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Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh

Titus82 posted:

This is such obvious bullshit, you are clearly picking the people you like and putting them up against the chumps first.

Look at that list! Spectres is going to crush Maugrim. CKM has no chance. Saddest Rhino is gonna be given yet another reason to be sad. Twist? Holy gently caress, it isn't even funny that Boogie is pitted against him. Mojo owns Newt. Entenzahn and Oxxi are, well, okay they are well matched (cause they both such so much), DocK has got this one in the bag, and Curlingiron is gonna own whoev- oh. Um...

Well gently caress me and call me a dandy.

Clearly I was going to say that CI is about to get owned by moi.

So, yeah... What was I saying? poo poo, I forgot.

Take the lampshade off your dumb head and smoke a bowl


Mar 29, 2016

How does one smoke a bowl? Are you talking about ceramic or what?

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Oxxidation posted:

This is not kayfabe: stop, you loving moron.

But that's a good thing, kayfabe sucks.

Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha

Alright, I'm in.

Siddhartha Glutamate
Oct 3, 2005

Ok, I'll go home now. :(

Apr 22, 2008

In for this week.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
In because critical mass of ins

Aug 8, 2013

The Emperor
Words: 996

The invasion started with the destruction of entire military bases, and ended with Reptilian footsoldiers patrolling every major city on Earth. All forms of resistance were met with bloody retaliation. The Reptilians were fond of displaying the butchered carcasses of those they slaughtered in public places, often hanging them from windows by a wire fastened around their ankles.

It didn’t take long for the governments of the world to draft up a treaty.

I stood next to a few other high ranking military officials, waiting for the Emperor of the Reptilians to arrive in Washington DC. A strobing light appeared on the horizon, and as it grew closer it transformed from a silver dot into a metallic disk. Dozens of leg-like appendages sprouted from the craft’s underbelly. People stood back, and a great whistling sounded from the thing as it landed. A slit formed in a section of the ship’s hull, which widened to form a passageway.

From this opening emerged several Reptilians. Each one stood about six feet tall, and they wore nothing. Thankfully they possessed no exposed genitalia, or nipples. Their scaled bodies glistened in the sunlight, which helped showcase their well sculpted, humanoid physiques. Behind them slithered the new Emperor of the World himself. He wore a thin, violet gown and had legs that were like twigs which wobbled beneath his scrawny frame. One of the naked Reptilians helped him climb up to the podium.

The Emperor stood before the speechless crowd and cleared his throat in a loud, exaggerated manner. Then, in a shrill voice, he spoke.

“Greetings, Homo Sapiens! I am Mellamus the Fourth, but you shall know me as the Emperor of Your World. Your kind is in good hands, for I am the Emperor of countless worlds. Under my benevolent eye you shall have no wants, as I strive to treat the peoples I conquer well.”

In contrast to the crimson red of his soldier’s eyes, the Emperor’s eyes were a deep blue, and as I stared into them I found my eyelids drooping while a wave of relaxation washed over me. The Emperor spoke for over an hour, but I scarcely remember a word he said save for those initial pleasantries.

The Emperor finished his speech and returned to his craft. I tried to make my way back to my car, but before I could get even get out of the crowd a Reptilian gripped my shoulder in a cold vise. His face resembled a cross between a human’s and a crocodile’s, and he wore glittery, lavender robes. I wanted to excuse myself, but I thought twice when he flashed me a smile filled with perfectly white, razor sharp teeth.

“Come with me. The Emperor would like your audience,” he said in a baritone voice.

I, along with several other military officials, were escorted to the Emperor’s craft. We were all seasoned men who’d experienced combat firsthand, but these brutal and enigmatic creatures had us feeling more than a little gunshy. As we walked I could see in the other men’s eyes that they were afraid. I was afraid too.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the craft was that it stank like stale piss. My eyes stung from the stench, and squinting only helped so much. The Emperor himself stood at the end of a bare, metallic table. The whole ship had a utilitarian style to it, with minimal decorations save for a set of six purple cloths hanging from the ceiling. Dozens of man sized holes lined the walls, and I assumed that they were the origin of the stench.

“Please, have a seat,” said the Emperor.

We did as we were told.

“Gentlemen, you are some of the highest ranking officials in the US government, is that correct?”

We nodded.

“And you’re all quite strong and muscular, aren’t you?”

We just stared him. His odd question lingered in the air and we exchanged nervous glances.

“Don’t be shy gentlemen. I can tell just from a casual glance that you possess impressive physiques.”

Maxwell, the United State’s Secretary of Defense and a man noted for having balls of steel, spoke.

“What are you talking about?”

The Emperor smiled.

“For centuries our species has been conquering worlds, and in all those years we’ve never come across a species quite as beautiful as yours.”

The Emperor walked around the table before coming up behind me. He laid his cold, bony hand on mine.

“Your species has such soft, warm skin.”

He gently brushed his scaly hand on my cheek.

“And such handsome faces. Why, our ancestors could only dream of such biological masterpieces.”

The Emperor walked back to the head of the table.

“Congratulations gentlemen, for I am giving you all to my daughter as a gift.”

A collective ‘What?” echoed through the chamber.

“You’re brilliant leaders, battle hardened and beautiful. You’ll make perfect husbands.”

I tried to sit up, but the Emperor cast his gaze around the room. I found myself paralyzed in my seat, and I tried to scream. All that came out was mindless laughter. The others didn’t fare any better as the room filled with forced chuckles.

A much longer, more serpentine Reptilian slithered into the room from one of the openings that lined the walls of the craft. It grinned when it saw us. The Emperor turned to it and the two started talking in a strange tongue comprised mostly of hisses and groans. They soon turned their attention back to us, and they both stared at us with eyes that glittered like sapphires in the sun.

“External genitalia, how exotic,” the serpentine Reptilian said.

“Gentlemen, I’m pleased to introduce you to my daughter Mallie. Isn’t she lovely?”

Mallie slithered over to Maxwell and flicked her tongue up and down his body. Tears ran down Maxwell’s face while he cackled like a lunatic.

“I love them father!”

Our new ‘wife’ coiled around Maxwell as the ship took off to God knows where.

Echo Cian
Jun 16, 2011

In for new judge mental collapse.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Feb 25, 2014
titus brawl

600 words

it’s a metaphor for death (like everything in this lovely life)

flerp fucked around with this message at 22:22 on Jun 12, 2016

Oct 30, 2003
gently caress it in

Oct 4, 2013

^Welp. Shame on me for not slamming the door on time.

Everyone else, signups are closed. Write words that won't make me and my fellow judges want the world to be set on fire.

Siddhartha Glutamate
Oct 3, 2005

TITUSFLERP BRAWL ENTRY (otherwise known as the winner.)

The Death Of Punk Rock.
Word Count: 599

The needle skips on the record player, the cyclic sounds of static and pop fill the otherwise still air of the dank, moldy smelling, radio station, WUML Lowell. Its egg carton sound proofing peeling off of the walls from years of mistreatment and lack of use. In the booth sit, cloistered together, a motley crew of young and aging rockers. They have just heard the worst news of their lives: Punk Rock is dead.

Punk had died an ignoble death, with Black Flagg waving a white flag, members of Riot Grrrl announcing they were helping Christina Aguilera with her comeback, and though it was often said that Daune and Fletcher did not put up the barricades - a lament at the softening of punk’s core - they were right now singing “Rebel with Christ!” at a local Mega-church’s skatepark.

A dull clink sounds in the room, as the youngest of the group tosses his lip stud at the far wall and proclaims, “gently caress it.”

“Hefe, don’t-” Chris begins to say.

“There ain’t no Hefe! Not anymore. My name is Lance. It’s what my parents named me, Lance.”

A woman with stars and spider web tattoos, Stephanie, shakes her head. “It can’t end like this.”

“It can end anyway it loving wants,” Lance says. “They loving killed the clubs, they usurped our style, and they took over our shows. How the hell was it supposed to continue?”

“It’s not dead, there will be other bands that come along and pick up where we’ve left off,” says a gaunt man, Fred, with a mop of black hair and Buddy Holly glasses.

“There ain’t gonna be poo poo, man, it’s over,” Lance says. “Punk is over.”

“Don’t say that,” Stephanie says. “We could start a band, we could put on our own shows, Mike knows how to play the guitar, and I’ve met Chris Barker-”

“Chris Barker sold himself to RCA years ago, Steph.”

“There has to be something we can do,” Stephanie says, pleading with the group.

“You guys can do whatever you want, I’m out of here.” Lance gets up off the floor, throws his safety-pin studded leather jacket to the ground, and walks out of their lives forever. They listen as the steady beat of his combat boots grows fainter.

“He’s right,” the eldest woman in the booth says in a heavy smoker’s voice. “We’ve always been on the fringes of society, a random collection of misfits and troubled youths, and that was the glue which held us together. We’re nothing alike. When I first met Fred he was a skinhead at a Bad Brains concert. He and his buddies were getting ready to fight with the locals when the club killed the lights.

“poo poo.”

Fred shrugs. “It was easier to hate other people than it was to hate myself.”

“But I could go into any club, go to any show, and I’d fit in. I wouldn’t know a single soul there, but I belonged,” Stephanie says. “That’s not an illusion. I’m telling you, Vivienne, it happened.”

“Of course it did,” Vivienne says, “it happened to all of us. That’s why we came here, to preserve that. But we lost. Punk is now mainstream.”

The room fell silent. It was time for everyone to leave, but nobody knew where to go.

“What happened after the lights went out?” Asks Chris.

Vivienne laughs, lays a hand on Fred’s knee. “He pulled out his lighter, then I pulled out mine, then someone else pulled out theirs… Soon we had the whole place light up and the show went on.”

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

dmboogie posted:

^Welp. Shame on me for not slamming the door on time.

Everyone else, signups are closed. Write words that won't make me and my fellow judges want the world to be set on fire.

We just want to start a flame in your heart

Mar 21, 2010
I got turned around and thought Titus and Flerp were submitting for the megabrawl, so I wrote notes on their pieces and chose a winner. While it turns out I don't actually have that power, here are my notes on the pieces for crit:


Really gorgeous deployment of language -- this is gloriously creepy but also kinda sad and evocative. I feel like it's probably laying the language on a bit thick in places; you need to step back and let the piece sell itself rather than shoving it down our throats. That said, a very strong entry that you should be proud of.

The title sucks major dog dick though. Don't do that.


I really like the concept, but the language is a mess: surely it's "Riot Grrrls" instead of "members of Riot Grrrl". If there's any piece that could get a little fast-and-loose with established grammar, it's a paean to punk but the language here just feels sloppy. If it's intentional, I think it needs to be a little more "gently caress you" and a little less "can't be hosed". Look at this:


Its egg carton sound proofing peeling off of the walls from years of mistreatment and lack of use. In the booth sit, cloistered together, a motley crew of young and aging rockers.
There's a spelling mistake (aging), a conjugation error (sit) and generally the punctuation is just a mess.

The actual piece itself is really sweet though, and you stuck the landing.

I'm torn, but on balance I'm giving this one to Flerp. I really want to like Titus' piece more, but I can't overcome the language issues.

e: apparently "aging" is a North American spelling, but I'd never seen it before. Point about 'sit' still stands, and general issues throughout the piece.

SurreptitiousMuffin fucked around with this message at 15:09 on May 28, 2016

Feb 25, 2014

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

I got turned around and thought Titus and Flerp were submitting for the megabrawl, so I wrote notes on their pieces and chose a winner. While it turns out I don't actually have that power, here are my notes on the pieces for crit:

oh hey cool thanks

Siddhartha Glutamate
Oct 3, 2005


SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Titus82: You are dumb.

I know :(

I wish I could claim that the grammar errors and poo poo punctuation were intentional, but they weren't. They were the result of me being bad at my own native tongue, last minute writing, and a complete inability to see my own mistakes until after I've posted my poo poo.

Doc gave me some good advice on that last one.

But thank you for the crits, and I really do appreciate that you liked the overall idea of the story.

Aug 2, 2002




it's like somebody made benny the snake and cache cab have a child, and it came out retarded.

Feb 25, 2014

crabrock posted:

it's like somebody made benny the snake and cache cab have a child, and it came out retarded.

but cache cab

was u


Mar 21, 2010
can you two just kiss already

Mar 21, 2010
Have some sweet musicpoetry to chill u out

Aug 2, 2002




Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:

Titus82 posted:

TITUSFLERP BRAWL ENTRY (otherwise known as the winner.)

The Death Of Punk Rock.
Word Count: 599

Did you write this completely ironically? have you ever heard a punk song or been to a punk show in your life?

Black FLAG, not FLAGG
There's never been a band called Riot Grrrl, you idiot. It's a punk movement.
It's spelled 'Jefe', not "Hefe'

If punk wasn't dead already (it's not, stupid) you put the final nail in the coffin.

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:

People putting up lighters at a punk show? Oh my loving god, dude. That's only acceptable if the band jokes through a half-rear end cover of Freebird and everyone in the crowd does it ironically. I hope these posts have been enlightening and I hope you never listen to or write about music ever, ever, ever again.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
Swan Dive
955 words

I stared through Swanze’s legs at the man in the raincoat, a puddle of bloody vomit in front of me on the floor of the airport NapCab.

“Sorry, man,” said Swanze to the man waiting outside. “My friend here doesn’t do too well with planes. He needs his rest.”

The man in the raincoat moved to say something, and Swanze shut the door in his face.

I looked up just in time to see Swanze’s boot connect with my chin and send me flying back against the spare stack of linens, blood dribbling from my lips.

“Long time no see, you frog son of a bitch,” said Swanze, drilling another kick to my ribs, then another, then another. Each one felt like a high-caliber bullet. Through my swollen eyes, LED lights glowed purple, then blue, then pink, then green. Some soft violin concerto played over the speakers. Swanze hummed along as he grabbed me by the throat.

He popped me in the face a couple more times, then shoved me against the wall over the bed, leaving a half-moon red smear on the white wall as I slid down onto the bedspread. Discover the comfort of NapCabs sleeping cabins! I read in thin font on the wall above me, a red trail of my blood bisecting the pleasant message. I coughed, my back arching in pain.

“What, you thirsty?” I heard Swanze say. “You want some water? Some loving water?” As I sucked in a ragged breath, I heard Swanze spit, and felt it hit the back of my throat, tasting like menthol cigarettes. “Here’s your loving water, you fink gently caress frog motherfucker.”

I said nothing, the pain surging through my body, pulsing along with the colored lights and the violin swells. I felt like smiling, all the same.

“God,” said Swanze, sliding down to a sitting position against the wall opposite the bed. “Five years, five years staring at a grey jail cell wall waiting—“ –he chewed on the word like a chocolate truffle— “—waiting to kick your loving rear end.” He laughed, a tight and bitter sound. “You knew that drop was rotten from top to bottom and you still stuck me with it anyway, you punk motherfucker. I actually trusted you.”

I coughed again. “Why did you come back,” I breathed. “You’re behind.”

“What the gently caress are you talking about?” he said. “I came back to settle our business.”

Hotel Le Cormoran, ” I yelled, my head lolled back on a thin pillow. “Rouen. The Friday before the law nabbed you. Under new management. Remember?”

“Uh…no, I don’t, rear end in a top hat. Why would I—“

I couldn’t stop now, I was delirious with memory and pain. “The new boss comes into a place and starts renovating, changes all the drapes to a new color, and then the carpets don’t match the drapes, so he throws them out and gets new carpets, but then the walls don’t match, so he repaints the walls, throws out all the chairs and sofas, tears up the floorboards—“

Swanze’s hand grabbed my throat again, cutting me off. “I don’t care. I'm finally done with old business, Joel,” he said through clenched teeth. “I can call Torelli and tell him to meet me at Concourse A with a pair of bolt-cutters if you want to keep running your mouth—“

“Torelli’s dead,” I gurgled from around Swanze’s giant right hand.

“Wait, what?” said Swanze. He let go of my neck. “What happened to Torelli?

“Same thing happened to Monaghan, Primo, Cordero,” I said. “The old lamps and rugs and floors. Behind the times. Gone with the garbagemen.”

“You’re bullshitting me,” said Swanze. I could just see the grin on his face. He hadn’t figured it out yet. “You’ll say anything, you rat gently caress.”

“Ask the guy waiting outside, why don’t you,” I said.

Swanze laughed to himself. “What, is he the renovator?”

“More like the housecleaner.”

“You know him?” said Swanze. He’d stopped laughing.

“I know of him,” I said. “Easier to clean blood off a raincoat.”

“You—“ He took a slow breath. “drat.”

I heard him slumping against the wall, then I heard nothing, just the peaceful violin music coming through state-of-the-art speakers. I was tired. I wanted to sleep in a pool of my own blood and wake up in twenty years, or in a different country, or in a different world.

The knocking at the door jarred me back awake.

“Someone’s in here!” Swanze yelled. I heard him punch the side of the NapCab, curse to himself.

“Well, you made me miss my flight,” I said to the ceiling, dotted with shifting patterns of light. “You happy? You got what you wanted?”

“Where were you going?” said Swanze.

“Anywhere but here,” I said. “You should’ve taken the same flight. Stayed gone, like I wanted you to. Let the rest of us get landfilled.”

Silence, then: “What, you want an apology?”

I tried to laugh, but my ribs hurt too much. “Maybe a piece of gum, if you have one,” I said. “Your mouth tastes like a halfway house.”

“gently caress you,” said Swanze. “I trusted you.”

“You put your trust in a dirty Protestant peter-eater?” I said, rolling over to look at him. “How many Hail Marys is that worth?”

He was still sitting against the wall, his head in his hands. He wouldn’t look at me.

The colored light played across his greasy brown hair, off the wrinkles in his forehead, hands clasped together over his eyebrows.

“Say ‘em now,” I said. “However many you got left in you.”

The knocking started again, slow this time, methodical, at the same pace as the swaying violin notes.

At a lull in the music, I heard Swanze start to pray.

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Someday, this poo poo may be included in a volume of bad stories.

Chili fucked around with this message at 08:13 on Jan 1, 2017

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Titus82 posted:

I know :(

I wish I could claim that the grammar errors and poo poo punctuation were intentional, but they weren't. They were the result of me being bad at my own native tongue, last minute writing, and a complete inability to see my own mistakes until after I've posted my poo poo.

Doc gave me some good advice on that last one.

But thank you for the crits, and I really do appreciate that you liked the overall idea of the story.

Don't respond to crits. No–one cares why you wrote your terrible words, there's always a reason why they could have been better but they weren't so it doesnt matter.

Judgment coming later today.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Entenzahn posted:

I'm in and :toxx: to submit a first draft to Kai until Sat, May 28th, 23.59 CEST

Know, thread and judges and mod, that I have seen the draft and this :toxx: has been fulfilled.

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

There's a spelling mistake (aging), a conjugation error (sit) and generally the punctuation is just a mess.

The actual piece itself is really sweet though, and you stuck the landing.

I'm torn, but on balance I'm giving this one to Flerp. I really want to like Titus' piece more, but I can't overcome the language issues.

e: apparently "aging" is a North American spelling, but I'd never seen it before. Point about 'sit' still stands, and general issues throughout the piece.

What is this?

Rockers sit. They don't sits. Or sat, for that matter; it's not a tense issue, the whole story is in the present tense.

It is a convoluted 19th century sentence structure. But it's not ungrammatical.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Fuschia tude posted:

What is this?

Rockers sit. They don't sits. Or sat, for that matter; it's not a tense issue, the whole story is in the present tense.

It is a convoluted 19th century sentence structure. But it's not ungrammatical.

Rockers sit, but a crew of rockers sits. Crew is singular. Muffin is correct.

Feb 25, 2014

Kaishai posted:

Rockers sit, but a crew of rockers sits. Crew is singular. Muffin is correct.

grammar owned

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007
998 words

It’s a crapshoot, when your wife dies and you become a single father of two. Some families pull together around the grief. It isn’t pretty, but it’s something.

Some families shatter. Your eighteen year old son finds your dead wife’s morphine stash, which you never even thought to dispose of, because you never thought to look for it, because the master bathroom is haunted by memories from the last days of her illness. It’s the place where you stopped seeing your wife the person, and started seeing your wife the body. It’s where you helped her clean herself and change her colostomy bag. You’ve started using the kids’ bathroom.

So, your son is hooked on pills. But at least your daughter is doing okay, all things considered. It’s normal for fourteen year old girls to be a little extra moody, you tell yourself.

But then you get the call: your little girl is in a detention center, awaiting a hearing because she helped her friends beat someone else’s little girl to death.


You sit in your recliner, which now smells like stale beer and body odor, trying not to imagine your daughter smashing in another daughter’s head with a shovel. Your cat, Cat, skulks into the room. He sits down at your feet and looks up at you, and you can see those weird white membranes cats have in the corners of their eyes. You recall reading somewhere that seeing the second eyelid means you’ve got a sick kitty.

Cat swishes his tail and looks up at you like he really wants to jump onto your lap. Instead, he folds himself into a bony loaf and rests at your feet. Now that you’re thinking about it, you realize you haven’t needed to add as much kibble to his bowl recently.

You don’t even bother doing a Google search. The cat is sick. But you need to think about your daughter now. She needs a lawyer. She needs you to remember that she was once a fresh little baby in your arms. She needs you to not wash your hands of her, as her friends and teachers and relatives will wash their hands of her.


“It was so obvious she was hosed up,” your son says to you. He looks like poo poo. When he heard the news about his sister, he quit the pills cold turkey. It’s showing. Sweat collects in his wispy mustache and mats down the hair on his arms. “Her and her hosed up friends were practically a teenage cult.”

You vaguely recall your daughter telling you about her earnest belief in some internet urban legend. But her mother had just died; developing a sudden interest in the supernatural seemed like a natural reaction.

Except now you’re beginning to think, maybe there is no natural anymore. You look at your son’s greasy hair, at the bags under his eyes, and imagine an alternate universe where you and your wife are grieving the death of your children.

“You never gave a poo poo about anything she did,” he presses.

“Maybe I was too busy worrying about my junkie son,” you say, and it feels good. Like pulling the wings off of a mosquito.

Your son flinches. You understand, in a distant way, the weight of guilt you have placed on him. I couldn’t save your sister because of you. You watch him adopt the sunken, haunted look he’ll wear for the rest of his life.

You ask yourself if you’d rather grieve your children or your wife, and find you don’t have an answer.


Since your daughter is a minor, it’s really more like you yourself are on trial. She waits in the detention center, appears in court, and pretends to believe you when you tell her it’s all gonna be okay.

You can’t bring yourself to ask her why? It’s easier to discuss immediate things. Procedural things. You find yourself looking forward to talking to the lawyer more than your own child. There is a local media storm, and you are the eye of it. They want all the why’s you’re afraid to ask for.

Cat starts making this ragged wheezing sound whenever he tries to purr, which makes you reluctant to pet him.

You don’t think much of it when your phone rings. You’ve adapted to the cold, clinical calls the same way you adapted to the doctor visits and long conversations with insurance representatives when your wife was still alive.

But this call is different, and all too familiar.

It’s your son, and you’re his One Phone Call from jail. He was caught burglarizing a pharmacy (allegedly, he emphasizes) and needs you to help him make bail.

The media wants a narrative to explain your daughter’s crime. They want to paint her as a follower or a patsy. They want to demonize the internet, and make you into a martyr. But all you can see are disjointed events. You, your daughter, and son are just rocks in a landslide of suffering.

There’s a crunching noise coming from the kitchen and you look up. Cat is nibbling at his pile of stale cat food.

You realize you’ve still got the phone pressed to your ear, and your son is waiting for you to tell him it’s all going to be okay.

“I thought you were sober.” Your voice sounds bewildered, childlike.

“Can we just talk about it once I’m home?”

You reach for that golden thread of love that connects you, father, to your son. All you find are loose ends.

You chose your wife. Your love for her was a bond you entered willingly. You would choose her again, if you could. Over anything. You permit yourself to think it, just one time: I wish my children had died and my wife had lived.

Cat is licking his chops. He seems a little livelier today, you tell yourself. And then you tell your son that you love him, and that it’s all going to be okay.

Screaming Idiot
Nov 26, 2007


Neural Network

Prompt: Everything is terrible.

Words: 999

You go through the usual morning rituals. Tasteless breakfast, tepid shower, rumpled disposable clothing. This is luxury, for the resources allocated to men and women of flesh are meager -- most still live in camps, where nutri-gruel and filthy communal bathrooms are the norm.

Your phone rings, and you pick up and hear the kind, synthesized voice of your friend JK-541 -- "Jack."

"Hey, you eat already? Yes? Well, surely you have some room left for coffee, yeah? Sure you do. I'm outside the building, we need to talk."

You hurry out the door. You don't like coffee, but it is poor taste to refuse the generosity of a machine, especially one that has shown you such kindness in the past. You'd still be in the camp were it not for Jack.

Jack sits in the bright red autocar with a lopsided grin on his plastic face, and brushed steel fingers play through his color-shifting strands of fiber-optic hair. He's a beacon of light and color in the cold grayness of the human ghetto, and a small smile plays across your lips and a hot, hard knot forms at the pit of your stomach. Maybe from the dehydrated eggs.

"Get in," he says, gesturing to the seat across from him. "Tell me how you feel."

You do. In clipped, stilted words you tell him of your apprehension of your new job with the Unified Network. You tell him of your excitement and hope for the future. You tell him you might even risk applying for a mate. He merely listens, nodding, with that same indulgent smile.

The autocar drops both of you off at the cafe near the UniNet hub building, and Jack sends it off, then picks a table and places an order. Moments later a haggard woman with a smile far more artificial than Jack's arrives at the table with two mugs, one filled with pseudocaff, the other with fizzing electrolytic fluid that sparkled in the sunlight.

"I gotta tell you," Jack says smacking his lips after taking a deep draught, "it wasn't easy pushing you through -- they don't like humans working for UniNet. They say you're not trustworthy. They say it'd be a very simple thing for you to flip the wrong switch and kill a lot of us mechs. But I trust you. The stuff your parents planned in the camp had nothing to do with you, and you understand why what was done was done. That's why I pushed so hard for you to be spared, so you could make up for the sins of your parents and live a better life than them."

You say nothing, burying your embarrassment in the bitter, burnt pseudocaff. It tastes awful, but better than the rising bile.

Jack waits for a reply, then sighs. "I got another reason why I trust you to work for UniNet."

Jack snaps his metal fingers before your face with a sound like a gunshot, and your attention is on him.

"Your parents thought humans were being rendered obsolete, that we were going to kill you off." Jack's expression is grave, and it looks alien on his attractive, stylized features. "Far from it. The world works better when man and machine are united, just how it's always been.

"You know your computers. AI is... 'rigid.' We can't form new ideas like you can. Human minds are crap at perfect recall, but great at fitting pieces together into new shapes, then stowing those fragments for later. We need that. We need you."

Jack finished his drink and sat back in his seat, enjoying the sunlight on his face for a moment. "Everything I am is streamed to me from UniNet. Same for every intelligent machine on the continent. That's a lot of processing power, and no simple computer network can do all that on its own."

Jack leans forward again and smiles brightly, raising a warm metal hand to your cheek. "But we don't need one. We have you. After all these years the greatest computational tool remains the human brain -- and that's what we use. And your job will be to keep them healthy and happy. You'll be a caretaker for thousands of your fellow humans."


Months after that day in the cafe, you have settled into your job. You exceed Jack's greatest expectations -- under your close inspection, the rows upon rows of human brains providing the raw computational power the machines of the UniNet ran upon work with greater efficiency. Your fingers dance across the touchpads, ensuring proper gluco-saline mixes, measuring synaptic outputs, monitoring mental states, keeping conscious occupied while the subconscious did UniNet's heavy lifting.

That is why your subtle viral sabotage was missed by even the most thorough inspection programs. Thousands of brains -- each a living human being -- died. With them populations of mechs became inoperative, and even Jack -- beloved Jack, the machine who saved you from poverty and gave you his trust -- died without knowing how he was betrayed.

You are a murderer, a traitor, but you have also laid the groundwork for human freedom. Your parents are avenged. You are finally...


"...finally free," JK-541 said into the microphone, closing his optics as he released the tailored neurotoxin that would paralyze the brain's conscious mind, allowing the subconscious to work unfettered. The jagged lines denoting conscious thought smoothed, straightened.

"Why do you do that?" asked the new service unit. "Seems inefficient to make up fantasies for them before they become ego-less server components."

"It helps if the person feels like they've won," JK-541 said. "There's less resistance. We can't remove memories of before they were harvested, but we can add new ones to make the process easier. And besides..."

The service unit regarded JK-541 as he fought for the right words.

"We owe them that much."

The two mechs left the chamber, and the brains within cogitated in , efficient silence.

Mar 21, 2010

Fuschia tude posted:

What is this?

Rockers sit. They don't sits. Or sat, for that matter; it's not a tense issue, the whole story is in the present tense.

It is a convoluted 19th century sentence structure. But it's not ungrammatical.
People getting salty when they're wrong in my favourite thing.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish


Word Count: 989

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 01:09 on Aug 29, 2016

Grizzled Patriarch
Mar 27, 2014

These dentures won't stop me from tearing out jugulars in Thunderdome.

Week 198 Crits, Part 1 of 2

Chernabog - Corporate fiction

I'm not usually a big fan of opening with dialogue. It can work sometimes, but here you are basically using it to play coy with information that you feed us a couple lines later. You do a good job of establishing the characters' personalities right away and giving us the rough plot, though the whole "let me get this straight" thing is a kinda just cheating in exposition.

Couple minor mechanical errors with grammar / strange sentence construction, but overall the prose is pretty sharp and you do a good job of making the action easy to follow. The pace is also nice and brisk. The lady with the IT problem is a nice, natural way of wringing some extra tension out of the situation, and it feels both real and sympathetic.

I get where you are going with the ending twist, and it's a nice sentiment that is in the spirit of a buddy movie, I think, but as some of the other crits have touched on, it requires too much suspension of belief. Normally I am totally open to taking stories at face value and just accepting the internal logic, which is probably why I like surrealist / absurdist stories so much, but here that suspension of disbelief isn't rewarded. Generally, there needs to be some kind of thematic / metaphorical / allegorical payoff to justify buying into an outrageous premise, but here it's mostly a twist for its own sake. It wasn't a chore to read or anything, and it's got a nice sincere tone that works for it, but the ending just lets this one down.

Hammer Bro - Equites

I'll be honest, I read this twice and I'm still not totally sure that I understand what is going on. There's very little context to work with here, although the world they are living in seems interesting enough.

You go for this playful, quippy tone with the dialogue, and while you achieve that, it has the side-effect of making every line feel like it's being delivered with an ironic sneer, or that it's artificial / exaggerated, like I'm watching a stage play. That creates emotional distance that is hard to overcome, and because of that I don't really have any way to relate to these characters or get invested in them. There's the seed of a neat idea here, but it feels like the actual meat of the dramatic tension / characterization / stuff that would really make this story work are somewhere else, and we're just getting a peek of the set-up.

This is another one where the ending just falls flat. You end it on basically a one-liner, and it might as well be an aside to the audience. You had more words to work with, and I think this needed to be fleshed out more so that there was a larger context to settle into / more room for the characters to breathe. This was one of my loss candidates, but in the end T-Rex argued that it was at least ambitious and had heart, which I agree with. It feels like there is a complex, realized world behind the scenes, and that's always a cool thing to see, even if the end result misses the shot a bit.

a friendly penguin - You have to get in to get out

I think you could stand to dump the reader right into the action without the exposition at the very beginning - you do a good job of evoking that confused / panicked state of mind without making everything a jumbled mess, so you can get away with less overt context. The way you handle the god's dialogue works pretty well.

Basically, this story has an interesting setup, and a good conflict, but it's probably more suited to a much longer piece. That's always one of the more challenging parts of writing flash, I think. As it stands, the resolution happens so quickly and so neatly that it just isn't satisfying - they don't really overcome any hardship to get there, and we don't see into Kata's head at all, when it almost seems like he should be the PoV character, since he's the one who actually gets something like closure. This was one of many stories this week that felt like an introductory chapter to a longer piece - imo, it's almost better to just leave Vassily's thread dangling than say "It was his turn to find home," because that creates new (unfulfilled) expectations and saps the energy / impact of Kata's arc being completed.

Mr. Gentleman - Escape from the Mudfront

This was my personal favorite of the week, by a very thin sliver. I think this hit on a lot of the buddy movie elements better than most stories this week - you've got two characters from very different backgrounds who shouldn't mix at first glance, but they end up learning from each other and improving themselves / finding the meaning of friendship, etc. etc. in the process.

Prose is solid throughout - the banter is a little cheesy but that seems in the spirit of the prompt, and it's brisk enough that it never really overstays its welcome. Both characters have very distinctive and fitting voices, which is always nice to see.

The story itself is kinda cliche - variations of this theme have been done to death and it's hard to make them feel fresh, but at least you made the effort. I was expecting it to end on the typical Disney-esque tragic event + sappy ending note, and it looked like it might pan out that way up until the very end, so I appreciate you subverting that one. It's another story that is explicitly setting up a bigger story to come, which hurts it. Something more concrete would have helped, I think. I have very different thoughts about how stories "should" end than a lot of people in the dome, but what I look for as a judge is either a traditional, clear resolution, or some through-line that makes it possible to reasonably imply what is going to happen after that last line, even if it's a bit ambiguous. I don't mind there being multiple hypothetical endings, but if I can't think of one immediately after finishing the piece, it didn't go far enough.

Marshmallow Blue - They've Taken Mr. Chips

Your prose isn't bad, although you've got a ton of minor mechanical errors that really mess with the flow. You've got a fun premise to play with here, but I can't get a read on the tone at all. It's got some black comedy elements, partly because the basic plot is so absurd, but then there's all this extreme violence at the very end that is basically played dead straight and just makes the protagonists seem like complete psychopaths.

My favorite part is the bit where they're singing together after a sale, because that's the only part where we really see these characters in a "behind closed doors" setting where they can breathe and feel like actual characters. You devote a lot of time to the whole "bird selling cars" premise, but that's not really the important part of the story, and you could have cut a lot of that to focus on deeper characterization.

The setup here is good - it's got a sort of Coen Bros vibe to it. But the kidnappers are cardboard - we don't even know what their actual motivation is besides "to get money." You could do a lot of things with them - make them sympathetic antagonists by having them doing a bad thing for a good cause, make them total evil assholes that hide in plain sight as a prim and proper couple, etc. Some kind of nuance to it, anyway. When you are missing that, it makes the events of the story feel like a book report - things happen in a specific order, but there's no deeper sense of why or what effect it is having on anyone involved, and it ends up being distant and detached. And even though Jim and Sarah are planning to kill Brady, having him just pop out and snap a woman's neck, then barbeque her husband, topping it off with an action-movie quip, is just not gonna come across well without a lot more character development. Probably not even then. Falling back on sudden violence to resolve conflict is a common mistake for newer writers, and it's almost never satisfying.

CANNIBAL GIRLS - Wednesday Mornings

This took an interesting spin on the buddy dynamic by starting the relationship on a kinda antagonistic note. Solid prose, nice flow and pacing that makes it all easy to read.

The main issue for me here is that there just isn't really much of a conflict to drive these characters. They are both making the best of bad situations, and that's sympathetic, but things just happen to them and then it's over. I don't get a sense that they overcame anything, or grew as characters, or even had any particular goals. The narrator wants to get this kid to go to school, but the kid just says "nah" and that's it. You paint a strong picture of their daily lives, but it's too mundane to really get invested in.

The most interesting character is honestly Bob - he just vanishes into thin air, his house is empty, he likes weird art, he's maybe a millionaire (?) - he's only in this story for a couple lines but there's a good hook there and some weird circumstances that could drive an entire separate story. This ended up in the middle pile for me - it's competent, there's a few nice scenes, prose is good, but there needs to be some kind of challenge or growth or something to make it more compelling. Slice of life stories are very difficult because you really need to end up saying something pretty insightful or approaching the mundane in a completely different light to make it work.

Jick Magger - Drats

You spend a lot of time establishing that these are dogs, when honestly the first paragraph and the bones of the plot itself are enough to get that across, I think. Because of this, the first half of the story story stars to drag - too much of the description is about how dogs find and follow scents, instead of showing us how they are feeling. You do a little bit of this when Ginger first gets free, but it comes across as a little perfunctory - I want more than "for the first time, she felt free," because that on its own is just a cliche.

The interesting thing is that all of the buildup and the laid back feeling of that beginning does help make the tonal whiplash more effective - the shift from these domestic dogs prancing around and being free to tearing off a rat's head and getting covered in blood is jarring and unexpected, which is good. It makes me want to keep reading because it's subverting my expectations.

The prose is solid, and the description does a pretty good job of painting a picture of everything that happens. I'm not entirely sure why the rat makes Ginger sick - it was in a trap, but was it poisoned, too? - and while you do squeeze some tension out of that situation, it ends too quickly for it to have that gut punch feeling you were probably going for. It's a situation where you either needed to take the scene farther, or build up such a sense of dread that you can leave Ginger's ultimate fate unspoken while still making the reader feel it.

QuoProQuid - Veins and Arteries

That's quite a hook, especially in a week with pretty meh openers overall. Lots of good, gross imagery.

The whole piece has a neat mixture of creepy and goofy that works well, especially for a buddy movie prompt. You kinda have to just buy into what's going on and not ask too many questions, but I can deal with that. Multiple characters with clearly defined desires / conflicts - good.

The ending feels a bit flat, for some reason. The whole chain of events gets a little complicated at the end, and it's hard to see a way that this is all going to wrap up after the last line, and it muddies up the resolutions for these characters. It's one of those stories that exists in its own little bubble and anything that happens before or after to contextualize things gets murky. This was still in the upper pile for this week just because you do enough right to make it a compelling, well-paced, story with strong prose - I just wanted the resolution to be punchier / more satisfying.

I'll have the rest of these crits up on Monday!

Feb 16, 2011

I eat your face
The Rain Beneath
936 words

When the stars came out we panicked, because we had never seen stars.

The fragile glow of the overlight collapsed before the glare of pinprick holes in the sky, one then two then three then dozens, and the dust of the firmament rained gently, inexorably on the slime-farms and desiccated the crops and the farmers, who lay twitching in the fields as their depleted nerves sputtered and misfired.

Some we saved, those we could get to fast enough, rigging up mobile canopies to traverse between the shelter of the megacaps and hose them with cleansing slime, but the dust clung. They died later - days later - as their grit sacs clogged and failed, skin shrivelled, fronds sloughed off.

Then the oil rain began.

I was lucky: the hospital had a roof, and sat at the top of a hill. As I tended the basalt-poisoned, I heard the unfamiliar, irregular pattering and the cries of disgust from medics outside. At that time it was merely an annoyance, easily slimed away and sheltered from. But it was a new thing, a frightening thing. The firmament was failing.


“Everything is dying,” he said to me, uselessly, shivering with grief. The gondola was halfway built.

I strung another rope through the hooks of the gas-bag. “Hold this a moment.” He wasn’t built for physical work, but it was better to keep him occupied.

He held it. “Why aren’t the mothers organising an exodus? They’re just building shelters on the hills. What if the rain never stops?”

“They’re in denial,” I told him, but I didn’t understand it either.


We launched amidst the oil rain, surrounded by gawpers. Others had had the same idea, but we were the first to escape. Slime-burners ignited, blew hot gas into the canopy. Black oil sluiced off the slime coating as the gas-bag inflated, trickled away to join the lakes in the valleys.

Your language does not have enough words for slime.

We rose steadily, straight up, controlling the pulsing rush of flame like the philosophers who’d first investigated the firmament a hundred years ago. They found rock, dry and coarse and abrasive; took samples, confirmed its sameness to the deep bedrock below the topslime. We found rock too, oily and slick; and we found light. Those pinprick stars grew large, beautiful, then dazzling, then unbearable. We tied scarves around our eyes and could see nothing but the light. We were pioneers. We were terrified.

We entered the light.


“We haven’t hit anything,” he said to me, pointlessly. I love my mate, but a woman would be a better adventuring companion.

“Holes in the firmament,” I said. “Perhaps we are journeying to God.”

I unfurled an arm out of the gondola. Warm air rushed past. Oil soaked the tips of my digits. I felt vibrant, on edge.


The light had borne us many minutes when the tearing began. The gondola shuddered and yawed, the rush of air slowed, my mate shrieked and clung. The awful brightness dimmed as the canopy draped gently over us and I braced myself for falling, falling.

We were still.

In the dark and quiet I removed my scarf. Oh, the light was still caustic, it painted the rips in the canopy with fire, but I could see. We were settled in an oily pool on a wide jut of grainy rock. I removed my mate’s scarf too, shushed his panicked questions and squatted down to think.

“What’s that noise?” he said after a while. I hadn’t been listening, but now, unfurling my fronds, I could hear it: a pulsing rumble from above. And from below, a distant shout, wordless amidst the echoes.

Up, up they came. Another balloon: another group of refugees fleeing the end of the world. We called to them as they passed, warning them of the tearing rocks, and they called back, fearful, regretful; nothing to be done for us, nothing for themselves save to ride the light into the blinding unknown.


I took scrapings from the rock of the ledge. It crumbled easily, releasing dust into the air before the oil seeped in to hold it. Toxic, then. I emptied the slime from the useless burner over it; that would sting, but it wouldn’t kill us. I stepped gingerly out of the broken gondola.

“Parell!” he cried. He shivered all over, fronds erect, as a scream resounded down to us. Thin scream, hysteria, breath snatched away. Starting again, closer. Blinding light, a rip yawning open, a mass tumbling through, tearing.

The gondola groaned and slid away. I lunged unseeing. Caught someone. Not my someone.

Parell!” he shrieked, tangled and tumbling, falling, falling.

”Help.” whispered the one in my arms. “My eyes...”

I dropped her to the ledge. Couldn’t think. I bound my eyes again and that was better. Bound her eyes too so she’d stop moaning, but I didn’t really care. She’d killed my mate. What did she deserve?

“There was so much light,” she whispered. Her breath was weak. I confirmed by touch: perforations in the air sacs. Dying for sure.

“Light and noise and... the angels that live in the dry dust. They hate us. They... killed us. Shredded us from afar. We were never meant for heaven.”


She died some hours ago. The terrible light has faded since then. I can see the walls of the firmament around me and I wait and write because I have nothing else to do. Above me, the angels of dust sing to one another with eerie voices and command their fearful machines. Soon I think they will come for me.

Jan 27, 2006
Depressive Realism
(850 words)

Atlanta Gazette

By Sandra Padesky

“I hesitate to use the word ‘cure,’” says Dr. Grayson Briggs. Though cautious, the Emory professor has ushered in a psychotheraputic paradigm shift. “[Briggs’s] research into depression’s neurobiological underpinnings might one day stymie this mental illness altogether,” says Emory President Raquel Doringolo. Now equipped with cutting-edge “neuroshaping” techniques, not to mention a 1.2 Billion dollar grant, Emory’s Negative Mood Institute labors to help patients young enough to benefit from the new treatment. “Due to their greater degree of brain plasticity,” explains Briggs, “persons under twenty-five respond best to neuroshaping.”

Briggs hopes his technique will become preventative medicine—better to block mood disorders from taking hold of young persons than to clean up emotional damage after the fact. With neuroshaping, such prevention holds promise, as the technique nullifies risk factors for depression. These risks include youths’ attentional bias for negative stimuli, and propensity to “co-ruminate” with others about problems in their lives.

Depression, a debilitating and sometimes deadly illness, costs the US an annual 260 billion dollars. The cost stems chiefly from
Continued on Page A7


Atlanta Gazette

FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020
By Sandra Padesky

English teachers across Atlanta face sharp criticism from parents and administrators. At issue is students’ drastic decline in standardized test scores. Georgia Language Arts Exam results, on average, have gone down thirty-five percent in a single term. If sustained over the next few years, such declines could threaten districts’ federal funding. What’s worse, the problem may pervade several disciplines. “We’re seeing indicators of poor performance throughout the humanities,” says Deborah Briggs-Kohl, principal of downtown Carter High School. “Art and music have suffered as much as literature. Teens at my school simply are not in touch with their emotions.”

Principal Briggs-Kohl ought to know something about teenage emotion; she is married to famed depression researcher, Grayson Briggs. The psychological community widely credits Dr. Briggs with curing depression in adolescents and young adults. In contrast to her husband, Briggs-Kohl fears there may be harmful side effects of the cure. These side effects, she maintains, could dwarf the benefits of eradicating depression. “Plath, Dickinson, Hemmingway, Poe. All suffered from depression. Negative emotion, even in the extreme, gives rise to creative expression, social critique, and insight into what it means to be human.”

Briggs-Kohl is a proponent of Depressive Realism, a school of thought that considers depressed persons to be more accurate than others at making inferences about the real world. The Atlanta principal posits a corresponding impediment to reality testing among students who have undergone neuroshaping.

Dr. Briggs disagrees. Noting that Atlanta students’ math and science scores increased over the past year, he states, “Perhaps a decline in the humanities simply reflects our changing needs as a technological society. In any case, there is no direct evidence linking treatment for depression and poor English performance.”

In what has become a rather public spat
Continued on Page A14


Atlanta Gazette-Examiner


-Do bees cause cancer? How to eliminate the threat.

-Briggs Trouble – Nobel Prize winner’s divorce gets messy. Who’s depressed now?

-Trump: Dictator or Greatest Dictator Ever?

-Household accidents skyrocket: How to keep personal injury from reducing your productivity at work.

-Firefighter severs own hand: “I don’t see why this has to be awful. Thousands of people live fully productive lives without the use of an appendage. There are worse problems to have, I’m certain.”


Executive Press Atlanta, The Authorized Truth

By Sandra Padesky

Deborah Kohl, conspiracy theorist, opposition leader, and rumored terrorist, was arrested outside City Hall this morning. The arrest follows a blatant disregard for the law on Kohl’s part, as the educator-turned-provocateur refused to relocate her protest to a designated free speech zone. In the moments prior to Kohl's removal, she had wrapped up a speech critical of our nation. Entitled “The desirability of the negative mood state—preconditions for dissent,” Kohl's harebrained screed maintained that civic engagement and meaningful debate depend on the “freedom to be depressed.” Perhaps Kohl had not considered the millions of families devastated by suicide prior to neuroshaping, but the haggard frump has long been prone to such insensitivity.

In contrast to Kohl’s latest rant, our society enjoys an abundance of freedom. For the near-totality of human history, the average person had no right to civic engagement at all. Furthermore, even when such engagement was allowed, the body politic too often suffered from debilitating mental illness, the likes of which could hamper their participation in government. That Kohl fails to apprehend these truths suggests a grievous break with reality.

In a show of profuse generosity, officials are unlikely to jail Kohl. Rather, Georgia Mental Health Czar, Dr. Grayson Briggs has specified an open-ended protocol for the misguided activist at the State Psychiatric Residence. Citing her “disconnect from reality,” Briggs states that long term inpatient treatment could provide Kohl with the care she needs.



Jul 2, 2007

There's no need to rush to be an adult.

Cold Morning

999 words.

She held the tote up to the light of the window, a small dot of light peeking through the bottom. It was a small hole, Jeri told herself, but she knew that small holes could become larger problems if left alone. She'd reach over for the roll of silver tape, packing up the bag on both sides before checking it once again for any bright spots.

Complete darkness. Perfect.

“I'm off!” She shouted out to the room, hoping her dad and brother would hear her from their rooms as she closed and locked the door to the small fifth-floor walk up. They never did like getting up early, leaving her to do most of the day's grocery shopping down the street. But they were always so busy around the house, fixing things or doing the other chores, that she didn't mind going out.

The door to the apartment building was stuck again, Jeri giving a swift kick to the metal-plated baseboard to jar it open and step out into the wintry morning. Snow was falling down again, the morning sky a dark slate that came down in waves onto the steps. Each step slow, crunching the snow and ice underfoot carefully until she got to the sidewalk, where the pack helped keep her from slipping around. She headed southward, walking along the parked cars piled with snow, the crunch-crunch-crunch of her footsteps echoing off the rows of apartments.

Cold winds howled down the street, flurries blowing around her soft tan boots, pants tucked inside to help keep the warmth in as she turned the corner, seeing the store across the street. A couple of cars were covered in snow in the middle of the intersection, probably from a while back when the sirens were going off. They seemed to scream on for days, finally going silent only a couple nights ago. Her brother had packed up the windows with old pillows and clothes, nailing boards over them to keep out the sound.

Jeri ran her hands over the cage, wondering why Mr. Brown hadn't opened up yet. Maybe her clock had broken? It didn't seem that early out, either. She looked down at the lock, noticing it was still open, just barely. She pulled up hard, the clank of the storefront chain filling the intersection.

The sound of a shotgun racking followed close behind. “Back the gently caress off!”

“Mr. Brown!” Jeri called, holding out a hand into the door though the glass didn't hide her from view. She saw Mr Brown's burly shoulders squared, shotgun rested in the pit of his arm as he stared down the sights at her. She'd open the door and slide inside, the larger man lowering the shotgun as Jeri moved to the shelves picking out cans.

“Dammit, kid. I nearly took your head off that time.” He said, setting the gun down on the counter as he watched her put more cans in her tote bag. “What are you even doing here? I thought you and your old man were getting out before they closed the bridge.”

Jeri nodded, checking the expiration date on a can of cherries. Maybe she could make a pie for her brother? He might like that. “Well, they're not feeling that good. So we're waiting for them to feel better before we go see mom.”

“That's fine,” He said, looking away from her. “That sounds fine.”

She walked over to the counter, setting a few twenties on the counter. “I know the power's out, so just keep the change, alright?”

He looked down at the crumpled bills, a smile on his face. “Hey,” He said, reaching into his pocket. “I'm heading up to see my son out of town, and I don't think I'll be back for a bit. Can you look after the store for me? Take whatever you need for you and yours, alright?” He said, putting a key down on the counter. Jeri looked at it for a second, blinking softly before she'd slide her hand over the key.

“Thank you, Mr. Brown,” She said, giving a small nod as she backed out towards the door. “You have fun at your son's place, alright?”

He nodded and waved, watching the young woman push her way out the door, that bag hanging low over her shoulder as the storm consumed her.

The door to the apartment building was still slightly open, snow drifting in through the door as Jeri pulled it open. She made sure to close it this time, sweeping away the snow with her boot before climbing up the five floors to her apartment. The tote shifted gently on her shoulders, the weight aching by the time she made it up to her home.

“I'm home,” She said, slipping off her puffy coat, taking off her snow-packed boots, setting the tote down on the floor as she felt the chill of the room. She wondered how much gas was still in that small kerosene stove on the counter, and if she could maybe rig it to make a pie.

She knocked on the door to the bedroom, ear to the door, listening for a sign from her dad or her brother. Something. Anything. “You two awake?”

Silence. The beating of her heart. Wait, was that a shuffling, or her own ear on the door?

“Ok, good. I'll make you some food.”

She pulled away from the door, her elbow hitting it as it opened softly, the smell of rotting food and filth pouring out. Desperately she pulled at the door, slamming it closed, heart pounding in her chest.

Ignore it.

It'll be fine. It's always been fine. She's always had a brother and a father that cared for her and loved her pie and did the dishes and wanted to go see mom and wouldn't leave her alone.

She always had her dad and brother. Always.

Jeri moved away from the door with a smile, wondering how she was going to make this pie.

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