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Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

I'd suggest a brief line after the title and word count but before the story starts, something like Song lyrics from [performer]'s [song]. So in this case:

Never to Return
Crayola Color: Black
Word Count: 1189
Song lyrics from Miguel Calo's "Jamas retomaras"

Except with all the diacriticals I can never remember how to do. Whether that's the most accepted way, dunno, but it would do the job. A blurb after the story would too.

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Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

I'm in with Let me tell you about my boat.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Sounds and Silences
(909 words)
Thread: Let me tell you about my boat


David nailed the first planks of the boat together when the hum of mosquitoes on the water, the biting chiggers, and the sweat soaking the waistband of his jeans were more bearable than the silence that lived in his house. His hammer cracked against wood as often as nails, and the noise flew far across the lake and echoed back to him. The report was clean of grief or anger, and he would stop to listen, trying to inhale the sound. He turned fifteen that year.

He forged his father's name on the enrollment forms for vocational classes; he brought everything he learned back to the lake shore. Some of his materials he got in trade for work, some he bought, and some he found. He stood once in front of a construction site in pouring rain, watching water darken the two-by-fours. One of them tumbled down into the mud. David took it--it would have been ruined anyway.

He tried to hide it in the boat's floor, but he always remembered which board was stolen.

The boat took on a box-like shape. It developed glass-paned windows. It picked up a second story along the way, complete with stairs to climb. David slept on the roof until he scrounged up a mattress, and he imagined that the summer stars watched him build his floating home and whispered to each other about his progress.

At twenty-two, David cut the line tying him to shore. The engine's growl filled the world. He sat cross-legged on the back deck as night's shadows folded around his father's house. Then he stood and cut the power, and he went to the port side, where he'd stashed his fishing pole.

He cast his hook into the pool formed by the light of the moon. And the surface broke around the head, then the shoulders of a woman. She held his hook; she pulled the line, and she pulled him to his feet, so he was standing when her fingers curled around the first rung of the ladder that brought her to him.

She was naked. It took him time to notice anything but that. "You built this house," she said. Each word was a clean slap, water against water.

"...Yes," David eventually remembered to agree.

Her lips parted in a crooked smile that sank into him past skin and muscle and bone. "It's wonderful. Show it to me?"

So he did: he sat on his couch with her, poured her lemonade from his fridge, and took her to the roof to see the Pleiades, though he studied her footprints while she studied the stars. She left a piece of the lake behind in every step. David knelt to trail a finger through the droplets. When he looked up again, he met her fish-silver eyes. He held his hand out to her in wonder, in offering.

Her lips were water, too, without a trace of salt.

In his twin-sized bed, with her gauzy red hair spread out on his chest like a fin, she said, "I can give you a week. If you want me here." It was the stupidest question he'd ever heard, and he told her so with no further words spoken.

They didn't often speak, or need to. David didn't dare ask too much about her. She felt the same, he hoped; he wanted that to be the reason they could sit or play chess or fish or dance or love in absolute silence. He couldn't believe her to be uncaring. Easier to believe in her at all than that.

And when her week was up, the quiet between them was different and horrible, closer kin to that which had driven him from the shore. He pressed his lips to each of her eyelids. He tasted salt, then. "Stay."

"You know I can't, not out of the water."

"I love you," he said. "I've loved you as long as I've known you."

"David." Just that. Just his name. Then she wriggled out of his arms, slipped away and was gone. The water rippled away from the place she'd sank to kiss the boat again and again.

He paced through his house, his refuge, stomping on boards for the sake of sound. But this silence was inside of him; he would have to do more than make noise to break it. Even her footprints had disappeared, except for a last one, slow to dry, still wet on the stolen board.

David kept plenty of tools around for maintenance. His hammer broke the board in four wild strikes. It took more effort to put holes in his steel pontoons, but the lake echoed each blow back to him as the clap of a bell. The water flooded up slowly--too slowly--he reeled out to look at the setting moon. But the house had brought her to him; he would bring it whole to her, as much as he could.

Staying inside as it sank was the easiest thing he'd ever done. The lake reached the first-floor ceiling, closed over his head. David swam down to wait at the door.

Pale fingers curled around his. Lips met his and breathed air into his lungs. "You idiot," she said; he heard the warmth in it. He heard her.

"Do you still like the house?" he asked.

"I love you," she answered, then kissed him again, and they held each other in exquisite silence.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

I'm in.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Indianapolis
(850 words)

The men who died when the torpedoes hit did so without a sound that could be heard over the impacts or the shouts of the living, all hurrying to belt on life jackets and inflate rafts in the dark. Robert jumped into the sea six minutes after the explosion midship. In the second six minutes before the U.S.S. Indianapolis sank and died, he swam hard away from her drag, and by the light of the full moon he saw her torn bulk go down.

What he didn't see were any rafts. The water was full of bobbing men, some of them yelling curses, the ones without jackets clinging to what debris they could find. Robert's friend Georgey swore the night blue nearby; the left side of his face had been seared black.

The hours until dawn ran long and cold, rank with the stenches of salt, burnt meat, and gunpowder.

The real screams came with the morning.

Davis first: the man shrieked a note nearly soprano, and at first glance Robert couldn't tell why, only that Davis was thrashing about like a baby dropped in a stew pot. Then the grey skin surfaced, the black eyes, the teeth. Then Robert knew. Blood flew wide from the place Davis's arm had been. He bobbed down--was pulled down--came back up as there was nothing left to pull, and he wasn't thrashing so much anymore; not at all, in fact. Other men took up the yelling for him, churning the water as they kicked away. Robert willed himself to swim evenly. Calmly. The shark didn't come for him, but no one else got eaten either, not then.

No matter how the sun boiled his skin and his brains, Robert couldn't dunk his head to cool off when the salt in the water tasted like blood to him. Not that day. Not while other men died in the evening. Not after Gibson lost just half a hand and said he guessed the shark hadn't been that hungry.

Robert lost track of Gibson in the night; a chunk of jacket that floated by two afternoons later looked familiar, though.

But maybe he imagined that: no food, no drink, scraps of unwilling sleep, and endless sun and salt did strange things to the head. Sharks glided by him, but they weren't actually there. They'd kill him if they were there. Take his foot. Take his leg. Georgey tried to talk him into diving down to the Indianapolis to drink the fresh water in the commissary. If his swollen fingers had been able to manage the fastenings of his jacket, he'd have gone. In a more lucid moment, he supposed Georgey's failure to come back from the trip in short order meant he never would.

He swam and swam and found a raft. The men on board shoved him away when he grabbed for its side. They wept; they were corpses; they had sharks' teeth. Robert spat the ocean at them and then let himself drift back to the dehydrated and the drowned.

White-tipped fins followed him for at least a mile. Below, where no one else could see. Lying forward on his stomach, he dipped his face into the salt and met a cold, flat eye.

Swim, said the shark.

Robert kicked his legs weakly.

Swim, said the shark. Its fin brushed his jacket, and the straps parted. The U.S.S. Robert went down by the bow.

Sharks kept him from sinking far. They pressed against his sides, took him with them, until he could move as they did, alone. The shark that had spoken flowed up to a pair of motionless legs and tore one free; Robert bit into the other. His teeth slid through cloth and waterlogged skin, but bone was stubborn: he jerked his head and ripped off a shred of flesh sweet and soft with early rot. Snatching, biting, he ate.

And when he felt a roil in the water, he left the corpse and sought the living meat. Blood washed his jaw, more blood the harder it fought, and he feasted on muscle cooked through by fire 'til his stomach stretched and there was no fight left in what remained.

He floated, full. He allowed his fin to show beneath the sun.

A man grabbed his--hand, grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the water, onto a raft already too full. Robert vomited red onto rubber, and the man seized his shirt and hauled him half over the edge to feed the ocean instead.

His savior dragged him back when he'd finished. Robert slumped in his mess and tried to remember the man's name, but names were human. He tasted salt and iron. "Real," he rasped. "Not real."

The man said nothing; a streak of dried blood began at the right corner of his mouth.

Someone else spoke up. "Listen--" Robert heard the cries from the water before the buzz of the plane. Survivors yelled and sobbed all around him, but he was voiceless in the face of rescue that had come too late.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Thanks for the crits, Mercedes and sebmojo--I took the bit about diving to the commissary from a survivor's account. That site has tons of details about the disaster, including a lot more about the sinking and the rescue than I was able to work in.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Aug 16, 2013 around 04:02

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

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

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.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

CancerCakes posted:

I'm still statistically the worst ever TD entrant though.

I beg to differ!

CancerCakes: Wins: 0; Honorable Mentions: 3; Losses: 3; Dishonorable Mentions: 0
JonasSalk: Wins: 0; Honorable Mentions: 0; Losses: 4; Dishonorable Mentions: 1
Voliun: Wins: 0; Honorable Mentions: 0; Losses: 4; Dishonorable Mentions: 1

You'll need to suck with a bit more vigor if you wish to wear the crap crown, sir. Meanwhile:

Thunderbrawl: CancerCakes vs. sebmojo

Should you choose to accept it, your mission is to tell a story of inadequacy in 200 words or fewer. The interpretation is up to you, but stopping mid-narrative because you had inadequate words is the sort of cutesiness that will earn you naught but scorn and bile.

Deadline: Wednesday, September 11, 11:59pm USA EST.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Cancercakes vs. sebmojo: Perfectly Adequate Thunderbrawl Results!


THE PROMPT: Write a story about inadequacy in 200 words or fewer.

THE WINNER: sebmojo, who presented a more-than-adequate amount of characterization and had stuff actually happen besides. CancerCakes didn't embarrass himself too badly, though. Read on for individual crits.


CancerCakes, "The Conference":

You get a point for not going down the most-obvious road of sexual inadequacy, but is there really inadequacy here at all? Francesca's managing her actual task, to give out badges. Unless psychoanalysis or the understanding thereof is part of her job, her cluelessness doesn't make her inadequate. And her lack of knowledge clearly doesn't make her inadequate in her own eyes. The mention of Dunning-Kruger got a grin from me; I like the joke. For the prompt, though, it's... well. You know.

Your dialogue could have used more attributions--and you had words left to use. You could have gotten more by cutting Rachel rubbing her pocket and Francesca's yawn. A nervous gesture for Rachel is good--she's the other side of Dunning-Kruger, right?--but I didn't get that pocket-rubbing was supposed to signal nervousness at all on my first reads. Francesca's self-confidence comes through well enough in her words and wink.

Why 'ring' and not 'earring' for the thing in Francesca's ear? I kept picturing a finger ring being used as a gauge.

It's a shallow character study more than a story; as sebmojo's entry shows, a story in 200 words is possible. I don't hate it at all--it's probably a shade more to my taste, even--but 'I don't want to set the writer on fire' is seldom adequate reason to grant a win.


sebmojo, "Offside":

The writing is rather more sound in this one, and the piece has more weight and pathos in its brief span. It focuses on character too, but it's still a story, however short. I also feel like it has the firmer grasp on the prompt of the two.

I'm confused how Derek knew about this header thing when he was busy banging in a toilet. 'Football club wound up' must mean the club was dissolved? You err on the side of too much sports slang, maybe. (Then again, I appreciated the red card bit.) It took two or three reads for me to be sure I had most of the fine points as well as the gist.

The comma after 'paper' should have been a colon, and for God's sake, use quotation marks. Who do you think you are, Baudolino?

As I said, however, it's a story in 200 words. You've developed Derek's personality within the narrative, and you've shown skill in telling me so much about him through his choices and actions. Enjoy the victory you've earned.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

crabrock overstates my contribution: along with coding the whole shebang, he put in the vast majority of the weekly data. He's got my thanks and awe for making an obsessive stat nerd's dream come true.

In for this week.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

To crabrock, whose dedication to the tasks of categorizing, preserving, and presenting data is nothing short of glorious, and whose patience in fixing errors is scarcely less so; and to Kaishai, without whom I would truly be nothing.


Diamonds
(873 words)

The couple came in on a Thursday night, after work hours. They held hands, and as the door closed behind them, the heated air of my jewelry store picked up the scents of his fresh shower gel and her tea-rose perfume. I stayed in my chair behind the back counter and kept my greeting to a quiet, "Good evening," and a smile, leaving them free to smile back--hers showed teeth, his didn't--and then ignore me in favor of my merchandise.

My eyes fell to the broken bracelet I'd been repairing, but I eavesdropped without trouble. The shop wasn't what you'd call large.

"These aren't diamonds," the man said; his voice came from near the display of rings to my right.

"It doesn't have to be a diamond. I like color."

"I want to get a diamond for you."

"Thomas." She spoke his name sharply.

"I can afford it."

Surely an old argument. I raised my estimate of how much money I would make on this sale.

She said, "But if I'd rather have a ruby or an emerald--that's important, right? Otherwise I don't know why I'm here."

Thomas held in his reply for several seconds. "At least look," he said at last. If I could hear strain in the pitch and rasp of his words, surely she could too. "Before you settle for less."

They looked. For fifteen completely silent minutes, they studied my diamonds. I watched them from the corner of my eye, my prong pusher hovering over a loose sapphire. Thomas's hand drifted twice toward the small of her back, but he stopped short of touching her. Her hands were balled in the pockets of her oversized white jacket.

Thomas murmured something I didn't catch. She jerked one shoulder. He left her and approached my counter, summoning another tight smile; I set the bracelet down. He said, "I'd like to know how much some of the engagement rings cost."

Behind him, the woman moved back to the display of colored-gem rings, her posture changing now that he couldn't see: her shoulders slumped, and her neck bowed. I focused on Thomas. "You might be surprised by the cost of a good emerald," I told him.

"Not you, too. Please. Susannah deserves the best I can--"

Thomas's mouth kept moving, but a body hit the front door so hard that the sound of the impact overrode whatever he said. A figure in a canvas jacket and ski mask stomped the two strides to the center of the room, where he pulled a gun from his pocket. "You throw your purse here and get down!" he yelled at Susannah, and then, after she flung her shoulderbag at him and hit her knees, he turned my way. "Money! Rocks! Now!" He aimed at Thomas. Then at me.

Shock had numbed me, and I noticed in a distant way that while Thomas was trembling, the robber's whole frame shook harder. Despite my calm, my own fingers wouldn't hit the right register keys.

Thomas shifted his weight. The robber swung the gun back to him. "Keep your loving hands out and don't move."

Susannah said, "Drop the gun."

She still knelt on the floor. But since the robber had turned from her to focus on Thomas and me, she'd drawn a Glock from under her jacket. Her steady hands pointed the muzzle dead at the man's head. Her brown eyes fixed on what could be seen of his face.

The robber made his choice in an instant. Instead of complying, he turned his weapon toward her.

Thomas lunged as soon as the other man moved, tackling him and grabbing for his arm--they thudded onto the carpet as Susannah threw herself flat, and a shot hit the wall and sent one of my framed photographs of diamonds crashing down. Thomas yelled. I yelled. Thomas got hold of the robber's forearm and slammed it against the floor with crazy energy. The man dropped his gun, and Susannah scrambled for it. She had it in her left hand; the robber rolled Thomas hard into my counter, hard enough that Thomas lost hold of him, and then he gained his feet and ran. Susannah held both guns on his back, but she let him go.

When the sounds of his escape faded out, she set the weapons on the countertop with hands that had started to shake.

Then Thomas was up and reaching for her, folding her into his chest so tightly I couldn't see much of her other than her hair and her arms, wrapped around him like steel bands under white leather. "You idiot." I don't know which one of them whispered the words. Her fingers dug into his shoulderblades.

I took deep breaths. I picked up the cell phone next to the register. But before I dialed, I said, "Ma'am? Sir?"

Thomas turned his head to look at me; Susannah didn't move.

"I hope you'll take any ring I sell in thanks," I said. "Whichever one you want."

Susannah's short, uneven laugh brought a curve to Thomas's mouth. He pressed his lips to her crown, and as I called the police, they went on holding each other within the rings that mattered.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

I'm in with San Antonio, Texas.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

River by Night
(608 words)

Two in the morning: three women stand on Selena's Bridge, full of chicken mole and a few drinks each. The river below them stands high in its cement boundaries, dark now, all the ducklings gone to bed, and the night air--almost cool--pulls the scent of tequila from the water. Jolene traces the path a strand of colored lights takes through the boughs of a tree much older than herself. She attempts again to memorize the sequence. Red, green, white, blue. The fifth bulb won't stay in her mind.

"Is a river like a fountain?" she asks her friends. "Throw in a penny and get a wish?"

She's scrabbling in her purse before she's finished the question, and it's just as well: Ellen only shrugs, Rosa only laughs. Jolene brings out three quarters and drops Connecticut's Charter Oak into the depths. It should buy her twenty-five wishes. She'll settle for one. "I wish to be remembered, forever."

Ellen shakes her head when Jolene offers her the remaining coins. Lavender and fuchsia crepe-myrtle petals are stuck in her curly hair. Her motion sends a scrap of each color drifting after Jolene's wish. But Jolene catches her hand and presses the quarters into her palm, so Ellen ticks her thumbnail over their tiny ridges and considers, while her other thumb caresses the head of a plush armadillo from the Five and Dime.

What does she want? Her body is warm and fed. Her armadillo is adorable. Rosa's shoulder presses companionably against hers. Ellen tosses her quarter and says, "I wish for a thousand more nights like this one."

Jolene leans over and kisses her on the lips--mwah! It's play and not desire, but Ellen still tastes salt and lime.

Rosa accepts the last quarter from Ellen, but she thinks of a dead fish she once saw on top of the water, silver as a coin on the backdrop of green. Killed by an errant wish, maybe. She pockets the change and inhales the river's liquor breath. Her lungs fill with moss roses and hummingbirds; her blood is bright with the dream of rain. "I wish for the river," Rosa says, and she smiles.

Kicking off her shoes, she runs down the bridge steps. She sets a foot on the water--then the other--and it holds her, the river holds her, as firm and fine as glass for her, and she spins on its surface as though the others weren't calling her name. Rosa twirls until she stands beneath Jolene's lights: red, green, white, blue, and gold. By the glow, Jolene and Ellen see her sink.

They witness, though neither will speak of it, that no bubbles rise.

Jolene will die visiting the Alamo alone at dawn on precisely the wrong morning; her murderer won't know or care who he kills. But her blood will turn the pale stone red again, and she'll become part of a legend, remembered as long as Texas remembers its history.

For two years, Ellen will avoid San Antonio, wishes, and alcohol. It will be the city that calls her back. She'll go to the I-35 bridge over Camden Street at sunset to see the bat colony fly. As they pass her in their cloud, her body will change, and she'll live a thousand nights on bat wings, well fed and warm and surrounded by companions.

Sometimes Ellen will swoop over the surface of the river. Sometimes Jolene's wraith will wander as far as Selena's Bridge. They will see a familiar smile just under the water, where Rosa will wait for them as long as they all wish.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Thunderdome Week LX: The Case of the Regrettable Entries

Judges: Kaishai, Jeza, and SurreptitiousMuffin.

Never mind judging books by their covers: I'm more intrigued by titles. Who could pass over something called The Spider Sapphire Mystery or Copper Canyon Conspiracy without at least giving it a look? Not I. The Nancy Drew series in particular promises one great adventure after another. Unfortunately, the stories don't always live up to their names.

Your task this week is to write a story inspired by a title from one of these lists. Announce your choice of title when you sign up. With so many options available, I don't want to see any duplicates. You can change your mind at any point before sign-ups close--unless you ask us to pick a title for you, in which case you're stuck with what you're given. The stories can be any genre or none! Mystery is optional! The title must be appropriate for your work, however, so keep that in mind when you decide to turn The Clue in the Old Stagecoach into a rom-com.

If you want to combine multiple titles into an ungodly chimera, you may!

Sign-up deadline: Friday, September 27, 11:59 pm USA Eastern
Submission deadline: Sunday, September 29, 11:59 pm USA Eastern
Maximum word count: 1,300

Ghost Writers:
sebmojo (The Wrong Track)
Mercedes: "Clue in the Camera"
Walamor: "The Whispering Statue"
Lord Windy (The Last Resort)
Chairchucker: "The Riddle of the Ruby Gazelle"
DawnOfMinstrel (Passport to Danger)
ThirdEmperor: "High Stakes: Buried in Time"
FouRPlaY: "The Hidden Staircase"
Fumblemouse: "The Secret of Mirror Bay"
Erogenous Beef: "Evil in Amsterdam: The Wrong Chemistry"
crabrock (Courting Disaster): "Track 2: Topless Hoes on a Cigarette Boat"
docbeard (Wicked for the Weekend)
JonasSalk (Stay Tuned for Danger)
Helsing: "The Secret in the Stars"
Gygaxian: "Murder on the Fourth of July"
M. Propagandalf (Crime in the Queen's Court: Win, Place, or, Die!)

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Nov 5, 2013 around 14:45

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Chairchucker posted:

I am in for this week give me a title please KTHX.

The Riddle of the Ruby Gazelle. You're welcome!

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Anyone else who wants to combine multiple titles may do so; there's potential for glory, disaster, and glorious disaster in the likes of The Search for Cindy Austin: Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

ThirdEmperor posted:

In that case, could I beg permission from the judges to upgrade the generic High Stakes to the far ritzier High Stakes: Buried in Time?

Permission granted!

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

For those considering entry, twenty-four hours and more than ten times as many titles remain.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

M. Propagandalf posted:

With the judges permission, I would like an exclamation mark to follow that "Die"

Exclamation mark granted!

Sign-ups are now CLOSED. Good luck, entrants. We look forward to seeing your dangers, secrets, evils, clues, and crimes, even if the latter will doubtless be against the English language.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

With 12 hours remaining, the sole story in the arena is about dubstep and furries. If that's not a call for bloodshed then I don't know what is.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Twenty minutes to go before the deadline!

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Submissions for Week LX are now CLOSED.

sebmojo, Lord Windy, DawnOfMinstrel, docbeard, JonasSalk and M. Propagandalf will all be main characters in The Case of the Cowardly Weenies and lead this week's failure parade. By sometime tomorrow we should know who will have the dubious pleasure of marching in their wake.

Non-submitters can regain a smidgeon of honor by posting their stories within twenty-four hours. Any who do will get at least one critique for their trouble.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Sep 30, 2013 around 06:47

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Week LX Results: The Case of the Regrettable Submissions

We've turned your entries over and over again in search of clues as to who most deserves the losertar. At last we think we've solved the Puzzle of the Underwhelming Prose, and I hereby present our findings:

THE WINNER: Erogenous Beef. You've written stories that were better than this week's offering in each of its individual aspects, but "Evil in Amsterdam: The Wrong Chemistry" balances plot, humor, character, and cleverness with a skill and cohesion that finally seats you on the Thunderthrone. Congratulations; this crown has been a long time coming.

HONORABLE MENTION goes to Fumblemouse for a story that had the best setting of the week and probably the best writing, but which left two of three judges unsatisfied.

THE LOSER: Helsing, your work also lacked a strong resolution, and it did you in: I don't know what Francis saw, I don't know what happened to him, I don't know the Secret of the Stars, and I have a feeling you don't, either.

Crits are forthcoming! Watch for mine today; my esteemed co-judges will offer theirs according to their mercy and leisure.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Oct 21, 2013 around 22:37

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week LX: Hits and Misses


Most of the entries this week hovered in the middle range, not terrible, not outstanding; more good than bad, though dialogue often elbowed adventure and energy aside. Even the immortal eldritch/cyborg presidents sat and talked! What was up with that?

But none of you ended your stories with a tiny golden bean worth one million US dollars, and don't think I'm not grateful.



Chairchucker, "The Riddle of the Ruby Gazelle"

Your title has the potential for so many good things. Rubies! Riddles! Will it be a Maltese-Falcon-type deal? A sphinx carved out of jewels? Is the gazelle an artifact for adventurers to pursue? I can't wait to see what you do!

...Furries.

Darn it, Chairchucker.

It's going to take me a while to forgive you for opening the week with a fursuit. Although I still enjoyed the story in a light way, and a first entry that doesn't make me want to die is a treasure to be valued, so it more or less balances out. This is very weightless, ephemeral--no news to you--and unlikely to take the crown unless everybody else screws a pooch, but you wrote DubCon into a story as a dubstep convention and made me picture that warbling dubstep vampire from Eurovision (ah, memories!) doing his thing for a herd of otherkin, and it's so terrible it wraps around to fun. You can do better in terms of humor, depth, and both. But I'm less disappointed with the lack of literal rubies than I would have imagined.

(P.S. Nan + Drew = Well played, Mr. Chucker.)

*****

Gygaxian, "Murder on the Fourth of July"

You took your title down a crazy path of history, cyborgs, and eldritch horrors, gave it some character and a bit of emotion, and all in all made a good first showing in the 'Dome. I'm impressed by how ridiculous it isn't, considering your premise.

That said, I don't understand bringing John Quincy in as a robot child when that creates an unnecessary conflict with real history and would seem to undermine any notion that Jefferson and Adams have really been waging anime war on each other in the background of America. What happened to Abigail and Martha? Do they know? Are they cyborgs/liches too? I'm not entirely sold on Jefferson as an occultist, either; it doesn't seem like such a natural path for him that it needs no explanation. The Quincy problem is the largest one in that I could overlook the other things, but every time I look back over this story I wonder why John Quincy is present at all. What does he add to the story compared to what he removes in drama from this final meeting of two ancient foes?

I didn't see the end coming until Adams asked Jefferson to kill him, but that resolution is still a fairly worn one. I find myself wishing there had been some twist on the familiar pattern, but maybe a less peaceful conclusion on Adams' end would have changed the feel of the piece for the worse. As it is there's a wisp of gentle melancholy. The last line is a fine closer.

Your writing is generally sound, no serious errors beyond a failure to proofread enough to catch 'wrly'; in the first paragraph, 'History will say' should be 'History says' to match 'it is wrong.' Your prose does its job with just enough style to read well. I don't want to give you the impression that the story's objectively good, but I enjoyed it, and that's not a bad place to start.

*****

Erogenous Beef, "Evil in Amsterdam: The Wrong Chemistry"

I don't know how you managed to make a mad scientist PUA sympathetic. Naming him 'Dr. Evil' probably had something to do with it. I'm rather fond of this one despite needing to read it a couple of times to get straight the course of events that led to Nefarious being in jail. There's nothing completely serious here, yet you've tied your jokes to a decent plot and weirdly charming love story. (Always assuming Nefarious accepts the coffee date. That's up in the air.) You don't say exactly what the alien thing is that blooms in Evil's brain, which I like, because it was more satisfying to come to the conclusion myself. And my favorite element is the way you've interpreted your titles, turning 'Evil' into a person and so putting a whole new spin on the first.

Other things I liked: the reference to van der Waals forces, which I looked up and found were a thing; math graffiti in Supervillain Jail; the slam on Ancient Aliens. You laid on the humor thick, but not too thick.

Things not quite as successful: Karen was cardboard. I never did understand why she sat around in a T-shirt eating Hot Pockets. Since she's not much more than an object to Dr. Evil and the focus was on other characters, the former issue may have been unavoidable. Was the 'law firm' a reference that I missed?

You've done better in other, stronger rounds; I prefer Duke Guncock for humor, the Threedump for cleverness, your story for your brawl with Sitting Here for relationship dynamics, and your imaginary-books entry for weight and elegance, personally, but this week you balanced all those factors with the panache required to come out on top. Congratulations--now just make sure you check your celebratory beer for those Evil roofies.

*****

crabrock, "Track 2: Topless Hoes on a Cigarette Boat"

What in sweet tarnation does your title--the one you made up--have to do with anything? You know the difference between 'hos' and 'hoes,' right? I honest-to-God can't tell.

So, you know, I don't hate it. I kind of... like it. Except for the possibly-grammatically-correct-but-horrid-to-look-upon shortage of closing quotation marks, but I'm not certain you had a choice there. It's another light piece with no meat to it at all, a there-and-gone flash of fun, although experimenting with a narrative style like this gets you some sort of writerly bonus. You went meta with your Drew title, and I tip my hat to that.

Not that I'd call this good by any means--the narration may work intriguingly well, but what about the content? Not so much! You lay the monkeycheese on too thick with the list of 'awards' and probably with the 'thou hast,' with the latter especially undermining what's otherwise a strong turn: that the client may actually an innocent subject of brutality, a serious state of affairs despite his buffoonish defense. If Templeton's pants-on-head silliness had been a touch less extreme this could have been an honestly decent humor piece. It reminds me of John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey, if Rumpole were a cartoon. Templeton's arrest in the end completes the journey into the land of Taking It Too Far. He didn't even threaten the guy in the loo, he babbled like an idiot, and shouldn't this man's colleagues be used to that by now? Templeton getting in trouble for his antics is wholly believable, but I'm not buying the handcuffs.

You've still entertained me, and your weird world is coherent while it lasts. You've written the worst of the bunch as yet, but there's a chance you may sneak through. (Later note: If only predicting bad stories in TD were a more impressive psychic feat.)

*****

Fumblemouse, "The Secret of Mirror Bay"

What I see here is the premise for a much longer story. You had almost three hundred more words to use, so you could have gone somewhat further toward revealing the secret of Mirror Bay, and I wish you had--I thought I might be reading this week's winning piece until I glanced at my scroll bar and saw how little story was left at the point when Anthony saw the picture of Ella. Sure enough, the conclusion was abrupt and unsatisfying. The bit about aliens ruined the mood for me. I don't know whether you had no more time or what, but that's how it reads: like you hit a wall and had to finish with something.

Your premise is worth writing that longer story about, though. I don't think I want to know all the secrets of Mirror Bay. I'm intrigued by it as something that can't be explained. On the other hand, I want more than you give me. Is the Golden City a place of the dead? Is Ella real? Will Anthony meet her? What would happen if he did? Would that meeting be just the beginning? Why would Ella be there, and why is her face the one a tourist happens to see? Etc., etc.; there's plenty of fodder here for a longer piece, maybe even a short novel. I'd want to read it. But this entry is only a teaser.

You chose a dramatic title and you've played it fairly straight, which works for me: I would have been disappointed if there weren't at least one story of a strange situation in a strange locale. Another good touch is the Aurum Hotel. I'm confident you won't lose, but consider that longer rewrite, would you?

*****

Helsing, "The Secret in the Stars"

I love your title; I want to love your story too... man, though, you don't make it easy. Or even possible. I'd try to overlook the grammar errors (all eleventy billion of them) if your content were strong, but what the blazes is that ending supposed to be? I just got done telling Fumblemouse his conclusion was poor, and now I feel like I should go back and apologize. You two actually did almost the exact same thing. You set up a mystery and failed to resolve it. In his case, I did get to find out that the protagonist disappeared after confronting the inexplicable, but I have no idea what happened to Francis after he saw whatever-it-was.

Given the reference to Miskatonic, the Secret is probably a Lovecraftian horror--and as I type that I understand why you might have wanted to avoid showing the horror; Lovecraft himself usually let me down when he revealed the monster's face. He still had to do it, though. Else he would have cheated the reader. Same deal with Stephen King: the terrors of It, Duma Key, "The Langoliers," and I've forgotten how many of his other works lose a lot of power when he lets us see exactly what they are, but to leave them in shadow would be worse. There's also the possibility that you flat ran out of words. Mystery is hard to do within a Thunderdome word limit. I wouldn't recommend it; if it's any consolation, combatants have screwed up badly on this point before.

You might not have lost if your ending weren't such a dud. But there are plenty of other problems. Take your first paragraph: 'Francis didn’t know why he refused to look. At first he thought it was a joke. Later it seemed like Simon had simply lost it. No one carries a joke that far.' Three, three, three tenses in one! Most of it should probably have been past perfect, like this: 'Francis didn't know why he had refused to look. At first he'd thought it was a joke. Later, it had seemed like Simon had simply lost it. No one carried a joke that far.' (The last sentence could be in past or present conditional, 'No one would carry a joke that far.' You could make an argument for the present tense being grammatically acceptable, but IMO it reads terribly with the rest of the paragraph.) You ought to use past perfect more consistently than you do. You've got a dangling participle with Francis's mind drinking a beer in your second paragraph. 'Maya was luckier Lisa' is missing a word. Etc. Some or all of that may be a consequence of not having more time to edit.

It was difficult for me to remember that I was supposed to be in Francis's head, not Simon's. You open too many sections with Simon's name or Simon speaking; Francis is a nonentity in comparison. You have a lot of characters, and most of them are no more than names on a screen. I'd probably chop the section with Francis and his father talking in the attic if I were you. The 'astrological tablet' was a distraction, and Phil's unnatural death was a needless complication. The repetition of 'Have you seen it' and 'the secret in the stars' gives every scene with Simon a broken-record feel.

So, yeah, I'm not a fan of this piece, but don't let that discourage you too much. Not from writing, anyway; if you want to let it discourage you from ending future stories without concluding them, that would be okay.

*****

Mercedes, "Clue in the Camera"

Not a fan of this one either. It took me too many iterations to work out what went on here; in other circumstances that might be fairly blamed on me being a moron, but in this case I think your narrative gets the honors. On my first couple of reads, this is what I got: Vicky and Samuel/Kennedy of the Unnecessarily Complicated Name are archaeologists examining a camera; Vicky cares about it, but Samuel/Kennedy is busy being emo for some reason. Then the camera sucks out Vicky's soul. Without a soul, her body repeats its last few actions on autopilot. At one point she calls Samuel/Kennedy 'child' instead of saying her original line: significant? Apparently not. Samuel/Kennedy takes up the camera and lets it suck his own soul in to join hers in what's presumably another dimension, where they continue the fascinating and much-repeated camera argument. I didn't like it! What was the point of the whole thing if they ended up in a completely undescribed alternate Earth?

Only it turns out they didn't--it's the bodies speaking at the end, which is reasonable in retrospect. I'm not sure even now why Kennedy's body is smiling and jovial instead of repeating his final motions; that may be why it took me a while to twig to what had happened. After this epiphany I could see the tragedy in, and point of, the story, and that was enough to raise my opinion to 'enh, s'all right.'

Samuel/Kennedy's name remains Unnecessarily Complicated. And his frustration in the beginning remains confusing. I thought at one point that maybe Vicky's soul was already gone when the story started, but you show the camera sucking 'a smoky essence from Vicky's body, so that can't be the explanation, can it? Something's awry here. But the more times I look at this thing, the more I think it has good bones. It could even be your strongest TD entry to date if it were fixed up.

*****

ThirdEmperor, "High Stakes: Buried in Time"

You have gawky lines, grammatical errors, a context that's at best breezed over, and an ending that's almost clever but lands to the left of the bullseye--but your content interested me enough that I wanted to play along, a major difference between this and the losing piece. Your interpretation of 'buried in time' gets a thumbs up. I care about Theo as he tries to whistle in the dark. Most of all, up until the T. Rex appears, his ending is evocative. Don't get me wrong: it's not Theo's descent into a world of tar that I mind, and I like the idea that the dinosaur lost his own RPS hand once upon a time. Only, is that the impression I was supposed to get? I'm not sure. It's too murky; the last line falls flat and queers your pitch.

Underlining and italicizing words at the same time was an odd formatting choice. Just one will suffice, and italics usually look better. The dinosaur species didn't need special formatting: aside from Tyrannosaurus Rex, you aren't using the full scientific names anyway. The story's salted with technical mistakes, no single one so bad as to ruin it, all of them together giving it a very rough look. 'Asphalt like' instead of 'asphalt lake'; 'he' shouldn't be capitalized in '"Ten minutes, you think?" He asked'; only one person should speak in a given paragraph, but Theo and Garret both speak in your third; 'to've' is not a legitimate contraction and looks awful even in dialogue; in the paragraph starting with 'He scowled at his companion's back,' it's hard to keep straight whether Theo is talking about himself or Garret; in the last paragraph, the semicolon after 'them' should be a colon. Etc. This would be a good one to take to the Farm for proofreading if you didn't see these errors yourself.

You didn't need a ton of establishing information, but I'm left with no idea what these guys are doing in a car in a tar pit. They would seem to be archaeologists. Shouldn't they know better than to drive into one of these things? What are they to each other? The set-up is too undefined for my liking.

I nevertheless enjoyed certain lines (particularly 'Specimens A & B: Tremendous Dipshits, Circa 2008'), Theo, the tension between the characters, the resolution to their situation, and the slip into another world in your finale; I enjoyed them enough, in fact, that the story would probably have made my top three if the technical aspects were better. That isn't saying a ton this week, but it's still a step in the right direction for someone coming off a loss. Keep working and polishing your prose.

*****

FouRPlaY, "The Hidden Staircase"

Expository dialogue probably isn't the besetting sin of this story, but it's the thing that bugged me most. It sort of works to have Albert calling out his grain tariff credentials from the bathroom, because that establishes him as someone who imagines any random passer-by would care. There's no such justification for the evil conspirator telling his cohorts things they already know ('The treaty will be cancelled,' 'we can go ahead with the coup when we return to our country') for the sake of informing Albert and the reader. That doesn't sound natural or credible to me--but it does sound hammy, like something out of a bad pulp thriller, and it drags your premise down.

The sequence of events when Albert is in the bathroom is surreal. He spies a loose thread on his cuff, so he tries to get it and fails; so he turns to look for scissors; so he sees the toilet is spilling water all over the floor. Is this the Rube-Goldberg method of secret door detection? I like the bits around it where he tries the doorknob and fumbles with the tank, but you've got at least three irrelevant steps. Have him turn around at the sound of water on the floor and you get the same result with less faffing about. The later coincidence of the watch is very coincidental, and maybe the words you'd have saved by nixing some of the bathroom scene would have given you room to make it less so. Maybe. (I appreciate that you kept the plot moving and brought it to a solid end, so I can stand a little coincidence if that's what it takes.)

I spotted some places where proofreading failed you: 'value' in place of 'valve' most notably, 'passed' in place of 'past,' 'lead' in place of 'led,' and the sudden appearance of the present tense in your last line. Watch for that! That type of error is relatively minor but can still throw the reader if he or she notices.

But! There are aspects I liked. You sent your main character on an adventure. He did things! The pulpy feel the story has is appropriate to your title, so I'm not opposed to it except when it goes that step too far. Albert's conversation with the guard is rather better than the conspirators conspiring: it's borderline funny and shows through the guard's word choices and actions that he's not convinced by Albert's accusations. That Albert's last thought in the narrative is of his grain tariffs is amusing and appropriate.

*****

Walamor, "The Whispering Statue"

Is Timaeus's name an intentional reference to Plato? I know just enough about Plato's works to recognize it, not enough to understand what it would signify, and a quick check of Wiki doesn't help much on that front. I'd maybe change the name if it's not a reference, since it's distracting.

This is good. I don't have many complaints about it. The pacing is perhaps a bit off, with the scene with Timaeus occupying almost half the text and the end beat abrupt by comparison. You sidled up to the electric fence of unsatisfying conclusions but stayed that critical distance away. I wonder why Dario didn't visit the statue more often without any questions, since she's dear to him, but your final line works; if anything, I'd suggest trimming the Timaeus scene down a bit (you could probably lose Dario thinking about his rear end easily enough) and keeping the ending as it is.

(One other thing: don't start a sentence with numerals. The number '415' should be spelled out.)

I appreciate the feel of a larger story of Dario and the goddess surrounding and infusing this smaller story of the question. Comparing it to your Oscar Wilde piece, I'd say you've come a long way.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Oct 1, 2013 around 04:46

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

In!

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Rattled
(1,152 words)

"Rattlesnakes." Danica said the word slowly, as though the sound of it would make sense of a senseless world. "They're worried about the rights of rattlesnakes now."

Quentin's office chair creaked as he let his full weight slump against its back. "That's what the activists say. That, and they're gonna drag us to court if we keep holding the round-up. Sue us seven ways to Sunday."

"They'd lose."

"Yeah, well, the town's not got the funds for a fight like that."

Danica rubbed at one side of her face. "Quentin, we can't not do the round-up if we want funds for anything at all." Rattlesnakes, more specifically the capture and execution thereof, were all that ever brought tourists to Sugardrink, Texas; tourist dollars were all that let the town pay its bills to Uncle Sam. Danica eyed the torso-sized cardboard container sitting on Quentin's desk. Maybe the mayor had stashed a secret slush fund in there--how else could he be grinning now?

"You say that like I haven't been thinking," he chided her. "I've got a plan--and this may not be all bad. You wanna guess what's in this box?" He stood before she could answer, and he tipped the thing over and let its contents spill out.

Hundreds of segmented plastic snakes--neon green, electric blue, pale pink, red, purple--clattered onto the desk, the floor, and Danica's lap. The bright eye spots on their backs goggled up at her with unwarranted cheer.

Quentin asked her, "Well?"

Danica dug at one of the spots with her fingernail. Its edge peeled: a sticker, none-too-well applied. "You'll be wearing your pants on your head next," she told him.

"Wait 'til you see this before you decide I've gone slow," he said. He dug a remote control out of his pocket and turned it on. Something deep in the snake pile rrrr-ed. Danica shoved aside a rainbow of bodies until a green snake shot out from the melee on little wheels, off the edge of the desk, onto the floor, and out into the hall, where she heard it strike a baseboard. "Peter at the electronics store got us a bunch of these motors!" Quentin crowed. "Ain't it a hoot? I'll tape some Mexican jumping beans to the tails. We can't control many of 'em this way, of course, but Peter swears he'll come up with something better."

"Quentin--"

"Oh, I know, it looks dumb as poo poo. Pardon my language. But listen: just this year, we're gonna round up these fake snakes. Every news channel, every blog will be on our crazy hick stunt like ticks on a deer's rear end. We'll sell merchandise. Give prizes. And when nobody's paying attention anymore, we go take care of the snakes like always."

"And next year?"

"I'm thinking the activists will find a new target by then. Want to bet against it?"

Danica had to admit she did not.

***

So it happened that five months later Danica found herself one of thousands of people behind a starting line made of countless snake segments, holding a leather bag and a snare pole. She'd dressed as a snake hunter should, boots and sturdy pants and all; most of the people around her had on pink, green, or blue souvenir tees. The stereo system set up nearby played "Rawhide" and "Cold-Hearted Snake" in endless succession.

"All right, y'all!" Quentin's voice boomed through a bullhorn. He sat on a platform beside Peter and a thin little woman whose smile set Danica's teeth on edge: Ms. Purvis, the activists' representative, there to oversee the event. "The round-up starts now! Get out there and get you some snakes!"

The wild land bordering Sugardrink vanished behind dust, and a hellish chorus of whoops temporarily drowned out Paula Abdul.

Danica cut west, toward the old drive-in theater. She outpaced many of the tourists and was more-or-less alone when she reached the overgrown lot, the neglected screen, both relics of civilization that the countryside had reclaimed. Heat had seared the tall grass brown. The purple snake caught in the stuff was thus easy to see. Danica looped her snare around its neck and pulled it out; its tail and payload of jumping beans were missing, God knew where, but its programmed motor whirred, and its beady blue eyes looked happy nonetheless.

Somehow the thrill just wasn't there. When an orange snake rolled by a minute later, Danica let it go.

She sat for hours in what had once been a social hot spot, ignoring distant shouts as tourists added to their hunting tallies, looking up at the screen and picturing the rest of Sugardrink similarly destitute. She grabbed the purple snake in her bag and hauled her arm back to pitch it into the grass--but she stopped. The toy wiggled in her hand, courtesy of the gizmo attached to it. It felt alive in that dead place.

Danica slipped it into her pocket and started for home.

She nearly kept walking through the buzz that broke into her reverie, but she was a born daughter of Sugardrink and knew the difference between beans and a true rattle. She stopped cold. The Western Diamondback coiled not five feet from her boots drew its head back, still rattling but clearly prepared to strike.

Its head snapped forward--

And was stopped by Danica's snare before the fangs could bite through leather.

Adrenaline wild in her blood, Danica considered the struggling killer... and she smiled.

***

"What have you got, Dani?" Quentin asked when she brought her bag up to him.

"Something I think Ms. Purvis is going to love," Danica said, and she crossed the platform to where the activist sat and dropped the bag in her lap.

Inside, a heavy, meaty weight that couldn't possibly be accounted for by plastic thrashed once. Ms, Purvis's smile died as she screamed and flung it away, then scrambled out of her chair and fled with all the speed and grace of a motorized snake: she fell off the platform to land in her butt on the dirt.

"You all right, ma'am?" Quentin shouted.

"Get rid of that thing!" the woman yelled back. "Kill it!"

Quentin's shoulders shook. "Peter, I think Ms. Purvis is kinda upset. You want to take her to get a cold drink or something?"

When they'd left, Danica reclaimed her bag and opened it so Quentin could see the rattlesnake corpse inside. "She ought to have known they still twitch a bit when they're dead, if she's such a fan," she said.

"Is that a motor tied to that thing?"

"Maybe."

"Danica," Quentin sighed, but he couldn't keep the grin off his face. "Really, now."

"Just doing my part to make the round-up lively," Danica said. "And do you want to bet, after a scene like that, that we'll have trouble from this particular group again?"

As she'd expected, he did not.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

I'm in.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Come Home to Stay a While
(667 words)

"Come home this weekend," Rachel's mother had said on the phone. "We have to talk."

The dining table had picked up a thin layer of dust. The late afternoon light turned the kitchen sallow. Rachel couldn't look at her mother's face, only the familiar, callused hands, clasped tight around a coffee mug. The rough places on her own fingers had faded, save one: a shiny mark on her right index from the chafing of a pen.

Her mother said, "A man breaks his back falling off a tractor, he's not fit for factory work. Your father's going on pension. We won't have enough to help you with college anymore."

And there it was, as flat and dull and inevitable as a farmer's life, despite all her work and all she'd saved; and in the face of her family's collapse Rachel couldn't stop herself from asking, "What am I supposed to do?"

"They'd give you your job back at the plant," her mother said.

"I only need one more year."

"Make the money, then go. School will still be there."

Shingles lay in the tall grass outside, cows lowed for feed, fields waited for spring and the corn, and Rachel knew better. She would not leave these things twice.

Her mother let go of the coffee to grip Rachel's hands. "It's your choice to make."

Rachel couldn't forgive her for the words.

Repairs to the house and the tractor ate her earnings first; then it was a drought season, a new well, a bull to replace the one that died. She sprayed insulation into refrigerators and studied her calculus text as the farm work allowed. For a while. The book 'disappeared' in time--a polite way to describe a bonfire lit after too much wine, but her parents had brought her up to be genteel. Her father's pension paid the mortgage. Her mother's job paid for his burial, three years after his accident.

She met Alan at the bar and quit drinking altogether after they married, and his work managing the town department store turned 'enough' to 'comfortable' for all of them, with something left over every month for a college fund. Within six years, Rachel had two sons, a daughter, a grave for her mother, and a less-than-amicable divorce.

At least the child-support payments helped. Rachel stayed at the factory for the benefits of seniority. Her land suffered somewhat from neglect until the children were old enough for chores. She loved them fiercely, all three, but especially Kris, intelligent and ambitious; a light shone in his eyes that she could almost remember.

She took a weekend job at Alan's store. She bought nothing for herself after the kids started school. Sometimes her neighbors let her hunt in their woods or fish in their creeks to save money--they made outings of it, she and Kris and Gavin and Cecilia. The games and laughter made her feel rich.

Until the factory shut down.

Rachel sought employment at a warehouse an hour away, as a driver. Kris worked as many jobs as he could every summer and after school.

The bank threatened to foreclose on the farm.

With almost everything she'd saved, Rachel ended the mortgage for good, and Kris scraped together enough grants and scholarships to start his major in Computer Science that fall.

Then Gavin wrecked Rachel's truck and one of his legs. She had to hire help with the planting.

Then Cecilia wanted--needed--a wedding at seventeen.

Then tuition rose.

Rachel sat at the old dining table with a cup of coffee in her left hand, her right held in front of her for examination. So many lines now. So many marks: old cuts and calluses, and no sign that she'd ever held a pen. Only scars left by the choices she'd made.

I understand, Mama. And so did you. I hope he never does.

She reached for the phone, her fingers unsteady as she punched in Kris's number.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

blue squares posted:

Can anyone post critiques? We're all here to get better, so if I read something and want to say "this didn't work for me and here's why," what's the rules with that?

Anyone who wants to critique can, so have at.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

sebmojo posted:

Edit: I've critted most of the stories above - anyone who I haven't done and wants a crit speak up.

Speaking.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

In.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Music to Draw By
(1,000 words)

On a boardwalk bench, the river meters from his feet, Martin scraped a charcoal pencil over paper. The child in front of him wouldn't stay still. He drew the line of her shoulder, and it changed; she leaned forward to see his work. His pencil wandered outside of his intention despite his effort, missing the perfect angles, shading her cheek just too dark. Martin almost couldn't blame her for running off at the sight of the finished sketch. He chased after her anyway, abandoning his empty money box.

A woman stepped into the child's path and nabbed her by the arm. "Let go!" the girl yelled.

"She owes me for a sketch," Martin explained.

"Imagine that," said the woman, and she gave the girl such a look that the child stared at the ground and pulled coins from her pocket. Martin took them, tasting a bitterness his brief sprint couldn't account for.

Released, the child fled without her drawing. Martin tucked the payment away. "Thanks," he said quietly.

"I'm Livvy," the woman said. She held out a hand; he hesitated before lending her his sketchbook. She set down the long black case she carried to page through it. "You're very good," Livvy murmured, and his ears burned. "And you're welcome. I know that girl. I've stopped letting her request songs."

Martin managed a smile, reclaimed the book, and retreated to his bench. No prospective clients waited. Turning to one of his scribble pages, he tried, again, to bring the river to life in lines and dust. Afterward he would attempt the girl--someday he'd get it all right.

To his left, sun flashed off silver. Livvy stood four paces away, and she'd brought a flute out of her case. She met his glance and offered a smile; her eyes were grey as the boardwalk wood, closing as she piped a sequence of notes.

Flutesong replaced the silence with painless perfection. He felt it beneath his skull and in his fingers, resonant in his pencil. He swept that up the paper, creating the tree that stood across the river; drew the point down and across at exactly the angle of its dragging branch.

People stopped to watch him work. People demanded portraits, and what he drew lit them up from inside, the brightest notes from the flute less joyous than they. Martin ignored his money box and the setting sun, so long as he could draw. So long as the music lasted.

It ended with the close of day; he stumbled as soon as it did. He smoothed out the jag he'd drawn and handed the sketch to its subject before he could do more damage. He found enough coins in his box to pay his rent. And Livvy and her flute were walking away.

"Wait!"

She stopped and turned. Martin saw the last of the sun on her cheek and twitched to draw it. He caught up to her. "Will you play here tomorrow?"

"I wander, usually," she said.

"Come back," he nearly pleaded. "Or tell me where you'll be, because your music, it's...." Since he couldn't find a word, he offered the money box. "I'll give you half."

The corners of her mouth lifted. "Would you give me sketches instead? One for every day I play for you."

"That's--"

"A bargain."

For him, certainly. While Livvy's song surrounded him and vibrated his bones, he disappointed no one with his art, not even himself. His fingers put his visions on the paper, each as true as her playing. During the day, he drew a hundred faces of people, the river, the city. Only his sketch for Livvy ever remained in his book when the sun fell. He gave her mountains. He gave her moons.

At home, he remembered each glance he'd stolen while her eyes were shut... and he sketched her imperfectly, the only way he could. Jitters of his pencil tangled the sweep of her dark hair.

Martin kept trying; Martin kept drawing. His art brought delight.

Livvy kept playing, but his pencil shaded increasing disappointment and distance into her eyes. Her flute sent minor notes down the river.

One day she didn't come to the bench.

Would-be clients grabbed at him and pleaded with him not to leave. Martin sketched in a fog of silence, ignoring the errors he made. When he showed the people his work, he thought they would be glad enough to release him.

"It's your best yet!" said a man, tossing ten times his old fee into his box.

No one noticed the change except himself--they still shone! Yet he heard the quiet more clearly than the praise. Martin grabbed his book and fled them all, listening hard for the sound of a flute. He stopped for breath in a city alley, and he heard the faintest hint of a song he knew. He followed its lead up flights of stairs, to a weathered grey door.

Livvy answered his knock. There was no flute in her hand, but he still heard her music.

"Will you come back to the boardwalk?" Martin asked.

"I don't think so. We had a deal," she said, "but you don't need me as a tool any more, Martin. You've learned what you needed to."

"You've never been a tool!"

Livvy said, "You haven't looked at me in weeks. You hear my flute. You don't see me."

Hadn't looked at her?

Martin opened his sketchbook, pulling out a pencil. He listened to the music in his mind as he drew at his fastest pace; the notes were quiet, uneven, but she stood still for him. Stood stiller yet when he tore the page free and put the image in her hands: herself, imperfectly drawn; herself, generous and talented and all-enchanting.

"Maybe I'll get your ears right someday," he said. "Forget the boardwalk. Would you just walk with me?"

She locked the door of her apartment behind them, her flute and his sketchbook left within.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Thunderdome Week LXVI: Know When to Fold 'Em

Judges: Kaishai, Jeza, and Fraction.

I'm not much of a gambler, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate stories about risking disaster and defying the odds. In honor of the World Series of Poker and Kenny Rogers, your prompt is to write a story in which your main character takes part in a life-changing gamble. Though you're welcome to set your tales in a casino or an old-West saloon, keep in mind that not all high-stakes games are played with cards or dice.

Genre isn't a concern, save that submitting erotica wouldn't be a gamble so much as suicide. All entries must, however, be stories, with a beginning, a middle, an end, and some sort of narrative arc. No poetry. Vegas, that means you!

For those who care to take a dare, flash rules are available from the judges upon request.

Sign-up deadline: Friday, November 8, 11:59 pm USA Eastern
Submission deadline: Sunday, November 10, 11:59 pm USA Eastern
Maximum word count: 1,200

Sittin' at the Table:
dmboogie (Flash rule: The future of the protagonist's family must be at stake.)
Tyrannosaurus (Flash rule: The main character is an archaeologist): "Buzzards"
big business sloth
crabrock (Flash rule: Someone in the story wears a top hat on a regular basis): "Storm"
docbeard (Flash rule: The story has to include a game of blackjack): "Went Down To the Crossroads"
Nubile Hillock: "A story about dogs."
V for Vegas: "Midnight in Tangiers"
sebmojo (Flash rule: One character must be a veteran of many battles, literal or metaphorical): "Mateship"
Roguelike: "The Terrorist with the Tell-Tale Ticker"
ThirdEmperor (Flash rule: Some of the story must take part in a version of Caesar's palace): "Render Unto Caesar"
DasNasty (Flash rule: The protagonist must set something or someone on fire.)
Lazy Beggar: "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité"
Erogenous Beef: "Missed Connections"
Zack_Gochuck (Flash rules: The protagonist must be between a rock and a hard place and must have a son or father who also appears in the story.)
stoutfish (Flash rule: The story must be set in a Soviet-era CIS or other gritty Eastern European country): "Dead Bear"
Quidnose (Flash rule: A famous person must have a significant role in the story): "Hold 'Em"
TenaCrane: "En Route Mortality"
Ronnie_Long (Flash rule: The protagonist must have some kind of disability, mental or otherwise): "The White"
Noumena (Flash rule: The stakes of the gamble must be the fate of a world.)
Nikaer Drekin: "I Told You So"
RickVoid (Flash rules: The gamble must be motivated by greed or ambition; the stakes must mean everything to one party and nothing to the other.)
Sweet_Joke_Nectar (Flash rule: Precious stones need to play a key role in the plot): "LYSANDER, THE MIGHTY AXE"
ElphabaGreen: "The Heart of the Matter"
Fumblemouse: "The Quiet Soul"

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Nov 11, 2013 around 05:15

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

dmboogie posted:

I must redeem my family name once more. In, and also taking a flash rule, if you would.

Certainly. Your Flash Rule: The future of your protagonist's family must be at stake.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Mercedes posted:

gently caress it. BadSeaFood, you've crossed me one too many times. I find myself dealing with a little bit of an anger issue right now and you're going to catch the brunt of it.

Are you going to brawl me or will you bitch out and run to your stupid police dogs.

It's funny you should mention a music video!

Mercedes vs. Bad Seafood Thunderbrawl: Let the Music Play

Mercedes, you didn't have much luck with last week's music prompt; Bad Seafood, you didn't have a chance to show your mettle. Let's see whether redemption or pride is possible. I challenge each of you to pick a song with a video available online. Seafood may not choose "Alcohol Is Free," but nothing else is off limits. Write a story on the theme of regret that incorporates elements of the song, the video, or both, and make sure your entry includes a link to your source of inspiration.

Maximum word count: 800 words
Deadline: Wednesday, November 13, 11:59pm US Eastern

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

docbeard posted:

I'm in. Hit me (with a flash rule).

Your Flash Rule is that your story has to include a game of blackjack.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

ThirdEmperor posted:

Also, this guy would like a flash rule, please.

Flash Rule: Some or all of your story needs to take place in Caesar's palace--meaning either the Vegas hotel or the residence of the Julio-Claudian emperors.

Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

DasNasty posted:

I wish to get burned again, and I will take a flash rule.

Flash Rule: Your protagonist must set something or someone on fire.


sebmojo posted:

Flash Rule One character is a fish out of water.

The judges won't hold you to this, Lazy Beggar, but it's a good rule. There would be a bonus point or two for you in following it.

And for sebmojo, a Flash Rule of his own: One of your characters must be a veteran of many battles, literal or metaphorical.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at Nov 5, 2013 around 14:03

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Kaishai
Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Tyrannosaurus posted:

I would like a flash rule.

Flash Rule: Your main character is an archaeologist. Indiana Jones fanfic is forbidden.

crabrock posted:

Trouble getting inspiration. Hit me with a non-gambling related flash rule, if you'd be so kind.

Flash Rule: Someone in your story wears a top hat on a regular basis.

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