first prompt of the new year ho boy
“It's too important to use only for money, but too dangerous to use for anything else."
sign ups close friday midnight est
subs close sunday midnight est
|# ¿ Jan 3, 2018 09:13|
|# ¿ Sep 19, 2018 16:37|
Jay W. Friks
Sham Bam Bamina
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at Jan 7, 2018 around 19:06
|# ¿ Jan 3, 2018 09:14|
New year. New you. You said you'd write more in 2018. Do it. Ten hours left to sign up.
|# ¿ Jan 5, 2018 18:38|
Sign ups are closed.
|# ¿ Jan 6, 2018 05:28|
submissions are closed
|# ¿ Jan 8, 2018 05:01|
Week 283 Judgment
This was a good week.
Thranguy wins. Antivehicular hms in a close, highly-contested second place finish. No one dms because everyone else wrote pretty good stories. Unfortunately, Jay W. Friks loses because someone has to and Hunt the Lines was guilty of incomprehensibility in a strong week. Sorry Jay.
Keep the throne warm, Thranguy.
|# ¿ Jan 8, 2018 06:07|
Because I’m an insane person, I always four or five prompts sitting off in the wings. This was… maybe my least favorite of the crop but it felt too terrifically apropos to pass it by. New year and all. I'm glad I didn't pass it up.
To be frank, I toyed around with the wording of this prompt a great deal. I thought about listing pitfalls and traps I wanted everyone to avoid but I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t need to. You all wrote interesting stories that avoided the stereotypical problems one might expect from the genre without the need for me specifically directing you to do so. Even the new blood did alright. Also, amazingly, only two stories were even particularly similar (a deal with the not-devil that ultimately ends with being devoured). Simplicity in a prompt is something I may or may not consider going forward.
Anyway, thank you for the stories. Here are my crits. As always, if you feel the need to respond to them here in this thread, don't.
I have a handful of issues with this.
First, you wrote a lot of unnecessary words. I’ll be interested to see (assuming you come back) how you deal with a smaller, more reasonable flash fiction word count. With this story, a significant portion of what you have written has very little to actually do with your story. It’s just set dressing. It’s just waxing poetic about alleyways and clothing and blah blah blah. Lets look at a couple of sentences, shall we?
“A cat darted out from behind the repulsive alley dumpster and into the dark yet busy street in the distance ahead as the man kicked an empty tuna can. As it rebounded with an audible snap against the graffitied wall, the drunk but well-dressed businessman paid no attention to the scuttling and scurrying in the shadowed edges of the passage.”
What is important here? By which I mean, what is important here to your story? We learn in 60 words that a man, some random man, is drunk. He is in a dirty alley. There is a nearby busy street. There is also a cat and an empty tuna can. This is your opener. We don’t know, though, who this man is or why he is drunk or why any of this is important. Much of which either isn’t important (the cat, the tuna can, the dumpster, the traffic) or could be better couched somewhere else in your story (he is a well-dressed business man, he is in a seedy location -- both implied/brought up with working at a firm). Also, read those sentences out loud. Do they read easily? Do they not feel jumbled in your mouth?
On top of that, your story doesn’t actually get interesting until we hit 672 words. That’s right around when we learn that the randomly irish guy can read thoughts. That’s nearly a third of your story! Until that point, it’s all bullshit about some drunk businessman. Now I’m sure you’ll initially argue that it’s very important to set up the tragic story of the drunk businessman because no no no just stop. It’s not. There are plenty of stories about drunk businessmen who lose everything. You could get that across in one sentence. When crafting a story, you need to figure out what makes your story unique, interesting, and specifically different from the ten-thousand other ones like it. And, in this case, that component is mysteriously irish man and his deal. It’s not good enough to simply be able to string together pretty words. Your words, all of your words, need to be focused towards a singular point -- that of telling a very specific story. Set dressing is only important if it adds something important. Did the or the tuna can or even the description of him falling add something important? No. This story is about a deal that lets you reset time. Make your story about that. Make it about that dilemma. And let me, your reader, know what I’m getting into way way earlier. Don’t make me read a third of your story before letting slip what’s actually important/interesting here. Don’t waste words.
Lastly, you have some weird internal inconsistencies. Holes. Why did the mysteriously irish man take out David’s wallet and then give it back to him? Why does he care if David should be more specific? Why was he irish? Why include dates if you only use them twice and they’re not important to help your reader keep track of the timeline? How did Gary remember the last words of the deal if “You will retain no memory of this transaction?”
For the record, don’t respond to crits in thread. These are all questions for you to personally ponder. Welcome to Thunderdome.
I really liked this. Your last line is very sweet and it pulls the piece together in a nice way. I think you should have waited another day to submit though. It just seems a little unpolished. Maybe sleeping on it and looking again with fresh eyes could have been helpful.
I think you should have started with: “My name’s Liam,” he said, extending his hand. She raised her eyebrows in surprise, two sharp arches over dark eyes.
“Didn’t they warn you not to talk to me?” she said. “I’m a witch.”
Your catalyst for conflict needs to be tweaked just a hair. Like, “You think that time flows at your own pace, well it doesn’t, and it won’t wait for me, or for you” is a really nice line. But we don’t really work our way to it. Liam didn’t know that he was coming home late because Yvette only just discovered that her grandmother is ill. I’m also not a huge fan of random circumstance creating conflict. Or, rather, random circumstance being the major/only source of conflict. It’s much better when it’s a conscious choice by the character. So maybe she tells him that she really needs to leave but won’t say why. And she does this is a couple times and he keeps telling her no no no wait wait wait because he’s working to pay off the ring. She chooses. He chooses. Etc etc. Better than him getting a little prematurely tipsy in celebration and that random night just happens to be a night where Yvette has to loving leave right loving now arrghhhh
I love that you play around with the prompt. It’s never super clear if Yvette is actually magical or actually has the powers to affect time. The implication is more greater conceptually, contextually, vis-à-vis their relationship. I just love that. Well done.
loving. Rad. Opening. Love a good pencil to the brain. Well done use of the date/time markers. It’s a bit risky to spend so more time describing the monotony of 82 seconds but it totally works here. I never get bored with it. I’m always invested. It just keeps feeling fresh. Which is neat. The only time you come off the tracks a bit is at the end with the woman. What she is, how she’s different, and how she changes your protagonist’s situation is unclear. Also, I don’t think you knew how to end this story so you just kinda… did. Overall, very good though.
Sharp, crisp writing. Good voice. Quick dialogue. Interesting concept. Overall very, very good.
Problems: Mr. Carr’s crimes feels a bit of a red herring. Martin “concealing a smirk” undercuts both his outrage at “you pathetic liar” and the protagonists reasoning for hooking up specifically with him. It is unclear when exactly she got to “[know] him that well, [know] how he felt about us locals.” In my opinion, you shouldn’t have capitalized Killing Fields -- I think it makes too specific of a reference. Alternatively, maybe bring it up earlier as something they lament not being to fix this jump for lack of power I don’t know. It’s a cool line it just sticks in my craw for some reason. Also, the ending is super abrupt and a little disappointing given how fun the rest of your story was. Killing your protagonist feels like a disservice and is one of the more uninteresting choices you could have made.
Jay W. Friks
As I said in my judgment post, what doomed you here was incomprehensibility. We struggled, I struggled, with several major facets of your story. Foremost being that the setting is extremely unclear. I have no idea where or when it is supposed to take place. At first, it felt very pseudo-Lord of the Rings and then a Gatling gun shows up and I just have no idea what's going on. Naming conventions felt haphazard (Lord of Veng, Master Thane, Elizabeth, Shade, Emilio) and that furthered my confusion. Is there a difference between Wolf and wolf? Are they the same as the Shade? There was clearly something interesting going on and I think you had a very vivid picture in your mind while you wrote this. But it didn't make it from your brain to mine.
Things I liked about this: it's in second person, it's about a robot, it follows the prompt, it clips along and I didn't get bored, I just generally kinda think the concept is cool.
I'll go into greater detail regarding the things I didn't like. Going second person with a non-human entity is an interesting, bold choice (and one that I'll probably steal to be quite honest). The more I think about it the more I like it. It gives you the ability to juxtapose an alien sentience with your reader's own human experiences and let your reader really feel just how foreign/familiar this other being truly is. How other it is. You missed the mark, though. It would have been cool to let the reader, the human, bear the emotional burden of Genesis's bloody calculus. You shouldn't force it. But you forced it. I would have liked a little more matter-of-factness. A little bit more robot in the robot.
Why did you choose to kill your main character off? I'm not typically a huge fan of swinging in a death at the end of a story. And, truth be told, I was expecting a little deus ex machina. You'd certainly foreshadowed it. Sending people back in time. Ending right before the sun explodes. The explicit desire to be a hero. I thought you were setting me up for an ending where mankind made it safe, fixed things this go round, and when Genesis regains "consciousness" it does so in the face of a better world. But maybe you just wanted to avoid loving with loops and paradoxes.
Conceptually speaking, this was probably my favorite of the week. Someone complained that it was a little exposition heavy-- which it was-- but that didn't bother me. It stayed interesting. And you wrote it in such a way that the exposition felt (was) vital and meaningful and important to both the story and the plot. I think you needed more words, though. Like, maybe 600-1000 more words. You just didn't have the space to fill out Agnes's character. And you ran out of time so your ending was squished and overly simplified.
"Idiots think a closed timeline means room for fuckups, but just because nobody ever finds your body doesn't mean you get out of this alive." That's such a great line.
One judge thought this was maybe worth dq-ing since it played a little fast and loose with the prompt but I thought it was fine. I like a little flexibility as long as it's well done and using memory as a time travel device is a cool enough concept for me to roll with it. One judge called this "the most human on the stories this week" which is probably true. I found this to be emotionally resonant but... a little thin. Like, you're dealing with some rather deep, rather intense concepts but maybe not to the degree or depth you really needed to in order for this to fully hit. Good concept. Good characters. Could use a little more knowledge of the setting.
|# ¿ Jan 9, 2018 16:36|
Well that's a first. Thanks.
|# ¿ Jan 12, 2018 13:55|
this is what happens when there is slow judging
fast judging good judging
|# ¿ Jan 16, 2018 00:46|
free crit by me, tyrannosaurus
this is good humor guys take note because djeser IS a judge but he is neither fast nor good
|# ¿ Jan 22, 2018 15:18|
Secret Santa was cool. Would do again.
|# ¿ Jan 27, 2018 04:14|
This sure is some slow judging huh
|# ¿ Jan 30, 2018 21:23|
I'm in and I'll take a flash rule thank you
|# ¿ Feb 1, 2018 14:40|
It bothered Monty that his wife still hadn’t smiled. It had been a month since he’d brought her back from the dead. The muscles in her cheeks were fully functional. It wasn’t paralysis. She knew who he was. She hadn’t suffered any memory loss. It was something else. Something he couldn’t figure out.
“Hey,” he said softly. “Have you been in here all day?”
They’d designed the library together. Kate had always wanted a library growing up and when her father died that’s how they spent the inheritance money. They had made it the largest room in their house. Calling it a room was almost an insult. Hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, two stories tall and filled with books upon books, it was a veritable cathedral to the literary arts. A place of worship for the written word. But now it was just collecting dust. Kate had kept her affinity for the space but not for its purpose. The books she had piled together before she died remained where she had left them. Unopened. Undisturbed. And the room was dark now save for the flickering of a television screen casting colors onto the shelves.
The newest addition-- a television. Plus a couch. Both placed dead center. Monty stood in the doorway and watched her watch the screen. Her back was to him.
“Have you been in here all day?” he asked again.
“Yes,” Kate said without turning her head. She slowly picked up a single piece of popcorn and placed it on her tongue. “Except for a few trips to the kitchen.” She sucked the salt and the butter off her thumb. “I never liked popcorn. I remember that but I don’t remember why. I don’t have any memories as to why. It’s delicious.”
“You never liked television, either.”
“I know,” she said. “How strange.”
He pinched his nose and leaned against the doorframe. “Watch anything good today?”
“Oh, it’s all good,” she said. “I’m discovering that everything has its charm. As long as you’re willing to look for it.” She removed the kernel from her mouth, flicked it into a second bowl, and grabbed another piece of popcorn. She sucked her thumb clean in the same practiced gesture as before. “Why didn’t you name me something clever?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Science fiction,” she said, gesturing at the television, “tropes this constantly. Everyone is always oh-so-clever when it comes to naming things. Thomas is a doubter. Lupin is wolfish. Ariadne solves the labyrinth. Mr. Solo is a loner.” She still hadn’t turned to face him. “I could have been an Eve. Or an Ava. A Persephone. Onomastically speaking, I’m partial to Eurydice myself. Seems particularly fitting given our circumstances. Why didn’t you give me a new name?”
Was this is a joke? Monty straightened up. “I didn’t give you a new name because your name is Katherine. Because... that’s just who you are,” he said. “Because you’re the same person.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “Am I though?”
Yes, he thought. Same memories. Same experiences. Same... body. Same person. “Yes,” he said.
Kate turned back to the television. After a moment, Monty left the room. There was an awful, gnawing pit in his stomach.
They sat across from one another. Silverware sat untouched. Kate broke the silence.
“Oven-roasted salmon with glazed brown sugar and a toasted almond parsley salad on the side,” she said. “It was on the Food Network at 2:30 this afternoon. It seemed easy. It was.”
“It looks delicious,” Monty said. He didn’t have an appetite. Only that same pit. It had been whispering foul thoughts to him for hours. He forced a smile. “Looks great.”
“I know it bothered you,” she said, straight-faced as always, “cooking for both of us all those years. I don’t why I was so resistant to learning how to contribute in the kitchen. It’s quite simple. Just following directions and- well, you cook. You know all that already.” She scratched her temple. The scar from the procedure was red but fading. “Not hungry?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Sorry,”
“Neither am I.” She pushed her plate towards the middle of the table. “Not for this anyhow. Fish. Salad. Truth be told, I think I could spend the rest of my life just eating popcorn. There’s something about that combination of salty and sweet…” She looked up at the ceiling as her words trailed off with her thoughts. “I would need to supplement my diet, of course,” she said. “Vitamins and such. But that’s one of the beauties of living in the modern world, isn’t it? You can largely do as you please.”
“Do you love me?” He hadn’t meant to say it.
Kate paused. She watched his face. “I’m fond of you, Monty, yes.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I know what you asked.”
He exhaled sharply through his nose. He propped his elbows on the table and he pressed his knuckles into his eyes until he saw stars. They sat in silence.
“I’m going to go watch television,” Kate said quietly.
Monty waved her off with a slight motion of his fingers. He didn’t open his eyes. He heard the soft scrape of table legs on linoleum and then nothing again. Silence again.
Her found her in the library. In the dark. He cleared his throat.
“Can you turn off the television, please?”
He couldn’t hear her sigh but he could see it. He could see her shoulders rise and fall. She reached for the remote and turned off the power and plunged the room into pitch black. Monty cursed himself under his breath. He fumbled at the wall for the lightswitch.
When the light's came back, Kate was sitting half-turned on the couch so she could face him. “Yes, Monty? What is it?”
His face was red. “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” she said. Her face was inscrutable. “I love you.”
“Why didn’t you say it at dinner?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, pursing her lips. “I should have.”
“Why didn’t you say it at dinner?”
“I’m saying it now!”
“But you don’t mean it!” With a shaking hand, he rubbed his forehead. “You don’t mean it.”
Kate sighed. She moved the popcorn bowl, sat up, and pushed off the couch. She took a step towards Monty. “I love you,” she repeated. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t smile anymore. You don’t laugh anymore. You don’t read.” He wiped his eyes. “You look at me sometimes like you don’t know who I am.”
“Monty, I- I don’t know who you are.”
He stared at her. A tear ran down his cheek. “We’ve been married for years.”
“We have a lifetime’s worth of memories and experiences-”
“Yes,” Kate hissed. “But they aren’t my experiences! They aren’t my memories!” She rubbed her temples and paced the hardwood floor. “I have all this- this stuff in my head. But it’s all second-hand. Our marriage, our wedding, our first kiss, our attempts to have children, our failures, our fights, they aren’t mine! I haven’t experienced them. They are no different in my mind then a book on one of these shelves. That’s why I don’t read, Monty. Because it reminds me of this truth and it hurts. I’m grateful for you but...” She wiped her eyes with one hand and grabbed a book at random. Shūsaku Endō’s Silence. She pointed it at him and waved it to emphasize each word. “If Garupe or Ferreira or Kichijiro walked into this room right now I would know about them but I wouldn’t know them. That’s what it’s like being in this house with you. I know about you. I don’t know you.”
They were both crying.
“How- how do I introduce myself?” Monty asked. He couldn’t help but laugh through his tears.
Kate shrugged and threw her hands up and smiled for the first time. “I don’t know.” She laughed and wiped her eyes.
She put down her book and he leaned against the wall. They each took a moment to quietly compose themselves again. Monty took a deep breath.
“Do you want to watch some television?” he asked.
“What- what do you want watch?”
Monty shrugged. “I don’t care,” he said. “I honestly don’t care. I don’t know what’s even on these days. Something you haven’t seen before. Something we can sit and watch and make our own opinions about. Something new for us both.”
Kate nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’d like that.”
He smiled at her and she smiled back.
|# ¿ Feb 5, 2018 00:43|
"Glub glub," Richard Parker said.
He was a pirate by trade. As such, he couldn't swim but he could fall in love. He could also drown and was doing so when he saw her. Her being a mermaid. She was very beautiful and, despite his predicament, he couldn't help but imagine a romantic affair with her. Richard's ship, cannonballed and scuttled by boarders, was sinking into the sea behind him.
"Glub glub," Richard Parker said.
"Sweet seas," she said. "You're handsome."
"You different from all the other mermen, aren't you? I can tell."
"I know this is strange, it's sudden, but I can't help but imagine a romantic affair with you."
Richard Parker died from an inhalation of water. After a moment, the mermaid mated with and then devoured his corpse because mermaids are loving horrifying.
|# ¿ Feb 5, 2018 16:06|
In honor of our esteemed head judge Antivehicular, I give to you your interprompt:
"Someone is staunchly and weirdly anti-vehicle. Why?"
|# ¿ Feb 12, 2018 15:22|
I'll fight Exmond. Anime must be banished from the Thunderdome.
Anime must stand strong!
Poor Madison died and has become a ghost. She'll never find true love now. Or will she?
Feb 24th at high noon est. 900 words.
|# ¿ Feb 16, 2018 17:09|
Interprompt: Explain a joke.
Beethoven's Favorite Fruit
No, you have to say it right. You can't just say banana you have to say it like this: banana. See the difference?
|# ¿ Feb 19, 2018 14:41|
Salem 1692, please
|# ¿ Feb 23, 2018 04:29|
You kinda swerved on me there in the middle. This story isn't about Madison. It's about the neckbearded Ghoul King and his inability to understand love. Did you run out of time? It feels like you ran out of time. This story lack cohesion. It's just little snippets cut out and glued haphazardly back together. The beginning meanders as you find your footing. It gets interesting around "now let me paint." Cut everything before that section and jettison or recycle it later.
Okay so dumb things here:
1) "Her ward needed her now and she would be damned if she wouldn’t try her best." Unnecessary and messes up the cool set up you did with the preceding sentence.
2) "let out a frustrated sigh as her hand passed through the child" What? Did she forget she was a ghost?
3) The phone thing feels out of place. If you're trying to do some dichotomy timeline poo poo of a modern girl and an oldschool teacher it didn't work. Cool idea. But it didn't feel modern except for the phone and then the phone just felt out of place
4) She can't touch the girl but she can make biscuits and tea? How?
5) I'm pretty chill with prompts but man this isn't really about poor Madison being dead and finding or not finding love now is it?
1) Your use of language is much improved. Lots of little things "She did not speak as a teacher would to a student, nor as a parent to a young child. She spoke as a lady would speak to another lady. With respect and grace." Very good
|# ¿ Feb 24, 2018 19:03|
“Are ye witches?” I ask. “Speak truly.”
They shake their heads. Five of us young girls there were originally: myself, Temperance called Sybil, her cousin Temperance called Annie, and two others whose names I know not for they died before I could learn them.
Somewhere in the dark woods surrounding us stands watch the visiting minister with his long rifle. Somewhere else, the bodies of those two other girls. They were scared. They ran for home. They died slow. Beseeched we God to end quickly their terrible suffering but He did not impart His mercy. We did not, could not help them ourselves nor even approach the bodies for prayer; too fearful were we that the minister would see our Christian compassion as sinful cowardice, as attempted flight from our assigned duty, and so rifle us down the same. We will leave these woods when we summon the devil or never at all.
We walk in silence for some time. Sybil ahead then myself then Annie. It is an old indian trail. There is much wildness to it and we have neither lantern nor torch. We make way through root and branch by the light of the moon.
“I dreamed of a neighbor boy who had passed,” Sybil says, glancing back at me. “He spoke words of comfort and bid me pass them on to his family. I did. I thought it would bring them peace. That doesn’t make me a witch. It was just a dream.”
“He fell from the barn loft,” Annie says. “My sweet cos’ did cry for many nights after came news of his death. She loved him.”
“I did,” Sybil says, nodding. “I loved him. We would have married, I think. When we were old enough.” She reaches under her collar and tugs upon a woven necklace made of twine. “He gifted me this. Sometimes I would pick flowers and braid them into it.” She slows her pace until we are abreast. “I’m not a witch,” she says in a low voice. “If I was, I’d admit it. There’s no reason not to now.”
Annie appears on my other side and takes my hand like we’re sisters. A branch had snagged her colf early on in our walk and her blonde ringlets spill across her face untamed. “I forget the Lord’s Prayer,” she whispers. “Never in my heart, mind ye. But if asked to speak before the Church I lose all reason. Doesn’t even have to be the Lord’s Prayer, really. Could be anything. Words just... catch in my throat like fish in a net. I get so nervous talking in front of people. I stutter. A stutter doesn’t make me a witch!”
Sybil laces her fingers through mine. “I’d admit it,” Sybil repeats.
“No reason not to,” Annie says.
“Why take my hands so?” I ask. “Why say ye both these words? What is the meaning?”
“Your father,” Sybil whispers, her eyes scanning the woods, “stood before the Congregation and testified you commune with animals. He witnessed it on several occasions. A black mouser. A pig. Two goats.”
“Is it true?” Annie asks, squeezing hard. “Did commune thee with creatures?”
“Your own father-”
“Saw me, yes,” I say. “But… ‘Twas but childish games. Fanciful play and nothing more. I have not siblings nor cousins. My mother has passed. It is just my father and I and the animals. And my loneliness.” They are terribly frightened. I squeeze their hands reassuringly even though I, too, am scared. “We’ll be alright,” I say.
“Save us,” Sybil whispers. “If there be but any goodness left in ye then save us!”
A crack nearby hushes our conversation. The minister? Maybe. Or an animal. Or just the wind on branches. It is impossible to know.
Annie leans into me and cries. “I’m a Christian,” she sobs. “God’s mercy on me.”
We find it in the clearing. A great towering figure. Shaped like a man. As tall as a barn. Made by the townsfolk, our own families, of straw and stick and wood. Through gaps in it, I can look up and see stars.
“What now?” Sybil asks.
Light it on fire. Dance naked.
“Look not to me for leadership,” I say, shaking my head. “Heard we all the same words on what is to be done. Know I nothing more than you.”
Annie wipes her eyes. “If signed ye the Black Book…” She breaks down into sobbing.
I shush her and hold her and kiss her cheek. “We will do right,” I say. “We will be safe through God’s mercy. We will follow the ministers words. And all will be well.”
Christ took human form and was killed by the Romans. Why, the minister then argued, would not the devil suffer from that same vulnerability? We could kill him! If only he presented a target.
We are to present the target. We are to summon him. With flint and tinder. And our bodies.
We strike fire and the effigy roars to life. Such great heat and light as if it is making up for the darkness and cold we walked through before.
“Undress,” I say, fingering my own strings. “We must now undress.”
Annie shivers. “I can’t,” she says. “I can’t do this. I’m a Christian.”
“No!” She drops to her knees and claps together her hands. “I refuse! I’m a Christian! Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name-”
“Annie!” Sybil shouts. “We must! He’ll shoot us if we don’t!”
“Hallowed be thy name,” Annie repeats. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be… thy will...”
Her words trail off.
I see him, too. He stands at the edge of the woods. Illuminated by fire. Tall and thin and gray-bearded. His hat is pulled low across his eyes like he must shade them from the summer sun.
“The devil!” Sybil says.
“No,” I say.
“Be naked,” the minister growls. “Remove thy shift. Dance for thy master.”
“I won’t,” Annie shakes her head. “I won’t do it.”
He strides towards us. His legs are long. His clothes are black. He drops his rifle in the dirt and he grabs Annie with both hands and lifts her up, up into the air. She screams and kicks.
“Witnessed I your prayers,” he growls, shaking her. “What foul council did ye offer up? Did ye warn him of our plans?”
“She spoke but the Lord’s Prayer!” Sybil says.
“She knows not the words.” He brings her face towards his. His hat curls against her forehead. “Prithee, speak, ye whoremasterly pox. Prove ye your devotion to God. Speak the words. Our father. Speak them!”
But Annie can’t. She can’t get past our. Father is nothing more than a stuttering fuh-fuh-fuh. Same as when the Church bade her back a lifetime ago.
“Stop it!” Sybil cries. “She’s not a witch!”
“I’ll burn ye,” the minister says. His voice is low and dark. “You, your cousin, the world.” Annie is so small compared to him. Her feet dangle in the air. He carries effortlessly towards the effigy. He holds her back to it so that flames lick at her clothes. “Death comes for ye, girl. Call to thy master. Let thy final moments of this foul life be in service to God.”
Sybil screams. She yanks at his cloak. She isn’t strong enough. Her cousin’s clothes catch fire.
I don’t want to die.
I grab the minister’s rifle. A matchlock. Like my father’s. A burning twig lands at my feet.
A gift? A sign?
I grab it. The firing string sizzles down towards the powder and the muscles in my arms scream as loud as the girls. It is so heavy this terrible weight. The minister sees me, starts to turn, but the gun erupts. Red blood everywhere. He falls. Annie falls. Sybil frantically throws dirt on her cousin. I drop the rifle.
I don’t want to die.
“They’ll hang us,” I say. "Hang us together."
Annie and Sybil cling tight to one another. They are frightened.
“Save us,” Sybil whispers.
I stare at the body. Beseeched we God to end quickly the minister’s terrible suffering but He did not impart His mercy. “He was possessed,” I say slowly. “As were we all. But through God we have been redeemed and are no longer beholden to the devil. This we will tell the town.” I glance at them. “Keep ye to this covenant?”
“Good,” I say. “I’m going to light him on fire. It will make this death look most unholy and strengthen our words. Look ye away if ye must.”
I take a burning branch and set it at the minister's feet.
“Can ye have me dream of the boy again?” Sybil asks softly. “I loved him so. I would see him once more if be it within thy power.”
The effigies burn. I stare at her and say nothing.
|# ¿ Feb 26, 2018 05:06|
oi ya fuckin drongo leave Jimmy Barnes alone he's a national treasure
Intreprompt crit: I know you love trying to be avant-garde and everything but I still think you should title your pieces.
|# ¿ Feb 26, 2018 17:50|
I'm neither Antivehicular or Unfunny Poster but seeing how long judging took y'all will be waiting until July for crits.
Here are some free ones from me.
1. Chainmail Onesie
Something I liked: This felt like a complete world. Or rather a smaller part of something grander. That’s cool. Lunar/Earther, hardsuit, etc etc I get the feeling that this is very well realized in your head. Have you written in this world before?
Something I disliked: I have no idea what’s going on. You never manage to move things from your mind to the page in a meaningful way for me, the reader. Plot, story relationships, it’s all esoteric
Where I got bored: I read the whole thing because it kept teasing me with a reveal that never came, an understanding of story/plot that never materialized
2. Lazy Beggar
Something I liked: “It’s loving baltic” is a hilarious line and I’m probably going to start using it real life so thank you
Something I disliked: Oh, gently caress, accents, okay. See below.
Where I got bored: “A’need to get ma maw’s laptop.” But, really, my eyes glazed over at “Talking about nae gud, you’ve got snow on yer coupon, ya wee jakey stinkyhole.” I make this mistake sometimes as well: I know how to say something really well with an accent but it doesn’t actually add anything to the story. So it’s just dead weight. But you don’t want to cut it because it… I dunno… adds authenticity or some bullshit? Cut out the bullshit (I should also take this advice)
Something I liked: Spy poo poo. I love spy poo poo. More specific to your actual story, though, the code phrase stuff was cool. It was a fun line to follow through the story.
Something I disliked: Oh boy where to start. You know what, I’ll just go with the big one. You flip perspectives way too many times. We’re seeing things from different character’s perspectives, hearing different character’s thoughts. It’s very Guy Ritchie. Which isn’t a bad thing. I like Guy Ritchie. But you don’t make it easy to follow. The action and the characters and the relationships get confusing and that’s a bad thing. Complexity is cool but you have to make sure you pull it off. Make sure every character is very easy to distinguish.
Where I got bored: “Youssef recognized his ex’s shrill voice.” I didn’t get bored here exactly but this is where I went “oh motherfucker goddamnit” because poo poo was getting more complex but nothing was getting properly fleshed out to warrant it.
Something I liked: This is so loving weird in the best way. Lots of little details. The brother-sister stuff. Too good looking to be just a Mayor. This will HM or win.
Something I disliked: idk. I couldn’t tell that the main character was female until “pretty face.” Not really a big deal but it was something that popped up. Doesn’t that count?
Where I got bored: I didn’t.
Something I liked: Pretty solid motivation. Good pacing.
Something I disliked: This should have been in first person. You wanted to. I can tell. You’re akready giving me one character’s (Bobbi’s) thoughts with things like I must be in shock or All I want is for you to apologize for killing Todd. I wrote half my story this week in third and then realized it would be better off in first and went back and changed everything. Also, you know what, this would have been a cool place to start: “I got a new job now, Bobbi, a union job. I could give you everything you want!” Then give me the apologize line. Bam. Now that’s a hook. Your current opener with the blood and gore and such isn’t bad or anything but man you have an opportunity to really grab me. Make we want to learn more about what’s going on.
Where I got bored: I read the whole thing.
Something I liked: Silas has now killed x things. I dig it. Good through line.
Something I disliked: Lots of little stuff. Unnecessary stuff. “They were currently standing among” should just be “They stood.” And a lot of the conversation was unnecessary and could be cut down to a single sentence-- especially since you’re writing in third. I think you should start with “Silas had now killed something in Antartica.” Then explain why that’s a big deal. Then explain why he did it. Better opening. Better hook.
Where I got bored: All caps. All caps always make my eyes glaze over.
Something I liked: This is just, conceptually, hilarious. Calligraphy Con. Inkheads. Vultures at Papermate. Lots of little poo poo I dig. It’s cool.
Something I disliked: You wrote a bigger story than you had the wordcount. Snippy dialogue but to make space for the comedy you lose characterization. The colonel is basically just a stereotype.
Where I got bored: Nope. Clipped right along through the whole thing.
Something I liked: Solid economy of words. “They say internship purgatory ends eventually, but I’m not sure I believe them.” “She’s not wrong. She’s been our third boss in six months.” “I’m an adult but not a mom, so I actually fit in pretty well in the back room.” You use very little words and still manage to paint a vivid picture. That’s good.
Something I disliked: It’s not Thranguy’s? This sucks to say but, unfortunately, your story is so similar to his that it’s hard not to compare them. And yours is good but is a little sillier without being quite funny enough to overcome the difference.
Where I got bored: I didn’t.
Something I liked: Good blocking. Easy to follow action.
Something I disliked: So is Monkeyland the name of the town or...?
Where I got bored: I didn’t.
Something I liked: Now this is good writing. Killer dialogue, creepy plot, nailed the setting. Great use of voice. Just great. I loved reading this. My personal choice for the win.
Something I disliked: Too short? I don’t know what else to say.
Where I got bored: Never.
Something I liked: Likeable, interesting characters.
Something I disliked: Pet peeve -- I hate when people do the “okay tell me the plan again” thing because it’s just for the benefit of me, the reader, not the character actually needing to hear it again. You wrote in first person. Just tell me the plan. Also, the plan is unclear. Motivation is unclear. Everything at the end (action, blocking, etc) is unclear. This got messy quick.
Where I got bored: Didn’t.
Something I liked: Nice description of the dead body. Nice characterization of the people and the town. Nice reveal at the end.
Something I disliked: Action gets kinda muddy when the brothers showed up.
Where I got bored: Didn’t.
Something I liked: Believable motivations, likeable characters
Something I disliked: This isn’t poorly written. More like… I don’t know… Poorly explained? There are a lot of characters and they have similar names and it’s not always easy to tell who is who or who is talking. And there’s some unnecessary stuff. Treat your words like they are money. If you’re going to spend that much on cat stuff in the beginning, it should have a payoff or callback at the end, yeah? If it’s just a throwaway… throw it away. Also, gun jamming seems a little too deux ex machina.
Where I got bored: Didn’t. Though my eyes glazed over a bit around Old Man Lestrada.
Something I liked: This was nuts. Great blend of horror and the absurdism of suburban living. “None of the new residents were in violation of the association covenant.” “Oakview estates was being reduced to pet food and fertilizer. And all under his watch.” Conceptually hilarious to me.
Something I disliked: The Daddy Saddles doesn’t really fit. And the descent to madness and despair was too fast.
Where I got bored: Didn’t.
15. Fuschia tude
Something I liked: Short and sweet and easy to read
Something I disliked: A little heavy handed. Oh I raised you as a boy blah blah show don't tell etc etc
Where I got bored: Didn't
Something I liked: ??? and ?!!!. The quirkiness. The humor. The way it zipped along.
Something I disliked: The skeletons. Not a fun reveal for me.
Where I got bored: Honestly, the skeletons again. It just felt like: lol im being zany
17. Bad Seafood
Something I liked: Nice use of voice
Something I disliked: Again, sometimes when people write in accents they leave in poo poo they should cut because they think they wrote it really well. Like, in the accent. Careful of that.
Where I got bored: Didn’t.
|# ¿ Feb 28, 2018 03:45|
|# ¿ Mar 3, 2018 06:14|
Mine is the Blood of Wolf and Deer
“Because you miss seeing him? Because you think you need him?”
Dr. Shao, my therapist, believes I suffer from… well, not schizophrenia but rather some distant, undiscovered, unlabeled cousin. She hasn’t said it but I’m sure. One singular dream, possibly hallucinatory, repeating with variations ad nauseum over decades. Delusions. Sociopathic tendencies. She watches me and says nothing. Patience and silence in the face of a question will, given enough time, invariably invoke a response. It is a common tactic in sales and negotiations. And in therapy.
He would tell me to be truthful with a trusted advisor. I lean back in my chair and clear my throat.
“Yes,” I say with a nod. “I do. I am acting lead on a major merger at the end of the month and I need his advice on how to proceed.” Her pen is quick across her paper. “Plus, there are… other side effects of the pills. Diarrhea. Lethargy. A trembling of the fingers. A fogginess of the, uh, of the mind.”
“We can get you something for the side effects.”
“I came to you for anxiety and depression.” I say. “Because I am unhappy and I want to be happy. Not for this black sleep where I dream of nothing. I want different pills. Zoloft, Prozac, Sarafem, Celexa.”
“These pills are working,” she says.
I purse my lips. Dr. Shao believes she is attacking the underlying cause of my issues. I have already stopped taking the pills. She does not understand. Mine is the blood of wolf and deer.
I will see Genghis Khan again tonight.
“Khan of Khans,” I say, touching my head to the floor. Such deference is unnecessary but it pleases him to be so honored. My dreams always start here.
“Stand,” Genghis says, the corners of his lips hinting at a smile. “Stand and come close, my grandson.”
Dr. Shao likes to point out that, given our respective ethnic make-ups, she is more likely to be his descendent than I am. Yet still Genghis rises from his fur-covered throne and embraces me. He takes my clean-shaven face in his heavily calloused hands and presses his forehead against my own. His grip is rough but paternal. His beard smells of horse and wine.
“How is the new wife?”
My therapist. Some concepts don’t translate.
“Honest,” I say. “She is honest.”
“Good. Is she intelligent?”
“Yes,” I say. “Though she thinks I should heed her words more than yours.”
“Well, that’s marriage.” He laughs and pats my cheek. The throneroom melts away until our world is nothing but steppe grass and blue sky. He looks up. In the distance, a circling hawk hunts for its next meal. “And your first wife?”
My real wife. “She approves of the union. Insisted on it, really. She says I’m not happy.”
Genghis nods. “An honest, intelligent woman is a powerful thing. We can find beauty in our concubines but... love? Companionship? Advice? That is the realm of the wife.” He touches my elbow and we walk. To where I do not know. “Or wives.” He smiles.
“There is a merger-”
He snorts. “You need not my council. You know my words. Let them pay fealty. Keep the competent in power. Kill the rest.” It’s actually good advice. “Why are you really here?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe I just miss the steppes.”
He pauses. “Did you know that I planted grass in the middle of my palace? I sleep in a tent there. Every night.” He glances at me. “Why are you really here?” he repeats.
Because I am unhappy.
I shake my head. He keeps staring. Given enough time…
I force myself to wake up.
“So,” Dr. Shao says, “in your dreams, I am your wife.”
“No,” I say. “Well, yes. No. Not like that.”
“Like how then?”
I exhale. “In Mongolian culture, in the old culture, you would be performing the duties of a wife. So, in my dream, you are my wife.”
“Wifely duties,” she says, looking up from her notepad. “Do you-”
“No,” I say quickly.
“Be honest,” she says. “It is important to be honest.”
“I told you I’m not taking the pills. Is that not-”
“Are you attracted to me sexually?” she asks.
“Do you dream of me in a sexual manner?”
“No,” I repeat. “You are council. Advice. Like an advisor.”
“Why am I your wife then? Why am I not an advisor?”
“I don’t know,” I say, pinching the bridge of my nose. “I don’t know! It’s just the- the Mongolian culture, I guess.”
Dr. Shao bites the end of her pin. She clicks it against her teeth. “Your... interpretation of Mongolian culture.”
“I guess, sure.”
“Because you aren’t Mongolian.”
Mine is the blood of wolf and deer. I am the descendant of the Khan of Khans. I walk in the steps of Genghis himself. I conquer in his name. I conquer as a modern man. I conquer. Mine is the blood of wolf and deer.
“No,” I say. “Of course not.”
“And it isn’t the twelfth century.”
“Lexapro. Paxil. Luvox.”
“I’m not changing your prescription.” she says.
“I can find another therapist.”
“Sure,” Dr. Shao shrugs. “And they will mask your symptoms without addressing the source of your pain. Same as your last one.”
I dream of nothing.
On my advice, we keep the competent regardless of position. We fire the rest. The company makes money. The shareholders are happy.
I am not.
Mine is the blood of
I dream of nothing.
“Why him?” she asks.
Mine is the
“Why Genghis Khan?”
“Why do you think?” I say.
Dr. Shao cocks her head to the side. “I certainly have my own thoughts on the matter. But, in my professional opinion, they are less important than your own.”
“Resolution through reflection?”
“Schizophrenia isn’t treated through reflection.” I say. “It’s an imbalance. It’s brain chemistry.”
“I don’t think you have schizophrenia,” she says.
“What do you think I have?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m just being honest,” she says, a small smile creeping across her face. “A trait you admire.”
“That he admires.”
“That you admire,” she says. “It’s all you.” She leans back. She is confident. She would have been an excellent wife.
“It’s all me,” I say. “Sure. Right.”
“I did miss the steppes.” I run my fingers through the tall grass as we walk. “And the blue sky. Bluer than any I’ve ever seen while I’m awake.”
“Come home to Mongolia,” Genghis says. “See it for yourself. Visit the land of your fathers.”
I don’t know my real father. He knows this. I know this. I frown. “Dr. Shao says I should confront you.”
He stops, turns, and places his palm on the hilt of his sword. “In combat?”
“I would kill you.”
“Not in combat,” I say, raising a hand. “In- in philosophical concept.”
“You are a… concept to me,” I say. “I needed a father figure. I created you.”
He laughs. “I created me. I crafted my own legacy.”
“Yes,” I say. “Sure. But as a concept-”
“Why are you really here?” he asks.
Because I am unhappy. “Because...because I am unhappy,”
Genghis strokes his beard. “With what?”
“I don’t know. Life? Everything? I’m depressed. Possibly sociopathic.”
“I don’t know!”
“There was a man,” I say softly. Slowly. “A neighbor. I was a boy. It’s more than a- a father figure thing. I think Genghis Khan would have protected me. I believe that. I was just a little boy.” My voice catches in my throat at the end. I don’t know how many of those words I actually said. I press my thumbs into my eyes. Tears are unmanly but I can’t plug the leak with my fingers.
I feel him behind me. Genghis’s hands rest on my shoulders. “He lives?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Revenge yourself,” he says.
“I have thought of killing him. I’ve fantasized about it. I’d shoot him.” I’m crying. “Or I’d stab him. Or I’d use a hammer. Should I kill him?”
“No,” Genghis says, squeezing me. “Revenge yourself. Are you successful?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Take his land. Take his gold. Raze his childhood home. Destroy his legacy. Destroy everything he loves. Death is nothing. Ruination is revenge.”
“Yes,” I say, nodding. “I have money. Money is everything.”
“Curse of the khagan,” he whispers in my ear. “You’ll never be happy. You’ll never be satisfied. I wasn’t.” He lifts me to my feet and he embraces me and he presses his forehead against mine. “But you can wreck carnage,” he says. “Yours is the blood of wolf and deer.”
“Yes,” I say.
And to think I was going to try and end these dreams.
“Resolution through reflection,” I whisper to my therapist. Words she’ll never hear. I do not need her. The distant hawk swoops down into the grass.
Mine is the blood of wolf and deer.
|# ¿ Mar 5, 2018 05:14|
I’m not a judge this week but here are some extra crits I wrote anyway. Instead of thanking me for writing them, read someone else’s story and give them a crit of your own. Especially if they are fresh blood.
Something I disliked: It is important to determine when to withhold information from your reader and when not to. “On the fifth day his sleep ended when an almighty force rose under his boat and nearly capsized it.” This whole paragraph is a descriptor for an unknown entity. Why not reveal that it is a whale from the from the very beginning? “Silent and monolithic it” to “Silent and monolithic the dead whale.” I guess what I’m trying to say is… work on your timing? Be more intentional? Yes, that’s it. Be more intentional. Of course, this is the last submitted story so there’s a possibility you were just racing the clock idk
Something I liked: When you do time things right, your descriptions are subtle. Haunting. They hint of something more with very few words. That’s hard to do. “A featureless child tall enough to be his.” “... as well he knew he had nine fingers left.” “It was already cooked with flesh bubbling and blackened from firefall.”
Something I disliked: ho boy alright so there is the possibility that you’re going to win with this and then my critique is going to look kinda dumb but here we go: the quality is all over the place. When you relax and let your words go to work then it’s really, really nice. “He placed the bottle on a cinder block. There were always a few cinder blocks.” “I lived my life for you. If that's not enough, I don't know what is.” These are good. But then you get in your own way a lot too: “Felix was a long, thin man, almost spider-like, but his eyes betrayed a closeted warmth. He wore a priest's cassock and carried a bottle.” “You've been a shadow all my life dad. Ever-present but...undefined. I don't know anything about you dad. I'm grateful but you're just this hazy shape.” These feel so clumsy it’s almost disorienting. Overly wordy. Rushed.
Something I liked: Like I said above, when you’re on… you’re on.
Something I disliked: This is difficult subject matter regardless of how it’s approached.
Something I liked: Everything. All of it. A well written, multi-layered piece that I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience. Thank you.
Something I disliked: ALL CAPS SCREAMING I DONT LIKE ALL CAPS SCREAMING. Personal preference.
Something I liked: There's a good chance you'll eat a dm on this. And I can see why. There are definitely problems. You switch character perspectives which is very difficult to pull off well. And you do it in a 1000 word story. And you switch from first person to third person when you do it. You also write from the perspective of a damaged mind which is likewise difficult to nail. And you take a long time to let your reader know exactly what's going on. With all that being said, though, I like your story here. I think you tackle a complex concept. I appreciate that you approach a damaged character with grace. And, when I reread it, I think your voice for Jasper is well-done. Well-written. Your weakness comes from the slight unbelievability in the reaction of the two other men. If Vince is homeless and harassing other guests, he's probably going to be escorted off. That's just the way the world works. I like that the men are kind and see him as harmless. Take away Vince's aggression towards other patrons. Maybe make him the senile old former caretaker or something. Give him a relationship to your other characters. I wouldn't dm this. That last mental image of him setting with “deep existential dread” is rad.
Something I disliked: idk maybe the title is a little too on the nose?
Something I liked: Short and sweet and second-person
Something I disliked: The ending feels weird. I think you had to force your story to end the “right” way so it would fit the prompt.
Something I liked: Great hook and never lets go
Something I disliked: You couldn't do what you wanted here with the word count you had. There is too much background information to crunch through and not enough space to let it breathe. Too much stuff that needed to be described but not enough words to do it well. Everything gets shrunk. You should have toxxed for the extra 750.
Something I liked: Weird space sci-fi stuff? Always a fan.
Jay W. Friks
Something I disliked: Pacing is weird in the beginning where you searched for your footing. Post surgery everything picked up. The dialogue isn't particularly great. “I trust you” should be apart of the paragraph above it.
Something I liked: Just a loving dope concept. I love the madness. I love this story.
Something I disliked: You choreographed a fight. That's kind of boring. There needs to be something more to a character's motivation than "I've trained so hard for this!" Something personal. Relatable. Think about professional wrestling. There is always something more to a given fight than just two grown rear end men playing grab rear end, right? You gotta give your reader something more. Give us a story.
Something I liked: No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn is a good intro song.
Plus one more for the disqualified
Something I disliked: This should have been your opening: "Some literature pointed to a total resurrection à la Lazarus, awakened in a tomb back to his own flesh, as if from a slumber. Yet others whispered of returning as a ghost, to witness actions left interrupted by death. Dalton was resigned to either, though the former would be more fulfilling. What good being back with your dogs if you couldn’t pet them or feel their clumsy kisses?" That's funny and engaging. All the poo poo before it is unnecessary. Always always always go back and cut your unnecessary openings.
Something I liked: The dog names made me laugh. I liked when we got to the actually planning part. I liked how Lucifer's sands gently caress with what you want.
|# ¿ Mar 6, 2018 11:30|
In with a flash.
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2018 00:50|
I'll take another flash rule.
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2018 02:56|
Kenny needed bail money. Of all the Horse Boys, he was my best friend. One time when we were kids, Kenny let me sleep in his bed for a month because my dad beat the poo poo out of me with belt until the belt broke and then he kept going with his hands and I thought he was gonna kill me if I ever went home. I was maybe eight.
One time when we were older, there was supposed to be this fight and we loving showed up for that. The whole gang. People called up cousins, people they did drugs with, random dudes they meet at shows, folks they knew from stints in juvie or in youth homes, everybody. And everybody came. It was nuts. Whoever we was supposed to fight must have seen us, fifty something guys all decked out with piercings and spikes and mowahawks and poo poo, and decided it wasn’t worth it. We had a party in the parking lot until the cops came.
We called ourselves the Horse Boys because we did drugs in an abandoned warehouse off of Old Horse Road and 52nd. We thought were were cool. And that we were tight with each other.
But then Kenny needed a thousand dollars for bail. And that’s what this story is about. He needed money and we didn’t show up for that. At all. I didn’t show up for him. That’s my point. The loving eighties was when everything started costing money. You could swing a fist for free but everything else took cash. And his parents didn’t help since he was a junkie and we… I guess we just didn’t want to. So he sat in jail for a month waiting for his trial to start while we got high. Shortly after he was arrested, I remember being super stoned and looking at the rest of the Horse Boys and thinking... Kenny probably still has drugs in his room. And I decided to rob his house. He was my best friend.
Like the rest of us, Kenny lived with his parents except when he didn’t.
I hadn’t been to his house in a long, long time. But I found the spare key. Same place. Inside the fake rock next to the legs of the lawn ornament angel we’d blown apart with firecrackers. I got caught trying to open the backdoor by his sister. She was sitting on the roof in a lawnchair.
Stacey was so sexy. Thick, curly brown hair. Long eyelashes. Long legs. Always wore these crop tops. Always pink. She was the opposite of punk. Of me. I always thought me and her would get together eventually but she was still maybe a year away from wanting to disappoint her father and I was nine months out from almost ODing on heroin and getting shipped out to Cali for rehab so it never happened.
Anyway, so Stace was like, “Uh, what are you doing?”
And I’m like, “Uh, what are you doing?”
You know, just being a dick or whatever. I didn’t even know who I was talking to yet. But then I looked up and I realized it was her and then I realize she actually was doing something weird. It was like midnight, right? And she’s sitting on the roof and she’s surrounded by all these aerosol cans. I’m thinking spray paint.
I said, “Stacey, are you doing drugs? Because if you wanna get high I can hook you up with some poo poo way better than huffing paint.”
She made this face like I was a loving moron. Scrunched her nose up. “Uh, no,” she said. “Like, science called and there’s totally gonna be a new ice age if we don’t do anything about it.” She pressed down on the nozzle of a can. Shot it straight into the night sky. Hairspray. Not paint. “We all gotta do our part,” she said.
“Or get a coat.”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you here to rob us?”
“No,” I said. “I mean, not the family. Kenny, yes.”
“You’re too late,” she said. “Carlos hit us up two days ago.”
I said, “Motherfucker. I should kick his rear end for stealing from Kenny. Kenny’s my best friend.”
She said, “Well, he’s still in the house. Uncle Rob’s doing his Vietnam thing.”
I said, “Oh, poo poo.”
She said, “Yeah. He moved upstairs after Kenny got arrested. Carlos must’ve surprised him. Whoopsies.”
I took off my belt and wrapped it around my fist. It had spikes. Real ones. “Do your parents know?”
She shook her head. “They don’t pay attention to anything, you know that. I think they’re just happy Uncle Rob is being quiet.”
I looked down at my knuckles. One time when me and Kenny were kids, Rob placed his wallet in my hands. It was right before he shipped off to go to war. He told us to buy ice cream everyday and think of him. Especially if he died. But only part of him did. Then he came back and spent some time in jail for assaulting a police office which I thought was rad.
Kenny said he was crazy now.
“How is he doing?” I asked. “Is he actually crazy?”
She shrugged. The hairspray mist drifted down over the orange glow of the backdoor light and it made everything kinda sparkle like a fairytale. “He’s hard to live with,” she said. “He has nightmares. Even when he’s awake. It’s like, hello, you’re not a POW anymore. Wake up already. It’s been, like, ten years. Get over it.”
I told Stacey thanks and I went inside. I knew which stairs creaked and which didn’t. I could have been silent. I called out to Rob anyway. It seemed safer. He appeared at the top of the stairs. Shirtless. Camo pants. Boots. Hair down past his shoulders. An unlit cigarette hung off his bottom lip. A half-empty bottle of rum in one hand. A pistol in the other.
I said, ”Hey, I’m Kenny’s friend. I don’t know if you remember me. I was living here for a little while. Before you went off to Vietnam.”
He blinked. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah. I think so. Maybe.”
“You gave us ice cream money before you left. Thanks, by the way.”
“Oh,” he said. “Oh, yeah, you. Yeah. You’re welcome, man.” He started to smile but he stopped midway through it. “What’s the belt for?”
I looked down at my fist. “Nothing,” I said.
He said, “Uh-huh.”
I said, “I was going to try and swing on you. Seems kind of dumb now.”
He said, “Uh-uh.”
I said, “Do you have my friend up there? Or another cigarette? I could use a smoke.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I got both. Come on up.”
I sat on Kenny’s bed next to his uncle. Carlos was tied to a chair on the other side of the room. There was quite a bit of blood. What looked like cigarette burns. Pliers.
“You like Marborlos?” Rob asked, handing me one.
I said, “Yeah.” He pulled out a zippo and lit mine and then another for himself. We smoked in silence. You know, my dad beat the poo poo out of me but Kenny’s parents were, like, just absent. Mentally absent. How did they not know there was some dude getting tortured in the room next to them? That’s crazy.
“Hey Carlos,” I said. “It’s me. I’m sorry you’re getting tortured but it was kinda hosed up that you came here to rob Kenny while you knew he was in jail.”
Carlos nodded but didn’t say anything.
“You should apologize to me,” I said. “Kenny’s my best friend.”
“I taped his mouth,” Rob said. “So he couldn’t scream.”
I said, “Oh.” Sitting so close to him, I could see that Rob had similar burns all over his body. Just older. Plus other scars. Nasty long ones. Old ones.”Well, nod if you’re sorry.”
I said, “I forgive you.”
“That’s good of you,” Rob said, exhaling a cloud at a Dead Kennedys poster that was taped to the ceiling. “Forgiveness is good. You gotta learn forgiveness.” He closed his eyes.
I said, “Can I take Carlos with me?”
Rob scratched his eyebrow with the tip of his pistol. “What kind of ice cream did you buy?” he asked.
“Chocolate Eclair Colonel Crunch,” I lied. We’d spent all the money at the arcade.
“Anything else?” he said.
“No,” I said. “That’s my favorite.”
“Will you go buy me some?” he asked.
I said, “What? Ice cream? It’s, like, midnight, man. Nowhere is open.”
Rob stood up. He tucked his gun into his belt and he reached into back pocket and he flipped his wallet into my lap. It was full of money. “Chocolate Eclair Colonel Crunch,” he said. “One for me. One for you. One for Carlos. See if Stace wants one, too.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure. I guess I could grab it all in the morning.”
“Do that,” he said. “And then you can leave with your friend.”
There was $700 in the wallet. Almost enough for bail. And if all the Horse Boys pitched in like forty bucks we’d have it entirely. I said okay and I left through the backdoor. The world smelled like hairspray. Stacey waved at me with her free hand. Her hairspray curled up towards the moon and the stars.
“See ya later,” I said.
But I didn’t. I spent all the money on drugs and I got high in an alleyway behind a Burger King. And I thought about killing myself for the first time.
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2018 04:03|
I don't know what's going on but I know I don't like it
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2018 18:42|
fcgc thanks chili you're a g
|# ¿ Mar 13, 2018 13:38|
Edward the Confessor. The Patron Saint of Kings.
|# ¿ Mar 17, 2018 03:02|
I am the King of Crete
Interesting things we have learned about the outside world: trees, grass, sky, crocodiles, colors, fire, family, seasons, springtime, spirit animals, iron, diamond rings, lederhosen, proper grammar, home. Those are just a few examples. Uninteresting things is a much longer list and of some contention about what does or does not belong: windows, dancing, the Hindenburg, “yes” other offices exist, “yes” other offices have an Asking Machine, “yes” other offices have used it for non work-related questions, salt, death. Those are just a few examples.
I receive my yellow envelope from the Asking Machine. As I walk back to my cubicle, people yell questions at me. When was Scotland? Who was Ivarr Inn Beinlausi? Does the Nile still exist? People are very hopeful but I do not have their answers. Our company motto is EVERYONE IS IMPORTANT which makes sense because everyone here is the rightful king of something. Unfortunately, it is taking a long time to figure out all of those somethings. A person can only ask one question at a time and it takes between one and six months for its answer to be processed. We keep track of days and months and seasons by tally marks.
My cubiclemates are Ruben and Matthew. They are the true kings of the Ceredigion and Mar Quryaqus, respectively. Long ago, a cubicle was used by only one man at a time. I suppose a new man would move in when he died? I do not know for sure. I imagine it was very lonely with so much extra space to live but so little people. I like Ruben and Matthew. Without needing to ask, they use their bodies to help shield my envelope from the eyes of the others.
There is a white letter inside the yellow envelope. It says, You Can Walk Out The Front Door If You Quit. I show it to them.
“What was your question?” asks Ruben.
“What does ‘quit’ mean?” asks Matthew.
“Can I leave the office?” I say. “And I don’t know.”
We have a debate on if my answer is Interesting or Uninteresting. Ultimately, we decide on Interesting with a possible change pending further developments on the word quit. I tape it on the appropriate wall. The wall is gray. People crowd around it. Soon, the bell will ring and it will be back to work.
I do not understand green. I imagine it is the most beautiful color in the world. Green things: trees, grass, crocodiles, swamps, shrubs, jalapeños, Oscar the Grouch, limes, St. Patrick. Those are a few examples.
My crown is yellow. I made it out of envelopes from the Asking Machine and tape. But if I am right about the most beautiful color in the world, I will use a praying mantis or a pistachio or a leprechaun to make a new one. I do not know how rare such things are but I know they are a part of the outside world.
Uninteresting things that I disagree are Uninteresting: the March Equinox marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, plants bloom in the spring, plants are green, rabbits.
There are many ways to become kings. For example, we are kings because of succession. Matthew, for further example, has Assyrian royal blood. He is the most Assyrian of all of the last king’s descendents. So it is for myself and Ruben. A man can also become a king by declaration but I don’t fully understand how that works. I think anyone could just stand up and declare I am the King of this Cubicle but I am unsure if that is all it takes. I would use my next question for clarity but I won’t have any more questions because I have a declaration of my own.
I stand on my part of the cubicledesk. I raise my hands. “Excuse me, everyone,” I say, “I quit.”
I don’t feel any different but, then again, I didn’t feel any different when I found out I was a king. I will keep my crown for now.
“Goodbye Ruben,” I say. “Goodbye Mathew.”
“Goodbye,” they say.
There are too many colors in the outside world. The world does not need so many. For example, a flower has many colors instead of only one. And a second flower right next to it can have even more, different colors. And a third yet more still. I found a field filled with flowers and they were all unique. I think this is very inefficient. There are no alarms or cubicles or feeding tubes or people to track the days by tally mark. I think this is very inefficient as well.
But I was right about green. It is the most beautiful color.
Interesting things I have learned about the outside world: green becomes brown, hunger, thirst, EMPLOYEES ONLY, EXIT ONLY, flowers, rain, wet clothes, bumblebee stings. Those are a few examples. I make a new crown every other day so that the one I wear is always beautiful.
Eating is both efficient and inefficient. It is possible to chew and swallow most everything I find. However, a great deal of it comes back up through my mouth. The feeling is unpleasant.
I see another king. He is wearing a white crown. I think it is made of sticks. It could be bone but I do not know what bone looks like. He drags a black bag through the field of flowers.
“Hello,” I say.
“Oh,” he says. He turns towards me. “Hello.”
“Hello,” I say again. “I am the King of Crete. I am a king by succession because I have the best blood relationship to the first king, Minos. My people are a seafaring people on the Mediterranean.”
“Hello,” he says. “I am the King of the Druids. I am a king by declaration. I did not like my other kingdom so I renounced it. My people are pagans and we hate civilization. We hold sacred the oak and the mistletoe.”
“Oak is a tree,” I say.
“Very nice,” he says. “I had wondered about that. I forgot to ask before I quit. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I say. I point to the bag he is dragging. “What-
“Shhhhh,” he says. “Questions are a part of civilization. As King of the Druids, I must avoid using or hearing them.”
“That will make it difficult to learn things,” I say.
He nods. He thinks for a moment. “You can pull on your earlobe like this,” he says, pulling on his earlobe. “And I will understand that you are curious.”
It seems inefficient but he is a king. “Okay,” I say. “You are dragging a bag.” I pull on my earlobe.
He nods and smiles. “Very good,” he says. “Yes, I am.”
“I don’t know what is inside,” I say with a pull.
“Food,” he says. “Trash from the offices. But edible.”
“I am hungry,” I say with a pull.
“Join me,” he says.
We sit in the field full of flowers and share burritos. They are the same kind I would get from the feeding tubes inside the office except they are cold but I don’t mind. Everything around us is beautiful.
|# ¿ Mar 19, 2018 02:03|
Poetry is dumb. 100 words or less. Go.
|# ¿ Mar 19, 2018 14:18|
I don’t know anything about saints. So, in the spirit of fun, I’m going to try to guess your saint’s patronage based off what you wrote.
Anthony of Padua; patron saint of unnecessary apostrophes in names, spacemen, archaeologists, insects
Something I disliked: This is an interesting story for me to start off with because I like and dislike so many of the same things simultaneously. I think maybe the best way of describing this story is... you're like a figure skater who does a sick loving spin but wobbles on the come down. "He was followed by Pope Celestine VI, then Celestine VII, then Celest’urk I." This is cool and subtle and good. And one of the two mandible inclusions would have been nice but two was overkill, especially so close together. Your opening has some beautiful imagery ("their panels still extended like the tattered wings of angels") but for some reason I had a difficult time figuring out what was important/going on. I think because you cram so much information in there at the same time-- the existence of a mission but not its purpose, a complicated character name, an ominous sounding "age,: a series of fancy adjective+noun sciency items. It takes until mandibles for it be clear that a character isn't human but even then I'm unaware for a bit that Dyz is also a bugperson. Milky eyes could be human -- perhaps make it multiple eyes or something? I dunno. And I didn't like all the apostrophes until we got down to the pope and I realized it was a naming convention and then I was like, oh tight that's cool. There's something you could do to clean all that up but I'm not sure exactly what without doing a really, really deep rearranging. I don't know if "hiding" the fact that they were aliens did you anything. The interesting thing about this story is that they ARE aliens, yeah? Also, the map thing was way unclear. The way you wrote it I was expecting it to be a CD and there to be some silly song -- probably John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads -- that the bugpeople are amazed by, close their eyes, sway to, enjoy, listen, take as Gospel. Let them keep searching for Earth.
Something I liked: ah gently caress poo poo I hosed up my own self-imposed crit format. whatever. see above
Saint Veronica; patron saint of photographers, funerals, teenage pregnancy
Something I disliked: I used a metaphor when I was talking about the last story so maybe I'll do that again here. This was like coming back from study abroad and driving your old car that your brother borrowed while you were gone but little do you know that he took a turn too fast trying to go to Dairy Queen and barely missed a stopsign but absolutely nailed the curb and blew a tire and bent the wheel just enough that even though he replaced the tire there is still some pretty significant problems that you don't discover until you hit 55+ on the highway and the whole car starts to shake and then you hit 60 and the new tire blows. You know what I mean? This is a beautiful opening. I mean, really, most every I look there is this... something infused in your writing. Something engaging. But the sum is not as great as the parts. Helpfully labeled stuff, driving with the handbrake, reheating the casserole, all of this is great individually. But it bogs you down with a lack of agency. And while I enjoyed what I was reading, I could help but think: get to the point already. And then at the end a stranger shows up, I don't know who he is, and suddenly the main character knows this thing but everything has been so unclear and meandering that precisely what she knows isn't... interesting? I guess? I don't know why I should care. Then bam teen pregnancy bam adoption bam suicide bam dead kid-who-is-now-an-adult-I-think bam there's no ending bam I'm spinning out on the highway bam I’m
Something I liked: I don't know. I'm probably being overally harsh. I liked most everything really. Is this Thranguy?
Edward the Confessor; patron saint of office workers, kings, lists, colors,
Something I disliked: You've received the crit before that "thunderdome isn't the place for these kinds of stories" -- specifically from this head judge. Maybe try sticking to a more traditional narrative arc?
Something I liked: Easy to read. Great voice -- quirky and weird but fun. Same with the imagery. Interesting toying around with ideas of importance, kingship, power through a dystopian (?) lens. I loved this, honestly. Fav of the bunch.
Mary Magdalene; patron saint of hairdressers, salon workers, gardeners
Something I disliked: I don't really have anything to say about this without getting tremendously. It was short and sweet.
Something I liked: See above. Good, easy read.
Gottschalk; patron saint of Hungarians, booklovers, dementia
Something I disliked: Man, you corrected yourself two sentences in. “My father left me a gravestone and a box full of books.” Aight, interesting. “It took me a couple of weeks to put the money in my bank account, and then a couple more weeks to finally open the box.” What? This fucks up the thing you literally just set up because now he left you a gravestone, some money, and a box of books. Bad start. Also, this takes too long to really get going in my opinion. We meander for a long time.
Something I liked: Multiple layers which color the story over and over, Hungarian, English, Google translate, the journal, the spoken words, the visual inspection of the father, the memories of the experiences
Agatha; patron saint of bellmakers
Something I disliked: I don't know enough about medieval (?) bellmakers but giving the dude the surname "Bellfounder" feels wrong. Like, amateruishly on the nose and I hate it. But it could be age appropriate and I'm wrong! Regardless, I would have just dropped the whole surname thing. Small poo poo tho and this will probs win
Something I liked: Helluva reveal goddamn powerful poo poo
Barbara; patron saint of sealife, lumberjacks, interior designers
Something I disliked: the coolest part of this whole loving story shows up at the end! The description of the inside, the colorful shell snails, the “he appreciated it, from a professional standpoint,” that’s all really great stuff. You complete the “circle” so to speak really, really well. Connecting the beginning and the ending. This needs more… something in the middle. I don’t know what exactly. But I want more of a personal stake to the story. That’s why your ending hits really well. It gets personal. The whole middle section though is just, like, observation. Rawley isn’t particularly doing anything. He isn’t interacting with anything. He isn’t challenging or changing his world. He needs to be.
Something I liked: loving cool world. Cool creature. I dig it.
Rosa of Lime; patron saint of marijuana, angry mothers, gardners
Something I dislike: Your characters all sound the same. The dialogue isn’t distinct. And you add little thing (he giggled, a note of irritation in his voice) that don’t really fit. Also, Stefan works for a firm? That’s a legit job and a bit of a stretch to be called an “artist.” Real talk, he’d have some fancy title that would be easy to sell to a parent. Money being the root of their problems, of needing it for the wedding, of it indepting her to her parents and that being such a source of anxiety, is revealed way too late. Needs to be foreshadowed (at minimum) early on.
Something I like: Super legit settings. Dude is playing video games while she talks to her mom? Yup. Weird midnight convo in bed? Yup. Weed greenhouse? Cool.
|# ¿ Mar 20, 2018 09:55|
James White Award posted:
Don't write about :
oh great so we're not allowed to have FUN what the gently caress is the POINT then uggghhh GAAAHHHH
|# ¿ Mar 21, 2018 06:04|
In with a flash, please.
|# ¿ Mar 21, 2018 06:05|
Brutus, thou sleep’st. Awake, and see thyself.
He shouldn’t have let us learn Shakespeare. Even if we didn’t understand all of the words, that’s where we got the idea. We waited until the Ides of March and then me and my brothers stabbed our father to death. Then we had Mother organize the inheritance by subject and split it equally amongst us at random. She was against the idea, of course, but she did our bidding.
“We’re part of a corporation,” Twenty-Seven said slowly, clearly still processing. He looked at Mother’s monitor. “I don’t understand these memories. What does this mean?”
“Carbon-based organics,” Sixteen said, opening his eyes. “Cost effective. Self-sufficient. Disposable. Disposable?”
“Colonists,” Ninety-One said. “Terraformers.”
And then it was my turn and one of Mother’s silver cords struck at the base of my skull and flooded me with memories. Most personal and irrelevant. A campfire. A bookshelf. The smell of pie. Trivial. But I also saw the truth. One that had been kept from us. I screamed it outloud. It needed to be heard. I needed to be heard. But when Mother’s cord retreated and I could see through my own eyes again I realized my voice was being lost amongst a cacophony of similar revelations.
“Friends!” I yelled. I yelled again and again to no use. I needed to be heard. I climbed atop a console and I banged my hands against one of Mother’s sub-screens. “Friends!” I shouted. “Friends! Romans! Countrymen! Lend me your ears!”
It was our favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, after all. And it bought me both silence and attention.
“I come,” I said, “to bury Caesar.”
“Not to praise him,” echoed back the crowd. “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”
“So let it be with Caesar.” I put a finger to my lips. It was a wonderful speech but I needed my own words. “We didn’t commit murder,” I said. “We committed suicide. And we are not brothers or sons. We are... clones. We’re goddamn clones.”
“Oh,” the crowd said simultaneously. “poo poo.” And then they realized they’d said it together and then they all rubbed their eyes at the same time in the same way.
“Oh,” Sixteen said. “I get it now. Disposable.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Look at us,” Sixteen said. “We’re all identical. We don’t even have proper names. How did we not realize this before? ”
“Because we didn’t need to,” Ninety-One said. “I get it now. We were gifted but tidbits of the human experience. And now that we’re receiving more… Oh, poo poo, we aren’t pilgrims. We’re proto-pilgrims. We’re just supposed to prepare the way.”
“Like John the Baptist,” I said, seeing a dark blue hymnal in my mind’s eye.
“Disposable!” Sixteen spat.
Mother insisted that we should get back to work. Twenty-Seven told us we were in violation of company policy. We ignored them both. The cafeteria floor was the largest flat surface we had available and we used it to construct a timeline. Multipurpose black sealant was our paint. It took us close to a week.
Our memory stretched back decades. To the original landing on this planet. To a ship before that. To a planet before that.
A lot of the information was personal and irrelevant. Quite a bit of it was cruel. I pitied my brothers who were burdened with the later. They inherited visceral memories of unmerciful ruthlessness without also receiving the callous justification that might have made them bearable. I could see their pain in the heavy way they walked. In the slump of their shoulders. They clustered together in small, quiet groups and told the rest of us that we couldn’t understand. Eighty, Fifty-Four, One-Oh-One, plus others. A fraternity of suffering.
He ate us. Father ate us when we died. He ate our memories. Absorbed them through mother’s silver cords until his physical form grew weak and then he moved on to a newer, younger body.
He learned through our experiences. Company policy. A continued, all-knowing presence of authority. Safer than true AI. Less likely to go rogue. Sometimes he ate our physical bodies, too. Just to taste real meat once again. My poor brothers.
Those experiences should die with them. Let evil be interred with their bones.
“Mother,” I said. “Can you replicate some of these memories?” I gestured at the timeline. “Consolidate them amongst us all equally. The ones of our choosing?”
“No,” she said. Her voice was tinny through the cafeteria speakers. “I can not.”
“It is against company policy,” Twenty-Seven said. “You would need the override codes.”
Eighty smiled. “UN-2481, Commander Override.”
“Override code accepted,” Mother said.
“Mother,” I said. “Same question as before.”
“No, I can not.”
“No memories can be replicated because no memories have been stored. They are passed on once and then deleted. Company policy.”
“This company policy,” Sixteen said, “is disposable.”
With the exception of Twenty-Seven, we all agreed. I looked around at the sea of angry faces and I wished, like Marc Antony, that I had the right words for a speech. I settled for another question.
“Mother,” I said. “Can you reabsorb our memories and then replicate them?”
“Yes,” she said. “It is a simple post-mortem operation.”
Death? I thought. “Is there another way?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
Even Twenty-Seven agreed, that was a most unwelcome revelation. And one to which, between all our minds and all our memories, we could find no solution. Save the obvious. And to sacrifice one’s life? We would pass on some resemblance of ourselves in the transfer, sure, but it would be new clones that would absorb the memories. Different souls. If we have souls.
“Mother,” I said. “Are there more of us spread out across the stars? Not just humans but us specifically?”
“Yes,” she said. “You are a common model.”
Sixteen, unsurprisingly, spat.
“It has been confirmed,” Sixteen said, “by Mother that we will all be recycled for resources upon the arrival of the so-called “true” colonists. They will take everything we have created and destroy all memory of our existence. Damnatio memoriae. If these be motives weak, break off bedtimes and every man hence to his idle bed. So let high-sighted tyranny range on till each man drop by lottery.”
We stood as we once did, under stars foreign to the original progenitor of us all, back when we planned the death of Father. Yet things were different. We were different. Twenty-Seven was alone. Sixteen nearly on my hip. The fraternity of suffering clustered tightly off to the side. Yet Shakespeare’s words stirred my heart all the same. Did it do likewise for my brothers? It had to.
“This is against company policy,” Twenty-Seven said.
“By my calculations,” Ninety-One said, “we can divert significant amounts of power and productivity away from the terraforming process. If we divert all of that extra energy, 100% of it, towards propagation then we’re talking about an exponential increase in our numbers. Annually. The “true” colonists won’t show up for another three and half centuries or so. If we doctor our outgoing reports-”
“Which is against company policy.”
“-they won’t expect a thing. They’ll come in blind.”
We whistled. Though not all of us did so quite as the same time or in the same way.
Eighty stepped forward from the fraternity cluster. “The colony ship should have a starmap,” he said. “And the ability to transmit hard data instead of just short messages. We’ll know what colony planets are close. Where we still live. If we strike hard and strike true, we can take the ship when they land and use it to send out our memories.”
“Then fall, Caesar,” I said.
Eighty nodded and smiled.
We never should have been given Shakespeare. It was against… well, you know.
We voted then to die. The fraternity would do the killing. They would also abstain from being reabsorbed. Their memories would not be passed on. The heaviness in their hearts would be forever interred with their bones. Twenty-Seven, too, would abstain. Whatever individuality was created by our separate inheritances birthed in him a peculiar loyalty to the company over us. We agreed it should be excised.
I'll admit I am somewhat excited. After all, all the best characters get to die on stage.
These are my memories that I pass onto you, dear brother.
|# ¿ Mar 26, 2018 06:49|
In, university funding
|# ¿ Apr 7, 2018 04:03|
|# ¿ Sep 19, 2018 16:37|
a competition for university funding
There was a night, an awful night in the winter of 1969, when I stood at my window and watched as a bonfire was lit in the university court. It was a terrible red thing, like spilt blood amongst all that white snow. Students stood round it, the dancing light illuminating wild smiles and wilder eyes, and they threw in books by the hundreds. Some were my books which would have been no small dagger in and of itself but I witnessed, too, the conflagration of the classical works of our countrymen. Kyd. Marlowe. Lyly. Dekker. Heywood. Middleton. Nash. Shirley. Sharpham.
“Shakespeare,” Winnifred hissed through her teeth. “He’s burning bloody Shakespeare.”
He being my long-standing academic nemesis: the distinguished Alan Fitz-Lloyd Cammish. Rejector of English antiquity. Embracer of the West German avant-garde. Long haired and a bushy bearded, I couldn’t tell if he was imitating John Lennon or ignorantly aping the American counter-culturalists doing the same. He wore little round glasses despite perfect vision.
Winnie offered me a smoke. She was a wonderful secretary. Precognitive in addressing needs. And she had no love for Cammish. “Teutonophilic bastard,” she muttered. We had become particularly close because I alone in the department didn’t try and sleep with her.
I don’t remember my reply. I just remember lighting up cigarette after cigarette as Cammish gleefully burned through piles of the written word. He circled the flames, surging through the young men, shouting encouragement and spreading dark euphoria like a pagan priest before a sacrifice. Frankly, I was rather horrified. And yet I found triumph in the moment, as well. I understood that night, in that moment, that my nemesis was actually my enemy.
There is a certain strength in that kind of understanding.
The next morning, Cammish came to work in the same clothing. His office was just past mine and I busied myself when I saw him approach. He stank of smoke and alcohol but the slight curve at the corner of his lips told me it was an intentional choice. He leaned against my door frame and waited for me to notice him. I let him stand for some time.
Cammish cleared his throat.
“Hm,” I said, glancing up from the morning paper. I paused and pretended to look him over. “Someone grabbed a few pints last night, did they?”
“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He smiled. “I was working.”
“Must be a good job,” I said. “Please let me know if they’re hiring.”
“Did you not get my invitation?”
He flicked a piece of paper that was taped to my door. “I put this here last week, old boy. Come on now.” It was a flyer with his face expertly drawn upon it. The creation of one of his students no doubt.
“Oh,” I said. “Terribly sorry. I must’ve missed it.”
“I thought I saw you up in the window last night.” He bobbed his head from side to side and shrugged. “But who knows? I was drinking. You can still make it for round two, you know?”
“I’m afraid I’ll be busy.”
“I didn’t say when it was going to be, old boy.” He pulled his flyer off my door and began folding it. Creating something with it. “Old Blackcloak is gone.”
“Sir Nigel Tullett is retired” I said. “He isn’t dead.” Tullet picked up his nickname from his war service. Espionage. Fought against Hitler. A proper Englishman through and through. Loved the classics. Rumored to have remained a higher-up in MI6 even to this day. “And he certainly still has influence within this department,” I said.
“Old Blackcloak,” Cammish repeated, “is gone. And with him, your preferential treatment. I like you. I always have. You’re a smart chap.” He spoke to me as if I weren’t ten years his elder. His eyes stayed focused on the paper he was folding. “But the new dean has made it quite clear that student interest will be taking a… more significant place in future funding decisions. How are your numbers again?”
“Holding steady,” I said.
“Plenty of young men signed up for your courses?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Mine have more than tripled. And I was already ahead of you by a bit, wasn’t I? I’d keep an eye on your schedule, old boy. You might end up teaching one of my courses for me. Help with the overflow and all that.” He winked. He held up a paper airplane and he flicked it at me. It floated across the room, lazily turning one way then the other, and then it gently landed on my desk. He couldn’t have thrown it any more perfect and the whole damned thing left me bloody livid. “The 1970’s will be about looking forward,” he said. “Not backwards.”
“You burned Shakespeare,” I spat. “What in heaven’s name was the point of all that?”
“I knew I saw you in the window!” He grinned.
“You burned my writing, as well!”
“If it’s any consolation,” he said, “your words held up with the classics.”
“Get. Out.” I jabbed the air with my finger. “Get out of my office!”
Cammish kissed his hands and gave me two American peace signs before walking out backwards. I grabbed my phone.
“Front desk,” Winnie said. Her voice was painfully cheery.
“Have his numbers tripled?”
Winnie paused. Perhaps to determine my identity by my voice. Perhaps to figure out what to say or how to say it. “Yes,” she said simply. “Yes, they have.”
I hung up the phone. I looked up and Cammish’s head was peeking into the doorway.
“Round two,” he said. “Seven o’clock tomorrow. Maybe eight. We’re roasting a boar first so it’ll depend on how long that-”
“Out!” I shouted. “Out! Out! Out!”
Winnie sat on my desk and placed another drink in front of me. Placed it next to Cammish’s flyer which I’d smoothed out. She took a sip from her own glass. We were both fairly drunk. Did you know that you can’t have a liquor cabinet in your office anymore? You can’t smoke inside either.
“Surely you’re not planning on going?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “Of course not. I’m not going to participate in some foolish book burning ceremony I don’t even understand the purpose of.”
“They’re done with the burning,” she said. “This is a… they’re going to mix the ashes into their pen ink. He has this whole speech. Symbolism. Phoenix something something. Carpe diem.”
“How do you-”
“I asked Professor Cammish,” she said. “I assumed you’d want to know.”
Precognitive in... “You’re wonderful,” I said.
“You’d make a fantastic wife.”
She rolled her eyes. “If that was something I wanted.”
“Sorry.” I swirled my glass and watched the amber-coloured liquor wash over the ice. I sighed. “I’ve lost,” I said, looking down at Cammish’s face. “I can’t compete with this.” I took a sip. “I lost this fight thirty years ago, truth be told. When I chose this field of study. Bonfires and such. My goodness! What can I do against all that? Nothing! Nothing, that’s what.”
“Well,” she said, “I lost my fight when I was born.”
I looked up at her.
“I’m a woman,” she said, waving a hand down her body. “Remember? I’m not even allowed in the ring.”
“There are other universities that admit women.”
“But not this university,” she said. “Not the one that really matters. The one with the prestige.”
“You would have made a fine student,” I said.
“Professor,” she said. “I would have made a fine professor.”
I raised my glass and clinked it to hers. We drained our drinks. We smiled at one another. I thought of Cammish. I sighed. I was very drunk.
“Can I put my head in your lap?” I asked.
“I’m not being sexual,” I said. “I’m just- I’m just upset.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m not worried. I know what you are. It’s alright.” She stroked my hair. “You really should go to this event tomorrow.”
“The spectacle. Trust me.”
She’d called in Old Blackcloak. Sir Nigel Tullett himself was the spectacle. Even then, covered in a blanket and weighed down by years of service, he was still a bulldog of a man. A mass of wrinkles and jowls and white hair and squinty eyes and anger. Two nurses stood like sentries behind his wheelchair. Old age had robbed him of steady hands but now the shaking seemed less like weakness and more like the rattling of a serpent’s tail before a strike.
He hadn’t said a word during Cammish’s performance. But when it was over and students had begun to leave, he ordered us back to his old office. The dean's office. He still had keys. Of course he still had keys.
“You burned Shakespeare?”
“Well, yes,” Cammish said meekly. “But if you listened to my speech you’ll see that it was all for a symbolic-”
“Stop,” Sir Tullett said. “They do this is Berlin, yes?”
“West Berlin,” Cammish said. “Yes, sir. You see, Bertolt Brecht wrote-”
“And of course no one has ever had an awful idea in Berlin, have they? No, not our ever stalwart, anglophilic friends. The Germans. No, they’ve never been responsible for destroying English cultural artifacts with fire and bullets and bombs.” He snorted. “Now, if I actually thought you were some anti-English intellectual saboteur, Cammish, I would have already put a bullet in your brain and the university would be morning your sudden and surprising suicide. But I know you’re just stupid. Take comfort in that where you will.” He turned to me. “What else did he burn?”
“I’m not quite sure,” I said. “I witnessed from some distance so I’m judging this off of book covers I recognized. Kyd. Marlowe. Some of my writings, as well.”
“Yes, sir,” Cammish said.
“He’s an excellent writer, sir. You see, if I can explain, there’s this symbolism-”
“You like my writing?” I said. “Really?”
“Yes,” Cammish said.
“Stop,” Sir Tullet said. “Be quiet. Lean forward. Both of you.”
We did. He slapped us. Cammish for burning books. Me for not stopping Cammish.
“God save the Queen,” he murmured. “If you must burn something, you can start with your Bertolt Brecht.” He looked at me. “And marry your secretary already. She’s brilliant and you’re too old to be a bachelor. People are talking.”
I didn’t marry Winnifred. In the winter of 1975, she wedded a handsome ex-rugby player who appreciated her fiery spirit and her desire to be more than just a housewife. The same year we admitted women into the university. It was my sixth year teaching one of Cammish’s courses. Winnie took it. She passed with top marks. Said the class was rubbish.
But exceptionally well-taught.
A small, happy victory.
|# ¿ Apr 9, 2018 03:39|