Register a SA Forums Account here!

You can: log in, read the tech support FAQ, or request your lost password. This dumb message (and those ads) will appear on every screen until you register! Get rid of this crap by registering your own SA Forums Account and joining roughly 150,000 Goons, for the one-time price of $9.95! We charge money because it costs us money per month for bills, and since we don't believe in showing ads to our users, we try to make the money back through forum registrations.
  • Locked thread
Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer



Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

Psh, there was nary a mention of chuff. Rest assured, 'Domers, I may be a pompous rear end, but I wouldn't ever let a personal opinion as to the author's character get in the way of critiquing the actual words on the actual page. :getin:

Aug 2, 2002

Chillmatic posted:

Psh, there was nary a mention of chuff. Rest assured, 'Domers, I may be a pompous rear end, but I wouldn't ever let a personal opinion as to the author's character get in the way of critiquing the actual words on the actual page. :getin:

Neither would I. :)

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Enough sniping. Duel or :frogout:.

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

I'm happy to be a very objective judge if you kids are gonna thunderbrawl :)

Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

I'm up for it, assuming the topic isn't an ironic wacky one. (cyberblaxploitation et al) I'll understand completely if that disqualifies me. I'm not dissing those kinds of prompts at all, and certainly enjoy reading the stories that result from them--it's just that I can't justify devoting that kind of time for the sake of producing something that I can't use outside of the internet.

Speaking of topics, this week's is loving awesome and while I'm going to zero in on the stuff Sitting Here talked about, I'm particularly interested in these:


*Meaning. This is flash fiction so we can only be so poignant, but try to infuse at least some modicum of understanding of the human condition into your story.


*Dialog. Make it meaningful.

I feel like those are two of the most persistent areas of opportunity for all writers, so I think it'd be great for folks to step it up a bit in that regard. No detached wackiness; say some poo poo that's meaningful to you, and say it interestingly.

Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.

I am interpreting this prompt as 'write whatever the hell you want, I don't care' and as such I am in.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk


Crabrock vs Chillmatic

750 excellent words on or around this Italo Calvino quote:


With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.

Due Friday 6 September, midnight PST

Oh and I'll judge with Saddest Rhino because Invisible Cities is my jam.

sebmojo fucked around with this message at 07:40 on Aug 28, 2013

Jul 25, 2003

always seeking to survive and flourish

sebmojo posted:


Crabrock vs Chillmatic

750 excellent words on this Italo Calvino quote:

Due Friday week, midnight PST

gently caress yeah that strangely-worded quote owns, I'm in. Is that this Friday or next?

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

First Round of Teacher's Report
Niaker Drekin

Jan 10, 2006

The Saddest Rhino posted:

First Round of Teacher's Report

That is beautiful. Sad Rhino = best Rhino.

Tips for submission of manuscripts, but also a list of common causes of death in the Thunderdome:

"Publisher posted:

Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

  • Author is functionally illiterate.
  • Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
  • Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
  • Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
  • Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
  • Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
  • Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

    (At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

  • It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
  • Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
  • The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

    (You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

  • Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  • Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  • It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  • Buy this book.

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

Second (Final) Round of Teacher's Report

Sitting Here
Schneider Helm

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

sebmojo posted:

Oh and I'll judge with Saddest Rhino because Invisible Cities is my jam.

Oh I'm judging too! I WOULD LIKE A CONDITION TOO THOUGH that is the persons I am judging would show some appreciation for the amount of time and ink I put into criticising their works, your wounded feelings be damned. Thx lol.

Jul 18, 2011

Modern worldly poster

The Saddest Rhino posted:

Oh I'm judging too! I WOULD LIKE A CONDITION TOO THOUGH that is the persons I am judging would show some appreciation for the amount of time and ink I put into criticising their works, your wounded feelings be damned. Thx lol.

The ink should have been red.

(Also I am in this week).

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

"Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted." - Kurt Vonnegut, Creative Writing 101


Nikaer Drekin - Detective Dick DeForest's Private Eye Hard-Boilding School

I actually laughed quite a few times while reading this. It's all very stock, but stock with a purpose. It's a bit too meta, perhaps, but still managed to hit the right notes for a parody. Really, at the end of the day your biggest crime is you didn't do more with it. Here was a concept ripe for exploring, but you largely kept it contained, and I think that was to its detriment. I believe at one point or another Crabrock mentioned there should be a bit more dialogue diversity between the two students, and looking at it again I believe that he's right.

VOTED: "Most likely to get caught smoking cigarettes in the bathroom while someone else doesn't."
HOMEWORK: Two people from two diametrically different genres sit next to each other on a train. You have 500 words and one sentence of physical description each.

Chillmatic - Madam Charlotte’s School For Aberrant Girls The Aristocrats

Sidestepping the fact that you disregarded your flash rules, and that your school featured no vocational training of any sort, I really expected a lot more from you. Your characters were all one-note and unlikeable, which in and of itself wouldn't be a bad thing except that they weren't very interesting either. The girl is too cool to care and detached from the violence around her, which I have only your word on, and the headmistress is essentially every Evil Boarding School Principle distilled into a single character, no flourish. Your prose is competent, but the nitpicks pile up, and the dialogue is groan-worthy with very few exceptions. Really, all you've managed to tell is a really bad joke; the rumors are false not because they aren't true, but because everyone keeps lumping her with the wrong sort of people. Great ending.

VOTED: "Most likely to talk smack before the big game only to get sacked by the quarterback."
HOMEWORK: The emperor shows mercy. 1,000 words and chiefly dialogue.

Mercedes - Xavier Marchena School of Urban Parkour

Just so we're clear here, the intent was for you to write about a school that accepted only polite minorities as its students. But you didn't write about a school anyway, so I guess that really doesn't matter. Honestly, this feels more like you already had something in mind you wanted to write about, then shoehorned in your prompt (and flash rules) in the least intrusive manner possible. I am partial though to your method of leaving dialogue unattributed in conversations of three or more people where everybody talks the same. Good job. Your prose has been getting clearer, but so far it's only served to highlight the actual content of your writing being subpar.

VOTED: "Most likely to fill in profanities on their scantron."
HOMEWORK: Three people have a disagreement over coffee and cigarettes. You may not attribute any dialogue, but it must always be clear who is talking. You have have 700 words, and the argument must be petty.

Docbeard - The International Academy Of Practical Mime

Finally, someone capable of actually managing their flash rule.

This managed to bring a smile to my lips, but very little else can be said for it. It's got some good moments, but tappers off into a weak ending. For a school about practical miming, very little of what was taught seemed to be practical. I was expecting more a class on non-verbal cues. Still, I enjoyed it for what it was.

VOTED: "Most likely to write opinion columns nobody reads in the school newspaper."
HOMEWORK: A man shares his worries with an inanimate object in 500 words.

Sitting Here - The Flow Fascile

I'll admit, it took me a little bit to realize where you were going with this, but once that happened it was all gravy. You do a good job framing the school and its students and instructors without every actually featuring any of them, save for one (their alumni). You managed to take a ridiculous premise and spin it into something both subtle and meaningful; the ending in particular was very well handled. Among a week of slightly above average and worse submissions, this stood out like a pillar of light.

VOTED: "Most likely to succeed, no funny modifiers."
HOMEWORK: Time slows down when you're dying. This person has 1,000 words left to live. Make them count.

Kaishai - Night of Lights

Eh. Eh. This was okay. You managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of your fellow contestants, but your story really only stands out as managing to toe the baseline several other people missed. Your protagonist and their dilemma is an old one, as is their solution, though you presented it with class. About the most interesting thing in this piece was the fact that "Revenge" was never actually taken against the saboteur. Overall, there's nothing particularly wrong with this piece, it just fails to shine in any aspect beside basic competency. The C+ of submissions.

VOTED: "Most likely to waste space on the senior mosaic with pictures of trees."
HOMEWORK: This story again from the perspective of the thief. I would prefer it if I didn't hate him.

M. Propagandalf - Trackers

I actually had to go back to your sign-up post to remind myself what your school was supposed to be. Not that it mattered.

This story was so dry I almost thought I was living during the Prohibition. My eyes actually started glazing over around the halfway point, and by the time I read your closing lines I didn't feel like I had missed any important information. Your characters are uninteresting and your premise overdone, without even the benefit of the usual polish afforded to things that have been done before. Crabrock is correct in that your prose is competent, but all that really amounts to is you never confused us. What's more, you missed what would have been a brilliant opportunity to showcase an hilariously insignificant academy that takes its petty, narrowly-defined area of expertise with the utmost seriousness. A lost cause all around.

VOTED: "Most likely to get beaten up by the hall monitor."
HOMEWORK: A woman lives happily in a society steeped in bureaucracy. Your story must be exactly 820 words and written with "Brazil" by Frank Sinatra playing in the background.

Chairchucker - Academie d'Cake l'Orange

It's probably telling that Chairchucker, in little under half an hour, churned out a better vignette than most people's complete stories. It's simple, flows, and there's a real heart to it. Sadly it isn't much for meat. We've got a small handful of brain jars picking fruit in a vast, empty expanse while talking to each other. Even for a last minute entry, it could've been quite a bit more.

VOTED: "Most likely to show up naked on pajama day."
HOMEWORK: Everything goes disastrously right for a young couple in love. 1,000 words with a definitive beginning, middle, and end.

Schneider Heim - Nobody's Princess

This chewed off more than it could swallow. Rather than hitting a few notes just right, you try for playing the whole song in a very limited time frame, and it shows. Like Nikaer's submission, steeped in the meta, but without the confidence and fine tuning his piece used to really show it off. Rather than writing an entire novel in less than 2,000 words, it would've been better to try for a single scene that implied an entire novel in the margins.

VOTED: "Most likely to get to play a tree in the school production of Hamlet."
HOMEWORK: Two people exchange dark glances from across a crowded place. I want 1,000 words and what is clearly only the middle chapter of their saga.

Bad Seafood fucked around with this message at 03:42 on Aug 29, 2013

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

The Saddest Rhino posted:

Oh I'm judging too! I WOULD LIKE A CONDITION TOO THOUGH that is the persons I am judging would show some appreciation for the amount of time and ink I put into criticising their works, your wounded feelings be damned. Thx lol.

Expressing appreciation for anything in more than a taciturn nod is expressly contrary to the most ancient law of the Thunderdome.

But those crits were great, nice work.

Aug 2, 2002

You have finally suckered me into buying Invisible Cities you sly bastard.

Aug 23, 2003


Sign me up.

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.

Homework accepted.

Mercedes fucked around with this message at 23:02 on Aug 29, 2013

Aug 2, 2002

Mercedes posted:

Daaaaang two submissions this time around?

...challenge accepted.

Oh jeeze. No, your TD submission is one story of two different acts.

Your Seafood Homework can be sent to him privately or posted in the farm.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Thunderdome homework may also be posted in the dome, except during submission weekends.

Additionally, there is never a due date for the homework I assign. You may complete it at your earliest convenience and are to do so for your own edification. The only reason you have to post is to determine how edifying it was for the rest of us (i.e. "Me"). You are, of course, free to blow me off, but that presumes you are content with being a horrible person.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet

Bad Seafood posted:

Thunderdome homework may also be posted in the dome, except during submission weekends.

Additionally, there is never a due date for the homework I assign. You may complete it at your earliest convenience and are to do so for your own edification. The only reason you have to post is to determine how edifying it was for the rest of us (i.e. "Me"). You are, of course, free to blow me off, but that presumes you are content with being a horrible person.

You give the best homework. Can I request homework?

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Anathema Device posted:

You give the best homework. Can I request homework?

A man wants something, but you're not allowed to tell me what it is. You have 700 words with which to imply the object of his desire, and by the time I've finished I should be able to guess it.

Sep 22, 2008

Successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions

I haven't written anything creative in five years, but I want to give this a go. Can I still sign up 3 hours after the deadline?

Edit: oh, 11:59 PM

Here's to a crappy thunderdome story.

Econosaurus fucked around with this message at 20:09 on Aug 30, 2013

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Signups will close in approximately eight hours

Didja Redo
Jan 24, 2010

Wanna try my freedom meat BBQ meat?

Signing up.

Lily Catts
Oct 17, 2012

Show me the way to you
(Heavy Metal)

I'm in.

M. Propagandalf
Aug 9, 2008


Early bird for the worm? Or underdeveloped embryo?

In with:

Looking Glass Self and Company
(992 words)

Stephen stares at her the way he does with every other woman: through her reflection. Behind the window of the subway car, periodic lampposts streak the otherwise pitch darkness of the tunnel. It is a small inconvenience against his safety to gaze without notice. Without offence.

The train approaches the terminal station. Darkness surrenders to lit billboards that mar the reflection. Stephen waits as everyone exits. Through the window, his eyes trail the woman he saw but once, and never will again. When she disappears up the station stairs, he steps out, crosses the platform, and steps into the train departing the other way.

The train is sparsely seated. Stephen glances at the passengers as he walks down the train aisle and sees a woman reading. He studies her, but for too long. She looks up from her book. He averts his eyes, anticipates her worst suspicions against him, and hurries on.

Stephen reaches the last train car. A woman catches his attention. She sits by herself on the side seats, next to the train doors, focused on her tablet. No one is blocking the window across from her. Smiling, Stephen walks past her to take the seat at the far left end of the row, and looks into the window.

He admires her. She remains focused on her tablet, preventing him from appreciating her eyes. Stephen sighs, tapping his fingers over his knees. He blinks once, then in rapid succession when he sees her looking at the window. She’s smiling too.


Stephen stops smiling.

“You realize I can tell you’re staring at me, right?”

Stephen draws a sharp breath as he spins towards the woman, only to find that she’s still on her tablet. His eyes dart back to the glass as two eyes stare intently back at his. When he realizes it is no longer a reflection, the woman in the window walks over and takes the seat right beside his reflection. Watching the window, Stephen slowly stretches his hand out and sees it pass through her. He feels nothing.

“Please don’t do that.”

Stephen snaps his whole body back.

“Relax! I don’t bite! Not like you would feel it if I did.”

He glances to the other passengers. No one notices what’s happening. The woman in the window waits for a reply, her smile waning in the silence.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

“What are you?”

“Well that’s rude. But it’s a start.”

“A ghost?”

She sighs. “Sure. Why not. Can we talk about something else?”

“What do you want?”

“I’m curious to know what you’re up to.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, looking at girls all the time.”

Stephen’s eyes widen.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh please. I’ve watched you for a long time now. Don’t tell me you’re just looking at the lights.”

“I look at the lights.”

“Haha. Seriously though, what’s your deal?”

Stephen says nothing.

“Is it like a voyeurism thing? If it is, it has to be the softest core of voyeurism ever.”

Stephen gets up.

“Hey! Don’t be like that! I’m not trying to make you feel bad.”

“Yeah? Well this is humiliating.”

“If it makes you feel better, you have more class than a lot of guys I’ve seen.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Hey come back!”

He walks out of view of the window. He looks for a spot where his reflection isn’t picked up by any glass and stands there. A voice comes after him from the walls.

“Just because you don’t see me, doesn’t mean I’m not here.”

He refuses to respond.

“I prefer being able to see the people I am talking to. Would you come back to the window?”


“At least until the next station? I’ll leave you alone after that.”

Stephen hesitates.


He plods back. The woman in the window remains seated where she was, looking back at him. Watching himself from the window, Stephen flops back to his seat next to her. He crosses his arms.

“I’m not talking about why I look.”

“That’s fine. I have an idea as to why.”

Stephen glares.

“Do you… talk with anyone?”

“I’m talking with you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I despise small talk.”

“It doesn’t always need to be small.”

“It doesn’t get further than that. Not for me.”

“So you’ve tried before. Unsuccessfully?”

Stephen looks down at the floor.

“I don’t need to try. I already know.”

“Know what?”

“What’s on their minds when they look at me.”

“And that is?”


When Stephen looks back to the window, he no longer sees her looking at him, but beside her, at his reflection.

“Why do you think that?”

Stephen flashes the empty air beside him with an excruciating grimace. When he turns back to the window, the woman is neither look at him, or his reflection.

The train dings and announces the next station.

“We’re done here.”

“I know I said until the next station, but can we still keep talking?”

“To satisfy your curiosity?”

“No. I just want to—”

“You’ve pried enough. Think whatever the hell you want of me, but at least I’m not hurting anyone.”

You are hurting.”


Stephen becomes aware that he’s standing with his finger quivering at the window. He looks around the train. All eyes are on him.

“Oh God. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to frighten anyone. Please… please don’t call security.”

“Are you okay?”

Stephen turns to the voice. The woman with the tablet looks at him with concern. He glances at the window and sees what he thinks is her reflection.

“No. I mean yes! Yes, I’m fine.”

“Did something happen?”

“It was nothing. Just a bad daydream. I didn’t mean to cause trouble. I’m getting off here anyway.”

The train door opens. Stephen walks out, feeling everyone looking at him.

He flees from their eyes. From their judgment.

Didja Redo
Jan 24, 2010

Wanna try my freedom meat BBQ meat?

Portraits (525 words)

"I have to draw your face or I'll forget it,” said Geoff, for the fourth time. Tom wondered if he realised he was doing it.

He glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes. It felt longer. The stool was uncushioned. Icy prickles crawled up his cheeks.

"I have to draw your face. I'll forget it if I don't."

"I know."

The pencil froze.

"Don't talk," said Geoff. "Don't move your face. Stop smiling. You're not smiling in the picture."

Tom pushed his grin down. How did Geoff know he was smiling anyway? He’d positioned the drawing board directly between them. He couldn’t have seen him without leaning over.

Half an hour later, the ache in Tom’s back grew too much, and he winced. Geoff, saying nothing, stood up.

Tom slid forward, waiting to be shown, but Geoff was busy putting his pencils away, one by one, softest to hardest. So he looked for himself.

A charcoal mirror lay on the board.

"Hey, that's really good."

Geoff interposed himself, unclipping the page and holding it to his chest.

"Really good,” said Tom, craning his neck. “You could make a living off this."

"I only do faces."

Tom shrugged. "Those street guys only do faces. They still make money. I’d get a more comfortable seat, though."

"I don't mind the stool."

"For your clients, I mean."

Geoff did not slam the door when Tom left, because Geoff was in control of himself.

Stupid man, barging in every week in that same sweaty, short-sleeve shirt with his book and his platitudes, thinking he can help. Can’t turn him away, though. She wouldn’t want that. Nor would He.

He took Tom to his bedroom and locked himself in. As the door closed, the wallpaper of sketches fluttered in the draught. Only slivers of peeling, blue paint showed through the white.

Not enough space.

The top of the page had creased in his grip, so he slid it into his guillotine and sheared it off. Still not enough.

He picked out a corner and began pointing at the faces in turn. Benjamin, Moira, Anne…who’s that? Roman nose. Curly hair. Charles. Cousin. Out of state. Probably wouldn’t see him again until Christmas. He could go in the drawer.

As he replaced Charles with Tom, the front door clicked open. That’d be Stacy, home from school. Stacy. He scanned the walls. Stacy. Where was she?

He slid into bed, sat upright and stared straight ahead at a girl that could have been his, and the man next to her. Rubbed his eyes. Squinted, hands on his temples. Then he took the girl and the man, laid one over the other and held them up to the lightbulb. None of the lines matched.

When had he last drawn her? Weeks ago? Months? He must have got better. He was terrible back then, but he’d got better. Probably just made some mistakes.

“Sweetie?” he called, crumpling her. “Sweetie, I need to draw you again.”

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Signups are closed.

Sep 22, 2008

Successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions

Saturday Night (854 Words)

McDoule's brimmed with activity, the mass of testosterone and sexual tension that one expects at a college bar. The air reeked of sweat and cologne, a musky humidity that surrounded and hugged Chris' body as he struggled to work through the crowd. The floor was drenched in a mixture of melting snow and beer that somehow managed to be slippery and sticky at the same time.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a frantically waving hand. Right between the bar and a young looking girl puking next to a trash can. Sarah screamed something unintelligible; Chris had to get right up to her face to hear anything. She smelled of vodka and cheap fruit syrup.

"Hey! How are you?" Sarah yelled, right into his ear. He could still barely hear her over the pulsating rhythm of the music.

"I'm good! Thanks for inviting me out.” Chris yelled back. “Is this your cousin?"

"Yeah, she had a little too much to drink" said Sarah, as she pulled the slightly green faced girl's hair back. The girl smiled and waved, putting on a strong face - until her eyes bulged and she bent over, vomiting a dark mix of bile and tequila that coalesced on the table. Sarah tried to stem the tide with napkins, a futile endeavor. Where the hell was the bar staff?

"Let's go dance" Sarah screamed in his ear, interrupting his thought process. The faint smell of her cousin's vomit got stronger.

"What about her?"

"She'll be fine" Sarah screamed. Sarah was turning blue, hopefully the result of her yelling and not a sign she would be joining her cousin at the table.

They walked to the dance floor, Sarah dragging him by his hand. They had only met in class a few days ago; all Chris knew was that she studied linguistics, had a baby faced cousin who couldn't hold her liquor, and wanted to dance with him.

They started swaying to the music, a few feet of unoccupied space serving as their dance floor. Chris hadn't done this in years. Not since dropping out of college, not since the AA meetings, not since re-registering with a determination to graduate. He would learn to have fun sober. Chris forced a smile, pretending the cloying smell of old spice and beer wasn't driving him crazy. Pretending he wanted anything but a beer, a gin and tonic, something to loosen his inhibitions.

"You're acting weird" Sarah screamed in his ear, her face fading into an even brighter shade of purple. A sickening feeling moved from his gut to his face. He could almost see physical waves of embarrassment flowing out of his head, a feeling of weakness that everybody around him had to be able to sense.

"I haven't been to a bar in a while."

Sarah smiled, the red disco lights shining off her flawless white teeth. "You're not drunk enough" she mouthed, dragging him back towards the bar.

At least her cousin had stopped puking.

As Sarah frantically waved a bartender over, Chris grabbed a pen and grabbed a napkin. "PLEASE REPLACE ONE SHOT WITH WATER" he scribbled as Sarah used a combination of yelling and hand motions to ask for two vodka shots. Chris handed $20 and the napkin to the bartender, then turned to Sarah. "I got it" he said, forcing a smile.

Chris' hands shook as he picked up his fake shot. He felt ridiculous. Sarah swayed there smiling, her left eye half closed in a drunken haze. How old was she? At least a couple of years younger than he was. The music had gotten more intense, turning the dance floor into an impenetrable mass of bodies. It was becoming harder to breathe.

"Cheers" Chris said, taking the fake shot. Sarah took hers and fell forward. Only Chris’ arms stopped her from hitting the floor.

"Hey, we need to take my cousin home" giggled Sarah, as if she wasn't on the verge of collapsing. "I’ll call a cab, you should come."

Chris looked at her cousin, sitting at the bar with a glass of water. Her shirt was marred with brown specks, her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. Was this what college was like his first time around? He wasn’t sure. He had never felt so old.

"I can't tonight" Chris said, trying to laugh it off. "But get home safe, ok?"

Sarah looked disappointed, then smiled. Her white teeth shone even in the dark light.

"Yeah no worries, I'll see you in class!"

Chris sat at the bar for a long time, thinking about Sarah. About how white her teeth were. About how old he felt, how alien the bar around him seemed. He wasn't one of them anymore. The room started to clear out. Cool air filtered into the bar from the doorway. The air grounded him. It reminded Chris of old winter days, the kind he had always loved during his first freshman year. The beginning of the years wasted, the beginning of the years he thought he could do over.

He waved the bartender over.

"I'll take a whisky."

Econosaurus fucked around with this message at 21:57 on Aug 31, 2013

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet

Hank's Used Books
Words: 989

“...and Aunt May – you know, my stepmother's sister – wore this...” Alvin cradled the phone against his shoulder. His fingertips were sticky with glue. A paperback lay open on his desk, loose pages lined up carefully. “...scandalous on a woman her age. But you know Sarah, she's too polite to say anything. Needs a backbone, that one. Don't you think?”

“Umm.” It wouldn't be worth selling, but you didn't throw a book away. Someone might want to read it. People here didn't have money for books, but the free ones passed quietly from hand to hand.

“Of course you do, you're a smart lad. Always were. Except for that store. Still losing money, I expect?” There was a tinkle of ice and a slurp.

“Yes mom.” The margins were filled with familiar, cramped handwriting. He'd gotten the book in trade from a customer, but they'd clearly bought it here. He stroked his pinky, the only glue-free finger, down the spine.

“Such a lovely storefront you have, too. You could sell the place, make a fortune. It would make such a nice coffee shop, or a restaurant...” Another slurp. A crunch of ice. The last pages settled into place. “Are you even listening to me, Alvin?”

“I'm not going to sell the bookstore.” His chair clunked as the wheels passed over the uneven floorboards. The desk-lamp was on, casting a pool of yellow across the high wooden desk, the scattering of bills and paper, the pile of books. Beyond it the store was dark.

“You've never made a cent off it.” Clink. Crunch. He picked the dried glue off his fingers as he walked. “What you should do is raise the prices. I mean, I know most of those books are junk, but some have got to be worth something. Sell them on e-bay, if you insist on staying in that stupid little town.”

“You raised me here.” He kept his voice mild, affable. Junk. Books weren't junk. Especially old books, with accumulated years of scribbles, broken in to open to the best parts. You didn't just read an old book, you read all the people who had read before you. “I don't want to sell on e-bay. I like meeting people.” The pipes clanked when he turned the sink on. Water sprayed over his hands.

“Meeting people! Nobody interesting ever comes into your crappy shop.” She was swearing, which meant she was on her third drink. At least. Of course she wouldn't find his customers interesting. They were usually shy, quiet people, adrift in a town rife with anti-intellectualism. Useless people, she'd call them. People like him.

“I think they're interesting.” The faucet squealed as he turned it off. On the other end of the line there was a clink of glass on glass and a splash. He should ask her about the drinking, but in the end, it was never worth it.

“Have you been to a psychiatrist? About your book hoarding? Just like your uncle. I knew we shouldn't have let you spend so much time with him when you were a kid-”

“You left me here because he'd babysit for free-”

“Your dad was sick, and I was busy. And now you're crazy! Pouring all your resources into that, that shop and ignoring your family. You know, the gardener hasn't been by in three weeks. I thought you were going to take care of it. But you probably just bought a new book instead. Useless boy.”

Alvin found himself staring at his own dark reflection. The lights were still off in the shop – he knew his away around too well to need them – but his face was a twisted shadow. Angry. His hands were shaking. He took a deep breath.

“Are you even listening?”

And then all the words he'd never said came up, hot and angry. “I'm not paying for your damned gardener, mom. If you want to brag about your roses, grow them yourself. I've paid for your house, and for you booze, and for your fancy dresses out of the money that 'crazy' Uncle Hank left me. And yeah, the bookstore loses money, but I have enough to keep it going until I die.”

“You spoiled little brat! No respect for the woman that raised you. Fine. Have fun with your books. Enjoy them, because you won't have your family anymore! I've had enough! Don't you even think of calling until you apologize! ”

“You didn't raise me. You dumped me with Hank and had your fun. But I learned here, mom. I learned things you don't even know you're ignorant of.” The line went dead. He braced one arm against the sink as he watched himself lower the phone and press the button. He'd wanted to say that for years.

He felt sick. He'd never talked back to his mother. Maybe that was the key – maybe she'd just leave him alone now. Maybe he'd be lonely.

The phone rang. “Hello?”

“And you will too pay the gardener you ungrateful snot!”

He pressed the “end” button and set the phone down. When it rang again, he left it in the bathroom and walked back through the darkened bookshelves to his desk. He pulled open the top drawer and lifted out a battered old novel. Inside it was dedicated in neat, cramped handwriting:

To Alvin,

The only person worth anything in this whole misbegotten family. This is my favorite book. Treasure it. The money and the store are yours. Take in the strays and the lost souls. There's love in the books, boy. Don't forget it.

And I love you like a son. Don't forget that, either.


Alvin held the book carefully so the tears wouldn't smudge the ink. He let it fall open to the best part and began to read.

Lord Windy
Mar 26, 2010

The Centre
Words: 967

“The Customer isn’t angry at you,” Simon recited the words on his screen. “The Customer is angry at the situation.” He looked at the queue on the machine next to him - fifth in line. He leaned back into his office chair and let out a sigh of relief. Maybe he could make it until his next break before a call would come in.

A ding came from computer. The company instant messenger popped up with a message from Amy. “How is your first day back?” She wrote in the same purple comic sans she used three months ago. “No problem customers I hope!”

“No, it has been a fairly easy day so far. Just waiting for the next call actually,” he wrote back.

“That’s great, I’ve got a real bitch. Isn’t listening to me at all.” Simon’s name crept up the queue. Third in line.

“Don’t let her get to you,” Only one person in front now. Simon leaned back into his chair when the ding from the computer went off again.

“Won’t. Going to escalate instead.” Simon felt his chest tighten; he was next in line.

“Australia. English,” the friendly female voice-over signalled the start of the call. “Thank you for calling Senior Technical Support,” Simon greeted automatically, hoping that the little cracks in his voice would go unnoticed. “You’re speaking with Simon, how can I help you?”

“Hi, this is Amy from Technical Support.” Her voice was rich and cheerful, almost as if a huge smile was coming through the other end. Simon knew that didn’t necessarily mean she was. It was easy to obscure the faces you were making with a sickly sweet tone.

“Fancy getting you.” The notes of the case sprung up on the screen. Amy had been right, the customer was not an easy one. Twenty calls in the past week, with every call noting her difficulty.

“Yeah…” There was no hint of the tone she had before. “Look you can see the notes and you know this woman is difficult. It’s your first day back after… would you like me to hang up and try again?” A sad emoticon showed up on the IM.

The blood in Simon’s ears pounded. “No, I think I will be ok. Bring her through.”

“Thank you for holding Mrs Smith.” The sickly cheerful tone was back. Oozing with that ‘smile’ all phone agents reserved for the worst customers. “I leave you in the capable of hands of Simon, one of our Senior Support Specialists.”

“Good!” The woman’s voice made Simon hunch his shoulders. “It is about time I’m shown respect around here.” It conjured an image of an old crone with a perpetual snarl.

“Good afternoon Mrs Smith,” Simon replied, trying to force a smile he didn’t feel down the line. “What can I do for you?”

“You mean she didn’t even tell you what I was calling about?” Simon flinched from the verbal slap. “She didn’t even have the decency to tell you why I was calling? What kind of clowns work here?

“Amy expressed to me a desire to get with you as soon as possible to smooth over any difficulties.” Anything he could do to keep control of the call.

“Well my phone doesn’t work!” Mrs Smith bellowed. If she got any louder they wouldn’t need the phone anymore. Simon could feel his heartbeat in his ears.

“I am very sorry to hear that Mrs Smith, it is not fair that a one…”

“Of course it’s not fair, what are you slow?” Simon’s mental image of Mrs Smith now included her having bulging veins on a beetroot face. “One thousand dollars, one thousand dollars for this brick. If I knew what I was getting…”

Simon’s heart race covered the sound of her bellowing. He hit the hold button and threw his head between his legs. In through the nose Simon, he thought miserably. Hold for 5 seconds, and then out through the mouth.

Moments passed, and Simon was there. Sitting on one of the thick spindly tree branches of the cottonwood trees by the beaches of his youth. A safe place his psychiatrist had said. The breeze and crashing waves upon shore. The customer is not angry at you, he thought once more. The customer is angry at the situation.

The dinging of his computer brought Simon back to reality. “Are you ok?” Amy wrote. “Do you want me to call a manager to help you out?” Simon pulled up the keyboard and replied. “No, it is ok. I can handle this.”

“I am sorry Mrs Smith,” Simon took the ugly woman off hold. There was a pregnant pause, Simon couldn’t hear anyone else on the other end of the line.

“Well, come out with it. What is your excuse for this travesty of customer service.”

“There isn’t one,” There was no attempt to force the smile down the line this time. Instead, with a heavy relenting sigh he continued. “It’s just I have been in hospital for the past couple of months and I felt a little overwhelmed. I had to take a short break.”

“Oh,” Mrs Smith quickly replied. She sounded very awkward, as if she had made a mistake. “Did you want to get a drink of water?”

“I am much better now. Thank you for your concern Mrs. Smith.” Simon found breathing easier. “I am very sorry for the delay.”

“Well, that is ok dear.” Her tone was much softer now. “I was in hospital not so long ago myself.”

“Would it be ok if we started again?” Simon asked.


“Thank you for calling Senior Technical Support, my name is Simon.” There was no need to force a smile this time. “What can I help you with today?”

Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.

I have written a thing but as it is 1 am now, I am going to sit on it until I get back from work tomorrow, at about half an hour to the deadline, and see if my story seems more horrific than when I wrote it. (Which is now.) So there will definitely be a story from me, but it might be awful!

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Just over 12 hours remain for submissions.

I haven't hated anything so far, please keep it that way, tia.

Aug 2, 2002

Nice Old Lady
(750 words)

The truck has a new coat of paint, but no AC. Everybody underestimates how much water weighs; it feels even heavier than forty two pounds in this heat. I lug a five-gallon bottle up the steps of another suburban hellscape, ignoring my herniated disc. I roll my eyes at the custom doorbell chime that drones on for too long.

She opens the door and scowls. “I called a week ago.”

“Sorry ma’am. I just got the order from dispatch.”

“Well, come in. Excuse the mess, we’re remodeling.” Plastic sheets cover thousands of gaudy figurines.

“This is nothing, you should see my place.”

My apartment is immaculate. Every Sunday we wake the kids and sort and scrub. It’s our own version of church. But she chuckles at my self-deprecation.

I spot algae in the bottom of her bubbler. Nasty things will grow if you let them sit empty for too long. She squirts a dollop of Purell and works it into her dry hands, and smiles. I fantasize how her face would contort if I told her. I let the bottle drop in; I don’t spill a drop.

“Want a glass of water?”

A little algae doesn’t bother me. In Grenada we had to clear the film from our cantines before drinking. “Please, thank you.”

She walks to the sink and fills up a glass from the tap. “It’s a little warm.”

I take a sip. “It’s perfect.” It tastes like lizards live in her pipes.

She continues to rub her hands together even though the Purell is gone. “My old service was absolutely horrendous. You’d think those people had never heard of a shower. You appear to have some basic hygiene at least. You’re one of the good ones.”

I take another sip and move to set the glass down, but she frowns and I bring it up to my lips instead. “We’re always happy for your business.” She is still frowning. I’ve learned some people just can’t be pleased; my sixth-grade teacher told me I’d never amount to anything. I have a habit of turning out exactly as they expect.

“I think one of them took something. I can’t quite figure out what it is, but do you ever get that feeling that something is missing?” I think her hair may be a wig.

I shrug. I’m halfway done with the water. “I feel like I’ve forgotten something all the time.” If I chug it I can leave. I take a gulp and try not to vomit.

“That’s not what I’m talking about. This man was making me nervous with his looks, so I went to my room to hide the necklace I was wearing. When I came back out I got the feeling something wasn’t right. I demanded to know what he took, but he just walked out the door without saying bye. Nobody has manners these days.”

I know that someday I will be parched, and look back on this moment with envy. “Did you call the police?”

“And tell them to stop and frisk every Mexican in a five mile radius?” She blushes. “No offense.”

“I’m from Ecuador.”

“Well, you know.” She sighs and relaxes her shoulders when she thinks I’m not upset at her comments.

I choke down the last sip of water. “I better get back to work.”

“I’m going to call your company and let them know what a wonderful job you’re doing. It’s a nice change to have such a polite man.”

“Well, thank you ma’am. The boss loves to hear good things.”

She digs in her purse while I wait by the door. “For your troubles.”

It’d take more than two dollars. “Oh, thank you ma’am, but we’re not allowed to accept tips.”

She stuffs it into my coveralls. “It’ll be our little secret.”

I thank her yet again and walk slowly to my truck, wincing from the pain in my lower back. I pull a Coke out of the styrofoam cooler I keep on the seat next to me, and down the entire bottle to erase the taste of stale tap water. I put the small silver cat I stole off her foyer table up on my dashboard, next to my tiny Mexican flag.

My boss owns three water delivery businesses. When a customer quits they get transferred to a different day with a different truck. Wearing a different uniform, it was me who delivered her water last week.

This is the first time I’ve stolen anything.

Aug 23, 2003


Good Times

982 Words

The first time that she asked, Claire said I’d be doing her a favour. Later, after I said yes, she seemed to think she was doing me a favour.

I was still living in Kensington Market, only taking out my school books when I needed to squash a roach. We never ate in and the fridge was always empty, but somehow there were still dishes piled up in the sink. Every time the toilet backed up our Chinese landlord forgot how to speak English.

“It’s free money and good food,” Claire said. “Don’t you at least want to try?”

“I don’t think I could do something like that,” I told her. “I’m not judging you; I just don’t think I’m that strong.”

“It isn’t about being strong. Mostly you just have to listen. These guys are really lonely. They want somebody to pretend that they’re still interesting.”

“I know that,” I said, “but what about afterwards?”

Claire just shrugged.

All in all she was a surprisingly good roommate. When Alice had first told me that she was going to be spending a semester in Europe and would need to sublet her room I had prepared myself for the worst. Two years later I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked with Alice but Claire and I were still living together. It isn’t easy to find somebody you can live with, and unlike Alice she never had any trouble coming up with her half of the rent.

“You’re young and beautiful,” Claire said. Sometimes when another girl tells you that it feels like she is hoping you will disagree with her. Claire wasn’t like that. She seemed genuine. Liberated, almost, like all that bullshit was already behind her even though she was only 22 years old. “Don’t you want to live a little?”

“I just don’t think it’s who I am.”

“You don’t know that until you’ve tried it,” she said. “Besides, how much money did you make at the bar last week?”

It was a loaded question. She knew my hours had been cut almost in half. She had been there two days earlier when I came home crying because one of my tables had skipped out on their hundred dollar tab, leaving me to pay their bill.

* * *

They took us to a restaurant with $50 entrees and a panorama view of the city skyline. I’d made the mistake of taking a couple rips on Claire’s bong before we left, and in my $60 H&M cocktail dress I felt unbelievably tacky and self conscious entering a room of people twice my age.

Somehow I had imagined that my date would look like Richard Gere or George Clooney, all rugged masculinity and salt and pepper hair. He didn’t. In comparison my Dad would have looked young and spry. Claire was right about the food though, it was the best I had ever eaten.

From the way they talked to each other I guess my date and Claire’s date were old friends. They talked louder than anyone else in the restaurant, slapped each other on the back and mostly ignored us. It made me wonder if maybe my guy was disappointed in how I looked. Then, while we were all laughing at one of his jokes, he reached under the table and squeezed my knee, and I felt a thrill run up the back of my spine like I was looking off the ledge of a tall building.

Later, in his hotel room, I found out he was born in Hamilton, just like me. He really liked hearing that, especially when I told him I was born at Hamilton General. He wanted to know what floor I had been born on, and seemed really disappointed when I didn’t know. He kept telling me that we could have been born in the same room.

During the cab ride I had kept mentally preparing myself for what was coming. I was sure he’d be all over me the second we were into his room. Instead he made two drinks at the minibar and slumped down into a chair. Claire had been right about that too. He seemed more interested in talking.

I don’t know if he would have made a move eventually, I got tired of waiting. Maybe I was afraid he wouldn’t give me as much if we didn’t do it. Or maybe I just felt like after coming that far it would be stupid not to go all the way.

I had never touched an older body like that before. I guess he had spent a lot of time on beaches because cause his skin was wrinkled everywhere. His balls seemed to hang halfway to his knees. His thing was the biggest I had ever seen up to that point, but it looked funny, like a dog had chewed on it or something.

Later, when I told Claire how much he had given me she seemed impressed. She told me he must have really liked me, and that I shouldn’t always expect that much. I told her there wouldn’t be a next time.

Collin called me a couple of days later. We hadn’t spoken in a few weeks, not since he blew me off on our last date. He told me how sorry he was, that he had been going through some hard times but felt really bad about ditching me.

Later, after our date, I lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling. Collin had seemed genuinely sorry when his credit card was declined. He promised he’d pay me back.

I tried to remember what it felt like eating good food, holding real money in my hand. I thought about the bar, and having to smile when someone pinched my rear end because I needed the tip money.

And I thought about Claire, who always paid her rent on time.

Nikaer Drekin
Oct 11, 2012


So towards the middle of the week I decided I didn't really like this, but nothing better came along and I don't want to be a no-show so here it is!!

Well Handled
(998 Words)

On Wednesday night, Mr. Handler stopped at the Devil's Lair bar in upstate New York. From the name of the place he expected it to be full of surly bikers with ratty beards, but he saw only one customer, a bald man with reading glasses. The man sat, scotch in hand, flipping through an article on his tablet. Mr. Handler sat next to him and called for the bartender.

"A Vampire, please," he said. "Don't be shy with the raspberry liqueur." The bartender grunted and turned to his rack of bottles. Mr. Handler leaned over to the bald man. "Whatcha reading?"

"News. Can you believe this poo poo? Some crazy idiot cleaned out Myerson Holdings." He lifted his head and saw Mr. Handler in his gray three-piece suit. "What are you all dressed up for?"

Handler smiled and tugged at his cuffs. "Nothing much. I'm on my way back home and I want to look presentable when I get there."

The bartender slapped the beet-red drink down on the bar. "Vampire," he said. "Six-fifty." Mr. Handler tugged a ten out of his wallet and told him to keep it.
"So, what's your name, friend?" Mr. Handler asked.

"Brutus. I go by Bruce, though." Mr. Handler shot him an inquisitive look, and Bruce threw up his hands. "Hey, my parents were Shakespeare nuts. What do you go by?"

"Jimmie," Mr. Handler said. "Jimmie Fauntleroy. What's that about the news?"

"poo poo, right, some head-case knocked over Myerson. All electronic, too. Money transfer got intercepted, rerouted to another account."

"They've got insurance, right?"

"The bank says they won't cover it. I don't know, some loophole mumbo-jumbo, the account Myerson wanted to send the money to was some weird offshore thing. They're up a loving creek, man."

"They have any idea who did it?"

"All the police said is that they're 'looking into various promising leads.'"

Mr. Handler snorted. "Which is the polite way of saying they don't know jack poo poo."

"Yeah," Bruce said. He put down his tablet and finished the rest of the glass of scotch. "That's how it goes. I mean, the Myerson guys might be a bunch of ivory-tower fucks whose daddies handed them ready-made fortunes, sure, but this hacker punk thinks he can just steal whatever he wants from anyone he pleases? I hope they find him and take back every cent."

Mr. Handler sat with his hands folded on the bar. It was only when Bruce stopped talking that he noticed himself clutching his left wrist in his right hand. He pulled his hands apart and spread them flat on the bar. "Bruce," he said, "do you mind if I tell you a story?"

"What about?"

"Okay, so a friend of mine ran a shipping company back around the time of the revolution in Nicaragua. He got hired to ship weapons down there, using the old rail system to bring them right to the revolutionaries. He didn't think anything of it at first; the pay was right. He was a good businessman.

"Well, that's what he told himself at first, but this prickling nag started to tug at the back of his mind. Going into a situation like that, even in a purely economic way, can make your moral compass a bit loopy. He decided to pull one of his normal guys off the shipment and go down there himself."

"What'd he find?"

"Pain, everywhere. Pain and ashes, cities bombed and jungles razed, people fleeing in every direction. The government had its hands full keeping a grip on power, it didn't have time to cater to the families whose homes got firebombed in the process. So my good friend, who thought himself Mr. Mercenary, started to grow a heart."

"That's a dangerous thing," Bruce said with a smile. "Especially for a businessman."

"No kidding. It only took one look at the chaos for him to know he had to do something. Eventually, he decided to play Schindler. His employers wanted to leave no traces, so the revolutionaries only took the weapons, not the shipping containers they came in. So the businessman started loading up the empty containers with refugees the night before the trains left. When they crossed the border into Honduras he let them off."

"How many of them did he save?"

"Thousands, maybe. I don't know, I never asked him for specifics. He tried to keep the operation as quiet as he could but one of his employees finally ratted him out. The revolutionaries captured him one night and hung him from the ceiling of their camp by his wrists. For days they beat him, broke his fingers and the bones in his feet. They weren't interrogating him; they had nothing to find out. I guess they thought it was fun.

"After twenty days, the old government stormed the camp and slaughtered the revolutionaries. After days of squabbling over what to do with my friend, they decided to send him back out the way he came, out on the rails. One of the more loyal employees agreed to take him aboard the shipping train; he rode back, half-conscious, until they made it to the US and got him to a hospital," Mr. Handler said.

"Geez. I guess that taught him to stick his neck out, huh?"

"Hell no; by then he'd gotten a taste for rebellion. Even more dangerous, he realized he liked to do the right thing. Looking into his employer's history, he found none other than Myerson Holdings at the end of the trail."

"So... was this whole mess him? This big heist was all just a revenge ploy?"

"I can't say for sure, but he says he found a laundry list of human rights abuses under Myerson's name. Whenever we talk, he tells me he's not a businessman anymore, he's a handler. He finds problems, and he handles them the way he knows is right. If he's the one who ripped off Myerson, I don't plan to shed any tears."

May 7, 2005



Ben checked the time on his cell phone again. Another two hours to go. At least. His thumb brushed his work Blackberry as he pocketed the phone. He considered checking his email, but resisted the impulse. Ben scanned a headline on the unread New York Times in his lap. His right eye twitched with strain and exhaustion.

Ben’s father sat next to Ben in the DeBakey Heart Center waiting room. He stared at the floor, his expression unreadable. “You got in so late. You must be tired, Ben.”

Fatigue and frustration tempted Ben to vent. He wanted to tell his father how incompetent, demanding, and insensitive his bosses were. Three nights ago he was up all night revising PowerPoints for the partners arguing a summary judgment motion. He spent the next night revising them further and making copies for the Court. All he said was, “Work’s been killer, barely got any sleep the last few nights.”

“Well thank you for coming, Ben. I know it’s not easy for you to get away.”

“Of course. I should have come sooner.” Ben still couldn’t believe his rear end in a top hat bosses had made him stay to help during the argument He caught himself, reflected that no one had physically coerced him to do anything. His roiling anger inverted, evaporated into shame. “I should have visited more.”

“It’s rough for young associates. More so than when I started out.”

A throng of people crowded around the television on the other side of the room, snacking on cookies and shoveling ice cream from gallon cartons as their loved ones underwent, or recovered from, heart surgery. Muffled cheers and applause emanated from the television as a reality show star and dance partner finished their routine on Dancing with the Stars. Ben had no idea who was who.

Ben resolved he would exercise more. Come hell or high water he’d find a way to the gym. He backpedaled. He’d walk more, take the stairs. He bargained with himself, knowing he didn’t have the time. He’d eat healthier.

The compulsion to check his Blackberry tugged at Ben again. Not here, not now, he told himself. He felt like a junkie, only unsure of what the addiction was to – work, or being pissed off about work. There was only the pull of the fix.

Ben’s father stood. “I’m going for a walk. Please call me if there’s any news regarding your mother.”

Ben gave in. His Blackberry’s blinking red light beckoned him to check his unread emails. Routine junk cluttered his inbox. One email stood out, adorned with a red exclamation mark impressing its high importance.

Ben clenched his jaw when he saw he was the lone recipient. An indignant rage started boiling as he read the string of inane garbage. A senior partner on the case forwarded an expert witness’s invoice to a junior partner and asked, “23k? Can’t be right.” The junior partner kicked it to a senior associate. The senior associate dumped the chain on her junior associate Ben and demanded he review the invoice ASAP to figure out what was going on.

Ben tossed his Blackberry aside as it struggled to load the pdf file. He tore his laptop from his backpack. His bosses knew where he was. They knew what he was doing. As he remotely logged into his work email he fantasized telling each and every one of them to gently caress off, that he knew they would harass him during his mother’s heart surgery and they had all lived up to their legendary shitheadedess.

Ben’s mouth dropped open. They had topped themselves. The bill wasn’t for $23k, it was only 11k and change, a reasonable price considering all the deposition preparation and two days of grueling questioning. Earl must have shot off a typo. Kevin and Bianca hadn’t even opened the invoice, just sent it down the line.

His astonishment drained, leaving the bar at an all-time low. Rage once again swelled. Ben mused how much the client would pay for these jackasses to kick around erroneous figures of an already overpriced expert. He rationalized his own anger as being on behalf of the client. Only for lawyers were gently caress-ups so profitable.

Ben imagined his imbecilic bosses seated Indian-style on the floor, playing telephone in their pinstripe and pant suits, charging the client upwards of $600 an hour. Now the egg toss. Ben had to answer them, reveal their blunder without calling it a blunder, without damaging their delicate egos, or suffer their wrath. He felt dizzy from the cycle. He came down from his fix. His anger dissipated, leaving him hollow. He shut his laptop.

“Doing some work?”

“No. I should have never checked my email. That was a short walk.”

“I wanted to stay close in case we heard something.”

Ben’s father sighed, deflated into his chair.

Ben told his father about the email.

“Your bosses sound like assholes.”

His father’s disapproval of his enemies soothed him.

“I was very fortunate to have good bosses. I am very fortunate now not to have to work with assholes.”

“I should quit.” It was a plea. Pull me back from the ledge, dad.

“Do you regret going to law school?”

Not the rebuke he expected. “I don’t know what else I would have done.” Ben waited for the usual jab at his liberal arts degree.

“Do you resent that we pressured you to become a lawyer?”

Ben had been bracing for the usual talk of perseverance and dedication and making partner. He fiddled with his blackberry turning it over in his hands. He glared at the blinking red light.

“Put it away, Ben.”

Ben found he could. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.


Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Four hours to go.

  • Locked thread