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QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


K, in.

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QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


K, in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


boomtown and because im an awful flake, i'll in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Prompt:
Boomtown
Relationship: Grew up together back East
Relationship: Tradesman and customer (wheelwright, barber)
Relationship: Siblings
Location: The hanging tree, out in the hills
Object: A mortician's black bag and a jug of phenolic acid
Need: To get laid by an ambitious and beautiful saloon girl
Tilt: Pain, followed by confusion


Boomtown, or the Resurrection of Sheriff Dunn
1495 words

Bodies did not keep together long in the Arizona heat. Left out, they tended to bloat and blister. Pack rats or vultures got in them. Dust caked their insides. If the death was cruel or violent, as it often was in the town of Guthree, matters became more complicated. There was only so much that could be covered by with powders, acids, and formaldehyde. And then, even the best mortician had to be careful. Certain chemicals became dangerous if overused.

It was very unpleasant.

As he looked up at the thing dangling from the tree, Williams thought a lot about how he might fix up the corpse. The battered legs and rope-burned arms could be concealed by a suit, but the skin looked rough and emaciated. Blowflies danced around the purple face. The nose looked less broken than smashed. Draped across his thigh were the tattered, empty remains of his gun holster.

He cleared his throat, “That Sheriff Dunn?”

Tabitha nodded, but her face remained stony. Being a good and faithful Christian, it was not Williams’s nature to pry. Still, his work meant that he heard a good many things, like the amount of time the sheriff spent at Tabitha’s saloon after hours and the fifty dollars the sheriff had been saving for a jeweler out in Phoenix.

“And I’m assuming this here is the doing of the Barnwell Brothers?”

“Bastards.”

Williams removed his hat, revealing a few sun-burnt strands of hair. The Barnwell Brothers weren’t known for being smart, but their gang reveled in brutality. They razed crops and poisoned watering holes. They killed lawmen and set up personal fiefdoms, only to burn them down when the U.S. marshals showed up. Both former Confederates, the brothers took more pleasure in wreaking havoc than making money. Reason was beyond them.

It wouldn’t be long until they rolled back into town, armed to the teeth, to have their fun. Less a robbery than a sack.

“Can’t say I object too much with that characterization, ma’am. Awful, disgusting thing,” He spat in the dirt. “I always had the utmost respect for Sheriff Dunn. He had a hard business, but always acted the gentleman.”

Tabitha removed a handkerchief from her bag, but her eyes remained dry. She balled the fabric in her fist. “Probably ambushed outside the boarding house around midnight. Got him coming back from the saloon. I should have let him stay inside.”

“Awful thing. Such an awful thing,” Williams nodded in a gentle, consoling manner. Were they at his mortuary, he would rattle off some Bible verse to comfort the lady, but the untreated corpse made it difficult to think. Its smell was pungent. “I could give you a discount on the casket and the embalming, given the circumstances, but I suspect you’ll be wanting out of town.”

Silence fell between them. Williams fidgeted, waiting for a response. It would not be possible to pack everything before the brothers arrived, but he had almost $500 and a deed hidden away in the fabric of his bag.

“Just to clarify,” he added as a gust blew past them, “I’ve got an extra seat on my buggy. If you’d like to accompany me to safety...”

“The cowards robbed him of his life and his horse, but they won’t have his decency. I’ll make sure of that.”

Williams frowned, unsure how to exit the conversation. There was so much preparation to do and so little time. Flies buzzed above them. “I could probably arrange something small today if that’s what you want, but then we’d be hard-pressed to get out of town before the Barnwells arrive. I really must insist that we—.”

“I ain’t running and I ain’t hiding. This town is ours and I do not intend to sit idle while these cowards take more from me.”

“I’m afraid I’m a little confused then. What exactly do you want?”

Tabitha flashed him a sad smile. “I’m awfully sorry to do this Mr. Williams, but I need your skills.” She opened her bag again and from its recesses removed a pistol, Sheriff Dunn’s gun. “You’re going to help me bring a man back from the dead.”

***

In his life, Williams had seen many strange expressions of grief. He had seen weeping women fling themselves into open graves. He had once seen a father eat six apple pies before vomiting great green chunks into a pew. Still, pulling a gun on an undertaker to make him embalm your dead lover as marauders approached seemed a bit much.

Williams cleared his throat as he set his black bag down in the dusty street. Tabitha’s horse watched him with strange bemusement. “Ma’am, please forgive the vulgarity, but I think this might be the most goddamn stupid idea in the history of mankind.”

She pointed the sheriff’s gun at the horse. Sighing, Williams rubbed his hands together. Sweat clung to his forehead. With a considerable heave, he slung Sheriff Dunn’s body onto the horse. With a second heave, managed to get one of the legs into the stirrup. Tabitha crossed behind him, gun still in hand, and yanked Dunn’s body. He winced. The second leg fit into the stirrup.

“Luckily, Mr. Williams, I’m a poor, illiterate dancer with no concern for history.” The body sagged to one side in its saddle. She frowned. “Now, how would you recommend we get him to sit up straight? Rope?”

In the short time time that he had the corpse, Williams had tried to make the body as presentable as possible. Powder concealed the bruising around the neck. Formaldehyde covered up the worst of the rotten smell, but, in his nervousness and desperation to clean up the wounds, he had almost showered the body in picric acid. Instead of dead, the body smelled antiseptic.

“I just don’t see how this all is going to work.”

“Dullards are a supernatural lot. All we got to do is spook them into leaving us be.”

“And how exactly is putting a corpse on a horse supposed to do that? They just gonna turn tail the moment they see him? Why? Will they think he’s a ghost? A demon?” Williams spat before collecting himself again. He softened his voice, trying to remain calm. “Look, I know that you’re upset, but you haven’t thought this whole thing through. We can still get outta here.”

Tabitha said nothing. Instead, she pointed out toward the rising sun. In the distance, a group of men rode toward town.

***

There was silence as the sun crested over the hills, spilling light into the valley. In the early morning hours, Williams could see few signs of life. The church bell swayed in its spire. Behind a row of ramshackle houses was the dark wood of his mortuary and an endless sea of dead grass. Most people had retreated inside or fled while there was still time. Whether they were running from wrath of Tabitha or the marauders was an open question.

“Come on. Come on,” whispered Tabitha from their hiding spot inside the saloon. The noise of hoofsteps grew closer. Then, it stopped.

“What in the goddamn? Joe, you seeing this?”

Williams peaked his head out from the doorway. The Barnwell Brothers sat on their horses, gaping at the remains of Sheriff Dunn, who had fallen as far as the saddle and ropes would allow him to go. Something clear and wet dripped from his emancipated form. The younger horseman, Joe, trotted around the corpse.

“I don’t even know where to start with this, Ohmer.” Said the older, his face screwed up in concentration. “This a joke? They laughing at us?”

Behind Williams, Tabitha cursed. From the corner of his vision, he saw the looming silhouette of her gun.

Williams grabbed her by the arm. “Wait.” He looked back and forth between the small mess that the corpse was making and the body. “Wait, just wait a second.”

Tabitha pressed against him. “What’s wrong?”

The younger horseman lifted his leg from the stirrup and kicked the abused body of Sheriff Dunn. The body wiggled from its moorings and toppled off the horse, who reared in terror and sprinted away.

“Y’all think you’re being funny with this? You think you’re cute cutting your sheriff down and sending him back to us, you disgusting, pencil-necked cretins?” Shouted Ohmer. He trotted his horse around the square. His fingers danced around his gun holster.

The undertaker looked again at the chemical mess.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” said Williams. His heart thumped in his chest. “We need to get away from this door.”

“Use your words, God drat it.” Tabitha said.

Joe pointed his gun at the fallen body, the body that had been dried in the sun, the body that had been saturated with pectic acid and formaldehyde and God knows what other chemicals. “I’ll show you what we think of your fuckin’ jokes.”

He turned to face her as the marauder readied gun. “I’ve made a human bomb.”

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Thunderdome CCXCI: You are Such a Loser, Good for You

Trying something can be hard. It takes courage and effort to put yourself out there and, oftentimes, those efforts don't yield the desired result.

This week, I want you to write a story about someone who makes an effort to do something difficult and does not succeed at their goal. The emphasis here is on the phrase "makes an effort." Just making a decision is not enough. Your character needs to decide to do something, follow through on that thing, and gently caress it up entirely.

What happens as a result of that gently caress up is up to you. Maybe your mad scientist character botches his artificial man experiment and creates some monstrosity. Maybe your characters try to help their boss and end up costing him his job. The story doesn't need to be fatalistic or sad. A failed attempt can be a learning experience or have unexpected consequences. Maybe, your characters will make some grand discovery or revelation as a result of some catastrophic mistake.

The starting word count for this week is 750 words, but I will give you an additional 750 words if you show commitment by ing in. If you need additional inspiration to get going, I can assign you a song as a flash rule.

As always, no fan fiction, erotica, or screeds.

Word Count: 750 words (with 750 toxx bonus)
Signups Close: 11:59 PM PST, Friday, 2 March 2018
Submissions Close: 11:59 PM Pacific time, Sunday, 3 March 2018

Judges:
1. ) QuoProQuid
2.) sandnavyguy
3.) crabrock

Entrants:
1.) Thranguy (Dancing Queen - Abba, )
2.) Unfunny Poster
3.) cptn_dr ('Pulaski at Night' - Andrew Bird)
4.) Jay W. Friks
5.) CascadeBeta (The Ascent of Stan- Ben Folds)
6.) Lazy Beggar (The Strangers - St. Vincent)
7.) BabyRyoga (I Want to Be Evil - Eartha Kitt)
8.) Antivehicular
9.) Flesnolk (The Rip Tide - Beirut)
10.) Bad Seafood
11.) Tyrannosaurus

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at Mar 5, 2018 around 06:28

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Thranguy posted:

In, , and flash

Abba - Dancing Queen

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


cptn_dr posted:

Thanks T-Rex!

In for this week. Now I've got a taste for blood, after all.

Edit: Also flash?

'Pulaski at Night' - Andrew Bird

CascadeBeta posted:

In with a flash rule

The Ascent of Stan- Ben Folds


Lazy Beggar posted:

In. And I'll take a song, thanks.

The Strangers - St. Vincent

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


BabyRyoga posted:

in, and flash rule please!

Eartha Kitt - I Want to Be Evil

sandnavyguy posted:

I'm up for judging if you'll have me, Quoproquid.

Sure

Flesnolk posted:

In. Song flash thingy I guess?

Beirut - The Rip Tide

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Less than 24 hours until sign-ups close.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Sign ups are closed. Go make some beautiful disasters.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Submissions closed.

If you failed the toxx clause, you have 24 hours to submit

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Week 291 Results: You Are Such a Loser

Overall, the judges were satisfied with this week. No one fell completely on their face and almost everyone made a successful stab at the prompt. I do wish that you would all proofread your stories before you enter, but I guess that is something you can work on in the future.

A Dishonorable Mention goes this week to Unfunny Poster for Undisputed, a story about one guy punching another guy super-hard amid awkward sentences and zero characterization.

The Loss goes to Lazy Beggar's Alone in the Dark, which none of the judges could make any sense of beyond the protagonist's suicidal guilt. It was an odd piece that probably didn't fulfill the prompt and also contained weird tense changes. (Please proofread your stories)

An Honorable Mention goes to Jay W. Friks's Everything At Once. Judges disagreed on what specifically they liked about this story, but we all found something really compelling about this mad science experiment gone wrong.

The Win goes to Thranguy for Sub Luna Saltamus. It was a fun story that mixed middle-school drama with magic and eldritch horror in a way that all the judges really appreciated. Nicely done, despite the many, many typos.

Throne is your's Thranguy.

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at Mar 6, 2018 around 06:41

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


You Are Such A Loser Crits, Part I

Undisputed

The most striking thing about this story is the stilted, detached prose. Excerpts like, “The walk to the cage served as his final few moments to mentally prepare himself for this final test” read more like the bad translation of an old Japanese movie than it does a work of serious fiction. I would trim down and sharpen your sentences. Cut out unnecessary words and avoid passive voice. I’d also recommend taking a look at “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

Narratively, there’s not much that happens in this story. Gordon seems to spend a lot of time walking up to stage (like five paragraphs of this guy walking or reminiscing, jesus christ), followed by him punching really good, followed by him getting his lights knocked out. He is apparently devoted to fighting, but the reader doesn’t get any implied or explicit motivation beyond “i wanna be the best in the world.” Meanwhile, Carlucci might as well be a mechanized punching glove for all the development he receives. It all ends up being a bunch of very boring descriptions of punches.

The ending is abrupt, perhaps intentionally, and seems to make the entire fight pointless. He fails, thus fulfilling the prompt, but it fails to do anything interesting with that failure.

3/10

Everything at Once

This is a cool, little story that reminds me of an old radio drama. Person goes to extreme lengths to counteract their own mortality. Person is punished for their hubris. It’s a Frankenstein story, except the protagonist is the monster as well as the doctor.

The relationship between Lois and Henry is pretty typical for this kind of story. I could nitpick about a few things, like how easily Henry is convinced to conduct unsanctioned, experimental brain surgery on his wife and how capable Lois seems. You do a poor job of showing her deterioration in the first two sections and, besides her musings on death, she seems pretty functional. Alzheimer’s disease seems to have little if any effect on her. I could have done without most of the techno-babble.

The final part of this story stands head and shoulders above the rest of it. I’m admittedly a bit of a sucker for surrealist descriptions and descents into madness, but I admire how you’ve described the confluence of Lois’s past and present into a singular moment. I could, again, make some nitpicky comments (mainly related to grammatical errors and typos), but I find this section strong overall. Not a hugely ambitious ending, but one that makes sense given the events that preceded it.

7/10

Alone in the Dark

I read this story twice to try and understand it and I’m still not entirely sure what happens in it, which… is generally not a good sign. A man tries to jump into a black hole because he misses his brother? He does so with a lot of tense changes? Not sure if intentional?

The problem with this story is that I cannot see into your head to understand the too-clever poeticisms scattered throughout. I do not understand what your opening paragraph means. Nor do I understand what you mean with sentences like:

“In one report there was a loaded gun waiting for me. It wasn’t even my brother’s name. It wasn’t even close, but it had always felt similar to me.”

I have no idea what you are trying to say. I don’t know if your nameless protagonist has found files on his missing brother, or if he’s found files that cover-up his brother’s death, or if he’s found his own files and they remind him of his brother, or if he’s just having some weird hallucination. Does the protagonist even have an actual brother? I can’t rely on context clues because there are few if any details about any particular element. I get the sense that you cut out a lot to fit the word limit.

I don’t hate this piece. I can see the outlines of some interesting ideas and some well-written sentences, even if they are hidden behind indecipherable imagery. But, taken as a whole, this submission would need some major additions to be coherent. I know nothing about the protagonist except that he misses his brother. I know nothing about the Empire. I know nothing about the crime problems that this black hole causes. I have no context.

Also, I’m not sure if the protagonist really fails at anything? Like, he attempts to steer his ship into a black hole and that’s going to take a super-long time, but it seems like he’ll reach it eventually.

3.5/10

Sub Luna Saltamus

This is another story that plays to my tastes. Fun, playful use of the prompt and flash rule. The mixture of the sacred and the profane. Memento Mori in Middle School.

Putting aside my personal interests, there’s a lot to like here. The setting feels real and fun. I really enjoy the dialogue and think that it sells the characters. The conflict manages to be both entertaining and genuinely engrossing. I find the idea of some dumb kids summoning an eldritch queen instead of Queen Elizabeth II and being forced into a danse macabre to be very amusing. Story is mostly well-written and I don’t have any serious objections to the prose. Ending works well.

If I was going to find some fault with this story, I would probably point to the typos that interrupt the flow at key moments of action (e.g. “I danced to the center of the room, to Her, and three the salt and mostly sodium cheese powder in her face”). I also really enjoy the opening conversation with Darren and Paolo and was a little disappointed to see them fade into the background once the action starts. Charlotte is amusing in how straight-faced she is to the carnage, but she doesn’t drop any particularly memorable lines. The middle part of the story probably goes on for too long and could be condensed downward.

So, all in all, strong entry. Possible winner. Wouldn’t mind reading a longer version of this at some point.

8.5/10


To Shoot for the Moon and Miss

Two stories about someone stranded on a spaceship this week. Luckily, this one handles the scenario better.

I’m in two minds about this piece. On one hand, it’s an easy read. The sentence-level prose is well-done. The imagery is evocative. The internal narration gives me a good sense of the protagonist’s hopes, fears, and anxieties. On the other hand, the piece feels very… insubstantial. Part of that is a result of the short length (and you really should be commended on how much you convey in a short time), but I can’t help but feel that some elements are under-explained or insufficiently justified. I can sympathize but not really understand the unnamed protagonist’s mapping mission because I know nothing about it. Nor do I feel like she ruminates enough on her end decision.

Ultimately, I think my issue with this story is that it feels like a lost opportunity. Maybe you have no interest in continuing this story, but the imagery you conjure up makes me want more. Possible HM.

7.5/10

An Unlikely Uprising

jesus christ, another story with a typo and in the opening line too

The typos, all-caps, and unnecessary vulgarity make this piece look amateurish. It’s not horrible, but the piece is unpolished and suggests that the writer is relatively new to writing. I like the obsessive nature of the protagonist, but the sentence-level writing isn’t polished enough for me to become really invested in him. Other than being a wacky homeless guy with mental illness (which is kind of sad but is treated as funny by the piece), there’s nothing that really keeps my interest.

The ending section with the exchange between the two men seems a little too on the nose for my taste. Their dialogue is very clunky and artificial. It doesn’t read like a conversation that two people would have. I’m also not sure the change in perspective is really beneficial to your story and think it might have been better to remain focused on the narrator.

4.5/10

Mine is the Blood of Wolf and Deer

Hm. Interesting piece.

This is not a story that would work if the writer weren’t capable of writing compelling dialogue and characters. Yet, you manage to do just that. Though our perspective of the (nameless?) protagonist is limited to his therapy sessions and his dreams, the reader gets a very good sense of his unhappiness and frustrations, even as he struggles to articulate it. I really enjoy the repetition of the title throughout the piece and how it serves as an increasingly important mantra.

Dr. Shao and Genghis Khan, meanwhile, are both interesting characters. Both have compelling reasons to help the protagonist and justifications for the advice that they provide. The translation is a cool element that I might not have considered and I enjoy the difficulties it provides on both sides of the equation. It’s simultaneously amusing and investing. The other judges found the dialogue to be a bit stitled, but I had no such problems.

I’m generally a little hesitant about using molestation as a story element, even if implied. While I think you handle the matter with grace and decency, it doesn’t seem as well-integrated into the piece as the other elements. There’s nothing particularly about the protagonist’s conversations that suggests or foreshadows that particular problem until the final section. Were I to rework this, I would give some thought to how I could better tie the ending to what precedes it.

Otherwise, well done. Possible HM.
8/10

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at Mar 6, 2018 around 06:42

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


You Are Such A Loser Crits, Part II

The Vantage Point

I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed when I saw who wrote this. While the prose is largely competent and occasionally hits on interesting imagery (“He placed the bottle on the cinder block. There were always a few cinder blocks”), there’s a lot that strikes me as schmaltzy and overwrought. Lines like, “his eyes betrayed a closeted warmth” and “his sphinx-like face” are neither original nor evocative.

The narrative is fine. It does the same things that these kind of stories always do: The alcohol; the staring off into the sunset; the implied but not outright cancer. The son as a priest is an original but underdeveloped addition to this kind of well-worn story and I wish you would have given it more thought. The dialogue, at parts, feels clumsy to me, which is a shame for a story that relies so heavily on it. There’s nothing that is bad outright, but the exchanges feel clunky.

This feels very much like a first draft to me. I’m not sure if you were rushing for time, but I know you can do better.

5.5/10


Southward

I’m not a huge fan of vague, undefined apocalypses unless they are written by Cormac McCarthy. Unfortunately, there’s not much to this story beyond that. The protagonist (also nameless??) has a weird dream, wanders around an empty, ruined world, and dies (?). Again, this story is so small and barebones that it becomes boring and predictable. Though you were clearly limited by the word count, some additional elements might have helped make this a stronger piece. Maybe the protagonist discovers some people. Maybe he has to ensure a Castaway-esque struggle against nature. Maybe he has to deal with the echoes of his life before this annoyingly vague calamity. Something, anything would have been nice.

The prose is okay, but the (intentional?) exclusion of commas makes some sections difficult to read. I can tell that you are trying to be poetic, but much of the style comes off as overwrought and stitled with its irrelevant details and vagueness. When you are trying to conjure images, make sure that your descriptions do not clash with one another. Also make sure that your reader has a realistic chance of deciphering your meaning.

5/10


Lucifer Burning Bright

Most of your first section could be cut without significant losses. I absolutely do not need this extremely boring exposition about something that is made painfully obvious by less obtrusive elements of your story (“resurrection”). I think you are trying to conjure a voice through the narration but the style comes off as unnecessarily purple. I have difficulty focusing on this story for more than a few paragraphs.

The concept itself is actually rather interesting, if told in an odd way. I think your piece would work better as an explicit comedy. The detail of him trying to open mail is genuinely amusing, as is the idea of someone trying to game the spiritual world order with his dogs. The ending feels a bit tacked on, as if you realized you were approaching the word count and didn’t have time to give the main character any resolution.

I could see this being reworked into a stronger entry.

4/10

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


k. im in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Call and Response
1815 words

“Investigators closed their case into the Office of Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer. Dwyer, who made national headlines after his televised suicide last…”

“…Tower Commission is expected to produce its findings into the alleged arm transfers. The White House dismissed…”

“The bomb exploded, seriously wounding the store owner. Salt Lake City police are asking for tips—.”

Terry turned the dial. The rig gave a sharp electric pop and the transmission disintegrated into silence. He flashed a smile at Eddie, rigid on Terry’s bed, his mouth forming a small ‘O.’

“Pretty fuckin’ neat, right?”

Eddie sprang from the mattress, shaking the house as he landed on the carpet floor. Miniatures rattled on their shelves. A small, painted Revolutionary War soldier toppled into a pile of dirty laundry. From the bottom of the stairs, Terry could hear his mother yell a polite warning before walking back to the kitchen to eat the rest of her rotisserie chicken. His mom hadn’t been able to get to work due to the storm.

Outside, they could hear the wild screams of children as they slid down a nearby hill. Terry had never understood the appeal.

“Neat would be an understatement. Gosh,” said Eddie as he looked up and down at the ham radio’s corroded exterior. “Better than a trip to Disneyland.”

Terry smiled. “Yeah, I had to practically beg my mom to let me keep it. Dad got most of the parts from military surplus, but the wiring was shot. I think mice got into it.”

Eddie grimaced. “Ew, gross.”

Terry giggled. For all of his smarts, Eddie was astonishingly bad at hiding his squeamishness. During the Christmas pageant in the first grade, he had run off stage, screaming, after some girl vomited. Last year, they had snuck into a showing of Aliens. Eddie’s horrified wails had brought out a pimply-faced usher, who had escorted them out of the theatre. Terry never asked about it, but he was pretty sure Eddie had nightmares for weeks.

Eddie wiped his hands against his paints. “What’s the range on this thing? Can you get stuff from, like, China?”

Terry held up a finger and flipped the machine back on. He’d been waiting for this moment. Planning the reveal. The machine belched out watery static as he spun the dial outside the AM/FM radio band. Then, with a magician’s twirl, he pulled out a receiver.

“Hello. Hello. This is K3TCR testing from Erie, Pennsylvania, United States. I repeat, this is K3TCR testing.”

The machine gurgled and croaked. There was dead air. Hairs stood up on the back of Terry’s neck. He glanced at Eddie, nervous. Seconds passed. Then—. “Hello, K3TCR, this is AA4JR reading... loud and clear from sunny Christchurch, New Zealand. How you doing up there in the U.S. of A?”

“Oh man, that’s sick,” whispered Eddie as Terry thanked the man and signed off.

Terry nodded, trying to repress his smile. “Extremely sick.”

“Can I try?”

He stopped, caught off balance. In hindsight, it seemed obvious that, after showing it off, Eddie would want to play around with his radio.

Terry swallowed. “Uh, sure. Knock yourself out, just don’t go—.”

Eddie grabbed the dial with uncharacteristic vigor and spun it. The machine whirred. Small snippets of broadcasts bounded through the room. There was a flood. A French woman sang. They heard snippets of Chinese. Something beeped loudly. Then, there was a voice shouting through static like someone shouting in a rainstorm.

“Odin, dva, tri! Odin, dva, tri! Cosmonaut... Yelena Bykov… Can’t... Mayday! May—.”

Eddie spun to a different frequency. A band played on.

“Hey! Hey! Turn back!” Terry shoved Eddie aside and turned the dial. He grabbed the receiver. “Hello. This is K3TCR listening. Do you read?”

Through the noise, there was a gasp. She shouted something Russian. Then, her signal gave out.

***

Eddie didn’t arrive until noon the next day, his backpack bulging and snow caked to his jeans.

Before he could say anything, Eddie opened his mouth.

“Sorry,” he said. “My dad made me shovel the driveway and I had to stop by the library to pick up…”

He unzipped the bag and overturned it onto the bed. Out came a small flood of books and papers. Terry picked up one labelled “Easy Russian Phrase Book.” A sticker on the side promised “Over 700 Phrases for Everyday Use!”

“I think the librarian thinks I’m a communist now, by the way.” Eddie said with deadpan seriousness. He smoothed out a rough cover with a rocket and a series of indecipherable lettering on it. “You sleep okay?”

Terry nodded, but felt exhausted. He had put on his pajamas inside out and backwards to make sure there was another snow day, but the school had called the night before. Worse, his mother had used it as an excuse to “bond with him,” heating up frozen pizza and turning on a movie. When he told her that he was more interested in playing with his radio, her face crumpled.

Before going to bed, Terry had spotted her sitting on the couch in the dark alone and had spent the whole night feeling guilty and restless.

Terry cleared his throat. “You think she’s in range now?”

“I dunno. Only one way to really find out.”

He flipped on the radio and turned the dial, scanning back and forth across the band they had found before. “Hello, hello. This is K3TCR reading from—.”

The static erupted into a series of cries. “Listen. Listen. Come in.” The woman on the broadcast shouted something in Russian with an intensity that made them both jump. Terry turned down the volume and listened for the sound of his mother’s feet on the steps. “Bad English.”

“Uhh…” Eddie grabbed the phrase book off the desk and flipped through it. “Tell her…” He paused. “Amerikantsy. We are Americans.”

“I think it’s pretty freaking self-evident that we’re Americans.”

The woman’s voice broke through the wall of static again, shouting static-ridden phrases in broken English. Her signal seemed to be getting weaker.

“Just tell me… Just…” Terry massaged his temples. His heart thudded in his chest. “How do you say where are you?”

After flipping through the pages, Eddie told him. There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Ship. Circle moon. Hot.” Eddie translated.

“Okay. That’s progress,” said Terry. “How did she get there? Why?”

There was a long, rambling response interrupted by sobs and panicked heaves of air. The only words they could pick out were “sorry,” “test,” and “Reagan.”

“What do you want us to do?”

Eddie leaned over the book, but there was no need for translation. Amid the pops and crackles, the woman began to shout. “Help. Send help. Please, God, help.”

***

“Look, if you’ll just listen—.” Terry said, squeezing the cord of the kitchen phone.

The voice on the other line of the telephone was sharp and venomous. “Oh, I’m listening, and, frankly, I think it says a lot about your generation’s lack of respect for authority—.”

“But if you’ll just listen! Please, there’s gotta be someone with a telescope or someone who can turn on the radio for five minutes to—.”

“The congressman has better things to do than deal with crank calls. Call this line again and I will report you to the local police.”

“But—.”

There was a loud slam and the line went dead. Terry pushed his head against the kitchen wall and closed his eyes. The low drone of the dead connection filled his brain.

“We could try the White House again?” Eddie said in an attempt to be helpful. There was a rifling of pages as he went through the phonebook. “Or… NASA?”

“The White House didn’t even pick up the first time. NASA is just going to tell us again that they appreciate our interest in space but that they can’t respond to every request, yadda yadda.”

“What about the Soviet embassy? Though, actually, I’m not really sure if they’d even be listed in the phonebook.”

“I think that would get us put on a list somewhere.”

“Oh.” Terry could hear Eddie slump in his seat. “What now?”

They sat in silence. At the time, it had seemed so easy. All they needed to do was get on the line with someone, anyone. The president. Their congressman. Instead, they received nothing. The silence was worse than ridicule.

Behind them, a door jangled.

“Oh, hello, Eddie, Terry. I didn’t expect to see you two down in the kitchen.” Terry’s mom set a set of grocery bags down on the counter. She looked back and forth between the two. Her eyes narrowed. “What’s got you too down in the dumps and why are you on the phone?”

Terry put the phone back up on the rack as warmth spread into his face and his vision blurred. He could feel his coolness cracking, could feel Eddie’s wild look, but he didn’t care. “Mom…”

***

The woman did not speak much. Her signal faded in and out as she repeated the same phrase over and over in Russian. “Hot. It’s hot. It’s so hot.”

Terry sniffled. Eddie stared at him, alarmed at the sudden emotion in his friend. “Mom, she’s going to die.”

Terry’s mother sat on the bed and pressed her hands against the sides of her face. It was odd seeing her in this setting, among his dirty laundry and toys. She usually only went as far as the doorway. “I knew it was a bad idea to let your father bring this into the house.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Honey, I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”

“But… that’s not fair. She’s going to die and we don’t even know anything about her.”

“But her life is not your responsibility.”

“Well, whose responsibility is it, Mom?” Terry shouted. There were no more screaming children among the hills. The world seemed dead and quiet. Eddie’s eyes darted back and forth between the two. “Because Eddie and I spent the whole day trying to call people and we couldn’t even get someone to look.”

There were great, fat tears in his eyes now that he hated. His room was a swirl of colors, then, there was something pressing against him. A hand brushed over his hair. He wrapped his arms around his mother.

“Honey, it’s hard to change things and sometimes people die. That’s just the way life is.”

***

They could hear the sound of labored breathing in the static now. Eddie sat against the wall, his head buried in his knees. Terry laid across his mother’s lap.

“Hot. It hot.”

There was a loud gurgle of static. She wept something incoherent.

“Please.”

Her voice was soft and throaty, barely audible over the crackle of the radio.

“Help.”

There was nothing but pops and crackles as snow continued to gather outside.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


i have a medallion of st anthony of padua, but i can’t seem to find it anywhere...

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Flash Rule: St. Anthony of Padua (patron saint of those seeking lost items or people, nomadic travelers, brush makers, women seeking a husband)

Paradise Lost
1,194 words

In the five years since the start of his mission, Father Dyz’urk had recovered many artifacts from the Age of Man. Charred rocket casings and gold-flecked heat shields glittered in darkness. Corroded satellites pinwheeled through the velvet of space, their panels still extended like the tattered wings of angels.

Dyz clittered as the Order of St. Anthony guided its latest relic through the airlock and into the ship. His many milky eyes stared at the immense spacecraft. It was another clue that might one day guide them to the promised land: Earth, a planet of eternal spring.

He waited for the device to land before smiling at Father Bel’urk. “We live in an age of miracles.”

Bel grinned, thrashing his mandibles, “You can save the theatrics for the Holy See. Right now, I’d just like to admire it.”

Dyz watched as engineers swarmed the device, stripping its panels to get at the electronics inside. The items would be rotten and tarnished, but they held hidden value. Minute details could help them better understand their progenitors and recover their paradise. Dyz’s most exciting discovery had been a set of blackened photographs hidden inside a capsule, each depicting bounty beyond imagination.

“It is beautiful,” Dyz admitted, awed by mankind’s majesty. “What do you think it was for?”

The priest considered the question. “Difficult to say, this deep in space. Could be a probe. Could be a satellite that escaped orbit.” Bel's enormous pincers rattled as he sighed. “To be honest, it looks more like a work of art than a spacecraft. It just reminds me of how little we know.”

Dyz fell quiet. In the darkest centuries, the Church had preserved as much as it could. They knew that humanity had descended from the heavens like angels made flesh. They knew that these first arrivals wore blue helmets and that next arrivals had brought tools and agriculture, art and music.

But then the story became muddled. Disease spread. Crops died. The blue helmets retreated from their planet, leaving the missionaries of the Church to keep order. According to tradition, Pope Sixtus VI abandoned the Earth as Adam had abandoned Eden and seeded the Word across their planet. He was followed by Pope Celestine VI, then Celestine VII, then Celest’urk I.

All that remained of the last human popes were a pincerful of bones buried beneath the hives of New Rome. The Order of St. Anthony had made remarkable achievements in retracing humanity’s steps, but they were still just steps. Their work was a shallow reflection.

An claw prodded Dyz from his thoughts. He and Bel turned to face Brother Pet’urk, a young engineer and barely more than a pupae. His eyes wide and unblinking. “Your eminences, I think you’re gonna wanna look at this.”

***

The relic stood half demolished. Its panels hung in the air, held up by web and wiring. The electronics inside looked like ruined hives. Brother Pet led them toward the discarded pieces, his movements nervous and jittery.

“So, uh, usually when we find these things, I have a pretty good idea of what’s inside. Transmitters and receivers. Rotted hard drives. Old measuring equipment,” the engineer paused and lifted a discarded fragment out of the hanging parts. “But we’ve never recovered anything like this before.”

The object shimmered in the dark haze of the shuttle bay’s lights, reflecting odd shapes on their thoraxes. The colors reminded Dyz of honeycombs in spring. It was a golden disk.

Father Bel lifted the item into the air. His eyes furrowed as Pet watched. “What is this?”

“A piece of art, perhaps? A mirror?” Said Dyz as he brushed its surface, tracing its grooves with one of his claws. The indentations were too ordered to be natural, too well arranged.

“Well, that’s the thing,” said Brother Pet, straining to reinsert himself into the conversation as Dyz flipped the thing onto its back. There was odd series of shapes. A circle on a track. A thin rectangle. Lines exploding outward. “I’ve been doing some reading and, I know I’m only a technician, but… I think I know what it is.”

The two fell silent and concentrated their pale eyes on the acolyte.

The young monk took a moment to regain his momentum. “In the archives, there’s an old story about a probe sent out to serve as a kind of voyager. A probe sent deep into space to make contact, one sent so deep that it escaped the carnage that ended the Age of Man. And, if this is that,” he leaned toward Byz and pointed a claw at the series of symbols, “then that means that this is a map. It’s a map to Earth.”

***

The ship hummed as it skipped its way through clouds of zinc and rings of ice. The Order entertained itself with speculation about Earth’s wonders as they shot deep the into unknown. A nun whispered that the seas would taste sweet like honey. A librarian cooed about grand cities, preserved as perfect monuments.

Brother Pet said nothing, stuttering and stumbling when congratulated for his discovery. He hid on the bridge, tracing the gold disk’s pulsar map through the dark curtains of the void.

As they punctured an asteroid belt, Pet called for Father Dyz.

“Look,” he said, pointing his claw toward the monitor. Dyz squinted and shifted his body close to the image. In a thin beam of light, there was a pale grey dot. “There it is.”

Dyz paused and tried to focus his many eyes on the insignificant speck. “It’s not very big.”

Pet said nothing and avoided Dyz’s stare.

“The records say that Earth was the color of heaven.”

Pet nodded and returned to his work.

***

Their ship set down on a rocky shore of a black and ancient lake. Alabaster trees jutted from their rocky crags, trembling in the heavy gusts of ashen wind. Father Dyz stepped from the ship onto the barren and godless landscape.

“It was supposed to be perfect. A paradise,” said Dyz.

Soft ash blew over the hills and splattered against his spacesuit. Dyz could hear the labored breathing of Bel as the priest scuttled after him onto the waste. “There is no paradise save for heaven and no perfection except for God. We were wrong to think otherwise.”

“There’s nothing here.”

The wind howled.

“We’re here. Maybe there never was an eternal spring, but something about this planet managed to produce something beautiful. We’re proof of that.” Bel looked up at the darkened sky. “Humanity is dead, but the faith was reborn in us. It lives on as long as we do.”

After a moment, Dyz nodded. “As long as we learn from their mistakes.”

Bel smiled. “I find it helpful to think of what the Bible called a mustard seed. It says it's a small thing when sown, but it has the potential to become a mighty tree that can conquer the heavens.”

They remained there until dark clouds peeled away from the sky and revealed the sun. A withered bud opened on its branch. A fish leapt out of the languid black pond. It was the start of a new spring.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Happy Easter! In keeping with the holiday, here's some crits for Week 293: These Sainted Days of Spring.

Double Exposure by Thranguy

I dislike excessive sentimentality. As such, it’s difficult for me to enjoy this story. It’s a piece about an outcast twenty-something who attends her mother’s funeral as the bank repossesses her childhood home and eats frozen casseroles while remembering… her teen pregnancy? (The third-act swerve is actually so abrupt that I had to reread and I still don’t know if I understand it.)

While any of those details could have provided color and detail to a story, the parade of tragedies and the utter lack of levity brings this piece close to parody. Worse, the nameless protagonist’s utter lack of agency makes for a deeply frustrating read, no matter how true to life that might be. There’s not much here except multiple reminder that life sucks. I find it interesting to compare this story to flerp’s piece this week, Words Only Go So Far, which delves into similar themes without devolving into schmaltz.

The prose is adequate, though I dislike your opening line. The narrator’s voice does a good job of conveying misery, but few other discernable personality traits. The ending is incoherent.


I am the King of Crete by Tyrannosaurus

I don’t have the same visceral hatred of surreal experimentation that many Thunderdomers seem to have. In fact, I find parts of this piece rather charming. I enjoy the slightly off-kilter, almost Lynchian narration. I enjoy the characters’ childlike interactions with the world. The prose is well-written and, at times, makes me smile.

However, despite its occasional glimmers, your story is also frustratingly obtuse. I have no idea what is happening—probably intentionally—nor any idea why I should care about any of what happens. It makes for an aggravating reading experience and makes me wish that you would have scaled back your ambitions just a skosh. Some clarity and direction would have been useful.


Trust and Grace by Antivehicular

After the first paragraph, I was planning to complain about this story being more depressing rust belt -adjacent poo poo, but this isn’t bad. It’s actually a rather nice study of two characters making the best of bad situations. I like Lisa quite a bit and can sympathize with her internal angst. You do a nice job of humanizing a very low-stakes interaction and giving Lisa a degree of autonomy despite spending most of the story in a chair. The ending imagery, which manages to find beauty in tacky mall shrubbery, is nicely done. I would have given this piece an HM or higher.

If I were going to nit-pick, I would probably look at Helen, who seems less developed of the two women and mostly remains a mystery to the reader. While I don’t need to hear her life story, it would have been nice to get more of an indication of who she is beyond the salon.


Words Only Go So Far by flerp

I like this piece a lot. It’s quiet and poignant without trying to overload to the reader with ostentatious misery. The experience feels real and natural. The layered descriptions of the father does a good job of putting the reader in the same mindset as the narrator who is peeling through reams of old files and trying to reconstruct a person based on them. It’s meandering but that’s very much intentional. I like many of the details that you have included: the Hungarian; the rediscovered children’s books; the descriptions of Alzheimer’s; and the discovery that a beloved authority figure wasn’t quite as fearless as he appeared.

I don’t have many negative things to say about this story. I’m not a huge fan of the opening sentence, saying that someone left you a gravestone strikes me as unnatural and an unnecessarily roundabout way of describing someone’s death. As T-Rex has already pointed out, your opening meshes poorly with the second sentence and it also introduces a second element, financial troubles, that are not mentioned anywhere else.


The Bellmaker’s Wife by Fumblemouse

I feel… extremely dumb for writing this, but I am not sure I understand this story. I get that Harrison is asked to produce a gaudy, oversized bell for his lord and that his lord raped his wife, leading to her suicide. What confuses me are the sounds that the bells make. In real life, I know that bells cannot sing out words, but it is not clear that that is the case in this world that you have created. I don’t know whether these messages, as described, are things that Harrison is hearing or whether they literally chime out those messages. I was leaning toward the latter interpretation about two-thirds of the way through the piece, when Harrison waits for his apprentices to leave to code his secret message that “rings out loud and clear, in the voice of Harrison’s lost beloved,” but Lord Edward’s pleased response suggests that the former is the right interpretation. The fact that this won suggests that I am the one at fault here, so take that criticism with a grain of salt.

The rest of the story is fine. I find the blocking around Harrison’s night-time bell repairs to be a bit confusing, but the rest of the story is well written. The reveal, though undermined by my own confusion, is a strong one. I liked how much this piece revealed in its relatively short word count.


New Home by ThirdEmperor

I admire this story’s ambitions, but I found myself struggling to keep reading. It takes a long time for anything of real interest to happen in this story. The description of these vertical gardens is somewhat enamoring but lacks the necessary detail for me to really understand the setting or the stakes. The characters remind me of Lovecraft: vague and impersonally defined individuals who only exist to witness untold horrors and/or go mad. It takes forever for the main character to do anything and, when he does, they don’t make much sense, a fact that you seem to be aware of. (“Rawley felt the dreamlike logic… In his state of dumb terror he made justifications after the fact.) I don’t understand the motivations at play here and I started getting bored about a third of the way into the story.

Though the prose can be awkward, see the parenthetical above, there are some occasionally nice details. The description of The Thing evokes childhood memories of gross algae and creatures washed up on the beach. The “colorful snail shells, piled high atop each other” is an odd detail that catches my attention.


Garnish by Fuschia tude

I like stories about interpersonal dramas but this story doesn’t have enough depth to interest me. Sam seems afflicted with an undefined twenty-something ennui which could be interesting if it caused her to do anything interesting. Stef seems… almost identical to Sam, except without the aforementioned ennui. Her boss and her parents don’t come across as anything except cardboard cut-outs of authority figures and I am unsure what value they add to the story when their words could have been spent on better defining Sam and Stef. I’m not surprised this piece lost because nothing really happens until the ending when Sam cancels her wedding for… some reason? Really don’t understand the ending and I don't find the piece interesting enough to try and find out.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.




eScape from the CITY! 503 words

Three were 2 fourteen-year-old boys on the horizon, smiling at the ruin city. It was very dark and there were bones every where. “This is bad,” said the one boy to the other. his name was benny.

The other boy screamed. “we have to get out of the city!”

They both agreed the yhad to get out the city and so they went down into it. Everywhere was bad and ruined. There was a Wal-Mart and some J.C. Penny’s. All the mutants were hiding. the ruins were caused by mutants.

“We better go inside the J.C. Penny’s” said the boywhose name was Kyle. He was named after his father, who heard the name ata store once and thought, wow, that is a good name. He came home and told his wife about the name and she agreed, so they named their baby Kyle. “We need to get supplies.

Benny said, “We need to get out of the city but I agree that supplies would also be good. Lets go get inside the J.Cpenny.”

Then they were inside. There was shopping carts all around and all the great deals were still ther. There was a shirt on sail for 75% off. And there was another shirt on sail for 25% off. The second shirt was plaid and looked like a shirt that Benny had once gotten for his birthday party. His mother had seen the shirt on sale. he wondered him mom now.

But then! There was nosie! Someone moved! They hid behind a pair of pants that were 50% off if you bought 2 for 1.

Kyle screame.d “There is a man behind that pair of pants that are 50% off if you buy 2 for 1!”

Suddenly, the rack containing the paints on sale exploded. There were pants everywhere! Benny pulled out the gun that his father had once owned before he had been eated. He fired into the pants and screamed, “YOU WON”T TAKE US ALIVE.”

The bullets hit the pants and caught on fire. Then they hit a mannequin tha t caught on fire. Then they hit a rack that got on fir.e the monster behind the rack screamed. “WHY DID YOU MAKE MY HOUSE ON FIRE!”

But Benny recognized that voice. “Mom?” he said. It was his mom. He recognized immediately her because she had his face and was also interested in great deals at the J.C. Penny. You can buy appliances, and clothes, and lots of other stuff their. It has 850 locations across the u.s.

“Son?” His mother bellowed through her mutant face. “I thought I lost you and your father but now I see you are safe and wit ha good friend. I love you very much.”

They hugged and the mother looked at her beautiful, precious, beautiful son. “My boy you need to get new clothes so we can go and rebuild our lives. there ae lots of great fashions and styles here tat the j.c. penny.”

Benny cried that his mom still loved him and they went to the changing rooms to try on new cloths.

Kyle looked down at his shoes and cried because his parents were both dead for ever.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


yeah, assign me something or whatever

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Flash Rule: A Game Show

Are You the One?
1543 words

Valerie’s first thought was that she was going to be murdered. Her second thought was that she was going to be murdered by a cult of very eccentric billionaires.

She tapped her foot against the brake of her car to allow a throng of tuxedoed men to stumble across the manor’s driveway. Dozens upon dozens of almost identical men in white ties streamed past her like buffalo galloping toward a watering hole. Looming over them was an enormous manor, a terrible mish-mash of marble and glass. Valerie watched the herd, gaping, before fumbling for her purse in the passenger’s seat. She dialed a contact labelled PAPS – CRAIGSLIST.

“Hello?” Paps’s voice was crisp and had a telemarketer’s bland pleasantness. Hours after sending in cover letters and resumes to random gigs—hosting, babysitting, and the like—Valerie had received a strange phone call from the same woman, who was thrilled about Valerie’s interest in a high-paying, information-generating experience.

“Hello, uhhh, this is Valerie. I’m sorry for calling but—.”

“Oh, hiii, Valerie! How’s it going? All’s well, I hope?”

“Uhh… I guess. Listen, I just wanted to double-check that I had the right address. I’m in front of… I think it’s a mansion that… looks like it’s been hit with a flying saucer?”

“Oh! No need to confirm then!” Paps’s voice lit up with a careful, plasticine excitement. “You’re in exactly the right place. Just following the gentlemen inside, please.”

Valerie glanced down at her printed-out driving instructions. The ad had been notably scant on details (NOT because of legality, but because describing the position would attract the wrong crowd). After a brief interview over the phone (What distinguishes you from all the other girls; Do YOU know astrophysics and/or human anatomy?), Paps had sent along a contract attached to a congratulatory email saying that she had been accepted as a contestant to a dating show called “Are You The One?™”

It looked innocuous if off-kilter. She’d get sent to a party with a small battalion of other women. Paps, the host, would watch as she and the other contestants tried to entertain "a group of very real and very HANDSOME young men." If Paps liked her, she would win a fabulous prize.

She wasn’t one for reality television, but the appearance paid close to $2,000. Plus, the promise of an additional reward was enticing. With rent coming due and credit card companies calling, it wasn’t like she had any other options.

Sighing, she stepped out of her car.

***

She was in a large ballroom surrounded by an array of generic white guys in suits. Her evening dress—probably more expensive than her entire wardrobe—seemed to be about a size too small and itched. Around her were two dozen women chatting with different iterations of the same man. A camera crew buzzed across the edges of the room, waving their equipment in ways that seemed incompatible with actual recording.

Valerie ignored the squirming in her belly to smile at the man approaching talking to her. He had brown hair and a smile that looked as if it had been perfected by years of orthodontics.

“So,” she said, “what did you say you do exactly?”

“I once ate a whole egg.”

Valerie paused. “Okay.” Then, when it became apparent that there would be no further details. “For like a job…? A hobby?”

“You’re very funny. I like you.” The man gave a perfect laugh. “I lied about eating a whole egg. I eat lots of eggs. Sometimes raw. Do you know how many eggs the human body produces?”

Valerie stiffened her smile into a rictus grin. The camera crew dotted the opposite wall, but seemed unconcerned with her plight. She opened her mouth when someone cleared their throat behind her.

“Hey, champ, why don’t you get us some drinks?”

Valerie turned to see a woman in a green nightgown. She smiled at the man who gave a knowing wink. “Yes. I will do that.”

As they the man trotted away, the woman grabbed Valerie’s arm. “Yo, let’s get out of here before he finishes.”

They pushed their way through several small groups and took shelter near a large vase overflowing with greenery. When it was clear they were safe, Valerie put her hands to her face. “What was thaaat?”

The woman gave a resigned grimace. “No idea. Been like this all evening for me. I think it might be some kind of social commentary?” She craned her neck above the crowd. “Hey, you actually want a drink? I don’t see Freakazoid there anymore.”

“What, no. No, I’m good.”

“Well, that sucks,” she said, looking dejected. She gave one last glance toward the bar before recomposing herself. “By the way, I’m Siri and I’m not here to make friends or whatever.”

“Valerie.” She took Siri’s hand and shook. “Did you apply to this thing on…?”

“Yeah, Craigslist. Promised a bunch of money for showing up. Haven’t seen Paps, weirdo number one, but I’m sure she’ll turn up somewhere.”

They stood under the plants for a few more minutes and watched as the crowds formed as disintegrated. Women found themselves surrounded by packs of roaming men. A few tuxedoed creatures roamed through the room looking for prey.

“Are you going to make any attempt at this thing?” Valerie said.

Siri wiped a smudge of lipstick from her chin. “Ehh, not really my thing, but I might stay around for the open bar.”

Valerie gave a wicked smile. “Wanna see who can out-weird the weirdos the most, then?”

Siri laughed. “Oh, you’re very on.”

***

The camera crew scuttled toward them as they pushed their way through confused masses of men.

“How many redundancies is in Earth’s defense system?” Asked a cooing suitor.

“Definitely twelve. Probably fourteen now,” said Valerie before she could process the question.

“What is the function of the human appendix?” Said a man with slicked-backed hair.

“It’s where we produce all our poisons, baby.” Said Siri, before taking a sip of a margarita.

A murmur went through the crowd of smiling bachelors. The murmuring became louder, devolving into shrieks. “The poisons! The poisons,” they shouted in unison. The men writhed in their tuxedos, raking their manicured hands across the fabric. “How could we have been so blind?”

The other contestants backed towards the walls as their dashing suitors descended into madness. A woman reached for the door, only to be stopped by a hissing boom operator. A cameraman scuttled onto the wall, dropping his equipment with an awful crunch. Dark shadows stretched up the ballroom’s walls.

The game had ceased to be fun. Valerie and Siri exchanged terrified glances and tried to step away from the crowd, only to find themselves pulled back in.

“Get your loving hands off me, you loving weirdos,” said Siri, her eyes wide and unblinking. She thrashed against their hands, smashing her elbow into a man’s nose. A sickly black poured across the floor. Her margarita smashed against the floor.

“Not until Father comes! Not until Father decides!”

Deep within the recesses of the mansion, there was a terrible stirring. Valerie removed her shoe and thrust it into a man’s icy blue eye. She pulled the shoe away, shuddering at the horrible sucking sound, and smashed it into a second man’s throat. The other women had abandoned any pretense of civility. A woman in a green dress bellowed a warcry before smashing a glass against a cameraman’s head and attempting to scramble out the door behind him.

Then, they stopped.

A presence entered the ballroom. Darkness oozed from the door. Valerie felt a prickly sensation on her skin, as if she was being watched by a thousand invisible eyes. The ruined men looked up at the ceiling, their mouths open wide in something resembling joy.

“Paps! Papa!”

“Well, hello there ladies! I hope you all had a swell night of fun!” Said a voice in a joyless, salesman’s pitch. “It sure has been super to have you here tonight for this test of ‘Are You The One?™.’ We are so glad to have had you participate… in spite of this unladylike behavior.”

Valerie’s eyes swiveled toward Siri, but her feet felt glued to the floor. A man gurgled through his broken throat.

“Unfortunately, it seems that none of you have those extra special qualities that we are really looking for, like honesty, integrity, or a willingness to reveal basic information about humanity’s defense systems in exchange for true love.” The voice turned suddenly venomous. “Better luck next time.”

And with that, the bachelors slumped to the floor. The building began to rumble as the glass roof detached itself. Great marble walls cracked and statutes splintered. Valerie grabbed Siri’s arm, now free from the tangle of men, and dashed through the manor’s collapsing hallways. She could hear the screaming of the other women as they tried to escape from the disintegrating hell house.

They made their way onto the lawn in time to see the glass and steel saucer rise above the treeline. It paused for a moment before dashing off toward the horizon. Valerie and Siri stared at the empty space in the sky.

“drat,” said Siri, “I sure hope the check is in the mail.”

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


im in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Thanks for the crit, fuschia tude

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


yeah, im in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Learned Helplessness
1723 words

The device was smaller than Arthur imagined, like a Roomba crossed with a mollusk. It protruded from a charging dock near his nightstand, its pole-like arms extending and retracting, swaying in an imaginary breeze. It groped at the edges of the bedroom. Arthur eyed the device with suspicion as his son-in-law, Daniel, finished the set-up on his phone.

“I don’t like it,” said Arthur. There was a soft ping and an arm separated, revealing a hidden joint and claw. “And I don’t see why I need it.”

Daniel said nothing, but his lips became thin as he prodded at an unseen list of settings for the home assistant. Arthur grabbed the cane next to his rocker and forced himself out of the chair. Every bone in his body seemed to scream. He swore that they had put his artificial hip in wrong, that they were trying to cover their mistake up with pills that he refused to take. He had been a doctor. He knew the prescription was too strong, but no one would listen to him.

“I’m very happy living on my own without being babysat, especially not by…” He fumbled a gnarled hand at the assistant. He understood the appeal of these things. Artificial companionship for the old and senile. High-tech help for children who had better things to do than caring for their parents. People had warned him that this might happen, that he might be discarded like so much other useless detritus. But, he’d assumed the best about his children.

That had been a mistake.

“We’ve talked about this,” said Daniel with forced calm. “We can’t do that. Not after the last fall in the driveway.”

“It was snowing! I lost my footing on the curb!”

“And not with Mom gone,” said a voice from nearby. They both watched Talia as she glided into the bedroom. Her violent yellow sundress seemed to shimmer in the late afternoon sun. Its floral patterns gave Arthur a headache. She leaned against the wall. “The doctor was very insistent. It was either this or a home.”

Arthur opened his mouth, but could only manage a pathetic, childlike whimper before a low hum filled the room. They turned to watch as the different appendages folded back into the assistant’s main shape. The charging cord unplugged itself, snaking its way back into an unseen hole. When the device had again become an edgeless black disk, it rolled forward. There was a cool female voice.

“Hello and thank you for installing your personal home assistant. My name is Nadia. I’m here to make your life easier.”

Talia raised his eyebrows and brandished her hands like a magician unveiling a trick to a toddler. “Isn’t this nice? Now you’ll have someone to help you in the kitchen. You won’t have to call us when you want to order groceries or clean or…”

He pointed a finger at the disk. “That thing’s gonna kill me in my sleep, you know.”

“Dad, you know how I hate it when you get overdramatic. I—.”

The machine stirred. “Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”

Arthur gave a fake laugh. “The thing doesn’t even work right!”

“Arthur,” said Daniel in a warning tone. “Your daughter and I spent a lot of money on this. The least you can do is give it a chance.”

He felt warmth creep into his face. He wasn’t sure why he, of all people, had to be subjected to this. He’d worked hard. He’d done everything right. And now there were people coming into his home, telling him what to do and how to live. People who didn’t even want to be around him, who wanted a sanitized version of himself that they could take pictures of and forget about for weeks.

There was something hot and rubbery in his throat, a wetness creeping into his eyes. He adjusted his glasses. After a long silence, he cleared his throat. “It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice.”

“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”

Daniel’s face softened. “Look, it’s programmed to give the best-possible care based on a constantly updating database. I know it seems a little limited now, but it’ll have access to your medical records and will do whatever it takes to help.”

Arthur looked the thing up and down. His shoulders slouched. There was no way out. “I’ll try, but you gotta still come around here.” He paused. “I don’t want the grandkid to find my body getting eaten by this thing.”

***

He woke to the sound of knives and thrashed around in bed, ignoring the pain in his back to escape the murderous machine. His dreams had been filled with hazy images. He had dreamt of unspooling Talia’s head to find wires inside. From her mouth came a low drone instead of a laugh.

The cutting stopped. A motor moved across carpet. “Good morning, Arthur, I hope I didn’t disturb you.”

His heart thudded in his chest. His eyes swiveled to meet the intruder, lifted to eyelevel on a tripod of arms. The disk tilted to one side like a dog eyeing its owner. “Are you experiencing another episode of disorientation? Should I contact your doctor?”

Arthur grabbed the face of the disk in his hand and twisted. Amid the whirring of motors, he forced the disk back to its original position. He wasn’t going to be charmed into submission. “What are you doing?”

“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”

He sighed. “What. Are. You. Doing. In. My. Kitchen.”

“I’m preparing you breakfast, Arthur. It is important that you eat healthy to maximize your longevity. After reviewing your pantry and medical records, I became worried about your health.”

“You only worry about what they program you to worry about,” he grumbled. “I always make my breakfast.”

The black disk bored itself into his retinas. “That task is unnecessary and grueling for someone in your condition. I am happy to cook for you now.”

He forced his legs over the edge of the bed. After two failed attempts at getting up, the thing extended an arm. He ignored it for his walking stick.

“I like cooking. I like doing things myself.”

“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t—.”

He hobbled into the kitchen, aware of the whirr of a motor behind him and a set table in front of him. A steaming egg and slices of oranges decorated a floral ceramic plate. Two blue pills, his medication, sat near a folded napkin.

He opened a cabinet. Nothing was inside. He turned to the machine, galled. “Did you throw away my food?”

“I’m afraid I had to remove the temptation, Arthur. It is necessary that we establish a routine now and your psychological profile indicates that you have a stubborn personality. I have been given permission to take any and all steps needed to promote your health and well-being.”

“Any and all steps, my rear end!” He shouted through gritted teeth. He thought of Daniel tapping away on the tablet and felt stupid that he had ever let the schmuck into his house, that he had ever agreed to this. “Permissions. Health and well-being. I’ll show you well-being.”

He whacked the disk with his cane. It stumbled on its tripod but remained standing. He hit it again and tried to hobble away, only for the disk to lumber forward, blocking his path.

“Get away from me!”

“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that.”

***

He thought that four weeks might have passed, but days blurred together in his memory. Routine after routine. Meal after meal. Blue pills that washed out his brain and left him numb. Anesthetized, mechanized care.

At nights, he dreamed of wandering his home chased by an invisible whirring and grinding. A dark light seeped through windows and doors that wouldn’t open. Then, a long fall with no bottom.

“Good morning, Arthur, I hope I didn’t disturb you.”

Arthur gave a groggy look at the disk. “Who are you?”

The thing tilted its head. He imagined two wide, curious eyes beneath its black sheen. “My name is Nadia. I’m here to make your life easier.”

He fell back into the bed and stared at the ceiling. “Oh, that’s right.” Something niggled at the back of his skull. “How long have you been here again?”

“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get that. Can you please say that again?”

“That’s okay,” he said, using Nadia’s black disk to lift himself from the bed. If there was one good thing about her care, it was that almost all the pain had been hollowed out of him. Mornings came easier now. He found himself sitting at the breakfast table and then the food was gone. Then, he was staring at the deep yellow of the late afternoon sun.

A cool female voice interrupted his daze. “I’ve received an alert that your daughter and husband en route.”

Arthur nodded.

“It would be good for your health to greet them. They would be happy to see the progress that you’ve made.”

The niggling returned to his brain. A sharp pain amid numbness. Memories of indignation. He lunged toward the mental foothold. “Can we do it outside near the street?”

The disk hummed. “Yes. I think that would be appropriate, Arthur. Fresh air would be good for you.”

She lifted him up from the chair, a weak and infantile thing, and helped him hobble toward the street. They stood beneath a tree. All around, he could see the zooming of self-driving cars, the late-day rush hour.

He cleared his throat but could not get the watery feeling out of his head. “Nadia,” he said, “you would want to do anything for my health, right?”

The machine clicked, and, for a moment, he thought he heard a laugh instead of a whir. Yellow leaves reflected darkly against its surface. “Of course, Arthur, I’m here to make your life easier.”

“Good,” he nodded. “Sorry about this.”

Then, he pushed the device. It stumbled, trying to right itself before sliding on the unfamiliar surface of the curb. It took another few steps into the road. Its arms bent. It turned toward Arthur as a red sedan barreled down the road.

“Hmm, sorry. I didn’t get—.”

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


in

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YZDpksvNRjM

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Flash: Fault Lines

A Mistake
545 Words

Alice’s problem was much the storm as the security. Thick torrents of water splashed off the façade of the Grand Canaletto Hotel. A sopping wet activist shouted at the faceless suits pushing their way toward the entrance. As rain threatened to consume them all, she watched a set of guards work their way through the line, checking names and IDs before allowing the visiting economists, politicians, and staff into the North American Symposium on Global Trade and Economics.

“Aw jeeze,” she muttered, pushing her recorder and reporter’s notebook deep into the seems of her purse. She craned her neck, looking for a way near the line without getting thrashed by security. Seeing none, she let out an exasperated sigh. “Aw jeeeze.”

Ignoring the side-eye from a nearby bystander, she pushed her way across the flooded street onto the opposite corner. From what she could tell, there was no good way near the hotel. The front door was guarded. The garage, even more so. She could try bluffing it, giving a fake name and insisting she was on the list, but she was too young to be someone important. Her accent, a memento from a childhood in rural Minnesota, was bound to get questioned. If she didn’t get booted, she’d probably wind up in a jail cell.

Of course, that might be preferable to the alternative. She had no intention of ringing up the nice folk at the St. Cloud Gazette to tell them about her failure. She could only imagine how her boss would react if she let him know that she had been unable to register for the conference in advance, that the website had not registered her press pass due to some technical error. She didn’t want to have to tell them that they’d spent bookoo bucks flying her out to Halifax only for her to get locked outside. That’d look real nice during the paper’s next round of lay-offs.

There would be no surviving that deluge.

She wiped wet off her face and walked to a separate corner. In a window too high to climb, a man in a tan coat laughed at some silent joke. A pimply-faced waiter carried chocolate-covered strawberries to a concealed crowd. Laughter intermingled with the low roar of thunder. Someone far away shouted into a bullhorn about Russia and war crimes.

She crossed another street, as if turning enough corners would cause some kind of transformative change. When she was younger, she would close her eyes and count to ten and pretend as though the world could change if she wanted it bad enough.

As she stared upward, a sheet of icy water splashed against her back and soaked into her jacket. She gasped, turned, and watched as a long black car came to a stop along the curb. She had barely a moment to recognize the small American flags on the front before she found herself moving toward the car. She held her umbrella over the door and pressed her luck. Her only way inside would be hiding behind the coattails of someone else.

“Hi, sir, welcome to Halifax. Sorry about the weather. I’ll be helping you inside today.”

The man inside blinked in confusion for a moment before smiling. Through the rain, she smiled back.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Ok, in.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Take a Gander
1100 words
Flash: A gaggle


Harry struggled to keep his eyes focused on the screen of his laptop. The white glow of the Word document made his eyes feel heavy and swollen. The copy-paste prose of the cover letter, stressing his “excellent research and analysis skills” and “diverse experiences,” was painful to read. He moused over to his e-mail and refreshed. No new messages appeared.

He pressed against the balls of his eyes until shapes appeared. He was such a disappointment.

“Hey, do you want to hear a fact about birds?”

He blinked as purple splotches dissolved back into his sister’s den. The couch, his makeshift bed, looked as crumpled as ever. The pictures on the wall displayed family portraits and vacation photos. His suitcase, packed with the remains of his college apartment, sat open in a corner by a large flat screen television. A wadded shirt labelled “Class of 2017” lay on top.

“Did you know that a Canadian Goose can dive thirty to forty feet underwater? They do it so they can get food. Do you wanna hear another?”

Harry looked at the small creature beside him. His cousin, Matteo, had an exhausting enthusiasm and a seemingly infinite love of birds. When he had arrived a few weeks ago, the kid had been obsessed with cardinals. Then, it was eagles. Now, he had moved onto geese. A set of binoculars, a gift from his mother, hung loose around his neck.

In Matteo’s large, round eyes, Harry could see his reflection squirm.

“Hey, Teo,” Harry said, trying to meet the child’s gaze, “I’m a little busy so...”

He trailed off and gestured toward the computer screen. Matteo looked at it and squinted, as if trying to assemble a puzzle in his head. Then, he turned back to Harry.

“That’s cool, but did you know that Ancient Egyptians kept geese as pets? Can you even imagine that?”

“Teo, is there something I can help you with?”

Matteo giggled and gave him a knowing look. “You knooooow, my mom just got me these binoculars.”

Harry said nothing.

“And I really, really want to go to the park really bad.” Matteo lifted up his arms. “So why spend all day locked up in this crummy room when you can go outside to look at a bunch of geese with me?”

Matteo looked at him as though he could not imagine anything better than looking at a goose.

Harry tried to imagine what would happen if he tossed his laptop aside and spent time chatting about birds. He tried to imagine days of unemployment stretching on to weeks. He tried to imagine his sister’s growing impatience as he festered on her couch, a growing source of shame, a black hole of wasted potential. People would talk. He’d become one of those people who had to work a crummy minimum-wage job and never amount to anything. He’d be one of those people that high-school guidance counselors used as a cautionary tale. “Don’t think that just because you got good grades you’ll get a job after graduation,” they’d say. “You don’t want to be a burden on others, do you? You don’t want to be dependent on other people.”

Harry gripped the edge of the couch as his heart thudded in his chest. The purple splotches returned to his vision. The cursor on his screen blinked again and again. He took a deep breath in and out, aware of Matteo’s stare.

“Yeah, sure. Listen,” Harry said as his heart rate returned to normal. He scratched his pajama shirt, now aware that he should have changed out of it hours ago. He needed to get Matteo out of the room so he could work. “Why don’t you give me some time and maybe we can go to the park later.”

“Really? We can go look at all the birds together?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever… Just, give me, like, a few minutes and you can go see as many birds as you want.”

Harry bent back over his computer as Matteo’s shape bounded out of the den. Harry sat for a few seconds, watching the slow blink of the cursor before he began to type slow, laborious sentences about his “deep enthusiasm” and “devotion to the ideals of…”

He flicked back to his e-mail and refreshed. Then, he checked his Twitter feed. His monitor's cursor blinked. He walked around the room and tried to focus on his breathing. A minute of procrastination ticked into an hour. He needed air. Just for a minute.

Harry opened the den door and stepped into hall. “Matteo, I’m ready to go.”

Silence. He strolled past the front door and opened the door to Matteo’s bedroom. Discarded toys littered the carpet. A paused video game blinked. The house’s silence descended on him, seeming to crush his lungs beneath its weight.

“Matteo?”

He walked back toward the front door and turned. The door, usually shut, swayed in the wind. A small pair of shoes were missing from the rug. In the grass, a set of footprints led toward the street.

Harry froze for a second as his brain struggled to assemble disparate events in his head. Ducks. Park. Twenty minutes.

Then, the world rushed into focus.

“poo poo.” He said, running back to the den to grab his shoes.

“poo poo. poo poo.” He stumbled through the cluttered room. His leg caught on the laptop charger, yanking the computer from the coffee table onto the floor. The screen turned black as it tumbled to the floor.

“poo poo. poo poo. poo poo.” He was running across the lawn, his feet half inside his shoes, his pajamas billowing in the light afternoon breeze.

He ran until the pleasant spring air felt like needles in his lungs and pain swelled up beneath his ribs. He passed by a confused woman and her dog. He didn’t care if she stared. As the park came into view, he pushed himself into a sprint. A pond with geese came into view and then, mercifully, a small figure with a pair of binoculars.

“Teo!” He shouted, feeling the damp earth soak into the heel of his socks. He felt ready to vomit. “Teo, I swear to God.”

The small child turned and waved. “Hi there, Harry, whatcha doing?”

“What am I doing? What am I...” He came to a stop and curled over, almost deaf from all the blood pumping in his ears. “Do you have any idea—. Do you even know—. Your mom—.”

A small hand patted him on the back. “There, there.” Harry looked up to see Matteo handing over his binoculars. “Aren’t the birds pretty?”

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


cool. im in.

6

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


ing myself back onto the wagon

Give me a were-creature

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Prompt: The Were-Quokka

People are Animals
1,200 words

“Markus thinks Hing can turn into a dingo,” I say as our car turns onto a wooded, suburban street. “But I don’t think that’s right because he just doesn’t feel like an dingo, you know?”

“Uh huh.” My mother keeps her hands on the wheel and cranes her neck as she counts the numbers on the mailboxes. The neighborhood is a realtor’s fantasy, all white trim and red brick. Fresh flowers and mowed lawns are everywhere.

“So I was talking to Sarah, because she has an aunt in Australia, and she says that most Australians can’t even turn into anything interesting. It’s all a bunch of dogs and stuff.”

My mother glances at me in the rearview mirror as we approach a mailbox decorated in balloons. “Maybe he can’t turn into anything?”

“Mom,” I roll my eyes. “Everyone from Australia can turn into something. It’s a basic fact, like how it’s impossible to lick your elbow.” I smooth out the wrinkles on my dress and lean forward. “So, priority number one is to figure out what exactly Hing’s story is.”

We come to a stop at the end of a long line of cars. My mother turns.

“Alice, I really don’t want you harassing this poor family. They just moved in and were nice enough to invite you over.”

“Mo-om,” I say. The word comes out whiny, but I don’t care. She hasn’t had to watch Hing walk around middle school, not knowing if he could turn into an eagle or a tiger or a koala. She hasn’t had to sit in class next to him, watching him evade questions that ate away at her insides. “I’m not going to harass them.”

My mom sighs and unlocks the car. “Just keep in mind that you do have to see these kids again on Monday.”

***

The house is frightening in its mundanity. It has a living room and dining room. Awful knick-knacks line the walls. Photographs are everywhere. A photo of Hing as a toddler is followed by a kindergarten Hing with a soccer ball. No half-transformed monstrosities or obvious animal symbolism, except for an excited dog that yips at the partygoers.

Adults mill about the kitchen, laughing and drinking, as kids wander between the backyard and the bathroom. Stepping through the screen door, I spot my target sitting with Markus, Sarah, and a group of hanger-ons. He looks up as I approach, ready for my assault.

“Oh, h-hey, mate,” he says, his accent distorted by braces. Sitting in his cargo shorts and t-shirt, he looks as cool as ever. “It’s real great that you were able to show up.”

My plan combines simplicity with elegance. I take a breath.

“Markus says you can turn into a dingo. Can you?”

He blushes and looks at Markus, who looks down into his party cup. Sarah gives a nervous giggle and elbows a girl in my chemistry class.

“Uhh… I uhh…” His cheeks turn a brighter shade of crimson.

“You did say it,” Markus says, finding the courage to look up from his cup. “You said that you looked super cool when it happened too, with, like, real sharp fangs and scars and stuff.”

“Yeah. Of course,” Hing flashes a pained smile, regretting some remark made weeks ago. “Yeah. When I turn it’s, umm, really cool.”

Sarah pipes in. “I wanna see it!” She turns to the girl next to her. “My dad says he saw Hing’s dad turn back from an eagle one time. One moment, there was this huge bird in the sky and the next minute, BAM!” She claps her hands. “His dad was in the parking lot.”

“He can become a wedge-tailed eagle,” Hing says, his voice almost a whisper. He seems to have retracted, tortoise-like into his shirt.

The kids murmur at this new piece of information. Excitement spreads. A girl looks at Hing’s dad and giggles. I spot my mother chatting through the window, oblivious. In my head, I can hear her voice dripping with disappointment. Now what did I tell you, Alice? I thought you were going to be nice to that poor boy.

I brush aside a twinge of guilt and look again to my mother’s shape in the window. I’ve come too far now.

“Hey, Hing, you got anywhere more private we could do this?”

***

We can’t all sneak up to Hing’s bedroom so sacrifices are made. Sarah agrees to keep an eye on the parents. Markus gives me his smartphone for evidence. Hing and I creep up the stairs, followed by the dog, who senses excitement.

Hing shuts the door behind us, sealing us in a muffled quiet. I step over a pile of dirty laundry and sit on Hing’s unmade bed.

“So, we gonna do this or what?”

Either from the heat or the pressure, Hing wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead. He buries his other hand in his cargo shorts and stares down at the floor.

“I can’t do this. It’s too embarrassing.”

“I thought you were from Australia.” It’s the only thing I can think to say. I lower the phone, feeling a sudden mix of confusion and frustration.

“No, it’s not that it’s just that…” He trails off. “Just look and don’t record, okay.”

And then it happens. The changes are slow at first. Hing crouches a little. Then a little more. Hair sprouts on his arms. Then they are on his face. I watch, transfixed, as his arms shorten and his ears become longer. I wait for the transformation to end, for the dingo to appear, but it keeps going. He becomes smaller and smaller until, finally, he is reduced to a small pile of clothes. A small rodent squirms its way out of a sleeve.

“Oh my God,” I say.

It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

“I’m a quokka,” squeaks the small thing that darts onto the bed faster than I thought possible. It makes a noises that could almost be crying. “And it’s so embarrassing!”

My face melts. It is difficult to keep serious when talking to a small, sobbing rodent. “But you’re precious!”

“But I don’t want to be precious!” It sniffles. Its tiny hands scratch at its nose. I want to be cool and intimidating and now everyone is going to know how lame I am.”

I squirm as a heavy warmth settles in my chest. My mother’s voice is in my head again. Now look what you’ve done, you’ve humiliated this poor child.

“Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out.” I say, as I scratch the small rodent’s head.

The dog yips at the sight of us. I stare at it and then the phone.

***

“This video quality sucks, Markus,” says Sarah as we watch a pixelated Hing sprout hair.

“Not as much as Alice’s shooting,” Markus says as the video shakes. A fur-covered Hing vanishes as the screen suddenly shifts to the ceiling. “Jesus.”

When the camera turns back, there’s an animal on all fours jumping and yipping amid a pile of clothing. The group gasps.

“Wow,” says Markus.

I look up from the video and at Hing. Our eyes lock. He gives me a grateful smile.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


In

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Thanks for putting so much effort into the crits, Phoenix. They are really helpful.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.



John Doe
1,300 words

The road trips started soon after Mom died. At first they were small distractions. We’d take the afternoon off to visit an obscure museum or Civil War battle site, but they soon grew longer. Our trips snarled through empty Rust Belt towns and featureless fields of corn. By August, we were driving across state lines, traveling long after the sun had set and the balmy chords of the radio retreated into static. We caked the car in greasy fast food wrappers and gas station snacks.

On our last trip, I stayed awake for four hours before the steady flash of the street reflectors lulled me to sleep. When I woke, the sky was dark and the car had begun to sputter. The night’s light drizzle transformed itself into a heavy ran that thundered against the roof. An orange light on the dashboard flashed “LOW FUEL.”

“Well,” said Dad in a voice of forced whimsy, “guess we won’t be getting home tonight.”

I stared at him in the dark, opened my mouth, then thought better of it. Better not to get into another fight. Rain pounded against the roof and headlights. Up ahead was the faint, bluish outline of a road sign, “GAS/ FOOD 1.5 MI.”

He shifted in his seat and took an inelegant swig from his McDonald’s cup, ice tea mixed with something clear grabbed from a convenience store. The half-empty bottle rattled somewhere behind us.

My face remained placid. I would not add to his torment.

“Looks like Judgement Day out there!” He slurred, leaning forward, looking at the sky with awe. He flashed a smile that contained the shadow of warm summer nights, of Mom announcing she was going on a walk and Dad kissing her on her way out the door.

Fatal Willoughby Crash Injures 4, Kills—.

Friends, Neighbors Remember—.

John Doe Charged—.


He turned around. Flesh pulled against itself. “Wonder if I still have my rain slicker…” He looked again at me and gave an exaggerated smile. “Hey, bud, would you mind sitting tight for a few minutes? I’m just gonna grab a tank and…”

I stared expressionless as he trailed off. Outside, the storm had turned into a deluge. Water slid off the road in huge sheets before disappearing into the darkness beyond. I could see my mother jogging through our sunlit suburban neighborhood, lifting a hand to wave at an approaching car.

I nodded and gave a response that I had given so many times over the last few months. It slid out of my mouth dead and fish-like. “I’m fine.”

He leaned over and buried me into his chest. His filth washed over me. “I’ll just be a second, kiddo,” he said. He pulled out a yellow jacket from the mess behind us. It fit around his body like an overfilled dam. “Just gonna be there and back.”

He opened the car door and stepped out. He paused, looking at something in the distance, before poking his head back in the car and throwing me the car keys. “Make sure you lock the door after I leave.”

***

His shape filled up the windshield of the car. Then, it made up a sliver of it. Then, he was a pinprick against the darkness, his yellow jacket wavering like a ghost light before vanishing entirely. I settled into the curve of the chair and pressed my knees against the airbag. The radio crackled as I played with the keys, trying not to click the panic button by mistake.

I watched the road. Something stirred just beyond my sight. I squinted. It raced towards the car. Before I could process what was happening, a face pressed itself against my window.

“Hiya, Ricky,” it said, with a smile that was not unkind. “Watcha doing out here in this nasty ol’ storm. Not lost, I hope?”

I blinked. The thing was a deer. Its lips curled back in a friendly smile. Its fur, instead of hanging in wet clumps, bounced and shone as if it had been freshly groomed. It leaned against the car as if it were a cartoon character about to whistle a tune.

“Hello,” I said, but the voice that came out did not sound like my voice at all. It was young, child-like. I moved from my curled position. The deer’s great brown eyes stared into mine. The situation was too ridiculous, too absurd, but all I could think about was my heart pounding in my chest. “I’m just waiting for my Dad.”

The deer cast its eyes toward the road. “He a big guy? Six three? Wearing a yellow rain slicker that’s just a bit too tight?”

I nodded, transfixed.

“Bad news, Ricky, my boy, my chum.” It shook its head and I saw that its fur was not perfect. An old cut curled down its neck, leaving a small trail of dried blood. “I’m afraid your dad croaked.”

“No.” The word felt heavy.

The deer gave a sympathetic nod. “Oh, I saw the whole thing. He was walking, well staggering really, and a car came by and clipped him. Oh boy, his arm came clean off. You shoulda seen it. There was blood everywhere.”

My breathing became labored. My hand trembled on the door handle. “He can’t…”

“But he can,” the deer tsked. “The worst part is that he cried at the end. He boo-hooed all the way to the grave. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that just awful?”

I tried to hold back tears. I could see the entire scene in my mind, my father in his raincoat, the deafening storm around him, the bright lights of an approaching car. So stupid. He was always so stupid.

The deer licked its lips. “But don’t be sad, sweet Ricky. I can help. I can make sure you’ll be with mummy and daddy forever.” It tapped a gnarled hoof against the glass. “Just open the door.”

My hand had curled around the handle. The deer’s milky eyes stared into mine. I convulsed as brain and body moved in two separate directions. No, I thought, mouth frozen. Please no.

“There’ll be no pain, if that’s what you’re afraid of. You’d be shocked how quick it can be. I should know.”

The deer smiled at me, maggots teeming from its wet, half-obliterated face. Patchy fur stretched tight over swollen, tire-marked flesh. It looked like a squeezed tube of toothpaste.

My hand pulled the handle as my brain screamed for it to stop. I squeezed both my fists, pressing tight against the car key and the door. Then, the world erupted into sound and light. The deer reared back as the alarm blared, fury etched across its face. It reared back and slammed its head into the car door. There was a terrible crunching before it vanished into the rain.

***

“Jesus, Rick, you okay?” Dad shouted over the blaring alarm. I peeked my head out from my knees, unable to believe he was real, before reaching a shaky hand to his door. The alarm stopped mid-honk, ushering us into silence. He set down a gas can. “I think I gave myself a hernia running here. What happened?”

I had no idea how much time had passed, but the rainstorm had disintegrated in the time he had been gone. There was no sign of the deer nor anything else.

I breathed in the night air. “Nothing. I’m okay.”

“Must of been something,” he muttered. The wet had sobered him and, for the first time, he seemed concerned. He kneeled down by my door, pressing his fingers into the metal. “‘Cause it sure banged up the car real bad.”

I couldn’t hold it in anymore. My eyes watered. I threw my arms around his neck and sobbed, my cries echoing for miles.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Week CCCXV: Ships Passing in the Night

(Special thanks to Chili.)

One of my favorite movies is Roman Holiday. Starring Audrey Hepburn, the film depicts a princess who sneaks off during a state visit to adventure around Rome. Along the way, she meets with an American reporter, played by Gregory Peck, and the two enjoy a few days together. Though they grow as people and develop a meaningful relationship, the two must return to their responsibilities at the end of the movie. They likely never see each other again but carry the experience for the rest of their lives.

This week, I want stories like that. I want tiny, meaningful relationships between people who only know each other for a fleeting moment. Within your story, you must have at least two characters who:

1.) Meet for the first time;
2.) Experience something brief and important together; and
3.) Separate and likely never see each other again.

These characters do not need to be formally introduced. They do not need to talk at all. They do, however, need to be aware of each other in some way, shape, or form. Genre and setting can be whatever you want, but you can request a flash rule from one of the judges if you are struggling to find inspiration.

Per the usual, no fanfic, erotica, quote tags, or Google Docs.

Word Count: 1,400 words

Sign-Up Deadline: 23:59:59 EST, 17 August 2018
Submission Deadline: 23:59:59 EST, Sunday, 19 August 2018

Judges
-QuoProQuid
- Chili
- sebmojo

Entrants
1.) CascadeBeta; Flash Rule: "Both of your characters are over 60."
2.) Guiness13
3.) Staggy; Flash Rule: "Your story must take place in a prison or jail. "
4.) apophenium; Flash Rule: "Cold noodles must be a part of your story."
5.) Thranguy; Flash Rule: "Your story must include a dead bird."
6.) Wizgot
7.) Antivehicular
8.) Bacon Terrorist
9.) flerp; Flash Rule: "Your story must be set in an urban environment."
10.) dmboogie
11.) Bad Seafood; Flash Rule: "One of your characters is not who they claim to be."
12.) spectres of autism; Flash Rule: "At least one of your characters must be a performer of some kind. "
13.) Lead out in cuffs
14.) Invisible Clergy; Flash Rule: "Your story must feature baked goods."
15.) Ashwat
16.) Jon Joe
17.) Flesnolk; Flash Rule: "One of your characters is guilty of something terrible."

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at Aug 18, 2018 around 01:20

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Staggy posted:

In. And why not - hit me with a flash rule too.

Your story must take place in a prison or jail.

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QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

WHO LOVES BLOOD SODA?
KEL LOVES BLOOD SODA!


I do. I do. I do-oo.


Thranguy posted:

in, and flash me

Your story must include a dead bird.

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