- Grizzled Patriarch
- Mar 27, 2014
These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.
S'more Week CIX crits
Mom and Dad are fighting in the front seat again. It doesn’t even matter what this fight is about. It’s a fight about an old fight that was once possibly about something actually tangible, but this is just an echo of a screaming echo.Off too a good start, and this really nails how parental arguments seem when you're a kid.
We’re all in the Toyota on a winding, 35 MPH road between Prescott and the town of Falls. I look at my little brother, who’s looking out the window even though it’s night, and I know all he can see is his own little expressionless mug in reflected in the glass.
Wives and Lovers as sung by Jack Jones comes on the radio:
Hey, little girl,
Comb your hair, fix your make-up.
Soon he will open the door. The way this song mirrors the action in the story is really cool.
And Dad is laughing and saying, “you’re so out of control! You’re so out of control right now!” while his big paws are bloodless and white on the wheel, and the gold wedding band from the Discount Jewelry Exchange bites into his ring finger, and he is totally in control. Great lines.
And Mom is wailing, “you don't’ care! You never care!” or something like that, and it’s like they’re both singing refrains from an acapella duet. Dad turns up the breezy 1960’s jazz and sings along with Mr. Jones.
Don't think because
There's a ring on your finger,
You needn't try any more
Mom goes into kind of this orgasmic state of yowling unhappiness Kind of odd word choice, but I think it gets the idea across. She struggles against her seatbelt like she doesn’t remember what it’s for.
Dad turns up the song even louder, and now he can’t sing because he’s laughing so hard he’s almost howling.
For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
I'm warning you.
He wiggles the steering wheel and makes the car swerve, because he can, because he’s in control, and Mom is out of control, really Hulking out against her seatbelt now.
My little brother slips out of the memory at this point. In my mind he is a sort of grey rectangle in the backseat with me, a placeholder for the boy that had been there, and would be there again later, just as soon as all the shouting stops.
Mom is suddenly a tangle of limbs attempting to force themselves out of the passenger side window. Dad is now holding down the ‘door lock’ button with his left hand so Mom can’t open the car door, so she's going for the window, seat belt still on. And it seems like now she’s got too many arms and legs, like a reedy nest of flesh trying to throw itself out of the car. Another great image.
I look in the rearview mirror, where I can see Dad’s brown eyes--my eyes are blue like my mom’s--and he’s looking at me.
“Don’t ever let yourself be this out of control when you’re a grown woman,”This line feels a little stilted. he says like he’s a teacher who’s taken me aside to explain a particularly difficult part of class. Then he rolls up the passenger side window, and doesn’t even accidentally shut any of mom’s fingers or hair in it, because he’s in control.
Don't send him off
With your hair still in curlers.
You may not see him again.
The song ends as we pull into the town of Falls. There is a Shell gas station, the Falls Motel, and a stoplight. Dad gets ready to cruise right through the stoplight--it’s green and there’s no other traffic on the road--but then it insolently goes yellow. We stop on red.
Dad, of course, had to take his finger off the ‘lock’ button to operate the ‘window’ button, and so Mom takes her chance to open the door and bolt out into the night, or at least toward the Shell station.
And Dad starts to say, “Your Mother,” but I don’t stop to listen to his indictment of mom and her hysteria, because I know Dad won’t come back for her, but I, his daughter, am his legacy and his progeny and his pride, and I know he would never let me be vulnerable to anything or anyone but him.
So I open my door--I’d figured out how to turn off the child safety locks a long time ago--and get out and run toward the Shell station, too. Mom hears the sound of another car door, stops and looks back at me
My brother comes back into the memory at this point. The Toyota is sort of lit by the stoplight so him and Dad are black silhouettes in the red light, and I can’t be sure but I think my brother is turned around in his seat, looking at us, so small and so mute in the car, until the light turns green and Dad drives them both away, because to stop and to say, “please, lets all just go home,” would be a not very in-control type of thing to do. You do a good job of layering your characterization.
I look at Mom. She looks like she’s angry at me.
“Why did you stay with me?”
“Because Dad has to come back if I’m here. And you can’t go off alone if I’m with you.”
She sits down on the curb. The gas station is closed, even as it leaks fluorescent and neon light into the empty parking lot. “You shouldn’t think like that,” she says, but her face looks softer.
Years later, I will tell Mom that Dad is like Fenrir, the Norse wolf, spawn of Loki, reared by fearful gods into a monster.
Twice, the gods tried to chain Fenrir with massive metal chains. Twice, he free himself and gnashed his teeth at the world. And so the gods went to the dwarves and asked them to forge a chain of impossible things--a chain that was impossible to break certainly had to be made of impossible things--like the footsteps of a cat, or the roots of a mountain. I almost wish you hadn't explained the myth, but then again I'm a huge nerd and as soon as I saw the title I was like "aw yeah Norse mythology!" Leaving the title as an unexplained thematic link to the action in your story seems like a pretty DFW-move, but your writing is still confident enough that this passage works.
And I will tell Mom that I made the first links in my own impossible chain in this parking lot, forged them using the pride of a broken, narcissistic man in his child, who might be the only thing a creature like him can love.
I grab that chain and haul on it hard as I can, like a fisherman trying to pull leviathan to shore.
When we see the headlights, we are happy in the way that snake handling pentecostals are happy when they don’t get bit.Love this line. We’re happy like people are happy when they check their horoscope and it’s spot on, even if the news is bad.
The Toyota pulls into the parking lot. Dad’s paws are on the wheel, and his wedding band glints neon-gold in the gas station light, and me and Mom follow the now slack length of chain back to the car.
Someday our own little Ragnarok will come. Our world will drown, Fenrir with it, and Mom will take me and my brother to a verdant new world, just the three of us, that we will populate with new memories. But for now, it is enough to feel the warm, slack weight of control in my young hands, and to see Fenrir hang his head low.
Verdict: Not much criticism for this piece. DFW is hard as hell to pull off in so few words, but this definitely has that vibe. There's some really nice characterization, genuine emotion, and imaginative imagery here. My only real issue is that the mythological aspect feels a bit on-the-nose, but that's pretty minor in the grand scheme.
The bottom of the garden
Anyone that has ever heard a story knows there is something magical at the bottom of a garden. If the garden is big and wild, then it stands to reason that the magic must likewise be bigger and wilder. Your opener does a nice job of establishing the tone and setting right off the bat.
Teri was sure that the biggest and wildest magic lived at the bottom of her Aunt Gemma’s enormous, overgrown garden. The very first day of her summer holidays at the Old House she jumped out of bed, headed downstairs and wolfed down the toast and orange juice that Aunt Gemma had just finished making for her. She talked politely (and between mouthfuls) I'd cut the parentheses here when asked about her plans for the morning, nodded obediently when told to stay on this side of the brook, and groaned when warned not to talk to any fairies she might meet there. All the while her legs were twitching under the table in her eagerness to depart.
When finally freed from the bindings of civilised conversation she was out like a jackrabbit, through the back door beside the leaky tap, down the loose stone path between the chrysanthemums and primroses, and past the wandering hedge. There she threaded between overgrown bushes and acacia trees, and gingerly climbed the low, crumbling walls until she arrived at the bower.I can see this in my head, so nice work.
The tall trees of that bower grow silently. You expect to hear them creaking in the wind, or their leaves rustling in the breeze, but you never do. You can touch them and feel the roughness of their bark or smell the sap from wind-snapped branches. You can even climb them, aided by the vines that cloak their gnarled trunks, to see across the entire countryside. But you will never hear them, listen though you might. Their secrets are not for your ears. I'm not sure if the tense / PoV shift is justified here.
A brook ran through the gaps in the bower’s tree roots, making up for silence with its laughing chatter. Teri took off her shoes and socks and dipped a toe into the cold water. The sensation made her shiver, so she plunged one foot right in and then balanced precariously for a moment before bringing the other foot to join it. Immersed up to her ankles, she spread her arms wide and craned her neck to see the top of the bower, where the trees and vines made a light-speckled roof above her. Arching her back, she twisted from side to side to make the leaves and shadows swim in circles. She hummed to herself, imagining herself taking root growing towards the sunlight and then she sang softly as words formed in her mind.
Feet in water. Head in sky. What am I? What am I?
Teri knelt down, her summer dress flowing around her thighs as she sat in the water. She reached forward, touching the stones in the bed of the brook. She saw herself, solid and settled and silent and thought:
Smooth and silent. Never dry. What am I? What am I?
She bent forward further and dipped her face fully into the stream. Opening her eyes for a moment she felt the sting of the cold water and saw a flash of silt she had disturbed. She spoke in bubbles for a moment.
Low I laugh, High I cry, What am I? What am I?
Riddles can be dangerous things. In school books and encyclopedias you can learn about all manner of men who have dedicated their lives to solving them. The successful ones that is, who worked hard and long and finally found the answer, or at least an answer. But we rarely recall the unsuccessful ones, locked away for a lifetime in prison-laboratories of their own devising (or padded cells of ours) Not a fan of the parentheses here, either.. Now, Teri knows the answer to her riddles. She made them herself and they were not made to be difficult. But while you hear of the riddles that get solved, and the wise man fears the riddle that might be unsolvable, you never hear of a riddle that is too easy. Yet sometimes they are the worst of all. This is a nice line.
There was a noise from the bushes that grew along the far side of the brook. Teri’s head shot up, spraying water around her, and she scanned the undergrowth as she pushed back her wet hair with her wet hands, but she saw no cause or movement. She backed out of the brook, scraping each foot dry on the grass as she emerged. She grabbed her shoes and socks, but didn’t put them on. It was too early to head back to the the Old House, and besides, she wasn’t sure if she had truly heard anything. Instead she called out, “Hello?”
From behind a bush appeared a boy reword this to kill the passive voice, stick thin and golden eyed.
Teri understands that magic isn’t real. She knows that the magicians she sees on TV are clever folk with video editing suites and a head full of other people’s psychology. She understands that the books lining her shelves at home, filled with stories of mystical lands, and talking animals, they are fictions this reads oddly, touched by truth but not quite real enough to appear on the news at teatime. Teri believes that the bottom of the garden is home to a wild and vast magic that can make her tall and strong as a tree, still and full of secrets as a stone, far travelled as a drop of water that has seen the ocean and the sky, but she does not believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden or anywhere else. You shift tenses again here, but I'm not sure why. You aren't really doing anything structurally that necessitates it, so it just ends up feeling a bit disjointed.
From behind the boy’s back, wings unfolded. “Hello,” he said with a voice that laughed along with the brook. “Let me guess. You are the trees and the stones and the water.” He raised his hand, offered it to her. “So am I. If I were to name you Teri, would you like to come with me and see what other riddles we can solve?”Another semi-awkward line.
Teri’s head is filled with a thousand tales. She can tell you the dangers of accepting such offers, can quote you chapter and verse of the books and poems where the hero rashly agrees and is lost forever, or displaced in time, or simply dies, far away and alone. But Teri’s eyes are filled with the sight of a winged boy with golden eyes and her mouth is filled with a single word.
“Yes,” said Teri. Still clutching her shoes she crossed the brook, careful of the stones beneath her bare feet. The boy’s wings fluttered and he lifted into the air, hovering, still with hand outstretched. He smiled as she reached out to grasp his hand. Together they rose toward the roof of leaves.
The afternoon arrived and Aunt Gemma walked down the path of primroses and chrysanthemums calling Teri’s name. She stopped to look over the hedge, her hand blocking the afternoon sun, and then she passed beyond, moving between bushes and stepping over broken walls until she reached the edge of the bower. She called Teri’s name, listened, but heard only the sound of running water.
Teri swings among the silent trees, neck wrapped in a noose of vines. The stones keep their counsel. The brook laughs. Well that turned dark. Nice gut-punch ending.
This story does an effective job of building atmosphere and establishing mood. I'm a bit torn on the multiple tense and PoV shifts, just because you don't seem to do enough with them to justify their jarring effect. I can kind of see what you are going for, since direct appeals to the audience aren't exactly uncommon in fairy tales, but it doesn't quite work for me. Could very well be personal preference, though. You foreshadow what might happen to Teri a bit, but it would be nice to see some more hints of the faerie's sinister nature.
What Dreams May Come
Author: Agatha Christie
The Davenridges called the 'Til Morning a generation ship as a family joke, although Mira had only ever heard Mr. Simon Davenridge laugh about it. I like how this instantly gives me an idea of his personality. No one aboard would have a child during the thirty-year trip to 61 Virginis. No one could, not the hundreds of frozen colonists; not the Davenridges who remained awake and aware to safeguard the flight, made ageless by scientific wonders; and not the men and women who had chosen static service to them as preferable to cold sleep.
Mira wheeled the dinner cart into the formal dining chamber, steering around the chairs that ringed the long table. She knew the expressions on their occupants' faces without needing to look. The eldest son would be strained, his wife dour. The second son would seem on the verge of tears; their sister would appear to have no thoughts at all. Mira peeked at Miss Davenridge's eyes. If anything, they'd gotten more vacant in the past decade. She set a plate of tinned beef in front of the woman, and of course Miss Davenridge sighed.
"I almost remember fresh food," said the second son.
Mira mouthed the words along with him. Mr. Simon, at the head of the table, caught her eye and laughed. No sound came out of his thin chest, and Mira didn't think anyone else had noticed. They wouldn't look at the old man whose money had brought them there.You pack an impressive amount of characterization into a few lines.
"Three more years," said Mrs. Davenridge, "eight months, four weeks, and four days."
The eldest son asked, "Has anyone read anything interesting?"
"Out of Africa again. I want to try growing coffee on the ship," Mr. Simon said.
"You already have. Twice. Twenty years ago and--"
"Then I'll make it three times!"This does a nice job of summing up the length and crushing boredom of this journey without a bunch of exposition.
Mira thumped the gravy tureen onto the table and fled.
In her bed, later, she switched the room lights on and off, picked up her book reader and set it down again. Even now there were things in the database she'd never read, if she could only make herself care. She couldn't. Her body was tired, but ever since she'd stopped aging sleep had been no more than a long blink, with the ship and the Davenridges and tinned beef waiting at the other end. She kept flipping the switch long past the ship's midnight.
"Three more years, eight months, four weeks, and three days," Mrs. Davenridge said at breakfast.
Mira left the residential part of the ship after her day's work was done, walking down corridors that led to things she didn't understand: the engines, the life-support systems, the autopilot, and the bodies of people who hadn't feared cryogenic dreams. Perhaps they didn't dream either; perhaps she endured this life for nothing.
She followed the signs to the port-side airlock.
Mr. Simon met her in the hall. Her heart lurched, unaccustomed to surprise. The old man's eyebrows jumped up above the rim of his glasses. "Mira?" he asked.
Mira said, "I didn't expect anyone would be here."
"Neither did I. It's refreshing."
This man had paid for her voyage and for her thirty extra years of life, but Mira had heard him slurp his soup for too long to be formal.Nice line. He stood leaning back against a metal wall, and she joined him. She asked, "Why do you laugh?"
"You've seen me mimic your son a thousand times. Why do you still laugh?"
"Sometimes it still amuses me," Mr. Simon said. "Sometimes I just need to laugh at something. My children never laugh."
"I'd noticed that."
"Neither do you, Mira."
Mira rubbed her arms, though the corridor was no colder than any other. She looked away.
He said, "Three years and however many months, weeks, and days.The fact that he's the only one that isn't counting down the exact number of days is a nice, subtle touch. Then we'll have a new world and new people to keep us interested until our stasis treatments wear off. I'll be a grandfather sooner or later, after that. I'll see the rest of my dream--a strange world and a far star--and share it with my children." Mr. Simon touched her arm, and he stared so hard at her that she had to meet his pale eyes. "Do you think we'll still be sane?"
"You might, Mr. Davenridge," Mira said. "I--I don't dream at all anymore."
Mr. Simon dropped his hand. He spoke as though to himself. "Did we stop dreaming because nothing changes?"
She said, "I don't know. I just wish I'd been less afraid of nightmares."
"You shouldn't be here," Mr. Simon told her. "Go on, now. Please? Try to remember fresh food and sunlight. And stay out of this hall at least until tomorrow."
Because they'd never had that conversation before, because it had been a tiny escape, Mira granted the first parts of his wish.
Alarms broke her colorless sleep. She ran barefoot out her door, and she chased the sounds of voices until she sprinted beside the Davenridge sons and daughters down familiar passageways. The lights around the door to the airlock blazed red.
"Where's Dad?" yelled the eldest son. "Dad!"
"He must have--he's--"
"No! Why would he do that? It's a malfunction! Mira! Find him!"
But Mr. Simon Davenridge was gone. He'd turned her away from that final exit, then taken it himself.
Shock and grief and anger changed his children's faces when they sat at the dinner table with the equally shocked servants, pushing tinned beef around on their plates without complaint. The eldest son wept on his wife's shoulder. The second son let his sister rage at him and hugged her when she collapsed. Tears prickled Mira's eyes when Miss Davenridge sobbed, "He'll never see his star."
"We'll have to see it for him," the second son said.
When Mira said, "Maybe he'll make it to some other new world," Mrs. Davenridge reached for one of her hands and held it. The cook squeezed the other.
That night Mira saw a shooting star when she closed her eyes, and she dreamt of Mr. Simon's laughter.A great last line that pulls everything together.
First of all, I'm not a big Agatha Christie fan, so props for writing something that overcame my bias. I've read a good number of stories dealing with the horrors of cryosleep and endlessly long space journeys, so it was refreshing to see something that was bittersweet and evocative rather than brutally cynical. You do a really nice job of wringing characterization out of small details, which isn't surprising from what I've read of yours. A very solid piece that all of the judges were happy to give an HM nod to.
The Tiger in the Cathouse
1200 words +32 from winning week 100
The night sounds of New Orleans drifted in through her window and she let them take her to another place.A bit more concrete detail here would have been nice. Apollina pretended the city sounds were Parisian, far off and wonderful, and that she was Parisian, too. Of course, she had never been to Paris. She’d never even left Louisiana. The day she was sold was the first time she’d ever left the plantation.Nice bit of mood whiplash here.
As the bed squeaked, Apollina played out little scenes in her mind: dressing up in fine attire, walking hand in hand with Jean-Luc, tasting sugary sweets, laughing, smiling. She summoned every half-remembered description she had heard and filled in the blanks with imagination and wonderment. Then the man finished with a grunt and Paris disappeared. The stranger wiped his brow. Rolled off of her. He was sweaty. Breathless. Smiling.
“Wow,” he said as his head sank into the pillow, “That was…”
His voice trailed off and his fingers ran through her hair. Apollina put her chin on his chest and kissed his collarbone.
“I know,” she lied,I'm not a fan of telling us it's a lie directly like this, mostly because it makes it seem like you aren't confident in your writing's ability to convey that through the context you've established. I almost didn't say anything here, but another judge commented on it, too. “That was amazing.”
The man wrapped his arms around her waist and held her like a lover but she didn’t even know his name. She never knew their names. Jean-Luc had been the only one to introduce himself.
On their third night together, Jean-Luc said, “I think I love you.”
Then he repeated it every night for six months. Apollina hadn’t loved him then and she didn’t love him now but he had been gentle and sweet. He had written her poetry, had given her gifts, had given her the comfort of not having a new man every night. She enjoyed his attention but she didn’t love him. But the night before he sailed back to Europe, Jean-Luc promised he’d return and buy her her freedom.
And she had loved that.This is good, neat characterization.
Her mind was once again in Paris as another man enjoyed her company. The brothel walls were thin, though, and shouting brought her back to reality. Shouting wasn’t uncommon. Girls were loud and drunks were mean but this time someone outside her room was screaming her name.
Jean-Luc! she thought.
“Apollina!” the voice cried out again and she was certain it was him. The stranger continued to thrust away, mindless of her pounding heart, her soaring spirits. She pushed against his chest.
“I’m sorry. I gotta Might be off-base here, but "gotta" feels a bit modern for this setting. If I'm wrong just ignore this. go,” she said, “Get off.”
The man grunted.
“Get off,” she growled, “Now! Move!”
He didn’t move. Not until she sank her teeth into his neck. He clutched his throat and then, after a kick, got off the bed completely. Apollina quickly wrapped the sheets around her body and rushed out the door. She ran to the stairway and saw Jean-Luc on the first floor. He smiled.
“Apollina,” he said in a way that meant so much more than just her name. It meant “I’ve come back” and it meant “I’m sorry it took a year” and meant “We’re leaving this place and never coming back.” He said her name again and all she heard was “Freedom.”
“Jean-Luc,” she whispered.
She ran down the flight of steps and leapt into his arms. She buried her face into his fancy French suit. Breathed deep. He smelled like Paris.
“Who is that?” Jean-Luc asked.
Apollina looked over her shoulder and the naked stranger was at the top of the stairs. He had blood on his chest. She shrugged. She never learned his name.
“Who are you?” Jean-Luc asked.Not a major deal, but this seems like kind of a flimsy way to segue into the conflict. I'm assuming he knows about her profession, so this question makes him seem kind of dumb.
“Who the hell is askin’, boy?” the stranger said, “And the hell you doin’ with my whore?”
That kind of language didn’t sit well with a gentleman like Jean-Luc. He drew his gun and said something threatening in French. But you don’t pull out a pistol in a brothel and walk away easy. There are too many people that don’t take kindly to it. Jean-Luc was beaten and when Apollina screamed and tried to stop the beatings she was beaten, too.
“Not in the the face,” said Bill Buggs, the brothel keeper.
Naked in her bed, Apollina couldn’t escape to Paris. Her bloody back protested idle reverie. Demanded her attention. She lay on her stomach and tried to keep the blood from slipping weird verb choice here onto her sheets.
At least she was alone.
Bill Buggs had given the stranger she’d bit two girls to make up for the experience. And he’d handed him the whip and let him lash her. For a dollar. The flow of these lines stutters a bit. I feel like finding a way to compress this into only two lines would read smoother.
She was alone.
When her back stopped bleeding she was back to work. Bill Buggs made sure she only got the men who liked their women hurt. They kept her from Paris. The night sounds of New Orleans stayed loud in her ear. The hot breath of each new stranger kept her in the room. She closed her eyes and looked for Jean-Luc in Paris.
The man she was with flipped her on top and she looked out the window. She saw Jean-Luc’s face but it was all wrong. It was swollen and black and blue. He smiled and she didn’t like it. He was missing teeth. Then he rapped on the wooden shutter and she realized he was actually there. The man she was with looked up and realized the same thing.
“poo poo,” said everyone simultaneously. Except for Jean-Luc who said, “Merde.”This is good.
The brothel walls were thin and the ensuing struggle was loud. Jean-Luc had just enough to courage to climb up the gutter but not enough sobriety to climb all the way through the window. Apollina was too small to keep the stranger’s mouth covered. The stranger was too Southern to know who was dangerous.
Jean-Luc’s legs were still dangling out the window when the stranger wrapped his hands around his throat. Apollina took the stranger’s heavy boot and brought it down upon his temple. She kept bringing it down until the naked man stopped moving.
Jean-Luc was still half hanging out the window. She fell on her knees before him and ran her fingers through his hair. His smile was ugly and misshapen. His breath smelled like bourbon. She glanced over her shoulder at the door. She could hear pounding feet. An angry voice. Trouble was coming.
“Apollina,” he said in a way that meant he didn’t understand the danger, “My ship is waiting for us. We can set sail tonight!”
“Do you have your pistol?” she asked.
Once she had the gun in her hands, Apollina gave him a quick kiss.
“Wait for me, okay?” she said, “Don’t move.”
Then she pushed him out the window.
Bill Buggs burst into the room and took a bullet to the neck. He clutched his throat, gurgled, and bled on her sheets. She smiled as he died. Then she put the gun in the stranger’s hands and screamed.
“Help!” she lied, “Help! Help!”
Everyone was in a rush to get to her room no one stopped her as she walked out the front door.
“My ankles might be broken,” Jean-Luc said to himself.
He was still standing on them. Apollina shrugged. She held onto the ship’s railing and stared out at the city. It got smaller with every minute. Jean-Luc slipped his hands around her waist and he kissed the back of her head.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too,” she lied. Same deal as earlier with the "she lied."
Their fingers laced together and he held her like a lover.
Verdict: This was a really nice, self-contained piece that hit all the right beats. I'm also impressed by the way you handled the prompt and turned it into something unexpected. There are a few moments where some more detail would have gone a long ways toward painting a more vivid picture of the setting, but it still works since you let the action and the characters drive the story well enough that I wasn't stopping to nitpick until I was doing a line-by-line.
~*~in the style of Matthew Woodring Stover~*~
I shoulder past some rear end in a top hat who thinks he's Elvis Stojko. He gives me the poo poo-eye. "Watch where you're going, dude," he says. "There's no rush." He's not in bad shape, but his waistline is a little thick and that's going to make take-offs harder.This is a nice opening. You give me just enough info to make me curious about the situation, and these couple lines have a lot of fun attitude.
"Hang up your skates, kid," I say. "Wouldn't want your mommy to have to tape up any boo-boos."
Dumbshit’s face goes red. "You ran into me, grampa. Chill out."
He’s young, full of himself. I remember being that young, hunger for the joy of skating leading me by an iron grip on my dick. gently caress joy. Joy doesn't pay bills. Liking what you do doesn't magically make you less of a lovely person. I'm a living loving testament to that.This is edging up against the cliche "jeremiad of the old man past his prime." The profanity also feels a little forced.
"I don’t have time for this," My lips peel back from my teeth. It's not a smile. It's a threat display, like an animal, so he knows who the big dog is. But he’s too dumb to know who I am.
“I know karate, don’t make me move you." I have rarely been less impressed. "And you're totally old. Twenty-six or something." Is the narrator meant to be that young? That might be old for a figure skater, I have no idea, but it doesn't really match up with the mental image of this guy that your writing is giving me.
I step forward, my hands open and to the sides like I really want a hug. "So make me." I can see him weighing odds. He’s going to blink. Seen it a hundred times.
Nope. He finds his nutsack and comes at me. His punch is telegraphed so hard he may as well have told me. I grab his arm and jam a thumb into his wrist. He lets out a yelp, which turns into a scream as I use his own momentum to swing him against the wall.
Dumbshit has figuratively shat his pants. And literally pissed himself, a dark beige patch spreading down his left thigh. "There's a reason most of us wear black trousers, limpdick," I say.Huh/ Do skaters piss themselves a lot or something?
“Ecchevaria,” I hear. “You’re up next!” I turn and wave.
“Be right there,” I reply.
Stojko’s gone pale as ice. “Holy poo poo,” he says, “Caesar Ecchevaria?”
I favour him with a smile. There’s no warmth to it. Stojko’s eyes shimmer with tears. Guess he’s heard of me.
I lean in close enough to smell the fear and piss coming off him. “You should see the medic.”
I walk to the door. The gopher awaits me. “You didn’t kill that kid, did you?”
“No, he’ll live,” I say, wistfully.
“Alright,” he says, clearly not trusting my word on the matter. “By the way, you-know-who’s on the ice, so wait a minute? We don’t want a repeat of Cancer Dancer.”This last line is funnier to me than it probably should be.
An oily snake coils through my guts. “No, I don’t know who. Why don’t you, like, loving educate me?”
Darkness blooms behind my eyes and my mouth fills with acid. From a light-year away, a hollow voice echoes “Kaufmann.”Normally this would be really over-the-top, but it actually works here. That rat-poo poo motherfucker. “He’s here?”
“Well, yeah,” he says, but I don’t really hear it, I’m already racing away through and down the aisle to the side of the rink which I follow until I find the door. I launch myself out, blades biting deep into the ice. Kaufmann is centre-ice, wearing a hideous costume. He looks like a strawberry. He jumps into a triple-Axel, lands, jumps into a second and lands that, too.
Holy poo poo, when the hell did Kaufmann get this good? He’s just some two-bit punk.
I’m beginning to think I made a mistake, but it’s too late to turn back. I’m committed.
Kaufmann sees me and cuts short his routine. He displays mock astonishment. “I heard you were here, Caesar, but didn’t think you’d actually have the balls to show.”
“Hey yourself, cocksmoke. I see you’ve got a new trick. Get tired of turning them in public bathrooms, or did your mom finally kick you out of her turf?”
His face goes as red as his clothes, but he restrains himself and even smiles at me. "Good try, rimjob. I've got a better coach than you could ever dream of. Should I tell you who?"
He licks his lips like he's about to dig into a thick, juicy steak. "Kurt Browning."
Sweet bleeding Christ. Kurt Browning? How did this syphilitic mongoloid swing that? I guess he can see the shock on my face, because his grin takes on a downright sexual curve. But you know what? gently caress him. Him and his loving double-triple Axels.
And gently caress Kurt Browning.
“Good for you, shitheel. You speak English. Now get the gently caress off my ice,” I say, affecting calmness and swagger. I point at the audio booth in the rafters. “They’re playing my song.” Sentimental music swims out of invisible speakers. I’m a sentimental guy.
Homicide is a sentiment. Technically, I don't think you could call homicide a sentiment. I still like this line, though.
Kaufmann shrugs in a leonine way, skating backwards. “You’re just a petty little ice dancer with a lovely attitude and a boner for some knee-breaker bitch. Good luck, fuckstick.” He blows me a kiss.
I glide through my opening. Some spins, a three-turn, basic baby poo poo. Kaufmann’s double-triple bugs me. I planned two triples, not together, which is fine, but coming after that performance? Christ, forget winning, I probably won’t even place.
Long ago, some Frenchman said “il nous faut de l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace” which didn’t save him from the guillotine, but whatever. Audacity. Go balls-out, because why the gently caress not?
An Axel jump is easy. You jump, do one-and-a-half revolutions, and land backwards. A triple is three-and-a-half. Chaining jumps gets lovely. You can’t rebuild speed between jumps, so you need to be a goddamn bullet train going in.
I’m hustling down ice like a speed skater. Better be fast enough or I’ve blown it. Up I go and make three-point-five revolutions. Easy. Landing is easy, too. No time to jerk off, though. I go up into another. I land facing forward and, poo poo, that’s okay! I thought my knee was going to buckle, but it holds and now I’ve got to pull it together, show that smug gently caress what an ice dancer can do.
Up. Around. Again. Again. Land.
My heart swells. I feel loving great. I’m sporting a hard-on stiff enough to shatter concrete. Then an atomic bomb goes off in my knee. I eat a mouthful of ice shavings as I smash to the ground. Nice word choice in these lines.
There’s an eternity of cold whiteness. My rear end is wet. I’m really out of it. Indistinctness surrounds me. Christ, it hurts.
I make out a face. For gently caress’s sake, it’s Kaufmann.
“When you gently caress up, you don’t do half-measures,” he says, appreciatively. “A triple-triple. Ballsy.”
I lift one palsied hand and beckon. I whisper his name. “Kaufmann, I… if…”
He leans in. Is his rival about to confide jealousy and inadequacy at the end of his career? “I’m here. Tell me.” His voice is heavy with lust.
My hand clamps around his throat. He’s off balance and I pull him forward. “If you ever talk poo poo about Tonya Harding again,” I snarl, “I will rip out your dick by the root, motherfucker.”
I let him go and he falls, coughing. The medics strap me to the backboard and take me away. Kaufmann can’t catch his breath, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so good.
Verdict: This was a fun story to read, and props for making me actually want to read about figure skating. I wish there was a bit more focus on their rivalry going into the final showdown on the ice, but it still works. It feels like the profanity and poo poo-talking get in the way a bit; to a degree they establish tone, and all the alpha-male posturing over figure skating is part of the charm, but in some places the sheer volume of it makes it feel like filler. I do like how you managed to handle the ending by avoiding expectations. Your writing is definitely improving, so keep it up.
Benny the Snake
Negotiating with the Devil
My name is Rosa Flores. Officially I’m a private investigator--unofficially, I wear a lot of hats. Today, I’m a negotiator, here to discuss business with vampires.. Yeah, I lead a very interesting life. You're doing that thing everyone keeps telling you not to do again.
The meeting place is Club Arcadia, a local rave located in downtown LA. If being located in LA doesn't have any impact on the story, these are just extraneous words. Outside comma it’s an unassuming building located across the street from a shopping center. Inside it’s a manic fever-dream--a sea of exposed flesh, glow-sticks, and neon-colored hair. Add in a speaker wall, a DJ hopped up on ritalin should be capitalized, mix in a whole bunch of illicit substances, and you have yourself a rave This is like a Cliff notes description of a rave. Make us see it. Show us what's going on via concrete details instead.. To blend in, I’m wearing my black cropped wig comma
and I’m also wearing knee-high boots, short-shorts, and a sleeveless top. I’m still getting stares because it looks like I’m smuggling grapefruits underneath my shirt.What? Even after reading the story and knowing these are baggies of sawdust, I can't picture how that would make even the flattest woman in the world look like she's smuggling grapefruits. I make my way to the bar where there’s a perky goth chick standing behind it.Awkward phrasing. “Hi, honey!” She shouts over the loud music. “My name’s Rae! I don't think I've ever had a bartender introduce themselves like this. What can I get ya?”
“Double bloody Mary, extra bloody.”
She gives me a look. “Kettle One or Grey Goose?”
She nods and turns around to make a call. A moment later, I see a pair of pale-skinned hipster types walk out from the “Employee’s Only” door. The first one is wearing a fedora while the second one is wearing Buddy Holly glasses.
“We heard you have business,” Fedora says.
“With your boss,’ I respond.
“First, I’m gonna have to do a pat-down,” he says and leers at me.
“I don’t think the boss would appreciate it if you sampled the product before he did,”This line doesn't make much sense in this context. I tell him as he grimaces and leads us out the door and deeper into the club. After swimming in an ocean of people, we finally make it to a door marked “Private”. Buddy goes in and after a moment, he steps out. “The boss is ready to see you,” he says.
Inside it's like a development room with a single red light casting a sanguine glow on everything. The bossman was sitting on a couch with his arms draped around two women. He’s shirtless, wearing tight, black jeans and barefooted. He’s also covered in tats. I couldn’t make out most of them, but I notice a pattern of bat-wing skulls and rosettes.
“Have a seat,” he says and points towards the chair on the other side of the glass table in front of him.
“I take it you’re Vladimir?”This is an eye-rollingly cliche name for a vampire.
He nods. “And you must here to talk business.”
“First, we need some privacy.”
He nods and gestures towards his women to clear out. “You two, wait outside,” he to his flunkies as they leave. Be careful when using "as." The way it reads right now is that the boss is telling them to wait outside at exactly the same moment that they are already leaving to wait outside.
“I’m here to negotiate for the release of Alphonso Mignola,” I tell him. Al, a mild-mannered day laborer who got caught up in this mess when he stepped forward to inform me about the vampire shenanigans going on at his job site.Find a way to tell us this without dropping exposition in an aside. You could honestly just cut everything after "I tell him," since it doesn't end up being relevant at all.
“What do you have to offer?”
“May I?” I ask and hold my hands up. He nods and I reach under my shirt. I pull out from underneath my bra two baggies full of white powder, put them down on the table, and untie them. “That should be about a kilo’s worth,” I tell him.
He passes me a mirror with a razor blade. “You first.”
I pour some of the powder on the mirror and form it into lines as he hands me a rolled-up Benjamin. I take the Benjamin and just before I inhale, I fling all the powder right into his face.
Everybody knows that the surest way to kill a vampire is with a wooden stake through the heart. That’s half right, actually. It’s not stabbing them through the heart, it’s the stake itself that kills them. Vampires go into into anaphylactic shock when wood gets in their systems. It doesn’t have to be a stake at all. After all, it’s not coke in those baggies, it’s sawdust. While this is actually fairly creative, sawdust looks literally nothing like coke. Even in a dark club nobody would make that mistake, and sawdust has a pretty strong smell on top of it.
Vladimir’s eyes turn huge and his throat closes up. He tries hacking out the dust out of his lungs but it’s no good. I see his eyes turning dark and he struggles to get his hands around my throat but he can’t. I grab both baggies, put one in my back pocket, and I pull out lighter right before his flunkies burst in.
“Stop right there,” I tell them. “Dunno if your boss told you, but this is sawdust and that-” I motion towards him “-is what happens if you’re exposed to it.”
They back off and bare their fangs. Fun fact--vampires can retract their fangs like a cat with its claws. Unlike the fact about sawdust, this one isn't contributing anything to the story, so it just ends up interruption the action. “What the gently caress do you want?” Buddy shouts.
“Alphonso Mignola,” I say. “Bring him here,” I say and light the lighter, “or I burn this motherfucker to the ground with you in it!”
Buddy nods at Fedora who stays as he takes off. I make my way to one side of the room so that Vladimir isn’t in my blind side. Here’s another fun fact--when it gets in the air, sawdust is a very effective accelerant. The reason why sawmills have giant vacuums is because there’s so much of it in the air that if there’s so much as a spark the whole thing will explode. While this is a mildly interesting fact, there's probably a more exciting way to incorporate this plot point without another freeze-frame on the action. Vladimir keeps choking as the door opens.
Al’s a sturdy guy so when he stumbles his way in, I get worried. I motion for Fedora and Buddy to go to the other side of the room. “Al, you alright?” I ask as he groans. I take a quick look and yep, he’s got fang marks on his jugular. God knows if he’s been turned, and I ain’t gonna ask these motherfuckers. I slip my lighter back into my pocket and wrap my free arm around him as we both back out of the room. But not before I throw all the sawdust in the baggie inside the room and slam the door in front of me. Dick move.
I burst through the emergency exit and out into the alleyway where my car is parked. “Stay with me Al,” I say as I hear the fire alarm blaring inside. “We’ll be safe soon.”
He stops. I see his eyes flash red and fangs form in his mouth. I grab a handful of sawdust from my back pocket and throw it in front of me. Pocket sand! Al screams in pain and tries desperately to rub the dust out of his eyes. I pull out of my pocket my contingency plan--my wooden kubotan. Seems like a pretty impractical choice of weapon against super-strong (?) humans with fangs. I grab his head and jam the spike as hard as hard as I can into his temple. Al’s mouth quivers as if he’s trying to say something before he falls down on the ground, dead.
I look at the spike. It’s covered in blood and something chunky which I can only assume is brains. I just killed the same person who had the information I desperately needed to stop the same monsters that turned him into one.
“gently caress!” I scream at the top of my lungs in rage and frustration This is implied. I run into my car and take off as fast as I can, away from Al’s body and away from that evil place.
This story isn't completely hopeless, since it actually has a beginning, middle, and end, as well as conflict and (kinda) resolution. Your biggest problem is that it reads like somebody narrating a movie to a blind person. There's no characterization - everyone is a cardboard cutout. You give your protagonist a goal, but there's not really any point where the stakes are raised (no pun intended). She just walks in, things happen basically according to plan, and then as she's leaving the dude turns into a vampire out of nowhere. It also feels like the beginning to a longer story. You give us some resolution for the most immediate issue, but then you've built up a much larger conflict that has no closure. When a story isn't self-contained, its basically like leaving the reader on a cliffhanger and never coming back.
About to hit the character limit again, so I'll finish up the last batch of crits shortly.