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The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

in :toxx:

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The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

WEEK CCXXXI Submission

Missing a Few Pieces
1196 Words


Granny went crazy and she died. When she told everyone that Corey Feldman kissed her then tried to touch her privates, the super didn’t know he was Mouth from Goonies and called the cops. We had to put her in a home.

We packed up her apartment and all the food in the fridge was moldy. She had hundreds and hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. It was everywhere. Mom explained that she had Old Crone’s disease, and that made her poop all the time. Her entire living room and the guest bedroom was stacked to the ceiling, and Mom laughed a weird laugh when she saw it.

“She grew up in the depression and that generation liked to stock up,” Dad said. But we all knew she went nuts. Mom was probably scared that it would happen to her too, when she was old. Granny was almost eighty.

I didn’t remember Pap too much but everyone said he never wanted to live to be seventy and be an old man we’d have to take care of. He had a heart attack during our family reunion in North Carolina and died when he was sixty-nine. Everyone was there, even Uncle Mook who was stationed in Japan. That always seemed amazing that he had the whole family there and then just decided to die when he was ready.

Granny’s neighbor in the nursing home didn’t have a nose. The other old lady was a skull-face and I had to hold my breath when I went by her room. I don’t think it really smelled any different than the rest of the place but I couldn’t pass her door until I took a deep breath at the corner and ran past. Granny was only there two weeks before she had a stroke and died.

Granny got too freaked out from the nursing home, I guess. It was better sticking with imaginary friends.

We had the funeral and my uncles all told stories about how mean Granny was and we all laughed. She was pretty mean to your face. But she was nice other times. She always got us savings bonds, so at the funeral Dad passed out the birthday cards she forgot to send out the last couple years to me and the NC cousins.

After the funeral, I sat on the bench in the funeral parlor hallway. Granny was cremated, so we didn’t have to go to the graveyard. They were collecting her remains and Uncle Mook was going to take the ashes back to Japan since she liked it there when she visited. He showed us a picture of the cherry trees and it was nice and peaceful. Everyone liked the plan.

But then Eric’s parents and his brother walked in. He was my best friend and we sat beside each other in Mr. Marr’s class. I hated Darren, but he had been crying so I didn’t say anything. They all saw me too but didn’t say anything either.

Later that night, Joel’s Mom called. She talked to my Mom for a long time, then she wanted to talk to me. She was the guidance counselor at school, but I mainly thought of her as Joel’s Mom. She sounded like a teacher when she said “Hello, Greg.”

They were on a Boy Scout trip and his inner tube veered off the ski slope and ran into the trees. He didn’t make it. Eric died instantly and he didn’t feel any pain. I didn’t really cry or anything that night. I was jealous that I wasn’t a Boy Scout and the guys got to see Eric one last time.

He hadn’t been over to my house in a couple weeks. When he slept over, we made Darth Vader from a Lego spaceman and painted his control panel with Wite-Out. His Star Destroyer was rainbow-colored since those were the only bricks I had. We covered all the cracks in clay to make it waterproof and it looked pretty good. Luke actually looked more realistic, even though he was just made from a Lego town guy. But then Mom woke up when we ran the tub and yelled.

We put the little TV under a blanket tent with the sound real low and stayed up the whole way through David Letterman. Eric left after lunch on Saturday, Mom said he wasn’t allowed over for a while. That was it.

Joel was on the Boy Scout trip, too, and didn’t go to school the next day. But Adam said Eric’s ribcage was crushed and his head bled a lot. The EMTs had trouble getting up the hill to help him. Adam helped his Dad skin deer when they went hunting so he had a strong stomach.

Joel’s Mom came in and talked us for a while, but she was Mrs. Grost now, same as when she called the night before. Mostly the whole day was quiet. Mr. Marr didn’t say much and just gave us stuff in the books to read. We didn’t have the social studies test either, and that was a relief. I couldn’t concentrate. I just kept looking at Eric’s desk all day.

That night, I threw the Star Destroyer down the basement steps. The control tower part snapped off and bounced across the concrete. But the clay held the rest together and it just sort of splatted on the fake-grass carpet we used for muddy boots.

It sleeted the day of Eric’s funeral. The whole service was outside and there was the same fake-grass carpet squares covering the piles of dirt around his grave. The ice on the carpets kept reminding me of the Lego clay.

I kept imagining that if they burned his body on a funeral pyre then people wouldn’t be in such a rush to get back to their cars. The priest said his prayers and then they lowered the coffin in and everybody threw a rose on top.

It was my turn to toss a rose in. I had the Lego Luke and Darth Vader in my hand during the funeral, and I tried to decide which one I would leave with Eric. Luke did fly down the Cloud City shaft, but Eric liked Darth Vader more.

I decided to just throw in the rose like everybody else. By then, everyone had gone back to their cars except for Darren and Eric’s parents. I gave Darren the Darth Vader and said Eric made it. Darren thought it was cool. Eric’s Mom gave me a long hug.

I fixed up the Star Destroyer though a couple bricks went down the drain pipe in the basement. Darren brought the Darth Vader and helped build some Tie Fighters and we had enough blue ones to make them pretty good. It was fun, but it was just Darren. The whole time I pretended he was Eric.

When he went home, he forgot to take the Darth Vader with him. I stayed up and pretended Eric was still there. I built a fort with like twenty blankets, put the Luke and Darth Vader on top of the little black-and-white TV and stayed up through Letterman.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

One Man's Trash

1989 words


“Brett? Buddy? You OK?”

“Hmm? Yeah.” The lie was practiced. Brett slid the empty wineglass across the concrete balustrade that separated the front steps of his rowhouse from the neighbors’.The foot of the dollar store glass screeched as it scraped until Jeremiah snatched it from his hand.

He didn’t know why he did that. To be standoffish, he supposed. He only came outside to have a quick smoke before crashing for a few hours. It was after midnight and work started before first light. He didn’t notice Amy and Jeremiah sitting with some friend on the front steps until it was too late. As soon as Brett opened the screen door, they invited him to sit and have a drink.

Amy was unconcerned as she opened the spigot of the boxed wine and filled the cloudy glass, but Jeremiah covered his slight embarrassment by swirling his glass as he sniffed it then said, “The plastic bag gives it a certain je ne sai quoi.”

Brett nodded with a little shrug. He lit his cigarette and Amy handed him the glass. The divider that separated their front porches was less than a foot wide, but he was miles away. The wine was better than the idle conversation.

That was two glasses ago, and rather than get up, Amy passed the refill to some girl who had to put her phone down to take it. They all had phones. Always connected, texting away. It was better than talking. Brett had a mobile but it was old and rarely used. When Mitch or one of the other guys called to have him cover their shift, kids with beards at the bar loved it. They called him retro, but the phone was sturdy and served its purpose. There wasn’t anything hip about it.

This some girl put the glass on the concrete and slid it across to him. Jeremiah cringed and sucked in a breath. She watched his face and giggled a little as she pushed it across the divider, eking out every awful noise she could.

She turned back to Brett and kept her smile as he took the glass. She wasn’t really a girl. Thirtyish, Brett thought. He had less than ten years on her. She had a young smile, still bright through the wine stains.

“Thanks,” he said as he pulled a Ziploc filled with tobacco from his pocket. Brett started rolling another cigarette.

“Do you think I could have one?” The woman asked.

Brett shrugged and pulled a second paper from the bag.

“Can I do it? Show me how.”

“Alright.” Brett stepped over the balustrade and sat down; his feet rested on their steps. Before he knew it all four others were studying his demonstration and rolling up their own crooked, lumpy smokes.
The puffed and coughed for a little while and then Jeremiah flicked his half-finished butt in a high arc that flared across the smog-haloed skyline. For a brief moment he was angry—he would have to run to the outlet that much sooner. But they were as friendly as acquaintances could be. Let it lie.

Brett let his last drag linger in his throat before he tossed his own butt over the balustrade into the grimy earthenware pot that he used as an ashtray. “I’m going to use the bathroom,” he said. It wasn’t a request it was a matter-of-fact statement.

The house mirrored his own. Of course it did. The floorplan was recycled up and down the block, ten or more houses all the same. But there was a key difference. This place felt lived in. It was a home. Warm.

Maybe there wasn’t anything to that. Warmth was a delusion of earthy paint and curvy knick-knacks. Nonetheless, it pulled at something in him. And then Brett felt the bile rise up and he thought, gently caress’em.

The little bathroom had old tile, but it was clean. Medicine cabinet. The mirror was freshly Windexed, but the rust spots on the frame mirrored his own. Just the way it was in old houses. He opened it and rifled around. Usual poo poo: Tylenol, Neosporin, Band-Aids, Tums, all the brand names. And the brand name he was looking for: Vicodin. A prescription in Amy’s name filled two years ago. She hadn’t used most of it, and surely wouldn’t miss it.

Brett stuffed the pill bottle in his pocket and felt guilty for a moment. He peed, then wiped the rim with some toilet paper. Wiping piss from the toilet wasn’t the same as assuaging guilt. But for a moment he imagined they might be the same. He was just a drop of piss to be wiped away on flimsy tissue and flushed.

He flung the door open in that drunken way and was surprised by the girl/woman leaning against the island in the kitchen. A fancy exhaust hood floated in the air above the flat burners of the stove. The whole drat thing looked like a TV set.

“We weren’t properly introduced,” she said, “I’m Clarissa. And yes, I’ve explained it all.” She smiled again. The reference wasn’t lost on him but he wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. It wasn’t his way. He hoped she’d give him the same courtesy, but he could never bank on it.

“Hi,” he replied. “Brett. But you know that.”

“What do you do, Brett?”

There it was. “I’m a garbage man.” No frills, no sanitation engineer or any of that. It was what he was. It was, in general, boring hard work.

Brett would probably continue until his knees gave out. There was some sort of zen quality about it. Clear goals, and the harder you worked, the faster you were done. Morning people were friendly people and they were easy—the five AM runners never stopped to chat. They just gave a little wave acknowledging that they’ve seen your face before, then they were on their way.

And the people who were still on their porch at five AM waved in a slightly different way. But nobody messed with the garbage man. That was the best part. Mitch listened to his audiobooks while he drove and all Brett did was huck garbage into the back of the truck. Aside from the exercise, people didn’t really think about how much heat the decay and compression generated.

People were, in general, nice. About three times a winter, he’d find a new pair of gloves and a scarf on top of a garbage can. Mostly hand-knitted. They left plenty of used coats, but never a new one. The shelf below Brett’s TV held ten copies of Men at Work, the house on the corner of Sixth and Elm left it on a can every year.

Brett didn’t know what the occupants looked like. Clearly, they never imagined the same people would be collecting their trash year after year. On copy number three, he imagined the mental break and marching a gift basket filled with the copies of that lovely movie up to their door and acting like a passive-aggressive poo poo about the whole thing then maybe punching somebody. But then Charlie Sheen started his descent and the copies kept coming, so they went from irritating to a kitsch he could appreciate. There wasn’t much that could even turn the corner of Brett’s mouth, but seeing that DVD case tucked in the can handle some Tuesday in December was one.

“You don’t have to pretend to be interested.”

“No, I am. I mean—”

“You’re not.”

“Well, sort of . . .” she trailed off. Brett didn’t help her out. “Men at Work sucked.” Pause. “But it’s so great, isn’t it?” She continued, “I’m a vet. Work at an animal hospital.”

“Sorry,” Brett replied. She looked at him quizzically for a second before he kept on.. “You must see a lot of death. I always wonder why people would take those kind of jobs. I think I’d probably get more upset if my cat died than if one of my cousins died. Proximity, I suppose. If your cousin crawled into your lap every night people might think oddly of you.”

It was more than he’d spoken to anyone in a long time, weird as it was. She smiled, though. The burgundy stain on her lip went well with her eyes. They were a deep green with brown flecks. It had been months since he’d really looked anyone in the eye, let alone taken notice. He couldn’t quite bring himself to smile back, but it worked well enough as deadpan.

“Well, um, it was good to, uh,” Brett struggled with the hello/goodbye since he didn’t really expect to see Clarissa again, but he was spared. Amy and Jeremiah bounded into the kitchen. They clanked their cheap wine glasses onto the outlandishly pricy granite counter in unison.

Jeremiah opened his little bar cabinet. It had an engraving of a horse in gallop engraved on the lid, some sort of family heirloom. He pulled a poo poo-ton of sterling cups and plates from it and placed them around the dining table.

It wasn’t really a poo poo-ton, once Brett figured out what he was doing. It was only a short moment before Jeremiah announced, loudly, what he was doing, “Here we have, the same items that Toulouse-Lautrec used on the final night that he drank absinthe in the Moulin Rouge before died. Was it alcoholism and syphilis at thirty-six, or like Van Gogh, was it suicide?”Jeremiah relished the theatrics as he placed a sugar cube on the grate of each small silver cup and poured the absinthe over each until the cube dissolved and the cups filled. “I got this in Italy, you know. It’s brewed from actual wormwood.”

Brett sat on the stool next to Clarissa and his forehead creased as he looked into those green eyes. “This doesn’t actually cause hallucinations, you know.”

She shrugged back at him. It was fitting, to get a shrug in return after he had been more open than he had in a long time. But Jeremiah carried on, blah, blah, blah, shake your can, can, can. Finally he was set, and the tall candles on the kitchen table were lit. Incense smoked in the corner near the toaster.

Jeremiah flipped the sterling grate off his little cup and held it to his lips. He waited for the rest of us. We did the same, Amy, Clarissa, and me. Then, as one, we tipped them and drank the shot of absinthe.

“It doesn’t do anything,” Brett announced, again, this time to all.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” Jeremiah retorted. “Just you wait.”

There were no hallucinations, nor any affect more than a shot of booze would give you. If you really, truly believed, maybe you’d feel the heart of an artist beating just behind your eyes. But Brett knew that was just the effects of the alcohol after a long night of drinking.

Yet, it did something to him. Brett went to the bathroom and took another pee. He wiped down the toilet same as he always did. Then he looked at the wooden door, the veneer was warped and the tile around the frame was solid. Brett put the Vicodin back in the cabinet.

The silly, day-glow communion made him feel better than he had in a long time. He didn’t need the pills. At least he knew where they were if he changed his mind.

But no, this Clarissa might be OK for now. Brett left the bathroom and sat back down on the kitchen stool beside her. She smiled at him again. She always smiled, it seemed.

Oh yes, she smiled at him.

Brett pulled his old retro loving flipphone from his pocket and called Mitch. Mitch groggily answered.

“Mitch? Cover my shift today. I have better things to do.” Brett finally allowed himself to smile at Charissa. He felt better than he had in a long time.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Typos will haunt me
Steelers playoffs, all the seasons
gently caress up, as always

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Words resound from a timpani of tin,
Like the thrum of a splinter-laden tongue;
But the whispered white noise screams, “I am in.”

Bang away, as the first chair sits barren,
While Maestro’s bidded meter goes unsung;
Words resound from a timpani of tin.

Uterine radio dreams blare within,
Nurturing melodies born far too young;
But the whispered white noise screams, “I am in.”

Lyrics on a calfskin, stretched paper-thin,
Fall dead as ghosted notes carelessly drummed;
Words resound from a timpani of tin.

Nature’s hymn ends where fearful bleats begin,
With the low coda of mourning bells rung;
But the whispered white noise screams, “I am in.”

Account the measures of discord and din,
Beat by beat until the mallet is swung.
Words resound from a timpani of tin,
But the whispered white noise screams, “I am in.”

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Week 233 Submission

A Fawkes in the Henhouse
137 Words


Her smile arrays a gunpowder plot.
The flicker of fuse spins gold in the haze.
Nary a word betrays, but I am caught.

Old tales are rephrased of new Camelot,
Avalon’s mist burns away with her gaze.
Her smile arrays a gunpowder plot.

I sip from the font of blasphemous thought,
A furtive communion no priest would praise.
Nary a word betrays, but I am caught.

Too heady a draught, I wobble besot.
It’s love at first sight and other clichés.
Her smile arrays a gunpowder plot.

A treasonous laugh ensnares by fiat
I dream of escape on fancied forays
Nary a word betrays, but I am caught.

The barrels explode and all is for naught;
As my betrothed cuffs roving eye sideways.
Her smile arrays a gunpowder plot.
Nary a word betrays, but I am caught.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Fuschia tude posted:

Cot-caught merger detected

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Pennsylvania_English
(cot-caught barely scratches the dialect woes)

And thanks all for the crits that have been posted recently.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

in

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Week 234 Submission

The Resurrection Men
1400 Words


“Here we are, Mister Bell,” said Clay as his shovel clunked down on the casket. A top-hatted silhouette appeared above him. From the bottom of the freshly dug hole, he saw Bell’s anxious features outlined in the low moonlight.

“We should hurry, Mister Clay. The moon’s come out. We’ll be discovered.”

Clay wiped the muddy sweat from his brow. “We’re nearly finished. Help me up.” Bell clasped his arm as he scrabbled out of the hole. He wiped the rest of his face on his cotton undershirt as he caught a breath. Bell tipped a mountain of burlap sacks into the narrow shaft that unearthed the crown of the coffin.

“Come on, then,” said Bell. He stood over the foot of the casket and Clay joined him. The pine boards began to creak. With a few hops, they felt the cracking and splintering of the lid under their feet as their weight cantilevered the casket open.

Bell hoped the burlap muffled the sound enough to keep the priest from rousing and investigating the cemetery. It usually did the trick, especially in combination with an “anonymously” donated bottle of rye.

He never cared for this part, but Bell knew it was necessary. Vital, even. A student of surgery had to have bodies to study, examine, practice on.

Clay set him to task, “You’re in the hurry, Bell. So, snap to it.”

Bell gathered the length of rope and slid down through the burlap pile. The broken boards came free with a slight effort. “You don’t find this . . . unsavory, Clay? The subterfuge isn’t right.”

“Mister Bell, my friend, medicine is a dirty business. When those shallow minds come to you begging for help, you’ll be able to treat them. They’ll be grateful that you were willing to overcome your distaste. You’re doing it for them. You know that.”

Bell wrangled the rope under the corpse and tied a slipknot. “First, do no harm. When this woman’s son comes to me I wonder if I’ll be able to look him in the eye knowing he visits an empty grave every Sunday. If he ever found out, his peace of mind. . . .”

“Our purview is of the flesh,” Clay replied. He tugged the other end of the rope until the knot drew tight under the arms of the body. “If you’re skilled enough, then you’ll give that very man extra years with his own children. There’s only one way to achieve that. Learn. Now, on three.” He gave the count and pulled the rope as Bell leveraged the woman out of the coffin. With a shove from below, they hefted her up onto the grass.

Bell packed the burlap into the coffin and rebuilt the lid as well as possible. He hoisted himself up and before his feet were clear, Clay was pushing dirt into the hole as fast as he could.

“Hold a moment,” said Bell.

Clay froze. A tense second passed, then he looked around frantically.

“It’s not that,” clarified Bell as he pulled the rings from the dead woman’s fingers. Clay watched with disdain as Bell tossed the rings into the grave. “Our purview is the flesh, remember. We’re taking enough. Let the tokens stay where they were meant to be.”

Clay resumed shovelling, though he gave Bell an irritated sigh. “The living have to eat, you know. It’s an absurd practice to bury valuables, anyway.”

“I won’t be a part of it. Come back tomorrow night and dig them up yourself if you want.”

“No, no. Now come help me.” The pair finished filling the site in silence, but Clay glowered at his partner throughout. Bell felt heat rise behind his eyes and the sweat on his own brow wasn’t from the exertion.

“Don’t get pouty, Bell. I’m not going to come back and steal the old woman’s jewelry.”

“The greater good doesn’t feel very good. You don’t have to be so cavalier about it. That isn’t helping.”

“They don’t understand. This, us, any of it. Men of our minds have an obligation. They don’t deserve your guilty conscience.” Clay clasped his hands around the body’s torso. “Grab the feet,” he commanded.

Bell complied, holding the shovel in one hand. They maneuvered through the tombstones towards the treeline where Doctor Foster would be waiting with the cart and his old mare, shovel blade bouncing along the grass behind them.

“Move!” Clay shouted as Bell saw the lanterns bouncing up the cemetery path. They didn’t yet know if they were discovered, but someone was coming. Perhaps Doctor Foster was simply late for their rendezvous.

The question was answered with the crack of a rifle. They raced for the cover of the trees and saw Doctor Foster, dozing in the driver’s seat, uncovered lantern on the plank beside him. A second volley startled him awake. “Come on, boys!”

Bell ducked his head and pressed on, but Clay slowed the pace with each step until they reached the cart. He lurched forward and toppled, dropping the body behind him. Bell regained his balance and heaved Clay to his feet. Doctor Foster leapt down and wrestled their cargo onto the cart.

“Rifle ball—abdominal wound,” announced Bell. Clay struggled into the cart with a grunt and collapsed against the side rail. Bell jumped up beside him as Foster snapped the reins.

Clay pinched at the words, “I’m not ready to die, Bell.”

“Laudanum. In my bag,” Foster shouted as he whipped the mare to full gallop.

Bell pulled the flask from the leather bag. He tilted a healthy dose of tincture into Clay’s mouth and saw immediate relief on his patient’s face.

“I need to examine the wound, Mister Clay,” said Bell. Clay unclenched his fingers and Bell untangled them from the undershirt, still grimy with gravedirt. Bell tore at the seam and bared Clay’s stomach.

He froze at the sight. The puncture was a small, round hole. But black blood pumped from the wound. The shot pierced Clay’s intestine, assuredly fatal. Bell’s eyes betrayed his concern.

“So that’s it, Mister Bell? Shall we turn the cart around so that fuddled priest can administer last rites? Maybe he hasn’t finished that bottle of whisky.”

“I . . . I,” Bell stuttered. Lifeblood poured through Bell’s fingers and yet Clay was spending his last breaths to goad him. “Silas. Call me Silas, Mister Clay.”

“I’m not ready to die, Silas.” Clay swallowed. His Adam’s apple trembled in his throat. “Ethan.”

“I know. Ethan.”

“We chose our paths. And maybe I was a horse’s rear end—”

“Eth—”

“Maybe I was a horse’s rear end, but horses pull the cart. How slow you’d be without people like me. Like Foster. Well, Foster’s a bit cold and ghoulish. But you know what I mean. You have the heart, the desire to heal. I have the stomach for it. Or did, anyway.” Clay smirked.

Bell felt sick. “We’re still miles from the operating theater.” Foster’s lantern might have betrayed them, but it might also buy Clay some more time. It would be excruciating and might not even work. Do good or do no harm. How much pain is each extra minute worth? “What do you say, Ethan?”

“Do what you think is best, Doctor Bell.”

Bell handed him the small flask. “You better drink up,” he said. Bell opened the lantern as Clay downed the rest of the laudanum.

Clay clenched the bottle as Bell poured the lantern oil over the wound. Bell’s resolved wavered, this might be simple cruelty. It’s now or never. If Clay can scream at me this time next year, then I’ll take it with a smile.

With that, Bell tipped the lantern and lit the slick of oil. Clay’s skin blistered. Bell could barely hear the screams over the ringing in his ears. He pressed the blood-soaked shirt over and extinguished the flames. Clay slumped prone beside the corpse.

The wound was cauterized. Clay’s breathing was shallow, but he was alive. Bell drew a ragged breath of his own. He straddled the bodies, one on each side of death’s door.

“Quick thinking, Bell,” said Foster. “You’ll earn your certificate soon enough.”

Until today, Silas Bell considered Ethan Clay a barely-tolerated colleague, maybe a rival. Some of Clay’s will rubbed off on him, and Bell thought he might be able to soften his colleague’s demeanor. “You’re not ready to die,” he whispered.

He hoped Ethan lived long enough to become a friend.



Flash Rule: "Audacious interns in over their heads. They practice mischief and medicine while learning the ropes."

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

thx for the speedy crit thoughts

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Volumnia - III ii 70 Coriolanus

Which else would put you to your fortune and
The hazard of much blood.
I would dissemble with my nature where
My fortunes and my friends at stake required
I should do so in honour: I am in this,

-William Shakespeare (a lady)

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Week 235 [Monologues for Women] Submissions (2 entries)

Roaming Data (in Binary)
700 Words

Black Box, Avant Garde Lighting

I think I’m awake—but I’ve made that mistake before. It’s getting hard to tell what separates days from the nights. Sure, I see the moon. It’s bold and bright. There’s a rainbow halo, and those little pillowed clouds. It means the air is frigid. If I looked closely I’m sure I’d see crystalline spiderwebs running up and down the bannisters.

There’s a cat. Some indoor-outdoor cat that roams the neighborhood on its own terms. It comes up on the porch on the coldest nights and rubs against my legs. Its fur is wiry, mottled like frost covered tire tracks in the mud on the edge of an intersection where there have been too many accidents.

I almost let it inside once, but it scratched at the storm door when my inside cat came to investigate. Indoor cat just sat and stared like a dumb lump. She finally saw another being that was just like herself. Didn’t care. That’s not right - not alike. Same species, but altogether different. She watched that other cat scrape against the glass with the dispassion of an observer on the outside of the cage.

Day after day, night after night, the same couch is there, the same bed. The same dish and spoon. There’s nothing outside the door that isn’t right here in warmth and comfort. Except the ghost of a cat.

A little ghost that vanishes when the spectres of headlights appear on the crest of the hill. The big rolling cage that the driver thinks they’re controlling. It growls and clanks along at 3:45 every night, before anyone else is awake, never even knowing that a little cat is hidden away, watching. Until, I suppose, little ghost decides it’s brave enough to meet a big ghost up close.

I’m watching too. Behind the curtain on the door waiting for my little ghost to return. I’ve never seen the driver. There has to be one, right? Then I realize it won’t be too long before all those trucks will rattle along empty, unseen ghosts flitting through the air telling it where to go and what to do.

They’re already everywhere. I’m clutching the curtain so hard the lace is stretched out of shape. No matter how hard I squeeze, I’ll never be able to wring all the ones and zeros from it. It’s too late for that. I feel it connected to the house next door and the one beside that and the truck’s out of earshot but its pull yanks the lace from my grasp. There’s one frayed thread caught on my fingernail.

I notice the house across the street has a strand of Christmas lights still up. And in the flicker of red and green I can see the inevitability. We want to be ghosts, connected but not too close. I’m in my little house next to other lonely houses, and we’re all trying to suss out some meaning through one-way conversations with dippy cats sleeping on the backs of sofas.

I don’t know where ghost cat went. Off doing its flesh-and-blood thing. I could hold a digital seance and find out exactly where it is. Track it on a map where every street is the same gray and every yard has the same sea-green grass. Spirits stalking a ghost reduced to a little red dot on a touch screen. But I’ll let it have its privacy. There’s not much of the night left.

Soon, the sun will rise, and the air will feel clean and crisp. People will leave their little houses and hide themselves until they come home and tell their cats what they really wanted to say. And they won’t notice all the ghosts swimming all around them, through them. Collecting little pieces of them. Or maybe that’s exactly what they want.

Just before the sun breaks, I see little ghost cat peek around the corner of the house. My indoor cat mewls for food and I look down to pet her. When I look back, ghost cat is gone. Gone to sleep away the messy hours. But I know it’ll be back tonight, hoping this is the night I finally let it inside.

——————

Game Over, Game On
700 Words

(To audience)
The day I saw Mr. Darcy swim in the pond was the day I became a woman. It’s funny how there’s this global misremembrance of that scene and it’s been conflated with bits of Love Actually in to this Fabio moment of him climbing out of the water and his wet shirt clinging to his chest. We got a creepily hot statue out of it, anyway.

(To Sam)
You reminded me of Mr. Darcy, at first. Here’s the thing about you, Sam: You never got to the part where you realized you’re an rear end in a top hat and changed your ways when you’re called on your B.S.

(To audience)
Why do we want the gentleman douchebag, anyway? Who wants to be the long-suffering love interest? It’s got to be mostly Colin Firth, right? You can tell he’s just a sweet guy struggling to play Jane Austen’s version of a bad boy. That’s the charm.

(To Sam)
Well, I’ve had enough. Yeah, go ahead. Act like you don’t care—like you never cared. That’s fine. You want to ignore me? Well, for once I’ll get to decide the conversation. What’s one shred of remorse cost? More than you’ve made on your YouTube blog and the Kickstarter for your lovely 8-bit game, that’s for sure. Now, you’re putting the controller down.

(To audience)
The cross-pollination of manners comedies with modern nerd culture has been less than successful, so I’m not sure where I meant to end up when I compared this tubby console-jockey to Colin Firth, but the character arc of the romantic hero (or lack thereof) still stands. We’ll see if Sam manages a tortoise roll to flip himself off that raggedy beanbag chair or if he’ll spare me his indignity.

(To Sam)
I’m over getting angry that you don’t even react until I directly insult you. No eloquent lies, no feints and thrusts to act engaged. Nah. You never were Mr. Darcy, forget the money. Not even a self-made Captain Wentworth. A caveman grunt is good enough. All I see is Orson Welles in that wine commercial, muddled and lost. The difference is I’m still waiting for you to make your Citizen Kane.

(To audience)
A wise person once asked “Why, in all those stories, do all the men have to be post-apocalypse dead in order for a woman to be a badass?” Maybe I’m not going to swing a sword around or fire a fifty-caliber rifle through some zombies, but I know Sam has some hopes and dreams. We might have shared them if he had played it a little differently. Here’s what I’m going to do: Beat him at his own game.

(To Sam)
Up off your stank catcher now? Good. It’s eaten enough of your Totino’s farts. I heard it crying earlier, “No more! Mercy!” Here’s what’s going to happen, Sam. I’m going to make my own game and I’m going to get it to market faster than you. I’m going to outsell you, and I’m going to be the critical darling you wish you were. See you on the other side of Metacritic.

Meg rushes out of the room, slams the flimsy door and slides down it in a slow collapse. She sits in the hallway for a moment, breathing heavily.

(To audience)
Welp. That was the easy part. I thought for a second that I was going to fuel this entire thing on spite. Sure, it’ll be great when he eventually comes begging me for a job in QA; but, you know what? I don’t feel anything for that goon in there. I don’t care about beating him or proving something to him.

If I motivated him to actually follow his dream, well, more power to him. I welcome the competition. Now all I need to do is figure out an idea, get a programmer, get an artist, and make a game.

Next week I’ll poo poo a brick. Maybe I’ll sneak in and use that drat beanbag chair. But right now I’m awash in hope and excitement. I feel the little needle pricks all over when you realize you’re about to do something beautiful. I can’t wait.

End of Act 1, Scene 2 (of 3)

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Love Actually
gdoc ate my balls

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Not Gone West
975 Words

Every moment is somebody’s end of the world. Most folk only see it coming just a second or two before it happens. Others never see it, then it’s over. The worst, though, is when that moment happened a while ago, and they just keep scrabbling around, not having noticed. That slow decay that tricks them into thinking if they move just a little bit faster, work a little harder, they’ll stave off the inevitable.

It’s easy enough to think a little dust is manageable. Just water the corn a little more, put some bedsheets over the windows and make a go. Then the dust comes tomorrow, and the day after. And every day for a year. Then two. That second year—the plants sprout, and it looked so cute when when they finally popped out of the ground, a couple weeks late. But they were stunted, tiny little things. A few struggled under the weight of half-sized ears, before they gave up and tipped sideways like little soldiers too weak to hold their rifles. Killed on the march, in rows, before they even made it to the great battle they hoped would define them.

Then the water runs out. There’s barely enough for a family to drink, let alone try and resuscitate a field..I don’t have anything else. Stuck here, on one corner of a field that hasn’t seen rain in a year, and the man, Ryan Kelly, comes out of his clapboard house and stumbles around every day, uselessly trying to make something happen. Mostly he just sits in the dirt and prays. The crows have given up on it, given up on the world, as far as I can see it. Being useless is far worse than being forgotten. I don’t have any choice, sit and guard nothing.

There was a time when Ryan Kelly’s little children would bounce around through green rows. Little bundles of chaos flitting in and out of uniform rows, taller than they. I remember those days. They grew, slower than corn, but they’d show up again after the snows stopped and be a little bigger. Then again, and a little bigger. But in that third year of desolation, the man, Ryan Kelly, came up to me and whispered. There was no one else around, but he whispered just the same.

“I wish I could bury you, instead. Little Meg was only six. The stuffing of your innards is older than her. How do you still stand? Through all the dust and wind, you’re still stuck on that pole, like nothing. You might as well be my first child. I remember when Fiona and I made our way out here. Goddamn Nebraska.

“I had my father’s suit, and before the house was even built, I made you. A farmer doesn’t need a suit like that, Fiona said. So we stuffed it up with straw and I stuck you on the corner of our land. A homestead, we called it then. Everybody called them homesteads. There’s something hopeful in that word. It’s rolled up in a coat of prosperity and dreams. Home and future resting on my back. What I do matters.


“For a while, I suppose, things were good. The dream paid dividends. So why didn’t you warn me? Tell me to go south before it all turned? It’s too late now. We’ll never make it to Oklahoma—or Missouri, maybe—to Sixty-Six. We should have pressed on for California a long time ago and left you to the crows.

“But you had to sit there, year after year, and grin like an idiot. I should have realized that unchanging idiot grin was a trick. Your face is a lie, scarecrow. Done up in darning wool and buttons. My father’s buttons. I should have known. Fiona should have known. There’s no time for superstition and old wives’ tales when there’s a hard days work to be done.

“Ma never crossed the Atlantic. Dad rode in an automobile once, before he died. New York City. That was a big trick of hope, too. You get stunned by the size of it. If you’re not already above it, then you get ground up and plowed under the moment you step foot ashore. This was supposed to be our escape. But it’s all the same. Maybe I should try China. Half the world doesn’t want me. Us. Maybe the other half will.
“Old scarecrow. You know that’s never going to happen. It’s time to get Fiona and figure out where we’re going to bury her. It’s not right that you should get to look after her. Figure out the rest too. Dig five plots at once.”

Ryan Kelly walked towards the little house he built. Fiona stood on the little porch, and two little specks clung to her. Behind them, the horizon stopped looking like hope and dreams or whatever made people come to Nebraska. It was a wall of dust and dirt and misery. Any minute now, it would be close enough to block out the sun. Ryan Kelly saw it the entire time he made his slow march back, and somewhere in the middle he turned back and yelled, “Maybe I won’t have to dig any at all.” He laughed as he turned back towards his house and his little family saw him laugh.

The two little specks smiled and waved to him, mistaking his laughter for anything but what it was. Fiona, too, waved, but her movement was a little slower. Still, for a moment, she might have found a little of that hope that Ryan Kelly was so determined to bury with his daughter.

As the dust storm blocked the sun, for a moment the ground went an eerie blue. Then the wind started and the beauty of the calm was forgotten. He walked, just kept walking. And I watched.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

My flash cards

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In.

Thanks for the crits.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Last Flight of The Konstantin
2630 Words

Captain Baran slid himself through the jungle of wires he created and out from under the navigation console. He was soldier by training, but hoped he remembered his engineering course well enough to get the computer back online.

“Well, Sklyx,” he said, “here goes nothing.” He arched his eyebrows at the creature he rescued during his escape from an abandoned alien museum where he spent better part of ten thousand years frozen in stasis. Sklyx resembled a cross between an ant and a mantis, and stood waist high to the Captain. Under the bright fluorescents of The Konstantin’s bridge, he noticed for the first time that Sklyx’s shell shimmered with an ever-changing pattern like an oil-slick.

Sklyx returned his hopeful glance by rubbing its two feathery antennae together to produce a cheerful sounding song. With that, Baran punched the button on the console. The navigation display lit up, and both edged closer and closer as it ran through the boot-up sequence. The projector kicked on and a holographic star map filled the cramped space.

Baran slumped in the pilot’s chair as he saw large parts of the map filled with flickering glitches and scrambled flight paths. It was too much to hope for. The time in storage must have corrupted the data.

He cupped his hands over the bridge of his nose, index fingers pressed into the corners of his eyes. Just like the flight computer, there were gaps in his memory. His training was intact, a few details of military service; but he couldn’t recall the circumstances of his capture. Nothing personal. So much of his life just missing. Deep down, he knew there wouldn’t be anything left of his former life, anyway. Ten centuries will do that. He was alone, now. At least the hum of The Konstantin through his chair was familiar. But a few memories to hang on to would go a long way. Byproduct of cryo-sleep, he supposed. There must be something he was forgetting. Maybe in more skilled hands, the repairs —

The clatter of arthropodal legs on the steel panels under the console roused him from his ruminations. Sklyx was wedged under the nav panel. Its pointed abdomen stuck out, waggling furiously. The star map flashed and went dark.

“Sklyx,” Baran shouted as he lurched forward in the chair. He froze as the map flicked back to life. The Konstantin’s location blinked clearly in a bright, red contrast to the the cool blue of the starfield. “What did you do?” he asked. The question began sharply, but the anger was replaced with awed disbelief by the time he finished.

Sklyx kept waggling and his back legs slid furiously, unable to find purchase on the metal floor. Baran smirked as he realized his companion was stuck. His hands hovered, one hand on either side of the Sklyx’s hind-quarters as he took a breath. The oil-slick patterning shifted wildly. Then he grabbed the creature. Its shell was cooler than the air, smooth and dry. The fluctuating patterns spiraled around his hands, waves of rainbow color pulsated from where his fingers made contact. He pulled, and Sklyx popped free from the maintenance hatch and back into Baran’s lap as they fell backwards through the hologram.

“Calm down, Sklyx.” said Baran with a chuckle. “You were panicked, that’s all. I don’t know what you did, but you got the computer working again. Nice job, buddy.”

Realizing it was free, Sklyx’s patterning slowed to gentle ripples. One of its antennae brushed against Baran’s cheek and he felt a tingle like static electricity.

“OK, that’s enough now.” Baran hefted Sklyx off and got to his feet. There were still gaps in the map’s data, but now they could plot a course. The Konstantin’s fuel gauge indicated enough power left to make a jump or two, and hopefully find a station capable of making repairs.

Sklyx clacked its mandibles excitedly as it gestured with its antennae towards a star cluster not too far away. An binary system, but the name designation was still garbled.

“What’s there? Is that home?”

Sklyx sang an upbeat tune, the feathered antennae vibrated so quickly the air rippled, distorting the hologram.

“Well, that’s where we’ll go, then. Sound good?” Baran tapped a series of commands in the console and the starmap updated indicating their course towards Sklyx’s planet. He didn’t remember the computer working this fast when plotting a new route. Surely, Sklyx couldn’t have made improvements to the computer? No way of knowing.

He supposed the atmosphere there must be compatible—then again, maybe these creatures didn’t breathe at all. Sklyx might be friendly, but he wondered about the rest of its race. Hopefully they wouldn’t try to eat him on sight. Then a more sentimental thought hit him. He wondered if Sklyx had a mate, or family of some sort. Did they live long enough to be waiting at home, holding out hope that Sklyx might one day return?

There was one way to find out. Baran locked in the flight path and the hum of the engine grew to a rumble then a high pitched whine. Motion trails flew from his hands, Sklyx, and the ship all around him, like looking at a mirror through a mirror. Then everything froze. For a moment, even his thoughts stopped. Then the wormhole was closed behind them and space returned to normal. Dead ahead, Sklyx’s planet glowed under the spectrum of dual stars.

The Konstantin circled into orbit, and the readout indicated breathable air. More importantly, signs of life. “Are you ready, Sklyx? We’re heading down.”

Sklyx hopped to the co-pilot’s chair and its antennae stretched towards the viewscreen as they entered the atmosphere. Foreign mountain ranges and oceans grew larger as the ship descended and Sklyx grew more excited. They’re not foreign to Sklyx, Baran realized. This is its-his?-her? home. Maybe they didn’t even use pronouns like that. It was Sklyx’s home.

Sklyx ran to the airlock before the ship even settled on a rocky patch of soil protected on three sides by low hills. Baran popped the hatch and out bounded Sklyx. As Baran exited, Sklyx dropped to the ground. Mandibles clacked and legs tapped rhythmically on flat stones in time with a slow bowing of Sklyx’s antennae. The Captain felt the rumble of the low frequency call in his feet as it reverberated through Sklyx’s body and into the ground.

It grew stronger and louder, and Baran realized it was coming from deep under the soil. Closer until even the metal of The Konstantin clattered on the stony turf. Then the ground erupted all around them as burrows reached the surface and they were surrounded by hundreds of Sklyx’s species.

Sklyx scrambled up and spun around, momentarily ecstatic, tweeting a high pitched vibrato. Sklyx froze in place before drooping in dismay. The silence weighed heavy, and Baran finally realized none of the Sklyx-species returned his friend’s call. None of them could. Their antennae were gone.

A few stumps and stubs of antennae remained, wiggling impotently. This wasn’t evolution at work. They were intentionally silenced. Butchered. Baran felt rage boil in his throat like acid, but he too, was unable to communicate with them.

“Sklyx,” he implored, “what do we do?”

Sklyx returned his question with the grim note of a plaintive violin. Baran felt the despair in it, and the hardened military man crumbled inside. The anger drained to a sick pit in his stomach. He reached towards his companion and placed a hand on Sklyx’s serrated foreleg. The iridescent pattern, this time, swirled towards Baran’s hand, and where he touched was like the eye of a storm.

But their moment of mourning was cut short as they heard the buzz of engines in the distance. Another ship moved towards them, and from the sound, Baran knew it moved fast.

He negotiated the ranks of Sklyx’s brethren as he ran for The Konstantin. Rather than burrowing for cover, they seemed paralyzed. Baran called for his companion to follow, but Sklyx too, was paralyzed.

From the cover of his ship, Captain Baran drew his sidearm and flipped the safety. Like everything else, the nuclear pill that powered his weapon was nearly depleted, but it was still good for a few shots.

As the unknown vessel approached, he caught a song similar to Sklyx’s and understood why none of the native species could move. The call somehow subdued them, in the same way Sklyx could summon the others. He hadn’t considered it until now, but Baran seemed to understand the gist of Sklyx’s calls, and gleaned the meaning on some basic level. How could the creature convey human emotions he would recognize through song? It must be more than that. They might be some sort of empathic group consciousness. He was just picking up on the fringes of the cloth, but the Sklyx-species here seemed inextricably woven together. The entire species mutilated to prevent uprising, and however they were bonded, that was being hijacked.

But the time for introspection was over as a helix-shaped craft whistled overhead. The spinning ship generated the hums that froze Sklyx in place. Baran ducked under the short atmospheric aileron and hugged the hull of his ship. An aquiline wedge of a ship floated over the crest of the hill and touched down near The Konstantin. Its own landing door dropped open and Baran leveled his pistol.

Two humanoid figures emerged, shining in the harsh light. For a split second he thought they might be robots, drones of some kind, and he wrapped his finger around the trigger. But as they came closer and passed through the shadow of their shuttle, he saw human faces through their windowed helmets.

He felt his bile rise at the same time he felt relief. Helping Sklyx lead directly to finding other people, but he didn’t expect them to be the subjugators of Sklyx’s home planet. Time for some answers.

“Freeze. Don’t move,” Baran shouted. They spun to see him huddled against his ship, gun aimed squarely at them and complied. Captain Baran rose slowly and walked towards them with a measured pace, never lowering the pistol. He was close enough to make out their features, through their visor-glass. “What’s going on here?”

They couldn’t disguise their surprise as they saw him, and the closer of the two struggled to speak, as though she had forgotten how. Then he heard her voice in his head, muffled like a staticky intercom. “This is The Konstantin! How did you . . . where did you find it?”

“What do you mean?” Baran replied. “It’s my ship. I’ve been the captain since. . . .” But he didn’t know when. “How are you doing this? Talking to me?”

She seemed confused at first, then answered like it was obvious, “Through our implants.” Her intonation rose at the end, as if a question.

“Keep going.”

“Umm . . . we harvest the antennae of the Talam and once processed they’re implanted around the speech center of the brain. It enables telepathic communication. You wouldn’t be able to hear me if you didn’t have one. Everybody has one, they’re implanted at birth. So. . . .”

Baran ran his hand through his greying hair and felt the thin stripe of a scar on his scalp. It couldn’t be. “How dare you. This isn’t right.”

“Look, we’re just administrators, OK? Farmers, basically. We’ve been here for generations. Thousands of years, harvesting the Talam. They’re just bugs.”

“They’re not—” Baran couldn’t restrain his anger any longer and fired a shot into the ground near their feet. The soil evaporated under the blast to a small, hardened crater.

“OK, OK,” she said, as the two raised their hands in alarm. “Calm down. No one needs to get hurt. Just come back to plant with us and we can work something out. TalCorp keeps the location of this planet a closely guarded secret. I’m sure we can get you anything you want to keep it that way. Pretty clever of you, stealing The Konstantin to get the coordinates.”

“That’s my ship!” Baran retorted.

“Can’t be. The Konstantin’s been archived on Earth for thousands of years. One of the first warp drive ships. The entire planet’s a museum nowadays. Captain Baran was the brave explorer who discovered the Talam. I wasn’t even sure it was real. Never been to Earth.”

His own people turned him into what? A monument to his own achievements? Baran felt the edge of madness creeping towards him. His head spun.

“Enough.” he said. “Turn off that signal. Free Sklyx. The Talam.”

“We can’t. It’s a subconscious process. We generate the subdue signal and it’s amplified through the rebroadcasters,” she said, gesturing towards the helix-shaped device floating overhead. “Our implants are designed that way.”

Whether by nefarious design, or degradation from cryo-sleep, Baran couldn’t remember any of this. It must be true, they didn’t have reason to concoct such a lie. “Take me back to your base,” he commanded, and marched the two back onto their shuttle.

“Send the coordinates to The Konstantin.”

The woman closed her eyes for a moment. “It’s done.”

“Now release Sklyx. They’re paralyzed.”

“I told you, we can’t. Once we leave the area, the Talam will be able to move again, back to their breeding tunnels.”

Captain Baran was at his breaking point. If this was the way humanity turned out he had enough of it. “”Off the ship—”

“But—”

“Out!” The two ran down the ramp to the stony ground outside. Baran took a deep breath and steady his nerves. He checked his pistol charge. Then he fired. One shot, and the man dropped. Second shot, and the woman fell beside him. The gun’s energy was spent, and so was Baran’s.

The signal stopped and in a matter of seconds, the Talam returned to their burrows, leaving Sklyx standing alone, staring at Baran.

Cautiously, Sklyx approached him, and edged around the slain humans. Baran felt emotionless. His mind was blank. He closed his eyes and concentrated on Sklyx. Can you hear me?

The reply wasn’t like talking to the people. It was fuzzy, odd. But he understood. Yes.

I’m sorry, Sklyx. I’m going to put a stop to this. That’s not even your name. What should I call you?

It is good. Sklyx is the song of our bond. It is not my name, but what is between us. Yes?

We have a long road ahead. Will you travel with me?

Yes.

“Thank you, Sklyx. I’m sorry.” Baran boarded The Konstantin. Not enough fuel to get to another system, but enough to achieve his current purpose. He activated the remote pilot. The coordinates to the processing facility were already programmed. He took one last look around, then climbed out. He solemnly closed the hatch for the final time.

Baran and Sklyx rose high in the air aboard the TalCorp ship, and far off in the distance, they saw the spires of the plant. With a few console commands, The Konstantin lifted off the ground and made its lonely way towards the compound. They watched as it shrank to a dot. Then there was a blinding flash and The Konstantin was no more. The facility was no more.

Sklyx’s song echoed through the cabin of their acquired ship. Baran felt comfort and hope. He worked his way through the ultra-modern computer, with a little luck (or he hoped not, telepathic intervention), found the flight plans that would take them to the corporate headquarters world of TalCorp. He set it as their heading. He asked Sklyx again if he wanted to stay here. Sklyx continued the hopeful song for another moment before Baran deciphered a lucid thought from: I can hear the eggs. They are strong and growing. They will wait. We must save them. Let’s go.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

A Dark Day
1379 w

I slip out to the bar under the cover of darkness. There were never streetlights on this stretch and the pavement’s uneven; but I’ve felt every crack and jumble in this sidewalk a thousand times. Feet just know where to go, so I let them lead. Sometimes it takes longer than the ol’ brain would like. But I always get there.

Once in awhile, I’ll catch a voice, “Hey buddy, you OK?”

I’ve always shrugged them off, “I’m not going too far.” So what if I’m stumbling a little? It’s the sidewalk, not me. I got this. What are you supposed to say, anyway, when a stranger offers an arm to steady you and maybe help you home, but you’re heading down to the Lighthouse with a pocket full of booze money?

So I just shrug them off and stagger on. A little faster to get on my way and out from the stares I can feel burning into my back. It’s never anger. I’d be fine with that. Or if they just cruised on by with the blinders on like I wasn’t even there. So there’s nothing to even note their passing except the ghost of light perfume on the breeze as they brush past. No, pity burns the hottest. That fire fills me up and beads up on my forehead. The sweat comes out cold, and lingers until I wipe it away.

Then, there’s the smell of slightly rancid fry-grease mingled with some pot smoke, and before I turn the corner, I know I’ve arrived. The cook’s out back behind the dumpster taking a break from the kitchen. “Come out with your hands up,” I shout. There’s a clatter.

“Relax, Billy. It’s just me, Dan.”

“Oh, hey, man. You want a hit?” The question whistles through the gap where his front teeth used to be as he holds as much breath in as he can. He puts the little one-hitter in my hand, and it’s just enough to lighten the pressure in my head and put that feeling of electricity right behind my eyes.

He gives one of those knowing laughs like he’s just done me the biggest solid in the world, then he’s back to work and I head in. The Lighthouse used to be a nice place, but the rustic, unfinished timber beams around the entrance haven’t been oiled in forever. I can’t help but run my fingers over the jamb, and it’s always the same—sandpaper and micro-splinters.

Inside’s the same too. Every patron’s an abandoned DIY project half-done, or something nice that was left to slowly rot away. It’s tough to pity upwards, and, at least here, I’m near the top of the pecking order. It’s perfect.

Old Jeff is just finishing up on the karaoke machine and I’m barely inside when he announces my presence on the mic like some wedding reception. “Dan! Long time no see!” He says that every night. Regulars humor, I guess. We’re both always here.

But he’s good for a round or two if I sing for my supper. So I always do. I’ve belted Sweet Caroline so many times I don’t need the screen. Everybody bah-bah-bahs along and before I’m done, there’s a shot at the bar waiting. There always is. It’s routine.

With the puff from Billy and the singing I feel like my head might float away, and I’m glad I have a couple rolls of dollar coins in my pocket to keep me weighed down. Have to go to the bank special to get them, but at the end of the night, sometimes it’s just too hard to keep track, and I wouldn’t trust Tom the Bartender to give me the right change if I accidentally gave him a fifty instead of a five. The little slugs of fake gold work just fine. Two for a beer, two for a shot. Four for a fancy drink. I imagine Tom just takes the same coins to the bank and the cycle repeats.

I’m scratching a notch in the edge of one of those coins to test my theory when Joanna hops on the barstool beside me. Don’t have to turn my head to know it’s her. You can time the deflation of the vinyl cushion under her bony rear end. One mississip, two mississip, three mississip. Slowest hiss in the business.

“Buy me a drink, stranger,” she says. Regular humor, again. But I flick three coins out of the roll and place the notched one on top. Joanna likes getting a little umbrella in her drink.

“How’ve you been, Joanna?”

“Oh, you know. The usual. My ex is up my rear end about the kid—Little Mike’s is seventeen and if he wants to drop out, then I can’t stop him. He’s working down at the garage and he’s good at it. They make those custom bikes, hot rods or whatever they call them. Big Mike keeps pressuring him for college, and well, you know. Some people aren’t just cut out for it.”

Tom the Bartender delivers her umbrella drink, and she continues until she’s just kind of white noise. Before long the entire place is a background hum. Then Joanna decides it’s time to pay me back for the drinks and she takes my hand. Leads me to the bathroom.

With my forehead pressed between her shoulderblades, I breathe her in, and through the piss/disinfectant haze she smells good. A lightly perfumed ghost. She bites down on the knuckle of my thumb as I’m taking her from behind. I grab her face, running my fingers down her cheeks and over the dimples of old acne scars and imagine she’s encoded her own sadness as a secret message there, just for me.

Then she reaches back to grab at me and knocks my glasses to the floor and they go sliding. I feel around to grab them off the floor before they get too contaminated and I pass over something unmistakable in her jeans pocket, slung around her ankles.

“Joanna, is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

“I’m scared of Big Mike, Dan. He gets angrier every time I see him. He’s going to do something. I’m scared.”

“OK.” I separate from her, and hike my pants up. This wasn’t fun anymore. “Look, if you want me to do something. . . .”

“Let’s just stay here until closing and then hopefully it’ll be too late for Mike to come around the house and cause trouble.”

As if on cue, I hear a barstool get knocked to the floor and the shattering of glass. There’s a shout.

“Oh god, it’s Mike. He’s here,” she says. She hustles her pants up and fiddles with the gun. There’s a click as she flips the safety off.

There’s more noise outside. Old Jeff yells, “He’s got a gun, everybody get down.”

“Get down,” Joanna commands. “We’ll crawl out. If he catches us in here, I’m dead. I’m turning off the lights.”

I feel my way to the door and slowly push it open. Joanna crawls behind me. She screams, then lunges over me, knocking me flat on my belly. There’s a scuffle and suddenly the gun slides right into my hand.

“Danny,” Joanna shouts. “Hurry. Help! Shoot him!” I don’t like this one bit, but I don’t have much choice. Joanna needs me.

The gun wavers in my hand with each pulse. My whole head throbs and the only thing I can see is throbbing red specks. I can’t do it. I just lay my cheek on the cool tile and squeeze my eyes closed. It’ll go away.

“Danny!” Joanna screams and a man comes dropping down on top of me. Heavy cologne. I just do it. Bam-bam-bam. It echoes like the karaoke response. Then nothing. For a long while.

“Joanna?” I say. Nothing. “Joanna?” I call again. Nothing. Then she whispers, “Don’t worry Danny, we didn’t see a thing. Did we, Mike? Grab the register and let’s go. Oh, here’s your sunglasses, Dan. But maybe don’t wear them when the cops get here, yeah? Those eyes are your alibi, killer.”

Then I hear Old Jeff finally rousing his fat body. “Oh, god,” he says. “Tom’s dead. You killed him.” I never saw it coming.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

hadoukIN

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Riley's Last Ride
999 Words


It was a dog-eared night in March—a page out of my life that I’ve read one too many times; camera in hand, sitting behind the wheel of my old sedan. More putty and rust than good American steel, the one you hear for blocks before you see it and when you do you wonder how it hasn’t crumbled to dust and blown away under a stiff breeze. Click.

The john zips his fly and tucks his shirt as he walks out of the alley between the Chinese restaurant and the burned-out peep show on the corner. The rotten core didn’t heal or disappear. It just spilled out into the streets. Click.

The alleys and dive bars are simple; up in the shining towers across the river, somebody’s grudge can bring half the city down with them. Or they just wall themselves away and forget about the mess they made. Click.

But that’s what pays my bills. You can pay an army of computer hackers, or one dope with a camera to catch a rich dope with his pants down. This particular dope still tucking his shirt is some city councilman. And this explains why he’s been stuffing up the votes on redeveloping the block. Got a proclivity for slumming it and doesn’t want his backalley hooker to lose her place of business. Sweet guy. I wouldn’t wish gentrification on my worst enemy, but anything’s better than the rows of rotten teeth that line 103rd. Click.

Councilman rounds the corner to the SUV idling under the lone streetlight. And then a set of brass knuckles wedged on a hamhock of a fist comes through my window and smashes the camera into my face. They pay me to take pictures, not muse. I screwed up. Didn’t notice the bodyguard slip around behind my rustbucket. Before I can get it together, the lug hauls me out the window like a side of beef on his meathooks and I flop to the greasy pavement. poo poo.

A taste of iron before I catch a breath and the flashbang fades to sharp throbs. Nose broken. Again. I squint up through eyes I can already feel swelling shut and see a painfully familiar face. “Billygoat. What the hell, man?”

“Three strikes, Riley,” he says. “You’re out.” Billygoat’s always been small potatoes, running numbers and a protection racket, and we’ve had nickel-and-dime dust-ups. Sonuvabitch broke my nose before, too. Now he’s schooling with a shark and I only brought a minnow net.

“Hold on a minute.” But Billygoat heaves me up. The toes of my shoes scrape along as he yank-carries me across the street and down the piss-stained stairs to a basement lair under the charred corpse of the theater.

He drops me in a wobbly chair and sits across a sticky table between me and the door. He pours two shots and holds his up. “You’ve been a pain in my rear end. Very naughty spying on Hayes. He doesn’t like people following him. To goodbyes. It was nice knowing you, Riley.” Billygoat takes his shot, and I wipe the half-crusted blood from my lip before following suit.

He slams the shot glass down and leans his scruffy face in close towards mine, “Time’s up.”

The Saturday night special under the table in my left is pointed squarely at the bulge in his too-tight jeans. “I know.” Never been a gun guy, but something just felt off this morning, and for once, I’m glad I followed my instincts. Billygoat was probably right—I wouldn’t make it out of this rathole; but I’d do some damage on the way out. “Have another drink,” I say. “This is going to hurt.”

Click. Click. Nothing. poo poo. Billygoat’s eyes go wide at the sound of the gunhammer. The cheap gun’s betrayal cracks louder than the Fourth of July. Run down the checklist for survival fighting. Go for the orbs. The big lug’s nuts are too far away for anything but playing footsies. Oh, but those bloodshot eyes are right there.

I slam the shot glass into his right orbit like breaking into a creme broulee. There’s a quick crunch then the smooth squish as the glass presses into his socket and his eyeball fills the glass with a sick suction sound like a novelty stress ball. 103rd Street Monocle.

Billygoat roars and the table flips, sending me sprawling. In an instant, he’s on top of me and I feel my ribs cracking under his knee. I cock him in the temple with the butt of the gun before he tears it from my hand and it flips away into the darkness.

But it stuns him just enough for me to flip him sideways and for a moment we’re side-by-side on the ragged linoleum, two busted up skulls staring skyward and seeing black mold and asbestos where heaven ought to be.

The reverie ends as he heaves his big brass-knuckled hand over his body and my ribs crackle like paper under the blow. The supernova’s right around the corner as things start to get dim and bright all at the same time.

I focus on the quick short stabs as I breathe shallow and it’s enough to clear my head and I struggle to my feet. Billygoat starts getting to his feet and I just open-palm punch him right in the shot glass. He drops back to the floor. I topple down on top of him and I just push and twist that glass until I feel the grit of glass grinding on bone.

He finally goes slack. Even this tough old goat has a breaking point. Still breathing, at least. The arduous trek back to the car takes longer than I ever thought possible. Hayes and his SUV long gone.

The street is quiet, for once. It’s like they can sense the change coming. A little memory card filled with dirty pictures and protected with way too much of my blood is going to change lives, mine too. Consider me retired.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

:siren: Thunderdome Week CCXL: These Bits Don't Ad Up :siren:



Word Count Max: 1500
Sign-up Deadline: Friday, March 10, 11:59PM EST
Submission Deadline: Sunday, March 12, 11:59PM EST


Here's a gallery of snippets from retro video game ads that I've gathered: http://imgur.com/a/2Epmj

Use your assigned art as inspiration for your story. Most are old plotless games; but if you know the game in the ad, don't rehash the plot. No fanfics or stories where people sit around playing video games, either. That's it for content rules.

Here's the game:

Post a piece of art from the gallery with your entry and that art is assigned to whomever signed up directly before you. So entrant 2 chooses the inspiration art for entrant 1, entrant 3 chooses for entrant 2 and so on. There's forty or so ads, so pick an ad that hasn't been assigned yet.

First person to enter gets to subtract 300 words from another entrant, to be used before submissions close on Friday or forfeited.

Once sign-ups close, I'll choose the artwork for the final person to enter.

Requesting judge assists, too.

Judges:
The Cut of Your Jib
Fuschia tude
Player 3


Entrants:

Uranium Phoenix - https://i.imgur.com/ALAS2tc.jpg (gets to choose someone for 1200 word limit)
Okua - https://i.imgur.com/6VQl51U.jpg
Benagain - https://i.imgur.com/vbet5F8.jpg
Hawklad - https://i.imgur.com/GrqSTqy.jpg
Jay W. Friks - https://i.imgur.com/sJxmKKF.jpg
Chili - https://i.imgur.com/BoCAdCg.jpg
llamaguccii :toxx: - https://i.imgur.com/jyH2Wr9.jpg
Bad Seafood - https://i.imgur.com/yWWQ9hx.jpg
Gau :toxx: - https://i.imgur.com/7hNh0NH.jpg
GenJoe - https://i.imgur.com/7qraHUA.jpg
Thranguy - https://i.imgur.com/q2ipsKl.jpg
Beige - https://i.imgur.com/0Dw245b.jpg
Metrofreak - https://i.imgur.com/Qd6bRXg.jpg
Mrenda - https://i.imgur.com/20fCvRK.jpg
sparksbloom - https://i.imgur.com/igSu6bn.jpg
Solitair - https://i.imgur.com/cWrygtP.jpg

The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 03:12 on Mar 12, 2017

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER


ok image posted

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

GenJoe posted:

bitch please

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER


:toxx: game on

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Sign-ups now closed. Deadline is EST, Sunday March 12, 11:59PM

Uranium Phoenix - https://i.imgur.com/ALAS2tc.jpg
Okua - https://i.imgur.com/6VQl51U.jpg
Benagain - https://i.imgur.com/vbet5F8.jpg
Hawklad - https://i.imgur.com/GrqSTqy.jpg
Jay W. Friks - https://i.imgur.com/sJxmKKF.jpg
Chili - https://i.imgur.com/BoCAdCg.jpg
llamaguccii :toxx: - https://i.imgur.com/jyH2Wr9.jpg
Bad Seafood - https://i.imgur.com/yWWQ9hx.jpg
Gau :toxx: - https://i.imgur.com/7hNh0NH.jpg
GenJoe (1200 Word Limit) - https://i.imgur.com/7qraHUA.jpg
Thranguy - https://i.imgur.com/q2ipsKl.jpg
Beige - https://i.imgur.com/0Dw245b.jpg
Metrofreak - https://i.imgur.com/Qd6bRXg.jpg
Mrenda - https://i.imgur.com/20fCvRK.jpg
sparksbloom - https://i.imgur.com/igSu6bn.jpg
Solitair - https://i.imgur.com/cWrygtP.jpg

The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 05:22 on Mar 11, 2017

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Submission window is now closed.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Metrofreak posted:

Edit: Ah gently caress. Fuckin daylight savings. I guess I'm out. So do I take this down or what?

You're in for the week. But don't blame the time change, unless you set you live in a place where daylight savings is two hours

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

:siren: Week 240 These Bits Don't Ad Up Judge Post :siren:

Thanks to Fuschia tude for acting as co-judge


Loser
As Cool as Slate by Jay W. Friks

Sorry, buddy. The prose felt right out of high school, and it was almost so bad it's good, but you went way over the word count and still only gave us half a story. If it had as kooky an ending as the rest it might have been a classic. If you're going to go for broke, write 5000 words and at least finish the drat thing.

DMs
No Shirt? No Shoes? A Gun Will Do. by Chili

There's just nothing behind the cool luchador masks. Rather than let Jake work out his problems, Michael (the level-headed one) deals with Jake's daddy issues by shooting him in the face. The dialogue tried to be from the streets, but it comes across as that sincere, uncomfortable impression a teacher uses to connect.

Sorry for the DM. I hope WE COOL

Do You Trust Me? by Mrenda

Roofies and tacos and poop and pee might be sexy, but they don't equal love. You wrote a black widow serial killer story, and the twist ending had potential, but you had to go and make it weird.


:siren: Winner :siren:
Reboot the War by Hawklad

There was a big grey middle and lots of pros and cons to each story. Reboot is far from perfect, but the author tackled a tough theme and put together a decent sci-fi yarn with the hallmarks of that post-Vietnam era disillusionment.

Quite a few stories had interesting premises or clean execution but no real characters, and a couple had decent characters without a plot or satisfying resolution.

Hawklad wasn't the best in any single category, but doing pretty well in theme, plot, and character and execution gave him the win over a perfect score in just one or two.

More robust comments posted shortly.

:siren: Hawklad wins Week 240 :siren:

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Week 240 Judge Comments

Here’s my rough rank order for the middle, but it’s not clearly delineated. Nothing was so great that we both wanted to HM it, and Fuschia had different HM candidates than I did, so in the end we scrapped the lot.

Metrofreak - Darlin
Strong tone with an intense vibe. Main character is a blank slate. It comes close to working, but the tension is too slack for too long.

Uranium Phoenix - Once Forgotten
Not really a story, just some dimestore philosophizing. I liked it as a little writing experiment but wasn’t exciting or powerful enough to win a story contest.

GenJoe - Moral Imperatives
Clean prose, great execution, but you literally say it’s one of the oldest pranks in the book and it is. Nothing new to see here.

Thranguy - The Helpline
First 200 words drag it down. Presented hints at an interesting world, but the POV is removed from the real action. The cubicle farm/helpline gimmick could have worked if you committed to only hearing one side of the conversation rather than bringing the victim to the helpline offices.

Gau - Capture

Another one with clean execution and clear action, but it starts out a little boring and the characters are stock stereotypes.

Bad Seafood - Henpecked
A fun trifle, but there’s no real conflict or stakes. The protag is never really in actual jeopardy or any sort of predicament that leads to fun.

Solitair - Together in the Same Boat
Second half is a decent character piece about uncertain youth, but you have to get through a dumb beginning about flame hands and John Oliver to get there.

Okua - A storm in a two-storey house
Zeus came to my house on a lighting bolt and I was still bored. So I asked him to bang my mom.

---
Blind judged crits. I didn’t look at the inspiration art first, just read. Adherence to art had no impact on my decisions, but I did go back and look to see what you pulled just for funsies. Most were surprising and I liked how you interpreted them.

I tended to ask a lot of questions and throw hypothetical story ideas, it’s my way of finding story problems. I like to look at the works as wholes and break them down rather than just doing line-by-line copyediting. I hope this is helpful in thinking about how and where the below-average reader (me) got stuck or drifted off.

These are in post order from the thread.
---


Okua
A storm in a two-storey house


Well, I for one, did not see Zeus coming. You get it? Get it?

The first paragraph is fine and I like the imagery. Ben is playing video games and casting spells, and I knew teens just like that. You pulled me into the story and I’m interested to see where it goes.

But then it falls apart.

I can see some hints that maybe Ben gets electrocuted in the storm and actually dies at the end, but there’s not enough to make it resonate. He hooks his Mom up with the biggest philanderer in mythology and that’s supposed to make her happy? Ben knows the stories and so does Mom. That’s the one thing they used to talk about, so it’s not like Zeus even has to pull his usual tricks and disguises routine to get some action.

Zeus is Zeus, and he plays the “old god in modern times” routine. Zeus is tolerable as a character in your story even if it’s been done before. But Ben is so nonchalant about Zeus dropping in that he maintains his boredom. The bored main character is boring.

The real relationship in the story is Ben and his Mother, and they don’t have any personal resolution at the end. Ben sends his proxy to hook up with his mother and hopes to hear the details later. This isn’t even ignorance on your part—you call him a seducer. I’m left with a queasy feeling after reading this.

The piece starts casual and the contractions help move it along. “He’d given up on beating the level . . . He didn't even move.” But then the style becomes stilted. It switches from swift prose to a slog in a hurry.

If the first dialogue exchange with Mom is supposed to be playful, it doesn’t come across that way. If my teen said “Hey, nothing’s happened here.” I’d want to investigate. At that point in the story, though, it’s totally sincere. These people are boring. If Mom came home after Zeus arrived, and Ben tried to hide him or there were other hijinks from a god crashing around the room that would be interesting.

It takes a long time for Zeus to enter the story, and you would have been better served to have Zeus and Ben talk about Mom or spooning the info over the course of the story rather than exposition dumping at the beginning.

Like Paris: I’m rusty on my ancient lit, but I guess you mean Paris from the Iliad. On first read, though, I read it as Paris, France. So maybe choose a more widely known reference or add some context. Even swapping that to Helen of Troy would make your point without stopping the story. If your entire story was chock full of references, I’d let it slide and that would be neat to run through all the mythology backstories, but this really stands out.


Gau
Capture


I tried to put aside the real-world details and let the story play out, but it was tough. Starting with the date I immediately said ‘oh poo poo, Challenger.’ And that tension rides in the back of the mind the whole way through.
At first I thought that was a good thing, but it actually kind of hurts it because there’s no way you can have another tragedy and government cover-up that close in time to a big public one in what is ostensibly a straightforward space adventure. So by the time Chen is knocked unconscious I’ve already realized that either he’s going to be saved and have a sappy ending or it’s going to be a callous, potentially gross ending.

You chose wisely and the epilogue is a sweet, feel-good moment. Your tech talk and action descriptions are pretty good (though I wonder if someone in the cockpit would check a wrist chronometer instead of the console). There’s no confusion in the blocking or what’s going on. Even with the terms it wasn’t difficult to read.

I don’t mind character sketches when your prose is primarily action, but these veer a little too much into stereotypes. The veteran commander; the athletic black man; the emotional woman (she’s actually surprised that she’s cool under pressure); and the science Asian.

If mission control gave an order and the entire crew disobeyed it to save Chen, that would be more heroic. Even with the given mission parameters, I find it hard to believe that they would be willing to ditch a fellow astronaut, and especially given Griffin’s past, I’d expect him to have a “not this time” moment.

Also not sure why the spy satellite is disguised. NASA must have tracked the rocket launch to get the satellite’s orbit, and there’s no way they’d randomly run into a satellite while doing other missions without it being a catastrophe. Same with USSR tracking a shuttle launch. It’s such an undertaking you can’t really hide that from another superpower; so your ticking clock isn’t such a big deal. And launching at night would make the shuttle is more visible to the naked eyes of human spies.

If there was secret spy tech that the US wanted to retrieve and reverse engineer, then Chen frying the circuits makes no sense. If they just wanted to destroy it, there are much easier ways than a shuttle mission.

Making it a more fictional space adventure glosses over a lot of these real world questions. The setting works against you when you put in specifics that a reader might question. I'd probably take at face value the Glorbon Federation launching a disguised satellite around the moon of Earth II.

Anyway, on first read this one tricked me into thinking it was pretty good; but there are a lot of plot holes and wimpy characterizations. Decent writer wrote a bad story.


Mrenda
Do You Trust Me?


I feel like I got my medication mixed up. There’s an interesting premise here: a black widow playing house while she murders a boyfriend on the same day every five years. And the twist with mislabeled poisons and antidotes was cool. But the execution (pun) is dreadful.

Firstly, I’m not sure where my sympathies are supposed to sit. Nick has +5 in scumbag. It’s unclear if [unnamed woman] had some trauma in the past or if she’s just hardwired to kill. That’s not really explored, and there’s really just a bunch of horribly sexist dialogue and even though it seems to be part of [woman’s] plan, all she does is act like a subservient housewife for 364 days a year.

I mean, I haven’t read it, but I heard about 50 Shades of Grey so I know a little something about the sub/dom scene, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t it. I think both people have to be cognisant that it’s happening. Otherwise Nick is just an rear end in a top hat and [woman] seems smart enough to see that. Where’s the arousal in playing slave to an oblivious dickhead? Thunderdome probably isn’t the best place to write about kinks, but you throw that word around and then leave it vague. The most interesting thing was me imagining Nick’s orc erotica journals. Why did you cut off [woman] before she explains why she does what she does? Aaaargh.

This whole ordeal is supposed to be some sort of trust exercise, but even the rules on that aren’t clear. She wants Nick to figure the puzzle out, but I guess he wasn’t smart enough to find all the pieces, so he dies. Was he supposed to give in and accept the antidote to gain her trust? Dunno. Prepped suicide note suggests otherwise, unless that was a just-in-case.

Surely she didn’t need to put up with this loser for that long to realize he wasn’t the one. You can find plenty of dopes (willing or otherwise) to roofie and pose like a doll who aren’t lousy human beings. And poop. You better write something amazing when you start off with a poo poo-caked toilet. This isn’t really a no-holds-barred gross out story, so that’s just a weird detail that doesn’t fit except to reduce my opinion of both characters.

This looks carefully proofread, so you spent some time on it, but man, there’s a lot of awkward prose. I wonder if this author has a case of English as a second language, that would explain a lot. Even forgiving that, the characters are yucky to read about and the motivations don’t exist. Truelife serial killers are always fascinating trainwrecks, so you have to work pretty hard to write an uninteresting one.


Hawklad
Reboot the War


This one is so close to being great. There’s a long stretch where it seems it’s just a robot and HK-47 having to adapt to civilian life would be neat, but then about halfway through it gets complicated with meatware. So was this a human who was gradually replaced over years of military service? That could have been an interesting wrinkle as it looks at other augmented civilians and maybe prejudice and protesters. Or running into a memory-wiped vet rather than one who seems to be coping successfully. Paint both sides of the choice so the audience sees the options.

There are some details that don’t jibe like why SK-X11 doesn’t get (or already have) a civilian name and why it still has a pistol and targeting software. The memories as a killing machine are the big decision to keep or forget, but it seems like they’re setting SK up for failure by leaving all the military software.
I’d have like to maybe see SK improvise weapons and the paranoia when it doesn’t have targeting software and bomb detectors and infrared. If that has been deactivated and that’s why it can’t identify what’s in the passengers’ bags, then that’s not clear. I don’t think the sarge means to trick anyone by not telling him explicitly that SK has to adjust to life without it.

The adjustment of losing one of your senses would be a good addition and maybe a better reason for SK to seek out the drug/sim pusher. There’s no hint that Marcello can override the First Rule but I read the ending as SK possibly becoming a vigilante and clean up the streets. If Marcello only offers an escape through drugs, then it’s a weird resolution. Forgetting is bad, but numbing with drugs is OK?

I’m not a total sci-fi expert or anything, but I think a lot of stuff you wrote about was couched in the shiny nuclear ‘50s turning into the grungy Vietnam era, but you don’t really describe the city as a place SK would want to live or a city that doesn’t want him. Even the resolution of the train sequence seems calm. There’s no panicked meatbags screaming and pointing fingers at the killing machine jumping over seats and pulling a firearm. Just another friendly robot.

If you stripped out all the proprietary hardware and left SK as a decommissioned weapon abandoned after no longer being useful by an uncaring gov’t then you could go in some interesting cyberpunk directions, but the sarge is way too friendly and helpful and leaving the choice up to your protag means you straddle the line between eras and sub-genres without making a hard turn into either.

SK’s internal conflict needs to be fleshed out, and maybe some realization on his own that the train thing was bad. Not somebody else calmly telling him to get help. This isn’t like a public intoxication or something. It’s actually dangerous.

So take another look at this one, the premise has a lot of potential and the prose is decent for this type of story.


Thranguy
The Helpline


You have a few proofing errors that a spellcheck won’t catch: down instead of town; and think instead of thing.

You don’t need to start the story with “Five minutes earlier.” Skipping all that and starting with “Helpline, we solve impossible problems. This is Tori.” “My boyfriend is a literal monster.” is a much stronger way to open.

The speculation about the mysterious phone contact for the hotline doesn’t matter at all, and talking about the Cecil’s casework slows down the beginning. I doubt the Helpline should deal with mundane problems at all. Calling a lawyer or beating up/running a thug out of town isn’t all that impossible. There are 200 unnecessary words right at the beginning. Focus on the supernatural and cut all the rest.

You could add in something about ‘when people need our phone number, they find it’ later. Once magic is established it doesn’t need explained more. But all the details about their business model just leads to more questions.

Tori BSes saying that they’d do this on general principle, but for you the low, low price of your first born child. They’re not altruistic monster hunters, in fact Tori is a slave, traded in a pact to banish a demon and now she works for eternity in customer service. Truly, she is in hell.

But Tori seems sincere. The FBC sacrifices go to work for the Helpline. OK. But is it part of ‘capital H’ Hell? The significance of the three at the end are lost on me unless it’s ripping off The Dark Tower and they’re like the Low Men taking special kids. They certainly don’t seem to be angels or any sort of traditional demon hunters. I was also left wondering if Tori is Robin’s child, but there’s no recognition from Tori, she’s just a random cog in the machine.

There’s a lot of talk about dreams and nightmares that sets up the twist ending that Tori is FBC, and that’s fine, but considering dreams and nightmares is sort of subjective. The going to class in your underwear or teeth falling out are common ones that I think most people would call nightmares. Rooted in fear, not memories. You’re trying to establish that supernatural nightmares are actually real visions, but you can’t put it under a blanket statement like that.
(Also, they draw up contracts and have offices, so why can’t Tori just look up her casefile and find her mother?) It’s a twist for the sake of a twist and I wonder if you put the contract payments in to work towards that end.

The action is all glossed over in the wrong way, too. If you wanted the nonchalant corporate stuff to act as a shell for the supernatural, then it might have been better to have Tori and Sal eating lunch in their cubicles while talking people through blood sacrifices and banishings on headsets and gab with each other. There you can explore Tori’s crush on her gay co-worker and their relationship. Otherwise that line about Sal is out of place and jarring. Don’t bring Robin to the office. In fact, if Robin says ‘no’ to the FBC, then what? They let a demon eat people alive? Problem is identified and it’s just a matter of fact run-down of how it gets solved. Easy peasy. There’s no conflict. Put Robin back in the office building facing down her ex-boyfriend and banishing the bastard to hell. Then the hotline workers take another call.

There’s a lot of terminology but the rules and hierarchy of this magic world just aren’t explained very well. The premise is interesting but the POV is far removed from the actual action. You tried to have it both ways and it would have been more successful if you either focused on Tori or Robin separately rather than having them meet in person and going through all the bureaucracy.


Chili
No Shirt? No Shoes? A Gun Will Do.


You had me until Jake and Troy get into it. Two dopes in luchador masks robbing drug runners is a fine start. However, if they’ve done 17 robberies I don’t think they would have fallen for whatever is going on here.

There’s setup that Jake was abused by his dad at the beginning. I think Troy is just a stand-in for Jake’s actual father and he’s taking it out on Troy. That’s fine even if the guy in a luchador mask with a gun is cussing him out for letting his son be in a gang that passes notes. Here’s where it starts veering into parody. WE COOL

What is even going on with this? Street boss meets Troy in the alley and they make a deal to keep his kid off the streets. OK. Then he writes a note and gives it to Troy. Is it like a hall pass? Troy gets confronted by some corner boys and he pulls out the note saying WE COOL and they back off? Or is Troy’s son supposed to pin it to his chest like a scarlet letter and those bad gangbangers will stay away? It’s just absurd.

They won’t rob the manager where he does drug deals in the alley, it’s safer and less visible creating a hostage situation inside? It seems like Jake has an ulterior motive, but if Jake set this up and Michael was an unwitting accomplice in Jake robbing his own father, it’s not spelled out clearly.

Troy tries to fix his mistakes and Jake still gets furious about it. The outbursts are out of order. Jake needs to flip out then Troy reveal he tried to fix things. Jake takes his mask off and confronts father (or father proxy) face to face before claiming that the sins of the father are just too great.

While the single tear running down a cheek is almost always laughable you might have had Michael well up and plead with Jake while training a gun on him. Jake gets shot in the chest. Troy pulls up Jake’s mask and goes, “Son?” I mean it’s still corny but at least there’s a little pathos there. There’s no way I buy Michael shooting his partner over some nobody after 17 robberies and years of friendship.

But really the duo are grown men and scumbag robbers. It’s hypocritical for getting angry at Troy (who actually has the only character development). That can be interesting. You dangled a little bit with the daddy issues, but never had Jake have a realization. The reasonable one, Michael, pleads for sanity then actually guns down his bestie. Or you flip the ending. Michael tackles Jake and Jake shoots him so he can have a “What have I done” moment.

I dunno. I should have expected two guys in luchador masks to be silly, because this was. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was intentional.


Uranium Phoenix
Once Forgotten


Not sure about ruins being damp in Cairo unless he’s under the sewer, so um. I might have even skipped some of the other description of the tomb since it turns out not to matter. Just get the fear of the rats, and maybe make it clearer that he imagines something huge that turns out to be a normal rat. But whatever.

The setting is really just an excuse for some philosophizing. It isn’t subtle, but it isn’t cringe-worthy, either. There are just enough examples before Liam makes his realization that people can make anything a new normal that it flows well, and the examples are all fitting.

The main issue is how is Liam going to deal with the bully? That one really sticks out. The kid sitting on his chest and waving the x-acto knife is really good, but at the end it seems like Liam is just going to normalize and internalize that as part of life. That’s not great.

I rolled my eyes reading “I thought marid were water spirits.” and thought, oh, someone’s showing off the Wikipedia article they read. Then you got me with the Monster Manual. Great joke and good self-aware characterization.

This isn’t much of a story, but I like it as a piece of writing.


Solitair
Together in the Same Boat


Not sure why this guy doesn’t have time for a shower. I mean those Saturday at Noon birthday parties are usually the kind that drag on while relatives gab. And I doubt he’d be running so fast he skids to a stop while lugging a statue around. Those details and the whole bit about John Oliver just don’t make good character sense. It wouldn’t take much to look up some anime character and use that. If this is his friend, I’m sure he would have at least seen some show or memorabilia he could mimic, even from memory. You’ve invented Sculptor’s Panic. If you’re dead set on getting a John Oliver reference, then have guy make a Harry Potter thing for superfan Millie and she says she loves her John Oliver statue. I dunno, it’s just not funny, and it’s a thoughtless gift that actually is a hassle because heavy iron statue.

Then he still doesn’t care and plays with his phone rather than watching some dumbass anime that she likes. Good friend.

But anyway, I like how the story doesn’t make a big deal about super powers and they’re actually kind of a pain in the rear end to the protag.

After the my NERD REFERENCES are cool and your NERD REFERENCES are dumb, it gets into them just walking around and being friends. I don’t understand why a woman without makeup draws the attention of the cops, but beyond that, the second half with the aimless 20-something angst was much better than the first half.

The narrator is still selfish and doesn’t really do anything to cheer up Millie. He actually uses her to make himself feel better. But that feels realistic. People do that. This story is an odd duck. It’s got some ridiculous bits interwoven with some good material.

So the flash art was just inspiration and I only considered the words alone. But I did go back and look to see how everyone used it, and some I got a chuckle or “ah, that makes sense.” This one stumped me. There’s a mention of a cop, I guess. Did you just ignore it, use the wrong picture, or did I miss something?


GenJoe
Moral Imperatives


Redone version of the snipe hunt, a gag that’s old as dirt though you put a button on that. You set the stage well, and I didn’t see the ending coming so, in that sense it’s successful. Maybe the first sentence is a little rough, owner and sole proprietor is redundant; but the whole gentrification rant and Mike’s kids at the beginning is a nice subterfuge.

I didn’t feel a huge amount of tension throughout, narrator is more concerned with the smell rather than rescuing someone. If I were pulling this prank on someone I’d have the other crew moaning down into the sewer line from a manhole up the block so narrator either freaks out a little more or jumps in the sewer to be a hero.

It’s a really light-weight version of the prank. I’m reading this on my [i[iPad[/i] and the prose is pretty clean and readable.


Bad Seafood
Henpecked


For the love of god, why didn’t that egg fly back up that chicken’s butt?

I mean you set it up and made Claire a bad spellcaster and everything. But her spell worked perfectly. The master was supposed to be furious, but he didn’t really care. He just wanted his egg.

Not sure if at the end you meant “Claire froze,” instead of Henrietta, that seems off. If Henrietta had the egg back in her butt, and wizard says, now where’s my breakfast? *gulp* pulls on collar* then that would have been a punchline.

Why does the magic door allow the cockatrice to leave the house, especially considering the danger of the creature? That detail only adds a plothole.

Claire does question why the sailor is so into the chicken, but you don’t actually answer the question. He even pulls the boat ashore to grab Henrietta. There’s no good reason presented for him to put up that much of a fight over it. If he recognized the cockatrice as something rare and valuable, I can see it, but he doesn’t seem to know there’s anything unusual about Henrietta. Claire could have even just grabbed her run off at that point. Sailor isn’t going to abandon his boat to chase them.

And the egg. She rubbed some runes off before the boatman confronted her. So was Claire planning on hitting him in the head before he even said anything? Or did she screw up? Back again to the bad spellcaster setup. Her spells work exactly as hoped. They don’t backfire and cause trouble.

So it’s a fun setup in a Harry Potter type world, but the antagonist boatman is really the one in the most danger, way under the weight-class of a magician and a cockatrice. With all the talk of unlicensed magic use, why not have an official find the cockatrice and Claire have to do something clever to pull the wool off a magic cop? Would have been more interesting.

In the end, Claire’s boss really didn’t care. He didn’t even flip when all his precious books were all over the floor. A lot of wasted opportunity for hijinks, and the characters contradicting their descriptions isn’t used for surprise, it just seems like shoddy storycrafting.


Jay W. Friks
As Cool as Slate


You might have gotten away with the juvenile prose if you framed it as these kids telling a ghost story or actually reading from that weird loser Chad’s journal where he imagines himself as the coolest kid in school, and sends up all the cliques that shun him with the quarterback’s name changed by one letter.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get to the level where it’s so bad it’s good.

Even going so far over word count, you only get to the meet and greet. Confronting Chad isn’t part of the story.

I don't quite know where to help on this one except to say maybe don't stuff so many characters into one story. Master writing a single protagonist before you try to stuff ten different voices into a single piece. With that many people it's almost impossible not to stereotype everyone.

With all the 80s slasher references and tropes, I see where you might be going with this, but it takes forever to get moving, then stops after the first act.


Metrofreak
Darlin


This is pretty intense. I think I would have had the guy actually talk a little more before she goes in the bathroom to make the missed calls a little more panicky. At that point, there isn’t any menace from the guy buying a drink, just someone trying to pick a woman up at a bar. Since the protag is a heavy drinker, there’s no worry from the audience that she might be drugged or anything sinister going on. Just seems like normal end of the night bar desperation.

Then towards the end I’m not sure if this is an error, but you say “I heard the bastard shout my name.” and it makes me question the entire thing that this isn’t her dad or boyfriend who actually came to help and she’s so drunk she doesn’t recognize them.

But then it’s back to the scumbo telling her to get out of the car and sort it peacefully, sounding like a would-be rapist again before he gets ran down. So it settles pretty firmly in the creeper camp.

The main character doesn’t really exist except as terrorized victim, so you don’t get to know her at all except as a plot mover. The strong sense of dread and tense atmosphere keeps it afloat. It doesn’t veer into moralizing territory, either. Like, a woman should be able to go out and get hammered without having something like this happen, or get blamed for being drunk. The unconditional Dad taxi is a nice touch there.

If you wanted to make it more interesting and not rely entirely on tone, I would have dropped a couple blackout gaps here and there and temper the man’s comments so you get a hint that maybe it is someone trying to help. A few tweaks and you could read it either way and make something really unsettling

The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 18:00 on Mar 13, 2017

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

The second one labeled GenJoe is actually about Jay W. Frik's As Cool as Slate.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

checks in

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

flerp posted:

cut of your jib vs gen joe

your story will be about esports and i mean like for real esports, starcraft, league of legends, fighting games, as long as there is a competitive scene for the game. make your characters interesting. dont make your humor only lol nerds because that isnt funny.

prompt: 'everyone is awful except me'

1250 words, due march 19 11:59pm pst

The Bitter Pill of Defeat
1122 Words

There’s skill; there’s strategy. Either will only take you so far. What you really need is some vision. Foresight. The will to revolutionize, no matter the cost. Cost is subjective, anyway.

I remember all the revolutions. How they laughed when I brought a mouse to the LAN party to play DOOM on our 486s. Until the spinning maniac ran up double the kills. Everyone moused after that. Quake jump-kills. Then forcing Half-Life to run at 320x480 because the hit-boxes acted funny and it was real easy to get a headshot with the crossbow. Advantage is the name of the game.

That’s all taken for granted, now. People pay attention to Moore’s Law. Can’t count on any tricks or exploits. It’s expected that your competition has top-of-the-line hardware, knows every corner of the map and nuances of engine, but there’s a variable that sits in the chair behind the keyboard and mouse. There’s where a winner gets the edge. Wetware sounds so cyberpunk, but believe in the Singularity or not, there are ways to upgrade. Milliseconds matter. Time goes soft. You forget the when and become the now.

When I was in my prime, cold medicine still had ephedrine. You might make a couple bucks at local tournaments, or win some new gear; but nothing like the big money stakes today. A couple trigger-finger surgeries later, and I asked the surgeon why it isn’t called mouse-finger now because who shoots a gun so much they mess up the tendons in their hand? But he just said, “You’d be surprised.”

That’s when you make the decision to become a team player. Team player isn’t quite right when you’re running the show. Authoritarian, dictator, coach, pharmacologist, it’s all the same. Adderall is preferred nowadays. I get why, but I never had a problem with focus. I suppose seeing 25 million viewers on a competition Twitch livestream would wrack your nerves.

“Jeff,” she said. And for a minute, I didn’t even recognize it. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m a callsign. She doesn’t like where this is going, thinks I need help. “Help with what?” I said in return, but I knew what she meant. She was just wrong.

“What are you living for?” I asked. I only said something that esoteric to get her to drop it, but it was a legit question. People think they want to be good and just and honest, but deep down, they just want to succeed. Most people aren’t good enough at anything to actually make it. So there’s a system of office jobs to pick up the slack because we all want to feel fulfilled, even if it’s meaningless.

But you can fight your way up the ladder match of fame (or infamy) and make a go of it. Amounting to a footnote in the encyclopedia of gaming is better than nothing. Getting a Wiki article that no one AFDs is a big deal. Deb doesn’t have that.

In the scheme of things, she has way more sway over other people than I ever did. An assistant DA, and she ran for county judge. She lost the election, and I know it was on perception. So why did she lose? Why didn’t she do whatever it takes to win?

It’s because she wanted to be a humanitarian. Is a humanitarian. Couldn’t do the thing where you get tough on crime and retribution instead of rehabilitation. People want to see winners. Compassion is a liability. The easiest way to win is to trample the competition before they ever had a chance. The nostalgia is a lie, there was never a more civilized time. People have always been cutthroat.

You can’t force physical evolution. At least not in one generation. I can barely pet the cat without feeling twinges up my forearm. My days as a mouse jockey are over. I came to terms with that a while ago. There’s a better game to play, now. If you can’t manage the game, manage the players. Manage the audience. Manage the advertisers.

She wanted me to give it up. It’s doing more harm than good. Nevermind the money, though I’ve pulled in at least one million dollar purse the last three years running. Traveled the world with teams that win and and made ten times that for sponsors. The details don’t matter to the bleeding edge of history.

So you do it. Find the cocktail that gives your guys the edge. Whatever adds another notch to my belt, fattening up on the spoils. Béla Károlyi and Bill Belichick will be remembered as winners. Call them scumbags if you want. Love to hate them. Put asterisks after their names. That’s part of the entertainment.

Deb didn’t reply when I asked what she was living for. She just sniffed and stared at me.

I spent the holidays in Sweden. We bagged a couple trophies and posed with a giant novelty check. Never gets old.

Reading opponents is part of the job, but you learn to trust that you won’t get shot in the back of the head by your teammates. It’s the one thing you have to count on. Deb sat on the couch in silence. Two sheriff’s deputies sat in the kitchen nursing Starbucks’.

Two dozen prescription bottles in neat rows on the coffee table. Lined up with calculation, not thrown in frustration or anger. Carefully placed with all the labels facing the same way. Shopped prescriptions for Valium and Adderall, a few research drugs from overseas. Vicodin that, at least, I legitimately needed. A matching set of leftover pills in vacuum-sealed bags lined my jacket.

“Hello, Deb.” That came out calm, but I could barely hear it over the river of blood that pulsed in my ears. Don’t let them see panic. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

The game changed as the cuffs get slapped on. The initial adrenaline rush subsided and the disconnect kicked in. Not sure how to play this one; it’s face-to-face. And I think Deb probably tanked her own career to try and get me. They’ll label us ‘The DA who shacked up with a drug dealer.’ She just wanted to help, she says. Make a difference in the world, or at least help one person. If I wore shoulder pads and a helmet to compete, things would be different. Maybe not to her; but to the meatheads in uniform, certainly.

Well, Deb, let the next round begin. Give me the asterisk next to my name. Fake guns, simulated battlefield. The courtroom is just another one. Words instead of pixels. Identify your opponent’s weakness, anticipate their strategy. You got me on this one, but it’s far from over. And maybe you’ll get a win, but I’ll be remembered.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Sitting Back and Doing Nothing Works Sometimes
1112 words

Rich’s marriage was simultaneously more and less open than he wanted. The free love thing they had in the 90s turned into dinner parties with board games that wrapped up before ten on most Friday nights. Then Sue would head out and if she returned at all, it would be after the bars closed.

Rich sat alone in the angle of the big L-shaped couch that took up the corner of the living room. It was an open and modern plan, one Rich designed himself and he did most of the remodeling. It was a grand project; and though if his grandmother were alive to see it, she’d lament that it wasn’t ‘homey’ and looked like an office lobby; Rich was proud of it.

There was a little paunch over his belt, but he thought he could still turn a head. Or were dad bods passé already? Or was that all one big joke aimed at his ilk, now that he was closer to fifty than forty and couldn’t even pretend he was any younger. He was always a little behind on that sort of thing. Most of his friends had teenagers who kept up on what was cool, but Rich and Sue decided against having children. It just wasn’t part of the plan.

Sometimes he wondered how things would be different if they had started a family. More accurately, he wondered how Sue would be different. Maybe not at all. That was a chilly thought. Should kids change you? He really couldn’t fault Sue for being free, it was who she was.

But as he sat alone more and more often, and listened to the grandfather clock chime a-quarter-to-three, he thought selfish thoughts. Then he would get mad for thinking them. He could be out there just as she, trying to find some adventurous company. Maybe his adventuring days were over. It would be nice to have a quiet evening in his wife’s company.

That was likely to cause a row all on its own if he said it aloud. The ‘w’-word hadn’t been uttered since their wedding, and that was by accident. Sue wrote up the whole spiel, but out of habit, the magistrate slipped and said, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” When Rich casually asked if getting married was a good idea one day, he said it to the air, really; Sue was already Dr. Wagner and the honorifics issue was settled before the question ever came up. She would forever be Dr. Wagner, and Rich would be Richard Randall. That’s just the way it was.

He tried it. “Mrs. Randall,” he said. It was hushed—scandalous, like a first curseword. It certainly didn’t feel like he was referring to Sue. But he was. He wondered if that was sexist or romantic? It seemed absurd to even contemplate. DIdn’t he have the right to want his wife all to himself? Or maybe he was just jealous. Too late at night for those sort of thoughts. He was just a little punchy from being in an empty house during the quiet hours, that’s all.

He should just go to bed. Then he heard the traditional fumbling at the lock, and the click of heels on the ceramic in the foyer. Sue had returned.

The spice of strong cologne. Rich caught it on the breeze as the door slammed behind her.

—-

“Doctorate of partying,” Sue said again, a little louder so they could hear. She wanted to be fun. To feel youthful, is what she really wanted. There wasn’t any glamour in public policy analysis. Not to kids in a bar, anyway. Rich could understand it and even add some insight. He was a smart conversationalist. It always sounded like an old person’s job, though. Nevermind how fascinating it really was. So that was how she compartmentalized. Her actual passion pretended away so she could frolic on the dance floor with these nymphs.

Sue was pressed against them, intertwined limbs flowing like a wheat field. And when she thought she couldn’t dance another second, one of these boys made of matchsticks and sinew dragged her to the booth and slid across the old vinyl as Sue plopped.

He poured water from a pitcher that used be ice. “So what do you really do?” He asked.

“I already told you.” She felt the strain in her calf, but she stretched it across the booth and landed the heel next to him. Not quite in his lap, but hopefully a distraction.

It wasn’t. He pressed the question again, and she rebuffed him. He shrugged and slid out as easily as he landed. “I just wanted to get to know you.” He returned to the dance floor and Sue saw them turn as a group and stare at her.

They weren’t being fair. The dinner party wrapped hours ago. The time for polite conversation was over. There were other things she wanted now.

She wasn’t being fair. They seemed perfectly pleasant. Just not interested how she wanted them to be. And she supposed her behavior made her into some carnival act. Or worse, the old drunk lady.

Maybe it was time to give it up and head home. One more drink and one more dance, and maybe some other fish will take the bait. The awkward encounter with that guy poisoned the waters, and the fish swirl around like ribbons on the current, steering clear of her. Sue Wagner, Dr. Party was officially a bad scene.

—-

“Rich,” Sue called before she turned the corner into the living room, drunk-hopping to flip her heels off.

Rich was still looking towards the hallway with the expectation that the cologne bearer was following when Sue crashed face first on the couch. He smelled it on her, and any remnant of the Chanel she left the house wearing was gone.

“RIch,” she said into the cushion. “They didn’t want me.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. It was just a bad night.”

“They don’t. I’m a laughingstock now. I made a fool of myself.”

“You do call yourself Dr. Party. It was bound to happen.” Rich placed his hand on the back of her head. “You’re still my Sue.”

“I am. My little homebody.”

“Well, come on, Dr. Party. Let’s go up to bed.”

Sue stomped up the stairs in fake pout, and Rich followed, smiling. He felt bad for a second when he knew that Sue wouldn’t want to go out next weekend, and that was a part of her that might be gone. But she’d be here with him, and hopefully start something new. He was happy. He hoped she was still horny, too.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Fair crit and thanks for the others upthread

IN for tunes

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

There's a Little Beauty, Here and There
1648 Words


Every morning, Papa pushed his hot dog cart across the bridge from Queens, stopping at every corner to play a song on his old guitar. There were chips and dings and it needed a fresh coat of varnish, but he always kept it in tune. Gradually, he made his way towards Fifth Avenue, where the tourists would pay more for the songs than the two-dollar hot dogs.

It didn’t matter how many other Nikolaos Papadopouloses there were (and there were a lot), everyone called him Papa. Even before Manhattan extended a squeaky-clean breakwater to hide the tired borough from airline passengers as they taxied to their skyscrapers and Broadway shows, if you drove through just before eleven, you could see the hot dog slinging troubadour wrapped neatly in his red-and-white striped apron with a slick of jet black hair peeking from under the matching paper cap, and say, “Look, there’s Papa. Let’s stop for a song and a dog.” That first taste of the Big Apple was a moment people took home with them, the first of, undoubtedly many, “remember whens.”

And if your flight was in the summer, you’d see three little planets orbiting under the pull of Papa and his cart. He named his firstborn Nicky, Jr., and it was on his birth certificate that way, maybe because Papa’s English wasn’t the best or maybe he just wanted Nicky, Jr. to stand out. Not too much, just a little.

Lysander hated the diminutive “Sandy” and one day, when he was barely a wisp of hair and a clutch of knuckles poking over the top of the cart he pushed for Papa because Papa’s foot was in a boot cast after another vendor ran his toes over in an argument, declared, “My name is Sands.” Then it was.

In the mornings, Xenia orbited erratically, bouncing up and down the blocks, doubling the necessary steps between home and the patch of pavement near the museums where they’d make most of the money for the mortgage on their little house near the water. On the return trip, she’d sing until she drifted off while she rode on Papa’s shoulders.

Every evening, Papa would lay her on the porch swing, and the boys would nest against the bannister to listen to the songs he remembered from his childhood; the ones he listened to his Papa play on the same guitar, near a coastline half-a-world away. With Xenia’s tiny feet in his lap, he’d strum to the accompaniment of the creaking of the chains as he rocked, and the gulls, and the dull roar of the airport, punctuated with the occasional ‘bzzt’ of the bug zapper.

Maman would call from inside and the boys would look at each other, then to Papa. It was dinnertime. He smiled at them, then shrugged as he set his guitar against the peeling paint, and rose to peek through the screendoor at what Maman had prepared as she worked her way through the Betty Crocker cookbook. Sands once took the grossest pages from the three ring binder and rather than destroy them, he hid them between his mattress and box spring as kids will do. Maman noticed immediately, of course, and for the next week meat was suspended in Jell-o. It was American, and so that was dinner.

Then there was a night when Papa and his little ones returned home and they sang songs on the porch like they always did. But Maman didn’t call for supper. She was gone. The cookbook was gone. The suitcase she brought from Greece was gone. For the first time, Papa let his boys make hot dogs for themselves. They coated them in onions and dolloped on the spicy mustard while Xenia slept on the swing as always, and Papa came close to smashing his guitar.

The boys never inquired, but Xenia was too young to be couth. When she asked Papa where Maman was, he looked like he was Atlas holding up the world. “I don’t know,” is all he said at first. There was a long pause before he added, “I think she was a mermaid. She probably swam back to Greece.”

Long after Xenia grew too big to be carried on Papa’s shoulders, she helped Sands push the cart for the final summer before he moved to California. Nicky, Jr. was already married and had a Nicky the Third on the way. And before she knew it, Xenia and Papa were alone in the old house near the shore.

“She left us,” he said one day, long after we all knew she was gone for good. Papa still had the old guitar and strummed the same old tunes that Xenia loved, but her feet were too grown to fit comfortably in his lap while he played. “I don’t know where she is. I wish. . . .”

He trailed off, but the sentiment was evident on his face. It was time for grown-up talk whether Xenia was ready or not. Whether Nickolaos was ready or not. “She’s gone,” he said. “Abandoned us.”

In that moment, Papa too, was gone. “I love you,“ he said, but it would take years to decode its true meaning. Love skittered away like a cockroach slipping under the couch, waiting to be found years later, as the upholstery rotted to a pile.

Eventually, we found ourselves staring at that old, rotted couch. Nicky, Jr., Sands, and me. Somehow, I had been elected pragmatist, the one who would divvy up all the memories. The one who would smooth over all the rough edges. Papa wasn’t perfect, no parent was. But for the sake of twenty minutes of funeral, he was the purveyor of light and good tidings and all the things he always dreamt he was. The man who changed each corner and intersection by his very presence, simply by appearing, guitar in hand, and strumming a few notes.

It was real easy to believe otherwise, until you bumped against the sincerity he carried with him. That life was a series of trials to be conquered. And certainly, that was the way Sands lived. But there was an ease to which Papa rose to each occasion, and even when he argued until it escalated to violence, each story mullified the scenarios and downplayed the circumstances until there was a hero. And that hero was always Papa.

There’s where your own regret runs an end-around and you get tackled into the pile of grasping fingers and clutching palms that want to drag you into the all-too-familiar misery of childhood.
You embrace that familiarity, and you count on Papa’s infallibility. Maybe there’s nothing else to count on. Just a father and a daughter, and a father and his sons, and the routine that puts bread on the table.

“Did Maman die?” Little Xenia asked one day.

“In a manner of speaking,” Papa replied. It was all he ever said. In a manner of speaking. There was love and life and a manner of speaking. Each blended into each other until truth was simply a manner of speaking, and Maman faded into the recesses of forgetfulness and carelessness.

There was simply nothing more to say.

Then, one day, Papa’s heart gave out, and the children found a few more things to say. Sands made a great argument about selling the hot dog cart and collecting a tidy sum on the licensing fees. Nicky, Jr., wanted to carry on his father’s legacy. Never mind the disruption to his own little life. But Xenia just wanted the guitar. It was a simple request.

“Give me the guitar, and I’ll be happy.” It was half a lie, but half truth. She would feel happy for at least a moment. She would even walk across the bridge that gapped Queens and Manhattan with that guitar on her shoulder and pretend she was her father. Strum it and feel that she was a throwback to the bygone era that her father echoed. He was never more than a brightly lit shadow, some deco receipt, the dream of America made whole.

Mother never showed up for Papa’s funeral, she didn’t immortalize him, didn’t dream him into Americana. She may have been displaying her own strength simply by staying away. To the children, though, it was a wicked slice that never healed.

The life that made a little money and ended unsatisfactorily, it was the American dream; realized. None of them got the chance to ask whether Papa would do anything differently. But he seemed content. His children grew to adulthood. What more was there?

On the third day, as Xenia, the grown woman, made her way from MoMA to the house she grew up in, she carried her father’s guitar, but left the hot dog cart in its Flushings warehouse berth. She made the journey back and forth, the same as her father had done for nearly forty years, and she had accompanied him on many of those trips. For a second she thought she did something bad, throwing the old guitar into the East River, then she realized that Papa wasn’t perfectly clean, and it floated out into the greater Atlantic, on to bigger and better things that Papa would never see. It floated, and she watched it as the the wood took on the pallor of the water. That was Papa, absorbent and malleable. The little bit of cedar making its way against the hard current of dirty water called the good old U S of A.

Papa tried, and for a while, he succeeded. Xenia wondered if it was stronger to buck against the current, but then she bit her lip and said, “No. Papa was a simple man.” Then she turned and all the tourists paused as she lifted her hands to the sky and she sang. She didn’t need Papa’s guitar to stay in key. She just sang.

The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Svala - Paper (Iceland 2017)

Do you have a (lucky) routine before you go on stage?

I bathe myself in unicorn tears and take a shot of snow on fire.

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The Cut of Your Jib
Apr 23, 2007

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Week #243 Submission

In a Young Girl’s Heart
1060 Words


Svala - Paper (Iceland 2017)

Dóttir felt the silence closing in, like fractals blossoming from the dark edges of her mind and working their way ever faster to the center. If she once knew the reason why, it was trampled under the white noise long ago, pushed to the periphery as a bulwark and sacrificed with all the other small memories to protect the fragile membrane at her center that held what she considered most important. She might be having the final thoughts on earth. She didn’t know. Silence took the world long ago. Took her parents, took everyone. A few ‘forgetful moments’ grew to corrupted minds everywhere and then there was only Dóttir, alone.

She moved through the paper factory and found it sterile; it was, after all, a place of birth, or could be. Birth was inefficient, uncalculated, a scattershot release of potential into the world. She saw paper as the same, a vessel to carry hope. There was little time left to ponder. Dóttir was nearly worn out.

The world had long since moved past paper, and eventually, past flesh. Dóttir could still summon a memory or two of her own birth—or rather, awakening—replayed in fits and starts and more artifact than image, now. The room was warm and friendly as she blinked in from nothingness and saw her parents. She knew them immediately; it was all programmed before she opened her eyes. Their names were gone, though, and most of her own. She clung to the final bit, the part that reminded her she once had a family, Dóttir, and aside from those few flashes of happiness, there wasn’t much left to define herself.

There was only her mission; the core that she kept farthest from the darkness. She knew it might be madness, a jumble of information from a forgotten world that only made sense through the filter of a corrupted consciousness; but she felt it was still pure. The way she decided to proceed long before the whistle of hurricane winds started singing and dark clouds closed in.

Collected things were easy enough. Built things took precious time, but were not the challenge. The makeshift paper mill, repurposed machinery assembled by her hand was small, but functional. Dóttir didn’t remember where or how she gathered and assembled the necessary components, but knew her work there was complete.

How do you find your way out of an Icelandic forest? Stand up. Trees were always scarce on the island and they were twisted scrubby things when they did grow. That was the old joke. There hadn’t been any sort of plant on the island for . . . centuries? Dóttir imagined that most of the planet was urbanized, mechanized even. Organics were obsolete. The island was converted to pull geothermal power from deep underneath her feet.

The challenge was in growing a living, respiring tree. Snippets came to her oif adventure over the sea: The trek to the archaic, frozen tunnel that wound its way under the top of the world to the long-forgotten seedbank, the museum of life itself. Then she had life here with her. A sprout, then sapling, the thickening trunk. It was thinner than her forearm, too small for her needs, unprocessed. She required a scroll of birch bark. Time conspired against her, rushing along before everything was ready. If not for the looming end weaving threads that trapped her thoughts one by one, she would have waited for the tree to flourish. To have a second chance in case she failed. She hoped the entire tree mulched into paper would suffice, that desperation would allow the rules to be bent.

Dóttir poured the chemicals, ground the tree to pulp. She ran it through the press, over and over, and gradually it took shape as it dried under the ultraviolet light. Her paper was ready.

Her clothing was unnecessary, tokens of the past. Wrought-iron jewelry swung as shamanic talismans, eyes to glimpse the ancient rituals. The runic patterns on her chest had no heart underneath, but she felt the strength of her wish so powerfully that it must work. She had to trust in something she would never understand. She would never see the results. Dóttir committed the future to the old ways. It was magic.

Then the moment came. She unlocked the protected kernel where she stored her precious knowledge. She felt hands reaching, trying to snatch it away. She transcribed the spell with superhuman speed. A thousand runes printed in angular perfection on the birch paper, and then it was gone from her mind. She must keep moving forward, there was nothing remaining to fall back on.

She danced and sang the spell to the clanking of the machinery until the air was like water rushing around her and her movement grew slow. Grace left her. Dóttir felt more and more like the machines, janking and struggling to finish. Then at last, it was complete. She sank to the floor.

“Mother. Father. I don’t remember your names. I don’t remember my name. The image of your faces is gone. Were you like me? Was I the first? Or the last of a long line? Nothing more remains of me. But I have finished.”

What was it? She didn’t know. It was gone with everything else. Her vision was narrowed to a slit and she felt the impossible sensation that she was suffocating, her entire being crushed to a point. Beams of green light fanned out from all around her and she thought perhaps it was the final light show before she shut down. She closed her eyes, or they stopped working. She was smothered in the darkness.

The last thing she heard was the sound of the machinery she left running. It, at least would outlast her. Thump-thump.

---

Thump-thump. It grew louder. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Dóttir felt the chill of the air on her skin, and was grateful for the slippery, synthetic puffs of the archaic parka as she pulled it tight around her. She opened her eyes and things were duller and the focus was less sharp. She struggled to stand on wobbly legs and as she pushed her palm into her thigh for balance, it was soft. She gasped in surprise and the breath filled her and cleared her head.

Dóttir smiled as she heard voices, gravelly and groggy, and smelled pollen in the air.

  • Locked thread