It's been a while but I'll take a crack at this one.
|# ¿ Feb 28, 2014 04:11|
|# ¿ Mar 21, 2019 10:40|
Yeah, Full Course was mine. I'm sort of flattered systran could name me as the writer despite me submitting like half a dozen times at most.
Luckiy I have a prompt in mind on this go-around. I'll gather up judges and have something by this time tomorrow at the very latest.
|# ¿ Mar 3, 2014 23:38|
No more talking, no more fun, Oxxi's lessons have begun.
Thunderdome Week LXXXII: Comma, Noun, Verb
Judges: Oxxidation, crabrock, Erogenous Beef
"Said-bookisms." I knew what they were before I first heard the term, and I do not like them, and if you use them then I do not like you. But the kind I like least are the ones involving actions which have nothing to loving do with the vocalization of words. Such as:
"I've got AIDS," he smiled.
"Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung," Bob shrugged.
"J.K. Rowling was way too in love with this one," she purred.
God. It's like getting brain freeze every time I read one. The mind attempts to visualize an action which runs contradictory to dialogue and locks up, destroying the pace of the story. But to destroy your enemies, you must think like them. To that end, and for my own amusement, I've assembled this prompt. The subject is:
In which a character has just won, and is in desperate need of consolation.
And the conditions are:
Your story must involve dialogue in some capacity.
All dialogue must include said-bookisms and they must, without exception, be as elaborate as you can make them, while complementing what is actually being said.
For once this bad writing habit is going to be put in the harnesses and pull the story forward rather than rot in the road beside it. The point of this prompt is not to write an "ironically" bad piece where you find-and-replace the word "said" with as many overwrought substitutes as you can; the point is to create a story where the characters communicate with their actions, as the language would suggest, instead of just flexing their faces like abused stop-motion sculptures because you're afraid of repeating a four-letter word too many times. This is your chance to use an abused and rightly-maligned technique with thought and care, because if you don't then you will be yelled at slightly louder than usual.
You can use as much or as little dialogue as you like, but if you only include one or two lines of talk then those lines had better be loving dynamite and my standards will be at once stringent and perilously unpredictable. And as for the subject - anything goes, but if any one of you comes within the same zip code as Shirley Jackson's The Lottery I'll drop your submission to the bottom of the pile and shovel dirt over it.
E-Beef includes the following flash rule, which is aptly named I think cuz it's loving brilliant:
Flash Rule FOR EVERYONE
Signup Deadline: Friday March 7, 11:59 pm EST
Submission Deadline: Sunday March 9, 11:59 pm EST. I'll allow some flexibility due to Daylight Savings Time kicking in, but don't push your luck.
Maximum Word Count: 1,200 words
I look forward to your disappointments.
The Saddest Rhino
God Over Djinn
The News at 5
Lead out in cuffs
Oxxidation fucked around with this message at Mar 8, 2014 around 05:01
|# ¿ Mar 4, 2014 02:32|
Lots of masochists this week, huh. FLASH RULES:
"In," Jager monstered.
Your story must take place in the aftermath of a drinking contest.
Your story must prominently feature archaeology.
|# ¿ Mar 4, 2014 15:52|
"...gently caress." Colon V cursed, "I've gotta drop again. Call me a basic baby bitch."
I'd like to say I expected better from you, but then we'd both be liars.
|# ¿ Mar 7, 2014 00:33|
Approximately 6 hours remain for signups
This workweek has ground away every speck of my saintly patience, so please try not to pratfall any harder than usual.
|# ¿ Mar 7, 2014 22:01|
Signups are now closed.
|# ¿ Mar 8, 2014 05:00|
For clarification: Does this mean that every single line of dialogue has to be su/prefixed with said-bookisms, or are we allowed to use said/says or nothing at all if said-bookisms break the flow too much?
Nope, gotta use 'em. Have fun!
|# ¿ Mar 8, 2014 16:26|
24 HOURS REMAIN TO SUBMIT
If you people make me read through the bulk of your crap on a workday I swear to god
|# ¿ Mar 9, 2014 05:09|
12 HOURS REMAIN TO SUBMIT
|# ¿ Mar 9, 2014 16:12|
If you want to start trying to exploit loopholes this late in the game then exploit away. I'll be sure to take it into consideration. And I mean that as ominously as possible.
|# ¿ Mar 9, 2014 17:56|
1 hour remains to submit.
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2014 02:57|
SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW CLOSED
I don't know how many of you failed to submit and I don't care. I have spent the last three hours evaluating these, I am barely half done, and I have to be up for work in six. I only say this so that, should any of you awake one night to find your home on fire, you will know why.
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2014 04:02|
INTERPROMPT INTERPROMPT GOGOGO
Hey look at this I'm about to interrupt an interprompt again, I'm such a rascal.
Judgement coming shortly, more detailed evaluations (from me at least) will follow later tonight.
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2014 17:58|
Hello, saidists. Meet the sadists.
I'll level with you all, I suspected this would be a trainwreck ever since I first thought up the prompt. In that respect, at least, you exceeded expectations, and I'm pretty certain both Beef and crabrock hate me for it slightly more than they hate all of you.
Judging was contentious. I think Beef tried to car-bomb me but that might've been for something unrelated, I'll catch up with him later after I've got some Kevlar on. Here's what we could agree on:
In a week fraught with entries whose dialogue clanged like a funeral bell filled with clowns, Kaishai gets special acclaim for following the prompt and doing it so well that you'd scarcely notice the said-bookisms at all. Throw in some nice imagery and excellent blocking, easily sufficient to clearly portray the complex movement of the sport in question, and you've got a winner.
There was absolutely no argument on this, at least. I don't even give a poo poo about the story, which was terrible; this was such a rank, unformatted, typo-ridden, caps-plagued piece of fanfic.net slough-off refuse that I flat-out refused to read it. What the gently caress made you think that this was in any condition to submit? This is so far from a final draft that final drafts store their bank accounts in it. Everyone else this week should thank you for being so sloppy that you totally wrecked the curve, and then point and laugh at you for the same reason.
"Special" Mention: Every Single Mother loving Benny the Snake Entry
None of them were funny, all of them were bad in their own special ways, and since they technically qualify as fanfic Beef and crabrock moved to have them DQ'd anyway.
Kaishai, prompt at your leisure.
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2014 18:18|
Five Shots (nitrousoxide)
Missing punctuation, typos, and horrendous belaboring of the point sank this long before your scrabbling for decent saidisms did (it became clear really quick that you were just grasping for verbs that meant SPEAKING VERY LOUDLY). When you’re going for lists like the first several paragraphs of this story it’s best to keep things short and punchy so that each image is retained in the reader’s mind as they move on to the next; as it stands, each fabulous prize was dragged out so long that the prose just trudged. The concept was sort of darkly funny in a juvenile E.C. Comics way, and the erection line got a snort out of me, but I’ve got no patience with people who don’t proofread.
Oh God, no, gently caress this, I’m out, I’m done. You omitted the saidism right in your first attribution, your quotes are an unreadable scrambled mess, and I’m hitting capitalization, punctuation, spacing, and spelling errors every time I let my eyes settle on a clause. This poo poo doesn’t even merit a full read. I’ll leave that up to people with more time to kill.
To Say Goodbye (Cache Cab)
I knew there’d be at least one story like this, using the saidisms as puns to match the actions being performed, but at least you did it with some aplomb. I’ll admit I giggled like a frilly little schoolgirl at some of these. You carried the gimmick a little too far, and there’s not much to the actual story, but at least the scene itself is believable and contains a start, middle, and end. If the plot had been constructed with as much care as the puns this would be a top contender, easy.
Revenge, Pixie Style: A Scribe's First Chronicle (Nikaer Drekin)
Yeah, no, if you wanted me to read the rest of your saga you should’ve submitted earlier. Them’s the breaks.
I was originally railing on the multiple punctuation marks, saying that it made your piece sound like a grade-schooler’s essay – and then I got to the end and found out that that’s basically what it was. This can also help to excuse the grating enthusiasm, go-nowhere story, and occasionally inaccurate saidisms (yelping is a brief, high-pitched vocalization, for starters, and makes it sound like Z’s hiccupping all his words if you tack it onto a sentence). Your framing device deflects the worst of my wrath, but I’ll be watching you. Clever dick.
The Way I Won (God Over Djinn)
Oh man, me and the other judges did not agree on this. I was a big fan of the hyper-sensory language, the others not so much; I felt the imagery shored up the lack of plot, the others not so much. crabrock gave me this big treatise on why it was bad, it involved a PS4 and a sweater or something, I don’t even know, we should be proud that he even managed that much with his tiny, tiny pinchers.
The good, briefly – your framing device accentuated the saidism gimmick (of course a blind kid would carefully categorize the way other people spoke), your plot and imagery were solid, your saidisms varied and complementary to the characters. Your story occasionally became too twee, especially in the last line of the last full paragraph (“And so I had won...” belabors your point in a way that’s too sugary even for the tone you’ve established up to this point), and, as with most pieces, some of these images could stand to be cut to keep the prose moving more briskly. But you should return to this, it’s got potential beyond a one-and-done flash fiction entry.
Fifty-Yard Dash (Nethilia)
Competent. Your choice of scene was super-obvious given the prompt I’d set out, but your prose didn’t sag in any obvious places and you had some nice images (exhaling the medicine in particular). Your saidisms, likewise, weren’t anything to scream about, but since you went the “keep tacking on additional actions to the original attribution” route, they meshed with the rest of the prose and didn’t significantly trip up your flow. I think you had the chops to make your submission longer, and a little more imaginative than “asthmatic girl wins race,” but this piece feels like a solid middler nonetheless.
You Should Be Honored (CaligulaKangaroo)
This was one of the entries where the saidisms hindered the piece instead of helping it. The scene you set was decent, especially where Jerrod’s inebriation was concerned, but your dialogue was typical back-and-forth talk with extra words tacked on to the attributions, which wrecked your flow. I think the narrator’s lines could have been chopped out almost completely with very little being lost, since his questioning doesn’t appear to make Jerrod say anything that he wouldn’t have said anyway, to himself (or possibly to the floor, if it is a good listener).
Also, “nationalized television?” Keep your government hands out of my bat-ball games
Extermination (Techno Remix)
I do not like fantasy, fight scenes, or sentences beginning with prepositional phrases. You did not make a good first impression.
Even disregarding that, your story was dull. God, I don’t give a poo poo about these people. I barely paid attention to your dialogue because it just blended into the same gray mass as the rest of your story. And I hate ellipses, too, so you started and finished with pet peeves. At least you seem to have proofread it.
The Treasure of Sierra Hermano (SurreptitiousMuffin)
I feel like you’re being cheeky here. I’m not totally certain who you’re being cheeky at, and it makes me angry. later edit: I now know this is a Benny story and as usual you torpedo yourself by being too clever, mark your calendars everyone
This was solid despite being badstory fanfic. Your dialogue was almost totally seamless despite the lengthy attributions, and the story started strong despite ending with a wet fart. Not going to spend too much time on it because you already know you had to cut things short, so I won’t say anything you don’t already know.
Golden Gloves (The News At 5)
Your imagery was clumsy (AJ’s throat is the path of razor blades, but when he swallows there is nothing there, perhaps they are ghost razors), and your dialogue had that same issue as Kangaroo’s where it’s just back-and-forth he-inquired she-opined. This doesn’t really feel like a complete piece, either; there’s a beginning, but no middle or end, populated only by your cipher of a protagonist and a cigar-chomping corrupt managerial type who probably should go back to whatever comic book he escaped from.
What the poo poo is up with your spacing? What the poo poo is up with your dialogue? What the poo poo is up with your non-plot? Why is all this poo poo up, and why is it all raining down on me?
This couldn’t have been more phoned-in if it were literally typed out on your phone, one-handed, in the bathroom, while your coworkers wondered why the gently caress you weren’t at your desk. Two desperately uninteresting people have a stilted conversation and hopefully spontaneously combust as soon as they step outside. Get it out of my sight.
Just Desert (Entezahn)
Another one. Whiffing a conspiracy here.
Unlike Muffin, you didn’t have the writing chops to back up your cleverness. He at least set a scene between two characters; you wrote a half-assed fable featuring someone else’s non-character and three authorial self-inserts beating a dead horse. It still sorta-functions even when divorced from the source material, but your imagery is weak (how many times can you reiterate that a desert is hot and a guy is tired?) and your dialogue too smarmy to engage my attention. I’d have rated this more harshly if it weren’t for some of the hardcore duds this week.
Never Sicker (Jagermonster)
Well, I like the title. That’s something.
Man, this piece went back and forth and up and down. Your narration veered from obnoxiously tell-y (“He needed to end the cycle of infatuation that had gripped him almost immediately upon starting school.”) to actually quite nice (astronomy with the spins) and your dialogue was unobtrusive one minute and clangy he-stated she-delved the next. Also, “epiphany” has no formal verb that I know of, and if it did, it would probably be spelled with an “i.”
I was ready to toss this on the “positive” side, but the ending was hideously weak. He lies on the ground and blurts some rumination on friendship, cut to credits. You would’ve been better off keeping him in the grass while Don’t You (Forget About Me) came on the radio inside. Actually, make that the ending and thank me later.
Capital Offense (Whalley)
Here’s the rare piece that would’ve sorta sucked if not for the prompt. It’s more summary than story, often unsubtle in its narration, and the actual plot is nothing to scream about, but the way the objects “talk” is a clever way to get around the saidisms and also highlights Chester’s growing paranoia. I didn’t even mind you skipping the attributions for Chester’s own dialogue, because it differentiates him from all the interrogating inanimates.
That said, the ending blows. Not only was it a weak, overlong way to state CRIME REALLY DOES PAY, but you completely tip your hand re: the gimmick of the story. It was obvious to anyone paying attention that the objects were questioning him; you didn’t need to spell it out, and especially not at the end, where it just feels like you’re insulting the reader’s intelligence.
Follow the Lady (WeLandedOnTheMoon!)
Your story does not actually begin until the fourth paragraph, which is a problem. Your story does not consists of much other than a dude scamming some dudes and then sallying forth to scam other dudes, which is another problem. Your unremarkable plot has almost nothing in the way of interesting description to grease the way, which is a third problem. Your saidisms clang, do nothing for the dialogue, and in a few cases are omitted entirely, which is a problem of personal offense to me. You were already out at the third strike; now the audience is throwing poo poo at you.
Black Gold (Martello)
Well, the first paragraph was exactly what I expected. The rest...should have also been exactly what I expected. All of you kids are going into detention together and there will be no overrated coming-of-age dramedy’s made about it, so help me.
I knew from the start that you’d come off pretty well on this prompt, since your stuff is already naturally pulpy and saidisms come with the territory. Still, your beginning was definitely the strongest part of the piece – you got caught up in the back-and-forth dialogue during the middle, and in the end your, ahem, homage kind of cannibalized the plot. Still, decent-ish.
Life Support (Noah)
Oof, that opening line is a jawbreaker. I’m still having trouble parsing it. The judges are looking at the faces of Bill and the his parents, and the latter party also happens to be the Lumb family? A sentence this simple shouldn’t make heads spin.
And now after reading the rest that doesn’t seem so important, because what the low-calorie gently caress is this? Are you going for some farcical tragicomic bent here? Magical realism? Is Bill telepathic but unaware of it? Wherefore the lighthouse? Is this Ken Levine? If so, your videogame writing skills are subpar.
Even if I overlooked the concept, your prose was miserable and your saidisms bland. I’ll just pull the plug here.
In Its Wings He Shall Find Paradise (The Saddest Rhino)
At least now I can see this crap coming. Also, I hate you all.
I could say that the blocking was a mess and your saidisms did nothing to enhance the dialogue, but that wouldn’t matter, because you were wholesale copying the bad blocking and bad dialogue of someone else, and the parts you did add were equally disjointed and pointless. Indeed, that’s the rub. Unto you, miserable ungulate, I deliver my most damning criticism at all – of all the Benny parodies, this was the only piece where I often could not tell the difference between it and the original story. Go and sin no more.
Look them in the eye (Schneider Heim)
This one had a bunch of ambiguities which I don’t think were intended. You lay out Eunice’s character and habits clearly, but the conversation with her mother, to me, suggested something supernatural about her habit of never looking people in the eye (“control it,” “lose it”) that never seemed to be picked up on again. Or it could have just been in reference to their hair, in which case her mom would have to be literally telepathic. I reread the story several times to pick up the thread and never found it.
Beyond that, the prose was competent and the plot unremarkable, or at least it just seems that way to me, grade school was a while ago. Middle of the roader. Still, the ending was sweet, even if it did have that loose thread nagging at me.
The Sale (Joda)
Oh God shut up shut up shut uuuuup
You start with talk, you clog the middle with talk, and none of the narration in between the talk is vivid or compelling in the least. I zoomed down that waterfall of back-and-forth to find that your protagonist had shanked a man. Why? Who cares! Also your capitals and punctuation were a goddamn mess. It’s lowercase after a comma and uppercase after a period. Not hard to remember.
Atlanta’s Deathrace (Lead out in cuffs)
First two lines: you have my attention.
This was breathtakingly stupid and some good fun, but could have been a lot better. You’re crap at describing the race – something this high-octane should be taking place in breathless long-form sentences of clipped syllables so that each image rushes through the reader’s head in one over-stimulating mass, not separated into neat little two-line paragraphs like a loving card catalog. Still, this could’ve been a lot worse for Love & Loss on the Death Track.
A Knock-Out Blow (Jeza)
Well, at least this was better than the other “boxer-man hurts other boxer-man and is very sad about it” story. Everything started going downhill once you changed scenes to the hospital, since there wasn’t much to either character besides grief or recrimination, respectively – you also skipped two attributions, and with a wordcount this high I am not cool with that. You could have gone a lot further with the conceit that Sergei is only in control when he’s in the ring – as it stands, it feels like your story only gelled in the last few paragraphs.
Silver and Gold (Kaishai)
Someone had fun with this. This piece was one of the few sports stories that accurately captured the sport in motion, and your saidisms were at once present and nearly invisible, which is impressive. The plot was pretty by-the-numbers for this prompt, but its execution was deft enough so that I didn’t particularly care.
Sink or Swim (Starter Wiggin)
In which feminism ends civilization as we know it. Paging the Cerebus guy.
You didn’t do enough to make your concept interesting, the dialogue is expository noise, the framing device does nothing for the story as a whole, and Janelle had may as well end the story by jumping on her menstrual cycle and ramping through a flaming hoop while fireworks spell out gently caress THE PATRIARCHY in the background. That would’ve been better, actually, write that instead.
Fortune And Greed (Anathema Device)
He Won (docbeard)
Also no. Liked the opening image, though, you should’ve done more with that.
Okay, actually, I’d say this was the best of the short-bus Benny bunch. The telltale-heart angle you took with the bird allowed the story to exist as a piece independent of its source material, the prose was clear if not thrilling, and it managed to have a beginning, middle, and end, always a tragically rare distinction in Thunderdome. Your saidisms were weak, your protagonist whined too much about how desperate and miserable he was without ever really conveying it besides pantomime melodrama, and your ending was limp, but well done for being the only member of the kutup klub with some imagination.
Maintain Perfect Form (sebmojo)
Your prose is solid as ever, though I get the impression that this is a two-paragraph scene stretched out ten times longer than it should be. The Hawaiian lent flavor, though I dunno if it had any larger purpose; if all of these vowel-choked trees were evergreens, would it have changed the story any? Your flash rule was a bitch and it’s cool and all that you managed to see it through, but it definitely hurt the story in the long run. You’ve got all this tight narration and then the clumsy saidisms come it and the sour notes gently caress everything up. Still, it’s a character-based piece that’s not Benny fanfic, I’ll take what I can get.
After the Sinking of the Queen Anne (Tyrannosaurus)
I have a weakness for pirate-speak. For unearthing this secret you will pay a terrible price.
The scene itself was decent, though your saidisms made little sense even by this week’s standards (you cannot prop words, even if you are a turtle shell with a hallucinatory voice), and it was definitely the beginning of a story rather than a story in itself. Still, the voice was fun and I could gather the thrust of the backstory in the few hundred words you provided, which I guess Beef missed? Oh well!
I guess it’s fitting that yours was the last thing submitted on time. Easily among the worse Benny entries, right down there with the original.
A Conversation (UrsineAsylum)
Who the gently caress unironically types in all-caps and thinks it’s a good idea? And it’s generic shouty fantasy, and you were late. Get it away.
Ratings High (Phobia)
Oh, this is the Hunger Games fanfic. Too many characters, too much talking, not enough action to fill the spaces in between. No reason to care about these people or whether they live or die, and your narration snaps from one person’s perspective to another without much in the way of a clear transition. And you ended with a straight “he said.” They are the last two words of the story! I feel so betrayed.
Goldrushed (Sitting Here)
I come to the end, and see Benny the Snake.
The only reason I haven’t ended this with a meticulously crafted ten-thousand word curse that would boil the seas, rend the skies, and revive Rob Schneider’s acting career is because it’s you, Sitting Here. Even then, this was low-effort by the Benny Brigade’s standards and definitely by yours. Just like I’d hoped, I am disappointed in new ways.
I could finish this with a clever book-saidism quote, but I think that for this week the sound of a single gunshot would be more appropriate.
|# ¿ Mar 11, 2014 00:22|
I'll give this one a try.
|# ¿ Aug 22, 2014 03:39|
The Vigil (1,591)
He’d gone out to pump more gas for the generator, his lantern held out to banish the shadows of the gas station overhang, when he’d found himself at the cornfield on the edge of town. It wasn’t where he’d intended to be, but it was where he stood. Twenty acres of dead stalks, their husks bent double from the weight of their own desiccated leaves. The wind picked up, and the fields took notice and rattled like a curse.
He had grown up here, in this town, among the sweet corn and the marshlands and the small wet things that would leap from puddle to puddle underfoot, but now rain had gone, one more strangeness of many, and his flesh didn’t know how to cope. It cracked like a lake bed under his stubble, on his lips, in the webs of his fingers. Charlie’s bicycle lay some dozen paces to his left, and he paid it no heed; it had been tarnished and faded by the sun. The weeds had tried to claim it before they’d shriveled and died as well, leaving their remains between the spokes.
The sun, small and afraid, moved on its axis, and the shadows of the cornstalks bent toward him. He stepped back and returned to the car, placing the lit lantern on his seat before getting in.
He and Elle lived among the shotgun houses, where the streets were small and broken and the thin shadows would twist with the daylight, latticing the road. He kept his high beams on to burn the darkness away as he drove, occasionally passing the charred skeleton of a house that had kept a burner on or a hot plate running. Their house was sage-green and the windows looked out blindly. He carried the gascans out back, put them down beside the cellar door and the generator, and then went back around. The wood of his front porch was so dry and shrunken that the boards cried like animals.
Elle prided herself on a clean home. White moldings, cane furniture, a glass-eyed stag head on the wall. The rooms laid out like dominoes, with Charlie’s bedroom at the very back. He kept all the doors shut and had bolted and boarded the cellar door from the start. The shadows down there were so thick he thought they might leak.
Elle had made dinner, a stew from bottled water, canned beef, beans, mushrooms, noodles. They sat down and ate; they’d stopped saying grace. She was in a robe, her flesh hanging loose on her bones, scentless except for the faint tang of her tangerine hand cream.
“Edith visited today,” she said. “She drove here.”
His spoon stopped mid-clink. “That so.”
“Her car was all packed. She’s leaving town.”
“I’m surprised it took her so long.”
“She didn’t want to leave her house behind. It belonged to her grandmother’s mother. Maybe even further back than that.”
“It’s a pretty house.”
“Neil,” she said. “We might be the only ones left.”
He contemplated a spoonful of stew.
“I think Edith has the right idea.” Her voice was quiet but firm; she’d been rehearsing the words. “This might not be going on everyplace. The car’s doing fine, there’s plenty of gas, I could start packing now-”
“You’re right,” he said. “Of course you’re right. I just need a little more time.”
She’d been tensed up, leaning over her bowl. Now she sagged again. “I know. I understand.”
He pushed the bowl away, and remembered the crunch of sweet corn between his teeth.
He filled the generator. He changed the batteries on their lanterns. The night crept in, thick as silk, blotting out all the world outside. He took his place in the rocker by the front window, staring at his reflection in the glass, his face a sleepless ruin. Behind his reflection was the reflection of Elle, sitting in front of the useless TV.
It was because of the TV, and Charlie, that they’d made it through the first night. He and Elle had been watching Wheel of Fortune when they’d heard the floorboards creak, and there was Charlie peering around the doorframe, small and wide-eyed. They’d let him sit between them and fallen asleep to the gentle chatter of game shows, awash in lamplight. When they woke up most of the stations had already gone dead. The late-night news continued to play for a little while, the anchors so wide-eyed and waxy that they looked like mannequins, and that was how they’d learned about what had happened to the dark while they’d slept, that every shadow became an open mouth. Then the rain left, and the clouds, and the stars, and the moon turned bloated and yellow and strange.
The rocking chair creaked metronomic across the floor.
Elle had gotten up. She laid her sweet-smelling hands on his shoulders and asked, “Do you want to light the candles tonight?”
“You do it.”
“You have to go in there sometime, Neil.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Her fingers massaged him gently.
The massage stopped.
“Elle.” He stared at himself in the window. “You should leave tomorrow. Follow Edith. I’m just holding you back.”
For a long time there was silence, and the reflection of Elle’s hands dangling limp behind him. Then she started to weep. He turned in his chair and saw her shuddering there, choking back her own breath, her cheeks glistening and wet. He rose and wrapped his arms around her. Her tears soaked through his shirt.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and the delicate wings of her shoulder blades convulsed. “Just put up with me a little longer. I know we can’t stay here.”
She sniffled and nodded against his chest. They parted.
“I’ll light the candles,” she said, and walked off, wiping her face with her sleeve. She took her lantern, took a matchbook off the end table, and made her way across the house, the arid wood protesting every step. He sat back in his chair, heard Charlie’s bedroom door click open, heard it click shut, and waited.
His mind, grown choked and slow from heat and time, snapped into life all at once, and the force of it galvanized him. He spasmed out of his chair and snatched up his lantern just before his legs took off and carried him away, and when he stood before Charlie’s bedroom door he tried to grasp the handle but his hand sweated and shuddered and he failed to turn it once, twice, three times and then he bent and slammed his shoulder against the scarred wood until it finally cracked and flew open.
They’d left the room untouched. Charlie’s bed was made, the thin blue bedspread folded under the pillow. On the squat dresser were two candles flanking his last school photo, his smile forced, his hair slicked down with water. The room was dark. The candles were unlit. An unlit lantern lay on its side. Elle was not there.
He smelled tangerines.
He didn’t know how long he stood on that threshold, or when he had taken some twine and knotted it around his lantern and Elle’s so that they both hung from his neck, but he was aware of the suffocating dark as he stepped outside, his strange pendants bobbing around him like will-o’-the-wisps. He picked up the gascans, and believed he heard the cellar doors shudder. The isle of light in which he stood grew smaller, its edges writhing. He popped the cans open.
He was not here. He was walking through the corn, his shoes caked with loam, lifting up the rich green ears with a practiced hand, nodding politely at the migrant pickers who knew he trespassed and didn’t care. Then he saw him walking in front of himself, Charlie’s small hand encased in his own as he told his son about which ears were ripe, and how they tasted, and the small insects and fungi and other things that thrived there. Then the corn grew dry and he could no longer hear the croaking of frogs or the liquid cry of the loons and he saw himself collapsed on the dusty earth and howling Charlie’s name amidst the devouring shadows of the corn. He passed it by and wondered what was this shape, this myth.
He was in Charlie’s room. The gascans were gone. He held a matchbook in his hand. He pulled the blanket off Charlie’s bed and held it close. The floor was sodden with gas. He knelt in it, felt it soak through the knees of his pants; the fumes rose, his eyes watered. Charlie’s blanket curled against his chin, dry and scentless as dust. He wrapped his arms around his hands converged, a match in one, the matchbook in the other, and struck until he saw light.
The gas caught aflame with the sound of an exhaled breath and within seconds his outline grew indistinct. Fire rushed from Charlie’s room, streamed down the stairs like liquid, crawled over the television and up the walls. It encircled the house and the cellar doors collapsed almost at once under their heat. Other houses began to catch, and others still, and the dead grass between them, and the dried marshes, and the shivering corn. The dry earth fed itself to the flame and the sepulchral night was filled with a great crackle as the blaze spread further, further, leaping up to the gasoline-yellow moon as though it meant to ignite the sky and banish the darkness forever.
|# ¿ Aug 24, 2014 22:56|
Doesn't this bring Kaishai to an even dozen wins? Someone tell me which organs of theirs I should harvest to gain their power, tia
|# ¿ Aug 26, 2014 00:05|
Oxxidation - the Vigil
You wouldn't know proper scene-setting if it ripped your balls off. Brawl me.
|# ¿ Sep 2, 2014 21:12|
Awright well I guess you'll have to settle for me, then. Bring it, reaction man. Djinn to judge.
Oh boy, I was expecting to stomp some quaint tapioca-flavored vignette into the treads of my shoe and instead I get someone with imagination. Well, needs must.
|# ¿ Sep 3, 2014 21:15|
[09:16] <djinn> although the prompt will just be 'make me cry'
Close, but not enough arson.
|# ¿ Sep 4, 2014 16:50|
Oxxidation vs. sebmojo Brawl
You can lose yourself on a calm night in the Pacific. When the wind dies and the water is flat, the world around your boat turns into black gloss, so if it weren’t for the moonlight glinting off that darkness you would think you’re floating on air. And up above, the stars – not sad pale pinpricks like I’d see, rarely, in Los Angeles, but fat and pulsing and scattered across the sky like junk jewelry. You look up and feel your body pulling itself apart as it struggles to see them all. I could stand on the deck of this rusting cabin-cruiser all night and fade like a ghost. But Becca and I have work to do. It’s only the second night.
We wake up when the sun sets and spend the night at the helm, working the sonar. A speaker shaped like a hockey puck and a long thin microphone cling to the hull like barnacles, one sending out the pings, the other listening to whatever may talk back. The sonar’s supposed to show me the sea floor but the picture is crazed and muddled, sometimes breaking up into a discolored black mirror, thanks to whatever Becca’s done to the machines. I sit in front of that screen for hours at a stretch with headphones on, monitoring the pings and adjusting their tempo like Becca showed me, an ocean of noise pouring into my head while she marks our course every ten minutes, on the minute. Her notebook’s pages are so choked with coordinates that in the boat’s murk they look solid black.
Star-gazing would be no less productive than this, but I know she wouldn’t agree. I glance to the side sometimes, and her eyes are always wide. They glow in these monitors’ sickly light.
She’d turned up at my door a week ago. Don’t know how she found me. She said she’d tried to call ahead but I keep my phone unplugged (it’s never good news). The last time I saw her she was cross-legged on the floor with a bowl of potato chips on her knees, staring into the TV with the same focus she’s giving these monitors now. I’d muttered a goodbye and stepped out the door – I think I’d meant to go to New York, but I got bogged down somewhere around Wyoming and in three years I’d boomeranged back to where I started. Tried to call home once and the number was disconnected; I took it as a sign and forgot them. Now it was five years after I’d crawled back into Los Angeles and here was Becca, tall and too thin, her hair spilling around her shoulders, and here was me, in my shorts, crowding the crack in the door so she couldn’t see the bare mattress, the roaches eating each other in the corner.
“It’s easy,” she told me the next day. We were in the docked boat, in front of the monitors. I stared at them as though they’d asked me a question. “This,” she tapped the sonar, “scans the ocean floor. Lets you see fish, the sea floor, reefs, whatever. These options on the side, they’re mostly for changing the display. Don’t worry about them. I just want you to listen. And adjust the power, from time to time. Change the sound.”
Once you got past the initial confusion, the machine was simple as a toy. I asked why she couldn’t do it herself. Her face grew taut and she brought out her maps, multicolored lines crazed across the entire Pacific.
“I need to chart our course,” she said, and ran her finger across a Halloween-orange line running from California up to Alaska. “We’ll be following this. The margin of error is so small.”
In the ocean, she explained, there was a single whale with a singular voice. While other whales drifted through the murk, singing to one another – Becca had to remind me of whalesong, I hadn’t heard of it since grade school – this one’s voice was a little too high for some, a little too low for others. No other creature recognized it as one of their own. So it searched year after year, tracing the same paths, crying out for an answer that would never come. Becca delivered all this like a lecture, but her finger shook as she traced the maps of its passage.
“We’re going to talk to it,” she said. “With the sonar. The lowest possible sound these machines can make is about a thousand times higher than any whale song. But I opened up the transducer and put some padding on the outside. It’s useless for finding fish now, but I lowered the tone.” Low enough to match the whale’s? “Not even close. But I’m hopeful.”
When your sister shows up on your doorstep after nearly a decade with the body of a stranger and a strange hunger in her familiar eyes, when she asks your help in speaking to a single fish in the Pacific with a broken machine that can barely broadcast its noise for fifty feet, what questions do you ask? And what questions can you expect her to ask in return? I stayed quiet, and that’s how we ended up here, huddled under the jewelbox night.
We’re weighed down with supplies, fuel, a wetsuit that hangs from a peg like a discarded skin. But these whales can, in a single night, swim further than three whole cans of gas could take us – I know this because Becca says so, she sometimes mutters “three whole cans, three whole cans” like a nursery rhyme as she marks down our coordinates – and we need enough fuel to return home.
The third night. I slip off the headphones and keep them on my neck so I can still hear the transceiver’s noise, like a necklace of static. I ask her if the boat’s stolen. The question’s preyed on me.
Becca’s in her underclothes, scribbling in her notebook. She doesn’t look up. “No,” she says. “It belonged to a friend of mine. From the university.”
She studied Marine Biology in UCLA but her friend was just a fisherman. “I didn’t know him that well. I thought I did, but. You know.” Weren’t there more people at her school more qualified than me to handle this?
She puts her pencil down and leans forward, fingers curled under her chin. I’ve noticed she starts doing that when she’s stressed. She didn’t do it when she was young.
“This isn’t a research project,” she says. “No one would accept this as research. It’s impossible. We’re trawling the whole ocean and hoping that she – it, I meant it – that it just swims right into our sonar. My maps aren’t up-to-date and the machines are tampered with. We’re threading a needle from three thousand miles away.” She glances at me. “I’m wasting your time, aren’t I?”
I shrug and slip the headphones back on.
Fourth night. I’m getting better at manipulating the sonar. I can make out the pings, barely, on the edges of my hearing, and I adjust the speed minute to minute like Morse code. Becca tells me that whalesong often stays the same pitch but different lengths, their tones drawing out or cutting short depending on what they want to say. I’m not just sending a signal, I’m trying to begin a conversation.
“You’re good at this,” Becca says. We’re both getting greasy, despite trying our best to clean off in the ocean; the ragged curtain of her hair obscures her face. “What are you doing these days, anyway?”
This and that.
“You go to school anywhere? I mean, you were still in high school when you. When that happened.”
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” The words sound like they’re coming from a long distance away. I face forward, I can feel the eyes burning into the side of my head.
I owe money, that’s all. I’m handling it.
“Mom and dad,” she starts to say, but I put the headphones on and wade back into the noise.
It’s the fifth night and it’s pouring rain. The storm drums against the sea and ruins our instruments, I can’t even hear the sonar over that percussion. Becca hunches over the machinery like a mantis, her scribbling in the notebook grows more frenzied, until she hurls it against the glass and goes to bed. Inside that alcove I can hear her crying, hear the bed rustle as her whole body shakes with the force of that grief. I step out into the deck and squat beneath the overhang, listening to the rain, the starless night turning everything invisible.
When Becca was seven she’d wandered into a neighborhood ballgame and gotten cracked in the face with a bat. It had been an accident. I remember her sitting in the dirt with blood pouring from her mouth, two teeth in her lap, and she was crying, yes, of course, but it hadn’t been the pain, I don’t think, she just couldn’t work out what had happened to her. I told her, and took her home, and beat the boy who hurt her so badly he couldn’t come to school for two weeks. But Becca, things are different now. You’re the only one with the maps.
The sixth night.
We’re nearly out of fuel and the air is heavy with resignation. I adjust the pings every thirty seconds, marking off time with the sound. Every time Becca opens her notebook it feels like we’re closer to the end. And then.
“What?” Becca glances over. “Did the feed cut out?”
I motion her over and lift one ear of the headphones. She leans in close. I can smell the salt crusted on her skin.
There, buried in the static. An unfamiliar tone, so low it’s more remembered than heard. Like some decayed, alien violin. I think it’s just a hallucination, we’re both desperate and tired enough for that to be the case, but when I see the look in Becca’s eyes I swear I can hear it again, and again.
The two of us are frozen. Without looking away from Becca, I move my hand and adjust the sonar’s pings. The cries seem to change in response.
“Keep playing,” Becca tells me.
I hunch over the console so close I can see my eyes reflected in the black. I’m calling and answering in a language I don’t understand but there’s something there, some common ground between the twisted machine at my fingertips and the creature making this noise below, some question, some argument. The whale, if it is the whale, doesn’t fade. It hasn’t moved. I keep the pings steady and go outside.
Becca’s there, in the starlight, the wetsuit spread out beside her. She’s standing on the rail of the boat – on the rail, the arches of her feet curled into the steel. Her balance is impossible. The boat rocks with the waves and her legs don’t even buckle. She looks like a mirage.
“We’re not that far out from land,” she says. Her feet bare feet smack against the deck as she jumps from the rail. “If you took the first and last set of coordinates in my notes and plotted your course, we’d be maybe half a day’s travel out. Got to work the engine in spurts, save as much fuel as possible.” She picks up the wetsuit, puts it down again. She doesn’t meet my eyes.
She says, “I’m glad that I could see you again.”
She runs up and hugs me, so suddenly I’m almost knocked off my feet. Her embrace is tight enough to hurt. She pulls away before I can return it.
“I’m going down,” she says. “Have to see for myself.”
I watch her pull on the wetsuit, each piece of equipment making her less familiar. The goggles fill her eyes with fog, so I can’t tell if she looks at me before she goes over the rail, and disappears into the water.
The sun rises before I give up hope.
She told me how to return home. That’s why I think it was deliberate, and not an accident, or a malfunction – not Becca thrashing in the purple depths of the ocean with her foot trapped in a rock or Becca bloody and chewed up by the whale, if there was a whale, that she’d come to visit, if she had come to visit it. Just my sister, swimming as far down as she could, past the range of any sonar.
It’s been a year since then. I followed the instructions she left me and docked just long enough to steal some fuel and bring the boat up north to Oregon; the air is freezing but no one in LA looks for me here. I found enough work and made money to keep the boat sea-worthy; I live out of it, sleeping in the captain’s chair (I had always given her the bed). The sonar still works. The maps are still fresh. I read her notebook daily, for when I go back out to sea.
I try not to think of those days but there’s nothing else to think. Before she’d found me again my life had been surrounded by murk. The hiss of the radiator and the whine of the TV and that heart-stopping dread every time I heard footsteps outside my door. I couldn’t tell her about any of it but I wonder now if there was anything else she wanted to tell me. If that was the favor she’d really come to ask. I made some calls from public phones and learned that the boat might not have been stolen but the sonar equipment was; it had disappeared shortly before Becca had dropped out and vanished from everyone’s lives. All that time, she’d had the pinched face of a fugitive, desperate to confess, but I had kept to the sonar, sounding my own conversations instead of listening to hers - oh, Becca, if only I’d realized sooner that I missed you.
I haven’t been well lately. I cough hard enough to rattle my bones and my spittle comes up red. But my ears still work fine, and this time I don’t have to worry about a return trip. Becca’s whale is out there, waiting for an answer, and I think I know the sonar well enough now to tell it everything. About the sister I’d left behind, and who’d come to find me again; how I’d helped her, and how I’d let her down. Most of all, I want to describe what I saw on that last night, the way she balanced on that railing, tall and straight and pale as a ray of light, the woman I never knew she’d become. I’ll turn it all to sound and cast it into the darkness, where someday, I promise it will be heard.
|# ¿ Sep 14, 2014 23:17|
|# ¿ Mar 21, 2019 10:40|
Still gonna chalk this up as a victory.
|# ¿ Sep 16, 2014 19:42|