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  • Locked thread
Benny the Snake
Apr 10, 2012


crabrock posted:

I just treat people badly to address my issues of inadequacy, so if SH u could please put "shut the gently caress up, Benny" into the OP too that'd be great.
I love you too, Crabrock ;-*


Oct 30, 2003

Thunderbrawl CXXI - Go the gently caress to sleep

blue "I want to exhume and make love to the corpse of David Foster Wallace" squares versus Bro "challenging merc for the DM throne" Enheim

This is my daughter, Ellie.

She is a happy, healthy baby, but sometimes she will not go the gently caress to sleep.

I want you two to write her a bedtime story. It doesn't have to be about sleeping, but it could be. It doesn't have to be specifically about Ellie, but it could be. It sure as hell better be nice and not some terrifying horror story or anything else that will gently caress her up psychologically.

I don't expect you to illustrate it, of course, but I expect it to have the potential to be illustrated.

Wordcount: Limited by the attention span of a seven month old.
Due Date:: 28 December, 6pm NZ
Judges: Myself and Ellie (I will read her the stories and gauge her reaction), assisted by sittinghere

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition

Crits in fives, because sometimes I'm a Discordian.

Liam Emsa

Bonjour, and welcome to Thunderdome! Your opening line caught my attention, but then it got slogged down in chunks. And this was the first sudden “twist” that pissed me off. Nothing built up to this, nothing indicating that there was any madness to this man. Just “MC went to a bar, and then drank, and then gets arrested for a dead baby that I'm supposed to believe is his.” A sudden twist does not a good story make. Build me up to the reveal. Don't just drop it on the ground like so much dead baby.

Haterade poo poo: I hate numbers below 100 not being spelled out. It doesn't add extra to the word count because they should all be hyphenated anyways. I'm pretty sure Venus has acid rain. Don't ask me questions you then answer right after.

4/10. there are flickers of good in here but not enough to get my buzz.


Nubile Hillock
Mark Zak: Snow Job

Bro-guy lured to a job assignment by the promise of boobies. A bunch of things happen at a ski resort that seem pretty unconnected and “actiony” and then oh noes! It was a set up! And then it ends. Like the person above you, you suddenly throw the change at the end, and this doesn't make a story flow. A bunch of poo poo just happened and I didn't care about any of it. I especially don’t care about your MC; he embodies every sort of bad offensive comedy protagonist that makes me hate modern film.

Haterade poo poo: Did using the word retard actually add anything whatsoever to the story the number of times you used it? Don't do that. Using it repeatedly turned me the entire hell off.

3/10. There better be people worse than you.


Black Russian

Two kids have a baby sitter they don't like after their parents leave for the evening, and the boy wants to watch TV, so he drugs her and attacks his sister to get back to watching TV.

Welcome to Thunderdome! Enjoy your stay. That said, proofreading. Do it please, and do it often. I got a few paragraphs in and was like “argh these bad writing things.” But worse than that? Nothing happens in this story. The parents were pointless to the whole story, the children had no personality, and the entire last paragraph is just a hodgepodge of actions that happen because it feels like you got to the end and remembered you should wrap this up and get to an ending. This is not how flash fiction is written. Let your story serve as a warning to others.

Haterade poo poo: for the love of baby bunnies loving proofread. Capitalization errors, spelling errors, punctuation errors. Errors everywhere.

2/10. What the gods.



People are leaving Earth encased in Amber, things are tense, then they aren't encased and it's a new world with a guy they knew from before.

I have things in this story. but I don't have a reason they go together or why they happen. There's liquors, but they're just on the counter, not even opened to sip at. Stuff happens, but why? Why do I care about these people getting lost in space or their being found or what it means? It feels like you used the encasing and time skip to make a jump to the end of your story without anything happening, and so nothing happened. You leave all these things, but none of it connects.

Haterade poo poo: Spell out your damned numbers.




Two people break into a building, and do something to broadcast something, and get out. But then at the end, it’s revealed the guy is dead and it was the girl replaying the feedback of his existence.

Eh. I don't feel it. Like I want to feel this world, there’s stuff that feels fascinating to it, but I can't because it just isn't there. I like dystopias and bucking against them, but they have to make me feel that there’s a reason to rebel against them. This one feels as forced as the emotions of the people in it. In shorts like this, it’s impossible to spell everything out, but I am missing details that would help connect things. This was the first story where at the end, I felt middling and shorted by the lack of connections.

Haterade poo poo: None, really.


Jul 18, 2011

Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”

Week 120 Crits: Part 2 of (n-1)

Thalamas - A Son’s Tale

This story frustrates me. Your prose, your description, your rendering of your characters, Jonas in particular, all of these are top-of-the-line stuff. But it doesn’t quite work. It feels like an incomplete fragment of a larger work (which may well be exactly what it should become). Sometimes that works out; people go back and forth on vignettes but I usually like them fine. But this isn’t quite a vignette, either.

Ultimately I think I needed to see some context, something to ground and explain these events. You have a hint of that with his mother’s fears of Them, but once her paranoia is (seemingly) vindicated, we’re left with nothing but questions, and few if any satisfying answers.

Clandestine! - Swollen

I didn’t care for the way you structured this the first time I read it, but with a little space between then and now, it’s grown on me. You might do better with a cleaner boundary between Mike’s present-day musings and the flashback to the visit to Erika’s parents’ home, and I’d recommend you have someone with an eye for the higher mysteries of verb tenses (which isn’t me) take a look at this if you intend to polish it further, but I think it works all right.

Your descriptions are effective, if grotesque (not a complaint) in places, though you might want to ease off just a little. There’s also something I find just a little dissatisfying about your ending (especially since I got the impression that Mike had started smoking in the wake of that visit to her parents, though maybe that’s just me reading things that aren’t there). It feels a little too pat, though I think its heart is in the right place.

Benny the Snake - New Arcadia

This may be my favorite thing I’ve ever read of yours. Keep that in mind while I tear it to shreds.

Your prose (particularly in the first third) alternates between a lecturing tone and the melodramatic, and it could all stand to be deflated. I don’t think I see a single sentence in your first few paragraphs that couldn’t be cut down by about 30-40% and made more effective for it.

I would lose all of the stuff from John the Elder Stanford’s point of view. Not because it’s badly-written, especially, but because it serves primarily to distract from the mirrored perspectives of Sheriff Ferguson and Johnny, whose conflict is, I think, the heart of this. This would also have the effect of shortening the execution scene, which I think would work to your benefit. Give us a quick snapshot, one searing image of that gallows being put to use from the perspective of your players, and dive directly into the effect it’s having on the Sheriff and on Johnny.

That infodump on the origins of the word “decimation” is just painful, and I’m not sure the example really fits, though you could make it a pretty effective image with some effort. The way you handle the “War of Northern Aggression” (hahaha) bit is better, mostly because it more aptly channels the mindset that Johnny’s operating from. But it still feels a little out of place and, again, I think that’s down to the execution rather than the premise.

You’ve got the core of something good here. You’ve also still got some work ahead of you.

Sitting Here - Mycoremediation

Lord knows I’m not exactly a hard sell when it comes to, well, pretty much any sort of science fiction, but I don’t think that’s why I liked this as much as I did.

What stood out to me as I reread it just now is the way that Celia and Emmett should be cliches. The wide-eyed idealist scientist and her partner who cares about her but Just Doesn’t Get It are such classic staples of this sort of thing. And you don’t even really subvert the premise greatly, though I think the usual cliche would be for Emmett to pull her back when she was on the verge of fungal enlightenment/becoming Queen of the Evil Mushrooms rather than for her to raw him in. I think that’s the detail that partly sells it for me, but even more, I think it’s the overall sweetness of this piece. Not overwhelmingly sentimental, but no trace of irony here at all, just a very kind, sweet, story of hope coming from somewhere unlikely. Even if you don’t accept the mushrooms as a universal good (and I don’t think there’s really support for a more sinister reading here, but, again, cliches) it’s hard to see the end as anything but a well-earned uplifting moment.

Pete Zah - Head Space

This is the story equivalent of a big slobbery shaggy mutt. There’s a lot that’s technically wrong with it, a lot to criticize, but I just can’t avoid smiling at it all the same.

Your first sentence nearly made me run screaming. Thank God the rest of it wasn’t like that, but you need to resist the urge to overwrite. I think you humanize Arthur pretty well, well enough that you could condense quite a lot of this. His walk toward town doesn’t really give us insights into him that we don’t already have, and it doesn’t really serve any plot purpose that I can see. It’s just there to take up space, and taking up space is not what you want, here.

And your ending. I get what you were trying for, a grand, childlike gesture free of the pressures of adulthood. Does it work? Is that the problem Arthur’s been fighting, really? I can’t quite tell, and I think I should be able to tell.

Surreptitious Muffin - Training Wheels

Not a very ambitious piece for you, but that’s no great crime, and you’re in as good form as ever. Not really got a lot to say here, except that this was fun to read.

Ironic Twist - On A String

If there were a prize for atmosphere, you’d have won it. Your evocation of the club in particular was the standout for this piece. The plot was slight, but did its job, and that’s all it needs to do, I think. Your protagonist came alive quite well. Less so Miss Thing, about whom I couldn’t tell you much. I don’t know if there’s a way for us to have seen more than Terrence did, or if there was even a need for that, but I’d kind of like to know what drew her to him, at least.

This is some fine work and it’s grown on me a little every time I’ve read it.

Nethilia - Sacrifice

You’ve written one hell of a scene here. I’d love to read more. Aside from a few slips in tense, I don’t have a lot of complaints about this. I wonder if it wouldn’t be more powerful with a bit more ambiguity about whether she’s delusional about her son still being inside that monster, but I’m not sure this situation, where this is a monster that loves her and that might not make any difference, isn’t actually worse.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week CXVIII: J.A.B.C., Hammer Bro., Cacto, Chairchucker, JcDent, FouRPlaY, Quidnose, Anathema Device, Benny the Snake, thehomemaster, and starr

Can we talk for a second about everyone's arsonist tendencies? So many burning houses! It got funny around the time the second air story opened with a fire. Other than that, the memorable characteristic of this round is how many of the entries were on the same general level. The DM pool had its share of swimmers, yet more entries were decent than not. It was a good week to read. For the most part. There were exceptions, as you'll see.

J.A.B.C., "A New Spring"
Season/element: spring air

It kills this story that I have such difficulty picturing the habitation module. I don't know what you want me to see in my mind's eye, but it's probably not a pile of stark white, folded, styrofoam/plastic 'houses,' on top of which a lone astronaut huddles as his zero-g hair threatens to choke him inside his helmet. That bit of bemusement started us off on the wrong foot, and it's a symptom of the greater problem: you had a decent concept here, but you didn't convey it very well.

The Zephyr (ship names are traditionally italicized) appears to be on a pre-colonization mission to a world about which they know little. Which struck me as odd, by the way; shouldn't there have been exploratory missions, surface landings, etc. in advance of sending farms and houses? Maybe Earth was too busy falling apart to take proper precautions. Anyway, something hits the ship and their solution is to deploy their houses--but not the farms--in a one-way trip for poor, redundant Williams. For some unclear reason the habitat module will only seat one person. I don't get this. The ship must be huge to hold entire houses, right? They aren't actually styrofoam, are they? Even if they were, the bulk involved... it's just weird to me. Despite some bumps along the way, Williams reaches his new planet and takes a deep breath of the air. His crew will presumably return for him at some point. I guess they're going to go back to Earth for repairs? Are they going to drop that agricultural module too or do they assume Williams can digest the alien flora?

I kept being distracted by questions. I wish I understood what the mission is exactly, whether this is an advance team that was intending to reside on the planet and set up a village and farms for a colony yet to come, whether there are colonists on board, and why the houses were the priority. I especially want to know that. It seems more likely to me that Williams could fend for himself if he had the farming technology available but no house than vice versa, and if you'd put him on the agriculture shuttle, there wouldn't be this nagging puzzle of what the deal is with those houses. I don't see the benefit of getting the housing set up in advance, but nothing else. Seems like a potential waste of Williams' life, honestly. Particularly given the lack of research anyone has done on this world.

The piece would have been a bit vignette-tastic even if Williams had ridden the agricultural module down to the planet; nobody grows or changes here and not much is actually accomplished. We don't see what Williams makes of his new world. There's not much plot. Williams' peril as the ship starts to break apart is very brief. Still, the writing wasn't bad, the piece was kind of enjoyable, the interpretation of spring air was good, and the last few paragraphs were almost good too. Almost: if winter is over, then it is spring, so 'we'll see you in springtime' is meaningless. And to beat on the drum one more time, how is humanity waking to a new spring because some houses have landed on a planet? Seriously. Drop the farms instead.

You had one consistent mechanical problem: you capitalized the word immediately following a piece of dialogue even when you shouldn't have. An example: '“Ten minutes, Williams,” The Captain’s voice called out.' You don't want to capitalize 'the' in that sentence--or 'captain,' for that matter. It isn't being used as a pronoun there. Similarly, 'he' not be capitalized in '“Stay calm, go over your checks, and you’ll do fine,” He said.' I link to a guide on punctuating dialogue in almost every round these days; it may be of use to you.

For all my grousing about housing, this is a fair debut, and I'm pleased with it as a start to the week.

**** ****

Hammer Bro., "Winter Wine"
Season/element: winter water

Stories shouldn't be 85% dialogue is advice often given in Thunderdome. If anyone wants to understand why, he only needs to look at this entry. You made the flatly bizarre choice to tell a complicated story in a manner that made exposition all but impossible to deliver in a smooth and natural way. What exposition you had clunked and thumped. Worse, you didn't include enough to give the reader a fighting chance of understanding what you were on about. I think I understand the references to Greek myth, but I'm not positive I have the right answer even after rather too much time spent picking the piece apart. You served up a confusing melee of barely coherent fragments and asked me to do a lot of the work you should have done in order to make them resolve into something with meaning.

Here's what I got, looking only at the text without delving into myth: Persephone is feeling under the weather after what I presume was her sister's birthday party the night before, and she asks her sweetheart/spouse, Corey, to report to their mutual boss that she won't be in for work. Corey and the boss talk about zombies. Those are a thing, and they're killing people. The zombies may not be standard undead zombies, since Damon refers to their behavior 'right before they die.' Corey returns home from work to find the apartment/house in a deeper chill. Persephone mentions that Melinoe (her sister?) came by and examined her and declared she'd be better soon, making me wonder just how long Persephone has been ill. Corey would very much like to cuddle her, but not tonight. This section makes even less sense than the rest; I'll come back to this later. Apparently there is a drink called 'Winter Wine' that allows one to see the dead--or believe they can--and maybe turns the drinkers into zombies? Persephone has been drinking this wine, seeing her dead family, and soon she too will die in Corey's arms. Finis.

Mythology adds some depth to this and a bit of clarity, but nearly as much confusion.

Persephone is an obvious parallel to the Persephone of Greek myth, the daughter of Demeter who was kidnapped by Hades, ate pomegranate seeds, and must spend six months of the year in the Underworld. Grain goddess Demeter grieves during these months and withdraws her bounty from the earth, so we have autumn and winter.

Corey is not so clear. Kore is an alternative name for Persephone, but that doesn't make much sense for Persephone's spouse.

Melinoe is the daughter of Persephone and Zeus, conceived through deceit. Either Hades or Zeus tears her apart after her birth. I know of no association she has with doctors.

Asphodel is a part of the Greek Underworld where ordinary souls are sent after death.

Euphoric comes from the Greek euphoros, healthy, so it may have a double meaning when Persephone says it. Or may not. Who knows?

So when I factor the myth in, it becomes much clearer that Persephone's daughter/sister Melinoe is dead, that her birthday party may have been a party of remembrance, and that Persephone may have drunk Winter Wine for the first time then in order to see her. Every time Persephone mentions seeing Melinoe or talking to Melinoe, it's a sign that she's slipping away from the living, rational world and closer to death. And as Persephone moves toward the Underworld, winter moves in, shown by the increasing cold of the house. This stuff is pretty cool.

On the other hand, who is Corey supposed to be? Who is Damon? Why are there zombies? Are the zombies living people made mindless by Winter Wine, and if so, why confuse the matter by calling them zombies at all? These elements don't fit into myth as far as I know, so they stick out like hangnails that I wish I could clip away. Why change Melinoe from a daughter to a sister?

When you get right down to it, why use myth in this way? To bring in your season? This is an extreme method. I don't think the characters in the story are the literal gods of old, although the reference to prophets gives me pause; they appear to be modern people who, for whatever reason, share those mythic names. Could you tell the same story with different names? Pretty much, although you might have to stop leaning on mythology to do some of the work for you. There's something very meta about it: the names don't make particular sense in the world of the story. They're there as signposts.

There's a passage in the third section that's heinous for how little sense it makes. Everything from 'I would very much like to cuddle you' to 'I wasn't sure that you wanted to' is a head-scratcher. Regarding the cuddle line, who says that? It's so odd, stilted to an off-putting degree. I thought he was asking if she was up to cuddling, but his next lines of dialogue refute that: 'Not tonight, but tomorrow I have some serious thinking to do.' What? First, he wants to cuddle her, but not tonight. Why not? And does he only want to cuddle her when he thinks serious thoughts? I don't even know. This is incoherent. Or, wait--is he saying that he doesn't have serious thoughts to think tonight (so cuddletime, yay!), but tomorrow he will? That would lead more logically to 'Will I see you at all?' Nothing leads logically to 'I wasn't sure that you wanted to.' Why, if they're going to cuddle tonight, is he in such doubt that she'll want to see him tomorrow? Whatever you were trying to convey, you failed to get it across through dialogue alone. Not really surprising.

While winter is a clear and creative presence here, water and wine are not the same thing, and I'm the more disappointed since naming your death beverage after the river Styx would have been perfect.

As best I can tell, you wanted to intrigue me. You wanted me to figure out the story instead of receiving it in a straightforward way. It's an interesting, ambitious goal that only worked--if it did!--because I was a captive audience of sorts. Your text and your premise weren't so enthralling that I wanted to dig for the treasure at the center. Nor am I convinced the prize was worth it. There's something here, but you made getting to it so much more frustrating than it should have been.

**** ****

Cacto, "Summer loving"
Season/element: summer air

'The heat was pretty bad'; 'it was the hot winds'; 'The air itself was ferocious'; 'today was the sort of day'; 'James was inside'; 'It was the perfect place'; 'it was up north'; 'it was quiet'; 'the harmonics were surprisingly good'; 'it was Zav's place'; 'James was watching music'; 'A scrolling newsfeed was talking'; 'Watching it wasn't going.' All from your first three paragraphs. Do you see a trend?

Was is a plain verb, a boring verb, and an unobtrusive verb right up until the point that it's overused, which in your case happened three sentences in. That drained most of the life from your prose. Moreover, I had to concentrate to see past the chains of was, was, was to the story beneath. I didn't enjoy reading this piece for reasons that had little to do with the characters or the plot and nothing to do with your mechanical skill otherwise; the dull sentences made it a slog when it didn't have to be. Try to kick your was addiction going forward, because James' character arc in this piece is good. I could have liked the story if the writing had been more active--and if the characters hadn't been too dumb to live.

Zav lives on the edge of a fire zone; the fire is moving toward his house, but he and James ignore the situation even as soot starts blowing in. They wake up at night with the building on fire already. Then they flee, and none of it matters to James because he's in love. You were going for a sweet sentiment, and in your second-to-last paragraph you touched it (I especially like 'put to air what needed to be said': I thought for a second, realized what the words must be, and smiled), but the last line isn't sweet so much as dumb. His beloved Zav roasted his hand, f'God's sake. That doesn't matter? That they both nearly died doesn't matter? That isn't love. That's idiocy. I want to smack James upside the head. Both boys are too blase about it all, but that's an important part of Zav's characterization, so I can accept it from him. The firemen seem a bit blase too, not bothering to warn the boys to evacuate and giving the neighborhood up for lost from the get go, and that's harder to buy. I would have liked a bit more clarity on why James and Zav were so utterly on their own.

The heart of the story and its saving grace is James' transformation in a crisis from a guy who follows his lover's go-with-the-flow lead to one who takes action and drags Zav along. The line 'poo poo, man, when did you get strong?' is a great touch. I don't think it's just physical strength that James is showing there. But the last line walks him backward, back to the boy who went along with anything because he was in love, and that's another reason I don't like it. You stumbled on the landing.

You hit your season, but I half wonder if you thought you'd rolled summer fire instead. Fire has a key role in the story, but air is a bit player at best.

Despite the was conga line, I don't mind this piece. It could be wholly decent if you fixed it up.

**** ****

Chairchucker, "Wings on Fire"
Season/element: autumn air

Sitting Here is right when she calls this talky, and that talkiness may be to blame for the one significant problem I had with the piece: if Robin's emotions were shown more, specifically the love he has for autumn or ash leaves, the end would be stronger. I felt as though I needed to take the specific beauty of binding him to ash leaves on faith. Robin didn't show much emotion overall, and mostly this worked--his stoicism is part of his character and a large part of what gave the piece its charm. But that's one point on which I was disappointed. I wish too that I knew exactly what Robin, Angela, and Knitter were supposed to be, since my mind's eye kept switching between bird wings, dragonfly wings, and butterfly wings.

Otherwise I really liked this story of a quiet man... bird man... fairy... whatever-he-was who made no fuss about saving children's lives, who tried hard to accept what had happened to him, who didn't want it to be a burden for his wife/girlfriend, and whose wife/girlfriend refused to give up. Making Robin so placid on the surface was a calculated risk. It wouldn't be hard to dismiss him as bland and two-dimensional. I think it's the opening that makes him for me; he's a hero, but he thinks nothing of it. Of course he saved kids. That's what you do. Of course he would watch Angela fly south without him. He loves her. Etc. Angela's love for him is one way you can tell that he isn't matter-of-fact because he doesn't care. Her affection is between the lines of their conversations and in how she persists in finding an answer that will let him have the sky again--it's there in how she asks which leaves he likes without telling him why. I love it when relationships are illustrated like this. The devotion between them isn't flashy, but it's real.

Like Cacto before you, you had air as your element but opened with fire; unlike in Cacto's, air is the prevailing presence in your piece. Centering everything on flight did the job.

As well as conveying depth in simple words, your prose is smooth and polished. There are no mechanical missteps. Compared to your entry for the fourth week, which I'd recently read, this is elegant and mature work. I've never thought your early losing entries were that bad anyway, but this one finally makes me nod my head along with those who say you've improved.

**** ****

JcDent, "An Interlude"
Season/element: winter fire

So let me get this straight. You submitted a scrap of back story to a story you never told, with no plot, no characterization, no names for your characters, infodumps galore that you gave us no reason to care about, and you even titled it "An Interlude," suggesting you knew you hadn't produced anything with meat or even bones? On top of that, it was a bare step from video game fanfic? Here's some advice for future Thunderdome rounds. Don't do that. sebmojo wasn't whistling Dixie when he said you were lucky to escape the loss. I ranked this lower than Hammer Bro.'s piece, which at least tried to tell me something that might have been worth sharing.

Other problems were comparatively minimal, but I still grimaced at 'Quizs.' You can't pluralize a word ending in Z that way. The plural pegasi only has one i. Your entire premise is unappealingly video-gamey. No surprise, huh? Elves, mechs, aliens, Nazis; you thought throwing them together would be cool, I guess. And of course the elves are hippies. It'd be awful to stray from cliche. Was William ever dead or not? What was "COOKOFF!" supposed to mean? I don't care, to be honest--and that's a very bad sign--but these points weren't clear.

If you back slowly away from deriving 'stories' from X-COM, WH40K, and God knows what else, you might get somewhere; I liked the line 'The spindly icy fingers of winter grasped the globe and shook something loose, something unseen for hundreds of years.' You'll have to come up with something more substantial, though. Otherwise you'll pick up more losses. Not every round will have something bad enough to save you.

**** ****

FouRPlaY, "Through the Flames"
Season/element: summer fire

Tsk! No editing after submission! I'm sympathetic to your phone plight, but you get a frown for meddling with the story later.

You go over the top in making Jack an empty, pompous windbag early on. I can't believe that a complete coward who thought only of glory would be a firefighter to begin with; it's an intensely risky job. Going into a burning building to shepherd people out--even on the first floor--is not for sissies. I get that Jack plays up his 'heroics' and may not deserve the medal he wears, but whatever he did to seem as though he'd earned it was probably somewhat brave. So when he turns white at the very idea of actually rescuing someone, I don't buy it. Once he's in the building, he proves himself courageous enough: he hesitates no more than any normal man would do and keeps his head. Your concept is fine, but Jack's characterization doesn't sell it.

What was the point of the whole "What information have you managed to gather on your walk from the fire truck?" exchange? I'll be darned if I see how it's important that the firefighters discussed the call on the way to the scene--and what information could he gather on the walk from the truck to the fire? That's not even the question he answers: he tells her what information he received as they drove to the fire. It's a completely pointless and nonsensical infodump. You could streamline the heck out of it easily:

"What can you tell us about the fire?"

"That there are people inside. So if you'll excuse me, I need to go be a hero."

You might want to embroider it with action to show him playing to the crowd, but nothing else said during that exchange added to the story; it created a reading speed bump.

Technical errors are everywhere, and they're bad enough to mar the whole. 'Great question hard hitting question, Miranda. I can see that journalism degree your parents paid for is doing it's job.' Ignoring for a moment my advice to chop this entirely, do you see where proofing failed you? There should be a comma after the first 'question,' 'hard-hitting' needs a hyphen as a compound modifier, and you put a freaking apostrophe in the possessive its. All in two sentences. Elsewhere you have 'they condo board,' 'I've got you know,' 'make shift' (should be one word), 'alright,' and 'Question after question shouted in Jack's direction' (missing its verb). While this isn't a technical mistake, you use so many short sentences that the rhythm of your prose is choppy; it has as much flow as "See Dick and Jane. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run."

I approve of using Summer as a name! It might have been cheap if she'd been a minor character, but she was important to the story, so it worked.

While this needs a great deal of revision, it's by no means beyond salvaging.

**** ****

Season/element: autumn fire

This story. I dislike this story more than I dislike the one that lost. You and Hammer Bro. both went with gimmicks that obscured the plot and were needlessly unpleasant to read, and neither of you particularly served your ambition: Mr. Bro.'s high concept was further complicated and muddled, and your attempt to show a tragedy through the eyes of a child was made unconvincing. The stunt you tried can work, but it helps mightily if you don't portray an eight-year-old as so much of an idiot that he can't tell a dog from a human being. Assuming you didn't confuse that issue yourself to no good purpose.

A child's essay doesn't need to and really shouldn't read like Benjy's section in The Sound and the Fury. Eight is old enough to know what a comma is. Certainly a kid who knows what italics are should be familiar with more rudimentary grammar. Eight is also old to be writing things like 'grownedup' and to not know the word 'gently caress.' Most of all, it is much too old to believe Frank Frank is a dog if he's a man--and what dog drinks? Then again, what man goes by Frank Frank? And how could a human funeral be arranged so quickly? But then who got Sarah pregnant? For this issue to be unclear is completely pointless. If you had your heart set on this bizarre puzzle, you should have made your narrator perhaps six at most--perhaps four at most. Perhaps three at most. Kids aren't this dumb. A kid's perspective wouldn't be this blind. For me, then, you failed at what you were presumably out to do, and that made the piece teeth-grindingly frustrating.

I do like the very last note, the plastic candles. A child questioning the truth of childhood heroes such as firemen is an idea with a lot of promise. The concept for this was fine; the style didn't serve it. The Saddest Rhino's "Dear Mister Cerato Sirium" is an example of this trick done better. The child protagonist is also nearly eight, and his writing is rife with spelling and mechanical errors, but it shows some surprising insights, doesn't paint him as an idiot, and is so much less grating.

**** ****

Anathema Device, "Freedom Garden"
Season/element: spring earth

Although this is a nice story, it skims over the surface of Jessica's situation as a rock would skip over a lake. That's a flawed metaphor, though, because the rock will eventually fall into deeper water. This never really goes deeper. All of Jessica's conflict happens offstage; I don't feel her fear. There's not much to her besides 'abused wife in recovery.' Sean is thinner yet. They have no chemistry--that would require Sean to have a personality. The romantic plot doesn't work for me, so the end beat is less heartwarming than you probably wanted. It all seems too easy, and I'm not much moved even though the idea is sweet. Entries in which protagonists recovered from catastrophes with support from someone who loved them were thick on the ground, especially on the high tier, and yours suffered by comparison to tales that showed the protagonist's struggles and didn't make every moment some kind of triumph.

That said, there were two sections in which Jessica came into her own: when she (re)discovered violence as catharsis, that was good stuff; when she felt the same violent pleasure in signing the papers, it was even better. Those moments let her be more than an actor in the spring-renewal metaphor. It was the one stretch where I got the sense of her as a survivor making a breakthrough. You know, mileage will vary, but I think the love story may have gotten in the way of the recovery story. Jessica ended up bouncing from one man to the other, and I didn't get the impression she'd rediscovered herself as an individual outside of a relationship. I wish she and Sean had only been friends in the end. Maybe that's pure personal preference.

The writing was great, and any errors slipped my notice. It's not much wonder one of the judges liked this story enough to give it a win vote. I liked it myself, but I wanted more.

**** ****

Benny the Snake, "My First Beer"
Season/element: spring water

You had two stories here, not one, and you didn't paste them together well. The first story--a father and son bonding on a reluctant fishing trip--had some legs, even if it was cliche. The prose was the best I'd seen from you yet. Which would admittedly be more impressive if you hadn't gotten help from three people that I know of and yet still managed to include mechanical errors in the text, but hey. You slipped into Wikidump territory when you described Jenks Lake, but the passage was brief. The main character wasn't charismatic, but an annoying kid learning to have fun with his dad is the whole idea of these stories, right?

Apparently it wasn't the idea of this one. Midstream, you introduced the kid's quest for a beer. You didn't sell me on the strength of his desire for the beer. He seemed to be trying to finagle one just because why not. I didn't realize then that the beer quest was meant to be the main story, but I assume now that it was, since the piece ended with the jerk kid blackmailing his father for alcohol and reflecting the beer was somehow 'worth it.' Way to undo every suggestion that he was anything other than a douche! Way to cut the father-son plot off at the knees and replace it with something less cliche but a lot more dumb! The kid wasn't clever. His scheming wasn't interesting. He tried the exact same approach twice before the opportunity to twist Dad's arm presented itself. I wondered whether he ever considered just asking for the drat beer; asking about babies twice was at least as transparent but less honest.

Maybe you intentionally set the stage for an expected story and then threw in a twist? If you'd left out the whining for the beer altogether, you might have pulled that off. A bonding trip turning out to have ulterior motives behind it could be interesting. The kid could have seen his father in two different new lights, all in one day. What did he think about his father stepping around the law? Did he mind? Beats me, since all he cared about was a beer. What a wasted opportunity. The up side is that the work was pretty readable for nearly half its length, so you're on the right track.

Mechanical errors: In the sentence 'A brown SUV passed us by and Dad waved,' you need a comma after 'by.' The word 'sheriff' should not be capitalized in 'So he's like a Sheriff?' 'Game Boy' is not one word. The closing quotation mark after 'that drat thing' is missing. You misuse 'comprise' in 'The forest itself is comprised of': this construction is incorrect. You would want to say either 'The forest itself is composed of blah blah blah' or 'Blah blah blah comprised the forest.' Check this link for a more detailed explanation. In the phrase 'you'll either get it caught in something or someone,' 'either' is in the wrong place. Either 'you'll get it caught in either something or someone' or 'you'll either get it caught in something or get it caught in someone' would have been correct. The phrase 'he pointed out towards the shallow part of the lake' is not a dialogue tag and should not be punctuated as one. You use a construction of 'said and <verb>ed' or 'shouted and <verb>ed' often. I'm not dead sure this is technically incorrect, but I suspect it is, and the better route would be 'he said, and he <verb>ed.' You needed a comma after 'me' in 'he told me and I grabbed it out of his tackle box.' Etc. Some of these are finicky technicalities, but how did you have at least three editors and still miss a quotation mark?

Other problems: 'He's the one who enforces the fishing laws [...] And he has the authority to enforce the laws' is bizarre to me. If nothing else, it's repetitive phrasing, but it's also redundant since the first sentence rather implies the second. You can't unintentionally twiddle your thumbs. I think you were going for something with the father's line about kingfishers--a cop metaphor?--but you didn't get there. You describe the father holding his son's shoulder thus: 'and gripped my shoulder,' 'in a vice grip,' 'eased his grip.' There had to be a way to vary the verbs more than that!

Overall: This is one of your better entries, and it landed safely in the middle, but you still have a ways to go. It would help your development as a writer if you walked that way without others holding your hand.

**** ****

thehomemaster, "Flow"
Season/element: summer water

Your protagonist doesn't accomplish a thing, and that's the problem. She travels to the Flow Festival, and, when the water is late to arrive, decides to go find it and bring it to her people. She finds it coursing down its natural path just a bit below schedule. 'Woman witnesses natural phenomenon, does nothing much about it' would be a vignette at the best of times, and in this case, despite some nice sensory details here and there, you describe the rush of water in a banal way--'A wall of water presented itself to Lysa' doesn't sound dangerous or impressive; it sounds more like the water and Lysa are meeting at a formal garden party--that deprived the piece of excitement. I finished reading only to wonder what the point had been. Lysa, her world, or her experience would have had to be much more interesting than they were to make up for the lack of a plot.

Lysa's lack of agency is the more frustrating because it feels like a bait and switch. Her determination to help her people got heavy emphasis in the first couple of sections. (You had too many scene breaks, by the by. Did you need the first one or the second? Did you need any of them, really?) It came to nothing. What started as a quest story fizzled and died once the river showed up.

The one part I particularly liked was Lysa cutting the grass, drinking the dew, and tossing the blades into the wind. It was a good visual that emphasized how thirsty she must have been. Your writing in general was competent. While that wasn't enough to balance out the story's critical flaw, it kept you a couple of steps above the low tier.

**** ****

starr, "Two halves of a Whole"
Season/element: autumn fire

The premise of a person's death as a dark twin, a separate being who loves or is obsessed by the living mirror, was great. Deirdre/Deidre's attempt to confront hers was educational in several respects: she learned she couldn't fight it off with a knife, that any escape was temporary, and that death was not evil--assuming the vendor had told her the truth. This all could have made for a good story, but the ending fell flat. I think I know why. You ended with Deirdre/Deidre feeling her death physically near, which wasn't a change from the state of affairs when the story began. You didn't go into her thoughts or feelings. Did her discoveries make her angry? Despairing? Resigned? What? If this was a story about what Deirdre/Deidre learned, then I wish you'd shown how that knowledge affected her, and I believe that if you had the conclusion would have been a lot more satisfying.

The writing was okay, aside from the inconsistent spelling of the main character's name. It got repetitive in spots. Writing 'death' over and over was probably hard to avoid given givens, but I winced at it by the time I got to Aedan's story. The phrase 'dark form' appeared twice in one sentence in the second paragraph. Mechanically, you could have used more commas. Examples: 'But when her slight spring cough turned into a deep wracking pain in her chest and summer turned to fall she started seeing more and more of her death'--a comma after 'fall' would have been appropriate and would have broken up that long string of words. I'm also not sure about your phrasing there. You may have wanted something like 'But when her slight spring cough turned into a deep wracking pain in her chest, continuing through summer and into fall,' etc., if the idea was that her cough began in spring and worsened through time. The sentence as you had it told me that the cough worsened at the same time that summer turned to fall, at which point it seems weird to call it a spring cough. Put a comma before 'Aedan' in the phrase 'outside my window all night Aedan' and after 'know' in the phrase 'I know Deidre.' The phrase 'like every other child' should have been set aside by commas in the sentence 'She like every other child was told the story of their death,' as it was nonessential information. A comma would have been welcome after 'illness' in the phrase 'But as a person’s fire dims from age or illness death is able to get closer and closer.' Etc. Some of your sentences read as too long or awkward to me, and commas would have helped.

You did a great job with your season and element. I particularly enjoyed the interpretation of autumn.

I thought more highly of this one after a couple of rereads, and now I'd suggest you keep it and polish it up.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 20:58 on Dec 13, 2014

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week CXVIII: Entenzahn, newtestleper, Ironic Twist, Djeser, Some Guy TT, Nethilia, blue squares, ceaselessfuture, Obliterati, Paladinus, and Fumblemouse

Entenzahn, "And Grow Anew"
Season/element: spring water

I don't hate that first sentence! It does shade purple, though. For me it's 'pulsing with the intensity of a tiny ringing bell' that does it, and even just ditching 'pulsing' (and removing the hyphen from 'far off' earlier) would put you in the dramatic-but-acceptable zone. The first section is honestly my favorite part, especially this exchange:

“It was an accident.”


“Please hurry.”

There's something about that "Yes." The operator knows better, I suspect. Just like Ben. But s/he isn't going to say so. Strong stuff in seven words.

The rest of the story isn't quite as powerful, which isn't to say it's weak. It has a lot of thematic similarity to Chairchucker's piece, as both show tragedy, loss, recovery, and rebirth. Both have a secondary character who loves and supports the protagonist and helps him find something almost like normal life again. Like Chairchucker, you handled these motifs well. Ben's grief is raw and consuming. It was slightly clumsier writing on your part and skillful work on Chairchucker's that kept you a head behind the lead.

I don't know why Ben blames himself for Sarah's death if she died swimming in the river alone, and he wasn't there, and he hadn't suggested she go. Granted, grief isn't rational. He could be thinking that if he'd been there, he could have saved her. But he tells his father he killed her. When I read that, I started the story over from the beginning to figure out what Ben had done to Sarah and came up empty. I'd rephrase to something less active, maybe 'I let her die' or even 'It was my fault.' The paintings of flowers also confused me. Sarah drew flowers; it's Ben who started painting them, in the next section, so at first I thought you'd jumped backward in time and were telling the story out of order. Now I think Ben takes up painting after that conversation with his dad; if his dad called Sarah's work 'drawings' or 'sketches,' that would be a lot more clear.

A couple of phrases are off. 'He hadn’t insisted to stay' should probably be 'He hadn't insisted on staying.' 'If he’d opened his mouth again, he’d sob' mixes tenses, past perfect and past; either 'If he opened his mouth again, he'd sob' or 'If he'd opened his mouth again, he'd have sobbed' would be appropriate, and I suggest the former. 'Looking at his pictures, he probably learned more about gardening than drawing' tells me that Ben probably learned more about gardening from looking at his pictures than he did about drawing, which I don't think is what you meant. 'Judging by his pictures, he'd probably' etc. would work. 'He felt a sense of protection over that little bud' doesn't read right to me; I don't think 'a sense of protection' is a thing, so maybe go with 'He felt a sense of protectiveness for that little bud.' Dropping 'a sense of' would decrease the purple tinge. 'There was a knock at the door' is technically fine, but blah, especially following 'He was back in their apartment' etc.; 'Someone knocked on the door' would be one way to strengthen it.

On the whole, however, it's good work with a lot of feeling to sink the teeth into, and of course it hits the season and element square. You've been on a hot streak lately, and I've enjoyed the results. Keep going!

**** ****

newtestleper, "Overconfidence"
Season/element: winter air

You had a good idea and a neat message about the reality of people that we don't always see, but your characters were underdeveloped, and John especially was too blase to pull it off. There was no sign that he cared that Molly was dead. He felt nothing about his own brush with disaster, as far as I could tell. Emotionless robots make for bad characters in tragedy. They weren't unlikable; I regret Molly's demise even if John doesn't, and John had too little personality for me to feel one way or the other about him.

This might have been a better entry for Descriptive Week. Something like seventy percent of the story is either skiing or getting up after falling while skiing, focusing on sensory details. Character and plot are lacking, and the whole thing is basically one scene. It still almost worked--if John had even felt numb shock that someone had died right in front of him, it could have been enough to make the piece a brisk slap, not a meaty story, but a striking one.

Mechanical errors: your second sentence is badly phrased; 'as they curved through the pines while still keeping his footing' reads like Molly's skis are keeping his footing. The phrase 'the shade had let a crust of ice had formed over the powder' looks as though you changed your wording partway through and then forgot to proof; 'twenty-four' needs a hyphen in 'twenty four hours'; you mis-punctuated your dialogue, forgetting the commas before the closing quotation marks. Here's a guide to dialogue punctuation that may help, if I haven't linked it for you before. I've lost track of how many times I've pointed to that thing. The comma after 'He still had one ski on' should have been a semicolon or period as 'the other couldn't be seen from where he lay crumpled against the tree that had saved him' is an independent clause. Those goofs are almost beside the point, though, compared to the lack of human reaction that killed the story.

**** ****

Ironic Twist, "Hiding Places"
Season/element: spring air

No entry this week was more disappointing. No other entry began so strongly, drew a character so beautifully, held so many evocative images, was composed of such excellent sentences, only to collapse in the final ten meters into a pile of Writing that appeared to prioritize pretty words and pretty visuals over saying anything. Whether Crane had a metaphysical experience in a dream that transformed him into a string of life that tied itself in a knot; whether this was an incredibly overwritten way of saying he continued hiding, holding onto himself, as his parents called; whether a stranger did kidnap him (but that makes the last paragraph meaningless); or whether the answer is something else entirely, I do not know. You sacrificed clarity. It was too high a price for what you got and gave in return, however lovely individual sentences may have been.

I love Crane, his questions and odd habits. I love the tension you set up in the first section. Maybe it was too much for a flash piece. Maybe there was no way to resolve the puzzle of where and why Crane had gone within a slim word count. I think when I look at it now that the strongest ending, and perhaps the intended one, would be that he stayed hidden and nothing sinister happened to him. That wouldn't live up to the dramatic opening, but it would mean something if he tried to carry himself because he was no longer secure in his parents' hold; it would have weight. But then I look back at the story, and I wonder what the psychadelic dream sequence meant and why, oh, why you phrased the ending as you did--and I question again whether Crane instead dissolved into the space between things. This ambiguity may have been intentional, for all I can tell, but I don't like the effect at all.

There's not much else to criticize; the writing is never bad and occasionally exquisite, and if there were mechanical errors, I didn't notice. This would have taken the win easily if the second half had lived up to the first. That it didn't contend for an HM says a lot about how much damage the left turn into the vague and weird wrought.

**** ****

Djeser, "The Aerial Ace and the Battle of Roswell"
Season/element: summer earth

Amelia Earhart fighting extra-terrestrial Commies on the Fourth of July is an idea so dumb and pulpy that it wraps back around to amazing. It would have been insanely easy to botch this, but you played it just right. Making no apologies, paying scarce heed to realism, you gloried in your work and delivered a romp that was stupid in the best ways! I'll admit I can't believe stuffing a stick of dynamite down the alien general's shirt would have somehow blown up his whole fleet and not Ace herself, but if she'd died we wouldn't have her last exchange with Putnam. Keep those sky fires burning, Amelia. :patriot:

It's beside the point that the physics and history and whatnot don't hold up. It's slightly more relevant that you wrote about an aerial battle with space aliens when your element was earth. You pass the bare requirement since 'summer earth' may have inspired your choice of Roswell as a venue, and it's a battle for the planet Earth on top of that, but c'mon, this is an air story. You missed the spirit of the thing. Still, I had so much fun reading Ace's adventure that it landed on my top tier, nudged out by equally tasty but more substantial fare.

**** ****

Some Guy TT, "Sakura Riders"
Season/element: spring air

This one was fun too. It's my favorite of the things of yours that I've read, and like Djeser's, it was among my honorable-mention contenders. The contrast between the sweet, cute cherry-petal race and Maewha's competitive drive worked for me; you went on long with description in the paragraph about shimmering beams of light and whooshing wind, but the point--to emphasize what Maewha ignored in her thirst to win--was clear. I wasn't sure whether Gongju was sincere in her cheer and friendliness or Maewha had her dead to rights, and I liked the ambiguity since the story worked equally well with either reading. The last line sucked. It made me wonder if Maewha'd had more fun all along than she realized or if the bubbly faery exterior was always a facade, and that was fine and dandy, but you piled so many words into the line that it was obnoxious to look at. Trim it down!

The writing isn't as smooth as Djeser's, and that's much of why I prefer his piece of the two. Which is not to say it's bad. (Other than that final line.) The action sequences are clear enough that I can tell what the characters are doing at all times. That's a problem I had with your Clint Eastwood story, so it's great to see improvement there. You have some bloat, though. That descriptive passage I mentioned before could be trimmed--I'd cut the wind bit--and there's also this: 'There wasn't actually any reason to leap off the starting point right away- the best time to jump was when the wind was at its peak. Rookies usually jumped too soon, but then that was why most fairies didn't even finish the race. After all the amateurs had left, Maehwa saw the moment.' I see what you're going for, emphasizing Maehwa's experience and strategy, but it feels like more information than I need or want. The race ought to be fast-paced and tense and not have a flabby start. I suggest something like 'The rookies jumped right away, but Maehwa lingered, waiting for the wind to reach its peak. She saw her moment. And of course' etc. Might not be the phrasing you'd want, but the point is that you could get that information across with fewer words and spare us the infodump.

Another line you could trim is '[...] crested as it was in the middle of a colorful dotted orchard, brightened by the relative plainness of the nearby forest'--do you need anything after 'orchard'? This line is awkward, too. I don't think 'crested' is the word you want; as an adjective it can only mean 'having a crest,' as in feathers or hair, according to Merriam-Webster. '[...] cresting as it did' would probably be better, as that would mean it rose to a high point before descending, and that's more likely what you were after.

The sentence '"Hey Maehwa look at this!"' could use at least one comma (after 'Maehwa'), possibly two (after 'Hey'). In the sentence containing 'angled her cherry blossom just to the side of Gongju, and moved fast,' there shouldn't be a comma after 'Gongju' since 'and moved fast' isn't an independent clause. In the phrase 'clever "accident",' the comma should be within the quotation marks in American English. You should put a comma after 'laughed' in 'and she laughed feeling the harsh wind wrap around her face.' Etc. These aren't all the errors, but they're examples of what made it a rougher read. You've got work to do yet, but I can't emphasize enough how much more I enjoyed this prose than I did that of your Clint Eastwood entry or how much easier everything was to follow than it was in your Eleventh Hour entry. Maybe I'm letting enthusiasm for improvement get the better of me, but I don't think so. This is pretty darned decent. It only needs some polish to be good.

**** ****

Nethilia, "Stormy Weather"
Season/element: summer water

A gorgeous prelude to a story you never tell. There's very little wrong with what's here. Characters? Strong. Dialogue? Mostly strong. The weakest point is Katy, but kids are credibly awkward. Setting? Good; I loved the thunder. Mood? Tense.

Plot? Nonexistent. You didn't write a story, you wrote a situation. The story would be in the choices the main character and Oliver make, which were explicitly not made within these bounds. I would keep reading a longer work that began this way, but began is the key; reading this was like reading the first two pages of a promising book, then having the book snatched away. You disappointed me nearly as badly as Ironic Twist did, for a different reason. I really liked this fragment of a greater whole. I couldn't fathom rewarding it.

In comparison, it's barely worth mentioning that 'I’m heading down the road that leads up to Mama’s house' left me muddled about distance and how far away from the house they were. I see 'the road,' I think of country roads or residential streets, so I thought they were at most a few miles from the house. Maybe 'highway' or 'interstate' or something like would be a better choice. That was the only stumbling block I hit in the prose, which was excellent.

**** ****

blue squares, "Mr. Electroworth's Shovel"
Season/element: summer earth

The end twist almost makes up for the cliche of a heartless developer raping Mother Earth. Almost: touches like killing baby elephants took him into the territory occupied by Captain Planet villains. Still, promoting the guy who nearly buried him alive for his sense of self-promotion? That's fun. The main character has some complexity to him even if his boss doesn't. The whole thing suffers, however, from the way in which it's told. It opens with a flash-forward of sorts, then flashes back as soon as the present reaches that point, and I don't enjoy all that chronological jumping. 'As I pulled the body along, I remembered my first days at the office' is a clunky lead-in to the flashback, about as graceful as "As you know, Bob" would be in exposition; that doesn't help. If I were you I would open the story in a way that didn't refer to events yet to come, because the hook isn't worth it.

The second paragraph could and should be broken up some. I'd put the break after 'spot.' Twice in the first section you missed putting a blank line between paragraphs. The lines you used to indicate a scene break were too long, I think, and could have stood blank lines before and after--I noticed the formatting more than I would have liked to. The mechanics are quite decent overall.

While this didn't make any judge's top tier, it's a promising return.

**** ****

ceaselessfuture, "Interference"
Season/element: summer water

While the take on the prompt was unexpected and great, it was probably a mistake to establish that Amy didn't require the course credit and was taking the class for fun. Her desperation to pass and her lack of preparation didn't make sense. Bryce was doomed to look like a sucker for letting her cheat, but putting his whole college career in jeopardy for a girl who wasn't in the same straits he was portrayed him as an especially dumb one. Maybe I was supposed to take on faith, as Bryce did, that Amy had some secret need she wouldn't share? With the little I saw of her and the lack of evidence that Bryce was a solid judge of character, it was as easy believe she was a lazy opportunist. I figure the intended idea was to show Bryce to be the kind of person who would help those he cared about through times of stress at expense to himself; the interference theme played into that. It would have worked beautifully if Amy's need had been worth Bryce's sacrifice. Since it wasn't, the story frustrates more than it satisfies.

You had a few minor mechanical goofs. Instead of 'won't,' you wanted 'wouldn't' in 'Mr. Kolowski said that the windows won't be opened either.' There should have been a comma after 'hard' in 'never good at thinking too hard and sometimes his mind failed him.' 'College's' shouldn't be capitalized in 'the College’s September semester.' In 'he never imagined seeing her like this,' 'he' should probably be 'he had' or 'he'd.' There should be a 'had' before 'lost' in 'where Bryce lost the most points.' The period after 'Bryce' should be a comma in '"Guess I'll see you next semester, Bryce." Kolowski said.' Stuff like that. None of the errors interfere with understanding, but they make the prose look more rough than it needs to.

I did get confused when Bryce made some changes to his paper to keep it from being a mirror image of Amy's, but Mr. Kolowski said the tests were identical. Did he exaggerate? Or was Bryce as bad at cheating as he was at physics?

**** ****

Obliterati, "Full of Hot Air"
Season/element: summer air

What I see: your protagonist is in a race with someone named Albert, the purpose of which is to solve crimes, even though the protag is a miner. They're in a space colony protected by a dome. Someone may be trying to blow it up. Their detection is easy, breezy, and shallow, and Albert is an idiot. Despite this, the nameless protagonist finds the bomber. I didn't know what a dead man's switch was on my first read, but the implication is clear enough. The protagonist and Albert bicker and fight while a lady's standing there with a bomb, with 'tough guy' lines that don't come off well in this context. The bomb goes off, killing the lady. Albert and the protagonist survive. For some reason the dome was entirely unnecessary. For some other reason, Albert and the protag decide to keep the encounter secret. And all the protag cares about is 'winning,' not the woman presumably splattered all over the landscape or the rather important mystery that has presented itself.

What I don't see: Why attempted bombings are being left to amateur, part-time would-be cops to solve; who supervises the protagonist or Albert as they run around like Space Fathers Brown; how you can be a cop and a miner at the same time; how somebody born in a colony can talk about 'taking back' a planet when it had no inhabitants before humans came and they're human themselves; why there would be a dome if a dome is unnecessary; why I'm supposed to like the main character; how Albert accomplishes anything if he's such a moron; what this had to do with summer.

You're a better writer than this story suggests, because it is dumb. All three characters are idiots. No one is keeping an eye on the Keystone Kops, and they're left to handle something critical--to the mysterious secrecy regarding the atmosphere, if not to the Dome inhabitants--on their own. The Dome conspiracy is a head-scratcher. The idea could be that the Authority is keeping people in the dark so they don't know there might be other things to do on this world than dig up metal, but... why would anybody come to the colony if it offered nothing but too much work for too little pay? The mystery aspect needed more back story to make it make sense or to make me care, either one; it didn't help that neither Albert nor the protagonist reacted to the atmosphere reveal beyond a shrug. A lot of things about this story suffered from too little explanation. Meanwhile, you wasted so many words on the banter between Albert and the main character, and that banter may be the worst aspect. It's cliche in places ('girlie,' for crying out loud), ill-timed nearly always.

I caught the line about summer sun, but that use of the season is so weak it might as well not be there at all. The desert landscape is a little suggestive, but it's a stretch. You did a much better job with air--or would have if you'd stuck the landing. It's a knife to the kidneys of this already weak piece that the characters don't give a drat about anything that's gone on but that the protagonist 'won' over Albert. Nothing can seem very important when the people in the story don't care about it.

**** ****

Paladinus, "And Peace on Earth"
Season/element: winter earth

Back story, back story, back story, back story, tedious speech, dumbest conclusion ever. This is badly structured: all that back story is a drone of detail to fill out a world that isn't interesting, and it goes on for ages. There's nothing to Lin Chang besides her relationship to Earth and a soliloquy that lacks emotion or dramatic weight given that she's been established as not giving a flying flip. Then the ending comes. That ending. A bunch of spaceships move into some mysterious alignment that allows them to pull Earth from its orbit, and why? Billions of years are left to go before the sun expands and takes it out! What in the name of Heaven is this supposed to accomplish? How is freezing the pyramids or the Amazon Basin or quite a few other wonders these people are supposedly preserving going to do them any good? Didn't the opening exposition establish that only most of the animals were gone? The 'solution' to this 'problem' is so bad that my sympathies are entirely with the outraged taxpayers, even though I'm all about the conservation of history. This. Makes. No. Sense. I could forgive most of the piece's other faults, but dear God that is terrible. It's an unexpected way to approach your season and element, I'll give you that; creativity seldom justifies a deficit of logic, though, and certainly doesn't in this case.

Aside from the above problems, I'm not sure disrupting Earth's orbit but leaving it in the solar system could avoid causing trouble in terms of the other planets. The planets have the orbits they do for scientific reasons. What was supposed to happen to the Moon? I can't begin to get over this.

Looking at the phrase 'maybe less shimmering lights of cities where night covered the planet,' 'less' should have been 'fewer,' but more importantly, there's no maybe involved. No people = no city lights. 'The planet had close to none natural resources' doesn't work because you'd never say 'none natural resources.' The word you wanted was 'no.' Some of the stuff in your first paragraph should be set in the past perfect as it took place before Lin's expedition began, such as 'ultimately it became too much of a burden' (should be 'had become'). The comma after 'leaving the hall' should have been a period. Etc. I think your mechanics might be getting better, but the prose isn't smooth yet.

Most of the story isn't ghastly, only dull and somewhat rough. I ranked several other entries lower since this wasn't that bad a read until the second-to-last paragraph. 'Not really so awful' wasn't enough to make up for the end, unfortunately.

**** ****

Fumblemouse, "Outside her window"
Season/element: spring fire

Weak. Exceedingly so. Only JcDent's entry was worse in terms of not being a story, and at least his season was kind of relevant. Aside from some incidental details this would have worked just the same with Summer or Autumn set to Fire. It'd be easier to shrug about that if there were a good premise or decent plot on offer, but given a glimpse of a potential future in which people live in steel warrens and do everything with apps--two, two, two tired SF ideas in one? It's hard. Competent writing is almost all this has going for it. When I realized you'd done the same thing as JcDent but with more style, I wanted to give you a DM; other writers committed more grievous sins in retrospect, but dammit, Fumblemouse, you're better than this.

The writing is indeed good, the incident of the doubled period aside, except for this bit: '“Dorothy,” she gently scolded herself. “Look at you, standing there, fascinated like a schoolgirl. It’s not like you haven’t seen spring a million times before. Pull yourself together.”' She couldn't come across as more of an old lady in the whole piece (stereotypically so, if anything), so exposition delivered by means of the protagonist talking to herself would have been unnecessary even if you hadn't already hinted at her age with 'remembering springs from years ago.'

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 09:11 on Dec 14, 2014

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Critiques for Week CXVIII: Shaky Premise, crabrock, Broenheim, docbeard, Grizzled Patriarch, Noah, SurreptitiousMuffin, kurona_bright, Walamor, Your Sledgehammer, and Phobia

Shaky Premise, "Against the Cold"
Season/element: winter fire

Although this wasn't a great story or a good one, you improved so much on what you wrote for Eleventh Hour Week that it delighted me to see it. You wrote something altogether different that wasn't a bunch of back story, wasn't all talk, and didn't end on a twist out of nowhere. This work had other problems instead. That's great if it means you're trying new approaches and new techniques, and you seem to be.

Problem the first: you used nearly the full word count to tell us that a man fetched firewood and made a fire. Problem the second: the prose you used to describe this was far too purple. You went overboard in trying to dramatize something that, since he did make a fire in the end--with relatively little difficulty, too; being out in bitter weather is certainly not pleasant, but this guy was still only walking around the cabin grounds to get his wood--wasn't actually that dramatic. There wasn't much story present, and this would perhaps have been better suited to Descriptive Week since you had buckets more description than anything else. That said, your season and element were both clear and critical.

You couldn't make up your mind whether you were telling this story in the past tense or the present. You began in the present, then shifted to past with 'I drove away'; this worked since the narrator was explaining the events that brought him to the current point. But then you stayed in past, which did not work. This didn't work either: 'I can barely feel the lower half of my body and the wind was stinging my face.' Present and past in the same sentence! My eyes! My poor, temporally confused eyes!

I wouldn't say you had no story. This is a Man vs. Nature thing. The main character pits himself against winter and wins. Fine, but the victory was still too easy, and his return to the city felt like another kind of defeat rather than a triumph.

Improvement only takes you so far on its own, and it wasn't enough to get you to the top tier, but I'm impressed. I hope you fight again.

**** ****

crabrock, "A Dirge for Lost Flowers"
Season/element: autumn air

There's more to this entry than the week's not-stories can boast, but it's a vignette. You illustrated two characters but didn't do much with them other than look inside the head of one and use the other as a prop. An interesting prop: skunk lady might be entirely sincere and entirely tedious. Maybe she's as absorbed in her skunk as her words suggest, and maybe she tunes out the protagonist's thoughts because she doesn't care, and maybe she would like to be the protagonist's friend but is completely horrible at it. Since the main character doesn't try to look past her surface, I don't know. I like this. The conflict between the protagonist's self-image and dreams and her behavior is strong stuff. She dreams of befriending people, but only those who don't know or care that she exists. The one who might care, she ignores. In dismissing her neighbors she creates her own loneliness. It's good. Not satisfying. The protagonist is less interesting than the skunk lady, which is a weak point.

I missed the first time that the skunk could be a parallel to the protagonist, finding it hard to make friends because of the stink he sprays around--in the protagonist's case, her prejudices. Skunks are nocturnal, and the main character avoids the sun. The skunk lady even mentions how hard it is to get her skunk to go out of doors. Goodness knows that the skunk isn't listening to her either. The protagonist's fondness for flowers even recalls that skunk in Bambi, although that's a stretch. None of this makes the entry less of a character sketch, but it's neat!

Writing-wise, you're better than solid. Sometimes I've thought your stories were rough in the early going, but not this one; the first line is particularly good. I knew your season and element without going back to check.

**** ****

Broenheim, "A Perfect Day"
Season/element: autumn water

I can't tell whether there's a supernatural element at work, whether Groundhog Day-esque time shenanigans force the protagonists to repeat a single day over and over again for fifteen years or they repeat the same events every year on their anniversary. I lean toward the latter. They aren't nearly crazy enough for the former. But that means: 1.) The narrative is confusing about this for no drat good reason (although I'll speculate on that shortly); 2.) The protagonist's hallucination of Charlene is abrupt, nonsensical, and hard to swallow. Though that's more of the first problem, really. You wrote this in such a way that what the hell is going on is a mystery even though it is, or could be, and probably should be a simple story.

It did occur to me that maybe you muddled those waters intentionally to underline and illustrate the 'Every day felt the same' view the protagonist had of his marriage. Interesting idea if so, but badly executed. The writing clunks, doing odd things with verb tenses that don't help to sort out the time issue. 'We would go to the restaurant we always went to. Then, we would go shopping, going into the same stores that we always do. And finally, we would end the day by going into the park' -- why is the protagonist thinking/narrating 'We would' after this stuff has already occurred? In this context, you needed the past perfect: 'We'd gone to the restaurant we always went to' etc. The phrase 'we always went to' tells the reader that this is a repeating event, which I think is what you were trying to do and didn't with 'would.' Using 'We would' that way to describe actions taken periodically isn't incorrect in and of itself, but you can't do it when you're talking about things that just happened. It's needlessly confusing. "Needlessly Confusing" could have been your title.

Your protagonist is happy, but trapped; but he's glad he's trapped with Charlene; but he tries to ditch Charlene like an rear end in a top hat. Within four sentences. I don't have much of a bead on him because he's so inconstant. His change of heart after his hallucination is similarly abrupt. Why should I believe it will stick?

You didn't punctuate your dialogue properly. Check out that link. It ought to help. In the phrase 'watch the fish swim below us,' 'watch' should have been 'watching' to parallel the earlier 'going' and 'standing.' One nice point: 'The river pushed and pulled against itself, as if it was trying to change direction' was a nice metaphor for the protagonist's internal struggle.

I dislike this story more with repeated readings. With or without time shenanigans, the main character is a fickle creature without much personality beyond his restlessness. Maybe you were trying to do something cool with the chronology, maybe you never meant the time line to be a puzzle at all, but either way, it flopped.

**** ****

docbeard, "Last Dance"
Season/element: autumn fire

Autumn: check. The story is set in fall, and it's about the fading and dying of the world with one last flare of color, a suitably autumnal theme. Fire: check. Earth is nearly as much a presence, but your flash rule made that inevitable. The story is a solid interpretation of the prompt and a passable answer to the flash rule, and yet it just doesn't do a lot for me. Janelle's quest for her father is an afterthought rather than a driving force in the story. She changes her goal from finding answers to having sex with a fairy stud without much time or thought. All that happens to alter her course is that the Faerie Queen mouths a few platitudes. You were going for an arc about forgetting the past and living in the present in the final hour, I think, but since Janelle's connection to the past didn't seem strong to begin with, it's all hollow.

Something else: the queen says, "We who will never die, will never live." But don't they live once every seven years at least? Don't they dance, eat s'mores, and father children? They feel jealousy and fear. How aren't they living? You don't convince me that the elves have lesser lives. So that's hollow too; I don't see how it all ties together except by authorial fiat. There's a lack of natural progression.

It's definitely not your best work, but it's not actively bad--only flat.

**** ****

Grizzled Patriarch, "The Library of Alexandria"
Season/element: spring fire

The end of the school year is something I associate with summer, not spring, and despite the dogwood branches, you didn't convey a spring feeling. That makes this the one entry to really wiff the season, but that's an academic point; it isn't why you didn't reach the high tier. This intriguing and lovely bit of weird focuses on description and a couple of particular images at the expense of everything else. Are they cool? Yup. Does anyone's behavior make sense? Nope. I could forgive Martin for touching the glowing, floating letters, but his classmates were terribly fast to burn him alive--and why? Why not run? Why murder a boy? A wonderful concept isn't enough. You didn't make a credible story out of it. Considering how expensive textbooks are, I don't even buy the opening scenario.

The writing is skilled and the sentences elegant; you gave us a beautiful set of images. The lack of believable human behavior in the piece kept them from being more.

**** ****

Noah, "Dead Air"
Season/element: winter air

I'm puzzled by the zombies. Somehow they're frozen solid and need to be dug up, but in exchange for cutting off their heads, a nebulous government lets prisoners go free. If they're frozen and lifeless, how are they a danger? Do they thaw eventually? Why do they exist? I didn't think too hard about that on my first time through for both good reasons and bad. Now that I do, it bugs me some. It's a fresh take on a zombie story, but zombies are only there to set up the one-dead-head-is-like-another situation, and the situation isn't grounded enough to hold up to scrutiny.

The good reasons that I didn't notice this initially have to do with character. Julius intrigues me. Had he reformed--had he ever been that bad at all, whatever his sentence? Did he ever mean to hurt Daniel, or were his intentions pure? The latter interpretation makes Daniel's madness the more terrible. I completely bought that madness, too. It's not like Daniel started off as a paragon, and to be alone in the frozen wastes, somewhat oxygen deprived, with a known killer isn't a recipe for a sound mind. Daniel's hateful without losing all sympathy. He isn't free, whatever he thinks. The blackness will close him in.

The bad reasons had to do with the prose. It's bad. Clunky. Awkward. 'One more head, that was all Julius, the criminal, needed.' Good grief, Noah. Could that exposition be less graceful? 'Daniel wondered if he would have taken his had he told him no.' He-his-he-him; it takes a second to parse that sentence, which you could fix by replacing the first 'he' with 'Julius.' 'A memory of Daniel when he was first sent to prison'--Daniel is remembering Daniel? 'A memory of Daniel's from when' etc. would be better, 'A memory of when' etc. better yet. 'Congratulations, you’re a free man Julius Rogers' needs a comma after 'man' and sounds robotic besides. Etc. The story's rife with rough sentences. I didn't enjoy reading it, although the tension in the story carried me through. If this premise had been written better you could have nabbed an HM, although the what's with the zombies, anyway? question might have tripped you up in the end.

**** ****

SurreptitiousMuffin, "whistling, howling"
Season/element: winter air

Lovely sentences, lovely imagery, and no effective emotion. Karla is freshly bereaved, still grieving in her widow's veil; her husband's wraith follows her down the winter street, saying, "Darling, please"--and she says good-bye, and smiles, and goes home warm? Yeeeesh, no. It rings so false that it ruins everything. That ending belonged on a story set rather longer after Jan's death, when to turn away from his pleading spirit and look forward wouldn't seem shallow and callous. I can't believe Karla loved him if she hears his ghost say please and doesn't want him to stay, to talk, to tell her whatever he wants her to hear.

Now I wonder if what he wanted, what he asked of her was to stop grieving and move on, but that wasn't clear at all. Even if that was the case, it's still too soon. Too abrupt. If he had said good-bye first instead, it would have helped--though the end note would still be wrong, too happily-ever-after.

The words are beautiful, naturally. The phrases 'the winter wind played a requiem on the telephone lines' and 'Pieta without Mary' (the latter may have wanted italics for Pieta as the title of an artwork) are gorgeous. I could feel the wind and see the streets. You invoked your season and element wonderfully, but the story itself shouldn't have been as empty as winter air.

**** ****

kurona_bright, "The Long-awaited Exhale"
Season/element: spring air

It's a bad idea for your flash fiction piece to depend on oodles of back story delivered through infodumps, and I'm going to keep pointing that out when appropriate until it gets through. As in the last piece of yours that I read, nearly everything is conversation, nearly nothing happens, and most of the action takes place in the past. We don't see any of it even in flashback. The talking isn't interesting enough or original enough to be worthwhile. A witch shunned and cast out by her village is an old idea: you needed to do something cool with it. I think you tried, by focusing the story on her relationship with her brother, but their reconciliation was abrupt, and that ending... it was terrible. A punchline for a serious story. It didn't fit, and it wasn't funny. You almost DMed, and that bit was more or less why.

For all my complaints, this is better than your Eleventh Hour story. I wish you'd shown the events of the past rather than describing them in dialogue, even if you had to use a flashback to do it, but there is a story arc of a kind. I hate the exact ending, but if you'd cut the 'I'm banished too, lol' bit then it would have worked; you had a conclusion.

Here are the parts I don't understand: why is Morgan shocked that she erased a whole night of Seth's memory when she cast a spell to muddle with his mind? She couldn't tell at the time that he was confused? What's he supposed to have told their father that led him to suicide? I'd think it was that he was gay, but apparently that's news to Morgan. What did everyone find out? They knew she was a witch already. How does Morgan's revelation reconcile the siblings so suddenly? Who is Walker and why do you bother mentioning him? Dammit, kurona_bright. Is this another story that's just a piece of something bigger?

Your element and season were each used in one way that looked pasted on, in another that was a bit deeper. Spring: the story was set in spring, but that didn't matter. It could have taken place at any time. The renewal of friendship between the siblings was probably meant to invoke the rebirth motif of the season, though, so fair enough. Morgan pushed Seth over with a gust of wind at one point. That was also more or less irrelevant. But the siblings' conversation cleared the air between them, which is a more subtle and integral take. I couldn't tell what your season and element were supposed to have been from reading the entry alone, but you met the prompt, and the second use of air--if it was intentional--was neat.

**** ****

Walamor, "The Ancient Fire"
Season/element: winter fire

Talky, talky, talky, but unlike the talk in Chairchucker's piece, this dialogue wasn't even slightly engaging. It dumped exposition everywhere without adding color to the characters, who were stereotypes: the knowledgeable priest-mentor, the avid priest-student who doubts his mentor's wisdom. Worse, the story stops and starts in exactly the wrong places. It's set up so that it's no more than worldbuilding for a world we're never given reason to care about, and then, oh no! A crisis! The end! Was that last line supposed to be a twist? I didn't vote for this to DM, but I can't blame the judge who did. This may be the weakest story I've seen from you. You're usually better about remembering to have a plot.

I do not get the last line. I understand it; I don't understand why you used it. It doesn't say anything that Ezio hasn't already expounded on at length. You know that Twilight Zone episode that ends on a reveal that a beautiful woman is considered ugly in a world where the normal people, until then unseen, have pig faces? Imagine if midway through the episode they'd shown the pig faces, then expected us to be surprised at the end anyway. That's what you did. There's no surprise to be had and no pathos--Ezio is a walking exposition machine, and the other characters are even more shallow than that, so I can't muster horror at their fate.

Basic competence saved your bacon as much as anything. The writing wasn't a chore to read. The story had some motion--something happened--which bought you a couple of rungs on the ladder up from the bottom. There wasn't much here to hate. But there wasn't much to like, either.

**** ****

Your Sledgehammer, "En Garde"
Season/element: autumn water

Contrived as all hell, which is what landed it in the dishonorable heap. The writing's not unpleasant, the characterization of Sharon is decent, and there's a story, but it's a tad much for me to swallow that one, Rhonda would talk about Jack in a voice 'dripping with adoration' after their history; two, that Sharon would have taken up metal-detecting when the vast majority of metal on the beach would be stuff like soda pop tabs; or three, that thirty years after discovering her power, Sharon would just so happen to locate her very mother's engagement ring. While we're at it, four: that the ocean delivered it to a place where she could find it at all. And five: that her power worked in exactly the right way to bring about this moment of drama. Events are so precisely and heavily manipulated that they don't feel natural. I can guess why Rhonda talked about Jack with affection: because the reader wasn't supposed to realize that Jack ditched her before Sharon does. But that's false. To imagine Rhonda would coo about the man is too much of a stretch. Possibly the idea was that Jack did die in an accident shortly after leaving Rhonda, which could explain Rhonda's idolization and how she thought Sharon might never find out the truth. Nothing tells me where Rhonda's lies ended, however. I can only guess.

There's not much weight to Sharon's revelation. Maybe you told too much and showed too little of Sharon's hero-worship for her father. Intellectually I understand why it devastated her, but Sharon's excitement about her paranormal ability came across more strongly than her feelings about Jack. Sharon's asthma mystifies me; it's like Chekov's ailment, left unfired on the mantle.

Mechanical issues: two different people speak in the paragraph that begins 'Sharon strolled into the kitchen.' Don't do that! One speaker per paragraph only! You should have begun your second paragraph in the past perfect tense: 'It had been an autumn day very much like this one, thirty years ago, when Sharon had first discovered her unique ability.' It's acceptable in most circles to slide into the past tense once you've established a flashback, but not before. If I were you I'd probably ditch the flashback altogether and tell the story in chronological order. The first paragraph isn't a strong hook--you didn't need it at all.

This concept could work if expanded and if the relationship between Sharon and at least one of her parents were explored in more depth. Come up with a good reason for Sharon to find that ring while you're at it, though, because right now I suspect the implausibility would cripple the story even if everything else were perfect.

**** ****

Phobia, "As the Ice Turns to Rain, I Think of Him Still"
Season/element: winter water

Using fewer than 300 words, at 11:59pm, you turned in the best story I've seen from you since "The Fall of Cedric Conrad." Your short snip of a thing did more and said more than several longer works. Your sentences had grace. Your character interplay was strong. With a bit more to it this could have contended for an HM. Whatever the inspiration you channeled here, you should return to it.

Kaishai fucked around with this message at 09:15 on Dec 14, 2014

Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.

gently caress it, this is the only way to redeem myself. In. :toxx:

Oct 30, 2003

Kaishai posted:

thousands of words of crits

Holy poo poo awesome! Thanks so much!

newtestleper fucked around with this message at 19:57 on Dec 12, 2014

Hammer Bro.
Jul 7, 2007


Kaishai posted:

Hammer Bro., "Winter Wine"
Season/element: winter water

I'm both astonished and delighted that you put so much effort into your reading and your response. Thank you.

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

Gau posted:

gently caress it, this is the only way to redeem myself. In. :toxx:

Someone makes a mistake.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

Thanks for the crits, Kaishai! You = awesome :)

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

:siren: There are 8 hours left before sign-ups close! :siren:

Mar 21, 2013

Yeah, that crit was really in-depth (and ended up giving me more credit than I deserved). Thanks for that! :)

Because I have finals next week, I'll opt for doing 3 crits for whoever wants me to instead of signing up. They'll probably go up after the 19th (this is for the last week, by the way).

kurona_bright fucked around with this message at 22:29 on Dec 12, 2014

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

A Reminder from This Week's Judges:

Please don't forget to write an actual story this week! Surrealism should be a vehicle for your narrative, rather than the entire focus of the piece. Obviously I want you guys to be able to play around with plot, structure, language, etc. and have fun with the prompts, but I still expect a narrative arc of some sort to exist. Please don't just dump a heaping spoonful of monkeycheese randomness on our plates and then strut off into the horizon. Flaunt this suggestion at your own risk.

I look forward to reading all of your entries!

Also, :siren: Six hours left to sign up! :siren:

Aug 2, 2002

thanks for NOTHING kaishai, your crits are horrible and so are you. I hope you step in a puddle that is deeper than you thought and your socks get wet :mad:

autism ZX spectrum
Feb 7, 2007

by Lowtax

Fun Shoe

I'm out this week. I'm dealing with so much literal poo poo after a sewer backup as casa del chillock, and it's seriously eating into my writing time.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

crabrock posted:

thanks for NOTHING kaishai, your crits are horrible and so are you. I hope you step in a puddle that is deeper than you thought and your socks get wet :mad:

Oh, crabrock. I never knew you cared. :allears:

To newtestleper, Hammer Bro., Your Sledgehammer, and kurona_bright: you're welcome!

December Octopodes
Dec 25, 2008

Christmas is coming
the squid is getting fat!

Time Traveler's Bastard 1117 Words

"Hey there Sam, I'm here to pick you up."

"Huh?" It had been raining for hours, and this had been the first car I had seen in all that time.

"How do you know my name?"

"Oh, I met you about twenty minutes from now. That's how long the drive is. Here hop in!" He reached over opening the door of his car. Up the street there were no other cars, and down the street was the same story. A non crazy savior failed to materialize. Ignoring the urge to run I hopped in.

"Hey thanks for the ride, but don't you mean twenty minutes ago?"

"Oh you might think that, but no. I live backwards, which is to say I live for thirty minutes at a time and then go back an hour." My jaw had gone slack as I stared at him.

"Sorry, sorry. It's just when we meet, or met, you seemed really knowledgable about this. Umm how to put it." He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "Okay, from your perspective I will seem younger and know less every time I see you, but only by thirty minutes or so."

"Yeah, then why the hell was I waiting for the last few hours for a car to show up? If you know about me in your future you could have been here a long time ago." I felt a migraine creeping up on me, and shut my eyes praying it would go away.

"That's a really good question. You know I've never had this happen before, but my morning journal didn't mention you at all. It's like you weren't here until you were here."

Yep. That was the migraine pushing against my head. "Let's change the subject, what's your name anyways?"

"Oh yeah, it's Billy. Hey, here we are. Home sweet home."

His headlights illuminated a two story house set back from the road. We pulled into the garage and my migraine lessened for a moment as the constant patter of the rain was captured by the house instead of the car.

"Hey I really appreciate…" His seat was empty. The garage was well lit and there was no sign that he had slipped out. I shrugged and got out of the car and knocked at the door to the mud room. I expected Billy, but what I got instead was completely different.

I noticed her eyes first. Young and healthy, with those bright green eyes, her eyebrows knitted together as she asked the obvious question.

"Hello? Who are you?"

"Hi. My name is Sam. Billy picked me up, but I'm not really sure where he's gotten to." She looked me over and a strange look came into her eyes.

She looked down at her watch and said, "Oh I guess that explains it, it's about that time. I'm Jane by the way." We shook hands and she led me into their living room. It had a warm fire going and a lurid floral print couch. Next to it was a recliner occupied by Billy.

"Hey there Billy." He looked startled for an instant, but quickly composed himself.

"I'm guessing you've met me a little while ago?" I nodded.

"My name is Sam. You rescued me from this downpour."

"Hey I brought some coffee. It will help warm you up." Jane walked in bearing three cups of coffee.

"Thanks honey, but one sec. How long was the drive?"

"About fifteen minutes, I was to the left as you leave the driveway."

"Alright, save some coffee for younger me dear. If I head out now I should make it just in time."

He was out the door and we both heard the car roar to life and then he was gone. I could feel Jane staring at me, so I made the warm coffee the focus of my world. I was hoping it was working when I felt her hand on my shoulder.

"You weren't in his journal." Her hand trailed along my should and found the back of my neck. I felt chills down my spine, not wanting to betray a man who had saved me from the damp.

"His what?"

"The journal he writes when he wakes up. You weren't in it." My coffee had vanished, and she was sitting in my lap.

"It's like you didn't exist this morning, a ghost, a mystery." We kissed and I was doomed. When I woke up I realized it was the middle of the day. I was in a field and when I lifted my head I saw the same two story house. The tree in the front yard was taller, and all of the leaves had fallen off.

I knocked on the door hoping I could have a shower or something before I hit the road again. Jane answered the door, but it wasn't the woman I had met. Gray had crept into her hair and wrinkles made a map of her face.

"Sam! You look exactly the same. Are you like him?"

"Him? What do you mean?"

"The time thing, he's twelve now and getting shorter every day. You were here for one night and then poof twenty years later you show up on our door step not a minute older."

"What happened?"

"It was like you were never there. He never mentioned you, and then nine months later…"

"What? Nine months later what?"

"I had a kid, I didn't feel ready so I put it up for adoption. Billy, well, we were together close enough to then that he didn't question it."

"That kid. Where did you put him up?"

"St. Guinefort's."

"1976. That was the year. Wasn't it." I knew before she said it. My mother had placed me in St. Guinefort's that year, and I had no way of knowing who she was. Until now.

"I need to go." I could feel the migraine again.

I came to and it was the same house, no car, the massive tree I had seen was just a sapling. I was standing in the kitchen. I made my way upstairs and found Billy laying in bed. His eyes were bleary, and he had to be ancient. His body was a mass of wrinkles.

"Hey Billy. Do you remember picking up a hitch hiker? It was a rainy night, and your wife was still young, eighteen maybe twenty."

"Sam? Yeah, that had to be about forty years ago. Why?"

"Where do you keep that journal?"

"It's in the desk. Why? What happened?"

I walked over and opened up the journal. In it I wrote, "Do not pick up the hitch hiker." One minute I was there and the next I faded away.

Aug 8, 2013


The Steel Castle
Words: 1189

The ceiling fan swirled above Lance’s head, his eyes tracking the lazy blades. Once upon a time, the fan held a working light bulb, but now it housed only the shattered remains of the bulb’s base, which gave off sparks that trickled down to the bed. After watching the blade’s rotations for several minutes, Lance fell into an uneasy sleep.

The physician's prescription worked its horrid magic on Lance’s mind as he slept. Beetles scurried over his flesh, biting him and leaving behind swellings that quickly erupted into squirming hordes of larvae. The newborn maggots burrowed into his bones and suckled from his veins and arteries.

When he first awoke, Lance cried hoarse screams. He tried crawling out of bed, but his muscles felt as though the larvae still lurked within, feasting on his blood. Several minutes of struggling finally saw the young man standing upright.

Lance knew the pills waited in the drawer, eager to be ingested. Although he resisted, his programming forced him to grab a bottle and pop the lid off. After downing two yellow capsules, he staggered into the kitchen.

Rats scurried under the young man’s feet as he began the most enjoyable part of his day, breakfast. The cereal rations had been infested with beetles for weeks, but he didn’t care. It was just extra protein.

After breakfast, the day really began. Beginning to feel the pill’s effects, Lance marched off to work. Several dozen barrels of organic compounds awaited him, and he had to add enzymes to all of them.

Nothing felt out of place as Lance walked through the factory doors. The machine dropped another massive drum of biological reagents to the floor, where it waited to be impregnated with additional chemicals.

The young man felt a great, almost romantic kinship with the substances he worked on. The clear gel within jiggled at being treated, almost as if it enjoyed Lance’s company. Whenever he smiled, it felt like the gel smiled back. Still, Lance knew it was only a mirage. Polypeptides and esters don’t smile, after all.

If programming had taught Lance anything, it was that only humans felt emotion. He remembered when the instructor brought in the puppy. He let all the children pet and play with her, the hound’s happy barking filling them with excitement and joy. Then, when the pup had gone around to everyone, the instructor took a knife to its throat.

“Dogs don’t have souls, children,” said the instructor after killing the pup.

As Lance neared the entrance to his complex, he hesitated in opening the door. Something had snuck inside with its shadow visible through the window. Lance couldn’t quite make it out, just a silhouette on the sofa. That’s when it called to him.

“We dogs don’t have souls? Is that so?”

Lance trembled as he stepped into the complex. There, on the couch, sat a rather large bulldog.

“Young man, I must assure you, dogs do have souls.”

Lance couldn’t speak, but he could make a hoarse gasp of surprise. Before he could gather his thoughts, the dog was gone.

That night, Lance took his blue pills and stared at the ceiling fan. The strange event of the day didn’t really affect him all that much; mirages and hallucinations were a part of daily life for him. As sleep overtook him, Lance prepared himself for the incoming onslaught of beetles and their maggoty offspring.

For the first time in his memory, however, he dreamed of something other than insects. He found himself in a field, green and lush with sunshine not obscured by smog. There, in the middle of this paradise, was the bulldog.

“Speak,” commanded the dog.

“What, I can’t… I spoke!”

“Alright, I feel that we can have a much better discussion now.”

“Who, or what are you?”

“A dog, my good sir. An English Bulldog to be exact.”

“Why, why did you come to me?”

“For one, I wished to inform you that dogs do have souls.”

“That goes against everything I learned in programming. Although, you did take the beetles away.”

“So, are you inclined to believe me?”

“I, I really don’t know. Perhaps you are just a mirage, albeit a good and noble mirage. But, I really don’t know.”

“Oh, and there was another thing I wanted to tell you. Something of much greater importance.”

“Go on.”

“Save her.”

The young man’s eyes popped open with that final statement. For once, he didn’t struggle getting out of bed.

As he got to the drawer, Lance felt his programming begin to kick in. It was a beast, nay, a serpent within that demanded the hell drugs to fuel itself. The draconic influence possessed great strength, and forced Lance to remove the bottle of yellow capsules. As he clutched the container, Lance turned and, for the first time in his life, defied the serpent. He tossed the pills straight out the window.

Lance felt something within him scream in what could only be described as sheer agony. He felt the agony as well, but at the same time a powerful feeling of satisfaction, and Lance knew exactly what he had done. He’d slain the serpent at last. Now, Lance had but one final thing to do.

Strolling into the factory, Lance watched the familiar sight of the machine dropping a barrel. He walked up to the container, sweaty hands grasping at the lid. He felt as though these moments were eons, the slime within gurgling for him. She was his princess in the steel castle.

The lid came off and the goo blorped at him. How adorable she was. Against all procedures, he sunk his hands into her mass, letting her accept him.

Music exploded around the loving couple. Lance felt his new meaning in life, the Princess, gently rising from the barrel, embracing his hands and arms. Together they were no longer in a dirty, run down factory ruled by beetles and rats. No, that hellhole had been replaced.

The walls glistened white and were adorn with gold and fine tapestry. Lance could see the Princess rising around him, her shining, crystalline form the most beautiful thing he had ever gazed upon. Truly she fit her role as royalty.

The jumpsuit Lance once wore transformed into a tuxedo fit for a king, an appropriate attire for a date of this scale. Locking lips, the two began their dance.

Moonlight hit just the right spot, and the two swayed in perfect rhythm to the music. There were other people there, men and women of various sizes and shapes, and all of them beautiful. However, none were quite as beautiful as Lance and the Princess gliding around the ballroom floor. The remains of the serpent within turned to dust in that place where no beetle could crawl.

As Lance danced with the apple of his eye, he saw the bulldog in the corner, although he looked markedly different. His head was the same, but his body was now that of a human dressed in royal regalia. The dog gave Lance a wink as he and the Princess slow-danced into that good night.

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

:siren: That's a wrap on sign-ups! :siren:

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


Benny the Snake posted:

Hey everybody! So, I love brawls. A lot. A little bit too much. So instead of making GBS threads the thread with asking, I'm gonna take it into a different direction.

:siren:To my former lostertar brothers and sisters, I am putting a bounty on myself! Win a brawl agianst me, win a new avatar! One brawl at a time, only if I accept, no refunds OPEN TO LOSERTARS ONLY. If you're down, post with the words "Benny Bounty Brawl" in bold.:siren:

Sittinghere, mind putting this in the OP?

OK Ben, let's

Benny the Snake
Apr 10, 2012


Fuschia tude posted:

OK Ben, let's
I accept!

Edit: :toxx:

Benny the Snake fucked around with this message at 00:27 on Dec 14, 2014

Oct 30, 2003

1009 words

I loosened my collar while I watched the oven. The egg timer ticked, magnetically fixed to our fine steel refrigerator. I swallowed hard, and wiped away the shiny beads of sweat that seemed to permanently speckle my brow. Would the cake make him happy? Eight minutes remained. Jen and I had argued about it.

“He’s turning one.” I spoke quietly, scared of interrupting his nap. Last time I woke him he tore strips off the wallpaper and flushed the goldfish. “He’s never eaten cake. Do we really want him knowing something other than mashed pumpkin? And besides, he doesn't need it, look at all the presents.”

The pile of gifts grew daily, and daily the Baby glared at them between great sucks of Jen’s comfy breasts. I wanted the baby to marvel at the gold ingots and green wads of cash we’d bought for his birthday, and for him to love us and let us sleep. But they weren’t enough, he just continued to glare and balled his fists and thumped the thin stucco walls until they cracked and crumbled.

He was a smart little feller, too. He pored over our finances with his little visor and adding machine. He’d suck his thumb with his left hand tap tap tap at the adding machine with his right, squinting at the paltry dollars and cents marked on a ribbon of carbon paper. It seemed like he could always glean a bit of cash for more gifts.

“The cake is expected. It’s all in the having.” Beautiful, kind, profligate Jen was pro-cake, of course. “He can take or leave the eating.”

We heard stirrings from the cot and the colour drained from our faces. What this time? We felt bad replacing so many pets and had given up redoing the wallpaper. Instead a sonorous voice issued from the cot.

“It is possible not to want to have a thing, yet still want that thing to be given to you.” His first words! He was a wise and violent baby.

I hurried to assemble the ingredients. Only the finest for our angry little king: vanilla flown from Madagascar, chocolate shipped from Belgium, and the sweetest song of children from Wales. We were out of white flour, so wholemeal would have to do. I worried briefly about the new goldfish, but I was sure the baby wouldn’t notice the difference. He was, after all, only one.

The timer buzzed. We felt that instilling a sense of tradition into our child is important, so we performed the rites according to custom. First, the trial of the bamboo skewer. Second, the procedure of the wire rack. Third, the cleansing of the bowl. I tried to initiate the ritual of fertility, but Jen gave me a slap on the wrist.

“Not in front of baby,” she said. He poked out his tongue and gave me a knowing wink. Parenthood had proved an excellent contraceptive.

“How should we frost it?” Jen asked. She had a book from the library with every kind of cake. There were typewriter cakes, delivery van cakes and open pit mine cakes.

“I think the briefcase,” I said. “It’s simple and sensible. We don’t want him getting too big for his britches.” Britches are another expense.

We trembled as we presented the cake to our son. He reached for it and scooped up a finger full of frosting, leaving a gouge in the samsonite logo on the front. He put his finger in his mouth and grinned. His first taste of sugar.

"Your choices shape me as a person," he said. Then he gorged.

He started with the handle, screwing up his eyes with the effort of chewing through the sturdy and ergonomically shaped steel. The vinyl covering (we went for one of the cheaper models) was easier, sucked away like a fruit rollup. He went at it with breathtaking gusto.

He bit off the locks and spat them at me before opening the case. Inside was a suit, a tie and a cassette of affirmations. We dressed him in his new clothes and played the cassette next to his cot. Jen and I held hands for a while as we watched him fall asleep. We held hands to share our hope and our love and our fear.

* * *

I woke to an unfamiliar sound. Instead of cries and crashes from Baby’s room, the harsh, piercing, welcome buzz of my alarm clock. Only to a parent could that sound be so sweet. It meant baby had slept through the night.

Jen was up already. She was in front of the oven, gently shaking a pan of bacon, mushrooms and eggs. Bits of fat spat up and dotted the shirt that I wore the day before, . When she leaned forward I could see the inside of her thighs and the bottom of her bum. I walked up behind and put my arms around her, resting my chin in the crook of her shoulder.

“Best sleep ever.” She said, smiling with closed, contented eyes. The clock on the oven read 6:15 am, such a small victory, but such a welcome one.

After breakfast we went into the Baby’s room. It was so rare that we got to watch him sleep. Overnight baby had changed. He couldn’t fit in his cot so his legs, long and hairy, hung out over the end. His face was dark with stubble, and the suit he’d got for his birthday had burst at the seams and circled his thigh, tight like a garter. He snored loudly.

The room had changed too. The rest of the wallpaper had come down, and the walls were painted with every colour imaginable from spraycans that littered the floor. It was all I could do to stop the tears, that beauty like that could have come from something that had invoked such terror.

Jen looked up at me. “Oh honey,” she said, looking into my eyes with a sparkle I hadn’t seen in her for a long time. “Do you think he might be gifted?”

Mar 21, 2010

the watchers from on high

Trevor knew the windows were watching. They clung to every surface- every office and apartment, every television and smartphone. It was all over the news- the Gee Men were in your house and in your phone, stealing glimpses at all your dark little thoughts. Some Gee Men claimed they were NSA, or KGB, or MI5 or GCSB, but they were all Gee Men, all hungry for the private things. The rain made the windows weep. The wind said pssssssst. A bakery's leftmost window winked at Trevor. The glass was bulbous, covered in a thick membrane. The venetian blind inside closed, stayed shut for only a moment, then dragged itself back open. It looked at him imploringly, in a gross display of vulnerability. Psssst. It made him furious.

Trevor needed to buy a lamp, so he walked to the Mall. The Mall, that drew men from all corners to explore its soft interior. A temple of the machine. Two pink pillars stood at each side of the entrance. They glistened in the rain and sagged beneath the heavy roof of the world. A speaker came to life. “Come,” it said, “come inside and sleep forever.”

The Mall quivered. It wanted him. Its windows leered down. The shadows in each coalesced to form a pupil. The gaudy windows of the shops behind made irises. The rain moistened them. Trevor looked up at the grey sky. Each and every part of his body sagged beneath its weight. He hated himself for that, and hated the sky more. The speaker clucked its plastic tongue at him. Each and every eye turned towards him.

He crossed the threshold, head ducked low. The sudden change in heat sent little rivers of pain through his bare fingers and into his wet palms. The mall’s shops lay open, bustling with activity. The happy people with wide eyes did not know they were being watched, and consumed, by a beast a million feet across that hungered only for answers. A wide world that needed to know, then reassemble information in databanks, distribute to corporations and employers and worst of all Gee Men, who wore dark glasses and knew the secrets about yourself even you didn't know.

Trevor very much wanted to buy his lamp and leave. A bank of televisions perched on one wall. Pssssst they said. They cut from static to a man in a dark blue suit, with a crisp white beard and a fatherly affect. He smiled, with too many teeth. “Hello,” he said, “breaking news on wiretapgate case: the jury has been presented evidence that Trevor Mendellson sucked his thumb until he was seven years old and sometimes pisses himself while drunk. The judge is awaiting their decision. Shocking, to think we have fallen so far.”

He shook his head, and the televisions switched back to static. Pssssssst. Trevor bit his lip. The Mall’s soft, pulsing lights lulled him, and he stood rocking back and forth for a second. A clatter brought him back to reality: a man had dropped his phone, and smashed the screen. A ruined, sightless eye, now. The man mourned over it, then put the remains in his pocket and wandered off to buy a new one. Trevor followed him until they both came to an electronics store.

Would they stock lamps? He would have to enter to find out. The warm hum of the place filled him and he crossed the threshold. The televisions and computers spat static at him. The channel changed to Mister Too-many-teeth-and-all-smiles. “Further allegations in the Gee Man wiretapping scandal,” he said, “the People's Union Party accuse their opponents of using stolen information in attack ads. They are pressing charges against key members of the Federalist Party for undermining the democratic process, and unlawful use of information. Pundits are calling for an early election. Furthermore, Trevor Mendellson cannot maintain an erection. We'll keep you updated on that worrisome and unstable situation as it plays out.”

Trevor did not engage them. He kept walking. In the far back of the store, he saw a display of hair dryers: quiet, private housethings. He was so focused on his goal that he didn't see the man step out in front of him. Sunglasses indoors, suit expensive without being showy, and an earpiece. Slicked back blonde hair cut short, perfect teeth curled in a sneer. A Gee Man made manifest. They could travel through televisions, and smartphones. They converged sharklike on the miserable and confused. Trevor turned to run, but two more had arrived behind him.

They opened their mouths. They had no tongues; only wet, toothy maws that went on forever and down. Psssssssssst they said. Pssssssssst. A rattle of air against the back of a moist throat, or a television in its death throes. A sound of submission. A thick cluck came up from inside each man, and they simultaneously spoke in the measured tones of Mister Teeth, The Newsman. “We gotcha, Trev. We know everything. We got black bags and waterboards and poo poo you don't even know about. We got worse than that though: we got your family and we're gonna tell 'em everything. Every little thing. Every debt, every failure, every missed change. You hosed up Trevvy boy, and now the machine is gonna grind you to paste.”

In their eyes, Trevor saw television screens. They were strong in this place, deep in the belly of the temple of the machine. Each television screen was a twitching, febrile eye. Psssssst said a 52-inch plasma tv.

Trevor lashed out at with his foot. Glass shattered, sparks flew, Gee Men screamed. Trevor stomped on the television’s carcass. He was aware of shouting in the store, but he was beyond that. He kicked another television, and another. He picked one up in both hands, then slammed it down hard on the tile floor.

“gently caress YOU,” he said, “I AM FREE.”

The Gee Men shrieked, then collapsed inwards, leaving only suits and circuitry. The smiling man on the televisions stopped smiling, and returned to his regular broadcast. Breaking news, investigations, something that sounded an awful lot like static. He was in the store, with furious shoppers staring at him. A policeman approached him from the front. Trevor smiled at the man, then a great weight slammed into him, and forced him on his side. Rough hands pulled his arms behind his back.

“I am free,” Trevor said as the officers slapped on the cuffs. The spilled electric guts of the televisions and Gee Men lay in tangled heaps on the floor around him. He smiled.

"I am free," he said.

[1105 words]

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

:siren: Kaishai has graciously agreed to be our third judge this week, so all you procrastinators can try to pander accordingly. :siren:

Jul 29, 2006


The Court of Last Resort
1168 words

The Four of Clubs lit his cigarette with the ashes of his old one. Rubbing his nose, he pushed two queens forward, then rapped the table. “Bet, Knave.”
Bullets ran down the Knave of Swords’ face. Reaching a shaking corner up to his neck, he removed a miniature silver scale. “Four, this is all that’s left, I worked hard-”
“It’s worth four rooks,” Four interrupted, sliding a bishop into the pot and pulling a pawn out.
The Knave managed a tenuous smile. “R-read the jury and weep, Alekhine’s Gambit. Y-you’re streak is over, Four.”
Four tapped a corner to his nose. “I don’t think so, Knave.”
The verdict came in. Knave saw, screamed, and ran for the door, but Ace was ready for him.
“Appeal denied.” Four snapped his fingers.
The two cards left through the window.
Four flicked his cigarette over the sill after them. The pale glow twisted and turned in the wind, managing to nip hot at their corners, herding the gliding pair of cards down into the swirling snow storm.
It was time. All those little cards below, going about their little lives. Soon, they would be waking up. Waking up just in time to see their cell doors flung open to a world they didn’t know existed. And standing right there in the sunlight they’d never felt would be the messiah they didn’t deserve.


The Big Court, The Court of Last Resort, La Una. Under the watchful blindfold of Liberty, it kept guard against the teeth and claws of the nature. Nine rumbling black eyes of light and music spied a lonely card making his way up the icy sidewalk.
A familiar, oiled olympian met Four just as the sidewalk ended and the black marble steps covered in blood began, the line between justice and mob rule.
“Another appeal, Four?” Seven took his coat, then took a moment to rub Four’s shoulders. “You know we need to count your pieces.”
“It’s all there.” He winked his nose at Seven. “I’m turning this town around.”
Seven’s face rippled as he concentrated on each piece, working hard not to lose his count. “Big talk, Four.”
“One good card, that’s all it takes in this lousy world. You’ll see.”
Seven raised an eyebrow, but finished the rest of his count in silence. “Sure, Four, I’d like to see that. You can go in now.”
He’d been to The Big Court before, but even knowing what to expect, walking in was a kick to the face. Cards writhing on poles, naked down to their boots, selling their dignity to the beat of stenography. This was the lubricated, pistoned, arrhythmic heart of justice itself.
Even this late, Four was still hours early. Hours of good cigarettes and bad card dances while he waited for the full bench.
Fat Cat, The Gunshot, Mister Butterfly. One by one they came. Judge Alice was last, her black velvet robe seemed to levitate over the court’s red carpet. Four hadn’t worn his robe in years, but seeing her made him wish he had.
His first jury found Four looking down the barrel of a Broken French. He sneezed once and folded.
“No luck, tonight?” Fat Cat asked with a frown. “Do not worry, perhaps it will change.”
Five verdicts in, Fat Cat’s frown had reached his whiskers. “Fold,” Four said, kicking his jury back to the dealer and pulling out a wet, wadded tissue to blow his nose.
By the time Four finally won his first, modest verdict, his stack had dwindled by half and there were hives breaking out on his eyebrows. Mister Butterfly was finished, having contributed most of his pieces to Fat Cat’s hoard.
“Your luck changes?” Fat Cat asked, giving an encouraging smile to Four. “I am so happy for you. I do not know what I would do with all these pieces anyway.”
The Gunshot went out next, going down with all hands blazing on a Reverse Nimzowitsch. The winnings gave Fat Cat enough to add a moat and drawbridge to his fortress of pieces.
“Bad luck for Gunshot.” Fat Cat peeked his head out from his castle. His frown was now an infection spreading down his neck. “Ah, it is down to you and it is down to me. And Alice, but she never plays until the fat lady sings.”
Four’s sinuses were clearing and his time was running out. Riding nothing more than a White Sicilian, he pushed his remaining pieces forward. On a whim, he chased them with Knave’s miniature scale.
“It’s worth four rooks.”
Alice gasped, “You would bring such a thing into this court?”
“I would. I did. I have,” Four said,
Alice nodded at Fat Cat. Fat Cat rapped his paw against the table. “I call.”
“White Sicilian.” Four flipped the verdict, taking the pot. He went all in the next round, and the round after that, each time betting Knave’s silver trinket.
“King’s Safety. Ruy Lopez Hat-trick.”
He doubled his stack with each verdict, laying siege until Fat Cat hid behind nothing but smiles.
And then only Alice was left. Her pieces had been dwindling all night, she hadn’t rolled a single verdict. Four rubbed his nose. It felt good. Blindly, he pushed his stack forward.
“Fold,” Alice said. The word had become her vocabulary. She folded on the next verdict and the one after that.
“You going to play or just watch while you lose everything?” Four snapped.
“What do you want?”
“What does any card want? I want to see summer again.”
“I want the sun to rise in the east.”
“I want two and two to make four.”
“I see.” Alice folded her fingers inside her robe. “And if I gave this all to you, you would go away?”
“Not on your life.”
“One verdict then.” Without taking it off, she folded her robe into the pot.
Four touched his nose. It felt clear. This was it. As good a chance as any card had ever gotten. He pushed his pieces forward. “One verdict.”
Four watched the jury that would decide his fate come in, the stork delivering each member face down. He reached for them, but Alice caught his corner. “We could still plea this out.”
“Maybe if it wasn’t my lucky day,” Four said, finding the courage to flip his verdict.
“Queen’s Gambit Delivered.” His shoulders sank in relief
Alice revealed her own paltry Broken French with chagrin, then snapped her fingers. “Appeal denied.”
Four felt a sneeze coming on.
The dancers laughed at him as they drug him outside, depositing Four’s crumpled form on the marble steps beneath the eyes of the court.
“Tough night, Four?” Seven handed him his coat.
Four wiped off the blood and mucus, straightening his corners as best he could. “I’ll win, Seven. Next time. You can count on that. I just need to get the pieces together. You’ll see, I’m good for it, I’m going to fix this town.”
“Sure, Four, I’d like to see that.”

Hammer Bro.
Jul 7, 2007


Going Home (869 words -- someone didn't get their morning cup of coffee)

"Aden! Have you stabilized the irregularity in the western cell?"

"Not yet, boss."

"Then why aren't you working on it?"

You're talking to me.

Ron stared at Aden for another heartbeat, then stormed off to his next victim.

Aden sighed and swiveled back toward his terminal, pressing the receiver to the side of his head and tapping out signals on the transmitter. Not ten seconds went by before Luta leaned over the shared wall.

"Boss been really cuttin' into ya lately. You falling behind? Need anyone to help out with that?"

"No," Aden replied. "I've got it under control. I just need a few minutes without interruption to bring things back into regulation."

"I hear that. Seems like a guy can't coast for a hummingbird's heartbeat without some opportunistic dictator piling problems on him. Like last night's game at the Axon Arena..."

The best Aden could muster was a blank stare. In the back of his mind, he thought about tacos.

Two resolutions and five emergencies later, the shift siren signaled. Aden wanted to finish his current communication, but the transportation gates opened and he was ejected from the premises.

Aden swam through the crowds in the cleft and was mildly disgusted. Hundreds of people milling about as though they had nowhere better to be, meanwhile he was struggling to make it through the day. He dove under a pair of particularly lackadaisical pedestrians and continued toward the residential district.

A pair of caffs blocked the portal. He'd have to find another route tomorrow.

"Excuse me," Aden said. "If you could just step aside for one second, I'd love to slip through."

"You and all them other white-collars," the larger of the two replied. "But orders are orders and we ain't lettin' anybody through."

"Yeah," the smaller one chimed in.

Great. Blockading random entries to the residential district caused new houses to spring up at breakneck speeds, but Aden had to question the humanity of it. Did his host even care that his wife was making the tortillas from scratch? Or that their son was just old enough to top his own taco? But one does not argue with omnipotence, so Aden circled back and swam for a side street.

The ambient pressure was higher in this sector, but Aden didn't mind as long as he didn't have to deal with any caffs. Aden was slightly disoriented by the unfamiliar architecture, but he was confident this neighborhood would converge on his own, so on he traveled.

There was no line at the crossing station. Aden put on his best smile and strolled up to the receptionist.

"Greetings. My name is Aden. The other portals are blocked, so I was hoping I could use this entrance."

The receptionist finished her paragraph then held out her hand, never glancing up. Aden gave her his identification card then clasped his hands behind his back.

"Let's see," she said. "Adenosine. Category... C10H13N5O4. Oh. You'll have to use one of the A-type portals."

"Please." Aden was getting desperate. "I live right at the heart of the cell. I promise I won't cause any trouble."

"I'm sorry, sugar, but you know I can't let you through this gate."

"Well, thanks anyway," Aden said as he furrowed his brows. He had maybe ten minutes before the shells came out of the oven. Endo might still be glued to the transmitter, but Sera would've surely noticed his absence. What kind of husband can't even make it to dinner? Aden's pulse quickened as he picked up his pace.

Back at the A-gates, a crowd of displaced residents had gathered. The caffs shifted uneasily. Didn't they usually have replacements by now? Aden glanced at his watch. Not good.

Aden advanced toward them.

"Halt!" the big one shouted as Aden gathered speed. He and his companion lowered their shoulders and braced for impact.

Aden crashed into them with as much momentum as he could manage, but they barely budged.

"An uncooperative citizen, I see. I guess we'll have to--"

Something slammed into Aden's back. He tried to turn around but was interrupted by another impact.

"Hey!" the little caff shrieked. Two more jolts smashed into them. It was getting uncomfortable.

"Fellows," Aden began. Thump, bang. "Hey!" The pressure was overwhelming. "I just--" it hurt too much to breathe. Aden's field of vision narrowed to pinpricks: the teeth of the big caff. The elbow of the small one. His wife and child at the dinner table, waiting. Worried. Aden struggled to reach out a hand to reassure Sera, since words had failed him.

The clock struck nine.

The caffs evaporated.

Aden was launched through the portal like an errant torpedo. Houses blurred past him as he struggled to inhale. He clasped his hands above his head in a makeshift rudder and dragged his feet on the ground like an anchor until he came to a stop.

Miraculously, he'd managed to avoid injury and end up two blocks away from his own residence. He jogged the remaining distance and paused at his doorstep to straighten out his appearance.

Aden opened the door to a warm, golden radiance that could only be described as divine.

His host couldn't stifle a yawn.

blue squares
Sep 28, 2007

Ticket to the Fair
1164 words -- Prompt: Someone at a county fair eats too much

I am seated in a massive tent, surrounded by heads and bellies. The tent is the Main Dining Hall (sic) of the 2014 Illinois State Fair. I have been forced into this scrofulous Journalistic Assignment with threats of unemployment. The olfactoral cacophony here could be replicated only in the extremely unlikely event of a meat truck, a beer truck, and a horse trailer colliding and catching fire. At the start of the festivities, a bluegrass band began a rendition of “God Bless America,” but it has since been drowned out by the mastication of thousands of teeth, which is perhaps a more fitting tribute to our nation. Nearly every food known to man——and some invented on the spot——have been fried and arranged onto my plate into a kind of smiling face, of which I have consumed the left eye and nose, leaving a pirate awaiting his final walk off the plank into my mouth.

I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life. This is the place I grew up. The effort I expended to try and forget it, to convince myself that I am better than these Midwesterners, that I am now a New Yorker with all the superiority that label confers, seems to have been wasted. All my memories of Illinois come two-stepping back. The one thought that gives me comfort is that someone in an office on the East Coast is paying me to do this to myself. The magazine I work for sprang this assignment on me after I let it slip that I was unfortunately born in rural Illinois, and despite my desire to never again cross the Appalachians, they dispatched me here.

As I eat the food, which simultaneously disgusts and delights me, I glance around the tent at these people who look the same as they did when I was a child. Things don’t change in the Midwest. Obstreperous young boys with blond bowl cuts chase each other shouting “smear the queer,” and no one seems offended but me. In a corner, men and women prepare for the upcoming pig-calling contest. Their squeals, as I chow down on pork, raise uncomfortable and PETA-like questions.

After I clear my first plate, I realize the self-conscious blazer I wore today, in order to make it clear I am not an Illinoisan, is gone. It’s been replaced with a plaid shirt that is snug over a parabolic pot-belly that I’ve never seen before. The stomach rumbles unpleasantly. I’m not sure whether it’s my shock at this abdominal appearance or the amount of food I’ve eaten. In my bewilderment, I reach for a glass of water to gulp down, discovering only mid-chug that it is sweet-tea, i.e., tea with several week’s worth of recommended sugar stirred gleefully in. I don’t stop. Something about the sweet tea compels me to drink it as quickly as possible. I dread the fructosal aftereffects, but there’s no time for that now.

The belch that follows is sonorous and soothing and satisfying. A man seated beside me looks surprised by the burp but not angry; he claps for me and returns to his meal.

One of this year’s additions to the Fair, in order to combat the delays in food distribution that (locals have told me) cropped up last year, is a complex food conveyor belt that traverses the tent and every table in it like a very fat child’s dream train set. Another steaming plate of indiscernible meat and a bread roll convey past. I snatch it. Down it goes.

I shift in my seat and feel my cowboy boots clack on the wood floor. I haven’t owned cowboy boots since I was six years old. But there they are, at the end of faded-blue-jeaned and fat legs. The whole bench would tip over as I scamper clumsily away from the table if not for the other fairgoers weighing it down. Bright green letters shine RESTROOM at me from across the tent and I stagger toward them, arms Frankensteining and boots shuffling. I notice something new: whereas this morning I’d been ignored by the locals, they now tip their cowboy hats to me as I zombie-walk past the rows of tables. Saying hello to me the way New Yorkers never do. I sort of jerk my head Tourettes-like at them and feel a communal harmony that I can’t explain.

The bathroom is a hut with horse-troughs converted into mass urinals. I go straight for the mirror. My reflection is changed; I’m wearing plaid, a cowboy hat of my own, sporting a few days stubble over my bulging gullet.

I am the me that would happen if I’d never left Illinois. Splashing my face with water doesn’t wash away the sight. In the reflection behind me is a man waiting patiently to use the sink. “Sorry, partner,” I mumble, the words spilling out naturally, and step aside. He gives me a nod and washes his hands. I leave the bathroom.

I don’t know what’s going on, and part of me feels like I should be distraught by my transformation, but as I look around the tent at the pleasant families, I feel like one of them. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in a very long time. And there’s another: I’m happy. Actually happy.

A woman carrying so many large cups of soda in her arms that she can’t see almost runs into me. We share a laugh and I take a few of the cups and help her deliver them to her thirsty family. They wave at me and I wave back. It’s already the most interaction I’ve had with strangers in the last year put together. And they don’t really feel like strangers, either. They’re neighbors.

I’m overwhelmed, and I leave the tent through a small side exit. It’s hot outside without the fans blowing cool mist everywhere, and the sky is the color of washing machine lint.

The potbelly, the plaid shirt, the jeans boots and cowboy hat are all gone. I’m my New York self again, I think at first. Only no, that’s not quite right either. I’ve changed.


In New York, I write my article, mentioning nothing of the strange experience. The article gets praised and published and I go about my life. I try to convince myself that I ate too much and had a hallucination or a really strong case of the meat sweats or something. But I still feel different. On my way home one day, the U. of I. Fightin’ Illini are on TV at a bar filled with the school’s colors. I wander inside, confirm my heritage, and I’m welcomed as one of them. When we win, I join the pub-crawl celebration, arm in arm with my new friends.

I buy a ticket to see my family for Christmas. I can’t wait to go back.

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

:siren: Seven hours left to get those stories in! :siren:

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

A Minute's Silence
1,155 words
Someone is visited by a door-to-door salesman.

The salesman came to visit in the middle of dinner. He wore a grey suit and one of those wide-brimmed hats you saw in old films, and when he smiled it was all teeth.

"Hello!" he said, doffing the hat as Jones opened the front door. He had to raise his voice a little to be heard over the screaming tantrum coming from the kitchen. "You look like a man who could use some peace and quiet."

Jones gave him a tired stare. It was late, he had a pounding headache, and it had been a long day. Every day was a long day, of late. "It's half six. We're eating."

"Of course! Should I call back later?"

The screaming was getting louder. Lily had probably dropped her dinner on the floor. Again.

"No," said Jones, stepping out onto the porch and pulling the door to behind him. It helped, a little. "No, now is good. What're you selling?"

"Serenity," said the salesman, flashing another smile. "A little respite from the noise and pressure of your daily life. Seems like you could use a break, my man."

He was right. "How's that work?"


"Magic," repeated Jones, and turned back towards the door. "Thanks, mate, but --"

"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, my friend. No obligation. Thirty days, free of charge. New regulations."

Jones stopped, one hand on the doorknob. "All right. Go on."

"Splendid!" That smile again. "I'll be back in thirty days, then."

"Wait, what are --"

But he was gone.


His guess had been right. When he returned to the kitchen, Beth was on her knees by the high chair, trying to mop up milk with a sponge. Their new daughter was screaming her head off above her. And, at the table, the eldest son of the family was slowly and methodically plastering every surface within reach with mashed potato.

Jones stood in the doorway for a long while, watching. I could be at the pub right now. Or in the office. Or the gym. Or anywhere but here.

He only moved when his wife looked up, and he caught the wordless plea for help in her eyes. He knelt down beside her and they set to work on the milk together.

"Who was that?" she asked eventually.

"Just a salesman."

"Selling what?"

"Something too good to be true."


The alarm clock said 3:13 when Beth woke him up that night with a mumbled, "Your turn."

Jones sat up blearily. "Whuh?"

"You can deal with her for once."

"But she isn't…"

He trailed off. He could hear Lily crying. Audible, but faint. That made for a change. The girl had quite the pair of lungs.

He dragged himself out of bed and shuffled down the landing to his daughter's room. The crying grew louder, but not by much. Even when he was standing over her cot, staring down at her contorted face, her voice was muffled, as though she were crying into her pillow. Puzzled, he picked her up and held her to his ear. Still quiet.

Almost like magic.

Beth didn't understand why he was smiling when he came back to bed.


The following morning, there was no conversation over breakfast. No crying. No tantrums.

Jones watched his family's lips moving and marvelled at the silence. It wasn't that he'd gone deaf. He could hear the noncommittal responses he made to the questions he assumed his wife asked. He could hear the clink of cutlery on china as he ate. He could hear his teeth grinding against one another, and his breathing, slow and relaxed.

He should probably have been worried, he supposed. This was... not normal. He should talk to someone about it.

He closed his eyes and listened. It was beautiful.

Talking could wait.


He walked to the bus stop in silence. The other passengers chatted wordlessly among themselves. He worked his shift in his cubicle. No one spoke to him. He tapped one foot against his chair leg, the only sound in an office of hundreds.

He'd never got so much done in a single day.

Lily cried throughout dinner as usual. He didn't care.

That night he slept better than he had in years.


Details faded as the weeks passed.

He was surprised by how quickly he forgot voices. His coworkers and acquaintances, sure. But his wife's? His son's and daughter's? He'd have expected them to last more than a week. He didn't mind as much as he should have.

After the voices, he lost faces. Features blurred into flesh-coloured ovals. Ticker-tape reams of paper replaced the movement of lips, collecting silently into heaps around the house. Occasionally he skimmed over them to catch up on old conversations. He rarely bothered. The world around him seemed to go on just fine without his input.

Rooms, corridors, the world outside his front door all reduced to abstract shapes. Curves and edges. He knew, instinctively, that there must have been colours and fine details there, but he didn't need them. He knew where he was, where he was going, what he was doing. That was enough.

Through it all, the only sound was him.


Footsteps, rubber on linoleum. Thud. Thud. Thud.

This must be how water torture works, he thought. You take away almost everything, until there's only one thing left to sense. A drop of water on skin, the sound of a shoe against the ground. Then you do that, over and over and over again, until it becomes unbearable.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

He'd found a scrap of paper in the bedroom that morning. Seven words. I don't know what's happened to you.

He hadn't seen her in weeks.

Footsteps, like slamming doors.

He missed her.


The doorbell rang.

Jones didn't understand at first. The sensation brought back memories, but he couldn't quite place them. He stumbled from room to paper-white room until he found the front door.

"Hello again!" said the salesman, tipping his grey hat. "How have you enjoyed your free trial?"

Jones stared blankly at him, trying to remember. "Who are you?"

The man's face fell. "I was here last month," he said. He sounded disappointed. "I brought you peace, remember?" A smile full of teeth. "How are you finding it? Would you like to continue with it? We offer very reasonable deals, from --"

"No. Take it back. Take it back." Once he'd started, Jones found he couldn't stop. "I'm done. I want everything back. Take it --"

The salesman held out his hands defensively. He was still smiling. "Of course! That's your prerogative. No charge. I'm glad you decided. Have a nice day, now."

The door slammed in his face.


Lily was screaming away from her room again. Beth mumbled something beside him and buried her face in the pillow. Jones sat up, checked the alarm. He patted her shoulder. Her skin was warm against his.

"It's all right," he said. "I'm awake."

Jan 11, 2014


One Painful Visit to a Doctor and a Peculiar Journey within and without a Single Room
(939 words)

‘Now tell me, does this hurt?’

Doctor put his notes aside and punched Patient right in the solar plexus. Patient curled in foetal position and fell from the couch on sterile wooden floor with a thud.

After a minute of silence Patient finally said from down below, ‘Yes, Doctor, even worse than before. But how do I know it’s my pain I feel? What if it’s yours? Does it still hurt in relation to me or is it just my understanding of how hurt you are?’ Was Patient about to throw up? Yes.

Doctor stood up from his chair and looked into the plain rectangular mirror on the wall to make sure his face projected enough seriousness for the response. It didn’t. He made a lap around his cabinet one step for every tick and every tock of his watch. Another look in the mirror – that’ll do. He sat back and took a deep breath.

‘You see, Joshua… Can I call you Joshua?’

‘I am reasonably sure it’s your name, but you are welcome to do as you please, Doctor,’ answered Patient climbing back up.

‘Yes, that is true, even though sometimes I do feel like my pleasure is not welcomed at all,’ Doctor made a pause in case Patient would smile or otherwise show his enjoyment of his witty remark. Having had waited enough and not getting anticipated reaction, he continued, ‘You see, Joshua, I didn’t feel any pain. Each and every single time I hit you, I only feel a need to hit you again. You are a very gullible person of the lowest standing, Joshua, and belittling you cannot simply cause any moral objection in me, even less so any spiritual pain. As for the physical aspect of it, your fat ugly body is soft and squishy. I can assure you, it’s like punching an angel feather pillow. Do you understand that? It is of the utmost importance that you understand the current state of affairs, Joshua.’

Patient rubbed his shoulder. It smarted like a bastard.

‘I am fully aware of the circumstances surrounding our exchange, Doctor. Yet, I am gullible, as you rightfully noted. This prevents me from believing that you, a doctor, could hurt a patient just to extract some perverse cruel pleasure from their misfortune. I am also way beyond high on sedatives, which I know for certain, and you know it, too. It only follows that the pain produced by your fists wasn’t and isn’t mine.’

With a sense of accomplishment and also with some difficulty Patient crossed his hands on his massive chest and nodded.

‘Furthermore,’ Patient carried on his argument in a victorious tone, ‘since there is nobody else in this room but us, I conclude that the pain is yours, Doctor. I, as a person of a primitive, almost animal intelligence, must on a very basic level feel your most hidden emotions through emitted pheromonal substances or some other way that sciences ascribe to what people see as empathy in their pets.’

‘Sciences are rarely wrong,’ agreed Doctor, ‘In fact, sciences are never wrong, because they describe objective reality that both of us inhabit and that includes our collective subjective experiences. On top of that, I acknowledge that we are alone in this room. All this is absolutely undeniable. That said, however, I am compelled to punch you again, Joshua, and I’m going to punch you in your disgusting stupid face, you slithery worm. I’m going to punch you till you bleed.’

As Doctor sprung from his chair preparing for another blow, the room quite literally ceased to exist. So did time. You could tell by how Doctor’s timepiece was no longer ticking. Also, nothing moved.

‘Fool!’ said God, ‘You were never alone in this place!’

‘I wouldn’t go so far as to insinuate that, since the room we were in before does no longer exist. You can’t prove anything, God.’ Doctor’s words were rife with snark.

‘Can, too. The very fact that you know who I am establishes that I am the very God that people strived to prove existed through different kinds of extrapolations. Not only I am, by the way, but at the same time was and will.’

Doctor and Patient found it hard to distinguish any particular emotion that God was going for, but his tone didn’t come off as neutral either. It’s really strange how people hear God when he speaks. There’s no one who could possibly tell how God heard and interpreted Doctor and Patient, on the other hand. Maybe they didn’t sound nice to him as well.

‘If I may,’ asked Patient raising his hand like a diligent pupil, ‘Is it hell or purgatory? I am mildly concerned about finiteness of this incident.’ Patient glanced at Doctor who was still in a state between a punch and a burning desire to punch someone. ‘Or is it someone else’s personal paradise?’

‘Does it really bother you, Joshua? Only shows that you are here for a reason, though. How can you not see it?’ The voice of God sounded more and more irritated. ‘You are high on drugs, and you’re a sadist. You feel pain. Whose pain might it be then, huh? I wonder. No, really, tell me, I dare you, poor creature!’

Patient felt another bout of pain. He threw up.

‘Sorry. I hate talking to people like that, believe me. I’d better be off.’

The room was back.

‘Now tell me, does this hurt God?’

Doctor put his notes aside and punched Patient right in the solar plexus. Patient curled in foetal position and fell on sterile wooden floor with a thud…

Oct 17, 2012

Hullabalooza '96
Easily Depressed
Teenagers Edition

Take a Chance

Nethilia fucked around with this message at 04:50 on Dec 30, 2014

Jul 18, 2011

Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”


Obliterati - Future Perfect

I’m going to assume at this point that I’m going to get a “creator of time travel attempts to undo the creation of time travel” story every time I judge, though this one ended up a bit more muddled than that, and I’m honestly not sure what was accomplished in the end.

Let’s start with the obvious. “What would I say? That he broke time and space to tell me to stop him from doing it?” Maybe I’m missing something, but how is the answer to this such an obvious “no, of course not, don’t be stupid”? One of my peeves in fiction is stories that would completely fail to exist if the important players would just have a straightforward conversation with each other, and given that John has certainly accepted that time travel is possible, I think this qualifies. I think you either need for them to have the conversation and it doesn’t change anything, or give a more concrete answer to the question, or don’t even bring it up.

Beyond that, though, I just don’t find this story especially satisfying. One half-hearted attempt to talk her husband into a vacation and suddenly future husband declares “Welp, can’t be helped, you should divorce him instead for reasons” and she goes along with it? Your characters aren’t paper-thin, there’s some work done here, I can see that. But they’re still doing things pretty much because the story is telling them too, and I get no real sense of motivation from any of them. I don’t even know what Future Time-Traveling Paradox Husband is trying to avert, ultimately.

Your Sledgehammer - Observations

This needs to commit to being something more than it is. It either needs more story, or it needs to be a more insightful sketch of these two characters and their reactions to impending doom (which is more what I think you were going for). As it is, it doesn’t really do much of anything.

That big infodump about Eric’s hedonism is kind of the platonic ideal of telling rather than showing. Dan’s musings about what he imagines will happen when the meteor hits are better in this regard, but they still don’t go anywhere. And I really hope that Dan’s realization at the end was more profound than that “global warming” punchline, but I don’t really have a sense of what it actually was.

There’s a lot you could mine here for a more effective piece.

newtestleper - A Natural Cricketer

I know you’re eager for some detailed thoughts on this one so I’ll try not to confine myself to THIS WAS AWESOME, OKAY NEXT STORY. I will say that it takes a hell of a lot to interest me in a sports story, particularly when the sport is cricket, about which I know virtually nothing. I will also say that, aside from an absent apostrophe in “bowlers” in the first paragraph, I don’t have a lot that’s negative to say.

Of course, like all the best sports stories, and indeed all the best _____ stories, it’s not really about _____. You do a fantastic job of giving us enough detail, enough lingo, enough atmosphere to ground the story without overwhelming us with CRICKETCRICKETCRICKETTHISISACRICKETSTORY. Because this is really Dan’s story, and what could have been melodrama ended up just being dramatic. This is the kind of story that’s a balancing act, and your ending in particular was a big risk. But I think it all works, because of the way you present Dan and the people around him.

Little touches, like the narrator’s concern for Dan being momentarily derailed by “he scored how much?”, and the contrast between Dan’s ominous past and the initial portrait we get of a guy trying to put his life back together, and so many other things I could name, serve to elevate this.

The only thing that’s a little off for me is the abruptness of your ending. Not the event itself; I think you earn it, but the sudden stop doesn’t quite fit with the more laid-back way your narrator has been relating the story. That’s really, really minor, though.

Grizzled Patriarch - Pipes

My initial notes on this story back when we were doing judging read as follows:

“Ugh. Top pile.”

And I pretty much stand by that.

I’m still not entirely clear exactly what happened to Bennett, and while I’m not sure the details are that important in this case, I do think it needs something more. Is this just a grisly coincidence, or some knowing revenge of Bennett’s in death, or what?

JcDent - Mammon The Socialite

Your first section just about works in presenting the situation. Alfred’s lost all hope, and John’s turned up to bring him some. But this is where you should go into detail about what Alfred’s so afraid of and why, and why he’d even give John the time of day. And instead you give us offhand mentions of some secret society or some person with too many names, and present I AM HERE TO HELP as a fait accompli.

And then a thing happens. And then another thing happens. And then another thing happens and they’re about to raid some dude’s mansion and why is any of this happening? This isn’t so much a story as it is a montage of contextless, meaningless events. I can just about see the shape of it all, but you’re not really giving me what I need to understand, much less care, about what’s going on.

Jonked - The Hoose-Gow

Technically over the word limit, and I feel like cutting 7 words out of this should not have been a chore. That big infodump about your narrator and Pinky, for example, especially since, after all that, it doesn’t even really give us any insight into why your narrator’s willing to go to the mat for Pinky. (If anything, it gives us plenty of reasons why they wouldn’t be friends.) I think that question is vitally important, and it’s never really even raised.

Without more insight into their relationship, and into your narrator’s character, really, this just comes off as a series of events without any real soul behind it.

crabrock - Of Boys and Blinds

I don’t have a lot to say about this except that I enjoyed it. It was pretty clear to me where it was going early on, but I consider that an asset, here. I also quite liked your rather literal interpretation of the prompt, especially the justification for calling snipers ‘Crocs’.

sebmojo - Standards and Practices

Okay, but this had better end up with Chowder being visited in the night by three spirits, each of whom he concusses with increasingly unlikely combinations of household objects while failing to learn anything whatsoever.

Aug 2, 2002

Painted Lady
1200 words

crabrock fucked around with this message at 19:23 on Jan 1, 2015

Jul 2, 2007

There's no need to rush to be an adult.

I guess it's a bit too late to bow out now?

Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why did you fail Thunderdome?

A surreal story about zoo feeding
1194 words

A new evening broke upon Sunville Zoo, and Randy the lion stared at the Dalmatian before him.

“Woof,” he said.

“That was terrible,” Fido said in fluent Lionese. “You will never pass off as a dog. Did you even do your homework, young man?”

“I did.”


“You ate it.”

“Ehrm,” Fido said, subtly picking a piece of paper from in-between his teeth. “Let’s save the mystery of the disappeared homework for later.”

“So what am I doing wrong?”

Fido shrugged somehow. “A dog is submissive. Your tone is aggressive, as is natural for a species that considers itself ‘King of the Jungle’”. He made air quotes with his paws. “I do not think you have ever truly emasculated yourself for scraps of food, hm?”

Randy looked to the ground. “Guess not.”

“Next time you’re being fed, do a roll for every bite you chew.”

Randy thought about that. If the Gazelles attacked again, it would come in handy if he could pretend to be a dog. Gazelles didn’t hate dogs. But imposing restrictions on his meat intake -- was that a life worth living?

“I hear the Gazelles don’t kill every lion nowadays,” Fido said. “Some they just castrate.”

“Let’s roll,” Randy said.


Randy wasn’t feeling so good. He’d been rolling across the whole compound and he still wasn’t done with half his steak.

“I can’t finish it like that,” he said. “I’m feeling ill.”

“Then leave it,” Fido said.


“On the ground.”

Randy carefully lowered the steak into the dirt. Somehow his mouth stayed attached. “It’s not working!”

“If you want to be a dog, you will learn not to have things that you want. It is the only way to happiness.”

Randy was going to reply, but he noticed the faint outline of a Gazelle in the bushes beyond the fence.

A few minutes later he came back out of his hiding place. His steak was gone. Fido seemed slightly less hungry.

“I love my job,” Fido said. He burped. His breath smelled like beef.

Soon the trials became more intense. Randy had to not eat his food in the first place. He had to not eat it and watch Fido eat it instead. He had to tenderize the meat with his paws, then serve it to Fido with a smile. Then watch him eat it.

“What the hell is going on here?” said Pops. He was the head of the pack, a hulk of a lion and subject of many heroic stories from the Gazelle Revolution. He had the scars to show for, and some of them ran deep.

“We’re making me feel inferior, so I can be a lowly dog!” Randy proclaimed.

“What the f--”

“Your son,” Fido said, “is making great improvements. Soon he may be able to lick human feet with pride.”

“Get out.”

Shock struck Randy’s face. “But Pops--”

“Out!” Pops roared. There was a dog-shaped dust cloud where Fido had just been. Randy couldn’t help but appreciate his teacher’s mastery in the dog arts.

“Daaaaaaad,” Randy whined. “Fido was teaching me to blend in.”

“Is this about the Gazelles again?”

Randy looked away, through the fence outside. The Gazelle-shaped outline was back. He gasped.

“Focus, boy!”


“Listen. The Gazelles have lost. They’re gone. They’re not coming for us. Okay?”


“Now stop this bullshit and eat like a real man.”


Randy couldn’t get back into his old habits. He’d half-heartedly chew on his steak straight-up when Pops looked, but most of the time he’d hide away to do tricks before lunch, or lick the steak and then not eat it.

Maybe it was just in him now.

He was begging to the air over his piece of beef when he noticed a ruckus in the far corner of the compound.

He went to investigate. There was a smell: Fresh. Meaty. Stupid.


One by one they hurled themselves into the lions’ pen. No fear. They climbed the fence, jumped, and silently went down in a bloody storm of claws and fangs.

“What’s going on here?” Randy said.

“Free lunch,” Pops said. He licked blood off his lips. “Humans are stupid.”

Something was off.

“Humans don’t usually suicide into your compound,” Randy said.

Pops shrugged, again, how the gently caress they do this is beyond me. “Don’t look a gift human in the mouth, eh.”

Twisted, slashed bodies dotted the ground. Rivulets of glossy blood streaming through the dirt. The urge to feed on this opulent feast was overwhelming, but Randy didn’t dig his teeth into the juicy, tender… delicious…

“Pst! Kid!”

A voice called from the other side of the fence.

“Don’t eat the humans,” Fido said.

“I don’t know if I can resist,” Randy said. “There’s so much… meat…”

“Listen, kid. It’s a trap. The humans. They’re being controlled by--”

Gazelles! Their ba-ha-ha-ha-ing pierced the night. The other lions didn’t seem to notice in their feeding frenzy. Some already grew slower as they ate, and fatter. The juicy human meat kept flowing in, into the pen, into their stomachs. It wouldn’t be long before the first heart attacks started.

Silhouettes appeared in the twilight, turned to foggy outlines. The gazelles trampled into view, wearing headphones, satellite modules strapped to their backs. Some of them shouted into their mics, and whenever they did, there was a shift in the human horde.

“It’s a trap!” Randy yelled.

“I see it,” Pops said, “but… I can’t… stop!”

“Master, what do I do?”

Fido had a graveness in his face. “Remember your training,” he said, “but also, remember your roots. You are dog. You are lion. You are… don.”

Randy nodded.

He climbed the pile of dead humans over the fence. He rushed past the oncoming flesh hordes. He barked, woof, woof. Humans were not food.

He went straight for the gazelles.

One of them noticed him, and poked another, and they both looked at Randy as he ran towards them barking, and then they both shrugged and said something that might have been ‘Just a dog’.

And then Randy pounced right into the middle of their stupid, tiny herd.

He showered in blood and gore. He drank the stench of panic. He ripped open bodies and snapped necks. The gazelles were shocked to find a live lion right amidst their ranks. They broke apart in all directions, and Randy played fetch with them, pulled them back in like a furry maelstrom of destruction and excessive violence.

It might have been hours. It might have been seconds.

The last of the gazelles tumbled to the ground, wheezing, dying. Randy spat on it and went back to his compound.

It was heart-breaking. Amidst the scores of human bodies lay two dead lions, killed by their bodies’ inability to keep up with their gluttony. But the others were alive, and as the human hordes stopped pouring in, slowly got a hold of themselves.

“Son,” Pops belched. “I’m mighty proud of ya. I thought all this being-a-dog was hogwash, but it has it’s benefits.”

Randy looked over to where Fido stood. The dog bowed his head and slunk off into the night.

“Woof, woof,” Randy said.

It came out perfectly.

Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.

Notes to Self (850 words)
Someone makes a mistake.

Yellow (The Child)

I’ve got this kickass idea for a book - maybe a series of books! You take your copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. You group each play by location (England, Italy, Greece) and then arrange them more or less chronologically. You’d start out with the “mythical” plays: King John, Macbeth, Hamlet, Timon of Athens, maybe even A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s the clever part: you write them as concurrent events, interweaving the stories together. Shakespeare is fond of sending characters away; what if they visited the events of the other plays?

It would be a worthwhile endeavour to adapt Shakespeare for a modern audience. It doesn’t have to be direct; there are quite a few devices and elements that could be adapted to contemporary readers. The jokes would stay, of course.

So, me, what do you think?

Red (The Critic)

Jesus Christ, that is the worst loving idea since we stopped writing Star Trek fanfiction. (Thank God all of that poo poo is lost to time.) Do I really think that no one has thought “hey, let’s adapt Shakespeare for a modern audience” before? I could probably piss any direction in a bookstore and soak at least two books that aspire to that goal. They’ll suck.

Also, is my big idea really to plagiarize one of the best authors in the history of English literature? That’s it? Am I trying to be a hack? It’s time to go to my corner and think about what I’ve done here.

Green (The Fool)

Hey, calm down! I think it’s a great idea. If you’re going to court your influences, shouldn’t they be the best? It’s not like everything is really, properly new. All fiction is the same few hundred elements arranged differently. Sometimes we get a “groundbreaking” author who bends those pieces into a new form. In the end everything is made of the same Legos as the rest.

Game of Thrones is the War of the Roses with magic and zombies. Star Wars is every hero story ever in space. Firefly is Cowboy Bebop is Every Western Ever. The Lord of the Rings is essentially fanfiction of Norse mythology. (Then again, most mythology is fanfiction.)

Blue (The Professor)

Hold up there, Green. First of all, we’ve written maybe 300,000 words in our entire life. Maybe we should double that before we start up a huge endeavour like this. Maybe we should adapt King John into a novella as a proof of concept. We can always write the rest of the story around that. Like Eddie says, “scale it down a bit.”

Secondly, that “there’s nothing new, everything is derivative” stuff needs to go. Despite what the autists at TV Tropes would have us believe, pessimistic reductionism isn’t at all useful for a writer. Every word can be broken down into its component letters, but knowing that “indubitably” and “dubious” share a four-letter root doesn’t help us appreciate either word.

We’re only going to get so far as a writer playing covers. We may not happen on a perfect, sparkling gem of originality in our first few tries; that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Everything is built from the same Lego bricks, but the point of Legos is that you arrange them into something new and awesome.

Purple (The Optimist)

People learn to play music with covers. Composition is an advanced skill that you learn by imitation. Why is writing any different? At least this idea would get us writing.

Black (The Villain)

Uh-huh. We totally believe this is going to make you write. We’ve put down maybe thirty thousand words this entire year and that’s being generous. I’m sure a new project will totally motivate us - just like the last dozen.

We’re all about the excuses. We waste our time on stupid games and worthless television. We complain about our typewriter being broken and not feeling like we want to write. We don’t read, so we don’t write. Piss off with the big ideas.

Here’s the real issue: we’re not really creative; we’re just better than people who don’t have a creative bone in their bodies. It was a mistake to even waste time on this idea. That’s six hours of our worthless life we’ll never get back. Oh well, no real loss.

White (The Peacemaker)

Red is right; that is a terrible idea.
Green is right; it’s okay to borrow ideas.
Blue is right; we need to inject your own inspiration into those ideas.
Purple is right; writing is an advanced skill.
Black is right; we need to write, not think about writing.

We are a better writer than we think we are. We aren’t as good as we could be. It’s pretty clear that this skill needs some tightening up. Let’s write today. Don’t make a “commitment” or fantasize about a world in which “we just write.” Stop daydreaming about being published. Complete a story and make it the best it’s going to be right now. Show it to people. Get feedback. Get better. Keep writing.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




The Undeliverables
1997 words

The Mail Recovery Center of Saint Paul, Minnesota was closing. We’d burn the last of the dead letters, auction off any valuables, and leave the undeliverables for the local postal branches to sort out.

The writing had been on the wall for a while. The United States Postal Service was a withering old man, his limbs covered in necrotic sores. With the budget cuts, soon he’d just be a groaning torso.

So it seemed natural when, one day, I slit open an envelope and a tiny person tumbled out. He was the size of my index finger and looked up at me with sad eyes that glinted like dark gem fragments.

“Where will I go?” he asked.

I didn’t know, so I put him in my purse. I wasn’t going to let him go to the furnaces, and he was certainly small enough. I could keep him alive indefinitely on crumbs and table scraps.

I brought him home. He took a liking to the long-dead table clock on my fireplace mantel. Sometimes, when I sat in my chair, he would sit with his little legs hanging over the mantel’s ledge and speak:

“Mom always told me not to come looking for you, but they don’t know what’s wrong with me. They say you could’ve passed something down, you know, like a congenital condition. So if you know something, please call me or mom, or heck, even just my doctor. I’ll put his number at the bottom. Me and mom are at the same old number. Well, that’s it, I guess. Sincerely, your son Elliot.”

I gathered that Elliot had been bouncing back and forth for quite some time before he ended up on my desk.

Days later, a pinky-sized woman tumbled out of another envelope.

“Please,” was all she said to me. I tucked her into my purse.

She made a lean-to, of sorts, behind a framed picture that sat beside the broken table clock on the mantel. The first day, she stayed hidden there until Elliot came out of his clock and started reciting.

She crept over to him, sat with her knees pulled up to her chest, and listened to him speak. After he finished, we lingered in companionable silence. Then the woman began to talk, her voice stretched and crooked and rough:

“J., I am a road that must end at you, but I go on and on. Everything you gave (but never gave all of), everything you promised (promises are easy, aren’t they?) made me into an ouroboros. I crawl into my own head, swallow myself until memories of you burn me like stomach acid. And do you know, I would happily drown in acid if it even tasted a little bit like you.”

She fell silent and did not speak again.

“What’s your name?” I asked. Unlike Elliot, she hadn’t signed her correspondence.

“J. knows,” was all she would say.

Back at the Mail Recovery Center, more people trickled in every week. A little girl in a yellow envelope with a family of stick-figures drawn on the side. A man in his forties who growled frustration as soon as he plopped onto my desk and shouted, "you’ll get what’s coming to you, you poo poo."

I didn’t put him in my purse with the little girl. I tucked him into the front pocket of my uniform shirt. I could feel him pounding against my chest for the rest of the day, a second heartbeat.

My mantel was getting crowded. I’d given them small boxes and chipped cups for their homes, and they’d made a little city of bric-à-brac above the fireplace. At night, when I looked up at them from my chair, I wondered what they did all day when I was gone, when they had no one to read themselves to.

At night, I could barely read my book for all the stories on the mantel, telling themselves over and over:

“Please find enclosed my manuscript, per your request…”

“You know I don’t normally like to ask for help, but it’s getting hard…”

“I don’t like dad’s new girlfriend. When can I come stay with you?”

“You deserve to know why I left. But I don’t have an answer for you…”

I got out of my chair and took my book to the bedroom. I could still hear them, though. Murmuring. There were so many of them, they had to talk over each other to hear themselves. I threw the book onto my bed and went back to the mantel.

“What do you all want?” I asked, bending down so my nose was just a few inches from the largest cluster of them.

Elliot stepped forward. “Deliver us,” he said.

“No one can deliver you. That’s why you wound up on my desk.”

“We were meant to be read,” said Elliot.

“I hear you! I’ve heard you all. Story told, the end. What else can I do?”

All the tiny people were gathered around Elliot, looking up at me with anguish that was no less salient for their size.

“You don’t give two shits about us,” said the angry man, who’d signed himself as Skip. “Deliver me to someone who cares.”

“Oh, like the people you were sent to? The people who cared so much they didn’t bother to give you their current addresses?” I snapped.

More than a hundred sad little faces looked even sadder than before.

“Sorry,” I said. “Look, this is too much for one person. It’s too much to ask me to care about all your stories.”

“Deliver us,” Elliot said again.

I slouched down into my reading chair and rubbed my temples. I couldn’t burn them, or throw them away, or send them back into the postal system. Not after taking them in.

I stared idly at the junk mail on my coffee table. Friends and Family Discount! a flyer proclaimed in cheerful colors. One of the endless perks of working for the Postal Service: discount access to the United States Postal Museum.

The flyer featured a picture of a puppet, some vintage postal mascot. The caption read: Objects are the core of a museum’s reason for being. They connect us with people and stories of days gone by, allowing us to better understand our past and even use that knowledge to reflect on our present.

I got an idea.

Coaxing more than one hundred people into several shoeboxes wasn’t easy. Too many bad memories of being in transit, I supposed. The sixteen hour drive to Washington, D.C. wouldn’t exactly be fun, but I gave each box their own eyedropper full of wine, which quieted most of the complainers.

“I’m going to take you somewhere stories can live on forever, and tell themselves over and over,” I told Skip, Elliot and the nameless woman, who were the last ones to go into the boxes.

I wasn’t actually sure what the museum would make of my horde of tiny people, but if they wanted exhibits that could tell stories, boy-howdy did I have a deal for them.

With everyone safely tucked away, I hit the eastbound Interstate. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...


Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

Wordcount: 1200
prompt: A lounge singer asks for a request.

Infamous Jack's

For the final chorus Patricia opened the veins of her music and let the song pour out. The backing band thrummed and plunked along behind her, but she soon left them behind, her voice soaring into impossibly high hopes and then plunging into heartbreak and agony.

She finished on a long glissando that cascaded one final time from the heavens to the fiery pits. Sweat beaded on her brow, but she kept her hands to her sides, staring at the base of the microphone as she always did when she finished low. A few claps echoed around the lounge, the sound of conversations starting again after a momentary diversion. She straightened, performed an awkward curtsey and said, “Thank you. We’ll be back after a few minutes for the final set of the evening. Jack at the bar will be glad to help you find refreshing ways to pass the time.” She waved at audience but couldn’t make out a single person paying her attention, so she wiped the perspiration from her forehead and made her way off the stage’s fading red carpet.

The backing band were already offstage and lighting cigarettes. Ignoring them, she hurried to the side door that led to the lounge itself. She slid into her usual seat by the bar and waited for Jack to finish serving a chocolate martini to a drunk suit.

“What did you think?” she asked as he poured her a Virgin Mary.

“You’re too good for this place,” said Jack, placing a straw and a small umbrella in the mocktail which looked almost brown in the bar’s red light. “I’ve always said that. Gonna miss you.”

Patricia took a sip from the straw. “I can’t stay in the city. I’m slowly starving. This gig pays squat, and it’s the only thing I’ve managed to land. I blame you. If you’d just dragged in one. Single. World-Famous. Producer...”

Jack threw up his hands. “I just would have lost you quicker. You can’t blame a guy for trying to hold on to his red hot ticket!” He laughed and leaned in. “Sweetie, you see that guy over there?”

Patricia glanced where Jack indicated. The chocolate martini suit. “Mmm-hmm?”

“He says he’s in the biz.”

“No!” Patricia whispered. “A suit, saying he’s in the music biz, in a lounge bar with a female singer? It’s like the heavens opened up and rained down music contracts.”

Jack shrugged. “I am only passing on what his card said.” He showed the small rectangle to Patricia. “I fished it out of the sweepstake jar when I saw it.”

Patrica grabbed the card, squinted at it. In elegant typography it read “Earnest Holsworth, Senior Audio Talent Executive”, but there was no logo or branding. “So what kind of music did he say he bizzed?”

“He didn’t, sweetie. You know me. I don’t like to pry.”

Patricia threw her tiny umbrella at him. “Bullshit!” She downed the rest of the juice and sashayed back through the door. In the corridor she nodded at the backing band, and they stubbed out their cigarettes, put down their drinks, and sauntered to their places. She let them tune up, then prepared her entrance. The mic in her hand was shaking and she realised, almost by surprise, that she was nervous. She scolded herself for getting her hopes up, ran through a quiet scale, plastered a smile on her face and walked out.

“Hello again,” she said to the crowd. “Fancy meeting you here.” She tried to penetrate the footlights, catch a glimpse of the suit, but there was nothing but haze and shadows. “We don’t normally do this, but seeing as this is my last night her at Infamous Jack’s, does anyone have any requests?”

There was a slight murmuring in the audience, but no reply. Her eyes were adjusting to the stage-light and she could see a few members of the audience. She pointed at the chocolate martini suit, alone at a table near the front. “You, sir. Anything you’d like to hear?”

The suit gestured, one empty, grey sleeve waving, but no sound came from it. It moved its other, hollow arm, and the chocolate martini held somehow in its shirt-cuff sloshed over its rim. The suit slumped forward in a sad crumple. It poured a small sip of alcohol into its buttoned up shirt neckhole.

“Well,” said Patricia, “If that isn’t a request for ‘One for the road’’, then I don’t know what is.” The backing band nodded when she turned to them. She tapped her foot and swayed her hips in time with the drummer’s opening beats.

The song was a soliloquy, a story by, and about, a man desperate to be heard. Patricia laced the opening with the desperation she felt singing every night in Jack’s ragged lounge bar. With each line she recalled having so much to say, and no-one to listen. She walked the audience through the verse slowly, taking her time. She wanted them to come with her, to feel the story as much as hear the lyrics and cadences.

By the time the chorus came around, her voice was warming to its subject matter. She let a little surge of power enter her voice for the first rhyme, and through the smoky darkness saw Jack smiling at the bar. She smiled too, and, broke with her usual routine to tread down the steps at the front of the stage, mic in hand.

By the start of the second verse, she was standing by the suit’s table. She hovered beside it for a moment, then reached out to touch its expensive fabric, tracing a delicate finger along the stitching of its pocket then down the single-breasted lapel. She haunted the song, putting everything she’d learned from a thousand renditions into her performance.

Within the suit, a ghostly light shimmered - like a face lit by a short-circuiting halo. It filled the clothed void - becoming clearer, less bright but more solid. Hands appeared at the ends of the sleeves, strong hands that looked like they could make a difference in her life. They became more real with each note. His eyes, now that she could see them, were blue pools filled with gratitude and endless, forgiving love.

She repeated the chorus, and the suit reached into his pocket. With his fresh, new hands he pulled out a piece of paper and pen, then laid both before him. Patricia angled around the table, noted the word Contract at the top. Then he reached for her, held her hand in his and she felt relief, release and redemption. Her eyes lifted to Heaven to sing the final note, and his grip vanished from hers. The audience clapped politely, then returned to former conversations. Patricia watched horrified as the empty suit deflated, its grateful eyes gone. It slid to the floor, wrists empty, lifeless, like a girl alone in the city who made one-too-many wrong choices, opened her veins and let all the music flow out of her.

Patricia turned to Jack as the memories flooded in. He was still smiling, cruelly, in the red light of the bar.

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