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Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


More crits!

Jagermonster

It's easy to distinguish between talking heads. Shame there isn't much to them. I didn't care much for the ending. Use of the Flash Rule is good, but I have this nagging feeling that it's just gold-plating. There's no real sense of danger in this post-apoc setting. Hell, the two exiles all but cuddled together in their little camp.

The Saddest Rhino

I made the mistake of scrolling down and seeing the title before fully reading the story. I would say the title doesn't deserve the story, but sometimes you just need to have fun. I'm not entirely convinced of the fantasy element, but the story is good enough, and more. I really like the lead-in to All Things Must Pass.

docbeard

I was confused as to how the dog and Mr. K appeared. How did they get there? Hugo was going to be put to death, but Mr. K got hold of him first? Why is he mad? What exactly is he trying to avenge? It's not clear. But it's not every day that bureaucracy saves someone, which was rather amusing.

Auraboks

I'm not really a fan of the snake-as-a-traitor metaphor. That said, this worked. The supposed harmlessness of Mrs. Haskell served to hide her intentions well.

Sitting Here

At first I thought The Event was the affair (as anyone who knew your Flash Rule might think), then the reveal came. I wasn't terribly impressed with it, though, it felt like there was something lacking. That's it?

I was also a bit confused by the woman's motive. It was unclear to me if she was sincerely trying to help Alexei, or if she had a different motive. That made the ending not click in place for me.

Anathema Device

Well, that was uncomfortable. Your foreword gave away too much, though. I didn't know Joan was mentally ill until around halfway through. Actually, it's unclear as to why she's kept in that room. I seemed to me that she was in a hospital, but when someone said "If she'd wound up at the hospital on my shift, I'd have been screwed," I got even more confused.

Where's the intrigue? Don getting Newguy to cover for him behind Jesse's back? It was hard for me to get context on what those three were doing, really. And the story ultimately goes nowhere. Your stream-of-consciousness is good and freaky, but I'm ultimately unsatisfied with the non-ending.

Helsing

This doesn't look like a small, localized story of intrigue? The sci-fi trappings are nice, but they're just trappings. This might be the first entry that's actively bored me. There are stakes, but the presentation is so dry. Also, what did Matteo decide in the meeting? That one is hanging, even if he called up his girlfriend/wife about getting a new job.

* * *

Last batch to come in tomorrow.

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The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning


Since it was at the tail end of the last page I'm reposting the prompt here:

Haha, I'm still surprised I won but thanks guys! Mad props to Chillock for the title and story-improvement tips, Crabrock and Erogenous Beef for arranging Alexei E.Sayle to be the best dogcatcher, and Noah for being an amazing sport about it (plus giving me the win, can't forget that). Can't wait to see the Russgart Chronicles.

THUNDERDOME WEEK 55 PROMPT

For those of you out of school, have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you learnt something completely different? For those of you still studying, do you wish you could be doing a completely different field and maybe find out what you truly love? Well, this week's dome won't help you realise those dreams, but you can still do some escapism and write it into paper and kid yourself to be less sad about your life!

Your task this week is to write a story about a School of A Certain Trade of Your Choice. The school must be one of people gathering together to learn something unusual or oddly specific. You may choose to write about the students, the staff, the teachers, the syllabus, or even the gay janitor or the campus dogcatcher. You could even describe the school itself like an Italo Calvino story as long as you make it interesting.

Notwithstanding the above, the school cannot be a magical school and especially not Hogwarts. (Evidently, no fanfics thx)

When you sign up, please include the full name of your school (which includes reference to the trade). If you cannot think of one, one of us (primarily Bad Seafood who thought up the prompt) will help you come up with a great school!

If your trade is loving rubbish we will do that as a flash rule too.

Also, your school cannot engage in a trade someone else has previously chosen so first come first serve!

Co-Judges: Bad Seafood and Crabrock

Word count: 1,500
Sign up deadline: 23 Aug 2013 (Fri) 11:59pm PST
Submission deadline: 25 Aug 2013 (Sun) 11:59pm PST

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

I'm assuming the nature of the school can be silly/bizarre as long as it's not magical? In with The Institute for Anonymous Public Facilitators.

Accretionist
Nov 7, 2012



In - The Academy for Sudden Bursts of Motivation while Depressed

Unknowing
Jan 22, 2005
It's news to me.

Unlike last week, I'm fairly confident I will actually have free time to write this week(end) about the Mars Institute for Waste Processing and Reclamation.

Toxx: If I do not complete an entry, I will have failed both Noah and Rhino and will be subject to a punishment or literary apology as they see fit?

wash clothes
Jul 24, 2013

by Y Kant Ozma Post


In with Rob Dyrdek School of Skateboarding

Nikaer Drekin
Oct 11, 2012


Making my TRIUMPHANT RETURN this week with Detective Dick DeForest's Private Eye Hard-Boiling School.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Sitting Here posted:

The Institute for Anonymous Public Facilitators
Pass.

Accretionist posted:

The Academy for Sudden Bursts of Motivation while Depressed
You have exactly one post to justify how this qualifies as a serviceable trade or you're getting stuck with Dr. Mombasa's School for Telepathic Phone Operators.

Unknowing posted:

Mars Institute for Waste Processing and Reclamation
Pass.

wash clothes posted:

Rob Dyrdek School of Skateboarding
Pass, but we will be watching closely for appropriate levels of X-TREME.

Nikaer Drekin posted:

Detective Dick DeForest's Private Eye Hard-Boiling School
Pass.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I'm in, with a tale of The International Academy of Practical Mime*. As an additional kick in the pants for myself (since I need to work on putting in more exposition), this will be a story with minimal/no dialogue.

___
*As opposed to mime for performance purposes.

docbeard fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 23:37

Accretionist
Nov 7, 2012



Bad Seafood posted:

You have exactly one post to justify how this qualifies as a serviceable trade or you're getting stuck with Dr. Mombasa's School for Telepathic Phone Operators.

I want to shoot them into space.

A machinist spends most of his time putting parts into a computer-controlled machine and pushing a green button. If enough time needs to be spent this way, you can automate that process. But you can also hire a minimum-wage, parts-loading/unloading, button-pusher and come out ahead on cost. How much of a spaceship's operations can be automated so that the crew can sleep for years on end? How much hardware would you need to automate rudimentary tasks such filter changes, wiring fixes, the spackling over of minor exterior damage and so on and how much would it weigh? A depressive may weigh not even 150 lbs and would require less support than a conventional astronaut!

Depressives would take quite readily to the metabolically efficient living best suited to long-distance voyages. Depressives the world over while away their days in bunks, beds and chairs, day in and day out, keeping their caloric and O2 requirements down, obviating the need for costly supplies. And the isolation and tedium of space travel can in fact lead to potentially mission crippling depression, so who better to send than men and women who've spent potentially decades acclimating to this condition?

Trained depressives will lead the way in space exploration and serve as cheap and expendable manual labor on distant stations.


Alternate Response: Is Dr. Mombasa Kenyan?

Accretionist fucked around with this message at Aug 20, 2013 around 23:24

wash clothes
Jul 24, 2013

by Y Kant Ozma Post


Accretionist posted:

Depressives would take quite readily to the metabolically efficient living best suited to long-distance voyages. Depressives the world over while away their days in bunks, beds and chairs, day in and day out, keeping their caloric and O2 requirements down, obviating the need for costly supplies. And the isolation and tedium of space travel can in fact lead to potentially mission crippling depression, so who better to send than men and women who've spent potentially decades acclimating to this condition?

That's a good idea, for those keeping score at home. Judges, NASA.

Mercedes
Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.


Guess I gotta toxx myself if I'm gonna join this week.

Xavier Marchena School of Urban Parkour

Chillmatic
Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

I feel bad for speaking ill of Thunderdome in the fiction writing thread, so I've come to seek penance by way of submitting a story. Or because, you know, I just started work on a new book using a very different voice than I've done before and want to be sure as possible that I've ironed out all the kinks! Also it's in first person, which I've always hated using but which this particular story requires. So I'm forcing myself to write whatever I can in that particular style/voice.

And thus I humbly submit:


Madam Charlotte's School For Aberrant Girls


...in which a violent young girl learns to be a violent young lady.





edit: oh, and I'll also do another critzkrieg! The last one was fun.

Chillmatic fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 12:42

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Last batch.

Accretionist

I got lost in all the apartment talk. No, seriously. It helps that I have never needed to pay rent my entire life, but still... I was unable to latch on to anything. Perhaps because there's a whole lot of talking and little doing. A character explaining his impeccable plan to someone is rarely interesting.

Barracuda Bang!

Probably the only Alexei story that involved the actual catching of animals. I went in fearing to read an incoherent mess of slang, but giving all the colorful dialogue to Alexei was an elegant solution. Plus, it's funny. One of the few stories I'm not ashamed of liking.

Bad Seafood

I like how there were missteps to the plan (like the fan), which foreshadowed the scheme fizzling out. I thought the ending was a bit too abrupt, and you had a lot of words left.

There's a huge amount of effort made just to rig a dog show, and that's the joke, but I think it would have better if we read more about Ursula's reasons? Why a dog show?

* * *

That was terrible and I'm terrible at this. Thanks Noah and Mercedes for the crits.

I will be in this week, with St. George's School of Monster-slaying and People-saving

Schneider Heim fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2013 around 12:48

autism ZX spectrum
Feb 7, 2007



Fun Shoe

give me the losertar I'm out till 2014

I can't keep up and I'm not devoting the time and can't see myself doing so in the nearish future. See ya'll next orbit

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


docbeard posted:

The International Academy of Practical Mime*
Pass, but no dialogue.

Accretionist posted:

I want to shoot them into space.
Pass, just rename it the Maniac-Depressive Aero-Space Academy or something.

Mercedes posted:

Xavier Marchena School of Urban Parkour
Pass, but that government funding better go towards Polite Minorities.

Chillmatic posted:

Madam Charlotte's School For Aberrant Girls
Congratulations on describing every high school in the country. Sorry, but we're going to need something a little meatier than that. You have one post to clarify or pick a better school, or you'll be doing a semester abroad at Madam Charlotte's School for Aberrant Drag Queens, with a free scholarship courtesy of Saddest Rhino.

Schneider Heim posted:

St. George's School of Monster-slaying and People-saving
Pass.

Chillmatic
Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

Aberrant, in this context, is a period-appropriate and polite way of saying insane/deviant. The "trade" of the place is learning to reintegrate into society. Hopefully that's clear enough!

Mercedes
Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.


Government funding towards Polite Minorities? That doesn't make any sense!

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning


Thunderdome Education Fund for Belligerent Authors

Congrats, Chillmatic, for being enrolled in this scholarship programme. In order to not become an automatic loser and earn the ire of a few jerks on the Internet, your story must be at least 25% composed of dialogue (as I note that dialogue is an area of particular interest to you but your TD entries so far have none of those), and contain a credible number of terms used by drag queens, a helpful guide which can be found here.

Further, Mercedes, as you have protested that government funding towards the bettering of polite minorities "doesn't make any sense", despite there being no indication that your school is a gov-funded one, your school must therefore BE government-funded and you will MAKE IT WORK.

Thank you and we look forward to your contribution to this programme!

The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at Aug 22, 2013 around 04:33

Mercedes
Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.


The Saddest Rhino posted:

Thunderdome Education Fund for Belligerent Authors
Further, Mercedes, as you have protested that government funding towards the bettering of polite minorities "doesn't make any sense", despite there being no indication that your school is a gov-funded one, your school must therefore BE government-funded and you will MAKE IT WORK.

poo poo. No it's cool. I wanted to completely rewrite my story from the beginning.

I still don't understand what you two mean by "bettering of polite minorities."

I want you to recall this conversation when I submit the mess of a story on Sunday.

Mercedes fucked around with this message at Aug 22, 2013 around 04:47

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Mercedes posted:

I still don't understand what you two mean by "bettering of polite minorities."
Once upon a time there was a man named Xavier Marchena, which is a Hell of a thing to name a kid. He opened a parkour school but Seafood and Rhino though that was dumb, so they added the stipulation all his students had to be polite, well-behaved members of assorted minority groups. Unfortunately, Mercedes did not understand, and also thought Barracuda Bang! wrote a story about a cartoon opossum for some reason, so Rhino additionally tasked him with specifying his school was government funded. Mercedes complied and wrote the story and we all stopped talking about it.

The end.

Bad Seafood fucked around with this message at Aug 22, 2013 around 05:04

Barracuda Bang!
Oct 21, 2008

The first rule of No Avatar Club is: you do not talk about No Avatar Club. The second rule of No Avatar Club is: you DO NOT talk about No Avatar Club

Grimey Drawer

The Cooper Union for the Cooping Arts

WARNING: THIS STORY IS CANON

M. Propagandalf
Aug 9, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Imagination phase of Starkhall Training Academy for Truancy Investigations and Corrections (STATIC) is complete. An envoy of judicators has been dispatched by the Thunderdome Tribunal to conduct an on-site inspection. Suffer their indignities. Approval is vital.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

In with The Prestonwood Forest Institute of Artistic Application of Light.

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning


3 hours remain for sign ups officially

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Barracuda Bang! posted:

The Cooper Union for the Cooping Arts
Pass, and it better be canon.

M. Propagandalf posted:

Starkhall Training Academy for Truancy Investigations and Corrections (STATIC)
Pass, but all departments must also be named acronyms that spell out words.

Kaishai posted:

The Prestonwood Forest Institute of Artistic Application of Light.
Pass.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart


Erogenous Beef posted:

Thunderbrawl: Fumblemouse v. Sebmojo

Word Count: 750 words
Deadline: Saturday the 25th, 23:59:59 UTC+0

As you're both feeling pugnacious after an ichorous week grading horror: write punctilious prose about a person whose life is deeply changed by a blood sport, real or invented.

Focus on the emotion and the changes wrought by the character's relationship with the sport. What draws the character in? How does it change them? Are the changes for better or worse? Focus on character development, not gore.

As a reminder to the contestants, this is due in just under 6 hours. Or do we have another Hillockian no-show on our hands?

Martello
Apr 29, 2012

by XyloJW


poo poo just got real

Fumblemouse
Mar 21, 2013


STANDARD
DEVIANT


Grimey Drawer

Fumblemouse vs Sebmojo - Bloodsport
Edited because SebMojo cannot get his poo poo together and paid for it in blue pencil.

Wordcount: 734

Puddles


Harrison held the small syringe in his pocket with one hand, while the other clutched the chain that served as a leash for Puddles. Stupid, cutesy name, he thought. Sarah came up with it when Puddles was an adorable, trickle-prone puppy. She found it hilarious and somehow the name had stuck. Sarah didn’t laugh much any more.

“Jesus,” said Harrison to Puddles and whoever else might be listening, “not again? All right, c’mon boy.” He stood up and yanked the chain. Puddles was already fascinated by the noisy warehouse and needed no encouragement to see and smell the surroundings, only resisting a little when Harrison ducked through a door and into an deserted corridor.

“Shhh, boy, this won’t hurt a bit.” Harrison checked to make sure they were alone, whipped out the syringe, removed the needle cover, slid it into the scruff of Puddle’s neck and squeezed. The dog keened, high pitched and anxious, until the needle was removed. Harrison watched and waited, empty syringe in hand. Puddles panted a little.

Long seconds passed. “Jesus Crapdancing Christ,” said Harrison, throwing the syringe down the hall in exasperation. He crouched down, grabbed Puddles’ face in his hands, shook his blocky Rottweiler head. “Wake up, Puddles. Dammit, boy, you gotta show some spunk. For Sarah.”

Puddles cocked his head to one side as if to say “Wut about Sarah?” and stared at Harrison with wide, lopsided eyes. Did they seem a little wider than usual? They started rolling crazily, and the dog’s whole body shook with tiny convulsions. Puddles barked several times at nothing. The shaking stopped and Puddles started pulling at the chain, his paws slipping on the scratched linoleum of the corridor floor, going faster as they failed to get purchase.

“Yes!” said Harrison, his free fist pumping. He grabbed the leash with both hands, and dragged Puddles back to the door. Puddles skittered this way and that, at times almost attempting to climb up the corridor walls.

They emerged just in time. Above the din of dogs and owners a boom box that was doing duty as a loudspeaker called out “Razor versus Alpha”. Razor was Puddle’s Nom de Guerre. Some things, Harrison felt, a dog should not have to bear in front of other dogs.

Harrison led Puddles to the makeshift holding pen. It smelt so strongly of dog piss and fear that Harrison had to pick up Puddles with each arm around two legs to prevent him scrabbling away - even then he ended up with a bloody scratch as Puddles was dropped into the pen.

Whatever was in the syringe had taken full effect now. Puddles was throwing himself against the walls of the enclosure. A few punters looked at the wild-eyed, slavering dog, and went to the bookie to place a bet. Harrison took this as a good sign, and began to breathe a little easier. He saw Mr Billings at the edge of the ring. Mr Billings, who had given him the syringe and told him that they could make a lot easy money together with Harrison’s Rotty and his own ‘patent-pending formula’, tipped his hat and then looked away.

Somewhere a bell rang and the cage doors were opened. Puddles exploded out into arena. His opponent was only slightly less eager, a medium sized Bitzer with a good dose of Staffordshire. They snarled at each other, and Harrison could see drool forming dangling strands from Puddle’s lip, could even see Puddle’s chest vibrating like a jackhammer.

The Bitzer lunged forward and Puddles leaped right over him. Harrison thrilled to see it, hating himself for doing so, for putting his pet into such a situation. Mr Billings had sworn that his formula would turn any dog into a winner, strip away the learned habits of domestication and reveal the beast, with a hefty dose of canine adrenaline to provide weight to the raw instinct. Harrison wondered if there was anything left of Puddles there in the ring, of the puppy that had made Sarah laugh.

The two dogs were circling each other when Puddles collapsed. Harrison yelled at him to get up but the dog was deathly still. The Bitzer pawed the ground uncertainly, sniffing at his fallen opponent. Harrison leaped into the ring. The moment his hand touched Puddles he could feel the lack of heartbeat and smell the leaking dog piss that pooled beneath his dead hope.

Fumblemouse fucked around with this message at Aug 26, 2013 around 02:57

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning


16 HOURS REMAIN

dreadmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

Erogenous Beef posted:

As a reminder to the contestants, this is due in just under 6 hours. Or do we have another Hillockian no-show on our hands?

Awww poo poo.

I didn't get my story out before heading down the wild and wi-filess West Coast. So that's a fail, but I'll get my story up in a few hours when I'm off the plane.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart


sebmojo posted:

Awww poo poo.

I didn't get my story out before heading down the wild and wi-filess West Coast. So that's a fail, but I'll get my story up in a few hours when I'm off the plane.

Great. I'll copy it onto my laptop and read it at the airport, because I've got a 16-hour itinerary starting in 7 hours. If you're not posted by then, Fumblemouse will win by default; I will be holding you to a very high standard, seeing as how you've had 24 additional hours.

Fumblemouse, go ahead and edit your thing if you want - please make a post or send me a PM if you do so I know to take a fresh copy for the plane. I have a crit of your current thing written; will hold it until the morning and I'll re-crit if you edit.

Nikaer Drekin
Oct 11, 2012


Looks like I'm going to break the ice!

Detective Dick DeForest's Private Eye Hard-Boiling School
(1,337 Words)

John Magnum's mooks tied Ted Lilith's hands behind his back and plunked him down in front of the toilet.

"So, Teddy Boy," John said, "what's this I hear about you hanging around my dame?"

"Johnny, please, whatever you heard was a lie, I swear to you!"

"Dunk him, boys."

They plunged his head down, into the bowl of grimy, cracked porcelain, Ted caught off guard and gulping the water down when he gasped for breath. After twenty seconds they let go and he sprang upright, coughing out the tepid water.

"I hope you're ready to sing now, Teddy. We can give you another drink if you're throat's still a bit dry."

"You're a psycho! I talked with her, that's all, at the drugstore checkout. I don't even know her name, Johnny, honest to God."

John smirked and bent down to face Ted. "So it's you who was lying, huh? When you said you'd never seen her. I don't like people who lie to me, Teddy. I'll be in touch."

He signaled to his thugs, and they shuffled out of the men's room, all cackling like loons in between cigarette puffs. John left last, whipping out a butterfly knife to slice the rope binding Ted's wrists. Ted stayed kneeling, hair and shirt drenched in piss water, forcing himself not to cry. He figured he was already plenty washed up.

*******

Dean Thornton sighed and stubbed out his Pall Mall. "Ted, I sympathize, but the administration confronting these punks? Well, it's just not done here."

Ted stared at him. The Dean's voice was rough, like the croaking of a toad mafe of sandpaper, and he could feel it grinding away at his nerves. "What do you do around here, then? I mean, come on now, this is harassment. Assault, even! I'm prepared to take legal action against the school if you don't at least try to make this right."

Thornton paused, leaned back in his chair. Darkness swamped his office, the only light coming from a sharp desk lamp and the dying embers of the Dean's cigarette. Thornton swiveled to the side in his chair, his rugged face sinking into the shadows. Ted watched him tug another Pall Mall from the pack in his breast pocket, then strike a match on the desk to light it. After a calming lungful of smoke, he turned back to Ted, who wrinkled his nose as the tobacco haze spread.

"Apologies," Thornton said, waving away the smoke. "Your, uh... disinclination for the habit slipped my mind. Anyway, what I was going to say is that the administration doesn't step in to resolve spats between students. The students have to deal with each other. Man to man."

"That can't possibly be legal."

"Look, Ted, you're a fine student; you have a sharp mind and you've done good work here. But are you sure this place is the right fit for you?"

"Goddamn it, sir, I'm not going back to Encyclopedia Brown Academy. I want to be a private eye working the city streets, not some small-town hick investigating whether little Billy Olson stole from the till at his mom and dad's store!"

"I understand that, Ted," Dean Thornton said. "But this is a school for detectives with grit, ones who want to immerse themselves in the hard-boiled way of life. You, on the other hand, don't smoke, you don't slap mouthy dames around, and I've hardly ever seen you at the shooting range. As far as hard-boiling goes, you've barely dipped your toe in the water. Here, I have just the thing for you."

Thornton pulled out a desk drawer and rummaged through it. A moment later he lifted up a .38 snub-nosed revolver and slapped it down on the table.

"You see, Ted, hard-boiled detectives handle things for themselves. That gun is loaded and the serial number has been filed off." Ted started to protest, but Thornton cut him off. "Don't say anything to me. Take care of what you have to take care of. Be discreet. Now go."

*******

Ted sat motionless on the bed in the dark room until he heard the doorknob rattle and the door creak open, a burst of light striking the back wall. John Magnum shut the door and flicked on the light switch. The bulb hanging from the ceiling emanated a dim amber glow. He turned around and saw Ted in the corner of his eye, but it didn't register until a second later. His head jerked back to face him.

"The gently caress are you doing in my room, Teddy?" John asked.

"Hello, John. We've got business we need to settle."

John snorted. "Uh huh. I'm thinking you should get out of here if you don't want to go diving in the latrines again. Go on, I'm feeling like a very forgiving individual right now."

Ted pointed the revolver at John's chest and pulled the hammer back. "Sit down in that chair by the desk." Shrugging, John lifted his hands and complied.

"So how about it, Sam Spade? You're going to gun me down in cold blood, right now? I don't think you could. Not in your wildest fantasies, kid"

"Don't be so sure," Ted said. "I might not be as much of a hard-rear end as you and your subordinates, but none of you have any right to tell me I don't belong here. I'll do what's necessary to get the message across."

John sat frozen for a moment, but then fell apart into a giggling fit. He doubled over, face creased with mirth. Stifling his laughter, he sat back up and noticed the gun wobbling like pudding in Ted's hand.

"And what's that?" John asked. "What message are you going to tell the world, Teddy Boy? I'm dying to hear it."

Ted took a slow, deep breath and squeezed the pistol grip. "They're all going to know," he said, "that Theodore Lillith takes crap from no man." He pulled the trigger.

There was a click. The smile on John Magnum's face dissolved. "You son of a bitch," he said. "You were really going to do it."

Ted didn't say anything. He sat and stared over John's shoulder.

"Hey, Ted," John said coolly, "you look at me. You were really going to kill me over a couple swirlies? That's... pretty cold, man."

Ted gulped. He wished more than anything to be tracking down a wayward pet pig right about now, solving some suburban dilemma far away from John Magnum, his butterfly knife, and the cold, wretched pistol.

John kept his voice soft and steady. "I was wrong about you. You're plenty hard-boiled, and I didn't have any cause to say differently. We're square, okay? I think you should leave now, though. My nerves are pretty strung-out, and I bet yours are too, huh?"

Ted nodded once, slowly.

"All right then," John said. "You go on back to your room. The two of us are cool now, I swear it." He lifted a hand, the sly grin coming back to his face. "Honest Injun, okay?"

Ted nodded again, then stood up and sidled to the door. He kept the gun trained on John, but as soon as he was out in the hall he flung it away and bolted to the stairwell. Once he reached the steps, he took a breath and started up toward his dorm, but decided to go for a walk instead. He needed to think about his future.

Pushing past the double doors in the main hall, Ted breathed a lungful of the sweet, damp night air. He looked back up at the building and saw John Magnum's dorm room, his head silhouetted against the window shade. Ted shivered, even though the night was warm. He thought of how easily his finger squeezed the trigger, trying to convince himself it was just some freak twitch, but knowing that was a lie.

"I bet you a million bucks," he mumbled, "Encyclopedia Brown never had to do anything like that."

Chillmatic
Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

Madam Charlotte’s School For Aberrant Girls
1,497 words


Auburn, Illinois--1937

Though the stiff grey cots in our dorms weren’t by any means fit for whoring, I’d been here long enough to be accused of it.

Knowing smirks, snide comments, fake dollar bills left on my pillow--suggestions of loose legs bandied about by loose lips. How typical. But more to the matter, how simple the slander. How lazy! They say, and they are right, that the girls of Madam Charlotte’s compete for high-reaching marks every bit as feverishly as they do for low-hanging fruit.

So in my defense I’ll say that I have never in my life charged any lover a nickel. And not only that, but I make far too much ruckus to favor a tryst in any so public a spot, though I could perhaps be compelled to test walls of the the fifth floor maintenance closet. It would be best, if you were wondering and in need of it, to wait until the clattering water boiler in that closet fires up in the early afternoon, just before Society Classes. But be sure to check first for a knot of chewing gum--strawberry flavored--pressed against the doorknob before you enter, lest you and I make a most awkwardly-intimate acquaintance.

The morning announcements began to crackle over the intercom as I favored my face with a brush of powder, blindly, as I owned no mirror. In just two weeks’ time I’d learned the contents of the days’ insufferable recorded greeting, as well as the cadence in which it was read. I began to work my hair into a single, thick braid while mouthing along with the dreadful words--a fierce, if mute, mockery:

To all girls good morning. Remember why you are here. Remember why no one comes to visit you. Remember why you have failed to achieve marks high enough to earn your place outside these walls. Remember that you entered as deviants but shall leave only as debutantes…

And so on.

I wasn’t sure why I was here, whether it was the mansion I’d burned down, the Oldsmobile Convertable I’d stolen, the bank safe I’d helped get unstuck, or the third of any such incident. Inquire, if you must, with the district attorney of Chicago for the particulars as to my holding.

There was another girl, boyish and quite pretty, sitting two beds over from mine, also in the middle of beating her face with a brush. She must have noticed my re-enactment of the morning announcements. “Don’t let ‘em catch you doing that,” she said, clipping back sandy blonde hair with bent, mismatched barrettes. “Or anything else, for that matter.”

At least she hadn’t thought to call me a ha'penny harlot. “Getting caught is an exception for me,” I replied, frowning with concentration and cursing the fact that I didn’t own a compact with a mirror.

She laughed. “Everyone in here says that. Need a mirror? I’ll loan you mine. For a cigarette.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“I know, but I saw you steal a pack right out from under Millie, yesterday.”

She seemed to note the concern lining my face and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. I can hardly stand the sight of her.”

Begrudgingly I grabbed my lilly-white pillow and felt around in it before finding the rumpled pack of Lucky’s and tossing them to her.

When I held her mirror up to my face, I couldn’t believe how tired I looked.

***

The Role Of Good, Honest, and Strong WOMEN In A Very Foul, Indecent World / Or, Roots And Consaquenses Of This Our Modern Gender Confusion


Understand that I would much sooner part my own veins than I would sit through a speech with a title so hideously edited. But because this was a mandatory symposium, and because Madam Charlotte herself was due to tour the grounds sometime today, I found myself sitting in the Great Hall amongst two hundred other badly-behaved girls, doing all I could do to stay awake.

After five excruciating minutes of machine-gun adverbs mixed with unsettled disagreements between moody subjects and hapless verbs, I excused myself under the guise of a most-convenient arrival of the Lady’s Calendar.

Besides, I was an expert on the subject being discussed: I knew enough of Goodness and Honesty and Strength to know that a proper lady was only allowed to demonstrate two of the three at any one time.

I had taken a small handful of steps out into the hall when none other than Madam Charlotte, a giantess if ever there were, appeared behind me, latching hold of my thick, raven-braid and pulling my wiry frame--kicking but not screaming--back inside.

***

Her office would have made a dentist quite uncomfortable.

Sitting behind a substantial brown desk, The Madam, an aged woman in an impossibly conservative black jumper dress, was quietly thumbing through the numerous court orders, character statements, police reports, and mug shots that had accompanied me here. For my part, I was slouching in a chair twice my size, chewing gum defiantly and sucking my tongue, all to look as disinterested as could be.

“Such a resume for a girl of sixteen, and from such a wealthy--if not happy--family, too!” was Madam Charlotte’s appraisal. “It just won’t do.”

I shrugged. “It’s rather the only resume I’ve got. And as for family, the dead are most often unhappy,” I said, quite helpfully.

“It was only three months ago that your parents took their own lives, so I’ll not allow you to blame the lot on that!”

‘Took their own lives’. A more sanitary description, than, say, the actual way of the thing. I’ll spare your nerve and say only that my parents had set out on a cool Thursday morning to repaint our summer veranda, my favored reading spot, to a lovely chestnut brown; when came the heat of the afternoon they had traded their good intentions for arguments, then their brushes for a 12-gauge scattergun, and then, finally, lovely chestnut brown for slimy splattered grey and red.

Mutual suicide; their final, desperate attempt to one-up each other. Congratulations.

“You attended the finest parochials,” Madam Charlotte continued, “studied the classics, earned the highest marks amongst your peers, and stood perennially for commendation. Such a fall you’ve had: Crime, vagrancy, deviancy! Do you wonder why this is?”

I didn’t, really.

“You’ve clearly, from this report, developed an addiction to relations. Sexual!”

Oh, that. Indeed!

She continued, “...to boys, men...”

Huh?

“...of all ages, and, if these ghastly reports are to be believed, of all descriptions, too.”

I smacked my gum, started smiling. I had to wonder if the true extent of my proclivities was either absent from the file, or if in a fit of squeamishness she’d skimmed too quickly, only saw “SEX”, and thus had overlooked. Also: official reports dealing with a girl of my preference sometimes left out details too embarrassing for their author to bear the thought of writing.

She studied my face, her worn-out eyes narrowing. “No doubt, you’ve been led by men to delinquency. And what’s more I think you enjoy it,” she muttered. “Being caught delinquent, I mean.”

I blew and popped a bubble, the scent of stale strawberry filling the dusty room. She was right--about being caught anyway. So I said, “No. You’re wrong.”

“I’m sure I’m not,” she said, sitting back in her chair, as pleased with herself as if she’d just cracked the electrical telegraph. “So,” she continued, triumphantly, “I can assure you that our security here is top-notch, and given that my formal diagnoses of your hysteria includes an unhealthy appetite for the company of men, I am glad to say that none are allowed inside my walls. And since you cannot leave, we are quite sure to cure you, eventually and fully, of your carnality.”

***

Whether a life in thrall would have otherwise cured or wounded me, I cannot say; over the next six months, Heather--my sandy-haired confederate with the mirror and smoking habit--would prove a balm to my restlessness. With time we’d grown quite close, talking every waking minute--and as the chill of winter began to creep through the walls, we started squeezing ourselves onto a single grey cot each night, laughing together under a blanket at such a brazen possibility as Us.

Now it was a late afternoon, Heather and I had dutifully volunteered for trash pickup on the fifth floor. As we chatted and lazily scooped up scraps of paper and sanitary wrappers, I heard, from down at the far end of the hall and inside the maintenance closet, the water-heater start to hiss and rattle.

I dropped my bag. Grinning at Heather, I reached for her hand and said, “Let’s go!”

Without a soul around, we moved gracefully and quietly, two eager wraiths sashaying down an endless hallway. At the closet I jimmied open the door with a wayward bobby pin, and when I took her arm and pulled her inside, she asked me, the both of us laughing, “You sure? We were almost caught last time!”

Before I kissed her, I pulled the wad of gum from my mouth and mashed it against the doorknob--then pushed the door shut behind us.

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning


5 hours remain

E:

Really?

OUTSTANDING


Chairchucker - Academie d'Cake l'Orange
Sitting Here - The Institute for Anonymous Public Facilitators
Accretionist - Maniac-Depressive Aero-Space Academy (or something)
Unknowing - Mars Institute for Waste Processing and Reclamation
Wash Clothes -Rob Dyrdek School of Skateboarding (X-TREME requirements)
Schneider Heim - St. George's School of Monster-slaying and People-saving
Barracuda Bang! - The Cooper Union for the Cooping Arts (must be canon)
M. Propogandalf - Starkhall Training Academy for Truancy Investigations and Corrections (STATIC) (all depts must have acronyms that work)
Kaishai - The Prestonwood Forest Institute of Artistic Application of Light

The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at Aug 26, 2013 around 03:17

Mercedes
Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.


Xavier Marchena School of Urban Parkour (1499 words)

Flash Rule: The school has to be government funded and for the making minorities polite. Or something like that.


Omar stepped out of the bathroom and made his way back toward the crowd of look-alikes. It's been a month since he joined the class, and yet despite his motives, he's enjoyed the time he spent with Xavier. His New Jersey accent wore on many people's nerves, but, he was a stand up guy. It's a shame that by the end of the day, the school will be permanently shut down and Xavier will most likely find himself in prison.

“What up, esse?” Omar clasped hands with a Puerto Rican and they pulled each other in for a shoulder bump.

Dimelo, dimelo, dimelo!” Kenneth squinted his eyes as he laughed. He had the same uniform everyone else wore. Grey cargo pants that cinched at the ankles, a blue shirt with the school name printed in yellow over a leaping frog, and a black backpack.

“I still can't believe he got government funding for this. Can't even get student loan for myself.”

Kenneth lightly slapped Omar on the chest and hid his surprise when his knuckles hit metal instead. “Whatever you do, don't stop bitching about his school.”

“I'm just saying it's a stupid idea. Free running will not make us more polite,” Omar stabilized himself on Kenneth while he stretched his hamstrings. “The next lady he forces us to help, I'm pushing into traffic.”

“Chill snowflake! You and them ladies. I swear.” Kenneth said.

“Chill brotha.” Omar over-enunciated every syllable as he bobbed his head side to side. “Don't let that fake Rasta hear you, or you might find yourself doing some pull-ups like a little bitch.”

“Your momma's a little bitch.” That smile again. “Look, check it. I got a text on my burner from Mervin and Eddie while you was pampering in the bathroom. We golden if we take a break in fifteen minutes at our spot. It's go time baby.” Kenneth ran towards where the group was densest.

Omar was too far away to hear what Kenneth said to Xavier, but the teacher was in agreement and Kenneth led the group in the run.

Everyone formed up in a single file and gave the person in front of them a few meters of distance to avoid any accidental collisions. The run was a game of follow the leader. Kenneth started off easy as he snaked his way through a playground and led the party toward a cramped alley with access to a cluster of buildings.

Omar vaulted over a fence and landed with a roll. Rounding the corner, he saw a fire escape just out of his reach with someone already half way up. He turned and ran up the opposite wall. As his momentum slowed, he jumped backward and spun mid-air. His fingers curled around the iron bar and he used his feet to stop himself from crashing into the wall. He climbed up and looked at his watch. Ten minutes.

The group maneuvered buildings by balancing on the sheer ledges that overlooked the street and leaping across daunting gaps. Kenneth kept the flow going by consistently changing elevations and giving the other runners things to jump over or slide under.

The air whistled in Omar's ears as he sped up to clear the uneven gap between the buildings. He landed on his feet and hands and pushed himself up. He balanced himself on the raised ledge and fought back the vertigo. He peered down and saw two figures with the parkour school colors looking up at him. He glanced at his watch. Five minutes.

Omar dropped from one floor to the next, catching himself on the concrete barriers between the garage levels. He shimmied to the side until he was within reach of a water drainage pipe. With a firm grip on the metal tube, he let go of the building and made his descent down to the street level.

The parkour group waited for the rest to catch up. Omar checked his watch again. His brow wrinkled with worry. They're late, and if he doesn't stall for time, all this would have been for nothing. He feigned exhaustion as he stumbled up with his arms flailing around. “Hey Xavier!” Omar bent over and propped himself up on his knees. “Can we take a break? Help someone by holding their phone to their ear for them or something?”

A few hushed chuckles rippled through the group. Xavier didn't look too pleased. “Come on man. Let's keep it nice, please?” he said. “Don't make me give you pull ups. We're going, Juston has a route he wants to take us through.”

Sirens in the distance. Omar shot Kenneth an apprehensive look when he heard faint sounds echoing through the street. Someone must have triggered the silent alarm. He looked at the bank across from where they stood. They have thirty seconds to get out, otherwise Mervin and Eddie are getting left behind.

They need every second. “gently caress you, nigga.” Omar jabbed his finger at Xavier.

“Omar... relax man.” One of the runners said.

“Go gently caress yourself, and eat a cat while you're at it, Slant-eyes.”

Xavier placed a hand on Omar's shoulder which was immediately slapped off. “I don't know where this anger is coming from, bro. Why the hostility?”

His genuine care unsettled Omar enough that he momentarily dropped his facade.

Two masked men wearing the school's uniform ran into the middle of the group and pointed their pistols at everyone.

“Ya'll best run if you hate bullets coming at you.” the first masked man said to the frozen group.

The second gunman shot into the air and liberated everyone from their paralysis, giving them the adrenaline they needed to scatter. He shoved Xavier aside and handed Omar a stuffed black backpack before he ran off.

Omar's eyes locked with Xavier's. He saw the facial expression slowly change as the realization of what actually happened came to him.

There wasn't any time left. The sirens were close now and they're the only two left. Omar turned and sprinted away.

He discarded the empty backpack and replaced it with the one full of money. At the corner, he turned and slipped, his inertia too much for the soles of his shoes. Still, he kept his balance, pushed himself back up and ran into the parking ramp. He rounded the second floor when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Wait!” Xavier called out. He was gaining ground.

Omar cursed when he looked back and saw how the parkour teacher chased him. He banked right and catapulted himself off a parked car. He stretched his body out and used the momentum to help himself clear the concrete barrier up to the next floor. Omar pumped his arms as he ran at full speed. Ahead of him was a gap between the parking ramp and the apartment building. He could clear it, he just needs to go up one more level.

His vision shook as his feet pounded the cement. A pain flared out from his liver and his lungs burned, but he couldn't let that slow him down. Xavier was a better athlete and a better free-runner. If he was going to lose him, Omar needed to take risks larger than Xavier felt comfortable with.

The ledge was straight ahead. A car pulled out of a parking spot. Omar dove forward and placed his hands on the hood allowing him swing his feet back in front. His landing was clean and he continued forward. Behind him, he heard the sound of aluminum flexing as Xavier made his way over the car.

“I just want to talk, Omar!”

Omar leaped forward and anchored his feet on the ledge. As his body continued forward, he sunk, gathering power into his legs. He then exploded forward, crossing the air as he looked down at his target – a balcony on the fifth floor.

Omar tucked his legs in close in order to lower the amount of wind resistance. As he waved his arms back and forth, he kept his body upright. The balcony rushed up to meet him. He extended his legs to absorb most of the impact. Still, he landed hard. He rolled, but the backpack hindered him and he launched through the sliding screen door. Omar pushed himself up and pulled his gun from under his shirt. He expected to see Xavier staring at him from the garage as he turned. Instead, they collided and the gun went off.

Omar pushed Xavier off of him. His hands shook as he saw all the blood. So much blood. “You idiot... why did you chase me?” He said as he crawled towards Xavier's supine body. “No one was supposed to get hurt!”

Omar threw the gun on the floor and uselessly performed chest compressions. Blood squirted through his fingers as he pushed down. He stopped. Xavier's eyes had already glazed over. “No one was supposed to get hurt...”

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





The International Academy Of Practical Mime
1372 Words.
Flash Rule (Self-Inflicted) - No Dialogue


Marc stood on the sidewalk. It wasn’t too late. He could call another cab, go back home, apologize to his parents and enroll at the community college. He could take the money he’d saved for tuition and go rent an apartment and look for work. He could...stand out here all day and eventually die of heatstroke. He didn’t have to go through with this.

The heat made his decision for him. He started dragging his suitcase through the gates, up the path, past the twin fountains, and toward the stairs leading up to the double doors to the administration building of the International Academy of Practical Mime, Southern Campus. At the very least, he could go through his crisis of indecision in an air-conditioned building.

When he was at the foot of the steps, the rightmost door opened, and a tall, gaunt man stumbled outside as if pushed. He was dressed all in black, hair slicked as close to his scalp as possible, and his face was covered in white greasepaint, with three thin smears on his right cheek. He stood up straight, turned toward the door, and held up both hands, palms out, fingers outstretched.

A middle-aged woman, about half the man’s height, stood in the doorway, a severe expression on her face. She wore no makeup that Marc could see, certainly not the white clown-face stuff the man was wearing, and she was dressed in a dark gray business suit with a floral print blouse.

The man started to move his hands from side to side around him, giving the impression that he was trapped in an invisible box. The woman just shook her head and pointed to the street. He put his hands together, looking up. She drew one finger across her throat, and then resumed pointing.

The man drooped, and turned around, not acknowledging Marc in the least. He reached down, fingers closing around the handle of an unseen suitcase, and started trudging down the path. The woman turned to face Marc, tilted her head to the side, and motioned him forward. Marc, still completely unsure of himself, began walking, sidestepping to let the apparently-banished mime pass him by. Once he was at the top of the stairs, he opened his mouth, but the woman lifted a single finger to her lips, and gestured to a sign hanging just inside the door.

Nothing was written on the sign, but there were two pictures, both with a red circle and a slash through them. The first was of a pair of lips, the second was of a stylized clown. The woman held up one finger, pointed to the sign, pointed to her lips, and made the motion of a key in a lock. She then held up two fingers, and raised both hands to her face, rubbing them across as if applying makeup, before mimicking the invisible-box routine that the man she’d sent packing had been doing. She shook her head slowly, and then looked at him.

Marc started to nod, and then he frowned. He didn’t quite understand. And didn’t know how to ask the many questions he now had. Maybe that was the point. He raised his hand. The woman smiled, and gestured for him to follow.

Marc did not hear a single word spoken for the next four months, and the words he saw written down were few and far between, all part of the total immersion ideal that went into the Academy’s curriculum. The first day of his first class, Introduction To Nonverbal Communication, Marc was called to the front, as were all the other students. The professor, Doctor Alden, a balding black man with horn-rimmed spectacles, pointed to Marc, and to the ground, and then held his hands up in an exaggerated shrug. Why are you here?

Marc couldn’t answer, he had no way to explain without speaking, and speech was, he knew, an expulsion offense. He stared at Doctor Alden, and tentatively raised his hands. Doctor Alden shook his head slightly and pointed to Marc’s seat, as he had with every other student, before gesturing to the next one.

The first weeks were a hell of incomprehensible gestures and utter frustration, mitigated only by the fact that his fellow students were just as frustrated as he was. Some of them couldn’t handle the frustration, and one memorable day, Jim Perkins, from Abilene, Texas, was heard to shout obscenities in his Gesture Studies class. He was gone the next day, and Marc, like the rest of the students, quietly resolved that this would not be their fate.

He couldn’t, later, point to a specific moment when everything became clear to him, not to any grand epiphany. But, as weeks turned to months, Marc found himself understanding more and more out of every gesture, every head-tilt, every brow-narrowing, every shift in stance. His classes became less about struggling to understand his professors, and more about struggling to understand the theory behind the material. He’d had no idea that mime had its origins in the martial traditions of Tang Dynasty China, and, though he wouldn’t have dared say so, even had he dared speak at all, he strongly suspected this wasn’t the case at all. But it didn’t matter. He was learning practical communication skills he had no idea even existed a few months ago. He was learning that the invisible box was a conceptual cage, a prison from which he could break free, not a petty sideshow. He was learning that a completely ridiculous school that everyone knew had been set up as a tax dodge in the seventies could nonetheless teach him things.

He was also learning that fellow classmate Elaine Ferris, from Vermont, enjoyed Thai food, silent (of course) films, could make surprisingly direct suggestions without using any muscles below her cheekbones, and believed in aliens. And that Will Fallon, from somewhere that apparently really was called Lost City, West Virginia, had enrolled here because his parents believed it was a school of Practical Mining, and he hadn’t yet bothered to correct them. And that Philip Jensen, who had signed up for every single class on understanding nonverbal cues, and as few others as possible, worked for the Federal government in some capacity which he was unwilling to share.

And that Marc Markov, while he still had no idea what he ultimately wanted to do with his life, was, for now, in the right place.

Winter break approached, and with it his first batch of final. Intro to Nonverbal Communication required what Marc was thinking of as a nonverbal oral exam. Five minutes in front of the class, answering a question posed by Doctor Alden. Always the same question, the question he’d opened class with. Why are you here?

Elaine pointed to the stars, and then to herself, and then pantomimed an elaborate conversation with something completely incomprehensible, using only her left hand. Marc was, by this point, wild about her, but he had to admit that sometimes she was a bit of a show-off. Will swung his hands over his head and brought an imaginary pickaxe down on Doctor Alden’s desk, over and over, before drawing his hand across his throat. Phil just shook his head and folded his arms, radiating silence for five minutes.

Marc’s turn came. He strode with confidence to the front of the class, and when the professor pointed to him, and then to the ground, he was ready. He pointed, not to anyone present, but to someone he imagined standing before him, slightly taller. And then he held up that same hand, opening and closing his fingers and thumb rapidly, before putting both hands over his ears. He pointed again, this time to someone slightly shorter, in another direction. Once again, he opened and closed his fingers and thumb, once more put his hands over his ears. And again, pointing to someone half his height. Over and over. people around him, people who wouldn’t shut up.

At last, he pointed to the ground. gestured around him, raised a hand to his ear, and smiled at the silence.

Will coughed, slightly ruining the moment in Marc’s estimation, but it didn’t matter.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

The Flow Fascile
1500 words


"How come you never told anyone about it?"

"It was like, at first--you know how easy it is to get little kids to keep secrets--they just told me my parents would be mad if they knew I wasn't going to regular classes. Then I started to understand what the Institute was about, and I didn't want to tell anyone."

Tessia rolls over check the time on her phone, and to Seamus the dent of her absence on the pillow smells like fresh rain, even though they've been laying in this bed for the better part of three days, under-showered and undisturbed.

He says, "how much longer?"

"Long enough."

"For what?"

"To tell you the truth about everything. I'm tired. Of it. I don't know don't know if I'm the Flow or just the Shape that the Flow moves through anymore," she says. Seamus doesn't follow. "You know how like musicians can't listen to music and writers can't read books and magicians can't fall for an illusion? With the Institute--it's like that, but bigger. It's like they shove your face close to the mosaic until you see that it's all bits of glass and stone."

"So they took you out of school and made you look at a mosaic?"

Tessia lights a cigarette. "I was never out of school, just didn't go to normal classes. The Institute, they're like an underground railroad for making more Facilitators. The people who run the whole thing, they can do poo poo that make it seem sometimes like the world is just a fancy marionette."

Seamus dusts hot ash off Tessia's thigh that she doesn't notice has fallen there.

"The first thing they teach is Shape and Flow. Not all events are equal. Lets say you hold the door open for someone. You, the door-holder, in that situation become the Shape, and the door-holdee is the Flow. You're the bed to their river, the stadium to their concert."

"What you're saying is that they taught you--and I'm picturing this in like a smoky janitor's closet with some guy who hacks on his cigar and says smooth in a surly plumber's voice--is that they taught you to be a doormat."

Tessia and Seamus are in Seamus's downtown apartment on the morning of what is supposed to be the largest national day of anti-surveillance demonstrations in history. Seamus can tell that Tessia is pretty shook up about the whole thing, even if it is all just pebbles and glass and smoke and mirrors. But she's having none of his blasé attitude.

"What's wrong with being a doormat? We're always denigrating the stuff we need most. We should all be so lucky to be as decent of people as your standard doormat."

"But so anyway, the Institute," says Seamus as he takes the now mostly spent stub of a cigarette from Tessia's hand where she seems to have forgotten it. There are little stiff-edged holes in the sheet from before he figured out how to shape himself around her chaos.

She says, "the closet isn't far off, though. When I first started going, back at Garfield Elementary, the Institute had us meet in the boiler room behind the kitchen. It always worked out that none of the staff happened to pop into the boiler room while we were in there. It's always like that, whatever the Institute is doing, wherever they are, it all slips beneath people's attention. Because they control everything. We control everything.

"Shay, they start us so young. They make you think it's a good thing, what we do. What Facilitators do. First it's all holding doors open, replacing the paper in public toilets, taking bags of dog poo poo off of people's porches. You know. Random acts of kindness. Those moments when all you can do is look up at the sky and say, give me a break. Well, we do, when we can. Give you a break, I mean.

"When I talk about Shape and Flow, I'm talking about sort of a like-a-bridge-over-troubled-water-I-will-lay-me-down thing. We are the 'path' part of the path of least resistance."

This whole time Seamus has been stretching and swinging his legs over the side of the bed and looking around for pants and shoes and generally indicating with his body language that they should probably get up and get going if they want a good spot at the civil uprising.

"I don't know if I can do this, is what I'm telling you, Seamus."

"Mmm, yeah. You are definitely some sort of sleeper cell set to trigger in a Thriller-dance flash mob."

Seamus pulls on his hoody and when he turns around Tessia is standing there naked but her body is closed, folded in on itself under the protective nest of her crossed arms. "The Institute," she presses on, "likes order. But they'll take advantage of chaos to get it. They don't--they're not who you think. The NSA, FBI, CIA, those are all broken tools set to a job they can't hope to understand or accomplish." She's shivering now. "I can't--I can't--"

Seamus watches himself watch her hyperventilate. Growing up on a sterile California cul-de-sac and having tested positive, his parents claimed, for allergies to every sort pet he could think of, he has never seen an animal in true physiological distress before.

"What do I--Should I--" Then he's kneeling beside her, alternating between awkwardly rubbing her shoulder and awkwardly patting her back. He is momentarily ashamed of finding the sheen of sweat on the ridge of her spine sensual in the room's low lamp light.

"Air," she says. "Outside. Now. I shouldn't've--shouldn't've said."

Seamus helps her put on a big sweatshirt and a pair of his pajama pants and her faded canvas sneakers and helps her close her fingers around another cigarette.



Tessia breathes easier in the open, where the air is, even in the heart of the city, crisp enough to thin out the fat and grease smell of the burger place over which Seamus lives. She fumbles with the lighter until Shay flicks it for her, and the heat on her face reminds her to unclench her teeth, a little.

Down the block protesters are already gathering in the public plaza outside of city hall, even though the Mayor has given his blessing to the demonstrations (privately, he understands that he is at a juncture where he must needs play both the face of and an advocate against an increasingly martial regime, though he doesn't like that his mind jumps to that word when thinking of the current administration).

The crowd is substantial, even in the early morning. Tessia has confirmed what she's pretty sure she already knew: She physically cannot tell anyone the extent of the Institute for Anonymous Public Facilitator's control, nor its goals, nor anything, it seemed, that would be damaging to the Facilitators' goals. Which means that anything she'd been capable of telling, say, Seamus was in all likelihood meant to be told, and so whatever choice she makes forthwith is in all likelihood a choice she has been long conditioned for, which means stay or go, she is probably already so deep inside the Shape that the Institute is trying to get the world to Flow around that there is no choosing her way out of their machinations.

"Are you sure?" Seamus asks as Tessia drifts in the direction of the protest.

"Go with the Flow," she murmurs, and lets him take her arm and lead her, lamb-like, into the crowd.

Tessia wonders at slogans on signs, high-end smart phones, and at faces covered by black bandannas. She wonders at all the kids drinking Mexican Coca Cola out of those tell-tale glass bottles, wonders who planted the idea that the cane sugar is markedly, quantifiably better-tasting.

She wonders, when the crowd parts for a moment, at the apologetic look on the face of a police officer several feet away on the opposite side of one of those temporary fences that the cops use to kettle rioters. He raises his arms, which come together to punctuate in something black, and Tessia at first thinks to move, thinks that he is shooting someone behind her, for her protection.

To Seamus it begins and ends with a pop, and then Tessia is on the ground and people are both backing away and pushing closer to get photos and in some cases to livestream the day of action's first blood live to the protest's online counterparts, who are momentarily ashamed to admit that they are glad it was the cops that dunnit and not one of their own.

Roughly-outfitted, self-appointed "field medics" shove through the crowd, demanding space, demanding air.

The last thing Tessia sees is Seamus, caught in the inevitable tide-shift toward violence and retribution, ripping one of those touted glass Cola bottles out of another protester's hand and surging forward with the rest toward the police line, he and all the others certain that they are the ones Shaping history today.

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Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Night of Lights
(1,400 words)

Standing backstage by my control board, I drank in the cheers of the crowd as though they were meant for me and not the band. Only for a second; I knew better, and I grinned at my own ego even as I flipped switches that made the LEDs I'd attached to all the instruments flash blue and gold. The band members clapped my shoulders and bumped fists with me on their way offstage. I followed them out through the side door. Shawn Riverson leaned on a wall in the hall beyond, waiting for me: he stood straight when our eyes met.

"Lights on a trumpet, huh," he said. "Well, you'll get your extra credit, I'm almost sure."

I walked past him, or tried to. He moved into step with me. I said, "That wasn't the point. But thanks. Sorry, there's stuff I need to do."

"So are you giving up on Christmas or what?"

I stopped and turned to face him. The curve of his mouth might have been called a smile, if one were naive. "Not hardly," I said.

"You can't blame me for wondering, when you're taking on side work in September. I won't mind if you stay out, Rennie, but shouldn't you let us all know?"

"Shouldn't you piss on a live wire?" I suggested.

He let me pass at last, laughing at my back. I kept my hands from forming fists with focused will. At least the adrenaline buzz from the concert would last longer than I'd expected, I supposed: my blood had been running fast from the thrill of a challenge, and it raced anew with my desire to punch Shawn in the face. Largely because he was right: I should have been thinking about Christmas long since.

#

Neither trees nor flowers nor graceful architecture made the campus of the Prestonwood Forest Institute so stunning. We were out in the desert, for one thing; the 'forest' part of the name was a joke. Every tree we had, though, and every building and bush was brilliant with light as soon as the sun set. Luminescent frescoes painted by students glowed on the walls. None of our classrooms were ever dark.

I came home to the dorms on a bus, my mind on circuits and bulbs and belated plans. Shawn had reminded me that there was more to think about in the Christmas season than my mandatory part in the traditional campus-wide display. Students had the option of competing against each other with individual light shows. The winners of the yearly contest had irrefutable status for the rest of their time at Prestonwood and received letters of reference upon graduation. I'd come in fifth the year before, one place ahead of Shawn. Fifth place would no longer satisfy me.

Should I use the full rainbow? I wrote out a list of colors and scratched purple off immediately--not traditional; too gaudy--then nixed gold for being overused. What shapes should I create out of cords and wires? Angels? Deer? I sketched tableau after tableau over the week that followed. Pinning the drawings to my walls, I turned my single room into a study of Christmas. Snowdrifts made of shredded notes built up against the baseboards.

I confess, my classwork in Elementary Glowsticks suffered.

At length, however, I had my plan. The college provided a generous allowance for Christmas; I haggled hard with our traditional providers to bring down their prices for extension cords, circuits, and solder, and I still burned through every cent. Keeping my records in order took up as much time as scripting programs for my simple timing effects. I tested and experimented as much as I could while I waited for my materials to come in.

For Thanksgiving I flew to Missouri be with my family, project or no project. I left all my work behind for a few days. Not being a total idiot, I locked my door. When my key met no resistance on my return, my breath stopped. When I saw my desk empty, all my schematics gone--when I found my spreadsheets and programs and e-mails had been wiped from my computer--I yelled curses until my next-door neighbor pounded on the wall between us and threatened to call the RA.

Scrabbling through my trash, through my purse, I came up with an envelope with one of my suppliers' phone numbers scrawled on the back. "It's Rennie Stichney. I need to ask about my order," I said as soon as a man picked up.

"Stichney? You're the one who had us rush your stuff over the weekend?"

"No," I said through grit teeth, "I did not."

"Uh, somebody did. Gave the right order number, paid a fee. We shipped it to Prestonwood on Friday."

I knew damned well the materials wouldn't be at the college post office anymore. And they weren't. Neither were any of my other supplies, all of which--as best I could discover--had been delivered while I was away. None of the suppliers were interested in refunding my money or duplicating the orders, particularly as I had no order numbers on hand to convince them I was the rightful purchaser. In fact, one woman told me flatly that Rennie Stichney was a man and I ought to be ashamed of myself.

So.

Three weeks until the contest. No materials. No budget. Long odds on getting my stuff back from Shawn--who else?--in time, assuming he hadn't already started to work with it, and assuming I could convince the college that he'd stolen from me before it was too late to matter. At best I could get us both removed from competition while the administrators tried to untangle things. I remembered Shawn's voice asking, "So are you giving up or what?"

"Ask a stupid question, rear end in a top hat," I said to myself, and I started work on Plan B.

#

On a clear night in December, three weeks later, I walked into a tiny forest made of electricity and glass. If I looked, the trees were only wire. Ice-white trunks flowed up into ice-white branches, but the fingers of those branches were shaped in sapphire light. Small, cloudy glass pebbles like chips of ice lay scattered around, over, and between the blue and white bulbs that spangled the ground. A pool waited in the middle of it all. A mirror, really. It shone with the reflected glow of the false winter, and students knelt beside it, peering into it as though secrets and wonders lived there. The tableau was everything I'd imagined it would be.

Shawn had the grace--or the sense--to avoid me, but I saw his smirk in every idea he'd stolen, and I heard it in the appreciative tone of the judges' murmurs.

"Ms. Stichney." Professor Farquist stood at my shoulder. "Are you ready to show us your display?"

"Yes, sir. If you'll walk just a little way with me?"

My homemade control board stood between two tableaux that certainly weren't mine. The professor scanned the area nearby for any sign of an unlit display, and he and the other two judges looked at me, perplexed. I'd finally spotted Shawn lurking a few feet away. He couldn't resist watching my failure. He seemed perplexed too when I flashed something at him that could have passed for a smile, if one were naive.

"Ladies and gentlemen," I said, "let there be light."

I shorted out the college's electrical grid with four quick flips of switches.

Overhead, the stars took over the role we'd given to metal filaments and captured lightning. Orion's Belt blazed with tripled white fire on the east horizon. The jewel box of the Pleiades was fainter, but still clear. Once my eyes adjusted, I could make out the smudge of the Andromeda galaxy--so many suns that their fire reached us across two million years' distance. The Milky Way rippled across space, ordinarily too dim to be seen through the light pollution we created.

The judges were silent in the face of that radiance.

I would still lose, of course. Never mind what I'd done to the grid: I couldn't take credit for the celestial sphere or count the absence of light as a proper application. Still. If I hadn't thought such a wealth of light worth sharing, whatever the source, I wouldn't have been at Prestonwood to begin with.

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