prompt: cyberpunk indecision
due 1/26/18 11:59pm pst
canty toxx for me
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 10:49|
|# ? Jun 23, 2018 19:21|
I appreciate all the crits!
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 14:13|
I'll fight you.
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 17:02|
Well I've wanted to start doing these, and you have to start somewhere.
IN Thranguy, but since I know nothing about Leonard Cohen just give me a song.
Crain fucked around with this message at Jan 10, 2018 around 17:28
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 17:23|
Well I've wanted to start doing these, and you have to start somewhere.
First, We Take Manhattan
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 18:46|
I'll put my pen IN. Thranguy, play me a tune.
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 19:26|
I'll put my pen IN. Thranguy, play me a tune.
Lover, Lover, Lover
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 19:35|
Also still looking for two more judges.
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 19:50|
Also still looking for two more judges.
I can't stand Leonard Cohen so in the interest of balance I'm stepping up.
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 19:58|
I can't stand Leonard Cohen so in the interest of balance I'm stepping up.
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 20:13|
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 23:12|
Week 283 crits: You Should Have Killed Your Grandfather, We'd All Be Better Off That Way
I went into this week not liking time travel stories, and left still not liking time travel stories. Even the good poo poo this week had paragraphs of exposition explaining how their specific time travel mechanic worked, and if I wanted that, I could go read TV Tropes. But I knew it'd be like that going in, so enough general whining. Let's get to specific whining.
sandnavyguy - Reset Button
The good news is someone else jumped on the grenade this week. The bad news is that a lot of this is a glorpy mess. The slightly less bad news is that it's a glorpy mess in a very newbie sort of way, the way a lot of people are when they wander in with a gleam in their eye and their pockets full of questionable words. Cut the first third or so of the story, start with your weird leprechaun guy, because he's the thing that makes this interesting. The ending feels like an ironic twist slapped on for some kind of irony at the end, and as we all know, Ironic Twist is the worst. Also, you tend to stick sentences together. Split them up, give them space to breathe. It's a good thing to check There were other weird bits that stuck out to me. "Which the fraud had embezzled" is weird, because the context of embezzlement makes me think fraud, the crime, and not fraud, a person who's a liar. And he seems to be embezzling...reports? I don't think that's something you can embezzle.
Anyway welcome to the dome, you didn't lose first-time, so that's an accomplishment, or else the judges felt sorry for you like some kinda big dumb babies. Either way, congrats.
Yoruichi - Time, Fast and Slow
The style and the plot here go together like chocolate syrup and chicken ramen. You've chosen a modern, realist, personal style for most of it, but the characters act like they're in a fable. So when the witch curses the guy to be late for everything because he was late for her, it seems more like she's a dick than some mythical irony. I also cannot remember any feature about your protagonist other than he got mopey about being late, so that's probably a problem. You were going for a cool idea, and I actually didn't hate the way you used the time travel prompt, but it felt at points that you had a cool idea and then tried to beat it into shape with a crowbar.
derp - Slice of Life
This was basically the only good "technical" use of time travel this week, because it's presented not as exposition, but as the protagonist's efforts to cope with his situation. Some of the other judges went "nuhh but why is the girl different", and please see my previous point about the judges being big dumb babies. You managed to make this fun to read through the voice, which was frank and immediate in a week of explaining. I think that "sad dude gets saved by a quasi-magical lady" is probably a TD trope by this point, though.
Thranguy - Year Zero
From time to time, I got the feeling that your protagonist was less a teenager and more a fourth grader. Mostly in the beginning, which means you were probably trying to figure out how to fit the tone before you slid into it more comfortably by the end. This one's also got a explaining, but I appreciated that it's mostly a personal story about this girl affected by time travel. And you managed to make the explainy bits a little less boring with the idea that the future has to repeatedly colonize the past, and they're starting to lose direction. It felt longer than it needed to be, but I'm the idiot for deciding to judge a week without looking at the word count, I guess.
Jay W. Friks - Hunt the Lines
This was a mess. It's set in some kind of fantasy world, but it's never clear what the fantasy world is like, exactly. It's got royals and rebels but also gatling guns, so I guess it's...Edwardian? Maybe? The way that it jumps back and forth wasn't clear at first, and it wasn't helped by the issues with proofing. Random words were capitalized so I thought, like, maybe the Wolf is the Shade but no, the Shade's a different thing. Also, your whole story's "point", as much as there is one, hinges on some rules lawyering that zips by so fast I missed it on my first read. (That is, the Shade takes your identity, but he argues his identity has changed over the cycles, so that now he's a different person and so the Shade has to wait until his NEW identity fades etc)
flerp - Last Records etc
This was simple, but I liked it mainly on the merits of its inevitability. You gave a lot of character to something that's explicitly constrained by its programming, and while the other judges were babies about "nuhhhh but it's barely got any time travel" I really appreciated the fact that it's not something that's obviously going to work, and it ends without knowing whether it does.
Antivehicular - Against Oblivion
I swear to god, something about this story is teflon to my brain. Twice during judging I forgot what this was about, and now writing these crits, I also forgot which one this is. It's the fairy one. Okay, yeah. This was really, really explainy to me, and I was expecting, I don't know, more to happen? Elf finds girl, elf makes decoy girl, girl joins elf. The other judges liked this more than I did. I don't want to be the one going "but where's the action???" because clearly that wasn't the kind of story you wanted to write, but this felt more like you were concerned with high-concept musings, which I guess the other judges were way into.
Sitting Here - Ukranian Dream Baby Visions
Like a lot of the stories this week, I think the ending kinda splatters onto the windshield and then just sloughs off. The way that it builds, I was expecting there to be something kind of more going on, some big pivotal thing in her past but then it's really just about her reliving a moment in her life and wishing she could do it differently. Also like a lot of the stories this week, I feel like this would have worked better at half the length so it could spend most of its time focusing on the idea of revisiting old bits of your life and wanting to do things differently.
|# ? Jan 10, 2018 23:38|
Stories of the Street
|# ? Jan 11, 2018 00:01|
A narration of Marvel at the Forest by Tyrannosaurus from Yellow week.
Rereading it during my Yellow crits made me appreciate this story even more so I thought I'd give narrating it a go.
|# ? Jan 11, 2018 08:11|
A bit more than 25 hours left to get in this week. Plenty of good songs left; The Future is almost untouched for instance.
Also, that's the deadline for word bounty crits too. Remember, it's always better to have extra words and not need them than the other way 'round.
|# ? Jan 12, 2018 06:28|
I appreciate the detailed crit flerp, thanks.
|# ? Jan 12, 2018 08:33|
Well that's a first. Thanks.
|# ? Jan 12, 2018 13:55|
Jay W. Friks fucked around with this message at Apr 27, 2018 around 19:24
|# ? Jan 12, 2018 23:20|
A bit more than 25 hours left to get in this week. Plenty of good songs left; The Future is almost untouched for instance.
Week 268 Bonus Crits Bounty – NEEERDS more like WEEERDS also the judges who are missing their crits are lazy poopheads
Taciturn Tactician – Beetleback Alley
The Mana: Okay you’re summoning, uh, an exposition (I think those use blue mana). I’m thinking probably cut or condense a large section of your intro. So there’s a magic alley that exists in many places at once and you buy special things there like poison and hitdudes and icecream. Halfway through the story, still not sure what it’s about. Ah. It’s a story about a guy who buys a thing.
The Magic: “Magic alley where you can buy anything” has been done before, a lot. I like the idea that it simultaneously exists in cities all over the world, but you don’t really do anything with that.
Why Your Card Went to the Graveyard: Your story rambles on with no direction for a long time. It goes on even longer before I know what the story is about or the conflict. The core of your story is about a guy willing to pay any price to basically get vengeance for the bad people in charge of ??? (your setting is too vague to give me any idea of where this is taking place). You do this through the setting of this magical alley, but the alley doesn’t feel magical, which indicates a flaw in your use of language. The critical problem of your story is it meanders. It needs a reordering, and it also needs to give us some reason to care about the characters. The setting of the story and the life the main character has led need to feel concrete. He’s had these experiences and crafted these plans, but the reader is never let in on any of that.
Captain_Indigo – Augury
The Mana: Hm, taking the picture quite literally. Okay, problem established, gotta give the witch stuff. I feel like “law-man” could use a name. Oh, it’s actually about if the guy is the main character in Shawshank Redemption. I also don’t like how he describes it, the line “they even found an axe by my bed” doesn’t sound like how I imagine the accused would phrase it. “Other birds”—weak description. There’s a lot of people talking at each other about the past. Well, didn’t see the twist coming, but I also don’t really buy it. Guess he’s not Shawshank Redemption guy though.
The Magic: Her auguries suck if she missed the dude killing her. The core of your story, ‘the truth doesn’t matter, what people think matters,’ has potential.
Why Your Card Went to the Graveyard: There’s a lot of exposition. I also don’t buy the characters. Specifically, I don’t buy that this innocent man murders an innocent woman “to be a hero.” To some degree, that’s because it’s still not clear what kind of person this guy is by that point in the story. I also don’t understand why this lady is sticking around if she hates the place.
Thranguy – What News of Trilanthol
The Mana: Two paragraphs of world building. They’re on a journey. More world building. Still missing the purpose of the journey. Their kingdom fell, but what’s at throne? The vole section of the fight scene is weak. Something something Trilinthol, gonna have to look that up.
The Magic: So I guess people gave voice and intelligence to animals and they hosed it up just like us. That’s an okay ending.
Why Your Card Went to the Graveyard: It’s a very slow start with a lot of worldbuilding before we’re really sure what’s going on, and I still feel a bit lost at the end. It makes more sense on the reread, but I missed key details in the beginning because I wasn’t sure what was important in the story until the end. Things like Chessa and Saj being trackers ended up not mattering, and only one part of Zackray’s lore. I think Trilinthol needs to be more clearly built up, perhaps through another story or having the secret history deliberately not told earlier. The world is also probably too complex for the story length; too much is wasted on establishing the different sides and world.
Kaiju15 – Bearer of the Heavens
The Mana: Well they sure hosed up that installation.
The Magic: This fulfils the prompt metaphorically.
Why Your Card Went to the Graveyard: This is the Hollywood version of The Government, which annoys me because it has basically nothing to do with reality. The entire thing is constructed as an excuse to put the guy in the lovely scenario of “you gotta put your finger on this button or bad thing” but then the choice of the protagonist to even remove his finger is removed several seconds after the inciting incident. So, there’s no tension or real conflict, because there’s no choice. It’s just “haha wouldn’t this suck if all these extremely specific things happened?” And it does. Also the character is extremely one dimensional, and unconnected to anyone so even the possibility of having this event strain a relationship is immediately wiped out. Basically, you’ve made sure nothing interesting can happen. At least it was a fast read.
CantDecideOnAName – One Last Job
The Mana: Oh good another story with The Government, which as we know is a monolithic entity composed of generic humanoids, but not people with nuance. Is he a suicide bomber? Too much elaborate gimmick stuff so that it can fulfil the prompt card. Why is The Government playing god with memories, anyways? Control? Who’s Elliot? Guess we'll never know.
The Magic: This is basically Memento, but more conspiratorial since it can be applied to society instead of just one dude’s hosed up character.
Why Your Card Went to the Graveyard: It’s a decent Sisyphean tale. It’s just a bit shallow, and because of the whole memory thing we don’t really have any idea what this dystopia/setting is like. I’m trying to figure it out if this is tech or magic being used, what with vine-rods and implausible electric gauntlet things. As best I can tell, the government is using a dude they keep memory erasing to kill people, but they erase the memories of the people who know the people who get killed so… what? I think the premise has potential. Too much is focused on the job/attack that doesn’t actually end up mattering all that much, and is overly elaborate purely to fulfil the prompt picture.
Well, anyways, those were my crits. I hope we all learned a valuable lesson about something. Other people should do more crits too. Like the other judges from that week, imo.
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 03:24|
thanks for the crit flerp thats a good rear end crit
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 06:14|
SOMEBODY FIGHT ME
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 06:38|
Sign-ups are closed.
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 08:02|
You know there is a new prompt every week, right?
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 08:15|
ur name sucks
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 09:23|
ur name sucks
lol. imma judge this because flerp derp
prompt: every species is sapient but can't recognize it in other species or communicate with them.
due date: Jan 27 11:59pm PST
derp, toxx up plz.
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 09:27|
Ur on looser
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 16:07|
My animals are going to have such smarts. The best smarts. I know a lot of sapient animals and I can tell you mine are the smartest
|# ? Jan 13, 2018 22:05|
Prompt: Stories of the Street
Irene and I are getting sick of each other. It’s not Irene’s fault. I don’t like the way she leaves water all over the bathroom, but mostly, after eleven years in this tiny studio apartment on the thirty-sixth floor, looking down at the street, filling up legal pad after legal pad, I’d get sick of anyone. Every day Mr. Stewart comes and brings us two lunchboxes, and we give him our reports. The instructions are simple -- infuriatingly so, in that Mr. Stewart asks us to write down everything we observe of interest. The window faces another high-rise complex, where the windows are only shut, so the only thing below is a stretch of street and a traffic light. We never get feedback. We just get ham sandwiches and instant oatmeal.
Truth is: nothing that interesting happens on the street. Sometimes people get in arguments. Sometimes there’s violence. At night there’s drug deals, I think. We’re too high up, and we don’t even have binoculars or anything, so really all we see are bodies in flux, and I just record that flux and mark it with a timestamp. Irene’s given up on any professionalism, though. A year in she started making things up. It was intoxicating. Where I’d write about a flow of commuters, she’d add in a local mascot. Then there were the celebrity sightings. People famous in the nineties, mostly -- we don’t have a TV, so it’d be the people she remembered before this job. Monica Lewinsky came by, she’d write. Mobbed by thousands.
Mr. Stewart never says anything about it. I still produce the accurate reports, so I figured he lets it slide for morale. Now Irene just draws pictures of naked people. Sometimes she shows me, and I blush. I used to think it was endearing. But now the truth is I want to push Irene out the window. I want to throw myself out the window, too, but if I push Irene out the window, then I get to write about it.
“Why don’t you just quit?” Irene asks me, when I tell her that I want to push her out the window.
“I don’t know what else I’d do,” I tell her. Irene looks at me like I’m stupid.
“You can’t think of anything you’d rather do than live twenty-four seven in a small room, staring out the window at people you can’t even see, taking notes with no discernible purpose?”
There’s a long line of cars stopped at a red light down below. A pedestrian runs up to one of the stopped cars and pounds on the windshield. Then the light turns green and the pedestrian jumps backwards.
I jot this down.
“No,” I tell her. “I can’t think of anything. Everything I can think of is boring. Like washing dishes. I was a dishwasher once, and I hated it. At least everything gets taken care of here.” Irene is drawing what’s probably a naughty picture on her pad, and I think she’s not listening to me anymore. “What about you?”
“I’m having the time of my life,” she says. She scribbles a signature on her drawing and hands me the sheet of paper. It’s a line drawing of a closed window.
Then one day Mr. Stewart doesn’t come. I wonder if we’ve done something to upset him. Maybe they fact-checked Irene. And then they fact-checked me, and they dinged me, because maybe I made an inference I wasn’t supposed to. Maybe the crux of an event happened at 9:35, but I wrote down a post-crux time of 9:36 instead.
In any case, I’m hungry.
Irene crosses her arms and sits with her back against the window. “I thought this was going to be a steady gig,” she says. “But I guess everything goes to poo poo eventually.” She raises her legal pad to the ceiling. “This pad is full. I need a new one.”
I look past her and out the window. The cars are stuck at the red light, just as they usually are, and the little dots of pedestrians are milling about. Horns are honking.
I don’t write it down.
Instead I look at the door. I’ve never tried to open it. It’s not in the job description. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the contract, but think there might have been something about opening the door voiding the at-will relationship. I don’t want to do that. But I’m worried about Irene. She’s sulking. She never does that.
Also, I’m still hungry.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” I ask her. Irene doesn’t say anything, but she stands up. She doesn’t look at the door. Instead she turns and puts the flat part of her head against the window. And she starts to drag one foot behind the other, walking in place with her head pushing against the glass.
The window is cold to the touch. I consider joining Irene. But I go to the door instead. For the first time in eleven years, I touch the doorknob. I am giving the door a handshake. It feels intimate.
Then the door creaks open, and a sliver of the hallway light spills into the room. I look back at Irene, who’s still immersed in her slow, gliding headbutt of the window.
“Hey,” I say.
I look toward Irene and I look toward the door and I sit down on the ground and start taking notes on the little sliver of hallway. I’ve never taken notes on a hallway before. I hope Irene joins me soon.
|# ? Jan 14, 2018 15:24|
Ahhh didn't notice the word bounty had a deadline. Gonna post my crits and stories anyway, better to DQ than fail.
If your name is Ser Cypher,crabrock,Sitting Here,sandnavyguy,Nikaer Drekin then I have crits for you! (Please don't brawl me)
Lions, Tigers and Bears by Nikaer Drekin
The start is okay, but it shifts a lot. We go from soul-searching lonelinees, to happiness, to something weird. I'm talking about the starting three paragraphs. By now I'm thinking something is weird with the water and the kid, and that's the draw.
K another three paragraphs in and your story tells us a lot of things, doesn't show a lot. It's fine for me though because i like your prose. I'm not getting your narrators "voice" but the prose is easy enough, simple enough that I'm still interested. You continue to do this "Something is weird about aqauriaums and this kid" thing that continues to interest me.
Don't really get the whole passion thing but okay, story getting a bit shaky when we are at the dolphin show. Then the story ends and it's not too satisfying, I was hoping for an explanation why he loves dolphins. You also kind of make it about the ocean, which seems out of nowhere.
Overall: Middle/Middle-High, you had my interest up until mid-way through the dolphin show.
Reset button by sandnavyguy
Ouch, bad start. I'm not interested in a cat, a can, or someone saying "Darmn it". It's a good attempt at prose, or setting the theme of your story. I'm guessing a grimy world and we are diving head deep into the baddest parts of the grime.
Your second paragarph, I uhh, I want to point out that I get it, David is drunk. You don't need to waste an entire paragraph telling me David is drunk. This didn't slow me down, but it seems odd.
Thid paragraph, good prose. Islands of Memory rose up momentarily. Good, keeps with the theme. There is a bit of a grammar problem here in this paragraph but it's good.
I'm at the middle now and the story is starting to shake, my suspension of disbelief falling down a chasm. I don't know maybe people who think "Hey rear end in a top hat it's exactly X time and im doing Y". The devil introduction (I'm betting it's the devil) does a small info dump that's good! It get's away with it with style. But at this point there has been a lot of TELLING, and not SHOWING. Having a character think an info dump at this point in the story is bad.
The David and Devil bit is okay, think you could of gone over and tightened it up. I don't know why David suddenly gets the ability to say no to the deal. It's a bit unsatisfying. I have an issue with your ending. Since Davis is our main character, it seems odd to switch to Gary and have the devil murder him. Seems disjointed, and there is enough small problems in your story that this sticks out.
Overall: Medium/Medium-Low, couple of repetition problems
Hindsight by Sitting here
By third paragraph we get the draw, the camera behind the scenes! So character is either a robot, or a telepath or something? As is, great prose that compels the reader to continue reading.
By the second "section" where the camera-eye opens , your prose is still great but you need to tell me what the camera-eye is and you need to tell me soon. I kind of feel like this could be like a robot, the next sentient Iphone? At this point you might be saying "hah Exmond you cad!" while plotting my murder and I would kindly ask you to stop sharpening that knife. You have laid out a mystery in your story but haven't explained it or offered hints save for a few descriptions of the camera. All the descriptions are also techy, or surrounded by tech. Unless you distract me with something else I will make assumptions, and so far you have offered up the story of someone named FruitPukes to distract me.
Right. third "section" and it just has mention of the camera-eye. Also great prose, it continues on, and you have talent. It keeps the reader reading. I don't know much about FruitPukes, she wants to be grounded because she spaces out due to the camera-eye. But apart from that our protagonist seems passive, bit of a ghost wandering through your story.
Fourth section, WHY DID THIS TAKE SO LONG TO GET TO. You know whats gonna distract me from the weird camera-eye you don't explain. AN AMAZINGLY DESCRIBED POST-APOCALYTPIC SCENARIO WITH HINTS OF EVERYDAY LIFE BUT NOT FULLY EXPLAINING IT. Holy shiiiit.
Fifth section. Okay now im back to confused. It sounds like she wants to join James in VR, so does she? And VR is going back in time to relive memories? What is this camera-eye thingy? Does she have control over it?
6th section. Well poo poo, you nail it and that's a super sad story. On the first read, at this point i have forgotten about the camera-eye and you get away with it.
Overall: High/Medium-High. The camera eye is never explained, and the start of the story is not needed. But ends on a sad note and the prose is great.
Coal fire by crabrock
Great opening, first off you establish more danger, then you establish a mini-mystery, how does this old man know the protagonist! One-two punch combo and I'm hooked, I want to read more.
I'm in the middle section (Protag and Old man are in a booth now) and you have some good lines. "Nothing complicated. This guy looked complicated." The story clips at a good pace and I think we are going to move onto something stronger, so far it's been light setting up the scene. It's good, just want something more meaty now.
Oh okay, drunk protag, lets go follow a random old man down some ancient miner tunnels.
Hmmm, I'm at the ending. I think this suffers from me not liking horror to much. You almost had me thinking it wasn't going to end up with MUUUUURDER when the guy was explaining the coal fire (Also that's neat). But then you go through with it. Thinking about it.. This is good. Kind of predictible, but it's good. The old man is a character and I like him, I like the explanation, I like this piece.
Upload by SerCypher
Bwhahaha, okay this is a good start. It seems like, morose horror with comedy. "Enjoy the ride, you are a bit to old to be scared of rollercoasters." I kind of feel like the protagonist knows the ride is a death trap, but so far good start that is funny. And that's hard to pull off.
Yeah, called it about the protagonist. Good prose, "From that fear, came the parks"
I'm at the end part with dave and I am confused. It sounded like our protagonist was the ride attendant, but he is participating in the ride? Also why is he scared if he knows what's going to happen?
Ending is expected. Hmmm, this piece hit middle for me. Great start, really great but you don't keep the tone. Dave's portion is some interesting world building, but lacks that dark humor. The ending is confusing, since It didn't match the start where the protag is almost joking about the uploading process.
|# ? Jan 14, 2018 18:08|
Fleeting Moments of Comfort
“You promised yourself you wouldn't cry.” I thought for the tenth time. The fluorescent light bulbs popped, setting the beat to my dirge. The radio played out the news - another dead boy found in the outskirts of the city - setting up the bass and my mind whispered, supplying the chorus.
You’re a failure
I didn't need to be here, I didn't want to be here.
Failed as a lover
I took a swig of the spiked coffee to try and silence the chorus. I had to be here, for her.
Failed as a mother
I slammed my hand on the coffee table and the patrons at the late night diner turned to stare at the crazy police officer. Someone in the back row muttered "Cops, not worth a drat in this city" and I was about to engage in some police brutality when the bell above the cafe door chimed. I looked up and saw him; the world fell silent.
Dan, my ex-huband, scanned the diner, and saw me. His blue eyes sprakled for a brief moment and then went dull. A few steps and he was at the booth, removing his red leather jacket and throwing a yellow envelope on the table. It landed with a loud THWACK; The world came back. The fluorescence light bulbs popped, the radio reported that yet another murderer was lose in the city and the chorus sang. I stared at the envelope hoping I could will it away.
"So, I'm here." Dan said
"Yeah, Midnight beat makes lawyers hours unworkable."
"Well, everything has to be on you terms," Dan stopped and looked up at the blinking florescent lights. "Sorry that was. It's been a long night."
"It's understandable." I said and looked up at him. He was staring at me with his large blue eyes. I wondered if he still saw the young blonde cursing up a storm at her broken down car. The curves of my lip turned upwards as I remember the first things Dan said to me, "that any lady that could curse like that didn't deserve to be in a dress as pretty as that.".
"It's good to know that I can still make you smile." Dan said, breaking me out of sweeter memories. We both stood there in a moment of silence, the tramp and the ex-husband sitting under the fluorescent moon of an old antiquated diner.
"How is Maria doing... Our-" My voice cracked up. I had no right to call her that. Hell I was signing her away tonight.
Failure as a mother
"Our daughter," Dan finished for me, "Is confused and hurt, but she will be fine."
The drat was breaking and my breath was coming in short ragged gasps. Images of Maria slipping from my grasp and running off into the city, alone and defenseless, made my heart race.
"I.. I didn-"
"Don't." Dan warned me.
"It was one scolding, she was out in the city for hours, ALONE."
"I can't remember a lot of scoldings that ended with a raised palm."
A pang of guilt ran through me. I just wanted her to listen, to learn that the city was not a place a young 6-year old girl wanders alone, not this city.
"I never hit her."
"Because I came in and grabbed your hand."
"I would NEVER hit her!"
"No, just scare her sensel-"
Dan let out a sigh and stretched his fingers, making a fist in the right hand, then the left and repeating the process until he was calm enough to speak.
"Arguing about this isn't going to help. You called me so we could do the best thing for Maria. " Dan took in a deep breath and punctuated the last words for emphasis, "You called me."
And there it was. The simple fact hitting me straight in the face. All the anger, all the frustration was punched out of me. Man up and shut up and do the right thing for your daughter you miserable failure of a mother.
I grabbed the envelope and opened it, pieces of paper littering the table. On each piece was an area for my initials. And on the last page at the very bottom, was a blank space for my name.
I closed my eyes, stayed true to my promise and did what's best for my kid.
"I, Charlotte Dunmer, " I said as I signed, "give up all custody rights to Dan Dunmer." I went through the other papers and signed my initials where required as the radio played the dulcet tones of a gravelly voiced singer.
I put the papers back into the envelope and handed it to Dan. I shivered as the cold bit into my bones and downed the rest of the coffee, ignoring the sharp sting of alcohol. As I lowered the cup Dan was staring at me again. I looked up at him, reminded myself for the eleventh time not to cry, and wondered what he saw. Did he see a young woman, tired of the injustice in this world? A burnt out police officer? A failure of a mother who almost hit her child? I didn't want to know.
"Are you doing allright?" Dan asked and then added, "before this happened."
"I'm fine." I lied.
Dan reached over and grasped my shoulder, squeezing it affectionately. It was the first time he had touched me since grabbing my upraised palm. The drat walls shuddered and collapsed, tears started forming down my eyes, I turned my head to try and hide them. Dan plopped besides me in the booth and wrapped his hands around me and I turned inward, burying my head into his shoulder.
"You're a terrible liar." Dan said.
"It's so hard, to try and change this," I said as the radio interrupted the song to report on a missing child, "it's just so god-drat hard."
Dan ran his arm up and down my shoulder and I clung onto him, my anchor in a world spiraling down the drain.
"This city.. It just eats everyone up. You agree with me Dan, she shouldn't be out there alone!"
Dan nodded in the affirmative as my tears stained his shirt.
"You're right, but you scared her, you scared me." Dan said.
Another pang of guilt ran through me and I curled up harder, trying to stop the chorus of voices. After a few minutes, I started feel warm and fuzzy, and I whispered to Dan.
"I don't want to lose you and Maria. I want to make this city better."
Dan tensed up but didn't let go of me. In a slow, calm voice he said, "You haven't lost Maria."
"But I'm a dead-beat. I didn't mea-"
Dan interrupted me, placing his arm behind my head. The world was getting dizzy, so I rested my head on his shoulder.
"I've lived with dead-beats. You're not one of them. What matters, is that you are trying to do better." He kissed me on the forehead as the warm glow from the alcohol started to make the world fuzzy and darker. Just as I closed my eyes, I felt him squeeze me last one time. "You go change the world Charloette, I'll make sure our daughter is there to see it."
I smiled and closed my eyes, as the world got dark and far away a sad part of me realized he never answered if I had lost him.
A loud noise woke me up and the world came at me in full color. The radio's volume was turned up to 11 and the flourscent lights were emitting light greater than the sun. I groaned, which was a mistake as the sound reverberated through my skull.
"Looking good Charloette. Here like you asked, ready for the midnight shift?" A voice above me said.
I looked up to see a police officer making a mockery of the official uniform. His shirt was untucked, he wore a gold necklace around his neck and I'm pretty sure skater shoes aren't regulation. Meet my partner on the midnight beat, Michael.
Michael might not look like it, but he was an angel on high, because he handed me a large glass of water and two aspirin. I drank the water and gobbled the asprin down.
"What did I tell you about your uniform?"
"That I look like a monkey in a police officers outfit. Though, I don't think you can talk with the red jacket."
I looked at him, confusion on my face and then I pawed at my shoulders. Dan's red leather jacket was draped over me, like a blanket. There was no sign of Dan, or the envelope. I grabbed the jacket and motioned for Michael to leave. I looked at the waitress and asked for the bill.
"That fine young looking man paid for your bill. Told me to tell you to keep the jacket too. A much needed kindness, he told me."
I muttered a curse and left, what the hell was Dan th-. Then a snowflake hit me on the nose.
"It's loving snowing in FLORIDA?" I asked Michael as I noticed he was putting on a winter jacket.
"Everybody knows that the world is going to hell in a handbasket." My partner said.
I tugged Dan's jacket on me, smelling his fragrance and feeling the warmth; I remembered him holding me. A sad realization hit me: that would be the last time Dan held me. I recalled his words, remembered the fleeting moment of intimacy. It wasn't much, but it would be enough.
"Let's show em a kindness, show em that people are still here to protect the world then."
|# ? Jan 14, 2018 18:10|
November never ended for me. The willow tree outside is still losing its leaves. Each day, I go outside and rake the leaves. Tomorrow is garbage day and I leave the green bin in front of the house. It doesn’t matter though, because when I wake up, the leaves will be back on the ground and the garbage cans will be next to your car.
I throw the rake back in the garage and go inside. I turn around all of the photos of us so they don’t stare -- our wedding picture, our trip to Hawaii, the one where you took a picture of me lying in the bathtub, trying to get through my jellyfish stings. You promised me you deleted the picture, but a couple of days after we came back home, I found it framed.
I’ve counted the days on my skin. It’s the only thing that doesn’t change. There’s three hundred and sixty three scars on my arms. I pull my knife out of my pocket and cut another mark into my skin. I check the pantry and pull out the nice wine you bought me a couple years back. You said to save it for a special day. Today seems like the closest I’ll have to a special day.
I sit on the porch, uncork the wine, and drink it from the bottle. It tastes bitter, like an old cherry. The neighborhood is quiet like every other day. The houses are the empty. The cars don’t move. The sky is gray, and when I check my phone, it says it will rain tomorrow. It never rains today, though. Sometimes I feel mist on my face, but that’s as far it goes.
The wine gets sweeter as I drink more of it. It’s some French name. I don’t know if it’s actually from France, or if you bought it from liquor store right before our anniversary. You said it costed five hundred dollars and I laughed and you laughed with me.
I get halfway through the bottle and I want to smash it. I want to break across the porch. I want to run down the streets, but I’ve already tried that. No matter how far I go, I have to sleep eventually. And when I do, I’m back here. In the same house. With the same leaves. Waiting.
I finish the bottle and the sky is dark. The air freezes my skin and I go inside. I turn on the TV and it’s the same nightly news. I’ve heard the same words hundreds of times before. I put the wine bottle back in the cabinet, just so the house is the same as it always is.
When I wake up, I’m next to you. I can’t breathe. I can only stare at you breathing, shivering. I feel like crying. I reach out to touch you, but my hand just fades away as I try to grab you. I reach with my other hand, but I can’t. You’re somewhere different than me.
I say, “I’m sorry,” and your eyes open. They look at me for a moment and my chest tightens. I wait for you to say something to me. Anything. Instead, you wrap the blankets around you tighter and turn away from me. I wait there, hoping, maybe, you’ll see me again. Eventually, you sigh and get up. You ignore me as you walk out of our bedroom. My hands still shake, but I force myself up.
You sit out in the front porch, the French wine on the table next to you. staring at the unraked leaves in the driveway. You sigh, and uncork the bottle. You pour it in a glass and I sit down in the chair next to you. I want to ask for some, but I don’t have any words. I watch you take a sip. You cough, spit a little bit out, and stare at the bottle.
You whisper, “gently caress,” so quietly it feels like the wind said it. Then you stand up and go into the garage. You drag the rake into the driveway, scraping against the gravel like nails running down my back. You get all the leaves in a pile and pull the bin to it. You stare at it for a while, then you look up at the sky. Then you close your eyes and bite your lips. You whisper, “Calm down.”
I try to wrap my arm around you, I try to say something, but there’s nothing. Instead, all I do is watch you take a deep breath and scoop up a bundle of leaves into the bin. I try to grab some too, but they pass through me. You sit down on the driveway and squeeze your eyes shut. I remember that look. Where you’re trying to stop yourself from crying.
I sit down next to you and say, “I love you.” You look at me, right into my eyes. I reach out to you, but you don’t move. Then you shake your head and get back to the leaves.
You go back to the porch, pick up the wine bottle, and put it back in the cabinet. You watch TV for a while, but you’re not looking at it most of the time. The newscaster is saying something different than I remember. You’re looking out the window, or at your hands, or your eyes are closed for a bit too long. I sit next to you. You’re warm. Warmer than I remember. I wonder how I feel. If the house is a bit colder because I’m in it now. You grab another blanket and fall asleep on the couch.
I sit there, trying to run my hands through your hair, but I can’t. I can’t remember how your skin feels. I can’t remember how you hair feels. I whisper in your ears, “Don’t worry about the leaves. November will be over before you know it. Winter, too.”
Eventually, I fall asleep too.
I wake up and you’re not next to me. I go to the cabinet, looking at all the pictures lining our walls. The wine bottle is still there. I don’t take it out, though.
I sit down on the porch and sit next to the chair you sat in. I imagine you there, looking at the yard, and sighing. Staring at the leaves and hating that you have to do it everyday. I get up and rake the leaves, like I always had to. I hope there’s not too many for you today.
I go back inside and cut two marks in my arm. Three hundred and sixty-six. Only three hundred and sixty-four more until the thirtieth day of November. Until then, though, I hope December isn’t too hard for you. November’s not too hard for me, now that you’re at the end of it.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 01:46|
A Choice 1,190 words
A snapping twig was all the warning they had. Jack Wilhock looked out over the fire just as the first rifle shot split the night. Amos’s head snapped back, and then Jack’s brother lay sprawled in the dirt. Gus and Andy rose and drew their pistols, firing blind into the dark beyond the camp. Jack did the only thing he could think to do. He grabbed his share and ran into the dark with the roar of gunfire behind him.
Three days later, Jack wished he’d grabbed the drat canteen instead. His tongue filled his mouth. Each convulsive attempt to swallow what spit he had seared his throat. He staggered aimlessly through dry scrub, his eyes fixed on the ground three feet ahead.
The world blinked, and everything was sideways. He could see the gnarled roots of the plants around him. Each breath sucked in dust. Jack pushed himself onto his back.
“Well, Amos,” he croaked, “you did tell me to stay in Kansas City.” He wheezed a single laugh and the world filled up with black.
He woke in a cave. Above him, a man with a face like an peach pit drew back a ladle dripping with water. Jack tried to reach for it, but his arm barely responded.
“Hold on, son,” the man said. “Cain’t rush this.”
“Please.” Jack’s voice was gravel.
The man shook his head.
“Too much ‘n you’ll puke on m’floor.” He barked a laugh. “Name’s Wyatt Avery.”
Jack paused, hoping his hesitation would be mistaken for another symptom of his state.
Jack wasn’t sure how many days passed. He fell into a rhythm of sleeping, waking to find Wyatt puttering around the cave, drinking and eating what he could, and falling back into a deep slumber. Then he woke to find the old man gone.
Next to his mattress, he found a cup of water and his clothes, laundered and folded. Jack’s eyes went wide, and he shambled out of bed, head turning back and forth, until his eyes spotted his sack of money. It slouched next to the cave wall at the foot of his bed.
He dressed, drank the water, and found a dish of cornbread. While he ate, he opened the sack. The cash looked undisturbed. He thought about hiding it, but if the old man were going to rob him, he’d of done it. Hell, all he’d had to do was take the sack and leave Jack where he’d found him. Jack rewound the string and tied it off, then sat and waited for the old man to return.
Wyatt ducked into the cave four hours later with two scrawny hares tucked in his belt. He grunted when he saw Jack, then tossed him the hares.
“Good to see you up. Feelin’ up to cleanin’ our dinner?”
“I think I can manage.”
“There’s a knife on the table, there.” Wyatt pulled a sack of onions from a cupboard and began chopping.
Once the hares were cleaned, Wyatt added them to the stew kettle and set it on a hook over the fire outside the cave. Then he gestured for Jack to follow him and scrabbled up the bank next to the mouth of the cave.
Up top were a few rows of vegetables.
“How the hell did you get these to grow up here?” Jack gestured to plains around them, filled with scrub brush and little else.
Wyatt just winked.
“Can you tell a weed from an onion?”
Jack nodded. Wyatt jutted his chin toward the far end of the garden.
“Then get to it, son.”
The western horizon was a streak of red and orange when they sat down by the fire to eat. They worked their spoons in silence until Wyatt plopped his down in the bowl.
“So, when you plannin’ on telling me your real name?”
Jack froze with his spoon halfway to his mouth. Wyatt snorted a laugh.
“Son, you been laid up a week and a half. You think today’s the first day I checked my traps? Met a man four days ago, told me Marshall Taylor and a gang of local boys put down the Wilhock gang. ‘Cept Amos’s younger brother got away. From what he said, happened ‘bout three days east of where I found you.”
Jack set down his bowl and looked the old man in the eye.
“That doesn’t mean-”
“Plus you talk in your sleep,” Wyatt said, grinning. “Should I call you Jack? Or do you want to keep goin’ with Herschel?”
Jack staggered to his feet, reaching for his pistol and realizing he’d left it behind at the same time. He stood there, pawing at his hip, with his eyes going wide.
“Christ, kid,” Wyatt said, rolling his eyes, “take it easy. I was planning on turning you in or robbing you, I’d of done it by now.” He gestured to the log Jack had been sitting on. “Come on, your stews gettin’ cold.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Other n’ the fact you’re still alive and not in irons?” Wyatt shrugged. “Why you think I live out here? You ain’t the only one done things the law would have objection to.”
Jack frowned, but he sat.
“I shouldn’t have run. I should have stayed with my brother.”
“Be just as dead as him, you had.”
“He tried to save me. Back in Kansas City. He told me to stay. He was always looking out for me. Watched my back. He knew what he was planning to do out here. He knew how it could end. He tried to...” Jack’s eyes burned. He squeezed them shut and pinched the bridge of his nose, hard.
“Your brother knew a lot of things, son. He didn’t give you no choice.” The old man held up a hand. “Said the words, don’t get me wrong, but he knew your answer fore he asked the question. Only thing he was trying to save was his conscience.”
“The gently caress do you know about my brother, old man?”
“Can’t say I ever met Amos Wilhock, but I met a few dozen like him. Hell, I was one a good forty years back.” Wyatt paused. His eyes lost focus as he stared into the fire. “‘Cept it was my little brother took the bullet when it came. Gave him the same choice, back home. Knew how he’d choose.
“I told myself, after, he knew what he’d signed up for. Helped for a while. Except you can only lie to yourself so long. Now, well, I just wish I’d never gave him the choice.”
They sat listening to the wood pop in the fire. Neither of them ate. Jack watched the old man. The old man watched the flames.
Wyatt stirred as if waking up.
“You should stay here at least three more weeks, then head north. Cold, but safer than trying to get through to Mexico. Or you could stay here, so long as you help out. I don’t get much the way of visitors. Your choice, son.”
With that, he rose and went back to the cave. After a while, Jack followed.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 02:19|
Prompt: Lover Lover Lover
Cyn opened his eyes. His vision shook from the pain that echoed between his head and gut. What he was more concerned about wasn’t the kicks, the insults, or the fact that he couldn’t stop wishing that he was used to it. He watched as the dark specks throughout the clouds above glowed red. The stained marble of walls took on an unearthly sheen. The clouds hummed with thunder. The wind’s lashes intensified and struck with sulfur. The firestorm was nearly here.
That hadn’t distracted his three assaulters. Tullio, Cicero and Verus had been Cyn’s friends before the schools were shuttered and the ports had closed. After that, no one was friends with anyone, at least not with him. The only exchanges he was a part of afterwards were the ones that consisted of knowing glances while he tried to explain what his parents had done before the storms started. Why his name wasn’t cursed.
Cyn waited for the next blow to come. Eternal moments passed with no sudden impacts. Without thinking, he groaned and rolled over to his side. The three had shifted their attention away from him. Someone else that had wandered into the alley. Not many people had reason to cut behind the library. Its plaza, once used as a minor marketplace, was full of charred carts serving as cinder graves.
The final count was when the front of the library collapsed in on itself. No one had even tried to clear the stones away. With the district all but condemned, the homeless, thieves and others of similar inkling used it as a refuge. Even so, when faced with the proclaimers’ warnings, the vagabonds chose to retreat over the wall. They risked dim hopes of finding better shelter outside the city over the haze of superstition.
Cyn saw a gray skinned man in a black robe. His wispy white hair flowed calmly despite the strengthening wind. His face was thin and his cheeks were sullen. Cyn’s heart shot into his throat with a choke at the sight of the Ashwaker.
“I said enough,” the Ashwaker said.
“Shove off, sootblood,” Tullio shot back. He stabbed his finger forward. “Nobody needs your kind of help.”
“You know what we are capable of.” The Ashwaker extended his hand out, palm up. His fingers were blackened.
The three didn’t move. A tapping began on the cobble and buildings, and Cyn covered his neck with his arm. Slivers of obsidian started to graze his skin. He tried to push himself up off the ground, but another sharp kick drove him back. He cursed as the smoldering glass dug into his cheek.
Cicero grabbed Tullio’s shoulder. “This isn’t wise, we should go before this gets worse.” He pulled his scarf over his nose and motioned his head towards the Ashwaker. Tullio’s chest was heaving, sweat was dripping from his hair, both from exertion and from the growing heat.
Tullio shouted, and threw Cicero’s arm off. He thrashed his own scarf onto his nose. “Don’t come back. Not here, not anywhere,” Tullio growled, and the three stepped over him.
The Ashwaker stood a few paces away, his arm at his side. He hadn’t moved. Cyn tried to heave himself off the ground, but his legs were worthless. He made it to the wall, and braced it for support. The Ashwaker ran forward. Cyn tried to backpedal, but collapsed onto his back once again. When he looked up at the Ashwaker, he didn’t see the expected white hot anger. His eyes were warm, but tired. Lava ran through his wrinkles in his face, but it was like fading embers. He reached out a hand, and Cyn noticed how his skin flaked like withered tree bark. Cyn took it. It felt like ripped paper.
“Come, we must reach shelter before the storm gets worse,” the Ashwaker said. With a heave, he pulled Cyn up and put Cyn’s arm over his shoulder. “I saw you trying to get into the library. What were you hoping to accomplish?”
“I wasn’t,” Cyn said, as the Ashwaker started to walk with him. “I just, wasn’t.”
The pair exited into the plaza. The volcano loomed over the city of Faber. Lava was already erupting like a gushing wound. Black clouds swirled above it, twisting out above the island. The obsidian rain had become flaming chunks of black glass. Cyn dipped his head to avoid what he could.
The Ashwaker gazed at the mountain, unphased. “Unfortunately, one act won’t undo the damage we’ve wrought. One tome of forgotten lore won’t hold the answers we seek. It won’t ward against those who seek to hurt us.”
“Why would you help me then?” Cyn asked.
The Ashwaker paused, then threw his cloak over Cyn.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 02:55|
“Manhattan has fallen.”
The debriefing room was colder than I remember. It was more comfortable when I sat on the other side of the table. The door opened exactly 30 minutes late. Holger, my handler, was sticking to the script he had developed for these situations. Next would be-
“Nina. Start one month prior to the field office being ransacked.” Holger said finishing before he was even seated. The sound of him taking his seat was used as punctuation.
One month. Holger already knows what happened; He wants to hear how I try to explain it.
I was making contact with a target. Our cell sought out Wall Street power players in an attempt to get dirt on them. Drugs, affairs, financial crimes, attempting to breach the Iron Curtain for capitalist gains, or anything else were our goals. Sure they may have been trying to do business with us, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t take advantage of them further. The “date” went poorly. This hedge fund manager I had picked didn’t take well to his drug of choice, which meant he didn’t take well to me. After an overpriced dinner that only served sticker shock and an anemic attempt at wooing me, I was in a thrashed dress with a bloody nose being thrown out into an alley by his apartment’s “concierge”.
“A failed contact isn’t significant. Skip to what was.” Holger said.
Someone became worried about me, that’s what happened. On my walk of shame back to my apartment fate painted as pathetic a scene for me as possible. Torn clothes and a bloody nose, then the rain started, my purse was snatched along with my keys and ID. I was locked out in the rain. Ultimately not the worst situation I’ve been in considering I could always hoof it over to field office where someone was probably around. But for once in this cold city someone noticed me and started to worry.
Vaughn was on shift that night, one of the younger porters. To my knowledge I had never spoken a word to him. He let me in without my key (others might have too), he gave me his coat (just common decency), called a locksmith friend to get me back into my apartment (could just be a favor), and took me into the staff lounge and cooked me a meal (that…). It wasn’t just a sandwich he had left over either. He cooked for me.
My mother never cooked for me.
Of all the high priced haute cuisine I’ve been treated to by these playboys, none of them ever cooked for me.
It was just stew and some bread, but it was hot, it warmed me up, it was something I never knew I was missing.
After that his friend finally showed up and let me back into my room, he was also able to cut me a new key. I knew I’d have to get both changed in the morning, just to be sure he didn’t keep a copy, but at least I was home and could clean up and sleep. I missed the next check in because I slept far too late, but I needed it. After that things went back to normal. Mostly. Targets were chosen, I’d go make contact, and we’d wrap them up or move on, except I’d meet Vaughn for dinner every so often. A month after that first dinner, late to check in, I found the door open and the office ransacked, so I ran and-
“Mailed this telegram. Here. Directly.” Holger said as he placed my telegram on the table. “You even added our seal.”
“Yes.” I responded.
“You know what this means.” Holger said.
“That’s why I did it.”
The door opened, it was time to leave.
“It’s terrible what she has to go through. Sure there’s probably a good reason, or a jobs a job at least, but it’s still a dangerous business.” I said, looking at Bill to add his two cents again.
“Ugh, Vaughn. I don’t know why you’re so convinced Nina’s out there playing spy. Talk to me about sports and lay off the James Bond movies.” Bill rebutted, going back to the sports page.
He’s right, there’s no proof that I have that she’s a spy, but that’s why I’m here. It’s not unusual to see a playboy have 30 different dates in a month, hell for some of ‘em that’s a week’s worth. But a dame moving in from nowhere in particular and doing that? A bit aggressive, even if it is the 80s. Going after deep pockets? Everyone’s got a type. But she’d been in a position to be set for life multiple times, and instead her boy toys get set up while she walks away.
“Then how about them Cubs?” I throw at Bill to cap things off.
“Now you can go gently caress off and get the mail. I’m done for the night.” He says on cue. I gladly step out with him as he keeps heading on past the mailbox.
The rest of the night is quiet. Other than Nina there are no interesting tenants here. Grandmas, families, upper middle class working folk who can afford a decent pad but aren’t trying to impress above their pay scale, which is another reason why Nina stands out. Side.
Outside. Hey Nina’s banging on the door. Oh no, she also looks pretty banged up. I run out to let her in, the rain had started too. I grab Nina a coat to put on. This is no state to put someone into. I don’t ask what happened, she doesn’t need to relive anything I’m sure. She tells me she lost her keys, I get Malcom on the phone.
“Are we making a move?” he asks.
“No we are letting a poor sop back into their place after what is probably one of the worst nights of their life. Just get down here and do something decent.” I snap back.
She’s freezing and trying not to show it. I gotta get some food in her, God knows if she’s actually had anything to eat tonight. Bill shows up an hour later and we get her into the place. She thanks us with the first bit of emotion I’ve hear from her.
As the weeks go on we keep having dinner. I don’t even bother prying too hard but a couple weeks in Nina tells me she knows I was counter-spying her. She tells me all about their little nest, the set up. I don’t even remember what I’m supposed to do with that info and just cut her another slice of Turkey. poo poo! Did a couple of lasagnas and stews really undo a lifetime of East German training?
The next day she gives me a key and an address. We head for the nest. She mails a letter and heads for the airport.
“Holger, sir. A telegram” A junior officer hands me a plain telegram. It says: “Next we take Berlin.”
“Tell command to audit all agents, especially field agents.” I tell him.
“What should I tell them to look for sir?”
“Ask them if they’ve eaten well.”
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 03:44|
Prompt: Bird on the Wire
There was, of course, a grand celebration after the defeat of the Unholy Host. The capital city still bore fresh wounds from that calamitous final battle, but for the first time in months, the lamps shown rosy along the streets and the air was braided thickly with the scents of flowers and confections.
The parade route was decorated with hanging lilacs and paper lanterns. People lined up by the thousands to hail their warrior queen, she who had put herself between kingdom and unspeakable evil.
Queen Tani Hir-Fahal rode astride her warhorse, surrounded on all sides by loyal friends and fellow veterans of the unholy war. Closest to her of all was Jureki, the trickster god himself. The people told each other stories of Jureki’s surprising bravery and loyalty to the queen; indeed, it was rumored that the two were lovers. The most famous tale to reach common ears described a key moment in the war, when Jureki pretended to defect to the enemy’s side, then brought down mayhem and disorder within their ranks using his godly powers.
“Looks like chaos is on our side now,” the people chuckled to one another.
With a grateful sigh, Tani freed herself from the tight red doublet and slipped out of her riding trousers. Jureki reclined on the bed, nude and looking as languid as a leopard resting in its tree.
The queen looked down at the trickster god. “There was a fire in the kitchen just before the feast. And the greatboar we were supposed to hunt in the games tomorrow has escaped.”
“If I stopped every little foible in the kingdom, I’d have no attention to lavish on you,” Jureki said.
Tani sat down on the edge of the bed and put her face in her hands. “You know,” she said into her palms, “I almost hoped the war would go on, in a way.”
Jureki’s mirthful expression faded. He pushed himself up and sat cross-legged beside Tani. “Trickster gods don’t take kindly to being the butt of jests.”
“I don’t mean that. But I do. Just a little.” Tani took a deep, shuddering breath. When she spoke again, her words were even and measured, as though she’d rehearsed them. “My advisers tolerated you because they saw you as a weapon of war. But no politician wants a god walking among them, not really. Especially one who tends to instigate poetic justice.”
“A kitchen fire and a runaway pig are hardly--”
“I can’t tell you what to do, Jur-cha. You’re a god and I am merely a queen. But I cannot safeguard the stability of this kingdom with--” she took another shaky breath “--our present arrangement.”
Jureki was outside the city walls by dawn, the taste of their last kiss still on his lips. He carried nothing except the cold, heavy stone in his heart. It was a cruel nourishment, but it kept him moving ever further from the queen. He walked for days, deep into the indifferent wilds of the far north. The rocky slopes and dim forests embraced him, erased him from the world beyond.
For the first time in eons, he felt compelled to consider his own godhood. He knew the story of his birth well: his mothers had reached into the churning innards of the cosmos and pulled him forth. Before they breathed life into him, he’d been little more than raw, unrefined trickery, a cheeky, burdensome little stub of creation.
But why give life to something so unkind? Why deify that which was thoughtless and heartless by nature?
As the weeks passed, Jureki’s powers grew mutinous. With no one else to prey on, they turned on Jureki himself. Branches fell from trees and struck him on the head. Flash floods filled any ravine he tried to pass through. Once, he sat down on a grassy knoll, only to jump up again when a host of ants mounted an attack on his rump.
Better me than the kingdom, he told himself. He thought of the early eons of his life, how he’d delighted in tormenting the short-lived creatures who populated the mortal plane. Better me than any of them.
Seasons passed. Jureki’s powers grew bored and listless. They ceased abusing him and, somewhat sulkily, retreated into whatever part of his being housed his godhood. There was simply no fun in hounding an unresponsive victim.
Still, Jureki wandered. His mind was as placid and clear as a mountain pond, and this seemed a safe and just way for him to exist. Sometimes, he licked his lips and tasted the ghost of her, and each time it drove him to flee further into the harsh north.
It was after one such phantom taste that he wandered into the fractious tribal territories of the Hyr Allal, though if he smelled the smoke of burning villages, he was too dissociated from the world to notice it.
Then a little girl fell out of a tree and into his arms. It happened fast; there was a wooden crack, a high pitched squeal, and then his arms were out and the girl was in them. She struggled at first, growling threats in Hyrashi, but calmed considerably once Jureki set her gently on the ground.
“Why're you alone?” he croaked. It was the first time he’d used his voice in nearly two years.
“Mother said we had to run, and father would stay and hold the Hyr Agara warriors off, and we had a bag with enough food to get us to the capital, mother said, but just us, not dad,” the girl babbled. Her little hands clenched and unclenched of their own accord.
“Where is your mother?”
The girl looked up at him with eyes far too old for her cherubic face. “Wolves. I went up the tree to hide and wait and I called for mother but I know they got her.” She turned her head to the side and bared her teeth. “Other families died together.”
Jureki rubbed his jaw. He was coming back to himself. Embers of revelation glowed, then flared within him. Something had changed. This wasn’t happenstance, it wasn’t simply an encounter between child and god. This was...was…
“Tell me, child, what is the opposite of a trick?”
The girl stared at him for a moment, clearly bewildered out of whatever terrible memory she’d been reliving. “Being honest?”
“Yes, yes, very true, but I’m thinking of something more unexpected.”
“Father once surprised me by pretending to take me to gather horse dung but gave me a doll for my birthday instead,” the girl said. A small smile touched the corners of her lips.
“Surprise! Yes!” Jureki could feel it, a change in the flavor of his godhood. Something that had been tarnished and soiled and ugly now gleamed within him like polished silver in starlight. Malice had turned to benevolence, a godly imperative to incite joy where joy was least expected.
“I can’t bring your family back, and I won’t have you running off to join them,” he said to the girl. “But if you like, I can take you to the capital. I happen to be an old friend of the queen…”
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 05:04|
Prompt: https://youtu.be/svitEEpI07E ~Suzanne
Spirit of Ceremony (#1015)
In the flood of 96, on a furlough from the funeral home, I got stuck in some mud out in the country. A storm came in. I found an eroding wood bridge and hid underneath it till the storm passed. I learned in the next few days that my house was washed away but the funeral home was fine.
The others didn’t come back right away, they wanted time to fix their lives.
Someone had already started a fire underneath the bridge, I figured it has been some homeless person. I restarted it up with fallen boards from the bridge. I heard coughing in what had I initially assumed to be a piled up section of sand. I moved the wet clumps away to find a woman, pale as a seashell, with blue lips that whispered. "I'm sick."
She had a backpack stowed behind a pillar, I grabbed it on her orders. In it were firestarters in an egg carton, a half-empty bottle of moonshine and a deck of cards with funny faces drawn on all of the suits. I gave her the bottle she asked for, she shivered.
"My car's stuck in some mud. I can't get you help. I'm sorry." I said.
She didn't care and asked me my name.I told her and asked her for hers.
She asked what I did.
"I work in a funeral home. I get the clients ready for showing."
"You pretty up dead people?" She asked.
I nodded. It was more complex than that. Words like "pretty" or "respectful” were fleeting masks that people wore. My job was more about putting the essence of an individual's life back together, one last time. I didn’t say anything. This was not the time to play semantics.
"Do you have any next of kin or loved ones you want me to contact?" I asked.
I reached into my suit pocket for my notebook.
She said, "No. I ran away from home 17 years ago. I liked running, so I kept it up."
I held her hand and suggested she get up and move around to build up some heat. She shook her head.
"I'm glad my fire helped you." she said. Her eyes glazed over and her hand went limp.
I sat next to her for a long time. I wondered who she was. I never dealt with anonymous deaths. A Jane Doe like her would be sent to our oven after a week of non-identification. Plots were for people with names and families.
The night passed loudly and thunderously. I didn’t sleep at all, I thought she was staring at me in the dark. I had a crazy thought and put it away. Her fire still crackled, it was helpful all the way to the morning after. It kept a low flame as the charcoal was seasoned to burn even in bad
In the morning I got in my car and started it up. The mud that held fast last night let go with a cantankerous growl. The rain had washed the dirt around my tires down to the stone where my wheels could get a grip. It was lucky, and the stupid sentimental spirit that had put ideas in my head took it as a sign. I carried her to my car and made it to the funeral home somehow knowing it would be alright.
The lights were already back on, an advantage of having the public school just across the road. (it was probably pretty creepy for the kids, however)I put her on a table and looked at her things, remembered her words and created a vision of her. Someone healthier but wise beyond her years.
I clipped her nails but left a thin strand of soil underneath them. I dressed her complexion into sun-beaten brown, dyed her hair back to the dirty blonde her roots suggested. I dusted her lips to light pink but left the chips in them alone. She had been perpetually nervous at some point in her life but she would have wanted to keep those marks.
I left her eyes alone too, they kept a semblance of dry humor even in death. I scented her with smells in between Fresh notes and Mossy notes on the Fragrance wheel. I put her in a pine box, something dated nowadays but often requested for clients who would be more concerned with melding with the earth than staying solid within it.
I played songs off of the mixtape marked "Traveling songs for Travelers." I stood by and put on the part of a steward showing respect to the people coming to see the deceased. There was no one there but the ceremony was driving me forward.
When the tape finished, I put her in a Hearse with a dolly (a bit disrespectful but I'm not Hercules) and I went to the greenbelt behind the home. I dug a perfect rectangle and leaned her onto the grave ramp.
After burying her, I pictured her walking down a deserted highway.
“Safe travels.” I said.
As I cleaned up, I felt sweaty and frightened like something had possessed me and put me through a marathon.
In the days to come, as work at the home started up again and I got a new apartment, I found myself hearing her voice in my head. She said more things about herself the more I thought about her. I worried I was sick in the head, that the job had made me a ghoul.
It stopped looking like sickness on the first day of spring. I was leaning on the balcony behind the upstairs lab, taking in the sunshine. I saw her walk out from underneath the wild azaleas in the green belt. She picked up her backpack, turned and waved at me. She looked pretty close to what I’d made up for her but I could never emulate the real thing. She flashed a devil-may-cry smile and ran through the woods to places that people only dream about.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 05:45|
Prompt: You Want It Darker
There were eight hours and twenty-two minutes of daylight on the twenty-first of December, when I got the call from the hospital in Manhattan. I don’t remember what they said, which is bad, I know. The world’s supposed to stop and every inch gets etched in the cracks of your brain. I think I was driving back from Burger King. I told them I’d be out there as soon as I could, and they told me they’d let me know if anything changed.
I couldn’t just leave. I had to wait to get through Christmas Eve shift, then climb into my car in my red polo shirt and drive across the dead midnight highway to the airport. I wedged myself into a corner of the terminal next to a wall outlet, and charged my phone while I watched the news. There had been seven hours and fifty-five minutes of daylight, they said. I downloaded a podcast so I’d have something to listen to.
I got half a can of Sprite to drink on the flight. I felt like saying something to the steward, telling him, hey, my dad’s in a coma, can I get an extra can? I didn’t want a drink, I just wanted someone to acknowledge that something was wrong.
Selfish. That’s what I was. Annoyed at my own father for making me fly out to New York. Unwilling to come until it was convenient for me. A bad child.
On the twenty-sixth of December, I saw him. I hiked down from my hotel room, stood in the salt-crusted subway, climbed back out at Fulton Street, and walked to the hospital. My dad, or my dad plus, was sprawled on and around the bed, because he wasn’t just him, but also everything that was keeping him alive. I found myself breathing in time with him.
I let the doctor give me the whole speech. I could have stopped him after his first big, practiced sigh. I guess I thought I should let him get it out, but really, would he have cared? For him it was a script, and while he was there, we were both actors. Then he left me alone, and I slipped back out of character and wound up staring out the window.
There was a hot dog cart down on William Street. I thought about going and buying a hot dog. I didn’t know how expensive it’d be, and with the trip and the hotel room, my inner miser was chewing away at the back of my head.
It wasn’t like I was distracting myself, don’t get me wrong. I knew I was going to have to kill my dad.
But I didn’t that day. I told the doctor I needed some time, and he nodded, with the kind of blank look you can read anything into. If you were grieving, it was a look of patient understanding. I ate a hot dog and went back to the hotel.
The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it. The problem was that I didn’t care. I could imagine what it might feel like. I could imagine chills, dizziness, walking away and feeling as if I was still standing there, watching myself leave. But I couldn’t make myself feel it.
Selfish. Ready to pull the plug on my own father. I wasn’t sad, I told myself, because I’d get his estate. I didn’t care because I was a greedy gently caress who only cared about money. And I was only hesitating because I felt guilty about that, not because I missed him.
When I woke up, it was dark and cold outside. Yesterday had been six hours and thirty-eight minutes of light. I checked the news while eating dry Froot Loops. Judging by the sunrise in Europe, they said, there was going to be five hours and fifty-two minutes of light today.
I ended up spending most of those hours and minutes with dad plus. I did some of the stuff you’re supposed to do. Clasp his hand, carefully brushing your thumb against his. Ask him to wake up. Talk about inane things with him. I told him about the weather. Or the sky. Or whatever you call it when the nights just keep getting longer and longer.
Talking to dad plus wasn’t the same as talking to my dad. Dad plus had a lot of new parts, but the old parts, the ones I cared about, weren’t there. He wasn’t really dad plus; he was a machine that had dad bits in it.
I knew what my dad wanted. I was only waiting to feel something. I looked out at the sky, watching it grow dim at three-thirty in the afternoon, an amber-gray that leeched the color from the air.
I was being selfish. I felt that now, without the frustration. Selfish because I was thinking only about myself. What I felt shouldn’t have mattered. I knew what was the kind thing to do.
I asked the nurse to find the doctor. I told him, “Turn him off,” and then went and filled out some forms while he disconnected my father from life support. He came back to tell me it was done. I nodded, and remembered not to smile.
In the back of my head, I thought that it would fix things. Like I’d been caught mid-stride, and could finally put my foot down. I thought that tomorrow would be warmer and brighter, and things would be back to normal. Pathetic fallacy resolved.
But the next day, when I left to meet my dad’s lawyer at nine in the morning, the sun was only a tired, red gleam on the horizon. The day of the twenty-eight was only four hours and thirty-two minutes long. I had been so selfish to think it was only my shame drawing in the night.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 05:50|
prompt: The Sisters of Mercy
I pull into Chrissy’s driveway just after eleven. To my surprise, the lights are on. A small part of me wishes they weren’t, that I could just let myself in and curl up without talking to anyone, but there’s no chance of a clean getaway now.
Chrissy is fatter, tired. She’s wearing a floral bathrobe and dingy pink slippers, her hair in a half-clean ponytail, and she’s yawning. “Hi, I look like poo poo,” she says.
“gently caress you, too.” We hug. “Where’s your stuff?”
“I’ll just leave it in the car. Did Ted and the baby go to sleep already?”
Chrissy locks the door behind me. “Yeah, sorry. I’ll be up for a while, though- my dipshit replacement at the office hosed up the whole payroll and I can’t rest until it’s sorted out.”
I look at her. Chrissy used to shave half her hair and dye the rest laser-green, which complimented her scary facial piercings nicely. Now she’s wearing a scrunchie and talking about payroll. “Wine?” she asks.
“You don’t have any beer?”
She shrugs, hands me a glass anyways. “I don’t even know anyone who drinks beer. All my married friends drink wine, and Ted’s something something low-carb or Paleo or some bullshit, I don’t even remember.” She yawns again, then apes a Brooklyn accent. “You wanna see the baaaaaby?”
I wince and take a slug of my wine. “Stop.”
Chrissy sighs. “Yeah, yeah, okay. Too much adulting. It’s only my life, Tess.”
We catch up the on the past six months, delicately avoiding my employment situation, her marriage, my disability checks, her offspring. Ted wants to buy a boat. I was in a burlesque show last week. Neither of us is very impressed by the other’s news, but we make baby-bird noises of strangled delight, anyways.
The wine is making me slow and stupid, and it gets harder and harder to pretend I care about what Chrissy is saying. As she talks, I look around the house and wonder where my friend went. Is she hiding in the trendy succulents? Peeking out from under a discarded Franzia box? Chrissy once painted a dick on her forehead and went around all day in a business suit, her partner following and secretly filming peoples’ reactions. Now she is angry because someone insulted her brownies at a fundraiser. I don’t get it.
She doesn’t seem to get it, either, because finally she asks, “So what are you doing for work these days?”
I drop my head back dramatically. “I have become...a fallen woman,” I moan.
“Yeah, but no one’s gonna pay you for that.”
I sigh. “I told you, I’m a featured artist at the show in Boston this weekend--”
“Is that going to make money?”
“People buy things sometimes. It’s really more about networking.”
Chrissy pops open a can of Pringles, makes duck lips briefly before snorking them into her mouth with a crunch. “So, enlighten me,” she says with her mouth full, “How much money do you make per show? On average?”
“Like...three, four hundred, maybe?”
“And how much did you spend on gas, getting to Boston from Savannah? Tolls, snacks, motels? You always travel forever for these gigs, and then they don’t even make money. I let you stay here, but how often do you have to depend on the literal kindness of strangers? Not to sound cliche, but...Do you ever break even?”
I want to break open. Chrissy and I are too different now. What I consider my genuine self is something she looks back on as a character she’s played, a fun little diversion she took on her way to reality. House plus Man plus Baby equals You’re Done, You Can Stop Playing Now. She has a 401K and sciatica. I am a child at thirty-two.
She sighs. “I’m sorry. Tell me about your show. I read the blurb you sent me, but I couldn’t quite get it.”
“It’s called ‘The Sisters of Mercy,’” I began. “There used to be these Catholic charities called Magdalene laundries. They were sort of asylums for ‘fallen women,’ except of course a lot of them had hadn’t actually done anything. They were these horrible workhouses where the inmates were abused, more like prisons than anything else. In the nineties, they uncovered this mass grave outside of one of the laundries that they couldn’t explain away, but they still weren’t shut down until 1996.”
“Gross,” Chrissy says with a grimace. She eyes her phone.
“Well, yeah. Anyways, one of my friends is doing her graduate thesis on them, and she asked me to take pictures of some of the survivors she interviewed. So what I did was take a statement from each of them about an object chosen at random, then put their portrait and their statements together and…” She’s not even listening. Nodding politely, yes. Listening, no. I keep going, eventually stammering into silence, and we sit for a moment.
I don’t tell Chrissy the real theme of my show, how initial kindness and generosity can twist and deform over time. It’s something she might understand- the fake smiling and coos of delight over her neighbors’ inconsequential lives and achievements- but I feel it here, too. She is being kind by letting me stay here, but is it out of duty? Guilt? Schadenfreude? I can’t tell.
Chrissy and I stay quiet for a moment, neither of us looking at the other. Eventually, she sighs and clears up the chips. I hear Ezra screaming upstairs. Chrissy tells me not to leave the lights on, tosses me an extra blanket, and she’s gone.
I lie awake for a long time.
Somewhere inside me, I pray, is the kind of person who could have simple things- a dryer, a permanent address, validity.. I know very well that this isn't actually up to me, but I try anyways. It’s good, I reason into the darkness, to question yourself and your choices. But that is not my forte, and all I can think about is how much I miss her.
I sleep a little. When I awaken for the millionth time at five, I decide to just slip out.
There will be another long period of silence between Chrissy and myself. Then one of us will see something like a funny YouTube video, or one of those dumb t-shirts with fractured English, and send it to the other. Something small, a brick that turns into a bridge that eventually brings one of us into the other's orbit. We’ll forget that we don’t speak the same language anymore, and decide to meet. Then it’s always unexpectedly awkward. The cycle repeats, an ouroboros of missing the past and hating the present, neither of us understanding how we ended up where we are. And never understanding the other, or trying to. Chrissy and I have been many things- lovers, collaborators, emergency contacts- but we have never been in sympathy.
As I put the car in reverse, I look up at the house. Chrissy’s light is on. We do not wave to each other, but I smile at the red tip of her verboten cigarette, winking at me as I withdraw.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 06:02|
A Newcomer's Guide to Afanasi
Prompt: Take This Waltz
There are many roads to the city of Afanasi, but only the chosen walk them. The city does not advertise itself to tourists, and while it supports itself with trade in textiles and jewelry, it is no merchant mecca. Those who come to Afanasi are almost all immigrants. For these hopefuls, Afanasi has many nicknames; traders call it the Polished City, and refugees the Welcoming Hearth. One of my guides, when I first arrived, called it the End of the World. I have always preferred to call it the Kind City, for Afanasi is built on kindness.
The first thing a new arrival will notice about Afanasi is its fine stone architecture in older European styles, several preserved only within the city, which has been spared the indignities of war. The local stone of Afanasi is a uniform dark grey, with the smooth finish of great age. Many say that the city looks careworn, and if that is true, it matches its immigrants well.
There are two sections of Afanasi. The Inner District, with which this guide is not concerned, is the home of the city's natives and said to be the center of its industry. I have never stepped through the gates of the Inner District, but these rumors are borne out by the sounds of life beyond: the bells of factories and churches, and the laughter of children. There are no children in the Outer District, where immigrants arrive and which most will never leave. For those who drift to Afanasi, worn and ruined by life, the Outer District is their haven: an infinitely gentle world, of limited responsibilities and endless patience. In Afanasi's Outer District, those who need kindness will have their fill.
The Outer District of Afanasi runs on a simple code of garments worn in two different colors, unique to the city's textile mills: a dark, brassy gold and a pale, silvery sky blue. When you first find lodging in Afanasi, your innkeeper or landlord will provide you with a simple set of garments in these colors, most likely the skullcap-and-scarf set that is most enduringly popular. These colors must not be mixed, for wearing one indicates the role you wish to take in the emotional economy of Afanasi. Wearing the brass-gold indicates that you want to receive care and kindness, without any particular intent to return it; wearing the silver-blue suggests the opposite desire, to offer kindness to others without expectation. What a wearer of brass-gold requires, a wearer of silver-blue will provide. To those who have lived lives without a moment's sympathy, or to those who have yearned to be kind and never had the opportunity, this exchange provides solace. The businesses of the district are focused on service at a languid pace -- coffee shops and light restaurants, bars with soft music and little dancing, the sort of bookstores that are more designed to facilitate conversation than to sell anything -- places where those who need to be kind can serve those who need that kindness. One works when one's whims allow it, and businesses hire overflowing rosters, understanding that only those who feel sufficiently silver-blue that day will attend work. For those who do not, there is the brass-gold and a languid day of being cared for by the world: taking breakfast in a coffee shop with an attentive server, say, and then wandering an art gallery whose silver-blue-skullcapped curator speaks to you of the artist's influences without ever suggesting a purchase, and then a night at a bar where every disconsolate drinker has their own patient bartender, dispensing schnapps and sympathy in equal measure. If even that day does not appeal to you, you can stay in your rooms. Even the shabbiest rooming house in Afanasi will provide a good coffee pot and a broad kitchen window, the better to watch the polished grey vistas of the city and hear the distant bells of the Inner District towers.
Life in the Outer District is comfortable, and over time, a resident will develop friendships with those fellows who mirror their own patterns of need -- the ones who offer kindness when you need it, and accept it when your heart demands that you prove your worth. It is best not to expect much beyond this. The Outer District life does not lend itself to intimacy, let alone passion, and those who find love here will usually find it with old acquaintances they knew in more troubled times. Such rekindled loves can be great comforts, but one must maintain realistic expectations. I think of my Sofia, whom I knew in my youth and whom I found again in a secondhand store in Afanasi, browsing a shelf of fine antique brooches. We had been dear to each other, in our old world, and what bloomed again was an echo of that -- no great love, but adequate, especially in the shining careworn streets of Afanasi. We spoke, on occasion, of something more. One day, though, she was gone, and her landlady would not answer my questions. Such is life in Afanasi; the residents of the Outer District have been wounded by the world, and they refuse the depth of intimacy that might wound them again.
For most immigrants who come to Afanasi, your life will fall into a comfortable rhythm of kindnesses offered and received. Most will find that they prefer the brass-gold or the silver-blue, and some will remain flexible, serving or being served as the city around them needs. As I have said, it is comfortable, and it is a fine way to live a life here; as a guide for newcomers and one who favors the silver-blue, I find most of my days here very satisfactory. Others, though, will find it less satisfying. For those, the city offers options. Some simply leave, of course, but it is fewer than you might think; those who find their way to Afanasi rarely consider the remainder of the world palatable. Many who have come to Afanasi as a last resort, and find even this life more than they can bear, choose suicide. There are soft-voiced apothecaries who sell formulations for that purpose, efficacious and said to be painless (but who can testify to that?), and discreet funeral parlors that will make arrangements for the removal and disposal of your body after your final moment has passed. For those who desire monuments, the Outer District of Afanasi has several excellent graveyards, where the world's wealthy hermits have paid the city's stonecutters and undertakers to memorialize them far from the site of their failures.
Some say there is another way to leave the Outer District of Afanasi: that, for those who have grown beyond the need for transactional kindness, the powers of the city might offer a key to the Inner District and whatever life it offers. This is beyond the scope of my expertise. Perhaps it is a better life, one worth the striving, but if I had the will to strive for the unknown, I would never have sought out Afanasi. Whatever life you seek, I wish you luck; may you find all the city can offer you.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 06:17|
|# ? Jun 23, 2018 19:21|
Prompt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQe88ybEIe8 "Avalanche" By Leonard Cohen
A Scarf's Life
For three months, the thick crimson scarf flecked with gold embroidery shone brightly in a department store window. Although it attracted the curious hands and stares of many as they flocked in and out of the warm entryway, it wasn't until Christmas eve that a lady clad in a pair of warm violet mittens finally freed it from its glass perch. Lightly perfumed with peppermint and incense from the nearby candles, she wrapped the fabric in layers of glistening silver paper and placed it beneath her tree at home.
The next morning the package was opened, and the pinpricks of light from a tall fir caused the cloth to sparkle while a little girl in pink gloves swung the cloth about the room. Happy tears dotted the tasseled ends once it was wrapped around her warm neck, and for the next several weeks she wore it happily in the swirling snow and drizzling rain. In the spring the pink gloves came off, and with them the garment was hung in the back of a tight linen closet, shut away from the light and surrounded by the scent of mothballs.
The closet was silent as the years passed. When the doors opened wide it was the sound of christmas that flooded the small space, and the pink gloves reached for the scarf once more. This time, however, they were often intertwined with a boy wearing an off-green camo jacket, and that evening it was he that removed the red cloth from the young girl's neck and tossed it on the floor. There it stayed beneath the boy's bed, untouched as the weeks passed. Sometimes a familiar glove would fall next to it, othertimes silken fabrics it had never touched before.
It was foggy when the girl wore the scarf around her neck small throat again, and it shook as tears and snot fell from the her face and stuck to the golden threads. When she pulled it off amongst the swirling mist and dense smoke from the train, she bundled it into the boy's hands. Holding it against his chest he left the girl behind on the platform, and breathed in deeply against the cloth as the flickering lamplights above winked and jostled their light upon the cabin walls. Things continued in this way until the following morning, where along with the jacket it was stuffed unceremoniously into a bag, and shipped away in a large box.
It was hot and humid when the boy pulled the scarf out, but despite the sun he kept it tucked against his chest beneath the tan undershirt. This became routine in the weeks following, and the cloth was constantly hidden from view. But the pattern came to an abrupt halt when the boy fell to the loamy soil below, and the body beneath the scarf turned cold. Suddenly the shirt above was ripped open, and the jungle moonlight bloomed across the fabric's surface while the color slowly changed from crimson to maroon.
The scarf was removed from the camo-boy by a pair of gruff, calloused hands and stuck in a laquered brown chest. It remained unopened until the girl in the black gloves gingerly laid it on the purple velvet bedspread next to a glittering array of metals. She decided she would never wear the scarf again, and placed it back in the dark closet along with the painful memories interwoven into the fabric.
Many decades passed before the scarf saw light again, pulled from its cubby by an unknown set of manicured hands and thrown into a basket labeled 'DONATIONS'. With a sigh the young woman loaded the bin into her small buick next to the 'Open House' signs in her backseat. The car jumbled the container as it traveled along the neglected road that led from the now vacant house, and a small pothole sent the fabric billowing out into the dirty street. A pair of filthy trembling hands adorned in torn wool mittens lifted the cloth up and wrapped it around a man's neck that night, and every night thereafter the red scarf kept the man warm.
This routine changed again years later, when the man heard shrill cries in the dark alley he would often call home. Behind a dumpster sitting bare in a broken stroller was a newborn child, screaming in the cold. The man scooped up the child, and in a quick motion tore the scarf from his grimy skin and cloaked the baby in the still soft fabric. That night he passed the baby into the arms of a woman in simple black habit, and the bundle was taken into the candlelit hall. The pacified boy now slept in the woman's arms as she gingerly set him in a small bed, removing his wrappings.
Although the scarf was now dirty, frayed and well-worn, the woman gently washed it before laying it back upon the child's wool blanket. As the boy grew he wondered often about where he came from, and would frequently trace the remains of the intricate embroidery upon the faded, two-toned red cloth. As he studied and worked in the small courtyard garden he would envision fanciful tales about the odd scarf. When he left the orphanage for university, the now grown man draped it across his shoulders to blot out the early-winter chill.
On Christmas Eve, as the scarfed man passed by the local bakery near his campus, he saw a small boy in a blue tattered cap crying by the door. He leaned down and comforted the boy, who was dirty and alone, and wiped his tears with the soft tassels of the red cloth. With a momen'ts reflection he unwound the scarf and laid it in the boy's hands. He told the child the fantastical histories he'd envisioned of the fabric's origins, of the mysterious stranger who'd saved him, and the comfort he'd received as a lost child himself. At first the boy rebuked him with suspicion, his eyes frightened beneath the brim of the blue cap. But at the man's insistence he wrapped the warm garment around his hands to warm them. With a light wave and moment's hesitation the man walked off, and staring at the scarf the boy said a prayer before running into the alley beyond.
|# ? Jan 15, 2018 07:01|