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Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Amused Frog posted:

Okay. I'm in and failed last week so I guess that's a :toxx:

Done. Your number encompasses three different types of Earth science; you may choose any one.


Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet
I'm stuck. Can I have a flash rule?

Apr 25, 2011

I'm a suave detective with a heart of gold in hot pursuit of the malevolent, manipulative
and the deranged degenerates who only want their

Hey, thanks Schneider! Your crit got straight to the point and it's given me some food for thought.

Also, Kaishai, flash rule me yo.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Anathema Device posted:

I'm stuck. Can I have a flash rule?

:siren: Flash Rule: :siren: A character in the story collects something. That something can be minerals, but it doesn't have to be.

Phobia posted:

Also, Kaishai, flash rule me yo.

:siren: Flash Rule: :siren: Nothing in your story can break.

I don't want this week to turn into a flash cavalcade, so past this point there will be :siren: NO MORE FLASH RULES :siren: unless they are punitive.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 18:18 on Aug 27, 2014

Apr 8, 2014

by Ion Helmet
Sure why not.


Jul 19, 2011

Line-by-line crit for Schneider Heim's story is here.

Nov 15, 2012

erm... quack-ward

Entenzahn posted:

The Fall feat. Phobia and Djeser

I want each of you to write a story about a character who has wronged, or been wronged. What I'm looking for are touching, dramatic tales of redemption, revenge, forgiveness, crap like that. No comedy.

Djeser: Ninjas
Phobia: Pirates. Also someone in your story is afraid of ducks and this is important.

Max wordcount 2500 (I'm not actually mad if you only use a few of those)
Deadline is Sat, Aug. 30th, 23.59 CEST

:siren: No extensions :siren: Hey here's an idea, how about you start writing.

I should probably mention something about how this is due in 32 hours.

Apr 25, 2011

I'm a suave detective with a heart of gold in hot pursuit of the malevolent, manipulative
and the deranged degenerates who only want their


Entenzahn posted:

I should probably mention something about how this is due in 32 hours.

QUACK. (That is thanks for the reminder in duckspeak)

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Put it all together.
Solve the world.
One conversation at a time.

I'm co judging again! I hope nobody writes anything boring!

Aug 2, 2002




Number 36 and Ironic Twist

you better have those brawls for me tonight. you better have been working your rear end off for these last two weeks and not rushing all right now.

Mar 21, 2010

The Saddest Rhino posted:

I'm co judging again! I hope nobody writes anything boring!
Ahaha you still haven't done comments for last week.

Aug 2, 2002




ok i'll sign up, if only to make rhino read another horrible story. hit me with that category

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
The prompt post is now up to date regarding numbers. Even with thirty-nine entrants so far, many fascinating Dewey decimal classes are still on the shelves, and prospective readers have ten hours before sign-ups close.

Apr 8, 2014

by Ion Helmet
Family's in town

Bowing out.

Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

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

Mercedes posted:



The loving stones on this guy! Bravo Benny, seriously! If sebmojo accepts, this is what the two of you will write for me:

The two of you should be familiar with how I write. It's like I inject speed into my eyeballs and snort a pound of coke off a hooker's rear end before I sit down and write. Well, I'm pretty certain I've never seen the two of you write some over the top popcorn story. That poo poo is about to change.

I want a Rocky Balboa vs that black dude with the American flag as shorts. I want a Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I want a Samson vs that bitch Delilah and her bastard home skillets. Gentlemen, I want an Underdog story and that motherfucker better be balls to the wall crazy or I will be cross.

You got 1,200 words and two weeks from today, midnight EST.

September 2nd is getting pretty close. I hope I don't have to yell at anyone.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh


751 words

A shard of moonlight fell across the left arm of a ten-year-old boy as he walked forward, using slow, careful steps. He wedged the balls of his feet in between dry twigs, hopped between mud patches until there was just mud and moss. When he reached the water, he slid his right foot in, toes first, then the left. He watched the ripples as they traveled across the pond’s surface to the other end where a dark and lengthy shape floated, undisturbed.

The other children teased him as he grew older, called him porepore—ghost—for the way he wouldn't speak no matter how hard they poked him or whacked him on the back of the legs, and for his tendency to suddenly appear, moving while making no noise at all. The chieftain of the tribe would make a large show of shouting at him in public, calling him an animal and a bastard, looking back at the rest of the tribe as if to say, “Ghosts don’t scare me.

But Tuvë, one of the chieftain’s wives, took a liking to him after he had hung around the women’s quarters one day, watching them skin and prepare the meat the hunters had brought back. She told him grand, looping tales of his birth, of how the rainforest fell silent the day he came into the world, how the rain had fallen upward and the birds and butterflies dove for the earth. She called him by a name he didn’t recognize—Wawëto. “See-through,” she explained. “You are invisible. You are everywhere.”

And she smiled at him, and he smiled back.

A few days later, he was in bed with his eyes closed, waiting for another story, when a hand grabbed his throat. He heard the chieftain’s voice in the dark: I will show you to respect me and my wife.

He used the grip on the boy’s throat to turn him over. He didn’t bother to cover his mouth. If the boy could’ve screamed, he would have.

It was the chieftain’s idea to send him out into the forest, as a sort of manhood ritual. “He’s old enough to help feed the rest of us,” he told the other elders, “or at least the crocodiles.”

The boy had been in the water for three hours, maybe four. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a dull green lilypad. He moved at the speed of the lilypad as it drifted, no faster.

The water was up to his chest now, and he folded himself towards the pond’s surface as he moved closer to the scaled island, still and floating. The crocodile’s eyes faced away from him, his tail twitching slightly.

The boy’s left hand gripped the knife as his arm moved underwater, inch by inch, passing under the tail, then the midsection, up towards the head. His arm moved at the speed of water, closer and closer—

His right arm clamped down on the crocodile’s upper jaw as he slashed with his left, burying the blade into the pale underside. The reptile’s head and tail arced out of the water towards each other, then flailed as the boy held on. He felt the dark blood blossom out, cloudy and warm against his body. The crocodile spasmed twice more, then lay back, limp.

In the morning, they found him asleep in his bed, his cheek resting on the crocodile’s severed head.

The youths of the village cheered him, danced and praised his victory, while the elders regarded him with skepticism, looking to the spirits that had granted him safety. The chieftain felt personal pride at the boy’s success, and placed a hand on his shoulder.

The boy looked up at him.

There was nothing in his stare, the nothingness that filled the spaces between the towering trees at night, the nothingness that even sound couldn’t touch. The chieftain couldn’t admit it, even to himself, that he’d felt the first stirrings of renewed fear in his life, stirrings that would give him violent and terrible dreams. He would wake up with a scream in his lungs, which would seep out of the bloody hole in his throat, ripped open by a crocodile fang, while he gurgled into the boy’s outstretched hand. His eyes would dim as they rolled upward past the boy who would lean over him and give him the same watchful look he gave him now, staring, always staring.

Staring through him—at what, he didn’t know.

Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 01:56 on Aug 30, 2014

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
That's 750 words without the title.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Sign-ups for Week CVIII are CLOSED. We judges look forward to having our spirits lifted by your entries.

Yes, I know it never works out that way, but hope springs eternal.

Nov 15, 2012

erm... quack-ward

Entenzahn posted:

The Fall feat. Phobia and Djeser

Deadline is Sat, Aug. 30th, 23.59 CEST

:siren: No extensions :siren: Hey here's an idea, how about you start writing.

are you loving kidding me

May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch
Just kill these dumb brawls.

Hammer Bro.
Jul 7, 2007


A minor preface with regard to fiction: I maintain that the following piece is not fiction. But it would be unwise to always take an author at face value for such claims -- at some point, they'll be lying about it. Even when sidestepping the fourth wall and insisting otherwise. That being said, I declared I'd type this, so here it is.


Emotional Nudity (787 words)

I think I might be cheating. You see, I went onto Wikipedia to research my numbers and saw an image on the right -- is that nekkid people? Indeed it was, and (click, click) at surprisingly high resolution. I scrolled down casually and settled on the crotch for a while, then went back up. Then the guilt kicked in.

"She's not even that attractive," was my first thought. I had specifics, but they were rationalizations. I have a girlfriend, you see. A little over two years and four months. She absolutely adores me, in a way that sometimes scares me. (I just stopped writing -- stalled deliberately. This is the hard part.) I love her, but not as much. (My hands are trembling.)

This is a thought I've been actively avoiding; not letting myself form it even internally. The days pass by in a generally comfortable routine. We get together a couple times a week, and sometimes I really do enjoy myself. But frequently I merely tolerate the encounter, waiting and wondering when I'll regain my freedom. I sometimes worry she doesn't know what actually makes me happy, as too often we spend great lengths of time doing (or more generally, not-doing) things that make me increasingly, visibly sad. When she asks what's wrong I'll reply morosely but politely, then maybe she'll get upset too but we'll keep doing whatever it was (not doing anything) that upset me.

The worst part is, I could be doing things to make her happy. Genuinely happy, the kind of joy that wells up inside you and brightens the sky, leaving a bookmark in the story of your life. As opposed to the sticky, life-preserver happiness we drench sloppily across our sorrows. But I don't.

I mean, sometimes I do these things, and when I do it's euphoric. Then the I-love-yous and the kissy noises are honest, reflected, and embarrassing in a way that warms the heart as well as the cheeks. But sometimes I think about these things, either generally or specifically, and I don't do them. Not even to do anything else in particular. Far too often I think fondly of her when we're apart but become anxious and uncomfortable even when she calls.

I'm going to go on one more tangent here, but I promise it's relevant. It's actually indirectly what I started writing about. You see, when I looked at that picture, first I became primally satisfied. Stimulated in the basal ganglia, or wherever it is, that lights up in women when they're involved in emotionally significant conversation and lights up in men when they see nudity. Then, and this is the precise order, I began feeling guilty. Thirdly, I wanted to masturbate.

Not, you understand, as a tribute to gluttony. Nor in response to the images and visions I was (currently) seeing. But to assuage the guilt.

Most of the times these days, and this is a sad reflection on the state of our relationship, I masturbate to escape; to withdraw. The fantasies are fleeting and the porn is rarely titillating, but it takes me somewhere else. Somewhere distant. Somewhere private, away from her and now.

And that's what's got me writing. I don't like that I exert my neurons to actively avoid thinking about the ways in which I withdraw from the relationship. I don't like acting like I'm happy when I'm not, or returning the mwa-mwas out of tradition. So I have a plan.

At first I thought I'd show her this story. That would make her cry, and destabilize our relationship. I even wondered if that's what I subconsciously wanted. But now I have a better idea: I'm going to make it honest.

I see her tomorrow. I'm going to spend the rest of the night thinking of something I can do to make her happy. Something that isn't part of the regular repertoire. I'm also going to bring up one thing which displeases me, should such a thing occur, instead of donning my usual mask of constant contentedness. I'm going to work my rear end off during business hours tomorrow; no SomethingAwful, no SoylentNews. And I'm not going to masturbate again until it's out of happiness; until I'm the one making the phone call and starting with the kissy noises just because that's how she makes me feel.

Apologies if I'm liberal with the prompt or over the word count, but I won't edit this. To do so would be to falsify what I've written, and I thoroughly want what I've written to hold true. And apologies for the bad handwriting -- I'll type this up when I get the chance, but right now I have more important things to do. Wish me luck.

Nov 13, 2012

Pain is inevitable.
Suffering is optional.
Thunderdome is forever.
I am terrible and also lame so I won't be submitting this week.

Mar 24, 2013

Will be MIA this week, like the lowest of the low.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

Entenzahn posted:

are you loving kidding me

I just assumed you meant EST when you wrote CEST, and that you also were bad at math when you said "32 hours remaining".

Tiger-Lily Streams
1758 words

Djeser fucked around with this message at 21:03 on Dec 31, 2014

Aug 2, 2002




Ironic Twist posted:



751 words

A shard of moonlight fell across the left arm of a ten-year-old boy as he walked forward, using slow, careful steps. I already yelled at you in IRC about this, but ALWAYS make your first line snappy and interesting. "moonlight shined on a boy while he walked" is not interesting He wedged the balls of his feet in between dry twigs, hopped between mud patches until there was just mud and moss. On a second read, i don't know why the manner in which he walks through the mud in the moon is important. When he reached the water, he slid his right foot in, toes first, then the left. He watched the ripples as they traveled across the pond’s surface to the other end where a dark and lengthy shape floated, undisturbed. on second read, i'm assuming this is a crocodile? it's a bit too vague. "a lengthy shape" is almost laughably saying absolutely nothing.

The other children teased him as he grew older, called him porepore—ghost—for the way he wouldn't speak no matter how hard they poked him or whacked him on the back of the legs, and for his tendency to suddenly appear, moving while making no noise at all. this is a bit of a long sentence. break it up The chieftain of the tribe would make a large show of shouting at him in public, calling him an animal and a bastard, looking back at the rest of the tribe as if to say, “Ghosts don’t scare me.I know I didn't give you a ton of words, but you could show this dynamic instead of telling me.

But Tuvë, one of the chieftain’s wives, took a liking to him after he had hung around the women’s quarters one day,passive. make the kid DO something to earn being liked by Tuve watching them skin and prepare the meat the hunters had brought back. She told him grand, looping tales of his birth, of how the rainforest fell silent the day he came into the world, how the rain had fallen upward and the birds and butterflies dove for the earth. She called him by a name he didn’t recognize—Wawëto. “See-through,” she explained. “You are invisible. You are everywhere.” but he's not invisible because all the kids make fun of him and hit him and poo poo... what exactly is he invisible to? crocs?

And she smiled at him, and he smiled back. this line would be more powerful if you mentioned earlier that nobody smiled at him, or something to that effect.

A few days later, he was in bed with his eyes closed, waiting for another story, when a hand grabbed his throat. He heard the chieftain’s voice in the dark: I will show you to respect me and my wife. is he a mind reader now? also include some foreshadowing of the chieftain looking at him talking to the wife and sulking or something.

He used the his grip on the boy’s throat to turn him over. He didn’t bother to cover his mouth. pronoun jumbles If the boy could’ve screamed, he would have. i'm assuming kid rape? i appreciate your tact in not just outright saying it, but it also leaves it a little ambiguous. also there needs to be some foreshadowing for this. something the chieftain says to him in that scene i told you to show and not tell me.

It was the chieftain’s idea to send him out into the forest, as a sort of manhood ritual. “He’s old enough to help feed the rest of us,” he told the other elders, “or at least the crocodiles.” it seems weird to say he sent him into the forest, and then next sentence he's in a river. just say "into the river."

The boy had been in the water for three hours, maybe four. never waiver like this. you are the authority of this story, do not seem like you don't know wtf you're talking about. also, it doesn't matter really if it was three or four. just go with hours, that's enough to tell me it was a long time. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a dull green lilypad. He moved at the speed of the lilypad as it drifted, no faster. i'm not really sure what this stuff is for. you failed to sink the point.

The water was up to his chest now, I thought he was floating and not moving? I'm really confused on what's happening. and he folded himself towards the pond’s surface as he moved closer to the scaled islanddon't like this turn of phrase, can't imagine what is happening here. folding yourself in the water toward something? still you just said he was moving. he's not still. if you're trying to say he's making as little movement as possible, then say that. and floating. The crocodile’s what croc? you should have built this up a little more. less description of how he's floating in the river, and more on THE loving CLIMAX. wait, the "lillypad" wasn't a croc was it? if so then you hosed that up bad. eyes faced away from him work on your pronouns, his tail twitching slightly.

The boy’s left hand pointless detail gripped the knife as his arm moved underwater The boy carefully unsheathed his knife and moved it slowly, inch by inch, passing under the tail, then the midsection, up towards the head. His arm moved at the speed of water, closer and closer—

His right arm clamped down on the crocodile’s upper jaw as he slashed with his left, burying the blade into the pale underside. The reptile’s head and tail arced out of the water towards each other, then flailed as the boy held on. He felt the dark you can't feel dark blood blossom out can you feel something blossom? i think this is a poor word choice, cloudy you can't feel cloudy and warm against his body. The crocodile spasmed twice more, then lay back, limp. for this climax, you should have a point where it looks like he's got it in the bag, but then something happens to make it seem like maybe he'll lose this fight, but then he ends up pulling it off at the last second. like maybe his hand slips and the croc turns and comes back at him with a mouthful of teeth, but he manages to dodge and stab it at the last second. always have "oh man, he's totally got this, oh no! everything is lost... but wait! yes, he made it!" aspect to a climax.

In the morning, they found him asleep in his bed, his cheek resting on the crocodile’s severed head. So i'm a little confused. they were like "go into the forest." and then he's in the river, and then he fights a croc, and then it's just over and he goes back home? why go into the river at all? why keep floating? why not just make his way to shore? exactly what was keeping him in the river? I felt like this fight should have taken place in FRONT of the boys and the chieftain. right now it seems like nobody even saw this fight?

The youths of the village cheered him, danced and praised his victory, how did they know? since he was just asleep? while the elders regarded him with skepticism, show don't tell. looking to the spirits that had granted him safety "looking to" could be phrased better. "giving credit to?". The chieftain felt personal pride at the boy’s success, and placed a hand on his shoulder. this is a weird turn around for a rapist cum exiler

The boy looked up at him.

There was nothing in his stare, the nothingness that filled the spaces between the towering trees at night, the nothingness that even sound couldn’t touch. The chieftain couldn’t admit it, even to himself, that he’d felt the first stirrings of renewed fear in his life, stirrings that would give him violent and terrible dreams. He would wake up with a scream in his lungs, which would seep out of the bloody hole in his throat, ripped open by a crocodile fang, while he gurgled into the boy’s outstretched hand. His eyes would dim as they rolled upward past the boy who would lean over him and give him the same watchful look he gave him now, staring, always staring. this future tense doesn't work for me.

Staring through him—at what, he didn’t know. who is he and him?

Thank you for actually turning in a story. I'd rather read the worst story in the world than have somebody just completely blow this poo poo off like it wasn't important. It's hella rude to challenge somebody and then not even bother to show up.

You didn't write the worst story in the world. But you didn't write the best. There are a few things that keep this story from being coherent.

1. Your pronouns are a little sloppy. You use "he and him" in the same sentence to refer to two different people. If you feel like you're saying "the boy" and "the chieftain" too much (you should always specify the antecedent to a pronoun, or else it refers back to the last proper noun) then you should restructure the way you're writing that sentence. for example: "He didn’t bother to cover his mouth." What you SAID here was the chieftain didn't bother to cover his own mouth. What i think you meant to say was that the chieftain did not cover the boy's mouth. "He didn’t bother to cover the boy's mouth." If you don't want to use the proper nouns, then make it clear it's not his own mouth. "He didn’t bother to the small mouth, as no sounds would escape either way." etc. this is what editing passes should catch.

2. You get lost a little in explaining kind of useless details to me. I think this stems from a feeling of needing to "show" everything. You can just TELL me some things. Like just tell me that he's floating down the river not moving because he's afraid of being seen by crocs. There's no need to talk about spotting lillypads out of the corner of his eye, etc. I might have misinterpreted that whole passage, because I honestly still don't really know WHAT he was trying to do. I'm just assuming and could be totally wrong. make sure you don't bury the lede. I always ask myself "what am I really trying to say here?" if it's just a simple fact to move the story forward (he floated down the river) then just SAY that. If it's a bit longer, more complex, and interesting, then I flesh it out. at least one of your editing passes should be looking to say things in a simpler way. Think to yourself "can I say this better another way?" There are a few instances where just flat out telling me a piece of info would help a lot, and save you a bunch of words to use later. which brings me to my next point...

3. you DIDN'T show me some of the things that you really could have. The relationship with the boy and the wife. The chieftain being mean to him. The chieftain's jealousy. Always ask yourself "is this interesting?" if it's not (seeing a lillypad) then think about just cutting it and telling me what the heck is going on. if yes (the boys taunting him and hitting him) then expand that out and show it in "real time."

4. your pacing. some of the stuff that happens in this story seems to be pointless. Take the boy's relationship with the wife. that acts as a catalyst for the chieftain to rape and send him into the forest, but that happens just from him seeing them together. all the other stuff seems to not matter at all. you need to make it matter, i.e. the boy needs to think "what's the point, maybe i'll just let the croc eat me," but then remembers that somebody makes him feel happy and decides to live. etc. all the stuff she said to him, while nice, didn't matter. she could have said "hey pee boy, you are a big tuna fish" and the story would have played out the same. also i don't really see how the boys making fun of him, and then respecting him at the end had anything to do with his motivations/actions. it just seemed to be kind of something that happened to him. sure it's a nice packaged story, "nerd kid gets respect" but he wasn't doing anything because of them. if you had this in your mind, then you need to say something. and finally, the main conflict in this story is between him and the croc, but really the conflict is between him and the chieftain. you need to tie the two together more directly. make the boy take his anger in the chieftain out on the croc (make it explicitly stated). then, everybody needs to see this happen. the story must make it clear that although he just defeated the croc, his real adversary, the chieftan, has not been defeated. that doesn't happen until the end.

5. the very end is a little weird/confusing. you have a little bit of something like a two-climax story. the whole thing with the croc... why did that need to happen in order for him to scare the bejesus out of the chieftan? did he have to let his guard down? why didn't the kid just do that earlier? anyway, it kind of came out of nowhere for me.

6. i didn't really get to know the boy too well. You explained some of his physical traits, but what about HIM made this story good? What sort of attributes made him go on? What were his motivations beyond "survive?" what were his hopes and dreams? You need to spill these out. I was like "poor kid being bullied..." but I never knew what he really wanted out of his village and people. I got a bit of that with the smiling at the wife, but it wasn't enough to paint a whole picture.

750 words is a pretty limited place to tell a story as complex as you wanted to tell. Generally with that limit you can really only explore one complex idea. You have several (lonliness, power, social status, mystical stuff, etc.) You could have taken out a few parts and lengthened a few other parts to make this much better. A few things could have been simplified to tell a more straightforward story, and tie it all together thematically. Unfortunately right now it's a bit of a mess, and it needs a lot of work.

still, you turned in a story. so

Ironic Twist wins the brawl against Number 36, who was a cowardly no-show and shall now see goatse whenever he visits the archive.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
Thanks for all the detail in the crit! I think I may have a problem with over complex-ifying poo poo. I definitely tried to do too much with too little.

crabrock posted:

Ironic Twist wins the brawl against Number 36, who was a cowardly no-show and shall now see goatse whenever he visits the archive.

Now That’s What I Call butt humiliation! , Vol. 36

Morning Bell
Feb 23, 2006

Illegal Hen
The Shawl 1,391 words

Grigory's family owned a sparse wooden hut, a loaf of bread, a yarn of wool, and a loom. His village, its name now long forgotten, slept in the mouth of a valley, cradled between the jagged teeth of mountains and the sunless depths of forest. That day, father had gone with the other men to Tsbilisi to barter, trade textiles for food and supplies, so Grigory sat on his lonesome, wove, and listened to Izolda sing.

Izolda! She would walk all over the village, singing old songs of hope and faded glories, and she would pick flowers for her father's shop. They never spoke, but she would shyly smile and wave each time she passed, and Grigory would turn beetroot-red and wave back. As far as he was concerned, Izolda was the most beautiful thing in all of Georgia.

He was weaving her a shawl. He only had one yarn of wool, midnight black (Izolda’s favourite colour was red). A poor weaver isn’t a fitting partner for the daughter of a merchant. He had to show her how much she meant in deeds, not words. So, Grigory worked, and listened to her sapphire voice fade into the distance. The day grew long and he grew hungry. Stomach grumbling, Grigory pushed his work aside, and sat on the cool grass with the only loaf of bread left.

A bird landed on his shoulder, and squawked as he swallowed a bite. “Sorry, friend, not for you” he said (weaving is lonely work, and one ends up talking to whatever comes by).

“Aw, come on!”, the bird squawked in a human voice.

His eyes went wide, jaw dropped. He stammered, composed himself, asked the obvious questions. The bird rolled little bird eyes.

“Listen, kid, I’ve been flying for hours! I’ll pass out and end up catfood. Spare a loaf of bread for poor old Bird!”

“I suppose… we can share. It’s all I have.” Grigory replied, still shocked, but curious. They introduced themselves as they ate. The bird was named Bird.

“You’re a good kid, Grigory. What are you weaving?”

Grigory explained.

“…And it’s all the wool I have. I would love to weave in a crown of flowers - she loves flowers dearly - but, alas, I have nothing here to weave from.”

“Nonsense! In the woods to the south, grows the heart-flower - the most magnificent thing this bird ever laid his eyes on. The petals are the brightest red, and are as strong as the sturdiest rope. Should be prefect for weaving - why are you still messing around with wool?”

Could Bird get him some? No, but Bird could show him where he could.

“Timing’s good, kid. Full moon tonight. This means the Forgotten Things are having their feast, and you know what’s for dessert!”

Of course he didn’t.

“Sweetest dish on the menu is freshly-picked heart-flower! You really need it that badly?”

He did. Forgotten Things? Don’t sound too friendly.

“Well… don’t look them in eye. If we leave now, we’ll be there by sundown. Old Bird will lead the way - but when we arrive, you’re on your own!”


They made their way south, across the valley, into the wood, Bird deflecting his questions with snide remarks. Hours passed. Night fell. Bird led him to a clearing, made his excuses, and flew off. Grigory had carried the shawl he wove with him, and now wrapped it around himself. The midnight black should shield him from prying eyes.

He heard voices from the clearing, crawled towards them. The moon was full but the grass was long. This is what he saw:

A creature with a skinny man’s body and a goat’s head sat talking to a creature with an obese man’s body and the head of a pig. Next to them was a gigantic squirrel with the head of a human infant. They sat behind a table made from a giant tree stump, and on it: plates full of bark! Piles of leaves! Twigs, flowers, rocks, grass - and in the centre, upon a golden bowl, a grand pile of the most magnificent red flowers he’d ever seen. The baby-headed squirrel picked up a birch-tree branch, bit into it, began to chew.

Grigory crept closer. His foot struck a twig, made an audible snap.

The creatures rose from the table. “Unwelcome guest!” the squirrel-creature squeaked. “Show yourself!”

Grigory stood up, heart pounding. Goat eyes, pig eyes, baby eyes, fixed upon him. Too terrified to meet their gaze, he glared at the bowl of flowers.

“Look!”, Pig-head said. “He wants our dessert!”

“Brave, for a human”, baby-head said.

“I don’t value bravery. I value manners! Do you have manners, human?”

Trembling, Grigory unwrapped his shawl. “I though…” - he stammered - “that a fine table such as as yours could use a fine tablecloth” he said, and handed it over. Pig-head turned it around in his hands. Ah! Izolda will never wear this shawl now!

“Wonderful work” Pig-head said.

“I don’t value manners”, Goat-head interjected. “I value strength! Let us wrestle, and if you pin me, I will be satisfied.”

Grigory had wrestled with the other boys of the village, and could hold his own, but he was small in stature and light. Goat-head - a full foot taller - came at him fast, dove for a leg. No time to think! Grigory sprawled, kicking legs back, and Goat-head recovered and circled. They came together, clinched, and Grigory felt the goat-thing’s strength pushing him down.

From the skies, a beat of wings! Bird circled overhead, flew down - and a white clump of bird-dropping tumbled down, right into Goat-head’s eye. The creature threw up both hands to wipe the foul stuff off, and Grigory dove low, grasped Goat-head’s legs behind the knees, drove a shoulder into his frame. They went down, Grigory circling on top, turning the corner, coming down hard to pin the flailing creature chest-to-chest. Pig-head clapped.

Goat-head stood up, visibly dejected. “Basely done,” he said, “but I am satisfied.”

“Strength? Manners? Pfft.”, Baby-head said. “I value what we Forgotten Things lack the most - love - and I feel you have it in your heart.” Pig-head snorted. Goat-head rolled his eyes.

“We will share our heart-flower” baby-head continued. “But be warned. This is no ordinary flower. It is the most beautiful in the land, but also the most delicate. A single tear, falling upon the flowers, will turn them into dust. If indeed they are for love, then you may take them.”

Goat-head sighed. Pig-head was by the table, spreading their new tablecloth. The baby-headed squirrel handed Grigory a bouquet, and Grigory muttered a thank you, turned, and started running.


When Grigory arrived, the sun was rising, and father was on the doorstep. He must’ve returned early! Grigory froze, flowers still in hand, upon seeing the fury on father’s face.

“…Gone all night! And the last of the bread, and the last of the wool? Good-for-nothing…”

He tore the flowers from his hand and they fell on the ground. Grigory hung his head, steeled it for a blow. A single tear rolled down his cheek. It struck the flowers… and they were dust.


That evening he sat outside, weaving, again, with new wool his father had purchased. He didn’t see or hear Izolda all day, his heart was gloom, and his cheek burned. He didn’t hear her soft footsteps behind him.

“Grigori?” Izolda asked as she approached. She looked nervous. He felt more scared now than he did back in the woods.

“I was out for a walk to the south today, and I was singing the saddest songs I knew because I didn’t get to see you all day. But I was watching this funny bird frolic, and then I found this flower! And, somehow, it reminded me... of you. I’m sorry, is this too forward? I know we have never spoken, I’ve never brought you flowers, but as I was playing with the bird… this feeling just came to my heart.”

She held out a single heart-flower to Grigory, batted dark eyes behind midnight-black hair, smiled shyly. The flower was beautiful, but to Grigory, Izolda was the most beautiful thing in all of Georgia.

Nov 15, 2012

erm... quack-ward

Djeser posted:

blabla Djeser vs Phobia

Disclaimer: I drunkenly logged into IRC yesterday night and yelled in chat and extended the deadline until I was back up.

I'm back up.

Djeser I hope your story is better than nothing.

Jul 26, 2011

Prompt: 359: Sea (Naval) forces & warfare - specifically 359.424: Animals in Naval Warfare
MK 9; 1,319 words
Point, two circles, thumb at me. 9-3 knew what it meant. Less than a minute later, the water crests and he emerges, the distinct pink silhouette of the training dummy draped around his dorsal fin. Phweet! I blew my whistle, tossing him a fish from my bucket. I smiled. He was getting it consistently now. I dislodged the dummy and tossed it back to the deep. Point, two circles, thumb at me. Working through the exercises over, and over, until the motions are practically muscle memory.


“Dolphins?” he said, raising an eyebrow as he sipped his coffee.

“Military dolphins,” I corrected between nibbles of danish. “I'm working for the Navy Marine Mammal Program training dolphins to do stuff. You know, recon, area denial, search-and-rescue.”

“And that works? This isn't some 'Free Willy' 'Air Bud' animal-hero bullshit you're feeding me, right?”

“Yeah. They're about as smart as your average dog. You know how smart they are.”

“I dunno! You've met my dog, yeah?”

“Hahaha, good point!”


I stood on the bow of the ship, wind rushing past me as I stared at the far horizon, the morning sun painting the overcast skies a mellow orange. It was oh-five-hundred, doing routine training exercises just off the coast. The night crew sailed out last night, dropped a couple of dummies a few knots apart. It's our job to recover them and get back quickly and safely.


My knife cut cleanly into the salmon. I scooped up a bit of flaky fish into my mouth and savored it. Mom's still got it, I thought. If only I could cut through the silence so easily. My father looked up at me, disdain in his eyes. His words still echoed in my head. Not a real Navy man. Waste of my tax dollars. Useless chum trainer. I grit my teeth and tried not to meet his gaze. I wouldn't let another dinner be ruined by him. Not again.


We were idling a few knots off the coast, lazily waiting for our charge. He was making good time. First target was pretty easy: free-floater, only twenty kilos. Took him ten minutes. Second target was harder. One-hundred kilos, in hazardous terrain. Twenty-five minutes. We'd been waiting for the third target for about forty minutes now.

The crew was starting to get a little anxious. I lit up a cigarette and right as I tried to take a puff, I heard the stomping of heavy boots. One of the crew ran up to me, a panicked look in his eyes.

“We've got a problem, chief. Blood in the water.”


I sat in the claustrophobic room for what felt like an eternity. Complete silence, outside of the gentle ticking of the clock. The sheer metal door slammed open, and a young lady dressed in business professional entered, grasping a binder of documents.

“We have some questions about your charge, sir. MK 9, unit 3.” The woman said, sitting down and rummaging through her files. “Speaking frankly, we're concerned about the quality of his training.”

I opened my mouth, finding my voice caught in my throat. “ so, ma'am?”

“We've brought other trainers in to fill in schedule gaps, and your charge consistently fails to comprehend instructions.” She said. “We would just like a quick audit of your qualifications.”

God drat stubborn useless! No...I shook those thoughts from my head. There must be a mistake here. “Of course, ma'am. I'd love to go over my qualifications in detail...”


I dropped my cigarette. “What?! Where?!” I practically screamed at the crewman.

“Just off the port stern! It's too dark to get a good look, but...” That was all I needed to hear. I took off running, making my way to the opposite end of the ship. A good half-dozen crew members were gathered around the railing, oohing and ahhing at the sight like they'd never seen a dolphin bleed before.

“Move it! Make way!” I screamed, my voice like a crack of lightning in the silent morning air. I had to shove some of the idiots of out of the way, before I took a deep breath and dove into the icy water.


I sighed as I left the cramped chamber. Her inquiry into my qualifications was ineffectual. I think she knew that as well as I did, but it still painting a concerning picture. My charge – 9-3, my dolphin – is just stubborn. He knows the instructions, he just chooses to be a petulant little poo poo when I'm not around. ...not unlike myself, I couldn't help but think as I wandered restlessly through the halls of the Systems Center.


I practically screamed at the icy embrace of the water, opening my eyes to adjust to the dark depths. I saw him, 9-3, dummy wrapped around his fin as he flailed, trying to remain stable. Looked like a heavy one, probably dropped in some impossible crevasse.

I swam over to him, gently holding him as I looked for injuries. Sure enough, I saw crimson oozing from his side, above his left pectoral fin. Looked like a gunshot. Poachers? No time to think about it. I quickly unclasped the heavy dummy, dropping it into the black depths.

I internally sighed in relief as I saw him float up to the surface, until I felt a harsh yank against my leg. I look down to see the abyss coming up to meet me, the rescue dummy tangled on my legs, bringing me to a watery grave.


I stepped outside into the warm San Diego air, watching setting sun as I make my way around the building. I rounded the corner, and spotted a crowd, thirty or forty strong, carrying picket signs and screaming harsh nothings. I sighed. The 'hip thing' to do nowadays was protest animal abuse, whether or not any abuse was actually happening.

However, my car lie on the other side of that crowd. I braced myself, keeping a good grip on my gear, and muscled my way through the crowd. I tried to ignore their jeers, but after day-in day-out of hearing the same crap over and over, it starts to grate on you. “Dolphins wouldn't save you if you didn't force them to!” I hear in the distance. I sighed. Maybe she's right.


I looked up at the surface, the orange morning sky just barely visible as I sink further and further down. I felt the last of my breath leave me, feeling myself grow dizzy and losing conciousness. This is it, I thought. Moments before I blacked out, I saw the silhouette of a torpedo, or a shark, or...something, moving quickly toward me.

And then all goes black.


“Well, Mr. Lyons, I must say that's quite the story you've spun. Sinking down, tangled on a dummy, rescued by your fishy friend.”

“Dolphin.” I corrected. “9-3's a dolphin.”

The woman sighed. “Of course, my apologies.” She cleared her throat. “I've brought this situation to the bigwigs, and they want you and 9-3 off active duty for a while. Of course, you're free to visit him, if you'd like.”

I smiled. “I'd like that very much.” It was, after all, the very least I owed him.


I tipped my toe into the cool waters of the pen, before jumping in. 9-3 was lazing swimming about, his flipper healing from the earlier exercises. I tried my best to slowly sneak up on him, but he knew I was there. He knew from the moment I poked my toe in. He swam up to me, splashing water on me. I wasn't sure if he was trying to say 'You're an idiot' or 'I'm glad you're okay', but I knew how to respond. I splashed him back! The day grew into night as he and I relaxed. I smiled to myself. I could get used to this job yet.

Pseudoscorpion fucked around with this message at 00:23 on Sep 1, 2014

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Kaishai posted:

Chairchucker (521 Celestial Mechanics)

Straight into the browser, the way God and 1 am intended.


The first customer of the day was a very good customer, in that he appeared to be exceptionally wealthy, and know nothing about hovercars. Ted inferred this from the fact that he had a top of the line Turbo 5000 with the remains of a space weasel lodged in one of the left engines. Ted poked the thing with a spanner. "Yep. Found your problem. This space weasel is definitely not manufacturer standard."

The customer frowned. "Spare me the technical details. I need this thing up and running by tonight. I have a very important date."

"How did this feller even get past your repulsor shields?" asked Ted.

"My what shields? I said no technobabble!"

Ted smiled, and Ted nodded. "No worries sir. Will have this thing back in the air by later this afternoon." And then the customer left. "Celeste!" he called. "Want you to have a look at this for me!"

Celeste popped her head of the staff room. "What? Oh my. Is that the Turbo 5000? It is!" Celeste was wearing her pink overalls today, the ones with rainbows on them, which Ted was relatively certain she wore only to mess with him. He refused to make a comment; she would not be granted the satisfaction of knowing it still got to him. Celeste ran over to the vehicle, draped herself over it, and hugged the bonnet. "It's beautiful!" she said.

Ted nodded. "She's not a bad little model. Have a look at the left engine."

Celeste had a look and gasped in outrage. "Disgusting. Some people shouldn't be allowed to own nice things."


"I mean, how even? The repulsor shields?"

Ted shook his head. "Don't think he knows how to use them. We might have to set them up for him."

Celeste nodded and patted the injured engine. "Don't worry baby, we'll make sure the bad owner can't hurt you through his own stupidity anymore." She grabbed her tools - with matching purple handles that Ted refused to acknowledge - and slid under the hovercar.

"You know," said Ted, "we've got the cranes for a reason."

"Pffft," said Celeste. "I can't work standing up. Hurts my neck trying to stare upwards."

Ted shrugged and let her get to it.

The second customer was an OK customer, I guess. She just wanted replacement windscreen wiper arms. Ted attached them and rang up the order, and she was on her way.

The third customer was not a very good customer. The third customer's vehicle did not appear to need any attention at all, and on top of that, the customer, instead of attempting to buy something or make Ted richer in some other way, produced a shooter from his pocket and some hired muscle from the back of his car, and told Ted not to make any sudden movements. "Good morning," said the robber. "I believe there's one other person working today, isn't that right?"

"Under this here vehicle I'd say, boss," said the hired muscle. "My word, is that the Turbo 5000?"

"What?" asked the robber. "Who cares? Get whoever it is out from under there and keep an eye on him. Me and-" he peered at Ted's nametag "-Ted are going to have a lovely walk to the office." And he made poking motions at Ted with his shooter, to indicate that Ted should go first and should particularly not try any funny business.

"Not really sure what you're after," said Ted, as they reached the office.

The robber shook his head and swung the painting back, revealing a safe. "A painting with hinges? Not the best of hiding spots."

Ted sighed. "Perhaps I should've sprung for the slightly more expensive model. Oh well, you live and learn."

The robber gestured towards the safe with his gun. "Be a good lad and open that up for me, will you?" Ted walked over to the safe, placed his hand on the print pad, put his eye to the iris scanner, provided a urine sample, and sang the third verse of Mustang Sally. "That's gross," said the robber. "Do you know how many germs are transferred through hand contact?" Ted shrugged and opened up the safe. "Is this some kind of a joke?" asked the robber. "What do you call that?"

Ted picked up one of them. "You've gotta keep them in plastic bags," he said. "Otherwise they lose their value. This one's a Captain Galacto first issue."

"OK. Right. Fine." The robber waved towards the rest of the comics with his shooter. "I ain't leaving here empty handed, so you might as well pick them up and take them back to my hovercar for me." Ted obeyed the waggling shooter, and was soon marched back from the office with a pile of comics in his arms.

When they returned, they found Celeste and the hired muscle both on the other side of the Turbo 5000, admiring it. "Oh hey, guys," said Celeste. "I was just showing Olaf here the garage. And we were admiring the Turbo 5000 again, which is a pretty amazing vehicle, all things considered."

"I told you to keep an eye on her," said the robber.

"I am!" said Olaf. "But she offered to show me around the garage, and I figured I could keep an eye on her while we did that."

"Olaf really knows his car parts, Ted" said Celeste. "Haven't you been talking about us taking on another worker?"

"Well," said Ted, "that's true, but I think he's otherwise employed right now. By this guy. Who's robbing us."

Olaf shrugged. "I'm not really locked into a contract or anything, and honestly I'm not all that passionate about the whole 'hired muscle' thing."

"You traitorous oaf!" said the robber, and pointed his shooter in the general direction of Olaf. Ted threw himself to the ground, taking care to avoid any damage to the comic books. As the robber fired the shooter at Olaf, it might've occurred to him to wonder why neither Celeste nor Olaf looked particularly worried.

Ted picked himself up again and looked down at the robber, who had dropped the twisted remains of his shooter and was clutching his ruined hand. "Repulsor shields are working fine, by the way," said Celeste.

Amused Frog
Sep 8, 2006
Waah no fair my thread!
Thunderdome Week CVIII: The Dewey Decimal System

Topic: Geology, Hydrology and Meteorology

Tipping Point
1399 words

Dirt was smeared across Manya’s face. Her hands and forearms caked in it. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and left another streak, plastering down hairs that escaped from her ponytail.

‘The sun’s nearly at peak,’ came a voice in her ear.

‘I know. I just want to finish this ditch.’

‘It’ll still be there this evening.’

‘I’ve got another twenty to do this evening. I don’t want to fall behind.’

‘Manya, we’re months behind. We’re going to be off target by years at this rate. You need to calm down about it.’

Manya didn’t reply. She splashed more water into the pit in front of her and smoothed out the hardening edges. A light breeze swirled ash from the ground, some landing in the pit and becoming a black sludge. It wouldn’t last. The sun would bake it within a minute.

‘I’m not coming and carrying you.’

‘I’m on my way.’

The last thing she did was drop in the hygrometer. The heat exhaustion hit her when she stood. She stumbled, blinked up at the sun and turned to base. The walk that took 45 minutes this morning took an hour and a half back. The plains of ash stretched ahead of her through the heat haze, obscuring the grey, burnt hills in the distance. Hot and stale gusts of wind blew around her, sticking ash to her face and tangling it in her hair.

The only thing close to a landmark in the uniform grey was the expanse of white rock that capped their base. ‘White to reflect the heat,’ Corbin would sing as he swept the ash off each morning. And it did. The entrance was right in the middle. Stupid, Manya thought, making people walk across half the thing to get inside. It meant the last hundred metres back were always the worst. The sun was already searing hot, blindingly bright and made it feel like the whole landscape could burst into flame all over again. The white rock made it unfathomably worse.

‘Are you back yet?’ came the voice.

‘Just outside. Open up,’ Manya managed.

‘Christ’s sake, Manya. Don’t stay outside so long.’

The hatch opened and Ali’s head appeared. ‘You look awful. Get inside.’

Half an hour inside and she already felt better. Water, cool air, an electrolyte pack, everything a dehydrated body needed. A knock on the door preceded Corbin. ‘How was today’s death march?’

‘Come with me tomorrow and find out.’

Corbin grinned. ‘No way. Much happier in the dirt.’

‘How’s that going?’

‘Perfectly. Textbook terraforming. Same as yours.’

‘But no results?’

‘None. I don’t know why you still ask.’

Manya rolled off her bed, ‘because there will be one day. I need to check my numbers.’

‘I looked for you. Zeroes across the board.’

‘I’d like to see myself.’

Corbin shrugged. ‘Go for it. Maybe your pits have magically filled with water in the last five minutes. Maybe Ali went out and pissed in one.’

The two-hundred metre cap gave them enough room for a 100 metre excavation. 90 of those were taken up with air purifiers, moisture retainers, water filters, automated hydroponic systems, equipment storage, medical supplies, emergency rations, vitamin supplements and, most importantly, their seeds.

That left ten for three tiny bunks, a shower in a closet, and the monitoring room, which had all three of their stations side-by-side, plus a small table next to a food dispenser. Manya sat at her station and started pulling up the figures. Corbin had been right: zeroes across the board. Almost two years of digging pits and not one had retained a drop of moisture.

He had followed her into the room. ‘Told you,’ he said. Manya just nodded. Corbin had given up and wanted her to do the same. He still did his job but he had no hope it would actually work. Manya had been checking his numbers every day and he hadn’t slacked once. If he’d missed one day she could blame him for the lack of water in her pits, claim it had been there but had drained into the earth around them. His work was impeccable though. Solid foundations with nothing for water to leak into, the perfect material for her to work on top of.

As for Ali, her work went off without a hitch. She monitored approaching winds and hot and cold fronts, saw humidity rise and fall, clouds drift back and forth, even the occasional rainfall, but any moisture didn’t stick around. The ash didn’t hold it even with Manya’s pits.

All three of them had gone over Manya’s work and found no fault. Everything said their efforts should be paying off, but every morning the stations spat out the same numbers. No ground moisture, no water, no way to grow a thing. The landscape remained inhospitable. Uninhabitable. The seeds remained unsown.

Ali and Corbin were nothing but understanding, they knew Manya was doing everything she could, but she still felt she was letting them down. Her part of the project was failing. They’d die out here with nothing and Earth would stay dead.

At 15:48, temperatures started dropping. By 18:02, it was cool enough for Manya to head out. She spent another four hours working until the light faded and it started getting dangerously cold. Ali was pestering her over the radio again, so Manya finished the pit she was working on and hurried back to base, the cold air pushing her to run and stay warm.

Night softened the landscape. The burnt, desolate plain could be anything under the glow of the moon. A lake, grassland, a beach if you stretched your imagination enough. Manya preferred to stare at the sky though. Watch the stars and the moon in the too-clear air. She was staring up at them when she tripped, dropping her bag and equipment in a wind-blown pile of ash.

She swore and started scooping everything up, spitting out ash and trying to shake as much off as she could. Once she thought she had everything, she carried on to base. Ali let her in as she shivered in the cold.

The next morning, Manya was already at her monitoring station when Corbin and Ali stumbled in. ‘Eager beaver,’ muttered Corbin. Manya didn’t reply, just continued staring at her screens.

‘Come on then, what’re you looking at?’ Ali asked once she’d got her breakfast from the dispenser, ‘you’d normally be out there digging already.’

‘I’m not sure,’ Manya said, ‘I’ve got readings but they’re weird. I wanted you two to have a look.’ She spun a screen to face Ali, showing the hygrometer reading from the first pit she’d dug.

‘0.1? Holy poo poo, Manya!’

‘Praise the lord,’ Corbin muttered from the table, ‘a drop of water, humanity is saved.’

Manya didn’t say anything. She brought up the readings from the group of pits the first was part of.

‘All of them? All of them are at 0.1?’ Ali asked, her eyes widening at the screen.

‘Yeah,’ said Manya, ‘unless something’s gone wrong.’

Now, Corbin was interested and joined them at the screen. ‘This might actually be something. It’s slow going but it’s a result.’

‘That’s not all though,’ said Manya, and pulled up the figures showing the pit average across their entire sector.

‘Everywhere? We’ve got that everywhere?’

‘Something could be wrong with the hygrometers.’

‘With every single one? What’re the chances of that?’

Manya let a smile break through her scepticism. ‘I still need to check properly, but here’s what’s really weird.’ She pulled up a single hygrometer’s number.

‘0.1 again,’ said Corbin, ‘so?’

‘This one isn’t in a pit. I must have dropped it last night on the way back to base. I realised when I got back and was going to deactivate it this morning when I saw this.’

‘Not in a pit?’

‘Yeah. No pit. That’s just the background moisture.’

Ali and Corbin exchanged glances.

‘I think,’ said Manya, ‘we weren’t measuring water in the pits because it wasn’t staying there. It was too spread out to be detected. We’ve been watering the whole basin. It’s hills all around, right?’

‘Yeah, about ten miles in each direction,’ answered Corbin, ‘we can’t have changed all of that though.’ He looked at Ali, ‘can we?’

‘Only one way to find out,’ Manya said, grinning, ‘load up on hygrometers. You two are joining me topside after all.’

Apr 29, 2007

Why would an ambulance be leaving the hospital?

Prompt: 423 English Dictionaries

St Martin's Summer (1398 words)

The Lord Protector died on a Friday, and messengers raced across the land, crying the news. Lying on top of a haybale, Bess was the first of the family to hear. She went tearing into the house, shouting so loud it woke the baby and drew a curse from her father. When she told the news he exchanged a dark glance with Bess's mother and went out, leaving his supper.

"What troubles Daddy?" Bess asked as her mother, pale-faced, rocked the baby.

"Cromwell is dead."

"But Daddy doesn't like Cromwell," Bess said, and her mother threw her the wide-eyed stare that meant trouble if she didn't hush up.

Bess's father came back late. She heard him whispering with Mama. In the morning Bess found her mother busy loading their few good possessions onto the cart, fussing over pots and pans. "What is it?" Bess stared about her at the mess. "What has happened?"

Mama's eyes were shadowed. "We're going to live somewhere else, that's all," she said, and when Bess, horrified, tried to protest, Mama sent her off to watch the baby. They set out late that afternoon, leaving behind everything Bess had ever known. She sat on top of the cart and stared back at the house, swiping away tears that blurred her last sight of home.

Other families were on the move. They met at a crossroads, and the men talked quietly, standing apart. Bess's playmate Harry told her solemnly that the King's army was coming to murder everyone, but he also claimed that the dead King had raised them out of dragon's teeth, so she suspected he didn't know what he was talking about.

For Bess, the next few days were exciting. They rode on the cart and, thanks to the unseasonal warmth, slept in and around it too. Bess liked to sleep underneath, where she could pretend she had a roof over her head. The adults all seemed to worry that the new Lord Protector wasn't any good, and that the old King, who had been killed long before Bess was born, might have friends who would start the old war back up again. Bess knew about the old war. There were still villages that were empty, burned out and never lived in again. Harry said they were filled with ghosts.

As they travelled north, they gathered different kinds of people, and Bess ran about from cart to cart, making friends. There was a wheelwright from Canterbury. A miller and his wife and their fat baby, whom Bess doted upon. And there was an old, old man, white-bearded, who rode a donkey and seemed to have no good word for anyone. Bess found him most fascinating. He owned books, and she was eager to find out what they were about. He had the clipped accent of big city people, and Bess's father told her to let him be. So naturally, she sought him out the first time her father was occupied, sidling up to him after the evening meal.

"Sir," she said, "I thought to ask if you need anything." This was a good opener. Adults liked helpful children.

The old man peered at her under his eyebrows. "What would I need from you, girl?"

Bess fidgeted. "A cup of ale? Or I could sing for you a song, or read to you."

"Farmers' daughters can't read."

"I can!" Bess felt her face turning red. "My father showed me!"

The old man smiled and that made her feel more cross, but his tone was gentler when he said, "And why did he?"

"He says God loves a girl who reads." Bess stuck her chin out. "He says girls should read just as much as boys. So we know things without having to be told them."

"I see." The old man's smile had stayed. "I think your father may be right. I used to be a schoolmaster in London, did you know that?"

"No!" Bess had never met a schoolmaster before. Nobody in her village went to school, unless they were going to be clergymen. "I'm Bess," she said then, seizing on the moment.

"I," said the old man, "am Thomas." He saw Bess's gaze drifting to the books he held in his lap and said, "Yes?"

"Please sir," Bess said, "what books are they?" She had only ever held one book in her life; the Book of Common Prayer that her father treasured dearly.

"Well," said Thomas, "this one is not for young eyes." He patted the thicker volume. "Its title is 'Leviathan' and the man who wrote it was wrong about almost everything."

"Then why--" Bess began.

"Why read it at all?" Thomas shook his head, his expression growing darker. "What good would it do me to read books that tell me things I already think? I know what I already think. I wish to read new thoughts."

Bess considered this. "Well, you're very old," she said. "I'm only young. I don't know what I think yet."

She hadn't meant it as a joke, but Thomas laughed, and from that moment, they were friends. Bess's father gave up his resistance to the idea. Drifting off to sleep one evening, Bess heard her mother say something about how it didn't matter anyway because the old gentleman would surely die soon. It upset her so badly that she crept out in the night, after her parents were asleep, to find Thomas under his makeshift little tent. "Thomas," she whispered, and he grunted. "Will you die soon?"

"Anyone might die soon," he muttered, and would say no more, but the next day Bess noted how thin he was, and how sometimes he coughed as if his heart would rupture, and she went about in an agony for two whole days, fussing around Thomas until he shouted at her to give him rest.

The next day was Sunday, but since they had no clergyman, there was no sermon. Feeling gloomy, Bess went to see Thomas and found him sitting by a tree. "I have news for you, Bess," he told her as she came to sit beside him. "I shall not be travelling further north. My way is to the east; I have family there."

Bess wanted to argue, but she could see from the set of his jaw that he meant it, so she bit her lip and looked at her hands instead. "I shall miss you," she whispered, and felt her face growing hot and her eyes starting to prickle. She rubbed at them with the heels of her hands, furious with herself. Thomas patted her shoulder with his light hand and they were quiet together for a while.

"Now, Bess," Thomas said, once she had overcome her tears. "I wish to give you a gift, since you've been good to me. No," he added to her wide-eyed stare, "not 'Leviathan'. I don't think your father would approve of that. But I have this other book." It was a slim, battered volume and she took it from his hands with great care. "My father wrote this," Thomas said, "and he meant it to help those who wished to learn more. It will help you to understand what people say." Bess read the title. 'A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Usual English Words' by Robert Cawdrey. "He wrote it in the old days," Thomas said, "while the old King still lived. I helped him to publish it. They used to sell it on a stall, outside St Paul's Church."

"Thank you," Bess whispered. Nobody had ever given her such a gift. "Thank you - I promise I'll look after it."

Thomas smiled and patted her head, but he seemed distracted. "Your mother is calling you," he told her, and he didn't get up to follow when she ran back to the cart.

Her father frowned at the book, but handed it back to Bess with warnings that she had better look after it. Bess didn't tell them what Thomas had said about where the book came from; she wasn't sure, in these days, what would make adults decide what was safe to learn and what wasn't.

They moved on that evening, and Bess sat on the cart and looked back. Thomas stood by his donkey, leaning on the animal's broad grey back. She watched him through that treacherous blur of tears, until the dying light stole him away.

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition


Nethilia fucked around with this message at 09:36 on Dec 4, 2014

Mons Hubris
Aug 29, 2004

fanci flup :)

Prompt: 594 Mollusca and Molluscoidea

This is kind of a big sappy turd, but I guess you gotta start somewhere!

The Last Diver (1,380 words)

Great-Grandmother watched as Hatsuo slid on her fins and knotted a scarf tightly under her chin, completely covering her black hair. Great-Grandmother had never worn fins or a wetsuit like Hatsuo, but Hatsuo was only fourteen and times were different now. Eighty years ago, Great-Grandmother would have worn a white robe to dive if tourists were around, or only a loincloth if they weren’t. She beckoned Hatsuo to her and ensured that the rope around Hatsuo’s waist was tied properly so that it wouldn’t slip off of her in the water. The other end of the rope was looped and tied around the reinforced wooden bucket, about two feet in diameter, that would act as both Hatsuo’s buoy and her receptacle for whatever she could find in the sea, the same one her Great-Grandmother had used for so many years. The air was crisp under the overcast sky, but fortunately the wind was still calm and the waves weren’t intense.

Hatsuo exhaled sharply. “What if I can’t do it, Great-Grandmother? It will be so embarrassing.”

Great-Grandmother placed a wrinkled hand on Hatsuo’s cheek. “Don’t worry, girl. You swim like a fish. You’re much better than I was at your age. And besides, who will know but you and I? None of your classmates even know you’re here, and they wouldn't care if they did. Even if you don’t catch anything, we’ll tell your mother you made a huge haul and sold it at the market.”

Hatsuo smiled, though her knees were still trembling. “Okay, Great-Grandmother. But you’ll know. I don’t want to let you down.”

“I am proud of you already, girl. Your grandmother and I could never convince your mother to learn this art. She wanted to go to University. It was for the best as you well know – your grandmother and I never could have worked for a big company in Tokyo.” And she added with a wink, “At least she can afford to put you on a train to come visit me.”

“I love visiting you, Great-Grandmother. It’s so serene here.” Great-Grandmother grinned at this. Hatsuo gazed out at the wide expanse of water and rapped her knuckles twice on the side of the bucket. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said.

“Remember, it doesn’t have to be oysters,” said Great-Grandmother. “Urchins, abalone, sea cucumber – any would make a great catch. People only pay for the pearls from the pearl farms now, so just catch whatever looks good.”

She pulled her goggles down over her eyes, adjusting them to create tight suction, and waddled toward the water, carefully placing her fins on the flattest parts of the slippery rocks. It was hard to keep her balance while carrying the bulky bucket. Once the water was halfway up her shins, she sat down on a big rock and lay flat in the water. She glided out from the rocks, dragging the bucket behind her.

Great-Grandmother perched on a large rock and watched intently as the wooden bucket got farther away. Though she was still short, Hatsuo was a chubby girl, which the other pearl divers used to say was a good trait because a little fat provided insulation from the frigid depths. In her youth, on especially deep dives when she would have to hold her breath for two minutes or more, Great-Grandmother sometimes felt as if she would freeze before she could reach the surface with an armload of oysters and abalone. However, in the past couple decades, the water had grown so warm that Great-Grandmother didn’t shiver even when she dove fifty feet deep. But this brought its own challenges. The seaweed that provided the primary food source for the shellfish thrived in the cold temperatures and was disappearing at an alarming rate, making the bounty harder to find. Worse, the water was becoming cloudier, requiring a diver to walk her hands along the sea floor, groping blindly for something to take back to shore. This was especially troublesome when looking for sea urchin, which could blend in with dark rocks. Moreover, where one might have found a treasure trove of abalone lying on the seabed fifty years ago, now she might have to overturn stones and search in crevasses on rocky walls under the water. A single strong current could hurl a diver headlong into the rocks, a proposition made even more dangerous by the spiny, razor-sharp barnacles that clung to them. Since turning ninety, Great-Grandmother had become too frail to face these perils.

Hatsuo was twenty yards from the shore when she gave a peace sign to Great-Grandmother and submerged headfirst, kicking her fins above the surface of the water. Though she had been swimming in these waters countless times, it appeared to her to be an entirely different world when viewed through the eyes of a pearl diver. The blue expanse seemed to go on forever, and small schools of silvery bait fish flitted harmlessly around her. The water wasn’t churning, and she immediately she spotted a fat purple sea urchin clinging to the sea floor next to a blue and orange spotted starfish. Holding her breath as Great-Grandmother had taught her, Hatsuo propelled herself to the bottom and delicately pried loose the spiny urchin, taking care not to grip it too tight. Reemerging at the surface, she held up the urchin for Great-Grandmother to see and placed it in the bucket. She could hear Great-Grandmother yell something from shore, but she couldn’t tell what. Emboldened by her success, Hatsuo dove again, spotting an iridescent abalone shell sticking out from under a stone. She dove several meters to reach it, and turning over the stone also uncovered an oyster, so she scooped it up as well. She returned to the surface, and into the bucket they went.

The next several dives were not so successful. Hatsuo could not hold her breath for longer than thirty seconds, and she was scared to probe in the nooks and crannies of the rocky reefs, fearing that she might wake a moray eel or disturb a hidden lionfish, which Great-Grandmother had warned her could be aggressive to divers. Now that she had secured the most obvious quarry, she had no idea what to do. She hadn’t even found a sea cucumber. Great-Grandmother would be so upset that she hadn’t been more successful. After fifteen or sixteen more fruitless dives, about half an hour later, Hatsuo became too tired to go on. She paddled back to the shore, dragging her bucket behind her, slapping her fins on top of the water with each kick, cursing the ocean that had borne so few treasures for her to show Great-Grandmother.

Hatsuo stood up, panting, ripped off her goggles and fins, and threw them disgustedly in the bucket with her urchin, abalone, and oyster. The shellfish rattled in the bucket like ice cubes in a tumbler, their hollow clunk taunting Hatsuo.

“I was terrible, Great-Grandmother. I couldn’t find anything,” she said, red-faced and welling up with tears. “I’m sorry I let you down. I thought I was ready.”

“Stop crying,” said Great-Grandmother. “You will learn. The important thing is that you tried.”

Hatsuo wiped her nose. “Will you be upset if I never make a living of diving like you? I want to go to University too. Mother can help me get into a good school.”

“I know, girl. I could never be upset with you. Your mother never even tried to learn to dive. She cared only for her studies. I shouldn’t complain – it was what your grandmother and grandfather wanted, and what I wanted too, really – but I secretly worried that our tradition would be lost. My great-grandmother dove for pearls, and my grandmother and my mother. I was so relieved when your mother had you instead of another boy. You are the last chance to keep our legacy alive, and you are fulfilling it, no matter what else you decide to do in life.”

Great-Grandmother helped Hatsuo untie the rope around her waist and pulled the abalone out of the bucket. “You did well,” Great-Grandmother said. This is a large one. We will look for more tomorrow.” Great-Grandmother led Hatsuo back to her small seaside home and prepared lunch, a seafood soup of urchin, abalone, and oyster.

Nov 15, 2012

erm... quack-ward
929 - Genealogy, names & insignia

934 words

The other knights looked down on Nathan. "Sir Doggie" they called him, "He who does not bite." The symbol of house McCornish was a brown bulldog on a yellow background, and the real problem everyone had with Nathan, of course, was that he was no real knight.

When the king had urgently assembled all the realm’s knights at his court, Nathan had grabbed his old family sword and shield and closed down the smithy to follow the call. He had dreamt of being a knight since he’d been a child, and now that the king had needed every sword he could get, who’s to say they wouldn’t let him help?

The way to the castle had been long and hard. He’d had no horse, and no company. People tended to think you were crazy when you painted a pet on a piece of metal and went on a voyage like that. Some had even thought that he might be a vagabond or a bandit, and shooed him away, prompting him to hide and walk off the path for hours.

At first the castle guards had laughed at him, the adventurer that had set out with a made up house symbol, wielding an old, welted, unsheathed sword, waiting in front of the castle walls, pretending to guard it against threats from the outside when it had gotten clear that he wasn’t going to be let in. “A dog guards his master,” Nathan had said when he was asked why he wouldn’t leave. And the king had been amused, and allowed him to stay. He still wasn’t given a proper audience, and nobody briefed him on what he was supposed to do, but now he patrolled the castle every night and nobody bothered him, except for the knights who kept mocking him.

There were only rumors of the reason the knights had assembled: a dragon had been spotted in the mountains. Dragons had been a matter of legends for centuries, so many knights had dismissed the rumor as hogwash.

When the king finally invited all the knights into his throne room and spoke to them of the great winged beast, some doubted their ruler’s mental state.

“Insane,” one knight muttered, silently enough not to be heard by the guard.

“I believe him,” Nathan whispered. “A dog believes in his master.”

“Whatever,” the knight said.

The first party of knights was sent on the hunt the same evening. They never returned. More would follow after them, and more after them, all the while the castle was prepared to become dragon-proof. The garrison of archers grew significantly, many of them recruited from talented knights. Stakes were built into the battlements, to deter the beast from crashing into them. Many a self-proclaimed wizard or scientific genius even sold fireproofing potions, fireproofing wall decor or, in one very impressive case of salesmanship, an anti-gravitas orb that should send the beast tumbling down from the skies.

Nathan had been in the castle for about two months when the rumors of the dragon had finally been replaced by something real. Nothing overt at first, a screech in the far-off distance, or a rapidly moving green dot that some guard claimed he’d seen from some tower at night. A handful of knights left then, but not Nathan. “A dog is loyal to his master,” he told the housemaid as they went to sleep in the servant barracks one night. She ignored him.

The dragon attacked the day after.

It announced itself with a mighty roar. The beast's appearance impressed Nathan as it approached the castle walls - a flying behemoth of green scales, glittering in the fiery morning sun. Its wings swung with a careful grace, keeping it afloat with strong, careful movements that charged the air around them.

The archers fired their arrows at the beast, but none of them amounted to anything. The king himself ran onto the battlements and used the anti-gravitas orb, only there were no instructions so he launched it at the dragon. It was short, flying over the moat in a wide arc and fell to the ground, crashing into pieces like some kind of useless glass bulb. Arrows kept pelting the dragon until his roar boomed across the battlements, flames shooting out of its nostrils, illuminating the steel helmet that was still stuck between its teeth. The archers disappeared then, leaving Nathan and the king behind. The stench of urine was overpowering.

The dragon swooped down at them, straight towards the big man with the fancy shining thing on his head. Fangs glistened in its wide-open mouth. The king inclined his head in shame and waited for the inevitable.

Nathan raised his welted sword. He ran towards the edge of the battlement. He let out a mighty war cry and jumped. As he passed the dragon, he threw the sword at it, a whirling lightning of steel that made its way straight for the eye of the beast.

There was a wet sound, and a screech.

As Nathan dived back up from the moat, the dragon was high up in the sky, writhing, twisting. It kept well above the fortress, flew circles around it, screaming fire. Finally it left, and was never seen again.

The king’s men pulled Nathan out of the river. The king himself was there, and he smiled.

“I think it’s high time you be knighted, young warrior,” the king said as Nathan stood dripping before him.

“A dog guards his--”

“Yes, you have already said that.”

“Can I have a new sword?” Nathan said.

“No,” the king said. And that was that.

Dec 29, 2009
Thought and Memory
1,055 words. Prompt: Mental Processes and Intelligence.

The underside of the bed was cramped, dark and, most importantly, entirely devoid of cat.

"Well, where did you see him last?" Marie asked through a facefull of dust.

"I don't know dear. Where did I see him last?"

Marie clenched her teeth. "That's what I asked you, Mrs Hemlock. Well, he's not under here anyway. Ow!" Her head bounced off the low slats of the bed as she tried to negotiate her way out backwards.

Mrs Hemlock was standing uncertainly in the middle of the room, old and hunched over in a faded black dress. She wrung her hands when Marie finished extricating herself. "Oh deary me, you do look terribly dusty, Jennifer dear. Won't you have some tea?"

Marie sighed and tried to brush the dust from her dress. "I'm Marie, Mrs Hemlock. Jennifer's in the fields with her Ma today, she asked me to come instead."

"Oh that's very lovely of you. Do come in. Tea? What was your name, dear?"

"Marie," she said with a sigh. "It's Marie. When Jennifer said you were a witch, I thought she meant you were an actual witch, not a dotty old lady."

"A witch? Oh deary me. I'm a witch, did you know that, Hugh?" She looked around. "Hugh? Oh no, where has Hugh gone? My poor Hugh! You must help me look for him, Jennifer dear!"

Marie sat heavily on the bed. "We've been looking for your cat for the last hour, Mrs Hemlock. Don't you remember?"

"Have we? Oh. Did we find him yet?"

"No. He's not inside, that's for certain." She looked around the single room of the cottage, the opened cupboards, the wardrobe pulled away from the wall. The dust-heavy cavern beneath the bed had been the last cat-sized space left in the room.

"Oh dear oh dear. What ever shall we do?" The old lady hobbled the length of the room.

"Oh. Would you like some tea, Jennifer?"


Marie looked up at the thatched roof of the cottage from the garden. An ancient oak spread its branches from the end of the garden, almost touching the eaves.

"Does he like climbing trees, Mrs Hemlock? Maybe he's climbed onto the roof?" She craned her neck. "Do you have a ladder?"

Mrs Hemlock peered around the garden. "Do you think he might be on the roof?"

Marie clenched her fists. "We could look. Do you have a ladder?" she repeated.

"Oh dear, I wouldn't know about that. Do we have a ladder?" She pottered towards to the house. "Would you like some tea?"

Marie threw her hands in the air and walked down the garden towards the shed buried in ivy at the far end.


Ten minutes later, Marie found herself balanced at the top of an ancient ladder that creaked alarmingly beneath her feet. The thatch beneath her hands was old and mossy, slippery as she tried to climb it. Eventually she managed to get enough purchase to pull herself onto the roof. Digging the toes of her boots between the bundles of rushes, she worked her way slowly up the slope towards the chimney breast.

The going got easier when she reached the ridge and she took a moment to gather her breath, sat astride it. From her new vantage point, she looked around. There, barely visible over the brick of the chimney, was a black furry shape that didn't quite belong.

"Got you!" she said, rising to hands and knees and shuffling along the ridge of the roof towards the chimney. She reached it, pulled herself up to her feet and realised she was still a good foot short of the top of the brickwork.

"Oh for all..." she said, looking up at the ledge. "You had better be worth it, you blasted cat." She reached up and leapt for the top of the chimney, barely catching it. Her boots scrabbled for purchase. Eventually she managed to bring her elbows over the ledge, lifted her head up and saw a black cat cowering behind the chimney pot.

Levering herself up on one arm, she reached out the other for it. "Here, puss puss puss," she called. "Come on down." The cat managed to find a way to press itself further into the corner. "Oh come on." Marie kicked against the chimney and pulled herself an inch closer.

"Get over here, you accursed moggy!" she shouted, flailing around inches from its fur.

The cat turned to face her, fur and tail bristled.

"Moggy?" it said, in a voice like tearing velvet. "Moggy!? Why I never! You uncouth wench!" He launched himself at her in an angry ball of teeth and claws just as shock opened her grip for her and sent her tumbling backwards from the chimney.


Mrs Hemlock opened the door to the cottage carrying teapot and cups on a tray. “Tea, Jennifer dear?” she asked, then. “Oh,” as she caught sight of the pile of ladder, girl and cat in a heap on the lawn. The cat seemed to have fared the best out of all three, sitting atop the others and cleaning his tail as if to say ‘Of course I meant to do that’ and ‘Isn’t that how you get down from the roof?’

“Oh, there you are Hugh. Tea?” She raised the tray towards him.

“Oh dear, not again,” said Hugh, hopping to his feet and sauntering over to Mrs Hemlock. He twined himself around her ankles and then, in one swift leap, was on her shoulder. “What would you do without me?”

Marie struggled to her feet and blinked the stars from her eyes. Old Mrs Hemlock smiled gently and offered her a hand that was firm when Marie grasped it. The old lady was no longer hunched over and her eyes twinkled with amusement.

“So sorry to have inconvenienced you, Marie. You were most heroic in rescuing my memory here.”

“Your memory?” Marie asked, frowning. “You mean the cat?”

“Her memory,” Hugh purred from Mrs Hemlock’s shoulders. “I’ve carried them for her for a long time now.”

“You keep your memory in a cat?” Marie threw her hands up in despair. “Why on earth would you do something like that?”

Mrs Hemlock looked at the cat, and back at Marie. “You know, my dear, I can’t actually remember.”

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
My DD#:

537 Electricity and Electronics

The Wire
1397 words

It took me a while to realize I wasn’t dead.

I never saw the flash. I flipped the breaker switch and then poof! I was gone, or something so close to gone that it made no difference to me. I spread out through a latticework of hot, buzzing passages, like water running along cracks in tile.

A new world took shape around me, a black labyrinth of jagged, searing lines.

I started to remember.

My name was Brianna. I’d worked the front office of an apartment building, and had come in on a Sunday because the weekend manager was, as usual, sick with the brown bag fever. A whole floor of the building had lost power. Grumbling, I’d taken one of the heavy duty flashlights maintenance kept in the office and gone downstairs to the breaker room.

There’d been a tall metal cabinet set into the wall. Faded black and yellow caution strips lined its doors. The padlock was unlocked, dangling haphazardly by its shackle. I’d shone the flashlight onto the columns of switches. Nine of them were flipped to “problem.”

Someone was probably running their microwave and blow dryer at the same time, I thought as I flipped the breakers one by one. I was gonna put angry notices on doors. Every tenant was given the spiel before signing the lease that it was a temperamental old building and--


All thought, sensation, and sense of time vanished. I vanished, punctuated unceremoniously as a sentence fragment.

I came back to myself who-knows-how-long later. I wasn’t Brianna anymore. What was I? A cluster of electrons moving through wire? I could only flow with the current, and wonder.

My new world was actually quite familiar. The buzzing passages were the wires that limned rooms and hallways. The crackling current was the river of power that fed the apartment building.

Sometimes, I would flow too close to an offshoot from the current, a stream branching off from my hot, frantic river. I could feel something cold, dark, and hungry at the ends of those little streams: a lamp, a phone charger, or a toaster. If I gave myself to make toast, would I live on as heat, and then air, and maybe someday ions in the upper atmosphere? Did all souls live on in the hot, narrow world of power lines?

It was a lonely thought.

One day, I passed a new divergence in the current. I gave it a wide berth, but the pull of my fellow electrons was strong as a riptide. Millimeter by millimeter, I was sucked down a copper throat, into a stomach of circuitry.

It was much darker there.

I expected to dissipate. But I only circled round and round, alive but even more isolated. I couldn’t even see or feel the apartment building around me. There was just the one circuit, and the blackness of my cold, quiet little pocket world.

It dawned on me that I was the only thing moving around the circuit. Somehow, whatever had sucked me in had extracted only me from all the power running through the building.

After some time, a single electron appeared in my circuit. It spun so that it twinkled like a star on a hot summer night, wobbling slightly on its axis. Being on the same circuit, we collided.


The word appeared in my mind like an echo with no source. Its message delivered, the electron simply disappeared. It didn’t fade or dwindle; one moment it was there, the next it was gone, and I was left to flow in confused circles around my circuit prison.

A countless number of circles later, another electron popped into existence. This one was different than the first. It spun smoothly, with no wobble on its axis. When we collided, I felt a strange suction, and then words were pouring out of my mind:


The electron blipped out of my world with no more ceremony than its predecessor. Again I was left to circle.

Once more, a wobbling electron appeared, and collided with me.

One, it said, then disappeared. A second one took its place almost instantly.


A third electron appeared after a slightly longer interval, just long enough for me to sort out what I was supposed to do. It was a blank one--a tiny bottle at sea, waiting for my one-word message.

On impulse, I focused my entire being on a triptych of syllables:


The electron passed through me, and was gone. And yet again I was left circling, reflecting on my situation. I’d been completely, purposely isolated from the rest of the current in the building. Whoever was communicating with me might’ve set the whole thing up, from the breaker box to the circuit, and I’d just given them my name. I’d just confirmed to the outsider that they had the labrat exactly where they wanted her.

My next word would not be so helpful.

Monster, prison, and inhumane came to mind. Shithead was another tempting option. I wondered if a rage-filled shriek would translate.

But the next electron carried a message:


Did they think I was some kind of pet? Were they trying to be reassuring? I wished I could just stop. If I was truly an isolated bit of current, wouldn’t I die if I stopped moving? I hadn’t exactly been a physicist in my old life. But I knew whatever I was, it wasn’t Brianna, and the feeling of continuity between Brianna and myself was just some horrible accident.

I willed myself to stop.

Bits of me began to dissipate, like wisps from the tail of a cloud. Who was I? What was I trying to get away from?

It didn’t matter. All that mattered was slowing down. Resting.

My prison began to change, but I wasn’t fooled. There was grass against my cheek for a moment, then I was back in the circuit, going round and round, fading to nothing.

“...ome on out,” someone said, worry in their voice. But I knew, like the grass, the voice was just a trick, or a fragment of memory.

“Come here you ungrateful little particle cloud!” the voice growled. My circuit had opened, connected to something else, and that something had hands, and was pulling me out into a massive, open space.

My cheek was resting on soft grass again. The hands that had pulled me out of the circuit poked and prodded me, like someone inspecting a corpse, then withdrew.

I groaned--I had a voice again!--and sat up. Sunshine and blue sky made me blink.

“Were you trying to disappear?” the voice said indignantly.

I looked around. A woman was standing a few feet away, wearing a ratty lab coat and thick glasses.

“I thought I was going to be in there forever,” I said. The memory of the circuit was already hazy. “But thank you for getting me out.”

“Brianna, was it? I’m Dr. Sanchez. And I’m afraid you’re not ‘out’ yet, but you should find this a little more comfortable.” She gestured at the world around us, inviting me to take in my surroundings.

I was in the middle of a field. At the edge of the field were trees. Beyond the trees was a city, tall and copper-colored and crackling with energy in the distance.

“I had to put you in a circuit to transport you to my lab,” Dr. Sanchez said apologetically. “This world is just a simulation. All virtual. I’ll tell you that right up front. I don’t know how to get you back into meatspace. Yet. But I’ve found that found you little zappers--folks who get stuck in the wires are zappers--go all entropic if I try to keep you in a normal power cell of any kind. So here you are!”

“Was that you sending the messages on the electrons?" I asked.

Sanchez grinned. “Just a little trick I came up with while the boys at Stanford were off joining fraternities and comparing dick sizes.”

I laughed and let her take my hand.

“Come on,” she said, pulling me toward the dazzling city. “Come and meet the others. It’ll pass the time until I can bring you all back.”

It beat going in circles, I thought. We set off across the field, hand in hand.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.
Attention, library patrons: the stacks will be closing in three hours.

Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.
Subject: Epicurean Philosophy (specifically the Epicurean Dilemma)

Tomorrow in New York
(1073 words)

Imagine a river's cacophony in the distance. You get closer; the roar is already too loud to speak except at a yell. You see the torrent of water, a deluge confined by earth and rock.

Now picture it rushing down the streets of New York City. It crashes over the wharf and between the buildings. The wave is so strong that it washes up cars, tears down streetlights, shatters windows ten stories above the street. Add sirens and the screams of a thousand people running in terror.

Desperation transforms people into monsters. They shove their fellows to the ground, run over children and anyone smaller in their way. The irony struck me; I’d heard that if you could see a tsunami, it was already too late. I bustled with the rest, bumping up against the crowd like cattle fenced in by the streets.

I heard yelling over the screams: “Follow me! This way! We can make it!” The message came closer, passed me, and continued down. The herd had found purpose. The selfishness turned to determination. Ahead of me, a girl (maybe ten) was wrapped around a lightpost. Tears ran down her frightened face. I stopped next to her, using the pole to brace against the currents of the passing crowd.

She recoiled, moving to the other side of the pole. I extended my hand and smiled. “Come with me,” I said, leaning in and steadying my shaking hand. “It’s going to be all right.” You don’t know that, Alice, I thought. My smile grew to hide the doubt.

The girl’s hand darted out and grabbed mine. We became part of the crowd again. I couldn’t tell you how long we ran: a minute, ten, thirty, an hour. We turned a corner and the water was rushing down the street. In front of us, the flow of traffic was a spire a thousand feet tall: a skyscraper. There was no hope of running away, so we were going up.

At the building's entrance, the flow had clogged. Inside the stoppage, the people clawed, pushing and shoving their ways toward a dream of safety from the deluge. I glanced behind; the water was rushing up the block.

Suddenly, I was underwater. The force of the wave tore the girl away, swallowing us and the rest of the crowd in a few seconds. Panic hit me for the first time, as I struggled to the surface. My arms hit a dozen others on the way up. In our desperate struggle, we were impeding each other. I passed several limp bodies - dead or merely hopeless, I would never know. My lungs burned, my ears threatened to explode.

Gasping, I surfaced, and then another wave washed over me. I struggled when it passed, coughing up what felt like a gallon of water. Another wave and I'd calmed myself enough to match the water's rhythm. I looked around; only a few survivors had made it to the surface. The girl I'd tried to help was not among us.

We were being driven rapidly toward the skyscraper's face, a shimmering wall of glass and steel. When the wave pulled back, I could see that the water had shattered the windows below the surface. With each wave, more and more of the glass disintegrated before the force of the rushing waves. With each rising swell, people smashed into the glass. Some passed through the shower of crystal; others hit the steel beams and disappeared.

Now it was my turn. I'd attempted, with some success, to drive myself toward the empty spaces. A rushing wave, and a glass tooth bit into my left arm. The wound burned like fire as the salt water mingled with rushing blood. I flew with the water through an open door and left a dent in the opposite wall. As the torrent receded, I was left on the floor - sopping wet, coughing up water and blood. My left arm was sliced down to the bone from wrist to elbow. Blood ran from the wound as I righted myself and ran down the hall, following the unlit EXIT signs. A few other survivors had the same idea.

A few stories up, my vision swam. I stumbled the few steps to the next landing and hit the concrete hard. My vision went dark. I had survived the flood only to bleed to death on the floor...

When I awoke, the world was just as fuzzy and indistinct as I'd left it. A man sat next to me, his smile bright in the dark stairwell.

"Well hello there," he said in a thick accent. "Welcome back!" He moved over me, checking my arm. "My name is Asim. What is yours?"

My mouth was dry. "Alice," I croaked. Sharp, excruciating stabs of agony ran up my arm.

"You were quite injured," Asim explained. "You have lost a great deal of blood. However, I believe that you will be okay."

I didn't feel okay. I had never been in this much pain. "The others have gathered on the roof of the building. Would you like to join them?" I nodded. Laying in a puddle of congealing blood in a dark stairwell was not a plan for survival.

Painfully and very slowly, Asim and I worked our way up the ten flights to the roof. Asim helped me past the other survivors to a bench that looked out over the city. As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight, I could see the tops of other buildings. Hundreds, maybe thousands were gathered there awaiting rescue. Across the street, I saw a girl waving hysterically.

"Thank you!" she called out. I smiled and waved weakly.

"Many people were saved," said Asim. "God is good."

In the swells between the buildings, I could see an uncountable mass of bodies. The corpses surfaced and sank, so thick that they formed macabre layers in places. I thought of the people in the subways. Hundreds of thousands were dead, at least - perhaps millions.

"God had nothing to do with it," I said. "If God did anything, he sent this flood. God is very clearly not good." Asim frowned. He opened his mouth to speak.

"You saved me, Asim," I interrupted. 'I helped to save that little girl. Scattered throughout the selfishness were people willing to do good in the face of fear. We shouldn't thank God for that."

I took Asim's hand in mine. "Thank you."


Dirtbag Diva
May 27, 2005
Prompt: 712 Landscape Architecture


(1,226 words)

The thick black flip-phone, carefully balanced on an upended coffee mug, began chiming “The Entertainer” at ten past three.

Nicole picked up her phone, turned off the alarm and turned in her chair back to her computer. Sighing, she closed down her internet browser where she had been shopping for some new clothes for the Summer vacation her and Rajeev were planning. It had been two years since her last vacation and with last year's trip canceled due to Katrina it was all Nicole could do to focus at work so a phone alarm kept her shopping in check. Logging back into the bank's intranet chat she saw she had a pending message from a a fellow Asset Evaluation Specialist named Melanie.

“nicole i need to call in favor u there ??? madison sick need 2 leave soon”. Nicole glanced at the time-stamp and saw it was only five minutes ago.

“sure, staying late anyway b4 vacay. acct. #?”

“omg lifesaver, ty. #11642.” Before Nicole could ask for the appointment time she saw Melanie had already logged off. Rolling her eyes, Nicole pulled up the account number and saw it was for a Mr. and Mrs. Logan Miller. Good credit, homeowners and Logan was employed as a Marine while his wife Jesse worked at a local Target. Under the notes, Melanie had just put “consultation”. That could mean a lot of things so Nicole decided to hedge her bets and put on her “You need to keep your goals in line with your situation” blazer while starting a “.. but a second mortgage is a great way to supplement your income” pot of coffee along with some Oreo cookies from her desk. She set the cookies next to her side table where she kept her coffee pot and a row of Gerber daisies to cheer up her beige office.

At around 4:15 Nicole greeted Mrs. Jesse Miller with a cup of coffee and a neglected plate of cookies.

At 4:30 she handed in her resignation and started walking home.

It had happened before. Someone fell behind on a payment so their terms were re-evaluated in favor of the bank, even if the payment was “lost” due to bank error. Didn't matter, client should've sent it earlier. Mrs. Miller had been calm, a lot calmer than Nicole could have been. Logan had died in combat eight months ago and Melanie knew. Melanie kept his name for all of the loans and paperwork. His mail had been re-directed to Veteran's Affairs under the assumption Nicole didn't want to deal with it. She'd never received notice because they had set up for automatic payments but the mortgage had been re-evaluated based on her credit and after Logan's demise. So, payments were re-structured, re-calendared and sent to the VA so Jesse would find out. Yesterday.

Nicole had explained all this to Jesse knowing it made no difference. Jesse and her kids were losing her home. Nicole put them through to asset retention as she stuffed her Oreos and her coffee mug into her purse before hitting the sidewalk, angry only that Rajeev still had the car today to drop his parents off at the airport.

About halfway home Nicole came upon a small pay-by-the-hour parking lot she had never noticed before, she had always been in the car or texting in the passenger seat as Rajeev drove. Over the typical gravel lot she could see a mural spanning the entire width of the lot of dozens of monarch butterflies set against a pale blue summer sky with clouds dappling the background. Below the mural, a rose garden was carefully gardened so as to only take up about a four foot wide plot against the back wall of the lot.

Nicole paused and started back to the lot, it was mostly empty except for a few sedans and a couple of SUV's as well as a row of bikes. At the opening of the lot sat a badly painted green hut, maybe four by six feet, with the sound of Rush Limbaugh's radio show echoing loudly out of it.

Nicole walked over to the hut and found a small man with a sizable gut furiously erasing a row in Sudoku, by his age she guessed he was the owner.

“Hi, are you guys currently hiring?”

The man cast his eyes up and down Nicole, either appraising her based on her age or her looks, Nicole wasn't sure and couldn't tell if she was offended or not. The man looked like if her uncle had gotten a gift card from Bahama Joe's for Christmas and used it all on parrot shirts. He seemed okay with what he saw and put away the Sudoku book and wiped away his sweat mustache.

“I can't put you on night shifts, too much of a liability. Some knucklehead sees we have a girl working the register and thinks he can kill two birds in one stone. No offense. Name's Rick, by the way.” Rick gestured for Nicole to sit in one of the two fold-out chairs next propped against the hut. Nicole sat in the seat with less snapped supports.

“No, that's okay I'd rather work days honestly. I live right down the road so I can walk over and not have to worry about a commute.” Rick snorted as he settled into the rattier chair and looked Nicole up and down again.

“You know, you're probably twice the age of all the other employees here. You get bored after your kids go back to school?” Nicole bristled but smiled.

“No, just trying to find something to pass the time is all.”

“Alright, you seem like you're not a pill-popper and you live close by. Our last guy who worked the day shift had to quit due to the...” Rick motioned downing a beer bottle. “You know, liability. Sometimes we have to help back out the cars if idiots park them too close. You know how to drive?”

“Yup, clean record except for a speeding ticket in college.” Rick grunted approvingly and side-stepped into the office to bring out her paperwork. She started the next day.

As Nicole filled out her paperwork she kept glancing back to the roses.

“You garden?” Nicole looked up at Rick.

“Nah, no idea where that came from to be honest. Popped up about a year or two ago and kinda annoyed me until I tried charging extra for spots. Turns out, people are willing to pay extra for a lot they think is a little bit ooh-la-la.” Rick gestured with a limp wrist towards the butterfly mural. “Got kinda pissed last year cause some thugs sprayed graffiti or some nonsense over the butterflies and made us look real seedy. Next day I come back and everything's cleaned up. Get this, new rose bush too. Went from barely making ends meet on this trash to being able to put some money aside for the four wheelers my boys want for Christmas on this.” Rick gestured to the spartan lot.

Nicole looked over at the roses. “So, that's not your garden?”

“What am I, some kind of a fruitcake?”

Nicole smiled and put down her date of departure from the bank.

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