The Arctic (just a lot of snow is also acceptable)
|# ? Oct 5, 2019 05:29|
|# ? Sep 24, 2021 21:17|
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|# ? Oct 5, 2019 05:29|
Came under the word limit by half but short is sweet baby, let's do this.
Prompt: Story must include Christmas, Trucks, Trains, Mama, Drunkeness, and Prison
You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen. You probably recall the most famous reindeer of all, but you’ve never heard about Brock Claus, Santa’s forgotten son.
Me? I first heard about Brock when I was doing a stint for Grand Theft Auto at Luther Luckett in La Grange. I woke up the day after Christmas with a carton of Pall Malls, a handle of Old Forester, and some ramen noodles hidden under my pillow. I asked my cellmate if he had gotten me any of it from the Canteen or had it smuggled in. He smiled, shook his head then said:
“I wish, but if I got you any of that stuff then who gave me this?”
He lifted up his pillow to show me a six-pack of Miller-lite and a Porno mag.
“I forgot it was your first Christmas here.” he chuckled. “You don’t know about Brock.”
“Yeah. Were you a good kid growing up? Stayed out of trouble?”
I told him no.
“Me neither” he said. “But you never got coal right? Santa’s supposed to give coal to all the bad kids but nobody I know here ever got coal. Not even the guys from West Virginia. Why do you think that is?”
I told him that I thought it was because Santa wasn’t actually real. My cellmate laughed and said, “No, No. Santa’s real. Real as you and me. It’s because of Brock.”
Brock, at least according to the story passed down to me, is Santa’s son. I never knew Santa had a son and I bet you didn’t either but he’s got three: Edward, Beaumont, and Brock. The first two you never heard of because they’re real behind-the-scenes type guys. Edward supervises toy production and Beaumont’s a tax accountant. But Brock? You don’t know about Brock because he got thrown out of the family.
There was a time when Brock was the apple of his old man’s eye. He was always smarter than his brothers, stronger, harder-working. Anyone who looked at him saw a blazing-bright future. His dad started grooming him for the family business, showing him the naughty list, how to fit in a chimney, and the best route for delivering presents to two billion kids in a single night. That’s when poo poo started to go downhill. Half the guys I talk to say it was just too much for Brock, the stress and expectations were too much for any kid to handle. The other half say Brock just had a time-bomb brain, he turned a certain age and he just snapped.
I don’t know what went wrong with Brock exactly but I know what happened next. He started drinking. He got into fights, gambling, but never to work on time. It all broke open when the Railroad Police caught him sleeping in a boxcar littered with beer cans a passed-out hooker by his side. When they started investigating, they found that he’d paid for his partying with money he’d been stealing from his dad.
Santa was furious, he refused to protect Brock, didn’t send him a penny for his defense, and Brock got stuck with a public defender and a 6-year sentence. 2191 days and six Christmases each and everyone the same. When he got out, no-one came to pick him. Santa had told everyone that Brock was dead to him, and forbade them all: Eddy, Beaumont, and even his own Mama, Mrs Claus from speaking to him ever again. Brock had nowhere to go, so he went everywhere. He drifted across the world, doing odd-jobs or a quick scam anytime he ran out of cash, until he got picked up again in Red Deer, Alberta for kiting checks. He was booked and thrown back to the system. Seven years and seven Christmases.
When he was in prison, Brock never knew what day it was, the days all blended together in the cold concrete of his cell. But he always knew when Christmas arrived, because Christmas was the day his mama called. His old man was busy the entire day delivering presents to the good boys and girls all over the world. And Mrs. Claus who missed Brock dearly would call him on the prison phone. It was the only time he got to talk to his mama the entire year and he treasured every second. He would listen to how his brothers were doing and how finicky the hot toy of the season was to make. The first twelve Christmases Brock spent in prison, he did this but the thirteenth one was different: Brock asked for the naughty list. And Mama Claus God bless her, she got it for him.
Now every Christmas, Brock gets into his flying pick-up truck and visits all the world’s ne’er-do-wells, delinquents and slimeballs and swaps out the coal his old man put in their stocking for cigarettes, booze, BB guns and whatever else he can find that fell off the back of a sleigh. Brock might be a good-for-nothing loser but he’s a good-for-nothing loser who thinks that Christmas belongs to everybody, and that the people who deserve Christmas cheer the least are the ones who need it most.
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 14:27|
Word count's 871 words by the way. I don't know if its required or just etiquette but I'm not going to break the rules by editing it in.
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 14:29|
Word count: 1260
Everything of me living that was on my fighting side was set alight. The crackling of skin I feared I heard ‘neath the noise of the rushing river. Incendiary grenade. In-cen-di-ar-y. Sounds scary when you tell folks what it does. I sell sunglasses as well, and lighters and cool cans of beer. But out the back of the store I sell arms too. And when I came up on that bank thinking I’d be there making a deal, everyone happy, I was ending up holding out my arms saying “Please! Please don’t!” Not quite sure he were aiming for me and missed or he were sadistic or he were sadistic and missed. Any way it cuts I was on my back being like pressed to the sun, all scorching up my right and licking across my chest. It took a long long time for me to find the strength to open my eyes. The painted sky were baby blue and the rocky walls of the gorge rose up like swords to the canvas.
I could just taste scalded in my mouth for a good while. It was real bright out, and I still lay there squinting at the sky until it washed orange-ish. My good arm, the one that weren’t withered, started shuffling around in the dirt, exploring here and there, little shapes of rocks and bone, then got brave enough, the socket shifting, to curl above my head behind where I could see. Those curious fingers recoiled when feeling the damp hot remains of the footlocker that all the goods had been in. The thing was indented into the bank, and with a few painful reaches I could surmise for myself it was now hanging open facing the river which washed in a few inches and carried away a lot of the frags and smokes and such that still fused firm with their pins. Merchandise for thirsty deer, or lucky catches for stout old fishermen. What an investment.
It took a long long time for anything to happen that wasn’t the rushing river or the hoots and hollers of passing birds. I thought it was the tread of wildlife I heard, the patter in the sand some fifteen feet from me from the coiling path that led to the top of the gorge. The coyotes had come, must be. Tear me apart. Picking away at myself and myself. It was a little surprising when I saw out the corner of my eye a big matted nest of silver-red curls. I couldn’t move my head too good but I think there was a wrinkled forehead beneath. A voice came in, sweetened with age: “Oh, poor baby. Sweet baby. It’s alright now. Mama’s here.”
The frumpy sound of fabric being unfurled came from my left. The curls would dot in and out of sight. “Now darling, I can’t be rolling you over what with your hurt yourself, so first we’re gonna move your legs onto the rug and then your upper half. It’s a real comfy rug, don’t worry.”
Mama did as she said. She had strong hands. The rug was a better place to lie than on the damp sand – it was like the rugs they had in expensive hotels. The little fibres irritatingly stroked at my burns. “See, honey? Comfy. You just lie there, Mama will get you on your way.”
With ease Mama began to drag the rug through the sand and onto the dirt path – the move being clear enough from the little rocks and stuff which pricked at my back as I watched the sky get dark and the stars blink in. This continued for a while before I felt myself get lifted, my sensitive skin revolting and crying, onto a raised wooden floor. Above me was the steel roof of a train carriage. “There we are,” said Mama. “Don’t worry about what stop you are, the driver prolly knows. I gotta get groceries so you take care, hon.” She held out both ands above my head and waved, wagging her wrists side to side. Then the hiss of stream and the grinding rending of metal and the thing started chugging along and I were alone again.
By this time I could turn my neck a little without everything in flames. In the carriage I was in was just some crates and stuff. The big door was open and I could see for a long time the orange and silver light dancing down on the mesas as shadow packs of wolves and all emerged from each dark corner. Flowers the size of me I’d never seen bloomed a deep living violet and caught the moonlight in their stalks. The blistering desert looked like my wounds. I barely noticed when on other side of me I felt a boot dig in and send me tumbling off the train and back into the dirt. Painful exit.
I were face down so I didn’t see but hear truck from its rumbling engine. It pulled up real close like I could reach out and touch the tires but there were hands which dragged me up and like a china doll deposited me face up on the back of the truck. It were open top and not empty but six guys sitting on the sides leaned in to inspect me. Each wore a black and white prison jumpsuit. One looked a mite familiar.
“Oh, man! I know this guy! Howdy, man!” Big smile that blocked out the morning sun. “I tried to steal grenades off this guy! Ah, man, how long has it been?” I tried to gurgle something in response, but he kept talking. “I’ve learned a lot about myself since I ran into you, let me tell you. I reformed, then I fell off the wagon again. They’re locking me up this time for tax fraud. But I got people I care about now. I got a daughter – she’s an engineering student in the city, and my son’s a professional boxer. Ah, man! They both make me so proud. You got any kids? You know I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and I guess crime doesn’t pay. Maybe I should’ve stayed in school – ah, but you can’t live in the past! My kids are my legacy, you know?”
“This is his stop!” Came a shout from the front. My old friend snapped out his rhythm and looked down at me.
“Oh, right. That’s right, pal. You’re not coming with us.” He rubbed his chin, deep in thought for a moment. “Although… it’s only right I help you get there, with your condition and all.”
The truck stopped abruptly. The six prisoners all coffin-bearer-like set me down, and my old friend grabbed my fraying shirt by the shoulders, and started dragging me away. Night had come again, a metallic night with a tin sky, which became obscured by long stalks of maize, shaking in the breeze. “You ever hear of Nazca Lines?”
My back weren’t on the dirt, the grass. The stalks, flattened in rows, made a bed for me. It was just the sky again, but when I looked the wall of maize was in each direction like 30 feet away from me. “Remember,” said my old friend, “you’re the bullseye. Bye bye.”
I’m alone again. I’m locked up in my skin. My fighting side is still embers and all like I’m cooking inside my skull. I don’t think I’ll be seeing my store again. Tin lights in the sky make shapes I’ve never seen.
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 18:33|
The Right Path
Word count: 1554
The door to the garage was rolled down, but a thin layer of snow had blown in through the inch-high gap between the pavement and the metal. Where it mixed with puddles of oil, the snow made a ragged line of gray sludge, but everywhere else, except the center of the room, the scuffed and stained gray of concrete showed. There was no car in the room, but buckets of shims and screws and clasps and pins were stacked on shelves along one wall. On the bottom shelf sat cans of motor oil and lubricant, the painted exteriors colored bright red and yellow by the strong light of the overhead bulb.
Several of the cans had been knocked to the floor, but one had cracked open and rolled to rest against the object in the middle of the room, leaving behind a thin trail of grease as it. Hanging from hooks along one wall were tools, dulled from use, in a dozen shapes and sizes. One of the hooks was empty.
Opposite the roll-down door was a large sign that said Ed’s Garage in faded white and blue paint, and next to the sign hung a set of stained cover-alls with the same name embroidered, with the right leg partially torn and hanging loosely. Next to the coveralls was a door leading to an office, painted brown but heavily nicked and smeared with black grease. The glass window was shattered and the thin wood around the window had been splintered and bowed in.
Against the object in the middle of the room rested a broken half-bottle of whiskey, the splintered edges of which were covered with a fine layer of blood. The bottle lay in a pool of whiskey and blood, but the volume of whiskey was less than a third of a full bottle and the volume of blood was much greater.
The object in the center of the room was the fresh corpse of a man. He had a squat, round frame and in his face, laugh lines were the only prominent mark. Flowing from numerous small cuts on the man’s scalp, blood formed a halo surrounding his head. His suit had once been indicative of a refined taste: three pieces with embroidery and a gold watch-chain, a crisp linen shirt and tie and pocket square cut from richly dyed silk.
Now it was stained with blood and the cloth over the abdomen was a ragged mess of viscera and strips of cloth. The man was clean shaven, except for a distinguished and well groomed mustache. The left temple of his skull had been caved in, and fragments of bone showed white through the mess. His eyes remained open, staring at the ceiling through wire rimmed glasses.
In the office a second man sat at a desk strewn with receipts and invoices. Leaning against the desk was a bloody hammer. Several buttons had been torn from his frayed canvas coat, and blood had sprayed across the front of the coat. His hands, however, were freshly scrubbed, wholly clean of both blood or oil. He held a letter in his hands, written in a sloppy script.
I have sorry news to tell you. I have sinned again, and I fear that it is my lot in life to maintain this path, despite the abundance of goodness that you poured into my childhood and the reprieves granted me at every turn by man and society alike. Even so, I will struggle against my nature.
I will not give you any details lest a policeman use them against you as a means of misguided leverage. Let me only say that I will seek a place where I will be far from drink and temptation both. I believe it is liquor that is my undoing, yet recognizing a flaw does not set one on the path to remedying it. I would join the Teetotalers in their brigade, if I thought I could stand to spend my time picketing in a city without slipping away to a whiskey house or some such.
I will not throw myself on the mercy of the law as no outcome can be satisfactory. If I am sentenced to prison, I do not think that my soul could countenance a return to that foul place. I will not speak on it longer as any description would only twist your heart, reminding you of the years that I have already spent there.
I am not ready for the other option either. I wish yet to live. Even knowing myself, I think that I can be of use to the world.
I must end every letter to you in the same way, Mama. I didn’t mean to do it, not really. My dearest wish in the world is to look on your face again, but the sight of the scar would turn my joy to something dark. I think that you spoke honestly when you wrote to me last and said that you had forgiven me, but you have not seen me of late. Still though, look to the future. If I can change I will find you.
Hope for me,
September 22, 1905
With his thick fingers, Arthur folded the paper into thirds along imperfect lines and, after rummaging in the desk drawers for a few moments, found an envelope. He placed the letter into it and made a motion as if to put it into his coat pocket, but regarded the bloodstain across the front. If he would change his soul, he would have to begin by changing his clothes. Not only were these drenched in the life he meant to leave behind, he would be stopped by the first person he met.
He set the letter onto the desk and walked into the empty garage, simultaneously understanding what he had done while also telling himself that he would and could change. He took the coveralls from their hook by the sign and quietly fingered the tear in the right leg. Arthur patted at his pockets until he found a spool of cotton thread. It was white, and would stand out against the blue denim, but it was better than letting the pant leg dangle.
He fetched the chair from the office and set it facing the body in the middle of the room, and began stitching.
“I am sorry I have forgotten your name, friend. Perhaps if I remembered it, I could address your soul properly, and it would forgive me. As it is, let me give you a bit of advice, albeit a bit too late.” Arthur paused, as if expecting a response from the corpse. None came, and he was silent for a moment longer.
“You were celebrating, and chose the wrong barroom for it. Every man there has nothing to his name but misfortune. All they could see in you was an injustice. You had and he had not. I must confess that those were my feelings as well. I figured that you could be liberated of your winnings and to our mutual detriment I was correct.” Arthur was quiet again, while he corrected some wrongly placed stitches.
“Don’t worry though. The money in your pocket will be put to rebirthing a man. I was dead before, but I will live again.” He finished the repair and began to change into the coveralls, leaving the worn-out jacket in a heap on the floor.
“Let me leave a memory with you. I mean it that way, I want it to remain here and no longer burden me. When I was in prison last, we were set to work building a road. Each day but Sunday, before sunrise, a pickup truck would come for the men, to drive us to the section of road we would work on that day. At sunset it would return to drive us back to the camp.
“I was useful, I worked hard on that road, and I’m proud of it. But seven years of seeing the same truck come without respite will wear a rut in any man’s heart. I once had the chance to work in this very garage, but when the first pickup rolled in, I dropped the wrench and walked out the door. It’s strange, isn’t it, that we can be bound by something other than chains.” Arthur nudged the jacket with the toe of his boot.
“In any event, thanks for the cash.” Arthur crossed the garage, and rolling up the door, strode out into the night.
“Arthur Clarence Hargrave, do you have any last words?” said the grim-faced prison guard.
“Yes. I think you will do both me and the world a grave injustice when you pull that lever. I recognize that switching operator at the trainyard was not the right job for me. I had thought that isolation would suit me, but it only wore me down until I broke, and Alicia Jackson’s blood will always be on my hands. But I think that the right job for me exists, and if I had been shown clemency, I could find my path, and put my muscle and thought to adding to the industry of the world.”
“So noted.” Arthur closed his eyes, and before the power surged, he thought of home and his Mama.
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 18:48|
The heat rose from the bleached sand like a thousand souls reaching for the heavens as the steaming mass of steel lumbered through the wastes on its lonely track. Jericho bit the cork off a clear unmarked bottle of amber liquid and poured most of the remainder down his parched throat. He would need the courage, real or not for the trial that lay ahead.
“Try not to drown the best of you in that weakness," spoke a withered figure seated in a wooden wheelchair. Her black blouse fluttering in the desert wind, flames belching from the furnace beside her, spitting steam and black smoke into the sky.
“I've got plenty of strength left Ma, enough to spring Bernard from his cell in Ironwood, as long as you can still play your part,” replied Jericho. Mama Virginia smiled a crooked way and pulled out her raven feather quill.
“Don't you forget boy, my pen is mightier than that there big iron ya go. Now straighten up, it’s time,” she said.
Jericho extended his free hand to her as he took another swing, silencing the bug in his gut. “Yes mama,” he said as he tossed the empty container into the furnace, causing it to belch fire as the glass shattered. She stabbed her quill into his hand, sending rivulets of blood smattering into the coal dust on the floor as it flowed from his arm into her quill. Leering through the conductors port she eyed the prison on the horizon. With a quick scribbling motion, she laid tracks of blood towards it. Jericho stumbled as the engine car jumped the tracks onto the one of his own blood. He steadied himself and drew both his six-shooters.
“You had best brace yerself dear,” she said. He could see the whites of the eyes of the guards in them towers now. He steadied himself near the back. He'd have but a moment to extricate hisself from this demon engine between the fence and the wall.
The train trembled as it tore through the fence as the guards hollered the alarm. Jericho tucked and rolled, careful not to catch himself with his hands, as the fall would've surely broken them. He rolled through the dust and caught himself in time to see the locomotive slam into the prison wall and erupt in a cacophony of violence and dust. Bricks and limbs of the condemned rained upon him like a torrent, the sandy ground swallowing the blood as soon as it touched like a thirsty devil.
Jericho rose to his feet as a guard stumbled from the wreckage clutching a rifle. Jericho’s hands moved like the devil’s own, putting a hole three feet wide in the man's torso, nearly cleaving him in half. He could hear the cries of the guards of Ironwood.
“We're under attack!” shouted a guard.
“You sure? Feels like an earthquake!” replied another.
“It's a whole drat army you fool, get the warden!” said the first guard before Jericho’s bullet caused the man’s head to explode like a biblical bloody rain. He felt no pity for these men. Ironwood was reserved for the worst of the worst, and so had the worst of them guarding it, the warden worst of all. He hoped the rumors about the man were lies.
He made his way to the other side of the prison, his sight clouded and his steps unsteady but the fire in his belly roared. He put another round through a prisoner’s heart as the man charged at him with a shank looking to make his escape, throwing the man six feet high and into an intact set of iron bars. Jericho ducked his way over to that cell. It was the one in the spot his ma told him if his groggy recollection served him proper.
“Bernard?” he asked the dark cell as his eyes adjusted.
“Jericho!?” came the reply.
“Stand back,” Jericho commanded as he blasted the lock, sending the gate crashing.
“Did mama put you up to this?” Bernard asked as he stumbled from his cell. Jericho tossed him the fully loaded pistol as he pivoted and used the other gun to blast a guard taking aim at them from the second level. The bullet hit the man's rifle squarely, causing it to explode and sent the man tumbling, peppered with shrapnel in the face, arms, and chest. Another shot from Jericho blasted the man’s chest open.
“Mama was gonna carry through with this with or without me, but I wasn’t gonna let no harm come to my kin,” Jericho replied.
“Likewise Jeri, but we gotta skedaddle before the warden gets wise. Death don’t commute no sentences here in Ironwood, the warden has the living and the dead working the chain gangs,” said Bernard.
‘God drat it,’ thought Jericho. The rumors were true.
They burst out the way they came, Jericho took out an unsuspecting guard at the legs, shearing them clean off in a mist of arterial spray while Bernard hit a guard in a tower sending him flipping head over heels thrice before tangling in the barbed wire below. They had just made it to the fence when a skeletal fist erupted from the sand and clasped Bernard’s boot. He blasted it right quick but the dead man in the wire had torn himself free and blocked their escape. Jericho blew an arm clean off the living dead but it didn't phase him.
“Who dares attempt to escape from my institution!?” growled a voice in a low tone behind him. They turned, and there he was. A heavily balded man with a grey moustache, yellow teeth, and whiskey breath that would knock a man over from six paces away stepped out of a rusting, idling truck. He wore a badge of office on his black suspenders. It was the warden. The necromancer.
Jericho immediately tried to put one between his eyes. The gun clicked. His six shots were up. He had lost count in his stupor and was now empty.
“What are you waiting for!?” he yelled at his brother, but he could see Bernard was paralyzed like a pillar of salt, eyes rolled up into his head. The warden laughed.
“Did you not think I would protect myself from my own prisoners?” spat the warden through yellow teeth. Jericho felt the icy hand of the dead, one-armed guard grab the back of his neck and lifted him from the ground like a kitten.
The warden pointed at a spot in the ground and raised his finger, from that spot another lifeless body tore itself from its unmarked grave. He did this twice more in rapid succession, raising a squad of skeletal minions.
“You’re mine now boy,” said the warden with menace in his tone and eyes locked on Jericho.
A booming voice blasted from above, “You are the wicked one who tormented my son!”
The warden looked up as a bright red bubble of blood six feet ‘cross drifted down beside Bernard and Jericho. The bubble shattered and sent razor-sharp pieces in arcs into the zombies, ripping them to pieces. With the warden’s attention stolen, Bernard returned to his senses.
“You old hag! I'm going to work you to dust!” Raged the warden.
Mama Virginia’s mouth curled into a sneer, and she threw her quill like a dart, hitting the warden in the neck. The bald man grabbed it, but could not tear it away.
“Don’t you ever mess with my boys," she growled as the warden began to flail and howl. His face turned bright red. His voice cracked and his skull popped like suds in a bath, mixing bright red blood against the dull red of the rust on the man's truck. Smoke billowed from the barrel of Bernard's gun.
"Thanks, ma," said Bernard.
Mama’s chair turned to face them through an unseen force as the quill fluttered back into her hand as if caught in a breeze though there was none.
“Alright boys, time to go home,” said mama as Jericho and Bernard helped her into the waiting truck. Jericho shifted it into gear and after a thought, smacked open the glove compartment with his fist, causing it to drop open and spit out a bottle of dark brown spirits. Jericho took a deep drink and they drove off.
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 22:06|
Ellen watched the Texas landscape slide by outside the train window. She is on her way to visit her son, Daniel. She hasn’t seen him in nearly eight years. He lives in a prison on the opposite side of the state from her. She couldn’t afford to fly there and her old beater car would never make the drive, so the train it was.
On the tray table in front of her sit two empty single-serve bottles of Tito’s and a yellow legal pad and pen. She is writing a letter to her son, all the things she needs to say to him. Her therapist’s idea.
She flexes her cramping hand, and reaches into her purse for the third vodka bottle. She doesn’t drink often, but she can’t face this trip, or her son, sober.
After the accident, everyone tried to convince her she should forgive him. She had never even considered it. Once Daniel was arrested she told the sheriff to his face that they better keep him locked up or she’d kill him herself. They chalked it up to a mother’s grief at the time, but she meant it, deep in her bones. She hasn’t spoken to her son since that night.
Angry tears welled up in her bleary eyes, but she quickly brushed them away. An eastbound train passed going the opposite direction, back toward home. Ellen imagined seeing her own face in one of the windows, on her way back home from this trip. Would she feel free, at peace? She hoped so.
Her shrink was big on Ellen “feeling her feelings,” really living in them and not burying them. They had worked up to her making this trip, with several false starts, over the last few months.
Ellen had Daniel at age 17. She watched all of her friends head off to college while she worked dead-end night shift jobs and wearily raised Daniel by herself during the day. She loved him, of course, but he was a finicky baby, strong-willed and quick to a tantrum. As he grew into a hyperactive toddler she lived with permanently frazzled nerves.
When Daniel was six, Ellen married a man who was not wealthy but comfortable, stable. Shortly after, she had Benjamin.
Ben. Her dream child. A healthy, beautiful baby boy who grew into an intelligent and thoughtful child. She lavished attention on him in a way she never could with Daniel. Sometimes it was hard to believe the two were brothers. Ellen frequently fielded calls from the principal’s office about her older child, while Ben brought home only straight A’s and citizenship awards.
Despite the age gap, the brothers were nearly inseparable. At first Ellen encouraged this but as the years went by, it became clear that Daniel was a bad influence.
Ben never caved to peer pressure, unless it was from his brother. Ellen finally put her foot down the summer the boys were 10 and 16. Daniel had the bright idea to shoot off some fireworks in the vacant lot behind their house. He had found the candle-shaped bundles while exploring the old disused mining operation at the edge of town. What he mistook for Roman candles were sticks of live dynamite. By some miracle, neither of them got hurt.
She and Daniel fought often in his teen years, and one winter night he stormed out and didn’t come back. He dropped out of school and started working at the local garage. The rift between them stung, but she finally had peace of mind that Ben wouldn’t end up a delinquent.
He turned out quite the opposite. All-state athlete. Scholarships. A NASA internship. Everything she had wanted.
A few days after graduation, Daniel showed up to take Ben out to celebrate. Ben would be off to college out of state soon. She waved as they pulled out of the driveway in Daniel’s truck and wondered how they could both be hers.
After dinner the boys had driven out to a favorite spot of theirs in the woods to drink. They sat and drank and talked under the stars for a few hours before heading home.
Ellen received the call at nearly 3 in the morning. An accident. She raced to the scene: Daniel’s truck on its side against a tree. Across the street, a minivan-shaped lump of twisted metal and broken glass. Red and blue lights flashing. Daniel, sitting on the curb, not a scratch or bruise on him.
“Mom, it was an accident, please, please listen. It was an accident!” he cried when he saw her, his voice breaking down into sobs. She looked around wildly for Ben, not comprehending the scene before her.
She looked up the road and saw a parade of ambulances driving away, but quietly. Only lights, no sirens. Why are they driving so slowly? was her last coherent thought for a while.
After the train ride, an Uber delivered her to the prison. Between the car ride and the lengthy security check, she was mostly sober by the time she took a seat at a small metal table in the visitors room. She clutched her letter tightly, staring down at her hands. Finally, a door opened and a man in a gray jumpsuit shuffled in, escorted by a guard. The guard walked the inmate over to her table, then took his post by the door. The inmate sat down across from her under the flickering fluorescent lights.
“Hey, Mama,” Daniel said uneasily. “They told me you were coming up, but I didn’t really believe it.”
She continued to stare down at her hands, building the courage to look up. She could feel him shifting nervously in his seat.
“I was real sad to hear about Grandma passing,” he said.
Finally she looked up. She barely recognized him. She spoke past the lump in her throat. “How did you find out about that?” she asked.
“She and I used to talk on the phone every Sunday,” he said. Ellen hadn’t known, would’ve been livid at her mother if she had known. “She missed two weeks in a row, and I checked the online obits.”
“Oh,” she said.
He was always uncomfortable with silence. “I read your local paper online pretty often actually. My shrink here says it’s healthy to keep up with what’s going on outside.”
She laughed, a short exhalation. “You have a shrink too?”
“Hah, yeah. She gets paid to listen to me ramble,” he replied. “Lately, I’ve been talking to her a lot about Grandma. And…” he hesitated. “And Ben. And how I hope... well, I like to think of them together, up there,” he pointed towards the ceiling. “Together, and happy.”
Tears had started to roll down Ellen’s face. She didn’t brush them away this time. This time she was going to feel her drat feelings.
“And us?” she said. “Down here. Not together or happy,” she choked the words out, feeling as though her throat would close up.
“Mama, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you… I shouldn’t have said that, I just…” he stammered. “I haven’t seen you in so long, and I… guess I didn’t know what else to talk about,” he trailed off.
They both sat quietly for a moment. He finally noticed the pages clutched in her hand.
“What’s this?” he said, reaching toward the yellow pages.
She jerked her hand back. “Nothing,” she said, quickly jamming the pages into her purse.
“Mama. I know you must hate me,” he said. Had he seen through the folded pages? “I know you can’t forgive me. That’s okay. I don’t forgive myself. I can’t.”
She studied his face as she spoke. He had looked so unfamiliar at first glance. Gaunt, his brown hair starting to thin. Large prison-issue glasses. The young vibrant troublemaker she had known, gone. But the more she let herself really study his face, she could make out the traces of her mother’s eyes, her own prominent jawline, Ben’s nose. It was almost like looking back through time, like with one of those deep space telescopes Ben had told her about. Back to a time before all of this had happened, when she and her boys still had a chance at happiness.
She took a deep breath. “I… don’t hate you,” she said. “I hate what happened. I hate what our lives became. I hate that I wasn’t ready to be your mother when you needed me. I hate that he’s gone and that you’re in here instead of at home. But... you’re my child, and I don’t hate you.”
She was amazed to discover it wasn’t a lie.
Relief flooded both of their faces. Soon they retreated to the safer territory of small talk, shared memories. Smiles and even laughter replaced tears. Before long the guard motioned that their time was up.
Ellen stood up to leave. “I don’t know when I can come back here.” When? She had meant to say if.
“I know, Mama,” Daniel said. “That’s alright. Maybe we can talk on the phone sometimes? I’ll have to save up though, it can get a little expensive…”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll send you a calling card once I get home.” She hugged him goodbye.
Back on the train, heading east now, towards home, she watched the cows and farmland roll by. For the first time in many years, she felt at peace.
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 23:07|
Stolen, Swallowed Sunlight
You can read about THIS COWBOY on the TD archive over this’a’way:
Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 05:00 on Dec 30, 2019
|# ? Oct 6, 2019 23:54|
Handicraft, War, and Wisdom
The calendar hanging behind the gas station clerk had more red x's than blank days in September. Soon, the morning ground would be frosted and the shelters would be gradually getting more full. Time for Athena and Isaac to migrate south.
"18.75," the clerk coldly stated, no doubt expecting a sob story about why they couldn't pay and it was just these few things and oh please just this once could you have a heart? Athena slowly ripped open the velcro of her wallet and laid a $20 bill on the counter.
While the cities had learned to ignore people like them, for the most part, Montana had been good. They'd found plenty of work along the highways, as the ranches were in their busiest season for tourism. City folks who referred to it as "flyover country" most of the year now flying in to play cowboy for a week at all-inclusive resorts. Which meant more work for the people most willing to get dirty: ranch hands, and maids.
Every few weeks since April, they'd followed the same routine: First, hitch a ride to a truck stop to get cleaned up and get info. Once they found out a place was hiring, they'd pay for showers and clothes that weren't worn to poo poo. Usually, Athena would approach a trucker and sucker them into giving her and her "kid brother" a ride. Then, when all 6'4" and 260 pounds of Isaac climbed up into the cab with them, it put to bed any notions of impropriety on the driver's part. Getting from place to place was the hardest part. As with most businesses, the ranches were more than happy to hire help who agreed to be paid under the table.
Outside the gas station, Isaac sat shoeless on the curb. Athena placed the jug of water and a plastic grocery bag she bought down next to him. "Give 'em here," Athena said, and Isaac handed her a pair of weathered, knockoff Timberlands. An older manager had bought them from the Wal-Mart for Isaac about three ranches back when he saw him working in running shoes held together with duct tape.
From the plastic bag, she furnished a bottle of super glue. Sitting down next to him, she rustled through her pack for a sewing kit. With keen needle precision, Athena mended a hole where the counter met the heel, then ran a bead of super glue along her stitching. She spread it like butter across the seam with a flathead screwdriver. "Thanks," Isaac muttered, reaching for the boots. Athena slapped at his hand. "Nuh-uh! You wait for that glue to dry, I don't wanna have to do the same again tomorrow. My fingertips hurt like a sunnofabitch tryna to sew that shut!"
"How the hell am I 'sposed to catch a train if I got no boots? You want me to walk through the train yard in my bare feet?" Isaac removed a 24 ounce can of Steel Reserve from the bag and cracked it open.
"It'll be dry by the time the train gets here, smarty-pants. 'Sides, we gotta find a ride to the yard first anyway. You ain't gonna walk five miles 'in your BARE FEET' either, are ya?" Isaac looked at her with a blank stare, then smiled. His brain's processing power lagged about five seconds behind whatever was going on. But he was kind, a hard worker, and had a big sister to do his thinking for him.
"And those were supposed to be for AFTER we got on the train, by the way!" Athena pointed to the can as Isaac tipped it back. "Gonna be a lot harder to sneak your rear end onto a train if you're drunk. Give it here, we'll split this one."
By the glow of an LED lantern, Athena rolled a joint with the last of her and Isaac's weed. By the time they'd gotten to Idaho, the beer was already gone. The pair were ready for sleep but would need to get completely zonked out to find it on a freight train car floor.
They had lucked out back at the yard and found a car that was only half-filled with UPS packages stacked into sturdy walls. The other half was sparsely filled with big nylon bags filled with padded envelopes and smaller postage. Athena wedged one into a corner and sat on it like a bean bag chair, and Issac followed suit five seconds later.
As Athena slid her tongue across the rolling paper to seal it, Isaac blurted "You ever think about Mama? What she might be up to?"
"No," Athena said. "Ain't worth thinking about." She did, of course, think about their mother and what she might be up to. Frequently and with malice. She had run off when Athena was 13, shortly after her and Isaac's father was diagnosed with cancer. Isaac was only 7 at the time, and much of the responsibility for keeping him fed and looked after fell on her shoulders what with their Daddy being sick.
A few years back, Athena had created a dummy Facebook profile to look Mama up. She was a middle school guidance counselor in Utah now. It struck Athena as ironic that the woman who abandoned her as an eighth-grader in desperate need of guidance was now offering wisdom to kids the same age.
As she lit the joint, she wondered if Isaac knew. If he'd seen Athena scrolling through her page at some library or after they'd lifted a smartphone at a Starbucks. Or if it was just random coincidence that he'd ask while their train was en route to roll through the same state where their estranged mother lived.
"Here you go, big guy," Athena said as she passed the joint over to Isaac. "Put that pretty little head to rest. By the time you wake up, we'll be in Nevada."
Isaac burned down half the joint in one pull, let out a massive cloud of smoke, and settled into his makeshift bean bag chair. Athena smoked the rest by herself, put a blanket over her brother, and turned off the lantern.
When Athena awoke, the train had stopped and the car door was opening. She and Isaac sat just out of sight in the corners of the car, and she shimmied silently over to him to try to wake him up. She placed her hand over his mouth and pressed a fingernail into his ribs until his eyes opened.
"Isaac. There's someone outside. We have to assume they already know that we're in here. I don't know where we are, but we need to run as soon as we get a chance. Do you understand?"
Isaac nodded. As quietly as possible, the two strapped on their pack and crouched behind the bags.
As the door opened, Athena's worst fears came true. The man who emerged in the daylight was not a Union Pacific employee, but a DHS agent. The beam of his flashlight swept across the car before he declared, "Department of Homeland Security!" He set the light down and began climbing into the car.
At the corners of her peripheral, Athena saw Isaac move. The five-second window had not yet passed, and Isaac was still playing by a different set of rules. Isaac tossed the bag at the agent, knocking him out of the car, then hopped down on top of him. She heard him begin to run. Then the shot, and her brother's wailing.
Athena peaked out from the door and saw the agent approaching her brother, who'd been shot in the leg. From her pack, she armed herself with the flathead screwdriver. She sprung out of the train car towards the agent and drove the screwdriver into his ribs as hard as she could. As he crumbled to the ground, she grabbed his dropped weapon and chucked it into the nearby brush.
She had just gotten Isaac to his feet when the second agent came around the corner.
In three days, Athena had not seen or heard anything about Isaac, despite her constant pleas to the jailors.
Trespassing, Assault of a Federal Officer, and some of the agents she'd talked to had bandied the word Terrorism. The first she was all too familiar with, but she was in over her head regarding the latter two charges. They would mean decades in federal prison, if not life. Still, her main concern was Isaac. She would confess to being a sworn sleeper agent of ISIS if it meant him remaining free.
Her public defender ripped open artificial sweetener packets and poured them into his coffee. "I'll see what I can find out about your brother. In the meantime, is there anyone you want me to contact? Do you have any family who might want to know you're here?"
Athena thought for a moment, then swallowed her pride. On a yellow legal pad, she wrote down her mother's name. "I don't have a phone number, but she's on Facebook. And she lives not too far from here, last I heard."
On a guidance counselor's salary, Athena doubted Mama would be able to afford $250,000 bail. But who knows, maybe an impassioned plea from an estranged mother might pull the right heart string of the right juror.
At the very least, she'd finally see the damage she'd done.
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 01:53|
Crits for Week 359
The character stuff in this story is reasonably good, but the near-future satire elements are way too heavy-handed. You do a good job at drawing Jeff as a believable human -- repulsive, but real -- and the scene with the firing is spot-on; the rest of the cast isn't really there, which isn't a great look for a week about human relationships, but it's fairly clear they're not the real focus. The real problem here is the whole setup with the last elephant, which is laying it on too heavy. I feel like we're supposed to believe Jeff's choosing to save or doom a species, but even if that elephant is pregnant with a male fetus and lifespans work out so she can breed with her son, the genetic bottlenecking means the species is doomed. I know scenarios like this aren't intended to be realistic, but this probably isn't what your reader should be thinking about, and I think you could get the "awful technocrat destroying priceless nature for sport" thing across with a less farfetched scenario.
Crain, "Balancing Act."
Confusing, messy, and unpleasant. This story has way too much going on, particularly at flash-fiction length; the word count barely manages to convey the action, let alone anything about the characters, which means that in a story about character dynamics, a lot of what's here comes off as kind of arbitrary and unsatisfying. The ending makes Martin feel like a secret mastermind instead of the brat that the rest of the story makes him out to be. His win feels cheap and unsatisfying; it doesn't feel like there's an earned or even anticipated loss for Clara, and I'm not sure whether that's a failure of character, pacing, or both. Probably both.
Djeser, "She and You"
In a week where a lot of the stories got overcomplicated, I feel like this one won for figuring out a single simple idea and sticking to it. I don't have a lot to say about it, because I feel like it just works, and it's a touching story about loss and letting go and moving on. The ending in particular is really good and very touching.
Anomalous Amalgam, "The Student and the Grandmother"
This story illustrates another major problem that arises in plot-heavy flash fiction: most of the length ending up as breathless exposition, both in the dialogue and in the narration. I feel like we're getting an infodump for a longer story, one that would be better with more breathing room. I like the dynamic between Kat and Ruby here, and the glimpses we get of Ruby being an expert in and of herself instead of just the comforting grandma, but it doesn't add up to much given that the characters only have time to exposit at each other. I'm also not quite sure the ending works -- we don't know enough about what wraithcasting is for it to make sense, and it sort of comes out of nowhere. If it were foreshadowed as "we could try this, but it might not work and it'd definitely kill Ruby to even try," it'd make the ending more meaningful.
I'm having a hard time articulating why this story doesn't quite work for me, even though it's written well and the character stuff works. I think maybe the office scenario strains credulity for me? "Cost-cutting measures mean no new hires and everyone else getting pushed harder and harder" is reasonable, and constructive termination of the sort described here is certainly real, but I think I find myself thinking about the endgame. Is the company trying to eliminate the whole department? It feels like letting people work until they quit is a less efficient means of doing that than just doing layoffs and eating the severance/unemployment... to be fair, corporate logic is pretty hosed. I dunno. This may be personal taste, but I'm thinking maybe interweaving some more supernatural stuff/foreshadowing earlier might help the pacing, and might make pedants like me think less about the corporate logistics.
Barnaby Profane, "Exuviae"
This is a pretty light and breezy piece, but I feel it. The character work in this one is quite good, and while the themes aren't weighty, I think there's kind of an interesting question being considered here about the nature of secrets and transgression, and that improving yourself doesn't have to require perfection. The major flaw here is that there really isn't that much substance, and I can see it bouncing off a lot of readers, but I think it's pretty good on the whole.
Thranguy, "The Modern Cronos"
I feel like this is mostly a style and voice exercise, and the voice is the best thing about it, but the rest of it feels fairly shallow and grimy. The characters are both unpleasant and uninteresting -- yes, the madman scientist is inverting some tropes and the narrator is lampshading that, but this doesn't make him anything other than a madman scientist, and the narrator/assistant isn't even that distinct. (Maybe he's also playing into this, with his reference to being a "resurrection man" in the modern day? I can't tell how intentional that anachronism is.) "Superhuman creation wants to destroy humanity after experiencing it/being connected to the Internet" is so old it's more of a punchline than a plot. This is all pretty tired, and it's not done well enough to redeem it for that.
A side note: I really don't think you needed an aside about the Master not sexually abusing his assistants. It doesn't add anything, besides make a story that little bit sleazier, and tying the Master's monomania to potential asexuality (and the assistant's interest in assisting to sexual submission) feels like a bigoted stereotype.
Black Griffon, "A Family Business"
This one is pretty good, on the whole, although not exceptional. There's some very good use of foreshadowing here, and I really noticed it on a re-read; it rewards attention, which is a risky move in TD, but I think it works. The major issue, I think, is that the ending stumbles, mostly because I don't think Henrik's motivation is ever quite clear. The ending is very personal -- all about the father's "legacy" -- but the impression most of the story gives is that Henrik is acting on behalf of his nation, and his father is a tool and collateral damage. If Henrik really has a grudge against his father specifically, I think that could stand to be made clearer before the ending.
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 02:13|
Hell: The powerful magic of friendship
Let me tell you about Mama.
She's a bitch, and she's heavy. Four thousand tonnes of carbon fiber weaved with a dyneema wrenchglass alloy, capable of withstanding several direct hits from gigajoule class railguns. Six fusion engines providing power enough for a comfortable 300 km/h cruise speed, by way of a tier one semi-agrav drivetrain. Toggle the beast to full agrav, and she can reach 700 km/h in good atmo. She's the ugliest freight train you'll ever see, but she's home.
We're running temple spirits to Pinnert, the sun is setting. It's four months since we deployed Mama planetside, and business has been good. My legs, aching from a full day of loading sacred 90 proof synthum, dangle from the top of the locomotive. My hat sits low, and my vape is running empty. The arid plains of Newada zoom past me as Mama tears through the landscape, leaving behind a plume of dust big enough to blot out the sun.
"You should clip in, Jess."
I snort out a laugh. The voice belongs to Kilmer, gunsmith and surgeon.
"Mama will take care of me." I say.
"I think the ground will well and truly take care of you if the wind ain't pleased or the track ain't right."
I shake my head, but clip my belt to a metal loop. Kilmer sits down besides me, clips in, and hands me my revolver.
"Took care of that loading issue," he says, "Skewed cell splitter."
He digs into his pocket and retrieves as small metal tube marked with the seal of the Holy Galactic See.
"Quality test." he says.
"No, really! They've had trouble with the supplier this past year. No consistency, fucks with the rituals."
I shrug, take the tube, he unscrews one for himself. I toss back the spirit and immediately clench my teeth together, letting out an audible groan.
"Kil, what the gently caress is this?"
He looks down at the tube, nostrils flaring. He's always held his liquor better than any of us, so to see any reaction at all is astonishing, and worrying.
"Don't drink any more of it," he says and unclips, I'll be right back."
"I've already drunk all of it."
He stops at the hatch, shrugs, "Well, don't move."
I shake my head and tuck the tube into a side pocket. The Newada landscape is growing blurrier in pulses. I've drunk enough in my life to know this ain't being drunk. I hold my revolver in a vice grip, worried whatever I've ingested will cause me to drop the coilgun to the dry desert below.
After a length of time I just can't pin down, I hear the hatch open behind me, and I turn around to see Kilmer, Neck and Sudha climb out. Kilmer rushes over to me, Neck, inexplicably, carries a crate of vodka, and Sudha, shaking her head the whole time, walks over to the front of the locomotive, sits down and unholsters her coil-lever.
"Bad news," says Kilmer, grabbing two bottles of vodka from Neck's crate, "Real bad news."
"A catastrophe!" says Neck, their chrome-carbon body swaying in the wind.
Kilmer unscrews a bottle, hands it to me, and unscrews one for himself.
"I'll keep it simple," he says, "We drank poison."
"Or, well, a nano-prion. It's not good. Not good at all."
He takes a swig from the vodka, looks at me, nods.
"The vodka, it'll counteract the carrier."
I stare at him, but I put the bottle to my lips and drink deep. He sighs, turns to look at the rushing landscape.
"Don't ask me how," he says, "Just drink."
The sun is dipping below the horizon, and the distant white dwarf is rising. It's luminosity casts different shadows on the dust. I'm on my second bottle, and my third anti-inebriate, but the pills can't keep up with the alcohol.
"How... ," I begin, close my eyes, regret it as the motion of Mama is translated into a nightmare, "... Much more?" I finish.
Kilmer stares at his own third bottle, eyes askew but serious, "We finish this one, the third one that is. We finish the third one. Yeah. Yeah we do that, then I run our blood one more time."
"That doesn't really answer my question." I say.
"Well," says Sudha from the front, "Hopefully not too much longer. Neck, thermal!"
I hear the whir of Neck's optics, and their vision is transposed to our retina-links. In the distance, riding parallel to Mama, we see new plumes of smoke.
"I was worried about this," says Neck, "Prison break down on the south hemisphere. Terrible people, made their way across the planet on stolen trucks. Terrible people."
They stream a series of probability calculations to our links. The chance they'll intercept, how many, how well armed. I swipe it aside, it looks like someone prodding a tablet computer directly into my eye in my current state.
"They've hit easy targets so far," Sudha says in a drawn out drawl, "Personal vehicles, food transports and the like. If they're gonna close on us, they're confident they can snag."
She aims down her rifle, holosight popping up in front of her. Kilmer is the gunsmith, but Sudha has always been the best shot among us. Technically, Neck can shoot with machine precision, but synths still lack the instinctual touch that make for a legendary gunfighter.
"Six or seven trucks," she says, "Burning hi-cap fuel to catch up with us."
I feel the agrav kick in for real under me as Mama's wheels retract.
"In current conditions, we're looking at pretty solid thrust," says Neck, mind hooked into the train controls, "But the bandits are cruising. They're not yet at top speed."
"Well," I say, taking another swig from my bottle, "I'm gonna need my rifle."
Kilmer tries to speak, burps instead, and scoots back as far as he can before he unclips. He climbs and then falls down the hatch. A minute later, cursing, he reappears carrying our rifles. His is a direct energy lance, mine is a fully automated splintgun. I loop the sling around my body and bring it to bear, testing the autoranger. The bandits are two clicks away and closing. Smoke, blacker still, pours from their engines as they rev to keep up with Mama. The white dwarf climbs on the horizon.
"Why the hell did they poison the spirits though?" says Kilmer.
I lower the rifle, shrug.
"Maybe someone paid them, maybe they have their own motives."
"Yeah. Well, either way," he says sluggishly and takes another swig, "This has got to be grounds for a bonus."
I smile and look down the rifle scope again.
"If we live."
"Shot." says Neck, still standing, feet clamped to the deck. Half a second later, a bullet pings off the alloy.
"High-velocity kinetic, ordinary." he says.
"Ordinary can still scatter brains to the desert," says Sudha, and her rifle kicks.
"One point two clicks," she says, and the rifle kicks again, "One point one fifty."
I'm not as confident as her, especially not in my current state. Both me and Kilmer are on our fourth bottle. Then again, we have plenty of ammo. I swing my legs up, feel the sway of the movement make me nauseous, and unclip. With a touch on my wristpad, a three feet wall rises from the deck, and I situate myself behind it. Kilmer does the same, Sudha remains where she's been since she came up, rifle like a perfect line.
I fold out the bipod under the splintgun, take a deep breath and let out a long stream of splints. I see them race against the sky, and land closer and close to the trucks, puffing up sand, until the stream connects and metal splinters.They turn in towards us. It's beginning. I feel time slow down and blood pump up. The first exchange is a barrage of energy and metal across the steppe, the next exchange comes sooner than any of us wants, but it's fierce and merciless. There is Neck letting lose shotgun blasts from a torso mounted beast, there's Sudha, pistol and khukuri weaving a deadly dance, there's Kilmer, elbows and throws and here is me, brass knuckles snapping bone and revolver gouging flesh.
The bandits are savage, but weak. The ones that make it to Mama's roof are quickly overcome, and in my inebriated ecstasy, I feel invincible.
Invincible, until a sawfist finds my side, pierces my armor and throws me off balance. I stumble and fall, and beneath me is the rushing dust. I reach out my arm, grasp metal, and hold on for dear life. Above me is the bandit with the sawfist, my side is slick with blood.
And then the track gives, just so, just for a second, and Mama tilts to the side.
I see the bandit fly overhead, and I hear the crunch of flesh fade behind me in the night. Kilmer's hands reach down, and then Sudha's. Neck is sounding a klaxon to no effect. Adrenaline to the nines, I'm pulled up onto the roof. A final shotgun blast sounds from Neck, and we're done.
"Told you, Mama takes care of me." I say, gasping for breath. Kilmer laughs, claps my back as I sit down, heart thumping and every muscle in my body aching. The trucks have veered off, and our foes are disappearing into the night.
"And if she don't, we do." says Kilmer, and tosses a bottle to Sudha. The night glows with stars, and we keep drinking.
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 02:44|
prompt: A dead snake where it shouldn't be
The blast of warm air that hit Jim Boudroux's face was thick with the smell of a kerosene heater. Standing in the door to Savoy's Auto Body and Repair, he looked up at the bell that failed to jangle, and then down to the floor where its little clapper was laying – a dull brass island in a sea of grime. He scraped his boots on the doormat, and heard a voice from the back office call out.
“Who's out there lettin' out my heat?”
“It's Jim, and it ain't that cold out there!”
There was a muffled thud, and Royce Savoy shuffled out of the back office wearing a heavy barn jacket and winter gloves. There was an account ledger in his right hand, and he slapped it down on the front counter as he rounded into the waiting area. Shoving the same hand under his left armpit, he dragged the glove off before sticking it out for a shake.
“Hey there, Jim! How's ya' mama and them?”
Jim gripped Royce, replying, “They's good, and yours?”
“They's well,” Royce started, then paused, “Well, mostly well. Sally's laid up again.”
“What's ailing her?”
“Too much boudin at Christmas. I told her to lay off it, but she said, 'Ain't Christmas without boudin balls.' I said, if that's the case, then it ain't New Years without the gout.”
Both men laughed, and then Royce asked, “I s'pect you're here about your car?”
Jim nodded. “I figured I'd walk over on my lunch hour and see if it was ready.”
“Well, it ain't,” Royce frowned. “We've had the lift tied up with another project the past two days.”
“What kind of project?” Jim asked with raised eyebrows.
“C'mon back and have a look. And while you're here, maybe you want to play a few hands of Twenty-One?”
Royce turned toward the door to the garage, waved Jim to follow. He did, but reluctantly. Royce was an old friend, and old friend's know each others problems. It didn't sit well with Jim to make those problems worse, so he tried to stall.
“I got to be gettin' back soon, Royce. Maybe some other time?”
“Oh, don't give me that bull. 'Lunch Hour,' my foot! You been retired comin' on three years now, and you got nothin' but time.”
“Just because I'm retired don't mean I got nothing to do. And since you're not gonna let me come at it from the side, I guess I gotta go head on: I thought your wife told you no more playing cards.”
“She said no more goin' down to the riverboat in Baton Rouge. She didn't say a drat thing about playin' cards at work,” Royce said as he elbowed the door to the garage open and held it for Jim. “Besides, all I got on me is a twenty, so we ain't playin' high-stakes.”
Jim stared at him for a few moments, clearly unhappy with the turn of events. He'd known Royce since they were kids, and he knew that he was the sort of guy that would take action on anything just for the thrill of it. Jim didn't like being an enabler, but at least he could buy Royce lunch if he won.
“A'right, but don't you go telling Sharon that I was the one you was playing with.”
Royce busied himself by stepping over to a closet and collecting two folding chairs, but what caught Jim's attention was the pickup truck that was up on the lift. Even extended to full height, the lift was barely able to keep the wheels of the jacked-up Ford off the ground. From bumper to bumper, it was coated in mud. The only places where mud wasn't present were deep scratches to the sheet metal, leaving no clue as to what sort of paint color the truck sported. Most gaps or crevices were also stuffed with some sort of dried or rotting vegetation. At least Jim hoped it was vegetation, because it might have been fur.
It was also emitting a solid stream of profanity.
“Hey, Virgil. What you got goin' on there?” Jim asked.
“Who dat?” Came a reply, as Virgil's head popped out from behind one of the front wheels. “Oh hey, Jim. Comment ce va?”
Jim dipped into his rusty high-school French, “Pas mal. You?”
“Ha! Beaucoup mal,” Virgil replied with a humorless chuckle. Then he reached down to pick up an oil can with an open top, into which he spit a cheek-full of chaw juice that was just as black as the accompanying 10w-40. He dipped back under the truck, and the cursing resumed.
Some people dipped snuff, but Virgil had an earnest commitment to Copenhagen. Royce had been to the man's wedding, nearly 30 years ago. He'd once told Jim that Marie hadn't even kissed Virgil at the altar, because she was afraid that he'd dribble and ruin her white gown. Jim didn't even doubt it. He'd never seen Virgil without a dip in, and the fouler his mood, the more snuff he'd have packed into his lower lip. At present, he appeared to have a full can stuffed in his mouth, therefore he must not have been kidding about things being bad.
Jim walked back over to where Royce had set up the chairs on opposite ends of a small table. There was a pair of brake rotors still on the table, but Royce scooted those to the other side to make a clear, if oily, place to play cards.
“Mind if I deal, Jim?”
“You go ahead,” said Jim, taking one of the folding chairs. “What's got Virgil in a mood?”
“That boy of his, Beau. Got hisself in a mess of trouble,” said Royce quietly while shuffling the deck. He dealt two cards to Jim, and then two to himself. He then plunked a weathered five-dollar bill down between them.
“He's been runnin' around with this bunch over in Vernon Parish. Saturday night him, two buddies, and a suitcase of beer drives over to Leesville to go muddin'. Only they decide to take a little detour. y'see.”
Jim peeked at his cards. Royce glanced to see if he wanted another card, but Jim waived him off. He shrugged, and dealt himself another card, only to heave a sigh when it busted him.
“So, where'd they go?” asked Jim as Royce dealt another hand.
“The drat rail yard over at Fort Polk. Drove right through the security fence, but got razor wire wrapped around the front axles. Then the idiot backed up and tried to get away, side swiped a boxcar, and then took off through the bayou. Got fifty feet in, and that wire snagged every root and branch in the water. Took Virgil four hours to pull that truck out with the wrecker.”
Royce lost another hand. He made a disgusted sound and dealt again before continuing.
“Beau was still sittin' in the Vernon Parish jail this morning – he's just lucky the MP's called the sheriff's office instead of shootin' him. Virgil won't throw bail for him. He told the boy he could either keep his truck or get out of jail, and the moron told his daddy to fix the truck. He's been on it two days, now. Took him a whole day just to cut the barb wire off the axles. drat engine case's still full of swamp mess.”
All Jim could respond with was a low, sympathetic whistle. Royce lost another five dollars.
“Ain't that some luck. Anyway, Marie was on his rear end because her baby's locked up and Virgil was happy to let him stew in it for a little bit. She called an hour ago to say she's bailed Beau out. Double or nothing on this last hand? I'm good for it.”
Sighing, Jim motioned to be hit with another card. All the while, the vulgar mumblings coming from the truck had been a background drone. Just as Royce dealt another hand, this was replaced by an excited yelp.
“Ah yay! Come see!”
“What'chu got, Virgil?” shouted Royce as he got up from the table to walk over to the lift.
Looking down at his cards, Jim saw a four and a seven face up. He flipped over his hidden card to look at the ten of hearts, and rolled his eyes. He drummed his fingers on the table for a few seconds before glancing to make sure he was unobserved, then shuffled through to deck. He slipped his ten back in, and replaced it with the ace of spades. This completed, he reached into his wallet and laid a twenty dollar bill on the table before he got up and walked over to see what the commotion was about.
He found Royce spinning the fan slowly while Virgil wrangled something that was emerging from the fan belt assembly. A few inches at a time, the remains of a sizable water moccasin unwound from the pulley until Virgil was holding a dead snake that was easily as long as he was tall. A turn of the key later, and the truck roared back to life.
“Hoo! How you like that for a serpentine belt?” Royce laughed.
“Now, seeing as you got Beau's truck running, you mind getting my oil changed?” Jim asked.
“Beau's truck, my eye!” Virgil grinned and spat chaw into the floor drain. “This's his Mama's truck, now.”
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 02:51|
Crits for Week 370, Seeing the wiring beneath the board
Too much concept, not enough meat -- a common problem this week, but particularly on display here. I feel like making the revelation here that the protagonist is headless is a major misstep; for one thing, it's obvious to the readers well before it's obvious to the character, to a troublesome degree. Also, the character knew they were getting guillotined, and even if they're obviously disoriented, having them take this long to realize they're headless doesn't quite work. Something like "being executed and thrown in the pit leaves you alive, after a fashion" would have worked much better, I think, especially exploring the limited capabilities of headless undeath. There are some good weird bones here, and a weird voice, but I feel like trying to string the character along for the whole story about something patently obvious just doesn't work.
The story also puts way too much weight on the "you," given what little resolution is here. I like the ending if the "you" is intended to be the theoretical observer, the one who can walk away from this all when the protagonist can't... but so much of the story makes the "you" sound like a specific person, or like another prisoner, or something else, that I'm still not entirely sure what you intended it to represent. Don't give your reader something like that to fixate on without a payoff.
magic cactus, "ALL THE THINGS WE THOUGHT WE KNEW"
This is ambitious, and I respect you for leaning into your hell rule, but it doesn't hang together. When you're writing a story in vignettes like this, you have to be very specific about what moments you're writing, and I'm not sure these are the right ones. Among other things, the character dynamics here have no time to shine; there's an interesting setup here, with the protagonist and Jackie as people who care for each other but are caught in this dynamic, but we never even really see them interact, and Mizzy is a cipher. It's also weird to begin-end the story on "Jackie found a way to kill a god" but not actually show that! I get that you're trying to cover a lot of narrative ground, but think more about specific detail.
I personally wouldn't have DMed this, but I can see why seb didn't like it. I know you're deliberately trying to focus on the mundane elements of the discovery, the implication for academic politics and interpersonal relationships, but this story makes decoding the Voynich Manuscript and teleportation to a mystical dimension seem kind of dull. This kind of thing needs to play up either the innate wonder of the situation or the absurdity of "I've accomplished world-shaking magic and this means I'll get a really good publication out of it! Here comes tenure!," and it doesn't really do either. I'm not sure the romance angle works, either, since Richard just seems to be dull and kind of an rear end in a top hat. Why does Wendy like this guy?
Applewhite, "So Much For Globe Theory"
This is a very cookie-cutter "pompous idiot suffers ironic fate," very neat and predictable, and it suffers for that. There's potentially an interesting twist here, and I think it would have been neat to see a story about Frank dealing with having to correct his assumptions; how do you switch your theories like this when you have no proof, the mainstream still thinks you're a crackpot, and your old friends think you're an idiot and a traitor? A story that considered Frank as a real character could be pretty interesting, but here he's just an idiot who sees an inconvenient truth, then dies before he has to deal with it at all. Waste of potential, imho.
Also, preview posts to double-check your formatting. You've already been told this, but please double-check this stuff.
Djeser, "Love Enough"
This was my win pick for the week. The use of the flash rule is quite masterful, and probably the most seamless way you could have done it, and I was pretty engrossed in the story. I think the degree of plot escalation lost my co-judges, and I can see how it might lose some other readers; having the daughter go straight to Godzilla status sort of strains credulity, and while I was willing to go for it, it might work better if it sticks to more realistic progression (like, I dunno, bioengineering herself into a regular-sized lizard person, just not going on a rampage?) I do think the core of the story -- the POV character being shown a potentially horrific future and resolving to endure -- is really solid.
Simply Simon, "Office Politics"
This one is kind of... eh. I think there's a stronger core here than Applewhite's, but it still feels a lot to me like an "unsympathetic character gets ironic comeuppance" story, and I feel like the whole thing doesn't quite hang together. Gabriel as a single crusading corporate murderer is fine, and I'm even willing to yield that there may be more than one such person (maybe giving Gabriel a subordinate he likes would make that threat more immediate), but the "CEOs are altering people's CVs to incite strife" thing just doesn't make sense to me. Maybe whisper campaigns might work better, or the CEOs inserting disruptive gossipy people into do-gooder teams to create interpersonal problems... or maybe Gabriel just realizes, when he runs the numbers, that he let his personal irritation with Andrea cloud his mind and come up with an excuse?
sparksbloom, "The Party Never Ends Here"
Another one with a tricky flash rule fairly well pulled off. I particularly appreciate the dialogue, which really pulls off the trick of reading fine on the first read and deepening on a re-read. The garbage characters for transitions and glitches are a little excessively cute, but I think they can be forgiven, given the prompt and all.
asap-salafi, "How Are We Leaving"
This one, I think, was ruined by its flash rule. The house is literally burning down and there's an angry mob on the lawn, but the characters display no sense of urgency at all, and it's bizarre and jarring to read about characters treating this huge emergency as an inconvenience. The fact that the narrative pauses so often to give us some very heavy-handed exposition about religion doesn't help, and the punchline... okay, I'll admit, I'm inherently biased against TD stories with punchlines, but this one doesn't work even by the relevant standards. Is the joke that Jeremiah had no idea his wife was a witch when apparently she's a Halloween-cartoon stereotype? Then maybe that needed to be foreshadowed. Is the joke that he just doesn't care, or hasn't connected the dots before now? This just doesn't work.
This is the second crit for you I've written tonight about stories that feel like voice pieces, so I apologize if anything seems redundant, but this is clearly another voice/tone piece (inevitable, given the flash rule). I feel like this voice works a lot better, though, than the one in "The Modern Cronos." There are a few good, subtle moments here -- I particularly like our viewpoint character casually alluding to being the older vs. the younger brother with no weight put on it, because being in a family where one brother ages and the other doesn't is just how his world works -- and I wish they'd been explored. I know the exclamation points lend themselves to high goofy adventure storytelling, but there was potential here I wanted to see taken a different direction, instead of the threadbare and rather silly plot we actually got. Interesting but not very satisfying.
Black Griffon, "Flamingo Down"
I don't think this was the story with the strongest writing or concept of the week, but I think it won for doing a good job putting together its disparate parts and weird set of flash rules into something that actually holds together. The events are ridiculous, but I appreciate the internal logic, and once it becomes clear what's going on, everything makes an acceptable level of sense. Skimming it again, I do see some proofreading issues and comma splices, which I also saw in your Week 359 story. These things happen, and I didn't point them out in the last crit because I assume late DQ stories get posted fast, but you posted mid-pack on this one and probably could have fit in an extra proofread.
Armack, "Now that the Porridge Burns"
This one feels more like a stylistic riff to me than a story. There's a good voice, a strong main character, and a lot of cool language, but I just don't know that it really adds up into anything that feels satisfying. Maybe some forward plot action would have helped? The protagonist either finding his brother or (more probably) starting to acknowledge that he's gone beyond where he can be found? Or something more like a concrete ending, anyway, since right now it kind of just stops.
Anomalous Amalgam, "He Who Became Smoke"
There's some neat, evocative images here (and some that are kind of sloppy -- I still can't imagine a cigarette burning into "a limp carcass made of smoke") but I feel like the ending of this story sort of falls apart. Okay, we get the punchline that the father has rediscovered Surgeon General's Warnings in an era when everyone smokes constantly, that's kind of an uneasy laugh, but where does "He Who Became Smoke" come into it? What and why are the nodules? The ending-ending is fine enough for what it is, but there's a little too much concept that doesn't get adequately explained.
BabyRyoga, "The Man With the Straw Hat"
I'm not going to lie: I still don't have a clear idea of what even is happening in this story. I think the idea is that the protagonist characters are young (farm?) animals being imprisoned by, and otherwise unpleasantly learning about, humans, but that's about as far as I can go with this, and even that I'm not clear about. So, like, animals have scary nursery rhymes about humans, but these animals can't communicate with each other because of the flash rule, and I'm honestly very lost. If you're trying to write a story about communications barriers, I think your voice needs to be much clearer than this kind of folksy-time storytelling thing.
This is kind of good and kind of weird, and it's another one where I'm not quite sure if I get the intent. Mark's newfound bodily awareness is described in almost supernatural terms, and I'm not sure if that's intentional, or if it's really just a metaphor for exercise forcing him to confront the realities of the physical body and that affecting his perceptions. There's a slightly first-draft-y feeling here, like this is written to start articulating what is a pretty interesting idea, and I'd be interested in seeing it fleshed out (no pun intended) and made a little more clear and considered.
Fuschia tude, "Everyone Has a Big Old Spider Inside Their Brain"
This one's a one-note piece, for sure, and probably inevitably one given the flash rule. It's extremely what it says on the tin. I mostly wish Emily's character were drawn more fully; I'm not entirely sure, by the end of it, why she's apparently in favor of the spiders, after spending her childhood justifiably paranoid about them. Otherwise, yep, brain spiders. So it goes.
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 03:37|
The Bicentennial Crew
The White House Situation Room was silent save for the sound of the loose end of film thwacking against the projector. Somebody cleared their throat.
"So you see that we have some experience with this kind of threat," said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Mr President, we have every confidence that this can be beaten."
Ronald Wilson Reagan turned to him. "Those men," he said. "Are they still under your command?"
The Chairman flipped through notes, paper sounds filling the room as an underling turned off the projector. "Only Captain Tolliver, but he-"
"Get them," commanded the Commander In Chief. "Get the whole Bicentennial Crew. We need them. America needs them."
The Chairman stared at the last sheet of paper, reading the summary. "Then God have mercy on us all," he said, under his breath. The President glared at him. He saluted.
We were soldiers, doing our job. We sure as hell weren't trained for... for that. We weren't special.
Randy West was flying down I-80 behind a trailer full of canned dog food, sweating under inadequate A/C, listening to barely audible Jimmy Buffet and louder CB chatter. There was a highway patrol car in his rear-view mirror. The lights snapped on, the siren overwhelmed all sound but the engine and road.
It takes a few minutes to safely slow down a rig like his. By the time he could start pulling over to the shoulder, there were four police cars on him, one ahead and two on his left, and as the engine grew quiet he could hear the insistent whuff of a helicopter. He turned off the ignition and put both hands on the wheel.
"Randall West," blared a loudspeaker. "Step out of the vehicle." He did, and saw the face that went with the voice he'd begun to recognize. "Time to serve your country again."
Some of use may have been a little more stubborn, a little meaner...
"Huh," said Cyrus, just pulled out of the hole and face to face with his old Captain.
"We need you," he said.
"Why should I give a drat what you need?"
"We can get you out of here."
"You know this is where I belong," said Cyrus. "Ketchup hooch and a good fight any old time. What have you got?"
"The President asked for you," said the Captain.
"Far as I'm concerned Dick Nixon's still President, up 'til they give him those years they stole."
"Full pardon us on the table. And we both know nobody's ever found the money you took on that train heist."
"That all you got?"
"What more do you want?" asked the Captain. "Tell you what, I'll throw in a couple six-packs if you want."
Cyrus smiled. "Deal," He made to reach out his hand, restrained by his cuffs. "Domestic."
Some a little smarter...
Alice Keyton answered the door. "If you're looking for my brother you're two years too late."
"I see," said the Captain. "Did he leave a forwarding address?"
"Pinehearst Cemetery," said Alice.
"I see," said the Captain. He started to turn away.
"This is about the dragon, isn't it."
The Captain stopped,and turned back. "The macrocryptid of '76, yes. But you're not supposed to know about that."
"We studied it together, tried to figure it out. It defied science, you know. Alan couldn't deal with that, in the end. That's what lead him to an early grave. It pushed the square-cube law beyond the limits, and I bet the one you've got now is even bigger."
"How do you know-"
"It was a juvenile," said Alice. "We always thought someday its mama would come calling." Alice reached around the door frame and pulled out a notebook, then tossed it to the Captain.
"Alan's notes. And mine. They're in code. Your boys could probably crack it in a month. Do you have a month?" The Captain shook his head. "Then I'm coming with you."
Mostly we were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
"This one flies?" shouted Cyrus. "Alan swore up and down these mothers were too big to fly!" It was above the infantry line outside Las Vegas, menacing all.
"Well," said Alice, "There's a lot we don't know."
"It's wheeling around," said the Captain.
The infantry didn't break. They turned their guns as best they could, but when it fell on them, blue electric fire bursting from its mouth, they died in place, leaving scorched corpses and smoking weapons in their place
"I've had a dozen good shots, " said Randy. "Even its eyelids are stopping high velocity rounds."
"The other one was freshly molted," said Alice. "And maybe we can induce molting."
"How?" asked the Captain.
"Sonics. High volume, multi-octave range."
"A song?" said Randy. Alice nodded.
Cyrus pulled out a cassette and handed it to the Captain. "Elvis?" asked the officer.
"Please," said Cyrus. "If anyone gets to save Vegas it's got to be Sinatra."
The sounds of "My Way", amplified to the limits of their material, filled the air. Scales began to fall from the monster, and when they hit the ground upright lizards sprouted, charging at them.
"So that's where they came from," said Randy.
Alice muttered something in some dead language, again and again. Her muscles burst the arms of her clothes. She tied the ruined red cloth, one to hold her hair, the other as a headband. She picked up a pair of machine guns from the infantry line. "I work out," she told the gawking men. "And I learned a little spell. I'll cover you. Make each shot count."
But we were lucky, and we were brave, and sometimes that's all you need to be.
Randy and Alice were the only ones left standing. Cyrus would survive his wounds. The Captain would not.
"This may be a side effect of the spell," said Alice, "But I am incredibly attracted to you right now."
"Must be," said Randy. "Hasn't ever been a thing that happens to me much."
"Shut up and kiss me already, take me to a hotel before the government licks us up for a month of debriefs. We can mourn and fill paperwork later."
"Works for me."
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 04:00|
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 04:06|
Crits for Week 370, Seeing the wiring beneath the board
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 06:34|
I have nothing. Sorry, I'll toxx next time I enter.
|# ? Oct 7, 2019 06:50|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 02:47|
Congratulations Black Griffon. Of all the country western stories that could have been and were written, yours was deemed the most perfectly country western by the three cowboy judges of the 'dome. The throne is yours. Don't bother wiping the blood off your spurs.
NotGordian, you take an hm. Weltlich, you get an hm, too. Anomalous Blowout, you get an hm, as well. Y'all wrote fun things. Thank you.
Big Fluffy Dog, you, uh, didn't really write a story this week. You had a cool idea and gave me a summary of that in half the allotted word count. That nets you a dm. I'm interested to see what happens when you write an actual story and I hope you do next week.
Thranguy, I'm not sure how you managed to make an Armageddon rip-off and replace the giant meteor with a loving dragon and have me dislike it but you did. I'm surprised to hand you the loss this week.
Aight. I'm done here. Black Griffon, giddyup.
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 02:56|
Our reign on this planet will come to an end, eventually and hopefully, but after that, the sun will still pass overhead, the continents will crawl their way across the globe, and something will remain. Maybe us, maybe not.
This week you're writing about what comes after our grip slips. We might've gone quietly into the night, or ripped the planet to shreds, nail and tooth. Civilization might be dead and gone, or reborn and resplendent. We killed us, or something else did, and so on and so forth.
I'm absolutely certain this isn't the first post-apocalyptic prompt in TD history, so to mix it up, I will assign you a random number when you sign up. This number corresponds to a period of time after the end, but I will leave it up to you to decide which unit of time we're dealing with. Is it seconds? Weeks? Millennia? Whatever it is, use it somehow.
for a hellrule.
Please include your number (and hellrule, if applicable) in your submission for ease of judging.
Sign up by 23:59 PST Friday/Submit by 23:59 PST Sunday
1200 words maximum
Black Griffon fucked around with this message at 22:18 on Oct 14, 2019
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 06:14|
Here in time to have missed the end
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 06:33|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 06:34|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 06:43|
In with a
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 07:13|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 07:34|
In with a
89, everyone is happy with the apocalypse
Here in time to have missed the end
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 08:01|
oh no a doublepost
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 08:03|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 08:08|
Crits for TD 374, Truck/Train/Drinking/Mama/Prison/Rinse/Repeat
BIG FLUFFY DOG, "Brock Claus"
I was the dissenting voice on the judging panel for this, as I actually liked this one pretty well; it's light and fluffy, but it knows what it's trying to do and does it fairly well. That said, I think T-Rex is correct that this is less of a story and more of an exposited idea. That's an easy trap to fall into, especially for new Domers; finding the balance between exposition and natural narrative can be hard, and I definitely think this piece ends up spending all its time telling vs. showing. That said, your prose is nice and clean, and I hope you keep on writing for TD.
crimea, "Tin Lights"
I've gone back and forth on this one. On one hand, your prose is certainly skilled, even if the voice gets kind of overbearing at times, and this is obviously a piece with talent behind it. On the other hand... it feels sort of hollow and disjointed, and it gives the impression that the voice exercise was the only priority here. I get (or assume, at least) that you were trying for something disorienting and a little phantasmagoric, to represent the protagonist's helplessness and probable delirium, but stories like this need to have a solid core and internal logic. This doesn't, as far as I can tell, and I read it wondering if the author even knew what was going on here.
TBH, I'd like to see you step away from these voice exercises. You've shown the Dome over and over that you can nail weird horror voice; I'd like to see you focus more on substance and storytelling.
NotGordian, "The Right Path"
This was the other story where I dissented from the other judges, because I had a very hard time getting anything out of this one. I think this is a really ambitious piece, and I respect the attempt, but the shifting narrative voices end up as a bit of a mess; melding the initial detached omniscient-third dry description with first-person epistolary later is a tricky maneuver, and it mostly just distracted me. The content is... well, I feel bad saying it, but it didn't land with me either. I'm not sure how seriously we're supposed to take Arthur and if we're intended to sympathize with him, but as stands, cutting from this guy trying to make a fresh start to his being executed with the same excuses on his lips almost feels jokey. Weirdly, I feel like zooming out on and keeping the dry omniscient-third voice to tell us more about Arthur's life and give us perspective on his choices might make him more sympathetic.
Obligatory Note About Plotting and Details: some of the plotting and details feel messy here. I don't know much about the early history of automotive service, but this garage with its commercial motor oil feels anachronistic for 1905 (as does Arthur's reference to a prison pickup truck), and I'm not even sure why Arthur and his victim were in the garage at all, if he wasn't working at Ed's and rolled the dude at a bar. This is pedantry, but, y'know, we pedants judge sometimes.
This is another ambitious piece, and I think it's a step up for you on the whole. My major issue was your figurative language, both the actual metaphors you used and their saturation. You're trying for big vivid images, and I can see why, but too many of them in too close proximity tends to dull their potency and overwhelm the reader. There's a loooot going on here, and I think you could have trimmed it some, particularly the descriptions of guys getting shot. (Getting shot is a terrible, ugly thing, but every death getting an over-the-top gory description gets repetitive and also a little wacky.) I think you could stand to be a little more restrained and precise with your figurative language; it's easy to get carried away and write phrases like "a cacophony of violence" that don't mean anything.
This is a well-intentioned and earnest story, but it feels very clunky to me, probably because so much of this is exposition. I don't feel like the story really benefits from laying out all the backstory, instead of letting the relevant parts be revealed in the conversation between Ellen and Daniel, and letting Ellen's train ride focus on showing and developing her character. I also feel like the backstory and plot beats are a little overly neat -- Benjamin as way too good a kid, and Daniel as way too stereotypically bad -- and that this would be a more interesting situation if the family setup was allowed to be a little more organic and messy. Maybe Ellen's been scapegoating Daniel all this time and has to untangle her old resentments, or maybe it's the "bad" kid who died and the "good" kid who was driving, and she has to deal with that? Mix things up a bit, and this is a more interesting story.
Anomalous Blowout, "Stolen, Swallowed Sunlight"
I liked this one, and I think of the supernatural Westerns of the week, this one hit the mark the best; the stuff with Coyote and the sun is effectively weird and eerie, and the atmosphere overall is great. Where this stumbles, I think, is in the final sequence, where I feel like Eugene is a little too passive. It'd be nice to see him actively making a choice once he knows it's the prison train, instead of immediately being tricked into destroying the rails, just because tricks work better with the illusion of agency.
Pepe Silvia Browne, "Handicraft, War, and Wisdom"
This feels... okay? Kind of flat? As has happened to me with a lot of TD stories lately, I ended up thinking too much about the logistics of the characters' situation instead of being immersed in their story. I'm not sure we need the explanations of the Montana seasonal work -- I think a line or two about "the Montana dude-ranch work had dried up for the season, but hopefully the last of their wages could get them south" -- and I'd rather see it replaced with some kind of forward momentum, some kind of goal for the characters, even if it's just a destination for the winter. As stands, the story's kind of just drifting, and the use of Homeland Security to create topical urgency feels half-baked.
Black Griffon, "Newada Blitz"
Pretty much just an action setpiece, but it works well for what it is, which I think is what gave it the win. The characters aren't anything novel, but they're solid, and you do an excellent job making them feel like a functional team of space train badasses. If anything, I wish they felt a little less badass, at least the dead drunk ones; the nano-poison beat is cool on paper but doesn't really seem to last long as a threat, or even an impediment. Still, very solid work.
Weltlich, "Dealer's Choice"
If I'd been head judge, this probably would have won. This is really excellent slice-of-life stuff, with good character interactions that feel authentic; the game of 21, in particular, is nice subtle writing, and it feels like a ritual these characters have lived any number of times. The main issue we had with this in judgechat is that the snake reveal ends up feeling slightly punchline-y and takes away a bit from the vibe, but that bothered me less than it bothered the others, and I think the more deliberate punchline about the truck actually works.
Thranguy, "The Bicentennial Crew"
The writing on this one is fine, but it feels completely soulless and, to be honest, kind of low-effort. You're goofing on a bunch of tropes and cliches, but it doesn't feel like any of that goofing adds up to anything; there isn't enough humor or fresh observation to make this an effective parody, and there isn't enough content to make it enjoyable as a sincere retelling of its tropes. (I know you've used this sort of montage format to good effect before, to simulate longer-form genres at TD length, but this version really doesn't work except as "look at all these cliches I'm hitting!" I'd have been happier if you just wrote the dragon battle scene and let it actually be a battle, instead of a half-gag.) Pretty much nothing here works, because it doesn't feel like the effort was put in to make it work, vs. dashing it off.
Also, PROTIP: "woman casts a spell to be buff and muscular and also it turns her on" is not a joke. It is a pornography setup. I know this is supposed to be a gag about the obligatory comes-from-nowhere romance angle in the material you're semi-satirizing, but... c'mon, dude, porn setup.
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 09:07|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 09:37|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 11:12|
Gimme a hell rule.
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 11:40|
In, with a for the toxic wasteland
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 12:09|
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 13:31|
2, whatever the end, white rap was a major contributing factor
In, with a for the toxic wasteland
84, no one has noticed the world has ended
61, no one remembers how the world ended
67, your number corresponds to time before the end
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 14:40|
in, and gimme one of those sweet s
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 15:04|
In with a please.
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 15:36|
in, and gimme one of those sweet s
77, this is not the first time the world has ended
Black Griffon fucked around with this message at 15:41 on Oct 8, 2019
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 15:37|
|# ? Sep 24, 2021 21:17|
In with a please.
91, two worlds have ended
Black Griffon fucked around with this message at 15:42 on Oct 8, 2019
|# ? Oct 8, 2019 15:38|