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The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

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

Thread closed for the week


Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit

Grimey Drawer

Week 309 He and She: He Entry

Commissioning a Nigun
1240 Words

If a man should read the Talmud and see only two rabbis arguing about an rear end, he himself is the rear end. - Rav Barkov

Chaim was a problematic student. If I were to liken him to one of the four sons of the Passover Seder which would I choose?

Certainly not the wise son, for Chaim was not gifted. He struggled in his studies and failed to grasp the core concepts of the text.

Perhaps then, the contrary son? Perhaps. But, not quite. While many would look at Chaim and see an instigator, a more trained eye would see that his intention was never to separate himself from Hashem, or the traditions before him. Rather, Chaim possessed a lack of understanding, and this lack of understanding is paramount.

Which leads us to the simple son. Such a moniker seems apt when one discusses Chaim. Alas, it’s not simplicity. There’s something even more profoundly disturbing about Chaim’s case.

Chaim was the son that did not even know how to form a question! He’s the son who needed so much help that I was made to form his questions for him. He was a student of my Mishna course fifteen years ago, and let his tale be a lesson to all of you!

Now, fifteen years ago I didn’t have to compete with what I compete with today. Screens were not a part of the classroom, and thus, I nearly always held the attention of my students. We’d learn and debate the complexities of the text with vigor and rachmannus. And yet, Chaim.

Oh Chaim, what a problem he was! He couldn’t hold focus in class. So often I’d see his attention shift out the window and up towards the sky. And when the class concluded our studies, then, just as we do now, we congregated together and sang our nigun. Join me, my students!

Yi-da-di, da-di-, da-di!
Yi-da-di, da-di-, da-di!
Yi-da-di, da-di-, da-di!

Our wonderful nigun! A celebration of how overwhelmed we are with the joy of attaining knowledge. But Chaim never sang with us. Of course he didn’t, he had nothing to overwhelm his spirit! He claimed no knowledge or understanding of the universe in our studies. It got so that Chaim became one of the first students whom I gave a failing grade to. One day, I stopped him after class and I asked him:

“Chaim, what is it that you stare at when you look up to sky? What is so captivating that it distracts you from your studies?”

His answer is one I will never forget, it told me everything I needed to know, and in hindsight, I should’ve realized right then that his case was a lost one.

“I just wonder sometimes. Mostly about how far the sky goes and how it ends. And what keeps everything in?”

Chaim failed to see that the glory of the word was laid out in the texts before him. The words that the rabbis had written contained the answers to all of his questions, but he had no patience, or grace, for contemplating their nuance. I tried to explain to him:

“Chaim, you can’t expect a wandering mind to find any sort of truth. It’s only through diligent study that you can come to understand the miracles Hashem has created for us.”

But he only looked at me, not knowing how to form a question. Instead, he stated:

“But maybe it wasn’t Hashem. We don’t know that he put the sky where it is.”

It was at this point that I stopped speaking with Chaim. I did not forbid him from my class, but I also refused to entertain such notions. Chaim’s Judaism was dying, and I was loath to be part of its death.

Somehow, despite the failing grades he received from his Judaica classes, he managed to do quite well in his secular ones. He was able to manage his way through high school. I know this because—from a distance—I kept my eye on young Chaim. It wasn’t hard to do, he was in a great many of this school’s clubs, teams, and even on the student government. His ignorance of wisdom, you see, apparently made him an attractive entity to those around him. Oy, the state of the world!

I must now emphasize, in language that I hope you young people understand: Ignorance is not cool! Just because the world turns its back on the tenacious teachings of our forefathers does not exclude, or excuse you from, the righteous path of study!

I wish the story ended here, that Chaim left our humble school and nothing more ever came from him. Unfortunately, that is not so. You may be asking yourselves “Why is Rabbi K telling us this story today?” Well, I received this letter in the mail yesterday. A letter from Chaim. I’d like to read this to you all now:

Dear Rabbi K,

I owe you my life. You are the one who woke me up and handed me everything I needed. For the longest time, I held guilt in my heart as I felt it drift away from Judaism. Faith was a gift given to me by my parents and to leave it behind felt as though I was betraying them.

But then, in class one day, you sat me down and told me to abandon my curiosity, to stop looking at the sky. At that moment, I could no longer call myself a Jew.

Why? Because so long as people like you identify as Jewish, I certainly cannot. It’s quite a shame too, there’s so much beauty in the tradition. The sense of community, support, and what our people have accomplished culturally and societally is remarkable.

I had to leave the faith in order to one day find my own sense of identity and I do hope you’ll find joy in the fact that I have forged a life for myself of which I hold great pride. So much so that--

I think that’s enough for now, my students. That Chaim believed that I would rejoice in his turning away from Hashem was a monumental miscalculation. He mentioned in his letter the beauty of the results of our faith, but not the hard work and commitment it takes to get there. It is for that reason that his mind is so vacant and bereft of piety. For a mind must be willing to toil with the words of Hashem, to wrestle with them, lest the mind withers and dies.

And so, this letter, this blight against our people, should serve as a reminder to all of you:

Stay Jewish. You Must.


The students of Rabbi K’s class filed out after the lecture. Except for Ori, the shy student who sat next to the window in the back. After the room cleared, he rose out of his chair and shuffled over to the garbage can.

He reached in and withdrew the letter. Rabbi K's reading of it was honest, but he left out the ending…

so much so that through the death of my faith emerged a curious mind. A mind that the love of my life found attractive, and a mind that graduated from a university, with honors. I am overwhelmed, Rabbi K, with the results of my life, so much so that I find myself singing every now and then:

Yi-da-di, da-di-, da-di!
Yi-da-di, da-di-, da-di!
Yi-da-di, da-di-, da-di!

Mar 21, 2010

I got it wrong. Look, I'm well aware I got it wrong and uh, I got it wrong.

Submission deadline in about 10 hours.

Jan 20, 2012

Unlockable Ben

Week 308: Codex Crits

(Disclaimer--in the interest of time, I didn't research any of the planes that were the prompts for these stories, so the crits are focused entirely on how I experienced your story by itself, so apologies if some of the crits are invalidated based on whatever wackiness you felt the prompt required of you or whatever.)

Yoruichi - Searching for the Bottom of the Sea

I admit I’m having trouble drawing conclusions about this one. I thought the technical aspects of the writing were fine, but I had no real connection to these characters, no clear sense of their relationship, and only broadly understood what Darren wanted (or didn’t want). The water imagery itself was fine, though it felt somewhat disconnected from the story being told. I also have no idea why Darren has the quirks he has. Why doesn’t he like talking? Why is it important that I know that about him? It’s an aspect that should tell me a lot about the character, but it was ambiguous enough that I didn’t glean much from the quirk.

Felime - Last Breath

Some really strong imagery at the top here, and I really enjoyed some of the lyrical language at the beginning, enough that I was reading it out loud just to savor it a bit. I feel like the strength of the language trailed off a bit as the story progressed, though it was never outright bad. There were a couple of grammatical and spelling mistakes that I’m sure you’re aware of at this point, I only mention them because they did pull me out of the text at inopportune times. Disclaimer here: I don’t enjoy descriptions of fights or combat in writing, I nearly always find it tedious. While this wasn’t outright tedious, it also didn’t captivate me at all, and I found myself skimming some of the moment-to-moment accounting of moves, charges, retreats, etc. I think the fight section in particular is one where the story would have benefitted from more of the lyrical and figurative language that was so strong at the top. We don’t need to get a sense of how the fight plays out in a literal sense, so long as you can convey the feeling and stakes, and with limited word count I think going abstract gets you more for less.

Apophenium - Sacrosanct

I liked the central conceit of this story, but I really wanted more specificity. It felt like you were going for a less formal, more brief style of writing, like it was being dictated to a log or written in a journal. In theory, I could see that approach offering a unique voice to the story, but in practice I think it keeps the reader at arm’s-length and deprives us of context. In general, I felt like there wasn’t enough here. The moments throughout where you used dashes to break up the text were the worst offenders, but there were a number of other moments where it felt as though you wanted us to infer something about the world, the character, the aliens, or all of the above through context, but I never felt like I had a strong enough sense of what was going on or what the stakes were to draw my own conclusions about the events or imagery.

IronicTwist - The Trap Card

While I wasn’t crazy about this one, I’m also not certain why it lost. As I said above, I didn’t really read up on the plains so I guess maybe there’s something I’m missing there. The language itself was fine, functional, and at times more vivid than any of the pieces to precede yours this week. As for the actual story being told, I didn’t really follow what was going on. I have no idea what Newt is or what their importance to the story is. I also don’t really know what the narrator is, but I think for the sake of this story that’s probably okay. I also get that we’re seeing things from the eyes of a character in MtG or something like it, but the actual repeating section felt contrived and didn’t give me a clear sense of what was happening or what realization the narrator actually came to. Overall I felt it was technically sound, but rambling and didn’t have a clear purpose, and I ended up feeling like I was missing a joke somewhere in there.

SurreptitiousMuffin - Canto III

Honestly I don’t have a lot of crit to offer on this one because it’s a bit beyond my ability as a writer to say what could have improved. Excellent language, and you managed something that gets missed a lot in TD: you tell us a lot about the narrator by focusing on how they feel and react to events and characters. I got a clear sense of this narrator without really explicitly being told much about them. Knowing how they felt about their father, how they first tried to adjust to his wrath, then later how they resented it, told me plenty to fit context around the story as a whole. My only quibble, I guess, is that I feel the “learned helplessness” section could have been tied into the story a little more elegantly. I get what the narrator is saying there, and how it relates to the rest of that paragraph, but it didn’t parse very smoothly the first time I read it. Also this is probably entirely preference, but I’d rather the last two sentences were tied into the paragraph before it. It’s a personal pet peeve for me, I tend to find it less impactful, not more, when writers separate out the “button” at the end of a story like this. YMMV though, obviously!

Antivehicular - Dust

This one has a lot of technobabble. I don’t mean that as a criticism unto itself--technobabble is pretty pervasive throughout sci-fi, and done right, it can convey a sense of complexity, of technology far advanced beyond what we encounter in everyday life without getting into the minutiae of the “science” part of the sci-fi. But I think for the technobabble to work, I needed to be much more invested, right from the start, in who this character was, what he was trying to achieve, what was at risk, etc. I feel like you buried the lede too far into the story. By that point you’d thrown a lot of jargon at me, and without some connection to the story right from the start, it’s easy to let your eyes unfocus and drift past all the terminology, since I wasn’t given the context to understand why it was important, why you were detailing all these things to me. I think the concept is a workable one, but I needed a much, much stronger sense of this character right off the bat, so that any of the sci-fi elements were viewed in the context of what they tell me about him or his situation. As is, they feel like filler that I wasn’t given a reason to care about.

Pham Nuwen - East & West etc etc

This was a fairly solid story overall. I’m from the area you’re talking about here, so I selfishly would have liked to hear more about the landscape and how it’s been affected by whatever catastrophe has happened (in my experience, most people don’t know how utterly featureless and barren most of ND is to begin with). As is, I think some of the setting fell prey to a common issue in flash fiction-- because you gave us a real location, you didn’t take the time to depict it for us. I got a couple of good details (fallen control towers, broken road, cinderblock buildings) but I would have liked more. I also wasn’t clear on the stakes here. Why was it important whether or not there were still nukes at the AFB, beyond them just being nukes? Also the relationship between Anil and Dave (and the other unnamed, functionally unimportant characters) could have been clarified and heightened. You tell us about the tensions between Washington and Pacifica, and establish that the Wind Runners are caught in the middle, but I don’t feel any of that tensions in the interactions. Even the end felt anticlimactic, and honestly was a letdown given I was sort of enjoying the rest of the story. I’m not sure what I’d do in its place, but it didn’t feel like it rose naturally out of everything leading up to it.

UraniumPhoenix - The Realm of Forgetting

I’m not gonna lie, I was low-level confused throughout all of this story. I could track what was happening, how one event led to the next, but I never felt like I could hook into who these people were or why I should care about what was happening to them. The best analogy I can think of is that it was like looking through a stranger’s photo album. I can recognize that there’s conflict and relationships here, but have no investment in them myself. It would have benefitted from a clearer picture of who Cassar was right from the start. I get some of the details (he’s a general of some sort, married politically, etc etc) but I don’t have a sense of who he is beyond a collection of fantasy tropes. Speaking of fantasy tropes, I’d always be hesitant to spend much time on strange placenames and offstage world-building in flash fiction. There’s just not enough time to make me care enough to remember what Estisso is or how it relates to the characters. I’d rather you’d have spent more time on one fundamental thing Cassar was forgetting (his love, maybe?) and tell me who he is through that.

Thranguy - Hide and Seek

I love this concept. I haven’t encountered anything like it, and I kinda want more. Overall this was a very solid story for me, I felt like I had a good sense of place and was engaged throughout the whole story. There were a couple of clunky phrasings and sentence constructions here and there, but it wasn’t enough to stop things dead in their tracks. I also would have liked a little better sense of who the narrator was. They came across a little distant and bland, which resulted in the ending not having quite the punch it could have, and even made the ending a little more predictable than I think it should have been. If I’d been more invested in the narrator, I think the ending might have felt inevitable, but in a way that was a little more horrifying in a way that would have been really interesting to read.

Lippincott - Skulls and Beetles

This one was interesting and cute. I liked the world you built here, and felt like I had a strong sense of it as the story progressed. I also felt like I got a feel for who Templeton was over the story, though he felt a little thin at the top so it was hard to really invest in the language initially. Honestly, I felt like the actual writing was a bit ponderous throughout, and occasionally a bit oddly constructed, in a way that slowed to a crawl what should have been a pretty breezy and engaging story. I do like the button at the end of the story, though. I think you’ve keyed into something here that sometimes gets overlooked in flash fiction: your conflict doesn’t need to be huge or intensely personal or monumental stakes, it just needs to be interesting enough to carry us through 1000+ words and feel satisfied at the end.

Kaishai - With Form, and Void

I honestly don’t have much to say about this one, in large part because I was so engaged I breezed through it without paying much attention to the minutiae. I thought it was great, the story was clear and well-presented, it had a satisfying arc, I related to Gerald in his strangeness but also in what made him human. I loved the last line, also very much liked “God is in the void too.” Well done.

cptn_dr - Just Like Clockwork

Some good descriptive language here. I had a vivid picture of what was going on, and it didn’t feel ponderous or overwrought, which is often an issue when people dive hard into fantasy in TD. I liked the concept in and of itself, but I think I would have appreciated more conflict. As is, the story just sort of retells a sequence of events, how she gets from casting the spell to the effect it has on the other wizard, but at no point did I feel like there was a chance she might not succeed or that she was being opposed somehow, which undercuts the stakes you set up in talking about the risks of her failure earlier in the story. My only other complaint is that there were a lot of dropped words, unnecessary words, and grammatical mistakes throughout this story, enough that it really hurt my engagement while reading it. This really needed a proofread in a way none of the other stories this week have had a problem with.

Fuschia tude - Living with Demons

I like the core concept of this story. I also like the ambiguity of what’s going on-- is Victor actually hearing voices, is this all something he imagined and is just a troubled kid? I’m glad you didn’t spell that out for me. I do have an issue with how the story sort of aimlessly drifts between third and first person. I can recognize it’s intended to give the story an ethereal, unmoored feeling, but all it really accomplishes is alienating and distancing me as a reader. The line breaks and huge time span don’t help with this either. Not to say that it’s impossible to do a huge span of time in flash fiction, but I feel like I’d need to see where Victor ended up to have context for why the earlier events were important. As is, the last section just feels like I missed out on a ton of exposition. Why is he now naming inanimate objects? What’s the importance of Tommy, and how is it different from anything else? What is this feather and why should I give a drat? Overall I felt like Victor was a little shapeless, as well. Not a bad idea for a story, but it felt a bit like there was too much crammed in and needed some tightening up.

Benny Profane - The Gift

This one was pretty well written. Good handle on the language, and I enjoyed the vivid, clear descriptive language used throughout. Mostly what I felt it was missing was stakes. Who are these people? Why is what’s happening in this machine world a problem? What’s the blue and why does it matter? Who is Malok? All of the answers are hinted at, danced around, but never really addressed or implied in a way that made me feel engaged in what was happening. Also I feel like I have a better sense of who Jala is as a character than I do of Malok just from their brief interactions and your description of her.

Chuf - Wretch

Overall pretty strong writing. Good handle on language, clear description and sequence of events, etc. I didn’t feel like I had any sense of who these characters were or why they were important, and somehow it felt like a lot less happened in the span of the story than should have. The story as a whole felt a bit like it’s the cold-open prologue to a fantasy story. In that context, I’d just go with it, knowing what’s going on and who these people are will either be explained or contextualized in a way that means I don’t need specifics. But as a standalone story, I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot here. It wasn’t a bad story, per se, but I feel like there could have been more of an arc, and more reason for me to be interested in these characters and their fight.

Sebmojo - Punishment Duty

I didn’t care for this one, sorry. The writing as a whole felt too jerky to me, and often committed to figurative language that didn’t really make sense or tried to reach too far to make a connection. I also didn’t have a clear sense of what was happening, or why I should be invested in it. I think there’s a kernel of something really interesting (to me), but it never really materialized. The ending, in particular, just didn’t do anything for me. This feels like it fell victim to the problem a lot of flash fiction has, where the ideas are all there but the connective tissue that makes it into a single, cohesive arc or plot or whatever you want to call it either got cut out or wasn’t there in the first place. There were a lot of word choices and phrasings throughout that felt weird and contrived to me as well. It also could have used another proofread.

Bad Seafood - Where the Desert Meets the Sea

Great story, well written. This felt like a complete thought, and was well constructed. I liked some of the imagery quite a bit (“the tears on the boy’s cheeks were indistinguishable from the sweat on his brow”). I don’t have a whole lot to offer in the way of critique on this one. If anything, I think Irving’s dialogue wasn’t quite as consistent or characterful as I would have liked, or at least I’d like even more vivid of a sense of how he spoke, but fundamentally there’s nothing wrong with the dialog as is. Well done.

Mercedes - Gone to Collections

Overall a pretty good story. It kind of fizzles at the end but I’ll chalk that up to this coming in after submissions were cut off. I liked a lot of the descriptive language, and felt some connection to these characters (that sounds lukewarm but it was a real issue for me this week). I also like the pacing of this piece, there was good alternation between dialog and description that made the story breathe in a way that helped it feel more real and engaging. I had a hard time determining if the narrator was the standard third-person faceless narrator, or if it was an actual character in the piece, since there were a couple of “editorialized” descriptions (the last line springs to mind…) that makes me feel like there was a character relating the events in the story and I somehow just missed it. This also could have used a proofread, there was at least one moment where you drifted from past tense to present tense and back again.

Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit

Grimey Drawer

That's some good crittin

Apr 7, 2013

That was a BAD business decision!

Fragile Broken Things
997 words

There’s an angel just outside town, if you know where to look. You have to push through the brush outside the south gate. You’re aiming for the branch of lightning frozen out over the gully. Keep your eyes down and watch your step and eventually you’ll reach the cliff. The rocks are loose here so get down on your hands and knees, and if you’re careful and crawl to the edge and peek over you can see the angel lying at the bottom.

They come and stare at me from time to time. I can hear them long before they stretch their heads out far above me. They gawk at me. I am merely an amusement, something to distract them from their brief lives. Some are scared, or awed. Some are angry, and yell their fury at me until it falls apart.

It doesn’t look anything like what angels are supposed to look like. It’s tall, and pale, and it has wings but no feathers, just these scarred things of flesh sticking out from its back. For as long as anybody can remember it’s never moved. It’s just lain there at the bottom of the gully, like a broken doll.

Man revered us for a time. When Heaven broke open and we were scattered across the Earth we were hailed as saviors, but as the months passed and the world continued to die they turned on us. We were cast out of their cities, and in the wilder lands we were attacked. Our bones were shattered and did not mend. Our wings were plucked and did not regrow. We bled and stained the dirt for years to come.

It looks so alone from up here.

We were left where we fell.

We aren’t supposed to talk about the angel. There’s so much we aren’t allowed to do, and we have to be taught every single one before we’re even allowed to step outside. Too much of a risk we’ll look up at the sky, or step somewhere we shouldn’t. There’s always somebody that doesn’t listen. That helps the rest of us understand soon enough.

How they survive astonishes me. They are such fragile, broken things and yet even as the world dies, as their hardship increases tenfold they thrive. I can hear them singing and playing from here, and I am glad that there is still some beauty.

We try to care for those that don’t listen, but it’s difficult. Some things out there will just hurt you, or kill you if you aren’t careful, but there are things out there that will drive you insane. Sometimes people come back and they just won’t talk, won’t do anything unless you help them. Even in ruins, it seems like Heaven is too much for us to look at. We can only catch glimpses of it instead, reflected in murky puddles.

One day they will die, and they accept this fate with such strength. I envy them this. They are never truly alone, or scared, even with all that this world has stacked against them.

I could only sneak away so often to see it. Too much to keep me busy, and that was when things were good for us. I could spend months away at times.

There was one whose face I recognised. He came more often than any other, although sometimes years would pass before I saw him again. He looked older and more haggard every time.

I tried talking to it once, when I was a lot younger. I didn’t want to yell in case somebody heard me, but I had to raise my voice to carry it far enough into the gully. I was shaking, I was so sure I’d be caught. I’m not even sure what I had planned to say. You can’t exactly ask an angel how it’s day has been.

He spoke to me once. All I did was watch the skies.

I’m not sure it heard me. It just lay there, expressionless. After a while I stopped calling out to it and just lay there, staring down.

I wanted to reply. I wanted to cry out. I wanted to know everything he knew.

I still wish it had replied. It’s so much older than any of us—it must have seen things we can’t even imagine. What the stars looked like, or the moon. We only have stories of them now.

He must have travelled so far.

It must remember so much.

I wish I could see what he can.

I haven’t visited in years. I was angry at it I guess, just lying there and not saying a thing. Weren’t they supposed to help us?

Eventually even he stopped coming. I think he must have died. I hope it was peaceful.

We had to help ourselves instead. Had to do our best to survive without them.

Every time I blink now it feels like years pass.

I must be the only one that remembers where it is now.

Decades, even.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this. I’ll probably just get us both in trouble.

The village nearby must have moved on.

You probably know what I’m thinking.

I close my eyes again and hear a noise.

Please don’t stop me.

I almost miss it, it has been so long.

I can’t just leave it there any longer.

But they are not stopping at the cliff’s edge.

Nothing deserves to be discarded like that.

Someone is climbing down to me.

I should have done this years ago.

I know him.

I hope it isn’t too heavy.

Why has he come?

I hope it’s still there.

He touches my face so gently.

I hope I still remember the way.


The climb down should be easy.

He cannot hope to carry us both out.

Getting back out will be difficult.

He will fall.

But I won’t fall.

He will kill himself.

I’ll get us both out of there.

I promise.

Apr 21, 2010

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

Those Who Would Burn it to the Ground

1380 Words


They shot Joey, in the first week of the rage. Took him right in the chest, so two of us had to carry him off to the hospital where they took out his spleen and patched him up. Three of us away from the gates of their towers, me for a day and Joey and his Trevor for almost a week. The riot was still going when they got out.

. ^ .

The three of us were in The Third Bell. Before. When it started, though we didn't know that at the time. Commemorating the fifth year anniversary of the Greenlaws. Getting drunk on the hardest stuff still legal, spirits only just not pure enough to burn clean.  Toasting to our mutual, absent friend. Raising a glass to my Jenny. And to hope for a winter.

“She's got a bike,” I said. “We've done all the paperwork. They say maybe next year the new desert will be cool enough to cross.” It would have to be the interior. It would be far longer before the storms stopped along the southern coast.

Joey had a million mad schemes for getting around the Greenlaws against travel. Every one of them couldn't work, would only get his sister killed, had gotten other people killed trying. We'd talked through how the roads were broken apart from the interstates, and those were only for trucks, so even if she could buy or build a black market car or motorcycle and fuel it somehow, it still wouldn't work. How nobody could survive stowing away in a truck. This year he was talking balloons, and Trevor and I were breaking to him unfortunate facts about the prevailing winds.

“You gotta get lonely, though. I mean, five years,” he said.

“Six,” I said. She'd been in Galveston on a twelve month contract before. “Sometimes. But we talk every day. And every night, and there's the box.” Which is totally not lonely and pathetic when there's a real person you love on the other end, no matter what Trevor's expression was trying not to say.

There was a cascade of alert tones through the bar. Melina Morse was about to start her livecast for the anniversary. This was a Melina Morse bar. The bartender pressed buttons and her feed replaced the sports highlights on the screens, and the low-key music gave way to her audio.

Melina was on fire, going straight from the Greenlaws celebration into stories about the miracles of science keeping the southern enclaves going, then to the hateful depredations of the Hogriders against the environment and the communities near the fringes of the cities, and on to politics, who to loathe and who to be merely disappointed with. We ate it up, of course, of course, and then it happened.

The glitch.

Melina's face, well, it smoothed out, just a little, while her hair changed as well, defying physics in subtle ways. She looked like a doll, moved like a mannequin being posed by unseen hands, became entirely alien and seemed almost murderous. And she kept on speaking, in her trademark voice but with unnatural cadence, and speaking words that barely made sense at all. “Protocol seven gamma seven nine, respin failed, level morningstar falcon desiccant.” And then the feed cut out.

. ^ .

On the seventh day, the rage became more than a riot. That was the point where the new hate started to outweigh the old.

It's strange how small our differences really were by this point. We liked to compare the other side to the villains of the early century, but the bad ideas died with those generations, were driven off the marketplace of ideas by the emergency council. It wasn't quite as little as which basketball teams’ colors we wore, but the range of dissent allowed under the Greenlaws wasn't that wide.

We were starting to understand what had been done. Melina Morse, like Tanaka Crow and Isaac Everest and the others weren't people at all. They were programs, digital eidolons that didn't just pass the Turing Test but made us all fail it. Advertising turned from dark art to science, targeted manipulation based on genetic algorithms trained to find and push our buttons. A few of us, librarians and a few who studied the sciences but not well enough to be on the inside of the towers, figured it out. We had been sleeping for a long time, but were finally waking up.

Jenny was worried. There weren't riots there. Things were too fragile, everything too dependent on desalination and air conditioning for survival, and there was no way to gather outside for more than a few minutes without passing out from sunstroke. She worried, and made me promise to keep safe.

. ^ .

The enemy didn't use lethal weapons often. They preferred tear gas and tasers and riot shield charges, reserving sniper fire for those who they thought were the ringleaders, so as Joey’s story spread he became a hero, a living martyr to the cause. The movement was lacking for leaders. We were almost drafted into the roles. Joey inspired. Trevor was a thinker. I discovered a few talents of my own. I was good at coordinating between the factions, and I learned I had a nose for informers. We didn't have many, and fewer of the intentional sort. Our rage was genuine. It mostly needed operational security. We had to learn to hold back, talking to anyone outside the cause.

Jenny pretended not to feel betrayed when I shut down talk of our plans, but not very well.

. ^ .

I remember a time with Jenny, just after the Greenlaws passed. When they called it 'the year without a winter' and didn't realize how blindly optimistic they were being. When we decided we were together for the long haul. When I proposed marriage with a virtual ring, and when she said yes. When we brought our boxes out of our storage closets and used them, not as a novelty but as a life-like of intimacy. When we planned our online wedding in the remote-connected afterglow.

I think, I hope, I have to believe that it was really her, then.

I'm almost certain she was dead before our wedding day.

. ^ .

We broke through their lines, stormed the tower, thinking we could not be any more enraged. Then we interrogated the puppeteers, and they had one more way to hurt us up their sleeves. They told us the truth.

People aren't quite as easy to manipulate as we first thought. A few wide-targeted thought leaders could broadly hack human behavior, but to smooth down the outliers took a narrower focus. We learned that almost a third of the people we hadn't ever met in person weren't real, were tools designed to evoke responses. A third, including everyone south of Virginia when the Greenlaws went down.

“We tried to keep the enclaves going,” said the faceless bureaucrat who decided which politicians would rise or fall. “But we couldn't. Temperatures rose faster than the models predicted, and...”

He went on about their political models showing the system couldn't withstand a failure, not with the early, crude levels of control. About taking the opportunity to put trusted voices in nearly everyone's ear. They could fake anything in video and audio and simulated personality. Trevor, in the interrogator's role asked about evacuation. “We considered it,” he said, “But it didn't pass the cost/benefit analysis.”

That's when Joey shot him in the head. He offered the gun to me, but I handed it back. “Just so long as it gets done,” I said.

We're all in the new council, working out the new laws. We gave up travel and global markets and heavy industry to try and save the planet. To save our minds, our will, we'll have to give up more. Computers for sure. Can we trust communication with other cities at all? Some want to go all the way to giving up electricity entirely. Some worry that we'd make easy targets for other nations, on the other side of the new desert or the storm-wracked seas, come finally a winter.

We have a lot of differences to work out, real differences. But now that we've cut the strings of our blind puppeteers I think we'll work something out.

Apr 30, 2006

Make Like A Tree
1092 words

My sister Suzanne and I went down to the leaf! arboretum to see her ex-girlfriend, Jordan, who’s now a dogwood in full flower. According to the signs posted along the perimeter, we’re not allowed to smoke in the arboretum, but Suzanne rolled me a cigarette and I lit it anyway. I figure I was doing Jordan a favor. Now that she was a plant, she couldn’t chain smoke like she did in flesh-life. She’d decided to go tree before the smoke could kill her -- now, I bet the carbon monoxide was even good for her.

I hadn’t been to the arboretum for a couple months, since our Uncle Chester became our Uncle Chestnut, and now the place was even thicker and denser. A few years ago, the leaf! complex was just one vacant lot with a couple of maple trees. Now they’d torn down all the abandoned tenement buildings, thrown down some turf, and made the whole thing into an urban oasis, teeming with trees and shrubs (the new budget option.)

“You ever think about signing up?” I asked Suzanne, blowing smoke up into the smog-yellowed sky.

“Never,” she said. “The whole thing’s bullshit, Amy. I know you know that. A billion dollars and a quirky web presence doesn’t give you magic powers. You can’t turn a human into a tree.”

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging. Then I stubbed the cigarette out on Jordan’s bark. “Technology moves so fast these days, and I’ve given up hope of ever understanding what’s possible, or probable, or… well, I’ve given up on knowing what’s happening. I just like the idea, you know? Putting down roots. A simpler life. No obligations.”

“Except for whoever pays the fifty dollars a month for the plot maintenance fee.”

“That’s not my obligation.” All around us, people were visiting their loved ones. A woman in gym clothes had climbed an oak tree, and she sat on a bough with a picnic basket, eating cubes of cheese and staring into the middle distance. An elderly man, his eyes half closed, lay with his back against a pine, mouthing words under his breath. I wondered why Jordan had chosen to go dogwood, a tree that I mostly associated with the inedible berries that pounded inedible goo all over our driveway. Maybe the more picturesque trees were more expensive; I’d seen the leaf! catalogue online, and when I looked at what they charged you to go willow, I thought I’d forget about ever changing kingdoms and going tree at all.

“You know this is all just a metaphor, right?” Suzanne said. She was kicking up dirt at the root of Jordan’s trunk. “As far as I can tell, they just shoot you, dump you in a hole in the ground, and import some tree from Indonesia to cover up your body.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do know that, because you can’t turn a human into a loving plant, and that’s just common sense, and you know that, and Jordan knew that, and so did all of my other friends and family who are also rotting under this astroturf.” She pulled a bag of shag and some rolling papers out of her pocket and fumbled with them, kneeling over Jordan.

“You don’t feel anything from these trees? No shred of humanity inside of them?” I looked at Jordan, towering above me. I didn’t know much about her when she was a person. She’d step back from hugs, deflect kind words with sarcasm, turn away from cameras. And when I looked up at Jordan’s boughs, a gentle wind blew her leaves away from me. I smiled at Suzanne, cocked my head. She spit on the ground.

“No, I don’t, and even if I did, I knew I’d just be deluding myself. But look, you want to delude yourself, and that’s fine, I totally get it, because if you don’t, that means accepting that a corporation is profiting off of mass suicide and no one’s doing poo poo to stop it.”

“You don’t think that’s a little kooky?”

“If you need to swallow that poo poo to keep going, sure, whatever. Just don’t try to convince me to dig in, too.”

She stormed off then, cutting through a strand of conifers, stumbling over a stray root, and disappearing beyond the canopy of a willow tree.


And even when, twenty-four hours later, I got an email from leaf! announcing an “exciting transition for a loved one” with twin photos of Suzanne and a blueberry bush, I wasn’t devastated. I figured she’d gone to the leaf! people, told them she wanted to go tree, just to see what’d actually happen, and when she saw it was harmless, that she’d continue on in a simpler life in an emptying world, she changed her mind. I grieved -- but that’s normal, according to the leaf! website. I’d had to learn the first time, when Dad went tree. Everyone misses the chance to have a conversation with their father, their uncle, their lover. Their sister. Everyone misses the warmth of their skin, the glint in their eyes. But they learn to love the new scents of plantlife, the changes with the seasons, and they grow to appreciate the overwhelming sense of peace that their loved one now experiences every day, save when it frosts over.

But when I went to visit Suzanne, when I took the leaf! buggy (rental cost: $8, one way, a steal) out to her blueberry bush, I started to see the holes in my theory.

Suzanne wouldn’t have changed her mind in a million years, let alone one day.

I pulled out a cigarette from my backpack -- storebought -- and flicked my lighter in front of her bush.

“You mind if I have a cig?” I asked her. “Of course you don’t.”

I felt stupid, sitting in front of her and talking. I knew she’d call me dumb for even trying. So I just sat on the earth in front of her, smoking, thinking about all the ex-people soaking up the carbon all around us. I wondered if she still thought furious plant thoughts, if she still dreamed of the downfall of leaf! and all they stood for.

I took one blueberry from her as I left -- the worst I’d ever had, like vomit, like bile. I kept peering through willow trees all the way back to the street.

Pham Nuwen
Oct 30, 2010

other place


Pham Nuwen fucked around with this message at Aug 13, 2018 around 22:33

Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!

You and Me at the End of the World
1028 words

cptn_dr fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2018 around 00:30

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

The First Day of Peacetime
1317 words
Prompt: He

THE WAR IS OVER, blared the alert screen mounted over Tiff's dining-room table. SIEGE CONDITIONS ARE LIFTED. Tiff hauled herself off the couch in time to see the solid green screen switch to a photo of the Prime Minister signing papers at a table alongside a thin, nervous-looking man in a khaki suit. It had the stiff, stagey feeling of a history-book photo, and Tiff slowly registered that it probably would be one, if the war was really over. There would be history books, and children to read them, and chapters after this one.

Jerzy emerged from the bathroom, brushing dry shampoo out of his hair. "Did that say what I thought it said?"

"It did," said Tiff, propping herself up against a chair as her nerves ran hot and cold in waves. This wasn't supposed to happen. She'd spent fifteen days in the apartment with Jerzy, loving and playing cards and waiting for death, and now death wasn't holding up its end of the bargain. The bile in her throat tasted like trail mix and ration bars.

There was a soft thump from the supply slot under the screen, and Jerzy had the package in his hands before Tiff could find her feet again. Beneath the brown paper was a carefully-wrapped bundle: two army-surplus parkas cushioning a plastic box containing a pair of syringes, the vaccine for the pathogen the government had dumped in the city water supply. Next to them sat two individually-wrapped chocolate cupcakes.

Jerzy set the syringe box on the table. "Well," he said, "guess we'd better get this over with." He opened the box and unfolded the instruction sheet, following each step so methodically that it took Tiff a moment to notice how badly his hands were shaking.

"Are you okay?" Tiff felt a half-joke rise to her throat before she could stop herself, keep her tone concerned. "I wouldn't have thought Mr. T would be so bad with needles."

Jerzy looked up, eyes startled and wounded, and regret hit Tiff in the chest hard and fast. She didn't have any right. She'd seen Jerzy's testosterone injection setup in the bathroom, but he'd never said a word about it. They'd never even really talked, had they? The first four days had been nonstop end-of-the-world sex, before the fatigue and grime had caught up, and after that it was rounds of War and Go Fish between movies on Jerzy's laptop. Stupid and wordless. And before that... he'd just been a beautiful stranger on the subway platform who'd smiled when Tiff grabbed his hand and chose him to be the boy she'd die with. What right did she have to be so familiar with him?

"I'm sorry," she sputtered out. "You know how I am with dumb jokes."

"It's okay," said Jerzy. "It's... I just can't convince myself. How do we know this is going to work? What if it's defective? What if it's just saline?"

"Then we die, I guess? ... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"Tiff," he said, "just breathe." His syringe found a vein and he pressed the plunger down. "And vaccinate yourself. We should go outside. I need to check on my roommates -- see if they made it."

"Of course. Of course." Tiff inhaled, then took the instruction sheet and the remaining syringe. "Half-hour wait after these? Well, I guess that'll give us time for the cupcakes."

Jerzy nodded, half-smiling. "Have a little party."

"A very little party," Tiff replied. "Cupcakes and presents. Merry early Christmas."


The parkas were one-size-fits-all: long and loose on Jerzy, and worse on Tiff, who put on two layers of sweaters just to pad it out. They walked down the empty stairwell to the cavernous lobby, littered with weeks-old abandoned mail, and then stepped outside for the first time in fifteen days. Powdery snow covered everything in thick drifts, broken only by the hurried work of a heavy-treaded snowplow; the entryway to the building was hemmed in by walls of unsullied white two feet high. Tiff had expected confused crowds, or mounds of corpses, but she hadn't expected pristine snow and solitude.

"Almost funny, isn't it?" she said. "It's like a fairy tale out here. It's beautiful."

"Until it melts, anyway," said Jerzy. He was right, she knew. As they walked towards the center of the street, it was easy to pick out the driveways and entryways that the plow hadn't bothered to clear, the ones that led to shelled-out ruins or worse -- and this was just her street, her district, where most of the buildings had survived. Tiff couldn't even think about how bad spring would be, but now she couldn't think about anything else.

"You're right," she said, and swallowed down the laughter she felt building. Why did she always laugh at times like this? But no -- this time it wasn't laughter, it was words. "God, it's all broken. It's over and it's not over. I wish we'd really talked. I always thought I'd have so much to say to my end-of-the-world boy, but it turns out I've got nothing worth sharing. Just bad jokes. I'm sorry, Jerzy. Let's get you home."

"No." Jerzy grabbed her hand, pulled her back off the street and between the walls of snow, and caught her in an embrace. His parka was warm and scratchy against her cheek. "You don't have to have a story. You know why I didn't talk about the T or any of it? Because there's no story there. I told my parents who I was when I was five years old, and they got me to a doctor right away. I started school as a boy. I never had a wrong puberty or a messy coming out or anything like that. I wasn't hiding it from you. There's just nothing to hide."

"Oh," said Tiff. Tears were starting to sting at the corners of her eyes. "You're lucky. I could have lost an arm and my mom would have thought I was faking it to get out of school. She didn't even notice when..."

"When what?"

"When I tried to be anorexic, because I read somewhere it meant you had willpower. I made it three days. I lasted a week as a bulimic, after that, until I was purging in the girls' room before school and some girl pushed a pamphlet under the stall to me. 'Jesus Loves You And Your Baby.' That was enough for me. And that's all I've got for a big deathbed secret. It's stupid. I'm stupid."

"No," said Jerzy again, and Tiff fell silent and let him hold her. Her chest felt hollow, but the air in her lungs was cold and clean. When she found the strength to raise her head again, he released her but kept a firm grip on her hand. "Ready to go?"

"You don't have to take me with you if you don't want to. I'll be okay."

"C'mon. There's a relief office near my place; they'll have hot food and showers. I think we could both use it. Besides, the sooner we check the water..." Jerzy trailed off and cocked his head. "The sooner we know if we're going to die."

"I hope we don't," said Tiff, as they began to walk back towards the road. "I mean it."

"You'd better mean it."

"I do." Tiff squeezed his hand. "I want to tell stories about this, one day."

"To your kids?"

"Oh, to whoever's kids are around. To the pigeons in the park. Do you like pigeons?"

"I could be persuaded," said Jerzy. "Let's go to the park together. First day of spring?"

Spring still wasn't a comfortable thought, but Tiff nodded. "First day of spring. Promise."

"Promise," said Jerzy, and they walked together through the snowy streets. In the distance, the sounds of engines revving and human voices spoke of a comatose city rousing itself. The war was over.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

Word(s) 1,492

“Isn’t this a little excessive?”

My dad is a tired man, living through enough years to be unsurprised but continuously disappointed. He surveys the rabbitry of three hanging wire cages covered by squat roof and the surrounding pen with skeptical grey eyes. He takes another swig of the cheap beer, leaving the green can against his lips as he waits for me to justify the lumber, the time, the presence of livestock in my backyard.

I shrug and respond with an abridged version of the justification penned by Alfred Lewis over a hundred years ago, “Nine meals.” Dad turns and regards me patiently, accustomed to my dramatic pauses. He makes no move to help as I haul another bag of pelletized feed into the barn with a grunt. I set it down at the gate and elaborate.

“Any kind of shortage, they figure most folks will go without nine meals before descending into anarchy. You know, looting, stealing, raping – the whole deal.”

My father has never gone without a meal in his life, but receives this critique on humanity in complete acceptance. He takes another swig of beer, and leans over the dividing fence line. Along the other side, a swarm of rabbits vie for my attention, crowding in a frenzied pile of fur and ears as I attempt to part them with a toe. I can see my dad’s lips moving, trying to count them, losing track between brown agouti and grey fur, before restarting. Finally, he shakes his head and exclaims.


“We don’t count them.” I’m quick to answer, the sound of pelletized feed hitting the bowls drowning out his response. Frantic noses descend upon their dinner, even as I reach down to toss one or two towards a less populated bowl so that all get a good meal. My dad is still repeating ‘seventeen’ in shock under his breath as he regards the colony. We started with three; two does and one buck who escaped his cage after impregnating each doe and was never seen again. I assume the coyotes got him, but perhaps he is enjoying bachelorhood in our small suburban neighborhood.

The rabbits are the newest addition to my preparations for an apocalypse reluctant in coming. The garden came first, but the soil is hard here and the light weak through the leaves of the old maple tree. Although several wildflowers were planted, only borage grew in the dappled-shade. The small blue flowers taste like cucumber and hold the local pollinators enraptured. Seven days of water are stacked against my house in heavy blue drums where a decorative shrub belonged. The preparations are a hobby, not a necessity, but like with all my hobbies, it got away from me. A single expense on freeze-dried food, packaged in 3 month bucket supplies, escalated downhill like a boulder finally loosed from quarry wall.

“What do you call them all?” My dad asks, and I shrug.

“They’re grow outs. We don’t name them. They all have numbers in their ears so I can tell them apart when I write down their hanging weights.”

“So you’re going to kill them?”

He states the obvious as a question, as if I have some other need for this many rabbits. I shrug and laugh.

“That’s kind of the point.”

I can tell by the way he shakes his head that he cannot envision his daughter killing a bunny.


The kits are no longer babies. Their long and flexible spines are sleek with adult fur and their haunches thick with muscle. I moved the entire family to a larger pen when the kits could hop after their mother in hopes of a spare meal. The space developed stronger muscles, leaner meat, and it felt better than sanitized and industrial wire. In the mornings, I water my hopping crop of meat like any gardener and fill their waiting bowls with food. I sit against the trunk of the tree with a dark roast of coffee while their tiny noses sniff at my clothes and race around me with enough enthusiasm to toss up straw under their feet. There were originally two mothers for this batch of grow outs, but one decided to eat her offspring instead of raise them. Under the suggestion of people on the internet, I moved the survivors to the other nest where the surrogate mother proudly took on both sets as her own. Their mother presides over the entire bunch, a harried looking white rabbit who appeared to be wearing spectacles due to the brown markings around her eyes.

I don’t name the ones I intend to eat, but I call the spectacled doe ‘Mama.’ As I sit within the pen, she hops closer in the way cautious rabbits do, extending her entire front forward while bobbing her head to sniff at the air before springing back together a little closer. Mama and I watch each other as I finish my coffee, her body eventually sinking into the dirt near my thigh as she kicks her back legs in full frog sprawl. I know from previous efforts she does not want to be touched. This is the way of a content rabbit, quiet calm punctuated by sudden flurries of speed and joy. I pluck leaves from the huge maple over our heads and set them in front of her waiting nose, which she nibbles while eyeing me warily.

When I stand, she disappears in a burst of speed and white fur, companionable peace shattered by my ascension to two-legs.


Prey animals are subtle when they suffer. Illness manifests with a sluggish effort to get to the food bowl, a sunken appearance in the hips, or a sniffling nose. I noticed the grey kit during my morning chores. He hopped weakly towards the food dish, but was easily shoved aside by his siblings, listlessly drifting back to rest underneath the tree. I caught him up in my arms and held his soft, grey body against my chest. Against the backdrop of bees humming across the borage blossoms, I could hear ragged breathing. A smear of wet spittle masked his nose, giving the normally healthy pink an encrusted yellow tinge.

I thought I could save him. I fancied myself a strong and capable individual, which is why the hobby of ‘prepping’ for some unforeseen disaster appealed to my self-image. Holding the weakened kit to my chest and hearing his heartbeat against my fingers like some frantic hummingbird’s wings – I felt compelled to save him. Taking him inside, I wet the edge of a makeup sponge with a mixture of water and a sugary slurry designed to help rabbits recover quickly. The green liquid spilled out of the corner of his mouth, his breathing now shallow and quick. I couldn’t bring myself to call him by the number written in his ear with permanent ink, a way to identify how fast he grew and how much meat he would ultimately convert to. Instead, I breathed, “Hey Buddy, come on, drink something. Stay with me.”

When Buddy began to seizure, I gently ran my hands down his stiffened and twitching body as if I could loosen the muscles held rapt by agony. Between episodes, I frantically asked the internet how to save him. Their textual responses were a stoic chorus, “Cull now. Cull any rabbit exposed to him.” Cull was a word backyard farming enthusiasts loved. Like ‘processing’, it allowed us to avoid the word ‘killing’ or ‘slaughter.’ It avoided names and connections which made managing the earth and its creatures an emotional task, balancing the worth of living things into simple input and output tables and figures. It could be a little bit of straw up his nose or it could be a bacterial infection that would kill my herd within ten days. The risk was too great to simply hope for the best, especially for a grow out and not a breeding animal.

After a few hours, it became evident it wasn’t straw. I watched as the spasms held his body in rigid alignment, toes fully extended as if he could outrun death while his neck flung back to stare at the sky with wide bulging eyes. I buried the body in between the hairy stalks of wildflowers, tears running down my face as the weight of uselessness settled across my chest. I apologized to the dark earth and thanked Buddy for feeding my garden. Mama watched me from the pen, her tall ears twitching with each drop of the spade to soil. I went through the motions of feeding and watering with dirt-stained hands, sinking to the ground emotionally exhausted. Mama hopped over to her usual spot and kicked out her back legs, settling in for our moment of peace. In the moment of gentle calm that grows from a freshly tilled grave, I realized the rattling wet noise didn’t come from my tear-choked nose.

Mama’s face was wet with snot.

Feb 18, 2014

We Can Forget It for You Wholesale
1,482 words

That day, Hadrian worked his trade in the dark caverns of Thusrach. Daft place to put a town, he thought, especially when he heard the reason why the church sent him there in the first place. A massive cave-in. Hundreds dead. The shock and the grief would paralyze the inhabitants for years and years, plague them with fright and indecision, hampering their ability to survive the many other dangers that blighted the land. Thanks to Adrian, they could avoid that fate.

He waved away the crowd that came to welcome him in town square and meditated. By closing his eyes, he traded the visible forms of the local welcoming committee for a constellation of fuzzy nebulae, each representing a soul, an identity, memory welded to physical form. The corner of his mouth turned up when he saw glimmers of selfish desire shining through the crowd. Among the polite well-wishers there were always people who wanted a shortcut to happiness, thought it was just a matter of touching their heads to make all of their cares and worries vanish forever. One man could only do so much, and Hadrian could only give according to people's needs.

Farther into the city's mass he saw many scarlet flares, thaumaturgical inflammations in the community. Not many people had the focus to see them, to receive the signal this raw nerve sent to whatever brain could interpret it. Hadrian took note of its position, then sped to the nearest flare. A knock on the door, two, three. Someone caught his hand before the fourth one. He turned and saw a young lad who shook like a leaf. His skin lacked slick sheen of a healthy salamander, and his eyes kept darting in different directions, only one focusing on Hadrian's face at a time at most.

"I can let you in," the lad stammered.

Hadrian watched him as he fumbled for a key. Was this one in the crowd with the others? That same desire permeated his being, and yet he saw a glimmer of unnatural red in the rheum of his soul. There was no way to tell how many monads Hadrian could harvest from him. Was he coping with the distaster better than the other traumatized? That could merit investigation, especially since he still hadn't succeeded in opening the door.

"Allow me," Hadrian said. He reached for the lad's hand and guided his fingers around the key. One turn of the lock and they pressed ahead.

"Oh." The lad froze, blinked slowly. "Th-thank you."

"Eavig, is that the chirurgeon?" a voice called out from inside.

"Yes, mother! He's here!" Eavig's soul shimmered with a relief so palpable Hadrian didn't need to meditate to see it.

From there on the extended family living there introduced themselves to Hadrian one by one, offering names he'd forget by the time he left Thusrach. He only needed to know his patients to treat them, and there were quite a few. Eavig lived in a mining clan, and several of them hadn't made it back. "Thank you, thank you, but I must get to work. I must concentrate."

In silence befitting an operating room, Hadrian focused on his first patient, a man whose faded, wrinkled spots suggested that his working days were nearing an end, tragedy or no. His missing arm would come back without the need for bioplasty, the lucky lizard, but his psyche would need some guidance. So Hadrian extended psychic feelers into the man's being and dug around, past sensory impressions bridged by associations permanent and temporary, the minute building blocks of memory forming identity forming personhood, to reach the malignant growth brought on a near death experience.

By now, the operation had become routine. Keep the patient sleeping in the prelude before dreams, enchant a cordon around the memory, begin dissociating. With imaginary scissors, Hadrian snipped the connection between the instinctive fear that lingered after his patient was almost crushed to death and his work, his life, everything else that would otherwise drive him and help him function. Induce dreaming when the trauma has been excised. With imaginary needle and thread, Hadrian coaxed the severed stumps of the man's monads to grow new connections as his soul healed from the operation. With physical ink and pen, he left a note explaining the contents the memory he stole away, allowing his patient to process the information second-hand, at a safe distance. After the first round of therapy, too many patients had stumbled blindly into the same dangers that scarred them before. Better safe than sorry.

After treating three such members of the family, Hadrian felt blisters swell on his back. Monads could only be stored in a culture of living flesh, so he bore them himself, free radicals stored safely in enchanted cysts. A veteran like him could treat dozens before his back began to hunch.

On the fourth patient, however, Hadrian faltered. Sorting through a man's soul required him to glance past non-pertinent monads, and he had been trained to put them out of mind after a momentary processing. But a few images stuck with him as he worked. He saw Eavig in this man's mind, the association with a glimmering gem, with prey hunted in the wild, with a satisfying flood of endorphins. Never as a family member, barely even as a sapient.

A moment's hesitation as Hadrian braced himself and rode out his turning stomach. Then the scissors came out. Omphalos would thank him for the extra monads, whether they came from an excess of fear and grief or a disgusting, evil urge.

After the worst cases came to pass, he called the rest of the family back for treatment. Just a matter of procedure, he said. So he went snipping every instruction to ignore Eavig's cries for help or pepper him with gentle dismissals. Lastly, there came Eavig himself, and another mystic tumor. It had been such a long time since he broke a sweat excising one.

When he left the city the week after, he visited Eavig's house again, to thank them for their hospitality, and to make another request of them.

"He's got talent," Hadrian said. "He would do well learning our trade."

It was a half-truth. When Eavig's mind had healed, he would have the capacity to learn. The church would disapprove of an unsanctioned recruitment, but something told Hadrian that a note would not suffice for him.

"Well, Eavig?" his mother asked. "Do you want to go with him?"

Hadrian had no idea what Eavig would say. He had done the bare minimum to ease his pain, but beyond that, the choice was his. It had to be. Eavig was still dazed from the operation, but he could meet both of Hadrian's eyes now. When he nodded yes, Hadrian couldn't help but beam.


Ten years had passed since Eavig helped Hadrian's misshapen form limp out of Thusrach. Now the both of them slithered into the pools at the entrance to Omphalos, the sacs on their backs bulging with visions of a dark future. The vast majority of the monads sloshing inside had formed dark dreams of a rising tide brought on by a triple eclipse, bringing foreign acids and alkalines that would blight the entire continent. Only chirurgeons like them recognized them as a threat from Omphalos; it had learned how to seed a crop in the minds of local men, and here they were, serving that food back to it on a platter.

They lay against the wall, then winced as thousands of tiny spines pierced the flesh of their back. They felt themselves drained of their burden, as if by a swarm of mosquitoes, but the chemicals they got in return made them bask in the grotto, wrapped up in each other's embrace.

"Will Omphalos ever stop being hungry?" Eavig asked him. He held Hadrian's hand, fingers atop fingers, just as Hadrian had for him when they met at Eavig's door.

"I don't know," Hadrian said. "Its appetite comes and goes. In the beginning it wanted whole souls, whole bodies, but our ancestors convinced it to settle for less. Now..." He shook his head. "I don't know. We might all die tomorrow if Omphalos wills it. It might make us nothing more than livestock. Sometimes I wonder if the current is too strong to swim against."

Eavig pulled himself close and leaned his head on Hadrian's shoulder. "If you hadn't come to harvest my hometown, I don't know what I'd do. I met you because of Omphalos, and even if we both died tomorrow, it would have been worth it. Trust me."

Nobody excised the feeling of dread from Hadrian's soul, but under Eavig's gentle touch, its presence shrank; some connections withered. They spent the night in each other's embrace, savoring the moments before their god called them to action again.

Dec 15, 2006

Adventure Awaits!

Fun Shoe

Maiden Flight
1500 words


Alinta sat in the Cathedral, surrounded by the weight of the past. Her eyes traced the layered columns of red stone, sculpted by wind and waves over the eons to make this sacred place. The air, already humid from the summer evening, was saturated with incense and herbs from the ancient censers the Drones swung as they walked in slow circles around the fire that burned in the open space. Alina rarely broke a sweat, but tonight her whole body was damp, as much from nerves as from the heat, and her curls hung limp around her shoulders.

The Queen stood before her, covered in the metal-woven tabard of her office, her face a perfect golden oval. Alinta knew it was a mask - her aunt had pointed out the strings to her when she was still a child - but the vision of the faceless woman before her cast in liquid metal made her flesh crawl despite the temperature. She could feel the stars above her, trying to calm her, but she could not see them, and they did little to soothe her.

“Alinta," the Queen said, "daughter of Kirra, granddaughter of Merindah, child of the Hive, your blood has spoken: the fire of life is in you. Through you shall we endure, through you shall we survive. The fire shall ignite those you walk among, and will burn for long after we all are dust.”

Alinta listened to the ringing tones of the Queen’s words, listened as they echoed off the rock walls of the Cathedral, and spiraled up, out into the swirling sky above. She stared straight ahead at the Queen, but a part of her mind was still on the sky and the stars it held.

“Tonight your blood and the fire will guide you, Alinta, to your vision. In it you will see the distant past and far-flung future, and you will see yourself and come to understand your place in time, and the continuation of the Hive. In it you will find yourself, and likewise, all of us.”

Two Drones beside the Queen stepped forward, one holding a deep golden bowl, and the other moving to raise the Queen’s mask from her face.

Alinta tensed. This would be the first and only night in her life that she would see the face of the Queen, and it was deeply unnerving. A round, lined face gazed back at her, the same warm golden tone as her own, but perhaps a little grey with age. The woman smiled at Alinta kindly, and took the bowl from the Drone beside her. The Queen drank deeply, then leaned forward and opened her mouth. A rolling stream of smoke emerged as she exhaled, encompassing Alinta’s face and body.

Alinta took a breath, more out of surprise than anything, and then she was falling down, wrapped in a cocoon of smoke. She craned her head to peer down ahead of her, despite the impossibility of seeing anything through the twirling, seething cloud surrounding her. There was only smoke.

Her fall stopped abruptly, and she was home. There was a woman lying on the lone table in the small hut, the one that Alinta and her aunt prepared and ate their food on every day. The woman looked like her, but her eyes were lighter, and bright with pain and fear. Her stomach was taut with the child she was struggling to birth. The woman next to her, clutching her hand while the Drones did what they could, Alinta recognized as her aunt, her hair dark and her face unlined.

The woman on the table was screaming. The wooden surface was slick with blood. The baby would not come.

Alinta felt sick.

The Queen swept into the room, and Alinta’s aunt let out a moan. The pregnant woman panted, unaware of anything but the pain and the child inside her.

The Drones who had been assisting with the birth moved at the Queen’s gesture, and went to take Alinta’s aunt away. She was weeping frantically now, and fought to keep hold of her sister’s hand. The Drones pulled her gently but insistently, while another went to the prone woman and gave her a draught. The fevered eyes dimmed a little, and the tension in her body lessened. The Drone stroked her forehead and murmured to her as the Queen drew a blade from her wide leather belt.

Twenty minutes later, Alinta was alive, and her mother was dead. The Drones took away the body and left the baby with her aunt. The vision faded, and Alinta was in darkness.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned. The woman from the table was behind her, a smile playing on her lips. Alinta stared at the face she had never seen before, foreign and familiar. She opened her mouth, but her mother drew back from her, her body splitting and unfolding into an endless chain of women, each with their hand on a shoulder, on their shoulder a hand. An unbroken line of mothers and daughters, stretching out beyond horizons, through time and into space. Women spiraled into a galaxy, and became the flares of light in a nebula.

But the chain ended with Alinta. When she looked out into the darkness of the future, there was nothing, not even the stars.

Alinta looked down at herself, and her body was darkness. She closed her eyes and her blood sang through her ears. She felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder, and all their mothers before, and opened her eyes. The stars were in her, dim at first, but growing. They flared white and turned to fire, to sparks, to a riot of golden insects, and back to stars. They were all within her.

She turned again and looked at her mother. “I don’t understand.”

“All of that will come, love,” her mother said, and Alinta saw the twin flames of loss and adoration that burned in the women of her family, that burned still in her.

Another fire, too, began to grow. A brilliant blaze of fierce devotion and pride, a desire to grow and protect, even in the face of an empty future. The light was in her. The chain went on.

“The stars,” she said, and started when the face looking back at her was no longer her mother’s but the Queen’s. Face still bare of her mask, she crouched down next to where Alinta lay on the ground of the Cathedral. The Queen’s eyes, dark as onyx, searched her face with an intense scrutiny that Alinta found disquieting. She struggled to sit up and return the Queen's gaze.

“And what did you see, my starry-eyed girl?" the Queen said. "You speak of the stars, but there is more yet in you.”

“I saw my mother…” Alinta said, and the Queen’s aged face broke apart in a smile.

“And all her mothers since? Yes, I saw it too. But our mothers are behind us always; what was it you saw in your future?”

“Only darkness.” Alinta shivered, and she was suddenly aware of the dramatic dip in temperature from what couldn’t have been that long ago. She looked for the sky but saw nothing, no indication of how much time had passed for her in the smoke.

“And within you?” said the Queen.

“The stars,” said Alinta. “Stars and fire and buzzing golden insects that became stars again.”

“Ah,” said the Queen, and rocked back on her heels. “Those are signs indeed.”

“What do they mean?” Alinta said. She had begun to shiver, and her clothes, stuck to her thin body with sweat and condensation, did nothing to warm her.

“I cannot guess where your stars will lead you, nor the fires that may assail or sustain you on your path. It’s been said our ancestors went out to the stars once, on tails of flame; perhaps we will see these things again.” The Queen shrugged. “But I do recognize this: a dream of bees always foretells the ending of an era, and the arrival of a new Queen.”

Stars and smoke swam around Alinta. “That can’t be right,” she said in a daze.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have some time yet to learn all you need to know, as did I when I had my own dream,” said the Queen. “Signs and stars are patient with us. But there is no turning back the times, sure as you cannot unbreathe the smoke.”

The Queen rose, and picked up her mask from where it lay on the ground. She held it out to Alinta. “When you are ready, the mask is waiting.”

Alinta stared at the mask and shrank back. The stars in her trembled as though they might shatter.

The Queen laughed. “All in good time, then. Your journey is only beginning.” She slipped the golden mask over her face, and held out her hand, now empty, for Alinta to take.

Alinta reached out and grasped it. The stars sang.

Feb 18, 2014

oh and i wrote about SHE btw

Mar 18, 2007

Good, bad. I'm the one with the power of Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen.

College Slice

Border Crossing
1,489 words

Gisela tripped the cluster of grenades twelve yards in and lost her eyes. The flashbanger would have burst her eardrums, too, if she hadn’t put the plugs in. Even so, she heard nothing, felt nothing but vertigo and pain. But a smart runner keeps her rhythm and trusts to muscle memory. These last couple hundred yards were flat and dry land. Easy to negotiate, easy to be seen.

Just a couple hundred yards more anyway. She remembered Norman Mayer and ran.

Her sense of balance returned before the glare in her eyes faded. No time to stop, but she did spare a glance to either side and one quick look behind. Spotlights behind her, and one from above and to the right. So fine, she had to run faster. A quick draw of the knife as she sprinted, the slash of a two straps, and belt and backpack fell behind her.

Lightness brings speed, but speed was all she had. The bullhorns erupted in the American tongue, warning her to drop to the ground. The roar of gas engines banged against her already tender eardrums, accompanied by the wail and strobe of sirens. The women and men with their love of the gun and contempt for the brown. Maybe she would only be shot. But she probably would not be that lucky and so she slammed her heels against the earth, her desperate staccato sprint accompanied by the dirt-crunching tires of the green and white SUV catching up behind her.


About thirty years ago, her mom had said, that the first TV president was in charge. And her mom had thought that funny—-”An actor for real, mijita! They’re not even pretending anymore”—-and Gisela didn’t understand. But she was only a kid, after all. And that was not even the lesson her mom wanted to teach.

It was an old man, a guero named Norman. “Of course he was,” her mom had said. Norman Mayer, who lived in a time when everyone thought nuclear war could happen if a country’s leader woke up especially cranky one day, and who did not understand why no one was doing anything serious to get rid of the drat things. In a day before internet and where news was mostly paper or only a couple of TV channels, getting heard was not always easy.

So Norman Mayer painted a van with a “Ban Nuclear Weapons” slogan, drove up to the Washington Monument, and announced that he was going blow the whole drat thing up if he couldn’t get someone to talk, just talk, about a realistic plan to put nuclear weapons into history’s dustbin.

They shot him, of course. He never had any explosives and even a van’s worth of dynamite would hardly have done anything. The rangers with the guns knew it, too. No hostages either: he let them go as soon as the first reporter came to talk. But Reagan stayed in his office across the way in his white palace, and the ranger who came to negotiate never meant to do anything but punctuate his offer with a bullet.

Some lessons were boring, and some were scary, and some were fun. But this was just confusing. But her mom told her to just wait and she would get it. Her mom kept her promises and so Gisela filed the lesson of Mayer away.

You can’t bluff with the people in the government houses and their servants with guns. If you fight, you fight, and if you can’t (you can’t), then you goddamn run, run, with lightness and hope and a green and white SUV that was right next to her now.


They were on detainment duty, which meant swerving in front of Gisela instead of into her. She even expected it, but still twisted too late and bounced against the front wheel well. Officers exited from several doors, olive clad demons seeking to drag her back to hell. But she had already pushed herself away and started her dash toward the wall ahead, and the tunnel she knew she would find.

Rubber bullets bounced off the hood as the officers tried to acquire the target. Gisela threw herself to the ground and rolled. Bullets whizzed above and around her, puffs of dirt bursting beside her hands as she pushed herself up and zig-zagged to the left. She made it a few more yards before a few rounds hit her in the small of her back. She turned her fall into another tumble, desperate to cover the last short stretch.

The wall was right there and finally she saw the tunnel entrance. A circular door slid open. And she saw it: not a pathetic hole scratched under the wall, rather a lit metal hall angled slightly into the earth and under.

Her left hand slapped against the cold steel aluminum tile right before the boot hit her below the shoulder and pinned her to the ground. She turned her head and saw the muzzle of the gun, the goggles on the officer, and failure written into the officer’s smirk.

“We’ll take it from here,” said a voice from the tunnel. The smirk disappeared. More footsteps, not just the officers behind her, but from inside as well. They started yelling, the muzzle decided it had a more pressing target, and then blossoms of fire as rounds went down the tunnel.

She saw the grenade coming this time, but no running this time. Thick bitter smoke shrouded the officer from sight. Quickly it sunk to the earth and her face, filling her breathes with acrid oblivion. She supposed she did her best before resigning herself to hell.


It all started to hell back around when she was born. The Mexican as scapegoat was an easy sell. Even before the detainment camps gave way to work camps, even before the disappeared children reappeared as teens working fields and construction as “wards of the state.” Several generations of propaganda that the Mexican was stealing entry-level jobs, was driving up healthcare costs, was not paying taxes, was raping and dealing drugs and stealing the American dream: they made it so easy to erect the new barrio ghettos and prisons in all but name. After all, the Yankee may not have wanted the Mexican as citizen, but giving up cheap produce and manual labor was unthinkable. Scapegoats made great slaves.

And the uppity ones, like Gisela’s mom, well, bullets were cheap and bodies made good fertilizer. Gisela would have followed her mom to a labor camp grave if not for learning that you don’t fight nightmares, you run.


Gisela woke to a new nightmare. Brilliance stabbed her eyes and her ears rang. She remembered the flashbanger at the crossing and reflexively kicked her legs out. But they wouldn’t go. Her throat denied her a scream.

And then suddenly, shapes and voices slammed into awareness. It was only knockout gas. She was whole and sound, mind and body, save for an ache in her back. But she could move and see again.

The tricolor flag caught her eye first: the green of hope, the red of blood shed for freedom, the white for unity, and the true eagle vanquishing the snake of the north. “Con calma,” said the voice to her right, and she turned to see a tall woman in the green and white livery of the INM. “O prefiere usted ingles? Many of you naufragios don’t know the language perfectly.” She smiled. “Okay if you don’t. You have all the time to learn. Spanish and whatever else you like.”


And why not? The explosion of atoms hadn't been humanity’s doom. In fact, it became Mexico’s salvation. The engineers at UNAM and their chance discovery of sustainable cold nuclear fusion was the catalyst for all the societal and economic shockwaves that came. A world eager to license a ridiculously efficient new energy source from a Mexico no longer bound to any trade agreements to its northern neighbors—-a Mexican electorate that finally had found some leaders who more often than not put the country’s needs first—-the growing bond of business and culture between Europe and the United States of Mexico: all the groundwork for a sea change in place.

No one here knew what it was like to be without water or electricity. No one knew what it was like to be without power, whether to charge one’s car or decide one’s vocation. Vast arcologies and sea-cities left urban centers balanced with space to live and space to breathe. And the great in-gathering of the lost, the naufragios who voyaged from the failed dreams of the north, they made sure to make room for them as well.

Gisela stood victorious and free on her Vera Cruz balcony. She said a short thank you to her mom and Norman Mayer, then lost herself in the sparkle of the blue Gulf’s waves.

Benny Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Kindred Instruments
Prompt: SHE
1474 words

The flowers in Violet’s greenhouse hang heavy, stamens burdened with the weight of their pollen, pistils swollen and unfulfilled. She grows roses, popular still with the lovers. Lilies, of course, because of all the deaths. The room brighteners for the wealthy: tulips, daffodils. Her greenhouse is pocket jewel of abundance in a widening dust bowl, a vestigial organ of beauty for its own sake. And how beautiful her flowers are!

Her rich clients, swaddled within their gated communities, make small talk with her, ask her what her secret is. A cache of fertilizer? A secret supply of clean water? But she shakes her head, no: her secret, she says, is “love”.

A lie. Violet’s secret is the Queen.

When the bees died, an industry sprang up in response. Trucks full of women -- the ones who used to work the makeup counters and the mani-pedi shops -- would travel up and down the highways, visiting the few remaining fruit tree plantations, travelling up and down the rows, little paintbrushes in hand.

Violet’s crops didn’t need the pollinators the way the almond trees in the next valley over did, but they missed them all the same. The flowers grew despondent, depressed, their petals sterile and virginal, devoid of romance. In the first season without bees, Violet tried to satisfy her flowers with an old toothbrush, but still their fire was gone, as though Violet weren’t worth putting on a show for. In desperation, Violet found the Queen, who promised discretion above all else, and the flowers responded lustfully, blooming with a vibrancy that they’d never shown even the bees in advance of her visits.

Today, the Queen arrives in the afternoon, behind the wheel of a battered box truck that kicks up a wedding trail of ashen dust in its wake. Violet has been waiting out on her porch for her arrival. The Queen steps from the truck, and walks up the drive with a slouching gait. Her straight black hair is held back under a red paisley bandanna, and she wears a grimy white tank top over a pair of cover-alls with sleeves tied around at the waist. The Queen stands in front of Violet, shielding her eyes from the sun with a hand at her brow.

Violet gets up, and hands over a stack of cash. The Queen counts her bills one at a time, and then, her payment accounted for, stuffs the bills into her pocket and walks back to the truck, banging on the side with an open hand and then throwing open the back gate to let out her workers. The women emerge blinking and bent into the afternoon sun, holding their little paintbrushes close to their chests. The Queen guides them into the greenhouse, dispatching them among the rows of flowers, sending them scurrying along the furrows, their hands working quickly, darting between anther and stigma, matchmakers and intermediaries carrying grains of promise and love.

Violet returns inside, to her workspace, where a stand of cut lilies languish in a orange bucket, the wound of their separation comforted by the shallow stand of water within. The order was for nine lilies, each flower worth a month of clean water. An opulent arrangement, a last demonstration of devotion for the recently departed.

There’s a commotion from outside. The Queen is calling for Violet, and when she comes out from her workshop the Queen is kneeling into the back of one of her workers, face-down in the dust of Violet’s driveway. The Queen has her worker’s hair wrapped in her fist, and she’s pressing the woman’s face down against the pebbles of the drive, her chin twisted around and upwards, her nose casting strange shadows over wet cheeks.

“This one stole from you,” says the Queen, and in front of the worker there are three tulips, broken away at their stems, their petals crumpled in the dirt. “She broke your trust. May I punish her for you?”

A bubble of snot flares at the worker’s nostril, and she whimpers.

“Please, no,” says Violet. “It’s just a few tulips. They’re ruined, anyway.”

The Queen pulls her worker’s face up, pressed with silt and pebbles. “Miss Violet is too kind to you.” She slams the woman's face down again, and there’s a horrible crunch, and when the woman’s face comes up again it’s slick with red under the nostrils. The Queen steps off the worker, and the woman struggles to her hands and knees. “Go now. You walk. I see you again, Miss Violet won’t be around to stop me.”

The beaten worker limps down the path away from Violet’s farm into the distance, and the Queen puts her women back to work. The muscles on the back of the Queen’s arms glow under the blazing sun, and droplets of sweat gather at the ends of her clumped strands of hair. Violet feels her breath catch hard in her chest, but it’s not just the violence that puts her on edge. She feels a warm ache in her abdomen, an old familiar sensation, unexpected but not unwelcome.

Violet is still thinking about the Queen as she puts the arrangements into the back of her truck and drives over towards Primrose Gardens. The late afternoon sun glitters along the razor wire strung across the tops of the walls. The uniformed man that steps out from the guard booth holds up a hand with fingers splayed, a huge black gun strapped high across his chest, barrel dipping low.

“I.D.,” says the guard, as a second guard walks around the perimeter of the truck with a mirror at the end of a pole. Violet knows this guard well. He’s been working here the last two years. But every time, he takes her identification card and holds it up to the light, bending it and checking the embedded hologram. He checks Violet’s name against a list and, when the second guard steps back with the mirror and nods, the guard pulls back the gate allowing Violet into Primrose Gardens.

Primrose Gardens is a capsule of times past, a walled off community of identical McMansions on the edge of town, identical green astroturf lawns and ornate plastic gardens. A commune of halfway houses for embarrassed millionaires, who’d moved from their opulent homes up in the hills when the looting had started.

Violet pulls into Dr. Bradman’s driveway and kills the engine, then reaches behind her seat for the cellophane wrapped arrangement that the old man had ordered and walks up the path towards the door. The doorbell feels like an anachronism.

“Come in, please,” says Dr. Bradman. “Put them towards the back, on the table where people will see them.”

Violet takes the lilies to the long table, and places them among a collection of framed photographs of a woman not given to smiling. As she unwraps their protective bubble of cellophane, the pleasure on Dr. Bradman’s face is orgasmic.

He reaches out, dragging his fingertip along the length of a white petal. “Oh my. Eliza would have loved these.”

She smiles, feels her skin glowing, and then feels ashamed. The Queen would laugh at her if she saw her blushing for this soft pink man. But the doctor is pleased to see her smile.

“She would have hated to see how lonely I’ve become.” His finger stops on the petal, and he gives Violet a meaningful look. He takes a step toward her, and Violet backs up a step.

“I should get going, before the guards come after me,” she says.

“No rush, beautiful girl,” he says, advancing. “You can stay as long as you want.” He puts a hand on top of her hand, and it slides up to encircle her wrist. His skin is papery and dry, but his fingers are strong, and they clamp down on the thin bones of her arm and pull her towards him.

She closes her eyes, the way she’s done before, but this time sees the Queen behind her eyelids, with a boot in Dr. Bradman’s back, grabbing a fistful of his thinning hair, grinding his face into his astroturf lawn.

Violet’s eyes snap open, and she thrashes in his grip, yanking her hand away. She’s scrambling for the door, stumbling out onto the path to her truck. Dr. Bradman chases after, out onto his lawn, waving a thick envelope overhead. But Violet puts the accelerator down, leaving streaks of black rubber on his previously spotless driveway, and she barely waits for the guards to pull open the cyclone fence to the outside before driving on through to the dusty outside world.

Back at her house, she sits on the floor of her workshop with a dark cut rose laying across her lap. Her skin is hot to the touch. She picks up the phone, and she dials for the Queen.

Nov 3, 2010

Scoffing at modernity.

Cold Regret
Prompt: Jason Webley's "Last Song"
(902 words)

The man woke on his back under a snow-heavy sky, and when he turned his head he saw the ground as a blur of white. His glasses--where were they? Frost broke under his searching fingers: his beard was a wilderness of ice. He patted the breast pocket of his fine black suit and then wondered why he wore funeral clothes. The answer came to him inevitably, unavoidably, and he struggled up to study the broken soil through which he must have risen.

Norwood, read his gravestone. Right. Norwood. The stone gave no first name, nor could the man recall it. He'd been Doctor, but that was before this cemetery, when he'd had spectacles and an office and a pulse.

That he'd died and been buried he could accept. It was the coming up again that bemused him. Everything he'd heard about the restless dead centered on unresolved business in life. He remembered much even if his given name was gone, enough to know he'd closed every chapter and there'd been nothing left for him to do.

Yet there he was, grey under his mourning best. Possibly he should look in on his house. Norwood stood up and crossed over to the graveyard's ice-mantled gate, pushing it open without feeling its temperature. He paused outside the cemetery threshold, half expecting--hoping--to collapse there, but no. Snow cloaked the world; the trunks and tangled arms of trees defined a path for a time, only to drift away from the roadway after a mile and leave Norwood standing at the edge of a white expanse.

His village might be anywhere--Marion hadn't buried him near to home.

A swirl of ice crystals spun through the air to the right of him. They danced into a column, then made the suggestion of a figure. "Marion?" Norwood whispered. But the shape was too tall, though he didn't doubt it was female. It lingered until he stepped toward it and then it shattered into vapor, as quickly gone as breath in the cold.

Could it be his wife?

She'd hidden a child from him until it was too late for herbs to loosen it. So he'd had to use the scalpel, the scraper. Blood and slime had coated his hands. A baby would destroy us, he'd told her, and she'd repeated the words again and again while he worked, monotone, until it was over. Until he'd taken the bedsheets and all they contained away to burn. Then she'd made her ragged cries, so like an infant's.

She'd never let him touch her again, but then he hadn't tried.

No, it wasn't Marion. Everything between them was long finished.

Norwood followed the frost-figure, which whirled into and out of being, each time better defined. The sun fell; he walked under moonlight. At the mouth of a cave glossy with frozen snowmelt, he stopped. The woman--assuredly a woman--stood beside the entrance, impossibly tall for a human and too beautiful and awful beside. Her skin was a galaxy of pale fractals. Her eyes were the brilliant rime that concealed black, black water.

Something hissed within the cave. The woman dissolved into the wind. Where her feet had been, the handle of a shovel protruded from a drift.

Norwood took it up and shouldered his way through the cave's jagged, narrow entrance. He crouched in a natural foyer: another gap a few feet away led to another chamber beyond. The faint light from outside glinted off the ice that almost sealed the passage. An opening perhaps the width of a hand remained clear, and the hissing came from beyond.

Whatever made the sound heard Norwood, or it smelled him, or it tasted him on the air. It flung itself at the gap--the cavern trembled--and cried for release with a voice like icicles breaking.

Norwood swung the shovel at the ice. Though he'd died an old and tired man, dead muscles didn't care about nature's laws. He cracked the barrier, widening the passage, to help the creature to escape and live. Expiation, then--

Razor-keen claws darted out and into Norwood's chest.

He thrust the shovel into the gap with his whole strength. Its edge sank into living flesh. The beast howled and grabbed at the tool, but Norwood yanked it back and then struck again, catching the thing in some soft part; there was blood, and the creature scrabbled at the gap until Norwood smashed its hands. It fought to get free until Norwood broke its head. Eventually nothing breathed in the cave anymore.

Norwood got an arm in through the gap and pulled out the creature's paw. Using the shovel, he severed it, and he dragged the limb out into the moonlight. Its claws were as terrible as his torn heart suggested, though they had the shine of glass and the tiny scales around them glittered like the winter-woman's skin. A monster. Surely a monster. Nothing that would have done good for the world.

He looked for the winter-woman, longed to see her face, but he was alone.

He followed his own tracks back to the graveyard, where the snow was otherwise unbroken; he lay down on his grave, but sleep didn't come. Nor did he expect it until he could whisper I'm sorry to the place at his side where Marion would never rest, understanding in full whether he regretted action or necessity.

Jun 28, 2011

I had that weird dream again.

A Gospel
1129 words
Prompt: She
Flash: Song and Genre: Southern Gothic

Visions are hard, dangerous loving things. First, you’re convinced you’ve taken a plunge off the deep-end but the details stick with you into the waking hours. The feeling you get, that creeping, gnawing urge to just loving figure it out - go where you’re meant to go - becomes overwhelming. It did for me, only took a few years of denial but it got to me in the end. Giving in ain’t so hard when you’re giving in to truth; that’s how I came to the town in the valley.

The mine had closed near to fifteen years back but even that gaping empty wound left in the side of the mountain had only started the town’s slow bleed-out; it was the vampires in City Hall that were the ones draining it to death. Or, at least, that’s what most folks would tell me. It was the same story up and down the valley - explanations too rational and consistent for them to be the whole truth. That’s how I saw it, anyway.

The town was dying, sure enough - it had limped along until now, reduced to a reliance on the local curiosities the odd curious tourist would stop by on occasion to buy t-shirts at. ‘The Purple Cow’ was my favourite - a gaudy ten-foot monstrosity that some rear end-hole lucky enough to escape the grip of this place had erected just off of Mainstreet as a loving ‘gift’ from the town’s “favourite son”. Folks told me he was famous now, somewhere that wasn’t here. Crisp tourist dollars, however, weren’t much but a loose tourniquet against the exodus. Turns out, people need money to live and when there’s no work, folk leave. A real loving apt observation, I know - but it wasn’t enough to deter me, I was sure this was the place.

I think I was sure because of the way the people of the town described the aforementioned vampires. I mean, what politician ain’t talked about as a fat leech in a nice suit with nice words? But when people described them, it was the same dejected, dull ramble. A resigned pitiful shrug where there should have been a righteous anger. People get beat down, of course they do. But the whole town?

I don’t think it was because I wasn’t local, I think it was because I was asking questions. Maybe you had to hear them for yourself; it was the kind of rote, lazy observation you might hear at a lovely open-mic. You can only get dismissed and waved away with the same spiel a couple dozen times before you might just begin to suspect something was up. I know I loving did.

So I retreated to hole up in my room at the motel and drew the blinds. I’d always found it easier to drift off to the dream in darkness but turns out I didn’t need it that time; two days and nights without sleep were requirement enough. I hadn’t wanted to return to the vision, you see, not until I’d conducted my investigation - made sure this was where I needed to be. And so, convinced as I was, I took a bump, lay down and found myself flying again.

Soaring down into the valley, an endless sea of green opened up to curl and slope down. And there at the valley floor, the abyss awaited me again. A perfect loving circle of black void where the town should be, a straight drop down into black, a bottomless pit, a miles wide absence of land and people. This was the valley. This was the place. I landed on the lip of the pit and inched forward to the edge as I always had and peered down into infinity as I had so many times before - but instead of only sheer aching blackness I finally saw it, what I had been chasing for weeks - the tiny glimmer of light in the centre had become a raging, shimmering comet rushing straight towards me. He was here. Finally, the work could begin. The abyss would get it’s reckoning.


I woke in a shaking sweat - my phone buzzing against my face. It took a moment for the blinding white of the screen to materialise into the shape of a face. It was Him, finally. The phone buzzed again with a meeting place - the town square. I’m not ashamed to admit I couldn’t contain myself, I shot outta that loving place like a rocket - full sprint out down the street. I guess I had slept as well as dreamed because night had fallen but it didn’t matter - I knew He would be there.

Stone benches and trimmed hedges surrounded the central pedestal of the town square - bathed in the light from the only streetlights in town that didn’t flicker. The pristine heart pumping sand around the desiccated corpse of the town - you only had to turn around to see the empty lots. He, like the square was the only light in this loving place. He sat in the middle of the square on a stone bench, directly below the pedestal which held the statue of some long dead losing general. He didn’t seem to notice me until I sat down next to Him but even then He was slow to meet my eye. gently caress, was I nervous. You spend years, months, weeks, days in a delirium - so loving sure of what you’re meant to do, just not knowing exactly where to do it but finally I had found it, found Him. I guess excitement can’t come without a little terror.

“Hi”, I said.

I was never eloquent but gently caress, I really could have come up something a little more inspired than that, especially for such an auspicious moment. He didn’t seem to mind though - just kept studying my face - His gaze finding every detail of my face but my eyes.

Just as I was about to raise the impossible idea that He might be just as nervous as me, He kissed me. Leaned in quick and just loving planted one on me, right on the mouth. I’d never kissed anyone before, let alone another man so I suppose it was fitting He was the first to, here after all my trials. Succour in the storm of my doubt. He took my hand in His as the kiss deepened and squeezed it gently. He had my heart too then in that moment.

This was the start of my judgement and the end of my haunting.

I loved Him, instantly, truthfully.

He broke the kiss and drew me close, His mouth next to my ear.

“Hi”, he whispered.

We both laughed. I began to cry.

Mar 21, 2010

I got it wrong. Look, I'm well aware I got it wrong and uh, I got it wrong.

That's all, folks. Submissions closed.

Aug 7, 2013




brawl me k

Jay W. Friks
Oct 4, 2016

Six of one, half dozen of another.

Grimey Drawer

ThirdEmperor posted:



brawl me k


Okay, sure.


Jay W. Friks fucked around with this message at Jul 10, 2018 around 22:08

Feb 18, 2014

Which one are you, Sham Bam Bamina!?

Mar 7, 2006

"So you Jesus?"

"And you black?"

"Nigga prove it!"

And so Black Jesus turned water into a bucket of chicken. And He saw that it was good.

Chili posted:

That's some good crittin

Dare I say, manly crittin

Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome


200 words about ponies. Bonus points if it rhymes.

Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit

Grimey Drawer

Alright this poo poo was sitting around for too long. Y'all are stuck with Chilijudge

ThirdEmperor posted:



brawl me k

Jay W. Friks posted:


Okay, sure.


You kaybums have up to (but lord knows you don't need to take all of) 2,000 words to tell me a story.

This story is due July 17th, 12PM (Noon, not midnight)

Your stories must be inspired by this video:

And as a bonus! The winner will get to chose a new avatar for the loser! Why? Because Lowtax's stupid spine is hosed. You're welcome!

Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit

Grimey Drawer

Oh and I guess it would be cool if you two could throw some toxxes in there.

Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!

Yoruichi posted:


200 words about ponies. Bonus points if it rhymes.

An Important Lesson
200 words

There was once a coterie of ponies, each more wild and untamed than the next. They spent their days joyously gambolling around the plains where they made their homes.  One day, the youngest proposed that they go on a journey.

They galloped across the fields, they cantered through the forests, and they forded treacherous rivers. After a time, they came to the strangest place that they had ever seen. It was like a field surrounded by a neatly trimmed hedge, but instead of being flat and empty, it was filled with obstacles. The oldest and wisest pony knew what this was, and wanted to leave. The middle pony whickered in agreement. But the youngest felt a yearning in his soul that he could not deny.

The older two tried to drag their friend away, but he was transfixed. He just had to leap over the obstacles in the course. There was something magnetic about them. He began to run the course, and was exhilarated. But when he came to the first jump, he misjudged and fell, screaming in pain as his leg broke beneath him.

That day, they learned the most important lesson of all - Show Jumping is Bad Jumping.

Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

Yoruichi posted:


200 words about ponies. Bonus points if it rhymes.

the isle of misfit ponies
is a glum and cheerless place
where legless ponies wobble
in a legless pony race

they do not toss their manes there
for fear they'll fall away
like the many balding ponies
with wigs made out of hay

some have turned to drinking
from troughs filled up with gin
and though that's sad, what's sadder
is when they've fallen in

you can hardly hear them whinny
without hearing them cough
but only very gently
in case something else falls off

their pony eyes look sadly
far across the sea
where dwell the pretty ponies
that they dearly wish to be

and sometimes when they slumber
they have a chance to dream
of shining bits and bridles
and well brushed coats that gleam

but the morning mist arises
and the isle is filled with gloom
and all the wobbly ponies
slowly race toward the tomb.

Fumblemouse fucked around with this message at Jul 11, 2018 around 01:59

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

Yoruichi posted:


200 words about ponies. Bonus points if it rhymes.

With Apologies to Thranguy For Style-Biting

Horsity coursity
Field Marshall Ponypants
Found that his garrison
Had disappeared

Sick of his tyranny
His soldiers marched to the
Nearest glue factory
And volunteered

Mar 21, 2010

I got it wrong. Look, I'm well aware I got it wrong and uh, I got it wrong.

Week 309 Results: of course y’all just literally wrote about bees

Overall, it was a really strong and interesting week. Lots of weird metaphysical adventures through time and space, lots of beautiful apocalypses, lots of bizarre biology to sink our teeth into. Everybody was kinda on their game and with that in mind, there is no loser this week. Some of you didn’t write as well as others, but nobody made us angry or annoyed enough to give them a loss. Lots of pieces in the middle could’ve HMed in a normal week (sorry Kaishai and Lippincott) but this is Thunderdome and the field gets mighty fighty sometimes.

The weakest story was ibntumart’s Border Crossing. It started fairly strong, but the last paragraph zoomed out and robbed the piece of a lot of its urgency and intimacy. Short stories really need to stick the landing, and this landing was a boring infodump about geopolitics and Mexican nuclear policy (which is, being fair, a kickass name for a punk band). There were also some spelling issues that tripped us up, and secured this a DM. HMs went to Solitaire, sparksbloom and curlingiron. Their pieces weren’t without issues (what was with that Philip K Dick reference my good dude it adds nothing) but they presented us with beautiful and bizarre pictures of worlds gone horribly wrong. The biggest issue this week was focus, and all three HM pieces knew exactly what they were about.

The winner seems to have gone out of their way to make the most Muffin-Approved piece of fiction possible, but also managed to enchant the other two judges. My notes actually said ‘please tell me objectively whether this is good or bad’ because I felt compromised by how much I vibed on it; turns out I wasn’t alone. The world ended in a painfully beautiful fashion, and then it didn’t. Congratulations cptn_dr. The blood throne belongs to you now; may you reign 1000 years.

Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!

Week CCCX: Ghosts and Whiskey

Crumbling mansions! Ghosts, both literal and metaphorical! Devils! Swamps!

This week's prompt is a genre near and dear to my heart: Southern Gothic. A genre that deals with poverty, crime, religion, death, ghosts, family, lost love, alcohol, murder, the devil, race and betrayal. Oh, and the South, I guess. I want you to write me a story dealing with one or more of these themes.

I’m more interested in themes rather than setting, though, so for the purposes of the prompt, the ‘Southern’ part of Southern Gothic doesn’t have to refer to the American South (though it absolutely still can). Any south will do. Tierra del Fuego Gothic? Sure thing! Mackenzie Country Gothic? Why not! Tasmanian Gothic? Heck yeah! Just make it interesting.

Flash Rules will be handed out to anyone who asks, will be in the form of Southern Gothic-adjacent songs for you to take inspiration from, and will come with a bonus +250 words.

Standard TD rules apply: no fanfic, erotica, nonfiction, quote tags or Google Docs.

Word Limit: 1250 words
Signup deadline: Friday, 13 July at 11:59pm Pacific Time (US)
Submission deadline: Sunday, 15 July, 11:59pm Pacific Time (US)

Mocking Quantum - - Ain't No Grave
Antivehicular - Devil's Spoke
Captain Person - Snake Song
Solitair - Brother, My Cup is Empty
Thranguy - Sinnerman
Staggy - Comin' Home
Magnificent7 - Up Jumped The Devil
Ibntumart - Werewolf
Flesnolk - Lungs

cptn_dr fucked around with this message at Jul 14, 2018 around 07:37

Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!

Also, to write crits for every story from week 309 by the time submissions close.

Jan 20, 2012

Unlockable Ben

In, , and flash me please.

Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome

In and flash, please.

Apr 7, 2013

That was a BAD business decision!

In, obviously. Give me some good flash!

Feb 18, 2014

In with a flash, please!

Apr 21, 2010

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

In and flash

Mar 21, 2010

I got it wrong. Look, I'm well aware I got it wrong and uh, I got it wrong.

Week 309 crits part 1

Commissioning a Nigun – Chili

This one was frustrating to grade. My experience with Judaism is pretty limited and I couldn't help but feel that I was missing some critical cultural context that would make the whole thing click. As-is, it's a story where a teacher is mean and weirdly stuck in the mud, then the kid grows up to ... still stare at the sky? Cool I guess. I'm just not sure why I'm meant to care. This might even be a good story but I have no idea and that's why I didn't place it very highly.

Fragile broken things – Captain Person

I liked the prose in this, but the breaking apart at the end didn't really work. It's a fine line to ride: representing the breakdown of logic while still writing prose that's easy for the reader to follow. This errs a little too hard on the breakdown side for me. I didn't really understand what you were trying to do with it; it was very beautiful, but also very hard to get into.

Those Who Would Burn it to the Ground – Thranguy

This felt weirdly sterile. It should be a tight, human story but it has this degree of emotional distance that makes it really hard to care about. It was well-written and did a lot of cool worldbuilding in a very short space, but I walked away from it kinda saying 'so what?' It wasn't bad at all, but you're better than 'not bad'.

Make Like a Tree – sparksbloom

Aaaaw yeah here we go. This is the sorta weirdness I was looking for. I think Suzanne getting merc'd probably could've been more clear: I came away assuming she'd been murdered and there was a late-capitalist plot to murder people then charge their friends/families but the other judges thought she'd genuinely committed suicide and honestly, I'm not sure. This was tight, though.

other place – Pham Nuwen

Another entry this week that made me say "that was cool, but so what?" I don't insist that all stories have narrative arcs, but they need to have something in there that makes you really care. Our protagonist here doesn't even get a name: they kinda just bounce around aimlessly until they bounce all the way outta their body. The lack of agency is really what dragged this down for me: it's hard to root for somebody who doesn't care.


Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


Week 309 crits

I read these in judgemode, as usual.

As muffin mentioned, none of this week's entries are terrible. Most fell into the category of competent, with the odd nice turn of phrase here and there.

Commissioning a Nigun

Hmm. Lightweight but nothing really to complain about. I don't really know enough about Judaism to get all that's going on here, though. Seemed nice enough and nothing to really complain about, aside from you could explain obscure things a bit more.

Middle +1

Fragile Broken Things

Eh. The back and forth between a narrative and quotation for something doesn't really work for me. Maybe because I don't know who or what said the italicized text.

By the end I didn't really understand much more about what happened in the story than I did at the beginning.


Those Who Would Burn it to the Ground

Hmmph. I was annoyed reading this that it all seemed so ripped from the headlines, just with some of the nouns renamed. It feels very, very 2018.

Putting that aside, I'm not sure about this story structurally. It does what it set out to do better than some of the earlier stories this week, but I don't know about it. It's related to the reader at such an abstract high level that everything feels kind of ethereal.


Make Like A Tree

All right, you did something interesting with a premise I've actually read on Thunderdome before. This is lifted up purely by its execution. Lots of little details that help the story, line by line, in the first section.

But then that ending section felt jarring. Like she was about to go and try to investigate and solve the murder mystery, if that's what it was... but then she just meditates for a while and eats a lovely blueberry instead.


other place

I don't know what's going on so far but all these details are great. Really selling the story.

I didn't really like the ending, though. Seemed to come out of left field. The very end of it kind of brought things back, but doesn't really make up for it. There was no real sense of foreboding of what was coming, it seemed to me. The shift was too jarring.


You and Me at the End of the World

OK, this is nice. You managed to make a touching story about the apocalypse, somehow.

I didn't have any nits to pick with this, really. It's well-crafted.

slight high

The First Day of Peacetime

Hmm. I don't know how I feel about this. It's post-apocalyptic, or almost, allegedly, but it doesn't really have anything to do with the story which is only about these two people.

Basically, this needed a lot more fleshing out. It's not a bad story, per se; I've read many much, much worse stories in TD alone over the years. This just feels like it's still a very rough draft of a story.



Your story had the first grammar/punctuation issue I've noticed this week. ("He takes another swig of beer, and leans over the dividing fence line." shouldn't have a comma before the 'and'.) But that's not on you so much as noting how unusual this week was.

Nice story arc. I'm not really sure what the point was, though? She's prepping for an apocalypse that probably won't come, just 'cause, the end?

What does Dad do all day? Actually, what does he do in the second half of the story? What does she do when she's not feeding and watering her animals? Where does she/he get the money for this?

The ending treated the problem like it was life or death... but they're just a dozen food rabbits, raised on a lark, pointlessly. There were no actual stakes here.

middle +1

We Can Forget It For You Wholesale

These descriptions and word choices are starting to get obtrusive. Before the dialog they mostly worked, but that is a long stretch of almost nothing happening to open the story.

And then the dialog itself is so mundane, simple American dialect, almost slangy (but not quite; that would actually be interesting). Just the contrast between the flowery narration and the dialog is jarring.

In the end, I find I like this story despite itself, even though we don't quite know what's going on with these weird misery vampires secretly (or overtly?) doing the bidding of some distant god.


Maiden Flight

This is an interesting concept and the story is keeping my attention throughout.

I don't have much to complain about. Some turns of phrase are a bit awkward; but these are low-level issues that can be polished out. The high level structure of the story is solid.


Border Crossing

Oh boy with a name like that

So... yeah. I thought it might go somewhere interesting with the surprising futuristic opening, but then it snapped back to exactly where I expected from the title.

If this story was all about the war and the preceding history was laid out only in suggestions and implications, a story on this topic might work. But not when it's structured like this.

And when you need to leave a big steaming infodump at the end of your story, it's generally a sign that something went off the rails at the planning stage.


Kindred Instruments

These are very pretty words. That aspect kind of gets lost in the later half of the story.

And so do I. I found it gets decreasingly clear what is going on, and why, as I read. That's not the usual difficulty curve of a story, especially flash fiction.

I'm not quite sure what happened there at the end, and I definitely don't know what Violet's planning to do or say to the queen. That last line in particular feels too abrupt to end the story on.

Ending with an attempted assault seems half-baked at best, because there's no reason or motivation for these characters or stakes defined for what she might do in response.


Cold Regret


More pretty word-crafting.

What a weird little story. Not sure why he came back (or how he died), or what he did exactly in this story, or why doing it put him to rest. Good job killing the ice spirit monster, I guess? Not sure what happened to Marion, either.

Maybe having some sort of meeting between him and her would improve the story? I just don't really see the point of the whole thing. It was all about his backstory as he shambled around, but nothing happened with any of it and it all got thrown out by the end.

middle +1

A Gospel

Eh. This is just confusing all the way through. I don't really know what happened here and I'm not sure I want to read it again to try to figure it out.

But I'm a judge so I did.

Making everything narration, and making your narrator someone who just elliptically circle around what's going on, usually without actually describing what actions are happening at any given moment, is just a whole truckload of "tell". It makes this whole opening section almost impenetrable.

And... then the ending throws out all you've built up and the narrator kisses a random dude on the street the end.



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