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Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


New Habits
1178 words

Robert held his coat around his shoulder, trudging back to his apartment after another day of work. He noticed a thin man loitering around the building, looking lost.

"Can I help you, sir?" he asked, putting on his most helpful voice. It did not come easily, despite his service-oriented profession.

The man sized him up with eyes that did not belong to someone so infirm. He was weak, but his eyes knew the feeling of power, or once did. "Why thank you, officer. I'm looking for a man named Robert Walts, who lives here."

"May I know what business you have with Mr. Walts?" Robert asked, not dropping the charade.

"To give him news: Solveig is dying."

Robert felt the ever-familiar flare of anger through his body, and willed himself to reject it. It took him a second to calm his senses. He assessed the threat. "Why do you know who Solveig is? Who are you?"

"I need your help, Blake," the man said, smiling sadly.

That was a name Robert hadn't heard in ten years. It was also his real name.

"Come inside," he said.

###

Robert made themselves tea. Solveig sipped it gratefully, his thin arms trembling on the table.

"Who did this to you?" Robert asked. Why did you let them?

"No one," Solveig said. "It's my cells. They're dying at an accelerated rate. At first my powers disappeared, then my own health deteriorated."

"The Guild of Heroes could not help?" What use are they, then?

"Doc Merlin turned me away," Solveig said. "My condition is in the realm of science, he said, and any spell that could cure me would also exact a heavy price. And I'm not willing to pay that price, not when it could affect the ones I love."

"Your family?"

Solveig shook his head.

Robert considered smashing the table, and consoled himself by tapping it instead. "I may be sociopathic, but isn't that what families exist for? Giving moral support?"

"I was inconsolable. I became a danger to Marla and my son, so I sent them away."

"This is all difficult to take," Robert said. He may have lived alone for ten years, lying low, fixing the world on a smaller scale than he would've wanted to, but he had made some progress. The little corner of the Earth he lived in was safer, and people could walk in the streets without fear shadowing their every step. But Solveig? How far could the mighty have fallen?

"In the end, I'm just human," Solveig said. "And look at you. It took me a while to find you. Marvel Marlowe worked on your trail for weeks. And it turns out that you're now chief of police in a country on the other side of the world."

Robert smiled. Marlowe, greatest detective in the world, flummoxed for more than a day. He was flattered. "I've had time to think while licking my wounds since The Demagogue. But surely you didn't come here to praise how I've turned my life around. You're calling in a favor from me to cure your condition?"

Solveig looked Robert in the eye. "I'm not calling in a favor. I'm asking you, out of the goodness of your heart."

Robert's muscles tensed. How like Solveig to consider only the best from the people around him! Long-quenched emotions swirled inside him, thoughts that he had now considered beneath him. Such condescension! Solveig had been the only one standing between him and world domination, all those years ago. What would he give for the man's power?

Robert took a deep breath. Just old habits. He had thrown away his pride, but it kept running back to him like a well-trained dog. "So I am your last, desperate choice," he said.

"I may be desperate," Solveig said, "but I didn't want to disturb your exile. I also feared that... my presence would make you revisit unpleasant memories. But I don't want to give up just yet."

"You've said enough," Robert said. "I'll help you."

"You can cure me?" Solveig said, his eyes regaining a shade of its old fervor. Lord of the Sun, Highest of Mortals. Such titles did little justice once you've seen his eyes.

Robert grinned. "But of course. How could I take over the world if I couldn't even save the life of one man?"

###

The subspace gateway closed behind them. Solveig gazed in awe at their new surroundings.

"This reminds me of your old lab," Solveig said.

"This is a good deal smaller," Robert said. "Only the most essential devices are here. Meaning..." He sidestepped the miniature black hole cage, the positronic shotgun, and the time machine jammer to reach a contraption that constituted a human-sized glass chamber on a dais, and a detachable control panel. He performed authorization checks and turned on the device.

"Is that... intended for me?" Solveig asked.

"I made this one to strip you of your powers. It works by overcharging your cells to effectively cause a short-circuit. It was initially supposed to transfer your powers to me, but I've scaled down and reformed, so I scrapped those plans."

"So if I don't have my powers anymore, that will give them back to me?" Solveig said.

"It should, theoretically," Robert said. "I have never tested it, because Solveig would never be so foolish to enter the chamber out of his own free will."

Solveig smiled. "Call me a fool, but I'm taking the chance."

"Then step inside."

Robert started the device, making final checks. "Feels comfy in here," Solveig said, his voice muffled by the reinforced glass.

"Try not to talk," Robert said. "I'm concentrating." He was torn between two equally attractive options. He had lied to Solveig--the transfer feature was built into the system since day one. Who wouldn't pass up the chance to take the man's powers for his own? He could usher in a new age of humanity that would no longer be ruled by base desires. All he needed to steal Solveig's powers was to set one tiny switch.

The switch was currently set to on.

And yet he remembered Solveig's words. He sought Robert's help because he trusted him. He believed that Robert had changed.

Had he?

"After we defeated The Demagogue, why did you let me go?" Robert asked. He had fought Solveig many times in the past; eight of his teeth were synthetic.

"You helped me save the world, just as I thought you would," Solveig said.

Robert closed his eyes. Their first meeting, their first skirmish: We can save the world together, Solveig had told him. "All this time, and you still believe that?"

"Until I am dust."

Robert flicked the switch.

###

Afterwards, Robert made himself more tea. I'll need a new set of clothes, he thought. He would never send a naked man outside his apartment--it would be bad gossip.

You're welcome. He still tasted the words in his tongue, a gag reflex to Solveig's overwhelming gratitude.

He repeated the words, over and over. It was a habit he could get into.

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Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Encounter on Trollstigen
(Norway)
1191 words

My opponent's glaring at me from his car, and I don't know why. I'm talking to Dad, but I can feel another pair of eyes behind me.

"It's a nice car," Dad says, running a hand along the hood of my pink BMW M3 E30. He doesn't bat an eyelash at the new paint scheme, courtesy of Mom.

I shrugged. "I guess?" I say. I've seen Dad in photos, but to see my own blue eyes in a man's face is a little weird.

"She's a much better driver than you," Mom says, beaming.

"I don't doubt that," Dad says. "But I'm not her opponent. Henrik, say hello to my daughter."

Henrik strides forward. His racing suit's emblazoned with numerous sponsors. I shrink away, intimidated in my sweater-and-pants getup.

"I'm Henrik."

"Maiken." My reply is just as curt. He blinks at my eyes and pointedly averts his own. "So you're my half-brother?" I ask.

"I'm adopted."

I turn to Dad, who flashes me an awkward smile. "Henrik's parents left him in my care when they passed on."

"Sorry, I never got to tell her," Mom says, squeezing my shoulder.

Good job, me. "Um, I'm--"

"Let's get this over with, sir," Henrik says. He retreats to his car, a white Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. It's loud, turbocharged, and made for racing.

"Just treat this like a time trial," Mom says.

###

Trollstigen is closed for the night. Dad pulled strings to have it to ourselves for three hours. The actual race won't even last ten minutes. The rest was for setup, and for Henrik to run through the course a few times to understand it.

At the starting line, I focus on the road ahead. Trollstigen's a magnificent road, with a view to die for. Eleven hairpins downhill in fair, pleasant weather. I've driven through this road all my life, though not like this. Not with another car competing with me on the road. Some people call races "battles". I don't like it.

I don't like this.

At the go signal we step on it. The LanEvo takes the lead. Fine with me. If I'm last, then I won't be pressured into doing something drastic just to maintain the lead.

I keep the gap close, making no move to overtake. Henrik's pacing his tires; he's probably still calculating an approach for each of the hairpins.

He attacks the first hairpin, his car's amazing downforce keeping his tires gripped on the road. I drift through, conservatively to keep our gap small.

He goes faster.

On the next hairpin, Henrik goes to the outer lane, so I take the inside. I don't drift this time, but my tight lane forces Henrik to slow down, and now I'm ahead.

Henrik's intent is murderous, indignant. He moves to overtake. I block him repeatedly. The LanEvo roars in frustration. Near the next hairpin, Henrik puts some distance between us, looking for a gap in my line.

I perform an inertia drift, flicking my steering wheel to the opposite direction of the turn and steering into the turn. The centripetal force threatens to rip me off my bucket seat, but my harness holds. My E30 occupies the entire width of the road, making it impossible to pass.

I'm not used to this. Henrik's persistent. We use the entire width of the road as I foil his attempts to pass me. I'm pretty sure I won't beat my record this race, as he keeps me from maintaining an optimal line.

On the next corner he powers through, his car's turbocharged engine switching from bass to tenor. He wedges his nose inside a gap I made, forcing me to let him pass. Reveling in the lead, he puts as much distance between us on the straightaways.

###

Mom led me to the garage. She turned on the light, revealing a covered car beside our regular SUV.

"Happy birthday, Maiken," she said, throwing off the cover.

"Mom. A car's the last thing I need right now." I had a physics exam tomorrow. Newton's laws of motion. Real easy stuff, as long as you slept early. I didn't need something else on my mind.

"This was your dad's car."

"He used to drive a pink car?"

Mom smiled. "I had it painted for you."

I didn't see a classic car in front of me. I only saw a relic twice my age, all blocky lines and angles. "I don't really care about Dad. I mean, he doesn't care about us, right?"

"It's a little complicated," Mom said.

"I already have my driver's license. I'm sure I'm old enough to know."

"Then drive the car. It's a troublesome birthday gift, but I hope it'll open a lot of roads for you, like it did for me." Mom's voice softened, and she ran her fingers along the car's hood.

My mother was never the sentimental type, but I understood the weight of her words. "Fine, fine. I'm taking her out for a spin."

Mom threw me the keys. "Take me to Trollstigen."

And the rest is history.


###

The next few hairpins would happen in quick succession with each other. This is my only chance to pass Henrik again, if he couldn't accelerate fast enough. I put pressure on him by feinting a pass, which causes him to lose his lane. Four-wheel drives are stiff, and it would serve to annoy him.

He loses some speed in order to take the first hairpin. His tires are starting to lose their grip, I notice. I can win this.

I drift through the hairpin, attempting another pass right after the corner. Henrik moves to block, and the LanEvo loses more speed. He takes the turn slower than expected, and I move on the outside lane.

Henrik attempts to drift to cut me off. His car complains--his tires are already worn, and I hear a wrong screeching sound, where he's lost traction. I could pass right now, just as the LanEvo's rear is spinning out. But we're going past 120 kph, and he's going to smash into the cliff wall and--

I lift my foot off the gas, decelerating so that my car's nose pushes against his outside bumper, negating the spin.

Henrik realizes what I've done. His racer's instinct kicks in, and he pulls ahead of me again.

###

My pit crew attends to me. I pull off my hairband, wiping the sweat off my brow. There's a dent on my E30's nose.

"Sorry," I tell Mom.

"I saw what you did," she says, bringing me to a hug. "I'm proud of you." I couldn't leave Henrik to his fate. No one would be happy with that. And it's not like I really wanted to win, anyway.

"Maiken." It's Henrik. I turn around. He grabs my hand and shakes it slowly.

"Congratulations," I say.

"Thanks." He's not too happy.

I look at Dad, who's busy barking orders at his own pit crew. "You can call him 'Dad', Henrik. You're his family now."

Henrik's thin lips break into a smile. "I will. Let's race again someday."

I smile back. "Next time, can it be a time trial?"

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In with My Bloodshed Drowns Him.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


The Royal Scam
My Bloodshed Drowns Him
992 words

Princess Hyouko looked out of the window, gazing at the massive red cliffs that surrounded the palace. "It's just like Mars, Dr. Namik," she said.

Dr. Namik, her personal physician, sighed and tapped the chair in front of him. "If you are finished comparing our biggest enemy's homeworld with our empire's biggest industrial planet, then would you be ready to take your vaccine, princess?"

"Dr. Namik, the Belrian Empire is not our enemy anymore. That's why I'm here," Hyouko said.

"A mere slip of the tongue, for which I apologize."

Hyouko sighed inwardly. How long until her people start seeing that killing fellow survivors of the Human Diaspora was not the right way? She took her seat.

"It's just so different, yet similar," she said. "I can really see that the Belrians love their planet, because they built around these cliff formations instead of tearing them down. We could serve to learn from their example. Which is why the Belrian Empire is much more useful to use intact, not just to augment our military forces but to diversify our culture."

"I trust you can do it, Princess Hyouko," Dr. Namik said. "Now, this will hurt a bit."

Hyouko looked out of the window as the syringe pricked her skin. "Why do I need this, anyway? We've been inoculated for this planet's indigenous diseases already."

Dr. Namik shook his head. "I'm not too sure myself, but your brother, Prince Reki, insisted on it, since you would be dining with the Belrian royal family.

Prince Reki, who was in charge of the Belrian front. He had done enough damage, wiping out two Belrian colonies and plasmabombing an industrial planet from orbit. Hyouko hoped there would be no talk of that during dinner.

There was a knock on the door. It was Gultara, her Belrian liaison, escorted by a member of the royal guard. "Princess Hyouko, your presence is requested in the dining room," he said in clipped Jovian.

"I am ready," she said.

###

Dinner was delicious. Hyouko enjoyed the seafood, its bones liquefied to be edible, permeating the crisp white meat. Following her primer on dining etiquette, she ate the eyes last, which were chewy and gave her pleasant hallucinations of her first happy memories: riding the aerocycle with training engines removed, and sitting on her father's shoulders.

Her father, the Holy Jovian Emperor, was a giant of a man, whose presence could fill the entire court. It was by his own request that Hyouko followed the path of diplomacy. "It is infinitely more preferable to destroy an enemy by making him your friend, than to annihilate him outright," he had said.

"We thank you for accepting our invitation, Princess Hyouko," said the Belrian empress. "We hope this is a first step towards mutual understanding between our two empires."

"Indeed. I hope you will accept our terms for an alliance," Hyouko said. "Oh, and I must say the fish was delicious."

The empress smiled. "That is good to hear."

Hyouko's vision flickered and she doubled over.

###

The fish was bad. Something must have gone wrong, terribly wrong. Hyouko glimpsed her older siblings on the table, all of whom were laughing at her.

"How could you faint at the sight of blood?"

"You're useless, sister."

"Maybe you'll become a minister, like all the commoners."

"That's not true," she said. "Father encouraged me to do this! Watch me succeed where you've all failed. I'll bring the Belrian Empire into our fold!"

"Princess, what are you talking about?" Dr. Namik said, suddenly at her side and looking very agitated.

"You too, Dr. Namik?" Hyouko said, slapping her physician, who crumpled on the floor. When she drew back her hand, it was slick with blood--

Princess Hyouko screamed and launched herself at her brothers and sisters until they laughed at her no more.

###

Hyouko gasped awake. A man was lifting a defibrillator off her chest. She buttoned up her hospital gown, and hesitated. What happened to her gown? The dinner? Something had happened there. Something sick. Something her own memories hid from her.

"I repeat, Princess Hyouko has been found. We are now administering the antidote."

"What happened to me?" Hyouko asked. A man approached, holding a holoscreen of her brother, Prince Reki.

"Sister."

"You've never been this cordial with me, brother," Hyouko said. Her head throbbed faintly. "Why would you even talk to me?"

"To congratulate you," Reki said. "You were right, the dinner was a great idea to finally gather the Belrian royal family into one room. You did the rest on your own."

"I don't understand, Reki. Where's the palace?"

"You're sitting on where it used to be. I dispatched a medical team to revive and debrief you. There are no other survivors."

"What about the royal family?"

Reki smiled. "No survivors. Thanks to you, it's only a matter of time until we capture the rest of Belria."

Hyouko shook her head. Why couldn't she remember? "You made me kill them?"

"A task you performed willingly, given the right amount of suggestion. Now you've earned your place among your siblings."

The second man prepared a syringe.

"I didn't want this," Hyouko said, hugging her shoulders. "I went here to broker peace, not... this. Father wouldn't have approved."

"He would, after seeing the results," Reki said. "Or do you want to relinquish all the credit to me?"

Hyouko said nothing. What did she have to live for? Her diplomatic mission, sabotaged. Perverted from its original purpose.

"This won't hurt a bit," the man said.

"But it did," Hyouko said, swinging her arm. The headless body teetered, and fell on the ash-covered ground. She felt nothing from the sight of blood. Nothing.

Her hands reached for the second man. A scream later, she picked up her brother's holo, the blood on her hands staining Reki's features.

"I'm coming for you. All of you," she said, feeling certain for the first time in her life.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Let There Be Light
1693 words

The screen's notification light shook Jeremy out of his stupor. "Receive: audio only," he said, unwilling to extricate himself out of the zero-g fetal position he had assumed.

"Jeremy. It's me, Tina. I need you here ASAP. Please."

Jeremy stretched himself out and tethered himself to a handhold. "Receive: video." He reached out for another pack of beer, but thought better of it. Tina's face took up the entire feed. There were lines on her face since he last saw her.

"What have you gotten yourself into, Tina? It's been ten years. You still folding?" Nobody traveled faster-than-light anymore, not when fold sickness started claiming those who lived the majority of their lives in space, and their offspring. Any dreams of an interstellar human empire died in childbirth.

"How could I stop folding?" Tina said, coughing into her hand. She frowned at the sight and wiped it offscreen. "We'll find a way to survive. As a race, if not individually. Are you still drinking?"

Jeremy brandished the pack of beer. "Better than folding. You still smoke?"

"I quit."

Jeremy nodded. He spun head to toe, the screen rotating along with him. "You didn't call me just to catch up, did you?"

"I didn't," Tina said. "I need your help. I've docked with a ship. An alien ship. Same make as the Macbeth, which landed on Terra a century ago. You could check my vector if you want."

Tina was telling the truth. Her little yacht would never be able to pull off such a velocity. "There's another ship like that?"

"This one is bigger. And it's intact. I'm thinking of steering it into a populated planet's orbit. We could then study it, find something to cure or solve the fold sickness problem. What do you think?"

"I'd rather be drinking."

"I have a pack of Trappist beer. It's yours if you help me."

Jeremy made a face. The Trappist order was already extinct, and the product they were known for was very expensive on the black market. For all of Tina's faults, being a liar wasn't one of them. "I could just go there, you know."

"It's on the other side of the galaxy. The trip would definitely kill you."

"I was just messing with you. I'm coming."

Tina rolled her eyes. "This is why we split up. Can't handle being wrong."

"Catch you later," Jeremy said. He ended the call and scampered for a fresh suit. He never thought he would be meeting Tina again. He set the fold coordinates, and strapped himself into the chair and closed his eyes.

Three, two, one, fold. Light consumed him, permeating his eyelids, permeating his entire skin. His head exploded in pain, a star going nova.

And then it was gone. Jeremy treated himself to an anesthetic and studied the visual feed. His ship matched speeds with the bigger alien ship. The hatch to the hangar was open, Tina's ship docked and secure. Jeremy docked his own ship.

Tina welcomed him on board her own, gravity a comfortable 0.8 g.

"Where's the beer?" Jeremy said, looking around. Tina still had a bookshelf, containing several dozen tablets. There was a lot that he didn't recognize.

"In storage. don't you dare hack it," Tina said.

"I'm not that desperate," Jeremy said. "So what have you learned about the ship?"

"It seems empty," Tina said. "Or they don't mind visitors. Its systems are on, but at its current vector I think it's just wandering aimlessly. We could give it a purpose. You still up for it?"

"I'm here already. Let's just get this over with," Jeremy said. He took a step, and staggered into Tina's arms. His eyes were wide open, but he could only see dancing white spots.

"Whoa, Jeremy." Her grip was warm, but not intimate. Guarded.

Jeremy still couldn't see. "Haven't folded in half a year. I still have most of the supplies from then."

"You haven't been cooking, have you? I know the ship processes food, but it's still poo poo."

"Never did learn it, thanks to someone."

Tina rolled her eyes. "I'm letting go now."

"Okay." Jeremy blinked a few times. Tina was standing in front of him, her eyes darting around but him.

"Bring your tools. We're exploring in an hour."

###

The inside of the alien ship was 1 g, like Terra. Jeremy wondered what the ship's crew had looked like. The corridors were double the usual human specifications, and the layout was labyrinthine. The walls were made of some kind of metal he couldn't tell.

They encountered their first robot in five minutes, patrolling a square area. Its clawed hands looked strong enough to snap a neck, and it had a wheeled platform for feet. The head was rectangular like a screen, with a green light flickering in its center.

"So we're not alone," Jeremy said, using their private channel. They were clad in full gear: reinforced helmets and deep-space suits, complete with rocket thrusters. Jeremy's trusty blast pistol rested in his left holster. He hadn't fired the gun in years, not since splitting up with Tina, and his left hand shook with dread. He certainly didn't relish an opportunity to use it.

"Its scan range seems short," Tina said. "Let's go around."

"I have an idea," Jeremy said. "Let's hack it and get the layout of this ship."

"That's dangerous," Tina said. "How did you even have the idea that they're hackable?"

"It's just a hunch. I think whoever crewed this place didn't worry about information security," Jeremy said. He caught the robot's attention, drew his blast pistol, and shot off both arms and melted the legs with a low-power beam, fusing the robot to the floor.

"Uh oh," Tina said, noticing the green light on the robot's face turn to red.

"Keep them occupied while I work on this thing." Jeremy took out his virtual keypad, slapping it on the robot's body.

The wall next to Tina opened.

"Behind you!" Jeremy called. Tina's scream cut into her ears, sending the white spots back to cloud his vision. He looked up and saw Tina being lifted off her feet. The second robot's claws were piercing her suit. Keeping one hand on his keypad, he drew his blast pistol, set the fire selector to narrow, and aimed at the attacking robot's head.

He blacked out twice, his aim wavering. Tina was now wheezing for air. The claws must have already pierced her lungs. Jeremy dropped the gun. He scrambled for the master command screen. From it, he sent a shutdown command to all robots in the ship. Both robots froze. With a pained grunt, Tina pushed herself off, dropping to the floor.

Sighing in relief, Jeremy downloaded the map of the ship. "I'm done." He sent a copy over to Tina's helmet screen.

"Engine room?" she asked between gasps.

"Don't speak," Jeremy said. He sprayed medical gel on Tina's wounds and sealed her suit. "Can you walk?"

"I'm gonna need your help. Where's the engine room?"

"I'll lead the way," Jeremy said.

###

They reached the engine room, which was bathed in blue light.

"Blue means harmless," Tina said. Jeremy eased his gun hand.

The layout was familiar: twin turbo-fold engines flanking the hyperspace drive. If the engines activated they would be plasma in a millisecond. That was how some spacenoids committed suicide--painless and instantaneous. Jeremy found himself shaking his head.

"How is it?" he asked. Engines were Tina's strong suit. She had dropped out of engineering school, but that didn't stunt her sense of machinery.

"The engine shielding looks like it's made of a different material. Definitely not lunarium," Tina said. "And the drive is a different design. Actually, it's worth the price of admission. The one we got from Macbeth was half-damaged."

"Are there even any engineers left to study this?" Jeremy asked.

Tina shook her head. "Beats me. But there must be someone trying to beat the odds. Like us."

"Why do you hope so much?"

"Because of my son."

Jeremy paused, his mouth suddenly dry. "I didn't know you have a son. Why didn't you tell me?"

"That's because I'm not even sure if it's yours," Tina said. "I'm sorry. I went through a phase after we split. And I sent Edgar away when he was young, so we don't actually know each other."

"Let's move to the bridge," Jeremy said.

###

The bridge was bare. There was an equivalent of a captain's chair, but there were no instruments.

"This is a holo-projector, I think" Jeremy said. As he stepped near, a gridded sphere materialized in front of him.

"Can you operate it?" Tina said. Her breathing had become more ragged since the incident with the robots.

"It's mostly a visual interface." Jeremy couldn't understand the angular glyphs, but he pressed the section that marked something resembling the ship's engines. He twisted the holographic dial. On one side of the sphere a bar started increasing. "I guess that's our velocity." He slid it back down. "Are you looking at this?"

Tina was sitting on the floor, leaning forward. "Don't worry about me." She dug in one of her pouches, pulling a cigarette out.

"You can't smoke, we're in a vacuum."

"I'm not smoking," Tina snapped. "I've quit, remember?" She crushed the cigarette in her hand. "Set a course to Gliese 221-c."

"Done." The hologram showed the ship changing its vector.

"It's where Edgar lives. My son, I mean. He might have your eyes. It's been too long."

"We're traveling below the speed of light. We'll never be there in time."

"Then initiate a space fold," Tina said.

"I don't think our bodies would be able to handle it," Jeremy said.

"Does it matter? We're dead already."

Jeremy stared hard at the fold icon. The drive was supposed to be shielded. Would they survive?

Tina pulled herself to her feet, standing beside him. "Just do it."

"Is Edgar my son?" Jeremy asked.

Tina took his hand. "You can confirm it for yourself."

"Okay." Jeremy closed his eyes, and the unmistakable sensation of a fold clenched around his stomach and wouldn't let go.

Somehow, it wasn't painful at all.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In this week, can I have a fairy tale, please?

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Queen Takes Queen
1354 words

Queen Sorienne dismounted from her horse, eyeing the door to the cottage with a sense of resignation.

"Are you nervous?" said the horse. His penchant for speaking was a source of irritation than wonder.

"It has to be done," the queen said. "Now graze for a bit while I talk to the person inside."

The horse gave a human-like nod, and walked off. Sorienne took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" said a voice sounding like her own.

"The Queen of the realm of Falada," said Sorienne. It was a half-truth, like many of the things she had said in the past few months.

The door swung open, and a face peeked out, the features strikingly similar to the queen's. Clad in roughspun clothing, the true Sorienne smiled at her pretender. "Aren't you coming in?"

###

It was smaller inside, for barrels and barrels occupied most of the space. The two women conferred around the minuscule dining table.

"My name's Jemi," the better-dressed woman said, gray riding clothes concealing knives and a small crossbow. "I'm sorry for, well, taking your place."

"I don't blame you. Every girl dreams of being a queen," said Queen Sorienne. "Beer or cider?"

Jemi stared at Sorienne's cup with apprehension. "Whatever's weakest, please."

"Well that's a shame." Queen Sorienne downed her own cup of cider in one gulp.

"How are you, Your Highness?"

"Just 'Sorienne' will do. I like it here. Townsfolk's nice, simple people. I've found out I have a talent for concocting drinks. And you?"

Jemi's smile frayed along the edges. "Difficult, but rewarding. Mostly difficult, though. Your husband... he went back from campaigning and he's pressuring me for an heir."

"Isn't that wonderful?"

"No!" said Jemi, and the cottage shook from her outburst. "I don't love him. I don't like him at all! I've got better table manners, even when I was still a serving girl. And he's got this huge, bushy beard..."

"I like the beard," said Sorienne, "but do go on."

"As I was saying, he's also loud and obnoxious and keeps bringing up his, um, conquests in polite conversation. How did you handle him?"

"Oh, I kept to myself," said Sorienne, already on her third cup of cider. "I was a princess of Blucher. You know, neighboring kingdom, nice tobacco exports. My mother, the queen, sent me to Falada to marry the king in a political alliance. And so I did. And right then, the king goes ahead and violently annexes Blucher."

"That's awful!" said Jemi.

"I suppose it is. But my troubles were only beginning. We played an elaborate game of hide-and-seek as I evaded his advances. I feigned sickness for months, then he started campaigning again, which made me safe for a bit. One day I went riding, saw a stream, thought it good to bathe in there. You know the rest."

Jemi buried her face in her hands. "I'm so sorry. But when I saw your face, I couldn't help it," said Jemi. "We might as well be twins. But I'm still amazed that no one in court could tell the difference."

"That's because no one looks at the queen long enough, because of the king's temper," said Sorienne. "I'm sorry you don't like it, though."

"I wasn't prepared for how boring life was," said Jemi. She had merely taken a sip of her drink, just to wet her throat. "I had a passageway constructed from my room to the library, where I could be alone. Then I tried running the kingdom. It wasn't that hard, which makes me wonder why the king's so eager to go out there make more enemies."

"He is a buffoon, you know."

Jemi sighed. "Anyway, it was fulfilling and I thought things were looking up, but then your husband returns and demands that we consummate our marriage, so here I am."

"What are you planning, Your Highness?" said Sorienne.

"I'm going to save our kingdom. And I'm going to need your help," said Jemi.

"What's in it for me?"

"Um, revenge?"

"Oh, I'm not interested in that. In fact, that's why my mother married me off to the king; he may be a ruffian, but he wouldn't hurt his wife. And there's no one else to succeed the line, anyway."

"I'll make it worth your while, I promise," said Jemi.

###

Jemi returned to the castle with Sorienne, the real queen, disguised as a chambermaid. It was easily the most exciting moment of her life, and a morbid part of her was thrilled to be caught.

Alas, no one took notice of an extra chambermaid, not even the fact that she bore more than a passing resemblance to the queen.

The king, upon learning that his wife has returned, immediately pressed her on to consummate their marriage.

"Sure, sure," said Sorienne, who had switched places with Jemi. "On one condition, though."

"Name it," said the king, brimming in anticipation.

"Let's do it in my quarters. I'm most comfortable in my own room."

Arrangements were quickly made. The queen dismissed all servants and sent for Jemi, the chambermaid.

"Everything okay?" said Sorienne.

"All preparations have been made," said Jemi. She tried not to look at the man she despised.

"There is something different in you," said the king. "Your manner has become... coarser."

"Why, it's the current fashion in court," said Sorienne. "We're trying to understand the common folk by mimicking their mannerisms. It's been proven to work. We can expect a bigger levy this year."

"I see. That could be useful." The king looked at Jemi with a curious eye. "My queen, why does your chambermaid look exactly like yourself?"

"Is she?" said Sorienne, taking on a condescending tone that would have made Jemi slap her under different circumstances. "Look at how her nose is subtly larger and out of proportion, and the location of her mole, which placement is less perfect than mine. But her likeness amuses me, so I employed her."

The king did as he was told, which gave Jemi the chance to slip a drug in his drink. "Truly you are my lovely wife and queen," he said. "But there is enough of me for both of you. Let her join in."

Jemi trembled, jostling the silverware in her hand. The two women shared a look.

"After you, my dear," said Sorienne.

Excited, the king stripped of his clothes, leapt into bed, and did not move.

"Is he out?" said Jemi, trying to look at the king's beard and nowhere else.

"You gave him sleeping medicine for the horse. He'll be out enough," said Sorienne. Just as planned, they switched places.

"That's a relief. I was getting itchy in your dress," said Sorienne, adjusting Jemi's bodice.

"Now what?" said Jemi.

"Now we restrain him."

They tied the king's arms and legs. Jemi picked up a pillow, held it over the king's face, and finished the deed.

###

Queen Sorienne dismounted from her horse, eyeing the door to the house with a sense of resignation.

"Are you nervous?" said the horse.

"Not at all," said the queen. "I have a question."

The horse blinked. The queen had never confided in him before. "Speak."

"Which queen do you prefer, me or her?"

"I prefer the one who is feeding me," said the horse.

"Thank you," the queen said. "Now graze for a bit while I talk to the person inside."

The horse gave a human-like nod, and walked off. Sorienne knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" said a voice sounding like her own.

"The Queen of the realm of Falada," said Sorienne.

The door swung open, and a face peeked out, the features strikingly similar to the queen's. Clad in merchant silks, the true Sorienne smiled at her pretender. "Wow. Now you've gone and done it. No one's mistaking us anymore."

Sorienne touched her cheek, tracing the scar that ran from the side of her eye to her chin. "Someone has to defend the borders. That damned king, giving me more work to do. How are things?"

"Business? Business is good. Wanna drink?"

Sorienne smiled. "Gladly."

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Nori is just an anagram for Noir
487 words

Nori entered another fabric store. By her count she had been to thirty already, on her quest for black yarn. Miki wanted it for her craft--she was making something again, to take the edge off her various part-time jobs, but for some reason all the black yarns had disappeared off the face of Tokyo.

The balls of yarn were packed in a tiny basket by the counter. Nori turned reds and blues and yellows in search of it. She was about to give up when the welcome sight of black turned up in her hand.

Nori smiled. The easy part of her plan was complete. She took out her phone, composing a message to Miki.

###

The arcade was dimly-lit, illuminated mostly by bright game screens. Nori exhaled as she passed smokers huddled over an ashtray. Cute pop and disco mixed in a cacophony of delight, powered by 100-yen coin installments. A short woman stood beside the Project Diva machine, head bowed down and swaying to music in her oversized headphones.

Nori had to tap Miki on the shoulder. "Hey," she said.

"You're late!" Miki said. She took off her headphones. "Sorry. I missed you."

"But we saw each other last night," Nori said. Her left arm started shaking, and she hid it from view. Miki often went by the name Liselotte Wish-Upon-A-Fallen-Star. Liselotte would play rhythm games in full gothic-lolita attire, complete with an open parasol. Her entire getup was handmade.

In fact, that was how they had met. A black-clad damsel in distress; a group of punks; a knight in jeans. One punch, stopping a hair's breadth from a harasser's face.

"I missed you all the same." Miki craned her neck at the swinging basket behind Nori. "Have you got something for me?"

Blushing, Nori thrust the basket into Miki's hands.

"Black yarn! Liselotte Wish-Upon-A-Fallen-Star is grateful for your service, red-haired warrior," Miki said, slipping into her other persona.

"Try unrolling it."

"Hmm?"

"Just do it."

Miki carefully unrolled the ball of yarn. Tied at the very end was a silver ring, featuring a skull and a Latin inscription. "Oh... a memento mori ring! But it's not even our anniversary!"

Nori shrugged and turned away. "We can't get married in this country, but will you move in with me, at least? I don't want you eating instant ramen anymore, or locking yourself out of your flat, or... or being away from me for more than a day."

Miki placed her hands on Nori's shoulders. "You don't even have decent clothes, you get into too many fights, and you only listen to music for old people. So yeah, I'm in."

"You what?"

"Liselotte Wish-Upon-A-Fallen-Star accepts your humble request. She will make your dwelling her own. Consider it the biggest honor of your banal existence, mortal."

"I changed my mind," Nori said, chuckling softly.

But Miki had already put the ring on, and wouldn't let go of her anymore.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Crits for Week 131 (Part 1 of 2)

Iím lazy, so Iíll keep my crits short and to the point. However, if you really cared for the poo poo you wrote this week and want a detailed explanation on why it stinks, then just ask in the thread.

General thoughts:

Despite Echoís guideline that your stories must have change of some sort, most of you did the exact opposite thing. Iím guessing that a lot of you had a story in mind, wrote it, then ran out of words so you had to wrap it up or something. Iíve been guilty of that, too.

Short stories should start close to the part where the protagonist experiences a change in their routine. Donít give us a routine for a couple hundred words. I didnít care for a lot of stories because they rambled on and never tried to rope me into reading. Put the interesting scene near the beginning; its job is to hook your reader. If you donít do this then theyíll simply wander off.

Pay attention to your ending, too. I noticed a lot of rushed endings this week, that could've been saved by more rigorous editing. It's important to let your reader walk away with a clear notion of how the story ended. Don't half-rear end this either.

Read the HMs and the winner. Read and learn. What did they do that you didnít? What did you do that they did better? Take time to reflect on your sins. Writing is thinking.

###

ZeBourgeoisie - Westbound

You wrote a weak-rear end story for this week. Your story badly needs an edit, itís got paragraphs of poo poo no one cares about. For example, your second scene: Danís left home and is traveling. But for some reason you thought itís interesting for an audience to read about Dan making camp. Nope. Thatís also the part where I just gave up.

Put more tension in your story. This could have been much better if you stopped to ask yourself ďwould my readers care about this sentence Iím writing?Ē often.

Sitting Here - Uphill Rivers

I didnít like this at first, but I wasnít reading it properly. The careful reveal of the strangerís identity was done quite well, but some of her lines that sound too preachy (ďDoubt comes from fearÖĒ) and unnatural. We start to know who the protagonist is and why sheís out there, but then the story ends. This wonít win anything, but I kept reading until the end, and silently cursed the word limit.

ďMost people never really face their doubtsĒ I see what you did there

Screaming Idiot - Fate, Inescapable

This was really disjointed and hard to read. One of the judges said there was a time loop, and Iím like ďwhat loving time loop?Ē The nonlinear timeline made the story muddled. I also quit reading this story because after the third scene I still didnít know what was going on and why should I care, so I didnít.

Try to write something straightforward next time. Learn to walk before you try running.

Dr. Kloctopussy - Paper Crown

So this was really well-written for a story that doesnít really go anywhere. While Marly has a good, justified reason in ignoring the boy, I keep thinking ďbut what about that poor boy??Ē Itís cruel to dangle that in front of us and never explore it. I still felt that my time was a little wasted.

contagonist - What are you going to do now?

This was tough to follow. The world is interesting and new, but you donít really have enough words to fully flesh it out. I donít really get the protagonistís motivation or the backstory here. Who is Joachim Conrad and why does he matter? Feels like a longer piece crammed into 1k words.

Entenzahn - Deadeye Deadbeat Blues

Talking heads done extremely well. Everyone read this story. This is how you fit a story within a word limit. The detail is sparse but itís not lacking at all. The dialogue reads well enough even without attribution. Easy win.

Tayacan - Those Left Behind

Decent first entry. Couldíve been better and not disqualified, though, had you done one more editing pass to trim the words within the limit. You spend too much words on ďElaine is awkward around MarianneĒ, which you could have streamlined as not to undercut your third scene (which is where they start really talking).

Benny Profane - Right of Way

I donít care for the ďQ.Ē gimmick. Iím guessing itís a question posed by a psychiatrist(?) but deliberately cut out so that we only hear the protagonist talking. All Iím thinking is that it would be more interesting if you showed us the actual thing unfolding instead of the protagonist recounting it. Road rage isnít as visceral if itís being narrated to a third party. This isnít bad but it lacks oomph.

Savagely_Random - Coming of Age

This is tired as hell, like Iím reading a bland Middle-Eastern flavor of a martial arts movie. Nowhere near DM material, but your straight execution leaves a lot to be desired--mix it up a little. Tip: treat the characters as characters, not caricatures.

starr - The Hunt

Whatís the point of this? The flash rule is ďhelplessĒ but that doesnít mean you should make the protagonist unable to do anything for herself. Woman is hunting. Woman meets scary woman. Woman is turned into a hunting dog. The end. Itís bland as gently caress.

newtestleper - But wait, thereís more!

Jumps all over the place. I had to read this several times to work out the chronology. It doesnít help that you donít have scene breaks. And even if you did, youíd still have to contextualize each scene--did this happen after the previous scene, or before?

The ending is a squib. Iím sure you could write a decent, engaging story about patents but you played this one too straight--Chet just goes up to The Man and says ďnopeĒ, the end. Not even a bit of internal conflict or consequences. Also you spent some words on a side character who is never mentioned again afterwards, what.

Megazver - An Interrupted Meal

Donít infodump at the beginning of a short story. It doesnít give me proper context to enjoy it. Write a scene instead--the third paragraph of your story should be the first. Itís a nice and light read, but there was too much plotting for a 1k-word story? Ghost strikes bargain with protagonist, ghost double-crosses protagonist (?), protagonist takes care of her, then protagonist charges the cacodemon instead? I get the first two, but the third is muddled (we only know it works because of the ending, which is really short and rushed).

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Crits for Week 131 (Part 2 of 2)

LOU BEGAS MUSTACHE - Friends Forever

This reminded me a lot about Asimovís The Final Question, except more personal and human. The story goes from a personal to a cosmic scale really well, and the ending is touching in its own, detached way. My only quibble is that God is a dick, and doesnít really spend time with Yuna? Iíd be more than a little mad if my ďfriendĒ would only check up on me just to ask if we should break up. Good job, though.

Fuschia tude - Dark Thoughts

The first scene could be cut. No, seriously. Itís not egregious or anything, but itís a little redundant and too long considering its use as a scenario that illustrates the protagonistís job. Learn when to show and when to tell. You couldíve made the rest of the story stronger.

Also the ending is really dumb. ďOh no, my plan didnít work! *dies*Ē

leekster - Good Luck in All Your Future Endeavors

Ah, the loser. What made you lose was your storyís sloppiness. You didnít seem to proofread, so you didnít seem to give a poo poo. And we didnít, either.

A Classy Ghost - The Path from Pitios

Jarring as gently caress. Theyíre eating together and STOP, dagger time! Why is Cidra hanging out there? And she dies too easily that itís super anticlimactic. Pointless and forgettable, tbh.

Quidnose - Hippodermic Oath

Were you trying to write black humor? The protagonist is dying and all he can think of is being the wittiest person. I donít like how much of a wiseass he is. The story meanders then just ends, too. Not funny.

SadisTech - Hitching Home

Talking heads, and not in a very good way. Nothing of note really happens (what a non-ending, too). I donít really care about the sci-fi element, thereís little grounding on your protagonist. I think you had another story in mind, which you forced to fit the prompt?

Capntastic - Leading Projecting Developing Managing

Boring corporate conflict, and emotionally bankrupt to boot. We didnít really understand why he was so upset with the buyout (you should probably explain that stuff because we r dumb). Really itís just boring, though.

Benny the Snake - Providence

This wasnít egregious or anything but I felt that the story had this weird punchline of ďgods are really weird and arenít like humans at all, lolĒ. And you know, you alluded to a much more interesting story at the end where Hermes admonishes Thessalos about the dangers of hubris. I think you forced your story on the prompt.

sebmojo - Delirium

Good words, atmospheric as hell. However, I wouldíve liked this more if you dialed down on the Darth Vader twist in the end. I thought it was jarring and ruined the ending for me. I know that thereís delirium but still I expected something more than a sucker punch?.

Grizzled Patriarch - Until We Meet Again

I really liked this! Read like a sad French film. The order of events is a little strange, until it starts to make itself clear by the end. Then when you reread it, things just click in place. Didnít work for everyone, though. More words and this couldíve made a bigger impact.

crabrock - The Wizard

Engaging, likable protagonist with fun internal monologue. He isnít really a wizard (or is he???), and thatís the joke, but itís not a cheap punchline since the entire story serves the idea. This is an example of a good story that doesnít rely on tricks, but just maintains tension throughout and leads to a believable ending.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In. Please give me a song, thanks.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Remorseful Lives
994 words
Song: Twisting

Mina ducked just in time to avoid a grubby foot from hitting her face. She looked up, regarding the rows of corpses suspended from the ceiling. Young and old, man and woman, their bodies were perfectly preserved at the exact moment of their deaths.

"Take your time," the shopkeeper said, a gaunt man in black.

"Um, for my spell, does the body matter?" Mina asked.

"Anyone's toenails will do."

Sometimes magick was easier than Mina thought. Most of the time it was really bizarre--what did the toenails of a recent suicide victim have to do with summoning your dead boyfriend's ghost?

She dodged the rows of feet and stopped in front of a young man. A little prettier than Dean, maybe thinner. The corpse wore tiny gray briefs.

"I'll take this one."

###

The corpse kept twisting in place after Mina had deactivated the stasis spell. She clipped its toenails and placed it inside the magick circle.

Why did he kill himself? Mina found herself wondering.

"Seriously?" a man's voice said.

Mina ignored it. Dabble long enough into magick and these things start to happen, Dean had warned her.

"What are you doing with my toenails?"

"I'm going to talk to my boyfriend," Mina said, not turning around.

"Can't you just call him?"

"He's dead."

"Oh."

Silence. Mina thought of Dean, and his roguish grin that made her pursue the craft in the first place. The things she did for that grin.

"You should just let him go."

Mina whirled at the voice. The ghost of the hanged man was looking at her with a sympathetic face. He was still wearing his tacky briefs. "What's it to you? I just need your toenails, then I'll cremate your body with aetheric fire and that's it."

"I can tell you're hurting," the ghost said. Mina sensed the kindness in his voice, like a nice grandmother who knitted you things and sent you sweet, embarrassing texts. Definitely not like Dean.

"How could you say that? You don't know me."

"This apartment is too big for one, yet you served dinner for two. So I guess you're still grieving," the ghost said.

Mina looked at the mac and cheese and Coke on the dining table. She would clean that up before sleeping, like she did every day since Dean died. "What's your name? I'm Mina."

"Adrian." Adrian extended a translucent hand, stared at it, then put it away. The faintest shade of red appeared on his gray cheeks.

Mina turned her smile into a wince before the ghost could notice. "Adrian, this might come off as rude, but why did you kill yourself?"

Adrian sighed. "Student loan debt. Three years out of law school and I still couldn't find a job."

"Ouch. Must be tough."

Adrian held up a hand. "And my girlfriend, well, she'd borrow my credit card and go on shopping sprees behind my back and well... you know the rest. She wasn't really nice to me, but I loved her?" He scratched his head. "Man, it sounds so dumb now."

"I could relate." Mina's eyes hovered back to the circle. "I'm sorry, but I'm casting the spell now. You're free to go, Adrian."

Adrian floated away with a hurt expression on his face. I just listened to his sob story and threw him out. Go me, Mina thought. Dean used to say she had a way with messing with people's heads.

Ten minutes later, Dean's ghost stood in the middle of the circle.

"Mina?" Dean was just like Mina had last seen him: wearing a blue hoodie with a ragged hole right where his heart should have been.

"Hi Dean," Mina said. She withered under Dean's intense stare. Familiar feelings of desperation threatened to sweep her off her feet. "Sorry I dropped the elixir."

Dean burst into laughter. "You summoned me just to apologize?" He stomped on the floor. His foot made no sound, but it made Mina flinch all the same. He never hit actually her, but sometimes she wished he did.

"I told you to run, didn't I?"

"But you were having trouble fighting the clockwork knight," Mina said. "And I wanted to help." She got a long gash on her right arm for it, and Dean got impaled by a foot of enchanted steel.

"If you'd been a good girl and escaped with the elixir, then I'd still be here, and we'd be living like kings now. Focus, Mina. You're not Academy-trained, so who's going to teach you now? When are you getting me another body?"

"Never," Mina said.

Dean stomped again. "Excuse me?"

Mina's voice cracked. "When you died, I went over your things. I was looking for a spell to bring you back. Then I saw a notebook. It was full of women's names. You were only using me, weren't you?"

Dean grinned. "So? You've been a sweet girl, Mina. You still love me, right?"

"Goodbye, Dean." Mina scraped the edge of the circle off with her slippers. Dean opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He raised his leg for another stomp before disappearing entirely.

Mina threw herself into the sofa. Then the dam burst. For a moment her sobs filled a home that was too spacious for one.

"That was intense." Adrian knelt in front of her, resting a ghostly hand on her hair. "But I'm glad you got rid of him once and for all."

"You stayed?"

"I had a feeling we're alike."

"Two months worth of mac and cheese. I never even eat the stuff," Mina said.

"I like mac and cheese," Adrian said. "I'm pretty much dead, though."

Mina's heart broke a little bit more. "Do you want to live again?"

"I think so. I mean, I'd take the chance if I could."

Mina spoke a word, placing Adrian's body back in stasis. She went to Dean's spell drawer and pulled out his notes. "Then let's get to work, before your meal gets cold."

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Asked Kaishai to sign me up from IRC, but I'm making it official here that I'm picking Georgia.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Untitled Opening
463 words

There's a ghost in our apartment and I'm the only one who has to suffer. My husband leaves early in the morning and takes the last train home, so he's spared by it.

"If you're bothered by it, why don't you find a real job?" he tells me over breakfast, in which he would display his superpower of being able to talk with toast in his mouth.

"This is a real job!" I snapped. On a good day I could easily make double his daily wage. But I can't, because there's someone who rearranges my closet, unplugs our appliances when not in use, and does the dishes.

And I can't stand that, especially the last one; I like doing the dishes. But the ghost would do them once I leave the kitchen, leaving a spotless, sparkling array of dishes on the rack.

Next thing it does is sort out my laptop's files. My work directory is a mess, but I can find whatever I need because it's mine. All my drawings got sorted alphabetically, each revision numbered in a neat naming scheme. Whoever this ghost is, he or she doesn't have a single creative bone in their body. No chaos in one's soul, no dying star, etcetera etcetera.

I tell this to my husband as he goes to bed with me. "You should be thankful," he says.

"It's freaky and I hate it!" I say. But he snuggles with me and everything is all right, until the morning comes and he's waking me up for breakfast, toast in his mouth.

"I think you should confront the ghost," he says.

I stare at the ripples of my tea. "But it's a ghost, who knows what it'll do to me?"

"Or maybe it's not a ghost..."

"The heck it's not!"

My husband gobbles up the toast. "You could install a camera."

"Uh... I read about that guy who did that and he learned that a homeless woman was living in his cupboard. I don't know which one is sadder, a homeless person or a ghost."

He shoves toast in my mouth. "Eat." I do. It's delicious; he always makes good toast, despite not being able to cook otherwise.

"Can't you do anything about it?"

He hesitates by the door. "Only if you can't. I'm off."

"See you later!" I call after him with a tinge of anger. I pass the kitchen and go to our bedroom, where my laptop is sitting on a breakfast table. I draw until lunchtime and arrive at the kitchen to see the sink empty.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I feel another presence in the room.

"Who's there?" I ask. There's no audible reply, but I feel the presence shift, circling me like a predator.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


A Better Place To Be In
983 words

When Ezekiel awoke, he found himself looking up at an ocean where the sky should be. Its furious waves beat at clustered stalactites far above his head, scattering a foamy, salty spray into the air. It seemed to hang in the space between ocean and Zeke for a long time before finally raining down on his bruised and swollen face. It stung. He coughed and spat a few times as the salt burned deep into all the tiny cuts across his face and neck. The throbbing pain in his skull and the painful effort it took to breathe consumed his focus for a few minutes. He was baffled by the skyward expanse of seawater until he saw a crumpled body among the "stalactites," with a mess like a smashed currant where its head should be, and a length of rope with frayed ends wrapped around its feet.

I must be hanging upside-down, he thought. He turned his head down to the sky above him. Frayed rope, knotted so tightly around his ankles he couldn't feel his feet anymore, seemed to extend forever to some unknown point on the cliff face. The land was as far above his feet as the ocean was beneath his head. Zeke's heart began to rattle as he realized that the shredded body on the rocks below was a herald of his own future. He relaxed his neck, and his brain spun around in his skull again as his eyes settled back on the body. With its head split open like that, Zeke couldn't even recognize the poor bastard, but he was dressed like a fellow sailor from the Blackadder. Then he noticed two more bodies a few yards past, one on top of the other. That one on top was Lathan. He couldn't see the one on the bottom, or see if it still had a face to even recognize. Both were dead, both almost certainly Blackadder crew.

The sight of his crewmate's dead face, twisted in terror, made Zeke tremble. This only further swayed the rope suspending him between life and death, so he turned his face back down to the sky and tried to concentrate on breathing. How had they ended up here? The last thing Zeke remembered was...

At that moment, a familiar face peered over the cliffside, followed by a hand grasping at Ezekiel's rope.

"Brody!" Zeke cried, "Brody!" It was a relief just to see a living crewmate, even if he and the cabin boy hadn't always been on the best terms.

Brody froze at the recognition. His hand tightened on the taut rope, and he dragged himself forward on his belly to get a better look at Zeke's face.

"Zeke," he responded. "I didn't think you'd be conscious."

His voice wavered with emotion, but there was no kindness in it.

Ezekiel realized there was something in Brody's other hand: a cutlass.

This was no rescue.

"Hell of a thing last night, eh?" Zeke called. As he wracked his head for memories that lead to his current predicament, the best way to buy time was to keep Brody talking.

Brody's face paled. He looked back a couple of times, gesturing at someone out of sight. The captain's head peeked out of the cliff, his distinctive hat tattered and beat since Zeke last saw it.

"Do you know why you're hanging upside-down?" the captain said. He took the sword from Brody and waved it around, grazing the rope with the flat of the blade.

Zeke shut his eyes. Last night they were at sea, and he was playing dice with Lathan and the others. Then the first mate ducked into the room, and someone stabbed him in the heart. The last thing Zeke remembered was pocketing the gold coin in the middle of the table and scrambling away to hide.

"Mutiny," Zeke said.

"Aye," the captain said. "You and your friends dashed us among the rocks and cost me half my men. Now we're starving in this goddamned island without supplies and hope. Any last words?"

Zeke forced himself not to think about what happened to the ship and focus on saving his own skin. "I'm innocent! I was only in the wrong place. Did you see me holding a sword? I don't even know how to use one!"

"We found you among the corpses of the mutineers," Brody said.

Zeke did not remember that. "Couldn't hide forever as a moving body," he said, hoping his explanation would make sense.

"Pull him up," the captain ordered.

"Sir?"

The captain's face was set in stone. "Pull him up. We'll need every crewman we could get."

The ocean receded as men struggled to lift him to safety. Someone cut the rope tied to his feet.

Ezekiel lay spreadeagled on the hard, rocky ground. He thanked his rescuers as the midday sun shone on his aching face. He rubbed the gold coin where he had sewn a slit in his pants. He remembered the drunk merchant at the table proclaiming its protective powers. Guess it only protected the person owning it.

The men huddled around him, all holding swords.

"...the others were frothing mad."

"...eh, not too much meat in his bones."

"...least he's not as fat as Dario."

Zeke understood what was happening. He looked at Brody, the hunger twisting his soft face into something feral.

Maybe down was a better way to go.

He dashed to the cliff, but the captain tackled him on the rocks, bringing the wind out of him. Zeke retrieved the coin from his trousers and jammed it in the captain's eye. Using the last of his strength, he threw the man off his back, scrambled to his feet, and dived head-first to a place where men did not grow hungry, nor try to eat each other in times of extreme duress.

After all, it would only hurt for a moment.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In. Flash rule me.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


A Bad Parry
945 words

Flash rule: Your villain receives a mysterious package of some sort at the beginning of the story.

The moment his henchmen arrived with the black attache case, Steven Strauss straightened in his seat. He called the bar to be closed down, its patrons hurriedly turned away. He was expecting a guest.

"Sir, we made sure we weren't followed," Philip said. Once a boy, plucked from mediocrity, training to be an honest gangster like Strauss.

"Bran Brahms can track you down with a stray hair," the aging boss said. Strauss was a boss of two. Master, he preferred to be called, though rarely did the situation call for his expertise with blades.

He had used the case to lure Brahms to his lair. Why, the reason was simple...

The man himself opened the door silently, leading with his left arm. His right was hidden behind, clutching his wooden sword.

"At last we meet again, Brahms," Strauss said, rising from his easy chair. He was a good deal thinner than the roving duelist. He was dressed in a slick black suit with a tie that must have cost a posh apartment's monthly rent.

"Oh, it's you, Steven," Brahms said with exhausted familiarity. Strauss's pulse quickened. "What dastardly plans have you set in motion now?"

"One that had just come to fruition," Strauss said. He drew his smallsword, the blade shimmering and made of damascus steel. With one hand he fetched the spare sword on the countertop and threw it at Brahms, who caught it by the scabbard.

"I see you've maintained a semblance of honor."

"I see you've maintained a semblance of money to keep on living."

"It's honest work," Brahms said, the bells in his cap chiming. He unsheathed the sword, identical to Strauss's, and checked its balance. "What happened to you, Steven? Why let this happen?"

"All this time we'd been fighting the underworld when we should have been working for it. They won't die out in our lifetime, or the next one's. We can only make sure that they will act in a way we approve."

"You've let evil take your heart," Brahms said.

"That sword was supposed to be yours," Strauss said, his wrinkled features softening. "Why not join me, be partners again? It's a lucrative business, and not necessarily criminal."

Brahms assumed a stance, sword pointed at Strauss's face. "What you've been doing is criminal. There are bloodstains on that briefcase."

Strauss gestured to Vincent, who had finished cleaning the case with a cloth. "Not anymore. If you want the case then you'll have to go through me."

"I have no qualms!" Brahms said, opening with a thrust at Strauss's heart. Strauss turned, letting the blade go past his chest, countering with a riposte at Brahms's sword arm. A trickle of blood from a cut sleeve fell on the carpet.

"Ah, but that was sloppy," Strauss said. "You forget whom you're dealing with." They had fought for the same side for years, and knew each other's fighting styles well. Strauss considered his skill superior, but Brahms was stronger and more determined.

"I see that your skills have not atrophied. I won't make the same mistake twice," Brahms said. He circled Strauss, who blocked his path to the briefcase.

Strauss smiled. "Vince, Philip, I want you to watch. And learn. The briefcase is ours, and will remain ours." He stepped forward, slashing and stabbing in motions that flowed into another. They began a slow, methodical, intricate dance of steel upon steel.

"I hear you've taken an apprentice," Strauss said. "You've always been a dirty old man."

"You keep my fraulein out of this, Steven," Brahms said. He parried a slash and thrust at Strauss's eye, who blocked it with a contemptuous flick of his own blade.

"I don't need to use her to get to you," Strauss said. "I was only asking. What are you doing with a pretty girl? She's supposed to live in another world much brighter and safer than ours. How could you drag her into this?"

Brahms leaped onto a table and used the height advantage to overpower his opponent. Strauss picked up a chair and used it as a makeshift shield, jamming a leg into his shin. Brahms lifted it and continued to fight one-legged, still balancing on top of the table.

Strauss smiled. He jumped on the countertop and opened with a flurry of slashes at Brahms' sword arm. Brahms grunted in pain and drew his wooden sword, smashing the flat of its blade into the side of Strauss's face. Head ringing, Strauss lashed out with a clumsy backhand, which was easily dodged.

What wasn't dodged was his shoulder ramming into Brahms' chest, crashing them to the wooden floor.

"Boss!" Vincent said, his stiletto out in a flash.

"Stay back!" Strauss said. He was on top of Brahms, swinging at his face left and right. He saw a glimmer of teeth as Brahms' hand shot up, clutched his face, and slammed him headfirst into the floorboards.

Strauss had a glimpse of the black attache case being taken away by gloved hands as he passed out.

###

Another ceiling he didn't know. Strauss woke up with a start, grasping for a sword that wasn't there.

Two men in suits sat in the hospital room, reading a pile of magazines. "Sir!" Philip stood up. He gave a note to Strauss. It was signed with a flowing hand.

I have received the case in good condition. I hope you've settled the matter with your friend, it said.

"What happened to Brahms?" Strauss asked.

"We left him in the bar when we took you to the hospital. When we came back, he was gone."

Strauss crumpled the paper in his hands, thinking of old times. Someday, he thought.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Martello posted:

SPACESHIP WEEK CRITS

...

Terrible loving week and I don't even feel bad anymore that it took me almost five months to post these crits and even read all the loving stories.

Hey, thanks!

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Doing two line crits for summer blockbuster week. Any takers?

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Week 149 crits for Screaming Idiot, StealthArcher, Rap Three Times, theblunderbuss, Thranguy, Enchanted Hat, Masonity, Mercedes

This was an average week. I liked a few stories, but I didn't love them. The ones that fit the prompt like a glove turned out good (but not great), while the great stories didn't fit the prompt that much. Others were incredibly dull despite the prompt yelling at your face to make it exciting and wild. And of course a few stories had cool ideas ruined by terrible execution. You know who you are.

I don't loving know why some of you have to open up with boring scenes and not running in with guns blazing. It's a summer blockbuster! Have you never seen one? Start with action. A chase scene, fighting, something that pumps up the blood. Not boring talking or a paragraph describing the scene.

Screaming Idiot - Hank Armstrong: Metalsaur Slayer
This was fun and dumb in a charming sort of way. It doesn't take itself seriously, to its benefit. Not HM-worthy, but a solid read. Braun von Wurstaburger, Chinese terrorist mastermind, is too on-the-nose though.

Summer blockbuster rating: 4/5 explosions


StealthArcher - Potential
In a word, confusing. Your weird paragraphing doesn't' help. You open with dialogue and wait until the fourth paragraph to add context. We, the readers, can't really tell what the story is about if it starts with pure conversation. Unless it's something really memorable or outrageous, try not to do this. Also, you're writing prose, not some forum RP, so ease up on the *THUD* and write that out properly.

That said, I was actually lost with this story. I gather it's some Cold War tale with the missiles going off, but it's really disorienting overall. Try to be clearer. I had no sense of motivation or drive from the protagonist, and sometimes stuff just happens.

Summer blockbuster rating: 2/5 explosions


Rap Three Times - Baptism of Blood 1504 Words
I didn't like this story. Maybe it's the unlikable protagonist, the brutal fight scenes for the sake of violence, or the heavy-handed (literally) Catholic message. It's offensive as hell, but be thankful a whole lot of other stories are worse.

Summer blockbuster rating: 2.5/5 bloodsplatters


theblunderbuss - Honour Among Thieves, or Two Short Fights And Some Filler
Everyone read up, this is how you start a story. Protagonist's motivations are clear, and he's likable because of it. The action is punchy and the dialogue is smart. Characters got voices.

Summer blockbuster rating: 5/5 broken noses


Thranguy - The Early Days of a Wetter Nation
The idea of this story, some nobody realizing they're heir to the throne of a strange and wonderful kingdom, is completely summer blockbuster territory. The story itself is not.

Who told you it was okay to just tell us everything that happened without giving us actual scenes? I get that you crammed in as much plot as you could, but you could've done more by focusing on a few important scenes.

Summer blockbuster rating: 1.5/5 tridents


Enchanted Hat - U.S.G.P.
HUH. What was with that ending?? This would've been an HM candidate if they didn't abruptly stop fighting and make up. The rest is fun stuff but c'mon, what was up with that ending, really?

Summer blockbuster rating: 3.5/5 cutlasses


Masonity - Double Oh Heaven
Ugh please cut up your paragraphs. Otherwise, this was an average entry. I like the concept of ghostly secret agents shadowing their living counterparts, but everything else is so generic and by-the-numbers. Everyone is a stereotype.

Summer blockbuster rating: 2.5/5 bowties


Mercedes - Born 2 Serve: Lob Harder
Death Alien Tennis is a fun idea made even better with execution. You managed to make an interesting world in 1500 words. Good job.

Summer blockbuster rating: 4.5/5 tennis rackets

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


I'm studying for exams, but here's some Week 149 line-by-lines for SlipUp and SkaAndScreenplays. The rest to come next week.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In. Flash me, please.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Remembering Lia
1483 words
Flash rule: Two words: tavern brawl.

The sound of the pouring rain drummed at Mercan's head as the ale made its slow work. To his left, Aresan was finishing his fifth tankard of ale, his bearded face only slightly turning red, while to his right Shinso sipped a steaming green liquid from a wooden cup, his shaved head and gray garb marking him as a priest from the lands beyond the sea.

"...so Lia had asked me how to blow notes from a leaf, and all she could do was slobber all over it. Then she made me swear not to tell anyone, but seeing as she's found peace, it ain't a problem anymore," the fighter said.

"You're awful," Mercan said, slurring the words that nevertheless flowed like water. Or ale. "Just because a friend's dead doesn't mean you ought to go around spilling her secrets."

"Eh, you're smiling though," Aresan said, slapping the gentleman thief's back.

"Ow!"

"You need more ale." Aresan's eyes turned up the wrong way, misting as he grabbed threads of Lia's memory.

"It is a good tale," Shinso said. "Lia was always trying something novel, with an energy none of us could match."

In the background was the sickening sound of a fist meeting a nose. If Mercan's companions had noticed the commotion, they gave no hint about it.

The priest set down his cup. "It is my turn. My cherished memory of Lia will always be that time she tried drinking my tea."

"Boring!" Aresan said. The sounds of brawling intensified, and a tankard flew through their table, barely missing Mercan's head.

"She liked it. I have traveled far from home, yet she was the first person to have liked tea. I spent the night answering her questions and promised to bring her leaves when I return to my kingdom."

"That's Lia for you," Mercan said. "Not a single malicious note in her soul."

A man landed on their table, smashing the long-emptied plate beneath him. He had a crazed smile despite his bloody face.

"My friends, I think it's time to go," Mercan said, giving the man a terrified glance as he picked himself up and went back into the fray. Was it just him, or were his companions underreacting to the situation? People have died in Venetz failing to look at a street sign. A full-on tavern brawl was raging around them and they were the only table not participating.

"Still want a drink," Aresan said. He called for a serving girl, but none came, so he reached over and grabbed an unattended tankard from the neighboring table.

"I wish to reflect on Lia's memory further," Shinso said.

A man wandered into their table, bigger than Aresan. He regarded them with a jeering grin. "What's this? Looks like a bunch of killjoys to me! Why aren't you joining in on the fun?"

"I'm sorry," Mercan said. "We weren't aware this was a local custom."

"You aren't even drinking your ale!" The man smashed his fist to his side, catching someone who was running up to him.

"I'm a lightweight."

"Ain't that a shame." The man grabbed the tankard and emptied its contents on Mercan's head. The thief shivered as the ale soaked his clothing.

Mercan looked down, his fists clenched. They were still in mourning. "Could you leave us alone, please? We're drinking to a lady's memory."

"A lady? So did you share her or something?"

The haze in Mercan's head cleared as if a gust of wind sent it scampering away. Shinso was on his feet, his hand glowing blue as the aftereffects of his spell dissipated. The priest had removed their drunkenness with a spell.

Aresan smashed the side of the man's face with a right hook.

"No one talks about Lia that way!" He let out a mighty roar, flexing his arms as the rest of the patrons piled up on him. For a moment he was buried in drunken bodies, then said bodies flew away as he spun around. Mercan took the opportunity to raid unattended bags.

Someone charged Shinso, and the priest deftly tripped him up with a sweep of his staff.

"Don't you have a vow of nonviolence?" Mercan asked.

"No such thing," the priest said.

Mercan dropped to the floor just in time as two bodies smashed where he had once been. "We should leave!"

"This is preferable to the rain," Shinso said. On the other side of the tavern, Aresan was a dervish knocking chairs and tables and brawlers away.

"Lia wouldn't have liked this," Mercan said to himself. They were supposed to apply to the adventurers' guild, not spend their days getting drunk at taverns.

"You!" Aresan said, lifting Mercan by the collar.

"Aresan? It's me!"

Aresan brought him down on a chair, which shattered into pieces. Mercan's mind went numb, shocked by his friend's apparent betrayal. Had the fighting addled his head? He rolled away before the fighter could grab hold of him again. He scrambled underneath a table, snapped off a leg, and smashed it against the back of Aresan's knee.

"Oooh, that hurts." Aresan kicked him in the stomach, causing him to double over in pain.

"Stop him, Shinso!"

"If it weren't for your dumb plan, Lia would still be alive!" Mercan took the blows. He had suggested stealing from the necromancer's vault, but they were caught, and Lia sacrificed herself to save them all.

Mercan saw Shinso's foot plant itself on the ground and heard a loud thump of his staff colliding with Aresan's hard head. The fighter took an uneasy step back. "Why, priest?"

"You say things as if you were not at fault. You insisted on fighting to the bitter end when we could have made our escape earlier." Shinso's hard voice softened. "I had a part to play in her death, too. I could have stopped her before she cast her spell and sent us away from the necromancer's horde. But wallowing in regrets will not bring her back."

Aresan started wailing. He smashed his sword on the floor, causing a tremor so great that the surviving tables leapt up. A scroll flew out of their sack and unrolled itself on the ground, soaking in the ale and sweat and blood. A ghostly image of Lia materialized, slight of frame but stout of heart.

"Is it working? Hi everyone! Mercan let me borrow his lute, which he doesn't use anyway, so I've been trying to learn songs in secret. If we ever get stuck in a cave waiting for a snowstorm to pass, we could sure use these!"

"Lia?" a single name escaped three mouths.

"This one's by the Nudist Lutist. You've probably never heard of him. But I have!"

###

Mercan, Aresan, and Shinso stood still long after the song had ended, after Lia had faded, waving at them.

"That explains why my lute was tuned that one time when I thought it wasn't," Mercan said.

Aresan clapped him on the back, dragging his sword on the ground. "Sorry."

Mercan winked at him. "For what?"

"We should make ourselves scarce," Shinso said, pointing at the prone bodies stirring.

"Do you have a spell to keep the rain off our backs?"

"That would have been Lia's domain," the priest said.

"Suck it up," Aresan said. "And we still haven't heard your favorite memory yet. You have one, do you?"

"Ready the bags. I'll tell you while we ride."

###

It was a busy day, and Mercan was having a big haul. Four bags of coin, one of them full of gold. He saw a beautiful woman with a nice, fat satchel. Some merchant's young wife, unused to carrying obscene amounts of money. He started walking towards his new mark when a hand grabbed his sleeve.

"How do you do it?" a girl asked, wearing long robes, which were patterned in a swirling mess of colors.

Mercan put on his most innocent face, honed in his days at the orphanage. "Do what?"

"Steal in plain sight. I've been watching you. How could people be so gullible? You tell them what they want to hear and then they happily give you their money?"

Mercan tried yanking his arm away, but the girl wouldn't let go. Like her hand was glued to his arm.

"Why don't you come work with me?" the girl said. "I need someone who's good at talking."

"How would you make it worth my while?"

The girl produced a gold coin in her other palm. "Steady pay's better than risking your neck out here in the streets."

Mercan thought about it. The punishment for getting caught was steep, and the local thieves' guild siphoned most of his earnings anyway. "How about a kiss to seal the deal?"

The girl smiled, and a nimbus cloud formed on top of Mercan's head, soaking him and only him wet.

"My name is Lia. Pleased to meet you!"

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In!

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


In.

TDbot, are you real or super?

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


I'm in!

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Saved by the Bear
1000 words
Flash rule: Sloth - oddly pleasant cuddling

I woke up, having exceeded my sleep quota. The room was a mess, our queen-sized bed surrounded by empty cups of instant noodles with the chopsticks peeking out. I've done nothing but eat, brush my teeth, and sleep, discounting the bodily functions that no one wants to hear about.

Three days ago, my boyfriend left on a business trip. I had a week to myself, and all I did was lie in bed, cuddling with Shigeru's jumbo-sized, custom-made teddy bear. He had made it for the sole purpose of keeping me company on the nights when he was absent, and it was motorized to simulate his warm embrace. He's the kind of person who loves to tinker with machines.

Oftentimes I feel that I don't deserve him.

Two months ago, I quit my soul-crushing desk job, and Shigeru asked me to move in with him, so I did. A bunch of manuscripts were strewn on the floor, rejected manuscripts that my editor sent back with reasons different from each time. My story sucked, my art was too rough, or the premise didn't fit the overall thrust of the magazine (whatever that means).

I've always been good at drawing, and somehow it came to mind that I could become a manga artist, so I earnestly took it up, mooching money off my boyfriend to buy supplies. I managed to get a one-shot published in a well-known magazine despite being a complete newbie, but failure after failure simply turned me into a wreck. Getting serialized is no joke.

I thought about the dozen manuscripts that my editor had rejected--it was hopeful at first, since he told me I was an up-and-coming star author. My cellphone was filled with missed calls and texts that it became too much of a bother to delete them, so I let the battery drain instead.

The bear's grip relaxed, and the slight hum of the motor went to a halt. Its batteries were dead. I was stricken with the realization that I had to go out to buy replacement batteries for my cuddling companion.

It would only be a quick run to the convenience store, I told myself.

###

I tied my hair into the loosest, laziest ponytail mankind had ever conceived, and stuffed myself into jogging pants and a hoodie. I fidgeted in the elevator, already regretting my decision. I haven't spoken to anyone except my editor and Shigeru in weeks. Even my parents didn't know about my predicament.

I only had to walk to the convenience store, buy two sets of batteries (since the bear died on the third day of continuous use), and never have to leave the apartment again until Shigeru returns.

But not even my lowered hood could protect me from the piercing rays of the sun, and I flinched as if I had been physically struck.

I can't do this, I thought. I'll just lock myself inside again, and everything will be okay. I could simply cuddle with the bear, since Shigeru made it extremely fluffy.

But who will come to replace my batteries?

And the convenience store was right across the street. I looked at the empty road. The scene was so peaceful that you could hear birds chirping, so I simply dashed and crossed the distance.

My heart was pounding in my chest. Inside, I took a pack of four AA batteries, paid the cashier ("no points card, thanks"), and hightailed it back to my apartment.

I was left alone in the elevator to ponder the highlight of my day: Fujiwara Ayumi, a manga artist desperately aiming for serialization, went outside today.

###

I carefully opened the battery housing and threw the empty ones away, making a three-point shot at the waste basket.

A piece of paper fell. To Ayumi, it said in Shigeru's infuriatingly neat handwriting. I unfolded it and read it, of course.

Hi Ayumi,

Is it sunny in Tokyo? Summer's turning into autumn, but I hope you still get some sunshine, because I think that's what you need more than anything.

Anyway, if you're reading this, then you must have run out of batteries. I imagine it will be quite an ordeal to procure a new pair, but consider it a ploy to give you some fresh air, because you'd never leave the apartment on your own. You'll have to forgive me for my sneakiness.

I know that you're working hard on your next manuscript. I'm sorry that I can't be your assistant right now, even if all I can do is make you coffee and clean up the workspace. I hope you're eating something healthier than cup noodles, though!

I'll be back before you know it.

Love,
Shigeru


I had to put the letter away. I was crying, okay? What kind of idiot builds a cuddly toy in his spare time and schemes to send a delayed message? A normal text would do. Still, I gave him a lot of credit for it.

I looked at the bear, its light-brown fur cute and appealing. I inserted the batteries, turned the bear on, and hugged it as tightly as I could. For a few seconds it felt like Shigeru was home, and there was nothing wrong with the world.

But he so adamantly believed that I've been working hard. What would the look on his face be like when he comes home and sees this mess of a room, sees me helpless and unable to continue on?

I gathered the last dregs of my resolve and reached for my sketchbook. I picked up a fallen pencil and started sketching the bear toy. It'll be the main prop of my story.

Within an hour I was drawing a storyboard. I'm sorry, but I'm a hopeless person. I can't do anything anymore except draw manga. And I figured, if I've done this before, I could do it again, right?

And if I could focus on this one thing, for this one person, then maybe I could do it.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


I'll do two crits for last week. Any takers?

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Some Week 162 crits.

Lazy Beggar - Pumpkin Mash
Even without taking into account the original story, this was a rambling mess. Amy doesn't have a satisfying arc, and the scenes don't tie well to each other. There are elements that are introduced but never really expounded on--who the hell was that guy with Trish? Luke is a motivation who's dropped soon enough as he leaves the scene.

Your scenes are uneven; there are brisk, dialogue-heavy ones (dialogue which is mostly shooting the breeze and not even anything interesting), and there's the pumpkin-carving scene, which I guess was your favorite part of writing the story because it was so jampacked with details that were ultimately pointless. You should refrain doing that in flash fiction, because you're just wasting words.

worlds_best_author - 34th and Cicero
I think this fails as a story because there's all this tension brewing between the characters and it explodes, and then it goes all downhill from there. Some major clusterfuck happens, the end. You introduce a lot of characters and their situations but no one ever gets a resolution. Violence! The end. This might have worked as a longer piece but not as flash fiction. I really think you should've focused on one or two characters and got in their heads, because I had no one to root for while reading this.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Late, whatever.

It's not just a phase, dad
1167 words

You don't want to be seen in the party. It's the attention--the clumsy suitors who see you as a ticket to your family's name and fortune, hangers-on who don't even know or care if you're allergic to cats, and the media circus that your family owns a 26% share of.

So you borrow a wall ornament from your father's study, the tribal mask from New Caledonia (you had to look it up on the map), adorned with long braids of human hair and a hooked, beak-like nose. The eyes are solid and you see through the agape mouth instead, but hey, all the better to creep someone out.

You hold a glass of punch in hand, and figure out how to drink it without spilling it on your clothes. You fill your plate with chicken lollipops--the humba and pochero wouldn't fly, despite how much you want them. The mask is your armor. Photographers snap away, and the mask hides your scowl. Eventually they lose interest. The novelty wears off, and everyone resumes their tired little cliques. You see your father talking to a CEO of a rival oil company as if they were brothers. Your mother is away overseas, ostensibly on a business trip. You don't see her much anymore.

You leave the hall, retreating from the speakers booming muzak into something quieter. The balcony is relatively deserted, save for a knot of people, their cigarette smoke melding and spiraling into a wispy, hunchbacked apparition.

There's a lone figure on the deserted side. He's also wearing a mask that covers his entire face, some oval, Aztec-looking design with fangs. You follow the angle of his face to where he's looking at, but it's the same view as you've seen every day of your life: the Manila skyline.

He complements your mask, looking at you with beady, black eyes. You affect a nonchalant air and munch on your chicken lollipop. It's a challenge trying to get it in your mouth without it touching the hair on your mask.

"Have you ever ridden a jeepney in your life?" he says, in a completely curious, I-want-to-know-more-about-you-but-I'm-not-sure-what-to-ask, way.

It's the weirdest pickup line, you admit, but he doesn't seem like one of those PUA types. So you shake your head (the braids swishing like mad) and say no. And animatedly he regals you of his tale wherein he ran away from home when he was twelve and rode a jeepney to nowhere, but then his parents tracked him down by his phone's GPS, the end.

And now you have a million questions for him. Is the smog really bad, did you need to be taken to a hospital, did anyone try to kidnap you, did you make abot-abot your fare and did anyone try to pocket it in the process? And he nods sagely and answers every one of them, as if he's rehearsed for every possible question.

And you're caught up in his pace. You don't know him, but for the first time you attend a function where you're holding a conversation for more than a minute.

You trade music--the genres you prefer, the guilty pleasures you sing when you think no one's around, a few bars of some choice songs. Neither of you watch anything current on TV. You only watch shows at least ten years old. Movies have all started to look the same lately, and you both express complete disdain for the latest, mindless summer blockbuster. You learn that his favorite subject is science, and that he likes building things. You reveal that you've been asking your private tutor for business lessons, so that you could help out in the company more, and maybe your father would see you more than someone to marry off.

"Don't you think we could do so much better?" he asks. It pulls you out of your bubble of fleeting contentment. You've decided not to involve yourself in any causes, because it seems so insincere. But then you remember his jeepney story. Maybe you could change the outside world, and not just forever look at it from behind a wall of bulletproof glass. But it's scary, and you've never dared to confront your folks directly.

You realize how far gone you are in the conversation. Your hand is slick from holding the glass of punch too long. You excuse yourself, turn away so you could drink without showing your face. You wait for the slight bite of alcohol before turning around.

His clothes are still a mess, and his body is poised in a way that screams curiosity about how you look like, and then he springs the question, "if we teamed up, we could do some cool things, like save the world."

You don't know, you say. You need time, perhaps another glass of punch, or something stronger perhaps, even if you're not even eighteen yet. I'll think about it, you say. His eyes don't lose that sparkle of hope.

Your cellphones ring at the same time. Your father wants to introduce someone to you. You give a sigh. It isn't the first time, or the last. Then you catch his eye, and he's thinking exactly the same thing.

You walk back to the hall, keeping a tacit distance from each other, as if you both find the entire matter half-embarrassing, half-serendipitous. Your father approaches you, as well as his CEO friend. Frenemy? His own father slaps him on the back, grinning. And you look at your old man, who clears his throat and cracks a joke about problem children being made for each other. Why don't you take off that mask and show him what you look like?

Not tonight, you proclaim. When you meet each other in your own terms. You steal a glance at the boy and catch him shaking his head. Disappointed, his own father drags him away, but you see the edges of his mouth still angled in a smile.

You don't waste any time going back to your room and looking him up. He has a long, moneyed name, ostensibly Hispanic. His face is as disheveled as his outfit was, but at least he doesn't wear the entitlement of the elite. You send him a picture of your mask to prove that it's you, and he wastes no time with his proposal:

"Wanna build a startup together?"

What are we making?

"Engines." He types lightning-fast. "Engines that don't run on fossil fuels or damage the environment. I've got the knack for it, but I don't know a thing about running a business. Maybe you could help me on that one."

I haven't really done any hands-on work, you type.

He's typing...

But, you quickly enter, if you make it worth my while, then yes. You look outside your room and see the city enveloped in smog. But the sky is changing, the gray tinged with rays of gold. For the first time in a long while, you're not tired at all.

Now tell me more.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Also Morning Bell I would like to judge, thanks.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Doing two crits for last week as penance for my lateness.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Crits for Week 163.

crabrock - Grumpy and the Witch

A short and sweet revenge fantasy. I like how you don't waste words on fluff or setting, given the word limit. We're made to hate Carlo and cheer for his downfall, and that's pretty much it. I'm lukewarm about the lizard gimmick, it lacks a certain kind of oomph to be compelling--instead it's just this weird thing that Shay employs just because. There was one part that bothered me, though. Were the witches supposed to marry the prince? That was kind of weird, why would he want to marry them?

22 Eargesplitten - The Cuuters and the Hook

Uhh... so the flesh-hook was cursed? You wrote a boring story that was hard to follow because it lacked suspense or any sense of immediacy. You also didn't try to make any of the characters likable or endearing. So Peter got really sick. Why should we care at all? Your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there's conflict, but it was this flavorless gruel that I forgot as soon as I finished with it. Get into your characters and make your reader get into them as well.

You also had a confusing passage:

quote:

In the morning, Peter didnít meet Michael at the edge of town. He went to find Peter at his house.

Who is "he" in the second sentence? The first has Peter being the POV. It's really Michael, but the flow of these sentences is confusing.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Food Trouble week crits from me will have to be delayed as I'm sorting out some RL stuff. Later.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Broenheim posted:

Weeaboo Anime Nerd Flash Rules

You know what game series has tarot cards? Persona! Yes, the best anime game series. If you don't know what Persona is, take this quiz to find out which arcana you are http://www.quiztron.com/tests/perso...uiz_203379.htm. If you wish, I will assign you a flash rule that has something to do with Persona! It could be character traits stolen inspired by characters from the Persona series (read as 3 and 4 because I haven't played the other ones), or maybe something else tangentially related to Persona. Will these be hard? Will these be easy? Who loving knows! Come find out by quoting this post, today.

I'm a weeb so give me one, also in.

Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Taste Test
1244 words
Tarot card: Ten of Cups: Harmony, marriage, happiness, alignment
Flash rule: your job will be to make your protagonist a little kid (around 5-10 years old), but they will not be lovely

One day, Maritess's dad brought a woman home. She was tall where her mom was short, and her stately face was ill-suited to their flat. She smiled nervously at the girl who was half her size, eating her sardines and rice. There was a letter on the table, with the school's on it.

"Tess, this is Joan," her dad said. "We're dating."

"Are you going to marry each other?" Maritess said, not looking up. This wasn't the first time her dad had seen women. None of them lasted, though.

"That's the plan," her dad said, unfazed.

"Hi, Tess," Joan said. She sat too rigidly in her seat, fidgeting a lot.

"Hey, Joan."

"Hon-- Your dad's told me all about you. You're an interesting child."

"What have you been telling other people about me, dad?"

"That you're very smart and well-behaved."

Maritess picked up the paper and brandished it. "That's interesting? Oh, they want to send me to the regional spelling bee. But I can't."

"Why?"

"Because I have to go to Marikina on my own, and you can't drive me because of work."

"Um, I can take you there if you want," Joan said.

Maritess looked at Joan in the eye. "No thanks."

###

The school picked Raymond Ching instead, who got knocked out in the first round. Meanwhile, Joan kept coming over, though she tried to make herself as scarce as possible in Maritess's presence.

Nothing changed much, except for the fact that the living room was filled with laughter and not her dad's ridiculous snoring. Maritess resolved to save up for a pair of headphones.

One night, dad was working overtime, and Joan came over early without him. She set up her laptop on the dining table, watching graphs and charts. Maritess thought about her future--would she turn into a grownup who fussed over such boring stuff?

"Hey, Tess," Joan said. That was usually where their conversations ended, but she was nothing if not persistent.

"Hey." Maritess sat on Joan's right. She was done with homework, and had just woken up from her nap. She didn't want to give Joan ammunition by switching on the TV and watching something she liked. "What are you doing?"

"Working from-- working outside the office, I mean."

"Do you even have an office?"

Joan shook her head. "Couldn't stand the gossip."

Maritess remembered the weeks after her mom had gone. The number of friends became countable in one hand from two. "Yeah, that must be awful."

"Like you wouldn't believe."

"Uh-huh. How long have you been seeing dad?"

A small smile crept up Joan's lips. She closed her laptop and leaned in. "About three months. I worked on a project for his company and we sort of instantly clicked."

Maritess sighed. "Oh, dad."

"He's a good person. And you seem to be doing well."

Maritess looked down, seeing her reflection on the polished table. "Not really."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said--"

"Can you be honest with me, Joan?"

"Okay." Joan's response was almost a breathless squeak.

"Are you serious with my dad? Like you really wanna marry him and stuff?"

"Yes. I know you don't like me, but I hope you'd give me a chance."

"How would I know you're serious?"

Joan glanced at the garbage bin, where styrofoam containers peeked out of the lid. "You seem to have a trash problem, and we've eaten nothing but fast food. I've been thinking of cooking you guys dinner instead."

Maritess blinked. "You can cook?"

"Not really," Joan said, "but I could learn how to."

"How about you give it a try?"

###

With permission, Joan took mom's cookbooks from the dusty bodega. She pored over them with every spare minute of her time. She started slowly, from simply frying an egg, to boiling rice with a traditional pot instead of a rice cooker.

"Did you put Joan up to this?" Maritess's dad asked her, as they waited for Joan to transfer the spaghetti sauce into a bowl. It was Joan's first actual meal.

"I pushed her a little, but this is all her," Maritess said nonchalantly.

Once the bowl was set down, Maritess was eager to try it out. Joan put sliced hotdogs in it, just as mom used to do.

"Hmm."

Joan beamed. "How is it, Tess?"

"Mom's was sweeter," Maritess said. "It's pretty good for a first try, though."

"So you prefer it Filipino-style?"

"It's dad who's got a sweet tooth, not me."

Joan turned to Maritess's dad. "Hon?"

"Oh, it was perfect!"

"Really...?"

"Congratulations, Joan," Maritess said. It wasn't the result she expected, but it was still a win-win.

###

After a couple of successful dishes, Maritess caught Joan alone in the living room. She leaned on the back of the sofa.

"Hey, Tess. Hon's coming home late again. Is there anything you want for dinner?"

Maritess smiled. She was about to play her trump card. "Yeah, actually. For your final test, there's one last dish you have to perfect."

"And what's that?"

"Pork sinigang."

"That's not too hard," Joan said.

Maritess crossed her arms. "Don't get ahead of yourself. Mom used real tamarinds, not powder mix. She also didn't cook the pork and onions in oil. As a family we're very particular with it. It's not something you could just wing."

"Sounds like a special recipe," Joan said. "Did your mom write it down?"

Maritess shook her head. "It was all in her head. She was supposed to teach me, but, well... I used to watch her make it, so I should know how it goes. I'll teach you."

"Is it really okay for me to do it?"

"I want you to." Maritess looked away, training her eyes on a door and half-wishing mom would just burst from it. "I'm not trying to make you more like mom, but... I want to know if you could share a home with us. Because dad's hopeless alone and everything."

Joan nodded. Her jaw had a determined set in it, and Maritess felt that she was looking at this person for the first time, who wasn't a complete stranger. "Okay. Get dressed up, we're buying ingredients."

###

Maritess supervised every step, down to the selection of the cuts of pork to the amount of spinach needed. It seemed more of a religious ritual than dinner. As Joan started getting engrossed in stirring the pot, Maritess left her in the kitchen for a break.

"How's it going?" her dad said. He had changed in his house clothes already.

"Pretty fine so far," Maritess said. "It's a challenge. You weren't really going to marry her without having her learn how to cook, were you?"

"Don't look at me, we didn't really plan for anything.."

Shortly after, they were seated at the dining table. Maritess scooped the broth and lathered on her rice, soaking it. Two pairs of eyes watched her eat her first mouthful.

"It's good," Maritess said.

"What did you like about it? Was it like your mom's?"

"Not at all."

Joan looked devastated. "Oh."

Maritess closed her eyes. "That's not the point, Joan. I don't really know how it tastes anymore. I've seen her cook it a hundred times, but it's been years. This is good. This makes me feel like home. Congratulations."

The couple looked at each other, grinning like they were Maritess's age. Maritess looked at the door, thinking about her mom.

Sorry we had to move on, she thought. It still hurts.

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Schneider Heim
Oct 17, 2012


Week 169 Crits

This was an okay week. Nothing spectacularly bad or good. Mostly mediocrity and poorly-written endings.

newtestleper - Mile End
Very vignette-ish. I felt my time was wasted--he clearly knows the woman is bad news, yet he learns nothing. Horrible framing device that doesn't add anything to the story, either. Zoom in on your characters, or they'll be too distant for your readers to care.

brotherly - The Murder of Camper Lee
The subject matter is terribly cliched. You made no effort in making the reader root for anyone. This feels like someone had a bad day thanks to FPS campers and decided to write someone getting murdered. No redeeming value.

HopperUK - The Surly Bonds of Earth
This reminds me of a story I wrote. The difference is that this story was kind of good? I kind of resigned myself to watching these two characters die, but then they didn't. They were just rescued out of totally nowhere though, and that cheapens the ending. Maybe if you hinted at it earlier on, we would've forgiven you. And yet there's that alien thing which was never really expanded upon, so why leave it there? I like the ambiguity of the protagonist's feelings towards the date, though.

Jocoserious - Under the Day Moon
Too much telling here. It could've been a better tale if we got more inside Dreams' head. I think Dreams shouldn't be the main character, but Wielder, who's more competent and proactive. I thought the ambush was too obvious and Dreams finding the women by accident terribly convenient.

Thranguy - No Takebacks
The opening was a little too long. I wish this story was about whimsical space adventures instead. But they didn't tie in the main quest (so to speak) very well, only managing to off the best friend and make things awkward between the two remaining characters. The tonal shifts were also very jarring. I think this was trying to be a children's story, but I wouldn't let children touch it with a ten-foot pole, given the callous murder of one of the characters.

Sitting Here - Yielding Fruit
Trashy romance, also the woman was off-putting and creepy. Some lines made me go "ehhh", like that part where the fig guy likens someone's breasts to fruits.

Fumblemouse - Corridor 6
Didn't care for the guy at all (the cheating episode did not help at all, thank you very much), too much dull sci-fi exposition. And the ending was uhhhhhh? This was so dull that another judge had to remind me of the cheating subplot, because I forgot it right after I read the story.

Pham Nuwen - Host of Fancies
Okay, though quite predictable. I hated how it was the bard who lived, when he only had a couple few lines, and his first real act in the story was run away, which made him a jerk. I mean it was clear that you intended to write about the host at the cost of everything else, but the way the bard beat it was unconvincing and more than a little contrived. Ending's neat, though.

Grizzled Patriarch - If I Find Jack Nicholson Under the Ground
Vignette. A very pretty vignette. But still a vignette? We're used to your ways, GP, but I felt that this could've won if you gave it a proper conflict and an ending. Oh well.

Fuschia tude - Uniform
Everyone is insufferable. This is a marital drama where you question how the couple ever got married. Cindy is a complete nag, and I personally got a little pissed because Singapore is a really nice place? Where the hell did they come from? There really isn't anything to be gained from reading this.

Obliterati - Libertť, Egalitť, Baiseritť
The dialect keeps the story an arm's length from coherence. I didn't really understand why everyone was doing their thing--I mean the whores were protesting and the soldiers were maintaining a barricade and people knew each other from both sides, but what's the loving point?

crabrock - Piggie Steps
This was really fun. I loved the idea of Barrel Golem Man. The climax was a little underwhelming, but the ending made up for it, tying into the opening.

SurreptitiousMuffin - from atop a crown of stone
A sweet little vignette. Much better than the other two, but that's about it. Ends well, which can't be said for a lot of stories this week.

paranoid randroid - Satan Diversifies
Okay, I smiled at "Infernal Reserve", but this doesn't really bring anything new to the table outside its devilish trappings. The light tone kept me from hating the whiny protagonist too much.

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