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Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



in

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Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Uranium Phoenix posted:

I gotta write more so I'm gonna do this writing thing.

In.

hey, another Mafia guy

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Alouette
6398 words

I unlatch the trapdoor and climb into Room 1307, ready to haunt someone’s dreams.

The lights went out about a half-hour ago--it’s in the guidelines to give every guest some time to settle down before we get to work. I can hear faint intakes of breath from the shadowy lump under the bed, light from a crescent moon coming in through the drapes.

The first and foremost rule of being a Professional Spirit is to speak with your arms and legs. Don’t convey in words what can be said in gestures and movements and angles and motions. You are a ghost, ghosts are oblique, ghosts are playful, ghosts specialize in ellipses rather than periods.

I’m wearing thin fabric, French canopy material, something I can glide in. I’ve got ballet slippers on my feet, and they sink into the light blue shag carpeting that looks grey in the after-twelve. Sometimes they’ll take pictures in the morning, mark the footprints we left while we were asleep.

Every Professional Spirit must tell a story though silence and motion.

There are pill bottles clustered together on the dresser next to the TV cabinet. I can see my warped reflection in the black screen, like a glimpse of something intriguing and disquieting. I take a breath and I hear it like an iceberg calving.

My arms ascend above me, and I start to dance.

Use your body to form the shape of the person you used to be in a past life. Form your identity in the air.

My fingertips caress the air-conditioner currents, knead life back into the stale atmosphere of the old hotel room. White and gray chiffon flows from my shoulders and waist as I twirl, trails after me like an unrequited impulse. I arch back, lean into an invisible wall, feeling the hands of my lover encircle my waist, flick my wrist like I’m sending away a spurned suitor, perch on my tiptoes like my past is paved with gold. I blow a kiss at the lump under the covers, keep my face turned to the side, letting the camera in the corner get a good shot.

Most of the Professional Spirits that work here work like they’re climbing into their coffins every night. I climb out.

I flounce to the dresser and stack the pill bottles on top of each other, then pluck a lily from the vase on the night stand and bring it up to my nose, drawing in the sweetness before placing it on top of the television. Tomorrow, it’ll all be a game, recognizing who was there and what they left behind in their wake, traces of something inconceivable. I lift my hand to my forehead and sink to my knees, feeling the deep bite of the arsenic, the betrayal--

--and then my watch starts beeping, blinking neon green in the dark.

I claw at my wrist, push the button on the side until the beeping stops.

There’s a grumbling from the bed.

I hit the floor, my heart in my throat.

The covers shift above my head. There’s some more grumbling and lip-smacking, and then then nothing, and then the slow inhale-exhale again. I hear the camera go off again, taking a picture of the empty space where I’m supposed to be telling the story of my life through my body.

The shag carpet burns my knees as I crawl to the trapdoor and slide it open again. My tongue hurts, because I’m biting it until it feels like it’s in two pieces.



No phones or electronic devices of any kind permitted during the Dream Period. Any sonic interruption of the Dream Period puts the reputation of the Hotel Forsythe at risk. We seek to provide our guests with the particular experience that the Hotel Forsythe is known for, and it is paramount that the experience must remain uninterrupted.

My boss Darren sits at his desk, turning my digital watch over in his hands. I sit in a leather chair with thick armrests, the noise of the evening crowd filtering into the room from the lobby.

“I was just using it to keep track of time,” I say. “It was never supposed to go off.”

Darren sighs, lays the watch down on the edge of the cherrywood desktop. “I know. I like you, Tammera. You know that, right?” His eyes are wide and warm.

I nod.

“I like you. You’re a quality worker. And last night, the guy, whassisname, he didn’t even say anything when I asked him, didn’t write anything on the survey form. But--” He leans back in his chair, his arms folded over his head, then leans forward. “But it’s just company policy. It’s principle. You don’t need this--” He picks up the watch, twirls it in the air. “You don’t need any of this extra poo poo. Talk to the other girls. They have systems worked out. Lana has some thing she does where she plays a bunch of Katy Perry songs in her head to measure the fifteen minutes. Maybe you could do that.”

I nod again. It’s way too cold in here. I can feel the individual hairs on the back of my neck.

Darren leans back in his chair again. “So, I keep the watch, and you keep your job at Forsythe. Sound alright?”

I nod, brush the hair off my forehead. “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

He smiles. “Good. Tell the bartender that the first one’s on me, if you want it.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The lobby’s a white marble cathedral, and when I exhale, I feel like every one of the two-dozen people milling around can hear it, hotel-workers and guests alike. It’s a pretty place that I don’t usually spend a lot of time in--there aren’t a lot of places to sink into the background. Everything is stark and art deco and highlighted and amplified, from the Victorian portraits of nameless old belles on the walls to Marco, the bartender in front of the backlit vodka bottles.

I sit on a stool at the far end and wave to get Marco’s attention. “Double Diet Stoli. On Darren.”

He nods, and mixes a glass.

I take a sip and look around. Most of the people in the lobby aren’t stationary for long, they’re either rushing in to claim a room or rushing out into the city, towards a tour bus or an antiquated toy store or a Times Square pizza place. The only other person sitting down is the tall lady in her late-twenties swirling a glass of wine at the other end of the bar, her billowing black dress pooling fabric on her knees. I smile to myself.

She smiles back, and I freeze, then turn my head.

I think about the watch, why it went off. I’ve never touched the alarm function in my life, never set it for any time on any day. Despite being a professional ghost, I don’t believe in real ones, ones that cause mischief. Could someone have fiddled with it when I left it in my bag?

“Excuse me?”

I hear the lady in black’s voice and I turn to look, but she’s talking to Marco. “Who is that?” she asks, pointing at the row of screens on the wall above the bar.

The screens show green-light nightvision still pictures, pale bodies posed against the shadows of hotel rooms, occupied queen-size beds in the background. In the morning, the guests on floor 13 come down and drink their Bloody Marys and Irish Coffees and they ask the bartender to pull up their room number on the TVs, and they pick the photo they want to keep, put on a postcard, social media page. Like those roller-coaster photos they take before the big loop. I Survived The Terror Machine, and Then I Was Haunted at the Hotel Forsythe.

The lady’s finger is pointing at my face, turned at the perfect angle between the camera and the moonlight, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. Never look directly at the camera. Never look directly away from the camera. Practice the forty-five degree angle pose, stare off into the distance at something that the camera cannot capture.

Marco stiffens, lowers his voice. “That’s...Alouette, ma’am.”

Your Ghost Name must be personally appropriate and meaningful, but must also be pre-approved by management. When your Ghost Name is mentioned by and in front of staff, they are required to address the name with the appropriate hushed tones and pregnant pauses, hinting at something terrible that happened in the past but never directly explaining it.

“Who’s Alouette?” asks the lady in black. Her arms are folded over the countertop, cradling her glass in her palm.

Marco flicks his gaze towards me for a split second. “She’s, um--we don’t really talk about it often--”

“She haunts the thirteenth floor,” I say, before I drain what’s left in my glass. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself.

“I thought that hotels didn’t have thirteenth floors anymore,” says the lady, setting her drink down.

“This one does,” I say. “It’s like a roach motel--it traps all the ghosts.” There’s no hint of a smile on my face. “And Alouette is the worst one.”

“Really,” says the lady in black. “How do you measure how bad a ghost is, exactly?”

“How do you measure how bad someone is while they’re alive?” I say. “She killed the most people. All her ex-lovers.”

“That’s enough, Tammera,” says Marco.

“No, I want to see where this goes,” says the lady in black. She takes another sip. “So how did she die?”

“Poison,” I say. I pretend to think for a second. “She got lazy.”

“Oh?”

“She got cocky. She told one of her lovers that he was just one of many. Mon coeur est ailleurs --my heart is somewhere else. And he didn’t take it well, and he fixed her a drink with something special in it, and she woke up the next morning coughing up blood.”

“That’s it?” said the lady in black. She finished her wine. “Come on, you can do better than that. Give me something else."

“Well…you didn’t let me finish.” I stare into her eyes, try not to blink. “Because when they cut her open to prepare her for her burial--her heart wasn’t in her chest.”

The lady in black smiles. “Here we go.”

I smile back. “There was this legend while she was alive of The Heartless Queen, how she kept her heart locked away in this old gilded box and wore the key around her neck. So of course word got out when they never found her heart.”

“What do you think really happened?” says the lady in black, her voice low.

I pause. “I mean, it was cutthroat times in France. The coroner probably sold her heart, ground it up and sold it to some French elixir-maker, some scam artist. That’s all.”

“Uh-huh.” The lady in black folds her arms again. “And she’s French? So how did she end up at an old hotel in New York City?”

My lips are pressed into a straight line. “Exchange program. Right now Lizzie Borden’s in some cafe in Paris, learning how to sing that song about forty whacks in French.”

“Right. Makes sense,” says the lady in black.

I nod.

We stare at each other for a bit longer, and then she bursts out laughing, big belly laughs as she bends over and holds onto the bar counter. Her face is flushed as she sits back up.

“That was fun,” she says. “I’m Nila.”

“Tammera,” I say. “I have to go.”

“Aww,” Nila says. “Alright. Try and fix up the ending while you’re gone, okay?”

I smile, and turn to leave.

Alouette, gentille alouette... I hum the nursery rhyme as I walk towards the elevator, my right index finger toying with the tiny gold key strung around my neck. As the doors close, I slide the key into the panel on the elevator wall, unlock the button for Floor 12.



“It was Claire,” Ray says, her arm around my shoulder as I apply my makeup. “I’d put money on it.”

It’s about 15 minutes before the night’s Dream Period, and I’m trying to focus on getting into character. I am Alouette. I am vengeful. I am graceful. I live in the corners of your mind.

“I don’t care who it was,” I say, putting on the last bit of foundation in the bottle. “Maybe it was no one at all. Maybe I just pressed a button earlier in the day and forgot about it.”

“You see the way they look at us, right?” says Ray, pacing over the carpet. “They’re effing animals.”

I see. I don’t often talk to the other Professional Spirits that work here, but we pass each other in the hall, and their expressions run the gamut from “tepid bathwater” to “iced-over lake”. I mean, I can’t say I put myself out there either--the hotel boards us all on the twelfth floor as part of our benefits, but I rarely spend any time here when I’m awake. The only reason I ran into Ray was because we were walking through Washington Square Park at the same time, both on the way to somewhere else. “That’s what a real friend does,” Ray keeps saying. “Makes you excited about changing your plans.” She came up with the “climbing in/climbing out of coffins” thing, too. It wasn’t my thing, but now it’s our thing.

The time before everyone’s nightly Dream Period starts is the only time when the hallway of Floor 12 is completely dead. Everyone’s making up their faces, cinching their costumes, practicing their movements. Movements are imperative. Practical dress is important. Wear flowing clothes with no colors, only shades, varying degrees between white and grey, fabrics that can flutter and trail behind you in even the stalest air. Something that will show up on a night vision camera, puff up over your shoulder blades and back like fog rising from a field. Wear light footwear, ballerina shoes preferable, though bare feet are not unwelcome.

“I saw Claire looking our way in the lobby yesterday,” says Ray. “She had that ‘I-know-something-you-don’t-know’ look on her face--”

“Look, don’t you have something to do?” I say, rubbing the last of the foundation in, leaning over so I don’t stain the white shroud I’m wearing.

“Nope. I have nothing to do, and I’m doing it,” says Ray.

I laugh, push the chair back, and stand up. You see the other girls talking to themselves sometimes, going over their characters, doing their stabs at method acting. Ray kids around, but sometimes they creep me out.

The lights in my room flash on and off, then on and off again.

“That’s my cue,” I say.

“Great,” Ray says. “Knock ‘em dead.”

“Har har har.” I point to the door. “Get the hell out.”

Ray prances to the door, tosses her red hair back, and flings herself into the hallway, laughing.

I hit the two switches next to the door. The first one shuts the ceiling light off. The second one brings down the rope ladder in a smooth unfurling cascade, silent as smoke.
I wedge my feet into my old ballet slippers, and start climbing.

By the time I reach Floor 13, I know something’s wrong.

When I start to dance, I can feel an itching sensation in my toes. I try to think of lovers past, an endless procession of suitors with their throats cut and their hearts poisoned, but all I can feel is the itching sensation, slowly morphing into a burning pain. As flawlessly as I can, I kick my slippers off and keep moving my arms, grinding my toes into the shag carpet in order to get rid of the burning sensation--to no avail.

I bend over and grab at my toes and feel something light, like dust, in between them.

The camera snaps a shot of me bent over.

Well, poo poo.

I finish out the Dream Period the usual way, rearranging things, telling the story of my life and death through my dance, all while sweating and setting my jaw, waiting for it all to be over.

I don’t know if it’s been fifteen minutes by the time I lunge for the trapdoor, but it feels close enough.

As soon as my toes are planted on the carpet of Room 1207, I bend over and inspect them. They’re covered in a blotchy rash and still itching. I open my right hand, inspect what was stuck between my toes.

It looks and feels like pink cotton candy in my hand, but then I feel the same itching in my fingers.

Fiberglass. Someone put fiberglass in my--

I freeze, look back up at the ceiling and just catch the tail end of the rope ladder as it retracts into the ceiling. I hear the trapdoor lock shut. Privacy settings. The cameras are only live for a predetermined fifteen minutes. The trapdoor is only unlocked for a predetermined fifteen minutes.

Now the fifteen minutes are over, and I’m down here, and my ballet slippers are still up there.



“I think I was wrong, before,” says Ray, twirling on one foot. “I think it was Zara.”

It’s Saturday, my one day off, but Ray’s still on deck, so I’m helping her practice before she gets to work. I haven’t been downstairs since last night. I don’t want to run into Darren again. To be honest, I don’t want to run into anybody.

“You don’t know who it is,” I say. “Neither of us knows who’s doing this.”

“Have you talked to Darren about it?” she asks.

“Darren already chewed me out for the watch thing,” I say. “The next time I see Darren is probably the last time.”

Ray shakes her head. “So don’t worry about it, then. Enjoy your day off, if you can’t do anything about it. Lock your door next time.”

“I did,” I say. “You’re telling me what I already know.”

“Did I already say ‘keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer?”

“No.” I throw a foam makeup wedge at her head. “Usually that only works if you know which of them are friends and which ones are enemies.” I stand up and walk towards the door.

“Hey,” says Ray.

I turn back towards her.

“Maybe go make some enemies while you’re gone, huh?”

I grin. “rear end in a top hat.”

Ray holds her hands up. “Hey, which one’s easier?”

I shut the door, take the elevator downstairs. I need some time to think.

The elevator doors open and I stride out into the lobby and sit at the bar. I stare at the backlighting as it changes from green, to blue, to pink, then back to green again. By myself, I think. I just want to keep to myself and be by myself and do my job well. Is that so much to ask--

“Hey, ghost girl.”

I look to my left, and Nila is sitting on the stool next to me. She waves the bartender over. “Two glasses of red, please.”

“When did you get here?”

Nila grabs her glass, takes a long sip. “I’m practicing.”

“Practicing?” I say, bringing my glass up to my lips.

“Practicing to be a ghost like you.”

I choke on the wine and grimace, setting my glass down.

“Sorry,” says Nila, laughing.

“It’s okay,” I say, coughing. “So...uh…who told you?”

“No one. I came back this afternoon and asked to look at all of those pictures again,” she says, sweeping her arm up towards the video wall. “I knew there was one that looked familiar.”

I look down at the bartop. “So now you know who Alouette is.”

She laughs. “Do I?”

I stare into my glass, hearing my mother’s voice on the phone in my head about how she’d rather sit next to a live bear than a New Yorker. A live bear doesn’t sound so bad right about right now. “Okay, so what else do you want to know?” I say. I think: What do they make you do at this job? Does whatever they pay you make it worth it? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in one of these rooms--

“How much French do you speak?”

I look up. “Huh?”

“I mean, have you ever thought about learning?” Nila says.

Marco’s at the other end of the bar, wiping the counter with a dishrag. “I mean...I learned enough in High School to read the Little Prince front to back. That’s about it.”

Nila shakes her head and whistles to herself. “That’s...pretty good.” She laughs. “Maybe you could read those guys bedtime stories. That’d be a good gig.” She waves at Marco, gestures at her empty glass. “Could we get two more of these?”

Marco nods and refills our glasses. She hands mine back to me.

I take another sip. “You’re weird,” I say.

Nila smiles at me. “Why?”

“Because...because you’re not being weird at all.” I say.

“I’m weird because I’m not being weird?” she says, frowning.

“No, no, it’s…” I sigh. “I don’t like telling people what I do for a job.”

“Yeah? And how many people have you told?”

“Well…” There’s a tightness in my stomach. “I’ve told you.

“I don’t count. I found out on my own. Give me some credit.”

“Right, it’s just that…” I don’t know where to look anymore. The backlighting is reflecting off her eyes. My glass is empty. “Can we get another drink?”

Nila laces her fingers together. “If I keep buying you drinks, you have to answer my questions.”

“Can I lie?” I say.

“Of course,” she says. “But I’ll know if you’re lying.”

“We’ll see.”

I tell her about my useless college degree, and then I tell her about where I’d like to vacation someday, and then I tell her about that thing my mom said about bears and New Yorkers, and then I tell her that I only have one friend at my job, and then I tell her why. I lie about where I’ve already been. I lie about my relationship with my parents. I lie about how I feel about her, and then I tell her the truth.

At some point, I lose track of the time, and I know I should head back upstairs, but I feel warmer down in the lobby, warmer than I’ve ever been even with the cold winter air blowing in every time somebody walks in through the sliding doors.



There’s rays of sun hitting my face. I groan and put a hand over my eyes.

“Tammera?”

“Darren?” I say. I open my eyes.

He’s standing over me. There are men in sportcoats and ties shuffling back and forth behind him. One calls another one by name over, and they hug, slap each others’ backs.

I sit bolt upright, still in the top and jeans I was wearing the night before.

“I need to see you in my office for a second,” says Darren.

My mouth tries to make some sort of sound that would be appropriate for the situation, that would compensate for the massive levels of poo poo I’m in. After a couple seconds, I manage a “Sure.”

It takes twenty-seven steps for me to walk from the couch in the lobby to Darren’s office, and I hear every single one reverberate off the marble and echo off the high ceiling. I sit down in the leather armchair, and I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to stand back up. “I’m so sorry, Darren--”

“No,” says Darren, folding his hands together. “I should be the one apologizing, to all of you.”

“I swear, I wasn’t--” I start to say, then stop, squint at him. “What?”

He looks back at me, wholeheartedly uncomfortable. There’s something else in his face that I can’t identify. “You didn’t hear about Reagan?” he says.

It takes me a second to realize he’s talking about Ray.

My arms grip the leather armrests. I can’t move.

It was last night, he says. As soon as Ray closed the trapdoor behind her and moved towards the bed, the fucker threw the covers off and went for her, grabbed her by the throat and squeezed.

“It’s a failing of the process,” he says. “We screen every client. I don’t know how it could’ve happened.”

The guy in the next room over heard the commotion and hit the emergency Call button, then went next door and was able to pull the guy off a few seconds before hotel security showed up.

“He kept screaming somebody else’s name,” Darren says. “A woman's name. I can’t remember whose.”

It feels like we’re sitting outside in the middle of the winter weather, chills running down all of me. “Is...is she…”

“Oh God, no--she’s fine--well, she’s not fine fine, but…” He stops, takes a breath. “She’s downtown, in the ICU. I--” He clears his throat. “I’m sorry. I know you were friends…”

“Are friends,” I say, my hands clenching.

“Are. Sorry. Yes. Um.” Darren pushes his chair back, stands up. “Would it be too much to ask you to get her bag from her room, so she can have it with her?”

I nod. “Yeah, I can go get it.”



It takes me a couple tries to fit the key into the panel the right way. I breathe, try to stop my hands from shaking.

Her room is messy as hell. There are empty potato chip bags, empty bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper, uncapped lipsticks in a row on the dresser. I spot her purse and pick it up with one hand and leave before I can look up at the ceiling, at the locked trapdoor.

I keep it together until I get back to the elevator, and then I sink to my knees, tears streaming down my face. I cry without making any sound, because I’ve gotten so drat good at my job, me and the twenty parallel versions of me reflected in the mirrored walls of the elevator, all bent over and crying silently, we’re all just so drat good at our job.

I force myself to open my reddened eyes, looking down at the open purse, because I don’t know where else to look. I see cuticle trimmers, compact mirrors, tangled earbuds. A plain brown wallet. A tiny sandwich bag, stuffed tight with something that looks like pink cotton candy.

I stop, open my eyes wider.

Before I can reach for it, the elevator doors open.

Darren’s waiting for me. I hand him the purse, then keep walking towards the hotel entrance.

“Tammera--wait--” He calls out to me. “Where are you going?”

“I’ll be right back, I promise,” I say, because my promises mean nothing.



The snow is falling outside of the hotel entrance, slow and soft.

On my way to the sidewalk I almost trip over a woman, kneeling down, scrubbing the pavement with a bar of bright blue soap. Her hair is matted and gray, and she won’t look at me, not even when I stop and stare down at her, wordlessly beg her: Look at me. Remind me that I’m here. What she’s wearing is thin and stained and cottony and ragged and it looks way too much like a Spirit costume. Or maybe it’s just a nightdress, an old-fashioned nightgown.

I keep walking. I take out my phone, dial Nila’s number. It rings ten times before disconnecting on its own.

Alouette, gentille Alouette, Alouette, I’ll pluck your feathers off…

When I was ten and still in ballet class, a boy named Jared kicked my other leg out from under me while I was doing leg exercises on the brass bar. When I hit the floor, I started bawling bloody murder, and Jared ran away and pretended like he didn’t do anything. The old lady ballet teacher took him by the shoulders and made him look in my eyes and apologize to me and he did, sticking his tongue out at the end like a snake in a secret “screw you”.

I try Nila’s number again. Twelve rings this time.

Be light on your feet, but at the same time have a signature set of footfalls, a repertoire of movements. You can sound like a funeral procession, like a waltz, like a creature underneath the floorboards. You are traipsing on the outside of a person’s skull without them even wanting to scratch the persistent itch. Toes pointed, heels raised, arches poised. Shuffling across quicksand with the weight of a dragonfly.

I didn’t tell my mom about getting kicked. She would’ve made me go and kick him back. I didn’t tell my father, either. He would’ve just patted my head and gone to fix himself a drink. I just kept it to myself.

I’ll pluck the feathers off your back, I’ll pluck the feathers off your tail…

Two years later, my mother woke me up in the middle of the night and told me to pack up all my clothes. I asked her why, and she said the same thing, but louder. I remember shoving my books and my underwear and my ballet slippers into my little pink duffel bag while wiping tears out of my eyes, wondering where Dad was, wondering what I had done wrong. I remember one of the wheels on the end of the bag getting stuck at the bottom of the doorway and my mom just reaching over with a hand the size of my entire face and yanking it free, the loose wheel skidding off to the side, yelling now, let’s go NOW and just following her, still crying, still wondering what had happened, what was going to happen next, whether or not I could go back and say goodbye to my friends.

If you must talk, don’t talk, whisper. Perfect a flawless under-the-breath murmur, a timbre made to linger in the subconscious. Practice in your daily life—mutter to yourself while walking, while dining at a restaurant, while riding public transportation. Just loud enough to be noticed, but not loud enough to be placed.

When we were on the road and she’d stopped yelling and I was still crying, she sang, sang over the noise of the van engine. The one nursery rhyme I really liked, the one in French that I refused to forget.

This time, fifteen rings. I put the phone back in my pocket.

I’ll pluck the feathers off your legs, I’ll pluck the feathers off your wings…

The last time I talked to my mother was when I told her where my new job was. I measure the years between Age 12 and now by how much space she left between her words. The older I grew, and the further away I became, the more she rushed and melded the words coming out of her mouth, like she was speaking in front of steadily closing elevator doors, racing against time. Alternately begging me to come back and cursing the ground I walked on, alternately describing me with four-syllable words and four-letter words. I still don’t remember who hung up first, her or me. I like to think we both left each other alone at the exact same time.

I’ll pluck the feathers off your neck, I’ll pluck the feathers off your eyes…

I keep walking and the people in front of me keep blurring into each other, just wave after wave of eight-legged eight-armed four-headed creatures washing over me as I duck my head down and get pulled back and forth between remembering and forgetting.

Look for the subtle head movements in others, the sudden hiccup in personal rhythm that signifies that you have slid under their thoughts like a needle under the first layer of skin, omnipresent and untraceable.

I keep thinking about my mother because it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve wanted to call her, and that’s how I know I’m well and truly hosed.

Your job is to drag your fingers through the path of a person’s dream without waking them up. If they were visited last night by a spirit with unfinished business, if someone danced a waltz through their sleeplessness, if they wake up the next morning and aren’t quite sure if you exist, then you’ve done your job.

And all I see in front of me are hands.

I’ll pluck the feathers off your beak, I’ll pluck the feathers off your head…

Hands, countless hands poking through my blurry vision, slicing through the air, grasping at snowflakes, rubbing themselves together to stay warm. Hands turning my pale heart over and over like a digital watch. Hands reaching for me, grasping my hand in theirs, then tearing it off at the wrist, jagged scraps of skin left behind. Tearing off my arms, my legs, clawing out chunks of my torso as they work their way up my neck to my head. I feel fistfuls of hair get yanked out, ears ripped off like ripe vine fruit, eyes clawed out through bright sockets and tongue clawed out through a smiling mouth because I suddenly know, right then, that no one will ever get my heart, because I plucked it out from my chest myself, and I laid it in a gold box and hid it away where no one would ever find it, and even I don’t need it anymore. I know what a human heart looks like. It’s not special.

Alouette, Alouette,
Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h…


When I get back to the hotel, the sun has set, and the woman is gone, but the bar of soap is still there, lying still and dusted with snow on the pathway, an island in a sea of grey sludge.
Without thinking, I bend over and pick it up. I move to put it in my pocket, but then I stop, just look at it in the palm of my hand for a while, the snow falling on my shoulders. I wonder where the old woman went. I wonder if I want to know.

You are a Spirit. You are caught between life and death. You are invisible, you are untouchable, you are unreachable. You are ancient, and at the same time, ageless, forevermore.

I set the bar of soap on the edge of a brick planter, tuck it under an overhanging shrub. Then I unzip my coat and go back inside.



It’s been a few weeks, and I’m back in room 1207, waiting for the lights to flash.

There’s a call button wound around my arm, and three security guards in the hall of Floor 13, and there’s a much tighter screening process now, Darren tells me. “I mean, it’s still a quality job,” he says. “Free room and board in one of the best hotels in New York City, top-tier wages...ultimately, you can’t let one bad person color your work experience.” He says that they’re “committed to keeping us safe.” That it’s their “number-one priority,” says Darren. “You’re a good worker, Tammera. You are.”

“I know,” I tell him.

It all sounds good enough, doesn’t it.

The lights flash, and the rope ladder unfurls. I climb, feeling each step.

I never got my ballet slippers back. The guy under the covers that night loved finding them in the morning, thought they were “a delightful souvenir”. “Maybe it’s just fate telling you that you didn’t need them anymore,” Darren says. I want to tell him what I think of fate, but I don’t.

I hoist myself into room 1307, and shut the trapdoor behind me.

The room is spotless. No bottles on the dresser, nothing on top of the TV stand, nothing on the nightstand. Nothing I can disturb, affect with my presence.

I begin to dance again, to tell my story. The story of Queen Alouette, the Heartless Queen, bloodthirsty, murdering all her lovers when she grew tired of them.

After a while, I stop dancing.

The moonlight is shining in through the window, and I walk over by the bed, stand in front of it.

I feel the thin air pressing down on me like the walls of a coffin, solid and suffocating. I think of Nila and her bedtime stories. I haven’t tried to call her since that morning. I’ve brought the number up on my phone about a dozen times, stared at the neutral numbers in perfect order, like a house of cards, something you’re afraid to send toppling down.

The other girls look at me with fear in their eyes, now, mostly because I’ve gotten better at sending iciness back their way. Sometimes I never want winter to end.

I exhale, looking out towards the city, and a hand shoots out from under the covers and grabs my wrist.

My body tightens up, and I try to yank my arm away, to press the call button wrapped around my other arm, but I can’t. I try to scream, but I can only manage a yelp, choked and thin.

“Amelia,” I hear.

The hand lets go of my wrist. I inch away, my lower back hitting the dresser. My limbs have turned to icicles, and I think about running, lunging for the trapdoor again, but I’m frozen to the shag carpet.

The lump on the bed sits up, brings himself into the light.

It’s a man, a very old man. I can see the creases in his forehead, around his eyes and mouth, the faint hints of white hair around the crown of his head. “Amelia,” he says again, and I think of a sister, a mother, a wife, someone he loved? Lost? Wanted back?

“Amelia,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

I grip the edges of the dresser to keep myself standing, waiting for what happens next, but nothing does.

“I’m sorry,” the man says again. He coughs, and I see how pale his skin is in the moonlight.

Do I leave? I think. What do I do now?

While I’m waiting for the right answer to come upon me, I hear the camera go off in the corner, and later, when I’m back in room 1207, I’ll think of the picture it’s captured, playing above the bar in the morning while businessmen have their morning cocktails, scrolling by while the other guests decide which parts of us they want to bring home with them, the picture of both of us stuck on opposite sides of the same room:

Two ghosts, unsure of what to say to each other.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



thanks sparks for the crits!

Doing this, because I might as well,

to finish Week 220 Crits before subs for Week 233 close.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



A couple of crits, just because:

Six Portraits of Negative Space

It’s been said in Thunderdome that a valuable way to critique is to state where the story lost you, so on that note we’re going to start with section number 3, because, well, that’s where it went off the rails in my opinion. The first two sections are serviceable, they outline a conflict and a character and a setting, they work well as portraits. But the third section…I don’t know what detailing all of these bland and interchangeable dates in the parlance of a lab technician—or an alien observing the human species—is supposed to give to the story.

“…but there was always a bit of doubt in her mind on that score.”
“…they talked a long hour over everything in it that they both found absurd.”
“The presence of the other couples made any kind of advanced shenanigans impractical.”

It feels like something vital’s been sucked out of the language. And even if the dates were somewhat interesting, I don’t really get a sense of either character or why I should care about the fact that they’re not having sex. If you wanted to keep the theme going, you should’ve just focused on the seventh date and put the reader into that moment like you did with the first two scenes.

I’m in agreement with the other critiquers that the speculative twist just sort of comes out of nowhere when the beginning of the story is set up as more of a mundane thing. This story just seems like it’s trying to explain itself too much. There’s this interview with Amy Hempel that I keep coming back to, and at one point she talks about how her students think that stories are supposed to be explanations, and they always put in this drawn-out section at the end of the story that explains everything unexplained, when the mystery and viscera of the unexplained would be more compelling. I think that gets at what bothered me about the last three sections—the characters like the “detective”, like “Gwendolvn”, they don’t seem like characters, they seem like explanation-delivery-vehicles, like they’re only there to fill in the missing parts of the story. Video game NPCs. And even then I’m still not sure what’s being explained.

I know you like the subheadings, and I’m glad you were able to give a format like this more space, but I wonder if the extra words didn’t just end up hampering the story in a way that a few more concise scenes like Part 1 wouldn’t have.

Neurotique

The thing that cripples this story for me isn’t that it’s derivative, it’s that there’s not a lot of depth or dimension provided for the main character. All of the character development in Finn is only given to us after he makes this devil’s bargain: we see his life changed in various ways, but we don’t know what his life was like before the bargain, whether he was kind or virtuous or conniving or what else. So there’s no standard to measure against.

And even then, there’s not a lot here in the way of torment or struggle. The mental illnesses he takes on just stand out as annoyances, not curses, and his life is actually made better in certain ways because of the money. Even when he buys the entire shop from Kip, there’s very little fanfare or anything meant to signal something major’s happened. Kip doesn’t even seem particularly menacing or devilish at any point. Basically, I’m saying that there’s not that much at stake—even at the end of the story you get the sense that Finn will easily find someone else to pass the store along to.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Week 220 Crits, Continued


Claims Adjustment

This story is full of the kind of plot that Stephen King talks about, where plot is used as a crutch instead of focusing on story or character, where “plot” becomes more of a verb than a noun. And beyond that, there’s really no conflict evident here. When Lucia finds the feral society, they’re all friendly and accommodating and they just trust that Lucia won’t tell anyone about them. Save for a few typos, the writing is alright, it’s just that it serves little purpose other than “this thing happened, then this thing happened”.


Lifting the Veil

This is alright. You have a habit of getting the eerie and the macabre correct, and this story is no exception. The ending is a bit of an anticlimax, though—I was looking for “horrifying”, but instead I got “clever”, which wasn’t what I was expecting, both in the positive and the negative sense. The time loop seemed not only like a pulled punch, but also more of a pain in the rear end for whichever Lovecraftian entity was on shift that day than just a bloody death. The little details, like the grandfather clock, and the self-strangulation—those did a lot more than the rush of feeling at the end for me. It makes me think that if you’d have just hinted at something much more dark without fully showing it, the story would’ve had a more lasting effect.


Ascent

This was interesting in its own way. I liked the conceit of the endless tower. I didn’t like the present tense and the second person as much—mainly because I didn’t understand why I had to be in the main character’s shoes. He has a name, he’s his own person with his own past, why not just make it a third-person POV? Even so, I liked a lot of the little touches this story brought forth. And the ending hit hard in the way a lot of the stories this week couldn’t achieve.


Gainful Employment

This was well-written, detailed enough to make it seem human, and by the end, a little bit funny. It didn’t really seem to have an end to it, but it was interesting enough. If I had to change it, I might introduce the book club sooner and provide a steadier rise towards the story’s climax. We’re introduced to the book club, and almost instantly we know there’s some Lovecraft poo poo going down. It’d have more impact if it was more of a slow build—maybe a couple details at the opening that set your teeth on edge before you’ve figured out what’s happening.


Russell Saves Voidmart

My struggle with this one was that the internal logic of the story didn’t really make sense. I like the conflict between the two competing stores, but it feels like the more time you spend carefully explaining the dynamics of the rivalry, the less sharp and immediate the story feels, and the less sense it makes. Also, the ending seemed a bit too easy, like you ran out of time and had to find a way to put a bow on everything. It’s charming enough, though. Maybe if you kept the main character’s POV but had him explain a bit less.


No Evil

I like the device of replacing your eyes, but it seems like it would make more sense as a cosmetic surgery, like a status symbol, rather than as a cure for depression. “I need new eyes or else I’m going to kill myself” doesn’t quite ring true for me as a reader. Beyond that, it’s just sort of pretty filler until he does kill himself, for reasons that don’t quite come across to me. The imagery is beautiful, but it adds up to something I don’t really believe. Dude’s a few degrees away from a teenager throwing a tantrum about a tongue piercing. It doesn’t add up to a satisfying story.


The feeling behind the feeling

Yeah, this is a sebmojo story. Concise, charming, and darkly unfortunate. Also very character-heavy. This compares very favorably to that one story about the worms-in-ears conspiracy. The ending is the weak point, though, if you can call it an ending instead of just a cliff. I’d have very little negatives to say about this story if it stuck the landing at all.


The Plunge

We covered most of what could have been said about this story in the recaps, but it’s basically a rush job. I like the concept of the symbiotic vine, and it makes me wonder what would happen if this was submitted during a week that didn’t require the Voidmart conceit. There’s that one intriguing element—the vine—in a sea of thematically-appropriate nonsense.


Customer Service

I was surprise when I went back to this story and realized it just barely cracked a thousand words, which if anything is a testament to how much you can pack into a small wordcount. Technically, it’s spotless, so I’m going to focus on the few things I didn’t like. I guess I’d say that I missed an entire layer of the story due to my unfamiliarity with Norse mythology, but even then, the conflict was still apparent and compelling. I also would’ve liked a degree less attention paid to the jewelry descriptions and a degree more attention paid to character detail. I dunno. In a week where a lot of people went towards Cthulhu, it was cool to see a Ragnarok star.


Lost and Found

This week had a contentious judging session, but I pushed for this to win because I thought it embodied the spirit of the prompt the best, while at the same time being an engaging and resonant story that managed to have a satisfying ending. Nitpicks: story seems a bit top-heavy, in the sense that it’s paced slowly at the beginning and all of a sudden you get a rush of forward motion at the end. The “this is a farm” paragraph seemed particularly telling, in a cheap-ish way—if you had more room you’d want to make the revelation a bit more organic. Ultimately, though, it was an earned and deserved win that I enjoyed reading.


Secrets of a Small Family

If I recall correctly, and one of my co-judges can correct me—this was on the DM chopping block, but I pulled it off because I thought there was something to it. Looking at it again, I somewhat stand by that—there’s not much done with the prompt other than to set up the moment at the end where the parents discover each of them is cheating on the other. It felt real enough, kind of Carver-ish, and understated in the way a lot of other endings weren’t. No one got swallowed up by anything, they just agreed to see a therapist. It’s not much of a story, but you had a lot of competition in that area this week, so you got a pass. In the future, maybe outline your ideas more thoroughly and determine the driving conflict in advance.


Special Promotions

The main character reminds me of Entenzahn’s IRS guy, and not in a good way—to the point where both of these people are defined by their professions so much that they appear more like caricatures than actual people, especially given the existing cartoonishness of the setting. The story doesn’t really have any sort of arc to it, it’s just one locale and then the next and then the next in this mildly-charming-but-ultimately-benign sort of wild-goose-chase that by the end of the story leaves me wondering what the hell happened and struggling to remember if any of it was important. So instead of Unspeakable Horrors, she found Zombies, who don’t need worker’s rights. Also she gets a new position within the company. The competition for the loss was stiff, but so was the competition for the win, and I can see why this got lost in the shuffle, unfortunately.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



in.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh




Crystallization
1265 words

What’s up. Yes, I’m three feet tall and I make candy for a living. What else do you want to know. Take a seat.

That’s the chair I use when I need to spread the peanut brittle before it cools, or make sure that the pillow mints extrude evenly, or basically do anything that requires me to see over the counter.

You want some, by the way? Pillow mints? There’s only so many hotels in this city looking for their stock from small businesses. I always have extra left over, no matter how carefully I set up the numbers.

Ah, well, that’s fine. They’re still in a dish over by the magazines. Just grab some if you want.

What--

What about my cousin?



Alright, well. I’m glad she’s still alive. You think I can tell her what to do, either?



Sit down. I know you’re already sitting down. Sit on the floor. Come down to my level. If I’m going to tell you this story, I’m going to tell it to your face, and not your crotch.

‘K, here we go. There’s this...condition. It’s hereditary, runs through the women in my family. ‘S why I don’t have any kids, I’m not taking the chance of passing it down to someone else. We all have our own personal names for it, because there’s no official one. Mine is “Crystallization”.

It first happened to me when Marie and I were both six years old, and both of us were six feet and six inches tall. We--no, don’t interrupt. Let me finish the story, and then you can ask questions.

We were at her mother’s house, playing around and making a lot of noise like six-year-olds are supposed to, our feet gliding over the polished wooden floors, toetips barely touching the ground, when Marie--there was this candy dish on top of her mother’s glass coffee table, and the dish was filled with all of this handspun glass candy, the kind you pick up at flea markets six-for-three dollars, right? So Marie held it up to the sunlight because she loved the way the light shone through it and onto the living room wall, and the whole thing slipped out of her hands, down towards the glass coffee table, bam, went through the coffee table, smashed against the floor, and left both of us standing in a giant pool of shattered glass.

Marie’s mother, my aunt, storms in, all three-foot-nine of her, sees the sun sparkling off all the shattered glass where her coffee table used to be, sees her daughter crying in the middle of it all, sees me standing off to the side still in shock, and she’s startled and has a head full of steam, and what does she do?

She charges towards the both of us, but at the last moment turns towards me, clambers up onto this ratty leather ottoman so she’s at my eye level, and smacks me across the face. Hard enough to knock me down, onto the bits of glass.

And that’s when it happened. I was young, so I didn’t remember much of it, still don’t, but the way I heard Marie tell it, I--well, I exploded. She described it like fireworks, like a lightbulb busting open, and then I reappeared a day later, lying on their living room couch in the dark, and in the morning Marie’s mother drove me home, radio off, not saying nothing. She never told my mother what happened, but my mom was smart, she put two and two together once she measured me and saw that I was an inch shorter.

I think that whole thing scarred Marie more than it scarred me, to be honest. That probably wasn’t what her mother intended, but parents don’t make good decisions, because people don’t make good decisions. That was what I learned that day, that first time.

I’ve only talked to Marie once since then. Up until last week I’d just heard about her offhand. Rumors exaggerate things, you know--the homeschooling, the required reading, the cultishness, the Great Escape from the Clutches of the Family Fortress--but you’ve seen her, flying over the Hudson river, arms as long as kite-ribbons. She looks perfectly happy to me. Tell you the truth, I was too focused on myself to care about her. I wasn’t happy, not for a long time. If you asked her, I doubt she’d be jealous of all the men in my life. Used to say that each one of them took more inches from me than they ever gave me, ha. Don’t make that face, dear. When you are your own metaphor in the mirror each morning, you stop being a romantic real quick.

There are plenty of men that work in the kitchen with me, but they never see me, they only hear my voice telling them to move this or that pan to this or that oven, and I’m fine with that type of relationship. I ask for help every now and then when one of them forgets and puts something away on a too-high shelf, but I run this place pretty well.

Oh. Why I call it “Crystallization”?

Well, it’s a candy-making term. When the sugar syrup cooks too long in the pan, it gets these tiny crystals in the middle, turns it from smooth and clear to filmy and grainy, something that less people want to eat. Fills it with flaws. It’s a process that’s all about knowing exactly when to stop. You live, and life kicks your rear end, and you shatter, and you get more solid every time you Humpty Dumpty yourself back together, and it’s all about not ending up a burnt mess that can’t even be scraped off the pan.

That was what I was doing the night she came, trying to cook up some sourballs. I heard this clatter coming from the roof, and I turned off the burner, let the syrup simmer in the pan, knowing that if I left it for too long, it would be ruined, but I went anyway, my feet stamp-stamp-stamping against the metal stairs.

She was beautiful. Long flowing limbs, eyes like sugared flame, hair that seemed like it would sway in a windless sky. She was trying to say something, but she was floating far above the rooftop, too far away to hear. Like candy that collected dust in an old lady’s parlor room, forever too pretty to eat. I was terrified of her. I turned away from her. Looking at her was like looking directly at an eclipse. I had nothing to say to her that would make sense for us. Part of me just wanted to kiss her on the cheek, hold her close and tell her that she didn’t need to run anymore, and part of me wondered if she was strong enough to carry me off and never let me go.

I walked away, towards the stairs on the edge of the roof, and when I turned back, she was gone. I missed it. There was only a thin cloud of light, like the trails of brightness left from the shattered glass on the wooden living-room floor against the white wall, and then that disappeared, too.

So, no, I don’t know where she is now. I guess I’m just glad that she...is? And I don’t think I’ll see her again. I think I missed my chance. Even I don’t make good decisions, right? Sometimes I think I only have so many good decisions left in me, anyway.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Sitting Here posted:

WEEK 232 CRITS PART 2/3

Twist gets his own critpost because hoollyyyyyy gently caress. Anyway, the other crits should happen more quickly now

Alouette

Your sins: Making me crit this monstrosity, uuughhh, god.



sincere thank you for the putting-up-with-me-being-an-rear end crit, SH

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



also thanks to Thranguy for the earlier crit, as well

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



you are a treasure, Rhino, thank you for the crits

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



The Saddest Rhino posted:

really how the hell is video game avatar shooty man slash fiction of them NOT EVEN HAVING SEX, JESUS CHRIST something from your heart, it might as well be the glowing pulsating red heart that pops up as the "SHOOT HERE PLEASE" at the very last stage of a video game and then you shoot it and then we get the credits sequence and i'm not sure where i'm getting into, but that pulsating red target video game heart doesn't even have a valve open to insert a boner so WHAT THE gently caress, MAN

also, came here to post this

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



In with France.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



ok someone slap a on my forehead for this week's submission because I am not failing poo poo

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Ironic Twist posted:

In with France.

Fell
1186 words

My half-dead father has been dancing for weeks, and I ran out of Ambien two days ago, and I can’t wrap my pillow around my ears tightly enough.

Tap, tap, taptaptap. Tap, tap, taptaptap. The sounds of his shoebottoms against the dining room’s crown molding are slowly driving me to take up smoking again.

“Shut up!” I yell towards my bedroom door.

The steps don’t stop, and neither does the tinny merengue music. I groan and try to dig a hole through my mattress with the back of my skull. I want to cry. I want to throw something at him, but the last time I did, he caught it, whirled around and placed it atop the twenty-foot tall china cabinet, and kept dancing without a stutter.

None of it makes any sense. None of it.

I knew it was never supposed to make sense, but now I really know.



“Good morning,” my father says to me from his place on the dining room ceiling as I walk in. I don’t respond.

Two, maybe three hours of sleep. That’s what I’m living on, now. While I shuffle through papers and cramp my wrist signing and dating them, while I take calls from all the well-meaning people telling me how sorry they are, while I protect this estate. I went to bed in a home, and woke up in an estate.

“Another bad morning, then,” says my father, adjusting his bow tie. He strides over and reaches up to the record player on top of the china cabinet, replaces one record with another from the cardboard filing box next to it. I don’t know how he made his way to the basement or the attic to dig up another dusty record player, after I heaved the first one out the front door and watched it shatter against the flagstone walkway, half expecting it to soar up into the overcast sky.

The music crackles alive, and my father dances, shaking little bits of plaster loose from the ceiling. I sit at the end of the dining room table, and focus on the rain.

All the family papers, the receipts and returns and legal documents, are all stacked on the half of the table that hasn’t been water-damaged, rain coming in through the broken skylight, glass edges poking out through the metal frame. A chandelier shines down over the paperwork, illuminating the names of family members, some alive, some not.

The rain drums against the wooden tabletop, against the driving backbeat of my father’s footsteps, the slow-slow-quick-quick that pries my eyelids open after midnight, that dances across my spine like an Olympic gymnast on a balance beam.

“How’s Mrs. Falconieri doing?” my father says, twirling, spinning, holding his invisible dance partner.

“Fine,” I say, my eyes on the forms.

All the well-meaning people that come visit, that shake my hand, that pull me into their embrace. There are the ones that hold you loosely, with their fingertips, and can’t wait to pull away. There are the ones that hold on tight to your hand, your shoulders, and won’t let go until after you pull away, like they want nothing more than to be low-effort raptured along with you.

“Charlie,” my father says.

I’m not sure which type is worse.

“Charlie,” my father says again.

I look up.

My father is clinging to the side of the china cabinet, digging his shoes in against the bone-white plates and rouged-up ballerina figurines. “Remember Mother’s Day?” he says.

I remember. Walking towards their bedroom with a tray of butter and jam and coffee and croissants, to find them both rolling around on the bedroom ceiling, laughing with each other. He reached down and grabbed a croissant, dunked it in the jam, and fed it to my mother, while I watched, horrified. I set the tray down on the carpet and walked back towards my room and locked the door behind me.

I blame him because there was nothing he could’ve done. I blame myself because there was nothing I could have done.

“I remember,” I say, looking back down into the varnished tabletop.

“That was the best croissant I’d ever had,” he said.

“I thought you couldn’t taste anymore. After--that.”

“Still. It was still the best. I can’t speak for your mother.”

I grit my teeth, harden my jaw--and then lurch forward, laughing. “I think--you kind of have to, now,” I sputter.

“When you’re right, you’re right,” he says.

I can hear the smile in his voice, and I keep laughing, a big ringing lack-of-sleep laugh that bounds up the walls and off the ceiling, and I double over in my chair it hurts so much but I keep laughing, because it’s the worst possible time that anyone could think to laugh, which of course means that I have to.

“Hey,” he says. I look up again and he’s made it further up the china cabinet. He reaches out to me. “I need a dance partner,” he says. It makes about as much sense as anything else that’s happened this month.

I walk over and take his hand. He steps away from the china cabinet, and gravity does the rest--he outweighs me by about sixty pounds. He lands with both feet on the dining room ceiling, lifting me into mid-air. The music skips for a moment, then keeps going.

I swing from one of his hands to the other like a trapeze, feeling his footfalls through my whole body. I laugh, spinning over the dining room table, the guitar notes and violin strokes intertwining as he carries me from one side of the dining room to the other. I close my eyes and kick at the glittering chandelier. The music doesn’t stop, carries us through this moment together, the last little thing we have. I know why he can’t stop dancing, now.

It’s funny. All of it’s funny.

“I just wanted this,” he says, and the word just snuffs out my laughter.

He takes one big step to the left.

That’s all it takes. One step too far to the side, and anyone can disappear, like Mom did.

I cling to the chandelier just in time, yanking it up towards the ceiling, not letting go of his thick wrist as he slips through the open skylight. He yells in frustration.

My arms are on fire. My thighs are wrapped around the neck of the chandelier, dangling crystals falling to the floor, miniature lightbulbs popping and sizzling against the falling rain, the rain splashing against my eyes, my forehead, running down my straining arm. I can see him, half over the edge of the empty skylight panel, dragging me closer and closer towards infinity, towards where Mom is.

“Let go!” he screams. “Let go!”

I grip his wrist tight, and look into his eyes. I try to speak to him without saying a word, because there’s no time. I grunt, try to pull him closer to me.

His eyes are wild.

“LET GO!” he screams again.

My fingertips are slick with rain.

I can’t hold on forever. But I’m still going to try.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



in, I'll find out what's in box No. 7 tomorrow morning

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Kaishai posted:

In with pyromania.

oh boy

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

He tried to write a story but it was bad, so he sat and watched the same youtube video he'd already seen like fifty times, and he kinda smiled like 'hey I recognise this -- it does not challenge me and I take comfort in its familiarity.'

low blow, man

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Pinballers
1641 words
Conduct Disorder--543 extra words

If you have never been press-slammed by one of your best friends through someone else’s five-hundred-gallon fish tank--with rap-rock blaring through the headset of your hydraulic stuntsuit and the taste of metal in your mouth--then you have not lived, my friend.

cHryss tips over the marble stand and sends the rest of the shattered fish tank to the floor, laughing like a short-circuited clown toy, while Jerrydd does a running headfirst baseball slide across the wet hardwood floor, broken glass and flopping angelfish ricocheting off his stuntsuit. “Motherfuckers!” he screams at the apartment ceiling. “Tag team maneuvers are cheating! Plus I was looking at that fish tank!”

“Cool overrules,” says cHryss. He bellyflops onto the coffee table, headbutting Angelina Jolie on the cover of Us Magazine, and his chestplates go off. I look up just in time to see him rocket-launch up into the forty-inch LED TV on the wall, butt first. He crashes down to the floor, and the TV peels off the wall and follows him down, then caroms off his backplates with a bang and skitters across the floor, coming to a stop in front of the kitchen island.

There’s a pounding on the wall from the apartment next door. We ignore it. There are only so many ways to make the most out of a ten-minute time limit.

These are my boys, and we play human pinball for a living.

When my fourth-grade teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I drew a wrecking ball, like the ones on the cartoons, chain links jangling down to the top of a big black circle the size of an elephant. Drew a smiley face with white colored pencil on top of it, a smiley face with sharp teeth.

Just now, cHryss handed me the Broken Glass Bonus on a silver platter so he could pick up both the Creativity and the Strength Bonuses. Jerrydd’s been working on the Four Walls Bonus, throwing all the framed prints and photos over his shoulder in a tangle of canvas and spiky wood shards. Before cHryss hoiked me up and threw me through the aquarium, I was chipping away at the refrigerator, working on the Compost bonus.The kitchen cabinets and tile are all spattered with crushed fruit, jagged condiment bottles, egg yolks running down the cherrywood like wandering little eyes. This one’s a close race.

But the grand prize still hasn’t been found, not until I hear Jerrydd’s yell of triumph from the other room.

Me and cHryss run towards him as he’s ripping a giant framed Italian movie poster off the wall, exposing the combination safe on a shelf in the wall behind it. We all cheer.

A professional would crack the safe with a stethoscope and a trained ear. But the three of us do this for fun.

cHryss elbows past Jerrydd, yanks the safe off the shelf, and heaves it at my chest. I lunge forward, letting loose a primal roar that echoes inside my shatterproof helmet. The safe hits my chest and knocks me back a couple steps as it flies towards the opposite side of the apartment, making a giant dent in the drywall. I’m on fire, and I’m loving stoked.

I beat at my chest with a closed fist and make a run at the safe in the corner, but Jerrydd bodychecks me out of the way and goes for it with a power leg-drop. His stuntsuit flips him head-over-heels onto his stomach, gasping for breath. A metallic voice rings in my ear: Three minutes remaining.

And as Jerrydd makes it to his hands and knees, cHryss snatches up the safe and hoists it over Jerrydd, aiming for Jerrydd’s backplates, looking to see if he can bank-shot the safe into the kitchen where all the stainless-steel is, like he’s a professional pool player.

I’m getting back to my feet, so I’m the only one that can see the old lady in a bathrobe behind cHryss, the neck of a champagne bottle tight in her closed fist like the handle of a caveman club.

I yell out to cHryss, and he looks at me as the bottle shatters over his head, bubbly pouring down the front of his visor.

He staggers forward. The safe crashes to the floor, just missing Jerrydd’s head. cHryss whips around, throwing an elbow out to catch Player 4 behind him.

The plates on his arm catch the lady under the jaw, flinging her up towards the ceiling with another bang. She hits the wall with a sharp crack, then clatters to the floor, limbs splayed, bathrobe slipping off her shoulder.

No one moves for I don’t know how long.

The metallic voice cuts through the blaring rap-rock--two minutes left--and cHryss jumps into action, grabbing the safe and bodyslamming it against the upturned marble stand. The explosion knocks cHryss into the track-lighting on the ceiling, and he lands on his rear end, sucking wind. The safe door hangs by a hinge.

“There,” cHryss says. “I win, fuckers.” He walks over to the safe and reaches in, yanking out a manila envelope. Me and Jerrydd still don’t move.

There’s more pounding from next door.

“What are you assholes waiting for?” cHryss says. He wipes champagne off his visor with a leather glove. “Our ride’s on the roof. Let’s go.”

One minute left, the robot voice says.

Jerrydd looks at the old lady in the bathrobe. I look, too. Her eyes are open, and her head is lolled to one side. The thought pops into my head that she’s not that old, maybe older than my mom, but not that old.

“Is she dead?” Jerrydd says. He giggles, and then the giggling turns into a coughing fit.

“She’ll be fine,” cHryss says. “More bonus points for me. Shouldn’t have hosed with us.”

“rear end in a top hat,” Jerrydd mumbles, but gets up and follows cHryss, shaking bits of glass loose from his suit. I follow, and only look back at the woman once, then tear myself away.



“...so after the Final Bonus, that makes Chris the winner!” says Mr. Tenzin.

cHryss whoops and slaps the armrests of the leather chair he’s sitting in as Mr. Tenzin counts out a pile of Benjamins for each of us, with cHryss getting the biggest stack. As soon as Mr. Tenzin is done counting, cHryss grabs his stack and kisses it.

Mr. Tenzin leans back in his office chair and beams at us. He’s our boss, and he’s got grey eyes, a growing bald spot, and a favorite tie he wears that’s covered in the logo of my and cHryss’s favorite band, ʞryptiʞ, the two backwards and upside-down k’s next to each other on a red background.

“Fantastic game, all three of you,” he says, leaning forward and looking at us. “I’ll give you a call when I need you again. Make sure to answer your cell phones.”

“Of course we will!” says cHryss. He looks like he wants to toss his money up in the air and start rolling in it like a farm hog.

I turn back to Mr. Tenzin. “What about the old lady?”

His smile twitches for a second. “What was that, Matt?”

“I asked what happened to the old lady,” I say, gripping the sides of the armchair. “The lady that jacked cHryss with the bottle.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” says Mr. Tenzin. He nods at cHryss. “Good work, by the way--excellent reaction time. No, we’ll make sure that that sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”

I nod, my lips pressed together. Me and Jerrydd grab our stacks, and the three of us walk to the elevator at the end of the hall and get in.

cHryss hits the button for the ground floor. He leans against the wall and laughs to himself as the elevator doors close.

Next to me, I can barely hear Jerrydd say, “How many more jobs we got left on our contract, again?”

cHryss stands up, straightens his back. “Two, and then we’ll renew for more,” he says.

“cHryss--”

“And then we’ll renew for more,” he says again.

“cHryss, I don’t know, man--”

Without saying anything, cHryss punches the emergency stop button.

The elevator slams to a halt. Red lights flash and sirens shriek.

“What the f--” says Jerrydd before cHryss lifts him up by his T-shirt and slams him against the elevator wall. “What the gently caress are you d--

“Hear that?” says cHryss to Jerrydd. Their faces are less than two inches apart. “Hear that sound? That’s you, that’s me, that’s all of us.”

Let me go, you loving rear end in a top hat--

“You want to set up shop in here?” spits cHryss. “You want to live in a metal box the rest of your life? Bouncing off the walls forever? Is that what you want?”

He shoves Jerrydd against the wall, and Jerrydd crumples to the floor.

The lights stop, the sirens stop.

Mr. Tenzin’s voice comes over the intercom. “Is everything all right, boys?” he asks.

I think of my dad’s landlord, his smooth mustache, his voice that sounded like it crawled out of a shaving kit, his polished shoe planted in the back of my dad’s jeans, sending him stumbling down the stairs towards me. I remember watching the wrecking ball from the back window of our car, buried in my stuff and Mom’s stuff and Dad’s stuff, smashing into the side of our building, and thinking that we were okay because it hadn’t hit the window where we lived yet.

Much smaller in real life than in the cartoons.

“Everything’s fine, Mr. Tenzin,” I say in my most professional, landlord-sounding voice. “Just hit the button by mistake.”

“Oh, good to hear.”

The elevator shakes to life again, and I feel it all the way from the bottoms of my feet to the top of my skull.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

you know those pictures where a dude's face is photoshopped so it's melting into his cellphone, then your aunt shares it on facebook like ***IT MAKES YOU THINK!!1***

please don't be like that this week

if it becomes lovely Black Mirror week I will come to your houses and poo poo in places you will never find

thank you, Muffin

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Thanks for the crits, Chili and Solitair

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh




I thought you were supposed to pick a bad album cover.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



in.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Alycia
660 words

I know it’s afternoon because the popcorn is raining through the rusted machinery above. I know I’m not alone in my Ferris Wheel cab because I can see for the first time. I have been here for this long.

The number on my seat is 8. I am Number 8.

He’s wearing a bowler hat, a tight striped shirt, black cargo shorts, raggedy boots, and a blue bandanna tied around his left calf. His face is in shadow. I stare at where his face is supposed to be, away from the scorching pink light.

Popcorn falls from my lap as he scoops me up in his arms. My jaw falls down like an unbuttoned pair of trousers, and the space in my throat where a sound should be is bare.

He inches and tread-walks over the rims of the Ferris wheels while carrying me, deft, slipping through metal spokes with peeling paint. The air is made of light. Hundreds of twenty-foot-tall wheels, glittering incandescent rainbows, all on the same metal axle, whirling round and round, some in a steady wagoneer march, some in a searing acetylene blur.

An endless number of wheels on one axle. An innumerable amount of axles, cramped and close like pencils in a cup.

There is no ceiling, there is no floor.

Faces in each cab like paint, drying slow and inevitable. I have been here for this long. The number on my seat is 8. I am Number 8.

On the wheel with blue-lit trim, he steps off the rim and clatters into the cab. He sets me down on the slotted metal seat, brushing away the popcorn. My eyes are still closed. He presses his index finger into my nose like a button.

I open my eyes and look up at him.

“I’m here,” he says.

“Hello, Here,” I say.

“Alycia,” he says to me. I lean back in my seat. What forms in my mind is not an Alicia with an I. I hear the Y in what he says.

He leans closer to me. I see the white teardrops painted below his right eye, three of them in an even column, suspended in flesh forever.

Without a word, he kisses me, deeply, breathlessly. I kiss him back. I let him pull away.

He stares into my eyes. “Did you feel that?” he says.

“Feel what?” I say.

In the distance, calliope music weaves in and around the creaking metal joints.

Without a word, he produces a bag of pink fluff from his cargo shorts. It falls to the floor of the cab. He turns to leave.

“Aren’t you going to ask me to come with you?” I say.

“No,” he says. “The machinery has to keep running.” He hoists himself onto the rim of the wheel as our seat nears the top again. He ducks his head out of the way of the cab at the bottom of the wheel above us.

“And anyway,” he calls over his shoulder, “you’ve never said yes.”

I watch him leave.

The number on my seat is 9.

I am Number 9.

I rip open the plastic bag, shove handfuls of the cotton candy into my mouth, ravenous and writhing, teeth grinding against the spun sugar, solidifying it into pink pebbles on my tongue. I swallow them all at once like pills. When they’re gone, I forget where they came from.

My hands move independently of me, try to whip the plastic bag into a tight cord, to tie it around my left calf like a--like a knot. It’s very important, even though I have no idea why. Nothing could be more important.

I open my eyes for too long, and the pink light is there again, and I close my eyes and open my mouth, stinging with sugar, pink shining onto the place barren of words.

I let go, and the plastic falls undone to the swaying metal floor, like the ghost of something else.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



ThirdEmperor posted:

blood throne my rear end

that's just ketchup you fraud!

you failed, YOU'RE the one who needs to ketchup

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



in,

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Peanut Butter Breath
775 words
Prompt: The Hanged Man, Mary-El

I met my best friend when she reached up from the bottom of the lake and grabbed me by the ankle.

Her name is Tom. I don’t know if that’s her real name but it was spraypainted on the cinderblock sitting on her chest, pinning her to the lake bed. Maybe it’s just that Tom is her middle name, and someone was supposed to spraypaint her last name on the block digging into her pale thighs and her first name on the block behind her head, trapping a few strands of blonde hair stained with dirt and moss juice.

“Missed you,” Tom says to me.

“I’m sorry,” I say to her, bubbles escaping from my mouth, floating up through the water to the gray afternoon sky. I suck another breath through the bit of old garden hose I took from the shed, the other end swaying and trailing above me.

“Tired?” she says.

Me and Tom don’t say much to each other. I don’t mind. She can say something and make it like a popcorn, exploding outward. One word becomes a hundred.

I shake my head, and I know she knows I’m lying.

I take another breath from the hose, pinching the end after I’m done. The inside of the hose tastes like Mr. Kelly’s breath, stinking, floating in the kitchen after I’m done playing Mario in the morning. Mr. Kelly’s the opposite: a hundred words become one. He’d wait until I put my cereal bowl in the sink to spit out his gob of tobacco into the milk. I’d see it floating in the bowl for the whole bus-ride to sixth grade.

Mr. Prescott smelled like menthol and chewed toothpicks. Mr. Concepcion smelled like chocolate and like leaves after the rain, with his hacking laugh. Mr. Frisbie smelled like sickly pink peppermints, the ones I’d put in my bottom drawer after he gave them to me. Mr. Coleman would chew on the sleeve of his coat as he walked into my mother’s bedroom, wool and wine on his breath after he came out. The words “You’d better learn today,” from Mr. Schroder, they smell like brandy and the ghosts of the worms I would step on after a storm, swimming on my tongue right before he whip-cracks the rubber hose across my bare chest.

“Tom?” she says to me.

I take another gulp of air. “Sorry,” I say again. My name is Tom, like hers. But I’m not like her at all. Sorry is just sorry. I want the water. I want the cold and the dark and the bubbles under my nose. I want the bad ending of a story that mothers tell their kids. Even a bad ending would be an ending.

Dinner is in ten minutes, and ever since I cut up the hose, Mr. Schroder uses his belt.

I sigh, bend down, look into where her eyes used to be.

The spaces behind her eyes are wriggling.

I lurch back, gasp, cough.

The hose slips out of my hand, twirls and spins above my head, towards the surface.



I hold my breath for as long as I can. I don’t want to breathe again. I don’t want to leave her again.

“Help?” she says. The pain in my chest keeps me from laughing.

I think of my father.

“Peanut butter breath,” he’d whisper into my face as he tickled under my shoulders, me squirming in my high chair, face sticky with peanut butter and strawberry jam. Pressing his nose against my nose, his index finger flourishing the peanut butter off the tip of his nose like a paintbrush against a palette.

I don’t taste peanut butter anymore. It’s all boiled and burnt in my stomach, and all I taste is dirt and salt and ash and things I don’t want in my mouth, in me.

The cinder block flips over onto its side, behind her head.

Her face jerks up, towards me.

I feel Tom’s ragged lips against mine, rough and torn. I don’t pull away.

My lungs expand, forced open with air, then contract with one solid snap.



The sky is darkening through the surface of the lake. Twilight blue, like I imagine the color of Tom’s eyes. I taste the dark blue on my tongue.

I take the Tom-block off her chest, and lay on my back, and place it down on my stomach. No bubbles escape my lips, no bubbles float up to the surface. The hose has floated away. The world is silent, finally.

If I can hide long enough, if no one comes looking for me--I’ll go looking for my father again.

“Finally,” I hear Tom say, and I agree.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



TD WEEK 274: I Scream, You Scream



Ok I've been talking about doing this prompt with Kai for a while so here goes: you will be assigned an ice cream flavor from TD's Magical Ice Cream Emporium blah blah blah flavor text it's eight in the morning and I have to go to work write a story inspired by that ice cream flavor.

Additional theme for this week: someone wants something, but doesn't get it.

I hope you all get diabetes. You know, in a good way.

Signup deadline: Friday, 11/3/17, 2359 EST
Submissions Deadline: Sunday, 11/5/17, 2359 EST
No: poetry, fanfic, erotica, political satire
Wordcount: 1200 words

Judges:
Twist
Kaishai
Sitting Here
Djeser

Entrants:
Obliterati
ThirdEmperor
Jay W. Friks
apophenium
Tyrannosaurus
Sham bam bamina!
Hawklad
The Saddest Rhino
Thranguy
Mrenda
flerp
crabrock
spectres of autism
sebmojo
Antivehicular
QuoProQuid
Yoruichi
sparksbloom
Deltasquid
HereComesEverybody
Fumblemouse

Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 13:36 on Nov 3, 2017

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Obliterati posted:

Fukken ruined it mate

I remembered on my own anyway. Wordcount is 1200 words. Will add to the prompt post.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh




Stracciatella!

Mint chocolate chip!

Chocolate chip cookie dough!

Moose Tracks!

Blue moon!

Neapolitan!

Cookies and cream!

Superman!

Green tea!

Mrenda posted:

In, but not for diabetes.

Spumoni!

Tiger tail!

crabrock posted:

hey, did you know Some Artificial Raspberry Flavoring Comes From the Anal Gland of a Beaver?

in



daddy needs a new avatar

Kani aisu!

Rocky road!

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh




Phish Food!

Antivehicular posted:

In. Pour some sugar on me

Chunky Monkey!

QuoProQuid posted:

in

gimme something gnarly

Chubby Hubby!

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh




Oyster!

Garlic!

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Jay W. Friks posted:

@Ironic Twist

The story prompt is as follows "write a story based on that ice cream flavor."

So, every story has to about our assigned ice cream flavor?

Because if it wasn't wouldn't it be "Inspired by" that ice cream flavor?

You're correct, it should be "inspired by". I'll add it to the prompt if people prefer. Your ice cream flavor does not have to be present in a literal manner.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Thirded, crits are much appreciated.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Deltasquid posted:

Thanks for the crits everyone.

Also, in.

Bastani Sonnati!

Beer!

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh




Rainbow sherbet!

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



yes, signups are closed. get to writing.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



~subs closed~

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFggLJxv9zA

WEEK 274 RESULTS

Let's get to the point: despite the jaunty tune above, this week was...it wasn't bad, exactly, just kinda sorta dull, especially towards the bottom. Nothing was the sort of fun and blatant Loss that we were secretly hoping for, just a bunch of stories that were mostly technically competent but fell short in one way or another.

The Loss pick this week, with acknowledgement that it still had potential, belongs to Fumblemouse. Sorry, man. You're a good writer, but some of us were just straight-up confused or ultimately thought the whole thing fell flat. It was a neat concept that wasn't executed very well, and in a week without a standout worst story, this is how it went down.

HMs this week go to flerp, crabrock and Hawklad, for solid and mostly competent stories.

The HMs weren't unanimous, nor was our Winner this week, but we ultimately decided that the winning story was that one that, in my opinion, nailed its execution and imagery very well.

Thranguy, last Sundae Night belongs to you.

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Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Djeser posted:

judging this week was very much like being invited to a dinner party where you're sure someone is going to piss their pants, and all throughout the evening you're just waiting for the piss, and then the evening's over and everyone's trousers are still dry, and you're glad that no one pissed their pants, but now also slightly mad that no one pissed their pants

tfw

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