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  • Locked thread
Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Fresh blood here. Been meaning to find out how poo poo a writer I am for a while.

I'm in.


Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Counting Time (1188 words)

The wind was singing softly today.

Laurent watched it in the rhythmic swaying of the tree branches and in the leaves spiralling past him down the Boulevard Haussmann. He couldn't hear it, of course, not through the earmuffs and not over the drone from his earphones under them, but after this long he didn't need to. He could imagine the sound.

Dangerous thoughts. They said it only got in through the ears, but... He fixed his eyes on the tarmac.

He trudged along the Boulevard, a half-full petrol can in one hand. On either side, long-abandoned cars lined up in unbroken, unmoving queues. The facades of empty shops watched over them, their wares still arranged in the windows. Some of the street lamps were still glowing, fading gently in and out. He watched them, counting beats under his breath. On, two, three, four, off, two, three, four.

Such a tidy apocalypse. Always thought there would be more... mess.

The Violettes hadn't shown again. He'd been supposed to meet them, trade a few essentials to keep them all going a few more days. Bad sign. There were precious few left who hadn't become noise by now. He didn't care much for the Violettes - didn't even know their real names - but you held on to whatever relationships you could get these days.

Miromesnil Metro station - which he and his sister called home - was five minutes away. He trudged down the steps, through heavy door after heavy door, feeling the air still with each one he closed behind him. At the door to the station manager's office he pushed the call button beside it and waited.

Eventually Anna dragged it open, nearly spherical in her layered coats and hats. He pushed past her and together they forced the door shut and dropped the bolts.

They exchanged a glance and a nod, and then, satisfied, they removed earmuffs, scarves, jackets, gloves, until they could see and hear and move again. The light was dim but steady. The room was silent.

"Well?" Anna said.

Laurent waved the petrol can at her. "No sign. That's three days now."

She scowled. "I can't get them on the radio. It must be busted."


She ignored the cynicism. "Nothing but static all week. And that whine's getting worse. Gives me a loving headache."

"Look," Laurent said, shooting a glance at the antique radio and at the headset and microphone on the desk beside it, "I know you -"

"I'll open it up later. Get it sorted. Then we'll get in touch with them and you can go give them some more of our stuff for another of those trash novels of yours."

There was something in her eyes that told him not to argue.

"Sure," Laurent said. "Sure. We'll do that."


She already had her head in the radio's guts by the time he woke the next day. He dressed, waited patiently for her to notice him, and went out with a couple more cans of petrol.

He waited at the intersection with the Avenue Matignon for a couple of hours before the Carrefour woman showed up. Business was perfunctory, a volley of gestures and mouthed words, before they reached an agreement: a litre of diesel for a dozen tins of soggy vegetables.

The Violettes didn't show. He took the spare can and the food back to Miromesnil.

"Looks like I've made it worse," Anna said when he got in. She'd put most of the radio back together, minus a few probably unnecessary wires and boards. "Not even any static now. Just that screeching, on and on and on. I'll try again tomorrow."

"No sign of them," Laurent said.

"I guessed." She nodded at the leftover petrol can. "You should take that to their place. Their generator might've run out."


"They're sensible people. They know to keep their ears closed. They're probably just busy."

He heard the unspoken addendum, they're friends and I don't want to lose any more of those.

"I'll go see how they are," he heard himself saying.


"Sure, as long as -"




Julian Violette's had once been a bookstore. It still was, in a sense. The twins who had taken over it had stacked the things up in front of the windows, three or four layers deep, as a sort of makeshift soundproofing. Violette's hadn't sold anything in years, though.

Someone had thrown a brick through the window. The books behind had been scattered across the floor. The wind blew in and out through the hole and shifted the dust inside.

Laurent stood and stared at the storefront for a long minute.

There was no need to go in. In his mind he could already hear the wind inside the shop.

He'd said he would see how they were.

Laurent kicked the last shards of glass away and pushed his way inside.

Empty bookcases loomed over him from every wall. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling, flickering. Laurent watched it as it swung back and forth, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, counting perfect time. Every spark of light on the offbeat, one-and-two-and-three-and-four.

He found the door to the cellar half-hidden behind a bookcase. The Violettes' living space was downstairs. A mattress, clothes, books, a radio, and a single light, flashing on and off. The dust stirred at his feet.

There was no sign of the Violettes. Days gone, no doubt. Nothing but noise.

The radio was on. Laurent leaned closer. The microphone was on. Listening.

He stared at it.

poo poo.

He unplugged the microphone from the line-in, set it down at his feet, and crushed it under one boot.

Then he left.


It got into your head, that's how they'd always described it. You heard it once, and that was that. It became part of you. You became part of it. You spread it for as long as you could, until all that was left of you was the song.

He was out of breath by the time he returned to Miromesnil. He hammered the call button with a fist and paced back and forth and back and forth until the door finally cracked open. His heartbeat sounded loud in his ears.

Anna's eyes were apprehensive. As they pushed the door closed, together, his gaze found their radio. Wires and circuits covered the desk around it. Its lights were off. He felt the pressure behind his eyes recede, just a little. Never been a better time to be off the grid.

She flashed an impatient gesture at him. 'What?'

Laurent pulled the scarf away from his face. "Radio still broken?"

She couldn't hear him, but he spoke slowly and clearly, and she read the question on his lips and nodded, once.

"Thank God."

His clothes seemed heavier, suddenly. He hauled his outdoor layers off, dropping them at his feet. "They're gone. Their set was broadcasting -"

He saw it in her eyes first, in the rhythm of her blinking: one, two, three, four. His earmuffs were on the floor. He went for them too late.

She spoke, and her voice was the most beautiful song in the world.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

what the gently caress I was expecting a dishonourable mention at best what is wrong with you people

To celebrate this lofty apex I may never again attain, I want stories about a last hurrah. Going out with a bang, the joyous culmination of your life's work, or just that one great moment where everything finally comes together before a slow, inevitable slide into mediocrity and obscurity. The victory may be epic or personal or pyrrhic or whatever, but things will never again be as good as this, and you know it.

Erogenous Beef

Because I am of a generous disposition and am in some weird non-US time zone I am going to give you slightly more time than usual. I trust this means that entries will be that little bit worse.

Sign-up deadline: 09:00 BST, Saturday 3rd or whenever I actually wake up, whichever is later (I sleep like poo poo; rely on those extra hours at your own risk)
Submission deadline: 09:00 BST, Monday 5th or same

Word count: 1,000 words

Hocus Pocus
Bushido Brown
Drunk Nerds
Starter Wiggin (Flash rule: Flower arranging, frottage.)
docbeard (Flash rule: A character in your story is non-organic.)
PootieTang :toxx: (Flash rules: Your protagonist must survive their great moment but wish they hadn't; in addition, they must be holding something and not let go of it at any point during the story.)
V For Vegas
The News at 5
Some Guy TT
Thalamas (Flash rule: Your story is about two friends. One is male, one is female, and there is zero romantic interest between them.)
Sir Azrael (Flash rule: Politics, minor or inconsequential.)
lambeth (Flash rule: A quest for a divine rear end features in your story.)
Meeple (Flash rule: The end of your story must take place chronologically before its start.)
Anathema Device (Flash rule: Write, in the noir style, a story involving one or more penguins.)
Grizzled Patriarch

theblunderbuss fucked around with this message at 09:16 on May 3, 2014

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Djeser is now officially my brother and/or sister for this upcoming round! Pay your respects.

PootieTang posted:

To regain my honour, I'd like to request two flash rules to avenge the non-submissions.

Two? TWO? Do you really think that I would be so oh go on then. But let this not become a trend!

Your protagonist must survive their great moment but wish they hadn't; in addition, they must be holding something and not let go of it at any point during the story.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Erogenous Beef posted:

If you still need help, I'll help(*).

(*) Help may/may not involve spaying participants with an unsanitized eighteenth-century whalehook.

You're on. Let's do this.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Meeple posted:

As theblunderbuss was being too nice to flash rule me after I told him I already had words written before I signed up, it falls on me to demand it anyway. Bring it, etc.

Meeple flash rule: The end of your story must take place chronologically before its start.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
:siren: Some of you reading this haven't signed up yet. Why not? You have nine hours left! :siren:

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Sign-ups are now over!

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
There are nine hours left for submissions!

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Submissions are now closed!

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
:siren: Results of the 91st Thunderdome! :siren:

Given that this week's prompt was to give us stories about your characters' finest hours, the submissions were... well. Let the results speak for themselves.

This week's WINNER, living the dream: Tyrannosaurus, for a touching story about a man who's had his time in the sun, and a boy unsatisfied with his.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: No one! That's right, there wasn't one story this week that jumped out and made the judges think, "if only we could have given the grand prize to this one right here." Step it up next week, people.

D.O.G.O.G.B.Y.N., for making pretty much zero sense throughout. Seriously.
Leekster, for a confusing story about a rodeo with a bunch of characters we don't care about.
The News at 5, for a sequence of events with no underlying theme or story arc.
dmboogie, for a boring story about overthrowing Big Brother in a bizarrely bland setting.
Some Guy TT, for a war story with a framing device that actively irritated one of the judges.
WeLandedOnTheMoon!, for an attempt at a joke at the judges' expense. No one's laughing.

And the LOSER, against stiff competition: Drunk Nerds, for a grammatically-unsound mess of a story. We're going to have to talk about some of the fundamentals here.

Crits will come later. For now, Tyrannosaurus, the throne is yours.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Now there's probably going to be a fair amount of overlap between what I'm going to say here and what Djeser and Erogenous Beef have already gone over. But maybe if it's said often enough it'll sink in.

Drunk Nerds - Circle of Death
I'm just going to focus on some basic grammar here. Both Djeser and Erogenous Beef mentioned the said-bookism issue, which is a shame because it's basically what I was going to go on about. It's a stage a lot of writers go through (I certainly did) - you don't want to repeat words, because repetition is bad, so you come up with as many synonyms for 'said' as possible, so you don't have to use it more than once.

Here's the secret, though: 'said' isn't a word. It's basically filler - your average reader isn't even going to notice it's there. But change it to some other, weirder verb - 'ejaculated', say, if you're trying to be Conan Doyle - and now it draws attention to itself and just gets in the way. Do you want your writing to get in the way of what you're trying to say?

And please, please don't run your dialogue and actions together into a single sentence. You can say words, or you can screech them or declare them or whatever if you really want. But you can't shrug or plop or blink them. Actions and dialogue are separate. Keep them that way.

Entenzahn - Gambit
I actually rather liked the start of your entry this week. It was well written, and I thought the dialogue rang true. The second scene threw me, though. I was on board with a story about saying one's farewells and moving on, or the like, but the memory wipe aspect kind of came out of nowhere. TBH, the two scenes felt rather disconnected, and either one could have stood on its own without the other with no great loss. Focus on one, or integrate them better with one another.

Meeple - Prophecy
Now the main note I've made here is that the core premise was kind of interesting, but you could have got that across in far fewer words, and thus freed up more space to expand on it. Beef mentioned this: this story could really benefit from more details about Michael's work or the machine, or more importantly about Michael himself. Who is he? Why does he want this breakthrough? Make us feel like this discovery is actually important first, and then take it away.

leekster - Last Ride
I wasn't entirely clear on what was wrong with Cecil here - he falls and messes up his hip, and then he's dying, and then he stands up and actually dies? I did enjoy the rhythm of your final scene - back and forth between short, snappy paragraphs and longer ones - but I wasn't entirely clear on what the significance of his final gesture was. It may have worked better if the relatives (and their relationships with him) had been fleshed out a bit more beforehand.

Also, please use more commas in dialogue. Use them to denote pauses, and mark the breaks between one clause and the next. A sentence like "Cecil I'll be back in a moment okay sweetie?" just makes me think the nurse is blurting everything out in one mouthful.

Starter Wiggin - Say Cheese
This was decently written, but I'm not entirely sure I understood the point. Recreating every photo you've been in - making your son relive your life - is a very odd thing to do, and for most of the story I assumed it was just going to be an excuse for father and son to spend time together. The ending ("now he wouldn't make the same mistakes I did") didn't really tie it together for me the way it needed to. I finished reading feeling more puzzled than anything.

Bushido Brown - Persistence
Your language here felt like it was half way between normal prose and the sort of slightly unnatural style you get in fables or myths, probably at least in part because of the lack of proper names. I could see it working well if you swung even more towards the latter, assuming that was the intent in the first place.

The kill could definitely have been emphasised more. As it is, it comes in the middle of a paragraph and you just breeze past it like it's any other action. Give it more space! End the scene with it or at least give it a paragraph of its own or something.

I was quite impressed by the Hunter's ability to see the lungs in all things.

dmboogie - Larger than Life on the Burning Screen
The first impression I got here was that your setting was really rather bare. We start in a "featureless corridor" and then move into a "deserted room". The guard is carrying a "gun" (no details given), and the two protagonists have a "device" and a "tool". It comes across very shallow, like you've decided that your setting is "sci-fi" without putting any more thought into it than that. I'm not saying I want five hundred words of scene-setting or for you to describe every wall in excruciating detail, but as it stands there isn't really a hint of depth here, and that's off-putting.

Both Djeser and Beef have mentioned this already, but I'll reiterate it: there's a lot of dialogue here, and it really doesn't add anything. It's just filler. You could get across a lot more information in the same number of words.

WeLandedOnTheMoon! - Henry: Portrait of a Goon
From about the halfway mark here I was convinced this was a troll entry. The core idea actually isn't wholly irredeemable - "unbalanced guy projects a relationship onto something that can't reciprocate" could be done in a nicely unsettling way - but you swamped it in a barrage of oh-look-at-this-goon-isn't-he-gross jokes until there was nothing else left. The humour absolutely doesn't work here, and it obscures whatever else you might have wanted to do with this.

Nethilia - Friend of Mine
I had to go and look up the lyrics of the song here. That's a bad thing to have to do during the climax of your story. When I did it turned out that the woman who'd had her boyfriend stolen was singing a song about having your boyfriend stolen to the woman who stole her boyfriend? I didn't really feel like that was an interesting way to conclude it.

The dialogue all seemed rather... straightforward. It told me that Whitney had broken up with Theo, and that the other women were very supportive of her, but it never really gave me any handle on the characters. Jess and Colleen are basically interchangeable. As already pointed out, you could drop one of them and lose nothing.

Tyrannosaurus - Aloha
From the start here I was worried I'd be put off by, "isn't it hard being good at things?" Well, suffice to say I wasn't. Your characters were likeable, I enjoyed the relationship and rapport between them, and it was just an easy read. This wasn't a difficult choice for winner.

More to come later.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
I'm in.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
1195 words

Every morning she rose in the east, resplendent in crimson and white and gold, her radiance lighting up the sky. She was beauty; she was fire; she was life.

One day, when I was very young, my mother took me to the roof of one of the old skyscrapers, and together we watched her appear on the horizon. "She," my mother said, "is the only reason we're here at all. Without her, we wouldn't have morning or evening or daytime. Just night."

I didn't understand at the time, but every day thereafter, I was awake at dawn to watch her. I never quite knew why. Maybe I wanted her to notice me. Maybe I wanted someone to be there for her, to acknowledge what she did for us. Maybe it just became a habit. Doesn't really matter.

The years passed. My mother died. But I was always there at dawn.

I don't know when I stopped admiring her and started wanting her, but I do remember when I first realised. It was a cold January. I sat on the roof of the old bank, dangling my legs over the edge. Alex sat beside me, resting her head on my shoulder. I was watching the sky, and she was watching me.

"You'll go blind if you keep that up." It was intended as a joke.

"I know."

She laughed. Her voice was beautiful in those days. "You'd say it was worth it, wouldn't you?"

And that was the moment.


I'd never much cared for the library. She had no great love for books, and the windows there were frosted to protect them from her. It was dark inside, and the air smelled of age and rot.

"What're we looking for?" Alex asked. Her voice echoed. "Do you even know?"

"Flight," I said. "I'm going to learn to fly."

She cocked her head, waiting for me to say something else. Her face fell when I didn't. "You're serious."


"You do know what they say about not getting too close to --"

"Of course."

It took her a while to answer. She didn't think we'd find anything, of course. If she had, she'd never have gone along with it. "Okay, fine. Why not. What's there to lose?"


A long time ago, humans took to the sky in machines, horrible grinding things of wood and iron and bone. There were plenty of books about them, but the last thing I wanted was to build myself a cocoon. So we read further, about the early days of this quiet, dark world, and we found the stories about how humanity first stopped trying to master the world and started trying toÖ absorb it. Become one with what was left of it.

Myths and fables, of course. Men made of stone and women of wood. But in some of those tales the heroes flew, and there was one common thread running through them all.


Fire was light. Fire could be carried by the air, fanned by it. It made sense, and it made more sense the more I studied it. When I had read everything there was to read, I moved on to practical research. I lost my hair and blistered my skin in the process. I burned down the library, in the end. Alex was more upset about it than I was, when I told her, weeks later. No one else went there anyway.

One day in autumn I snuffed out a candle and my arms became fire.


The first time I flew, I was in the air for seven seconds. I was fire, carried by the wind. I was air and light and sky. I could see her, high above me, and I could already imagine the ecstasy of being beside her.

I broke both my legs when I hit the ground.

Alex carried me into her house and laid me on her floor. Her son started crying when he saw me. He was... one, maybe two years old? I couldn't blame him for it. I was a mess.

She laid her hands on my torn skin and knitted my bones together. I hadn't known she could do that. I told her as much, when I could speak again.

"I've been studying too." She tried to smile. "I thought you might need this." A nervous pause. "Look... you have to stop this. It's destroying you."

"Destroying?" I said. "I flew today! No one's done that in... in who knows how long." I smiled up at the ceiling. "No, I'm closer than anyone's ever been. I can't stop here."

She was silent for a long time.

"I won't be around to watch you." She said it casually, like it meant nothing. "We're moving on. Javier wants Sam to grow up away from the city."

"Don't worry," I said. "You'll be able to see me when I'm up there."

She never replied to that.


It's the coldest winter in years. The sky is cloudless, so soft a blue it's almost white. She's at her zenith now. Ice covers the empty street, sparkling with her light.

It's time.

"Any last words?" Sam asks. He arrived this morning, unannounced. When I asked him why, he just said that someone ought to be here to watch. Never said how he knew today was the day. Strange boy.

I stand in the centre of the road and spread my arms.

"Keep an eye out," I say.

Wings of white flame unfurl from my back, pair after pair. Sam shields his face from the heat, but I hardly even notice it. I feel the air around me chill as I steal its warmth. I smile.

I strike the air with every wing at once, and I am aloft.

The city retreats beneath me. The sky rushes closer. She rushes closer. I spread my wings wide, catch the wind, level off beside her. She is glory and warmth and light and everything that is good in the world.

She turns her head towards me, and I cannot breathe. But her burning eyes stare past me, and she looks back towards the horizon. Nothing has ever hurt so much.

Is this all I am? Am I still beneath her notice?

Anger rises. I focus, drawing into me all the energy I can. I burn brighter and hotter. The air freezes. The daylight dims. I am the brightest body in the sky, and she will acknowledge me.

I turn back to her, triumphant, and my heart stops. She's looking at me, but her mouth is open in surprise, and her fire is streaming into me. I realise too late to stop it.

Her wings fade, one by one. She drops from the sky and I catch her. Her skin is cold and she weighs nothing. The light from my eyes plays across her face as she smiles at me.

"Your turn," she says, and she turns to ashes and slips through my fingers.

I watch her tumble towards the earth, so far below. The world stretches on forever. I tear my gaze away from her, turn back to the horizon.

I am beauty. I am fire.

I am life.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

what do you mean I should have been done with these a week ago

GreatBacon - One Last Job
The lack of any real detail about your main character does this in. Basically all I know about him is that he's been at this for a while and that he's quite old (he doesn't even have a name!). You don't give us any details about the job either. All in all, it's really rather difficult to care about anything going on here, and I didn't.

Thalamas - Land of the Setting Sun
I only realised after I got to the end that the earlier half before Mae-hui reached the residence was superfluous, but I realised at the time that the dream sequence was. You could have cut... well, basically all of this, which would have given you some words to spend actually fleshing out your characters at the residence. You wouldn't have had to rush the end quite so much, either.

Just for the record, I have no idea what sort of gun an H&K MP7 is. I appreciate that it doesn't really matter, but still.

docbeard - Archival
Short on actual characters, but I didn't mind this one. I was honestly confused as to what was supposed to be so special about Elena and husband at the start - why is it their deaths that trigger this whole sequence of events, and what's up with the specific protein? I expected this to be explained and it never was.

The Scouts personalities' seemed surprisingly human, compared to the other AI you have here. If that was intentional, the contrast was a bit jarring. I'd have liked them to be a bit more obviously Different.

Sir Azrael - Fog of War
Your first paragraph here doesn't give Grassadonio's death much impact, and TBH you could probably condense it all into a single sentence and it'd read better. The perspective switch in the middle completely caught me by surprise; why isn't this two scenes? The dialogue felt clunky throughout, especially the Korean squad's.

Really, there's not all that much going on here, and I didn't feel like the characters were interesting enough to fill it out. Two squads facing off, one shoots first, the other shoots back. That's... basically all there is to take away from this.

Kalyco - Pura Vida
I never really got any sense of the character relationships here, especially Ethan/Karen - that one comes across like he's just leering at her and she basically doesn't give a poo poo but still puts up with him. With that, the ending where the two of them both sleep with other people they also don't seem to care much about just doesn't carry much weight.

D.O.G.O.G.B.Y.N. - Mike and Doug
Okay, so I can kind of see what you were going for here, but... this was basically incomprehensible. It read more like an account of a wild hallucination than an actual story; some barely-described things happened, often in rapid succession, with no obvious cause or reason connecting them. I guess this is probably what a true-to-life dream sequence would be like.

I had this as a strong candidate for loser because I simply could not follow what was going on, which, let's be honest, is a bit of a black mark.

V for Vegas - Requiem for a Clown
This is unfortunately going to be one of the less helpful crits here. I thought this was decently written, though as both my fellow judges have pointed out it could have benefited from a thorough proofread to catch the scattered punctuation and grammar slips. ButÖ it didn't really have much of an impact on me, and I'm not entirely sure why. Possibly because I wasn't entirely sure what the moral was? I dunno.

Like I said. Not hugely helpful.

Fumblemouse - The Secret Origin of the Midnight Brotherhood
I enjoyed the clash between the superhero and the mundane here, though some of the jokes went a bit far (the JusticeNissan in particular got a smile out of me, but Fortress of Frostitude was pushing it, and the Skyrim call-out at the end just didn't work for me). The mention of Morning Glory kind of comes and goes without fanfare, and could probably be cut - it doesn't seem necessary. I noticed a handful of typos throughout, but nothing that really detracted.

Reminded me very strongly of Kick-rear end. Possibly a bit too much.

Some Guy TT - A Hero's Tale
I'm actually not as down on this one as the other judges were. The basic idea - the war "hero" telling children to stop glorifying his kind and their exploits, because War Is Hell - wasn't bad, though the ending muddied it a bit and I finished no longer sure whether that was the intention or if Lee just told the story because it helped him get over it. You describe him at the start as "quite pleased with himself", too, which doesn't really mesh with what comes later. This could probably have done with a good read through to make sure that everything was aligned with the point you wanted to make.

Kaishai - Ave Maria
This was well written, but seemed like it lost its way somewhere between the start (good) and the end (also good, in isolation). I didn't understand why he chose the Virgin Mary as his subject, and I think I was supposed to. The protest and controversy at the end never really felt like it brought the story full circle; I wanted the end to tie back into the beginning, and it didn't.

This could have been a candidate for winner, but it left me ultimately unsatisfied.

PootieTang - The Boasting Bastard, Backed into his Bunker at the Battle of Buggered Britain
If you remove the fact that this stars Churchill (and so we have an exciting contrast between the popular conception of the man and his portrayal here), there's really not much in this - imagine a version starring Generic Drunk General and Generic Subordinate to see what I mean. Grant isn't really a character, he's just the straight man to Churchill's drunkenness, and Sir Winston isn't enough to carry it.

Grizzled Patriarch - Mutiles
Another one I don't have much to say about here. This was pretty solid. The premise was interesting and your language fine, though It started to feel a bit awkward towards the end that the sculptor was never given a name, and the tense shift in the final paragraph was a bit jarring.

Other than that, carry on. Definitely one of the stronger entries.

The News at 5 - Back Up the Stairs
Djeser and Beef both said basically the same things here, and I'm going to reiterate them. A guy decides to rob a house, apropos of not much, cocks it up, murders a couple of people, and gets away with it. That's not a story. We at least need a motivation, or something.

During the actual robbery he comes across as way too much of a professional in the way he talks, and some of the events just don't make sense - how big is this house if the father can get out of bed with a shotgun in the time it takes our great hero to sprint halfway down a hallway? How did he get away with it?

Also, I wouldn't say this really counts as much of a finest hour.

crabrock - Just One More Thing Before I Leave
Implausible, but fun (and if 'implausible' is the worst I can find to say, then we're grand). The scientist-accidentally-unleashes-AI-on-world premise is a bit played-out, but this is an entertaining enough take on it, so. The going-on-vacation conclusion seemed like you just weren't sure how to end it - the relevant part is the news bulletin, but the rest is just filler and kind of gets in the way.

You have a fine line in rat puns.

Phobia - Empty Victory
You swing wildly back and forth between present and past tense throughout this. The main character is (intentionally) a complete arse and, while I get that the point is that he gets his comeuppance at the end (or after the end, at least), that does make this a bit of a slog to get through, what with us seeing things through his eyes and all.

As Beef mentioned, you overuse the really short paragraphs here. They can work really well to punctuate the action and highlight specific moments, but you need the contrast for that. If everything is short and snappy, nothing is.

kurona_bright - Unceasing Downpour
There isn't really any conflict in this, or even much happening at all - a girl is nervous about singing, but everything goes okay, and then they all go home. Talking about how there were hurdles they had to overcome isn't particularly compelling when they've already overcome them, and TBH I didn't find the details of how they chose and adapted the song interesting in any case.

I'd much rather have seen more focus on the girls than the performance. Flesh out Robin and Marie, and tell me more about the relationship between them.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Phobia posted:

I am also opening this up to three people from last week too. That's three line-for-lines for last round, three for the current, theoretically speaking.

I'll gratefully take you up on this for last week's attempt.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
This can only end in disaster. In.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
An Alien
750 words

The last thing to go through Spaceman Jimís head, before his thoughts were expunged by the jab of the taiaha, was a longing for pizza.

There was a lot of blood. Most was blue, but there was enough red mixed in that the spreading puddle was purple as the evening sky. Spaceman Baz prodded Jim with the staff's butt where he lay, pushing fragments of chitin and bone around in the slurry until he wasn't sure any more which bits had been his friend and which bits that strange face-eating crab thing.

"gently caress," he said. "gently caress. What a loving mess."

Rozzer gave him a bored look. "The hell did you expect? You just took his head off with a spear."

"I dunno. Less, less brains, or something. And it's not a spear, it's a taia... oh, man, it's chipped and everything now. Look."

"Told you it wasn't a real one."

Rozzer'd been right. Space Captain Rozzer was always right. He knew things. Read books, even. Which was why he'd known about the face crab, and about this not-really-dead planet they called Limbo.

"Yeah, well... yeah. Okay." Baz grunted a sigh. "The gently caress we do now?"

"We wait."

The ruins here were properly ancient, going back six aeons, maybe seven. Baz slouched onto some steps and put his feet up on a red stone altar, swatting ineffectually at the flickering white pinpricks that swarmed around them. They flowed around his hand, whispering in a long-dead language.

"Soulflies," said Rozzer. "Spirits of the dead what never passed on. Guidebook said so."

"So, what, one of these is Jim?"

Rozzer shrugged. "Probably. Hopefully not for long."

"Huh." Baz stared cross-eyed at the closest soulfly. "Is it you, mate?"

"Hey, Baz."

"Jesus loving Christ!" Baz said, and toppled backwards into the dust. "Jim?"

"Evenin', lads," said the voice of Spaceman Jim, softly, as though heard from a great distance. "Cheers for getting that off me." The soulfly drifted over and hovered above Jim's corpse. "You couldn't have made less of a mess of my face?"

"Oh, come off it, mate," said Baz. "It's your own bloody fault for sticking your head in that thing in the first place. How you feeling?"

"Could be worse," said Jim. "I could murder a kebab. When'd I last eat?"

"Last Tuesday," said Rozzer. "Not counting the face crab."

"Funny. Looks, lads, tell me straight: am I... am I dead?"

"Temporarily," said Rozzer. "Hang tight, Jim. You're on Limbo. No one dies for long here."


Baz pushed the last piece of Jim's skull into place, and it reattached itself with a soft shlup. He rapped on it with one fist. "Good as new."

"Turns my stomach, watching that," said Jim. "Not that I have a stomach. God, I'm hungry. Why am I hungry?"

"Probably one of those biological things," said Baz. "Infinitives."

"Imperatives," said Rozzer, without looking up.

"Yeah, those. Everything wants to eat. Like that crab ate your face."

"Maybe it had the right idea. I could go for a face right about now." A nervous pause. "Hey, if I'm going to come back to --"

"'s all right." Rozzer jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "We swept it up and dumped it out the back, remember? You only come back if you're in the ruins here."

"Sure about that?"

"Course. The book said so."

The soulflies circled, holding back the darkness.


"Rozzer! Jim!" Baz came pounding to a breathless halt. "We got a problem. Crab's gone."

"Gone?" repeated Rozzer.

"Yeah. The bloody thing's vanished. You think it --"

"Bollocks. Probably." Rozzer stood, stretching. "Okay, blasters ready, eyes open. Soon as Jim's back up, we peg it back to the lander."

"Yeah, about that. Where'd he go? He's gone quiet."

Rozzer shrugged and checked the charge on his Space Raygun. "His soul's on its way back into his body. That's how it works."

"If you say so."

The two men stood on opposite sides of Jim's body, facing outwards. The night seemed so much darker and colder than before. Soulflies swarmed around them, chittering.

"There!" Baz fired a couple of shots into the dark, and Rozzer spun round behind him. "Wait. gently caress. False alarm."

"Steady, Baz. Just a few more --"

At their feet, Jim's body groaned and rolled onto its back.

"Jim!" said Baz, lowering his blaster and extending a hand. "Good to have you back with us, mate. C'mon, let's scarper before that crab comes back."

Jim stared blearily up at Baz.

"KkkKkKkkKkkkKKkKKK," he said, and ate his face.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
I'm in.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Last week ended badly for me. As penance, I shall attempt a couple of line-by-lines for this week's stories if anyone wants 'em (or for last week's, if you insist) - first come, first served.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Ironic Twist posted:

899 words

Week 99 crit here.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Well, this sounds awesome. In.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Questions and Answers
1188 words

It was early evening when the faerie came to talk to her. Mother had taken the truck into town for the day, and Elsa was just tucking little Marie into her cot when there was a knock at the front door. The sky was mottled purple and grey, the fields gold. The air was warm and cloying. It would rain again soon.

The faerie was waiting under the porch when Elsa opened the door. She was tall, and very beautiful. Her hair was the colour of sunlight and her dress was like a shadow cast by a cloud.

"Hello," said Elsa, because that was what you said to visitors.

The faerie crouched down until her face was level with Elsa's. She smiled with her mouth. "Hello," she said, and then she made a noise like the wind rustling through leaves. "You are looking well. Is Mother here?"

"No," said Elsa.

"May I come in?"

"I thought Mother told you to go away."

"She did."

"She told me I wasn't supposed to talk to you outside."

"I thought she would."

"What will you do if I say you can't come in?"

"Why," said the faerie, "then I will go away, and never ask you to let me in again. That is how questions work."

Elsa thought about that.

"Just for a bit, then," she said.


The faerie had first visited the day before. It had been a long day. Marie wasn't sleeping well, and Mother had been tired and angrier than usual. Elsa had tried her best to help all day, but sometimes she just couldn't do what Mother wanted, and that was just how things were.

The faerie was waiting for them by the house. She looked like a magical princess, Elsa thought.

"Your crops look healthy," she said.

"What do you want?" Mother's voice was low and quiet, like it usually was before she started shouting.

"I have come to speak with you."

"Have you now? And here I thought..." For a moment Mother had forgotten that Elsa was with her. She caught herself when she realised. "Go inside, girl. Check on Marie for me."


Marie was asleep, for once. Elsa stayed with her a little while, listening to the sound of footsteps and doors slamming from downstairs. Marie didn't stir. It must have been nice to be so peaceful.

Mother and the faerie were in the dining room when Elsa tiptoed back downstairs. Their voices were soft and muted through the keyhole.

"She seems well." The faerie. Every sentence she spoke was a song. "Is she happy?"

"She drat well ought to be."

"I would like to talk to her."

"Not a god-drat chance. No."

"It is not a question. I am not asking you."

"Well, you should. You never said anything about coming back! I take care of her, you give me my seven years. That was it."

"I remember. Your farm has prospered."

"And now you want her back? Is that what this is?"

"You have a second daughter."

There was a long silence. Elsa pulled away from the door, heart thumping. Why weren't they saying anything? Had they realised she was listening?

"Get out." Mother's voice.

"I would like to --"

"I don't care. Whatever you want -- whatever you're going to ask this time -- the answer is no, and you can go --"

"No." The faerie's voice was stern, disapproving. "I have not yet asked my question. You cannot answer it until I have. That is how questions work."

"Then spit it out."

"I would like your daughter to know her sister. I will take her. In exchange I offer you good fortune and strong harvests for a further seven years. I will replace her, of course."

There was another pause. Elsa wondered if Mother was thinking about the offer, or if she was just waiting for something.

"D'you know what I see when I look at that girl?"


"I see a hole where my Elsa should be. I see that... that thing you put there to take her place. I thought one daughter would be like any other, but she's not mine and it's not her fault and I hate her for it anyway. So go on, ask me."

"I shall. When this is done you will not see me again. This I swear. Do you accept this exchange?"

"Get out of my house."


The rain fell like sheets that night. Flashes of lightning lit up the fields, and with every one Elsa saw the faerie standing in the rain, looking up at her window. She must have been very wet.

"Don't you pay that witch any attention," Mother said, drawing the curtains sharply. She was smoking again. She did that a lot when she was upset. "Ignore her and she'll go away. And don't you dare talk to her when you're outside."

"Okay," said Elsa.


Elsa and the faerie stood side by side at Marie's cot. She was already asleep.

"She is lovely," said the faerie, resting one hand on the wood. "What is her name?"

"Marie," said Elsa.

The faerie nodded, as if she'd known this already. "And what does Mother call you?"

"I'm Elsa."

The faerie turned from the cot and knelt down beside Elsa. "My name is," and then she said something that smelled of oranges and sounded like two pebbles clacking together. "For how long have you known that she is not your sister?"

"Since yesterday," said Elsa. "I was listening. Sorry."

"Not before then?"

"Not really," Elsa admitted, "but I have thought about it."


"Some evenings Mother tells me that she wishes I was really hers," Elsa said. "When she gets thirsty. But she never says that about Marie."

"She dislikes you because you are not her daughter. It is not her fault."

"I know. It's okay."

The faerie gave her a strange look. "Are you happy here?"

Elsa thought about this. "I think so."

"Is Marie?"


"And Mother?"

"Not really."

The faerie nodded. "I came here to take this girl away," she said, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for someone to do. "I would have given Mother health and prosperity, and a new daughter to take her place. I had thought this would make her happy. I was wrong."

"I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Why is that?"

"She likes Marie," said Elsa. "Can't you give her health and... and that other thing anyway?"

"That is not how this works."


They looked at each other in silence for a long while.

"Could you take me instead?" Elsa said eventually.

"I could." The faerie fixed her with a stare. "Do you want that?"

"I think it might help."

"That is not an answer."

"I don't really want it," Elsa admitted, "but could you give Mother her things if you did take me?"

"I could."

"Then I think that's okay."

The faerie nodded, slowly. "Then ask."

"Okay." Elsa took a deep breath. "Will you take me with you?"

The faerie's lips curved into a smile.

"I will," she said. "Come home with me, little one."

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Jurassic Something-or-Other (92 words)
When scientists used science to bring back the first dinosaur, I always thought they would put it in a zoo. Instead, they sent it to school, to learn about this strange new world of ours.

I taught it addition, and it disproved a dozen theorems in an afternoon. I taught it English, and it wrote poems that made my heart sing. I taught it science, and it bred more dinosaurs, and then it burned down the school.

I seriously have no idea where it is now.

The lords of the earth have returned.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Tyrannosaurus posted:

If your name is PoshAlligator, Ausmund, waffledoodle, theblunderbuss, lead out in cuffs, Broenheim, Helsing, Noah, Kalyco, Auraboks, LOU BEGAS MUSTACHE, Anomalous Blowout, DuckyB, or Mercedes then you havenít submitted since bingo night and Iím not sure if youíre still hanging around the dome. Iím tired and Iím grumpy and Iím jetlagged as gently caress so Iím just gonna skip over critting your piece unless you let me know that you still exist and that you would still like one.

I am still doming and I'd be interested in a crit, if or whenever you have the time to do it.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
Down Among the Dead
1101 words
"I was born here and Iíll die here against my will."

The demon had two faces and too many eyes. It thrashed about in the middle of the street and spat at Helena with the lower one as she bent down to inspect it. It smelled of bile and rotting meat.

"Witness reported a runner about twenty, twenty-five minutes ago," said Detective Constable Malphas from behind her. "Male, teenage, probably human. We turn up and find this handsome fellow hanging around the scene."

Helena took a few steps away from the fleshy lump, wrinkling her nose. "Ugh. What is that thing? Third, second circle?"

"Second. Sergeant Astaroth says it's a Legion."

"Oh, good."

Helena walked to where the road ended and stared out into the abyss. A couple of years back, you could have stood here and seen the Thames and the parks along its banks, a few hundred yards off. Now, there were just flat, blackened plains as far as the eye could see, glowing softly like hot coals. Indistinct silhouettes shambled past in the distance. Someone, somewhere, was weeping.

She missed the river.

"This is where he left, is it?" she said, turning back again.

Malphas shrugged. "Best guess."

"You've not asked?"

"Wanted to wait for you, Detective Inspector."

Of course you did.

She crouched down by the demon again. Its gazes went cross-eyed as it tried to focus on her.

"You want to tell me where you got in?" she asked.

"Bite me, copper," the demon said, and rattled its handcuffs at her.

Malphas stifled a laugh. "Quick learner. It'll fit right in."

"Funny," Helena said, without taking her eyes off it. "Well, we have half an hour to work with here before our man comes back. So, what is it that you don't like, hm? Salt? Brass? Rainwater?"

The demon squirmed at her.

Helena smiled pleasantly back. "No matter, we can try them all. Malphas, could you fetch --"

"Here!" the demon squeaked. "Here. Right here."



"Huh," Malphas said. "It didn't even try to barter or ask you a riddle or anything. Shame."

"No, but it's probably lying." She stood up, stretching until her back clicked. "Throw it in a cell until we know. Set up a watch here and on Santos and Sudlow. You know the drill."

"Those are the next streets along, right?" Malphas said. "Begging your pardon and all, but I'm still new here, and --"

"Yes, the next ones. I'll be back at half past. I need a drink."


Of all of London's underground stations, only one had been inside the periphery when the borough had fallen into the abyss - Southfields. The tunnels in either direction had collapsed, but the trains still came and went every one minute, fifty-one seconds. If you bothered to get on one, you were back at the station in twice that. You could set your watch by them. You could set your watch by most things down here.

Helena came here occasionally to think, when she needed the quiet. At first she'd found the trains to nowhere disconcerting. Now, the routine was a comfort.

The London Underground was the abyss in microcosm. Everything in cycles, with no rhyme nor reason. Always brought you back where you started. No escaping it.

Lord knows I tried.


Their runner came back into town again at forty-one minutes and thirteen seconds past two. Helena recognised the look of surprise and dismay on his face as he appeared at the end of the street, and the way that expression turned to panic once he saw the officers waiting for him. He turned and sprinted out into the abyss again without a word, disappearing like smoke.

"First timer, then," said Malphas beside her, duly noting down the time on his pad. "We tell 'em that no one ever gets out, but they always act like it's a surprise when it turns out that they're not the special snowflake who does. Got to admire their optimism."

On the next line of his pad, he wrote a slow, '3,' and then stopped and stared at it. Helena waited for a while to see if he would get any further. He didn't. She hadn't really expected him to.

"Three forty-two fifteen," she said eventually. "That's when he'll be back."


She'd grown up in a house near here. Her parents had lived there for forty years. Probably still did... well, still lived in the other half of it, presumably. She'd been visiting them when it happened. She remembered their faces across the living room as the world fell away.

She missed them, too.


They were ready for him at forty-two minutes and fifteen seconds past three. At twenty-five seconds past the minute, he came back. He managed one step this time before Helena tackled him from the side and dropped them both to the tarmac.

"Constable?" she said, pinning the boy to the ground under her.

"Twenty-five seconds," Malphas replied, confusion evident in his voice. "Exactly."

Helena turned back to their runner and jerked his face towards hers. "You're late!"

He stared up at her. "What?"

"You were meant to be back here seconds ago!"

"What?" His eyes darted from side to side, seeking a way out. "No, I wasn't! I was meant to be getting out of here! I was on a bridge over --"

"That's not how it works!"

"Inspector..." Malphas said carefully, recognising the anger in her.

Helena let his head fall back to the road again with a sigh. "Fine. Look, you weren't going anywhere. We're all staying put 'til we die. You know how many of us came down here in the first place?"

He shook his head.

"Six hundred and sixty-six," she rolled her eyes, "of course. Since then we've had about three hundred try to get out. So what d'you think the count is now?"


"Six hundred and sixty-six. Plus about three hundred bloody demons. No offence, Constable."

"None taken," said Malphas, flashing a smile with too many teeth.

"See, you don't get out," Helena said. "You come straight back again. After one hour, one minute, and forty seconds. Every time." She leaned closer. "So why are you ten seconds late?"

"I don't know!"

This isn't how this place works.

Helena stood slowly and extended a hand down. "What's your name, son?"

He gave her a suspicious look.

"Don't try my patience," she said.


"Carl. Right. Ever wanted to be special, Carl?"



"Inspector?" said Malphas, puzzled.

"Carl and I," she said, pulling him to his feet, "are going for a walk. Keep an eye out. We'll be back."


"God knows," said Helena, and stepped out into the abyss.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
It Always Ends Like This
988 words
bringing out the best in others

The orc's jaw was brittle, weak. He hit the floor hard, spitting blood and teeth and curses. Thrakk caught fragments of the mangled invective. Coward. Survivor. Child-lover.

His second punch shattered ribs.

"Do you understand?" He stamped down, hard. The rest of the pack backed away, narrow-eyed, teeth bared. Torchlight cast their shadows against the prison walls. "The human is mine! My prize! None of you will touch it!"

They understood. He was bigger and stronger than any of them. He raised his foot and kicked the groaning ringleader towards the door. "Out."

The prison was little more than a square of earthen walls. The air was acrid and stinging. There were no bars, no locks, just chains and iron rings hammered into the scorched ground. More than enough for its single occupant.

The human was small and pale and grey, as happened to their kind with age. She was hunched in the far corner, ruined leg twisted unnaturally under her, watching him. She'd never been afraid of him. Thrakk respected that. Not now, not then.

The trees burn. A dozen bodies, both races, lie scattered around them. All of his best, dead.

An arrowhead throbs in his chest. A rock hums through the air. She cries in pain. Branches crack beneath her back. Her bones crumple around his fist.

He tastes iron and victory.

"I appreciate this," she said as he approached her. "I don't think I could've taken them all at once."

Thrakk stopped just out of reach and squatted, facing her. "It wasn't for you. They wanted to mark you, to share what is mine."


They sat for a while. Thrakk heard muttered conversation from outside. About him, no doubt. They said he spent too long with the human. They mocked him for it.


No matter. It had lasted as long as it would.

"You burn tonight."

She was always quick with a response. Not this time. "I see."

Her calm stung. "Is that it? We will melt your flesh from your bones and drink to your screams. It will not be heroic. No one will sing songs about you. It will serve no greater purpose." He didn't know what reaction he'd wanted, but it wasn't this. "I thought your kind feared death."

"I thought yours celebrated it."

Thrakk scowled. "You're valuable. This is a waste."

"That's not what you said when you brought me in."

"I've learned."

A nod. "You have. I'm glad. But you shouldn't worry about me. I always knew that youÖ that this is what happens to people like me. I've had a good run."

Thrakk reached down to his belt and took out a knife. It was worn, straight, unremarkable. It had been hers.

She moves like prey, jumping and skittering. Urkor keens as she sinks her knife into his eye.

"I don't worry," he said, turning it in his hands. "I won't mourn you, human. You killed my brother. This is fitting."

She nodded. "And you killed my son. Now there's just us."

"Not for long." Thrakk tucked the knife away and stood. "You have been told. Make the most of this day."


He spent the day prowling the camp. A dozen clans had already come to watch the last of the human heroes burn, to celebrate how strong they were. Tents were spread across the blackened plain as far as he could see. Fights broke out as groups competed for the best views. Several orcs were dead.

Thrakk thought about the pointlessness of this charade. Killing the human achieved nothing. There would be more to avenge this one. There were always more humans.

He thought about speaking to the warchief, about trying to convince him that there was a better way than this.

He didn't.


Thrakk stood over the human and tore her chain in two without effort. The firelight filtering in through the doorway cast his shadow across her.

"This is it," he said. "Last chance to run."

She gave him a disappointed look and hauled her broken leg underneath her. "Could you give me a hand up?"

He pulled her to her feet without another word.

A thousand orcs had gathered. A hundred fires dotted the hillside. As the two of them stepped out of the prison, a guttural roar went up from those closest to them, rolling out across the gathering until every orc present was cheering and chanting. Killer. Murderer. Destroyer.

Thrakk felt the death-lust rising within him. This was his moment! His triumph! ...and then he looked down and saw an old cripple, clinging to his arm for support, waiting to die.

The others had built the pyre for him, a nest of blackened branches with a single upright spar at its centre. He took the human in both hands and held her against it by her neck as he tied her arms behind her. He tried to look rougher than he was.

A small orc approached the pyre, torch in hand. Thrakk waved him back. He drew the human's knife and held it in one hand between them.

"This is yours," he said. "IÖ regretÖ that this is who we are."

She smiled, with effort. "It doesn't have to be."

Thrakk leaned in and pushed the knife into her belt at her hip, then deeper into the soft flesh there, until the blade was buried and no longer caught the firelight. Her eyes widened slightly and her body sagged.

"Die quickly, woman," he said, and turned away from her.

He took the torch and tossed it at her feet without looking back.


In the hours that followed, Thrakk sat alone away from the fires, listening to the sounds of drinking and shouting and fighting around him. He heard other orcs talk with respect about how the human had burned without even a cry of pain. He turned the human's knife over and over in his hands.

He thought about waste.

Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
I'm in.


Jul 4, 2010

I find dead men rout
more easily.
A Minute's Silence
1,155 words
Someone is visited by a door-to-door salesman.

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

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

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

"Of course! Should I call back later?"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"Wait, what are --"

But he was gone.


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

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

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

"Who was that?" she asked eventually.

"Just a salesman."

"Selling what?"

"Something too good to be true."


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

Jones sat up blearily. "Whuh?"

"You can deal with her for once."

"But she isn'tÖ"

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

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

Almost like magic.

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


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

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

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

He closed his eyes and listened. It was beautiful.

Talking could wait.


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

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

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

That night he slept better than he had in years.


Details faded as the weeks passed.

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

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

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

Through it all, the only sound was him.


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

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

Thud. Thud. Thud.

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

He hadn't seen her in weeks.

Footsteps, like slamming doors.

He missed her.


The doorbell rang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door slammed in his face.


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

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

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