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sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

cptn_dr posted:

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.

this is the story of yoruichi's horse and is therefore magical

in, haven't read the prompt, presume it's retarded

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sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

also gently caress this no loser bullshit, muffin fight me

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


MockingQuantum posted:

In, , and flash me please.

You get Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash

Antivehicular posted:

In and flash, please.

You get Devil's Spoke by Laura Marling

Captain_Person posted:

In, obviously. Give me some good flash!

You get Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan's cover of Snake Song

Solitair posted:

In with a flash, please!

Your song is Brother, My Cup is Empty by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Thranguy posted:

In and flash

Your song is Sinnerman by DOCTOR Nina Simone

Staggy
Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes


In for my first Thunderdome. Flash me please!

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


Staggy posted:

In for my first Thunderdome. Flash me please!

Welcome to Thunderdome! Your flash song is Murder By Death's Comin' Home

curlingiron
Dec 15, 2006

Adventure Awaits!


Fun Shoe

Thanks for the crits! 🐝

Pham Nuwen
Oct 30, 2010



curlingiron posted:

Thanks for the crits! 🐝

magnificent7
Sep 22, 2005

THUNDERDOME LOSER


In, Flash some of that slide guitar dobro backwoods rear end poo poo.

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


magnificent7 posted:

In, Flash some of that slide guitar dobro backwoods rear end poo poo.

You get Up Jumped The Devil

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Grimey Drawer

Thank you for the crits Muffin and Fuschia!



And I couldn't agree more!

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009

I am a real boy.


I'm in

ibntumart
Mar 18, 2007

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


College Slice

Appreciate the crits! Let's see if I do Southern-ish Gothic better. In and flash me!

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


ibntumart posted:

Appreciate the crits! Let's see if I do Southern-ish Gothic better. In and flash me!

Your flash song is Werewolf - Cat Power

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


Cptn_Crits Part 1

I figured since the theme of the week was two of my favourite lyricists ever, and since I’m gonna have to do judging for the first time next week (also, still need co-judges if anyone’s keen), I should try my hand at writing some crits. Hopefully some of it’s helpful?

Chili
  • For a piece that is, at its heart, “why I’m an atheist now”, you did a good job at not making it smug, and though the moral at the end isn’t surprising, it feels earned. Thematically, I think it all comes together quite well.
  • That said, it took me a couple of tries to get through, because I felt like I was being lectured. It’s obvious now that’s the point, and I appreciate it for what it is in retrospect, but it was a bit of a struggle to get through at first.
  • On the other hand, the lecture was pretty effective at conveying the Rabbi’s character. I feel like I’ve got a good sense of who he is. Ditto for Chaim, too. I don’t have a huge wealth of knowledge about Judaism, but I went to Catholic School and there’s just enough similarity in religious schooling in general there for it to hit home.

Captain Person
  • I’ve given you most of my thoughts on this earlier in the week (if you’d been able to keep the formatting from the GDdoc draft, it would have worked a dozen times better), but I think you did some really strong stuff with the two voices playing off against each other, as well as some really well constructed and beautiful prose.
  • I love me some weird Angel bullshit, so I was won over pretty early on anyway, but I liked how you portrayed the angel’s perspective. It was alien, but not inhuman.

Thranguy
  • This has a messy, chaotic quality to it that I think works really well for it, but the first paragraph took me two reads to parse it properly. I’m not sure if immediately cutting to a flashback after the first paragraph works for me either, it feels a little bit like dead weight.
  • Despite the frenetic pace, I didn’t really feel the characters. The narrator felt like he was held at arm’s length, when he really should have been more visceral.
  • I do really appreciate that the ending is optimistic, but without compromising the overall tone of the piece.

Sparksbloom
  • It’s a really strong opening. A really weird concept that grabs me, and makes me want to keep reading.
  • The conversation between Suzanne and the narrator is a bit info-dumpy, but it’s interesting information so I don’t mind too much.
  • The last paragraph didn’t quiiiite work for me, though. Is the implication that the tree people had Suzanne (and by extension, everyone else in the Arboretum) killed? Or did she just give up and kill herself? It’s all very sinister and unnerving, which I like, but the realization comes pretty quickly. The narrator says they see holes in their theory, but only lists one, and I’m left a bit confused rather than shocked.
  • All that said, I think the final line is just as strong as the opening ones.

Pham Nuwen
  • This is a cool idea, but I don’t think it ever really becomes more than that. The details are good, and the world-building is solid, but that doesn’t eventuate into anything that grabbed me.
  • I think where it really fell down, for me at least, is that there are no stakes. “Oh, the narrator died. *shrug* Oh well, it didn’t slow him down.”
  • What it really needed is some more conflict, or some more well drawn characters playing off against each other, in order to make me care about the core concept.

Antivehicular
  • One of my favourite settings is pre-apocalyptic, or maybe rather half-apocalyptic, and this really nails that. The feeling that the world is emptying out, and people figuring out what to do in the face of it all. This nails that feeling really well.
  • I got a pretty good feel for the two characters, and I there were some really interesting things in the setting that’s implied by the little details.
  • Despite that, I don’t think it felt quite like a finished story. Their conversation could have been expanded on or built up a little further. Though I’m really just nitpicking, like I say, I did really like this piece.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

sebmojo posted:

also gently caress this no loser bullshit, muffin fight me

oy muffin what sort of sorry excuse for a week one fogey are you if you can't even properly tuck tail and flee from a brawl challenge

i mean that is what you're doing, right?

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Sitting Here posted:

oy muffin what sort of sorry excuse for a week one fogey are you if you can't even properly tuck tail and flee from a brawl challenge

i mean that is what you're doing, right?

Looks like, yep

SurreptitiousMuffin
Mar 21, 2010

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


Oh what I missed that. Yeah I'm down.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

sebmojo posted:

also gently caress this no loser bullshit, muffin fight me

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Oh what I missed that. Yeah I'm down.

Your judges will be: myself and Sitting Here. Prepare yourselves.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

sebmuffin brawl number %n?!

right lads you know the gist now gently caress off and spin me a yarn

o right, the prompt.

Weeeelll both of you are class-A bullshitters with tropes myself and my esteemed co-judge are all too familiar with. Ergo this brawl you will be writing airport realism. Your protag cannot be airport staff or a person dropping off/picking up a passenger. No bullshit metaphor bullshit. No self-inserts who demonstrate and then refuse to resolve your own irl flaws. No poetic flimflam. Just straight up aerospace passenger realism, you fucks, you buffoons.

THERE ARE WORD COUNT SHENANIGANS. THEY ARE AS FOLLOWS: your stories must be a minimum of 1400 words. They must be no longer than 1800 words. You fucks. You absolute garbagemongers.

deadline: 1 PM july 22 NZ time, because evidently you're doing NERD things at 2 PM that day
judges:
sh (onto your bullshit)
yoruichi (extremely onto your bullshit)

toxx up and fight well.

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Grimey Drawer

Nice bonus critting Cptn! Thanks!

Flesnolk
Apr 11, 2012

If only, THUNDERDOME


Finally poking my head up from the mayhem of summer classes. In, flash.

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


Flesnolk posted:

Finally poking my head up from the mayhem of summer classes. In, flash.

Your song is Lungs - Townes Van Zandt

vannevar
Jan 27, 2013

The war goes on.


In. This will be my first entry into the Thunderdome.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

In

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


Entries closed.

If anyone's interested in judging, I still need a co-judge or two.

CantDecideOnAName
Jan 1, 2012

And I understand if you ask
Was this life,
was this all?


cptn_dr posted:

Entries closed.

If anyone's interested in judging, I still need a co-judge or two.

Sign me up.

RandomPauI
Nov 24, 2006

I failed to submit because I was so excited about New Zealander Tim Price winning the Burghley Horse Trials on the quirky but freakishly talented Ringwood Sky Boy

Grimey Drawer

Sure, I can judge.

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


Awesome, thanks folks.

vannevar
Jan 27, 2013

The war goes on.


Week 310: Whiskey and Ghosts (No flash rule)

Light of My Life
1248 words

Charlie’s in the yard, pulling weeds from the flowerbed. It was the only way I could think of to disguise the ugly scar they’d left on the lawn when they dug it up to install the new water pipes. After they’d said the well was no good. After Charlie’s daddy died.

The flowers had come in nice, and last summer Charlie had gotten some men from the parish to come ‘round and paint the house. It looked almost the way it did when I was a little girl. A woman’s house was her only pride, she’d taught me; that and the food she served in it. I’d won for best pie at the state fair three years running when I married Charlie’s daddy and come to live in this house.

When I had my Charlie, I felt just like a queen. He was my little angel back then, back when a boy wasn’t ashamed to take his mama’s hand crossing the street. I raised him to be good and mannerly, and he went off to school where he was always the top of his class. My little prince.

Never good enough for his daddy, though. He had a temper on him, that man. I think he was always disappointed Charlie never went out much for sports. He likes to swim, my Charlie; we used to spend summer days by the lake, but that wasn’t a man’s sport to his daddy. It wasn’t right for a man to take his anger out on a little boy. I tried to protect him best I could.

When Charlie went away to college, he wrote home about his exciting life in the city and the things he was learning. I worried, of course. You know how cities are, all that crime there, and someone might take advantage of my sweet boy. But he would come home on long weekends, and sometimes in the summer, and that was alright.

He came home for his daddy’s funeral, too, when we put him in the ground up at Light of Life. That cost most of my husband’s pension, that little plot of land and mine next to it. Charlie bought the one on the other side of mine a few years later, when he got his first real job.

That was in the city too. They don’t get many long weekends at Charlie’s work, but he comes out when he can, and helps me mow the lawn or find a handyman to fix the leaks in the roof. After he finishes his work and washes up, we have a slice of pie and a cup of coffee together at the table in the dining room. Usually afterwards he goes to have a lay down, and I take him back to his old room, and he sleeps til morning.

It’s so much quieter here, compared to all the bright and loud of the city. And there’s always another train in the morning. Maybe I’ll see if I can make him stay the night tonight.

He comes in and heads straight for the shower. I fix myself a cup of coffee with cream, and I look out over the yard as the dark comes. It’s nice here, finally, calm and quiet, and nobody bothers me.

“The paint’s starting to bubble in the back corner, Mama,” Charlie says, coming back into the kitchen.

“But it’s brand new,” I tell him.

“I know,” he says. “I looked it up and it’s probably termites.”

“Well,” I say, “I’ve got some stuff I can put out that’ll kill them, but won’t it hurt the flowers?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie says. “I think we should call someone to take a look at it, but there might be other damage we can’t see.”

“I hope this won’t be like the man that patched the roof only for it to leak again the next winter.”

“That’s because of the old chimney, Mama. You’re going to need to get them to repair the flashing and check the roof every year.”

“Every year?” I say. “That’s expensive, Charlie.”

“I know. Look, Mama, why don’t you come sit with me? We need to talk about some stuff.”

“Well, go and have a seat in the dining room, then. I’ll bring you a nice slice of pie.”

“No thanks.”

“What about just a cup of coffee?” I say.

He looks at me, frustration creasing his brow. After a moment, he sighs: “Alright,” he says. “Fine.”

“What is this about, anyway?” While he shuffles to the dining room, I take down a cup from the shelf. The coffee in the pot is fresh, and I go to fetch the sugar bowl from the windowsill over the sink.

When he answers, his voice echoes in the emptiness of the house, drifting through the doorway between kitchen and dining room. “When I get home, I wanna put together a list of places nearby,” he says.

He’s not going back tonight, not if his mother has anything to say about it. I reach into the cabinet and take down the bag of sugar to refill the sugar bowl. Behind it are the little vials of extracts—vanilla, peppermint, that kind of thing. I take one down, a little green one with the eyedropper on the top.

“It’s getting harder for me to keep on top of things here,” Charlie says. My hands shake as I hold the dropper over the coffee, and I squeeze. Just a drop. Maybe two. “I think we need to talk about selling the house, Mama.”

I almost drop the spoon I’m holding. Most of the sugar goes into the cup. I sweep the rest up with my hands and dust my fingers off into the sink, rinsing quickly. I stir the coffee and put the spoon aside, taking my own cup up in my other hand. I go to sit at the head of the dinner table.

“I am not selling this house, Charlie.”

“There are some good places, Mama, with people to take care of you.”

“I don’t need to be taken care of,” I tell him. “Drink your coffee.”

He does, quick and angry. “I got a train to catch,” he says, practically slamming the cup onto the table. When he stands, he falls, and I lean over him, pressing a wizened hand to his forehead, as though checking for a fever. He doesn’t have one.

“You don’t look so good, sweetie,” I tell him. “You better stay the night.”

He’s heavy, though, and he won’t stand. He just lays there on the hardwood, breathing hard, twitching. I go into the kitchen, and I see the phone hanging by the back door. I could call for help, but they’d take him away. And the old well is boarded up now, so they’ll know it wasn’t in the water.

I take down my little vial of extract and squeeze the dropper empty. Then I put the green glass bottle to my lips and I drink. It’s bitter, and soon I am too dizzy to stand, so I crawl. Back to the dining room, back to my Charlie.

He is shaking on the floor like some of the women at church. I wrap my arms around him and try to hold him still. It’s getting harder to breathe, and my fingers are twitching. I hug him, tight as I can, determined to hold onto him until the end.

Nobody is going to take my boy from me.

Flesnolk
Apr 11, 2012

If only, THUNDERDOME


My computer keeps randomly overheating and shutting down so I don’t know if I can really write much. Will see if I can figure something out but I might have to duck out.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

The Ghost of Blackford Manor
1120 words


“That’s just the new butler. He’s a ghost,” said my 2-years’ husband, when I asked, startled, about the sound of teacups rattling down the long hall.

“But we can’t afford a butler,” I said. I was sick of him making decisions without asking me. He treated me like a child, a pet.

Connor rolled his eyes. “This one we can. He only eats one soul a year.”

Belle, our maid, was the first to go. Sweet Belle, so kind and attentive; she had no idea what hit her when Connor brained her with the fire iron. He dumped her body into the old well, cursing at the stiffening corpse’s weight. I refused to help. But, afterwards, I felt dirty, sullied by his sin.

I missed Belle terribly. The crumbling mansion felt even emptier without her cheerful prattle. The swampy air was oppressive and the constant creak of of rotting timbers frayed my nerves. Belle used to tell me stories about the mansion’s former glory. Together we’d daydreamed about fixing the place up, if only Connor would let us. In those moments I had almost believed I could be happy here.

I was furious at Connor for choosing her, for taking away the only person who came close to being my friend. He apologised on bent knees, arms around my waist and face pressed into my belly under my soft cotton dress. Through my skin I could feel his cruel smirk, and it sickened me.

In the first year the butler just made tea and stood waiting to open the grand front door for guests who never came. After it absorbed Belle it began cleaning, fastidiously. At night I’d listen to its low moaning as it obsessively dusted mouldering rooms that hadn’t been used in years. It sounded even lonelier than me.

“I think this year we should give it the gardener,” Connor said. He was trying to distract me from the painful subject of his gambling debts. Even without paying Belle’s meagre wage we were barely making ends meet.

“But Doug is still a young man; his parents will notice he’s gone.”

“They’ll notice the extra bread when the don’t have to feed his good-for-nothing arse.” Connor took another pull from his ever-present hip flask. “Besides, his topiary is poo poo.”

On the contrary, I thought Doug’s whimsical, twisted shrub sculptures were positively avant-garde. They reminded me of the New York life I’d left behind when I’d become Mrs Connor Blackford. My romantic Southern beau, he’d been so sweet, a real gentleman. I’d fallen in love not just with him but with the promise of an idyllic country life on his once-wealthy family’s rambling estate.

“No,” I said. “I want Doug to stay.”

Connor slammed his palm down on the huge mahogany dining table; a familiar warning. “Don’t be so damned stupid. You know what will happen if we don’t feed the butler.”

I feared his anger but I couldn’t stop myself. “I never wanted a stupid ghost butler in the first place! If you hadn’t gambled away all our money we’d be able to afford normal staff!”

“You ungrateful bitch! Everything I do is for you! For our future children!”

Rage flared inside me at that. I was refusing him sex, so afraid was I of pregnancy in this godforsaken place. Connor wouldn’t listen to my fears, to him I was simply a stubborn heifer, refusing to do my job.

Doug’s lanky shadow appeared in the doorway. “Is everything alright ma’am? I heard shouting,” he said.

“Doug, run!” I screamed, but like an unleashed pit-dog Connor was upon him, hands locked in a murderer’s choke around his neck. A sudden wind whipped around the room, rattling the stern portraits in their heavy frames. It sounded like Connor’s ancestors were applauding, egging on the last of their awful line. The butler moaned with anticipation, a terrible, high-pitched sound that burrowed into my skull even as I pressed my hands against my ears.

And then, suddenly, it was quiet. Doug was dead; another body to heave into the well. After that the state of the garden improved markedly, but all the life went out of the topiary.

Connor was pleased, smug. He boasted about how clever, how daring he’d been to procure the ghost butler. At first the extra money made things easier, but it didn’t last long. One day a group of men came, pulled up right outside in a beat-up van. They rifled through the house, taking silverware and antiques that they said were part-payment for Connor’s debts. Connor just sat on the porch, fist wrapped tight around a fifth of bourbon.

Later, he came to my bedroom for comfort. His stubble scratched my face and his breath stank worse than the swamp.

“Get out,” I told him, and pushed him away.

“What sort of wife denies her husband,” he slurred. His eyes were cold, cruel. He took my wrists and forced me back on to the bed. Desperate with anger and fear I kicked out, caught him in his fat gut, and ran. The gravel cut my bare feet and I stumbled to the garage and into Connor’s Ford Thunderbird; the one possession he took care of. I barely knew how to drive and the wheels spun, spraying gravel. Connor was there, running across the driveway to cut me off before I could reach the gate.

Over the roar of the engine I heard the butler moan. The sound reverberated inside my head and filled me with cold fear. I knew this would happen; I knew the terms of the devil’s pact that Connor had made. One soul per year, every year. And there was no one left but the two of us.

The gate was so close now. Red-faced from running Connor held his arms wide to block my escape. The butler’s moans rose to a fevered scream. I could feel its hunger, and I realised I was screaming too. I hated Connor and this life of fear and servitude. I wanted freedom, control over my body and my soul. And the only thing that stood between me and freedom was –

I yanked the wheel and Connor disappeared beneath the bumper. The car thumped over his body and crunched to a halt against the stone pillar of the gate. The screaming stopped. I sagged against the leather upholstery and took deep, gasping breaths.

The butler stood on the driveway. Its transparent face was contorted with rage, and it raised a fist to strike me. I flinched, but the ectoplasm felt cool as it brushed harmlessly through my face. Behind it the pointed gables of Blackford Manor shone white in the moonlight.

“You’re mine now,” I said, and smiled.

MockingQuantum
Jan 20, 2012


Unlockable Ben

Revolver
1440 words
Flash rule: Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash


James stalked down the street, one hand lazily shading his eyes from the burning sun, the other limply slapping the old revolver against his thigh. The gun smelled sweet, the tang of it drifting to his nose like burnt sugar. He almost wanted to give it a taste, just a little one. One quick taste would solve a lot of problems, wouldn’t it? But it wouldn’t solve his. Daddy told him how to solve this problem, though James hadn’t known the fix for what it was at the time.

He’d been walking his rounds for most of the day, asking his question to everyone that looked right, so it was no real surprise the street was clear. He knew, too, that the sheriff and his crew were off dealing with a mess of a roadblock, an old worn tree spanning old Highway 7 into town. James knew, as he was the one that chopped it down the day before. He’d needed them out of the way to find the answer to his question. With them gone, he was free to find the perfect fit, the right person to solve his biggest problem.

Even so, he thought, it’s no easy job I’m meant to do. He aimed to have it done and buried with the sun, so the night was left for mourning. The next day was August, after all, and a new month is a good time for healing. A sour job like his may need doing, but there was no gain in making it more bitter than it had to be.

The sun was overtaking him, beating him to a sweaty pulp. The stark judging eye above sapped him of his conviction, but the heavy weight of the gun in his hand pulled the scales into balance. Still, no point in scorching yourself on your last day, he thought, and wandered into the Iron Horse Saloon.

His eyes took a moment to reconcile the sudden dark, while his ears took in the rough quiet of the room. It was empty, save a threadbare country song mumbling out of the aged jukebox. He wandered behind the bar, going to the fridge and snatching out a sweaty bottle he’d put there after work the night before, knowing the day would bring thirsty business. He popped the cap off on the bar, his hand finding a stretch of scuff with practiced ease.

It had been his intent to return to his circuit, ticking off the names until he found the right one, but the oak and leather begged him to stay, entreated him as old friends to make this his last stand. He relented, dropping into the booth in the corner furthest from the. The cool wood was refreshing, and he leaned his head back into its sturdy embrace. He patted the leather seat like he was welcoming a long lost dog. He’d always envied customers when they took this booth. Twenty years standing behind the bar left him convinced none of the drunken fools would appreciate the simple comfort of a cool seat in a dark room.

The gun found its way to the table, its black eye trained on the door. His finger was never far from tickling it into a yelling match. The beer was nearly three-fourths gone when the door finally swung open. The thing it vomited forth was gruesome, hateful to his eyes, because in his heart he knew this was the name he’d been waiting for. This was where his job needed doing.

Davy braced a hand on the door frame and nodded with the severity of the grave when he saw James at the table, as if a long riddle had just been answered for him. He sat across from James, eyes trained on the gun with an expression both weary and wary. Had James been holding a bouquet of flowers, Davy would not have looked more uncertain.

“What you doing with Daddy’s gun, James?” Davy asked. He reached across the table, snatching up James’s bottle and slugging back the dregs with habitual ease.

James turned the gun over in his hand, pondering it like he only just noticed its weight in his palm. “Well, he always said a man should know how to shoot. I thought it was time I learned.” James returned the revolver to the table. He didn’t point it at Davy, though. They both knew it wouldn’t matter where he pointed it, if he had a mind to use it.

“That so?” James asked. “Well, he did say that often enough, I’ll lend you. Have you found shooting to your liking?”

“Nah,” James said, a little laugh clawing its way up his belly. “Haven’t found occasion to try yet, if I’m being honest. See, I knew this would be my only chance. Knew it was my job to make it count.”

“Make what count?” Davy asked. “Make your shot count? Seems like a silly reason to scare the poo poo out of half the town, if you’re just looking to blow off some steam and shoot up a bottle or two.” He cast his arm vaguely across the bar. It was a reasonable assumption to make, that James would want to put paid to a mess of glass that had taken up a fair share of his last years.

“To make my life count, I mean. I never did nothing. Never made anything of myself. I want to be remembered. Doctor says I got maybe a week left before my lungs are done. I already can’t breathe worth a poo poo. This just seemed the quickest way to something not unlike immortality.” He waggled the gun in the air.

Davy shook his head, leaning back into the booth with an audible creak, the old wood protesting this bullheadedness with him. “You shoot someone, doesn’t matter who they are, all you gonna get is a few days play in the local rag. Hell, maybe some paper in the city picks it up and spreads it around for a few days. But it’s not gonna reach beyond those fifty miles, I’ll wager. And once the locals have cut their teeth well and good on whatever bit of gruesomeness you choose to leave in your wake, they gonna spit you out. They gonna leave you in print and that’s where you’ll stay. You sure that’s enough, that it’s worth burning your reputation and hurting your family for a day or two of brittle fame?”

As Davy spoke, a dim ember sparked itself in the dark of James’s pupils. The ember grew bright, eating up the heat, as if it was burning down the last of James that had been left untouched by sickness. When Davy finished, James rose his head, slowly, deliberately casting that terrible light on his brother’s face.

“Remember the stories Daddy told us? Them ghost stories he loved so much?” James asked, staring at the gun as if it was a lodestone, drawing the memories from his youth. “His favorite ghosts were the restless ones. Called them ‘revenants’, those unquiet souls,” James said as he cocked the pistol, tightening his fingers like taut rope round the old wooden grip. “You know how you get a revenant? You remember what daddy said?”

Davy felt his brother’s eyes on his face, while his own stayed locked on the gun. “They gotta do something terrible, or have something terrible done to them or theirs. That happens, they walk the earth forever.”

“Forever,” James said, nodding. “I’ve never believed in heaven, but I think I can believe in forever easily enough. Living my tiny life, working this bar for all those years, felt like half forever.” The gun rose slowly from the table, as if James’s arm was possessed of a mind all its own, and a desire to finish the work set before it.

Davy’s throat was thick and his hands unsteady as he rose from his seat, ready for something, though he couldn’t read in his brother’s face just what that something might be. Two ways this could go, he thought, and neither was certain. “You don’t want to do this, Jamie. Forever’s an awful long time to be broken. What would you do, after everybody you know is gone to dust? What’s the worth of walking the earth forever if there’s no one left who knew you?”

The fire went out in James’s eyes. His face hardened, and his voice was cold as a winter grave. “Can’t say I intend to spend it alone.” The trigger clicked, the hammer fell, the gun roared.

The trigger clicked, the hammer fell, the gun roared once more.

Staggy
Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes


Homebound
1,493 words
Flash Rule: Comin' Home by Murder by Death

Sean drives the final kick into my gut and I curl, retching into the gag. I pull my hands, bound tightly by baling twine, in close. Sean has already staggered off but he pauses in the doorway and turns to look back. For a moment I dare to hope he’ll stop this but he only spits and curses, slamming the door behind him. I hear the bar drop. Then I hear the crunch of glass and suddenly smell kerosene. The beams of moonlight that stab through the door are, to my rising horror, replaced by a flickering orange glow.

I once gathered crayons and scrap paper and drew the barn as I imagined it had looked before Dad died. I gave it rich mahogany walls, instead of the cracking paint it actually had, and filled it with cows rather than dust. Sean had taken one look and ripped it in two. When I cried he hit me and when I wouldn’t fight back he hit me again, harder. He shouted at me to be a real man and beat me until his knuckles bled. Mom had presided over the whole thing in silent dignity, a silhouette against the sun-bleached lace curtains. She had been content to allow the 14-year-old man of the house to mete out justice. I’d been kept indoors until the bruises had completely disappeared.

I claw and struggle with bound hands at the tape across my face, which only seems to wrap it tighter. When I finally rip it free and the rags spill from my mouth, smoke forces itself into my lungs. I choke. The fire has consumed the door and spread quickly along the dry and rotten walls. I rise slowly and shakily, my head swimming in panic and pain.

The entire town had packed into the tiny, airless chapel for Mom’s funeral. I’d driven all night to get back and my fingers had kept up a constant erratic drumming on my leg through the service, a side-effect of the last pot of coffee. Afterward, the guests had mobbed me, the questions flying as fast as the sympathy. Where had I gone? How long was I back for? Somebody had heard I was doing very well for myself in the city - was it true? Sean had stood on the edge of the crowd, making sure I could see him wherever I turned. Every time I had mentioned my life outside of town his expression had grown another shade darker.

I know the door is barred but slam into it in blind desperation. It holds. By now the smoke is descending, what few cracks it can find in the roof not allowing it to escape fast enough. I strain against the twine biting into my wrists but it doesn’t break. Even slick with blood I can’t squeeze my hands through the loops. For all his demands I stand up for myself Sean never had liked me being able to hit back. The walls are bare - anything of use long since moved to the house, everything else sold.

In the end, Sean had grown tired of waiting for an excuse to hit me that never came. He had driven home without me, pretense be damned now that the last veneer of decency had been buried next to Dad. I had hoped that by the time I walked home his head would be a little clearer. Instead, it just gave him more time to drink and fester.

He hadn’t said much when I walked in but there were a lot of empty bottles in the kitchen and soon he couldn’t stop himself. He hadn’t wanted my help with the farm but I was a disgrace to Dad’s memory for leaving him alone to watch it fail. He hadn’t wanted me back but I was a drat coward for running away to the city instead of staying and getting my hands dirty. Like him. He’d shoved me, hard, when I said I was leaving in the morning but I wouldn’t stoop to fighting back when he was that drunk and I’d said as much. That had been the wrong thing to say. At that point, though, everything had been the wrong thing. We’d spent too long not talking for there to be any kind words left.

I slide to the ground again. The smoke hangs low to the floor now and I’ve been forced to retreat into one corner. I strain again and again at the ties around my wrists but I was built for grace and dexterity, not brute strength. I can hear the walls around me begin to groan and protest.

The far wall goes first and pulls down a section of the roof with it. Timber crashes to the ground, sending up a blaze of sparks and ash. Smoke streams into the night through the new hole and for a few moments I can see where the impact has beaten out the fire. One long beam, the last to fall, runs across the blazing wreckage and almost up to the top of the shattered wall.

My heart seizes as I realise a very, very careful man could - even with bound hands - shuffle across the beam. A truly desperate man might just be able to pull themselves over the jagged lip of the wall and drop free.

I’m up and staggering before I even realise it. I choke down the fire in my gut and my lungs and force myself through the smoke. The beam creaks alarmingly when I put my weight on it, even over the roar of the fire. But what other choice do I have? Arms wavering in front of me for balance, I edge slowly up and along the beam.

I have no idea what stopped Sean from squeezing the trigger after he pulled the revolver on me. Staring down the shaking barrel I had seen thirty years of hate and jealousy eyeing me. Instead, he had swung out instead, smacking me to the floor.

I slowly shuffle my way along the beam, the fire below threatening to overtake me. I can just see the darkness of the night over the top of the wall. Arms out, I grasp one jagged post with both bound hands. Splinters pierce my palms as I raise one leg, testing. I hear a crack. The beam gives way as I push off desperately with what little strength remains. One leg makes it over the edge and I hang there for a moment that stretches on and on, balanced painfully on the top of the wall, until my weight shifts and I pick up momentum and slide and tumble over the wall as the binding on my wrists catches on the top and I jerk to a halt, hanging suspended. New pain screams through my shoulders and I scream with it.

All I had been able to see had been the back of Sean’s vest, sweat and drink and blood illuminated by the moonlight. I had heard the labouring of his breath and the squeaking of the lantern’s handle over the ringing in my ears. I had felt the rough dirt scrape my back and the twine around my wrists. I hadn’t been able to see where Sean had been dragging me. But I had known where he was taking me all the same.

I scream. The fire reaches up the wall, slashing and engulfing my hands. My hanging feet kick uselessly against the boards as I roast, the fat of my palms bubbling and bursting through skin that has blackened and charred and split. I am unaware of anything other than the sun that I hold in my hands. Eventually, mercifully, the twine around my wrists burns enough that my weight can drag me down, free of the fire.

I remember leaving town for the last time. Sean’s stare had been reflected in the rear-view mirror until I drove out of sight. His feet had been anchored firmly in the dirt, framed against the open barn doors.

Moonlight streams through my fingers as I raise my hands above my head. Every movement is agony but I have to know. I clench and almost black out. My hands are claws, sundered and oozing. I can already tell I’ll never hold a pen again. I can barely make a half-fist without dry-heaving.

I roll over and can see the house. See the lamp lit in the kitchen window where I know Sean will now be another bottle deep. Eventually, he’ll fall asleep there, surrounded by the bottles and the lace curtains and the kerosene glow of the lamp. My hands twitch. I can still lift a lamp.

My foot pushes off of the smoldering barn foundations. My path is lit by the moon above and the fire behind. I contort my torso and the back of my arms dig into the soil. I have all night.

Slowly, inevitably, I head for home.

cptn_dr
Sep 7, 2011

It's just so good!


Crittin_Dr Week 309 Part Two
(Phone posting from the lunchroom at work, so apologies for any formatting weirdness)

Lippincott
  • This is some good low stakes writing. While there’s not a huge amount at stake, it feels like it means something, and that’s nice alongside all the other bigger scale pieces this week.
  • I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to feel like there’s an apocalypse slowly looming in the background, or if the protagonist is just a prepper for the sake of it.
  • You managed to convey some subtle characterization of the protagonist, but her dad was a bit of a blank slate.

Solitair

  • I like the worldbuilding here. It’s not too info-dumpy, but it manages to convey a neat concept and some interesting ideas.
  • The two halves of the story feel a bit disconnected from each other. I like the second half a bit more than the first (weird distant god, A+ would worship), but I don’t know if it adds much narratively. It’s just kind of a “here’s a vignette about these two 10 years later”.
  • But the ending is sweet-but-unsettling, and overall I really liked the piece, so I can’t complain about it too much.

CurlingIron

  • Good clear description, interesting setting and a generally unsettling mood.
  • The prose is generally pretty strong, though some of the dialogue feels a little clunky.
  • Not a lot to crit here, on the whole. I think it’s a really strong piece that ticks a lot of boxes for what I enjoy. Maybe feels a little bit light on conflict, but given everything I’ve ever submitted to TD, that’s a bit like calling the kettle black.

Ibntumart

  • I’m just gonna echo Muffin straight off the bat here - the ending really drags this down. It was clipping along at a good pace, good action, decent ideas, (though a bit info-dumpy) and then bam - it trips up and falls flat on its face. It’s a decent twist, but it’s all so dispassionately revealed that it left me cold.
  • The flashbacks aren’t bad, but they do slow the action down every time they crop up.
  • If you’d been more clever about threading the info dumps through the rest of the story, with more hints and implications than just straight spelling things out, it would have been a much stronger story.
  • There are some typos here and there that another editing pass could have caught, which would have helped it too. I think the story had some potential, but it could really have used a pretty comprehensive re-write.

Benny Profane

  • To be honest, I think this was probably my least favourite piece of the week. I don’t think it was bad, per se, but the sexual violence towards the end came out of nowhere, and was just kind of a vessel for revenge. It just felt kind of cheap, thrown in as a motivating factor without giving it any weight. It soured me on the story as a whole.

  • The non-sexual violence was unpleasant too, but that just kind of comes with the territory of being post-apocalyptic, so I won’t complain too much about that.

  • There’s a lot of good prose here, though. The bit with the Queen guiding her workers, and them doing their jobs, particularly. I really liked the line “...carrying grains of promise and love.”


Kaishai

  • I love the mood of this one. Your prose crafts the atmosphere incredibly well, and you reveal quite a bit about Norwood as the story goes on.
  • So much good description and well-executed backstory exposition, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere. He climbs out of his grave, fights a winter spirit, and then… lies back in his grave?
  • Maybe I’m being dense (and I can sort of see some metaphor/allegory around what he did to Marion in life vs having to fight a monstrous woman in undeath), but I just feel like the ending is missing something. If it were clearer (or I were able to do a better reading of it), I think the piece could have had a lot more impact. There’s hints and implications and things, and I’m all for subtlety, but sometimes I just want a bit of clarity when all’s said and done

Chuf

  • This is another one where I’m just not really sure what’s going on. Is the dude at the end Jesus? Makin’ out with the son of god is something I’m here for, naturally, but there’s just a lot of vagueness without the underlying direction to make it interesting. Instead, it’s all just kind of confusing.
  • If I knew a bit more about what was happening, I think this could have been really good. There’s snatches of good description, but it’s all tell and no show. There’s moments of good atmosphere building, but none of it goes anywhere - or if it does, I can’t tell where it’s gone, and that’s not a great way to leave a reader feeling.

magnificent7
Sep 22, 2005

THUNDERDOME LOSER


Flash Bonus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH4lNl2ZYjI

The Piano. 1500 Words.

Cristina was the girl next door, decades before I’d heard anyone use the phrase to describe that perfect mix of gorgeous and down-to-earth. Her big brown eyes and a glowing smile screamed “Homecoming Queen” even at nine or ten.

She moved in next door when we were both five, and for the next ten years we went from close buddies to awkward pals to vague friends. By then, varsity football players were asking her to prom while we were just freshmen. I guess I understood.

Before all that however, when we were just old enough to ride bikes, we became inseparable, cruising the small streets of our town, riding to the gas station for red vines and root beer. Exploring the miles of woods behind our houses.

One summer afternoon after hours of heavy rain, we found a way into the woods behind our house, via an old road that ran alongside the forest. Looked like it had been there for decades; not wide enough for cars but perfect for our bikes. We figured it must've been a horse trail long before we discovered it. Cristina was the daredevil and I was the cautious one. She attacked the trail, popping wheelies over giant roots that lay across the path, ducking the occasional thick branch or stray vine, and I cautiously followed as fast as I could.

The path was flat enough, weaving through old oaks and pecan trees. After a while we came alongside a murky pond whose water was black glass, making an eerie reflection of the trees on the other side. I wondered if alligators lived this far north into Georgia. Snakes for sure. Copperheads who'd just float along the water's edge waiting for a meal.

“Look!” Cristina straddled her bike, pointing across the pond. “Is that a house?”

It was more kudzu than house, if you asked me. Hell the vines had probably kept the clapboard shack from collapsing for half a century.

"There's no way to get to it," I said, ready to keep exploring on the trail we were on. The trail, free from gators and snakes.

“There's a path,” she said. “You coming or are you chicken?”

Despite my worst fears, I followed her through the underbrush until I got to the shack, a vague shape beneath the vines. The corner of a rusted tin roof poked from beneath the kudzu leaves. Her bike was discarded on the ground; she’d already gone in without me.

As I got off my bike I heard the piano; a drunken lurching melody that seemed to forget it's place at times from century-old piano wires. Inside, Cristina was playing an upright piano. Once she finished, she wiped a streak of dust off the top and said, "This piano looks just like mine. You've seen it, right?" She looked around and said, "Nothing else in here. I guess they didn't wanna move it."

"Yours sounds better," I said, almost instantly regretting the stupid compliment. The room was wet, it smelled of mold and dead leaves. I rubbed the dust off of one of the white keys, it was sticky.

Around back, the deck — it was a deck not a dock — had been built out from the back of the shack, extending about twenty feet to overlook the pond. At least it used to. Now the deck had rotted and dropped at an angle into the black water.

"Check this out." She said, edging her way down the deck towards the water's edge. "I bet you won't come out here."

"You don't even know how deep the water is, let alone what kind of leeches and, and whatever might be in there."

"I dare you," she said.

"No way."

She grinned again. "You come out here, I'll kiss you."

Call me stupid, call me an idiot, but a kiss is a kiss. My shoes were more slippery than hers — but I made it out to her.

"Nervous?" she asked.

"No," I said, then said, "a little yeah."

"There's nothing to be scared of, see?" Looking down at her feet, she stomped her foot on the deck. Before I could blink she'd fallen to her knees, sliding towards the water. She went into the water up to her shoulders and then leapt back onto the deck, but slid again. I grabbed the one railing that remained and edged my way out to catch her hand, slippery with muck from the pond. She kicked and leapt towards me. Her legs had come entangled in the black vines beneath the water, and the more she kicked, seemed like the worse they got. But after a few tries, she was free.

We pushed our bikes back home, not talking. I think she cried a little but I didn't look over. Didn't know what to say.

# # #

By the time we were freshmen she rarely waved to me in the halls. She was drop-dead gorgeous by then, had a ton of friends. I suppose we'd found our own paths to go down. The only time she ever really said anything to me was when I'd catch her at home.

I was working on a flat tire in the back yard one day when she was sunbathing, and we actually had a good conversation, like old times talking about mindless crap, school and movies.

“I really miss hanging out like we used to,” I said.

“Me too, Costa.” She said with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

Pumping up my bike tire I said, "Sometimes I hear your piano over there. Still taking lessons? Sounds like you're getting better.”

She laughed and said, “Mom still makes me."

“Remember the creepy piano in that shack?" I nodded my head towards the woods.

Her eyes widened. “I totally forgot about that,” she said. She lowered her sunglasses. “Is that place still back there?”

“I guess it’s still there. Last time I saw it,” I trailed off before saying I still think of you every time I ride past it. “…yeah, it’s still there.”

Her eyes widened. “Do you think the piano’s still there?”

“I haven’t been inside but I guess so.”

She looked up at the sky. “I’m not going to get any more sun out here today. You wanna see if it's still there?”

Once I pumped some air into her Huffy's tires, we were ready to go.

The trails had grown over. It was like we were the only ones keeping them clear, and then for a few years it was just me, and now they were almost invisible.

Almost.

We used our bikes to push through the undergrowth back to the black pond.

==

Standing outside the leaning shack, Cristina whistled. “Thought it was much bigger.”

The floor inside had indeed finally given way and the piano was a foot lower on the dirt. She plunked out some half-drunken melody but most of the keys were dead now.

We went around back and she laughed. "I had nightmares about this place, thought it was huge, I was drowning. But now that I see it, it's just a lily pond. Nothing scary at all."

I thought of black vines wrapped around her, pulling her down, but I didn't say anything.

She edged down the deck, grinning. "You're not scared, are you?"

"Cris, don't be stupid."

"Come on, Costa." She smiled. "Come out here, I'll kiss you."

I wasn't a fool this time. I met her there. I took her face in my hands and kissed her. I felt her tongue, pushing into my mouth. I kissed. She giggled. I kept kissing her. She squealed. Her hands pushed my chest.

"Stop! Enough!" She said, pushing me away. She slapped me.

Hard.

The deck was still covered in moss and like before, she lost her balance and slid into the water, going all the way under the water this time. She came up and gasped for air. The black vines were around her arms, and she tried to leap onto the deck, but each time she slid back. The more she struggled in the vines, the more they pulled her down. Beneath the water.

My ears rang. I touched the corner of my mouth, tasted blood. I shook my head to focus. Adrenaline pushed through my head, everything went in slow motion. I remember watching her struggle and I thinking I should do something and then the water was still and she was gone.

Hours passed.

I pushed her bike into the pond.

I went home.

I went to bed and slept through to the next afternoon.

Word went out that Cristina had run away from home just like so many teenagers. At first, I was too terrified to tell anyone what had happened, and then I was too ashamed.

That was forty years ago.

I still hear the piano and that drunken melody. I know it can't be real, I know it's just in my head. I know she's dead because of me. And nobody knows.

I know what it's like to be haunted.

Captain_Person
Apr 7, 2013

That was a BAD business decision!


A Drop of Venom
1,426 words
Flash rule: Snake Song


Maree beats her fist against the steering wheel in time with her heartbeat. It’s late, or maybe it’s early—that half-formed hour when honest souls should be asleep. She never pays attention to the time, only distance, clocking up the miles of dust between her and a town poor enough to afford a name and nothing else. Outside the streetlights cast a pale, orange glow on the cab of her truck. She doesn’t look healthy—doesn’t feel too healthy either. She’s starting to crash, her eyes twitching and drifting out of focus. She still has a bit of glass left in the glovebox she’s itching to use, but it wouldn’t be wise in front of the the kid.

She wrings the wheel between her hands as she glances over at him. He’s pressed up against the passenger door, a battered canvas backpack on the chair next to him. There’s a tag hanging from the bag with a name she can’t read. He’s a small kid, the sort you’d call wiry if you were being kind. She had picked him up a few hundred miles back. He was either running away from, or towards, something—Maree reckons the latter, though she doesn’t care much either way. She could tell he’s the kind that sinks between the gaps.

He catches her looking, and Maree can see him try out a question on his lips before he speaks up in a quivering voice.

“Is there anything on the radio?”

Maree shrugs. “Nah. This far out there ain’t much I care to listen to.” Her voice is low, her breath thick with the stench of river rot.

Nearly a mile passes in silence before he finds the nerve to speak up again.

“What about the cassette player?”

She looks over and sees him pointing at the dashboard. “Nah. Broken.”

“Oh,” he replies, and slumps against the door again.

“You could talk,” she says disinterestedly. “Help keep me focused.” She didn’t plan to listen. She never did bother. She wasn’t lying about it helping her focus, but then she didn’t mean the road.

He was fidgeting with the strap of his bag, trying not to look directly at her. “What, like, talk about myself?”

“Sure.” The headlights picked out a sign by the side of the road. Nearly a hundred miles to the nearest town worth mentioning.

He begins to chatter in fits and starts as her mind drifts to the leather pouch tucked under her leg. The little syringe inside was down to its last few drops now. She’d been rationing it out carefully for weeks. Should still be enough.

Maree rolls down her window. The night air is warm. Her truck is kicking up a steady cloud of dust. She can feel every bump in the road, every shift in the truck, every vibration. Sometime tomorrow, she smiled to herself. She sped up slightly, eager for the next day to arrive. Behind her she left only a rancid stench.

* * *

With the morning came an unbearable heat. Thick and sticky, with every laboured breath Maree can smell the tar melting on the road. Bugs flatten themselves against the windshield, and the few that make it into the cab are swiftly swatted by Maree.

Her puffy eyes flit back and forth, jaw slack in the heat. The kid has passed out next to her, sprawling over his seat. His head hangs to one side. His neck lies proffered towards her. She licks the sweat from her lips and begins to slow the truck. The kid doesn’t shift. Carefully she pulls the pouch out of her picket and lays it across her lap. Her eyes dart to the oversized mirrors—nothing behind her for miles. The road ahead is empty too.

Slowly Maree unzips the pouch. Strands of greasy hair fall across her face as she glances down to see the plunger of her syringe. The truck has almost slowed to a halt. The kid lies still.

A loud thump from the container behind her jolts them both upright as Maree slams on the brakes. Another thump rattles the cab, then a third, a steady beating of something inside the container. The kid flinches away from her, his bag clutched like a shield.

“What the gently caress? There’s something in there!” It comes rushing out in a panic as he scrambles for the door handle.

Maree beats her fist against the steering wheel, her mind desperately searching. The pouch lies on her lap still—deftly she flicks it to one side, past her leg.

The kid is hyperventilating, swearing between gulps of air. Maree narrows her eyes at him—he looks like a dumb critter, trapped, panicking, and fumbling for an escape.

“Shut it!” she yells at him. “It’s probably just a racoon or something. Must’ve got in through the hatch up top when we stopped.”

The thumping continues, unwaveringly steady.

“Shut it,” she repeats forcefully, “I’m going to take a look. Just stay there, alright?”

She opens her door and hops out, kicking up a cloud of dust as she lands. She circles around the front of the truck to the kid’s side, and keeps one eye on his door as she walks steadily to the back.

She steps carefully in time with the bangs. Her heart is pounding but she keeps her breathing steady. Between each thump she can hear the buzzing of hundreds of flies.

Maree reaches the back of the container and stops to brush the greasy hair out her face. She checks the pouch she grabbed on her way out—the syringe is still there, still intact. This isn’t going as she had planned at all.

She hears a door opening up front and for the first time Maree swears. She can hear the kid coming, his jittery scuffling out of time with the beating inside.

Maree narrows her eyes. No time to make a decision. She has to rely on instinct.

As soon as the kid comes into reach she grabs him by the collar and pivoting her body swings him around, smashing him headfirst into the tail light. Red glass shatters as his body goes limp, and she grabs the back of his head, pulling it back to smash it again, and again, driving broken glass into his forehead and spraying blood across the back of the truck.

The banging inside stops.

Maree drops the kid’s body to the dust. It lies with one arm splayed underneath it, blood dripping from its skull smashed open like an egg. She’s panting heavily, sweat dripping from her forehead. Inside the container there’s only buzzing, and a bloated, rotten smell.

No time to pause. She pulls the syringe out from its pouch with a practiced motion, and clambers up to open the container. The smell intensifies. The floor is covered in distended corpses, eyes agape, tongues lolling from their slack faces. On every neck a puncture wound. As she stalks silently towards the far end they become increasingly rotten, limbs stretched out on shreds of skin and tendons from the tossing of the truck.

Through the haze of flies she can see a figure cowering like a mouse against the wall. It starts screaming and she grimaces. She must have been too cautious with her venom before. She wouldn’t make that mistake again.

* * *

It’s late at night again. Hotter than the previous one. Maree is walking along the road, a battered canvas backpack over her shoulder. Everything else is gone. She had felt the briefest pang of regret as she shed the truck a few miles back. She’d driven so far with it, so nearly full, but time had come to leave it behind. A broken tail light was too much trouble to fix with an empty wallet.

Somebody would open it sooner or later. She planned on being far away by that point, somewhere nobody would bother looking her way.

She hears the truck coming long before her shadow is cast in front of her by its headlights. It slows to a halt just ahead of her. Her footsteps pound a steady rhythm as she approaches the open passenger door and climbs inside. The truck is already moving before she slams the door.

The driver doesn’t say a word. Neither does she. She glances over—he’s older than she is, judging by the greying hair under a denim cap. Sharp eyes on the road ahead. His mouth is slightly ajar, and she can see pointed teeth in his grin. She leans against the passenger door, and places the canvas backpack on the chair next to her.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Secondhand Things
1491 words
Flash rule: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDJPRRUH07k]Laura Marling, "Devil's Spoke"[/b]

After sex, Jeffrey always wanted something. Ever since they were young, back when Myra was Jeffrey's girl and not his dirty secret, he'd roll over in the afterglow and ask her for a Coke or a ham sandwich or a cigarette -- anything, as long as Myra had to climb out of bed and get it for him. Myra always wondered why she did it, why she bothered.

This time, it took him ten minutes to roll over. Getting slow in his old age, Myra thought. "Baby," he said, "Taylor needs a prom dress."

"Don't see how that's any business of mine."

"She won't let Laurel take her shopping. Says she wants something vintage. You know how she gets."

She didn't know how Taylor got -- she'd never been told a drat thing about Taylor -- but Myra knew Taylor wasn't alone. Her thrift store had seen the annual parade of purse-clutching, jittery girls shopping as quickly as they could manage, terrified of the neighborhood but not of her markups. They were just the same as the eBay scalpers: the sort who could have anything, to whom money never mattered, but who still went out of their way to go to places they hated and take what was valuable from them. The kind of rich who had to steal from the poor. The kind who'd stolen Jeffrey from her.

Of course, he wouldn't have said he was stolen. Maybe that was just an easy lie Myra told herself, to ease her mind when he came back, for sex and for whatever he wanted after. "All right," she said. "I've got a few things left. You got her measurements?"

"I wrote everything down," said Jeffrey, hauling himself out of bed to rummage through the pockets of his pants. Myra sat up but kept the sheet over her, soft and warm. If he wanted this so bad, let him fetch and carry for once.

"Here," he said, handing over a folded piece of paper. Inside were a set of measurements and a few scraps of information. Taylor liked yellow, pink, and purple. No ruffles. Something clean.

"Think I can make this work," Myra said. "Have to make some alterations, though. She got a week to wait?"

"Plenty of time." Jeffrey smiled at her, the big poo poo-eating grin that said I got you. "Thanks, babe. I gotta head off."

"Course you do," said Myra. "You know the way out." She wasn't going to walk him out today, wasn't going to make the awkward small talk about the route he'd take to go home, back to the pretty suburbs and his rich wife and their perfect daughters, far from the apartment where he'd left Myra and their baby 25 years ago. Some days, the sex was good enough to make that old pain fade. Today it wasn't.

Jeffrey was a lost cause. Taylor might not be.

***

Something itched along Taylor's spine. She pushed one candy-pink satin strap up on her shoulder and tried to concentrate on the feeling, even as she nodded and smiled to her date's story about his volunteer job. It wasn't an itchy tag or seam; this dress was clean down the back, and it felt deeper than that, past her skin and down into bone. Was she getting a rash? No, Jude would have noticed. He could get lost in his stories, but not so lost he wouldn't see her breaking out in hives.

Taylor scratched her back on her chair as discreetly as she could, but the itch only got stronger, bringing nausea with it. The tiny lights strung along the ceiling of the ballroom were starting to glare and blur. "Jude," she said, "I need some air."

"Then he -- oh." Jude pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Taylor, are you okay? I'll get you some water."

Taylor didn't wait for him. She staggered out of the hotel ballroom and outside, where the humid March air hit her like a wall. She shouldn't be here. This wasn't for her. There was somewhere else she had to be; the aching in her bones told her that much.

Taylor walked beneath the crepe myrtles to the bus stop, four blocks away, where the sidewalk began to crack and sprout pale shoots of sawgrass. By the time the bus arrived, her stomach had calmed, but the itching in her bones sent strange instincts into her mind. Creekside Apartments, they whispered. Dubois Street. Take this bus to the 45th Avenue stop. She stepped on, dug spare change out of her clutch for the fare, and grabbed the rail. Her feet hurt, but something in her wouldn't let her sit down.

The bus was half-full, mostly with a haggard crowd in work uniforms or T-shirts -- the people her friends called "Wal-Mart people." The surprise was the few other passengers dressed for the prom. At the back, a frizzy-haired blonde girl in blue taffeta tried to wipe away ruined eyeliner between sobs. Towards the middle, a boy in a white tuxedo had headphones on and his phone out, but his eyes couldn't stop searching around him, and one foot beat a furious rhythm against the floor. It sounded like she felt.

Dubois Street was six blocks from the 45th Avenue bus stop, and five blocks in, Taylor took off her kitten heels and threw them into the ditch. Barefoot felt better, even as the pavement tore at her stockings. Apartment 2305, whispered her bones when she saw the Creekside sign, and she found Building 20 and climbed three flights of rusting stairs to reach the door. She knocked, and it echoed against cheap wood and fading paint.

The woman who opened the door was stringy, wrung-out-looking, with dark eyes under dirty blonde bangs. She wore a long black skirt and a garish floral-print blouse trimmed with nylon lace. A Wal-Mart person, the kind you looked away from before they could catch your eyes. This time, Taylor made eye contact, and her bones sang to her.

"You're my mother," she said.

"Come in," said the woman, and ushered her inside. The apartment was worn but clean, and Taylor sat down on a weary couch while the woman fetched iced tea from the kitchen. "You have questions," she said as she handed Taylor a glass. "Or you ought to."

"Why am I here? I felt sick, and then... something told me to go here. To find you. How?"

"Old magic," said the woman. "Slave magic, from the days when they sold children down the river. You stitch your love into their clothes, and they'll find you again. Your father wanted me to give you a dress, and that was my chance."

"So you're his..." What could Taylor say that wasn't crass? "Other woman?"

"Your father saw no reason to give up a perfectly good woman just 'cause he married another one. I should have told him off a long time ago, but he was cutting checks for me and your brother, and..." Taylor's mother sank back in her seat. "He's not an easy man to quit."

Taylor knew that much. There was something in the way he smiled that made Daddy too easy to forgive, and something in his voice that could convince you he didn't mean to forget you and it wouldn't happen again, even though it always did. "But why did you give me up?"

"Your mama --"

"She isn't my mama," said Taylor, as she remembered a lifetime of cold gazes and long silences, how her father's wife's affection for her had just shut off when her little sister was born. How had she never wondered why before now?

"Laurel, then. She was having trouble having a baby. I wasn't in any place to raise a second child alone, so when your father came by with a lawyer, I let them take you. The lawyer said it wasn't even rare. Said it was smart of me to sell for what I could get." Taylor's mother closed her eyes. "People like Laurel and your daddy take what they want. This was the first chance I had to get you back."

There was a knock at the door, four sharp raps. Taylor's mother sighed and stood up. "Speak of the Devil and he's there. Goddamn old tomcat wants something again."

"What?"

Her mother gestured for Taylor to stand up, and Taylor rose to look through the peephole. Her father stood there, grinning a grin that Taylor recognized. It was the one he made after you'd forgiven him, the one that looked like he was getting away with something.

Her mother locked the door and threw the deadbolt. "Not tonight, Jeffrey," she muttered. "Not ever again. I've got better things to do." She looked back at Taylor, with a new, fierce light in her eyes. "Enough about how your daddy's a bastard. Tell me about you."

And Taylor did, that night and all the years afterward.

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

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

Sundown

1385 Words
Flash rule: Sinnerman

Quintillus King had his swagger on, and for good cause. He'd just beat the Devil himself at his own game, and then found out that the eyes that the Devil’s earthly mistress had been making at him as they rolled the dice had been for more than distraction. He closed Daniella’s door behind him and walked down the upper halls of the Styx House full of pride, and came down the mahogany stairs by twos and threes.

At the landing, Joelle scolded him. “You shouldn’t have tarried, Quinn.”

“I have safe passage,” Quinn said, tipping her a nod.

“Safe from Satan and his own,” she said. “That’s not going to be enough, now the sun’s come down.”

Quinn thought for a minute. He couldn’t stay the night, couldn’t stay past the chimes of midnight, which were already a bit too near for comfort without losing that safe passage. “Thanks for the warning,” he said. He made a habit of being polite to the damned, and it had earned him their occasional sympathy. He opened the door, and walked out, out of the underworld and back to Earth, back to Southern Indiana, back to Jasper. He could tell immediately it wasn’t the same Jasper he’d come from yesterday.

Some towns, like this one, they roll up the sidewalks at nine o’clock. Nothing open by the 7-Elevens, nobody shopping there but the cops. Anyone out on foot or on car like to get hassled or jailed or shot. Quinn was ready for that. He was a Cunning Man, Quintilus King. He wasn’t much for using magic himself, but he could smell it when it got near, and he could talk well near anyone anywhere into anything if he put his mind to it.

The town he found himself in was bustling, well-lit, and noisy. But it was still dead, bustling with the dead, translucent and shuffling along the roads. He tried to walk as inconspicuously as he could, slinking along the sidewalk. It didn’t work.

“You,” said the first ghost he passed. “Live boy. You’d best get hid.”

Quinn raised himself up. “What are you going to do?”

“Me?” said the ghost. “I won’t do a damned thing. I ain’t no snitch. It’s the hungry ghosts you’ve got to worry on.” Quinn took a closer look at the ghost. She wore glasses and the modest clothes of a schoolteacher or librarian, tattered by a long time of undeath. “They’ll see a living boy like you like nothing more than a piece of strange and succulent fruit hanging from a tree, and race each other to see which one gets to squeeze out every last drop of juice. Soon as one of them catches wind of you they’ll call on a full hunt. Been a long time since we’ve had one of the living here.”

Quinn faked a smile. He knew the second he turned his back on her she’d be running off to rat him out and get paid. A person tells you they aren’t a snitch before you ask or accuse, that person’s most likely a long-time rat. But she was a ghost, and he didn’t have anything on him that could stop a ghost from saying whatever it was going to say, and the street was too public for anything anyhow. If it wasn’t her, it would be another one nearby. He faked his smile, and turned, walking at a faster pace.

The border, that was the key. Two big roads heading out of town with the big blue city limits sign. That would be the edge of the necropolis, a place where he could cross back into the normal world. He headed for the closer one, avoiding eye contact with the ghosts, keeping close watch on the side-streets and alleyways for when he’d need a quick escape. He hadn’t gotten far when he started to hear them, hoots and howls and calls that could only be the angry ghosts, on the hunt.

He saw the group ahead of him. Where the shambling ghosts looked pale and pathetic the hungry ghosts were so brightly white they shined, each with a thick, stocky body, burning red eyes, and a pointed head that nearly split from end to end as their mouths opened to announce their find. There was another group behind him. He could hear the response and confirmation calls, he didn’t have to turn around and look. He darted into an alley. It was blind, a dead end.

He heard the angry ghosts shouting at each other, casting blame, trying to figure out how their prey had eluded them. He could hear it all from the rooftop, receding behind him as he quietly walked across tar and shingles. He doubted they’d take much longer to figure it out. He wouldn’t be able to use that trick again. And Jasper wasn’t a town built for free-running, even if he had been more skilled in that sport. He was increasingly sure that he would not be able to get to the border, that the first ghost’s advice was the only possibly plan. That he would have to find a way to hide.

He saw the church, a few blocks ahead, and clambered over rooftops to a perch just above a back door. The church was run-down, with rotting wood and safety-glass windows, broken into spidery mockeries of stained glass portraits of the saints. He waited for a break in the shambling, ghostly foot-traffic near the door, dropped down, and forced the lock. The frame was as broken-down as the walls looked, or more, and it gave way easily.

Quinn walked toward the pulpit, looking for any touch of power, any sign of the holy. He found none. Ghosts weren't the Devil's creatures, not yet, but the could not abide the presence of God. But God was not here, not at all, the ground not consecrated enough to be of any use.

“Quintillus King,” came a voice that was both booming and intimate, loud and quiet at once. It echoed in his head but did not disturb the thick dust throughout the church.

“Raguel,” said Quinn. “Never thought I’d be glad to see-”

“You have the stink of Satan on you,” said the archangel. He sniffed the air. “And the stink of sin besides.”

“My soul’s still mine,” said Quinn.

“For now.”

“You here to gloat?”

“To see justice done.”

“Is that so?” Quinn could talk near anyone into anything, given a running start. He explained his proposal.

“You’d have me throw hundreds of innocents, hundreds of Christians before these beasts?”

“Ain’t but one or two innocents ever been,” said Quinn. He knew he had the archangel of justice on the hook. “And if there was one real Christian among them this place would be lit up like a Vegas casino.”

Raguel frowned. “Still...”

Quinn reeled him in. “Fine, just bring their dream-selves. Ghosts can't tell the difference, and it might even actually teach some of them a lesson.”

* * *

Twilight came with a loud bell-tone followed by a flutter of grace notes. The outline of a door formed in Quinn’s peripheral vision. He stepped through, into the real Jasper just as hundreds of its citizens lurched awake from nightmare. They had been hanged, burned, and otherwise set upon and consumed by the angry ghosts, as Quinn had heard all night from hiding places and seen from deep shadows, smelled the char of the branding-irons even when he looked away. Hiding had been easy, with so many easier targets for the angry ghosts to pursue. Not trying to intervene, not trying to help, that was the hard part, even knowing each one would wake up as sound as they were when they slept. No less than many deserved, but didn’t find it easy to watch rough justice being done. He was no Raguel.

Quintillus King did not plan to come back here, but he knew that when he made plans both God and the Devil got fit to die laughing over them. He'd be better prepared, at least. And he wondered if when he did travel the Jasper necropolis again there would be at least one place of worship shining a beacon of light heavenward.

It was a nice thought. But he wouldn’t be counting on it.

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Solitair
Feb 18, 2014


Tender Prey
1,453 words
Flash rule: Brother, My Cup Is Empty by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

"That fucker killed my cat. I know it."

Two weeks since I'd seen Phil come back to the bar after years of regular visits, and the first words out of his mouth weren't "Hello" or "I'm sorry" or anything along those lines. He looked like a scarecrow I'd seen once as a kid, which had clothes wrapped so tightly around its wooden skeleton that no crow would mistake it for a farmer. Since the air conditioner was on the fritz, localizing its work to a polar circle in the corner, he sweated enough to look like a wax effigy.

"Which fucker would that be?" I asked him as he propped himself on a part of the counter I'd just polished, because of course he would. Even with his better half perched on his shoulder, he was clumsy like a puppet with frayed strings.

"August le Comte. Who else?" Phil jerked a thumb to the empty, dingy corner where August usually took his whiskey. "Fucker ran him over at least twice. At least!" He sobbed, then collapsed onto his sleeves and rubbed them against his face until his eyelids turned red. "I couldn't count the tire tracks, but she was a smear, Hank! Couldn't even bury most of her! That's some premeditated bullshit!"

My eyes jumped all over the bar, looking for anyone else who needed my help. No takers. I just clenched my jaw and looked down at the mess God left me that night. He screamed Phoebe's name into the lacquered wood, as if it was his lover instead of a pet with fleas and a crooked fang. Guess it had neither now.

"Look, let's just get you something to drink," I said. "Then I'll take you home. You'll feel better in the morning."

"Shut up!" he said, flaring up like one of the fancy drinks bartenders in better places set on fire before the fool who ordered them burns his lips because he forgot to put it out after the fire did what it was supposed to. "Oh God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he muttered, putting himself out. "I just— I don't think so, Hank. Not this time. Just put me out. Don't hold back."

I turned to the cabinet and unleashed the four horsemen: Jim, Johnny, Jack and José. They mixed and formed Gehenna in a shot glass, and Phil took the apocalypse head-on. Rinse and repeat until your oldest friend rests his head on the bar. It wasn't until I saw how loosely he slept, limp like a bag of flour, that I realized he'd been tenser then than he'd been on every other time I'd met him combined. How could I leave him there after such a scene?

-----

The claustrophobic little dive Phil called home looked like a tactless party guest who wouldn't change the subject no matter how badly people took his jokes. I saw a disheveled, pungent litterbox, discarded toys, and stacks of cat food decorated with pampered pusses who never had to scrounge in the wild lying in the kitchen with no pattern to them. Here and there I saw a photograph of Phil and Phoebe, Phoebe and Phil, always a unit, twins born to separate species. Him with a cherubic, open-mouthed grin that made him look like a frog, and her with a round face and big blue eyes that I swear never blinked any time I saw her stare at me.

Quarton has a huge batch of feral cats 'round town, about twice as many as humans at the rate this town's going. They pick our garbage clean and keep rodents away, but in exchange you get dozens of eyes watching you every time you walk outdoors. I swear they work in shifts, but every time I try to tell other people 'round town they got something against me, they shrug it off and say maybe the next one won't spit and hiss like a goblin when I get too close. Part of me was jealous of folks like Phil who took one in and got it to live indoors and jump on his shoulder without getting his face clawed off, even if it meant less respite from slit-pupil eyes watching your every move.

I watched Phil just like that as he slept face-down on his shabby bed. His arm dangled over the side, fingers twitching, reaching to pet something that would never be there. I'd never felt a cat's fur, but I heard him talk about it often enough, seen him do it while Phoebe kept her eyes glued to me and her ears plastered to the sides of her face. A smile flickered and died on his face in his dream. I remembered when he didn't have so many wrinkles on that face, when he first lured Phoebe with diced liver and picked that fleabag up, clutching at her like a life raft. Her growl sounded like smoldering fire, burning away a shambles of a man and leaving something better in his place.

As the sun rose, Phil started to vomit. It dripped onto the hem of his bed before I grabbed his head and covered his mouth with the palm of my hand. I tossed him in the shower and turned on a blast of arctic waters, leaving him to shriek as I washed the filth off my hands.

"W-w-w-what the ffffffuck are you doing?" he stammers between the clicking sounds of his teeth knocking together.

"You really think it was August? Could have been any rear end in a top hat in this town."

He got out of the shower and dripped onto the bath mat until he stopped shivering. "I had to look at a lot a' cars. Hadda see if she left a trace. Didn't seem right she'd just die like that, without anywhere to go."

Then he looked up and stared at me, baring his teeth in a predatory smile. I swear his pupils got narrower for a second.

"And I did find it, Hank! I did! Checked tires thrown out 'round town for blood and bone and fur. With how much that loving monster brutalized my Phoebe with that tire, there had to be something left. The Lord showed me the way, in August's own driveway. He thought nobody would notice if there was one less cat around, but I did. Boy did I."

Phil kept himself coiled, ready to spring out at August and rip that bastard's throat out with claws and fangs. I knew if I left that house, the next time I'd see him he'd have parts missing, or his life missing, or he'd be an even bigger smear on the pavement. The worse people were around here, the deeper their loyalties to each other. You'd have to go to the cats to find such a congealed collection of thieves.

"You're gonna need some help if you wanna get out of this alive, Phil."

-----

August le Comte was as rich as Quanton folk get, and he took himself very seriously. I never found out why he ran over Phoebe enough to grind her into paste, but if I had to guess, it was a rush to get to work on time, just like he did every day, and annoyance at feeling something wreck his suspension, never mind how much it bled and cried as its skin and organs burst. He had his schedule down to a science, which made taking him out of it a simple matter. One cut brake line and August found himself overshooting the curve of the road, trapped going downhill and forced into a willow grove where his car met its final resting place.

We sat there waiting for him with crowbar and shotgun and gasoline in hand. Phil didn't even wait for him to get out of the car before he shrieked like his late, yowling like his late companion and bludgeoned August across the temple. I stood back and watched his blood intermingle with moist soil, wondering if it would affect the sprawling willow canopy above us all. The blows came less and less frequently before long, Phil never having been one for physical strain. I stepped forward to finish him off, but I needed to wait my turn.

They came while we had our back turn, blanketing the hills with black, white, calico, tortoiseshell, ginger and other types of fur. I'll be telling any children or grandchildren I have about the field of eyes, every single one locked on the figure bleeding and writhing in the dirt below them.

"We're done here," I said, helping Phil to his feet. We walked away, and nobody ever found what the cats left of August le Comte.

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