Prompt: “Ships Passing in the Night”
“M-Mike, I can’t see! I can’t see!” she cried, panic rising in her voice as she trembled in the dark. The response was swift and calm.
“It’s okay, Lisa, the lights went out. That’s all.”
There was a pause, a rustle of clothing and a moment later, a double-click of a small pen-light being switched on. It provided a narrow cone of light that illuminated the cramped space with a subdued glow. Kneeling near Lisa, Mike smiled, his blue eyes fixed on hers.
“There. So, Lisa, you were telling me about your son, James?” he prompted, ignoring the dull creak of distressed metal and a gentle hissing nearby.
“James… James…yes, of course,” she replied as if searching for and then finding the tracks for her train of thought. Her breathing slowed as she relaxed a little. “He’s such a sweet young man. He’s going to graduate soon, you know. He’s studying nuclear physics, of all things!” She smiles. “He says he’s nervous about what the result will be, but I know he’s going to do great. I just do. He’s going to be okay.” She looked sheepish for a moment as if caught between being proud of her son and not wanting to seem prideful.
Mike smiled, replying with an understanding tone “You must be very proud of him.”
She smiled back and nodded in reply, seeming relieved to have been given permission to show how she felt without judgement. “I am. I can’t wait to see my boy…” her expression darkened and her eyes flicked left and right suddenly “… I mean, if I get to see him. What if I don’t get there!?”
Mike shook his head gently, his voice comforting “You’ll be there with plenty of time to spare — your ride will be here soon. I promise. When was the last time you saw him?” he asked, guiding her back to familiar ground.
“A year ago - can you believe that? It’s funny how the time can go by so fast - it seems only like last week that I was kissing him goodbye for his first day in school. They grow up so fast…” The statement was well-worn, and she said it dreamily, the focus in her eyes drifting as she reminisced in her head. When she returned from the haze of the memory, she looked over towards Mike and nodded firmly, saying again to herself defiantly, “He’s… He’s going to be okay.”
She tilted her head and smiled coyly at him. “You know, you’ve not told me anything about you, Mike - besides your name and that you’re here to help. What’s a handsome man like you doing out here anyway?” she quickly added: “— not that I’m ungrateful for you being here right now, of course.”
Mike chuckled at that, “It’s fine, really.” He paused, disarmed by the turning of the tables in the conversation. He procrastinated by checking a bandage. His expression changed as he did, locked in a stare. She watched him and then after a moment spoke up again.
“Now Mike, I’ve been telling you so much about me, it can’t hurt to open up a little…” Mike sighed a little, wondering if she happened to know his therapist. He blinked a few times, recomposing himself, before finally looking back at her and locking his eyes to hers, smiling again.
“Okay.” He said, breaking back into character, playing the part of calm and collected. “I was on my way to collect my daughter, Emily. Her Mum’s going away for a couple of weeks, and I got some time off work to spend with Emily. I don’t get to see her that much these days. We’re going on holiday.”
“Ah, that’s s-sweet.” Lisa said shakily “going somewhere… nice?” she struggled to keep her eyes on him, her face draining colour.
Mike hesitated, and then answered “Yeah - Spain. Barcelona.” He looked around quickly, grabbed his bag, and shoved it under her legs to raise them, spilling half of its contents onto the wet floor. “Have you ever been to Spain?” he asked, his calmness act slipping a little as an edge of concern crept into his voice. Lisa didn’t seem to notice and smiled from ear-to-ear.
“Oh yes! Spain! Gene - my husband - and I went there on a c-camping trip. He insisted on getting this… this awful little caravan.” Her voice was distant, barely perceivable over the rustle of Mike wrapping a foil blanket around her. He nodded along, rummaging in the bag, his voice gentle but his movements hurried.
“Oh yeah? What made it so awful?” Mike applied another bandage over the now-saturated one.
Lisa chuckled weakly in response “Oh, the … the colour was awful. Orange and brown. And the smell - so damp and musty. It was a miracle… we… we didn’t catch something.” She looked into the middle distance as her mind wandered again, the memories washing over her. “We went… everywhere with that silly thing. We terrified the locals of five countries in Europe” she smiled. “We had a great time though, m-made a lot of good memories in that summer — as well as our boy James” She looked towards Mike, trying to find him in the gloom. When she met his eyes, she nodded reassuringly to him, repeating the mantra, “They’re going to be okay.”
She leaned her head against the rolled-up coat that Mike had put there. Minutes passed like hours as Mike kept applying pressure to the bandage, looking over his shoulder seemingly every second, forcing himself to breathe slower, before Lisa broke the silence again. “Mike? Are you there?”
“Yes Lisa, I’m here. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere” He squeezed her hand in reassurance, his hand shaking.
“The- The light’s gone out again,” she said calmly.
Mike screwed his eyes shut, taking a deep breath, hoping for something to have changed since he last looked around, but knowing that nothing had. He squeezed her hand again, fighting to keep his calm act going. “That’s okay, Lisa, everything is going to be fine. Your… your ride is nearly here, okay?”
“Don’t worry Mike, you... did great. It’s been great getting to know y-you” She whispered soothingly as she struggled to stay awake “You’re going… to have a lovely time with Emily in Spain once you’re done here.” Another long pause. “You’re… going to be… okay.”
The pen-light started to flicker, as water on the floor seeped into it, sending them into darkness moments later. Mike shook his head, sweat pouring across his face. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to focus: One hundred twenty beats per minute. Thirty chest compressions, two rescue breaths, keep the casualty viable. The sound of sirens approached from the distance. Thirty chest compressions, two rescue breaths, she’s going to be okay. Strobe lights illuminated Mike and Lisa, casting long haunting shadows. Thirty chest compressions, Two rescue breaths, She’s going to be—
A gloved hand squeezed his shoulder. It gently pulled him away, voices indistinct as he was led from the overturned car. An orange and brown caravan sat on its side not far behind, burst open with its contents strewn across the road. He shook his head, dazed and numbed in shock. He took a last look over his shoulder to the paramedics surrounding Lisa on the floor and sagged into the arms guiding him to his car.
Mike smiled as the door opened and an enthusiastic ten-year-old screamed in greeting “Daddy! What took you so long?!” He coughed as she near-tackled him to the ground. He picked her up and held her close.
“Emily!” he hugged her a little tighter. “It’s so good to see you! Go get your things while I speak to Mum.” She nodded and ran upstairs. He gingerly took some steps into what used to be his kitchen and nodded in greeting to Emily’s mother. She kept her back to him and slowed her washing of a frying pan.
He hesitated before he broke the silence. “They, ah — they said that she was going to make it.” He looked away a little, clearly unconvinced, and then back to her. “It’s weird really. I didn’t know who was looking after who at one point, you know?”
She dried her hands in silence.
“Look, don’t worry,” he said. “We’re going to be okay.”
|# ? Aug 19, 2018 22:36|
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 21:43|
Flash rule: Your story must take place in a prison or jail.
My cell was built by the cheapest loving contractor in the galaxy.
How do I know? Because it’s an engine shaft pulled off of some scrap heap and with the bare essentials welded on. Airlock. Porthole. Life support. The last one’s a particular joke because whichever idiot installed the reactor forgot to shield it properly. That means whenever a ship jumps into the system and dumps its mag drive the entire cell resonates with it - the walls quake and shriek, the lights strobe and the gravity plates hurl me around like a rock in a can. I’ve taken to sleeping with the gravity off - at least that way I’m only going to get woken up by the walls screaming at me and not broken bones.
So here I float, one of countless tin cans strung out in a rough orbit around some lovely little moon in the arse-end of nowhere. 10 years for manslaughter because nobody could prove who shot first - 5 if I behave myself, which I know I won’t. Can’t. All because I didn’t know when to shut my mouth and walk away. In reality, he shot first. After all that I’d said, though, I’d known he would. Which is why I shot better and he died on the floor of a grotty little bar, barely bigger than this cell, and I got thrown in here to be yelled at every time a patrol passes through.
I’ve tried yelling back. I figured that the resonance might work both ways - put enough strain on the reactor and it might send out a mag wave. So I started pushing the gravity up high, as high as it would let me, and flaring the lights. The cell walls are a patchwork of scrap metal plugging various holes including, I kid you not, an emergency distress beacon cover panel complete with morse code guide. So I’d slam the lights on and off, over and over, one letter at a time.
Any half-decent AI these days knows every human language imaginable, including morse code. They’re hard-coded to watch out for mag waves, filtering out anything with a pattern - say, from a distress beacon - from drive traffic. Throw in a little text-to-speech magic and suddenly your main computer is cursing you out. In theory.
It must have worked, at least partially, because the patrol ships started taking a real interest in my cell. One rear end in a top hat in particular started jumping into the system closer and closer to my cell, to the point where I could see his wing markings through the porthole. The closer he got the worse my cell shook and screamed. Even with the lights and gravity off it was enough to give me a pounding headache for hours afterwards.
The ship that jumps in this time isn’t a patrol ship, though. From the porthole I can see it silhouetted against the moonlight. It’s big, bulky - none of the streamlined shapes of a prison or military craft. Which means civilian, probably freight. I begin to tense up in anticipation - civilian mag drives have discharge times measured in minutes or even hours, rather than seconds. As close as it is, I can already feel the headache coming on. Please, I think, please don’t make me throw up. The last time that had happened it had floated in one corner for days before I managed to guide it into the toilet.
The walls begin to thrum as I reach the environmental control panel. I flip the gravity off and began to float while the walls start to give off a low humming noise that soon rises into a tortured groan. It’s slower than the prison craft, more drawn out, but reaching for the same nauseating heights all the same. I can’t risk it getting worse. Gravity back on, lights to max. On off. On off. On off. On off.
H.E.Y. A.S.S.H.O.L.E. S.T.O.P.
No response. The fluctuating gravity jerks me down again and again, a dizzying tension that never fully lets up. The lights stab at me, even through eyelids clenched shut. The walls shriek at me, no less intense for being slowed down.
F.U.C.K. Y.O.U. S.T.O.P.
If the ship hears me it doesn’t care. The roar around me is all-encompassing. The gravity pulls at me, an invisible hand squeezing my limbs. I can see stars behind my eyelids and feel the bile rising in my throat.
All of a sudden the pressure cuts out. The lights dim to normal, the walls settle and gravity only pulls me at a smooth, constant rate. I flip the latter off entirely and float there for a minute as my heartbeat calms back down and my stomach ceases its churning.
Has the ship really heard me? It certainly wasn’t finished because the rumbling in the walls starts up again but softer this time. Not slower but definitely gentler. I put one hand to the wall and feel a soft murmuring and a slower pulse, almost like a heartbeat. It picks up in volume and speed, a discernible pattern cutting through the random noise. When I realise what’s going on I laugh for the first time in months.
Whichever crazy, lost, beautiful soul is on board the ship has figured out what’s going on and decided to have some fun. Or maybe they’re just bored. Or mad.
They’ve hooked up the drive discharge circuits to a media player.
I lean back against the wall as it sings to me, rhythm and melody and what vaguely sounds like lyrics crackling through the vacuum of space and into my cell. The quality is terrible and for once it’s far too quiet but I drink it in all the same, eyes closed and palms resting on the floor. I’m not here anymore - I’m a thousand worlds away, sat on a beach with some antique record player turning away. The random hiss and sigh mixed with the music almost sounds like waves.
It doesn’t last forever, of course. Eventually, the sound starts to fade and the vibrations running through the walls begin to die down. I cross to the porthole as the last bar rings out and the cell settles back into silence and stillness. The ship is already turning to a new heading, drive spinning back up in anticipation of the jump. Then it too is gone, the jump energies sending a final peal ringing through the cell.
Not even a goodbye.
I’m left staring out into space, one hand pressed up flat against the glass. There’s no noise but I can still hear the tune that the ship had played. As I turn to fix myself a bowl of nutrient sludge I catch myself humming the bars and feel a grin stretch across my face.
Maybe getting out of here in five years isn’t impossible. Maybe I can hold my tongue.
|# ? Aug 19, 2018 22:47|
Prompt: “Ships Passing in the Night”
A crash in the bushes startled Anna. She defensively grabbed the first thing in her grasp, the long stick she’d been using to stir the fire. Anna stayed sitting, clutching the stick, muscles tensed as she squinted into the darkness outside her meager camp. She ignored the deep ache in her ribs. Silence.
The crashing resumed purposefully, headed in her direction. Something knew she was there.
Don’t let it be a bear. Please, please.
A shape emerged from the bushes, revealing a younger woman with a straggly blond ponytail and some semblance of adequate hiking gear. She smiled at Anna and held up a hand in greeting with a heavy sigh of relief. Her face was half obscured by the shadow of the fire. “Hi! I’m so sorry to barge in on you like this, but I’m afraid I’m a little lost. Do you mind if I sit with you for a little bit?”
Anna relaxed. “Of course.”
The woman’s smile widened further. She plopped herself on the ground in front of the fire with a happy groan. “I’m Tanya.”
They sat in silence with the sounds of the crackling fire and the hum of crickets. Anna stirred the dying embers, vainly hoping something she did would encourage it to pick up.
“Here,” Tanya said. “I can get it going if you want.”
Anna nodded and handed over the stick. Tanya moved the logs with a few pokes and quick hands. In moments the fire was roaring.
“If you don’t mind me asking, you don’t seem like the uh, outdoorsy type,” Tanya said after a few silent minutes. “Camping off the trail like this can be dangerous. You can get lost really easily out here.”
Tanya barked a laugh. “Hah! Yes! But I, uh—I just needed a moment to cool off and then got turned around. I’ve got a GPS thingy that’ll get me back easy. I’m backpacking with my boyfriend. We’ve been out here for a few days now.”
Anna nodded, satisfied. Her gaze remained focused on the fire. Tanya would be gone soon and then she could get back to what she’d come out here for.
“The trail head is pretty close from here,” Anna said. “At least I think it is.”
“Yeah, that’s where we were working towar—Is that a gun?”
Tanya pointed at the exposed handgun under the jacket Anna had thrown over it when she had first arrived.
Anna startled. “No! I mean, yes. But it’s my husband’s. I took it.”
Tanya’s eyes widened as she turned towards Anna. In the stoked firelight Ana saw Tanya’s face fully for the first time. A giant bruise crawled over one cheekbone and around her eye, punctuated by a small angry laceration. It looked fresh. Their eyes met and Tanya looked down and away, her hand automatically rising to cover her face.
Neither of the women spoke. The silence between them thickened.
Anna looked up, past the dark trees and into the sky. “The trail head is pretty close,” she repeated. “I think maybe you should consider a different way of getting there.”
Tanya looked over at her, the easy smile gone and replaced with…something else. Fear? Curiosity? Anna wasn’t sure.
“What were you doing in this forest alone, Anna?”
Anna rubbed her fingers over her knuckles and glanced at the gun. “I don’t know. Thinking. About things.” She paused to lick her lips, considering how much she should say. “I think your boyfriend has a lot in common with my husband. I don’t have any options. I need to get out.”
Tanya protectively drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The smile was gone, replaced by a hard grimace. “I think I’m coming to understand.”
“I need to stop running and pretending this is all I’ve got. Maybe it’s time to make a big change in my life.”
Anna remained silent. Tanya unfurled and stood. She looked directly at Anna and smiled. This time it reached her eyes. “Thanks for the help. I think I know where I need to go now. Once I get back I think this is the last trip with my boyfriend. Maybe I’ll go with some friends next time.”
Anna nodded. “You still have time.”
“You do too,” Tanya said. “Thanks Anna.”
Tanya went back the way she came. Anna sat listening to the crunch of her footfalls and the rattle of the bushes until all that remained was the crackle of her own fire. Even the crickets had stopped their chirrups. Anna watched the fire die. When it had receded to bare embers, she stood.
Anna remained motionless, staring at the barely concealed weapon under her jacket. She wasn’t sure how much time passed, but eventually she stirred from her position. She crouched and began digging with her hands. The dirt felt good under her fingers, cool and damp. Pleased with the size of her hole, Anna grabbed the gun and gently placed it in the hole. She covered it with dirt and then tamped the soil down and scattered leaves on top. She wouldn’t be needing that anymore.
Satisfied, Anna turned her attention to putting out the last remnants of fire. When that was done, she left without looking back. Tanya was right, she still had time. It was time for her to find a new way forward as well.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 00:23|
Twilight of the Dreaming Witch
While Mary laid in her bed, the villagers pounded at the barricaded door, screaming and threatening to set their torches to her cottage. Not her preferred sleeping aid; she typically lit incense.
All her usual ritual implements were already in place. A cat’s nail clippings, for curiosity. A robin’s feather, for escaping the earth. A pillow, for comfort.
Mary’s practiced breathing exercises worked like a charm, preventing her heart from racing as the world darkened around her, even as she could hear her wards shatter and wood begin to give. When the silence and the darkness fully enveloped her, she opened her eyes and sat up, leaving her body behind.
The portal to the dreamer’s world shimmered in front of her, floating several feet above her head. Distorted snippets of voices flowed from every direction.
“She’ll curse us all-”
“She already did, dammit-”
“Why? Why did this have to-”
She went through the motions of a deep breath, even if she technically didn’t have lungs, and the assault faded to a susurrus. Up she floated, through the portal she went.
The portal spat her out, and she landed roughly on damp soil. A glance around revealed only sickly, twisted trees. Mary looked back up through the portal, stared at her own peaceful face. As she reached out, grabbing hold of her own arm through the dream window, several men cried out in alarm, casting dark shadows over her bed as they rushed into her room. She grunted, bodily hauling her own body through the portal before the peasants reached her.
Once both Mary’s selves made it to the other side, the portal fizzled and vanished. Seeing as her plan had been to wait things out in the dream and then hop through the portal once everything had calmed down, this was less than ideal.
At least her pursuers couldn’t reach her. That much had worked. No one could reach her. Ever.
Mary took a deep breath, and then another, and then another, and then began to hyperventilate, and while she still technically didn’t have lungs, it sure felt like she did, and hot, sickly air rushed in and out of her mouth, and she broke into a coughing fit, sinking to her knees, and her body sank with her.
She’d figured that the two of them might’ve fused, or something, once they were together on the same side, but her ‘real’ body just sat there in her arms, like a disturbingly fleshy marionette. At least she was still warm. Still had a heartbeat. Mary closed her eyes and tightly hugged herself, and while that was strange and definitely pathetic, it was still comforting. Her two heartbeats, mental and physical, beat in unison; and while she was still alive, she could hope.
Her dream was now her home and her prison, so she might as well get acquainted with it. Mary stood up, brushed the soil off of her dress, and slung her body over her shoulder, grateful for all the years of chopping her own firewood - neither leaving her body unattended nor dragging it around in the dirt seemed appealing.
After wandering for a while - time was difficult to tell, with sun, moon, and stars absent from this sky - she felt she’d had the entire experience. It was a dark, humid swamp that lacked any sort of healthy greenery. She found the rotting cradles on-the-nose, but her dreams were never subtle.
She’d found pools of water, but trusted none of them. Mary glanced at her body, wondering if she would even feel dehydrated before her physical self wilted, and turned her attention back to where she was walking just in time to avoid crashing into an oak door that hadn’t existed a moment ago.
A knock came from the other side. Before Mary could react, the doorknob turned itself, opening, and a woman stepped through. Mary’s attention was captured by her comically oversized black, conical hat that swayed slightly in the breeze, making the rest of her body look miniscule in comparison. Her face was littered with exaggerated smile lines, and her grey ponytail nearly reached the floor. She looked like a child’s scribble of their grandmother.
“Not a very welcoming garden at all,” The woman said, frowning at the decaying foliage all around, before her gaze finally settled on the two Marys. She raised an eyebrow. “That’s unusual. Are you wrestling with some self-image issues, dear?”
“No, I-” Mary started to explain herself, but the woman ignored her, instead prodding her unconscious body.
“You’re identical! I figured your double’d have a hook nose, or ten moles, or whatever things girls your age worry about, but…” she trailed off, her eyes widening. Her face exploded into a grin. “Oh, it’s been centuries since I met another witch!” She cackled, hugging Mary aggressively enough that she almost toppled over.
“Centuries?” Mary attempted again, but the woman continued, positively sparking.
“I’ve been so rude! Forgive me, dear, most people I meet aren’t very interesting when they’re asleep, so I have my fun. Call me Bea - I’m a ghost, or maybe immortal. Never bothered to figure out the difference!” She cackled, then extended her hand with a smile.
Mary gingerly shook it. “How did you even get here?”
“Well, when you enter your dream, you leave your body, yes? To enter a different dream, you just leave your dream’s body, too. As far as I know mine’s still having a nice lie-down, right where I left it.”
“But do you know how to get back?”
“Nope! It’s not that bad. You start to stretch out a bit when you forget what you’re supposed to look like, but I think I suit myself.” She emphatically tapped her hat, and it wobbled. She cackled again, but quickly grew serious. “You weren’t trying to leave yourself behind, were you? You’re too young to sleep forever.”
Mary shook her head. “I was just… trying to escape.”
“Escape what, dear?”
And Mary told her everything. She didn’t mean to, but she couldn’t stop, even as her words turned to choked sobs. About the sleepless nights spent at the cribs of coughing infants, using every poultice and charm she had at her disposal, but failing every time, failing but still having to stand up and stumble out the door without a word to the grieving parents, because if she opened her mouth nothing but weakness would flow out, and she would break, and she couldn’t break because there was always another plagued young one to fail to save, more people to disappoint, and as the days wore her down the townspeople began to mistake her numbness for apathy, and then glee, and then the whispers spread. Then the fires started.
When Mary finished, Bea gently squeezed her hand. She hadn’t even noticed the woman had taken hold of it, but she didn’t flinch away.
“You did what you could, dear. If they hate you for that, well, they don’t deserve you.”
“Where do I go now, though? Where can I go?”
“Where else? Ahead, wherever that is.”
“I’ve lost everything, though, everyone - people who knew me for years. Would it be so bad for me to just… leave? To walk through dreams with you? Isn’t it lonely, by yourself?
“Sometimes it is, dreadfully so. But every few years I meet a bright young woman like you, and get the energy to keep walking for a while longer - but you’ve got a life to live, and you deserve more than a silly old witch and a kingdom of dead-eyed dreamers.”
Bea clapped twice, and a portal opened beneath Mary’s feet. “Rest well, my dear,” She muttered as she disappeared through the door, the dream fading around her.
Only one Mary fell through the other side of the portal, landing on a soft, unfamiliar bed. She laid in a wooden cabin on top of a hill overlooking a sunflower field, and the setting sun beamed warm light through the windows. A black cat that was curled up on a chair in the corner made a disgruntled noise, squinted at Mary, then decided she wasn’t worth investigating.
Mary took a deep breath, and this time, real air filled her lungs. She closed her eyes. Before long, she began to snore.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 00:47|
On the Menu
flash:Your story must include a dead bird
The Monsterknight Viclan arrived at our inn just before dawn, dragging behind him the carcass of a griffin. I was up, readying the kitchen for breakfast. His gauntlets banged the door like blasts of thunder or the blows of a giant. I raced for the front doors, and heard him announce himself when I came close. I turned back, to the balcony. The rest of the family was up, Pa and Decca and Gregris. Pa nodded and I opened the door.
Decca stabbed basilisk eyes at me, as though it were somehow my fault this man had arrived and broken her sleep, or that she stood before such an important man with the hair she woke up in. Gregris pretended boredom. Pa got straight to negotiation. It wasn't a hard bargain to make. Viclan offered the great bird for a few night’s board.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I've never butchered griffin before.”
Viclan turned back to Pa. “This one is your eldest son?”
“Matrin, yes. A good man.”
The knight turned to me. “There are some tricks to it. Help me to my room and I’ll tell you what needs to be done.”
Once we were in the largest guest room and the door closed, he began to remove his armor. “The beast should hang for a day and night,” he said. His helmet was damaged, the noseguard bent and the metal bent away near the cheek. He had a fresh scratch to match that damage. “I field-dressed it when it fell. The sweetmeats are in my bag. Take them to the coldest room, then get to plucking. I’ll guide you through the real work tomorrow. Well?”
I was staring. He had taken off his damaged mail shirt, broken links clattering on the wood floor, and his torn undershirt as well. His chest was a maze of scars worthy of any minotaur, and his heart glowed bright green through his skin, pulsing with each beat, shadowed by his ribs. “What-”
He smiled. “Old magic,” he said. “From an old friend. My heart's blood is deadly poison to any felltouched beast. Our order’s way of insuring we win our final fights. Now get to. I intend to sleep most of the day, but tell your father I will attend supper.”
It took all three of us, Pa, Gregris and I together to drag the thing to the kitchen and hoist it from the rafters. They left for other chores and I got to working, putting together the regular bread and bowl and unfeathering the griffin. I kept the best quills and feathers, fit for pens or arrow fletching, and the softest down for pillows. The rest was trash, good only for compost. Finally, I came out with the last servings of supper, into the common room.
Viclan, tired as he was, had found the energy of a striking wyvern in an attentive crowd. Between strike-by-strike accounts of battles he would give news from the capital: Queen Ivra, imprisoned in a cloister since her attempt to put aside the crown prince in favor of her own son, had taken her own life. The room debated at length whether this act served or thwarted justice. Another late arrival asked what brought him this way. I listened as he told that news as well, that a Fellpriest but a few days ride east of here had called up a Mother of Beasts, and that as the senior Knight of his order the duty fell to him. Grim nods passed across the common room like the tremor from a titan’s footfall. Viclan drank more than any. It fell to me to guide him back to his room.
“He doesn't love you, you know,” he slurred, at the door.
“Who?” I asked, wondering if he even knew who he was talking to.
“Your brother,” he said. “Watch your back around him.”
I poured him into his bed and went back to mine, not giving the matter much thought. But when the morning came and he found me in the kitchen, it came back into my mind like a hydra’s head.
“What did you mean,” I asked, as he stood behind me, guiding my knife arm around the tricky joints of the griffin's massive wings, “About my brother?”
“Ah,” he said, moving my arm just an inch lower. “It could be that I become too suspicious in my cups. But I saw something. Denna is not you mother, yes?”
“My Ma is out back, beneath the pear tree,” I said, feeling for the next bone.
“Gregris is too old,” said the knight. “At his age, a second son should have gone for a soldier, a scholar, or a priest. He means to inherit.” I nearly laughed, both at the idea of Gregris running the Inn and at him scheming at anything. Now Denna, on the other hand... Viclan seemed to have read my thoughts through physical contact. “Or is meant to inherit.”
He stepped back, and worried at the mail shirt in his lap, working broken links free of their neighbors. I set his helmet on the stove top as I worked the right wing on my own. “What should I do?” I asked, quietly.
“You could do nothing,” he said. “I may be an old paranoid, too much a cynic. You could trust in your family's love.” He shook a few dozen short wire links into a pail. “And hope to never wake up seconds too late, to see your half-brother crying manticore tears as he drives the knife at your heart.”
I took a break from the messy work and went to the helmet. With hard leather gloves I worked the hot noseguard back to position, and did what could be done to straighten the cheek damage. “Not as good as forge-work,” I said.
“It will do,” he said. I set it down to cool. “If I'm right, it will be soon. They'll have learned from the Queen’s example and will not wait until your father nears his last days.”
“How soon?” I asked, my throat suddenly dry.
“Once the word spreads that Griffin is on the menu, it will be too crowded for any such schemes. But once the meat runs out-”
“What? Sleep with a sword beneath my pillow?” The legs and body, he had explained, were much the same as a large stag, with similar cuts to make for cooking and storage. This I knew.
“It may not be a dagger in the night. The right accusation, to the local Lord, backed by two against one, or some other scheme. You might catch them at it, survive it and break your father's heart. Or, you could just leave.”
“What?” It was as strange an idea as asking a kraken to dance a waltz, to me, then.
“Just go. Save your life and their souls both.” He had a point. They both loved Pa near as much as I did. I was starting to be infected with Viclan's suspicions, but could think of no other crime that might tempt either of them. “You clearly love the work here.” My arms, deep in the the meaty parts of the beast, told that tale. “But I have noticed that the you've not made roots here. Go south, or west, to some town with more people in it, though not so big to be locked down in guildlaw.”
“Why don't you?” I said sharply. “Leave. Go somewhere other than to-” I stopped short of saying the next words. There are many tales of Mothers of Beasts and their ends. None with the knight living to be rewarded for the service.
“And leave it to spawn more fellbeasts, until some other knight dies in my place?” he said, without anger. “The spells on my heart cost my friend dearly. All that would be wasted if I died in bed.”
He stayed one more night and left the next day at noon. I slipped away a week later, found my new home here in Fargeyser. I've visited home a few times since. They seem happy. Gregris has improved from a few years of hard work, and Denna has aged out of the worst of her vanity. But I still don't stay for long. There's too much work to be done, here, for a man who can rightly boast that he can butcher griffin.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 01:33|
Memories of Alice Preston
People left the gravesite in small clumps, twos and threes, while Jack waited. He felt like he’d failed. His mother had been adamant. Cremation, no viewing, no burial. Except his father had overruled him. Refused to listen.
When he stood by himself, he turned to find one other man standing with him. A black man in his mid-thirties, biting his lip.
“You Jack Preston?” he said. Jack nodded, didn’t say anything. “Name’s Roger Wilcox. Alice was my doctoral advisor. I didn’t want to go back to your father’s house, but I wanted to tell you how sorry I am. She was an amazing woman.”
Jack nodded again. He glanced at his car, parked down the hill.
“Look, I don’t really want to go to my dad’s, either. Want to grab a cup of coffee?”
The waitress had seated them, brought coffee, left menus, and told them to take as much time as they needed, all with a sad smile on her face. Two men in suits, not ten minutes from the cemetery, it didn’t take much to figure out.
Jack stared at his coffee. Watched the steam curl and vanish into cooler air.
“It was a nice service,” Roger said, voice flat, taking a sip and twirling what remained in the mug.
Jack laughed. “She would have hated it. Hated anything that just took up space.”
Roger nodded. “Your dad’s idea, then?”
“You and Alice must have been close, for you to come out today.”
A slight pause, then Roger said, “Yes. She was always quick to point out the flaws in my research. Made me a better scientist. And I’m pretty sure she pulled strings at UCLA, helped get me a job out there after I graduated.”
Jack blinked. “You came all the way from California?”
“Her guidance, it meant a lot--”
“Yeah, but to fly short notice from California to New York, in the middle of the school year? Did you guys have an affair?”
The way Roger’s eyes widened, just a moment, before he laughed. It said everything Jack needed to know.
“No.” He shook his head, as if the physical action would make the word count. “You didn’t just tell me that. Not today.”
“I didn’t tell you anything,” Roger said, hands up, palms out.
Jack melted into the booth, staring at nothing. He grabbed the mug, started to down the contents. Realized it was coffee when the heat flared on his tongue. He sputtered. A tan mist coated the table, staining the napkins. Roger came around, put a hand on his back, handed Jack a tissue.
Jack took it with a frown, then reached up and felt the tears on his cheeks.
“You trying to burn yourself?” Roger said, sitting back down.
“Guess I was hoping for booze.” Jack gave a mirthless bark at his own joke. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
Roger went still. He nodded.
“While it lasted, I guess. After I graduated, I mentioned I’d had interest from three schools. NYU, Columbia, and UCLA. She only put in a good word at one of them.” Roger smiled, but it looked tight on his face.
“Huh.” Jack took a sip of coffee. “She really cared about you.”
“You know that, how?”
“When I was younger, she fostered cats. Never adopted them. I asked her once why we couldn’t keep one. She told me that, eventually, anything you love will start to tire you. Better to give it up while it still means something.”
“That’s pretty hosed up.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.” Jack drummed on the table. “I always wondered what that meant about her and dad. I mean, they were married for forty-two years. Never could bring myself to ask though.” He glanced up at Roger. “Guess I have an idea, now.”
Roger laughed, then immediately looked shocked. “Jesus, I’m sorry. That took me off guard.”
Jack grinned. “Don’t worry. Besides,” he said, starting to laugh himself, “now I know why you didn’t want to go back to his house.”
They sat there, laughing, ignoring the looks coming from the other diners, until they both slipped into a dull silence. Each cradled their mugs, thanked the waitress when she refilled them. Didn’t say anything.
“I always wondered how she felt about me,” Jack said.
“She was your mom. How could you not know?”
“My sister, she went into cellular biology. She’s finishing her doctorate this year. Mom was always talking about her research, how well it was going, where her papers were being published.” Jack took a long drag on the coffee, tepid again. “I went into ceramics. I’m making a living at it, which is no small feat. And I don’t remember hearing her talk about my work. Ever. Even when she came to one of my shows, all she said was, ‘It’s very well done, Jack.’ Went right back to talking to someone about her research.”
Jack eyed his mug. “We should have gone to a bar.”
Roger reached out and put a hand over Jack’s wrist. “She cared about you. She was proud of you.”
“How do you know?” Jack frowned, felt anger flare in his chest. But didn’t yank back his arm.
“I spent a lot of time in your mother’s office.” Roger held up his other hand when he saw Jack’s face. “Sorry, but I did. Right by the door, she had a small table with a sculpture on it. A few more on her bookshelf, behind the desk. I don’t think anyone -- student, professor, dean, hell, the president of the university -- no one walked in without being told they were your work.” Suddenly, Roger spoke in a perfect imitation of Alice’s voice, an octave lower. “Richard, have you seen my son’s work? Right there, by the door. Calls it Fallen Ulysses, but it’s based on a friend of his who served in Afghanistan. Four tours, can you believe it? Re-upped his contract, and him with a three year-old at home.”
Roger grinned and squeezed Jack’s arm. “I heard the story for all three so many times, they’re still rolling around in my head. I could curate the world’s smallest museum.”
Jack laughed. “That’s a really good impression. Jesus.” He swiped at his eyes, tried to ignore the burning sensation. Kept blinking until he saw Roger’s face clearly.
“I only heard her talk about my work in a really positive way once.” Roger leaned back in his booth, staring out the window. “I dropped in on her and heard her on the phone, talking about my dissertation. I stopped outside the door. Whenever she was face-to-face with me, she was encouraging, but always critical. Pointing out the flaws, telling me where my methodology could be better. Now she was going on like it was the best thing she’d ever seen. For a minute, I couldn’t believe she was talking about my work. Thought there must be another Roger Wilcox in the program. What I was hearing didn’t reconcile with what I’d already heard.”
Roger met Jack’s eyes. “She ever praise your sister’s work to her face?”
Jack pursed his lips and thought back. “No, not that I remember.”
Roger nodded. “I bet, if you talked to your sister, she’d be feeling the same way you were. I think Alice was bad at telling people what she really thought of their work. Or maybe complimenting it.”
A harsh buzz erupted from Jack’s pocket. He fished out his cell to see his father’s face. He dumped it back into his pocket.
“Time to go?” Roger said.
“Yeah. They’ll just keep calling until I answer.”
“Maybe it won’t be so bad.”
Jack laughed. “Maybe. Although we only stopped fighting about the service because it was time to leave this morning.”
Roger winced, let out a small chuckle. “Yeah, so maybe not.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve got a couple hours before I have to be at the airport. I’ll find something to do.”
They stood, paid the bill, walked out into the parking lot.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 01:52|
Dr. Kallim – and he insisted that he be called doctor – had joined his fellow graduates to celebrate their collective successes in meeting the arbitrary demands of the faculty. Alcohol was in abundance at the host’s home, and though Dr. Kallim, if asked if he drank, would answer ‘water’, he accepted that if there were ever a day he was allowed to loosen his mind, it was immediately following six and half years of torture.
Of course, no amount of loosening would allow Dr. Kallim to go without good conversation, honest conversation, when all parties involved took the matter seriously and would dive between the lines of metaphysics and the soul, where truth resided. He was no philosopher – such a base thing that was – but a practitioner of real science, which was precisely why he allowed himself to indulge in such oddities.
But a good conversation required good partners, and as the night continued, he found those in short supply. "I'm glad it's over," was the only topic everyone shared in common, so it was the only topic everyone wanted to speak on. Dr. Kallim had to use the bathroom frequently.
On one visit, he found it closed, and a soft sobbing from inside. He waited a spell, but whoever felt a party was the best location to cry had equally no issues with inconveniencing others. He rapped on the door and asked, "Are you alright?" as was only polite to ask, despite both knowing the answer and not caring much.
The sobbing ceased, replaced by flushing and running water. Who presented to him was a woman in her thirties, though with a few streaks of gray in her hair, the badge of hard work that easily became a competition between classmates. Dr. Kallim dyed his.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and began to walk away.
Those with some issue, he supposed, might be a better distraction than he’d all night. “Sad it’s over?” he asked, carefully calibrated to let her say yes and walk away if she wanted. It was a mercy he wished others allowed him.
She looked back to him. "I don't want to talk abou' it."
Said every person who ever had a burning desire to talk about something, but wanted more proof that the other person cared.
"Tell me anyway."
What followed was a fairly trite story about her and her husband; arguments, demands, more arguments. She and Dr. Kallim had since embedded themselves to a couch, where he half listened, half thought, half drank. The details did not matter to him, because he knew exactly what she was going through and how to fix it.
He said, "I'm afraid it's your father's fault."
"What do you mean?"
He theatrically poured himself another drink, glass to her eye level. "During this conversation, I've had many of these drinks. If you didn't know me–"
"I don't know you."
"If you didn't know me, you might think me a drunk. You could make several predictions as to why I was a drunk. Tonight I've had more than in the rest of my life combined, so I’m not, but if you thought I was, why would you think that is?"
"Exactly. But I'm not a drunk, so my father doesn't have much to do with either of us, but your father has very much to do with you. Have you read Freud?"
"He said that people's relationships with men, is like their relationships with their father. If you have a problem with your husband, it's because you have a problem with your father."
"Right. So if you want to fix things with your husband, you've got to get things right with your father. It's like two connected particles, even if they’re light years apart, if you shake one, the other moves. So shake your father, shake him until he wakes up to who you really are.”
She stood up from the couch. "Thank you, mister, um?"
"Thank you, Dr. Kallim. You've helped a lot, and I know exactly what to do."
"And what are you going to do?" he asked.
"Well, I think what you said about my father, and particles, is really complex. I can't hope to understand all that quite like you or Freud, but talking with you helped. I'm just going to apologize."
Then she left.
Dr. Kallim picked up the bottle and looked down into his again empty glass, chuckling to himself. "I'm just going to apologize," he repeated in a mockery of her voice. Like anything in life was that simple. She’d get stuck in a cycle if she apologized, of trying to gain an approval that didn’t exist through debasing herself, and hating herself for it, until she made another mistake and had to do it all over again.
"I'm just going to apologize," he repeated again. "Just going to apologize," he repeated again. "Just going to apologize," he repeated again, his mirth gone. "Just apologize." He stared deeply at his reflection, a bent and crooked thing.
"Just apologize," he said once more, before his glass and bottle were taken from him by the party host.
"Do you want me to call you a cab?" he asked.
"No," said Dr. Kallim, "I want you to call me doctor."
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 02:10|
The girl rolls Mose a lighter. She’s away and he’s eating the fire, searing himself with memory.
She hit at a weird angle, had a long face, hair strands wisping past her ears. He sees her wake collapse, leaves the plateau crowd behind, all the tears he could ever cry dying against starlight.
He’s alone when he comes back to the plateau. People watch the fire eating, not the coma after. He’s left with the lighter and the memory. He carries them both as he makes his way to the leylines bound to the haven. He nods in and out of sleep as the earth moves him. He unsews dirt with touch, resewn behind him, and he wonders how many leylines he’ll cross before he stops feeling like all the other floaters are watching. It changes each time.
They say all floaters only care about themselves. In a fire-eater’s head, fresh from the stars, riding the leylines doesn’t bind you, but drive you apart, based on what cross-hatch of dirt you’re standing on.
Do the floaters know when the last of them step off this leyline, leaving him alone, that he’s a handful of handpresses away from the haven? Do they think about it? He doesn’t know how most floaters live. He knows only that they’re fine with only knowing artifex skies until days’ end.
When he finds himself with the other fire eaters, trying to forge messages in spit and cough, he doesn’t feel home. He feels lost, like this place is not for them, like it was made for people who want to make.
“Finished my study,” Matha says, eyeing her nurse’s black dress. She flicks her blue lined wrist, resets Matha’s hand terminal. Her nurse is maybe old enough to have seen the cities sink into the plateau. Matha quells her respect. Right now, no one deserves it.
She isn’t into the imagined. She believes what she sees. This terminal, attuned to the heartbeat of the fire eater she’s left behind, is science, darker than Prometha’s burnt eyes but brighter than his teeth in effect. She will always be far as possible from the fire eater she just helped. It’s the least the Tectonic Sect can do.
“He’s in the haven,” her nurse says with gentle tongue. Matha resists the urge to roll her eyes to the stars the fire eaters think they see.
She tells her nurse her memory, gangly kid, pale skin and green eyes, more deets added to the tracking file. Now there’s nothing between her and Prometha.
Prometha is the first fire-eater, the only worth watching. She wishes she knew what the Sect sees in the others. She walks through its steel halls to the crypt.
The other girls are gathered around him, tight against each other. They’re humming, a harmonic that would collapse the room if it wasn’t plated. Matha pushes her way in, ignoring sharp stares. She deserves to see this.
Prometha’s last draft of air is wet, his scorched eyes pleading in miosis, frozen as needlepoints.
The older fire-eaters can’t sleep. In time the fire flickers away circadian rhythms remnants not vanished with the starlight. Mose wants to sleep, but doesn’t want to wake up. He gets up and drifts to where the older eaters are holding council.
They turn to him with hooded eyes over thick beards, under tattered caps. He talks before his humility can crush him.
“I want to stop eating fire out on the plateau,” he says. “Why doesn’t the Sect let us eat alone? Why do we have to live naked?”
Laughter strings itself along their lips. One speaks. “Why do you think, boy?”
“I think it’s because the floaters like watching. They need us to feel better about their fake stars.” Mose feels for the lighter, finds it. “They look at me like I’m earth myself.”
The speaker turns to the man on his right. “See, Astley? This is why we bore.”
Astley smiles. “Another for the garden.”
Moses crushes the lighter against his leg. “You dug out yourselves? What did you find?”
“Something eaters like you should see.”
Matha gives in. She finds her nurse, asks again.
“How? I’ve been working for your Sect as long as I remember. Why can’t I know how you bring Prometha back to life?”
Her nurse holds up a hand. “Do you like walking the plateau, child?”
Matha shudders. “I hate it. My feet knead with every step. Shape something that doesn’t deserve shape.”
Her nurse nods. “You’d rather walk on chrome.”
“Once you walk only chrome,” her nurse says, “your veins will thicken like mine.”
She thinks about that riding the leyline. It’s obvious which floaters are fire eaters. It’s the way they always try to hide their eyes, look anywhere but other floaters. When you’re comfy with the artifex stars, your eyes drift weightless. Only presence makes your eyes opaque, look down at yourself because you can’t see anything anyway.
She checks her hand terminal, freezes. The kid she helped’s slipped close. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know any leylines where he is. She moves to the far wall, presses through, a leyline going the other way. The kid’s heartbeat stays where it is. She gets miles further, steps off onto a part of the plateau she’s never been, where the artifex stars are darker, the light washed out.
Cyan light refracts from pulsing crystals walling the cavern in. Moses stands between ribs arcing over him like albino rainbows. The bones sprawl through the cavern like God’s hand has scattered them.
“Things that fed on light died here,” Astley says, sewing the wall shut. “If you eat here I’ll sit with your body. Make sure you come back to it.”
Mose pushes down fear. The lighter’s flame shimmers, mixes in ripples with the crystal light. He swallows, feels it wrench him, sees Astley cradling his body, lit pale like he’s going to fade away.
He travels radians, finds Prometha with the starlight. Prometha sits lotus godhead, eyes in life blackened backlit now by novas. His voice thrums with energy. Mose listens, beyond thought of his own.
I was gened the moment the cities sunk. I was born with their stars, their light and air, more real than both. The need for fire seeded in me. I searched for need I wasn’t born with. I found it right before death. Last breaths are sweeter than any flame.
Something chars Mose. He cries out, knows he has a voice again, is angry. He looks up. Astley holds the lighter an inch from his skin. Astley’s eyes are blue with the crystal light, ancient as the bones the two rest with.
“You pulled me away-” Mose says, then gets it. “Once you’re that far gone...”
Astley nods. “What others see doesn’t matter to you.”
Under this low-rent artifex sky, Matha has no energy. She has to breathe harder to get the same air.
She hurls her terminal at the earth. It imprints, lies still, screen facing. It still shows the same spatial beat.
She thinks about her life. How her nurse told her young how she could help the whole plateau. No, that wasn’t what got her. What got her was being told she could watch someone die the same death, again and again.
The important stuff, that you’ll need to give some scrawny fire eater his fix and make sure that the closed loop world you share doesn’t get ideas, was laced between words like dress linen. Her nurse did not leave out words to be kind.
Something her nurse said resonates, still, like the blip on the sunken terminal. One day your veins will thicken like mine.
She unlaces her shoes, pulls her socks off, roots herself. The earth under her feet is cool and moist. With her back straight, she can feel herself a pillar stretching from loam to artifex, coaxing light and air out with soft touches. She’ll stay this way for as long as it takes that kid to get back to the haven.
It takes her a while to check again.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 02:48|
One hour until the deadline.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 02:59|
In the Wires
The urge to tap her foot was getting stronger and stronger, and Zoe didn't know how much longer she could hold out. Even a twitch against the metal floor would send echoes through the anteroom and get the techs in the control room laughing -- "Dee-Dubs on the prowl again!" -- but the need was surging through her leg, almost beyond the power of her distracted mind to resist. Where the hell was her work partner?
When her partner finally entered, Zoe leapt to her feet maybe too eagerly, letting the energy in her leg recirculate and ebb away. The girl she'd been assigned to work with this time was broad-faced and smiling, her helmet open. "Hey," she said, "sorry I'm late. I'm Stormy. You're Dee-Dubs, right? What's that stand for?"
They always asked. "Dead Weight," Zoe replied. Her restlessness was gone, turning into a ball of lead in her stomach.
"Huh," said Stormy, and Zoe waited for her to ask how she'd gotten the callsign. They always asked that, too. "Nah," Stormy said, "screw it. Not calling you that. What do you like to be called?"
Now that was new. Most of the trainees took their cue from the support staff and held callsigns as gospel; Zoe'd never dared to try and change hers. It took her a moment to think of something, and she went with the first happy memory that materialized: chasing birds through a city square, when she was too young to be self-conscious. "Pigeon," she said, expecting a laugh.
Stormy just nodded. "Got it, Pidge. You good to go?"
"As I'll ever be."
They were fifteen minutes into the job when the first tic that Zoe couldn't hold back came. The impulse burnt in her shoulder blades, muscles tensing, and she stepped away from her console to let her shoulders shrug and shudder. Surrendered to impulse, she couldn't stop when the verbal tics came: a strangled grunt, at first, then "low-acuity" in a long high howl, right into her helmet mic.
Her helmet earpiece crackled, and Stormy's voice came through. "Hey, what was that? You okay out there?"
Zoe glanced at the monitors, looking for an excuse, but everything was nominal: the twelve trainees in cryosleep still stable, uninterrupted by the power-routing issue Stormy was working on in the guts of the control module. "No, it's fine. I'm --"
In all her time rotating through work partners at the academy and on the trainee flight, she still hadn't figured out how to explain herself. I have Tourette's sounded like it would pass in a week. I'm Tourettic just confused people. She settled on the same compromise she usually did: "I have tics. Motor and verbal. It's not important."
There was a moment of silence. "Got it," replied Stormy. "Anything help out with that?"
There were a thousand things Zoe could have told her: the pills, in their careful dosages, enough to work but not too much to send her into the doldrums; breaks to twitch and stomp and yowl in the freedom of her own soundproofed quarters; work, hard work, that might matter to somebody. "Mostly having something to do," Zoe said. "Sometimes having someone to talk to."
"Well, that I can help with. It's just cut-and-splice in here, pretty brainless. Where d'you wanna go after training, Pidge?"
Zoe kept her eyes locked on her monitor and its green indicators. Yes, splitting her focus would help. "I'm hoping for a position on one of the colony ships. They always need a lot of cryomed techs, and it's a year's work for twenty years' pay." And at the end of it was a colony, lightyears and decades away from anyone who'd ever called her dead weight.
"Got a point there," Stormy said. "I'd rather just get station work, myself, but the ships are good gigs if you can handle all the sleep and you don't have anyone at home. You have family?"
"We don't --" A tic tried to struggle up Zoe's throat, and she swallowed it down. "We don't talk."
There was a long moment of silence. "Might be better that way," Stormy said at last. "My folks still think I want a contractor gig Earthside. I don't know how to tell them I'm not coming home. I love 'em, I really do, but I just can't do it anymore."
Zoe was trying to find the words to properly say she understood when her monitor pinged. Beds 2, 5, and 11 were seeing a slow temperature increase and a drop in alpha waves -- too quick a drop. In the cryobeds, sudden wakefulness killed. "Stormy. We're seeing bed malfunctions on 2, 5, and 11. Is there an issue on your end?"
"No, it's -- oh, crap. I see it. Christ, these goddamn wires. I'm gonna have to rip and patch. Can you keep them stable?"
"How long do you need?"
"Five minutes if I do this right," crackled Stormy's voice. "Call it ten for safety."
Zoe looked at the alpha-wave dips and did the math. Ten minutes meant the trainees in malfunctioning beds would need fresh sedative doses to stay asleep. She was trained for this, she told herself. This wasn't hard. That's what she had to concentrate on, not the lives on the line. "Low-acuity," she murmured in the garbled voice of a suppressed tic. "Low-acuity, low-acuity -- Okay. Ten minutes. Doing med rotation here, so just keep me posted."
"Lock and load, Pidge!"
Low-acuity, Zoe's background thoughts repeated as she started her work. She pulled up the files for the three affected beds. Nothing notable -- no, wait, 11 was allergic to cryosomnin; she'd have to rotate in the alternate drug rig for him. 2 and 5 were ready to go, though, and she engaged the injection protocol with a smooth tap of the monitor screen. A moment's pause, then an alpha wave spike, the monitors slipping to green. Done. Zoe pulled up the menu to switch to the secondary drug rig for 11.
"First rip and splice!" yelled Stormy through the com. "Get ready!"
3 and 6 went yellow. Zoe punched in the drugs for 11, then pulled up the charts. She could feel the nervous energy of her tics burning through her arms, speeding up her hands to tap through menus. 3 and 6 were cryosomnin-tolerant. Low-acuity. She was trained for this. Both injection rigs were powered. Nobody was dying today.
"First patch in, second one coming!"
3, 6, and 11 pulled up. 9 went yellow -- cryosomnin-intolerant, Zoe thought. She engaged the secondary, felt the energy of her body bent to her will, the demon in her nerves giving itself over to her. The control modules's wires were rotting, but hers were singing.
"Third one! Think this is the last!"
8 yellow. 10 yellow. Cryosomnin-okay. Primary rig. Zoe tapped and read and tapped and watched the injections flow. Alphas rising. Stable. All green.
"Okay," called Stormy, and exhaled loudly enough to make Zoe's earpiece hiss. "We're patched. This is going to need replacement wiring when the chambers are empty, but we're holding now. All your beds okay?"
"All okay." Zoe wanted to slump down, but every part of her was tense and humming. "Vital signs and alpha waves are stable."
"If there's anyone even in there. Probably shouldn't say this, but those wires are pretty comprehensively screwed. Pretty conveniently screwed. You think maybe this was a test, Pidge?"
That was the problem with the trainee flight. You could never tell which of the tasks in front of you were real maintenance and which were impromptu exams, performance assessments to be pored over by your teachers and potential employers. They were three days out from the end of the trainee flight, three days from the academy base and job offers and the great diaspora of their class, and Zoe had just assumed they were done with that -- but who knew? Zoe glanced towards the blinking red monitor light of the camera watching over her shoulder. Despite herself, she smiled.
"Maybe. But if it was, we nailed it."
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 03:02|
Ships passing prompt -- 793 words
Wei Huan trudged up the mountain pass. Wind and rain whipped his frayed finery about him. The storm had caught him unaware, and he would need shelter soon.
Through grey mist he worked his way along the base of a cliff, and eventually came to a deep overhang. Relieved, Wei entered. Within the cave sat a man in the orange robes of a Buddhist monk.
"Greetings to you, monk. My name is Wei Huan. Might I share your shelter?" asked Wei.
"Greetings to you. My name is Haiyun. Please, be welcome," replied the monk.
Wei settled his creaking bones on the cave floor.
"Might I ask where you are journeying to?" he said.
"I am travelling to a monastery, across the distant hills, to live out my days in meditation, in the hope that I might remove all earthly attachments and escape the cycle of rebirth," said Haiyun. "What about yourself?"
"I am on a quest for my lord, to find a particular alchemist who has knowledge of medicines which may allow my lord to attain immortality," said Wei.
Haiyun raised an eyebrow.
"Even if you could extend his life, the Dharma holds that this world is a trap for the soul, and that you would be doing your lord no favours," he said.
"Well, the Dao holds that immortality in this life is the highest attainment," replied Wei. "But let me try to re-frame that. Is it not true that the passing of a ruler may cause turmoil and suffering in the realm?"
"This is true," said Haiyun.
"And is it not also true that your teachings hold the reduction of suffering to be one of their highest goals?"
"This, also, is true."
"Then does it not follow that extending the life of a ruler might reduce suffering, and thus be meritorious, if only for the good it will do to all others in the realm?"
The monk laughed.
"I will concede that, and wish you well. For myself, I will take care of my own soul."
They debated on, as rain lashed the mountainside. Wei tried hard to convince Haiyun of the merits of serving rulers, as Haiyun did his best to convince Wei of the folly of worldly attachments.
As the light grew dim, Haiyun called for a halt.
"This has been enlightening, but it is time for me to eat and make preparations to sleep."
He reached into his robe, and produced a small parcel. Wei's stomach grumbled.
"I hesitate to ask, but I appear to have misplaced my own food," he said.
"All I have are some rice and vegetables, but I would be glad to share them," said the monk.
They ate in silence. After the meal, Haiyun crossed his legs, sank into meditation, then, after some time, curled up in his robe to sleep. Wei watched in silence. Then he stepped out into the night.
Haiyun woke to find the cave empty. He adjusted his robe, gathered his things, and set off. The mountainside steamed in the morning sun, and the day waxed and then waned as he made his way down the pass. By nightfall he reached the village below, and, after a little searching, found a ramshackle inn. The innkeeper greeted him.
"A holy man! Welcome, holy man. Travellers are few these days, with the Mongols nearing."
"Fewer still, it seems, through the western pass," said Haiyun.
"You came by the western pass?"
The innkeeper made a sign to ward off evil.
"Legend holds that an imperial councillor on a quest for one of the Tang emperors died there. His devotion binds him to pursue that quest even in death. Nobody has been willing to travel that pass in many generations."
"Oh?" said Haiyun. "It is said of ghosts that they are trapped in Preta, consumed by hunger. Offerings of food may both ease their suffering and speed their passing into the next life. If you wish not to be bothered by this ghost, and ultimately to be rid of him, this is what you should do."
"You are wise, holy man. I shall speak with the other villagers, and we will do what we can," said the innkeeper.
"But might I ask where your travels are taking you?"
Haiyun paused. Across the hills, the monastery and a life of forsaking the world beckoned. But also he pondered the debate in the cave. He came to a decision.
"I may be a fool, but I am travelling to the court of the Mongols' ruler. I have heard that he may soon rule all of China, and that he has caused immeasurable suffering. Perhaps a humble monk might advise him to temper his cruelty, or even to use that power to ease suffering instead."
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 03:18|
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 04:25|
Prompt: Ships Passing In The Night
Carl slowly put his foot down, the V8 engine responding with ever louder growls that reverberated through the night and tingled his spine. The needle of the speedometer traced across the gauge, an equation made physical as Carl kept racing down the straight. His heart raced along with the engine, finally he had restored his grandfather’s ‘69 Dodge Charger to it’s former glory! A warm glow spread throughout his body, only to drain away as suddenly as it arrived as he suddenly smelt burning. The meteoric rise of the speedometer needle was now crashing back down to earth. The engine began to labour and juddered to a halt, Carl letting the car coast to a halt at the side of the road.
Carl popped the hood and took a look. Smoke billowed out, escaping into the cool night air. Despite that, Carl could see it wasn’t too bad, it would require a simple fix - if only he had come prepared. With a sigh, he pulled his phone from his pocket and called for road side assistance. He felt his ears burn as he described the problem to the operator, then hung up and awaited his saviour.
Carl resisted the urge to take his phone out again while passing the time, instead opting to enjoy the night sky and stargaze. It was a clear night, stars spread wide across the night sky in every direction. Carl had picked the route as the best road to test the Charger because it was a long straight. Wheat fields flanked the tarmac which afforded him a magnificent view now that he had come to appreciate it.
Carl tried to remember the name of constellations he learned from his grandfather but struggled after the obvious Orion. A rumble in the distance caught his attention and he looked back down the road to see headlights approaching from a distance. He sat and watched as the tow truck rolled slowly past and parked in front of the Charger. The truck driver’s door opened and the driver jumped down - a woman with long dark hair. Carl judged her to be a similar age to herself, she wore grease monkey overalls with the name ‘Sarah’ embroidered on them.
‘Pushed it too far?’ She asked without any greeting. ‘Yeah I guess,’ Carl replied sheepishly. Sarah was already under the hood and muttering to herself, before returning to the cab of her truck. Carl felt awkward, he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to stand, like when he had a contractor in the house doing maintenance work. Sarah came back with a large rusty tool box, started digging through the contents within noisily. She produced a large wrench and a grimy bolt, then disappeared back under the hood.
The engine protested as the screech of tortured metal rang out, Carl flinched but resolved not to watch the gory detail. Sarah emerged from the hood again with a grin. ‘That will get you home, you’ll need a part before you take her out again though. I suggest keeping a toolbox in the trunk for such occasions as this,’ and walked back to the truck. Carl followed her, where he was presented with a tablet to give his electronic signature. An awkward finger squiggle later, Sarah asked ‘you can pay now or I can email you the bill?’ ‘I’ll pay now thanks.’ Carl pulled his phone out of his jeans again and initiated the transfer, the two of them stood awkwardly as the processing symbol span round and round.
The symbol began to spin so long Carl figured the transaction might have crashed. He smiled apologetically at Sarah but she wasn’t looking at him, her gaze was fixed beyond him. He turned to follow her line of sight but couldn’t see what she was looking at. Just empty road, fields, stars... and a shooting star! A streak of white brilliance traced it’s way across the sky, leaving a tail of stardust in it’s wake. Carl was about to turn back to Sarah, but as he made the move he stopped. The shooting star made a ninety-degree turn in the sky. Where it had traced across the horizon from their position, it now rocketed towards them.
Carl was no expert on celestial phenomena but he was pretty sure that wasn’t usual. The star kept coming, Carl couldn’t judge what speed it was approaching at except ‘rapidly’. It now seemed the star was directly following the road below it, the road they stood on. A rumble like thunder grew, a murmur at first, until it was a nonstop defeating growl. The star raced onwards, 50 metres away, 30, 10... Carl and Sarah stood transfixed, both staring upwards as the star passed over them. The roar was deafening, the light pulsed almost blinding Carl. His eyes hurt from the dazzling, he felt like his ear drums would burst. Then nothing.
The star passed them, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. Carl and Sarah stood motionless. Carl felt the chill of the night come over him, a feint smell of sulphur lingering in the air. He looked at his phone, a green tick displaying the transaction was successful. He showed Sarah who simply nodded, got in her truck and drove away. Carl remained static, watching her progress until she disappeared. Carl sat on the hood on the Charger and studied the constellations with renewed interest.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 06:14|
Insiders (1,020 words)
One of your characters is not who they claim to be.
Marceau stumbled in from the cold dark night, his pistol by his side and a lantern in his hand. The coat he wore was not his own. He’d pulled it from a body knee-deep in the snow.
The old hunting lodge was the only man-made structure for a good four miles, a longhouse coffin on the edge of the river. Fish and wild herbs hung from the ceiling. Tins of coffee beans lined the shelves.
The fire was roaring. The room was empty.
Marceau removed his hat and gloves and scratched behind his ears, like a dog. He spied a pile of blankets next to a barrel of salt-pork. He seized the pile and went about insulating himself from the cold, situating himself in a rocking chair in full view of the fire.
By the time he heard the click he had already trapped himself in a cocoon of warmth.
“Ain’t you familiar, makin’ yourself all cozy-like.”
Marceau had to turn his whole body to face the source of the voice. Across the way, flush against the wall, someone had pushed a sturdy wooden table with a plain white tablecloth. The long thin barrel of a long thin gun, protruding from beneath the cloth, informed him of his host’s location. The accent told him he wasn’t from around here.
“Haps you ain’t a man of the world,” Marceau said, hesitating every few words, “But it’s a mite cold for us to be strangers.”
A hand emerged from beneath the sheet to part the veil between them. It belonged to a man in a thick fur coat. He wore the hat of a Russian cossack.
“Watcha doin’ in these waters, friend?”
“These is my waters, sir. I’m local marshal.” Marceau swallowed. “And I can’t say I take too kindly, sir, to getting bushwhacked like this.”
“You’s a marshal?”
“Yessir I am.”
The cossack clicked his tongue, his attentions suddenly distant. He chuckled and let out a sigh of relief. He lowered his rifle.
“Well then, marshal, mayhaps you’d oblige me on a little matter. Got yourself a knife of any kind?”
He scuttled out from beneath the table, his breathing stained, as though he were lugging a suitcase of considerable weight. He stood up, his rifle in his right hand, half a pair of cuffs about his left wrist, pulled taut. Marceau followed the chain down to a second wrist, a second arm, connected to a second man. The arm was cold and blue and fragile. The man was enormous and dead. He was missing a coat.
“What in the hell?” Marceau leapt up in an attempt to free himself from his blankets. He toppled to the floor with a thud.
“Easy there, marshal,” the cossack raised a hand in caution. “We ain’t enemies. I’m a servant of the law, same as you.”
Marceau scrambled to his feet, his pistol in hand. The cossack took a knee and gripped his rifle. Marceau felt the man’s gaze, and hesitated. “What’s your story, sir, if’n you wouldn’t mind furnishing one?”
The cossack jerked his head in the direction of the dead man. “Fella here’s Butcher Pete. Wanted in six counties, or was. Transportin’ his sorry rear end when he up and died of frostbite.”
“Are you telling me you are a bounty hunter, sir?”
The cossack sighed in exasperation. “That’s right boss. You wanna see my papers?”
“I do believe I would.”
“Sure thing,” the cossack said. “Soon as I see that star.”
The two men stared each other down across the room. Marceau licked his lips.
“So what do you want?”
‘What, what do I want?” The cossack laughed. “Not to be chained to a stiff, for starters.” he gave the chain a tug. The body remained stationary in protest.
“You ain’t got a key?”
“I done lost that key haulin’ his rear end inside.”
“Alright, alright.” Marceau raised his gun, his finger clear of the trigger. “Let’s keep it funny.” The cossack nodded. He lowered his rifle.
Marceau approached to inspect the dead man. His wrist was raw with tiny scratches. He took out his knife and began his gristly work. The wrist chipped off in pieces, like carving away a statue. From time to time he stole a glance at the dead man’s face. His expression was calm and peaceful, and only mildly troubled.
Ten minutes later the cossack was freed. His wrist remained in irons, but he could move as he pleased.
“Well now,” he laughed, smiling. “Mighty thankful marshal.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Marceau. “Really. I mean it.”
“Not a problem.” The cossack looked around the room. His gaze fell upon the coffee beans. “Care for a spot?”
“Much obliged but,” Marceau scratched his head, “I’ll pass.”
“Suit yourself.” The cossack stepped toward the shelves and began the process of selecting his favored beans - Golden Brew, it turned out. It wasn’t long before the lodge was filled with the rich aroma of a fresh batch. The cossack made several attempts to engage Marceau in conversation. Marceau declined, politely, each time.
At long last dawn crept through the shuttered windows, between cracks and beyond the door frame. The cossack checked his rifle and made to depart.
“Guess you ain’t cashing in this corpse,” Marceau said. He kicked the body.
“You kiddin’?” The cossack turned around. “Ain’t dragging his rear end nowhere without a horse. I’ll leave him with you.” He bowed theatrically and took his leave.
Marceau was sitting in his rocking chair. He waited awhile, just to be sure. He leaned forward, and began rifling through the dead man’s pockets. A stick of gum, a crumpled list (illegible), an empty pistol, and the torn scrap of what had once been a wanted poster. “Pete,” it seemed, was wanted badly.
“Guess that makes two of us," Marceau said. He crumpled it up and tossed it in the fire.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 07:58|
Submissions closed. Judging will be this evening.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 10:43|
Congrats, Djeser. Good job.
|# ? Aug 20, 2018 16:01|
Results for Week CCCXV
This was an interesting week. You all managed to work in different settings, explore different interpersonal dynamics, and capture different emotions. Some of you were more successful than others but I appreciated all of the attempts posted this week.
All three of the judges were of the same mind on this week's pieces. Dishonorable Mentions go to Ashwat, for an dull story that hides its conceit, jon joe, for writing about a really boring rear end in a top hat, and Bacon Terrorist, who wrote about a guy who watches some shooting stars after his car breaks down. These stories were saved from the Loss by spectres of autism who wrote a story that was so incomprehensible that none of the judges could figure out if it even met the prompt.
Honorable Mentions go to Guiness13, for his touching story about two people grieving a lost loved one, Antivehicular, for writing about space engineers with real kindness and empathy, and Bad Seafood, for his tense Western. I am happy to say that the Win goes to Staggy for a very creative and well-written piece about a guy trapped in a prison cell in space.
You have the throne, Staggy.
QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2018 around 03:18
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 03:15|
Crits for this Week CCCXV:
AstuteCat -- Reassurances
On a sentence level, the writing here is not bad. There are some grammatical mistakes, but nothing that seriously inhibits reader comprehension (Pro Tip: Commas or periods go after dialogue attribution and you never use double punctuations). The prose is fine but I think you need more details that speak to the characters’ internal states. Much of the content reads like a screenplay, with you describing the minutia of different actions instead of defining these characters beyond broad strokes.
This story fails in two main regards. First, it does not provide the reader with any context. When I read the first few lines, I thought you might be describing two people trapped in a cave-in, then I wondered if you were trying to deceive the reader and have Mike revealed to be an interrogator/captor of some kind. It is not until paragraph 25 that this story informs the reader that they are reading about a car accident. This is frustrating for the reader, who doesn’t understand the conflict, let alone the stakes or motivations of the characters. Starting in media res doesn’t mean you have to leave the audience in the dark.
The second failure of this story is that it doesn’t seem to capture “a tiny, meaningful relationship.” By my read, Mike’s goal in this piece is less to relate to Lisa than it is to prevent a seriously injured woman from losing consciousness and then dying. This is a noble goal, of course, but it doesn’t strike me as “life altering,” except in the sense that it allows Lisa’s life to continue. It is possible that it could be deeply affecting for some reason, but the reader is given almost no insight into either character’s past to show why this might be the case, nor are their thoughts and feelings revealed beyond a few sheepish smiles and trembling voices. The details of Lisa’s personal life provide her with some personal history, but the details don’t seem to motivate any of her actions. (Also, why is Mike weirdly evasive when asked about himself?)
In all, I am left with a scene of a car crash that reads as very generic. No one really stands out as a memorable character. The dialogue is almost exactly what you would expect it to be. I don’t hate it, but I have difficulty thinking of anything particularly good about it either.
Staggy -- Resonance
You didn’t have the easiest flash rule. Correctional settings, by design, are built to be isolating and dehumanizing.There aren’t many opportunities for people to form meaningful bonds. When I assigned this prompt, I was hoping that you would do something interesting with it, that you would think creatively about how to fulfill the prompt requirements. In that regard, I think you succeeded.
Despite being an extremely small piece in scope, you manage to accomplish a lot. The narration does a great job of defining the character and setting up his actions later in the story. The descriptions of the world are sparse but vivid enough for me to sympathize and find humor in the protagonist’s plight. I really love the image of some rear end in a top hat floating through orbit and using morse code to curse out anyone who dares approach his vessel. I would probably read a longer version of this story if you wrote it.
I could probably nitpick with a few elements. Namely, there are a few places at the beginning of this piece where I had to reread to understand what you meant. Some of this might be necessary place-setting and exposition, but I think you could have been clearer in some of your descriptions (I specifically had some trouble with, “The cell walls are a patchwork of scrap metal plugging various holes including, I kid you not, an emergency distress beacon cover panel complete with morse code guide”).
Someone else could complain that this piece comes dangerously close to failing the prompt, but I personally appreciated that the narrator never meets this Good Samaritan pilot and that it’s just a small moment of kindness that sets him on a different path. I think you did a good enough job setting up his personality (and adding some uncertainty at the end) that this doesn’t seem like a total swerve in character. I also don’t think that this piece necessarily needs evidence of some reciprocal metanoia. It works well as it is, as a story about this one guy who chooses to do better after some stranger does something good to him.
Ashwat -- Soul Sisters
This story is solid grammatically, but the prose is rife with some confusing, contradictory imagery. I do not know what a “purposeful crash” sounds like, nor can I imagine a person “unfurling.” I understand a happy sigh but not a happy groan. All of these descriptions make it difficult for me to visualize this scene in my head. They trip up the reader and disrupt the story’s flow.
The bigger issue, though, is how this piece hides the impetus for the story until its end. The fact that Tanya and Anna are being beaten are important details. They could add tension to the piece and make the reader as paranoid as Tanya and/or Anna about their plight. Instead, that information is relegated to some pointless foreshadowing that tweaks at the nose of the reader and a weak reveal halfway through. The final note, an implication that Anna has murdered her husband, fails to have much impact because the table has been set so late.
In the end, this cutesy approach to their motivations undermines your conclusion. Tanya’s statement that, “Maybe it’s time to make a big change in my life,” ends up ringing hollow because you’ve spent so much time dancing around the problem and not delving deep into the characters and their feelings. Tanya and Anna don’t say or do anything that would suggest that dramatic of a change in heart.
While this story has some potential, I feel that it fails to achieve much.
dmboogie -- Twilight of the Dreaming Witch
This story seems like it wants to accomplish a few things at the same time. It wants to capture the fears and anxieties of a young girl. It wants to conjure up some images of some fantastical magic gone wrong. It wants us to be enamored by this dream witch in the last act.
I am not entirely sure this piece succeeds in all these goals. The introduction is both confusingly blocked and doesn’t seem well connected with the rest of the story. Given Mary’s difficulty spellcasting, you could have simplified this story by removing the angry mob altogether and having the spell fail without their presence. You could have spent time spelling out the source of the conflict instead of leaving the reader to wonder what, specifically, spurred the town’s dislike of her. As it stands, the reader only gets hints of what is wrong until Mary’s breakdown in the last section. Very little about Mary’s dream wandering strikes me as particularly interesting.
If there is one element of this story that does work, however, it is Bea. While I wish more time could have been spent on her and less on random mobs and dream wandering, I think you do a good job of defining this woman via her dialogue. She’s as much of the kindly grandmotherly figure as you suggest in the narration and her attempts to intercede with Mary come off as genuine as opposed to forced.
Thranguy -- On the Menu
Your interpretation of the flash rule is cute and creative. I am generally not a fan of high fantasy but I enjoyed this depiction of a mundane life in a fantastical world. Viclan manages to straddle the line between traditional fantasy hero and nice guy. This really lends well to Matrin’s awe and fascination and helps set the relationship between the two characters.
This story is weaker with the parts out of focus. For a story based around family dynamics and rivalries, this story would have been greatly aided if Decca and Gregris had any lines to define their characters. The reader never learns anything about Gengris that isn’t told by Viclan, which makes it difficult to know whether the old knight is accurate in his assessment or paranoid.
The ending also feels unsatisfying. Matrin gives up his home, his family, and his birthright very easily. There is no internal struggle for what should be a hard decision. Martin forming a good relationship with his family, with there being no suggestion of struggle, also strikes me as too tidy. You might have been able to pull it off with more words, but given how rushed the finale is, I am not sure how you could have done more.
Prose is largely competent but I dislike some of the forced fantasy-inspired descriptions. “Decca stabbed basilisk eyes at me,” in particular, seems forced.
Guiness13 -- Memories of Alice Preston
There’s a lot about this story that I like. I think the prose is solid. I think the story conjures up some genuine emotion. Most of all, I think the dialogue is really excellent. You really nailed the characters, to the point where I can imagine them in my head without the narration. I think you succeeded in capturing two characters struggling with the loss of a loved one.
If I had to criticize this piece, it would be that it walks on some well-worn path. “Child learns that parent loves them despite seeming critical” is close to a cliche at this point, “more successful child not being quite as beloved as suspected” is only moreso. I think you executed this story well, but I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t do anything more with the conceit.
I also think the story takes a bit of an odd turn when the Roger reveals that he was in an intimate relationship with Alice. In contrast with everything that precedes it, the exchange is a bit odd. I don’t know what exactly I expected but Jack is strangely placid about this piece of information that should force him to recontextualize his entire perception of his mother and father. Roger, similarly, seems a bit too eager to reveal this tidbit.
JonJoe -- Simplicity, Remade
It’s always difficult to write from the perspective of an rear end in a top hat. You have to engage the reader without repelling them by the narrator’s sheer unpleasantness. Unfortunately, this story ends up running into the same problems that many of its counterparts do. I don’t find Dr. Kallim’s sense of superiority to be very interesting. While you manage to capture this character’s voice, his interactions come off as extremely one note. He doesn’t go through any kind of change or experience any realization that makes me invested in his fate.
And that ends up being a problem with the prompt itself. While this unnamed woman thanks Dr. Kallim’s extremely bad advice, I don’t really understand what you are trying to capture with the last few lines except that Kallim is drunk. I’m not even sure what this woman took away from this conversation or if the woman is genuinely appreciative of Dr. Kallim’s insight or if she is trying to get rid of this guy who is spouting Freud at her.
spectres of autism -- The Garden
I am a fan of poetic pieces. I enjoy clever turns of phrase and poetic rhythms as much as anyone else. However, those phonaesthetics should not come without regard for semantics. It’s not much of a story if the reader doesn’t understand what is happening.
Unfortunately, I feel that this was the case here. As I read through this piece, I struggled to understand who this piece was about and what the setting was. You use a lot of worldbuilding—plateaus, floaters, and fire-eaters—but each of these details are adrift from any kind of context or meaning. While I am sure you had vivid images in mind, I cannot read your mind and the source text doesn’t help me figure out what is going on. Some exposition, something familiar, would have helped me decipher what this story was about.
I’ve tried reading this story seven times and, while I could just be dense, I still feel no closer to understanding what is going on here. I feel bad about leaving such a one-note critique, but I find it difficult to say anything more about this story in its current state.
Antivehicular — In the Wires
This is an interesting piece because I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of disorder tackled before in Thunderdome. I think you succeed. Zoe’s plight comes off as sympathetic (people can be cruel) and her way of dealing with the situation rings true. Simultaneously, you manage to emphasize that Zoe is not her disability. She has a personality. She has a history. She’s an interesting person working a difficult job who just happens to have Tourette’s.
Stormy is similarly well-handled. She isn’t as interesting because we cannot see inside her head, but she has a personality and manages to treat her partner with basic human decency. I really enjoyed how fundamentally decent she was and the small glimpses that we get into her personal life.
While the blocking and action is handled well, I think this piece’s weakest portion is when things start to go wrong. Perhaps this is to reveal Zoe as the competent professional that she is, perhaps it is to insert some hard drama that keeps the reader’s attention, but I think the impulse here was wrong. I would have much rather have continued to read about some more interpersonal dialogue between these two broken up by low-key space engineering. It interrupts the flow and strikes me as a bit off-note in an otherwise well-handled story.
Lead Out in Cuffs -- Duality
At its core, this story is fairly simple. A guy meets with a kindly stranger, only to realize after the fact that the man was really a ghost. It’s a pretty familiar conceit, one that I’ve seen or heard in countless forms. The biggest difference here is the setting and the fact that it was Wei, not the monk, who ended up being the ghost.
Ultimately, the typicalness of this story ends up being my biggest problem with it. Having seen this formula before, I was disappointed that you didn’t do anything interesting with it. It’s just, again, a basic ghost story with a mildly happy ending. The characters do not stand out beyond very basic archetypes. The philosophical/theological discussion reads more like a lecture than a conversation between two guys braving the elements. Maybe that was the point, to conjure up the image of a myth or legend, but it doesn’t make for great reading.
Oh, and this is a bit of a nitpick but the final note of this piece strikes me as a little forced. I guess it helps you fulfill the prompt but it didn’t strike me as particularly true to life.
Bacon Terrorist -- ‘Close Encounters’
There’s a common problem that I see in new writers: They write short fiction as if they were writing a screenplay. The individual motion of each action is described. There are a lot of superfluous details about appearance and setting. Emotions are spelled out in clear, unambiguous terms as if to provide stage direction to actors. (The grammar also needs some major work but that doesn’t work for the comparison I’m trying to use).
This piece is no different. It combines some strange, forced imagery (“The needle of the speedometer traced across the gauge, an equation made physical”) with a lot of unnecessary information that the reader could fill in for themselves using their own mental map. You spend so much time on “a clear night, stars spread wide across the night sky in every direction” and the specifics of Sarah’s uniform that you lose any opportunity to develop these characters or the plot beyond basic sketches. In flash fiction, where your word count is limited, you need to think about what is necessary and what is not.
There’s not even space in this story to have the guy call the tow truck so Sarah just ends up appearing out of the mist like some kind of apparition.
In the end, this piece doesn’t end up being more than a guy whose car breaks down and sees a shooting star. It doesn’t capture a “brief and important” interaction. I don’t have any sense that either of these characters have changed in meaningful ways at the end. It’s just some weird guy looking at the stars. That might be acceptable in some other week but it doesn’t work here.
Bad Seafood -- Insiders
As expected, this is a strong piece of writing. The prose is simple and indiscrete. The dialogue of the two characters is masterfully handled. I enjoy the tension that pervades this piece. Both characters know that their counterpart is probably not who he says but are unwilling to make the first move that might expose them. I don’t get the sense that the relationship formed has quite as strong an impact as some of the other entries this week, but it reads well and makes for an entertaining read.
The piece does remind me a little too much of The Hateful Eight, with no one being who they claim to be and someone ending up handcuffed to a corpse. I can’t say whether this is intentional, but I will say that this story ended up going almost exactly as I expected. I wasn’t surprised (not that that is alway a bad thing) but I was hoping you might do something new and exciting here. It’s well written but not a stand-out piece like some of your previous entries.
QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2018 around 03:27
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 03:15|
Crits for the week. Come find me on IRC if you want to talk shop.
Run & Gun - About a third of the way into this and I barely understand anything about who these people are, what they’re doing, and why I should care about them. Moving along further and this is just kind of a conversation with some rumblings of something more important going on in the background. This is the kind of story that’s gonna need a good payoff at the end.
Overall - This was fine. A story that’s meant to evoke some feeling of goodness is usually a welcome entry to Thunderdome in my mind, as they’re few and far between and this does a middling job of it. I want the picture of the scene to be clearer. As it is, you leave a lot to the reader’s imagination and I’d rather you show me a bit more. I get the whole angle that you’re going for with how these people can support each other, but I didn’t see much of anything coming towards Mike’s direction. Additionally, if Mike’s been doing this job for any amount of time, like 6 months or more, this is hitting him WAY harder than it should. I’ve worked as, and with many first responders, after a while it’s just kinda how it goes.
Verdict - Hard No Mention
Run & Gun - Dig the hook, tells us quite a bit, and fun. Alrighty, so we got Han Solo floating around in space. Decent voice so far, hope it stays consistent. Reading is going along at a nice clip. Not much to say at about the halfway mark.
Overall - I dug this. It’s a neat take on the prompt and I can see the character’s shift happen in a relatively short amount of time. You were pretty economical in your pacing and the story itself takes place over a short span of time, which served you well. I appreciated what you showed about the other entity and what you withheld. Good choices all the way through.
Verdict - HM choice, with a chance at a win, pending the strength of the week.
Ashwat’s Soul Sisters
Alright, fresh meat!
Run & Gun - Alright, right up at the top you have some really hinky sentences/phrases. I’m not gonna quote everything I read, but I’m already getting the sense that I’ll be taking some issue with your prose. Start with this: “She defensively grabbed the first thing in her grasp, the long stick she’d been using to stir the fire.” Read that out loud and you should quickly find some problems. There’s passivity, unnecessary adverbs, words that seem redundant and sound too similar to one another… so yeah, problems.
Ooooo what’s what Anna REALLY out here for? I don’t like learning about ulterior motives this late in the game. Why couldn’t whatever Anna was REALLY trying to do be interrupted in the beginning, thereby creating some tension?
Oh dear, so we’re at the point now where two people are veering harshly into TMI land. They barely know each other and I think you want us to believe that despite that, they’re joining together because they’ve both experienced trauma. It’s a biiiiig loving ask and your not earning it through the dialogue. They’re even having revelations on the backs of what seems like a 2 minute conversation. This is reading incredibly reductively.
Overall - I have a lot of problems with this piece. I do appreciate what you’re going for but your approach to this issue reads as disingenuous and glib. The pacing is problematic as well in that we don’t know that Anna is up to anything until well into the story and at the point we’re just playing the world’s easiest game of connect the dots. There’s a way to restructure this story and show some reverence for the issue at hand. I’m not quite sure what that is, but this felt like it needed to hang out a bit longer in the workshop phase.
Verdict - Definitely a DM, with a shot at the loss pending the week’s results.
P.S go check out Thranguy’s story for a good example of how to get a character to change in a short period of time.
dmboogie’s Twilight of the Dreaming Witch
Run & Gun - Love the hook, gets things moving and tells us stuff. Solid. Susurrus… huh, nice word. Learned something new today.
After she goes through the portal things start to get a little unclear, and not in a good way. I’m having a hard time following the action. If the two ships passing in the night are parts of herself, I am in.
OK, I’m still having a hard time following a lot of this action, not entirely sure what’s going on, where we are/when etc.
Overall - Liked parts of this, and had a good central idea and handling of the prompt. But, and this may just be my lovely reading comprehension, it was difficult, at times, to tell what was going on. A workable entry with enough in it to keep it from the chopping block.
Verdit - Hard No Mention
Thranguy’s On the Menu
Run & Gun - I’m a few hundred in and I’m kinda waiting for the story to get going. Digging the prose, though. About halfway through and I like this Viclan guy. Also liking how the action is helping provide a backdrop for the conversation but not commanding the attention of the reader.
Overall - Ok, so unlike Ashwat’s story, where one character comes to a revelation seemingly out of nowhere, this one is earned it a bit more through good dialogue and strong characetrization. There’s a strong sense of wisdome and experience coming off of Viclan and that helps move things along. Pretty good story.
Verdict - Could see it HM’ing probably not winning.
Guiness13’s Memories of Alice Preston
Run & Gun - Not very artfully started, but incredibly clear and lets us know what this story is going to be right at the top. I appreciate that and will happily trade away some grace for efficiency and clarity in an opening.
OK, so continuing on, the dialogue is believable up until the affair thing, which I suppose was intended to be jarring, but it’s jarring in the wrong way since we don’t really know these characters yet.
Still good dialogue as I move through the piece, guessing this is just gonna kind be it.
Nice and Sweet finish.
Overall - A sweet entry, and handled delicately and believably. I dug this and don’t have much to throw at you by of criticism. The story is a little small in scope to my taste but some stories should be like that and you definitely accomplished what you set out to do.
Verdict - HM potential for win.
Jon Joe’s Simplicity, Remade
Run & Gun - Not digging the opening so much as I don’t really care about these descriptiors. I also really don’t like the kind of narration that is as straight shooting as “Of course…” according to whom? Who is narrating and how do they know what to infer about your characters?
As I’m reading this your narrator is doing so much telling. And I’m not sure what their opinion has to do with your story. Also, technically, this is kind of a mess “Who presented to him was a woman in her thirties, though with a few streaks of gray in her hair, the badge of hard work that easily became a competition between classmates. Dr. Kallim dyed his.” Just clunk city up in here. There’s typos and other things peppered throughout this and so far your story isn’t strong enough to redeem them.
So wait, she has a story to tell him and we see his reaction to it, but we don’t know the story? Do you want me to just hate all of these people or at least not care about them?
Uch, another unearned revelation. Nah son, this didn’t work.
Overall - I think the image you have of this dude is like… fuckin… I don’t know, who could play James Bond, but like a therapist? Let’s go with Bryan Cranston, I can see that. Ending on a punchline like that feels so aggressively unearned. I don’t know why I should like either of this people, we’ve got a buffoon and someone who gets essentially no characterization, that we learn very little about. This just doesn’t work.
Verdict - Hard DM, shot at the loss
spectres of autism’s The Garden
Run & Gun - Oh boy, we got leylines and poo poo. Yeah, I’m chugging through your into and though it has a nice texture to it, I’ll be damned if I can tell you much of what’s going on.
Yeah, on the third beat now, you’ve kinda lost me. Your prose is saving you and earning you a bit of good grace, though.
Overall - Hard for me to throw much in the way of feedback at you. The piece just reads like pretty words to me, but nothing that comes together to form much in the way of a coherent narrative. I’ve had a hard time reading your work in the past, and this was no exception.
Verdict - DM at first, but upon conferring with another judge, and they also don’t understand this and I just don’t have piss poor reading comprehension, I’m for this losing.
Antivehicular’s In the Wires
Run & Gun - I like the handling of the two characters from the outset. The naming is cute and gives us a lot of information, right up front. Not sure what’s going on, of course, but that seems by design, and it’s a decent choice because you got me interested and curious, not frustrated.
Hm, moving along and still not entirely sure what to make of this. You’re being coy with your information, but still delivering enough to get me more interested in the goings-on of the story.
By the time you introduce the central conflict, you’ve got me on board. I want this work. I care about your characters. And, hey, it’s on a cool as gently caress backdrop that feels totally fresh. Don’t gently caress this up!
Overall - You didn’t gently caress it up! I have a small quibble with the ending, in that, I don’t generally like it when a story has two potentially obvious outcomes (usually fail or succeed) and that’s what we end up getting. I would’ve appreciated some sort of gray in the victory. I won’t go and suggest anything particular, you’re clever enough to come up with something. Also, as a personal note, I know you’ve worried a bit in the past about lack of plot… nah, feel good about this one. You nailed it.
Verdict - HM Candidate/longshot for the win, but I could be convinced
Lead out in cuffs’s Duality
Run & Gun - I see you’ve got a small wordcount, cool. Your opening, however could use some fleshing out. It’s a lot of telling and not showing. Trudging up a mountain is a pain in the rear end, but this doesn’t feel like a big deal. Raise the stakes right away, make him loving freezings with sweat droplets turning solid on his nose, or some poo poo like that, people like that poo poo.
This is some waxy-rear end-poo poo you.
Overall - I’m confused by this. What does one thing have to do with another? It almost feels that, even though the story is short, you kind of wanted to end before even bothering to tell your second beat. I’m not sure what the point of it is. You accomplish the prompt, somewhat anyway, in your first beat and then just some… extra stuff happens? What did you want your read to feel or take away from this piece? It just kinda reads extended musing.
Verdict - Most likely a no mention. If other judges feel strongly about it DMing I wouldn’t fight them on that.
Bacon Terrorist’s ‘Close Encounter’
Run & Gun - What’s with the inverted commas in the title? Hoping that accomplishes something. If not, don’t do that.
Dude. What even is this first sentence? Read it out loud. You’ve lost any chance at me giving this a favorable read now and you’ll have to do a ton of work to get me back on your side.
Whole lotta comma splices and just odd-to-read sentences. Tense problems galore. Everything about this is a technical mess. Got some it’s/its problems too. And hey, lots of passive voice.
You gotta get right with Strunk and White.
This is not the way to break up dialogue, don’t bury your conversations in the middle of paragraphs, this is utterly impossible to parse.
You’re ending sentences in prepositions.
As a rule, use the name of your character once per paragraph, we know it’s Carl.
Alright, I’m gonna set aside all of the technical poo poo now and just try and make heads or tails of your story, see you in the overall.
Overall - This isn’t a story. Nothing happens in it. Dude’s truck breaks down, person comes to fix it, they see a shooting star, the guy has renewed interest somehow? I don’t get it, and I don’t understand what you’re shooting for. Bottom line, this doesn’t accomplish much and was a real chore to parse and get through. If you want, I’m up for providing a line-by-line crit of the problems I mentioned. Let me know if you’re interested.
Bad Seafood’s Insiders
Run & Gun - Boom! Off to the fuckin’ races with this opener. Lot of information quickly, and I’m all in.
Don’t think we need the ‘like a dog’ thing, I kinda got their on my own.
Reading this quickly, always a good sign when I forget to do the run & guns.
The ‘do believes’ ‘obliged’,‘sirs’ and etc are kinda reading disingenuously and make this feel more like a parody than I want it to.
“The body remained stationary in protest.” I love this.
Heh OK, fun enough ending.
Overall - A quick story that accomplishes what it sets out to and addressed the prompt well. I dug the pacing and the economy of the information you offer. This was effective, if not a bit light, but I still enjoyed it.
Verdict - I’d be fine with it HMing, but probably not go to the mat for it.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 03:15|
Thanks for the crits, both of you! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 03:40|
fast crits, good crits
thanks for crits
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 03:59|
Thank you for the crits.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 04:00|
Thanks for the crits!
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 04:09|
Fast crits and in-depth crits. Thanks, judges!
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 04:38|
(Also, thx for crits. But mostly PROMpT!)
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 04:42|
Thanks for the crits!
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 04:46|
Thanks for the crits!
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 06:28|
Week CCCXVI: Measure Twice, Cut Once
This week's prompt centers around the proverb measure twice, cut once. That means three things:
How do your characters prepare? What does this say about them? What do they learn from the outcome? These are all questions that I will probably come back and edit once I'm not rushing out the door to work. Want to flip it around and show the consequences of "measure once, cut twice" or "cut once, measure twice"? Go for it.
The usual rules apply: no quote tags, erotica, fanfic, Google Docs, etc. As always, volunteer judges are welcome.
Word Count: 1,200 words
If you want you can request a flash rule, given by whichever judge gets round to it first.
Sign-Up Deadline: 23:59 EST, 24 August 2018
Submission Deadline: 23:59 EST, 26 August 2018
- Bad Seafood
- Ashwat (Flash Rule: Your story must take place during a torrential thunderstorm.)
- Invisible Clergy
- Thranguy (Flash Rule: Two of your characters must absolutely despise one another.)
- Bacon Terrorist (Flash Rule: Whatever your character is trying to do means everything to them but nothing to anyone else.)
- Spectres of Autism
- Lippincott (Flash Rule: Your story must feature a race against the clock.)
- AllNewJonasSalk (Flash Rule: Your story must have multiple characters, none of whom know each other.)
- Yoruichi (Flash Rule: Your story must take place at dawn.)
- Sebmojo (Flash Rule: Your story must take place during a roadtrip.)
- Flesnolk (Flash Rule: Your main protagonist is motivated mainly by fear.)
Staggy fucked around with this message at Aug 25, 2018 around 08:49
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 07:08|
Woohoo, thanks for the crits! That gives me a lot to chew on about my writing.
Edit: I'm in for the next round as well. Are we allowed to ask for flash rules each week or is that something the judges decide on beforehand if they're going to do or not?
Ashwat fucked around with this message at Aug 21, 2018 around 12:35
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 10:50|
get the crit
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 14:01|
I will be doing flash rules, I was just in a rush to get the prompt up this morning. I'll flesh things out this evening.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 14:22|
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 14:26|
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 16:22|
In and flash
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 17:06|
In and I definitely need a flash.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 17:23|
Woohoo, thanks for the crits! That gives me a lot to chew on about my writing.
I read this as an implied request for a flash rule but let me know if that's not the case. Otherwise, your flash rule is Your story must take place during a torrential thunderstorm.
In and flash
Two of your characters must absolutely despise one another.
In and I definitely need a flash.
Whatever your character is trying to do means everything to them but nothing to anyone else.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 17:58|
I read this as an implied request for a flash rule but let me know if that's not the case. Otherwise, your flash rule is Your story must take place during a torrential thunderstorm.
I wasn't asking specifically for this prompt but I'll take it anyway! Thanks.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 18:30|
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 22:33|
In with a request for a flash rule, please.
|# ? Aug 21, 2018 23:48|
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 21:43|
Hello! I've been here before. Last time I signed up I failed to submit. It was shameful and I stayed up late at night for two days thinking about my failure but life is hard and sometimes poo poo happens and then ends with you in a jail cell, eating breakfast at four in the morning while your heroin addled celly shits his brains out.
All of that was to say that I want IN with a toxx and a sexy flash rule.
|# ? Aug 22, 2018 01:13|