Your Diagnosis: Hereditary Angioedema
Pathology: An inborn deficiency in the C-1 esterase enzyme, hereditary angioedema is associated with an accumulation of fluid in various body cavities and tissues as the result of an inability to effectively reduce inflammation. Common sites of accumulation include the feet, hands, eyelids, intestinal tract (leading to swollen intestines and gut blockage) and lips. This condition can prove life-threatening when the edema fluid compresses the airways and can lead to suffocation by a sort of constrictive 'drowning'.
|# ? Feb 1, 2020 07:28|
|# ? Oct 3, 2022 05:43|
TD388 Fantastic Mr Cockroach Crits
Because of my tardiness, everybody gets extra crits. Did your story age like a fine wine, or turn to vinegar? Let's find out!
Saucy_Rodent - Stingslinger
Pulp fantasy with wasps, classic story of wandering blade entrusted with the life of a helpless monarch, a bit of palace intrigue, some backstabbing -- hits all of the right notes, pacing is decent. Overall effect is a bit cotton-candy, there are a number of opportunities to stretch or twist the format that go unexplored.
This didn’t occur to me initially, but I’m now wondering whether this is a wasp-based homage to R.A. Salvatore -- it’s not just the similarity between Bzzzt and Drizzt, but also the general theme of lone fearsome warrior improbably sticking it to power (it’s been literal decades since I read those books, but that’s my memory of what those books are like). Coming back to this story, I think something that would build this story up better would be if Bzzzt’s motivation for coming to Plum Tree were better established -- there’s a lot of grim clenched-mandible monologuing that takes up a lot of the air in this story, and I think that space would be better put towards building some relationship between the Bzzzt and the larval queen, as well as giving Bzzzt a better reason for wandering into unfriendly territory with such a vulnerable and precious traveling companion.
Doctor Eckhart - A Song From Over The Floorboards
There are a lot of characters here, and they don’t get much opportunity to develop. Plotting is all over the place, stakes feel limited. A decent first draft, but needs a lot of tightening -- too many threads left hanging. What they want is food and clothing, and it seems like despite all of the moving parts here, they get what they want without much difficulty.
For me, the opening dialogue in this story is a little too flabby -- there’s a lot of it there, and the tone is a bit too generic to have it feel like it’s establishing important character details. Ideally you want for dialogue to reveal something interesting and plot-critical about the nature of the characters populating your story, and while this dialogue feels like it’s hitting the right tone for your standard “mouse family living in the walls” story, it’s not giving me enough differentiation between the characters. I’d cut a good two thirds of the dialogue that’s here right now, and tighten up the remaining third to ratchet up the stakes in the story. I also think you could do with a bit more danger in the scene with the Bigs -- aside from Mote almost getting stepped on, there’s not much there. Your standard formula for this kind of story would include the Bigs seeing the two young mice, blocking their escape route back to their home, forcing them to defy a multitude of dangers as they search for an alternative way home, etc etc.
Yoruichi - This is a true story, about a spider that lives in my basement
Decent femme fatale story, envy and anger are well broadcast, but feels like it’s running down the clock -- the pieces are there for a good tight setup and confrontation between the two spiders vying for the human’s attention, but too much of the story is constrained within the weaver’s POV. Could use more direct action.
This story slots into the angry loner’s diary formula and, while the pacing is good and the language well chosen in several parts, there’s a pitfall to the format that the story doesn’t escape. The action is tightly confined to the weaver’s point of view, hemmed in by its constant interjections telling the reader exactly what it feels at every turn instead of trusting the reader to infer the spider’s emotional state from the context. At least half of this story occurs entirely inside the brain of the weaver, and that gets exhausting when not broken up by a bit of external action.
arbitraryfairy - Mixed Messages
There’s a lot of hurt and fear and confusion in this story, and you’re forcing the wheel too hard in the attempt to bring the ship around to a somewhat happy ending. There’s a fair bit of flab on this story, which is one of the problems with giving out a large wordcount -- there’s not enough in here to fill out 1500 words, feels like there’s about 700ish words in here.
I think the main issue with this story is that its tone is all over the place -- it can’t decide where it wants to sit on the serious-to-cute spectrum, and that leaves the story with a dissonant feeling that doesn’t suit either end. There are also a *lot* of characters in this story, and for me they’re just contributing clutter -- if the central conflict in this story is about a cat that attacks a kid and then fears retribution, this isn’t a story that needs an army of supporting cat characters. I’d either cut most of these other characters and tighten the focus down to Zoro, or build up the stakes in the conflict so that it’s something that all of the cats in the Home have a real role in.
Freakie - Exit… Cage Left
Bad title. Missing any sense of agency on the part of the main characters, or clear definition of character. The stuff that happens in this story happens outside of the context of the characters’s understanding, which robs those events of their weight. Bringing the relationship focus to Anne and Milo would make this stronger, by way of drawing Anne’s decision to free the animals closer to Milo’s perspective.
The setup of animals caged in a research lab is a little cliché, and this story doesn’t bring much new to the table to elevate it beyond the confines of its setup. Dialogue is always an opportunity to bring interest to characters through voice, but most of these characters express themselves in fairly generic tones. And the big issue, as noted in the first impression, is that the conflict in this story belongs to Anne, who is an auxiliary character in the story. Either Anne’s decision to release the animals needs to derive from an important interaction with the protagonist of your story, or there needs to be some additional array of conflicts faced by the caged animals that is tilted by Anne’s actions.
Pththya-lyi - The Escape
A pair of rabbits escape a garage fire and engage in some questionable firefighting techniques. Feels like a first draft that’s still finding the right hook, and hasn’t quite worked out its balance between realness and gonzo; it plays the idea of rabbits stealing a car and busting out of a garage with a straight face, and that creates a weird tension in the piece. It feels like you’re tiptoeing around the inherent humor in the piece with the attempt to put out the fire with what turns out to be a flammable tarpaulin, and I think you’d get better mileage out of this piece if you really leaned into the joke opportunities.
I still think that leaning into the jokes would be the right move for this piece, but I would also recommend thinking a little harder about how to instigate the action in the story without resorting to a deus ex machina house fire. Setting the house on fire is a lazy way to build stakes in a story, but you can give it a bit of depth by giving your characters some agency in that event -- think about how you could make the rabbits responsible for starting the fire, instead of just reacting to it, and I think you’ll find that the story will feel much more fleshed out.
Adam Vegas - Help Me Be Captain
These male attacking ants grate on my brainfolds worse than its/it’s. Also not sure what’s going on with these honeydew storing termites. Looks like you got interested in nasute termites and autothysis, though, so we’ll let it slide.
What we end up with is a war story, with a similar feel to Stingslinger. But here the stakes feel lesser -- the conflict with the invading ants is resolved neatly through no action from the protagonist, and the fight between Colonel Winston and Captain Percy never feels dangerous. Percy’s never sympathetic enough for his betrayal to feel other than mechanical, and Winston apparently feels little compunction about dispatching him.
Other issues -- takes too long to get going, the initial bar scene feels too generic to get any traction.
This was in my low pile going into judging, but one of my co-judges had it tagged for a potential HM, so we ended up sliding it through without mention. Coming back to it again, it still feels very plodding in the early bar scene, and the betrayal plot device still feels generic and turn-key to me -- but, as a caveat, pulp military fiction isn’t really my thing at all, and so for folks that really enjoy the genre the parts that grate on me might just be interpreted as conforming to genre expectations. If my crits here don’t feel like they’re resonating, I’d recommend maybe shopping it around to folks who are more steeped in the genre to see what they think about it; I may just not be the right audience for it.
Staggy - One Man’s Trash
This is confidently presented and well paced, with some very good turns of phrase. Hits the right feel for the week, drawing on the universal burden of guiding a child’s development. That said, could push harder on the stakes -- there’s a lot of tension that’s set up here with the risk of the raccoon family’s discovery, as well as Racdad’s fibs and half-truths catching up with him, and that tension still feels unresolved at the end of the story.
For anybody else that I’ve called out on dialogue in these crits, I would suggest reading this story as an example of really effective dialogue. This story succeeds because it uses only as many characters as it needs to tell the story, and the dialogue is carefully crafted to both push the plot along as well as distinguish the characters and reveal the conflicts between them. It’s quite well done. It still feels like it’s building up to an interesting resolution that’s left out of the story, which is why I didn’t push for this story to win, but I think this a rewrite or two away from being a very good story.
Tyrannosaurus - sympathy & symphony; or, the twelve days of christmas but each verse gets a little jazzier
Two enemies jazz it out on a wintry evening. Really enjoyed the tight focus here and distinct voicing for the characters. Stakes feel a little unresolved; we get several references to Fox’s hunger, and that’s left unresolved. And their chance confrontation outside a jazz club window feels a little pat at present, like it would help if there were more of a plot reason for why their final confrontation happened to occur there. But the mirroring between the escalation of the jazz music and the confrontation between Rabbit and Fox is very nicely done.
There’s a very familiar feel to the setup of this story -- the idea of mortal enemies inspired to set aside their differences temporarily for the sake of a shared connection to beauty is a well-worn trope, but this story hits the right beats. This story did stick around in my brain for a while after reading it, and coming back to it I still like it quite a bit. I think I would like it even more if there were a bit more establishing details around the beginning, setting out a reason beyond mere chance for why their encounter happens to take place outside of the jazz club.
cptn_dr - The Elephants in the Room
As good a time as any to plug the good work done by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust! You can help make sure adorable baby elephants don’t need to hatch elaborate heists for milk formula by tossing them a few bucks here: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/donate
But while it’s a cute vignette about some mischievous baby elephants, it feels a bit lightweight; could’ve leaned harder into the orphans side of thing, or created some more real human danger for the orphans to face in their quest for more milk. As it is, stakes are low.
The big issue here is that all of the tension in this story, as we follow these two orphan elephants on their quest for more milk, leads up to Kauwi stealing a hat and eating it, and then the story cuts away immediately -- it’s not a strong structural element to hold up your story. It feels like something that might happen at the beginning of the story, an instigating element rather than a culmination of the story. All of the pieces here are cute enough, but I think it’s so charmed by the cuteness that it becomes monotonous -- there’s some real darkness under the surface that could be mined to add a little depth and perspective to the tale (these elephants are orphans, after all), and mixing in a little of that danger and darkness might help the story stand out a little more.
Something Else - Cows’ Consciousness
Muddled -- Bessie’s fractured attempts to bring about a rising of the bovine proletariat don’t connect satisfactorily with the ugly violence of the human love triangle. The two halves don’t feel like they line up well against one another, and having the cows save themselves by working together is a lightweight punchline that didn’t need all of that setup. Also starting to reach my limit on mid-point fires as stakes escalators.
I didn’t remember much about this story coming back to it, which isn’t a great sign. I think the reason for that is the lack of cohesion in the narrative - you have a bunch of parallel threads and story ideas that are all individually fine, but they're not linked together well at all. The payoff for all of Bessie's early agitating is that the cows end up working together to save themselves from a fire, but it's not like that's dependent on their embracing the socialist ideals that Bessie promulgates early on - I think even a pile of libertarian cows, faced with the prospect of burning to death, would be easily convinced that working together to escape death is a good move. And then, if there's a point to the somewhat horrifying parallel thread of the farmer being murdered and his lover dragged off into the woods, it's still lost on me - you could cut out all of that stuff and have a fire start by accident, and that wouldn't affect the cow plot line in any significant way (note that I am emphatically not endorsing accidental fires as a plot driver).
Anomalous Amalgam - Divine Providence & Infernal Wisdom
That is one purple opener. And then this is really not an animal story, but rather a story about some biblical figures that are stuck in bird bodies for reasons that are never made clear.
Going into judging, this was my original pick for the loss. It misses the prompt, in that it's not an animal story but rather a story about angels and demons that are cursed to inhabit the bodies of birds, otherwise carrying on as though they are human-ish. The language is overstuffed in places to the point of parody, palpably straining to reach for a portentous biblical tone and falling short. It feels like it's aiming for a target along the lines of Good Omens or Dogma, but there's no backdrop of imminent apocalypse to build any real stakes into the story - it's just a bunch of angels and demons being tragically boring while hanging out as seagulls for some reason. And come on, a seagull has so much potential to be a hilarious animal story protagonist, and there's nothing in this story that makes use of any of that opportunity - it would be the same story if they were rats or blue ringed octopuses. In retrospect I think I probably should've stuck to my guns, but consider this one a close shave, I guess.
Carl Killer Miller - The Ritual of Haast
For a second I was hoping we were getting a magpie themed version of Home Alone and I got very excited about that idea.
Also ritual sacrifice and an Of Mice and Men retelling where Lennie ends up getting burnt in a fire is not quite what I had in mind w/r/t keeping things on a positive track for the week.
The shifting camera back and forth between magpies and burglars gets a little exhausting, and could be significantly tightened.
Also magpies don't chirp, ya dingus.
So, I didn't actually have this one in my low pile going into judging. I thought it was a little goofy, and so far off from the appropriate tone for the prompt that I figured you might just be stirring the poo poo a bit with it. And I've got a soft spot for stories that are confident enough to thumb their noses at the prompt. My cojudges, however, were way less forgiving of the excesses of this story, dinging it both for making extensive use of human POVs as well as spectacularly failing to maintain a positive tone.
Anyway, there's a lot of fat on this story to be trimmed - Quiffles' grandstanding gets old quickly, and the reaction of the magpie parliament is just all over the place tonally. The dialogue between the robbers is decent in places (another reason why I didn't initially have it low), but it'd have been nice if those same chops had been applied to the magpie dialogue, which feels mired in molasses from the getgo. And I would've liked to see some stronger characterization from the other magpies as well - Quiffles sucks up all the oxygen in the room, and giving him a strong opponent to play against would give this story a structure to work with.
But yeah, despite not having had this marked for the loss, there wasn't much for me to reach for in its defense either. So it goes sometimes.
Ironic Twist - The Sloth Who Saw His Hands
I like this. It’s a telling of a sloth myth that feels authentic, like it’s believable that sloths would construct a mythology that centered around the connection their claws form with trees and extend that to the connections that they share with their ancestors. The dead sloth in the center is a creepy twist that comes in right as the reader’s starting to wonder where this is all going, and keeps the momentum. I think you could lean harder on the mythic role of the dead sloth and bring in more of an overt supernatural element.
I still really like this story coming back to it. What works so well about it is that the cadence of the storytelling, and the craft of the narrative structure, feels patient and languorous in a way that mirrors the movement of a sloth. And yet, despite having that slow feeling, it's in no way boring - underneath all the styling, there's a tight plot that's cranking along and hitting some really effective beats. This is a great story, probably the sort of thing that's a bit too niche to shop around as short fiction, but I think it could form a strong basis for a short novella.
Thranguy - Friends of Luca
Tuna noir. Crustacean gangsters. I love the inversions of the gangster tropes, with inconvenient fish being put on hooks, and the idea that the crab gangsters learned their criminal trade from the unfortunate exemplars of their terrestrial counterparts. In terms of what’s holding this back, the voicing feels like it’s at a distance, it’s a story that’s being told from a position of relative safety, and the stakes shift a lot in a short span -- the death of Johnny Garlic is really just there to make Joey Deadline the big bad, whereas I think you could have kept this story a little tighter by keeping the conflict with Johnny Garlic, and having Charlie 2na go to the cops then.
I liked this one at the time, and I still like it now. My cojudges weren't as enthusiastic about it, and I get why - it's a little too clever for its own good, trying to cram as many tropes and references in as it can, and ultimately that spirit of excess crowds out the actual story itself. There's some genuinely funny stuff in here, and I will go to the mat for crustacean gangsters; I don't know if it's just that the setup and tone reminds me of Eric Powell's The Goon, but I think this would make a fun comic.
SlipUp - Roomy
OMG another house fire.
A heroic roomba that dies in a factory explosion and has its consciousness (?) transferred (?) to a Hellfire drone (??) is a, uh, curveball for the week’s prompt, I’ll give you that.
Despite the ill fit of the story to the prompt, the pacing isn’t terrible and the stakes are escalated competently -- need to take about twenty percent off though.
These are some primo 'Dome bananas you've got here. It's gleefully dumb, unable to resist escalating the stakes into the upper strata of absurdity. One of my co-judges was so taken with it that they wanted it to HM, even. Coming back to it, my feeling was "oh right, this one" as opposed to feeling excited about reading it again, so - at least for me - it wasn't a story with a lot of staying power. But it is classic thunderdome to crank things to eleven and go out on a robot explosion slash consciousness transferral, so good job there.
Chairchucker - Through the Sound and In and Out the Valley
Despite myself, and maybe it’s just because there isn’t a goddamn house fire in it, I like this. The dialogue is funny, the action is slapstick and absurdist in a cartoon-y kind of way, and it’s fun to read. There are any number of ways in which this could have been too self-amused, too cornball, too lol-random, but for my money you’ve managed to pilot your way through those shoals almost unscathed.
I enjoyed reading this again - it's got a freewheeling improv flair that succeeds on the merit of its confidence. I can tell you had a good time writing this, and that feeling extends out to the reader nicely. You're not going to win any lit prizes for this sort of jam, but it's good solid entertaining fun.
sebmojo - With the Wisdom of Owls
Good language in the back half, doesn’t overstay its welcome, cute, but feels like it needs more time in the oven to get some closure on Colin’s character arc; he’s established as gloomy, and presumably he’s less gloomy post getting some, but it feels like the story just kind of peters out on a half-hearted sex joke.
I'm pretty sure you're going for parody with that opening paragraph, but if there's depth to the joke I've missed it on both reads. Feels like a shot from the hip that misses the bullseye by a good margin.
|# ? Feb 1, 2020 10:51|
Azza, Fles, about 12 hours to get your brawls in.
|# ? Feb 1, 2020 18:46|
Peter, George, and a Dying Manatee
Peter was making another bitter staffroom coffee - two spoons of instant, brown sludge whirlpooling around the teaspoon - thinking he might die of boredom, when a loud clang rang out across the 3 a.m. aquarium.
Please be aliens, thought Peter. Or at least, an explosion. He ran through the dark corridors towards the sound. Glassy-eyed fish stared at him from their tank, their mouths round with surprise. One that I didn’t cause this time. He shuddered at the memory.
A loud guffaw greeted Peter as he reached the manatee’s tank. George Panagos, well-known nuisance visitor, was standing on the children’s viewing platform, leaning way out over the tank, cheering the ponderous creature on as she made her way to the opened gate to the outdoor pool.
Peter grabbed the back George’s t-shirt. “How’d you get in here? Aren’t you supposed to be trespassed?”
“Oh the huge manatee!” George shouted, and let himself fall into Peter’s arms, cackling from the depths of his pot belly.
Peter stumbled. George was shorter than Peter, but heavier, and Peter struggled to keep his feet. George smelt of sweat and seaweed. There was sand in his beard and his eyes were bright blue beneath his heavy brows.
George grabbed Peter’s name badge. “Peter. Yes, I know you.” He fingered Peter’s dark brown security guard uniform. “But you were one of the cleaners…”
“I got a promotion.” Peter grasped George’s hand and lifted it away from his shirt-front. His heart was beating uncomfortably fast.
George grasped Peter’s hand in both of his. “She’s dying, Peter. Did you know that?”
Peter felt his head start to spin. George’s hands were big and warm, with dark hairs covering his strong forearms. Peter suddenly realised he had no idea why he was talking to this man. He should be detaining him, or calling the Police, or something. He couldn’t afford to gently caress up this job, too.
He pushed George away from him. “The manatee? It’s got some hosed up cancer or something, doesn’t it? The vets were talking about an operation…” Peter looked over to the tank, and saw the tip of the manatee’s paddle-like tail disappear to the outside pool.
George stepped back, then kept going, reeling backwards until he spun around and raced for the door, its lock already busted open.
“The operation won’t work!” he shouted as he ran. “And she doesn’t want to die in this cage!”
“Hey!” Peter sprinted after him. He burst out onto the walkway that sloped down past the outdoor pool to the seawall overlooking the bay. A tall glass balustrade gave visitors and the manatee alike an uninterrupted view of the ocean. The moon was full and low and Peter could hear the high tide slapping against the concrete. The manatee was rolling slowly over and over, gazing at the moon with her right eye, then her left.
George was yanking out the chocks from the wheels of the mobile grandstand that they used for school-group talks. “Help me with this!” he shouted.
Peter turned at the sound of splashing from the pool. The manatee thrust her head and shoulders out of the water, flippers on the edge of the pool. She pumped her tail and heaved the rest of her huge body out and onto the walkway. Grunting with effort, her blubbery sides squidging against the concrete, she wormed her way, inch by inch, towards the seawall.
“What the gently caress!” Peter gaped. “Manatee can’t go on land!”
George whooped in response. “You know nothing about the sea!” He shoved his shoulder against the grandstand. The wheels squeaked, then began to roll. George roared with triumph.
The ungainly steel structure tipped over the top of the slope and began to pick up momentum, George running behind it.
Peter fingered the radio in his pocket. George was mad, he thought. A raving lunatic. Full of insane energy and nonsensical ideas that rolled and pulsed like waves against the shore, unstoppable. Irresistible. Like a surfer watching a storm surge roll in Peter felt his blood rise in response. He thought about his basement flat, where every day after his night shift he would lie on his bed and toss and turn and burn with restless dreams, while outside the world with all its mad possibilities was passing him by.
“Wait!” Peter yelled. He chased after George, grabbing a steel strut. But instead of pulling the grandstand to a stop Peter found himself running too. He heard George panting and laughing beside him as together they ran faster and faster. Peter’s blood roared in his ears like storm-driven waves as they pushed the grandstand down the slope towards its inevitable fate.
The grandstand hit the balustrade with an almighty crash. Plastic seats popped off and the tempered glass shattered. The front wheels burst through the balustrade and dropped over the edge of the seawall. It looked like the grandstand was going to settle there, but with a final wild heave Peter shoved it over and sent it crashing into the sea.
“gently caress yes!” shouted Peter. His heart was pounding and his face split into a huge grin.
George grasped Peter’s face with both hands and planted a kiss on his mouth. “Look!” he cried, spinning Peter around to face the manatee.
Her path cleared, the huge creature redoubled her efforts. Her blubber shook as she heaved and thrust her body forward. Peter squeezed George’s fingers, hardly realising that he’d taken his hand. At the edge of the seawall the manatee heaved a huge sigh, and let the weight of her body roll her over and off the edge.
Peter heard her hit the water with a huge splash, and rushed over to peer down at the dark water. The grandstand was on its side, half-submerged, but the manatee was gone.
George put a hand on Peter’s face, cupping his cheek. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Peter looked at him, confused. George’s hand was warm on his cheek. His blue eyes glinted, but his mouth was set hard. George slid his hand around to the back of Peter’s skull, holding it tight, and then smashed his elbow into Peter’s nose.
Peter yelled and reeled backwards, clutching his face as blood poured out between his fingers. “What the gently caress, what the gently caress!”
“You’ll need a cover story, won’t you? You said you needed this job!” cried George.
“You broke my loving nose!” Peter moaned.
“Let’s say I owe you a drink,” George said, as he shimmied himself over the edge of the seawall. With one hand still covering his nose Peter held out the other, and helped George lower himself into the water.
Peter sat down, legs dangling, and tipped his throbbing head back. He listened as George splashed away up the beach. Above him the pre-dawn sky was lightening to pale blue, the stars winking out one by one. Peter groped for his radio in his pocket, pulled it out, and put in on the seawall beside him. His body thrummed, and he breathed in time with the waves.
Far out in the bay the manatee turned slowly over and over, watching the sunrise first through her right eye, then her left.
|# ? Feb 1, 2020 23:19|
Prompt: I don't care how you frame it or spin it, but I want elements of romance, humor and horror. How you interpret and use that is up to you.
And Then I Got Sticky
I was foolish to take on this project. Young, inexperienced and eager to make a name for myself.
I’m more than two thousand feet deep. The hands on my watch turn. Before me is the machine. A rusted gargantuan at rest, crawling with sweating men in fluorescent vests. I’m surrounded by rock, decorated with lights that dangle from yellow cables. They once would have lead us back out to the surface. Today we fear what lies that way.
Terrence, a bearded and portly man, points the dim light of his helmet at me. He’s panting, resting has hands on his thighs. His eyes are squinting through his dirtied sweat. The sleeping machine still hisses, clanks and buzzes, forcing Terrence to yell.
“There’s only a few hours left. Are we really going this far back and starting again?” He asks.
“Everything we’ve dug these past two weeks is on the brink of collapse,” I say. “We could keep tunneling, but I have this new plan that’s less likely to get us killed.”
Eyes closed, Terrence turns his head away from me. He shakes his head. I feel a weight in my chest pulling me down towards hell.
“I’m sorry, Terrence,” I say, raising my arm to the boring machine, “we’ve already rolled her back.”
Darren and Bill walk up to me. Two men with shaved heads who wear nothing but dungarees under their vests. On display is every crevice of their chiseled musculature.
“We’ve got the tips back on, boss. Everything’s ready,” Darren hollers.
“Alright,” I say, “Get everyone together for a team meeting.”
Surrounded by a congregation of workers, their arms folded, their stance wide. Some of them lean to another’s ear, whispering. I assume it’s to share their curses against my name.
“As you are aware, we’re completely diverting the path,” I say. “The way we were headed was sure to collapse.”
Their groans, swears and tutting echo through the tunnels.
“It’s too late to change direction now,” Bill protests.
“It’ll come down through the roof by then,” Darren says.
“We’ll be killed,” Terrence shouts.
The crowd turn to each other, beginning a multitude of clashing conversations. Their cacophony roars, reverberating from the rock walls.
“I have a plan,” I say, silencing most of the crowd.
“I’ll stay here, at what will become the fork in the tunnel,” I begin. “Then you pile the debris behind you as you drill forward. We’ll build a wall, where you can stay safe in your newly drilled section of tunnel.”
“Needless to say,” I add “It has to be as watertight as you can make it. Don’t leave any openings.”
Terrence hollers, “what about air?”
“So long as the wall is on my side of this vertical shaft, and so long as the fan is working, you should be fine.”
Nods, shrugs, and a few positive sounding murmurs permeate through the crowd.
I continue, “anyone who wants to stay on this side with me, to keep the electrical feed running, can stay with me.”
The workmen erupt into laughter.
“No, thanks,” Bill chuckles.
“Nice try,” Darren says.
“gently caress that!” Terrence shouts.
I push my lips into a flat-mouthed frown. Clap my hands once.
“Let’s get started, then!” I yell.
Some clamber back onto the machine. Others go to the old tunnel, leaving our wasted week’s work in darkness as they salvage the lighting from its walls. A handful start up their trucks and diggers waiting for the rubble.
A klaxon sounds, then begins the whine of vast electric motors. I place my bucket ear defenders back over my ears. The earth rumbles and ruptures. Dust falls from the ceiling. The rusted gargantuan shakes off scales of its flaking gray paint.
A low bassy rumble drones. Rusted rollers squeal. From the maw of the machine, the maddening rhythm begins. Explosive. pounding.
Boogada boogada boogada boog.
Boogada boogada boogada boog.
Rocks begin tumbling through the valley of the conveyor, piling on to the floor. An orderly ballet of trucks and diggers hefts the rocks, building them high.
In a matter of hours, a ramp of boulders — filled in between with dust and gravel — leads out from the back of the machine. It rises up to the ceiling, then falls back out to my side of the wall.
The machine is quiet again.
Just me, a line of lights, and the gentle hum of the fans. Rock as far as the eye can see.
“If I stay high up here, I might just make it.” I think.
From the shafts above ours, the sloshing sound.
I look to my watch.
“Huh, it took more time than this on the other levels.”
My stomach roils at the thought. The thought of my skin touching that stuff. I distract myself, by counting the empty barrels in this tunnel. Twelve empty barrels.
Twelve empty barrels soon stacked neatly.
As pressure builds inside my skull, as my face scowls, as I cry and I howl. One empty barrel by my feet. Crushed and beaten flat.
Then begins pattering. Pattering from further up the tunnel. A rapid firing of droplets. Droplets of thick green slime. Flowing slowly down the tunnel, streaming toward the wall.
Ten empty barrels stacked neatly, plus one crushed and one containing the leak. The hum overhead whines to a stop. Through my radio Terrence speaks, “I think the fan fuse is blown, Daniel. You need to take a look on your side.”
A gray painted box with a yellow warning sign: DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE. A black high voltage line runs in. Yellow and black cables flow out. I throw open its door, inside are four small glass fuses, no wider than pencils, and a fifth the size of a drinks can. The large fuse has thrown soot at its window.
With a click of the radio, “It’s the main fuse that’s gone, Terrence. I can’t see any spares,” I say.
“The sparkies say there’s an identical fuse box in the abandoned tunnel. You should pull the fuse out of there,” Terrence answers.
“I thought you took the electricals out of there?” I ask.
“Nope, just the lighting, and we hooked them up to the box you’re at now.”
I think to myself “Well that could be why your fuse has blown.”
Through the beam of my hat’s torch, I see only a lit circle ahead. I follow the black cable on the wall. It leads to a cave in. A pile of boulders shoulder high. A black cable enters the pile, yellow cables leave.
“I need someone out here. The other box is probably hosed,” I say.
“Probably?” They ask.
“It’s under what must be 10 tons of rocks,” I say.
“Look, we haven’t got long,” They say. “I need you to unplug a length of black cord, pull the plug and socket off, and use the matching wire ends to short the main fuse.”
“Come on, some of our oxygen sensors are beeping. We can’t afford to waste time,” Terrence says.
I think, “you’re the one who wasted my time on this dark trek to a rockslide!”
I say, “that’s going to blow my loving arm off, Terrence.”
Doubts twist in my throat, constricting, adding to the pressure in my head. Cold flows through my body. Numbs me to the feeling. The feeling of a plumber’s blowtorch in my hand. I’ve cut the cable in half, soldered open ends of the male lead to one pin, and the open ends of the female to the other. Perhaps it’ll be safe to push the plug into the socket?
Maybe a shock would be a better way to go. Better than slowly melting in the goo.
The pattering turns to a flow behind me. The leak bursts into a deluge. A cascade of slime crawls its way toward me from afar.
Then a voice behind me sounds, with the calm of a friend talking in the dying moments of the night of a sleepover. It says “No, wait.”
I turn to face it.
I stand, mouth agape. Struggling to comprehend.
A puddle stands as it coalesces into a figure. The figure of a woman. She wears two large rings, corroded from the steel barrel. She wears them like a bandeau and skirt. Her ooze has softened them. They cling to her form. Walking to me. Jiggling.
“I’ll do it,” she says.
She reaches for the cable. I retreat from her dangerous touch. She pushes the socket’s contacts close. They flash in an arc and connect. Her arms boil to steam as the socket drops to the floor. She draws new arms out of her goo.
The fan’s hum returns.
“Don’t worry,” she says, “I’m no danger to you.”
The wall of ooze approaches us both.
“What?” I say, my mind still frozen, processing the sight of this woman.
“If you want to leave, you can leave,” she says. “On the condition you never return.”
I slap my palms to my temples. My already agape mouth widening. Waves of shock bounce up and down my chest.
By the pressure in my skull, my vision flashes with white points. I breathe short, shallow breaths. I turn away from the woman. Then I erupt.
“Hundreds of thousands has been spent trying to dig us out of this pit, my friends were literally just beginning to suffocate, and we could just LEAVE?!”
She stands, silent.
A smile crawls on to my face. All of my pressure dissipates. A fresh sensation like the cold air of spring under its warm sun fills my skin. I slump back against the wall.
I click the radio, “Is everyone on your side alright?”
“All good here, Daniel,” Terrence says.
The crawling wall of slime reaches me, absorbing her into it. My feet remain dry as the sludge steers around me.
My team walks through a corridor of slime, headed toward the entrance. I see myself as like Moses parting the Red sea for my people.
“I’m sure you all want to get home and go to bed, so I have some advice,” I say. “Don’t tell anyone you’re coming out of the main entrance. The media circus still thinks we’re getting rescued by another mining crew out West.”
At the entrance, they walk to their cars. I feel a swirling around my heart. My eyes squint, my lips pursed.
I turn to the wall. I ask it, “what are you going to do now?”
“Most of me wants to stay and enjoy the quiet for a while,” it says, “but a part of me wants to see the world.”
I see the barrel rings pushing through the wall. The woman’s form re emerges. She separates herself from the rest of her slime.
“Precisely this part of me,” she says.
I look at her. I feel my pulse and my skin warming. My mind is filled with images of me and her spending time together.
I’ve been thinking to myself how a swimming pool might be a problem, and I’ve wondered whether she even eats. All of this since we were back at the fusebox.
“I could drive you to town if you want,” I say, “but is there some scenario where you don’t corrode my truck?”
“I don’t eat plastic,” she says.
I pace to my truck, grinning.
“Neat, come on!” I say, heading to the back of my pickup.
I intend to lift the tarp out of the back and drape it over the passenger seat. Before I can lift it, however, she leaps up into the air and pours herself level into the tarp.
“That works,” I say.
“This is real comfy,” she says.
“So, before we head out, there’s something I need to ask,” I say. “What’s your name?”
She stands from her pool, forming letters that rise from the truck bed. She spells her name: TOXX.
“Toxx, huh?” I say, “I’m glad to have met you, Toxx.”
|# ? Feb 2, 2020 02:15|
Flesnolk fucked around with this message at 12:53 on Dec 31, 2020
|# ? Feb 2, 2020 05:57|
prolly regret this but calling out known anime mod bad seafood cuz i never got over that crit about robot dildos or w/e. lets cross katanas under a moonless night ok??? i know for you comparing stories to dildos was prolly tuesday but... it hurt me lol
|# ? Feb 2, 2020 17:41|
Eat poo poo, Get Brain Worms and Die
Below the Waves was totally the most kick rear end band, and I felt like a total geek hiding a sea of the baddest goths. During the third song Jareth suddenly stopped singing and froze like a statue with a mic stand. The rest of the band continued and the fans filled in the lyrics for him, like it was part of the show.
The music started for the next song, but Jareth missed his cue and they repeated the opening bars. He missed it again. Guitarist Drusilla and bassist Idris exchanged glances behind him. Jareth was holding the mic stand and shaking violently. The crowd cheered, and continued cheering when he fell to the floor, taking the mic stand with him.
Drusilla and Idris continued playing a hesitant instrumental version of the song, and kept glancing at each other. Why wasn't anyone helping him? I shoved myself towards the front. Some people shoved me back but I fought my way to the front row, physically climbed over the people who wouldn't move, and dragged myself onto the stage. There were jeers and shouts behind me, but I stumbled over cables and fell to my knees beside Jareth. His limbs and body were jerking erratically, and the mic stand hit my shoulder. I tried to pry it out of his hand, but he had it in a vice like grip. It was futile, so I held down his arm and the mic stand with one arm and tried to stop him from hitting his head on anything with the other hand.
There was a ear splitting noise of feedback and I looked up to see Drusilla had thrown down her guitar and was gesturing and shouting at me. But I couldn't hear anything over the noise.
The next thing I knew, Idris and Drusilla were dragging me backstage along with Jareth and the mic stand.
They put Jareth went down on the floor, and Drusilla tried to wrestle me away from him. My eardrums stung and at first I heard nothing but ringing.
“-the gently caress? What's your damage?” Drusilla demanded. Idris stood behind her, watching.
“I'm trying to stop him hurting himself. Can't you see he's having a seizure?” I choked out.
I looked down at Jareth. The writhing of his body was slowing, he released the mic stand and it clattered to the floor. My heart lurched as I realised his head was in my lap. His pale eyes were staring up the ceiling, pupils massive.
“What are you, a doctor?” she said, her voluptuous mahogany curls falling over her shoulders in torrents as she bent over. I could see down her PVC corset.
“I am actually,” I said, looking away and hoping she wouldn't notice how I was growing out my hair to look like hers. Or that I'd copied her eye makeup.
“gently caress off.”
“Well I only just finished medical school. I'm not sure what I want to do next, so I'm taking some time out.” I stroked back Jareth's hair and saw lighter hair at the roots. The glossy black must be dye. I felt like I was intruding upon something that fans shouldn't be privy to.
“Oh, la de dah! I need some grindage.”
“You can be my doctor,” Jareth said, squinting up at me with dilated pupils.
My breath caught in my throat. I just stared at him with my mouth open.
“They always overcook these things,” Drusilla said, throwing down the hamburger she had just taken a bite out of.
“How can you eat that poo poo?” Idris said.
Jareth sat up unsteadily. Any other fan would kill to be this close to him, staring at him in his half open shirt and leather pants. But I couldn't get distracted.
“Are you on any meds?” I asked.
He snorted. “Well, no duh.”
“Not even! I haven't got loving epilepsy.”
“You just had a seizure.”
“We need to get back out there before the fans start killing each other,” Drusilla said, taking a swig from a bottle and clutching her head. “Ugh, loving headache.”
I turned back to Jareth. “We should get you to hospital.”
“Bullshit, I'm fine.” He leaned on my shoulder to stand up.
They went back out on stage, leaving me alone, until a woman with purple hair walked in.
“I'm Marnie,” I said. She looked at me and lit a cigarette but said nothing. After a few moments I joined her at the side of the stage. I had to keep an eye on my patient, after all.
I wasn't sure if Jareth had been serious about me becoming his personal doctor, but the next day I checked out of my hotel and joined them on their tour bus. They regaled me with gnarly stories about their South American tour as we made our way across the southern states, playing a show almost every night.
My combination of being technically a doctor and a fan of the band made me perfect for them. And as I was unsure what to do with myself, it was perfect for me too. I revelled in the knowledge that the other fans would be so jealous of me being so close to Jareth, even though I was getting increasingly annoyed at how stupid he was for refusing to get checked out properly.
“Yeah he does this all the time. He's stupid,” Drusilla said, pushing her fingers through her hair to make it bigger. She inspected her fishnet sleeve and ripped another hole in it. “Doesn't appreciate a great chick like you.”
I was staring into my own bloodshot eyes and shakily trying to fix my makeup. After hours of spinning around on the dance floor, now the bathroom was spinning around me. “Well, I don't know if I'm a great-”
“Marnie!” Drusilla snapped, grabbing the sink and whipping her hair round so fast it hurt when it hit me. “You're smart. You're kind. And pretty loving cute too. So shut the gently caress up.”
It felt like she had wrapped her hand around the tiny secret bit of my heart and yanked. I felt very exposed and very aware that my style had been evolving to more closely match hers. Did she realise?
gently caress it, that's what she'd say. I leaned towards her, half cowering and expecting humiliation.
I saw her pupils dilate and her mouth curve slightly upwards. Then she pushed me away, laughing. My heart stopped. “poo poo, not here. Not in the loving bathroom!”
I woke up in Drusilla's arms on the tour bus. I enjoyed it for a few careless seconds until I noticed how hard she was gripping me. I turned and whispered her name, but she didn't respond. Her body was not soft and sensuous as it was when we were awake. It felt hard and solid, like all of her muscles were clenched. A tremor wracked through her body and I flashed back to that first night on stage with Jareth.
Her grip was constricting my breathing. I tried to struggle out of it. I considered shouting for help. This was the eighties, but I still feared how the others would react to two girls tangled up together. I lay still and waited.
When I tried to talk to Drusilla about it, she was almost as stubborn as Jareth. How could they both be in denial about having epilepsy? When we reached the next city I went to find the local library and arm myself with facts.
I thumped the side of the tour bus. “You need medication! You can die from untreated epilepsy!”
“Yeah, what if I catch it next?” one of the roadies said as he carried equipment past us.
“Epilepsy isn't contagious,” I said, shaking my head. I hadn't been able to get to the bottom of how two people could suddenly develop epilepsy. “But adult onset is rare. There might be something else at play. Just get checked out, okay?”
“We've already got a doctor,” Jareth said, pointing at me.
“You need to see a real doctor. A specialist.”
“We haven't got loving time in the schedule for the doctor's office,” Drusilla said. She looked down and wound her necklace around her wrist. Then looked at Jareth. “Do we?”
“I'm not going to the loving doctors. You can gently caress off,” Jareth said, storming off.
I looked at Drusilla and saw the fear in her eyes.
“Was it scary?” I asked, holding out a handful of earrings to Drusilla when she met me in the waiting room.
She shook her head, and started taking earrings in ones and twos to put back in. “It was kinda neat. Like being in a womb. They put this gnarly cage on your head, it's rad. It had a good beat. Gave me an idea for a new song.”
“So when do you get the results?”
“Next week. But I'm guessing it's not good news. The techies didn't tell me anything but I heard one of them loving shriek while they were magnetising me or whatever. Must've seen some bad poo poo.”
Feeling useless, I bit my lip and looked at Drusilla's unusually un-made-up face. “I'm here, Dru,” I said.
“I know,” she said, and wrapped her arms around my shoulders as we walked along. An orderly stared at us and pushed a patient in a wheelchair into a wall.
I stood by the side of the stage with Magenta, Idris's purple haired girlfriend. Her cigarette smoke and silence wrapped around me. Idris started the drum machine and Drusilla stepped up to the mic. “This next song is dedicated to Jareth, who has passed beyond the veil. Listen to the lyrics and you might loving learn something! It's called Eat poo poo, Get Brain Worms and Die!”
The crowd went wild. Emotion welled up inside me, not only the sadness of Jareth's death, and pride that the other two had the strength to limp along without him, but also relief that Drusilla's treatment was working. I'd saved a life. And not only that, the life of someone who was now everything to me. I wiped my nose with the back of my hand.
Magenta nudged me. She was swaying very slightly to the music. I started dancing more emphatically, and whooped and cheered tearfully when the song ended.
|# ? Feb 2, 2020 19:08|
I owe carl some crits so here is a to do his last five stories by midnight tonight.
|# ? Feb 2, 2020 19:23|
Week 383 - I’m Walkin’ He-ah! - Judge Crits
Yoruichi - Rain on the Bodhisattva’s House
Re-reading this a few weeks later I'm glad I didn't give this the loss (which it was in the running for.) At the time we felt it missed the prompt too much and was insignificant. Now, sitting here during a quiet afternoon I can appreciate, to some degree, its quiet purpose. Unfortunately it still "misses" in a lot of ways. There's nothing that really holds it together. Yes, there is description, and adequately done to get across a small part of a city, but there's no life to that city. And I think that's what all this is missing: life. You come close, the foundations are there, but there's nothing to carry it from those quiet observations to something that's obviously telling about the woman's situation, state of mind, or the chaos of life and the city.
When I'm going back over my writing (and with some of the better authors I've read) there's often patches of a story that I feel aren't doing much work, until I consider there effect in a peaks-and-troughs manner in a story, the small detail that doesn't elicit a huge response, the little observation that adds colour and breathing space, or the reminisce that shapes by its nature as absence. This story reminds me of that, and unfortunately, only that. It's all those small moments as an entirety. It needs the punch (in Barthes' punctum manner) in the odd place or two to allow the rest of the story, mostly texture, give meaning to the high notes. Without that impact to hang off this fails, but it does so ambitiously. You've done well with those simplicities in story-telling; shaping, but without anything else to counter them or take that lowkey shape it comes across as absence in craft and storytelling, rather than absence within the flow of the story.
The final factor is that the city doesn't seem alive, there's no mind to it. The chaos isn't chaotic, the city's mad desires aren't reflected, there's no hustle or life to it. Even if you had that and the character's quietness it could work, without that it's disappointing. Well written in places, and showing skill from a story teller, but without the necessary counterpoints to what you've shown.
Carl Killer Miller - When We Went Back Home
This was another loss candidate, and reading back compared to Yoruichi's it's far more deserving. There's absolutely no rhythm to the prose, no lilt to it, no joy. You dole out descriptions, especially at the beginning, without giving any reason for me to care about them. They're not connected to anything, not hanging off any core of the story, there's nothing driving the story between long doses of describing. Even then, the long descriptions are laboured and rattling. You're packing so much in with no style to them, nothing that could be considered a personal voice. Between all this, eventually at least, you get to a story that's a real contrast to your description, which feels emotionless, and an old man and an out-of-place young person. The contrast between the prose devoid of feeling and a story aiming for feeling is stark. None of this pulls it off.
I think, maybe, if you focused on one-or-the-other of what I've described in a longer, novella or novel length story, it might work (presuming you added some personality to it.) In this short story you just don't have the time or space for what you're doing, dedicating so much to disparate approaches, with neither of them uniting in any way. I'd focus more on a single drive to your storytelling, especially in short stories, before you try and weave together multiple approaches. It'll seem more cohesive and directed.
Anomalous Amalgam - Life in the Fast Lane
The reason this took the loss was because of how undirected it was. The whole thing layered abstract upon abstract without ever giving it context. You talk about situations the parent finds themselves in, problems they deal with, fears they wrestle with without ever giving them substance. That can work, but the prose has to be extremely tight, and quite evocative to get it across. You need the flow of ideas and emotions to have an impact if you’re never giving body to what those ideas are. This doesn’t do it. The prose is quite ordinary. It’s rattled off with little style and without style it can’t impart feeling. By the end, when the child comes into view, I feel they’re unjustified. The emotions we’ve been dealt so far are all vapid and insubstantial so trying to round them off by offering the contrast of a love just comes across as cheesy. This seems like an ambitious approach to emotional storytelling where you haven’t focused on the groundwork necessary to deal with something so fleeting as the fears and worries you’re trying to get across.
magic cactus - Fin De Siècle
This took an easy approach to a week I wanted to be more ephemeral about the feelings in a city, by grounding it in a revolutionary act. There was nothing stand out about anything in it, but by entwining a few moments of anonymity around a larger “happening” story you managed to elevate this above other stories that couldn’t even manage that. The actual city feel, at an immediate level, was less than I wanted, but by giving a structure to what you wrote and hanging smaller moments off it you allowed for the shape of your story to have an impact, while letting the aspects of what I wanted sneak in. In the end, the story’s feeling stood in for the city’s feeling, which was lesser. That showed a level of accomplishment few other writers this week managed to do. All the judges agreed this was the most “together” story, if not their personal favourite, so it was easy for me to pick it as a winner.
SlipUp - The Night Train in Calgary, Alberta.
This was one of my favoured stories from the week, but the other judges didn’t agree on it as much. The start was a little heavy, too much introspection for me to get the real feel of what was happening, but I enjoyed what came after. It captured the insignificance of travelling through a city, while still dealing with the heavy thoughts that come with being a person. There was some nice description. I think part of the issues with it was that it wasn’t balanced as well as it could be, and I see that with the personally orientated beginning before it transfers to exteriors as it goes on. If this remained a “slice” of travelling while weaving the personal aspect more carefully throughout his journey I might have judge-fiated and selected it as a winner. You didn’t get that balance correct though, there was too much of a stutter between what you were doing in individual parts, not transitioning smoothly enough between city/travel/person for it to work completely. There was some nice writing in it though, and elements that really captured a city feel. I just didn’t think it worked as a cohesive whole.
Antivehicular - The Eavesdropper Walks Home
This didn’t come across as a natural read at all. I don’t think all narratives need diegetic reasons, but the extradiegetic reasoning/storytelling for this, the narrator’s telling of the story seemed strained. There were a lot of descriptions on a walk home that seemed to be serving the reader rather than the internal narrative. You tried tying in some personal reactions, but it all felt so exterior. There was no communion between what was happening on the street and what the narrator was experiencing. SlipUp managed to create a somewhat real feeling of the narrator, of their story being viewed through the narrator’s thoughts, but this story made me think there were extra steps between me, the words I was reading, and what the words were speaking of. There was very little personality to the viewing of the situation, little voice, and so it seemed quite artificial. Maybe if you had the character’s motivations more to the fore, run through with their opinion, it would work better. Ultimately it just seemed a little plastic. It was never in contention for winning, but equally, it was never in contention for losing because although having a contrived feeling, it was written well enough in that manner.
Thranguy – Silent Hamlets
The entirety of this story rests on your use of “It” and it doesn’t work. It’s a strong device to use, but if you replaced it with any other form of pronoun the story would be nothing. Simultaneously, appreciating your use of “it” there’s nothing holding it together. It’s attention grabbing and forces the story, but the elements “it” travels through amount to nothings. If you use a device to focus attention on a depersonalised feeling, then there needs to be more to back it up. The device here overpowered everything else, didn’t justify itself, and when I tried to focus on the matter surrounding it everything seemed shallow. You went for a power move, then everything else didn’t live up to it. The story ended up being so simplistic, because I couldn’t see past the trick you used. Whatever reason there is for making the lack-of-person at the fore, it needs to be tied into the entirety of the story; instead this came across as teenage and angsty, dressed in black and telling its mom she just doesn’t understand.
Sham Bam Bamina! - City of Refuge
I know you had to rush to get this in, but it’s good that you did. It was an evocative piece that really captured the speed of movement. I will say, however, I thought it was about parkour rather than cycling (which you made clear on discord.) The problem for me was that you reduced it to a personal exertion rather than the feeling of a city. The city all but disappeared, and it didn’t feel like a place for me, although there were hints at it. I think part of that was how short this piece was, how you rushed to get it in (and said you didn’t write all you wanted to.) It didn’t have enough dimensions to it for me to appreciate the full movement you could have captured with more time. With it as it is, it was all about movement, physicality. With that it wasn’t as deep as it would need to be. There wasn’t enough substance around the embodied feeling to truly appreciate it in contrasts. This was never gonna win, but it clearly wasn’t going to lose. You managed enough with a superficial piece, well told, for it to be taken as is, it just needed more to it.
|# ? Feb 2, 2020 23:10|
The cries of merchants hawking their wares and the excited haggling of buyers and sellers filled the air of the bazaar. The scents of great sacks of spices mixed with the sweat of the crowd to assault the nose. Vibrant silks from far to the east hung for all to see.
Within this din, Farrokh shouldered his way from one stall to the next, inspecting the food and arguing with sellers. All who knew him gave him a wide berth despite how tightly packed they were in the enclosed market. All those who didn’t took their cue from those who did and avoided the gruff-looking man.
Farrokh ignored them as best any self-respecting man could. He held his head high as he left the row of foodsellers and turned to a cloth merchant, pointing confidently to a bolt of tastefully patterned fabric and offering a shrewd opening bid for it.
Now the two groups began to gossip.
“Is that Farrokh? What’s he doing there?” one old woman asked her daughter. “What does a man know of cloth and sewing? Where is his wife? Where’s Yasamin?”
“Don’t you know mama? His wife has a sickness. She never goes out anymore,” the daughter answered hushed, conspiratorial tones.
“My cousin got a look at her last month. He says it’s a venereal disease he saw when he traveled to Samarkand.”
“I wonder if he has it too then…”
“He doesn’t look sick. Then again I hear they no longer share a bed.”
“Maybe it’s a punishment from God. Before she was so pretty, and so proud. Perhaps God is smiting her for such pride.”
The rampant, unfounded speculation swirled on the air from their chattering mouths to Farrokhs’ ears as he haggled with merchants. He clenched his teeth, fists tightening around the strap of his bag. Shame prickled the skin of his face.
“I heard from my sister’s friend Beeta that he’s killed her. He wants to get married again. That’s why he stares at the women so.”
“You know, I think he’s rather a handsome man. It’s a pity he’s shackled to that sickly wife of his.”
“Did you know that…”
Their petty chatter faded as Farrokh exited the bazaar down a wide alley. Around the threshold of an open door sat a few men playing at dice, smoke curling from long pipes they held in their hands. The one sitting in the position of authority smirked as Farrokh approached carrying his purchases.
“That’ll make a lovely dress! Can’t wait to see you in it,” he said, provoking laughter from his friends.
Farrokh didn’t acknowledge them and walked faster.
“Oh what’s the matter Farrokh? Feeling pent up? Is Yasamin failing that wifely duty too?” he lilted salaciously, to increased crooning from his goons. “Or is she not interested now that you’re doing woman’s work?”
Farrokh trained a fearsome glare on the men, stepping aggressively toward them and drawing up to his full imposing height so that he towered over them. “Feh, what would a layabout like you know about women, Javad? What are you good for besides gambling and smoking? No woman would have you. Any of you.”
He kicked their dice away down the alley, causing them all to flinch. He snorted and stalked away from the group, shouting “A real man does whatever needs doing” loudly so they didn’t not hear the quiver of shame in his voice.
“Farrokh, my dear! I’m so glad you’re home” called Yasamin as she hurried to greet him at the door. She embraced him tightly and he felt her ribs beneath her clothing. “I’ve been so gloomy trapped in this prison all day,” she said, gesturing to the walls. “I was worried I’d go crazy before you got home.”
“Well I’m home now,” he mumbled. She gazed up excitedly at his rugged face. He tried to focus on her elegant nose or high cheekbones but saw only her grotesque left eye staring at him, the once-white region now saturated an angry red, a sliver of milky opacity creeping up the iris.
Yasamin shied away as Farrokh bent to kiss her. “Darling please, not now, my sores hurt terribly. I have barely been eating.”
He leaned back in a huff. “Yes I can see. If you ever went outside, people would say I was starving you.”
“Then it is good I stay in here?” she asked sharply. “Where no one can point and whisper about me and how ashamed you should be of me?”
Farrokh stumbled for words. Yasamin turned away from him brusquely, snatching the sack containing his purchases. “It’s bad enough that everyone else reviles me when I go outside. I won’t suffer it in my own home from my own husband,” she said defiantly as she marched into the kitchen.
Farrokh stood still, debating whether to follow her and apologize. Once he heard the crackle of a cooking fire and the washing of rice, he decided against it, reclined onto a sofa by the window, and closed his eyes. The late afternoon heat quickly put him to sleep.
A gentle shaking awoke him. “Farrokh, my dear, I need your help in the kitchen” he heard Yasamin softly cooing. He roused himself and sat up. The sun had sunk below the horizon and night was falling fast. She was taking a long time to make dinner. With a sigh he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“What is it darling?”
Yasamin looked at him with her diseased eye. “Would you help me cut the peaches? Last time I slipped on the pit and cut my hand and it hurt so terribly” she pleaded as she cradled her left hand in her right. He thought back to last week when she had moaned endlessly about the pain the tiny cut had caused her, how she had thrust the offending hand with its disproportionate inflammation toward him and cried “Oh Farrokh it is festering. Surely it will fall off. Perhaps I should see the doctor.” He felt weary just remembering it.
Farrokh gave an exasperated sigh. “Have I married a woman who cannot cook? Must I take on this duty as well?” He meant to stop there but this hole in the dam of his patience became a geyser for his simmering resentment. The ringing of the whispered gossip in his ears drove him on. “Already I am mocked outside my home for shouldering all the duties my wife should be bearing. Now must I do this womanly work too? In my own home?” His voice had risen to a shout. “Would you have me don a veil and dance the raghs-e parcheh? Do you wish that I were a woman?”
Yasamin stood back, hand pressed to her chest and mouth agape in shock. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, turning the diseased one slick and reflective.
“Do you think I want this?” her voice quivered. “Do you think I like how they talk about me? They think I don’t hear them but I do. They say I am a worthless woman, that I cannot keep my house in order, that my husband reproaches me because I disgrace him. That he eyes other women because I cannot satisfy his desires. That I cannot bear him children.” The silence rang out deafeningly. Yasamin placed her hand over her belly. “I mourn the child who died in my belly, Farrokh. I mourn him every day. I think of his laughter, his footsteps, that we never got to hear. I know he would have been adventurous and full of sunshine, just like I was before…” she trailed off into a somber silence.
Neither spoke for a moment, Yasamin holding back tears while Farrokh looked past her into the doorway of the bedroom, where the crib he had built for their child lay in a corner out of sight. Neither could bring themselves to throw it away yet.
Finally Yasamin spoke. “We are a team, Farrokh. Your joy is my joy. Your success is my success. I want everyone to respect you. I want to be a good wife and give you many children, so everyone can see how wise a father you are.”
Farrokh took her hands in his and gazed into her diseased eye with as much love as he could manage. “Then let us make another. Let us fill this house with children!”
Yasamin smiled wanly at her husband. “Darling I want to, but I can’t right now.” She placed her hand gingerly over the hidden ulcers on her loins. “My lesions haven’t healed yet.”
Farrokh’s jaw jutted outward as he turned away, Yasamin’s hands grasping after him. The warmth of the tender moment vanished. Javad’s jeers roared in his skull. “Always you say ‘not now’. ‘Not now’ today, ‘not now’ last week, ‘not now’ this whole month! A man has needs, Yasamin. People already say I look at other women. Perhaps I should give them something to talk about.”
At this Yasamin gasped, looking betrayed. He smirked inwardly; he had the power now, and out of an abundance of frustration and a shortage of patience he chose to press his advantage.
“Besides, there is nothing good in this life bought without pain!” he proclaimed in the tone of a schoolmaster, waving his hand dismissively.
A tense moment passed in silence as the room darkened around Yasamin. “Do not dare talk to me about pain!” she bellowed suddenly with a power Farrokh did not know she had. He nearly stumbled backward from the force of it.
“My whole life is pain! Pain beyond your imagining! You think it makes me weak, but it has made me strong. I have learned to bear more than you could know. I can bear the revulsion of everyone around me. I can bear my body decaying. But I will bear you no longer.”
Yasamin had quickly donned her veil, cloak and shoes and flung open the door before Farrokh’s astonishment wore off enough for him to move. He stood in the threshold to block her exit.
“Where are you going? What will you do?”
Yasamin glared at him with her diseased eye gleaming an angry red. “I don’t know yet. I just know it will be away from you.” She pushed past him out into the warm night.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 00:06|
Save Your Breath
With every twitch of Abbas's diaphragm, a harsh desert wind blew across the burning tar fields of his lungs. He could imagine his cells, his alveoli, straining, nearly bursting at the heat. Shallow breaths meant less pain but more breaths meant more pain. An experimental deep pull scratched his lungs against the iron lattice wrapped around them, through them.
The blazing ache made him squeeze tight, like a towel wrung dry, hoarse coughs filling the air for as long as he could push air out. Tears streamed from his face; they felt hot enough to evaporate right off. Abbas balled his hands and tried to stop coughing, control something about his body, but the pain shifted up to his brain and spots blossomed in his eyes like burning filmstrips.
Eyes closed. Imagined himself on a burning shuttle screaming back down to Earth. He could make it if he tried. He could let sleep take him and give him enough relief to get back to his next shift. Only three more launches until—
The smooth glide and click of the front door opening. "I'm home," his roommate said.
Eyes open. Jerome wasn't supposed to be home this late. Early? What time was it? Had Abbas spent the whole night writhing and sleepless with no recovery in sight? Fresh tears came to him. He couldn't show up to work like this. His boss had enough of an eye on him as it was.
Another series of loud, whooping coughs came out of him before he could stop them. The buzzard sound drew footsteps in return, then an alarmed cry. "Dude!" Jerome scurried around as Abbas tenderized his throat, returned with water. Abbas could tell without seeing because of the splash some made when it hit the floor. Typical. He'd have to clean that up before it stained something.
"OK, man, open wide. I got two pills of your stuff and two Advil," Jerome said.
Through blurry vision Abbas saw the glass in one hand and pills in the other. He took as big a gulp as he could manage, sending a chill wave through his ribs and into his gut. His fingers hunted for two small blobs of color in Jerome's palm, feeling for Advil, and he swallowed them both with his next sip. Cup affixed to lips, he chugged until Jerome forced the steroids between his lips.
"Dude, take your poo poo!" Jerome said.
Abbas pushed his tongue against Jerome's fingers, trying to expel the medicine, but one errant jerk caught a pill on a tooth and split it open, spreading the taste of paint thinner through his mouth. What a waste. Dozens of dollars down the toilet. He dry swallowed and took the rest of the water to chase it down. The plan was ruined. Spiraling thoughts of what he'd do without his last pills lulled him to sleep.
He woke up to the scent of stale sweat, the moisture of it squishing through his blankets and back onto his skin. With a lurch he propped himself on an elbow. Jerome tilted a chair back with feet on his desk, a laptop balanced on his knees.
"Ey, don't worry, bro, I just called you in sick," Jerome said. He turned to face Abbas and swiveled his chair further off-balance. "Your boss said you can come in Saturday to make up your shift. That work for you?"
"No," Abbas croaked. "You had no right to do that."
"Come on! Your phone was ringing. You were out cold. He was asking for you. What else was I supposed to do?"
Abbas glared and sank back into bed. Minutes passed.
"Why didn't you tell me it was getting this bad?" Jerome asked.
With the first inside him reduced, Abbas took another strong breath. The lattice scratched him, but no maelstrom followed. "Why bother?" he said. "I mean, I didn't see what you could do about it."
Jerome turned the chair around to face Abbas's bed. "I dunno, try me. Why you been acting like this? Is this—" He reached for the bottle of steroids and shook it, making two lone pills rattle like beans in a salad bowl. "—not doing it anymore?"
Now he cared? "Not covered anymore," said Abbas. "Had to make 'em last. Could have gone a week without—" He held his hand to his mouth and coughed once, twice. "Gotta go longer now. Until payday."
"Goddamn, I thought you worked at an upscale restaurant or something!" Jerome said. "What, they can't spring for worker's comp or whatever?"
"Can't complain," Abbas said, turning over. He hoped Jerome could infer why not. "Moving on soon. Resume's ready."
"Look, fam, if it's money that you need, I know a guy," said Jerome. "Real generous, can't wait to get rid of it. 'Specially since y'all need it more than he does."
Another few coughs. "And you don't?"
Jerome scowled and put his hands on his knees. "Hey, man. I know things ain't been tight between us lately, but that wasn't cool. It's been months since I was broke."
Abbas flared his nostrils. After the first year they roomed together, it had been a long string of gently caress-ups on Jerome's part. Overflowing garbage. Dishes piled up or loaded wrong. Using Abbas's cookware like it was his. Dirty laundry everywhere. Lost and unpaid bills. They came so close to being evicted. Abbas got tired of hearing so many worthless apologies. "Not cool," he repeated. "Tired of talking."
"Yeah, I figured," said Jerome. He moved to rest his feet on the side of Abbas's bed, then lowered it again. He had that much tact. "Me too. I got tired of you looking at me like I stepped in something. Figured I'd just stay outta your way. 'S why I got the night shift, y'know?"
Silence reigned for minutes on end. Abbas tried to drift off again, waited for the sound of Jerome typing on his laptop again. He thought it'd only be a matter of time until Jerome got bored of him again. No such sound. Abbas pushed his pillow aside to check, and met Jerome's eyes.
"You need anything?" Jerome asked. "More water? I should get more water. No, OJ. Cough drops, too." He got up off his chair and went to the door, then looked back. "Anything else?"
Abbas shook his head. "Th-thanks.
Jerome smiled. "No problem!"
The day after, Jerome got home, and Abbas got ready. He'd showered, shaved and dressed, and his lungs felt free enough that he could work. Not healthy, but better than he'd felt for a week. He sighed and looked at Jerome. "I hate to ask, but could you change my sheets while I'm gone? I don't want to sleep in sweat again."
"Yeah, sure," Jerome said with a shrug.
As Jerome turned away, Abbas put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sure? I don't want you to forget or blow me off or make a promise you can't keep again. Not for this and not for borrowing money."
Jerome nodded. "Yeah, definitely! I'll do the sheets before bed and talk to the guy tomorrow." He frowned and looked away. "Sorry I couldn't pick you up."
Abbas remembered the squish of his socks and the wet dirt he had to scrape out of his shoes. He remembered the hard plastic benches at the train station that made his back ache before he decided to walk. "I never asked, why couldn't you pick me up?"
"Family emergency after you texted. Sorry. Why didn't you call earlier?"
"You weren't my first choice, because of... everything else. I had a couple of other options and they couldn't come either."
"Did you give them a hard time, too?"
Abbas pursed his lips. "Not as much, no. Tell you what. Let's just help each other out and we won't have to act snippy with each other anymore."
Jerome pulled Abbas's hand in to shake it. "That's all I wanted to hear, man. Good luck out there."
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 00:15|
the priest, the priest, the miracle, the what
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 21:23 on Jan 8, 2021
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 02:47|
The Old House on Hawthorne Street
You have to be real desperate to go to the old house on Hawthorne street. At least that’s what my dad used to say. People only go there if they lose someone and they can’t deal with the pain anymore. They slip through its big iron gates, pass the NO TRESPASSING sign, and vanish into the gaping darkness of the vestibule.
When they come out, they’re different. Their eyes are doll-like. They aren’t the same person who used to walk with you on the weekends or stay up late to help you with homework. They can still dance and play and hug and sing, but their movements are cold and numb. Familiar words become hollow, like they’re reciting from a script. You spend all your time watching them, wondering what could have happened, until one day you catch their shape through the crack in the bathroom door. Only then do you see the enormous hole where their heart should be, a cavity that shows their mahogany insides and bloodless flesh.
They feel you watching them. They turn to look at you with eyes like dull marbles. Their mouth forms your name as they reach for the door.
The voice is sharp and jars me back to reality. I’m standing on the cracked sidewalk outside the sprawling estate. I force myself to be calm and ignore the pounding in my chest. I pretend not to see the shape moving in the upstairs window as I turn to look over my shoulder. I grip the strap of my bookbag.
“Oh, Mrs. Wall,” I say in a voice stripped of all emotion. “I was just…”
“Oh, I don’t care what you were about to do,” she says. “And I’m not about to let you throw your life away.”
Mrs. Wall is my science teacher and she’s one of the few people in my town worth anything. She is round and pink and wears vibrant pastels that shine against the dirty grey sky. The only time I’ve ever seen her without bright colors is when she went to my mom’s funeral. She wore a big grey peacoat that smelled sour.
She smells like laundry soap and sweat as she approaches me now.
“Listen to me, Mary, I know life has been tough. I know things have been hard since your mom, but there’s nothing you want that’s in there. Believe me. All that house does is take.”
“I know,” I say, not meeting her gaze. “My dad’s already been inside.”
She is silent. A dark cloud moves overhead.
“I have to try and get back what he lost in there.”
Mrs. Wall does not stop me as I push my way through the house’s iron fence. She does not move as I push my way through the house’s bramble-covered front lawn and weed-ridden garden. When I reach the porch, I take a moment to look back and see her still watching, her face unreadable. Then, I push open the front doors and plunge myself into darkness.
When I was little, my dad used to take me for walks and tell me about all the different houses around us. “What’s that one?” I’d ask, squeezing his hand to get his attention. He’d be quiet for a moment, his tongue tracing the inside of his cheek. “Oh that,” he’d begin, “that’s a Folk Victorian. See how it looks like a little gingerbread house? See how much trim it has?”
I’d giggle and point to the next one. What’s that?
That’s a Queen Anne. Look at all the little turrets. He’d turned to me, his hands turned into finger guns. Bang. Bang.
Eventually, we’d wind our way over to the house on Hawthorne street, black and looming. I’d ask the same question, except this time my dad would answer with a sigh. Oh, that’s Gothic, he let the word sit on his tongue. And it used to be a fine old home that someone poured a lot of love into. Probably one of the loveliest houses in the county at one time.”
“But sometimes beautiful things are left to rot.”
Entering, I can see what he meant. Beneath the dust and grime of the entryway are bright tiles forming some long-forgotten pattern. On the walls is stained walnut paneling and washed-out pictures of smiling faces. Through an arch is a grand staircase with a railing carved to look like many racing animals. I follow the pattern up, blinking to help my eyes adjust to the darkness. It’s only after a few seconds that I see the shape.
There’s something sitting on the stairs.
“Come on, I won’t bite,” says a voice over the sound of a slow, steady beat. “I don’t even have any teeth.”
I don’t move. My breathing is heavy.
Something sighs. “Alright, have it your way.”
The stairs groan as the thing rises from its place. Then, it begins to lumber downward, stomping past old knick-knacks and dusty portraits. I watch, transfixed, as wet tendons slap against a carved boar’s head. Something soft and the color of mahogany smears against the wallpaper. The creature reaches the bottom of the stairs and, all at once, I see it. The thing has no flesh, no skin. It is nothing but twisted, beating muscles. Countless human hearts thudding as one.
I do not scream. I refuse to run away. I grip my backpack tight.
“We need to talk.” I say.
A series of muscles tighten where the creature’s mouth would be. A smile.
“How about we get ourselves some tea from the kitchen?”
The kitchen is like the rest of the house, filled with small wonders that have gone to rot. Cabinets overflow with dirty painted dishes. Crystal glasses filled with cloudy brown stains litter the counters. I try not to think about how the thing eats as it sets down two porcelain teacups with flakes of dish soap floating near the top.
“I’m sorry for the mess,” says the monster in a dry, reedy voice. “I just haven’t had the energy to clean the house in a while.” It picks up the cup with two rippling appendages. “You know how it goes.”
I wait for the creature to finish slurping before I speak. “I want it back. My dad’s heart.”
A tremor passes through the creature. It sets down the cup with surprising grace. “Oh, that’s new.”
It watches as I fiddle with my backpack and place its contents on the counter. “Here’s all the money I’ve been saving up,” I say, stopping myself before I can say from my allowance. “And here’s where you can put it.”
I slide an empty Tupperware container across the counter.
“I want him to be him whole again. I want my dad back.”
The creature holds the container and twists it between fibers of muscles. The mahogany of its muscles twist and flex in strange irregular patterns.
“I don’t understand.” It says. “I gave him what he wanted, a way to live life without pain.”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t care? You don’t care?” The creature’s voice trembled as it continued to writhe. The many muscles pumped out of rhythm. “But I could do the same thing for you! I could end the heartache! I could end the agony. I could make it so you never had to live through another moment of suffering again!”
I stare at the creature across the table. “That’s not living. That’s letting yourself go to rot.”
Mrs. Wall is still there when I exit the house. She says nothing about the blood-soaked container in my hands or the new emptiness of the house. Instead, she flashes me a quick smile. I nod and begin the long walk toward home.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 03:52|
The Mummy at Tazumal
Brown bone, broken ceramics and burnished bits of once ornate metal were scattered throughout the exposed burial chamber. The mummified remains of a woman layered in colored clays stood erect at its center.
Over time, the clay had eroded revealing the corpse beneath the surface, but the relative lack of moisture had kept the body in excellent condition. So much so that it gave the eerie appearance of a person sleeping.
Chiho hovered her gloved hands over the mummy and swallowed hard as she looked down at the face of the woman.
Skin ranging from tan to orange was pulled taught over plump cheeks. Crimson paint turned ochre stained the mummy’s full, wide lips. Closed eyes stood out as heavy mounds with thick bushels of lashes erupting from them. The bridge of her nose was hooked slightly with small protruding nostrils that looked like they might twitch in the open air, breathing in desperate breaths for the first time in nearly eight-hundred years.
“Dr. Shigeki.” A small voice said.
Chiho stared at the mummy, puzzled and amazed.
“Dr. Shigeki…” the small voice repeated drawing Chiho’s attention that time.
Chiho turned towards the voice and her assistant Sergio was staring back at her, patinaed with sweat, his rippling physique was something of a treasure itself.
Sergio was young and his Japanese was terrible, her Salvadorian was no better, but his anthropological research was remarkable, and had earned him a place on Chiho’s team.
She wiped her brow and smiled at Sergio.
“Sure, that would be great.” She said, sizing the young man up.
She extended a hand and he helped her to her feet.
The two of them looked down at the mummy in awe.
“It’s like she’s still alive almost.” Sergio said, eyes fixed on the corpse.
“It’s certainly an impressive find, and older than the Children of Llullaillaco, by a couple centuries if what we know about Tazumal is correct.” Chiho remarked.
“Still… why do you think they put her here? If B1-2 hadn’t partly collapsed, we would have never found her.”
“I don’t think anyone was supposed to.” Chiho answered again as she studied the dead woman’s features.
The mummy’s hair remained in thick clumps of braids that had fused with clay, and Chiho had decided to leave most of the body encased for safer examination back at their facility.
The next morning, Chiho was the first on the site. Her head was pounding, and she felt a bit feverish.
“Good morning, Dr. Shigeki.” Sergio’s voice called out from somewhere below the scaffolding they had set up.
Chiho looked down at Sergio from the mouth of the burial chamber and he recoiled a bit as he saw her.
“Are you ok?” Sergio asked, concerned.
Chiho was confused.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache, but I feel fine otherwise.”
Sergio thought it rude to say, that she didn’t look it and climbed up the scaffolding instead to get a closer look.
“Dr. Shigeki… I think you might have Chagas.” Sergio said seriously looking at Chiho’s flushed face and swollen eyes.
“It’s the curse of the mummy.” Chiho said in a way that simultaneously seemed light-hearted and completely serious.
“Nice, that’s a good one,” Sergio said chuckling, “but I think you should probably see a doctor, at least the camp physician. There are kissing bugs around here and that definitely looks like Chagas.”
Chiho nodded at Sergio, dismissing him silently as she massaged her temples which throbbed like hammers clashing against anvils.
“For now, let’s just finish cataloguing all the other materials buried alongside the mummy.” She said trying to focus, “I’ll stop in with the camp physician this afternoon.”
“Do I promise?” Chiho smiled at Sergio who seemed extra handsome with his concern for her wellbeing. “Sure, I promise.” She said.
Sergio smiled in recognition, but his concern hadn’t been abated.
The next day, Chiho returned to the site, not having seen the physician and worse off. Her right eye was nearly swelled shut, and her voice came out in strained whispers.
“Dr. Shigeki!” Sergio shouted seeing her.
He climbed the scaffolding and looked Chiho over.
“You definitely need to go see someone! You look terrible, I’m sorry for saying it, but really, you look terrible.”
Chiho gasped as she looked in a mirror Sergio had to offer and he was right. She looked horrible. Lips swelled up, throat tight, eyes nearly swelled shut and skin red and rashy.
“I’ll take you myself. Let’s just go to the doctor right now.”
Chiho’s head was swimming, and she looked over the remains of the unearthed burial chamber.
“Do you think the woman was sick? Maybe with Chagas?”
“I suppose it could be a possibility… any reason why you think that?”
“Her eyes and lips are swollen. I thought it was just preserved well… well, I mean it is, but doesn’t she look… you know… swollen?”
Sergio looked at the mummy and nodded to himself.
“It's a hell of a coincidence, but you might be right. It really is the curse of the mummy.” He said.
“The curse of the mummy.” Chiho replied.
The two laughed even though it hurt for Chiho to do so, and then finally, Sergio said, “…but seriously, you need to see a doctor.”
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 04:53|
The Wizard's Rentboy
Would you believe I'm only thirty-one years old? I wouldn't. I look into the mirror and see a strange geezer waving my razor around my face: eyes like sinkholes, a bald and dimpled skull. And more importantly often than not a couple of those damned little three-eyed bat things, tongues extended like pearl tea straws, ready to press through my skin if I give them a chance.
Here's the thing: if you try to fight those things they blow up in your hands. Hurts like crazy, burns like acid. But if you don't fight them they will suck you dry. And they're all over the place. Almost think I was better off before I could see 'em.
It just follows. You spend a few years being kept by a line of older lonely men, you pick things up, and not everything you pick up can be taken care of at a free clinic.
I never exactly thought of myself as being gay. But there ain't ever been many women cruising the streets looking for tail. I never really had any other option. Finding someone to live off of was better than the alternative. Being on the street was better than living anywhere near dad. So I don't regret any decision I ever made. I just regret everything.
I've had a lot of people who paid the rent, either at some cheap dump or in a room in their place. One stands out. Chalcedony. He always had me call him Chaz, even though he insisted on calling me Finnian instead of just Finn. Most of them, they're suits, business types with MBA or Esq tacked on to their names. Jobs too boring to bring home. Chaz, though, well, Chaz was a wizard. Still wore a suit and tie.
His house was huge, maybe bigger inside too. I never had the guts to try pacing in out. The basements are a bit of a giveaway. Nobody around here digs four levels deep. I'm not even sure if it's possible, what with water levels and such. That house had everything. Libraries. A gym and an Olympic sized pool. Eleven bluebeard doors too, ones I was never to open under unspoken threats. I have no idea what was behind any of those. You learn to follow instructions.
We got up to the usual stuff, mostly. But he did magic. Lit cigarettes with his fingers. Had a spell to strip use naked, clothes folded into near piles on the bed. Another one for cleaning up. That one was all right. Went deep, like a colonic. Not deep enough, though. Not into the blood, not into the soul.
One time we robbed a bank together. That was a night. It wasn't an old school thing with tellers, just a warehouse with money to load onto ATMs, all guards and trucks and cameras. He made a kind of portal thing from one of his basements that went right into the main vault. Said it would only stay open for a short while, maybe ten, twenty minutes. So we went back and forth six, seven times, loading up bags of twenties. Last time out, I was ready to step through but he grabbed my shoulder, and maybe ten seconds later the portal faded away.
He asked what I wanted to do with the money, and it didn't seem right to say the first thing that came to mind, dump his old rear end and get my own place. I just shrugged.
It ended soon enough, the usual way. I aged out of what he was looking for. Funny thing is, I practically forgot about the money. The next guy, well, he had this charisma going. I thought it was, you know, real. And he kept me thinking that for a long while, past when I knew about the others. And that one ended ugly, to where I figured if I started taking out that money I'd relapse and od inside of a week.
Good thing, turned out. When I got sick that money meant the hospital gave a drat, didn't turf me right back on the street.
Chaz came to see me. After I'd been treated, but wasn't getting any stronger.
"What brings you here?" I said.
"I heard you were doing poorly," he said. "And you have done me a kindness."
"Funny way to talk about my mouth around-" I was long past worrying about being rude, even in front of Chaz's daughter. She was cool anyhow. Knew everything. She was the one who cut me off.
"What Chalcedony is trying to say is that it's partly his fault you're not up and out of here."
There was a devil, a demon, a vampire leech. Something feeding off the scraps of magic Chaz left where he touched me, something that nicked a vein while it ate and tapped into my soul.
I told them to kill it, to send it back to hell. They wouldn't. Said they couldn't. What they could do was initiate me.
They say I barely survived it. I have no idea what they did, in the real world. My eyebrows went white, along with the rest of my body hair. But I spent the whole thing on another plane of existence. I was in the Chapel Perilous, trading words for wisdom, finding a weapon inside myself, besting the dragon and then trading the enchanted blade for an eye. A third eye, invisible so as to see the invisible world.
They say the doctors had to restart my heart three times that night, while they hid in secret corners the architects hid in the hospital plans and kept the ritual alive.
That demon, he wasn't much of a fight. Once I could see him, I grabbed his scrawny neck and snapped it like a chicken's. But that left me like I am now, with an open wound of the spirit, a leak of soul, drawing in scavengers day and night, and I only have so much fight to put out.
Chaz stopped coming round a while back. Doria still does, though I don't quite know why. We were never close. But she's cool. She teaches me spells, little things. Making sparks, seeing in the dark. She has a plan. Chaz has a mystically isolated room, in his basements. It's behind one of those eleven doors.
I don't know if she's lying, has other plans for me. I don't know if Chaz will forgive anyone if, no, when he catches us. But I can't see any other way forward.
Funny, no? You spend your life making decisions, and each time it's the right one, gets you to a better place than you were. But you look back and see happy times, look around and see only a misery. Forward, then. Why not?
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 05:26|
The Hale and the Hollow
Flash Disease: Situs Inversus
They'd swept the streets and scrubbed the walls in Silver Grove, but Tanith could still smell death. There was a distinct odor that the Harvester and his soldiers carried with them, of flaking skin and rancid blood; Tanith's nose was mostly useless, now, but the trails of rot were as putrid as ever. The scouts' reports were correct, then. The Harvester had dwelled here for days, and while a few villagers had died -- there was too much fresh-blood scent to be otherwise -- there had been no massacre. Did that mean they were collaborators?
The villagers of Silver Grove were hard to read, taciturn and resigned in a way that could mean suspicion or could mean mourning. Even now, at midday, there was no bustle in the central square; women with baskets on their hips shuffled listlessly through their errands, speaking only to do business, while sallow old men watched from benches and balconies. The mood was as leaden as the grey autumn sky, and Tanith didn't bother with the signifiers of her office. It was useless, and unkind besides, to try and intimidate people this weary.
The few answers that Tanith had managed to coax out of the innkeeper pointed her towards the town's chief surgeon, who made her office in an old coastal longhouse converted into a clinic. Like the rest of Silver Grove, the clinic was clean but stinking, although the seaside decay managed to overwhelm the human variety. The chief surgeon met Tanith at the door: a short, stooped woman with a loose-skinned flushed face, hair pulled back in a messy braid. "Nanaya Urhat," she said, then gestured to a tall, pale girl behind her. "And this is Elili. You must be the Royal Investigator."
"Call me Tanith. May we sit down?"
Nanaya led them back to an office, the air less humid but more musty: still decay, but more parchment than seaweed now. Was there anywhere in Silver Grove that didn't smell rotten? Nanaya took a seat behind the desk and offered Tanith the other, leaving Elili to perch on a high stool in the corner of the room. "Well, then," said Nanaya. "You want to know about the Harvester."
"We have reports of her spending several days here with a detachment of her soldiers. What were his demands?"
"I believe you know, Investigator," said Nanaya. "She wanted sacrifices, enough to fill herself and her husks with blood and flesh again. She didn't realize that we were not compatible."
"Oh?" Tanith had heard plenty of excuses from collaborators before, ranging from the pitiful to the persuasive, but this was novel. "You'll have to explain."
"Better for me to show you. This way." Nanaya rose to her feet and led Tanith down a narrow hallway, Elili trailing obediently behind. The door at the end of the hallway opened onto a broad morgue -- a huge one, for a village this size. Three corpses lay on the center slabs, cut open from throat to groin. To Tanith's surprise, they only barely stunk.
"I'll explain," said Nanaya, stepping up and gesturing towards the slab; once Tanith was close enough to see, though, she didn't need an explanation. The organs of each corpse were laid out in a mirror image of normal: tricky to see from the whorls of the intestines, but obvious from the reversed hearts nestled in their intricate web. Each piece fit neatly with its fellows, the puzzle of the body still intact, but none of them would have fit among normal organs -- like the stolen ones inside the hungry shells of the Harvester and her minions. She may have taken the blood, and the corpses seemed dry and pale enough for that, but there was nothing useful to him here.
"A blessing," said Nanaya. "One of the old witches cast on us, to save us from the hollow ones' organ raids. The Harvester required proof, and we supplied it. They volunteered. It was enough to persuade her." Nanaya grinned, showing dirty, ancient teeth, the grey enamel stained dark. The teeth of a Hollow Sister.
Tanith knew at once what an idiot she was. She was hungry, overworked, dull -- but how had she not seen it before? She stepped away from the corpses and towards Nanaya, bringing her face as near to Nanaya's as she dared, and she was unsurprised to find the death-smell grow thicker: the stink not of the butchered corpses, but of the one who'd shown them to her. Nanaya's skin, up close, was the flat grey-tan tone common to the hollow; the flush was from overfeeding, practically to bloat. An aching jealousy went up through Tanith's own empty husk. She hadn't gorged like that in decades. "Was it enough, really?" said Tanith. "Or did you do the persuasion? You certainly didn't let her have the blood."
"The Harvester isn't a fool," said Nanaya, calm and curt. She took a step back, towards the wall, and stood up straight: a Hollow Sister facing one of her kin, predatory and proud, dropping her pretense of human weakness. "My presence dissuaded her, perhaps, but she saw what was obvious. There isn't anything here for her to take."
"But there's plenty for you, isn't there? You're a local, I can tell, and I'd bet you're mirrored just the same. You can scavenge all the meat you want from them, and you don't go hungry, do you?" Tanith grabbed for Nanaya's wrist, rubbing at the skin; even through her own dim sense of touch, she could feel the nigh-gelatinous softness that spoke of frequent gorging. "Your own private hunting ground."
Nanaya wrenched her hand away. "And what concern is that to you, Royal Investigator? You're hunting the Harvester and her collaborators."
"I'm hunting predators. I've seen Silver Grove. Their spirits are broken!"
"It's a consequence of the blessing -- there are complications. Weak hearts. Some men cannot father children. It can't be helped."
"And you've never tried," said Tanith, creeping forward to force Nanaya towards the wall, rage driving her even as her mind told her how futile this was. She hadn't eaten in two weeks, and that had been the barely-salvageable lungs and curdled blood of a brigand who'd been dead for hours; she'd been a decent brawler in her mortal days, but any Hollow Sister as bloated as Nanaya was now would easily overtake her. It was hopeless, and the dull glint in Nanaya's eyes told Tanith they both knew it. Nanaya began to chant, her shape deforming as the flesh within her distorted, surging from her throat as thrashing tendrils and grasping claws. Tanith staggered back, helplessly, trying to grasp for any implement in the bare room that might save her.
Suddenly, Nanaya stopped in her tracks and let out a sudden, guttural half-cry. Behind her, Elili had grabbed her by the waist and pulled her in; in the girl's free hand was a gleaming scalpel. One swift cut across the throat, gushing stale stolen blood, and Nanaya fell. Tanith steadied herself against a slab and met the eyes of her savior. "Thank you. I... I admit, I forgot you were here."
"Most people do," said Elili. "Nanaya always did. Thank you for giving me my chance."
"You'll want to burn her. Drain her if you can, first, but she'll burn regardless. I'll tell the Crown that she was the sole collaborator and was summarily executed. They may want to send troops, and I don't know if I'll be able to dissuade them."
"It'll be all right. We don't mind visitors around here, and we don't have anything to hide."
"Good. That's the best way to live." Tanith paused. "I suspect you don't need to be told this, but if you end up the new chief surgeon, someone from the Hollow Sisterhood will track you down and try to initiate you. They'll offer you the world, and they'll tell you how much good you can do with the power. If you don't know better, it'll sound good, but I trust that you know better."
"You're right," said Elili. "I know better, and I don't need to be told. Will you help me get her to the burn pit?"
"It's the very least that I can do."
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 05:35|
Dream Girl - Fatal Familial Insomnia
Is it love that’s making my heart race, or just the prions destroying my thalamus? Either way, I’m in trouble.
I met Ellie over a midnight breakfast at Greta’s 24/7 a couple of blocks from my apartment. I’d been spending a lot of time there since my symptoms developed – their Big Boy Breakfast Special is a good value for me now that I’m constantly hungry, and they have bottomless coffee. Maybe the caffeine was just killing me faster, but what was a couple months in the grand scheme of things? It wasn’t like I had much to live for.
I was in a booth cramming soggy bacon into my mouth when she called over to me from her seat at the counter. “Excuse me!” she said, brushing a waterfall of dark curls out of her face. “Are the eggs any good here?”
“You want ‘em cooked though. Kurt back there isn’t the cleanest chef.”
Kurt gave me a dirty look though the kitchen window, then turned back to wiping down the griddle with a filthy cloth.
“Right,” she said, looking back at the menu. “Better go with waffles.” She looked back at me, staring with the biggest, brownest eyes I’ve ever seen. “Hey, are you okay? You’re awfully sweaty, and it’s cold out.” She hopped down from the counter, her Doc Martens clomping against the tile, and walked over to slide into the seat across from me. “And your pupils are like pinpricks. Are you on something?”
I felt my fingers tighten around my fork. Who did she think she was, prying into my business? Well, I would let her have it. “It’s a disease,” I fired back. “Fatal familial insomnia. One in two of my family members have the gene. Those of us who have it, we lose our ability to sleep. Our pupils contract, we sweat uncontrollably, we lose weight, we get panic attacks, we see things that aren’t there. Eventually we slip into a waking coma and die. There’s no cure.”
There, I thought as I stared into her wide brown eyes, now she’d mumble an apology, excuse herself, walk out of this diner, never talk to me again. Leave, like everybody else in my life.
Instead, she burst out laughing. “poo poo.” She shook her head, curls waving. “I can’t say I was expecting that. That sucks, it really does. Sorry your life is an Edgar Allan Poe story.”
I allowed myself a grimace. “You mean like ‘The Fall of the House of Usher?’ Cursed bloodlines and all that crap?”
“Nah, I was thinking more like ‘The Case of M. Valdemar.’ You know, the one about the guy who gets hypnotized on his deathbed, spends months suspended between life and death until the trance is broken.” She let her face go slack and switched to a raspy voice straight out of a Hammer horror film. “‘For God’s sake – quick! – quick! – put me to sleep – or, quick! – waken me! – quick – I say to you that I am dead!’”
I couldn’t help it – I burst out laughing too. “You’re ridiculous, you know that?”
“I’ve been told so, from time to time.” She smiled at me and I realized she had yellow flecks in her eyes, like gold suspended in molten chocolate. “I’m Ellie, nice to meet you. Mind if I sit here?”
“Sure, and I’m Virginia. Everyone calls me Ginny.”
“Cool. So.” Ellie leaned forward against the tabletop, and I smelled her lavender soap. “What’s your favorite Poe story?”
I looked around the room, drummed on the table with my fingers, let out a sigh. How should I answer? Grandma Alessandra, dead these fifteen years and leaning against the jukebox, only watched me, saying nothing. No help there. “Gun to my head, probably … ‘Cask of Amontillado.’”
“Oooh,” Ellie coos, her mouth a perfect o. “That’s a good one.” Her face twisted in mock horror. “‘For the love of God, Montresor!’”
“‘Yes,’” I ignored Grandma and gave my new companion my full attention. “‘For the love of God.’”
I spent the next few weeks meeting with Ellie every night. We talked about the important things: whether Peter Cushing was a better actor than Christopher Lee, exactly how and why H.P. Lovecraft sucked, Ellie’s endless quest for the perfect cruelty-free lipstick, our mutual lack of girlfriends. Grandma Alessandra kept showing up uninvited to our meetings – always silently staring from behind the counter or through the windows – and I kept ignoring her. I finally had something good in my life – I’d say something worth getting out of bed for, if I had a reason to get into bed in the first place – and I wasn’t going to let the old hag ruin it.
I told myself that until the night she showed up at my apartment with Aunt Helen and Dad. One second I was all alone on the futon, flipping through streaming shows – the next they were there, standing over me, their pale blue vulture eyes burning into me.
“You’ll be with us soon.” Grandma Alessandra rasped. “Soon,” she whispered even as her face caved in, as all three of them collapsed into ash, pooling on the floor.
I screamed for what felt like an hour.
The sound of my phone pinging made me come to. I found myself on the floor – not asleep, never asleep anymore, only losing time – and reached out to the phone on my coffee table with trembling fingers.
Hey where r u at? I thought we could go out 2nite
I flipped the phone over so I couldn’t see the message anymore. Grandma Alessandra was right. I was going to die soon – in a year, if I was lucky, but probably less. And Ellie would see it all – watch me as I thrashed uncontrollably in a hospital bed, helpless to stop it. It wouldn’t be like one of the horror stories we could laugh off, not the way we were trying to laugh this off, but real and inescapable. I couldn’t put her through that. She cared about me, I knew it. Why else would she choose to spend all this time with me, when she could be out having fun, finding someone who could love her? I shut my eyes trying to blink the tears away – the thought of Ellie happy with some other girl was hard to take. But putting the burden of my death on her was harder still. I curled up in the fetal position and gave myself over to sobs, wishing more than anything I could have the comfort of sleep.
Light was streaming through the curtains when I heard the banging. “Ginny!” Ellie’s voice was muffled through the door, but clear. “Ginny, I know you’re in there! Don’t you dare ghost me!”
I picked myself up off the floor and went to the door, opening it on Ellie’s mascara-streaked face. I looked away, not wanting to meet her gaze. Had I really made her cry? “Come in,” I said, stepping off to the side to let her pass.
Ellie came in, hugging herself as if to ward off the cold, and let me shut the door behind her. “I got scared,” she said in a quiet voice. “I sent you all these texts, and you weren’t answering your phone, and I know – I know you’re dying. And I’m scared for you.”
“I know.” I sat down on the futon, still not looking at her. “And that’s why I can’t see you anymore. It’s not fair to you to put you through this.”
Ellie made a choking noise. I looked back to see her frame racked by sobs and fought the urge to wipe the tears from those molten chocolate eyes. “Not fair!” she cried. “What about taking the choice away from me? That’s what’s not fair!”
“Well, maybe I don’t want you to see me like that!” Tears were filling up my own eyes again. “Please, just – leave me. Let me die alone!”
“No!” She closed the distance between us, wrapping me in her arms, enveloping me in her lavender soap smell. “I can’t do that. Not – not when I love you so much.”
“I love you.” She took my face in her hands and smiled sadly. “I love the way the dimple in your left cheek makes you look so cute, even when you’re trying to be cool. I love that you let me ramble on about stupid stuff. I love how you always listen to me, always make me feel important. There’s nobody I’d rather be with.”
“Ellie.” I smoothed an errant curl from her face. “You deserve better. You deserve to be happy.”
“I could never be happy if I abandoned you, Ginny. I’ll be with you until the end.”
I didn’t say anything, just held her. Over her shoulder I saw Grandma Alessandra and Dad and Aunt Helen and so many others, people I only recognized from family portraits, all watching us. Yes. We would all be together until the end.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 06:15|
One Final Weiner
Disease: Systemic Sclerosis
Red hadn’t suspected anything was wrong until the county fair, two years ago.
There, the annual hot dog eating contest had been the battlefield where he’d square off with his greatest rival: Ed “The Polish Monster” Senske. For nearly two decades, Red and Ed traded first place. Their closest competitors Albert Magnuson and Richie Cecchini had never come within ten weiners of either of them.
But last year, the homestretch hit Red particularly hard. The final two minutes were usually when he dug deep and summoned “Big Red” to inhale hot dogs with an unmatched focus and ferocity while his opponents struggled to swallow one or two more weiners.
Instead, he felt only rejection from his digestive tract. Each time a dog met his lips, an agitation gripped his esophagus with the force of a vice. The Polish Monster walked away with the trophy, and Richie Cecchini’s total nipped at his heels.
“Always thought it was eczema” Red stared down at the scaly skin on the back of his hands. He’d become accustomed to it. Over the years, there were different explanations from the doctors giving his annual physical for work. Probably stress. Probably something in your diet. Probably some chemical at the plant, make sure you’re wearing your PPE. He knew his father dealt with arthritis and didn’t think much of it when his joints started getting sorer and stickier. Red dealt with it the same way dear old dad did: take a few ibuprofen with a few more Busch Lights. Repeat as necessary, or until your liver shits the bed.
“There are options. We have medications that can help with the pain, loosen some of what’s building up in your system.” The doctor’s gray plastic pen tapped loudly against the screen protector on his tablet computer. “Absolutely no more contests. You shouldn’t be eating that garbage anyway-”
“What for? What do I need to worry about, colon cancer?” Red picked at the excess skin on his fingers. His cuticles were covered in tiny brown scabs from all the places he’d ripped in a little too deep. “I should go down to East Second Street, see if I can’t buy some of their medicine. Might as well now, right?”
“Look, I can’t give you an exact timetable. There are a number of factors. Your joints could lock up at the top of a staircase tomorrow and-” Dr. Landon stopped himself from veering off into wild speculation. Red already knew this was serious. “The way this is progressing, it could be anywhere from three months to three years.
"But the opening between your esophagus and your stomach is tightening, being systematically replaced with scar tissue. You are not doing yourself any favors by continuing to treat your body like a garbage disposal. Participating in an eating contest now would be like forcing the traffic of a four-lane highway onto a narrow dirt road.”
Red nodded his head, frowning solemnly and doing his best to fake quiet contemplation as Dr. Landon continued about setting realistic expectations while keeping high spirits on the path forward.
"Two months until the county fair," Red thought.
Danny's truck bounced on the untended stretches of highway that ran through the reservation.
"Goddamn! Someone needs to- why don't they fix 'em, again? Whose fault is it?" Danny kept one hand on the wheel while throwing the other up in exasperation at each pothole.
"Something to do with the natives not charging sales taxes, and the state not respecting the original treaty." Red watched out the window as the billboard for "Lowest Price Cigarettes in NY, NEXT EXIT" zoomed past. He would miss the large fiberglass chief waving to all those passing through. "Far as fault goes, I'm inclined to agree with the natives. Seems like they're usually on the raw end."
"Well, they should figure it out and fix the loving roads." Danny pulled off at the exit with the lowest price cigarettes in NY. His truck continued to bob at every dip and crack until it came to a stop at the gas pump. "I gotta take a piss. You mind pumping?"
Red didn't but asked for Danny to get him a few tallboys of Steel Reserve for his trouble. Danny frowned and headed inside. He had not fully accepted his brother's mortality, nor Red's reckless abandon approach to it all. Long stretches of silence plagued the ride after Red would state his imminent death as a matter of fact, or suggest he might like to try PCP before it was all over.
"You don't mean that," Danny had said. "First of all, you don't how that might exacerbate your uh condition. And then secondly, what about after, hm? What if you don't die, and gotta live with that? Look your nieces in the eyes knowing you've done- Or worse, you gotta answer for it. After, you know..."
"What, to St. Peter?" Red scoffed. "I think I'll be fine."
And Danny prattled on about how blessed he'd been to have found a wife that brought him back to the Lord. But it did get Red thinking about what he hoped happened after.
He thought of a day in October, during his senior year of high school. Red had woken up to an empty house and spent his morning getting stoned, eating cereal, and working on his car. Around noon, he drove to the high school and watched his younger brother play varsity football for the first time, even managing to get two sacks. That night, there was a homecoming bonfire. A massive tower of wooden pallets surrounded by young men and women drinking and smoking and being merry. Afterward, he drove around with Catherine Hultquist, and they ended up fooling around in his car while it was parked behind Mighty Taco. It was the first and only time he ever told a woman he loved her.
"If there is eternal paradise," Red thought, "it can't be much better than that."
Danny came out of the gas station with an off-yellow carton of cigarettes under one arm, holding a wrinkled shopping bag of beers with the other.
"No drinking these in the car though," Danny said as he handed Red the bag. "At least wait until we get to the hotel."
High Noon at the Chautauqua County Fair meant only one thing:
For the next ten minutes, an obscene number of hot dogs would be consumed.
Red was not participating in the jovial pre-game glad-handing between the likes of Richie Cecchini and the owner of Jamestown Carpet Center. He acknowledged his opponents with only a nod, sitting serenely at his gobbling station. He was there to kill a monster.
Ed Senske stood just off stage, loosened his belt and sauntered up to Red. "Hey there Red, I just wanted to let you know- well, Al told me what happened and I'm real sorry about everything. That's just horrible, isn't it?"
"Don't hold back." Red slowly stretched his cracked, scaly fingers - splaying them out wide and balling them back into fists over and over. "And whatever happens, don't stop. I want them to know it was fair."
"Gentlemen, to your stations please!" the owner of Jamestown Carpet Center announced through the PA system.
The Polish monster sat to Red's left. Pitchers of water and large glasses were brought to all the contestants. Before long, large white plastic trays of hot dogs arranged in pyramids sat on the banquet table between each man.
"On your marks! Get Set! EAT!"
One. Three. Seven. Red's pace in the first few minutes was unrelenting, swallowing weiner after weiner down his relaxed gullet. But Ed matched him dog for dog. Eight. Eleven. Fifteen.
With three minutes left, both men closed in on their twentieth frank. It was then that Red began to feel the stabbing he'd managed to stave off thus far. Some emergency response team in Red's stomach was closing the shutoff valve to his stomach. He pounded the table with his fist as hot pain seared through his chest, causing a fit of coughing.
Ed Senske stopped devouring his twenty-second hot dog mid-bite. "Jesus, Red. You alright?"
"KEEP loving EATING!" Red shouted, spewing bits of bun.
Red inhaled deeply through his nose before grasping two fistfuls of hot dogs, three in each hand. He began to munch in defiance of the pain. With each bite, he saw another letter being engraved on his headstone. Bite, chew, drink, swallow, cough, repeat. "Time to pave the dirt road. My taxes are all paid up."
By now, Richie, Al, and the few college fratboys who signed up not knowing what they were getting into had stopped eating. Ed Senske nibbled nervously, but quickly, as "Big Red" powered through double fisting half a dozen hot dogs on his way to the grave. In comparison, the "Polish Monster" looked more like the "Polish Mouse".
Danny watched his brother self-destructing in a frankfurter berzerker rage. Red had asked him that morning to go back to Buffalo, but Danny refused. He did not understand his brother, but he supported him and wanted to honor his final wishes. Not many are afforded the luxury of deciding how they want to die.
Big Red gasped after one final hard gulp. Thirty seconds remained on the clock. Twenty-six to twenty-four. Inside him, the pressure had begun to strain his digestive system. His stomach gurgled and screeched while the fire crawled up his throat. As Ed Senske took his twenty-fifth, Red grabbed one more with each hand. He plunged both into the pitcher of water.
As the final seconds ticked down, Red swallowed the soggy dogs whole. His eyes bulged and swelled with tears of pain as the bell rang. Final Total: Red - Twenty Eight, Ed - Twenty Five.
Red stumbled to the podium at the center of the stage. He opened his mouth to speak, and immediately began to vomit blood and masticated hot dogs. The coroner concluded that the immense pressure on the constricted opening caused his esophagus to rupture.
In subsequent years, the hot dog eating contest was canceled to avoid the unpleasant association, making Big Red the all-time champion by default. Danny keeps the trophy on his mantle and tells the story to his grandkids of Great Uncle Red, who died the death of a warrior.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 06:21|
Azza Bamboo v. Flesnolk
I didn’t exactly give you an easy prompt to work with, but you managed to put words to it. I was looking for elements of Romance, Humor and Horror and left it to each of you to interpret. It’s no secret that I am an unlearned plebeian and I won’t have much in the way of technical advice, but I will tell you if the story felt like a complete story and how well you satisfied the prompt.
For your own understanding, I will be assessing primarily on these things:
A story about miners trapped beneath the surface of the planet, trying to escape, and navigate to the surface while avoiding a conscious slime. After digging for a week prior to the start of the story, and ending up on a path that would likely result in their deaths, the protagonist has come up with a plan to try and save the crew so they can find rescue, while potentially risking his own life. The plan begins, but then there’s a hitch with the fan systems circuitry and the miners find themselves at new risk even as the sapient wall of slime approaches our protagonist, his impending doom is secured as he has to risk electrocution to restart the fan. Contemplating that demise over melting in slime, at that pivotal moment, the slime manifests as a woman, a woman who restarted the fan saving the lives of the miners and allowed them to leave after making contact with our protagonist whom then, perhaps in a bit of insanity, contemplates what it might be to court the slime.
Do you include all three elements?: Yes, but some of the humor is metaphysical that might not work on its own.
Did you make those elements fit together in a sensible way?: Yes. Although we don’t know what they were mining for, we do know that their activity led them into perilous situations that were further complicated by the slime, that you also use to satisfy the romantic angle of the prompt.
How well did you write it?: There are some definite told over shown sections that could be further expounded upon and a few places where wording seemed to interrupt the flow of reading.
Overall: On a scale of Perfect – Excellent – Very Good – Good – Satisfactory – Unsatisfactory – Poor
I’d place this between Satisfactory and Good. Nothing too crazy, with some bits seeming rushed or compressed given the amount of the word count you ended up using, but I think you took a difficult brawl prompt and carved out something respectable that could be improved with some sentence reworks and more evocative descriptions of what was going on over some sections that seemed like itineraries. Thank you for your submission.
The world has come to an end and researchers, lovers, the only people left living are making the best of it. It’s bleak and mysterious from the start. The humor is more subtle and personal, but romance and horror are strong. We don’t know much about the characters other than that they are resilient, but also “lucky”, which is a nice irony with the title and their predicament. The title in a sense serves as both a point and question, and having Miriam bring it up is solid. You also home in on dread fairly early what with the drumming and howls of what might be wind, then you jump to the terrifying with the parasitic/reality defying/manifestations? It’s a bit unclear what exactly happened, but the result couldn’t be clearer. Weird interdimensional eyestalk creatures soliciting our self-defeat, blood snow and a world in flames washed down with the last bit of wine to celebrate the last bit of love.
Do you include all three elements?: Absolutely, but the humor is less directed and more circumstantial. I thought romance might be the harder angle to work in this prompt, but where Azza went a bit meta-and-direct, you went introspective and subtle. Both have their merit, but I think your approach works well given with how strongly you center the rest of your story on the other elements.
Did those elements fit together in a sensible way?: The subtle humor and romance fits perfectly, the horror fits in that situation outside of our control sense, but isn’t directly explained. It’s made up for with overall presentation. There is less overarching clarity as to what’s going on in the world, and the story shines through the character’s ambitions and that’s solid.
How well did you write it? There is some fantastic imagery in here, but there are parts where some more editing might have helped. Additionally, the world building and story contained was good, but more importantly mysteriously intriguing, but it’s definitely a time where I wanted more words to help form a more complete image in my mind.
Overall: On a scale of Perfect – Excellent – Very Good – Good – Satisfactory – Unsatisfactory – Poor
I’d say this is a solid Good story that could be Very Good with careful editing and additional usage of the word count.
While Azza does deliver in full pretty evenly on all of the prompt elements, Fles has managed to do so more elegantly scoring more strongly on the inclusion of the elements and how well the story was written.
I think you both did well, but with Azza landing between Satisfactory and Good and Fles landing firmly on Good. I have to hand the victory to Flesnolk.
I’ll address my specific criticisms with some quotations and sentence reworkings later this week.
If you feel ways about this, either of you really, come at me.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 06:27|
Thanks. If you didn't pick up on it, I'll be honest and tell you that the story is an allegory of the writing of the story itself.
I was more than 2000 words into a completely different story that I had written over the past week, but just couldn't find where to make the cut to get it finished without caving the whole story in.
I was worried the toxx would come for me, so Saturday morning I decided to back out and press on with a new story. A story about miners trying to dig their way out of being trapped under the earth with slime encroaching on them.
In the end, I'm just glad to have met the toxx.
Also I looked at flesnolk's history to see if there's any weakness. When I saw how vivid and poetic his words were I only l knew it'd be tough to fight him on horror and romance. His weakness is an astounding number of failures, and this story would have been the perfect own had he dropped the ball again.
I genuinely think the story is rough, unworked, but I'm certain that I'm getting stronger at a rapid rate.
One day, flesnolk, I'll kick your rear end.
Azza Bamboo fucked around with this message at 07:04 on Feb 3, 2020
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 06:53|
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 07:06|
Your Diagnosis: Xeroderma Pigmentosum
Check blind spots before changing lanes
The 1995 Toyota Corolla thundered across the sand. The windows were blacked out and Harry was sweating bullets at the wheel. Just a few metres ahead of her the lead vehicle barreled through mountains of driftwood, sending salty wreckage flying clear of the low-tide path they'd spent weeks mapping.
Being a tail driver wasn't hard to get your head around, but if you got it wrong you wrecked two cars and left your cargo in the middle of god-knows-where under the lethal sun. One car with a day-driver is connected to a blind car behind - usually by a thick rope anchored to each corner of either car. You put your foot down and you feel out the corners. Harry was good at putting her foot down and pretty OK at feeling out the corners.
Right now, the Pajero ahead was swinging her all over the beach. She wondered if there had been some kind of storm, but the blacked-out windows betrayed nothing so she was left with her imagination. She always struggled with this bit, the car cabin roaring, humming and rattling around her - tense, lethal and incredibly boring. She couldn't even talk to the cargo, strapped in and sleeping on the back seat.
It had been two days drive already, they hadn't had the supplies to trade their way through rest stations and sleepers, so Harry and her lead driver had been driving for 14 hours solid at this point - save for the quick stop for a wee before the sun came up.
When she’d picked up the cargo in Whitianga, they were working on intel that the Kāpiti coast would be a clear shot - break from the motorway at Ōtaki and take the beach down to Paekakariki. They’d skip at least some of the checkpoints and avoid some of the bolder roadside scavengers.
The trips paid good money, but there were still safer alternatives to getting your hands on cash. It wasn’t about that for her. She’d been that kid in the backseat before and she knew how important tail drivers and blind cars were. She drove because she wanted what she did to matter.
A particularly rough jolt from the Paj in front jolted her back into the present, threatening to wrench the wheel off her. She could feel the anchors straining on the left side of the car as she course corrected, trying to bring the small hatchback into the larger vehicle’s slipstream.
Not even seconds after she’d got the car back in place, she felt the ropes yank to the right and then gut-wrenchingly start pulling in a way that felt flat-out wrong. She turned to the kid as she felt the bottom drop out of her stomach, she didn’t have time to tell them to hold or that Harry would make sure it was all ok. They just exchanged one panicked look before the sightless car heaved itself skyward, dragged into the air by the rolling Pajero ahead.
For a moment, everything hung in the air. Maps, pens, drink bottles, other bottles - all suspended in animation around Harry while her hair billowed as if underwater. Then with a roar there was violence, their dark sanctum was rocked by an invisible outside world visiting blow after blow from all around them. Harry felt every hit until she didn’t.
Blind cars are built to keep the light out, and the people that refit them take their job seriously. It’s not a matter of a quick coat of spray paint and a pat on the bumper to send it on its way. But even with reinforced plates over the windows and thick cloth in the mix, they’re not built to be hurled down a beach like a toy by a petulant child. As Harry came to, she could see the late afternoon light swimming hazily through a gap rent in the front passenger window. She snatched her arm away reflexively, realising simultaneously that gravity was working as expected and they were right way up.
She twisted uncomfortably in place, pressing fresh bruises against the seatbelt. Light hadn’t hit the kid in the back, but she didn’t look great. Harry spent a good couple minutes fighting injury and digging through chaos to find her goggles, shawl and one glove. She’d just have to tuck a hand in her pocket and hope for the best. Harry reached back and gave the kid’s knee a quick and vigorous shake to wake her. She moaned a bit but gave enough of a nod to satisfy Harry’s instructions to stay put.
The Pajero driver was standing next to his flipped vehicle looking despairingly at the mess with one hand across an ugly wound above his eye and his shifting arm dangling uselessly by his side. Harry and him exchanged brief words in a dynamic conversation that mostly involved pointing and the word “gently caress”. They both knew before they opened their mouths they’d have to take the blind car South without the escort, but they took a while to admit it.
Harry sat on the bonnet of the Corolla and quietly said “gently caress” one last time for good measure.
Her and the lead driver worked wordlessly to bundle up Ithe kid in the back seat, building as much of a lightless barrier between the front seats and the back as possible. She gave the kid a quick reassuring squeeze on the shoulder before tucking her head under the blankets. Harry grabbed a crowbar from the field kit and unceremoniously ripped off the front windscreen of the blind car.
One hand naked to the elements, she threw the hatchback into gear with the Pajero-less Pajero driver beside her. The lead driver, wounded or not, would have hard a hard time talking her out of the driving seat. This was her car and her delivery.
They had to join State Highway 1 earlier than planned, finding a path back up to the road just north of Paraparaumu. With a clear road, it was a half-hour straight South down the motorway. It had not been a clear road in decades. Her hand was on fire before they’d even got a couple of kilometres down the road. It glowed hot and red between the freckles, starting to blister painfully by about halfway. She tried throwing some rags over the top of it, but they pissed her off and aggravated the already peeling skin.
By the time they hit the roundabout at Paremata she was pretty sure she was going to lose the hand. It'd take a couple of years, sure, but cancer was a patient bugger and she'd just built him a home. Years and years of blind drives for treatments, living at night and covering herself head to toe and she just let the bastard in one spring afternoon.
The sun glinted off the inlet waters in the late evening sun, shimmers riding the crests of gentle waves. Harry's eyes were shot pink and red, even with the protection of the tinted goggles and she was driving through tears. She'd never seen a sunset in her life, she fought the growing urge to just pull the Corolla over and sit and cry. She didn't. Harry gets the job done, and Harry definitely doesn't park in the dying twilight to consider her place on the universe - not on the clock at least.
The car shuddered to a halt outside the doors of the sun-baked hospital complex. Harry could barely move, her hand was an inferno and her eyes full of needles. Buddy Pajero helped unravel the kid from her cocoon and take her through the still night air into the building.
Harry hadn't heard the kid say anything the whole trip, just nod or grunt. Harry heard her now.
The kid tore herself free of Mr Pajero and belted across the lobby to a beaming woman.
Harry smiled and passed out.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 07:15|
If you want to discuss stories and stuff, the discord server or fiction advice thread are better places.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 08:26|
If you want to discuss stories and stuff, the discord server or fiction advice thread are better places.
Can someone PM or link the discord?
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 09:31|
The eyes have it
The Capgras Delusion
There’s someone staring out of my eyes and I don’t know who it is but it’s not me. I can feel them watching, taking notes. It could be there’s nothing I can do about it but I’ve always been solution-focused in my thinking so I click open the door to my downstairs workshop, flick on the light. It’s sort of messy and I think to myself for the hundredth time I must tidy this up. My interior passenger who is also me agrees and I’m filled with sudden rage.
“gently caress you!” I hiss.
Above me the wife says, “What was that, sweetheart?”
“Nothing,” I call, all light-of-my-life and I feel that inside guy making notes about what I just said and I’m still so mad, so ready to punch his stupid dumb fat face, but I’m cunning now because the one thing I can’t (CAN’T!) let him get away with is thinking he’s won.
So I don’t do what I want to do and just punch myself in my retarded extreme traitor’s face.
Instead, carefully, graciously, I pick my way across the flattened out cardboard boxes and step around the unrecycleable polystyrene packing material that came with the big TV I bought with my Christmas bonus. There’s a workbench there, and there are the tools I need to fix this.
I remember my dad’s workbench. He had a lot of tools. I stood behind his big, bulging-bellied back and watched him as he tapped the tools into the right place to make the wood do what he wanted. I remember translucent wood shavings curling away from the cautious tapping of his chisel. His big, heavy hands, occupied on their tools. I knew to keep quiet.
I’m at the bench now. My passenger, the me that is inside my head but isn’t me, just waiting to take over.
Did I say that, or just imagine saying that? I hold my breath, listening to my wife’s breathing upstairs. I can’t hear her breathing, but I can’t hear her talking either. She’s silent.
I realise, with a sick certainty, that she isn’t her either. Her imposter is inside her, saying and doing all the normal things you’d expect a wife to do, but she’s a lie. I think back to all the things she’s done for me, the times she stayed home with me when my head hurt, the dinners we had, digging up the garden, and I realise they were all lies, too.
This is hosed up.
I don’t have much time because I know that the thing that is pretending to be me is already most of the way to being able to replace me and then I won’t even exist and while it’s a blow to imagine that everything I’ve created and lived for is fake I’m still not ready to give up because my dad never gave up, never stopped putting the sense into me one blow at a time and I hated him but I couldn’t do any less SO we’re going to fix this.
I’m going to fix this.
I’m seeing double.
Not that I’m seeing two of everything, I’m seeing everything twice. There are two everythings and I’m seeing both of them.
My strong hands are on the bench, splayed out, ready. There is a chisel, sharpened just the other day. I grasp it in my left hand. The other hand knows what it wants, and the handle of the hammer with its sweat-darkened twine wrappings is exactly that.
It was my father’s hammer, and there’s none of that grandfather’s axe nonsense here either, this is the same hammer I saw my father use, standing here, holding my breath.
I raise my chisel and position it just so above my left eye, knowing with a deliciously precise certainty that that is where my new self lives. It’s trying to stop me, of course, but my hands are like my strong father’s hands that did not choose to head entreaties or screams or gasps so I’m not worried about that as I bring the hammer back in my right hand.
It’s a single stroke to solve all of my problems so the most logical thing is to take it as hard as I possibly can, and I’m winding it up as my wife comes in the door or whoever she is these days and I see her open her mouth to scream and I’m tensing my muscles to slam that chisel right into my cheating liar’s pretend, selfish, greedy brain when I remember another thing, which is:
I’ve fallen off a wall, by the steep path up to school, and my dad has picked me up, and he’s holding me tight, and I’m crying like there are too many tears inside me to let out and not enough time so they’re all tumbling over each other but his arms are strong and warm.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 09:33|
“Pandora, I’m sorry to tell you this,” said the principal, “but your parents were in a car crash this morning. There was a fire. They died.”
“What?” She replied incredulously, “but I just saw them!”
The principal sighed. He could not return her gaze. She could feel his emotions from within her. Sadness, awkwardness, inadequacy. This was no joke.
“Since you have no other family, the police and I decided the best thing for you is to keep you in class today. A policeman will be here after school. They’ll take care of you, find you someplace to stay.” He said. She pulled images from her future. Emergency placement in a cynical foster family in exchange for a few dollars. A houseful of apathetic malcontents. She could not hold back her tears. She made a wall around her face with her hands and began to weep. The lights flickered.
“I want to see them,” she sputtered between sobs. The principal frowned. He leaned over his desk and put his hand on her shoulder. It felt cold.
“Trust me Pandora, you don’t really want that. The police identified them through dental records. They tell me it was a terrible scene. It would only make things worse.”
She smacked his hand away. The bile in her stomach churned. She felt hot. The fire within her spread from her head to her heart to the tips of her toes. The lights glowed impossibly bright and burst, raining glass on them. The principal fell backward out of his seat. He raised a hand to protect himself and shouted her name but it was lost in a whirlwind that formed and threw his desk against the wall.
“I need to see them!” Pandora screamed. A wall of fire burst outward in every direction. The skin and flesh were blown off the principal, leaving a smear against the wall and a charred skeleton on the floor. Then the walls blew out. The fire consumed everything. She opened her eyes to see the man’s skeleton crumble into ash. She put her hand to her mouth. Only the skeletal supports of the school remained, and destruction in every direction. Pandora could see burned-out school desks thrown everywhere, along with piles of ash. Hundreds of them. She was alone. What had she done?
Her parents would be at the hospital. She had to see them. This was all some kind of crazy nightmare. She’d find them, and they’d be okay. She’d wake up in her bed with her mom making breakfast in her housecoat and her dad doing the crossword wearing his fuzzy slippers with a cup of coffee.
Walking through the basement of the hospital with the hood from her hoodie pulled up she retraced the path the interactive kiosk told her would lead to the morgue. She only had to walk with purpose and the orderlies would leave her alone.
They were there, in plastic bags on stainless steel tables. She hovered over one of them for a moment, dreading what lay inside. Pandora pulled the zipper down slowly.
And gagged. A sweet sickly smell erupted from within and inside lay a sick and twisted visage trapped in a scream of pain. Pandora zipped it back up and puked into the sink behind her. She couldn’t even tell if it was her mom or her dad.
That’s when she heard the heavy door open. In stepped a man, young, nice hair. He was wearing a lab coat. He saw her. She expected him to get angry, but he smiled with a sad look in his eyes.
“Pandora Harmon? My name is Alexander Hymn,” he said as he walked over to her, “my friends call me Alex.”
“Why did this happen Mr. Hymn?” Pandora asked through gritted teeth and soggy eyes as stared down into the drain.
“I don’t have an answer for you,” he said, his eyes looking for contact that she didn’t return, “I'm not a doctor.”
Pandora finally looked up at him. His brown eyes sparkled in the light. She remembered her principal, earlier that day, how she pulled thoughts from his mind. She reached out psychically and felt his. She saw a lab. Hidden, secret. She felt hope and… peace even.
“No… You don’t work here at all do you?” Pandora asked. He nodded.
“I see you have some control over your abilities. You’re progressing rapidly.”
“You’re with the government.”
“Covert Psychic Monitoring, CPM. A secret division of DHS. We were able to tag your signature with one of our satellites. Then we were able to access CCTV across town and track your movements. Facial scans gave us your identity and we were airborne and inbound within ten minutes.”
“You’re here to arrest me?” Pandora asked. She knew she’d have to pay for what she did. All the lives she ended.
“No, we want to help you. Then for you to help us,” he replied as he raised his hands in the air, finishing with a shrug and a smile, “We want world peace and you can get it for us. People don't understand each other, because of language... cultural differences... mistrust. You can solve those things with your powers.”
Pandora went with him. She had to. What did she have left?
There was a helicopter on the landing pad. It’s blades were spinning, ready to take off any moment. A woman stepped out wearing a black pantsuit, her hair in a bun.
“I'm Abigail.” She said coldly. Pandora took her hand. She saw death and despair. Abigail wanted to use her to murder every world leader and put the people of the world under her submission. She turned to Alex. He was still smiling. He didn’t know. Pandora's rage filled her. She felt a prick in her arm. It was Abigail, she held a syringe. Everything faded to black.
She awoke in a glass box in the lab she saw in Alex's memories. He was there, running a set of tubes through a centrifuge. Cameras hung from every corner.
“Alex, your boss is crazy. You have to let me go,” Pandora said as she put her hands against the glass. He looked up from his work.
“You’re awake! Sorry about all that, Abby insisted. I know it’s a bit much but she means well. She funded all my research. It’s for your own good anyway, so you don’t burn down the lab. You're in psycho kinetic confinement, just to keep you from burning down the lab while we work. It’s only temporary,” he replied.
She shook her head. “No. No. No. What are you doing?” she asked, eyeing the vials in the centrifuge.
“Oh these! Well we took a sample from you and I was able to engineer a formula to create a psychic soldier. All you gotta do is down one of these babies and anyone can have psychic powers.”
“Take one.” She told him. He looked at her sideways.
“I can’t. It’s the property of CPM.” Alex said simply.
“Think of how much more research you could do if you had access to all the secrets of the universe like I do. Imagine how much faster it would be if you could do all these processes with your mind, no centrifuges or coolers needed.”
Alex stroked his chin for a moment. “ I suppose that makes sense. It would be for the lab, right? I can already synthesize as much as I want…” he trailed off as he pulled a vial from the centrifuge and held it to the light. It was black as bile.
Abigail entered the lab, breathing heavily as if she just ran there. “Don’t!” she yelled at him, “she trying to trick you.”
Alex looked back at Pandora and shook his head. “Why? She could’ve blasted me apart at the hospital, but she didn’t. She trying to help us. You'll see Abby, sometimes you just have to trust people,” he said as he popped the lid off and swallowed the solution.
Alex grabbed his head and shouted in pain, dropping the vial which smashed on the floor. He fell over, knocking the table aside, knocking the centrifuge to the floor. Abby rushed over to him and put her hands on his shoulders. “Are you ok?” she asked him quietly.
There was a heavy pause in the air before he responded. “I can see it. It's all true. You want to use my research to kill people, not help them understand each other.”
Abby stood up and began walking backwards to the door with her hands up. “It’s the only way Alex. They have to understand fear.”
He looked at her wild eyed, fingers curled into claws. The lights began to flicker. Alex screamed, “No!”, and a wall of fire erupted from him in a swirling vortex. The lab was vaporized. Abby's skin and flesh peeled and her blackened skeleton crumbled to ash. The lock on the outside of Pandora’s cell melted in the heat but she was protected from the blast within her psycho kinetic prison. She pushed it open and gingerly walked to Alex, and helped him to his feet.
“It was… all a lie.”
“I know,” she said reassuringly, “it all is. It’s the first thing you realize when…” She gestured at the both of them.
“What do we do now?”
“Let’s try to help people. Really help them understand each other.”
He pushed himself to his feet and nodded weakly. “Okay."
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 12:36|
I just realized I disqualified myself.
Welp. Maybe next time.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 13:16|
Carl killer miller crits
Your opener is peerless, sketching a hypernoir scene that compels. There’s also a nice spoken rhythm to the words, i can imagine it being read outloud in a sam spade gravel. And you maintain that through to the halfway change up, where stuff goes from noir to magic realist hypernoir. It’s very lynch, which is a positive thing for me - events occur in a way that’s mysterious but inevitable. You take a hard right into the surreal, but there’s a sense of it being conditioned by the metaphors and images you’ve already set up. I mean, i barely get this but it makes emotional sense. Good winner.
The hobo way
Sort of ploddy opener here, i’m like yep hobos, yep poor, yep alleyways w/the classic curl of mist coming out of hte grating, but do you kno, you sort of told me that with the title so imo get on with teh story. I mean I could say start with the second section, but then i get to the end of tha tand I still don’t have a story. Then mr eating friend shows up and whoa nelly look at that story! There’s a factory owner, and he wants to do stuff. It’s mildly involved at this length, but there’s some art in teh construction. The resolution is sort of pat, which i think is inevitable given how late you left the actual story. Still, decent, and some nice words.
The ritual of haast
Bland dull opener, coupled with bad monologue. It feels like rpg filler text. The rock as a joiner of scenes is clever, and, in fact, so is the rest. There’s some tricksy melding of stories and the whole thing hangs together really nicely. It’s fairly contrived, but there’s a nice symmetry to the fates of the various individuals. Unlucky to get the loss.
Ugh, I didn’t like this one when I judged. Your dialogue in the opener is competent but grating, which means its hard to care about these people, which steals an emotional core out of the story as a whole. Then we have another horrible couple, and a metaphorical couch, which gets deployed to end the story. Then you end with a request to have an entirely different story be told, which is what we in teh ringing endorsement dept call a nope. Lucky to avoid a dm.
As we soar into the burning eye
Great title and pleasingly fresh style get me smiling at the beginning, but dull casual chat is dull casual chat even if you need it to set up the freaky poo poo that’s coming. You should probably have tied the lines to characters, you don’t get enough out of the anonymity to warrant the confusion. This actually has a bunch of neat elements and clever stylistic gubbins, but fundamentally it’s one note - plane is devil. You handicap yourself by not being able to tell compelling stories bc of anonymity, plus the overal flow is not that interesting. Deserved loser.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 13:58|
Subs hella closed.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 15:17|
Just wanted to say I was tempted to write a Poe pastiche for my story and didn't, you're welcome
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 18:08|
Just wanted to say I was tempted to write a Poe pastiche for my story and didn't, you're welcome
shouldve done the same thing w/ this post
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 18:23|
prolly regret this but calling out known anime mod bad seafood cuz i never got over that crit about robot dildos or w/e. lets cross katanas under a moonless night ok??? i know for you comparing stories to dildos was prolly tuesday but... it hurt me lol
uve had 24 hours. i kno ur probs busy as a bee... watching anime or... moderating an internet forum about anime... but regardless ill continue to quote this post calling you a 100 hundred percent total coward until i get banned or die or u actually respond.
it was another life but if nothing else im the inaugural megabrawl champion and holder of a sacred td relic with a +5 to Dark Nostalgia should i ever pull it from my archives of forgotten hoodies. i wont be ignored. thanx
uve got lots of bark in ur crits dog so show some fuckin teeth
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 18:41|
Bad Seafood doesn't appear to currently be active in the Dome, unfortunately.
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 19:08|
oh my bad. *whistlign door shut emoji*
|# ? Feb 3, 2020 21:45|
Let's begin with the failures, the never-rans, those supposed writers who got sick in an apartment and were only found when the neighbors started complaining about the stink:
Chainmail Onesie eats a ban for toxxing and failing.
flerp, axiomcathexes, crimea, saucy_rodent, The Saddest Rhino, and rod hogan fail and earn my eternal disappointment. There were probably more, but I can't be expected to keep track.
Now, on to brighter things.
Tyrannosaurus takes the week with a delightful story about pooling fluids and salvation.
There are no honorable mentions this week.
Anomalous Amalgam, Pththya-lyi, sebmojo, and SlipUp all take home DMs for the reasons mentioned below. I hope that someday they find a cure for all of you.
And your loser this week is steeltoedsneakers for delivering a story so incredibly dull that it took me almost half a dozen tries to finish it.
Tyrannosaurus, the throne is yours! Crits to follow.
|# ? Feb 4, 2020 04:09|
The Good: I like brevity and I like a story with a tight arc. You wrapped up an opening and an ending very well and the story was cohesive in its execution. You also managed some good characterization for your protagonist.
With this many stories to read, I appreciate attention to mechanics and grammar. Well done there.
Needs work: Didn't write much about the middle of the story up there, because this story doesn't seem to have much of one.
I don't like a message being repeated, particularly when you do a good job of showing rather than telling with the resolution of your story. You didn't need the description of humanity maybe just being a pestilence on Earth because the ending of your story showed me what you meant. Unfortunately, without that exchange your story literally has no middle. Could have used more characterization, more worldbuilding, more...something in there. I understand that this means taking the risk of your story feeling bloated, but I think you would have been served well with that risk here.
Yoruichi- Peter, George, and a Dying Manatee
The Good: I enjoyed the interplay between George and Peter and I thought you did well with their brief characterizations. I'm a sucker for the 'trickster spirit' vibe that George shows, which I thought you did pretty well with. In a story with poorer characterization I would have been put off with him busting Peter's nose or knowing that the operation wouldn't work, but I thought his character had just enough 'wild' in him that it juuuuust barely worked. If this wasn't completely intentional, be careful.
Needs work: I give you a disease rich with subtext and hideous in its execution and you barely touched on it, outside of 'a sick manatee'. I look at a prompt this way: how did the writer use the tools they were given in the context of their own toolbox? You barely touched on the prompt outside of just 'sickness' and 'cancer', so major booooo there.
I know that the phrase 'Chekhov's gun' is overused, but I felt it here. In the intro you briefly touch on Peter being the cause of some sort of disturbance in the aquarium, but it's a completely dropped detail. I was waiting for it to be resolved and never got it. Plus, he does that and still scores a promotion?
The whole story felt a little thin to me and I didn't care too much about the manatee itself (and I really like manatees).
Doctor Eckhart- Eat poo poo, Get Brain Worms, and Die
The Good: I enjoyed the characters you sketched out and that you included some ancillary folks. That's tricky in flash fiction, it risks making the story too 'busy', but I thought you did fine.
It's not easy to tie up an arc in short fiction, so well done there.
Needs work: There's a lurking sort of menace in the idea that seizures can be contagious, but you don't explore it very much and that's what hooked me into the story.
I really, really don't understand why you had your protagonist and Drusilla fall for each other. It's the exact kind of distraction that makes flash fiction seem unfocused and if you had excised it from your story you would have had more room to work with the stuff that was actually interesting. Romance subplots can be interesting because we care about the characters that are having them, not for the sake of the romance itself.
I'd be careful with ancillary, ultimately pointless details. 'Magenta, Idris's purple haired girlfriend' sort of stuff. Doesn't add to characterization in a meaningful way and it sounds clunky.
The story felt rote. The arc wasn't exactly predictable, but I wouldn't have batted an eye (or changed my opinion of the piece) if it had been Drusilla that had died and not Jareth.
The Good: An amiable picture of modern middle-class life. Ok, just kidding. I enjoyed the opening quite a bit, you had a good world built in there that felt pretty alive and realistic.
You switched protagonists partway through. I think that's a daring choice as it risks muddling the story, but I thought you did it well.
Your dialogue isn't bad and it feels very 'of its time and place'. At the same time, it makes your characters feel a little like caricatures (see below).
Needs Work: Some of your sentence construction is painfully awkward. When I run into sentences like that I read them out loud to myself to gauge whether they sound anything like authentic. An example:
"A real man does whatever needs doing” loudly so they didn’t not hear the quiver of shame in his voice."
I know what you're trying to say and I can also think of a bunch of ways to say it differently. I think you could have benefited from a few proofreading runs in general as there are a couple typos and needless uses of the passive voice (for example, "The scents of great sacks of spices mixed with the sweat of the crowd to assault the nose").
It might have been because the first half of the story focused on Farrokh, but I just didn't care about Yasamin very much. She went from a character that the story was happening to, to a character that was making it happen in a way that I found a little jarring.
You set up a difficult dynamic when you create a story where everyone but one character is an rear end in a top hat. It makes the characterization of the one character your audience can get behind all the more important and you dropped the ball here.
Solitair- Save Your Breath
The Good: I liked your characters. They felt cute and I liked their relationship. I felt bad for Abbas, even though he seems like a prick, so well done there.
Some of your prose, when properly set in its context, is interesting and well-written.
Needs Work: Some of your words are very awkward: "With the first inside him reduced, Abbas took another strong breath."
I think I understand what you're trying to say? But tell me you couldn't word it better.
Another: "Imagined himself on a burning shuttle screaming back down to Earth," followed by "Only three more launches until-". I legit thought he was an astronaut or something until later in the story. That kind of noise and abstraction doesn't work in a piece this short. I'm filing this under 'lost in your own prose'.
I don't understand the roles of the characters. Are they roommates? Is Jerome paying back Abbas for cleaning up after him for a year? There's a hint at the end that Jerome might be a personal care assistant or something, but it's unclear.
Tyrannosaurus- the priest, the priest, the miracle, the what
The Good: Oooh, Gabarro is such a cool character. I really dig his conviction, the setting, and his dialogue. I enjoyed how your protagonist was a passive recipient of Gabarro's actions, though he wasn't too passive.
Your prose is very tight and well-done. It doesn't get too dense and is enjoyable to read.
Needs Work: Not much of a nod to the prompt here. It sounds an awful lot like you had a good idea for a story and would have dropped it into whatever prompt showed up.
Terrible title, feels like it was written by another author.
Otherwise, nothing glaring.
Anomalous Amalgam- The Mummy at Tazumal
The Good: I'm a sucker for a good mummy story, particularly of the cursed variety (are there any others?). Your prose is pretty good, though it gets a little wordy and awkward at times.
You weave this layer of mystery in the first section that is very unfortunately dropped a little later on.
I don't like it when characters know things that they shouldn't, but in this case it makes sense that Sergio can recognize Chagas at sight with the characterization you gave him earlier. I thought that was cool and very thoughtful writing.
You have a good concept here, but like we say in TD, concepts are a dime a dozen.
Needs Work: If I never read another story with a joke-punchline at the end, I'll die happy. It's tonally jarring compared to the rest of your story, absolutely isn't funny, and sucks the wind out of any mystery you managed to conjure here. Read the story without the punchline. Does it work? Does it work better? I say yes. I also don't understand why the two characters are laughing at the end. It's not that funny and one of them is seriously ill.
I don't understand the whispers of a romance subplot between Chiho and Sergio. Without resolution or recognition, it adds useless bulk to an already thin story.
QuoProQuid- The Old House on Hawthorne Street
The Good: The section with your protagonist's father pointing out the features of all the old houses was very cute and had a lot of heart (no pun intended).
I like your overall concept and the kid does come off as pretty realistic at times, like when she brings out the tupperware for her dad's heart.
Needs Work: Some of your prose is a little confusing and distracting. For example: "their movements are cold and numb". 'Cold' I would maaaaaybe understand, but 'numb' as a descriptive word for a movement doesn't make sense.
There are a few points of dialogue that sound unnatural. I went through the story if I could understand why the character would talk like this, but I couldn't. An example:
"Listen to me, Mary, I know life has been tough. I know things have been hard since your mom, but there’s nothing you want that’s in there. Believe me. All that house does is take."
Kinda a weird way to address a child, especially without much in way of a preamble. And the response:
"I have to try and get back what he lost in there."
There are ways to do exposition through dialogue, this is not one of them.
The creature itself was pretty meh. I think its motivations would be more terrifying than its physicial description, which was boring. Maybe I'm just jaded, but slippery tendons and mouths where there shouldn't be mouths don't really get me going.
In an overall sense I would lighten up the prose and focus more on the narrative. Prose like you've got only works with a strong backbone to wind itself around.
Thranguy- The Wizard's Rentboy
The Good: A cute little story that made clever use of the prompt (which I think was one of the harder ones I doled out).
Your prose is pretty strong, though at times it gets tiresome and would be better left a little contracted. An example:
"But that left me like I am now, with an open wound of the spirit, a leak of soul, drawing in scavengers day and night, and I only have so much fight to put out."
Chop out any one of those three descriptors and the sentence works better. I have a hard time blaming you, though, the story had that intangible element that makes the reader feel that the author is having fun writing it!
Needs Work: I try not to call out typos in here unless they're egregious, but holy moly this could use another one or twice-over. Simple stuff like putting 'OD' in caps, fixing plurals and singulars, things that will add polish to your story.
Describing another story within your story is a tricky thing. I have to find it compelling, but not more compelling than the piece itself. Unfortunately, your story fell flat right around where you inserted the protag's fever dream and I found myself wishing I had heard that story instead (even though it sounded a little trite).
Overall, the story loses steam right around when your protag and Chaz split up and your protag gets all gooey. It read like you started with this awesome concept of a rentboy for wizards, then had little idea of how to wind things up.
Antivehicular: The Hale and the Hollow
The Good: Quality use of the prompt in a way that I didn't expect. I enjoyed what you did with the disease, how it was a component of a story that relied more on worldbuilding and characters while still giving the prompt a nod. Well done.
Proofread pretty well and mechanically nicely put together.
Needs Work: This was a 1370 word story that felt like 600. I see the words, but there's a lack of content that runs through this story. I think you communicated the themes of rot and miasma well enough, they didn't need this much repetition.
Unfortunately, your most compelling character is only referenced: I would have preferred to read more about The Harvester. I found your protagonist dull and a little reactive. The deus ex scalpel didn't help with that, as it felt like a way to neatly end the story on a logical point but robbed your protag of her agency.
The world felt a little inconsistent, too. The Hollow Sister being felled by a simple cut across the throat feels a little like Dracula dying in a car accident, or something.
Pththya-lyi- Dream Girl
The Good: There are certain points of sweetness in the relationship between the girls and I identified with some of the cultural touchstones that I feel would fill up the head of someone who faced death: Hammer films, Edgar Allan Poe, etc.
You made decent use of the prompt and incorporated the genetic nature of it well, but...(see below)
Needs Work: Your prose needs an overhaul. Several of the lines are clunky and not particularly compelling:
"I screamed for what felt like an hour."
"pale blue vulture eyes"
"collapsed into ash, pooling on the floor"
I don't understand the first one, vultures don't have blue eyes, and ash doesn't pool. These might feel like nitpicks, but if there are enough bits of prose like this in a story it can become really distracting.
What's the deal with the intro sentence? When was it said, why is it there, what does it add to the story? I don't get it. If you're going to take a risk like that, make sure that it pays off somehow.
The ending didn't make sense to me at all. "We would all be together until the end." It implies that Ellie is going to die too, but how? The family ghosts show us that they'll be together after 'the end', which appeared to be one of the driving points of the story. You should have ended at "-all watching us." It would have been stronger and way less muddled.
Pepe Silvia Browne- One Final Weiner
The Good: There were portions of this that I really enjoyed. The setting is great, you did the prompt justice, and you applied some real tension to a serious subject at the tail end of the contest.
Mechanically this was pretty sound and I appreciated that.
Needs Work: I had two big issues with your story:
The paragraph that starts "Danny's truck..." and ends "At least wait until we get to the hotel" seemed completely unnecessary to me. There's not enough of Danny in the story for me to care about him, Red's extra narration doesn't really help to develop his character, and we already know that he's bound for death because he's enrolled in the eating contest so the beers aren't necessary. If you're trying to build a creeping sense of dread, Red's exchange with the doctor does that just fine. Either paragraph could serve the purpose you need to serve and I think the one with the doctor is a little stronger. This feels like the flabby middle (no pun intended) of the story and one it could do without.
I've been guilty of jarring tonal shifts at the end of my stories and I've learned that they very rarely turn out well. The detail of bloody vomit and masticated hot dogs is totally unnecessary. It doesn't fit with the rest of the story's content nor with its style. The perspective shift to the coroner isn't welcome here. These sorts of tacked-on explanations can serve to make a reader feel like you're talking down because what the coroner says is the only logical conclusion from what's happened in the rest of your story. The second perspective shift to the history of the hot dog contest and Danny isn't any good either. I tried ending the story at "He opened his mouth to speak," and I liked it better.
steeltoedsneakers- Check blind spots before changing lanes
The Good: You built an interesting world and wound the prompt around it in an unexpected manner. Otherwise, a lot to dissect here:
Needs Work: My eyes completely glazed over for about the first half of this story. I went back and gave it another read because I wanted to do your writing justice, but no dice. It's stone boring without any character development, action, or intrigue. I understand that mechanically it's important for the reader to know which car is tied to which and how the whole caravan works, but there has to be a less wordy way of doing that. Just incredibly dull writing.
Ok, there's a crash! And the sun is toxic to everyone! Things are picking up! And then you dive right back into the mechanics of how a blind car is built and you've completely lost me again.
Think about taking all that space and giving me some information about your protagonist. I mean, it's sad that she's going to get skin cancer, but only at the baseline level of sadness that accompanies all cancers. That was the extent that I cared about your protagonist. There's such a tremendous amount of exposition about absolutely nothing that the resolution, that the kid gets to his mom, has no emotional weight at all. I was just glad that the story was over.
sebmojo- The eyes have it
The Good: I'm not sure whether this is an interesting twist on the Capgras Delusion in which the protag sees himself as an impostor, or if you didn't do your homework. I generally think of you as a thoughtful writer, so I'm going to go with the former.
You have a very jagged beat to your writing here, which works with the subject matter and the fractured nature of your protagonist. It's awkward and uncomfortable and I appreciated it.
Needs Work: Some of this prose needs more clarity. I'm willing to believe that some of it is duplicitous for the sake of the story, but I can't forgive some bits:
"So I don’t do what I want to do and just punch myself in my retarded extreme traitor’s face."
Did he punch himself in the head, or no? It's revealed in the next sentence, but there's a better way to put this.
"My passenger, the me that is inside my head but isn’t me, just waiting to take over."
You've made it clear enough already who the passenger is, so everything between the commas is bulk.
"This is hosed up."
Already shown, don't need to tell.
"and I’m winding it up as my wife comes in the door or whoever she is these days"
This is out of order, the 'whoever she is these days' should come after 'wife'. I'm thinking that you did this for stylistic reasons, but this close to your finale the story needs a shift into clarity.
"I stood behind his big, bulging-bellied back"
Alliteration is cute and all, but come on.
"I’m seeing double.
Not that I’m seeing two of everything, I’m seeing everything twice. There are two everythings and I’m seeing both of them."
Oh man I get it, I get it, just get on with it.
There's more, but I'll leave it at that.
I had an issue with the ending. It reads like you didn't want the jarring tonal shift of a guy ramming a chisel into his eyeball, so you went with the softer yet insubstantial 'fond memory' approach. Problem is, the closing sentences have nothing to do with the story that I can tell so I'm left wondering why you chose to end it like this.
The Good: I think I like what you're trying to do here. The story lacks any form of subtlety, which is an interesting angle to take. Nice take on the prompt. It was sorta what I was expecting to see with this particular diagnosis, which was one of the tougher ones to work with.
There is one point of tension, whether the serum made from Pandora is actually poison, but the problem is that I can't see any reason she'd want to kill Alex, besides being trapped in a lab-cage.
Needs Work: This is a very standard superhero origin story. Nothing particularly interesting or innovative here, flat characters, nothing to get me to care about the outcome. The villain is a direct archetype of an evil character from a saturday morning cartoon: predictable appearance, thin motivation, shrug-worthy demise.
The same can be said for your other characters. Pandora is the archetype of the 'special girl' and Alex fits his role as the 'hapless innocent' pretty well.
Overall, pretty boring and completely forgettable.
|# ? Feb 4, 2020 04:10|
Thanks for timely crits, CKM.
But you should fight me. It'll be a nice activity for two while you work up to doing things in threes.
|# ? Feb 4, 2020 04:28|
Thanks for timely crits, CKM.
|# ? Feb 4, 2020 04:31|
|# ? Oct 3, 2022 05:43|
|# ? Feb 4, 2020 04:32|