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docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Having been aware of this thread for, oh, minutes now, I should probably wait and see how this sort of thing plays out before cautiously dipping my toe into the

gently caress that. I'm in.

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docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Debts
1196 words (including the title)

“Did something hit-” he tried to ask, but there was no one to ask, and his mouth was full of salt. Blood and water, he must have bitten his tongue when...when what? There should have been someone to ask, the boy, or Edward, or Byron. No, not Byron, he had his own boat, which hadn’t stopped him from scrawling his “Don Juan” across the mainsail. He was going to have sharp words. No, he had already, and Mary too, sharper still. Byron had laughed, and soon they were all laughing, as ever.

It was hard to focus. He had to focus. He sat up, or tried, but couldn’t tell if he’d succeeded. Too dark, too cold, too wet (wet!) and...and...there’d been a storm, there was a storm, they were in a storm, the three of them, Charles, and Edward. And himself. Percy. He tried to sit, tried to stand, succeeded at neither and heard a splash and a crash as he fell and the world lit up.

He had always favored words over pigments, the page over the canvas. He could paint this, so clear was the image against black waves and sky, the tattered sails breaking away, the deck disappearing beneath the water, the three of them out there, one standing over the other two.

No, there were only three aboard. He was here, and Charles and Edward were there, and so. “Hello! Who’s there?” is what he’d intended to say. The words rang loudly in his head, but what the wind and thunder did not swallow, the coughing fit and the lungful of water did. And the scream, gurgled, quickly cut off. His? No.

Another flash of lightning. There was someone else aboard, a man, he supposed, though he saw nothing more than a large, brutish profile, standing unshaken by the wind, by the water rising around him, one foot slightly above the other. Percy realized then what he had just seen, what the man’s foot was resting on. Who he was drowning, as if anyone needed help to drown in this.

Percy struggled once more, to gain his footing, floundered once more, but managed to turn over, ending up in a crawl. The chill that had awakened him had passed, replaced by a numbness which suggested it hadn’t passed at all. He was dying, he was in shock, he would drown before the concussion or whatever injuries he’d sustained could do him in, and yet someone was here to murder him, had murdered Charles already, and Edward too, it seemed. He certainly wasn’t moving.

He spat water, replaced it with more of the same as thunder crashed again. “Wh-” he gasped, as much an attempt to expel more water as to ask who, or why, he wasn’t sure which.

He couldn’t see the murderer, couldn’t see anything at all. But he knew somehow that this terrible being, surely no man at all, (what nonsense!) had turned its attention upon him. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.” He heard the words as clearly as if whispered in his ear. The voice was Mary’s, was Jane’s, was Harriet’s, was Byron’s and Polidori’s and Keats’ and Trelawney’s. That contemptuous tone, speaking his words in the voice of his people, awakened anger within him, an anger that drove him, at last, to rise to his feet.

For all of a second before he collapsed face-down in the water, turning his head just enough to avoid choking. Lightning again, and thunder, and he twisted ‘round to see the creature standing over him. Patchwork parts, assembled into a monstrous hulk of a man, staring down at him. This, too, angered Percy. “Who are you, thief?” he whispered, or merely thought, but the creature heard him somehow over the thunder.

“Thief, he calls me. ‘Poetry is a mimetic art’, he writes, and still he names me thief.” The figure sounded amused now,

“What else shall I call you, who speak my words, in the voices of those I hold dear?”

“Your little mind gathers the familiar, a voice, a turn of phrase, a monstrous visage from your wife’s masterwork, wraps it all around me like a cloak so that the truth of me doesn’t shatter you. And you name me a thief for this act of charity.

“Shall I instead name you murderer?” Conversation, real or imagined, was apparently to be allowed. “Assassin? I’ll not call you Devil, for there is no such creature.”

“Indeed not? Are you so certain? Call me then a collector of debts, if it pleases you.” Percy tried, and failed, to make sense of this. He was probably delirious. He certainly did owe debts, monetary and otherwise. Before he could say a word, the creature laughed again. “Oh, poets. I adore poets. You all think the world revolves around you. Oh, you’ll have to die. I can’t exactly leave witnesses, particularly not the sort that would be listened to. And it’s not as though I need go to any great effort on your behalf at this point. But I’m not here for the paltry sums you owe.

The creature pointed, Percy could see this despite the darkness that he now realized came not from the storm or the night, but from within, a darkness that would consume everything all too soon. He followed the gesture with eyes that could somehow pierce this darkness, to rest upon the corpse of...

“Edward?”

“Edward Ellerker Williams. Who took the wife of another man, a vengeful man, a knowledgeable man. A man who knew how to call in his debts.”

“Please,” He had strength enough for scorn, though he knew by now he wasn’t truly speaking. He wasn’t sure he was even breathing. “He didn’t take a thing. I know Jane,” though never as well as he wished. “And I know what she thought of her first husband, why she left him. What he did to her before she left.”

“And I know you, poet. I know what you would have done, had she allowed it. The serpent shut out from paradise, indeed. But none of that’s of any import to me. A certain man called in a certain debt. The debt has now been paid. And you, little poet, may go to your rest with a measure of understanding, much good may it do you. Although...” The creature hesitated. “Should Jane Williams call upon me, and I believe she may know how, I would be happy to collect her debts as well. Quite happy indeed.”

And with that, the creature was gone, and the storm, and Percy Bysshe Shelley soon after.

The three drowned men were found in time, and much was made of their passing. Some called it murder. Some even spoke of Percy’s old debts, and questioned whether someone had chosen to collect them violently, under cover of the storm. But most, in time, blamed the deaths on poor seamanship or poor ship design, or simple bad luck.

Jane Williams, who had been Jane Johnson, remarried in time. Her first husband, John Edward Johnson, tried to interfere with this marriage, but his death in 1840 put an end to that.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





In.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Harrassment
1160 Words

“This is ridiculous,” Alexei said. “More than that, it’s insulting.”

“It’s required by city ordinance,” said the speakerphone on his desk. It was quite a good speakerphone, no distortion at all. Never let it be said that the City of Rassgart didn’t provide well for its employees. Or at least never let it be said that the Mayor’s brother didn’t work for a reputable telephone manufacturing company.

“Animal Control is a one-man department. Who exactly am I going to harass in the workplace, the mirror? The coffee machine?” Alexei leaned forward in his chair, wincing at the creaking noise it made.

“It’s an hour of your life, Sayle.” the speakerphone replied. “Just watch the presentation, take the test, turn in the results at City Hall by 5, and you will have successfully completed the City of Rassgart Workplace Gender, Race, and Sexuality Sensitivity Training and you’ll never have to think about it again. Until 2016. It’s required every three years.”

“And that’s another thing. It’s an online presentation, and an online test. Why do I have to print out-”

“City ordinance requires a hard copy be filed in person.” Feeling that an explanation in order, the speakerphone added, “The ordinance was written in 1971. That administration was quite socially progressive for its time.”

Alexei knew very well that there wasn’t any getting out of this, and it was hardly as though he disagreed with the intent. “Very well, but if anyone gets mauled by an escaped lion because I’m too busy with this, I’m going to hold you personally responsible..”

“The city severed its contract with that circus five years ago, and we all wish you would stop bringing it up. Relax, Alexei. The fine people and animals of Rassgart will be fine for the next hour. What could happen?” There was a click over the speakerphone as the Department of Human Resources for the City of Rassgart, in the person of the Mayor’s cousin, Pavel, got on with his own day’s work.

Alexei grumbled as he turned to his aging laptop -- not supplied by any relatives of the Mayor, which is why it hadn’t been replaced for six years -- and started the presentation. “Choices. An exploration of the complicated social situations and obstacles to be found in today’s modern diverse workp-” He muted the sound. He couldn’t skip the presentation -- he’d discovered that delightful feature before calling -- but he’d been through this sort of thing before, and he’d learned that the workplace training assessments created by this company were always multiple choice questions, and the answer was always “c”.

He stood up from his creaking chair, and turned around to switch on his radio, and when he sat back down, he was face-to-face with a slavering set of teeth. “What,” he said, “is the meaning of this?” as a tinny violin concerto (Vivaldi, he thought) began to play.

“Does this look like the face of a killer?” asked someone standing somewhere behind the teeth. Alexei stared at the teeth, noted the size of the dog to which they were attached, made a few educated guesses as to the breed, upbringing, and disposition of same. “You condemned him to die. That’s what we do to murderers. I think you’re the only murderer here, Mister Dog-Catcher. And my poor gentle Hugo shall have to mete out justice.”

Alexei now recognized the teeth, the dog, and the voice of his owner. He’d thought that business done with. “Your ‘poor gentle Hugo’ attacked seven people, including the Mayor’s mother-in-law. One of Hugo’s victims did, in fact, die from his wounds. The law is very clear, the courts agreed, and the matter is out of my hands. Now, do yourself a favor and-”

Hugo’s owner, whose name Alexei couldn’t quite recall, something long and complicated starting with a K, wasn’t listening. He was staring at Alexei’s laptop. “Are you watching a film? On duty?”

“It’s a workplace training video,” said Alexei. There might be an opportunity here.

“Turn it up,” said Mr. K. “I want to hear what the peoples’ elected official does with our money.” Hugo strained at his lead, snapping at Alexei. His breath was horrible.

“My position is appointed,” muttered Alexei, as he reached, careful not to let his hands tremble in the slightest, to turn up the volume on his laptop.

Mr. K stared. “He shouldn’t say that to her. And he shouldn’t have said that at all.”

“It’s that sort of video. It’s meant to educate us about workplace harassment.” Alexei said. His left hand was very close to his desk drawer. He’d have to be very careful not to draw attention.

“So your masters agree, your attitude requires correction,” Mr. K said with some satisfaction. “I shall be pleased to be the instrument of that correction. Or rather, Hugo shall. Hugo, avenge your-”

Alexei’s left hand closed around the nearest object to hand, a souvenir “Welcome To Rassgart” snowglobe (manufactured by a company owned by the Mayor’s college roommate), which he flung at Hugo. Even had the snowglobe connected, it wouldn’t have done the dog any injury, but instead it flew past. And Hugo dove after it, giving Alexei the time he needed to stand up, shove the creaking chair toward Mr. K, and then, in the confusion, swing the shotgun he kept mounted under his desk up and around, covering man and dog in one smooth motion that he knew, in his heart of hearts, he would never be able to duplicate. A man of action he was not.

“It’s time for you to leave, sir. I will be calling the police once you’re gone. You would do well to surrender peacefully to them, but that, too, is out of my hands. But if you let go of that dog, or do anything but leave,, I will shoot him, and quite probably you as well.” He was, however, a man skilled at putting forth a cool-headed front. That was important, in his line of work. One did not dare show fear to the animals.

Mr. K pulled himself to his feet, trying to get Hugo under control. “You haven’t heard the last of this!”

“I’m sure I haven’t. I expect I’ll be testifying at your trial. Now go away, I’m very busy.” Alexei waved the shotgun at Mr. K’s retreating form.

It was much, much later when Alexei Earl Sayle appeared at City Hall. “My training evaluation,” he said, slapping down a piece of paper on Pavel’s desk. “I would have been here sooner, but there was a matter to discuss with the police.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?” Pavel said, reaching for the paper.

“Let’s just say that I’ve turned around on the question of this harrassment training. It saved my life,” said Alexei.

“Good...good. You missed an answer, here,” said Pavel.

“It’s c,” replied Alexei, having already turned to go.

“But I haven’t even told you what quest-”

“It’s always c.”

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





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

___
*As opposed to mime for performance purposes.

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

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





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).

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Call Me
971 Words


“We have your wife and son,” said a muffled, distorted voice that couldn’t entirely be blamed on the cheap cellphone. Rick closed his eyes, cupped one hand over his ear to shut out the noise of the bar. This could not be happening. Not now. “Do exactly as we say, or-”

“Yeah, I’m gonna stop you right there,” said Rick sharply, drawing a look from Laine, the woman on the barstool next to him. He shook his head. “This is you, isn’t it? Again?”

“What? I...poo poo.”

“That’s what I thought. Man, I don’t know how you keep getting my number, but-”

“Hey, gently caress you!” Click.

Typical. Rick turned back toward Laine. “Excuse me a moment,” he said, and before she could say anything, he stood up and walked to intercept a passing waiter with a pitcher of beer. “Whatever table that’s for, tell them that the replacement for that pitcher, and the next one, is on me.”

“That’s very generous of you, sir, but why would they need a-” Rick could see that the waiter regretted asking the question the instant the words left his mouth.

“Trust me, they’ll need one,” Rick said, as he dropped his cellphone into the pitcher with one hand, holding out a few bills in his other. “Here, this should cover the pitchers, and the rest is for you. Really sorry about that,” This last was called out over his shoulder as he headed back to Laine. “So. You were just about to remember an urgent appointment or something, right?”

Laine stared at him for several seconds. She was trembling, slightly, and Rick couldn’t tell if it was anger or suppressed laughter. He was pretty sure she wasn’t afraid of him. “You know,” she said finally, “You could have just taken out the SIM card.”

Rick reclaimed his barstool. “People keep telling me that,”

“There’s got to be a story there. And you’re going to buy me a drink and tell me that story before they kick us out of here, okay?” Laine smiled, brushed a strand of red hair behind one shoulder. “Got to have something to tell the girls at work about the crazy guy I met at the bar, right?’

“Sounds fair, only could you do me a favor and call me eccentric? Makes me sound rich and handsome.” Rick was starting to relax again, if only a little.

“It makes you sound like an old guy who collects cuckoo clocks,” Laine said, laughing. “So. Debt collector?”

“Huh? Oh, phone guy? No, kidnapper.” Laine stopped laughing and Rick held his hands up. “Seriously. I get a call from him every few months, telling me he has my wife and son.” Laine just looked at him, “I’m not married. No kids either. It really freaked me out the first time it happened. I was terrified that I was the only thing standing between some poor kidnap victims and...hell, I don’t know.”

“Did the cops say anything? You did call the cops, right?” At least she wasn’t saying that it was complete bullshit, though Rick was pretty sure that’s what was on her mind.

“Of course I called the cops. I mean, I wasn’t sure I should at first but...yeah, I called them. There was a huge investigation the first time. Nothing like on TV, no big command centers with twenty people waiting to trace a call or anything, but they looked into it. They took it seriously. And you know what they told me at the end of it all?” Rick leaned forward.

“What?”

“That there’d been no record of the call on my phone plan. That there weren’t any missing people reported at all at the time. That I was probably just the victim of a prank call made by someone who knew a few tricks.” Rick shook his head. “And then it happened again, a couple months later. I’d gotten a new phone number, unlisted and everything. I called the cops again, got the same response with an extra helping of ‘wasting police time is a felony’, you know. I quit reporting it after the fifth time or so.”

Laine wasn’t laughing, but neither was she calling him an idiot or a liar, which was better than usual. A hopeful sign. She shook her head. “You know that sounds completely ridiculous, right?”

“It is completely ridiculous,” Rick said. “And yet.” He shrugged. “This is my life. I don’t get it either, but I’ve gotten used to it. I guess you can get used to anything. So were you taking that drink to go, or what?”

“I...poo poo. I actually do need to go, I have an early meeting tomorrow.” She was here on a business trip, Rick recalled. It was a safe enough excuse. “Here, though.” She wrote something on a napkin. And then she smiled. “My number. I’ll still be in town a couple of days. If you want to talk to someone who isn’t a prank-calling kidnapper.” Maybe it wasn’t an excuse.

Rick had a suave, cool reply to this. “Seriously? I mean, great, that’s great, but...seriously?” That wasn’t it.

But she laughed and said, “Sure, why not? You’re still the most stable person I’ve gone out with in months. I’d offer to call you, but…”

“Right. I mean, all right, I’ll give you a call in a day or so.”

“Do,” and she was gone. Rick turned back to the bar, and smiled. He really didn’t understand his life at all, sometimes, but he really had very few complaints.

The waiter behind him cleared his throat. It was the man whose pitcher he’d ruined earlier, and there was a much larger man standing beside him. “Sir, the manager has suggested that you should-”

“Right, right, of course, I was just leaving.” Very few complaints.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I was thinking of sitting out this week, for reasons, but then I got hit with an idea. So I'm in.

Hit me with a story to crit.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





CancerCakes posted:

I don't understand NZDT, so I'm in, and here is 1613 cunts of words. Break me upon the wheel of the thunderdome. Can do!


The Hunter

"What a lovely job this is," David muttered as the heavy rain hit the windscreen, forming flowing waves as the wipers struggled, the splatting accompanying a continuously chiming low fuel light. From one person who favors long, awkward sentences to another, this could be simplified. The sky was a sullen grey with no hint of the warm summer sun that it surely concealed. On the seat next to him was a small parcel, wrapped over-securely in layer upon layer of packing tape and a large envelope with "DO NOT FOLD" stamped in large red letters across it.

"A lovely job, in a lovely place." Nice repetition.

David had, in fact, never been to the village in Wales does it have a name? Or at least a comical attempt from David to render the name?, but he stuck to the stubborn viewpoint of if he couldn't pronounce it then it was poo poo. Now, three hours into a five hour journey, he farted and pulled off into a service station. After slopping some petrol into the tank he scurried to the kiosk and grabbed a basket, filling it to the brim with junk and caffeine. The floppy haired youth behind the register rang up the goods, and asked if he wanted a lottery ticket.

"What the hell," said David, "got a big score coming, I'll take ten!" Positive thinking for someone who's been so annoyed up to now. Which is fair enough, but the contrast between what he's thinking and what he says is really jarring, and I'd like to know why.

~

David's appearance in the community was commented on, and the information that a stranger had arrived was spread from each epicentre through dark looks and significant nods. You've said the same thing twice. He seemed to have brought with him an aura of gloom,; he had certainly brought unseasonably poor weather. And so David spent the rest of the day attempting to gather information about his target. You start here with an outside reaction to David's presence, but then move directly to his viewpoint. Maybe rewrite the first couple sentences as if he were noticing people respond to his presence instead. He prided himself on his work, he liked to think of himself as a contemporary Sherlock Holmes, gathering information on his prey and then striking. Nerdish quibble; Sherlock Holmes doesn't do anything like this, he knows everything he needs to know about someone the instant he spots them He was able to find out very little, it seemed that "Old Man Jones" was a modern day hermit, living at the old school house alone. During his investigations anytime someone had asked why he was searching out an old man, who had not been seen in the village for almost ten years, David had told them that he had something for him. This was, in fact, true. If he knows that Old Man Jones lives at the old schoolhouse, what else is he trying to find out? Is he just indulging himself, or does he need to know more before he 'strikes'?

He had driven with the parcel by his side visiting the pub, small supermarket and post office while water flooded down the cobbled streets, threatening to sweep him away every time he raced from car to door. Again, you're trying to make one sentence do too much. Split this up. His head was ringing with pain, and his back was sore, and his feet were soggy. Everything was poo poo. Finally he graced the B&B where he was to spend the night with his unique presence, bursting through the door like a sodden monster from the depths. Finally Probably don't need two 'finally's. You might not even need one. he caught a break when the old man who showed him to his damp mouldy room (and gruffly told him that the continental breakfast was six till seven, and that the front door was locked at 10pm every night), where the wind sang through the gaps in the window frame. When the old man did what? The man acknowledged that it was he who took parcels and groceries up to the old school house, and that he might talk more if he was less thirsty. What's stopping David from just taking the parcel to the schoolhouse himself? He certainly doesn't seem to be enjoying himself in town.

The village had been scoured by the heavy rain, and what little colour remained from the holiday spot’s heyday was dulled by a grey summer sky. The cloud cover pressed down with promised showers and as David walked to the pub for his rendezvous the first few street lights flickered on, tricked by the dim glow filtering through the weight of ice suspended above them. The pub had been a great draw when the tourists had visited the village in order to experience nature and the sea side 5 miles distant, but now only farmers and pensioners visited. There were two beers available, an ale and a lager. Nice bit of history for the village, but it probably could have been given to us earlier. David asked for a sweet white wine the landlord grumbled and stomped down to the cellar. This, on the other hand, I like; it very subtly tells us something about David.

The man from the hotel joined David and, after a pint, and a whiskey chaser, he admitted that the old laddy had a few odd ways about him. Does the man from the hotel have a name? Does anyone but David have a name? Is this Welsh village under a curse that has removed all their names? That would solve the pronunciation problem, at least. He insisted that Neifion (for that was the hotelier’s name) So much for that theory open any packages and letters in the village, anything that was not addressed to Jones was to be disposed of immediately, and also anything peculiar. At last, some justification for just why this is a more complex job than it seems. Comes a bit too late, though. They decided to make for the house after a few drinks, so that David might be introduced to the hermit by a friendly face, and walked out the door as the last order bell was rung, early at 5 o’clock. Neifion asked exactly why David was here and after he used his familiar lineWhich familiar line would that be? Neifion insisted that they open the package.

They meandered back, and the half a bottle of wine sloshing about inside David made him feel thoroughly convivial. The day was growing darker, but by some miracle the sun had broken through the thick clouds, so that the ground before them was mottled with lights and shadows that deceived the drunken eye, making them trip and stumble. Nevertheless they were in fine spirits, and staggered up the stairs to the small dingy room that was to be David's lodging for the night. I'm confused. I thought they were going up to meet Jones?

They paused and rested, to consider the parcel, and to begin to drink the other half of David's wine from cheap tea cups that dinged when they hit their intoxicated teeth. After a few gulps David could hear the high pitched ringing in his ears that signalled the onset of true drunkenness, as well as the waves and the tolling of a bouy bell.

They gleefully set about opening the package, and attacked it with a pocket knife, hacking through the thick layers of brown tape to the sweet cardboard fruit.So apparently David doesn't care if the package gets opened before he delivers it? More and more carefully they teased open the final layers to find a small metal box. After pausing to refill their teacups with the sour vinegarish wine and to listen to the waves and bells David reached forward and opened the metal box. At once the room was plunged into darkness: the sun had momentarily lost its battle with the clouds and the waves roared through the walls. David quickly slapped the switch next to the door, and the pair blinked in the harsh light from the fluorescent bulb above them.

In the box upon a bed of cotton wool lay a tin thimble.

They laughed, embarrassed and disappointed, and Neifion said it was time to go, and was very surprised when David replied that he would just listen to the waves and bells for a bit, and finish his bottle. Neifion was anxious that they would return from the school house before dinner, and insisted that they leave straight away. David seems reluctant to actually do his job. Is there a reason for this?

It took Neifion around an hour to acknowledge, through his drunken fog, that he was lost. Each time he considered it he dismissed the idea, he was raised here, man and boy. But every few minutes he was forced to stop, and would look around him at the trees and fields in a confused state and listen intently.
"I just don't understand it, the path is the same, but I can hear the sea! We should be miles away from it, the village isn't on the coast!"
David just smiled and nodded, and listened to the waves and the bells, and gripped the box in his pocket. So the thimble is loving with reality somehow. Did David know this was coming? Why on earth would he play along with it, or was this his plan all along?

David was moving ahead of him now, faster and faster, until Neifion suddenly lost sight of him behind some scrubland - he started forward and saw obsidian waves lapping at a black sand beach. Waves crashed in his ears and he heard a buoy bell appealing loudly - he felt horribly sea sick. The wind rose and Neifion was buffeted to the ground by the force of the gale, the spray almost blinding him and his hands striking the freezing black sand. The clouds yielded up their harvest and the full force of the rain fell upon them, but David was unbowed. Neifion watched through squinting eyes as David put the thimble on his finger and held it to his ear. David’s face was a mask as he slowly but surely pushed until the thimble was enveloped by the soft flesh. Finally, with a shove the thimble was inside and David fell down, dead. ...okay.

~

Neifion awoke to find himself in bed, with an IV in his arm. The nurse recounted how he had been found on the moors above the village, soaked through in a pneumonic state, and brought to the clinic where he had lain in state for three days. Next to the bed were two items that had been found in his jacket pocket, an envelope and a small metal box. Wild eyed he grabbed the box, but there was nothing inside. The envelope had a large crease down the centre, through the red letters stamped upon it.


Dear Sir,
We have reason to believe that you are inheritor of the estate of Mrs S___.A partial survivor of the Welsh No-Name Curse! Our agent will advise you of the particulars, and any expenses we have incurred in tracing the line of inheritance. While Mrs S___ passed away some time ago it has taken much expense to trace the sole beneficiary of the estate, and expect to be compensated for our efforts. We send with our agent an item which Mrs S___ specified should be supplied to the beneficiary as soon as possible following her death.
Yours,
D. L____
L____ Associates Okay, so Jones was the beneficiary and David was hired to deliver this magic thimble to him?


With the letter was a newspaper cutting: a woman’s body had been found at a beach in 1956, the morning after her house had been incinerated, husband presumed dead inside.

Neifion reached for the water next to the bed, and picked it up with a soft tinkle as his little finger hit the cup. Is he wearing the thimble? The glass chimed on the floor, and the water spread in neat concentric ripples.

------

Slapping my words down, gently caress the haters.

Long on atmosphere, short on comprehensibility (which is a charge that could be laid at my feet too, I know). You start out pretty strong, some awkward structural choices aside, but it never quite comes together, and the last bit is just a mess. The biggest problem I had here: I never quite understood just what David's motivations were in this whole thing. If he really was in No-Name Welsh Village just to deliver the package, and if he genuinely did hate being there, why all the complication? Not that this isn't a valid choice, it could tell me something about who David is, but you didn't quite get there.

And what the gently caress happened at the end? A question I know could be asked of some of what I've written (to the point where I almost wonder if there wasn't some design in pointing me in the direction of this story to crit), but whatever shocking ending you had in your head, it didn't make it onto the page at all.

There's some charm here, mostly in what we see of David's character, but it's not enough to carry the piece.

(Story coming momentarily).

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Seems I’m not the only one writing on the short side. Not my original idea, but this worked out better, I hope. (No one cares.)

Impermanent Record
597 words

The footprints and tracks won’t last forever, not even here. No gusts of wind will cover them, no sudden rain will wash them away.. Likewise the discarded objects; rust requires air, decay requires life. But meteors and seismic events (not “earthquakes”, not here) and simple erosion caused by more subtle forces will do for them all in the end.

Such things are, nonetheless, as permanent a record of Lightbringer as any. They’ll outlast the survivors of the first manned mission to the moon in fifty years, the first such mission at all to the moon’s far side. They may well outlast the written records on Earth, and even the civilizations that gave rise to the mission.

An accounting:

Four heavy indentations, where the first moon lander sat. A wide ring of displaced, blackened dust, where it lifted off. About five hundred feet away, the second lander, its design largely unchanged since 1972, though the materials are newer, the computers both smaller and more powerful. Rated to carry four people, and hundreds of pounds of samples, off the surface and back into orbit. Dark now, its power supply long since depleted, even the solar cells, never set out to charge.

Seven sets of footprints around both landers, belonging to seven people from five nations, three women, four men. The landers had an official operational lifetime of five days. The mission had been scheduled to last three days. For six of the seven lunar explorers, it lasted four.

A large radio dish, set to beam to a satellite that still orbits the moon, to make communication with Earth more reliable on this and future missions. Not that future missions are likely any time soon. Lightbringer was controversial at best before it ever launched, and has only become more so in the wake of what happened.

Vehicle tracks, to and from the landing site. The two rovers, one brought with each lander, remain as well. They were always intended to be left behind. Not so the piles of rocks collected for study, the sample containers, the very few pieces from the first lander that could be described as nonessential.

A large steel tank, cracked open, its contents scattered nearby. Vapor when they left the pressurized fuel tank, the chemical propellants froze as they dispersed, and for the first time, it snowed on the moon. A simple accident, and catastrophic. Only one of four such tanks attached to the second lander, but that had been enough. The margins were too thin for redundancy; it wouldn’t launch with three, and the tank couldn’t be repaired, nor the fuel recovered.

Equations and formulas, scratched into the dust. They’d used the computers, of course, these were written later. The number 6 at the end of it all is circled, underlined several times, and then crossed out.

Seven sticks, left on the ground near the site of the first lander, one shorter than the others. The shortest one is snapped in half.

One set of footprints, leading away from the landing site.

A spacesuit lying on its back so its inhabitant can see the stars. A discarded set of oxygen tanks rests nearby.

Words, scratched in the dust, near the discarded tanks: “Look upon our works, ye mighty, and despair. gently caress you all, I’m never going home.” Scuffed spaces nearby, where dust was cleared away.

A body that, though it won’t last forever, will never decay.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





In with Wicked for the Weekend.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





My weekend turned out to be a bit more wicked than anticipated, so I'm gonna have to duck out this time.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Having flaked a couple weeks ago, I suppose I must do penance, or toxx, or something. But I'm in.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills






Bite The Hand
666 Words

“Monkeyman!”

I pulled myself up onto the cracked vinyl seat. The bus was crowded today, but no one was in a rush to sit next to me, which suited me fine.

“Hey monkeyman! Got a banana for you, monkeyman!” shouted a delightful drunk person. “Ooo ooo ooo eee eee eee!” I thought about tearing his face off. “Hey, is that Bobo? Bobo, man! Bite the hand, remember that? Bite the hand!”

“Why don’t you shut the gently caress up?” I heard myself say as I hopped up on the back of my seat,, perching there to face my new drunken best friend. “You can say whatever you want about me, I don’t care, but don’t talk about what you don’t know.” Thanks to the vocalizer chip they’d put in, I could just glare and bare my teeth while the electronic baritone that was now my voice issued forth.

“No, man, I always liked that monkey. I didn’t-” He held his hands up.

“Were you there?” I knew I should just sit down and ignore him.“Did you know him?”

“I-”

“Did. You. Know. Him?”

“...no.”

“I did. From the beginning.” Everyone was staring at me now, and I knew they were afraid of what I’d do next. I was, too. I had to keep talking, because if I didn’t, I was going to do something unfortunate. “He was the first. The first to survive the Moreauvians’ intelligence augment surgery, the first to wake up. Everyone knows that. But did you know he was the one who got the word out about what they were doing? He figured out the phones, he figured out who to call, and he called and called til someone took him seriously.”

I had an audience now. Not good, but better than a frightened herd or an angry mob. “By that time there were three hundred of us augmented spider monkeys, but Bobo was the one who was front and center, right from the start. That monkey really knew how to work a crowd. I swear, you people are so paranoid about tobacco, especially around your children, but shove a cigar in a monkey’s mouth, bam!” I smacked the top of the seat with my tail. “Instant celebrity icon. Kids loved him, their parents loved him, you all loved him.

“And he used it for the rest of us. We’d all be in cages, one way or another, if it weren’t for him. He pushed hard for the Personhood Amendment, and it was working. But he lost patience, I guess. I was there that night, you know. In the audience, a bunch of us were. Under guard, of course, Personhood hadn’t passed yet, but that’s the way the wind was blowing, and we were sitting in the seats up front, just like we were people. Human people, not scientific curiosities or godless abominations.

“I had a great view of what he did to that talk show host. He shouted ‘Bite the hand’, but, that wasn’t all he bit. I saw them shoot him down. He wanted it to be a revolutionary slogan, but all it was was his epitaph. Nearly ours too, because the next thing they did was point those guns at all of us. Thank gently caress we didn’t riot, and thank gently caress we were still technically an endangered species. Treating us like animals actually worked in our favor, til you got around to treating us like people.”

“So just…” Whatever magic that moment had, whatever alchemy of fear and curiosity was working here, it was suddenly gone. I was just tired. “Just shut up about things you don’t know about. Next stop please, driver.” It wasn’t my stop, I just wanted out. No one tried to stop me.

“Sorry, man,” the drunk called just as I was at the door. “I didn’t mean nothing, I just thought maybe you were him, you know?”

“Yeah, you all look alike to me too,” I said quietly as I hopped down onto the street.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Making you cry with bad writing counts, right?

In.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I Heard You On The Radio Today
738 Words


I heard you on the radio today.

I don’t know why I even turn the drat thing on any more. It’s all just noise, heh. The last automated broadcast dropped out years ago, and ever since it’s been wall-to-wall static. But I check, every morning, all the bands, from one end of the dial to the other. Just in case there’s something to hear. And today I heard you.

Aside from recordings, yours is the first human voice I’ve heard since...the first in however long it’s been. Ten years or so. I haven’t really been counting, but ten years feels about right. Ten years since everyone died. I still don’t know what happened, why they died, why I didn’t. I guess I stopped caring after a while, since it’s not like I’m ever going to find out.

I spent some time burying bodies, just after it happened. It felt like the right thing to do, though I think it was just something to do. I spent even more time learning how to hunt. Most of the bigger animals died too, just like the people. I haven’t seen anything larger than a housecat still alive, but that includes rabbits. And, for that matter, housecats.

I had to learn how to do a lot of things. Everything from siphoning gas to making candles to planting a garden to picking locks. I got myself set up in a house, got it cleaned out real nice. I have a generator hooked up, though I don’t really use a lot of electricity. My radio’s one of those emergency wind-up models for power outages, and I can read by candlelight, but sometimes I want to watch TV, or listen to music.

When I put it like that, it sounds so straightforward, so matter-of-fact, so much like I’m some goddamned survivalist superhero. I could tell you stories, though. How it hit me, over and over again, my friends, my family, everyone I’d ever known and loved and hated. How hard I cried every time I saw someone I recognized, and I saw a lot of people I recognized in those first days. How long it took me to even go near the bodies, to touch one. And the smell, how the smell alone had me flat on my back when I wasn’t puking my guts out for what felt like weeks. About some of the things I ate before I worked out how to hunt properly. How many times I thought about killing myself, just to get it over with. How sure I was that I was going to die too, or maybe I had died and this was hell, or the Twilight Zone, or whatever.

It’s easy to sound calm and collected about it all now. I’ve had ten years to get used to it. The smell’s pretty much gone, all that’s left of the bodies are bones, and I’ve got a routine that works for me. I have food, water, things to keep me busy, things to keep my mind occupied, and a meaningless ritual with the radio every morning. I’ve been alone for ten years, and as hard as it was at first, it’s fine now.

Until this morning. Until I heard your voice, your transmission. Asking if anyone was out there, sounding just as resigned as me. Telling me you were coming this way. Your morning ritual, as futile as mine. Except not futile at all, as you’ll discover. You’ll find me if you come this direction. I’m easy to spot.

Thing is, I’ve thought about it, and I don’t want to be found. I’ve been alone for so long that I don’t know how to live any other way any more. I don’t want to learn how to do that again. I was never a social butterfly, exactly, but I had friends. I had family. Now I don’t, and I don’t think I can go back to that again. I just can’t do it again.

So I’m leaving you the house. I’m leaving you this recording, too. I feel like such an rear end in a top hat doing this, but I’m going to do it all the same. I’m going to go. I’ll find somewhere else to set up. Or maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll just keep moving. All I know for sure is that I’m not going to listen to the radio any more.

Please don’t try to find me.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I'm in.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





A World Without Me In It
960 Words

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





quote:

Kazka Press
9:06 AM (3 minutes ago)

to me
We have received your submission and will reply to it in the near future. Thank you!

-Michael Haynes
Editor, Kazka Press

And...what the hell. In.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





The Day The Music Died
994 Words

Alexandra woke to the smell of smoke, to flashing white lights. She made a sharp, specific gesture; the smoke dissipated, the lights dimmed, having served their purpose. She dropped from her bunk onto the thick carpet, moved with practiced care to the wall console, and called up a report. QUARANTINE BREACH CONFIRMED in flashing red. She closed her eyes, letting her exhalation come slow. A loud breath, even that, could kill her now.

She made note of the location as she reached for her visor, resting beside her bunk. An automated message was already being sent to each of her officers: “Quarantine has been breached. This is not a drill. Class One Silence protocols are in effect until further notice. Text and hand communications only. NO VOICE COMMS, not even over secure channels. We are in lockdown. Any civilians found outside their quarters are to be taken to a secure and silent location. Use whatever means necessary to neutralize any source of sound.” After a moment’s thought, she tapped gently at her console’s touch screen and sent out “All units are to remain at their posts unless responding to a disturbance. Sergeant Martin, meet me at Checkpoint 3.”

Once dressed, she stepped carefully out into the hall. Red alert lights were flashing on the walls. The settlement had once been a military facility, designed to be locked down against a very different threat than sound-seeking nanomachinery gone haywire. They’d adapted the place, much as they’d had to adapt their own lives. A strict quarantine to keep the machines out, carpets and padding everywhere, motion-control and touch screens, mandatory sign language classes, rules upon rules upon rules all orbiting one central principle: Silence is Survival. It had kept them alive for the last twenty years. Alexandra didn’t want to be responsible for missing Year 21.

She saw Sergeant Martin, tall and fair and so much younger, a baby when this existence began, waiting for her at the checkpoint. He saluted, and then sent a text to her visor. “Breach impossible, Captain. Checked perimeter personally. Ramirez too. Everything secure.” She shook her head and motioned for him to take point. Blame and responsibility could be assigned later, or not. Not now.

Martin stepped carefully forward, his needler held ready. This corridor led to one of the outer checkpoints, the known location of the breach. People did come and go from the compound, but only as necessary, in muffled hazard suits, and never in the middle of the night. Anyone here now was either stupid or malicious.

Except that she wasn’t, when they came to her. She’d sealed the inner access door tightly before going through. Elizabeth Myers, age 68, the compound’s oldest resident. Possibly the oldest living woman on Earth, and she’d never given anyone any reason to think she was a threat.

She sat on the floor, back half-turned to the inner door. The outer door was open, and Alexandra could see a bit of light. Moonlight, she thought, something she hadn’t seen in a long time. There were little flecks of light dancing around Elizabeth. Too late then, for her. Maybe too late for all of them. The inner door wasn’t nano-hardened, not that there was any evidence that the nano-hardening process worked worth a drat. One word, one noise, and they could all be dead, and the remaining survivors with them. It was soundproofed but even that had never been reliable.

Elizabeth was singing. Or talking, but the way she was swaying back and forth, Alexandra thought she was singing. She called up the lip-read analysis on her visor. I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news. Singing then. She recognized the song.

Alexandra sent a text to Elizabeth’s visor. “Stop now. You can still live.”

Elizabeth stopped her singing, and turned toward the inner door. She shook her head, and spoke. It’s too late. And even if I could, no. Not without music. Not any more. This was my favorite song when I was young. That young man with you. Has he ever even heard a song?

Martin shook his head, whether an answer or a simple act of disbelief, Alexandra couldn’t say. Elizabeth was already singing again. I went down to the sacred store, where I’d heard the music years before, but the man there said the music wouldn’t play.

The lights around Elizabeth became more intense, and pinpricks of blood began to appear on her skin. She winced, and twitched, but continued to sing. Martin turned away, but Alexandra stood and watched as Elizabeth sang. Her voice must be shaking, couldn’t possibly be anything like music any more. And in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried and the poets dreamed, but not a word was spoken, the church bells all were-

Elizabeth died. Her skin melted as the lights flickered and flashed, she didn’t even have time to fall before her body was dust, was mist, was gone, converted into more airborne nanomachinery listening for its next meal. Alexandra watched to the end.

“Seal this corridor,” Alexandra texted Sergeant Martin. “Pass the word to avoid this exit until the techs can do their thing.” That could be never. There was no actual way to guarantee safety from the nanomachines. You could only seal and pray.

Later, back in her quarters, locked, soundproofed, at the heart of the compound, the safest place left, Alexandra closed her eyes. She’d lived with silence, lived in silence, for twenty years. This wasn’t the first death she’d seen, far from it.

She wondered how long she could live with it. She wouldn’t risk the compound. She knew how to get out securely, safely, in a hazard suit that she could then discard. She’d thought about it before, and maybe one day she’d do it.

“But something touched me deep inside,” she typed into her console, a message to no one. “The day the music died.”

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





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

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Yeah, generally you just say you're in before the submission deadline (usually Friday at some flavor of midnight), so you'd still be able to sign up for this week's.

Flash rules can be assigned capriciously by folks, or you can ask for one. You could probably say "as an additional challenge to myself I will adhere to this rule" but you run the risk that no one will notice or care.

Brawls happen when they happen. You will receive a blackened envelope one night. You will know what to do when it arrives.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Went Down To The Crossroads
(gambling, flash-ruled blackjack game)
1034 words


The moon was bright enough I didn’t have to use the backlight on my watch. Three minutes. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and watched, leaned against the hood of my car. The roads in both directions were empty. “Eleven fifty-seven. No sign yet,” I said into the microphone I had taped to my chest. My mouth was dry, and I was shivering. It was chilly out. That wasn’t why.

I blinked, and he was there. “Here we go,” I whispered, and pushed myself off my car. I was taller than him, and to look at him I had a few years on him too. No gray at his temples or in that little goatee he probably thought was a real beard. He was dressed in a white suit and a red bow tie, and as I got closer I got a whiff of cinnamon off him. “Evening,” I called out.

“Morning, technically,” he said. I’d expected a British accent, too many movies I guess, but his voice was pure Mississippi. “I got here at midnight, on the dot. Midnight, full moon, crossroads, the usual arrangement to the letter. I’m impressed, didn’t think anyone knew about the arrangement any more.”

“What can I say? I’ll try anything once.” I know I didn’t sound anywhere near as casual as I wanted. I’m a pretty good actor, or I think I am, but I think the only reason I kept cool at all is because I couldn’t decide whether to be terrified or laugh at the absurdity of what I was doing.

“I only wish more people had your attitude, Detective Philips,” he said, searching my face. “Of course I know who you are.”

“Of course you do.” I’d expected as much, though it still set my heart beating even faster. “And you’re...who you are?”

“Well obviously that’s so,” he said with a smirk. “I am who I am.” He looked up. “No offense,” he murmured. “So, as lovely as this moonlit evening out in the middle of nowhere is, I am on something of a schedule. Shall we get on with things?”

There was a table, sitting at the crossroads, and two chairs. It took some doing to remember that they hadn’t always been there. He gestured to one of the chairs, and I sat down. “So we’re doing this. Playing a game for…”

“The usual stakes, yes. For you, well, whatever you’d like. Wealth, power, a fiddle made of gold.” He sat down as well, and stared at me. His eyes were black. They looked like ordinary eyes til you looked directly at them, then it was like looking into the deepest darkest pit you’ve ever seen. “I’ll even let you name the game. Any game, any contest played by mortal rules.” A pause. “One game. No practice rounds, no double or nothing, no best-out-of-three. Just so we’re clear.”

“Fair enough,” I said, forcing a shrug. “Sure could use a boost to the old retirement fund.” I had to be very careful here. I needed him to say it, and I couldn’t lead him on. “So, blackjack then? One hand, sudden death? Is that what they call it?”

He found that pretty funny. “I suppose that’s appropriate. Though, of course, you’ll still live your natural life to its natural end should you lose. It’s just that afterwards, you’re mine.”

That would have to do. “Then let’s get on with it. You have cards?” I closed my eyes for a moment. I don’t know if he could feel that I was praying, didn’t know a drat thing at all. This was so completely ridiculous.

“I have cards,” he said, and he pushed the deck across for me to shuffle. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary deck of cards. I shuffled them a few times, cut the deck, and handed it back to him. He dealt then, one card face up, one face down, for each of us. I was unsurprised to see that his card was a ten. Of hearts. Mine was the eight of spades, and my hidden card was the five of clubs. He looked at his card and said, “I’ll stay.”

I thought a moment then, and said, “Now.” The look on his face as the crossroads lit up and uniforms emerged from the decrepit shed that was the only notable feature of the landscape was something I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. “I have a warrant for your arrest on, well, a variety of charges. We’ll read them out properly later. You have the right to remain silent,” I began.

“...you cannot be serious,” he said, standing up. I felt the wind pick up, and the smell of a thunderstorm. “You can’t possibly think-”

“Any contest, played by mortal rules. You have the right to an attorney. I’m sure you won’t have trouble finding one.” I stood up too. “Please place your hands above your head, and cut out whatever you’re doing with the weather.” I can’t believe I said that.

“You didn’t call me at all, did you?” He was angry, furious, and yet I could tell there was something underneath. He thought it was funny, and that’s how I knew we had him.

“Like I said, I have a warrant. Signed this afternoon, and let me tell you, talking a judge into performing that ritual took some doing. It was, legally speaking, the state that called you up, and the state you’ll be answering to in court. That trial’s the contest, the state code’s the rules. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?”

“This is, quite possibly, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. And then he smiled. “I don’t suppose you’d be open to an offer of employment, would you?”

And that’s what happened the day I arrested the Devil for, among other things, human trafficking. In case you’re wondering, he got off. Which is why I’m not a cop any more, and which is why the politics in this state have gone to poo poo these past few years. Now pour me another drink. I start a new job tomorrow. It’s, um, in sales.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I will probably regret this come Saturday, but I am in with the Curious Adventure Of The Realities Of Phlogiston and the Mysterious Ever-Growing Beard.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





WORD BOUNTY
145 words

An hour ago, Jack McDonald walked into the Sutton Building and rode the elevator up to the twenty-third floor. He pushed open the door to a particular office and shot the receptionist, a second-year physics student named Derek, right in the throat. He used up two more bullets, and saved bullet number four for himself.

Skip ahead an hour. I pushed my way through the door into that office, full of cops and cameras and dust and yellow tape. No one looked up, no one so much as twitched at me. Just as well, I wasn’t here for them. Murder-suicide wasn’t my usual line, was a big departure from bail jumpers and cheating husbands, but I had a pressing need to find out for myself why Jack McDonald had done such a thing.

Why he'd put bullets two and three into my head and chest.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Word Bounty, Nothing About Beef Or Dicks At All
247 words
Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.

Ms. Jennifer Carlton, Lakeview Apartments
Dear Ms. Carlton:

I must ask, once again, that you please enforce the “quiet enjoyment” clause of the lease for all of your tenants. I was kept awake once again last night by noise from apartment 14-E, and was forced to make a noise complaint to the police.

Sincerely,
J. Martin

Mr. Charles Lloyd, Lloyd Investigations
Dear Mr. Lloyd

I have enclosed the photographs and other documents which were erroneously delivered to my apartment, rather than Unit 14-E to which they were somewhat illegibly addressed. Given the sensitive nature of those photographs and documents, I did not feel it appropriate to deliver them personally.

Sincerely,
J. Martin

btaylor@civicsolutions.com

Hi Bobbi,

I won’t be able to make it into work today. You may have read about the incident in my apartment complex last night. I am fine, if a bit shaken up; neither of the bullets that came through my wall hit me, but I did cut myself rather nastily on some broken glass, and spent a few hours in the emergency room. Between that and talking to the police, I didn’t get any sleep last night.

Whatever happens, I doubt anyone’s going to want me to testify, as I don’t know my (former) neighbors that well, and I was listening to music on headphones last night to try to drown out the noise (and it worked until the gunshots!)

I’ll tell you all about it on Monday.

Jim

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





Explosive Results
1349 words
(Phlogiston is real, and a beard that doesn't stop growing, ever.)

“Mrs. Pendragon? We’re here about the stolen birds,” Duffy said. The door creaked, and then clunked.“We can help you locate them,” Duffy continued as if a middle-aged woman in black weren’t trying to close a door on his foot.

I leaned to the side and said, “I apologise for my partner, he has no propriety and poor hearing, as well as steel toes. But we really are here to help. With the stolen beard. Katherine Islington and G. Duffy, Scientific Investigators.” I held out our card, which the woman ignored.

“My hearing is just fine. I just assumed that you couldn’t possibly have said it was a stolen beard. How does one steal a beard?” asked Duffy, which the woman also ignored.

“Scientific?” she said, at last, her voice full of skepticism. She did, at least, stop trying to crush Duffy’s foot.

“Traditional values for this new age of irrational wonders,” I said, and gave her my brightest smile. “We specialize in all the oldest techniques.”

She did not smile back. “I suppose you’d better come inside,” she said.

* * *

“How does one steal a beard?” Duffy asked me again. We’d been shown to a sitting room, or a drawing room, or whatever rich people have instead of just rooms. I was sitting, Duffy was standing behind a chair. He doesn’t really sit. Mrs. Pendragon was off getting drinks, or calling the police to have us hauled away.

“You’re doing the voice again,” I said.

“Sorry. The new resonator you built for me is a bit finicky.”

“The new resonator is fine. You just like doing the voice. You like sounding all BEEP-BEEP-I-AM-A-ROBOT.”

“Golem, not robot. And I don’t beep. And why should I use the resonator at all? It’s not as though our clients aren’t going to notice that I’m six feet tall and made of steel if I sound like a human child instead. I’m not ashamed of my voice.” It shouldn’t be possible for an expressionless metal face to look offended. “And a beard’s just hair. Shave it and it grows back. That’s not theft. At best, it’s assault.”

“It’s not just hair,” said Mrs. Pendragon. I held myself perfectly still at her sudden appearance. Detectives shouldn’t look startled. It undersells the detecting part of the job. “It’s an independent graft with a life of its own, forever growing, freely adhering to any face for as long as its owner desires. It’s been in our family for centuries. An alchemist’s experiment, we believe, from before such things were commonplace, making it all the more valuable. It shouldn’t have been possible to remove it from my husband without his cooperation, but someone found a way.”

“The obvious way,” I said, “would be to induce cooperation with a weapon or a threat, or the judicious application of money. Magistrate Pendragon claims no knowledge of what happened?”

“My husband doesn’t claim anything. He doesn’t have any idea what happened,” Mrs. Pendragon was glaring on, I think, general principles. She clearly didn’t like us, but was desperate, and didn’t like that, either. “His word is beyond reproach, and I will thank you to remember it.”

“He may be embarrassed. Or ashamed. People often are, of completely harmless things,” Duffy said. “Like voi-”

“Yes, okay, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t really matter how the perpetrators did it, or even why. Alchemic artifacts leave chemical residues, things we can detect with the proper application of…” I searched for the right word to explain the ancient sciences I’d rediscovered over the past few years.

“Other chemicals,” Duffy said. I’m sure he thought he was helping.

“This is,” Mrs. Pendragon said, “a very sensitive matter. That beard is...a status symbol. A symbol of his standing in the community. We will not tolerate anything but the most serious dedication to any recovery efforts, and will certainly not be offering any payment in advance for such…”

“My partner is somewhat distractible, Mrs. Pendragon, but I can assure you that she is well-versed in the ancient scientific techniques,” Duffy said. “And she is, contrary to appearances, capable of discretion where important. And one can assume that your efforts using the more traditional modern methods of divination and oracular consultation haven’t borne fruit?” This is why I keep Duffy around. Well, that and being an invulnerable metal man.

Mrs. Pendragon shook her head. “Do what you have to do as quickly as possible and then leave. If you find my husband’s beard, you’ll be well-compensated. If not, I have no desire to see either of you again.”

* * *

“I thought that went quite well,” I said later, in a cafe a few blocks away from the magistrate’s home.

“You burned a hole in her floor,” Duffy said.

“Which,” I replied, “she took well in stride.”

“She threatened to have me melted down, which I consider quite unfair, considering that the fire was entirely your-”

“Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. Because,” I leaned forward and looked up at my standing partner. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. “that fire tells us a story.”

“Does the story end with ‘and that’s why Miss Islington should never be permitted to handle volatile chemicals’?”

“You know you can’t be properly sarcastic when you’re doing the voice,” I said. “Besides, I wasn’t. Using volatile chemicals. Nothing I used could possibly have caught on fire.”

“Then your eyebrows are still there?” He was certainly still giving the sarcasm a try, in spite of his metallic monotone.

“Shut up. My point is that the chemicals reacted with something already present in the environment.” This was the exciting bit. “There’s only one known substance that would, in conjunction with the simple analytic tools I was using, create such an explosive reaction. Pure, distilled phlogiston. Very difficult, very expensive to distill.”

“Yes, I remember your attempts. And the fires. And the explosions.”

“Oh, what do you care, you’re fireproof. A droplet of the pure stuff would be enough to cause the reaction we saw, and it wouldn’t occur naturally. Just our good luck it waited til we were there to detonate.”

“How is that good luck, precisely?” Duffy asked.

I ignored him. “The distillation of phlogiston in any kind of quantity requires, among other things, a nearly endless supply of raw materials, the more flammable, the better ”

“...such as a beard that never stops growing?” Now that was more like it.

“Is that your ‘Miss Islington, you’re a genius’ voice, or your ‘Miss Islington, you can’t be serious’, voice?”” I asked.

“I haven’t got a ‘Miss Islington, you’re a genius’ voice.”

“Starting today you have, because I know precisely how and why the beard was taken, and a bit of research should tell me who. We’ll have this case wrapped up before the day’s out.”

* * *

“Well, you were right. Our case is definitely over.” Duffy stood across from me, and I tried not to look at the scorch marks on his body. I might have to start feeling guilty, and we couldn’t have that.

“I was right about more than that,” I said. “Magistrate Pendragon’s beard was in the hands of the Consortia Follica, a new concern specializing in the distillation of phlogiston from human hair. Which you heroically retrieved at some considerable risk to yourself.”

“Heroically stole, as it turned out. Not that I was ever in any real danger, except from-”

“How could I possibly have known that the Magistrate had sold his beard for a share of the profits and simply didn’t want to admit it to his wife?” His attitude was really beginning to detract from the triumphant feeling I was trying to nurture.

“You might have asked him. As it is, I think we’ll be very lucky if we don’t end up in prison. Mrs. Pendragon denies hiring us entirely, and as it turns out, the only beard thieves in this entire affair were you and I.”

I looked around our jail cell and waited for the Magistrate to get back to us about bail. I had a feeling we would be waiting for some time. “You’re getting much better at sarcasm,” I said.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





The Saddest Rhino posted:

Flash Rule: Your protag is a rhino.

EDIT: That rhino is depressed.

...right then.

Flash Rule: You must get your story's title from The Doctor Who Episode Title Generator and the title must be relevant to your story. (But probably don't write Doctor Who fanfiction.)

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





WHAARG
631 Words
(Protagonist is a depressed rhino.)

“WHAARG!” Is that what a rhinoceros is supposed to sound like? I don’t loving know. I haven’t been one for very long, and no one’s given me an instruction manual. I just woke up with some fuzzy memories of playing cards with some old woman, a splitting headache, and a bad case of Being A Freight Train With Feet. Plus I’m an endangered species now, which is just loving brilliant.

Do I have to move to Africa? I don’t want to move to Africa. I don’t know anything about Africa, and how am I supposed to get there anyway? I’m not even sure how I’m going to get out of my apartment. Unless I fall through the floor. That would be painful. Better to just stay put.

I don’t deserve this. Maybe I do deserve this. I don’t know what I did, but clearly I deserve this, because it’s happened. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, that’s how it works, right? Oh god.

Go out, get a little drunk, talk to some strangers. That’s what Rose told me to do. My so-called therapist. You’ll see it’s nothing to worry about. Call me tomorrow morning, tell me how it went. I’ll tell you how it went. “WHAARG!” is how it loving went. She probably doesn’t even speak Rhinoceros.

She’s calling again. She’s left three messages. She sounds worried. I’ll bet she’s not worried. Why would anyone worry about me? She sounds worried, though. Pretty good actress, I’ll give her that.

Someone’s at the door. Knocking. “Stan? Stanley?” It’s Rose. What’s she doing here? “Stanley, are you in there?”

“WHAARG!” I call out. Go away Rose.You can’t help me. No one can help me. I can hear my door opening. I didn’t lock the door. Rose is in my apartment. Oh god, what do I do? “WHAARG!”

“Stanley, what’s-” she’s in my bedroom. Staring at me. She’s going to scream. She’s going to scream and then animal control is going to come and my nose is going to end up ground up in someone’s tea, because that’s what happens. “Stanley?”

“WHAARG!”

“Oh, Stanley. You weren’t, by any chance, playing cards with an old woman last night, were you?” That’s not screaming at all. Why isn’t she screaming? I’m twelve feet long and weigh several tons. “That bitch. I’ve told her to stay away from my patients.”

I bob my head up and down. I don’t know why I bother. She can’t help me. No one can help me. No one ever could. This is exactly what I deserve.

Now she’s setting out candles and lighting them. What’s she doing? What language is that? What’s that smell? I feel funny. I feel kind of light-headed. “Don’t worry, Stanley. Everything’s going to be all right.”

No one’s ever said that to me before. I mean, people have probably said that to me before, but I never believed them. I’m not sure why I believe her. Maybe I’m just too tired not to. I’m really tired. I’m going to go to sleep now.

When I open my eyes again, she’s gone. I’m not a rhinoceros any more. I figure I probably dreamed the whole thing, but there’s a note on my dresser. “Stanley, I am so sorry you got caught up in this. That woman has been trying to ruin my practice with black magic for years now. I think I’ve broken the curse, though. You should be careful around the full moon for the next few months, things like this don’t go completely away, but with luck, you’ll be able to control the transmogrifications. We’ll talk more at our next session. Don’t let this discourage you. -R

P.S. Just so we’re clear, you won’t be charged for the curse-breaking. That’s on me.”

“Whaarg,”

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I keep telling myself this is the last time. That I'm going to take a break. That goddammit moving house is no time to be writing poo poo. And yet.

In, curse you all.

Where black is the color, where none is the number

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





I have had a lovely, busy, bitterly cold week full of dreary nonsense, quite possibly the worst week imaginable for there to have been an earlier-than-usual deadline. So it is with great regret that I must say that I HAVE NOT BACKED OUT BUT INSTEAD WROTE A GODDAMN STORY SO THERE.

Nothing But Nothing
614 Words

(The Prompt: Where black was the color, where none was the number)

I turned from the roaring fire to look out into the darkness, just in time to see the last of the stars go out. “It’s just us, then,” I said to the woman I’d seen sit down a moment before. “Just us and our fire. When it goes out, we’re finished. Nothing left but the cold, and the dark, forever.”

“Not forever,” she said, this woman I didn’t know. “Time’s being devoured too, from both ends. I don’t know how I know it, but I do. We’re going to be left with a cold, dark, empty now. Absence of heat, absence of light, absence of time. Nothing but absence. Nothing but nothing. This fire’s the last real thing.”

I turned back to the fire, raising my hand to shield my face from the blue-white glare. I could just about make out the old, hunched shape of her. “This fire and us,” I said.

“This fire, and us,” she repeated, “And nothing else. Which raises, to me, a question.” I watched her stand, a shadow on the far side of the flames. “Why should we wait for the end? Why not seize some control over our fate?” She drew a deep breath, and smiled as I did the same. I held up three fingers, two, one. We blew on the flames.



I turned from the fire to look out into the darkness. “It’s just us,” I said to the woman. I couldn’t remember her arrival, but I heard her sit. “Just us and our fire. When it goes out, we’re finished. Nothing but the cold and the dark.”

“Nothing but absence. Nothing but nothing,” I heard her say as I turned back to face the fire, raising my hand to shield my face from the furious red glare. I could see her, sitting straight and tall, “This fire’s the last real thing.”

“This fire and us,” I said. I watched her stand, a shadow on the far side of the flames.

“This fire, and us,” she repeated. “And nothing else. So why wait?” She drew a deep breath and I, seeing what she was about, followed suit. We blew on the flames.



I turned from the fire to look out into the darkness. “It’s just us,” I said to the girl who had always been there. “I suppose it’s always been us, and nothing else.”

“Nothing but absence,” I heard her say as I turned back around. “Nothing but nothing.” I could just about make out her young face in the glow from the coals.

“And us,” I said. She stood, her face falling into shadow with the rest of her.

“And us,” she said as she leaned over the coals. I quickly saw what she was about, and together we blew on the flames.



I turned from the embers to look out into the darkness. “There’s nothing else,” I said. There was no reply. The child couldn’t speak. I stood and stepped around the hot firepit to lift her into my arms. “Nothing but us.”

She squirmed in my arms and I held her out over the faintly glowing embers. We blew.

I looked out into the darkness. “There’s nothing,” I said, to no one. “Nothing but nothing.” Had someone else said that? There was no one else. I turned around, and while I couldn’t see the ashes, I could just barely feel the heat of the fire that had always just burned out. I leaned over them, took a deep breath, and blew.



I looked out into the darkness. There was nothing. I opened my mouth to breathe, and found nothing.



I looked out into the darkness.



I looked out.



I looked.



I.



.

docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





So very in.

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docbeard
Jul 18, 2011

High marks for compassion, low marks for survival skills





My Excuse For Not Writing A Story This Week
847 Words


Oh. poo poo. Right. I said I was going to write something for this week’s prompt, didn’t I?

Here’s the thing. It’s been a hell of a week. I’ve been apartment-hunting, and it hasn’t gone well at all, and this week was the absolute worst. I hardly know where to begin. It all looked like such clear sailing a few months ago. Plenty of time before my current place got sold out from under me, plenty of possibilities, plenty of ads on Craigslist, even after weeding out the obvious scams.

Time passed, possibilities dried up, and the promise of an ideal place to live gave way to the reality of poor bus access, terrible maintenance, shady property management companies, or any of a thousand other reasons why I found myself a week away from homelessness without a place to go.

Until a couple of days ago when I ended up, driven by desperation, jumping off the bus about halfway home to go inside this little store I’d never seen before. One of those interesting second-hand stores, but the thing that attracted my attention was the dusty sign in the dusty window that said “FOR RENT”.

I asked the old woman at the counter, who seemed to be the sole employee, just what was for rent. She asked me what I would like. I told her that I would like a place to live. She told me she had just the thing in the back, but I couldn’t be sure she’d heard me properly, since she was leading me to a dusty shelf and not toward stairs, or anything to suggest a set of rooms I could have at a reasonable rate.

She dusted off a little porcelain model of a house with a hand-held brush, and smiled at me. I smiled back, working out in my head the perfect combination of polite words that would get me out of the store. I told her that it was a bit small for my needs, grinning to let her know that I was joking, that I was in on her joke, that we were all having fun and no one was crazy at all. She grinned right back, took my hand before I could react, and said that I’d grow into it.

I must have passed out or something, because I woke up in bed. Not in my bed, but in, or on, an unfamiliar, uncomfortable bed. I sat up, my head swimming, and reached into my pocket for my phone. I couldn’t quite make out what time it said. Every time I looked at it, the combination of numbers read differently, and I couldn’t get a signal at all.

The bed was rock-hard. Porcelain-hard, and as I stood up, I realized that everything around me was porcelain, carved and painted. Nothing real, not in the bedroom, not in the hallway I passed through, and not in the living room. Not the front door, nor the back door, nor any of the windows. Nothing real inside, and no way out. I could just about see through one of the windows, massive, shadowy shelves and a giant toothy smile backing away out of sight.

I banged on the door. Porcelain’s fragile, so I figured I could break it, but either my fists were too tiny, or the stuff was too strong, and I quickly gave that up. I sat on a porcelain couch and glared at my phone. I couldn’t call out, no signal. But then I thought of something else. High school physics had been a long time ago, but I remembered the principle of resonance, how a loud noise at the right frequency could shatter glass.

And I had a lot of music stored on the phone.

I went through every single song and turned the volume up as high as it would go. Arias and AC/DC, to ZZ Top and my “what the gently caress is Zydeco” folder. Every song, from beginning to end, waiting for a quake or a quiver in the porcelain walls. It took weeks to get through the whole collection, and then I did it all over again, over and over, in case I’d missed something. Until finally I hit the right combination of high notes and throbbing bass, and everything around me shattered.

I got up from the shop floor. It was dark. There were cobwebs. There were boards across the front door, but unlike the porcelain house I’d just broken out of, those gave way to a bit of physical effort. According to my phone, I’d been there for about an hour. Outside, there were no signs that the place had been inhabited anytime recently, though there was still that FOR RENT sign in one of the windows. Referring, I assumed, to the storefront itself.

So I hopped a bus and went home, and the next day I kept right on looking for an apartment. But with all that weighing on my mind, I just didn’t have any time to think up a story for the thread this week. Sorry about that.

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