In with The Ice.
|# ¿ May 11, 2016 00:13|
|# ¿ Feb 2, 2023 09:03|
Breath and Bone (1996)
It’s the second week of polar night at McMurdo Station and the wind’s howling like an accusation. I smoke cigarettes in the Carp Shop with Rich Satterfield, one of the other HVACR techs wintering over, the two of us squatted on a heap of plywood like mannequins; already we’ve burned through almost half the ones I brought from home. The air’s quiet and clotted with sawdust and shadow. All we can see is the dim orange glow of the butts we drop into the pail between our feet, and the soft white of our breath in the gnawing chill. It’s far too dark to make out the faded pink stains on the concrete, or the divots that this morning had been smeared with powdered teeth.
Rich takes a drag and the cigarette fills his face with witchlight.
“This is a predicament,” he says.
He has a habit of understatement. The carpenters had come in to find the air reeking of copper and coated with a tacky layer of blood so thick it’d almost tugged off one of their shoes after a careless step. Two people are missing from the two hundred some-odd residents of the station, here in Antarctica with nowhere to go. One of them’s Megan Scanlon, a pretty Kiwi girl who worked the comms. The other is Lisa, my wife. The ghosts of their footprints were still visible around the front door. Only Lisa’s led out.
“You couldn’t tell where she went?” I ask, for the fifth time.
“She left the camp dragging something. But once you hit open tundra the snow gets blown every which-a-way. We lost the trail. If she doesn’t come back we’ll be looking for two bodies.” Smoke jets out his nostrils. “It’s a predicament.”
Scanlon was from Wellington. Lisa’s from Rhode Island. A killing across international lines could create a diplomatic incident. That’s what was said to me when I opened my door, blinking and unshaven, and found a dozen moon-pale faces clustered in the hall. That’s why no one’s gotten radioed the mainland yet, they said. Further investigation is needed, they said. More words may have followed. My mind had wandered off.
Satterfield leans over and plucks my cigarette out between my fingers. I blink and see that the filter had burned down to my skin, turned it all shiny and taut.
“The prints led out to the galley first,” he says. “Didn’t you get a call to check up on the steam boiler there last night?”
“But you didn’t see her.”
He pats my shoulder and stands up with pail clanging on his side. “Hang in there.”
I listen to his footsteps thump through the dark, and then stop. He asks, “What’s she do, again?”
“Lisa? She’s a geologist.”
“Wouldn’t expect something like this from someone like that.”
“She’s a passionate woman.”
He falls silent. I imagine him recreating the scene under full light – the great splash of runny gore, the wet strings of brain matter and the shine of scattered teeth.
He says, “I believe you.”
* * *
Later that night. I’m waiting in the tool shed, amidst the ranked shelves of valves and wire, an unlit lantern at my feet and a knapsack full of provisions on my shoulders. Lisa arrives at the promised time. She congeals out of the shadow, the hood of her parka pulled high. The fur lining rings a hazy halo around her exposed skin.
She asks, “Did you bring everything?”
“Everything I could.”
“Then let’s go.”
I’d lied. I had seen her, that night. I’d been checking the water feed on the galley’s steam boiler when Lisa had materialized again, five-nine in heavy boots, the bloody hammer still clutched in her hand.
Winters in McMurdo Station, Mactown as the residents call it, are when the supply drops end and the wind blows cold enough to strip the hairs off your face. The ones who stay are mostly the maintenance staff, like me, the ones who keep the lights on and the heat going for the scientists and the thinkers to come in summer. But Lisa is dedicated. She’s hard and humorless but always looking for reasons not to be; when she learns something new her eyes light up Polaris and that was why I’d fallen for her. Sometimes it feels like she wanted nothing more than to crack the whole continent open like a ribcage, reach in and pull out its secrets.
She’d spent months, and months before on our previous visits, stealing from the shipments bound to Amundsen-Scott Station further south. I don’t know how. She told me in her oblique but biting way that she knew something about one of the cargo plane pilots. What she took wasn’t even valuable. A chunk of meteorite iron, a piece of volcanic slag, an obsidian lump smooth as still water. Beautiful, worthless things. But at some point Scanlon had found out, and waited until the station had gone quiet and cold and the long night had fallen to ask her to the Carp Shop and confront her with the discovery. Maybe she’d come on too strong. But it’d started an argument, and one thing had led to another.
“Help me,” she’d said, and I’d said yes. What else could I do? I love the woman.
So we gather our provisions and step outside. We’re exposed, much too exposed, but Lisa disappears like smoke and I find myself clumsily following her footprints to the station’s outskirts, that pale expanse. No sentries, the cameras probably smeared with buzz as the wind pulls at their wires. She appears again, wisplike, and guides me away until MacTown’s nothing but a cinder on the horizon. We stop at a lump of snow like any other and she brushes it away and exposes the cool blue vinyl of a tarp, bound with rope at top and bottom.
I ask, “Is that-”
“We bringing her back?”
“No. We’re taking it to Erebus.”
I look at her, then at the horizon, already fuzzed with snow. Mt. Erebus, some twenty-five miles away, squatting like a toad on this island’s center. A volcano, one of four that make up the island; when we walk through Mactown we can hear our bootheels crunching on the grit they coughed up long ago. Erebus is the only one still active. Its caldera hot enough to vaporize anything cast in.
Lisa checks the knots on that stiff blue bundle. She’s hunched low like a gargoyle.
“Either go back or help me pull,” she says.
I grab one of the ropes.
* * *
This is Antarctica: it’s a desert turned predatory. It’s an ailing, pitiable thing. The ground can open up and swallow you whole and in recent years it’s happened more and more as the heat everywhere rises and the ice turns thin and soft – like any animal, it’s more likely to bite when it’s unwell. I never presumed to understand Lisa’s research but she studied that sickness through the things she pulled from the glaciers, turning the bones of the earth over in her hands.
Myself, I just think keeping things warm. The boilers and their exhalations through Mactown, all the ways that machinery can go wrong. The grasping wind snuffs out pilot lights and rips components loose from their moorings. Then there’s a dry-fire, when a water feed gets blocked so the boiler has nothing left to boil but keeps trying anyway until it tears itself apart. Twenty tons of steel crack open like an egg. When I glimpse the bloodshot jigsaw of Lisa’s eyes beneath her hood, that’s what comes to mind.
Satterfield is taking care of it, I tell myself. Or maybe he’s one of the people chasing us, following the trail Scanlon’s cordwood-stiff corpse leaves behind. We push forward until we fall, then huddle together in the snow and choke down energy bars and share each other’s heat long enough to get up and walk again. My breath rattles like something broken. Lisa tells me that if I stopped smoking I wouldn’t have this much trouble. I say that I’d probably be having trouble regardless.
“They all know what you did,” I say, between gulps of bitter air. “Getting rid of the body won’t help.”
“I’m not getting rid of anything. I’m giving it back.” And that’s vague enough to shut me up.
Erebus coalesces in the distance just when my lungs are about to burst. Like the silhouette of an overturned pot, night opening into deeper night. I steal a glance behind me and see no one following. The tarp wrapped around Scanlon is much worse for wear. I think I see a milk-pale sliver of skin through the vinyl.
“We can’t make that climb,” I say.
“We can," she says. "I can’t do this alone.”
Upward. The mountain’s skin studded with rocks like tombstones, and as we rise we enter a damp and choking fog. Lisa says that it’s from the cold striking the lava bed; she says that in the tunnels underneath everything’s melted and frozen all at once, unsure of what to be. Mist spills from the caldera like one long exhalation. Scanlon’s bound and broken head rasps across the snow.
When we reach the lip of the caldera I fall to my knees and hack up something bloody and brown. I wipe my mouth and rise and see that Lisa’s abandoned the body, shrugged off her knapsack. She unzips it, digs in her heels, and flings it into the volcano. As it falls I see rocks spill out, twinkling geodes and hole-spotted pumice and lumps of shining black glass. All she’d taken.
Then she bends over the body and I grab the other end. We lift Scanlon up, rock her back and forth. Just before I let go I try to remember something about her but nothing comes and she’s just a blue bundle tumbling end over end into the mist, flaring up and already gone.
I’m transfixed by the sight. I don’t hear Lisa’s footsteps crunching up beside me. But the mist shifts, and I glance aside, just in time to see her swing.
I bring up my arm and something cracks against my elbow and even through the padding of the parka I fell myself go numb from shoulder to fingertip. Lisa’s bent low, that same hammer gripped in her hand, the mist curling serpentine around her.
She tries to explain. “I can fix this. I just have to give it back. With interest. Just one isn’t enough.”
The winterers of MacTown are not superstitious people. When the long night falls they watch horror movies and joke at every scare. This isn’t like them. It’s not like her. But the look in those cracked eyes is full of nothing but certainty.
I tell her I love her. It’s all I can think to say.
“I know,” she says. Crying, now. “That’s why this’ll work. Don’t make it harder.”
She steps forward and the volcano clears its throat. A small eruption, a few burning stones flung from the caldera like dice. None of them come close to us. But Lisa loses her balance, and falls to the side, and when her head strikes one of the nearby rocks I hear a sound like an egg against a countertop. I run to her side and see blood. Not a lot and far too much.
She blinks and looks at me. Her eyes already unfocused and full of haze.
She says, “It’s freezing out here.”
I gather her up and it’s true, she’s shaking so hard her bones feel like they might climb out of her skin. The volcano quiets; the mist seems to abate. Through its parting curtains I believe I can see other shapes far below, lean shadows making their way to this fracture in the frozen earth. But I pay them no mind. I hold Lisa close, and wait for the shivering to end.
|# ¿ May 15, 2016 23:33|
Not a question for here. Take it to the advice thread.
|# ¿ May 18, 2016 16:58|
In, and I need to go up against Oxxi so I can face him in a Homestuck Fanfiction brawl and still win.
You sure? My fanfiction game is pretty strong.
But yeah ok, I'll play.
|# ¿ May 24, 2016 03:50|
This is not kayfabe: stop, you loving moron.
|# ¿ May 27, 2016 23:51|
Blake Butler, "Damage Claim Questionnaire" posted:
- HOW WILL YOU REMEMBER?
I'm a picky bitch when it comes to despair and as such I was significantly harsher on most of the pieces this week than my co-judges. Many of you still fared okay, though. I think the fact that this prompt placed special criteria on both tone and ending gave a lot of submissions structure and kept them from just sputtering out at the end, as they often do. Let's trot out our latest selection of unhappy endings.
The Emperor – ZeBourgeoisie
Well, this did give me the impression that everything was hosed and never going to get better, but not where the plot was concerned. By the time this ended I didn’t even know what tone you were going for; it was caught halfway between an awful joke and an even worse Kindle Unlimited erotica single. On a more technical level, your imagery was weak, your dialogue was missing commas, and your phrasing was awkward in several places (“legs that were like twigs which wobbled beneath his scrawny frame” – only one of those articles is necessary, and the syntax is a mess besides).
I don’t know if you decided you had no good ideas for this prompt and decided to just fart something out early to avoid being a no-show, but crap like this does no one any favors, least of all yourself. Next time at least give it a few days and see if you can write something that won’t make people think you jack off to naga princesses.
Swan Dive – Ironic Twist
The first sentence is awkward. The arrangement of your blocking made my eyes go in all different directions and kept me from getting pulled into the story – you’ve got the legs, the man, the vomit, the floor, and then the reference to a “NapCab,” which my sheltered little self is not familiar with and made me go “wait, a nap-what” instead of reading further. Better to prioritize your nouns and then cordon them off into a couple more sentences for clarity’s sake.
You found your feet quickly after the opening, though. This is one kind of story I was hoping to see from this week, a smaller, more personal piece that conveys hopelessness mostly through implication, rather than everything being covered in blood and tears and fire. The dire state of our protagonists’ future is couched mostly in euphemism and quick, lively dialogue, and the backstory is nothing special but kept brief enough to do its job and move on. I don’t sort pieces low-medium-high like some of the judges, but this was one of the better ones.
The Stroll – Chili
This reads like a beginner’s piece, so I don’t want to rant and rave too much, but even if you’re just starting out you should know enough to actually put your periods at the end of your sentences. And dialogue that follows an attribution is broken by a comma: “At least,” he added, “if the rest of the sentence follows the attribution itself.” You usually need some form of punctuation at the end of every quoted phrase, unless it’s inside parentheses. English! It doesn’t know what it’s doing.
Amateur errors aside, your paragraphs are badly broken up – you’re way too friendly with the Return key, a lot of those lines can be consolidated into bigger paragraphs – and your characters come and go without much to distinguish them. You’re missing words (“wearing a most devilish,” what, exactly) and suffer from a lack of editing overall. And you didn’t really meet the prompt, which is a bit of a problem. The picayune stakes and loving absurd conclusion aside, someone can relapse in an eating disorder and still come back from it later, which leaves the possibility that things can, in fact, get better. Not a good showing. Baguette and tag it.
Landslide – Sitting Here
I’m not big on open displays of emotion, which is probably why I found this technically sound but irritatingly maudlin. The title drop felt gratuitous (and it didn’t help that the metaphor in which it appeared was probably the clumsiest in the whole piece), and there’s a bunch of holes in the story that need filling in order to keep it from feeling like a series of Lifetime movie channel moments – you’re measuring the father’s love of his wife against that of his kids, but we never get any idea of his relationship with the former even in implication, and the “internet cult” thing the daughter was into is left vague enough to feel like a dropped thread. As for the ending, I’m assuming that the note of hope in the last line is self-delusion, but only because the prompt demands no possibility of betterment; if not for that, I’d probably be confused as to your intent.
On the other hand, this is one of the very rare stories that seems to justify second-person perspective (I hate second-person, as a rule), since none of the others provide appropriate distance to events, and the writing was strong throughout despite my issues with the tone. Still, this’d need further development to feel like a complete story and not a disconnected sequence of transparent tearjerkers.
Neural Network – Screaming Idiot
The vast majority of this was exposition and it bored me. You dedicate too much time having someone natter on about the mechanics of what amounts a shoddy cross between District 9 and the Matrix and not enough setting a scene or establishing character, which means I don’t give a poo poo about anything that happens even if I know what’s happening. The brief description of Jack in the car was clear and well-presented, but everything after that was on a downhill slope.
Most of the prose was unremarkable besides – the dialogue smothers most of it and I’ve already mentioned my feelings about second person. This can be expanded into something better, but right now it tries to cram too much information in too small a space and becomes a lecture instead of a story.
Deliverance – a friendly penguin
Too many characters, too much dialogue, no sense of the stakes or the plot, and missing punctuation to boot. My eyes glazed right over this because I wasn’t given the chance to picture this town or its residents as anything but a series of weak archetypes so none of them deserved my attention. It’s generally a bad idea to try and pack such a huge cast into such a small wordcount, because you wind up with a bunch of interchangeable assholes standing around and doing nothing for the duration of the story, which is what happened here.
The Rain Beneath – Maugrim
Good scene setting in this one. The world’s alien but recognizable and the characters are sketched out well enough to keep me invested. A lot of flash shorts in less realistic settings seem to get snagged on minutiae, but this includes just the necessary details to get us to the ending, which didn’t have much impact but at least shied away from any of the silly twists that were going through my head – I’m just grateful it didn’t try to pull something like “the invaders above were humans all along” or anything like that. Factor in the strength of the language and this is probably a winner candidate.
Depressive Realism – Jitzu_the_Monk
Epistolary! Was wondering when we’d get one of these. Shame it isn’t very good.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with the writing itself, but the concept is like a weaksauce version of sebmojo’s recent Brawl entry and it doesn’t do enough to sell the “depression empowers the conscience” angle, instead retreating into inane memes and sneering vagueness from the second half onwards. The tone of that last article in particular irked me. So losing touch with one’s emotions turns people into smug, fascist assholes? I have strong feelings re: Republican voters as much as the next person, but I don’t see the correlation.
I don’t see many directions you could have taken this idea that wouldn’t have come across as cliché, but this wasn’t much better and the language just doesn’t do enough to sell the idea. Waste of the format.
Cold Morning – J.A.B.C.
When it comes to building atmosphere, this was like a case study in how to get it wrong. Your protagonist is deluded as to the nature of her situation (a twist that I saw coming less than halfway in, and was disappointed when it resolved exactly as I expected it to), but that doesn’t mean you need to dull all of your imagery with mundanity as well. You spend too much time narratively nattering on about how Jeri thinks everything is totally fine rather than gripping the reader’s imagination with actual details of the environment, leaving most of the story’s scenario relegated to a lot of tedious expository dialogue in the middle.
Jeri’s character is what kills it, I think – she’s not very interesting and doesn’t even stick to the delusion conceit, freaking out at the very end only to bury it again. Stephen King’s short story “Under the Weather” does something very similar to this, but is more successful because it concentrates on fleshing out its protagonist first. This one had a boring protagonist intruding on description of the setting, and as a result neither of them turned out well.
Doldrums – mistaya
I’ve always been interested in the setting of becalmed ships since I first read about it in one of Bruce Coville’s short story collections (don’t remember the name, it’s been over fifteen years), and the first half of this piece did that scenario justice, to me – the dialogue and description feels accurate enough, and the story maintains adequate tension throughout. I got briefly confused when you switched surnames after Harding handed over the Captain’s hat, but that can be easily fixed by just dropping the “Captain” moniker entirely and sticking to the men’s actual names for the whole of the piece.
That said, you screwed up the prompt. This story ends on a hopeful note, with the ship again catching the wind and the hanging temporarily averted, which is pretty much the opposite of how it should have been. Don’t know why you put this much effort into the writing only to screw the pooch at the last minute, but it’s a shame that you did.
Cocytus – Pippin
Another generic apocalypse; this feels like a coloring-book edition of The Road. I’m guessing that the twist was they’d actually come across Waterford and it was so razed that the protagonist didn’t know it, but I only guess that because it was telegraphed so hard that the piece probably couldn’t turn out any differently. Beyond that, there’s very little forward movement here. Some people get names, they’re miserable, and then the story ends. Meets the prompt but not much else.
You might have come out better if, like other pieces this week, you’d devoted more time to character-building and less to exposition. I don’t need to read about why these people are squatting in an abandoned house or how everything got so wrecked in the first place, because I can glean that from the general tone of the story and its imagery throughout. You’re just wasting time by further explaining stuff I’ve already surmised for myself.
Falling to Pieces – Chernabog
An interesting idea that turns pornographically violent and ends with a wet fart. At least you formatted properly this time.
One thing to keep in mind if you continue submitting here is that Thunderdome is populated mostly by pissy, miserable adults, and we’re not really fazed or interested by descriptions of gratuitous violence. Droning on about how much pain the protagonist is in, or about gore and crushed limbs and so on and et cetera, is a waste of space. This, plus useless exposition like “I have lost too much time already, my life is expiring soon and there is no more room for worthless speculation or mercy” or descriptions of how the protagonist can totally control his dismembered limbs like you’re describing the world’s shittiest superpower all add up to a story that’s got only 900 words and about 600 are dead air. You had a decent concept and apparently no idea of what to do with it.
So, not good, but still one of your better stories so far. It helped that you cut out the reams of worthless dialogue that showed up in your other submissions. Try and stay that course.
I Have Evolved My Progeny As It Pleased Me – spectres of autism
Well, here’s a candidate for “best title of the week,” at least.
I’m gonna level with you, dude – you’re a good writer, you’ve got the fundamentals down pat, but I see a pattern in your pieces and I don’t like what I see. You constantly get seized up in metaphysical philosophical sci-fi gobbledygook and it often leaves your stories ending without much having happened or any reason to care because you’ve buried it under all these sludgy layers of navel-gazing and jargon. Who gives a gently caress if these people are called the Biloxi? What is the use of describing something as a “terrax?” “We can tell you why the Fatestry’s meaningless,” says the protagonist, and while I can glean what the Fatestry is (because it’s a somewhat uninspired portmanteau) I don’t get the implications of that or why I should care.
Bad genre fiction gets too caught up in the genre’s trappings to bother telling the story and that’s what happened here – any greater statements you tried to make on inevitability or ineffability or whatever didn’t land because the “worldbuilding” choked them out. Clearly you’ve got your own idea of how to do things, but my advice is to start stripping away all this cruft when you’re writing pieces this short. Your worlds aren’t interesting enough to deserve the attention you’re giving them.
The Rest Is Violence – Thranguy
I think it was a mistake opening with a subject so, let’s call it “topical,” to recent real-world events. You’re good as always at setting the pace and describing action, but the way you retreat from mundanity of evil into hard-boiled noir turns the whole thing into a farce – it doesn’t give appropriate respect to the subject matter you’re cribbing to kick off your story, and comes across as awfully tasteless. You also didn’t really meet the prompt; yeah, sure, the protagonist’s probably screwed, but things are certainly less hosed at the end than they were at the start. All that’s in his future is a blaze of hard-boiled glory. That’s less Chinatown and more Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Check Engine Light On – Chainmail Onesie
Dialogue attributions begin with lowercase letters if they don’t follow a full stop. This is a pet peeve of mine.
Besides that, this one was competent. Your character voice got a little heavy-handed in places; there were lines you could have safely cut, like that “by Christ, I hope they’re all for me” near the end, and some of the profanity got tiresome, but otherwise you set up the characters’ dire circumstances with a reasonably deft touch and some of your descriptions, like the one for Satyam’s helmet, were nice and evocative. The “knockoff reality TV” funding angle seemed pointless, though, since it was neither foreshadowed nor followed up on and was a needlessly odd excuse for system failure. Still, a moderate success overall.
I'm sorry, but you're hosed – Entenzahn
Little on the nose with that title there ol buddy chum amigo pal broseph
This bored me because it was such a foregone conclusion from the very first sentence, and also because I’ve recently seen it done better by Roberto Bolano. Your use of voice is decent, though the phrasing comes off as anachronistic compared to the torture devices and familial values you’re describing, but the scenario itself is knockoff Game of Thrones Ramsay Bolton bullshit and every beat was so predictable that I found myself skimming. Torture is fine but torture porn is dull, and your narrator here spends so long banging on about the obvious that the story wears out its welcome even in such a tight word count.
Also, he’s a prick. I mean, yes, clearly that was intentional, but he’s a prick in such rote ways that I couldn’t even muster the effort to be repulsed by him. That brief aside regarding his relationship to his father was the one point where he felt like a proper character instead of an archetype, and it quickly left in favor of an ending that consist of more smug so-sorry tongue-clicking over how screwed his victim was. You’re in a bad spot when I read your piece twice and all I can picture is Iwan Rheon’s baby blues.
My Brother’s Keeper – QuoProQuid
I have a weak spot when it comes to sibling relationships. This was the first piece that left me feeling kind of disturbed.
Cut the last sentence from the first paragraph, that’ll give it more impact. Turn the all-caps dialogue to proper lettering, all-caps always looks amateurish. You belabor the point a little in the paragraph where the narrator describes his parents’ expectations for him. Beyond that, this fulfilled the prompt successfully enough so that I feel kind of uncomfortable examining it much further. Took me a little bit to unravel the timeline you’d set up, but that might just be because I was a little rattled by the ending. It handles heavy subject matter without wallowing in misery, which is a tough balancing act. Winner candidate.
Demons – EchoCian
Too much abstraction. You keep going on about how great and pure the Saint is but to such a degree that there’s no humanity to him, so I don’t care that he’s dead and don’t understand why the narrator would, either. The setting is also very obscure, since your language and tale of oppression says “Les Miserables” but the guns and fascist jackboots are more “Occupy Wall Street meets The Purge.” It’s a story where the characters are sketched too vaguely to leave any impression in service of a plot that doesn’t matter, and the end result is something so insubstantial I had to refer back to it twice just in the time it took to type up this paragraph. Misery loves company; grim endings only have bite if they’re somehow relatable. Neither the Saint nor his followers were relatable, so neither was their story.
The Shape of Human Hearts – GrizzledPatriarch
This is how I like it to be done. You have some weird sci-fi device in the collars, an approaching apocalypse in the wall of light (which reminded me a lot of Justin Taylor’s short story “Tetris,” you might be interested in his collection everything here is the best thing ever), but the story’s focus is on the personal, the two characters’ weariness and failing communication. I don’t get caught up thinking about the larger details, because they’re just background noise to the well-rendered personal conflict.
Despite that, I’d argue that the wall of light needs a few more references throughout the piece, because I largely glossed over it in the opening line and did a double-take when it showed up again in the end – it might be better as a persistent background object, contrasting the couple’s anxiety. Besides that, I liked this one, especially given imagery like the kind you showed off in the third paragraph. It’s a story with a lot of heart. No, I’m not going to apologize.
A Plea to the Little Bird - flerp
Tediously sentimental. It’s hard to take your narrator seriously when they sound like a Disney princess with a concussion. The one decent line I noticed was your third paragraph, particularly “there’s wolves waiting for the fire to die,” which neatly encapsulated the sick state of the world outside; everything else was drowning in twee rhetorical questions and vague details that did nothing and went nowhere. The central device did nothing for me and, much like an automobile with a busted transmission, that means the rest of the machine’s totally hosed.
Poor Little Terry – Mr Gentleman
I was about to rip you a new one for missing an apostrophe and a capital letter in the first dozen loving words, before realizing it was deliberate character voice. Lucky you.
I actually enjoyed this overall, though I think you misstepped in a big way by not committing to your gimmick. Moving away from Terry’s voice in the final section blunted the ending badly, and that bit could have probably been cut outright and still fulfilled the prompt. The rest is rough around the edges – you could stand to put your apostrophes back in since their absence doesn’t contribute to the voice much, some of the parantheticals could be cut and several images compressed or removed – but other details, like how Robbie’s name is consistently the only thing capitalized and the neurotic repetition of certain phrases and suffixes, were solid and kept the pace lively up until the end. You had a good thing going here, so there was no need to pull away from it at the last second.
in the highways, in the hedges - Tyrannosaurus
I didn’t find this funny, which kind of kneecapped it out of the gate because you were clearly trying to be droll with that opener. That aside, “siblings scrabble for snakes in the aftermath of the apocalypse” is an innovative twist on the concept, and the relationship between the narrator and his sister is one of the stronger ones portrayed this week. Also liked how the ending remains ambiguous in a way that fulfills the prompt no matter what, which is a trick no one else quite managed to pull off. I think you pulled back into seriousness early enough to keep the cheeky tone of the beginning from undercutting the tragedy of the end, but that uneven mix still left a weird taste in my mouth and kept me from enjoying this as much as most of your other work.
On Soft, Dark Wings – Kaishai
Man, that is some potent-rear end butterfly poison.
The sharp descent from idyllic twee into sickness-clotted horror was effective and well-demarcated and the imagery was appropriately gruesome, but past that I’m reaching to find things to say about this one – it was a grim little vignette that did its job and left, without much in the way of significance or deeper meaning. It’s well-constructed enough to be effective in the moment, though, so I’d still rate it among the better entries this week.
Emergence – sebmojo
This has its share of typos and formatting errors, probably because you bashed it out in the space of, I want to say three hours going by what I saw in the IRC. But that’s still no excuse for all-caps dialogue, dude, you should know better.
I enjoyed the harsh deadpan of the dialogue between Henry and Priscilla and the prose itself was competent enough, but after Henry hangs up the phone the story doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself – you get some meandering action with the evacuation of the other employees and an ending that misses the prompt harder than any other submission this week. Henry forges a new relationship in the aftermath of loss and makes his way to safety. That’s an unambiguously happy ending! A door closed and a window opened. The window should have been locked.
I would have given this a tentative thumbs-up despite the overall roughness, but you hosed it with that denouement so bad that I’d be tempted to hand out a DM if I did that sort of thing. There’s procrastination and then there’s just not giving a poo poo.
Legion – Toastghost
The uneven spacing between your paragraphs to denote section breaks drives me nuts. The reason people usually fill in those gaps with asterisks or the like is because it keeps a double-return from looking like a formatting error (which appear here as well), so just do that in the future.
This was a complete mess. Tense changes, typos, a setting ripped from the generic fantasy handbook, one-dimensional characters and a plot that does nothing and goes nowhere and falls over dead instead of ending properly. I wish I could write “STOP DOING MEDIEVAL” in the ‘dome’s OP in 40-point font, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen in end in anything but disaster. This had all the investment and authenticity of a Lego set and was about as solidly constructed as one, too.
Oxxidation fucked around with this message at 04:06 on May 31, 2016
|# ¿ May 30, 2016 21:39|
Megabrawl Entry vs. Entenzahn
No Witness (975)
When I first saw the scrub of Pleiades my hair was neck-length and tickled me with every twitch, and when I had drifted far enough to watch the asteroid belt’s promenade the strands brushed my spine, protein tendrils drifting in front of my eyes as if to wave hello. When the Milky Way opened up its iridescent corkscrew in full, that tangled mass was down to my knees, enfolding me like a gown, and that was when I stopped tracking its itch and squirm in this bubble of weightlessness that enfolds me like a mosquito in a raindrop.
This is me when I remember that I am – floating through dark matter, anchored to something unseen, body warped with atrophy and without hunger and thirst or need for breath but still alive in some ways, my hair continuing to grow under this stasis until it consumes me in a colorless anemone of dead cells. It parts for me like a curtain as the starry panopticon seeps in.
How I arrived. I remember soaked fields and petrichor and a screech of tires like a washing-board before a light swallowed me up and I became the guest of something incandescent that made my retinas writhe. It examined me, a curious sensation. Like being kissed by sunlight until you want to scream for it to end. Then I was here, naked and encased, watching the milky atmosphere of the Earth below shudder and rush to fill the hole I’d left in my passing. Brief struggle to escape. Days of spasm. But my fingers found no purchase in the airlessness and my voice was a pointless thing, so I waited for rescue to come.
It did not come when I’d left every familiar star and turned towards Andromeda, its radioactive curlicue blooming like a rose.
It did not come when a blue-white comet missed this invisible capsule by so little that I saw fragments of ice curve and bend around me and the space around me filled with a coppery taste plating to the roof of my gaping, wasted mouth.
It did not come when I drifted through the quartz fields, ten million shards of whirring glass that reflected the light of a pulsing sun until the air was clotted with rainbow and I smelled a smell like dusty wood, attics and toyshops, though I had not bothered to breathe since the time I felt my hair at last caress the soles of my feet.
I want to believe that there is some intent behind all this. A deliberate unspooling of these scenes. But they persisted before my arrival and continue after my departure; no doubt that, underneath my hair, my back is burnt zebra-stripe from stars that remain alight after I drift by. These objects in space need no meaning and require no witness but then I smell the coffeeground bitterness of an iodine-colored moon or watch yet another sun turn supernova and eat all the color around it like newspaper dropped into a gasoline fire and I wonder if it’s these sensations that are being collated, the memories of the life I knew. They drape over each new spectacle and give them significance, this one nostalgic, this one painful, this one a comfort but as light and fleeting as myself.
I too must have a witness. Something pulls me along through the expanse, weighty and indifferent as orbit; I feel it over my shoulder sometimes, or at least I want to wish I do. Sometimes my tinnitus takes a shape and I can almost believe I’m hearing the thoughts of others like me, all of us likewise concealed from each other, strung along like crystals in a candelabra and moored to this mute presence. Are some of them children? Were there children with me, when I was taken? Are they well, or are they here, likewise engulfed in their agelessness and drifting among the Geiger chatter of constellations?
Certain things escape me. I cannot remember my name, my face, my family if I had any; what home I had is reduced to baubles of sensation, the taste of lemonade, the underfoot crush of freshly laundered carpet. Possibly the memories are being peeled away, each recollection a flower in a belljar, and when they’re all used up I’ll be released and streak down to the embrace of some nearby atmosphere whose friction will turn me to cinder that smells like cinnamon and glimmers like a blurred streetlamp and soon becomes nothing at all. Possibly I’m dead, but if this is death then death isn’t so bad. I once saw two black holes, visible only by the absence they chewed in their wake, approach and touch each other with antimatter tendrils and there was a sound like a vase shivering on a pedestal and when it ceased the stars all around had winked out, everything consumed in a handclap of dissolution. I believe that this is better.
And possibly everything is really not so much. Every orbit has to close and if you think of home long enough then you might see it tomorrow. And while there is no longer any single sun by which to judge the days, I stare forward nonetheless, my bones puckered straws and my flesh chewed paper, waiting to glimpse it in the distance. That bluegreen marble smeared with fog. If I saw it then I would point out the exit wound where I left you all, and I would return with my companions who are not witnessed but still here, each of them bearing their own overgrowth; we would strum our mummified throats and recite all we’ve seen in a deluge of remembrance and in exchange you people down below might tell us of what we’ve left behind. If I returned, I would tell you. But it looks like I’m already gone.
|# ¿ Jun 10, 2016 03:25|
In with No. 59.
|# ¿ Sep 14, 2016 13:30|
Oxxidation fucked around with this message at 17:32 on Oct 22, 2016
|# ¿ Sep 19, 2016 01:05|
I've been sitting on this idea for a while.
Thunderdome Week 216: Historical Redemption (or: Sin, Lizzie)
Lizzie Borden took an axe
On August 4, 1892, property developer Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found murdered in their home, executed by numerous hatchet blows. Their daughter Lizzie was arrested as a major suspect in the crime, owing chiefly to the testimony of apparent sole witness, the housemaid Bridget Sullivan. After a contentious and publicized trial, Lizzie was acquitted of her crime, but as the quoted ditty above suggests, her perceived guilt followed her anyway, and she lived a pariah before passing away more than 30 years later.
To this day, no one's certain if she really killed her parents - both Lizzie and the maid's testimony was confusing and contradictory, the evidence on the scene was constantly being tampered with either by the witnesses or investigators, and Andrew Borden was by all accounts a nasty S.O.B. with no shortage of enemies - but her guilt became so memetic that as far as pop culture's concerned it probably makes no difference. In the foreword to his short story "Hitler Painted Roses," prolific author and legendary crank Harlan Ellison suggested that, depending on how cosmic justice actually functions, there's a good chance Lizzie Borden is burning in Hell for a crime she didn't commit. And that just ain't cricket.
Which brings me to the prompt: in 1200 words or less, write a story that absolves Lizzie Borden of her crimes. I'm being as broad as possible here - there are no constraints on genre, the story doesn't have to take place in the 1800's, it doesn't even need to feature the Bordens. Just so long as you find some way to pull Lizzie's feet a little further away from the fire, just about anything goes with content. I'll view more ambitious interpretations favorably so long as they stick the landing, but my one stipulation is no time travel. What happens in history, stays in history. Likewise I won't be too picky about research, but a quick glance as the relevant Wikipedia article would no doubt benefit many of you.
Entries close at: 12 a.m. Saturday EST
Submissions close at: 12 a.m. Monday EST
Carl Killer Miller
The Cut of Your Jib
I look forward to you all disappointing me in new ways.
Oxxidation fucked around with this message at 03:05 on Sep 24, 2016
|# ¿ Sep 19, 2016 18:35|
|# ¿ Sep 19, 2016 19:26|
Thanks for the feedback.
And while I'm here, 9 hours 30 minutes remaining to sign up.
|# ¿ Sep 23, 2016 18:29|
Signups are now closed.
|# ¿ Sep 24, 2016 04:05|
45 minutes remain to submit.
|# ¿ Sep 26, 2016 03:16|
I'll be giving a 30-minute extension for any stragglers. Submissions close at 12:30 EST.
|# ¿ Sep 26, 2016 04:00|
Submissions are now closed.
Judgement to follow tomorrow night, probably.
|# ¿ Sep 26, 2016 04:31|
Week 216 Results: The Jury is Drunk
A sparse week, and my co-judges were generally not impressed. I'd been hoping for some eclectic approaches to the prompt, and got what I asked for, but that monkey's paw once again turned out to be an unsound investment and the quality was variable, at best.
Still, we have a clear winner and loser. In victory, SurreptitiousMuffin can add yet another notch on his axe-handle for a piece of eldritch drawing-room grue that disgusted and entertained in equal measure, while SkaAndScreenplays was found bleeding out into the parlor carpet, after a last-minute submission that hobbled in with so many technical errors it almost covered up the meandering nothing of a plot.
Everything in between was more heavily contested, but one judge would like to throw an Honorable Mention to Boaz-Jachim and the macabre antique featured in their story. And all three were in consensus that llamaguccii's "The Munster Monster" earns a DM, due to being a scrambled jigsaw of a story that only revealed a vomitus-caked middle finger once assembled.
Has Lizzie Borden's soul been given some respite? Watch for the hatchet-gleam in the corner of your eye. Meanwhile, Muffin once again waddles to the throne.
|# ¿ Sep 27, 2016 02:04|
|# ¿ Feb 2, 2023 09:03|
A Woman’s Work (ToasterBeef)
There was some solid imagery in the first few paragraphs (though I’d advise against using both “hot and damp” as adjectives in an analogy for something “humid,” it’s redundant), but this deteriorated quickly after you pulled the dream reveal. With a word count this low, it’s generally a good idea to stick to just one conceit/set of characters so you have enough time to get the readers set up and invested in your idea. As it stands, you now have several paragraphs devoted to self-indulgent grue, followed by a lot of running and yelling that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Freddy Krueger flick.
I’m also a little lost as to how this excuses Lizzie herself – maybe the implication is that there’s some other malignant presence in the house that does the killings? Either way, it wasn’t clear, and the story just shrugs and concludes without elaborating further.
No Hatchet Stays Buried Forever (The Cut of Your Jib)
I was at least hoping for a couple stories that instead created a scenario analogous to the original Borden murder and used that to meet the prompt instead, so I was happy to see this one.
Still, it clearly runs out of time and space halfway through. I liked the scenario itself – family transplanted into touring musicians, etc. (though for a few paragraphs I thought “Axe” was a reference to the body spray and was rightly confused), and the setup in the tour bus between Emma and John is effectively and succinct, but once we enter the hotel room with Lizzie everything turns into flat exposition with little in the way of questions answered or reasons to care, and like the last story, it has little in the way of a proper ending. Might have turned out better if it’d been twice as long, but as it stands, this didn’t properly utilize the space it was allotted.
Seeking gold, he wakes the dragon (Boaz-Jachim)
This is a submission that would be almost completely insubstantial if we didn’t have the prompt to give it context – if I didn’t know it was written to excuse Borden’s crimes as the acts of one of her fragmented “possibilities,” the plot of this thing would be “girl touches magic rock, freaks out, runs off, narrator buries rock while thinking darkly of negative consequences.” And that doesn’t make for much of a story. The prose itself takes a fair crack at matching the diction of the era, but overall had little in the way of striking imagery or turns of phrase and its stiffness often crosses into redundancy (“the possibilities, the dangers, the sheer thrill of discovery” is probably the most egregious example). And while this one does have something approaching an ending, the conclusion itself is limp – narrator buries the stone, walks away whistling with hands in his pockets, word count maxed, end line.
You did a solid job in conveying the mechanics of the stone itself, which gets you points because it’s a fairly complex idea, but this was otherwise the seed of something decent that never had a chance to take root.
Roost (Benny Profane)
Jesucristo, that first sentence. I think you’re missing an “as” at the beginning of the second clause and that turns the first part of the sentence into a comma splice that just dominos into a huge ugly mess by the end. Not a good look.
There’s nothing technically wrong with this piece besides, but I found it to be the least impressed one so far, mostly because of how staid the prose is – we just have a narrator going “I did this thing. I did that thing. I watched this other person do this thing and I thought of that thing. These things happened. Then this thing happened. The end.” The image of the pigeons in the barn could have been striking, especially with the prior foreshadowing of the imagery relating to Lizzie, but the writing itself is so flat and unambitious that it makes the whole scene about as remarkable as a trip to the corner store for bread. And despite all this dry exposition, I’m still left with little idea of what happened in the end besides “something vaguely supernatural.”
This sort of writing might be period-appropriate, not sure, but I’d have preferred a penny dreadful to Henry James.
The Verse May Not Convince The Judge, Nor Chorus Sway The Jury (Thranguy)
I don’t have much experience with poetry, but this mostly passed the spoken-word test regarding phonetics and meter, at least. There were a few clunkers (“If divine ironic justice/Reigned the blade would have struck man” stopped me dead, and I still couldn’t work out what the hell it meant until I started typing up this critique), and the italicized lines’ separate rhyme scheme and random dispersal through each stanza hurt more than it helped, I think, since I was often tripping over them while proceeding through the lines in an orderly fashion. It also didn’t help that most of the usual rhyming-verse issues were confined to the italicized lines, like inverted syntax/Yoda-speak (“Feathers in bird-pile lain”) or phonetic slipups (“Slaughtered daughters and son” matches the syllable count but the beat is off). Punctuation seemed to be erratic, as well. And for God’s sake, you rhymed “rest” with “rest” in the very end. For shame. For shame!
Still, the verse was serviceable overall, and so far I’d say this does the best job of actually meeting the prompt – the pigeon incident is documented, and pardons Lizzie’s murders in a straightforward but humanist and poetically appropriate way. And that final beat was excellent stuff, if you overlook the repeated rhyme.
The Munster Monster (llamaguccii)
Well, this completely failed to hold my attention. I sort of get what you were trying at with the newspaper-clipping epistolary format, but the mummy-dry prose and sudden timeskips made it unpleasantly difficult to follow what should be a relatively simple plot. There’s also a number of bewildering formatting errors where it looks like you smacked the Return key one too many times, leading to line breaks where they shouldn’t be. Sloppy.
I can’t even really give this point for ambition, because in the end, this just takes over 1000 words and a lot of meandering back and forth to say “Lizzie Borden didn’t kill anyone, but this other guy did.” The one time it approaches something interesting is in the very last line, where the clipping reports on the children skipping rope – something that no newspaper would ever do, which itself lends the image an eerie, surreal air. If you’d stuck with that for the duration and unscrambled the timeline a bit, this could have been something engaging. As it stands, it’s just a tepid mess.
Old Lizzies’ Secret (Entenzahn)
Pretty sure that’s supposed to be Lizzie’s, not Lizzies’, but what do I know.
So far this submission’s main point of interest is that it spends the most time featuring Lizzie herself as a character, which is a shame because it does next to nothing with her – she starts out giving exposition and ends the same way, with neither the dialogue nor the narrative itself lending her much detail or personality. It’s also the dullest entry thus far, featuring nothing but a mostly blank narrator recalling some conversations with Borden, who eventually reveals that she probably didn’t kill her parents, and then dies. The story’s called “Old Lizzies’ [sic] Secret” and that’s literally all it is. It’s a piece of dry toast with tap water, hardly a single distinguishing twist or image. Technically competent enough to save itself from a loss, maybe, but that’s all.
Lizzy Borden loved her father (some doors even the devil won’t open) (SurreptitiousMuffin)
I don’t think the narration’s folksy diction quite matches the subject material you’ve got here – this is H.P. Lovecraft by way of Louisa May Alcott and your dropped gerunds call to mind a wrinkly hayseed in overalls hocking chewin’ tobaccky into a brass spittoon. You seem to think likewise, since you drop the conceit almost completely after the first several paragraphs.
All that aside, this was tremendous fun. Sort of a prosaic way to pardon poor Lizzie, but the execution was solid enough to make up for it, especially the twist with Andrew Borden’s broken German. You’ve been doing this long enough and well enough so that I won’t waste our time nitpicking your prose, but overall if you change the opening’s diction to be in line with the rest of the piece some alt-horror mag out there would probably get a kick out of publishing it.
Terrible Purpose (SkaAndScreenplays)
A loving mess. I can’t be kind about this. The myriad errors in formatting, spelling, and punctuation alone would drop it to the bottom of the pile, but add in the total lack of an ending and the fact that it reads like warmed-over Assassin’s Creed fanfiction and it busted the curve for failure on what was, overall, not a spectacular week. I’m especially annoyed because I extended the deadline mainly so this piece could squeak through, but if it’s going to be posted in such a shoddy state then it might have been better if it hadn’t shown up at all.
There are a few regular ‘domers who can hack out a piece in a few hours and still produce a first draft in a semi-readable state – looking askance at you, sebmojo – but they accomplish that through a frankly ridiculous amount of practice, and even then it’s not really an advisable thing to do. If you can’t put in the effort to make your piece readable then don’t expect anyone looking at it to care overmuch about the content. I certainly didn’t.
Oxxidation fucked around with this message at 02:19 on Sep 27, 2016
|# ¿ Sep 27, 2016 02:05|