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Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

:siren: HELLRULE RAFFLE :siren:

To spice things up a bit, I'm announcing the Hellrule Raffle. There is one, and only one, opening line so bad, so deep, that it deserves special consideration.


If you want to take a gamble, you can throw your hat in the ring and ask to enter the raffle. You have until 10pm GMT / 4pm US Central tomorrow (the 11th) to enter. That's a little under 20 hours. At that time, I'll choose one of the entrants at random and they will be allocated the opening line (plus a setting and theme). If they already have one, their previous opening line (and setting and theme) will be taken away and may be assigned to a new entrant in the future.

But what do you get out of it? Other than the knowledge that you stepped up to the plate? Two things:
  • You can't lose this week. So long as you write a story you will, at worst, get a DM.
  • A 500 word increase, giving you 2,000 words total to work with (again, excluding the line itself).

If you haven't entered this week yet and you want to have a go at the raffle, feel free - if your name isn't drawn, you'll be assigned an opening line/setting/theme as normal when the raffle draw closes. You must enter the week (either previously or as part of the raffle entry) to particpate.

To enter: just post here saying you want to enter. Nobody will be entered automatically.

To reiterate, entering the raffle is entirely optional and you must specify in your post that you want to do so.

Staggy fucked around with this message at 23:41 on Jan 10, 2023


Oct 5, 2021

Obliteratin' everything,
incineratin' and renegade 'em
I'm here to make anybody who
want it with the pen afraid
But don't nobody want it but
they're gonna get it anyway!

Enter me in, I can't imagine it's that much worse than the one I already got.

Feb 25, 2014
in :toxx:


Jan 4, 2023

Oct 31, 2005
Non plaudite modo pecuniam jacite.

In for the raffle as well, please.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

hell yeah lets get crazy, raffle me up

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

Opening Line: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. (The Go-Between)
Theme: Search for Identity
Setting: Dark Fantasy

Opening Line: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit (The Hobbit)
Theme: Patriotism
Setting: Distant Future

May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee

I'm opting in for the raffle.

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

:siren: Raffle Results :siren:

Congratulations Tibalt! Let's see what you've "won":

Opening Line: Hi my name is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and I have long ebony black hair (that’s how I got my name) with purple streaks and red tips that reaches my mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tears and a lot of people tell me I look like Amy Lee (AN: if u don’t know who she is get da hell out of here!). (My Immortal)
Theme: Treasure Hunt
Setting: Medieval

As a reminder, your personal wordcount is 2,000 words (excluding the opening line) and as long as you submit something this week, the worst you can do is get a DM. All other rules apply as usual (no editing, etc.).

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

Sign-ups are now closed.

Admiralty Flag
Jun 7, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Some Roads Lead from Rome
Theme: Individual vs. Society. Setting: Ancient Rome. 1500 words + 27 for first line.

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. They dared call it wanderlust. One even named it, “The young man’s pox.” Nothing but wretched, toga-clad farts who couldn’t find their shriveled cocks under their guts with both hands. There had to be more in the world outside the city walls.

The absolute sorriest was my dad’s buddy Horace, that loving poet. The worst. He had been a legionnaire, and he was always riding my rear end about my duty for the Empire. One example: Pops threw a dinner party, and that windbag was there, reciting from his latest work. At the climax of an ode, he turned to me and proclaimed, I poo poo you not, “It is sweet and fitting / to die for the fatherland.”

The slaves had overserved me with wine, so I cracked back with, “Then why’d you drop your shield and run like hell when you saw Octavian and Antony come over the hill at Philippi?”

Man, Pops beat me black and blue that night, but it was worth it for the look on that shithead’s face.

The worst part happened a few days later. Horace walked over, laid a fatherly hand on my shoulder like we’re patron and client, and said, “Son, I know you’re facing some difficult decisions, but consider your alternatives before you do anything rash. A wise man once wrote, ‘Those who flee across the sea / may change their skies but not their cares.’”

Three goddamn guesses who that ‘wise man’ was. Well, a hunch, anyway; I never listened to that hack’s poetry if I didn’t have to.

Soon after this, Pops summoned me. “You’ve alienated all my colleagues and friends. So, you lack a patron, and I won’t subsidize your lifestyle any longer. There’s nothing left for you but the legions.” Voices were raised, but to no avail. I had a week to leave, and it looked like I’d be toting a javelin and shield when I did. Some way to see the Empire, huh?

Well, I wasn’t going to let my last week of freedom go to waste by not getting wasted. One night, I was walking home from a party and saw a couple of thugs beating the poo poo out of this older dude. I drew my dagger, gave one of them ten inches of iron in the back, and wheeled on the other guy. When he saw his buddy drop, he ran off. I helped the dude get away before the thug came back with his whole gang. I got him back to his house, which was a lot bigger than I expected. Turned out he was a freed Greek slave named Popidus Felix, a merchant. He offered me some wine and olives, as well as conversation and a safe place to stay the night. I figured I’d listen to what he had to say.

We chatted for a while. Then he said, “I must ask. Can you do sums? Are you literate?”

I laughed. “Father never would’ve let me out of the house if I couldn’t. I’d be an embarrassment.”

“I need someone to take care of one of my centers. Provide oversight, make sure contracts are legitimate. Can’t go myself, I have to run operations here. Catch is, it’s in Dalmatia. Are you interested in traveling?”

“Popidus, my friend, when do I leave?”


At first, the flow of goods slowed because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But even I could tell when someone was crooked, and he had a team of sticky-fingered embezzlers who thought no one would ever check up on them. I fired half and kept the others in line with threats of publicizing what they’d done. There were a few tense days when I thought they might have the balls to gang up on me, but one of the things I did on my way out there was hire a sicarius. I made it plain that if I died, the hitman would take them all out, painfully. I’d never have gotten away with that in Rome, and the idea was all Popidus’ – I was still a babe in the woods.

It took a few months to straighten everything out and get the business back on track. Popidus barely noticed a dip in his profits; the leeches had been draining so much blood the drop in revenue was mostly offset by the lack of embezzlement. I spent my time building out the business, opening new lines of trade, and setting controls in place for the day I left, because I thought I couldn’t be happy in life running a business.

But something else had seized my attention. Through my regular missives with and infrequent trips to Rome, I had become close to Popidus. He had become more than an unconventional patron; he had become a friend. I came to find out more about his past: separated from his parents and siblings at the slave block, vaunted to bidders for his literacy and education, and all of it overseen and blessed by a quaestor of the then-Republic.

I had grown up with slaves in the house and had been educated by them. Never before had I thought about the cruel nature of the institution on which so much of society – and my business – ran.

The stomach pains and headaches also started. I summoned physickers to treat them, but they had nothing for me except advice to “stop worrying and working so hard.”

I was also troubled by Popidus’ view upon slaves. He was for manumission, but not until everyone else was forced to do it as well, and thus he used slaves throughout his operations. For my part, I filled jobs with freedmen whenever possible to salve my conscience, a compromise that troubled me for a long time.

My youthful crassness had developed into cutting invective. I began to author abolitionist speeches and sent them to Rome to be spoken at whatever public function was available. At first, they were delivered by rabblerousers and would-be Thersites of the lowest sorts, but as their arguments became known and their rhetoric praised, radical speakers of renown approached my agents in Rome, seeking to be the tongues giving voice to my words, and I gave my blessing to elevate the quality of the orators. Best of all, my pains ceased.

My trips to Rome became more frequent. Our business prospered, and here I say “our” intentionally, for on a trip back to Rome, Popidus made me one-third owner in all his enterprises, and his sole heir. I wept and asked him not to give me so much, but he refused to change his mind, asking only that I moderate my speeches lest I upset those close to the emperor. I could refuse the frail old man nothing. I swore he would never hear another word I penned against the institution of slavery.

Our interests had grown significantly thanks to the expansions I had spearheaded in the east. We were now supplied by trade routes that stretched through Dacia to the Black Sea, and I was working on acquiring fleet tonnage in Byzantium. My vision was to have goods from India reach the borders of the Empire, and then make their way to Rome without ever leaving our ships or warehouses. Popidus was thrilled.

But that coming winter was harsh, even in its early days. The breathing disease came for Popidus with its first chill drafts. The best physickers could do nothing but ease his passing and advise me to stay far away from him. One day, I spent hours watching his house, imagining I could hear his wracking, staccato cough. I waited there until I saw a boney jumble wrapped in a sheet taken from the home and thrown into a cart.

I went home that night and wrote “Against Slavery.” It was my magnum opus, a speech unlike any I had scribed before. I knew there was none who would dare speak it, nor would I allow any other to say those words. It would be me.

The next week was the beginning of the Saturnalia, the festival that culminated in a reversal of roles, masters serving slaves. What better time would there ever be?

On the most auspicious morning of the Saturnalia, before the festivities rose into full swing, I ascended a plinth in the Forum and declaimed my speech. A few gathered at first, then more, until finally a crowd. There was scattered applause, but much more jeering. Finally, as I ended, two legionnaires hauled me off to a cell.


I continue the fight today, and I have no regrets. I still write, and occasionally a speech makes it to somewhere populated and is delivered by a radical orator with more skill than sense. You see, I have been denied fire and water within such a span of the city that I find my exile to be most comfortable on this island. While all roads lead to Rome, all Rome led me to was Rhodes.

Oct 5, 2021

Obliteratin' everything,
incineratin' and renegade 'em
I'm here to make anybody who
want it with the pen afraid
But don't nobody want it but
they're gonna get it anyway!

Theme: war
Setting: fairy tale

Love, War, and Other Acts of Superiority

890 words

There's a wise saying that goes like this: a real gentleman never discusses women he's broken up with or how much tax he's paid. The tax thing's never come up, and I haven't so much as uttered her name since she left me for him. Barely even thought it, really. Her figure, sure: her curves, the delicate engravings along her handle, but not her name. Now that he's here, though, in our little makeshift interrogation room, at my mercy, her name is the only thing on my mind.

"We can be reasonable here," purrs Cat. "We both know you did it for the money, and we both know that's off the table. So, you can talk, and there might be a cozy exile in it for you, or you can stay silent, in which case it'll be easier to put Humpty back together. What'll it be?"

Dish smirks. The little hands and feet sticking out of his rim are bound to the floor and ceiling, but he hasn't struggled. It infuriates me. For so long, I've wanted to see him in pain, and he's not even going to give me that.

Little Dog's sitting on a munitions box in the corner. "What's your rendezvous point with the Moonmen?" he says bluntly between puffs on his cheap cigar. "We want names, dates, locations, a comprehensive list of the intel you've already spilled. Should be easy enough. If you don't, we'll let Fork here do what he does."

Dish stays silent, maintaining his smug grin. Cat looks over at me.

"You know what to do, Fork. Scrape him."

I've been looking forward to this. I bend down, pointing my tines toward our prisoner, and start to run when…

"Wait, I know you from somewhere, don't I?" says Dish. I halt.

"Don't listen to him," says Little Dog.

"No, no, I do know you," says Dish. "We must have been set at the same table at some point."

We had been, not just a table, the table, the queen's table. On that beautiful night, the royal gala to host the Moonian Ambassadors, Dish had been adorned with fine steak and baked asparagus. And the one I loved, the one I still love, saw him dressed in such deliciousness as she carried soup to the queen's mouth, and I guess that was that.

That was the night that Cow had pulled her little stunt, which the Moonmen saw as an act of supremacy and domination and declared war upon the Earth at once, and it was the night in which Dish eloped with my love.

"Oh, diddle," says Dish. "You're Spoon's old boyfriend, aren't you?"

"What if I am?" I say. "What matters is you're a traitor."

"Listen, buddy," says Dish. "I'm really sorry that everything went down the way it did. Truly. It's just, you know, love is love. She still wonders how you've been doing."

"This isn't what we're here for, Fork," says Little Dog. "Find out what info he sold to the Moonmen."

In spite of myself, I look Dish in the eyes and say, "How's she doing?"

"Not good," says Dish. "She's sick. Must've scooped some bad stew. The Moonmen offered a way I could pay for her treatment, and I took it. You're a good tableware, Fork. I know you would've done the same."

"Oh come on," says Cat. "He's playing you like a fiddle."

"I wouldn't have betrayed my planet," I say.

"Yes you would," says Dish.

"Diddle you."

"I get that. I respect that," says Dish. "You have every right to hate me. But if I talk, they'll kill her."

Cat slams a paw against the wall. "If you don't talk, we'll kill her!"

"No you won't," says Dish. "Not so long as you've got Fork with you."

I hate him more than ever. Look at him, that piece of diddle, chained up and still acting like he's better than me, like he loves her more than me.

"Enough of this," Cat hisses. "Get him to talk, Fork."

But I don't care if he talks anymore, I just want him to hurt.

Some of his paint is the first to chip off, bunching in zig-zags at the ends of my tines. He scowls, but through gritted teeth, sputters, "I understand. I forgive you."

People like him are the reason this whole dumb war started, people who're always out to prove how much better they are. Cow, out to show the Moonmen how high she can jump, and the Moonmen, out to prove to the Earth that its cow-jumps are nothing compared to the great Moon Fleet.

There are several chips in the ceramic itself when Dish screams, "Okay! Okay! I'll talk!"

How dare she love him. And for what? His pretty blue onion pattern, how much more food he can hold than me? Did she forget how much stronger silverware is than china, how easy it is for a dish to shatter?

Dish is screaming names, dates, locations, as I claw out bigger and bigger chunks of him.

"You can stop now, Fork," says Cat. "We have what we need." But I'm not done. I will keep ripping into him until he is shards.

Little Dog, as he often does when he sees such sport, laughs.

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Crit for M's Balam Noson and his Donkey.

I found this confusing. Namely, you have a professional insulter who frequently gets mad at his donkey. And what happens when this professional insulter gets mad at the donkey?

He hits the donkey with a stick.

Look, if you're gonna make a professional insulter, I'd at least like to see some zingers here. At the very end, you only make mention of one insult like "your mother smells bad," which, if I paid for, I'd ask for a refund.

I'm also not entirely sure what the story's thrust is about, and you continue to gloss over things. If something is uneventful, you don't need to hang a lantern on it being uneventful. Just say he got there. Calling anything in your story uneventful kinda shines lights you don't want shining on you.

I just don't get it, you bothered to come up with this somewhat interesting and fun idea for a character and ultimately did nothing with it. The dude could have been anything, and the story hardly changes. Sure, he somehow ends up being positive in the end, but I'm also unclear how or why that happened.

I'll be honest. This feels immensely rushed. It's flying well below the word count, and the ideas and characters are soft and doughy, half-baked at best.

Try harder. Get a draft written earlier and sit on it for a bit and read it with fresh eyes.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Beezus fucked around with this message at 18:22 on Feb 6, 2023

May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee

The Veil of Veronica, 1938 words
Theme: Treasure Hunt
Setting: Medieval

Hi my name is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and I have long ebony black hair (that’s how I got my name) with purple streaks and red tips that reaches my mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tears and a lot of people tell me I look like Amy Lee (AN: if u don’t know who she is get da hell out of here!). I’m not telling you all of this out of vanity - after a century of eternal youth, you become accustomed to your face. No, the reason I told you all of that was to convey just how ridiculous it would be to suffer from a case of mistaken identity.

And yet, here I was. Across from me sat a small and untrustworthy looking monk, his tonsure gleaming in the torch light of the tavern. He looked like a young, emaciated Jason Alexander. “Have you seen the brown dog walking?” he repeated in a conspiratorial tone and with an expectant look. Clearly this was some code phrase, inviting a response, but I had no part in this conspiracy. I stared at him blankly, hoping he would take the hint and go away.

“Have you seen the brown dog walking?” The monk repeated for a third time as he leaned forward and placed a small bag on the table. He opened it slightly to let me see the glint of gemstones and jewels inside.

“You’re praying at the wrong altar, friar,” I replied. “Go find some nun to bother, or perhaps a novice.”

“God is present in all places,” he replied. “As is the Devil. Now please, humor me, I think you’ll find my offer quite appealing. Are you familiar with the Veil of Veronica?”

“Tch. Relics - are you here to buy a splinter from the True Cross? Perhaps the Lord’s Holy Foreskin? I’ve seen four veils in my life, each supposedly bearing the Lord’s image. It seems that He must have been constantly mopped down as He walked to Calvary.”

He ignored my blasphemies, and gently unrolled a piece of parchment. On it was a rough depiction of Dunnottar Castle, a fortress built on a headland surrounded by steep cliffs that plunged into the North Sea. It was connected to the mainland by a narrow path that led up to the guard house, but the parchment seemed to depict a secret dock that led to a second entrance, presumably to allow the king a quick escape if the castle came under siege. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I couldn’t ignore the twinge of excitement that I felt at the intrigue being placed before me.

“Saint Ninian founded the chapel that would become Dunnottar Castle, but what was less well known was that the Saint had been given the real Veil of Veronica when he departed from Rome. He brought the Veil with him to Scotland and placed it for safekeeping in the crypt below. We ‘recover’ the veil, and I can bring it to Canterbury for a significant reward.”

“I’m not particularly keen on stealing from a church,” I said.

“It’s not stealing,” the monk replied as he pulled out a letter and placed it before me. “The archbishop has given me full privileges and authority, so I’m completely within my rights to invite you to help me. But it would just be a lot more neat and tidy if Clan Keith weren’t any the wiser about a sacred relic being removed from their castle, if you understand, especially since they’re unaware of its existence.”

“I understand that your little letter won’t stop the Marischal from having our heads,” I replied with feigned cynicism, but my mind was already racing with the possibilities. There aren’t many opportunities for a woman like me to be invited into a holy place like that - who knows what mischief I could enact? I reached out and scooped up the bag of gems. “Fine, I’m in. What should I call you?”

“Francis Varney,” he said, holding out his hand. “And you?”

“Call me Ebony,” I replied as we shook hands on our new partnership.


We stood at the entrance to the chapel, looking in. I had easily guided Varney into the castle and past the few guards, pulling the shadows around us like a cloak in a piece of unnoticed magic. It had almost been too easy to infiltrate, but any overconfidence I had evaporated in the face of the sacred space in front of me.

“Come on, get in here,” Varney hissed as he beckoned me into the nave. I took a deep breath and stepped forward. Immediately I felt little flares of heat just below my skin that itches almost unbearably, but nothing more. Between the invitation of the monk and the lack of any burning incense or whispered prayers, the air of the chapel was unpleasant but tolerable. I grimaced and followed Varney as he ducked down the stairs to the crypt.

“Locked!” He whispered loudly, and I had to bite my tongue from telling him to speak normally or shut up.

Instead, I reached forward and, hidden from his view, willed the lock to open itself. I held it up to him as if I had performed a magic trick. Which, in a way, I had. “You could have picked this lock with a bread knife,” I said as he pushed past me.

“Then enjoy your easy money. According to the journal entry, it should be located in the tomb of the Unknown Martyr located… here!” Varney whispered as he pointed at the coffin recessed in the walls. I stepped forward and helped him pull the coffin out, and without thinking I lifted up the lid. It landed with a resounding thud indicative of its massive weight - far too much for a woman to easily lift with one hand. I shot a quick glance at Varney, but if he had noticed my mistake he gave no sign.

Instead, he seemed to be entranced with the contents of the coffin. There was a body, surprisingly enough, covered with grave goods - weapons and jewelry, that sort of thing. But at their lap, gently held in their dead hands, was the folded veil. Varney seemed to be hesitant to touch the dead body, so I gently pried it loose, dusted it off, and handed it to him after a moment of turning it over in my hands to inspect it.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” I said, and turned to leave the crypt.

But Varney didn’t follow. I turned back to see him holding a crucifix in one hand, the veil in the other. Instinctively I stepped back and hissed at him, my fangs bared, but the monk wasn’t intimidated. He held the crucifix high and smiled arrogantly. “Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, for your crimes against God, I condemn you. In the name of the Holy Father, I banish you from grace!”

All at once, the itching points of heat just underneath my skin exploded into flames. I howled as my body burned, and against my will I took my true form. Long black wings sprouted painfully from my back, jagged horns pierced the skin of my forehead, and my hands and feet twisted into bestial claws. I screamed and turned, bounding out of the chapel and taking flight into the cool night air. Behind me I heard startled yells from the guards, but they quickly faded as I flew over the castle walls. I dived into the roiling tide of the North Sea, extinguishing my flaming body and disappearing into the dark waters.


My sister is named Ivory Shadow Misery Raven Way, due to her beautiful pale skin, and she looks remarkably like me with a few key differences. Her hair is streaked with blue and silver, and her eyes were like green glass. She most resembled Courtney Cox if she was an intolerable bitch all the time. Even now, as she smiled at her eagerly awaited prize, she looked like she had just smelled something nasty.

Francis Varney stepped forward and knelt down before her in a ridiculous display of pomposity. He held up the folded veil as an offering, and my sister Ivory could barely conceal her eagerness - but not so much that she wouldn’t spend a moment gloating. “Finally! Finally! With the Veil of Veronica in hand, I possess the blood of Christ Himself! All of vampiredom will hail me as their queen!”

With trembling fingers she unwrapped the veil to reveal… a dirty gray dishrag, like any you’d see in the hands of a maid. With lightning quickness, she snatched Varney by the throat and held him high in the air, his short legs kicking below him. “Where is the veil, Francis?” She hissed with a terrible fury.

“Oh, Ivory, don’t tell me you’ve taken to stealing relics?” I said, stepping out into the open. “Really now, it’s below you to be plundering crypts like this.” I stood there, a scant few feet away, a smug look across my face.

“Ebony! You… you… you BITCH!” Ivory shrieked. She let go of Varney and he collapsed in a pile at her feet. “You’re supposed to be dead! I’m supposed to have the veil! My plan was perfect. What did you do?”

“My darling sister, I must admit, you really do have me figured,” I said as I examined my nails with mock indifference. “You knew I could never resist an intriguing mystery like this. My goodness, mistaken identity, conspiracies, some convoluted shenanigans, breaking and entering, knowing you had to be involved but not sure how… there was only one mistake.”

“Spit it out, Ebony,” Ivory snarled.

“I don’t trust priests, sister. As soon as I had the veil I switched it out and never gave Varney the real one. You really had me fooled though, I didn’t expect the double cross. But, sweetie, I’m not a newly turned childe anymore. It would take more than a faithless priest and an empty chapel to kill me.” I pulled out the folded veil from my pocket and held it up for her to see.

I could see the insults, threats, and screams work their way across her face, only to be bit back down before they left her tongue. After a long moment, she managed to mutter through gritted teeth, “What do you want?”

I smiled, and tossed the veil to her. “Nothing, dear sister. It’s a fake. By the dark one, did you really think the Veil of Veronica, stained with the sweat and blood of the Lord, would just happen to be moldering in some forgotten Scottish crypt? Don’t be childish.”

Ivory tore open the package and furiously sniffed the fabric, only for her shoulders to sink as she realized I was telling the truth. She slumped in a pile next to Varney, defeated.

I strode forward, the click clack of my heels echoing across the floors, and squatted down to give her a gentle comforting pat on the back. “Ah, darling, don’t give up. You were so close! It was not your fault, you couldn't know for sure. Besides, it was good to see you again.” When she didn’t say anything, I stood up and shrugged. “Tell Daddy I said hi if you see him. Goodbye, Varney, it was nice meeting you. Make sure my sister eats someone, will you? Lovely.”

And then I turned, and disappeared into the deep dark blackness of the moonless night. I am Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, and I would never be bested in a battle of wits.

Oct 31, 2005
Non plaudite modo pecuniam jacite.

Hostile Work Environment
1,500 words (minus first sentence)
Theme: Prejudice
Setting: Science Fiction

There was a razorstorm coming in. On the monitors, a black thunderhead rose over the horizon, threatening to envelope the auburn landscape. At present date, the ice caps had melted significantly more than originally projected, and now, the famously violent Martian storms held thick globs of muddy rain mixed with debris and grit.

“One day, we’ll be able to dance in that,” Michael remarked to no one in particular. Section 2 Foreman Michael Davies sat with his crewmen this morning, savoring his tea while the crew slurped coffee from thermoses and pinched off this morning’s after-breakfast dip. In the distance, the cook crew were scraping of their double sided griddles. The gristle and grease floated off, free to dance in the Martian microgravity.

The men sat anchored on plastic picnic tables outside the operations trailer, arranged in neat rows in red dirt at the 20 foot steel base of Cargill’s third largest Mars greenhouse. Monitors were set against the steel wall near the picnic tables for weather reports, news broadcasts, debriefs, and training. At three miles wide and ten miles deep, Cargill’s GH-12 Facility, “The Mighty No. 12,” held over 19,000 acres in the embrace of its titanic transparent aluminum arches.

“You getting sentimental, boss?” Party Chief John Alvarez asked his supervisor. Alvarez was a California Chicano in his 30th year; a great hand in the Texas oil fields, and a good farmer.

“I’d like something to hang my hat on until the bank balance replenishes,” answered Mr. Davies. The money, of course, was the first reason for taking a contract on Mars, but John Davies had made lots. From his beginnings on oil rigs in the North Sea to his staggering seven years on the red planet, the aging Welshman had always survived and thrived on high-demand, high-risk, high-paying industrial projects; projects that kept him distanced from everyday life on Earth. Aside from a debauched year or two back on Earth, John had no plan for the money. It’ll go to the grandkids.

“Hey, boss, what’s that?” A tiny metal bead poked over a ridge on the monitor.

Davies rose from his seat with a groan and bounced himself to the wall. “Bloody loving hell!” he could be heard shouting from the screens. As the crews found their ATVs and headed out to their respective tractors, Alvarez bounded up to Davies, who, himself, had broken off in a vaulting jog toward the operations trailers.

“What is it?” Alvarez huffed a he floated beside his boss.

“A buggy. It’s manned.”


“Doubt it,” Davies answered as he bounded over the steps to the ops trailer. The work party for Section 2 watched in the distance as their bosses floated into the trailer.

“The buggy, right?” Farm Director Martin Owens stood glued to his monitor. Owens left the Space Force three years ago as a full bird Colonel. A rich man already, he’ll be filthy rich in a couple years.

“What’s the radio saying?” Davies asked.

“Don’t worry about it, John.”

“I beg your pardon?” The order came as an unexpected affront. “I didn’t receive any emails about inspections and whoever is out there is playing a drat dangerous game with the storm. Is that someone’s crew?”

“Davies,” Owens began coolly.

“What, Marty? What?”

“They’re Amer International,” Owens finally admitted.

“The Chinese!” Alvarez reflexively exclaimed.

“Who is-,” finally Owens turned and sighted John Alvarez with a hostile, pointed finger, “YOU aren’t cleared to be here, …” Alvarez wondered if the Director even knew his name.

“Well,” Davies began, his mind already problem-solving, “We’ve got plenty of spare cots, but we don’t have a spare bunk, so they’ll have to bunk with our boys. My Zhong Guo is for poo poo, but I’ve got rags, they could-”

“Get out of here, Davies.”

“poo poo,” Alvarez began, “I hear they’re allowed to smoke. If they’ve got packs on ‘em that would be-”

“They’re not loving coming in!” the Farm Director hissed.

“What do you mean,” replied Davies, softly, disbelieving. “What do you mean they’re not coming in, Marty?”

“I mean they’re not coming in. I mean Office 1 told me not to let them in,” Owens finally confessed. The decision to consign men to their death’s enveloped the air as the three men gripped securing railings in the trailer.

“In writing?” Davies asked his director.

“No,” Col. Martin Owens, Ret’d. answered dispassionately.

“Then gently caress ‘em, Marty, you know that,” Davies pleaded. This is surveyor Li Qi Bo calling installation. The sound of the distress call could now be heard from the headset sitting on Owens’ workstation. “If you call it in, there’s no way they can go on record -”

“They could be spies,” argued Owens.

“poo poo, they could be.” Alvarez mused.

“You’re really not supposed to-,” Owens started.

“Marty,” Davies pressed, “We have a treat-”

“Do we, Davies?” questioned Owens. “Do we have a treaty?” He let go of the railing to his side and used the ceiling rungs to bring himself between the radio and Davies.

This is surveyor- Owens wasn’t a large man. He stood maybe 5’7”. Owens also wasn’t a young man. He had a crown of short cropped gray hair around a bald head. This bald head was showcasing a throbbing, angry vein. “How many exploratory missions have lost people this year? What do you think they did, Davies? Do you think they opened a BnB? You think they found El Dorado?” Now Surveyor Li tried Russian.

“THAT,” Davies would make his point if had to shout to make it, “does NOT give you the right,”

“WE BRING THEM IN,” Col. Martin Owens was not going to be shouted down, “AND THEN” -his small frame tensed- “they see our equipment, they see our fertilizer, they see PATENTED INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY and STEAL it.” He broke eyes with Davies to glance at Alvarez. “Then we’re all out of a job!” He swirled his pointed finger in the space between them to emphasize the point. The finger then stabbed back into Michael Davies’ face. “We’re under no legal obligation to do anything here.”

The fear and uncertainty was making itself visible on Alvarez’s face. Surveyor Li could be heard radioing his message in Mandarin.

“Are you sure about that?” Davies asked the finger. Davies could have been asking about legality. He could have also been asking about the wisdom of sticking a finger in his face. The razorstorm was about to seal them in the greenhouse for at least two weeks. Office 1 was a long way away and there was no telling how the security detail would handle the Director brawling with a well-liked veteran foreman.

Davies caught eyes with Owens and shot his right hand behind his superior’s neck. Owens tried to slap it away, but Davies was fast and wrapped him in a front face lock. Owens floated his slight body upward, caught the ceiling with the flats of his boots, and kicked his feet off the ceiling, hurtling downward in a smooth arc to Davies’ stomach. The blow knocked the wind out of the old Brit, but he pushed off the wall of the trailer back at the American, catching him in a tackle.

The work crew for Section 2 stood outside the trailer in puzzled fascination as it rocked and bounced.

Owens’ spine smashed against the corner of a table. Owens tried to bring his knee up in quick, violent strikes, but didn’t have the range of motion to dislodge the angry foreman. Davies foot had found purchase in a loosed floor grate and he pressed hard into Owens, hoping he’d submit. Owens’ repeated knee strikes eventually broke the pin, but he made the crucial mistake of giving his back to Davies.

* * *

Lead Surveyor Li Qi Bo of the Amer International Group Mars Development Expedition was growing impatient. It never occurred to him that nobody would answer him. Whatever this facility was, wherever they were, it was surely some bureaucratic morass that was depriving him of an answer. Nobody would let them die out here.

Copy that, Surveyor Li. This is Cargill, Incorporated Facility GH-12. Follow the green beacons to the airlocks.

The airlock doors opened for the four men in the buggy. Through visors in their helmets, they exchanged half-relieved glances at one another while the steel doors shut behind them and jets of hissing, pressurized air surrounded them. A flashing indicator on their suits let them know they could remove helmets. The steel doors in front of them opened to reveal a broad man in work boots and overalls with close cut silver hair, flanked by a team of younger men in blue jeans and Wrangler shirts.

Surveyor Li was first out of the buggy, approaching the men in smiling relief, “We are very glad we found you.”

A ball-peen hammer came whipping through the air and struck Foreman John Davies on the back of his head, spraying blood at the visitors and sending John’s body hurtling end over end. A panel above the visitors’ heads read: AIRLOCK SEALED.

Apr 21, 2010

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

889 words

I am an invisible man. I am an invincible man, a wise man warrior cunning man thief. I am older than your country, older than the idea of countries. You can grow old indeed when Papa Death cannot find you, can claw back your youth when he has forgotten even to look. Call me Aaron, though that is not my true name, my first name. I will not tell you that. But I will tell the story of how I earned my name.

I am not older than names. There were names before me, likely before anything you would call human. But they were earned names, strings of words commemorating someone's most famous deed or most distinguished trait. Names like Slew-two-bears or Fathers-pride or Breaks-wind-silently. Names of infamy like Steals-wives or Consorts-with-demons. These were not true names, not names of power, but I wanted one more than I wanted Dances-under-waterfalls' kiss, more than I wanted a huntleader's share of a kill. But I was just a boy, with no great deeds or talents, and when I was addressed at all it was as 'child' or 'boy', and how I came to hate those not-names.

Like most of the boys of my age, from time to time I would go to high rocks that overlook the washing waters, hoping to catch a glimpse of the forbidden. This time I was alone, and so doubly at risk. And I was spotted, and one of the watching men raced up the rocks toward me, and I ran. When there were three of us, we could split up, and only one could possibly be caught, and it would usually be deemed unfair to punish that one for nothing but being slower than the rest. But with just one, punishment could be great. So I ran, faster than I ever had, down the rocks and into a dark cave. Such places are the home of dangerous beasts, and I did not think the man following would think I went inside, or be brave enough to investigate.

I was much less wise then.

But there was not a den of wild beasts in that cave. There was only darkness, blacker than the night sky on a clouded night, and as soon as I had moved beyond where light from without shone within, I was blind. I stepped into loose rock, slipped, and found myself sliding down into the black.

When I stopped moving, I saw a tiny light, distant and uncanny. I followed it, using the pink glow to see more and more of my surroundings.

And so I found myself as I had begun, in a high and hidden place, watching the forbidden. The gods were there, and their forge-master. They were dressed in godly clothes, of rock and fire and ivy and horn rather than hide and fur, and they were speaking, and I understood their words, even when they spoke of things I had no concept for.

"We will need names," said the Sun. "Proper names, to distinguish us from our domains."

"And I must have the strongest," said the Lightning. The Wind and the Sea both argued with him.

"And I must have the sweetest," said the Maiden. The Garden glared at her but did not raise her voice.

"I need no other name," said Papa Death.

"Silence," said their forge-master. "I can make names for you, but you must take the ones I give you and no other."

And the gods continued their arguments in some other room, leaving the forge-master to his work. And I watched, and listened, for he chanted as he hammered and I memorized what I could, five and five and five potent spellchants that have been the basis of my magics. If I had remembered five more I would be master of the Earth, if I wanted it.

He finished his work and took a drink from his horn, then used a chant to fill it again. 

"One more," he said, "And then I'll face the gods."

This chant was one I had recalled, and when he had nearly emptied it again I whispered the strange syllables and the horn silently refilled. Again, and again, and again, and the forge-master fell into a drunken sleep.

I ran down, and I stole a name, and ran back up, and used a few more chants to escape the cave and climb back into the world.

I did not see what happened after, but it was well known that the angriest god of all is the nameless god..

And one day that nameless nearly found me, but another god, Amu, whose domain was never clear to me, offered me a trade, my semblance in exchange for fooling the nameless god into believing I was dead. Which is why I am an invisible man.

It has been lonely. I can wear clothes and be partly visible, if I want to. There were times when I could wear full armor and nobody would know I was any different, or bandages and pass as a burn victim. Only recently has makeup gotten good enough to mostly work, and even then I need to cover my eyes.

I've been told that I must be blind, that I cannot possibly see with invisible eyes. But I can see you perfectly clear right now.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

My Kingdom, and a Horse
1400 words

It was the day my grandmother exploded. I had never liked her very much so the emotional impact was limited; nonetheless, as my ears rang, and as the semi-solid remnants of grandma pattered to the floor around me, I was instantly angry. This was so typical.

Luckily my mouth had been closed when she detonated, so I didn’t need to expel any detritus. Unluckily there was now not only a sloppy mess where gran had been, but also a giant hole in the wall, revealing a dust-scarred vignette of way too many soldiers in all kinds of shiny armour crap on the street outside. I thought I could hear the king yelling something about surrender and hands through a megaphone, but the tinnitus turned it all into a whirring mush.

The Kingdom really had gone to the dogs lately, I mused as I scrambled out the kitchen window and flopped onto the compost bin. Some snotty kid had apparently turned up with what he alleged was a magic sword and done a bunch of, frankly performative, tricks at the behest of Former King “Senile” Simon, and hey, Bob’s your uncle, new King.

Except Bob wasn’t my uncle, I didn’t have an uncle. I also didn’t have a grandmother anymore because Grannie was not only a witch in the abstract terrible-human-being sense, but also in the actual spell-casting evil crone sense, and she’d just been obliterated by the new King’s fireball wand because, oh, I don’t know, poison apple, dark curse, general ultra-spite aura. She really was pretty dreadful not to mention my light coating of viscera was the closest thing I’d got to a hug in the last 29 years.

However one thing I was sure about as I hobbled down the cobbled road, picking the last few gobbets of grandma out of my ear, was that this new King wasn’t any better and that I really needed to talk to Izzy.

“Why are you all red,” asked Princess Isabella half an hour later, reasonably enough.

“Long story,” I said. “We need to get out of here.”

Isabella, immaculate as always in the frilly taffeta confection her maids had strapped her into that morning, spread elegant hands wide. “But Peregrine, I live here. If we go somewhere else then I won’t have a house?”

I took a deep breath, tried to get my heartrate back to a manageable 120. “It’s the new boy,” I said after a moment. “I don’t think you should go through with it.”

Isabella wasn’t stupid - or rather, she was, but in the kind of way that leaves a lot of room for some surprisingly base cunning - and I could see the wheels turning. “I mean, he’s not particularly nice. But daddy promised my hand in marriage. And now he’s dead, I couldn’t break the promise, he’d be sad."

I’d liked the old man, obsession with complicated kingdom giveaway schemes aside, so I frowned sympathetically. Then I said, “He blew up my grandma, and I think he wants to do the same to me, is the thing”.

Isabella thought for a long moment, then sighed. “Well, I suppose I could see you to the border, maybe? Safe conduct?”

I grinned, feeling a cracking sensation on my face as I did. “That’s awesome. Could I, uh, have a quick bath first?”

Two hours later, washed and geared and accompanied by my childhood princess chum, we were on the road, half a mile north of Kingdomton. Iz had dressed in some kind of leather catsuit which I imagine was her best guess at adventure-wear, but long experience told me there was no point in arguing the toss on clothing choices. Or on quoits, for that matter, at which she was a dab hand. It was a pretty day, though, and the birds were singing lustily in the shiny-leafed trees, so I let myself feel a little hopeful.

“You’re going through with it, then?” I glanced over at her hoping for some sign of doubt, but her high forehead was unscarred by concern or self-reflection as usual.

“Oh, I’m sure it will be fine. Besides I love weddings, and this means I’ll get to have my own! Will you be able to come back, ever? I’d miss you if you didn’t.”

I considered the topic. My contacts had indicated the King had it in for me, and the unfortunate fate of Granny Pinkmist added a gruesome level of credibility to that. Still, it was a nice day, and forever was a very long time. “I’d miss you too, Iz. Yeah, give me a few years. You can work on him, maybe?” Her eyes lit up and I hastily amended. “Subtly. Subtle work. Like, when you got us both horses by pretending I was your new stable boy?”

She raised an imperious eyebrow at me. “Boy, I need my saddle goo.” I looked back at her, stony-faced. After a moment we both cracked up - it had been extremely funny when she’d demanded some kind of horse product in front of her dad and all I’d had was a mysterious jar I’d filched from Gran’s house. I’d had to scramble to stop her from rubbing it on Shadowflame and turning him from a horse into a scritchbeetle or something.

I was going to miss her, drat.

Then she held up her hand. “Wait, is that–”

I looked back at Kingdomton, which was dappled in afternoon light, and felt my belly curdle at the sight of a squad of glinting-armoured horsebastards. “Ah, crap.”

A lot of chasing and riding and sneaking and more chasing ensued, but it turned out Granny had a crystal ball in the attic which she’d never told us about (so typical) and which the King had grabbed and used to track us down so it was all rather in vain. The King, snotty little idiot face agleam with satisfaction, was sitting there astride his enormous horse, fireball wand in hand, and it looked like it was curtains for Peregrine (being me). Isabella seemed extremely dejected by the whole thing and was blubbering great big messy tears which was rather taking away from the vibe of cold remorseless justice I could tell King-boy was aiming at.

“So, miscreant, BOO HOO HOO appears you have been NOOO HE IS MY BEST FRIEND red-handed, and SINCE LITERALLY FOREVER face the SOOOO UNFAIR of your actions! Sergeant, shut her up!”

Sergeant Twot Bimble, as he was inexplicably named, didn’t seem keen on handling the royal personage, but was moving to grab her and do something policey and probably quite mean. Bugger that, I thought, and dived for him, bringing him down to the muddy ground.

The melee that ensued was lacking in any skill or finesse, but I’d given and received a few satisfying thwacks when I felt him pulled away and heard the high, whiny voice of the child King: “Stand back, men! I will administer fiery justice!”

I mean what a dick, right.

I rubbed the mud out of my eyes, so I could get at least one more glance at the twilight sky and my best friend, and well, I guess that’s all she was ever going to be now, and was therefore in a perfect position to see Isabella’s nimble hands dive into her saddle bags and come out with a little jar that I recognised.

“HORSE GOO!” she yelled as she flung it, which, I mean, it was nobody’s idea of a war cry but top marks for description? I heard the crack, followed by the King’s high girly shriek, and a sort of gross shlulping noise which (as I now know) was what it sounded like when someone turned into a skritchbeetle. There was a degree more shouting and trying to catch the royal beetle as he skittered hither and yon, but then Shadowflame stepped on him and that was it for the brief and not that glorious rein of King … actually I still couldn’t remember his name. King Whatsisname.

Isabella was now the monarch in charge, so a few hours later we were all back at the palace having tea. I reached out for the cup and winced. "So what is the plan from here, Iz? Just going to rule for a while and see how you go?"

She thought for a while, sipping daintily on the lemongrass decoction. Then she looked at me, pretty eyes a-sparkle, and I felt my heart do a surprisingly intense flip. "Well... I do have a wedding dress all ready to go, and the cooks have been ever so busy. What are you doing next Tuesday?"

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

Into The West
Wordcount: 1410 Words
Opening Line: It began with the forging of the Great Rings. (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
Theme: Murder Mystery
Setting: Dystopia

It began with the forging of the Great Rings. It all sort of ended there, too. What's the point in saving the planet, they said, when you can just go off world? Plenty of space in space! The tech billionaire — well, these days he was the first-ever trillionaire — that bankrolled the first wave of orbital habitats thought he was being very clever with a reference to a 150 year book everyone in the world had heard of, but the name stuck despite it. So first everyone who could afford it, and then everyone who couldn’t but didn’t want to burn, freeze, or drown, packed up their lives and took a space elevator to one of the 21 criss-crossing habitats which now ringed the charred and bubbling corpse of the Earth.

Addie was entering hour 11 of their 14-hour-long shift, and they hadn’t seen another human since about hour three — not even on the vast bank of screens they were being paid to stare at to make sure nothing was happening on any of the thirty or so floors in this particular ring segment. This section was mostly warehouses and offices, and it was in the middle of what passed as night on the ring, so they were pretty confident that, no, nothing was happening. They hadn’t really wanted to take the job, but they’d been out of work for long enough that they were starting to worry about being able to afford their weekly oxygen chit, and any job is better than running out of gas when you’re passionate about breathing.

Just as they were beginning to wonder whether contemplating a fractured view of more than a hundred unoccupied rooms and corridors was actually preferable to slow asphyxiation, they heard the elevator in the lobby announce its arrival with a little “ding”. This was reasonably unexpected, especially since none of their screens had shown anyone getting into an elevator, though it was possible they’d just missed it. They stuck their head out of the booth. What they saw was somehow even more unexpected. Jutting out into the lobby was a body, as the elevator doors gently bumped into its ribcage as they made an angry buzzing sound and repeatedly tried to close.

Addie rushed over, desperately hoping their initial assessment was wrong. Unfortunately, they weren’t wrong. This was definitely a corpse, and it was definitely their problem. The body was completely hairless, despite not looking much over 20, and almost completely nude. Even more alarming than the nudity was the blood seeping from what looked like a dozen pinpricks scattered across the corpse’s skin. Addie weighed their options. On the one hand, yes, technically they were being paid to be security. But on the other, they weren’t really security. Proper security got uniforms, weapons, backup, and sick leave. Addie had none of that. And if they called an ambulance, they’d probably be liable for the bill if the hospital couldn’t track down the dead guy’s family.

Well, they could at least report it to their supervisor. They tapped their earpiece twice.
“Hey, Maia, it’s Addie. I’ve got something to report.”
“Please continue.” The AI’s cool voice washed over Addie. While it might have been cheaper to hire humans to monitor the cameras than it was to maintain a surveillance AI, Addie’s bosses were willing to spend serious money on keeping an eye on their meat-based workforce.
“I’ve found a body. I don’t know where it came from, the lift just opened and a dead guy flopped out. I didn’t see anyone get into a lift on-screen, either.”
“Noted. Thank you for your report.” Addie waited for the AI to continue speaking. It didn’t.
“So, should I…?” They trailed off.
“Thank you for your report. It has been noted.”

Addie didn’t say anything. They wanted to swear, but they weren’t convinced that Maia wasn’t listening to everything they said, whether they’d called or not, so they kept their cursing restricted to the inside of their head. They’d lost jobs with too many companies to think that “no instructions” was the same as “instructions to do nothing”, and they were convinced that if the end of their shift rolled around with a mysterious corpse still being gently-but-insistently pulverised by an elevator door, they’d be looking for a new job by the next day shift.

gently caress.

There wasn’t really a good option, but at least if they figured out what had happened to this guy then at least they could deflect some of the blame. They dragged the body out of the lift, set it down against the wall, and got to work. It wasn’t immediately clear what floor he’d come from. There had been absolutely no movement on any of the screens, and given how unfocused their eyes had been at the time, there’s no way they could have missed it. So either this guy had climbed in through the roof of the elevator, or he’d come from a floor that wasn’t monitored. A quick check of the hatch in the roof showed that it was still locked and entirely free of bloody handprints.

So that left a mysterious floor. OK, they could work with that. They fished around their pockets for a moment and pulled out a small torch. Eying up the panel below the floor select screen, they found a likely spot and smacked it with the torch. The panel popped open, revealing a small screen nestled in a mess of cables. They tapped away at the screen for a moment, until they found the trip log for the elevator. A few more taps and they were on their way to wherever the elevator had last departed from.

The doors opened with their customary “ding”, and revealed a long, dim corridor with a trail of blood leading towards the doors. Jackpot. Other than the blood, it was cleaner than any of the other corridors they’d seen in the segment, and there was a quiet hum coming from somewhere, but otherwise it was unobtrusive.

“What is going on?” they wondered to themselves, then cringed when they realised they’d spoken aloud. They inched down the corridor, following the blood trail but taking care to not step in it. The trail led into what looked like some kind of cleanroom, though the open door and splotches of blood turned the clean part of the name into a lie.

Addie looked around, perplexed. There wasn’t meant to be any labs in this part of the ring. They were all up in the more secure parts of the habitat, where scientists weren’t afraid to visit. They kept going, pushing past the dangling translucent plastic (also bloodstained) that separated the cleanroom from what was beyond. The next room was bathed in a warm light, was filled with lab equipment, erratic beeping, and an ever-more insistent hum.

Addie looked at the labels on the equipment, momentarily distracted from the bloody trail they were following. Most of it was in an industrial code they didn’t understand, but they could pick out a few words here and there — “telomeres” and “type O negative” and “Project Valinor” — but it had been a long time since they left school, and even longer since they’d really paid attention, and this went way over their head. Whatever it was, though, they didn’t like it. They heard a ding from somewhere, probably some piece of equipment, and shook their head. “Gotta stop wasting time,” Addie thought. “Focus. Do your… well, it’s not your job, but you’ll do it anyway.”

They picked up the trail again, following it through an open doorway. They stepped over the threshold and saw rows and rows of tanks. In each tank was a nearly-nude figure suspended in some kind of fluid, multiple IV lines piercing their flesh, filled with a crimson fluid that had to be blood. Determinedly suppressing the urge to vomit, Addie noticed that one of the tanks was empty, smashed from the inside, with the trail of blood leading towards it. They approached the tank, and carefully touched the broken pane of glass. They nodded to themselves with satisfaction. This was what they’d come to find. Now, if they could just—

The door slid shut with a crash, and Addie felt movement behind them. There was a short and violent burst of noise. Then what sounded like a muffled cough. And then nothing but the quiet hum of the tanks.

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Love of the Game 1069 words

This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game. The man is me, and ‘far away’ is Mafiatown. It was an expensive trip, but if you love something like I do, you’ve got to go where it’s best, and that’s Mafiatown. Specifically, the Corleone Casino in Mafiatown.

All right, love is a bit strong. I enjoy gaming, but I don’t go overboard. No matter what my folks say.

Anyway, after selling my car and taking out a third mortgage on my condo, I had enough to pay for plane tickets, hotel booking, the entrance fee, and ‘insurance’.

It’s an investment though, I mean you can’t put a price on that kind of experience. Well, I suppose technically they did put a price on that experience which was the price I paid for all those things I just listed, but you get the point I’m making, I hope.

I didn’t have enough left over for the taxi fare from the airport to the hotel, but it was only a five kilometre hike. Anyway, I managed to get there without getting mugged or whatever, and the hotel had a bath so I took a bath and turned in for the night.

The next morning, I went early to the Corleone Casino. The hotel was right next to the casino, which more than justified the cost of the hotel.

Because, look, when I’m tired after a long day, it’s worth it not to have to walk too far to get back to my hotel. Or hail a cab or whatever.

Anyway, I mingled a little bit near a table covered in hors d'oeuvres that the entry fee covered, which worked out well given that I didn’t have money left over for food, so this would be my breakfast. Said ‘hi’ to a couple of my fellow early risers but was mostly keeping on eye on when the tables would become available.

Finally the tables started to open up. I seated myself at one near the snacks.

The next few days were like a blur. I was in heaven, nothing but gaming and dining on the finest hors d’oeuvres I have ever seen, in between collapsing in my hotel room in the early hours of the morning. Apart from obviously being the greatest week of my life, it was relatively uneventful until the final day.

There were only a few players still left. I was sat next to a young lady named Gretel, and there were also some other people at the table whose names I don’t remember or care about, and then a – I hesitate to say ‘gentleman’ – named Ian.

Now the thing about playing in a mafia owned casino is, well, sure, the mafia may steal, and smuggle, and murder, and bribe officials, and fund coups, and broker arms deals, and occasionally evade taxes, but there was still a certain level of decorum that was expected. You know what I mean? Just because you were going to kill a man’s family, for example, there was no need to be uncouth.

I understood this, and I think most of the other patrons understood this, but Ian… well there were some unfortunate words spoken, which had a few eyebrows raised at the table. And then some of his play – like I get that there’s a certain degree of freedom in how you play the game, as long as it’s within the rules, but there’s still some things you just implicitly understand that you don’t do, right?

And, well, Ian did one of those things, and the mood at the table soured a bit, and it became apparent that a couple members of security had already been notified, and were now standing right behind Ian. “Excuse me, sir. Please come with us.”

Ian scoffed. “What? It’s within the rules! Show me in the rules where it says I can’t do that!”

And rather than get dragged into a debate on the minutiae of the rules, they grabbed him, one on each arm, and stood him up.

“All right, fine,” said Ian, “I can walk myself out. I see how it is.”

The two of them didn’t release their hold on his arms, however, and instead dragged him toward one of the offices. The rest of us avoided watching as he was dragged away, and instead coughed and suggested we return to the game.

It was as that game was winding up – it had not lasted long past Ian’s removal – when an older gentleman coughed from between Gretel and me. We’d been engrossed in the game and hadn’t seen him arrive. “Excuse me Sir, Ma’am,” he said. “My patron has asked that I extend to each of you an invitation to play at his private table.” He turned, and I followed where he was looking. It was the Diamond Room. Everyone wanted to play in the Diamond Room! The Diamond Room was legendary. “At the conclusion of this game, naturally,” he added.

It was fortunate that the game was almost wrapped up, because I could barely concentrate. I was hitting the big times! Obviously they were impressed by my standard of play. The game concluded, and Gretel and I were led to the Diamond Room, which the gentleman unlocked, opened, and then ushered us inside.

The Diamond Room was luxurious. Padded seats, mahogany panelling, a bunch of other stuff that sure looked expensive and was therefore extremely tasteful, hors d’oeuvres that made the previous offerings look like cheese and crackers in comparison.

To be fair, a lot of it was cheese and crackers, but it was very good cheese and crackers. It appeared Gretel and were the last to arrive, as there were only two free seats. We sat down, and were each passed a manila envelope. “Read the information in there carefully before we start,” said the man who had handed them to us. I opened mine up and scanned it thoroughly. “All right now,” he said, once it became clear that we had both finished reading. “Introduce yourself to the rest of the group.”

I glanced at the card in my hand, then cleared my throat. “Hail and well met,” I said. “I am the knight Ulric.”

“And I’m the dwarven mystic known as Jortan,” said Gretel.

“Hail and well met, Ulric and Jortan,” said the other players.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Opening Line: He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. (The Old Man and the Sea)
Theme: Murder Mystery
Setting: Cyberpunk

1500 words

Fish and (Dead)chips
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. Graves wasn’t intimately familiar with the average daily take of an independent fisherman, but eighty-four days of zeros seemed to her like a few standard deviations past a dry spell.

“No fish at all?” Graves asked.

“None,” replied Mora.

“Maybe he’s just getting old.” Graves looked at the thick-bodied fishmonger as she rhythmically slid fish from stacks of ice-packed cardboard boxes onto the long display trays in front of her stall. She wasn’t looking at Graves, but she caught the characteristic red tint in Mora’s cybers, which meant this conversation was being recorded. Figured. Graves was paying Mora to be her source at the docks, but she couldn’t really blame her. Information was product, and Graves wasn’t the only buyer. “Fish been layin’ low?”

Mora gestured at the boxes and her display. “The opposite. Overflowing. Can’t even move everything that comes in.”

“Losing his touch?”

“He’s as loaded with tech as anybody else out there. He’d have to try to come in empty. It don’t make sense.”

“I see what you mean.”

“That ain’t it, though.”

Graves took a long drag of her cigarette. “Oh?”

“A long cold-streak, an old man fallin’ off, sure. But it’s weirder. Cookie was friendly, now he talks to nobody. I mean not a word. Cookie was unreliable as hell, now he’s fuckin’ clockwork. I mean comes and goes same time every day. And this.” Mora stopped stacking fish and met Graves’ gaze for the first time. “When he heads out in the morning, he’s always carrying a little black plastic box. When he comes back in, nothing. I mean fuckin’ nothing. No fish, no box, no lunchpail, no teddy bear, nothing.”

“Huh.” Graves took another drag on her cigarette and scratched absentmindedly at her neck. “You try talking to him? Checking in on him?”

“I sell fish, I’m not a fuckin’ therapist.”

Graves shrugged. “And he’s not with any of the big outfits?”

“Nah, he’s one of the last holdouts. Been here since before anyone can remember.”

“And he’s not talking to—” Graves coughed into her elbow. “Anybody?” Mora shook her head no in response, then walked over to the counter inside her stall and turned on the grinder. Graves followed. Mora began to methodically filet a gigantic yellow tail, tossing the guts into the grinder. Graves was paying her to keep an eye out for Family and corpo activity, and being too carefree with names was bad business.

“Nobody’s moving right now. The business with Bishop’s kids has everyone spooked. Too many coppos hangin’ around.” Mora’s hands sliced up the fish with practiced efficiency, her knife gliding through the ultra-expensive flesh while Mora kept talking. “I mean, I don’t blame ‘em. Coppos don’t move for much, but poo poo, I’d give up for free whatever sick gently caress was responsible for that. Especially after three months.”

The mix of cigarette smoke and fish odor turned sour in Graves’ throat. She flicked her butt beneath the toe of her boot and squashed it. “Yeah.”

“You know anything about that?”

Graves flashed her eyes up Mora, who was conspicuously not looking. A good source, but a bad spy. She slid $500 into Mora’s cashbox. “Nah, I’m not on that one.”


Graves spent the next three days staking out the gate where the fishermen came and went. She rotated between the noodle bar and the whisky bar, tipping enough to be forgotten, not enough to be remembered. An old colleague had run Cookie, back before the corpos and Families tightened up their operations. He’d been a good asset, but he’d been out for a decade at least. This activity didn’t smell like intel, though. Everything Mora had said about Cookie checked out: same schedule every day, to the minute. Same path, same load, same everything. She decided to call it in.

“I’ve got something,” she said into the mouthpiece of a slim uniphone. Unlike the phones in peoples’ heads, which could be hacked, the only way to overhear a conversation on the slim black hand-unit was to be standing next to the person using it. It had a single button and connected to only one other phone in the world.

“Graves? What is—”

“Don’t say my name,” Graves barked, annoyed that her employer was wealthy enough and cautious enough to hand her the tech they were using, but not smart enough to forget names. “Activity. At the market. Families are quiet, but an unknown—a real old timer—suddenly moving product. Don’t know what, don’t know who for, but it smells worse than the fish.”

Over the line came a series of exhales, then a desperate growl. “I need to know where my kids are.”

Graves covered the mouthpiece and uttered a few quiet curses. No identifying details. He had insisted. “It’s quiet out there. Everyone’s gone to ground. This might be something, might be nothing. I need to know if I should move. If he’s being worked, he’s being watched. It’s a risk.”

“I’m not paying you to be safe.” The line went dead.


“Cookie! Been a while!” Graves called to the old fisherman as he walked down the alleyway, but she received no response. “Hey, Cookie!” Nothing. Not even a glance. Cyber-implants masked many emotions, but they couldn’t mask a complete lack of response.

“Let me give you a ride home,” Graves muttered, and grabbed Cookie’s wrist. He tightened reflexively, but his face didn’t even turn toward Graves. A needle slid from Graves’ thumb into Cookie’s vein, and he turned docile. Graves guided him to the passenger seat of her car.

Minutes later they were descending a dingy staircase to an iron-gated door were they were met by a mousy middle-aged man named Harvey, who led them through a series of hallways into a dark, grimy basement. The walls were wet and streaked alternately with graffiti and rust. In the center of the basement was several square meters of spotless steel tiling, an array of surgery tools, monitors, and an exam chair surrounded by plastic sheeting. Graves guided Cookie into the chair, and Harvey began hooking him up with a variety of leads.

“What’s he on?”

“I gave him 25 milligrams of Moxo.”

“That’s it? And he’s like this?”

Graves shrugged.

“Alright, well, let’s see what’s going on in his head.”

Harvey sat in front of the monitors and started pulling up diagnostics. Graves couldn’t really tell what they meant, and Harvey wasn’t offering any explanation. After a few minutes, Harvey rolled his chair over and rechecked the leads, then back to the monitors. “Huh.”

“What’s ‘huh’ mean?”

“It means… Nothing. There’s nothing. Vitals are fine, everything’s working, but there’s nothing. His cybers aren’t recording anything. His GPS isn’t tracking anything. His optics don’t even seem like they’re looking at anything. I don’t get it. He’s like a cyber dead-zone. He’s totally fried.”

“How does that happen?”

“Beats me. But there is this.” Harvey looked at Graves and pointed to the screen, on which Graves saw lines of code. “Instructions. Arrival time, departure time, eat, drink, shower, sleep. Repeat. He’s like… a human vacuum cleaner.”

“Pull his deadchip.”

Harvey froze, his fingers hovering over the keyboard. “But he’s not dead.”

Graves didn’t respond, and Harvey didn’t move. Behind them, the rhythmic breathing of Cookie kept time.

“How do you know he’s got a deadchip?”

Still Graves remained silent. Graves knew what she was asking. Deadchips were meant as fail safes for assets, so that if someone messed with their tech, their memories would still be recorded, as long the connections to the brain stem weren’t severed. You were supposed to extract it during the autopsy.


“Five, and you keep his tech.” The tech alone was worth more than the 20 Harvey wanted, but it meant Harvey would be dealing with the body. The nice part about the free market is that everything has a price. “And another five to let me use your blackbox to look at it.”

Harvey didn’t respond verbally, as if being quiet somehow absolved him of what he was about to do, as he silently slid over behind his patient. The knife in his hand and Cookie’s suddenly quieted breathing bore witness against him. With an ashen look on his face he handed Graves a tiny black chip, still smeared with red. “I don’t want to see what’s on it.” She muttered a thank you.


Graves made it to the alleyway before she vomited. She stuffed the deadchip in her coat pocket and fished the uniphone from another. Another wave of nausea drug the remaining contents of her stomach to the surface as images sliced through her brain: Cookie, children, filet knives, tupperware, the gulf. She pressed the uniphone’s one button.

“Hello?” came the immediate query, as if he’d been waiting. “Did you find them?”

Nausea. More vomit. “Sort of.”

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

Submissions are now most definitely closed.

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Week 543 Crit

My crits come in three parts:
  • synopsis, a literal reading of your story (hopefully helps identify if the details I read match the details in your head)
  • analysis, a reading of what I think your story is about (to see whether your story communicates the message you intended)
  • response, my personal reaction to your story (because I'm a great reader whose opinion matters tremendously)

Hopefully some element of it helps you! Feel to argue with me about your story on Discord.

Albatrossy_Rodent's Just For Me
Our protagonist (who I will refer to as he from here on, inferred from later details) stands in the hallway, struggling with several executive functioning skills simultaneously: managing his schedule, bringing supplies, not dropping his books on the ceiling. Specifically, he is looking for a pencil in his short passing period window, a time that he finds far too short but apparently his classmates have all figured out how to manage effectively. Instead of a pencil, he finds a purple crayon, which presents him with a new problem to weigh: show up with a writing utensil (though it must be asked what 6th grade teacher would accept a purple crayon on an assignment that calls for a pencil), and likely be called gay by his classmates, or show up without a writing utensil and presumably be rebuked by the teacher. He chooses the crayon, but in so doing, "drops" his books on the ceiling. Then, adding to his list of concerns, the bell rings, signaling that he is late for class. Mr. Bucholz, an assistant principal who has antagonized our protagonist for "being weird", shows up and accosts our protagonist--who's name (presumably last) is revealed to be Johnson. Bucholz asks why his books are on the ceiling, Johnson says he doesn't know, and Bucholz calls him a liar, threatening to call his parents for the second time this week. Johnson tells us that his dad told him that middle school couldn't be as bad as it was for him, because he wouldn't get beat up by a bully named The Tank every day; Johnson says that his plight is worse. Specifically, he names that his plight is an inability to understand the rules of middle school, and, as far as he can tell, everyone else understands the rules, notices his lack of understanding, and ridicules him for it. Back in the present moment, his worst fear is realized as all the classes choose to come and see his predicament simultaneously, and then the next week they have a seminar about respecting gravity and dropping things the proper way.

Analysis: Just For Me reveals the cruelty of middle school and middle schoolers, both in the ordinary day-to-day meanness of human beings but also in the minefield of attempting to master sometimes unfamiliar, unfair, or even useless social rules, often without an ally. Johnson's plight is also about the all-too-common conflation of "weirdness" with being "gay" (though the story is ambiguous on whether Johnson is gay--which is fine and actually probably good, because fretting over the sexuality of a 6th grade boy seems beyond the pale. For academic reasons, and because the term is central to this story, I'll interrogate my read for a moment: though he reveals that he has a hard time knowing which girls are hot, the term is used as an insult commenting on his inability to function like everyone else rather than any sort of exhibited sexual preference. All of the things that cause his classmates to call him "gay" aren't even him being "weird" in any measurable sense, but rather breaking some unwritten set of rules; even Johnson dropping the books on the ceiling draws an "everybody knows" from the villainous Mr. Bucholz, as opposed to a reference to any actual rule. It's not even clear that the insult "gay" is actually tied to homosexuality, but is rather used in the casually cruel catch-all manner of middle schoolers. Ultimately, "gay" as an insult in this story points toward developmental immaturity more than anything else [though not emotional or character maturity, because all these other folks seem like jerks]). Cruelty, according to Johnson, also manifests in isolation: he has no friends, and no allies. He is trying to navigate this world, trying to fit in, trying to learn the rules, but his efforts only further isolate him because he doesn't know the rules and has nobody to interpret or teach him.

Reaction: I like a lot about this story. There's some strong prose and excellent first person characterization (which can be difficult to pull off). More than anything, this story feels true to how some 6th graders experience middle school, and how middle school can feel. (Disclosure: I teach HS English, taught MS PE for the last 5 years.) Johnson feels totally cut-off and without support, and everyone around him is either mocking him, oppressing him, or ignoring him. And his reaction is not anger, but exasperation: can't I just be normal and invisible? I've seen this very kid many times, and it's so heartbreaking--and all the things a kid like Johnson tries to do just spotlights him further. It feels like swimming upstream, like you have to answer to last week's crimes while also trying not to bring a purple crayon to class.

I have some minor issues, and then some... questions? related to those issues. This may be a disorganized critique, we'll see. Issue: Bucholz is a cartoonish goon squad AP. He almost literally twirls his mustache. I'm not saying there aren't APs like this (there most certainly are), but it feels like a very simplistic character. So the question is: is Johnson a reliable narrator? My instinct is no, and if that's the case, it would make sense that he would read Bucholz, who apparently takes issue with his lack of executive functioning (cruel for a middle school AP, tbh) as a big bag villain. (If Johnson is reliable, then I think Bucholz is too cartoonish.) In which case, I think there is far more to play with here, and with my other issues, than you do in this story. If Johnson is unreliable, then What the story can mess with is his perception of reality vs. our understanding of reality. This story is about Johnson's feelings of isolation and the apparent cruelty visited upon him, but very rarely (never, in my experience, but I won't generalize) is everyone in agreement that any one kid is weird and deserving of this level of banal cruelty. There will be some classmate, teacher, administrator, whoever, who will try to be caring. In this story there is nobody; is that what you intend? I think the story is more interesting if there is someone that we the reader see trying to be compassionate but that Johnson is unable to see or accept, for any number of reasons. Perhaps Bucholz is a hardass who gets Johnson in trouble, but we can see he's doing it because he thinks he's helping. Perhaps Johnson has a classmate or teacher who sees him but Johnson can't hear, because he doesn't want the compassion of an individual--he wants the acceptance of the congregation.

There are a couple lines where I think you over-explain. "Normal people like football and know which of the sixth-grade girls are hot and which ones are ugly" you say, and then tell us that Johnson does not do these things. I think the quoted line already implies that Johnson does not do these things. The only detail I like in the subsequent sentence is that being wrong about girls must mean he thinks the boys are hot, which is gay. Minor thing, but it felt overstuffed. Similarly with the anecdote about his dad. I think that section could use a rewrite. I think the anecdote fits (if a bit on the nose), but I think the telling could be more... subtle?

Good story. I enjoyed reading it and critting it. Interesting questions raised, for me, about the construction, and if you were to expand it I think you'd need to add some more nuance.

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

Week 545 Results

First of all, thank you to everyone who submitted for what I thought was a relatively strong week across the board. Not strong enough to save everybody but a good showing all the same. Thanks also to the co-judges, as always.

The loss goes to Chairchucker for Love of the Game.
The DM goes to Dicere for Hostile Work Environment.
The HN goes to sebmojo for My Kingdom, and a Horse.
The win goes to Beezus for The Last Mariner of Port Kirney.

Take it away :siren: Beezus :siren:

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

Thunderdome Week 545 - Crits

Admiralty Flag - Some Roads Lead from Rome
Individual v Society / Ancient Rome

Good blending of the first line into your actual opening. Your PoV character is a cocky little poo poo, which I love. I worry a little that you’re spending too long on the opening scene - I think you could have moved to the scene break quicker and cut out a bit of dead weight (the return of Horace, for example).

After that - everything between the two ###s - reads well enough and flows well enough. It just feels a little disjointed - the societal conflict takes backseat to the retelling of the PoV character’s life. You bring it back in the end but it doesn’t feel as developed as it could otherwise.

And let’s talk about your ending. Just gonna waltz in here and whack your fascinus out onto the table like that with that pun? If I’m going by TD kayfabe I’m impressed - but if I’m looking at the story, I’m a bit disappointed. It undercuts what was otherwise quite a heartfelt story because now I can’t read the rest of it as anything but an excuse for the pun.

And your PoV character, particularly given the opening, does not strike me as someone inclined to wordplay, even at the end.

Your prose is seamless and you clearly know your stuff on the setting - or at least enough to fool a layperson - but it would have been stronger if you’d stuck the landing.

Albatrossy_Rodent - Love, War and Other Acts of Superiority
War / Fairy Tale

This is a very fun interpretation of your prompt. If I had a quibble (hey diddle diddle) it’s that the “war” part is very distant. I’m not looking for Thumbelina storming the beaches at Normandy but I’d have liked to see a little more than this.

Your dialogue is good, if a bit cliche. Which is sort of my main fault with the story as a whole. It’s fine and all but feels a little bit too much like fairy tale names stretched over Interrogation Scene A, if that makes sense. I like the lines that have a bit more spark (“Must’ve scooped some bad stew.”) and would have liked to see more of that, particularly when it comes to distinguishing the characters through their dialogue.

Competently told and no longer than it needed to be but a little bit safe.

Beezus - The Last Mariner of Port Kirney
Lost Love / Lovecraftian

I really, really like how you’ve tied in your opening line, setting and theme. I particularly like how you call back to it later on with the messages in the static.

Having read the story through once I looked back and was a little confused by Oliver’s actions in going out on the boat - after all, if he (it?) knew what was going on, what was the point? When I went back and re-read that part, it made a little more sense (the emphasis on “must be people”, as though trying to convince himself) but could stand to be developed a bit more.

This ticks all the boxes of “Lovecraftian” as far as I’m concerned except one: the response of Euri. Euri comes across a little flat and emotionless and when that can be attributed to grief that makes sense - but once she sails into the fog, I’d like to know a little more about what she was thinking. There was a missing sense of psychological horror and I think you’d need that to be demonstrated through your lead character.

You stuck the landing, though. I thought you were going for an Orpheus with “don’t look back” but I much prefer the dreadful weight of there being no escape - just the barest shred of mercy through ignorance.

Tibalt - The Veil of Veronica
Treasure Hunt / Medieval

First of all, thanks for taking the raffle prize in good stead.

And what a prize it is! Congratulations on blending the opening line into your story - I was eagerly waiting to see how you managed it and was not disappointed. The opening was otherwise a bit rough - a bit too much exposition for my tastes - but did the job. At the end of the first scene I know what the setup is and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes wrong.

I’ll admit, the betrayal was not something I saw coming.

Okay, I’m being very pedantic but in your opening you talk about the ridiculous idea of being mistaken for someone else - and then later you talk about the almost identical sister. That’s minor in the grand scheme of things but does mark the point where things go a little loose. The sister and the rivalry are introduced too late for me to care and after that it’s just Ebony flexing on how amazing they are. Which was unnecessarily close to the source material.

I enjoyed the first third to a half and I think with a bit more polish the ending could have been a neat little twist. As it is, it didn’t quite do it for me.

Dicere - Hostile Work Environment
Prejudice / Science Fiction

Your worldbuilding is pretty slick, and ties nicely into the opening line, but so far doesn’t feel particularly tied to the story. Maybe that will change.

There are a couple of typos and grammatical errors that I’ve spotted - nothing major but enough to disrupt the flow of the story. “Scraping of their double sided griddles”, for example, or “It’ll go to the grandkids” in the middle of a past tense story.

Your dialogue is mainly fine but “bloody loving hell” sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit cartoonish and doesn’t fit the otherwise grounded tone. The dialogue then gets a bit confused - in the scene in the command trailer, I had trouble telling who was speaking at any given turn and - to be honest - who the three characters were. You don’t necessarily need three characters if you can make do with two and I think that applies here.

And then the ending is a mess. Who killed John? One of the Amer group? Because they’d be approaching from the front, not the back. Owen or Davies (I can’t tell them apart at this point)? It just feels very “then everybody died, the end, no moral”.

Your story takes too long to get going and then doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. I’d like to see this after another couple of editing passes.

Thranguy - Better than Fire
Search for Identity / Prehistoric

Good use of the prompt, good interpretation of “search for identity”, good prose. Good dialogue. I fall into the age-old problem of “what do I have to crit when I generally just liked what I read?”

The ending felt a little rushed. Right up until the end, I forgot about the “invisible man” aspect of the story/prompt and it felt a little like the story did too, having to suddenly cover it and tie up that loose end. If nothing else, have the nameless god see Aaron’s face or something as he flees.

That final line, though - that’s a drat good final line. It almost feels wasted on a story that otherwise ignores the invisible aspect. A little more earlier on, a little something to indicate that Aaron might be watching or might be malicious, and I’d remember that final line for a long time. As it is, I think it’ll fade from memory fairly quickly.

Sebmojo - My Kingdom, and a Horse
Survival / Fairy Tale

I’m struggling here, I really am.

I mean, this is a tidy little story that’s very competently told and it oozes tone - I just don’t think I’ll remember it for very long. Put it in a lineup and ask me to pick out the sebmojo story? Sure, no problem. Ask me to describe it a month from now? I’d struggle.

But hey, there are worse outcomes than “wrote a good story, I guess”. And because this feels like an unsatisfying ending for a crit, I will say that I really liked the character of Isabella. Stereotypical without being a stereotype.

And the line “Isabella wasn’t stupid - or rather, she was, but in the kind of way that leaves a lot of room for some surprisingly base cunning - and I could see the wheels turning.” felt very Pratchett-esque, which always appeals to me.

Cptn_dr - Into the West
Murder Mystery / Dystopia

You know, I love scifi megastructures and it never occurred to me to turn your opening line into an orbital ring reference. Nice choice!

I like what you’ve written, it just doesn’t feel like a story. It feels like the opening to a story - if you told me this was the prologue to a novel, where the action shifted to solving Addie’s murder, then I’d buy it - but for a short story, there’s too much buildup and basically no payoff. Which is a pity, because I really do like what you’ve written - in particular, I think you’ve done a good job at worldbuilding with short, efficient snippets (up until entering the lab, at which point it all turns a bit generic scifi “Project Lazarus” etc.).

I recognise the struggles of a theme like Murder Mystery in a short story format but you’d have been better off focusing on a specific scene or concept. As it is, you tried to fit too much into your wordcount. Personally, I’m just not a fan of sudden “and then the main character died” endings.

Well written, just the wrong focus.

Chairchucker - Love of the Game
Addiction / Mafia

You didn’t do yourself a ton of favours here.

Your character voice starts off a little grating. The constant corrections and double-backs (“you can’t put a price … well, I suppose technically they did”, etc.) could, in theory, come off as nervous or high strung or something but didn’t quite work for me here.

I don’t normally notice sentence structure but you’ve got a lot of two-sentence (or three, at a pinch) paragraphs that all have the same rhythm. It starts to read more like a list than a story.

Just about everything between the opening line and “until the final day” could have been cut. The final day is where the story is starting - which leaves precious little time to actually tell a story. Which I think you know because the story is less a story and more a joke I could see as a tweet.

Did I go back and check whether there had ever been a mention of a specific game or if I had just assumed it was poker, craps, etc.? Sure, which was fun, but that could have come at the end of a story where the main character actually did something.

Decent concept, I guess.

BeefSupreme - Fish and (Dead)Chips
Murder Mystery / Cyberpunk

You’ve got some good concepts here and the writing is solid but the story is a bit muddled.

Graves’ goal isn’t clear from the start - staking out Cookie, sure, but we don’t know why. We know there’s business “with Bishop’s kids” but don’t know if that’s related or not. Could be a throwaway detail. Presumably, Graves is looking for Bishop’s kids - but “the business” suggests they know what happened. It sounds like Graves suspects Cookie of moving “product” which could be anything - so why take them in as a lead in a missing persons case?

I could go on like this but ultimately it feels like there’s half a story I’m not seeing, one which probably only you know. Still, it’s a complete story in its own right and you did a great job with incorporating the first line.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.


Last week was fun. You know what else is fun? Being miserable in the woods. Together. I've been spending a lot of time in TGO, so this week, I would like to read stories that take place in the wilderness, far from the comforts of civilization. They can be tales of high adventure, cozy campfire times, survival, spooky forest happenings, whatever. Just show me some trees. Your wilderness stories should be 1000 words or less, unless you request a flash rule. That flash rule will consist of a gift from me, which you will have to incorporate into your story. That something may also already exist in the woods and may not seem like a gift to you, but trust me -- it is. Requesting a flash rule will give you an additional 200 words to work with.

One thing I have learned though from my time in the woods is that things can change so very quickly, because nature is beautiful and scary and sometimes we do not plan appropriately for her. For for that, I offer another option, which can be requested instead of the gift flash, or in addition to the gift flash, and that is the nature tax. If you request a nature tax, you may also add 200 words to your word count, but I will take something from your story. Something your characters might have found useful in the wildness, maybe. Or perhaps something your characters didn't even know they could lose. If you request both the gift and tax, your story may be 1400 words or less.

No erotica, fanfic, political screeds, gdocs etc.

Here are the possible word limits:
No flash, no tax: 1000 words
Gift flash OR nature tax: 1200 words
Gift flash AND nature tax: 1400 words

Signup Deadline: Friday, Jan. 20th 10PM PST
Submission Deadline: Sunday, Jan. 22nd 10PM PST


  • Somebody heading into the woods with half a pack of M&Ms a single bottle of Gatorade probably
  • Albatrossy_Rodent
  • Staggy
  • Tibalt
  • cptn_dr
  • WindwardAway :toxx:
  • BeefSupreme
  • IdleAmalgam
  • Thranguy
  • a friendly penguin
  • PhantomMuzzles

Beezus fucked around with this message at 15:41 on Jan 21, 2023

Oct 5, 2021

Obliteratin' everything,
incineratin' and renegade 'em
I'm here to make anybody who
want it with the pen afraid
But don't nobody want it but
they're gonna get it anyway!

In, double flash me

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

In, gift tax and nature tax please

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Albatrossy_Rodent posted:

In, double flash me

Gift: A bag of jumbo-sized marshmallows
Tax: Sound. Your wilderness makes no noise.

Staggy posted:

In, gift tax and nature tax please

Gift: Close friends
Tax: Privacy. Something is always watching.

May 14, 2017

What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee

In, double flash me please

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Tibalt posted:

In, double flash me please

Gift: A well-meaning ghost
Tax: Fair weather. The sky turns dark and angry. A storm is coming.

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

In, double flash me!

Aug 22, 2022

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
In with a double flash, and :toxx: for last week's failure!

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

cptn_dr posted:

In, double flash me!

Gift: A compass that points toward danger
Tax: Food. It's extremely scarce out there.

WindwardAway posted:

In with a double flash, and :toxx: for last week's failure!

Gift: A camp stove
Tax: Morale. The mood is low.

Admiralty Flag
Jun 7, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Sign me up to judge this week. Can someone PM me the discord link?

Sep 14, 2007

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

in gift and tax pls

Idle Amalgam
Mar 7, 2008

said I'm never lackin'
always pistol packin'
with them automatics
we gon' send 'em to Heaven
in gift and tax :toxx:

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

BeefSupreme posted:

in gift and tax pls

Gift: A loyal dog
Tax: Heat. It's far colder out there than anticipated. Brutally cold, even.

Idle Amalgam posted:

in gift and tax :toxx:

Gift: A sentient GPS device
Tax: Time. It does not pass at all in your wilderness.

Admiralty Flag posted:

Sign me up to judge this week. Can someone PM me the discord link?

Hey there! I appreciate your offer, but this week I would prefer to have co-judges who have judged at least once before. If no one else volunteers by the submission deadline, I'll make an exception. You should absolutely keep volunteering to judge in the future, though -- please don't let me discourage you.

Mar 19, 2008

Look, if you had one shot
or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
in one moment
Would you capture it...
or just let it slip?


I will judge


Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

rohan posted:

I will judge

You got it! Thank you much.

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