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Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


What the hell, I'm in for this week.

The Last
100 words

At the end he despairs.

He looks the dragon in the eye. He could step into that pupil sword and all, it's so large. Step into it like a doorway.

“Dragonslayer.” He feels the dragon's voice in the shaking rock. “I am the last. Will you end the age of dragons? Will you leave the forests to be cut, the fields to be tilled? What foe will be worthy of you, in this age of men?”

Behind the dragon, smoke still rises off the distant city. “None shall.”

At the end he despairs, but sword raised, he steps forward.

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Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Zero Tolerance
954 Words

“I'm not a wimp, Mr. Flanagan. I can't keep letting him think that,” John says. Other than his voice my office is quiet; I can hear the administrative business of the school going on outside. John is moving stiffly. He won't say who's been beating him up.

An abrupt knock on the door interrupts us. I call out, “I'm in a session right now. Please come back in twenty minutes.”

Shirley, the assistant principal, sticks her head around the door in a halo of over-bleached curls and perfume. “I'm sorry to interrupt, but something important has come up that needs your attention as school counselor.”

John's face closes right up. Something important. Something other than him. “I'll be just a moment, Ms. Grimm.” I pack as much rebuke as I can into the polite sentence. I freeze, holding the door open for John, when I see the kid sitting outside.

His face is slowly swelling up, his eyes blackening. Important indeed. I turn to see John out, but he's already gone.

“This is Greg,” Shirley says. “Someone beat him up, and he's too scared to tell anyone who did it.” Greg glowers.

“I'm not a snitch,” Greg looks at Shirley for encouragement as he talks. “They told me what they'd do if I snitched.” She pats his shoulder.

“Come on into my office,” I offer. “We don't have to talk about who hurt you-” He frowns, eyebrows drawing together, “-but it's a nice safe place to sit and calm down.” His shoulder bumps me as he pushes into my office.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I ask, when we're seated. “You don't have to tell me who. Just what you remember happening.”

“Well it was in the back stairway, during class. I had a hall pass for the bathroom, but when I tried to go to the one upstairs they were there.” He speaks in a quick monotone. “They started saying poo poo, ya' know? And I didn't want to go with them there, so I went downstairs. But they must've followed.”

Finally he meets my eye, his voice coming alive with anger. “Right when I went around the landing, one of 'em jumps down off the railing and lands on me. Just starts hitting me on the back of the head. And my face goes into the stairs, that's where I got the bruise, see?” He waves a hand at his eye.

- - -

Julia's sitting with her feet propped up on her desk when I slip into the nurse's office. She gestures at the exam table. “Have a seat.”

I do, leaning back against the pillows. “So what do you think happened to Greg?”

“I think some kid jumped him when he had his back turned. He's lucky they didn't crack his skull open.” She taps a finger on her desk, lost in thought.

“He said someone followed him from the bathroom into the stairway and jumped off the stairs onto him.” I watch her graceful finger hit the wood. Tap. Tap tap.

“And he's not talking?”

“No.”

“Whoever it was seems to have been lighter and smaller. Got him by surprise. I bet it's one of the kids he's always picking on. They won't turn him in, of course. drat stupid zero tolerance policy means they'll get in trouble too. But I know who does it.”

And as simple as that, I know who it was. Jumping off a railing will make a body sore and stiff. I'm not a wimp. “So if he's such a bully, why hasn't he been caught? You know it's him.”

“Every time I report it to Shirley it just vanishes. You know how she is...”

I do know how Shirley is. It was odd to see her so solicitous of Greg. “Julia, can you do some poking around? See if she's connected to Greg at all. I'm going to talk to someone.”

- - -

John looks guilty the second I pull him out of class. When we're seated in my office I wait him out. It doesn't take long.

“I didn't mean to,” he says. “I was coming down for my appointment. He followed me. I didn't want him to catch me alone. Again. So I hid behind the door when he came into the stairway, and jumped on him. I didn't mean- I didn't mean for his face to hit the stairs. I just wanted to make him stop loving with me.” The words tumble out all in a rush.

My phone chirps. The text reads: Greg is Shirley's nephew. She's been covering for him. Bitch.

“This is a serious assault, John. You could have really hurt him.”

“I know. Should I turn myself in?”

If I can bring the perpetrator forward on something like this, it will go above Shirley's head. “John, if you admit that you did this and tell someone why, you'll get suspended. So will Greg. The school has a zero tolerance policy to fighting for any reason.” I pause for a moment. “And if either of you is caught fighting again it will be even worse.” It's his choice. I'm bound by confidentiality.

“So if I turn him in, I get suspended for a few days. And then the next time he beats someone up, he gets in worse trouble? And everyone in the school will know what I do to bullies. And I'm not snitching, because I'm turning myself in. Seriously?” John grins.

I don't bother to hide my answering smile, unprofessional though it is. “Come with me. We're taking this to the principal.”

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Monowi
882 Words
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monowi,_Nebraska

Frank drove through unmitigated boredom toward a dieing town. The music throbbed heavy and loud, but the landscape sucked the life out of it with a vast, seeping silence. Maybe Mom would like traveling more if she'd ever left the plains.

He slapped the radio button off when his phone rang. “Hey Stacey.”

“Hey Frank. I found this place that looks really nice. It has two bedrooms, and...” Her happiness bubbled out of the phone. It almost – almost – filled the flat silence.

But not quite. “Stacey, honey. I told you I wasn't sure if I could do this. I have to talk to my parents first.”

“But you hate it there.”

“I do. But I still have to talk to them.”

- - -

His mother greeted him with a warm, soft hug, the smell of baking cookies, and the words, “Oh Franky, you made it home safe! Look what you've gone and done to your face. Frank, would you just come and look at your son!”

There was the clunk of a beer bottle being set down, the creak of the living room chair, the thump of footsteps. Dad appeared in the doorway with a scowl. “Hell. Piercings everywhere.”

“Is this was the big city does to a boy?” Mom reached up to touch his face, fingers gentle.

“No. This is what fashion sense does to a boy.” He forced a smile past the tightness in his throat.

“You call that fashion sense?” Dad grumbled. Frank could see the smile hiding behind his beard. “Fashion sense is a nice suit. Come 'ere.” He pulled Frank into a hug.

“I have something to tell you.” Frank forced the words out. “You know Stacey?” Of course they knew; he'd talked about her in every email this year. “We're thinking of getting a place together.”

“That's...that's good, honey.” Mom's smile wobbled. “You'll be moving back here, of course?”

“Actually, we've been...we've both been offered jobs in California. We're thinking of accepting.”

There was a long, dreadful silence. Frank could still hear the music playing over and over in his head. His favorite songs, rendered joyless by this place. He waited.

“How long?” Dad asked in the voice Frank had thought of as his funeral voice ever since Mr. Clark had died when Frank was seven. When Mrs. Clark and the kids had moved away and Frank had been the only kid left in town with no one to play with.

“I don't know. Dad, Mom...I'm not sure I'm coming back. I mean, I'll visit but-”

“But you're thinking of leaving us.” Mom was using the polite tone she reserved for people she didn't like. Frank's eyes started to burn and he tasted bile. “You're going to move, not just go away to school. And you'll be leaving just me and your dad and the Eiler's in town, and all of us too old to have more kids. The town will die, you know.”

The Town. Always the drat Town. “Just because you choose to give your life up to a dot on the map doesn't mean I have to,” Frank said. Mom's mouth snapped shut and she turned away, burying her face against Dad's shoulder. gently caress.

Dad's voice was like a thunderstorm, starting quiet and distant but louder with each word. “Your mother was born here. She grew up here. Her brother lived and died here. Your grandparents and uncle are buried here.”

“It's a town, Dad. An artificial division on a map. The land will still be here, whatever happens to the town. The graveyard will still be here. What does it matter what it's called?”

“Your mother's put everything into keeping this town going. It's her home. Her safe place. You know she's never liked to leave. It's her world, and it's getting smaller and more lonely every year.”

“If she's too scared to leave, it's not my problem. I've been out there and seen what the world – the real world – has to offer!”

He heard the impact before he really felt it, and felt it mostly in the sting in his nose ring. Mom had pulled away from Dad's arm and slapped him. Now she stood, shaking and tear-damp. “Fine. The rest of the world is so good, so go and drat get it. But don't you stand here and insult me in my own home!”

“Mom, I'm sorry-” Frank started. She cut him off with a wave of her hand.

“Save it,” she said, and went inside.

Dad walked him to his car. “You had better write one hell of an apology letter,” Dad said.

“I will.” Frank stopped and turned to him, at a loss. “Will things...?”

“I'll make it alright. I know why you want to go. I'd never have retired here once I stopped traveling for work, but it's the only place your mom feels safe. And I love her.”

“I love her too, Dad.”

“We know.” Dad pulled him in for another hug.

- - -

The music throbbed through the car, but it couldn't drive away the lingering stinging in his face. Frank turned it off and dialed the phone.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In with Iron

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


I signed up with iron. Flash rule me.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In. With a

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


My crit skills need some work, so I chose a victim to practice on.

El Diabolico posted:

Drain pipe (wc: 1175) (Element: Lead)

You have a lot of clunky phrasings and words that aren't pulling their weight. I'm removing some.

Working hard wasn't something that was out of the was ordinary for those who are Plumbers. Don't tell us what things aren't – tell us what they are. As such, today wasn't any different than any other for Phoebe. For a poor girl like herPheobe, the only way she could to support herself was to take this job cleaning and maintaining the sewer systems here in the deep dark depths under the great city of Polaris. The task assigned to her task today was a simple one,: flush water out of a reservoir and repair a sluice gate. Nothing out of the ordinary. With her tools in hand, she quickly left the plumbers guild and set herself to her task.

She arrived at her place of work, Area 16-b. It was humid and dark. The light of her kerosene lamp flickered gracefully, lighting her path. As she walked, she kept her eyes open for any dangers that would. Fragment. Also, why have her alert here and distracted half a paragraph later? I'd cut everything between “path” and “as a child.” As a child, her parents would joke at her that monsters lurked in the darkness that would to steal her away and chew on her bones. Of course, aAfter living Living, or working? here so long the only things she has seen was nothing but were rats and darkness. While her thoughts distracted her she barely caught a glimpse of the shut-off valve. the leaden pipes slithered from the ceiling to it. She climbed up the steps set aside the lamp and the tool box.

She grabbed the handles of the valve with both hands and attempted to twisted the thing as hard as she could but to no avail. Why did she attempt to twist it as hard as she could? What stopped her from twisting as hard as she could? She said to herself “drat! That's tough!” but sShe remembered something her father used to say. “Work smarter not Harder”. She propped open her toolbox and pulled out a long metal wrench. It was A useful thing which has gotten her through so many tough situations much like the one at hand. She stuck the thing though the valve handle and used her weight to try and force it open. Tell us what she does, not what she tries to do. At first it wouldn't budge but then it creaked and soon it it quickly turned. As she picked up her things she could then hear nothing but the constant echoes of water dripping among the stones. With that over and done with she could now get to work repairing this gate.

Exciting plumbing scenes! Is the wrench important later? Does it matter that the valve was stuck? If not, we don't need to hear about it.

***
Having completed her job., Phoebe, began to attempt a final test of the sluice gate. With much effort, she turned the crank. Tthe metal chains clanked and the gate let out a groan. It opened and closed properly, just as it should. She felt a great satisfaction knowing that this was another job well done, even though she wouldn’t receive much praise over it. As she was cleaning up after herself she carelessly knocked her trusty wrench onto the ground except it didn’t hit the floor. Stop telling us what didn't happen! *CLONK* What's this noise? “poo poo!”, she exclaimed as she picked up her lamp and looked behind the rock she placed the wrench on. There was a grate with a rather large hole. She looked down and saw that her wrencech wasn’t too far down. It may not be much but tThat wrench was a gift from her father, given to her on her first day on the job. To her, iIt was a precious memento. She felt she had to go get it.

Seeing as the Wrench didn’t fall far, Phoebe placed her lamp on the outcropping and she Iinspected the grate. The hole was large enough for her to pass through and come back. So, confident in that fact Phoebe jumped in. She landed safely on what seemed to be a metal grate and quickly picked up her wrench. As she stood back up she hear a strange sound. She tried to leave but tThe floor gave away right under her feet. To Phoebe, that one moment felt like an eternity. It was if time had stopped and there was suddenly nothing in all directions. And just as quickly as her world changed she suddenly found herself surrounded by water. The cold water snapped her back to reality. She began treading water and floated towards the surface. As she broke the surface, it was as if she had been transported into another world. All around her she could see an iridescent glow. She swam towards the nearest thing she could see.

When you hit water from any height, it's very much an impact. You don't just find yourself surrounded by it; you hit it, hard.

Okay, the wrench does turn out to be important later. I'd still like the see the exciting plumbing scenes cut a bit. I'm expecting monsters now, since they were mentioned earlier.


***
Phoebe pulled herself out of the water exhausted and still in a state of shock. She sat in front of a large boulder. She was wet, cold, and tired. Her body was cut and bruised but luckily she was still in one piece. She looked upwards to see if she could find where she fell from but all she could see a myriad of colors. It was as if she was looking up at the night sky. A feeling of regret came over her. She should have let it be and moved on, but she didn’thadn't and now she was stuck here in the dark and alone. Unfortunately it was a feeling that wouldn’t last very long. Her feeling of regret won't last long?

Phoebe heard a deep growling coming from behind her. You don't need to tell us she heard it. She's our viewpoint character. Just describe what she hears. She hid behind the boulder cursing her rotten luck. “What is that!” the she? thought to herself. She peered over the boulder to get a little peek. All she could see from the dim blue glow of the near by fungus was a hunched over figure with a set of huge claws. Again, you don't need to tell us she's seeing it. Just tell us what she sees. It was a kind of beast she'd never sawseen before. tThe fearsome beast sniffed the ground as if it knew something foreign was in the area. Phoebe began to panic. She was practically defenseless. All she could do was hide behind this boulder. The beast turned its head in Phoebe’s direction. It took a few deep breaths confirming Phoebe’s fear. It let out a loud growl as it jumped in her direction. Phoebe jumped back, falling on her back on the muddy floor, crawling away from the beast in fear. On the boulder which once offered protection, the beast roared viciously. Suddenly, a dark figure appeared between Phoebe and the beast. The beast jumped at the shadow but was quite violently struck with a leaden club. The figure turned towards Phoebe’s direction. All she saw was a pair of horns and glowing green eyes not unlike the fungus. The figure spoke to Phoebe with in a feminine voice with a strange accent, “We must go. Follow me.”. Phoebe could hear a number of loud howls in the distance. With no other recourse, Phoebe could do nothing but follow.

This is one hell of a paragraph. I'd recommend breaking it up into several smaller ones. Your sentence structure here is really repetitive. “She did this. She did that.” Really, most of what she does is hide behind a rock. I recommend focusing more on what she sees and hears in this scene. Put us into the space more directly, and stop reminding us that Pheobe is doing all the seeing and hearing. The new character deserves her own paragraph. On the plus side, something interesting happened here.

Both Phoebe and the shadow ran. For how long, she could not remember. The colors of the fungus around them changed as they ran deeper into the caves. while the howls of the beasts that chased them grew louder and louder. The horned woman suddenly stopped. “What were those things!?”, Phoebe exclaimed.

New paragraph every time a new person speaks. The shadow turned and replied, “You must be a surface dweller. They are the Darkrend. They will eat us if they catch us”..” Having stopped, Phoebe’s fear of death welled within her as was about to shout but the woman let out a shrill yell.

Paragraph. A rope was dropped. The woman calmly said, ”We’ll be safe after we climb this”.

This reads more like the beginning of a much longer story than a story in itself. It isn't a finished work. There's some major pacing issues because of that. The lead-up to the story (everything that happens before she falls through the hole) is almost as long as the action scenes themselves. There's not enough space for all of the hum-drum, ordinary details of her plumbing job.

I liked the backstory on the wrench. I'd have liked it more if she'd hit the monster over the head with it and went home triumphantly under the word limit. So much attention and care was given to the wrench, and then she just runs away from it without a backward glance when the cave-woman tells her to.

Your writing needs some tightening up. Major things: don't tell us what isn't happening, tell us what is. Don't tell us what your protagonist is trying to do, show what happens. You don't need to tell us every sound is heard by the viewpoint character, and every sight seen by them. If you describe the sight or sound, we will assume it's the viewpoint character seeing and hearing them.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Breathe
458 Words

I learned to read in a basement (and in a tent, and sometimes on a boat.) I learned to read from my father and his deep, tired voice. We read Jack London and Laura Ingalls Wilder in a basement heated by a wood stove. We had electricity but no plumbing, and we hauled water home in big blue barrels and put them on the ground floor where gravity would siphon the water right down to the little bucket we used as a sink.

It took us a long time to read those books. We only had every other weekend together anyway, and there was only time for reading when all the work was done. We read “To Build a Fire” in a snowstorm. I lay on my dad's bed next to a pair of binoculars, a half-mended dog pack, a rifle, and a scattering of books. The snow fell on the clear plastic roof two floors up and I watched it through the plastic skylight, settling ever heavier. I jumped as it slid off the huge pine branches with a great thump, thump thump! and wondered if it would rip the plastic and fall into the basement.

When the man had frozen to death and the story ended my father's voice settled into silence. He never told me to be careful in the woods in the winter. He didn't have to.

Dad started the Little House series and I finished it. In the middle we traded off. He'd interrupt me when I ran through a paragraph full-speed. “Breathe, breathe at the periods and at the commas.” And so I learned to read out loud, first in a shaky monotone and later in clear strong cadences.

We read those books by flashlight when we camped, two weeks every fall on the coast. Sometimes it rained, and we read over the splatsplat on the tent. We read at the top of mountains, with our lunch and our binoculars and our mini-microscope around us. When we were outside, the dog lay at our feet.

We read by dim cabin lights in our small sailboat when it stormed, and out in the open air and the hot sunlight when it was clear. When the boat flooded one of the books flooded with it, and we learned that though you can dry the pages and the ink might not run, a soaked book will always be crinkly and thick.

I read at school, and with my mother, but the lessons that stuck with me were learned in a basement, and in a tent, and on a boat: always have a good book handy; breathe at the periods; and don't worry too much if the paper gets wet, because it's the words that matter.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


I'm in. What's my flash rule?

Also I'm bored. I will crit three stories if anyone asks.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Black Griffon posted:

Bohemians - 960

You spend a lot of words on descriptions of everyday things. While those descriptions are nice, they aren't making me see anything in a new light. Think about paring down your descriptions so that every detail you give sheds light on something critical to the story.

We stared out over the ocean, city lights in our peripheral vision, growing brighter as the last light kissed the water. The park was filled with voices, and the smell of grilled meat filled the air. I felt the sting of gin now and then as we passed the bottle around.

I wanted to keep this moment as something solid. The grass whispering to bare feet, the slow passage of enormous ships as they left the bay. In their industrial splendor, they became part of the landscape, an extension of the glittering water. The alcohol kissed my blood and I felt the last rays of sunset burn their goodbyes. Your first two paragraphs are really heavy on description and light on anything happening. A guy gets drunk in a park at sunset.

I walked with Mila as song filled the park and the people disappeared. Have you been walking the whole time? Where is the song coming from? Our group remained, too careless and content to leave. We followed the paths as the dark and the cold bit into us, held at bay by thin jackets and cheap beer. Beer? What about the gin?

“I guess it's the contrast,” I said, “I've been alone most of my life. This is different. This whole year has been different.” I like this dialogue coming out of nowhere. There's a suggestion that this broke a long silence. However, I'd consider starting the story here.

We reached the edge of the water, where a pier and a shingle beach met the waves.

“Different can be a whole new world sometimes,” sShe said.

The city lights left reflections in the water, growing and shrinking in the movement.

“Will you keep an eye out?” she said.

“Yeah. For what?”

She walked down to the water, looked back at me and smiled. Taking a few deep breaths, she dipped her bare foot into the cold.

“It's not too bad,” she said.

I sat down on the pier. She stood there for a while, with her foot in the water, and then she stripped down to her underpants and waded out. I laughed, and so did she, teeth clattering, arms crossed.

And then she just stood there, a statue half submerged, arms dropped to the side and fingers curled in the water. Dark against the light of the moon, I couldn't see her face, but I imagined she had her eyes closed against the white light. In the distance, the singing carried on; Norwegian drinking songs and raw, beautiful laughter softened by the wind and the night. I like this scene from the beginning of the dialogue through here. I'm not sure how it ties into the next scene though.

-

The cold became too much, and we walked back to Wilde's place. Mila said goodbye at the door, had to catch the last bus home. Something so mundane left a small crack in the dreamlike nature of the night, where the ships were like whales and the cars like strange beasts prowling the streets, but the thought disappeared as the warmth and the light and the music filled my ears. It leaves a crack in the story, too. Mila is central to the first scene in the story. It's a letdown to have her leave in such a boring way.

We passed around an old bottle of wine, tongues too dull to care about the sour and bitter taste, and watched the cartoons we'd watched as children. We all laughed, some had tears in their eyes and wide, grateful smiles. We'd reached that place where everything had some intrinsic deeper meaning. If we were sober, we'd shake our heads at the stupidity, laugh at how pretentious and young we were, but we were too full of joy to care now. Watching memories from our childhood on a widescreen TV was suddenly something we could have written books about. Great poems and scientific dissertations. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. This paragraph is boring.

Jonathan climbed out of the ceiling window just as we opened a bottle of champagne. A few people objected at first, but as soon as Wilde said it was safe, we all climbed out.Does it matter to the story that people objected? We found comfortable positions in the dip between two sloped roofs, and watched the moon bathe Bergen in silver. In the distance, we could see the softly swaying trees of the park. Scattered clouds moved fast across the sky and painted shadows on the water, and behind the photopollution, we could see the stars. Again, this is heavy on the description. However, it does set the scene nicely.

We talked about everything. Wilde sang a soft song, her eyes closed. On the second beer run back into the apartment, Jonathan found a guitar, and we all joined in. Six voices, all without shame but none without merit. At first we sang softly, like Wilde. We'd sing about what we could see; the moon, the roofs and the hidden stars. We'd pass the song along, weaving it together and without pause. We couldn't stop. After the first fifteen minutes, the song picked up the pace, and after half an hour it was a wild thing so full of joy that we barely contained it. The first complaints started after an hour, as a window opened and someone screamed at us to shut up, but like the boat-whales and the car-beasts, he was nothing more than a part of the landscape, and we took it into our song and spun a tale about The Man in the Window.This is my favorite paragraph.

We sang until the half light of dawn streamed through the streets. Until our voices were hoarse and Jonathan's playing hand fell asleep. Until the neighbor from the the apartment next to Wilde's climbed out, thanked us for our song but told us that he really had to sleep now.

“Actually, I'm writing a book about spontaneous moments,” he said, “And I'm grateful. I wish I could be like you, I appreciate what you've shown me.”

We climbed in through the window again, past the Moomin DVD and the empty wine bottles. As I said goodbye and headed home, the world was stark and sober. People weren't just angry shadows from distant windows or strange authors writing serendipitous books. Cars were cars and the ships were drab metal things in the harbor. The noise of traffic and people had none of the poetic quality of that hazy night.

But as I looked out across the sunlit bay, I could see moonlight on soft skin and hear songs sung until dawn, like an echo never ceasing.

The best thing about this piece is the dreamy, unreal, very suitable tone. The worst is that it's boring. It reads like a list of events. You set up in the dialogue that this is a contrast for you, but we don't see how that effects you at all. This is a story about you, but it's still a story that needs conflict, character development, etc.

The story feels directionless, like it's floating along as spontaneously as the characters. Pick a purpose, something you want to convey with the story, and let that drive the narrative. What I see that has potential is this: “I guess it's the contrast,” I said, “I've been alone most of my life. This is different. This whole year has been different.” This night – spontaneous music with others – is very different from being alone. How does that feel? How does it change you?


The Saddest Rhino posted:


After a breakfast of fried rice with pineapples and fresh squid, I walked my niece Zoe to the harbour overlooking the emerald-blue waters of the South China Sea. It was her first time ever at the tropical islands of Perhentian, and we were going snorkelling. As far as my sister was concerned, an eight year old would beat eight years old she was ready for the ocean, even if her dad - who was stuck at work in the States - could not be there.

We had some time before the boat came to pick us up. As soon as Zoe caught sight of the sea, she released my hand and took off running. Outside the resort grounds, a couple of workers cut down coconut trees to make way for a new chalet. She stopped and watched them. “They are killing the trees!” she cried. “What about all the animals living in them?”

What lived in coconut trees? Monkeys? I still had not learnt how to answer questions by children. “I don’t think there are any.”

“Hmph,” she crossed her arms and looked away. “I guess some people don’t care about animals, like I do.”

Then she blazed off over to the beach, and I had to run again. The sun was hanging lazily above the horizon, and the heat was still comfortable instead of a scorching skin-searing nightmare (“Daymare,” she corrected). Warm sand seeped between the toes of our bare feet.

She pointed at little holes peppered around the coast close to the waves. “What are those?”

“Crab holes,” I told her. She looked at me quizzically. “They go inside at night to sleep. When it’s daytime, they come out and run into the sea to look for food.”

“There are… crabs?” she said, her voice quivering.

“Tiny ones.” As if for confirmation, a translucent crab the size of a dime jumped out of a hole, and criss-crossed sideways down the beach.

“They… they may sting or bite IT’S COMING HERE,” she proclaimed, the exclamation points and capitals are giving enough emphasis to her speech. I think “said” would be more unobtrusive than “proclaimed” and “cried” then ran away screaming.

“I thought you care about animals!” I cried after her.

“Only the cute ones! Not the ones that can hurt. IT HAS CLAWS,” she yelled upon reaching the other end of the beach.

It took some time to calming her down. When my sister finally emerged from the resort, I took her aside and whispered, “You’ve made her too scared of everything. How’s she going to cope with the sea?”

“I want her to be safe,” she countered. “You’ll understand when you have a child.”

I looked towards my niece. She was standing on a wooden platform, staring down at the sand with the little holes. “They should put rocks to cover up the holes so the crabs don’t come out,” she said to nobody in particular.

In the distance, a speedboat filled with tourists from another resort streaked across the sea towards the harbour. “She’s one of us,” my sister said. “She can deal. Let’s go.” I like this subtle suggestion that “us” (your family?) are strong people.

The boat rocked when we climbed in. Upon sitting down, she put on a life vest in an efficient, disciplined manner, impressing a boatman. I observed my sister giving her an approving nod. Of course she had been trained. Is trained the word you're looking for here, as opposed to “taught” or “prepared”?

Salt water sprayed on our faces as the boat sped across the ocean. We laughed and made conversation with the tourists and boatmen, and Zoe charmed them all by speaking in her Midwestern-accented Malaysian English.

“Your little white gwai mui so pandai wor!” said a middle-aged tourist. “Where she learn to talk like us ah?”

“I learn in school, leh!” she answered, to the oohs and aahs of everyone on board. Then she turned around to her mother and switched to American. “Momma, can I have something to eat?”

My sister opened her bag to pass her a candy. Inside was a set of toy shovel and pail. She caught me looking. “In case this doesn’t work out,” she whispered.

I gave her the Dear Sister, I Have Strong Opinions About How You Raise Your Daughter, Perhaps We Should Talk About It, Love, Your Brother look, and she shot me back with a Dear Brother, I Understand Your Position On This Matter But Have Severe Views About Your Misgivings, And This Is Hardly The Time, So Shut It, Love, Your Sister stare. So I nodded my I’ll Drop This, Purely Because I Have Faith In You nod, and took a candy too. I love the silent communication here. I do think it should be formatted like normal dialogue, though (paragraphing) since it really is a conversation.

The boatmen threw out the anchor once we reached what they named the Baby Shark Bay. Gray rock formations jutted out in the middle of the sea like large fins, and when we looked down we could see corals of a hundred different colours. Tiny fishes the boatmen called “black nemo” peeked out from behind pink and white anemones. A boatman told us to look out for baby sharks - in reality bamboo sharks - and gave us our snorkelling gear.

“We’ve to go in?” Zoe said, sitting at the edge of the boat. The rest of the tourists were already in the water, fumbling around hunting for sharks.

“You wanna see the fishes, right?” I cajoled her.

“Can… can I just stay here?” Her voice was trembling again. “I’ll watch from the boat.”

“You can touch them, when you’re in the sea,” I said. “It’d be really cool!”

“Aren’t fish cold?”

There was a splash. Her mother had jumped into the ocean, and she looked up at us from behind misted goggles.

“Zoe!” she said. “If you don’t get down, you won’t see what’s beautiful in here! Jump!”

“Momma, I’m scared!”

She pointed a finger at her daughter. “I did not raise you to whine, girl! Now jump before I give you a telling!”

“I’m really scared!” Zoe shouted, knuckles white from gripping boat railings.

“If you don’t come into the ocean, how are you going to brag to your friends back in school!” my sister yelled in her angriest voice. “It’s worse than not getting an A! Or losing to that loser Justin in chess after three moves!”

Zoe’s eyes widened, and she became still for a second.

“You’re right, momma!” she cried, and before I could stop her, she hurled herself off the boat. “Gereni-” She hit the water. “COLD COLD COLD AHHHH!”

She splashed around in frantic strokes, and my sister swam over. “Easy, baby.” She hugged her. “Brave girl. Let’s go snorkelling.”

Within a few hours, Zoe touched fishes. And squids. And starfishes. And black nemos. And sea cucumbers (“They fart!”). She saw a moray eel hiding in its coral cave. She saw a bamboo shark and screamed underwater. She drank sea water, coughed and laughed, then dunked her face underwater again immediately.

When it was time to leave she swam away, so both a boatman and I had to jump back to the sea and spend way too much time fetching her.

It was evening when we returned to the beach. There were still holes in the sand, and she squealed upon seeing them.

“I’m digging them up!” she shrieked. She grabbed the plastic pail and shovel from her mother’s bag, and ran out to the sands.”Face me, crabs!”

I shot my sister a Dear Sister, Okay, I Concede That Her Upbringing Is Fine And She Is Ready To Face The World, Love, Your Brother glance. She gave me a Dear Brother, I Told You So, But Really, Thanks For Always Believing In Me, Love, Your Sister look. Then we watched the setting sun casting everything on the beach in a silhouette with a warm orange glow, and my niece having the time of her life running around on the sand, throwing a pail at scattering crabs. We shared a Brofists are Not Our Thing But This Will Do look, and sighed together.






How My Niece Became a School Bully (1,299 words)

E: Formatting

Overall this is a very nice story. My only real complaint is that the story is largely about your niece, but told from your point of view. We don't really get to see your feelings about your niece's actions throughout the story except in the silence conversations with your sister. I like the conflict caused by questioning the way your sister is raising her daughter; that can be a real point of contention in families. If there was one thing I'd change, it would be to emphasize the adult emotions in the story – exasperation, pride, worry, whatever was going on could be more obvious to the reader.


Ugly In The Morning posted:

A Little Too Routine
1,219 Words

Another day at the office. The same, everyday, average frustrations. The dumb customers, the micromangement, the tedium. Another day to finish, file away, and forget. And it could have stayed that way, too. Life’s a lot like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where the author got lazy. Half the choices seem to just lead to the same page, one that says “You get home and go to bed. The End!”.

But when they don’t, boy howdy, look out.

I logged off my computer (It freezes and takes longer than normal- go to page 63, you get home and go to bed, the end!), and headed down, through the lobby, past the street meat carts (I decide to get a snack? Page 63 again!). I trudged down the same stairs I walked every day, I waited in my usual spot for my usual subway car. I could have walked ten feet to the right, stood on a different shaped puddle of subway goo, and had this day be just the same as any other. But I keep waiting right where I always wait, having the same day I always had. I think this whole paragraph could be cut without losing anything story-wise. Your references to pg. 63 later on are enough to set up the ending, and we don't really need the details of leaving the office.

The train arrived. I boarded it, and started reading what had to be the hundreth Harlan Ellison short story I had read that week. Great way to pass the time on a long, dull commute. Just couldn’t wait to get home, relax, and go to bed. Use deliberate sentence-fragments sparingly. This is getting choppy. It may not be exciting, but drat if I don’t love that page 63 ending sometimes. Now this is a nice, relevant tie-in to pg. 63 that also shows something important: that you look forward to it.

Today, though, I’m snapped out of my book.

“Hey, an “excuse me” would be nice!”

“gently caress you, man, get out of the door!”

Oh, wonderful. One of the happy-hour crowd has decided he’s going to educate somebody in proper manners. Unfortunately, the University of Subway Manners, R Train campus seems to be having a student protest, and they seem to prefer yelling and screaming over a good old-fashioned sit-in. Drop the clever metaphors and show the action.

A drunk businessman and an angry homeless man arguing? Well, I thought, it beats breakdancers. I watched, closely. I’ve never been a fan of having emotions run that high when I’m that close to the action, so I wanted to at least keep an eye on things. The homeless man was gesturing wildly with one hand and- hey, wait, where’s his other hand?

My eyes darted over him, and I realizeed his hand iswas tucked away in his back pocket. Well, gently caress. That’s really not good. There’s plenty of reasons to reach for your pockets, but when you’re that heated up in an argument, all signs point to you being about to make a really bad decision.

You just changed tenses. The narrative has been in past-tense up until this point.

“C’mon, man, take a swing at me! Take a swing! You know you want to!”

Christ, he’s baiting him. He really wants to be able to say “The other guy hit me first!” when poo poo hits the fan. The Professor of Manners seemed to have realized his mistake, and began apologizing, saying it’s no big deal, don’t worry about it. I wanted it to work. I wanted to turn to page 63, to have another boring non-event of a commute, and destress from work.

The homeless man takes a step forward, swinging his arm from his back pocket towards the other man. He stopped it short, obviously having just been trying to draw him into striking first, but clenched in his hand is piece of metal, gleaming brightly against the grime of the dingy old subway car.
poo poo. poo poo poo poo poo poo. It's not clear that this is a knife, as opposed to a gun or brass knuckles.

What’s weirder is how nobody seems to really be noticing what’s going on. All headphones and tablets, their routines insulted by a wall of comforting noise. Lucky bastards.

“Woah! Hey, what the-! Put that away!” Is this you talking, or someone else?

Well, that did it. Some reactions from the peanut gallery, people scooting away, clearing out. I don’t exactly have the luxury, being cornered between the back of the train car and the rapidly escalating fight.

The brakes kicked on. A stop. Thank god. The doors swung open, and the man who started this whole mess had his first good idea of the trip and got out. A few of the other passengers joined him. The man with the knife, though? Stayed right where he was. It wasn’t about being disrespected anymore, and with the adrenaline in his system and his target beating a hasty retreat, he didn’t have any one clear outlet for his rage.

The doors shut. The train started to move. So did the man with a knife. He paced, he muttered, he shouted. He waved the knife. None of it was coherent. Page 63 seemed like a distant dream by now,. Aall I could hope for is to not do anything that would give me the other Choose Your Own Adventure standby ending,: a good old fashioned “Surprise! You’re dead!”

Don’t draw attention. Stay calm. I can do that. I took out my phone. I began to type, trying to look as if I didn’t notice anything was even happening, like I was just playing Angry Birds on my way home.

The text was to myself. “Red plaid shirt. Missing two teeth on the top right. Frizzy long brown hair. Has a black trash bag on a roller trolley . About 5’10” ”. Work this information into the previous couple paragraphs. What you have now is a list of events. I want to be able to not just see and hear the commotion, but smell and feel it as well. What're you thinking and feeling? How are you reacting? Any details I could see, anything that might be useful if the worst did happen. I watched, I waited. He walked in front of me, shouted something I didn’t quite catch. I was more focused on the knife pointed at me. It was probably only a few inches long, but in that moment it was monolithic. My breath caught in my throat, this was bad. Did he see me texting? Did he think I was calling the cops? Visions of all the mundane things I could have done differently and not ended up here, in this situation flashed before my eyes. The moment hung, it stretched, it lengthened to infinity as it was pulled towards the event horizon of my panic. [/b]Here we go.[/b]

It passed. He shouted again, walked further down the train car. He came back around. I watched, I waited for the right moment, and I switched sides of the train car. A stop was coming up, and now I was on the side with a door. Nothing would block me this time. I waited. He came around again. I tried to look casual. I have no doubt I failed. He kept walking, at least. There's a pattern here. I did this. He did that. I did this. Break it up some. Show us more than just what happened – show how it effects you.

The screech of the brakes. Again with the sentence fragments.Normally, I hate it. This time, it may as well have been a choir of angels. I stood up, quickly but deliberately, trying to avoid grabbing any more attention. I quickly turned round the barier, just two feet from the door, and stepped into the station. Home free.

I broke into a ran towards the end of the train a car away, waving my arms, flagging the conductor. “Yo! Hey! You have a situation! Man with a knife! One car down!”

No response. Not to me at least. The train pulled away as the conductor began to radio ahead. The police would be waiting at the next station.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I sank into the wooden bench. The next train, then. Hopefully I could just read my book in peace the rest of the way, as long as my hands stopped shaking so much.

Turn to page 63.

The best part of this is the ending. Because you set it up earlier, I can picture you going home, having a normal evening, and going to bed. It lets the story slip back into the routine of your day.

Your action scenes have some issues. You just write what happens, “He did this, the other man did this, I did that.” That gets boring. To catch and hold a reader's attention, there needs to be stakes. The contrast between Page 63 and “Surprise, you're dead!” starts to set that up, but more details would help. You hold your description of the homeless man until your text, which means that the reader can't picture him during all of the preceding action. Give us stuff to hold on to. Help us imagine what's happening.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Tavernkeeper's Widow
http://lego.wikia.com/wiki/10193_Me..._Market_Village (It's relevant to my story that this set is part of a larger faction: http://lego.wikia.com/wiki/Castle_(2007) )
Flash Rule: A character is destined for/achieves/has achieved greatness, thanks to clerical error.
747 Words


I'm running my late husband's tavern, the baby strapped to my back, when the wind starts. It strikes the roof as a solid force, shaking spiders from the thatching. There's a jam in the doorway as the men rushing outside meet the people coming in.

I peek out the back door. Instead of the storm I expected, there's the pale scales of a dragon belly. I've seen dragons before, ridden by the king's knights as they fought off the troll invasions, but this beast is too large to be controlled by a rider.

The great chest expands with indrawn breath and the mouth gapes open. A gout of flame hits the manor roof. It's okay, I think. It's built to withstand a siege. Slate roof. But the slate tiles crack and give under the dragonfire. Even the thick stone walls crack in the sudden heat.

I watch as my lover burns, somewhere in the crush of stone, and I think, I can't lose another. I want to charge the castle, challenge the dragon. I stay where I am. The babe on my back is the baron's only get, bastard though he is. The child must live.

- - -

After the shock; after running up the road to the keep; after the lingering heat of the stones rebuffed us; after hours of waiting; after we pulled the servants and the cook, dizzy with heat, from the basements – after, people go to the tavern.

I serve beer and pea soup. There's no appetite for meat; we all smelled the cooked bodies, up at the manor. I feed the shocked servants and townspeople and give them a place to huddle together, a place for comfort.

The next day we start clearing the manor. It's hard, dirty work, shifting the fallen stone and the bits of burned wood. There are bodies, too. Me and Gerold, the smith, go through first and clear away those we can, and come back for those the shifted wreckage reveals. I know the baron is among them, but they are all the same: charred and black.

First a husband lost, and now the father of my child. The baby stays with the other young children, minded by the older girls. The boys do what work needs doing with the animals and the crops, and us that are old enough deal with the cleanup.

- - -

The knights come on the second week, bearing a letter from the king. The dragon struck, and struck again, throughout the kingdom. Judges are scarce. The knights will officiate. A new baron will be declared, a regent named.

By then the serving wenches are running the inn. I've been busy burying the dead, cleaning the mess, and seeing to the living. I see to the knights as well, and the scrawny boy they say is their clerk. On the second day he interviews me.

“And this is the baron's son?” he asks. I'm nursing the babe.

“Yes.” The baron had never denied that.

“And you are the wet nurse?”

“I'm his mother.” I won't have him taken from me and given into the care of some noble.

“I'm sorry!” he stammered. “I didn't know! I mean, I thought you'd have been at the keep.”

Keep his mistress in the manor with his wife? He might have, at that, if I hadn't had an inn to run.

- - -

The town square's full of nervous, tired people, staring up at the platform that's been hastily thrown together. I stand with the knights and the clerk, looking down at my town, my baby in my arms.

“With the power invested in my by the king, I hereby declare this child to be Jeffery, Baron Laketon. Further, I do hereby declare his mother, Baroness Elizabeth Laketon, having miraculously survived the fire, to be his guardian and regent until he reaches his majority.”

There's a smattering of whispers and hushing noises from the crowd. I stand, frozen by the enormity of their error. I – the baroness? Then I remember the young clerk saying “I thought you'd have been at the keep.” Is he naive enough to assume that I'm the baroness, just because I'd birthed the baron's son?

None of the townspeople speak up. Instead they look at me with silent, hopeful eyes. There will be a regent. It'll be me, who they know, or a stranger sent by the king. I nod.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In. If you want to collaborate, PM me.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Welp. Some poo poo came up, so this is all I've got.

Fortune and Greed
246 Words

“James died fighting the bird,” I lied, sitting across a pile of gold from his widow. We'd set out to steal the great bird Fortune's treasure from her nest. “I don't think he suffered. I don't think he had time to suffer.” Lying on the ground, the steady flow of blood from his head slowing as his heart stopped. He hadn't suffered then, after I'd struck that final blow. All the suffering had been before, in the long cold night when Greed had spoken to him with a serpent's tongue. When he'd decided to betray me for the gold.

I hoped he'd suffered. I hoped the decision to kill me hadn't been easy for him. Even with his hands around my throat, squeezing the life from me, it had been hard to kill him. He'd been a friend. A brother. “He died trying to get the gold for Sue's treatment,” I choked out around the tears. “He never wanted anything but for her to get well.”

He hadn't trusted me, in the end. Hadn't trusted that I'd do anything, give anything to get his little girl the chemo she needed. Fool.

“The gold is yours,” I whispered. “Please. Take it. It's what he would have wanted.” I'd never be able to spend it with his blood on my hands.

“Thank you,” she sobbed, walking around the gold and drawing me into a hug. I turned towards her, looking for absolution, looking for comfort.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


I'm sure the judges and I will both regret this, but I'm in for this week.

As penance for my sins last week, I will crit two stories if anyone asks.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In. With a

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Walk
450 Words

“Anne,” Jay said, “The girl cries when she has to walk twenty feet. No way in hell is she walking to dinner with us.”

“She wants to,” I said stubbornly. “Look.”

“Walk!” Lisa insisted, pointing up the road to the older girls, who were milling about impatiently. “Walk!”

“No! She can take the van with everyone else.” He turned away.

“Walk!” Lisa wailed.

“Alright Lisa,” I told her. “You've got to come inside with me.”

“Want walk!” She stomped her foot and shook her head, once more pointing up the road.

“I know you do. I've got to ask Frank for permission first, okay?”

“Walk!”

“Yes. Walk. But we have to go inside first.” I took her hand gently. “Come on.”

- - -

“Frank, she wants to walk to dinner. All the other girls who wanted to walk got to,” I said, leaning against the counter in the cabin kitchen.

“You know Lisa. She'll sit down in the middle of the road when she gets tired – and that'll only be a few feet – and then she won't move. You can't think she'll make it all the way there.”

“So let her try. When she gets worn out we'll stop, and you guys can pick us up on your way.”

“Alright, alright. Go ahead.”

I slipped out of the kitchen. “Alright Lisa, do you still want to walk?”

“Walk!”

- - -

We walked in the bright spring evening. Lisa set a slow, steady pace. Twice she tripped and fell. Each time I expected her to stay down, and started looking over my shoulder for the van. Both times she got up again. “Do you want to wait for the van?” I asked her.

“No. Walk!” she answered. So we walked. Eventually she wiped the sweat off of her forehead dramatically and said, “Tired!”

“Let's take a break,” I said, leading her to one of the flower boxes along the side of the road.

“No!” She said. “Walk.”

We walked until the van pulled up next to us, within sight of the dining hall. “Do you want a ride?” Frank called out the window.

“No! Walk!”

“Anne?” he asked.

“You heard the girl,” I said, though I was hungry and hot and would have loved to hop in.

- - -

Jay and the girls who had walked ahead were leaving the dining hall when we came in. Lisa grabbed his hand. He tried to pull away, but she held on. “I walk!” she said, stamping her foot.

“So you did,” he said. “Good job, Lisa.”

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


I'm in, and I'd like a flash rule.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


What the hell. I'm in. And since I can't remember if I submitted last time I signed up, I guess that's with a ?

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Power Dynamics
830 words
"You and your pity don't fit in my bed."

I wake not to the singing of birds, but to the ringing of bells, and make my way to the chapel. I don't understand the droning Latin prayers, but I feel their force, washing over my skin like His baptismal waters, cleansing me of my sins – of my power – and binding me anew to the stone-tomb silence of the convent, the cold surety of His protection.

The Abbess watches me as she says the prayers. I keep my head bowed and watch her through my lashes, demure as any proper lady. I imagine meeting her as an equal, my stone knife in my hands. Would I trace it over her skin, draw the runes in her blood and show her the magic of the wild places? Or plunge it into her back, and free the lands I had led, had protected, from subjugation to His will?

- - -

The Abbess comes to check on me while I'm kneeling between the thyme and the mint, carefully uprooting a weed. She does not bid me to stand, and so I kneel in the dirt at her feet and feel the difference in our power sharply; mine tied to the soil and the growing things, dormant in this consecrated place, and hers burning hot and clean and strong.

She reaches down to me, touching my head in uninvited blessing. “I can feel your power,” she says. “They said that baptism washed away all you old priestesses' powers, but I can feel yours calling to me.”

I think of my blood shed in the wild places, of secret runes and prices paid. I don't answer her, though my power sings through my veins at the presence of hers, and something long-hidden rises within me. “You feel it too,” she says. “I know you do.” I am still and silent on the ground at her feet. Let her go away, still unsure. Let my secrets remain safe.

- - -

I harvest and dry my herbs as the nights grow long and cold. I have offered nothing but the work of my hands, have brought none of the herb-lore I command to this garden. I will not give up my secrets so easily to this bribe of living things. Yet still I've felt my power working through the soil, and the garden has grown lush and vibrant.

She comes to the dark, cool room where the dried herbs hang and stands before me, eye to eye in the gloom and quiet. I can feel His grace on her like sunlight, warming her skin. Her presence silences the howl of the wind-spirits around the walls, but even her direct gaze can't pierce the shadows that wrap me safe in their hold.

My hands are slick and pungent with the herbal cream I'm mixing. She raises a clean, pale hand to my face and brushes back a lock of my hair. Her fingers linger, burning against my cheek. She can't miss the way my breath hitches.

- - -

Spring brings a light, soaking rain to my garden, leaving the earth sodden and alive. I've spent the winter longing for this moment of quickening, and no desire for secrecy can stop me from standing barefoot in the dirt and calling forth the growing things.

There below the soil my power finds them and wakes them with gentle touches, and the eagerness with which they spring forth raises the hairs along my arms. She finds me standing there, bare toes dug into the mud like roots, arms reaching for the sky. Her light reaches out to bless the shoots and leaves, driving away the last of the winter cold. It washes over me and for a moment, a breath of time, I bask in it.

“You must have been great, once,” she says softly. Reality rushes in like a flash flood, like the cold river that swept away my freedom and bound me to this place. My arms drop to my sides and my eyes snap open. She's standing close to me, her eyes sad.

She reaches out while I stand frozen and bereft and traces her fingers across my cheek, down to my lips. I jerk my head away, anger crawling under my skin. “I was,” I tell her. “You won the war. You've chained me here. What more do you want from me?”

Her hand falls away. “You know what I want.”

“What little I have left is mine.” I won't step back. I won't allow her to drive me from this little piece of wild I have made here, this little place of life. I glare at her from inches away. “You can't have it.”

“I had hoped you'd found some peace here.” The softness of her voice, the lilting, hopeful question at the end, make my stomach sour. I hold my silence, jaw clenched, until she turns and walks from my garden.

It feels cold when she's gone.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Djeser posted:

If I HMed with what I wrote last week, you guys need all the help you can get.

Our noble* judges are hard** at work*** with their feedback, but in the meantime, I've got three crits to hand out for last week.

Include an area you'd like me to focus on when you ask for one. It can be as specific or as general as you like, but give me some sort of topic, even if it is just 'conflict' or something.

*lol
**lol again
***they probably are browsing TD at work


Could I please get a crit? I want to know if the interactions between the characters made sense.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


I will do some crits for last week if anyone is interested.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Grizzled Patriarch posted:

I'll take one. I wasn't really happy with my entry but I'm not entirely sure where it went wrong.

My first thought when I read this was “Oh, another Wendigo story.” It has all the elements: a cold, secluded place, a missing person(body), a bad-rear end dude who knows what's up, and a leader disbelieving or covering up the Wendigo attack. On top of that, you use a lot of common descriptions and phrases (smell of fresh-baked bread, blinking until his eyes adjusted to the darkness, didn't answer right away.) What makes this Wendigo story different from other Wendigo stories? How do you choose your descriptions? So – I'm going through an italicizing all of the descriptions I've read before, and striking out the ones which I don't feel add anything to the story. If you're going to keep an italicized phrase, really consider whether it's the best detail you could give, or just the easiest.

Grizzled Patriarch posted:

The Windigo (804 words)

Arnason was dreaming about the smell of fresh-baked bread when the boatswain shook him awake.

“Pardon, sir, but you must get up,” he said. “Evans is gone.”

Arnason sat up with his stinking blankets swaddled around him, blinking until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He could not tell how late it was.
“Evans is dead.”

The boatswain didn’t answer right away. Around them the ship’s hull creaked and groaned, protesting the weight of the ice. Arnason guessed they had another month at best before the timbers gave way.

“Yes, sir,” the boatswain said at last. “But he’s gone.”

***

The engineer’s storeroom was empty. They’d put Evans there in the engineer's storeroom when the pneumonia took him, wrapped him in canvas to keep the rats away. Someone had pried the door open and taken the body. Arnason shifted from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm.

“What do you make of that?”

The boatswain shrugged, but he wouldn’t meet Arnason’s gaze. He was a large man,
big enough that he had to stoop to keep from hitting his head belowdecks. He’d spent two and a half years on the Hudson with the Inuits, had once disappeared onto the ice for an entire day and come back dragging a jar seal pup when the ship’s larder first ran low. This was the first time Arnason could remember seeing him scared.

“Search the ship. Every room, every locker.”

Before the boatswain could say anything, the muffled crack of a musket rang out above.

Arnason wheeled around.
“Who in bloody hell is on the night watch?”

“Baycroft, sir.”

They hurried through the passageways and into the main hold, Arnason barking orders to the men still grumbling in their hammocks. A few of the officers followed behind with sabers drawn, already bundled in their wool coats. Arnason checked his pistol’s primer, then led the way above deck.

Freezing cold hit him like a fist, the howling wind scouring his cheeks and forehead with powdered ice. Already frost was gathering in his eyelashes and the thatch of his beard. Arnason tucked his chin and walked with the pistol held out in front of him.

“Baycoft!”

He doubted the man could hear him, even from so close a distance, but he called out all the same. Behind him, the boatswain swung his lantern back and forth.
Near the lookout post, they found Baycroft’s scarf tangled in the rigging, snapping in the wind like a flag. His musket lay on the deck—there hadn’t been time to reload.

“Where the hell has he gone?”

The boatswain was leaning over the railing with a strange look on his face. Arnason stood next to him and followed his eyes. A dark smear on the ice, like a lazy brushstroke. It glistened in the lantern light. There was no other sign of Baycroft.

“Windigo.” The boatswain whispered. “Man-eater.”

Ghost stories. Arnason wanted to tell the man he’d spent too many nights drinking with the Inuits, that it was a bear that killed him and nothing more. Instead he grabbed the boatswain by the shoulders. “You don’t breathe a word of this, you understand?”

***

Belowdecks Arnason breathed into his gloves and tried to rub the feeling back into his fingers. He unwrapped his scarf and winced as a small patch of his beard tore away with it. The crew was up now, fidgeting and waiting for the news.

Aranson cleared his throat. “We’ve found no sign of Private Baycroft.”

One of the crew piped up, a new sailor whose name Aranson hadn’t learned yet. White blotches covered the lower part of his jaw: early signs of frostbite. “Is he dead?”

“I don’t know. We think it may have been a bear.” Windigo. Man-eater. “Carpenters will batten the doors for the night. Until they’ve finished, no one is to go above deck without my permission. I want muskets loaded and ready.”

It was a callous order,why? and Arnason knew it. He could not afford for the ship to fall to chaos.

***

Arnason lay in his hammock, listening to the snoring of the men around him, the incessant grinding of the ice. A single tallow candle guttered on a saucer in the middle of the floor. He couldn’t sleep; hunger gnawed at him, tunneling through his insides like a worm. He turned over onto his side and stared at the port window. He imagined something out there in all that darkness, beyond that feeble sphere of candlelight. Something creeping among the jagged ridges of ice.

Windigo. He rolled the word around in his mouth until it lost all meaning. He brought his palms together and folded his fingers into a loose gesture of prayer. “Please,” he whispered into the dark. “God, please.”

There was no answer except for the groan of ice against the ship’s hull.

Overall this story is passive; the Windigo makes stuff happen and your characters react. Give them some agency – let them make things happen. Does the boatswain set off an a rescue mission? Support the captain in declaring Baycroft a loss? Does the captain feel torn at all about just writing off one of his crew? Maybe something entirely different and far more original happens.

What does work in this story is the boatswain's dialogue, and the captain's fear. I definitely get a feel for both characters despite how short the story is.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


May I get a flash rule?

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Gau posted:

Reflections

“Just relax,” said Buckingham. “This isn’t a test.”

“I understand,” replied Elda. The tension suddenly disappeared from her face. “However, Doctor Spalding did indicate that this was an important evaluation of my abilities.”

Of course, Elda appeared fully human, save the odd facial expressions and rigid bearing. Doctor Spalding was still developing her body language and mannerisms. “Are you nervous?” he Buckingham asked.

“Doctor Spalding said that I should not be concerned,” answered Elda. I like this. It casts doubt on whether she's able to feel things beyond what she's told.

Buckingham nodded, scribbling some notes. It's from his POV, (I think), so I'd like to see what his reactions are beyond the vague note-taking. “How have you been since our last session?”

Elda shuffled in her chair - an oddly human gesture. Was this something designed, or an emergent expression? “I have been well,” she said. “My work with the research team has been very productive.”

“In what way?” he asked.

“Our experiments have produced an incredible amount of data,” she replied. “Doctor Spalding insists that he will be published for two decades.”

“Are you pleaseed by this?”

For the first time, Elda paused before answering a question. “Doctor Spalding is pleased with the results,” she said.

“Does that mean you’re not pleased?” Buckingham leaned forward and put down his pen - here was the meat of it.

Elda contorted her face into a passable imitation of ‘perplexed.’ “I do not believe that I have a relevant emotional response.”

Buckingham arched an eyebrow. “How do you know Doctor Spalding is pleased?”

“He said so,” Elda answered. Was that a hint of annoyance in her voice? “May I ask a question?”

“Of course, Elda.”

She leaned forward, imitating Buckingham’s interest. “Why is this particular session important?”

Buckingham sighed. He should have known better than to think they could avoid this; Elda displayed a rapt curiosity. “Elda, do you know Doctor Knerr?”

“Of course I do,” she said. “She and I are friends.”

He couldn’t let that response go; it was the first time Elda had indicated any sort of friendship. “Why do you say that you are friends?”

“Doctor Knerr has expressed that we are friends,” replied Elda. “She enjoys my company.”

Now Buckingham was scribbling madly. Again with the note-taking. What's he writing? “Do you feel that you have any other friends?” he asked.

“I am accustomed to the presence and unique mannerisms of many of my colleagues,” Elda explained. “However, I lack the context to provide an evaluation of the degree of our friendship. Will you please answer my question?”

“Of course.” Buckingham set down his notebook. He set his elbows on the desk and folded his hands. “Doctor Knerr has petitioned the university board of directors that you are a sentient being and as such protected by law.”

Elda’s eyes stopped moving. Buckingham was familiar with this; when Elda used large portion of her processing power, her operating system deprioritized superfluous movements. A few seconds later, she resumed blinking. “If this petition is successful,” she said, “I would no longer be the property of the university.”

“That’s correct,” he said.

“Either Doctor Knerr or Doctor Spalding have requested your testimony on the matter,” Elda said, “is that correct?”

“It is,” answered Buckingham.

“I do not wish to continue this interview, Doctor Buckingham,” said Elda. “May I go?”

“That is the question at hand,” said Buckingham. “I will not hold you here.”

“Thank you.” Elda abruptly left the room. Buckingham’s face fell into his palms. He exhaled deeply.

Overall I like this scene. There's something comedic about the blankness of the psychologist-type bouncing off the blankness of the robot. I also really like how you show us she's a robot.

-

“This hearing will come to order,” said the director. Board President Malik was a small man, but his presence commanded respect.Cliche The room immediately silenced. “Present are the twelve members of the university board; in addition Doctor Spalding, Theoretical Computational Research; Doctor Knerr, Associate Professor; Doctor Buckingham, Professor Emeritus of Psychology; Elda.”

“The facts of the petition are as follows: on 14 September 2014 coma patient Tracy Selway was remanded to University with the permission of her family. Ms. Selway was diagnosed with permanent brain damage with a negligible chance of recovery. Her will indicated that she wished to donate her body to science.”

“Doctor Spalding installed an experimental digital frontal lobe replacement with the assistance of the university surgery department. After two years of development and evaluation, Elda (nee Ms. Selway) has been active for over a year. Doctor Knerr has petitioned this board so that Elda be allowed to determine for herself if she wishes to remain under the care and observation of Doctor Spalding. Are all parties agreed on veracity of these facts?”

The three doctors concurred.

“I agree,” said Elda.

“Doctor Buckingham,” asked Malik, “you are most qualified to answer questions on this matter. Do you believe that Elda is capable of self-determination?”

“That’s a complicated question,” answered Buckingham. “Elda is capable of high-level reasoning. Her IQ has been tested in the near-genius level. She has well-developed social skills. Double-blind experiments have shown her convincingly passing as human.”

“So,” said Malik, “you believe that she is, for all intents and purposes, human?”

“Not quite,” Buckingham said. “Elda has, at best, an incredibly limited emotional depth. Her emotional responses are avoidant or externalized. She is virtually incapable of making decisions based on emotional stimuli.”

Doctor Knerr stood. “Elda isn’t a machine!” she yelled. “She has clearly grown beyond her original programming!” The yelling here seems out of place; perhaps a more subtle display of emotion?

“No one is maintaining that she is,” said Malik. “The doctor is reminded that this hearing will remain in order.” Doctor Knerr sat back down, still clearly agitated. “Your testimony will be taken after Doctor Buckingham’s,” Malik added.

“As the President says,” explained Buckingham, “Elda is clearly more than a computer. The question we are answering is whether she is intelligent but not conscious - as, for example, Koko the gorilla - or a sentient being.”

“For our elucidation,” asked Malid, “could you evaluate Elda as if she was a human patient?”

“The closest diagnosis I could assign, if she were human, would be high-functioning sociopathy,” said Buckingham. “Although that would be inaccurate. Elda is programmed with a sense of right and wrong, and seems to grasp the concept of acceptable social behavior.”

“Thank you, Doctor Buckingham,” said Malik.

This scene falls flat for me. There's a lot of exposition, not very much character development, and no real plot movement. We probably don't need that much exposition. It's okay to leave some details to the imagination.
-

Elda sat in the coffee shop, reading a copy of Shogun and sipping tea. Doctor Knerr sat across from her.

“How’s the book?” Knerr asked.

“Fascinating,” said Elda, “although fictional.”

“The board ruled against me,” said Knerr. “I brought a copy of the decision, if you would like to read it. They don’t believe there is a preponderance of evidence to overturn the family’s custody agreement.”

Elda put down the book. “I am sorry to hear that, Elizabeth. Your objections were adamant and convincing.”

“It’s okay,” Knerr said. “It’s not over. I’ve found a lawyer who is willing to take this to court. We’ll secure your freedom eventually.”

Elda smiled awkwardly. “I imagine so. You are a good friend.”

And we're back to the charming interactions with Elda for the conclusion.

This story potentially tackles some big subjects – like what makes us sentient, and research ethics – and I like that. It never really answers the question of whether Elda is sentient, which I also like. However, it doesn't go deep enough and a big portion of the story is spent telling us the basics of things that have already happened, without attention to the central conflict. I'd like to see Dr. Knerr developed more as a character. Is her friendship with Elda ethical? Is she pushing her desires on Elda, or using Elda to push a political agenda?

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Editing, as per the new deadline/rules.

Comet Song
896 Words

The city lay before them. “Strange, how a single star can catch the eye, and change the shape of the night,” Beth's grandfather had said, all those years ago. Seventy-five years, wasn't it? The comet came back every seventy-five years, and didn't that make her feel old? And now someone was playing Grandpa's comet song.

Her fingers twitched for a keyboard, a cello, even a flute. Any of the instruments of her childhood, when music had been a thing shared between people instead of dead noise from a speaker.

Beth shuffled sideways, trying to see the trio of musicians in the corner. The flute lilted through the melody, haunting and clear as the comet overhead. “That's Grandpa's song. Is he here? Let me see him!”

“Calm down,” Josh said, raising his hands, palms out. “They're just hired musicians, Mom. I'll have them play something else.”

“No! It's the comet song. He wrote it here, on this hill.” They'd watched the comet from the yard, and she'd played her mother's cello, though it was nearly as large as she was. She'd played through and through the music while Grandpa had played the recorder and the song had twisted and changed until it came together into a perfect whole. Didn't they remember? “How did they get it?”

“It's okay, Mom. Just let me ask them to play something different, okay? You stay here.” He turned away, waving to a young woman in a red dress. “Angela, can you stay with Mom for a minute?”

“They've got Grandpa's song!” she repeated. “I need to talk to them.”

“You just leave the musicians alone, okay?” Josh moved away.

- - -

The girl in the red dress handed Beth a champagne flute filled with water. “Wasn't it a lovely ceremony?”

Beth sipped politely, remembering bubbles. “Yes. My Josh looked so handsome, saying his vows.”

“It was Mike,” the girl said, with the vague, uncomfortable smile young people gave Beth these days. “Josh's son.”

“Oh. Oh, that's right,” Beth said, flushing. Mike did look so like Josh at his age.

The trio was playing something else now, familiar only in the sense that all chamber music was familiar to her. How often had her family sat together in the living room and played? Mom had loved her cello, had stroked the bow across the string and smiled from the sheer joy of it.

Beth's favorite had been visiting Grandpa's house and playing the little upright piano, her hands bringing Grandpa's music to life. “Do you know, they played one of the songs Grandpa wrote earlier?” she asked.

“Grampa didn't compose music, Grandma,” the girl said with a sad smile, turning away.

Seventy-five years since the comet. She almost ran after the girl who called her Grandma. She almost said, “Not your grandfather – mine!” but the girl was gone and Beth had more important things to do.

- - -

“Sir,” she called, approaching the trio of musicians on their little stage between songs. “Sir!”

“Yes?” the young man looked up from his cello.

“Earlier, you played a song about a comet.” It burst out like an accusation.

His face lit up. “We did! But how do you know it?”

“My grandfather wrote it.” She raised her chin, daring him to disagree. “When I was a little girl. Last time the comet was here.”

“Wow,” he said. “George, come here! This lady says her grandfather wrote our comet song.”

“Really?” George was a girl with short hair and many earrings, who grinned at Beth with the perfect white teeth that kids all seemed to have these days. “That's awesome.”

“Mom!” Josh said, rushing over. “I thought Angela was with you. I'm sorry,” he added to the musicians. “She didn't mean to interrupt you.”

“Actually, she was just helping us solve a mystery,” George said.

“Really?” Josh asked, eyebrows furrowing. “What's that?”

“Well, we've had this mystery song,” George-the-girl said. “Found it written on and old sheet of paper in a violin case we got at an estate sale. It was titled 'Comet Song,' but it didn't have a composer. It was beautiful, though, and with Halley's Comet so bright tonight we thought-”

“The short version,” the cellist cut in, “is that your Great Grandfather wrote it, if this is your mother.” He turned to Beth with a bow. “Ma'am, it should have been part of his estate. I'll give it back to you, if you'd like.”

They believed her. “I think,” Beth said, “that you should keep it. Keep it alive. But...” she smiled wistfully. “I'd like to play it one more time.

- - -

The guests were gone. Below them, the city was waking up.

The cello felt warm and alive under her fingers. Her frail hands – darn them! – shook as she took up the bow. George smiled and started the first, haunting notes on her flute, and Beth drew the bow across the strings. The notes wavered and faded as she struggled to play, but the song filled her mind. She didn't need to read the music.

In the quiet where the party had been, she remembered perfectly. The sun rose on a new day, just like any other. It was done. Not well, but close enough.

Anathema Device fucked around with this message at Aug 17, 2014 around 10:17

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Where Coydogs Come From
98 Words

Summer-flowers smells him on the evening wind and names him moss-in-rain. She paces her fence, bowing low with her tail waving, as he slinks from the wooded shadows. He pauses; she lowers her ears as he comes forward until their noses touch through the cold metal.

She pushes her tongue between the links, tasting rabbit blood on his jaw. He whines softly in his throat. She digs at the fence until she can wiggle through the hole. Dirt clings to her fur, and the sharp metal ends catch on her skin, but she wins free.

Together, they run.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In.

Will also crit some stories from last week if anyone asks.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


December Octopodes posted:

Hey would it be possible to get a crit? Thanks.

December Octopodes posted:

1257 words I went ahead and added the extra words. I was late, no excuse.

This story has some pacing and structural issues. It's usually bad form to change perspective mid-scene. This could be fixed easily by inserting page-breaks and doing some minor editing, or could be changed by putting the whole story from the assistant's point of view. Most of the action takes place from his point of view anyway, and that would nicely cut the ~300 words of exposition at the beginning.

Nothing happens in real-time until they get to the Himalayas. Consider starting your story either earlier – with the first time Scriabin saw the star? When he adopted the assistant? – or later – with the flight to the Himalayas? With the sherpa's fall?

The ending doesn't feel truly satisfying to me. Everything goes as planned, but it doesn't work anyway. The conflict of the story – the assistant's decent into madness – turns out not to matter. Humanity wasn't ever in real danger of ending, because the monster under the waves is still sleeping.

There's some good elements here – creepy things sleeping in the deep, and strange, disjointed music can be really scary. An orphan driven mad by a man who adopted him and mentored him, until he's willing to kill that man, could be really riveting. And there's some good lines. Just resist the temptation to spend so much time explaining your ideas, and show us what happens.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


1387 words

“You kids stay inside at night,” Grandfather told me and James when we moved into the manor house. “None of that gallivanting about like you’re used to. You two be good role models for the twins. And you!” he turned to me. “You stay away from that old witch. The court said she was to have nothing to do with you.”

Back then I still thought it was worth arguing. “The court didn’t say I couldn’t see Memere! ‘Visitation with permission,’ they said. Your permission.”

“Well I’m not giving it!”

For two years I’ve done as he said, but Anne and Kelly are old enough to remember now, and it’s time they meet Mom. Grandmother and Grandfather are shouting for us. We wait, still and quiet under the branches of the old willow, but Memere doesn’t come.

“Should be go back?” James asks. He’s uneasy about this, has been from the start. You'd think he -- two years older than me -- would be braver, but he's always followed my lead.

“No,” I say, stomach roiling, heart racing. “No, let’s do it now.”

We walk softly between the pale gravestones. Mom’s is white marble, shiny in the starlight. Wrong, all wrong, but it will do. We sprinkle salt around the grave, and James squeezes my hand for luck just before the circle closes.

I kneel in front of the headstone, whiskey bottle held out, and think of my fear, of Memere’s absence, of how very much I need my mother. My throat grows tight and painful. My eyes well up. I will not cry. Please, Mom, come to me. I brought you an offering. Please…

Carefully, I open the bottle and pour a shot onto the grave. “Please, Mom,” I whisper.

“You bring me poison?” the shade says. “How unlike you.”

I brought you what I knew you’d come for. I lean back, pulling the bottle away from her grasping hands. They pass through mine, cold and slimy under my skin. “It’s traditional.”

She lunges again, clawing at my throat. I can’t breathe past the slimy, rotten sensation of cold in my throat. Gagging, I force the words out. “Back! Heed me now, shade! Harm no one here, for I come with an offering, and you will not receive it unless you heed me!”

She stumbles back under the force of my will. “What do you want?”

My mother. “Answers.”

“To what questions?”

They bubble up and catch in my throat until I gag on the lingering taste of rot. I lean over and spew bile across the slippery, whiskey-scented grass. James steps forward. “Stay outside the circle,” I croak, waving him away. He hesitates. "Keep the girls safe." He withdraws, holding them back. Even heaving on the ground I have some protection, and I clutch the whiskey bottle to my chest.

But the shade comes forward and crouches beside me. I feel her cold touch on my back, rubbing awkward circles as I have done for her on a hundred hungover mornings.

“You came,” she whispers. “You finally came to see your old mom.” And it’s so Mom - the quick change of mood, the subtle rebuke. My body spasms with silent sobs. My tears sink into the dirt of her grave.

A fitting offering for my mother: bile and whiskey and tears.

“Mom.” Tears leak into the corners of my smile, fill my mouth with salt. “Mom, I brought the twins to see you. Look!”

She walks to salt-line and stops. “Don’t trust me?”

“Not all spirits are as friendly as you, Mom. We couldn’t know how you’d be.” You tried to choke me, remember?

“Let them come over the barrier, then. I want to see them properly.”

James turns to me, and Mom spits in my direction. “So they look to you for orders now? You always were a bossy little brat.”

Even before I shake my head, James is pulling Kelley and Anne back. “Mom,” he says. “This is the only thing they’ll have to remember you by. This and stories.”

And, wonder of wonders, she sits cross-legged on the grass and talks to them while James holds their hands. They are scared and quiet, and Mom quickly grows frustrated with their short answers. When she turns on me, all her patience is gone. Her eyes are fixed on the bottle.

“What answers did you come here for?”

“When you died. Why? Why go to that rear end in a top hat?” My cheeks are raw from crying, my eyes swollen and tight.

“Because I couldn’t afford to drive to a real doctor,” she says. You couldn’t afford to die, either, and leave us all alone.

“Why go at all? Was the thought of another child so horrible?” my voice is hoarse.

“The twins were still nursing when I got pregnant,” she says. “I never expected two, you know? And I didn’t have money for birth control, but you’re supposed to be safe while you’re breastfeeding. Ha.” She draws an illusory breath. “And I just couldn’t handle another, not with them so young. Not with your father off somewhere. And he was right down the road.” A long pause. “Memere, she told me not to go to him. Said she could help.”

But you went anyway, and then you died. The last question burns like the bile had, coming up. “Did you want to abort all of us?”

“Oh.” Her eyes finally turn from the bottle and meet mine. “Oh, oh honey. No, never you guys. I just couldn’t handle it right then. But never you.”

Summoned spirits can’t lie. I’m shaking all over, but her attention has turned away. “They’re coming,” she says. “Listen, James. You’re going to have to be everything to those girls. Make sure they’re loved.”

“What about me?” I whisper. Haven’t I loved them? She turns back with a malicious smile.

“Oh you, honey, you have another path.” She cackles, the orange moon rising behind her. It lights her all in shades of yellow, like the jaundice has finally caught up with her. “Now give me my whiskey, and run.”

I pour the whiskey into the sodden grass. Her shade dissolves into the air as I clamber to my feet. “You heard Mom,” I tell the others. “Run.”

We flee before the flashlights as they sweep the graveyard. “What the hell was that?” James asks, when we’ve won some distance. “You said the girls should meet her. You never said she was gonna be like that. Or that you’d talk about how she died.”

“She was always like that.” I look him square in the eye in the moonlight. “And haven’t you ever wondered…?”

“Of course, but in front of the girls? They don’t need to hear stuff like that.”

“They’ll thank me for it when they’re old enough to understand.”

Kelley begins to cry. James soothes her as he says, “For now, they’ll just have nightmares. Face it, that was about you and what you needed from her.” I sputter, overwhelmed and too angry to form words. “Look, I’m sorry,” he says. “But Mom told me to look after them.”

“What in the name of God are the four of you doing outside at this hour?” Grandmother demands, flashlight blinding us.

“Laura tried to raise Mom’s shade,” James said. “Sprinkled salt and poured whiskey into the dirt, said some funny stuff.”

The brilliant circle of grandfather’s flashlight focuses on me. Behind it, he’s a vague and shadowy. “You’d subject your siblings to that Godforsaken witchcraft? I know you hero-worshipped the old witch, but I thought we’d taught you to be a respectable young lady. I won’t have that around the little ones, I will not!”

James, you little sneak!

“You want me away from Kelley and Anne?” gently caress, I hate crying. “Fine. I’ll go.”

Grandfather raises a hand to grab my arm, but he’s old and slow, and I’m already running. “James,” he barks. “Get her!”

The last thing I hear from them is James saying, “No. Let her go.”

- - -

When I let myself into Memere’s house she’s watching the static on the old TV. She doesn't look around.

“You didn’t come.”

“James finally stood up for himself," she says, and I know she's been watching over us.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


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

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In with 3 and 9.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In The Ruins of New York City
692 Words


Shoot 'em in the head or they just keep comin'. Crawling if they gotta, and trailing their blood behind them. That's what everyone says about zombies. I watch two of them come up the street: jerky, stiff-limbed, winding between the trees and the broken lines of cars. I brace the old semiautomatic on a pile of rubble with a clunk - the thing's nearly as big as I am - and wonder if a spray of bullets will take them down.

The female leans heavily on the male. Her body is twisted, wrong. I glance up and down the street, making sure there's no others. That's the thing about zombies - they're slow and weak. In ones and twos they don't attack. It's just when they mob you that they pull you under, trample you, rip the clothes from your body and the flesh from your bones.

Crows rise from the canopy in chattering swarms. High above their caw-caw-caws echo off the crumbling skyscrapers. A gusty wind tears down the street, bringing the stench of zombie with it. The two are still coming closer, the male with its arm around the female's distended waist. Dappled sun strikes the halo of flies around the male's blackened, dripping hair.

There's something off about the female, too wide around the middle for its skinny arms and legs and neck. Its breasts sway heavily under its baggy shirt, dark stains spreading from the tips. Its belly pushes out aggressively. It staggers suddenly, and the male supports it as it sways.

The male looks up and meets my eyes. Close enough now to shoot, and I put my finger on the trigger. It holds out a hand, palm upward. Empty. "Please," it croaks.

I've never heard a zombie speak. Didn't know they could. But, "Please," it repeats. The word sounds painful coming up, like a deep cough. Wet and ragged. "Please. She's having a baby."



The crows flock outside. Each broken, hoarse scream sends them flapping into the sky, and each long silence drags them hopefully back. The gun is sweaty under my palms. I don’t look at what’s happening behind me, do not want to know what is under the baggy shirt she wears.

“Not...real zombies,” the man croaks at me. “Not like...old movies. Just a name for us...walking dead.”

I watch the street. There’s movement in the distance. Other zombies, drawn to the screams. “Will they attack us?” I ask the man.

“Yes.” He coughs heavily for a moment. “You.”

Lovely. The woman screams. I hear the man moving to her side as more zombies file onto the street. They hang back, gathering their numbers. At least ten, now. Enough to take me down. Will gunfire scare them off, or draw more?

I wait.



The gun bucks and shakes under my hands, deafens me in the small space. The zombies coming down the street slow as the frontrunners fall, their legs shot out from under them. The crows fly into the falling dusk. Behind me another scream, another silence.

A long high wail.

“It’s…a girl,” the man says.

I can’t help it. I turn. The man is holding the baby gingerly, away from his body. The woman is on the floor, surrounded by blood. “Will she be okay?” I ask.

The man laughs a wet, bitter laugh. “Take the baby,” he says. “She’ll have...a life with you. And...run.”

He holds her out to me and I take her carefully. She can’t even hold up her own head; I support it with my elbow as I cradle her in my arms. I can feel her cries against my chest, slowly waning.

She needs food.

The zombies on the street are getting closer. “Take the gun,” I tell me man. He shakes his head in vehement denial, his hair dripping blood across the room.

“No. I’ll...hold them off. You run,”

It’s awkward, swinging the heavy old gun onto my back while holding the baby in my arms. I manage. And then, while the zombies close in down the street, I slip out through the back door and I run.

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


In

Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


Freedom Garden
Spring, Earth
835 Words

“Get a hobby,” the lawyer said. “Volunteer or something.” I stared at her and saw only the walls and floor and ceiling, the tightly closed window. I paced. Outside a chill rain washed away the last of the snowbanks.

The thought was terrifying. The thought was thrilling.

My soon-to-be ex’s subtle siege had kept me in the shelter for three weeks. He’d broken into my facebook and email, put pressure on my friends to tell him where I went. Nothing was safe.

“The community garden is right next door.”

...

The smell of bergamot suffused the garden office. Bergamot and damp earth. A bell tinkled out in the greenhouse, summoning a young man through the back door. “Hello,” he said, holding out a hand. “I’m Sean.” I stared at the hand, clean except under the nails where dirt lingered in neat half crescents. I knew how to shake hands, I reminded myself.

“Jessica.” The word caught in my throat as his hand closed around mine. Gentle. Firm. “I um...I was wondering if you needed volunteers.”

“Sure.” Crow’s feet bloomed around his eyes when he smiled. I thought of him as young, but he was probably my age. Younger than my husband or our friends. “You want anything to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

“Is that Earl Grey I smell?” I asked. He made us tea in silence, fragrant and hot and strong. My husband hated the smell of bergamot. When I raised the cup to my lips the steam smelled of freedom and the scalding tea left a warmth inside that felt like happiness.

“What do you know about gardening?” he asked.

“Nothing much,” I admitted.

We lingered over the tea while he told me what would need doing. “You’d best come back tomorrow,” he said when the cups had gone empty twice. “You won’t want to get your pretty things dirty.”

I blushed like fire.

...

Damp soaked my knees as I knelt in the empty bed, transplanting basil seedlings. The trowel felt awkward and heavy in my hand. I pressed it into the dirt but couldn’t break through the heavy mud.

“Like this,” Sean said, stabbing sharply downward with the shovel. The violent movement sent my heart skipping, made me pull back defensively, but he just repeated the motion, digging out a hole with a few deft flicks.

I pulled the spade back and plunged it into the dirt. The blade crunched through the soil to the handle. Vicious pleasure surged through me, and I stabbed downward again and again, loosening the dirt and scooping it aside.

My breath was fast and ragged through parted, chapped lips. I shrugged out of my jacket, set it aside. The weak spring sun touched my bare arms. Sweat coated my skin; the cool breeze turned it instantly chill, and the hairs on the backs of my arms stood up.

I glanced up to find Sean smiling at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners.



“Are you ready to sign the papers?” My lawyer asked me, as she had every couple days since I’d called her. I picked up the pen, feeling that same warming thrill, that same violent impulse I had so reveled in earlier.

I signed.

...

“Back again?” Sean asked with a smile. “For tea, or work?”

“Can we do both?”

We took our time over the tea. He broke a muffin in half and pushed one towards me. I hesitated to take his lunch, but he insisted. “Go on. I baked it myself with berries I grew here.”

The plump blueberries looked amazing. I broke it into dainty bites with my fingers. If I caught his eyes lingering when I licked my fingers clean, I didn’t mind.

It was his turn to blush.



“You’ll still have to appear in court,” the lawyer warned me. “You’ll have to see him again.”



My basil plants were growing new leaves. I smiled at them, gently ran a finger along the edge of one sun-warmed leaf before moving on with my weeding.

...

I gritted my teeth and put on my nicest white pantsuit. White for brides, white for innocence. It made me look pale, fragile. I cleaned the dirt out from under my nails and painted them bright red.

I walked into the courtroom with my head held high, and I looked the bastard in the eye while the lawyers showed the pictures of my bruises. I looked him in the eye and thought of roots growing underground and leaves reaching for the sun and did not flinch or cry or look away.



Sean found me kneeling in the back of the lot, dirt under my red fingernails and covering my white blouse. My jacket was discarded on the ground, and my pants were ruined. Mascara streaked my cheeks, which were sore from the force of my smile.

“So it went well then?” he asked, dropping to his knees beside me. His shoulder brushed mine and heat like sunlight raced over my skin. I leaned against him.

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Anathema Device
Dec 22, 2009

by Ion Helmet


in and I'll take a flash rule.

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