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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!

Plump Little Goose
651 words
Sister Swap: a Hometown Holiday

Do not think your sister has forgotten.

Did your mother ever tell you about your twin sister? All the ultrasounds showed twins, and yet all by yourself out you plopped, a fat little babe.

I think your mother did mention it once, actually, at your Uncle Paul's Christmas party. You remember that, right? Your Uncle Paul has never followed your good pure Mormon rules, and for the rest of you, well, when in Rome. After everyone had one too many grasshoppers, all sorts of family secrets slipped from jolly, gluttonous tongues. Your sister remembers that party fondly. She made little puppy-dog licks at sausages and schnapps as they rolled down your throat, and she was never sated.

Christmastime is always her favorite. She likes lapping at the hints of peppermint and cinammoned cider in your stomach acid, and she likes the afterimages of little lights that make it behind your eyes and into hers. She likes suckling on molecules of cold winter air as they wind down your bloodstream. Every year at Christmastime she marvels at the boxes of gifts, and every year she hopes she gets to open one, that one of them is just for her, and when it isn't she screams and screams and SCREAMS until you can hear the faintest ringing in your ear.

Her favorite Christmas was the one after your cafe in the city closed down and you had to move back in with mom in that boring lil town. You picked up hours at the Main Street bakery to pay rent in the basement and one day Kyle came in for his morning coffee and you spent Christmas Eve on the roof of your childhood house reminiscing about what could've been. But it wasn't a could've been, it was an always, and on Christmas day you made sure to hang lots of mistletoe in the bakery and practice your corniest "mistletoe?" in the mirror.

Your sister only tastes smokey shadows of your food and your music, but that night she felt Kyle's love as colorfully and vividly as you. She has always been hungry, and after that Christmas she was ravenous and envious and hateful.

And then there was the next year, after you'd sent all the wedding invitations but decided you didn't want to wait any longer, that you needed to be this man's wife today and found a sinful little chapel in Salt Lake that's open on Christmas and you spent your wedding night making love in the glow of the hotel cable. That was last year, wasn't it? Your sister certainly did not forget.

For the first time she's not alone. A little thing, a wisp of a wisp of a soul, is down here now and it's eating your sister's food and listening to those nothing echoes of music and stealing all those tiny dashes of light.

Do not think your sister has forgotten. She has seen her kind before and she is afraid. She remembers those gnashing, gnawing lips. Your sister is afraid and she is hungry. It's a hunger you have never known, you greedy child, with your candy canes and your chocolate strawberries and your roast stuffed goose. It's a lifetime of longing for the meagerest whispers of your poo poo. Your sister will not be the victim this time. Not again.

Her will and her hunger and the other little bits of her you chewed up with your slimy gums so long ago will coalesce in your womb and your uterine wall will bulge with the eyes she never saw light with and the baby teeth she never got a chance to grow and a wide, gaping maw so she may have her treats.

Then this year the two of you will swap. You will spend the holiday in hell, and your sister will, for the first time, feast.


Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Some Bounty Crits

Week 583: Shore Thing

Idle Amalgam’s Family Vacation

I don’t understand what you want this story to be. It starts off with the somewhat hackneyed ‘distant dad’ trope. And he only really gets jostled by something seemingly eldritch or something I don’t know. Then like… he sees the thing, and puts it back, and nothing happens? You had plenty of words left to use and in a story this short, I’m curious what was left out. All I’m really getting here is that a distracted dad gets snapped into the moment, but then just yeets the moment away and probably doesn’t learn anything? Is that it? I guess that’s fine, but I certainly want more. The prose is efficient and clear though, I’ll give you that.

Bad Seafood’s Buried Treasure

Aw, OK, well I’m a sucker for kid’s imagination-based stories. I liked this well enough. It’s a punch little thing that doesn’t overstay its welcome and it works for me because it’s essentially one really small idea dressed up in a neat little package. It doesn’t do much more than put a small smile on my face, but that’s enough! If anything, a teensy bit more color of your characters would have been appreciated, they’re all kinda one-in-the same and I’d like a bit of contrast. But otherwise, I enjoyed it.

Jan 21, 2010

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

Lipstick Apathy
bonus words crit:

The Master of the House by idle amalgam

the story of obsession passed from father to son- the lead up to this makes the father sound utterly insane, which I suppose is the point, but there do exist people like this who believe every little problem in their lives is caused by some outside force, usually some huge shadowy organization or one or more governments or aliens, but i felt that the desperate need for proof and the lengths to which he went were accurate and well captured. almost so much that when the creature actually appeared I thought 'oh... hmm... okay' and it paradoxically almost made the whole thing mundane, because now he wasn't an obsessed crazy person that the son has to deal with, but just a guy who had real experiences. But, then, when the father disappears and the son is left with the same problems, with no one believing him and a desperate need for proof... then, I wondered again... genetic craziness? or the father imprinting his crazy thoughts through constant exposure? or else I guess there is just a creature bothering them for some reason. one thing I would have liked is some explanation or hint at whatever the trigger was that made the creature appear, what was the blood and mushrooms? or if it was something else... what? also you had some typos which im sure you are aware of by now. enjoyable story. good 1

Jan 21, 2010

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

Lipstick Apathy
official entry:
now and then


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

Jan 21, 2010

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

Lipstick Apathy
bonus story:


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

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
And one more, from the same Shore Week

Beep-beep car is go’s Starfall

I’m not really sure what this is or what it’s trying to do. The eponymous starfall seems to suggest that a foreign entity is the thing that washes up on the shore, but that’s not quite addressed or handled. What we ultimately get is an outrun-a-tsunami story. But it’s not quite a normal tsunami, is it? But we never really get much more than that, or any sort of suggestion as to what it is or why we should care. I like that the story is set on the backdrop of an early/first date, that does give it some bounce, but I don’t see how the events in the background tie in with the date itself in any meaningful way.

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:

Christmas Lights
994 words
Flash: Christmas Under Wraps

“You really need a better scarf,” Andy told Lauren as they crunched across the parking lot of the Garland hospital. His own face was completely covered by layers of fabric, to the point where you couldn’t see his breath steaming in the air. This was another disappointment, she was in a place where the handsomest men covered their faces everywhere they went. He continued: “You’re going to lose the skin off your nose one of these days.”

“I don’t want to smudge my lipstick,” she said, airily. “Nevermind that lipstick is easier to reapply than skin, it’s definitely my petty vanity and not the fact that the package I ordered has been sitting in Anchorage waiting for someone to fly down and pick it up.”

Lauren winced as she said it. It was a spectacularly insensitive remark. Andy’s father, who ran their local courier service, had been hospitalized after fainting a few days ago. Without him there were only two pilots to fly, both of them Frank’s sons who wanted to be by his bedside. Thankfully, Andy was the nicest, most patient person in the town, because he just snorted and said, “I’m headed down today, don’t worry.”

They reached the hospital doors. Andy touched Lauren’s arm. “I know you’re busy in there, but if you get the chance…”

“I’ll check on him, I promise.” Lauren kissed his face mask and hustled inside.

The truth was that she wasn’t busy. She had a routine. Rounds. Charting. Medication updates. Hearing patient complaints. A rabies vaccine for a trapper who needed a clearer understanding of what constitutes “dead.” An occasional outpatient procedure. Nothing fancy. Nothing a med student couldn’t do.

Lauren didn’t hate it here. It was certainly beautiful: her cabin boasted incredible mountain views, the kind of vistas that she absurdly felt belonged in travel magazines, not in her backyard. But it was excruciatingly lonely. She’d lived alone in Boston, too, but it hadn’t felt like this. The world hadn’t seemed so… colorless. This deep in winter, the sky merely flirted with daylight. Everything was white and gray. She found herself charting near pediatrics, just to be around some spot of brightness.

She went to check on Frank toward the end of the day. The hospital seemed to diminish him, fluorescent lighting stripped away what colors age had left him. His eyes opened when she entered the room.

“Lauren,” he whispered, and his voice was so unlike the jolly bellow he’d possessed before being hospitalized that she almost didn’t understand him. “You can’t. You can’t do it.”

“It’s okay, I’m not going to be your doctor,” Lauren said, smiling. “I just told Andy I’d check in on you, you don’t have to worry about your son’s girlfriend poking and prodding.”

He shook his head, weakly. She frowned. “Have you been eating?”

“Nothing sustains. Let me go, Andy. Let me go.”

Something froze beneath Lauren’s spine, a chill so deep that she couldn’t even shiver. “Mr. Holliday, do you know who I am?”

“The aurora. The colors. Don’t let them take you. Don’t make me do it. Don’t make me do it again.”

He was delusional. Babbling. Lauren called in his nurse, who called in the other doctor. “It’s okay, Mr. Holliday. It’ll be okay.”


Andy showed up at Lauren’s door the next day with a brown paper package and a pretty Christmas invitation. “Found your scarf!” He said. “And hey, thanks for looking in on Dad. I don’t know what you did, but he’s apparently doing a lot better. We’re going to go out tonight and have a picnic, see the Northern Lights, it’s kind of a family tradition. Care to join us?”

Lauren accepted the package, smiling. She was pretty sure she was smiling, at least. “Sounds lovely,” she said as she tore the paper to reveal her scarf. She stared at it. She could have sworn she’d ordered something luridly pink. She must have gotten a bad dye lot, because this muted, grayish salmon color was not going to do her skin tone any favors. At least it was warm. “I’m glad to hear your dad’s okay.”

“It’s about to be our busiest season, so trust me, we all are.”

“Is that…” Lauren paused. It was hard to think. She’d attributed it to how extremely handsome Andy was underneath that balaclava, but now she was wondering if something had frozen in her brain. “Is that safe for him?”

“It’ll be fine. You’ll see.” Andy waved. “See you tonight!”


Lauren had been to the Holliday family home before. She knew she had. She must have been. She was dating Andy, the handsomest man she’d ever met behind the thickest scarf she’d ever seen. And she knew the way. Due north. Following the road. Following the lights that lit up the snow in greens and yellows.

Those were greens, right? Those were yellows?

Those were reflections?

Andy greeted her. She held his hand. He did not speak as he led her to a table next to a fire, where Frank slouched, half-frozen, wrapped in a gray cloak. He looked at her. He looked at Andy. He groaned, pitifully. “No. No. Not again.”

“It has to be this way, Father,” Andy said. His voice was colder and drier than the tundra. “For the children.”

Frank began to weep. The lights danced lower, to where Lauren might reach out and touch them. They were beautiful, she knew they were beautiful, if only they weren’t rendered in black and white. She looked at her hands, her turquoise mittens fading to gray even as she watched.

She felt dizzy. She told Andy she’d like to lay down. He helped her to lie down on the table.He was so nice. The nicest thing about Garland. It was so sweet how he helped his father, who really was looking stronger now as his coat steadily flushed crimson until it was the only thing Lauren could see.

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Lord A Leapin'
1250 Words (3 Crit Bounties)
Flash: The Angel Tree

Deadlines are dumb. The familiar aphorism tumbled in Harvey's mind as he trudged through the freshly fallen knee-deep snow surrounding Howler's rec center. He blew a plume of mist out of his mouth as he fumbled for the keys in his flannel's left pocket. The glow of the floodlight hanging from the gutter overhead helped Harvey select the red-capped key. He jiggled it into the rusty lock.

Without the children, scout leaders, and dogs traipsing around the rec center, the entrance felt silently fragile, as it had the past nine nights when Harvey arrived. He instinctively reached for the light switch but remembered earlier when Holly, with the pigtails, was holding court over the gingerbread house just a few hours ago.

"I swear, I was riding my bike right past here last night, and the lights were on! There's no angel! An angel wouldn't need the lights!"

Harvey didn't stop to consider the various twists of logic at play; he just kept the lights off. A timer from his phone rang out from his pocket. Harvey called out, "Stop," and groaned as he remembered setting it an hour OK. It was supposed to signal the end of his break and his triumphant return to the keyboard. He set another one for another hour off into the prospective future and groaned again as he predicted he'd dismiss it with equal abandon.

Who cares? Harvey chuckled and pushed onto the gymnasium. He nearly slipped on a toy firetruck in the hall, but nothing else threatened his journey through the dark. When he arrived at the gym, he withdrew his phone, turned on the flashlight, and used it to help him find his green-capped key. The gym door opened, and his wet boots squeaked along the hardwood as he walked to the halfcourt.

The Angel Tree, Howler's signature winter attraction, stood proudly in the center of the gym. It was a 15-foot, white, artificial tree that Harvey had to haul out of storage every year and assemble. It was a tree of legend in Howler, and though the adults had their suspicions, the children broadly didn't seek to suss out who the alleged Angel was.

The tree was adorned with broken ornaments, tattered tinsel, and crisp red envelopes. Harvey counted the red envelopes and saw that there were eight.

It was the tenth night of Christmas, so there should've been ten. He had hidden the envelopes the night before, so a couple remained hidden.

He plucked all of the envelopes off the tree and then went to take his nightly bowel movement while reading the hopes and dreams of the lucky children who found the envelopes he had hidden. Sitting on the toilet, he opened them, one at a time, and carefully considered each. As was tradition, only one would be selected, which was always down to the wish, not the child.

The wish had to be as big as possibly doable. This meant the first three:

I wish for a sperm whale
I wish my dad were alive again
i wish fr disnuy world

Harvey quickly crumpled up and stuffed into his pocket.

Next, Teddy Newhouse asked for a happy meal, undoubtedly doable but not all that fantastic. Plus, there was the issue of covertly delivering a satisfyingly warm meal. The request for "I wish 50 dollars please" oddly toed the line of Harvey's budget, which was just about as much as he was willing to spend per night on delivering on these wishes. He balanced that one on the metallic 'maybe' grip bar on his left.

He checked the next envelope; it was unsealed. He pulled out the paper and read:

Hello Harvey

*knock knock knock*

Harvey threw the envelopes up in the air and sprung off the toilet at once. Someone had knocked on the entrance to the bathroom door. Harvey instinctively reached in his pockets for anything to defend himself, but his fingers only found lint.

"Ok," Harvey looked up. "What next?"

The bathroom door clicked open, the lights went black, and the door shut.

"Who the gently caress is that?!" Harvey called out in panic.

After taking a moment to compose himself, Harvey realized he hadn't locked the door behind him. One of the Howler kids must have gotten in.

Harvey finished his business, turned the lights on, washed his hands, and left the bathroom. When he opened the door, a cacophony of sirens and blinking lights greeted him. A stationary parade of blaring toy fire engines was lined up on the floor, leading straight back to the gymnasium.

"gently caress this," Harvey muttered to himself. "Not playing this game."

He went left instead of right, ignoring the fire engine parade, and as he walked past the kitchen, something caught his eye. He turned back and saw a glowing white portal before the refrigerator. He stared at it for a moment, and though his body told him to keep walking, the portal seemed to call to him.

He walked over to the portal and felt a warmth coming off it and a friendly smell of clove and chocolate.

Before he realized what he was doing, his right hand extended into the portal, and he felt himself being pulled forward and compressing. The portal spat him back out into the kitchen, but it wasn't the same kitchen; everything had grown. Harvey looked down and realized that his body had shrunk.

"What the…" he called out with a voice an octave and a half higher than his own.

Clarity set in almost immediately as eight-year-old Harvey took over. Right away, only one thing mattered.

A grown-up would be here soon, and he didn't care if it was a grown version of himself; he had to get him. Harvey giggled to himself as he ran off to the playroom. He grabbed an armful of firetrucks and lined them up throughout the rec center. He then went to the Angel Tree, plucked off an envelope, and left a spooky message for his grown counterpart.

He finished his tasks just in time for the front door of the rec center to open. He went and hid in the janitor's closet across from the bathroom and waited. A few minutes later, he heard the bathroom door open and shut. He waited another minute, crept out of the closet, and knocked on the bathroom door, then quickly opened the door, flicked the lights off, and ran back to the angel tree, giggling.

He ran back to the Angel Tree and waited. Moments later, his grown-up self appeared at the entrance.

"You went right this time!" He called out to grown Harvey.

"I did," he replied. "Something told me I needed to. Having fun, kid?"

The lights were off, and Harvey realized his grown self thought he was just some random kid.

"I am! Aren't you?"

"Nah, kid, I've got a deadline to hit and some business to take care of."

"Deadlines are dumb."

Little Harvey's body felt lighter, as though it was fading away. He sprinted at grown Harvey and jumped right into him.

Harvey came to and checked his watch. He was out for about a half hour. Who was that kid? He sounded so familiar. He glanced back up at the Angel Tree, and his watch rang out. If he had any hope of hitting his deadline, he'd have to abandon the task of the Angel Tree tonight and disappoint all those kids.

He shrugged and said out loud, "Deadlines are dumb."

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Bounty crits from 582, along with overdue judge crits from Week 581.

582 | Family Vacation: This story suffers from the same pitfall I tumble into with dismaying regularity: “So what?” Additionally your chosen topic of l’il aquatic critters is so interesting on its face that it kind of magnifies the need for something more to happen. If there’s a message or meaning (kids are innocent monsters? The dad’s able to put aside work for a little bit?) it doesn’t seem sufficiently established. Having no message can work if you were going for some sort of slice of life approach, but I can’t help finding it weird that this objectively amazing thing happens and nobody, kids or adults, seem to care. Your last paragraph confirms that some people just shy away from the extraordinary and just prefer the comfort of mundanity or whatever, which is a cool and worthwhile spin, but it’s not sufficiently established to really resonate. This is one entry that I think could comfortably be a bit longer.

This feedback all comes off really negative, so I should emphasize that a whole lot of it works. I’m gonna assume you’re a parent; if you’re not, you clearly understand those dynamics. The descriptive stuff is great and I had no problem visualizing everything you wrote. The tense needs work, I think, as it jumps from present to past. Passages like “You and your wife watch speechless as your children scoop up the tiny man and seahorse. They jostled them this way and that” would flow better if you picked present or past tense and stuck with one or the other. If it’s a stylistic choice, it doesn’t really feel like it and I’m not sold it adds anything.

582 | Buried Treasure: I liked this. My critiques are kinda nitpicky:
  • I got kind of distracted with what age the kids are? I assumed they were high-schoolers (15-17?), but then one of em needs his dad to hose him off? I reread it and realized they could be adults if not for the reference to them as “boys” in the first paragraph.
  • Also that sentence (“The boys gathered round.”) stamps the first paragraph as third-person and then everything switches to first-person a couple lines later, not sure that’s intentional.
  • The start of the D&D game could be more clearly established. I was like “wait what” and had to go back, which probably isn’t ideal in such a short piece. I think there could be some sort of smoother transition that wouldn’t take anything away.
  • The notebooks stuff felt a little janky. When your protagonist goes out of their way to say “I have a lot of notebooks” the reader’s gonna look for a reason they were told this, but all we learn is he has two notebooks.
  • Also this may well be just me but because it wasn’t made clear they’re in a game, “peering furtively over my screen” after a paragraph about notebooks had me wondering if he’s sitting behind a laptop.
  • “Calloused” is a cool word, and “grin” is a cool word, but Roy’s “calloused grin” had me wondering if the bubonic plague was going to get involved at some point.
  • This is Real nitpicky but it wouldn’t hurt to work in one more reference to the bottle being green? It’s the fourth word in the story but isn’t referenced again until very near the end. Doesn’t really hurt but might help.

Pacing was great, felt not too short and not too long. Felt like a true story, which is kinda two compliments: it felt real and it felt personal. Your characters are total cut-outs and it doesn’t matter because the story is told well. I’m not saying you should have developed any of em (not sure you could have done so without lengthening the piece), I’m saying it works in spite of that which is not easy.

Nice one, enjoyed.

Overdue crits from 581:

581 | Truffles: I liked this and thought it was the winner too. I don’t know how you get away with all this depressing poo poo about the pillaging of the natural world - and not just in a clump but methodically distributed in potent servings of equal size throughout the story - delivered by someone who obviously grasps its impact, and never (to me) teeters over the edge into preaching. When that quality does poke through, it feels earned.

I liked that you do not clearly establish the narrator’s gender, or their age, really, beyond them being an adult who’s been at this for a while. Nor do you establish a geographic location beyond the northern hemisphere. I assume it’s an old man in France, but it didn’t have to be, which was cool.

I couldn’t grasp any particular significance from the brain/cerebellum references, but will assume that’s a me problem.

581 | Thumbnail in the Coffin: First up, “Ioan” is a cool name, props for its selection. This story really felt like it needed a third act, though, and feels woefully abrupt without it. It’s a catch-22: the better of the job you do establishing the stakes wockawockawockaaaa as well as the protagonist, the more glaring it seemed to me that we’re cheated of reaction or response. I thought about this on the first read and figured that adding another section would require too much space, but then on a reread I’m not sure. Anything might work, even a couple sentences. Is he pissed? Does like go on? Does he start packing a bag? You’d lose the impact of the punch line but I dunno, I wanted more, which is a good thing.

581 | Supplicant: This didn’t work for me. Full marks for aiming high with an unconventional interpretation of the challenge, but flagellation as regional tradition is a stretch. It might sell better if it was emphasized up front that this was fantasy, but that’s not really clear until well past the halfway mark. The first 3/4s of the story seem to feature no major distinctions between your story’s world and Europe in the Middle Ages, which could be fine except I kept distracting myself trying to figure out where/when the hell was self-flagellation just a thing some folks do in this small town etc.

  • Sorry, but when I read “Tears welled up in Henrik’s eyes as the man pulled up the hem of his robe” I thought, oh so it’s that kind of regional tradition is it?
  • If you say something like “A person, nondescript in every way except for their robes” you better describe those bitchin robes
  • ”a multitude of wings that seemed to burn but produce no heat.” - I needed more here, got caught up trying to envision this thing and didn’t have enough.

581 | Brand new ancestral tradition: I liked this but it felt a little lopsided? There’s this great evocative section at the end that describes the village and grandfather’s memories so well that it makes everything that came beforehand seem really empty by comparison. That may have been by design but it didn’t come off, at least not for me. Overall an enjoyable read, though.

581 | Which Came First?: I felt like this story bit off more than it could chew. I was disoriented from the top, which is fine, but the details didn’t paint a clear enough setting for me to feel grounded. I don’t mind this at all, especially in SF, but then I just start really focusing on the details to ensure I’m putting pieces together. When it happened here, I kinda lost the narrative, and then of course it’s over. I’m not sure it’s possible to build what you’re building here in <1000 words. There’s all this supportive historical stuff, and it’s all interesting, but it contributed to things just feeling overstuffed.

581 | The Advent of Television: I didn’t get this, really. I just reread it for the third time and still don’t really get it. I didn’t like having to Google/research the subject of a story just because I’m not super-familiar with Japanese food. I mean, fine, but ideally that’s the author’s job. I guess I get the transition from radio to TV as metaphor, but it didn’t hit for me.

“[Endo] had ideas to workshop. Innovations often took time…” wait what? There’s no evidence of any innovation, only that he’s suddenly done with beef. I get the intent, but the story jumps from Endo putting down one thing to having dreamed up some amazing idea five seconds later.

The ending was funky to me as well. I’m OK w six dumplings representing six years, but a) you emphasize them being in rows before turning around and giving them a linear meaning, and b) the six years thing comes out of nowhere and without much context, and c) that’s the last sentence, so I’m left with questions that the story was not intended to answer. These might all be issues on my end.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
The Well
1200 words

If a man’s soul is a kind of garden, and evil the snaking intrusion of bramble and thorn, then surely youth is the fertilizer, the catalyst. The soil is loose, thick with its own potential, welcoming all incursions without discretion or distinction.

It is these first roots that sink deepest, leeching as they burrow, draining as they take hold. It is these first roots that prove most difficult to remove.


They called it a “Celebration of Life”, but that wasn’t why most of us went. It was really a second ten-year class reunion to make up for the first one that sucked, a disastrous semi-formal fuckup at the Lions Club, dreamed up by some big-titted former HomeEc queen who’d binged too many Hallmark movies. This one was pleasantly economical: forty-five minutes at the gym, then drinking. I would guess that for every attendee who came for Mr. Hatfield, there were three who didn’t give a gently caress about him.

The guys were there, the Squad, the titans of Division III. Everyone’s the same. Lonny wears a toupée . Rick has a boat. Morgan manages a steakhouse. I am more successful than any of them, and over the afternoon deploy an arsenal of interested nods and supportive murmurs.

Jonah is unmarried and works at Lowe’s. There is no “moment” when we meet, no wordless communication. Hatfield does not surface in our conversation. It’s as if nothing happened.


I never knew why Jonah came to hate him. Mr. Hatfield was a great English teacher, special in that way. I’d had him junior year; he’d sensed my intelligence (I was quite sane then) but wisely chose not to pursue it. He gave me room to grow, which I did not take. I respected him for that.

In the five or so years leading up to his death, he’d achieved some modest celebrity for his poetry, even some light Pulitzer buzz, though it failed to coalesce.

In all, Hatfield published three collections of verse. I owned all three, in hardcover.


In the early spring of junior year, Jonah and I ambushed and abducted Mr. Hatfield from the teacher’s lot behind the soccer field, bound him with too much duct tape, and took him to a derelict cabin off Route 214 that had once belonged to Jonah’s uncle.

The abduction was clean. We wore masks. Hatfield was hooded. We took turns with the wheelbarrow up the old trail, a half-mile into the forest. The cabin was barely a building now, gently rotting into the earth on one side, the surrounding pines silent witness to its decay. Jonah hoisted Hatfield’s spindly frame onto his broad linebacker's shoulders and carried him to the barren hole of the old well, dragged aside the snow-rimed cover, and dropped him in.

It was probably twenty feet to the bottom. I assume something broke. Hatfield bellowed twice and then fell silent. We stayed a while, smoking in silence and listening to his ragged breath, and then we left. It was dusk.


To be clear, I hadn’t wanted to do any of it. Jonah joked, then speculated, then asked. Then he requested, and finally he threatened. I knew that he knew my secret, my atrocity from the winter prom party. In hindsight I should be grateful he would only use it once.


The next day we returned to the cabin, our feet crunching in the feathers of spring snow from the night before. He was down there, breathing, coughing. We tied one end of a sturdy rope to a nearby stump, and tossed the other end into the darkness. Jonah cocked his dad’s shotgun with an unmistakable crack as warning. And then we left.

Mr. Hatfield returned to class four days later, wearing a sling. A classmate observed that one of his hands was missing two fingernails. Yet he hadn’t said a word, and if he suspected us or anybody else, he gave no sign. I felt safe. It was a large class in a large school. Hilariously, Jonah didn’t even have him as a teacher, which only deepened the mystery. But I didn’t want to know. It was for something stupid, I was sure, some petty bullshit wrong. I needed to not know more than that; it was that purity of purpose, you see, the blind senselessness that opened my eyes.

Two years later, Hatfield published his first collection of poetry.


Jonah mentions him later, at the bar, if not by name. At my elbow, on the next stool: “Hey. gently caress him. You know?”

I nod, returning his gaze. Jonah swigs his beer. “He fuckin got his. And learned his lesson.” He offers his beer in toast; our bottles clink. “Fuckin teacher became the student.”

“That’s right,” I say. “That is right.” And believe it or not, that’s the last we talk about it.


There’s more small talk at the bar. Darci Donner hits on me; I imagine her limbless, mewling. I do so with no particular malice. She’s not her fault.

Jonah gets drunk and tells me about classmates he has hosed. He sounds lonely, his anger freshly fuelled with blue-collar bitterness. He is on the whole darker than I remember, more… interesting. Perhaps he’s killed, I wonder. Who knows? It’s not like there’s some secret handshake.


Of course I dragged him up there and dumped him in. Of course I did. Do you doubt me? Why? If you can’t believe that much, why are you even still reading?

The mundanities of his capture are, in a word, unspectacular. I won’t share those details here; you have not earned them. Should you really be curious, just ask yourself: how would you do such a thing, if you were smart, and strong, and very careful? The answer is rarely complicated or elusive, needing only the resolve of someone strong, and smart, and very careful. Most people really are all these things and don’t even know it. Most lack only the imagination.


The same trail, now faded to just a ghost of track wobbling through the ferns. The same wheelbarrow, in fact. The cabin has deflated to a sagging triangle. I lever the wheelbarrow over onto its side, and he tumbles out. I am quietly disappointed by Jonah’s flab, the flaccid bulk of his gut. This penance is, in at least one way, a mercy of sorts.

There are insults, threats, pleas as I drag him to the hole. Nothing to appreciate, nothing with teeth. He is not very interesting after all. After a few moments I slide the iron cover back in place; even the faintest sliver of hope would be a patina of additional cruelty, one that Jonah’s circumstances in my opinion do not merit. He is responsible for giving me the gift, but only I am responsible for accepting it. I eat half a Milky Way bar and toss the other half into the well, and hear it land with a shallow plop.

I smoke for a bit now, as we did then, and then leave, wondering how long he’ll last down there. If he’ll grow, as Hatfield did. If he’ll still be alive should I return. I will probably be back here. It’s a good spot, and he seems lonely.

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?


a bloody affair

A WWII-era nurse is transported in time to 2016 and meets a man who helps her discover the bonds of family and that the true meaning of Christmas is timeless.

1000 words

3rd Dec, 1941

They say war’s a bloody affair, but the truth of it is we never had nearly enough. Nurse Hetherington tells us of a new campaign back home, Blood for Britain, and we’re all praying for its success: waiting for supplies is an ongoing dilemma, the injured arriving quicker than their salvation.

To-night we received six young men, not a one of them over twenty-two. The youngest looked barely able to grow a moustache, his cheek smooth as a general’s easy promises. He woke well after dark, calling out for Sal, Sal—and then collapsed back into a fitful, uneasy sleep, but surely no worse than waking.

We asked, and none of his regiment knew of a Sal (Sally?). I hope his family knows her, and can pass on the knowledge that he’s thinking of her, that she’s bringing comfort in some way in such a time like this—I’d hope to know, at least.

3rd Dec, 2016

Hi Charles,

Just a quick note, pa’s in hospital again—I know you were having trouble getting time off this close to Christmas, but if you’re able to make the trip we’d all like you to be here, and I think it would help him knowing everyone’s nearby.

We’re at St Vincent’s Private this time, since dad made a fuss of how pa really should be eligible for the retired servicemen’s insurance. Honestly so far it feels much the same, only here they’re not making us pay for coffee. We’re not seeing as many nurses which is an improvement, they keep smaller rotations so there’s not as much confusion about who’s asked what (remember the whole thing about the blankets??). Of course Pa already has a favourite—her name’s Betty, I think she just reminds him of gran, but whatever makes him feel better.

Anyway! Let me know when you can make it. Guest room’s still free.

7 Dec, 1941

We lost three men today.

All from the same regiment, who are mourning like they’ve lost brothers. Their families will know to-morrow; to-night, the grief is locked in this room, raging within as the tempest gale roars without.

The youngest is taking it the hardest; when we were briefly alone, as I tried giving him his medication, he gripped my wrist and told me “no”, the others need it more than he does. I tried telling him, you’re all receiving the same care—the others didn’t pass for lack of medicine—but he wouldn’t let go until I promised to take care of the others first. (As much as I can—our blood supply’s still dwindling, quicker than any of us expected.)

Anne thinks it’s survivor’s guilt. Her husband’s a psychiatrist, stationed over in France, and he writes us advice regularly—but young men have been dying longer than men have been writing papers about it, and us women have always been there.

Listen to me! Lecturing my diary, while saying words on a page can’t fix a damned thing. No wonder they call me Belligerent Betty, when they think I can’t hear—

But there aren’t many places to avoid being heard in this place, and it sounds like someone’s awake again …

7 Dec, 2016

Hi Charles,

Got your message. Molly will pick you up at the airport.

No real change at this end. The doctors are still running tests, even though at his age—94 next Friday!—nobody’s expecting anything to change.

Betty’s been spending more and more time with him. She’s good at keeping his mind off things—she asks him a lot about the war, about what he remembers. He’s never told us much—most I ever heard him say was how it made him grow up, all that “make a man of you” noise. But she seems to know what to ask.

12 Dec, 1941

Ted’s still refusing aid. It takes four men to hold him down for each transfusion, as he thrashes about until the needle’s in and pumping—I never knew a sick man to fight so much, or so powerfully.

Last night he opened up about Sal. How they met a year ago. How she wanted a family, to grow old together back home. But, he said, he’d never grow old with her. No matter how much he wanted, she’d only ever remember him like this.

I said, stop talking as if you’re already dead.

He said, there are worse ways to leave someone behind.

What do you say to that? Anne would have been horrified: I couldn’t stand him any longer. Diary, forgive me, I let loose all the frustration, all the angst, all the anger I’ve kept warm like so much blood about to spill. Called him craven. A coward. Told him, if you’d fought the enemy as hard as you fight yourself, we’d all be home by now. That I wanted to help, but he needed to help himself.

But he only smiled, and he told me: my CO thought he was helping, too. His CO thought Ted had more to live for, and in his last moments, he did what he’d thought was right. Saving Ted, and damning himself.

I told him, your living isn’t what killed your CO.

He told me, no. His living is what allowed his CO to die.

I was leaving when he called me back. He asked, if I wanted to help

12 Dec, 2016

Hi Charles,

Sorry for the late notice. We’ve all been kept pretty busy this past week.

The funeral’s at Kingston. Hoping you can make it.

Funny story—while collecting photos, we found some from his time wounded in England. Pa was so young, without his beard, but what got us were the nurses; one was a dead ringer for Betty. No wonder he liked talking to her so much—probably reminded him of old times.

Anyway. Back to dealing with the blood-sucking lawyers…

Let us know if you can make it, yeah?

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.
Submissions are closed

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.
Judgement and Crits for Week #585

No negative mentions this week. While the temperature of TD horror has lowered from lukewarm Twilight Zone/Black Mirror plots to Tepid Treehouse of Horror, none of the stories stood out as worse than that baseline.

At the top end, three stories stood out. HMs go to Albatrossy_Rodent's Plump Little Goose and The Cut of Your Jib's Toe the Line, with the win and the blood throne going to rivitz for The Well


Beezus - The Gift That Takes:

The opener sets out most of an fairly movie-like premise, the real imaginary friend or guardian, while leaving open how dark the overall tale will be. Which is a lot. This one doesn't really go anywhere though, all premise and no follow through. 

The Cut of Your Jib - Toe the Line:

I'm not the opener works here, quite. Mold? This is shaping up to be something well within the twilight zone black mirror treehouse of terror realm, I think, but where it goes is dark enough to lift it out of that stratum. Very much a fairy horror story, too. The shift from sympathetic to monstrous is abrupt. I have to say I wouldn't have been able to resist the temptation to title this "Never Worn".

Albatrossy_Rodent - Plump Little Goose:

Another classic, fetal twins. And this is mostly effective, but the ending really falls flat. The future tense depersonalizes it, and the weird soul swap out of nowhere is just baffling, over-egging the pudding. The implication of the twin consuming the child and being born, cookoo-style, was at least as horrific.

derp - now and then:

Effective opening. The voice is also effective, and the story builds up a neat paranoid vibe but the payoff isn't really there. Horror can be built from regret and disappointment but you haven't gotten particularly close to it.

derp - loved:

DQ, multiple entries Are these linked again? At the least it's a variation on the same theme. Even less horror here though, but it works as a more grounded take on the same idea.

Chernobyl Princess - Christmas Lights:

Dialog isn't great here. But we have a functional bit of Christmas horror, Santa as a color vampire. Functional, but nothing that special, doesn't really hit hard enough.

Chili - Lord A Leapin':

Slow opening. Absolutely zero horror content apart from a jump scare I guess. The viewpoint shifts get a bit confusing, but otherwise an okay time loop yarn.

rivetz - The Well:

The metaphor sort of trails off into a thesaurus in the opening. The second section is stronger, pulls the reader in. The whole piece works except that first section. 

rohan - a bloody affair:

Solid opening.  But it's not really doing much with the inherently interesting but incomplete ghost nurse premise.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Crits for Week #585: Hellmark Classics
There was surprisingly little horror, sometimes even attempted, in this horror week. Generic advice: double check your introduction to see if it really is needed. Think about how to tap into the emotions and inner life of your characters, especially if one is the narrator. There was also substantial disagreement between the judges, so also remember this is one person’s take on the story and how to make it better.

Beezus - The Gift That Takes:
This story is from the perspective of a demon, and casts its acts of terror and cruelty as presents and acts of love. It’s casual with the horror, and one can easily paint the picture of what the woman (and he friends) are going through from the demon’s words. However, the omniscience and calm removed perspective of the demon also prevent tension and prevents the terror the other characters must be feeling from being palpable. The conceit of the story is quickly established, and quite clear, though this unfortunately leads to the story being predicable as well. The demon narrator is established as something of a narcissistic abuser (if analogized to a human), with a bit of monkey-paw-curling-action for all the perceived sins of the other characters. I think to hit harder, we need to care more about the woman/victim/summoner, and understand more about her. We know of her being harangued across the city and across the years, but not much else about her. For us to sympathize with her, or feel stronger horror, the reader should be able to relate to them more closely, which means painting a deeper picture of who she is. Alternatively, maybe you don’t want us to feel sympathy for the victims, since their lives are too rich, their minds too sinful. In which case, again, we need a deeper understanding of their sins that must be punished, with a focus on our main character.

The Cut of Your Jib - Toe the Line:

I’m not quite sure what this story is about, and I’m not sure the story knows either. The story starts with the language of high fashion; Cailin is established as a rich influencer who likes shoes. Then, we get a mysterious shopkeeper encounter, where Cailin loses hours of time and is distraught by being imprisoned in the shop and the shopkeeper knowing her name, but then very quickly chills out because: shoes. She then sees a door to a workshop that is also her room, and accepts what appears to be an offer to purchase the shoes, but the cost is that she has to learn how to make them herself. Then, we have a scene of Cailin (missed who was pregnant the first time through, might be clarified) Madison announcing she’s pregnant and a shoe-joke at the end. Post-discussion notes: Thranguy read this as the sister intending to use the baby to make the perfect shoes. If this is the case, idiot readers like me need more hints about the nature of this dark bargain, because I did not pick up on that at all. Continue reading with that in mind.

Laying out the story like that, perhaps you can see the inconsistency: First it’s fashion, then it’s spooky, then it’s humor. The first scene is at least connected; I don’t understand why the last scene exists at all, except for the baby-name joke. That joke comes at the expense of a coherent ending. Is her sister important? Her husband? It doesn’t seem so. What purpose, emotion, or message you want readers to leave with at the end of this story is unclear to me.

The story also suffers from badly needing an editing pass. There are changes in tense and interjections of second person that are not revisited, for example, “Embrace your insecurities, but use them to become a queen.” feels out of place to me. Advice to Cailin directed toward the reader abruptly ceases altogether. Another one is “Curiosity was compelling, and she aimed the canister….” Legally Blonde should be italicized as a title. That line also comes with an opinionated narrator, but then the narrator feels more generic later. Sub-basement should use a dash, not an equals sign. “Molyd” is not spelled like that. The sentence that starts with “When Callum offered a shoe…” has a dialogue punctuation error. Callum is referred to as “he,” but then later “They must have expected such a response….”
What direction you decide to take the story depends on what you want to achieve. I personally think the story of Cailin’s journey from a wealthy fashion influencer to a master craftswoman sounds the most interesting, and is currently the most represented possibility in the story. The voice needs to become consistent, and Cailin’s character better explored. Humor is fine, and might easily accompany a story about high shoe fashion, but currently the ending doesn’t fit the tone or story set by the beginning or the middle.

Albatrossy_Rodent - Plump Little Goose:

This does well in slamming down a bunch of creepy poo poo on the table. It mostly uses a strong voice to deploy a theme of consumption (glutton, lapping, suckling, hungry, ravenous), which it maintains throughout. The conceit of the story is that one twin ate the other in the uterus, and the second twin’s ghost (though that ghost seems to have a smaller body living inside the other) lives inside her, mad because all she gets are scraps of her twin’s life. The ghost then migrates to the unborn baby of the twin, with the story implying that this baby will soon devour the mother (eaten from the inside-out) and take her place as Twin Prime, with the other becoming the ghost in turn. The story is about primal greed, not intentional torment. There’s not really a lesson, or morale one can take, there doesn’t even seem to be a decision any character consciously makes (being too young when the event happened for the first twin, or underdeveloped mentally because they’re a ghost for the second), it’s just about body-horror and babies being gluttons. It certainly achieves the horror effect, something few stories managed this week, and does so well. Perhaps the theme of gluttony can be explored to be more intentional as the twin develops, or more can be done with the primal aspect of humanity. There does feel to me to be a lack of agency with the characters of the story, and I think that bothers me, though I can’t quite put a finger on what else feels missing. Maybe if the ending and swap has more to do with the sins of the first twin. However, if it’s intention is merely to be creepy, it succeeds on that merit.

derp - now and then

I have to critique both of these stories in reference to each other, since while they seem to be about different versions of two characters, they’re still the same characters and some similar themes pop up.

The protagonist has what I interpret to be some form of amnesia. They experience things mostly in the present, and have trouble with the past. The driving conflict of the story is a letter they (I don’t know if the gender of the narrator is established, but also don’t know that it’s relevant) finds: Should they open it, even though it’s going to be painful? The letter is linked to Simone, and their relationship to her. This story is mostly caught up in the details and moment of this event, and the story has a strong voice that accompanies this. One does get a sense of the torment of the narrator, and the mysteriousness of the contents are intriguing for the reader. Throughout this story, and the next one, the narrator describes Simone as a friend, but doing things that are clearly more about amor then amigos. Here, that theme is more subtle; in the next one it is not. The sense I got was that opening the letter reminds Nicky that they like Simone, and, like their drawings, they don’t feel perfect enough to actual say out loud. It seems at the end they have been too scared to say how they feel out of fear of being rejected, but are going to do it. The plot of the story, then, is about the anticipation of that moment, though the story also is concerned about its prose lending the character voice and a theme of past vs. present that I can’t quite untangle. I think this version of the story is too subtle, and doesn’t spend enough time with its themes; most of the story is in anticipation of them.

A tangent than anything: The line “he past scares me, almost as much as the future. My past and future stay behind walls of fog…” is then followed up by “I saw a light shining through the fog” and for a moment, I thought the clearing of the fog might show the narrator both the past and the future in a momentary glimpse, which I thought was a real neat premise. For another story, alas.

A final note: This story seems to have nothing to do with the prompt of the week, but I think you already know that. Which leads us to…

derp - loved:

Round 2! Despite your protestations, this story might actually be considered some form of horror because of the existential crisis the narrator faces. Well, that also might be stretching it. Here, the narrator does face a crisis, one much more rooted I think in powerful, overwhelming emotions, with tones of dread and self-hatred and, of course, that critical need humans have to be touched and loved.
Here, the story implies less amnesia and more that the narrator just doesn’t want to think about the past. Again, the story repeats the idea of objects reminding one of memories that would otherwise be inaccessible. For me, it’s enjoyable to remember, for them, obviously not, which tells us of how they feel about their past.

The narrator is, I would impolitely term, a coward, and this has an outsized effect on their miserable present. The refusal to open a Christmas card (which almost puts this story on prompt!), or to communicate with their friend (just friends lol!) makes me dislike them for personal reasons.

This then leads to Simone and Nicky communicating, and both plunging into crisis. The strong voice here is nice, but does interfere somewhat with clarity. The gist I get is this: Simone is in love with Nicky, but while Nicky doesn’t love Simone back, they do enjoy being doted on and loved. Nicky is profoundly self-deceptive in ignoring obvious signs of this love for years, and their decision to classify more-than-friends-things as friendship is ridiculous, even to them. Perhaps once upon a time I would have said this was unrealistic, but alas, it is not: People are indeed ridiculous. Nicky decides to maintain the status quo, even if they half-hate themselves, which relieves Simone, who seems unable to fall out of love with them (which is also Nicky’s fault, as they keep going along with this). Here, we get that existential crisis: What is love? What is the best path forward in life? What will be lost, from the decisions we make, or refuse to make? A strength of the story is that I can see the narrator grappling with this, and I think it is clear how emotionally distraught both characters are. Other stories this week might take note on how to have actual emotions happen in a story. It also seems that sexuality (gay vs. straight) is at play here, with Nicky not sharing Simone’s, though again I may have missed it but I don’t think Nicky is gendered and I’ve seen that name go both ways.

This is the stronger story, in my opinion, though there’s voice tricks in the first one you might bring here. Nicky repeats things three times in the first story, but it’s the second story where Simone says “Three times make it true.” There’s also this theme of the past being a fog, on accident in the first story, seemingly on purpose in the second, which doesn’t seem fully explored.

Chernobyl Princess - Christmas Lights:

This is a classic example of a story that needs to have the front end chopped off. Obviously, you need a bit of setup, but I found myself profoundly bored up until we got to “Nothing sustains…, ” and that perked me up. Most of the setup you currently have can be condensed or moved; there’s a lot of things that don’t line up with the core of the story, which I see as: themes of color, color’s relationship with joy, the relationships among Andy, Lauren, and Andy’s dad, and the color-soul-sucking ritual.

As with some other stories so far, the death (presumably) of Lauren doesn’t hit very hard because she’s not particularly emotional about it either. We hear Andy is nice, but don’t see it. We see the colors being messed with, but don’t really understand it until the end, and then it’s just—well, sometimes your boyfriend’s dad needs to steal your color-soul to replenish his lifeforce. It just happens! I guess somehow this is related to Andy wearing a thick scarf all the time, but presumably at some point Lauren saw him not wearing it, and anyways, the story doesn’t clarify the scarf thing. With the extra words from the condensed intro, I would delve more into the theme of color connecting to how Lauren feels about her situation, and deeper into who she is and who Andy is so what happens at the end has a sort of internal logic to it as a result of who they are and how they clash.

Chili - Lord A Leapin':

The strongest moment in this story is what I’ll term the jump-scare moment when Harvey suddenly has his name called out in the bathroom in a nightmare-logic event. The normalcy of his task helps set this up, though the introduction is slow and plodding, and I don’t see how all the information about the Angel Tree has anything to do with the scary part of the story (white portals and escaped child-versions and lost time). It seems like it should be because you mention the legend in Howler, but nothing about the legend. His alarm going off is confusing too, because I don’t know what you mean by “It was supposed to signal the end of his break.” A great deal of time (relative to the story size) is spent on various asides, actions like slowly unlocking the door and traveling through the rec center, and I’m not sure what purpose they have in the story. Trim the fat. Once you get the white portal, basically everything Harvey does seems compelled, and I don’t get much of a sense that he’s particularly scared (for example, he apparently blacks out for a half-hour after being tackled by a kid and doesn’t seem perturbed by this? Or if he doesn’t remember it, isn’t bothered by the lost time?). And the stakes are: The present for the tree doesn’t get fulfilled? Not a strong start, and not a strong ending; I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from the ending, or what the story is really about.

rivetz - The Well:

This story has a variety of issues. Probably, it needs to focus on one of the two components it introduces: Growth through bad things happening to you (English class, being thrown down a well), or the narrator’s rejected love of Jonah, though a longer version could certainly find room for both. First, some nitpicks: There’s some clarity issues with the prose: the sentence that starts with “It was really a second…” is unclear about which reunion was a disaster with both the presence of the second and the result of the first meeting being muddled together. Are the titans of division III the same three that hate Hatfield? Because then Jonah is added, giving us a fourth. Many of the people in the reunion, and the narrator’s superior status to them, seems like unneeded fluff.

Now let’s tackle the theme. The story starts with a garden metaphor. I would not start the story here. The story should start with us learning this is Hatfield’s celebration of life, and how the narrator feels about the teacher’s passing (given he has all his poetry), and the garden metaphor where the narrator explicitly tells us he has not grown as a person can be intertwined there. The metaphor can also be strengthened; at the end, the narrator wants to see if Jonah will ‘grow’ like Hatfield presumably did, but doesn’t have the visceral details of vines and thorns and soil; those can be added, and the way the narrator relates people to plants can also be used to tell us more about him and his weird-rear end brain. The narrator is extremely boring and unlikeable. One reason is that, despite being involved in very emotional events (such as kidnapping and reading 3 books of poetry), he experiences basically no emotions the entire time. He’s just edgy and annoying, and lines like "Why are you even still reading?" might in advisably remind the reader they can just hit da bricks, which they may well do. The narrator even lampshades that he has not grown earlier in the story (though he also later mentions the well taught him some sort of lesson, so one or the other needs to be explored). If this is the critical theme, then the narrator needs to explicitly refuse to grow, like he did back in high school, or embrace growing, maybe through hardship or trauma since he seems to think that’s how that works, which I would make the climactic moment of the story. Currently, anything like that feels absent to me.

Next, the plot. I'm having trouble suspending my disbelief about the abduction, and the result. Even a dumb high schooler with blackmail over him is probably not going to help him abduct and torture an English teacher he likes without even knowing why. Also a spindly old dude with a broken arm is not getting out of a 20 ft well under his own power via rope, and a day at the bottom in freezing temperatures (plus more in the freezing mountains) would likely be lethal. Next section is "I dragged him up there and dumped him in..." using pronouns so we don't know who. This isn't heightening tension, this is just annoying. It obviously isn’t Hatfield. The cruelty seems inexplicable, which could be a theme, but then it would need to feel more intentional. This plot doesn’t really elicit horror so much as bafflement. Again, part of this may be who you chose to focus on. Honestly, Hatfield’s story is probably more interesting than the current narrator’s; he experiences actual terror. Like the demon story this week, placing the narration with the entity who has power diminishes the emotions we feel, compounded by the narrator not being particularly expressive. Horror is most often rooted in powerlessness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more of the narrator’s inner life, even if his exterior is stoically smoking a cigarette.

Post-discussion notes: I should mention of all the stories, this actually told a horror story, which was a rare sight indeed this week. It does have a coherent theme (growth) and a consistent voice as well.

rohan - a bloody affair:

This is another story where I’m wondering: What is it about? First, let’s tackle the low hanging fruit:

At first I thought the first entry was a letter, but it’s later revealed to be a diary. This is confusing. The letters themselves have no sign-off! This is a missed opportunity to develop characters and their relationships, though, the fact that it doesn’t actually matter (we’ll get to that in a bit) is its own problem.

Given the huge time jump and no intros, the first mystery I saw in the story was "who wrote the letters" which was a red herring for half the entries. However, baffling your reader into incapacity is not going to keep them interested in the story. A nitpick: How do we have Blood for Britain back home (implying a British narrator) who then has a psychiatrist friend stationed (implying part of the service) in France in 1941? D-day is 3 years later, bucko. Alright, Betty is the nurse and writer for the 2016 hospitalized grandad, who also must be pushing 94, so I guess the conclusion implies she's a vampire or something? This isn't a particularly horrifying revelation. I don’t really care about grandpa either. Is he in danger? I dunno, I don’t think vampires need blood only from their regiment; she ought to be able to pilfer it from the bags there. Also, the grandpa, Charles, and family aren’t established as characters in any meaningful way, so I don’t care about them. I don’t experience horror from Ted’s thing either. Actually it's sort of impressive to have no horror in a ww2 diary written from the perspective of a nurse.

So… yeah. What is this about? What’s the takeaway? If it’s the revelation that a blood-related supernatural entity is threatening grandpa, this needs to be maybe from the perspective of a grandkid as they figure out things. Or it could be Betty’s perspective, but then we need to have her feelings and experiences be more visceral, or the focus of the story, and then we also need to maybe get a more concrete ending. How does she feel about becoming a vampire, after seeing Ted’s reaction? So the story isn’t without possibility, it just needs drastic revisions to work.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Week 586: Winner Takes All

October is upon us, and as glorious as we all found that little drunken stumble down Halloween Lane last week, it's time to celebrate another hallmark of autumn: sports. The National Basketball Association kicks off the 2023-24 season this evening, the baseball playoffs are in full swing, the NFL is gearing up for the stretch run... it's all about winning, folks.

You have 1200 words to describe your protagonist's participation in a competition. It does not necessarily have to be a sport/game, nor does it have to be an officially recognized event. It does have to be really, really important to your character(s). If their participation in this event could be safely characterized as obsessive, you are doing it right. Bonus points for somehow turning this into horror, but this is not required. Note: competitions solely against oneself are strictly prohibited - your character(s)'s motivation needs to be accomplishing [x] goal better than somebody else.

1200 words, my gladiators. You can bag an additional 200 words by requesting a flash, which will take the form of the opening setting for your story. GO! GO! GO! GO! GO! Let'sgo-let'sgo-let'sgo-on three ONE! TWO! THREE! THUNDERDOME

Signups due by Friday at 11:46 pm PST
Submissions to be posted by Sunday at 11:37 pm PST

The Cut of Your Jib
beep-beep car is go
Chernobyl Princess

Uranium Phoenix

rivetz fucked around with this message at 22:19 on Oct 29, 2023

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

ty judges

in, flash; get weird

watched this feat of silliness over the weekend

beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?

I’m in

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat

The Cut of Your Jib posted:

in, flash; get weird
The engine room of a nuclear submarine

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, flash

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?



:toxx: to get crits for 582 done before judgment for week 586 has been rendered

:toxx: to get crits for weeks 571 and 555 bloody hell done in the next week

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat

Thranguy posted:

In, flash
The Ross Ice Shelf

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:


Sep 5, 2011

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome



Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Submissions closed

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
rivetz did you mean signups :v:

There is a NaNoWriMo thread for those who are interested in participating!

beep-beep car is go
Apr 11, 2005

I can just eyeball this, right?

240 hours of LeMans
1132 Words

Whoever decided that they would do a Standing Start had to have been certifiable.

I lined up next to the other pilots. We were all suited and on bottle air, but we still had to run across the apron, get into our racers, run checks, light the engines, and take off. It was a race between doing things fast and doing them safe. Fast usually won out.

I looked down the line; there were twenty of us. The fastest qualifiers were placed the furthest down the apron and had to run the furthest. The idea being that everyone already knew they were fast, so they were handicapped slightly against the slower qualifiers. My racer was right in front of us, so you can guess how well I did qualifying.

My position as dead last in qualifying might have been a blessing in disguise; I don’t know if I could have run any further in this getup. I had taken the suit training, I knew how to doff and don it backwards and forwards, upside down, and under water, but they didn’t really train running in it. Neon orange and covered in sponsors, I was quite a sight. Mom had said I looked like a traffic cone that had put on airs.

We had received the final tone while I was looking down the line. One minute. Everyone’s face snapped towards the lights on the gantry. Two red, and one green. Instead of locking my gaze at the lights I looked at my ship. Sleek and sharp, it stood pointed almost straight up, practically reaching for the sky without me. The cockpit
was open and vapor curled around the engines in their blast pit.

The left most red light lit, and there was another tone in my suit. Some people crouched down, like they were going to run the one hundred meter dash. I stayed upright. I didn’t trust my ability to get back up. The middle light lit and people instinctively leaned forward.

Then the green light lit, a canon fired, and we heard the go tone.

I took off towards my ship, shuffle running as fast as I could in my bulky spacesuit. I risked a glance to the side and others had already reached their ships, further away. If I did this again, I was going to have to practice running in this drat thing.

Up the steps two at a time until I reached the platform and then up a ladder another 3 meters until I was parallel with my cockpit. I carefully stepped on my seat back, and settled in. As the suit connected with the racer, I started running checks. Engines, fuel, avionics…

A rumble in the distance; someone else had lit their engines already. drat. Was I going too slow?

A flash of white to my right, immediately blocked by my canopy. Someone’s drive had cooked off! They probably tried to ramp up too fast without letting the turbopumps warm. Maybe I wasn’t going too slow after all.

That wasn’t going to stop the race though, explosions brought in the crowds, and everyone signed a waiver. The team would mourn the pilot somewhat and mourn the loss of a multi-million credit ship more and then pick another pilot from the pool. There was never a shortage of pilots.

Checks came back green, except for fuel pressure. That was a touch high, so I vented while I spun up the turbopumps. Frigid white clouds billowed out from my racer as the excess fuel was purged. In a flash of inspiration I hit the starter early. The excess fuel flared almost like the drive explosion, but only for a moment. I bet that got the crowd’s attention. As the flames burned off, I remained, engine howling. Giving them a show is just as important as winning.

Well, almost as important.

The engines declared their desire to leave, and the racer shuddered and strained against the platform. My eyes were locked on the pressures and I throttled up slowly while still connected. Some racers let go as soon as they could. Waiting meant that I wasn’t the first to leave, but I would leave with a higher delta-v. I counted one, two, three, four agonizing seconds before I slammed the platform release button. The multiple booms of the exploding bolts preceded the lurch as I soared into the sky, flying as if the very Earth repelled me.

Boosting away, I had a moment to check the radar. I wasn’t last to leave, but I also wasn’t first. Decidedly mid pack was a fine place for a newbie like me. I wasn’t out to win today, I was just out to survive and race again.

It would be nice to win though.

Another flash to my left. Someone made it into the air before exploding. My ship trilled at me and tried to get my attention that debris was incoming. I glanced at the prediction and decided I could power out of the way. “Come on baby, you can do it.” I pushed the throttle against the stop at the end. I felt the click as the limiter switch made contact and I ran past full power. My board lit up with warnings that I was exceeding design specifications, but so long as I throttled down after I passed the debris I should be fine.

Sure enough, the remains of the other racer fell into my flight path after I had left. Throttling back to one hundred percent, I settled back. We weren’t going just to orbit, this was a direct injection trajectory. Luna and back, winner takes all.

There were sixteen of us that made it this far. Two destructions and two non fatal failures. About what I expected. The crew chief radioed up that my fuel dump stunt was a hit, and I had at least fifteen percent more viewers than the pilot before me. If I could keep the numbers going up, it wouldn’t matter if I won. eyeballs were the goal here.

I reached the cutoff. I dithered for just a moment and then shut down the engines. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have enough fuel for course correction burns and the final braking thrust to re-enter the atmosphere, two hundred and forty or so hours later. After shut down, I confirmed the engine cold and safe, and checked my position.

I blinked and checked again. I was third! Between throttling up to get out of the way of the debris and keeping the engine running another second, I had pulled away from the pack. My radio crackled to life.

“Excellent work kid! Keep this up, and we’ll all go home happy. But don’t get too complacent. The race has only just begun.”

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat

Sitting Here posted:

rivetz did you mean signups :v:

There is a NaNoWriMo thread for those who are interested in participating!
That is, in fact, what I meant!

Sep 5, 2011

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


The greatest tosser in all Europe…

1198 words

Maybe in the whole world. This is the tale of Benedikt Angenardt, his rise from village tosser to tossing champion of Saxony, and how it ended.

He was the eighth child of a poor knight, who paid taxes and rent in kind to the bishop of Eichstätt, and he grew up in a fortified farm everyone called The Castle. As a child he heard tales, violent and maybe fake, of his ancestors’ valiance in the Crusades, of Bavarian tourneys and Tuscan battles. His brothers and he wore clods and helped with the harvest, fished in the ponds, hunted in the woods and got into scrapes. They were big men around the village.

When he was sixteen  Benedikt and one of his brothers competed at a small fox-tossing contest in Eichstätt, just six pairs tossing three foxes each in the bishop’s gardens. The modest audience was stupefied at how high the brothers tossed their foxes. While most other pairs’ animals, after being tossed, fell nimbly to the ground and quickly escaped into the bushes, the Angenardts tossed theirs so high and violently that all three of them were knocked or crippled upon crashing on the green, and the brothers compounded their success by clubbing them to death with joyful cruelty. The creatures’ agony was described in lurid terms in gazettes as far as Cologne.

The next year he tossed foxes in Ingolstadt and Regensburg, and was the clear winner each time.   In 1749 he competed in Nuremberg, Pilsen, and Bayreuth, where he tossed seven hares and a badger. In 1750 he drew crowds in Prague and Nuremberg again. His impressive exploits were exaggerated further throughout the Empire. A few women fainted just from watching him toss.

By then his brother had started to act more as an impresario, hiring local talent to team up with that promising young tosser. Benedikt’s many triumphs justified the investment. Although he was strong, there were stronger men around, and he was too lazy to practice much. But he had a marvelous instinct for flicking his wrist deftly, at just the right moment, so that the sling would tense suddenly and fling the animal high.

Eventually he caught the eye of Elector Augustus, who, while personally obese and gouty, was trying to recreate the grand tossing contests of his youth, where his father had once demonstrated his own herculean strength by tossing foxes and boars with boisterous ease. Benedikt became the Elector's champion, and his brother was sent home with a slightly generous remittance.

For about two years Benedikt acquitted himself well in the Elector's service, setting several tossing records. Voltaire, whose Prussian master loathed the Elector, immortalized him in a bilious epigram where he made Angenardt rhyme with Renard.

He grew proud and fat, indulging in food and drink, but never much in women. Serious tossers often eschew carnal congress, lest it diminishes their performance. But Benedikt, frankly, did not even think of that. He was just too dull and unimaginative to seek pleasures beyond the absolutely obvious and immediate. Eating, drinking, sleeping late were his true passions.

The one peculiar romance he engaged in was with the landgravine H***, an anemic beauty who never met him, much less attended one of his shows. In fact she despised tossing philosophically, as all forms of violence except tyrannicide. Nevertheless, sensational accounts of Benedikt's tossing in the papers had inflamed her languid imagination. She wrote him two letters, comparing him to a conquering Diomedes, professing admiration for his person (Diomedes of Argos) and abhorrence for his career (Diomedes of Thrace), and finally hinting, much too subtly, that their relation might develop if he abandoned tossing and undertook the short journey to meet her. To each letter she appended some abstruse poetry about the rigors of love.

Benedikt had someone read him the letters, and someone else show him a picture of the landgravine in the Elector's gallery. The tone of this one-sided correspondence transported him with perplexed longing. He dreamt of moonlit strolls with her, of the philosophical scent of her skirts, of her eyes as dark as the blackest paint.

Yet no more came of it before his fateful last tossing.

It was in the Elector's gardens, a magnificent affair amid a whole day of festivities. Benedikt had been paired with the Elector's nephew, a decorated officer, medievally stout. They won almost all the rounds, tossing foxes, badgers, and even lynxes marvelously. Their beasts soared and fell brutally, splattering the gravel with gore, filling the air with the crackings of their bones and their cries of agony. It was splendid entertainment!

Then came the main event. Drums rolled. The other tossers withdrew. Benedikt and his partner pulled on the ends of their wide fabric sling, to remove its folds, and waited. Servants brought a large iron cage, opened it frightfully and ran away. A minute passed. Then a scabby, skinny lion crept out of the cage slowly.

He had been captured months before in the Atlas, and brought to Dresden by cargo ship and then chariot, in a cage covered by an oiled cloth against the rain and cold. For long stretches of time he had refused all food, wasting away amid his own filth. His hair thinned, sores formed where his legs rested on the iron bars. Finally he had developed a cough which nearly killed him, and left him weak and wheezing. The Elector had imagined using that regal, dying beast as a grandiose finale. Nobody before had tossed a lion.

Yet the creature only crept forward briefly, then lay on the gravel and would not budge. His ribs were apparent, his mane matted and gray, his eyes dull. Not even anger or hope of escape moved him anymore.

After a while a game warden appeared with a bleeding chicken, to bait him toward the tossers. The lion growled feebly and limped forward, looking as broken as if he had already suffered a Bellerophonic fall. When he had stepped fully on the sling, Benedikt and the other man pulled fast and tossed him into the air. The lion fell and died, to little applause. Embarrassed nobility shuffled away to the banquet and fireworks.

It needed not be the end of the tosser's career. After all, he had played his own role well. But the poor knight's son looked at the dead lion for a long time. When servants came to dispose of the body, he just walked away, and that was it. He left the court and then the city. Nobody stopped him, or even noticed for a few days.

Augustus, the Elector, was growing old, sickly, and disinterested in tossing. Soon the Seven Year War took his mind off it altogether.

Some say Benedikt rejoined the landgravine, although I do not believe him subtle enough to become a secret lover. Some say he went back to his father's estate, where the remnants of his earnings delayed his family's ruin by a generation. One thing is certain, and easy to confirm: he never tossed again, and his exploits remained unequaled. Fox tossing, anyway, entered a period of decline throughout Europe, and few young people today enjoy the story of a good tosser.

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:

Flare and the Silicon Spire
1119 words

For the first three days of the race, AJ and Flare didn’t see any of their competition. They tried not to let it lull them into a false sense of security, the Silicon Spire’s announcement that it would grant one team entrance to its mechanized paradise had been broadcast far and wide, there was no way they were the only ones vying for such a coveted placement. No way they were the only ones desperate enough to cross the barren wastelands for the promise of freedom.

In the evening of the third day they heard gunfire. It was far enough away that Flare didn’t need to interpose its metal bulk in between the sound and AJ’s frail, human body, but it did so anyway. The gunfight didn’t last long, not half so long as they did back home. “Raiders,” AJ guessed. “Dust pirates in flashy V12 monsters.”

Flare shuddered, its suspension creaking. “I hope not, they’d make me spare parts.”

“You’d smash ‘em. I know it.” AJ cracked open a ration pack and leaned against Flare’s tire. The contact was important. Without a driver, Flare had about an hour before its consciousness would start to stutter and slow. After three it’d be inert, dormant, trapped in a state not enough like dreamless sleep for AJ to be comfortable subjecting his friend to that fate. Trucks could return from dormancy after a day, even two. No truck had returned after three days.

AJ’s dad had told him that it was because trucks didn’t have a real soul to stabilize and support the consciousness. They borrowed from their driver’s soul. His own truck had crashed a little while before AJ had turned three, and nobody in the family could deny that a piece of the man had gone with it.

They found the bodies the next day. Two inert trucks and their drivers. Their gas rations were stolen, but their parts were intact. Not dust pirates, then. AJ dithered for a moment, wondering if he should return the deceased drivers to their cars, but they didn’t have time.

All they had was speed and cleverness, and here in the flatlands speed was easy. AJ kept them pointed toward the Spire. They passed other racers, their trucks mere colorful specks on the horizon. They were feeling confident, positive they’d outraced most of the competition, as they approached the river.

Then someone blew the bridge.

They were too close. Chunks of ancient masonry fell like rain, forcing Flare to dodge wildly, speeding upriver to get out of the blast zone.

“What the heck was that!?” AJ shouted. He stood up, poking his head through the sun roof and looking back at the devastation behind them. “What… How are we going to get across now?”

“We’ll think of a way,” Flare said, grimly. “Sit down, you’re gonna get hurt.” When AJ was back in his seat it whipped around and drove back toward the bridge to assess the damage.

A twelve meter section was simply gone from the middle of the bridge. AJ risked a petrifying hour away from Flare to wade into the river to check its depth and determined that even if the water level wasn’t too high for the truck, the soft mud below would never hold its weight. He returned, muddy, dejected, and half drowned, and collapsed in the tailgate.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Flare whispered.


“You think this is the same team that shot the other racers?”

AJ shrugged. Then said, “Yeah. Probably.”

“We’re so close. I don’t want to give up,” Flare said. “Is there a way to use my winch? Make a bridge?”

A small, soft voice spoke up from a bed of weeds. “You’re too heavy for ropes. You’ll need a pontoon bridge.”

AJ whipped around, suddenly wishing he’d picked up a gun somewhere along the way. Flare revved its engine, strobing its headlights threateningly, but the only thing illuminated was a small, probably female person in filthy overalls. She looked around the same age as AJ. She was clutching something shiny, a broken mirror, and she didn’t look at him when she spoke. “Of a raft. That’s what we were going to do if the bridge was out. If they hadn’t broken Keema.”

AJ glanced at Flare. “Is Keema your truck?”

“Was,” she held up the mirror. “They blew its tires and it went into the river. I can swim but its engine got swamped. This is all I’ve got left.”

They sat there, quiet, for a few moments. She looked hollow, the way AJ’s dad had looked. Something in her died with her truck. “Do you want to come with us?”

She shot him a distrustful look. “Why?”

AJ looked at the ground. “There’s a better life behind the Spire. Even if it isn’t with you, it’s better than the wasteland. And an extra pair of hands will make getting Flare across the river a lot easier.”

She looked at Flare, then back up at AJ. She shrugged. “Sure. I’m Gabby.”

Even with Gabby’s help, it took hours to assemble a raft that could float them all across. The moment the pushed off from shore was one of the most harrowing moments of AJ’s short but eventful life. Every ripple, every splash, seemed like it could topple them over, but Gabby’s engineering was solid. Looking back, a line of trucks and drivers had accumulated at the riverbank. Some were building their own rafts. Some were fighting amongst themselves. Gabby watched them all fade into the distance, dispassionate, as AJ stepped on the gas and spurred Flare on toward the Spire.

Dawn of the next day showed them the Spire on the horizon. When the sun was high, they saw the final team. The guns and the explosions made AJ assume that they were adults. But as they pulled alongside them, neck and neck for the finish line, AJ saw it was a kid like him. There was a gun on the seat next to the other driver, but they didn’t make a move toward it, fixated, just like AJ, on the finish line.

The other truck swerved, trying to ram them. Flare didn’t bother dodging, but put on a burst of speed and let the truck clip its back fender. They spun, and AJ slammed it into reverse. Gabby whooped and flipped the other kid off as they gained distance. She cried out an alarm when the other driver pointed his gun at them, but he must have used up all his ammo, because nothing happened. AJ and Flare whirled back around. The Spire was before them, under a mile away. Their competition was hot on their heels.

All they had left was speed.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

Week 586 Submission

flash: the engine room of a nuclear submarine

Nuclear Subs
1400 Words

Lieutenant Commander John ran the recruits through the basics in that disaffected drone of rote memorization. “This is the engine room, the heart of any Nuclear Subs. Here you will do the work that keeps the ship afloat.”

Mike interrupted. “Sir, isn’t this a submarine?”

LC John shifted his dead eyed gaze for a long moment then continued. “Slicer is off limits until you receive a training certification. Rolls must come out of the oven and onto the hot racks as soon as the klaxon sounds. Cheese: two slices per six inch. Extra? Upcharge. I have to weigh the cheese bins, so don’t make your life harder than it already is. All other toppings, put as much on as the customer asks. Read this.”

The laminated sheet was some cover-yer-butt like always put a wet floor sign out after mopping. LC John wandered into the back, leaving Mike with the other. “Hi . . . Mike.”

“You always going to be a smartmouth? I’m Richard.” He looked like beef jerky, like Iggy Pop if Iggy lived hard. He’d say he was dry aged—sober for three years now.

Mike was what you’d expect in a sub shop. A gangly junior in high school with a face that might have been greasier than the fryer. He did a little Fortnite and had a zero-subscriber twitch, no real clique he fit into at school, either.

A month of probationary training yadda yadda blah blah, everyone settled in.

So Mike and Richard became sort-of friends. Richard bought him a vape pen for breaks, but second hand vape really wasn’t the same. Richard had to quit smoking due to his COPD, so even the post-NA-meeting hang was another kick in the gums. He stayed ratcheted with the pot of Folgers that no customer ever ordered.

Now in that month there were a gang of seniors that regularly stopped in after sportsball practice. Mike was able to run emergency deep and avoid having to wait on them, but today it was just him and Richard on the line.

They mostly stayed ship shape until Dick Stearns, captain of the “insert sport here” team made it to the prep station. If Richard was a sliver of jerky, Dick was a Chianina a full 20 hands tall. And while it might be embarrassing to a Mike to be nicked Dick, Stearns was the type to cock a smile when all the cheerleader groupies drawled out a, “Heyyy, Dick.” and glanced you know where.

He looked at Mike as Mike mumbled, “What are your orders,” and Dick was matter-of-fact. “Gimme a double order of Torpedoes and a Bay of Pigs, Typhoon Class.” Mike dropped the torps—processed potato cylinders a little more mash than tater tots—into the deep fryer that sat under the bowdlerized kitsch sign reading, “Dang! The Torpedoes!” and got to work on a 12” Cubano. It was Sysco pulled pork, nothing braised or slow cooked in-house about it. Even the day old stuff still smelled more like the plastic vacuum bag than actual food.

Mike looked up after lining the bun with swiss and pickles then ice cream scooping some meat product, and Dick went “Uhh, tomatoes, black olives, hallypenyos.” Easy peasy. “Uh, depth charge sauce.” Mike drizzled the “aioli” from squeeze. “More.”

“More. Make it wet. That’s how I like it.” He laughed and the cronies followed. The first day’s lesson, unlimited toppings.

Mike squeezed until the dressing ran into his gloves. He set it down on the waxed paper and began to wrap.

“Hold up, zitface. That’s too wet.”

“C’mon, man.”

“Make. It. Again.”

Mike redid the sub. Dick did a stomp-fake-punch and shouted, “Two for flinching,” and the goon squad were finally gone.

Vape break. “Man, I don’t know why those guys do that.”

Richard considered. “Bullies are bullies. It’s their nature. They might grow out of it, or they might not. Someone has to run car dealerships.”

“Not me, and obviously not you. In a perfect world, people like that wouldn’t exist.”

“You could . . . do something about it.”

Mike puffed and considered. “Like what?”

“They come in every day. You make their food. Connect the dots.”

“You mean?”

Richard pulled a bottle of Ducolax from his satchel. “Liquid laxative. It comes with the territory, both getting old and well, a lifetime of opiates. Sauce them up next time.”

“I couldn’t. I can’t-”

“Mike, we’ll make a game of it. I’m a pretty good judge of character, let’s see how much we can get away with. We load up some special sauces and only do it to evil people. Whaddya say?”

So began the race to the bottom, as it were.

When Dick and his crew came in for their post-practice sandos, Mike’s heart beat through his apron. Richard held up a hand indicating that Mike should wait. Sure enough the sandwich got made twice, and on the third go, Richard nodded. Mike pulled the special sauce and drenched it.

The boys boothed in situ and ate until Dick made a hasty exit. Mike thought he would die the entire time, then it was done. Dick and crew came back the next day, and again and sixpoops none the wiser.

Richard brought supplies, and they branched out. Cop psychos were verboten since they could and would test and tiktok. But any COs from county (and Richard recognized most), or the rightwing gun nuts got a dose of ipecac vinaigrette. High school sphere like Dick and crew got laxxed. They could grow and change. Richard pitched a business card fishbowl for free sandwiches to LC John and he ran it up to Captain Franchisee. They now had a bevy of targets.

Fast food scheduling and actual school days tried to get in the way of fun and revenge, but it was suddenly a weigh-in as Richard handed off the day shift to Mike with a Post-it of tallies. It’d be easier after work to hit marks, but harder to get away with it.

But the tallies built, bank VPs and landlords and car dealers and all the usuals got a little dose of retribution. And Mike slapped a Post-it of his own each night on the inside pocket of Richard’s apron.

Dick and the gang. A little later than usual. LC John was in the back and Mike was on his own out on the spread. It was the usual repeat. Waste a wet sandwich and make one with the ‘good stuff.’

Dick paused. “Hold on, we eat this together.” Dick took the non-spicy sandwich and he slid the tainted one to Mike. Oh crap, the jig is up. “Eat it.”

“I can’t eat on the clock. Look—there are customers waiting. If you, uh, if you don’t want it then you can just go.”

“Eat it, nerd.”

Mike unwrapped the sub and stared at it. “I’m working, c’mon, man.”

“Eat it.”

Mike raised the sandwich to his lips and welled up. “I can’t.”

“You fuckin gently caress.” Dick reeled back and punched him square in the nose. Mike flopped backwards into the bread racks. LC John tumbled out from the hand-worked accounting and shouted. A 30-year old assistant manager was enough to scare off even some football teens.

Mike finished the shift upside down in John’s office with tissues stuffed up his nostrils, soothed by LC John’s placations of, “You’re not going to sue, right?”

Mike wrote a Post-it to Richard for the morning. “Things went nuclear. Maybe it’s time to call it off.”

The next day overlapped enough to share a puff on the stick, and Richard even accepted when Mike offered, though it sent him into a coughing fit. Mike relayed the events.

“I have one last trick up my sleeve, just wait and see.”

Mike wasn’t in the mood to respond.

The next shift, Mike came in and LC John asked if he could cover Saturday. Richard wouldn’t be back.

Mike’s tongue thunked. They were caught. “Is it about the sauce?”

“What? No. Richard sliced the tips off his fingers in the shaver. I told you you can’t use the deli slicer until you’re certified. What do you mean sauce?”


LC John didn’t have the time or care to enquire. When Mike checked his apron pocket there was a baggie that looked like crack and one last note. “Pulled apart a metric poo poo ton of smoke alarms. Americium. Will gently caress up anybody's day—permanently. GL”

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.
The Race of the Century

1262 words

Flash:The Ross Ice Shelf

All my life I've been running. They call me The Streak. Sergeant Strong's little joke, after my first run burned off my uniform and hair. I didn't get it. "Wait about twenty-five years" he said. They got me a get-up that could hold up to the friction, eventually. The War has been over for almost a decade, but when I'm not running I'm crouched still at the starting position. Jessica's here in thick furs, shivering beneath them from the Antarctic chill. Lenny is trying to keep a cigar lit. Stribog is beside me, stocky, muscled, sculpted. I've always wondered if he or I am faster. I beat him to Berlin, but that wasn't a fair contest. We started from different points. There were distractions in both our paths. Always wondered. Thanks to Lenny I'm about to find out. Vice-President Nixon fires the starter pistol. Dozens of reporters snap their pictures.

Did you know there's a pre-flash, a few microseconds of red light before the white of the real flashbulbs? It's too quick for the human eye to notice. I can. We're off.

The race is a five point circuit, the Ross Shelf to the other three northern edges of the continent at 90° intervals, counterclockwise, and a stop at the pole between Abbot and Fimbulsen. Flags to pick up. Cameras to make sure nobody cheats. Like either of us would. This is for charity.

Things didn't go well for me, after the war. A lot of the other guys, they went straight from soldier to hero. Fighting crime. I tried that. Didn't work out. I've never been much of a fighter. In the field I carried a gun, or put bombs where they needed to go. Not exactly transferable skills. I can't punch worth a drat, no matter how much I tried. There are some things I can do with speed, but they're all as lethal as a gun, blunt as a bomb. No good at subduing anyone. But what else could I do? Not much call for couriers when I wasn't much faster than a telephone call. Can't deliver transplant organs when my acceleration turns them into jelly in the cooler. Thank God for Jessica, who insisted I try it with a cow heart from the butcher first.

We're pacing each other for the first leg. This isn't a sprint, this isn't the time to go all-out. I've never seen him run up close like this before. His legs are shorter than mine, but he's matching my stride anyway, moving in a series of small bounds.

The press loved my name. Always good for a headline. 'Yellow Streak' when I didn't volunteer for another war in Korea. 'Red Streak' when the House Un-American Committee called me up. Some of them had the courtesy to end the headline with a question mark. And 'Blue Streak' when I lost my temper with them. That was when Jessica insisted we hire someone to deal with that, when I met Lenny.

We start to play at racing for real, on the way to the pole. I take the lead for a few eyeblinks, then he surges forward. I draft behind him, then make a move over rough ice. I'm smiling, and so is he. We only met once, during the war, and once when Lenny was setting this exhibition up.

Did Jessica know? I think so. By then the terms of our arrangement were fairly clear. Separate bedrooms. The money, always under her control. It was hers to start with. I had been faithful, not out of loyalty but fear. I knew she had her lovers, too. Mostly women. She had them in the lounge on the other side of the house, where I wouldn't have to hear. I had been faithful, until Lenny. We were only together once, my third time ever, only a clumsy schoolyard encounter and a drunken visit to the back room of a French brothel during the war before him. After, much more. Lenny found me lovers, ones who could be discrete, even after the affair had run its course.

The dragon attacks us on the way to the Davis Sea. White, huge, unreasoning. Pure rage. Stribog's a few yards ahead of me and slams directly into its giant claw. It moves at our speed, clasping taloned fingers around him. He struggles to free himself, but the claw holds him tight. I know his file. He's tough, tougher than me and heals even faster. Even if this thing eats him he'll survive, will punch and tear his way out of the dragon's stomach. I could keep running. My conscience would be clear. I don't, of course.

I pour on the speed, tap the reserves I was holding for the last leg of the race. Stribog and the beast both become statues. I run around its back, run up the serrated tail, across the back between vestigial wings, up to its gargantuan face, and begin punching it. Punching it right in the eye.

There are tricks I can do with speed. Each punch is weak, but landing a thousand a second, I can find the resonant frequency, make the blows multiply rather than add in force. I punch through the dragon's eyeball, hand going elbow deep in aqueous and vitreous fluids. I grab the nerve and twist and pull. It roars and its grip squeezes with a crunch before releasing. I run down and pick Stribog up. He's not as heavy as I'd have thought. I carry him to a cave. We lean against opposite walls, catching our breath and healing.

I would have been happy to retire. Write a memoir full of lies. But Lenny had a million schemes, a million plays for money and fame. Some of them almost worked. Some of them were fun. "It's got to be this way," he said. "Soon as you're not in the public eye at all someone will come snooping around with a 'whatever happened to' angle and before you know it the headlines will read 'Lavender Streak' and that will be all you'll ever be." So races. Absurd handicaps. Other fast heroes. There's nobody else close to me or Stribog, on Earth. A few guys can go way faster in space, but that doesn't count. All building hype for this one.

"I am not," says Stribog. After a few seconds. "You know. As you are."

"You know?" I say. A moment of panic. He smiles, then laughs.

"It is known," he says. "If you had access to secrets someone might try and blackmail you." I'd die first. He sees that in my eyes. "Luckily, you do not. Shall we start?"

"You had, what, a hundred yard lead?"

"Feh." He spits, a little blood in it. "We start together."

We come through the pass in the Antarctic Mountain Chain, side by side, both going all-out, giving and taking leads measured in inches, fractions of inches. I feel my heart straining, my feet melting the ice pack into steaming pools.

The bookies go home disappointed. The photo finish is a perfect tie. Senator Strong has a better camera, taking a thousand frames in a second. It shows me winning, by less than a whisker. The bookies and soviets don't believe it, or at least say they don't. 

Strong spent almost a year in the future, the way he tells it. Not exactly the real future. A different one, where there was no Paragon or Strong Squadron, no Fafnir or Malice. He told me that things get better eventually.

Until then, I'll keep running.

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?


Luck of the Draught
1200 words

Claire never slept the night before a competition. Partly this was nerves. Partly it was the noise of the city, the constant thrum of nightlife a stark contrast to her idyllic cottage garden. Mostly, though, she was kept awake imagining failure; cataloguing every possible mistake, misstep, miscalculation. By the time sunlight filtered through the too-thin curtains of her hotel room, she couldn’t imagine getting through the full routine without killing at least one of the judges.

Again. At least she’d learned to perfect potions of Revival.

She was already on edge as she approached the Great Hall, entering the venerated competition space alongside the other finalists. Her familiar, Nyx, strode with confidence, and Claire tried to follow suit. Some mages eschewed familiars, unable to countenance sharing power with a source of constant hairballs. Claire, though, couldn’t imagine life without Nyx by her side.

They had only fifteen minutes to prepare, but Claire couldn’t help watching the other contestants assemble their stations. To her left, the Vanadium delegate produced vials of a viscous brew Claire recognised as sap from their fabled elder trees—if she won, no small part of her winnings would finance pilgrimage. On her right, the Ynnik representative emptied a sack of pink bulbs, unlike anything Claire had seen in years of book research; refraining from asking about them was a challenge in itself. This is no friendly farmer’s market, she reminded herself. Today, these are enemies.

‘Five minutes,’ the adjudicator called, and Claire wrestled attention back to her own bench. She retrieved pouches of herbs: lyrebane, and roughwood, and palantryll, every leaf and flower recognisable to a witch since creche. She wondered if the other witches scrutinised her station, taking comfort in her prosaic ensemble.

‘Ten minutes,’ the adjudicator announced, and Claire hurried: she could do anything during this time except begin mixing, and she hadn’t even set the cauldron to boil yet. Beside her, elaborate copper pipes hissed as the Vanadium twisted knobs on some goblin-made boiler, taming the monstrous assemblage of wires and chrome. Fingers trembling, it took Claire three tries working the incantation to set her own flame alight.

‘Time,’ the voice declared, and the competitors raised hands and stepped back from their stations as one. Claire cast an eye over her bench—she could only hope she hadn’t forgotten anything.

A hush fell as the curtains rose on the judging panel, facing them from the far side of a stone table. They were introduced in turn: first, to judge potions of invisibility, the orcish sorceress Yllyak, enormous eight-foot frame incongruent with the tiny goblet before her. For vials of strength, the diminutive goblin mage Makro clambered onto the table and gave an exaggerated bow. For transformation, the half-elf Cyvoth doffed his hat, all showmanship and charm. And then, finally—

‘To appraise Elixirs of Luck,’ the adjudicator announced, ‘the former Vanadium Head of Thaumaturgy, Hax Bolstaff.’

Claire swallowed as the pallid, grey-tinged corpse turned to the crowd and smiled, fleshless lips curling up above yellowed teeth. There were no eyes in the sunken pits, but Claire still felt his gaze upon her. She looked away as the polite applause gave way to the adjudicator reciting the rules, barely able to hear above blood pounding in her ears.

Stations leapt to life as the hourglass turned over. Only those who successfully completed all four would be graded on effectiveness, duration, technique, and creativity. Last year, only Claire and two others had made it to the final stage, before everything went terribly wrong.

Claire shook memory from her mind and leant down, focusing on her work. She’d qualified, again: she had a chance for redemption. Nyx watched as she ground whole spices and herbs for the first potion, a tincture of transparency. Working quickly, she raised her hand only when the concoction turned milk-white. In her periphery, she was vaguely aware of attendants collecting each contender’s attempt, the half-orc shifting in and out of visibility with each quaff.

‘Ten minutes,’ the adjudicator called, as Claire broke a shrikeroot in half and tipped the seeds into the cauldron. ‘Nine contestants remain.’

Claire fumbled, almost spilling the cauldron while reaching for a ladle. She needed to leave time for that final potion—but she also needed to remain till then, treating each brew as if it were the last. She tried to ignore hands rising around her, the goblin effortlessly lifting dumbbells many times their own weight. Nyx, sensing her anguish, rubbed against her arm and purred softly. She could do this. With a flourish, her hand rose up, and she moved on to the next.

Transformation was the creative round, where technique met imagination. Claire usually fared well here: her signature turned its drinker into a nine-foot gryphon, to unfailing applause. Working quickly and confidently, pre-competition jitters replaced by the certainty of experience, Claire ignored all else while assembling the penultimate potion. This moment—this calm clarity—was why she loved witchcraft. All else was noise, rain against the window of her mind.

Her hand shot up.

Despite everything—the dwindling hourglass, the constant din of activity—she watched Cyvoth swallow the potion, stretching up and out into the creature of legend, beak protuding as wings sprouted like leaves. There was a hush, broken only by judges scribbling scores, and then the process reversed: a perfect ten-second shift. Her heart filled, and she almost fancied Cyvoth winked at her.

Now, only one potion remained.

‘Twenty-five minutes,’ the adjudicator announced. ‘Five minute warning.’

Claire swore. She couldn’t spare time, but she chanced a look at the remaining competitors and saw, again, only two others had survived the transformation round.

The first hand shot up as she busied herself weighing seedpods. On stage, Hax swigged the brew, and tossed a pack of cards into the air.

… and then died of bloodloss from fifty-two papercuts, Claire remembered, squeezing her eyes shut. On stage, the adjudicator called out the tally—a full suite of Unicorns had implausibly landed before Hax. Another hand was raised, and the cards were re-shuffled. Claire, mindful of the hourglass, reached quickly for the final ingredient as the cards flew into the air—

—and knocked the jar over, her supply of crow’s feathers billowing out to join the cards by the dais.

Claire’s heart stilled.

Nyx rubbed against her arm, still outstretched for the jar, but it was hopeless. No familiar could ease this. To have come so far, and then to lose the crucial, magical ingredient from sheer clumsiness…

‘One minute remaining,’ the adjudicator intoned, impassive.

Claire wiped her eyes. None of her seeds or leaves would work. Luck potions needed life—warmth—familiarity

Slowly, Claire rose her head.

‘Adjudicator,’ she called. ‘To confirm: I may only use ingredients present on my bench?’

‘Correct,’ the adjudicator said.

Claire smiled, as Nyx began a hacking cough.


When it came to scores, the first three potions earned a tie. The choice came down to the falling cards—and while a full suite of Unicorns would win a fortune in taverns, there was nothing luckier to a witch than a suite of Black Cats.

Claire set the trophy by the front door, for Nyx to use as a waterbowl.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Submissions closed! Judges' verdict should post sometime tomorrow evening Pacific. Thanks to all contestants!

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?


Crits for Week #582

derp - truffles:
An aspect of “hyper local specialties” I didn’t really focus on in the prompt, but which became increasingly clear during my trip, is how fragile many of them are. Anything relying on precise, localised conditions to grow is particularly susceptible to changing weather conditions: temporary, or—in our increasingly hell-scaped world—chronic.

This story gets that. It is, as noted, powerful without being preachy. It’s depressing, but also uplifting in its reminder that there’s still joy to be found in shoving the world’s largest truffle into your gob.

Crit-wise, I’d probably lose the first paragraph. It might be more powerful if you open with the direct action and prose without foreshadowing the ruminations, and let the darker side of the story grow more naturally. Otherwise, a deserved win.

Vinny Possum - Thumbnail in the Coffin:
This is a solid, well-structured story, which I think earned an HM in spite of its ending.

Honestly, while the ending brings us full-circle back to the title, it falls a bit flat as a twist. From the start, I’m anticipating some sort of twist ending, possibly involving a vampire. When you introduce the man, I’m thinking he’s likely not the neckbeard cliche you’ve made him out to be (is he secretly a vampire?). When you go on to paint him as having a personal vendetta and a tragic past, I’m not as fooled as the father seems to be, and I’m keen to see the reveal.

And then … no, he basically was just a neckbeard cliche, and the only deceit is that sob-story about his family. The end. Which is a bit disappointing, IMO. I think you left a lot of opportunities for an exciting reveal on the table—as rivetz pointed out, we don’t even see the full conclusion of this ending. I’d have liked, personally, to see the father get his revenge.

That said, it’s all well-written enough, and the bones are there.

Idle Amalgam - Supplicant:
There’s some neat atmosphere and imagery here, but the structure is awkward. I’m not sure I follow where the initial paragraph takes place, given the following scene doesn’t seem to follow (is it a flashback?). I assume the blood from the creature at the end is meant to be the earlier mystery liquid, but that’s not terribly clear, and I’m not sure why they’re all chanting.

The vibes are good, in a Dark Soulsy kind of way—it’s just not held together very well, in a Margit kind of way.

Kuiperdolin - Brand new ancestral tradition:
There’s some beautiful writing right at the end of this, which is heartfelt and evocative, and I only wish more of the story had that quality. Perhaps, as Jib suggests, the memories could have been interspersed more, or introduced earlier—I do enjoy the sudden rush at the end, the onslaught of memory, connections upon connections, but it does make the story a bit back-heavy.

One thing I wasn’t clear on was why Camille lowered her voice to say “that’s where it was”. At first, I thought she was keeping this—the true reason for their hike?—secret from the grandchildren. But then the grand-daughter is aware almost immediately.

Thranguy - Which Came First?:
The writing and execution is all solid here, but there are a few too many distractions against what should be a really tight and simple story. For example, the line “Did the Union go and ban animal products again?” makes me wonder, well, is Para not part of the Union? But you made certain to point out they were on Union Street. Later, you talk about “a few more old recipes … mostly modern dishes”, before we have a confusing and unnecessary diversion about genefishing. I mean, sure. It’s SF, I’m happy to roll with weird science—but when I’m already struggling to keep sense of what is, ultimately, a deliberately ambiguous story, I don’t really need an as-yet-unintroduced motive to wonder about.

The dialogue and writing is all solid. It’s one of the better structured stories this week. It just feels imbalanced with a bit too much decoration.

BabyRyoga - The Advent of Television:
This story reads like you had a great, conceptual idea that riffed on actual historic events, but it falls into a weird grey area where it’s not really historically accurate (at least, to my understanding) nor satisfyingly creative. I think focusing on the characters more would have helped the story—it feels more like they’re playing a role in some dramatisation, rather than being characters you would have come up with yourself.

The Cut of Your Jib - Jed's Words:
This is … a lot.

I’m honestly reading this for the first time while critting, and I like it, but I have no idea where to begin critiquing it as it’s written in the sort of breathless, breakneck pace that doesn’t invite reflection—just accept it, keep moving, we’ve got more things to see. Does it fit the prompt? Not really, but there’s a real sense of time and place that other stories this week were less successful in capturing.

Sep 22, 2000

Soiled Meat
Winner: rohan, "Luck of the Draught"
No HMs this week
Loser: beep-beep car is go, "240 hours of LeMans"
DQ: The Cut of Your Jib, "Nuclear Subs"


beep-beep car is go, "240 hours of LeMans": There was general agreement among the judges that this had to be an automatic DQ due to failure to meet prompt requirements. A number of entries had this problem to one degree or another but this one was the most overt; really tough to square the "It does have to be really, really important to your character(s)" stipulation from the prompt with phrases like "I wasn’t out to win today." I guess you could say the protagonist really really likes driving his rocketship, but it's a stretch, when he explicitly acknowledges he's basically just interested in clicks and pleasing his bosses.

There are plenty of cool details throughout and there's a sense of place, the setting feels well-conceived. But then the race itself isn't super-exciting, which is a double whammy because it's ultimately a comparatively small chunk of the story. In addition it undermines the ending - he survives the race that is not really depicted as particularly dangerous in the first place?

There's a bunch that works and a bunch that doesn't, but the panel ultimately saw this one as not reaching the finish line.

Kuiperdolin, "The greatest tosser in all Europe…": Points for unearthing a wacky-rear end sport from the annals of history (I too had to google to learn that fox tossing was very much a thing back in the day.) Points for making something horrible funny without betraying any sense of real callousness - the tone of historical narration succeeds in mostly masking that this was really gross and bad. The switch to first person at the end sticks out and doesn't really work; comes too late when even one such switch somewhere earlier would've done the trick for me.
In honor of Hemingway I salute your inclusion of the quiet gem, "Drums rolled."
I dug the delivery overall, evoking the dryness and detachment of a bored British documentarian. Somewhat underdeveloped protagonist, and once again no sense of real passion or competitiveness. Not the winner, but not bad at all.

Chernobyl Princess, "Flare and the Silicon Spire": There's plenty I liked here - the setup is interesting, especially the symbiotic relationship between truck and driver. You do a good job of establishing key elements of setting without jamming poo poo down the reader's throat. Dialogue is kinda flat, things cook way better when nobody's talking. I don't like that zero attention is paid to setting for too long - until "the flatlands" are mentioned about 1/3 of the way in, this whole thing could be taking place downtown somewhere. The Spire's a cool enough concept, liked that the ending was ambiguous. The urgency doesn't really hit throughout, though, nor do the stakes, not consistently. I had little to no sense of the characters beyond their names. Overall enjoyable and I would read more about this world.

The Cut of Your Jib, "Nuclear Subs": lol more or less from start to finish. The sub references aren't forced and it's over before it can get tired. Lots of bits that pull double duty, establishing characters and/or tone and/or setting. The punchline came just as I was realizing that we were all but done and, while these might be subs, there wasn't much nuclear about em, so the Americium reference landed right on the downbeat. I know the whole piece is shot through with silly but the Dick/Richard/Cock stuff didn't hit for me. Nitpick: unless it was a typo, "enquire" (vs "inquire") threw me a little at the end, since most everything prior lacks any remotely British tone.

This was everybody's winner, but I need to take sole responsibility for ruling this a DQ on wordcount (1410 words). I understand and acknowledge the credible case for that being some real grade-A horseshit. I didn't do it to be petty or lovely, but man, when you've got another entry at 1198, and another one right at 1200, and you know they picked and pulled and trimmed to get under, and Nuclear Subs didn't. Once I knew it was over the limit, I couldn't ignore it. Another factor was that while everyone really dug the story, it wasn't some marvel of economy; I'm pretty sure that ten words could've been shed without losing a beat. The goal is to write an entertaining story, and this is emphatically that, but I couldn't give it the win. And to be totally honest I'm realizing that I thought a DQ might perversely be somehow more honorable than saying it wasn't "good" enough to win.

Thranguy, "The Race of the Century": Another interesting setup and concept. The questions I had didn't detract too much from its appeal. "my first run burned off my uniform and hair. I didn't get it." This is probably just me but the way this sentence is dropped before we have any sense of what's really going on had me assuming that the protagonist might literally be some kind of large bear or other mammal, bipedal yet rendered sadly hairless by Fate's cruel whim.

I expect Thranguy stories to take me somewhere I've never been without really holding my hand and this one did that pretty well - the stuff about Jessica adds depth without derailing anything, the dragon's a surprise, the other left-of-center details help by painting the outlines of a larger world. This is an interesting example of how the protagonist doesn't seem particularly obsessed with winning, but the story still clears that bar because their overall passion for racing is apparent. Overall it seems to be trying to cover too much ground in the space allowed, but a fun read.

rohan, "Luck of the Draught": Cool concept. Even though the stakes aren't particularly high, that wasn't the prereq, it was that the protagonist has to really want the W, and I thought that was effectively communicated.

This reallllly threw me: "‘To appraise Elixirs of Luck,’ the adjudicator announced, ‘the former Vanadium Head of Thaumaturgy, Hax Bolstaff.’" This is immediately lent significance by receiving its own paragraph, separate from the other elixirs/judges, and then the guy's mentioned only once more and in passing. More importantly, though, it's that Elixirs of Luck are also given their own paragraph here; the other elixir types aren't capitalized and aren't as prominent, which had me thinking Elixirs of Luck had more significance in the contest. It's not even the type Claire's making. Then I was like, wait so that means the skeletal guy isn't judging Claire, so - wait, so each contestant effectively has only one judge, matching their elixir type? What if they all do Elixirs of Transparency, do the other three judges stand around? What if three people finish their concoctions at the same time? Minor but distracting, obviously fixable.

The little details about potion creation are cool and imaginative. It hurts that we don't get much/any real detail on the other contestants, which might have helped establish some personal stakes for Claire. The judges are relegated to a sentence each, but I almost would've rather had them just be judges and give the space to a rival or colleague; you give lip service to four pretty minor characters that might have better served to fully establish one. Also seems kinda weird/dangerous that the judges drink the potions vs some volunteer, or someone in the audience (if one even existed.) Liked the world, liked the twist at the end. Solid stuff, though, enjoyable read.

Thanks all for your submissions!! rohan, the throne doth beckon

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

:siren: Week 587 Prompt :siren:

Trick-or-Treat Music Week

This is a low-risk week, no loser will be assigned unless you do something really heinous on purpose (We know it when we see it). Dishonorable Mentions will only be given out for true disasters. If we can tell you tried, then you should be fine.

Lol, I'm co-running the week with Rohan and handling the prompt. For the final Halloween blitz, sign up and receive a treat from my Halloween music playlist. Some are newish, some are classic kitsch. Now, I'm not fussy about strict adherence to song content, just use it for inspiration, but it should be clear that you were inspired by it. If you're greedy you can ask for +1 or +2 songs to incorporate for a bonus of 200 words each. Bear in mind that they may not mesh well together, but that's the fun part.

If you ask for a trick, then the next person to sign up can assign you any song you must incorporate (though creepy is encouraged). Other tricks and treats may come at any time, so stay on your toes for ghosts and ghoulies!

No screeds, no fanfic, but spooky erotica allowed!

Signups close 12:00AM PT, November 4th (and no more flash rules delivered after this)
Deadline: 12:00AM PT, November 6th
Here's the handy time zone converter, I preloaded it with some zones, but double check to be safe

Word Count: 1410

Open for a third judge

The Cut of Your Jib

Global Trick (flash rule) for Día de los Muertos: every story must include a toast to or offering of food for the departed

derp - "Danse Macabre," Duran Duran
TheMackening - "Bernadette," IAMX
Thranguy - "Spellbound," Siouxsie and The Banshees
Lord-Zedd Repulsa - "She's Fallen in Love with a Monsterman," The Revillos
Ouzo Maki - "Somebody's Watching Me," Rockwell Trick: "You're at the Party," Lemon Demon
QuoProQuid - "David Lynch Has a Painting Made of Flies Eyes," SSVU

Prompt songs for all late entries:
"Vampire Bat," Wesley Willis
"Dragula," Rob Zombie
Entries must include:
1. a friendly headbutt
2. a vampire bird
3. a good cup of coffee


Bonus Treat for rusty pumpkins: If you sign up in the next 24 hours and haven't participated in TD during October, you may ask for a re-roll on song choice. If you haven't participated in September OR October you may choose your own sufficiently Halloweeny song (or get one from the candy bag)

The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 06:59 on Nov 6, 2023

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


Crits for Week #586
First, some Generic Advice:
1. Check to make sure you actually need your introduction.
2. Check to see if your introduction actually introduces the story you want to tell, and that the reader has enough information to know what the hell is going on.
3. A competition should have stakes. Why does it matter who wins? It can be the character’s reputation, or their future, or vengeance on a competitor—anything! But they should be there. Which is also related to the next one:
4. Characters. Make us get to know them. Who are they? What are they like? What can we relate to in their lives? What do they look like? And critically: What motivates them? Why do they need to, this week, win?
There’s a reason the sports underdog story always starts with us learning what a hot mess all the players of the team are. The stakes mean nothing if we don’t want to root for the team.
In that theme, I’ve broken down the critiques this week into sections so you can see how your introduction relates to your conclusion and the competition in relation to the story.
As another note, rivetz’s prompt brought to mind a type of person, often seen in stories, and just as often seen in the real world, someone who is zealous about winning, about being the best, and will do anything to get there. Interestingly, none of the stories had a protagonist like that at all.

beep-beep car is go - 240 hours of LeMans:

Introduction vs. Conclusion: The title, if one knows what LeMans is, which I didn’t, might mislead the reader into thinking this is a car race. You mention “pilots” but it’s not clear what vehicle is being raced until midway through paragraph 5. Prior to that, terms like “apron” and “racers” continue telling your reader this is cars. There’s no reason to hide that this is spaceship racing. Your introduction tells us nothing about the character, nothing about why they are there, and nothing about what this competition means to them. The introduction also starts us in a moment that doesn’t seem important. Look at how long you spend on them all lined up waiting for the starter pistol, compared to an actual exciting thing happening (near miss of debris): it’s a ratio of 7 paragraphs to 2. Huge parts of your intro could be cut or condensed, or livened up with something that makes us care about the narrator. The conclusion is… well, it’s not much of an ending. Nothing is won or resolved. The character seems happy being in third, which is not in the spirit of the week. The story seemed to promise us an endurance race, but this only is the start of one, so I’m going to say the ending is weak.

Overall: One of the biggest weaknesses here is your main character. Who are they? What do they look like? Why are they there? What are the stakes? They are a pretty apathetic racer. For something as big as “space ships racing to the Moon and back,” it’s a bit boring to have a narrator saying “it would be nice to win” and “I was third!” If you establish them with a motivation of, “I just want to come back in one piece,” that does fine, and then there’s tension from the things that could kill them, but the narrator is a blank slate. There’s only two lines of dialogue in the whole story, which can work, but it’s a missed opportunity to establish characters and how they feel or make us feel more in the action.

Next, there’s moment in the story that feel strange. They’ve never practiced running in a suit, even though they sometimes start competitions like this? This is big league stuff. Space ships! To the Moon! Endless people lined up to pilot because, well, hell, it’s racing spaceships! And he hasn’t practiced the starts? Then there’s the part where he has engines on full ignition but the clamps holding it down. First, this doesn’t pass the physics sniff test for me; rocket engines will win every time. Next, why? This isn’t like revving a car engine or burning rubber—the race has already started.

Competition: Your story was indeed a competition. You have an underdog protagonist, which is a classic. However, there are few moments where the competition itself is in focus. That is to say, you have procedural actions occurring, like a long description of checking all the systems and starting the engines, but only two spots where there’s any sort of decision made by the character that influences the outcome: One, that they spend time doing the safety check (boring) and two, that they accelerate to pass debris. The latter is the only possibly exciting moment in the story, and it passes quickly. The fact that the race result is unknown is a big letdown. The type of racing itself is also boring. It’s about 3 days there, 7 days back as you no-doubt looked up. Most of that time is… drifting. As you point out. No acceleration, gotta conserve fuel. The racers just chill for most of the time. How boring! I have trouble suspending my disbelief for that. And, as I already mentioned, we don’t know why he wants to win, and worse, he doesn’t seem to care all that much about winning.

Kuiperdolin - The greatest tosser in all Europe…:

Introduction vs. Conclusion: Your introduction is extremely clear, and both tells us the competition and the character very quickly. Nice work. The conclusion does as it promises, though in an unexpected way, and ends with the character growth of Benedikt. My two quibbles: One is that I feel the story needs to be situated in the early modern era more quickly. The other is with having the title with ellipses (also the capitalization is improper for a title) and then the first line ending it. Don’t like that. Diminishes the strength of the pun for me.

Overall: One strength of the story is that it keeps a consistent voice throughout, with one exception. At the very end, we have the narrator interjecting with an “I”, and I think if you’re going to do that, the narrator needs to be a character, or we need some sort of connection to Benedikt. As it is, this is a rather rote biography of our champion tosser. Some ways to strengthen it might be to discuss more of Benedikt’s attitude, the cultural importance of the events, or perhaps the legend vs. the man. You mention his romance with H*** (weird choice there, I’m assuming there’s a historical reason, like they used to do that?), but there’s little focus there. The story drifts along like a raft on a lazy river, which isn’t bad, but isn’t thrilling either. You have neat historical references, though when you mention things like that he’s a knight, and “ancestors’ valiance in the Crusades,” I thought this was going to be medieval, but really, it’s early modern, so 500-700 years after the Crusades. I’m not going to say no one kept track of that, but illiterate poor knight family? Maybe not. You also have the lion being delivered by chariot, and I don’t think anyone in the 1700s was still using those. Carriage, maybe. Other details, like Electors and names and the letters between people that might marry without meeting all have a good historical feel to them, and help sell the story as real-feeling. Since the lion is important, and something about its symbolism and fate changes Benedikt, you might have the narrator spend more time speculating about what the lion meant to him and why after all this time it changed him.

Competition: The competition is an odd one, but I totally buy medieval early modern Europeans doing that. I didn’t look it up, it just feels like the sort of ridiculous sport you might see in the Holy Roman Empire, and the glee of villagers beating a fox that just got tossed got a laugh out of me. You go with a protagonist who is a natural. I like protagonists who are Good At A Thing, but as a note, this leads to a tensionless narrative. There’s no time where we worry Benedikt might lose, or that he’s not the best. There’s also few stakes to the competitions. It’s less a story about a sport, and more a story about a person’s life and how they changed, which doesn’t quite fit the theme of the week, even if that’s a good idea usually. Overall, I’m not sure what the story is trying to do, and the narrative keeps a cautious distance from Benedikt. Why was this legendary tosser important enough the narrator thought he should tell us about him?

Chernobyl Princess - Flare and the Silicon Spire:

Overall: The other sections cover the race and the intro/conclusion. Here, I wonder why Flare is a character. Don’t get me wrong, symbiotic relations with vehicles and soul-sharing with your car or truck is neat, but what purpose does it serve in this story? What does Flare mean to AJ and vice versa? It doesn’t even seem to tie into the race much. Flare can’t seem to drive itself (we first see AJ leaning against his tire to rest), though he can… move? Maybe? Or maybe it’s Flare driving and AJ just tagging along? It’s not clear. There’s some other clarity issues, like "Gabby watched them all fade into the distance" where I thought she was watching AJ/Flare go at first. This all points to a problem with character development in the story. AJ makes one decision: To invite Gabby along, which shows he’s nice. There’s very little else about him—see Intro vs Conclusion for advice on this.

Competition: This is, mostly, a very boring race, and since the characters have no clue what place they’re in, neither do I. So it’s not very tense. It gets even slower with rest breaks, slowly salvaging wrecks (implying the competition is well ahead of them, so why are they still going slow?), and slow raft construction. After hours of raft making, they start again—but how are they going to catch up? Implied is Flare is fast, but this isn’t actually shown to us. By the way, why do they pull right next to the person they think has guns and explosives? Anyways, it’s only this last moment that there’s any excitement, but it’s quickly cut short. All the coin flips favor AJ: Gabby builds a raft for him, and the gun is empty. What decisions does AJ make that helps him win? What emotions does he feel as they approach the finish? There’s a lot missing here.

Introduction vs. Conclusion: This clearly tells us there’s a race and the main characters, and the goal of the race. However, the nature and rules of the race aren’t totally clear, though one can infer them from later when bridges are getting blown up. But why make us guess? It also doesn’t tell us is anything about these racers. Why are AJ and Flare risking their lives for this city? What do they dream of? What were their lives like? Who are they leaving behind? What do they look like? The conclusion is left open. Not entirely sure why, but it works okay here. Even then, we don’t get a good sense of Flare and how fast it is compared to the competition. To leave the ending where it is, I feel you need to do more of telling the reader more about Flare vs the other trucks. Only at the end do you say “The guns and the explosions made AJ assume that they were adults” which is the first time in the story that I consider that AJ might be a kid. Going back to the introduction, while you establish some crucial information quickly, is this the best place to start it? Do we need to see them having nothing happen in the desert? Why the bridge section? What does that add to the race? You also have “No truck had returned after three days.” which seems like it’s you throwing down Chekhov’s Dead Truck on the table, but this detail ends up being totally irrelevant. You have the aside about AJ’s Dad losing his truck, and therefore part of himself, which is conceptually revisited with Gabby. Then the theme is dropped, and makes no appearance in the conclusion. What I assumed might happen at the end is AJ wins, but at the price of losing Flare, which would be a brutal story, but perhaps better. Or maybe he comes back after four days because of the strength of their bond. Either way, there’s a mismatch among the details of the story and its structure.

The Cut of Your Jib - Nuclear Subs:

Overall: The best part of this story is the jokes that go with the nuclear sub theme. What are your orders, tater tot torpedoes—good stuff. A note: by my count this goes over the word count, even with the bonus words. Not by a lot, but I also see a ton of stuff that could be cut; see the “Intro vs conclusion” section. Stuff like “sportsball” and “insert sport here” has me cringing. We also have "yadda yadda"s but also "Now in that month there were a gang of seniors...", and someone who measures cows in how many hands tall they are, which doesn’t feel like a modern teen or a consistent voice. Next, we have some okay characterization. I can picture Richard as the classic too-old-to-be-working-in-fast-food-but-there-he-is guy. Mike is the classic greasy high school nerd. Beyond that, there’s not much depth. Speaking of no-depth, we have the bullying. This reads to me as paint-by-numbers bullying, with it fitting every trope of bullying so tightly we’re talking tolerances of 0.01mm. That is to say, I’ve seen this exact story before so many times it bores me to tears. Does Mike try anything? No. Do the two grown adults who are in the store with him do anything? No. Instead, it just plays out the same old stereotypical way. I’ve even seen the secret laxative a million times. Mike can also charge Dick with assault, which makes it more baffling that the next move is… poisoning him with radioactive heavy metal!? Also, no one from the FDA is investigating this place for hundreds of diarrhea incidents?

Competition: This wasn’t much of a competition story. There’s not much focused on the game of it, they work more like a team than vying for victory. It’s certainly not the focus of the story, and while it’s a creative way to have a contest, it doesn’t feel like Mike wants to win, and it doesn’t feel like it fits the spirit of the week to me.

Introduction vs. Conclusion: This is another story where it feels like a big chunk of the introduction could be cut. What is this story about? It’s not about a competition, as I’ve discussed. More, it’s about a nerd getting revenge on a bully, as we can clearly see in the second half of the story. It takes about 300 words until the bully is even mentioned, and 735 words until the competition surfaces. At first, I thought they were genuinely in a submarine, because the manager’s name is listed as a Lieutenant Commander. If, perhaps, you described the engine room as LC John did—as a toaster oven while he talks about the reactor, or whatever—then it might not be so unclear. It’s not actually clarified until paragraph 6. After that, I don’t know what to expect; I don’t know what the story is promising, and it’s not until much later that is clarified. I think there’s plenty of room to condense the start and still characterize the protagonists and setting. I also think you can get to the setting way faster.

Thranguy - The Race of the Century:

Introduction vs. Conclusion: The story quickly lets the reader know Streak is a superhero/metahuman, and lays down the characters (though almost too fast. It promises a race, but what it doesn’t explain is the stakes.) We can intuit that it’s the past from vice-president Nixon, but the fact that this is a USA vs. USSR Cold War chest-puffing event could be clarified to make the race more meaningful (it’s not mentioned until the end). However, this introduction is somewhat deceptive, because it seems to me the real story is about The Streak character, and staying in the closet in a world still hostile to LGBTQ people. Mentions of The War are red herrings; little time is spent reflecting on this. It’s less a competition and more a character portrait. The conclusion does cover both the race and the identity.

Overall: Here, we have a story about a superhero, set in alternate history Earth. The story seems unfocused though. Streak muses about the Korean War, his failed superhero career. Jessica is mentioned several times, but it takes me a bit to work out I guess he’s married to her? More can be done not just to introduce the character, but how the protagonist feels about them and their relationship. But the story is so focused on the background of this character, it has little time for the race itself—but we get a dragon attack anyways. I’m inclined to think this story doesn’t have room for a dragon attack; it’s trying to cover too many other themes, and combat isn’t one of them. As it is, the fact that you drop that they all have a healing factor immediately defuses any tension we might feel when Stribog gets grabbed. It seems to me the story should focus on Streak’s relationship with Lenny and Jessica, and how he deals with it. You have a gap before ‘"I am not," says Stribog. After a few seconds. "You know. As you are."’ Presumably, Streak asks Stribog if he's gay and he says no, but one half of the conversation is missing, which seems silly, because it's not like the narrator is hiding this; we already saw his relationship with Lenny. It’s a clarity issue to no benefit, or a typo.

Competition: As I’ve mentioned, it’s technically a competition, but so much is about Streak’s backstory I don’t feel any excitement or stakes here. To make it more about the competition, we should see more of him training. You drop a line like “when I’m not running, I’m crouched at the starting line” but that’s one of the few lines that discusses his life as a runner. If it’s about him running, if it’s really about the race, it feels like we need more things setting up the stakes, his reputation, the politicians who are pressuring him—something. The story could fit both the race and the LGBTQ theme in a longer version, but if it’s going to be 1400 words, I think it needs to pick a direction.

rohan - Luck of the Draught:

Introduction vs. Conclusion: Holy poo poo a character feeling emotions? Already in the top half this week. The introduction is a little confusing until we learn that she’s a witch (paragraph 3), and then while the exact nature of the competition is a bit unclear, we know it’s about that. Does the conclusion deliver? Yes. However, it doesn’t really cover the “accidentally killed a judge” which might have happened last time? I think the story ran out of room to cover that bit.

Overall: The heart of this story is the competition itself, which is shockingly rare this week. We clearly get that Claire is nervous, and we also get something about “…before everything went terribly wrong” and then “… and then died of bloodloss from fifty-two papercuts” which apparently was… Hax? The undead warlock? However, what actually happened seems unclear, and since the intro says Claire never slept before a competition and Hax is still ambling around on stage, she may just get nervous. Either way, this theme needs to be explored, or dropped. The rest is mostly about the competition, so…

Competition: The format of the competition confused me. I thought she was out of time, but it was just stage one. The format isn’t critical, but some time could be spent setting up the event. When she knocks over the feathers, can she not just pick them up? Spilled liquid is one thing, but this is just feathers. The creative ending is nice, but the competition runs into one critical missing thing: What are the stakes?

I have no idea why Claire would keep going after watching a judge exsanguinating by playing cards. It makes her so nervous that she can’t sleep. So why does she keep going? What’s her goal? Why is winning important? The reader can only guess. But the story lacking a purpose or impact on the character is big. The competition has the nice feel of the pressure, getting in the zone, and enough details to be interesting, but the story needs some polish to be complete.

Jan 21, 2010

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

Lipstick Apathy
I was overall a bit disappointed with the stories this week, the judge asked specifically for a competition that was Very Important to the character, even bordering on obsession, and we got a bunch of people who didn't seem to care whether they won or loss and were just there hanging out. Normally, when I'm a judge I don't care too much about prompt adherence but, dammit i actually liked this prompt and wanted to write it myself, so maybe I'm a bit bitter. Anyway, here are crits:

240 hours of LeMans by beep beep car

A description of a take off in some kind of spaceship race. The problem here is that your character really doesn’t seem to care, at all. Rivetz specifically asked that the competition be “really really important” to the character, bordering on obsession. This guy seems like he’s here just for the heck of it, with no stakes, and just thinks ‘it would be nice to win’ with no passion and no drive. That aside, I felt that you spent way too many words on details of the ship engines and etc, when you may have been better served focusing on the character, their sensations and thoughts and fears and hopes.

The greatest tosser in all Europe… by Kuiperdolin

A history of a participant in a weird and cruel to animals sport. Another story where the competition, and the sport itself, don’t seem to be very important to the character, they have no stakes, no desire to win, it just happens to be something they are good at, so they do it. I suspect the woman writing him letters had something to do with the way the story ended, if so, it may have been a more interesting read to see it from her point of view, to see her obsession with the competition, not to win it, but to end it. As it is, this is a very ‘pulled back’ kind of telling where I don’t get to know or feel anyone’s desires or emotions, which didn’t really work for me personally. I did find the content weirdly fascinating though.

Flare and the Silicon Spire by chernobyl princess

All right! A competition where the characters actually seem to care about winning! I get to know a little about the characters, they are some kind of symbiotic relationship between person and vehicle, and are fleeing a bad place to get to a good place which they can only get to if they win this race. I quite enjoyed the concept, and could imagine a lot of details beneath the surface. However, I feel this story still falls prey to a problem so many adventure stories have, and which is a bit contrary to what the prompt asked for: the villain, in this case, seems to be the one really obsessed with winning the competition, the one taking action, putting energy and passion into a goal, they are the one strategically blowing up bridges, attacking other players, coming prepared with weaponry, and our hero only survives in the end by luck, because the villain just happened to be out of ammo. Overall a cool concept and a fun read.

Nuclear Subs by jib

The intro to this got a literal lol out of me, then i read it again and laughed again. Good poo poo. A bit of an abstract competition here, the characters don’t really seem to be trying that hard to one-up each other with their poo poo inducing sauce, but so what, this was a really fun and funny story and perfectly captures the kind of quivering nerd who can only stand up for himself in passive, hidden ways like this. On the high end for me.

The Race of the Century by thranguy

A race between some super fast, superhuman type figures. I liked getting to know about the character, I liked that I got to care about them and know about some of their life, their personality and so on. I was very confused when a dragon appeared, but that’s fine. Some cool visuals and creative use of super speed. Once again, though, as in so many of the stories this week, the character doesn’t really seem to care much about winning, and there are no stakes for them. The competition doesn’t seem important to them, being fast doesn’t even seem to be important to them, it’s just something they happen to be good at, so they do it. If the race was important to them in any way, it would make the act of saving his competitor (even though you explicitly stated that he didn’t need saving) more of an important moment. As it is, he just seems to be racing for a fun goof. An enjoyable read, nonetheless.

Luck of the Draught by rohan

A potion brewing competition for witches. I was a bit unsure what was happening through much of this, but I always enjoy the idea of these kinds of ‘master chef’ style shows put in other contexts, and found that to be pretty fun. The problem here though, the same as almost every story this week is: STAKES what are they? Why does she want to win, why should i care if she wins or loses? What does this competition mean to her? Why has she entered? At the end, for a moment I thought she was going to use the cat as an ingredient, and I thought ‘drat maybe I misread this and this character really is obsessed and willing to sacrifice anything to win’ but no. the hairball thing was cute and was foreshadowed and, didn’t cost her a thing. She uses the trophy as her cat’s waterbowl, just to put a final point on how unimportant the whole thing was to her. And she won by luck?

Jan 21, 2010

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

Lipstick Apathy
also im in, gimme my treat


The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 24, 2007

you don't find a style

a style finds you

derp posted:

also im in, gimme my treat

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