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Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Miraculously, I don't have any planes to catch for a few days, so I am going to get drunk and write about wizards this weekend.



Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Lethal Ingestion (1269 words)

When the doctor returned to my examination room, I didn't need to wait for him to deliver the terrible news; his clenched grin and quivering grasp said it all. Ten years of Federal service hunting down wizards, atomized by a five-minute blood test. I'd become one of them, and the Platte Amendment forced him to inform the Bureau the moment we finished speaking. By law, I had twelve hours to live.

I terror-puked, a grade-A barfficane, blasting nachos and cheez on his nice white coat. He waited, trembling quietly. When I was done, I licked my lips.

And I swallowed.

Most wizards lose control the first time they awaken to the Truth. We test all at-risk citizens, but some still slip through. The Amendment passed because a fifty-year-old librarian named Mort walked into a Red Lobster in South Central. He ordered shrimp. The Platte Commission's official report claims a power cut had killed the freezer. Good old salmonella.

For a brief, glorious moment, Mort had comprehended every life that restaurant had touched, had his fingers entwined with the gears of reality. They say the crater will be radioactive for a few hundred years.

Even with a decade of training, the Truth hit me like sunlight after staggering out of a dark bar at seven in the morning. Spume slid down my throat, and I knew the doctor's life, from the day he squirted out of a syphilitic flesh-cavern on a free clinic's delivery table to the night he'd drink a bottle of whisky and put a Magnum to his temple as his wife drives away forever.

Except that won't happen. His future-history resonated like a guitar string in my fingers. I twitched and his heart imploded.

I'd spent a decade protecting people like him from people like me.

I grabbed the paperwork, hurried to the lobby, paid. The nurse stared over my shoulder as the credit-card machine ran, watching Senator Platte on television.

"Why should I be President? Because I believe in an America where everyone deserves an equal shot. But wizards threaten that American dream, my friends, and I believe the American dream must survive…"

Most folks who awoke turned themselves in. I handled the renegades, the guys who hid their power, studied it, were corrupted by it. Those were the wizards the politicians bayed about. It had all made sense when I joined the Bureau: we were truth and justice personified, chasing down an existential threat to the People.

Outside, I dove into my squad car. My partner Maks sat behind the wheel, ranch dressing on his face, a take-out salad in his lap. He'd always been a bit of a health nut. As I buckled in, he slammed the gas and tossed a bag in my lap: my dinner. The fetid lump of greasy starch had been a Big Mac, once.

Maks smiled at me. "All good, buddy?"

I nodded and crumpled the incriminating papers into the bag, shoved it under my seat. If I took a single bite, I'd stink of power. We'd always had uncanny noses for wizard blood, sniffing out guys no one else could find. I'd thought it was skill. I should've known better.

Maks raised an eyebrow. "Not hungry? It's gonna be a long night. Special assignment came in from Treasury, terrorist threat on a candidate." He flashed me a grin. "We're running security for Platte."

An hour ago, I would've been thrilled; the Amendment let us do our jobs right. Now I, freshly awoken, had to survive a night with two of the most vehemently anti-wizard men in America.


The Senator had the top floor of a fancy hotel. We waved our Wizard Unit badges at his conventional detail. They frowned, but waved us into a cavernous, velvet-drenched room with too much mahogany furniture. A whole roast pig, untouched, lay on a platter.

The moment I laid eyes on the Senator, I felt something wrong. He was a small man, silver-haired, wearing a custom-cut suit with a Stars-and-Stripes tie. His eyes crinkled paternally as he crossed the room to shake our hands. The air around him felt electric, charged with a million volts of personality. "Pleasure to meet you, son. You're doing America a great service." He nodded to Maks, and my partner pistol-whipped me.

They dragged my stunned rear end to a chair, handcuffed me to it, slapped duct tape over my mouth. Maks left and Platte picked up a champagne flute, stuck it on his dick and pissed, then saluted me and drank. His pupils shrank to pinpricks, and, on the table, the roast pig elongated, sprouted silver hair and a suit: a perfect doppelgänger of the Senator.

Maks returned with the burger bag and pulled out my wadded-up test results. "He's positive, sir."

"Make sure the press finds out. Did you bring the pill?"

My partner pocketed the documents, dropped his pants, plunged his fingers up his rear end and yanked out a waxen plug. A rotten shrimp, green, gooey and sheathed in poo poo-caked gelatin. Maks wrinkled his nose. "This seems excessive."

"We have to ensure he vaporizes the whole district. Will the coating last? Airport's an hour away, and I don't want to be near when he blows."

"It'll hold." Maks tore the duct tape from my face. "Unless he bites down."

I wanted to scream, but I clenched my jaw shut. I wasn't going to be their bomb. Maks stuck a finger up his nose, then into his mouth. His eyes narrowed.

My teeth dissolved into paste and seeped down my throat. I gasped and coughed, and Maks caught my chin, leaned forward to push the pill through my lips.

I planted my feet, thrust my forehead into his nose. Bone crunched, Maks screamed and fell, clutching his face. Platte dove for me, and I swung around, bashed him to the floor with the chair. My boot on his manicured face, stomping it into a swamp of blood and pus. Adrenaline screamed in my veins like a Hell's Angels chorus.

Maks shoved my away from the body, stuck his pistol to my forehead, his shattered nose dripping blood in my hair.

I glanced at Platte. "Your man's dead."

Maks pointed at the two bodies, fake and real. "He's supposed to die. Think of the headlines: 'Wizard terrorist assassinates Senator, blows up DC.' They'll pass something that makes the Amendment look like a parking citation."

"We were doing fine, Maks."

"The hell we were! I can feel more of them out there every day. Imagine if anyone could kill with a thought. Rush hour alone would be a bloodbath. We can't let people run around with their neighbors' lives in their hands."

"No. Only in your hands."

"We're an exception. We know how to control the corruption, and we're the only ones who can fight them and win."

We… How many of them were there? "When did you awaken?"

"Why do you think I founded the Wizard Unit?"

"You should've shot yourself."

"Says the guy who hid his test in a burger bag."

For a decade, I'd just been a pawn, putting down upstart wizards who could discover the truth. I hadn't been serving the public; I'd been serving the wizards. Maks turned away and rummaged beneath chairs and couches, humming to himself as he searched for the pill. I spotted it beneath a fold in the Senator's coat.

I toppled my chair over. Maks turned, dove. My lips closed around the shrimp. The casing broke.

I erased us.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Good evening, my ambulatory presentient rear end-tumors. I'm going to crit some randomly-selected "people" (term used loosely) because gently caress you.

A Classy Ghost - “A Gift for Amy”

This story’s more problematic than a neo-Nazi skinhead in a Women’s Studies class. Let’s start with the small stuff. Your word choice and sentence structure are both very rough and rocky. In several places, you use weird, jarring words or phrases which don’t fit your milieu, and your paragraphs lack rhythm and flow. Read more fiction.

At a higher level, you’ve grasped the very basic idea of what a story is - a sequence of events which proceed from one another via an internal logic - but you’ve missed everything else. Your characters are practically anonymous, with little in the way of distinct personalities or roles. Crucially, their motivations are opaque, as are the consequences of their actions.

We basically have a “mob deal gone bad” scene which you’ve slapped a robe and wizard hat atop. It’s not until the fifth paragraph that I know Wilbart’s motivation, and it’s a weak one: he needs to make a sale (which doesn’t yet seem sinister or interesting) for someone named Amy. He doesn’t seem to be in distress or under pressure.

The whole opening is slack, without urgency or tension, and that’s not how you hook reader interest. I was bored by paragraph six. Drop at least one detail into the opening paragraph which whispers to the reader “something odd is going on”. Illustrate both what’s commonplace in your story-world and also what’s unusual about the situation.

I don’t see a reason for you to have Garfloyd in this story at all. He barfs a few lines to prompt Wilbart into saying something, but he seems to serve no narrative function at all. He’s described as “hired help,” he displays neither interesting motivations (e.g. being at cross-purposes with Wilbart) nor is he given a distinctive personality. He’s a mook with a name, and he disappears without impacting the story’s action.

The ending has no payoff, either. A guy gets a magic present for his kid(?), which he had to do because… he’s the best wizard daddy ever? I have no idea.

There’s no consistent theme beneath the muck, either. The characters don’t exemplify or illustrate any interesting ideas, and your writing isn’t smooth or interesting enough to hold up the saggy plot.

TL;DR: I hate you, please die.

Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi - The Square Root of 13

Ah, federal wizard cops, a setting dear to my heart.

This could do with a minor proofreading pass; you have some mistakes a basic spell-check would catch (“Spacial”) and some which require eyes(“I’ve got memorize”). Not a capital crime, but c’mon.

The headline problem? The story doesn’t matter and the characters are marionettes. You start off with the hook of “why is a number-wizard blowing up 13th floors, and 13th floors in particular” and then resolve it with “oh I was just bored”. COME THE gently caress ON, YOU LAZY COCKSUCKER. This reads like you had an amusing thought, hacked out an opening and then couldn’t figure out how to actually wrap a character around it. So you just went “gently caress it, magical gunfight”. Consistency of character, theme and motivation are the skeleton supporting your story, rear end in a top hat; spend time on them.

There’s a few places where you could trust your reader more. The paragraph where you describe the wizard’s lair could just end with the equations; they’re obviously wrong, and that can draw interest - there’s no need to belabor that point in the following sentence. If needed, remind the reader later on, when it makes sense.

Those numbers bring up another point - you have a lot of wacky ideas, but you follow through on none of them. Winnow the story to revolve around one or two well-developed, well-observed details instead of tossing irrelevent tidbits everywhere. Focus.

TL;DR: I hate you, please die.

Entenzahn - Hunting Golgoth

I hate this less than the two stories above this, but that’s like saying I prefer gonorrhea to AIDS.

You’ve got a cracking opening line, and then the story goes limp as a wet noodle. We have three wizards who go looking for a rogue creation of theirs, either to put it down or protect it. That’s the setup for some conflict, but how does it “keep coming back” to haunt them? I feel like there should be more fighting between the wizards which is ostensibly about how to deal with Golgoth, and is really about some deeper issue regarding responsibility for one’s creations - that’s what your opener has set up.

Instead, we get some wandering-around-at-home pablum and some wandering-around-outside pablum. You could cut all that and focus on the issues at hand:
  • Why did they create Golgoth in the first place?
  • What harm/help has he done to them in the past?
  • What’s at stake now? How is this time different?
  • What does their decisions to kill/protect Golgoth say about the wizards?

I also feel like you could cut one of the three wizards out. Sanguinis feels like background material; his impact is minimal, and his role as “instigating the attack” could easily be moved to Bags.

Focus the story on what the characters are doing, on why they’re doing the things they’re doing.

There’s some minor linguistics which could be touched up, words which could be tightened or omitted, but it flows better than the other stuff I’ve read this week.

TL;DR: I mildly hate you, please have an excruciating-but-nonfatal bowel movement.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Feeling dangerous? This week, you have an opportunity to spin :ducksiren: Beef's Frequent-Flyer Roulette Wheel of Eternal Discomfort. :ducksiren:

How to play:
Before signups close (i.e. Friday night PDT), sign up for the Wheel by posting, in-thread, ":siren: Spinning da wheel! :siren:". Do not forget the Sirens, for they call to me in ways which give men shame. You will receive a Frequent-Flyer Roulette Wheel flash rule within 24 hours of posting. Use it in your story.

How to lose horribly you losing loser "win":
If you have chosen a song from a country I've visited within the last 18 months, I'll give your story special attention when writing my crits. Expect your crit to be longer and more detailed, with pull-quotes and poo poo. (15 countries qualify for this "prize")

If you have chosen a song from a country I've lived in, you're guaranteed to receive a full line crit. (3 countries qualify)

All other countries, tough luck, hope you enjoyed your flash rule.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
:ducksiren: Beef's Roulette Wheel of Eternal Discomfort :ducksiren:

Flash Rules for the unwary:

Ironic Twist - Bella Italia! Italians are loving obsessed with themselves. They're almost as bad as the French. Therefore, you can't use anything stereotypically Italian in your story. This list includes, but is not limited to: espresso, pizza, Catholicism, Rome, and the Mafia.

Broenheim - The Moldy Oldy. For such an irrelevant little slice of nowhere, Moldova created some amazing Eurovision entries in the past, before everyone starting singing pussified love ballads about sad girls in snow. Embody the Moldovan Eurovision spirit. I want to see pointy hats and over-the-top masculinity in your story.

newtestleper - Latvia, huh? Guess what Latvians love doing while drunk? Nationalistic Russian karaoke. Draw from that lovely song and inject into your story adoration for the motherland, and drunkenness.

bigperm - Slovene fever! Know what the Slovenes are known for in Europe? Making lovely appliances. Somewhere in your story, a cheap, broken, and/or malfunctioning kitchen appliance must be featured.

Erogenous Beef fucked around with this message at 14:09 on May 8, 2015

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart

Wangless Wonder posted:

:siren: Spinning da wheel! :siren:

Lucky you, I didn't have a chance to check the thread until now, so you get to play, but without a flash rule.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
I Hate Everyone: A Litany of Critique

Before I drag each and every one of you through a puddle of your own fresh viscera, let’s step back and consider why you are all wastes of air who aren’t fit to write a name on a Starbuck’s cup, let alone a story.

I’ve quoted this before, and I’m going to quote it again, as many of you seem to be suffering from premature senility:


1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Basics of Creative Writing

We throw around a lot of writing rules (or we used to, before Thunderdome went soft and flabby). And yes, many of the rules are guidelines which you may violate if you have a drat good reason. This is not the same. This is the one and only Rule of Writing that you absolutely, positively must not break, ever.

And yet, so many of you failed to do this, I would have to invent a supersentient Idiocy Analysis Cybermind in order to even begin to bring your “achievement” within the sphere of human comprehension.

You were given one job: write a story. There are three loving words in that mission, and one of them’s just a necessity of grammar.

The Verb: Write

Every story, without exception, is an attempt at communication. You must squeeze the putrid turds rattling around inside your head into a cogent thought (difficult, I know), and then convert that into a clear, cogent stream of hieroglyphics. These will be beamed through the Information Superhighway straight into the reader’s face, and the reader’s brain must somehow descramble meaningless little squiggles back into something vaguely resembling your initial thought.

And that is why every single paragraph, line, and word must be considered. What concept are you trying to convey? Why are you trying to convey that concept? Is this the best way to convey it? Does the pace and tone assist in conveying the concept?

What concepts should you include? At the very least, you must Reveal Character or Advance Action. Backstory, introspection and scenery all serve as vehicles for these two masters. Details which are irrelevant to the action and irrelevant to the characters are inherently irrelevent and must be cut.

And don’t forget to spellcheck, proofread and edit. I caught far too many obvious mistakes this week, both from newbies and people who ought to know better.

The Noun: Story


Drama is basically about one thing: Somebody wants something, and something or someone is standing in the way of him getting it. What he wants—the money, the girl, the ticket to Philadelphia—doesn’t really matter. But whatever it is, the audience has to want it for him.
- Aaron Sorkin

It’s a basic formula, I’ve written about it many times, and it’s everywhere, but it contains a nugget of truth that damned near every one of you forgot: characters cannot exist without motivation. If characters lack motivation, a character becomes a sockpuppet dancing on the writer’s hand.

Motivation powers conflict, conflict attracts interest, and reader interest is your Holy loving Grail. Outside of an artificial hugbox like Thunderdome, no one aside from your mother is going to read your painful scribblings if they’re not interesting.

When you’re sitting down to barf a thousand words out onto your keys, go ahead, rap out whatever you want. Next, step back and think to yourself “what is someone going to find interesting about this?” Then edit everything else until it all serves the interesting bit.

Enough, on with the poo poo-show.

Claven666 - No More Hunting Stars (Hunter of Stars, Switzerland 2014)
Video notes: Crazy-rear end hotel with band rocking out in inappropriate places and screwing things up. Song is about guy hunting some girl but being afraid of judgment.

This story has two massive problems.

First, it’s an emotionally-rooted story whose text almost entirely focuses on the physicality of a gay bromance heist. It’s driven by Walt’s emotions and feelings, but those feelings are poorly communicated in dialogue, not communicated in action, and we’re in a reserved third-person perspective, so we have no tension generated by seeing feeling tussling with motivation. (Hell, I hardly know what his motivation is.) There’s talk of unhappiness in scene one, then it disappears for two scenes, and then comes back as “nah I totally like the other dude better than you brah”.

Second, you bury the heist part in amongst the day-to-day of a dinner date. I didn’t know they were robbing the dude until the last scene; instead I got a whole lot of irrelevant bullshit about calamari for dinner. There’s some obscure hints dropped about a debt owed, but they come as an afterthought in the final scene, as well. Even then, I only see the surface goal (cash), not what’s really at stake (their relationship).

This story was a hair away from being in the DM pile, but escaped only due to the utter failures of its competition, not due to any merits of its own. This story is like being diagnosed with incurable genital herpes: it’s bad, but at least it’s not full-blown AIDS.

Blue Wher - Mother’s Violin (Adio, Montenegro 2015)
Video notes: Semi-gypsy violin/mandolin ballad. Fashion-show chorus which doesn’t move intercut with nature photography without apparent theme, like a three-minute Tourist Board of Montenegro ad.

Tell me, does boring people to death come naturally to you, or did you practice for a long time to wring a story this dull out of this setup?

You have a loving guitar which can loving talk to the loving dead![/i]. Why in all seven hells did you bury that inside a thousand pointless words about goats and lunch?! Why are all six loving goats loving named?! What the gently caress is wrong with you?

The conflict is “woe is me, the townies hate me” and this gets resolved in the second scene by a talking violin saying “nah kid gently caress dem niggas you cool.” The character then toddles around aimlessly like a drunken three-year-old that’s peed itself.

Focus on the interesting bit, shape the conflict around it, show me motivation and action which feed into the conflict. Don’t give me surveillance-camera footage of some tart’s daily life! This is the storytelling equivalent of going to a Michelin-starred restaurant and getting a hamburger, well-done.

Another piece which narrowly escaped DM simply because the DM pool was already too (hard and) deep.

spectres of autism - Dragon (Autumn Leaves, Macedonia 2015)
Video notes: RSAnimate-style sketch cartoon about boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl scenario. Sad semi-dubstep ballad about possibly getting into a relationship but being afraid of pain and breakups.

Your dialogue reads like you plagiarized the affirmation-bedewed Facebook wall of a middle-aged divorcee. You’re twelve-stepping me to loving death with your lines.

The worst part of this is that you clearly couldn’t decide whether you wanted to tell the story of Mascot Jackass and his YA angst, or Middle-Aged Loser and Turbo Tart. In a longer piece, one of them could reflect on the other and illustrate an undesirable outcome, thus providing motivation. This technique, called “clones,” requires more space than you’re usually given in TD.

Focus on either Mascot Jackass, or make him a thinking, judging camera whose observations spur on Middle-Aged Couple.

If you’re going for the former, you must bring out Mascot Jackass’ inner motivations sooner. In the current text, they’re all over the loving place. First he mopes about what people will think of him, then mopes about girlfriend and career, and, for some idiotic reason, you settled on the idea that he just missed his runaway dog and had to forgive the dog for running away.

Clean all that poo poo up, don’t just dump details out like a toddler spilling a bucket of LEGO.

As is, this piece is limp, tedious and has all the emotion of a text-to-speech synthesizer reading a Volvo manual. It was boring, and I disliked it, but not so much as to advocate a DM.

PoshAlligator - The Black Mountain’s Bell (Horehronie, Slovakia 2010)
Video notes: Hippie plant-elves prance around while Grandma Snow White warbles backup and stands like a bored statue off to the side.

Holy poo poo, did you set out to write something that hits all the “Beef will hate this” buttons? Anonymous, motivationless heroine; no tension; clunky language which tries to be arty but just ends up muddy; fantasy; nothing happens; no resolution. I am trying to kill you with my mind as I type this.

You have astounding clarity problems. The bell(?) shrinks, then “grows in speed”? I can hardly tell what’s going on during the entire story. Some floozy goes to find a bell in a cavern, or a postapocalyptic wasteland, or a cavern in a postapocalyptic wasteland or loving something of that nature. She hits it with a magic cattle prod, and stuff lights up for no apparent reason, and then she runs around a bit and gets attacked by invisible things, and then the bell breaks, and there’s some kind of creatures. And then it was all a dream?

Your prose is purple as a person dying of autoerotic asphyxiation. (Whom, I pray, is you.)

This was pretty much going to take the Loss trophy unless something else astonishingly-bad got posted. Even after GreekOwl shat in the ring, there was only the slightest debate as to whether it was that or this.

Go back to basics and write a simple, clear story. Focus on coming up with a classic concept and communicating it well. Until then, you’re just a pretentious gently caress with a penchant for word salad.

Or, better yet, get hit by a bus and die.

hubris.height - Saccharine and Gasoline (Divine, France 2008)
Video notes: Bearded-lady chorus backs up French Kenny Loggins holding a helium ball, who enters riding on a France-branded golf cart. He sings squeaky. Generic song about some woman being divine. And then French happens.


Also, you may have unintentionally written Ghost Dad fanfiction, for which I can only applaud you. (With brass knuckles. (To the teeth.)) Somehow, your protagonist lost “his entire family,” and yet his wife is very much in the story. I can only conclude that she is Ghost Wife and is offering encouragement from Beyond The Grave. Yes, let’s roll with that - it’s the only way to make this story even marginally interesting.

Your dialogue is atrocious. Your characters merely barf emotionless exposition at one another. When one character literally says “You lost your entire family in a single night only three weeks ago,” it’s about as subtle and enjoyable as a brick to the head.

Both of your scenes are far too long. The only important thing in the first scene is Must Race For Reasons and Family Is Dead (poss. incl. Ghost Wife), the rest can be cut. Also, “Reasons” cannot be “Reasons” in the text, and if you decide go with “I must race to avenge my family who died in an entirely unrelated manner,” I’d prefer if you instead smashed your face against your keyboard until your retinas detached.

Make every detail count. This is a short story. The race and the family dying must be intimately intertwined. If you can’t link them, then cut one.

All your narrative about the details of racing and the scenery are entirely pointless. They don’t show us anything that we don’t already know - the guy is sad about his family. He’s having trouble focusing. Bam, I just said in two sentences what took you 500 words. Condense.

Jumping into the other racer’s point-of-view is jarring and a terrible idea. Don’t do that poo poo. Also, this character literally came out of nowhere. Set up your conflicts in act 1, not act 3, or else they won’t have any impact.

gently caress’s sake, that last line makes kittens die.

I’ll give this story one thing, it is pretentiously French. “Oh ho ho, all ze happiness zat you have, zey turn to ze ashes in ze mouth, when you realize all ze people you love will die.” (long cigarette drag)

This got the DM basically because you threw out a lot of words that said nothing, with sockpuppet characters hurling exposition at the reader. There was no through-line, no uniting conflict, and your motivation was clear as mud.

Go back to basics.

JcDent - Shame of Shamus (Heroes, Sweden 2015)
Video Notes: Dynamic-typography over generic Swedish dude in a steamy shower, singing about being a hero and wrestling with darkness etc etc cliche, jesus this song has like 3 lyrics it’s a cut-and-paste tragedy.

Stop with the exclamation points! This is tedious to read! Throw away your ! key before I come break your wrists! Also, proofread!

This is a tedious, boring story about a guy sitting around moping about how his dad got to do all the cool poo poo and now Gun Goon doesn’t get The Respect He Deserves. So he sits around playing Grimdark-Future Starcraft. Sorry, this isn’t even a story, it’s the whinings of Goonhammer 40K.

Also, use less technobabble in a short. Technobabble, and any other invented vocab, just obscures the actual action and characterization in your story. It’s only suitable for longer works, where learning your lovely Space Elvish may help understand the characters and world to a greater degree, but you don’t ever get that luxury in 1400 words.

The one thing this story does, to its credit, is cleverly incorporate the prompt. The song you picked just repeats the lyric “We’re dancing with the demons in our minds” over and over and over and over and over again. So your protagonist literally sits around, playing with simulated demons hundreds of times. Clever, but boring as poo poo, so you still get stuck with the DM.

TheGreekOwl - One Last Breath (One Last Breath, Greece 2015)
Video Notes: Tedious love-ballad with simplistic piano backing. No interesting visuals. Singer is asking lover to save her from “a fiery hell” and she only has “one last breath” but it’s unclear why. “I’m begging you take me”. Fear of loss, rejection.

I bounced off this story so hard I broke the sound barrier. Your word choice is hideously overwrought and pretentious. You’ve fallen into the newbie trap of trying to “sound like a writer,” and have thrown a loving thesaurus at my face. Instead of sounding smart, your writing reads like a pretentious rear end in a top hat who doesn’t know the first thing about communicating an idea.

It also doesn’t help that, even in your first paragraph, you obviously didn’t proofread, spellcheck or correct your grammar. You’ve got missing/misplaced commas and apostrophes all over the place. Your sentence structure is fundamentally broken. A few examples: “along a with tiny shrug”, “in the lungs breath”, “she had been beaten, by the chairmaker”.

Your word choice is agonizingly bad (“an awry stone room”?). You change tenses like a gigolo changes condoms. In the first paragraph alone, you vacillate between three of them. Absolutely wretched.

“She came alive with a gleaming chest.” What in the ever-living gently caress is this?! Does this woman have literal headlights?!

From what I can exhume out of the rubble of your prose, your characters are blank sockpuppets barfing exposition at one another without a hint of motivation, tension or conflict to draw a single iota of interest.

Since you clearly didn’t bother proofreading this, I can only conclude you don’t respect my time, so I’m not going to respect yours: I’m not bothering to finish this piece of irredeemable poo poo. You have so many problems, it’s hard to even know where to start with improvement advice. Start with the training-wheels basics, like Jack & Jill.

Or, for the sake of humanity, run your fingers through a woodchipper and feed the slurry to pigs. Then burn the pigs.

bigperm - Danes Odhajam (Round and Round, Slovenia 2014)
Flash Rule: A busted kitchen appliance must be included in your story.
Wheel Spinner: LOSS. I haven’t been to Slovenia.

Kaishai tells me this story is funny if you’ve memorized the music video. I haven’t. Stories have to stand alone. Telling a good story is job 1 in Thunderdome, catering slavishly to the prompt comes second.

Basically, I have no idea what the gently caress is going on. You’ve got an epistolary story from a woman to her mother. Since epistolary stories are, by definition, the words/thoughts of one of the characters, I can only conclude that either the woman is batshit nuts and hallucinating things, or the mother is batshit nuts.

Either way, neither of them have any sort of motivation, there’s no action or conflict to carry this along, and nary a gag to be seen.

The only virtue this has is that it’s short and the suffering ended swiftly.

Tell a loving story next time.

broenheim - A Million Things I Wish I Had Done (O Mie, Moldova 2013)
Flash Rule: Include pointy hats and over-the-top masculinity.
Wheel Spinner: LOSS. I haven’t been to Moldova.

Video Notes: Affirmative-Action Disney Princess warbles a generic love ballad with piano backing. Song about the world ending because a relationship is over.

I asked for over-the-top masculinity, and instead you gave me an emasculated boxer being pushed around by his love interest, buried beneath a Chicago Deep Dish of cheesy sentiment.

This is an atrocious story. At least half of your words are wasted on breathless declarations of “LOVE U SO MUCH”. I got that loving idea already, stop belaboring it and get to the actual loving point.

Except… you’ve forgotten to include the point. You start with a boy-meets-girl story, and then, halfway through act 2, there’s suddenly vague intimations of a gang being after him. That’s way too goddamn late to set this poo poo up. Then the guy is all scared. And then the gang shoots the girl for some reason. And then they sod off. Curtain.

Your villain doesn’t make any sense. It’s a Zdob si Zdub Ex Machina to kill the girl. And the girl is basically just a cardboard cutout for this guy to long for. Thing is, he’s such a wet blanket, I’m not rooting for him at all.

Nothing hangs together here, there’s no through-line. poo poo, you don’t even make it clear that this guy’s boxing until halfway through. Ground your story in a world and establish the characters in paragraph one. This is flash fiction, you have maybe 150 words to kickstart poo poo before I want to break your fingers.

I wanted this to get a DM because of how much loving air it wastes on nothing, but one of the other judges opposed that. Instead, I can only hope pointed-hatted midgets show up and floss your butthole with concertina wire.

Jonked - Love You While I’m Gone (Still In Live With You, UK 2015)
Video Notes: Cheesy 1920s cabaret.

Proofread and run spell-check. “Boxom.” “Curvacous”. Dude, c’mon. It’s under 400 words, Google Docs even underlines those loving mistakes for you. You have absolutely no excuse for this sort of sloppy bullshit.

“We never talked about it, never really established what you would have wanted.” Ironic writer metacommentary on own story spotted.

So basically, a guy OD’s on opium while with the whore of his dreams at his bachelor party. Then you do the intercut dialogue thing to make it edgy and writerly. Go gently caress yourself.

This would be less terrible if you’d led off with some hints that there’s discontent or a tension between what the guy wants and what the woman wants. The hallucination about the hooker is more or less pointless aside from establishing that small bit of disagreement.

This escapes being a DM candidate only because the rest of the week is even more awful.

schneiderheim - The Final Siege of Black Steel Castle! (Warrior - Georgia 2015)
Video Notes: Casual racism. Generic song about being strong and being strong and the world gonna sit up and take notice of how strong woman I am.

You’re immediately on rocky ground with an exclamation point in the title.

Jesus Deep-Fried Christ. I see only two possibilities here. One, you were trying for a parody of lovely anime cliches, but missed the humor mark and plunged into the abyss of abysmality. Two, you wrote this on purpose. In the latter case, sterilize yourself with a flaming chainsaw.

In the first case: Humor is hard. You have to consider your target audience, which you clearly didn’t - none of the judges here are ADTRW rejects who’ll guffaw at your clumsy writing.

Humor is all about leading the audience towards an expectation (“the set-up”) and then violating that expectation for humorous effect (“the punch line”). It’s not about simply copypasting cliches you found on TVTropes one after another.

Also, you have some straight-up composition problems: “The very air caused by the Castle”. How does a castle cause air?! Did it eat a bad taco?

If you were trying for comedy, you failed pretty hard. Consider your target audience better next time. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt on this, and only recommending a DM, because this is definitely Loser material otherwise.

If you weren’t trying for comedy, then reserve this trash for your fellow thirteen-year-old anime nerds at

Tyrannosaurus - It’s Not Always The Serpent That Makes You Sin (Weil der Mensch Zaelt, Austria 2003)
Video Notes: Oh god, you’re making me sit through an Austrian chant a comedy song in Styrisch. And then surprise metal.

Someone actually led off with an opening that sets the scene, gives the character motivation and starts the action! Praise the good lord Jedward, it’s a Eurovision miracle!

I like it, it’s funny, the characters are clear and all want things (except Dog, which is excused because he’s perfect comic relief). There’s a through-line carrying the thing, and, amaze amaze, I actually was looking forward to reading the next line.

Everyone who is not Tyrannosaurus, look at this story, for it does something rarely seen in Thunderdome. Not only does his character have a goal, but the character actually has both a long-term “story goal” and short-term immediate goals - the resolution of the latter all generate problems and quandaries for the character, and it all feeds back towards the story goal.

This is excellent dramatic craft, executed with polish. This is publishable. Sure, the subject matter confines it to a college humor magazine, but publishable is a standard everyone should be aspiring to and is one not often achieved.

Problems? Yes, it has some. I’m not 100% sold on the resolution, even if it is tidy. It feels too convenient that Bull just had to kick the gate off the hinges, which he could’ve done the whole time. I would’ve liked something more inventive, but I can’t put my finger on what.

Promptwise, you had a very difficult video, but you pulled it off well. Like the song, it’s both silly and dark, and has all the bits about animals.

I fought very hard for this to win. In my opinion, it was the only story this week actually worth reading, and the only story that demonstrated any degree of polish. Yes, it’s light and humorous, but humor is hard to pull off (see preceding crit), and this landed well for me.

Unfortunately for you, it didn’t land for the Chief Judge and the minority pick won. In my opinion, you were completely robbed of a well-deserved victory. (Although, perhaps, that does go back to humor needing to know its audience, and Kaishai may not be the best target for barnyard humor.)

Benny Profane - The Saunier Mausoleum (A Monster Like Me, Norway 2015)
Video Notes: Slow tedious ballad about two lovers pushing one another away, and then the world’s worst family dinner and singing where each of them calmly tell one another to go gently caress someone else while the family loses its poo poo over the awful dinner. Also, the guy has the biggest chin on the planet.

“And yes, I'm more than aware of how horrendously cliché that is.” Ironic writer self-assessment is ironic.

This story isn’t sure what it wants to be. It hurts more than you obscure the reveal in arty language for a gigantic paragraph’s length. However, this isn’t unsalvageable.

You need to cut away a lot of the rotten purple prose, foreshadow Jess’ reveal, and also flesh out Jess’ character more. As written, she’s basically a Manic Pixie Dream Goth and/or fuckmeat.

You need to follow through on the hints that things aren’t going to work out. I need to root for the main character, and I need to either be urging him to get with Jess or to run away.

The style doesn’t match your story, either. This sort of “I was this way in the past, but now I’ve changed” self-judgmental writing works when you’re trying to illustrate something about the way the writer distances himself from his younger self. It’s assumed that you’re going to use contrast between the voice of the Narrator-Now and the Narrator-Then to demonstrate that the character has grown up and snapped out of his youthful obsession with being Dark and Deep.

Thing is, the overwrought style continues throughout, so it’s obvious that the narrator hasn’t stopped obsessing about being Deep and Writerly.

Grizzled Patriarch - Tiny Edible Things (N’oubliez Pas, France 2015)
Video Notes: This looks like a French Twilight fanfilk music video. Landscapes, decaying WW2 bunkers on the coast of France, random people walking in France. FRANCE FRANCE FRANCE. Lots of oil lamp.

Creepy crawling horror, but it doesn’t resolve, it just trails off with the doctor having nightmares. Have I mentioned I hate vignettes? This is a decent vignette, but I still hate vignettes. Resolve your story. Use Vore Nyarlathotep to show me something, don’t just drop him and run away into dreams.

Also, you set your story in World War 1, but the bunkers in the video are from World War 2. Bro, do you even lift?

Killer-of-Lawyers - The Star and the Skull (What For?, Latvia 2010)
Video Notes: Slow ballad. Why is your love passing by? Uncle Joe can’t speak. Only Mr. God knows why, but he’s forever out of reach?

Gritty kindness-in-the-middle-of-war vignette. This piece is too overwrought and concerned with Being Writerly to actually set up the characters. There’s a moment of tension when the nurse seems ready to murder Yegor, and then it deflates and Yegor asks Why. (Because referencing the song, see? Writer so clever, so clever. Barf.) And then it ends with a spot of kindness done to Yegor by Mystery Nurse.

This piece needs more Actual Story, less Describing Random Warzone poo poo. I don’t hate this enough to DM it, but only because there’s been so much absolute trash already that this brief dogturd doesn’t register.

skwidmonster - Mr. War Criminal (Hour of the Wolf, Azerbaijan 2015)
Video Notes: Guy appears to be walking around his flat at night while singing about meeting Peace and having the answers to the Earth and not giving up hope. I won’t sleep because I’ll lose my mind or some poo poo. The dawn brings madness or sommat IDK.

Your entire story is spurious detail. Your first scene is literally someone waiting for poo poo to happen. You’ve lost me, I’m bored and want to skip to the next loving story already. Stop writing tedious, boring poo poo with no characterization or motivation or action. You’ve got this week’s most acute case of televisionitis, and that’s saying something, as you didn’t spend a whole paragraph naming six goats.

(“Sudden gunfight” does not equate to “action”. I mean dramatic action. The build, ebb and crescendo of tension.)

This reads like you had no idea what to do, so you just stream-of-consciousnessed out wads of irrelevant details. Being obscure and showing us weird details is not artistic, it’s annoying and pretentious. loving communicate with me.

This piece is an absolute waste of time and words. Go learn to write a loving story. Characterization, motivation, action, through-line, theme, plot - these all have to be established and shown. In a better week, this could’ve lost, but instead it merely rots in the DM cesspool with the other poo poo.

crabrock - The Probabilistic Route to Happiness (Dancing Lasha Tumbai, Ukraine 2007/Only Teardrops, Denmark 2013)
Video Notes: I don’t need notes for Lasha Tumbai.

Straight up, you didn’t deserve to win, but it seems Thunderdome cares more about pretty bullshit than polish and craft these days. This is an unedited, unpolished piece and needed more effort to actually be worth reading.

My main beef is that you’re torn between telling two different stories. On the one hand, you’ve got the bit where the robot is rediscovering his humanity, discovering common ground with the human prisoners. It’s evident in your opening few paragraphs, it’s evident in the shiv scene.

And then suddenly, we get a love-denied story dumped on us. Emmelie is dropped as a detail in paragraph five, then ignored for the duration of the shiv scene. Then we get an argument, and suddenly we’re talking about a prison break, and then we go back to love-denied. Did you get blackout drunk and forget what you were writing every few paragraphs, or is this just an early-onset Alzheimer’s attack?

The lover’s-spat scene goes on for too long, and Emmelie basically just huffs and puffs angrily the whole time. The robot is a robot. I have no sympathy for either character, so your ending lands only as sappy sentimentality, not the heartwarming feels you were shooting for.

Clarity problems. I wasn’t sure if you were implying that the robot was once human, or if there was some sort of Mechie fetish thing going on in the misty past. I wasn’t sure if the robot was also a prisoner, or just a robot guard that gets reprogrammed a lot to wipe out emotions. A lot of stuff just didn’t seem to make sense.

There’s meat in here, but it needs to be trimmed into shape. Also, you totally missed a chance for a sly Patrick McGoohan reference.

The obvious lack of proofreading meant I was not only opposed to this winning, but I was pushing for it to not receive an HM. However, that wouldn’t fly with either of the other judges, and instead you won by Chief Judge Fiat. May you receive fifty subs this week.

And yes, I see what you did there with Sieben Sieben Eins Zwei. Taking character names from your prompt songs doesn’t ping my clever-dar.

Sitting Here - Full Circle (Time, Belarus 2015)
Video Notes: Girl trapped in an hourglass as a dude warbles a love ballad about time being like thunder or some poo poo. Lots of Time Is Like Thunder. I expect a lot of focus on time. And thunder. Running in a blizzard, then in fire. Guy rescues girl buried in hourglass/time/sand, gets left in the sand himself.

“Accouterment.” “I couldn’t see to hole.” :siren: Lack of proofreading spotted. :siren: I expect this poo poo from greenhorns, not the Blood Queen.

Eh. First, I’m not 100% sold on two people who’re maybe sixty years old being as old and decrepit as you’re describing. I’ll grant it out of narrative necessity, but it’s thin, and you could’ve worked around it by just omitting the specific length of time.

It’s an okay little blip of delayed love, but it spends too much time on Chris bumping around being an old fart. None of that really shows us much that’s interesting and new.

There’s some weird problems with tone, where the piece almost begins mocking itself, like : “And just as the whole scene was getting really dramatic”.

Overall, I’m not sold on it. It feels unedited and rushed, just like Crabrock’s. This has a clearer protagonist, but a more two-dimensional supporting character. Generally, needs work, and I don’t think it’s actually worth the work to salvage it.

:ducksiren: Roulette Wheel Statistics :ducksiren:

# of TD entrants who could've won if they'd spun: 13
# of TD entrants who aren't cowards and spun: 5
# of spinners who could've won if they'd submitted: 1
# of spinners who actually submitted a story and won: 0

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart

crabrock posted:

For the record, Benny, this will be the last time I ever acknowledge your existence. I did that crit so that others could see it wasn't just tyran being a big ol' meany. It was you writing a lovely story.

I am adding you to my ignore list. If you enter a round that I am judging, I will ignore your entry. If you try to talk to me, I will ignore you. This is literally the first time somebody has ever gotten a mod involved in something that they thought was unfair, rather than take responsibility for their writing.

And my axe!

Blaming the reader (read: judge) is a tyro move. The only person who can improve your writing is you, and if you don't take responsibility for your own failures to communicate with a reader, you're never going to improve.

Given the number of chances you've had, and the increasing volume of drama, I'm also throwing in with the rock 'o crabs. You're barred from any week I judge.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Shorted Out (1496 words)

I stand in the Bull's office, watching over his shoulder as he points at his shiny new truck down in the parking lot, my palms ooze navigable rivers of sweat as I work up the nerve to speak. I try to look at the truck and mutter platitudes, but I my gaze strays to a row of framed Forbes magazines. The Bull's face grins at me from the covers, invites me to meet "the Power King of Texas". In each photo, he wears a different suit, all of them bespoke. His secretary demanded two magnums of Champagne before she'd schedule this meeting, and I rehearsed in the mirror for weeks - it was like being in film school again.

The Bull points at a chrome hook dangling from his truck's grille like an enormous metal dick (dogleg left). "There's a whole second motor driving that winch, five hundred horsepower. poo poo cost more than you or Levigne make in a month."

"I can change that." I summon my Authority Voice. "My trades are twenty percent above target. I think it's time I moved off commodities. To the ERCOT desk." It's our biggest account and moves gigadollars of electricity daily. The Bull oversees it himself, and last year almost everyone working ERCOT made themselves millionaires; it created half the firm's profits, and a dozen magazine articles hailed the Bull as 'Enron Done Right'.

He looks me in the eye. "You came in over quota, I gave you a raise. Do you have a problem with my decision?"

I stick to the script. "Sir, I don't know why, but everyone's ignoring the Freeport plant. We're leaving billions on the table." I pluck a Wall Street Journal from his desk, flip to an article on page two: Is The Bull Headed For The Slaughterhouse? Over the last few weeks, our profits stopped rising. "If investors start doubting us, they'll stampede to other funds."

The Bull's nostrils flare. "When'd you fail out of school, two years ago?" He tears the newspaper in half and yanks me by the collar towards the door, then hesitates. "You've been studying the Freeport plant?"

"They're finishing a second high-capacity transmission line straight to Houston in a few weeks. Fully redundant, outage-proof. It'll be the cheapest, most reliable power in Texas. We'll make billions."

"Billions?" The Bull gives me a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "You think small." He shoves me out onto the trading floor. It's dead silent and two dozen dudes are watching me, phones still hanging at their chins. I saunter to my desk and they stare like lions studying a gazelle, looking for a limp. Seeing none, they turn away and I feel hollow inside.

Levigne leans over the top of my monitors, brushes back his silver hair. He predates everyone, even the Bull, but his last big payday was before Reagan made peace with the Commies. "Lesson? Don't rock the boat, Hollywood." I drunkenly bawled my silver-screen dreams to him one night. Next morning, everyone was calling me Hollywood.

"What were your numbers last quarter?" He's the only ERCOT broker who's never made a million.

He spreads his arms like Jesus on the cross. "I'm still here."

I lean forward in mock-interest. "What's your secret, O guru?"

"Simple: never wager against the weather." He jabs at his monitor. "See this hurricane coming up the coast? Might stall Freeport. A young, dumb buck would bet on a shutdown, but I know the inland plants will stay up no matter what, so I'll buy from them."

"And make a tenth the money."

"No risk."

All chatter halts as the Bull emerges from his office, flanked by two beefy dudes in Mafia suits. They stalk towards me, stop next to my desk. The Bull flexes his fingers and stares into the air over my head.

"Stand up, Levigne," the Bull says. "And Hollywood? My office, ten minutes."


The Bull's secretary gives me coffee and leaves me alone. I try to drink, but my hands are shaking and I slop coffee all over the Bull's desk. I grab newspapers and, as I mop it up, the Bull's computer beeps. I almost jump out of my skin.

He's got a trading console open, monitoring a bunch of orders he's placed personally. I take a photo with my phone; the Bull's record is legendary, and copying him should make me a mint.

I throw away sodden newspaper and spot shredded memos buried beneath his trash. The logo on the letterhead doesn't look like ours. I stuff papers into pockets and hope it's juicy insider info.

The Bull comes in, and I pretend to drink while he pokes at his computer and ignores me, typing with just his forefingers. I feel a little smug.

"It's done, Hollywood. You're on ERCOT." Before I can gush thanks, he snaps his fingers at me. "Get money on the Freeport plant, pronto."

"Sir, the second line isn't done and there's a hurricane coming in. Buying power inland would be much safer."

"No, short the bejesus out of it. Everyone will bid inland, price for Freeport power'll plummet, and you triple my money."

"That sounds like a big risk."

"Did I mistake you for someone with balls?" He grabs the phone and stares at me as he speaks. "Security? Bring Levigne back inside."

I feel my Forbes cover slipping away. "I'll do it."

The Bull grins.


It's late evening, I'm alone at my desk watching the hurricane crawl towards land and the price of Freeport power drop like a stone. As long as the juice keeps flowing, I'm making thousands. My phone buzzes; the boys want me down at the bar, Levigne's supposed to show up soon for farewell drinks. I delete the message and double-check my photo of the Bull's screen.

I copied his trades; they're exactly what he told me to do: megabucks betting on cheap Freeport energy. The Bull's borrowed enough cash to buy Belgium and dumped it on ERCOT. We're betting enough to make a Monaco croupier blush; I've never seen us indebted like this.

The hurricane's dying; the Freeport plant will stay online. The only way we'll lose is if the transmission line goes down, and there's no chance this storm can do that. First day on the job and I'm going to rocket the firm back to number one. I sink into my chair, imagining my face on a dozen glossy magazines. Hell, maybe I'll make enough dough to fund my own flicks.

The shredded papers in my pocket crinkle; I'd forgotten about them. I start piecing them together.

The Bull steps out of his office. He's dressed in a hoodie and coveralls instead of his usual suit. A pair of heavy gloves sticks out of his back pocket. I hunch over and hide the stolen papers. He locks his office and leaves.

The first page I fix is a trading statement from a no-name brokerage, addressed to an offshore holding company. The numbers have a dizzying number of zeroes, and all the orders are shorting our firm, due tomorrow - someone's betting we'll collapse overnight.

I glance at our new debts and sweat dribbles down my spine. I grab my car keys.


Racing down the highway towards Freeport, I spot the Bull's truck devouring asphalt up ahead. The storm hurls water against my windshield. The highway's already barred besides me and the Bull's taillights. Without signaling, he veers off onto a muddy service road. Lightning flashes in the distance, silhouetting a row of steel towers marching across the prairie: the Freeport transmission lines.

I kill my lights and creep along, and the Bull turns offroad, towards the towers. I stop the car, jump out and sprint through cow-pats. Over the thunder, I hear a chain rattling and metal clanking against metal. The eye of the storm clears the rain and I see the Bull standing beside his truck with his winch hooked to one of the towers. He tightens the winch, and climbs into the driver's seat. Gears shift. Wheels vomit mud.

He's going to bring down the line. The memos in my pockets — he's stacked his entire fortune on the impossible, the instant implosion of the entire firm. He'll be the world's first trillionaire, and all the rest of us will be penniless, jobless, unemployable. I'm about to fail out of finance as fast as I'd failed out of film school.

And when the story gets out, it's going to be a legendary heist. There's two films, a play and a dozen books out there about Enron, and the Bull is about to make Enron look like a dime-store stickup.

I take out my phone, squat in the grass and begin shooting video. I've got enough hard evidence on me to pitch a dozen documentaries; the Bull's just handed me my ticket to Hollywood. I'm giggling so hard, I don't notice Levigne quietly leading the cops toward us.

Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Bring the pain, mojo.


Erogenous Beef
Dec 20, 2006

i know the filthy secrets of your heart
Summer Broken - 1198w

I leap off the bus from Saint Mary's School for Girls and race on weatherbeaten concrete towards home, then halt in my tracks. The house has gotten a makeover: peeling olive-drab paint replaced by pastel vinyl siding, the crabgrass yard resodded with silver-green manicured turf. I check the number twice, and then Cliff comes out and greets me with a sober wave. I loving hate Cliff.

Inside, in the hall to my room, I should find photos which Dad and I named when I was a kid — Mikey Moose, Danny Deer, Carrie Caribou — but my old friends are gone, replaced by Edward Hopper prints in vomitously-tasteful oak frames. The last living picture of Dad and Mom and me is gone from the parlor mantle, and even my room has been sanitized; absent are wooden ducks Dad had carved for me, and clothespin reindeer we'd hung on Christmas trees. In their place, an empty crib.

"The house was getting cluttered," Cliff says, leaning on my doorframe. "Isn't it so much nicer when it's clean? And we'll need the space when your little brother arrives."

"Half a brother." I slam the door in his face, open my closet. Hidden behind all my pairs of jeans and coveralls is Dad's old flannel shirt. This, at least, he hasn't ruined. I pull it on, inhale timeworn salt and grease. I go down to dinner in it, and sit across the table from Cliff, who would never dare wear flannel; even on Saturday, he's in a shirt, starch-stiffened periwinkle.

"Your mother's working late tonight, so it's just us for now." Cliff serves me dinner, kale salad from a plastic bag.

I'm home from school. It should be a special occasion. "Dad would've grilled steak."

He shoves me a bottle of organic vinaigrette and asks if I want heirloom tomatoes. I grab a can of ravioli from the emergency cabinet, and eat straight from the tin, standing up. Without looking up from his salad, he says, "You're getting too old for Oshkosh. We'll go into town tomorrow, there's a sale on summer dresses."

"I don't need anything but coveralls for the bait-and-tackle." I expected to spend all summer at the old hunting store, where I'd worked since I was ten; the owner is Dad's friend and I learned fishhooks and bullets before long division.

"Sandy, I've had a word with the Judge," Cliff says. "He'll wants you to clerk in his office, but you have to dress properly in the courthouse." He looks at me, kale dangling from his lip. "I hope you realize what I'm doing for you. Not many kids your age get this kind of experience. It'll help when you're trying to get into college."

I throw out my ravioli and stomp down the hall to the den, to curl up in Dad's big leather armchair which always smelled like whiskers. It's where he sat and drank with his camouflaged buddies when they came back from hunting. Dad always told my favorite story and I'd sprawl at his feet and listen to him tell about the biggest elk God ever made, which one night came knocking at the door of the secret cabin Dad and I had out in the woods. All his buddies would slap their thighs and whoop, "Why'dn't you shoot it, Jed," and Dad would just smile and say, "I did boys, I did," and point at the big photo over the fireplace, and they'd say "That's not real shootin'," and argue round and round until Mom shooed them out, then Dad would carry me past Mikey and Danny and Carrie, tuck me into bed and he'd tell the best part of the story, about Eddie Elk, King of the Forest, and Eddie's best friend, a little girl named Sandy, just like me.

Now, in the den, I see only Cliff's desk, a computer, law books. I kick open the back door and sprint into the woods, until my legs burn and my chest feels like I've got a belt tied round it.

Dad's cabin slouches like a dead man propped half-upright, its hand-hammered walls streaked with moss and rot. I worry open the rust-rimed door. On the wall is Eddie, veiled with cobwebs like a zombie bride, all my other friends hanging half-decayed beside him. In the corner is a camping mattress and Dad's weather-worn trunk. From it I pull out treasure: Dad's sketchbook. I flip through pencil deer and ink-blue elk, exactly the same as I remember Dad drawing them.

Night comes, it's death-dark in the woods, even the owls whisper to one another in funerary voices. I don't sleep. I wait and watch for Eddie, the real Eddie, to come and graze, just like Dad said he would. He doesn't, at least not that first night, and well after daybreak I sneak to the house. Both cars are gone, so I go in, shower, and stuff canned pasta into a backpack.

Blissful weeks I spend in the shack. In Dad's book I find free pages and fill them up with squirrels, owls, deer, and I sit up all night waiting for the great elk so I can capture him and put him down on the page where he can't get away.

Summer rises and falls, and one day I go back to the house to clean and eat. Cliff sits in the kitchen, one leg across the other, biting his knuckles. I stop, and he doesn't look up, and I go to the cabinet and get some cans. If I pretend he's not there, maybe he'll ignore me.

He doesn't. "I could've called the police, Sandy. If you hadn't snuck in every day, we'd've reported you missing."

"You knew?"

"Your mom and I don't eat Chef Boyardee. I counted cans and made a spreadsheet of what you took, and we bought what you liked. It would've been much easier if you'd just talked to me instead of running away. The Judge isn't happy with you, but I can talk to him again, next year, if you change your mind."

"I won't." I walk straight back into the woods; I can stay in the cabin and draw elk and live like Dad did. I kick up dead leaves, and something hard crunches underfoot. An antler, brittle and yellow. From the forest floor I unearth a skeleton, four legs all taller than me, at least as tall as Dad, and antlers wide as a Cadillac fender.

I touch the antlers and they crumple like papier-mâché. I stare. How long had Eddie's skeleton rested here, undisturbed until I stumbled in and crushed it?

From the cabin I get Dad's sketchbook, then sneak into the house, upstairs to my room. Cliff has circled tomorrow on my calendar, "Bus to Saint Mary's." On my pillow is a manila envelope, unmarked. I open it. A creased and faded photo falls out: me riding Dad's shoulders outside the cabin.

I hide it inside Dad's book, place the book atop the baby's shelf and pack for school, then go downstairs. "Hey, will you walk me to the bus tomorrow?"

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