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apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In!

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apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Vacation
735 Words

A construction worker followed his sledgehammer to the squat black rectangle of a bumper car attraction. He left a wake in the leaves behind him on the park’s abandoned thoroughfare. It was day two of Curlyland’s overdue demolition. Yesterday, he had destroyed a stand of carnival games, taking atavistic pleasure in smashing a mildewed dunk tank. The only evidence of the specter watching him work was the sudden and autonomous tipping over of his coffee.

The insides of the bumper car building were painted with images of famous cartoon characters altered just enough to not infringe copyright. The walls were packed with these murals, each character piloting its car with manic joy. Rearing back, the worker tensed and brought his sledgehammer crashing through the head of a white duck in a green beret. He noticed a pale flickering in his periphery and wheeled around, leaving his hammer lodged in the duck’s painted forehead.

It was a small child, face blurred beyond recognition. Eyes straining wide, the worker gasped and began to shiver, slightly at first, but intensifying until he had to grip his hammer to stay upright. He exhaled and tore his hammer from the wall. He could still feel the spirit’s oppressive company. Working up a rage, the man swung his hammer wildly until adrenaline allowed him to open his eyes. Nothing of the visitor remained but a glimmer in the man’s periphery. Now covered in an icy sheen of sweat, he resumed his task. The only sounds that reached him through his destructive reverie were the screams of the nearby Ferris wheel being wrested to the ground.

But the ghostly spectator remained there at the edge of the man’s vision, dimming with each swing of the 16lb hammer.

***

His wife stared at him with tired eyes and left the statement hanging between them. He stood there, nervous with his confession. She said, “No, you didn’t.”

Hours after his wife succumbed to sleep, the worker lay awake and tried to remember the ghost’s visit. In those eerie moments, it had spoken to him. Shock had not let him remember until after the sun had set. The ghost’s voice had reverberated through the building like a sourceless echo, not quite intelligible through the man’s earplugs.

Then he had stood outside the bumper cars, ready to bring the roof crashing down. If the ghost remained, it had been too faint to see. The building collapsed after three more whacks. He tried to convince himself nothing had happened.

***

Curlyland’s only roller coaster, a wooden one from the 70s called Ball Lightning, was scheduled to be brought down on the third day of demolition. Its 2,700ft of track stretched upward, looming over the park like the skeleton of a cat arching its back. It would take a week for the trucks to haul away all the scrap once it fell.

The worker lingered at the felled bumper car building before continuing to that day’s assignment: the dilapidated food court and its giant gazebo, dutifully shielding a score of picnic tables from the rain. Through his earplugs he could hear faint shouts as other members of his crew set up the explosive charges on Ball Lightning. Each exclamation sent him looking over his shoulder for yesterday’s ethereal companion, but it did not reappear.

In his partially deafened state it was easy to focus on his work and ignore the chill that accompanied his memories of the day before.

“Hey, you got a sec?” asked someone behind him. The closeness of the voice startled him into a rigid posture. Feigning nonchalance, he looked at the half-smashed pretzel stand in front of him, shrugged and removed his earplugs. It was his supervisor. “We got a big job in the city starting up and our wonderful boss wants me to train a new overseer on it. I wanted to see if you’d be up for it.” The supervisor glanced at his watch before continuing. “Oh, they’re setting off the charges.”

Both men turned towards Ball Lightning, its tracks luminous through the trees in the early morning haze. The cracks of detonations shook the air around them and the towering ride vibrated, faltered, and fell with a roar.

“Down she goes,” the supervisor said. He glanced back at the worker. “There’d be a small raise, of course.”

Clouds of dust crept towards the pair and they covered their eyes and coughed.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In!

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Predators and Prey
791 Words
Prompt: Temperance

A woman paced along train tracks, followed by a small boy. They headed from one town to the next, wary of any patrolling soldiers. The woman and her charge were less conspicuous, seeming like a mother and her child rather than what they were: black marketeers.

They had played it perfectly in the last town; the woman offered creature comforts like dry socks or bottles of booze—anything made rare by their inept government—in exchange for food. The boy would cry or just sit in a stupor and the woman would pretend to comfort him. Generous onlookers would offer up scraps of food or money. They got by like this, but could not stay in the same place for long.

Acting was fun for the boy, but he was innocent to the woman’s true goal of escape. Escape from the wretched country they called home and its oppressive, ignorant ruler.

The boy gnawed on a corn cob and dragged a battered suitcase as they walked. Around the corn cob he said, “I read a story about a frog once.”

The woman puffed a sigh which billowed around her in the frosty air.

“I think the frog was running from a hungry dog. But it hid in the water and the dog couldn’t get it.” The boy paused, then asked, “Did you ever see a frog?”

“Yes. Before the famine there were lots of frogs. My guess is they’ve been hunted into extinction.”

“That’s sad.”

The woman looked ahead to a small, haphazard city. There was no movement; most residents had fled. The ones who remained sat in the train station. Trains came sporadically and rarely offered food. Hope kept the people there more than anything.

The woman rummaged through her knapsack and pulled out two balls of sticky white rice.

Seeing the treats, the boy jogged up to her side, tripping in his outsized winter clothes.

“Take little bites,” the woman said. “You’ll feel fuller.”

***

They arranged their goods on the train station’s dirty floor. Cigarettes, scraps of paper, a small sack of grain, a jar of corn liquor. The woman scrutinized the crowd, looking for someone who might know a way across the border.

The people in the station stared at the new arrivals. After the boy got bored and wandered away, a tall man approached the woman’s makeshift shop.

“Waiting for the train?” the man asked.

“Trying to find my uncle. He was heading this way.” The woman kept her eyes down. If the man was an undercover police officer he would recognize the phrase and arrest her. He squatted next to her and whispered a name into her ear.

“He can take you.” The man gave a number, the price for crossing. “More if you bring the boy.”

After the man left, the woman called her companion back over.

“I’ve just heard good news,” she told the boy. “They have frogs a few towns ahead. We just need to save up money to get to see them.”

If the boy noticed her tears he made no acknowledgement.

***

Abandoning her young friend had almost been an afterthought. She gave him the rest of her money and food and left a note with her name and began her life as a free woman.

When his call finally came 10 years later the woman broke down. The boy had escaped. After a few years in a prison camp, he met a guide and crossed.

In the woman’s living room, the boy, now in his late teens, looked feral. She tried to ease his anxiety with sweets and tea.

“I can’t believe they make us pay for school here,” the boy said. He eyed the mug of tea like it was a lit firecracker.

“Yes, things are quite different.”

“I can’t even afford it. I wanted to study animals.”

The woman met the boy’s eyes and a chill rolled through her as she remembered the promise made years ago. The frogs had only been a convenient lie.

But she could not bring that up. “I’ve been able to save. I could help you out,” she said.

“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” said the boy. His posture approximated a wolf, leaning forward, eager.

“No, but I can offer.”

***

That night, the boy returned to his tenement room and surprised his girlfriend with the money. They eyed the bills together and rattled off possibile ways to spend their windfall.

“With this and our wages we can move into that apartment by your parents.”

His girlfriend hesitated. “That wouldn’t leave much for food,” she said.

The boy remembered his time in his home country. The woman had taught him much more than she realized.

“Well,” he said, “we’ll just have to take little bites.”

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Preeshin' the crits y'all.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


He Who Tells Us What We Cannot Do
1017 Words

Prompt: Moose Tracks

This story is now here.

apophenium fucked around with this message at 22:52 on Dec 28, 2017

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Thanks seb and tyrannosaurus and sitting here for the lovely crits.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


I had fun in my first foray into judging! Here are my crits from the week.

Mercedes

What worked: A cute little story. It was fun piecing together little bits about Hjalmar. A lot of the humor comes from Hjalmar’s outsider perspective trying to make sense of Poppy. I particularly liked Hjalmar referring to Days of Our Lives as a documentary. I had to look up who Bo and Hope were to really “get it,” though.

What didn’t work: There were some errors that probably should have been caught in proofreading

“What possible fun can you can we get from this activity”

Actually that third paragraph is kind of jumbled anyway. The “Are the words he formulated…” bit threw me for a loop at first. Also things like “peaked” for “peeked,” teacup and collarbone being two words instead of one. Ultimately, they didn’t distract me too much.

I really liked Hjalmar and was kind of upset the story ended when it did. You did a good job of alluding to things that happened prior to the events of the story and dropping information about Hjalmar. Poppy felt too much like a caricature or archetype of a kid. Would’ve liked more characterization for her and more space to explore Hjalmar.

What I took away: I wish I had had a Hjalmar when I was a kid.


QuoProQuid

What worked: Quite a lot, actually. The premise is immediately humorous and the story only gets more so once we get to the actual exorcism. The Archbishop is endearingly grumpy and collected. Poor guy seems like he’s been through a lot. The bit with the Boy spelling out exorcism had me chuckling. The ending is a good bit of fun, too, what better symbol of the monarchy than one of the Queen’s own corgis? You set this up nicely and it all paid off. Good inclusion of your flash rule, too. Also the story was paced well to where it felt a lot shorter than 1500 words.

What didn’t work: The Boy gave me that one laugh in his phone call, but was otherwise mostly annoying. Too much of a cliche for stories like this I think. Works fine as a foil for the Archbishop, but their banter didn’t really do it for me.

What I took away: I would definitely read a series of books starring the Archbishop running around exorcising famous British people.


Sparksbloom

What worked: Man, this protagonist sure is a loser, huh? Bad clothes, podcasty aspirations. Then he goes for a job interview stoned I assume, cause I don’t know who would listen to the weird diatribe about God w/o being intoxicated somehow. Then the protagonist wakes up and is talking with an angel about taking a life meaninglessly. No questions asked. There’s an odd sense of detachment here that I think works in the story’s favor, especially in the last line.

What didn’t work: There were some small comma and quotation mark errors that kind of bugged me at the beginning. The premise was a little jumbled. I assumed the protagonist was already in some kind of afterlife type thing when they went to the recruiter since the recruiter started ranting about God or whatever. Pretty weird! The back and forth with the angel was probably the best section, but my first time through I was still thinking that the protagonist had some sort of idea what was going on, but ultimately they didn’t. Not really sure why the angel would reveal that, other than to be a jerk. I think I would have liked this more if the protagonist wasn’t so clueless because it meant I was clueless as a result and things just kind of happened. The humor was mostly absurdist, but without a solid frame of reference it mostly just blew past me.

What I took away: I wonder if they have unions in the afterlife.


Sham bam bamina!

What worked: Holy poo poo, the prompt was comedy not horror! This thing is really creepy. The formatting and higurashi94’s language made the story all too believable. With all the crazy sexual assault stuff happening in the media, reading a story about a creepy gross stalker had me cringing, especially at the very end. At least it seems like higurashi94 will get in trouble. There were some good humorous moments with the other people in the thread making fun of higurashi94. The one person linking to pick-up artist poo poo was just, ugh. Kudos for pulling off the forum format; it was a really cool way to tell this story.

What didn’t work: Well, I kind of touched on it up there, but this story is way creepier than it is funny. If comedy hadn’t been the theme I probably would have been a lot hotter on the story. Also maybe you were too good with emulating a loser nerd’s forum posts…

What I took away: No joke, I wanted to see higurashi94’s awful picture so badly I copied and pasted the link and tried to go to it. No dice.


Crabrock

What worked: The framing of the story works well in its favor. I got the sense that it was this really long-winded joke that was going to fall flat and whoever was telling it was going to get made fun of and that would be funny. But that’s not what happened. I liked the first little paragraph, got me hooked pretty fast.

What didn’t work: The actual story was too long-winded, and didn’t really end up as a joke at all. Just a kind of overly sentimental bit of fluff that didn’t justify the length of the tale of the weird fish guy. The jokey bits throughout the tale weren’t strong enough for me. I expected the man to become more and more fish-like as he tried desperately to shed his moniker.

What I took away: No one likes a chicken fucker.


J.A.B.C.

What worked: This was really sweet and funny. I love the idea of two comedians getting married and bouncing their jokes off each other. I wasn’t sure if Nora was actually a comedian or not, but she handled that joke like she was. If not, there’s some good commentary there about dumb, unfunny men getting ahead in comedy over women. Focusing on the meta element of addressing comedy in a comedic story worked really well. The banter at the end, after Nora performs her take on the resting bitch face joke, was just very sweet and genuine and funny.

What didn’t work: I honestly would have loved more characterization of the two. There’s just enough done through their dialogue to allow the story to work. Too much would be overkill. Up above I mentioned the men vs. women in comedy thing, which I didn’t get explicitly from the story. Just something that felt like a potential. Would have loved a little exploration of that.

What I took away: I miss my cats.


Exmond

What worked: Ugh, you really tried here. I gotta give some props for that, at least. All of your humor comes from meta references to TD and people in the thread. And the punchline of the whole story is a quote from IRC. Clever, but yeesh. There are a lot of nice sentences w/ good imagery, really leaning hard on the hard-boiled type.

What didn’t work: It felt very hand-wringy and cringey. Worst of all, it wasn’t very funny. The meta references are not jokes. I appreciated the effort; referencing things like brawls and stuff was kind of neat, but it didn’t add up to a very good story and definitely not a funny story.

What I took away: Keep out of the way of Exmond’s stories when they’ve got nothing left to lose.


Jay W. Friks

What worked: God, what a sad society! This stuff really worked for me, especially the bit of the narrator’s interaction with the computer. Very grim stuff, which is probably not for everyone. I think ultimately it was a little TOO grim, despite the funny dark humor bits.

What didn’t work: The “assisted-suicide” bit was simultaneously the funniest bit of the story and the most disturbing. Overall I felt pretty conflicted. A lot of the “jokes” were things I really didn’t want to laugh about, and probably wouldn’t if the story was longer.

What I took away: I’m kind of depressed now. I hope the narrator is still okay with being a man-baby.


Tyrannosaurus

What worked: The premise is really fun, good potential for humor. The brothers and their backstory was quite interesting. There were some nice sweet moments, too. Dialogue was good, especially the bit after they discover they’re Nazis. That was probably the funniest bit of the story.

What didn’t work: The bit with the “Love the Jews. gently caress Hitler. Moustaches are awful.” was really the only funny part, unfortunately. The twinness of the two, the failed date, the ending, none of those bits really landed with me. I also felt the narrator was very thinly characterized compared to the trapeze artist brother. So I ended up not really caring what he did at the end of the story.

What I took away: I feel bad for kind of wishing the brothers had kissed or something. Maybe I should have kept that to myself.


Deltasquid

What worked: Wow, what a concept! Hard-boiled Roman cop busting an illegal wine smuggling thing? Sign me up! Lots of jokes in this one too, most of which worked. Some fun anachronisms and references and puns. Story keeps moving too, so there’s not real dull bits. I was glad Livia wasn’t just a damsel in distress and paid back the narrator. Solid stuff.

What didn’t work: As much as I enjoyed this, it really did not stick the landing. The last little joke was a bit of a dud to me. It was kind of sad to have such a solid story end on that sour note.

What I took away: I was eating really unnecessarily spicy salsa while I read this, but I didn’t let it color my judgment.


Djeser

What worked: Quite a funny concept, ripe for humor. You capitalized decently on the humor of the situation, especially with the ending section, a good ending and a good twist of the sword’s rules. That’s a clever little kobold!

What didn’t work: As much as I eventually enjoyed the ending, I was quite confused at first. I guess the first time through I didn’t realize that the knight and the kobold had somehow swapped places? Not sure if I was just too lazy in my reading or if it wasn’t quite clear enough.

What I took away: Complacency is the enemy of all.


Fumblemouse

What I liked: This is pretty funny. The idea of King Arthur coming back to deal with Brexit is quite funny. The whole little ending bit, after the beheading of the PM, worked very well for me. Arthur’s quip about “geopolitical realignment” was worth a solid laugh, along with Jamison hurling on Arthur’s greaves.

What I didn’t like: I probably will come off as a dweeb for griping about this, but the violence was too much! I can maybe get behind the gruesome beheading of Theresa May in theory, but dang, your descriptions were a little too much for me!

What I took away: Don’t gently caress with King Arthur.


Maigius

What worked: I was giggling the whole way through this thing. An animals of Australia creation myth! I only have second-hand and stereotypical views of Australia, but the story played right to those. Lots of nasty venomous things. Weird animals with pouches. And the crowning glory, the platypus! I loved the little interplay present among the Bureau and the fallen angels stealing all the nipples. Really funny.

What didn’t work: There are an unfortunate amount of typos, enough to be distracting at the start. Repetition of “still” in God’s speech in the second paragraph. I also would have liked to get to know the angels of the Bureau working on Australia a little better. But the story is breezy enough to not be a huge problem.

What I took away: I’ll likely never go to Australia.


Chairchucker

What worked: I appreciated the ending. I liked Bronwyn a lot. What a good dog.

What didn’t work: Felt pretty rushed and wasn’t very funny to me. Hard to imagine they’d want to bring back the guy and the dog since they incapacitate the usual host and a host of other naughty things. Oh well, gotta get those ratings!

What I took away: Mmm, Metamucil…


BabyRyoga

What worked: Hoo, what a joke. Good work setting this thing up.

What didn’t work: Tons of little mechanical errors. Some read like you were confused about what tense you wanted the story to be in. It’s a decent little joke, but the story is essentially just set up for that one joke. The rest of it isn’t funny at all. I didn’t care about the protagonist at all.

What I took away: I always thought the Cyrillic alphabet looked cool.


Sebmojo

What worked: Great prose, funny characters, and a great ending. Some nicely humorous moments to keep a good pace of funny to the story.

What didn’t work: I’m not all that familiar with a lot of this vernacular, but it was fun to read and try to figure out some stuff anyways.

What I took away: Man I have to pee.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In, Asia, After 1900 please!

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Heroic Verse
The Fall/Liberation of Saigon
1163 Words

When they left, they left by bus and by plane and by helicopter. They spilled out of Saigon and I felt them go. Then the Communists came, and I was emptier than the streets below. I spent my time smoking and waiting, not trusting myself to read.

My American friends had fled in the weeks prior. They left me their books whose annotations would continue our unfinished discussions. The floor of my apartment was now a library. I looked at them all, their multicolored covers dappled with ashes.

My brother Đức came in, a few days after the capture. I had assumed he too had fled; he had fought the Communists briefly several years ago. If he was recognized he would surely be executed or at least imprisoned. Something in my gut grew taut, though I barely acknowledged it.

“Brother, what are you doing to those books?”

Fearing confiscation, I had begun to rip out poems or passages which had particularly moved me. Perhaps in time they would move me again.

“I want to keep these.”

“There’s going to be a rally tomorrow.” Đức wiped sweat from his brow and knelt down beside me. “I think we should make an appearance.”

I skimmed a poem by Thomas Hardy before flipping to the next page. “Aren’t you worried you’ll be found out?” I asked.

A brusque knock at the door silenced Đức’s reply. Three soldiers stepped in, all with identical disgusted looks on their faces, their guns held at their hips. Đức and I stood up to regard them.

One nodded at me and asked, “Are you Mậu?”

“I am.” The soldiers roved their eyes over my library.

“We’re sending you out of the city. To teach literature.” He spat on a collection of Keats. “You won’t need this English filth.”

The government was working faster than I had expected. The next day I trudged to the palace to receive my curriculum and some rice. They drove me out of the city as the sun went down.

***

It was easy, but there was no joy in it. My students were illiterate. The material was just dry propaganda. They began to hate me, except one old man. He would come around in the mornings, after planting but before class, to work through some material with me.

At night I translated some of the simpler texts I had smuggled from Saigon. I thought of my brother. I missed him in a dull, distant way. I also tried to compose my own poetry, rekindling a passion from years ago. Đức never let me write in peace. Whatever I considered my best work was disregarded by Đức. I’d scratch and scratch at my lines until the were buried, unintelligible.

Đức had been right about my poetry. It was overwrought and sentimental. Blunt and pathetic.

I tutored Worm, the old man from class, that next morning. He had a mark on his face that looked like a little worm. A mean nickname, but he didn’t seem to know his birth-name. I had kept out some translations and he noticed them.

“Lessons for tomorrow, teacher?” he asked. He was categorically ignoring his own work, copying out the chữ Quốc ngữ.

“No, just memories.”

“Oh you keep a journal? Once I learn these letters I want to keep a journal too.” The man smiled, which caused his worm to wriggle. I responded with a tight smile of my own. His illiteracy was the only thing between me and a jail. I stuffed the poems back into my trunk.

“That’s a good idea. Now go ahead and finish copying the alphabet.”

***

A few weeks passed before I heard about Đức. He had been caught trying to buy books someone had stolen from the U.S embassy on the day of the Fall. The man told me and offered me a sorrowful look before heading on his way, more bad news for someone else.

Class that day was particularly hard. I kept imagining what I could have done. I could have gone back to Saigon. Better us get captured or killed together than like this. I had no idea where to look or what to do, so I turned back to the Victorian classics.

I stomped and raved in my abode, angry, hateful. My little brother. I shouted out lines from Wordsworth, from Elizabeth Browning. I rattled off most of "Goblin Market." I developed an audience and awed them with rhymes and rhythms. I was not performing. I was shouting, over and over, a line from Hopkins:

And yet you will weep and know why.

I wept, and knew why.

***

The next morning was hot. I felt the stares of people through my home’s thin walls. I wrote then, an emotional outpouring. I was relieved to find myself unable to cry. The lines I wrote, in my own tongue, built me back up. My own propaganda. My own rebellion.

Đức were you buying those books for me?

Worm came in while I worked and offered me a light breakfast.

“Thank you,” I said. He fretted over my puffy face and bloodshot eyes. “I’m sorry for the ruckus yesterday. I’m sorry for missing class today.”

He scoffed, “You got some bad news. It’s okay.”

I let him read over a few stanzas. On some level I think he understood them. He whistled through his teeth and told me how nice they were.

“My teacher! A poet!” He laughed and left.

***

My relationship with Worm grew stronger and stronger. He would teach me folk songs or drinking songs and I would teach him poetry. We learned a lot from each other. Things became harder in the village. We were hungry more often than not. Teaching and learning on an empty belly is not easy.

Worm had become a competent reader and writer. After some cajoling I showed him the poems I had composed in the months since Đức was imprisoned. The poems seethed with my anger.

“Teacher, these are good!” Worm said one night. He leafed through my poems and repeated some of the lines under his breath. “Why do you stay here and teach us and write? You should be out there trying to find your brother!”

“What can I do, Worm? They’d shoot me without hesitation.”

“They might, but you might get away with it. You’ll never find your brother starving with us.”

Worm did nothing but voice my own frustration. I had been passive too long. It was comfortable. Shrug my shoulders and adjust, shed a tear here and there, but I would never act. He was right.

“Promise me you’ll get these out somehow,” I said, handing him the rest of my poems. “I need to know you won’t be the only one to read them.”

The gravity of the situation silenced Worm. He took the papers into the night. I didn’t know where I would go or what I would do. But I would no longer sit and just accept things.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In,

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


By and By
Words: 946
A Man Alone With Himself by Hocus Pocus
Delivery Man by Mercedes


They had met at a figure painting class. Anthony had approached Aaron, complimenting him on how he captured the dynamic poses of the model. The easy conversation led to Anthony asking Aaron out for drinks. It had been a pleasant evening, though Aaron did not feel get up the courage to come forward about his sex addiction. Instead, they had talked about their experience drawing and painting. Aaron was comforted by the fact that they were relatively equal in skill. They parted ways after Aaron agreed to a second date.

The morning of the second date, Aaron convinced himself not to go. Anthony seemed too nice; he must have asked Aaron out out of pity. Aaron figured Anthony had picked up on some clues to Aaron’s past but didn’t want to seem rude. Besides, strolling through downtown at dusk wasn’t the kind of date that screamed “romance.”

But then Aaron had gotten a call while at work. He checked the voicemail sitting in traffic.

“Hey, Aaron. I really had fun the other night. I’ve been thinking about that story you told me, the one about finger painting. It’s set me to giggling each time I remember it. Anyways, just wanted to confirm the details for tonight. We’ll meet in the used bookshop on the corner of Hall and George. Call me if you have trouble finding it! Oh, and six o’clock! Bye!”

Aaron groaned, imagined Anthony’s sweet face wrinkling with disgust upon hearing of Aaron’s status as a recovering addict. It wouldn’t be fair to do that to him, he thought. Better just call and cancel. Traffic inched forward while his brain worked through all the possible outcomes. No, better to just flake. Find a different figure painting class. Give up dating entirely. Far too stressful.

He thought of how pleased his therapist would be to hear he had dated again. He could lie about the second date. It was progress, in any case. But wouldn’t it be better to get through a second date? What’s the worst that could happen, anyway? If Anthony couldn’t accept Aaron then good riddance. He took the next exit and took back streets to return downtown.

Anthony was sitting on a bench in front of the store when Aaron approached.

“Hey, sorry I’m late, Anthony.” Aaron grimaced upon seeing a bag by Anthony's feet with the bookstore’s logo on the side.

“Yeah, you’re pretty late. I hope you don’t mind, but I got you something.”

Okay, that was unexpected. Aaron watched his date pull a calendar out of the bag. Aaron started laughing once he saw what it was. A calendar featuring rugby players in various states of undress.

“Oh, my God. How much did I talk about rugby the other night?”

“A lot,” Anthony said, getting to his feet. “I also picked up this collection of local artists’ paintings. I figured we could thumb through it over dinner, maybe get some style ideas.”

“That sounds like fun.” Aaron was kicking himself. If he’d just resolved to go on the date earlier the two could have really bonded in the bookstore. “Did you look through the science-fiction?”

“I did! Nothing really caught my eye though. Too many ‘first book in the epic blah-blah cycle’ ones. Can’t sell a book these days without following up with endless sequels it seems.” Anthony’s eyes took on a marvelous glow whenever he talked about something he liked. Aaron thought it to be a very endearing trait. Anthony gathered up his bag and asked, “Want to poke into a few other shops?”

Aaron agreed and they poked around in a chocolate shop and a fancy clothing store before ending up in a cramped pizza place. Aaron had been too much in his own head, offering little in the way of conversation. After they ordered a pie Anthony asked, “So you don’t really date much, I take it?”

“No, it’s been awhile.” Aaron toyed with his beer bottle and avoided Anthony’s wry expression.

Just say it. Just say it and then if he’s pissed you can leave. That way it won’t be so hard to bring it up next time around. Aaron took a deep breath, eyes glued to the table.

“I’m a recovering sex addict. Therapy, group meetings, self-help books. The whole works.” Aaron finally met Anthony’s eyes. “Four years at least since I tried dating.”

Anthony let out a breath and shook his head. “Must be hard for you to put yourself out there again. That’s pretty brave.”

Aaron’s heart was pounding when the server brought the pizza. He stared at it wide-eyed. Why was Anthony looking at him like that? Why was Anthony so nice? It was galling. They ate without much conversation.

Anthony walked Aaron back to the latter’s car. Aaron knew what was coming next. A smile, maybe a kiss, and then he’d never hear from Anthony again. He had been playing nice earlier. Now came the letdown.

“Listen, Aaron, I see you’re vulnerable. I’m a patient guy. I’ve had a great time, so I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to do this again.” Anthony kicked a rock in the parking deck, sent it skittering. “But I’d understand if you didn’t.”

Aaron stood by his car for nearly a minute before responding. “I want to try, at least.”

Anthony came in for a hug. “So I’ll see you at figure painting class tomorrow?”

“Yeah. I’ll be there. Goodnight, Anthony.”

On the way home, Aaron had to wipe away warm tears to see the road. He laughed aloud and sang along to the radio. Part of him was overjoyed, part deeply anxious. His therapist likely would be proud of him, after all.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Having just vigorously celebrated the 24th anniversary of Doom, I have to say I'm in.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


The Effects of Stressors on the Creativity Displayed in Simple Logic Problems
Prompt: Portal
1298 Words

After I signed the consent form, the lab assistant began detailing the study.

“You will be tested on your ability to create a logical path from one dot to another dot. You will be measured on your time to completion and other factors I can’t disclose. When I leave this room, you will have five minutes to think about these instructions. After five minutes, I will return with a sheet of paper.

“On the paper will be two dots, one blue, one orange. You must connect them in a logical and understandable way. There is no time limit for the task, but again, you will be evaluated on your speed.

“At any time you may signal your desire to stop the test. You will still be paid for your time if you opt not to complete the task. Your five minutes of planning begins now.”

I was offered $50 to participate in this study. In the five minutes before the sheet was laid in front of me I thought of all the different ways to spend the $50. I imagined walking to the liquor store each day for the next month to buy a pint of whiskey.

When the paper was finally set in front of me I was imagining going to a nice restaurant, ordering a lobster and a single glass of white wine. What a waste that would be.

I was not given a pen or pencil to mark the paper.

I debated just folding the paper diagonally so that the blue and orange dots touched each other. This seemed like a smartass solution. I felt uneasy. I felt watched. They definitely heard me and were probably recording audio, if not video.

I folded the paper diagonally such that there was a crease connecting the orange and blue dots. I disregarded the part of my brain that imagined the lab assistant sighing at my action. I felt crazy.

I began poking holes in the paper with my thumbnail. As thick and durable as the paper looked, it gave way to my thumb quite easily. I created a perforated line in the crease I had made.

I indulged the people running the study and pretended to admire my handiwork. I hoped my face showed a sort of cleverness that I did not actually feel. What I felt was dread; dread that I was doing things wrongly, that they would walk in here and say, “Wow, you are the worst participant we’ve ever had. There’s no way we can pay you for your time. Please leave.”

I removed the bits of paper that still obstructed the blue and orange dots. This was the most difficult part. I didn’t want there to be extraneous cracks and tears in the paper. Just a clear and invisible connection between the dots.

When I finished I sat the paper on the table and scooted my chair backwards. I sighed and stared in false appreciation at my completion of the task. I felt I looked smug, but could not be sure if my features conveyed it properly.

There was a chime behind me and I turned and watched the experimenter walk towards me.

“Thank you for your time. I will now lead you back to the lobby where you can wait to receive your payment,” they said. Their expression was unreadable behind reflective glasses.

Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Well, how did I do?”

The examiner opted for a patient silence and a patronizing smirk. “I don’t analyze the results, I just facilitate the study. The lab director will be responsible for analysis. You’ll receive your results by email in a week or so.”

“That isn’t good enough!” I heard myself shout. “I’ve been so stressed out and I thought you’d tell me if I did it right or not.”

“One minute, I’ll bring in the lab director.” The examiner left.

I was left alone with the blankness of the room and the whirr of central heat. Time passed in unconscious chunks. I was beginning to calm down when a tall man in casual wear stepped into the room holding a few papers.

He walked over to the table and peered down at my work. He grunted and shuffled through the papers. I stared at him and rocked back and forth.

“Well,” he began. “This is an odd case.” The man seemed to take two or three long breaths each time he spoke. “Based on your results I’d like to have you come to our other lab and begin part two of the study.”

“Does that mean I did well?” I couldn’t contain my excitement. Finally, someone could see my intelligence.

“Your results are intriguing. Your intellect seems high, but this is just a diagnostic. Here,” he handed me two papers, “this is the consent form for part two.”

I signed it with a shaking hand. The man gestured me to the door.

“Someone will contact you tomorrow to schedule your part two. Thanks again for coming in.”

***

It’s been about a month since I moved into the testing lab. Every new test is more challenging than the last, but I’ve managed them all. Each test consists of connecting the blue and orange dot. Sometimes it’s three-dimensional, sometimes it’s not; sometimes they play music, sometimes it’s in complete silence.

If this is an intelligence test I must be doing well. When the examiners come in they regard me with awe. Today they only had one test for me. It was wheeled into my room on a metal cart. I collected myself the way I developed over my months of testing. Several deep breaths with eyes closed. Several deep breaths with eyes opened.

At first glance, it was the same as part one of the study. The dots were identical, the paper seemed identical, but it wasn’t. The paper was shiny and smooth instead of coarse. I weighed whether this meant anything. Surely this test was too simple, just a repeat of my first.

I sighed and ripped the paper exactly as I had before. The buzzer that normally accompanied the completion of a test did not buzz. The door to my room unlocked and the director of the study came in. He stood near the door and looked at a paper in his hand.

“Thank you so much for participating. I have to debrief you now. This study was not a test of intelligence, as we led you to believe. We were testing creativity under oppressive conditions.”

He placed a pen and a piece of paper on the cart, covering up my “test.”

“If you would please fill out this debriefing form and sign there at the bottom, you’ll be free to leave. A lab assistant will pay you on your way out. Again, thank you for your time and effort.”

He stooped down to ensure we made eye contact before finishing, “By signing and accepting payment, you’re agreeing not to discuss this study with anyone. They could be potential participants after all.” He nodded to himself and started to leave.

“But how did I did? Didn’t I do well?” I gripped the pen and stared at him.

“Frankly, sir, we were never evaluating your solutions for anything but their creativity. All of the puzzles have fairly obvious solutions. We were surprised at how little you noticed the inconsistent food and water. And you never once asked to have your waste bucket changed. It’s all there in the debriefing form.” He left, shaking his head.

“No! I’m not signing this. Bring me more tests! I’m brilliant, God damnit!” I shouted similar things as I was dragged out of the building.

Now I wait until the results are published. Surely they’ll acknowledge the cleverness of my solutions in their final report.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In, Horror

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Gobolinks
942 Words

The blood that was dripping onto the parched floor resembled a Rorschach ink-blot test, invented in 1921 by Hermann Rorschach. These facts intruded into my mind as I bled.

Rorschach died the year after he published his inkblots. The poor bastard probably died of a burst appendix. I was well on my way to dying from auto-amputation. My vision filled with white spots and I collapsed to the floor.

My mind didn’t let my vision settle on the mangled, detached arm. Instead, I focused on how my blood had pooled. It was in a symmetrical pattern not unlike one of Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers. Rorschach would be proud.

***

Oh, pal, you really hosed up. No more symmetry for you, we’re gonna have to think of something else.


For the second time in a month I awoke in the hospital. This time I was screaming. Through a milky fog of pain I saw a nurse stick me with a needle as long as a paint brush. I didn’t stay in my body, not all the way.

My left arm was gone and my right arm was restrained. They knew what it had done.

They operated on my left arm, below the shoulder, but above the absence. It sounded like many scissors snipping but felt more like gnawing beetles. I wanted to scream but couldn’t.

That segued into a sensation of fine thread going in and out of my shoulder. My panicked brain finally hurtled me into unconsciousness.

***

Hold on with both hands, one hand in the middle, one at the base. Point the arrow straight towards your sternum. Gravity will help, but nothing substitutes the force of your own two arms.

The next few days seemed to have more sunrises and sunsets than normal. The sun rose as a bright throbbing pain and set into a drugged dimness. My mom brought me home and stationed me on the couch, wrapping me in blankets. It felt like she was trying to hide me.

That had been her instinct after I told her about the voice, long ago. I remember her silence, how she drew up her bottom lip and looked at the floor. She talked to dad and then they moved me out. They decided I should be alone. It seemed to work better that way. For all of us.

In my swaddling on the couch I was aware of my asymmetry and the voice came back.

Two arms, god dammit, not just one! How the gently caress are you supposed to stab an arrow into your heart with only one good arm? You have to die, you piece of poo poo, or else it isn’t symmetry! You weren’t alive at first, then you were, now you have to die.

“gently caress you,” I said. I got up, shedding the blankets like dead petals and moved my left arm, the one not there anymore. A memory of hacking at it after it had detached; I couldn’t risk the doctors saving it.

As much as the voice shouted, I did not want an arrow in my heart.

Mom came in and gasped, dropping a bowl of oatmeal in the melodrama. I told her I was going back to my place and she could check on me there if she needed to.

But things had changed. My shed was cleaner, though the bloodstains remained.

It was perfectly symmetrical. A blooming flower of dried blood on the floor.

I took a deep breath. The usual musty shed smell now had a twang of something else. I realized I felt okay. I could do with a little asymmetry if it hosed with the voice.

Hey, that’s no fun. Don’t you want to see what’s on the other side? Where’s your sense of adventure?

The wind caught the shed’s door and slammed it with an invisible hand. The shocking sound took me back, the crack of the cleaver wedging into my humerus (ha ha).

Remembering my left arm brought me back to my other trip to the hospital. A gash on my chest and a chipped sternum and the voice hollering behind me.

Oh, you hosed it up! Even with all my perfect directions you hosed it up you defective piece of-

The shed door slammed again. Or maybe it was my hand slapping my cheek. I was whole. I was asymmetrical. I was under control.

I went back into my house, had a glass of warm milk, and went to sleep.

An arrow in the heart, like a deer. Don’t you want to die like a deer? Feed the leaves with your blood, feed your hunter with your flesh.

***

Rorschach liked poems. I liked art. My shed became my studio. I kept my faded blood flower in plain view as I worked. That piece, my first, had a rough authenticity, but I missed the sanguine red that fresh blood offered. I bought treated canvases to preserve that color.

I had tried paint, but it didn’t quite work.

Early morning sun filtered into my tiny work space. I eyed my canvases. That one was a bonfire, that one a wooded lake. There were more ambiguous, abstract ones, too. I was quite proud of them. Each one symmetrical, each one painted in my own blood. Trembling, I pricked my healing stump and let the blood flow. Today I would start on a larger canvas, something more ambitious.

I hate them I hate them burn them I hate them quit bleeding you’re bleeding for all the wrong reasons you loving ox!

It didn’t matter what the voice said anymore. I was doing something I enjoyed. Every day I painted was a day I rebelled.

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apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Finally judged, good job!

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