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Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'm in.


In the Dancing Plague of 1518 a woman (and eventually a league of 400 people) uncontrollably danced for a month causing dozens of participants to die of stroke and exhaustion. The reason for this occurrence is still unclear.

Since the ringleader didn't actually die on the day she started the whole thing (not sure if she herself even died), I'm writing in the POV of some random mad dancer. Is that acceptable?


Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In the Dancing Plague of 1518 a woman (and eventually a league of 400 people) uncontrollably danced for a month causing dozens of participants to die of stroke and exhaustion. The reason for this occurrence is still unclear.

Only the Dance (1084 words)

Days before, I heard whispers exchanged that a woman danced under the spell of God Almighty, and that many rose to follow her. An odd tale, but I mouthed a prayer as I had heard it. How could so many be led astray? My heart grew sour with pity.

It was a hot afternoon when they came to our town.

A large throng funneled through the gates, driving straight into the heart of our town, unannounced and without fanfare. Their formation was even and orderly, even if their movements were not. In all the years of my life, I could not have defined their march as dancing. They shambled like monsters out to scare children, their bodies so frighteningly limber as if their bones had turned into supple branches. Their deluded minds screamed of an audience to something horrific. Something beyond even God's love.

Would they stay, or pass through? I held my breath, squinting for the leader.

I saw her, the woman they called Frau Troffea. A witch, if you could. Whatever former beauty she carried had been consumed by her endless exertion, weeks of dancing laying waste to her body. I wondered how one could go on without food or water or rest, but it seemed that the Devil himself held her tight to his bosom. Her eyes were ablaze, and her shrunken frame moved with fervor. She seemed to eclipse her followers in the manner that she carried herself. Faithless. Boundless. Free.

I noticed that her followers could barely follow her movements, some members collapsing as if spell on them had been lifted. The poor, fallen souls lay still on the dirt, their friends sparing nary a glance as they traipsed around their erstwhile companions.

I dashed to the trail of unmoving bodies and caught the arm of a straggler along the way. He had frozen in mid-step and, upon realizing what he had been doing up until now, fled his companions howling.

"You--what in God's name is this?" I asked.

"Where she goes, I cannot follow anymore," the man wailed, trembling like a sinner on Judgment Day. His body was slick with perspiration, his limp weight pulling at my grip.

"How in Heaven did she coerce you to this... madness?" I called after him.

"You call this madness?" The man's eyes bulged. "She is a prophet, preaching the Word with her dance! But I can only catch a fleeting glimpse of Him, whom she follows!"

"Take him to the church and give him something to drink," I told a man standing by. He dragged the exhausted man to shelter.

I left him in the care of other men. I scrambled to inspect the others, and the townspeople followed my example. A man of God should lead his flock.

"This one is dead, Father," the tanner, whom I knew as Klaus, declared.

"Merciful Christ," I said.

Maybe some of these people could still be saved. I went to help another. She was a young girl, not even of childbearing age. When I touched her forehead, she spasmed and pointed at the direction of the dancing crowd, which had been creeping away in their unfathomable movement. "The Saviour... we'd been following him. Said he'd lead us to Heaven if we danced as he did. But it's Frau Troffea who could see Him most clearly."

Nonsense, I would have said. But saving this child's life was more important than correcting her of heresy. I shook my head and prayed over the girl. "Give everyone something to drink," I cried through the din. "They are dying of thirst!" My fellow helpers scampered to their homes, returning with wine and beer and cider.

As those who still lived were taken to the church, I stood with a prayer on my lips. I must get to Frau Troffea--I must convince her to stop leading these people astray. Not even the town guards had intervened, fearful that the Devil would strike them down if they challenged the wayward dancers. I wove deep into the slow-moving crowd, careful not to disrupt their path.

That was when I saw him. He bore no resemblance to Christ, with his short stature and dark skin. He was dancing like I had seen no man do. Every fiber of his person swayed to an imaginary beat, feet deftly balancing him even as he twirled in place.

"Please!" Somehow I knew this man was responsible. Even if he was the Devil himself, I shall not fear. "Make them stop!"

My pleas seemed to have reached his ears, for he stopped. He gave me a roguish grin and spoke. I did not understand immediately, but the question was clear--

Do you want to dance?

"No!" I said. "For the love of--"

It's easy. Let me show you.

And he started again. There was no rhyme or rhythm to it, as far as I could tell. He swung his arms in an arc, craned his head in angles, and swept his legs over and around each other. Slowly, I began to see a pattern. It was as if Heaven guided a ray of light into my lowly soul and gifted me understanding.

My foot twitched. My mouth tried to scream in protest, but my conviction broke down, replaced by the warmth of acceptance. Strange music crept into my mind, the crisp pattern of drums and a low melodic thrum accompanying a voice that was primal, passionate, angelic.

Before I knew it, I had joined them.

They called him Saviour. I began to understand why. For did it matter what countenance the Lord wore on Earth? I believed.

Frau Troffea's own dance was but a copy, a dull reflection of true glory. I made my place in the crowd, and began to surpass everyone. My steps astonishing my dancing companions, whose kinetic praises sounded hollow.

One dropped to his knees. "A priest! A priest is with us! He must be Saint Vitus himself!"

I heard someone call my name from afar, imploring me to stop.

My joints creaked. There was no pain--if anything I felt even stronger. I ignored everything else, locked my eyes on the dancing Saviour whom Frau Troffea merely followed.

Perspiration dripped from all pores of my body. Here I am, moisture leaving my body in droves, when I had tried to slake the thirst of many. But I have never felt free. Soon I shall be dancing beside Christ, who has come to Earth once more. Soon I shall know only the dance.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

JonasSalk posted:

Well, this was an okay story. I see what you was going for, but again, I think this could use some cutting. Devil Michael Jackson was totally unnecessary and took focus off of the Dancing Queen. For the most part, it was well written, and I'm sure the little things I caught, you'd catch in a rewrite.

I had a friend read my story after I posted it and she didn't get the Michael Jackson part. (Although Jesus still works) It's a relief that some get it. I thought it would add a spin to the mystery but I would need to make it a lot stronger to pull it off. Thanks.

I will be in this week. I love the Old Testament.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Deuteronomy 15:1-6 posted:

15 “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. 2 And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. 3 Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, 4 except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance— 5 only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.

Debts Released (1257 words)

If there was something Kyla hated more than being stranded in space, it was boredom.

Kyla floated cross-legged in the middle of the engine room, its deep crimson lights painting the game board in a macabre glow. It had been three days since the engines gave out. Her mother, the only other crew member in the small cargo ship they ran, had walked her through all card games imaginable, then switched to all the myriad flavors of mahjong.

She reached out for a holographic tile and threw it into the middle of the board, where it reappeared at the end of a neat array of discards.

At the corner of her eye, Kyla stalked the terminal screen while her mother and their computer opponents made their moves. She set the screen to display the proximity alarm, to notify them if a ship arrived. To help, she hoped, for their humble ship contained a small fortune of dried ice and no weapons to defend it.

"I wonder if we cut down the spares to make it fit in the array," her mother said, as the computer called her tile. Three identical tiles snapped into one corner of the board, which put additional strain in Kyla's thoughts.

"Can't. Rockets have a different fuel mixture than market standard," Kyla said. Their ship used a new design, which promised an increase in net profit. All well and good, until something broke down. The whole engine cost them two months' worth of work. Three, if they got spares.

"How am I supposed to know that our engine was a factory defect?" Mom's voice was shriller than normal.

"Yeah, mom, how could you have known? Not when you were part of the first batch of orders, right?" Shaking her head, Kyla discarded the tile she drew.

"Oh it's fine, it's fine. It's only a few days. We'll still make our delivery."

"Assuming we survive, that is." She was exaggerating, of course, but Kyla figured out she would die of boredom well before they ran out of a year's worth of supplies. She wished nothing more than a swim in a zero-G pool.

"This is a well-guarded trade route, so it's more probable that a fellow merchant would find us. Much better if it's the patrol fleet."

Kyla shrugged. The computer to her left called the tile discarded by its opposite member, ending the hand. "Maybe we'll get pirates. Like, what's the chances of them coming for us, mom?"

Her mother's holographic face looked to the side. "0.617 percent, according to statistics. See, it's safe!"

"Famous last words."

Mom sighed. She took a point stick and threw it at the middle of the board along with her discard. "Reach."

Kyla gritted her teeth. Mom was a little too good at this game. As she pondered which tile to discard, the proximity alert beeped. Kyla gestured up more information, which obscured her mother's face. Cruiser, heavily modified for battle. It was making a quick beeline for them.

"Is it help, mom?" She fought the panic in her voice.

"It's something worse, dear," her mother said, looking more annoyed than afraid.

The blip stopped right on top of them. Kyla brought up a visual feed, and swallowed her breath. It didn't even need to use its weapons. I could just plow right into them with shields on, and they'd be pulverized in an instant.

The holograph switched displays. Kyla's mother stared down a man on the other side of the table, as if they were meeting face-to-face for dinner. A cold, hostile dinner. Kyla watched the scene from the side, but she couldn't transmit her own feed. Disabled by captain's authority. What was going on?

"Megan," the man said, his brow knotted. He looked unable to decide whether he should smile or pout. At least he didn't look like a pirate, with their scarred, half-naked bodies. He wore a blue military coat with epaulets on it, and his balding head was in need of a hat.

Mother wasn't amused. "Kenny, dear. How nice of you to answer our distress signal."

"Please, Megan. My men can hear you. I'm Captain Kendrick Soo to them."

"Oh? You've never complained before." Whoever this man was, Kyla's mother held a serious grudge on him. She wanted to butt in, but this was a side of mom which she had never seen before.

"I still can't believe how you could suffer an engine problem in this day and age. And fail to repair it, even."

"My ship's got a rotary rocket array. The new Mazford design. It's supposed to reduce fuel costs and improve heat management."

Was supposed to, Kyla thought.

"Always on the lookout for shiny new things, aren't you. I suppose you don't have spare parts around or we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"The rockets were proprietary, so you can't replace them with just anything on the market. If we wait for the FTL drive to recharge, we'll be so late that no one will ever hire us again."

Kenny opened his mouth, then decided better on it. He looked like he had swallowed a pickle.

"So, are you going to help?"

"We'll tow you to the next station. And if you ever want to sue for damages, I'll make sure you get a good lawyer."

Megan chuckled. "Oh, I'll make them pay for what they've done to my poor business."

Kenny grew pale. "About one more thing. You know, that..."

Megan smiled. "That marriage?"

Kenny squirmed in his seat. "I haven't seen you in sixteen years, so I've been wondering..."

"Honestly," Megan said. "You don't owe me anything anymore. Not that I forget, because I don't, but because... Kyla, say hello to your father."

Kyla's feed went on as both heads turned to her. "Hi, dad." She tried her best to ignore her mother's triumphant look.

"Really?" Her father grinned. "On that day?"

"Kyla's my first mate and chief mechanic. She's beautiful, smart, and started doing EVA at the tender age of thirteen." Megan beamed. "Of course, that's one year later than I did."

"Oh stop it, mom," Kyla said. "How come I never knew any of this?"

"You never asked, and even if you did, I'd never tell you. But now seems just the right occasion."

Kyla turned to her father. "Yeah, that's my mom. Did she give you this much trouble back then?"

Kenny only laughed. "All right, I'm sending my crew out for towing preparations. I'll call you again after we're ready to go."

* * *

Two hours later, Kyla was already at the bridge when her father called again.

"We're good."

"So we've noticed." They were being too curt.

Kenny averted his gaze. "Will you be fine after this?"

"We'll manage," Megan said. "I'm already calculating how much money Mazford would pay to shut us up."

Kenny sighed. "That, Kyla, is why I went with the fleet."


"Take care of your mother for me, Kyla."

"Yeah, I will. Bye, dad."

* * *

When they were well under way, Megan displayed an image on the screen. "This was taken a month before our wedding. He still had hair back then."

"Wow mom, you never looked like you aged a day. Your hair got worse, though."

Megan's frown only lasted a second. She pulled Kyla into an embrace.

"We'll be fine as long as we have each other, dear. Promise me you won't go chasing after your dad, okay?"

"Of course, mom. I promise." Kyla said, concealing the lie on her face.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'm in. Quote is "Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Oscar Wilde posted:

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.

All That They Can Do (1171 words)

"At ease," Sergeant Bragg said in the launch bay. "Major Bowens will brief you on the nature of the enemy."

Major Bowens stepped into view, clad in the powered suit that had made him a legend among the force. "Men, this is a simple sweep operation, but do not grow complacent. I have fought the bugs in twenty different campaigns, and have seen all that they can do." He exhaled, the built-in respirator turning it into a rasp. "I do not fear them."

Easy for you to say, Trooper Abnett thought. What was a decorated veteran doing with a bunch of grunts, anyway?

"What strains of bugs are we expecting, sir?" Trooper Caine asked.

Bowens exhaled again. Abnett wondered if his respirator was faulty. "Biters and spitters. Since you've never fought the bugs, I will guide you through. Any other questions?"

"Sir, we were wondering if... you could show yourself underneath your suit?" Caine said. "If it's alright, I mean."

"You're out of line, Trooper Caine!" Bragg barked.

"I do not mind." The powered suit took an arms-open stance, emitting a hiss of recycled air from its joints. Abnett fought to keep his face neutral as Major Bowens revealed himself underneath his armor.

What was left of him, at least. The rumors were true--what had been his limbs ended in stumps, and his head was a shrunken mess that only a mother could love. His torso looked like a misshapen lump of scar tissue, if anything.

"My left arm was taken by a slasher, when I had been a lowly trooper like you," Bowens rasped, his voice still amplified by the speakers in his suit. "None of my squad survived. My right was amputated before poison could spread into my entire body. I had been a sergeant, eager to save my squad."

"My legs were taken by a digger. I was directing troop movements from the rear, when a bug ambush caught us by surprise. Even as I lay on my stomach, bleeding to near-death, I continued giving orders."

"And your troops, sir, what became of them?" Abnett found himself asking.

"They all died, swallowed by a nest of the things."

That's not very good, Abnett thought. All those comrades, dead. How could Bowens still be standing in front of them? Here was a bastard who took all the luck of his troops for himself, leaving none for the others.

"And your head and body, sir?"

Bowens looked sad, if his cauterized face could look any more sorry. "My wife."

There was a strained silence, which Caine broke. "I can relate, sir."

Bowens ignored the comment and the nervous snickers that followed it. "She was infested, you see. In an intimate moment, I... detonated a grenade inside her."

Hell of a way to go, Abnett thought.

Major Bowens' armor snapped back into place. "The army is all I have left. Now, about the bugs you are facing. There are fifty different strains of them all, biters and spitters among Class Magenta..."

* * *

The squad's mag-soles made a steady thrum on the installation's walls. Walking sideways made Abnett uneasy, being the first trooper behind their powered suit even more so. He couldn't wait to turn the artificial gravity on. He brushed aside a piece of debris from his face.

It wasn't debris. Globulets of blood stuck to his mesh gloves.

"Agh!" Vocal arrestors dampened his cry, but everyone in the squad still winced.

"You'll get us killed, Abnett!" The sergeant barked.

"No sign of the enemy," Bowens said. "Be on the lookout for chittering. That's the sign of--"

As if right on cue, Abnett heard it. He would've screamed himself, but Demien beside him gurgled, halting in his tracks as the green spitter acid melted his helmet away, along with parts of his face. He fell back, feet still magnetized to the surface. The spitter bug had come out of a tear in the wall, too small for anyone to imagine a human-sized insectoid to have come through.

A panicked volley of lasers tore the bug to pieces. Abnett fired again to stop its twitching. Demien cheated at cards, but no one quite deserved such a horrid fate.

"Good work," Bowens said, almost cheerfully. Abnett would have kicked him if he could. "Far better than most squads I've been attached to, given their taste of first contact."

"How much better, sir?" Caine quipped, in his usual manner.

"You didn't get wiped out, for starters."


They continued on to the artificial gravity room. Bowens forced the doors open, his powered suit's servos whirring with the effort. A pair of biters leaped at him, horribly-distended jaws closing, and the Major swatted them away with a mechanized fist. Flamer nozzles opened at his suit's wrists, hosing them until they were burnt husks.

"Mmm, toasty!" Caine said. Even Abnett laughed.

That was a better second encounter, Abnett thought, having the slight advantage of no one dying on their end. But he couldn't help but worry about Bowens' presence. While he was a decorated veteran, his achievements were often at the cost of his fellow soldiers' lives. He wondered if Bowens could wipe out the bugs by allying with them instead.

"A biter is most vulnerable when its jaws are at their widest, so take advantage of that." Bowens talked about the various techniques he had learned fighting the bugs, learned from trial and error. Abnett ventured it was more of the latter.

"Sir, what's wrong?" Bowens stared at the floating corpses before them. Abnett shone his helmet lamp on them. Their skin was an unhealthy shade of green, and their faces were frozen in a nasty rictus.

"They died of poisoning, introduced through the respiratory tract." There was a tinge of hesitation to his voice. "Make sure you're sealed."

Abnett was checking his air supply when the bugs attacked again. Spitters burst from the ceiling, firing corrosive spores from their elongated mouths. Biters skittered out of the walls, snapping at them. Sergeant Bragg stared down a biter's gaping mouth before opening fire on its insides. The next one sheared his neck off its shoulders.

"Sergeant's down!" Abnett called, a little unnecessarily.

"Squad, on me!" Bowens took on the bulk of the bug force by himself, strafing the incoming horde with high-explosive shells. It kept them from completely encroaching them, but not enough to cover a retreat.

That was when the third strain appeared. It had a low profile, and an enlarged posterior that blew a cloud of mist, which permeated the air in a matter of seconds.

"What's that, sir? We were only briefed about two strains!"

"Engaging." Bowens opened fire at the new bug, but the rest of the horde shielded it with their bodies. A biter leaped at his arm, clamping jaws around it. The plates crumpled, and Bowens halted his fire to punch it away.

But the damage had been done.

"Bowens to base. We've found strain fifty-one," were his last words.

"poo poo," was Abnett's, as a biter slayed him.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

sebmojo posted:

Kaishai thought this was WH40K fanfic; the main character is called Abnett and do you know Dan Abnett writes WH40K stories. BUSTED, ALSO DISQUALIFIED: ‘NO FANFIC’ CLAUSE. Though this last line is funny so I guess that makes it a comedy. “‘poo poo’ was Abnett’s as a biter slayed him.” I also liked 'Be on the lookout for chittering!'.

I wasn't hiding! Bugs and grunts and powered suits are generic enough, but I guess it really, really shows what kind of stuff I read.

Also I am not sure if you are being sarcastic in that last sentence, because I wrote that line entirely by accident, but I'll store it in the vaults!

I am in on the next prompt, by the way.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I used the survival lottery for my story.

A New One (701 words)

The room was bathed in white. William's senses betrayed him--colors danced in his eyes, and his ears kept ringing. Then he felt his father's touch, sending him back into a calm.

"Hey, dad." His voice was a whisper. "What's up?"

James stroked his son's hair. His warm eyes shone, despite the dark circles around them. "It'll be over soon, Will. You'll be better in no time."

The needle in his arm stung, as it would whenever Will would feel something. He had expected to die here. "I'll be cured? But you said I needed a pair of kidneys, and a liver."

"Right, Will." James smiled. "So what does the liver do again?" Will wanted to be a surgeon. At the age of seven, he was already poring over his father's textbooks.

"It keeps you healthy, right? And gets sick if you drink too much."

"That's correct."

William turned his head away. "Too bad, then. I'm sick and it can't help me."

"You'll be getting a new one soon, Will. Your case has been approved for the lottery."

William had read about the lottery. Since letting a person die was no different from killing them, life must be given to save a life. Every compatible individual will be eligible, compelled to surrender his or her life to the patient.

He shivered underneath the sheets. "What if you get picked? Or mom?"

James's smile didn't fade. "Then you'll have our organs. We'll live inside you."

"Doesn't it scare you at all?"

"Your dad would rather be around when you're back up. Mom, too. But think of it this way. Thirty years ago, people with sick organs just died. Nobody wanted to donate their organs to them, even though their lives were equal. Now, you don't have to die like them."

"I don't know, dad. Why should someone have to die for me? I'm just a kid. My grades aren't even that good. It would be terrible if someone like the President got picked."

"Then you'll have to take care of the President's organs and do good out there. Don't you want to be cured?"

"I do, dad. If I ever get better, I'll be the best surgeon in the world." He gave his father a wink. "Better than you, even."

"But you will," his father winked back. "I'm going to save you."

* * *

William woke up the next day, to his father's face. James was wearing his surgical gown, and his face was flushed with happiness.

"Feeling better?"

"Yeah." He tried to touch his stomach, but the needle remained. "Will it hurt if I move, doctor?"

"We put you back together well. There aren't even any stitches," James said. "They'll take out the needle in a few days."

"Thanks, dad." William already found his voice returning.

James grinned. "Mom will fetch you in a few days. Dad just needs to go somewhere."

He stood up, waving to William as he left.

* * *

William crouched on the top of the stairs, straining hard to eavesdrop on the dining table below. Lily, his mother, was talking to the police, with an edge in her voice. But their voices were too quiet, as if they had sworn to hide something from the child.

Eventually they left, and William's mother closed the door so ominously that it creaked. He chose to pop up at that moment.

"Mom, why were the police here? Were they looking for dad?"

Lily scooped him up in her arms. "Yeah."

"I don't understand. How could dad be a criminal, when he just saved my life?" William thought about his father's smile. It was a weary one, but he believed in it.

"He wanted to save you. The hospital was going to let you die."

"But he said the lottery would make me okay."

Lily hugged William tighter. "The lottery couldn't provide a match. So he made one."

William looked down on his shirt, imagining his transplanted organs through the fabric and skin. How was it any different? "Am I well now, mom?"

"You are."

"But these kidneys and liver belonged to someone." William sobbed in his mother's arms, wondering why the tears took a long time to fall.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

magnificent7 posted:

Schneider Heim
Where is mom? Why is she gone when the father says goodbye for the last time? I think the story would have been much stronger from a single point of view (the boy). It SEEMS to be like writing from the kid’s POV, but if it’s from the boy, then leave out mom and dad’s names, or stop switching between "Dad" and "James", etc. Good enough story, heavy handed and a literal telling of the prompt from start to finish. The writing really seemed like it was from a 50’s drama… just really a simple life lesson from Andy Griffith mixed with the Twilight Zone. But in a very dated old fashioned way.

Ah, you got me. Mom was at home. I guess it's not very clear that Will was in the hospital for the first two parts of the story? Mom doesn't really do anything other than tell Will what Dad did, and I chalk this more to my being unable to flesh that part out despite having a lot of words to spare. I also did try to write in that old Twilight Zone-ish tone.

Thanks for the crit!

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Thank you Fumblemouse and Bad Seafood for the crits.

I am joining in this prompt to redeem myself.

As for homework:

A doctor is forced to choose between saving the life of his son or a complete stranger's. Son, that is, so two sons. (288 words)

Dr. Hall stooped on his chair, staring the hospital director down.

"This is my own son we're talking about."

Light reflected in the director's glasses. He set them down, covering his eyes. "This patient came first. The difference isn't in seconds or in minutes. The boy arrived six hours before your child was admitted. He needs surgery, too."

"Isn't there anyone who could do it? We could call Dr. Elliot, and--"

"We both know Terrence is two states away. Both of them will die before he gets here."

"I've already begun on my son. If I back out now..." Dr. Hall's voice trailed off. His hand clenched into a fist. "If I back out..."

"You can save the other boy's life. His chances of survival are higher than your boy's. I'm afraid your efforts would be better redirected on him. We can save one life today."

"At the expense of another's. At the expense of my son's."

"If you ignore this boy, you'll be seen as placing your own needs ahead of the patients'. The entire hospital's image will be affected."

"My son is also a patient!"

"Continue operating on your son and you will never work in a hospital again."

"Don't you have children too, Hector? Listen to yourself!"

The director's voice chilled Dr. Hall to the bone. "I have a hospital to run. I am responsible for the lives of hundreds of patients. But this isn't about me. So I am telling you one last time--"

"Operate on the boy." Dr. Hall stood up. "I'll do it. But I'm also not giving up on my son."

"You may be good, but you can't save them both!"

"Not if I operate on them at the same time."

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Please give me a flash rule too, because complete freedom is killing my creativity.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Flash rule: The protagonist must struggle against the control of something outside him/herself

Three Useless Wishes (994 words)

Harold appeared when she turned on the lights. She stared, transfixed to the ground, her hands shaking for something to defend herself.

"Greetings," he said. "I am a genie. and I will grant you three wishes."

Harold waited for the inevitable outburst of panic. He was wearing a three-piece suit and sunglasses inside a messy apartment. Maybe he should have changed. But humans felt better around well-dressed men, didn't they?

The woman crashed into a nearby chair. "I wish for a glass of water. Now."

Harold produced one from inside his coat. He set it down on the table. "It is done."

"And for your second wish?"

The woman drank from the glass, then fainted in her chair.

* * *

"Your second wish, mistress?"

"Stop calling me mistress," the woman said, cutting her scrambled egg with a knife. "It's disgusting. My name is Hana."

Harold held his tongue. What kind of person had he become a slave to? Hana lived alone, and her demeanor was surly. People were generally overjoyed to see a genie, and Harold usually completed his service within the day.

"So, what kind of wishes do you grant?" Hana asked.

"All kinds. Money, fame, love? I can grant them all, with exceptions. I cannot turn back time, resurrect the dead, kill the living, or grant more than three wishes."

"What if I wish you to go away?"

"I'm afraid that's not possible. We genie are immune to wishes. Do you not desire anything in your life?"

Hana exhaled. "No."


"Because wishes can't help me."

* * *

Harold followed Hana out of her home. He was invisible to everyone but his mistress, but still he kept his distance from her. She was dressed in what seemed a uniform for work, but she did not go to any office. Instead, she went to the park and sat on a bench.

People walked by, ignoring her. She paid them no heed, either, staring up at the clouds.

"What are you doing?" he asked, sitting on the opposite side.


"Do you work?"

"Until recently."

"What happened?"

Hana turned to him, not caring if somebody noticed. "Aren't you supposed to badger me for wishes instead of asking stupid questions?"

"I'm confused, mistress." Hana glared at him, but he met it with an even stare. "In all my years I have never met a person so adamant in... testing me. You cannot begin to imagine how frustrated I am."

Hana chuckled to herself. She opened her bag and took out a box of chocolates.

"Genie do not eat."

"It's for me, you dope." She took a bite. "I wish for beer. A nice stout. Put it in a tumbler." She looked around, shirking at the human traffic. "Wouldn't want to be kicked out of this park."

Harold sighed. "That's a trifling thing, mistress. You could wish for a lifetime's supply, or something even greater."

"Can't think of anything better than a beer in this weather."

Harold slapped the bench with his palm. He offered the drink to Hana.

"Um, thanks."

"My second wish, wasted," Harold muttered to himself.

"Got a problem?" Hana was grinning. Her cheeks shone red.

"No," he decided. As soon as she makes her final wish, I'm leaving.

* * *

That night, Harold sat in the living room. Hana had returned to her apartment after sunset, and locked herself up in her room. He could check up on her, but decided against it.

Water and beer. What were those things compared to the grandeur of his powers? He had made kings weep with untold riches, ordinary people with love against all odds. He had fomented revolutions and affairs that had far-reaching consequences. He decided that she was mocking him.

But until she made her final wish, he was bound to her. Unlike humans, genie weren't encumbered with the curse of mortality, but every minute in her servitude was agonizing.

"Have you decided on your third wish?" he said, sensing Hana behind him.

She strode before him, holding a stool and a length of rope. He stared at her, measuring her blank face. She had done nothing the entire day but sit on that bench. Why did she look so... tired?

"Yeah. I wish you to tie this rope to the ceiling."

Harold shook his head. "Surely you can do it yourself."

She wavered for a moment. "I don't know how to. And even if I did, I... can't."

Harold snapped his fingers and the rope tied itself.

"Eh, so you knew how to do it. Had experience?"

Harold didn't answer.

Hana shrugged, stepped on the stool, and placed the noose around her neck, tugging the knot in place.

Nothing compelled Harold to stay. Having granted Hana's wishes, he could have been off his way. But he watched.

Hana kicked the stool away. The rope wound tight around her neck, digging into her skin for one tense moment.

The rope unraveled, dissolving into nothing.

She fell on all fours, tears marking the floor.

"I did as you wished," Harold said, standing over her. "I tied the rope."

"I..." She gagged, clutching her throat. "It hurt. I thought I was going to die."

"There's a way. You're stronger than this."

"What do you know?"

He knelt down, cupping her face in his hands. "If you don't want to work, leave your job. If you're alone, talk to someone. A human being, that is. Do not give up on life, mistress."

Hana smiled. "You're leaving, aren't you?"

"I am a genie. I grant wishes. Someone will need me, soon, and I have to respond."

He dissolved into mist.

* * *

Harold stood by the train station, watching a woman push herself inside the train. She was wearing a different uniform since he last saw her.

He smiled.

Somewhere out there in the world, someone was turning on a light. Harold walked away, wondering what kind of master he would serve next.

Schneider Heim fucked around with this message at Jun 30, 2013 around 23:00

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Thank you Kaishai and Nikaer Drekin for the crits. If anything, I agonized while editing my story--thought I had to cut out a lot of stuff. It shows, but at least the proof of concept isn't bad.

I will be in this week with--

Grade 3
Invite to your school a red metal spider who writes science fiction

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Schneider Heim posted:

Grade 3

Invite to your school a red metal spider who writes science fiction

Not all spiders are recluses (1298 words)

"Now we're in," I whispered.

Security didn't spare a second glance at Isaac. After all, there were stranger sights in campus. No one would suspect that the metallic tarantula clinging to my arm was alive and sentient.

"I didn't realize there would be so much people," Isaac replied. He passed off as a fancy portable music player, my earphones connected to a jack in his crimson body.

"It's lunchtime right now, so everyone's down and running around," I said. Isaac angled his head to look everywhere, observing human activity everywhere.

"This will really help my writing. I can't thank you enough, Mel." Because he wasn't human, Isaac could be very naive about things that we took for granted. On the other hand, his outsider status meant that he could also be very insightful about the human condition.

"This is what friends do for each other, right?" I went to the cafeteria building. It was going to be packed, but it should be the best place for Isaac to observe people.

"I must confess, I'm in a bit of a slump with my second novel."

"You're kidding. The great S. Isaac Brown, whose debut novel got shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula?"

"I asked my father for advice, and he only laughed. 'Son, don't let the expectations get to you. Just write and revise as you always have,' my father said." He played the recording of his father's voice for that. Isaac's "father" was a human scientist. In an experiment gone wrong, he had caused Isaac's gigantism and constructed him a metal body to keep him alive.

"It feels like..."

"Banging your head on a brick wall?"

"That's exactly it."

I entered the cafeteria and sighed in relief. The queue wasn't bad. After a short wait, I claimed my cup of coffee and grabbed a handful of sugar packets on the counter. I found a table by the window, so that Isaac could look outside, too.

"A lot of my readers think that I've written myself into a corner at the end of my first book. I'm beginning to agree. I've wracked my brain for days, but nothing interesting comes out."

"Days? Isaac, some novelists struggle for years." Sometimes he forgot that he was way smarter than us humans. Sometimes I wonder why he hasn't tried to take over the world yet. "When was the last time you took a break, anyway?"

Isaac hesitated before answering. "This would be the first."

"Isaac, my dear friend. If nothing works, you go outside and take a breather. I'm not a writer, but everyone needs to distract themselves sometimes. Outdoor walks are a wonderful thing."

"I can't casually take a stroll outside. Father doesn't want me. I sneaked out for this occasion."

"Isn't that a bit unfair for you?" I said.

"I'm a cyborg, Mel. My father even provided me with weapons for self-defense. He doesn't trust anyone to take to my real identity kindly. No offense, but you know humans are with these sorts of things."

"I know." And even if I did, I was still his friend.

"It's why I love fiction so much. After all, if I can never be human, then at least I can have a good approximation of the experience."

I nodded, drinking my coffee.

"Is that kissing?" He jabbed a leg to a couple sitting on a bench outside.

I looked for a second and turned away. "Whoa, they're making out."

"So that's how it's actually done. Why are you blushing?"

"Jesus, Isaac. How'd you end up writing a novel if you don't even know what making out looks like?"

"In the stories my father gave me to read, 'making out' is usually implied. This is raw. Authentic."

"Please don't tell me you're putting that in your book."

"Most probably not, but--" Suddenly, Isaac froze, his arms tightening up on my skin. "Oh no."

I winced. "What happened to you?"

"My agent's here," Isaac said.

"Your what?"

"My agent. Quick, hide me!"

I put my arm under the table. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a woman strode purposely around, as if she had every right to be here.

"Whatever you do, don't make eye contact."

I pretended to sip my cup as she passed by. Then she double-backed and stood before us, blocking our exit.

"Hi. I have business with Mr. S. Isaac Brown." Her words had venom underneath her smile. "Please don't give me that look. I can see him around your arm."

"Hello, Bernadette." Isaac used his speakers to reply.

Bernadette leaned on the table. "Isaac, the editor called again. I can't delay him any longer. I need your draft. Now."

"I'm sorry, Bernadette. I need more time."

"No can do. Pass me that last draft you made, then."

"I can't, on my reputation as a writer. It's terrible. My series will be a wreck."

"You won't even show it to me!"

"There is nothing in it worth showing."

"Then let's go over it! I'm not your enemy here, Isaac."

"Point your arm at her," Isaac whispered through my earphones.

Slowly and deliberately, I lifted my arm. A stream of web shot at Bernadette's face, blinding her.

"Now run!"

I pushed her away and bolted. There was a frightful snarl and a tearing sound as Bernadette ripped the webbing away, running after me. I dashed out of the building and headed for the science hall, for a lack of good options.

"Maybe you could hide in the male restroom," Isaac said.

"The hell I'm doing that! And judging her, she'll kick the door down anyway!"

"You have a point."

"Help me here, Isaac! Why did you shoot her at all if you didn't have a plan?"

"This is the plan. Please buy me more time, Mel."

I went up and up the stairs, Bernadette hot on my heels. Before I knew it, I reached the top floor, an open space with no escape.

"Can you shoot web at the nearby building? You know, like--"

"My web isn't that strong. You'll get hurt."

"I think I'm going to get hurt very soon." I glanced back, and Bernadette cornered us.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked, more exasperated than angry. We were equally exhausted.

"Because he's my friend."

"Ah, so you're that girl Isaac keeps telling me about!"

I glared at the spider on my arm. "What do you mean?"

Isaac disengaged my earphones and leaped on the ground. "I needed the time to write a new draft, Bernadette. That's why we ran."

"You could have told me so."

"I didn't think you would listen. Here." He opened a port on his back.

Bernadette frowned. "I hope this isn't one of your tricks."

"No tricks. Go download it from me."

Bernadette squatted down, connecting her a phone to Isaac. Her face brightened as she scrolled down.

"Oh? This is interesting."

Isaac's eyes twitched. I squatted next to Bernadette, reading the outline as it streamed into her phone. "I would read that," I said.

"I think this could work." Bernadette yanked the cable off and picked Isaac up. "Why did you take this long to put this out?"

Isaac twitched. "I was in a rut. I may be a spider, but I'm also a writer!"

"I'll talk to Mr. Brown about this. And--" Bernadette clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Thanks for helping us out. Sorry for chasing you around, too."

"No problem," I said. "Will you be fine, Isaac?"

Isaac regarded me with all his eyes. "I will. Can you drive me home, Bernadette?"

Bernadette sighed at me. "See, I'm the nanny of a cyborg mutant spider. When you graduate, don't be a literary agent. There's no good in it."

I waved them goodbye. "I think you're wrong," I whispered.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Fanky Malloons posted:

Schneider Heim: C-
Invite to your school a red metal spider who writes science fiction
This whole piece came off as kind of clumsy. You have a number of sentences with missing words, or where you used the wrong word, and a lot of the writing/dialogue was just very stilted. You fell into the EXPOSITION INFO DUMP trap with the line about the spider’s books being shortlisted for awards – who actually talks like that in real life? (Hint: nobody). Also I don’t really understand why the spider’s agent a) happens to be wandering around a high school, and b) chases them around like some kind of crazy person. There’s no real reason given for her to do any of those things, and so it doesn’t really work when she does them with no explanation.

I have an even more terrible draft where I let the spider talk to a class about his life and regurgitate writing advice. Threw that out and winged it with this one with a day or two to go. I'll do better next time.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Are there restrictions for subforums we could use?

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'm in!

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Flash rule: Takes place in a gym

Sometimes Work Comes Up
1178 words

Alexei ran on the treadmill. It faced a window, providing a view of gray skies and somber buildings. He pictured chasing a dog, which scampered over and over.

The background noise went through his ears. Someone was at the pull-up bar, doing reps to exhaustion. A voice counted, and counted, and counted. His dog gained on him.

The applause permeated the room like insect repellent. He hardened his focus until his bodily aches melted away.

"Hey, runner."

Alexei stared at the reflection standing beside him. Tiredness smashed into him in waves. A well-built man grasped the handrail, his fingers big and meaty.

"Finished doing pull-ups?"

The man blinked. "Sorry for the commotion. You've been running for almost three hours, I think."

"You noticed?"

The man chuckled. "Who doesn't? When you do cardio, it's like you're training for the Olympics."

Alexei slowed. It was time to cool down. He checked the display and nodded at the amount of calories he had to gain back.

"I'm about done."

"Cool. Wanna come down for drinks? Some of us boys do it after a workout."

Alexei came to a halt. "Is it far?"

"Nah, just a block away. You coming?"

Alexei gave the clouds one last look. "Sure."

* * *

They sat around a large table, bristling with mugs and plates. Alexei's head throbbed in the noise and cramped space. He couldn't recall the last time he sat down in a crowded place. It made the beer better.

"Thanks for getting another guy to split the bill, Tom," Jed said. Three fries forked out of his lip as he chewed them.

Tom grinned, presiding over the table like a patriarch. He had a huge bowl of salad before him, smelling like a garden. "What can I say, I'm popular with men."

"But not girls," Chad complained. He propped himself up on his elbows, one hand clutching a mug of beer.

Jed laughed, then gulped down a mouthful of beer. "Chad, if you've got time to complain, get one."

Alfred leaned forward. "Sorry about these young men, Earl. I hope they aren't bothering you with their prattling."

Alexei looked up from the potato he was cutting. "I'm used to it. Are you the owner?"

"My son left it to me. Funny story, if you ask me." Before anyone could protest, Alfred gulped down half of his beer.

"Don't take the old man seriously, Earl," Jed whispered. "He'd need a new liver if not for our company."

"Alcoholics drink alone."

"Yeah, thanks to us you aren't one."

Jed picked up the platter of pork chops, scooping two onto his plate. "Want one to go with those greens, Tom?"

Tom smiled and said, "no thanks, Jed. I'm a vegan."

"Pass me some hot sauce, then."

"How long were you on that treadmill, Earl?" Alfred said.

Alexei closed his eyes, recalling. "Two hours and fifty minutes."

"Do you lift?"

"Yeah, but elsewhere."

"A rival gym, maybe?" Tom said, lifting an eyebrow. Chad whistled.

"No, at work. When I'm free, I move boxes around."

Tom nodded. "So what do you actually do for a living, then?"

"I catch stray animals, turn them over to animal shelters, or deal with cases of animal cruelty."

"A dog catcher!" Chad said.

"It's not just dogs, Chad," Tom said, spearing his salad.

Alexei shook his head. "No, it's mostly dogs anyway. No animal troubles in this table, I hope?"

"My wife's allergic to them," Jed said.

"Bullshit. You have a wife?" Chad said.

Jed threw up his hands. "What can I say, some women look for more than just pretty muscles."

Chad sighed. "No animals in the house, officer."

"We have a cat," Alfred said. "Louise, that's my wife for you Earl, she dotes on him too much. Pretty soon and he'll have to lift weights, too."

"I keep a dog," Tom said. "His name is Timmy. Nice and loyal."

"Sorry for talking about work," Alexei said. "Sometimes it just comes up."

Alfred beamed. "Well, it's a public service, and we're all proud of you, son."

"Sure, gramps," Jed said.

"I'm only fifty-three!" Alfred snapped.

"Cut it out, guys. Let's have a toast for our new friend!" Tom said.

Alexei lifted his mug, along with the others.

* * *

The next day, Alexei showed up in the gym early.

"Good morning, Earl," Alfred said, slouched on the front desk. "They're not here yet. Probably hungover. Kids. How are you?"

"I just had a little. You should drink some water before bed."

Alfred nursed his head. "Keep forgetting to do that. Anyway, what's up? A quick workout before coming to work?"

Alexei smiled. He was wearing his uniform. "Actually, I'm signing up for a membership."

"Really? That's good." Alfred laid down a bound book on the desk. "Just fill it up here and follow the format."

"Hey Alfred, could you spot me for a while?" A voice called from inside.

"I'm used to filling up forms," Alexei said. "I'll be fine."

Alfred nodded. "Be back in a bit, Earl."

"Take your time," Alexei replied. Very carefully, he turned the pages.

* * *

Alexei parked his van on the side of the road. The houses kept small gardens, set alight by the glow of the rising sun.

He trekked up the porch of a particular white house. A white bull terrier barked at him, guarding the door. He fished a treat out of his pocket and wagged it in front of the dog.

The dog's expression changed. Alexei frowned. He threw the treat at the dog's feet. It was lapped up in an instant.

"What's with the ruckus this morning..." A head peeked out of the door. It was Tom.

"Good morning, Tom," Alexei said.

"Morning. Can I help you?" Tom's hair was still unkempt, and his eyes were droopy.

"Sorry for the bother, but I was just checking out your dog. Timmy's his name, right?"

Tom forced a smile. "Yeah. How's he doing, then?"

"Pretty bad." Alexei shook his head. "You're not feeding him meat, are you?"

"I'm a vegan."

"Timmy isn't. Dogs are carnivorous. See how hungry he is?" Alexei patted Timmy's head. The dog devoured another treat.

Tom all but barged out of the door. "You shouldn't feed him that. He's not trained--"

"You don't have to train a dog to eat meat, Tom." Alexei said, standing up. "I'm taking Timmy for tests. If we find out that he's been underfed and malnourished, you'll be held accountable."

Tom clenched his fists. "The hell I am."

Alexei took a stance. "Please don't do this, Tom."

With a wordless grunt, Tom charged Alexei, tackling him.

They tumbled to the ground. Alexei threw his arms up, blocking the punch with his fist. He caught the next punch and twisted, rolling over Tom. He slammed his elbow on the side of Tom's head.

Tom groaned from the blow.

Alexei cuffed him. "You're under arrest for animal cruelty and assaulting a public servant." Timmy wagged his tail at Alexei, barking happily.

"I thought we were friends," Tom said.

Alexei shrugged. "Me too."

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'll crit because this is the state of roads in my area for the entire day. I-It's not like I want to help you guys or anything--

Mr. Propagandalf

I liked how you presented a believable committee meeting and all the arguments and tangents and the general aimlessness. The story read fast because of little-to-no attribution, which I'm fine with (at some point I kind of knew who was speaking, based on what they said), but it also had the nasty side effect of making me unable to identify who's talking. Which I guess is the point if everyone is talking at the same time, but the story would introduce a character speaking a line (like Liz), who is never mentioned again. It makes it hard to latch to anyone.

The only distinct characters in my head are Tobias and Mallory, and that's about it. Thank you for making me uncomfortable with Mallory, though.


I found little point in this little tale. It's barely coherent, starting off as some kind of hard-boiled journalist tale and ending up as a swashbuckling story? Trains with sails? At least the prose doesn't make it sound as stupid as it really is. Mickey meeting up with Wess felt disjointed from the other parts, too.


The first of many Alexei stories. The tone is light-hearted and I can forgive the exaggerated Russian voice because it's funny enough. I was going to rag on you about the twist ending but I looked up your Flash Rule and went, "oh". I guess the extreme arrogance should've been enough clue. What I'm wondering is if Alexei was competent in the first place to actually need importing dogs, but again this is another question that could be answered by UNRELIABLE NARRATOR!


Do bomb wires come in Apple white? Actually more coherent than I thought it would be, yet another "why would you write in that way-- oh Flash Rule" entry. This does read like stream-of-consciousness and if it's your first time writing it, I couldn't tell by just reading.

My complaint is that there isn't much of a point, and I vaguely wonder if the time spent reading would have been better used elsewhere. Guy gets a seat, hogs it, suspects a man for a terrorist, then realizes his mistake. That's intrigue?


Nice job on Rick. While Alexei was set to do something dastardly I did care for him, he didn't sound petty or whiny, just way out of his league and backed into a corner. One thing, though. There's a massive paragraph (should be obvious which one) that brings my reading pace to a halt, feels like it could be split into three. It's like I'm jogging leisurely then told to run a quick 10K.


Probably my favorite so far. Terse paragraphs and a brisk plot. Good dialogue, too. While I'm a fan of getting into a character's head, doing so would have ruined the story. Although I'm not sure if becoming caffeine-dependent could count as "corruption".

* * *

I'll follow up with more tomorrow or something.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

More crits!


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

The Saddest Rhino

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


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


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

Sitting Here

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

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

Anathema Device

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

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


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

* * *

Last batch to come in tomorrow.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Last batch.


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

Barracuda Bang!

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

Bad Seafood

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

School: St. George's School For Monster-slaying and People-saving

Nobody's Princess
1480 words

Sabrina stepped inside the ring. Her leather armor felt like a second skin, after months of inseparability. Her wooden sword and shield felt like extensions of her limbs.

Everyone was perspiring in the midday sun. She particularly baked in her armor. Brave Harold, their arms teacher, did not, even despite his shirt of mail. Or probably because of it. Not even a drop of moisture on his golden beard.

Sabrina assumed a stance that offered no opening. Alwyn's sword traced circles in the air, eager for contact.

They did not speak. Taunts had become meaningless on Sabrina. Sometimes Brave Harold would pit her against older students. Sometimes she would win. Nobody ever celebrated.

"Begin!" Brave Harold's hand slashed the air.

Sabrina let Alwyn charge. She deflected the lunging stab with a flick of her sword. The boy was different. Hungry for valor, to exchange for the family he had lost. Sabrina envied him for it. Envied the near-suicidal drive that drove him to the top of the class.

This match would decide which one of them would carry that title.

Sabrina beat back Alwyn's attacks with increasing effort. Her movements were precise, but Alwyn's strength threatened to shatter the balance. Her preferred tactic of wearing her opponent down would not work. This fight meant so much to her opponent.

She slashed Alwyn's exposed leg. Alwyn didn't yelp in pain. He tried to smash his shield at Sabrina's face. Sabrina blocked with her own. They pushed against each other, eyes unyielding as their efforts.

Alwyn's strength won out. Just as Sabrina let him. She turned the blow, unbalancing Alwyn. She kicked his legs out and fell on top of him, pointing her sword at his back.

"Sabrina wins," Brave Harold said, over the din.

Sabrina got up from Alwyn. She offered no hand. She had learned not to.

Alwyn glared at her, which quickly lost venom as the gravity of his loss sunk in.

"You wanted to win a test of strength, so I let you," Sabrina said. "It cost you the match."

Alwyn opened his mouth, and closed it. Anything he would have said would only be an excuse.

Sabrina avoided the sullen stares of her classmates. Why did they come to hate me like this?

What could she have done?

* * *

Sabrina climbed up the Stalwart Tower, heading towards the Headmaster's office. She was wearing her uniform, the crisp white starting to look brown despite multiple washings. She was fine as long as it didn't stink.

She found him at his desk, flanked between towering stacks of papers.

"Headmaster," Sabrina said. "When you said your door was always open, I didn't think you meant it literally."

"It's a gesture to encourage my approachability, but the very state of my room is a hindrance," Headmaster Marius said. "How can I help you, Sabrina? Please, don't mind the papers."

Sabrina smile faded as she stated her purpose. "I don't believe this is a secret to you, but my classmates hate me. They think I don't belong here."

The Headmaster steepled his fingers on the table. "I have heard rumors, and read the teacher's reports. But I would like to hear the details from you, child."

"When we introduced ourselves to each other, part of it was telling our story. You know, the story of why we're here. I didn't have anything worth telling. It's the truth. What should I have done, lie to them? Even my very clothes marked me apart from them!

"I never lost anything. My family is alive and safe. We're rich. I could be anyone I want to be. And I choose to be a Brave. Is that wrong?"

"No," the Headmaster said.

Sabrina continued. "Do I have to endure great suffering to help others? Do I have to feel pain, in order to prevent others from experiencing the same? I just want to do good!

"I want to be their friend. But my status makes it difficult. They think I'm pitying them."

"And yet you are at the top of your class."

"It only makes my life harder. They want to wrest my standing from me. The more I try to prove that I can be a Brave as much as any of them, the more they resent me. It's as if I'm not supposed to be this good. Not to brag, of course."

The Headmaster smiled. "Our school was built on the belief that anyone can be a hero. Anyone can be a Brave. I want to say that being a noble or a commoner has no part in it, but I am aware of our school's demographic. And I cannot blame it. Yours is a difficult road, Sabrina, but you need to overcome this challenge if you truly want to become a Brave."

Sabrina hung her head and said nothing.

"All this talk, and I cannot help you," Headmaster Marius said. "But I can give advice: sometimes you just have to win them one heart at a time."

Sabrina gave her most dignified bow. "Thank you, Headmaster."

* * *

The mock dragon was the ugliest thing Sabrina had ever seen. It was made from goblin technology, and used for their Basic Dragon-slaying class.

"...since this is Basic Dragon-slaying, Grath'mak's snout will only produce a stream of ash. You will still gain failing marks if you get hit by it," Harold said, giving basic instructions.

The iron sword's weight was unfamiliar in Sabrina's grip. She couldn't sleep last night, thinking of her conversation with the Headmaster.

"Any more questions? Good. Sabrina, Alwyn, and Rue, step up. You're Team One."

Alwyn groaned.

"I'm sorry," Rue said, flanked by the two achievers of the class. She kept her eyes on the ground.

"Just don't get hit," Alwyn said.

"Rue, you have the spear. We'll draw Grath'mak's attention and clear a path for you," Sabrina said. "Don't attack until I--we say so."

Rue nodded, not meeting Sabrina's eyes.


Grath'mak sprang to life, gears whirring inside his mechanical body. His mismatched red-and-gold eyes dilated at the sight of Team One. He drew back his head.

"Disperse!" Grath'mak sprayed ash in a wide fan.

"Stay back, Rue!" Sabrina said. She held her breath, trying not to inhale the ash, and closed the distance. Alwyn flanked Grath'mak from the left.

The mock dragon whipped its tail. Sabrina and Alwyn threw themselves to the ash-stricken ground. A shrill yelp pierced their ears.

Rue hung on to Grath'mak's tail with her spear.

Alwyn ran towards Grath'mak. It reared up, exposing its vulnerable underside. There was a red circle painted on its left breast, where a dragon's heart would be. He threw his shield away, wielding his sword with two hands. He plunged it into the mock dragon's heart and missed.

Sabrina yanked Rue away. "Stay back," she said, retrieving the spear.

Rue nodded, looking forlorn.

Sabrina ran to Alwyn, who tried to pull out his sword in vain. Grath'mak's tail went after her. She raised her shield as the tail smashed at her, forcing her to her knees.

Rue choked up in protest, stumbling forward.

"Go!" Sabrina passed the spear to Rue. Rue hurled it towards Alwyn. Alwyn let go of his sword, diving for the new weapon. The mock dragon stared at him with eyes of artificial hate.

He hurled it at the dragon's chest. One half went in, and Grath'mak roared.

"Get back!" Alwyn called, already running away with his remaining dignity.

The tail lifted over Sabrina's head, and she ran to get Rue away. The mock dragon reared up one last time, aiming at the two of them.

Sabrina shoved Rue away, turning to face the ash with a smile.

* * *

Harold walked to them. Rue was already up, dabbing the ash away from Sabrina's face with a handkerchief.

"Failed!" He pointed at Sabrina, laughing. "What a pathetic effort, coming from you."

"I'm sorry, Sabrina," Rue said, looking down on her ash-streaked boots.

Sabrina smiled. "At least you won't need to spend hours cleaning up."

Harold pointed at Alwyn, who had already dusted off. "And failed!"


Harold faced them. "You are studying and training to become Braves. To slay the monster, or to save people? There is no 'or' in our school's name. You must do both. At the very least, each one of you must survive! And that is why you pass or fail as a team!" He walked to Grath'mak's "corpse", chuckling as he began the long process of reviving the mock dragon.

"I guess he's right," Alwyn said. He glowered at Sabrina. "I still don't like you, Ash Princess."

Sabrina smiled at him. "Ash Princess? That's cute. I like it." It was her first comeback in months.

Alwyn walked away, fuming.

"Sabrina?" Rue said, her eyes concerned.

"I'm all right, Rue. What is it?"

"Thank you."

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Chillmatic posted:

I'm trying to stay positive but this story was a bit tough to get through. It doesn't seem to go anywhere or have much of a theme. I understand it's these (teenagers?) going through dragon-slaying school or whatever, but it really felt like it wasn't a real place and the characters weren't real characters--mostly because of the flat dialogue and filler action sequences. It might help to visualize not only the scene in your mind before you try to write it, but also to think about your characters more and find out what they, and only they, would say at any given time. This will hopefully help you avoid that kind of placeholder dialogue in the future.

You know, I wasn't able to catch those problems with voice. Thanks for pointing that out.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'm in.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

To Graduation
969 words

Sue hunched in front of her laptop, holding her controller close. The rover rolled along the planet's rocky surface, searching for valuable minerals. The game jerked and stuttered as the rover kicked up dust clouds. Sue smiled, paused the game, and typed a note on David's laptop.

Bug #13: Dust clouds in methane-rich planets cause a 50% FPS drop. This wouldn't have happened if you paid attention to Graphics Programming class.

She decided to take a break, sliding to the other end of the bench. She argued against their lead programmer that their game wouldn't be good enough if anything less than a gaming-grade computer couldn't run it with moderate graphics settings. Incidentally, her laptop, pushing two years, was a good benchmark. Marcus grumbled and got to it anyway, sacrificing basketball and a date with his new girlfriend.

She had made a bet with Marcus that she could find thirty bugs: the price was the top item on their Steam wishlists. His: some asinine gray-and-gloom shooter indistinguishable from its ilk. Her: an adventure game filled with elegant art and dreamlike sequences. Losing was out of the question.

It was two months before the final thesis deadline. They all agreed to finish by one. Not because they were the top contender for the Most Outstanding Thesis Award (a dubious distinction that she welcomed anyway), but because her three groupmates would be using the time for job hunting.

Not her, though.

Sue cycled through the open tabs in her browser. She wondered how some of them got in: an RSS feed aggregator of interesting news, animated cat GIFs, an acquaintance's angsty blog (for all the person's bloated sense of suffering, she couldn't look away), a random page in Wikipedia, Spanish homework, and her email inbox. She closed everything but the last one.

The folder named "Job offers" reached three pages, all of them unread. They were all companies she knew. Some were companies she actually admired, some she used to. Some she was shocked to hear from. The sheer number of options were daunting.

"What kind of games will they let me make?" She asked the question at the ceiling. Why would she choose one over the other? Most importantly, who would hire her for her ideas?

Someone called Sue's name. She tried to ignore them. She was thinking.

"Hey Sue." Karen sat on the other side of the bench. "You look spaced out today."

Sue turned her head. "Oh, it's just you, Karen."

"Whaaaat? I was calling your name, you know. Where's David?"

"He's out. I borrowed his laptop to do some work."

"They aren't pulling their weight? For shame!"

"No! I gave them time off. I'm doing this alone." Sue explained her deal with Marcus.

Karen made a bemused smile. "Okay, at least he put his thesis first. He's learning, at least."

"You're being bitter."

"Hey, I'm glad he found someone who could tolerate that side of him. Why not work in your dorm, though?"

"Air conditioning broke. It's fine. David's laptop isn't as heavy as mine." Sue massaged her arms. They still ached.

"Ouch. Anyway, I came here to pass my Master's requirements."

"You're taking Master's?"

Karen pursed her lips. "Is it really strange that I want to teach here?"

"Not really," Sue said. "But I have trouble imagining it. Maybe ditch the contacts?"

"Not a bad idea, actually."

They laughed together.

"So, are you okay?" Karen asked. "Call it women's intuition, but you look off."

Sue exhaled. "Yeah. We're graduating soon, right?"

"Yeah! What companies are you looking at?"

"I was just getting to that. I don't know, Karen." Sue pointed to her inbox.

Karen squinted. "Wow. That conference you guys went to really hauled them in, huh."

"That's the problem. There's so many of them! The rest of my groupmates are up tackling their own offers, but I haven't even started yet. I told myself I should worry about that after we finish our thesis, but now that we're so close..." Sue trailed off, rolling the mouse wheel up and down.

"Maybe I should keep working on the game. Even if I don't know how it'll work."

Karen gave her a sympathetic look. "That's really tough. Much as I believe in following your dreams, there's still bills to pay, right? On the other hand..."

Sue winced. "If I get stuck in a company making games with an online requirement for playing alone and dozens of useless DLC, that's the end of me. I envy you guys. At least you have an idea of what you'd like to do."

"Don't do that. All I'm thinking of is getting in. I'm not even worrying about PhD at this stage," Karen said. She leaned forward. "Between you and me, I might fail World Literature this term. So I think we're pretty even."

"You're terrible!"

"Seriously. And your groupmates don't have a job yet, right? They're looking for one, so it's not like they have a huge lead on you. You still have two months to think about it. And knowing some of them, you could totally catch up if you plan your schedule right," Karen said, winking. "Don't let an email folder get you down."

Sue rubbed her temples. "Thanks. I think I have an idea how to make this manageable."

Karen made a thumbs-up sign. "Hoped I helped, because I need to be going now. Tell everyone I said hi!"

"You're the best, Professor Karen."

"Don't jinx it!"

They waved goodbye. With a happy sigh, Sue made two subfolders: "APPLY!!!!111" and "Apply". She went through every email, moving them accordingly and deleting the rest. It didn't take her long.

Sue stood up and stretched. "Back to work!" She plopped in front of her laptop, unpausing the game. Maybe she could shoot for sixty bugs, and double her payoff?

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Sitting Here posted:

Schneider Heim
To Graduation

Nothing terribly riveting here. A day in the life of a game programmer. Sue hasn't undergone any sort of change (beyond sorting her emails) by the end. And her chit-chat with Karen wouldn't really be convincing as a pivotal, life-changing moment anyway. The dialog between Sue and Karen reads in a way that reminds of a transcript of the English dub of an anime. I don't know how to describe it better than that. It's like 2 degrees removed from how actual college students talk. It borders on cheesy. Like

Karen made a thumbs-up sign. "Hoped I helped, because I need to be going now. Tell everyone I said hi!" "You're the best, Professor Karen." "Don't jinx it!"

is some straight up Magic School Bus feel-goodery.

Also I have no idea who David is or why they talk about him.

You are correct in describing my characters' voices. I never noticed it but when I think about it, I can hear them talking in sugary-sweet, high-pitched voices.

Not surprisingly, anime is the prime medium of fiction I consume, and even though I watch it in Japanese with subtitles, I know that most fansubs don't have a good grasp of the English language. (It lends to weird phrases like "As expected of <character name>"). So yes, I am guilty as charged.

I had a feeling that I wasn't getting that college voice down, but I didn't think it was that bad. My country's educational system is a bit different from the US, I graduated college at the age of 20 (which seems young by Western standards?), in a fairly well-off university and we were mostly pampered kids who were sheltered from the harshness of the world. So I guess my story's tone was a bit too naive or optimistic. And it's been 5 years, so I guess I am out of touch with my subject matter.

Boring details of my life notwithstanding, I'll be taking this to the Farm because it's a problem if my characters start talking like an anime, even when I'm not making a conscious effort. Thanks for the critique, I appreciate it.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'm in.

Place: Manila, Philippines

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Location: Manila, Philippines

946 words

Even this far away, Juan could smell the piss-stink of the canals. His fellow officers winced at the smell.

"I knew we were going to tear down this shantytown, but I didn't think it would stink this bad," Marco said. The mayor's men were corralled behind them, baking under the midday sun.

"It's terrible," Juan agreed, though his nose didn't perk up like the others'.

The mayor spoke to their chief with an air of importance. He was dressed for office, the barong failing to hide his plump frame. Santos, the chief, saluted and barked orders for them to form up.

"Listen up. We're going to tear that goddamned barricade down so that the mayor's folks could go on with their cleaning. Maximum tolerance."

Marco snorted. "Sir, did you see them squatters glaring at us? They're ready to go to war."

"Then use your head and bring that shield of yours up," the chief said. "Listen. If any residents get hurt during the relocation, it's going to make the mayor look bad."

"And if we get hurt, sir?" Marco said.

"You're going to let that happen, Marco?"

Marco banged his truncheon on his shield. "No, sir!"

"And for the last time, they're informal settlers. I don't care what you think, but that's what the media calls them."

No one ever believed that term, Juan thought. Least of all the people whose homes were to be destroyed today.

* * *

"This is it, man," Marco said. The barricade loomed. For the sorry lives the inhabitants led, they could band together when their homes were being threatened. Barbed wire was strewn across strips of corrugated metal. Various expletives were spray-painted on sackcloth.

Marco chuckled at the words. "It's not even their land, the bastards."

Juan looked at the men guarding the barricade. Many wrapped t-shirts around their heads, an ill attempt at anonymity. They started throwing rocks, which glanced off the shields. Juan looked for a familiar face among those who called them whoresons. But how would he recognize anyone? There were lines on his face now, earned through years of service. What of their own?

And if he found one, what would he do?

He recognized the nearest shanty. Aling Nena's sari-sari store, where he had gorged on sweet candy as a kid. Back in the day, he bought cheap trading cards to play with his friends. If he squinted, there was still a lighter swinging from a rope, for customers to light their newly-bought smokes.

Aling Nena was ten years dead already, and what looked like her daughter stood in front of the store, a bayong on her shoulder and a kid clutching her hand. No man moved to help her. The boy had to tug her away, a determined look in his eyes.

As Juan's row marched, the mayor's men came with their sledgehammers, tearing down the foundations of the old store.

From roofs above, masked men stood proudly, each one clutching their weapon of choice.

"Here it comes!" Marco called.

The poo poo.

They spun plastic bags in their hands, filled with cocktails of disgusting human waste. Arms hurled. Bags flew, catapulting in the air. Splat. Splat splat splat splat. Juan's men continued on, shields stained in fifty shades of brown. He too had been inoculated by time to the stench. On the ground, a pack of men started running at them with metal pipes studded with nails.

A jet of water sprayed over Juan's head, forcing the charging residents back and collapsing the rest of the barricade. The mayor's fire truck wheeled in, blasting men off the roof. One waste-filled bag ricocheted at its thrower's face. He fell, choking. Resistance withered away.

The riot police advanced. With the mob broken, policemen stepped in, ushering residents away, and apprehending those who raised a hand against them. One of the thugs broke an officer's nose. Two men pinned him to the ground and cuffed him. Broken Nose stamped his boot down the back of the thug's head, returning the favor.

Juan's head swam. The layout of the town had changed. He could no longer recognize most of the houses, which seemed to have gained extra levels since he had left. The shantytown always expanded like a festering wound, even in his time.

An old man appeared out of a side alley. He had a large bolo and fell upon the row. He slammed his blade at Marco, where the shield line was the lowest. It dug into the side of his neck, the blow heightened by rage and loss. Marco sat gently on the filthy ground, a newly-opened smile staining his riot gear with red.

Juan yelled in kind, swinging the truncheon down, down, down. It was only when the old man's head had sufficiently caved in to bring out his sunken eyes that he recognized whom he was beating to death. Then he saw a faded, familiar green door, a woman scrambling outside with the possessions she could save. She had more gray hair than ever before.

The old man who had half of his face fell. Juan's friends trampled him. He would just be another stampede victim after the day was done. One threw the bolo into the nearby creek, where the brown water carried it away, along with the blood.

Everywhere, there was the sound of power shovels clearing shanties.

Santos pulled Juan away from the row. Two of their men dragged Marco away.

"That was one tough bastard," Santos said. "This is off the record, but he got what he deserved."

"Yeah," Juan said, not listening. He was looking for the green door to their home, but couldn't find it anymore.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

I'm in.


Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012

Take Me Home
844 words

Esteb was wearing nothing but his lute when the intruder slammed his door open.

"Good Jarl!" he exclaimed, covering himself with his lute and reaching for a knife. Not that he had anything worth stealing, but poverty could make a man desperate. He took stock of his would-be thief: a young girl swathed in a brown cloak, concealing her slight form.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," the girl said, stepping in. She stank of hard travel in the country, of horses and campfire ashes.

"No you're not," Esteb said, keeping his eyes on her as she closed the door. "State your business and leave. I've got some composing to do."

The girl blinked, blushing at his nakedness. Her eyes wandered elsewhere, but there was nothing else in Esteb's cramped room but a bed, a table, and a stool. "I want to travel to the capital. Can you take me there?"

"Do I look like a guide to you? Hire a cart to take you there."

"The innkeeper said you're a traveling musician, Master Esteb," the girl said, unfazed. "I'm from far away, and I need your help to get inside. I can sing and play the lute, so I'll pretend to be your apprentice." She lowered her head. "Or be your real one, if things don't turn out well."

Esteb's hand darted to the scar on his side, what his last apprentice left for him. "Where are you from? Are you a spy? If I don't like your answer I'm going start screaming for the watch."

The girl held up a hand. "Wait! I come from a land of united states."

"Never heard of them." Had Thensa, Prasta, and Sargo forged an alliance? She looked foreign, but her command of the Argamian language was impeccable. If she really was a spy, then she would be worth an entire army.

"It would be strange if you knew. I'm sorry, but I can't say any more." She tensed up, waiting for his scream.

Esteb sighed. "If I choose to go with you, and that's an if, how will you pay me?"

"I sold my horse for coin. I'll give you all of it. If that's not enough I'll help you with your business." She looked at the worm-eaten apple on the table. "Forgive me, but it looks like you need the help."

She had a point. What did he have to lose? Gears turned in Esteb's head, grinding to a halt as his empty stomach demanded attention. He was going to regret this. "You'll have to show me that you could. Show me your lute first, if you really have one."

The girl nodded, unslinging a black case on her back and opening it, carefully undoing its metal locks. What she took out of it barely resembled a lute. It was shaped into a large bell, its finish a bright yellow. It had six strings so thin they could cut the flesh.

"That's the strangest lute I've ever seen. But at least it looks like an instrument."

"As I've said, I came from a faraway land." The girl went for the stool, when Esteb stopped her.

"Not here. Anyone can play in the comfort of one's room. Come with me to the square," Esteb said, turning his back to her as he dressed.

"If I pass your test, will you help me?" the girl said.

Esteb held up a wooden box. "You pass if you earn any."

* * *

The girl sat on the fountain's edge, her long legs dangling awkwardly as she shifted around, finding a good position. The crowd passed by without a care. Esteb trained his eyes on the box sitting at the girl's feet.

What did she remind Esteb of? A boy, freckled and innocent, fumbling a lute that didn't deserve him.

The girl tuned the strings one by one. She was steeling her nerves, Esteb knew. He had done the same before.

She nodded to him, and began. She strummed a chord, the strings making a sharp, metallic sound that pierced the bustle of the square. Her hands began to steady, the notes coming to her like old friends, comforting her.

The other half of the song emerged from her lips. Her voice was a candle about to be snuffed out, kept burning by her lute. The words were in a language Esteb didn't understand, but he could feel the meaning in his bones.

She sang of one thing, and one thing only: going home.

* * *

Esteb picked up the box, giving it a shake. He tilted his head at the lack of the sound. "Well?"

The girl shrugged, blinking back tears. "Too bad." Her voice had gone hoarse.

"The sun's too high up for sentimental songs. This isn't a campfire. You're supposed to be loud and festive."

"Sorry. I wasn't good enough." Avoiding his eyes, she stowed her lute back in its case.

"Not for them. But they weren't the ones judging you." Esteb held up a piece of silver, and dropped it in the box. "I was."

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