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Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Grimey Drawer

Rewriting Collapse Sonata: https://thunderdome.cc/?story=5748&...Collapse+Sonata

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BabyRyoga
May 21, 2001

THUNDERDOME LOSER

6th Anniversary Edition


Ok, i'll go in with a random assignment please!

Lead out in cuffs
Sep 18, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In, with this story: https://thunderdome.cc/?story=5840&title=The+Premier

(The random button tried to give me some BadSeaFood nothing-happens story about characters from a 1995 LucasArts game I've never played. The second choice was much better! There will be blood!)

Dr. Kloctopussy
Apr 22, 2003


IN

Please find me a story and story me a found object

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today? This moi!



In , please randomize the hell out of me.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


apophenium posted:

In, for past failures. And I'd love a story suggestion and a found item flash. Cheers!

Your random story is The Cowboy's Sparkles, by Yoruichi!

Your found object is "Doesn't Like My Butt!"

Ottermotive Insanity posted:

in, with a random assignment please.

Your random story is This is a Story About Anxiety, by Killer-of-Lawyers!

BabyRyoga posted:

Ok, i'll go in with a random assignment please!

Your random story is A Minute's Silence, by theblunderbuss!

Dr. Kloctopussy posted:

IN

Please find me a story and story me a found object

Your random story is Give Him the Finger, by Screaming Idiot!

Your found object is "Heartfelt Sympathy"!

Fleta Mcgurn posted:

In , please randomize the hell out of me.

Your random story is A Part of Her, by Uranium Phoenix!

Your found object is "Beware of Gremlins"!

Mr. Sunshine
May 15, 2008

Can anybody find me somebody to love rape and torture?


Fun Shoe

thank's for the feedback, cant and sol.

I'm in. Give me something random.

Also, I don't think I get the Found Object flash rule - is the object supposed to feature in the story, or is the object supposed to influence/alter the story? Can I get an example?

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today? This moi!




I don't have Thunderdome archives account thingy; can anyone send me this guy?

Armack
Jan 27, 2006

Corde pulsum tangite


Fleta Mcgurn posted:

I don't have Thunderdome archives account thingy; can anyone send me this guy?

Just go to https://thunderdome.cc/ and create a login.

Entenzahn
Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why didn't you invest in
Thunderdome?


in
random story and object

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Administrative Stuff!

1. If you're planning to use a scavenged failure flash, please post it in this thread before signups close. I'd like to get everything organized by the end of the signups.

2.

Fleta Mcgurn posted:

I don't have Thunderdome archives account thingy; can anyone send me this guy?

I was going to link you to this in the thread, but it looks like this one was edited out. Fleta, if you can't get archives access or otherwise get your story before signups close, please let me know and I'll assign you something that can be read on the forums.

Anyone else who doesn't have an archive account: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET ME KNOW IF YOU CAN'T ACCESS YOUR STORY SO I CAN GET YOU A REPLACEMENT LINK AND/OR STORY

Anyway, back to signups:

Mr. Sunshine posted:

thank's for the feedback, cant and sol.

I'm in. Give me something random.

Also, I don't think I get the Found Object flash rule - is the object supposed to feature in the story, or is the object supposed to influence/alter the story? Can I get an example?

Your random story is Sisters of Sarah Jane, by The News at 5!

As for your flash rule question: generally, for flash rules in the forms of pictures/songs/videos/other abstract stuff, the intent is that you use that thing as inspiration for your story. (There are other kinds of flash rules that are just concrete rules to follow, but I'm not using those.) If I can see some influence of it, you're fine.

Entenzahn posted:

in
random story and object


Your random story is Facetime, by sebmojo!

Your found object is "Summer Camp Epidemic!"

Solitair
Feb 18, 2014


My story will be "Plain White Brain" by Chili.

I also asked for a found object and never got one.

Solitair fucked around with this message at Sep 21, 2018 around 05:26

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

If you want archive access go to the page that gets you archive access

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today? This moi!



I have the story, but thank you!

M. Propagandalf
Aug 9, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Well poo poo, I wish I had found out about the archives earlier, if only to see how long I cowered for as a coward (roughly five years).

In with One Last Play by Killer-of-Lawyers.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


Blood Empress of Thunderdome

Tap to emit spores


Clapping Larry

Prompts:

Keep Digging, by Noah!

"Mohawk Windmill!"



Narcissus
1230 words

The day Four August squeezed of Marcus’s forehead, Marcus had an exciting date with an undemanding woman. The day Six August wriggled his way into the world, Marcus nearly got into a terrible car crash, but avoided it at the last minute thanks to his reflexes and skill at the wheel.

The day Five August emerged, nothing particularly exciting had happened. He was smaller and meeker than the other doplets, standing at just five and a half inches tall instead of the usual seven. While the others exchanged boasts about the events of their namedays, Five August wandered listlessly around the garage—one of the only rooms in the house not seething with doplets.

Even the garage is getting crowded these days, Five observed from his favorite viewpoint on top of the tool cabinet. More and more doplets were forgoing the busy kitchen life for the more pastoral environs of the garage. Soon this place would just like the rest of the house: saturated with small, naked Marcuses with an endless appetite for one upmanship.

At least Five had it easy in that regard; he had nothing to boast about, which gave him a lot of free time to travel the house and explore the various cultures of the different rooms.

It was because of this surplus of free time that Five noticed Marcus hadn’t been seen in quite a while. Every single evening for the last fifteen years, Marcus had gone to the bedroom vanity, admired his reflection, and then squeezed a doplet out of his forehead. He would cradle the new doplet in his hands, hold it up to his ear so that it could coo to him about all the admirable and incomparable things he’d done that day. There was always a great commotion around the house at squeezing time, since most doplets were eager and anxious to find out whether their new brother was bigger or more impressive than them.

There had been no such commotion for ages. Marcus was known to occasionally journey to the world outside for days at a time, but he always made a point of announcing these journeys to the doplets.

Five supposed something was wrong, and that he ought to look into it.

He departed the garage with his trusty fishing hook and a length of fishing line; the house was a world of many vertical surfaces, most of them inaccessible without climbing gear.

The hallway was, as always, a river of activity, with doplets flowing from room to room. There were no above-ground shortcuts for Five to take; he had to inch his way along with everyone else in the crush of tiny, muscular bodies.

Someone nudged him in the ribs. “Hey. Name’s Thirty-One December. Not the lame 2016 version from when Marcus got dumped. I’m 2012 vintage, my dude.” He paused as though waiting for a response, but Five only shoved his way through the crowd with that much more vigour. He had to get out of the hallway. Had to get above all this.

“Hey man,” Thirty-One said, “you could at least pretend to give a poo poo. What happened to Marcus on your day, huh? Did he bone two chicks in the back of a limousine? Because that was the boringest part of my day.”

Thankfully, several nearby doplets took issue with Thirty-One’s boasting, and Five was able to slip away as they converged on each other.

He exited the hallway at the kitchen. It was worse than he’d ever seen it, hardly better than the chaos of the hallway. The refrigerator’s stainless steel double doors were flung wide open. Doplets in the crisper drawer were getting drunk on the fermented juice of rotting fruit and the room was ripe with an almost anal sweetness. Five swallowed the bile in this throat; these doplets were mostly from Marcus’s days at Yale and boasted of hazing he’d survived and the throatfuckings he’d administered.

The living room was little better than the kitchen, except that the sickly, rotten smell was thinner there. Five made his way quickly to the only place he could hope to find sanity.

The sacred entryway was mostly empty, the cold wooden floor thinly populated by aimless doplets from Marcus’s depression years.

“Marcus took four Ambien and chased it with a handle of Vodka the day I was squeezed,” one of them told Five when he passed too close. “He had to get his stomach pumped. Eighteen January’s the name.”

Five ignored him and strode toward his destination: the small table where Marcus set his keys each day upon returning home. He tied the fishing line to his hook and, with all his strength, hurled it upward toward the top of the table. The hook caught the lip of the table and Five tested the line, found it secure enough to climb.

On top of the table, beside the great keys to the outside, sat a circle of wizened doplets from Marcus’s Buddhist phase. They didn’t boast when Five approached, merely looked at him with an air of pity and condescension.

“Hey, you guys sit by the keys,” Five began, “have you seen Marcus lately? I’m—” He paused, grasping for the word to describe the sensation of urgent concern. “—worried about him.”

“You’re, like, too attached to outcomes, man,” said one of the Buddhist doplets. “You should practice mindfulness. Live in the moment.”

Five said a few choice words to the Buddhists and rapelled back down to the wooden floor.

His instincts lead him to the bedroom, which required another hellish journey through the seething hallway.

The stinking masses of kitchen doplets did not prepare him for the orgy of decay that confronted him in the bedroom. Doplets were heaped in piles, some of them moaning, many of them still and grey.

The biggest pile of decrepit doplets sat in front of the vanity, the place of their squeezing. They burrowed in between each other, clawing their way ever downward as is trying to reach the center of some dead planet.

Five stood, dumbfounded, before the mountain of tiny bodies, fish hook hanging loose in his hand. His tiny gut told him what was at the core of the mountain, but his mind couldn’t reconcile it without proof. He approached the base of the heap of doplets and began to tunnel inward.

The press of writhing bodies eventually gave way to stillness, then a soft, gelatinous medium through which Five slithered like a blind eel. There was no air here, only the press of the mountain above and the taste-stink of liquified flesh. Clusters of small bones impeded his progress, but Five was small and wriggled past the occlusions with ease.

Finally, he encountered a much larger bone, wedged against the sodden carpet like a fallen log. He felt along its hard length until he found the thing he’d dreaded finding from the moment he’d crawled into the heap of bodies: a massive clock, strapped to the bone by a gold-linked band.

Marcus was dead, pressed into anonymous jelly by the weight of his own doplets. The knowledge of this fact rippled outward from Five’s mind, touching every doplet in the house with the incontrovertible truth: their maker was gone. The boasts of Marcus's life were rendered moot.

As death rippled outward into the fetid house, Five thought: Now I have become significant.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Solitair posted:

My story will be "Plain White Brain" by Chili.

I also asked for a found object and never got one.

Your found object is "Loverboy Gallows!"

Signups are closed. Self-submitted flash rules will get a day's amnesty to be submitted because it's my birthday and I'm feeling generous. Invisible Clergy, please get back to me with a story pick or a request for a random.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017

Time for tea and Thunderdome

Imma judge y'all real good

NotGordian
Sep 19, 2018


Thunderdome 320: Rewrites

Prompts: Where the Pine Trees Grow by GlassLotus https://forums.somethingawful.com/s...0&pagenumber=66
"Dear Sarah" http://foundmagazine.com/find/dear-sarah/

The Wind in the Pines
1250 words

Stephen pulled the car close to the edge of the bluff; dark trees surrounded us and city lights glimmered below us. A mountain breeze blew whispered in the treetops. It carried a thick scent: pine and earth and something wild. I loved it.

“I got you something,” he said. He reached into the backseat of the Charger and grabbed something wrapped in tissue paper. He leaned over and gave it to me, using the motion as an excuse to put his arm around me. I let him, and tore it open, revealing a Megadeth album. He must have mistaken my silence for speechless gratitude.

“I wanted to let you know that I don't have any hard feelings about you not being able to take that joke earlier. I know you get stressed sometimes, so I got you this. Maybe we could listen together?” He gave me a grin that told me everything he had on his mind.

I took his arm off my shoulder and tossed him the CD.

“Stephen, I hate Megadeth. They're awful.”

“Well drat, Zoe, how am I supposed to know that?”

“Because I told you! Twice! All you heard was the name and the opportunity to buy yourself an album.”

“Seriously? More of this? Why can't you appreciate anything?”

I wanted to smell more of the wild air. The car felt too tight around me. I climbed out and shut the door.

I only had a moment's peace before his incredulity gave way to indignation.

“What? What the gently caress Zoe? I took my dad's car tonight! When he finds out he's going to beat my rear end.” I turned around and leaned on the passenger door, looking at him through the open window. The metal was cool beneath my palms.

“Stephen, can't you understand that joke really hurt me? It made me feel horrible and now you're acting like it's all my fault.” I stood and looked away, not letting him see my red face.

“It is your fault.” His tone had a cruel edge that told me what he was going to do a moment before he did it. “If you can't appreciate what I do for you, then I guess you don't need me around.” The roar of the engine came; seconds later I was watching the taillights disappear down the dirt road. I screamed in frustration and saw an owl's luminous yellow eyes emerge in response. It paused for the space of three breaths before gliding into the night, silent as death.

I was alone underneath the full moon. I kicked at rocks and abandoned beer cans, burning off frustrated energy until my head cleared. I was determined to find a ride out.

Barely half a mile down the hard-packed road my feet began hurting. It was almost a mile more before the obvious occurred to me: the loam next to the road looked so soft that I wouldn't have to wear shoes. I took the Converse off and spread my toes in the thick soil. The soil was cold, aching in a way that I didn't mind. The mountain wind returned to ruffle the hem of my dress; it was chillier and still heavy with the wild scent.

I continued for another twenty minutes or so until I came across a small path. It looked easy to walk along in the moonlight, and I took it happily. It snarled along the roadside for a while, but soon it diverged. The path went uphill, and if I wanted to continue home, I would have had to get back onto the hard dirt, but I was loath to step off the path. The mountain wind shook the treetops far overhead, dusting my shoulders with pine needles, and the correct choice was apparent. Into the woods.

I walked until I heard faint music that grew louder and firelight that grew greater. I headed toward it, hoping to find midnight party-goers that might drive me home.

I didn't hesitate before stepping into the clearing. The music stopped and I looked around at the dancers and the musicians. They were frightful creatures, cast half in shadow and firelight, with bulging limbs and distorted faces. A boy with the head of a pike played the guitar; his bulging eyes and glistening, sharp teeth held my gaze. Even so, others were of an unearthly, iridescent beauty that would have shamed any museum.

Perched on a high boulder above the others sat a tall, red-haired woman in a dress of red and orange patches. The patterns in her dress shifted constantly. She seemed a wildfire. Powerful. Dangerous. Ever-changing.

“The mortal has arrived. The coronation will end,” she said, with a voice that echoed on each word. “Tell us of your problems. I am Queen Zirin.” I shuffled my feet and stepped before her.

“Queen Zirin, It's my boyfriend. He abandoned me tonight. More than that he doesn't understand me. I think I still care about him, but I don't know what to do anymore.”

“Ah, a matter of the heart. One can never go wrong with a classic.” She patted the boulder next to her, indicating to sit next to her. It seemed so eerily natural, I could do nothing but scramble up and take a seat. I sat facing the party, my legs hanging over the edge.

Queen Zirin spoke to the crowd beneath us, saying, “As is tradition, the coronation of a new queen will end with the fey advising a mortal. You all have heard her lament. Who will counsel?” Her eyes flashed on the last echoing word, filled with meaning unknown to me.

The crowd murmured and finally one of the faeries stepped forward. He seemed like an old man, even though he stooped underneath a heavy turtleshell. I could not tell if his whiskered features were kindly or grotesque. He spoke at length about forgiveness and redemption, about working together to find common ground between distraught lovers. Queen Zirin listened to the beginning of his speech, but by the end she stared at the dim stars above.

Once she remembered she was holding court, she said “Who else?” A faerie in the form of a handsome man stepped forward. He wore only deerhide trousers and the waning firelight shone on brown owl's feathers twined into his dark hair.

“Listen mortal, hearts pump blood. If he breaks your heart, you should spill his blood.” Queen Zirin grinned at the immediacy of the argument and turned to me.

“Choose, choose which plan to take.” I hesitated. Neither seemed appropriate and I explained this with a stammer. Queen Zirin laid a finger against my lips, before grasping my hand. In a flash, it became apparent who I had to pick.

Truth is obvious and beauty is truth. I pointed to the man wearing deerhide and the crowd cheered. The old man was knocked to the ground, and several faeries seized his turtleshell, hauling him into the darkness against his screams of protest.

Queen Zirin leaned over to kiss me on the forehead. It burned where her lips touched me.

“Now you have the wisdom of the fey. Go and do with it what you will.”

*

I found myself at Stephen's door. The predawn light and my bare, muddy feet told a story, but I could not remember it. I felt my knife's edge against my leg and it reminded me of a sliver of that story. It is rude to receive a gift and not give one in return.

Mr. Sunshine
May 15, 2008

Can anybody find me somebody to love rape and torture?


Fun Shoe

The Sisters of Sarah Jane (1077 words)
Prompt: Sisters of Sarah Jane, by The News at 5!

An old, decrepit farmhouse under a silent, pale-blue sky. The peeling paint was once white, the cracked roof tiles once clean and whole. Once, this house was cherished and cared for. Once, its inhabitants dreamed and hoped.

There’s shouts from inside, angry and desperate. A young girl runs out the front door, across the dusty yard and into the cornfields on the other side. She runs fast on bare feet, rustling corn stalks as she passes. She can’t be in the house now. Her name is Sarah Jane, and she has to be somewhere else.

When Sarah needs to be somewhere else, she goes into the corn field. There’s a small clearing where the corn doesn’t grow. A large boulder under the dirt, mommy explained once, so the corn can’t grow roots. The ground in the clearing is covered with old corn husks and leaves. Sarah stops in the clearing, and looks around. She purses her mouth, and peers intently at the corn.
“You, you, you” she says, pointing at different ears of corn, stabbing with her finger in childish determination. She plucks the selected ears from their stalks, gathering them in the fold of her skirt, and sits down on the ground. She peels the corn, setting aside the silk and the husks, and discarding the cobs.

Slowly and carefully, she goes about her work. Husks are folded and rolled up, the resulting oblong figures tied off with corn silk strands about two thirds up to separate a head from a body. Shreds of husk are threaded through the body to make arms and legs. Three little figures take form, one big, one small, and one in-between. The largest doll gets long flowing hair - corn silk tied to its head. That one is Molly. Molly had dark brown hair, so Sarah has used the darkest silk for her hair. Molly was almost a grownup. She knew how to do all sorts of things – cook, clean, tend to the chickens. Molly was always daddy’s favorite. Sarah puts Molly down on the ground, straightening her corn husk legs so she sits up properly.

Next is Jo-Anne. Jo-Anne was blonde, like Sarah, and had her hair in pigtails. Braiding the corn silk into pigtails is tricky, but Sarah has made Jo-Anne’s hair many, many times now. Jo-Anne was only a year older than Sarah, and they used to play together all the time before Jo-Anne went away. Sarah puts Jo-Anne next to Molly.

Last is little Emily. She never had time to grow any hair, so she doesn’t get any. Sarah sits little Emily in front of Molly and Jo-Anne, so that her big sisters can prop her up.

This is what Sarah does when she can’t be in the house. When daddy is angry, or when he doesn’t want Sarah to bother him, like now. Daddy is in Sally’s room. He brought his big jug with him, and he’s been there all day. When Sarah asked if Sally could play with her, daddy shouted at her to go away. So she went into the cornfield, to be with her other sisters.

“Hello Molly! Hello Jo-Anne!” she says. “Hello little Emily!” She wiggles Molly and Jo-Anne. They’re saying hello back. Emily can’t speak yet. Sarah talks to the dolls, telling them about all the things that had happened since yesterday. It wasn’t what had really happened, of course, but it was what should have happened. She talks about the games she and Jo-Anne played, how Molly had made them pancakes and lemonade for lunch, how little Emily was cranky because her first teeth were coming in. How daddy had worked long and hard in the fields, and when he came home mommy had been there and cooked dinner for the entire family.

Sarah sprinkles some dry dirt in front of Molly. Now it is wheat flour.
“Let’s bake a cake!” she says. Molly used to bake all the time. Sometimes, Sarah had been allowed to help - kneading, mixing, rolling. Nowadays, they never bake at home. Sarah and Sally don’t know how, and daddy…well, daddy just doesn’t. Sometimes he goes into town and buys bread from the baker’s shop. Mostly they eat cornmeal mush. Sarah wiggles the Molly-doll while kneading the small pile of dirt. Molly is baking, and Sarah is helping.

Sarah knows that her sisters are gone. Sometimes, when daddy is angry and screams at her to stop pretending, she tries to explain. She’s not dumb. She’s not a baby. She knows. But sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere where they don’t have to be gone, where they can play and bake and argue and do all those things sisters should be doing. Where they can be a family, with a mommy who is there and a daddy who is happy.

Where there was never any influenza.

A big, strange word. It came with the soldiers, coming back from war. It makes people cough and cough and then they die. Mommy got influenza first.

Sarah sits with her sisters as the sun sets. They bake the cake, and then they eat it. Afterwards, Sarah and Jo-Anne play in the pantry even though they’re not allowed to go there. Then Molly reads them a story out of the big book on mommy’s bookshelf. There’s an anguished scream, far away, from the farmhouse. Daddy, in Sally's room. It scares Emily. She starts to cry, and Sarah sings for her to comfort her.

Eventually, there is the rustle of cornstalks and the sound of heavy, slow steps. Sarah keeps singing for Emily, quietly and intently. A large figure emerges from the corn. Sarah deliberately looks away, singing with a quivering voice. Soon, she runs out of words.

Daddy stands at the edge of the clearing, dark and terrible in the twilight. He is pale and unshaven, his clothes dirty. From one hand hangs the large stoneware jug. His eyes are large and wet, filled with a wordless despair.

Sarah refuses to meet his eyes. Every moment he keeps silent is one more moment she can have what should be instead of what is.

Daddy takes a long drink from his jug, and then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He takes a shaking breath.
“Tomorrow you’ll have to make four dolls,” he says at long last. Then he turns and walks back to the house, leaving Sarah alone with her sisters.

Invisible Clergy
Sep 25, 2015

"Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces"

Malachi 2:3


I'm having trouble deciding, so I think a random story sounds like a good idea, thanks. Throw me a random found object as well, and I'll see if I can find a good flash rule tonight

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Invisible Clergy posted:

I'm having trouble deciding, so I think a random story sounds like a good idea, thanks. Throw me a random found object as well, and I'll see if I can find a good flash rule tonight

Ask and ye shall receive:

Story: Historia de un fracaso, by Paladinus (on SA over here if you don't have archive access yet)

Found object: "Saturday Morning"

Invisible Clergy
Sep 25, 2015

"Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces"

Malachi 2:3


Very helpful, thank you.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Crits for Week 312, Family Motto

General thoughts on the week: IC and I varied pretty widely on our judgments this week. I was more interested in the stories that had clear and effective emotional throughlines, which I thought most of the week had some troubles with. Oh, well.

Uranium Phoenix, "Only the Coward Runs"

This is a pretty ambitious piece, but I think it ultimately fails because the emotional arc ends up very muddled. The big issue in this regard, I think, is that we're not given any explanation of why Yejide's father actually did what he did, and it means that the impact of the ending falls kind of flat. Yejide forgives her father more or less just because her grandmother said to, not because of any sort of understanding of his actions, or any cue to her or the reader that his actions were justified. (It doesn't help that Dad is such a non-character, so the emotional axis of the story revolves around people's feelings about the actions of someone who has no personality and is barely even on camera.) This would be an okay angle to go with if there was any acknowledgment of it in the story -- Yejide struggling at all with the change of heart and how to trust her grandmother about it -- but that doesn't come across if it's intended.

Like I said, this is an ambitious piece and I respect that, but I feel like less action may have also helped. Thunderdome-length stories rarely benefit from a lot of elaborate action-scene blocking, and these fight scenes feel kind of try, as well as introducing some logically questionable choices that I believe IC covers in his crit. Stylizing the action would have given you more room to address the emotional arc, and I think the story would have been stronger for it.

Staggy, "Family comes first"

On my first reading of this story for initial judging, I kind of bounced off of it. Reading it again for crit purposes, I can see why this was a worthy HM candidate, but I'm still not sure I really have strong feelings about it. The scenario is fairy-tale simplistic -- or maybe monster-movie simplistic, since the wolves' behavior doesn't make a lick of sense for animals just trying to survive, and the treatment of the dad is extremely "bumbling/arrogant character in a horror movie who deserves to die for his stupidity/hubris," even though it seems like his approach to life was sensible and pragmatic? Not his fault the Western Jason Voorhees Wolf migrated back into the woods after decades away.

Anyway. This story reads well on a technical level but is a little busy; I feel like some of the Grandpa material could be tightened. (The "they're just trying to live" bit, in particular, since... boy, it's not true of how these wolves are acting.) I wonder if doing it as a single present-time sequence, rather than a ton of flashbacks, could heighten the emotional impact. As it is, I still feel sort of removed from this.

Thranguy, "Foundation"

This was my least favorite story of the week. Some of that is probably personal bias against its core trope, admittedly; I could go without ever reading another "Evil Slutty Woman is murdered by square-jawed man for honor/to absolve himself of sins committed with her" story again. Even beyond that, though, a story like this lives or dies on its psychology, and this one is really psychologically shallow. Stacy is cartoonish -- she's a cheater and a druggie and a blackmailer and a goddamn puppy-killer, and for all that real people can hold all these traits, she never feels even slightly like a real person. Everett says that her death ruined his life, but after the punch, he reacts more like Cal borrowed his car and brought it back dinged than that Cal murdered his wife/girlfriend and unborn child. I suppose the ending is supposed to be Cal admitting selfishness and culpability, but it doesn't work when the story is bending over backwards to try and justify Stacy's murder. She's cartoonishly evil! Her drug abuse would have made her baby be super hosed-up (and thus a worthless drain on the family?), and she probably would have just killed it, anyway! Everett has a new, better partner! THANK GOD THIS WOMAN WAS MURDERED AND BURIED IN A SHALLOW CONCRETE GRAVE, AMIRITE?!

I didn't like this story!

(Final note: I am going to assume that the Evil Slutty Woman being named "Stacy," a.k.a. incel slang for "worthless slut woman who has sex and likes it, the whore," and the briefly-alluded-to better partner being named "Mary" is coincidence. Boy, I hope it's coincidence.)

apophenium, "Filicide, Parricide"

While I disliked "Foundation" much more, this was my early loss pick, because the mechanics are rough and the overall effect is sort of confused. The interactions between Fern and the witch are kind of sweet, and I feel like there could be a core of a good story there, but I feel like the story does a poor job at really conveying its plot. Fern seems to initially assess the witch as a con artist, so why does he accept her judgment so readily? (Cutting away from that scene before we see Fern's reaction is a real problem.) Does he already know or suspect that his father did it and is just looking for external validation? It doesn't help that we don't know a thing about how Fern and his father got along, so it's hard to tell whether he's legitimately attempting to clear his father's name, not really trying at all, or something in between. I assume this is supposed to be something of a mystery, but I think this is the sort of thing where you need to be more explicit about what's going on with the characters and their situation.

Tyrannosaurus, "it's not cool to be scared"

This was one of my favorites of the week, probably because it really focused on and explored the emotional core of the story, with character and familial relationships that felt realistic. Topical stuff is always tricky in TD, and I generally lean against using it, but in this case I think it's well-chosen: a single intense incident that brings out feelings felt but not acknowledged, followed by a nearly ashamed return to the facade, but with some kind of understanding gained.

I also want to give a shout-out to the use of the non-character here, which I think a lot of this week had trouble with. The protagonist's dad is, obviously, not around, but it's clear what kind of person he is and what his effect is on the protagonist in his absence nonetheless. The protagonist's moment of resentment that his father will survive is, to me, the strongest part of this, and a really deft way to establish a emotional dynamic in very few words.

Yoruichi, "I was Born with Water in my Veins"

This was not any kind of negative-mention pick for me, and I don't think it deserved the loss, but I think I can see why the story may have been ineffective for some readers. The lyrical prose and sort of abstracted nature of the story means that we're experiencing the events at a remove, which reduces their impact. I think it'd help if we had more concrete incidents to illustrate the interesting dynamic at play. We have a protagonist who wants to reconnect with distant family after losing her mother, her aunts only viewing her as a replacement for her mother and dispenser of dutiful labor, and her grandmother in dimished circumstances who might be able to see her a little more clearly as a person. I think a concrete example of each (something like, say, her arriving at the house and her aunts instantly beginning on explaining Grandma's care regimen, just assuming she knows everybody and her way around, and then maybe Grandma actually asking her questions about her own life and her mother's) would have helped this story a lot.

sebmojo, "Paper and Ink"

This is a good example, in my opinion, of how small concrete scenes can strengthen complex family narratives. We're not really spending much time getting to know Daniel and Clara's family situation, which is clearly quite complicated, but what we do see is enough for the story to clearly convey why Clara feels as she does and why Daniel's opinion about his father changes so readily, once it becomes clear that Dad's selfish on more levels than Daniel knew or was willing to admit before. The bookending (no pun intended) metaphor deepens the meaning here -- it's not that Daniel's feelings are necessarily new, but mostly that new evidence has finally moved him from swallowing his feelings to acting on them. A very nice, tight, compact little story.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


My Internet barfed and crits for Week 312 accidentally double-posted. Sorry!

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at Sep 24, 2018 around 03:16

Entenzahn
Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why didn't you invest in
Thunderdome?


Hunger
1182 words
Facetime, by sebmojo
"Summer Camp Epidemic"

Tysen pushed against the thick front doors of the mansion – they were unlocked, and light, or at least way lighter than they looked, which was good, since it had been a long time since his last meal and he was hungry, and frail. The interior was a dimly lit dump, isolated sun rays reflecting off cobwebs and dust specks swirling through the air. The smell of food was stronger in here, that prickle on his tongue, that little hint of flesh and iron in the air, like steak. There was a large set of stairs on the other end, and in front of them, a silhouette.

“What is a man?” the silhouette blared.

Tysen shambled closer, until he could almost see who he was dealing with, but the figure didn’t move an inch. He reached out a hand, tipped it on the forehead and had to catch it from falling over. It was a cardboard cutout of an old man dressed in a red sweater and beige pants. His gesture implied being lost in deep thought.

“I am Dr. Stutton,” the speaker on the cutout said. “You can find me deeper inside.”

“I’m hungry,” Tysen said. There was no answer, but he was going to look anyway. Maybe the doctor could share some food.

Going up the stairs and deeper into the mansion felt like walking into the maw of a giant beast. Silence bore down on him from all sides, the only sound his own excited breath. There was trash everywhere, always covered in thick layers of dust, and sometimes, blood. It was the kind of junk where it was hard to tell what its purpose had been back before it had turned into, essentially, decor for a spooky mansion. The place reeked of rot. But somewhere, off in the distance, also that smell of food that had brought him here to begin with.

“So hungry,” Tysen said.

“A man is a solver of problems,” Dr. Stutton answered. Another cutout, this time smiling triumphantly at him from behind a door frame. “However, man is also a creator of problems. We invent electricity and poison the planet with coal. We invent the television and dull our own minds with sitcoms. We invent penicillin and end up breeding stronger viruses through natural selection.”

The doctor’s droning gave Tysen a drat headache. No, not just that – the stench was particularly bad here. Behind the cutout, there was food, but it had been littered across the floor, left to rot. A fight had taken place in this room, pools of dried blood dotting the cracked walls and coloring the floorboards.

“Yet, somehow, we have always stayed just one step ahead of making it a zero sum game. Until now.”

The deeper he moved into the mansion, the more he felt like he knew where he was going. He just followed the smell of food. It had been so long, and his feet were heavy, but he forced himself forward, legs all but breaking under the impact of having to shuffle his own body forward, until finally, he arrived at a set of stairs that led down to a solid looking steel door. Cardboard cutouts had been set up on every other step, all with varying expressions of anger, boredom, tiredness, laughter and more or less the entire spectrum of human emotions.

The food was down there. It all but wafted in his face.

“Man is also the only creature aware of its own, inevitable death,” the first cutout began, others starting to speak up as Tysen moved further down, one shaky knee after the other.

“This, too, was a problem we tried to solve.”

“This, too, created a new problem.”

“You are hungry, are you not?”

“So. See for yourself,” the final cutout said.

Tysen had reached the end of the stairs. The smell of food was overpowering. Quaking from hunger, he reached for the handle.

It clicked open.

The room was cool, clean, well-lit, like a walk-in fridge. A soft hum finally broke the silence. The food was there, a delicious piece of red meat hanging from a hook that had been attached to the ceiling like a gift from above. Tysen almost fell over himself in an attempt to reach it. He was racing nobody in particular except for his own impatience.

Hungry as he was, he didn’t bother looking for a stove. He just dug in and tore off a piece of flesh, fibers elongating until they finally tore and found their new home in-between his jaws. Only now, happily chewing, did he realize where the hum was coming from: a setup of fans was blowing air out of various ducts, food attached in front of them as if somebody was trying to make the whole mansion smell of flesh and blood.

There was a crackle.

“Well,” Dr. Stutton’s voice blared from the speaker, “this is a shame, but you are a zombie.”

Before Tysen could really parse that statement, the food was yanked from his hands, retracting back up to the ceiling on its chain. He was too flabbergasted to protest. The door clicked a bunch of times.

“Take a good look at the food, if you’re not too far gone.”

And there it was: dangling on the ceiling, his food, a single human hand, partly gnawed off. Part of him felt like he should have been disgusted. But he wasn’t. It just reminded him of how hungry he was. He sucked on one of the bits of flesh that had gotten stuck between his teeth.

“It happens to the best of us,” the doctor said. “Hell, by now even I might be down there. It sucks, really. But this is was humanity does. We’ve made our beds, now we lie in them.”

There was a small part of Tysen that still felt something else than hunger, and that part of him was starting to realize what he was hearing. But it was nothing more than a passenger in the backseat, and the driver was ravenous, and he was looking straight at the drive-through. For all the emotions that tried to bubble up in him, fear, and shame, and confusion, and mostly fear again, the lust for flesh overruled them all.

Somewhere on the far end of the room there was the clatter of a large metal object coming down a chute, followed by the pling of a small object.

“Here’s a gift for you. If you aren’t completely braindead, I suggest using it. I understand it’s a lot to ask, but it’s probably your cleanest way out of this mess. I recommend you be dead by the time they come pick you up.”

Tysen didn’t check the chute. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the food. It dangled up there, almost as if it tried to hypnotize him.

“This too makes a man, you know. We can always chose to go out our way. Whatever you do, I see you on the other side.”

The speakers went silent, but Tysen barely even noticed anymore.

He was so hungry.

Ottermotive Insanity
Dec 30, 2006



This is a Story About Anxiety, by Killer-of-Lawyers!

Recovery

1207 words


The ring of scarring from hundreds of previous infusions guided the nurse's needle into Abigail's arm. “This is going to be a long session, so I need you to focus on keeping yourself together,” Doctor Chang said in his always serious tone. Abigail nodded. “If you find yourself in a bad place think about what's real, like we've been working on.” He held her hand while the saline drip started, and Abigail’s fingers and toes numbed.


“Good luck, dear. There are a lot of people counting on you,” the nurse said, packing her equipment. The doctor, breaking his even demeanor, glared at the nurse. Abigail sighed at the added pressure. When the nurse left Abigail saw the two uniformed gentlemen through the door. She never knew if they were the same men every time, but there had always been two since the first session.


“I’m going to administer the drugs, Abby. You know what to do.” the doctor pressed the plunger on the clear syringe. Abigail muttered her incantation; repeating it again, and again as the room blurred out of focus. She said the words with force to keep her consciousness together as Walter Reed Medical Center faded into the gray haze around her. Her voice settled into a cadence. Each syllable rolled around her tongue, and her only thought was on her destination.


Abigail felt her weight shift to her feet. She was standing. Color returned to the world in simple shapes and shades. She closed her eyes for this part - the world materialized around her. Watching things suddenly appear into existence in front of her gave her nausea, and she worried she might stumble over her mantra if she became distracted. She waited for the first sound to open her eyes.


There were dozens of people at the destination. There had never been more than three in the embassy’s basement office before. Abigail kept focus on her words, though she eyed the chaos. Everyone busied under flashlight. They were blacking out papers, or cutting them up; some were trying to get a cellphone signal. Abigail thought she heard gunshots not far away. “You’re here! She’s here!” a man beside her said. He grabbed her arm, just below the injection scars. She missed a syllable. The hand was no longer holding her. Sound and color faded. Abigail screamed out the correct words, repeating them again, and again, and again. Finally she returned to existence in the embassy basement. Her voice was hoarse, and shirt soaked with sweat.


“Oh, thank God!” said a woman in uniform. “We need to get this out of Moscow. Get it home.” The woman handed Abigail a briefcase and handcuff. Abigail worked the handcuff, securing it against any circumstance on her way home. Abigail smiled through her mantra at the uniformed woman. Outside the room there was shouting, and the rap of gunfire. Abigail stopped…


Without the words she was no longer in the room. The sky above her was like a red rusted tin roof. Her lip quivered. “What's real?” she whispered to herself. She bit down onto her tongue, grimacing at the pain. The house in front of her, the house in Wisconsin where she grew up, leaned in an unreal way. The second story, her room, was suspended mid-demolition, bricks hanging in the air.


Through the front door slumped a figure like a giant rotting tomato that possessed just enough features to be considered human. “Abby! You're late. Have you been out loving boys all night?” The ugly and twisted version of her mother limped down the steps.


“It’s not real!” Abigail shouted, and ran. She heard the creature call to her in her mother's sweet voice, but the words faded with the distance. The briefcase slapped against her leg with every other step.


She passed a schoolyard of grotesque children. "Hey scabby Abby, looking for your daddy?” they all said in one voice as she passed. “I'd leave you too. Who'd want you as their stupid daughter?”


She slowed. Abigail had attended St. Andrew's School after her mother and she moved to Virginia sixteen years ago. “It wasn't my fault!” She blinked. “It's not real. You're not real!”


“Are too! Are too!” the children mocked back, cackling at her cries. Abigail moved on, slower now, losing where she needed to be. What's real?


Around her more contorted scenes of her life played out. Dear friends, now deformed, ridiculed her. Dilapidated homes taunted her cherished memories. She stopped, looked around, trying to find something that would lead her to something real.


Not far she saw the Washington Monument curled over, wilting like a daisy. She grinned. “I'm in Washington; at Walter Reed,” she reminded herself. Geography changed; a wide path opened in front of her. She willed her legs to move once again, and jogged towards the destination, the handcuff chafing her wrist.


Abigail arrived at the looming monument. She leaned her back against the cool surface, breathing deeply, closing her eyes. She whispered to herself “I'm in a treatment room, with Doctor Chang. I'm in bed, a needle sticking in my a…” A low rumbling crescendoed into an animalistic shrill. Her eyes opened to see the winged dragon land before her, shaking the earth. She let out a wimping “no.”


The last recognizable fragments of Abigail's ex-husband, Peter, were the monster’s eyes, and his voice. “You thought you'd drop by without saying hello?” One of his hands grabbed her and tossed her into the reflecting pool. The murky water softened the fall. She sputtered out the vile water, and trudged to the edge away from Peter.


Peter leapt, and landed in front of her. He grabbed her shoulder, lifted her, and threw her onto the grass, pinning her with his massive paw. He lowered his face to hers, dripping saliva onto her cheeks from his open maw. “I won't let you leave again; I won't lose you.” The alcohol on his breath burned her eyes. He tightened his grip on her chest. “I lost everything because of you. I would have changed for you! You never gave me that chance!” His scream echoing through the marble tombs now around them.


She gasped under his weight, “I didn't deserve the things you did to me. You're not real. You're dead.” Tears steamed out of her eyes. He pulled back his head, eyes wide.


“Deserve? Do you want to know what you deserve?” He raised the enormous paw from her. She curled shielding her face. The fist fell smashing the briefcase. After a breath Abigail wept. Peter sneered at her. “You're the monster here Abby. You made us how we are. You deserve death, Abby, for everything you are.” The beast looked to the destroyed case. He read the single page that has been its contents, made a roaring laugh, and jumped into the sky, flying away. “Goodbye Abby.”


Abigail lay sobbing into the grass. She grabbed the sheet of paper next to her. She choked through each cry as the colors and shapes shifted around her, forming the hospital bed, the IV, Doctor Chang. The two uniformed men came in and pulled the paper from her trembling hand. “How are you Abby?” Doctor Chang asked.


“I'm fine.”

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

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

Three Dreams, Taken

1066 words

https://thunderdome.cc/?story=5805&...The+Dream+Taker

http://foundmagazine.com/find/8-ball-and-terry/

They sit at the table, enjoying soda pop and a brief rest from their long journey to the sea. They talk, and laugh, and smile, with enthusiastic notions of their future dancing in their heads. Terry sees himself as the kind of man who drives a Ferrari, a lawyer or doctor or Wall Street shark, it doesn't matter what, so long as it comes with the money, the respect, and the dangerously fast car. Julie is happy now, warmed by Terry's affection. They're not quite that serious yet but she sees it coming, wants it bad enough to taste, the two of them, happy, in love, until the day she dies. Eight-ball is in the moment, too content to dream much more than protecting the status quo. He’s already having the best summer break ever, on the road with his sister and his new best friend.

The young wizard is there, in their heads glancing sidelong at dreams like a thief casing a jewelry store. He makes his choice, glances quickly at Justine. She nods. He grabs at the dream with spectral hands and yanks it loose. A pair of keys appear in his right hand with a light 'pop’. Out in the parking lot, the noise made by the Ferrari 308 coming into existence is louder, but also unnoticed.

It's his first go at high magic. She’s taught him other things: meditations and incantations to build power and do trivial magics, alchemical unguents, the herb-infused lotion that makes the two of them invisible to authority and anyone else they don't want to be seen by, and smelling vaguely of an Italian kitchen. And she's taught him how to use a gun. “There are killing spells, deadly wishes. All well and good, but also more trouble than they’re worth. You want someone dead, then just shoot the son of a bitch.” Even another wizard. There was no such thing as a bulletproof charm.

This was beyond any of that. A wish, stolen, turned into reality. Terry is already thinking smaller, of sensible jobs following his father's path, a quiet career of weekday commutes in a beige Volkswagen.

“You're going to have to drive that thing home,” says Justine.  “You're still thinking small, though.” She gets up and walks to their table, her mind reaching out at the same time. Eight-ball is in the middle of razzing Terry for talking about middle management when Terry spins around and stares into Justine’s eyes. He gets up and follows. Eight-ball starts to get up as well, but Julie put her hand on his.

“It was going to happen someday,” she says, barely even crying.

The young wizard follows them. “Watch,” says Justine. “See what you could have had it you weren't so concerned for the livestock.” Justine's first lesson. “We are great and powerful wizards. Lesser creatures exist to serve our needs.”

Terry is both of their types: fit, masculine, young but not dangerously so. He loves Justine with the purity of Julie’s stolen dreams. The senior wizard undresses, and works charms to turn love to unslakable lust. The young wizard watches. He knows the price of disobedience. It goes on for more than an hour. At the end, Terry's face seizes up, half-paralyzed. He falls back, ejaculating blood in arterial spurts, and hits the floor, dead.

Justine sees the look on the young wizard's face. “You didn't think I was going to keep him, did you?” She cleans her body and quickly dresses herself, then starts walking back downstairs to the restaurant. The young wizard follows.

Eight-ball and Julie are waiting by their car in the parking lot. “Ah, right,” says Justine. “The wish was until her death. I don't want to bring home a ghost either.” She pulls her pistol out of her purse.

Eight-ball has a pure dream now, solid enough for the young wizard to touch. He wants, needs to be between his sister and the gun, to take the bullet for her. The young wizard touches it, could take it with a spectral gesture, but his will isn't strong enough in that instant. The gun fires. The bullet strikes. Julie dies quick.

Justine steps into shadow, leaving the young wizard behind. To drive the car back to their sanctum, he recalls. He isn't in a hurry. He sticks around, sees what happens.

The police arrive. They eventually arrest Eight-ball, from the combination of confusion, frustration, and the matter of race in America. The young wizard follows, the prisoners and guards all aware of nothing but a vague odor of oregano.

Eight-ball doesn't wish for anything useful, anything the young wizard could take and use to help him. He doesn't wish for a good lawyer or a sympathetic or even competent policeman to notice how translucently thin the case against him is. He wishes for vengeance, again and again, solid as an anvil, bright as a wildfire.

The young wizard recoils, every time. He doesn't know if it would work, how it might work. He knows Justine is much more powerful, that to try and fail would be his own horrible end. But he thinks it might work anyhow, than a wish is a wish, that the only thing that might matter is sincerity and that Eight-ball’s is as sincere as a wish can be. He is still repelled. He has not killed. He will not kill. He leaves the wish where it is, and waits.

On the third day, on Sunday morning the young wizard can feel a new wish. A wish to escape, to go somewhere nobody can ever find him. The young wizard mutters an apology as he steals it from Eight-ball's mind. It comes to him in the form of a ring. He plans to wear it forever, or at least until he gets reliable word of Justine’s death. For years, for decades, he’s sure. He knows it's more than he deserves, that the only right thing to do is to go to some hospital and find someone wishing they were dying instead of their child. He tells himself he’ll do more good, in the long run, but knows deep down it's only cowardice and fear of death that's stopping him.

He climbs into the Ferrari and drives. He leaves the radio off and listens only to the purr of an engine made of a dead man’s stolen dreams.

Pham Nuwen
Oct 30, 2010



Prompt: You, Me, and the Body by Jonked (https://thunderdome.cc/?story=4687&...2C+and+the+Body)

Haunts
1247 words

"What a prick," I said, looking down at the man standing over my body. He wiped his blade on my jacket, sheathed it, and started poking through the contents of my cart. Unconsciously, I floated a little higher to look over his shoulder as he fiddled with a lock.

"Yes, Julian is a real rear end in a top hat," said a voice behind me. I jumped, spun around. A dozen specters hung in the air, some watching me, some watching Julian, a few apparently absorbed in their own worlds.

The speaker, an old man in priest robes, fingered absently at the ragged slash across his throat. "I'd never have used such crude language when I was alive," he said, "but you see, I've had a bit of a crisis of faith after my death--this is hardly the eternal reward I'd always believed in."

I hardly heard him. I glared at Julian's oblivious back, encased in armor, as he rummaged through a small chest full of rare and expensive spices. I took a swing at the back of his helmetless head, but my fist just went straight through and I almost fell (as much as you can fall down while floating in the air). I noticed as I did this that I seemed to be significantly smaller in death than in life; my specter was only half Julian's height.

"That won't work, believe me," a young specter said. He was well-muscled and wore ghostly armor and a sword, both a match for Julian's. "He's not really a knight, you know. He stuck a knife in my ribs while I slept and stole my things."

Done rifling through my trade goods, Julian mounted his horse and set off down the road. I found myself gliding helplessly through the air behind him, along with everyone else.

"So we're stuck following him everywhere, and he doesn't even know we're here?" I asked.

The priest nodded.

"Hell with that!" I shouted. "He killed me! He robbed my cart! There must be something we can do to him. I remember this story from my village about a man who killed his wife, and she'd appear at his bedside every night wailing, until finally he--"

The priest cut me off. "The passions of the flesh will fade, my son. We all tried in our own way after we died; I tried to lecture him on the error of his ways, Alyssa the innkeep's daughter"--here he indicated a pretty young woman--"wailed like in your story, and brave Thomas hammered at his neck with that sword."

"And?" I asked.

"And nothing," Thomas said bitterly. "I gave up after a few days. What's the point?"

Alyssa nodded. "Friar Belpit says maybe we'll be free when Julian dies. So we just wait, now."

I wasn't going to wait. I seized on her words: if Julian dies, we'll be free. Thomas' direct approach wasn't the only way. Before Julian killed me, I was the most successful trader in 3 kingdoms, and I didn't get that way offering the lowest prices. By getting a courier drunk at the right time, I drove one trader to bankruptcy. Another competitor was found in possession of treasonous literature, a great surprise I'm sure. The point being, a small nudge can accomplish large results.

I set to it. Where the others tended to hang back, talking quietly amongst themselves or absently watching the surroundings, I stayed close to Julian. I focused on simple things: I spent a day flicking at his earlobe, trying to cause the faintest sensation or annoyance. I plucked at loose threads on his clothes, trying to get them to fray. I imagined myself a spirit of small domestic annoyances.

Friar Belpit counseled me against it. "Let it go," he said, "and accept your new life--er, afterlife--with composure. This obsession is unseemly; the rest accepted it within a few days, but you've been at it for weeks."

I mumbled a few noncommittal words while I continued to poke my incorporeal fingers into Julian's eyeballs. I could swear he was blinking more often than he used to.

Julian truly was a bad egg, a proper rake. Another old man and a woman joined us in the next few months as he robbed his way through the countryside. His knight act was improving; it seemed he almost believed he was a knight, although of course in private his actions were far from honorable.

At last, dragging along his host of ghosts, Julian came to a remote duchy plagued by a dragon. The duke begged Julian, the only knight they'd seen in years, to do as knights do and slay the dragon.

To our surprise, Julian agreed. Perhaps he had finally convinced himself that he was too much a knight to turn tail. Of course, in his fashion, he began plotting a stealthy approach to the dragon's lair, intending to slip and and assassinate it mid-day as it slept.

Even the most resigned and distant of my fellow spirits expressed some mild enthusiasm at the idea that Julian might be killed by the dragon. As for myself, I redoubled my efforts. I screamed in Julian's ear, tried to pull his hair, bit him, punched at his delicates. He certainly did seem a bit twitchier than before.

The day of the assault on the dragon's lair, I refrained entirely from bothering Julian. I simply stayed close and waited as he crept through the blasted forest and up toward the cave entrance, moving behind boulders and tree stumps quietly.

He drew his sword as he came near the entrance. As he crossed the threshold into the shadows inside, I made my move. I leapt, bit his ear over and over as hard as I could as I jammed my fingers into his eyes.

Maybe he had been lulled by my relative inactivity that day. Perhaps his nerves made him especially receptive to my interference. In any case, he jumped, raising his hand to swat at his ear while his eyes watered and ran. His foot came clattering down on a pile of scorched cattle bones.

The dragon stirred inside, then we heard it coming in a rush. Julian turned to run as the other specters shouted congratulations to me, speculated that they should soon be free.

Julian almost reached the treeline. His screams at the dragon's fire were rather satisfying. Blissfully, I felt everything begin to fade and flow away until--

I was looking down at Julian again. Misty, incorporeal, he was staring in shock as the dragon ate his body. Around him were the spirits of hundreds of men, women, and children, victims of the dragon.

I had shrunk again. Judging by my surroundings, I was no more than a foot high. Looking around, I saw Friar Belpit, Thomas, Alyssa, and the others. I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came out. I could see them moving their mouths too, but heard nothing.

The dragon turned and began to walk back to its lair. Julian and the other victims of the dragon were pulled along behind it, and after a second so were we, like a wagon train.

With no other ideas, I moved close to Julian's ear. Being mute was a problem, but maybe with time--first I'd figure out how to talk to him, then we'd try and get the dragon killed, and maybe then I'd finally be free.

I began trying to talk. After a while, I could almost imagine I heard myself.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I won a rosette in the Thunderdome


Crits for Week 317, Power Trippin'

Overall thoughts: this was a mixed-bag week. Some good stuff, some bad stuff, some interesting elements that failed to gel... that's Thunderdome, I suppose. Still, it was nice to see a good turnout and good effort across the board.

Erainor, "The Computer Scam"

You've already gotten some decent consideration of this piece in light of your revision, so I won't linger on this long. The major issue that struck me here is that there's a lot of front-loaded exposition about power in the world, which is just our modern world, and then exposition about how the protagonist is a completely uninteresting person. None of this is going to be new or engaging information to any reader, and especially when writing short fiction of this length, you shouldn't be spending time and words on it. It's important to think about what your reader will bring into reading something you write and not belabor points they'll already understaid.

Erainor, "The one who was first"

This is a better effort than your first one, and while it's still really not a good story, I did smile a few times. We still don't need anything about Bobby being unremarkable, but you're slowing down a bit more to explore his situation, even if what actually happens doesn't make a lot of sense and isn't very sympathetic. (Screwing with price labels is kind of a cruddy thing to do even if gives you a break from your job.) Nothing that happens is really very plausible; Bobby's stuck in a rut, he starts doing this dumb little act of resistance to make himself happy, and then... everything is great and he achieves his dreams? I don't think there's anything wrong with the concept of "tiny adjustment to routine has sweeping effects on someone's life," but this doesn't make a ton of sense and isn't sold well. Please keep writing and working, though! Flow of narrative largely takes practice, and I can see you're making an effort here.

Chairchucker, "I Want Candy"

Eh. This is in a weird kind of place where it's about a whimsical child kidnapping (hard sell), and while you're clearly trying to keep it light by making it clear the kid is never in any danger, it also makes the story not have any weight or impact. This could be a lot better if the twist was built up gradually, to make it more clear that the kid is the one with power here and the kidnappers are screwed; there's a clear intent here to do that, with Abigail showing up in increasingly unlikely circumstances, but I would have liked to see this more built upon and maybe given some actual dread. As stands, this is an okay goof, and that's about it.

Fleta McGurn, "Give It to Your Brother"

I really like the power dynamics here, the twists and switches and uncertainty of who's really the "inheritor," but elements of the scenario are a little confusing. It doesn't feel 100% plausible that the revelations about Xavier/Alex's parentage would cause that much of a life-destroying scandal, even with the media involved. My sneaking suspicion here is that the life destruction is more about Alex himself not being able to deal with it, lashing out and growing more and more cruel and bitter, than about any external forces, and that the ending shows two people who have been twisted into monsters by contact with the same original one. If that's intended, this is actually quite a good story and probably deserved to do better than it did... but there's a lot of interpretive work needed here, which unfortunately Thunderdome judging may be too quick to provide.

Staggy, "Fast Talk"

This is decent enough office-politics parody, but I feel like it stumbles when Simon is called upon to bullshit. Not only is this sort of "office buzzwords are empty" joke pretty old and tired at this point, I feel like it undermines the premise that Simon is deriving power from not caring about the situation; suddenly, no, he has to perform, and it's hard to see him as really triumphing. This would be a better story, IMHO, if the climax was just Simon pouring himself a glass of water and breaking the standoff, knowing that there aren't repercussions for him.

Pham Nuwen, "At the White Horse"

I enjoyed the kind of quiet bittersweetness of this piece a lot, although I may be biased; my mom's family comes from this sort of small town, not far from St. Cloud, although they're of the German Catholic Minnesotan strain and not the Scandinavian Luteran. Anyway. Like I said, there's something very sweet about this small, sad story, although at times some of it seems thin. Sal himself is more of a cipher than I might have liked; I don't need a full backstory about why a New Yorker is tending bar in a small-town Minnesota tavern, but it'd be nice if we had at least some more emotional depth from him, or clearer reasons he's so sanguine. That aside, this is a nice little story that hits what it intends.

apophenium, "Last Rites"

I feel dumb writing this again since I just posted a very similar crit on your Week 312 story, but this story is just way, way too opaque, especially for something that's an explicit mystery. The first scene is fine, if a tad standard for the "driven detective interrogates tight-lipped criminal" sort of thing, but at no point is the reader given enough evidence to connect the dots as to what's going on. Clearly there's something going on with a faked(?) death and assumed identity, but... to what end? It doesn't help that the characters are acting like they know what's going on and, apparently, not letting the reader in on it. You really need to be telling a little more, even if it's through character thoughts to let the reader in on what they're thinking.

ThirdEmperor, "Built on Sands"

I like this on the whole, but it feels more like an outline or basic draft than a fully fleshed-out piece. There's a really good central idea here, and the specific details we get are pretty nice, but I would have liked to know more about this community, especially since you're only sitting at about half the word count for the week. Of course, on a reread, I have to yield that the vagueness may be the point -- that the protagonist thinking harder about their childhood might bring them to reject it, so the facade is preserved and not much else -- but I wouldn't have minded at least a stab at more stuff here.

Thranguy, "Savage Skies of Venus"

A fair number of stories this week had a sketchy relationship with the prompt, but this one was the sketchiest of them all. This is just a pulp action story, where the protagonist's status as the captain's mistress is almost an afterthought, and there's really no sense of any kind of power exchange relationship here.

Overall, this just feels kind of... empty? Like I said, it's just dumb pulp action, but it's not really particularly interesting or fun to justify it. It feels like a stylistic exercise, and it may be reasonable as that, but I don't get a ton more out of it. The ending also feels insanely rushed/kludged together, what with the "our eyes exchanged a fairly complex dialogue exchange the author didn't write out" bit and "of course, I didn't die, because I'm a first-person narrator!" as an ending. This may have needed more time to bake, and it definitely needed more soul.

sebmojo, "Before Sunrise"

If the last story had a very tangential relationship to the prompt, this one I feel like addresses it seriously, if from an unconventional direction. The power here is less interpersonal and more absolute, although it pretty clearly has interpersonal effects; we don't learn that much about Alistair, but one gets the impression he's barely clinging to being anything but his power, and judging by the conflicts with his future selves, he may not hold onto that. The concept that even his future selves don't really believe his approach to power is correct really does work, both as a literal fantasy element and as a metaphor for the way we blame our past selves for our present problems. It's just a good story all around.

AllNewJonasSalk, "He's the President"

This is a single joke belabored for way too long, and it isn't even a good joke in the first place. This kind of gory slapstick isn't really to my taste at the best of times, and here it's not just in poor taste, it's repetitive. I really have a hard time figuring out what this story was even going for beyond its one dumb note, although I can see ways it could have worked, if the premise was at all explored; "the whole world is pretending the dead president is still alive, using his brain in a vase, and the narrator is trying desperately to do 'physical therapy' and maintain this absurd facade while struggling with the fact that it's an absurd facade" comes to mind, or, alternately, a version of this where the presidential brain is still alive and able to communicate/interact in some way, but isn't exactly a tractable physical therapy client (angry about being disembodied? resentful of being kept alive? just completely morose? cooperative but, y'know, not able to do much). As stands, though, the only interpretation I like is curlingiron's "hobo with a jar of pickles" take on this story.

Solitair, "We Can Work It Out"

Awkward, awkward, awkward. This is obviously intended to be a complicated and messy social situation, but even the story seems to get a little lost in the action and who's really at fault. On one hand, Gene seems like kind of a douchebag (and also kind of demanding, if he has a friend coming over to take care of him during the flu and still sees himself as the black sheep of the group); on the other, it seems sort of weird that the story lays the disintegration of his friend group at his feet, as if the screwing around wouldn't have done it anyway. This just feels muddled and sort of unpleasant to read.

Invisible Clergy, "Freefall"

I liked this story reasonably well, although I'm not sure the plot holds together. If Ben's already taken a plea deal and thrown Graham to the wolves, why is he doing this elaborate plane-crash stunt to fake his death? (I guess because getting off scot-free in exile is still better than even plea-bargain prison, but still, why go to the bother to elaborately murder Graham if Graham is already arranged to take the fall?) It also feels like a little bit of a cop-out to end it on just the statement of Graham's shot; it's easy enough to assume that he's shooting at Ben (nobody commits suicide via harpoon gun), but finish off the thought.

BabyRyoga, "Full Measures, or 'All Four Inches'"

Oh, man. Oh man. You know, I can really see what you're going for here -- our hapless protagonist applying the principle of "beat them to the punch" in a way that's so crazy that it kind of wins him respect back -- but I'm just not sure stories about penile trauma (of multiple forms) are ever going to work in Thunderdome. Somehow, though, the bigger issue is having untranslated Japanese dialogue. If the point is that Charlie doesn't understand the dialogue, it would be better to just gloss it with "they spoke to each other in Japanese" or something like that, instead of trying to get authenticity points. This is on top of a DQ for word count... this is just a mess, but it's a crazy, high-effort mess. You may want to modulate expectations a bit and create something a bit less crazy next time.

Fumblemouse, "Powerless"

I was pretty much the odd woman out on the judging panel not liking this story, and I'll freely yield that it's well-crafted, with good character voice (at least initially). That said, it's just... on top of the taste question of writing a story that's just "guy uses math to hack reality to make a woman fall in love with him, and it all works out totally okay with no problems," it's a pretty weak plot progression. Charles's plan just works, and even when he tells Linda, she doesn't mind -- or, really, have any feelings whatsoever, because she's a prize he's successfully won, end of story. I'm not asking for a Twilight Zone ending here, but some level of conflict or ambiguity or something would help this read less like a prelude to mind-control smut.

M. Propagandalf, "Supplicant"

Here's another story that doesn't really have a satisfying arc. Simplified down to its essence, this story is "rear end in a top hat wizard has an indentured servant, indentured servant asks for freedom, rear end in a top hat wizard embarrasses and denies him, servant leaves, no status quo change." It's not interesting and not satisfying, especially in the light of what's been set up here. The boy's established as a unique magical talent who clearly already has a knack for indirect social manipulation, thanks to his powers; it feels very weird that that doesn't pay off at all, with some kind of revelation that he's been subverting Khaziek's control from the shadows, or something of that sort. It's a plot hook without any kind of payoff. This also isn't helped by being from Khaziek's perspective, because he really doesn't change at all or think or do anything interesting. Even if you wanted to do this status-quo-retention plot, doing it from the boy's perspective -- maybe having him initially grateful to be saved, hopeful that he may have earned his master's respect, and gradually building self-confidence that's then brutally dashed -- could give us a decent emotional arc. As stands, though, this feels like wasted potential.

Tyrannosaurus
Apr 12, 2006

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

Hell's Other People, by ThirdEmperor!
"11th Birthday Party Agenda!"


When You’re Here, You’re Family: a Waffle House Story
1219 words

Waffle House is better than church. You remember that movie about that girl who hosed a fish-man? Shaping the Water or something? Well, I saw a fish-man the other night-- looked just like the one in that movie except he's wearing people clothes instead of being naked-- and he walks into a Waffle House, aight, and nobody bats a loving eye. Like it’s just a totally normal 2 am Tuesday night sort of thing. How wild is that?

Can you imagine that happening at First Baptist or United Methodist or some poo poo? What about with them Catholics, man? Nah. They’d be weird about it. Olive Garden, too. Earlier that very same night I myself got kicked out of an Olive Garden ‘cause I fell asleep in the booth ‘cause I was drunk. And I’m a human.

gently caress Olive Garden.

Anyway, so the door opens, aight, and Duane looks up from the grill and he says just normal as can be, “Take any seat you want, man.” Duane’s the night shift cook. Love that dude. He’s this real big guy, big belly, always got a cigarette tucked in behind one ear and he doesn’t always wear gloves while he’s cooking which I know is a “healthcode violation” but when I’m hosed up late at night I kinda loving like that about him, aight? It’s like a... Native American thing, you know what I mean? Makes him more in touch with the grill.

Anyway.

So this fish-man-- Roy is his name, by the way, I learn that later on-- so Roy sits down and he grabs a menu and he blubbers... something... I can’t understand what. I can’t understand his words because when he speaks, all this water spills out his mouth and onto the table. Duane see this, of course, and comes by with extra napkins. Lays them down real subtle on the edge. Total professional.

Roy looks over at me. Gives me a lil’ wassup headbob. I give him one back. He orders by pointing at the menu. Gets his food. Everybody eats. Everything’s chill. I mean, honestly, in my opinion, Roy’s not even the strangest person there. I’m seated not two seats down from Hunter Heffner-- who does meth-- and who tried to rob the place not three months back. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine returning to the Waffle House you unsuccessfully tried to rob with your aunt’s pink purse pistol and just sitting down and ordering food like nothing happened? That’s way more peculiar than a fish-man.

A church would be weird about that kind of thing. But good ol’ Duane’s on the grill just serving up scattered, smothered forgiveness. Total professional, man.

So, at this point, things are pretty normal, I’m thinking about closing my eyes and taking a quick nap, but I see Roy checking himself out in the reflection of the window. His eyes widen. His jaw drops. He touches his pointy gills with his scaley, green fingers.

And then he turns into a loving human being!

I sit up and I’m like, “What the gently caress?

And Hunter sits up and he’s like, “What the poo poo?

And Duane takes the cigarette out from behind his ear and he lights it up right there in the restaurant.

Roy starts crying, man. I realize he’s drunk. I recognize it. I smell it. And he starts apologizing. He starts going on and on about how he’s had a real rough day. About how he went out for a swim in the river to clear his mind and he forgot to transform back into a person before he came in here. About how he’s gonna to get married to this great human girl soon but she’s got a little daughter and he don’t know what to do about that. He says, “I don’t know how to be a father, guys. I want to be a good one. I don’t want to gently caress it up. But I don’t know what to do! I never knew my own father!”

Hunter asks, “Is it- is it ‘cause you’re a fish-man? I know salmon lay eggs and then die.”

Roy shakes his head. He says, “No, my parents just got divorced when I was little and I stayed with my mom.”

So I got questions, aight. Like… Does Roy have sex? Does he have a penis? Does he always have a penis or is it just when he’s a human? What happens to it when he goes back to being a fish-man? Does it fall off? Does it get sucked up into his body? What does it look like? Is it green or is it normal? I don’t ask any of that, though. I’m not a doctor.

I say, “Hey. Hey, man. We’re all just doing our best out here, aight? Nobody really knows how to be a father. Everybody just kinda wings it and hopes for the best.”

Roy puts his head in his hands. Duane ashes his cigarette in a plastic cup next to the grill. “Love,” Duane says. “You just gotta make sure the kid knows that she’s loved. That’s all you can do.”

Roy’s words are muffled. He says, “I don't want to gently caress this up. How do I make sure I'm there for her? I don't know what that looks like. I never knew my dad!”

“I know my dad pretty good,” Hunter says. “And, uh, and I do a lot of meth now. But my brother’s a lawyer! So, you know, there’s probably a lot less in your control than you think there is!”

“Love,” Duane repeats. “Just make sure that little girl knows she’s loved. And be ready to listen to her. She’ll tell you what she needs. She’ll come to you when she’s ready.”

Roy wipes his eyes. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded sheet of paper. “She- she gave me this,” he says. “It’s a birthday party wishlist. Her birthday is soon.”

“That’s a great!” I say. “That’s trust right there. It means she trusts you.”

He sniffs. “It’s scary. It’s scary being a father.”

“It is,” Duane says with a nod. “But so is life.”

We’re all quiet for a moment.

Roy leans back in his seat and exhales. He wipes his eyes again with the back of his hand. “Sorry,” he says. “Just… Sorry.” We all shrug. You know, typical 2 am Tuesday night at the WaHo. No big deal. “I, uh, I appreciate you all being so… so normal,” he continues. “Especially given my…” He gestures at himself.

I say, “Hey, man. This is Waffle House, aight? This ain’t Judgement House.”

He half-smiles and nods and then he stands up and pulls out his wallet. He throws a couple big bills on the table. “Thanks,” he says softly. “I’m glad I came here tonight. I needed this. Everything’s on me, guys.”

I raise my cup of coffee in appreciation. And then... he leaves. And, uh, yeah, so, anyway, I guess my general point to all this is that Waffle House should loving sue Olive Garden. Because it don’t matter if you’re drunk or high or even a shapeshifting fish-man. When you’re here, you’re family. That’s Waffle House, man. That’s the drat truth.

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Grimey Drawer

Rewrite Week
Rewriting Solitair's Collapse Sonata

Conspicuous Consumption
1,000 Words

My house has been eating me for the past two weeks. There was something amusing about it, at first. The floorboards in my foyer broke off, one at a time, and formed sharp wooden jaws that snapped at me as I wandered around the halls in my robe. Ever seen a house try to bite a guy? It’s loving pathetic, easy to dodge, you know?

But, it studied me, and in its study it recognized patterns. 3 AM on a weeknight? Yeah, I’ll be sticking my head in the fridge, oblivious to the world around me. A perfect opportunity for the fucker to rip out a chunk of my thigh meat. I’m missing a bit of it now. It’s not terribly noticeable but it stings something fierce. That was the first bite.

The curtains were the second. Why the gently caress are they even still here? Sandy, my ex, bought them when she moved in but didn’t bother to take them with when she moved out last week. The curtains went all tentacle on me and wrapped me the gently caress up in their polyester horseshit. Little pinprick bites. No flesh, but the fuckers got my blood.

I’m anemic now, my drinking buddy tells me he thinks I’ve got an “iron deficiency”. Doesn’t bother me much. I get a little dizzy on the stairs. Which, now that I think about it, is a problem because the third step snatched up my pinky toe last night.

My alarm goes off and I jostle to life. I forgot to turn the thing off. Yesterday was my last day of work. Not that I had been going in all that much after I put in my two week’s notice.

It was all bullshit anyway. I’d been working there for 25 years so they wanted to do me right when it was my time to go. One of those “leave or we’ll make you”, sort of conversations. Gave them the better part of my adult life and because some computer program but a 0 next to my name instead of a 1, I’m out on my rear end. Such is life, I guess.

I shove my toothbrush into my mouth and switch it on. The vibration and the sound of the motor mask my toilet ripping itself out of the tile. It dives at me. I dodge it and it shatters my bathroom mirror into hundreds of shards of glass. I’ll have plenty of time to clean it up later.

I flop down on my sofa and click the TV on to one of my soaps. Yeah, I watch soaps, gently caress you. One of the hot ones is about to learn she’s pregnant, and suddenly I realize a crack in the couch is sucking on my hair like spaghetti. Shitfire! I pop off the couch and go and check myself out in the hallway mirror. It balded the left side of my scalp.

I throw on my old Albuquerque Isotopes ball cap. Good as new. And now… I guess I have the day? What do people do with free days? I usually get piss drunk through the weekend but I can’t just do that every day. The house’ll have my rear end.

I look up and see a wet vein swelling in my kitchen ceiling. The connecting pipe to the toilet snapped and it’s flooding. If I don’t do something quickly, I’ll be splashing around my kitchen. I dash down to the basement and turn off the water. Problem solved. Well, half the problem. Gotta go bail out the bathroom. Not in any sort of rush, I head back upstairs, grabbing a bucket along the way to remove the bilge.

Shards of glass skate around the pool of murky water in the bathroom. I look up to inspect the damage, and I don’t recognize anything about my mirror. Nothing in it looks right. Sure it's missing the majority of its fragments, and you’d be hard pressed to call it much of a mirror anymore. But it can’t be possible that what I’m looking at is a reflection.

When did I get so fat? When did I stop caring? Have I really not shaved in months? Nothing about this makes sense and I’m so lost in my thoughts that my toilet, which was hiding in the bathtub, gets the jump on me and propels itself into my back.

I hear things crack and pop that certainly shouldn’t and I howl in pain. Enough is enough. I ain’t gonna get shitcanned twice in one month. I shamble downstairs. I’m wincing in pain and have no plan in mind. But, I get to my kitchen and see my tool shed out back. Time was, I was pretty handy. Maybe I can fix this.

I suit up in the toolshed. Throwing on my belt and headlamp fills my veins with hope. I can almost feel my back springing back into life. The nerve endings calm to a low whistle. Still, no plan. No idea what’s next. But something. Something has to be done.

I kick open the back door and enter the breach. The kitchen knows what I’m up to and the oven belches an orange blaze of fire at my face. The heat is unreal and I smell of hamburger. The pain should deaden my wherewithal but somewhere, from deep inside of me I call out.

“It’s going to be OK!”

The heat intensifies.

“I said it’s going to be OK, you loving claptrap!”

Suddenly, it’s gone.

I set to work. I take down the curtains, recane some of the sofa, and hammer down some of the more menacing stairs. The house settles and calms. The sun rises and I realize I’ve been working through the night mending what’s left of my broken down hovel. Yellow light pours in through the open windows, and I lie down on the hardwood of my living room floor. I hear the rafters in the ceiling make a nightmarish cracking sound but I close my eyes and sleep the sleep of a man who took care of some poo poo.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009

I am a real boy.


The Merman Gourmand

1085 words

The Cowboy's Sparkles, by Yoruichi
"Doesn't Like My Butt!"

Lezigroth sulked behind a water bitten rock and watched the horses on the beach. He particularly focused on their muscles and legs. He longed to walk among them. And to eat them.

It was true, Lezigroth was a landophile, always had been. It’s not that being a merman was bad, he really just wanted to change up his diet. Fish and turtles and the occasional shark or octopus. Every. Day. Lezigroth craved some sweet earth meat.

Letting out a sigh from his gills, Lezigroth headed off to Mertown. He knew just the person to talk to.

---

It had taken several years of visits, but Lezigroth was finally used to his friend Nespirith’s dorm. She picked up a lot of alchemy and other esoteric jobs from the Labor Guild. Thus her dorm had all kinds of unsavory implements, as well as sea flora and fauna in various states of decay.

“Listen Lezi, I know how much you want to eat… What were they again? Hyurses?”

“Horses,” Lezigroth said, flicking a membrane over his jet black eyes. The merfolk equivalent of an eyeroll.

“Oh, what did I say? Anyways, I could help you. But you never take any shifts from the Merworkers’ Labor Guild, so no vouchers to exchange. Frankly, you have nothing to offer.”

Nespirith eyed her old friend sidelong. Lezigroth gently touched his tailfin to hers and floated closer.

“Unless…” she said.

Lezigroth passed his thin purple tongue over his teeth. He said, “I’ll let you bed me.” When Nespirith sighed and leaned forward to kiss him he jolted back. “Nuh uh uh! Not til’ after I eat a horse.”

---

Several days passed before Nespirith’s concoction was ready. Lezigroth clutched it in his webbed hand and again eyed the horses on the beach. He couldn’t choose; they all looked tasty.

Nespirith had warned him about traversing on land. It would be difficult. And anything living on land would probably view him as a disgusting and vile enemy. That had stung a bit. Lezigroth considered himself to be quite attractive.

He gulped down the potion and felt its effects immediately. His muscular tail split up the middle with ripping sound. Lezigroth let out a haunting, ululating cry, spooking the horses away from the shore. The pain blacked out every other thought until, with a sense of resignation, Lezigroth fell unconscious.

---

He awoke on the shore, head throbbing. He stood up and looked around. No horses. Oh wait, he thought, I’m standing! Lezigroth stumbled around. His legs seemed to be segmented a bit differently from the horses. But he was pleased to see his feet were not one giant chunk of bone. Rather, they were attractive and webbed and glistened like emeralds in the sand.

The thrill of walking banished all thoughts of pain. Feeling confident, Lezigroth strutted off for the horses. Not far from the beach, Lezigroth came across a fence or barricade of sorts made from logs of wood. It seemed to create an enclosure.

It was a good opportunity to try jumping. His legs bent and popped uncomfortably and he did not gain much height. He settled for climbing. The exertion got to him and he sat down once on the other side. Having legs was tiring.

During this reverie, Lezigroth heard a sort of rhythmic thumping. Clump-clump-clump-clump. Like that, but fast. He looked around. Ah, Neptune’s fortune! There was a horse in the enclosure with him!

Lezigroth’s eyes bulged out at the sight of the beast. It was larger than the beach horses by far. And it had a curious belt around its midriff. He began stalking towards it, making noises he hoped were soothing to the creature.

Once within arm’s reach, the horse reared back and neighed. Lezigroth extended his legs, raising himself up and let out a shriek, more in fear than impersonation. Without thinking, he leapt towards the beast.

For the first time since being on land, Lezigroth longed for his tail. It would have easily yoked the horse, allowing Lezigroth to chew on whichever part he felt like without fear of falling. Instead, he clumsily wrapped his legs and arms around as much of the horse as he could.

Feeling confident in his grip, Lezigroth waited until the horse paused its frantic rebellion and sank his teeth into its shoulder.

Oh sweet ecstasy! The texture of the horse’s musculature was so different, so meaty! And the blood, a delicacy. It dripped thick rivulets from Lezigroth’s fangs.

Then, a sound louder than any he had experienced shocked him and he fell from the horse. Lezigroth reached a hand out towards his meal. He hissed and turned to see what had ruined his dream.

It was a human. Lezigroth had only ever read about humans. It wasn’t rare for humans and merpeople to interact, but this was the first interaction without water.

Lezigroth frustration evaporated into awe. The human was more beautiful than soft sunlight filtering through waves. Tall, head covered by a pale and wide-brimmed hat. Red hair and moustache, a colorful shirt, pale blue pants, large boots (Lezigroth decided needed a pair), and a silver medallion tied to his waist.

Once closer, the man’s face shifted. From frowning anger to wide-eyed terror. The man yelled, “Monster!” and the rod in his hands let out another booming sound. Lezigroth, without knowing what else to do, bolted back to the sea, as fast as his rickety legs could go.

---

“Give it up, Lezi, there’s no way.”

Lezigroth huddled on Nespirith’s bed, thinking over his recent encounter. His tail itched when he remembered walking.

“Okay, let me just list the pros and cons,” Lezigroth said. Pros: Cute. Cool boots. Hair. Have you ever seen hair, Nespirith? It’s great.” Nespirith merely scoffed, so Lezigroth continued. “Endless supply of horses. Imagine what kind of adventures he and I could get up to on land!”

“So move on to cons then. I have a suspicious feeling there will be a lot.”

“Okay. Cons: Language barrier. He was terrified of me. He’s probably upset I bit his horse. Sex. Would that even be possible?”

“Not to mention,” Nespirith chimed in. “You’d still be beholden to the transformation potion. No wild adventures too far from sea.”

“Yes, there is that.” Lezigroth sighed. “At least I ate a horse.”

Nespirith placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and the two allowed a somber silence.

Eventually, the silence became too much for Nespirith. She began twisting her tail around Lezigroth’s and asked, “So, are we doing this or what?”

AllNewJonasSalk
Apr 22, 2017

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Prompt - Bought and Paid For, by Entenzahn!

A Wizard and A Pipsqueak 901 words


The glint of a sword, bathed in the rays of the rising sun. This was a sight, precious to Gavin and the men he stood beside this morning.

Another day spent in this foreign land. Damnation. He'd have a word with his brother about this affront later. After the city was claimed. Before the next march.

The men. His men. He'd not spent as much time with them as he'd wished. Lately, he'd been forced to play at being civilized. Days wasted in towers, planning and plotting. Dining and games of diplomacy. All these things felt the same to the man that once claimed the Sword of Light from the clutching fingers of Jhota the Head Clipper. So much time that might have been better spent sawing the heads from his enemies.

Now, though, there was reason to be happy. Across the field, Gavin could see a paltry force of goat fuckers lined up to protect their poo poo hole. Was this all that Temez had to defend her walls? No matter. Gavin would see them all dead before day's end.

 #

The kid wouldn't shut the gently caress up about his mom.

“She's really a nice lady,” Davey said over the intercom. “You'd like her.”

We'd been flying nonstop for hours and if I heard this little poo poo say one more thing about his mother, I'd blast him out of space myself. Normally, I'm an understanding guy and the kid pays good credits, but this is a fool's errand and he's beginning to grate on me.

I'll never understand why they gave him the Minstrel. She's a sight to see in flight and he's a crackerjack behind her controls but the pipsqueaks gotta be 100 soaking wet. I'd prefer him stowed away below deck so I don't gotta hear a word out of him.

“She smells really nice,” crackled Davey's voice.

Either we stop somewhere soon or I'm vaporizing the jit.

#

Gavin heard the arrow before he saw it. There was a thump. Felt like being tossed about by an angry Jerzik. It threw him off his feet and by the time he'd recovered his senses he saw the plume poking out at an odd angle. Maybe not so odd to most but very odd to Gavin as it was sticking from his arm He steeled himself before pulling it out. It never ceased to amaze him that the pain always felt the same though he'd been shot through with hundreds of the buggers in his day.

No time to think on this one as the battle still raged. This should have been finished an hour ago, but these were better men than he'd initially given credit.

No matter. They would all be dead another hour from now.

#

“Do you see it, kid,” I asked over comms.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do you really think she's down there somewhere?”

I actually hadn't the slightest idea but I did know that the local fauna was said to possess the best liquor in the sector.

“Yeah. Yeah. No stone left unturned right,” I said.

#

The battle had raged on for nearly another hour and Gavin could tell that it had taken a quarter of his men. Friends who would now watch over them all from the Night Veil.

His arm hurt something fierce and the people of the city cowered in their homes instead of presenting themselves to their conquerors. No matter. If they would not be gracious in defeat, he'd burn their homes in return to send them scattering like the rodents they were. And then his men would pick the best women from the lot and burn the rest over coals as sacrifice to The Mother.

#

Davey hadn't said a word as he we walked through the field of dead. One time it looked like he was gonna speak but he slipped in what I can only assume used to be a person's stomach and puked his own guts up all over the place instead.

I understood the feeling.

Whatever happened here, I hoped it was over. I didn't particularly feel like killing anybody today.

We could hear what sounded like a celebration going on behind the city walls and I saw flames leaping up to clap the sky. I pressed the kid to walk a little faster. Drinks have to be flowing by now.

#

A strange man stood before Gavin. He'd come in from outside earlier in the night with a child and when one of his men grabbed a spear to run them through, he'd pulled out a queer device that fired light. It hit the man square and put a hole in him where his chest once sat. Nobody else grabbed a spear after that. Clearly the man was a wizard. Intelligent people showed wizards respect.

The man spoke a language Gavin had never heard but seemed happy enough when someone poured him a cup of brew. The kid on the other hand could not be contained. He was everywhere and bothering with everything. He'd even grabbed meat from The Mother's sacrifice and eaten some. What kind of beast ate human flesh?

Before long the two left the warriors from the way they came. And then two gigantic metal birds took off into the night and headed straight for the moon. Strange things happen in this country. Gavin would tell his brother the whole thing should be burnt to the ground.

Solitair
Feb 18, 2014


Exit Light, Enter Night
1,243 words
Prompt: "Plain White Brain" by Chili
Object: Loverboy gallows

"So what job did you finally end up with?" Graham asked Dewey. They and Dewey's girlfriend, Zelda, sat at a restaurant in a fancy part of town Dewey could only afford starting today. Their beer mugs sweated and overflowed, turning the napkins below into a swamp.

"I got an offer from Imagyn downtown," Dewey said, before taking another sip.

"What's that?" Graham asked.

"Some venture capital research thing," Zelda said. "They're paying handsomely for dream donations."

Graham blinked and set his beer down, too startled to lick the foam off his mustache. "They're loving with your dreams? You sure that's healthy?"

"Yeah, they said they took a bunch of precautions and tests to make sure it was safe." said Dewey.

"I dunno, man. I thought dreams were like our brains' way of organizing poo poo while we slept." Graham picked his mug back up. "Seems necessary to me, but hey, any port in a storm, right?"

"drat straight," Dewey said, lifting his own mug. "To gainful employment!"

Their mugs clinked together, and liquid spilled over the side,

staining the floor of Dewey's new studio. He shook his head to clear the fog, and glanced at the cup he washed his paintbrush in. A glance at the painting told him nothing about what he'd been working on for hours. All he saw on the canvas were splotches of brown, grey and red, looking vaguely like something built in an abandoned park.

"Rough going?" Zelda asked as she entered the room.

"I dunno. I thought I'd be able to concentrate without job hunting on my mind, but it's just getting harder for me to hold onto a train of thought these days. I'll talk to Geneva about my medicine tomorrow."

Zelda walked in front of the canvas and smirked. "I dunno, I think it's a pretty evocative demonstration of the angst of the modern world, as felt by the underpaid and unemployed."

That made Dewey burst into a giggle-fit and sway left on his stool, almost enough to tip him over. "Wow, you pulled that right outta your rear end, hon!"

"I'm trying to help you sell your work, dummy!" Zelda said with a laugh. She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his shoulder before giving him a prolonged kiss on the mouth. "How are you supposed to get what you want if you don't sell yourself?"

Dewey just shrugged and kissed back until he felt lightheaded again. He settled back onto the stool and picked another color to add. "Maybe you're right, but I doubt gumption could have gotten me anything as lucrative as the Imagyn gig. Hard to be confident when luck plays such a big part in your life."

"You'd have gotten lucky sooner or later, believe me." Zelda gave him one last kiss on the cheek and headed for the hall door. "Good luck!" she said before she left

and the door slammed loud enough to dislodge one of Dewey's paintings from its formation between its brothers. "How inconsiderate can you get," he mumbled to himself as he picked it up and replaced it, taking care not to pinch his fingers between the interlocking frames hiding the wall from sight.

Over two hundred paintings crowded the walls of Dewey's studio like scales on a serpent's body. It presented him a reassuring kaleidoscope to envelop him like a blanket, a mosaic of things he vaguely remembered from various corners of his mind. When he looked from a formation of birds, balloons and planes crowding the sky to skyscrapers mingled with redwood trees to the wooden stage in sepia-toned grass, everything made a startling amount of sense.

"You're not even going to show anything to a gallery or anything?" asked a portrait of Graham hanging in the corner.

"Maybe later," Dewey said as he set up a new canvas. Portraits were starting to get on his nerves. Maybe he could shut them up by replacing some with still lifes.

Graham's brushstroke eyes followed him to the middle of the room, and his oily mouth frowned. "See, I was worried about this. You've turned into a crazy hermit. I told you this job would gently caress your brain, idiot."

The brush in Dewey's hand scraped against the canvas, displacing paint and making a furrow, severing a length of rope. He grit his teeth and moved the brush back to the palette.

"You think anybody wants to see you like this?" Graham asked. "You don't go out, you don't call anyone, you don't even shower. No wonder Zelda hasn't hosed you in weeks."

Dewey's hand clenched hard enough that he heard the sound of cracking plastic. He glared over the easel at the portrait, which looked frightened at its own admission. "How do you know that?"

Graham sweated watercolor. He fumbled with his words as Dewey held his breath, before sputtering out, "gently caress man, the way you camp out in here, how was I supposed to know you were still interested in her?"

Arcs of paint flew through the air as Dewey flung aside his easel. Before Graham could say anything else, Dewey charged his corner of the room and ripped the portrait off the wall. He stormed into the kitchen and hurled Graham's face at the corner of the granite countertop,

but saw Zelda's head bouncing off as she crumbled in a heap on the floor. He froze as she let out a strangled sob and twitched on the floor, each sound like a termite worming into him.

"Oh god," he said in a wheezy croak. He shambled forward and reached for her shoulder. "God, I'm so sorry, Zelda—"

"You're sorry?" she asked, her volume growing exponentially with each syllable. She swatted his hand away from her and got up on shaky legs. When she turned to glare daggers at him, she revealed a face latticed with cracks, centered around a hole in place of her right eye. It oozed egg yolk; Dewey wondered if his brain was merciful enough to keep the wound's true state from him. "I stand up for you, and you loving gouge my eye out, and now you're sorry?" Her voice cracked as yolk streamed out her other eye. "I'm done with you, motherfucker."

She turned to walk away, and Dewey tried to follow. But she shrank into an infinite horizon while his legs moved through air like it was tar. As Zelda shrank into a speck, a loop of black paint shrank in turn, filling Dewey's vision. His eyes focused on the texture of the brushstrokes on canvas as it touched his head

and snapped tight around his neck, leaving him to dangle in midair. One eye saw a wooden floor and a gallows stretching above him, the other a ceiling beam with a belt tied to it. He scratched and clawed at the rope/leather squeezing the life out of him, until his brain felt funny, something popped in him

and he fell into a cocoon of webbing, staring into the arachnoid visage of Geneva from Imagyn.

"If you back out now," she said, lisping around her mandibles, "we'll sue you for breaking contract, plus there's the matter of your hospital bills and your ex's battery charge. You may never walk or speak again without our help. I ask again, are you sure?"

He twitched his head side to side.

"Good," she purred, extending a proboscis. "It's time for your extraction."

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today? This moi!





A Part of Everything
1007 words

Coralline was close to ten cycles when she was Joined. Most symbiotes are given their assignments at two or three growth cycles, but she just happened to be the perfect size for a little girl with a head injury.

At first, Coralline had been afraid. She didn’t want to be cut off from the group. Most symbiotes are tuned into The Collective, a network of their combined thoughts and knowledge. Joined symbiotes often have trouble reaching the group, as the thoughts of their host block their communication. Symbiotes rarely returned to their places of birth, but once they were divorced of their hosts, their consciousnesses joined the Collective to share the knowledge of lives lived.

As scared as she had been at been at first, Coralline instantly loved her host. Evelyn was spunky and clever, and delighted in Coralline’s bright pink color. Coralline even liked having a name.

The Collective was right, she thought dreamily, it doesn’t matter if I can talk to them or not. What matters is Evelyn, and her happiness.

But when Evelyn dreamed, and Coralline rested, she still thought about home. Of splashing joyfully into the symbiote pool, of the millions of mental connections she used to make. Sometimes she thought about it so hard that Evelyn would, without knowing why, give her a comforting pat and apologize after waking up.

***

“Come on, Ev!” Lisa tugged her arm. Evelyn gulped and quickly downed the rest of her drink. It tasted worse than cough medicine. She stared at a novelty vintage sign about toilet gremlins hanging over the gross fraternity toilet, and laughed.

Lisa pursed her lips in the mirror, applying more lipstick. “We are going to get so wasted,” she proclaimed to her reflection.

“Hell, yeah!” Evelyn said, hoping she sounded authentic.

Coralline rippled her disapproval. Evelyn gave her a comforting pat. It’s not a big deal, she reassured her, it’s just alcohol! She knew symbiotes responded poorly to drinking, but she also knew that everyone drank, so it must not really be that important.

But as the night went on, as Evelyn steadily drank more, Coralline was almost panicked. She sent wave after wave of tingling, unhappy energy pulses, all of which Evelyn ignored. As she got drunker, she didn’t have to ignore it anymore- she stopped feeling Coralline.

For Evelyn, this was loose and freeing. For Coralline, it was exactly what she had dreaded all along. If she could have screamed, she would have. Not only could she not hear the Collective, but Evelyn was lost to her, too. Thankfully, the worst that happened was that Evelyn snuck back inside and stole the sign about toilet gremlins, slipping it into her purse before ordering a taxi.

That night, as Evelyn lay in an uncomfortable drunken slumber, Coralline thought about her home. She could remember a few things, like the brilliant blues and pinks of her former body. She missed standing on her own, missed feeling the water wash through her branches and fingers. In her mind’s eyes, she could just barely see the symbiote breeding grounds. With Evelyn disconnected from her, Coralline could hear the Collective again- not clearly, but faintly, as if she only had to catch up to them. The longing spread through her, heavy as lead.

When Evelyn woke the next morning, with a headache so big they could both feel it, she gave Coralline a gentle pat. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

***

Evelyn walked along the beach. Coralline knew the girl had been sad lately, but didn’t know how to help her. She tried to send comforting images of dancing fronds, the faraway voices and pulses of the Collective, but it didn’t seem to change much either way. In fact, Evelyn had seemed distressed by Coralline’s communication lately, talking to her about the images and asking questions. Coralline knew she wasn’t supposed to influence Evelyn’s thinking, but ever since they had disconnected slightly after the frat party, she kept doing it by accident.

In fact, as Evelyn grew, Coralline had become somewhat homesick. She knew her time with Evelyn was coming to an end, and that she should stop talking to her and let her become accustomed to being alone. Still, she sent the girl images of her beautiful homeland. She is not as connected to me as I am to her, yet I still would give her the gift of peace.

Evelyn suddenly stopped walking. “This is what you really want?” she asked aloud.

Coralline did not understand. She gave Evelyn a little wiggle.

The girl winced slightly, pressing her hand to Coralline’s sinuous form. “I love you,” she whispered. This, Coralline understood.

Evelyn stripped off her clothes and headed towards the water.

Coralline felt a familiar flash of panic. Don’t leave me alone! This time, however, she thought she could hear it again, Yes, little snippets of words and light. The Collective? She knew now what was happening.

Evelyn submerged her face. As the ocean thundered and crashed, the Collective and its knowledge surged through Coralline’s consciousness. She felt fear, then elation. I’m home? I’m home!

It took her mere seconds to disengage, to unwrap herself from Evelyn’s head and sink into the water. Coralline swam off, her body free for the first time in almost a decade, her mind and consciousness joyfully joined with the Collective again, as she gracefully swam off. Now she knew exactly where to go.

Evelyn left the water and sat on the beach, numb and tired. It felt as she had lost her ability to see blue, or turn left. “You were a part of me,” she whispered to the ocean, knowing that her words were now unheeded. She had never felt more alone or more adult. Evelyn knew that the time had come to move on, in a lot of ways, and left the beach a different girl.

Yet, that night and for the rest of her life, Evelyn dreamed of coral fronds and the smell of the briny ocean, and remembered.

Invisible Clergy
Sep 25, 2015

"Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces"

Malachi 2:3


Kayfabe 771 words
Original story: Historia de un fracaso
https://thunderdome.cc/?story=1710&...a+de+un+fracaso
Original prompt: incorporate this image:
Flash rule: incorporate this image:


A line already snaked outside the airplane hangar that was nice enough to host the match. Gabriel’s cousin owed him one, and this was how he’d chosen to make it square. Anything for a chance to wrestle.

Gabriel had made the banner himself. It looked pretty good for the amount of time he’d had to spend on it between shifts in the food truck.

“El Mono v. El Tigre” stood out in resplendent letters, fluttering in the wind like the flag for some faraway country no one could find on a map.

Gabriel’s costume laid, sleeping, in his duffel bag. There was still time to get in.

Rolando was there mingling with the crowd. Gabriel would’ve nodded hello with his chin, but kayfabe was sacrosanct.

He got into the back room. It was where the foreman had once worked back when this place still had planes in it. He drew the blinds and put on his monkey suit, the tufts of fur on the chest standing out in the humid air of the office. He checked his reflection in the remaining piece of a mirror against the wall and adjusted his trunks so his tail could swing freely through the back.

Gabriel trilled and warmed up his voice. He went over the choreography in his head and practiced the footwork, leaving pawprints in the dust on the concrete floor. From the buzz outside, the crowd was starting to thicken. He could smell elotes from his abuela’s handcart. Always got butts in seats.

Gabriel had been left in the office. El Mono kicked the door to the office open and loped into the audience on all fours. He dragged his knuckles across the floor despite the oil stains and tapped his head with palm when the kids laughed.

“Is he gonna kill you? Tigers eat monkeys, I saw it on tv,” said a boy from the front row.

“Don’t worry, mijito. Just have fun. I’ll be all right,” El Mono said.

His opponent still hadn’t showed up. Heels must always be late. El Mono peeled and ate a banana with exaggerated slowness and checked an enormous watch he’d hidden in his pocket for just this purpose. The crowd gamely laughed.

From behind the door to the only other office, a roar shook the glass. El Mono still remembered when they’d bought that tape of animal sounds together and come up with their gimmicks.

He threw the peel in his opponent’s path and shushed the audience. He rapped on a drum hanging around his neck to herald El Tigre’s arrival.

El Tigre loped toward the ring, snarling at the audience and slipped like they’d rehearsed. He somersaulted and landed, “knocking” his head on the corner of the mat and rolled his neck, theatrically dizzy.

“Hey, these people are here for a show, don’t let me beat you that easy,” El Mono teased. He hopped to the edge of the ring and scampered up the ropes to perch on a post.

“I’ll bite your head off, you chattering ape!” El Tigre slid onto the mat and pounced.

El Mono leapt over him, vaulting off his opponent’s shoulder and smashed his head into the post.

El Tigre groaned in pain and stood on the end of El Mono’s tail like in rehearsal.

“Ay!” El Mono cried.

“You’re not going anywhere! I’m hungry!” El Tigre roared.

The audience booed and when they began standing in twos and threes, El Tigre let his prey go after El Mono stamped his paw.

“You’ll have to sing for your supper tonight.” El Mono beat his chest and showboated for the audience.

“Sing? That’s not a bad idea. Let’s have some music!” El Tigre reached into his trunks and threw huge fake bills into the audience toward their plant. He stood and disgorged a barrel organ from the bag he’d had next to him and began to grind it.

El Mono, helpless to resist the beat, began to dance. El Tigre laughed and pounced upon him while he was stuck in place. He sunk his fangs into El Mono’s neck and set off the blood pack.

“Ay! Remember the way I was, my friends!” El Mono shrieked and collapsed.

The boy he’d spoken to was crying in the audience. He hated this part, but there were rules in place. He could not break them.

El Tigre roared in triumph. El Mono heard his breath catch. He must’ve seen the boy. While doing his victory lap, he pretended to trip on El Mono’s dangling tail and even in “death” cursed his enemy and his tricks. El Mono cracked one eye and saw the boy laughing. It was like he’d said. Everything would be all right.

Lead out in cuffs
Sep 18, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Loose ends (1,238 words)

Story: The Premier, by Mysticalhaberdasher

One minute I'm walking down the stairs, the next it feels like my body's being twisted around like a donut, and I'm falling face-first. I land elbows-first on the hard tile, and lie there for a few seconds, trying to figure out what happened. An earthquake? Wouldn't there be screaming?

The lobby is silent, which is weird. Even if the film had hit a quiet part, I should be able to make out the projector whirring or coughing and shuffling in the theatre. I get more than a little freaked out as I stand and do a wide take of the room. The candy bar is empty, and there's broken glass on the floor beneath some of the windows.

Footsteps echo from behind and I half jump as I turn round. Walking right towards me is a woman in bell bottoms and a frilly blouse.

"Tommy?" she says.

I just manage a nod.

"I'm Anne. We've been expecting you," she says.

She hops onto the candy bar counter and sits, legs dangling.

"Here's the deal. You've been sent forty years into the future," she says.

"OK, I'm having an acid flashback."

"Does your head feel like you're high?"

I consider. The room isn't moving and the feeling I'm getting is more pumped on adrenaline than fogged with psychedelics. Anne hands me a paper. The headline is about the president, only it isn't Ford. The date says June 22, 2014.

"This is some kind of practical joke," I say.

"We don't have time for this. Come and look outside."

She jumps down and walks to the window. I follow and peek through the broken glass. Just outside, stretching as far as I can see in any direction, is a shimmering wall like the surface of a pond. Through it, I can just make out big, military-looking gantries with soldiers standing around. Anne gives me a few seconds, then speaks.

"Some amateur has messed with the timeline. Leakage from whatever bootstrapped device they used sent you here."

She points out the window.

"Those machines out there are keeping it contained, but we have less than half an hour of subjective time to find whoever did this and fix it."

I shake my head.

"That is a lot to take in."

She pulls a rectangular gizmo like a tiny, flat TV out of her purse, and runs her fingers across the screen.

"We're on a deadline. Take it in while we work," she says. "What do you remember about the moments before the time shift?"

"I was working door at a premier. Force Majeure. It was Mister Guerra's big project," I say. "Wait, what happens after half an hour?"

She's absorbed in her mini-TV. Her brow furrows as she works, then she relaxes.

"That's good. Hugo Guerra. We've got a fix."

She looks up.

"To answer your question, in half an hour, the timeline drifts too far to contain, and the agency wipes the building from history," she says, "with you and I in it."

"OK," I said, "what do I do?"

"Guerra. He owned the theatre. We need a time when he was here alone."

"Tuesdays. He likes to work late in the office upstairs on Tuesdays."

"Show me."

I led her upstairs, our shoes kicking up dust. The door to Mister Guerra's office lies skew on the floor. We step over it.

"This is it," I say.

She pulls a smaller device from her purse. This one shimmers like the wall outside, and looking at it hurts my head.

"Hold my hand," she says.

The room lurches and I close my eyes. When I open them, it's back to how I remember it. Mr Guerra is sitting and tapping away on a typewriter. An old-looking projector sits on the desk. His head snaps up, then he sees me and smiles.

"Tommy," he says, "I didn't hear you come in. You really should try to knock."

He looks Anne up and down.

"And who is this lovely lady?"

Anne pulls a badge out of her purse.

"NSA temporal division. I'm just here to talk, for now. I think you know why."

Mr Guerra's smile disappears. He looks at me and I shrug. Then he addresses Anne.

"Yes, I do," he says, "but I'm afraid I cannot allow you to interfere with the success of my film."

He pushes a button on the projector. Both he and it shimmer and disappear.

"poo poo," says Anne.

She pulls out the glass thing, and shows me the screen. There's a red bar with numbers ticking down beneath it. 10:09. 10:08. 10:07.

"Our half an hour just turned to ten minutes," she says.

"OK, what do we do now?"

"He'll be running around the timeline, screwing things up. Our best bet is to go forward again to 2014. The containment field will stop him going past. If we're lucky we'll catch him there."

She takes my hand, and we shimmer back to the smashed office. Beside our footsteps in the dust is a third pair going the other way.

"Be quiet and keep your eyes open," says Anne.

We creep down the stairs and into the lobby, where the footsteps fade. We stand looking, when I see Mr Guerra coming around a pillar, right behind Anne, with a baseball bat raised. I yell to warn her.

Anne moves fast, turning and dropping. The bat swooshes past her head. She grabs him and throws him over her shoulder. The bat goes flying.

He gets up, and looks past her. The projector is sitting on the floor, and Anne is between him and it. He makes a break for the doors, and we chase after.

He yanks one door open and jumps through, right into the shimmery wall outside. The moment he hits, his body stretches and curls around itself. Then he's running right at us, without slowing at all. His eyes go wide with surprise as Anne reaches out her arm and catches him in the neck. His feet fly up, and his head hits the tile with a hollow thud. He moans, looking like a defeated, crumpled old man.

"We are running out of time!" says Anne.

She hasn't stopped moving. She kneels on his chest, and there's a gun in her hand. She presses it to his head and pulls the trigger, again and again. Blood and brains fly everywhere and I'm screaming.

"Shut up," she says.

She wipes her hands on her jeans, puts the gun in her purse, then pulls out something smaller. She walks to the projector, clips this new thing to it, and steps back. It shimmers out of existence.

"The cleanup crew can handle things now," she says, "poor rear end in a top hat probably won't even have to die when they're done."

She pulls out the gauge. It's still red, and the numbers say 50:17.

"The timeline's still out," she says.

"How? You killed Mister Guerra. You destroyed his machine. We did everything you said."

Anne lowers her eyes and reaches into her purse.

"It's you, Tommy, you're in the wrong time. And even if I took you back, you've seen too much," she says. "For what it's worth, pre-divergent you will live on."

Now, she's looking me in the eye. I look straight down the barrel of the pistol in her hands.

"I can keep quiet."

"No," she says, with dead certainty, "you can't."

The gunshot echoes off the bare tile.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk

The Marble
1200 words

Sergeant Obrynn pushed aside the flap of her tent and shambled in, then blinked at the figure waiting inside in the gloom.

“Whatever it is, the answer is no,” she said, pulling out a chair and lowering herself into it with a sigh. The ground shuddered as the Eastern Battery fired again at the Marble, a rippling roll of thunder that set the light bulb swinging.

She eyed the man sourly while the noise made talk impossible. He was squat, a fashionably long civvy beard plait curled around his neck. He had a new uniform with the quartered circle of a science officer and seemed to be counting the discharges with curious, bright-eyed glee.

Barrage done, the man pulled a notepad from his belt and tapped at it. “So have the kinetic impacts been showing any effect?” Then he looked up. “Oh, I’m rude. Apologies. Captain-Doctor Kernig, sent up from Regimental.”

The Sergeant leaned back in her chair and banged open the cupboard behind her. “No, like I said. Nothing works. We’ve tried it all, over two long years - laser, artillery, bombs, microwaves, even a nuke. The Marble, and therefore the rebel city inside it, is impenetrable.” She pulled out a slim bottle, splashed an inch of rum into a tin cup and tossed it down. “The bastards put their stupid drat city inside a perfect sphere of bullshit that the best efforts of our glorious interstellar empire are unable to penetrate at this time or in the foreseeable future.”

“That’s amazing,” said Kernig.

“We’re stuck on station by the order of his Imperial Majesty until we get through and the entire planet is finally conquered, so that is not the word I would choose. Stuck on this grimy rock while the Fourth moves on to glory in the stars. Regimental, you say?”

Kernig sat down at the little table and leaned forward his hands pressed wide against the thin metal. “Yes! This, this forcefield is something beyond our understanding. If we can’t get through it, we can at least understand the people who built it! I spent five years digging up relics of the Ancients on Bantur 5, twenty lights spinward, you wouldn’t believe the things I unearthed! I’ll just need your approval and a few of your men, and I can -- Sergeant?”

Obrynn was staring past his shoulder, eyes distant. She put the bottle down on the table, with a click. Then, like the sun rising over the mountains, a smile broke over her craggy face. “Yes, yes. Captain Doctor. I’ll detail a squad to assist. Digging, eh?”

***

Six months later the boom and crump of gauss artillery had been replaced by the rumbling grind of excavators. Obrynn stood on the observation tower he’d had built to oversee the diggings. Far to the west were gaping trenches with ant-trails of trucks and haulers dragging their loads to the spill zone around the city.

“How do you feel, Captain-Doctor, to have been instrumental in a great Imperial victory?” she tossed over her shoulder. There was no reply.

She spent another moment admiring the ramparts that were mounding up around the Marble, then turned.

Kergin was staring tight-lipped at the screen on one of his devices. “This is barbarism,” he said.

Obrynn smiled lazily. She was finding her face a lot more amenable to that expression lately, not least because of the increasingly congratulatory tone of the missives from Regimental.

“You knew we were fighting a war, yes? If we’d beaten the Marble with force of arms there would have been barbarism a plenty, enmounding them in earth is poetic by contrast.”

Kergin frowned. “You have your next command picked out, I suppose? When they give you your reward?”

Obrynn shrugged. “I may have considered some options. It’s important not to play it too eager -- what?”

Captain Doctor Kergin was staring at the Marble. Obrynn turned, to see a quarter of the rampart shrug and collapse, burying dozens of the diggers and hundreds of men. The wind carried the screams.

***

Four years later the earth was up to the top of the Marble, and Obrynn and Kergin stood atop it. There was a warm wind, and the sun was going down. Obrynn took a swig of rum and passed the bottle to Kergin, rolling the fiery liquor round her mouth as she stared down at the last gap in the Marble’s four hundred thousand ton blanket of earth.

“Less than a week,” she said. “And they are locked away forever, in silent praise of our glorious Imperial Majesty.” She sighed, but it was not a happy sigh.

“Regrets?” Kernig’s expression was sardonic, but his eyes also had a haunted look to them. He’d spent the last few weeks in his research compound, working on a new set of readings he’d managed to extract from the force field. Beside him was a rectangular flat black box with something written on it.

“Soldiers are supposed to be good at waiting, but this has tried me. Kernig. I’ve… been glad of your company. Sometimes at night I think I can hear them calling from the inside, you know? Natural I suppose. They will know nothing of this, will they?”

Kernig handed back the bottle. “No. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out. Would you… walk with me?” Without waiting for a reply he started scrambling down the long slope to the surface of the Marble.

Obrynn, took a sip, then shrugged and followed him.

Kernig was kneeling in the middle of the thirty meter wide space that had yet to be covered in earth. Obrynn stamped on the field, which felt like stone, then squatted next to Kernig. “It’s still the damnedest thing you know. It’s a pity you never worked out what it was.”

Kernig looked up, his face ghostly in the dim light from the twilight sky. “Oh, but I did.” The device on the flat field next to him, in the circle of black paint they’d used to indicate the exact centre of the dome, was blinking steadily. “This is something I found on Bantur 5, and it’s taken me this long to fathom its workings. It’s Ancient technology, Obrynn. All of it. This would change everything. We could control these fields, make our own Marbles.”

Obrynn felt dizzy, like the field beneath him was moving immensely fast while staying put. “But… you don’t want to.”

Kergin just looked at him, and his face in the gloom looked impossibly sad. “We don't deserve it. Anyway, you wanted to get inside, Sergeant?"

They were paused for a moment, staring at each other in the dim light, then Obrynn lunged for the box and Kernig slapped down on it like he'd been waiting for just that and there was a sickening sense of being rotated in every direction at once.

Sergeant Obrynn was falling, spinning, through suddenly warm and bright air, a city spread out below him. Beside him fell Kergin, laughing wildly as they tumbled, the hidden city hurtling up to meet him in its first and final embrace.

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M. Propagandalf
Aug 9, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Unfinished, but I'll take castigation over failure.

Groomer
(910 Words)

Prompt:
One Last Play by Killer-of-Lawyers


Command’s pairing lottery assigned me to one ‘Brian Hallman’. Human male. Caucasian. Thirty-seven. An older specimen, but otherwise in good condition. The assignment followed standard protocol: ingratiate self with subject, oversee subject well-being for a two-year period, acclimate subject digestive system to be favourable to Thoxian foods, paving the way for the end phase host assumption. I had two hundred years of experience working on humans, and was respected among my peers for being an expert in Earth assimilations. Perhaps this lulled me into a false sense of security that the Hallman case would be easy.

We met at a gathering where their species inebriate themselves. Background profiling enabled me to assume a form that appealed to his biometrics criteria. The compounding benefit of the subject’s recent divorce enabled the necessary rapport threshold to be achieved faster than average.

Despite my experience, Earth’s cultural milieus varies enough to force me to stay up-to-date. I adopted the subject’s use of high-caloric consumables as names of affection. I found it difficult to share the subject’s enthusiasm towards movies of his choice, which I verified against the consensus of his own species at large to be generally ill-favoured. During these viewing sessions, I set my interested behaviour routine on auto, and on completion, the subject appeared appreciative, at one point, comparing me favourably against his former mate who could not refrain from reviling his movie preferences.

Our technicians take the indigenous food items of the target species, and splice them with Thoxian protein strains. The protein content can be spliced in gradations, as the overpowering taste of Thoxian protein generally proves suspicious, if not fatal, if ingested at high concentrations. Having achieved a significant level of the subject’s trust, I began modifying his diet. Arguing out of concern for his well-being, he accepted foods of appearance to what his species perceived of as salubrious, which he conveniently associated to inferior taste, though not without protest.

***

“Is this celery?!” he nearly spat on the first Rosathoxian protein dish that I introduced.

“Yes, muffin. Is something wrong?” I had set the initial protein splice to the absolute minimum. I asked myself how he could he possibly be picking up on such low concentrations.

“I don’t know, it just tastes… off.”

“Tastes like regular celery to me. Maybe you just need to mix it with some dip.”

“Yeah, I’ll try that. Sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

“It’s okay. I guess it would taste weird to me if I had to suddenly change from microwaved meat-and-potatoes and start eating vegetables that I haven’t had in a while. I’m just glad you’re willing to try.”

“Anything that will make you happy, honey.”

***

Thus, aside from the protein introduction, I did not foresee any issues to preparing the subject for host assumption, except one: American football.

Earth has two primary variants of this religion, and the subject was unfortunately seduced by the more injury prone of the two. At the time of the lottery assignment, the subject was still a practitioner, though had managed to avoid injury. Given the subject’s age however, any injury that did occur risked a lengthy recovery time, assuming it could even be recovered from. Host assumption demanded that all subjects be completely free of injury or defects. I had met this demand for the last two hundred years, and this Hallman specimen was not to be an exception.

Persuading him away from his religion proved a challenge however. For all the mating behaviour I mimicked, it was not to enough to dissuade him. Ultimately my persuasion was achieved with two additional items. First, a compromise: he would surrender his practice of football to the ameliorated risk of flag ball. Secondly, a material reward: if he maintained his stay from his religion to my specified duration, (up to the date when the host assumption was scheduled) I pledged to him a prized human gadget of his desire.

The subject appeared compliant. In fact, the plan was even more successful that I imagined, as the substitute religion did not pleasure him to the degree he sought. He stopped playing entirely, and our rapport increased. I felt assured he would be safe. Everything seemed to go according to plan for the host assumption.

***

“Muffin, honey. Dinner’s rea—” I stopped myself, as the subject stood, bandages layered on his head, “what happened to you?”

“Okay honey, I know this sounds crazy, but me and the guys were at Home Depot…”

Behavioral cues already indicated his story to be false, but that wasn’t my pressing concern. I needed to assess the damage. “Can I take a look?”

“It’s really not that bad…”

When the bandages were peeled aside, I immediately set the empathy behaviour routine on auto. If I hadn’t, I might have killed him then and there.

Two weeks before host assumption. Two weeks. And standing in front of me was a subject I had put nearly two years of work into with a gaping wound that had no means for immediate repair, at least not with this planet’s primitive medical technology. But if our technology could be used…

It was a risk. Any subject known to be tampered by Thoxian modification, aside of diet, was not acceptable to host assumption. Not to say one couldn’t get away with it, but if one were to be discovered, the legal consequences were fatal. It was a risk I was willing to take.

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