I'm in with this:
|# ¿ May 28, 2014 06:48|
|# ¿ Feb 2, 2023 11:45|
I'm in with this:
Avast, Me Hearties (1326 words. Assigned story:1327 words)
“Shift’s over,” said Theresa, with her cute smile and tattered coat. “You know, the Cyclopean look suits you. Fancy coming for a drink?”
I winked at her. “How do you know I'm not a pirate?”
Theresa punched me gently. “A pirate would have answered my question already.”
“In that case, aye, I'll be attendin' with ye, madam.”
She laughed and my guts clenched like always. “Maybe you should avoid the pirate's life.”
“I suppose you're right, my dear. I'll finish up here and we can-”
It was then that the front door opened, and the dust of the disturbed evening spilled into the lobby. It wafted languidly along with the hot breeze, and I was just about to scurry over and welcome our customer when I saw exactly who it was that was stalking across the floor, to lean nonchalantly against the disused fireplace.
I figured I should ask.. “Can I help you, sir?”
He grinned at me, no gaps in those pearly whites. “I think you can, my friend.”
“Tsongwe, I'm working right now.”
“I don't count sexy talk as work, Hastings, and neither do you. You owe me a favour. I'm calling it due.” He turned to look at Theresa. “Not that I blame you, she's as lovely as the full moon.”
She looked him up and down: no mean feat given his six feet and six. Tsongwe's body branched out like an overgrown sapling, imposing and somehow brittle. She said nothing.
“My lady, I need to speak to our mutual friend. Would you perhaps give us a moment?”
She looked at me. I smiled. “Well,” she said, “I guess next time, then.” She walked away, and it was just him and I again.
I looked over my shoulder towards the staff door. I had nearly made it. I leaned over the desk and lowered my voice. “And you had to come here, now? I'm trying to go straight here, man.”
He laughed. My guts held their position. “So I see. But this is big.”
I sighed the silent smile of service workers everywhere. “What is it this time? New plates? Another clean phone? Don't tell me you want to try and rob the First Bank again?”
“Please Hastings, you insult me. When did we ever pull the same job twice? You should think yourself lucky I'm looking you up again,” he said, “and I know you do.”
I picked up the phone and dialled. Theresa answered on the final ring. “I thought you'd never call,” she said. “Thought you'd found yourself a new friend.”
“Oh, he's an old one. It's been a while, though.” A beat. “He needs me to help him with something. Tying up a few loose ends. I owe him.”
I could hear her breathing down the line. “Then I'll see you soon,” she said.
“I swear,” I told her, hoping I meant it.
It was only when the two of us were crouched in the long grass, not a hundred metres from the railroad tracks, that he actually told me the plan.
“You're crazy, Tsongwe. Still.”
“I'm the sanest I've ever been. Honest.”
Darkness was falling over the plains through which the railway wound. From here it was a long ride to the Zambezi crossing, and further still to the coast, but the mine trains rattled through here at least once a week with the riches won from the earth. Further up the track, towards the mountains, here and there fires could be seen in the shanties that clung to its verge.
Tsongwe followed my gaze, and nodded. He pulled out a pair of binoculars, passed them to me. Squinting, my eye could make out the distant shape of a mine train, pouring a column of smoke into the wind.
“On that train.” said Tsongwe. “What we want is there.” He reached into the bag, and pulled out a thick hemp sack. “When the train stops to cool down, we just siphon off a little taste for my employer. If he likes it, we come back next time and take more.”
“How do you know it stops?”
Tsongwe turned and looked at me. “I have my ways. You should know that.”
I looked back at him. He sighed.
“I asked a shanty boy. What did you think I did?” He turned away towards our quarry.
I spoke in the falling silence. “This is the last time, man.” The train chugged on, and the thud-thud of its coming grew louder. “We can't be doing this any more.”
“Fine. Have it your way – your new one, that is.”
I reached for the hole where my left eye had been. “This is just like you! I don't hear from you for an age, and then suddenly you show up at the worst possible time-”
“She's not your type.”
“Oh? And here you are out of the blue all Hey there Hastings, let's go rob a train like nothing ever happened. Some of us want to move on, you know. I am done with this whole drat business and I-”
Suddenly he had a finger on my lips. “Shh,” he said. “Train's here.”
He turned and started sneaking down the slope. And I followed.
The still train heaved like a beast in labour. At the front where the engine sat steam hissed, slowly breathing out. Tsongwe slunk up to her, counting carriages.
“Six, seven... eight. This is it here.” He crouched in front of the carriage tap and unfolded the sack, settling its neck around the faucet. “Ready?”
“Ready.” I reached for the handle. As I gripped it I could feel the dust and grime on its surface, and turned. As it released I felt a rumbling, and something began to slide into the sack. It took its time, whatever it was. Even as I checked my watch I could feel something slowing us, dragging on the second hand like a dead weight.
“We're done,” he said, tying the sack and straightening up. “Let's go.”
“Wait. Aren't you going to show me what we did this for? Why you dragged me out here?”
“Once we're safe.”
“Let me see it, Tsongwe.”
“You're the crazy one. We can't just stand here.”
“Give me the sack, Tsongwe.”
“drat, Hastings, get off me!”
As I grabbed for the sack, we wobbled, lost balance and fell. It burst. The black powder within caked us in seconds, sticking to our sweat, getting in our eyes. I sat up, wiping my face with one dirty hand.
“You bastard,” I said. “Who do you know who's going to pay big money for a sack of coal dust?”
“Nobody, okay? But it's good coal, I can find a buyer, and-” he looked at me, “it was fun, right? Like the old days?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but another voice cut across me. “Hey, the hell are you?” It was then we turned and saw the silhouettes stumbling at us through the night. My fault, I guess.
“Let's go!” he shouted, and was away up the hillside: I grabbed the remains of the sack and followed him, the waves of our laughter washing across the prairie and receding into the dark.
I was working desk when I next saw Theresa. It was a warm evening, with the moisture hanging in the air, but the steady crackling of the fireplace was at least drying the place out if nothing else.
“The mystery man returns! How was your trip?”
I shrugged. “Nothing special. Some raidin' an' booty, aye.”
The beginnings of a grin crept onto her face. “Alright then, have it your way.” She crouched down beside the old fireplace, staring into the flames. “And why do you have this going? I didn't even know it still worked.”
“No reason,” I said. “Just getting rid of the evidence. Arr.”
She laughed again, and I was back in the game.
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 05:01 on Jun 2, 2014
|# ¿ Jun 2, 2014 02:04|
|# ¿ Jun 3, 2014 04:15|
I feel the need to stretch my critiquing muscles, so the first three people to ask get line-by-lines.
I'd like one. I've put a lightly edited version of the week we've just done in the Farm which could really do with a line-by-line.
|# ¿ Jun 5, 2014 13:18|
When Anna came last at the trials again, Da had to think about how to save our bacon.
It was El's fault, but you couldn't blame the kid. Even if she did coddle Anna. They went for walks along the hillside when the weather was fine, and when it wasn't the two of them would be in the barn, huddled in the straw. Often, when she was younger, I caught them them playing with alphabet bricks, making words 'together'.
But whether Anna could read or not she couldn't work sheep to save her life. Dad had pulled some favours with the organisers down in the valley, had them go easy on her: it still took ten lads to haul the flock back out of the empty sheepdip. The sniggers from the others were the worst part; the word, departing down the dales in search of a laugh.
We started home as soon as the rain eased off. Da and I trudged through the thickening mud towards the farm, El riding behind. Anna didn't mind the little saddle. Da had made it for El's last birthday, and after eight long months she had yet to get bored of it. When she'd asked what it was made of, Da had told her “leather”. She'd gone and hung Anna's loser's medal off the pommel. It was already rusting.
“We can't keep on like this, Da,” I said. “Anna's a laughing stock. She can't work sheep.”
“Don't you talk about my friend like that! She can hear you, you know.” Eleanor stroked the animal's head. “I agree, Anna, it was very rude.” She cocked her ear. “That's right. My brother is a great big jerk.”
“I'm talking to Da, El.”
“Yeah, about Anna! She's the best pig ever and you're just jealous.”
“Jealous, of a dumb animal?”
“Quiet, both of you.” When Da spoke I bit my tongue. It hurt, and I nursed it quietly.
“This has gone on long enough,” he said. “Eleanor, we need to talk about Anna.”
She frowned. “Why?”
Da crouched down beside her. “The thing is, poppet, Anna's not been doing her job very well lately. We need good work out in the pasture because that's how we put food on the table.”
Anna grunted and El patted her again. “She's doing the best she can! She just needs a little more practice, that's all.”
Da put a hand on his chin. “Practice, you say.” He turned and caught my eyes, then looked back to my little sister astride her pig. “I just so happen to know of a school where well-behaved sheeppigs who are having trouble can go and study. It's a wonderful place with open fields and lots of very patient sheep.
“What I'll do is I'll talk to the people in charge over there and ask them to take Anna on. A special case for a special pig.”
I nodded. My sister looked at Anna, who was silent. Then she looked at Da. “She's not sure,” she said. “Can she have a day to think about it?”
“Of course she can,” said Da.
The envelope at breakfast surprised me. The postman had heard about the trials and made a bunch of sympathetic noises, but when I saw the return address I stopped listening.
The Sheeppig School of Excellence
“You having a laugh, Barry?”
“Don't shoot t'messenger, lad. It's got a stamp, I've got t'deliver it. Regulations being what they are, you know. Is it true that she-”
“Yes,” I said, and closed the door.
I walked back into the kitchen. Da looked up from his toast, and I handed him the letter. Anna was there, of course, under El's chair. El used to feed her off scraps at table: Ma had put her foot down on that though and these days we just put a fourth plate out.
Da straightened up. “Well, what's this?” With a flourish he slid out the contents and frowned at them. “Hmm. Hmmmm. Very interesting.” He passed it over to El. “Anna's been accepted into that special school I told you about! This is the best news we've had all season.”
El squinted at it. I didn't know Da could draw: the letters curled across the page in deep ink. “This looks really fancy, Da, how can we afford it?”
“Well, when I told them about Anna, they said that they were so sad to hear about her problem that they'd help her for free!”
“I'm not a baby, Da, I know things cost stuff.”
“El,” I cut in. “You don't need to worry about that.”
She pushed her plate away, reached down, and scooped Anna into her arms. “She needs to read it too,” she said, and, as she held it in front of the pig, I feared Da's work was going to get eaten all up. But all Anna did was stare, and grunt again.
“It's a really special place, Anna,” said Da now. “You'd be able to catch up on what you missed at normal sheeppig school, and then you can work again one day! What do you say?”
El looked at the pig nestled against her chest. Anna looked at the child curled around her. We looked at them both as the little girl whispered, and waited to hear back.
“Anna doesn't want to go.”
Da spread his hands. “But Eleanor, if she doesn't go, how is she going to become a better sheeppig?”
“She's not going.” El's tiny hand slapped the table. “Anna doesn't want to work sheep any more. It's boring and cold and she hates it, so she's decided to retire. She'll be safer with me anyway.”
“...is she sure?”
Da looked at me again. This time his eyes were softer. He leaned back, and I think I saw why.
“Well,” I said, ”What do we do now?”
Da stood up. “We get a new one.”
“He can be Anna's friend.”
“I'm sure he will be.”
“Anna needs a new saddle. Leather this time.”
“Wait for your birthday, Eleanor” he said, and that was that.
|# ¿ Jun 8, 2014 23:26|
I will take one.
|# ¿ Jun 12, 2014 12:15|
|# ¿ Jun 18, 2014 02:19|
You Take the High Road and I'll Take the Low
Song: Love Shack
I passed the familiar sign late that evening, still hanging there below the warning for a sharp turn. I was fifteen miles from the Love Shack with a thousand behind me. I flicked up the headlights and gunned it, my ancient Chrysler chunking with the effort. We tore down through the glen, between the mountains. Maybe I still had time.
It had seemed like a good idea back then: I remember that much. You couldn't have the same parties in Edinburgh, what with the pigs bearing down on the smell of grass. Pulling onto the final one-track road, I ignored the lost, bleating, GPS and kept on going.
The track up to the Love Shack was ten miles of bare earth, with great divots carved out of it by years of vehicles more used to city streets. My car knew the drill and we pushed ourselves up the slope, the familiar clashing of gears growing louder as we ascended. It was louder this time. Too loud. Something popped in the car's guts, and we ground to a halt, engine clicking.
poo poo. Two miles to go. Need to move fast. I opened the back door and hauled out my bag and stick. Reaching under the grimoire, I pulled out my compass. It still worked. Heaving the bag over my shoulder, I started limping up the track, my stick finding purchase in the soil beneath me.
- - -
There's an old myth round these parts. When the crofters were thrown off the land with fire and steel, they fled over the sea: America, Canada, the colonies. The sheep now grazing where they once strained over thin earth had no need of their houses, their old stone crofts; they sat, derelict, dotted across the Scottish Highlands, the sharp wind tearing them down over centuries.
The former tenants, so it was said, mourned their loss amongst the swarm of dispossessed souls that was the New World. As they died exiles on foreign soil, they went to their graves hoping to find their way down to the Low Roads, and pass beneath the sea. So these things go. People believe things. I remember them.
- - -
The path finally peaked, and sloped down into a copse. I slowed as I came into it, straining my eyes in the gloom. Up in the canopy above, a Tibetan prayer flags still clung to its branch. Fluttering in the wind, the sacred entreaties written in its fabric were cast soundlessly, over and over down the empty glen.
drat fool stuff, of course. When I first came here we were still young. Didn't have a clue what we were doing. This forest, rippled in darkness, seemed older than it did then, gnarled branches reaching up to block the moonlight. It was as my dreams had shown me.
Something had indeed woken here. I could feel it on my wrinkled, prickling skin. After the party in '76 none of us had ever gone back: quietly we had laughed off our days of dabbling and doping, at best an anecdote for the more risqué sixtieth birthdays. Funky trips, man, and spooky games.
Most of us had, anyway. But it seemed I wasn't the only one who hadn't moved on. Someone had shifted the balance here.
I passed another sign:
1 mile to the Love Shack
Stay away fools
is what it should have said. I remember. But something had got to it. Mud, maybe. 1 mile to was all that remained, the rest obscured. I started running.
- - -
By the time I reached the Love Shack my knee had nearly given in. The old stone house was worse than I expected: it was amazing it still stood at all. Panting, I opened my bag and felt for the grimoire. It had gone.
I cursed, and pulled out a torch. Its dull light shone on the front wall. The garish paints we had slathered over it were cracked and faded. The old patterns we'd copied for the rituals were interrupted by mud and moss and holes where stones had fallen, the size of a man's head. That couldn't be right. If the patterns were broken, the ritual had been broken. But then what was the foreboding in my dreams, the dark stain on this place, if not what we had played with as young folks?
Whoever – whatever – had done this knew what it was doing, breaking the bind upon the place. Our children's games had no power here now. They hadn't for some time.
The earth trembled. A few more stones came loose, toppling in front of my feet. That settled it: this was something else. The grimoire would have known what, but I had to go on without. Stuff like this belonged in the dead cold earth of yesterday, and here I was. It was our Shack, after all. I couldn't just leave it like that.
- - -
I stepped inside the skeleton of the house, ducking below the low doorframe. Inside it looked like a real earthquake hit it, but given how we'd parted company with the place I couldn't be sure. I remember the makeshift seating, the half eaten sofa, the cooker I'd set up in '69: all fallen now. The window sheeting was lost, and the wind tore through the croft, stirring.
A bang, and the floor cracked. My feet shifted, and the furniture began to slide into the crack.
I drew a breath. “Fie, darkness! Away wi ye tae the pit! By the-”
The whole building shook, and I fell to my knees, my banishing broken. Dust belched out of the hole, coating the croft. For a single precious moment, the Love Shack fell still, with only the franticly gentle tinkling of peace chimes to disturb me. I remember hanging them there. I must have put them up wrong.
I take one more look at the place my younger self had helped build, just before the walls crumple in on themselves and I fall.
- - -
It's nice and peaceful down here, but it's not home, and that's what counts; I remember. I can't stay here, mustn’t. Down in the darkness, I hunt for one elusive path, the road to that old Love Shack; I'm still searching and I've got to get back.
|# ¿ Jun 23, 2014 02:00|
I, too, am in.
|# ¿ Jun 26, 2014 13:36|
The Cost of Doing Business
I was finishing up a particularly biting memo re: employee retention when that bittersweet sensation hit me. I went limp. Slumping backwards, my leather chair tilting as far as it could go, I knew that Barry was using again. I'd told him before; not during work hours. It took me a while to ride it out, head lolling back and forth, the drool drippng down my chin. The memo was forgotten. Barry was letting the team down. This wouldn't do at all.
I took a deep breath, stood, and walked out into the cube farm, slick with sweat. As soon as my foot touched the cheap fuzz carpet, my staff made themselves busy like startled deer in a faeces factory. So it was that I passed through the office, trying not to breathe it in.
It was only midday, or midday already, and the fresh air wasn't helping. The sun cut into my eyes. It sliced across my skull and I sagged again. This just wouldn't do. I turned and walked back in, coming to the nearest cubicle and its occupant huddled over a screen. “Hey, kid. You're with me.”
As soon as I spoke I felt the change, and it was delicious. Heart rate accelerating, adrenaline pumping through glands and arteries, driving right into his brain. I expected nothing less than one hundred percent from my people. Poor bastard had to choose: fight or flight.
“Of course, sir.” I knew he could deliver.
Whatever it was Barry was doing, it had to stop. I say 'whatever', like I didn't know what he was up to. Technically I didn't, because I never said it out loud. Better this way. Entrepreneur Strategy for Business Success®: maintain plausible deniability.
I made the lad stop at a store on the way, and sent him in for a bottle of water and enough painkillers to bring down a horse. Popping four of them, I laid back in the passenger seat again. I could already feel their chemical tendrils reaching down my veins, approaching their target.
“That's better,” I said. “Now we head to my house.”
“What do I pay you for, boy?”
“You, uh, you pay me to streamline our -”
“Mr. Adams,” he said, craning his neck to look at me, “are you okay?” Through my growing haze I could feel the edge of his serotonin spike: I grabbed onto it and focused.
“Perfectly. But if I fall asleep, wake me up. Drive.”
“I- Yes sir.”
Not a moment too soon, the car pulled around the final corner, into the merciful shade of the cypresses that lined my street. I stepped out and told him to wait.
As I stepped into the house, a wave of nausea crashed into me. I fell. Pushing myself back to my feet, I could feel myself shaking, my nervous system stuttering on and off in nonsense Morse. He'd taken too much, drat him. I needed to fix this before he strung us both out for good. I'd got lax with him, and look what had happened. It was time for a performance review.
I staggered to the stairs, grabbing the bannister for support. Each step was a little harder, a little heavier; by the time I reached the top I was on my hands and knees, crawling towards Barry's door. It was unlocked. The thick wood creaked at my touch, and it swung open.
Barry was in a bad way too. His matted hair was draped over his sunken face. He was lying on his side, shaking like he was possessed. On the rug beside him were the accoutrements of his trade: the needle, the spoon; the gleaming foil it had come in. Dozens of lighters littered his workspace, despite the clearly labelled Igniter Disposal Area easily within reach.
He'd done it this time. I crawled over, resting for a moment against his skeletal frame. He moaned, eyes closed. I didn't see any point in trying to wake him. With my last ounce of strength, I rolled him onto his back. “I'm sorry,” I said. “We're going to have to let you go.” I elbowed him in the stomach.
I couldn't feel it under the crippling euphoria he was still sharing with me, better than all the ones we'd had before, but I heard the spluttering, gurgling noise in the base of his throat rise, gradually, to the point where I thought it would spill from his mouth: but the sound grew lower again, falling away. With it went our connection, my investment flickering into nothing. He was a problem employee to the last.
I felt better already. I stood up and went back down the stairs. The kid was still sitting in the car where I left him, his nerves sending a shiver up my spine. I knocked on the window. He wound it down.
“Son,” I said, “I'm going to need a little help. Why don't you come inside? Cup of coffee?”
He came to attention. “I'd be honoured, sir!”
“Fantastic. I'll brew you up a lovely pot.” Together, we approached the house. A position had just opened up.
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 01:09 on Jun 30, 2014
|# ¿ Jun 30, 2014 00:55|
Alabama Eriksson is a renegade archaeologist who lost his prestigious lecturing gig after he confused two types of pottery that six people on Earth give a poo poo about. Shunned by his peers, he makes ends meet appraising idols looted from lost temples and drafting up fakes to go with them. He has really great jokes about the Neolithic that his new associates just don't get, but one day he's gonna make it back to the big leagues and this time he's gettin' tenure.
|# ¿ Jul 1, 2014 15:35|
Sadly I am going to have to bow out this week. My bad.
|# ¿ Jul 6, 2014 15:54|
I am in
|# ¿ Jul 16, 2014 23:30|
Nothing to see here, move along
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 01:30 on Nov 6, 2014
|# ¿ Jul 21, 2014 03:52|
Obliterati i have officially had enough cyberpunk did u know that but that said this is a nice tight piece, and your blues/crazy sci fi juxtaposition works nicely does it land? Not quite. But, still HM
I'll take one.
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2014 13:08|
I'd like to take you up on this very generous offer.
If anyone else feels like doling out bonus crits, consider me signed up. My turn-ons are being judged and feeling sad
I'll take these two.
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2014 15:34|
I am in.
Crit for Waffledoodle
Maybe it's just me, but even though you foreshadow the whole inflammable kid thing throughout, it's not clear what she is or what sets it off (I assume it's stress, but this connection isn't clearly made). Obviously with magical realism you need to take a soft approach to it and it's better than ramming the point down the reader's throat, but I didn't realise this involved magic at all until I saw your card. Even a one-line nod to some kind of low-level fire trick would establish early on that magic is rolling around and then you can play with the pyromania implication you planted early on: maybe a third mention of your Dr. Tam. It would also make your zombie attack seem less from left field, as they're more associated with freaky science than magic these days.
This being said, you've neatly checked off all your boxes. The story does take a while to start: you might want to add some sort of conflict before the first encounter with a zombie (something between father and daughter? Surely you can work something in there what with her mother: even the saintliest of fathers will slip sometimes in that situation). It could even make your title, which I like, even more appropriate.
You'll notice I've struck out a lot of elements here: it's not that you're violating 'show don't tell' or anything but I think you could benefit from looking to more imply or understate your subject matter in future. With a horrifying subject it's not always necessary to describe it in pulping detail (also describing things like this and keeping the right tone can be difficult). If it's implied right the reader's brain can and should do the rest, so you can dial down some of your more flowery prose. You often spend a few sentences making a point that one would manage.
I haven't forgotten about you, Helsing, but it'll be a few days.
|# ¿ Jul 25, 2014 08:53|
Oh yeah signups closed and all that.
I was a bit late signing up so maybe that's why I'm not on the list, but I'd like to be in!
|# ¿ Jul 27, 2014 10:28|
I was eight and a half when the Censor came. I remember the cart he rode up into the village on that first day: I squirmed under Father's grasping arm and caught a glimpse. It was high noon, and his vehicle gleamed gold in the sunlight. Whispering, I tried to squeeze up to the front of the silent crowd, but Father slipped a hand over my mouth.
“Hell's teeth, girl,” he hissed. “Do you want the sky to fall on us?”
That evening, filing into Temple. I saw the man standing beside old Reverend Jefferies at the pulpit. Instead of shuffling up to our usual spot, Father laid a hand on my shoulder and propelled me onto the nearest bench.
Straining my neck for a view of the front, I could only just hear Reverend Jefferies' reedy voice carry through his charm. “Brothers and sisters,” he quavered, “today our humble village has a most significant visitor. It befits us all to welcome the Most Auspicious Censor, whom I understand has been posted here, uh- directly from the Mother City. My goodness. That is to say, uh-”
I admit I stopped listening at this point. Behind all these people I couldn't make out the Most Blahblah Whatever, and other than that it was just Reverend Jefferies and the same old one word in three I understood. It was a little harder to zone out though: I guess the change in rhythm threw me off my stride.
Father sat me down as soon as we got home. “From now on, love, I need you on your best behaviour.”
“I already am on my best behaviour!” It was true. Since Father had taken charge at home he'd had me working like I was some kind of slave, and I let him. It was one slip, was all.
He sighed softly, and knelt down beside the chair. He tousled my hair. “I know you are, Jenny. But it's even more important now, okay?”
“Well, it's been a hard year, hasn't it.”
“What that means,” he said in his deep oaken voice, “is that we need to try extra hard now. No more silly tricks.”
“And for now what I need you to do is go draw some fresh water. I'll start dinner and when you get back I'll take the water up to Mother, okay?”
“Can I see her?”
“Maybe tomorrow, sweetheart. Just go on and get her that water, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. I knew he was lying.
I hated getting water. The well was at the high end of the village, so I had to walk all the way up and carry the bucket all the way back down. Father said it was better than the other way around. Maybe he was right, but I didn't care.
It was heavy; that was the nub of it. Lifting the bucket up high, I had to do a trick to keep the bucket from wobbling too much and then sort of half-fall down the street. I was going like that when the Censor stepped out a side street right in front of me.
I stopped, but the bucket didn't. It twisted in the air, and the water shot forward like it had a death wish. There was a splash, and a splutter. I closed my eyes and waited to be exploded.
“Child, you can open your eyes.”
I kept them closed. It seemed safer.
“It's just water, child, you didn't raise the dead. Don't look so frightened. Open your eyes!”
I did. The Censor was smaller than I expected: he wasn't much taller than me. That said, his robe, even caked to his form and dripping wet, billowed out sideways. I could see why he had the cart.
“Well,” he said, “I suppose I should tell you to be more careful.” He turned to me. “However, little one, I could forgive you for some assistance. I am, you see,” his mouth curled slightly, “lost.” He pulled a piece of paper from his robes and shook the water off it. Then he thrust it in front of me. “Can you please show me where we are?”
I knew about letters and stuff but it wasn't like any paper I'd seen before. It had pictures: lines, dots, and tiny words beside them. “S-sorry, your Most Aerial Sender- Censor, sir, but I don't know what this is.”
He looked at me funny then, and I thought he'd decided to curse me after all. “It's a map,” he said, slowly. “Have you not encountered this in school?”
“I'm in the fields this year, sir.”
“Hmm. And how old are you?”
“Almost nine,” I said.
“Well,” he said again. “That won't do. You must come meet me at the Temple, this time tomorrow, and we can try and fix that.”
I couldn't say no. Mother would be livid if I was rude to the government.
He was waiting for me in a rear pew. I'd never been inside outside of normal Temple days. He had relit the candles, but their flickering shadows brought no real light in. He beckoned to me, and I perched on the edge of the bench.
“We need to talk about your abilities,” he said.
He turned to face me along the long planks of wood. “How long have you known?”
“I don't understand.”
“It starts the same for everyone. Little charms you figure out, ways to make things... behave.” He looked at me. “Like whatever you did with that bucket.”
I cast my eyes down. “If I did something, why did you get wet?”
“Because you're not very good.”
“Am so!” I gasped and covered my mouth.
He laughed, low and throaty. “You will learn. Mother City will take you, and maybe one day you'll be an Censor like me, or even Grand Master of the City!”
“Father says I mustn't go.”
He paused at that. “Mother needs gifted children. So is the law. If he has hidden you, he can be forgiven, but you must come now. Enough time has been wasted.”
“I can't leave Mother.”
“Ah, she's one of the afflicted?”
“It started two weeks ago. It-”
“I know. It was the water.”
“I had to purify it last night. Not an easy trick. Something had gotten in. Something bad.”
“Have no fear, child. I still need to make my final rounds, but dirty water is a problem easily solved with the gift. When I come to see your mother, your parents and I can talk about getting you caught up.
“Don't worry,” he said, smiling. “You get to come home for the holidays.”
|# ¿ Jul 28, 2014 00:22|
Are there any more crits coming in for the week before last?
Whoa, so there is! Here you are, sorry about that:
In retrospect I should have done something about drug dealing angels or old cyberpunk men drinking whisky in outer space. Oh well.
Well. Obviously your MRA character is supposed to be a massive dick, but short of giving him a fedora he couldn't be more of a stereotype (although at least it's a relatively fresh one). He comes close to being human in the childhood scene and he needs more of this grey shading to round him out as a character: plus, why is Alex hanging out with him if all the guy talks about is hating women? Both of these characters need to have more motivations for their behaviour (or get laid).
Basically either Alex needs to have an internal conflict about whether to stand up to him, which he clearly does in your head given his final actions, or the two of them need to conflict: it doesn't have to be a public debate on the issues or anything, but what, say, would happen if Alex brought a girlfriend out with them one time? A lot of this story is Greg pontificating, and the middle needs more kick than this. You could easily drop one or even two of the three rants I marked, for example.
(it's not even the specific crazy politics: if you'd replaced Greg with a Dark Enlightenment nutcase reading him talk politics would still not be a good story: the good story here is in the conflict, but it's not realised)
Originally I was going to complain about your ending but I eventually noticed you'd set this up pretty clearly at the start: I think you could do with one more line at the end but it's still neat. It'd be better if we could see a progression in your main character's responses to this sort of stuff Greg is saying because his transition from spineless kid to whistleblower is very abrupt even though we know it's coming. Why is he taking a stand now – simply because this is too far or because he doesn't approve of the politics underneath it? Either could work but you have to pick one and make it clearer.
All in all, whilst I like the broad shape of the story a rewrite would make a world of a difference here: I recently took a TD entry to the Farm to get more crits, which were great, and I think you'd benefit from doing the same and seeing how many of these points crop up from other folks.
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2014 23:52|
I'm in with Week 3: Check Your Cis Privilege in Swaziland. As required by the prompt I specify my cultural group as Glasgow Irish.
|# ¿ Jul 30, 2014 09:52|
(max word count: 1500)
I'm in with Week 3: Check Your Cis Privilege in Swaziland. As required by the prompt I specify my cultural group as Glasgow Irish.
My Aide chirped in my ear. “The time is four thirty. Scheduled reminders follow: Ramadan begins at dawn today. Khalid will be joining you for the suhoor. Today is the tenth anniversary of the martyr Mohammad al-Faisi -“
“Be silent, machine,” I said, and sat up. Dragging myself across the empty bed, I reached my wheelchair, which creaked as I sank into it. Stretching, I grasped the wheels and pulled through to the kitchen. Raeya and the children were already there; pots bubbling, flatbreads baking on the grill.
I took my place at table before anyone could try and help me. “Is Khalid coming to eat with us?”
“Brother dearest? He is coming, mother, but he is always late; you know that. He is less use than a mule in heat.”
Twenty years ago, I would have struck her for such language. But that was then and this is now: all I could do was lift an eyebrow. “Did we raise you to speak so, girl?”
“You raised me to tell no lies, Mother.”
I would have laughed if it did not hurt so. “That is not even true, child. Don’t you remember the time your father and I-“
The door opened, and Khalid stepped through. Tall, just like his father. The moustache he was growing was scraggly now, but I knew that it would one day be thick indeed. “I’m sorry to be so late, habibti,” he said, taking his seat. “The checkpoints out of town, they-“
I waved a hand. “It is no matter,” I said. “Once we have eaten for the day, I will have need of you.” The poor boy had lost his job at the power plant after the airstrikes. He needed direction.
“How so, mother?”
I took a breath and willed myself to focus. “My son, today we discover how your father was taken from me.”
He sighed. “Inshallah,” he said. If God wills it.
Raeya cut in. “Mother!”
I turned to her, and my steady gaze forced her silence. “Raeya, dear, I think the children require some air.”
She glared back at me in that way all daughters do to their mothers, one day: these ones are mine, it said. “Khalid, talk some sense into her. For your nephews’ sake.” With that, she scooped her arms around my beautiful grandchildren and steered them out into the pitch black of the Ramallah night.
The servees pulled into the taxi rank, and the other passengers began filing out. “Why are we here, Khalid?”
He gripped my arm, helping me into my chair. “You know, mother. We are here to speak to your old commander, like you asked.”
“Well done.” I grinned. “Just testing.” I reached for the Aide, nestled behind my right ear. “My commander,” I subvocalised.
“Mustafa al-Akari. Commander (retired, twenty nineteen), Third al-Quds Brigade. Known associates: Moh-” I switched it off. It was enough.
Ramallah is no good for wheelchairs. It is a shattered, crumbling city desperately trying to be New York. When I was younger the streets were smoother, and the rubbish heaped upon them did not loom over me as it does now.
Al-Akari lived over a falafel cafe on a side street. As we approached, the oncoming breeze carried the familiar sound of wailing to my tired ears. “See,” Khalid said, halting the chair. “There is no point, mother.”
“drat you.” I took the wheels in my hands. “We continue. We are already here.” I began to make my own way, but my son’s hands took mine gently, lifting them onto the armrests.
“Save your strength,” he said. “I will push.”
I remember Mustafa like it was yesterday, and his dreams like today. His mind was always on the grand futures of our victory: the Haram restored; the return of our lost brothers; peace in all the land; “a day will come,” he said to me once in a foxhole, “when our children will be able to forget.” I never had the heart to tell him how well they remember.
As we came to the door, the men on guard tossed their cigarettes and reached for their guns. “State your business.”
Before I could open my mouth, Khalid had stepped in front of me. “Don’t you recognise this woman? This is Jenina al-Faisi. Show some respect!”
They looked at me askance, but they lowered their rifles. “A thousand apologies, noble lady,” said one, “but we must still ask your business.”
“I am here to see... the Commander.”
“The illustrious al-Akari?”
“I am pleased to see you know his name,” I said. “Now let me by. I must speak with him.”
“He is dead.”
I turned to Khalid. “Now do you see?” I looked back at the guards. “How?”
“He was walking in the hills alone. We think it was a sniper from Ma’ale Adummin, but we have no witnesses. Will you be entering to pay your respects?”
“He already has them,” I said. “I must investigate further whilst the trail is fresh.”
Khalid passed me the phone. “Raeya wants to talk to you.”
I held it up to my ear. “What is it, child? We are at the market if you need-“
“Don’t play games with me, mother. You are not going to the settlement! Are you trying to kill yourself?”
“Your father is dead. The man who led your father and I has just been assassinated. It cannot be ignored.”
“And Khalid? You would put him in danger too? Mother, this is insanity.”
“You dare to talk to your mother like this? I was fighting Zionists before you were a twinkle in my eye.”
“And did you do so by walking up to snipers? Please, put Khalid back on.”
I did, although my son had little to say. She is more like me than she knows.
“Why have you brought me up here?” The wind whipped at my dress. The graveyard hill overlooks Ramallah still, and in the crumpling heat of the afternoon it offered no shade other than the stones.
“I- I have solved the mystery, mother.”
“Nonsense! We still have not considered the settlers. How can we solve your father’s murder if-”
“That won’t be necessary.” We passed through the oldest part of the necropolis, stones dissolving into sand, names illegible. “You need to see this.” We stopped in front of another stone: judging from its condition, a recent addition. Someone had placed sunflowers, wilted in the heat. “Look,” he said.
“This stone does not concern us, son. Why intrude on another’s grief?”
“Mother,” he said, and something made me turn to look at him. His eyes were watering. “Just look at it.”
I looked for him.
MOHAMMAD AL-FAISI, 1962-2019
THIRD AL-AQSA BRIGADE
FELL IN DEFENCE OF SHEIKH ZAYED HOSPITAL
MARTYR OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
At the sight of the name, my Aide woke up. “Image relevant,” it said. “Recording.” I reached up silently and switched it off. I sat back in my chair and stared at my husband’s grave. The fool. That glorious fool.
“But if this was so long ago... what about the Commander?”
My son shrugged. “People get killed,” he said. “You taught me that when I was small.”
And then dusk was falling, as Khalid wheeled me back into my house. Raeya was once again at the stove, the evening meal prepared. The children ran through the house, screaming happily as only the carefree can do. They will learn.
As I took my place at the table, Raeya slid a plate in front of me. “Did you find what you were looking for, mother?”
“For now,” I said, placing the market vegetables on the table, “but some day I must learn the fate of your father, before I join him. He was taken away from me.”
I started. “I know, dear,” I said. “Just testing you.”
|# ¿ Aug 4, 2014 05:20|
I, too, am in.
|# ¿ Aug 6, 2014 13:51|
With apologies to Will Cuppy.
476AD: Too Many Romes Spoil the Plot
Rome’s final emperor, Romulus Augustus, was optimistically named. All laws of dramatic narrative would require that a man named for both Rome’s legendary founder and its first emperor would exude grand characteristics. Instead the beleaguered empire got a half-German fifteen-year-old. Sadly Roman law made no provision for misrepresentation.1
A bigger problem than the new child emperor was that Rome had already fallen a whole bunch, and the city was regularly sacked by barbarians, disaffected generals and other assorted Romans. Rome, of course, styled itself as the heart of civilisation: but, much to their chagrin, the barbarians who had colonised the Empire proved themselves equally capable, having a strong grasp of both death and taxes. The empire’s civilising mission could thus be judged a resounding success.
Unfortunately this vindication of imperial policy was little help to the teenager cloistered in Ravenna. Known to the mob as Augustulus (Latin: baby emperor), he was something of an atypical monarch. His father Orestes had violently deposed Julius Nepos 2 in late 475. Formerly a diplomat in the service of Attila the Hun, Orestes knew intimately the corridors of power; thus he placed his son on the throne so that he himself could continue to walk up and down them whilst talking very quickly.
Orestes was a German, like most Romans of the period, and it was with the backing of assorted German fighters that he won his son’s throne.3 To buy their support for his half-German, half-Roman issue, Orestes turned to the tradition of offering land for service, which was how we got into this mess in the first place. Unfortunately, all the lands of Rome were already owned by Germans; they were just the wrong ones. This sparked an immediate revolt, led by one of the short-changed soldiers; Flavius Odoacer.4
Little is known of how the boy emperor passed his time during the war. The landscaped gardens of Ravenna were renowned for their beauty, and it is likely that Augustulus, with little in the way of ruling to do, would have received the news of his father’s death here; he and his brother were slain in battle in early 476. This single event of Rome’s ‘fall’ would reverberate down the centuries and people would take surprisingly long to get over it.
This moment is traditionally styled as the fall of Rome, excepting the survival of the city itself, the existence of the Eastern Roman Empire, that Odoacer styled himself as Roman Emperor and the fact that nobody writing at the time considered it any different than the last ten to fifteen military coups. In the coming century, Odoacer and his German successors, who were Roman soldiers, would struggle to hold their Kingdom of Italy, part of the Roman Empire, together 5 whilst the Greeks, who were also Romans, made preparations to conquer new lands, such as Rome.
As for Augustulus? Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire reports that Odoacer spared him “on account of his youth”, and pensioned him off. And they say it’s tough being young. It was better than Odoacer would receive when the next German came calling.
1 – Immigration policy could have also used some fine tuning.
2 – Julius Nepos survived, and fled to rule Dalmatia. Alongside Augustulus in Ravenna and Zeno in Constantinople, this continued the time-honoured tradition of Romans not ruling in Rome. This does not include the people of Rome, who occasionally ruled Rome, when the (Roman Catholic) Pope did not. I am sorry to say that it only gets worse.
3 – In Latin these violent, amoral mercenaries were called foederati, from which we derive the modern word ‘Federal’.
4 - Odoacer was a Goth, which was a type of German. Historically Germans made for the best Romans other than the common or garden variety. He rose to prominence fighting the Franks, who were the Germans who became French.
5 – Not to be left out, later on we shall see still more Germans help out by forming the Holy Roman Empire, which was famously neither holy, Roman, or an empire.
|# ¿ Aug 11, 2014 01:23|
|# ¿ Aug 13, 2014 13:35|
Ain't No Devil Can Bring He Down
The city lay before them. Strange how a single star can steal the eye, and change the shape of the night. “Itsh me,” said the voice in the boot of my car. “I'm the shtar.”
My reverie broke. “Zip it, Dizzy,” I said, and gunned it. “We ain't got time.” Forty: now fifty. The lights of the silent highway flitted, strobe, across my battered Cadillac, yellow and black in the sodium glare. Sixty, and the city stretched like a cat across the field of stars.
“Can I get some whiskey?”
“Hell, no.” I drifted onto the shoulder to shake him up a little. The catseyes hammered the wheels, the old clunker thumping. There was a thud, and a gunshot bang.
“I'm gonna be sick-”
“drat!” I shifted my left foot, and hit the brake. Slowing, we bumped to a stop beneath an old road sign; Now Entering. I didn't trust it. Signs just tell you what you wanna hear. I opened my door, slipped the key from the ignition, and walked back to the boot. “I'll let you out,” I said, “if you promise to be cool.”
“Dizzy, you hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you. I'll be cool. Ain't 'nough room in here, not for me and Michelle both.”
“Alright, man. Car's busted anyhow.” I opened the boot, and Dizzy rolled out. I wrinkled my nose. He was still in his suit from the night before; the jacket was torn, his cuffs still rumpled from stale booze.
He passed me the sax. “Hold onto her a minute,” he said. He shed the jacket and tossed it behind him. “Busted?”
“Busted. We're walking.”
“Any whiskey left?”
I looked him up and down. “What do you think, man? Shake it off and let's move. We got a gig.” I turned and started walking towards the city lights, my feet drumming a beat on the side of the road. Dizzy followed, our steps syncopating just right.
The city sat before them, and sha-dee-ba-bow was it something.
They pattered along in the growing gloom. A crossroads lay ahead-
“We ain't gonna make it.”
“Sure we are, Dizzy. We're gonna knock 'em out.”
He stroked Michelle, his right hand gripping the gaps between the keys. Her sheen caught the little light that remained. “It's too far.”
“You gotta have more faith in yourself, buddy,” I said. “You ain't so slow.”
“I'm useless. I can't even-” Something rustled up in the verge ahead.
“Shh,” I said, and dropped into a crouch. We held there a moment.
A voice came out of the darkness. “Well well, what're two homeboys doing skulking around on a night like this? You wearing camouflage or what?” There was a snort, coulda been a laugh. “You guys come out where I can see you. Nice and slow, now.” There was a chk-chk.
I turned to Dizzy. “Be cool,” I whispered, and stood up. “Hey man, we ain't here to make no trouble. Our car broke down, is all. Can't we be civil, now?”
The spark of a lighter revealed the source of the voice about ten feet ahead. The old man laughed through smoke. “Civil? You boys're on my property.”
I looked around. “Who says you own the crossroads, brother?”
He stepped closer, and the shotgun emerged from the dark along with him. He waved it. “This says I do.”
Dizzy twitched. “poo poo.”
“Easy.” I turned to the old guy. “We're just passing through, man. We got music to play up in the city. You let us on by and we won't give you no hassle-”
“Music, huh? You boys ain't no musicians.”
I sighed. “How about we show you, sir? Play you a tune for passage, huh?”
The old man sat down on a rock, shotgun cradled across his lap. “Don't try no funny business,” he said. He reached down, and the tch of a opening can settled the deal.
Dizzy was already staring at the drink. I leaned over. “You know how I said not to get crazy?”
“I said I'm cool, didn't I?”
“I know, man, but let's get crazy,” I said, and tapped him up a beat.
Even hungover, Dizzy didn't need no cue from me. Michelle began to play, and I lifted my voice to match hers. “A-bida-dee ba-bow, a-bida-”
“What the hell you saying there?” The old man rose and came closer. “That ain't no language I know.”
“It's the one I'm singing in, buddy,” I said. “Maybe you want the saxophone in English too?”
“I wouldn't use that tone, boy.”
“Only one I got. Hit it, Dizzy!”
Dizzy launched into a drat fine riff, piercing the darkness like the Devil in heat. He went faster, faster; my tapping foot forced into half-time. Hell.
“That's some funny music you got there,” the old man said, right up in my face. “You've had your fun – now get, before I make wind instruments outta the pair of ya.”
“We ain't finished,” I said. “Dizzy, hit it, man!”
The old man raised the shotgun, but before that bang came he got a thud, as Michelle caught him in the back of the head. He fell in the dust at my feet.
I bent down, and picked up the gun. “Bee-ba-dee bap bow,” I said, turning away, “bee-ba-dee bam boom.”
We tossed the gun a few miles down the road, along with the empty can. Below the horizon, the sun was sneaking up on the sky.
“We didn't make it,” Dizzy said. “I told you I ain't no good.”
“You did just fine, man.”
He cradled Michelle under his arm, brushing the metal tenderly. “This dent won't ever come out neither.”
“Maybe you should play piano next time.”
He laughed, and the rich, sober sound was as good as a tune.
“Come on,” I said. “Let's go find ourselves a gig.”
The sun rose on a new day, just like any other. It was done. Not well, but close enough.
|# ¿ Aug 17, 2014 22:43|
Can anyone recommend good examples of Southern Gothic? I'm not too familiar with the style and I'm in a library anyhow.
|# ¿ Aug 19, 2014 15:05|
The Rivers Still Run
Grandma was bouncing the boy on her knee, a little harder than usual. Her chair rocked back and forward in time with his rolling laughter. Dusk was stealing into the house, and the rain fell through the dwindling sunlight, tapping on the roof, probing for gaps. The Devil was beating his wife that evening.
“So what do we do when we meet a kelpie, Junior?”
The little boy scrunched his ruddy cheeks and giggled. “We run away, Grandma! We don't listen to its imm-prih-cay-shuns.”
She pinched him gently and he squealed. “'tis no joke, child. Why do we run?”
“Easy,” said Billy Junior. “Because it'll take you down with it.”
The door opened. Father came in, the mud caked to his pants and his face lined with the strains of the day. “Are you filling the boy's head with devils again, Momma? The preacher tole you to cut that out.”
Grandma pushed the boy gently. “Off and play. Don't you forget, now.”
“I won't, Grandma! Can I hear more?”
Father cut in. “No more, for God's sake. To bed, son.”
Junior's face fell like a bag of bricks. He pushed himself off Grandma's lap and stood up as tall as he could. “But I wanna know about kelpies and that stuff! I love those old stories.”
“You already heard too much of this superstition, boy. To bed! Now!” Father moved towards him, sending Junior scurrying away up the steps. As the creaking sounds receded up the staircase, Father took his chair before the crackling fireplace. “Why you gotta ruin him with all that old country nonsense?”
“I'm telling him what my granny tole me, son. Boy has to know.”
“Know what? Don't tell the boy about devils he ain't ever gonna meet. You're just scaring him.”
“Good. He should be scared.”
Father snatched up the paper on the table. “Plenty to be afraid of here already. Real problem round these parts, your drat horse spirits?” He snorted. “You've lived here all your life: how many you seen, huh?”
“Ask your father. He met one.”
“Oh hell, Momma. You're losin' your memory, you know that ain't right. Pappa drowned. They found him face down under the jetty.”
“That's what I just tole you,” she said.
When Sunday came around, Father told them about a change of plan.
“There's a new preacher out of town,” he said. His head was buried in the hood of the car, and his words came out muffled, echoing through the engine. “Maybe this one can put an end to all this devil talk.”
Grandma put an arm around the boy and pulled him to her side, leaning on her stick for support. “You said that about the last two, son. There ain't no devils in the boy. What're you going and doing this for?”
Father pulled himself upright. “I think he can help you too, Momma. You gotta let go of all that.”
“I never thought I'd raise such an ungrateful boy. Maybe I'll just stay put.”
He opened the door and pushed the seat forward. “You do as you please, Momma, but the boy comes with me. Junior! In!” Father beckoned with an outstretched arm, and the boy squirmed out of Grandma's grip. He cantered to the car and folded himself into the back. Father pushed the seat back and turned to Grandma. He didn't speak.
“Perhaps,” said Grandma, “I will come after all. I should see this man of God who thinks he can handle the kelpies.” She shuffled over to the passenger seat, but before she could open the door her son was there. He laid a hand on her shoulder.
He opened her door. “Thank you, Momma,” he said. “I promise it'll be okay.”
“No-one can make such promises. Now let's be away and hear your drat preacher.”
“Momma!” The car rolled out of the drive and along the dirt track to the main road. Junior sat quietly and read comics like always.
By the time they arrived, the preacher was already in full swing, his voice cracking with cries and imprecations. He looked younger than he sounded, his lineless face scanning the wrinkled and bent congregation like they might bolt. His fine pants were soaked in the water of the river, its eddies flowing around him like he wasn't there, but he paid them no heed.
“What are we but sinners? Wrecks, unmanned in the storms of the Almighty. Who amongst ye has sinned?” He smiled, teeth gleaming in the afternoon sun. “Come forward, and find redemption in His waters!”
Father stepped forward, an arm firmly on Junior. “Reverend, I beg your counsel for my son. He has listened to too many tales of spirits and devils, and I-.”
“Devils? What are these devils?”
“He's been told of the spirits of the old country. Of the-” he paused, “the kelpies, spirits who can take the form of man!”
A murmur swept through the crowd, and was extinguished with a wave of the preacher's hand. He paused for a moment, and nothing was heard but the rippling flow of the river. The assembled farmers waited on his word. He drew breath. “There is no such thing as a kelpie,” he said. “Such tales are blasphemy.”
“Like hell, preacher!”
They all lurched towards the sound. Grandma had her stick in front of her like a spear, stabbing her way through the throng. She was moving faster now, each step a little further than the last, building up speed. “One took my Jack at this here river! Don't you deny it.”
The preacher grinned again and shifted his weight, pawing at the riverbed for balance. “Are you sure it wasn't a grumpkin, ma'am? Maybe an Indian ghost?” He made a face, and his flock laughed cold and sharp. “Tell me true: did you see this beast?”
“Let me tell you about devils, woman. The legions of Hell are numberless, their plans a myriad, rising from the Pit. To lure you into temptation, idolatry, and paganism!” His nostrils flared like tent folds. “You, boy, you must not be lured into such filth! Kelpies, hah! Christ the Redeemer hath, in his sacrifice, banished all monsters from the face of the Earth. There is only the Enemy.” He spun in the ankle deep water, churning foam as he cast eyes over them all. “All your souls are imperilled by this heathen. Give me the boy, and I shall bring him to the light.”
Father turned to Grandma. The eyes of the multitude lay upon them like a weight. He reached out. “Momma, you should listen to the man. He can help us, help you-”
“Cold iron! Ain't no man of God denies that evil walks the earth.” Grandma brandished the stick. “We are leaving. Take me home, sonny, afore I do something I regret. That man ain't laying one hand on my grandson.”
A hush of whispers spread through the crowd as Grandma covered the last few steps to Father and Junior. With an effort, she crouched down before the boy. “Don't you listen to that fool man, sweetheart. He don't know nothing about kelpies.”
Junior looked back at her. His bloodless face shivered, and he looked at his feet. “'salright, Grandma,” he said. “I know they's just stories.”
“William Junior, don't you talk like that-”
Father laid a hand on her shaking shoulder. “You know I love you, Momma.”
“I know, son. Take us away from here. For the boy's sake.”
The preacher glared up at them, eyes afire. “Then flee, sinner! Go where you will, but I shall be right here!” He turned to the herd. “Away with you all. You shame yourselves by permitting this outrage.”
Grandma tugged the boy's shirt. “Come, Junior.” He stood there another moment, but she yanked him again, harder than usual, and he came. The three of them turned, and walked together up the bank and away from the river.
“The child,” the preacher said to their retreating backs, “is welcome here whenever he wishes Salvation. If he is not saved he shall meet devils, in time.”
Away from the bank, the preacher and his river were hidden behind the rising hill. They walked back to the car in silence ahead of the rest of the congregation, Father glaring at Grandma all the while. When they got to the car, he leant on it rather than open the door. “The shame of it,” he said. “Cussing out a preacher like that! I put up with a lot, Momma, but you're letting yourself go real bad. Just because Pappa got drunk and-”
“Don't you dare, boy!” She rapped him with the stick and he cursed. “Your pappa weren't no drinker. If he could hear this slander, he'd rise from his grave and strike you hisself!”
“Don't be a fool, Momma! The whole drat town knew he-” Grandma grabbed his hand as fiercely as a vice and he stopped mid-flow. “Wait,” she said, “where's Junior?” They turned back behind them.
No sign of the boy. No third set of footprints. Father looked at her, and her eyes said it all. He broke into a jog, then a run: he galloped back across the field towards the riverbank, accelerating.
An animal sound rose on the afternoon heat. No-one else would swear to it later, but Grandma heard it just fine.
|# ¿ Aug 25, 2014 03:20|
|# ¿ Aug 26, 2014 01:14|
I am terrible and also lame so I won't be submitting this week.
|# ¿ Aug 31, 2014 04:32|
I am in.
|# ¿ Sep 30, 2014 19:58|
e: Hang on, why do I only notice the typos now
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 23:04 on Oct 5, 2014
|# ¿ Oct 5, 2014 22:59|
Nothing to see here, move along
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 01:30 on Nov 6, 2014
|# ¿ Oct 5, 2014 23:03|
So I am listing these in the order they came in, guess-free because I have no appreciation of style. I considered putting them in quality order but the middle dissolved into indistinguishable mulch so
The Pilgrims and the Great Pumpkin
You spend a lot of time tripping over this flowery language and it drives me up the wall. Also goddamnit not one of those First Nations you mention was anywhere NEAR initial settlement of the Americas, my internal archaeologist is livid right now
you could at least have mentioned the Powhatan
Why should I care about this guy and his boyfriend? Whistleblowing as a concept is about governments doing something immoral that it is really goddamn important for the people to know about but here we just have a torture scene. Might work as part of a longer piece, but that would be contingent on the background being something we care about.
WELCOME TO THE TRUCK ZONE, WHY DON'T YOU STAY A WHILE
This story is too long for how little actually happens. Cut a lot of this 'how society runs in the apocalypse' infodumping and replace the rest with some conflict. A lot of stuff happens but there just isn't any tension: I get you're trying to add some with the 'starvation' angle but all we have there is your narrator saying 'people are hungry, that's bad' occasionally. It would be tense if fights were breaking out over food and poo poo. Basically this reads like a sociology paper that has zombies in it for some reason?
So why are two random guys trying to steal a fertiliser recipe, is it because it makes pumpkins grow to the size of men? The action is jerky and I never get a good read on Hannah. We all had conflicting versions of how this concluded and none of them made any sense to me but I personally favour 'his wife left him because he loving killed a guy over fertiliser'.
A Curious Thing
I didn't like how this started but it won me over with the ending, even if said ending was a little too early (more words please). It annoys me that apropos of nothing there is a time machine and some kid has it but structurally this is tight so I will deal. A couple earlier lines with the mother would help make the tie-up a little less left-field. Just takes an HM.
The Balad of Igor Shishkin
If cutting up the action with incomprehensible songs didn't work for Tolkien it's not going to work for you. What are they doing for you given that your readers don't speak Russian? It's just noise. The best bit of this (and when it sounds most Soviet) is the line about alien underclasses, but the rest of it reads like a guy who's looked up Russia on Wikipedia. Read Solzhenitsyn or someone from that era and you'll see that there's more a certain feel to it than the author saying “by the way we are in SOVIET RUSSIA” repeatedly.
This is okay writing but despite Adam and Eve building the Tower of Babel nothing really happens. A titan apparently goes apeshit at some point but we see none of this or any clear reason it's mentioned. I don't really know what to make of it. There's a narrative here but not much of a story. Odd names and ripping off the Bible do not a good read make.
Wooo, baleful! Seriously though this reads like an afterlife PSA. 'Hey, I bet you have questions about death! Let's take a virtual tour! Do you know someone with whom you could share what you've learned today?'
I'm not really sure what's going on here. I'm reading it as a researcher waking up an AI through some kind of psychodrama but it just comes across as weird and the 'wakeup' scene is kinda abrupt. It's a good idea but the execution falls flat. The gore's especially uncalled-for seeing as we're working with an AI here, though the basic idea of an AI needing to 'carve a face' isn't bad in itself.
The Pirate's Assistant
Your ending comes out of nowhere and it's annoying to realise the whole story is a setup for grimdark babykilling, especially as nothing else happens.
A Mother's Worst Fear
Wow. Crabrock covered the bases but I would like to add that when your main character has no positive traits whatsoever I don't want to read about them. This is like a handwritten pamphlet from Fathers 4 Justice. Also your landlord's fedora is missing, or is hidden under his unrealistic white plate armour.
it is a whiteknighting joke
So this is sickly sweet but I don't mind. Having read the last eleven of these I kept expecting something terrible to happen and you averted that (thank you), so what we have is a nice little coming-of-age story. This works.
The Incident in Question
I like how this is ridiculous and played mostly straight. Sadly there isn't much else in it than a funny idea and a few hammed-up lines.
So as these were coming in I made a little table where I placed them in their rough ballpark and added these notes to go with them and yours was the only one still blank by the time it came to judgechat. I am writing this right now as I paste the words into a fresh document. I have no idea what is going on here.
A Single Wish
This is very middle of the road. Why the gently caress does the prince have to cut her toe off? There was a lot of gore shoved where it doesn't belong this week but this is the worst example. You did however dodge the fanfic label as breaking down faerie stories is at least one step above Goku vs. Superman and reworked there could have been an HM in here. The strange thing was that you kept bits of the Cinderella story that didn't seem to make sense in this context (why is she treated like poo poo if her stepmother cares about her? Is it to do with her being incredibly shy/possibly a mute?) and changed bits that did (like the slipper not being glass).
I was actually a little touched by this story. The dad's a deadbeat, sure, but you surprise me when it seems like he's at least trying. A lot of people this week wrote stuff that was really about pumpkins but here you managed to skip past that and write a story about feelings and emotions and stuff. I pushed this for the win, but couldn't quite pull it off. I might be reading more into it than the others but I felt that there were a lot of nice touches hidden underneath a bunch of shirtless men pounding each other.
The retard stuff is tasteless. It's not that tasteless is bad but you have to put more into it than 'this clearly unlikable guy uses the word a lot, also the dumb guy plays along'. It kills good will pretty fast. Also your ending makes no sense – did they already have goop in there or are they covering their asses or what? The whole story is about how this will make it taste terrible and there's no prior hints that this is wrong. I shouldn't be rooting for bad things to happen to these people though I suppose I got what I wanted there.
If at First...
So your protagonist has a conversation with the preppy kids and they turn her life around. This seems to be it? I remember these 'busy' kids at university and I do not recall looking to them for lifestyle advice but then again I just read all these stories so maybe I should have.
I will also do three line-by-lines for the first responders.
ALSO ALSO, I am in.
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 23:45 on Nov 3, 2014
|# ¿ Nov 3, 2014 23:42|
Don't worry about it. I've had brain errors when it comes to sending email and stuff before, so it's not exactly the biggest surprise for me.
Many thanks, I'm interested in a line-by-line crit. I guess now is the time for us to reveal which story we wrote?
Two of three.
|# ¿ Nov 4, 2014 12:42|
CRIT FOR KURONA_BRIGHT
Claire glared at the disfigured pumpkin in front of her. Over an hour's work, and the only thing she had achieved was frustration. The holes she'd carved in the jack-o'-lantern were too large, the curves misshapen, and the supposedly-sharp corners messy, mistakes that all added up to the state of the image it sported – a slightly squashed ghost with an expression more tragic than dastardly This sentence is too long and it trips over itself. Maybe find a way to split it in half.
You do a lot of 'reporting' conversations rather than letting them happen (I have marked these with *). Don't do this:dialogue is one of the key methods of establishing character, and what they talked about is less important than what they actually said and how they said it, if you get my drift. Telling the audience what happened without them seeing it hasn't worked since Ancient Greek drama. If you can't find a way to introduce this information organically then you'll have to do without. To boot, the conversation we do have is mostly noise that doesn't add to the 'story' in this. Show, don't tell.
The basic idea is cute – girl learns to stop playing video games, have a life – but it's simply not enough to hang a story on by itself. Cutting out a lot of the fat and replacing it with a tight scene of her actually struggling with piano before the conversation would do this some good. It still needs more than that though and you'll have to decide that for yourself.
Ray Bradbury short stories. He's a master of saying a lot with very little, and not very explicitly.
|# ¿ Nov 6, 2014 21:27|
CRIT FOR YOUR SLEDGEHAMMER
A great gout of vomit came cascading out of Harry’s mouth, and you could almost smell the Totino’s pizza rolls he’d
I said it before but flinging 'retard' around like this does you no favours. It's not even confined to your protag's voice which might have let you get away with it. Your main character is really unlikeable, and not in the cool edgy anti-hero way. Also 'retard' is not a carte blanche to have your character do stupid things for no reason. Maybe it's just part of how you've got your narrator voice using profanities itself, which as GP said in his crit for ceaselessfuture on the previous page makes more sense in a first person narration.
You've tried to write a buddy caper story where despite their best laid plans everything goes wrong. This really only works if the reader likes both characters and is thus invested in their success: it's extremely difficult to write a gripping story from the perspective of a character with no positive features or even any shades of gray. This is why the comics are about the superhero and not the supervillain: even utter arseholes like John Constantine have moral complexities and some principles.
On the plus side, the basic shape of this story isn't bad at all: it's all in the execution of a form that is particularly dependent on good characterisation. Why does Harry follow him so slavishly? Does he share a hatred of this guy? What is these two characters' bond? If you want to keep Doug as a soulless bastard, rewriting from Harry's perspective might be better.
Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck. You may well have already read this but the secondary protag actually is severely mentally disabled: it's not conveyed through everyone calling him a retard and him doing inexplicable things. Though off the top of my head the term or something like it is used: it's just not flung around scattershot like this, and it's not played for laughs. It's done the opposite way, and the character is portrayed sympathetically. It's no obstacle to having a 'complex' character with depth and personality traits.
e: also, what crabrock said
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 16:17 on Nov 7, 2014
|# ¿ Nov 7, 2014 16:05|
Full of Hot Air
By the time I reached the Garden Dome it was already over. Albert had gotten there ahead of me, drat him, already kneeling beneath a tree. “Bomb,” he said. “Good thing I was here.”
“Like hell,” I said, brushing past the foliage. Five jobs in a row he'd beaten me. Years of fat commissions he'd swiped from me. Plenty more shifts in the mines he’d forced on me. He wouldn't let ends meet.
“That's no attitude to have.” Albert was a bastard. The Authority’s golden boy. No days down in the dark for him, no aeons crouched behind a drill.
I inhaled, the air of the Garden hot and dank in my lungs. “I don't see the bomber.”
He shrugged and turned the bomb over. “One thing at a time.” It was a regular mining charge. One word scratched into the plating: Breathe.
I cast a look through the glass of the Dome. The desert was out there like always. All it would take was one puncture, a single fracture in the colony's brittle skin. Internal damage we could survive - the massive Dome produced so much oxygen that they had to vent it out periodically - but integrity loss would be catastrophic.
“What's their angle, Al? Why end the colony? Why like this?”
He stood up. “Look, old man,” he said, “you wanna know why I always beat you?” He lifted one of his bear hands and tapped the side of his head. “I'm a cop. You're a creaky amateur. You oughta stick to your day job.”
I grinned. “This is my day job. I'll catch them before you do, boy wonder.”
He snorted. “You're on.”
Limping through the ill-lit tunnels that led to the lifts, I reviewed the fact. Fact singular: a great big bomb. No answer to the most important question. Why kill the Garden? The sole source of oxygen on the entire planet. Why kill the Garden?
I reached the lift doors. I always swore I'd never go back. But the people just wouldn't co-operate. Every outbreak of goodwill to all men sent me back to clawing my paycheck out of the rock.
“Going down?” Albert emerged from the shadows. Bastard moved like a cat. “Hey, you given up already?”
“It's called making inquiries.”
“Nice line. Where'd you find it? I'm here to 'detect', personally.”
The doors opened. I drew a breath and stepped in. Albert followed. The world closed in around us and the mechanism shuddered into life. I tried to focus on the case.
Every colony has its crazies. It's any one of a million things. The stars hanging wrong in the sky; the red, angry sunlight; the feeling of being - being trapped, encased in glass and steel. You would have to be mad to stay sane.
“You okay there, champ?”
“Go to hell.”
“Relax, buddy, I know how you get. Can't be easy.”
“I'm not having a go at you, man. Mining's a noble profession, you know? Those exports keep the Authority running. You're an important cog in the machine.”
I said nothing. The lift stopped and opened onto the mines. Down here you could almost forget the Garden Dome. My head scraping the ceiling, I shuffled through to the office and sat at the terminal. Albert followed.
Step one of real detection: establish a window. My eyes swept over the data. One charge unaccounted for, as expected. Now just when, where and how. I looked again. There was a second one missing. “Well, this one's tenacious.”
Albert leant over my shoulder. “You should go interrogate the foreman.”
“Why don't you?” I asked. “No need. Our friend here's going to try another target. Something critical. But more vulnerable.”
“Gotta be. Nice soft target.”
Albert drew himself up. “Good work, rookie. Race ya!” He ruffled my hair and shot off.
“Hey!” I shouted, going for convincing. I turned back to the terminal.
How could he miss it? They went and wrote it on the bomb. 'Breathe', it said. Whatever this was, it wasn't aimless. It was about the Garden, about our life's breath. It had to be about the Garden. Basic deduction. I hoped. I waited until I heard the clunk of the lift doors closing, locking him in, before standing up.
I hobbled into the Garden legs aching, pistols holstered. I nearly tripped over the guard: face down, spread-eagled and leaking blood. I knelt, searching for a pulse.
Someone was standing further down the path. She was tall and spindly, like all the colony-born: the thin gravity couldn't hold them down. Her body stretched upwards like a creeping vine.
I drew a gun. “Dead man's switch,” she said. “Be my guest.”
“Don't make me call your bluff,” I said. “You're no martyr or we wouldn't be having this conversation. You'd be splattered all over these trees already.”
“I ain't going back down the mines. I ain't slaving for the lie any more.”
I laughed. “Sister, I don't even know what the truth is.”
“Hell you don't. You're Authority.” She opened the folds of her jacket. The bomb was nestled below her right breast. “Come get it, pig. This is our planet. I'm gonna take back what's ours.”
“Tell me. Why kill everyone? Why-” The whum of the door cut me off.
“Nice try, you piece of poo poo.” Albert stormed into the Dome behind me, rifle at the ready. “You think tricks like that work on real cops?”
“No, I don't.”
He raised the rifle. “Screw you. Now get out of my line of fire, jackass.”
I drew my second gun and aimed right back at him. “Dead man's switch, idiot. Hold your fire.”
The bomber had had enough. “You stole this colony!” she shouted at us. “From true real purpose, for metals! Don't you care about why we're really here? Why the Garden's so large? Don't you care about anything but money?”
I looked back. “That's above my paygrade.”
She flinched. “You-”
Albert stepped forward. “I don't care either. You gonna shoot me, grandad?”
“Only one way to find out.”
He lunged. I fired, but he ducked beneath my arm and charged. The bullet shot harmlessly overhead. I flew sideways, slamming into a tree. My head swam: the glass of the Dome rippled above me.
“Right, girlie,” I heard him say. “Now it's my turn-”
The ground shook, and the Dome shattered into stardust. I blacked out.
I came to, which was good enough. I coughed once, rolled Albert off me, and stood. I looked around. The Dome was gone, the trees scorched.
“Nice work, golden boy,” I said. “Did you know about this? Some goddamn secret atmosphere?”
He looked up at me. “Not a fuckin' thing.”
I looked up, nothing above me but the summer sun. I felt good. “Authority's gonna be pissed.”
“No poo poo.”
“Here's the deal. I'll stay quiet about how you just hosed everything – if you do one thing for me.”
He spat sand. “No goddamn way.”
“Admit it.” I opened my phone.
He sighed. “Fine. You win.”
I crouched down in front of him. “Smart choice. You stick with me, kid, and you might just learn something.”
|# ¿ Nov 10, 2014 03:46|
|# ¿ Nov 11, 2014 06:03|
|# ¿ Feb 2, 2023 11:45|
Odiferous judgeburps, i will do longer crits for the first three that request them. Also, in.
I'll take one as well.
|# ¿ Nov 11, 2014 08:37|