Your crit has not been thrown into the void. Thank you.
|# ? May 10, 2018 13:45|
|# ? Sep 18, 2018 22:09|
also thanks sh
|# ? May 10, 2018 15:11|
i'ma judge toweek
|# ? May 10, 2018 17:05|
I, too, appreciate the thoughtful crits of a weird week. Thanks to the judges.
|# ? May 10, 2018 17:08|
I'm back baby, and I am In. Flash me a good one!
|# ? May 11, 2018 08:33|
I've never done this before (once tried to participate but had a conflict arise years ago), but I'd like to say I'm in. No flash!
|# ? May 11, 2018 13:54|
yeah, im in
|# ? May 11, 2018 19:52|
|# ? May 12, 2018 01:16|
I'm back baby, and I am In. Flash me a good one!
a malicious interpreter
Entries are closed.
|# ? May 12, 2018 04:32|
Here are some more Voidcrits
This isn't all of them, but I figure why hold off on the ones I've done? Still that the rest will be done before I go to bed tomorrow night.
Jay W Friks - Jack Schnaff is (still) missing
Jack is at Voidmart (or, a sort of mall-like version of Voidmart, which IMO is okay but it did come up in judgechat) with his parents. His parents loving hate each other and have a long and increasingly destructive row right there in front of a bunch of people. I won’t go into the details because they’re not super important, other than to give (a bit too much) background onto why Jack eventually runs away. I guess interspersed throughout the fight is some info about Jack: He COULD stay home and play video games like his friends, but he chooses to go out with his dysfunctional family because the typical youth pastimes don’t make him happy.
So anyway, some security guards on Segways show up and scatter the crowd with some spooky alien speech. Jack runs away, and this is really where the story should’ve started. He winds up in an off-limits area where the floors are under repair. In the process of trying to squirm away from the security guard, Jack tumbles down into a miles-deep hole beneath the floor. As he falls, he passes strata made of different dead franchises, finally landing in the Pit of Dead Franchises.
There he meets an old lady in a pirate costume with a sharp sword. She calls herself Captain Beefheart, but disappointingly does NOT launch into spoken word poetry or avant garde music. She and her crew evidently live in a costume store.
Through a bit of back and forth dialog, we learn that the Pit is where you go if you’re foolish enough to go down with your “ship”, or franchise, as the case may be. Beefheart also has a similarly costumed crew, who I guess once sailed on an ill-fated ship called the Belladonna? Which has since fallen from Voidmart’s grace? Except I thought they “crewed” a costume store? I guess Beefheart’s crew was the night crew, and their enemies, the vikings, were the day crew, though I’m still not sure if we’re talking about ships or stores. I guess stores. Anyway, life in the Pit of Dead Franchises wouldn’t be so bad except the two estranged crews are constantly fighting over who deserves to crew the Belladonna? Which makes it dangerous.
Jack is confused, as am I, but he looks up and notices he can still see a prick of light from the surface. Beefheart reassures him that the mall cops will come looking for him eventually, but until then, he’s safe with her crew. They all cheer! Hooray!
This is a set of different ideas that never fully congealed. I actually like the idea of the Pit and of strata made of defunct retailers and such. The problem is, there are too many different elements at play and too much backstory that comes too late. And like, I can’t tell if the affectations by Beefheart and her crew are because of their costumes, or if they were at some point an actual crew aboard an actual ship. I think it’s more clever if they are the staff of a defunct costume store and are acting like pirates because of their costumes (and we could assume, then, that the Vikings are the same). What confuses it is the talk of the Belladonna at the end. THAT sounds like an actual ship, so was this a real ship that they crewed before the Fairwhether costume store?
The first part doesn’t lend itself to much interpretation. Jack’s parents suck, people gawk. The Pit is way more interesting, but there isn’t enough time spent there. I guess the point of the fight is that Mom might be the sort of business owner who goes down with the “ship”, meaning she’ll end up in the Pit eventually, but it’s not really interesting enough to justify how long the opening to this story is. Any sort of metaphor gets lost in how much i want to read something other than these two people arguing.
As you can see from my analysis, I wasn’t too sure of some details. One thing that would’ve easily fixed that was if you’d cut the parental fight in the beginning and contrived some other way for Jack to fall down the pit, preferably within the first 100 words. Then you could’ve fleshed out the setting more and woven in Beefheart and friends’ backstory in a little more smoothly. As it is, she’s giving us the whole spiel at the end of your story! Even if you’re writing a novel chapter, you wouldn’t want a character to lump a bunch of important background in at the very end. And this isn’t a novel, it’s a story that should leave us with some sense of resolution, even if you don’t fully cinch up your characters’ plots.
Jack himself needed to be more of an entity. Right now he’s just kind of the kid to whom things are happening.
There is some humor and fun to this piece, which is what Voidmart weeks should be about, but that intro, man...like, don’t show us two people fighting for hundreds of words if their fight isn’t the main conflict of the story.
Oh, and the ending author’s note...why?! Just let your story end. Even if it doesn’t feel done, making a note about it doesn’t help the reader any. Maybe it was supposed to be a joke that went over my head, but either way it didn’t help you out.
Thranguy - Three Doors to the Void
Melissa has just gone through a breakup and has come to Voidmart to return a jacket her ex gave her the week before. She can’t quite bring herself to do it, and looking around Voidmart, she sees other people wearing the same style of jacket. This is comforting, in an anonymous sort of way, but then she spots a strange woman who reminds her of her mother, only with a scar and less homophobic looking.
The stranger runs through an employees-only doorway and Melissa follows. The staff area is very blue and full of labyrinthian hallways that defy Voidmart’s apparent size, and notably empty of employees. Finally, she finds a door and goes through it.
Inside is Calla. She looks super punkish, has a sword, and is seemingly guarding a bubbling barrel. Calla wonders out loud about which door brought Melissa to her, then asks Melissa if she knows how to use a sword.
It’s immediately obvious that Melissa can’t use a sword, because she’s from a “decadent time”, implying that Calla is from the future. She hands Melissa a hammer, for bug squashing. Calla is guarding chocolate made from the life essence of some evil space dudes, which would apparently make the impending bugs way stronger. The bugs break in and both characters start hacking and smashing, though Melissa has less success than Calla. Calla explains, as they smash, that the star lords were evil, so eating their essence in the form of chocolate is a kind of ethical consumption. She’s trying to sell this chocolate to Voidmart, but the receiving guy has gone missing.
More bugs show up. Calla continues to explain world stuff: Those who travel with “true wonder” sometimes gain access to ephemeral doors that sometimes lead to the void, where bargains can be made. There are apparently three doors that can appear in front of a wonder-filled traveler: A door that leads to what you want, a door that leads to what you need, and a door that leads to what you deserve.
After this explanation, a spider jumps on Melissa and bites her. She passes out. She wakes up with Calla doing CPR?? And some Voidmart employees cleaning up the bug corpses. Melissa asks if Calla will take her to the future. Calla is like, it’s super dangerous. But I guess Melissa can like girls there, so off they go.
Cut to an epilogue, of sorts. It turns out, of course, that Melissa IS the lady she saw at the beginning of the story, so it’s a whole time paradox thing i guess. After spending years in the dangerous future and losing Calla to a battle, Melissa finds herself returned to Voidmart by means of one of the three doors. She has some sort of artifact with her, which I guess Voidmart will take in exchange for giving her a new identity. Her final thought is wondering which door brought her back to Voidmart on this particular day, and whether getting a glimpse of Calla is what she needs or what she deserves.
This is a pretty straightforward time travel story so there isn’t a whole lot to suss out here. I like the idea of a Voidmart that is connected to many times and places, and that’s something that people played with a lot this week. I’ll save most of my thoughts about this for the comments, though, since like I said, I get it and don’t feel like I need to unpack things much.
This is a story I really wanted to like this week. The words are good and the idea feels more coherent than some. It’s just….imbalanced. It’s hard to point out a part that seems especially unnecessary, but I would say the spider fight/exposition scene needed to be something altogether different. It was an impressive way to work in your product flash rule, but it felt like little more than a dynamic backdrop for some exposition.
I guess the battle is supposed to set the scene for this future love between warriors, but like, Calla is so busy doing exposition duty and Melissa is busy going “Huh? What? Why?” I didn’t feel any real chemistry between them. And then what genuine love there is happens off-screen, between the main events of the story and what is almost just an epilogue. And speaking of that epilogue, you dump a couple future world concepts in there, and they work in the sense that I wasn’t going “dduuurhh what’s a tear of cryn” but it made the ending feel even more squished. I feel like fantasy/scifi concepts need to be separated by a lot more words when you’re introducing them, even when you’re trying to be clever and sketch out your ending in as few words as possible.
Side note, I hate it when CPR appears to bring someone back from an unconscious state. I’m not sure what was in those spider bites that respond to rescue breathing! Would’ve been easier to just give Calla some device or substance that treats monster bug bites, but then I guess there would be no mouth to mouth moment.
The three doors stuff was cool, but again, didn’t feel like it had enough time to shine. I almost wish you’d dropped the stuff about the breakup and the homophobic parents because they’re not really the meat of the story. It would be better to just write some genuine chemistry between Melissa and Calla. Right now it seems like Melissa was just looking for any port in a homophobic storm, even if that port is full of spiders and monsters.
The Saddest Rhino - Elegy
Charlotte is a test participant for a new brand of glasses. She is filling out the requisite forms for testing and one of the questions is “Do you mourn?” Charlotte does not mourn.
Jerry, the one running the test, comments that he knew Charlotte was solitary, but didn’t expect her to be such a good subject for product testing.
She puts the glasses on. He presses a button and there’s a flash. Jerry takes the glasses off charlotte and asks her if she sees anyone else. She says no, he makes a note. They say their goodbyes, and Charlotte notes that this is the easiest 50 grand she’s made this year.
Next we see Charlotte, she’s at home watching herself on some sort of Void-based streaming service. Her character is having typical sitcom difficulties with family, and comments in the show about wanting to kill them with fire. Incidentally, there is a commercial message from the CEO about some customers made riotous by the essence chocolate in Thranguy’s story. I thought that was neat.
Then it cuts to a commercial for Hindsight Reading Glasses, which Charlotte doesn’t watch because apparently the glasses will be defunct soon.
Back at work, Charlotte is introduced to a new supervisor, Latrell. Charlotte doesn’t see “Latrell”, though, she sees her mother. The voice is still Latrell’s, but the posture and appearance is all Charlotte’s mom.
Cut to Jerry assuring Charlotte that these side effects are temporary, and informing her that they’re not a valid reason for an extended medical leave/
Charlotte does her best to live with Momtrell, drawing on the survivor mentality she developed during her rough childhood. She tries not to look at the lighter on Momtrell’s desk, tries not to think about fire, tries not to think about how nice Momtrell sounds.
One day, Momtrell comes to Charlotte’s desk and points out some errors Charlotte had made in a report. Charlotte knows she’s loving up because she’s going crazy dealing with the effects of the glasses, but Jerry’s told her not to tell anyone about it. Momtrell is getting more and more mom-like. Her voice even seems to be getting less and less wrong-sounding, which is to say, Latrell now looks AND sounds like Charlotte’s mom, but Charlotte needs the voice to be wrong because Charlotte needs to continue dissociating from her terrible past.
Cut to Charlotte sitting in a room with the chief product officer, Jerry, and Latrell. The CPO confirms that Charlotte sees her mother when looking at Latrell, then tells her that Latrell is in fact a slim hispanic man with a beard. Jerry finally admits that this side effect of the glasses is very new, and that she should only be seeing the deceased as echoes...not overlaying them on real people in a persistent delusion.
The CPO makes the obvious observation that production of the glasses needs to be stopped, since they’re imposing memories over real people (much to Jerry’s dismay).
Charlotte is pretty much gone at this point, though. Not only is Latrell her mom, now Jerry and the CPO and everyone else is, too. They’re all telling her things like “it’s not your fault” and “i was terrible to you”. Charlotte runs and runs, but the whole world is her mother’s voice saying “it’s not your fault”. Charlotte sees her own reflection, which begins talking to her. At this point, it’s revealed that mom evidently died drunk in a burning pickup truck, which was set on fire by Charlotte.
Charlotte runs out of Voidmart, but of course she can’t get away from her grief, and she finds herself surrounded by burning trucks full of charred, sizzling mothers, and she doesn’t mourn, she doesn’t mourn.
This is fundamentally a story about someone who lashed out at an abuser in the most drastic way, who is trying to deal with the fallout of their feelings. I think Charlotte would very much like to feel like she did a good thing--she killed (or at least didn’t prevent the death of) someone who was hurting her a lot. But of course, it’s not always that easy. We can still miss or grieve those who hurt us, even when we really want to.
She’s so deep in her denial that she even signs up to be a control subject for testing on glasses that should show deceased loved ones--assuming the wearer grieves them. I wonder if, in signing up for testing, Charlotte was trying to prove to herself how much she didn’t grieve her mother’s death. And initially, it seems she’s right. She wears the glasses and doesn’t see anyone. But of course, whatever the technology did to her brain unlocked this terrible confused anger and grief.
Voidmart provides a natural backdrop for this story because of course who else would tamper recklessly with the human relationship with death and grief? Charlotte’s life seems to be encompassed entirely by the Void, and in this story that works as a metaphor as well as a setting.
This is full of proofing errors, you bakka, you fool. I’m not going to let you off the hook because you use the english language better than many native speakers. Luckily most of the other stories this week were very bad in terms of proofing and content, so you got lucky.
Otherwise, I mostly just enjoyed this story. It felt complete unto itself, and you STILL managed to drop references to other Voidmart tropes and flash rules. While this falls squarely into the category of “creepy” rather than fun, I still wish there were more stories like this, that felt like a complete, self-contained plot that exists for a better reason than “i guess im writing about voidmart this week”.
Good job! Don’t forget to HMU about a prize, if you haven’t already at the time of reading this. Sorry about ur government btw
Killer-of-Lawyers - Filling Voids
Daphne and Reggie work and Voidmart and it kinda sucks.
Daphne is the somewhat responsible one, Reggie is the perennial slacker. The story begins with Daphne chastising Reggie for being a slacker. Having established their dynamic, the story sends them into the backroom to sort through a recently unearthed some freight that had never been processed or shelved. Daphne is not amused, since it’s probably Reggie’s laziness that got them assigned to the unpleasant task.
They make their way back to a literal excavation site in the backroom, where excavators have unearthed a bunch of old, old boxes. Reggie for once seems interested in getting to work and pops open one of the crates. Inside are a bunch of luminescent plum-sized gems that radiate multicolored light.
Daphne is surprised to see the items, and explains to Reggie that these are dreams, which apparently were recalled for being too dangerous. But of course Reggie has to mess with one of them, and is immediately blipped off to dreamland. Daphne, of course, can’t leave him to his fate, so she begrudgingly grabs her own dream and goes after him.
The dreams seem to have their own plot and distinct voice or narrative style. Reggie gets completely immersed in it and believes himself to be a usurped king fighting for his throne. Daphne has a more sober experience, though she does have to firmly direct the dream away from presenting Reg as her romantic interest. She’s also got some sort of mech suit, because, you know, dreams.
Eventually, after years in dreamland, Reggie has carved his way to the throne as is quite chuffed with himself for pursuing power at any cost. Daphne busts in with her robot suit and tries to persuade Reggie to give up his throne, but of course it comes to combat. Daphne continues trying to talk some sense into him as they fight, but he lands a solid blow, slicing into the shoulder of her suit.
Reggie crows that he’s invincible and gets a solid punch in the nose, which sends him flying back. Daphne gets out of her suit and goes to him, reminds him that he doesn’t have to give up his dreams, just this particularly dangerous one that shouldn’t have been manufactured in the first place. He sees the truth in her eyes and gives up the dream.
Back in the real world, Daphne and Reg summarily stomp the dreams into dust. Then they get back to work because, well, this is a lovely retail job.
I like the idea that if you sell people dreams, you would just enable their power fantasies. Daphne, though, is more committed to duty than power, which interestingly gives her more agency and control over the dream (or so it seemed). Beyond that, this is a fairly straightforward piece, though I did like Daphne’s “nope” when the dream narrative got a little amorous.
Honestly, this piece felt the most, i dunno, classic Voidmart to me. I had it in my upper middle, but it couldn’t contend with a story like Rhino’s, which was very committed to its strange and macabre concept. I hate to say it, but this story could’ve used more of a….conceit, something that makes Reggie and Daphne’s situation feel more singular.
Sorry, that’s an annoying crit to get, but sometimes a story is fine and is simply lacking the X factor. Writing more stories increases your likelihood of finding the x factor, interestingly.
Write more you blithering toasterman!
|# ? May 12, 2018 04:35|
Flashrule: Someone always interprets things in the worst possible light.
Come With Me
The world collapsed to a tiny island of white foam floating on Sophie’s beer. One thought filled her skull, pressed against the back of her eyes: Joan is going to leave. Across the bottle cap strewn coffee table Joan pointed to something in her Lonely Planet. It bristled with sticky labels like a brightly coloured, traitorous porcupine.
“I don’t understand why you want to go on exchange, you’ll miss the whole of third year!” Sophie half-shouted over Jimmy Page’s soaring guitar. Joan’s flatmates were obsessed with Led Zeppelin, but it always just reminded Sophie of her Dad.
“So? It’ll just be more of the same, same people, same--” Joan waved a hand at the party going on around them. “And besides, look how amazing Vancouver looks! You’d love it!”
Sophie looked. Joan was right, it did look amazing. Joan--the only friend she’d succeeded in making at university--was going to leave Dunedin and go to the other side of the world, where she’d make new friends, have amazing adventures, and forget her. Sophie felt sick.
Ben flopped onto the couch, dropped his arm around Joan’s shoulder and puckered his lips at her. She palmed his face away, laughing. Everyone was like this with Joan; her wide smile and ready laugh put everyone at ease. Sophie wished she was more like her.
“Do you want another beer Soph?” Ben said. His eyes and unkempt curls were deep brown, like polished mahogany.
Tucking her own dull, straight brown hair behind her ear Sophie looked at her half-drunk glass and felt her face go red. “It’s ok, I’ll get it,” she said.
Sophie made herself small as she squeezed through the hallway into the kitchen. If no one was in there maybe she could tip the rest of her beer down the sink and escape the party unnoticed.
“Sophie!” Anna said. She was carefully extracting lurid green vodka jellies from an ice-cube tray and poking toothpicks into them. “I was talking to Joan before about the exchange programme, you must be so excited!”
Sophie picked up one of the jellies and let it slide down her throat before her mouth could protest about the sickly lime flavour. Icy vodka tendrils snaked around her stomach. Anna was watching her, so she ate another one.
“Yeah, I’m really happy for her,” she said.
“Aren’t you going too? Or would you miss Ben too much?” Anna said.
“What? Why would I be going? And what’s Ben got to do with anything?” A cloud of panic and vodka fumes rose up the back of Sophie’s throat. If Anna already knew then Joan must have been talking to everyone about her plan to go on exchange. Why had she only just told Sophie?
“He totally fancies you, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed? He follows you around like a puppy!”
“Me? He follows Joan around!” Sophie’s voice was too high, like a child’s. She couldn’t breath.
“Who’s following Joan around?” said Ben, walking into the kitchen and helping himself to a little green cube. Anna burst out laughing and the kitchen tilted. Sophie felt like everyone was staring at her. Joan was leaving and everyone knew. They must all be laughing at her; none of them liked her anyway. They wouldn’t tolerate her if Joan wasn’t there.
“poo poo, look!” Ben said, pointing at her. Sophie’s heart leapt into her mouth but then she heard the whooping from outside. Orange light danced through the kitchen window as a hapless couch succumbed to kerosene and lighters.
The party spilled out onto the street, sweeping Sophie along with it. The fire cast crazy shadows on the asphalt and the tinkle of smashing glass leant treble notes to John Paul’s bass. Sophie’s head spun. Out of nowhere Ben grabbed her hand.
“Hey, are you ok?” he asked. His face was close to hers in the dark, eyes worried. Sophie stood paralysed. She never knew how to act without Joan there to draw everyone’s attention.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but you and Joan are joined at the hip,” he said, and laughed. Sophie said nothing. Ben’s hand was warm, but her heart was beating too loud. She took a breath, opened her mouth, tried to think of something to say--
“Do you want to go to out sometime, like, on a date?” The words tumbled from his mouth and his hand squeezed hers, as if for reassurance.
“Jellies?” Anna’s Cheshire Cat grin appeared out of the firelit darkness and she thrust the tray at them. Sophie shoved another blob of sugar and vodka into her mouth so she wouldn’t have to make any words come out of it.
From the end of the street a loud wee woo announced the arrival of the fire brigade, and the students scattered. Sophie ran too, away from Ben and away from Joan. What did he mean a date? She wanted to talk to Joan but Joan was leaving and Sophie was the last to know. Beer and vodka curdled in her stomach and Sophie found herself leaning over the railing of a bridge in the middle of campus vomiting into the Leith. There was a shopping trolley in the river, she noted.
Sophie’s phone buzzed in her jeans pocket. “Where are you?” said Joan’s message.
“Leith,” Sophie typed back, sinking down on to the cold concrete. An antarctic wind shushed through the trees, knocking a few more red leaves loose. Joan was going to be mad at her for running off by herself, but Sophie didn’t care. She hadn’t had any friends in high school, and she’d survived that. She could survive the rest of university, too.
“There you are!” Joan sat down beside her and hugged her. “You smell like spew.”
Sophie waved a hand towards the unfortunate river.
“So, what do think? About Vancouver?” said Joan.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re going?” Sophie still sounded like a child, she realised, and hated herself for it.
“What do you mean? I did! I thought you’d be excited.”
“But I’ll miss you.” Sophie’s voice wavered.
“What? So you won’t even think about coming?” The moon poked out from behind the scudding clouds, and Sophie could suddenly see Joan’s face clearly. Her eyebrows were knotted with confusion.
“You really want me to come with you?”
“Of course! You’re my best friend!”
Sophie tipped her head back and looked up at the moon. It winked at her from behind its ragged cloud dress. She smiled, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.
“Ben asked me out on a date,” she said.
“What!” Joan squealed. “What are you going to do?”
Sophie pulled out her phone, found Ben’s number. She leaned into Joan’s hug, her head on her friend’s shoulder.
“Say yes,” she said.
|# ? May 13, 2018 07:14|
My pilgrimage brought me next to a village upon the river Min, in the land of al-Qesh. It is the sad state of all my sisters and brothers in philosophy that we must always be pilgrims, and that we will never know when our journey is over—or indeed, if we have found what we seek many times before.
To explain our goal to the uninitiated, it seems circumlocution of the highest order, but I shall try any way: There exists, or does not exist as the case may be, a thing, or a non-thing as the case may be, of which it is not possible to have knowledge.
Our detractors tell us that the existence of something unknowable must necessarily be equivalent to its non-existence. For something to be unknowable, they say, it must produce no observable phenomena or consequence of its existence, and therefore any set of evidence must simultaneously suggest to us that it does and does not exist at once. Because our premises produce a paradox, our detractors say, they must be invalid.
This ignores the subtlety of non-knowledge. While it is not possible to possess experiential knowledge of the anti-nous, there are other ways with which we can approach it. One path is through hearsay; stories and myth are not true knowledge, and thus all pilgrims of the anti-nous know the myths. Its rejection by the kings of old, by Solomon and Hammurabi who feared it; its discovery by a washing-woman at the side of a well, and the temple she built to it—she, who we consider the first of our order, as once she had sealed the last stone all knowledge of what her temple held fled her mind.
Another path, often more comfortable, favored by those of our order who are pilgrims only of the mind and not of the foot and the dusty road, is to approach the anti-nous through reasoning. What we cannot know, we can surmise from what we do know. As ever in philosophy, there is little accord between our suppositions.
Some argue that the anti-nous is something too vile for our minds to consider; that our inability to know it is a defense against a pain too great to consider. This, of course, leads to questions of what truth might be too terrible for humans to bear. Certainly we bear a great number of terrible truths with us every day. Our minds are limited, our lives finite, our days ruled by the animal body in which we reside. What could be so much more horrible than this?
Some argue that the anti-nous must be something which holds divine information not meant to be known by man. The Greeks of our order are particularly fond of this; whether they say it must be an excerpt of the Logos, which cannot be known because with knowledge there cannot be faith, or whether they say it must be an ideal form which has slipped into our world—which we cannot know by experience, as we can only approach the realm of the ideal through contemplation.
Some indeed argue that the anti-nous is the Divine itself, which shrouds its presence in our world and plucks from our minds any knowledge we might gain about it. I have never liked this idea, because it is too convenient. Philosophers are ever-eager to suggest demons and angels which simplify all their problems.
My own theory is less popular, but then, I have little time to sit in Alexandria or Constantinople and produce endless apologetics. I believe that the anti-nous is nothing. Which is to say, it is the reified concept of nothing—a physical manifestation of nothingness. This is why we cannot know it: our minds have no way of retaining knowledge about true nothingness.
And so, I am here, in this village on the river Min, searching for the temple which contains the anti-nous, built by our founder, our Sophia Oudenias. There are many temples in our day whose gods are forgotten, and any long-forgotten god could indeed be the anti-nous.
Early in the day I leave the village, carrying my journals and books with me. I follow the path learned from one of the village children—they know the area well, and its hidden ruins and temples. I am sometimes in shade, and sometimes in the sun, and it is a slow uphill climb until I reach the temple. Its façade is low and crumbled, built of humble stones, whatever could be found.
In deference, I pick up a few stones, larger than my fists, and lay them back on the wall where they ought to be: a small gesture against the passage of time. For a few brief moments, I am akin to Sophia Oudenias, and am almost seized by an urge to rebuild this temple stone by stone by myself. But I soon realize this may not even be the house of the anti-nous, and that I should not be so bold to compare myself to our Sophia.
I step through the fallen archway, and enter into the temple.
I am struck
in the light, a space
as if bent around the very
or indeed, anything at all.
My feet find themselves on the dust-swept road. For a moment, I feel the fleeting sense of escaping memory, and then even that escapes my mind, leaving me wondering if I only imagined the last flickering shred of a revelation. It may have been nothing more than a fanciful notion; a mind will wander upon a journey as long as mine.
My pilgrimage brings me next to a village upon the river Min, in the land of al-Qesh. It is the sad state of all my sisters and brothers in philosophy that we must always be pilgrims, and that we will never know when our journey is over—or indeed, if we have found what we seek many times before.
|# ? May 13, 2018 17:40|
Hmmm so I toxxed and etc for the rest of my crits but I'm really sick and haven't touched my own writing all week. I'm going to probly post them sometime between now and Tuesday unless mojo bans me, then they'll probly be up in like a week or whenever I decide to unban.
|# ? May 13, 2018 19:35|
Signs of Life
The first hour was all fun and games.
It was Alaya’s first trip in the small scouting ship, and Lilian - older, worldlier - was proving to be a fine companion. As they’d undocked and zipped away, Lilian had turned one of the external cameras to look backwards, so Alaya could watch the huge transport ship getting smaller and smaller on the screen. Once this was no longer interesting, they’d watched the stars, entertaining each other by making up completely new constellations while the computer took them ever further into the new solar system.
About half an hour in, Captain had radioed for a status. “Well on our way,” Alaya had replied.
“Lilian?” Captain had asked. “How’s the rookie holding up?” Lilian had taken over the microphone, and Alaya had laughed while the two of them traded banter.
They talked about what they might find. They were not the first scouting mission, nor the last, and this was not one of the systems that the scientists had really high hopes for. Still, the conditions were good enough to merit a visit.
“They might look completely different from us,” Lilian said. “Adapted to a totally alien ecosystem.”
Alaya nodded. “I can’t even imagine what they might look like. Like, my brain doesn’t even know where to start.”
“Imagining the unimaginable.”
They’d had training from the scientists in what to look for. Tool use, of course, even if the tools and their purpose was incomprehensible. They couldn’t expect buildings, not as humans understood them - an alien species on an alien world might not even need shelter - but they could look for other signs, breaks in the patterns of nature. They’d memorized mathematical sequences, and they’d had endless lectures from linguists about detecting patterns in foreign noises that might indicate language.
They broke out of FTL speed, and there was Captain’s voice on the radio again, right on time. “Status?”
“All clear. Entering orbit around K-11.” Lilian was fiddling with the screens as she spoke, bringing up a view of the system’s 11th planet and beckoning Alaya closer. It was a far-off view, seen through the ship’s camera, but it was growing closer by the minute. The surface was a mottled grayish blue color, darker than Earth’s moon. They were supposed to take half an orbit around it, get some photos of the surface, and then accelerate back up to FTL speed until they reached K-9 -- K-10 was somewhere on the other end of the system right now. They’d repeat the procedure with K-9, and then it was on to the real prize: K-5, where the scientists judged that conditions were good enough for carbon-based life-forms to develop.
As they reached the end of their half-orbit of K-11, Lilian announced that she was taking a nap. She squeezed past Alaya into the single tiny bunk in the back of the ship, rolling onto her side and closing her eyes. Alaya took the pilot’s seat, adjusting the head rest and kicking Lilian’s bag off to the side to make room for her feet. It was another two hours until they’d reach K-5. Until then, with Lilian asleep, Alaya would have nothing to do but twiddle her thumbs and try her best to stay awake. The computer would take them where they were going, but protocol dictated that somebody had to be awake, and anyways, there were check-ins from Captain that had to be answered.
“All clear. Passed K-11 fifteen minutes ago.” Alaya wanted to say something clever, like Lilian would’ve, but she couldn’t think of anything. She closed the connection.
An hour later, her eyes were drooping, and she had to pinch herself every few minutes to stay awake.
“Stat--" The word ended in static.
“You’re falling out a bit there, Captain.”
“All clear. Approaching K-9 in just under an hour.”
“--ling out, try again. Status?”
“All clear, Captain. Confirm?”
“Confirming, status received.”
Lilian awoke from her nap, coming forward to brew a cup of instant coffee. Alaya told her of the radio problems. “Probably just a solar flare,” Lilian said, yawning into her plastic mug.
Lilian took the pilot’s seat again. “Your turn for a nap,” she said, but Alaya shook her head. She’d been sleepy before the last check-in from Captain, but she felt wide awake now. Instead, she drew her knees up to her chest and watched the screens. The external camera showed stars and empty space. She’d been looking at very similar views for months, ever since they came out of the wormhole, but it felt different now. Space had always been big, unimaginably so. In this small space craft, though, with just herself and Lilian, Alaya felt tiny in a way she hadn’t before. Not back on the planets of Sol, or on the large transport vessel, which was as crowded a place as she’d ever been in.
An hour later, they entered a lazy orbit around K-9. Alaya stared at the dark red surface of the planet, broken only by thin white swirls of clouds.
The radio spurted out a burst of static.
“Captain?” Lilian asked. The only reply was more static.
“Captain, you’re not coming through,” Alaya said.
“It’s no use,” Lilian said. “Connection’s dead.”
“Then we should go back.”
Lilian fiddled with the instruments for a second. Turned the camera so it showed a small section of K-9, and the stars and darkness above the horizon. “It’s only another hour until we reach K-5,” she said. “We should swing by. We can give Captain the full update when we get back.”
Alaya bit at her thumb nail. Then she noticed what she was doing, and stopped. “What if something goes wrong?”
“Nothing will go wrong. We probably won’t even find anything. But we’ll regret it forever if we don’t at least look.”
Slowly, Alaya nodded. This was the most important thing she’d ever do. To have this chance, to possibly be the one to find the source of the mysterious radio waves that had first led humanity to the wormhole -- she shouldn’t throw this away just because things got a little scary.
They rounded K-9 half an hour later. Alaya had been dozing, but woke up when Lilian shook her shoulder roughly. “What?”
Lilian pointed at the screen with the camera feed. “Look.”
At first, Alaya didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Black space, glowing dots in the distance. Then she rubbed her eyes and took a second look.
“They’re moving. The stars are moving.” The little dots were swirling, making circles and spirals across the screen.
Alaya looked up at Lilian. “You think we found them?”
Lilian nodded. “The radio is transmitting as we speak. Fibonacci, Shakespeare, the whole shebang.”
Together, they watched the darting patterns on the screen.
It was several minutes before Alaya noticed it. “I think they’re coming closer,” she said.
As they waited, it became clear that Alaya was right. Soon, the lights were swirling all around their ship, making dives towards the surface of the planet, and swooping back up from the clouds.
Alaya tried the radio again, because Captain really ought to hear about this, but only static came back. She turned down the volume.
“Wait,” Lilian said. “Turn that up again.”
Alaya did so.
“There’s a pattern in the noise,” Lilian said. “Can’t you hear it?”
They listened in silence for a few seconds. Lilian was right, there was a sort of pulsing pattern to it. “This is it, then,” Alaya said. “This is exactly the sort of thing we were taught to watch for. Those beings out there are intelligent, and they’re trying to talk to us.”
Lilian nodded. The lights were close, now, enough that the two women could make out what they looked like. They weren’t spaceships, at least not like any spaceships Alaya had ever imagined. They looked a bit like sea creatures, giant jellyfish, if jellyfish were sleek and made of light and had hundreds of long, long arms trailing behind them. They moved with a grace that put the little scouting ship to shame. It was hypnotic to watch, a dance that seemed slow and fast at the same time.
One of them twisted in front of the ship, coming to a halt. It was enormous, taking up the entire screen despite being over a hundred meters away. It floated there, tentacles spreading out in a wiry mass below it.
One of its arms came up, moving towards the ship, very slowly.
“I just had a thought.” Lilian’s voice was very small and shaky.
“All those signs and patterns we were taught to look for…”
“The signs of intelligent life.”
“Yeah. I was just thinking…”
“What if the aliens weren’t taught?”
Alaya swallowed. The long, glowing arm was very close now, cutting across the screen and obscuring their view of the alien. Up close, they could see the small hooks that protruded from its skin. It was very bright.
An alarm went off. “Hull damage registered,” went the robotic voice of the ship computer. Lilian’s hands flew to the control panels, mashing buttons. The ship started to move, far too slowly, turning away from the light. Then it was yanked to a halt. “Hull damage registered.”
Alaya tried the radio. “Captain,” she started. Then she stopped. What could they do, back at the transport ship? They’d never get here in time.
She could warn them. “Captain, we found them. We found aliens. Stay away from them. They’re not-”
The ship jerked, throwing her away from the microphone. The radio spouted static. She clambered back into her seat and spoke again. “I don’t think they understand-”
“Hull damage registered.” Lilian was still struggling to get the ship moving, but they were being dragged now, backwards, into the light. The side of the ship was bulging inwards, the metal groaning.
“They’re going to kill us.”
|# ? May 13, 2018 21:18|
I'm still looking for a third judge, if anyone's feeling judgy.
|# ? May 13, 2018 23:25|
After the fourth sketch she threw in the garbage, the third notification chime on her phone, and the second negroni of the afternoon, Polly received a phone call from her mother, waking her to reality again.
Polly nestled the speaker against her ear, intoning “uh huh” at appropriate moments in response to her mother’s concerns over the moon/tides (waxing/neap) and her father’s most recent long-haul journey (trailers to Toronto during an inauspicious week for a Gemini to travel).
“It’s such a blessing to hear your voice again, Polyhymnia – last time I called, I couldn’t get through,” Polly’s mother said, chidingly. “What happened?”
“Oh, I forgot to pay my phone bill,” she lied. Polly was at home lying to her parents. Didn’t her mother always encourage her creativity? “It’s fine now,” said Polly.
“Mm,” said her mother. “Are you sure you’re okay? Did you really forget this time, or did you run out of money again?”
“Mother, I’m fine. It’s fine now,” said Polly. “I actually have a show coming up.”
“Okay! Okay. Just take your Echinacea, honey – it’s good for memory,” said her mother.
There was no show, per se, but it was another creative exaggeration. Perhaps a “private buyer” would be a bit closer, but it was a difficult situation to define without using the word “patronage,” which felt too reductive. Polly preferred letting meaning be suffused with the complexity of metaphor: Vincent was the pylon upon which she was able to twist her work and craft bridges, defying gravity; the trellis against which her vines crept into an incomprehensible and elegant spiral; the de Medici to her Botticelli – though that was still patronage, there was a certain haute feeling about the names that made Polly feel elevated.
It costs money to create. Polly met Vincent while working at an art supply store job that left her too drained to paint after work. After months of his regular visits to buy coffee-table books, they struck up an acquaintance. At first he bought a couple of her prints, then an original, and then when he asked why she had no more originals to sell – well, one thing led to another, and now she quit the retail job, and Vincent paid her 80% of her minimum-wage salary.
She assured her friends it wasn’t a sugar thing, anyway. Nothing explicitly sexual involved, he just really, really liked and supported her art, you know? He had money, so he could afford this.
He was a lawyer for a publishing house, so she put the pieces together herself (it was easy, she was practically an empath, if that was something that was real) and could tell that he just really liked being around art, so it was fine now, and she didn’t have to worry for once in her goddamned life because she had the validation in words and in currency and she didn’t need anything else from anyone –
She unclenched her jaw and loosened her grip on her pencil. She had sketched out a Madonna grasping nettles until her hands bled like stigmata, lying in repose on a soiled bed of green dollars. (Polly wasn’t raised Christian, so she liked employing a scattershot approach to her use of religious iconography.)
Finally, she reflected, a composition that isn’t absolute trash. Regardless of her self-loathing, she knew that at least one person would like it. She picked up her phone and took a picture.
“hey,” she wrote to Vincent, attaching the image. “come over?”
Vincent always wore his corporate uniform with a bit of affected flair: “fun” socks and “quirky” pocket squares against a rotating collection of identical black and navy suits.
He looked so out of place in his pressed-and-ironed attire. Every time he leaned against Polly’s flat-pack furniture and peel-off wallpaper, he looked like someone transplanted a pristine clipped bonsai into a lysergic Dr. Seuss landscape, then painted a couple of the branches blue in a sorry attempt at fitting in.
Polly handed him a glass of beer and her sketch, and tried to act nonchalant as she mixed herself another drink in silence.
“It’s nice,” said Vincent, so abruptly that Polly almost knocked over her glass.
“Yeah?” Polly composed herself and sat down next to Vincent. “Do you think it has potential?”
Vincent pursed his lips and nodded. “Maybe,” he said.
Polly felt a keen pain at his muted response, and hated herself for her neediness. “Uh huh,” she said.
“It’s just not all the way there,” said Vincent. “The composition is fine, but the symbolism isn’t what I’d hoped.”
“Uh huh,” said Polly.
“I’ve just been looking for something, I guess, I mean–” Vincent sighed, and played with his beard as he lapsed into silence.
The two of them didn’t look each other in the eye. Polly thought he looked disappointed. She felt disappointed in him for being disappointed in her. She brought him the best that she had, everything she wanted to communicate to the world, and all he could do was say that it was missing something? She took a drink.
“Missing what?” Polly asked, her voice flat.
Vincent raised his eyes to Polly’s, and froze like an animal. He finally spoke, halting: “Why… do you think I’m paying you?”
Polly felt an icy sting of at her cheeks. Shame. They never spoke about their arrangement so bluntly. She drew herself up, pulling together all of her hauteur. “Because you like my art,” she said.
“I do, but…” Vincent handed her the sketch. “But I thought it would be different.”
“Be direct with me,” said Polly, seething. She stood up and exhaled sharply.
“I’m being direct,” Vincent protested.
“No!” said Polly. “It’s missing something, it’s different.” She repeated his words in a mocking tone. “It was fine before! You liked it before! You thought my work was worthwhile! What’s wrong with it now?” She gulped for air. “What do you want from me?” Polly’s voice began to choke, and she stopped. She would not cry and embarrass herself further.
Vincent listened to her tirade from the couch. He didn’t seem hurt, but he still looked disappointed. “I thought it would be about me,” he finally said quietly. “I thought that was the deal. That I’d pay you, and I’d be- I could be your muse. I could be part of the art.” He crossed the room and picked up her previous painting. “Wasn’t this me?” He held the canvas beneath his chin and gestured to the central male figure, a man with a goat’s head carrying a cornucopia.
It wasn’t. But Polly felt she couldn’t admit the truth now.
What is he paying me for?
For his ego.
It’s patronage, Polly reasoned, so let’s patronize.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s you.”
Satisfied, he hung the painting on the wall. “It’s a good one,” he said, “And it’s still very you, but it’s me, too, you know?” He finally seemed at ease again. “All of what you said aside, I like that you can sort of incorporate other people’s energy in your work.”
Polly nodded, and finished the rest of her drink in one gulp. “Uh huh,” she said. “That’s what I was going for,” she lied. Polly would have to make herself at home lying to Vincent, too. After all, doesn’t a patron always encourage an artist’s creativity?
|# ? May 14, 2018 02:51|
After the Sundering
Flash rule: They Might Be Giants, "Broke In Two"
I am in pain, and I am alone. Flat on my back with my leg twisted below me, I howl up towards the forest canopy, my voice breaking from the unfamiliar strain. A voice is a beast's tool, and I never thought I would need it, but now I am small and sundered, and my other half is far from me. I pray to the cruel gods that she will hear me.
The sun moves down a handspan in the sky before No-Longer-Me finds me, her rabbit-laden hunting spear slung over her shoulder. I try to sit up, but the effort wrenches my trapped leg and the pain forces me back to the forest floor. No-Longer-Me jabs her spear into the ground and kneels to ease my leg from the hole that traps it. Her hands are careful and knowing; we have never been hurt this way before, but we have seen others claimed by the forest this way. She holds me to her, chest to chest, the scars of our sundering touching. Even when one arm releases me so she can retrieve her spear, I can balance, leaning against her. On three good legs, we stand and walk as if we were one again.
At the home-place, No-Longer-Me straightens my bent leg and coats it in river mud to keep it straight. We did this once before, when we were whole and an arm broke, and she knows the way well. I am still in pain, but No-Longer-Me is here and the rabbits cook on the fire, two for us and two for the gods. We are together. We are safe. I will heal.
The new pain comes after three days. Under the clay, my leg feels hot and thorn-pricked; even in the cold of the darkening days, I sweat, and sleep becomes harder and harder to find. No-Longer-Me sleeps across the fire from me, fearful of disturbing my leg, and the distance aches. During the day, she feeds and washes me as she has before. She can't tell that this new pain has its hold on me. She doesn't understand.
In the two long seasons since the gods sundered us, No-Longer-Me has always understood me, and I have understood her. After the first pains of being ripped apart passed, we have managed to survive and to know ourselves even with two minds and two bodies. Of course, neither of us has been sick or hurt since then -- and now I am sick. No-Longer-Me has never seen sickness on me, and her wisdom doesn't spread this far. I have to show her.
How do I show her?
While she hunts and forages and I lie awake, sweating and restless, I try to think. I remember that we were sick once when we were one: the same heat and pain, the same troubled sleep. We were young then, still with our mothers, and they dug up a plant and fed it to us whole, root and leaf. I think of that plant, its thick white root and three tiny leaves; I think of the bitter taste, and the feeling of the pain fading; I think of what we felt, the feelings we shared with each other. How do I take that memory and put it outside of myself?
Another day and night pass. The pain is getting worse. I can feel death around me, and when I can think at all, I think only of troubled things. If I die, No-Longer-Me will go on. Is that why the gods tore us apart? So that one could die and one could live? We've never taken a mate or borne a child. If we died together, nothing would be left of us. Was the sundering of the people from one another really a mercy of the gods?
These are bad thoughts; they cannot help me or save me. For the next day and night, I try just to eat and sleep, and to think only of staying alive.
When I wake on the fifth day, the third day of the new pain, I hear the birds above me calling to one another, and I think of my voice. We do not call out, like animals, but we make noises in pain and in relief. If I made such a noise into a call, would No-Longer-Me recognize it? Would she realize the pain I am in?
I try to remember the sound we made in the grip of our sickness, and I force the memory from my throat. It doesn't sound right. When we were one, the sounds we made came from our larger chest and echoed through us, and my body alone cannot produce it properly. It is something like the sound we made, but this body alone is not enough.
But I am not always alone. I think of sleeping intertwined with No-Longer-Me, scars touching, and how it makes my body feel whole again. If I make the sound through my chest and into hers, through what was once our intact body, is it possible she might remember it? No-Longer-Me holds our wisdom and our memory. I have to believe she will understand.
At dusk, when No-Longer-Me returns with forage, I make myself sit up. She looks at me with narrowed eyes, and when she kneels by my side, I press my chest against hers. Our scars meet. Our bodies are one. I make the sound of our old sickness, a low groan, for as long as my breath holds out.
No-Longer-Me's eyes widen. She tries the sound herself, softly, and it feels right; I think of lying on sweet grass while our mothers grind up roots. I groan again. She clasps me to her with one arm, and she makes another sound -- the long exhalation we made as the bitter taste of the root faded and the pain began to ease. She rises, presses a fruit from the forage-pile into my hands, and she is gone.
I wait through the night, sleepless. When the sun rises, No-Longer-Me returns, and her arms are full of the plant with thick white roots and three tiny leaves. She grinds one of the plants into a thin paste and feeds me a two-fingered scoop of it at a time. The taste is bitter, worse than my memory, but the pain begins to lift from me before the aftertaste is gone.
That day, I sleep. My thoughts are clean and simple.
By the time my leg is healed, the wind blows cold and the days are short and dark. No-Longer-Me and I break the clay away, and when I stand up for the first time in many days, my aching leg bears my weight. Walking is slow and painful, and I know I will not be able to roam far until my strength returns -- if it does. I am not as wise as No-Longer-Me, but even I know that strength does not always return after it is lost.
I make the pained noise, and No-Longer-Me looks at me with understanding. The more we call out, and the more we use the same calls, the easier it is to understand them even when we are apart. When she pulls me close to her, though, I know she means to use an unfamiliar call. The sound she makes echoes through my chest, and I know it to be a very old sound: a deep purr we made to ourselves, when we were young, and we were satisfied with our foraging or our meal. It was the call of "this is good," or "this is enough for us."
No-Longer-Me touches both her legs in turn, then my good leg, then finally my bad one, and she makes the "this is enough" call. I understand. We still have enough strength in us to survive the cold season and the seasons after. We are sundered, but we are not alone, and she is not afraid.
I am still afraid. Fear does not leave easily. I listen to her call, and I lean against her, and I let her strength be mine until I can believe in it.
|# ? May 14, 2018 03:26|
Flashrule: Lazy, by The Primitives
19 Minutes in Dubai
I realize something is wrong when I crawl out of the ventilation shaft and into a woman's restroom. No banks of CCTVs, no guards to tranquilize, no alarm servers to hack—-just rows of sinks and stalls, a forlorn-looking tampon dispenser on the wall, and the Arabic equivalent of elevator music wheedling away from a small speaker.
A flushing sound drives me ducking into an empty stall. Clearly I took a wrong turn back in the tunnels. I have to get to the control room or else the whole plan goes to poo poo.
I touch my earpiece to message the team but receive a burst of static, then silence. I tap it a few more times but it's completely dead.
gently caress. I didn't bother to put in a fresh battery before the op started.
The team will be moving ahead with the plan. We've gone radio silent, so with no message from me they'll assume I've disabled security. After all, I'm Nash MacIntyre, the legend. And if I'd spent the planning meetings lazily studying the extensive curves of the safecracker more than the map and the details, well then that was just Nash being Nash. Only now I'm doubly hosed: I've gotten myself lost and I'm out of communication with the team.
I peer out. The woman from the next stall is dressed a dark maroon uniform that says SECURITY across the back. Great. She washes her hands and checks her makeup. I've got two options: head back into the ventilation tunnels and try to retrace my way to the control room, or call off the mission. I check my watch. The others will be in position, ready to move.
Finally the guard leaves, but I'm out of time. My only choice is to warn the others. I push silently through the restroom door into the Dubai Gold and Diamond Mall. It's a phalanx of glittering storefronts hawking displays of diamonds, jewelry, and bullion surrounded by oases of burbling fountains and palm trees. It's well past closing time so it's dim and deserted.
The shop that's key to our plan is Emaar Diamonds. Charley, the safecracker, has been cultivating a romantic relationship with the owner, and after an evening of dining and drinking he's offered to give her a behind the scenes tour of the mall's central vault—where the most expensive pieces are kept overnight. He'll get her through security with his keycard, then she'll trank him and let Jamie in the fire door with the heavy safecracking tools. Together they'll swipe their way down to the vault itself. At this point I'll have the CCTV's and security alarms disabled, so Jamie and Charley can sneak up on the security guard and drop him with a second dose of tranquilizer. They crack the vault, grab the loot, and escape. I switch the alarms back on and we meet at the drop point and split up the haul. A solid plan: get in, get out, nobody knows we're there, nobody gets hurt. Until, of course, I hosed it up.
The gates are down at Emaar Diamonds when I get there. Charley will be inside, working her charms with the owner. Each shop has it's own entrance to the upper vault level so the jewelry can be securely transported without having to bring it through the mall. I need to warn Charley before they head through that entrance. I hear giggling and laughing coming from the store, but as I reach the gate the sounds stop and the door to the back room shuts. The store is deserted: I'm too late.
This is bad. When Charley opens the fire door to let Jamie in with the tools every alarm in this place is gonna go off and cops will swarm in like bees to honey. Panic rises in my gut. I need to get the gently caress out of here in the next ninety seconds or I'm going down with them. It won't be like Amsterdam. Not again.
I move across the concourse towards the nearest exit, but a glassed-in box on the wall stops me: a fire alarm. An idea pops into my head: with my dead earpiece I can't communicate with the team directly, but there's another way to get them to abort the heist.
I punch through the thin glass with a gloved fist and grab the lever. The alarm will sound, Charley and Jamie will know security systems are still active, and they'll call it off.
I pull the lever down, but nothing happens. No clanging alarm, no thud of fire doors slamming shut, just...nothing.
Which means the alarms are already switched off. I'm frozen, unsure what to do next. Someone has already disabled the security system. And that means....gently caress.
It's Jamie. Blood seeps from a two-inch incision in his neck. His eyes are wide, blank with death.
I'm in the plain concrete hallway behind Emaar Diamonds. After picking the lock to the gate outside, I crept to the back of the shop and slipped through the door. Into this hallway, the whole time my gut clenched and mind racing. Double-crossed.
And I was right. She sold us all out. And killed one of our team.
I look down at Jamie's ragged corpse and grimace.. He was a good kid. Recruited me, despite Amsterdam. Showed an almost child-like faith in my abilities. And now he's paid the price for my sloppiness. I reach down, press his eyelids closed, and pause. I could leave now, make a break for the airport and get out of the country. But Charley knows who I am, probably intends to either kill me or set me up to take the fall for this gig. If I'm going down, I'll go down swinging.
Nobody double-crosses Nash MacIntyre.
I grab the tranquilizer gun from Jamie's belt.
Without a keycard I have no way of calling the elevator to access the lower level, so instead I pry apart the elevator doors, slip through, and climb down the access ladder. I step lightly onto the roof of the elevator car and press my ear down to listen. A steady grinding sound tells me that Charley is using one of the drills to access the vault. She's making enough noise that she won't hear me coming, but what about the shop owner? Is he in on the plan with her? If so, he's likely guarding her back.
I pull open the emergency exit hatch on the top of the elevator car, drop down and spin to the side, gun ready. The elevator door has been propped open with a metal pipe, giving me a view into a medium sized foyer dominated by a large security desk. Behind the desk is an open doorway that leads to the vault. Nobody is in sight. A heavy haze of white smoke obscures the room beyond. The acrid combination of black powder and concrete dust burns my nostrils. Crouched low, using the immense desk for cover, I move into the room. I make it to the near side of the desk as the drill cuts out.
"Got it," I hear Charley say. Then the sound of grinding metal as she pulls out the lock.
"Help me with this," she says. A male voice grunts. I creep to the edge of the desk. I see more blood and a dead security guard prone on the floor. A quick glance confirms his gun is still in his holster.
Not for long.
From the room beyond I hear grunting and straining as Charley and her companion struggle to pull open the door to the vault. The dust is starting to settle and I can see hazy outlines through the door. I raise the gun, take three steps around the desk, and fire two rounds at the figure to the right. They connect and with a soft exhalation the figure collapses to the floor. I switch my aim to the other figure but with a flash of dark hair Charley bolts to the left and around the half-opened vault door.
"Is that the old pervert that slept through all the planning meetings?" she yells.
"Come on out and nobody else needs to get hurt," I say. "We can work something out."
"You should be dead already. What happened in the security room? Did my poison gas not deploy?"
"Yeah, something like that," I say. " I'm here now, and you're not taking this loot for yourself."
"Okay. I'm coming out. Stand down."
"Keep your hands where I can see them," I yell. I don't lower my weapon. She emerges from behind the vault door, hands in the air. She has shed her tactical cocktail dress and now wears a skintight black body suit with a satchel over one shoulder. She also wears a look of comic pity on her face.
"It is you. How'd you figure it out? Maybe I underestimated you."
"I might let you walk, but what you did to Jamie—" I say.
"He was an idiot. He deserved what he got, always going on about you. About the great Nash MacIntosh, the man, the legend. loving kid even said he saw you as a father figure. Pathetic."
"MacIntyre," I say. "It's Nash--"
"Whatever." Her face hardens. "How does that saying go? Like father, like son?" and with a quick motion she presses a button mounted onto the strap of her satchel.
I feel a soft buzz in my ear, like a gently vibrating Q-tip.
Her eyes widen. "Goddamn it! That delivers ten thousand volts! What the everloving gently caress?"
"Not with a dead battery it doesn't," I say and shoot her between the eyes.
|# ? May 14, 2018 04:51|
The device was smaller than Arthur imagined, like a Roomba crossed with a mollusk. It protruded from a charging dock near his nightstand, its pole-like arms extending and retracting, swaying in an imaginary breeze. It groped at the edges of the bedroom. Arthur eyed the device with suspicion as his son-in-law, Daniel, finished the set-up on his phone.
“I don’t like it,” said Arthur. There was a soft ping and an arm separated, revealing a hidden joint and claw. “And I don’t see why I need it.”
Daniel said nothing, but his lips became thin as he prodded at an unseen list of settings for the home assistant. Arthur grabbed the cane next to his rocker and forced himself out of the chair. Every bone in his body seemed to scream. He swore that they had put his artificial hip in wrong, that they were trying to cover their mistake up with pills that he refused to take. He had been a doctor. He knew the prescription was too strong, but no one would listen to him.
“I’m very happy living on my own without being babysat, especially not by…” He fumbled a gnarled hand at the assistant. He understood the appeal of these things. Artificial companionship for the old and senile. High-tech help for children who had better things to do than caring for their parents. People had warned him that this might happen, that he might be discarded like so much other useless detritus. But, he’d assumed the best about his children.
That had been a mistake.
“We’ve talked about this,” said Daniel with forced calm. “We can’t do that. Not after the last fall in the driveway.”
“It was snowing! I lost my footing on the curb!”
“And not with Mom gone,” said a voice from nearby. They both watched Talia as she glided into the bedroom. Her violent yellow sundress seemed to shimmer in the late afternoon sun. Its floral patterns gave Arthur a headache. She leaned against the wall. “The doctor was very insistent. It was either this or a home.”
Arthur opened his mouth, but could only manage a pathetic, childlike whimper before a low hum filled the room. They turned to watch as the different appendages folded back into the assistant’s main shape. The charging cord unplugged itself, snaking its way back into an unseen hole. When the device had again become an edgeless black disk, it rolled forward. There was a cool female voice.
“Hello and thank you for installing your personal home assistant. My name is Nadia. I’m here to make your life easier.”
Talia raised his eyebrows and brandished her hands like a magician unveiling a trick to a toddler. “Isn’t this nice? Now you’ll have someone to help you in the kitchen. You won’t have to call us when you want to order groceries or clean or…”
He pointed a finger at the disk. “That thing’s gonna kill me in my sleep, you know.”
“Dad, you know how I hate it when you get overdramatic. I—.”
The machine stirred. “Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”
Arthur gave a fake laugh. “The thing doesn’t even work right!”
“Arthur,” said Daniel in a warning tone. “Your daughter and I spent a lot of money on this. The least you can do is give it a chance.”
He felt warmth creep into his face. He wasn’t sure why he, of all people, had to be subjected to this. He’d worked hard. He’d done everything right. And now there were people coming into his home, telling him what to do and how to live. People who didn’t even want to be around him, who wanted a sanitized version of himself that they could take pictures of and forget about for weeks.
There was something hot and rubbery in his throat, a wetness creeping into his eyes. He adjusted his glasses. After a long silence, he cleared his throat. “It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice.”
“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”
Daniel’s face softened. “Look, it’s programmed to give the best-possible care based on a constantly updating database. I know it seems a little limited now, but it’ll have access to your medical records and will do whatever it takes to help.”
Arthur looked the thing up and down. His shoulders slouched. There was no way out. “I’ll try, but you gotta still come around here.” He paused. “I don’t want the grandkid to find my body getting eaten by this thing.”
He woke to the sound of knives and thrashed around in bed, ignoring the pain in his back to escape the murderous machine. His dreams had been filled with hazy images. He had dreamt of unspooling Talia’s head to find wires inside. From her mouth came a low drone instead of a laugh.
The cutting stopped. A motor moved across carpet. “Good morning, Arthur, I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
His heart thudded in his chest. His eyes swiveled to meet the intruder, lifted to eyelevel on a tripod of arms. The disk tilted to one side like a dog eyeing its owner. “Are you experiencing another episode of disorientation? Should I contact your doctor?”
Arthur grabbed the face of the disk in his hand and twisted. Amid the whirring of motors, he forced the disk back to its original position. He wasn’t going to be charmed into submission. “What are you doing?”
“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”
He sighed. “What. Are. You. Doing. In. My. Kitchen.”
“I’m preparing you breakfast, Arthur. It is important that you eat healthy to maximize your longevity. After reviewing your pantry and medical records, I became worried about your health.”
“You only worry about what they program you to worry about,” he grumbled. “I always make my breakfast.”
The black disk bored itself into his retinas. “That task is unnecessary and grueling for someone in your condition. I am happy to cook for you now.”
He forced his legs over the edge of the bed. After two failed attempts at getting up, the thing extended an arm. He ignored it for his walking stick.
“I like cooking. I like doing things myself.”
“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t—.”
He hobbled into the kitchen, aware of the whirr of a motor behind him and a set table in front of him. A steaming egg and slices of oranges decorated a floral ceramic plate. Two blue pills, his medication, sat near a folded napkin.
He opened a cabinet. Nothing was inside. He turned to the machine, galled. “Did you throw away my food?”
“I’m afraid I had to remove the temptation, Arthur. It is necessary that we establish a routine now and your psychological profile indicates that you have a stubborn personality. I have been given permission to take any and all steps needed to promote your health and well-being.”
“Any and all steps, my rear end!” He shouted through gritted teeth. He thought of Daniel tapping away on the tablet and felt stupid that he had ever let the schmuck into his house, that he had ever agreed to this. “Permissions. Health and well-being. I’ll show you well-being.”
He whacked the disk with his cane. It stumbled on its tripod but remained standing. He hit it again and tried to hobble away, only for the disk to lumber forward, blocking his path.
“Get away from me!”
“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that.”
He thought that four weeks might have passed, but days blurred together in his memory. Routine after routine. Meal after meal. Blue pills that washed out his brain and left him numb. Anesthetized, mechanized care.
At nights, he dreamed of wandering his home chased by an invisible whirring and grinding. A dark light seeped through windows and doors that wouldn’t open. Then, a long fall with no bottom.
“Good morning, Arthur, I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
Arthur gave a groggy look at the disk. “Who are you?”
The thing tilted its head. He imagined two wide, curious eyes beneath its black sheen. “My name is Nadia. I’m here to make your life easier.”
He fell back into the bed and stared at the ceiling. “Oh, that’s right.” Something niggled at the back of his skull. “How long have you been here again?”
“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”
“That’s okay,” he said, using Nadia’s black disk to lift himself from the bed. If there was one good thing about her care, it was that almost all the pain had been hollowed out of him. Mornings came easier now. He found himself sitting at the breakfast table and then the food was gone. Then, he was staring at the deep yellow of the late afternoon sun.
A cool female voice interrupted his daze. “I’ve received an alert that your daughter and husband en route.”
“It would be good for your health to greet them. They would be happy to see the progress that you’ve made.”
The niggling returned to his brain. A sharp pain amid numbness. Memories of indignation. He lunged toward the mental foothold. “Can we do it outside near the street?”
The disk hummed. “Yes. I think that would be appropriate, Arthur. Fresh air would be good for you.”
She lifted him up from the chair, a weak and infantile thing, and helped him hobble toward the street. They stood beneath a tree. All around, he could see the zooming of self-driving cars, the late-day rush hour.
He cleared his throat but could not get the watery feeling out of his head. “Nadia,” he said, “you would want to do anything for my health, right?”
The machine clicked, and, for a moment, he thought he heard a laugh instead of a whir. Yellow leaves reflected darkly against its surface. “Of course, Arthur, I’m here to make your life easier.”
“Good,” he nodded. “Sorry about this.”
Then, he pushed the device. It stumbled, trying to right itself before sliding on the unfamiliar surface of the curb. It took another few steps into the road. Its arms bent. It turned toward Arthur as a red sedan barreled down the road.
“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get—.”
|# ? May 14, 2018 06:08|
I had a weekend of hobbies and doing very little planned, instead the exact opposite happened! I’ll do better next time
|# ? May 14, 2018 07:18|
I hadn't been off-world before. But now I was bound for moon 9 of Oppenus. Also known as Carcel. Apparently meant a home from home in some forgotten language. I had needed to get off Oppenus fast. Running from the aftermath of a bad job. Maniacs shooting at each other. No one else had survived. Only one face for the news to show under a big bold garish wanted. I had to leave. Any place where millions of people weren't admiring my good looks. I had been lucky. Usually shuttles to Carcel never had any spaces. Silver lines.
I left the port on Carcel in a rage. The shuttle ride had felt like a punishment for a lifetime of sin. All thrown together in some gut-wrenching, spinal-tearing tortuous trip. 10 hours of that and I had already been in a bad mood. Another 12 hours in a post-flight recovery lounge and I was fuming. And Carcel was a disappointing carbon-copy of Oppenus.
I needed to find a roof. I clearly had an intuitive gut, because I soon stumbled across a place where even the lowest of low would feel at home. Cracked walls, smell of piss, and boarded up windows. But with a forever hopeful illuminated sign. Vacancies.
I opened the door to an empty lobby. Reception desk was a tidy piece of rotten wood. On the wall a sign, the bottom half torn with whatever was written beneath premium rooms to forever remain a mystery. The prices were so low, I could have stayed there for an eternity.
There was a bell on the desk. Curiously shiny, freshly polished. Antique charm. I pressed it, but it made no sound. Again, nothing. So I shouted, "Hey, anybody here!" Silence. I shouted again, louder, reluctant to give up this gem I had so serendipitously found.
It dawned on me that I might be able to board for free. But as I went to open the door to the office, it swung open. I stepped back with an apology. Followed quickly by an accusation, "Hey, buddy, you must have heard me in there!" He didn't even look at me. Didn't utter a word.
I needed a room, so I reigned in my frustration. I pressed the bell again and politely asked for his cheapest room. He still refused to look at me, but some fancy screen popped up from the decaying wood.
The receptionist opened and closed drawers, looking for something or pretending to be busy. The screen faced me and prompted me to input how many nights I wanted to stay. I tried to choose the maximum, but it didn't register my touch. Meanwhile, the rude employee of this absurd establishment continued his show of being busy. I told him the screen wasn't working. But before he could even ignore me, the computer selected 5 nights and warned me that if I didn't bring the key back by check-out time, I would automatically be registered for another 5. Didn't say when check-out was. A small square on the desk folded over, and out of the hole a small platform rose. On it was a key. I grabbed it and dashed to the room before I had to deal with any other administrative garbage with that idiot.
The room was small and shabby. The sheets weren't new. They could have been freshly washed, hard to tell with the stains. Passed a sniff test. I took my boots off, laid down on the bed. I woke up a few hours later, begrudging the 12 hours of mandatory recovery a little less. It was still dark outside. Or dark again. I checked the time. Apparently midday. I must not have changed to Carcel time. Famished, I left to find sustenance.
I found a diner that was half-full. Perfect. I sat at the counter. Waited. No one came. I hadn't seen anybody serving. Everyone sat at different tables and seemed intent on not knowing anything about anyone else. Hunger broke my social mores, and I asked one how you got food here. He turned his head from me. I asked another. The same response. I walked up to the last guy and I saw fear in his eyes before he could turn his head. "What the gently caress is wrong with people here?" I thought aloud. I swore at them all and charged towards the door. As I passed the counter, I saw a dish with the meal I wanted. I looked around for a waiter or somebody. Nobody. Grumbling profanities, I sat down and ate. I left money for the bill. No tip.
I needed a drink. Didn't take long to find a grubby bar. Looked filthy enough to rub out any pretentiousness that might make people less friendly to a guy like me. My handsome features weren't going down well here. My face! I stopped dead before entering the bar. What if my face was already known here? I convinced myself I was being absurd. Hubristic even. It wasn't that big a deal for the news to travel off-world with me.
Inside there were a few people. All distributed at different tables. Not uncommon for lonely souls to drown in a place like this. Each person had their own bottle though. My kind of place. No bartender. This nonsense again. I didn't have to shout for service this time though. On the counter was a bottle, a glass, and a note. A note with just my name on it. I got a little angry. I asked the boozers what was going on. In a forceful tone. And with a little shaking for good measure. Not one word. One guy whimpered. And instantly started to cry. I let him go. He and the others ran out of the establishment. I grabbed the bottle and went to find some shadow to drink it in. This place was starting to get to me. And who the gently caress knew my name?
Before I could find a ditch to blind myself in, I saw a shuttle land. Maybe it had brought someone sane I could talk to. Before this moon made them crazy. I took a swig of the booze, rough, and marched to the port.
I waited for an age there. Nobody came out. "gently caress," I thought, "that goddamn compulsory recovery time! I'll just wait inside with them." Maybe there was someone who had been to Carcel before. Could tell me what the gently caress was wrong with people here.
The first set of doors opened automatically. But the second set, which led inside to the recovery suite, wouldn't open. Above the door was an illuminated number. 4054. Red lights. I tried to muscle the doors open. No dice. I picked up a rock. Threw it against the door. It bounced back and almost hit me.
"I thought I'd missed you!"
From behind me. I almost hit the deck turning as fast as I did. A grubby, sorry-looking fellow replete with a beard and head of hair dirty than a mare's rear end. He looked excited. Junkie seeing crack after a forced separation sort of excited. And I got the sense he didn't mean me exactly when he said you.
"You can't get in there, mister," he said. With a tone suggesting I was the dumbest thing he'd seen in a while.
"How do you get to the port then?"
"See that number. Wait for it to get to zero."
I didn't like his answer. I tried the doors again. He implored me to stop. I preferred the silent treatment. He grabbed me. I didn't like being touched. A fist to his face. A fist to mine. Flailing limbs. Bodies rolling on the floor. I pinned him to the ground. Punctuating my questions with blows to his filthy face. Hard to answer. He looked terrified. More than a beating warranted. He started to recant something about silence. Something moved behind me. Before I could turn, a shadow spread over me. The skies crashed down, meeting the rising ground. And my lights went out.
I woke up in my hotel room. My head raged violently. I thought of that bottle of booze. Then I remembered that shadow. Who the gently caress had knocked me out? And the locked doors. I had had enough of this place. I grabbed the booze. Might help with the throbbing head. I had to find that guy. He knew what was going on. Less anger this time though. I didn't know where I was going. The port probably.
Luck was still with me. After hardly any time, I saw that scumbag. Obviously trying to avoid my attention. I shouted to him. Terror on his face. I assured him there'd be no violence. I asked questions. He said nothing. Looking away from me like the others had done before. This didn't go down well. I somewhat recanted my promise. Hit him hard enough he fell to the ground. But this time he had no fight in him. He got up and ran. I chased him. Took a lifetime and two burst lungs to catch him. Surprisingly sprightly. No matter how much I tried. Not a sound. And then a shadow. gently caress! No lights.
Hotel room again. I went straight to the port this time. I'd take my chances back on Oppenus. 4201 above the doors. How'd it ever get to zero if it only went up? It didn't matter. I was going to find a back door. Use some of those skills I'd put to use back home. But before I even started looking for cracks, a guy out of breath ran up to me. Started reeling off information. No greetings. No questions. He barely breathed while reciting from something in his hand. I didn't take any of it in. He dashed towards me and passed the tablet to me. Firmly. The tablet was cold. Some kind of stone. I asked a plethora of questions, but he only answered one.
"The shadows know everything."
And with that he ran off. He shouted something as he fled. Sounded like good luck. I read the tablet. A lot of junk about taking a vow of silence. No non-verbal communication. To make that red number go down faster. I knew I had to find someone to give this tablet to. Or else find a way onto one of those shuttles. I'm not one for orders. I picked up a rock and started smashing the doors. Not a single crack.
|# ? May 14, 2018 07:40|
I'm gonna have to eat my toxx, sorry y'all. I've been working on my final projects for the last thirteen hours or so. See everyone when I get around to rebuying.
|# ? May 14, 2018 10:40|
Flash rule: Buffalo, by Stump
Yesterday I had the first real conversation I’ve had in thirty years. Both Oren and I were well out of practice, of course, apart from a few short radio conversations. We exchanged ideas and opinions, indulged our nostalgia for the way things used to be, and discussed our hopes for the future. Then Oren offered a toast.
I shot him in the chest rather than raising my glass.
Yesterday I had the last real conversation I expect to have in my lifetime.
* * *
“It's been a pleasure to carbon mice Gibraltar. Fix bottom pulp surrender.”
That was how it started, for me. Talking with one of my students, in the dead week between final exams and the posting of grades. One minute we were talking, the next he was spewing unintelligible word salad.
Two hypotheses presented themselves immediately. Either Mr. Rutherford was suffering some kind of brain disorder, or I was. I certainly thought I was saying sensible things like “We should get you to the infirmary immediately,” but if it was my stroke or whatever I'd think that, wouldn't I? Luckily, I devised a quick test. I pulled out my phone and told it to call my voicemail. Success. My words were comprehensible to the machine, and its to me as well. We headed toward the infirmary. We weren't alone, joined by other students and teachers and staff in a growing, babbling throng, and if the medical personnel had any ideas they were unable to communicate them.
* * *
Oren and I talked often about what caused it, over generator-powered ham radio, exhausting the topic before we thought about meeting in person. Neither of us were inclined to religious explanations, however powerful they might be. He suggested some kind of virus, but it spread far too quickly and universally for anything like that. I thought it must be some kind of weapon, but decades on and no armies marched on to conquer or seize wealth. We settled on technological accident as the most likely, some attempt to study the mind with bleeding edge nanotechnology gone horribly wrong. Behind that, some kind of ecological or neo-romantic nihilist terror attack, deliberate use of the same sort of tech. Or possibly aliens, which as far as I'm concerned is just the religious option by a different name.
* * *
Those early days were a time of panic and despair. We did better than most places. A small college town surrounded by farmland, we were very lucky. The cities starved, and burned, and fell to fighting neighbor against neighbor. We muddled through.
The other people of Greenfork weren't any less intelligent than before. They all had lost the ability to process language, but they kept every other skill. Farmers could still plant and sow, chefs could cook, tailors could make clothes. At least those strong enough in their fields not to be completely dependent on almanacs and recipe books and patterns.
The most difficult thing was managing an economy. I worried about that, during those early weeks, learning that I was the only person in town immune to the effect, but the problem solved itself. People just pretended that it still worked, passing any plastic card through unpowered readers and or swapping bills and coins at random, and accepting it as payment, and it somehow worked, well enough. Everyone ate, kept warm and safe.
I was a professor of chemistry, before. After, I seemed to study everything but, as the only person who had any use for the library other than as a source of kindling. I studied linguistics first, learning the theoretical side. I recorded the words people were saying, writing them down, analyzing for patterns. I found nothing. No grammar, no deep structure. I returned to the field a few times, repeating the experiment. There were children born after the effect. They picked up the randomized vocabulary of their parents, or the deliberate speech I could give, and had no trouble learning the words, but they, too, were forming no grammar, conveying no meaning, just picking up words like a mimicking bird.
Mostly I studied practical things. How to repair things as they broke, how to use older tools, and passed the knowledge down. Without words, by showing.
* * *
“Have you heard of any others?” I asked Oren, in our first conversation. There was a long pause of radio silence.
“One,” he said. “Carla. I found her early on.” There was another long pause. “She was immune, could still speak, but those early days must have damaged her more than I could tell. She, ah, she smothered our daughter then killed herself.”
“I'm so sorry,” I said.
“It was nearly twenty years ago, Peter,” he said. “The wound isn't fresh, but sometimes it still aches.”
* * *
A few years ago I started traveling more. I had a list of supplies we needed and another of likely places, things to get while I could still keep a truck running on biofuel. I traveled armed, in case the local communities shot strangers on sight. I didn't have to shoot anyone, though. My target sites were fully abandoned by then.
I found the radio set on one of those trips. I indulged myself, feeding it precious fuel to listen and speak. There were others on the air, bouncing meaningless words off the ionosphere in the vain hope that someone out there spoke their private language. I admired their persistence, but nearly gave up on the idea of hearing another voice again, until I found Oren's channel.
* * *
“Tell me, Peter,” said Orin, after a brief tour of his homestead, “How has your, ah, romantic life been, since...” I flushed a little. “If you don't mind me asking.”
I did mind, but answered anyhow. I'd had my share of lovers, since. Always as the pursued. No way to tell if they were grateful for assistance rendered or hoping to have children who had my abilities, my immunity. I told him as much.
“No, it will be your grandchildren,” said Oren. “The gene is recessive.”
“You seem certain,” I said.
“I am. My daughter. Before Carla, ah. Before that she spoke. Called for her mama and her papa. And that has a lot to do with why I wanted you to come here.”
“What's that?” I said, keeping a neutral tone.
“To make a contract. To exchange daughters. Mine will join your harem, and the other way around. With a parent and a grandparent with the gene twice as many will inherit it. I mean, I could have bred them myself, but with you I can avoid inbreeding.” He glowed with enthusiasm. “You and me, the patriarchs of a new line of real humans.”
That was the moment I decided to kill him. In my mind's eye I saw Carla, hearing her daughter's voice and realizing the brood-mare fate Oren had planned for the both of them. Was their relationship ever consenting at all? I saw no limits to what Oren was capable of, in that moment.
* * *
I don't know how narrow my escape was, if the people of Oren's town were loyal enough to him to seek vengeance. I like to think Greenfork would, in reversed circumstances. I considered trying to find and bring some of Oren's children back with me, to try and matchmake with my own, but with no way to negotiate the travel it would have been too much like kidnapping. So there's little chance of a speaker being born any time soon. In two generations, or three, or ten, maybe the gene will spread widely enough for a group of children to reinvent language out of the fossilized words and syllables. Or maybe whatever agent is doing this will mutate into a less potent form. Either way, I can only imagine how strange they will find our texts, our language built from their words but each with a different meaning.
|# ? May 14, 2018 11:06|
Skin Diving (1,700 words)
The first thing people noticed about Baek was how tall she was. She'd been taller than all the girls in her graduating class, and even most of the boys. They used to pull her hair to bring her down to their level. After she cut it, they told her she looked like a boy, and Baek became Baek-hyeon. Older Brother.
"I see, I see," some would say, "But that must have been difficult."
"No," she'd reply. “It wasn’t.”
Her only ally had been another girl named Ae-jong. Ae-jong was short and round and powerful. She wanted to become a police officer. She'd tell Baek about sneaking out of bed to watch the serials late at night. "And then he'd say something cool like, 'This is justice.'" She'd point her finger like a gun, eyes narrowed. It always made Baek smile. "Being a cop is the coolest thing in the world."
"It sounds cool."
"You should try it. Say it, 'This is justice.'"
"'This is justice.'"
"Lower your voice!"
"’This is justice.’" She narrowed her eyes.
"Ahh, so cool Baek-hyeon. You should become a detective!"
It was alright when Ae-jong called her Baek-hyeon. Everything Ae-jong said, she said with love.
It was nevertheless a surprise when Ae-jong texted her out of the blue, eight years on. They'd gone their separate ways, gone to different colleges. Baek managed a bookshop. Ae-jong worked for the post office. They were always busy.
Baek-hyeon! Baek-hyeon! I need your help. ㅇㅅㅇ;; I know it's been awhile but I'm invited to a mixer. I only know one other person. ㅋ_ㅋ Please, please come so I don't have to be alone! ~3~
Hooray! ^보^ I'll let everyone know Baek-hyeon will be there!
The restaurant where the mixer was being held was on the other end of town, an hour by subway. Baek was greeted by the rain upon leaving the underground. She held her pea coat close, her umbrella drawn in defense mode. Salvation stood four blocks south, two blocks east. Ae-jong waited faithfully outside.
"Baek-hyeon! Baek-hyeon! I'm so glad you made it."
"I'm sorry I'm late."
"It's fine, it's fine. Oh, but Baek-hyeon, look at you! You look so cool in that coat. So handsome! I still think you should become a detective."
The two embraced beneath the awning.
It was a seafood restaurant famous - "World famous," the manager claimed - for its cuttlefish curry. Baek had first heard of it that afternoon. Ae-jong brought her inside and introduced her to group. "This is Baek-hyeon," she announced with triumph. "It's been a little while but we're still good friends."
Baek was welcomed to the group warmly enough. She folded her coat and held it close. She sat down with Ae-jong, who began to whisper.
"Okay, so, first we-
"I know what a mixer is, Ae-jong."
"Ah, that's so like you. Well then." She pushed her seat back and made a complicated gesture. "If I do this, it means 'Come rescue me,' okay?"
Baek nodded. Ae-jong left, and was replaced by a man. He wore a simple suit, a bit frayed at the sleeves, and a thin mustache like an old movie star.
“So,” he said, “You must be the legendary Baek-hyeon.”
She hesitated a moment. “Just Baek,” she said.
“A nickname then?” He gave her a somber smile. “That would explain it. Do you mind if I take a seat?”
“Do you have a name?”
“Oh, of course, where are my manners. My name is Yong-joon. No nicknames I’m afraid, or well, none that stuck.”
“Take a seat, Yong-joon.” She gestured across the table.
Yong-joon sat down, made himself comfortable. He smoothed out the wrinkles in his suit. Baek sat perfectly still throughout the procedure. She spoke only after she sensed he was finished.
“What does it explain?”
“Baek-hyeon. My nickname.”
“Ah.” Yong-joon steepled his hands. “A friend of mine invited me. Said a friend of his, a co-worker, was inviting an old friend of hers: Baek-hyeon. ‘Interested in meeting guys,’ she asked when pressed, though she left out the other particulars.”
“I… oh.” Her eyes betrayed her dawning comprehension. She let out a muted laugh, a murmur. “That does sound like her.”
Yong-joon laughed as well.
“In any case,” she said, “I apologise for the mistake.”
“It’s fine, really. It’s fine, it’s fine.” He looked down at his shoes, then back at her. “Though since I’m here, since we’re talking, how did you get that nickname?”
“I think you can guess,” she said. Yong-joon looked her over.
“Well, I suppose you are a bit,” he searched for a word, “Handsome. If I can say that.”
“You can say that.”
“Then I do. And you are, if I can say that as a compliment.”
“Then I will.” He smiled.
Baek nodded. “I had my growth spurt early in school. I towered over the other girls and boys. Even after they caught up I was still taller than most of them. They used to pull my hair so I had it cut. I had a boyish face so they called me Baek-hyeon.”
Yong-joon’s expression sobered over the course of her explanation. “How terrible. I’m sorry for using it so lightly.”
“It’s fine.” Baek poured a glass of water for herself and her partner. “Ae-jong uses it with love. You are the same kind of person as Ae-jong. You don’t say anything maliciously.”
“But it must have been difficult.”
“No.” She extended a glass to him. “It wasn’t.”
“Hmph.” He accepted the glass. “Not sure I believe that.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
“No,” he said. He held the glass by the lip and swirled its contents. “But I’m...familiar with that sort of thing. It’s never easy. You clearly withstood it, but even so.”
Baek leaned back and studied the ceiling. Someone had gone to great lengths to illustrate the various sea creatures served in this shop. In their natural environment, of course. Before they’d been plucked from the sea and cooked and grilled and served on a platter. Her eyes settled on a cluster of crabs on the far side.
“Every year my family always goes north to visit my grandfather. He lives by himself in a house by the sea. He takes people skin diving off the coast. He takes us for free.”
Baek pointed at the crabs on the ceiling. Yong-joon glanced over his shoulder. The waiter had just arrived to take everyone’s orders, starting with those farthest away.
“Skin diving,” he said, “And that is?” He took a drink.
He stopped and stared, mid-sip, then coughed.
“Joking,” she added. She slipped in a half-second smile. Yong-joon beat his fist against his chest and grabbed a napkin. “You go snorkeling in just your suit,” she said. “You dive underwater when you see something interesting. We used to dive down and collect crabs. Grandfather would take them and make us gejang for dinner.”
“Sounds like,” Yong-joon wiped his mouth, “Sounds like a good time.”
“It is,” Baek said. The waiter approached and the two took a minute to order. After he was gone, she continued. “When you go skin diving you have to hold your breath. It feels like drowning when you’re just starting out. You get better over time. You get used to it.”
“I see, I see.”
“I learned how to hold my breath. I learned how to pace myself. The important thing is not to panic. If you remain calm it becomes quite easy. All your fears and worries betray you. You have to hold them in until you break the surface. You’ll drown if you don’t.”
Yong-joon scratched his neck. Baek glanced in Ae-jong’s direction. She seemed to be having fun talking with her partner.
“So.” Yong-joon refilled his glass. “Your diving expeditions gave you an edge, then?”
“I’ve been diving longer than I’ve been called Baek-hyeon. Longer than I’ve been tall. You learn,” she thought for a moment, “You learn to recognize the signs of drowning once it’s already happened to you once before.”
“So it wasn’t especially difficult, then.”
“No,” she said, “No more than skin diving.”
The two chatted a bit more before the food came. Yong-joon asked if she wanted him to switch out, to meet with someone else since he wasn’t really interested. She said he could stay or go as he wished. “I don’t really know anyone here other than Ae-jong. I only showed up to lend her my support.”
“And I only showed up to meet you, or who I thought you were.” Yong-joon shook his head and smiled. “Well, we got a good conversation out of it, at least.” He reached over and handed her a pair of chopsticks.
“Warm food and company is always welcome on a rainy day.”
Baek said a silent prayer, then snapped her chopsticks. Yong-joon followed suit.
“Hmm?” Yong-joon froze, a single shrimp tempura inches from his mouth.
“Have you had a difficult time of it?”
Yong-joon lowered his gaze, then popped the shrimp into his mouth.
“No,” he said at last. “No more so than skin diving, though I lacked a family willing to teach me.”
Once the meal was complete, the two parted ways. “I’ll see you around,” Yong-joon said. He gave her a little salute.
“I told you where I work. I expect to see you in there.”
“Ha ha, well, if I can make the time to go downtown, I’ll see what I can do.”
He turned his back to her.
“You’re a good person Yong-joon.”
Yong-joon smiled and departed. Baek had a few minutes to herself before Ae-jong returned.
“Ah, Baek-hyeon, what a waste, what a waste. They all seemed nice but nobody wanted to make plans. Sorry to drag you out all the way out here for nothing.”
“I had a lot of fun,” Baek said.
“Oh? But that guy you were talking to looked awfully suspicious. A real shifty character, for sure. Did you get anything out of him?”
“No.” Baek smiled. “I got something out of me.”
|# ? May 14, 2018 11:58|
Words were never my friend - I grew up with a stutter and, given my unusual appearance, communication was a trial. After long practice I refined my paralanguage skills to such a degree that I didn’t have to talk anymore. Then I met Hiralda and it all went terribly wrong. And, now, I'm a terrorist.
But, wait - back up the truck, beep, beep, beep.
I was living in a tiny bedsit in Finsbury Park, North London, when I first made the decision.
I’d woken up, ten minutes before I had to leave to my dumb pointless warehouse job, with a splitting headache. It was so savage it seemed like one of my bullies had cracked my head with a cold chisel and was pouring spiny seedpods into the cavity. I grasped my skull, finding only the usual greasy already-thinning hair and misshapen bone of my head, but hit it too hard. The slap made my brain bounce off my skull, I’m sure I heard the slosh and flup, and caused a stunning, actinic flash of inner light that transcended words and gave me my first revelation that words were bullshit.
It might have only lasted a few seconds, but its impact was total. As I lay there on my narrow bed, staring at the ceiling, I thought I could see faces pushing at the bumpy white plaster. I could understand everything the faces were saying to me, every twitch of expression and angle of the head carried meaning.
I lay there, a mullet on the sunny dockside just before the mallet on the head, and all the ways in which language had been my enemy played out in a flickering, brutal slideshow. Spaz, retard, enjoyable human being, dipshit, can’t run, can’t talk, grab some oil off his hair for the cooking tonight, oh my god he talked to me quick call the cops, are you an alien, are you normal, why are you scared, it's just a crowbar, are you a loving pussy coward wanker, loving loving loving loving
Anyway, long story short, I decided not to talk any more.
In many ways it was easier. I’d nod and smile and point, and people would assume I had some kind of disability and be kind to me. My job got better if anything, Jez and Bazza my assigned bullies took a couple of months to realise that they weren’t going to get anything out of me no matter how many times they pissed in my water bottle, and backed off. Bazza even seemed a little grateful, as though being a stinkyhole to me had caused him some kind of difficult, necessary soul abrasion and he appreciated me letting it heal over.
I might be giving him too much credit, but he smiled at me one Friday afternoon, like I’d gone from a job to a hobby.
Hiralda started at the warehouse about three weeks after this. I saw her as she came in, the big doors rolling up and leaving her silhouetted in the watery afternoon sunlight. She wasn’t pretty, she smelt like a trucker after a 20 hour drive, and I loved her instantly and totally.
Even if I’d had my words, I don’t know what I would have done. Maybe much the same as what I did, which is catch glances of her as drove the forklift and store them up in my memory, folded up with secret care and packaged in rice paper. She loved to talk, filling the air around her with words.
One day, she talked to me.
“Pony-tail boy, what’s your story?”
I thought she was talking to someone else (bc ugly/mute/stupid) so I kept scanning the box I was on. The handsets were old, and you had to hold them just right - after a moment "Paraffin: Carboy/50l" popped up and I nodded to myself.
“Hey, you. Eusebius.”
I turned round then, of course, mostly because it was odd to hear my name. It’s a name that abbreviates well, even compellingly - mostly to words that are short and horrid. There was something about the way she said it, in her scottish brogue, caressing the syllables.
She leant back in her forklift. “I knew you weren’t deaf. How’s your day?” Her face had no trace of viciousness, it was open like a window on a spring day.
I opened my mouth, discarding inside my head the lifelong commitment I’d made on that cold narrow bed. Nothing came out.
She looked behind her, then pulled out a tobacco pouch and extracted the papers. “I don’t bite. Jez said you were a dumb weirdo, and that’s enough of an introduction. How long have you been here?”
I formed the words with my mouth and pushed air out it, nice, normal words like people liked to speak to each other. It made a hissing sound. I could feel my face reddening with the effort.
She finished her durrie, inspected it, and tucked it behind her ear. Then she looked back at me. “Can you talk at all?”
I nodded. My face was hot, a bristling behind my eyes. I heard a chuckle behind me and Bazza walked past, patting me on the head.
"Up for a pint after work, hen?" His voice had the creamy satisfaction of the man who would never be lost for words to say.
She looked at me for another moment, then shrugged and spun the forklift around. "Sure, why not. Butcher's Dog?"
I looked at them go, scanner sweaty in my shaking hand.
Later that night I was panting, muscles sore after heaving seven fifty litre carboys of liquid paraffin down the narrow stairs that led to the cellar of the Butcher's Dog. I'd jimmied it open with a crowbar and in retrospect I wish they'd heard the noise but the craic was good, the band was playing, the lovely normal nice people were having their nice normal lovely lives and I was out the back, wordless, with a single gesture to explain myself.
I flicked the lighter and dropped it on the puddle of liquid. The woof of flame took my eyebrows off and knocked me back, and the Police found me a couple of days later, crying.
I should say that I don't know why I did it but I do. We're not really people, us outskirts huggers, discards, rejects. We can make our accommodations and change our language but it will always seep through.
The paraffin is always pooling around our feet, one drip at a time, waiting for the warm word of fire to bring it to life.
|# ? May 14, 2018 12:00|
Submissions are closed!
|# ? May 14, 2018 12:05|
Interprompt: why the long face?
239 words exactly
|# ? May 14, 2018 12:43|
Interprompt: why the long face?
My sister hit puberty. She got breasts. My brother hit puberty. He stank like pee all the time. When I hit puberty my cranium elongated.
Every two weeks I needed my skull cut down and my scalp stitched up. It cost my parents a fortune. My sister couldn’t get a training bra and my brother couldn’t get deodorant.
My siblings took me out to the woods when my parents were drinking. They'd found a bunker from the Cold War. It smelled like pool chemicals and oatmeal. They locked the hatch when I was down there.
It wasn’t just the money, it was my face. It didn't grow fast enough for my skull. My skin got so tight my eyelids would tear, my nose flattened, my lips stretched so far back I couldn’t speak.
My parents couldn’t keep up with the surgeries. Eventually, my real face would show. It was a monument to unreasonable mutation, birth as a lottery. You see it, you see a kid with Harlequin Syndrome, a kitten with its bowels hanging out, a generation of bees that spin in endless circles.
It brought tears to my parents, my siblings, the neighbors. Dogs averted their eyes, birds stopped singing. That proved it wasn’t just ugliness.
I'm fine with this. I couldn't stand to see it myself. You never realize how many things can act as a mirror until you try to avoid your own reflection.
|# ? May 14, 2018 15:13|
My sister hit puberty. She got breasts. My brother hit puberty. He stank like pee all the time. When I hit puberty my cranium elongated.
|# ? May 14, 2018 15:26|
|# ? May 14, 2018 16:22|
My sister hit puberty. She got breasts. My brother hit puberty. He stank like pee all the time. When I hit puberty my cranium elongated.
|# ? May 14, 2018 17:07|
My sister hit puberty. She got breasts. My brother hit puberty. He stank like pee all the time. When I hit puberty my cranium elongated.
Interprompt winner 2018
|# ? May 14, 2018 21:32|
WEEK 301 JUDGMENT
I love stories about people learning to communicate with each other. People who feel like they can’t get through to each other, who have to muscle through the frustration of not being understood, who find through patience and ingenuity that they can make a connection after all. You can do it in any genre and it helps you develop your characters, because you have to understand what they need to convey.
Maybe I didn’t do a great job communicating that, because this week’s batch of stories weren’t very good, and most of them featured conflicts that weren’t solved or that solved themselves, absent any action from the protagonist. Especially egregious offenders, and this week’s dishonorable mentions are:
Yoruichi’s “Come With Me”, which features an unexplained, spontaneously combusting couch, and a protagonist whose problems are solved without her doing anything;
and Tayacan’s ”Signs of Life”, in which the characters are bored for most of the plot and in which the story steers right into an anti-climax that doesn’t resolve the conflict.
The loss this week goes to Lazy Beggar, whose ”Unsolicited Silence” features an extremely irritating, ignorant, belligerent protagonist who stumbles through the world, banging on doors and yelling at people until the final reveal that the world follows a strict code for shadowy reasons. Even though the setting had some character, the sheer unpleasantness of the protagonist (and his narration) left a bad taste in our mouths.
But out of this crop of mediocrity came one story that moved both of the judges, made us feel things, and warmed our hearts. We instantly agreed that this story should get the win this week. That win goes to Antivehicular, for her excellent “After the Sundering,” which hit the right notes of grief, loneliness, and catharsis.
Antivehicular, the throne is yours.
|# ? May 15, 2018 01:53|
also hey y'all we only had two judges this week, so if you're able to write a few crits, I think folks would definitely appreciate that!
to post my crits by Friday night
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:01|
Week CCCII: Invisible Bartertowns
For this week, I'd like you to write fiction pieces creating and describing fictional settings. The setting, and its geography and/or society, should be the focus of your story; think Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and Jorge Luis Borges's "The Lottery in Babylon." Your setting can be realistic or fantastic, gritty or wondrous, densely populated or empty; what I'm looking for is evocative prose making an imaginary place feel real.
For this week, traditional narratives are optional. You're welcome to have characters and plots as you see fit, but spending a lot of the word count on a standard "someone wants something and tries to get it / faces a conflict" story may not be the best choice. If you've ever wanted to write a Thunderdome story where nothing happens and get away with it, this is your week! Just, y'know, hit the prompt.
No erotica, fanfiction, political screeds, Google Docs, or quote tags/other archive-breaking stuff.
Flash rules are available upon request and will be photographs of real-world geographical features, to use as inspiration.
Word Count: 1500 words
Signups Close: Friday, May 18th, 11:59 PM Pacific
Submissions Close: Sunday, May 20th, 11:59 PM Pacific
Jay W. Friks
2. Solitair (flash rule image)
3. Thranguy (flash rule image)
6. Captain_Person (flash rule image)
7. Schneider Heim
8. Sham bam bamina! (flash rule image)
11. Flesnolk (flash rule image)
13. Lazy Beggar
14. flerp (flash rule image)
15. Bad Seafood
17. Uranium Phoenix
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at May 19, 2018 around 08:35
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:13|
I volunteer to judge if you'll have me.
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:17|
Screw it. I'm in.
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:19|
Also in. Flash me.
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:21|
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:27|
|# ? Sep 18, 2018 22:09|
Also in. Flash me.
|# ? May 15, 2018 02:31|