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God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


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God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:57 on Feb 1, 2016

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God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:57 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:57 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:57 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:58 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:58 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:58 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:58 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:58 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 06:00 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 06:00 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 06:00 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 06:00 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


.

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 06:01 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


nvm

God Over Djinn fucked around with this message at 05:14 on Feb 1, 2016

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


newtestleper - Business Casual

Good: that you're having a go at DFW-esque maximalism.
Bad: That your stylistic choices don't read as purposeful. You're throwing a lot in there, but in reading the story with an eye to critiquing it, I don't get the sense that there's any thematic justification for making your reader do so much work. If you're going to write like this, then you need to be making a point about, say, the overwhelming deluge of information we deal with in the modern era. Or something less boring than that, probably.

WeLandedOnTheMoon! - Heel Turn

Good: This story has a fairly complex, mature plot, compared to a lot of submissions this week. I also totally buy the fire/masked wrestler thing - it's one of those conceits that's right on the edge of being absurd but doesn't quite go over.
Bad: Too much dialogue between characters I don't know well enough to keep straight in my head just yet. You can always summarize dialogue and buy yourself more space. Also, I had to read the ending a few times -- I think the problem is that you had too many things change in the background between your last two scenes. Not only is team Syrena no longer using the chair (now team USA is using it), but Igor is now the 'villain' from Syrena - but Syrena still wins. I'm forced to do a lot of inferring re: how everything switched from A to B, and it makes my tiny brain hurt.

Entenzahn - Monster


In a few places, you reveal things in a sort of flippant, tongue-in-cheek style: "Some argued that making fun of a burn victim was a bit tasteless, and then half of Twitter fought over my dignity" was the first one to catch my eye. But you also seem to be gunning for a story with actual emotional impact. If you want us to care about your narrator, it isn't so much about making him more likeable, as it is about giving him more... immediacy and intensity of experience. He comes off, in that line and a few others, as a guy who's already totally over it and is just rolling his eyes at his situation.

Grizzled Patriarch - Grace Land

I would like this more if you gave us more introspection -- well, not necessarily navel-gazing per se, but something -- about the guy's relationship with his coach. It's probably a pretty complex relationship, but the closest you get to depicting those complexities - rather than leaning on your reader's presumed ability to infer what the relationship between a serious athlete and their coach might look like - is in the bit where he goes to look for a bandaid. You could've/should've expanded that section. From a structural perspective, part of the problem is that the beginning of the story goes on for long enough that I expect it to be about the narrator's experience in training for the Olympics, so when the coach's daughter shows up - seeing as the narrator hasn't really been thinking about his coach, except as basically a piece of literary furniture - I want to say 'okay, why do I care?' And that's not something you want to make your reader feel about a character's dead kid, you know?

Titus82 - The Runt

I don't think you needed to disorganize the timeline. Actually, it would've been better if you didn't: it would have had more impact, for me, if we'd had a slow build from Wasam's initial thinking, that the people in his village would only be impressed if Halam managed to win the dog show, through to the (apparent) disaster of the dog biting a judge, through to the happy ending, where he realizes that all they care about is the experience. It has a nice flow to it, and you did more to hurt that than to help it along by organizing the story how you did.

Pham Nuwen - Staves and Knaves


You've created a great atmosphere and a great concept. I love the idea of wizard sports noir. You back it up with your language choices and the narrator's voice. Where this fails is the plot: for one, flash fiction isn't usually the place to try for an entire 'normal guy gets sucked into magical world' story. You need to do too much worldbuilding to pull that off for it to fit into so few words. It might've saved you some words, and come off a bit less rushed, if you'd had the guy already be reasonably acquainted with the wizarding world despite not being one himself. And simplify the nature of the wizard sport itself. Just make it, I dunno, wizard basketball - you don't have the extra space to spend a whole paragraph about slapping staffs together (heh). Last, every time you put a word of description in, think about whether it matters. If you're ever putting a phrase into a story just because 'well, that's what it looked like, so I'm describing it', kill it.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


poembrawl

Prayer (310 words)

First, grant them air.
Then waveforms are there for the plucking,
albeit unheard:
bright sine and harsh square.

Then offer them instruments:
pharynx and velum,
well suited for hissing and growling
yet additive waves in their howlings belie the mechanics,
the snake-charm of tin-whistle windpipes,
the writhing harmonics.

Grant them the vowels,
and grant them the full breadth of consonants:
Sibilants, fricatives, glottals.

Tidy their inchoate babblings.
Render them sere and pronounceable.
Ravage the landscape of possible voiceprints
once cluttered with tongue-twisting codas and
onsets whose consonants battle like soldiers.

Their minds, primed for hunting the gavagai,
now turn to parsing the meanings
of discretized fragments of howls and calls.
Give them a cause to precipitate speech from their bawling:
curse them with children who wander too far and who must be called home,
and fears that cannot be confronted alone,
and stories that ache to be known.

Let them sing, let them speak.
Let them discover semantics:
let them add mythos and meaning and mirth to their antics.
Incise the initials of lovers in tree-trunks
and tales of their heroes on columns in sacred halls.

Yet: speakers beware.
Beasts tend to thrive when their stories are shared.

Heterogeneous demons once chattered like gremlins
on shoulders of speechless men.
That unimpressive cacophony ends when their horrors are reified,
fused into nightmares with names like Eternity,
Zero, and Darkness, and Silence, and Death, and The end of all things.
Children will cry out for succor from rancorous creatures
whose forms are unknown but whose stories and names they have learned
from their parents, who hear their own voices as soothsayers
telling the truths at the end of the tale,
who whisper their terrors to lovers who cover their ears
and wish not to have heard.

And all we can offer is language for armor and sword.
Grant them words.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


67) Paranormal Noir

also twist judge the poembrawl!!!

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


taking a second prompt

quote:

89) The Lawyer and the Devil

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


How the Devil Got His Claws into Jack o'Kent (2340 words and you keep your mouth shut about 'em too - I'm using all of my remaining word bounty from winning week 100.)

You can't break a contract with the Devil. He always collects his due. That's how I got shot in the head, and that's how the Devil finally caught Jack o'Kent -- who was, as it turned out, a good man to the very end.

---

I'm looking out my office window, a minute before midnight. It's raining hard, and the only people on the street are lost dames and fools.

The door swings open. I'll admit, I jump a little. When you're in this line of work for long enough, you start seeing thugs with long cloaks and sharp teeth on every street corner. "That should've been locked," I growl.

"It was," says the stranger, grinning like a cat.

He slides into the room -- slides is the only word for it; this bloke walks like his feet aren't touching the ground. He's a little guy, dressed all in black from his fedora down to his loafers. He sidles up to my desk and drops a heavy black doctor's-bag on it, narrowly avoiding my ashtray.

"I've got a proposal for you, Mr. Baron."

"Unless it involves my heading home for a good night's sleep," I say, "I'm not interested." I look around at my shabby office. It's been a wet winter; the wallpaper is starting to peel off the walls in great floral swaths. "Not unless you'd like to double my salary."

The stranger reaches a black-gloved hand into his bag. He comes up with a fat envelope, which he drops in front of me with a satisfying thwap. "Consider it done."
Now he's got my attention.

---

He wants me to locate a particular chap. A magical type, apparently. Fair enough. After all, there's the placard on the door:

quote:

THEODORE C. BARON
PRIVATE DETECTIVE
LOST ITEMS, CREATURES, AND PEOPLE RECOVERED
DISCREET AND AFFORDABLE
NO QUESTIONS ASKED

"His name is Jack o'Kent," the stranger says, "and he's done an unfair thing to me."

"Unfair how, exactly?"

"We signed a contract. Ironclad. The details are... private, but all above board, that I can assure you. But when the time came, he welched on our deal. Wizards. Pissant little goblins, always thinking they're too terribly clever for rules."

I consider shutting his mouth for him. The nearest I've got to a friend these days -- aside from my work -- is a wizard himself, and a damned powerful one. Yet ever since the stranger walked into my office, I've found myself overcome with a funny sort of malaise. Like the temperature has risen a dozen degrees in here, and my dinner is coming back to life in my guts. "Okay," I say, wiping sweat from my forehead. "So long as you'll pay for the time." I'm already a month behind on the rent, and only the good faith of the lady who owns the building -- I once located her lost Yorkshire Terrier -- keeps it from being two.

"Sign on the line, then," he says. I consider, for a moment, reading the thing. But I get two sentences into the first paragraph, and realize that my eyes are just sliding off the edge of the page. I must be more exhausted than I thought, and I've never been a great reader of legalese. I pick up my pen, and I sign.

---

Jimmy Mulligan is the nearest thing to a partner I've got. We're both too solitary to share a shingle, but I'd trust him with my life. He's a redheaded little wizard of the most traditional type: a teetotaler, a softspoken fellow, and an idealist to the core. Yet somehow, despite my own surly nature, we get along like a house on fire. I've been feeling unsettled ever since meeting the odd little stranger, and if anybody can re-settle me, it'll be Jimmy.
We meet at a little tavern downstairs from his Midtown office. He keeps lighting and putting out the same match, over and over, apparently by winking at it. After the fifteenth time, I snap.

"Ah, give it a break, Jim."

"Did you know," he says, grinning, "that this was the very trick that got Thistle Wattlewand crucified?"

I laugh. "Sure, but did they kill him for being a wizard? Or for being so damned smug about it?" I take a sip of my absinthe. "Anyways, I've got to tell you about the night I just had."

Jimmy listens, leaning on the bar and fiddling with his water-glass. When I get to the part where the stranger describes the job, the glass quite suddenly cracks, then shatters, soaking the bartop and Jimmy's lap. "Jack o'Kent?" he says, as the red-faced gnome tending bar climbs up on his stepstool and mops up the water.

"You think a first-class private dick forgets a name?" I raise an eyebrow, but Jimmy doesn't smile.

"And you had to sign some papers? Right then and there?"

"Out with it, Jimmy. You met this guy before?"

After a pause, Jimmy shakes his head. Then he glares at the broken glass and it dutifully reassembles itself. "Knowing your reputation, it's not like it'd matter if I had," he says. He's grinning again. "I'm Theodore Baron, and I always find my man."

He might laugh, but he's not wrong. I've got an ear and an eye tucked away in every corner of this city.

---

Every night, I find myself a bit deeper down the rabbit-hole that's Jack o'Kent's reputation. Every contact I have has heard of the man, but not a single one admits to having met him. I feel a twinge of guilt each time another stuffed envelope plops through the mail slot, courtesy of the stranger, but apparently he doesn't mind the delay. The cash keeps coming. I've even bought myself a new pair of loafers, to replace the ragged and rain-spattered ones I've been wearing for a decade.

It takes a dozen called-in favors to even get a picture of Jack o'Kent, and even then, my contact insists on the cloak-and-dagger approach. I find myself pacing back and forth across my office carpet, closer to sunrise than sunset, waiting for a visit that'll come from who-knows-who. This time, I'm only a little surprised when the door swings open.

I am surprised to see Jimmy Mulligan.

"That was meant to be locked," I say, half-affectionately and half-peevishly. "Wizards. What's going on?"

"I've got to show you something," says Jimmy. He doesn't return my smile. He somehow looks even paler than usual, almost translucent, and I suddenly realize that I haven't seen him in a good few weeks. How have we not managed to even have a drink together?

He takes a few steps forwards, pulling an envelope from his coat pocket. I reach forward to take it. For a half second, I look down at the envelope, wondering what could be inside to have Jimmy so on-edge. Then I look up, and find myself eye-to-eye with Jimmy's Walther PPK.

I don't even hear the shot. My knees just buckle under me, and then the whole world is warm and black.

---

It takes me a week to get over the shock. I spend the first few days right there on my office carpet, half incredulous that I've somehow stuck around - albeit without any of the component parts I'm used to - and half furious at Jimmy. If I'm going to be a ghost, I'm going to haunt him for as long as it takes me to figure out what the hell he thought he was doing, and then probably until the end of his natural life, after that. And with that, I have a purpose and a plan, and I pick myself up off the floor and go.

It turns out that this city is packed with ghosts. I never knew. For everyone reading the morning paper on a street corner, there are half a dozen ghosts peering over his shoulder, trying to get a glance at the headlines. I hover outside of Jimmy's office for a solid minute, waiting for someone to let me in, until I notice another ghost float through the door. Right.

Jimmy's sitting at his desk with his coat and hat still on. As soon as I come through the door, I smell whiskey. That makes me take notice. Jimmy's been a teetotaler for as long as I've known him. While I watch, he pours another two fingers into his glass and slugs it back. Various magical gizmos buzz and spin on his desk, not used to being ignored.

Suddenly, I feel like a bit of an rear end in a top hat. But not half as much as Jimmy's about to. I muster my strength, and send half the books on his shelf flying across the room. Then I summon up a freezing wind, complete with a bit of hail.

Jimmy puts his head in his hands. "Baron, don't do this to me. Please go away."

---

There are two problems with that.

First, I've been a detective for drat near thirty years now. It takes a lot more than pleading to get me to give up a lead -- and I've got an obvious vested interest in solving the case of my own death. Second, I wouldn't know how to go away if I wanted to. And with time, I almost start wanting to. A ghost can't speak, can't sleep, can't smoke a cigarette, can't even sit down to a good breakfast after working all night.

It only takes three weeks to make Jimmy crack. He's sitting in his office, drunk and staring down at his own shoes, while I rattle the picture frames and make mysterious knocking sounds emanate from his desk drawers. Then he suddenly looks up, and a light comes into his eyes. He grabs his coat and his hat from the rack, and rushes out with his cigarette still smoldering in the ashtray. I give chase. And of all the places, we end up at my own office.

I've almost forgotten the o'Kent case. Jimmy, apparently, hasn't. He rifles through my desk - or rather, through the pile of tossed-aside papers that the police left behind. When he pulls out the stranger's contract, the one I hardly read, the thing looks strange. In the plain light of day, I can't imagine why I ever signed my name to it. The letters wiggle and shift, like they're trying to escape the edges of the page. Jimmy lets out a barrage of cursing that's creative even for a wizard.

He finally forces the thing to hold still, and I read it with growing trepidation. I've signed my soul over to the stranger in escrow, to be released when I give him Jack o'Kent. That would be why I've stuck around, then.

For the next few hours, I watch Jimmy do all manner of things to my contract. He sets a corner of it on fire, but the rest won't catch, although he does manage to scorch my blotter. He casts a spell that makes the edges of it wrinkle and curl, but the words stay clear. I stare out the window, pondering the notion that now I've got two cases to solve. On the one hand, I'm hunting a man for the Devil Himself; on the other, my former best friend shot me, but he's now trying to save my immortal soul.

---

"Mister o'Kent," the stranger says, and it all comes together at once.

For days, Jimmy's been trying to dissolve the contract in acid, shred it with scissors, and glower it into submission. Nothing's worked. Which is not to say I've made any progress myself: nothing is more frustrating than trying to interview a contact via mournful wailing and arcane knockings on the walls. "Baron, it looks like we're stuck," Jimmy finally said, looking at a corner totally opposite the one I was hovering in. Then, he had grabbed his coat and hat and was through the door.

The stranger never seems to stop smiling. "So, you couldn't break your own contract in the end, o'Kent?"

"You've got me," Jimmy says. He holds out his wrists in front of him. "My soul is yours, all official and everything. It's been a good couple of years, hasn't it?"

"A good couple of hundred years you've been playing hide-and-seek with me, o'Kent."

"Baron's fulfilled his contract with you. Let him stay or go, whatever he wants."

"Fair enough," says the stranger. I feel a tingling run from my head to my toes, like I've just taken a double shot of vodka and then walked outside into a blizzard.

"And as for you," the stranger says.

Jimmy is pulling an envelope out of his coat pocket. "I just need to show you something first," he says.

The stranger glances down at the envelope for half a second. Jimmy's pistol flies out of his coat pocket and lands neatly in his hand, which is already poised to aim at the stranger's forehead. The stranger looks up, and I catch a brief glimpse of his expression of bewilderment and betrayal: the same way I must've looked when that trick was played on me. This time, I hear the shot.

The stranger flops onto his desk. His mouth falls open and his limbs spasm slightly.

"Baron, I have no idea where you are, but you'd better be following me," Jimmy yells. "Run!"

He runs.

I hover.

---

And why did I tell you that Jack o'Kent got caught in the end? Well, wizard who's known to be dead - along with an ordinary fellow who actually is - can gain entrance to a surprising number of the hidden places of this world. That said, if you've read this far, you deserve to know the whole story: why you shouldn't sign a contract with the Devil, why you should always watch a wizard's hands, and why there's a placard on an out-of-the-way office door in Midtown, reading:

quote:

T. BARON & J. MULLIGAN
DETECTIVES OF THE SUPERNATURAL
LOST THINGS FOUND; CURSES BROKEN
DISCREET AND AFFORDABLE
NO CONTRACT REQUIRED

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


sitting here i am so absolutely sick of your candy rear end, namby pamby, floaty clouds-and-cuckoos dreamy fantasy-land bullshit. write me something that actually makes me feel things, rather than just making me faintly nostalgic for the things i used to doodle on the covers of my notebooks in grade 7. please.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


poembrawl, God Over Djinn vs Broenheim or whatever he's going by these days, theme: counting

Amelia (524 words)

Amelia, on the windowsill, ponytail and size 7 tartan school skirt
that she cinches with a plastic belt with Hello! printed in yellow letters
on the buckle: Amelia, on the windowsill, by the rainstreaked window, by the patio, in the dark,
where one loose corner of the tarp that covers her dad's fishing boat
beats itself on the paving stones like a jungle drum. Amelia, and lightning:
the sky is a shattered Fiestaware bowl like the one she dropped last week and hid the pieces
in a whole roll of paper towels, in a trash can, in the playground parking lot.
Amelia, the lightning flashes, and she starts counting to twenty as fast as she can.
Holding the heart-shaped FRIENDS FOREVER necklace
that she's rubbed with so many dirty nervous fingers, all the color's come off.
Five seconds counts for one mile, which is one third of the furthest that Amelia ever roller-skated,
and also the distance
from her to the black husk of a distant neighbor's house, the one she asked about in the car,
the one that caught fire when lightning hit it,
and the chimney was black and half of it was on the lawn, which was black like soot around it.
And Amelia's mom told her that lightning hit it and caught it on fire, but don't worry,
lightning probably won't happen to you, yet just to be safe,
Amelia counts twenty-one from lightning to thunder
and that's four miles and then a little bit further away from Amelia,
lightning, and Amelia, counting.
And when she dropped that bowl, the one she hid in the trash can?
The day after, a Thursday, ten minutes into recess,
in the undersized toilet stall in the furthest corner of the girls' bathroom,
where she's never gone before without a hall pass,
she says to herself, since she's done something really bad, not the
cracking the bowl, which shattered on the black tile kitchen floor, with a sound like thunder,
but the terrible sin that was hiding it, because she did that, she says to herself:
God, if you're going to kill me, do it before I count to twenty
and then she counts twenty as fast as she can, then twenty-one for good measure
and does it again,
and nobody strikes her down.
And Amelia looks up, stunned and alive, and walks outside holding hands with her dad,
after the thunderstorm, holding a hand much larger than hers,
into the cold, heavy, damp, coldish nighttime after-thunderstorm air, just before bedtime,
where the frogs are starting to sing, where the puddles are soaking into the dirt,
and Amelia, she carries the newspaper back to the dining room table,
in her bare feet and school skirt,
with the last grumbles of thunder, lightningless, shuddering in the far dark,
far more than four miles from Amelia, who would've told you before, age eight, that
things tend to pass if you give them time,
but who wouldn't have really known it til now,
and who really won't know what it is that's passing by as she counts,
Amelia, counting to twenty as fast as she can, not quite sure whether God will kill her or not,
not knowing what's coming, not knowing what's passing,
not for a long time,
and maybe not ever.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


Sitting Here

Going There
1389 words

I collide with every other seat on my way down the train aisle. Men with trucker caps startle awake and glare at me. I offer them my most sheepish smile, the one that says, I'm new here, don't hurt me. My three bags, repaired a dozen times with packing tape and dental floss, weigh only a little less than I do. They're full of everything I've managed to save from my last ten apartments: throw rugs, scarves, packs of playing cards.

I stuff one suitcase under my seat, and heave the other two into the overhead bins. My new home shudders, lurches, and rumbles out of the station.

Starting today, I'm done with stationary places for good. I've lived in eighteen apartments in the last three years. Bad roommates, bad boyfriends, bad landlords, bad decisions. Me and my suitcases keep chasing around from one place to the next, getting more and more ragged. Never again. Yesterday, sitting on a cot in the shelter as the firefighters failed to save my last apartment, I decided what I really needed was an unlimited train ticket. There's no rule that says you can't just stay on the train, you know? Now, it's one in the morning, and we're heading south. Later, who knows? I turn my overhead light off and let the rumble of wheels on tracks send me to sleep.

When I wake up, my suitcases are gone.

It's blindingly bright outside, and everyone else seems to have been awake for hours. They're chatting, tapping away at laptops, playing travel Scrabble. I don't recognize anybody I saw the night before. When I fell asleep, the seat beside me was empty; now, it's occupied by a fat woman with an enormous set of headphones. I contort myself to climb over her into the aisle, where I flag down a man in a tie and a conductor's cap.

"Uh, do you move the luggage somewhere overnight?"

"Pardon?" he says.

" I got on last night, and, um, now my bags aren't here?"

"Are you sure you're in the right car?" he says. "It's easy to get turned around. Everything looks alike around here. I'd go check the other cars." He sees the look on my face. "Don't panic, honey. There haven't been any stops since Seattle, so your things can't have walked away."

I make my way down the aisle, bobbing back and forth with the motion of the train. The next car is full of Japanese teenagers in matching t-shirts, who stop talking and stare at me as I enter. "Just passing through," I say. My bags aren't in the overhead bin in this car, or the next one, or the next one. I walk all the way to the front of the train, and then to the back, where I find a dining car selling orange juice and egg sandwiches.

"I think my bags were stolen," I say to the woman behind the counter.

"Sorry, baby, I'd help you, but I can't leave the counter," she says. "Rules." She waves vaguely at her complicated sandwich press, which is puffing out clouds of steam. "Ask the conductor, probably." She hands me a bottle of orange juice. "On the house."

I start to press forward again. One car, two cars, three cars. Where did the trainload of Japanese teenagers go? Did I miss them on my way back, somehow? A tour group of elderly Germans, each one with a fanny pack and ankle socks, is passing around a bottle of champagne. A man with a handlebar moustache forces a full glass into my free hand as I walk by. Seven. Eight. I scan around for where I was sitting, but every seat seems to be full. Did I miss my car? A conductor, this one a short man with a neat grey goatee, hurries towards me.

"Excuse me," I say. "Did the train, uh, split off? During the night? That sometimes happens, right, where one car goes to one place and the other one goes somewhere else?"

He peers at the glass I'm holding. "Did you buy that in the dining car?"

"No, well, sure," I say.

"No alcohol allowed onboard, unless you buy it in the dining car," he says. "Regulations."

I try to hand the glass of champagne to him, but he puts up his hands in protest. "I didn't see anything," he says. He gives me a lascivious wink. Then, before I can say anything else, he hurries past me and into the next car.

I'm suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. I long to sit down. I spot an open seat towards the front of the car. This isn't where I fell asleep last night -- it's an aisle seat, next to a teenage girl who's blasting Led Zeppelin from her phone -- but it's something. Precariously, orange juice in one hand and champagne in the other, I teeter forwards.

Bang. The train jolts backwards. I find myself on the floor, in a jumble of luggage and other peoples' legs.

When I come to my senses, we're no longer moving. The car fills with the sound of panicked voices. The floor I'm lying on is slightly tilted, and I struggle to get back up. "Some idiot must've parked on the tracks," says a middle-aged man next to me. "Happens all the time. We'll probably be here for a while. Hey, what are you doing down there, anyways?" He offers me his hand. I realize that I've spilled the champagne and orange juice all over my jeans. A mimosa, I think, and I start to cry a little.

The man gives me a sidelong look. "Where are you from?" he says.

"I don't really know," I say, sniffling.

"Fair enough," he says, in a tone that suggests I look even more pathetic than I feel. "Where are you going, then?"

"Here!" I sob. "This is where I was supposed to be going, anyways." I mean the train, but I realize that I'm not making sense. I'm about to explain my plan, but he's already waving towards the window.

"Somewhere around... eh, who knows," he says. "Pretty place, though. Good choice." I squint, and I make out an open field with mountains in the distance. "Suppose you must know better than me. Well, we're probably almost to the next stop, if you don't want to wait all day."

Well, it beats sitting here. In fact, getting off this train seems like a better idea than I've heard for years. I stand up, champagne soaking into my socks. The train door is already open, and the winking conductor is nowhere to be seen. I hop down onto wet, squishy grass.

"South," the man calls through his open window, pointing.

I take a couple of steps in that direction. Then, I look out towards the mountains. In the near distance, I see smoke rising from chimneys. I think to check out the car we hit, before I leave.

It isn't there. No car, no level-crossing. Not even any train tracks. "Obviously," I say to myself. The train has ploughed deep, muddy furroughs into the field behind it, as far as I can see.

"Wait!" someone shouts. It's so bright out here, I can't see into the train interior. But I do catch sight of a pair of hands, tossing one of my suitcases onto the grass. It's unmistakably the same, down to the lousy sewing job I did when one of the seams split open. It lands in the grass with a thump and a disturbing crunch. That must've been the one with the coffee mugs.

The other two suitcases arc through the air. One hits the first suitcase and bounces. The other lands, rolls over a few times, and stops, belly up, like a helpless turtle. I stare at them for a moment. "These are yours, right?" somebody calls.

For a moment, I think about grabbing them, I really do. But it's going to be a long walk to wherever I'll end up, and I could do with a little less weight to carry. I turn towards where I saw chimneys and I start to walk. It's hot, and gnats stick to my skin. Maybe I'll buy new things, later, if I find somewhere to stay put for a little while.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


in

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


Shaggy (1187 words)

Some peoples' parents called the dorm phone every weekend. My mother called me twice in a year. The first call was to tell me that my dog had been put down. Shaggy. Mom made an excuse to hang up before I could cry. Crying set her teeth on edge, she'd always said, and she wouldn't have it in her house. That's why I'd spent so much of my childhood wandering, with Shaggy.

The second time she called, she begged me to housesit. Rico was spiriting her off to the Bahamas. I thought about the house. It would be empty, with no Shaggy trotting down the driveway to greet me, but it was also airy, and cool, and half a mile from the closest neighbor. By that afternoon, I'd packed up my one suitcase and begged a ride from the dorm mother. I stood at the end of the gravel driveway, drenched in early-summer heat. I had forgotten how good the air smelled out here.

Around the corner of the garage, tail wagging, trotted Shaggy.

I spun around. Nobody was there but me and the dog. He looked at me, and I looked at him.

"gently caress! Shaggy? Really?" I reached for his collar. There was the familiar tag, with my mother's outdated phone number from two houses ago. "She was screwing with me," I said to the dog, who sat motionless on the driveway. "Who lies about something like that?"

I dug my fingers into Shaggy's fur. It was damp and matted and carried a noisome smell of wet earth. "You need a bath," I told him. "And I really need a drink."

Rico's drink of choice was cheap beer in large quantities. I brought two cans to the patio and drank them too quickly. Shaggy was silent but attentive. Feeling suddenly dizzy, I looked him in the eye. "I really thought you were dead," I said.

He didn't respond, so I got myself another beer.

By sunset, I'd lined up six empty cans and invented a story. An awful mixup at the vet, my mother's lifelong horror of difficult conversations. She wanted to pretend that phone call never happened. Clearly. Obviously. I put my feet up on the chaise lounge, and let myself fall asleep.

I woke with a start. The sun was long since up, my bare legs were halfway to lobster-red, and my mouth tasted like a public swimming pool. "Ugh," I said. Then: "Shaggy?"

He wasn't there.

It must have been the hangover that made me so uneasy. I caught myself tiptoeing through the kitchen. "Shaggy?" I called again. The inside of the house was dark and still and dusty. I snuck down the hallway, stomach roiling, checking each room.

The door to my childhood bedroom was open the barest crack. I reached for the doorknob, then, heart pounding ludicrously, cursed myself for being a baby. I threw the door open.

I jumped backwards, then started to laugh. She'd replaced my posters and bedspread with generic beige-and-flowers. A guest bedroom. That was all. Feeling ridiculous and relieved, I walked to the window and glanced down at the pool.
Floating there, just beneath the surface, was a matted, doglike form.

It was motionless, except for the rippling of its fur in the current from the pool filter. I threw myself back from the window and stumbled over the bed. I raced down the stairs, down the hallway, through the kitchen, and onto the patio.

Shaggy trotted up to me, almost smiling.

There was nothing in the swimming pool, nothing at all. I cautiously patted his wet and noisome fur.

I opened another beer. I found myself keeping my back to the wall, not wanting the dog to surprise me again. I defrosted a baggie of chicken and cautiously fed it to him. He never took those black, wet-looking eyes off of me. Did his claws always make that clicking noise against the kitchen floor? I watered the plants and freed a half-drowned mouse from the pool filter. My stomach wouldn't settle. Shaggy trotted behind me.

"Are you a bad dog, Shaggy?" I asked him. A long moment passed. "Sorry," I added, uneasily.

I only knew two remedies for unease: beer, and sleep. I shepherded Shaggy into the backyard and lay down on the living-room couch. I pulled a throw blanket over myself and fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was pitch black in the house. Not even the suburban nighttime glow of VCR clocks and bathroom nightlights. Something was breathing noisome air into my face.

My shriek emerged as a croak. A soft weight compressed my lungs. The blanket had lashed my arms to my sides. I thrashed. Claws dug into my shoulders. With all of my strength, I ripped my arms free and flung the thing across the living room.

It hit the edge of the hearth with a wet crack.

My voice was a squeak in the darkness. "Wake up," I said to myself. "Oh, God, wake up."

I fumbled among the unfamiliar furniture. The house was a black pit, and the fireplace was its blackest center. I crept towards it, sliding my hands along the floor. I touched a pool of hot, sticky liquid. Then my fingertips brushed against fur, and I forced myself to not jerk away. I could barely hear breathing.

I made myself reach into the dark and touch the dog again. He was freezing cold and soaking wet and terribly, terribly broken. My stomach heaved. I fumbled backwards towards the kitchen, towards the pantry, thinking that they must keep a flashlight somewhere. I stared into the darkness, hoping that I'd somehow notice anything moving in front of me. I heaved myself to my feet, fumbled blindly in my mother's junk drawer, and found a flashlight.

Its beam illuminated Shaggy, standing almost close enough to touch.

His neck was twisted. His head sagged, upside down, too heavy for his bony shoulders. His fur was black and mossy, his breath ragged. He stood in the beam of the flashlight, his shadow streaking out behind him, lean and angular, like the shadow of a far larger beast. One ruined leg flopping limply, he took a step towards me.

The flashlight skittered wildly across the floor. The dog's obscure shadow loomed on every surface. Was he coming for me, or was he cowering? I snatched a heavy stone vase from the kitchen island, sloshing its contents over myself and onto the floor. Then I dove for the creature. I raised my weapon and bashed it into the soft density of Shaggy's body. I raised it again and again, until the kitchen floor was wet with bloody pulp and I was soaked in sweat and gore. I bashed his head until the bones ceased to crack and I lay on top of the wrecked body, exhausted beyond moving. Then I gave a few more weary thumps with the vase. Then, nothing.

The sun must have been nearly ready to rise. It must have been. But what would my mother find, when she came back? And what would find me in the morning?

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


spectres of autism posted:

god over djinn more like god why are you so bad at writing

:toxx: to make sure i show up which is all i ever need to do

omg look at this is it not just the most precious thing you've ever seen i mean the lil guy is throwin' down the gauntlet!!!! omg :3: :3:



see you in hell, spectres.

also if whoever wants to judge would do me a favor and give us 2 weeks or so for a deadline, that would make it wildly more likely that i'll actually show up to the party. but i leave it up to ur humble judgely discretion.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


I think I was brawling some ghost or somethin right?

Pretend I'm Not Here (1496 words)

Let's start with a close-up on a sickly-looking rose.

From out of frame, bring in a pair of kitchen shears. Have them snip the rosebud from its stem. The flower falls; the camera doesn't follow it. Pause. Next, we'll hear the narrator.

On August 17, 1992, journalist Ed Merriman suffered a severe brainstem str-

Hold on, does that imply that there are mild brainstem strokes?

Are there? I guess I'll never know.

On August 17, 1992, renowned documentarian Ed Merriman's life was changed forev-

Scratch that, Ed. This isn't a made-for-TV movie.

---

Scene: a view of ceiling tiles, with a triangle of yellow light splashed across them. A Mylar balloon floats across the frame, slowly, as the scene unfolds.

From out of frame, to the camera's left, a woman weeping.

From the right, a man's voice, speaking Caribbean-accented English. "I know it's hard to think about right now - Mrs. Merriman - but we need to discuss what happens next."

Subtitles: Helen Merriman, wife of Ed Merriman. "I just, I guess, I don't know. I really just don't know what to do."

"Your job here is to speak for Ed, since he can't tell us what he wants himself. You know him better than anyone. Would he want us to keep treating him?"

The weeping intensifies. "I don't know."

Enter: the head and shoulders of a young, dark-skinned man in a white coat. His face wears a look of concern. He leans over the camera, looking towards Helen. "Mrs. Merriman, I'm sorry. I understand that this is diff-"

"That's not what I meant."

"Excuse me?"

"I don't mean I don't know as in, I'm not ready to make this decision! I just don't know what Ed would have wanted. I don't know what he would say. I don't know. I can't help you. I just don't know."

As Helen leaves the room, a rush of air catches the Mylar balloon. It bobbles along the ceiling for a moment, then settles in an unseen corner.

---

Narrator: This scene appeared in Ed Merriman's award-winning 1989 documentary, We Don't Have That Here.

We start with a medium shot of a middle-aged man, sitting on an exam table, naked to the waist. His ribs protrude. His heart flutters visibly beneath his sternum.

Zoom in towards his face, and as the shot tightens, he seems to grow younger. He isn't middle-aged, no, he's a young man, albeit one with grey and sagging skin. Cut to the doctor.

"Unfortunately, we were correct. The test was positive. You've contracted the AIDS virus."

The young man says nothing. As seconds pass, with the camera trained on his face, the doctor grows visibly more uncomfortable.

"The front desk can help you with the paperwork," he continues.

"What do I do now?"

"You'll want to follow up with your family doctor as soon as you can. They'll tell you where to go from here. Sound good?"

The doctor is bodily moving out of the room. The camera stays on him until he's out of sight.

---

A lopsided view of a hospital-room wall. One corner of a window is barely visible.

At first, it almost seems as if nothing is happening at all. Then, you realize: the scene sways slowly up and down as the ventilator breathes for me.

The sunlight grows harsher and softer again with the passing of clouds. An alarm pings, several rooms away, then goes silent.

Much later, a rush of sound and movement. A nurse's lilting voice: "Let's get you more comfortable, okay?" then "Can you help me out for a second here? He's a pretty big guy!" then the world heaves and rotates.

We're back to the view of the ceiling. Someone's taken away the Mylar balloon. Hours pass. The light goes from yellow to pale to grey to blue.

Another rush of movement: " Mr. Merriman, we need to get you cleaned up!"

Someone switches on the fluorescent lights. Jostling. Biological noises.

"Oh, there is still a mess," says the nurse who sounds Filipina. "Oh dear, Mr. Merriman."

The ventilator breathes in. The ventilator breathes out.

---

The young man stands in a parking lot, looking directly into the camera. He keeps raising one fist, as if he wants to strike out at the viewer, then dropping it. "What the gently caress am I supposed to do now, Ed?" he says.

Ed says nothing for a long time, but the young man keeps staring. Finally, we hear Ed's voice, muffled, picked up by a microphone that isn't aimed at him. "Can you go see your doctor?"

His face turns stormy. "Do you think I'm retarded? Do you really think I didn't try that first?"

A long shot of the clinic, which stands in a decrepit strip mall. Somebody's spray-painted an indecipherable name across one wall.

"He told me oh, don't worry, we'll get you tested, and he hustles me out the door with a referral to this shithole. And two days later, I get this loving letter that says I'm being dismissed as a patient. That's it."

This is where the scene ends, in that documentary.

In this one, it continues.

" How the gently caress do you just watch this happen? Seriously, how do you do it?"

In the distant background, a man glances at the camera, then walks briskly towards the clinic door. His face is blurred.

"What, you're not going to talk to me?"

"James - "

The camera jostles backwards, as if someone's just shoved the person holding it. We see James against the winter sky, walking away. "Go home and gently caress your wife," he calls over his shoulder.

Subtitles: We Don't Have That Here was a critical success, playing at a number of film festivals in the late 1980s and winning universally positive reviews.

---

Do I show you the hundred other men like James?

It depends. Do you mean the footage? It's all in the film.

And the men themselves, mostly, they're already dead.

---

Bring it crashing back to institutional brightness: pinging alarm bells, the sound of casters on tile. Helen is looking into the camera, looking older, visibly, than she did in her first scene.

"You know what drives me nuts? That you didn't leave a note."

then

"Did you think we'd all be too dumb to understand?"

then

"I'm sorry. That's a horrible thing to say."

then

"Ed. Please."

---

The next scene never made it to film. It's an audio recording, made using my home phone, a few months after We Don't Have That Here came out. The cassette is in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet.

Play it against a black background. Don't worry about the other side of the conversation; mine is enough, and they wouldn't give permission for it to be used anyways.

"Yes, hello, my name is Ed Merriman, but I'm actually calling on behalf of someone else. His name is James," and censor the last name. If I sound a little drunk, if I sound like I'm slurring my words, that's okay.

" I understand that he was discharged from your practice for outstanding bills. Is that right?"

"I'm a filmmaker. I followed him for a while for a documentary. I went to a number of doctors' offices with him, although I don't believe I've ever been to yours. He told me that he'd been undergoing treatment with you for a while, though."

"I'm not asking you to release his medical information."

"For Christ's sake. So you're telling me that if I just send you the money anyways, you're going to, what, send it back?"

"Look, I can't. I'm not in touch with him anymore."

"I know a hell of a lot more about his medical history than you do."

"Have you heard of We Don't Have That Here? It's -"

"gently caress you."

---

Here's the very last scene.

"Good morning, Ed! We're going to try something, okay?"

The head of the bed rises, until we're looking directly at a sturdy, anonymous woman in blue scrubs.

"I'm a speech therapist here at the hospital. Now that you're not on quite as many medications, we thought we'd repeat a couple of tests, okay?"

She peers into the camera.

"First, I'd like you to blink if you can hear me."

She waits.

"Can you blink your eyes for me, Ed?"

The ventilator makes a thrumming noise.

"Mr. Merriman. Blink your eyes." Louder, this time.

Zoom in on her face. Closer, closer.

"Mr. Merriman! Ed! Blink!"

Her eye makeup is too heavy, and it's wearing off unevenly. Little flecks have fallen onto her lower eyelids.

"Okay, Mr. Merriman, let's take a break and try again later. Do you want to stay sitting up like this?"

Here's what we're going to do: we're going to cut to black. But don't just do a quick cut. Do something absurd. Make it look like the camera's eye is closing. Make it almost like a blink.

God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


in as employee

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God Over Djinn
Jan 17, 2005

onwards and upwards


Gainful Employment (1300 words)

I shoot awake on the bus, in the dark. I’ve been dreaming about teeth. Am I on my way to work, or am I going home? I don’t have time to consider this before the bus takes an uncanny series of five left turns, then rumbles into the parking lot. VOIDMART hovers in the darkness: glowing red letters shimmering over a sea of cars. Time to clock in.

I catch myself in the employee bathroom, staring into my own eyes. Dull reddish orbs set deep in purple sockets. Too many closing shifts? As I bend to splash my face with water from the tap, I spot what has to be a bite mark on the side of my throat. Did I go out last night, then? Or was it two nights ago? I check my watch, then remember that it’s broken. My employee discount should kick in any day now, shouldn’t it? Maybe then I can afford a new one. I remind myself to ask Pedro when I’m supposed to get paid. I emerge, dripping, into the Voidmart dome.

A hand grabs my shoulder and I startle violently. “You look like poo poo,” says Pedro.

“I’m fine. Think I slept funny last night.” I try to recall when I went to bed.

“That’s good, that’s good, you’re doing great. We need everyone going full steam today. Big shopping season and all that.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Christmas is right around the corner.”

Pedro raises an eyebrow, then laughs too loudly, as if he’s humoring a very stupid joke. “Hey, why don’t you go look after the book club? Pour the wine, make sure they have enough chairs, that sort of stuff, just do whatever they need. It’s a bunch of drunk old ladies talking about romance novels. Nothing complicated. Starts in half an hour.”

“I’m on it,” I say. “Sounds great.” My voice sounds hollow, but I don’t think I’m joking. Two weeks in the Voidmart book department. Or has it been three? Or one? Pedro’s walked me through the shelving system a dozen times, but I never seem to get everything straight. Copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy keep turning up among the travelogues. It’s the kind of prank I would have pulled as an English major. I peer at one of the book club posters. Now It Can Be Told by Kilgore Trout. Familiar. But when I scan the shelves, Trollope and Turgenev are pressed tightly together, no space for Trout between them. I’d look him up, but the cell signal always cuts out in Voidmart. Something to do with the shape of the roof, said Pedro.

I hurtle back into consciousness. I was staring at a shelf of books, I guess. Now I’m here. Crooked-limbed, paper-skinned old ladies are pressing their book club dues into my hand. “Oooh, is he new?” somebody croaks. I look up, but the fluorescent lights are making my eyes water. The glare is too bright, like staring into the sun. All I can make out is a blurred and slender form. She presses two coins into my palm and vanishes. I look down at them: golden, stamped with the aquiline profile of a man with a golden crown – “hold on,” I say, “did you give me Canadian money or someth-“ Half the line of women bursts out laughing. “Isn’t he precious?” one of them says. The light glints off of her teeth. I want to smile, but I can’t quite remember how. How long until my first paycheck? Did I even go to sleep when I got home last night? I can’t remember. Someone is shaking my hand. Her hand feels warm and dry and fragile, like cardboard. “I’m Mrs. Thistlechirp,” she murmurs, “and I don’t believe we’ve met? Marcus, correct?” Is she reading my nametag? I didn’t think I was wearing one. But I look down, and there it is.

There’s an argument brewing, over by the table where I’ve poured out thirty little plastic cups of boxed Zinfandel. I catch sight of a dowager with too many bruised and crooked limbs, folded in on herself like a cicada – no, it’s just two women behind a cardboard standee, one with her hands clasped around the other’s throat. “The Necronomicon, dammit!” someone shouts.

“Oh, it’s so funny how every time you choose the book, you end up going home crying, because –“ and the rest of her statement is lost to swirling color and sound. There’s a pool of something reddish on the floor under the table, and my fledgling retail-working instincts kick in and I run to grab a mop from the Voidmart back room, and –

“—better than the time you brought that book that chewed someone’s leg off –“

“And I will not hesitate to ask to speak to a manager, you bet your bippy –“

“—have to be careful about the oysters in a place like that --“

“—if you were wondering why we don’t have book club at her house anymore – “

I open my eyes and I’m sitting next to Mrs. Thistlechirp, who has one bony claw clutched around my elbow. “Marcus, dearie,” she whispers, and gives my arm a shake. “Are you okay? You look a touch nauseated. Which, you might not be aware, is entirely different from being nauseous.”

My skin looks grey in the yellowish light. I shake my head. “Yeah,” I say, “I’m fine.” I try again, a little louder. “New job and all that, you know? They make us earn our pay here at Voidmart!” but that doesn’t sound quite right and my voice comes out as a squawk.

Mrs. Thistlechirp gives me a sympathetic look. “Oh, I know, dear,” she says. “We’ve seen quite a few nice young men and ladies just give up after their first day. But you’re a tough one, I can tell. How long have you been here?”

“I – two – no, wait, I don’t –“

Mrs. Thistlechirp opens her mouth to speak, but there’s a crashing noise from across the circle. Did somebody drop a book? None of them seem to have brought their books. A few of the ladies rise to their feet. I hear chanting. Axaxaxas mlö, someone intones. I wonder, vaguely, why none of the ladies seem to have brought their books. All bruised flesh and crooked limbs. The Voidmart dome overhead, with the bookstacks bending around us, leaning over us like curious willows. Someone’s nails are leaving marks on my skin. Bones cracking. When was the last time I slept? Mrs. Thistlechirp is gnawing at her own wrists. Something black and oily is tearing its way through the carpet, which swirls like gasoline skimming the surface of water. I need something. I need to clock in? Did I clock in? When does my shift start? I look at my watch. The dials spin backwards. “I think I need to go to the hospital,” I say to Mrs. Thistlechirp, whose sinews dangle from her limbs like strips of raw meat. I see bone-sharp nails set into bony fingers. “Please,” I say, “help,” and,

“Hey, Marcus,” says Pedro.

I gasp.

“You think you can stay and close tonight? Brittany just called in.”

Scattered limbs and torn pages litter the bookshop floor. I lift my foot slowly from a puddle of coagulating blood.

“She’s got the flu or something,” says Pedro. He makes air quotes when he says ‘flu’.

I look down at my blood-drenched work shoes. I really need the cash. “Sure,” I say.

“Good man,” says Pedro. “Think you could clean up a bit when they’re done here? Or maybe just start cleaning right now, actually. It might get them out of here faster.” He shakes his head. “loving book club. Am I right?”

I go to fetch the mop.

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