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Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER



The Vacuum Aisle
1199 words
Prompt: “Qami”, Sevak Khanagyan



“God bless the man who invented air conditioning,” said Victor, adjusting the waist of his slacks, looking around at the massive and cavernous insides of the Voidmart. He took short, quick steps down the kitchen appliances aisle, the steps of a man who had somewhere important to be.

“The comfort of our customers is always of great importance to us,” said Levi, walking next to Victor as they talked. Levi’s store-mandated grey vest hung loose off his shoulders.

“I’m sure it is,” said Victor. He sniffed, ran a finger over a bare shelving unit, inspected the finger for dust. “So why is it that it took me fifteen minutes to find you? Is that how it is? They spread four of you across this store like Saran wrap on a swimming pool?” He shook his head. “Anything to keep the lights on.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Levi.



“My husband came in here an hour ago,” said Faith, leaning on her walker. “He’s a science teacher. He’s the brains of the operation.” Faith laughed, a dry, rustling sound that became a cough.

“Your husband sounds charming,” said Levi. He walked in front of her, took her hand. “You mentioned he was looking for a garden hose?”

Faith snatched her hand back, then used it to smooth out a wrinkle on her blouse. “Among other things,” she said. “The rose bushes need a little help this year. We needed some...what is it...Miracle Sand?”

“Do you mean Miracle-Gro?” offered Levi.

“That’s it. My memory’s not so good these days. He left me waiting in the car. Stood me up!” She cackled again.

“That’s a shame,” said Levi. “Follow me. I know where the gardening supply aisle is.”



“You can’t get good-quality work boots these days,” said Chase, looking out over the top of the shoe aisle. “Nothing that’s worth its salt. I bought a pair from Sears the other day, fine tan cowhide shitkickers, and y’know what happened?” He took out a tin from his pocket, opened it, and placed a pinch of tobacco in between his cheek and gums.

“What happened?” said Levi, looking up at Chase.

“The drat thing quit on me, that’s what happened!” sputtered Chase. A few flecks of chewing tobacco flew from the corner of his mouth, falling to the white linoleum. “Tore the entire heel out in less than two weeks. Now Skinner and Bullet have two new chew toys. I--” He looked at Levi. “The hell you doin’?”

Levi jumped. He had been absentmindedly running his fingertips across the shelf next to him. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m a very tactile person.”

Chase squinted, then shook his head. “Whatever, man. Can you get your hands on some Texas Steel boots for me?”

Levi smiled. “I think I have just the thing you need.”



“We’ve been wandering around this godforsaken place for the past ten minutes,” said Victor, “and all I want is some drat Turtle Wax. Where’s your manager?”

Levi looked at Victor, put a hand on Victor’s shoulder. “There’s no need for that, sir. We’re already here.”

“We’re here at the manager’s office? Because that’s where I’m going.”

They had reached the end of Aisle 110. Aisle 111 was one aisle over, and because Levi was present, it would be visible to Victor, rather than like most of the time when Aisle 110 was simply bordered on the left by Aisle 112.

Levi extended a hand. “Just turn a corner and you’ll see it, sir.”

Victor brushed past him, wiping sweat from his forehead, muttering in a tight voice: “An absolute disgrace, an embarrassment, that’s what--”

He stopped in front of the open aisle, his jaw agape.

Levi watched.



The air was being sucked out of her lungs, and there were flower petals everywhere, floating through the air, dismembered impatiens and morning glories and violets the shade of bruised and battered flesh, a little man that smelled like rotting flower flesh that climbed out from under her bed after her parents had gone to sleep and dug his dirty yellow nails into her quilt and sat on her chest and pressed her lungs flat like rose blossoms in wax paper--

Faith planted an open hand against the aisle’s shelf, tried to steady herself. Couldn’t. Pitched forward, stomach pressing against the walker’s handle. A deep red petal fluttered through the air and landed on her cheek. She moaned, a deep and guttural sound.



Chase blinked. Everything was dust.

Dust and smoke and exhaust, howling in his ears, in one ear and firing out the other like engine kickback, pouring in his nose and out his mouth, choking him, the filter turned black and tar-laden like his uncle’s lungs before the surgery, hands deep in flesh turned into black sludge. Black bile poured into a beer pitcher, light from within illuminating it like a pulsing black jewel, an evil and forsaken heart.

He opened his mouth and let out what sounded like a deathly scream in his throat. It hissed to a stop before it ever cleared his lips.



Victor turned back to where Levi had been standing a moment earlier, and only saw the side of the aisle. He looked forward again, and his mind shattered.

The metal shelves unbolted from their walls and loomed into the middle of the aisle like grey, waggling fingers, tangling against each other with a high-pitched screech that Victor could feel in his spine, scraping it bare like a beast clawing a tree trunk.

The fingers of his father.

He turned and ran, his mouth making noises that grew fainter and fainter, eclipsed by the howling wind in his ears.

The floor tilted, then smacked him in the face like a tidal wave. Victor tumbled back, his arm grasping wildly at something, anything at all, as he hurtled back towards those screeching blades. The screeching sounded almost like laughter.

The wind burst forth.

Victor screamed.



Levi turned back to his manager. “Been a good month, wouldn’t you say? Our new consumer program is working like a charm.”

His manager nodded at him from behind their desk, a broad-shouldered man in a plaid shirt and jeans. Levi blinked, and saw an elderly woman in a pink blouse. Blinked again, and saw a middle-aged man in an overcoat, sitting stiff and uncomfortable. Blinked again, and saw something that defied human language.

Levi turned away, and moved toward the door. The light bulb directly overhead was flickering, and he could hear the air conditioner hacking behind him. “I know you’re not much of a talker,” Levi said. He reached towards the light switch, caressing the plastic with his fingers. “But we all have our strengths, don’t we? Every person is different. That’s what makes human beings so special.”

He drew his hand away from the light switch. Overhead, the light bulb stopped flickering. “I mean,” said Levi, “not that either of us would know, of course.” He shrugged his shoulders, his muscles bulging tight against his grey vest.

The air conditioner stopped hacking and whirred to life, blowing cold air into the room.

Levi smiled. “Anything to keep the lights on.” He walked back into the store, closing the office door behind him.

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Jay W. Friks
Oct 4, 2016

Six of one, half dozen of another.

Grimey Drawer

Role: Customer
Department: Costume Store
Customer Archetype: Lost/looking for exit.

http://writocracy.com/thunderdome/?...ambraces+at+Sea

Jack Schnaff is (still) missing (#1324)

Jack’s mother and father were fighting in the middle of Patricks Otherworldly Poultry again. Just last week his father came here wanting to bring home something different to cook. His mother caught him buying Cockatrice hens on the business credit card, she’d been at Voidmart for an AA meeting at Rehab World and took a break to smoke when she saw him strapping blindfolds to the scaly birds.

This time she caught him buying Harpy breasts.

“We need to stop buying things on the business account.”

“There isn’t even a business anymore. We might as well enjoy what’s left.”

“Well, we may need to start up the shop again if we ever find a good location.”

“You’ve been looking for a good location for two months now.”

When people flocked to watch, the yelling started.

“I spent five years getting the strains needed to run that shop. I’m not letting that go to waste. YOU may think we’re stable, but the fact is, pot shops are sprouting all over, and it's a viable investment.”

“What the hell Margaret? Listen to yourself, you only got that place going because you wanted an excuse to hang out with all your stoner friends. Meanwhile, I’m actually doing real work at the warehouse.”

“OH! REAL WORK! OF COURSE! Stacking pallets of La-Z-boys is more important to the country than selling medicine for cancer patients. America doesn’t need chemo-alternatives, it needs more expensive chairs for fat asses like you to sit in.”

“gently caress YOU stinkyhole!”

His parents had been fighting more and more lately. Their relationship had been in decline since his mom started up her business. Now in the cavernous halls of VoidMart, it would come to a head.

Jack stared at the crowds of people riding the tides of consumerism from hot sale to lukewarm bargain. His friends all stayed at home on the weekend, playing video games and sending funny pictures to each other over the phone. Jack could have done the same, his parents didn’t mind him staying home alone. However, what made his friends happy didn’t bring him enjoyment. Life was boring. He wanted to do something in the here and now, something amazing like the characters in movies and cartoons did.

His mother grabbed a jar of rooster claws and broke it over the head of his father. He clutched his bleeding scalp, roared and ran into his mom. They toppled into a stack of cages containing penguins in actual tuxedos.

“Leave my birds alone you skeezy fuckers! I’m calling the mall police.” The beak-nosed cashier tapped numbers into a phone. His parents rolled into the public aisles, his father grabbed his mother by the throat and his mother dug her nails into his eyes.

Jack backed away. His parents had lost themselves to an explosive hatred.

The crowd fanned out as tall men on Segways emerged, one had a megaphone in his mouth. He spoke in an arcane alien language sent the remaining looky-loos running in terror. It did the same to Jack who ran in the opposite direction of the fight. One of the mall cops pointed at Jack,

“STOP! That area is off limits!”

Jack kept running, he slipped on a bag of greasy fries and fell into a tangled cluster of yellow caution tape. He was suspended in it, dangling above broken floorboards underneath a giant orange UNDER CONSTRUCTION banner.

One of the cops got off the Segway and tried to grab Jack. He struggled out of the man's reach.

“Quit squirming kid! You don’t want to fall down there.” His fingers grazed Jack’s t-shirt and pinched the fabric. The tape ripped and Jack was held only by the cops firm grasp. His t-shirt was secondhand and holey. It ripped.

“poo poo,” the cop said as Jack fell for miles.

Names flashed past him on the way down the dimly lit pit, The Bon Marche, GI JOES, Kash n’ Karry, Geri’s Hamburgers, Webster n’ Satans All U Can Eat, The Mildew Factory, dead franchises from the world and beyond.

He landed on a pile of animal masks and mascot fursuits sitting on a sheer cliff. Dust fell around Jack as he scrambled out from between a well-endowed milk cow and a bright yellow rat. He coughed violently and pulled himself up. A sword was pointed at his eye.

Standing over Jack was an old woman in a pirate costume. She had the whole set up, plastic parakeet clipped to her raggedy naval tunic, cloth eyepatch (the string had dug so far into her face that a permanent wrinkle had formed around it) and an stringy strap beard hanging over her saggy bosom.

The sword, however, was very real. She tilted her head to the left and jabbed forward with the point of the blade, Jack screamed as she poked at a spider on top of his head and neatly impaled it on the tip of the blade. He rubbed his scalp, no harm had come to him.

“Welcome to the Pit of Dead Franchises lad! I’m Captain Beefheart of the good ship Fairwether. What be your name?”

Jack was still feeling his scalp. He numbly replied, “Jack. I’m lost.”

“Aye, it looks that way. Only the damned foolish enough to go down with their ship and strays like yerself find their way down here.”

More people crawled from out behind her. They emerged from the remnants of a costume store, Fairwether Costume Surplus. It was mashed into the side of another store, Bronson Blacksmithing.

They were old, each and every one of them, but they moved with the stamina of youth.

“This is me crew. We went down with the good old Fairwether but have kept up her spirit all these centuries.”

Jack got up and dusted himself off. He asked, “Centuries? How old are you?”

The crew slapped their knees and chortled, “Look at the brass balls of that youngin, asking the captain what her age be! Bahaha!”

Jack backed up reflexively, “You’re not going to stab me are you?”

The Captain shook her head, “Of course not, yer just a lil’ barnacle. Not like the scum that call me names on a daily basis!”

“Who’s that?” Jack asked.

The crew cast a dark look into the cavern behind the crammed together stores.

“The noon staff. The Vikings.” The captain said ominously.

She elaborated,

“When our store fell from grace, the uppity ups in Voidmart cast us into the pit. We had an option to stay put and receive a severance package or leave Voidmart and never return. Me and the rest of the morning crew had sailed happily with the good ship Belladonna and wouldn’t leave her to sink alone so we opted to stay. We figured those snot nosed brats in the noon shift would skip out with the tails between their legs. But they didn’t. It was a shame! If they’d taken their leave, this’d be a regular paradise. But now we fight for who truly deserves to fly under the banner of Belladonna.”

Jack didn’t understand what the woman was talking about. He looked up and saw the little pinprick of light. That’s where his psychotic parents were and the ground floor of VoidMart.

“I need to get up there.” Jack pointed at the light.

Captain Beefheart patted him on the shoulder, “Relax lad. Give it time and the Mall cops will come down and getcha. We’ll keep ya safe until then.”

“From the Vikings?”

“That’s right.” A short pudgy man handed a red bandanna to the Captain. She draped it over Jack's head and said, “You’re under our protection now. And an honorary member of the Fairwether. Hip hip hooray!”

“HIP HIP HOORAY!” Her comrades shouted.

Authors Note: (That’s all I got for now.)

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER



Posting my prompt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olpi6UGmm_Y

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

'Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' -Samuel Johnson

Product: Scuffle Cherries: Cherries dipped in the finest sentient chocolate that hates you!
Door Prompt: <TDbot> THANK YOU FOR USING THE COSMO-JACKET. | Riding the Rockoon by dhamster - https://thunderdome.cc/?story=2192

The Three Doors to the Void

The Cosmo Jacket kept me warm, but I shivered. Ella and I were over, she was back with Fiona with the PhD and the stupid bangs and I was out, out of the relationship and the apartment with nothing to show for the last year but this ugly silver-pink thing she bought me a week earlier. Did she know, already, what she was about to do? Was it some kind of parting gift?

I came to the Voidmart to return it, but I couldn't bring myself to go to Returns. It was a good jacket. I wasn't the only person wearing one. The store seemed full of people keeping warm the same way, every tenth person wearing either the silver-pink or the blue-gold version. It made me feel invisible, alone in the crowd, just like I wanted. I saw a much older Cosmo Jacket, too, worn and patched and sewn back together, on the back of a woman who looked strikingly like my mother. Well, my mother didn’t have the scar just above the right eye. And the stranger didn’t have the look of malicious indifference that mom wore, refusing to say a word when Dad swore I’d never be part of the family until I “got over kissing girls.” The stranger didn’t meet my eyes. She looked away, bolted for an employees-only doorway. I followed, not knowing why.

Passing from the aisles full of distractions and temptations to the cold, brightly lit passages backstage was startling, like walking through a doorway from dawn to midnight, from winter to spring. I lost her immediately in those over-blue corridors, lost myself a few turns later. I saw no employees. I walked down a passage longer than the store was wide, and finally found a door.

Inside there was a woman, in her thirties, dressed in thick leather and sporting a punk haircut in simple black hair: left half shaved, right long and braided. She carried a long, curved sword, and was circling a bubbling barrel. She looked at me. “Which door brought me to you, I wonder?” I had no answer. “Can you use a sword, girl?”

“What?” I said.

“Of course not,” she said. “A decadent time, I forgot.” I couldn’t place her accent. She reached for her belt, unhooked a hammer with her left hand, and offered it to me. “This, then. For squashing bugs.”

She gestured with her head toward the upper part of the room, where something was making the air vents strain. One broke off and fell to the ground, and an army of spiders, each as big as my head, began to fall to the ground. I took the hammer.

“They want what I’m guarding.”

“Maybe we should let them have it, then.”

She lunged, piercing the boldest spider. “That would be very bad. The chocolate, it contains the life-essences of the Virturi Star-lords. With it, these would not just be vermin. They would be an army.”

I swung the hammer. It was heavy and awkward and the great green spiders mostly just skittered out of the way. She did most of the killing, and the last few retreated, back up the wall and into the vent.

“There will be more,” she said. “If the fool man at receiving is not back soon. I am Calla. You?”

“Melissa,” I said. “Who are the Virturi Star-lords, and why turn them into candy?”

“To eat, of course,” she said. “All consumption requires taking life. Even grains and seeds can feel. When we can, when we must indulge, better to kill something that truly deserves it, that hates so strongly that it would do the same if it could. The Virturi were the tyrants of a great star empire, once, and, mostly thanks to humanity, they have no more.”

“No more empire?” I said.

“No more stars.” she said. “But I was not to eat it myself, of course. I brought it to trade, to the masters of the void, who give wonders for wonders.”

“Where,” I asked, “Are you from?”

She smiled. “The future,” she said. “Yours. My present. The year 6855. Are you ready? More come.”

More spiders came through the broken vent, not just the green ones but red and blue and purple, an endless rainbow of spiders. I swung the hammer, unable to miss for the density of the things. Calla carved through them like a dervish.

“What were you saying about doors?” I asked, between swings.

“When one travels with a true wonder, sometimes a door will open to here, to the Void, where one can make a bargain. There are three doors. A person might see two in their lifetime. What door you come by determines what you get in exchange for your wonder. Go through the first door and get what you want. Find the second and get what you need. We always hope for these, and dread the other.”

I gave a hairy purple spider a kick, then swung down at a bulgy red one. “Why? What’s the third door?”

“Go through the third door,” she said, “And you get what you deserve.” I swung through another two spiders, but a third in that group jumped up suddenly and latched onto my shoulder. Everything faded to black and white, then to a pure dark gray.

The next I remembered was Calla’s lips on mine, blowing into my lungs. I coughed, messy and phlegmy, and started to come around. My shoulder was sore, with two nail-sized holes in my Cosmo Jacket. The spiders were gone, and a cluster of badged employees fretted about the room, slapping labels on the chocolate, and applying cleaning products to the spider-corpses.

“Take me with you,” I said.

“It is a harsh world, and full of monsters,” said Calla. “Are you sure?”

“Can a person love who they want there?” I asked.

Calla laughed. “When has that ever been? You can love who you love, though. And strike down anything standing in the way.”

* * *

Did I love her already, then? Maybe. I watch myself leave with Calla through the Void door. I touch the first patch on my jacket, covering the spider-bite holes, and let the Tear of Cryn fall from my hand, no longer rendering me invisible. The Voidmart men will be soon to take it, to give me new identity papers in exchange. I loved her then, but for her it would take longer. I remember that night in the foot-deep cherry blossoms under the Pillars of Nora, More than a year together before we loved, physically.

I touch the scar on my head, and try not to remember the end, forty years later, the last battle with the Steel Wolf Clan, where I nearly lost my eye and did lose Calla, and I wonder. So much about this era that I’ve missed. So much of what I’m leaving behind that I’ll miss, too. Is this homecoming or exile? Which is what I need, or what I deserve? Or was it this moment the doors gave for the Tear? To see her once more, but not to touch.

I will forever wonder which door brought me back to the Void.

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning


PROMPT: Madam Charlotte’s School For Aberrant Girls by Chillmatic

Elegy 1200 words


Do you mourn? asks the control form.

I don’t. I cross out all the boxes that states None where they ask for details of my partners, children, siblings, parents, relatives, friends. I write a tiny NIL where they ask for emergency contacts.

Jerry looks through my form and does little grimaces, the edges of his mouth trying not to escape his face. “Huh,” he says, flipping through my submitted form. “I knew you were… solitary? But I didn’t expect you to be so good a control subject for product testing, Charlotte.”

I don’t mourn.

“Can we start?” I say.

We test it right at his cubicle, after he stuffs my form into his briefcase and extracts the glasses. It’s a white curved rim built into a half circle, with just a piece of glass screen round the front. The two sides are lined with what I’m told is nanotech CT scanners and AR cameras, to be placed above my ears.

I put them on, and he holds out a finger above my left ear. “Ready,” I say. He presses a button. There’s a flash, and he removes the glasses.

“Do you see anyone else?” he asks.

I don’t. He writes something on a sticky note and tapes it on the briefcase after stuffing the glasses in. He puts it under his armpit as more sticky notes fall off the briefcase, including the one he just wrote on.

We shake hands. “Happy weekend!” he says.

Easiest fifty grand this year.

* * *

I spend the weekend at home, drinking wine, eating takeaway bean gruel. I watch the other me on VoidFlix struggling with her family, and smile when they do the laugh tracks. She wonders aloud of killing them in a fire and I flich, just so slightly. I watch the CEO’s message asking us to stay vigilant for riotous dirty customers, recently made mad by Chocolate Wonderfalls accidentally packed with Scuffle Cherries. The confectionary smears in their wake may reduce all your emotions to pure hate, the deep automated voice tells me.

Hate breeds toxic environments for efficient professionalism.

It cuts to a commercial to the Hindsight Reading Glasses, and I turn off. It will be defunct soon. What’s the point?

* * *

Monday stays the same for the Supplies department. Endless inventories to sift through. I have VoidTube video essays to procrastinate on, and stay focused on my workstation.

“Charlotte? Say hello to Latrell,” I hear Anoushka, the department head say. “This is who you’ll be reporting to from now on.”

“Hi,” says the person who calls herself Latrell, who has the blonde layered bob and the drooping jowls, the slanted not-almost smile, the pasty complexion, and the single mole on the right ring finger of my mother.

I do not take the hand of she who calls herself Latrell. “Nice to meet you,” says the person. Anoushka sighs and brings her to someone else.

I look back. Her voice is wrong. But her shoulder slants to the right, and she drags her feet. She wears a keychain with a resin pancake over her neck. Her voice is wrong.

* * *

Jerry feints concern but I can see his eyes smile. Jerry tries not to say “intriguing” or “interesting” describing the “development” of the prototype. Jerry assures me it’s temporary. Jerry tells me this isn’t a valid reason for taking extended medical leave.

Jerry writes more post-it notes, and loses them.

* * *

I have endured many things, like my childhood. This is just another obstacle. The one who calls herself Latrell is being nice and doing small talk. I hear almost nothing she says, distracted by the liberal licks and smacks she does to her lips with her eyes closed.

I try not to look at the lighter on her desk used as a paperweight. I try not to think of fire. I focus on her wrong voice, asking me to do some menial task. I try to think of how wrong her voice is. How kind her voice is.

* * *

The person who calls herself Latrell comes to my desk with a report. “There’re some errors here,” she points out. She is not wrong. I have been slipping. Jerry tells me I cannot tell anybody especially the one who calls herself Latrell. I look at the dangling pancake keychain. Her clothes are baggier today. The clothes used to be wrong. The voice is wrong.

“Just minor ones but they could escalate. All right, dearie?”

The voice is wrong. The voice is wrong. No.

“Do you need to take a time-out?”

The voice is wrong. The voice is wrong! It’s wrong!

It’s wrong!

“It’s not your fault, Charlotte,” my mother whispers.

* * *

Seonhwa, the Chief Product Officer, has me sitting in between Jerry and the person who calls herself Latrell. Jerry sits on a pile of sweaty post-it notes of his own making. I try not to look at my mother.

“Your mother,” Seonhwa says.

Yes.

“Latrell’s a slim hispanic man with a full beard. Does that help?”

My mother is staring at me, fondling the pancake keychain. “What is Latrell doing?” I ask her.

“Browsing twitter on his phone.”

“Charlotte,” Jerry says. “This is… a very new side-effect. These Bereavement Glasses. You’re supposed to be only see them as echoes.”

I don’t answer.

Seonhwa groans. “Replacing people as your memories. This is bad. We need to hold production.”

Jerry is protesting and Seonhwa is telling him to shut up.

Latrell stares at me with grey eyes.

“I don’t blame you, baby girl.”

“Stop,” I tell her.

She licks her lips.

“I was terrible to you,” says the person who calls herself Seonhwa.

The person who calls himself Jerry says, “You were so young.”

I scream and run out of the office.

The persons who call themselves those are standing up with their slanted shoulders and their limps and their pancake keychains over their necks, walking after me saying, “It’s not your fault, Charlotte,” and I am running down the corridors where the lights are too bright and the PA speakers are saying, “You couldn’t help yourself,” and the people in the hallway with short blonde hair all say, “It couldn’t have ended any other way,” and I am shrieking and at that corridor with the long mirror my reflection tells me, “You were so full of hate,

and I didn’t stop you, did I?

I did give you the lighter, anyway.

Who asked me to get drunk,

and fall asleep in the truck,

dearie?”

I get out, get out of the building and there is the parking lot, but it is not daylight it is night and it is not the city but that bare, broken forest behind that trailer park and the smoke is billowing from the crackling flames of all the pick-up trucks burning, all of them brown with one tyre deflated, a lying woman inside each of them, skin turning red and black as the fat seep out sizzling, and there is a lit lighter in my hand and I hear sirens, the sirens, and behind me the people who are my mother who call themselves other names are coming to me and I don’t, I don’t mourn, I don’t mourn, I don’t mourn.

Killer-of-Lawyers
Apr 22, 2008


Filling Voids
Word Count: 1200

It was a soul sucking job, the sort where you actually had to worry about losing your soul. Where a latte sipping wizard might turn you into a newt, or where alien abductions would be an excuse for being late to clock in.

“You really shouldn’t lean like that.” Daphne said as she shifted her emerald eyes about. “They can see you.”

“But it’s been hours.” Reggie said as he gazed at his phone.

“It’s been half an hour since we went on break. Tops.”

Reggie grunted and swiped his finger across his phone.

“Look, just do what I do. Clean. If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean!”

Reggie looked at his arboreal co worker and snorted. “You trying to gun for management or something?”

“Gods no! I just want to enjoy my idle hours undisturbed and without getting any more work.”

“Couldn’t be worse than this.”

An ancient speaker, hidden high above crackled to life and mumbled proclamations forth at the two.

“Reggie, Daphne: Backroom maintenance recently unearthed some unworked freight. See to it that it gets out to the shelf for our customers! Thank you.”

Daphne’s face could turn a man to stone as she glowered at Reggie. The two shuffled off from the sales floor to the back room, which seemed even bigger than the floor of the store proper.

It wasn’t hard to find out where to go. The excavators had left a muddy trail of footprints back to a forgotten corner, where they had been digging ancient wooden crates up from the ground itself.

Reggie grabbed a crowbar and hopped down into the archaeological pit. The boards on the crates pried off with some work.

“You going to help, or scowl all day?” He said as the wood snapped and dust was released into the air around them.

Daphne jumped down next to him, fanning away the dust as she approached.

Multicolored light shone from inside the crate and danced over them. Sparkling treasures rested inside, gems the size of plumbs, perfectly cut and glowing with an internal radiance.

“Wow. I thought these all got recalled years ago!” Daphne said.

“They always miss a case or two. What are they, anyways? Something for jewelry?”

“Oh no, these, Reggie, are dreams!”

“Dreams?”

“Sure. The power to bend reality, distilled by master craftsmen in China, and sold here next to snickers bars at the checkouts!”

Reggie’s eyes grew larger than the gems before him, and he reached out to pluck one from the pile.

“Of course, we had to send them all back, they were far too dangerous for mortal hands and all thaa-AAAH! Reggie!”

But it was too late. Everything turned inside out, like a stomach after too many cocktail weenies. Reggie was gone.

“Good grief.” Daphne sighed and grabbed a stone herself.

***

Reginald was king. By right the throne should be his! His enemies were numerous. They were strong. But he had a heart of gold, and a sword of the finest steel smiths could forge.

He would reclaim his throne, even if he had to ascend the walls of his stolen castle on the piled corpses of his enemies!

***

That foolish boy, he had gotten himself lost again, and it was up to her to save him. Why was he so foolish? So headstrong! Oh, if only he just wasn’t so handsome, maybe she--

“Nope.” Daphne shook her head as she climbed into her battle suit. She clenched her dream tightly in her palm and willed that away.

If only she wasn’t filled with such a sense of duty, leaving her unable to avoid saving hapless friends.

“Better.” She said as her suits engines began to whine and whirr.

***

How long had it taken? Decades, surely. The path to the throne was stepped in blood. He had sacrificed everything that made him noble, but he knew now that none of that mattered. Power was what mattered.

A loud banging sound drew Reginald’s attention back from his musing. “What? Who dares interrupt the brooding of the great King Reginald the Third, Conquer of the Northern Wastes, First Among Many of Eridis, Dominae Supreme!”

With a great crash the throne room doors fell down. A rush of air and acrid smoke filled the room as a great mechanical beast strode forward.

“Reggie, listen to me!”

“You!” Reginald rose from his throne and brandished his scepter at the intruder. “You wish for me to give up my rightful throne, don’t you?”

“Well, yes. And--”

“--And you wish to see me give up my gem of power, which shows me to be the true heir of the lands.”

“That would make this easier, yes.”

Reginald drew his sword, a massive and hulking war tool as big as he was. “Guards! Defend me!” A legion of guards came forth from shadowy places, and charged the intruder.

Daphne sighed, and brought her weapons to bare. “Why is it always a power fantasy?” She said as her machine guns cut the guards down.

The clash continued as the two titans drew close and fought each other up close.

“Reggie, really. You need to let this go.” Daphne said as Reginald’s sword cleaved through her suit’s shoulder.

“HA! Why, my moment is near! What king would give up his kingdom!”

“Because, people can get hurt! This is dangerous!” Daphne grabbed the sword embedded in her suit with a great iron clad fist and wrenched the weapon from Reginald.

“Fool, I am invincible!”

Daphne tossed the mad king’s sword aside, and thrust her fist forward, smashing his face and drawing blood from his nose as he went flying back into a stone wall. She ejected from her suit, leaving it behind, as she rushed up to Reggie.

“No one’s saying you have to give up your dreams, King. Just these. They were buried for a reason. Too wild. Too dangerous.”

Reggie looked into his coworker’s eyes and saw the truth in them. His hand was balled into a fist by his heart. Inside a gem glowed, shining through his fingers. He let it go. Daphne did the same with hers.

***

The dreams landed onto the ground with a soft thud, and rolled away from the pair. They looked at each other, and then without a word raised their feet and stomped the dreams out. They crunched and shattered like plastic. The two were once again in the back room.

Cardboard boxes lay upon their sides, their trinkets and plastic toys strewn about the concrete floor of the small and efficient back room.

“Great.” Daphne said, shaking off a momentary sense of confusion.

“Ugh. I’ll get the broom.” Reggie walked off, tip toeing around the mess.

“Hurry. I don’t want them to see this mess and think we’ve been playing around. I don’t need another talking too about my ‘Sense of Urgency’.”

“Yeah. You’re right.”

After all, it was a soul sucking job, the sort that many find themselves trapped in, always hoping for better. Where an ungrateful customer might yell at you for their card being declined. A place where ‘I just couldn’t drag myself in’ was an excuse that lead fellow employees to nod in agreement.

Noah
May 31, 2011

Come at me baby bitch


Item: Swifter Sweeper: Tidies up timelines.

Reserve America
Words: 1070
When they put the final nail in Bear Ears National Park, Bilfred counted himself lucky. He had been on the job hunt at least a year ahead of those holier-than-thou pricks over at Zion. Voidmart only needed one ranger, and Bilfred had a family to feed.

The first shift was an overnight shift, which he thought peculiar, but he wasn’t going to complain about a paycheck for the first time. His daughter had packed him his lunch, including a Chattanooga Chunkyboy, a candy bar from his childhood they regularly special ordered across the country for. A camping trip wouldn’t be complete without a Chattanooga Chunkyboy.

Through the sliding glass door entrance were a row of Already Sold Sale Adirondack chairs. And they were prohibitively expensive. An old man sat in one, and Bilfred knew that kind of man’s face. Sun-bleached forever, rough and creased, he had the face of a Ranger, the face of a man who spent a lot of time alone.

The man in the Adirondack stood and handed him the broom, a map, and a radio.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said. “You’ll know what to do.” Bilfred stood silently as the man exited through the sliding doors. A last cool breeze from the night air embraced Bilfred and the stranger hunched, his skin wrinkling and cracking, before he broke away in the wind like a dandelion wish.

A crackle came over the radio. A hissing, child-like voice bubbled through. The first time he had heard management it had reminded him of his daughter.

“C class camper MIA in Off-Shore Drilling Aisle 43.”

Bilfred opened his map to find it only had directions to Off-Shire Drilling section. And he knew what to do.

Bilfred admired his Employee of the Month plaque even though he was the only employee of the Camping Goods and Reclamation department. It was nice to be recognized. Every month someone, or thing, would replace the plaque with the corresponding month. He had staked out the plaque for over three days before, but only when he would leave would a new one appear. Of course, there was no loss of productivity thanks to his Swifter Sweeper.

The broom the old man had given him had been an interesting tool in his arsenal for reclamation and ranging across Voidmart. He would flag every pertinent search decision with a ribbon, like a trail marking or tree for felling, and when he returned with the Swifter it was as though he had made the right choice the first time. Bilfred could dally, or dilly, in his efforts to relocate missing or itinerant shoppers so long as he was able to retrace his steps with the Swifter. He was a scholar, a musician, an expert. He smiled thinking of all the questions he could answer his daughter.

“How do you know that?” She would ask. He would tap his head, as though it was just the mere being of Dad was the only prerequisite.

“S class MIA, Pleasant Pies and Pheasant Lies Aisle 410,” the radio silence broke. Immediately he snaked a blue ribbon around an aisle signpost, and then he took a nap. He finished a novel, gathered his expedition sack, and plotted a methodical but weaving path through the Voidmart that would keep him close enough to a various menu of rations. Any new pique and he would tie another ribbon from his pack, marking it on the map for retracing. Finally he arrived at Aisle 410 with growing stubble and a new found appreciation for the complete works of Melville.

On the ground was a Chattanooga Chunkboy wrapper. Fudge dusted on his fingertips, it had been here long enough to dry out. His heart sank, and he frantically searched for clues. A missing Pleasant Pie near the end of the aisle lured him deeper, and he stumbled. His ribbon knots became erratic, and only his deep ingrained muscle memory kept him on a steady track.

Every corner he turned he was sure he would catch sight of a small rucksack, patched with sunflowers or a pink bucket hat, but every other turn he knew he had made an error and needed a new ribbon. His fingertips felt like they could finally grasp firm strings in the air and pull himself along them, but he could never grab them and they tickled his fingertips and led him down another wrong choice. He knew they were there, he just had to reach a little further and deeper.

He found himself facing Gardening With Great Difficulty, aisle 5871 and tied a final ribbon. An orange sleeping bag blighted itself across the aisle. Dozens of potting soil had been split and dumped haphazardly on the floor. Several ripped and empty vegetable seed packets littered the uneven ground. Small, finger size divots had been punched into the dirt. He could see an emaciated hand poking from out of the sleeping bag.

He had known all along he was going to be too late. He was always too late. Management didn’t want living rescues, they wanted debris cleanup. Turning over the body, he braced for the worst that didn’t arrive. He didn’t recognize the face, the eyes, the nose, nothing. Her hair was a straw-blonde, in deep contrast to his deep black.

He rummaged through her rucksack for a semblance of lineage and stumbled on a driver’s license. The name meant nothing to him. She was anonymous, just another lost one, a thrill seeker, an explorer. But her birthday emptied him.

He collapsed backwards, dorsal and asunder. The ID card cast a perfect shadow over his eyes and he read the date of birth over and over. He was ancient. They hadn’t come looking for him any more than he had gone looking for them.

The Adirondack was smooth and worn, and had been waiting for him. Across his lap the Swifter balanced, his knees calm and fidget-less. How far back could the Swifter had taken him if he had tried it. Would it have brought him to the old man in the store when he first entered, and would it have walked him backwards right out the door? Could he still remember all those steps to retrace, and did he deserve the chance, he wondered.

Through the sliding glass doors, a young man entered. Bilfred knew that kind of face and they locked eyes.

curlingiron
Dec 15, 2006

Adventure Awaits!


Fun Shoe

The Void Also Gazes Into You
980 words


“Welcome to the Void!” said a piercing voice in Nina’s ear, so sudden and so close that she almost dropped the bin she was carrying. She looked around frantically to see where it had come from, but she could see no more than she had for the last half hour, which was to say, not at all.

“Hello?” she called. “Who’s there?”

“Who’s there! This isn’t a knock-knock joke, kid! What do you think this is, a classy establishment?” The voice laughed at its own joke, and Nina again searched for the source of the noise. The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere all at once, and she still couldn’t see anything.

“Can you - can you tell me where I am?” she said.

“What are you, a slow learner or something? I just said “Welcome to the Void!” Was that not enough of a tip-off, or do you need a marching band to go with it?” The voice laughed again and Nina winced.

“I’m sorry, I just - I think that I’m lost. I’m supposed to be taking these items to the Returns department, and I think I got lost along the way-”

“Oh no, you found Returns alright!” the voice said manically. “What, you think we put our rejects back on the shelves or something?”

“I’m really sorry, but I don’t understand-”

“Well of course you don’t! I wouldn’t expect some kid from the - let’s see here, what does your tag say - the TOY department to understand the intricacies of our Returns system. Who’d you piss off to get sent here anyway? We don’t see a lot of normies down our way.”

“I, um, I…” Nina was suddenly fighting back tears. “I’m sorry, but it’s been a really long day, and I’ve been walking around in the dark trying to find out where to take this stuff for way too long, and I’d really appreciate if you’d just tell me where to go so I can get back to my job in the toy department.” She said these last words bitterly, and then tried to hold her breath to cut back a sob.

“Oh, jeez, kid, I’m sorry,” the voice said. “I didn’t mean to make you feel bad - we’ve just kinda got a dark sense of humor around here, probably on account of their not being any light, you know? Ha, sorry, I guess I don’t know when to stop. Here, lemme see if I can get something going in here-”

A spotlight clicked on overhead, bringing Nina face-to-face with a skeleton leering directly in front of her. She shrieked, and threw the bin she was carrying at it out of instinct. The light went out.

“Ow! Come on, I was just trying to make you feel better! Sorry, I probably should have warned you about the whole skeleton thing. Here, let me see if I can find something to - ah, got it!”

The light clicked back on, showing Nina the same skeleton, but now wearing a pair of Groucho Marx glasses and holding her bin full of merchandise, which it proffered to her.

“Um, thanks,” Nina said, taking the bin back. “Uh, do you work in Returns?”

“Got it in one! I’m Danny, by the way. I’d offer to shake, but your hands are full and mine are a little too empty, if you know what I mean!” Danny cackled again and Nina winced; his laugh didn’t really get any better seeing where it was coming from.

“Well, um, do you know where I should be taking these?” She looked around, but outside of the Danny and herself, she still couldn’t make anything out, not even the floor they were standing on.

“Hmm, yeah, that’s gonna be a little difficult. Well, I mean, the taking it to where it needs to be is easy, but it’s the getting out part that’s gonna be hard.”

“What do you mean?” Nina said.

“Weeeeeeell, the Void isn’t nuts about giving up things that are given to it.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, though,” said Nina. “I mean, I’m supposed to just leave these here and then go back. I don’t need to take anything with me.”

“Yeah, but the fact that you’re here means that the Void thinks that you’re part of the Return, and it’s probably gonna want to keep you.”

“What? But I need to go back! I can’t stay here!” Nina’s voice started to rise in panic.

“Right, right, exactly, which is why I’m gonna help you out. Look, kid, I’m gonna tell you a secret ‘cause I like you: you don’t have to stay in the Void to stay with the Void.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Well that’s the secret, you see - everyone’s got a little bit of the Void in ‘em. All you need to do is take a little bit more with you when you leave.”

“I… How do I do that?”

“It’s easy. Here, let me get the light-”

Nina blinked as the spotlight snapped back off, trying to readjust to the backness though she logically knew that there was nothing more to see.

“Danny? Are you still there? What am I supposed to do now?”

“Yep, still here! Okay, now close your eyes-”

“Will that really make a difference?”

“Just trust me on this one. Close your eyes, and imagine a part of you filling up with the Void. A perfect ball of nothing, just inside your ribcage. Imagine your heart and lungs moving to adjust to make room for it. Good. Now, say ‘I welcome the Void into my life.’”

“I welcome the Void into my life.”

There was a long silence.

“Danny?” Nina said, and opened her eyes.

She was in the break room near the Toy department. Her bin was empty, except for a Post-It note:

The Void Welcomes You Too, Nina!

curlingiron
Dec 15, 2006

Adventure Awaits!


Fun Shoe

Flash rules:

Dem Bones, Dem Dry Boners by HiddenGecko

<TDbot> That's the secret you see – everyone's God. | Shredding by sebmojo - https://thunderdome.cc/?story=5598

Dihaj, "Skeletons," Azerbaijan, 2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFqic5GBQNg

Armack
Jan 27, 2006

Corde pulsum tangite


Prompt: Baudolino’s “Leaving New York.”

Leaving New York., Part II of III: Void Where Prohibited
(945 words)

Rome, 54 B.C.E.

His illness created the comment, and the comment threatened to spark M. Septus Aemilius’s expulsion or worse. So after those fateful words had catapulted from his mouth, the mortified senator fled the Curia. Since there would be no aid from his colleagues, M. Septus Aemilius resolved to remedy his affliction in the market of Ostia. It had been the market that had infected him in the first place. Now to market he would return.

M. Septus Aemilius traveled by oxcart. It had not yet been two weeks since Ostia roads teemed with merchants. But now the tents were collapsed, the stands and lean-tos empty. All the trade worth doing, every browse, barter, and haggle, now happened within the colossal walls of Voidmart. M. Septus Aemilius staked his oxen, then trod to the beach upon which the megastore had appeared. Entering, the senator spied a knock-kneed stock boy arranging fidget spinners into the front display case.

“I am ill—”

“—Nope nope nope. Not my job, sir.” The stock boy held his gaze on the display case. He gestured vaguely, “Customer Service, three departments down.”

On his way, M. Septus Aemilius passed an amphora department, a chariot repair tool department, and several fish paste kiosks. Then, having found Customer Service, the senator stood in line for four hours until at last a Voidmart Satisfaction Engineer called him to a conference room. Nametag: Brittany.

“How may I touch your day today, sir?” said Brittany, grinning.

“By fixing what you people did to me. I’ve been sick since the last time I shopped here. Headaches. Insomnia. I get these spells where…my tongue is not my own.”

“Sure, let’s troubleshoot! Tell me about your tongue problem.”

M. Septus Aemilius grew red in the face. “I shout advertisements unbidden. It’s rude enough I’m liable to get tossed from the senate or killed.”

“Now, sir, let’s not resort to hyperbole.”

“This is no exaggeration! Pompey lost to childbirth his wife, Julia, and their infant daughter. Weeping, he ran up to me in the senate and sought my comforts. And in response I blurted out…”

“…You blurted out what, sir?”

“It was all so sudden, I struggle to remember the exact words. It was something to the effect of ‘Voidmart baby shoes for sale; never worn! Buy now!’”

“That was perhaps not the most sensitive response.”

“You people did this to me! It’s an infection.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Your comments aren’t so unusual really. On account of our offering quality goods at affordable prices, people just can’t contain their enthusiasm for Voidmart. Happens all the time.”

“You did this,” insisted M. Septus Aemilius. “Yesterday I sought a doctor. When he peered into my ear he saw a ‘V’ logo.”

“How do you know it wasn’t just the number five?”

The senator grabbed Brittany’s lapels. “It’s bad enough you people expand into my time era, now you expand into my head!”

“Alright, alright already. Sir, I’m gonna need you to calm down.” M. Septus Aemilius let go.

“Let me check our records.” Brittany put stilus to tablet. After a moment she said, “Aha. Here we have your consent to expand a chapter of our ad department through your left ear and into the temporal lobe of your brain.”

M. Septus Aemilius wasn’t clear on neuroanatomy. Nevertheless he said, “I gave no such consent.”

Brittany smiled, her teeth white as a desert skeleton. “Did you not read the user agreement for the Wink of Venus app on your solar powered tablet? By your use of the app, we have every right to expand into your head.”

Sensing that the senator’s anger may rise to a boil, Brittany applied the stilus to her tablet again. “You own several olive farms, do you not?”

“Yes.”

“Would you not also expand your business at every opportunity?”

She had a point, thought M. Septus Aemilius. “I suppose.”

Dejected and devoid of options, the senator left Voidmart. On his way back to his oxen, he chanced upon a beggar.

“Lost my Rubik’s Cube casting lots. Spare an old man some coin, that he might try to win it back?”

“Voidmart brand poker chips! For the thrill-seeking gentleman who wants much but has little to lose!” M. Septus Aemilius shook his head. “Sorry, friend. Here you go.” The senator tossed him some silver.

“Grateful for the opportunity.”

That word again. Brittany had said it too: “Opportunity.”

Just then, M. Septus Aemilius hatched a plan. He journeyed back to the senate to strike a deal with the enraged Pompey. The terms were as follows: M. Septus Aemilius would agree to stand upon the rostra, profusely apologize for disrespecting Pompey’s family, render to him eight olive bushels, resign his senate seat, and submit to one clean needle piercing of the tongue all in atonement for reprobate verbiage. In return, Pompey would prohibit Voidmart's every business opportunity in Rome. That is, he nullified by force of law all contracts held by Voidmart, including their right of expansion into this, the Roman Age.

And so it was that Rome compelled Voidmart to relocate its Ancient Roman branch. The conglomerate elected to move the megastore to modern day Canada where the Empire State Building (“Em”) kindly had cleared a wooded space. Together, the two landmarks, Voidmart and Em, attracted copious business and tourism. A sylvan town complete with bus routes sprang up around them. The site’s popularity increased yet further after the freshly sentient Voidmart Complex became famously enraptured with Em’s lumberjack aesthetic. They are now the proud parents of an adult toy shop.

Authors Bastardized: Ernest Hemmingway and his equal, Baudolino.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

The Roots of Desire
1200 words

Wendell lived behind a shelf in the Mart, with what was left of his family. Through the goods-cluttered slats of the shelves he saw the customers pass, their cold eyes scanning for bargains.

Wendell wasn’t a bargain, he was very expensive – or at least that’s what his mother would explain to him, whispering so the customers wouldn’t hear her and call a Door Man or (heavens forbid) a Manager.

“Once we were six, you and me and daughter Elarif and husband Masrict and uncle Roff and grandfather Cillor, but we paid a great price. Grandfather was caught on the wire, and Roff could not fit through the hole and Masrict, bless his beautiful heart, gave up his life for us all.” Wendell’s mother paused here, and Wendell would wait a few respectful breaths before prodding.

“And Elarif?”

“Elarif is gone beyond, to paradise. She has climbed to the heights.” His mother’s beautiful careworn face often softened at this, and once she even smiled. But then she would shush him and tell him to take hand sanitizer from the family-size Super Squirter and clean his hands with it, or go play in the electronics sub-superstore, or refill the little propane bottle they used to cook their home brand Redi-Meelz.

Wendell was considering her reticence as he dangled high above the shop floor, some time after her death. He was crouched atop the Mart's mascot Voidy, a giant feathered hippopotamus with glowing eyes that constantly darted and twitched from aisle to aisle in search of misappropriated goods. There were, he considered, two options.

First: Elarif was really dead, and the story of her ascension was a family fable to calm children. Wendell judged this unlikely; he knew his mother’s face and thought over the years he’d have recognised the signs of falsehood. The second option was both more comforting and more terrifying, namely that Elarif, his beautiful dark-eyed sister who he only dimly remembered, had indeed entered the Terminal Lift and taken it to the Ultimate Floor. More comforting because it would be good to share the strange curls of his life within the shop with a blood relative, but more terrifying because that meant he go and find her.

Voidy whirred and clicked beneath him as its camera eyes zoomed in on a malefactor in the haberdashery zone. The nearby Door Man stiffened and turned, blind eyes seeking the goods criminal.

Wendell felt sick, a deadening weight in his belly. He considered going back to behind the shelf, eating the rest of that packet of Sporbi Chips.

Then he remembered how much he hated hydrogenated wheat snacks and his jaw tightened.

Wendell reached down, grabbed the dangling powercable and slid down to the hexagonal-tiled floor below. A fat woman with children gaped at him so he bowed, just like in the ‘17th Century French Court Etiquette for Dummies’ DVD that the electronics section Till Man liked, then bounded off towards the back of the store.

The secret, he had decided after long months of covert observation, was madness. The Mart had deep black roots that had coiled their way into the minds of the customers, back to a time so far gone that it made him dizzy to think of it, back when there were countries and towns, before the rise of the ultra marts.

It was madness that had let the marts take root, the fear of the abyss that might take hold if people stopped buying or thinking of buying, of yearning to possess new things. Wendell had stolen everything he'd ever owned, whipped it out from under the oblivious eye zones of Door Men and Till Men, and cared nothing for any of it. Neither had his sister.

Heart thumping, Wendell gazed down the Aisle of Wonders at the Terminal Lift. He looked neither left nor right. He took one step, then another. To either side an ocean of glittering delights washed at him, calling for his attention. The lift door was simple, spotless white with a tiny VoidMart logo on the top right corner.

“Wendell,” said his mother and his head jerked right before he could stop it. It was a screen, the Tivash 2300 GX with picture in picture in picture, an endless billowing tunnel of images. One was his mother, another his uncle, another his grandfather. “Buy us,” they cooed and growled and muttered. “Buy us all.”

Wendell looked at them for another moment, mouth agape, then he patted his pocket. There was no money in there, no Pay’n’Wave or credit chip. His heart felt light within him and he turned away. “You live in memory,” he muttered, and within two strides he was at the white door and his finger was pushing on the button. He heard angry footsteps pounding down the aisle towards him but he didn’t turn around.

The door slid open and he stepped inside, into a cold metal box. It smelt of cooled meat and the sides were made of smooth metal. He cast around and slapped at the only button on the brushed steel console. The door slid shut behind him with a whisper.

Safe inside, the humming lift dragging him up towards heaven, Wendell put his back against the cold walls and slid down. "Goodbye, Mother," he thought. His mind was a shelf of bargains after the customers have left, disordered and with all the labels ripped and packaging opened. What would he even say to his sister? Would she recognise him? Would he recognise her?

The door opened. Streaming from it was a blinding light. Then the light was eclipsed by the looming of the largest Door Man Wendell had ever seen. His huge ham hands slapped down on the wall where Wendell had been half a second before. Wendell darted between the creature's legs, each the size of a carpet roll, and scrabbled across a floor of smooth octagonal tiles. There was a shelf in front of him, crammed with indistinct goods and the instinct of a lifetime sent him through the gaps between the shelves and into the space behind it.

Someone grabbed him and he flailed at them as they pushed their palm over his mouth. "Ssh," they were saying.

Wendell blinked his glare-blinded eyes. "Elarif?"

It was his sister, recognisable, if haggard. She said nothing, just smiled. "I heard the lift coming, there is an announcement they make. I had no idea... It's so good to see you."

Wendell glanced over his shoulder at the Door Man, who was still slamming the walls of the lift in fruitless search. "This is just ... more of the same. The aisles, the shelves."

Elarif nodded, fiercely. "There's another lift. I try it every month, but I'm always caught by the memory of you and Mother. With two of us I'm sure we can do it! It will take us to the real Ultimate Floor!"

Wendell said nothing, just looked up at the distant roof, and a sudden vision of floor after floor after floor, each crammed with shelves all stocked with desire, every aisle teeming with people searching for satisfaction, each one a quivering tip of the Mart's endless, ravenous, rhizosphere.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Flash rule: Argo, "Utopian Land," Greece, 2016
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqrdpcY3skI

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


Who wants to live
forever?


DIVE!

College Slice

Take Your Child to Work Day
~600 words

The setting sun shone red through the dome as Kevin reluctantly left Toys and Games. One last job to do. After a final, yearning gaze at the endless rows of action figures, Legos, and erector sets, he re-adjusted his tool belt and entered the dim world of Crematory and Burials. From childhood to death.

Thus is Voidmart.

Kevin stepped through the maze of headstones and mausoleums, trying not the think about the corpses encased under the linoleum beneath his feet. At the register a thin woman regarded him from behind a stern monolith of dark mahogany.

"Employee IT251367-b," Kevin said. "Here to fix the, uh—" he consulted his work order'—"chiller." That didn't sound good..

The wraithlike woman's lips pulled back slightly. "Follow me," she said.

She stood and for the first time Kevin noticed a small, pale child next to her. The woman saw his gaze and sniffed. "It's Take Your Child to Work Day," she said. The child's unblinking eyes stared up at him.

Kevin followed as the pair glided through endless graves towards an industrial area at the back of the department. They stopped before an enormous freezer with a heavy, locked door.

"Here it is," she said. "Temperature's been fluctuating. Not good for our customers."

Kevin nodded. "Probably the thermostat. Shouldn't take long."

"The end of my shift draws near," the gaunt woman said. Her child pulled at her sleeve, soundlessly pointing at an effigy of stone gargoyle. "Not now," she scolded. "Mommy's working."

She punched a code into a keypad and the lock spun to release the door. A blast of stale, cold air greeted Kevin as he stepped over the threshold.

"I'll let my replacement know you're in there," the woman lied.

The door closed shut behind him.

^

/> Hello, Chucky.

Chucky glared at the black screen with the letters on it. He hated letters. They reminded him of school. He just wanted to get out of this big stupid store and go home.

/> Chucky, I need you do to something for me. Something important.

This game sucked. There wasn't any pictures or videos, or things he could click. Take your kid to work day or whatever it's called sucked, too. He reached to slam the stupid learning laptop shut.

/> Do you see the button in the top left corner? That's the fun button. Press it.

Chucky paused. This stupid computer with its dumb letters and weird voice that was inside his head was so lame. Definitely not fun.

But breaking it might be. To see what's inside.

/> Top left, Chucky. It says E-S-C. I programmed it special so we can have lots of fun. It'll be great.

Chucky looked around for something to smash away the irritating letters on the screen and the dumb computer voice. There was nothing.

/> No. Stay focused. Press the fun button. E-S-C. Top left.

Then Chucky, for the first time in his life, did what he was told.

He pressed the button.

^

Esc

^

The mist cleared and ChuckyKevin stood forth, sword high. The battle had been long and hard, and he was tired. Voidmart security was persistent, but the animated corpses from Crematory and Burials had proved difficult to kill. Now they prowled their new territory, Toys and Games, with reckless abandon. Security had been beaten back into a disorganized retreat. But ChuckyKevin knew they'd be back. Voidmart was too large, it's resources too vast.

But for now this one small portion of Voidmart was his. And he planned on enjoying it.

The endless rows of toys beckoned.




Prompt: Fisher’s Price Haunted Learning Laptop: For kids!
Flashrule: The cold shell enclosed him

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


Sitting Here posted:

New, from Voidmart, it's...

Pompeii brand Pompadour Gel: Smother your hair in burning good looks!

If you need a department (which i'm not technically assigning this time), imagine a WHOLE DEPARTMENT of pompadour care products. If you dare...
Pomp and Circumstance (990 words)

"Are you familiar with the Kievan Rus?"

The hair product aisle went on for centuries, tins of pomade stacked up to the ceiling. Not one in twenty sheikhs could clock its expanse without being prompted to remove their glasses.

Bruce stood alone, his pompadour reflected in ten thousand bottles. "Well now," he said, "Can't say I have." He tossed a tiny tin up in the air and caught it: Pompeii’s Pomp Gel, the last in stock. A legendary second-rate hair jelly, produced in Greece, blessed by Pope Henry Winkler himself.

Dougan snorted. He was a tall man with deep-set eyes, adorned in a tracksuit the color of crimson. He had managed to cultivate a pompadour of his own, though it paled in comparison to the employee’s before him.

"The Kievan Rus. They were very particular about their facial hair. If a man severed another man's finger in an argument, a pound of silver was required in exchange. But if he were to injure the other man's beard? Eight pounds of silver for such an offense."

“Beards are aisle three, my man, don’t you worry.” Bruce snapped his fingers. “And we accept credit.”

“Silence!” Dougan narrowed his gaze. “Do you understand the significance of what I’m trying to tell you?”

“Beards are back?”

“Do I look like I have a beard?”

“Looks like you want a beard.”

Dougan dragged a hand down his face. “The loss of a finger was seen as mere injury, but a blow to a man’s beard was a blow to his pride. A serious offense. More grievous than the loss of all his fingers. A man’s pride is more important than anything. We must be willing to pay for it. And I am.” He pulled out a handgun. “I am.”

Bruce stared blankly at the gun, a broomhandle Mauser with a 9 on the grip. Dougan stared intently at his prey, then glanced down.

“...Oh, err, excuse me.”

He pocketed the Mauser and pulled out his wallet. “I am,” he repeated. “Willing to pay, I mean. For the gel.” He pointed at the tin, from the wallet to the tin.

Bruce smiled softly, but shook his head. “Apologies my man, but this one’s reserved. There’s a waiting list for this stuff, you know? There’s a reason we keep it in the back. Stuff’s practically Tyrian Purple. But I’ll tell you what.” He produced a small notepad from within his vest and a blue golf pencil from behind his ear. “I’ll take down your info and let you know when we’re in stock.”

Dougan had already taken out the gun again. “That gel is mine,” he said.

He was about to pull the trigger when Bruce hit him in the face with a bottle of No Tears, No Fears Shampoo. He fired wildly, popping the cap off some high pressure hair spray. Bruce pulled a lighter from his pocket and threw it in the direction of the leak, and a department was divided by a wall of flame.

Dougan leapt back, his hair ablaze. Bruce took off. He raced toward the elevator.

At the cold, capitalist heart of Voidmart sat the central plaza, around which all things and all people revolved - including, a bit of an architectural inconvenience, the closest elevators. Bruce had long since learned to navigate the labyrinthine layout of this corporate superstructure, but the elevators always felt just a little bit further away than he was usually willing to go. Skidding at the corner of the shoe aisle, Bruce scanned the horizon for an available chute, only to be greeted by the despair of a line of eager customers.

A cry, a tire screech. Bruce whipped around. Dougan, hair singed, rounded the corner in a stolen golf cart. In his free hand was the pistol. He saw Bruce and grimaced. He slammed his foot down on the peddle. Behind him trailed a woman from the sporting goods section, a new hire desperately trying to explain this particular cart’s finer features.

Bruce clenched his fist.

He cracked open the tin of Pompeii’s best. The surface of the jelly glowed and shimmered like a jeweled sea. Taking only the smallest sampling possible, he sculpted the mixture into his own hair. His pompadour had already been magnificent, but this newfound thick and lustrous sheen was in a class of its own. Many a customer, previously impatient, waiting for the elevators, turned to stare in awe at what was transpiring. Then they saw Dougan, the golf cart, and ran screaming, the floor awash with abandoned tote bags.

Bruce stood firm, face calm, eyes shut. He flexed his fingers. Dougan barreled down at him, gun drawn. Bruce waited until the last possible moment. Then he dropped to the ground and rolled to the side.

Dougan had selected this golf cart on its many merits. “Wheels strong enough to crush a Chinese protester,” the saleswoman said. But Bruce’s freshly greased do’ was no mere political malcontent. The tire kissed his locks, then slipped to the side. The whole cart flipped, and Dougan went careening over the lip of the balcony, down into the plaza where clowns made children cry with improbably-shaped balloons.

The shark-filled central fountain was never the same.

***

“Thanks for waiting,” said Bruce. He tossed the tin to its rightful consumer, its pre-order placer, his aged grandfather. The old man’s hair had long gone white, but his pompadour remained, no less impressive. Nor his eyesight. He noticed immediately the lid had been opened.

“You tryin’ to cheat me, boy? I don’t dish out for the good stuff to get it used you know.”

“My bad, my bad,” said Bruce, laughing. “This one’s on me. Just wanted a touch of that old black magic, you know?”

His grandfather sat in silence a moment. “Well, I suppose I did the same thing at your age.” He clamped the tin shut. “Alright kid, let’s go.”

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

Thank you for choosing


credit to Djeser for the logo

Signups are now closed. Sparksbloom, you are welcome to post the week 301 prompt whenever you're ready. Management will deliberate for a short time, then select the Least Expendable Employee within a day or two

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Interprompt: PROOMMPPTT he screamed but it was too late (100 words)

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Week CCCI -- Communication Breakdown

I’m going to keep this simple: this week, I want you to write a story where the conflict is a character’s inability to communicate something to someone (or someones). Please resolve the conflict by the end of the story.

Language barriers, technical failures, high emotions, prejudice and stereotypes, and comic misunderstandings are all good fodder for this week. All I ask is that you don’t make your characters unnecessarily dumb. Don’t write me a story where someone’s like “I can explain” and someone refuses to listen for no reason. More Arrival, less third act of a bad rom-com.

Flash rules available upon request. They’ll be songs.

No erotica, fanfiction, or Google Docs.

Word limit: 1,750 words

Judges:
sparksbloom
???
???

Enter by: Friday, May 11, 11:59 PM, EST
Submit by: Monday, May 14, 8:00 AM EST

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


In and flash

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013



In,

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

'Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' -Samuel Johnson

In and flash

Flesnolk
Apr 11, 2012

If only, THUNDERDOME


In, flash, toxx

(USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST)

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Antivehicular posted:

In and flash

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS5bvILB5e8

Thranguy posted:

In and flash

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-PmQ3dFQvs

Flesnolk posted:

In, flash, toxx

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syykeG8lNeY

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004

THUNDERDOME LOSER



Jay W. Friks posted:

Fuschia_tude vs. Jay W. Friks “Bully Beatdown Brawl”

Fuschiaey W. Trix brawl

Building Up

478 Words

Tom Inch had an itch. Lanky, gangly, awkward, he thought he had little to offer. But with his steady job at the local general store, that was starting to change, even if he'd only been working there for a month. So he spent a little money on a new wardrobe, stayed out a bit too late some nights. And his boss grumbled every minute about it.

So he spent a little too much time entertaining with customers when he should have been taking inventory and writing invoices. Rosalind had a laugh that carried across the shop, and his boss couldn't abide happiness.

Steven splashed onto the scene with a shaking fist. "Enough dallying, Tom. I need you to get those soup cans downstairs."

“Yes, sir. I'll do that in a minute, boss—”

“You'll do that now, if you want to have a job through the week. Now go on and stop wasting the customers’ time.”

“Of course.” Tom turned red as the tomatoes on the cans he was carting down the stairs. She was gone when he got back, of course.

Quietly, he planned revenge.

——

His chance came the next week, when there was going to be a large delivery of stock.

“Can you help me with this, Rosalind?” he asked that morning as they walked through the streets.

“I don't think that's a good idea, Tom,” she said, stopping. “Steve would—”

“I've had enough of Steve,” he said, his face sour, and pushed on to the shop.

“There you are,” Steven snapped as Tom walked into the shop two minutes early. "We got a big shipment of canned fish and bags of dry goods. Get those pallets moved in place and unloaded. You know where they go. And make sure you take down the invoice numbers as you go. I have to go meet with a supplier. I want this done when I get back before noon. Oh, and handle any customers who come in.”

Perfect.

“Sure thing, boss.” Tom walked off whistling. He grabbed the hand truck from the doorway as he passed through.

An hour later and he had everything arranged just right. The bags of grain were stacked precipitously on the shelves, heaviest on top. The slightest breeze could topple the set and cause a lot of wasted spoilage.

"That doesn't look right," barked a voice by Tom's side. He whirled and his hand hit something as he turned. Steven had come back early.

The hand truck slapped into a bag at the base of the pile, splitting it open. Corn spilled out over the floor, covering their feet.

"drat it, Tom—"

Off balance, Tom didn't have time to react before the whole pile toppled over on him.

——

"I told you it was a bad idea," Rosalind said, shaking her head over Tom in his hospital bed.

All he could do was moan.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


Who wants to live
forever?


DIVE!

College Slice

In, flash me. Need to redeem my terribleness from last week.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Jay W. Friks posted:

Fuschia_tude vs. Jay W. Friks “Bully Beatdown Brawl”

Birth by a Thousand Cuts (#784)

Job poked his bayonet into the creature's stomach. It flinched and recoiled. White mist filled the wound and the damage disappeared.

“What are these things?” asked the Investor, Morgan.

“The magicians call them Benguls.” Job wiped his bayonet on the creatures slack-jawed face. this is a nice, vicious detail

“I call them tumors personally.” Job added.

Morgan takes a long look at the creature. 7 feet tall when hunched. Its skin is taught taut against its bones and muscles. Like grey sheets draped over a knobby mannequin. There isn’t a single inch of its body that isn’t twisted, bulging, or crooked. Its engorged cranium folds over half of its goat-like face. A single almond eye, stares vacantly in the candlelight. I like the body horror description, but the style for this is completely different in a way that appears unjustified in the text. sentence fragments are fine but you need to make them work. also why did you go present tense for this you insane buffoon

“Can they be used as soldiers?” Morgan asked.

Job rubbed his head, frustrated, “Unfortunately, I’m still stuck as a lawman to these jungle fucks. huh? i don't understand this line. The Commander tried to get them to fight. Tried pain, they forgot about it no matter what we did to them. Tried food. They don’t really eat it turns out. Tried separating them from each other so we could identify the females. Get em’ horny and protective.”

Morgan pulled the sword from his cane and stuck it in the things protruding belly. Job grunted, trying to think. this is a weak and weird line

“And?” Morgan asked impatiently.

“I dunno.” he admitted, “The magicians have a better way of explaining it. Apparently, they don’t have sexes in the first place. I thought it might be inside like horses but nope. Nothing going on down there.”

It opened its mouth, Morgan clamped his hands over his ears expecting screaming. you could have made this work better by having it draw in a huge breath, the reaction reads a bit weird as is

Job patted him softly, “Relax. It looks like it's screaming but its just opens its mouth and closes it. No sound.”

He was right. A quiet gasp emanated from its toothless maw.

Morgan pulled back his sword from its rapidly healing belly. Its belly looks TENSE bigger now.

“What were these things even doing when you arrived on this world?” Morgan asked.

The trooper waved his arms at all the Benguls trapped in countless cells.

“This. Sitting around.” The trooper said.

“So why show me? They have no worth. I came here looking for something to export to the homeland. If these are the best this backwater world has-”

Job clanked his bayonet against the bars and began the sales pitch, “So what’s one of the prime issues with testing out tonics and nostrums on homeworld?”

Morgan wrinkled his forehead, “Well...we find prisoners looking for a commute on their sentence. If convicts aren’t available we pull kids from orphanages we own. Claim they died of an allergic reaction if the public gets paranoid about it.” HE SAID, TWIRLING HIS FINELY WAXED MOUSTACHE

Something clicked inside the Investor. These things didn’t cry out and they weren’t human. No one would care if they were poked and prodded into oblivion. They could take more punishment than lab rat, rabbit, or man. They’d proven resistant to all types of injury, the Commander had seen to that. He’d run these things through the rungs and ringer. strange expression. Also, jumping inside the investor's head is jarring - if you'd had your sentence fragment descriptions as Morgan's thoughts it could have worked better for e.g.

“Get some on a crate for me to take to Homeworld. I can talk turkey with the Commander when he gets back from Safari.” Morgan said. you really didn't need an additional character in the commander, why not have Job as the commander?

The trooper trooper suggests a low level soldier smiled ear to ear. He smelled a promotion. He rattled the cage of the Bengul and said, “How’s that! You lot are finally pulling your weight.”

The Investor glowered at the creature. It was truly repulsive, no one in their right mind would defend it, even those ecomancers who camped outside the Mage labs. However, something was off about the one they’d been stabbing.

“Why is its belly bigger?” The Investor asked.

Job poked his bayonet into the thing's stomach, he slid the blade down the front and expected another carcinoma to pop out. Instead, a smaller Bengul, this one with translucent skin tumbled out of the fresh wound.

Morgan gaped in horror, “Did it just give birth?”

“Why is the baby...why is it look like that?”

Its skin was see-through. The trooper grabbed a candle and hovered it over the infant. Instead of muscle, gristle, and bone beneath its soft skin, grey brains pulsated underneath the clear epidermis. so it's a wobbly sack of brains

It cried out. A sound that paralyzed the two men in fear. It was sound that shouldn’t be heard by human ears. Far away from the Colony, out in the dark jungles of the strange new world came return cries. The cries converged around the camp and as the night turned to dawn, the horror of the situation revealed itself through the brutality and strength of unkillable aberrations. goddammit frisk you could have had a cool 'assholes get murdered by ironic monsters' scene here and you whiffed it

For one had been born that remembered every mark of pain. this is not subtle but it has a certain visceral effect.

This is an old school sci fi sort of yarn with a lot of clumsy moments and regrettable style choices, but it's got a bit of creepy and memorable imagery.

Fuschia tude posted:

Fuschiaey W. Trix brawl

Building Up

478 Words

Tom Inch had an itch. this is a good opener Lanky, gangly, awkward, he thought he had little to offer. this is less so But with his steady job at the local general store, that was starting to change, even if he'd only been working there for a month. So he spent a little money on a new wardrobe, stayed out a bit too late some nights. And his boss grumbled every minute about it. this whole para needs a rework, and would be better if it conveyed the same thing through action

So he spent a little too much time entertaining with customers vivid! when he should have been taking inventory and writing invoices. Rosalind had a laugh that carried across the shop, and his boss couldn't abide happiness. you could have just sketched out a nice 3 way relationship drama with Steven, Tom and Roslind here instead of vague references to 'customers' and 'staying out late'.

Steven splashed onto the scene with a shaking fist. this is sort of hilariously overwritten, but I'll assume you were making a soup joke and allow it "Enough dallying, Tom. I need you to get those soup cans downstairs."

“Yes, sir. I'll do that in a minute, boss—”

“You'll do that now, if you want to have a job through the week. Now go on and stop wasting the customers’ time.”

“Of course.” Tom turned red as the tomatoes on the cans he was carting down the stairs. She was gone when he got back, of course.

Quietly, he planned revenge.

——

His chance came the next week, when there was going to be a large delivery of stock. tense weird

“Can you help me with this, Rosalind?” he asked that morning as they walked through the streets.

“I don't think that's a good idea, Tom,” she said, stopping. “Steve would—”

“I've had enough of Steve,” he said, his face sour, and pushed on to the shop.

“There you are,” Steven snapped as Tom walked into the shop two minutes early. "We got a big shipment of canned fish and bags of dry goods. we know this Get those pallets moved in place and unloaded. You know where they go. And make sure you take down the invoice numbers as you go. I have to go meet with a supplier. I want this done when I get back before noon. Oh, and handle any customers who come in.” lots of irrelevant info here, I honestly don't care about the ins and outs of stock processing

Perfect.

“Sure thing, boss.” Tom walked off whistling. He grabbed the hand truck from the doorway as he passed through. thanks, this was a crucial plot hole you closed off here

An hour later and he had everything arranged just right. The bags of grain were stacked precipitously not a huge fan of this but I guess it works on the shelves, heaviest on top. The slightest breeze could topple the set and cause a lot of wasted spoilage. oh no! catastrophe and spoilage!

"That doesn't look right," barked a voice by Tom's side. He whirled and his hand hit something as he turned. Steven had come back early.

The hand truck slapped into a bag at the base of the pile, splitting it open. great pay off of the hand truck (this would have worked better if there was Corn spilled out over the floor, covering their feet.

"drat it, Tom—"

Off balance, Tom didn't have time to react before the whole pile toppled over on him. so his plan was to do his job really badly and get fired and possibly kill his boss?

——

"I told you it was a bad idea," Rosalind said, shaking her head over Tom in his hospital bed. gonna agree with the vaguely sketched love interest

All he could do was moan. this is a weak ending

There's the bones of an ok tale here but the skeleton only makes it half way up the ribcage (metaphorical skeleton). Rosalind is a non-entity, we don't get to see the reaction of Steven to the plotting of our lambently retarded protagonist and it's really not clear what he was trying to achieve apart from get fired. You could have made it work but unfortunately chose to take a different path.

judgment

these are both fairly extremely bad - I'd say the 'tude's is more baseline competent at sentence level, lacking the grammatical and tense errors, but it suffers from being incomplete and dull. Friks' slab of og sci fi body horror is also incomplete, and regrettably riddled with errors, but has more pizazz and a vaguely memorable conceit. I'm going to split the difference and give it to Jay, by the width of a (bully-inflicted) scar that nonetheless sears in memory like a brand.

Jay W. Friks... wins....

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004

THUNDERDOME LOSER



sebmojo posted:

This is an old school sci fi sort of yarn with a lot of clumsy moments and regrettable style choices, but it's got a bit of creepy and memorable imagery.


There's the bones of an ok tale here but the skeleton only makes it half way up the ribcage (metaphorical skeleton). Rosalind is a non-entity, we don't get to see the reaction of Steven to the plotting of our lambently retarded protagonist and it's really not clear what he was trying to achieve apart from get fired. You could have made it work but unfortunately chose to take a different path.

judgment

these are both fairly extremely bad - I'd say the 'tude's is more baseline competent at sentence level, lacking the grammatical and tense errors, but it suffers from being incomplete and dull. Friks' slab of og sci fi body horror is also incomplete, and regrettably riddled with errors, but has more pizazz and a vaguely memorable conceit. I'm going to split the difference and give it to Jay, by the width of a (bully-inflicted) scar that nonetheless sears in memory like a brand.

Jay W. Friks... wins....

Thanks Seb!

a cyberpunk goose
May 21, 2007

what is all this?

what the fuck? who are you!?


sparksbloom posted:

Week CCCI -- Communication Breakdown

I’m in.

Obliterati
Nov 13, 2012

Ask me about being the most Magnificent Bastard in EU4 Multiplayer.

In etc

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Hawklad posted:

In, flash me. Need to redeem my terribleness from last week.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lot0i7Fz9pE

Also I won't be judging based on the use of the song, just as long as it inspires some aspect of the piece.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


To add more definition to this relatively abstract prompt, I'm gonna scrap the song flash rules going forward, and instead flash you with a prompt for how communication has failed. If you've already been flashed, you can ask for a new flash rule, or you can keep your song.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

In and flash me with a communication failure

Lazy Beggar
Dec 9, 2011


In. And

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

In flash

Tayacan
Dec 8, 2012

Fucking nerd

In.

Obliterati
Nov 13, 2012

Ask me about being the most Magnificent Bastard in EU4 Multiplayer.

ATTN: WEEK 300 DOMERS

I am indulging in my semi-regular ritual of livecrittin'.

SkaAndScreenplays
Dec 11, 2013


IN

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Yoruichi posted:

In and flash me with a communication failure

Someone always interprets things in the worst possible light.

sebmojo posted:

In flash

A culturally ambiguous gesture

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

It's employee evaluation time!


Credit Djeser for the logo!

Here at Voidmart, we strive to set a standard of guaranteed excellence.

You, dear staff, chose not to join us in certain strivings for excellent standards of the guaranteed variety. The Voidmart brand is fun! The Voidmart brand offers endless selection! The Voidmart brand is fully adjustable, customizable, one-size-fits-all, and tailor-made! And yet! Reading your stories was like quaffing flat, off-brand soda and then chasing it with a soggy ad copy template consisting entirely of Lorem Ipsum.

But Voidmart didn't get its start REDACTED years ago by giving up on our cherished, gorgeous employees. As such, we are going to take advantage of the many, many Improvement Opportunities presented by your stories this week.

First, a few general notes on how you, my scintillating retail superorganism, generally failed to uphold brand standards and expectations. Much how Voidmart 1 was characterized by unfettered zaniness and Voidmart 2 was characterized by, "Hey Sitting Here, let me tell you what Voidmart is," Voidmart 3 was characterized by aimless attempts at creepiness and nonsensical behavior on the part of the characters.

One of the striven-for standards of guaranteed excellence that Voidmart holds most proximate to its Core Values is proofreading. Obliterati now has several mortal enemies and Kaishai has moved up her plans to extinguish life on Earth by several decades. This is because you, my luscious meadow of blossoming revenue buttercups, chose to submit stories whose prose had clearly not undergone any form of Quality Assurance. Voidmart is precision in action! Voidmart is getting it right the first time, every time! Voidmart is a lusty and vicious pursuit of PERFECTION AT ALL COSTS.

Ahem. Excuse me while I re-secure my visage. The emotional undulations of the Void are hard on the meat suit, you understand.

I could go on, but Voidmart values your time and attention, a characteristic you, my fluttering angels of loss prevention, chose not to emulate. To that end, let's get to the stories that the judges agreed provide the biggest Improvement Opportunities! Keep in mind, even if you do not appear on this list, your stories were fatally flawed. Even the other, distant win contenders were dull, confusing, or aimless. Look upon this week and despair.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Mrenda! Your story left the judges scratching their heads over your characters' motivations and the nature of your ending.

Yoruichi! DEREK DEREK DEREK DEREK DEREK DEREK! Also, while the judges appreciated that your story showed visible care and effort, the 2nd person POV and repetitive nature of the narrative didn't play nice together.

Solitair! You took one of the most exciting flash prompts and gave it the barest of nods. If I squint really hard, I can see how you're trying to do something like maybe comparing the abusive structure of Voidmart with the tactics of the swan cult from the story you were assigned. Mostly, it was just a guy brooding about his boss and coworkers, though.

Jonjoe! Your story started off well, even coaxed a smile from this beleaguered judge. Then things rapidly went downhill as you threw scene after scene at us without grounding the reader in any particular thought or event (other than lol capitalism, which, yes, lol capitalism, but still).

Noah! You had a promising premise that got lost in its own wanderings. I enjoyed your Voidmart ranger, but the story doesn't really live up to the intended impact of its ending.

Hawklad! You turned up late and used half the word count. The result was a story that barely coheres, and the judges had to do way more legwork than necessary to even kind of put together an arc. Thanks for still submitting, though!

But of course, there was one story that presented the biggest Improvement Opportunity of all! This dubious honor comes with a commemorative, limited edition Losertar:


Thanks again Djeser for the background image

Jay W. Friks! You almost escaped the losertar, but then the judges collectively remembered the bracketed author's note at the end of your story! Don't do that! This piece was really imbalanced, between an early fight scene that goes on for way too long and a bunch of backstory for characters we don't get to spend a lot of time with. I got kind of excited when Jack met an old lady who called herself Captain Beefheart, but you didn't spend enough time with her to do anything whatsoever. Better luck next time, bud. Enjoy the av!

...Hm, I can feel my inner void pulsating with something akin to non-malice. That must mean it's time, at long last, to unveil the Least Expendable Employee of the week!

Saddest Rhino, your tale of regret and dubious technology stood apart from most other pieces by virtue of feeling both self-contained and at home in the Voidmart milieu. This was an easy choice for the judges, so well done making at least a small portion of our job easy.

Your choice of prizes are:

  • A custom Voidmart winnertar. We'll talk specifics if you choose this option.
  • A custom 3x4 inch drawing from your story (or something else, if you want). This can be mailed to you, even internationally.
  • $25 dollars to either the online retailer or the charity of your choice

Please let me know.

This concludes the Seminar on Striving for and Upholding Guaranteed Standards of Excellence

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

Voidcrits part 1/2
that i'll have the rest of these done before I go to bed Saturday night.

These crits contain a summary of your story, a brief analysis, and some comments. The summary will generally take up the meat of each crit because I've personally found that sometimes it's most helpful when someone tells me my story back to me. The analysis and comments are basically the thoughts that came to me while I was writing the summary.

Mrenda - A Better Place

Summary:

Marsha and her family play their 24/7 role as residents in a Voidmart brand show house. I assume it’s a lot like living in an IKEA. They all have rigid roles and there isn’t any time or space to deviate from them. The manager who presides over their aisle has died, and her funeral is on display for staff and customer and staff alike. Marsha observes the dead manager and wishes that she, too, were alone and far away from her family. Her father thinks she’s upset by the corpse and urges her to go be with the other children. She redirects his reaction by fidgeting with her clothes, a daughter-role gesture that triggers indulgence in the father-role.

Having invoked her father’s affection, Marsha reflexively looks to the manager for approval, but of course it’s not there anymore. Marsha realizes there is no longer a role for her within Voidmart.

Mom steps in, all cold and in command, and is like, go get the little kids and bring them here to pay their little kid respects to the manager. Marsha complies, because you don’t gently caress around with Voidmoms, and goes into the deceased manager’s house, which is where the kids are waiting. Unlike Marsha’s home, the manager’s inner sanctum isn’t riddled with price tags and aisle markers; the furniture appears to be hers, not just a display.

The little kids are mid-argument about a set of stairs, which seemingly defy the dimensions of the manager’s cottage. Marsha seems fascinated by the staircase. She tidies up the children and then sends them out the pay their respects. Then she ascends the staircase to the door, which I assume leads to unfathomable manager things. The final line of the story has her hesitating with her hand on the door, unsure if it’s her role to open it, her other hand tracing a plaque bearing a phrase that recurs throughout the story: Voidmart provides.

Analysis:

Marsha is past questioning her role and has, at this point in her life, mastered the ins and outs of the behavior expected of her. But now a key member of the hierarchy of her whole world has died, and that sort of throws her sense of her own role into flux.

I know you hate crits like “I don’t know if the author meant this, but…” But...I wasn’t sure how to read Marsha’s character. Is she a good follower to a fault, or does she have the makings of a good leader (by Voidmart standards)?

Comments:

It took me a couple reads to gather my thoughts about this one. I think the main issue is that, other than offering approval, it’s not clear why the dead manager is so crucial to Marsha’s place in Voidmart. No one else seems so worried about it, and there’s no obvious hint that they’re experiencing similar anxieties.

Mostly, this feels like the makings of a thoughtful piece crammed into a 1200 word limit and draped awkwardly over the zany world of Voidmart. My cojudges have their own issues, but my main beef is simply that this story feels like it needs more room and a less gimmicky premise behind it.


Yoruichi - You’ll Be Back, Derek, No One Escapes the Void

Summary:

This story appears to be from the perspective of the Void itself, or some iteration on the living spirit of Voidmart. The Void observes and narrates the adventures of Derek, who’s recently been torn away from his wife and conscripted into Voidmart. Derek quickly defies his training and begins to plot an employee rebellion. The Void tries to dissuade him with threats of violence. At some point, his wife comes looking for him, and Voidmart has to reconfigure its many aisles to keep Derek away from her while she is entrapped and presumably disposed of.

At this point, management gets involved. It’s revealed that Management are some sort of horrible monster parasite that Voidmart tolerates in order to control the apeish hoo-mons.

Eventually, poo poo escalates to all-out war with management and there’s violence everywhere. At this point, Voidmart is both berating Derek and actively helping him avoid management’s horrible gnashing teeth. All the while, it’s still trying to keep him trapped in the megastore.

Just before Derek can reach the automatic doors to the outside, Voidmart opens up a huge chasm of pure Void between him and escape. Management corners him against the edge, but Voidmart fills him with Void power, which gives the manager-beasts pause, and does the whole “join me and together we’ll rule the universe” shpiel.

Derek rejects the offer and hurls his garden spade at...something, which breaks the sort of hold Voidmart has over him. Management attack the Void itself, and our Voidmartian narrator kind of spitefully narrates Derek’s escape back into the “real” world, which Voidmart would have us believe is increasingly a wasteland.

Analysis:

Clearly the whole deal here is Voidmart’s weird, conflicted obsession with Derek. It dumps a lot of resources into training him, and even protects him in spite of threats. What’s not clear is why Voidmart is so fixated on this one guy. There seem to be other rebellious employees, maybe even a whole faction of them. Why are they not as intriguing to Voidmart as Derek?

For Derek’s part, he seems to resist his conditioning by staying focused on his wife. Except it’s not entirely clear if she was trapped and released or trapped and killed or what. Derek seems to believe she’s still alive, somewhere, fairly late in the story, but Voidmart tells him she’s not there.

Comments:

Derek needs more development. The prose needed to let the reader connect to him more directly, so we could understand why he was so special, so worthy of observation.

I’m not sure the 2nd person POV was ideal here; it’s an awkward combination of one-sided dialog and real-time narration.

I don’t really like the cliche of, like, The Establishment deciding the wildest and most rebellious dude should become a leader or manager or whatever. I recently rewatched Battlefield Earth, because I hate myself, and those aliens made the same goddamn mistake.



Benny Profane - The Voidmart (Reaction!!!!) Record: A Scholarly Analysis

Summary:

This is a scholarly analysis of some amateur footage shot inside Voidmart. The viewer/narrator goes through a short sequence of film shot by Carl, who’s just trying to make some corn and bean dip for a party he’s been invited to on short notice.

As he ventures deeper into Voidmart, he encounters some employee apparitions who seem to know Carl and in fact are also called Carl. Everything from her on out gets pretty corn-centric, culminating in a corn minotaur who gores Carl and leaves him gurgling his last into his phone’s camera.

There’s a shotgun blast and what the viewer/narrator believes is the sound of the minotaur dying. The story ends with some speculation on the part of the narrator, and some footnotes that suggest ooOOOooo maybe there was no Carl, maybe it was Voidmart itself who manufactured the video to communicate with the outside world.

Analysis:

This is an interesting take on Voidmart. I like your version, where Voidmart is sort of a psychic trap, or some entity who uses mimicry to communicate with humans. I recently saw Annihilation (and loved the Southern Reach Trilogy books), and this reminds me of nothing so much as that. I get the sense that Voidmart is more of an entity masquerading as an environment, and it’s trying to warn people away? If that’s the case, Voidmart doesn’t seem entirely sinister. After all, there’s no concrete proof that “Carl” is real, so maybe he’s a complete fabrication created by Voidmart to communicate danger to the outside world.

As for your flashrule, I think you managed to keep the essence of Carl(s) and of course the corn theme was pretty prevalent throughout. I wasn’t sure how you were going to integrate your classic into Voidmart, but this was a fun take.

Comments:

I kinda wish there’d been something more nuanced at play than “oooooOOOo simpleton is lured in by a psychic megamart and creeped out then murdered. Like some of this is really fun, and some of it is your typical shakey cam horror film. I hope my interpretation is correct, and Voidmart is in fact trying to warn people away. That is, for me, the most interesting interpretation.

The narration offers some explanation, but not a lot of insight. If I were watching this footage, the narrator would feel redundant. Maybe there was a way you could use the narration to say something more broad about the world of your story, or the world in which we live? Right now it’s kind of just your standard riff on found footage.


Schneider Heim - Saleslady of War

Summary:

Erika works in the magical weapons department of Voidmart, which means of course she helps a lot of hero-types pick out their various swords and daggers and such. Her favorite customer is some guy named King Richard, who’s seemingly from some fantasy realm where wars are waged with magical weapons. He is looking for a bulk order of swords for his dudes, and Erika is hungry for that sweet commission. She thinks he’s pretty cute, too.

It’s revealed in a scene with Erika and her daughter that King Richard is from a world where Britain occupies most of Europe, and is entangled in a longass war with a middle eastern empire. Erika’s daughter asks when Richard is moving in and Erika shushes her, but she’s not exactly opposed to dating the king of an empire…

The next time she sees Richard in the magical weapons section, he’s terrified and begs her to hide him. He seems particularly worried that his pursuer will find out he’s been purchasing swords from Voidmart. Soon after he ducks out of sight, a mysterious dude shows up and asks about purchasing a magical sword. Erika is relieved, thinking she’ll be able to sell him a sword and send him on his way. Just then, King Richard’s crown falls off his head and rolls into view.

It’s revealed that the strange man is Saladin, from the empire with which fantasy Britain has been at war. He’s been trying to track down where Richard was getting his weapons, I guess, and followed him to Voidmart. Saladin tries to kill Richard but is stopped by Erika, who uses a sword to defend her loyal customer. Security turns up and stops the whole thing from escalating, but Saladin promises that he will see Richard “on the battlefield.” Erika is taken to the CEO’s office.

Ultimately, she’s offered a promotion and turns it down. Richard turns up, having shaved his beard and put on normal people clothes, and tells Erika that he’s made peace in his own realm. He asks her out for coffee after her shift, she says maybe. Another cute warrior walks in looking for weapons and she’s like sigh

Analysis:

There’s not a whole lot to sink my teeth into here. I guess Richard undergoes a change of character, but it’s very much a sudden 180 brought about because he’s scared for his safety? I dunno, for the leader of an empire, he’s pretty easily scared into acquiescence.

Erika has a change of opinion (she becomes less that impressed with Richard), but otherwise doesn’t undergo much of a change. By the end of the story, she’s pretty much back where she started. It’s unclear why she rejects the promotion.

Comments:

Everyone comes across as pretty shallow and self-interested. Saladin is the only person who seems remotely sympathetic, and that’s only because he has a pretty understandable agenda.

Why on Earth did Erika reject the promotion, anyway? She seems weirdly committed to maintaining her status quo--working in the magic weapon section and ogling cute but shallow warrior guys.


Okua - New Employess and Other Troubles

Summary:

Jimmy (the new guy) and the narrator got to fix some broken lights on a display. The lights are connected to a red wire, which in turn is connected to the dank bowels of Voidmart itself. Our heros follow the red wire down into some tunnels beneath the megastore, and quickly find a rotting heap of old stuffed animals left over from when the aquarium section flooded. The flood also included a fair amount of spilled booze, so the tunnel is nicely fermented as well.

Jimmy and the narrator aren’t alone in the tunnel. Something is down there with them, and Jimmy uses his finely-honed Floridian senses to detect the presence of an alligator. The gator rushes them, but Jimmy stuffs a rotting, fermented teddy bear down its throat and smacks it on the nose with his hefty flashlight.

They make their escape and collapse on the floor under the relative safety of the fluorescent lights. They don’t have long to enjoy it, though, because a manager appears and happily lets them know that they’re not done solving the whole alligator/display issue. The manager recommends that they send in Jimmy, since he’s new and basically disposable. The narrator is like, naw, he’s earned his cup of coffee, i’ll go handle this. Jimmy gives the narrator his flashlight and a questioning look. The story ends with the narrator taking responsibility for Jimmy and the whole situation.

Analysis:

Jimmy is a laconic Floridian, which causes the narrator to underestimate him. I got a big smile on my face when he said “cause i smell an alligator,” because it was such a nice, natural little reveal of both Jimmy’s hidden competence and the scale of the problems down in the tunnels. Both the story and the character took a turn exactly when you needed them to.

The narrator has a pretty simple arc: they go from underestimating Jimmy to respecting him and feeling a sense of protectiveness. It works, though.

The manager is probably the weakest part of the whole piece. He kinda just shows up and delivers this extra dose of evil. Sure, I guess the narrator gets the opportunity to keep Jimmy out of further danger, but I feel like their relationship (the point of the story) had already solidified by that point so all it does is subvert the sense of progress achieved with the alligator confrontation.

Comments:

Like I said, my main issue with this story is the ending. It makes the piece feel….diffuse and open-ended in a way it didn’t need to. I think you were trying to drive home the Voidmart flavor by introducing a ruthless manager to break up our heroes’ moment of triumph, but IMO you should’ve used those words to let Jimmy and the narrator bask in their newfound friendship while grounding them in the Voidmart setting.

Otherwise, good job.


Solitair - A Little God in My hands

Summary:

The protagonist, who I think is called Nick, is a recently promoted manager. He’s first seen lecturing a new employee who can’t seem to retain any of her training. He feels discomfort engaging in this way with relative strangers, but accepts that discomfort is part of being a manager.

Nick(?) goes on lunch break, and we’re treated to a little bit of backstory. His position was previously held by Steve, who was a bit draconian. Steve still sort of lives on in the office in the form of numerous uncanny sticky notes, which seem to instruct the narrator from beyond the promotion, or whatever. One of these sticky notes directs Nick to watch a certain security camera, through which he sees his subordinates (and former coworkers) plotting to unionize.

At this point, Nick has total Stockholm Syndrome going on, and decides that the hardships inflicted by Steve were a test, a form of tough love. None of his coworkers ever looked out for him when he was a grunt, after all, so why should he help them unionize? He sets himself to watching them and gathering info, reminding himself all the reasons why they are pathetic and don’t deserve nice things.

An encouraging sticky note falls from the ceiling and praises Nick, offering him a reward for narcing on his coworkers. The final lines have Nick totally convinced that he’s just showing his subordinates tough love, which worked out so great for him.


Analysis:

This story is pretty much about acceptance of the power structure. Nick wants to punish others the way he was punished under the guise of tough love; this is not dissimilar to how some abuse survivors behave when given the opportunity/impetus to act out situations similar to their abuse.

The story also kinda explores the “gently caress you, got mine” mentality. Why should Nick help people who never helped him? Especially when he’s reduced them, in his mind, down to grunting, slacking, scratching nightmares. The reality is that only Nick and people in Nick’s position can break the cycle that creates evil middle managers, but from his perspective, there is a lot of incentive to uphold the status quo and not a lot of incentive to be kind.


Comments:

I kinda wish this was less introspective. Like, maybe if Nick had more chances to bounce off another character? He talks to people a little, thinks about Steve some, and ruminates on his subordinates a lot. This story looks long, but feels relatively short in terms of meaningful content.

On the other hand, like Mrenda’s story, I appreciate that this piece tried to have some Thoughts about Voidmart instead of just writing slapstick megastoria. Not that I don’t love the wacky Voidmart stories--I do very much--it’s just, variety is good.



Sparksbloom - Inch by Inch

Summary:

Evelyn is a school teacher who also works part time tending the Voidmart garden department, which also happens to be where Voidmart stores the souls of those people killed by Voidmart security. She’s got a little ghost kid buddy named Orin and generally seems to enjoy looking after the plants and ghosts. Orin is mischievous but basically a good (ghost)kid.

One day, a bunch of teen shoplifters are brought to the garden in mulch form. They’re sealed inside some magically warded pots, and the narrative implies that there’s usually a sort of settling-in period before they’re allowed to roam free like Orin.

Abruptly, the pots burst and the ghosts escapees unleash total mayhem in the garden department. Evelyn manages to call down a sort of magical security seal, but she’s still stuck in an enclosed area with some pissed off teen ghosts who can throw lawnmowers and stuff.

One of the ghosts is a girl named Kimberly, apparently a former student of Evelyn’s. She’s very sassy and not at all impressed by her ex-teacher’s mid-combat banter.

From here on out it’s all pretty much a lot of running and dodging and ducking. In the time it took the other ghosts to break free, Orin has seemingly gone to the dark side, though he does warn Evelyn away from a woodchipper before she can back into it. Eventually stuff catches fire and Evelyn begs Orin to help her, making all sorts of promises and bribes in the process. Orin eventually capitulates and turns on the sprinkler system.

Kimberly challenges his loyalty and he shoots her. Now safe, Evelyn goes to hug Orin, but he impishly turns fully transparent and her arms pass right through them, causing him to laugh boyishly at her.

Analysis:

There isn’t a whole lot to dissect here (which isn’t a bad thing). Evelyn seems kind, and she probably isn’t the worst person to have as your garden department attendant/jailor. Voidmart seems to bring out the “this is the lesser of two evils” mentality in people; yeah, Evelyn is doing a horrific job, but it’s probably better that she’s doing it and not someone more deranged or cruel.

What amuses me about Voidmart is how much Stockholm Syndrome (or behaviors similar to it) comes into play. I guess it stands to reason, given the climate in the average superstore and within American capitalism in general.


Comments:

Eeeh I have three minor complaints. The first is that I would’ve liked a confrontation with less action better.

Also, I think Orin’s loyalties wobble too much, even for a perpetual ghost kid.

Finally, I wasn’t sure why the teen ghost pots burst. I got the sense everything was going according to Voidmart routine, and then blammo, chaos.


Uranium Phoenix - Living Paths

David, like many protagonists before him, has turned up at Voidmart looking for an answer to the hole in his soul. He encounters a helpful employee, who lets slip about Voidmart’s fluidity with regards to its exact age and possibly location in time. Eventually they get down to the business of finding David a group identity to fix his ennui. They go through some promising ones, but David wants a cause to align himself with!

Turns out, the sort of political identity David wants is allegedly out of stock. David tentatively follows the employee into the Employees Only area to see if there are anymore of the desirable political leanings, but quickly loses him in the infinite possibilities of Voidmart’s back room. Time and space shifts, leaving David sprawled on the floor, surrounded by...meat things in ceramic pots. Maybe these are more angry ghost teens from Sparksbloom’s story?

Anyway, there’s a pair of operatives on a covert mission in the war for voidmart’s soul. One of the operatives, Nikita, chastises him for enabling Voidmart’s parasitic grip on the world. While he’s talking to the operatives, time shifts once again, which presumably causes Voidmart’s reach to extend further back into the past and future? Nikita decides to place the blame for the current state of affairs squarely on David and customers like David. She believes that Voidmart’s growth into a giant leech was enabled by customers who let the world suck the souls out of them.

David, for his part, is cowering, still immobilized by choice. Rather than aisles this time, now it’s possibilities in the war for Voidmart’s soul. He spends a few moments paralyzed by the implications of the butterfly effect and is then shot summarily in the torso. The narrative draws our attention back to the meat...things in pots, which have stopped crying blood, and David finds this significant. A massive eye looks down on him from high above, and David gathers this is Voidmart itself watching him.

He has the epiphany that maybe all these weird meaty eyes are on him because he has the chance to make a choice that matters. He realizes that he’ll never really get past doubt and regret, but he can still take a side in the war for Voidmart’s soul.

The denouement finds David doing small acts of good around the massive expanse of Voidmart. In the process of sneaking some pilfered cans into a food drive bin, he finds a Voidmart employee quietly undertaking her own mission of Making Small Differences.

Finally, David climbs into the scaffolding of Voidmart’s huge dome and pries open a hole to the outside. At this point, the narrative observes that Voidmart has become an ouroboros that’s consumed the whole world. But at least he’s inside, making differences, gradually changing the soul and history of Voidmart.

Analysis:

This falls squarely in the “Voidmart as a living entity” genre of Voidmart fiction, where Voidmart is an entity that feeds on our hunger, our need, the Void inside of us. I guess this could be a metaphor for CAPITALISM, but it seems to be more broadly referring to the way we remedy our ennui with shallow labels while simultaneously allowing greed and apathy to shape our culture and the outlook of our planet. This story takes the unexpected stance that maybe we should, like, do something about that, even though it’s hard.

The more interesting part of this story is the aspect of choice, and how David’s choices might feed into Voidmart’s impossible expansion into the past, present, and future. Since Voidmart has basically infinite stock, it stands to reason that it would represent sort of quantum...thing full of possibilities.

Comments:

Man, Nikita and her colleague were just a mouthpiece for the “point” of the story. It’s not really clear what made David decide to act decisively, aside from being shot, which IMO doesn’t cut it as a motivator. The bandaging is really convenient to have on hand, which i could buy because Voidmart quantum flux things, but also I don’t think fatal gunshots respond to amateur bandaging particularly well.

The stuff with the meaty plants and the big eye was underdeveloped. I think you could’ve focused in much more tightly on one or two cool set pieces and one single idea. As is, this feels like aimless execution of a good idea.


Jagermonster - Howl at the Void

Summary:

Frank is your typical harried dad out searching for the newest game for his kid. He fantasizes about faking his own death and running away from life running errands for his family.

He’s all but given up hope on finding a copy of Fortnight for his son when a Gamestop employee directs him to Voidmart, warning that the game will be more costly there. Frank drives out to Voidmart and is initially pleased that it’s so remote. He notices some spooky things wandering around in the parking lot, but doesn’t seem too fussed about them.

The inside of Voidmart is rather derelict, and after a woozy moment, a sales clerk named ‘Clerk’ materializes to assist him. Frank explains what he needs and Clerk leads him to the appropriate section (past the requisite array of creepy/weird Voidmart products, naturally), but Fortnight doesn’t appear to be on the shelves. As is apparently SOP, the clerk says “I’ll check the back,” promptly leaving Frank alone with the perils of Voidmart.

Frank checks out some weird freaky music samples, one of which is a howling wolf sound track that sends him into a sort of wolf-minded fugue. He’s snapped out of it by nearby commotion. Some big jerk is preventing the clerk from bringing Frank his copy of Fortnight. Still slightly maddened by the wolf sound track, Frank lunges for his prize and ends up ripping the guy’s throat out with his teeth. He feels immediate remorse for killing someone over a video game and collapses in tears.

Luckily, the blood isn’t real, the guy wasn’t real, and the clerk is there to tell Frank that he just learned a lesson about fighting for what’s his.

Analysis:

The shallow view of this, I guess, is that Frank had a crisis of manhood, and Voidmart provided the lesson that the real man was inside Frank all along??

The less shallow view is that Frank doesn’t hate serving his family as much as he thinks, but only realized that once someone got in between him and the game he’d worked so hard to obtain for his son.

Either one paints Frank as someone who’s probably frustrated that there’s little in his life that he really values or feels strongly about, which of course makes him perfect Voidmart fodder (though in this case, Voidmart seems pretty benevolent, which is a nice change of pace).

Comments:

I dunno. Like I said above, I’m not sure if I like the resolution to Frank’s discontentment with his errand. He doesn’t enjoy his life, so what he needs is...an act of simulated murder? The ending seems to suggest that he’s learned some lesson, however crude, from descent into animal madness. But I’m not sure getting territorial over a game and “murdering” someone is the cheerful lesson the clerk suggests it is. I don’t even think that was really the intention of this story (mostly I think it was just some Voidmart shenanigans, but i’m writing a critique, so…), but Frank kinda just stumbles back out into the world and gives no indication of how this happening might change his attitude toward his family.


Antivehicular - A Trolley Problem

Summary:

Robert is a member of Voidmart security. He rather likes his job, finding it fairly easy to do without much thought. He thinks in his spare time, relying on various Voidmart machinations to keep him within SOP. We find him contemplating his thirst, thankful that he’s allowed to use his brain to come up with synonyms for thirst.

He wades through a dense series of Voidmart products and eventually arrives at a fancy Voidmart brand vending machine. Just as he’s about to get his drink (which is advertised as having “impeccable comic timing”), he hears screaming from the nearby in-store trolley. He realizes the trolley has gone out of control, and the only way to save the children in its path is to reach a switch that would send the trolley harmlessly into a nearby display case.

Once he realizes this, his Voidmart brand control shoes remind him that damaging the display cases would violate his duty to protect Voidmart’s bottom line. He runs for the trolley switch anyway, but finds it increasingly difficult as the shoes try to prevent him from moving. Finally, with a heroic leap, he manages to get to the switch and throw it, saving all the children.

Before he can feel too proud of himself, a can of the drink from before lands on his head, thereby firing the gun you showed us in the first act.

When he wakes up, he’s in the employee infirmary. A dystopian HR rep is there to tell him the score, which is that he’s not fired but will have to undergo some retraining for his defiance. Still, he protected the bottom line by preventing a PR fiasco, so all in all, a job well done. Luckily, Voidmart is also there to provide for all his medical needs. The final scene is Robert musing that “Nobody took care of you like Voidmart.”


Analysis:

Robert is pretty much the perfect company man, with a little bit of a rebelliously moral side. He’s smart enough to know that thinking for a living at Voidmart probably wouldn’t be a good fit for him, because he’s content with the thoughts he’s allowed to have in idle moments.

This is pretty much another Voidmart Stockholm syndrome story, though with more of an optimistic bendt? Like, sure, Robert is a cog in the machine, but he’s the sort who does the right thing in a pinch, so isn’t it better to have people like him working at a store as amoral as Voidmart?

Comments:

This has the bones of a decent little character piece but OMG you could’ve toned back the crazy Voidmart products. That’s one thing that made my eyes glaze over a little this week; lots of people shoved tons of fictional products in their stories and it only served to distract. What would’ve been better is if you (and others) had honed in on one crazy, distinct, and original aspect of Voidmart and riffed on that.

Like, the boots Robert wears. That’s more than enough crazy Voidmart scifi to carry a story like this, especially given the absurdity of an in-store trolley going out of control.



JonJoe - Orphans!

Mark, the vicemark of marketing, is in a meeting with the vice president of presidents. He questions why Voidmart brands itself as an evil megacorp, and is greeted with a comically evil death glare. He calls out the VPoP for maintaining the evil megacorp kayfabe even behind closed doors. The Truman Show is referenced. Everyone at the meeting laughs at Mark. He runs out into the store and locates a spray that makes all the preceding events just a bad dream.

He decides he will make Voidmart ethical. The walls themselves seem to object, but Mark is resolved.

First he tries to create ethical and informed consumers, but they all think his cobbled together Ethics Committee booth is some kind of gimmick. They laugh and throw money at him. At some point, someone comes up to him and asks, jokingly, maybe, whether he’s going to reduce the number of orphans to such-and-such percent. Mark says that he’s going to get rid of all the orphans, which induces a riot, since I guess these people are very pro-buying orphans.

Mark winds up in the Voidmart ER, having sustained a lot of injuries. He comments on the unfairness of the cost of treatment, but of course the doctor is both aware and indifferent. When Mark suggests that maybe healthcare should be affordable, the doctor laughs so hard he turns into some sort of living pathology and sets about devouring all the pills in the room. Mark sneaks out.

Mark, who is for some reason still allowed in the store, tries to start a Voidschool, wherein he believes he will solve all the world’s problems. It fails, more or less, because some Voidmart employee shows up and hands out participation trophies, or whatever. All the students leave to go buy some orphans.

Finally, Mark finds one of the aforementioned orphan children and asks him why society wants to come Good and Moral, why all the problems can’t just be fixed? And the Orphan turns and smiles into a camera and I guess the whole thing is now an ad for consuming orphans under an unethical capitalist system.


Analysis:

I feel weird even trying to interpret this because it doesn’t leave much to interpret. Every single thing about it is on the nose, and is self-conscious about being on the nose, so it reads like a satire that’s not sure what side of the “issues” it actually comes down on. Is this satirizing unethical consumption or is it satirizing the people who want to fix it?

I don’t actually *care* what position it takes, mind you, it’s just right now I feel like I’m talking to a guy at a party who’s going, “Haha yeah i think we should dismantle capitalism. I mean, not really, but yeah really. Not really but *looks around furtively* yeah really.”

Comments:

Like I said, i think the self-consciousness of this story hurts it. I kind of like the idea of Mark Marketing from Marketing trying to rebrand the inexplicably evil megastore. But it has too many beats, moving from scene to scene without grounding the reader in anything. It has the makings of a fun story, and was nearly a welcome break in the doldrums of this week, but then it was just a shallow riff like “lol *points at capitalism*”

Intro was strong and fun, the rest quickly became tedious.


Ironic Twist - The Vacuum Aisle

Summary:

This story follows Levi, an employee of Voidmart, as he assists 3 customers.

Victor is brisk and fastidious and remarks that it took far too long for any staff to come help him. He comments that they must understaff the store on purpose, because “anything to keep the lights on”. Notably, he runs his fingers over the shelving as if checking for dust.

Faith is an old lady looking for her husband. She’s good-humored, but clearly in her twilight years. Her husband was looking for some gardening supplies to help their struggling rose bushes. Levi takes her hand and she pulls it back. Then he leads her, ostensibly, to the gardening section.

Chase is a salt-of-the-earth, tobacco-chewin’ sort of guy who’s looking for a set of workboots that won’t blow out on him. As he and Levi talk, Levi runs his hands over the shelving, as if checking for dust. The scene closes with Levi leading Chase to some alleged workboots.

Cut back to Victor, who’s apparently been following Levi around for a while, apparently in search of Turtle Wax. Finally, he demands to speak to a manager. Levi assures him that won’t be necessary because they’ve already arrived at the intended aisle. Victor shoves past Levi into aisle 111, which the narrative tells us is normally invisible to customers. Whatever Victor sees leaves him with his mouth agape.

Back to Faith. She’s in some sort of abstract swirl of flowers and fears and rose petals, feeling as though the air is being sucked out of her.

Chase, meanwhile, is in some sort of dusty tobacco hellscape. He tries to scream but is unable.

Victor’s POV gives a more lucid perspective. Aisle 111 looks ordinary at first, but when Victor looks back at Levi, there’s no one there. When he looks back down the aisle, he’s sucked into his own sort of gnashing hellscape of giant fingers made of shelving, fingers that remind him of his father. Victor tried to escape but ultimately he, too, succumbs to his personal nightmare.

The final scene shows a somewhat one-sided conversation with Levi and a being that appears to be management, or possibly an emissary of the Void itself (or maybe it is the void). As they talk, the manager shifts between the forms of, I assume, the shoppers from throughout the story. It also has a form that seems to defy words.

Overhead, a light bulb flickers and the air conditioner makes malfunction noises. Levi touches the light switch. It’s revealed through dialog that he’s not human either, and under his touch, the lights and air conditioning start working correctly again. He repeats the phrase “anything to turn the lights on” and leave the office.


Analysis:

This is kind of keeping with the running theme of “Voidmart as a being (or beings) who needs to feed on customers” and related variations. But your story manages to kind of do its own take on that Voidmart subgenre. I think you made a good choice, having the affable Levi casually personify this devouring force and I think that makes this story a bit different from the other stories about Voidmart as a big, vague entity that oooOOOOOo does scary things to people.

I like the idea of a Voidmart that is ever growing and changing with the people it consumes.

The characters were lightly but completely sketched. When I was writing the summary, I was surprised at how much I could surmise about them given how few words are used on anyone’s background. It’s all in the little details.


Comments:

I don’t have too much in the way of critical feedback. I think this story does what it was meant to do, it just does it all perhaps a little too subtly for a week full of lol voidmart stories.

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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Sitting Here posted:

Voidcrits part 1/2

extremely nice crits ty!

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