Crit of Lippincott’s Skulls and Beetles
This is super helpful! Thank you, Thranguy!
|# ? Aug 4, 2018 23:36|
|# ? Oct 17, 2018 07:15|
Thunderdome Entry for Week CCCXIII
Assigned Were-Critter: Bowerbird
Critted MockingQuantum's Revolver for the bonus words.
You rest your hand on your bedroom wall. Your father’s baritone sends pulsing waves through the plaster. It stops. You imagine your mother taking her turn. Imagining is all you can do. Your earbuds are in, and you’ve got Chopin turned up higher than any doctor would advise. Mom’s shrill voice can’t reach you and its frequency is too low to stir your bedroom’s attention.
But, dad is at it again, more intensely now. The wall quakes and you look up at the pictures hanging there. The smiling faces of your siblings ripple and you worry that they’ll all come tumbling down.
You’ve taken thousands of pictures and developed them in the darkroom at school. The pictures you take of your friends or of artsy poo poo, you give away, either to the subjects of the photos, or the public. You post some of them with sticky-tac all around town. But, the ones that matter, they come home with you, and they end up on the walls in your room.
Your room: The Happiest Place on Earth. You’ve adorned the walls with reminders. Reminders of what your life is about and why you matter. The pictures balance out so much of the house, including the locks your parents placed on your windows that serve as their own reminder: You are stuck.
It's time to go. You think. You’ve thought as much before. But this time, you mean it. The plan is the same as it’s always been:
Step 1. Steal the money your father has stashed from his gambling winnings. You know he won’t be able to say anything when he realizes it’s gone.
Step 2. Steal your neighbor’s car. Steal isn’t quite right. He gave you the keys. He doesn’t seem to know just how aware you are that he wants to get in your pants.
Step 3. Drive. Wherever.
Your bag is packed and ready, as it has been for the past two years. You withdraw it from the closet and throw it over your shoulder. Your hand curls around the doorknob when your youngest sibling calls out to you:
“Jen, where are you going?” She says.
You look up at the picture on your wall. There she is, throwing a plaintive stare through you.
“I just can’t do it anymore, Sara.” You say.
“I understand.” She says.
Her smile fades. Her eyes water. You’ve always taken care of her. It’s time to take care of yourself. You’re pretty confident that they won’t hurt her like they’ve hurt you but…
“Are you sure?” Sara asks.
“I think so.” You reply. But, you don’t know.
The wall pulses again; the pictures tremble. Pictures of your sister, your brother, your dog, your great aunt, the knotty tree in the backyard and the family of squirrels that reside in it. All things you have to lose. You lose them by leaving. You tell yourself the same sentence you’ve told yourself before: My brother and sister can come and live with me someday, but unless I take care of myself now, I won’t be of much use to them later.
Equal parts truth and bullshit.
But, it’s time to go. This time, you mean it.
You open the door and without your candles to shield you, the scent of stale tobacco infiltrates your nostrils. Fresh air will be its own reward. Your door is at the end of the hall. In nights past, you’ve found it cruel that your room is so far from the stairs. But tonight, it doesn’t matter. You’re leaving.
And, before you realize it, your feet have carried you to the top of the stairs. You’ve never made it this far. You gingerly place your left foot on the top step. Then, your right foot on the next. Your slow descent stands in stark contrast to the many times you’ve sprinted up these stairs when dad had one too many.
Your parents are arguing in the TV room, as they always do. They’re so distracted that they don’t notice you slink into the kitchen. You deftly dodge the loose floorboards that would announce your presence and tiptoe to the counter. Your fingers pull your arm through the narrow gap between the fridge and the wall. You find a fat envelope loaded with cash. Dad must be on a hot streak. Thank goodness.
You sit for a moment and rifle through the envelope. You don’t know how far this money will take you, but it will take you away from here. You look up and see the floral wall across from you. The flowers have kept their color but the white parts have gone yellow. Still, the marks remain. You haven’t looked at them in years. You stand up and walk over to them. None are even close to your eye level and you have to bend down to read them.
J-13y2m-5”01 is the highest up. R's, S's, and J’s pepper the wall down to the floor. At the very bottom is S-3y6m-3”03, not much higher is J-3y10m-3”04.
This is your house. This is where you live. This is no place to flee. To run is to lose. You hear yourself think these things and laugh.
Some stupid markings on the wall. Is that really what’s going to do me in tonight?
They do. The money goes back to its hiding place, and you go back to The Happiest Place on Earth.
Tonight was different. You made it farther than you ever had before. You’ve always carried these little failures as defeat. But, perhaps running would be the biggest failure. Perhaps leaving this house when it’s The Right Time is the way to win this little game.
Still, the locks on the windows remind you of how stuck you are.
gently caress those locks.
You take out the mini hammer from your backpack and smash them right off the window. They break off with ease and since mom and dad are at it again, there’s no way they’ll notice. You aren’t free, but you are. You’re still stuck, but not as much.
Your window overlooks a small patch of the roof. You’ve always wanted to stand on it.
You pull yourself through the window and the balmy summer air greets you. You stand on the roof and face the setting sun. There’s a faint rustling behind you; you turn to see what it is. The pictures are falling off the walls. Dad must be blowing a gasket downstairs.
But, the pictures don’t tumble toward the ground. They hover. They’re still for a moment until they slowly form a long line. The open window providing them a new opportunity, they proceed to float through and tickle your skin as they encircle you. One by one, they adhere themselves to your arms. You stretch out wide to accommodate them, and they continue to stick themselves to you, building layer upon layer, downward toward your feet.
Finally, they’re all with you. Your outstretched arms serve as a frame for the wings beneath them. You take a deep breath as you feel a warm thermal current lift you inches off the ground. Perfect weather to fly.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 05:50|
Strength: Upon passing into any territory or jurisdiction (state, county, city, province, etc.), your vampire instantly knows all laws and polices in effect in that area.
Weakness: Your vampire must always abide by local laws.
Xavier Lawrence, Vampire Attorney
“...And thus, Your Honor, it is clear that my client’s acquisition of Mr. Wolfe’s land was well within the bounds of the law,” Xavier concluded.
He allowed himself the faintest hint of satisfaction to taint his voice as he continued. He may have spent the trial side-eyeing his smug client, but their case was airtight. Loopholes were trivial to find when you had an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, but still, no harm in taking pleasure in a job well done.
“It may not have been a very, ah, favorable arrangement for Mr. Wolfe, so he has my sympathies, and I understand why he believed it necessary to bring us all here today. Nevertheless, my client is not responsible for his lack of business acumen.” With that, he sat down. His clients smirk had graduated to a toothy grin, and it took all Xavier’s presence of mind to stop himself from elbowing him in the ribs. At least he hadn’t lost enough composure to let his fangs show.
The judge nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Lawrence. I would now like to call for the Plaintiff’s closing argument.”
Wolfe stood up, the poor old man still insistent on representing himself. He cleared his throat. Looked Xavier’s client dead in the eye with gray eyes shining with a discomforting serenity, causing him to shift uncomfortably in his seat.
“Son, I trusted you. Might not’ve read all the papers you gave me, so call me an idiot all you want, but I - I trusted you. All the years I’ve been alive, any man who could hold my moonshine’s never let me down.” Xavier supposed that the only benefit of drinks turning to ash in your mouth was that they never reached your stomach.
Wolfe continued. “You don’t gotta be the first. My family’s hunted in that forest for generations - we need it. It ain’t too late to give it back, and we can put all this behind us, alright? I’m begging ya.” He knelt down, head bowed.
The undignified plea was out of place in a court, but the man still deserved a response. Xavier looked expectantly at his client until the man finally shook his head. “Deal’s a deal. Are we done here?”
“Guess we are,” Wolfe growled, his voice taking an alarming feral tone, the gray of his eyes bleeding into red, his clothes tearing as fur covered his entire body. The jury howled in unison. The bailiff stalked towards the Defense’s bench, face split open in a newly fanged grin.
Oh, how Xavier hated small towns. City werewolves at least had the decency to call themselves ‘Smith’ or ‘Johnson’. They had enough class to not make you feel like an imbecile when you decided to represent someone who had crossed the Wolfe family.
The judge banged his gavel, a black horn growing from his head. “For the crime of being heartless bloodsuckers, I hereby sentence the Defense to immediate death!”
Fortunately, being torn limb from limb fell under the accepted definition of “cruel and unusual punishment”, so the judge’s verdict wasn’t legally binding.
Unfortunately, Xavier didn’t get the impression that anyone particularly cared. “I suppose the court is recessing, then?” He mumbled, skedaddling as his client disappeared under a fierce flurry of fur, feathers, and scales.
The road was guarded, forcing him to take a detour through the surrounding forest. Xavier scrambled through the mud like an animal, well aware that the literal animals were much more comfortable with this than him. He was wearing a suit, for devil’s sake, and he’d left his car behind at the courthouse - the speed limit was 20 MPH, but running faster than that wasn’t illegal, so long as you didn’t collide with anything and accidentally commit assault or property damage.
He shuddered, thinking of the time his car’s speedometer broke and he inadvertently surpassed the limit. The ensuing agony had forced him to curl up in the fetal position until someone got around to giving him a ticket for blocking traffic. What was inconvenient and embarrassing then would be deadly now.
Xavier tried not to think about the vegetation he crushed underfoot, the branches he tore past. He didn’t have a scent for the hounds to track, but he left a trail nevertheless. His filthy capitalist of a client had distracted the horde for a while, but it seemed like there was nothing but bones left of him, while predatory stomachs still had room for a comparatively innocent lawyer.
Bestial cries pierced the lazy afternoon heat behind him, dark shapes flew overhead, faster than even his eyes could track. He had to find a non-overrun town before night fell - the mongrels weren’t lunatic enough to rip him to pieces in the middle of the street. Yet.
As he sprinted past a particularly towering tree, a squirrel the size of a large cat dropped down onto his arm, instantly latching on. Xavier, stumbled, swore, then bashed the vermin against its home several times, and while the horrid beast was still stunned he tore it away from himself, bringing a good chunk of his flesh with it. It screeched as he hurled it away like it an especially irritable football.
He couldn’t keep this up. He just didn’t have the blood left in him. Long gone were the days where you could still squat in miserable swamps that no local lord had bothered to claim, waiting for idiots to fall in. You had to travel to a country where it was legal to buy blood, find a legal seller, vary your sources so no one got suspicious... even if he could get away with feeding only once a month, the costs added up. He couldn’t be picky about his clients, especially the richest bastards. What was he supposed to do otherwise? Lure people to Antarctica? Impractical and rude.
Hours passed, and the ravenous maws of the horde pierced his skin, tore his clothes, spilt his precious blood. Hours passed, and he finally broke free of the forest, the nearest city just a sprint away. He was safe for now, but the pack wouldn’t forget now that it had tasted his flesh. He would have to take a stand. He would have to visit a national park.
Even at the ticket gate, he could feel the hungry eyes from the cars stretched for a mile behind him. When the roads could bring him no closer to his destination, he exploded into a dead sprint, and his every footstep was echoed by an ever-growing legion.
Finally, he had reached his safe haven. A fifty-mile stretch of land, located in the state of Idaho, but under the jurisdiction of Wyoming. A legal black hole he prayed no one would ever find important enough to address. He’d asked a non-lawbound associate to prepare a stash for him there, years ago, but he never thought his need would be this dire.
Xavier turned to face the crowd, dressed in his funeral’s best. He bowed, producing two silver handguns from under his cape. “Welcome to the Yellowstone Death Zone.”
At last, the tide crashed against him.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 06:25|
I apologise in advance for those who bother reading this.
Home Field Advantage
Strength: Your Vampire is invisible at night
Weakness: Your vampire burns in moonlight the way traditional vampires burn in sunlight
Word Count: 999
Woodsmoke sated the air, cloying Remi’s senses. The distant firelight a beacon Remi would answer the only way he knew how. He raced through the trees toward it, pulling up short outside the ring of firelight. Men sat in front of a pickup truck by the fire, drinking from silver cans and talking. Remi did not bother to eavesdrop, simply strode into the firelight towards them. The distance closed, twenty yards, ten, five. A twig hidden in the surface mud cracked underfoot. He paused, the two men instinctively looking round at the source of the sound. They both stared hard, the stare of those who believe themselves too old to be afraid of the dark and yet never quite forget that fear. Slowly the first man regained his composure and relaxed, a cue that left the second man feel foolish for staring longer. They both took another swig of their drinks.
Remi stood behind the closest man, reached out with both arms and violently twisted his neck. The man’s vertebrae clicked and crunched appallingly, his face frozen in shock as he fell to the floor. His companion started ‘Jerry?! Jerry?! What the hell!’ rushing to kneel beside him. Remi repositioned himself, looming over the second man. A silent inhalation, moistened the lips, Remi struck. Before the man registered the feeling Remi grasped his hair in an iron grip whilst sinking his teeth into the jugular, lips forming a seal around the wound. Remi drank deep, the man eyes rolling wildly as he flailed, unable to locate his attacker. Remi’s thirst was hard to slake, taking more and more blood in larger draws, like a child emptying a juice carton. The man was no longer a man, just a crumpled pale husk. Remi greedily took the last drops and savoured them like a fine wine, rolling them about his palate.
Behind him, the engine of the pickup truck roared to life, huge rubber tyres spinning in the dust. Remi turned to see an abandoned silver van on the ground in the truck’s wake. The truck could not be allowed to leave. Remi discarded his victim and started through the trees, hoping to cut off the dirt track road the truck would be speeding along. He tore through the brush, where his approach had been light before now it was a terrifying din of thrashing vines and breaking branches. Remi felt the crest of the hill beneath his feet and started careering down the other side, the thrum of the pick up engine increasing as it approached. Remi pushed himself to move faster, seeing the flow of the head lights approaching he waited until the last second and pounced from the darkness onto the rear of the passing truck, his landing clattering against steel panels.
The driver was another man, the clattering causing a wild and terrified gaze in rear view mirror. Remi pulled himself toward the cab, grasping for the rear window. He managed to prise it open, causing the driver to scream in terror. The driver tried to jam the window shut again with one hand, causing the truck to veer wildly on the bumpy road. Branches raked the truck as the driver thrashed at the window to keep it closed, his driving strategy seemingly to drive faster and pay less attention to the road. Remi hunched down to avoid the potential leaf slapping, pinning himself against the cab panel to think plan his next move. It occurred to Remi that he needed to resolve this now, before the truck cleared the woods. Remi grabbed the driver’s side of the truck and limbered himself up with feline grace. With a swift heave he propelled himself from the rear and twisted his position in mid air, crashing through the driver’s door window. The driver didn’t even register the impact, he had been frantically looking in his rear mirror while still bracing the cab rear window.
The truck veered right as the wheel jerked with Remi’s arrival, he reached out to course correct but saw already that it was too late: a fallen log lay at the side of the road directly in their path. The truck couldn’t scale such an obstacle at high speed, instead it cartwheeled through the tree line like a matchbox toy. Steel wrought and glass shattered, the stink of petrol overwhelming as it sprayed out in an orgy of destruction. The truck bounced and bucked on the rocky undergrowth, coming to a stop upside down in a clearing.
The truck veered right as the wheel jerked with Remi’s arrival, he reached out to course correct but saw already that it was too late: a fallen log lay at the side of the road directly in their path. The truck couldn’t scale such an obstacle at high speed, instead it cartwheeled through the tree line like a matchbox toy. Steel wrought and glass shattered, the stink of petrol overwhelming as it sprayed out in an orgy of destruction. The truck bounced and bucked on the rocky undergrowth, coming to a stop upside down in a clearing. The man awoke first, raw panic giving him the strength to clamber free of the wreckage and drag himself across the clearing. Remi awoke, the steering column impaled in his chest. Now he needed to feed again to repair the massive damage he had suffered. Remi lifted himself off the steering column and began crawling after the man, reaching beyond the cab before snatching his hand back immediately. Silvery light flooded the clearing. His mortal enemy had come to his door at his lowest ebb. There was no choice to be made now, death by omission or death by design. Remi dragged himself out of the truck giving chase to his prey, his entire body beginning to burn. Remi screamed despite himself but kept crawling after the man. The man glanced back to finally see his pursuer: a wraith that seemed to be on burning and melting at the same time.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 16:23|
Strength: Your vampire can read the minds of their victims.
Weakness: The only victims whose minds your vampire can read are those with the AB- blood type
For six months, hospital bedsheets have been disappearing on the way to the laundry, and strange noises have come from the last storage room on the left. Here, behind sheets of plastic, lies a hidden nest with empty blood bags scattered on stained pillows and a solitary vampire waking from her sleep. Her claws are clenched around a bag of barely-thawed blood: The last of her stash. If she were anywhere else, that would be cause for panic, but the hum of the freezer comes through the wall and makes her docile.
Sam – that was her name once upon a time, or at least part of it – drags herself forward, leaning on a broken office chair to stand upright. She drinks the blood bag in one gulp. A stranger's mind cracks open, and she can read it clear as day, though the day the blood ran fresh is a long time gone.
Footsteps from the other side of a mint-green door. Kirsten brushes rust-red hair away. Breathes deeply and leans into her husband’s arm. He kisses her on the forehead before she goes inside the room and folds her sleeve up. Her skin is the color of peaches.
The hallway is cold like the earth around a coffin. Sam walks openly through it. She is too dizzy to sneak through the shadows. She has no reason to, besides. The few night-shift nurses who come this far down can be heard three floors away. Sam has seen their faces through transparent screens. They do not matter. Behind this blue door is all the blood she needs. She presses her bloated weight against it and finds herself unable to remember if it was always this dammed heavy.
There is a voice inside her that first arrived with the fangs and grave-cold feeling, and it is trying to tell her something, but remains all muffled and strange. Other voices from the blood-bag’s memory down it out.
Something makes a real noise further down the hallway. She listens. That was definitely the maintenance door in the back. Why?
The nurse’s hand is warm when she holds Kirsten’s wrist and says something about how her blood type is rare, that her plasma can save so many lives, and that it is good of her to give it. Kirsten does not remember all the words. Only the smile and the warmth are sharp and bright.
Goosebumps spread along Sam’s arms when the door opens at last. A beam of moonlight lies on the storage room floor, as if placed there just for her. It leads to the freezer. She can pick out just the type she needs to dream. The only thing not conveniently labelled is the kind of dream contained within. She hopes to get a happy one again.
Footsteps in the hall. Through a crack in the door she glimpses a flashlight. An intruder. A strong scent of craving emanating from him, mixing with Sam’s own. The sight is blurred by the last fading pieces of the memory:
The nurse gets a phone call. Kirsten is glad to be left alone. She thinks about what she will say to her husband afterwards. They had a playful argument in the car about how he insists on having two separate first-aid kits plus blankets and liters of water in the trunk. She thinks it is too much. He only wants to keep them safe.
This is the kind of memory Sam feels most drunk on. Love, safety – she is distracted only when she hears the footsteps stop and start and stop again, as if the thief is considering where to go. She opens the door a bit more to see the hunched-over shape. The voice that she thought buried beneath layers of plastic and other people’s minds all scream to her that he is on her territory.
Kirsten’s home – close, soon. She closes her eyes thinking about it. The couch. A movie. Last time she donated, Alan had insisted on covering her with a blanket to keep her warm in his arms. He had heard it made people feel cold. Some days her life feels like an ever-growing number of blankets and throw pillows forming a nest around her.
Sam feels too heavy to move. Satiated, slow. She cannot see in the dark when bright images from Kirsten’s memory cloud her vision. Her dry lips pull into a smile, baring her fangs. She does not know what she is when she steps out in front of the intruder. Barely a monster. Too sloppy and wobbly for that. All that is left of her previous monstrosity, from before she became the sad thing she finally sees reflected in a pane of glass and his eyes, is the anger.
It is directed towards herself, a parasite feeding on old blood. Claws rake through her matted hair. It is directed towards the shape in the hallway that darts from one room to another, searching until he is standing by the door to her bed of gauze and empty AB-blood bags. A pile of past experiences. People coming to blood drives and getting juice boxes and fresh fruit. People being cared for. As close as she can get to sitting in sunlight. He broke into the wrong hospital.
Everything aches as she sprints to meet the sunburned man with her fangs bared and claws out. Fifty meters down the hallway she realizes that she can’t keep up the pace, can’t sink her teeth into the intruder. She can only shock him with her blood-soaked face. Let him flee, scared, having seen himself in Hell’s mirror.
After this, she withdraws. A memory comes, but this time, it is her own: Six months ago, she was outside in the night air.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 19:28|
Thunderdome Week 313
It started when I showered the first night I was home. The trip had been glorious, a tropical escape from the mundanity of my office with its huge picture window looking out on a corn field. I’d loved every moment of it, even the scuba diving trip that left me with a nice little scar on my hand. The scuba guide thinks I cut it open on some coral.
But now that I’m home, something weird has happened. I’m writing it down, as per therapist’s instructions. I haven’t felt right since I’ve returned. I can’t put a finger on why, just a general sense of being off, an unmoored feeling that’s made it impossible to focus at work or home. I went to the doctor two days ago, but between his apathy and my vague complaints, he couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me. Thus he referred me to a therapist, thus this journal (which feels more like homework).
It was the shower that made me feel the most strange. I felt a cooling calm move through my body, a rush that drained away my stress and made me feel like I was flying. I was free, in a way I hadn’t felt in years, unbridled by the everyday worries of a mediocre life I’d fumbled into.
As soon as the water was gone, so was that freedom. I’m not sure how to get it back now. Maybe it was just the fresh feeling of getting home after a long flight and washing off the grime of travel, but even that couldn’t explain the depth of this feeling. I showered again the following days, but didn’t get that feeling back. I have an idea, though.
The plan worked until I got complaints from the downstairs neighbors. Turns out the kiddie pool sprung a leak sometime in the middle of the night. I’m lost as to what could have caused the leak, though. I used the pool for a few days without issue. It helped. Until it didn’t.
The first day was great, I laid in the water and the free feeling came rushing back. I just floated (or half-floated, I guess) and let my mind escape. I closed my eyes and explored the boundary between my skin and the water, imagined it wasn’t there. Or that it felt different. It felt like my skin should be different. I can’t explain.
There’s a hole now, though. In the kiddie pool. There wasn’t, when I went to sleep, but I checked when I got the call this morning and the neighbors are right, there’s a crack in the side and the floor was soaked. It’s dripped down into their apartment. I wonder if they’d let me into their apartment. They’re on the ground floor, there’s nowhere for the water to go except the boiler room in the basement. Maybe they’d trade, if I just let all the water go in their apartment. Then they can have my apartment, since all the water will be gone.
I fixed the problem. The hardware store had big plastic sheets, for painting or something. But they hold in water pretty well. I sealed them up with some tape the man at the store gave me. I think he gave it to me, at least. I should go apologize if I was supposed to pay for it. Or maybe I’ll call, it’s too dry out to go back to the store. I have no reason to go back to the store now.
The plastic goes everywhere. I turned on the shower about twenty minutes ago, I think.
Actually I just looked at the clock and I think I turned it on either five minutes ago or twelve hours ago. Probably twelve hours, this is not five-minute water. I wasn’t sure if I should tape over the bed or under it, so I got rid of the bed. I sleep better in water now anyway.
The water is wrong. It’s in the right places but it’s still wrong. The skin is wrong too. I tried to call the man who gave me the tape but when I picked up the phone the downstairsers were there, they said the drip was wrong and it was in their house. I asked if they would like to trade but they got angry. Maybe if the drip is scary it will make them leave and I can have their house too. That way I can plastic up their windows and doors and the water will be deep.
I think I know what makes the water wrong. It needs a taste. I tasted the right taste when I was in the kitchen but it was too little. I hung up on the downstairsers before, and I think I can find the taste if I call the right man.
The water is getting right. I had to walk up and down the stairs with big bags that the right man left. Walking feels wrong too, had to try two times to get it right. First time I laid down on the stairs, which felt right, but didn’t make me go to the apartment. The bags are making the water right. Soon I will be right too, and feel right.
The Roseau Herald
HILLCREST APARTMENT COLLAPSE DUE TO BURST PIPES
The floor collapse at the Hillcrest Apartments at 203 W ---st St, on Monday, June 1st, was due to a burst water main in a second floor apartment, according to the fire marshal. Water accumulated for multiple days following the broken pipe, causing the floor of a second floor apartment to give out under the weight. The floor of the apartment beneath gave out shortly after. The two residents of the first floor apartment are currently hospitalized due to injuries sustained in the accident. Both are expected to be released before the end of the week.
The fire marshal reported that they had received no sign of the resident of the second floor apartment where the water originated. According to the building manager, the resident in question had not responded to multiple calls about unusual noises and small leaks over the course of the two weeks prior to the collapse. The manager declined to comment on why they had not entered the apartment to check on the resident.
An anonymous source at the scene commented that the apartment where the water originated was “wallpapered in drop cloths, and must have been full to the brim with water.” The source went on to confirm that an unusual rumor concerning a sea turtle was accurate. “I saw the thing floating around in the boiler room right after the collapse. It was swimming around like nothing had happened. The thing was right at home down there. Not sure where the guy got a sea turtle but he was dead set on making it happy.”
Independent tests of the water at the scene have confirmed it was heavily salinated, but lacked any markers of actual ocean water. The fire marshal declined to comment on the potential source of the saltwater, and on any future developments in this incident.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 21:23|
The Clockmaker’s Son
Strength: Your vampire can return their victims to a youthful state
Weakness: Your vampire cannot abide the sound of ticking clocks or clock chimes.
Pursued by his regrets, Lucio Pisano arrived on horseback in the town of Freida just as the sun bled out its last drops of fire, impaled on dark mountains. His arrival was unexpected and unheralded, and he found the town to be altogether more dismal and uninhabited than he’d expected; perhaps this journey had been just another in the unending procession of mistakes that was his life, for surely the secret of eternal youth was not to be found here. The houses, empty and eyeless like skulls lining the walls of a catacomb, mocked his passage, their laughter formed from the echoed clack of his horse’s hooves upon broken cobbles.
Just as despair began to dampen his collar, he rounded the chapel in the central square, a squat and ugly affair compared to the splendors of Venice, and saw a warm orange glow spilling forth from one of the homes bordering the square. His travels had been unpleasant, and the smell of cooking onions and mutton was like a choir of angels singing to his nose. The sign above the door read Gustav Riefler, Clockmaker. The door was halfway ajar. He knocked lightly on the door and, hearing nothing in reply, entered anyway.
The entrance to the workshop was guarded on either side by tall pendulum clocks, facing one another like grim sentinels, suspended weights swinging behind glass panes, ratchets falling into place with an executioner’s rhythm. The walls of the shop were lined with many fine clocks of various sizes and shapes, the kind of master craftsman’s shop that Lucio would expect to find in Firenze or Torino rather than some forgotten town lying broken in the foothills of the Alps. He called out a greeting, and heard a rustling in the backroom. Moments later, Herr Riefler emerged from behind a curtain, a wet cleaver hanging dubiously from the fingers of his right hand. Not recognizing his visitor, his eyes moved swiftly to the clocks on the wall, releasing a held breath as he found reassurance in their ticking.
The barest of pleasantries were exchanged before Lucio, being accustomed to the pace of city life, drove the conversation to the heart of his interest.
“In Venice, I have heard whispers that the secret of eternal youth is kept here,” said Lucio. Riefler had bright active eyes that twinkled on either side of the bulwark formed by his enormous nose, and a thick mustache that bristled as he spoke, and Lucio scoured these features for evidence of withholding in his reply.
“Is that so? Time will turn the whispers of devils into angels, and back once again, I must say,” said Riefler. Lucio began to flush with anger, composing a response both hasty and unwarranted, but Riefler interrupted him with a warm hand on his shoulder. “You must be famished, sir. I’ve only simple peasant’s food, but I would share it gladly with you.”
Lucio was indeed hungry, and so gratefully followed Riefler back into the small living quarters adjoining his workshop, where a back iron pot bubbled over a crude stove. A small table was set for one beside it, and Riefler made a show of wiping a second bowl clean with a dingy cloth and adding it to the table.
Lucio wolfed down his food quickly and mopped his bowl with a scrap of bread, while Riefler took small spoonfuls of the stew and chewed carefully. Lucio looked about in search of a bottle of wine on the shelves, but was disappointed.
“I apologize,” said Riefler. “I don’t often entertain guests from the city, I’m afraid the pace of life here must feel dreary to you.”
“It is no matter,” said Lucio, in his magnanimous tone, standing up from the table. “But I must admit I’m in something of a hurry, and I beg you -- is there any truth to the rumors I’ve heard? Can this place restore my youth?”
“There is some truth, yes,” said Riefler, wiping stew from his chin. “But it is a truth that leaves much cruelty unspoken. The shadow that lies on this town is a curse. Seek your blessings elsewhere.”
“Some truth? Tell me.”
Gustav Riefler sighed, and pushed his bowl away from him. He excused himself, and returned from his bedroom holding a portrait. It was painted in a clumsy fashion, and the likeness was poor, but it was unmistakably Herr Riefler that gazed out from the canvas.
“A recent work? The likeness is quite good,” said Lucio, pretending to admire the painting.
“An old work, from a life lost,” said Riefler. “A man once came here, perhaps as you have, seeking his youth. He gave up his memories along with his years, and left behind only mysteries. I have lived my life in the shadow of my prior self, and I pray that I have lived this life honorably enough that when I am judged, my deeds in this life might outweigh whatever deeds caused my prior self to seek out this cursed renewal.”
“But you say it is a mystery! You have a good soul, it is plain to me -- surely whatever misfortunes befell you in your first life were simply due to foul luck and misunderstanding, no?” said Lucio, reflecting on his own recent past.
“Perhaps -- but I think not,” said Riefler. “If it is forgiveness you seek, find it in the church. Do not seek God’s blessing from the Devil. Just as the suicides are damned, there can be no heavenly comforts awaiting those who spurn God’s designs.”
“Very well,” said Lucio, growing tiring of the old man’s prattle. “I shall offer my prayers in the chapel across the way.”
Riefler cried out, and begged him to wait for the morning, but when Lucio would not be convinced to tarry a moment longer, he tried to press one of his clocks into the Venetian man’s hands. “For protection,” he said.
Lucio spied the clockmaker’s designs in the gift offered too forcefully, and retrieved the crucifix already hanging from his neck from within his shirt. “If God desires it, he will protect me, clocks or no,” he said, with a smile.
Herr Riefler shook his head sadly.
“In that case, I would ask a favour: it is my last and most prized possession, and I ask that you hold it for me until my return,” said Lucio, handing Riefler an engraved gold pocket watch.
In the morning, as the first rays of dim sunlight pierced the low clouds of the valley, Gustav Riefler heard the cries of an infant from the chapel across the square. In the years that followed, the boy grew to be an adequate apprentice; his fingers were nimble, but his patience was lacking. He called Riefler by the name of Papa, and was fond of asking difficult questions.
At night, when the boy was asleep, Herr Riefler would kneel by his bedside, holding a gold pocket watch between pressed palms, praying for guidance that never came.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 22:11|
I Wish I Was an Otter
Darius Drake drat near got me this time. He was waiting in the trees as I snuck through the woods. The gothic points of the ancient Drake family manor were black silhouettes against the blood-red sunset; the sort of vista that probably gives vampires a boner. I was creeping towards the river when he came flying at me from the branches, all fangs and claws. I know he does it out of pure spite; vampires can’t stomach were-blood. But still, their claws are razor sharp and everyone knows one scratch will give you a nasty infection, so I ran like hell.
I cleared the trees just as the full moon poked above the horizon. I pulled the finger at Darius and leapt. I like to imagine his look of confusion at the sight of my bald, overweight rear end executing a perfect swan dive straight towards the muddy riverbank. As my body sailed into the moonlight I felt my outstretched arms disappear. One moment the molecules of my face were arranged in saggy, grief-lined folds and the next they were sleek muscles, whiskers, and thick, oily fur.
And then came the relief of forgetting. gently caress this stupid human cortex with its boundless capacity for anxiety and depression. My otter brain is not capable of such misery. As an otter I know only that I am hungry, that the river’s currents feel good as they ripple across my body, and that I once had a mate, but now I do not. This last fact is simply that, a fact. It has no more power to burn my soul to ash than the knowledge that one can use rocks to break open clams. I cannot even remember her name, and it is a blessed relief.
The moon is waning gibbous tonight. I rubbed canola oil all over my body and lay in the bath, plug out and water running. The idea didn’t seem so ridiculous when I came up with it. I thought if I could capture a little of the feeling of the river on my fur I could meditate on it, or something. Anything, anything, to distract myself from thoughts of Sarah.
They wait for me everywhere. Like black bats they hang from the ceilings of our empty home, ready to drop onto me, to bite and gnaw. I cannot escape.
I am trembling with excitement. The change can be made permanent! I saw it on the news. A young were-newt, bitten and drained to the edge of death, had failed to return to his human form. They thought he’d change once his tiny body was recovered. But he hadn’t. Doctors, scientists and veterinarians pored over his case. Months passed, and he remained a newt. The police never caught the vampire; its motives for this unheard of act remain a mystery. It is a were-creature’s worst nightmare, the stuff of scary stories told to frighten children. But not for me.
My heart beat rapidly against the cold vice that has gripped it since the accident. Would Sarah be happy for me, that I’ve found a way out of this nightmare? I tried to picture the conversation. What a fool I am. Grief grabbed me by the throat and I struggled to breath as sobs wracked my body.
It is late, now. It has been so long since I have been able to sleep. Darius. Darius will do it. He’s always trying to bite me.
Dammit. I wasted a perfect opportunity. Darius was waiting for me again this full moon. I taunted him, called him a stinkyhole for always calling the police when I come to visit my otter family in daylight. Made cruel jokes about how he’d been living in this lovely mansion by himself for hundreds of years. He told me to gently caress off and stop invading his property.
I let him catch me, just as the moon was about to rise. His nasty yellow claws cut my chest. Then suddenly he was cradling an otter in his arms. C’mon you fucker, bite me! I thought with the last gasp of my human consciousness, but he just let me go! In my otter form I could remember my plan but not comprehend it, and I fled into the river.
“Are you trying to get caught?” Darius said, clawed hands on hips and lips sneering around his fangs. I felt humiliated. I was puffing like a fat rear end in a top hat and the moon-rise was still two minutes away. God I was tired. Tired of grief, tired being alone. So I told him.
“Yes I’m trying to get caught,” I said. “I’m sick of this miserable human experience. Just bite me already so I can live as an otter.”
And then the moon rose, and I changed, and fled. Was it pity on his face? Or contempt? You can’t trust vampires, everyone knows that. And now Darius Drake knows my secret. I am such a fool.
Today was a bad day. The moon is waxing gibbous; relief is so close yet I cannot bear the waiting. I left work without making any excuses. The other cubicle-dwellers watched me with half-averted eyes. Let them talk, I thought bitterly.
I parked in my usual spot and heaved myself over the Drake estate’s crumbling stone wall. I waded into the river still wearing my too-tight shirt, sweat-stains in the armpits. Let Darius call the police, I don’t care. I floated in the cold water and listened to the otters playing in the reeds. They don’t know grief, they are incapable of existential dread. No otter has ever lain awake after a 3 a.m. panic attack. God how I envy them.
But then, a strange thing happened. Nothing. No police, no Darius yelling from his darkened mansion at the top of the overgrown garden. When I at last climbed, shivering, out of the muddy water I saw his pale face peering around a twitched-back curtain. I swear he waved at me.
Finally, full moon night. I knew I was leaving the house for the last time. I pulled out a photo of Sarah from the closet where I keep them hidden. It hurt so much to see her bright smile, her auburn hair. This is the last time I will feel this lance of pain.
“Darius! Darius you smelly piece of poo poo, where are you?” I yelled, stomping through the woods.
“Quit yelling!” came his raspy voice. He was sitting on the riverbank, a bottle of dark liquid in one clawed hand, and a glass of something amber thrust towards me in the other.
Stunned, I sat, and drank. The whiskey burned my throat, but the aftertaste of smoke and honey was excellent. I told him so.
Darius waved a hand towards the mansion. “The cellar is extensive,” he said. “But, as you have so rudely observed, there is no one here to drink it with.” I could almost hear the dust shaking from his vocal chords as he spoke.
From the river came the delighted squeaks of play-fighting pups. “Are you sure this is what you want?” Darius said.
I thought of Sarah, and my chest constricted. We had drunk whiskey together on our first date. She was a woman of fire and light; without her, everything was darkness and pain. “Yes,” I said. This was the best way, I was sure of it.
The moon crested the horizon and my glass clinked to the ground. Darius picked up my otter body, fangs elongating. I felt my human consciousness fade away, and with it the constant anxiety, the never-ending replays of the accident, the horrible, pointless guilt, and my memories of Sarah.
My otter brain perceives the world in black and white, threat and response. And now, it sensed a threat. Something vital, something precious, was about to be lost. I could remember my plan but not comprehend it; why had I wanted this? It made no sense. No animal would let a predator take something so enormous from it. My memories of Sarah are mine, they are dear to me, and I will not let them go. It was a simple, instinctive decision. With a twist of my slick, muscular body I wriggled from Darius’ grasp, and escaped.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 22:43|
Time to join Yoruichi in going down the 0-crit list! Here's a quick crit for flerp's "Don't Fall":
Reading this, I can sort of see why it hasn't been critted before; this is a nicely self-contained piece, very smoothly executed, without a lot of obvious flaws to talk about. There's a simple, clear idea here, and you nailed it. There are really just a couple of things to mention:
The biggest strength of this piece, in my opinion, is the amount that it manages to convey just in the tone and cadence of its dialogue. The only bit of real exposition we get about these people is that they're on a first date, but their dialogue conveys so much more -- that they've probably known each other for a while, and that they have a complicated relationship -- in a way that feels natural and graceful. We get a surprisingly deep relationship in a very brief word count, and without the exposition with which most TD-length stories have to get these things across.
If there's an issue with this story, it's probably just that there's so little here that isn't dialogue. I realize that was a part of the gimmick for its week, and I don't think we need a lot else here, but I wonder if a little fleshing-out of character action and scenery wouldn't help. The characters speak enough alike that the dialogue can get slightly unmoored from its source, so more attributions and actions might help that.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 23:01|
There's no reason to stay in, there's nothing on the television
Strength: Your vampire's voice, even just a whisper, can shatter glass, if they so choose.
Weakness: Your vampire will attract inconvenient hordes of fireflies if they stay in one place for too long.
“Steak for the lady, blue, and the house burger with half salad, half fries for the gentleman. Would you like another beer, sir?”
“Yeah, that'd be great, thanks!”
The waiter collected the menus and left.
“So, you're a doctor?” her date asked.
She stopped pulling at her napkin and looked up at him. He grinned, big and goofy like.
“No, I'm not a doctor—”
“No, not a nurse—”
“So then what are you? What is it that you do?”
A beat. She tried not to sigh.
“I'm a phlebotomist,” she said, “I draw—”
“Mist, it's phlebotomist.”
Another beat. Longer.
“It's, uh, a blood-taker. I take, draw blood. I draw blood.”
“Like a nurse?”
“No, not like a—”
“Nurses draw blood.”
“Yes, they, no, I'm not a nurse. I draw blood, but I only draw blood. I don't do anything else.”
“So, that's weird job, huh?”
He shooed away a firefly that had started circling around his water glass and took a drink. She sipped her red wine. He drummed his fingers on the table. She plucked at her napkin.
“So,” she said, “you're a—”
“Tattoo artist,” he said, “part-time. I mean, okay, I merchandise at The Brick, but it's a side gig. You know how it is: gotta pay the bills somehow. And moving furniture for old people? It pays the bills, haha. Man, what's with these fireflies, am I right? But tattooing, yeah, it's what I really want to do in life, you know? I love to create art. Any and all art. I draw, doodle, paint, both water colour and canvas, I use acrylics, I sketch with charcoal, doodle, chalk art on the streets—I mean, it's endless. My creativity is endless. But tattooing is where it's at. I mean, it's so personal. It's using the human skin as a canvas, right? And it's infinite and finite, you know what I mean? It's like, yeah, once you put that ink to skin, it's there for life. But then, people die. Right?”
“Your beer, sir,” the had waiter returned.
“Hey, thanks, man!” the beer had barely touched the table and it was in his hands, half its contents poured down his throat, “hey, what's the deal with all these fireflies? You guys leave a window open?”
“I apologize for the inconvenience, sir, I'll look into it right away,” the waiter said, “would the lady like another glass of red?”
“Yes,” she drained the glass, “bring the bottle.”
“Whoa-ho! Hardcore!” her date said as the waiter took away her glass.
“Yes, so, you have any tattoos yourself?” she said.
“Well, I don't like to ink my own skin, at least not yet, but when the time comes and I find the right one, I'll it done. Do it myself, too. But here,” he had his smart phone out and half stood, bumping the table, “this is one I did on my friend Nick. It's an Ouroboros, a Greek dragon-snake that eats its own tail. It represents forever. I did two so that it was kind of like a yin-yang, which is—”
“I know what a yin-yang is,” she said, taking his phone.
It looked like a turd eating another turd.
“Your wine,” the waiter had returned.
She returned the phone and the waiter began pouring.
“All the way,” she said, “fill it up. To the brim.”
“No, that's fine.”
“So, do you have any tattoos?” her date asked once the waiter had left.
“None that you'll ever see,” she said.
“Oh, yikes, whoa now,” he said, putting up his hands, “what's with the shade?”
She had gulped down the wine and was pouring another glass. A firefly flicked by her hand.
“This clearly isn't going to work. This was a mistake,” she said and reached for her clutch.
“Wait, wait, wait, come on,” he said, “don't go yet, we're just getting started. Come on, why can't we just talk a bit more? You should just, you know, at least stay for dinner. Look, I'll pay, right?”
“You weren't going to pay before?”
“I mean, I thought we'd split, ah, no, I'll get it. It's fine, hey, I'm sorry,” he said, “I'm not making a great first impression, but gimme a chance. Come on. I'm a great guy once you get to know me.”
“It's an expensive steak.”
“Yeah, sure, that's fine.”
“And this wine is expensive.”
Yet another beat. The silence lingered.
“Hey, alright. Right on,” he said.
She sipped the wine. Fireflies shone outside the window behind his head. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled scrap of paper.
“Okay,” he said, “okay, I know what we can do. This is fun. My buddy Nick has this great list of questions that he likes to ask on blind dates to get to know one another...”
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
“...it's good stuff, he swears by it. Alright, so here's one: what is your social life like and do you have a big group of friends?”
She stared at her glass of wine. Her eyes narrowed.
“Well, if I were to answer,” he said, “I'd say that my social life was like a djembe. That's a type of drum, right?”
She continued to stare, her brow furrowed. She clenched her jaw and spoke:
The glass of wine shattered and spilt its contents in her lap and over the table.
“Oh, poo poo,” he said, standing, “what the gently caress? Hey, hey waiter! Man, what kind of bullshit is this?”
“It's fine,” she said, also standing.
“Here, let me get--”
“Just, don't touch me,” she said.
The waiter had come over, “My goodness, what happened? Are you alright?”
“Your lovely glassware is ruining our evening,” her date said.
“It's fine,” she said, “if you'll excuse me, I'm going to the bathroom.”
She left her date to argue with the waiter, who was now waving over a bus boy to bring towels. She walked quickly to the restroom. There was a window over the toilet, practically glowing with fireflies. It looked big enough that she could climb through. She stepped onto the basin and it broke, her foot plunging into water.
“Oh, for Christ's sake!” she said, “mist! A bat! Couldn't have been something more loving useful? Goddamned-loving-fireflies.”
She forced open the window and the swarm flew in, brightening the dim walls. They filled every bit of space in the restroom. When there was no more, they began crawling under the door and into the restaurant proper. She could hear people shouting but was already halfway through the window. This would probably be her date's most memorable Tinder experience. Too bad about that wine. Ah, well. She had a bottle of AB+ waiting for her at home.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 23:03|
By the time John reached the top of the ridge the sun was already beginning to set, plunging the valley below into darkness. He had been in pursuit for nearly 30 hours and every step he took was slower than the one before it. He couldn’t keep down food, couldn’t remember when he last slept - the shock of being outpaced was getting to him. He had left the rest of the pack back hours ago.
His target was moving through the valley ahead. There were only two trails that led down the steep walls - the one that he was just now beginning to descend and its twin at the far end, zig-zagging back and forth up the eastern wall. If John was going to head them off it had to be before then - and for the first time in years he wasn’t sure he could chase it down.
The presence of his brother, Simon, wasn’t helping. Dead for five years and here he was, gliding along in the corner of John’s vision. He didn’t speak, didn’t react when John spoke to him. Just kept gliding along.
The scree under John’s feet shift suddenly and for a gut-wrenching moment he was in free-fall. He managed to get his feet under control but the adrenaline still hit him hard and for a brief second of clarity he realised exactly how tired he was. Luckily he’d been this way before - there was a cluster of trees just ahead where he knew he could pull out his sleeping bag and curl up for a few hours. He’d pushed hard to make it over the ridge and it was starting to take his toll - it took him five minutes of numb-fingered fumbling just to get his pack open. Simon watched him, mute, as he crawled inside his bag and curled up, chewing in vain on a protein bar.
The thin electronic chirping of his watch woke him. It was still dark, darker even than when he had fallen asleep - but there was no time to lose. Simon had evaporated into the night air. A little clarity had seeped into John’s head while he slept and his stomach felt calmer - calm enough to force down some soup while packing away and fitting his headlamp. He was hardly rested but his legs still felt fresh in comparison and he bounded away down the slope with a renewed vigour.
The slope levelled out by the banks of the river that ran the length of the valley. Apart from a detour around an impenetrable thicket of dense groves and thorns it ran straight as an arrow - if his quarry ahead had any sense it would follow the even ground along the river’s banks. Sure enough, he found signs of it having bedded down just a little later - some tracks in the mud and a patch of matted grass in a cluster of trees. For the first time since last losing sight of his quarry John felt the tension in his chest ease a little. The young buck had tired itself out too early and was beginning to slow.
His pace picked up at the realisation. As the sun rose and he chased the receding shadows of the eastern wall John spotted further signs of his prey - a broken branch here, a print there. By mid-morning, though, there was still no sight of it. Simon drifted back at some point, as silent as ever. Fatigue and hunger crept back too, even as John forced down a fistful of trail mix one piece at a time.
It was such a surprise, then, to conquer a small rise in the river bank and see his quarry ahead of him, that John stopped for the first time since rising from his sleeping bag. Some primal sense alerted his quarry to his presence, even 300 metres away, and it sprang away from where it had been drinking. By the time John’s brain and feet caught up it had already disappeared behind a clump of trees. With an inarticulate yell, John staggered on.
After that there was only the chase. By mid-afternoon John could see his prey again, could in fact see that he was gaining on it, but always so slowly. It stopped a few times to drink from the river but didn’t dare to drink too deep or fill its stores. John discarded bottles behind him, never stopping. He gained on it, centimetre by centimetre. At first he tried to do the mental maths that would tell him when this would all end but the fog in his head eventually put a stop to that. Simon drifted along, always watching but never judging.
By the time the sun began to set John’s quarry was only a hundred metres in front, doggedly pushing on. The river curved now, the thicket to one side blocking the direct route to the eastern cliff. Through clouds of pain and tiredness John knew he could reach it soon, long before the trail reached the slope out of the valley. As the moon rose, Simon broke his stony silence, cheered John on. Their Mom and Dad cheered too, joined in short order by Sarah and Alex and Sam and -
The man in front of John tumbled to the ground in one fluid movement. John’s mind, steeped in fatigue, told him to stop - but the man was already rising, on all fours now. Limbs stretched and grew tough hooves, vest and pack melted into tan hide and antlers sprouted from his forehead even as John watched and his entourage cheered. The deer - gazelle? - sprung forward with renewed speed before turning and plunging directly into the thicket.
John stopped for the second time that day, staggering to a halt in front of the spot where it had disappeared. There was the merest hint of movement in the depths of the thorns - then nothing. John was alone with a crowd of cheering supporters, more gliding out from behind trees with every second. His head spun as the adrenaline that had sustained his flight faded away. Slowly, he sank to the floor, pulled his knees in close and slept.
He was alone when he woke up. It was dark once more and beginning to rain. With well-practiced movements John pulled the waterproof from his pack, clicked on his headlamp and turned to the east. A solitary light was crossing up the cliff face.
It took him until the morning to reach reach the rim of the valley and the finish line, more than two hours behind first place. The light ahead of him had stopped at one point for several hours but it hadn’t been enough. The other runners were still spread out along the length of the valley. The cut-off wasn’t for another day.
John saw the winner, hunched by a tent and eating ravenously. Large eyes, tan skin - and a forest of thin white scars down his arms and legs, already half-healed. The man glanced up, saw John and turned his head away again.
During the medal ceremony he wouldn’t look John in the eye.
|# ? Aug 5, 2018 23:06|
We Will Either Sink or Rise
Strength: Your vampire can see the next few days of a victim's future.
Weakness: If your vampire attempts to change what they see, they become dislocated in time and are flung to a random moment.
Behind me, Tessa steadies the lamp. Light shatters the pitch black of the ocean floor, illuminating the bleak moonscape of the seabed around us. I flex my fingers in my gloves and ignite my torch.
“How you feeling?” Tessa’s voice is tinny through my helmet’s radio. Getting to hear her is the only reason I wear the stupid thing.
It’s a lie. I’m far from it.
I guide the torch through a section of heavy, corroded steel plate. Gases bubble and seethe upwards. The torch flares golden through the water, little plumes and spheres of molten light racing toward the surface. I’ve carved through the panel within minutes and it drifts, leaf-like, to the ocean floor. Nimble as a mermaid, I duck beneath the strut and kick up the other side. Unburdened by oxygen tanks and breathing tethers, I can wiggle in where the humans can’t. A repair job like this would take them months.
“Bloodsucker’s showing off again,” Drew grumbles on comms.
“gently caress off, Drew,” comes Tessa’s automatic response.
Every time she makes me want to smile, I remember what’s coming and I feel ill.
Back in the habitat’s galley, the ceiling feels too low, the walls too close.
I’m diving again in two hours. I have to eat. Real food. I can’t put it off any longer, even if I know what will happen next.
This crew’s pretty progressive compared to my last. They let me store my blood-packs in the fridge with all their regular human food. I grab a bag at random and—
“Nellie? Hey Nellie, you there?” Tessa’s voice, calling from down the hall.
“Tess? What’s up?”
“Can you grab a first aid kit? I nicked my leg shaving.”
I pop open the wall-mounted first aid kit and grab gauze pads and band-aids.
Tessa appears in the doorway with a towel wrapped snugly under her pits.
“Thanks,” she says. “Can you slap it on for me? It’s on the back of my ankle. I can’t reach.”
I freeze in my tracks. Is this some sort of test? My lips compress into a thin line that almost entirely conceals my tapered canines.
Tessa just stares at me blankly, gormless. Finally it hits her.
“Oh, geez.” Her cheeks go pink, a blush my skin has forgotten how to perform. “Nellie, poo poo. I’m sorry. I didn’t think.”
I drop to a knee and she lifts her leg. The cut isn’t a bad one, easily dabbed dry with a little gauze. Hunger snaps awake inside me but channel years of practice and tamp it down. I peel a band-aid open and smooth it over the cut.
“I’m sorry, Nellie. That was stupid. I didn’t even think.”
When I rise, I feel compelled to squeeze her shoulder. She’s so warm. She doesn’t comment on my cold.
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. It’s kind of cool that you didn’t even think about that.”
poo poo. I’m making it weird. With a sheepish smile, I excuse myself and leave her to get dressed. A silly feeling fizzes in my stomach, like those golden bubbles of torchlight rising through the water. I can’t bask in the warmth of Tessa’s acceptance. Not when I know what’s about to happen to her family. To every friend she’s ever had. I grab my blood bag from the fridge and stalk out.
The bunkroom’s empty. Thank god. I slam a straw into the blood bag and guzzle it.
The visions hit me within a few gulps. It’s just the same as last time.
Sky-high pillars of fire race across the surface world. This time a man huddles in an office, standing slack-jawed around a boardroom table while the floor-to-ceiling windows vibrate in their frames. Glass panes shatter by the hundreds and tumble down into the faces and limbs of terrified pedestrians below.
The blood sings through my newly-replenished body.
The last twelve bags have all been the same.
Every person on the surface who’s donated blood is going to die.
But down here, I tell myself, we’ll be safe.
As I’m crawling into my bunk, I spy a swathe of red along the pad of my finger. I lick it without thinking.
There’s so little blood that the vision seeps in weakly, a vague suggestion:
Tessa stands on a street corner. She holds a ribbon-wrapped box under one arm. Then nothing but white-hot fire, skin flaking to ash, bones crumbling to dust.
None of it makes sense. Why is she on the surface? How is she dying up there? This isn’t the first time in my hundred-twenty years that I’ve wondered whether the blood could be wrong. But it never has been.
The bunkroom door slides open and Tessa shuffles in, towel wrapped around her hair. My alarm must show on my face, because the second she sees me, her eyes go wide.
I force my mouth to form words.
“You’re still down here for another shift, yeah? Two more weeks?” I fight to keep the desperation out of my voice.
Tessa blinks and eases down onto the bunk opposite mine. She shakes her head, staring at me like I’ve just spoken gibberish.
“Nope! I’m off next week. My dad’s sixtieth.”
Each of those words is a javelin.
“Hey, what’s up with you? You seem upset.”
I don’t have time to answer. I shake my head and lurch up to my feet, pushing past the bunks and to the door. Not Tessa. Anyone but Tessa.
“What the gently caress?”
Shooting down the hallway, I take full advantage of my superhuman speed, barrelling toward the double-hatch of the closest airlock. Unlike Tessa, I won’t need a suit. I’ll be quicker, even if she’s chasing me.
“Nellie, stop! Are you out of your goddamn mind?”
Her bare footsteps slap down the hallway behind me.
I hit the access pad and slide through the first hatch, then slam it shut after me. Racks of suits and toolboxes line the walls, and I grab the first torch I set eyes on. Hyperbaric torches burn hot, far too hot to use safely in open air. A couple quick sparks and the access pad is a heap of steaming slag.
Through the sizzle, I see that Tessa has reached the hatch. She stares through the window, her features blanched.
I can tell what she must be thinking. Couldn’t trust that vampire after all.
I hear my sire’s voice from long ago: you can’t interfere, Nellie. Time doesn’t like it when you break the rules.
I hit the flood switch and bone-chilling seawater rushes in. Soon the chamber is filled and I am weightless. I can hear her banging on the door. I can’t bring myself to look again.
As I twist the access hatch open, the world starts to change. Two possible futures branch off from this moment, and I am the bridge between them. The mind-bending, stomach-flipping sensation of changing tells me I’m on the right track. I’m loving up her future.
I’m breaking the rules. But Tessa will live.
Kicking through the hatch and out into the frigid ocean, I’m still struck by a hilariously human reflex to hold my breath. I swim upward with all my might, churning through the water until I reach the decompression elevator.
My torch sparks golden in the murky water. It cuts through cables like they were nothing.
I blink and the world is new.
The surface glows.
The red-gold play of fire overhead is so intense it reaches even to my twilit depths. Around me, the water is tangibly warm.
Like a series of angular behemoths, the habitat looms below. Its edges are indistinct now, plastered with conglomerates of coral easily a meter thick.
That’s decades of coral.
My hair and nails haven’t grown at all. I’m still as dead as undersea debris.
The torch is still shiny in my hand, spared the ravages of rust by virtue of its instantaneous journey. I brace it against the coral and hit ignite. I have to see what’s inside.
I can’t tell if I cut for minutes or hours or days; time doesn’t make much sense right now.
Eventually, I see it: a porthole half-crusted over with coral. Movement flickers behind the glass.
The lights are on. Someone’s still home.
I curl my fist and knock.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 00:35|
I picked the first story I came to from the no crit list that wasn't a winner or loser. That story was Of Balls and Angels by A Classy Ghost (week 191- We Talk Good). I don't know the prompt nor will I look it up, but here's the crit anyways.
Of Balls and Angels
"Stop, let me out right now!" said Camillia. I know people get asstight about said bookisms, but I can't help but think that if a sentence ends in an exclamation point then it deserves something more than said. Totally preferential, but I think it does more to color a scene.
"Sorry ma'm but I ain't in a position to do that at the moment," the cabbie replied. "The little guy in my head, well, he started yellin' about speedin' up and not stoppin' as soon as you got in, and I gotta listen to what he says or else my balls'll explode, y'see?" Okay, this was probably and a dialect week. Also, this is probably a joke story, but if you poo poo it, I crit it.
"You're nuts! Stop the car and let me out!" Woman should be bashing out the window or choking the cabbie. She's too passive.
"Now I told you, I can't. Just sit tight and hopefully he'll calm down some and I can slow down. Right now he just really wants me t'go fast so that's what we'll do." He kept his eyes on the road, redundant not even glancing at her in the rear-view mirror.
Camillia's guts coiled like snakes. like it She stared at the back of his head while he spoke, trying to think of a way out of the situation. She wished her phone wasn't dead. There's so much you can do with a dead phone. She could bust up the window or the cabbie's head.
"When did this little guy start talking to you?" she asked, thinking it might buy her time. How would this possibly buy her time? Isn't the whole thing that the dude is driving fast? What time is being bought?
"Oh must've been 3, 4 years ago now, I reckon," said the cabbie, "I was drivin' my cab like usual and some guy rear-ended me and I bumped my head on the steerin' wheel and that's when I heard him, clear as day. He told me to go talk to that guy, had me rough him up a bit which I think was only fair all things considered, and ever since then he's been givin' me advice. You know how you can hear it in someone's voice if they're smilin'? He's always smilin'." I like the last bit here
Camillia's head spun, her vision narrowed, and for a moment she thought she was in a dream. Or a nightmare. The cabbie swerved hard to avoid an incoming car and she was thrown sideways onto the seat. She noticed a pen under the front seat. She reached for it and sat back up. k
"So you just do what it... he tells you because he's smiling?"
"Why not? I can tell it's genuine; it ain't one of those politician smiles, and someone who smiles at you for real, that's someone who cares. So I do what he tells me to, because I think he really does want the best for me. He might be an angel, really." On one hand, I think this is really stupid. On the other hand, I also get it. This probably means that this is an accurate and believable piece of characterization, IMO
"I don't believe in angels."
She drove the pen into his ear in one smooth motion. The cabbie's body slumped forward and his feet shifted off the pedals. The car managed to stay in a mostly straight line as it decelerated, until it came to a stop in the ditch. Camillia sat back and let out a long, shaky sigh.
The cabbie's balls exploded with enough force to send the car cartwheeling backwards a hundred yards. lol
Okay, so I get why this was never critted, and the writer is clearly taking the piss, but I think the cabbie was decently characterized while the woman wasn't. I'd like to know more about the scenario honestly, and I think there's more worth writing about the Great Gazoo cabbie. Cabbie dialect is probably really hard to do without being racist, but I'm not really a fan of the author's decisions here. No mention seems like an accurate judging for it.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 01:22|
Strength: Your vampire can prepare foods that are preternaturally intoxicating.
Weakness: Your vampire is deathly weak to anything fermented.
Best Served Cold 1015 words
There was a time I loved working in the kitchen. You know, before I was a vampire. I still owned my restaurant, a high-class Italian place on the riverfront, but I haven’t come in much in the last two decades. For one thing, it gets hard to claim you just age well when you’re pushing sixty and still look identical to pictures of you in your forties. For another, I have to be careful about food. A thoughtless moment in the kitchen will leave a patron staggering like they’d downed a fifth of liquor. With a little concentration, their mind will be mine.
Tonight, though, I was hunched over the cutting board with the knife blurring in my hand. My brow creased. This had to be perfect. If it wasn’t, I wasn’t going to live to get another shot.
Everything ready, I set the sauce to simmer while I waited for Celeste to arrive. She was the one that made me this way. Made a neat job of it, too. I’d started drinking when my mom died, two days after the restaurant opened. Hadn’t stopped for anything other than work since. Celeste followed me one night, and I when I woke up without a hangover I knew something was wrong. The woman lying next to me, head propped up on a hand and grinning, confirmed it.
I stepped into my office and ran a finger down the only picture on the walls. Me and mom, both covered in aprons, bent over a counter, hard at work. You can’t see either of our faces well, but the corner of her mouth is pulled up into a smile.
A quick glance at the clock and I was back in the kitchen plating noodles and sauce. I made a dish for myself, too. No one ever suspected their food when I was eating the same thing. I haven’t figured out why, but I’ll take what I can get. I stepped into the dining room with a plate in each hand to find Celeste sitting at a table in the center of the room with two full wine-glasses.
“Henry, I’m so glad you could make it in today.” She rose and pecked me on the cheek as I set the plates down. “I’ve missed your sauce.”
I shrugged. “I just hope it’s up to your standards. The reviews have been slipping, lately.”
“Only because you’ve been here for decades. Now sit down! Let’s eat.”
She picked up her glass, gesturing for me to do the same. I could feel the heat of the blood inside. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes old. My heart skipped a beat, then roared back at double time. We clinked glasses and raised them to our lips.
I didn’t feel the burning in my throat until I’d downed half the glass. I snarled and threw it across the room.
“Wine? How much?” The pain spread down into my chest. I could taste blood. Not the mortal blood from the glass, but my own, seeping in from between my teeth.
Celeste grinned. “Enough to do the job. Not so much you’d smell it.” She ran her tongue over the point of a fang.
I coughed, and something solid hit the back of my teeth. I spat it out. A hunk of tissue landed on the table, deep red blooming on the pale cloth.
“Why?” My voice sounded wet. I needed to keep her talking, and to seem completely uninterested in her eating what I’d put in front of her. I also needed her to take a drat bite, and soon.
“You won’t let go of the past. I told you that could kill you. You could do this anywhere, but you hold on to this restaurant, this life, like it means something.” She clicked her tongue. “A true shame. I really loved your sauce.”
I nodded to the plate. “Better enjoy it while you can. It’s getting cold.”
I didn’t notice my knees giving out. I just heard a thud and saw I was on the floor. gently caress. Revenge is such a pain in the rear end.
Lying next to the table, I saw Celeste spinning her fork among the noodles. Saw her scoop them up to her mouth. Saw her bite down, and her brow knit in confusion.
“Sit still.” I pushed up to my hands and knees. “Don’t move a muscle.”
Her eyes went wide, but she stayed seated. Frozen in place. I staggered through the kitchen door and grasped the counter. I pocketed the mallet and wooden spike. I turned and lurched back into the dining room.
Celeste started screaming when I pulled them from my apron. Her jaw didn’t move, but a harsh, high pitched hum came with every heave of her lungs.
I hammered the spike home with one blow.
My hold on her shattered with it. She leapt to her feet and hurled me across the room. I felt my arm snap when I hit the wall. She crossed the room in an instant, hauled me up by my neck. Blood poured out from around the spike. I hoped it hurt at least as much as my throat.
“How could you? I saved you! You’d have been dead in five years if it wasn’t for me.” A thick wheeze had entered her voice.
“Saved me?” I barked a laugh, blowing a mist of blood into her face. “I was only living for one thing, and you took away any chance I had to enjoy it. Did you never think I might have wanted to die?”
Her lips drew back until the color was squeezed from them. I couldn’t tell if it was a snarl or panic. Then she coughed, and blood ran down her chin. Her grip loosened, and we both crashed to the floor facing each other.
Celeste’s breath came in hissing gasps, now. Her eyes kept flicking back and forth, like she was looking for a way out. When she spoke, her voice was a whisper.
“Was it worth it?”
I didn’t answer.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 01:25|
Strength: Your vampire can consume minerals to gain various special abilities and even alter their physical aspect.
Weakness: Like a Prince Rupert's drop, your vampire has small weakpoints that if struck on will shatter them like glass.
Grace into the Night
Tonight, Boris would sparkle.
He set down his shot of amaretto. The sweet stuff didn't do much for him anymore, but back in his human days, the liqueur had steadied his nerves, and now he found comfort in the ritual. It reminded him of the time when he’d still been, technically, alive.
Behind him, the dancefloor was stuffed with patrons, an incoherent mass of behinds shaking to the finest disco tunes of the 70's. There were simply too many people. He could feel their warmth from here. The blood pumping through their veins… already it called to him, faintly. He ordered another shot and took out a packet of finely ground minerals. A new mix. His Magnum Opus.
He snorted it right there on the countertop. It was that kind of club.
He downed his shot slowly, as if he were saying goodbye to the glass, and finally got his rear end on the dancefloor while they still played Dancing Queen. Never say no to a classic. The powder had already started to do its job: hematite had turned his skin glittery while the zeolite made him feel a whole lot lighter, as if he was made of pillow stuffings. He’d never found out why the minerals made him this way, if it was the same for all vampires, or if it wasn’t, or if it was but the others just didn’t want to be marvelous. Boris for one loved the taste of rainbow. Which, by the way, was Bismuth.
His dance moves were silky, smooth and suavé, an unholy matrimony of ballet and disco. His hips promised hitherto forbidden knowledge to those willing to pay them attention, a group that grew with every graceful leap he took across the floor, and soon he was bursting with colors and glows and sparkles, flowing from Hustle to Grand Jeté at a speed that could rival Hermes. He lost himself in the disco craze, minerals rushing through his veins, turning him colorful, now a slick oil puddle in the sun, now an emperor’s crown jewel in the spotlight, now a rainbow dragon with burning scales, and the music pumping, pumping, sending his limbs in this direction and that. He was a marionette of sound, but by the Devil, no puppet had ever moved with this amount of ungodly grace. Time seemed to have stopped just to watch him.
And then it wasn't just the base that was pumping: it was also their hearts. Once again the people around him started to look like cattle, and like cattle many just stood there staring, flabbergasted at the sight of this magnificent being that had taken to the stage. Their hearts. They were not in tune with anything. They were noise, a distraction, but all to tempting. Only now did he realize that he was feverish.
He had reached that point of the night again.
No! Today was all about the performance. He ushered his bloodlust back into the recesses of his mind, tuned back in to the music, but it was hopeless. There was something primal hidden deep within him, with no other purpose than to drag those nasty urges out into the light, where they could demand his full attention.
His hand shot out for the next best girl. A young lady in her twenties, dressed to impress. Of course, nowhere near as impressive as him. Of course, too amazed to protest being dragged center stage. They did the Travolta, because everyone could do the Travolta.
The dancing happened on autopilot. The sweet lady’s neck seemed much more important now, and oh, how much he wanted to bury his teeth in there, wanted it more than anything else in the world, more than living, breathing, maybe even dancing. The voice shouting ‘No!’ got smaller, made way for the yapping of a blood-crazed animal.
And another puppet would be left behind. Just one more, like all the others he’d left in all the other cities. Empty husks that would dance no more, for as long as he would walk the earth. And here he went again, and there was this sensation in his mouth, the dry tongue and the slight shift in his gums where his fangs slid out, and he got ready to create another zombie, got ready to feed his urge, that primal, unrefined want for blood, and much as he tried to bury it underneath the music, he was way past that point, for to be honest, he couldn’t even hear the music anymore. There was only the flow of blood, and the sense of imminent danger.
A fist came his way. This, too, happened every night at some point. Being a magnificent, sparkly, disco vampire, he was irresistible to girls and jealous boyfriends alike. But he was a creature of the night, and he was faster, better, stronger. The fist came at him in slow motion. It took all he still had in him not to move out of the way. A few split-seconds. The grand finale.
Cyanotrichite was his favorite mineral. It was puffy, deep blue, and so very fragile. A single touch could banish its beauty to memory. He didn't usually add it to the mix. But for his best performance, it had to be there. Forget about iron or granite. Tonight, he would simply be beautiful.
Tonight, he wouldn’t fight back.
The fist touched the tip of his nose, and from there a couple of reactions fanned out, all following the same pattern: the breaking apart of matter. For those around him, it would have happened too quickly to catch the details, but Boris, he had that one blissful moment in which he observed the beginning of the end: the beautiful sparkle, the shattered flakes of rainbow, everywhere rainbow, mixing with the music, soon scattering across the disco, dancing through pressurized airwaves with every new thump of bass.
He’d loved rainbows, back when he could still walk in the sun.
The next day was a day of marvel for many. Comatose patients in seven different hospitals had awoken from their sleep. Missing persons across the country had suddenly gone un-missing, turning up confused and sometimes amnesiac. And then there was a story of more local interest, of a wonderful, dancing magician, who had moved with the grace of Terpsichore, filled a small-town disco with his own portable lightshow, and, in a final, amazing act, disappeared in a shower of glitter, never to be heard from again.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 01:38|
Worth Waiting For
Prompt: The quick and deceptive were-anole.
Eva stared at the foreboding dark green privacy fence with a scowl. An inch or so of wood was all that stopped her from mysterious plants, flowers, trees, and who knew what else. A sign gleamed in the sun: “University Property. Do Not Enter.” Her acceptance to the university was a foregone conclusion. But she was six years too young to apply.
Through a gap at the bottom of the fence she spotted a small emerald lizard. She watched as it came and went from the garden with total freedom. She stamped her foot and sighed.
Eva bent down and picked up a rock. She hurled it at the fence and it bounced off with a satisfying thunk. Eva smiled at the dent it left then turned and ran home.
Eva wandered out of her room, pulled away from her botany books and flower sketches by a glorious smell. Eva made her way into the kitchen, expecting to be shooed away.
“Almost done, ma?” she asked. Her mom bounced from one pot to the next, checking the flavor of each.
“Yes, dear. Can you ask the guests if they’d like wine with the meal?”
Eva felt a pang of guilt. She’d forgotten guests were coming. She poked her head into the living room. Two frail gray men sat on the couch fiddling with a wooden puzzle. They both seemed to have a different solution. Eva giggled at their frustration and they turned in unison to look at her.
Eva stepped around the corner and towards the couch.“I’m sorry. I’ve worked that puzzle more times than I can count. Would you like a hint?”
“Yes, please,” said one.
“No, thank you,” said the other. Eva couldn’t help but laugh again. She sat down opposite of them and let them bicker. A glint of green and gold at their lapels caught her eye.
“You two are from the university?” Her outburst startled the pair.
“Yes, my dear,” one began.
“He’s Bartle, and I’m Aster. We care for the university’s garden,” the other finished.
At Eva’s stare, Bartle said, “Your mother invited us ages ago. Said you were quite a whiz at plant diagrams.”
“Our schedules have been busy... But we’re here now! Why don’t you show us some of your drawings?”
Eva thanked her mom profusely on the way to her room. She grabbed the best sketches and returned to the living room.
“I love the grace lily’s shape. Ooh, and the recurve thorns of the livid rose are so cool, right?” Eva’s heart leapt every time Bartle “hmm”ed or Aster “ah”ed.
They nodded to each other and Aster said, “The university garden always has new specimens in need of diagrams.”
“You want me to come to the garden?” Eva asked.
“Certainly! Once you’re old enough, of course.”
After a long silence Eva choked out a laugh. “I’m sure dinner’s ready,” she said through a stiff smile. She slunk to the kitchen. Her mother was arranging carrots, greens, rice and baked fish on four plates.
“Mom, I’m not hungry. Can I go for a walk?”
Her mom ladled sauce onto the last filet. “Did Bartle and Aster like your drawings?”
“Yes, they did. But I still have to wait.”
“I’m sorry, Eva. I’ll leave your plate out. Be safe.”
Eva left, hoping Bartle and Aster did not find her rude.
Sour thoughts followed her as she meandered through the city. Before long she found herself back at the university’s garden. Limpid moonlight filtered down to her as her thoughts coalesced: It wasn’t fair. All she wanted was to look around in the garden, maybe make a few sketches. Bartle and Aster seemed to think she had talent, so what was the harm?
She sighed, shook herself and stared at the fence. A strange shiver trickled through her limbs and her heart started fluttering like it had back with Bartle and Aster. An intense longing filled her. There was a sound like the sky gasping and she scrunched her eyes shut at quick wave of nausea.
She opened her eyes to find herself at ground level. She tried to get to her feet, thinking she had passed out, but could only rear back. Her body felt longer and sleeker and she felt a sturdy tail trailing behind her.
Oh my goodness I’m a lizard, she thought.
The monolithic fence stretched to infinity above her. Below it, an emerald lizard did push ups and then passed under. She scurried towards it with an unfamiliar rapidity.
Eva came to an abrupt stop once on the other side. Her eyes flitted from one plant to the next and her mind raced at all the unfamiliar plants. The other lizard strutted up to her, spoiling her reverie. It blinked and winked, poked out its tongue and quirked its head at multiple different angles. To Eva’s surprise she understood the movements as language.
“Moon looks great tonight, huh? But we should get back to our turf. If the Brown Tails find us they'll hunt us down!”
Eva blinked in complete bafflement. “What?” She conveyed the question with a tilt of her head.
The other lizard looked past Eva and signed, “There they are! Let’s go!” It spun around and took off, a green blur on the garden ground.
Eva found herself energized by the moonlight and the threat of angry lizards. She hurried after her companion, occasionally turning an eye towards the towering plants of the garden. Such fantastic nocturnal blooms!
Ahead of her the other lizard raced up the thick stalk of a vegetable. Eva marveled at the plant’s strange structure. She spied the other lizard gesturing from a high leaf. It moved its forelegs in a way that said Climb, idiot! Climb! Eva glanced behind her and saw her pursuers glittering under the full moon like the amber stones in the city museum.
Eva did not think herself much of a climber but tried anyway. Her toes gripped the vegetable like glue and before long she reconvened with her companion.
“What were you doing in Brown Tail territory anyways? Did you get lost or something?”
Before Eva could formulate a response the lizard leapt off the plant. It plopped in a square plot of dirt far below. Eva felt her perch shudder. She imagined the horde of brown lizards rushing up to find her. Wide-eyed and panicked, she jumped.
In the air she gawked at the entire garden. I have to draw all of this. She thudded into the dirt.
“Hah, nice jump!” Eva’s companion bounced excitedly. “Welcome to Green Top territory.” More lizards approached, intrigued by Eva’s arrival.
“I’m… You’re… We’re all…,” lizards! But Eva could not find the right motions to say it.
Several of the lizards started doing push ups and wagging their tails. They reared back and poked red frills from their throats. To Eva, these motions seemed primal and vulgar. The posturing devolved into true sparring and Eva sped away..
Taking her chances against the Brown Tails, Eva thundered out of the university garden. Her limbs shook with exertion. Not long after she passed under the fence she heard a faraway exhalation and she was back to her normal self. It took a few false starts before she remembered how to walk on two legs.
Back at home Eva quietly opened the door to her mother’s room and got in the bed.
“Mom,” she said. Though her mother didn’t wake, Eva continued. “I’m just gonna be patient.”
She sighed. In her mind the six years stretched to infinity. But it was better to wait. She’d be older and things would be much less complicated.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 01:52|
Terms of Our Agreement
Strength: Your vampire can control the ambient temperature within a modest radius.
Weakness: The touch of human hair brings your vampire to their knees.
Word Count: 951
A sharp chill ran through my office just before the window shredded apart. I drifted my hand in front of my eyes as glass flew. The little hailstones tore into the new maroon rug, embedded themselves into the vintage mahogany bookcases and slashed the spines of my well-kept records. A man in a leather coat leaped through the window, and rolled onto one knee. He looked at me, bared his fangs, and dove. His hands enclosed over my throat, and we fell back onto my desk. A wine glass, marked with an old flame’s insignia, sprayed my head with blood as it toppled. I could see its twin doves as it hit the ground with a sharp crack. I hoped the damage was mendable.
Meanwhile, my intruder was strangling at still breath. The blood droplets began to bite at my ear. I noticed how strange he looked without his eyebrows, and snapped my fingers. I pulled my hand out from under his grip, and rested the back of my palm on his exposed skin.
The man shrieked like he was stabbed with a hot brand. For all I knew, that might not have been far from truth. He slumped down to my feet. I would need Marlene’s tonight, I thought as I nudged his convulsing body off of my shoes. I stepped behind my desk to my recent records, and drew my reading glasses from my coat pocket. There were many advantages to my turning, but even it couldn’t fix my dreary farsightedness. I dragged my thumb across the leather bound tombs, looking for D, D, D, Don-.
“Donnell, that’s it,” I said, as I pulled a book labelled “Da-Do”. I unfastened the gold latch, and started scanning for his last name. He stopped shuddering by the time I had found his history.
“Donnell, Marcus, Patient 0011020” I recited as I paced towards him. “Reborn October 10, 2017. Volunteer for turning with signed agreement for experimentation. Proved uncooperative and escaped with incomplete assessment. Current status: Observe in the wild until necessary. Possibly dangerous.” I stood over him and re-latched the book. “I believe we can change that last bit to ‘Slightly’.”
Donnell lunged at me like a kitten. I stepped back and removed my glasses. He was splayed out amongst the shattered glass and ripped wool. One of my paintings, a Rembrandt from Boston, slipped from the wall. I heaved a sigh, but shuttered as I drew breath. I took a moment to diagnose the sensation: I was shivering. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt cold. It was more than the brisk fall night, the rime was something Donnell had brought.
He dragged himself up against the desk. “You turned me into a freak. An air conditioner with fangs. I can’t die.”
“I believe you could if you truly put your mind to it,” I said as I picked up the Rembrandt and set it against the wall. The Sea of Galilee was now tarnished right along the boat’s edge. Regrettable, but fixable.
“You don’t understand, nothing can kill me. Fire doesn't singe me, stakes doesn’t pierce me. I could even get a sun tan if I wanted.”
“But a single strand of hair?” I said with a chuckle. I pressed against the other painting. It swung open with a puff of frost. I pulled the bottle emblazoned with twin doves on the neck and returned to my desk. With a pop, I let her humours air. Lavender wafted across the room. “I take it you have not loved before. Maybe that explains your weakness.”
Donnell pushed himself up onto my desk, and spat. One more mess for the pile.
“I will be blunt. You are not the first to come after me thinking that I am the source of their ills. You walk with the Blood of Cain, but you are not a god, you are disillusioned. Every mortal that has come to us seeking immortality has died. We can test the nature of your claims first, but make no mistake, Mr. Donnell, you will die on my terms, not yours.”
Donnell roared, and a heatwave erupted. All the moisture in the room was engulfed in hot fire. The room shimmered from the sudden inferno, except for the air next to my hand. Ice ran along my fingers and up her bottle while Marlene’s blood boiled within. I gasped and put it down as quickly as I dared. The frigid pocket followed her.
I leaped over the table and grabbed Donnell’s throat. We both tumbled onto the rug, kicking up cinders. I backhanded his face. He fell limp, but the heat persisted.
“Enough!” I snarled. I rose, and slammed my foot down on his chest. He grunted, but the heat only intensified. The Rembrandt ignited, its sea set ablaze. The bookcases shuttered. The glass vibrated. Marlene was crying.
“Fine!” I pleaded. “Your way! We will do it your way.”
The heat vanished like waking from a fever dream. The fires still cracked around us. A wood support swung loose and crashed into the bookcase, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Donnell as dragged himself off the ground.
“My terms,” His face split into a smile, fangs bared. All my muscles were strung taught. “We do this on my terms. I’ll be back, Mr. Mortician, and when I come back, you better kill me.” Then he was gone.
I grabbed her bottle. The twin doves had melted into warped, unrecognizable shapes. It still had her scent, it would still have her taste, but now it was more like a faded memory, rather than a captured moment. I recorked the bottle, a small attempt to reassemble her pieces.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 02:07|
Prompt: The hooded were-cobra
The thump at the bottom of the stairs echoes through the floor, rattles the walls, and jangles the vestigial ear bones in Joshua's serpentine skull. It cuts through the leaden fullness from his heavy dinner and midnight snacks, through the chill of his room and the background vibration of his box fans, through everything that's supposed to keep him asleep on his change nights. He's awake now, and he's on edge, and there's something at the bottom of the stairs. It smells like pain.
Joshua forces his body forward, slithering out from under his bed. He hates moving when he's changed; it feels like he's in a straitjacket, chest compressed by muscle, phantom limbs pressed against his sides. He pushes those strange muscles to move faster, to cross the vast expanse of ten feet of carpeted floor. When he reaches the door, he's grateful for the first time that he's got the foster-kid room, with its outward-opening door and no locks. He lunges against the door and shifts his weight to turn the knob, then push out. The door hits the wall with a heavy slam that shakes his nerves. If anyone's at home, they must have heard it.
Nobody's supposed to be home. Joshua's foster parents are out for the weekend; their son Cameron's at one of his usual Friday-night parties, unless... unless it's later than he thought, and Cameron's home already. As soon as Joshua thinks it, he knows it: Cameron. The scent is thicker out in the hallway, and under the pain and fear, he can just barely taste-smell Cameron's mixture of Old Spice and sweat.
When he reaches the end of the hallway, he sees Cameron sprawled on his back on the floor of the foyer, stinking of agony. One leg is bent underneath him; his head is turned towards Joshua, eyes closed. Joshua can just barely see his chest moving. He must have fallen on his way up the stairs, Joshua realizes; Cameron's been lightheaded all week, cutting weight for wrestling, and took one wrong step in the dark. As Joshua puts the pieces together, his own fear hits him somewhere high in his vast chest, where he thinks his heart might be. Before he can tell his body no, don't, he's rearing up. His hood is flaring. Something vibrates in his mouth -- he must be hissing.
Cameron opens his eyes.
Every instinct in Joshua's body screams flee. If he hides now -- burrows back under his bed, forces himself to be quiet -- he'll turn back to human before anyone else comes home or finds Cameron. He'll say he was asleep. Louder than his snake instincts, though, are the older instincts of a foster child, telling him he's already screwed. If Cameron lives and tells someone... well, he doesn't know what happens to people like him, but it's going to be worse than getting kicked back to the shelter. If Cameron dies, who knows? But he's been blamed for much less.
Deeper instincts break the tie. He can't let someone die right in front of him, even if he's got no hands and no plan. The first thing Joshua thinks of is his phone -- not his old crappy flip, but the one Cameron bought him at the mall two days after he moved in, because he "should have something decent." Something secret, too, with a PIN his foster parents didn't have. It's got a big touchscreen with an emergency-call button front and center. He can't talk to a 911 operator, but they can trace calls, right? He doesn't know for sure. He has to try.
Joshua slithers back down the hall to his room, still painfully, but adrenaline's making it quicker. He pulls his bottom desk drawer open with his jaws and grabs the phone carefully in his mouth. He can't make the call from here -- they'll find the phone -- so it's another trip down the hallway, back to the foyer, where Cameron's still breathing, thank God or whoever. Joshua drops the phone and presses his nose to the center of the touchscreen. A dialer opens -- another surge of fear -- Joshua does the only thing he can do, lashing out with his tongue at the buttons and hoping the presses register. A 9. A 1, and then another. Call. The phone vibrates. It's dialing.
Joshua nudges the phone towards Cameron, as close as he can get it, then drags himself back down the hall. He can't close his door behind him, but if he's quiet, maybe he'll stay hidden when the paramedics come. Joshua knows he won't sleep again tonight, but even awake, he can stay very quiet.
Three days later, Joshua's foster mother picks him up at school to go visit Cameron in the hospital. All he's been told is that Cameron's "awake and lucid," which means talking, doesn't it? Joshua tells himself that maybe Cameron doesn't remember. Maybe he's told himself it was a pain hallucination, because who could really believe that it was real, or want it to be? God knows Joshua never has. He buckles himself in and tells himself that this'll end soon.
Mrs. Kurtz drives her minivan like she's piloting a tank, slow and sure. "Just to warn you," she says, "he looks worse than he is. They have him in a neck brace, but it's more of a preventative measure, just to protect the spinal fusion. Don't worry too much, okay? Are you doing all right? I know we haven't been home much."
"Mmhmm." Joshua has his limbs and his ears, and he's never been more grateful. He's spent the last three days breathing without taste-smelling, staying quiet, waiting for whatever happens next. If he were still changed, he could wait forever. As a human, he's about ready for this to be over. "I'm okay."
"Good. You know, that reminds me. Cameron said --"
And for a half-second, Joshua knows how it ends. The police station is a block away. Mrs. Kurtz is going to take him there, have them throw him in whatever rotten underground cell they have for whatever he is, and that's it, he's never getting out --
"-- that we should get a lock for your door," his foster mother finishes, an eternal moment later. "He says you deserve some privacy. Do you want to go to Home Depot after this?" They drive past the police station. Something in Joshua, something old and snakey and human at once, says safe.
"Okay," Joshua says. Safe, all his instincts say in chorus, and he feels a phantom sensation of his hood folding down in rest. He's had doors with locks before, but this one, he thinks, might lock from the inside.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 02:30|
Things were dire. The stable of hand-picked medical talent that Anna Mangles had organized- all the best and brightest of her colleagues- had failed to offer any reasonable explanation for why her daughter’s brain was swelling, and even though Anna knew from her decades of practice that the conscripted professionals, her friends, were doing everything they could to save Beatrice, she couldn’t help but feel that they’d already given up. The hospital board had expressly forbade Anna from treating her daughter, a conflict of interest, they said, but Anna was just as clueless as the others, so when her options were presented as:
One: Watch Beatrice wither on the intubations running from her mouth and nostrils.
Two: Induce a coma, putting the girl on ice.
Anna chose the second; however, in her desperation, she also chose a third: prostrate herself upon an old doorstep and roll over like a bitch. Bury a hatchet twenty-three years bloody and face her older sister’s eternally beautiful, cold eyes and admit, “Emily, I need your help.”
The drive down highway five took eleven hours, just enough time for the ice in her medical cooler to begin sweating. It terminated at a black lacquered door with an oval shaped chasm where the ringer had been yanked from its frame. Under the notch, a faded sign read SUSPENSION WINERY- PLEASE KNOCK LOUDLY. She did, and soon Emily, all perfect and sanctimoniously smirked and nineteen forever came to answer.
“Anna,” she said. “You’re… here.”
“May I come in?” Anna asked.
“It’s been so long,” Emily began, “and you look so much-”
“Older?” Anna suggested.
“Refined,” she said. “You look good.”
Anna could feel her sister’s eyes routing the wrinkles of her face. “Well,” she said, “I’m certainly not twenty-seven. Not anymore.”
“I’m aware.” Emily said, “But what I’m not aware of is-”
“I’m in trouble.”
Emily let the moment breathe, turning her knife without doing or saying a thing. In those seconds, Anna felt as flimsy and transparent as tissue, and with the sun beaming against her bare shoulders, she was sure that she could burst into flame.
Emily waved her sister inside. “You know,” she said, “I’m older too.”
Anna followed into the small vineyard’s farmhouse. The decor was rustic and simple, and the space was filled with a homestead energy ripped from the pages of a Pottery Barn catalogue.
“Can I get you a drink?” Emily asked. “The brand’s taken a hit over the past few years, but I have a vintage from way back that won-”
“I trust you,” Anna said.
Emily removed a pair of plastic tumblers from a cabinet, filling them quarter-way.
“Aren’t these a little- you know?” Anna asked, “Especially when you have real glassware?” Anna tipped her cup towards an adjacent cabinet.
At the question, Emily’s blue eyes took on a dewy sheen that twinkled under the track lighting. She was always so easy to embarrass.
“I didn’t think I needed to impress family,” Emily said.
“And when did you start thinking that?” Anna asked. “The last I remember you would stop at nothing to remind everyone of how cute you are.”
“It was about the same time you cut me out of your life,” Emily said.
“That’s not,” Anna started.
The two sat in the cool serenity of the kitchen and Anna leaned in to her sister.
“Remember back before before mom died, when she was real sick?” Anna asked, “And I caught you feeding on her? And I screamed? And you said that it wasn’t like that- that she had cut herself?”
“And she was so worried about ruining the bedspread that I sucked on the cut like little kids do,” Emily added.
“I knew what was happening,” Anna said. “You started crying, and-”
“I was crying before you even came back. Mom’s blood just tasted so- the sick have a different taste about them,” Emily said. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard the story a before, but my question is this, do you remember what mom tasted like?”
“I don’t,” Emily said.
Anna cracked the lid of her cooler and explained everything to Emily. She told the short version of the last twenty-three years: medical school, an ill advised marriage, the separation, the sickness. For her part, Emily just listened.
“If I gave you Beatrice’s sample to taste,” she asked, “could you tell me what you think?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Emily said. “A person doesn’t taste like cancer or heart disease. They taste like what they are.”
“But you knew about mom, you said so yourself.” Anna removed a stack of plastic cups from the cabinet. “I have lots of samples: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, some others that I took from the lab. I’m just looking for a lead.” Emily sighed.
“If you want the truest taste we should use the crystal.”
So Anna reached into the cabinet, collecting a handful of glass stems.
“One at a time,” Emily said. “They’re fragile.”
One by one, when Anna set a glass on the counter, a gentle tring filled the air like a tuning fork struck with the bone of a hummingbird. Each time, Emily winced as the sound floated the room, her hands clenching taut. By the time Anna had removed the cupboard’s stock, Emily was trembling.
Anna recorded notes while Emily sipped from the glasses. The cancer patient tasted of peanut and birdseed, the diabetes- of seawater. The influenza tasted like tallow and syrup, and reminded Emily of her mother’s blood from all those years back, while Beatrices’ sample tasted primarily of sulphur and bitter greens. Eventually, the cooler was empty and the table was filled with stained glasses.
“Bea’s is unlike any other,” Emily said. “The connections are so faint they might as well not exist at all.”
“Nothing?” Anna asked.
“So that’s it?” Anna asked, standing from the table and her notes. Her brow folded to a hard edge. “What’s the closest connection, Emily?”
“The flu, I guess, but it’s practically nothing- an aftertaste, a whisper.”
Anna jotted a few notes on her paper. “I guess,” she said, “it’s closer than where I was.”
“It’s a start.”
Anna collected her items and gestured to the glasses on the table. “Want me to wash them for you or do you just want to lick them clean?”
“I got it,” Emily said.
“I’d love to stay and catch up, but I should go. Unless you’d consider coming up with me for a few days? I could use the help, and if things get any worse with Beatrice maybe you could save her life.”
“You know,” Anna said, “turning her.”
“Absolutely not,” Emily said, “and the fact that you would even ask is disgusting.”
“She’s my daughter!”
“And you were my sister, once! And then I was bitten and you only cared about exploiting me! For fucks sake you asked me to turn you because you were worried about getting crows-feet in your twenties.”
“Was it so much for your sister to ask for the gift of youth and health? Is it too much to save your niece?”
“This isn’t healthy! I am not healthy, Anna!”
“Please, don’t act like you are saving either of us from some burden.”
“Get out!” Emily said as she bounced up from her seat, bumping the table in the act.
It was then that one of the glasses on the table began to roll like a collapsing top, spinning and twirling until it collided with another.”
The warbling sound filled the air and Emily’s knees buckled, sending her to the ground.
“Oh!” Anna mocked. “Do you need a hand?” Anna stepped towards Emily, proffering false assistance before tipping the table hard enough to send all the glasses tumbling into each other, filling the room with a cacophonous chiming.
As the vibrations echoed around the room, each passed through Emily like an electric shock. Anna watched as her sister writhed and then screamed, her skin vibrating as her cries took on the same warbling manner of the glass. A torrent of bloody expulsions erupted from her throat, filling the floorboards nooks, pooling, until Emily collapsed in her chum.
Anna, however, didn’t have time to check on her sister. After all, she had a sick child of her own, and she thought it best to leave before the smell of bile and blood turned her stomach.
Strength: Vampire can taste medical ailments
Weakness: Vampire can't stand the sound of bells
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 03:09|
Prompt: The Were-Quokka
People are Animals
“Markus thinks Hing can turn into a dingo,” I say as our car turns onto a wooded, suburban street. “But I don’t think that’s right because he just doesn’t feel like an dingo, you know?”
“Uh huh.” My mother keeps her hands on the wheel and cranes her neck as she counts the numbers on the mailboxes. The neighborhood is a realtor’s fantasy, all white trim and red brick. Fresh flowers and mowed lawns are everywhere.
“So I was talking to Sarah, because she has an aunt in Australia, and she says that most Australians can’t even turn into anything interesting. It’s all a bunch of dogs and stuff.”
My mother glances at me in the rearview mirror as we approach a mailbox decorated in balloons. “Maybe he can’t turn into anything?”
“Mom,” I roll my eyes. “Everyone from Australia can turn into something. It’s a basic fact, like how it’s impossible to lick your elbow.” I smooth out the wrinkles on my dress and lean forward. “So, priority number one is to figure out what exactly Hing’s story is.”
We come to a stop at the end of a long line of cars. My mother turns.
“Alice, I really don’t want you harassing this poor family. They just moved in and were nice enough to invite you over.”
“Mo-om,” I say. The word comes out whiny, but I don’t care. She hasn’t had to watch Hing walk around middle school, not knowing if he could turn into an eagle or a tiger or a koala. She hasn’t had to sit in class next to him, watching him evade questions that ate away at her insides. “I’m not going to harass them.”
My mom sighs and unlocks the car. “Just keep in mind that you do have to see these kids again on Monday.”
The house is frightening in its mundanity. It has a living room and dining room. Awful knick-knacks line the walls. Photographs are everywhere. A photo of Hing as a toddler is followed by a kindergarten Hing with a soccer ball. No half-transformed monstrosities or obvious animal symbolism, except for an excited dog that yips at the partygoers.
Adults mill about the kitchen, laughing and drinking, as kids wander between the backyard and the bathroom. Stepping through the screen door, I spot my target sitting with Markus, Sarah, and a group of hanger-ons. He looks up as I approach, ready for my assault.
“Oh, h-hey, mate,” he says, his accent distorted by braces. Sitting in his cargo shorts and t-shirt, he looks as cool as ever. “It’s real great that you were able to show up.”
My plan combines simplicity with elegance. I take a breath.
“Markus says you can turn into a dingo. Can you?”
He blushes and looks at Markus, who looks down into his party cup. Sarah gives a nervous giggle and elbows a girl in my chemistry class.
“Uhh… I uhh…” His cheeks turn a brighter shade of crimson.
“You did say it,” Markus says, finding the courage to look up from his cup. “You said that you looked super cool when it happened too, with, like, real sharp fangs and scars and stuff.”
“Yeah. Of course,” Hing flashes a pained smile, regretting some remark made weeks ago. “Yeah. When I turn it’s, umm, really cool.”
Sarah pipes in. “I wanna see it!” She turns to the girl next to her. “My dad says he saw Hing’s dad turn back from an eagle one time. One moment, there was this huge bird in the sky and the next minute, BAM!” She claps her hands. “His dad was in the parking lot.”
“He can become a wedge-tailed eagle,” Hing says, his voice almost a whisper. He seems to have retracted, tortoise-like into his shirt.
The kids murmur at this new piece of information. Excitement spreads. A girl looks at Hing’s dad and giggles. I spot my mother chatting through the window, oblivious. In my head, I can hear her voice dripping with disappointment. Now what did I tell you, Alice? I thought you were going to be nice to that poor boy.
I brush aside a twinge of guilt and look again to my mother’s shape in the window. I’ve come too far now.
“Hey, Hing, you got anywhere more private we could do this?”
We can’t all sneak up to Hing’s bedroom so sacrifices are made. Sarah agrees to keep an eye on the parents. Markus gives me his smartphone for evidence. Hing and I creep up the stairs, followed by the dog, who senses excitement.
Hing shuts the door behind us, sealing us in a muffled quiet. I step over a pile of dirty laundry and sit on Hing’s unmade bed.
“So, we gonna do this or what?”
Either from the heat or the pressure, Hing wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead. He buries his other hand in his cargo shorts and stares down at the floor.
“I can’t do this. It’s too embarrassing.”
“I thought you were from Australia.” It’s the only thing I can think to say. I lower the phone, feeling a sudden mix of confusion and frustration.
“No, it’s not that it’s just that…” He trails off. “Just look and don’t record, okay.”
And then it happens. The changes are slow at first. Hing crouches a little. Then a little more. Hair sprouts on his arms. Then they are on his face. I watch, transfixed, as his arms shorten and his ears become longer. I wait for the transformation to end, for the dingo to appear, but it keeps going. He becomes smaller and smaller until, finally, he is reduced to a small pile of clothes. A small rodent squirms its way out of a sleeve.
“Oh my God,” I say.
It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
“I’m a quokka,” squeaks the small thing that darts onto the bed faster than I thought possible. It makes a noises that could almost be crying. “And it’s so embarrassing!”
My face melts. It is difficult to keep serious when talking to a small, sobbing rodent. “But you’re precious!”
“But I don’t want to be precious!” It sniffles. Its tiny hands scratch at its nose. I want to be cool and intimidating and now everyone is going to know how lame I am.”
I squirm as a heavy warmth settles in my chest. My mother’s voice is in my head again. Now look what you’ve done, you’ve humiliated this poor child.
“Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out.” I say, as I scratch the small rodent’s head.
The dog yips at the sight of us. I stare at it and then the phone.
“This video quality sucks, Markus,” says Sarah as we watch a pixelated Hing sprout hair.
“Not as much as Alice’s shooting,” Markus says as the video shakes. A fur-covered Hing vanishes as the screen suddenly shifts to the ceiling. “Jesus.”
When the camera turns back, there’s an animal on all fours jumping and yipping amid a pile of clothing. The group gasps.
“Wow,” says Markus.
I look up from the video and at Hing. Our eyes lock. He gives me a grateful smile.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 03:20|
The sky screams and splits open as a ball of flame crashes to the Earth, shaking the barracks with its fury. The gas pours in and we scramble from our bunks — ripped from dreams of piercing metal implements carving into my flesh — and I try to hold my breath but I choke and gag and inhale the sulphurous poison.
Zana is there, pulling me towards the door we've got to move move move because by now they'll be pouring from the craft, loping their improbable gait, chewing up the swampland. Coming for us.
What's left of our group scatters in all directions, my sister pulling me into the heavy grasses that surround our camp, ducking low as the last aftershocks of the impact shake the ground beneath. Her hand is hard and scaly, difficult to grip as she pulls me into the blackness. My claws dig hard into her palm but she doesn't complain. We need to stay together. A flash of light, then a scream from behind followed by that horrible alien chattering klack-klack-klack and I know they have reached the compound, impossibly fast.
But we are also fast, running low and hard through the wet grasses that poke from the fetid water. The poison, too, runs hard, carving changes into my body as it seeps into my tissues. My muscles swell and pull at softened limb bones. Burning pain radiates from my pelvis as it is pulled forward in minute, spastic twitches. I feel my skin thicken as hard nodules form within the dermis. Then the gas hits my head hard, harder than ever, and I swoon as the swamp reaches up to grab me.
"C'mon," Zana hisses, and yanks me violently. She's not going to lose me, not like our younger brother. There will be no moment of respite, not yet. Not during a hunt.
We pass from the grasses into a thick quagmire of thorny bushes. Their taller stature provides better cover, but as we change we are now hunched low so it doesn't matter. The hard thorns skitch harmlessly across my newly armored skin. My skull is changing, too, as once-fused bony plates shift and slide and reconfigure, elongating my jaw and pushing my skull flat against my spinal cord. My balance is pushed forward and down, down towards the swampy water through which we splash. We won't be able to run much longer. The change is faster this time. Stronger.
Zana knows this too, I think, and pulls me towards a giant Ceiba tree ahead, starkly illuminated in the partial moonlight. It rises above the jungle like a watchman, but it's lower reaches are choked with tall reeds and bushes — excellent cover. I stumble and almost fall—my arms and legs are so short now—but roll under the protective arms of the tree. I shiver as the poison sinks deeper, down into my viscera. Zana shivers as well, but her eyes glow as she scans the area for any signs of pursuit.
I close my eyes for a moment and slip back into dreams: this time I'm helping his father bring in the fishing nets, writhing with salty, squirming, squishy things, then I'm sitting on the dirt floor in our home and Zana is cradling our brother, so weak, too weak for the world as it was then or as it is now. But we were all too weak, weren't we? So they took us, augmented us, switched on ancient genes and added new swathes of DNA, changed us, so we'd be what? A better challenge? Harder to hunt?
My eyes iris open to the night sky and through the branches of the Ceiba tree I see the Net, glistening alien vines that ensnare the Earth, obscure the stars, enslave us. A hissing sounds escapes my jaws. Father is gone, Mother is gone, my brother gone. Just a few of us, surviving. And what are we anymore? Are we still human? Zana, my protector, watches me with cold reptilian eyes and strokes my leathery cheek with a ragged claw.
The change is almost complete.
"I's founds ssssomething," Zana says with great effort, the words rasping from her synapsid jaw. "Nearss the fencess." She points towards the east, where the sky lightens with the coming of dawn.
The fences. An impenetrable alien alloy cage to keep us contained. Whispered rumors of what lies beyond: free people, resistance fighters beating back the alien oppression. But no help to us here and now: they might as well be on the moon.
The heavy silence is broken as the thorny bushes tear apart and an alien keening fills the air. One has caught our scent.
We dive into the waters beyond the Ceiba tree, short legs scrabbling for purchase on wet clay. Keep moving, the dark waters will mask our scent. We work our new bodies and flash through the murky bog. Soon the fence appears ahead; we surface and Zana pushes me onto a spit of mud covered in leaf litter, which she shoves aside. Buried in the clay beneath is an artifact of shimmering metal, pulsing with energy, long and sure. A weapon.
"sss-How?" I ask, but she ignores me and struggles to free it from the cloying substrate. Discarded? Or a mysterious benefactor?
No time for questions: a flash and the alien is here. Myriad limbs and strange angles that shift and slide just on the edge of my vision. Impossible tesseract appendages, folding and unfolding into angles that defy the senses. Shifting flitting always moving always at the edge of my vision.
Zana stands upright, human-like, alien weapon in hand, and pulls hard on what looks like a trigger.
But it's not aimed at our pursuer. The fence blows apart and hot, twisted metal release clouds of steam as they hit the water.
Zana turns the gun towards the alien. She furiously scrabbles at the controls.
"sss-Go!" she manages through clenched jaws.
I hesitate. The hunter is closing, all right angles and movements beyond perception. Zana's shortened arms struggle to grasp the trigger as she swings it around
and then it strikes
and she is gone, chopped apart in a cloud of blood and fluid and sinew, exploding before the advance the alien hunter, its movements impossibly fast and precise, now moving through her towards me
my sister! my protector! she's gone and now inhuman speed and hunger turns towards me—
—but I am more than human. I spin, ophidian scales catch the morning light, and dive through the opening in the fence, down into the cool protective waters. Beyond the fence the marsh bleeds into open ocean. My heart rate slows and my blood cools. I swim deep into the brine, my only companions the soft and shimmering things my father used to catch in his nets. The alien does not, or cannot, pursue me to the depths.
I will not surface for a long time. When I finally do the change within me will be complete.
I will be free, and I will be a hunter.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 03:29|
Crit of Yoruichi’s I Was Born With Water in my Veins, for week #313’s bonus words.
IT SUCKS DAWG
Nah so, I think there’s genuinely a good story in there but the poetic register you’re trying to write in has absolutely hosed your poo poo up: these big baroque sentences keep twisting in on themselves and saying things you didn’t intend to say.
So, for example:
“But I miss the warm grasses and gentle rivers that raised me, the freedom of my small family’s wanderings.”
This sentence seems to imply that the protagonist is named ‘The Freedom of Small Family’s Wanderings’ – the ‘me’ immediately followed by a comma makes it look like you’re following up with a defining clause for the first half of the sentence. You could’ve been both more clear and more poetic if you’d cut that sentence in half and just repeated the verb:
“But I miss the warm grasses and gentle rivers that raised me; I miss the freedom of my small family’s wanderings.”
Remember that verbs like to attach to things. In the absence of a verb, clauses are often left a bit free-floating and confusing. It doesn’t mean every clause needs a verb (well, technically it does need one but being we’re being poetical here) but it’s an important consideration when you’re structuring sentences. Also, semicolons are your friends: you can use a semicolon any time the two sentences it connects are complete sentences on their own. It's a powerful tool in writing good prose.
Another thing to watch out for is garden-pathing. A garden path sentence is one that looks like it’s going in one direction, then suddenly jackknifes and goes another. They can really gently caress up the reading experience: they tend to kick the reader right out of the story. The archetypal example is ‘the horse raced past the barn fell down’ which means ‘the horse [that was] raced past the barn [was the thing that] fell down’ but it reads as ‘the horse is racing by the barn and wait what gently caress’. Here’s a garden path you wrote:
“They are tall, strong women, so unlike my mother and I, small and delicate of limb.”
‘So unlike’ is what’s tripping people up: it’s a common thing to say, but it’s confusing on the page it reads like “so, unlike my mother and I [they did a different thing]” and when that  is instead [description of my mother and I], the reader gets confused and has to double back. The lack of a comma should clarify, but it doesn’t – I think readers are quicker to assume an error than an unusual structure. The human brain is kinda dumb like that.
Notice I’m really going hard on the language here: that’s because it’s the only real issue. It’s a huge issue, but I think the plot/characters/world all hold together really well. I enjoyed the story a lot, I just found myself getting tripped up again and again by these overcomplicated sentences.
If you decide to attack it again, do it with elegance and clarity in mind. Shorter sentences, verbs attached to their owners, direct and clear language.
U got this b
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 04:38|
Thunderdome Entry for Week CCCXIII
Oh the Places You’ll Go
“It’s a fairly easy process.”
Dr. Keisler’s voice continues through the talking points outlined on the pamphlet in my hands.
“We confirmed there’s a viable embryo today. Next, we move on to blood testing for genetic compatibility.”
No expense was spared on the full color trifold. A picturesque couple cradles a newborn baby between them with smiling faces. The child’s skin glistens, but not the high gloss finish on the paper. Instead of baby soft skin, scales cover the infant from head to toe.
“And what if there’s no compatibility?” I ask without looking up.
A pause. Keisler chooses her words carefully. “That is rare. More common, the genetic compatibility is aligned with a mammalian species. If that is the case, you can choose how you want to continue with the pregnancy…”
She trails off, but we both know there is only one option for this child. A baby born without the hybrid enhancements of an ectothermic species could never feel the sun on their face or breathe outside air. There would only be life in the Underground to look forward to – cramped apartments buried under miles of soil. The closest thing they could experience to daytime would be the lights in the tunnels, rigged to ebb and glow in imitated diurnal cycles. To survive Topside, an organism must thrive on heat and UV exposure.
The genetic therapies weren’t ready for clinical trials when I was born. For me, it’s a lifetime of breathing recycled air and staring at pictures of Topside on my computer screen. Some humans make it up there, where thick plastic windows march up heavy concrete skeletons towards the sky. The astronomical living expenses can only be managed by finding a company looking for new employees, and there are no human-owned companies Topside.
My hand drops to my belly, the skin just beginning to swell with the suggestion of life inside.
“How long do I have to wait for results?” I finally ask.
“Three to five business days. They will email you the results. Then we can proceed with the injections if appropriate to the embryonic compatibility.”
Nobody gives a gently caress about gender anymore. People used to bake cakes and release balloons; all to celebrate if a child was a boy or a girl. Now everyone asks what species compatibilities your future child possesses, and which you are going to select for them.
In vitro hybridization wasn’t a large jump from genetically modified crops, and these days it’s impossible to grow anything besides the biotech crops. Our aversion to such technology reduced with necessity, but the hybrids still face animosity from the society that created them. Instead of being isolated by their differences, the hybrids have carved out of a world Topside from the remains of past civilizations. Now it’s just humans in the sunlight starved world of the Underground, our UV secure hell.
The email finally comes. I wish I had a drink in hand but it would be asinine to give the child fetal alcohol poisoning after investing my life saving’s into this. The attachments take forever to load, but finally the letter reads-
Congratulations Miss June Avaxis,
Our testing has concluded that your child is eligible for genetic therapies in the following Classes
Please ensure you complete the associated liability paperwork and read the disclaimers thoroughly.
I sink back in my chair, glancing over the boilerplate information. It blurs together; ‘no guarantee of species’, ‘as likely to kill the fetus as hybridize’, ‘some experience severe pain from injections’, ‘the maternal body may reject the fetus upon hybridization.’
“Listen up, kid. We’re going places,” I promise to my womb.
The white noise of the air purifier is the only response.
All birth plans are untested theories, but it’s hard to plan for birth when you don’t know what form the child will take.
An egg? Gills and a water birth? Will the thorax be so broad and rigid with chitin that a cesarean will be necessary? The ultrasound image shows the eight legs that we expected from Arachnida, and a heartbeat strong enough to keep the body alive, but we don’t know if blood or haemolymph flows through their veins. It’s been six excruciating months of injections and vitals checks, my money slowly dwindling to the handful of credits I’ll have when I leave this hospital.
When we leave this hospital.
Two emails have already come through from companies with offers for residency in a small apartments Topside. Arachnida is an uncommon compatibility and my skills match their need for day laborers. I’ll have to work Underground during the day, but at night I can return to our Topside apartment and see the stars for the first time in my life. I keep the stars in my mind as the contractions break against me like waves. At first I had enough time to think about breathing between each fresh onslaught, but now I have to be reminded.
It feels as if the doctors made a terrible mistake in assessing my body’s ability to bring this child into the world instead of a scalpel. Dr. Keisler’s voice is as even and calm as when she first explained the pamphlet to me, except now she is telling me we only have a little farther to go and to get ready to push.
“Just wait, hold on, breathe in, wait to breathe out-”
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see her reaching for thick gloves. Not the sanitary nitrile of surgical procedure, but the kind of thick mesh nothing can get through. As the oncoming contraction seizes me, I understand her words.
The entrance of my child into this world is marked by a searing pain as they emerge with an anguished scream, pale and white as the walls in the surgical suite. I can’t tell if the sound left my throat or what must be their mouth, a cross-section of pedipalps and chelicerae that stretch out from where human lips would be.
“Oh she’s beautiful.” Dr. Keisler croons. I can’t tell how she knows what gender the child is. I can only see the eight legs unfolding from the sides of an otherwise humanoid form, wriggling in the air as the newborn makes an uncoordinated effort to cling to the doctor’s gloves.
I reach out to her, fascinated by the two black eyes staring back at me where I expected eight. I mumble through an exhausted fog, “She’s not a spider?”
Dr. Keisler laughs and I can see the nurse reaching behind my child, pulling something that stretches from her tailbone along segmented extension of the spine. She ties the thick barb at the end to the ankle of lowest leg with a pink ribbon. There’s no umbilical cord to cut.
“No, my dear. She’s a scorpion. Congratulations!”
When they set her against my chest, there’s a rattling noise as her mouth parts emit a soft stridulation. I kiss the ends of her segmented legs, skipping the lowest. She’s not close to human. She was made to go places, and I’m coming with her. I whisper against her hairless head, “Let’s go home.”
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 04:50|
The Big Book of Animal Anatomy said that horseshoe crabs had blue blood. It was one of the only books in the house, along with a boring old beat-up copy of New Zealand Bike Trails and a scary book called The Fairer Sex that Henry wasn’t allowed to read, which had a lady with a gun on the cover.
Mum and dad took the train south to Wellington every morning, and didn’t get home until after bedtime. There was a school for kids in Paekakariki, but not any proper jobs for adults – there was a cafe and a church, and a lot of houses, and the beach: that was pretty much it. Henry walked to school, then after school he read The Big Book of Animal Anatomy or walked around on the beach and found stuff for his collection. His collection had: 15 bones from various small fish; a weird gold coin with a funny symbol on it, that dad said was maybe a British Pound from the old days (though he wasn’t sure); 4 cool paua shells and, pride of place; 1 skull of Phocarctos hookeri or the common New Zealand Sea Lion.
The day he found a horseshoe crab was a big day. He was pretty sure just from the look of it (the Book had a lot of pictures) but the blue blood really gave it away. It was missing a big chunk of its belly, and its little blue eggs were spilled all over the sand. Horseshoe crabs never came this far south: the waters were too cold. It must’ve got lost somewhere.
It was a big day because it was a cool thing for his collection (1 Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda, or Mangrove Horseshoe Crab) but also because that’s the day he met Sophie. She was half a year older than Henry: almost 10. She had dark brown hair, and green eyes. She had a necklace with a seagull skull on it that she made herself. She knew lots of cool things about animals; she said the horseshoe crab probably got killed somewhere else, then floated on the East Australian Ocean Current from Indonesia all the way down to little old NZ. She also had a big cool driftwood stick that made her look like a magical ocean witch.
He let her take the horseshoe crab, even though he really wanted it. The way he saw it, he lost a crab, but he made a friend. The next day, he went back out to the beach and found Sophie again. She was staring out to sea and turning a gold coin over between her fingers. She smiled when she saw him coming.
“That’s British,” said Henry. “They used to have British money here.”
She shook her head. “Yeah nah,” she said, “this is from the magical city beneath the sea. My dad told me about it: if you swim out past Kapiti, there’s no land for ten thousand thousand kilometers, until you get to Ar-gen-tina. Somewhere in that ocean, there’s Atlantis, which is stuck beneath the sea ‘cos God got mad at it.”
“Nah,” said Henry, “Atlantis is in the Atlantic. It’s right there in the name.”
“Nah nah,” she said. She banged her staff in the sand. “There’s thousands of boats going through the Atlantic every day. Thousands and thousands, but there’s basically nothing between here and Cape Town – that’s why nobody has ever found Atlantis, ‘cos it’s in an ocean that nobody ever travels on.”
Henry nodded: it checked out. “Atlantis sounds cool,” he said. “It sounds way better than Wellington, and way way better than Paekak. This town sucks.”
Sophie was real smart, and also real pretty. Henry went to hang out with her every day after that. They walked up and down the beach, and found all sorts of cool stuff. They talked about their dads: her dad sounded way nicer than his. They didn’t find any more horseshoe crabs, but one time they found weird tracks in the sand that Sophie said a horseshoe crab had left – an alive one! Maybe it was looking for its friend. That was kind of sad: it must’ve been very lonely, being a horseshoe crab.
Mum and dad made snapper fillets for dinner again. Henry hated snapper fillets. He didn’t like eating fish at all: it smelled bad, and it tasted the same way it smelled. Fish were cool to read about, but eating them felt wrong. They’d been alive once, in the great big endless ocean. They could go anywhere. Now, they were meat that you ate with lemon and a side of mashed potatoes. Henry didn’t eat his snapper, so dad got mad and sent him to bed early.
He was sitting and reading the Big Book, when he heard dad shout. At first he thought dad was just mad at mum again but then he heard glass breaking and got scared: dad liked to shout and swear, but he never broke things.
Henry didn’t want to go out of his bedroom, but he also knew that it was important to be brave. Maybe somebody had fallen down. He opened the door just a crack, and peeked out. The smell of blood was so thick in the air that he gagged. He ran back inside his room and slammed the door, then dived underneath the bed. The springs and rods of the bedframe dug into him and almost made him cry out, but fear kept him quiet.
He curled up, and shivered, and didn’t cry.
Somebody knocked on the bedroom door.
“Henry?” they said. Their voice was strange: it went click-clack and sounded like it came from deep inside their throat. It was thick and wet and sounded like the tide retreating.
A moment passed, and a new voice came through the door: one he recognised.
“Henry?” said Sophie. “They’re gone now. We can go.”
“The monsters?” said Henry.
“Yeah Henry,” said Sophie, “the monsters are gone.”
He crept out from under the bed, and opened the door. Sophie stared back at him. There was blood all over her: on her shirt, on her jeans, on her face. Henry didn’t know what to do, then he saw it: behind her, chittering and burbling, looming up with spiderlike legs and its mouth oozing blue blood. He screamed, grabbed her, pulled her through the door, then slammed his whole weight against it. She stood in the middle of his bedroom, and smiled at him.
Then, she began to grow. The skin around her mouth peeled back, and her pretty green eyes bulged and split. Her legs melted together, and three pairs of spiderlike arms uncoiled from her chest. Henry heard her spine snapping and reforming as she twisted into her new form. It didn’t look like it belonged upright: she swished her tail back and forth like she couldn’t stay balanced.
“I’m sorry my dad scared you,” she said, in that voice like the sea rushing between rocks. “We came to take you away, to the city. Like you said you wanted."
She wrapped her arms around him and he didn’t know whether she was hugging him or hurting him. One of them cut him, just a little, and he felt a strange rush. She was cold, and damp. She smelled like the ocean, and like dead things. Henry began to cry. He cried in her arms for longer than he knew, then she let him go and he went and unlocked the door.
“Hello Mr Sophie’s Dad,” he said. The beast did not respond. It pointed, with its strange bonelike arms, out to the sea beyond Kapiti, then it fell from its upright position: it scuttled across the floor, a medallion of cold chitin like a knifelike tail. Henry sobbed. Sophie brushed by him. Her tail flicked up and tapped gently against his back. Her voice came muffled from somewhere beneath her shell.
“C’mon Henry,” she said, “it’ll be cool. You don't need to be alone.”
He couldn’t see his parents’ bodies, but the reek of their blood made his head spin. The two gigantic horseshoe crabs scrambled out the door and across the sand. Henry stared at them. His throat hurt from crying. The water called to him. It was beautiful, but he couldn’t say why.
He took a deep breath, and followed them into the ocean.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 04:52|
vampire: talks to plants, weak to plastic.
The World is a Vampire
I had been a long time dying before I buried myself. A century at least, by the reckoning of those with whom I shared my prison. Those fireflies, they said I was immortal, fueled by blood and lechery. They said I would live until the Christ child returns to Save the Wretched and drat the Victorious, leaving me but an empty world and eternal starvation. Hah! They have said that for two millennia, and would still be saying that when the sun burns giant and cold...had circumstances had been different.
No - I had been dying for a hundred years, though I was not aware of it at first. I should have seen it coming. When the engines of industry coughed their filth into the sky. When the horses and camels were replaced with metal beasts that belched heat and smoke. When the rivers ran thick with bubbling paste. These were the signs of my own, personal Armageddon.
It almost seems humorous, in retrospect, that the object and reason for my demise should be elephant teeth! Ivory, used for art, used for industry, used for, of all things, billiard balls. But the fireflies do not hunt with wisdom. They kill and kill until there is nothing else left. They leave the vast corpses of their prey to rot on the ground, taking only the teeth. And when the price grows, because the rarity has grown, they clap themselves on the back, because that is yet more money to be made. But the fireflies must have billiard balls, and if the market cannot bear the price then something else is required. So they, these fragile little fireflies, turn their minds to invention. And somehow they succeed.
At least the factories and cars were engines of coal and iron! Things of the world - from within it. But this new substance, this interloper…
I discovered it first when I was at a Gentlemen's club, teasing a magistrate with lies about freedom from Death's Kiss. I challenged him to billiards - if he won then immortality was his - if not, then I would feed and end him. They always take the challenge, these fireflies. I picked up a ball, then quickly put it down, hiding the blistering it caused my hand. My smile barely slipped, but for a brief second I had known pain, like the fireflies know, and in all truth it scared me.
I killed that magistrate quickly, an alley, the slaking, the quick jerk of a broken neck. Then I began my inquiries into this substance called 'Plastic'. I delved deeply into the firefly sciences, amassing knowledge like I did victims. I used all my accumulated power and wealth to slow its ascent. But still 'plastic' triumphed. What hope did I have, really? The wheels of progress turn like the wheels of time, and after many failures I realised I could no more change the sum of human knowledge than I could turn back the clock to those glorious days of pre-historic freedom.
The plastic revolution continued. It became part of the world, encroaching upon every facet of my life. It infested housing, travel, packaging. Even the invention of refrigerated blood, secured in hospitals, was ruined by its containers being the same hated material. I found my passage through the world hampered and constrained. Plastic seat covers, plastic threads through currency. I was driven to the edges of society, like a dying beast. The oceans themselves grew awash with the stuff, for it was nearly as immortal as I.
Nearly, but not quite, and that was both its own curse and my ultimate undoing. It broke down with age. Not entirely, not like the smallest of bacteria will break down a rotting body, freeing its nutrients for the tree that grows above its grave. Rather into smaller and smaller particles. Particles that eventually find their way into the atmosphere. The selfsame atmosphere that I must endure in order to hunt.
Surrounded by saturated air, I itched, then burned, then, screaming with rage and frustration, burrowed. Deep within the earth I felt the satisfying weight of the world atop me - protecting me from this hideous environment. I starved, it is true, growing ever thinner with want and deprivation. But in my hunger, my desperation, I discovered I had been wrong - and so I made a plan.
The myths of the world tell of my link with the wolf and the bat, but they are not the only creations with whom I share a bond. Before such beasts walked this green and pleasant hunting ground, there were plants that feast upon plants, wrapping round each other, slicing and pricking, embedding themselves through bark and branch to suck the life-stuff out. It was to those I called. My mind was a razor, honed to a violent edge by decades of ever-increasing privation. I called to them, nay, commanded them, to change the cycle of life and the balance of gasses of which my readings had taught. To wipe out the fireflies and let their blood soak into the earth. To cleanse the very air and redeem the world at last.
It took generations. Through the earth, sensitive to every affliction, I could feel the heat, feel the floods. I grew thinner, ever thinner. So much thirst! I could have drunk an ocean of blood.
But now it is time to rise. The weight of the earth is almost too much for me in my weakened state, but I can no longer sense the fireflies. Their time upon the stage has reached its final curtain.
I emerge in twilight, emaciated and naked. My skin seems to shine as the breeze brushes against it without pain. I am in a grassy bower of trees. Vines hang everywhere, both wrapping branches and dangling in wait beneath them. The air is thick with the smell of rotting vegetation. I breathe in the scent of death. I am home.
Taking a step forward, I feel the grasses slither around my foot. The more I try and move them the closer they cling. Vines droop toward me, and I can see their lengths are covered in tiny, perfect thorns. I see the way of this new world.
I raise my arms, look up to the empty skies, and let the vines embrace me.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 05:20|
Prompt: were-epaulette shark
Paulette Has Problems
Funny story, the time I got trapped in a fish tank. Imagine me, short girl, long skinny legs trying to climb out of the thing—but no. Imagine instead a small stubby-nosed shark, all tail, clambering out on fat stumpy fins like a mud-skipper. See, I’m not quite awake coming out of a torpor. Just aware enough to clamber out of the stale water, and as I’m almost out, a big wave sloshes and crashes me onto the floor.
Glass everywhere. I mean, ouch. If a chunk hit me wrong, I’d be dead. So I guess this story’s not so funny when you think about it. I’m hurt. Glass chunks piercing my scales. And as I look out into the dark wobbly world with drying eyes, my instincts kick in. To change is to heal. All I have to do is breathe.
In through the mouth, out through the gills, until the gills slowly close, merge into my growing neck, and I can breath fully with my lungs again. But as I change, I notice a dark figure standing above me. Big dude. Dark blue bathrobe. Eyes wide.
I look back, head now a hundred percent girl, and it dawns on me: I just broke this guy’s fish tank.
And I still have a fish tail.
And I’m naked.
Frozen, we stare, both watching my tail turn into legs. Spots meld into tan as the scales turn into skin. I curl against myself, best I can, without dragging knees against broken glass. My hair, though I had none in the fish tank, drips all over his soaked hardwood with my sweat.
“Am I dreaming?” he says, strange smile wavering on his face like the aurora australis. Aurora green glimmering eyes. Blond wavy locks like sea foam—I’m sorry to find him so good looking, because this is awkward. Not only awkward, but he looks surfer. There’s reasons I vowed never again to fall for a surfer. Lots of reasons.
No words come to me, and I don’t know if it’s because my gills aren’t gone yet or plain old human embarrassment. I let out a squeak. Clear my throat. And say, “More like a nightmare.” I chuckle in terror. “This is the worst way to wake up.”
My rural California twang breaks the magic. He flinches. Knocked back to his senses, says, “Here, let’s get you out of all that.” He steps forward, crunching glass under slippers—hard-soled, like all man slippers—and gives me his hand.
His touch electrifies, tingling from cheeks to cheeks as though I still have ampullae. Calm down, girl. I wobble a bit standing up, legs still pins and needles, but unlike the Little Mermaid it eventually goes away, thank gently caress.
He asks, “Are you hurt?” I shake my head, not explaining how I heal, because poo poo is weird enough without piling on the expo.
“Um…” I frown a bit, because I hate to be presumptuous but— “Do you have any clothes I could wear?”
“Sure, sure.” He points down a dark hall. “Bathroom’s on the end if you wanna shower first.”
drat, he’s quicker than I am. I get a whiff of myself and say, “Ew, I still smell like fish, don’t I.” My face flushes, because I hadn’t meant that thought to be out-loud. Now he thinks I’m dumb, when I’m just hypoxic.
So I hide in the bathroom. Wash the salt from my skin, the crusted blood, and check for cuts in the mirror. The round bite-mark on my shoulder, the one that turns into a giant black spot, is a scar that will never leave me. He left me clothes on the toilet seat. T-shirt and boxers—great, I’ve landed myself in a bachelor pad. At least the loose boxers have a tie so I don’t have to hold them up.
I come out to find him frying in the kitchen. It’s past 1:00. He cranes his head from the gas flame, wok in hand, and says, “I’m assuming you like seafood?”
Of course—I bite my tongue to stop the sarcasm—how romantic. As the smell of fried shrimp hits me, my belly rumbles. I usually feel quite full, changing back into myself after a midnight sashimi run, but I’d spent all that time as a shark trying to keep my brain cells from dying due to lack of oxygen. Bitten by a were-shark, years ago on vacation in Australia, it had to be a small species people love to keep as pets. Just my kind of luck.
So I’m sitting at his kitchen table, scarfing down shrimp pasta like Ariel before she learned what a fork was for. The lemon ricotta sauce, which I can tell he made himself, tastes so good I catch myself thinking, Mmm I could get used to this. Not bad looking, cleans his apartment (immediately—after I trashed it), knows how to cook. What else could a girl ask for?
How about not being kept in a fish tank. A tide of trauma flows back to me, dark feelings creeping on the edge of consciousness. I can barely listen to what this oblivious dude is saying, barely respond as he asks what it’s like these days in the Great Barrier Reef, what with all the coral dying (it’s sad). About what it’s like living on the coast, living on fish in the water (you get used to the taste of plastic). About what it’s like to turn into a shark.
I like to play a game, where I guess what kind of were-creature other people might be. All I can see, as he pins me with an expectant stare, a hungry one, is Great White. The kind of shark that eats little sharks like me.
I look down at my demolished plate and ask, “When was the last time you fed me?”
“Uh, what?” He scratches his head. Already forgotten what I am?
“How long have I been in your fish tank?” The napkin curled in my fingers, I have to will myself not to tear it to little pieces.
“Maybe a week.” His face turns red.
“A whole week?” I stand, still crushing the napkin, and the chair shrieks. “And you didn’t notice a thing?”
“What, that you’re really a woman? How was I supposed to—”
“I’m talking about the torpor. A whole week, and you didn’t think to check the oxygen level.” I throw the napkin on the table and shove back the chair. “A tank like that needs more than one filter. Some plants?”
“The guy said one filter would be fine.”
“The guy who sold you—” He stops, no doubt realizing how bad that sounds.
“What guy? I want a name.”
“Gary. Guy’s name was Gary. Gary Sodenberg. Big surfer dude I met on the pier. Said he just caught you, biggest epaulette shark he’d ever seen. Had you stuffed in a cooler, and I thought, that’s not cool. At least I took better care of you than that.”
“Wait, you know him?”
“He’s my ex!” Because this is what happens when they know.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 05:35|
I get the call at four-fifty-nine in the afternoon, just when I'm tempted to call my shift early, change back to being human, and get home to my guy at home. With so little time on the clock, I think to myself, what are the odds of someone calling in? Why not let that blonde woman who comes in after me take care of it? The thought occurs to me not because I can get away with shaving something crucial off my shift, but because it's never come up until today.
And what a request, too! It stretches from one edge of this city to another, a ten mile sprint without a second to spare, including vertical terrain and countless obstacles threatening to make me take a bone-crunching tumble. Most shapeshifters wouldn't take that challenge, but I've always been a thrill-seeker, plus I'm great at what I do.
When they hand me the box, I take off like a bullet out of the lot and run into the streets, feeling wind whistle through my feathers as I cut through air like a knife. I look weird as hell when I'm in uniform: my neck's long and sinuous, my hair's gone, and I grow feathers everywhere. What gets me the most looks is my legs, bent backwards yet still carrying a rest of my body that looks more human, to a degree. Maybe I'm not the best to look at when I change, but my thighs become pistons and I feel like I could run forever without breaking a sweat.
I don't even bother with sidewalks. I just duck and weave throughout traffic in the street like I'm playing Frogger. They keep so much space between each other that it's child's play. Auto collisions rarely worry me, unless I have to take the freeway for some godforsaken reason. Not even I can outrun cars on the freeway. My legs and all the rest of me can dodge anything if there's room.
No, the real problem comes when there isn't room, when there's a press of a crowd filling the crosswalk from left to right. I can't turn into paper and slide on through; that's too much for me. My only solutions to this situation are to either stop completely and wait for an opening, which isn't great for my balance or the box I'm carrying, or get creative.
So when I see a whole bunch of basketball fans blocking my way as they go to the stadium, I think I have about thirty seconds to make a solution. Thank God my last turn was blocks away. As I zoom up to them, close enough for the faces not to become one big blur, I see that there's no shortage of awnings, cars and poles I can use to catapult my way to victory. Which ones, though? I flail through past experiences, the docked pay from collateral damage, and file out everything that looks way too fragile. That leaves a trail with an angle like the magic bullet; I doubt I'll make it in one piece no problem, but I can't stop now or I'll get an earful from my boss.
As I approach a sufficiently sturdy lightpost, I shift the box to one set of talons and grab the post with the other. My grip is strong enough—stronger than any basic ostrich's, that's for drat sure—and I take a spin around it like I'm the moving part on one of those spinning noisemaker things. You know what I"m talking about. Can't stay for more than a few revolutions or I might actually get dizzy and lose track of the optimal route. At just the right second I let co and stretch my feet out to bounce off a stopped truck.
This is the part where you cringe and say property damage is inevitable, and maybe for another 'shifter it is, but for all my wiry muscle I'm actually no heavier than most men you see around here. Maybe if I land wrong I'll put my hole through the roof and get sliced up by jagged metal, but I always land for the corners and edges and whatever parts look most like they can take my weight. Thus, my leap of faith is complete. I clear the crowd and hit the other side of the intersection running. Landings are the hardest part, even after changing. I had to practice them for weeks to make sure I wouldn't break or sprain anything on impact. It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't do parkour and get bird feet from time to time, so I'll just say it's all in the posture and leave it at that.
But jeez, this must be a big game, because I have to repeat that whole business with vaulting over a street full of people three times! The second time there was no truck, so I had to take a chance with an awning on the same side as the lamppost I spun off. I heard a snap when I made impact; I must have hit one of the support rods by accident. No time to worry about that, though. I made better air on the next one and fell right next to a family of four on their way to the game. That probably scared the hell out of them, but I didn't have time to glance before I made it to the next intersection. There got close enough to the building that I actually ran along the wall for a few steps. Hard to believe I didn't drop or crush the box, but I keep the goods safe no matter what angle I'm coming from. Gotta practice wall-running, more after this, though. It could really shave some seconds off my runs. God knows my feathers aren't gonna help me get any more air.
Of course, just getting to the block isn't always the end. Sometimes it's this huge apartment building, hundreds of addresses in one, and this was one of the biggest in the city. No time to count the floors; I eyeballed it at what, twelve? Fourteen? Apartments are the toughest part of the delivery. No long straightways, way less room to duck and weave, and I can forget about using the elevators. The best I can do is race up the stairs, swinging on the ends of the banisters, but at best I can only manage half my normal speed. That's still twenty miles an hour, but still.
So I get to this door on the ninth floor, heat radiating off my body, and rap on the door. Some dude opens it and says, "Three minutes, fourteen seconds."
My blood runs cold and I ask "What?"
"You're getting sloppy, dude." Then he takes the box from my hands, opens the lid to reveal a bunch of dividers holding down a large meat lover's pizza, and slams the door in my face.
When I found out what wise guy at the pizzeria decided to set my time limit at three minutes, I'm giving them a good pecking.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 05:36|
Every One a Prince: an Oral History
Prompt: were-Tree frog
We came in to Soledad two hours before dawn, guns high and hot, firing off three round bursts and loud orders to assemble. The village was in revolt, and on land the bosses had better uses for. None of us much cared which came first.
Nobody came out. We went into the houses, one by one, ready for ambush. Each was empty, empty of people at least. The orders came down the chain of officers. Looting and burning, house by house.
Near the end we came to the witch's house. I was one of the ones who heard the chanting over the crackling flames and forest frogsong. We waited for an officer. Captain Luiz took lead. Four of us went in.
She was dancing and chanting, ancient and naked and strangely graceful in the light of an oil lamp. The captain ordered her to stop, to put hands up. She kept dancing, turning around to face us and make a lewd gesture, then resumed her chant. Captain Luiz shrugged and shot her dead.
The warts came instantly. All of us got them, three in a circle under our left eye, and at least a dozen more that don't show when we wear clothes. Luiz, though, he got them worse than the wartiest toad you've ever seen. All over, and inside his mouth too. Couldn't talk, could barely breathe.
We got out of there fast, let the fires we already made finish the job. Most of the squad stayed around. They're dead now.
As we were leaving, rushing out through the rainforest, I tripped over a root and landed face first. Before I could right myself a frog landed in front of me, down from the trees. It slowly opened its eyes. They were deep red and knowing and full of hate and I knew I'd head south until I could hear their croaking music any more and never come back.
Have you ever seen two frogs kiss? It’s, you know, unnerving. Creepy. They're not made for that kind of embrace. It's all, you know, clumsy and unnatural. And then there's what happened next. But I'm getting ahead of myself I guess.
The big men driving the bulldozers and earthmovers were out clearing rainforest. The paras were out making sure nobody tried to stop them, and we were out selling lunchbags and cokes, just barely making a profit after all the food we had to comp to the paras. It was midday. The sun had everyone sweat-drenched and I was starting to notice the paras noticing me. One of them, an ugly one with a greasy mustache, one solid eyebrow, and something nasty underneath one of his eyes, started walking towards me, and I was wondering how far he’d take things out in public like this.
That’s when the frogs came down out of the trees.
About a dozen of them, hopping around and grabbing at each other. Trying to kiss each other, and mostly failing. We all watched, even the ugly para, and started pointing and laughing at the little frogs.
Then the first pair managed to make contact, lip to lip, only for a second. They both transformed.
I almost lost my lunch right there. It’s not like in a movie or with special effects, watching something transform like that right in front of you. The movie people do everything they can to make seeing it easy to watch. It’s not like that. They turned from tiny frogs into man-sized frog monsters, and every second of it I could barely keep from puking, and every second I couldn’t make myself look away.
More followed, kissing and transforming. They attacked the vehicles, ripping the digging tools apart and throwing them down the road. And they attacked the paras, too. They had hands like clamps that snapped off limbs and metal with equal ease. The paras had their guns, shot wildly, hit each other a few times, but also hit the frogmen. The monsters kept attacking, wounded. One took more bullets than the rest and turned back into the small tree frog it started as, healthy and hopping.
One pair of frogs managed the kissing better than the others, getting a nice long romantic film smooch going. They transformed too, not into the monster frog-men but into a pair of men, naked as jaybirds. They ran to the edge of the woods and grabbed hoses and gas tanks, and syphoned fuel out of the nearest bulldozer while the other frogs kept fighting the paras. They left us and the drivers alone, and we just watched them. I felt sorry for the drivers. They were the ones who were going to have to explain this to the bosses.
You didn’t use to see many urban tree-frogs. These days the capital is full of them. I blame my professor, where ever she is now.
We were both in the folklore department. It’s a good place to be when the going starts getting weird. You can publish papers that start with “Assuming that magic is real...”
Dr. Ayala liked thinking that way. I think her grandmother was some kind of witch, or at least said she was. When we were talking about impossible subjects, things no journal would ever publish, she talked about magic, and folklore, and how they worked together. When the evidence of the Soledad werefrogs grew too thick to keep denying, she worked out a theory for that, too.
It’s an old folktale, so it’s a very powerful one. The frog prince. Well, in that village everyone was equal in status, and each of them very noble. Kings and queens and princes and princesses all. To turn back, what the tale called for was true love’s kiss. And they all loved their cause more than any suitor ever did the object of their desire. But they turned back. “That,” said Dr. Ayala, "Must mean that the curse is still active, even though the witch is dead. Some kind of eternal flame, perhaps.”
If she’d left it at that, she could have published and been a hero to the government. They might have redoubled their efforts in the forest, found the flame, even contracted their own witches to weave counterspells. But Dr. Ayala’s paper, published on the web for all to see, went further.
The Soledad people were a welcoming one, you see. To become one of them, all a person had to do was declare it. And it only took one more step to trigger the curse and join the frog army. The last part was to lie, to a witch. To the witch of Soledad, to be specific. She was dead, but as long as the spell remained her spirit was present, and could hear anyone who said her name.
Dr. Ayala knew her name, and published it.
In the first days it was only the curious and desperate who said the words, those who knew the paramilitaries were targeting them, those who had some other dire need to hide. But as they disappeared, as more and more green frogs with bright red eyes were seen leaping from balcony to balcony above the streets of the city, more followed, people who wanted to fight more than they did to hide.
We are many. We are fierce, and we will fight until we tear down the structures of tyranny and injustice. The flame is well hidden and will burn until the revolution is complete. Join us. Make your declaration, and pick your lie.
Mine is “I will stop fighting before our victory.”
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:10|
Strength: Your vampire can enthrall anyone they paint a portrait of, turning subjects into servants (or meals, if necessary).
Weakness: Your vampire is immortal, but age is not kind to them; they crack and wither, ever becoming more hideous, so only their thralls can tolerate their presence.
P is for "Proxy"
Jan's eyes were fixated on the face of the woman on the floor. As she took a moment to catch her breath, she retrieved a couple of folded papers stashed in her undergarments.
"I'm sorry, sister, for all you've gone through, and all that's yet to come," she whispered softly, kneeling over the wounded body to get a closer look. She unfolded the stack carefully. The information that led her to this place was confirmed accurate.
On the floor, Jan's double lay unconscious. A tuft of bloody blond hair protruded from her forehead where Jan struck her with the blunt end of a wooden stake, and a vermilion pool oozed from the wound in her shoulder where that stake had ultimately been thrust.
Jan caressed the woman's face, stroking a birthmark on her left cheek, and noting how the same mark stood out in the painting. She peered over her shoulder to a dresser covered in various cosmetics. Shuffling the papers, she looked back to her sister. On the next one, a hideous looking man glared at her. The small, crude painting seemed to capture a striking amount of depth for what it was, portraying countless blemishes and wrinkles of all varieties on the subjects face. Surely he had been around to greet Cro-Magnon man with a handshake, at some point in actual history. Simply looking at it made Jan feel uneasy and sick to her stomach.
She gagged and reflexively turned away from the painting, folding it back up in a hurry. "For mother, father... and sister," she glanced back at her twin. "What sets us apart will free us."
Jan strode stoically towards the deepest area of the mansion's grandest chambers in a deep trance, allowing her eyes and mind to wander as she approached her would-be master. Dozens of thought fragments flooded her mind; as various schools of training against dark magic had dictated, the best bet to deal with a mind meddler was a flood of useless information. Her true intentions were encrypted within an intricate network of associative thoughts. She assessed the sum of all that had happened that night and the years before, unaware that she had covered most of the distance of the room and was now mere feet away from her mark.
He stood with his back to her. "My dearest Celeste, you seem distracted tonight."
No response. She carefully slid her right hand over the stake tied to her leg and gripped it tightly. Clearer thoughts forced their way to the surface of her mind. You don't know what you are up against; strike first and strike swiftly. This man of ugliness that could only be considered "legendary" - who could spook the fur off of a 12-ft tall grizzly. One vile glance and he might just defeat you. "..END HIM," a familiar voice echoed within her head.
Jan broke her trance just as he turned to face her. Before her eyes could focus on the horror before her, she swiftly tore the stake away from its holster and slammed it into his chest, refusing to acknowledge or process any of what was happening as she twisted it deeper with all her might.
When she finally opened her eyes, she was face to face with the hellspawn. Every grotesque fissure and wrinkle on his face writhing in pain. Blood as black as the night trickled down to the floor, as he stumbled backward and began to peel away into the ether. The sight had robbed Jan of the ability to breath clearly; all her senses were assaulted by the offensively hideous appearance of the vanquished evil. She quickly turned away to gather her facilities. Then, a pair of hands seized her.
"Celeste..." she gasped, clawing at the hands of her sister, now fastened tightly around her neck. The stake protruded from her shoulder where it had been left, singular blood droplets forming from it and falling to the floor quietly. Behind her enthralled sister, a figure approached, completely obscured by thick robes.
"You-" Jan cried out, in recognition of the specific manner of fashion.
"Xzanzynmil," a familiar raspy voice called. "It has been long since I have consorted with the common man, thus no one remembers that name. Just the stories."
He moved to his servant's side, hunching over to keep his face hidden. He proceeded to circle around to Jan's back. Frisking her, he produced the folded paintings from her person.
"Some of my best work. I felt instant regret when I sold them to you the other night," he grinned, and whispered into her ear, "I knew they would find their way back to me." He loomed over Jan from behind, standing up straight and slowly removing his hood, ready to feed.
Jan gasped and struggled, prying at the hands of her sister.
"Celeste, I'm sorry..."
Her right arm wavered unsteadily as she drew it back and cupped the silver ornamental cross dangling on the end of the necklace she was wearing. She touched Celeste's cheek gently with her left hand, trembling under her sister's grip.
"No amount of precaution is too much," Celeste assured Jan. "To vanquish true evil is never a simple matter."
"Father said these words," Jan replied worriedly. "But What if it doesn't work out the way we planned?"
"Ideal. Trickery and gambits. To be certain is certain failure, and playing right into his hands."
"I'll see you again. I know it," Jan replied, a single tear forming.
"I'm not afraid. Years will become seconds under his spell, we will soon be reunited. For you, however, the path is long.." Celeste shook her head. "You must remain strong, Jan, and end him..."
Droplets of Celeste's blood splashed against the wooden floorboards next to the rapidly drying splotches that had fallen from the stake as the jagged end of Jan's cross tore into the flesh of her cheek. In a struggle, she cut at her sister's face in a frenzy, leaving a disfiguring gash.
Celeste rapidly regained her own mind, letting out a soft shriek that quickly erupted into a blood-curdling yelp; Jan immediately clutched the stake and ripped it from her
sister's shoulder, slipping away.
When Celeste's eyes met with her former master's, all her pain and suffering was promptly eclipsed; her eyes bugged out, and the most uncomfortable look twisted her face as she immediately projectile vomited the entire contents of her stomach like a pressurized torrent of water directly into his face.
The creature hissed loudly, caught off guard. He turned away, shielding himself from the chunks hurled by Celeste with his robes. Before he could react, Jan had tackled him to the floor, pinning him by the neck. She screamed triumphantly and jammed the stake, still fresh with Celeste's blood, into his chest violently, withdrawing it and reinserting it several times for good measure.
Gagging and gasping for air, Celeste stood free, covered in vomit and blood. She began to process all that was happening around her. "Plan B?", she asked, coughing.
"No, that was my original plan," Jan replied, rolling off the creature onto her back and panting heavily. "I didn't want to ruin the mood we had going that day."
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:16|
Made For This
Charlemagne stood in a 3x3 makeshift dressing room and mulled over his pre-routine mantra.
“You were made for this”, he ended the mantra and slashed at the curtain with his arm. He was a hundred feet from the catwalk, but he was already in strutting form. Each leg kicked carefully out, neck backward, head pointed forward and with determination. Billowy emerald shoulder pads bounced with each step, and the magenta tails of the coat he wore snapped like whips.
As Charlemagne approached the curtain, Hadrian, his best friend, rival, confidant, and provocateur blast through at an equal pace.
“Kill it baby,” Haddy clucked, snapping his beak purposefully uncomfortably close to snipping an ear lobe.
Charlemagne did not break stride. Spotlights followed the model with plenty of lead, the crew knew the runners pace like the back of their hands. There was a silence from the crowd, no shutters or flashbulbs fussing. “You were made for this,” Charlemagne snapped his fingers, “hit it.”
The moonroof to the venue slid open, bathing the audience in full moonlight, and the transformation began. It was called the Moon Turn. Charlemagne’s plume lashed out, his pompadour thinning and shaping into a beautiful sapphire crest, and his heaving breast escaped his tailcoat like an ascot come to life. Then the cameras went berserk in the hands of the silent photographers. When his face had contorted finally into his beak, he turned and strutted back towards the curtain, letting out a quiver to shake his feathers just enough to not cause motion blur for the photos.
In the wings, Hadrian had waited for Charlemagne to return so they could smoke cigarettes in the alley. They passed other models heading to the stage, some had no sense of timing and were queued at the curtain. Before they reached the alley, a wispy, white haired, white skinned, sunglasses wearing ghost flitted by the two.
“Who the gently caress is that,” Charlemagne said.
“Uno-Ur, whatever that means,” Hadrian said. “New.” Charlemagne pocketed the cigarette and made a turn for the floor. Hadrian paused, and started to speak but Charlemagne was too far ahead.
They arrived on the floor just in time to see a pristine, milk white peacock emerging from the new blood. Every detail white, yet somehow distinguished, save for piercing ice blue eyes, that the entire audience gasped at. Uno-Ur snapped into a statuesque position, but scanned the audience, neck rigid but head swiveling. And after the eternity passed, he ripped a turn and flicked the sunglasses he had been wearing into the audience. They arced gracefully and powerfully, landing at the feet of Charlemagne and Hadrian. Charlemagne stomped them without looking down.
“Who the gently caress does he think he is,” Charlemagne said. He nearly lost the cherry from his cigarette from his hand shaking. Charlemagne had never seen something like that before. He ran through the possibilities. It couldn’t be albinism with those eyes, but how could bleaching have been so perfect?
“Don’t let it get to you Charlie. You know how they come and go. Just a gimmick.”
Charlemagne remembered when he and Hadrian, and all the others had been called gimmicks. He took another drag and remembered his mantra.
While they waited for the next full moon, the fashion press had been abuzz with Uno-Ur. It was all they could talk about.
Charlemagne stood in his dressing closet and repeated his mantra. “I was made for this,” he said and again started his routine. His entire gait was stopped as Hadrian emerged back from curtain, his feathers snapped and bent, his plume disheveled and asunder.
“What did you to yourself,” Charlemagne said. Hadrian would not return eye contact.
“I wanted to try something new, that’s all.” A stage hand stepped in before Charlemagne could say anything else and shooed him to the stage. He shook his head, tearing the thoughts from his mind as he imagined Hadrian had torn his plumage from his body.
On the Moon Turn, what had once been a cacophony of shutters and flash bulbs had been reduced to a white noise machine for babies to sleep to.
Never had Charlemagne been reduced to ‘boring’ and ‘old hat’. Hadrian had at least received ‘risky’, with a caveat of ‘punk rock-chic’, Charlemagne sneered at the reviews. Uno-Ur once again dominated the accolades. Not only had Uno-Ur topped him again, he had done it with no change to his performance, and yet Charlemagne had been derided for the exact same intransigence. He gazed upon his own stubbornness in the mirror.
“I will make myself for this.”
The paste burned where he applied it, but he persisted through the pain. The diet he embarked upon had left him listless, but he summoned the strength through amphetamines and supplements. His body sculptor had performed miracles with scalpels and braces, making minor adjustments as Charlemagne picked through his features in the mirror. He had missed several shows to correct his imperfections, but finally, he had achieved transcendence. On the night of the full moon, Charlemagne once again emerged from his dressing room. His timing was impeccable as always, and Hadrien approached.
“Charlie, where have you been? What- what happened to you?” For a moment, Charlemagne heard his own voice emerge from Hadrian. Charlemagne became confused and disoriented.
“Why aren’t you in wardrobe,” Charlemagne rasped.
“Oh Charlie,” Hadrian said. “I couldn’t do it anymore, I just couldn’t.”
Charlemagne saw the notepad and camera slung at Hadrian’s hip.
“No, you aren’t. You aren’t one of them are you,” Charlemagne said.
Hadrian stared at his feet. “It’s just, just until I get my jewelry line up and running.”
Charlemagne rolled his entire head.
“We can always use new writers Charlie, I could, we could really use your help. You don’t have to do this,” Hadrian said.
Charlemagne shook his head.
“It’s time for my ascendency, Haddie.”
Charlemagne pushed past him, heading straight for the curtains. A stage hand tried, meekly, to intervene, but he let Charlemagne limp past without much resistance. Uno-Ur was in mid Moon Turn when Charlemagne burst onto the cat walk, drinking in the moonlight. They writhed and cavorted and Charlemagne basked and preened in the silence as the audience was awed by his transformation.
“Get this loving dirty gutter-snow pigeon-man off my loving stage!” Screamed the impresario, storming the catwalk.
He grabbed Charlemagne by folds of his wattle and dragged him to the fire exit. He kicked the door open, with no alarm sounding, and tossed Charlemagne into the alley. He flailed through the cigarette butts that hadn’t been cleaned in months before flopping onto his back. The door opened again but he didn’t look.
“Do you want to know my secret?” Uno-Ur whispered in his ear.
Through clenched tearful eyes, Charlemagne nodded. He had to know how he had fallen so far.
“I was born like this,” Uno-Ur said.
The lump caught in Charlemagne’s gullet.
“I was made to be better than you. There was nothing you could have ever done.”
And Uno-Ur was gone. Charlemagne lay there in the cigarette butts and trash, staring at the moon.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:38|
One day, Jeffrey decided his life sucked.
It’s true, Jeffrey’s life sucked. To be fair to Jeffrey, he finally did something to leave the /r/werecel subreddit he had been dedicating a good deal of his adult life to.
Ergo, on this day, he wrote a fourteen-paragraph post shrieking at the other involuntarily celibate shifters which included the phrase “you bunch of werefucklesses” which attracted nonchalant responses. The rant arose because eight months prior, he wrote a very long group manifesto about how they werecels should stick to each other, because some people were not gifted with the proper animal they could transform into on a full moon (the werechads like lions or wolves kept taking away all the chasers!). Some of the new werecels took that manifesto, and made a youtube video of them reading it over pictures of grasslands and paddy fields. “Disrespectful!” he wrote.
“Lol,” the mods said, then banned him.
Again, to be fair - Jeffrey did make some attempt to better and desuck his sucking life. He went to a travel agency and practically told the agent he just wanted a good gently caress. He definitely thought he was subtle, but the agent did not need superhuman senses of empathy to understand “meeting new people and having great nights alone with them” meant. She winked at him then requested for a quadruple increase in his travel budget.
Two weeks later, he arrived at the Bahamas in a seaplane, touching down at the golden sands and the sapphire-blue oceans of the Shifting Seatides Resort. A One-of-a-Kind!, All-inclusive! and Clothing-optional! tropical island getaway for shifters and their chasers alike! Where mystery loomed behind every seductive smile and furtive glance! Where one could be one’s self… but still hid an alluring secret! Where everybody had a lot of sex basically! Where nobody looked for romance - for romance looked for them™.
He descended to the hot tub area immediately after checking in. It was noontime and blazing hot, and he sweated so much he was already wet before he got there. Most “werechads” were nocturnal and sleeping, so it was his best chance. Three ladies, who wore bangles with a paw motif to helpfully identify themselves as chasers, were giggling to themselves in the pool talking about, to Jeffrey, obviously womanly things.
“Mind if I join?” he said then promptly inserted himself in the tub.
“Hi,” said the first girl, scanning very carefully his pallid and soft body. “So… what are you?”
“Uh,” Jeffrey said.
“Are you ex-militia? Mossad? Mao red army? SEAL?” asked the second girl.
“Or a drifter? Who previously worked for some South American drug cartel?” asked the third.
“Maybe a trucker? Anything blue-collar.” She licked her lips. “Can you change a tyre?”
Jeffrey said, “I do accounts at a local freights company.”
“Ah,” they all said in unison, sipped their respective drinks, and resumed their womanly discussions.
It was barely an hour later that he left the tub for the beach. The werechads were playing volleyball and pouring oil all over their chests. Sulking, Jeffrey lay down under an umbrella.
A woman came running by. “Help!” she said. “I need a man who has a dark past!”
“Huh?” Jeffrey sat up.
She came to him. “I’m being chased by… by things I’m paranoid of but can’t say out loud because it would make me sound crazy! They may be immaterial to most people but they are very real to me! Also, if I say their name they will suddenly turn up to capture me in a very dramatic fashion!”
Jeffrey had to confess she sounded very crazy but she was also very attractive.
She grabbed his arm. “You look like you are brooding. Are you thinking about a lost love?”
“Was she or he killed in a pointless war between shifters and vampires? Was she slash he kidnapped by vampires during a ‘Vampires are Alive’ concert? Were you driven by grief because you couldn’t love anybody else?”
“I never - “
“Okay, but did you serve as the lieutenant of a violent warlord who brought you up as an orphan and you later had to murder them after they betrayed you and you could never come to terms with that?”
“I’m an accountant.”
“Uh,” the lady considered his statement. Her grasp on his arm was loosening. “Did you at least like, in a previous life, lost a weresoulmate who you dedicated your previous life to but then you died tragically (by slow-acting poison planted by a jealous forest witch/warlock) and they also died heartbroken and now you find yourself holding a semblance of that memory with you and you had been looking for that person for your whole life and that was why you have come to this resort in hope of rekindling that previous life’s love?”
Jeffrey could only stare at her.
“Okay, bye.” she said and left.
In the distant, the volleyball playing werechads chest-bumped, then kissed their new girlfriends or boyfriends.
Jeffrey went to the tiki bar, which was almost empty. Jeffrey was not having a good time. “Having a good time, mister?” asked the bartender rhetorically as she poured his fifth Sex on the Grass cocktail (midori melon with bison-grass vodka). He drank, bottoms up, because he needed to emphasize the ungood time he’s having.
“My life sucks!” Jeffrey declared. It came out as “Murrr baahhhhh.” Employees mmmed their hmms at his unilateral statement and ignored him.
“Hey,” said a voice beside him. “Bad luck?”
He turned around. A woman with striking platinum blonde hair in a bikini top and cut-offs, wearing the tell-tale paw bracelet, smiled at him. “What’s it to you?” he bleared.
“It’s the same for me,” she said, taking a sip of her whiskey. “Thought I could find someone... compatible, but it’s day four now.”
Jeffrey groaned. “I’m so looking forward to the rest of the week,” he said, after getting another cocktail. “I just - I can’t compete, you know?”
“Why? What are you a shifter of?”
Jeffrey sighed, and told her.
“A dall ram?” she asked.
“Not even a ram,” he mehhed. “A dall sheep. I don’t even have horns.”
“I heard you guys have really soft wool.”
She laughed. He frowned.
“Oh, I don’t mean in that way,” she said quickly. “Well, I really like that. I mean - I did say I couldn’t find anyone compatible.”
“Oh, god, it’s so embarrassing. None of the shifters want anything to do with me. Come over.”
He leaned. Her breath tickles his ears.
“I’ve got a thing for shearing animals,” she purrs.
Suddenly, Jeffrey’s life may stop sucking!
“I’m Amanda. Hi.”
* * *
Jeffrey was in the bathroom preparing for his destined night of life-desucking. Amanda has finished inspecting her shearing kit. She opened Jeffrey’s closet, eager to know the kind of person he was.
Which was when she found his fur vest (with leggings and cuffs), strapped together with leather, topped with a helmet made of resin horns and in between them a high school torch medal.
“You aren’t even a real shifter?” she exclaimed.
Jeffrey’s life still sucked.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:43|
So this would really benefit from the application of the old tdome rubric "cut the first paragraph" and then maybe repeating that a couple more times because your opening is flimflammy as all get out mbrother. I don't really care about the whole language aspect of this and I am not sure you do either, but you started it around that so you'll finish. What I do love is the richness of the magic they conjure at each other and the sweetness of their blokey magic chum friendship, so for all this is sort of wafer thin and it's labouring under a whole layer of unnecessary metaphor, it's still a piece with potential. Worth reworking I think, the relationship has promise.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:52|
Strength: Your vampire can tailor preternaturally exquisite clothing, which makes the wearer susceptible to the vampire's will.
Weakness: Your vampire gushes precious blood at the merest pinprick.
Steve thought that being a vampire was a bit sketchy. He wasn’t at all comfortable with the balance of power when it came to mesmerising victims. Actually, now that he came to think about it, he wasn’t all that keen on calling them victims.
Steve decided that he wouldn’t refer to his non-consenting blood donors as victims any more. He nodded once firmly, to nobody in particular, basking in the warm glow of his resolution.
Steeled by moral conviction, he brought his attention back into the room. Eyes refocusing of his workshop he took in the hot mess of blood, cloth, sewing machines and bodies. Steve turned quickly away from the bodies, uncomfortable with the physical reminder that he was unable to think of a word to replace “victim”.
He looked loathfully at the mound of heavy fabric. Steve could have turned that velvet into anything, a flattering evening jacket, a daringly cut dress. But no, he was going to turn into a robe. Steve knew it would be a lovely robe. It would embrace the wearer in a soft cuddly state of bliss, tension rolling off their shoulders and taking any unease or sense of safety with it.
Steve made very nice robes. All his clients appreciated them as a core, if extravagant, part of the massage experience he offered. But oh, he thought, it could be so much more. Even as a robe, he could embroider some magnificent design across the back, each lovingly crafted detail exposing a new vulnerability in the wearer. Petals of a rose that unpick the psychic armour of his amour-to-be, the swirling shell pattern of a majestic horseshoe crab to cloud their instinct to run.
He was going to turn that pile of potential into a unsatisfactory but perfectly functional robe because it was less likely to turn Steve’s finger into a quivering geyser of iron, oxygen and red. Lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time Steve would spend a week bleaching the walls, ceiling and, thankfully tiled, floor. One prick from a tiny needle, one rogue swing of the shearers and the bank of Berninas would be a deep shade of rouge.
Steve’s mind drifted to the last time he’d pushed the needle too forcefully through the fabric, absentmindedly pushing the needle too forcefully through the lush green velvet. Gouts of hot blood forced itself past the cold needle’s point, too impatient for it to slide back out and microseconds before Steve’s anguished shout.
“Fuuuuuuck!” Steve bellowed, sending his chair dancing across the hard floor toward the wall behind him. “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck” he clutched his finger, uselessly wrapping his hand across the tip like a fat fleshy bandage.
Steve crossed the room swiftly and deliberately, trying to both minimise the spray and direct it away from the expensive piles of textiles that covered the tables with his now blood-soaked free hand. It shot blood in a fine mist, like a Dad with his thumb over the hose-pipe, coating everything it touched in a bright, glistening red.
He dunked his hand in the freshly defrosted mug of blood he’d set out earlier, feeling the contents start to knit together the broadening pinhole at the end of his index finger. Tiny tendrils of epidermis reaching out hungrily - then sated, grasping at one another across the minutest divide, hauling skin and flesh together.
As his fingertip repaired itself he looked at the jumbled pile of bodies in the corner and grimaced. He’d need a top-up now, and he was feeling less certain about the enthusiastic consent of his victims. He grimaced again, having said “victim” again in his head.
The latest wasn’t quite dead, but was drained to the point of not having much of a future in this workshop. Blood flowing lazily, barely audibly, through their veins. Steve considered his options. On one hand, he was being quickly burdened the idea that maybe what he did wasn’t entirely unproblematic. On the other, well, they were already on the way out - it would be wasteful to not make full use of them, wouldn’t it? Another part of him quietly tutted that this is what happens when you read too much, and wasn’t life easier a decade ago?
Steve drank, but made an effort to feel really bad about it as he did so. He bit into the thin skin and it offered little resistance, almost as resigned to its fate as the nearly hollowed vessel it enveloped.
As the blood flowed across his tongue, a resolve built within him. He wasn't going to ensnare his victims with his tricks and powers This one was the last one. He'd be ethical. He had heard good things about synthetics. He also hoped that it wasn't too expensive.
“gently caress it.” he said aloud to no one in particular. He fought urge to lick the last flecks of blood from his teeth, lest he start the process all over again - this time with no top-up on hand.
Invigorated, he stood up. The body dropped from his lap ungracefully with a damp thud. He looked down the narrow room at the green robe, unfinished and stained. No, today wasn't a robe day. Steve had restrained himself for too long with thick fabrics, emergency mugs and bodies on hand. Today was actually a tonight, and it it would be a dress night.
Not just any night, giddy with ambition and convinced his newfound abstinence from nonconsensual exsanguination had bought him a ticket on the karmic express to success, he wanted to create the ultimate monument to his chastity. Tonight was a wedding dress night.
Steve worked as a man possessed, a whirlwind of silk and lace enshrouded him as he shaped it. The bank of sewing machines roared and clattered, finally set loose to run unbridled. He worked at speeds he hadn't dared approach in years, joy in seeing a vision take shape driving him on. Fully in flow, his hands guided needle and blade deftly across the delicate material like sharp metal extensions of himself.
Hours passed, Steve's pace never wavering. Slivers of dawn's light clawed their way across the ceiling now, casting hints of gold across the near-complete dress. It was magnificent. It clung to the dressmaking dummy, elevating the canvas and wood structure to regality with its beauty.
Today was a today after all. Steve had forgotten the last time he had worked an all-nighter. He had forgotten the rush of pride and passion that put the dress before his body, eking out those last few precious minutes before the daylight brought its punishment.
Steve lifted the dress up off the dummy, draping the assemblage of all his multitude of skills across his arm to examine it more closely. The applique dragged hard across his exposed forearm. First slivers of blood, then wide blots pushed their way through the fine material.
Steve looked up toward the kitchenette, realising before his eyes had refocused over the distance that he was without the tools he was unmoored and adrift.
He looked back down at the dress, and sunk to the floor. Needle in hand he began his final work, embroidering tiny rose petals in the blood-red brocade.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:55|
It’s a cold night, and I’m up on the roof waiting, limbs a-twitch, for the first prey of the month. Out back of the 7-11, where the kids come to smoke cigarettes after school. Not that I’d eat a child, their blood is jejune, untempered. No: I’m a cultured man, and crave the cholesterol-thick blood of an investment banker.
Failing that, an IT middle manager, such as the one who has just come round the corner, vape pen in gesticulating hand. He’s talking to a girl, shoulder-length pink hair and a belly tattoo. I can hear the blood in her sweet arteries, pounding, but I can’t notice that right now because she has a brown rectangular case on her back. I know instantly what it is, too small for a viola, too big for a saxophone.
“Violinist,” I hiss, subvocal. I want to run, my long dead follicles want to make my long dead hair stand up, my long dead lips want to curl into a sneer. I do none of these things. I am strong.
“Soooo I’m basically a charioteer, like in Ben Hur?” says the man. He sucks at his tube and puffs out a billowing cloud. “But instead of horses, I have staff!”
The girl lights a cigarette, then she looks up with ironic eyes. “Do they all think you’re a wanker?”
The man, who is wearing a black and white vest over his short-sleeved IT middle manager’s shirt, is outraged. “No! Well, mostly no. See, last week we were reprioritising the stack algorithm for nearshore cloud functionality, and I said—“
I’ve heard enough, and step off the roof. My mirror-smooth wingtips make a clapping sound as they hit the dirty car park tarmac that echoes off the 7-11’s walls: the two of them look up with eyes wide.
I’m an impressive sight, it’s true. My arms are spread wide, bat-like folds of an opera coat, top hat outlined and waxy skin gleaming against the orange sodium light. But an image can only hold prey for seconds, I see their astonishment turning into fear. I tap my foot twice on the ground, nudge away a discarded soda cup and swing my leg round in an exquisite arc, arms describing the essential curve of Archimedes. They watch, transfixed.
I never know what movements I'm going to make before I make them. Instead I feel the existence of the shape I’m describing with my out-flung limbs, my arched back, as though there is a perfect shape, rotating and glittering somewhere beyond the horizon, and I am darting and whirling to catch its rays.
I do know the effect it has on my audience though. They goggle like kids at a clown show. And so, after a final timeless passage of water-like motion I find myself poised behind motionless sweater-vest man, and plunge my fangs into his plump neck. He quivers and sighs, once, as he bids farewell to most of the contents of his circulatory system. Delicious.
My mind wanders, as it does, and I start wondering if there is a more beautiful word in the language than “pirouette”? The plosive start, the languid roll across the tongue, the sharp stop at the end.
Then I see the girl, still staring, and I ask myself why it is I hate violins so. They’re just a string instrument, like any other. Guitars don’t bother me – I have an extensive collection of post-rock CDs back at my house. But even the thought of a wailing note from one of those loving things makes my bowels clench. It's ridiculous, I am strong. There is literally nothing for me to fear.
The man’s body is heavy now and I'm sucking at dregs, so I let him slump to the ground. The blood is trickling down my neck and I see the girl open her mouth to scream. I assess my options.
I’m not hungry any more so that’s out. I could crush her skull before she made a sound, of course, a quick ballestra to get the distance then a sinuous queixada to shatter her occipital and a bound to the roof and away. Yes, that’s the best option here, kill her and smash her horrid wail-box.
Instead, to my considerable surprise, I find myself on the roof with the girl clamped in my arms, forearm over her throat. She seems to have passed out. I'm frowning as I leap to the next building. Her violin is still on her back, clumping off chimneys as I run.
I am strong.
Back at the house I dump her onto the rug in front of my cold fireplace and stare at her, and her case of horror. It’s just a noise. It’s just a noise. This is ridiculous. I see her eyelids quiver - she is awake.
For a moment I am indecisive, an unfamiliar feeling, then I nod - up, down. Very well.
I nudge her with the toe of my shoe. Her eyes flick open.
“Your face is covered in blood,” she says, voice obstructed as though she is speaking past something in her throat.
“My apologies,” I say, and wipe it off with a handkerchief. “I need you to, make noise. Play. Play your violin.”
She stares at me, through me really. She’s wet herself which is a little distasteful but I suppose this is an unusual night for her so I am prepared to make allowances.
“Are you, are you a--” she says and I interrupt her with a quick flick of my hand. I see her go dreamy at the sight of my movement and remind myself to exercise restraint.
“Of course, a vampire, now. I want you to play this thing for me. I’m tired of fear. Then we can get on with our lives.”
I pick up the violin case and crack it open with a flex of my fingers. The violin is lurking within. Sneering at me with its f-holes and its soundpost. I drop the case, next to her, jump back.
She looks at me, looks around the room she’s in - attractively decorated, though I shouldn’t skite. Elegant. Her eyes stop for a moment on the gilded horseshoe crab on the wall. Then, on the violin. She picks it up, cradled in her arms. I nearly ate a mother nursing a baby, once, but decided against it when I saw how she held it against her, just like that.
Then she picks up the bow, and tightens the hair.
“This is so loving weird,” she says.
Then she plays.
The first note is like a shard of glass shoved deep into my chest, then withdrawn, a soul-deep shaft of agony. I didn’t think I even had a soul any more, I'm not happy to be proven wrong. The next notes, a series of trills and runs, are like a chainsaw with broken crystal teeth, ripping at my ears.
The noise stops and I open my eyes. I'm crouched, cowering in the corner. I was wrong, I'm not strong at all. I don't want her to play again. “Please,” I say.
She's standing up now, tear-streaked face curled into a snarl. “Paganini, motherfucker,” she says, and attacks the strings.
The first passage pulls me to my feet, howling, the second spins me around; but not in the ecstatic curves of a dance. This burns, my limbs cracking and sparking as they spasm.
I slam into the wall and hear the horseshoe crab crash to the floor, but don't feel the pain. She is laughing as she plays, faster and faster. I spin around, and again, and a third time. She won't stop. She will not stop until I am dead.
This, I know with a sudden, crushing certainty, is the glittering thing in whose reflections I have been pirouetting all these centuries; dancing in the reflected shadows of my own inevitable demise.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:57|
Crit for Yoruichi - Sourdough (Belgium Week)
I'm not really nitpicky about grammar, but you have a comma splice in your opening sentence that messes up the rhythm instead of adding to it. "The little bedside clock in my sterile hotel room glows red at me. It's 3.30 a.m." reads a lot better. Next sentence is a good comma splice! Actually--best structure for these lines would be:
The little bedside clock in my sterile hotel room glows red at me. It’s 3.30 a.m., I can’t sleep, and this trip was a terrible idea.
Better. Unfortunately, this semi-sarcastic and self-deprecating voice, which gives the narrator a bit of character, soon disappears into bland description of really boring action. And then gets magical or surreal or just highly metaphorical? But whatever it gets, that ends up not mattering, because after seeing a bunch of magical (???) yeasts dancing all over her, she just sits down and has some bread and apparently forgets all about it. My guess is that you intended this to be an interesting thing to spice up the middle of a story which is basically a woman going into a bakery, drinking beer with a man she can't talk to, eating a piece of toast, then getting a sourdough starter and going home. There is definitely a way to make a story like this work (with or without the magic yeast), but this one didn't work. It was boring, and the ending, despite obviously being symbolic of returning to herself, her roots, and what was important to her before Dan, doesn't land emotionally.
Maybe I am really jaded also, though, because I'm definitely like "just keep the bitter woman part coming, ok thanks."
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 06:59|
The Far Shore (1070 words)
I’ve seen it, you know. The bottom. The very bottom.
It was father who made the decision to leave the old country. We weren’t to be welcomed, not anymore. Packing our things was a trivial matter. I found it hardest to say goodbye to the garden. We kept it well-fertilized. I’m sure it’s still there.
They had invented something called a steam engine. Father had been invited to see how it worked. He saw the future, and shrank.
“The long dark night is coming to an end,” he said. “Soon they will own the stars, and where will that leave us?”
We would leave on the next ship to America. We had relations there. Distant relations. America was a young country, then as now, still vast and empty and ripe for resettlement. Father would use his wealth to secure us a parcel of land, big enough and wide enough to preserve against the coming tide, the electric lights and thickening clouds he saw so clearly and feared. “They will enjoy their newfound power awhile,” he confided in me, “They will devour the forests and feed them to machines, but they will come to miss their quiet beauty. They will be grateful to us then, for our foresight and restraint. They will safeguard our lands with their own two hands. Then we will be safe. Then we are secure.”
We could even feed. There would always be those who were lost in the woods. Father chuckled warmly, then fell into silence. He would miss the hunt. I would miss it too, for awhile.
It was raining the day of departure. The docks were cramped and stark in construction, and the smell of salt and fish and filth filled the nostrils. Father negotiated us passage in discrete terms, our wealth repackaged, hidden amongst a line of uniform shipping crates. The captain was a man of many weathers, his features cracked and swarthy, a bottle in his hands and ever on his breath. He was a large man. He wore a coarse beard, stained and mangy, with tattoos of mixed origin up and down his arms.
It was his eyes I hated the most. They glittered darkly like pinpoints of light.
You may have heard crossing the sea is impossible for our kind. This is not true, though there are difficulties. Father’s ties to the land of his birth were strong. Too strong. He quickly fell ill, and required rest. The hull was crammed with nameless passengers. I offered to fetch us one. He declined. “This ship is too small. Someone will notice.” I asked if he would like some soup. He smiled weakly. “Please.”
I encountered the captain on the return trip. He was standing there, waiting, at the top of the stairs. I was carrying two bowls, for father and myself.
“You’re a quiet one, ain’t ya?” The captain combed his beard with his fingers. “Didn’t even hear your footsteps.”
“Stand aside,” I commanded. Beneath the bowls, my fingers grew longer. Stranger. Stronger. Sharper.
The captain took a step down the stairs. His bulk filled the passageway.
“My father has compensated you generously. I’d advise you not overlook his kindness.”
He took another step.
“I’ll take your eyes.”
The captain hesitated. I felt his practiced gaze upon me. He snorted and smirked.
“Moonlight,” he said. “Like a porcelain doll.”
He raised his foot. The muscles in my arms tensed and released. I flung the soup at him, first the right bowl, then the left. The first impacted off his face, spilling its contents down his front, blinding his advance. He swore. The second bowl spun like a whirling dervish. It sliced through his calf. He toppled down the stairs.
I made to step past him. His arm shot out. “You-
I plucked out his eyes. He screamed.
There were footsteps.
I turned to see a contingent of passengers and crew emerging from various orfacies. There was fear and anger and hatred in their faces. Their captain lay bawling on the ground, his pupils held in my spider-like grip.
Several of the crewmen raised their muskets. I curled my free hand into a fist. I tore through the wall like Chinese paper. The sea beyond beckoned. I felt the sting of iron, and leapt.
The ocean rose to swallow me whole. I shouted into the void. Silence and seawater filled my lungs. I struggled, weightless, unable to discern one direction from another, the depths below just as dark and distant as the night sky above. I began to suffocate. To sink. The hull of the ship drifted farther and farther, shrinking in size until it was gone.
This would not kill me. It could not kill me. For the longest time I wish it had.
The ocean is not blue. It is black. Pitch black. All consuming. All encompassing. Like the space between stars. As I sank the water grew closer, tighter, more intimate, strangling me gently. I felt my eyes pop and puncture and return, white and milky. I felt my bones shudder and splinter and snap, and knit themselves whole just to do it again.
Then I saw it. The bottom. The very bottom. The thermal vents, those twisting spires of glittering jewels, their breathing hot and heavy. I reached out and touched the seafloor, the spine of the world. My fingers grew long and strong and powerful. I began my arduous trek to the surface.
I surfaced off the coast of Mexico. A fisherman found me. I could not see his face. He offered me his own coat and boots. I accepted them, and vanished.
To date I am uncertain what befell father. In all the years that have passed since then I have not been able to learn his location. I suspect he did not survive the trip. I was, in time, able to make contact with our relations. I secured for myself a modest stipend and was content to live quietly in a midwestern town, in the house you find yourself in now.
I suppose I owe them a great debt, and yet, I do not believe I shall ever repay it. We do not get along anymore. I find myself unable to partake in our practice. Not the hunt, nor indeed much else.
In my youth I was sometimes nostalgic for the sea. No longer, no longer.
Would you care for some tea?
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 07:05|
Strength: Your vampire's immortal mind possesses picture-perfect memory
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 07:07|
Strength: Your vampire can see light in the infrared, ultraviolet, and x-ray spectrums
Weakness: Birdsong causes them unbearable pain, and birds are drawn to attack your vampire.
I was going to see my son again, so all this was worth it: the interrupted trip to Alaska, the perilous pre-dusk helicopter ride, going to Florida, going to a migratory bird sanctuary in Florida. All that faded away when I thought about seeing Rob for the first time since I’d died.
After the transformation, Cindy told me to “stay the gently caress away from our son, or I’ll stake you so hard you’ll wish you’d’ve stayed dead in the first place,” but then her mother broke her hip, and she had to take her to the hospital, and Todd was in China, and her sister had some big trial, and so even though she was Not Happy About It, she needed me to go to Florida to pick up Rob from Nature Camp. The counselors were expecting me; it would be fine. She hung up before I even said okay. She knew I’d go. I was desperate.
Minutes after sunset, I pushed through the door of the camp headquarters for the first look at my son in nearly two years. Rob was sitting on a bench, nose deep in his iPhone. A woman in an Audubon Society shirt hurried out from behind the desk.
“Are you Mr. Bailey?” she asked, voice tinged with desperation.
Rob looked up and saw me then. I don’t know what I thought this moment would be like, but tears of joy at seeing his father again had crossed my mind. I was certainly about to shed some, and I wanted to give him a huge hug, the kind teenagers hate, and just talk to him and—
“He’s been saying that since we told him you were picking him up,” the woman said.
“It’s true, Francine,” Rob said. “Google it. The obituary’s online. Robert Bailey, Sr. June 14, 1975 to October 31, 2016. I don’t know who this is, but my dad is dead.”
“Yet here I am, flesh and blood.”
Francine looked between the two of us.
“I’ll need to see your ID,” she said.
I handed it over, whispering “the divorce,” and shaking my head.
She handed it back with a nod and sympathetic smile.
“Rob, you have to go home with your father now,” she said.
Rob glowered at her, but shuffled out to the car, muttering “you’re dead” as he passed me. It didn’t seem like a good moment for that hug.
“I was dead,” I said, once we were on the road to the helipad. “But now I’m…undead?”
“Like a zombie?” Rob asked, perking up. Really? Was I covered in grave dust? Shouting for brains?
“Vampire,” I said, sharply.
“Woah, so you can turn into a bat and stuff?”
“No,” I said, then seeing his interest fade, and wanting to impress my son, because he’s my son, I added, “but I can see infrared, UV, and x-rays. Most vampires can’t do that. It’s like my own personal super power.
“X-ray vision! Awesome!” he said.
“It’s actually the most boring one.”
“Could you see Francine’s underwear?” he talked over me. “Was it a thong?”
“That’s…really not how x-rays work. Do they not teach science in public schools anymore?”
“Lame,” he said.
A warm breeze rustled through the swamp, and somewhere dove cooed. It was far away, but I still winced. The coo of a dove feels like fingernails raking across my face.
“You okay?” Rob asked.
“Fine,” I said, working my face into a normal expression.
“You’re not hungry, are you?” he asked. “You’re not going to drink my blood are you?”
Startled, I stared at him. Hesitating was a mistake.
“I don’t want to become a vampire!” he screamed, throwing open the car door and running into the swamp. As he crashed and splashed through the muddy foliage, he left a trail of sleepily chirping birds. Ears ringing, I chased after him. I’d doubted it was coincidence that Cindy sent him to camp in the middle of a migratory bird sanctuary, and now I wondered if her mother had even broken her hip or if Cindy just wanted to torture me. If those birds woke up, they’d sense me, and they’d attack.
I followed Rob at a distance. Talking to him seemed better than grabbing him and hauling him kicking and screaming into a helicopter, with hundreds of birds kicking and screaming after us. He finally stopped, and leaned, panting, against a tree.
“Rob, I’m not—“
And he was off and running again.
“drat it, stop running,” I shouted, “I can see you, anyway. Infrared vision, remember? Heat signatures?”
He dropped to the ground and started rolling around. Really? The Predator?
“We watched that movie together,” I said, “and it doesn’t actually work.” When he stood up he was still glowing, but another color. “And whatever you rolled in has a ton of UV-reactive minerals in it—you look like a Led Zeppelin poster.”
He ignored me.
“Please, I’m not going to bite you. I don’t want to turn you into a vampire. I just want to take you home to your mom. You know she’ll kill me if you die out here.”
He didn’t acknowledge me at all.
“Get to the choppa!” he said, in his best Schwarzenegger voice, and took off again.
He was running towards the helipad, so I decided he had agreed to go with me. Leaving the car parked in the middle of the road, I ran after him. As soon as he climbed into the helicopter, it began to lift off the ground. The door swung open wildly, and I heard him shout “wait!”
I screamed and ran faster. Thralls follow orders exactly, and what had I said? “When my son’s in the helicopter, we’ll head back to the airport.” Not “When my son and I are in the helicopter, and the doors are closed, we’ll head back to the airport.” I couldn’t run fast enough.
Rob pulled himself all the way into the helicopter, but the wind was whipping around him, and he was still screaming. I knew what I had to do. Turn into a hawk.
Yes, I hate birds and also can turn into a bird. Self-loathing is a well-known psychological phenomenon. I actually hate being a bird more than I hate birds. There are whole ranges of sound in birdsong that aren’t audible to the human, or vampire, ear, because it doesn’t have the right parts. Once I’m a bird, I have those parts.
But it was Rob, so I transformed. All those birds we woke up stumbling through the swamp were in a frenzy and headed my way. Woodpecker screeches swung baseball bats at my kneecaps, a flycatcher’s whistle drove needles under my toenails, and countless other bird calls exacted great and tiny tortures on my body and mind. Then they caught up to me, and I was swatting wrens away with my wings and turning my claws on a red-feathered cardinal. When a pair of storks came soaring towards me, the only weapon I had was speed.
Hawks are fast, but I was still climbing too slowly. Even after I left the last bird below, their sounds sent echoing waves of pain through me. I could barely keep my eyes open, barely flap my wings, and my mind was begging for the sweet peace of oblivion. But Rob needed me, so I kept going.
I tumbled through the helicopter door. Rob panicked, and tried to beat me away. He lost his balance, and for a moment, teetered over the edge. I transformed so fast I still had feathers poking out of my arms when I grabbed his shoulder and dragged him back inside. He stared at me with wide, shocked eyes as I buckled him in, then hauled the door shut. Tears welled up at the corners of his eyes, and at the corners of my own. I hugged him close—as close as possible with him buckled into a helicopter seat —and we both cried.
Slouching back into his seat, all fake teenage nonchalance, he said “I guess having a vampire dad could be kinda cool, but you said you couldn’t turn into a bat.”
“Hawk!” I said, but his eyes were already closed. Smiling for the first time since I died, I watched him sleep.
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 07:20|
Were: Star-nosed mole
The moon shone on the lake, its reflection slices of light that spilled toward me like a ladder. I took a breath and closed my eyes. The smell of damp earth and water flowed over me, grounding me. This was the only time that I was ever truly free of my anxiety, could worry about nothing but living in the moment. Existential dread seemed to fall away in the face of the immediacy of nature; hunt or be hunted always won out over worrying about the future.
It was late August, the last full moon before school started again, and my parents had taken us out into the mountains in the family tradition of exploring nature - real nature, not whatever suburban parkland that we happened to live near at the time - in our other selves. My parents were off somewhere on their own; I was long since past the point where I needed someone to keep an eye on me, and there’s only so much a bat or a possum can do to protect a fellow prey animal.
I wriggled my body, sinking deeper into the burrow that I had made for myself, when a tawny cat landed in front of me. It crouched down, its pupils growing large as it stared me down. I could sense its accelerating heartbeat through the ground via the delicate papillae around my nostrils. I backed up a little further into my tunnel and stared back cautiously. My own heartbeat skipped a little as we eyed each other, but I knew that fleeing would only put me in a worse position.
The cat pounced, both paws landing within inches of my snout before it jumped away. I couldn’t see very well in the dimness, but the vibrations in the ground led me to believe that she danced away in a pattern I had learned to recognise over the years; she did a similar thing when we were both human and she was in a playful mood. She ran back over to me and touched her leathery nose gently to my spiky one, snuffling in the way that cats do. I touched her face with my papillae and huffed gently back to her. We couldn’t talk to one another, but we had our ways of communicating.
Maree and I had been friends for as long as either of us had been alive. Our parents had found one another when they were in college, and had remained close ever since, so the two of us had always been together, especially being born within months of each other. Shapeshifters are shy about other people as a matter of survival, so when they find one another they don’t part ways easily. It made matters much simpler that our parents got along famously.
The two of us being forced to grow up together might have ended badly, but Maree and I got along pretty well. We were inseparable through elementary school, but drifted a little when Maree blossomed in middle school, while I… didn’t. It’s hard to be a twelve year old girl who starts growing a full moustache when other girls are growing breasts.
Given our respective natures, it wasn’t the most surprising thing that Maree became a willowy graceful beauty and I became a short, squat, dumpling of a teenager with her own electric razor, but it was still hard sometimes not to hold it against her. I spent about a year hating Maree almost as much as I hated my own defiant body, but she never held it against me.
I could hear Maree racing up a nearby tree as I trundled out of my burrow. I tapped my claw on a nearby rock, and she dropped to the ground in front of me.
Tap-tap ta-tap tap, TAP TAP, I beat out against the rock. Maree thumped her tail against the ground twice in quick succession. I couldn’t smile as a mole, but I did my best as I waddled back into my tunnel and began to dig.
Maree waited a few minutes before she began to hunt. We can’t talk when we’re shifted, but we have a few games that we’ve worked out over the years, along with their signals. This one is a version of hide-and-go-seek where I hide under the ground and Maree attempts to find me. Sometimes I keep moving and make her try to dig where she thinks I’ll be, and sometimes I just sit in one spot and wait. We’ve both gotten pretty good at it over the years.
I dug down near the main root of a nearby tree and settled in. I passed the time by snacking on a nearby colony of earwigs. Maree stalked around above me, although she wasn’t so close that I felt the need to move just yet. I focused my senses on the movement in the forest around me and tuned out.
It was going to be our last year of high school, and my mind had been racing for what felt like the last year. College was only a fraction of it; being a shifter made living on campus a difficult proposition, and I wasn’t nuts about the prospect of either attending the local university or joining the workforce. My father had thrived in trade school twenty years ago and was heavily leaning on me to do the same, but the only thing I ever really enjoyed doing was music, which wasn’t a real career in his eyes.
School wasn’t much better; my orchestra teacher was on my case about applying to music programs across the continent, and I couldn’t give her a good enough reason for why it just wasn’t possible. Maree didn’t help by trying to include me in everything she did, dragging me along to parties that I had no business being at, and generally just making everyone uncomfortable. Her friends tried, they really did, but I never wanted to be there and everyone knew it. Well, besides Maree, but I think she always hoped that I’d have a good time despite myself.
Above me, I heard Maree start digging at the root of my tree. I moved to dig around the taproot, but she was there, too. Before I knew it, a velvety paw came down and briefly touched my back, signaling the game was over. I crawled out of my hole and swiped at her, but she jumped back and ran off through the trees again, leaving me by myself.
I huffed a little and looked back up at the full moon. It was much closer to the tree line, now. The night would be over soon, and we would be ourselves again for another month. Maree and I would go back to school and life would go on. We’d grow up and get jobs, and we’d stay friends or we wouldn’t. Here, it was all easy.
I dug into the dirt again.
Later, when we were settling into our regular shapes and tents, Maree crawled into the sleeping bag next to me.
“Izzy?” she said tentatively.
“Thanks for being my friend.”
I turned and smiled at her. “Of course.”
|# ? Aug 6, 2018 07:30|
|# ? Oct 17, 2018 07:15|
Sorry these crits have taken so long - my illness wracked body and fevered brain have been wholly consumed by my work, and not even in a cool gothy way, just a lovely late capitalism one. These are mostly just pulled together from my judging notes and a quick re-read. If you want a more detailed crit let me know. I can’t promise they’ll be quick, but I do promise to do them eventually.
Light of My Life
In order to stop her son from leaving her, a woman murders her son then commits suicide.
My initial judging note for this was just “jesus that got dark fast”, and that sums it up really. On my first read, it felt like the twist came a bit out of nowhere but when re-reading it for the crit it seemed a bit less out of place, but it also didn’t really feel earned at all. The voice of the narrator was clear, and it was definitely very southern gothic, but it all left me feeling a bit cold. And when reading about a murder-suicide, not evoking much emotion is probably the worst possible outcome.
The Ghost of Blackford Manor
I liked the concept of this more than I liked the actual execution, I think. The dialogue was a bit stilted, and not in a satisfyingly gothic “everyone is a member of the decaying upper class and are too repressed to even use contractions’ sort of way, and some of the prose itself was a bit wishy washy. Throwing your abusive husband under the bus and assuming his power and position is very gothy though, so that’s definitely a plus. With another draft and some polishing, I think this could be a lot of pulpy fun, the same way that early Swamp Thing is.
I really liked this piece. It’s not overtly supernatural - the protagonist could just be crazy - but his actions make sense in a twisted sort of way, there’s good strong imagery and descriptive prose, and fratricide is a very southern gothic concept (it came up more than once this week). I also liked the taste motif you had going on at the start. There’s not a lot I can suggest as far as cleaning things up. This was a strong contender for HM for me.
Like I said in the judge post, this piece had familial unpleasantness, decaying environments, and the violence actually felt like it was there for a reason. The writing was generally good, the atmosphere was oppressive and bleak, and the plot of a prodigal son returning to suspicion and violence is quintessentially southern gothic. Of all the entries from this week, I feel like this piece had the best grasp on the genre.
In my judging notes, I had this written though: “There's a bit of ambiguity in the ending that keeps it from being my favourite, I think - at first I thought he'd chosen to be the bigger man and not set his brother's house on fire, but then I re-read it and thought that maybe it could be implying that he IS going to go and do some revenge arson. I liked it more the first time, but maybe some less ambiguous wording might make it hit a bit harder either way - vengeance or magnanimity.”
So maybe some tighter word choice in the final paragraphs would make it even better. That said, it’s a pretty minor problem, that ended up not keeping it from the win.
Honestly, I’m just gonna copy my judging notes in, I think Past Cpt_Dr had his head on straight. Accidental murder, innocent youth dragged down into the depths by seemingly-malevolent vines, keeping a dark secret for 40 years while being haunted by the memory - possibly a ghost, possibly just madness. VERY gothy. The writing is a bit prosaic, and could probably benefit from being a little more descriptive in places, but it's pretty clear and mostly easy to follow. There's not a lot of resolution at the end, and it all feels pretty abrupt and out of nowhere, but it trails off in a spooky enough way that I don't really mind too much.
A Drop of Venom
Again, mostly pulling from my judge notes:
Not so much of a narrative arc here. The kid panics, she kills him, she has to move on - then runs into another trucker-creature? It feels a little bit like the opening fiction to a World of Darkness supplement. It could just do with a bit more of a through-line - or, at least, it should make me care more about the one that it does have - and there’s no resolution, and the open-endedness hurts more than it makes it feel mysterious. There’s some good description peppered throughout, and the weird americana road trip mood is a good one, but they weren’t enough to save it from the DM.
Second Hand Things
This turned out to be a lot sweeter than I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise, bt it lacks substance. There’s just not a lot there. The realization that Taylor's not Laurel's real daughter comes quickly, but there hasn't been enough buildup from her side of things to make me care as much as I should. It should hit harder than it does, but I don't know enough about her or her mother to really care. I liked the attention to class division, and you did a great job at making her dad a smarmy dick, so nice work there. This was also one of the few stories to involve actual magic, and it did it in a pretty cool and evocative way. So it got a few points there.
Lotta great stuff here. It has a dark swagger to it, some cool ideas, and some really solid writing, as well as actually saying something about society through the damnation allegory. The only real nitpick I have with the writing itself is that some of the dialogue doesn't flow as well as the rest of the prose.
Ultimately, I think the reason that this didn’t win is that it didn’t feel like it was “southern gothic” enough. It had more of a 1920s-ish Bayou feel. Which I loved, but didn’t quite feel right. But overall, I really loved it, and it was a clear choice for HM.
I like the vengeance, and the karmic gettin'-devoured-by-cats thing, but overall the story leaves me a little cold. The opening is pretty strong, and the ending is reasonably satisfying, but the middle section has a bit too much telling rather than showing, and the (admittedly quite good) unsettling imagery is let down by the poor phrasing and awkward sentences.
I’m glad that someone did take the chance to write a piece not set in the American South. It was nice to have things shaken up a bit for one story. I liked it a lot, it nailed a very kiwi gothic feel, as well as having the important parts of the genre. It’s weird, it’s dark, it’s got family drama. It’s a shame that this was a late entry, because I think it would have been in strong HM contention.
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