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Apr 12, 2006

Chairchucker - Flash: Chef
The Cut of Your Jib
Slightly Lions - Flash: Locksmith
Thranguy - Flash: Miner
Antivehicular - Flash: Horticulturalist
Bad Seafood

Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 15:50 on Sep 16, 2023


Apr 12, 2006
oh and if you want a flash rule I guess I can give you a profession idk

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Hello please flash me

Apr 12, 2006

Chairchucker posted:

Hello please flash me


The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

down with the clown

Slightly Lions
Apr 13, 2009

Look what I can do!
In, flash me

Apr 12, 2006


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.
In and flash

Apr 12, 2006

Thranguy posted:

In and flash


Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving And something has got to give

In, flash

Apr 12, 2006


Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


curlingiron posted:

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

Crits for Week #579

Jun 26, 2019

by Pragmatica

Yeah, thank you, curlingiron

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.
Clown me in.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Week 579 Critiques

One last apology for running terminally late on a bunch of this poo poo y'all, the week has been short on discretionary time I'm afraid. Crits shorter than I'd like and shorter than you deserve. I'm purposefully avoiding reading the other crits, so any overlap is just GREAT MINDS DOIN THANGS

beep-beep car is go - Ascension: This had its moments for me but missed the mark, mainly because it lacked a payoff as others have probably noted. Cool enough concept, and the alternating voices worked for the most part, but were occasionally confusing. The use of italics generally works, but it sets an expectation for two voices (at least for me), which made it weird when things would switch from dialogue between the two characters to a narrative voice. Some line breaks might've helped there? Ultimately the anticlimax was kind of a fizzle. Presumably it was an intentional play for irony ("We are now the ultimate power in the universe, let's play a PS5 game") but it didn't land entirely, and left me a little deflated, especially since chunks of it worked really well.

Toaster Beef - Ad Laquearium: This was actually my frontrunner for the top spot until curlingiron casually pointed out what I can only see as a frickin massive plothole, which I won't waste time detailing since I'm positive they did it for me. Once I saw it, though, I couldn't unsee it. Furthermore it seems like the sort of thing that could have been circumnavigated somehow with a little more exposition, like it's not entirely inconceivable that some rationale could exist for not trying the boots even once before the big press event? I even went back through looking for some insinuation that would seal up that gap, but couldn't find it. I dunno, maybe doing so would have tipped your hand. For what it's worth I did not see the final twist coming and it landed wonderfully. I really liked the wry/detached style; investing there paid off handsomely with that dry description of folding bones. I have never snapped a corn cob in half through a thick pillowcase and now I really don't want to, ever. At any rate, disappointing that this tale got deep-sixed by what may or may not have been an oversight, but if it's any consolation, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

Ouzo Maki - Showtime: This I did not enjoy. I'm going to assume that one or both of the other crits employed a phrase that rhymes with "schmorture schmorn", because that's what the whole second half felt like. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, and to be clear, I’m a horror fan and have read far more gory/objectionable stuff. It’s not that it was too stomach-churning, it’s that I wasn’t invested enough in the characters. If Danny and Monica had more clearly deserved a grisly end, it probably would have hit harder; likewise if they had more clearly been established as relative innocents. Because I didn’t have enough of a reason to care in either direction, though, the payoff came off as flat, which deep-sixed the last third. This would probably work a lot better with a few hundred more words up front to lead me to either exultation or dismay at their fate. If this boils down to you just running into the 1800-word brick wall, I feel your pain, but alas! did not feel theirs.

TheMackening - Arrival: This is another one where I felt like expanding the length by 30% or 50% would probably have helped. The implied uncertainty of whether it was Luca or Tenebra behind the curtain was telegraphed early on, but I didn’t mind, and it didn’t deflate the story for me (and it easily could have.) I was willing to invest in that uncertainty and wanted more depth around that central question. With more room you could have played with expectations, like the Goddess does something \clearly motivated by good intentions, only for a second shoe to drop and have me questioning motives again. It felt like there just wasn’t enough meat on that bone, again likely due to the abbreviated length. I liked the offhand references to someone aging years in a couple hours, very cool. I’m pretty sure there’s a strong story in there that just needs a little more room to take root.

BaldDwarfOnPCP - Meat World: This was cool but a little too confusing. I read it again and liked it more the second time around. Truth is, this is a pretty fuckin grisly lil yarn, huh? I really liked the different ways used to describe this poor fucker just molding away in the physical world while triumphing in the virtual world. I wonder if an coda/epilogue might’ve helped? Like the cops or a landlord breaking in after neighbors complained of the smell, and it’s this rotting sack of organs in a gaming chair, slumped in front of the endgame credits or something? Cheesy but might’ve put more of a bow on things. The ending’s a bit of a fizzle, but a lot of the prose hit the mark. It’s not easy to juggle the disgust for this poor fucker literally decaying out of existence alongside the genuine joy he experienced playing his game. Unique concept and solid execution, but didn’t stick the landing for me, and there were too many times in the middle where I questioned my own interpretation of what was going on. That’s not always a bad thing, I guess, but it hurt my overall impression.

derp - Boar: Solid poo poo. The style works from top to bottom, and the story is told with confidence and style. I was initially confused, though, by the descriptions of combatants avoiding the protagonist. Was that intended to come across like a magic power? The images in the first battle of fighters just pouring past him was so evocative that I was seriously like drat, if this fella is such a newb that he is truly and literally unfightable, they should just stick him right up front and force troops to move to either side of him! Like steer the fight to a narrow bridge and he could just walk right across, dudes toppling helplessly to their doom on either side like magnets of opposite polarity. Or like a span across a pool of lava etc. I am painfully aware that this line of thought flags me as a colossal dork, but there’s probably a way to describe all that without leading any readers into that stupid byway of thought at all. The good news is the whole back half was good enough that i forgot all about it and enjoyed the rest of the ride. This story repeatedly called up memories of Glen Cook’s Black Company, as well as John Gwynne’s recent work, these images of sweaty warriors who fight all day and eat/sleep/gently caress all night etc. The conclusion pays off because the pacing is natural and consistent and leads to an extremely well-executed story arc. Well done.

Slightly Lions - It's the Landing: This really hit home for me and just missed the top spot. When I was a kid growing up in Vermont, I once took a shot at climbing a high rock wall out in the woods and getting myself in serious trouble really fast; I fell around 100 feet 40 feet (who the hell knows, I was like nine) but regardless I was lucky to only sustain a broken arm. Needless to say, the sensations you describe were intensely evocative and uncomfortably true to my experience. At the same time, I recently went through a rugged breakup that hit a lot of the same notes: that glacial pace of inexorable collapse, the dawning realization of what’s happening and the accompanying sense of utter powerlessness to do anything about it. The ending (tying the two falls/collapses together as events) did not quite work for me, and I wish I could say why, exactly. They worked so well in parallel that explicitly tying them together seemed unnecessary, though I understand why you did it and how it should not only work, but elevate the whole piece. Overall, though, this was extremely well-done, and a story I’ll remember for some time. Congrats.

Tyrannosaurus - if i can manage not to gently caress this up: I’d like to think that this was the sort of work where you finished it off, went back, tweaked a couple of things, reread it from the top, and thought, gently caress yeah.. You’re in command of your style from the jump and it works all the way through. The introspective, more emotional passages provide a terrific counter to the more dismaying details of your protagonist’s life and wrong turns, expertly balanced throughout. Virtually all of the dialogue rings true. It’s got a message but doesn’t verge into preachiness, which might’ve been fatal. I didn’t feel led to any conclusions; your telling provides enough breathing room to allow the reader to fill in blanks without feeling prompted to do so. The ending calls back to the week’s theme, putting a bow on the whole thing. I wish I had more to critique, but I’m not going to hunt for stuff to complain about because I like the story too much. A+.

Thranguy - And I See You Again: A whole lot of this worked, but it’s another one that left me wanting more. Really liked the handling of world-building details, deployed as puzzle pieces for me to put together as the story evolved. At the same time, I wanted more. Ryan Kimber is introduced as a sort of martyr figure and then more or less disappears; I get why but would also have welcomed more context. This is a hosed-up alternate future you’ve presented, and I felt like it deserved more room to take shape. I realized at the end that I was maybe more interested in the backdrop than any of the characters. I guess that’s the tradeoff when constrained by length, but it hurt the overall takeaway. Basically I wanted more reasons to care, either about the characters or about the world they inhabit. I get that investing in one would have meant skimping on the other, but it left me a little unfulfilled. That was probably intentional to a degree. Nevertheless I’m glad I read it, so that’s a win. Nice work.

Fat Jesus - A Chemical Bromance: This didn’t work for me, at least not all the way through. The agronomy stuff was interesting but felt a little too instructional at times. I was reminded of Stephen King’s remarks in On Writing:and was curious enough to dig up the exact quote: “There’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.” I’m not saying that was a problem throughout, but the fact that I was reminded of it is telling. The dialogue was well-written, and the accents worked. I found the ending a little off-putting: all this stuff about murdering these perfectly nice trees was plenty depressing without a cynical gotcha followed by the curtain. You did a good job of painting a morbid picture that I have to assume is closely patterned after actual events. I can’t say I had fun reading it, but that obviously wasn’t your intent to begin with. Uneven but Intriguing. Full points for taking on a challenging approach.

The Cut of Your Jib - Kid shoulda bought drill bit teeth.: OK this wasn’t consistently great and maybe even parts of it weren’t exactly good, but it earned an enthusiastic HM from me regardless just off the audacity. I know from multiple disastrous excursions that noir can be a real pain in the rear end and super easy to gently caress up, and you dove in and committed to an original style right out of the gate. I didn’t have problems with the narrative and really enjoyed how practically every other sentence demanded extra thought, whether stitching together the plot or unpuzzling some unusual turn of phrase. This poo poo was thick with wait, what the gently caress is he- ahhh OK…heh that’s pretty clever.. Some of it felt a little too witty for its own good, almost like eyebrow-waggling wocka-wocka, but the commitment to the style throughout won me over. “my scandal rag of choice would at least pixellate it to a Mondrian” will be with me for a long time.

We all tend to lapse into styles that permeate all our work, to one degree or another. This read to me like a breath of fresh air, and absolutely deserved the callout. I’m pretty sure I’m alone on Head Judge Island in liking this one as much as I did, and don’t give a poo poo. You went big and didn’t second-guess yourself. The jarring ending worked for me too. Props, props, props.

Fuschia tude - Hauntings:I liked this but didn’t love it. There wasn’t enough depth to the characters, despite efforts to provide some. I anticipated Samuel being a turncoat, and when it didn’t happen, I realized down the stretch that a) I’d set that up in my mind to be a twist of character development that would not be fulfilled and b) there wasn’t going to be any other development to take its place. Ezra’s decision to testify didn’t resonate for me, didn’t seem like that crazy a thing for him to do, all things told. Ultimately not enough happened - a secret is unearthed, there’s some relatively subdued consternation, they decide to investigate the corruption, and you better believe that things are gonna be different in the future. The spark of tension provided by the threatening letter doesn’t develop into anything more. Honestly in hindsight I could’ve made this a loser because I don’t really see a direct fulfillment of the Week 579 challenge; none of the movement seems particularly rapid at all. The descriptive passages are well-written but ironically left me wanting more of that and less of the dialogue. Ebon Dell's a great name but it's so good as a fantasy setting that I kept having to remind myself that this was either in England or a colonial town in the New World. Swing and a miss, but I can see where you were headed with this. Probably would have benefitted from more space to grow minus any word-count constraint..

sebmojo- 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: This was a clever approach and I appreciated the intent. My impression was probably hurt by the fact that I’ve done zero dicking around with ChatGPT, so I was a little bit out to sea until I picked up on where things were going. I can dig it, but it was a little like unwrapping a Christmas present where you’ve undone the bow and suddenly realize what it is before any of the paper’s even come off the package. Once I got the message, the final third became way too predictable and almost laborious. I don’t know how you avoid that with this story, or if it’s even possible. In other words, I liked the first half much more than the second; the passages of the author describing ChatGPT’s assignment are so well-done that when they taper off it’s disappointing, and led me to a “Yep…yep…yep got it…OK yep…well that was a thing I read.” That sounds harsher than it should, and I better re-emphasize that I appreciated the message and respected the execution of a cool idea. Also that's a great title. Interesting and relevant, nice job.

Great submissions all the way around, TD folks. Thanks for putting in the time and work, it paid off in spades.

rivetz fucked around with this message at 15:09 on Sep 13, 2023

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice
I'm down for clown

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


rivetz posted:

Week 579 Critiques
Thank you too!

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

Week 580 Submission

. Heart . .
1500 words

Some cliques were already cliques. The horse girls and the four-wheeler boys, the scouts. Riding lessons? Too expensive, the Jacksons wanted everyone to split stable fees. Small motor repair? Too dangerous, and I don’t trust that Bobby Lewis, you shouldn’t be around him. Foraging? Poison mushrooms.

Dotted around the U of folding tables: Mother, me, my aunt plus toddlers, Weird Bill, and Heather Tortoise with Grandmom Barb. It wasn’t until years later that I realized Tortoise was some corruption of their real name, but when I went to visit Mother in the home and ask, she couldn’t remember. I don’t think it was to make fun of her, she didn’t go to the public school, she was unknown to the meanies.

Heather’s Grandmom, Barb, sat beside her smiling at the table behind a blank signup as all the energy poured out of the room. Where Heather’s parents were, Mother couldn’t remember that either.

Aunt Laurie bobbed up to the table, kids in single file behind her. Three and four, and all dressed the same. Plain, grey Amish dress and starched white bonnets, but decked out in toddler-beauty-pageant makeup. They were Mennonite this year. Zippers were forbidden, but lipstick and rouge were okay. It was just one bin on the smorgasbord and there’d be a different entree by snowfall.

“This will be fun, huh?” She scratched their names on the paper. Unlike the rest of the signups printed off in the pastor’s office, it was a piece of 3-ring framed in a rainbow collage of construction paper. Across the top was a title on plastic ribbon, the wonky kerning of a manual label maker: ‘Clowning’.

I buried my nose in the crook of my elbow so all they could see were a steamy set of glasses.

“You can be a sad clown, if you want,” said Barb. “But I think we can come up with something better.”

In the years I knew her, I only heard Heather say two words, twice. The first time was on this day, as the last of the big boys clomped up the basement stairs, she managed a slow and belabored, “gently caress ‘em.” Heather had cerebral palsy. She also had a frequent and contagious inhale-laugh.

I snot laughed in return, more shocked than anything—swearing in front of adults and in a church. Before I knew it we were in the basement at the community theater, in front of floor length mirrors.

Barb passed out coloring book pages with blank ovals. “The first thing a clown does is design their face, their persona. What do you feel inside, but more importantly, what do you want to share? A clown’s makeup can be a window or a disguise.”

This was heady for a ten year old, but I spent enough sessions in the counselor’s office to understand.

“Tradition is to paint your face on an egg, which we’ll do, but first think of some designs.” She produced a photo album and flipped through it, old square ones with granny dates of blue pen written in the borders, spitting images of a spry smiling Heather being decorated with makeup by a woman with cat’s eye glasses in a sleeveless dress, the flesh under her arm hanging low in a wide grin of its own. On through to yellowing photos with the early eighties digital date stamps that bled into the surrounding shag carpet and wood paneling.

She ran through the basics as she flipped: “The Pierrot is your standard mime type; Whiteface is the leader, maybe Moe from the Three Stooges, if they wore makeup; Auguste is more friendly, Ronald McDonald; Joeys are goofy, they get hit in the face with a pie or fall down; hobo clowns; harlequins and jesters; … and so on.” The album recorded the many faces of Barb, iterations of paint marking a young girl growing into an adult, then mother, grandmother and mother again, and pictures that maybe had a few odd jobs as birthday party entertainer, mostly this book was a record of someone who clowned for the love of it.

“Of course, you can create a character—mix and match what you like and once you make a face, we’ll look at some costumes. Bill will be my assistant.” When I worked detasseling corn alongside him another hand said Bill fell out of a hay loft as a kid and it messed him up. We’d pile onto the tractor wagon at the end of the day and hitch rides home, but Bill would just full sprint until he vanished between the stalks. He was always the first one at the barn the next morning.

Exaggerated arcs for eyebrows, rosy cheeks and blue dot nose, the five o’clock shadow from the hobo, a sad mouth betraying the happy forehead, all greased with the dregs of old Ben Nye stowed in a musty tackle box. A look I’d revisit off and on for many years, sans makeup.

The mothballed racks held many secrets, satins from The Nutcracker in lively greens and purples. Top hats and scarves and fake sideburns from A Christmas Carol. The muttonchops were too big for me, and I cried a little about that, hidden away in the suit jackets.

Bill found pants large enough that Barb could hem a hula hoop into the waist, and he held them up with suspenders. His shirt was normal sized, he looked like a Victorian party game.

We practiced pratfalls in Barb’s backyard, dimestore magic tricks with plastic wands and fake flowers, but mostly we whiled the summer away dancing with gymnast ribbons. Usually it was just me and Heather. Bill materialized on occasion, often in dusty flannel straight from the field. Aunt Laurie’s Tater and Tot dropped out because Uncle Craig thought clowns were the devil’s work, but they could still be in the county fair parade.

It’s the 4-H Super Bowl, the fair. The Jackson girls in their little black hats on their diapered mounts, with their helpers crowded around, unable to not touch the horses; the boys on four wheelers behind them; we brought up the rear. We were wedged between drag race tractors and haywagon floats, school marching bands and state reps in convertibles with the corn queen. Heather led us, holding a hand scrawled sign that read ‘Spaghetti Dinner - $5.00 for the AP Women’s Shelter’ followed by the date and time.

Bill somersaulted and cartwheeled on the asphalt, hoop and all, and I’d be lying to say it was any good, but people paid attention. The toddlers ran from a basket Barb held to the sidewalk, hucking baggies of candy with business cards advertising the event printed on the pastor’s new ink jet. I threw as many cards as I could manage, fancying myself a Ricky Jay or more likely Gambit of the X-Men, but I got more in the crowd than the gutter.

Fair week came and went, and the dinner was tomorrow. Bill and I spent the day picking tomatoes for sauce at the farm he did, and I would, work at. The clowns slept in shifts that night while the sauce simmered in the fifty-gallon apple butter cauldron over the fire in Bill’s front yard and spent a groggy morning canning as much to sell as we could before moving to the church kitchen to boil store-bought noodles.

Barb unstitched Bill’s hula hoop so we could serve. The pews were filled, and downstairs, folding tables packed in a haphazard grid. We served and served, Bill and Heather and I ran plates while the little ones followed with baskets of garlic bread.

The boys crowded a table ready to eat and keen to show off their blue ribbon at the meeting post-dinner—they restored a 1920s gas lawnmower from a pile of rust. The Jacksons had a slew of ribbons, and in a few years the younger was a dressage alternate at the Olympics.

As we served them, my satin shining under the florescents, Bobby Lewis did that fake cough “faggots” and the Scut Farkuses laughed. For the second time, Heather spoke: “gently caress You.” In all our after schools playing Carmen Sandiego on her IIgs later that year, I don’t think I ever heard another word. She’d just one-finger type the answers in after the first clue and laugh while I thumbed through the book.

All through the dinner, there was a big display with horse photos and blue ribbons hanging from it, and the mower on a stack of pallets, scouts with a number of scouty-type awards. At the meeting they got rounds of applause from each other and hugs and hearty handshakes from parents.

We had no awards, just a bag of cash that we presented, still in our costumes and faces, to the director of the women’s shelter. Some 300 plates plus the jarred sauce proceeds. I think she cried more than I had in the past three months. Our ribbons were in Barb’s shed, waiting for us.

Oct 6, 2021

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


Buttons Comes Home
1292 words

"Hello, children!" the wax clown statue cackled to the three shaking, blood-drenched teenagers who awoke him. "What game would you like to play with Buttons?"

"Please don't kill us!" whisper-yelled the black boy.

"Kill you?" Buttons chortled. "Why would you think I would do that? I'm a clown! I bring joy to all the children! Now let's pick a game."

"See?" said the white girl. "My mom said this one wasn't evil."

The clown made a perplexed glance around the room, stacked floor-to-ceiling with bizarre, creepy, and arcane artifacts: monkey's paws, dead-eyed daguerreotype portraits, all sorts of musty baby dolls. "Who took me out of the carnival?"

"There's no time to explain," said the Asian girl. "We're playing 'Fight the Gorilla Monster.' That's a fun game, right?"

"Nuh-uh-uh," said Buttons. "I won't play any game that encourages violent behavior amongst the youth. That's Rule One of the Clown Code."

"Keep your voice down or it will hear you!" said the white girl. "Look, my parents were out of town on one of their demon-hunting quests, and so I invited some friends over to spend the night in their relic horde, but then that taxidermy demon gorilla came to life and started ripping heads off. We need your help."

"Demon hunters? I'm not haunted. I'm enchanted, to bring magic and wonder to all the little boys and girls!"

"I guess my parents take an 'anything magic is haunted' approach to demon-hunting," said the white girl. "Look, will you help us or not?"

"No can do, kiddo," said Buttons. "That's not the kind of game I like to play. How about we get some cream pies and you can all…"

"You bring joy to children," said the black boy. "Well, we're children, legally speaking, and the thing that would bring us the most joy is not getting our heads torn off by that gorilla."

Button's mouth frowned on his painted smile.

"I suppose your logic is sound. Where's the gorilla?"

"It's in the kitchen drawing runes on the wall with our friends' blood," said the black boy. "We'll stay here and…"

"No!" said Buttons. "It's the wonder of children that gives me life. I can't perform without an audience, after all!"

"Screw this!" said the Asian girl. "Can't we try calling the cops again?"

"No," said the white girl. "This is our only chance. Buttons, lead the way."

Buttons creaked open the doorway of the treasure room and tip-toed into the hallway, the extra space in his oversized shoes flopping about on the floor. The teens marched cautiously behind him.

"Megan, when we…" whispered Buttons.

"How do you know my name?" said the white girl.

"Megan, Curtis, Andrea, my clown magic gives me the names of all the children in the world! Now, when we get to the kitchen, I'll distract the gorilla. I need you to get me a pan. Now Andrea, if you can find the whipped cream, then…"

"Cream pies?" said Curtis. "That's what we're going with?"

"Look kid, I saw a suit of armor in that treasure room. If you wanted something that could fight, you shoulda brought that to life, okay?"

"Buttons!" roared a deep voice from around the corner. Buttons peered just over the wall. The gorilla was facing them from in front of the refrigerator, down the hallway littered with the headless bodies of teens and cops. Behind the gorilla were an array of bloody, cyclical sigils.

"It's you!" said Buttons. "Nethergrong…"

Images flashed through Buttons' mind of the village children, a hundred thousand years or more ago, that had conjured Buttons' spirit into a stick that sort of looked like a dude. And of the gorilla, smelling the foul stench of children's joy, who built a tower of villagers' heads in retribution.

"I should have known you'd come. After all, we are both brought to this realm by the joy of children," growled Nethergrong. "Those teenagers, acting like they were so drunk off of a half-glass of wine, telling ad-libbed ghost stories, making out right underneath my nose…how could I sleep with such a malodor? And you won't protect them, just like you wouldn't protect them all those millennia ago."

"It's not my job to save their lives," said Buttons. "It's my job to make to them laugh."

"Ha ha ha. Looks like the only laughter you're causing is mine," said Nethergrong. "I've been watching these humans, even when they thought I was just a piece of tastefully rugged decoration. Clowns aren't joyful anymore, they're scary. Scarier even than gorillas. I can name at least four horror film franchises where the monster is a clown. Gorillas, I can name one, and that's if we're counting Congo as a horror movie."

"Awesome!" said Buttons. "I'm so happy to hear that."

"You're happy to hear that you'll never make another child laugh?"

"You think the fear you get when watching a scary movie isn't a form of joy?" said Buttons. "Clowns are making kids happier than they ever did before. Now watch me entertain these kids as I get all freaky on your monkey rear end." He picked up a knife from the knifeholder on the counter.

Nethergrong chuckled darkly. "I'm happy to see you've finally built up the courage to…"

"Now!" hollered Buttons, and Andrea hurled the cream pie right into Nethergrong's eyes. Nethergrong flailed blindly, knocking the knife out of Buttons' hands. Buttons pulled a handkerchief out of his mouth, then kept pulling, and pulling, then climbed onto Nethergrong's back and wrapped his rope around the ape's neck. Nethergrong gagged as he continued to strike out in any direction he could. Buttons held on as best he could, but he was weaker than the gorilla's thrashing. He flew across the room and out the window, landing on the demon hunter's front lawn.

Nethergrong wiped his face of the cream then leapt out the window and stood above Buttons' cowering wax body.

"Very clever, Buttons, but childish whimsy can never overcome the most powerful force in the cosmos: really, really big fists."

Then Buttons saw it in the driveway: a Smartcar. A tiny, tiny car. He knew what he had to do. With all of the cartoon physics he could muster, Buttons sprang to his feet and bounded into the car.

"You can't hide from me in there!" Nethergrong roared and smashed the top of the car. Then…

Dozens and dozens of Buttonses flew out of the car like missiles. Many splattered into blood and bones as they collided with Nethergrong's chest. Others somersaulted onto the grass and pulled their hanky-ropes from their mouths, using them to bind Nethergrong from every joint and limb. Others brainstormed ape-related puns for when Buttons finally went for the kill, eventually settling on "time to put an end to this monkey business" which isn't particularly good but like, you try to think of a better one; you can't, can you?

"Time to put an end to this monkey business!" shouted Buttons Prime, and he skewered Nethergrong with the gigantic sword that he had happened to find inside the Smartcar.

"Unga…" Nethergrong growled faintly. "Bunga." He fell lifelessly onto the lawn. As he did, all the Buttonses except Buttons Prime collapsed, leaving a very confusing scene for the detectives who would eventually investigate the situation.

And Megan, Curtis, and Andrea hooted and hollered from the window, their hearts filled with joy, each absolutely sure that the awesome scene they had just witnessed was totally worth watching most of their friends get decapitated. Buttons turned to them, and his heart was full. Clowns, even when they were mostly insane murderers, were still a source of joy for the children. And then again, he was nothing more than a wax statue.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
1498 words (includes graphics)

Everything was too large: shoes, tights, jerkin, but the cap was worst. I padded the brim with sodden straw every time (I could hardly get more fleas), but it did little to help. The bells chinged and chuckled as I wrestled with the fit.

“Haste! Haste, you scobber!” said Rodikh, eyebrows furrowing like twin caterpillars sizing each other up across the battlefield of his glasses. “I said step your pace or feel the lash, boy!”

“Gods,” said the captain, waving a chain-gloved hand before a scrunched nose. “Gods, the urchin’s pissed himself again, Your Brilliance. Pissed right through ‘is tights again.”

I’d done no such thing, as the captain surely knew. It might have even been him who had let the hounds into my room while I was out. A shabby trick, but one that ranked comparatively low on my list of grievances; I knew to dread the day he really got mad at me.

When I’d fully dressed, Rodik shoved me before him, motioning with his staff to the eastern passage. This was the third time we’d taken the longer route to the audience chamber, and I wondered again how much he knew, or guessed. The northern way was more direct, but took us directly under his quarters in the high tower.

He knows nothing, I thought, and was certain. Anything more than a half-suspicion that I had somehow gained access to his chambers (much less the archives) would surely mean the gallows.

To say nothing of doing so nineteen times without detection.

Rodikh bustled past me in the narrow corridor. “Gods, you are slow,” he growled, taking the lead. “Remember your role, boy? That Dreyan ponce with the limp, yes?”

“I have it,” I said quietly. His name was Andruuka, and of course I knew him; he’d been granted audience twice in the last month, each time more strained, his words of diplomacy a clumsy cloak that did little to mask his desperation. Everyone had heard that the deaths were mounting, that the rumors of this grim band of mercenaries were anything but. There were too many stories, and too many nameless graves marking their path.

That the throne yet persisted in dismissing this threat was astonishing, and rankled many, but the king was nonetheless the king, and all knew well that he cared less for such matters than more pressing concerns, whores and wine. Mundanities were assigned to his court wizard, who alone he trusted to manage his affairs of state. When I was first kidnapped and brought to the castle, I thought it must surely be the king to blame, and it took some weeks to realize that the architect of our suffering - the taxation, the oppression, the starvation - was not this feckless, ill-mannered poo poo at all, but the bespectacled bureaucrat by his side, coaxing, wheedling, at every turn bending his ruler’s will towards bleeding his subjects dry.

But I knew from careful observation that Rodikh was no Firstborn, though he took pains to maintain illusion otherwise. His powers came from his trinkets: the thick rings studding both powdered hands. That trio of bone-white circlets round his left wrist, the delicate woven armband that encircled the other. I felt quite certain I knew what some of them did. Of others, I was less sure: the burgundy carbuncle clasp below his throat remained a mystery, as were the threaded blue beads he seemed to only favor when certain visitors were in attendance, the pattern of which I could not discern. There was still much to learn. After all, I had seen Rodikh in his true form only once, during an unexpectedly close call outside his chambers. A gangly fellow he turned out to be, more stick insect than beetle, with furtive eyes and an oddly-pinched complexion.

What contrivance he’d mastered to hide this from king and court, I did not yet know.

It must be said: my performance was by any standard exceptional. The Dreyan emissary again proved an effortless mimicry, with his mewling tone and disastrous limp. The chuckles from the court began as I burbled and begged in perfect parody, his earnest entreaties ballooned to grotesque caricature. I knocked my knees and scrape-grovelled the air, arching my spine in miasmas of woe, and periodically deploying a sly nod or wink to the audience, telegraphing my deceit, receiving snorts of disdain in response. Dreyan or Ebellian, Masourian or otherwise, the directive was always the same: all who question decree must be seen as wastrels at best, and traitors at worst.

The king was played by Sedge, which I welcomed: a young chancellor’s aide on extended stay from the Dorduchan Provinces away east, he’d revealed himself as an aspiring thespian and a natural comic, sharp enough to match my pace and more elaborate pratfalls. The king’s bemused smile turned to bellowed laughter when I attempted to make off with Sedge’s purse, earning a backhand slap that sent me caterwauling through a pair of backwards somersaults. I gamboled back to his side as might a newly whipped dog, bells atop my head a tuneless jangle, begging for his mercy before tripping over my own feet and faceplanting onto the dais, earning thunderous laughter from king and subjects alike.

I staggered to my feet and bowed with exaggerated pomp; the cap toppled off in a spill of dampened hay, earning a renewed burst of ovation. The king was roaring, his front sloppy with wine. Rodikh had disappeared; had he also heard the muffled clang of steel, only just briefly audible from the cellars beneath our feet? I thought I was the only one.

Sedge rushed to my side. “Perfection,” he gloated, his eyes bright. “I’ve a bottle in my chambers, let’s celebrate!”

I promised to meet later and headed for my chambers, taking that more direct passage that had been less-traveled of late.

My message had gotten through; they had been waiting for him by his chambers. Rodikh lay down face-first, his matted curls haloed with crimson in the flickering torchlight. Of his assassins, there was no sign.

Now, it must be now! My fingers trembling, I carefully undid the clasp at his severed throat..

The first invader I encountered was a loathsome brute, his armor a mongrel’s collage of scarred plates and scraps scavenged from past conquests. My thoughts coalesced with terrifying clarity, but part of me was ready. There was a sudden pang in my right hand, and the space where my foe stood suddenly wrenched inward in a contortion of dimensions, a dozen planes of glassy light flickering to shear soundlessly through bone and flesh. He collapsed in a dozen sodden pieces.

The three barbarians in the dining hall had heard the confrontation and were more prepared, but it mattered not. Two of them were turned into goats; I am still not quite sure how.

The third was far less fortunate (it was not my will to kill, yet in these ecstasies my will was not entirely my own), and could no longer be recognized at all. At my command he had been somehow pulled like taffy through some tortuous crevice of Aether far too small for his corporeal form, and had been redeposited in this world as some child’s dalliance with clay, a gruesome figurine molded from bone and tissue by a child.

“Extraordinary! Absolutely extraordinary!” gushed Lady Braenor. “Highness, the way he stood forth in challenge to those vile brigands! And to stand as one against so many, Your Lordship! I tell you, he stood tall and smote them all to…to stinking ashes! With a mere gesture!“

I bowed my head in modesty. “To protect the throne, my lady, is to serve in pleasure.” I turned to the king. “Now, with your permission, my lord, I must see to the damage. And with your permission, I will dispatch all aid we have to the townspeople and seek a meeting with their council at once. It would be wise to re-assess certain policies, that we may rebuild our defenses and prevent a more determined assault.”

The king waved a hand distractedly, in conversation with his young daughter. He was still somewhat in shock; of all the court, she had come the closest to meeting a blade.

I bowed a little clumsily, in perfect impression, and made for the council chamber, taking care to roll my gait just so. The guards stiffened in salute as I passed.

Might it become necessary, I wondered, to take the place of the king himself, as matters progressed? I dismissed the thought - such plots could wait. First, the people - my people. Then, to my new quarters.

There was so much to learn.

Slightly Lions
Apr 13, 2009

Look what I can do!
The Pandergast Job
Flash rule: Locksmith
1498 words

The thing that everyone knows about the Pandergast family is that they run everything here in Santa Clarita county. Even when one of ‘em ain’t the mayor, the poor sap who is don’t so much as blow his nose without their say-so. They got their start in international shipping and then moved on to a lucrative career in political corruption. Even the dog-catchers pass a cut up to Papa Pandergast. They’re real ugly customers, too. It’s easy to be, when you own the police department and half the state Senate in the bargain. If any of the little people draw their notice then they simply disappear, easy as that. Same as it ever was, yeah? Too fuckin’ right.

What most people don’t know about the Pandergasts is that the apple of Papa Pandergast’s eye ain’t his darlin’ boy Ralphie, but Ralph’s eldest: Penny Pandergast, a sweet little girl who can’t help it her family’s a bunch of crooks and her name’s a crime against good taste. Ralphie thought it’d be funny, which tells you everything you need to know about the schmuck. And what Penny adores most in all of God’s good Earth is the circus. That’s where we come in.

The name’s Enrico MacCauly, better known in central California as Pickles the Clown. I work for Doctor Mysterioso’s Carnival of Wonders. The posters say we’re a traveling circus, eking a livin’ out on the western edge of the great American dust bowl. For the most part, that’s true. We sing, we dance, we tightrope walk. And we steal stuff.

Not just any stuff, of course. And not just from anyone, obviously. It’s only been a few years since Black Tuesday cut a hole in most of the country’s pockets; hardly anyone has anything worth stealin’ no more. Point of fact, that’s how I came to be out here. I used to run a real respectable little locksmithing business out in Brooklyn, but when the bank went under I lost it all. Figured out quick that openin’ locks ain’t any harder than makin‘em, but that gettin’ out with the cabbage is a lot harder. After a couple short stints in the lock-up I took a Baumes rush clear across the country before they could bang me up in Sing Sing for life. And in a Sacramento clip joint I met Ray Lloyd, the good Doctor.

And that’s how I wound up creepin’ my way down a back corridor in a rambling mansion way too big for taste. I went on first with the rest of the clowns. We do a good, high-energy opener to rile up the kiddos; don’t matter if it’s laughter or cryin’, as long as it keeps the adults’ eyes on ‘em for the next ninety minutes or so. The rest of the clowns were makin’ enough commotion backstage that I wouldn’t be missed, but the Doc told me to keep my gear on, as usual. You wouldn’t think a rainbow wig and size twenty-six shoes’d be good for stealth, but if anyone finds you then you can just say you were lookin’ for the can. It’s hard for even the sharpest of goons to believe a guy with half a pound of make-up on is trying something surreptitious.

I pulled up my sleeve to check the directions Monique gave me. She’s our contortionist, Monique Delacroix. If you believe the ad copy she’s a mysterious mute from France who traded away her voice for amazin’ physical powers. Her given name’s Molly and she don’t talk in public ‘cause she can’t shake a Jersey accent thick enough to stop a bullet. She cased the main house while I was gettin’ my trousers filled with seltzer and white wash on the front lawn.

The safe was right where she said it’d be, at the end of a long gallery, hidden behind a huge and truly hideous painting of some Pandergast ancestor. It was a Glen-Reader ‘32, brand new and the best money can buy. The model with a double-combination and a six-pin key lock. I’d got my work cut out for me; I had to hope the rest of the gang could keep the mooks’ attention long enough.

I pulled a stethoscope outta my oversized trousers and mopped it dry with the infinite scarf up my sleeve. Don’t ever get whitewash in your ears, it’ll take some two-bit croaker all day to pick it outta there. I put the ‘scope in my ears and the business end to the safe’s face. There’s two ways to do a box-job: the quick way is the Peterman- cut it open or blow it out with nitroglycerin. It’s fast, but it’s messy and it makes a whole lotta noise, noise I couldn’t afford if I wanted to make it out with the same number of holes I went in with. The other way is quiet, but slow. I carefully twirled and twisted the dials, listening for the whir and click of the tumblers. I musta been at it for most of an hour, ‘cause when the tumblers clicked and I pulled the ‘scope outta my ears I heard the fanfare that meant the good Doctor was takin’ the stage himself.

You ain’t never seen close-up magic like Doctor Mysterioso’s, it’s a thing of beauty. I’ve seen him perform it a hundred times, watched him practice it a thousand, and I still can’t tell you how he does it. It’s genius. It also means I had exactly ten minutes to trip a six-pin, grab the goods, and pull a clean sneak. Fiddlin’ a pin-lock ain’t near so troublesome as a Glen-Reader combo number, leastaways not if you’ve spent twenty years making ‘em and taking ‘em apart. I had the thing jimmied before the first ooohs and aaahs were over. The safe door swung open, nearly as tall as I was.

I felt like Aladdin steppin’ into the cave of treasures. The safe was the size of a big broom closet, I’ve only seen bigger ones in banks. And it was stocked, floor to ceiling, with cash, jewels, bearer bonds, even a few paintings. I dunno much about art, but I liked the one with the sunflowers. Shame I couldn’t take it with me. I left the cash, too. Sure it’ll spend anywhere, but it’s bulky as hell. Better to take the bearer bonds. You can turn ‘em into cash at any bank still open and carry ten large in your back pocket. I filled my trouser legs with gems, too. A tip for you: leave the pieces themselves, just go for loose stones. Easier to hock, harder for a shamus to ID. But neither of those were what I was there for. It took a few minutes of searching, but I found ‘em. A couple books, bound in scuffed leather and worth more than gold.

I was fitting ‘em up my shirt when I felt a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt grab the back of my neck. It lifted me up and deposited me in front of a craggy face with all the humor of a tiger with a toothache (and I know exactly what that looks like). “Mr. Pandergast wouldn’t want youse in here,” he rumbled at me.

I flashed him a sickly grin, “You wouldn’t hit a guy with a rubber nose, would ya?”

It turns out he would. Guess the guy didn’t see my act or he’d’a known that whackin’ me on the schnozz would make the flower on my lapel squirt a jet of cold water right in his face. It ain’t much, but it can buy you the second you need, especially when a guy’s just cold cocked you with a fist like a bunch of lead bananas. Lucky for me a youth misspent brawlin’ with Bowery boys left me with a quick recovery and a mean right hook, helped along by a small gold bar I’d swiped.

It took me almost two minutes to drag him into the safe, throw the locks, and replace the painting. I knew I was shavin’ it close. Doc musta known it, too, because when I got to the veranda our acrobats Ming Ho and Ming Hsu were already waiting, hangin’ like bats, to grab the goods off me and spirit ‘em away. I made it in time for the final bow.

We counted up the loot after we vamoosed: thirty large in bearer bonds and about half again in assorted gems and hard specie. But the real prize was the books. They were a record of every crooked deal and under-the-table payoff ol’ Papa Pandergast had his fingers in going back near ten years. With this the DA could maybe make some charges stick. And if the charges stuck then maybe a little family downtown who gave us the tip-off might be able to keep their restaurant. It feels good, ya’know? But I bet after a job Robin Hood never had to empty seltzer out of his shoes.

Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving And something has got to give

The Last Carnivore-House Show
1322 words
Flash profession: horticulturalist

People always ask about the shoes. Sometimes it's normal questions -- where'd I get 'em (custom job), how much did they cost (way too much) -- but it's usually just the one question: why the hell do I wear clown shoes to work at the Nursery? I always explain it the same way: consistency. Keeping my shoes the same between jobs means I'm always practicing, always improving. Always on. Work with me once, and you'll get it.

Julia, though -- I've worked with her three times before Puffball Day, but she's not on board yet. She sees me walking up to Carnivore House 9, and she's already scowling. "Brandi. Just my luck. They already brief you? And did you have to come in the getup?" I'm not even wearing the getup, is the thing, just the shoes (plain black, not even funny) and the flower on my lapel, because people ask about it if I don't have the flower. Otherwise, plain work togs, all business, and she's still pissed.

I try my best to look ashamed, because I'm one good evaluation away from promotion and the nod from Julia'll get me a placement in one of the good central greenhouses, where it's more about floral color crosses and less about dodging man-eaters. It'd get me out of Julia's hair, too, but she's a veteran wrangler, so she won't make it that easy. "Sorry," I say. "The shoes are safety-rated for this soil, and I've done the reading. Three puff harvests today, right?"

"Mmhmm. Deep in tripwire territory, with a few hotpads for variety. We need light, careful feet for this, or it's your own funeral. And you show up in those shoes?"

"I'm lighter in these shoes than in bare feet, ma'am. And if I'm wrong... you have my permission to not come after me."

It's not even a joke, but it disarms her just the same. You're not supposed to say out loud that the seniors in carnivore greenhouses have no obligation to save their juniors, but everyone thinks it, and one of the first lessons of clowning is to say out loud what everyone's thinking. Julia's never gonna respect my technique, but maybe I can get points for honesty. "Fine," she says. "If you insist. We've got a half-hour window, so let's move."

I've never seen a puffball in seed before, but I've seen the pictures. They're named for their propagation, the explosive "puff" that scatters the seeds and shrapnel-sharp bits of pod everywhere; there's maybe an hour or two where the pod is loose enough to harvest without blowing up in your hand, and that safe window narrows when you get into the feeding windows of the rest of the symbiote network. I don't know the chemistry behind what they extract from puffball seeds, but I know three pods are worth more than my life, and I focus on my steps as we head into House 9. Julia's muttering under her breath, one of those wrangler curse-prayers to the old-world botanists who engineered all these things. All the wranglers get religious, if they live long enough. Me? I just trust myself. Comedy is confidence. Kill or flop, you always make 'em laugh.

"Tight counter-clockwise spiral, starting here," says Julia. "Stay in my footsteps." She's got small feet in tight boots, but I walk light enough that the empty toes of my shoes don't even touch the ground. I can see the lines of the tripwires' seeker tendrils just below the surface, leading back to the submerged body of the plant, just a few dull leaves covering the open maw. They're fairly sparse this far out, easily stepped over, and Julia walks like she's harvested this greenhouse a dozen times before. Maybe she has? It's old and overgrown, one of the first successful symbiote networks the Nursery ever planted. It's history -- the kind built on bones.

"Hold up. New hotpads in."

"poo poo, they're still growing?" I whisper for no good reason -- none of these plants can hear a drat thing -- but it's reflex from working the hairier, vibration-sensitive carnivore houses. "I thought this was a stable array."

"You thought." Julia's angry, which means she's afraid. I can see what's freaking her out: the soil's swampy ahead, with the weird acid-sweet scent of new hotpad growth eating the tripwires and breaking the grid. Passive feeding strategy, my memory tells me, probably from excess insects and small prey in the greenhouse. The tripwires need weight on a tendril to trigger, but the hotpads can catch and break down anything, meaning more food for the puffball heart of the network even if the hotpads take a bigger share. Great to remember I still have my theory, right? Meanwhile, there's a sizzling swamp between us and the puffballs. I can hear them hissing of the seed pods from here. Back out now -- ten years' growth ruined, Julia's probably fired, I'm fired for sure. Go forward? One false step and we're fertilizer, and there may be no true steps left.

"... rotten enzyme-fucker bastards... Brandi, we follow the tripwire lines. Like a tightrope, right? Give us a little circus magic?"

poo poo, it's worse than I thought. Julia's trying to make jokes.

She's already off, straddling a still-dry tripwire line and practically on her tiptoes, walking too drat fast. I'm a little slower, trying not to disturb the ground, but it's already starting to break up under her feet. The ground wriggles. I can see Julia about to take that one false step.

So I charge.

I charge, and I put my big padded shoe on the tripwire, and I roll. I stumble. I pratfall, pressing a foot or a hand on dry patches of soil just long enough for a tendril to snap at me, but not so long that they close on anything but air. I know my theory -- I know the weights and trigger times for these things -- and I know the carnivore houses well by now. Killer plants are predictable. Comedy disrupts predictability. For a moment I'm soaring, high on my own supply, killing it.

Then there's a tendril around my wrist, tugging. poo poo, that's a good reversal, huh? I thought I was the clown, and I was the straight man of this little act all along.

There are two things I take in as it drags me towards the maw. One, the soil's still dry under my feet: no hotpad here, which is why I'm not dead yet. Two, Julia's yelling something and running behind me, heavy footsteps. Too heavy, but she's still going.

The third thing I see is the machete that slices through the tendril, which snaps back, spewing sap all over me as I stumble and tuck into a safe fall. There's safe, dry ground underneath me. There's a hand on my shoulder.

"Get up, Brandi. We're here."

I stand up, and the first thing I see is the puffballs, big barbed seed pods still softly hissing. They're loose, but not primed to blow just yet. Julia's got her pack open, rummaging for the harvesting gear. "No time to waste," she says. "And no goddamn funny business. You just cut us a path out of here, but that's no excuse for jokes. And no juggling."

"I don't really juggle, ma'am."

"Good. Focus on that pratfall stuff instead, if you have to. And call me Julia. You saved my life back there, kid."

I'm never gonna get her to say that again, I know, but I'm guessing my evaluation is gonna come back adequate, but there's no time to think about that as I get to harvesting. All I can think about is that I'm alive. That I pulled off a great goddamn show, with only the toughest crowd in the world to witness it. And if this promotion comes through, it's the last time I'm harvesting in a carnivore greenhouse.

Good fuckin' riddance, I think. Not every show needs an encore.

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.
Coal Dust and Greasepaint

905 words

Ezra Cooms was an odd duck, even among folk who dig coal for a living. When he was a kid he ran off to join the circus, and he might have stayed on that ride until he died but when they came back around here three years later his Pa was busy dying and his Ma had trouble with the house and the bank so the ground swallowed him up. He said he could hear the mine laughing at him for trying to get away.

Ezra didn't stop being a clown, though. Wore his face on the job every day, went in white and red and came out black on black. "Easier to scape it all off that to wash it out," he told me.

"But Ez," I said, "It makes your head into a fecking torch. You catch one spark-"

"Then you'll be able to see by my light and I'll guide your way out of Hell," he said, and he didn't honk the horn like it was a joke.

Ez was solid, though. All around. Good man in the hole and out. He stood up and married my sister Louise when nobody else would have her; raised the spawn of Satan with her as his own. In fact, if you used that phrase where he could hear you, you were probably due a right beating. One guy managed to talk his way out of it. Reached right at Ezra and honked the horn, gave a smile with the teeth he had left, and Ezra let him back away.

But I know that's not the part you want to hear.

It had been a long time coming. Bosses cutting corners, as they do. The most recent batch of fresh workers was full of union plants, Jamie Farr the organizer for one, going as James Cannon for the paperwork, and six honest tramps from West Virginia, big men who could swing a pick or a bat like champs. They didn't all know the language but they all knew all the songs. And the bosses knew it was coming. They had men in place. Not real Pinkertons, goons from one of the other agencies. Budget goons.

It got triggered when I noticed a buckle in the supports for the new shaft, whistled stop until we could get a carpenter to shore it up.

It was just a series of mistakes from there. The usual carpenter was sleeping off the night before in the drunk tank. His apprentice had broken his right arm in the same night, and the ones the next town over were already on travel east. So the manager had to call in one they'd never worked with before, which was taking his time and attention, but meanwhile the foreman didn't know any of that, knew how long a shoring job took and that we hadn't been working twice that long and kept ordering us back to work. So they mostly backed up into the strike. Wouldn't have been more than a week or so any which way, though. But we'd have been better armed.

We had a camp going, us and our wives and the sons old enough to walk a line. We fought off the first batch of scabs they tried to send across. Ezra was in there with the out of town bruisers. Seltzer to the face, then a knee in the groin. Slapstick. He didn't have his makeup kit in the camp so he'd left it all on. It wasn't the worst smell in that place but it was a distinctive one.

We thought they'd try again, with the armed agency goons flanking the scabs. We were ready for that. Instead, they came at night, with repeater rifles, and with fire.

We woke up to smoke and screams, tents burning. A handful, including the union boys ran for it, right up the main pass. Ran right into a crossfire and was gunned down.

So there we were, huddled up, trying to figure a way out.

There's two ways this sort gets told. Most people leave out this bit: Louise had the idea. She remembered the old shaft from when our dad was digging coal. It had one mouth here and another near the river, and as far as she knew wasn't blocked by anything more than a few boards.

Nobody leaves out the next bit, though. One ember, floating in the waves of hot air, dancing into our huddle, then landing on Ezra's face.

He did go up like a torch, the flames rising quickly to his wig. And he started running. And we all followed him out of Hell.

Only the main entrance was boarded up, and we crashed right through that. Then at a run through the old mine to the river. When we got there Louise tore Ezra's wig off and threw it in the water, where it kept burning even brighter. Messed up her left hand doing it. We smothered the rest of the flames after that.

Ezra survived. Someone said it was a kind of wicking effect, where most of the fire was at the top of the wig. Others say it was an outright miracle, but a miracle wouldn't have left him as messed up as he was. He never went out without his clown face on, thick and heavy, again, and when he spoke, nobody but Louise ever could could a single word.

May 3, 2003

Who wants to live


College Slice
Clown Rules
~1420 words

Clown Rule 7.1: Wages and Employment. A clown does not have a right to a job. Payment for clown work is optional; no clown earn more than half minimum wage.

Stringbean lets gravity take over, her body pitching forty-five degrees out the back of the truck, arm outstretched to let the wind and the roar of the diesel fill her universe. The big Peterbilt growls its morning song as they bounce along cracked and pitted pavement, leaving the Restriction Zone and heading to the City. Her body swings cantilever as they take a corner, but her oversized grip holds firm to the bar welded over the back bumper. It’s against regulations to ride the back of the truck at this speed, of course, but there’s no one watching. Puddles and Kornflake, riding in the cab, think she’s crazy, and maybe she is.

Downshifting into the outskirts, they pass the usual markers: the tent city pushing up against the barrier walls, packs of skinny dogs scrabbling over the corpse of a fallen comrade, children playing ill-defined games with deflated balls across cracked asphalt. But also the salt smell of ocean air fills her swollen red nose, and as the morning sun burns away the bruised clouds, the wind flows through her long frizzed hair. For Stringbean, a fleeting taste of freedom on this road between worlds.

Before long their truck is inside the City, trudging down narrow streets, stopping often so she and Kornflake can sling overstuffed trash bags into the back of the truck. Heavy gears grind between stops, mashing the refuse into a wet compaction that stinks of poo poo and decay and death. She and Kornflake ride the back bumper, keeping their eyes downcast as the old truck rumbles along. Regs are out and about, walking manicured dogs or chattily power-walking along in small clots of pastel tracksuits. No need to attract any unwanted attention by making eye contact and catching a reg on a bad day. Stringbean has papers, as law requires, but she’s no idiot.

Clown Rule 2.3: Social Contract. Clowns may only speak when spoken to first. Clowns must not touch, interact with, or make eye contact with members of regular society uninvited.

A rock strikes her face, cutting a gash across her forehead. Reflexively she pulls a billowy sleeve up to protect herself and peeks out. A group of regs, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, are yelling and more rocks fly her direction from behind a hedge.

“loving clowns! Get the gently caress out of here!”

“rear end clown! You lovely clown asses!”

“Get out freaks! You don’t belong here!”

Puddles guns the engine and nearly dislodges Stringbean from the back of the truck. As usual, the kids quickly run out of both interest and ammunition.

“God drat regs,” Kornflake mutters from across the back bumper. “Next time I’ll loving kill them.” Stringbean’s heard this before; that ‘next time’ will come tomorrow or the day after, and neither of them will do poo poo about it. There’s nothing a clown can do. Not in this life.

Thursday is normally Stringbean’s favorite day. The old woman’s house is on the route. Will she be there? The knot of anxiety in Stringbean’s gut tightens. She always comes out when the truck lumbers down the street, greeting the three trash collectors with carefully wrapped treats: homemade cookies, tarts, or cakes, all foods forbidden in the Restriction Zone. She’ll wink at the clowns and exchange a few pleasantries, and Stringbean looks her in the eye and returns her smile. Then they’d move on, sugary treasures tucked into their billowing pants. Later, back at her bunk after lights out, Stringbean would carefully unwrap the treat and savor it, imagining who this mysterious woman is and why she, among all the regs, acts so kindly. Is she her real mother? It was silly but Stringbean liked to imagine it. She’d imagine life in that three-story brown brick house, the smell of fresh-baked breads and maybe there’s a little herb garden out back, which she and her mother tend, giggling and gossiping about neighbors or ‘net celebrities, or they sing happy songs together. It’s a nice fantasy. There’s no Restriction Zone, no whippings or beatings or clown babies ripped from the arms of reg parents and thrown into a lifetime of substance abuse and forced labor to be found anywhere.

Clown Rule 8.2: Birth. If medical authorities determine a newborn child is a clown, it will be removed from the birth parents and taken to an approved government restriction facility.

The woman who could be her mother isn’t there. Her house is blank, with curtains drawn, and no trash can sits at the curb. The old Lincoln convertible sits undisturbed in her driveway.

It’s been three weeks since Stringbean has seen her. Worry gnaws her gut.

She whistles to Puddles to stop the truck for a smoke break. She jumps to the curb, pulls a cigarette from a pocket, and lights it as she clomps up the driveway to the house.

“What the gently caress are you doing--” Kornflake hisses

but she keeps moving, and with a hard push on the door she’s inside.

There’s no warm smell of baking bread or freshly cut herbs. It smells instead of dry dust and skin balms. Late morning sun breaks across the room through thin lace curtains. Cocking her head to listen, Stringbean hears faint footsteps from a floor above. She moves up the stairs to a landing. A tiny part of her brain screams at her: what the gently caress are you doing!? If you get caught in a reg’s house--” but she cuts it off.

In the bedroom at the end of the hall she finds the old woman who could be her mother, gray and emaciated, lying beneath a stained quilt. Her breath is irregular, ragged. The room is spare, empty pill bottles and cheap-looking medical devices and a few framed pictures that sit on a bedside table. The woman’s eyes flutter open as Stringbean enters, and a faint smile curls her lip.

Clown Rule 4: Illegal Clowns. Any clown unable to present papers on demand, or who does not have government issued papers, is to be destroyed. Any citizen harboring an illegal clown shall be banished.

“Hello,” Stringbean says, because she doesn’t know what else to say.

The old woman who could be her mother extends an arm towards the bedside table, to a framed photo. The frame is cheesy, an off the shelf plastic mold with “Three Generations” written in cursive across the top. In the picture a woman in a hospital bed holds a newborn child while the old woman leans over her shoulder, smiling at the camera. The same radiant smile she used to give Stringbean, more precious than any wrapped gift. Not her mother, then – someone else’s. Stringbean’s heart drops.

Again she hears a soft thumping from above. Footsteps?

“Closer,” the woman sighs. She taps the picture with a spindly finger. And then Stringbean sees it, just as a sound reaches the landing behind her. The infant in the picture has enlarged hands and feet, a rose-colored nose, a shock of frizzled hair. It’s a clown baby. Stringbean gasps and turns to see the infant, now a toddler, ambling towards her. A wide, innocent smile stretches the exaggerated features of her clown face. The child reaches out to the old woman and takes her hand. Stringbean can’t stop looking at the picture.

Her finger lands on the woman holding the baby. “Her mother?” she asks the old woman.

“Gone.” Her voice is an echo.

“The’ve been hiding her.” Stringbean’s oversized hands feel numb as she carefully sets down the picture.

“No time left.” The woman points to a closet. “Not for me.” Her cough is a cancerous rattle.

The child steps onto her foot and wraps her arms around her leg. With clown child in tow Stringbean opens the closet and pulls out a duffel bag. Inside are bundles of cash, neatly packaged.

“It should be enough,” the old woman rasps. “Take the car. Go.” She closes her eyes and draws a ragged breath. “Make her safe.”

Stringbean looks down at the toddler. She sees the two of them in a brick house filled with the smell of baking bread and garden herbs, laughter and warm baths and long evenings counting fireflies in a place far, far from here.

Stringbean hugs the old woman. The child then grabs the woman who is her mother’s hand. And they never look back.

Apr 12, 2006
Submissions are closed

Apr 12, 2006
Thranguy wins.

Hawklad and Slightly Lions HM.

Proper crits will come tomorrow-ish.

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.
Thunderdome Week DLXXXI: A Flittering of Faeries

This week, I have both a theme and a gimmick. The gimmick first: we're doing drabbles this week. A drabble is a story of Exactly 100 words, no more and no less.. I will give a tiny bit of flexibility here, though: if your title is five words or less, you may choose whether to count those words in your 100. If it's longer, you must count those words.
Since these are so short, though, You many submit as many stories as you want. You may or may not link your stories together, but each one should stand on its own and you cannot assume they will be read in any particular order.

On to the theme: as you may have gathered from the title, I'm looking for stories about faeries and the people who interact with or believe in them. They need not be real, but they should always be important. Goblin markets, mushroom rings, courts seelie and unseelie, house spirits that must be propitiated, victorian photographs, all of those kinds of things and more.

No: erotica, fanfic, etc. Poetry is okay if the word limit isn't restrictive enough for you.

Signups close Friday 11:59 PM California time
Entries close Sunday 11:59 PM Calfiornia time

The Cut of Your Jib
Idle Amalgam

Lord Zedd-Repulsa
Chernobyl Princess
beep-beep car is go
Ouzo Maki
Vinny Possum
My Shark Waifuu
Slightly Lions
a friendly penguin
Bad Seafood

Thranguy fucked around with this message at 06:25 on Sep 24, 2023

Lord Zedd-Repulsa
Jul 21, 2007

Devour a good book.

I'm in.

Jun 19, 2023
Ooo, interesting. I'm in.

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Yeah in

Chernobyl Princess
Jul 31, 2009

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

:siren:thunderdome winner:siren:


beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?


Sep 11, 2018

I never said I was a role model.

Deal me in.

Mar 19, 2008

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


in, :toxx:

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse


Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Llama Drama
100 words

Greg was a professional, but this was the worst case of carpet llamas he’d ever seen. Interdimensional bastards. Eat pile, poo poo portals. Trouble was, Greg’s brother had fallen in.

No. Climbed. David was trying to crack open space-time with his fingers.

Greg put a hand on a trembling shoulder. Their first touch in a long time.

“I’m going. Please, Greg, come--”

Greg’s mind was carefully barricaded against the truth. He climbed from the hole in David’s living room floor. The house was gone. Gigantic camelids occluded the sun and spat stars.

Greg sighed, and fetched his tools from his van.

beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?

100 Words

"So wait, you're telling me I'm part... fey?" Ellen stops walking and stares pointedly at the person standing next to her. They're of indeterminate gender and are staggeringly beautiful.

"That's right. Your father's a fairy."

"But don't fairies have like... an allergy to metal?"

"Cold Iron yes, but you're only part fey, so it manifests itself differently with you."

"And that's why-"

"Why your smartphones never work right, yes."

Ellen reaches into her pocket and takes out her phone. The screen is spiderwebbed with cracks and as they both stare at it, the home screen blinks and it reboots itself.


beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?

Sean Gloriosis
100 words

Sean and Randy stumbled around the back 40 of the junkyard. It was only 10am, but Sean was more than a little buzzed.

"I'm telling ya, it was right around heah!" Sean is gesturing wildly while Randy hangs back. "Look for a fuckin C10 panel van."

"gently caress me, Sean. there ain't no such things as fairies or a portal to another world. You're just trying to get me to forget you pinching my cigs."

Sean finds the van, and with a triumphant yell, wrenches the back doors open.

Randy peers in and sees a verdant green forest inside the van.

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