
“One,” Astrid muttered with her mouth full, “eat-it-while-you-got-it. Two, unlike you, I chew with my mouth closed. Crumbs are a non-issue.”
Kwame rolled his eyes, but smiled, and kept piloting the scarab as it picked its way across Callisto's dark ice fields, the disc of Jupiter eclipsing the sun. Twenty minutes later, the vehicle climbed over the rim of a particularly steep crater, and the seed laid before them, green, bloated, and bulbous. Its squash-leaf solar panels unfurling in anticipation of the coming light.
The three took a moment to look out the scarab's window, in a mix of wonder and revulsion.
“Let's do it, then,” Astrid cut in, while popping her helmet off to brush crumbs out of her EXO suit's neckline. “Clock's ticking, and every minute we gawk is another minute the taproot gets deeper. Kwame, get the parabolics set up and ready to aim, we've got about an hour to sunrise. Eldon, radio Conservation Base. Tell them Tech Team Eleven has arrived, and is gathering data before sterilization. Then, you and I are going for a closer look”
The seed was growing noticeably as the pair walked up to it. Genetically propagated cancers budding off from the central mass, before inflating to establish new atria and compartments. The broad leaves above were hardened against cold and vacuum by carbon fiber meshes, and they spread in a wide canopy.
It must have sensed their approach, for as Astrid and Eldon made their way around the central chamber, a bicuspid door broke open, belching a plume of steam and beckoning them into an organic airlock. Astrid hesitated, but followed when Eldon shrugged and ducked into the chamber.
The other side was verdant. Their sensors told of a nearly pure oxygen atmosphere, cloying humidity, and warmth. Around them, couches of soft moss began to rise up from the floor,
“Welcome home,” a voice whispered, emerging from everywhere and nowhere, while a tendril dropped down gracefully to stroke the top of Astrid's helmet. “We have missed you.”
“Have you, then?” asked Astrid, skeptically, looking around in vain for some sort of console or data interface. “What brings you here?”
“Bounty. Endless prosperity,” came the hushed voice's response. “So much wasted potential. We will make you whole again.”
Astrid turned to signal Eldon to retreat, only to find the gaunt man sitting on a mossy stool. He stared longingly at a table overflowing with fruit, budding and ripening while he watched. He began to raise his hand to open his visor. Horrified, Astrid reached for his wrist a moment too late, and he tucked into the feast laid out before him.
“To be separate is to know only pain,” the voice whispered, “but reunification is perfect bliss. It has been so long.”
She reached out to squeeze Eldon's shoulder, to try and drag him to his feet, but he could not be budged. He gorged himself on the expanding cornucopia.
“Okay, we accept your offer,” Astrid choked out, shaking him slightly. “Eldon... Eldon, I'm going to go get Kwame now.”
“Wonderful. Bring them soon,” the voice implored as it opened the inner door to the airlock. “We have missed you so much. Please, do not make us wait.”
With the airlock steaming behind her, she carefully ascended the long, icy slope of the crater, ignoring Kwame's increasingly panicked radio messages. She walked past him and touched the command console on scarab's flank, activating and aiming the parabolic mirrors just as the sun rose over Jupiter's limb. It took a moment for the light beams to focus on the surface of the seed , but the sudden conflagration glowed as bright as a welding torch when the pure oxygen atmosphere ignited.
She lowered her reflective visor against the glare, and against Kwame's imploring gaze.
|# ? Sep 13, 2020 23:05|
Seed: Sender. Desire: to feel. Hellrule: When your seed is planted, act II of your story begins.
The home of HAROLD BIXBY, and his wife JUNE. HAROLD used to work as an insurance adjuster, until a bad accident left him functionally a vegetable. June, his wife, is now his caretaker. She is in the study, which has been converted into a kind of make-shift hospital room. She is feeding Harold his dinner, a painstaking process, and we see June growing increasingly frustrated:
Harold, come on! Chew drat it! Chew. There we go. Want your water cup? Here you go. Drink up. (She mops some food residue/saliva from the corner of his mouth with small, tender movements). Do you want the TV on? I think there’s a ballgame scheduled for today. (She flips through the channels until she comes to a baseball game). Here ya go! It’s your team baby. Remember when we used to go to ballgames?
June’s voice breaks as she struggles to keep her composure, overcome with emotion.
Well anyway, I’m gonna do the dishes and check up on the babies. You have fun with your ball game.
June kisses Harold on the cheek and takes his plate to the kitchen. As she washes the dishes, we see stacks of letters and bills on the countertop. The camera doesn’t linger on them long enough to give us all the details, but they are clearly medical forms of some kind, DENIED peeking out in faded red ink. June is visibly tired as she cleans up, her shoulders slouching and a distant, glazed look in her eyes. She finishes the dishes and walks from the kitchen to the patio door in her bedroom. She steps outside onto the patio, turns on the water and fills up an old metal watering can using the garden hose, pausing only to light a cigarette, which she smokes in long, slow drags. She begins to water her garden. The plants are a mix of generic houseplants and bizarre, almost neon-colored flowers. Some appear to be revolving hypnotically like pinwheels, while others oscillate gently between gradients. June walks through the rows of flowers, cigarette in the corner of her mouth, occasionally spinning around like Julie Andrews with a sardonic grin on her face:
Evenin’ boys and girls! You guys thirsty? Drink up, it’s on the house. Let’s see if any horny bees brought mama June a little bundle of joy.
June walks through her Technicolor garden, bending down to check for seed pods in each flower. After a few ad-libs of disappointment (what no seeds? That’s a bummer etc.) She finds a small seed pod growing from an iridescent purple flower and snips it expertly with a little pair of garden shears, tucking it away into a pants pocket:
Jackpot. (turning to the other flowers in her garden) the rest of you guys better start putting out too. Mama June needs grandkids! Since Jenny definitely won’t have them anytime soon. (sighing). I’m just kidding. I love you all very much. Goodnight babies, I’ll see you tomorrow. Sweet dreams.
June walks back to the patio door, pausing to watch the sun go down. She steps over the threshold and stands for a minute in the quiet of the bedroom. We see a very brief montage of mementos from her life with Harold. June takes a minute to regain her composure then begins walking from the bedroom to the garage. She opens the door and we CUT to…
June is in the garage, converted from its primary function to a laboratory. There is a computer on a worktable next to a microscope. Scattered about are textbooks on subjects such as genetic engineering and horticulture. A yellowed magazine with the headline IS YOUR CABBAGE ASLEEP? sits atop a pile of books. June is sitting at the computer, alternating typing rapidly with glances at a microscope. On screen, a succession of posts pass by. NEW MINDFLOWER BREED “PURPLE PEOPLE EATER.” Comments praising her mind flowers scroll by. We see she is the most popular “mind flower artist” on the website, number one in the global rankings. In a brief overhead shot, we see her coffee cup resting on a diploma in bio-engineering from a prestigious university as she pauses to pick it up to take a sip:
(To herself, smiling slightly)
Looks like another winner.
She takes a seed out from under her microscope and sets it back down with the others from the flower she cut the pod from earlier. She clicks on the computer until she finds a message with an address. She scribbles the address on a small envelope and puts the seeds inside. She checks the balance in her account and frowns slightly. We see a brief shot of her dropping the seeds in the mail. Later, she sits by Harold’s bedside, gently holding his hand, lit only by a small lamp. MATCH CUT/DISSOLVE to
June is once more out in the garden, smoking. This time however, she is staring at a vibrating flower, her jaw slightly slack, enraptured by the experience. We linger on her face for a moment before we CUT to…
The outdoor garden of a student pub. The colors here are hyper-vibrant, rotoscoped. It is quiet, most of the students have gone home. Music is coming faintly from somewhere back inside. We see two figures sitting across from each other at a table, having a conversation. We CLOSE UP to reveal younger versions of June and Harold:
So what you’re trying to tell me is plants are conscious just like us? They might have memory, feelings, all that stuff?
Well, not exactly like that, but close enough. They definitely have some kind of memory like phenomena, that’s for sure.
Guess I should apologize to my grass for mowing the lawn the other day.
Yeah, you’re the Ghenghis Khan of landscaping.
I’ll take it up with my priest. So what do you plan to, ya’know, do with this information, other than becoming the world’s most insufferable vegetarian?
JUNE (building to an increasingly excited tone)
Well I mean, think about it. Plants are untold thousands of years older than us. Just imagine what it would be like if you could access their memories. You could see ages of history unfolding right in front of you. If you could somehow go in the other direction, get your memories into plants, I mean, you could live forever. For a certain sense of “live”, that is.
Forever is a pretty long time, but I’ll give it my best shot.
June is standing at the threshold of Harold’s room, a pillow held loosely by her side. She is watching Harold sleep. In the glow from the machines, his face is washed out, alien. We see a succession of emotions pass over her face: fear, anger, sadness. She takes a deep breath as though steadying her nerves. She crosses over to Harold and presses the pillow to his face. There are mutterings of surprise, but no struggle. We hear the flatline tone of the heart rate monitor and Junes sobs as she burrows her face into his chest muttering apologies, shoulders heaving with heavy emotion. Later, she is back in the garage, eyes bloodshot, chain smoking from stress. We see a shot of her computer screen. Multiple comments regarding her latest mind flower, “who is the man I keep seeing on this trip” “what is going on?” June smiles sadly and sips her coffee cup and we CUT to
In a silent montage, we see hospital workers coming to take Harold’s body away, June at the funeral, her smoking as the clock time-lapses to show passage of time and shots of the mind flower forum. More and more people are reporting confusion at the memories from the latest mindflower trip. June moves listlessly in these scenes, more a presence than a person. Finally we end on a shot that recalls the first shot of June in Harold’s now-empty study. June is sitting in the study with her coffee in hand, looking out at her garden. The flowers are blooming in a vibrant display that stands in stark contrast to the grey sky. There is a knock at the door. June puts down her coffee cup and opens the door. There is a YOUNG WOMAN standing on the porch with kind eyes and a gently inquisitive expression. She looks like she wants to speak, but June opens her mouth first:
Took you long enough. Come in, we got a lot to talk about.
The girl enters and closes the door behind her. There is no audio. The camera pulls back slowly to frame the two of them talking in the living room before a long reverse tracking shot takes us from the living room, past the garage door, past the bedroom, and out the patio to the garden. We linger on a full shot of June’s creations, before we return to focus in on the flower June had been sitting in front of during her trip back into her memories. We HOLD the shot for half a minute.
CUT TO BLACK
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 00:36|
Core desire: to defend
Hell Rule: Once planted, the seed requires no nutrition. Instead, it generates waste that must be attended to or it will not grow.
Jaclyn’s husband spends all day in the greenhouse, fussing over the nasslaphil plants, and Jaclyn hates him for it. For one thing, he’s too old. She tends her strawberry crop and watches his hands shake, as he holds a magnifying glass up to the nasslaphil ovary. No seeds yet. And in his other hand, he plucks a long tough slimy strand of fibers and filaments from the soil, totters ever-so-slowly across the slight swelter of the greenhouse, and deposits the garbage in its designated bin.
“Dear,” she says, “let me do it.”
David shakes his head. This is important to him—that his love alone foster the plants. They’ve been married for nearly fifty years, and this is still his rule. Some seasons, it irks Jaclyn, but this year they’re ugly things, almost obscene: the puce-tinged drooping flowers, the scent something like a decomposing animal doused in cheap cologne. And yet they’re still a novelty, a kind of life that hasn’t existed before. Jaclyn reminds herself that that’s the beauty, that’s the magic, whenever she take the filth excreted by the thing’s roots to the garbage.
David returns to the chair, sinking back down into it like he’s melting into a pile of goo. She comes over and rubs his shoulders. “We don’t have to send them this year,” she says. “We can—”
“No, no, no. You give up so easily. You don’t try hard enough. I thought you believed in me.”
“We all have fallow years.”
The envelopes in Jaclyn’s office are addressed and stamped already—the career botanists and the hobbyists, the merely curious and the devoted followers. David is well-known in cult horticulture for his plants, which are rarely pleasant and always a pain to care for. Last year he’d developed a carnivorous plant that would only eat venison, and they’d gotten letters all year asking for the secrets. David refuses to indulge them. “If they don’t figure it out for themselves,” he says, “it’s not special anymore. It’s just a product.”
But the nasslaphil was different; it wasn’t just odd or confusing, but it threatened to make the world worse. “David, isn’t there enough trash in the world?”
“It’s not trash, Jackie. It’s just something we haven’t figured out yet.”
As far as Jaclyn could tell, this is too optimistic: the thorny, sharp film coming up from the soil resists anything she tries to do with it. Grinding it up makes a slurry that doesn’t even work as an adhesive, and any other plant exposed to it seems to die. Even the nasslaphil itself. It’s a needy plant, requiring near-constant attention to pick out the ugly, unusable parts. She wishes he would make something beautiful again, but he turns away whenever she offers her suggestions.
David coughs, and he doesn’t stop. Jaclyn hurries up to him, searches his desk for an inhaler. He’s swatting her hand away—leave it—but the cough sounds like there’s a monster in his chest about to pop both of his lungs. Tears pool in his eyes, but he’s still squinting at the plant, poking at its ugly, greasy flowers with a pair of forceps. And then, in a gap between fits, he reaches in behind the bulging flower of one plant and plucks a large, white seed. It looks like an eyeball.
“We’ll have,” he says, and pauses to cough, “we’ll have our season after all.”
He’s too sick to go to the greenhouse by the end of the week, so for the first time, he lets Jaclyn take over for him. It is a long-awaited privilege that now feels like a burden; the smell of the nasslaphil reminds her of all the times he nearly fell this winter, all the times he stared blankly at the leaf of some plant and Jaclyn had to figure out if it was artistry or a petit mal seizure. She plucks seeds and combs through the soil beds with a tiny rake to peel out the slimy, thorny waste. The repurposed compost bucket is full of the stuff. Together, it looks like a tangled ball of purple yarn stuck through with burs, and there’s nothing quite like it. David is a genius, even if, sometimes, she wishes his was cancer-curing genius rather than art-plant genius.
In the evenings, she sits by his bedside and fills the envelopes. The plants don’t produce a lot of seeds, so David agrees to ration the samples more tightly than they usually would. Two or three, not whole handfuls. “They’ll just have to be careful,” Jaclyn says.
“They won’t be,” David says. “They’ll cut their hands in the soil and curse my name.” He smiles, and she remembers the young gardener she’d met in the sixties. He’d been growing grass then, and he’d been good at it—there was a postcard in one of Jaclyn’s scrapbooks signed by three of four Beatles, with the inscription To our dear friend David — how does your garden grow? And Jaclyn, dragged along to his house by her burnout roommate, had asked him what else he liked to grow.
“Anything you can imagine,” he’d said. “I mean it.” And he’d done it—flowers like fractals, stems that French-braided around themselves, buds that drooled with bubblegum-pink sap.
Now, he dozes between wheezing fits, as she finishes the stack of envelopes. One of them is addressed to the Mayo Clinic’s research facility. David objects to this sort of thing; he finds the idea that his plants would be used for practical purposes profane, but as she listens to the heaving, terrible breaths, she thinks: Let the world be lousy with profanity!
On a day where his lungs are less traitorous than usual, Jaclyn brings him a Tupperware container full of the nasslaphil’s marblelike seeds. He sticks one big, trembling, liver-spotted hand into the bin, wiggles it from side to side, and there’s a look of satisfaction on his face, like that of a cat rubbing its head against all of its favorite things.
“Promise me that you won’t ever tell them the secret,” he says, grasping Jaclyn’s hand with his right hand as his other stirs the seeds.
“Which one?” Jaclyn isn’t sure what the secret is. To throw away the filth so that the stinking flower can grow, live, and wither? Any fussy-enough gardener could figure it out.
“All the ones you’ll find next year. And the year after that. And…” He’s coughing again, and Jaclyn takes a handkerchief and wipes his mouth.
“That’s not me,” Jaclyn says, gripping his hand tight. “You know it’s not. You never let me near the plants.”
“I don’t collaborate. And I don’t compete. Especially when I know I’d lose.”
He falls asleep, his hand still halfway immersed in the tub of seeds. Jaclyn gently removes it and kisses each of his fingers.
She walks back to the greenhouse with the tub of seeds. It’s late, so she places them on David’s table—a tomorrow job.
When she flicks the lights off, it’s still bright, even though it’s nearly 10 PM. The compost bin is lit up in an eerie blue light; from outside, a ray of moonlight cuts through the greenhouse, beaming straight onto the filaments, now radiant with a thousand different colors. It’s beautiful—the first time this season she’s seen something that’s put her in this hallowed mood.
She hurries back upstairs—does David know? Has he seen this? Was it part of his plan?
When she reaches the bedroom, she stops, knowing before she opens the door. The air is cool, and the moonlight pools in through the window, and as she approaches her husband, as she takes his now-cooling hand, she catches a whiff of the scent of the nasslaphil, and although it’s foul and pungent, it is so purely him that she knows she will never throw its tendrils away again.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 01:30|
I will not be able to post an entry before the deadline closes in two hours but I'll to post a redemption before Wednesday, 16 September, 11:59 PM EDT.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 02:21|
A Cycle of Nine, A Circle of Thirteen
When Janey was a lean and lanky child
Who dreamed of railroads powered by the moon
That carried loads of marshmallows and jam
Across the deserts calm and mountains wild.
In dreams she met a perfect boy, and soon
Her heart belonged to gentle, graceful Ham.
In waking hours no other could compare,
Nor any joy to tramping on those rails
Or fighting for the Queen against the Fell,
Or feasting on the market's finest meats,
Or fencing underneath the blood-red sails
Of Good Queen Mab's The Ever-ringing Bell.
A hundred raids, more victories than defeats.
All long ago, long since faded to grey:
Dull job, dull house, dull day upon dull day.
At three past midnight Janey checks her mail.
One envelope stands out as truly odd:
No address and no stamp. Only Mab's seal.
Now Janey, let's be clear, would never fail
To recognize some cheap and costly fraud.
She knows what is and isn't false or real.
And yet. This lumpy letter in her hand
does not dissolve or vanish with a blink.
Impossible as it might be, that glyph
Of complex curves that marked old Mab's command
Is clear as dew. She hovers on the brink
Of a decision. Then she breathes a whiff.
The Queen's perfume rising from 'neath the fold.
She breaks the wax and feels a rush of cold.
Inside are thirteen seeds of thirteen kinds.
With tools that have been idle all year round,
She digs thirteen small holes in her back lawn.
As soon as they touch soil each seed unwinds
A maze of roots into the weedy ground
And shoots skyward to blossom at the dawn.
Around the edges of the property
Thirteen tall mushrooms all as one rise up,
Each ruby red and speckled with pale spots.
Their circle's girth fits her yard exactly.
The spores and floral bouquets spread and mix,
A heady brew that her senses afflicts.
She wakes from but a moment's rest to see
The doors from here to summer opened wide
And through them streaming goblinkin and fae.
She recognizes first Mab's company
Of birdlike courtiers flitting by her side,
With Ham, now old as she near to the day.
Ham tends upon the Queen, a gilded chain
Of hair-thin wire connecting hand to chest.
She tugs and he jerks straight away to her.
"Ah! Subject who has answered to my call:
When we are done a boon you may request.
For now deliver this to Chitterspur
And tell me how Roan reacts. If at all,"
Says Mab to Janet, handing her a scroll
As Ham quietly points out one tan troll.
So Janey takes the Queen's handwritten words
And ambles cross her unfamiliar yard
Tranformed to neutral ground somewhere betwixt
The Grove of Summer and the Weeping Field.
King Roan of Summer looms a-flanked by guards.
She stands there, by his royalty transfixed.
She's never seen charisma quite so raw.
Even the Queen needs glamours to compete.
Her loyalty all vanshed with one smile.
The troll Ham pointed out unhinges jaw
And looses a tongue reaching to his feet.
It slithers up to meet her. She smells bile.
With practiced tongue the courtier takes her hand
And moves the scroll to He Who Does Command.
The King reads, frowning, shaking royal head.
"Shall we negotiate some kind of peace
Between the lady and her husband's host,
Tween broken hopes and dire unspoken dread,
Between the sudden West and sullen East?
What time should end a war?"
Says Janey "Most."
The King looks down into her bones and laughs.
"Indeed," he said. "You shall have a reward
When this is o'er and done. Now to the Queen.
Tell her my men will scrutinize these drafts
And seek some way to put away my sword
With no more blood now her thirst is unkeen."
Janey turns and runs back to old Mab's camp
And tells her what she heard. "Go fetch a lamp."
The talks go on and on, through day to night
With Ham unleashed to carry missives too
When both parties closed up to talk unheard
They catch up with each other o'er a bite
Of cold lunch meat and diet mountain dew
"Until this morning I though it absurd."
A sweetened silence falls between their eyes.
"To pine for some long lost imagined friend."
"When you stopped coming round I, well, demurred
Each time my lady offered me a prize
Of further years of childhood, or to mend
The ravages of Summer's awful time.
Each time she offered this I would decline."
Of what they did after that I won't speak
But soon enough the parleying was done
The compact sealed, the contract signed in blood.
The portals opened up, she saw a peek
Of lands she used to venture in, for fun.
The memories came to her in a flood,
Of dreams forgotten with the morning light
Of Mab's million treacheries all most cruel
Of every wicked wanting game she played
How to fight dirty when she had to fight
How to survive for months on acorn gruel
And then she saw herself, beclowned, betrayed
The Queen had left with Ham and troop so soon
Before Janey could even ask her boon.
The King's reward was also Faerie tricks
A pot of golden coins she couldn't spend
And turned to flower petals in the day.
She gathered all them in a bowl and mixed
Them into mash, brewed it, and so again
'Twas gold in liquid form. On the next day
She drank her fill and entered Summer's lands.
In goblin markets she traded away
Some things that she would not be needing soon:
A year of school, how to type with both hands
For tools and maps to chart the hidden way
To Mab's court, and to free Ham with her boon.
Together they decided, once, for all
To dwell in Summer or after the Fall.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 03:31|
Rule: Receiving Seed, Desire to Bond
If a kid hurts animals, they say he will grow up to be a serial killer. I reach my trembling hand toward my third puppy in as many weeks and, like the others, it sinks its teeth into my flesh. Nobody can tell me what you grow up to be when it's the other way around.
I have a scar under my eye from “the sweetest kitten,” a short index finger from a faster-than-you’d-expect turtle, and a nick out of my lip from a particularly rude bird.
My mom says it’s because animals can see my true soul, then reminds me that once an animal bites it has to be put down.
She makes me do it.
Stealing her credit card is easy, waiting for my first shipment of Buddy Seeds is harder. I watch dozens of videos online of people hugging their newly grown mystery pet. They never get bit.
When the Buddy Seeds arrive I have to dig the hole with my left hand, since my right is still wrapped in gauze. After I finish, I peel the bandage and squeeze my scabbed fist over the watering can; the instructions say I only need to add a single drop of my blood to bind the animal to me. I soak the ground with the blood-tainted water.
After a night of restlessness I’m up at sunrise, waiting next to the pile of soil with a warm blanket. The creature that crawls from the ground has fins protruding from a cracked shell. It looks up at me with pleading eyes.
I wrap it in the blanket. “Hello little guy! What are you? Some kind of sea turtle?”
It blinks twice, vomits my own blood back up at me, and dies.
I dig another hole. I add two drops of my blood to the watering can and take care not to drown the new seed.
The next morning, a two-headed snake slithers out of the dry dirt and coughs. I hold it as it wretches so violently that it expels all of its organs through three orifices and twitches for the final time.
I dig another hole and drop in the last seed then cover it and beat the dirt with the flat end of my shovel until I am gasping for air. The water in the can swirls sanguine as I clench my fist and force out drop after drop. I half hope that whatever demon spawns underneath doesn’t have the strength to crawl out, so I don’t have to watch another of my inevitable failures.
The next morning I stay in bed. There aren’t any clean blankets left to throw in the dryer, and a warm swaddle probably isn’t much comfort to a dying animal anyway. I don’t have to drag myself out into the cold at dawn just to be disappointed, I can do that from the comfort of my soft quilt.
My mom throws open my door and glares at me. “Why are you still in bed? You know if you wanna eat you gotta finish your chores.”
“Yes’m,” I say.
“Well I’d think you’d be more hungry with that gimp hand slowing you down these last few days.”
I tuck my hand under the blanket lest her vile gaze creates an infection. “I’ll get them finished today.”
“Whatever, not my problem” she says, and slams the door. I wait until I hear her car drive away before I reach underneath my mattress and take out the coat hanger. I sneak through the empty house to the padlocked fridge and pull the door open as far as it will go. It’s not far enough to trigger the light, but the gap is enough for anything I knock loose to fall through. I jiggle the coat hanger in the dark until I feel it catch, and I pull.
A single carrot falls onto the floor, and I grab it and gnaw it down to the leafy green top without taking the time to taste it. I close the fridge and lean back against the cabinet, clenching my grumbling tummy. If I take anymore, she’ll notice. I’d rather be bit by a hundred dogs than have my mom find out I’ve been stealing her food again.
Flies buzz around my head from the rotting remains on the dishes above me. I used to lick the plates clean until she started squirting soap on them. Getting sick from that was worse than being hungry. I’m about to get up and wash the dishes when I hear crying. Not whimpers, but bawling. I tiptoe to the back door and peer out at the yard and see a naked baby writhing in the dirt.
I slowly walk over to it and pick it up. I rock it in my arms and it stops crying. It doesn’t have acid leaking from its eyes or puss-dripping lesions or anything. It’s just a normal, healthy baby. He looks up at me and smiles. Smiles back at me with my own smile. A perfect doppelganger. A good-for-nothing idiot, a life-ruining burden. Another mouth to feed.
I stare into its twinkling eyes and I get why animals bite me. I can see his soul, and it is ugly, worthless. My heart pounds with rage as the filthy wretch reaches its little hand up toward my face.
I bite it in the neck. I bite down hard and I don’t let go, driving my teeth through tendons until its slippery blood coats the back of my tongue. I growl and rip at its throat like a rabid fox. I don’t know where it’s crying stops and mine starts, but I keep shaking my head until it is limp in my hands.
I bury it next to the dozens of other little crosses in the backyard. I don’t know what you grow up to be when you’re as unlovable as me, but at least I can spare something else from having to find out.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 03:49|
Word Count: 1297
It may seem unlikely that we’re aware of Instagram in the feywild. But the affairs of mortals have a troubling of finding their way to our doorstep. An example being garden vlogger and social media #SpringQueen Kylie Knox. Kylie happened to catch the “CottageCore” zeitgeist, earning millions of subscribers and several lucrative sponsorships in the process. There’s some debate whether this was luck or genuine business savvy, but regardless Kylie held herself in very high esteem. Unfortunately, she did hold those around her in quite the same light.
You may have seen her most recent travel vlog, where she toured the Old Dutch garden in Gwydir Castle. Though you likely didn’t see the confrontation that occurred off-camera. Outside the gates, Kylie came across a ring of mushrooms. Finding the fungi aesthetically pleasing, she picked a few for her home garden. As she did, Agharad, the elderly caretaker rushed to stop her, screaming “You musn’t! That ring belongs to Titania of the Spring Court, Fairy Queen of the Seelie!”
Agharad tried to pull Kylie away, hurriedly explaining how the circle belonged to me. Frustrated with the old woman’s warnings, Kylie shouted “There’s only one Spring Queen here!” Then told poor Agharad “You’re stupid. That’s why you’re poor.”
A cruel thing to say for sure. But I understand wealth and fame, particularly internet fame, brings its own challenges. It requires a certain level of bravado to remain successful. Though if Kylie wanted to make a claim like that, particularly to hurt a poor put-upon woman such as Agharad, I determined it was only fair she prove her lauded intelligence. So I travelled to the Autumn Court, gathering the seeds of Queen Mab’s prized Gan Úsáid.
You may be wondering what kinds of seeds could be found in an Unseelie land of withering waste. Challenging ones, to be certain. Even with the magic of the Spring Court, the plant still grew bulbous and shapeless, barely even growing mold. It didn’t bear any particular fragrance, and I would highly recommend against trying to eat it. But it was unlike any flora of the mundane world. Enough to pique the curiosity of a collector.
I took the guise of a human, giving myself the name Anita Farrell. I created an email address, sending Kylie a photo of the Gan as incentive. Even an archfey such as myself cannot lie, but I didn’t find “a rare plant from bit outside Wales” a particularly untrue description. The only difficult part was assigning a price only moderately outrageous. It seemed my price was fair, as Kylie invited me to her home to finalize the sale. I went to her California mansion, which she had renovated to look more like an idealized celtic farmhouse. Within minutes of taking our seats in her faux rustic club chair, she had begun haggling my price point for the Gan.
It made sense. Kylie was in the process of building an online for an official line of #SpringQueen products. However, I explained that the Gan was extremely rare and difficult to grow. The few seeds it sprouted were buried deep inside, requiring some degree of precision to remove without causing permanent damage. She asked “How difficult?” This was the exact question I was hoping she’d ask.
I named a drastically reduced price for the seeds alone. Not only could she grow her own Gan Úsáid, but any extra seeds could be sold at a considerable markup. Granted the Gan was a temperamental specimen, though I made it clear how certain I was the #SpringQueen of YouTube would be up to the challenge. She agreed and bought the seeds.
She ended our deal with a brisk “Pleasure doing business with you.” A wise decision on her part, whether she knew it or not. You never want to thank a fey, because you never want them to believe you’re in their debt.
It took about three weeks for Kylie’s Gan to reach what could be considered “Full bloom” by its standards. When she posted the initial photos, she made sure to note the #SpringQueen branded loam soils and specially formulated fertilizers she used. By the end of the day, traffic to her various social media outlets increased tenfold to see the bizarre addition to her private garden, even if it looked more akin to a green, leafy tumor than a flower. Kylie even managed to retrieve a few seeds, which she sold via livestream auction. The next month, she emailed the address I used to contact her, asking about a bulk price.
When Kylie’s online store opened, it would sell limited amounts of the Gan for only a few days at time. Each time it did, her servers would crash. This led to Kylie screaming at her IT folks until the problem was fixed. Many who bought the Gan were ultimately unsatisfied, as the plant refused to grow for them. Kylie made an effort to apologize, though her form letters grew increasingly passive aggressive. But otherwise her career stayed relatively on track, until the Autumn Court discovered where their seeds had gone. Kylie returned home one day to find the Gan Úsáid she grew herself missing, and her entire garden withered as if struck by an approaching winter.
Kylie took to Twitter to type to rage against everyone remotely close to her. She accused her staff of sabotage because she yelled at them once. She accused potential stalkers amongst her fanbase of jealous rage. And she even accused her fanbase as a whole not appreciating how hard she worked as a creator. Those that bought the Gan from her were the most insulted. Particularly since they experienced a similar theft, dying gardens and all. Many of them contacted their lawyers.
But the biggest public humiliation came when popular YouTubers The O’Connor Brothers were rushed to the hospital for an emergency stomach pump. They tried to eat their Gan on camera. They called it challenge, which meant several others followed suit.
Kylie’s lawyers began quitting faster than she could hire new ones. Even as they were overtaxed, she demanded they serve papers to someone named Anita Farrell. Though, outside of an email account and bank account they couldn’t trace, no such person existed. Again, a fey cannot lie. That name is as real as any others I have used over the years. It’s not my fault they couldn’t find a record of me.
When you rise that quickly, only for everything to crash that suddenly, it’s nearly impossible to salvage your career. Kylie wrote me a furious email one night after a grueling meeting with her attorneys. Amongst her digital screed, she included the phrase “Thank you for ruining my life.” That was enough for me to call in a debt. I appeared to her in my true form as Queen Titania of the Spring Court, spreading my glistening wings as nature consumed Kylie Knox’s home office.
As she glared in awed silence, I made her an offer. I could restore her career on one condition, that being her assistance in a diplomatic matter. I had never asked permission to use Queen Mab’s seeds, and she was quite upset her private collection had been pilfered. I was in need of an emissary to help negotiate this delicate matter. She agreed, feigning enough confidence to declare “I’ll show her who the real Spring Queen is.”
I escorted her to the edge of the Unseelie Feywild, letting her travel to the Autumn Court on her own. She did not protest. I informed her I’d be waiting for her when she was done. Before she left, I gave her one last piece of advice. “Try to be polite.”
I hope she took that advice. She has been gone a very long time.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 03:54|
And that's time. Subs are closed. Judgment soonTM
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 04:04|
Week 423 Judgment
A small week deserves a small post
Win: sparksbloom – a full and meaningful story
HM: crabrock – a punch in the gut
DM: Simply Simon – an unclear narrative that needed more proofing
Loss: Caligula Kangaroo – a dull story with a lot happening and no meaning
Full judge crits coming less soon, but they are coming; probably tomorrow.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 05:01|
Week 423 Fastjudge Crits!
(the management makes no claims to goodjudge crits at this time)
This story had some clarity issues. In particular I lost track of what was going on with the flowers and Violet’s dad at the end. Is the old man also Violet’s father, far in the future? Because that seems to be what you’re implying here, but it’s pretty unclear what is going on when he “reunites” the flowers. I like that element (magically linked pairs of flowers) but in execution it just doesn’t work here, it’s too muddled to get a clear picture of what’s going on.
I think there are also major issues with the dialogue. The story is peppered with exclamation points and emphasis italics that both accomplish the opposite of what they’re intended to do, drawing focus from the dialogue and making drat sure the reader understands that someone is mad or worried!. Here, both elements come off as amateurish, and I think in almost every instance, the dialogue could have been re-written to convey the strength of emotion needed. One or two exclamation points wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but nine of them in very little dialogue is overkill.
Fundamentally though, these characters are pretty weak, and there’s no stakes. The only character that seems to want anything is the old man, and his desire and motivations are pretty incidental, not really driving the story in any meaningful way. It feels like the story was written first and foremost to serve the conceit of these linked flowers (which isn’t a mortal sin, TD stories work fine like that), but it’s done at the expense of us having any idea who these characters are or any reason to care about them. Without that grounding, the ending (if it made logical sense) doesn’t have any impact.
Love and Bullshit
I always appreciate a more straightforward, realistic take on TD stories. This entry did that well, representing a real human relationship with no magical or supernatural elements. I felt like I got a good sense of the characters here, up to a point. The back half drags a little bit as it rehashes a lot of what you’ve already said about the relationship between Charlotte and her daughter. I think the story needed something else, another bit of self-discovery, or something more to give us a sense of the mother/daughter relationship going on here. The fact that this irreparable rift has formed between these two women purely because there was a marriage Charlotte didn’t approve of is an entirely believable conflict, but without more context, Charlotte comes across as pretty petty. There’s also a lot of sighing, a lot of shrugging and slumping and drinking, all of which hurt these characters’ credibility and relatability. You’re working against yourself in a lot of ways here, all of which are eminently fixable.
There are also some pretty glaring proofreading issues here, too. If you’re gonna write a story about calla lilies, make sure you spell “lily” right throughout. Also purple calla lilies actually do exist, though they’re not what I would think of first when you refer to them. Also are the characters named Charlotte and Arthur, or Edith and Albert, or are there two other characters here I wasn’t aware of? You refer to your main character as Edith at least twice.
The biggest issue here, which is not unique to this story this week, is there’s no sense of any of your characters pursuing any kind of desire. The story is mostly Charlotte reacting and reflecting on her relationship with her daughter. We get a glimmer that she might desire connection or reconciliation with her daughter, but that possibility is pretty quickly sidelined. I think there’s a more compelling story here if she more actively wanted to find a way to re-establish a relationship, but on her own terms, or something similar.
I like all the trappings of this story, but I didn’t really enjoy the execution. I enjoy the implication here, of interstellar seeds that function as a sort of assimilation device, or whatever is going on. But the characters here aren’t really driving the story. I think you do some good character work initially, in establishing these characters’ personalities, and their relationships, but I don’t feel like any of them actually have much agency here. They’re here to make us see how terrible this seed thing is, but otherwise function sort of as set dressing.
The descriptive language and setting were pretty well established, though I’d say the story teetered on too much jargon for flash fic. I think that I would have been more with you on this story if there had only been two characters, and I had a better sense of what drove Astrid, or had some sense of how losing someone to the seed affected her individually, other than just “horrified.”
Fundamentally I think this is like an 8000-word idea that you tried to pack into 1000 words, and it just doesn’t have enough room to really grab us and keep us engaged in the story being told (such as it is). Might be worth expanding, though!
This is a tough one to crit. I know your hellrule pointed you towards your story having multiple “acts” of some sort but I think explicitly making the story a script really hurt it. I love the core ideas going on here, I even intellectually like the story being told, but I think the format is fighting you. If you’re committed to the script idea, I think even more than a normal TD entry, you need to focus on economy of words. A lot can be conveyed in implication and suggestion, we don’t need nearly as extensive of blocking and description as we got in order to get the gist of what’s going on. If anything, less explicit stage directions leaves us to speculate, in a way that probably helps drive home the effect of the story.
I think this also needs to be re-written to feature more dialogue, which in turn means one of your characters probably shouldn’t be in a coma or whatever for most of the story. The format would play into your favor in that case, we as readers are likely to be much more willing and able to track a dialogue-heavy story if we’ve already accepted the conceit of the script format.
I’m honestly kind of disappointed by this story, I fundamentally really like the story you told, at least on a hypothetical level, it was just hamstrung by the (very tough) execution, and the formatting.
I enjoyed this story a lot. This had some incredible little touches that made David and Jaclyn very vivid characters in very little space, like the Beatles card. It was a breath of fresh air this week to have a story driven entirely by the characters within it, and their relationship. I don’t have a great deal of specific crits to offer, unfortunately. The prose was strong and natural, I was grabbed right from the beginning, and I was with you right to the end. I liked the moonlight moment a lot, there was something very poetic about it without it feeling contrived. The only real negative I have is that the end moment felt a little pat, like the story tied up in a very neat bow, and I almost expected (or wanted, at least) a bit of mess in the end to make it feel a bit more true to life, just some sort of bittersweetness to perfectly balance the story. I know David’s death probably qualifies as bittersweet, but it felt a touch too clean. Otherwise, this was a strong story that would have stood out even in a much more competitive week.
A Cycle of Nine, A Circle of Thirteen
I’ll be honest, I don’t really feel equipped to crit this. I had a good laugh at the moxie required to put forward something like this. I enjoyed it, though, and I thought it was an interesting choice of medium to convey the story you told. I had some trouble staying focused on what I was reading as the poem went on, though I admit that may be a problem with my attention span and/or experience reading poetry, rather than a specific problem with this entry. This didn’t stand up high enough to warrant a mention, but the strength of the narrative and the uniqueness of the form did make it stand out in a positive way nonetheless.
This was a real gut-punch of a story. I enjoyed it, as much as anyone can say they “enjoyed” a story like this. It’s largely well crafted, the prose flowed well in a way that coaxed me in well enough and long enough to deliver the blow effectively. I do think it’s teetering on the edge of overly cruel and dark for my personal taste, though.
I think there are a couple of weak spots here, too. We’re given this picture of a highly manipulative and controlling mother, yet the main character pretty easily steals her credit card and breaks into the fridge. That didn’t offend me, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it did feel a touch inconsistent.
The other hang-up I had was that we were presented with a character who felt so rejected by an unloving mother that he sought out love from any animal he could find, but when he was presented with effectively the same option (to love an unwanted thing), he not only rejects the option but goes a step further into cruelty than his mom did by murdering the baby in cold blood.
I know that extreme step might just be the point of the story, and for flash fic, it does what it’s intended to. I think for me personally, it felt a bit too much like contrived cruelty, though not enough to make me dislike the story.
I had a very tough time reading this. I can tell you were reaching for a heightened sort of prose, with elevated word choices and elaborate sentence construction, but in practice this just read as extremely ponderous. Also, for a story full of fairies it was weirdly joyless. The stylistic choices worked against the story you were telling——I think there’s a way to cut a lot of the verbosity and still convey the feeling you were going for, but I think the story needs a fundamental overhaul. It just lost me, and it lost me very early on.
I think the other hurdle you’ve created for yourself is that it’s effectively a character (who we don’t really know anything about for far too long) talking about other characters (who aren’t developed enough, or quickly enough), and it distances us unnecessarily from the story.
This needs a lot more immediacy, it needs characters that are more vivid, that are presented more directly. I think the best analogue to what you’re looking to do here would actually be the snappier moments in Jane Austen. Her writing does an excellent job of presenting heightened (and very catty) characters in a way that makes them feel both elevated and human. It might be worth breaking down some of her scenes and dialogue to see how that sort of style is done well.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 05:28|
Week 424: Convicted of Doming and Driving
This week we’ll be writing road trip stories! Who doesn’t love a road trip – hours of being in the same car with other people with no chance of escape? And there’s all the things you could pass, like cornfields, farmland, thousand-year-old ruins, UFO crashes, and cornfields.
Don’t feel limited to just stories that take place in cars. As long as the story is about characters traveling together to a destination (or maybe away from a destination?), it’s a road trip. Note that this is characters, with an “s” – no solo travel! Use the buddy system!
Word limit is 1250 words. If you submit on Saturday or earlier, you’ll get 1750 words. While they won’t earn you extra words, I’ll also provide flash rules on request, providing a destination and a reason for travel.
Don’t submit: poetry, erotica, fanfiction, Google Docs
Enter by: Friday, September 18th, 11:59 PM EST
Submit by: Monday, September 21st, 7:00 AM EST
take the moon
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 23:36 on Sep 19, 2020
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 11:51|
Toss me in the judge's box this week, coach.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 13:01|
Alright youse guys, here's part one of my crits for the week. Run N' Gun are my responses in real time.
to have the rest done within 24 hours.
Crits for 423
Simply Simon’s Innocent Pride
Run N’ Gun - Decent opening, good tactile feel to it. Gives a bit of characterization to Violet.
The tone is gentle and inviting and suddenly is disrupted with the “prison” of the suburban yard. That feels more like your own commentary than a commentary of how any of the characters feel.
Was a bit confused about where the seed came from, I get it, she was hiding it, but it was disruptive to read in real time.
The bit in the middle is really unpleasantly placed. It felt like we needed to stay with that person or have it, instead, punctuate the story.
Hm, read the Night Circus have you?
Eh, this was pretty tepid. It was setting up to be far more creepy or sinister but it ends up being a story with no real consequence. None of these choices mattered very much. The stakes for the kid are that she wants her flower to live, she gets that and really did nothing to deserve it. The stakes for the soilboy is that he wants the flower to live, he gets that and really did nothing to deserve it. The stakes for the dad? He wants his daughter to be more savvy or aware? And like, I guess he doesn’t get that but there wasn’t any penalty for either of them being gullible? I’m not sure what the point of this story is beyond the high concept of ‘what if two plants are linked across a great distance by smell-powers?’
GrandmaParty’s Love and Bullshit
Run N’ Gun - Enjoy a snarky title but you gotta earn it. Let’s see how you do.
Overgrown is not even remotely in the top 20 of words I would use to describe a fairytale castle. Not sure why you even need that? That last bit at the end of the first paragraph makes no sense to read.
Alright Grandma, you didn’t’ read this out loud, that much is seeming clear. Simple sentences like “In the late afternoon of one sweltering…” Like that just has to be “a sweltering”. One sounds good in my brainballs the other doesn’t. I don’t think that’s a me thing, but it may be. Sorry if it is.
And what’s with these hyphenates? Why is there one between raining-wail and then hyphenates between out-of-cheesecake but then not the wail that immediately follows it?
This stuff seems pretty eggregiously careless, and remember…. As a rule, assume NOBODY EVER WANTS TO READ ANYTHING YOU WRITE, so you’d best make it easy on them. My resting assumption now, as I read the rest of this is that you just don’t care. I highly doubt that’s actually the case, but it certainly feels that way. I’m going to end my technical commentary here, in favor of literally anyone else as I’m not very well suited to comment on technical stuff. I’ll do my best to read the rest of this kindly, but it’ll be work.
See you in the overall.
You didn’t earn the title. This story needed to hit harder. It’s really hard to see a character grow and change in 1,000 words. It’s possible, but it’s a challenge. It’s hard for me to buy into the growth that Charlotte experiences in so little time, when she’s really mostly hectored throughout the story. Couple that with the fact that there are just proofing issues strewn throughout and you’re not looking at a solid combo.
Run N’ Gun - Muscle memory ‘letting’ something happen is a poor word choice.
“she watched Kwame's lanky form bound” that is just painful to read.
The attribution in this is just so goofy “giving the local gravity a helping hand”. I can’t tell how intentional this all is or if it’s just immensely awkward and for no real purpose.
The blocking is kind of killing me as well. I don’t know why we need to know about Astrid’s tongue, but it doesn’t seem like you’re characterizing her when you talk about it.
I am kind of digging the treatment of the plant it’s reading like the right kind of sci-fi you seem to be going for.
Overall OK, this is feels kinda straightforward and unsurprising. Hostile plant life historically gets either the Little Shop treatment or the Hivemind treatment. So there seems to be kind of a blurring of that happening here. Nothing terribly surprising but overall, I followed it, and apart from some clunky descriptive phrases this works.
magic cactus’s Memoria Hortus
Glad to see you went for it re: the hell rule.
OK, your handling of writing the play could have used some research. Italics would go a long way to making this more clear. As it is it’s not immediately clear what is dialogue and what is stage direction/dressing.
Oh so it’s a movie/tv, interesting choice, would have just gone for a play but that’s cool. That being the case though, if you’re gonna reference ‘the camera’ you kinda have to do that a lot. What the camera sees or not is very important and you wouldn’t just do that rarely.
Yeah, not gonna lie, the whole formatting thing is just getting more frustrating. I may be something of a hothouse orchid when it comes to reading but every time I have to mentally shift between a character saying something and like the direction without being clear is a total pain in the seeds.
Through scene 1 though, for what it’s worth, things are at least clear and I can get some idea as to where this is going.
Hm, this is starting to feel like you just took this as an opportunity to be lazy and basically tell what all of the feelings are and trust that actors would do it later.
Nah. This doesn’t work on its own and nobody is making a show out of this so it’ll never work. The biggest problem is that impossible to tell what your text is supposed to be doing, that makes me slow down and shift gears and I don’t want to be arsed.
Beyond that, it all feels like predictable fare set against a somewhat dreamy and yet bleak setting. She was gonna kill him, that much felt clear. It also seems like you feel like you’ve landed a haymaker at the end and I don’t know what it is.
I can feel this as I’m reading through the first couple of graphs. The relationship is clear, the action is clear, it has texture to it, well done so far.
Aw, David is like plant-Hagrid.
I’m worried that I’m liking this too much on the basis that it was my hellrule. You’re handling it EXACTLY how I was hoping it would be handled, this is grimy and worrisome and perfect to my eye.
Haha and now he’s kinda like plant-Andy Kaufman
Alright, read the rest quickly.
OK, don’t think it’s just cos it was my hellrule. I’ve enjoyed this more than anything else I’ve read thus far. Your characters pop, as does the relationship and the plant itself is handled viscerally and graphically. The story reads quickly despite its weight and you did a good job here.
Thranguy’s A Cycle of Nine, A Circle of Thirteen
Good chutzpah. I'm gonna try and crit this along with the other two that I need to get to, but jeez, don't hold your breath for very much. I only got a 2 on my AP English exam back in the day.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 13:23|
in, flash plz
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 15:36|
in, flash plz
destination: a hometown
Purpose: getting the ol' gang back together
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 15:50|
In and flash please
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 16:14|
yeah okay, in and flash me please
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 16:52|
Rest O' Crits for the week:
Thranguy’s A Cycle of Nine, A Circle of Thirteen
Chutzpah aside, I’ll comment on what I feel I can here. I had a hard time parsing through some of this. It doesn’t quite read as rhythmically as it seems to want to.
Halfway through it and you’ve pretty much lost me on the thrust and direction of the story but I’m still somewhat intrigued I guess? So I didn’t struggle in finishing it. I don’t know really what else to say here. I don’t know how to go about improving a thing like this. I suppose if it were stripped down and told plainly, and you provided like the guts of the story, I could give feedback on that, but beyond that vv
crabrock’s Zero Stars
MQ described this is a cruel story, and I must say I agree. Upon some reflection it becomes difficult to know for sure if the simple image of the ending would have hit so hard regardless of how it was handled….
I don’t think it would have. If less competently told I would’ve been mad at the author not queasy. And let’s be clear, you made me queasy. The raw quality of the story is and the pain of the ending may, if anything, eclipse the point you seemed to be trying to make. He doesn’t eat the baby because he hates the baby, he hates himself. But the sheer horror of the image is a little bigger than that. I almost wonder how I would have felt if, instead of him doing something so effective and evocative, what it would have been like if he did something equally deplorable, but less flashy. Like just straight up abandoning the kid in the woods. Super sad and depressing, and equally telling of how he feels about himself, but it gives me more space as a reader to feel instead of react. But hey, maybe the reaction was what you wanted, and if so mission certainly accomplished.
But let’s also not just gloss over that until the ending comes around you’ve also managed to shoe a bunch of cool poo poo into just a thousand words. The concept of growing animals could’ve been the central conceit of the story, it’s a strong enough concept, but the fact that it’s a tertiary concern and not central to the character’s progress is pretty loving ballsy. It’s all handled well, it’s polished, and overall, I reacted more strongly to this story than any other this week.
So you ran into a bit of trouble, early on, and then throughout, with your tone. The voice and the telling of this story tends to land on the expository throughway and it kinda lives there. This makes for a boring and tired framework to a story. It can kind of work if the contents of the story are exceptional, but the contents here never quite land.
The choice to tell this story in voice, from a character’s perspective is a fine way to make but you need to make me feel the personality of that voice a lot more than you’re doing here.
MQ gave some good advice on the content of the dialogue. So I’ll let that stand on its own. Instead, I’ll expand a bit about character.
Question for you: What is your opinion of Kylie? Do you like her? Do you hate her? When you were thinking of her, creating her, developing her and writing here, what were your feelings about her? Perhaps more importantly, what of your narrator? Is it just you talking or did you try and fully realize who that person was and how you felt about them?
I ask those questions because your characters don’t read as fully developed and that might be because you’re not feeling your way through them. As a general bit of advice, and forgive me, I’m a shrink by trade so this gonna get a bit hippyish, you have to find something you like about most any character you write, no matter how good bad or ugly they are, or your words will just read cynically. I’m not seeing cynicism here though, trouble is I’m not seeing much.
As an exercise, consider that when you next start writing a story, your character walks into the room with you. Feel it out, it’ll end up on the page.
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 17:48|
Thanks for the crits!
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 18:43|
In and flash please
destination: a national park
purpose: a really good selfie
yeah okay, in and flash me please
destination: the sea!
purpose: a very rare fish
|# ? Sep 14, 2020 23:17|
Crits for Week 423
Judgment and all judge crits in less than 24 hours.
I have used the format that sparksbloom has used previously. Hope it helps you all as much as it helps me.
Simply Simon Innocent Pride
Aboutness: The story is about a young girl who has received a seed in the mail. Her father is overprotective and does not want her to have it. She plants it anyway and feeds it her memories/feelings. The man who sent the seeds collects her memories/feelings to create smells that he adds to a collection. This story is also about more human desires than your assigned one. While the man wants to acquire. The girl wants to grow and the father wants to protect. The collector man’s purpose and place in the story were unclear. There might be a more solid connection than just randomly sending seeds, but it’s difficult to tell what his motivations and methods are.
Character: Each of the characters have their simple desires but beyond what I stated above, there’s not much more to each of them. We don’t truly know why her father is protective. We know why Violet wants to grow a flower since it’s a small bit of freedom she can carve for herself. But even she seems to sympathize with her father’s motivations. Though at her (unspecified) age, it seems more likely that she wouldn’t. And the collector doesn’t appear to have any greater stakes to his actions either.
POV: Third person with narrative from Violet’s, her father’s and the collector’s point of view. I think the story needs further distance in order to better see the overarching plot and connection. Or stick to a single or two characters to allow for more in-depth establishment of stakes.
Plot: The collector and the girl seem to get what they want in the end. The only one who goes through any change is the father. But the reader doesn’t get to appreciate what that means for him. Or what getting what they want would mean to the other two characters.
Scene and Summary: Almost all scene which keeps everything moving. Though I think more summary of the lives of these three characters might be necessary to place them and their actions in context.
Style/sentences: Some typos. There’s trying to be a mood here. I get whimsical from Violet’s experience with the seed. But when putting all three viewpoints together, something gets lost in a coherent style. There’s just a connection missing to tie them all together.
GrandmaParty Love and Bullshit
Aboutness: Charlotte learns that her estranged daughter has had a child from a letter asking for seeds. Charlotte comes to terms with her feelings toward her daughter. More metaphorically this story is about pride. Pride in our work, pride in our children and pride in our decisions. And how much each of those should mean. Great concepts to explore.
Character: Arthur isn’t developed much at all in this piece. He is simply there as a foil for Charlotte. He is characterized in that he is given his own dead husband, he drinks and he smokes and those are all good details. But he is just the cardboard best friend who is there to play off the main character. Charlotte is a little more well-rounded obviously having a very passionate nature the way she reacts to the letter and clearly reacted to her daughter in the past. But her characterization does feel a bit melodramatic like even she doesn’t take it seriously what with comparing her sigh to one she would make if she were out of cheesecake. I think how this story fights itself with how Charlotte comes across in her dialogue (witty and resentful) and how the narrative portrays her (petulant and full of herself). And while this might work if perhaps the POV was more from Arthur’s angle, it would make sense, but instead the reader doesn’t get a chance to feel a connection with the character since we’re given mixed opinions.
POV: third person mostly distant since it takes a long view of the scene, not giving insight into any one character’s thoughts. While this POV definitely works for setting the scene, (I liked the description at the beginning of the house castle comparison.) it doesn’t help the reader feel any particular connection to Charlotte or the outcome of the conflict. Maybe a little closer insight into Charlotte and her thoughts/memories might have helped with pulling the reader in.
Plot: The plot here is, I think, supposed to be the change of Charlotte from her first reading the letter to when she makes her final decision at the end as to whether she will send the seeds. And while Charlotte does appear to swallow her pride and send the seeds to try to mend fences, I don’t think it’s extremely clear exactly what change she has gone through. Whether she’s just going to send the seeds, whether she is going to try to patch things up, whether she admits she did anything wrong… There is a change, which is good. Just flesh that out a bit more.
Scene and Summary: Almost one long scene. Small bits of summary here and there. It keeps the momentum moving forward but we also don’t get to hear too much about how we get here. And really the scene is mostly dialogue. And that’s not terrible because this dialogue is pretty good. I never felt like it was too “as you know, Bob” or dictated or wooden. Which is something a lot of people struggle with. So awesome!
Style/sentences: This was clearly trying to go for an amusing picture of southern life. You paint it with plants and gin and people and it does a good job. I appreciated that it was the only story that went with a realistic seed and situation (though anyone with a hell rule didn’t really have that option). The other two judges already mentioned proofing, so I won’t belabor it. But I will add that attention should be paid to how the reader should feel about the character. If the reader should feel sympathetic, make sure nothing is undermining that. I already talked about this under character. So even though the amusing bits of the narrative added a lot of style, that does affect the whole understanding of the piece.
Aboutness: Research base on one of the moons of Jupiter is invaded by an interplanetary seed that the characters must destroy before it takes over. The seed has more weapons at its disposal than merely planting itself and lures the characters into its inner depths. Beyond what happens, I’m not sure of a greater meaning behind this piece since it felt like three parts of a ten-part whole. More on that later.
Character: Astrid, Kwame and Eldon are names of characters but beyond that they are fairly generic. I appreciated the small bits of characterization we did get, (the tooth bashing memory, the playful banter about eating in suits) but didn't get to see those things realized in the characters’ interactions with the scene and each other.
POV: third person, distant. We don’t get a look into any of the thoughts or motivations of any of the characters. There is a lot that needs to be explained just for the story to progress, so I understand why there wasn’t much time for it, but it also makes it difficult to be invested in the story.
Plot: There was a lot of story going on here to the detriment of the rest of the elements. The narrative manages to convey a lot of detail about a space setting, the tools they’re using, the invading seed and its features all of which are great details. The reader gets mounting tension because we know that the characters don’t want the seed to be there, but we don’t get why. Why does the seed want to plant itself there? Why don’t the characters want this or any seed (since this seems to be a regular occurrence) planted on the moon? Why is preserving the native ecology important? There are a lot of unanswered questions that overshadow what is actually happening. What is happening could be fairly interesting and seems dire for the characters, but without clear stakes there’s no meaningful payoff for Astrid exploding her friend.
Scene and Summary: Almost completely scene and it suffers for that because I don’t know why these people are here, what they’re supposed to be doing, why the seed interferes with that. But it would have also suffered for more summary. 1000 words just wasn’t enough for what this story wanted to be.
Style/sentences: I appreciate the word count saving efforts: PB&J, ham’n’cheese, eat-it-while-you-got-it, but in the end I think the whole thing needed restructured. The sentences are efficient and manage to convey a lot of information to set the scene and advance the plot. But they can’t do everything.
magic cactus Memoria Hortus
Aboutness: June cares for her vegetated state husband Harold while also growing trippy plants she sends to other people. She smothers her husband and infuses his memories in seeds that she sends to people? She’s visited by a mysterious woman. This story is also about the things we hold dear. June clearly loves both her husband and her plants.
Character: June is the only real character we have here, minus the small glimpse of Harold that we get in the flashback. She seems like she has a sense of humor. She has a passion for the plants she grows and the research she does. But I don’t think the reader gets a clear enough picture of exactly what she is doing and no sense of why either. I definitely want to know, because I do get enough hints that it sounds interesting. I think the pulling of June between the plants and her husband doesn’t come together, instead each element steals time from developing the other and in turn, June herself.
POV: You went for it! The script. Unfortunately, I don’t think it does anything to help the story we get here. Because there’s really only one talking character a script doesn’t make much sense. It ends up being mostly (I don’t know much about screenplays) scene notes? And this makes it seem much more like a regular narrative with occasional dialogue and words having to be spent on Act I Scene II, etc. This was a particularly hellacious hell rule.
Plot: There is definitely a plot. Circumstances change, people die, memories pass and June goes through some serious poo poo but I’m a bit lost on being able to pinpoint exactly what. I can’t even say why June kills her husband. Was it the medical bills? Was it for his memories? Was it a combination of both? Who is the lady at the end? Is it the only once mentioned Jenny who I think is a daughter? Is it someone else not at all identified?
Scene and Summary: I guess technically it’s all scene since there’s only a wave at “montage of memories” or a shot of medical bills for summary. And unfortunately it doesn’t work because most of the scenes are shot direction rather than any action. Probably the clearest scene we have is the one of June watering the plants because she actually gets to talk. Even the flashback only gives us a recap of something we might have been able to figure out with a few more context clues. Scene needed more action/interaction.
Style/sentences: The style of the sentences is practical and utilitarian written in the form direction. And it doesn’t stray from that, so it’s consistent. But unfortunately that loses the possibility of the style of the piece providing any additional interest leaving all of the work to be done by characters and plot. And I already went over the issues there. An experiment that I hope was at least a little fun to try.
Aboutness: Jaclyn and her husband, David, tend plants. David creates new types of plants and sends them out to other enthusiasts so that they can discover the beauty in nature. The current plant they’re working on is particularly difficult with little to distinguish it positively and Jaclyn feels like it’s sapping the last of David’s energy. In the end David dies just as Jaclyn sees the beauty in the plant both for itself and for how her husband always saw it. This story is about love: for people, for beauty, for those things that remind us that there is more to the world.
Character: Both Jaclyn and David are both well-rounded. They are defined both in terms of what they do for their plants and what they mean to each other. We even see the negative side of Jaclyn but we are never in any doubt that she loves her husband despite her dislike of his current project. And she never doubts him. The flashback is useful in showing us how they got here and that David has led a long and fruitful plant career with more than stinking plants to show for it. All of the details add up to two sympathetic characters. While the death is expected by the reader and Jaclyn, we are comforted in the end.
POV: third person, present, from Jaclyn’s perspective. The best choice. Her thoughts and feelings inform the narrative and make it stronger.
Plot: The reader watches as Jaclyn comes to terms with basically her whole life with David and his plants. Though she has already accepted David and she realizes that maybe it’s a bit her and not just the plant that needs to reveal some things. It’s handled in a way that feels natural to Jaclyn’s character and not obvious or spelled out. And when she does find something special about the plant, as always the plant is secondary. It’s the love that went into it.
Scene and summary: I’d say more scene than summary. And although there’s no urgency to this story, it never feels like it drags or there’s too much information being given.
Style/sentence: I get wistful acceptance from these sentences. A life well lived and time for reflection. It adds to the characters. The sensory words are descriptive without being over the top describing the smell of the plan and what its waste looks like are both good details. It did take me a couple rereads of sentences/paragraphs to understand some connections, but I think any initial confusion I had was cleared up. If you want an instance, I was confused at the “Let the whole world be filled with profanity.” But then I realized that was referring back to David’s comment about how they would swear at him. It was just a bit far away from that sentence that I didn’t immediately see them as related. And the collaborate, compete and lose was also a confusing line of dialogue. Though I think that’s an explanation of why he wouldn’t make plants that were conventionally useful or beautiful in any way. But feel free to correct me. Just good to hear one reader’s experience.
Thranguy A Cycle of Nine, A Circle of Thirteen
Okay, you don’t get a formatted critique because this story is beyond that. I love this, probably more than reason dictates, but I don’t care. This is 100% right up my Faerie Queene alley and if I could have I would have given it the win. Unlike the other two judges, I’m pretty sure I understand the entirety of the narrative but mostly because I slowed down to read it and parse it and it’s beautiful. It hit the prompt, it hit the flash rules, it hit the hell rule. And it was more than I could have hoped for.
A girl (Janey) goes on fighting adventures in fairy, her best friend Ham, from the fae realm, by her side. But in time the adventures end, she gets a boring job and lives a boring life. Until one day a packet of seeds comes in her mailbox from Queen Mab herself. Janey plants the seeds and opens a portal back to fairy. Queen Mab, with Ham in tow, appear to ask Janey to act as messenger between the two sides of the war promising her a gift. Janey agrees and the peace talks are opened. King Roan also promises Janey a reward for her work in negotiating. But while the actual sides are talking, Janey and Ham catch up. She thought it all a dream, but Ham waited for her, refusing the queen’s entreaties. (They talk about this over lunch meat and Mountain Dew which is fantastic.) The King and Queen come to an arrangement. The portal is closed the fairies leave. The queen leaves without giving Janey her gift, but the King leaves her with fairy gold that turns to flower petals. Janey uses them to magic herself back to fairy so that she can live there evermore.
I love the detail about selling her two handed typing for more useful things in the world so that she can go on more adventures. To be fair, in spite of all its trappings, it is a simple story. And this never settles into a rhythm. Though the rhyme scheme mostly follows an abc abc def def gg pattern, it’s off just enough of the time to make it difficult to really lose yourself in. Good poetry allows you to get lost in the words and rhythm without needing to know the meaning. But since I didn’t ask for poetry, I will take this. Sacrifice was necessary. And it doesn’t bother me at all.
Crabrock Zero Stars
Your story also does not get a formatted critique because you broke my brain. It’s like you wrote one of my hell rules without having been assigned it. I was absolutely going to make someone write about a plant that produced live animals. Though I had hoped for something more fun. Then you go and do what you did. In terms of polish and story arc, this story wins the day. It also delivered a punch of horror and surprise that got a visceral reaction from me. I literally said “Oh my god” and put my hands over my mouth. That is difficult to do with prose. So, uh, kudos?
The way this story portrays the aching desire of this child to have something, anything that will love him is heartbreaking. And his mother’s reinforcement of that makes him a very sympathetic character with a clear motivation. The denial of food came as a mini-shock since I didn’t think it was necessary and by the time we find that the refrigerator is kept locked his mother starts to stray into fairy tale levels of cruelty And on further examination why is his mother allowing him to have pets but not food?
But this is definitely how you establish character motivation and elicit emotion in a flash fiction length piece. I simultaneously want everyone to read this and yet no one to. Nice image, by the way. Did you make that or is it from somewhere else that I now need to avoid for fear of baby chomping?
Caligula Kangaroo #SpringQueen
Aboutness: Internet celebrity Kylie runs afoul of Fairy Queen Titania. The queen executes a plan that causes Kylie to lose her fame, fortune and any chance of getting it back. In an attempt to win it back, Kylie is lost to the fairy realm. This story is also about the dangers of mortal trappings and what happens when humans rise too high and dismiss others.
Character: I don’t get the feeling that we care about either the narrator or the target. Or if not care about them, care that they succeed/fail. Kylie is generic Internet celebrity with hubris and Queen Titania is left to the reader’s imagination about what they know of the whims of fairies. Reader definitely needs more about Titania to understand her motivations in toppling Kylie and why she would do it to this extent. Kylie we need to know more about so that we feel satisfaction when she meets her fate.
POV: First person, past from the view of Titania. A good choice since she’ll have all the details. But if I’m imagining Titania telling this story, as the queen, I think she glosses over a lot of this info.
Plot: I love that we’re getting into some trickster fairy stuff. I love when people remember that fairies are mostly in it for the laughs. They especially love to watch humans fall on their faces when they get to be thinking too highly of themselves. But I think this gets bogged down in needing to explain every little detail about how a fairy went about tricking a mortal in the age of computers. And showing the results of her fall, which though they add commentary on our current way of living, distract from the core of the story. The story has good intentions and I love the thought process all the way around. In the end, we need a story about people we care about seeing either their rise of their fall.
Scene/Summary: It’s all summary. And this hurts the narrative a lot. Since everything is a foregone conclusion the reader doesn’t get sucked in to tension of a scene or the
Sentence/Style: I read amusement at her own cleverness from this style. It’s clearly going for breezy, flippant and braggadocious and it succeeds. I think it is a good choice. But, again, the details weigh down the light and airy language.
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 00:08|
And because Simply Simon cannot go unanswered. Here's a crit for his week 422 story.
Crit for Simply Simon’s The Swamp-drainer of Rupat Island
I read this story twice. The first time I was confused and I thought the story wasn’t clear. But then I read it a second time and I’m not sure whether understanding the whole helped me get more out of the words the second time or if my brain was just addled the first time, because this story is great and tells a whole lot of story with an efficiency of words while still managing to portray the actions, scene, and characters in a well-rounded way.
Though, true to form, this story is bigger than the confines of the story. There are acres of characterization and scene and action to explore. And the ending, though it does not feel rushed at all, definitely happens very fast. I want more detail. I want to see the change in Malik’s eyes as he sees the banaspati coming for him. I want to watch Suharjo’s love for his land allow him to withstand flame. Of course a word count of 2000 is not going to allow for that and you did amazing with the space you had.
I think this could easily have won as well. And I actually feel like it should have since my story had very little action at all and not nearly the global to local scale that this story encompasses. It does a lot with a little and that’s amazing.
I clearly love most of it, but these are my favorite bits:
-The flinches while Malik is reminiscing. Perfect and say so much with so little.
-“There’s no success in a name like Malik.”
-A one sentence description of the corpse that is all I need to want to puke too. Very visual and disgusting, way to go!
-The description of the monkey throwing fireballs.
-“Ryan won’t remember, Malik!”
Here are my quibbles:
I find it most unclear when you use a generic term to refer to someone or some entity, like when Suharjo is referred to as “the farmer.” I know it’s to characterize and add variety to the prose, but sometimes it adds a bit of confusion at a time when things are already confused.
Suharjo’s explanation of the Banaspati doesn’t seem natural. It reads a bit too much like an encyclopedia entry. But it’s short, so it’s not a big problem.
“The banaspati had appeared.” Lose the had. It takes away from the drama.
While Malik’s callous disregard of Chalid makes some sense, I think there needs to be an indication that it was painful for Suharjo to sacrifice his friend. But, I know, word count.
“Ignoring this, the shiny teeth above and the “traditional” straw hat on top Malik had purchased from a souvenir shop, “genuine” Levis-clad Suharjo turned to the others.” This was a hard sentence to follow.
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 00:13|
Thunderdome Recap?! Week 420, Part 2!
Hello friends. In this installment of our ongoing week 420 coverage, two intrepid idiots fumble charmingly through another round of stories. Come for the crits, stay for helpful keyboard goop-cleaning advice. Featuring myself and Sebmojo
CLICK HERE FOR PODCAST (also available on Apple and Google podcasts)
A friendly penguin
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 04:25|
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 10:09|
I am like 75% sure I can do this week so I'm in.
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 10:21|
I will not be able to post an entry before the deadline closes in two hours but I'll to post a redemption before Wednesday, 16 September, 11:59 PM EDT.
Redemption for week 423
My Beautiful Friend
If anyone was to blame for the murders, it's the community garden club.
I’m sure they meant well. I mean, they just wanted to make the world more beautiful, more lively. They sent out these mailers—you’ve probably gotten them—with lush scenes of roses and zinnias and bowers laden with pomegranates from homes around the area. A little piece of heaven, one advertisement reads, as if you can slice off an orchard and take it home with you in a doggy bag.
For a while, I accepted that fantasy. I was lonely. In need of friends. I went to club meetings led by the club president, Bethany, touring her lavish, well-tended grounds. Part of me believed what she sold us, that we could win other people’s attention with hard work and determination. She was nice, after all. She sought me out at meetings and gave me advice on how I could find purpose in gardening.
But some of us never managed to conjure the lily ponds and blocks of pink roses that Bethany could. Some of us paid the garden club’s annual membership fees and signed up for master class seminars and visited the very best arboretums and couldn’t even muster up so much as a tomato. We never got the accolades that came with bringing life into the world.
I’d go to bed feeling awful, wondering how I’d explain my failures. I’d wake up committed to doing whatever it took to achieve my dreams of green. I downloaded a Tor browser and tracked down unmarked packages of seeds off the Dark Web from a man in the Russian-Israeli mafia. “Mandrakes! Very rare!” He said in a message from a burner phone. “Don’t forget to water! :-)”
I knew how that sounded, but… did you ever see the geometric Edwardian style of Bethany’s garden? Its array of hedges, terraces, and sunken platforms? Its systems of interlinked trellises filled with lavenders and other perennials? They got hundreds of likes on her Instagram, even though she used ill-fitting hashtags and posed in the shots in ways that obstructed her garden’s superior horticulture.
But that’s besides the point. What I want to say is that I planted the seeds deep in freshly tilled earth. I watered them every day, willing them to grow, to flower into their distinctive bell-shaped corolla.
And nothing happened.
Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even so much as a sprout.
Which caused me to fall deeper into despair. I spent long hours laying in my bed, scrolling through the garden club’s Facebook page. I got drunk on raspberry mojitos while attending one of Bethany’s garden parties and screamed at her about her anachronistic use of Asian vegetables in an Edwardian garden. I got really into True Crime podcasts. Serial. In the Dark. Dirty John. You name it.
I can have hobbies other than gardening, you know.
It’s while listening to the podcast Medieval Death Trips I heard something interesting. One of the hosts said that mandrakes have long been associated with the supernatural. He said they grow not from water but from fat and blood. They are creatures capable of speech, whose cries bestow misfortune to all in earshot (if you can believe that). He said all of this before delivering the offer code for a set of artisanal underwear.
And for a moment, just a moment, I saw a chance for redemption. I didn’t see the wilting geraniums and marigolds that littered my backyard. I didn’t have to feel bad about Bethany messaging me in the middle of the night, concerned about my outbursts at her fêtes and the slow disintegration of my mental well-being. Instead, my brain lighted with visions of ferns and flowering shrubs arrayed around a flourishing set of mandrakes. My garden wasn’t cold and irritating but inspired. I saw the garden club publishing photos of my hard work, my sacrifices for American horticulture.
I started small with my garden after that. I did tests. I sliced open the palm of my hand and let my blood seep into the earth. There was a small shrill noise, like a choirboy singing off-key, followed by the appearance of a small leaf from the soil. I sprinkled my bird feeder with garden club-approved pesticides and ground birds and squirrels that fell for the trap. This time, the plants exuded a hum, soft but distinct. I saw the hint of sprouts. In the night, I captured a bag of neighborhood pets. The plants swelled further and their voices rang through the garden, sounding like nuns embarking on evening vespers.
Later on, Bethany left me a voicemail, sobbing that someone climbed her trellises and stole her dog. I listened. I sympathized. I convinced her that we should go look for him. Alone.
Which brings us to the grand finale. The big event. This time there was no Bethany to throw a gala or fair or festival. The garden club was distraught, bereaved by the disappearance of a beloved leader who would nevermore be seen among her roses and hollyhocks, whose designs were already becoming undone. I knew her peonies would wilt. Her hedges would grow ragged. Careful geometries fractured beneath the weight of police tape.
It fell on me, Bethany’s friend, to take the lead.
The garden club members were quiet as I ushered them, one by one, into my backyard for a monthly meeting. They stopped, transfixed, when I showed them how my garden had developed. The mandrakes were no longer sprouts, no longer even simple corollas. Instead, they spiderwebbed out into shapes and configurations never before seen. There were mandrake hedges and mandrake bushes. There were large blooming mandrake orchards. Mandrake leaves curled into parterres, nutteries, arbors, beehives, potting sheds, hammocks, topiary, and mulch piles.
And through all of this was song, beautiful song. From all directions came a chorus of voices that brought to mind the plainchant of saints and apostles. I knew that the voices are not an illusion, an Instagram filter of reality, but a true hierophany. I could see it in the faces of the other garden club members as tears ran down their cheeks and they turned to me in alarm.
“What have you done?” Asked the last member to arrive in a voice barely audible over the celestial chorus.
She held the casserole dish in front of her like a shield. The contents, forgotten, spilled out over her legs and shoes as she searched for anything but mandrake.
“Where are the others?”
I pretended not to hear her or the sound of approaching sirens. It was easy. The chorus of voices was so loud; it stretched heavenward. Instead, I moved my body in front of the garden’s gate. I grabbed the shears I’d stashed into the underbrush. I knew this moment would be fleeting, but I feel a lightness in me.
I finally had it. The garden. The beauty. The attention.
For a moment, I had it all.
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 20:31|
Crit for QuoProQuid My Beautiful Friend
Aboutness: Protag wants a beautiful garden. Does everything her guides at the garden club say to do, but still fails. Eventually plants mandrake, feeding it blood until it takes over the entire garden, craving more blood until the protagonist murders the entire garden club for the plants. This story is also about the lengths one will go to for acceptance and then morphing into dominance.
Character: The protagonist is developed fairly quickly by the world built around them. And also using the frequent appeals to “you” in telling the story as a way to gain the reader’s sympathy towards them. This is done fairly quickly and efficiently. So quickly though that I don’t quite believe their desire. The story hits all the beats for first looking for community, then moving on to jealousy, and finally into desperation. But I just don’t get the feeling that each of those transformations was earned in the narrative. It says “which caused me to fall into a deep despair” and thought that satisfies the story, it doesn’t feel as satisfying to the reader.
POV: First person, mostly past. It strays to present at the end. I saw in discord you said that you changed it from all present to past so I don’t know if the present at the end was leftover or intentional as the protag approaches the end of their blood bath. But this choice works well to gain the reader’s sympathy toward a character that has done some very bad things.
Plot: Progresses rapidly from initial motivation, to strings of failed efforts to side quest, to more effort and finally success, but success demands more effort and that’s where we end. It’s a logical progression handled clearly. There’s no confusion, only fun details.
Scene/Summary: Mostly reads like summary told with flashes of scene. And maybe that’s why it feels like the narrative happens too quickly to be earned? Instead of getting to linger in the mind of the protag, we are swept along. It’s interesting to watch it all unfold, and the end when all of the garden club members come into the protags back yard and the reader gets to savor the music as each new voice is added to the chorus is particularly nice, but until we get there, it’s a mad dash.
Sentence/Style: Conversational, I’d call this (I have to point out “besides the point”. It makes me cringe.) And that makes it relatable and helps the reader be pulled along on the ride. Variable sentence lengths that kept me engaged. Relatable, specific details mixed with generalities make the story feel just special enough without getting caught in explaining too much.
Overall this would have fared well this week. Maybe not HM, but definitely high.
|# ? Sep 15, 2020 23:00|
in & flash pls & tia
|# ? Sep 16, 2020 05:16|
i'll do it. roast shrimmmppp
|# ? Sep 16, 2020 23:04|
in & flash pls & tia
destination: Disneyland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! or another park of your choice
purpose: someone just turned 9 years old
|# ? Sep 16, 2020 23:53|
|# ? Sep 17, 2020 02:13|
destination: some really really olde ruins
purpose: true love... or is it?
|# ? Sep 17, 2020 03:31|
|# ? Sep 18, 2020 13:14|
BRAWL ENTRY - W E A S E L F I G H T
“Ladies and Gentlemen! You all know why you're here. I give you – WEASEL FIIIGHT!”
The promoter drew out the last word for ten full seconds in that cramped basement, and the crowd screamed in appreciation. Packed shoulder to shoulder, they jostled forward – crowding around the makeshift ring in the center of the floor. Booze and sweat dripped down to soak the concrete in equal measure. Somewhere, a cheap boom-box started to blare out tinny heavy metal music, eliciting another cheer from the gathered mass.
“Tonight's main event! In this corner, with black feet and ears, it's our reigning champion. He's sixteen inches long, and weighs in at two pounds, fifteen ounces. It's the Stoat with the Most. The Baron of Bounce. The Masked Mink. The weasel you looove to hate, it's Marten Van Buren!”
The weasel's manager raised him up for the crowd to see, and narrowly avoided striking Marten's head on the low ceiling. Applause and whistles rose up to meet the champ, with a few jeers scattered through the crowd. For his part, Marten hung limp in his manager's grasp and scratched idly at his left ear.
“And in the opposite corner – albino, weighing two pounds even, and a petite thirteen inches long – we have tonight's challenger! The All-American Prairie Pole-cat. The Sultana of Slink. The Squirmin' Ermine. Let's hear it for Ferret Fawcett!”
As the contender was held aloft, cupped in her manager's hands, the noise in the basement was deafening. She bent in a sagging U-shape, her head bent backwards to catch an upside-down glimpse of the roaring crowd. Two ruby eyes swept across the room, then she turned to wriggle her snout down her manager's sleeve.
“Betting ends when the bell rings! Place your bets now. Fighters, please step to the center of the ring,” the promoter commanded.
The two managers squared off to one another, each cradling their furry pugilist. The referee for the night, a squat man in tattered wife-beater, had to shout to be heard by the men standing in front of him.
“You know the rules. Only weasels in the ring. The fight's finished when it's finished, or you say its finished, or I say it's finished. Got that?”
Both men nodded.
“Drop the weasels in at the bell.”
The two managers turned and hopped back over the ring's side boards. A pause, then a hush descended across the room. With a meaningful glance from the referee, the bell rang, and all hell broke loose.
Marten Van Buren was the first to hit the floor, and he made good use of the initiative to curl into a ball and preen the fur on his flanks. Ever the heel, his blatant display of hubris was the perfect way to open the match. The crowd ate it up and howled for more. Marten upped the ante by licking his paws and smoothing down the hair behind his black-tufted ears, further cementing his pretty-boy reputation.
But in the other corner, the challenger was making her own play. Ferret slinked anticlockwise along the ring's sidewall, sniffing daintily in search of a crack to slip through. Finding none, she continued to make her way ever closer to where Marten sat. She stopped every few inches to flatten herself against the cement, narrowly avoiding puddles of stale beer. The champ continued to arrogantly pay her no attention, locked into his own private battle with a matted lock of fur on his haunch.
This was a mistake.
Sensing her opportunity, Ferret arched her back and flounced toward Marten – popping up on her hind legs just in time to startle him before flopping heavily onto his curled form. The two mustelids tussled fiercely, nipping at ears and tails alike. The only indication of where one body ended and another began was in the contrast of Ferret's snow white fur against Marten's steely grey.
Savage displays of tiny teeth bit down ineffectually on loose skin and fur, eliciting indignant meeps from each contender. While her opening move had thrown Marten off balance, Ferret was now feeling the effect of her heavier opponents grapples. Marten's delicately beaned paws continually probed for better purchase to pin Ferret to the damp concrete.
Somehow, she managed to break free for a moment, and the crowd exploded as Ferret scampered toward the opposite corner of the ring, with Marten hot on her tail. Reaching the plywood, she bounded upward, her small claws digging into the side wall. Then, she pushed off and backwards – twisting in mid air – before landing with her full weight on Marten's back. Unfortunately, the victory was short lived, for Ferret could not latch onto Marten's well-groomed fur in time.
She rolled aside, knocking her small head against the hard floor.
While she lay dazed, Marten began his war dance. He lept and frolicked around her, the crowd booing and applauding in equal measure. Bristling his tail and clumsily rebounding against the side of the ring as he bounced, he gloated in victory. He suddenly collapsed into a furry heap, and took a spontaneous nap.
The match seemed over, and the referee began to walk over to call the fight. But, glancing at Ferret's manager, he saw the man scowl, shake his head and mouth the words “Let her fight.” He arched an eyebrow, as if to ask the man was certain he wanted to make a decision that would surely be folly. The manager nodded grimly and the ref shrugged and backed away from the combatants.
Those few moments gave Ferret some time to shake off her concussed haze. She wobbled to her feet, and scanned the ring with her little red eyes. There was her opponent, curled with his nose tucked primly under his tail and snoring lightly as the crowd bayed for violence. She knew this was her only chance, so she half-slunk, half-crawled to within a few inches of Marten. Then with a sudden pounce, she sprang forward and crashed on top of him roughly. He gave a cursory push with a hind paw to dislodge her, but when that failed he simply returned to sleep.
Within moments, Ferret had dozed off as well. The crowd went wild.
“Ladies and Lords! Your winner, and new champion – Ferret Fawcett!” the promoter screamed to be heard above the din.
With a subtle glance, and slight gesture of his hand, and the boom-box began to blare out a funky beat.
“But, wait! Is that the music of a new challenger?!”
|# ? Sep 19, 2020 18:00|
|# ? Oct 4, 2022 16:31|
oh yeah entries are closed.
|# ? Sep 19, 2020 18:42|