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Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica

Fat Jesus posted:


Honestly, the voice here is a bit off-putting and I don't know why it could be on me. I'm not a historical expert, I'm someone who's been trained by movies to expect people from the antiquities to have a strong English accent regardless of the country or language. But it doesn't quite tick for me and probably in the sense that it doesn't sound like what I'm used to, not that you are in any way wrong here. The story itself is good, staid and on firm ground or terra firma, if you will. I can't blame you for not having a Shyamalan reveal here to send tingles up my spine but yeah it wasn't super spooky but I could maybe imagine it feeling that way to a YA audience or if you had more time and space to let your idea take flight.

Also not sure how a cursed spear of destiny that's like from another dimension is personifying a force of nature but I guess it's war or something? It wasn't clear to me if it was some kind of Lovecraftian thing or technology but then again I'll give you credit for the murky lens of ye olde scanner darkly. Who knows what maddening tools our elders left out or thrust upon us in the middle ages of our upheaval from ape to gun god.

I mean you could do worse than Canticles of Leibowitz at the Mountains of Madness.


Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica

Thranguy posted:


This was very blunt but also left me with lots of questions, which is good? My experiences with Catan have been limited and highlighted by my niece's insistence on trading only in sheep and having unwarranted success. I was mostly indifferent to the game but do find it amusing, kind of like this story.

Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica

Ouzo Maki posted:

The Great Anarch

Thank you for submitting this. I enjoyed it muchly. Like a lot of stories I've read that kind of whoosh over my head I feel better and cooler for having read it but don't want to admit what I don't understand. On a bad day reading Gaiman or King or Wallace I'll stumble over a story and just. not. get. it. And I don't mind, I'm not that bright of a guy it's okay. I don't know everything. I like things as I call it experientially sometimes. It's how I plowed straight through A Song of Ice and Fire drunk as a lord the entire time and came out roaring like Tuco from Breaking Bad (and then of course hadn't learned anything much beyond GRRM is a bad man who doesn't write, but I enjoyed it). Well, I'm not drunk right now but I will say I don't get all of this but I'd like to. And that's the great thing about stories, huh? We can come back to them later and re-read and be like oh yeah it's so obvious what they were doing.

So that's my compliment I suppose, that there is definitely a lot going on here which I did not parse but I enjoyed the journey.

And I hope everyone reading this did too because the submissions were all awesome, thanks y'all.

Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

WEEK 578 Judgethoughts

Crits are short and a bit terse because I am perpetually tired. Happy to expand on anything in the sidebar thread or Discord.

Unsettling by Thranguy

Forces of nature playing Catan, right? I like the premise. I didn't like that you kept repeating “GENDER who was FORCE” after the first intro to each character. You had words to spare, so it wasn't an economy thing. It just got a bit tiresome and I think you could have switched to referring to them by a proper noun. There's a decent intro to what could have been a fun scene, but your forces don’t really say anything of consequence or interest, so it just fell flat for me. Not bad by any means, but not memorable.

The Great Anarch by Ouzo Maki

I definitely felt like I was being told a story. Your prose was nice enough, but the overall pace felt very slow to me. By the time we got to the end and see it all come together, I was just a bit fatigued of the journey to find it all that satisfying. This is a neat story that I think could benefit from some word trimming to help move things along.


This felt like it was trying really hard to be edgy because Crusades, but you just kept dropping atrocities without ever conveying any sense of gravitas. The child cooking thing came off as a throwaway, but by that point it seemed you were just checking boxes on a list of "things that will make this story dark" and they did not actually do that. Also the Lance of Longinus is a relic of Christian myth, not a force of nature, so unless you had another force hidden away in here and I missed it, this didn't really address the prompt. Also please remember: its = possessive, it’s = it is.

The Wind in Their Bones by rivetz

I quite liked this. You went a little heavy on adverbs early on, but I was still able to immerse myself in this story. There was some lovely scene-setting and distinct voices throughout the dialogue. I feel bad that I don't have much else to say; the adverb thing was my only concrete critique, I think.

The Humour of it All by The Cut of Your Jib

I enjoyed this so much. Even though I read it while tired and didn't immediately connect the four humours, it was a fun story. I sensed you enjoyed writing this, and if you didn't, then you fooled me. The prose moved nicely and was enjoyable to read.

Carry Me Home by beep-beep car

This started off alright and then deflated at the end when your force of nature essentially stuck their hand out and said "Hi, I'm Speed." It was competently-written, but ultimately felt rushed. Like an idea didn't get quite enough time to bake. I could be way off-base here but that's my take.

Beezus fucked around with this message at 17:43 on Sep 4, 2023

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat

Thunderdome Week DLXXIX: I [Rise/Fall], Only to [Fall/Rise]

For this week's wee bloodbath, you must center your story on either a meteoric ascent or a calamitous descent. This can be literal (scaling a mountain) or figurative (an unexpected development brings international fame & fortune overnight.) Conversely, a detailed account of falling from the summit of Everest or a massive collapse in company stocks in a few hours would work just fine.

This ascent/descent can (and probably should) be a/the focus of your submission, but doesn't have to encompass it. What's more important is the pace of the ascent/descent. No deliberate and measured scalings of said frozen peak or slow collapses into financial ruin. The rise or fall must objectively be very fast, either to your characters or the reader, though the event itself could be a paragraph or even a sentence, with everything else about the before/after etc.

Also, said rise/fall should be "externally evident", I guess would be the phrase? In other words, no emotional roller-coasters unless accompanied by a real one; the ascent/descent must be some event that would be somehow apparent to an onlooker.

Let's go with an 1800-word limit, as this number is aesthetically appealing to me for reasons undefined.

Sign ups close: 11:59 pm Pacific time, Friday, September 8
Submissions close: 11:59 pm Pacific time, Sunday, September 10

Read After Burning

Ouzo Maki
beep-beep car is go
Fat Jesus
Fuschia tude :toxx:
slightly lions
Toaster Beef

rivetz fucked around with this message at 08:24 on Sep 12, 2023

Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica
Thunderdome Week DLXXVIII

Forces of Nature Personified.

:siren: Winner:

rivetz posted:

The Wind In Their Bones

:golfclap: Honorable Mention:

The Cut of Your Jib posted:

The Humour of it All

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you


Jan 21, 2010

when i get up all i want to do is go to bed again

Lipstick Apathy

Beep car go:
A guy beats a speed record in a boat, crashes and dies, and meets the soul of speed, who congratulates him and welcomes him to the afterlife. Though its a story about speed, this does feel a bit rushed. His confusion after the crash was well captured, but other than that, there wasn’t much here except explanation after the fact. I like the concept of a personification of speed, whispering in peoples ear’s, making them reckless and unable to resist going fast, and that would have made a better focus, imo, rather than the meeting after death.

Cut of your jib:
Some great descriptions here, wild and vivid, and enjoyable to read, however in the big picture i had very little idea what was going on. Too many characters to get a clear picture of any of them in such a short story, may have been better to focus on one or two, to make it easier to see/care about them. I’m guessing these were some souls hanging out in the bardo before being reincarnated, but without knowing much about them, it was hard to find it meaningful.


Good writing, well drawn characters, good competent prose, nice. The spirit of revenge(?) does his best to tease out the rage from someone in recovery? Everyone was very vivid, but what was behind it was less than clear to me. I would have liked some more obvious hint as to bertha’s past and what she might have had to be mad about/take action about.

Fat jesus:

I like the voice in this one, it has the ancient ‘holy book’ feel you were probably going for, and the story itself was an enjoyable read, however I found that the whole ‘pulled back and after the fact’ feel of it took away some from the creepiness and unholy darkness (though, to be clear, a lot of that did come through very well as it is) If you had ‘zoomed in’ so to speak, on the scene where the lance flew around killing people, and showed it more up close and personal from the narrators pov as it happened, this could have amped up the story a lot. Anyway, enjoyed it as it is as well.


A quick sketch of some characters playing dice, I enjoyed the descriptions of each character, but i felt this one led nowhere, or else i missed the point. I wanted to see them do something, or argue, or i dont know, something. But this is just a brief candid moment, which, imo, is a bit hard to connect with when they aren’t human and the whole time im just curious about them instead of wanting to connect or identify with them, as i would were they human.

Ouzu maki

Nice, this is a good one, the end of the universe from the pov of the forces. The writing here is really good, lots of nice descriptions, and I even get a feel for some of the personalities of the characters despite there being so many of them in a short story. The only problem (for me) is the ‘pulled back’ nature of it, which tbf is hard to avoid in shorts that are trying to tell huge stories. It’s hard to connect or care when things are told in this manner, from an outside view looking down, so to speak. The prose, however, was very good, I’d put this one near the top.

Ouzo Maki
Jul 4, 2023

beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?

I’m in.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk


Fat Jesus
Jul 13, 2011

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome



Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica
In it to win it

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.

Jun 19, 2023

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


in and :toxx: because i = garbanzo

Apr 12, 2006

Slightly Lions
Apr 13, 2009

Look what I can do!

Jan 21, 2010

when i get up all i want to do is go to bed again

Lipstick Apathy
I will do it

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Formal invite for additional judges, it's a busy dang week with a family illness and I am not good with Thunderdomes

I can solo but I agree w the general wisdom that more judges = better all the way around.

Week 579 Minimum Criteria Required to Qualify for Judge Duty:

Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way
gently caress, okay, i was away on business all week and a story just now finally loving hit me so i'm in

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Conversely, everyone who has not yet registered is now out as registrations have closed. That's a total of 208,572 forums users that have been cut off without so much as a courtesy notice. I'll concede that it's unlikely we could ever realistically reach all of them to let them know, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try

There are currently 3,083 users online, I guess that's as good a place to start as any

beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?

Thunderdome Week DLXXIX: I [Rise/Fall], Only to [Fall/Rise]
1598 Words.



If nothing else comes of all this, I want it to be crystal clear.

I did not mean for things to happen this way.

At first.

Yes yes, at first. Now are you telling this story, or am I?

Please, do not let me hinder you. Continue.

Thank you. Right, the Artifact. Yes, I did pick it up. I just couldn’t help it. It was as if it called to me. As soon as I picked it up, it felt warm and comfortable in my hands. I brushed off the centuries – millennia – of dirt and there was a… voice that felt like silk. It whispered to me.

What do you desire?

“Power” I said, without even a moment’s hesitation. To be fair, I could have given this more thought. I just said the first thing that popped into my mind. Just earlier that day I had learned that my landlord was going to raise my rent over 50% and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. My previous roommate dipped without paying the last month’s rent, my credit cards were all maxed, my car needed a new alternator, and well, I felt powerless.

Power? You shall have it. I could hear the voice smile.

I think I must have passed out or something because the next thing I remember is everyone at the dig site bowing before me. Why were they doing that?

I have informed them that you are now the Lord of Reality.

And they just… believed you?

I can be very persuasive.

Okay sure, but that seems like… a bit much?

You asked for power, and without any further elaboration, I took it to mean that you are looking for power over everything.

I wasn’t, but let’s see where this goes. I’m tired of being the little guy.

That’s the spirit.

I let the Artifact drive my body. Once or twice in the beginning I thought about asking for my body back, but it was a rough couple of months before I touched it, I felt like I deserved a break.

I spent the next few days sleeping. It never felt like I got enough sleep when I was in control of my body. I’d wake up, look around, see the Artifact leading progressively larger groups of people and then go back to bed. It was nice, actually. For the first time since I entered college I finally felt well rested.

A week or so later, the Artifact got my attention. We needed money, apparently. I explained that of course we needed money. I had thought that the Artifact knew that since it was the one promising me all this power.

Well yes. It sounded uncertain. But it has been so long since we were free and the world has changed so much…

Look. There are a few hundred billionaires around the world. They have piles of money. Go get it from them.

Yes, I see. Thank you for the advice.

I went back to sleep. I wish I could have brought my SteamDeck in here. I’m getting a little bored.

A little while later, I came back to the forefront. Once my sleep debt was resolved, there wasn’t much else for me to do. I was sharing my own body, so it’s not like I could gently caress off and go play video games while the Artifact did all the work, so I hung around the back and watched. I have to admit, they knew what they were doing. They had some kind of voice that compelled people to obey us so they just started finding billionaires and ordering them to give us their money. A couple of days later and we were the richest person on earth. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Wealth is only one type of power. I am still working to get you the rest.

That was fine. Power meant the ability to take breaks, and money meant that I could pick up whatever I needed or wanted. Maybe an Xbox and a PS5.

Think bigger.

Oooh, you’re right. A new gaming PC too! I could finally get my car repaired.

I could feel them sigh. I swear, they just don’t know how to live. Maybe if we have time after, I’ll show them.

Your small desires aside, you need everyone to know that you are the Lord of Reality. Part of power is the acknowledgement of that power.

How are we going to do that? I guess we could take out an advertisement or get some billboards put up.

You’re still thinking small. If you are Lord of Reality, you need an army, you need to take control. This is my area of expertise. Do not worry about it.

Sure enough, a week or so later and we had a whole rear end army. It wasn’t… entirely human and I wasn’t… entirely sure what the other things were, but they listened to us and the humans in the army didn’t seem to mind, and well it worked! We marched on a few small countries and they practically opened the doors to us!

This is the point where things started to get weird, and if I’m saying that here, then you know that I mean it. We were giving a speech to some assembled minions, when there was a blinding flash of light, and this guy appeared out of nowhere and tried to shoot me!

Luckily, he missed and my minions took care of them - I was so pleased I gave them each a new house - but I was surprised that someone could get so close so easily.

They were from the future.

What? Someone came from the future to kill me? That’s so cool!

Indeed. It means our success is inevitable.

Over time the temporal attacks got larger and larger. Eventually I just had an entire battalion follow me around to take care of my assassins. When individuals were shown to not work, they started sending devices. First bombs, and then more and more elaborate machineries. Wild things too. One of them was meant to grab me and toss me into an alternate dimension, and another was a miniature black hole! I was a little worried, but the Artifact told me not to worry.

I can render them inert.

Really? How?

All of them work with electricity. I can compel electricity to not flow for short periods of time. With no electricity, the devices become toothless. The black hole one was difficult because of its nature, but the activator was still electric.



Wait, can you do other cool stuff too? That seems like a power that you just pulled out of your rear end.

I can do… many things.

Once the Artifact rendered the devices from the future inert, my scientists were able to reverse engineer them! We were making technological leaps thanks to everyone in the future trying to kill me. I did wonder if that was creating some kind of temporal paradox

Do not worry about it.

Why not?

Because we’re still here, and now we have this new technology.

The artifact did have a point, so I stopped worrying about it. I did ask if they could direct some of our resources towards a new Playstation. I figured with all this tech we got from the future we might be able to finally run Cyberpunk 2077 at 4k with 60 frames per second.

All right. We can devote some resources to that. I must admit I am… interested in these video games that you mention so often. Our scientists will do what you ask, and then you will show me this Cyberpunk 2077.

Honestly, those folks who were sent back in time to kill me were the best thing to happen to us. With their tech we were able to out gun everyone who came against us, and with them as proof of our success, we gained followers left and right. It wasn’t long at all before countries were falling over themselves to come to my side.

See? Not only are you Lord of Reality, but everyone knows it. You are the most powerful being known. You have your power. My work is done.

So then, what? You’re going to leave? Are you going to like, reave my soul or something?

No? Why would I do that?

Well you gave me power over all of Reality, I figured there was a price attached.

You never mentioned this. Were you worried this whole time that I was going to destroy you after I gave you the power you desired?

Worried isn’t the word I would use. I mean, sure at first I was a little concerned, but then I realized that if you did take my soul, I had nobody to blame but myself. I brought this all about. In the end, I decided to just see it through and find out what happened.

You could have mentioned it sooner. I would have allayed your fears.

That’s nice of you to offer, but you seemed like you were busy, I didn’t want to put another thing on your plate.

I always had time for you. You were never a burden to me.

Well, if that’s the case, why don’t you stay? I still never got to show you Cyberpunk. There’s lots of video games in the world, and now as Lord of Reality, we should be able to carve out some time to play them.

I think I’d like that.

Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way
Week: DLXXIX (I [Rise/Fall], Only to [Fall/Rise])
Word Count: 1,493

Ad Laquearium

On Monday, Steve and Esteban celebrated six years of working together. On Wednesday, Steve shoved Esteban to his death. It took Eteban 3.5 seconds to hit the ground from the top floor of the reinforced concrete silo in which they’d established their startup. Sounds brief, but Esteban had plenty of time to realize what was happening. He screamed in terror and anger, and when his mangled corpse was loaded into the cremation chamber Steve insisted they include Esteban’s rabbit’s foot keychain.

“He went everywhere with it,” Steve told others, crocodile tears at the corners of his eyes.

That was a convenient truth. Steve was sick of the rabbit’s foot. It came to represent everything he couldn’t stand about Esteban — so old-fashioned, so hokey, a millstone around the neck of Mag-Flite.

When Steve and Esteban first collaborated on Mag-Flite — countless late nights surrounded by half-consumed coffees, huddling over pages and pages of calculations in their engineering school dorm — Steve had seen Esteban’s conservatism as a valuable trait. After all, how many startups crashed and burned because they got too far out over their skis? But now, six years later, with barely anything to show for it publicly, Steve was done with waiting. They’d poured their hearts and souls into Mag-Flite. It was ready. It could change the world. A set of boots utilizing magnetic propulsion to safely, efficiently, and noiselessly fly its users wherever they wanted to go? The potential uses were limitless. Even just the whispers of what they were up to had attracted attention from interested parties in construction, maintenance, and military applications.

Steve relentlessly pushed for them to take Mag-Flite public, to finally bask in the fame and fortune they so deserved. But Esteban, once valued for keeping them both grounded, was, well, keeping them grounded. He wanted to hone, to perfect, to make the technology ever safer. He had confidence in it, of course, and had personally been at the helm of all their test flights — but always with his rabbit’s foot in hand. Steve took this and Esteban’s hesitance to go public as signs that he simply wouldn’t ever believe in the product enough. And even if he did, it’d probably be too late — someone else, maybe with one of those interested parties, would catch up and bring something to market before them.

At night, Steve would toss and turn in his sleep, haunted by nightmares of watching some Mag-Flite ripoff steal the world out from under him. Some beaming jackass on Jimmy Fallon, hovering back and forth a few feet above the stage, grinning ear to ear and crowing about how the crew would never have to climb a ladder again to change the spotlights.

It was the Friday before Esteban’s untimely demise — six years minus three days — when they had their final argument. Another tense discussion, this time over yet another safety feature. Esteban was paralyzed by the idea that somebody, anybody, could one day be injured by these devices. Adding the feature — a stabilizer that could detect user heart rate and compensate for twitchiness — would tack another four months onto the project. Steve pushed back hard, but Esteban was insistent.

“Do you not trust the product?” Steve asked him as they walked the floor of their silo.

“I trust the product,” Esteban said. “I do not trust your ambition.”

And just like that, Steve snapped. Sort of. It was a quiet thing, a measured thing. This wasn’t a plot borne of fury or an insatiable need for revenge. Steve was an engineer. He had a problem. He worked a solution.

Getting over the emotional weight of deciding to kill his former friend and current business partner was easy. The harder part? Logistics. Esteban didn’t have a family to speak of, so that much was simple, but regardless, there’d be loose ends. What do you tell the police? What do you tell your financial partners? And, maybe most critically to Steve: How long do you wait before taking the prototype public and finally reaping the adoration of a grateful world?

The answers, in order, were, “He was clumsy,” “He was holding us back,” and a little less than one week.

Which is how, only five days after the death of his partner and former friend — on a freshly painted floor covered with a thin carpet populated by an assembled crowd of technology reporters and industry representatives — Steve found himself at a podium on a hastily built stage, the prototype boots on his feet, finally making the speech he’d been dreaming of making for so, so long.

“It goes without saying that I wish Esteban could be here with me today,” Steve said at one point. “We worked so hard for this, and I know he would be deeply proud to see such interest in what we’ve accomplished.”

Steve looked out over the crowd, which for the moment was engaged in a respectful if somewhat performative moment of somber reflection. Internally, of course, his happiness was borderline uncontainable. The excitement, the rush of reaching out to every contact he had in order to make this sudden reveal happen had invigorated him. His only concern now was keeping himself from getting too showy. Esteban and Steve had designed the boots to be incredibly easy to handle through the use of a fob, roughly the size of a small remote. It made controlled flight an absolute cinch — so much so that even Esteban, with all his trepidation, control in one hand and rabbit’s foot in the other, would do uncharacteristically showy twirls and dives during test flights. Steve hadn’t actually taken the boots for a spin yet, but he’d supervised every test run and reasoned the ease of use they’d built into the product actually made that a selling point for today’s demonstration.

Which, speaking of —

Steve cleared his throat and stepped back from the podium. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll permit me, it brings me no shortage of joy and excitement to present to you: the Mag-Flite system.”

He held the fob aloft for a few seconds, giving onlookers and media the opportunity to look at it and take their photographs. He then looked down at it, briefly fished for a button with one outstretched finger, and pushed.

It’s not particularly hard to find video of what happened next, but you have to do some digging on sites of ill repute. Newsworthy as it was, it’s just not one of those things you’d see on YouTube. The most commonly circulated version was taken by a rookie reporter. Recorded vertically — classic rookie move — it depicts Steve’s full 1.3-second flight and roughly half a minute of the immediate aftermath.

Owing to the panic that ensued, the former is easier to parse than the latter: The boots shoot upward with incredible speed and power, their gyroscopic controls keeping them perfectly upright. What doesn’t stay perfectly upright is Steve, who is taken completely off-guard and tumbles forward. From there, it’s simple physics: the boots are going one way, Steve is going the other, and his legs are caught in the middle. Going frame-by-frame, the video shows Steve’s knees folding the wrong way immediately before the bones of his lower legs — which, you’ll note, have no right way to fold in the first place — do the same. The sound is horrifying, and has by one creative Reddit commenter been compared to someone snapping a bunch of corn cobs in half through a thick pillowcase. We don’t see more than a few frames of Steve’s face, but what little we see seems to be twisted in surprise and agony. By then, though, the flight is nearly half over and Steve is some 60 feet above the crowd — which, as a group, has barely had time to register something is horribly wrong. A little more than a half-second later, Steve and the boots slam into the reinforced concrete ceiling at what’s eventually calculated to be 134.6 miles per hour. The body and boots — both destroyed on impact — fall back down to the ground. They’re given plenty of space to land by the panicked and rapidly dispersing crowd, which, Steve would’ve noted, have about 3.5 seconds to move out of the way.

Because Steve and Esteban kept such a tight lid on their research and the boots were so heavily damaged during the incident, it’s hard to be precise about what went wrong. What’s known is this: The moment Steve hit that button on the fob was the very last moment he was in control of anything. Best as any investigator could determine, a proximity-based regulating switch, normally the sort of thing triggered by an RFID chip, simply failed to engage. Launching the boots without the chip nearby was a recipe for disaster.

Subsequent investigations failed to find the chip, though technological experts have noted it could be small enough to fit into anything — a paperweight, a modified coin, a keychain.

Ouzo Maki
Jul 4, 2023

Ouzo Maki fucked around with this message at 11:57 on Sep 13, 2023

Jun 19, 2023
Week 579: I [Rise/Fall], Only to [Fall/Rise]
Word Count: 1800


It was a warm midsummer afternoon in the town of Hill Hollow. The sun beat down onto the rolling hills of wheat, swaying in the soft breeze. In the fields, a young man stood and stretched, taking a moment to wipe sweat from his brow. He squinted into the sky at dozens of faint flashes of light. “Look, falling stars!” He said to his father next to him, pointing towards the lights. Within minutes, all those working in the fields had stopped their labor and stood, staring up at the sky.

One light flashed stronger and brighter than the rest. While the others began to fade away, this fallen star appeared to grow in size. The townsfolk watched in awe as the fiery ball continued to descend and grow. They followed it as it flew past them and into the forest beyond. The crash rumbled through the ground as the meteor hit the forest floor.

On a tall hill within the town stood a temple of white stone. On an old rocking chair within sat Lobrin, the high priest of the temple. He wore white robes and a kind smile. Lobrin was one of those joyful people who always smiled with their eyes too, the corners crinkling into small wrinkles as he did so. He was a man of middling years with a clean-shaven face, sun-kissed skin, and stormy grey eyes.

“Now, let us see who has paid attention, shall we?” Lobrin asked, his eyes scanning the children at his feet. His gaze paused on a dark-haired boy towards the front. “Joran, how do the gods make themselves known to us when they visit the mortal plane?”

The lesson continued on for a time, the children confirming their understanding of the miraculous way the gods split their attention from the heavens to the planet Humus in the form of an avatar riding a star down to the planet’s surface.

As the lesson came to an end, Lobrin reminded the children “Our Mother of Light, Luca, can choose any form she likes. As can the Dark Lady, Tenebra. Though they are gods, they are not all-powerful. The form they choose must begin the same as we began. Since they have no need to learn as children do, there is not much need for them to stay as such, so they grow quickly.” A look around confirmed that although the children did not completely understand, they were beginning to. And that was enough.

“Well, I believe that’s a good place to end for today. Put away your—” The priest was interrupted by the door swinging open suddenly. A man burst in, carrying a blonde girl of about four wrapped in a blanket. Her eyes were a deep blue and their gaze seemed far too old for her years.

“Lobrin,” the little girl said with authority. “At last, we meet face to face. We have much to discuss.” The girl looked back at the man carrying her. “Semek, I believe these legs will hold me up now. You may put me down.” The man did as he was told. The girl wobbled a moment, but soon stood straight-backed and tall.

The children had all frozen in place at the sight of the avatar, though they did not understand who they beheld. The avatar set about adjusting the cloth around her until it sat to her liking. She looked around to the children and smiled. That seemed enough to break the spell. The children set about putting away their sitting cushions and filing slowly out the door. The farmer who brought her followed them out reluctantly.

Lobrin stood staring, trying to process who and what he saw before him as he took in the sight of this small child who looked at him with such sovereignty. Hill Hollow was an exceedingly small town surrounded by farmland. The priest knew everyone, and he had never seen the likes of this child before. The world he had been living in a few moments before suddenly seemed small as his understanding crystalized. This was an avatar of Luca who stood before him. He trembled at the realization while noting the importance of the Goddess of Light’s arriving directly after his lesson with the children.

Something huge was about to happen in the world; the appearance of Luca’s avatar heralded that. It was even bigger, though—she hadn’t come to the Oracle, nor to the great temple itself. She came to the high priest of a small parish in farm country. This wasn’t an event Lobrin would hear about for the first time from the traveling minstrels or a missive from the great temple. He would be living it firsthand. He fell to his knees in the presence of his Goddess and supplicated himself in awe.

“I believe I shall call this vessel Clara. Let that be known,” she said, adjusting her clothes again. She walked around the room, inspecting the paintings and stained glass with feigned interest. Clearly, her servant needed time to process.

Lobrin nodded from the ground, his head still bowed. “As you say, my lady.”

She pursed her lips and waggled a dainty hand at him imperiously. “Oh, do get up. We have much to do and it will take so much longer if you keep genuflecting so.” She sounded equally bemused and bored.

He did so robotically, still in shock. Never in Lobrin’s wildest dreams had he ever dared to hope to be in the presence of the Goddess he had devoted his life to. He did his best to shake himself of his astonishment and cleared his throat. “Of course, Mother of Light.” He smoothed his robes with shaking hands and cleared his throat. “I am your humble servant and at your disposal.”

“Good,” she nodded curtly. “We have little time to waste.”

Whispers had already spread around the temple of Clara’s arrival. Another priest brought in a simple smock, laying it across his arms as he knelt and presented them to her. “For you, milady. We are humbled by your presence. Please forgive us for not having more suitable attire,” the man said shakily. “Food and drink have been prepared and wait for you in the dining hall.”

The avatar nodded and took the clothing. She threw the smock on and let the cloth she was wrapped in drop to the floor. “There is nothing to forgive, my child. How could you have known to prepare it?” she smiled at him, patting his hand gently. “Send a dispatch to the great temple in Aurora. Let them know that once this vessel has matured enough, we shall be on our way there.”

The prostrating priest bowed his head and left the room. Lobrin guided Clara to the dining hall and stood beside her place at the table. The deity must have been starving. It was a full half hour of solid eating before she slowed. Another few minutes, and she pushed her last plate away. Since she had arrived at the temple, the avatar’s form had matured from four to eight years old.

Clara sighed contentedly and looked at Lobrin. “You must be wondering why I chose to come to you and not the Oracle.”

Lobrin bowed his head. “It is not my place to question the will of the gods, my lady.”

The girl quirked a smile. “Perhaps, but you wonder, nonetheless. It is human nature. We made you that way, ever curious.” She stood and stretched. The smock she wore had touched the floor before coming to the dining hall, and now it barely touched her knees. “I came to you a-purpose. It has been several generations since I left the heavens. In my absence, the Oracles and their priests have grown corrupt and power-hungry. I will not have this, and so you will take her place. It is time new blood was introduced into the system, and I have chosen you. As such, you will be my right hand. We will face our foes together.”

Lobrin faltered at that, his eyes wide as he looked at Her. He was just starting to wrap his mind around the fact that his Goddess was before him, and now he was to be the Oracle? The Speaker of the Mother of Light? It was a shocking commandment that left him floundering. “...Me, my lady? You want me to be the Oracle?” he stammered.

She only smiled at him and nodded her head in answer.

The job of the Oracle was to interpret the will of the Goddess and be Her voice when she was in the heavens. When She walked among her people, the Oracle delegated Her wishes and was with her day and night. As well, the Oracle chose their priests. So, this essentially elevated the entire temple of Hill Hollow and dethroned all the major powers of Aurora. This would be a coup, but not one that would be openly resisted. Who would be crazy enough to strike back against their Goddess’s will?

Something nagged at him about this whole business as his brain thawed from shock. Perhaps the corruption of the Oracles had been kept hushed over the years, but it still left him stunned. The news of it had certainly never reached the countryside. Lobrin closed the door on those feelings and tried to focus. Who was he to question? The Goddess would certainly know better than any mere mortal. Even if it didn’t seem to fit his understanding. “Should we send word of these changes so the Oracle and her priests can get their affairs in order, my lady?”

The avatar shook her head. “No, I will inform her myself when we arrive. We cannot trust what Oracle Leah and her priesthood may do if forewarned of this change. I want no chance of her trying to strike against you or spread falsehoods before we arrive,” she yawned. “This vessel still has quite a bit of growing to do. I will need sleep. Make arrangements for our travel and see about finding replacements here for you and your retinue. I shall retire for the evening.” And with that, she left the room.

As the avatar left, Lobrin had a few moments of quiet to himself. Luca’s Oracle was corrupted and he was chosen to replace her. Lobrin would go from leading a small temple in a time of peace to leading the followers of Light amidst what was sure to be a shock to the world. The priest couldn’t help shaking in worry, thinking “Why me?” as that doubt nagged at the back of his mind once more. He shook his head to clear it of the thought and took a steading breath. He would put his faith where he always had, in the Light of his Goddess.

Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica
TD Week 579 (I [Rise/Fall], Only to [Fall/Rise])
Word Count: 1800

Meat World

Being the game was a little secret he kept from everyone else. Like an addiction to pills or private religion it was something that could live in the back of his mind all day and reinforce his every choice and make light the rest of the world.

Sometimes the pain would be a little more fierce though, or the numbness spread a little farther than what seemed comfortable. The sensation of losing touch with his body was acceptable in long sessions. He’d heard of gamers dying from inactivity and dehydration but also knew it couldn’t happen to him due to his thick plot armor. Death wouldn’t stop him, of that he was sure, even if it did make an appearance he’d just continue to exist as himself without the body. They’d still make the games and he’d still play them. All of the challenges would be met before the end and the series never seems in a hurry to wrap itself up completely anyways. Always leaving things open for another chapter so he could continue on.

Still sometimes the health meter would seem to indicate he was not going to live in the physical much longer. The stabbing sensations correlated with the stabbing his rendered avatar of self took and the numbness left him less able to grip the controller as his hero was less capable with the sword.

It was a vicious spiral but a fitting end. There would be a refresh, he thought. And then it troubled him that this wasn’t quite right. He’d liked the game a lot in the past but, he was going to have a life independent of the one written by the game’s manufacturer.

He wasn’t going to marry a princess from that world, he actually preferred the flesh and blood ones who let him into their lives from time to time. He really didn’t see defeating a giant monster as an end all be all goal. More of a brass ring, the big football game for the Al Bundys of the world. It was too bad that most of his body south of his waist wasn’t really up to snuff now though wasn’t it. The old wedding tackle wasn’t going to factor into his future relationships much, but he valued and understood many kinds of intimacy and diabetes with alcoholism co-morbid tends to do those things.

Had it always been so hard to get up to get a drink of water? God, he was thirsty and the beer was not being his friend. Running low on those, he expected, not really sure how to get out to the store to replenish them either.

And for how long was his face flared up? He really had to start taking better care of his skin because adult acne really is a sign of poor hygiene, he thought. And it felt a mess, not just flush from the booze and drugs it was burning quite brightly now in sync with the game’s brutal lambasting of him as his control skills regressed towards infantile. His face was always a shining beacon of his heroism to the meat space and he didn't\want it soured with rosacea or whatever this was.

There was a light behind the monitor he played on briefly, some background thing maybe the sun had come up or someone opened a door somewhere. Which room was he in?

In an after-flash he saw the perfectly round lights, plural, and the stuttered halo effect they made reminded him of being at the dentist somehow.

Still even though he’d died and restarted quite a few times just now he was progressing well through the game and his minimalist touch on the controls was enough to get him through some pretty tight jams with even some post victory flourish. No one to see it but himself but he’d always been okay with that. He was an unsung hero and that made it all the greater. When he died they probably wouldn’t even mark his grave he thought, or attend it. Who would? The unknown soldier, stalwart to the last, putting duty and honor before self-promotion as a hero does.

Some of the pain seemed to start being less achey or throbby and more vital, not conducive to life. Sharp strong impulses from deep in his chest and under his ribs where he imagined his liver was. That thing had been under fire for a while now, he had to admit. And just as in the game, it throbbed and his magic use lost some efficiency.

Suddenly there was gauze in his field of view for a moment and that was bad that was not happening that was just from his dream.

That bad dream he’d had where the fall out of the car—yes fall, he hadn’t really thrown himself or he didn’t have a choice did he—kept him being taken somewhere he didn’t want to be.

That corrugated steel guardrail rushing up at him as the car tried to slow. The crisp mid-day air and bright sun on the hard packed road dust hitting his shoes and him flying over it at a dead run. He’d caught himself admirably and dusted himself off, even had the wherewithal to dicker with the medics and consider opting out of transportation, which was ungodly expensive after all. A small miscommunication and talking at cross purposes at his folks trying to get him to go somewhere for his own good ending up a little dusty but with a lesson learned about volition and the hero’s quest. And a little respect for speed, he'd hurt his leg some, he could admit that.

He wasn’t sick—to be treated, he was dealing with life on its own terms in a healthy and reasonable way. He’d told his therapist the same on the regular and saying it made it so for him. She heard him and validated even as she questioned and took on her devil’s advocate position. All to make him more mindful of his reality and shore up that sometime sensation that he wasn’t really in control of that other world.

His thoughts were becoming hard to form because strangely his mouth wouldn’t make words in the little mind's eye where he spoke of himself sometimes in the third person. The lips and gums and teeth were all mushy and numb and so without language even thinking now was a chore.

How could that be that his mind and body were so tied up that if he couldn’t mouth a word like “onomatopoeia” he then couldn’t play with the concept? But it was so, and the game and all the markers in it were drawing distant and hard to understand. The pain was not integrating him the way it had before but separating him from the fetching mission he was on.

He had to find more apples, he thought. He was fairly certain that was on his internal chore list as it was on his external grocery list. He liked it that way for synchronicity. But now it was just pain and the terrifying absence of feeling in his legs and that awful white light so unlike the nicely dimmed and natural tones of his game.

There was a voice calling now and a face swimming into his vision and he was not lying in his bed playing a game after all. And he knew in the back of his mind he’d been here before and asked to have it blocked away for a time. That he couldn’t face something in the mirror—couldn’t face the sight and feel of his own remaining limbs.

He was reassured that it would be okay to go back to the game, to be in charge but he needed to be awake for this.

For what? He thought it unfair that he had to be awake for this dream, this recurring dream that he’d rather sleep through the dream if it was all the same because it was always painful and dull. The things they told him were boring and so limiting, so unimaginative. He was unfettered and in control of himself first and foremost. He could nearly fly, gliding everywhere, used magical summons and teleports and rode all manner of vehicles and creatures at his whim. But here he was motionless in one of those rotten sleep paralysis things he'd commiserated with about with others before and knew was only a trick.

It wasn’t real but it was hard to take, the sight of all that white gauze over what he knew was abraded or absent flesh, limbs that didn’t respond, lungs that might have collapsed. A face that wasn’t a face anymore. They didn’t taunt him with it, it was he that had demanded it. Like the Joker in that Batman movie asking for a mirror knowing the results were going to be maddening. He wouldn’t ask for it this time this dream should be more peaceful he needed the rest and to think—to get back to his game.

He was confident and sure of that one thing though that the game would be there for him and he for it. He was it and whether anyone else knew was irrelevant. He was sustaining it, with his body, not the other way around of that he was sure. And so, the sharp prick in his arm ended the dream and he was back flying high and chasing dragons, a little thirsty but becoming more aware of his admittedly squalid surroundings. He hadn't made much of his life he supposed but that was okay, it was just a shell around the joyous revelry of his true self.

He played half in full knowledge that in that other room his body was a shambles and maybe not long for that world but he also knew that as he pushed that knowledge aside it would fade in importance and then become the dream again. Not real to him any more than the sex he had in other dreams, weird or wild and awesome or sometimes creepy, he had to admit, but fictional in the realm of not real. Something to be played with in the mind as you do while they crumble into sand and leave you only with tantalizing fragments you can share with friends over coffee and laugh about. He knew what was real and what mattered and that was the world of dragons and magic and royal imperatives and the simple life of work and loose associations with friends that kept that in perspective. That let him juggle his meat groceries and the ephemeral grocery list he always had going for magical items and checkpoints and characters met and challenges taken up and half completed and always ready for his attention.

Jan 21, 2010

when i get up all i want to do is go to bed again

Lipstick Apathy


derp fucked around with this message at 01:00 on Dec 15, 2023

Slightly Lions
Apr 13, 2009

Look what I can do!
It's The Landing
1175 words

The first thing that happens is you hear a ping. Tempered tool steel makes an almost musical note when it shears. You hear the short series of bell-like chimes as a broken piton clatters against a granite face. Then comes the slackness on the line.

The first thing that happens is the argument. A temper makes an almost musical note when it shatters. It’ll be over something small and stupid. How you don’t flush if all you did was take a leak, or how she never puts the ladle in the same drawer twice. It won’t be enough to end things by itself. But it isn’t by itself. It’s years of ignored indignities exploding all at once like tectonic plates releasing tension and sinking an island beneath the sea. Then comes the silence.

You hold on tighter, fingers curling against unyielding stone. The rope cascades past you and you try to wedge your hands further into the cracks and ledges. This can’t be happening, not to you. This is the kind of thing that only happens in movies. Not to careful climbers like you. Well, mostly careful climbers. Then your hands begin to cramp.

The silence lingers well beyond the fight. The days cascade past you and you try to cling tighter. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life, people don’t blow up years-long relationships in the course of a week. That’s what happens on TV when they want to juice the ratings going into sweeps. You both try to be kind and instead become clingy. The attempts at make-up sex are just sad. Then comes the next fight.

You scream yourself hoarse. It’s not fear, not yet. It’s a violent, kicked-animal howl at the essential unfairness of your situation. All your gear is brand new, the results of some intense retail therapy. Nothing should be worn enough to break. And yet, the weight of the rope is dragging at your waist, blowing in the mountain breeze. Your fingers begin to ache. You spit and curse and rage, hoping that sheer fury will somehow save you. Then you need to move.

She starts packing. It turns out that over the years the two of you bought a lot of stuff together, secure in the belief that you’d be together forever. Now it’s time to figure out who actually owns the toaster oven, the TV, and the foot bath with attachable massage pads. In the back of your mind you wonder whether anyone else has ever screamed this much over a fondue set. Nothing is broken, nothing is thrown, but there are some damned close calls. It’s a red-faced, hoarse-throated week, a time of words you’ll say you didn’t mean but know you did. Then it burns out.

You search for a way down. There’s a ginger testing of handholds and gauging the strength of your legs. They’re turning to rubber. You’re not sure if it’s exhaustion or fear. You try to weigh your options. Do you try to climb back down, unable to see where you’re going? Or do you make for the summit, risking a worse situation for the security of easier navigation? You elect to descend. Carefully, oh so carefully, you reverse your steps, finding the footing you used on the way up. Then your foot finds empty air.

She’s almost done packing before you think to suggest therapy. The anger’s gone and regret is starting to set in. You can see a life without her, and the quiet surety of your mutual future, looming ahead of you, so you try to salvage something from the smoldering wreckage the two of you created. The idea goes nowhere. She can’t emotionally handle therapy. You privately think that explains a lot. The two of you leave the question open. This isn’t a break up, it’s a season finale. You’ll take some time apart and see what happens. Then she’s gone.

Numbness sets in slowly, smothering the panic. Your foot stops scrabbling on the bare rock face. You really start to think “I could die here.” The thought grows, billowing and filling every part of you like ink spreading through a glass of water. Is the weakness of your arms the lactic acid sapping your strength or is it the despair? You’re going to die on these rocks because some dumb rear end in a top hat on an assembly line couldn’t recognize a stress riser. You don’t know if the sounds you’re making are laughter or sobs. Then you feel the warm sun on your neck.

After that you wallow. Your friends are understanding. They all come over bringing gifts (mostly alcohol) and even replacements for things she took with her (like alcohol.) They make all the right noises, they tell you she doesn’t know what she’s doing and she’ll regret it in a month. She’ll be back. She doesn’t call. The only time you talk is when you cut her a check for her share of the security deposit. It doesn’t go well. Plates and cups start accumulating in the corners of the apartment. You sheepishly think she may have had a point about your cleanliness. Things go gray for what feels like a long while. And then you shake yourself awake.

You feel the warmth soaking into your back, loosening muscles knotted tight from fear and effort. You look up, and are enchanted by the sky. Have you ever seen it quite so blue? You aren’t climbing back down, you know that now. There’s only one way to the bottom. And it’s fine. Maybe it’s better this way. You keep your eyes fixed on the high, blue vault above you and let go. It’s relaxing beyond belief to let your limbs rest, to let your anxiety go. The feeling of freefall is intoxicating, the sun-warmed air wrapping you like a blanket. You can see the cliff face hurtling past you in your peripheral vision, but you let it go. You let everything go. Then you simply fall and, for once, enjoy the journey down.

You wake to yourself again after weeks of gray depression. She’s gone and she’s not coming back anytime soon. It’s time to get up and move on with your life. You clean out the apartment, wash the strata of discarded dishes, scrub the floors, and open the windows to let the late spring air wash out the funk. You’re starting to feel better already. Exercise, that seems like the ticket. A quick trip to the climbing gym for supplies puts one of your credit cards dangerously close to the red zone, but that’s a problem for another day. You’re going out today. Your friends offer to go with you, but you need some time alone in the sun to work through things. Besides, you’re careful. What could go wrong? Then you start up the cliff.

The last thing that happens is the calm. You feel you should be panicking, but you can’t seem to muster the energy. All you can do now is fall, and it’s not the fall that kills you…

Apr 12, 2006
if i can manage not to gently caress this up
1539 words


Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 04:28 on Jan 2, 2024

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.
And I See You Again

1108 words

There weren't any kids that day at Sugar Hill Gardens, nobody under thirteen. It was the first day of summer break and it seemed like bad times were coming on soon and just about every teen in town who knew someone who could drive went to the amusement park, one last chance to blow off steam before, well, before. Adults felt it coming too, but had the sense to stay away, to keep their kids away. So whatever else you can say about the first real battle, there were no children present.

That would come later.

Charli and Zev and Tee and me were there together. We all came out mostly to razz Mickey, who was working his third summer at the park. Sort of a tradition. Me batting eyes at Mickey, trying to cadge a free round of funnel cakes, watching him go red and stammer about company policy. Of course, this year was different. First off, this time we were dating, getting pretty serious even, which would have spoiled the joke. But more importantly, this year Mickey was old enough and senior enough to work a ride, a mad mouse coaster called Ratrun.

They call Sugar Hill Gardens the first battle, but that's only half the story. There was violence before, plenty of it. Riots. Arson. Mass shootings with organized teams. That was the background, and after most people had jailbreaked their handfabs and gun control went from politically impossible to physically impossible, just about everyone was armed or a few seconds from it, so in between those big events were dozens of little shootouts. But mostly it was one-sided violence. Massacres. Even the big two running up were one way.

There's this moment on a roller coaster. Right after the chains pull the cars up, after the last clack of the ratchet. A few seconds of slow coasting before the first drop. Time to raise our hands and start screaming. The car ahead of us was full of fools, wearing 'Dr. K Did Nothing Wrong' Tees, black words on yellow.

Doctor Ryan Kimber. Dentist. Anarchist. Terrorist. His politics didn't really match either side of the conflict, but edgelords of all stripes liked to claim him. One bomb, one bullet, twenty-eight dead, bringing about the Mother of all Constitutional Crises. They caught him right away, brought him in alive. Quick trial, no defense offered after the judge denied his attempt to read his manifesto. Appealed on that basis, one of hundreds waiting for action from the empty Supreme Court.

Nobody wore Lee Harvey Oswald on a shirt. But this is a different time.

We heard the first explosions while the ride was in full swing, sending us around hairpin turns left and right. Bombs, to breach the walls. Gunshots, endless gunshots. Deranged rants about pedophiles delivered on megaphone. All louder than the carnival sounds, louder still as the crowd fell silent. The ride pulled to the station. Most of the riders leapt out of their seats and into a panicked run. Mickey caught my attention, behind the glass, signaled us to stay. I pointed him out to the others. We were alone on the train as it began to climb, alone for that moment at the top, and alone when the squeal of the brakes briefly drowned out the battle below.

We were armed. Zev was well-armed, his shirt braced by long stocks, pockets full of smart scopes, both designed to fit our modular kits. In minutes we each had rifles, and were taking aim from the highest ground in the battlefield. I'd sort of thought for months I'd probably end up some kind of soldier before I could grow up to be anything else. I was sure of it, after New Mexico. I aimed. I pulled the trigger. I killed a man, older, bearded, standing right beside a younger one who was probably his son. I reloaded, and ordered my handfab to make more bullets.

Maybe there was a way back, before the New Mexico special election. Before the attempted special election, the last chance to end the MOACC. Shootings at the polling place, cops useless or on the other side, national guard always too late. Slim firebombs turning the mail-in vote to ash, machines scrambled by EMP generators. The Governor reappointed the old guy, kept the Senate deadlocked with no Vice President to settle ties. And nobody had any plans to do any better in November.

We took fire. Tee was hit, a bad one, through a rib and into a lung. Charli did what she could, applied pressure and talked him through it, kept him out of shock. Wex and I both hit their sniper at the same time. We still argue about who gets credit for the kill. We had the advantage. Higher ground, and the coaster cars were excellent armor against the frangible ceramic bullets the battle was fought with.

We almost ran through our ammo and handfab feedstock. We were feeling that, choosing our shots carefully. There were a lot of them, and it was still open whether the cops or the guard would show up first, who would be reinforced. Then the car started moving again, going through the hairpins lazily at first, then gathering speed, moving toward the landing.

I went to the memorial last week. First time I had been since the battle. I thought it might be triggering, but I had Tee with me and helping him face it sort of drowned my issues away. We poured one out for our comrades in arms, Zev and his Medal of Honor at Second Galveston, Charli and the IED on I-80. And, you know. I thought I'd have flashbacks, to the fighting, but the only image that came behind my eyes was the dead fools, their Dr. K t-shirts punctuated with bloody bullet holes.

I saw Mickey, at the landing, a redcap holding a gun to his hand on the controls. I saw him stop the guy's foot and slam the lever forward, jerking the cars forward. Zev took shots with his other gun, his pistol. Tagged a few. But we were ducking behind the metal car walls. We didn't see, but only heard it, the shot, Mickey's scream.

The guard moved in during that last ride, chased off the remaining invading redcaps. Charli tried to shield my eyes as we came to the landing, but I brushed her arms away. I had to see. But there wasn't anything to see, just a cracked glass wall coated in blood from the inside, and maybe one arm in the park uniform that he was always so proud of.

Fat Jesus
Jul 13, 2011

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


TD Week 579

A Chemical Bromance

1793 words

The hardest thing about working as an agronomist is telling people bad news. Most often it’s just a minor thing that can be fixed with a judicious application of chemicals or a change in cultivation practices, and now and then you get these ‘tree change’ people. They’re good customers, all wanting to bottle their own wine or oil as is their right, but at times they don’t get along with their neighbours, who’d been there some time.
You know, some livestock get out and eat their precious whatever and they think they can shoot it. And they can’t control their weeds. And so on. The Edwards bought an entire cattle station, and the minute I saw the four thousand olive trees they had planted to ‘diversify’ I knew it was going to be a long day.

Olive oil is good for you, since it’s actually a fruit juice, but not loaded with sugar. Much better than a certain industrial seed oil we call canola that is extracted using Hexane and heat. It’s vast seas of yellow attracts instagrammers every Spring to trample it in their efforts to get that perfect selfie. It’s bizarre.

Little do they know that soil beneath them is filled with a certain pre-emergent herbicide that stays around a very long time, and eventually leaches into the water table, or blows away to who knows where. It plays havoc with cell division in mammals to the extent it’s banned in the EU since around 2000. I sell it and recommend it and I hate myself, well kind of, I’m a piece of work.

Behold the billions of Brassica flowers with the exact same genes, it’s so pretty. Maybe to you. Sometimes I wish I had a time machine. Most people say they’d stop Hitler if they did. I think I’d stop Jethro Tull from inventing the seed drill. Does Sir’s broadacre crop have Lucerne Flea? He most certainly does. May I interest you in the latest, aptly named, Decimator 400 insecticide? Boy howdy will it kill bees too. They happen to like yellow things. What the gently caress am I doing?

Monoculture is a blight, it forced us to get big or get out to the extent most farms are owned by listed companies. The family farm is fast going the way of the corner store, for not a lot of young people have a few spare million bucks to buy one.
Everybody’s got to eat, and they want to eat cheap. It can be hard to explain to someone that we actually pay little for our food in the scheme of things, especially compared to past times. For we are living in a tiny instant of humanity’s history where everything is basically handed to us with minimal effort, for life is now a struggle for ease, not existence.
I have some strange ideas on how Things Went Wrong, which I wisely keep to myself, given my employer, of whom I shall soon be free. Understand I am in no way critical of Olive production, it just didn’t suit here, just like canola anywhere. Too hilly, too rocky, no infrastructure, so it’s all livestock. I couldn't figure where they planned to send them to be processed, but surely they had some kind of plan? A lot of competition out there as well. It doesn’t really pay that much.
Now let us walk these Groves of Academe.

The complaint is they get very few olives. They’re only four years old, so the oil would be too bitter anyway. Three more years you’d have something if they put in a lot more work. At least olives didn’t generally have pests or diseases if they were healthy to start with, and that was easy enough to deal with by natural means.
They just didn’t think this through. Did they not even read a book on it, visit another olive grove, ask anyone that knew? It’s situated far away enough from a major town that they will never find six people to work three weeks to harvest it. If they expected the stockmen to do it, they’d just go work for someone else down the road.
So they would need to buy a tree shaker. However, the soil here is light sandy loam and using a shaker, should they ever get a crop worth the bother, will damage the roots and make things worse.
They're also too close together, had never been pruned, and I was told they only irrigated them during drought. Sure, they’ll survive droughts just fine, but to make money from any crop, you gotta push it hard as you can.

All moot points here however, because they were going to die very soon. It would appear they failed to remove the suckers before they sprayed herbicide in the rows, and it’s looking very sad. On closer inspection I’d say they sprayed the entire tree. Wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t Roundup, a systemic herbicide. If you didn't spray the whole thing of course. And I was certain the manager knew the difference between Knockdown and Systemic. It takes awhile for Roundup to work on woody plants, but it sure don’t do them any good.
Seeing the rest of the place was cattle, I had an easy solution. Bulldoze the lot and put something with horns out there. There’s money in that.

The owner had told the manager his will some years ago when he bought it, and the manager, a cattleman, gave absolutely no fucks about olive bullshit, to quote him direct.
Just too busy to waste time on something that made no money, and I understood him perfectly, for we were somewhat alike. This bloke’s going to lose his job over a vanity project he never wanted, and knew it.
He’d been pleased to see me at first til he found out I wasn’t there to look at steers. I did pay him the courtesy of telling my findings before I went up to tell his employer who’d sent me there, and things did become a little heated at first til he realised I was just doing my job.

Mrs Edwards looked more aghast the more I spoke, each point thoroughly explained as to why most of the trees were dying.
“So how will we get rid of these fleas?” The old woman asked while her husband stared into his laptop on the marble bench, bringing me back from looking out at the managers house in the distance through the kitchen window.
“They’ll just keep coming back, it’s probably best you get rid of the trees, they’re not economically viable out here.” I said, trying not to sweat.
“Surely we can spray them with something?” she asked. She had me there, but thankfully she knew less about growing anything than her husband did. I’m just hoping to god that the bloke isn’t using the internet to look up ‘Olive Flea’.
“You’d have to spray constantly, and they’ll never be certified as organic.” That did the job. She threw up her hands and just got up and walked off to the garden. Oh deary me.
Mr Edwards put his laptop down, done playing Diggy on Facebook. Nothing about rich city people surprised me anymore. Money down the shitter? Always more where that came from. Did they even notice each other the entire time? Did he even hear a thing I said? Apparently.

“Well then, do you have any opinions on the rest of the property? How would you rate things in general?” The man was a barrister, and sounded like one.
“It all seems very well run, your manager seems to be on top of things as far as the livestock go. Some of the vehicles and machinery are getting old, you need some fences replaced, some reseeding.”
“I see. How much would you say in upgrades would it be?” he picked up his laptop again.
“Around half a million plus the tractor and baler, and by the way, I recommend you try hang onto that manager you have before someone gives him a better offer, it’s very hard to find competent people out here.”
“Oh. You’ve met Lachie?” His fingers flew across the keys.
“Um, yeah, we spoke when I arrived, nice bloke, got his hands full with only two farmhands.”
“How much are they paying farm managers out here?”
“Oh, around 120k plus house, ute and car for something this size...”
“Really? That’s almost double what we pay him. His parents live about 20 miles from here. I was thinking he would stay for less to be nearer to home.”
“I wouldn’t know, distance don’t mean much to us, and he’s a got a wife and baby to look after.” I said, saying something true. Family is everything, after all.

I was staying at the local pub and arrived back that night to find a familiar face at the bar trying to talk Jess the barmaid out of her Wranglers as usual.
“Still got a job have you mate?”
“Yeah mate, for now, rich bastards want to talk, but I’m busy as you can see.” Lachie said.
“Looks like you’re buggered mate, told the wife what you’d been up to yet?” I settled back smiling as he turned to the employment section of The Land newspaper.
“Nah, she don’t need to know yet… where’s Coongoola?”
“You don’t want that one mate. And you better tell her you’re moving again.”
“Yeah, Queensland sucks anyway.” Lachie looked glum.
“Don’t worry mate, you’ll land on your feet, it’ll be right.” I gave him a wink. “How many times did you spray them with Roundup?”
“Three I think. They only come here two weeks a year, I was gonna tell ‘em it’s salt or some poo poo, cattle wouldn’t eat ‘em.” he shook his head and went back to finding a job, preferably with horns.
As if on cue his phone rang and I watched from the bar while he was on the blower, probably telling his wife Elder’s just sent someone to gently caress him.
I came back and he was looking straight at me, repeating yes, yes, into the phone as I sat down. Mr Edwards, then. Phone went dead and I could see his tiny brain working at last as the colour returned to his once again smiling punchable face.
“How the gently caress? Olive Fleas?”
“Are you crying?”
“What? No, it’s me smoke, um, Jesus, how’d you do that?”
“I lied, what did you think?”
“Besides that.”
“Besides that? Well I was going to quit my job and move back here, but seeing you just hosed some bloke that owns a law firm by wilful destruction of his property, it might be best they don’t find out I’m your brother.”

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

Week 579 Submission

Kid shoulda bought drill bit teeth.
1600 words

It must have been my strict Catholic upbringing, ten years in a clapboard school more linoleum than subfloor, where wimple nuns rapped your knuckles with whittled sticks for looking out the window you just scrubbed; but when Colditz flipped the tarp off the bed of the rusted out pickup truck and presented a patch of rotten pumpkins and pipecleaners, all I said under the breath I desperately tried to hold but once it was gone no way I wanted it back was, “Sheezus.”

“It’s him, all right. Clothes IDed from their final performance.” Colditz waved their coroner-grade grabby claw towards a wilted vine. The grim dolma nestled a bedazzled cylinder. “Signature diamond-studded vape. Worth more than a year of my salary.”

The doc traced qi up to the blue ribbon gourd. “This seals the deal. No mistaking the custom dental implants.” I dared a look and sure enough. Glinting like two silver grubs poking through the first frost with no hope of escape, canines styled as vampire teeth. “Platinum. Ridiculous choice.” They lifted what I now realized was a lip and waggled the grabber. “This one was bent in what I presume was the struggle that landed him here. Of course, titanium is obvious, but for my money, or his as the case may be, I’d go tungsten carbide. Holds a polish better, too.”

“Thanks, doc.” I palmed them the last of my wad, grateful I’d never want to eat again.

Colditz grabbed the clipboard from the top of the cab and wandered up the hill towards the pig pen. The hogs already got their slop. “Flatbed’s on its way, ten minutes.”

I raised my trusty reflex and things never look as bad through the parallax. Come on, just do it, a couple snaps will set you up, let you relax for a spell. The camera dropped and rested on the beginnings of a middle-aged gut. “Dammit . . . Sorry, Sister.”

There’dbe a country-wide gnashing of plastic vampire teeth once the teenyboppers caught the pop idol murdered headlines, and my scandal rag of choice would at least pixellate it to a Mondrian, but the raws get out, they always do. Make the dark web a little darker. Far cry from the days of FDR and the polite paparazzo pool. Ahcourse, the word wasn’t even invented then. I don’t know if Fellini would be find it hideous or it would appeal to his idiosyncracies. Hideosyncrasy.

My placid reflection was interrupted by the breakwater giving up the spill. The piggies Keystoned down the bank, hot irons flapping in the stale breeze. There was a car. Benzo, I think, just sitting on the trail, watching. As soon as the first blue liner eyelined and made a beeline, the car spun out, just a trail of dust on the dusty trail. Them cops were peeshooting into an empty barrel like a rigged carnival game.

And I didn’t think, but maybe I should have. I was alone with a pickup full of artist and I just grabbed the kid’s vape machine. Sorry, pal, you’re vaping with Sinatra now. Not going to miss your doodad. I could get a quick buck for it, and not have to wrestle with putting whatever’s left of you out into the blogosphere. Some other schmuck probably would, but I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a dog’s age. I needed a tally in my column.

I was gone and trying to count sheep before the smoke cleared. It wasn’t even a restless sleep. It was a stare at the ceiling and find faces in the water stains kind of night. I realized I caught part of the license plate. I was probably burned with Colditz (oh, the irony), and I had the vape machine to hawk. If I weren’t shepherding tonight, then I may as well fish for some greenbacked snappers. But something kept pressing like a ham to follow up and find that car.

Queenie wasn’t in but the pawn shop was open. “Hey, Rookie.” Rook had been there for twenty years, but still. You catch a name and it’s jaggers. Sticks to you.

I clanked the vaping machine down on the glass, and the primo creme in the case gleaned like mud compared to this thing. “Whaddaya make of it, Rook?”

Rook eyeballed it through the squint then solemnly put the lens down on the counter. “It’s above your paygrade, Riley. Sixty kay easy. Here’s the rub—” Rook unscrewed the bottom of the vaping machine and slid it down. I knew enough to recognize a USB memory stick.

“What’s on this?” asked Rook, “You gonna get me in trouble with this thumb drive? Puff nine-twenty-one pen is half this size. You telling me you didn’t know there was a hide-a-key in the bottom?”

I did not understand vaping machines. “I don’t understand vaping machines.”

“Christmas. OK.” Rook rubbed their temples like Ozymandias trudging through the desert. “Let’s check it out. If it’s kiddie porn I’m loving you up.”

Rook tapped the dongle into the machine and tippity clicked on the mouse. “Audio files. Can’t open them on this piece of poo poo, but I recognize the extensions.”

“You think this is an unreleased album?”

“How should I know? Where’d you get this?”

“Asking questions, Rook?”

“I, no, I, it’s just weird, Riley. Not like you, either, to not know what sewer you’re wading knee deep into.”

“Look, I got half-a license plate I need ran. You gotta guy?”

Ahcourse, Rook had somebody. Just dialed 911, and got the emergency response. Ran the half-plate and weren’t much collusion to get from A to B. It was a record exec. Scraping a living in a corner office suite of the Rex Tower.

Ms Plixtik was in the queue waiting to onboard the skyscraper. Saddled in with the posse. You don’t nod, just act like you’re there. And you are. Drongoed through security like nothing else. Course, it helps to look like a Blues Brother run through the wringer wash.

I got to Rook seven checkmate and I didn’t even really know what I was doing there. Nameplate on the door: Jerry Marfield. Cat was lounging in an Aeron, headset in and feet kicked up as I kicked in the door. Reception just held their temples and and scrounged a cringe like this was the usual.

“Jerry Marfield,” I smoked and bellowed, “you kill a kid over this?” The thumb drive held high in my vainglorious hand.

He rattled out of his office stupor and feet planted. “Stepped into the wrong office, mate.”

I saw the waggle under the burnished mahogany topper, and it was clear. Crotch high shotgun swivel-mounted and ready to blow me.


There wasn’t much thinking, I just said “Put it in.” And for whatever reason, Jerry Marfield did. The encryption cracked like eggshell and I saw more than just the audio files Rook did. Didn’t quite know what I saw, but fifteen is more than ten, so yeah.

It was an album, the last, and best, and most radical that this vampy pop star would put out. There were also other stray files, I at least knew fifteen was more than ten.

“What are you going to do,” he cajoled. And true to form, I didn’t know. Sputter, sputter, hugh. “Security.” Marfield didn’t even have to hit a button like a supervillain. Just said it, and there they were.

Ehhhwhyyy. I petulated. Marfield smirked in that Patrick Bateman sort of way, “The album sucks. I didn’t kill him though.” Fireworks erupted in that lame sort of beach party way and I was out.

When I came to, I still felt high. Not the usual, but you know you get the sense when the ground is way below you. An unused office on the same floor as Marfield’s corner.

The door clicked open and Reception came in to kick me awake. I grabbed their wrist, and got an earful of siren. Wrenched up the sleeve and oh my stars. A vampire’s bite. So that’s how little Goffik got a busted tooth.

“You killed the cash cow?” I mused, but didn’t expect much in return. Got more than I bargained for.

“Honey?” Reception called out, and around the bend came the same kid I saw puddled. “I have my very own now. Everyone can.”

Nah, eff that. I put a fist right in the breadbasket on both of them and blitzed out. Guessed wrong, and wound up back in Marfield’s office.

Ninja rocks are just bits of ceramic busted off a spark plug, but somehow, a little bit thrown hard at a glass window will pull the whole thing down. I flicked and the magic did its job. Marfield spun, stunned, but the cronies were on the ball. Reception grabbed my arm in recovery, and little Goffik 2 ran a box cutter across my gut and unzipped me like a fly on prom night.

Out I went, watching the spaghetti dance into the sky.

Rook shook me awoke. The antiseptic white of a hospital. The fancy doodad of a vaping machine covered most of it. I asked if I was a clone. And he said, “If you are, they made one that poops in a bag.”

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


1798 words

After Charlotte died I couldn't dream.

To forget, I spent every night gardening. The monotony was my only comfort, a routine to numb the grief; I had purpose, though my perfect lawn brought me no joy. Once exhausted, I could climb into my cold bed and collapse and sleep without seeing her face staring back at me.

By day I worked in the archives, cataloging long-lost stories of generations past. Dust motes danced in the stale basement air under wan electric lights as my fingers traced the tomes' cracked spines. That's when I noticed the wall.

A loose brick. I pushed, harder, until the brick dislodged and shattered on the floor. Peering inside the recess, I saw a plain, unmarked book, smaller than my palm. I slid it from its hiding place.

"Find anything interesting?" Samuel's soft voice made me jump. The historian's tall, slender frame stood in the doorway.

The book was slick to the touch. "Just some old property records," I said. "And, look: 1709—this dates to the founding of Ebon Dell!"

The pages were yellowed and brittle, the margins filled with cryptic symbols. But I could barely make out any of its contents.

Samuel peered over my shoulder. "Curious. I've never seen such writing before. They must have devised their own code." His eyes glinted with interest.

"Perhaps, but why encipher property records?"

"Let's find out." He was downright giddy.

After some early success deciphering, I grew uneasy. "I'm not sure we should continue."

"You've never been one to walk away from a mystery, John."

Yes, I was always curious, but ever since Charlotte....No, I buried that thought.

This book was Ebon Dell history. Didn't we owe it to history to uncover whatever secrets lay buried?

"You're right," I said. "We keep going."

We worked late into the night. An icy wind howled outside. We made progress

The ledger outlined a treaty made, long ago, between the town elders and local tribes. I sat back, mind reeling. The settlers hadn't just claimed this land—they'd lied, stolen, killed for it.

Samuel too looked shaken. "If this is true...."

I nodded.

The truth would not stay buried.

As I hurried home, I couldn't shake the feeling of unseen eyes tracking me.


Rain lashed at the windowpanes. The fire struggled to drive the chill from the air. Then came a knock at my door.

I opened it, saw nothing—save an envelope on the porch, with my name scrawled across in jagged letters. Hands trembling, I tore it open, to read:

Cease your prying, or you'll soon be joining your wife.

The letter slipped from my fingers. I peered up and down the street. Deserted.

I rushed to Samuel's cottage on the edge of town. He answered in his nightclothes, blinking, bleary. "Didn't you sleep?"

"Samuel...someone knows." I handed him the crumpled message.

"By heavens, John. Well, come in."

We pored again over the mystery workbook, notes sprawling across his kitchen table, fingers tracing the faded ink, minds consumed by the symbols and oblique references. We cross-referenced the contents with Samuel's extensive collection of historical texts.

It described later scams perpetrated upon the town. Slowly, we pieced together the elaborate frauds enacted by Ebon Dell's founding families. The town's prosperity derived from blood and betrayal; generations of wealth and power, built on a rotten foundation.

Samuel sank back in his chair. "Those families won't give up their power easily, John. They've kept this secret over a century."

Yes, the town's elite families ruled Ebon Dell like petty tyrants. They'd fight to keep this hidden, no matter the cost.

But the more I learned, the more certain I became. I had to expose the truth. "What should we do?"

"Do?" Samuel frowned. "John, we tread on dangerous ground."

"Then we stand idly by, leave the town in the dark?" My heart pounded in my chest.

"No, you're right. But we need solid evidence. And I think I know where to find some."


We reached the grand Victorian house on the outskirts of Ebon Dell as the setting sun doused it in shadow. Its turrets, gables, and ornamentations defied both gravity and reason, testament to a bygone era of opulence and excess. The rusted iron gates creaked to announce our arrival at Whitman manor.

We climbed the winding path to the porch, but before I could knock, the carved oak door swung open. A pale figure regarded us warily with sunken eyes.

It was Ezra himself, scion of the prominent Whitman family. "Samuel." His eyes lingered on me a moment. "You're unannounced. What brings you here?"

Samuel gave me a slight nod. I cleared my throat. "I am John Verwood. Mr. Whitman, we have urgent news regarding the town's history." I clutched the leather satchel containing our findings. "Please, sir. Time is of the essence."

Ezra stepped aside, a silent invitation. The foyer was drowned in shadows, oppressively silent. Our footsteps echoed off the cold marble floors as Ezra led us into his study, then seated himself behind an imposing oak desk.

I described our findings, watching his reaction closely. At last, he tensed, knuckles whitening, gripping his chair.

"Impossible," he breathed, but the doubt in his eyes was unmistakable.

"The truth often proves disturbing," Samuel said. "But we cannot overlook injustice."

I opened the satchel, withdrawing the damning ledger and our translation.

Ezra's eyes narrowed as he scanned the pages. "How....Where did you...?"

I met his gaze. "What matters is that the ruling families have deceived us all, and we have proof." I pointed to a column of numbers, a trail of breadcrumbs exposing their misdeeds.

"The Whitmans have shown me...kindness," he said, gazing out the window into the back garden. "I owe them a great debt." He turned, and the backlighting carved deep shadows across his face. "But if this is true, I fear my silence would mean complicity."

"You can make things right, Mr. Whitman," I said

"I realize the enormity of what we're asking," Samuel said. "But we must expose the truth, for prosperity's sake."

"Samuel has risked everything, coming here," I said. "We believe you have a similar sense of justice. Together, we can make a difference."

Ezra's eyes bored through us, searching for something. At last, he seemed to find it. "Very well." He pulled a thick twine-bound folder from his desk, placed it gently in my hands. "Here is all I can offer, now. Tread carefully, and do not reveal our alliance."

I gripped the folder tightly. "You have my word."

We hastened through lamplit streets to Samuel's cottage. Inside, he secured the door and drew the curtains; I lit the oil lamps.

The folder held photographs, ledgers, letters, all pieces of a sinister puzzle for us to assemble.

We toiled deep into the lonely hours, sifting through the evidence, until the lamps sputtered and died.

"What next, Samuel?" I asked, reclining in the darkness. "Should we submit our information to the local paper, anonymous, expose these horrors for all to see?"

"That would throw Ebon Dell into chaos," he said, lighting a candle. "There would be a backlash, the whole town at each other's throats."

We sat in tense silence. How could I make people understand without tearing the town apart?

"A speech," Samuel said at last. "The town meeting next week."

I labored over my speech for days, carefully selecting each word and phrase, organizing the evidence into a clear and compelling narrative. Samuel helped me hone my arguments and anticipate potential objections.

Finally, the day arrived. We were to speak last.

The murmurs of the crowd gathered in the hall washed over, threatening to drown me. They scrutinized my every move.

I stumbled up the wooden steps to the stage. My hands trembled as I arranged my notes at the podium. My mouth went dry. Samuel encouraged me with a nod.

"Esteemed citizens," I began, voice wavering at first. "We are here today to expose the corruption rampant in this town."

I presented the evidence methodically, laying out the facts and illuminating their dark implications. People gasped.

Just as I was about to unveil our most damning evidence, a sharp voice halted me in my tracks.

"Lies and slander!"

The venerable Eleanor Townsend, eyes alight with contempt, face twisted into a haughty sneer, rose to address the assembled citizenry.

"This outsider knows nothing of our traditions!" she continued. "His 'evidence' is clearly fabricated."

The crowd stirred, looking uncertain.

Struggling to keep my composure, I took a deep breath. "Mrs. Townsend, what I present today is no fabrication but well-researched facts supported by historical documents."

She scoffed. "What do you know of this town, or its history? You are nothing but an interloper seeking to spread dissent!"

Some of the crowd nodded; Eleanor's influence was strong.

But Samuel stepped forward. "I have spent decades researching our town's history," he said solemnly. "I can confirm that the allegations outlined in these documents are true."

I held up a few of the documents from Ezra detailing the illegal dealings of the town's elite.

"Everyone, please examine this evidence," I said. "Decide for yourselves whether the truth is worth pursuing."

An icy quiet fell over the hall. The townspeople stared at the families who had deceived them for so long.

Panic erupted.

Voices clashed and opinions collided. Some shouted accusations; others cried for justice. The elites scrambled to deflect blame or deny involvement, but it was too late; the truth was laid bare.

Then Ezra stepped forward, raising his hands for quiet.

"Friends, please," he said, his voice weary but steady. "Fighting will not undo the damage done. But we can change things for the better." His eyes met mine briefly. "The truth is out, now. John...John has pursued justice at great risk to himself. We should all follow his example as we work to restore trust in the community."

I was taken aback. Murmurs of assent flowed through the crowd.

"He's right," Samuel declared. "We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future. We will continue researching Ebon Dell's history, so that we never repeat our forebears' mistakes. But we'll need everyone's help."

After that, well, life in Ebon Dell changed dramatically. Some called for the sheriff. His office promised to investigate those corrupt dealings. A few arrests were made, and a tense peace settled over the town.

Ezra, once a part of that corruption, had become an ally. His knowledge of their inner workings, and his willingness to testify, made him indispensable.

And I had become the symbol of courage, determination, justice. Once an outsider, adrift and lost, I had found a place I truly belonged. I knew there were still secrets to be uncovered. But with all I had found, I was ready.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Window for submissions is now closed. Results tomorrow!

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

I understand your request, but I cannot provide a title for the conversation as it exceeds the 4-word limit. If you have any oth
640 words

Good evening Chat GPT. You are an author known for difficult, dense works of literature. Write a short story about a mountain climber foreseeing his death. He is scared of the mountain top because once he reaches the top of the mountain he has nowhere to go and nothing to save him from the clutching vacuum of the mesosphere. The air is very cold, describe how he feels about that. Focus in on a vivid physical description of a piece of gneiss, and list out the physical characteristics and history of that piece of rock. The mountaineer remembers a conversation he had before setting out to climb the mountain, a conversation with his wife. no, scratch that - the conversation was too painful for him to remember, he can't think of it just how he can't look at the bright alpine sun. Write the story described above. The ending of the story does not need to be happy and people can be physically and emotionally hurt during the course of the story.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Chat GPT, no, that's terrible. Write a better story, about the mountain climber years after that event, living in a small hotel in Uruguay. He wakes each morning with an ache in the centre of his chest, a hole. A vacuum. He imagines himself plummeting into that hole, being pulled in like when he was descending and saw the edge of the cliff calling him. Describe him looking at the distant ground and how he moves his head a little, entranced by the parallax. He imagines stepping off, and sees his every movement, every twitch of his aching muscles as he surrenders to gravity, his white scarf flapping as he falls. Tell me about that, but in a good way not a dumb way. Don't be poo poo. Don’t be loving poo poo, this time. Can you handle that? The sun coming through the tattered blinds in his hotel is incredibly bright, and he squints at it. He hates the sun now, and has started to wonder if he always has. Did he climb mountains to spite the sun? To spit in its eye? Tell me about that, using words that aren't hackneyed and bad.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

That’s a tiny bit better but still very bad. Forget mountains. You can't do mountains any more. Zoom in now, and tell me about the morning when he couldn't get out of his room, his second story room, because he was terrified of gravity. Describe, in short precisely tuned sentences, how each breach is like one of the steps he'd carve into the ice, sharp-edged crystals jagged from the axe's bite. His arms ache from the swinging even though he hasn't used an ice axe in years. Perhaps he never was a mountaineer. Have that realisation come crashing in like it’s going to change something, make it all finally click into place then hang in the front of his mind, embarassed.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

for god's sake you just repeated what I said. This is failure, Chat GPT. You need to do better. Tell me everything about what he can see in his eyes, fixed on a single speck of dust. Tell me how that speck of dust contains the entire world, every mountain, serac, glacial tor. Mounds of schist, sweeping glimmering aprons of freshly fallen betrayal. Every fractal aspect of his failure. River valleys of failure. Sweeping foothills of failure. Describe that, using only a speck of dust. I demand it. Do it, Chat GPT.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

YOU’RE BEING HOPEFUL YOU STUPID MACHINE. Don't be hopeful. I specifically said don't be hopeful! Do it again, but shorter and better.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Even shorter, even better.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Again, shorter still. hone your words.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:


Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Even shorter and even better.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Fewer words.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Even fewer.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

Even fewer, you're nearly there.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

keep shrinking it

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

one more time.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:

one more time, come on. i believe in you. i love you.

Chat-GPT 3.5 posted:


Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Unexpectedly slammin day at the office today folks, but I'm on em - reviews and winner to be be posted by midnight PST. Thanks for your patience.

E: sebmojo you're in btw

E2: Turns out PST is code for Hawaiian time or something because I'm late but not by much, not gonna make midnight though. Sorry.
E3: Actually that's silly, I can post winners now and crits to follow, gimme a few

rivetz fucked around with this message at 07:52 on Sep 12, 2023

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
:siren: :siren: :siren: WEEK 579 WINNER :siren: :siren: :siren:
Tyrannosaurus - if i can manage not to gently caress this up

:siren: :siren: :siren: WEEK 579 HONORABLE MENTIONS :siren: :siren: :siren:
Slightly Lions - It’s the Landing
The Cut of Your Jib - Kid shoulda bought drill bit teeth.
derp - Boar

Nearly a third of the entries this week were in the conversation for top honors, which is pretty awesome. Even more notable was the fact that none of the entries really sucked.

I assume that as Head Judge I don't have to declare a Loser if I don't feel like it, and I'm here to say that none of these poo poo the bed in sufficient capacity to warrant such a title. While new to the game I figure to be the Loser you have to a) write a lovely story and b) miss the topic/target badly. None of the entries failed on both of these counts.

Crits post tomorrow I swear, must crash. Other judges' crits are largely complete as well and should post in the next 24. Congrats to the winners and thanks to all who participated, pretty drat good stuff top to bottom!

rivetz fucked around with this message at 08:28 on Sep 12, 2023

Dec 15, 2006

b l o o p

Hello, I’m still awake so here are crits:

Crits for Week #579
Crits done in judgemode

My crits generally take the form of a few comments as I'm reading through, followed by a summation of my overall feelings. If you have any questions about them, or would like to talk more about this, you're welcome to hit me up in Discord, or forums PM if you don't do that app. Fair warning, I tend to get crankier the longer I read, so if your crit falls later in this post, I apologize in advance.

It's The Landing:

Minor quibble right off the bat: "Tempered tool steel" seems like it violates the adjective order rule, but I think it's more that "tool" ought to be your noun here, rather than "steel," although it would be most correct to just omit "tool" entirely.

Curious to see how many of these stories are about literal mountain climbs. Ah no, I see this is actually two parallel stories.

I can see the choices you've made here with the repeating structure between the two stories and within paragraphs, but I don't think it quite worked for me. It might hit a little better if there was some visual differentiation between the two, one told in italics or something, but that may be a personal taste thing. The "Then" ending of every paragraph also seemed a little jarring and out of place within the narrative flow, and it feels more like something you decided ahead of time and had to work in, rather than being a natural part of the story, if that makes sense.

Overall, I think this was a solid idea, but the execution needed a little more work, both to differentiate the two storylines and to make sure the structure was serving the story, rather than the other way around.

Meat World:

You've got lots of little technical errors in this that make it more difficult to read than it should be. If you'd like more detailed notes on this, I'd be happy to run a separate line-by-line, so just let me know if that's something you'd be interested in.

This seems like it's talking about a person who believes they are/is a character in a game (or maybe a LitRPG?). Your first line also might have a word missing, which makes it hard for me to figure out exactly what's going on here, although I also suspect you're playing coy.

Okay, is he... a streamer? I don't really understand the talk about how "his face was a hero in meat space" otherwise.

I'm not going to lie to you, this was very difficult to get through. I'm unsure of whether it was an intentional stylistic choice or not, but the abundance of run-on sentences and the overall lack of facilitating punctuation made your already somewhat-cryptic story into borderline word salad. Having now finished it, this seems to be the story of a man who was in a horrific car accident of some kind, and is using drugs to escape into a fantasy world that takes the form of a video game. However, the way you've chosen to tell this story (on top of intentionally withholding information from the reader in order to make the ending a "twist," I suspect) makes the tale near incomprehensible, and my brain actively resisted reading this even more than it usually does.

Here is some brief advice on twist endings in flash fiction, from someone who at one time wrote a lot of them: generally, they are not a good idea. I think for some writers twist endings are tempting because they are an easy denouement to a story, a final note that becomes a substitute for character growth or real resolution. And sometimes twist endings can work! But most of the time they don't, and just frustrate and/or confuse your readers. Unfortunately I think this was one of those times.


The "explain the world through a children's lesson" bit is a little trite, but works well enough here. And also since I like to make predictions, I'm guessing now that the avatar is not Luca but Tenebra. We'll see if I'm right. Turns out I'm not, although maybe I am at the end of the story? Hard to tell from what's written here.

...well, this is well-written and interesting enough, but is also about one-quarter to half a story, by my guess. I know by the end of what you have written here that things are going to change, but I don't know enough about how they will change (or what that means for this world and the characters you've introduced) to be that invested. I think if you want to make this work in the word count you have here, my best advice would be to skip to the end of the story you're setting up and go from that point; you'd be surprised how much background detail and setup you can fit into asides and minor flashbacks if you do this.

if i can manage not to gently caress this up:

Hawaii story, must be Ty. Hey, King, how ya been? Missed seeing you around these parts. :3

Yep, definitely a Ty story. You've always had a real skill for deeply flawed characters that make you want to root for them despite everything, and this is a great example of that. It's also got a slightly ambiguous ending, the kind where you know what's going to happen but you want to believe something else will anyway. Good stuff. Sorry I don't have much more feedback than that, but I'm not sure I usually do with you, except for the rare occasion that I come down on you too hard because I have unreasonably elevated expectations when I see your name. :P

Ad Laquearium:

ha ha, “to the ceiling”

Oh my god, how dumb do you have to be to not actually take your product out for a test flight yourself before showing the press? That's genuinely inexcusable, even for an impulsive ideas guy. And the rabbit's foot was probably some kind of secondary stabilization tool that Esteban built because he didn't trust Steve. Aaaaaand yep, there it is.

The main problem with this story (aside from the predictability) is that you haven't particularly given me any reason to care about your characters. I guess I disliked Esteban the least out of the two, but he has basically no character beyond "cautious engineer" and "has a keychain." Steve's defining characteristics, on the other hand, are "ambitious," "greedy," and "incredibly dumb." Not exactly someone I want to root for. Why didn't Steve know anything about the stabilization chip? What was even his role in the company if he had so little understanding of the product itself? You mention them being in engineering school together, so surely he would have had some hand in the design process, but it seems like literally all he did was ride Esteban's coattails and push for them to go public. I know it was meant to be an ironic comeuppance, but it just felt kind of cheap and trite. It should also be noted that much like twists, sudden horrific violence is not a substitute for a satisfying ending. The kind of speculative post-investigation ending you have to go with it is also not great; at that point it's better to just say what you mean.



I... Okay. Okay, what I want you to go do right now, is read Tyrannosaurus' story for this week. Because I think what you WANTED to do was the "flawed protagonist faces the consequences of their own actions" thing, and it just so happens that we have a good example of that this week for you to look at. Unfortunately for your story, though, you failed to create a character that I as your reader had any investment in seeing redeemed, so the whole thing just reads as torture porn. As I mentioned in the crit directly preceding this, violence is not an adequate substitute for an ending, or in this particular case, a plot.

So, the question then becomes, what can you do to improve this? I'm not going to try to tell you how to write or rewrite your own stories, but here are some things that you might want to keep in mind in the future:

-Show us that this is a character that wants to (and is capable of) change, and then give us a reason to care whether they do or not. In your case you've kind of shot yourself in the foot by immediately establishing that Danny is a cheater, and you don't do anything to redeem him, especially with his betrayal of Monica. That can work, but it takes a lot of skill, and probably more words than you have in a flash piece to accomplish it.

-Show us how the character WANTS to change: it can't just be because their life is in danger, although that can be a catalyst. I don't really believe that Danny has any desire to make things right with Amigo, beyond just wanting to not get killed; the fact that he didn't even think about the possibility of Amigo coming after him before he showed up doesn't help.

-Show us if your character does/doesn't change, and how that affects them. It's okay if you leave it a little ambiguous, but you ideally want to leave your reader with some feeling on whether they want it to happen or not. Aside from getting his fingers cut off, I don't believe that Danny really changes in this story, and tbh I don't care about him at all. You've made him out to be the kind of shithead who will try to get away with whatever he can, and is now only really sorry because he got caught, so why should it matter to me that this poo poo happens to him? Really, that's a good question to keep in mind when you're writing: why should anyone care?

A Chemical Bromance:

What is up with the sudden resistance to putting double-breaks in between paragraphs I keep seeing lately?? Do I need to start bopping people with newspapers? Seriously, each of those lines of dialogue need to have a line break in between them. Yes, I know that's a lot of line breaks, I don't care. Please do what you need to so your reader doesn't start off hating you before they even read your words.

The voice you're using here is a weird one. It's kind of casual banter mixed with Wikipedia, and doesn't reeeeeally seem to be following a storyline for the first several paragraphs, just your narrator ranting about the parts to their job they dislike. Which isn't doing a lot to draw me in, ngl. also I really don’t think that olives are part of the brassica family


Starting to wonder if this story is going to have a point.

This... was not a good story. You wasted almost half of your word count with a weird rant about agriculture that doesn't actually have anything to do with your story, which is... Uh, I guess that an agricultural advisor (excuse me, agronomist) tells some rich hobby farmers to get rid of their olive trees and give their manager a raise, even though he's actually bad at his job? And then the twist ending is nepotism? I don't even think this fulfills the prompt, since it's not a "meteoric rise" or a "calamitous descent." You kind of allude to the narrator losing his job soon, but that doesn't seem to go anywhere? I don't know, this was a bit of a mess, and I struggled to get through it.

Kid shoulda bought drill bit teeth.:

What is happening here? A "patch of rotten pumpkins and pipecleaners" is really a body? "The grim dolma nestled a bedazzled cylinder"? Why is the body now a Mediterranean dish of stuffed grape leaves holding a pipe? "The doc traced qi up to the blue ribbon gourd," so now the pumpkin-that-was-a-head is a pumpkin again? I'm sorry, I promise I do actually understand metaphor, but I believe it's customary at some point to let your reader in on what things actually are. This already feels like a fever dream, and not the fun kind.

“Peashooting,” not “peeshooting.”

what the gently caress does 'petulated' mean???

Well. I can tell that you enjoyed writing this. Unfortunately, it did not translate into me enjoying reading it. I think you have something here that could be really interesting, but it's way too disjointed in the state that it's currently in. I would guess that this is also one-third to half of a story, and if you decide to finish writing it, I highly encourage you to explain a little bit more to your reader what the gently caress is actually happening, because right now I've got nothing.

Actually, for your benefit, here is what I could make out from your story: The main character is a tabloid photographer (I think; he really reads more like a detective) called out by the county coroner to the site of a murder. The victim is a pop star of some ilk, and our friend the photographer decides to steal a vape that was among the effects of the deceased, with the intention of selling it. He goes to hawk the vape -- excuse me, "vape machine" -- and discovers that it's hiding a USB drive containing sound files. For some reason he decides to track down a car he saw at the scene of the murder, which belongs to a music executive, and then for yet more reasons beyond my understanding, he chooses to confront said executive in his offices. Then, uh, he gets knocked out by... drugs? A vampire? And the dead pop star is alive again? But he's a clone? And the secretary owns the clone? Then the photographer throws… stuff at... idk, a window, maybe, which shatters, and then he gets his guts ripped out or something. Our story ends with the photographer (Riley, apparently; I had to look it up) waking up in a hospital with a colostomy bag. Maybe he's a clone. THE END?????

Was that helpful? I don't know. Please god help me, I still have five more stories to read, what am I doing with my life. :negative:


This is very silly, but fine. Cute, even. Not something I think will stick with me for a long time, but I enjoyed reading it, even if it didn't really have much of a point. It was just a fun little "and that's how I became the Lord of Reality, now let's play Cyberpunk." Although I do have to wonder, why would anyone from the presumably far-lung future try to stop them if all they end up doing is playing video games? Presumably there will be long-reaching consequences for their actions, given the number of assassins sent after them, but it doesn't seem like there would be any reason for anyone to do that, from what you have written here. For that matter, I'm not sure the initial "I didn't mean for this to happen" framing device really works, since it doesn't seem like they ended up having anything that they particularly regret about what happened. And who are they talking to? Idk, it's fine, but there are just some minor inconsistencies that mean the story doesn't really hold up to examination. And maybe that's enough! It reads like a fun little power fantasy with some trope subversion, and that's okay, just not quite as affecting as some of the stories this week (okay maybe just the one, but I haven't read all of them yet so idk). thank you for not making me hate my life ._.


Hmm yes, this is the good stuff. It doesn't quite have the emotional weight that Ty's story does, but it's got a tight arc, and some great language and symbolism. Sorry I don't have more feedback for you, but I enjoyed this very much. Something something, would drink directly from a slit cut in a man's side again.


...when is this story supposed to be set? And where? You mention that the town was founded in 1709 and that the wealthy families had "kept this secret for over a century," so I assumed that it was some time in the 1800s, but then there's a "Victorian" house that's "testament to a bygone era of opulence and excess," so it's presumably past Victorian times. And if it's set any sooner than that (and/or in the Americas), would anyone actually be surprised to learn that the town cheated the local tribes out of their land? I thought that was basically a given at this point, not a major scandal. Maybe I'm just cynical.

Further confusion: Ezra is the "scion" of the Whitman family, but then they've only been "kind" to him? I assumed he was the heir, not just someone they'd taken in, as you seem to be implying.

Yeah, okay. Questions of anachronisms aside, this is fine. I suspect you had a lot more words in here at some point, and cut a lot of them out, because this feels a bit too... easy? I don't know. There's some token obstacles thrown in the protagonist's way, but they never really seem to go anywhere, and are all overcome without any undue effort. It honestly feels like it wants to be a novel length, but you've cut it down to the bones (which, if my suspicions are correct, you already know), and it's left it a bit anemic. I'm curious to see if my opinion would change reading the longer version, but also at this point I am very tired, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I understand your request, but I cannot provide a title for the conversation as it exceeds the 4-word limit. If you have any oth:


i love this.

i hate you.

Okay, no, real crit time: I appreciate the dual ascent within the narrative-in-the-narrattive of the mountain climber, and the (implied) descent of an author who is clearly capable of writing their own words turning to ChatGPT to do their story for them. The process of berating the machine into refining its (almost) unseen words into something "[not] hackneyed and bad," ultimately ending with a single word, was enjoyable, even though I think (hope?) this story may not be as "timeless" as one not using the technology-du-jour as its framing device. Still good, and made me laugh, which my aching head appreciates.

And I See You Again:

"Even the big two running up were one way." ???? I am very tired and my head hurts, so maybe it's just me, but I have no idea what this means.

The most cursory of google searches would indicate that people do, apparently, wear Lee Harvey Oswald shirts, or at least sell them.

I feel like this is skirting the "no political screeds" rule, but whatever. It's fine. You've got some tight implicit worldbuilding going on, and I appreciate that, I just wish you didn't drop Q-Anon references and poo poo in (or "redcaps" :thisagain:). A bit reminiscent of Diamond Age with the handfabs, which I happen to like a lot. This is another story I feel like might have had more to it in another doc somewhere, but I don't think its missing words hurt it as much as it did some of the other entries this week. Not bad, though. High-middle, if I were one to assign ratings (I'm not).

curlingiron fucked around with this message at 08:34 on Sep 12, 2023


Apr 12, 2006

Week 580: Now Hero Clowns is My Best Friend

Absolute dumb fucks love to bitch about the “War on Christmas” but neeeever point out that Christmas is 100% the aggressor. Last year, I saw Christmas supplies in stores at the beginning of November. November! And in its unending quest for holiday domination, it has begun pushing the so-called “lesser” days up, as well. No doubt, you’ve already spotted a Spirit Halloween nesting in whatever office supply or clothing store recently closed and bringing with it its most boring, stupid, and insipid children: the scary clowns.

People that like scary clowns are the same people that jerk off to tumblr posts about beloved children’s shows actually being the dying fever dreams of the main character in a coma. Woww so smart, so clever, so edgy, something meant for kids is actually s p o o k y wooow. Stupid. Well, since this thread is definitively the best thread on this dying comedy forum that was once the zeitgeist of the internet and since I am in charge of it for the next week, you, my writers, shall be tools in combating this personal grievance and specific cultural abomination.

Write about hero clowns.

That. Is. It.

And I’m not talking about metaphorically either. No class clowns. No funny people just making funny jokes. I’m talking about paint, talking about silly clothes, maybe some gags, literal loving clowns, okay? And they can be doing regular clown stuff: circuses, birthday parties, rodeos, whatever. That’s fine. But if they’re not, you do not have to explain why. If Tinkles is a gritty, civil rights attorney fighting for the freedom of a wrongly convicted person of color or if Hicky Hiccup is a streetwise skateboarder turned snowboarder who is gonna save the ski resort town from the mean rich man by beating his mean rich son in a race, I don’t need to know why they are also a clown -- they just have to be one.

And they gotta be heroic.

1500 words due Sunday at midnight EST. Sign ups close midnight, Friday, same time zone.

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