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Sep 14, 2010

In, for the 4th century, please and thank you.


Sep 14, 2010

1797 words


A prisoner, cloaked in rags, and the only other figure the man could see, hobbled towards him as the gate screeched from behind.

“Aye, welcome.” His voice was hoarse, but firm over the sound of the gate.

The man nodded in return. The chamber beyond him was gigantic and infinitely dark. Light streaked through grated windows high up in the vault, but did nothing to illuminate the shadows enveloping the rest of the chamber. The man turned his head down towards the figure in front of him.

“Do you greet all those who enter here, friend?”

“Aye, that I do.”

The prisoner caught the brand on the side of the man’s face, half-illuminated in the light from the gate — it was an upside-down man, whose torso and head had scarred through the man’s wiry beard, the hair there refusing to grow back.

“So ye’r marked for a hangin’ I see.”

“In three day’s time.”

“It’ll pass soon. Know that there ain’t much in the way of hope down here — everyone soon comes to terms with that.”

The old man shot his eyes to the floor. A rat hurried between them and then on through the wrought-iron.

“Aye. They’s the only ones that get to leave.”

The prisoner took a moment, and then reached behind his shoulder, fumbling open a sheet of his rags. There were rats, four of them, hung vertically from their tails.

“Well, only the lucky ones at the least.” He paused. “Ye’ll come to terms.”

The man kept silent, and the dungeon responded with a low howl from the inner chamber.

The man followed the rat-holder towards the darkness. The floor was impossible to see at first, as were the stone pillars scattered about. He walked with his arms extended before his eyes finally adjusted.

The rat-holder paused, and then stomped with force into the darkness. He held up a rat carcass in his hands, blessed it, and attached it to the underside of his rags. They continued on.

The man broke the silence.

“You blessed that rat — do you keep with the Gods down here, brother?”

“Aye, I do. Me and a handful of others. Many more are Christians.” He stopped and shifted course towards a slightly darker section of the chamber. “Many more ‘ave abandoned them entirely. Abandoned even the pretense of the Gods.”

The rat-holder walked him through a hallway at the far side of the chamber. At the end was a checkered window that shone down on a shrine to Pluto. It was primitive, nothing more than a figurine lain on a plate and a bucket of water.

“Pray all ye want here. I’ll leave ye.”

The man nodded to the rat-holder and knelt down and formed words with his lips while he held the wax figurine of Pluto. After a while he placed the figure down, and then he threaded his fingers through the wild knots in his beard. He drove his hands downwards and clumps of hair and blood fell as they came open and he screamed and then fell faint to the floor.

He was naked and was wrapped in linen sheets. His wife was opposite him — her hand reached out to the side of his cheek. She caressed his face — it was clean — and then she smiled. A knock rang from the other room.

He came to.

Voices came from the front end of the hallway. He raised himself and walked towards them. From the top of the main chamber, a circular ray of light shone down, and at its base was an iron platform, suspended head height from the floor. Chains rattled as the platform lowered, until it sank firmly into the ground.

Men clamored and climbed the hulk of iron. He watched a man grab a loaf of bread, clutching it close as he was toppled backwards by the throng of men. The man made his way to the throng and then drove his way through it.

Halfway, he was kicked from behind and onto the floor. A foot planted firmly into his head and squeezed. He winced — raw portions of his beard rubbed against pitted stone. A voice echoed from above him.

“Oy there — ye marked for death, ain’t ye?” An immense, knotted hand waved a piece of bread across his face. “Ye ain’t be needing any of this where ye be going.” The foot squeezed harder. “Stay away and I won’t have to do the hangin’ man’s work for ‘em.”

The foot released, and the man raised himself up and stepped backwards — the figure that had pinned him was tall and burly. When he was at a distance, he turned about towards the shrine hall.

The rat-holder was standing a few paces in front of him.

“Ye’ll be wanting one of these.” He unlatched a carcass from the inside of his rags and tossed it towards the man.

The carcass smelled of must, but was fresh otherwise.

“He takes issue with you as well?”

The old man grinned. “His name’s Zander. He was boastin’ around one day about the One True God and Jupiter’s Limp Cock this and that — so I boasted too, and claimed his mother the One True Whore of Rome. He, of course, ‘idnt take too kindly to that — said it’d be a sin to kill an old man by his own hand, though.” He held a rat to his face and bit down.

“Guess he ’idnt see the irony — Hades, Hell, we’re all ‘eaded down one way or another”

The man looked down at the rat again, and then proceeded, biting into its hump. He swallowed the last bits of flesh and tossed it aside, spitting out pieces of hair and bone.

“Brother — has a man ever smuggled a blade into this dungeon?”

The rat-holder eyed the man.

“Lad, it ain’t worth doing what ye’r thinkin’ of doing. Ye’r spirit must be heavy enough, no need to weigh it down further.” The rat-holder finished his carcass. “Ye can spend an eternity in exile if ye’r soul’s black enough. It ain’t worth it lad.”

The man dropped the question and thanked the rat-holder for the meal. He left for the shrine and fell asleep.

His wife lay wailing and shrieking on the floor; blood colored her shirt and it was beginning to pool across the wooden planks. He had a knife in his hand. There were two of them, soldiers, both across the room from him. The shrieking from the floor was slowing to a whimper. He staggered towards the soldier nearest him. The soldier swung and he stepped it aside and then plunged upwards as the soldier kiltered forwards — a gross mixture of tissue and blood soaked into the air. The knife sat sheathed through the soldier’s jaw, its edge protruding outwards from his brow.

The moans from the floor stopped and they were replaced entirely with a rasping gargle emanating from the man in front of him. The other soldier howled to him.

“Ye fuckin’ pagan.” The soldier gestured towards him with his sword. “I’m gonna take yer fuckin’ ‘ead off and then punt it through this fuckin’ shrine here.”

The soldier smashed his sword through the table where Jupiter sat.

“Maybe ye’r gods will catch ye’r head and make a fuckin’ match of handball out of ye.”

His wife lay still, her mouth open.

The man woke the next day and headed towards the platform. Most of the men had already begun congregating.


Zander was taller than he had remembered. He darted towards the man with an alacrity and then swung for his face, but the man ducked under it and jolted forwards, grabbing hold of Zander’s leg and springing him to the floor. Zander rolled and kicked upwards and caught a still-raw portion of the man’s jaw, and it was over. The man fell and scrambled low and away through the throng.

“Calm ye’rself, brother — ye only have a day left down here.”

The rat-holder eyed him and raised his brow. He held a swath of his rags in his hands and dabbed some of the man’s blood away.

“A blade, brother. Can it be done?”

“They’re gonna to put ye to death come ‘morrow, nothin’ save the Emperor’s army can change that.”

The man stared at the rat-holder, unblinking, as he continued to work on his face.

“…Aye. It’s been done. Tell me then, If ye insist so — do ye have anything of worth on the other side? Ye’r family have coin?”

The man paused.


“Tell me.”

The man broke his eyes away.

“The Third Ward, what used to be the household Tiberius. There’ll be a pouch buried beneath the hearth.”

The rat-holder nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

He did not sleep that night.

Come morning, he made his way to the entrance. The rat-holder heard the man approach and hobbled to meet him. He unhooked his rags — a knife hung vertically from the inside.

“Do what ye wish, but don’t say I didn’t warn ye.”

The man thanked the rat-holder again and made his way back to the main chamber.

He heard a soft hymn from one of the hallways that ran outwards from the chamber. He entered, and saw a tall figure at the other end on both of his knees, illuminated by a grated window. Light shone down onto a loaf and a cup that were laid on top of a stone. Zander’s hands were cupped together, and his head lay still as he directed the hymn at the sacraments.

The man checked the blade in his rags, and then turned away, and left him in peace.

He sat next to the bucket at the shrine and then looked down at his face in the pale water. His beard was rough and misshapen and he took the knife and cut the remaining clumps of hair from his face. He ran the edge upwards until his cheeks were smooth, save the upside-down man and the scarring from when he first pulled his beard in frustration. He looked clean.

“Prisoner Tiberius!” a voice boomed from the main chamber. The man dropped the knife and headed towards the sound.

“Prisoner Tiberius! Ye — and only ye — are to mount the platform.”

The ceiling had opened up. Chains rattled.

“Prisoner Tiberius! Step up, or the garrison will force ye up!”

He stood on the platform and it began to rise. The light vaulted down from the ceiling and was blinding him as the platform swung. The chains rattled.

He neared the top and the light became intolerable, but he made out a silhouette, crested on ramparts.

He stood there, wholesome.

The figure caressed his cheek.

Sep 14, 2010

Sailor Viy posted:

GenJoe, I feel a bit bad for hitting you with a loss on your very first entry, and I do encourage you to try again. If you put your story in a Google doc and link it here, then I'll give you a line-by-line crit.

Thanks for the offer to crit, it's super appreciated. I've been wanting to try and improve my writing, and this was a great way to sit down and actually force myself to get some words out there.

Here's a link to the google doc:

Sep 14, 2010


Sep 14, 2010

prompt: hurricane

995 words


My mother and I, whenever it was still daylight out, would sit down next to the bathtub and watch our two rubber ships collide with each other. The rules were this: if a ship hit the side of the other ship, then it was “sunk”, and you could only touch the water around your ship and not the ship itself. Mine was a little blue tug-boat that had a grinning face on its smokestack, and my mother’s was a kayak with a rubber duck situated inside of it. We called the game “Splash Boat.”

Conventional wisdom says that, during a storm, you’re supposed to keep the bathtub full for drinking water, but my mother would always use it to keep the toilets running — things are much better for morale that way. If the water wasn’t running for more than a week or so, we would dump a jug of water back into the bathtub. We called this “The Filling of the Arena.”

My mom’s been gone for four years now and I’m still here. She bought this house in the eighties and had lived there ever since, raising me as an only-child. She passed when I was nineteen.

This year’s storm, if you’ve been listening to Jay’s latest ad on the radio, is going to be the worst one in two decades. Jay makes a killing during storm season, and he’ll admit to it, too, but only if he likes you and you catch him outside of the store.

“Honestly, it’s the booze that really sells. People’ll go crazy after a few days with nothing to pass the time with.”

This neighborhood is old. During a storm, we’re the first to lose power, and the last to get it back — power outages here are measured in weeks instead of days. One or two houses a year just plain don’t make it past the season.

Sometimes, I’ll tell myself that I’ll just wait for it to be this house’s turn, that it’ll get washed away and then things will work out from there; honestly, though, it’s the idea of what’s next that really frightens me to the core.


I drove to Jay’s the day before the storm was meant to hit. Jay stood there at the front of the store and I could see the back of his balding head. He was directing a group of shoppers towards an impossibly tall pallet of water bottles — it was stacked so high that people had been pulling out cases from the middle, like a Jenga tower. I reached the canned-food aisle and the shelves were picked empty, so one of the stock boys grabbed a box from the back for me.

Jay now stood near the registers, next to a crate of liquor. We made eye contact as I was checking out, and he made a “come-on” face and gestured towards the alcohol. I took the two twenty-dollar bills out of my pocket and pointed at the box of food with them. He knew me well enough to know that was all I had with me.

“Alright, alright. Take this one, it’ll be on me.” he said, handing me a bottle of vodka. I thanked him, paid for my food, and headed for the parking lot, but he caught me again on my way out.

“Hey, Rebecca,” he said. “How’s your place holding up?”

“Same as always. Things are good.”

“You know, that house isn’t going to be there forever. Your mother bought that place ages ago — and houses around here don’t tend to last as long as that one has.”

“Thanks, Jay.”

“Have you ever thought about selling it?”

“Sell it and do what?”

“You could go to school with that money.”

“…And then do what?”

“Then you can get a job…”

“I have a job.”

“You can get a job that you actually like.”

I looked around the store — the tower of water pallets was about ready to buckle.

“I’m not so sure that those jobs even exist, Jay.”


It started to rain on my way home, and by the time I arrived, the wind had picked up and the clouds had started to fold in on themselves. It would be hours before things got any worse, but this would be the last time that I’d be outside for a few days. The neighborhood doesn’t usually flood, but live-wires do like to snap, and they’re hidden quite well by the puddles that form after the storm.

I went inside and prepped the fridge by putting it on its coldest setting, and then I poured a dixie cup of the vodka. It burned the back of my throat, but it was warm in my chest and things felt good shortly after. I brought the cup with me upstairs to the bathroom.

I opened the faucet valve. It began to hiss, and then white-water rushed out of it in a steady stream. I fetched the tug-boat and the duck-in-a-kayak from their shelf and placed them in the water — the duck at the end of the tub, and the tug-boat in front of the stream of water, which propelled it outwards. I took another drink from the cup and then put it down on the floor in front of me. The tug-boat had started veering off course into a crash-trajectory with the side of the tub.

My mother used to say to me: “There’s a big world out there, Becca. Don’t you worry so much about the small things; you’ll have much bigger problems when all of it’s yours.”

I think about those words often, except I keep substituting the word “World” with “Home” and it makes me feel a little better.

The tug-boat sat motionless, anchored to the side of the bathtub. The wind outside howled fiercely for a moment.

There’s something in me that knows this isn’t what she meant by that.

Sep 14, 2010

awww poo poo whatup

Sep 14, 2010


Sep 14, 2010

687 words

A Murder.

There was a steady knock at my door one night — I went and opened the door and there was a man in a brown leather jacket supporting himself against the doorframe. He was sweating down his forehead, and I noticed him clutching his hand to his abdomen. I asked him if he was O.K. and he could barely get out a “No”, so I ushered him in.

He groaned as he stepped through the doorway, and before both of his feet made it through, he collapsed and died.

I live in the city. I’ve been mugged twice, and I’ve called the police to this block more times than I can count, but I’ve never stuttered and shook so hard that the line operator had to make me do breathing exercises.

I don’t know what got into me, but as I was pacing around and waiting for the police, I noticed a phone in his hand. I grabbed it and put it into my coat pocket — I think I was just trying to be helpful to the police, that I’d give it to them so they could call whoever they needed to call once they got here.

The police came and told me it was a stabbing, and that they caught the mugger on their way here. The mugger had stumbled into their high beams and took off into a dead sprint, so they chased him down and caught him. The police were at my house for a few hours, and once the city detectives were done, everyone left. I brewed myself around four-and-a-half cups of coffee during the whole thing.

It wasn’t until later that night that I felt the phone from the outside of my pocket.

I remembered what the line operator said earlier:

“I’m going to need you to breath for me, sir.”

It didn’t help. I’d entered a full-blown panic and the coffee from before was not helping.

Looking back on it, there were two things that I could have done here — I could have calmed myself down and called the police to explain the situation, that I had taken his phone in the heat of the moment, and that I meant to give it to them when they got there but forgot. Or, I could do literally anything else.

I took out the phone. It was still unlocked and open on his messages. The contact on the top of the screen read “Mom”. There was un-sent text on the keyboard.

“I love you”

My thumb gravitated over it, like I was doing something instinctual that I’ve done a thousand times over. I hit send.

Jesus Christ, why did I do that?

The phone vibrated.


gently caress.

“David is that you??”

I ran the phone to the kitchen, and then it vibrated a third time and jumped out of my hands. I picked it up, screen-down, and chucked it down my disposal. The sink rumbled and screeched until after a minute or so when there was nothing left to grind away.

I didn’t call the police, and they came the next day. I denied ever even seeing the phone. They told me: “Look, that phone had a GPS, we know it was here”, and I denied everything again, because seriously, what was I supposed to say to them?

They came back with a search warrant and found phone-dust in my sink. That was actually the first place they looked, which I guess means that this kind of thing happens a lot.

Well, not the “Crazy man texts dead man’s mother and makes her think he’s still alive” kind of thing. I mean that the sink disposal method must have been wholly unoriginal.

Anyway, it took a lawyer sitting down with me and explaining the situation before I was able to own up to it. There were two months of proceedings, and I ended up with just a $5,000 fine — getting off easy, the lawyer said.

The man’s mother did show up to the court, though. And good god do I still think about her scour.

Sep 14, 2010



Sep 14, 2010

1,000 words


It was 8:30 PM on Christmas day, and he had just gotten off of the phone with his wife.

She called him again two minutes later.


“Yeah, Cheryl.”

“I’m outside now… away from Charlie.” She paused, as if she was checking if she was out of range of any prying ears.

“…I’m scared,” she continued.

“I really think things are going to be okay.”

“I mean… are we even safe here? Aren’t we this huge, obvious target?”

He wanted to sound reassuring.

“You’re in the safest place you can be,” he said, without missing a beat.

“And you’re sure it’s safe for you to fly.”

“These pilots are good…”

“Even without GPS?”

“They could probably make it down blindfolded. We’ll be okay.”

“Okay,” she said after a moment. “Just promise we’ll get to see you. Two days, right? No matter what?”

“We’ll be done in two days. Promise,” he said. “No matter what.”


“I love you,” he said.

“I love you.”

Commercial flight was suspended. They’d be one of the only planes in the air if you didn’t count the fighter jets flying sentinel over the star-covered night.

His colleague Stevens sat on the other side of the cabin from him, and was the only other passenger on the plane. They were flying into Reagan National, and once they landed they could be at the Pentagon in ten minutes.

As of four hours ago, there wasn’t a single satellite left in the sky — they wouldn’t be able to contact anyone once they got into the air. He put his phone in his pocket and buckled into the beige-padded seat.

“What did you get your daughter?” he asked Stevens as the buckle clicked into place.


“For Christmas.”

“Oh. Nothing too special, just some clothes, and Darcy got her new earrings.”

“Think she’ll like them?”

“Not a chance,” he said. “What about Charlie?”

“You’ll never guess.”

“You’re right.”

Jay reached into his bag and pulled out a hand-sized action figure. It was a replica astronaut.

“I bought it yesterday after the meeting.” He opened and closed the figure’s golden visor. “No way I can give this to him now.”


An hour passed.

He was worried. They weren’t ready for something like this. GPS wasn’t even the problem, and neither was the communication blackout — planes and interceptor missiles could still operate from radar, at least theoretically, and there were enough ground channels and cell towers to keep communications open.

The problem, as he and Stevens had explained to the Pentagon two hours ago, had to do with time. Computers and software everywhere relied on atomic clocks up in space to keep synchronized. After the Koreans hit those satellites, computers started defaulting to their own internal clocks, and now they’re all drifting apart into disparate, off-by-a-millisecond universes. Components were breaking unpredictably. Critical components.

“We just can’t let them gently caress with us before we get everything synchronized again on a ground-clock,” Stevens had said earlier. The plan, they hoped, would take two days.


The plane descended. They were close to the airport.

His phone buzzed twice in his pocket, and then again — they were in cell-tower range. He reached for it.

charlie knows now. overheard our neighbors talking

let me know when you land. love you

He looked over to his left and could see the Potomac, and the city in its reflection. Past the river was his neighborhood, five blocks from the Capitol building, illuminated in a hazy wash of street lamps. He started typing.

I trust you explaining to Charlie. Flying down the river now. Come outside, see us?

He hit send. A minute passed.

I think we’re the only plane in the sky

It was late, almost 10:00 PM. He thought about last year, when Cheryl was trying to put Charlie to bed, except Charlie was pleading and reasoning with her next to the Christmas tree and he had some convincing argument about how, if any slack was ever going to be awarded towards the bed-time rule, then it should be today, on this day, and then after she had pushed him to fill in some of the holes in his argument, she conceded with an “Okay. You win. 10:30.” Except, by the time everything was over with, it was already 10:26.

The phone vibrated.

we see you!!

He thumbed over the keyboard.

Love you. Don’t try to convince Charlie I’m Santa again.

The sky flashed white like lighting before he hit send, and then it flashed again. He looked outside.

His blood chilled as dread washed over his body.

Thousand-pound droplets streaked down from the stratosphere, each a half-second silver glint before impacting — each erupting upwards from the earth into wide columns of dust-soaked flame. He darted his eyes back towards the neighborhood next to the Capitol — a wave of impenetrable black ash washed over it until its streetlights were smothered whole. The night air flashed a hundred times over, like a strobe light, and it didn’t stop.

Each impact was completely silent from the cabin.

“Jesus gently caress. gently caress, gently caress, gently caress” was the only noise he could hear past the low drone of the engine and the crashing thumps of his heart.


They landed six minutes later. The military escort was waiting for them at the gate.

“Is the Pentagon okay?” asked Stevens.

“It wasn’t hit. They’ve scrambled every fighter we have for now,” said the officer.

“I’m not coming,” said Jay.

He should have told his family to get out of there.

“Jay, you aren’t seriously… you won’t even get past the bridge.”

He knew how unpredictable things were when she called.

“I’ll get past it.” He’d run there if he had to.


The officer piped in.

“Sir, you have to come with us. We’re under orders.”

“Like hell I do.”

“Sir, you have…”

“I’m still a goddamn civilian. You can’t take me. I’m not going. No matter loving what.”

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