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ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


No Matter How Improbable
744 words

Everyone knew the bees were disappearing; she hadn’t expected them to take Hugo with them.

One day the earth came alive with a single humming note, a symphony of a thousand beating wings lifting into the air. One day he was gone, with a kiss on the cheek and a muttered question, in the unreal hours of the morning when the darkness was thinned to a hazy blue but not yet dissolved into light.

Just what and how he said it was forgotten, paved over with a grumbled insistence to let her sleep, and couldn’t be reconstructed in the pitfall moment when she opened her eyes again, sunlight now dappling the pillow, filling the empty impression where her husband had been. Not in the prolonged tumble as she searched through the house, finding his negative in all the spaces he had been, and in the bite missing from a slice of toast still on the kitchen counter.

She was in time to see the last of them, a procession of yellow in the red of dawn. The dizzyingly distant blots of human figures among the clouds, some kicking, others walking atop, all buoyed up by golden specks that clustered around their drab bodies.

Sofia had met her husband at a murder mystery retreat. He had made a handsome corpse. She had made a good detective, too good not to notice the smile curling up the edges of his deathly grimace whenever she moved towards the hidden painting-vault where the bloody candelabra had been hidden.

She was a forensic pathologist, he was an apiarist. Between them they almost made a whole Holmes.

The letter had arrived, sparse on details, redacted of incriminating information by means of tiny mandibles chewing the words off the page. A dusting of pollen clung to the envelop, delivered on swift wings in the night.

It was enough for one half - the better half - of a famous detective. A distinct cross-pollination, slowly scratching away the few locations on earth that could possibly hide them all.

Sofia needed a train, a cruise ship, another train, and finally a sailboat to get there. The faces she saw along the way seemed heightened, deepened, familiar features of the human profile now expected to bear a constellation of cryptic meanings. The world had gone slightly cracked with the opening of possibility:

With the impossible thing that was stubbornly true, the absent space in the summer air, in the cup of a flower, in the vacuum where solid impenetrable fact had been, now waiting to be filled with an answer.

Why?


It was a long journey.

The conclusion came together with a gathering momentum; the spray of the sea at the bow; the white sand of the shore thrumming with sun-kissed heat; the weight of doubt lifting in the moment she heard the thronging of wings, and the sudden release seeming to vault her forward in time, accelerating as the phantom of that morning dropped away.

The island was small. The town was something out of a postcard, the sunlight drawing every bright color of every stucco wall and shingled roof into a ripe brightness.

She found him behind the frosted glass and archaic golden lettering of a flowershop. Fortescue’s.

Inside, it was jungle-dense and candy-sweet, lazy with a penned heat. Dewdrops condensed on the clear plastic sabots of firework-clustered flowers. The colors dripped, the few customers seeming muted and hazy in the shimmering atmosphere as she stole upon him.

Everywhere, the motion of bees. The air swum with motes of gold, swirling currents of humming wings. She caught him leaning in over a bustle of clover-blossoms. She caught his hand, fingers interlocking over his, thumb tracing over the ring in the moment it took for him to move through surprise - a jump in his shoulder at the first contact - to dawning disbelief - his eyes lifting to meet hers - to pure, giddy happiness.

“I asked you to come with me.”

“Hugo, you idiot. You said the bees were going to take you away. It was early. I thought you were joking.

“Oh. Oh.” His mouth formed the shape one more time, silently, and began to move to apology as the solitary loss he’d imagined for himself was reconfigured and redoubled into the real and shared hurt. She answered before he could; she kissed him. They had spent too much time apart, and right now, the world was full of flowers.

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Mr. Steak
May 8, 2013

T.T.D.D.T.D.D

Thug lyfe.


Flower shop story
1219 words

It always starts out with the seed of an idea, which you feed and water with your mind until it sprouts into a huge, gorgeous bouquet. The only difference though, and the reason this metaphor falls apart, is that for ideas you don’t choose whether or not you water them. In that sense, they are more like weeds. Gross, leafy thoughts that you don’t want but they’re in your garden anyway. Yeah, that’s a better analogy. Screw the part about the gorgeous bouquet.

My name is Marcus, but my nametag says Mark. I think the owner Christine misheard me on my first day but at this point it’s been a couple years and I’m too embarrassed to correct her.

I’ve been working here part-time while I finish my bachelor’s degree in chemistry. It’s actually surprisingly relevant to my field because, you know, working with plants you need to know stuff like the ideal chemical components of the soils for an individual flower or what have you. So I’ve been pretty good at my job.

Until a couple months ago, that is. When the new guy showed up.

He was this extremely bro-ey guy who walked into his first shift wearing a varsity lacrosse t-shirt. Lacrosse, the most violent game in the entire history of our country! And he was expected to take delicate care of my plants? He was also way younger than me, probably a freshman, so the intimidation I was accustomed to feeling in the presence of jocks was super dulled. I didn’t even flinch at his friendly slap on the back when introducing himself. “Luke” apparently.

He was all charm and smiles while I trained him that whole afternoon. Deceitful, insidious smiles. It wasn’t until most of the way through our shift that I noticed the small paper taped to the back of my shirt. And do you know what it said? KICK ME. What was he, a second-grader? And when he saw me freaking out all he did was laugh and smile at me. I may have been the type to take this kind of thing when I was in highschool, but this punk needed to be taught a lesson about respecting his elders. The prank war had begun.

The next time Luke and I shared a shift, I pretended not to know about his little joke. I just gave him my best customer-service attitude and showed him how to do some daily chores in the back. I couldn’t tell if he bought my facade, but he was obedient and didn’t try anything funny. Perfect.

He suspected nothing when I directed him to sit in the comfiest break-room chair. Little did he know, I had placed a whoopie cushion there. Ha, I’m a genius! I was watching his face with excitement when he sat, and for a second his face was priceless, just this dumbfounded surprised look. But then, when he realized what I’d done, he just laughed and patted my shoulder. “Good one, man,” he said, and my heart skipped a beat. Why did I feel like he had completely turned the prank around on me? This was supposed to feel more empowering! I knew I had to go all out next time.

***

Just after closing, when we had about an hour by ourselves to clean the store, I put my plan into motion. The most elaborate prank yet, which was sure to end this war once and for all. I felt downright evil, dastardly even, as I hid in the broom closet and waited with the most gloriously sinister intentions. It took all I had not to outwardly cackle in anticipation.

I heard him approaching. The time was nigh! I heard him turn the doorknob and readied my throwing arm. As soon as the light hit my face, I chucked my stinkbomb I’d spent all night synthesizing in the lab, directly into his chest, staining the entire front of his shirt. At that moment, all of the villainous energy I’d been holding in since the previous night came pouring out. “Mwahahaha! Witness the glory of Sir Stinky the Smell-nifiscent!”

Luke took a couple steps back, clearly struck speechless, then making a face as the smell him him. Yes! Finally I’d won!

Once he’d recognized that it was I who had conceived his demise, he said “Dude, gross. What is this?” with one of his trademark smiles. It didn’t matter though. I already knew he would take it in stride. He was still irreversibly smelly, so my prank still worked.

Luke lifted the hem of his shirt to his nose to take a closer sniff, then visibly recoiled from the smell. Then he made a face exaggeratedly holding his breath, pulled the shirt off over his head, and threw into one of the sinks. I was not expecting him to do that! I had been watching and revelling in my success but now I didn’t know where to look because it was weird to stare at another man disrobing, right? I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought if he was ugly or something, but...

I glanced awkwardly at the floor for a second, but by the time I looked up again Luke had come all the way back to the closet, turning essentially my entire field of vision into unavoidably checking him out, and simultaneously blocking my exit. I pressed back as far as I could in the already cramped closet and that’s when Luke reached up for cleaning supplies as if I wasn’t even there, leaning in so far that his freaking hairless lacrosse abs were... What? Stop! Why was Luke such a goddamn pranking master?

In a last ditch attempt at gaining ground, I grabbed a mop and used the soft end to shove Luke away from the closet. He actually fell all the way over onto the floor, and I took a moment to be surprised at my own strength, but then I dashed out before he could recover.

As soon as I did, however, Luke stuck his leg up exactly so that I tripped very hard directly on top of him. I also just so happened to catch myself with my face like 0.005 inches from his face. At this point I was quite frustrated with myself for getting so flustered, like why did this guy have so much power over me and why in the hell was my face so hot? After a moment of my brain short-circuiting, I leaned back frantically.

But Luke’s biggest prank wasn’t over yet. He leaned up like he’d probably done a thousand times at the gym doing situps, and planted a big one right on my lips. Okay listen, how can a human possibly be this smooth? I immediately panicked and tripped over myself, sprawling on the floor.

“Okay, you win,” Luke said, standing up.

“What?” I said.

“You’re prank proof,” he said. “No matter what stunts I pulled just now, all it did was make you even cuter. Hell, it was like I was pranking myself instead.”

“Buhh, what? You’re still pranking me with this, right?”

“Heh, maybe. Do you want to go out to dinner and see how long I can pull it off? Look, it’s literally sunset right now.”

“Um,” he kissed me before I could respond.

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!


that was pretty easy to judge

third gave me a pretty neat bees kidnapping loved ones story that had pretty solid prose, but shouldve started where it ended. onset gave me about every cliche in the rom-com book.

third wins handily

longer crits later

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


flerp posted:

that was pretty easy to judge

third gave me a pretty neat bees kidnapping loved ones story that had pretty solid prose, but shouldve started where it ended. onset gave me about every cliche in the rom-com book.

third wins handily

longer crits later

welp that's five brawl wins in a row

I guess I'll hand out celebratory crits to anyone who asks for the rest of the day.

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!


ThirdEmperor posted:

welp that's five brawl wins in a row

I guess I'll hand out celebratory crits to anyone who asks for the rest of the day.

https://thunderdome.cc/?story=7264&title=The+Moth

tia

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


Cowboy Crits


Old Bones
So when I say this story is boring sci-fi, I don’t mean it’s boring. I mean it belongs to the genre called boring sci-fi. To a fierce tradition of small, dense books about the size of a postcard printed on pulpy yellowing paper and contained within a dog-eared cover. This is not a great story - it slipped my mind as soon as the week ended. But man, that meant I got to read it twice, and both times it was pleasant. Not great. But compactly, satisfyingly pleasant. The pacing in particular kept the piece ticking along. I really like the voice and the use of the narrator to provide a tidy end here.

Land in the World of Poseidon
What is it, my dude, that draws you to these Greco-roman god-murdering stories? Because this is your third strike out on conveying that to me. There’s nothing wrong with having a leitmotif, but you need to figure out why you like writing this one thing so much, and get better at conveying that basic appeal to the reader. You seem to treat fighting a god as, like, this inherently awesome thing, but it’s all words on a page, amd nothing in this story ever draws me in. Not the so-cursory-as-to-be-comical exposition. Not the nameless flat characters. Not the throwing in of a Kraken so big its name must be capitalized. Not the confusing fight scene where so much happens in so little time that it all carries the weight of paper. I notice you never even describe Poseidon. He just shows up, laughs, dies. Is that a god?

The Crystal’s Chosen
Oof. This first line has no fire, no tension. Bullets aren’t a river. Rivers are soft, continuous. Bullets are nasty, blunt things, rude interruptions of noise and gunsmoke. A bad metaphor that underplays the situation and the clunky meandering of your first para takes all of the fire out of the in media res open, and by the time you’re taking time out of a loving gunfight to explain your crystal sci-magic woo to me, I’m out. I’m fully ready for this story to be over. The sudden interlude of a talking crystal trying to lure the protagonist into a classical quest while he spits gruff interjections of All-American can-do doesn’t help. It feels like something from another story entirely. The final twist is, eh, I don’t think it’s the bullet so much as the bullet-hole that’d be giving him trouble in that situation. But whatever. I was already checked out and not coming back around.

Legend of One Horse Town
I’m in the odd situation of recognizing what should be funny about this, but not finding it funny at all. It’s well-executed for sure. Of all the stories this week that were content to play with the tropes of the Western at a surface level, this is the one that works best, the best able to evoke familiar mythology with easy twists of phrase, the most aware of just where the description can stop and let the imagery already planted in my brain by cultural osmosis carry the rest. It’s good. It’s playful. It never quite gets to being genuinely funny.

The Vow
I see the Vance reference -- unfortunately, I was the only judge who did, and so you DM’d. Even taking away your casually disposable vat-ingenues, even taking away all the mad poo poo that’s in here as homage or parody, I can’t say they were wrong. You never quite capture the smooth technical-yet-crisp imagery of Vance, or his gift for blending the disparate elements into something that feels whole. This is a fantasy story and a cowboy yarn at different times, but never really brings them together and comes into 8ts own. Still. I think it picks up as you gather momentum into the latter half -- you’ve got Vance’s dialogue down, and I laughed.

Cactus Conundrum
I don’t think this deserved the loss, really. You manage to twist bizarre leaps of dream logic to shockingly, appallingly mundane resolutions, to tell the most boring version of a strange drat story -- and I don’t hate that. The refusal to lean into its own conceits, to tell this as if it was another day at the home depot -- I respect that. It feels like this story came straight from an earlier week in ‘Dome, where nobody knew what they were doing. For that I would’ve spared it the loss but c’est la vie.

The Buffalo Mountains, The Pelicans
Surreal and unsettling. I’m going to pick one thing to complain about here. Very close to the end of the story, and relatively quietly, you ask the audience to completely reconsider the tale of remorse Robert has been telling when you call his guilt insincere. It adds a lot, I feel, and prevents any easy resolution, allowing the sense of unease to persist even once the story ends. What I’d like is for the story to dig more into his real motivations, into his God-fear, as you put it - to give us something to go on that’s not reversed by the end of the story. But really I’m reaching to complain here.

Lucy
I don’t even know what Lucy looks like by the end of this. I know almost nothing about almost anyone in this. The protagonist’s desire to keep his animal-friend out of the clutches of the bourgeoisie is a naturally sympathetic situation, so the story skates along despite its lack of characterization or detail, but it leaves no impression. Every good horse-story I’ve read has laid its roots in the reader’s brain with a solidity of physical detail, but here I’m getting nothing. If Lucy didn’t talk this story would be even more featherweight and might have entirely failed the prompt, but I can’t say you ever really pay off on the conceit of him being a real horse-whisperer. It goes nowhere.

A Silent Spell
You cheat yourself and the reader, I think, with the final turn that makes the boy’s murder the manipulation of the shadow-faced man rather than a genuine act of fear and prejudice. It’s just not as interesting to release your characters from their culpability. I think your writing was actually drat solid, even if you did lean a little heavy on the exposition in places, to the detriment of looser and more emotional moments like Pete connected the boy to the memory of his son. But it was a tight word count, and the fault may be less with the prose and more with what all you tried to squeeze into this - it might have been a better story without the wizard duel, as much as I love a wizard duel, and you left so much on the table by cutting your ending short where and how you did.

Dust and Blood
You found the guts to go full Rowling, and yet, this story really manages to undersell everything it’s got. It’s dry. It’s got voice but not purpose, a circuitous lack of momentum that the last second splat of violence - and dialogue - draws attention to rather than alleviates. It’s a weak, undercooked concept delivered probably as best as it could be, and I really can’t fault you here on anything technical. The prose ain’t lacking, the sense of place is strong, the mood flavorful. A drat shame the good words are in service of such a meager story.

Memory of Water
Gosh dude, I dunno. Like I finish this story wondering why I didn’t like it more. It feels like a few small improvements would bring this story forward by leaps and bounds. There’s this flash of real character in the way Doc Cranely dunks on the kid, a mean humor I wish you could fill up the whole piece with -- the prose is crisped and well-paced and it all clicks like clockwork but I think it needs just a touch more voice, just a last push. You’ve probably got the best stand-off of any story this week and I walk away thoroughly convinced the old crone is a character, but not quite sure what kind of character. The kid is even more a cypher. You manage to straddle a bizarre line of getting them both to feel like people without telling me enough about ‘em to make it a proper story.

Squirm, Love
In some ways this is fantastic. You do a swell job of unfolding this world in ornate, obtuse ways, and only sometimes seem to lose track of where a sentence was going. It’s a gem of gross creativity. But you lose me, a little, with the ‘dart sacs’. Not because I didn’t giggle at a high noon shoot-out with snail dicks for bullets. God no. But because that’s the point where you go a little too far with worldbuilding for worldbuilding’s sake, and bring it all around to a self-defeating point. Cool and weird as they are conceptually, the snail-sacs are just guns by any other name. That’s deeply disappointing. I wish this had managed to weave a little more character and story in among its conceits, and to follow its genuinely quite clever ideas further instead of letting them remain dressing for a mostly standard story.

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


Interlude crit for

onsetOutsider's nameless story

This whole story reads as forced. The basic logic running underneath the surface here just doesn't hold, feels stilted, brings a kind of... fanfic quality, where everything is just cludged together to manufacture the plastic facebump where Ken dolls A and B kiss.

It's honestly unsettling. In no world save that of dead-eyed alien bros does 'losing a prank war' add up to 'guess we gotta smooch' and the use of the word pranking, endlessly, becomes a fetishtic focus that's just sorta baffling. I feel like 'prank war turns to romance' should be an opportunity to show why the characters mesh through how they think but, alas, I'm not convinced they think, period.

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


Interlude crit for

Flerp's The Moth

So this is going to be a very short crit. I think you should try to get this published. It's loving fantastic in the worst way. The absolute pervasive need for control, to the point of being, seemingly in absolute earnest, unable to grasp what he's done wrong -- the narrator makes my skin crawl and the ending is shocking its pure petty violence while still following perfectly from everything we've seen before. Thanks. I hate it. I really think you should try to inflict this story on a larger audience.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME


Saucy Simon Brawl results

Simon

While this is the more emotionally resonant of the two pieces, I find the central allegory...odd. I think it's because of the way Charlie goes back and forth between being himself and "the princess". Now, this is 2019, dudes can imagine their best buds as princesses all they want. HOWEVER, I don't know that the fight for the princess's freedom (and presumably her hand in marriage, if we take the metaphor to its fullest extent?) is a good metaphor for what's happening in the real world. Two people dueling over a princess is very different than a soldier grappling with the order to kill his best friend.

That said, I see what you did here and I think it's a neat approach to the prompt, even if there isn't total parity between the real world and the allegory. I am pretty on board with this character's struggle between his deeply moral side and his amorally pragmatic side, and when he shoots the sergeant at the end, I'm sold that doing so was the only way to resolve the conflict between the two aspects of the narrator.

One major downside is that, for as important as Charlie is (he's the crux of the plot), he's basically a non-entity throughout the story. He has no commentary, no agency, as either himself or the princess. I could've used a little bit more texture in his character, since I'm supposed to be empathizing with the narrator, who cares about Charlie a lot.

Side note, I would scale back your exclamation point usage to like, one or two instances per story, if that.

Saucy_Rodent

Simon's story wore its heart on its sleeve. This one is more aloof, but feels like it's making a more intentional point, something about...how the price of having personal agency is the risk that sometimes you feel bad, and maybe even want to die. And a society who chooses to try and eliminate depression from its participants is a society that chooses to eliminate free will. I'm basically on board with that.

I'm not sure about the execution. I guess the "two people" who enter are Judy and Judy's brain chip? And the one person who leaves is the "fixed" Judy who can't think or feel anything but happiness. I guess I like that. I don't hate it.

There's a low-key dystopian vibe to this story that works, but not in an especially unique or interesting way. In the grim near-future our bad thoughts will go straight to google, ooooo 2real4me. The ending is basically a variation on "He loved Big Brother". As someone who's read a decent amount of sci-fi, I'm not content with a story that tells me about how Bad Future is Bad. It's not enough to show a character being subjected to the misguided use of technology, the end.

The tension in this story, such as it is, is derived from the fact that Judy doesn't actually need this intervention, because she wasn't really suicidal, but is being subjected to it anyway. I'm willing to go along with that to some extent, but without a larger payoff to reward my suspension of disbelief, I'm left feeling superficially annoyed at these hypothetical psyche professionals who refuse to listen to a lucid, rational patient. At no point does the story pull back and give me a broader view of the world in which Judy lives, so there is no broader context for her suffering (or lack thereof, by the end).

The bottom line

Neither of these were perfect. I would say they're equally flawed, just in different ways. Unfortunately for Saucy_Rodent, I need a little bit more of a finely-honed point on my sci-fi, so Simon wins this brawl by a hair, for writing the more emotionally resonant story.

Well fought, both of you!

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


Round Up at the Crit Corral

A Stand of Trees
This was my choice for the loss. It’s a heist with no tension, no action, and the only characters are ‘crimes’ and ‘cop’. You start the story with an offscreen betrayal, and immediately move to a limp banter that I suppose was meant to have me on the edge of my seat wondering if the protagonist will be discovered -- but of course she is. The story is so pared down that even slightly aware readers will grok that, well, there’s no plot if she’s not. The way you set everything up left no room for any story other than the one that unfolds, rote and predictable, and for fucks sake, a crossbow? A story this tenuous in claiming to be a Western should have jumped for the chance to bring in a revolver.

Flowers for Sylvester
As far as stupid pulp, this is a lot of fun. It takes skill to carry off an action scene in flash fiction, where the very words you’re spending on the punching ‘n whatnot are being taken away from establishing the characters and the stakes - but this carries it off in style. Something just feels cinematic and there’s a nice clean chain of action-to-reaction that gives the whole thing a rhythm. S’good. I feel if you coulda woven a slightly more substantial story into a similar action set-piece, you would've gotten an honorable.

The Fool’s Journey
I have very little say here. Your intention for this piece is clear as mud, so I can’t offer advice on how better to get there, and as for my own reaction, can’t say I had one. I enjoyed the voice, I suppose, but that’s all this is -- a few flourishes on top of the most staid, cut’n’dry cowboy story possible.

The Diary of Lieutenant Hiroaki Sakamoto
Not bad. Definitely one of the more structurally complex stories, and near the end you’ve developed an interesting sense of ambiguity. I think the story needed more of that. You have this format, this set of restrictions, and you needed to lean in harder, use the gaps in the letters and the implications at the edges more. This is a very competently delivered story, but it doesn’t do all that much to explore its own strengths.

Tugger and Little Yacht
Y’know what? I don’t totally hate this. It’s dumb, it’s real brazen simple, and I can almost respect that. A floating drill-rig warship ruled by a bad oilman gets taken down by the last of the polar icecaps. Okay. I can cheer for that hamfisted petro-moral message, I hate a bad oilman as much as any sensible person. The main issue, when I go back to reread this, is that it’s more complicated and cluttered than the story’s core actually needs to be. It doesn’t open with much punch and it doesn’t quite find the right tone, full of over-serious language, dry explanation, the prose generally managing to sap any hint of momentum that gathers.

To the gods it may concern
I think this story’s biggest problem is how vague and non-specific it all is, how blandly it renders myth. It’s got a fire and a voice and just a drat sense of bigness, but it lacks the small touches, it loses a little charm if you squint at it hard and ask what makes these gods more than just folk. This needed weird. It needed to root itself deep in the richness of mythology, instead of paying lip service. Even without it’s got enough bluster for an honorable.

A Friday in Lent
You’re a champ in my book for even taking me up on this flash, and I think you made the best of it. This is a richly tactile story and that makes it a shuddering, claustrophobic read, ghoulish and sad to the end. The segment expositing the gun in the desk, in particular, is a nice bit of art out of what could easily have been a very dry bit of telling, hinting at Phineas’ life and submerging the reader into his sense of the world in a way that made the ending sting.

Red Demon Black Gun
You’re not allowed to be done writing this, because I ain’t done reading it. More, damnit, more. The second time reading this through, I wonder if the last section wasn’t written first. It feels out of joint with the whole, less sure of its tone, and the story overall has a reverse momentum, to the point I’d suggest swapping things around so the train-duel is the final scene. I could do with a touch more nuance to the protagonist too, seeing as she never says a kind thing about her father but, clearly, feels obliged to revenge him. It’s a rough story at the edges but drat does it carry itself with style.

The Devil Comes to Morningstar
Something about this irks me. It’s slick and shiny and burgeoning with big portentous lines that fail to ever mean anything. I can’t say it’s badly written, but it’s not so great as to make me forget there’s no point to it all.

Famous Last Words
My big issue here is how hard you broadcast the ending, and how that one dry expository bit saps so much of the energy from the buddy-buddy dynamic you’re unfolding. Frankly, if you just cut the foreshadowing for more banter I wouldn’t mind. Nor would reworking the action to serve as a vehicle for showing us more the characters and their dynamic be a bad idea -- as it is, it comes from nowhere and goes there just as fast, leaving Konishi’s death more of a ‘huh that happened’ than a proper sucker punch.

Second Chance
This story has about three seperate directions its trying to go at once, with a dash of magic peppered in to no measurable difference to anything. If you were to come back to this, you might not drop the boy out of the picture so quickly, and bring the protagonist’s relations with Simone into more focus before the raid, so you can advance that thread through the action. You might even consider some consequence coming as a result of him taking a shot to the hip, maybe forcing him out of the business and thus recontextualizing his relationships. Actually there’s about a million things you could do, problem being you ran out of words and out of time before doing any of ‘em.

untitled
For a story that starts on a crude joke, this sure drops its voice and its sense of humor fast, becoming in the very next paragraph a painfully generic little hold-up scene. Well, it’s all over quick enough I suppose.

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


Thanks for judging, SH!

I think I’m going to expand my brawl story into a longer thing. Thunderdome is dope!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Depression is beating my rear end into submission so to finish my remaining judge crits by the 5th.

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010



Legit Cyberpunk



ThirdEmperor posted:

welp that's five brawl wins in a row

that's actually legitimately cute



five's a big number, luckily you won't need to learn to count any higher.

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


sebmojo posted:

that's actually legitimately cute



five's a big number, luckily you won't need to learn to count any higher.



I can count to seven just on my multitudinous testicles, thanks.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME


Thirdmojo brawl

Your story's setting must exude a strong sense of place.

By the end of your story, your character must have made life significantly worse for themselves, but they feel great about it OR they must have made life significantly better for themselves, but feel awful about it.

No death.

1500 words
Due no later than Saturday, April 13Saturday, April 20 by 11:59:59PM PST

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 11:11 on Apr 19, 2019

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




This week appears to be missing a third judge.

I am third judge.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give


Yoruichi posted:

This week appears to be missing a third judge.

I am third judge.

You are!

Also, signups are closed. Write words. Try to make them good, if the fates allow.

ThirdEmperor
Aug 7, 2013

BEHOLD MY GLORY

AND THEN

BRAWL ME


Yoruichi posted:

This week appears to be missing a third judge.

...

. . .

i'm right here.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




You just go count your multitudinous testicles, second judge

Staggy
Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes


Death, of a sort
966 words

Read it in the Archive.

Staggy fucked around with this message at 12:39 on Dec 30, 2019

Salgal80
Jan 28, 2019


The Undoing of Hannah McAllister
1453 words


March 30

Jillian called today. Mom called her yesterday and told her about my award as Midvale Teacher of the Year and how Jim got a raise and Meghan got into Harvard, and what’s wrong with me keeping this to myself, that she wants to know because she’s my sister, God drat it, and she should know these things, even though I live thousands of miles away in Connecticut, especially because I live thousands of miles away in Connecticut. I should call.

I told her I’ve been busy and figured mom would tell her, which she did, and I don’t have time to call for every little thing. She hung up.

April 12

I’ve been reading a book called Minimalist Living and decided to clean out the junk in my life. I went through my closet and filled three garbage bags full of clothes that were either out of fashion, didn’t fit, or hadn’t been worn in years, if ever. Seriously, some of them still had the price tags on. I made Goodwill happy.

I realized I wear the same things over and over: black pants, gray pants, tan pants, jeans, floral shirts, plain shirts, turtlenecks, a favorite sweater, t-shirts and a Villanova sweatshirt I treasure. I have a black cocktail dress and a sexy red dress I rarely wear, but I kept them. You never know.

April 18

Today I tackled the toiletries under the sink: tons of hotel shampoos, lotions and soaps- some of which were stuck together-razors, expired cold medicines, make-up, and old tampons, which I hardly use anymore due to an irregular period thanks to menopause. Most of it got tossed, but I kept an unused lipstick-Clinique, “Barely Pink.” It was a freebie from back when I used Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion.

After I decluttered, I stood looking at myself in the mirror for a long time thinking: When did my hair get so gray? Were my eyebrows always so bushy? I’d never noticed. Maybe I should pluck them, but I don’t own tweezers.

My skin is nice though, most of my friends have more wrinkles than me. I’ve noticed crow’s feet around their eyes and lines around their lips. Too much sun maybe. Lucky for me I burn, so I tend to avoid the sun.

My lips looked sad, so I decided to put on the “Barely Pink.” It made me look ten years younger. I almost felt pretty. I left it on and made dinner.

Dinner conversation was status quo: How was work? How was school? Any plans this weekend? Anyone want ice cream? Neither Jim nor Meghan noticed the lipstick. After dinner, Jim retreated to his office to finish some work, Meghan retreated to her room to do homework, and I washed the dishes. I grabbed a napkin and dabbed off the lipstick.


April 30

Today in the faculty lounge one of the math teachers, who I heard divorced last year, was chatting it up about some guy on a dating website. She had his profile up on her cell phone showing everyone. I normally don’t listen to this crap, but I overheard her say, “and he’s married to the mother of my son’s best friend!” That piqued my interest, but I pretended not to notice. I slowed down getting my lunch out of the frig and warming it up in the microwave. She never said the guy’s name, but there were plenty of judgements being dished out: What a pig, He’s not even that good looking, What balls, Men just want to get laid. Someone asked if she was going to tell the wife. She said, “Oh no, I couldn’t. His wife thinks they’re the perfect couple, and quite frankly so did I until now.”

I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have Jim. He’s such a loving husband and a great dad. Meghan adores him. He works hard all day, but still takes care of the house and yard. He even surprised me last year with a birthday weekend to NYC. We don’t have sex very much anymore, but that’s because I go to bed earlier than he does, and that’s what happens to couples that’ve been married as long as we have. It’s normal, right?


May 2

I have a confession to make. I couldn’t sleep last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about that guy on the dating site and how his wife doesn’t know, and how she thought they were so perfect and how I think Jim and I are so perfect, and how this math teacher would never tell, so who’s not telling me? I got up in the middle of the night, snuck downstairs, and visited a dating site to search the men. Of course Jim wasn’t there. I feel so stupid for thinking he would be.


May 3

On the drive to work I thought about how Jim used to kiss me goodnight and say, “I love you,” before I went to bed, but hasn’t done it in awhile. I honestly racked my brain trying to think of the last time he did and I couldn’t. Tonight I was going to ask him why, but I lost my nerve.

May 4

After dinner, Jim told me his business trip to California later this week has been extended, and he won’t be back until late Monday night. I asked if he wanted me to go, that it had been awhile since we’ve been away together, that I haven’t used any personal days this year. He said it would be boring and didn’t Meghan have a recital this weekend and one of us should be here for it. He gave me a quick kiss and told me we’d go away soon--maybe this summer we could go to Cape Cod. Then he retreated into his office for last minute edits to an important presentation. I spent the night researching vacation rentals on airbnb.

May 7

Jim left for California yesterday and didn’t text when he got there. I called before I went to bed, but it went to voicemail. There was a text from him this morning apologizing, he’d gone to dinner and didn’t feel well after so he laid down for a short nap that turned into eight hours, that I shouldn’t worry and aren’t I used to his trips by now. I texted back, “Miss you. <3.” When I was brushing my teeth, I heard a ping, he replied, “Me too. Stop worrying.” I’m not worrying. Should I worry?

May 8

It’s Saturday. Meghan’s recital is tonight. Jim texted her this morning to say break a leg and told her to tell me hi, and that he’s sorry he’s missing it but to look for a surprise later, and that he’ll see us Monday. The florist came to the house this afternoon to deliver a dozen white roses. They were for Meghan.


May 9

I don’t know why-maybe because Meghan’s out with her friends and I felt alone-but earlier I put on my red dress and “Barely Pink” lipstick and went to Rascal’s, the local bar, for a glass of wine. I sat there eying up every couple, wondering if they were happily married, or on a date, or having an affair. It would be so easy to have an affair. I had two more glasses before I left.

When I got home, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and climbed into bed. I’m sitting here hesitating to put my thoughts into words, but here it goes: I keep playing a scene over and over in my head like a movie. Jim’s in a fancy hotel room lying naked in bed, head propped up looking across the room, big smile. The camera pans to where he’s looking, and there’s a gorgeous woman in a silk kimono. She has two glasses of champagne in her hands. “You look good enough to eat,” he says. “I am,” she giggles. She walks over and puts the glasses down. He sits up and slips off her kimono. And, I can’t watch anymore because deep down I feel it could be real.

May 10

Tomorrow’s a school day, but I waited up for Jim to come home. Just before midnight, he walked in the door surprised to see me still awake, flustered even. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, rummaged through his suitcase, pulled out a bottle of Chardonnay from a boutique winery he knows I love, and says, “For you babe, for putting up with all these trips.” I thanked him and put it in the frig. Guilty fucker.

Right now I’m in bed with Jim, who has started to snore, and it’s become clear I’m lying next to Judas.

Djeser
Mar 22, 2013


it's crow time again



archive link

Djeser fucked around with this message at 20:47 on Jan 1, 2020

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Fun Shoe

Week 347
Flash Rule: Maximum Dream for Evil Knievel

Cutting
1240 Words

The aroma and warmth of your morning coffee rouse your senses as you sit down at your kitchen table. Your wife still asleep upstairs, you enjoy your morning breakfast, as you do most days, in solitude. With only the din of political news and harsh blue light from your paper-thin wall mounted TV to set the tone of your meal, you regard your to-do list. Today, it spills over to two tabs on your NoteIt app. It’s going to be a challenging, frenetic, and toilsome Friday. Thank God.

First on the list: Prepare and submit the family’s taxes. By family, you mean the whole family. You've nearly finalized your and your wife’s taxes, but there are a few errant deductions worth pursuing to minimize the damage done by those lousy Democrats who insist on making things worse every year. However, there’s the matter of your two adult children whom, despite having families of their own you know will manage to make a mess of things if left to their own devices. One is easy; he recently became married and has a child now. Family tax returns are easiest for you. You’ve been doing them for years after all. The other is a bit more involved, but it’s not a matter of difficulty.

Done.

Next? Confer with the doctor at the retirement home about your mother’s recent MRI results. Not much trouble with that. Her prognosis is simple: a Grade III Malignant Meningioma. Were she younger, you would’ve pushed much more aggressively for surgery and radiation, but it’s unlikely she could handle such an invasive procedure now. No, the best course is palliative care from here on out. Which means that the crooks who are trying to bill her HMO thought they could slip costly superfluous tests past your keen eye. You make that much clear to her doctors during your phone call. They didn’t get the memo: Patient’s son-in-law is a doctor who knows his poo poo.

Done.

You input a reminder for 12 weeks later to contact the doctors for the next follow up on the degradation of your mother’s health. You give her a few good months, maybe five if she’s lucky. Cases like this have come and gone throughout your tenure as a doctor. Her proximity to you doesn't change the best course of treatment.

You handle the next items with similar alacrity and aplomb. Your wife descends the staircase in a clear fog. She greets you with a smile, and you quickly raise two fingers in greeting as you nod your head. Back to the phone: dog sitter contacted, Rabbi’s concerns abated, mutual funds monitored and shifted to a more aggressive posture. You check the clock: 8:45.

If you drive swiftly, as you tend to, you’ll arrive promptly for your 9:20 housecall with Mrs. Shanski. You do, of course, and at 9:40 you slide out of her house and back into your Tesla. Four more house calls until lunch with Bill, your coworker. He’s developing a proprietary EMR system that he intends to use for the company and could potentially sell down-the-line to a national chain. Lunch with Bill is always invigorating.

As you careen down 95 South towards the next appointment, your phone vibrates in its holster. You pull back on the knob twice to let the Tesla drive itself while you check on it. It’s a new post on Instagram from your son. It’s a picture of your granddaughter. In a most unflattering bit of photography, he managed to sneak his phone up close enough to her mouth to see a pointy bit of white.

What could that be? Surely she’s not on solid food yet, so why are they taking pictures of her mouth with odd objects in it? Something about the picture irks you. You let the car continue its auto-drive mode while you dial up your son. He picks up after the first ring.

“Hey, Dad.” He says to you.

“Hi, Marty.” You respond. “So I just saw that post you put up. What’s going on with Sona’s mouth?”

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” He says to you. It certainly seems out of order, but crazy? Now you’re concerned.

“Marty, what happened?”

“It came in last night. I noticed it when I was feeding her. She was having a tough time with the bottle, and when she started crying, I saw it. Then, of course, I started crying, and the whole thing turned into a mess because Michelle heard it and came in, and then she started crying, and long story short, we didn’t get Sona down until an hour later.”

“What are you talking about?” You ask. He’s not making any sense. Why is he telling you this long-winded story? They had a problem last night, and they didn’t call. You’re a doctor; you may as well be their daughter’s doctor for all of the help you’ve given them.

“Yeah, dad, I know. Sleep schedules are important and all. But, hey, how often does your baby have a first tooth?”

You freeze. You instruct the Tesla to pull over to the shoulder. That can’t be a tooth. She’s only… wait, how old is she?

“Are you sure it’s a tooth?” You ask. “Isn’t that a little early?”

“There’s no mistaking it. Of course it’s a tooth. And, besides, seven months is pretty much right on schedule.”

You let slip a question that you meant to hold on to, and figure out yourself: “How old is Sona?”

“She’s turned seven months old last week, dad. How old did you think she was?”

“I don’t know. I guess, not that old?” You aren’t on top of your tone. How did that even come out to your son? Panicked?

“Well Christ dad, we’ve already signed her up for her AARP benefits. Where you been?” He chides you. But, this isn’t funny. You snap yourself back.

“Of course, sorry, just had an odd moment. I love you, and I love Sona. Please give her and Michelle a big hug and a kiss for me.” You’re still not on top of my tone.

“All right. You sure you’re OK, dad?” He can tell something is off.

“Yes, I’m fine. Shabbat Shalom, Marty.”

“Good Shabbos, dad.”

You hang up with your son and sit for a moment, the occasional car rushes past and stirs your seat with a bit of a thrum. Seven months. How many times have you been with her? And not just to check on her or to babysit. How many times have you bounced her on your knee, blown a raspberry on her belly? The question is impossible to count, but you do know the answer: Not Enough.

The cars continue to whiz past, and you realize that you’ve been so lost in thought that you forgot about your next appointment. You call to apologize, and then, as if your fingers were operating out of your control you call the next patient and do something you’ve never done before.

“Hi, Mrs. Russell. Look I’m sorry to do this, but I need to cancel.”

“Hi, Mr. Chote. Terribly sorry, but something has come up, and I have to cancel our appointment today.”

“Hey Bill, something came up that needs my attention. Can’t make lunch today.”

You shoot Marty a text: “Dinner tonight?”

Instantly you receive a text back: “Of Course! What restaurant?”

“How about our place? I could do with some quiet.”

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Porpoise noise continues.


Quiet Room
1308 words

It was quiet when Bella woke up.

Actually quiet.

Bella sat up and stared out the window for a long time.

Most places are quiet at five in the morning. The sun is down, city seem farther away, and the few cars whispering by almost seem embarrassed to be so disruptive. But to Bella, who had never had a quiet morning, it was a shockingly muted experience.

Every morning, for as long as she could remember, Bella had woken to a litany of abuse: Hello, stupid. What terrible choices is your fat rear end going to make today? How are you going to embarrass yourself? She would dress, brush her teeth, and put on makeup silently while the voice whispered and nagged and insulted her. Bella would lock the door and think, loser/ Go down the stairs and think, failure. Buy a vending machine coffee at the station- fat whore!

But today, suddenly, it was just gone.

Bella felt off-balance and terribly empty. Almost shyly, she stood up and walked to the bathroom. Nothing yelped or snarled; there were no ribbons of hatred curling around her brain. For the first time, she realized, she was could hear her own thoughts without the background of distracting self-abuse. The doctor had mentioned this, had talked about how liberating the feeling would be, but in the moment, Bella was almost annoyed.

She stared at the pills in her hand. Would this last? Could she actually go a full day without obsessive negative thoughts flipping themselves through her brain like coked-up gymnasts?

The first day at work was a blur. People were used to Bella not paying attention- “a dreamer!” when really she was trapped, listening to the inner voice- and seemed surprised when she readily responded to their questions. She ate with coworkers and actually followed the conversation. Bella was surprised at how easy it was to communicate now.

The pills continued to work. For two weeks, Bella woke up in a quiet room and performed her ablutions in blissful silence. She engaged with coworkers and found it far easier not to zone out. She could follow a movie or a TV show without getting distracted. Bella even found herself learning again- she could almost feel a tickling in her head, and she could remember facts! No more re-reading the same page over and over because she couldn’t break away from the inner voice. Yet, it felt like something was missing. A phantom limb, one that she used to beat herself with. Bella loved having no uncontrollable thoughts in her head, but the clarity felt more like emptiness. She had been drained of something vital, she felt. Something primal in her nature was gone.

“Who am I?” she asked the doctor later that month, perched anxiously on the couch.

“You’re the same person you always were,” the doctor responded easily, “but now you are more fully yourself. From what you’ve been telling me, the rapid-cycling has completely stopped-that’s wonderful!”

“It’s just really different.”

“It might take some getting used to, but I want you to think of this as a liberating experience. For the first time in your life, you’re…” The doctor pursed her lips and moved her hands in a frenetic barrel roll. “…you’re the only one present in your head. The only thinking you’re doing is deliberate. I know it’s a big change for you, but I hope it’s one that you appreciate.”

“Yeah, but at the same time, I don’t feel like myself. Like, I’ve been going around my whole life like this, and I always thought everyone else did, too- it’s not that it’s a big change, it’s that my whole life is different now and it’s happening in a way that I can barely explain to anyone.”

This piqued the doctor’s interest. She leaned forward. “And are you telling people about this? Are you sharing your journey with others, like we talked about?”

Not for the first time, Bella winced. “If you mean, when people at work say ‘oh, Bella, you seem way more positive and awake all of a sudden, what’s going on?’ do I then say, ‘totally, just taking haphazardly-measured swigs of a research chemical in order to quash the evil witch who lives in my head and calls me morbidly obese stupid hooker every loving minute of my day,’ then, no.”

“We talked about how important communicating about the journey is, didn’t we?”

“I think I talked about how it’s nobody’s business.”

“And I think we talked about the significance of sharing our feelings and not keeping things bottled up inside.” The doctor thought this was the origin of the voice, and for whatever reason, Bella didn’t seem to be able to make her understand that the voice was just there without any encouragement from herself. “Agreeing to medicate yourself was a big step, and I hope you know how proud I am of you for taking it, but you need to keep moving forward. Imagine you’re going up a staircase. Do you need a landing after taking every single step?”

“No.”

“Can you walk up stairs without getting tired? Maybe not forever, but certainly you can do a few at a time, right?”

“Yes.”

The doctor nodded triumphantly, as if she had revealed some amazing truth about the universe. “Then I’d like you to continue up the stairs, Bella. And I’d like you to use the bannister.”

Bella stared.

“The place where you put your hand,” the doctor said impatiently.

“Yeah, I know what a bannister is, but are you using it as a metaphor for using other people as support?”

“Exactly!” said the doctor, with what Bella felt was a smug expression. “Your legs are doing the work, but reaching out for extra support will get you there faster/” She settled back in her chair with a little smirk.

I am authentically thinking you are an rear end in a top hat, Bella said in her deliberate inner voice.

Bella had an opportunity the next day. Marlee, who worked three cubicles down and never seemed to stop talking, sat with Bella in the break room. “What’s going on with you?” she asked, unwrapping her sandwich. “You’ve been, like, chipper all month.”

“I’m not usually chipper?” Bella asked. Marlee was loud and annoying, not one of Bella’s favorite people.

Marlee didn’t pick up on the sarcasm. “Noooo, usually you’re, like, a million miles away. What’s up? Did you start doing keto or something? You look [i]alert
.”

Bella thought for a moment, considering. “I’m in a trial for a method to treat OCD thinking by using small amounts of something like LSD and it’s really peaceful inside my head but also I feel like loving screaming because literally everything in my life is completely different and it’s scary as poo poo,” she did not say.

“Oh, I started running in the morning before work. It…helps me wake up,” she said instead.

“Ohmigod, I have to start doing that, it’s like—”

Bella found she could zone out on purpose. She did so with satisfaction.

She walked home that night instead of taking the train. It was early November, but the leaves were already mostly dead, skittering like ghosts across the sidewalk. A fire truck blared in the distance somewhere. Bella walked in silence, her earphones in her ears, but nothing playing. She could obviously hear what was going on around her, but she could also follow it- she reacted quickly now.

When she got home, she walked immediately to the mirror. The lights were off, but she could see herself dimly- a shadowy blob. Remote. Her authentic self? Who really lived in Bella’s body? She didn’t know anymore.

[i]You are a stranger here and you are doing everything wrong,
she thought on purpose. She knew this was something she really felt and truly believed. It was then she could finally cry.

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Porpoise noise continues.


oh god loving dammit, can I fix that?

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!


1466 words

It Runs in the Family

archives

flerp fucked around with this message at 21:30 on Apr 12, 2019

anatomi
Jan 31, 2015


Before You Throw it Away, Read - 877 words. Brawl with ThirdEmperor.

It’s mine to hurt, this mess of squirming entrails that I strain across space and time.

That’s no way to begin a letter. Let me try again.

Hi,
I won’t ask how you are. I know you hate this day. And I know my words will only inflame. I’m sorry. But still
If you didn’t despise me, if I’d been able to fix things, maybe we’d talk.
You’d argue that the jokes aren’t just tired—they’ve been in a state of dull undying for a century. And you’d say that the nature of pranking is inherently mean-spirited anyway, so what’s the loving point of this so-called celebration?
And I’d agree, because I like to agree with you.
We both know it’s really about your mom, and her remembrance. It’s a stupid bad day to die.
In spite of everything, I hope you’re well.
I’m not.
I’m dissolving.

I get that you’re upset with me. I shouldn’t have done what I did to you. I thought I had nothing to lose—I assumed I could go back. Fix it. I still don’t understand why I can’t. I’ve tried for months.

I should tell you about France.
I don’t know exactly where, or when. It’s a market, I know that much. And it’s a long, long time ago.
Just another point in spacetime—but not really. This one is special.
I’ve never dislocated for the sake of another person. You’re my first. And I’m sure you’ll be my last.
The summer market.
The square is pregnant with people, activity seething beneath the heavy lid of overripe air.
Hawkers extol their wares, assurances honed by the grit in their voices. Rot blooms from jilted too-in-the-day meat.
The glint of scales, of fish and brass; the squawks and quacks of fowl; the dead thump against the blood-engorged oak slab; the smell of dreck, of manure; rows of fruits and berries, waxy skins sweating sweetly in the sun.
The flowers and herbs—freshly picked, or dried. I can’t name them, but their cloying signatures curl in the air.
I’m writing this for your benefit. Tourism has never interested me.
I’m here for the origin of a day. And there it is—in the shade of the square’s weeping willow. Two men talking amicably, one of them hiding a secret smile.

You were right, of course—whatever makes me cling to you isn’t love. It couldn’t be; I understand that now. I lack something. Maybe that absence is what lets me dislocate.
It’s not easy. My soul doesn’t want to leave linearity. So I have to hurt it, until it submits.
It seeps into the Confusion, into the infinite spacetime points suspended in brownian motion—points that shift, convulse into lines if you press close. Closer still and the lines all form the same continuous shape.
My soul whines. It’s worn out.
I unfold its intestinal hulk. I stretch it into a skin, and then I submerge it in the Confusion.
I begin to sift. Frayed nerve-endings scream against the friction of non-linear time.
I focus my thoughts on this day and its origin.
It takes a moment—it takes an eternity.
A resonance scrapes against the hide.

Sorry.
France.
The two men struggled through adolescence together. They’re the kind of boisterous men that pulls people into their orbit.
The kind of men I’ve always had to excise. It’s been so hard to keep myself in your life.
One of the friends has come up with a game.
Furtively, he’s pinned a paper fish to the back of the other’s shirt. The rules, and the crowd, seem to grow organically.
It becomes a point to kick the fish-adorned one in the butt—and when he spins around, people exaggeratedly pinch their noses at him.
Eventually he catches on, laughing wildly.
It escalates. Soon a school of paper fish swim through the market, latching onto unwitting backs.
Someone yells something—and the crowd happily picks it up, molds it into a laughing chant. They’re so exuberant. It’s like they know they’ve made something for the ages.
Before any of this can happen I push through my soul’s membrane. I have to violate this point. Only a little. I don’t make any of the old mistakes, I don’t make any drastic changes.
I simply make the man drop the paper fish in the muck.

The fix doesn’t stick. There’s resistance.
The game is replaced by another like it, spawned in the same market—by a pair of seamstresses.
And a magpie steals the the paper cat.
Two students, slightly drunk on cider, find a stray goose.
A sudden gust of wind catches the feather.
Aga⠀ and again I fix it, my soul howling with the pain.

I haven’t made it stick—not y⠀t. But I can tell I’m wearing down time’s resolve. The point is bruised, spongy. It’s gon⠀ give, I can feel it. I just have to keep pushing.
My soul is a shr⠀elled thing now, desiccated an⠀ brittle. I don’t c⠀⠀.

I’m go⠀⠀ lea⠀e this letter in y⠀ur letterbox. And th⠀ I’m gon⠀ disloc⠀e one l⠀⠀ time.

It should ⠀a good one ⠀it works, but ⠀ou’ll never ⠀ow. So: “Ap⠀l fools.”

I ⠀⠀I could’ve ⠀⠀back an⠀ un⠀ what I ⠀⠀. I ⠀⠀’t feel ⠀⠀ry, not re⠀⠀—I mean, I ⠀re ⠀⠀I’ve⠀hurt you.⠀⠀⠀.⠀ But ⠀⠀ re⠀⠀.

Go⠀⠀ye.

***

You don’t understand. Inside the envelope is just an empty paper.

anatomi
Jan 31, 2015


Fleta Mcgurn posted:

oh god loving dammit, can I fix that?
I don't think so, not until after judging.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give


Fleta Mcgurn posted:

oh god loving dammit, can I fix that?

Okay, so after some quick chat in IRC, here's what I'm gonna do: keep your first post as is, so I can double-check that the only edit is the formatting, but repost the story in a new post with the formatting fixed. Alternately, we can always appeal to the archivists to correct your formatting for the archive.

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Porpoise noise continues.


Antivehicular posted:

Okay, so after some quick chat in IRC, here's what I'm gonna do: keep your first post as is, so I can double-check that the only edit is the formatting, but repost the story in a new post with the formatting fixed. Alternately, we can always appeal to the archivists to correct your formatting for the archive.

Okay, thanks, appreciate it. On my way to work but can do it in about 20 mins.

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!


Flash:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA9z5Jq2f_w


Quickening

1067 words

Amanda poured a glass of wine and looked at the calendar, big boxes gridded-off in a whiteboard. Tomorrow was a green circle and a green time in small neat letters. Green, just the color she had at hand, at the time. She looks away. She wasn't there for tomorrow. She looked at today, peeled off the lavender post-it note, and checked the address again. Devin and Marta's fifth anniversary party. Their house was where she thought it was, right on the 22 line. Six stops down. She had plenty of time to get ready. She got up and looked for the appropriate handbag. The glass of wine was still resting on the counter in front of the calendar, still full, when she left the apartment.

Devin and Marta weren't exactly her people, really. But close. Junior Associates and paralegals. Some of the people in Amanda's department had been there forever, the partners knew them by name. And a few of the ones on their side of the divide came up through hers. Devin was one, a night school go-getter.  Still, it was always awkward, socializing across the salary gap. She would have rather been off on whatever urbex adventure Jackie and the others were out doing than here, dodging boring shop talk and Bryce, who had made an aggressive study of the harassment training manuals and made expert use of what he thought of as loopholes.

But she wasn't completely helpless. She did have a story, one she had already told a few people at work. It had been a great vacation, Italy in the spring, and with her so far beyond her last relationship that it didn't even sting, a great vacation romance. Vincenzo, who spoke even worse English than she did Italian. They both studied the other tongue in college, more for the literature than for conversation, and hadn't used it since. Still, they managed to communicate just fine. She told the story, repeatedly to different audiences, between the hosts’ equally redundant answerings of the same questions, the how-do-you-do it and the question of children, answering with shrugs and smiles for the first and “maybe once we've both made partner, but given the stare of the world...” to the second. She felt like a ping-pong ball, rallying between those conversations, mainly, occasionally interrupted by Bryce's increasingly maudlin comments about climate change and politics. She thought about a brief retreat to the bar, but the wine glass she got there on arrival was still full. She went anyway.

Bryce was there, on a few too many, arguing with the bartender. “If you don't pour me another,” he said, “I'll kill myself. Swear.”

The bartender backed away, holding up his hands. “Hey, man,” he said, “I don't want any trouble, but I got rules I gotta follow, you know.”

Bryce turned around. “Hey, Amanda. Didn't see you there. Sleep with me or else I'll kill myself.” He got up, unsteadily, from the barstool. “Nah, just kidding. Sorry. But how about a hug?”

Bryce lurched forward, faster than Amanda could back away. She held her hands up as Bryce glomped forward. The wine glass broke at the stem, emptying the red wine largely onto her green top.

The hosts arrived almost instantly, Devin pulling Bryce aside to deliver a litany of 'not cool’ bullet points while Marta came to Amanda's side. She stared at the broken-off glass stem and realized she was extremely thirsty. She set it down on the bar and picked up a bottled water, opened it, and took a deep drink.

“Can I get you anything-” asked Marta.

“I just want to go home,” she answered, surprised at how calm she sounded. Marta nodded and pulled out her phone to call an Uber. She handed Amanda a wad of bills,”To cover the dry-cleaning. We'll get it back from Bryce when he sobers up. And get him, I don't know. Training. Therapy. An intervention and a program, I don't know. Maybe all three.” The money was more than twice what it cost when she bought it, but Amanda didn't say anything.

In the car, she thought about tomorrow. She hadn't considered using a taxi or rideshare. It might be easier, but she didn't want to ride with a stranger. She'd call Jackie. Jackie owed her. Bryce had brought back those memories, too. Amanda talked Jackie down off of a ledge, a literal ledge, four stories up over concrete, and she'd had a lot more to be upset about at the time, a lot better reason to be up there. “If you do, they win,” she had said. “And it will be your fault.” She took a psych class a year later and gradually became horrified at herself, but it had worked, that time and the next few times when it didn't get as far to start. “Despair is complicity.”

When she got home, Amanda headed straight for the bathroom. As she sat she saw the tests in the bathroom trash. Three of them, the first bought when she noticed she was late, the other two on a separate trip immediately after. The third was meant to be the tiebreaker, but when there was no tie she didn't see any reason not to confirm it even more. Three sets of two parallel lines, hexagram one of the I Ching. She looked it up. 'The Creative’, because of course it was.

She walked out, back to the calendar, wondering whether to call Jackie now or in the morning. She didn't make the call. She stared at the circle. Then she looked down, noticed the full glass of wine on the table and realized she'd made her decision before she got up this morning.

She called the clinic, expecting a machine but getting a human instead. “I need to cancel my appointment for tomorrow. Yes. I am. Thank you.” Her lips curled up, involuntary politeness. She felt a little dumb, knowing the woman on the line, downtown or in a call center in Bangalore or whatever couldn't possibly see her.

She erased the green circle, and thought how wrong it was for the only person to know to be that stranger. Everyone else could wait the ten more weeks. She had already tapped Jackie's contact. The phone rang.

“Hello?” said Jackie, warehouse echoes and raucous activity in the background.

“So, I'm going to have a baby.”

Fleta Mcgurn
Oct 5, 2003

Porpoise noise continues.


TRYING IT AGAIN

Quiet Room
1308 words

It was quiet when Bella woke up.

Actually quiet.

Bella sat up and stared out the window for a long time.

Most places are quiet at five in the morning. The sun is down, city seem farther away, and the few cars whispering by almost seem embarrassed to be so disruptive. But to Bella, who had never had a quiet morning, it was a shockingly muted experience.

Every morning, for as long as she could remember, Bella had woken to a litany of abuse: Hello, stupid. What terrible choices is your fat rear end going to make today? How are you going to embarrass yourself? She would dress, brush her teeth, and put on makeup silently while the voice whispered and nagged and insulted her. Bella would lock the door and think, loser/ Go down the stairs and think, failure. Buy a vending machine coffee at the station- fat whore!

But today, suddenly, it was just gone.

Bella felt off-balance and terribly empty. Almost shyly, she stood up and walked to the bathroom. Nothing yelped or snarled; there were no ribbons of hatred curling around her brain. For the first time, she realized, she was could hear her own thoughts without the background of distracting self-abuse. The doctor had mentioned this, had talked about how liberating the feeling would be, but in the moment, Bella was almost annoyed.

She stared at the pills in her hand. Would this last? Could she actually go a full day without obsessive negative thoughts flipping themselves through her brain like coked-up gymnasts?

The first day at work was a blur. People were used to Bella not paying attention- “a dreamer!” when really she was trapped, listening to the inner voice- and seemed surprised when she readily responded to their questions. She ate with coworkers and actually followed the conversation. Bella was surprised at how easy it was to communicate now.

The pills continued to work. For two weeks, Bella woke up in a quiet room and performed her ablutions in blissful silence. She engaged with coworkers and found it far easier not to zone out. She could follow a movie or a TV show without getting distracted. Bella even found herself learning again- she could almost feel a tickling in her head, and she could remember facts! No more re-reading the same page over and over because she couldn’t break away from the inner voice. Yet, it felt like something was missing. A phantom limb, one that she used to beat herself with. Bella loved having no uncontrollable thoughts in her head, but the clarity felt more like emptiness. She had been drained of something vital, she felt. Something primal in her nature was gone.

“Who am I?” she asked the doctor later that month, perched anxiously on the couch.

“You’re the same person you always were,” the doctor responded easily, “but now you are more fully yourself. From what you’ve been telling me, the rapid-cycling has completely stopped-that’s wonderful!”

“It’s just really different.”

“It might take some getting used to, but I want you to think of this as a liberating experience. For the first time in your life, you’re…” The doctor pursed her lips and moved her hands in a frenetic barrel roll. “…you’re the only one present in your head. The only thinking you’re doing is deliberate. I know it’s a big change for you, but I hope it’s one that you appreciate.”

“Yeah, but at the same time, I don’t feel like myself. Like, I’ve been going around my whole life like this, and I always thought everyone else did, too- it’s not that it’s a big change, it’s that my whole life is different now and it’s happening in a way that I can barely explain to anyone.”

This piqued the doctor’s interest. She leaned forward. “And are you telling people about this? Are you sharing your journey with others, like we talked about?”

Not for the first time, Bella winced. “If you mean, when people at work say ‘oh, Bella, you seem way more positive and awake all of a sudden, what’s going on?’ do I then say, ‘totally, just taking haphazardly-measured swigs of a research chemical in order to quash the evil witch who lives in my head and calls me morbidly obese stupid hooker every loving minute of my day,’ then, no.”

“We talked about how important communicating about the journey is, didn’t we?”

“I think I talked about how it’s nobody’s business.”

“And I think we talked about the significance of sharing our feelings and not keeping things bottled up inside.” The doctor thought this was the origin of the voice, and for whatever reason, Bella didn’t seem to be able to make her understand that the voice was just there without any encouragement from herself. “Agreeing to medicate yourself was a big step, and I hope you know how proud I am of you for taking it, but you need to keep moving forward. Imagine you’re going up a staircase. Do you need a landing after taking every single step?”

“No.”

“Can you walk up stairs without getting tired? Maybe not forever, but certainly you can do a few at a time, right?”

“Yes.”

The doctor nodded triumphantly, as if she had revealed some amazing truth about the universe. “Then I’d like you to continue up the stairs, Bella. And I’d like you to use the bannister.”

Bella stared.

“The place where you put your hand,” the doctor said impatiently.

“Yeah, I know what a bannister is, but are you using it as a metaphor for using other people as support?”

“Exactly!” said the doctor, with what Bella felt was a smug expression. “Your legs are doing the work, but reaching out for extra support will get you there faster/” She settled back in her chair with a little smirk.

I am authentically thinking you are an rear end in a top hat, Bella said in her deliberate inner voice.

Bella had an opportunity the next day. Marlee, who worked three cubicles down and never seemed to stop talking, sat with Bella in the break room. “What’s going on with you?” she asked, unwrapping her sandwich. “You’ve been, like, chipper all month.”

“I’m not usually chipper?” Bella asked. Marlee was loud and annoying, not one of Bella’s favorite people.

Marlee didn’t pick up on the sarcasm. “Noooo, usually you’re, like, a million miles away. What’s up? Did you start doing keto or something? You look alert.”

Bella thought for a moment, considering. “I’m in a trial for a method to treat OCD thinking by using small amounts of something like LSD and it’s really peaceful inside my head but also I feel like loving screaming because literally everything in my life is completely different and it’s scary as poo poo,” she did not say.

“Oh, I started running in the morning before work. It…helps me wake up,” she said instead.

“Ohmigod, I have to start doing that, it’s like—”

Bella found she could zone out on purpose. She did so with satisfaction.

She walked home that night instead of taking the train. It was early November, but the leaves were already mostly dead, skittering like ghosts across the sidewalk. A fire truck blared in the distance somewhere. Bella walked in silence, her earphones in her ears, but nothing playing. She could obviously hear what was going on around her, but she could also follow it- she reacted quickly now.

When she got home, she walked immediately to the mirror. The lights were off, but she could see herself dimly- a shadowy blob. Remote. Her authentic self? Who really lived in Bella’s body? She didn’t know anymore.

You are a stranger here and you are doing everything wrong, she thought on purpose. She knew this was something she really felt and truly believed. It was then she could finally cry.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give


Submissions are closed. Stories posted between now and judging will receive a DQ and a crit. Stories posted after that will receive a Redemption and maybe a crit. Stories posted never will receive a firm, disappointed glare.

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Fun Shoe

Game Night

Tuesday 4/2 @ 10:30 (or so) EDT

Jackbox, CAH, whatever y'all want. Got like 4ish people confirmed so far. If you know you'll be around, lemme know via PM 6 or so makes for a good crowd imo.

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.


The Road to the Sea (662 words)

The knight and his prisoner wade through the marsh. The knight holds the chain. He tugs it as he walks. A dull watercolor consumes the horizon. Carrion-feeders circle overhead.

The prisoner is condemned to die. But not in this place. Not at this time. A haggard youth, malnourished and sullen, shackled to the knight by a worn set of manacles. There one could see gnarled fingers, bent and broken. His tendons had been cut, severed at the knuckle.

The knight is silent. He speaks in foreign tongues. The prisoner is silent. His tongue has been removed.

Clad in rusted, mossy plate, the knight sinks deeper into the moor. Though up to his knees, his footing is sure. He knows this place. This route. Its purpose. From the prison to the gallows, a convict to deliver.

The prisoner trips and falls into the bog. The knight pulls him up with a jerk of the chain.

The prisoner shakes his head, his hair lank and fetid. The knight observes, his own features obscured. His faceless mask, a wrought-iron helmet, spotted and cracked and weathered by duty.

The prisoner coughs and clears his eyes. The knight resumes their forward march.

A lonesome tower pierces the horizon, crooked and twisting, innards burst open. A thatch roof tilts like a wide-brimmed hat. The knight know it well. The two will rest.

It is custom to march the condemned to the sea. Baptized in water, consumed, and forgot.

The tower stands atop an outcropping. The ground is solid and hard and rocky. The knight uncovers the old fire pit. He readies the kindling, summoning fire.

The prisoner slumps against the stone walls. He has nowhere to run. He doesn’t even try.

The knight settles down just across from his charge. His posture is relaxed. He pulls out a small packet. Salted meat, tightly wrapped, and some bread. He raises his visor and feeds his gullet.

The prisoner watches with dwindling eyes.

The knight reclines. He examines his charge. Once this was one who invoked the lost names. With deft hands he’d plucked at the thread of the spider. Now he lay crippled, waiting to die. In time the lad shuts his weary eyes. The knight lets him sleep. He swallows more meat.

The carrion-feeders come to roost. They perch atop the roof in great numbers.

Time slips past. The knight rises up. He puts out the fire. He tugs on the chain. The prisoner wakes, his palm to his eyes. His fingers are useless, splintered, and limp.

The knight stands at the threshold. Before him the marshland consumes the horizon. The sea softly sleeps just beyond the stars. He tugs on the chain.

The prisoner struggles to his feet. He leans against the wall, dust and exhaustion.

For a moment there is stillness. Then the knight approaches.

From his pack he produces a sliver of meat. He presses it into the prisoner’s mouth. The prisoner grinds it down with his teeth. The knight takes the bread and breaks it in his hands.
He breaks it to pieces. Small pieces. Feed. He places each morsel within the youth’s cheeks.

The prisoner shuts his eyes again. Bread and meat. How long has it been.

The knight looks again toward the horizon. He beckons the prisoner to follow him still. The prisoner steps and collapses once more. This time his body lies still for all time.

The carrion-feeders lick their lips. They watch from the rooftop, but dare not descend.

The prisoner was condemned to die. But not at this time. Not in this place. The sea would swallow his bones and regrets. Now he was lost. There’d be no restitution. No judge would pay for a copper for a corpse.

The knight kneels down at the side of the prisoner. He lifts the youth up in both arms like a bride. He faces the sea and walks ever onward.

The carrion-feeders disperse in the night.

Tyrannosaurus
Apr 12, 2006

KING OF BLOOD

Upon what meat doth this
our Caesar feed that he is grown so great?


Thunderdome 2019teen: Slow Judging is a Thing Now I Guess

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

College kids ain't shit


Fun Shoe

Chili posted:

Game Night

Tuesday 4/2 @ 10:30 (or so) EDT

Jackbox, CAH, whatever y'all want. Got like 4ish people confirmed so far. If you know you'll be around, lemme know via PM 6 or so makes for a good crowd imo.

Looking at least 7 or so now. Should be a real fun time, so swing on by!

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give


TD Week 347: The Results

You guys want fast? I'll give you fast.

flerp wins.
Djeser HMs.

Nobody DMs -- it was a solid week all around.
Thranguy loses.

Throne's all yours, flerp.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




Week 347 crits

I have no idea how I would have handled this prompt, so I’m pleased I decided to judge so you all could show me how it’s done. Overall this week had a quiet, thoughtful vibe, which I enjoyed. The downside to this was several stories that were slow to get going and that needed an edit to cut out unnecessary flimflam and really bring the core theme to the fore.


Death, of a sort by Staggy

I bounced off the start of this story because it took me a few paras to work out that we were talking about two adult friends; I'd initially pictured a teenage couple.

The description of how the protag wants to change is sweet, but it doesn't really work as the central theme of the story because the change has already occurred. They've already bought their running gear and made the decision to part ways with Steve. The story just shows us the consequences of that decision.

6/10


The Undoing of Hannah McAllister by Salgal80

Lol that you misspelt “fridge” as “frig”, twice.

That aside I thought this was quite good, but too slow. I liked the slow unravelling of her trust in her husband, driven entirely by her own internal monologue, but the story lacked the intensity of detail or emotion needed for its slow pace to pay off. The first seven paras give us lots of details about the protag, but they’re all quite generic, and I almost wanted to skip through them to find where the story starts.

The dates also don’t add anything - the story could take place in a single day and it would be the same story.

I’d say this is a good first draft - I’d like to read it again after a thorough edit.

6/10


Ib-Nebu by Djeser

I really like this. I like the dreamy other-worldness of it. At the end, nothing has changed, but everything is different, in a way which feels very satisfying.

The weakest point was the decision to not drink the ruby-wine. It was clear that the sight of the enslaved boy led to the protag's change of heart, but if not drinking was so easy, why didn't they do this before? I think you needed to give this decision more weight.

8/10


Cutting by Chili

I didn’t like this for about the first third. The protag is an annoying control freak and the long paras going through his list of things to do are tedious.

But the turnaround when he realises he hardly sees his granddaughter is sweet and I like the gentle way you handle it. By the ending I was smiling.

The main issue with the story for me is that you set the protag up at the start to sound like a real dick (he seems quite rude to his wife) but then his relationship with his son seemed very happy, so I wasn’t sure what sort of person I was supposed to be picturing. He sounds like a pretty good granddad, which undermines the starting impression of someone who really needs to change, and makes the change itself feel a bit weak.

6/10


Quite Room by Fleta Mcgurn

Another story that I liked by the end but really didn’t like at the start. I bounced off the beginning of the story because my experiences with antidepressant medications have been entirely negative, so I found the story implausible until you mentioned the experimental nature of the drug and I thought, ok this is story logic, it’s a miracle cure, fine. Then I looked at you av and got distracted by picturing said miracle cure being administered via a giant hypodermic.

But back to the story, I wasn’t really feeling her angst at being “cured”. It’s sort of mentioned, but basically she seems fine. I do like the ending though. The way she struggles with the way the “cure” has fundamentally altered her sense of self is a thought-provoking idea.

This is another one that needs a brutal edit to focus to make its core theme more vivid.

7/10


It Runs in the Family by Flerp

This is good. In contrast to some of the other entries this week I was immediately drawn into this story. The conversation between the two brothers is really well done. I didn’t get a strong sense of change from the protag though. He learns things about Andrew’s suicide, and comes to understand Dylan better, but I’m not sure what change this brings about in him. It’s quite a nice sort of growing up moment for a 15 year old though.

7.5/10


Quickening by Thranguy

“Gridded-off” is a weird verb. And I think the boxes should be “on” not “in” the whiteboard. I know how whiteboards work, you see.

I found this confusing. At the end of my first read I thought, “this seems good but I didn’t quite follow who all the characters are, I’ll read it again.” Then I read it again and thought, “nope I still didn’t follow.”

Is Jackie supposed to be the father? (I only know women called Jackie but I’m not sure if this is a male name too?) Or is Vincenzo the father?

The interactions at the party tells us about her weird law firm life, but don’t really give any insight into her decision to continue the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, because I didn’t think this was particularly bad, the fact that I couldn’t work out who Jackie is made this my least favourite of the week.

5/10


The Road to the Sea by Bad Seafood

I didn’t like this. The grim setting and body horror (the cut tendons in his fingers, etc.) were unpleasant, and because I didn’t get the ending - I’m not sure what the knight is going to do with his unfortunate prisoner after he drops dead earlier than scheduled - there was no payoff for all the unpleasantness.

That said, the imagery is really strong - I wouldn’t have found it so unpleasant if the prose had been less effective.

5/10

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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give


Week 347: Crits

Staggy, "Death, of a sort"

I confess that these sorts of exercises in nerd-bashing humor are not always my bag, but I think this works all right. The real issue with Steve isn’t that he’s a nerdy Trekkie shut-in -- it’s that he’s terrified of change, and that he feels the need to inflict this fear even on those close to him. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the dialogue at first, but I think it works well overall, and there’s something affecting about how Steve goes from well-cited careful arguments about Trek minutiae to just sort of fumbling emotional appeal about real-life things.

Salgal80, "The Undoing of Hannah McAllister"

The concept here is fine, but I don’t really like the execution. This is in a first-person, pseudo-diary format, but the style reads much more flat and expository than anyone thinking or writing about themselves would (nobody has ever mentally exposited about their perimenopause this way). The dialogue about the dating-site thing is especially clunky. There’s also not much resolution here, which I understand is maybe a consequence of the prompt not allowing status quo change, but I think I would have liked to see the protagonist at least come to some mental conclusion once her husband is home. Does she decide to bury this? Is she about to blow everything the gently caress up? It’s okay if the potential affair plot never leaves her own mind, but boy, I’d like her to settle on a path forward about it.

Djeser, "Ib-Nebu"

This story made me do some Wikipedia research, which is maybe judge-cheating, but I wanted to make sure I understood what this was riffing on mythologically. It’s a good riff, but more than that, I think it’s an interesting moment to choose to highlight. What’s really happening in this story isn’t so much an escape as an awareness that escape is possible -- the equivalent of packing a bug-out bag and carrying a hotline number in your wallet -- both the incremental progress towards freedom and the psychological relief that comes from knowing it’s a possibility. This is a very human moment to capture in a story about Egyptian mythological fantasy about animal-people. I like it.

Chili, "Cutting"

I’m struggling a little with this one, because I can see the shape of it and it’s reasonably competent, but the character work seems kind of contradictory and shallow to me. I may be biased here by my own job, but reading that this dude is a tax cheat who also controls his children’s tax filing made the rear end in a top hat Alarm start going off in my head and made me assume this dude was going to need a lot of work on himself, but… I guess he just needs to re-prioritize? Obviously I know that assholes can still be good parents/grandparents, but the decision seems really light and trivial, and I think it needed more weight. (Maybe the point is that this is the kind of rear end in a top hat who can readily flip the switch and let people down when he’s getting more out of being a Good Grandpa than a Good Professional? But I think this story is supposed to be more charitable.

Fleta McGurn, "Quiet Room"

Good core concept, but I think it needs some editing to tighten it up. The question of where the line is drawn, or should be drawn, between symptoms of mental illness and authentic emotions and personality traits is a powerful one, and I think most people who have attempted mental-health medication treatment have struggled with it. I like the beginning and ending in that regard -- the mixture of relief and discomfort that comes without Bella’s inner hate-voice, and then Bella allowing herself to express authentic fear and self-loathing outside of her illness paradigm -- but the incidents feel a little messy and meandering. This would be a much stronger piece if we had a focus on one or two incidents that bring Bella’s inner conflict to the fore.

flerp, "It Runs in the Family"

Really nice dialogue work on this one. I found some of the grammar a little rough (lots, of commas, not always, naturally placed), but in a story that’s as dialogue-heavy as this, I’m willing to let that go. The situations and emotions feel very real: the deep family secret, the slightly gently caress-up-y older brother who’s struggling under the weight of trauma and trying his best, and the protagonist figuring out the shape of things and understanding his brother a little better. Good execution of a straightforward idea.

Thranguy, "Quickening"

This one has a really hollow feeling to me. Of all the stories this week, this one has the weakest character work; we have a handful of signifiers about Amanda (she’s into urbex and had a vacation fling, so maybe she’s adventurous? She works in law, I guess?) but I honestly don’t really get a feeling for her, and it makes her decisions sort of arbitrary. The sexual harassment feels gratuitous, frankly. I can see the shape of what’s going on here -- Amanda having a bad night courtesy of a lovely nihilist coworker but still choosing to exercise hope and optimism by having her vacation-fling-conceived baby? -- but I can’t tell how much of that is intended vs. just my reading of things, trying to get some character out of it. The combination of flat characterization, gratuitous sexual harassment, and some kind of shoddy ambiguity about things (who is Jackie? Amanda’s friend, I guess?) make this just not work.

Bad Seafood, "The Road to the Sea"

This is kind of a gutsy piece that I don’t think quite worked. I like what you’re trying to do here -- convey these two characters who can’t communicate still sharing a single moment of mercy, in a story with a broad outside POV to echo that in the prose -- but I think the POV distance doesn’t help the reader get a feeling for the characters at all. I liked it quite a bit, actually, but it’s certainly putting more of a burden on the reader than a lot of stories, and I’m not sure that’s a great choice in the TD environment.

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