The Hybrid Orchard
Saucy_Rodent fucked around with this message at 21:11 on Jan 20, 2020
|# ? Nov 16, 2019 20:59|
|# ? Jun 3, 2023 05:09|
lofi - Fourmis de Cuisine
You get a linecrit, because I felt like it.
The Steak Shack has always had an ant problem. When I started here it was basic black ants, but a couple of years back I upgraded to Argentine. It was back-breaking work, digging out the old nest, but I was lured on by heady words like mega-colony and trillions. So, the biggest problem with this story, overall, is that it takes place in the space between the interesting parts of the story. When we meet the protagonist, they already have worked out how to talk to ants, and control them (to a limited extent), and is now upgrading to an ant with larger colony size to expand their domination. Which is fine as part of a grander story arc, but it’s lame as a stand-alone story -- a stand-alone story about this would-be-supervillain learning to communicate with ants in the first place, or focusing on them at the height of their powers, would be vastly more interesting.
The setup here is fine, if a bit generic. The decision to tell most of the story as exposition, skipping over the actual interesting parts in favor of doubling down on a boring disaffected tone, is a bad one. Your characters need stronger motivation than boredom, and it wouldn’t kill you to throw in at least one piece of detail about the setting. Dialogue is your friend. But on the plus side, you’ve got at least the bones of something workable here, and it might be valuable to have a go at a second draft to see if you can’t get it flowing a little better. I’ll point out that this got submitted absurdly early, and it’s almost always a good idea to crank out a first draft, let the paint dry a little, and then use that as the basis for a second, better, draft.
Thranguy - The Little One Stopped to Check the Time
Ants experiencing periodic awakenings into self-aware consciousness is great, and I love the way this plays with the notion of scale both in the size of ant colonies, their geographical distribution, and time scale. It does have the whiff of a prologue to a larger story, rather than a standalone story in its own right -- I figure that’s a deliberate choice, but you’re going to founder on the shoals of readers who are looking for more of a traditional story setup. The idea that the ants end up recapitulating the scientific discoveries of humans is an interesting one, but I think it could be stronger if the ants were more choosy about which parts of human discovery they chose to celebrate -- like, why are the ants, by default, interested in cosmology? I could imagine that they’d be rather more interested in chemistry and genetic engineering, for example. Also, I’m not sure if I got what you were going for with the battle between Red and Yellow -- I would guess that maybe this is pointing to conflict between fire ants and yellow crazy ants, maybe? Are the Red ants also conscious and mining the remains of human civilization for weaponry? If so, that sounds like a pretty badass setup, and I think it’s a shame for the story to play it so coyly.
asap-salafi - Mother and Nature
"Is Lucas coming?"
OK look, you’ve been around this block a couple times now, and a lot of your entries have ended up in the low pile so far. There are a few things that you can do to help your stories engage with your readers better, and if you do these things, you’ll start doing better with this crowd.
First and foremost, you need a stronger approach to characterization. There are plenty of stories out there with problematic or loathsome protagonists that end up working well. Nabokov wrote plenty of these. But one of the reasons why Nabokov is celebrated as a genius is that it’s inherently difficult to get a reader to sympathize with a loathsome main character. You’ll have a much easier time if, in the words of Vonnegut, you give the reader someone to root for. Anselmo, in this story, is in no way endearing.
Next up, it’s generally a good idea for a plot to feature some kind of conflict. As in, Anselmo should want something, there should be a good reason why he can’t just have it, and the plot should cover his attempt, successful or otherwise, to get that something. The only thing that it seems like Anselmo actively wants in this story is for Lucas to be there on his birthday, but then he gets exactly that thing (i.e. Lucas shows up) through no active participation via the plot -- the burning of the ants has nothing to do with the conflict of the story, he just does it because he’s a little psycho that saw some other kid do this at school. Now, you could fix this: consider, instead, if Anselmo’s initial shittiness was due to his being upset that Lucas wasn’t there for his birthday. He acts out against his mother, and takes out his frustration against the ants -- he’s killing the ants because the thing that he wants, his brother being there, he can’t have, and that makes him feel powerless. It’s a small tweak, and on its own it’s not enough to make it into a good story just yet, but it at least ties Anselmo’s behavior to the central conflict of the plot.
The last thing I want to harp on is dialogue. Dialogue is one of your most important tools for establishing character, and it’s wasted if all it’s doing is pushing the plot forward. The dialogue in this story is clunky, because it doesn’t sound like people talking: it sounds like sock puppets trading off chunks of exposition. The way that characters talk should draw the reader into a deeper understanding of that character and how they view the world. That’s hard to do, but the only way to get better is to practice. On the easier end of things, there are some basic conventions of dialogue formatting and attribution which you’re just violating all over the shop here, and that makes your prose harder to read. Look up some rules of dialogue formatting on the internet, or even better, pick up a copy of Strunk and White and read it cover to cover. It’s short, and it’s about the most valuable thing you can do to make your writing better.
And look, I know this stings. It sucks to get a bad review, it sucks to get a loss in the Thunderdome, it hurts. Keep writing. Keep entering. Keep practicing. It will get better.
Some Strange Flea - The Mill
I’ve read this a couple of times now and it’s still not super clear to me what’s going on in this story, or what it’s trying to say, beyond spinning out some grim imagery. There’s a decent lyricism to some of the constructions, but oftentimes the portentous language doesn’t feel like it’s anchored to the fiction, like it’s just there for decoration. And I can’t say that I can see what any of this has to do with ants.
crimea - It’s Them or Me!
I mean, jeez, if you’re going to tell a giant ant story, and you’ve got 750 words, do you really want to spend most of your time talking about how Igor is sad that someone called him Igor? You’re walking a funny line between realism and ridiculous, and while that can work well, I don’t think it does here.
Jon Joe - Broken Through
Seems a bit half-baked -- the hawkish recruiter being a literal hawk seems like the kind of pun that wouldn’t pass muster on Bojack Horseman, and there’s a general sense of words being burnt for the sake of filling space. This is ill-advised for a 750 word story.
Tibalt - The Lady-In-Waiting
I thought you were going to try for something about sisterhood and kin-selection and looping that all back together with the ants, but that thread’s left hanging. The section on Atta cephalotes (minor side note, the genus name is capitalized but the species name is not) feels book-reportish, and I feel like it’s crowbarred in there -- the story would function without it. And that’s a shame, because it feels like you were close to an interesting little fiction loop where the ants reflected the sisters’s conflict.
SlipUp - The Slave
You’ve got two major elements here, the zoomed-out view of the passage of time and the gradual take-over of the protagonist worker by (presumably) Cordyceps fungi; I think that the combination doesn’t really function here, and detracts from both of those elements rather than cohering into something grander. It has a feeling like a riddle rather than a story, a puzzle to be worked out -- which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the key to a good riddle is the elegance of its construction, and as it currently stands it’s a bit unfocused to pass muster.
Sitting Here - Desire Invicta
I loving love this. Language is gorgeous, uses the word count incredibly effectively, paints a whole world.
Something Else - Overwintering in Hive Country
It feels like you wanted to go for a comedic voicing on the beetle, herded by ants and farmed for excretions (myrmecological side note for interest, honeypot ants tend to farm true bugs, rather than beetles, and they don’t bring them into the hive), and it’s close to working -- I think you just need to lean in a bit harder. The jokes were a bit hit and miss for me.
Antivehicular - Beautiful Things with Beautiful Wings
The idea of a trapjaw ant hunting aerial prey by launching itself upwards with the force of its jaws is a pretty fun piece of imagery, and one that I think you might have profitably dwelled on for longer than you did here. And there’s something that feels poignant about the idea of a worker hunting alates and dreaming of butterflies -- I don’t feel like it’s quite there yet, as it stands, but it’s really close to striking something great.
sebmojo - The Us
Good stuff. You’re right up against the line of overwrought, but the late reveal that the voice is coming from a fossil specimen still encased in her translucent tomb is elegantly done.
GenJoe - Diaspora
Some decent poetry here, but it feels more like a sketchpad than a coherent piece.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 10:43|
Thanks for the detailed crit!
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 11:24|
Thanks for the detailed crit and helpful advice.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 11:47|
Dave crumpled the note and let it drop onto the glass covering his living room carpet. It wasn’t the first note promising violence, but this was the first brick to come through his window. Pinning down a culprit would be difficult; everyone knew it was his fault from the news reports. The day before a grim, weathered man from Mexico had stood on Dave’s doorstep and screamed in Spanish until Dave had to close the door in his face.
He didn’t bother cleaning up the glass. He flopped onto the couch, staring into the middle distance. He knew he should eat something, but his wife usually made dinner and NASA hadn’t been forthcoming with when she’d be back from the ISS. Dave continued to sit as the light failed and the house grew dark.
A month earlier Dave was being harangued by his wife, Margret, about the length of their lawn.
“Dave, I told you to mow it every day last week! The HOA is going to fine us twenty bucks a day until it’s cut! Will you just do this one thing? Please? For me?”
Dave rolled his eyes and waved her off. As Margret’s mouth dropped open, he made a quick exit into the back yard. He was sick of hearing about the grass, about the HOA, and he was sure Margret was exaggerating the fines. Still, mowing would at least keep him out of the house and hopefully give Margret time to chill out.
He got the mower out of the shed and tried to get it started. Dave hadn’t kept up with the maintenance, and so it took quite a few pulls before the mower banged into life. One of the things Dave hated most about his day-to-day life was crap like this: the endless monotony, whether it was dishes, or the lawn, or laundry, or work, or whatever. He knew he’d spend the next thirty minutes or so mechanically moving the mower up and down his back lawn and he was already bored.
The mower clunked heavily and shuddered to a stop. He’d run over a huge rock. Dave muttered a curse and flipped the mower to reveal not a rock, but a chunk of metal. It was essentially a chrome baseball, covered with spikes. It appeared to have some sort of booklet strapped to it with a rubber band. Dave reached down to pick the sphere up and cut his hand. Swearing further, Dave stuck the wounded finger in his mouth and gingerly grabbed the object with his other hand.
The booklet was glossy, like an advertisement you’d get in the mail. It had a picture of the ball on the front, proclaiming “Now Available! The ORB OF IMPRACTICALITY! Wishes granted!” Dave looked around, wondering how the thing came to end up in his yard. He knew there was a footpath behind his back fence, in between his house and his neighbor’s; it was possible someone had just tossed it over, but why would they do that?
Dave left the mower on its side and flipped open the booklet. It was three pages and listed out instructions.
“1. HOLD THE ORB IN YOUR HANDS
2. THINK CAREFULLY OF YOUR WISH
3. UTTER YOUR WISH ALOUD
4. WITNESS YOUR WISH MADE TRUE!”
Each step was accompanied by a little cartoon. Dave chuckled at the silliness of it. It was just some novelty junk. He cradled the Orb, wondering what he’d wish for if it was actually real.
“I wish I was a millionaire!”
When nothing happened, Dave scoffed. He turned to go show the Orb to Margret and crashed into a mound of rock the size of a sedan, jutting up from the center of his lawn.
“What in the hell…?”
The rock was granite and shot through with what seemed to be silver. As Dave would later find out with help from surveyors and a geologist from the nearby college, it wasn’t silver, it was platinum. Dave was standing on the largest contiguous platinum deposit ever discovered in North America. The geologist smiled when Dave asked how much she thought it was worth.
“Oh, you’re rich, but I have no idea how you’re going to get it out of the ground. This thing is big enough to stretch across most of the neighborhood. You’d have to rip everything up. Besides, I’m not even sure what the laws would say about mining a suburban neighborhood.”
Dave continued to use the Orb over the next few weeks. His wish for a lottery win was granted, but when he looked at the ticket that had appeared on his nightstand, he found it was for $10,000 and he’d have to fly to the UK to collect. When he wished for a latte from Starbucks, he woke up the next day to find out that his neighbor’s home had been razed and a Starbucks had gone up in its place. It might have been a case where the Starbucks was just the new normal and no one remembered the past, but the truth was everyone did remember, especially his neighbors. They were pissed and confused. Dave kept quiet about his involvement.
After several more failures, thankfully on a much smaller scale, he vowed to Margret he’d stop using the Orb. Besides, every time he used it, he ended up cutting his hands, causing him to fume.
“Why did the guys who made this think spikes were a good idea?”
The Starbucks had built a drive-through (or one had just appeared, Dave wasn’t sure) and traffic was clogging the local streets. Margret had been late for work four days in a row and threatened to leave him if he didn’t toss the Orb out. Dave, who had been just about to wish for a solution to the traffic problem, wished instead for Margret to just give him some space. Margret disappeared.
The call from NASA’s Director came through a few hours later, wondering just how Margret came to be on their space station. Dave told them he didn’t have any answers.
“Your wife said you might.”
He didn’t know who started the rumor that the Starbucks was his fault, but Dave was getting calls at all hours complaining about it. He had taken leave from work just to get some rest. He was sitting on the couch, watching TV and holding the Orb. There had to be a solution to all this if he could just think! When his phone rang, he picked up, hoping it was Margret, and was instead berated by one of his neighbors about their driveway being blocked. Dave hung up.
He put one finger on his temple, rubbing in an attempt to banish his growing headache.
“God, I wish coffee just didn’t even loving exist!”
It took him a beat to realize what he’d done. With growing horror, Dave looked down at the Orb in his lap. He wished again to bring coffee back, but soon the shouts of angry customers next door came through his windows. Dave dropped the Orb and scrambled into the kitchen, where he rifled through the junk drawer for the booklet.
Dave’s wish had wiped the coffee plant in all its forms from the face of the earth. When people realized they couldn’t get their coffee fix, were out of jobs, or in the case of coffee farmers found that they were without a source of livelihood, a large chunk of the world’s population melted down. In the kitchen, Dave sweated over the Orb’s instructions. Within the fine print on the back cover, he found a line of text that sent him reeling for the sink where he deposited his lunch from earlier that day.
“Warning! The ORB OF IMPRACTICALITY comes equipped with ten wishes only. THINK CAREFULLY!”
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 12:00|
Didn’t I Make You Feel? 1292 words including title
I woke up in a hotel bathtub filled with ice, which in my experience is never the best way to start your afternoon. My chest hurt, and I looked down to see a scar. I didn’t feel anything but sore, and my lack of other feelings is something that would normally have worried me, except… well you can see where this is going, I think. The conversation from the other room seemed worth listening into.
“So, why did we stitch her back up again?”
“Miss Hathaway likes it that way. It’s neater. Less mess makes the room cheaper, and makes it easier to get a booking in the future.”
Right. They probably didn’t expect me to still be alive, either, which to be fair is entirely reasonable. Not too many people were sufficiently connected or paranoid to arrange for ‘insurance’. I looked around the room. I was naked, my clothes were not in the room, and two people who thought I was dead and would probably like to ensure that I became that way were on the other side of the room’s only door.
The shower curtain rod came away relatively easily, although not as quietly as I might’ve hoped, and the conversation in the other room stopped. I slipped behind the door, struck the first man to come through the door in the head from behind with the shower curtain rod, then slammed the door on the second man until he stopped moving.
It was a bit messy, but it wasn’t my hotel booking so I didn’t let it worry me.
My clothes and purse were in a neat pile in the next room, presumably ready to be disposed of or sold or whatever organ thieves do with the stuff of people they’ve killed. I grabbed my phone and called Geoff while I got dressed.
“Hey mate,” I said when he answered the phone. “So, good news, the insurance worked, to the extent that I’m not dead.”
“Great,” he said, “although I take it that means you’re in a bit of a situation right now.”
“A bit, of one, yeah,” I agreed.
“Got any information for the second step?”
“They mentioned a Miss Hathaway, but then they heard me moving about and I had to kill them both.”
“That’s a start. I’ll run some searches. Meanwhile, maybe go through their pockets or something.”
“Right. Talk later.”
Nothing in their pockets but the room key. I washed everything that I’d touched, then locked the corpses in and left.
Bentley jumped up on me and licked my face when I got home, so I guess my involuntary surgery hadn’t changed me enough that he noticed. I was in a hurry, though, so I pushed him aside and went to check on Thomas. Part two of the insurance was kicking in, which meant I was feeling a compulsion to go and get back what had been taken from me. Without that step, becoming Heartless tended to be something people didn’t try to reverse. People who didn’t feel didn’t go out of their way to be able to.
“Hey Mum!” said Thomas. He stopped when he saw my face. I may not have smelled different to Bentley, but I looked different to Thomas. “What’s happening, Mum?”
“Pack a bag with some things. You need to stay with your aunt.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Something came up.” I had no intention of explaining the intricacies of Heartlessness Insurance to a child, and I couldn’t leave him home by himself; someone might call child services if a child was unattended too long, and that was an inconvenience that might slow me down.
Bentley jumped up on me again, and I booted him in the ribs, not hard enough to do any damage – a trip to the vet was an inconvenience that I didn’t need – but enough to discourage. He whimpered and left.
“Mum!” Thomas was staring at me.
“Pack your bags, now. I’m in a hurry.”
“You kicked Bentley!”
“He’ll be fine, it wasn’t that hard. I’ve got to get some things, your bags had better be packed by the time I’m done.”
I went to my room and grabbed the pistol I’d stashed for this occasion, plus some extra money and a few changes of clothes.
Thomas was still staring at his wardrobe with an empty bag when I got to his room.
“Here,” I said, grabbing clothes from his wardrobe. “Underwear, socks, shirts, pants, toothbrush. This was not that hard. Let’s go.”
“What about Bentley?”
“There’s food in his bowl for at least a week. He’ll be fine.”
“Let’s go. Get in the car.”
Forty minutes later, Thomas was at Julia’s place, and I was at Geoff’s.
“So, there’s one notable Heartless with a surname of Hathaway,” he said.
“Only lead I’ve got,” I said. “Where’s she live?”
“Currently staying at the Penthouse Suite of the Pelagio Hotel.”
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“You know it?”
“I just had heart surgery there. She’s really harvesting organs in the hotel she’s staying in?”
“Indeed. Anything I need to know for this step?”
“If your heart has been put in someone, don’t kill them.”
He shrugged. “We’re approaching uncharted territory in Heartlessness Insurance.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “I asked for budget insurance.”
He handed me an esky. “Put your heart in that and bring it back here.”
I shook my head, but I took it from him. “While I’m there I’ll see if I can steal you some proper organ shipping containers, too.”
“Can I help you?” asked the man at the front desk.
“I’m a friend of Miss Hathaway,” I said. “She’s up at the penthouse. I’m just here to visit her.”
“Hmm,” he said, “she didn’t tell us to expect anyone. I’ll just give her a call.”
There was no one else in the lobby, so I pointed my pistol at his head, and said, “Please don’t. Just give me the key to the penthouse, and keep your hands away from the panic button or whatever you’ve got on that side.”
He nodded, took the key from behind him, and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said, and then I shot him in the head. On the whole, I didn’t think I could trust him not to raise the alarm, and this way seemed simplest and quickest.
I let myself into the penthouse, and walked into the master bedroom, where a young woman was playing on her phone.
“You must be Miss Hathaway,” I said.
“And who the blazes are you?”
“I want my heart back.”
“Oh that.” She waved dismissively at a box on the nearby dresser. “I looked it up, and it seems like it would be more trouble than it’s worth, putting that thing inside me. Better to remain Heartless. You’re welcome to take it.”
“Thanks,” I said, and picked up the box. I started to leave, then stopped in the bedroom’s doorway.
An hour or so later, when I returned to Geoff’s place and had my heart put back, all my feelings gradually came back. I remembered kicking Bentley, and remembered how cold I was towards Thomas. I remembered killing two men in the hotel bathroom, and another in the hotel lobby. I felt terrible about all of that. Well, more just nauseous about the men in the bathroom. I can’t believe I bashed a man’s brains out with a shower rod.
I don’t feel bad about shooting Miss Hathaway, though. Not one bit. I almost wish I’d cared enough to ask her why first, but I’d been Heartless long enough to know.
The thing I feel worst about is that part of me misses being Heartless.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 14:07|
Her Last Request, His Last Regret
HellRule: 50 words must be dedicatd to how awesome Derp is, no irony. Which is easy because Derp is super awesome!
Atop a hill, an old man sits on the oddest bench in the world. The bench lies at a cemetery, and it is only here, and only if you let them, the dead will whisper to you.
The old man is recovering, both from the climb and from a life full of mistakes, and he should enjoy the view. But he stares straight forward, his attention affixed on a tombstone. It is an unremarkable piece of granite, but it never is the design we notice about a tombstone. Engraved in stone, is her name: DERP. Her last jest to a world that is lesser by her absence - her nickname engraved everlasting in stone.
The old man smiles at her last joke and remembers her unique sense of humor, her elegance, and the way she spun magic with her words. She lies beneath the ground now, having found a peace that he could never offer. The tombstone stares back at him and the dead whisper, “She’s dead, and she never told you.”
Next to her grave is another family plot. It was meant for him. For them to be together in death, but he lost the right. He is so focused on the tombstone that he doesn’t hear the plot’s owner walk up the hill.
“You didn’t know, did you?” A voice interrupts the old man’s thoughts. Even though they haven’t talked in years, he still recognizes the voice.
A young man sits down at the bench, his face a mixture of careful consideration and cold condemnation. He says nothing, and the old man is undecided if this is a test or well-deserved punishment.
“No. I suppose she didn’t want me at the funeral,” he says. It hurts, but it’s the truth. And family deserves the truth.
The words come out quick and hot, harsher than the young man meant them to. “It was a family-only event.”
The leaves rustle in the wind, and nothing but silence and bad blood remains. The old man can hear her whispering. Her story is a simple one. A young woman, a talented writer that could weave spells out of words, meets a foolish boy and they fall in love. One of them grew up into a strong, independent woman. The other one grew up into a failure.
The older man opens his mouth, trying to find the right words to say. He has done nothing right in years, but this time he listens to his heart.
“Did she suffer?”
Silence fills the air again, and the old man swears he can hear the beeps of a dialysis machine offset by the tone of a weakening, dying heart.
The young man finally answers. “No.”
A wave of relief washes over the old man’s grief. He was called here, not by a higher purpose, but by his only son. The tombstone stands steady and the dead lie still. Everyone is waiting on him.
“Did you want to know why I left?” The words come out slowly, no anger in them, just tired resignation.
Half starts fill the air as the father watches his son struggling to say the right thing. The father remembers this feeling, of drowning in your own emotions, of desperately trying to find the magical words that will make things right. He wonders how many times his son has suffered alone. He wonders, and regrets.
The father says, “Take your time, I’m not going anywhere.”
The dead lying in their graves appreciate the irony.
“I’m dying,” the son says. “An illness, like mom has. Had. I’ll be in surgery tomorrow.”
The father ignores the whispers of truth the dead offer. “You’ll be fine though. Best surgeons in the country are here!”
“Five percent chance of survival,” The young man says, slowly shaking his head.
The father prepares to speak, knowing already the words won’t be enough. They weren’t enough for her, so why would they be good enough for his son. “I’m sorry, for everything.”
Silence passes over them, but the dead stop whispering and listen.
“Mom’s last request was that I call you. Meet you here.”
It makes sense; the family started here. A talented woman went to the graveyard, looking for divine inspiration for her poems but found love instead. A mother and father brought their child here to witness nature in all of its forms. A well-loved mother lies buried here and now a dying son meets his father, one last time. The family started here and it should end here.
“She was the wisest women I knew.” The father says.
“I’m not going to forgive you, but I think I can stop hating you,” The young man offers.
It’s not redemption, if it were the father would know it was false. It’s a first step towards something greater, and it will have to be enough.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” the father pauses, the words coming out choked. “Are you in pain?”
She whispers to the young man, a wry sense of humor in her voice. Her final jest, or is it her final barb? Perhaps it is both. A smile creeps up the young man’s face. The older man soon finds it infectious, he too is smiling.
“Well, I could use some advice,” the young man says, turning to the worst person to ask for relationship advice. The smile is bigger now, an invitation. “Dying makes dating really awkward.”
Even from the grave her words can still can spin magic. Small specks of laughter fill the graveyard, and for the first time in a long time, the father and the son talk.
A long shadow falls over the young man as night approaches. His phone dings, and the father watches in interest as his son reads his phone.
“Just ghosted a girl.” The young man pauses and the father notices a wry smile on his lips. “She is uh, not happy.”
The father laughs. He hasn’t felt this connected to anyone in a while.
“You got a date?”
“Well, I wanted to try this get this whole love thing right. Hit a home run if ya know what I mean?”
Laughter again fills the graveyard and the dead join in. Perhaps it is their morose laughter that breaks the mood and lets reality set in.
“I’m lucky,” the son says. “Lot of people don’t realize how short their lives can be. Mom had last regrets.”
The father has lived a life full of mistakes. “Everybody has regrets, son.”
The son thinks on this for a moment. “True, I guess you just got to prioritize them. I’m happy we met, Father.”
The young man stands up and walks away from his own grave. There is no embrace, but there is a goodbye.
When the young man goes to surgery, he will simply nod that he is ready to roll the dice. He has said nothing since meeting his father, because the last words he said seemed fitting; they seemed right.
Three days from now, the father will be here again, watching his only son be buried next to his mother. The funeral will be small, nobody will talk to him, and the father will stay after wards, sitting at the oddest bench in the world.
And when he stops and listens, he will let the dead whisper to him. He will hear his wife’s story, his son’s final words and cry.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 18:25|
People Don't Even Look-See Anymore
Word count: 1299
It was a mistake to wear my good shoes for digging the hole in my backyard ‘cause they sank into the dirt and the damp soaked to my socks. Bringing out a flashlight felt like a risk so I had to rely on my eyes adapting to the dark. I guess it worked out since I got to down past my knees no problem, just listening to the repetitive noise the shovel made in the ground. My neighbours could’ve caught me if they peeked over the fence but they slept like the grave. I dunno their names. I think the guy next to me is Polish. When I was done digging the thing out, I unzipped the duffel bag and held it over so its contents sort of plopped out and made this sort of glek noise when it landed. I started to shovel the dirt back on and this bunch of fireflies came down and started flying around me. I got distracted from my inspection of the new brown patch in the grass by a passing head. Like twelve feet in the air, moving horizontally at the end of the yard over the fence which I shared with the house opposite. It was hard to see the features – sort of a button nose in the silhouette though. It didn’t look at me or anything. The head just floated by from one side of my vision to the other. The fireflies buzzed off to follow it. I went inside and smoked a bowl and stared at my ceiling until the morning and I fell asleep.
Sometime in the afternoon my dog woke me up. It started licking my face and trotting up and down the mattress. A little sausage dog, its ears bounced up and down when he moved. It must’ve wanted something. I think I bought dog food sometime. It was still nipping at my heels when I went out. The Uber guy kept talking to himself the whole ride. He dropped me off at the mall and I spent like half an hour using the Burger King wifi to stare at pictures of this girl I knew in high school. A couple of them she was wearing low-cut tops. I wondered what she would look like naked. Probably pretty nice. I wasn’t obsessed or anything it’s just that I hadn’t got laid in a while and when that happens I fall back into old habits. There was some commotion outside. Some tourists were snapping pictures of a wandering head. It’s been a while since I left town so sometimes I forget that it’s a local thing. Scientists came down sometimes and whatever. There was this article I read where some criminologist tried to match the heads with the faces of people on the missing persons database and came up with nothing. They don’t look like anyone who exists.
I slipped through one of the staff doors into the concrete corridors behind the scenes of the mall. I found a quiet spot and lit a cigarette. I prefer smoking indoors.
“Gotta spare?” said a voice from behind me.
This young woman wearing a red polo shirt and red cap and a little nametag that said ‘Hello, my name is: EMILY’ held her hand out expectantly. I couldn’t tell what store she worked in. Before I finished giving her a cigarette and a lighter she started talking. “Strawberries are in season right now. Apricots too.”
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“You could do a lot worse than growing your own fruit and vegetables. Avoid all the chemicals the government puts in them. It’s all very simple. I have a Youtube channel about horticulture. It’s all very easy.”
“Do you want to date me?” I asked.
She looked placidly at me. “Not really. Like I was saying, it’s becoming a sort of trend to grow your own stuff. It’s like, you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labour, and keep yourself safe and healthy, and do something for the environment. It’s sort of a win/win scenario. Even if you live in an apartment there’s plenty of things you can grow on a balcony.” I left eventually.
When I got back home the dog started whimpering at me. Dunno what was wrong with it but something was up because it was all trying to get my attention and stuff like that. I sat on the couch and turned on the TV and tried to ignore it. There was a true crime show on which is really boring because it’s always the husband. It’s like why even bother marrying some dude if he’s just going to end up killing you and burying you in the backyard. I never really received any complaints from any of my exes we were just sort of different people. But the dog kept yapping and jumped up on the couch next to me and while it cut to an interview with this pudgy detective I turned to the dog and put my hands down around it and started to wring its little neck. I’m not the most buff guy in the world, I’m a little out of shape, but it doesn’t take too much to crush the air out of a dog like that and hold it down while it’s kicking and stuff. I’m not trying to brag and say I’m super-strong. It’s pretty easy. And I got practice anyway. I stuff the thing into the duffel bag and keep watching TV until it got dark. Then I take the bag and the shovel and turn all the lights off and go into the backyard.
I didn’t wear my good shoes this time, just some old ragged trainers. More fireflies came down this time and I saw that I’d started to run out of places in the lawn that aren’t taken up by a mound of dirt. But I find one anyway and I’m doing my business and everything was pretty cosy until from my right there’s this sharp beam of light which lands on me.
“Oh. Sorry.” My neighbour, not the Polish one, withdraws the flashlight and fumbles with it for a second under the fence before holding it under his chin, illuminating his egg-shaped head poking out. “My bad. Just wondering what you were up to.”
“I’m burying my dog.” I tell him.
“Oh, man. So it died?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Ha ha, yeah. Anyway, are you a fan of Idris Elba?” He took a deep breath. “’Cause I think he’s probably the best Hollywood star working today. I mean, I watch all his movies, even his commercials and TV spots and I follow his twitter and a bunch of fan twitters so I can keep up with all his projects and stuff and it’s really cool ‘cause it feels like I really, like, know him, you know? Like, I have a better connection to Idris than I have to my mom, ha ha. It’s kinda wacky. I even saw a head the other day that floated right by my window that literally looked just like him. I mean, the jaw was a different shape and the hair and eyes were all different but there was for sure a resemblance. Anyway do you like him?”
The whole time he was talking, I had been carrying on with my thing so the thing about fan twitters I kind of missed because of the noise of the dog’s corpse falling out of the bag. So I just told him “I dunno.”
“Cool, cool.” He said. “Hey do you want to, like, hang out sometime?”
“No, not really.” I replied. The shovel sliced violently into the ground.
“Cool. Ha ha. Good luck with your dog.” The flashlight flicked off.
I took the shovel and the bag and went back inside and smoked a bowl. I woke up the next day with the dog licking my fingers and trying to nuzzle me like it always does. I dunno how it keeps coming back or why I killed it the first time. The blinds were open and there was like a dozen heads all crisscrossing each other in the sky moving laterally in their own directions. Each of them, staring unblinkingly forward, looked kinda familiar. I dunno where they came from or where they’re going but I don’t really care about that or anything else.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 20:11|
Djeser fucked around with this message at 21:53 on Jan 1, 2020
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 21:23|
strings like glass shards
1299 words, prompt: song
The last siren sang until her last breath, even as the men from the fishing village pierced her lungs with their spears. That final, beautiful note rang in their ears, louder than the roaring waves that crashed into her rocky outcropping; its final echoes reaching even the mainland.
The sound washed over the remaining villagers, conducting the funeral rites above the closed coffins of those who had been devoured. As the oldest, Yulia sat at the front of the children; arms hugging her knees, listening to her father sing a dirge for the fallen. The two songs collided, and were abruptly silenced.
Her father calmed the uneasy townsfolk, then took a deep breath to continue the ceremony - but nothing escaped his throat; not a cough or even a sigh as he failed to sing. For the first time, Yulia saw him completely at a loss, standing taller than life, arms limp. He tried again, and again, until finally he shamefacedly called his apprentice to take his place. She fared no better.
When the avengers returned, high on their victory, they found the village eerily silent; lacking the roar of a welcome they had anticipated. After swapping stories, everyone soon pieced together an assumption that when the last siren died, music itself died with her.
The village had no choice but to carry on, but from that point their lives were shrouded in a strange, quiet malaise. At night, Yulia lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, suffocated by the silence. She missed the muffled drinking songs from the tavern that had served as lullabies her entire life, she missed the quiet humming of the net-workers, she even missed the painfully simple melodies the innkeeper coaxed from the lute he liked to pretend he could play.
At least during the day, the adults could pretend that nothing was missing, dedicating themselves to their work; but when the sun fell they returned to shore simply to stare blankly into their cups, conversations never rising above a murmur.
“Dad? Are we still going to have the normal service tomorrow?” Yulia quietly asked at dinner, trying to provoke some reaction from her father’s uncharacteristically stony face. He made a noncommittal grunt, not even looking up from his food to face her. He had been hit the hardest by what everyone was now calling a curse. Until his funeral dirge was sung in full, it was said the souls of the dead would drift aimlessly, lacking the guidance to find their ordained resting place.
Yulia flushed, guilty. She treasured the way her father’s face lit up when he led the villagers in the ancient hymns, passed down among the priesthood for generations as the secret to guaranteeing longevity and bountiful catches. Without song, he could guarantee no salvation to the dead and no future for the living - so what was the point of even leaving his bed? What hope had he to preach to them? She remembered being ashamed for almost an entire week, the time she had tripped and broken an empty pot she had been tasked with delivering to the inn - how could she even imagine the despair of being unable to perform your life’s work?
After finishing her food she excused herself and retreated from the hut, neither of her parents saying a word or even seeing to notice. The setting sun would be setting for a while longer, so Yulia fled to the shore. In happier times, she walked its length looking for shells or shiny rocks to bring back to the craftspeople, but tonight her gaze was fixed across the sea.
She had grown up on that coast, and had long known its secret. When the waves were calm, and the wind was just right, it would carry the ethereal siren songs to her, and she would sit and listen for what felt like hours. The first time she had mentioned it to her mother, she had been slapped hard across the cheek and lectured for an hour - it was bad luck, she said, one day you’ll walk into the sea and drown yourself, she said.
Yulia had tearfully listened, but from that day forth a painful longing grew in her heart; a jagged absence of what the world could offer her. It was too much to bear, and one day she gathered up the courage to question the traveling witch that visited their village once a month to peddle medicine and teach lessons to the children.
She told Yulia the truth with a strange bitterness in her eyes - the siren song was harmless, so long as you didn’t set eyes on them. Setting eyes on them was equally safe, so long as you didn’t listen to their song. If you wore earplugs or kept your distance, you would always be spared their jagged beaks and talons - common knowledge among the fishermen in those waters.
They were beautiful, terrible - but they simply needed to eat to stay alive, the same as every other living thing. Maybe people hated them because they didn’t understand. Maybe they dreaded their twisted humanoid shape, so easy to misjudge from a distance. Maybe it was an ancestral terror, spawned from the ships lost at sea before people learned the ways. Whatever the case, that day, Yulia began to understand the bitter hatred that could spring from fear.
Thus, years later, she mourned the three lost fishermen with the rest of the village - but was the only one who privately resented them. It had been the day of a festival - they had been drunk, all of them, proposing a fishing contest. They were sent off with a cheer, and their shredded body parts washed up on the shore the next day. Thus, the retaliation; to make sure everything would pay the price for their stupidity.
If the men had simply been drowned, would they have thrust their spears into the ocean, then? If they were dashed against the rocks, would they have raged against the stone with chisels?
This night was calm. The wind was right, but the world wasn’t. The ocean offered nothing to her except a low roar and a chill in the air. Soon, the sun would set, and even that final trace of beauty would be denied to her - left alone with the dark and quiet.
So be it. In a fit of pique, Yulia just kept walking - if beauty was gone, she would revel in its absence out of spite - find the darkest, coldest place she knew. Her hurried steps brought her to the coastal cave she had been strictly forbidden from entering.
She gingerly walked into its mouth, careful not to slip on the slick rock. She would sit there for a while, and stew in her own frustration and misery until her shivers become too violent to bear, and maybe then the tension of the village would seem more appealing-
And there, in a shallow pool, she saw three eggs, each almost the size of her head. They dimly glowed blue, and she could see the silhouettes of the babies inside - their tiny claws and beaks.
Maybe they were already dead. Maybe they would die soon, without their mother. Maybe there was still hope. Yulia turned and ran - she couldn’t afford for anyone to come looking for her. She couldn’t bear the thought of anyone finding her treasure and cracking it open against the cave wall. The witch was due to visit in a few days. They could think of a solution, together.
Yulia hoped this would fix everything. Lift the curse, bring beauty back to everyone’s world. But if the creatures saw fit to keep their songs to themselves for the rest of time - she could be content with that.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 22:40|
flash: “No words longer than three syllables”
precious thing: The Moon
On a quiet night with an empty sky, Samantha waits on a bench perched above the bay. She hasn’t brought a coat, and there’s an Arctic breeze spilling in over the still sea. She has an hour, maybe ninety minutes, before her mom gets bored of the crime show on TV and wanders upstairs instead, unsheathing a scalpel in search of cauterized wounds. Now a dullness pools in Samatha’s temples, a kind of blank muffled scream, and she shivers, tensing and untensing each muscle in her body to take her mind off the unwelcome feelings.
Below, the stagnant waters begin to ripple, and a scaly arm searches for a grip. Wilbur clambers out of the depths, his usual greenish hue muted and sickly, a stench of rot pungent and insistent. It doesn’t scare Samantha, and she hurries down the sandy steps to greet him. There’s a leech peering out of one of his eye-sockets, and Samantha, who feels it would be rude to acknowledge it, instead fishes a can of tuna from her backpack and hands it to Wilbur, avoiding eye contact.
“I don’t have much time,” Samantha says, “or much food. But I hope this is enough.”
Wilbur takes the can of tuna between his thumb and forefinger and with a loud crack he breaks open the can. He puts the opening to his lips and he sucks up the salty tuna water first, then uses his fingernails to scoop out chunks of the flesh.
“Thank you,” he says, looking down. “You’ve been doing so much. You know you don’t have to do this.”
“Hey,” Samantha says, coming closer to him. Even though he smells putrid, he’s still familiar, and she remembers driving with him in his pickup truck before the curse, before the moon vanished, before her mom unscrewed her bedroom door. “Nothing’s changed, you know. You’re still the best thing in my life.”
Wilbur holds the tuna can and stares out across the ocean. The glint of reflected light from the lighthouse swings past them. After a long silence, he says “I’m going to look for a river. I don’t know if I can handle freshwater, but I think it has to be better than poisoned water.”
“I don’t know about any rivers around here,” Samantha says.
Wilbur is silent for a while. Samantha can feel the blankness in her head thickening, the bracing sensation of the sand beneath her feet falling away. She wants to ask Wilbur if he blames her, but she’s afraid of the answer, and she hates this image of herself, anyway – the ignorant, ugly, gently caress-up of a girl, begging for absolution from the victim of her shoddy magic – and so she keeps her mouth shut and fills her lungs with more decaying sea air.
It was stupid, what they’d done. She’d stolen a bottle of wine from her mom’s cabinet and she’d taken Wilbur down to the beach, where they’d drank and kissed and argued over whether banana pancakes were better than blueberry waffles. If they’d left it there, it would have been fine, but Samantha had felt how finite that evening was, the time slipping away from her, and she’d pulled out a deck of tarot cards and lit some candles, grabbed Wilbur’s hand and told him she was a powerful witch and that she could manifest a better reality.
And in ten minutes from when she’d begun the incantations, the moon had cracked and vanished, the sea had stopped moving, and Wilbur had grown gills and scales.
When Samantha walks back to her neighborhood, she sees the flashing lights in front of her house from a block away. It isn’t the first time she’s done this – call the police when Samantha isn’t where her mom expects her to be – but Samantha thought she’d had time, and the blankness in her head starts to curdle now. Couldn’t it have been her fate to swim in the poison sea instead of Wilbur’s? Wouldn’t that have felt right?
“She’s always trying to sneak away. Doesn’t like rules. Can’t pay attention – no real sense of discipline. And the lying and the secrecy. When I was her age I told my mother everything. But I’ll ask her the smallest question: ‘what were you doing this afternoon?,’ for instance, and I get a snotty ‘nothing.’ ‘Studying.’ I’m sure you know the type, officer,” her mother is saying to the police offer.
“I think she started drinking at twelve. Isn’t that young, officer?”
She figures she has three options. She can present herself to them. She will curl up into the blankness and say as little as possible, and lay there in the viscous blank through the screaming, the denied meals, the church services. She knows she can do this because she has done it before.
Or she can sneak off into the distance, hide in the ruins of Wilbur’s truck, until her mom drinks enough to forget the sin of Samantha’s absence. If she’s lucky, she can time her return to a Happy Drunk, reach a jubilee and her escape can be forgotten.
She doesn’t do either of these things. Instead she walks away from the flashing lights, away from her home, and enters the last payphone still remaining in town. She places two quarters from her pocket and dials 4-1-1.
“Hi. I need to find the nearest river.”
She still has a deck of cards in her pocket. She still remembers some incantations. She supposes that, if everything is just right, she can gently caress things up in the same way again, but she can strike inward this time, corrupt herself to an aquatic life. Or she can summon the moon again, repair the damage, release the flow that she’d stopped up. Everything is possible in an ending, she thinks, as she steals a bike from beside the library and pedals off into the night.
|# ? Nov 17, 2019 23:38|
everyone can't stop fighting, not even for a moment
The First Cut is the Deepest
Sophie got tired of the cutlery’s bickering, so she slammed the kitchen drawer shut. That didn’t stop the microwave from teasing her though. Neither did it deter the toaster and the waffle iron from arguing about who was the ultimate breakfast champion, or the kitchen counter from complaining that everyone was so in-their-face all the time, or the cookies in the corner from demanding to be eaten up this instance.
There was only one thing that had been truly quiet ever since everything in this godforsaken-house had developed a life of its own: the potatoes.
There they were, in an off-brand plastic bowl, portioned out and ready to be cut. Quiet. She hadn’t had a single moment to herself in a long time, and yet, the silent potatoes annoyed her the most. It was as if they were ignoring her.
Was she getting ghosted by a bunch of vegetables?
“What’chu looking at?” the off-brand plastic bowl said.
“Sorry,” Sophie said. She realized she still didn’t have a knife in her hand, which might have come in handy for potato-cutting. Ruefully, she slid the drawer back open, and the metallic jeers returned.
“Look, it’s fatso,” a knife yelled.
“Yeah, forgot something, fatso?” That was Sophie’s yoghurt spoon. It had been an ally once.
“I’m making potatoes,” Sophie said. Her voice carried the appropriate lack of conviction for someone who justified themselves in front of their own cutlery.
“Well don’t look at me,” the spoon said. “What are you gonna do, spoon them in your mouth?”
The room audibly enjoyed that quip. The faucet laughed so hard it puked.
She breathed, nay, inhaled through her nostrils. Buried her face in her hands. It was nice and dark in there. Yes, maybe she would stay here for a while. Maybe she could pretend to be un-born. What a nice thought.
“Are you playing peek-a-boo with the kitchen drawer?” the clock chimed in. “What a waste of time.”
Sophie had to leave the kitchen. She knew it wouldn’t do any good. In the living room, the couch would invite her to take a seat and then theatrically complain about the added weight. In the bedroom there was a particularly nasty window that kept reminding her to please never clean it, so it didn’t have to go through the embarrassment of showing her to the world. She didn’t even want to think about the front-door.
The bathroom. She could go there. The toilet was kind of a douche, but the shower was mostly arguing with the sink about body hygiene so they generally left her alone. The mirror was hit-and-miss. Maybe she’d get lucky. She pushed the door open.
“...never heard of natural body oils,” the sink said. “Wasting buckets of water when your body takes care of everything naturally. Furthermore…”
The mirror was empty. It did that sometimes. Carefully, as to not hurt her knees, Sophie went to the ground. “Good trick,” the toilet said. “Does the elephant want a treat?” She ignored it. Rested her head against the bathroom tiles.
“...shampoo and gel, like there’s any difference between the two. As Marx once said…”
She closed her eyes. Pulled her knees to her chest. Cool. The tiles were cool. It was cool, and dark. You could forget about time. You could just lie here and die. It would be great. Even better: it would be easy.
“Look who’s back”, a familiar voice came from above the sink. “Runt of the litter.”
“What do you mean, runt?” Sophie said, eyes still closed.
“You know what I mean. Your brother works at Google. You sell handbags. Or used to.”
“Yeah,” the toilet said. “Loser.”
“Let me get a look at you.”
Reluctantly, Sophie heaved herself off the ground. Through the mirror, her reflection watched her cumbersome ascent with silent disdain. A fat woman with a mean face. Utterly incapable of showing compassion. And undeserving of it.
“I’m going to learn to cook,” Sophie said. “I want to lose weight.” She played with her fingers.
“Oh yeah, what have you cooked yet? Let me guess, mh mh.” She tipped her fingers against her cheek, pretending to think real hard. “Nooothiiiing?”
“Typical. You plan and dream and want but you never do. Like real people would. Sometimes I think we should swap places. I could certainly do better…” The reflection looked down on herself. As she realized the apron hanging off her hips, she threw her head back laughing. “Are you loving kidding me?”
“I don’t want to get my clothes dirty,” Sophie said. To her own surprise, she felt annoyed. She was too tired for this poo poo.
“What are you, cooking ramen? Do you even have a spoon?”
“I’m making potatoes.”
“Well what do you want me to say?” A rage swelled up inside her, impotent, like a flailing newborn. At least she tried. Wasn’t that worth something? “Everytime I go in there, literally everything laughs at me. I haven’t had a quiet moment in forever. I barely even sleep anymore.”
“Oh, so it’s the cutlery’s fault? What are they, mean to you?” The reflection pretended to rub tears off her face. “Are you losing face in front of your kitchen tools? Poor baby.”
“What do you want me to do?” Sophie yelled. “I do nothing, you make fun of me. I do something, it’s not enough. I’m sure if I tried to cook something complicated you’d call me an idiot for that.”
“Always excuses. Maybe this is why nobody takes you seriously,” the reflection said. “Maybe this is why mommy and daddy still send you money. You know what they really think right? Behind your back. They pity you. Hell, I pity you.”
Sophie punched the mirror, and her image cracked. It frowned back at her from a dozen angles, buried underneath the sharp-toothed grin of broken glass.
She sucked the blood from her knuckles. There was a new thought that formed in her head, one that she’d visited a few times but never dared to explore before: she didn’t loving deserve this. She really, really didn’t.
“Nice going, chief,” the toilet said. “Here’s my thoughts on the matter.” It flushed.
“You know what, toilet?” she said, pointing at the drat thing like she was taking aim with her index finger. She stood there like that, blood dripping on the tiles, long enough to realize that she shouldn’t care what an object she poops into thinks of her.
“I’ll see you later,” she said. “When I’ve had my loving potatoes.”
She opened the kitchen drawer to the familiar laughter of spoons and forks and knives. ‘Failure’, they yelled. ‘Impostor’. She picked the nastiest knife of the bunch, thin blade glinting manically in the sunlight. Its insults had always been the sharpest.
“Save yourself the trouble and fall on me, eh?” the knife said. More laughter.
“Let me show you something,” Sophie said.
She carried the knife over to the potatoes. They were still silent, but she didn’t care anymore. She didn’t need the potatoes’ approval.
She would cook them. She would cook the loving potatoes.
She would cut them, and she would toss them in oil and spices, and then she would stuff that hot-headed oven’s dumb mouth with them. And there it was, this long moment, one blink after the other, in which she truly felt, for the first time, that she might actually do this.
No. Not might. Would. Must. This was real. She would create something.
Suddenly, the house went quiet.
“Alright,” one of the potatoes said, slowly, carefully drawing out each syllable. “You got me.” Then, quickly: “loving do it.”
“Shut the gently caress up,” Sophie said. She started cutting.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 01:25|
What is Owed
Charlotte Pierce first spotted her doppleganger in the Eastlake Shopping Center parking lot. It was an early September evening, a crimson sunset illuminating the head that might as well have been her own against a truck bearing megastore branding, dark hair scraggling freely, framed in a red circle. Charlotte noticed, but didn't react.
She knew better. She had a cat, black and small, who could talk. Edison did not speak often, and never on command or to anyone else. There were always rules. Chase after her and, she knew sure as sunrise, she'd end up turning a blind corner to find her quarry vanished into the dust-and-sunrays air.
She saw her double several times over the next few days: lurking gracelessly outside the coffee shop; emerging from the unsettling neon green water of the community pool, closed but not yet drained; and striding with some great purpose down her own street, away from her house.
The next morning her doppleganger was in her closet, wearing her nightshirt and almost pulling off an impression of a mirror.
"So," said Charlotte. "What do you want?"
The doppleganger stepped backwards, into a rack of faux-leather jackets, and was gone when Charlotte followed.
It had been a good summer. In the first week of June, Charlotte, who had not usually been one for friends, let alone boyfriends, ran into Hector at Bishop's, the only good burger place in the state. She recognized him from school, barely. He knew who she was. She had been planning to get take-out, eat in the park. His smile convinced her otherwise. It was always his smile, and him turning out to not be a complete idiot.
It was a good summer, a fine summer fling, two months of conversation with someone else who reads books in translation, of quick and longer kisses and hands wandering within the unspoken borders above clothes and waists.
And Charlotte ended it, at July's end. It was hopeless to go on past summer, with her still a high school senior and him splitting time between community college and whatever jobs he found to pay for it. It had been a thing of the hot and sunny season, best left with its end.
Hector stared holes at Charlotte silently from behind the Chicken Country counter, wouldn't speak but to repeat her order. She fled with her food and headed back to Cedar Circle.
Her doppleganger was leaning against the back of the subdivision's sign. Charlotte turned and stomped toward her. "Who do you think you are?" she said.
"I'm you," she said. "Sometimes."
"I'm not going to call you Charlotte," said Charlotte. "You're Char, all right?" The other her nodded. "Okay, Char. Now. What the hell did you do with my boyfriend?"
"What do you," started Char. Her back was to the red brick barrier, Charlotte pressing uncomfortably close.
"You know exactly what I mean," said Charlotte. "During Au-"
Char's arm darted out, covering Charlotte's mouth. "Don't," she said. "I'll explain. Inside, somewhere."
"Do you know how many months are in a year?" said Edison. It was the second time he had spoken to Charlotte. She was thirteen.
"Twelve, dummy," she answered.
"Excellent," said the cat. "Name them. Count them off."
She did. She reached November with her last finger, landing December and the total as eleven. She tried again, with the same result.
She asked Edison what was missing, but he was asleep in his bed and was not in a talking mood again for a long time.
At school, outside of Cedar Circle, she put a name to what was missing. She knew better than to speak it aloud near home. That summer she waited carefully for the end of July.
She woke up on September first full of a long and complicated dream of adventure in a land of talking horses and winged rabbits and even more nonsensical things. She questioned the other kids of the neighborhood on their dreams, and theirs too were long and outlandish: rocket flights to Saturn, a long time of domestic bliss in an older sister's dollhouse, a journey across the country to Disney World with grandparents and cousins.
"It was a hard-won bargain," said Char. They were in a neighbor's disused toolshed, the lock rusted and useless as the saw hanging on a triad of nails or the immoveable clamps hugging the workbench.
"What did we get out of it?" asked Charlotte.
"For a dozenth of your years? It was before my time and beyond my station, so I could not say for certain. Something of substance. Health, prosperity, a ward against untimely death. Something like that."
Char told her story, and Charlotte listened.
We were meant as caretakers, to wear a face for a month, doing little of note, just enough that nobody noticed an absence at work and was moved to investigate. To keep it safe as the court did their private business within the circle of cedars. I was to visit your usual haunts and be seen, and nothing more.
Hector found me, of course. He begged me to take him back, to be together and happy at least for the month, and maybe longer. I should not have listened. I had my orders, had my obligations to you under silent contract. But he had that smile. Nobody on the other side has a smile to compare excepting perhaps the King and his Fool.
I gave in, and we dallied through the time. I could not bear to lie to him, not once I was full in love. I told him who I was, and offered to take him with me at month's end, to be young forever, or near enough, in the court of the King and the Queen. I arranged to meet him on the thirtieth.
It was not mine to offer. And the Queen has eyes everywhere. She punished me, took my voice away outside the circle and exiled me here. She always leaves one door cracked open, though. If I could somehow bring him to the gate, we could both pass back. I need your help desperately.
Charlotte saw Hector's smile one more time, at that shimmering gate of light under standing stone. Talking him there was easy with the two of them standing side by side, one silent and one speaking.
"But what about me," said Hector. "I mean, if I disappear, won't people come looking?"
"Leave that to me," said Edison. Charlotte hadn't even noticed that the cat was there, and now he was transforming, changing his shape into Hector's, fur shedding and weaving into black jeans and t-shirt. "I'll likely move to Barcelona by next year, just to be sure." Hector nodded and smiled that smile. Edison tried to return it, but didn't quite have it right.
Back in her room, Charlotte stared at the thing on her desk. They were a people of words and debts, Char and her Queen. For the loss of an ex of little value and a cat of far greater, she was given compensation. She looked more closely at the egg of silvery metal, intricately shaped like a clock or a puzzle or a lock. It would open when she needed it. It would hold what she needed.
"Some distant August, years off and miles outside Cedar Circle, you will find out if it was worth it," Char had said. Charlotte knew that was wrong, that she had done the right thing by her first love and stranger pseudo-sister, though it cost her, though it hurt to think of. But she did find a comfort, that at least as long as she kept the silver egg she would never truly leave behind a world with talking cats and dopplegangers and yes, even of lost months behind for grey mundanity.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 01:33|
Where We Never Rest
Have you ever awoken in the morning, longing for the one you love, a needy, pathetic, all-encompassing love? This person that you love, she’s someone without whom you can’t function, the mere thought of being without brings you to crippling sobs, wondering what’s wrong with you as you gasp for air. And as you’re laying there in bed, clawing at your sheets, you realize you don’t remember her name. You don’t know her face. You have no idea if she even exists, but that somehow makes the feeling worse, and you’re a howling in a primal sadness, a tearing, raging, vomiting mass.
Eventually you manage to detach yourself from bed, and you start thinking straight again, at least as well as you— I can with that imploding void for a heart. I call in sick to work, and set about cleaning the vomit, hands still shaking and tongue still bitter.
After that task is complete, I take time to calm myself further. Moving to the kitchen, trying to put together something to eat, I spot the kitchen knife, and wonder if I could use it to remove my feelings, with all too much seriousness. I’m crying again.
I want to scream, ‘She doesn’t exist!’ but I can only wail. The words would be a betrayal of her, of everything that she means to me, of everything we've been through together — which was nothing, but even so, it would have been easier to go through with killing myself than to let those words live.
Some sign of her is all I want. Proof I’m not insane. How would I handle it, though, if I instead unveiled her death or fiction? I twist at the tiles with my fingers, wondering which will break first. I’m not sick. I see a therapist, but I’m not sick.
I reject the floor and make another call. I ask to schedule an emergency appointment. My therapist can see me in three hours. That displaces some of my irrational pain, and makes breathing easier, if only for the moment.
I take my time in getting ready. The terror inside of me is still present, but subdued by the normality of my routine. Nothing, no matter how terrible, can withstand the mundane tyranny of ritual. It could smother hell to ash.
Two hours remain. There is nothing left for me within my empty home, so I will walk to my therapist’s. I have only ever driven there, far as it is. It could further clear my head. I fumble with my keys before finding the right one, and lock my front door. Then I double check it is locked and — not satisfied but unable to deny its security — leave. The temperature isn’t bad until the wind kicks in.
It’s annoying, holding myself together in winds so strong. If I double back to my car, could I drive there in comfort? No, but at least I wouldn’t need to face against a force intent to push me back. I continue walking anyway, as I would feel silly otherwise. The sky gives no solace to my mood, neither bright enough to help, nor nasty enough to rage against. Just an uncertain collection of clouds.
Someone is coming from the opposite way on the sidewalk, a woman looking down at her phone, her face obscured. Emotions twist through me. Could it be her? Would I be bothering a stranger over my crazed state? As we draw closer, she looks up at me. It’s not her. Relief and disappointment carry me silently past her.
How did I know it wasn’t her? I don’t know her face. Do I expect memories to come flooding back to me? I don’t know. For all I knew, she could be home right now, and when I step back through my strangely unlocked door, I see her, and think she is nothing more than an intruder. How would she think, how would she cry, if she knew I could not remember her?
Say she was both real, and my soulmate. Say my memory was lost forever. She would stay with me, trying to rebuild me into the person she lost. Her frustration, her pain, her hope, her love. What if I was still her soulmate, but from my addled state, she was not mine? The winds push harder against me, shoving my sobs back down my throat. I consider returning again, to check for her.
I carry on.
Almost there, I’m angry at myself for being so foolish. All these feelings, all this drama over someone I had no reason to believe existed. My therapist would set me right. He would confirm how unreasonable I was being, releasing me from my compulsion to continue believing.
The wind separates from me as I enter his building. A sign reads, ‘Dr. Smith will be with you shortly.’ No one else sits in the waiting area. I lounge there, watching a shaking tree out the window.
“Come on back,” Dr. Smith says, having popped from the hallway without my notice. His smile pulls up his glasses.
I follow him.
In the small space of his office proper, he says, “Take a seat,” motioning to an old green chair. “What seems to be bothering you?”
The chair is comfortable, as it is every visit. “I’m in love,” I say.
“Does that bother you?” he asks.
“I don’t know if she’s real.”
One of his eyebrows arch up. He motions for me to continue.
“This morning, when I woke up, I thought of killing myself before admitting she doesn’t exist. It’s like all my memories of her are gone from my head. Only these painful emotions of her absence remain. Have we ever talked about me being in a relationship, Dr. Smith?”
He frowns. “You haven’t mentioned anything like that recently. We’ve talked about some past relationships, but according to you, the last one was nearly two years ago. Her name was Abigail, and you broke up with her because she cheated on you. Do you remember her?”
“Yes,” I say, nodding. “It’s not her, or anyone before her. It feels like she was with me until today.”
My session continues, and we exchange many questions.
Dr. Smith adjusts his glasses, then folds his hands into his lap. “Unless you were having a relationship you did not tell me about, followed by extremely selective memory loss, she does not exist.”
My stomach fills with hate.
He continues, “There have been extremely rare cases of something like this occurring. The cause isn’t known, but I'd like you to see a neurologist as soon as possible. You aren’t feeling suicidal now, but if these feelings are as strong as you’ve told me, that moment could come again any time. I also want to increase our meetings to every week, though that’s your choice.”
I bury my detest for him and say, “Thank you, let’s do that.”
His grin is genuine. “I know this isn’t easy for you, and must be very confusing. Please try to keep from making any major life changes while feeling like this. I also recommend moving your knives somewhere you can’t see until you need them.”
It’s over, and I leave his office.
The wind is stronger than ever, but beckoning me home. I run, convinced she’ll be there.
I’m in front of our home. I take out my keys, and try to find the one for the front door. I drop them. Diving, I seize them from the dirt. I try them one by one, gritting my teeth, ready to see her. One clicks. I trample in, wind coming with me through the open door.
As empty and secure as I’d left it.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 03:00|
The Ones They Sent Away
Nethilia fucked around with this message at 00:19 on Jan 3, 2020
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 03:30|
An Equitable Settlement
“I don't know if that's possible,” said Will Roth as he watched a tiny man trot across the table to tip another spoonful of sugar into Mrs. Sandra Green's coffee. “Within the auspices of this case, this would be a super-fund site. It's a matter of environmental contamination, and I'm not sure if you're allowed to use the settlement in a way that opposes any clean up – especially since the court has ordered VMI to preform remediation. We can't just undo a class-action court ruling because you don't want to take the settlement anymore.”
Around the kitchen, a battalion of other tiny men came and went through small holes broken into the walls. They hadn't stopped at breaking the holes, though. Even now tiny masons and carpenters were busying themselves jambs and doors, and tiding up construction debris. Another team was at the range-top, dropping pats of lard into a frying pan as the smell of home-fries and ham filled the room.
“Thank you, sugars.” Mrs. Green murmured to yet another group that brought her a small plate of scrambled eggs, and then she nodded yes to the gnome holding a salt shaker. He put his back into it and the mound of perfectly golden fluff turned white.
“Mister Roth, d'you know how often my children have called me since all this nonsense started?” She motioned with a wave around the room, before tucking in to a bite of the eggs.
“Well... I suppose they're very concerned about your welfare,” he began before Sandra cut him off with a wave of her fork.
“I have lost count. Which is surprising, considering that I can tell you 'xactly how many times they called me since they moved away from home. Once a year at Christmas, and then eight times on m' birthday until they got too busy for even that. Neither of them called when they took my foot off on 'count of the diabetes, either. But now the phone's ringing off the hook. Why d'you think that might be, Mister Roth?”
Will's mind started to spin up a nice blandishment, something that would sound nice, and hopefully move this visit along to it's conclusion. Yet, the way Sandra Green held his gaze, even while shoveling another sodium laden bite of eggs into her mouth stopped him cold. He looked at her levelly.
“The money, ma'am.”
She pointed the empty fork at him and nodded.
“Every day, every single day, they're asking me if I have taken the settlement. It's even got the oldest one coming over to run my errands and help out around th' house. He even went to the drug store and brought back my blood pressure medicine this morning.” She watched the tiny men about their chores, and shoved the empty plate of eggs to the center of the table. Four of them hefted it onto their shoulders and carried it off toward the sink. “He ain't worth a lick compared to my new babies, though. I'll tell you that, much.”
Will watched as one of the doors in the wall swung open and the gnomes carried a wooden foot out. It was perfectly formed. Toes and ankles had been articulated with oaken joints. They marched it across the floor and began to strap it onto the end of Sandra's right leg, taking care to wrap spider-silk gauze around the stump.
“Mrs. Green, I'll be straight with you. The state considers this,” he waved about the room,” to be an invasive and wholly unnatural species - introduced through gross negligence. But, I can understand why you feel the way you do. Unfortunately, there is precedence - the basilisks in Huntsville last year, those fairie circles that kept popping up in Montgomery, and so on.”
A second plate arrived, bearing the thick cut of ham steak and home-fries: scattered, smothered, and covered. Sandra offered another round of thanks to the little men. One of them doffed his cap and bowed in curt acceptance, before jogging off to rejoin his group.
Staring down at her breakfast, she asked, “And there's no way to fight this?”
“You could fight it,” Will allowed, with a sigh. “The odds aren't good, though. This was a federal case, and we might have to take it to the 11th circuit. We might get an injunction, hold it up in appeals for a few years. In the end though...” He frowned and spread his hands.
Sandra watched her coffee be refilled, and topped off with a few heaping teaspoons of sugar and some heavy cream. She watched the crews that were scrubbing and mopping the floor, getting into places that she hadn't been able to reach for years. She watched the gnomes set everything right that had been wrong, sweeping away sadness and loneliness like a week's worth of dust.
“You think it would take a few years?”
“At the very least, ma'am.”
Reaching across the table, Sandra picked up the settlement check. She flipped it over. Then, Sandra Green signed it over to “William Roth, Esquire,” before sliding it back to Will.
“Well then, Mr. Roth, I'd be grateful if you could get on it.”
A team of tiny men was departing the table empty handed, after dropping off a bowl of cheese grits. Sandra picked up her bottle of blood pressure mediation, and handed it to them.
“Toss this in the trash for me, Sugars. Then turn off the ringer on the phone, and change the locks on the doors when you get done.”
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 04:52|
Pete's Girlfriend, Who Goes To A Different School
Hellrule: protag doesn't believe they exist
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 00:56 on Dec 30, 2019
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 04:54|
Voidmart Week Employee Evaluations
Applewhite, A Hard Day's Night
The opening dream is vivid, but may be a bit too indulgent for this wordcount.
The dream ending is a cheat. And you failed to hit the 'takes place in or near the voidmart' part of the prompt, unless one reads the dreamtime line very generously. Also defuses a lot of the potential horror aspect. Again, you need to land that dreamtime idea much harder to get that to work.
Middle, 5, possible dq
Returns and Exchanges
Interesting format choice. But, you know, not a good one. The interview format can work, when the two speakers are delivering a story, but all you have here are the talking heads and a watered down Monty Python sketch with no ending.
Low end, say 2
Doctor Zero, Night Shift
The repeated 'when' in the opener does a lot of damage to a line that's already fragile due to length and complexity.
This feels like part of the collaboration. It feels like part of something larger, at least, ending with revelation rather than a resolution. Good prose and characters. 6/10, may revise upward if this is part of a continuity with more ending stuff. (Apparently not, or everyone else involved failed)
Tibalt, Cleaning up Aisle 9
Serviceable horror voidmart here. Jenny again, but HR rather than the bean. (coincidence, I guess) A lot of extraneous detail that doesn't go anywhere. The opposite of tight. High middle, 6/10 say.
rat-born cock, A Boy and his Drone
This is a pretty strong story here. Subjunctive voice is tricky to pull off, and the repeated structures work. The dialog could use some work, and the moment where the drone awakes needs to land harder.
But you should know not to edit after posting, or to preface your stories. 7/10 but dq
Staggy, Bargain Hunt
This is fairly good, a serviceable adventure yarn set in a genre-appropriate version of the voidmart. What's missing is any sense of stakes, though.
5/10, sheer middle.
A friendly penguin, Judgment Day Savings
Interesting version of the 'mart set up here early. Ultimately we just have a cartoon, though. And you don't block the scene well enough to sell having Daniel fall on the customer as a fatal situation.
The punchline is a clever idea but doesn't quite work as a metaphor/zeugma; the active and passive voices of 'save' and 'redeem' can't really match both sides of the meaning.
Mercedes, Always Read the Contract
'as suddenly as a skydiver with a faulty parachute'. I don't know if this fully works as a simile; when the faultiness is discovered there's a lot of time before the sudden stop and once it's imminent the quality of the chute is no longer relevant.
Employee of the day becomes month. Tense slips at a key moment. Needed more proofing.
Overall, amusing. Middle high, 6/10
Some Strange Flea, Updates to Emergency Procedures
Another interesting format choice. I can get behind this one, though. My one quibble is that you basically tell the same story twice, with the missing person and the last section. The same loss of identity story, repeated but not really complimenting each other.
Anomolous Amalgam, A Glutton for Punishment
A good job with the flash, yes. The prose and dialog are okay enough, but there's not much to this, just a lack of conflict or character for the second person protagonist.
Black Griffon, Meat Joke
I don't get it.
I mean, both jokes were profoundly unfunny, and the piece doesn't work as antihumor either. So in the end there's a lack of point to what happens. The talking tape recorder doesn't have enough personality to make for a compelling sacrifice.
Low Middle, 4/10
Carl Killer Miller,Last Requisition
There seems to be a theme this week of stories that struggle to reach a decent ending. I liked this one right up to where it just falls flat.
7/10, mid high
flerp, Take two and call me in the morning
I like this quite a bit, an excellent mood piece, much better use of second person and identity loss themes than some others.
Barnaby Profane, Voidlings
You forgot to upsell the second Voidlings for the person the gift was originally intended for. And you may have hit the liquification bit a few to many times
Still, good work. 7/10, middle-high.
Magius, Komar, or The Modern Sisyphus
Cute idea, a bit half-baked and telegraphed by the title. Driven to suicide by bribe requests is an inexcusable shortcut in particular.
Sitting Here, the success formula.
Strongest dialog so far, also the strongest ending. Was my personal win pick out of a strong top three. 9/10
Fleta, Garbage Disposal
Grenade, meet diver. Even in the context of lazy toxx avoidance theater, this was weaksauce.
Sebmojo, fooling the eye
Interesting but a bit too unidimensional, characters existing to fulfill plot needs and little more. 7/10
Opening with the weather is rarely a good idea in a novel, let alone a short story this size. Do it and it had better be raining green tea or something equally striking. Also, you're doing a werewolf story, you could have at least established a full moon. Or a nearly full one lingering from the night before, since we are in the pre-opening morning. Anyhow, this was a functioning but otherwise unremarkable morality play of a story that would have been in the upper middle had it arrived on time.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 04:58|
flerp fucked around with this message at 18:58 on Dec 30, 2019
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 05:02|
sleep, protag is quivering into oblivion
It had begun innocently: a potluck.
I brought bruschetta with a balsamic glaze I'd worked on for years, tomatoes from the garden, mozzarella from the old country and prosciutto toasted ever so slightly with a light covering of olive oil and carefully selected herbs. As expected, it crushed every other attempt to dust. Cooked hot dogs gone cold, discount hamburgers, some decent homemade bread, nothing stood a chance. Everyone was in awe of me.
Everyone except for Margaret.
Margaret brought muffins. The outside was just a shadow short of crispy, giving a slight, yet satisfying carbonized resistance as you bit into the soft core. The texture was exquisite, every bite filled with a perfect balance of vanilla, perfectly sized kernels of dark chocolate and a mild salty aftertaste which made every mouthful savory and nothing short of addictive.
There was an understanding between us that afternoon. A knowing. She knew my culinary abilities were not of this earth, and she seemed content with knowing that. I knew the same of her, but I was not content. Anyone could make muffins and bruschetta, but it took a stranger beast indeed to make enthralling works of culinary art.
Either by design or coincidence, two magical artisans had arrived at Rapid Lane.
Margaret had to fall, and she had to fall before the next potluck. It took me a week to gather the necessary materials for a draining curse and prepare the necessary runes. Scroll after scroll posted on my office walls, blinders down, Lancer whining for walks as I worked. I used the walks as an opportunity to talk to Margaret, feigning respect and amusement. We both knew what we were, even if we didn't say it, and I will admit our conversation took on an entertaining tone. Like a couple of spies communicating by way of coded language, we'd talk about or accomplishments and our perils. She liked to wander the Fey byways leading from our world, taking the wrong turn on purpose and finding herself at the Placid Lake or the Branch. Secretly, I was terrified, my short encounters with those realms had shook me to my core.
But she was old, she said, and her traveling days were over. These days, she liked to cook.
And while I smiled and nodded, I observed her habits, looking for the pattern.
I had decided on my pattern after an acquaintance had commented on my habit of clicking pens when I was in deep thought. It was an annoying habit, but it was so very mundane. Keeping the spellflow up required nothing more than a mildly enchanted pen, and so I carried one with me wherever I went. Most importantly, in was mundane enough and easy enough to hide that it wouldn't be deciphered by an opponent, and so I kept myself safe.
Margaret had many habits, and most of them she repeated several times a day. A cup of tea, one bag of earl grey breakfast tea, one bag of green tea, at least five or six times a day. She fed her cat a small amount of kibble once every couple of hours. She pruned her plants even when they were perfectly maintained. I observed each and every habit, and I took notes. When she stopped knitting or reading to talk to one of her neighbours a yard over I'd sit down by my computer and fill out excel spreadsheets with times, durations and deviances.
It took two days before I realized she got up from bed several times a night, and so I stocked up on the necessary stimulants, magical and mundane. If her pattern was part of her nightly routine, I had to keep track.
She'd take several books out of her bookcase a day, read a few pages, then return them. I watched that for days, thinking I might be onto something, then she watched reruns of Days of Our Lives for five days straight.
That wasn't it, I thought, as I was ripped away.
And then I came to, several hours later, covered in a sheen of sweat, around me the tangle of woods behind my house.
No, not sweat, something else, something more substantial and less substantial at the same time. Something familiar which repulsed me if I approached knowing. I ran to my house, bare feet on the rough ground, slammed open my door startling Lancer, threw myself in the shower and sat there for an hour. Whatever had happened, it wasn't sleep. It wasn't the surrender of my body to the needs of a mundane human, I'd made sure that wouldn't happen. No it was something far more insidious.
I had to redouble my efforts to find the pattern, dive even deeper, look for something beyond the simple. What if there was a rhythm to her pattern? What if it consisted of several stages? I could feel the stimulants gnawing at my nerves and encroaching on my sanity, but I kept watching. Fed the cat, then a cup of tea. Was it the cup? Was it the bags? The roses. No, the petunias.
This time, I could feel it happening. A low rumble in the suburbs of my consciousness as I was there, and then not.
I fell, towards a glassy plane the size of conception. And then I was back in the shower, back by the window. Watching her snicker as she talked with Rob from Rapid Lane 23. Rob had suggested the potluck, maybe he was the pattern?
Of course not. I was losing it, I had to get one night of sleep, I could afford that. But as my head hit the pillow and I closed my eyes, I knew it didn't matter what I could or couldn't afford. My purchasing power had evaporated as my mania heightened. Tables of data raced through my head, before my eyes. I rushed to the bathroom and threw up.
And then I was there again, in that other place, face down towards the approaching lake.
When I came back, days had passed. Shower, bed, restlessness and then the window, where I saw her talking to yet another neighbour. They looked worried, and I could see them glance at my house. I scowled, pulled my face back from the glass in my darkened room. The potluck was less than a week away, and I had nothing. The notes and scrolls covered my door and part of my floor now. I took the last of my stimulants and resumed my guard.
She was talking to yet another neighbour. Did she ever run out of things to talk about? Did she even talk about anything worth talking about? Yet another neighbour, yet another conversation.
When I realized it, Margaret turned her eyes directly towards me, and smiled. And when I was pulled back onto her well trodden Fey paths yet again, I knew it was the last time.
The Placid Lake was shallow, but in the way that the entire span of the earth's existence was short in the universal timeline, and as I fell from that earth into the realm of the incomprehensible, I knew that I would sink until I had lost every concept of being, and so, with the last of my power, I extinguished myself. My last thought, a hope that whatever happened, Lancer would be okay.
Lancer peaked his ears as the old lady entered the living room. He didn't know why, but something about her seemed safe, right, natural. She said something, and he got up to follow. She liked to talk, he could sense that. From her house came the scent of a stew cooking, and on the porch sat a friendly looking cat. Lancer wagged his tail.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 05:21|
Top of the Pops
It was the eyes that started it. Those big black eyes, gazing out without blinking - gazing inward without judging. Like radar dishes, swallowing signals… and emitting them. Signals only Amy was equipped to read. Signals she couldn't ignore.
That day, she had a familiar feeling - whatever it was inside her that sensed their signals had sensed another one. The feeling usually made her giddy with excitement. But that day, that electricity chilled her deep into her organs, lingering even after the car windows defogged.
Following the feeling was easy. Something grabbed ahold of the hairs on the back of her neck and steered her in the right direction. This time, off the freeway at her usual exit. That wasn’t unusual - the university was up that way, and that meant nerd shops. But the feeling didn’t take her there. It led her home. Amy caught a glance of her face as she backed into a parking spot - fear, a kind she hadn’t known since before the Pops. Something was definitely wrong.
She’d developed an eye for details, and her racing pulse made her sharper, but it wasn’t the tire tracks suggesting a mounted curb or the crowbar damage on the door that caught her breath - it was Princess Leia in the gutter. She snatched it up, cradling the toy like an injured child.
It was smudged, as if stepped on. Those implacable black eyes yearning. Rage bubbled up inside Amy. She looked up at her apartment building, knowing what she’d find inside. Melted bootprints. Discount wards, cracked in half and useless. Vacant shelves and dusty outlines where figurines once stood. She’d probably find her crystal matrix and passport untouched. A snarl formed on her lips as she stomped upstairs to confirm her suspicions.
She crashed through the door of Calvin’s shop, sending a rack of kid’s comics spinning chaotically. “What the hell!?” Calvin stumbled, knocking over the stool behind the counter. It was still early, so the store was empty. “Oh, Amy. Christ, I thought I was getting robbed.”
“I DID get robbed, Cal. They got my Pops. Everything but the Princess.” Amy sat Leia on the counter. Calvin stared down, wide-eyed. He knew what it meant for her to lose her collection. He’d been her main supplier for years.
“Do you know where they went? I mean,” he stammered. “Can you feel them?”
“What would I be here for if I could? Armed backup?” Calvin grimaced. He was tall, but he was wide, and he was proud of never having touched a gun. “I need a lead, Cal. I know you have other regulars for Pops. Anybody acting squirrely lately?”
It took him a minute, and a couple of slugs on his Dr. Pepper can, but his damaged brain finally came up with something. “There was this one guy. You might remember him. Skinny guy, red hair. Always wore that camo messenger bag. With the pins?”
Amy did remember. They’d crossed paths at the shop. He was all scoffs and side-eyes, but based on what she saw him buy, his collection must have been extensive. There was even an incident - recently - when she snatched up the last of a limited edition moments before he walked in the door.
She slammed her fist on the glass case containing the nerd card singles, and growled. “I need details.” Calvin nodded, more afraid of her than any consequences, and ran his fingers up the sides of his crystal matrix, calling forth credit card records and other data on ‘Max Orelyan’. It wasn’t long before she had enough to go on and headed for the door.
She was miles away, deep in the industrial area south of downtown when she caught the scent. A shudder of goosebumps ran up her arms and legs and nearly wrenched her head off her neck with the intensity of it. She cranked the wheel to the side, crossed four lanes of traffic to get to the exit. She barely heard the honks.
The feeling steered her roughly, down between refineries and lots full of rusting equipment. Her neck felt hot, and her head started to throb as she approached a dilapidated warehouse. She lurched out of the car, stalked around the warehouse and found a door. It felt like a fist behind her eyes would punch through and knock it down if she didn’t hurry up.
Her brain saw markings painted along the frame and told the feeling the door was warded. The feeling convinced her brain that it was too late to worry about that. She kicked the door, rattling it in its frame. Physically, it was weak, but she could feel a prickling under her socks. She kicked it again and again, until something cracked and the door swung back. Amy could feel her shoe filling with blood.
She took a deep breath. The wards resisted her at first, but she pushed through, palms forward. A hundred tiny papercuts opened up all over her skin. She kept her mouth and eyes shut tight as she forced her head through, feeling the little slices go up her nose and down her ear canals. With a grip on the inside of the doorframe, she pulled her body through and collapsed into a bloody crumple.
She was lucky, in a way, to not have any room in her head for thoughts, or for any feelings besides The Feeling. She might have been distracted by the pain. Instead, she hauled herself up the stairs, tugged upwards by those overworked little hairs on her neck. With every step, the feeling in her head seemed to expand, taking up more and more space.
Upstairs, the feeling seemed to finally exhale. She'd found them.
Rows and rows of Funko Pops - thousands of them. Far in excess her own collection. Giant heads, and giant eyes, all staring inward, towards a kneeling figure at their center. It was Max. He was chanting something, head bowed. Amy didn’t see any point in trying to decipher it. She found a crowbar.
Her first swing knocked him aside, scattering some Pops. She noticed something then that she hadn’t before. His head was big - bigger than it should be, and strangely... angular. He pushed himself up on stunted arms and turned towards her, narrowing eyes that already looked minuscule inside massive, shadowed sockets. He recognized her even through the sheen of blood coating her.
“No,” he growled. “You can’t have them. Not now, not when I’m so close. You don’t even know who they are!” His hand closed around a Pop and sent it flying towards her, then went for another. “Professor McGonagall! Western Doc Brown! Patrick Star!” The Pops collided with Amy’s guarding forearms, forcing her back.
The feeling subsided in her head long enough for doubt to creep in. Was he right? He’d managed to collect all of these, and she didn’t know a drat thing about whoever they represented. Was he their rightful owner? But the feeling surged back and the doubt was flattened into nothingness. The feeling expanded out to coat the inside of her skull… and then it kept going.
Max’s screeches stuttered to a stop as he looked on in awe. The Funko Pops swirled around Amy, levitating along with her, as her skull stretched and then skin barely kept pace. Her head grew until it dwarfed her body. Her eyes became black pools, blacker than black. Max realized the truth and fell to his knees, praying to her. Power surged throughout the collection, flowing towards her.
The last thought Amy had before she stopping being Amy, was that it was about time.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 05:37|
The room was warm and Harry's toes curled as they sunk into the red plush carpet. Alexander was, as always, sitting at his side and gazing up. Their eyes met. Harry blinked at Alexander slowly. Alexander blinked slowly back, then flopped over and started purring.
The purr was deep, warm, and filled the room with its sheer pleasure. Harry sank his fingertips deep into the cat's belly fur and Alexander's purring intensified. Like every morning, Harry ran through his gratitude list as Alexander stretched and sprawled on the bed. Perfect job, beautiful neighborhood, soft carpet, dinner last night with friends, and his best friend and constant feline companion. He scratched a little harder and faster as Alexander twitched his front paws. The fur between the cat's toes danced. The room was calm, still, vibrant in warm color. Alexander grabbed Harry's hand with his paws and began licking it all over. For the first time in his life, Harry's life mirrored his view of perfection. The hound was gone.
That was three weeks ago, just before Alexander vanished.
Harry hauled himself out of bed and rubbed the crust from his eyes. His body ached all over. He planted his feet in the rough carpet, which had faded into a dirty grey. He kept the shades closed, leaving the entire room a lifeless grey, self-reinforced isolation in a suburban sprawl. The air was thick and heavy as he moved through it. He shambled into the bathroom and splashed water onto his face, wincing at the harsh cold. He looked at himself in the mirror. His skin had gone as ugly grey as the rest of the house. He couldn't make out his own features, instead seeing a stretch of blank skin.
Alexander's litterbox sat in the corner. Harry had saved a piss-cemented chunk in the first few days since the cat's disappearance, hoping stupidly that the scent would bring him back. It still sat there.
He didn't bother brushing his teeth. No point. No breakfast. No point. No sunlight. No point. No cleaning. No point. No work. No point.
Harry heard a meowing, soft and high. His heart raced in anticipation. He moved quickly for the first time in weeks. The atmospheric molasses had lifted, however briefly. He checked under the table, under the sofa. His search grew more desperate. Inside a drawer. Under the sink. Nothing. No Alexander. The meowing had faded, replaced by a deep growl. Without thinking, Harry approached the kitchen window and checked behind the shade. The outside light hit him, a solar lashing. There was a vicious curving nausea and an obliterating revulsion. He threw the shades closed and his vision faded from bright white to familiar, miserable dim. He took a deep, shuddering breath as his mental fog settled in once more. No feeling, no emotion, a totality of anesthesia. He sank in his own psychic bayou.
It had been hours? Days? Since Harry had heard the meowing. He was taunted by scritching in the night, soft chirps in the darkness, and even once a feeling of fur, soft and clean under his outstretched hand. But whenever he looked, it was gone.
The hound had taken its place.
He'd seen the hound in his childhood, when life grew dark and restless. He'd felt it nip at his heels. Its eyes were vortices of thieving darkness, its howl the beckoning of purest void. An avatar of a mental sinkhole, inescapable and insatiable. He hadn't seen it in years. Not until Alexander had left.
Since the cat's departure, the hound made itself known. Harry saw it at the corners of his vision. It sapped his strength and resolve, just as it did all those years ago. Over the weeks, the hound drained him. Harry fought at first, but all the fight had left him. In Alexander's vacancy, the hound declared victory.
Harry sat in his tub and ran the water lukewarm. His home had become a mausoleum as his options ran dry. He lifted the knife and placed it to his chest. Its tip had drawn blood in a steady stream down his naked abdomen. He shifted slightly and moved the knife from his left side to his wrist. It would delay the inevitable.
He steeled himself and slid the knife across. His blood began flowing, warm and smelling like smoke.
In those last moments, at the edges of his perception, there was a sound. The purr captured Harry's ears as it built to a shoegazing wall of sound, reverberating in his chest and conducting in his bones. He reached for it. He felt regret, loss for the hope he once had. Loss for letting down his friend. That last hope kindled and bloomed as Harry fought to hold some piece of goodness.
In the living room, in the twilight of Harry's happiness, Alexander and the nightmare engaged in tooth and claw.
The hound's charred fur wept smoke as it lunged for the cat's throat. In the space of that lunge and the shade of that last hope, Alexander grew leonine, his size rivaling the hound's. The hound's jaw closed on Alexander's massive paw. The cat's lifeblood, Harry's hope, flowed in a prismatic cataract, and pooled on the ground in rainbow brilliance. Harry's breath grew stronger, ragged and frantic, as Alexander resisted.
Alexander roared and Harry grasped the knife handle. In the living room, Alexander hooked a second paw inside the hound's mouth. Harry cast the knife aside, sending it skittering across the floor. Alexander's paws levered the hound's jaws. As Harry grasped his wound, his blood began to flow in reverse. The color returned to his face. The hound was losing ground.
Harry remembered warmth, safety, and peace. The hound's maw opened between Alexander's paws. Harry rose shakily from the tub. The jaws opened wider. The hound's skull began to crack and inky void flowed from its mouth. It howled in pain and Alexander roared in triumph. Harry closed his eyes, focused on the roar, focused on what his constant companion had gifted him.
He climbed from the tub, his hopelessness cast aside. The hound gave a pained howl as its jaw opened in a grotesque inversion. Its skull gave, milk-white bone erupting in a shower of gore from the nothingness.
There was silence.
Harry awoke in bed, running his hand across Alexander's fur. His chest ached, but there was no trace of the blade. The cat's paw hung limp as Alexander purred in pleasure. Harry looked out the open window. His neighbor was mowing the green, green grass. The sun hung resplendent in the suburban sky. He smiled and reclined in bed as Alexander crept onto his chest and nuzzled close. Harry looked at Alexander and blinked slowly. The cat blinked back.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 05:53|
A soft white glow ebbed from the street lights illuminating the gentle dance of falling snow. The fresh powder blanketed the quiet neighborhood of Arden Park giving it a serene postcard feel. All was still, save for the group of urban deer that appeared to be very out of place.
The largest of the stags lifted his head—a head that should have held a royal crown of antlers. His eyes glistened, alert for signs of man. A doe or even a lesser buck would be unnerved by the prospect of entering two-leg land but not Actaeon.
"Lord Actaeon... this... this isn't right," a small doe with a nurturing voice said. Her coat was smooth, yet dressed in multiple scars. She was a warrior, a mother who had protected her calf through the Changing.
Actaeon swung his head to peer at her. One eye was milky with age. The other swirled with anger. "Ossia. We have been through too much, for too long. The ley lines—our antlers—they are the difference between our survival or our demise as a species."
Ossia narrowed her eyes, "Doe's have gone centuries without the aid of antlers above our heads." She faltered before speaking again, "the God's have forsaken the bucks as well. Darwin has decreed that we must band together and evolve, or perish."
Actaeon's hide crawled, twitching with disbelief. Behind him, his fellow bucks snorted and stamped. They had been wronged, a gift as old as time had been taken from them. Their ability to find safe meadows and lead their herds had been ripped from their skulls leaving them with no sense of the world.
In normal times, Actaeon never would have come to man's land but he knew nought of where to go from here. His herd, his does, no longer trusted him. He no longer trusted himself.
He stepped forward, lowering his head in a battle stance, far less effective without his pointed spears. "A doe without respect for her Lord is no good to this herd. Ossia of Northwood, I hereby banish you. I banish any who believe in the Changing as right," he declared.
From behind Ossia stepped a young buck. No more than a few seasons old. His coat was red and marred in black spots. His eyes were cautious, yet bold. "Lord Actaeon, I ask you kindly to step away from my mother. This is no longer our way."
This seemingly enraged Actaeon further. He thrust forward, altering his direction to aim for the young buck. The young bucks' skull smashed against Actaeon's with a clunk that made even the strongest of the deer flinch.
"You know not of what we lost, Rowan!" Actaeon snorted, foam frothing around his muzzle. "You were birthed with natural Change. Your antlers were not apart of you," he spat. Steam rose from his parted maw as he prepared to lunge once more.
Rowan pulled back, rearing up on his hind legs and slashing forward with his front hooves catching Actaeon in the face. Blood spurted from a wound above the Lord's eye but he made no sound as he charged once more catching the smaller male in the chest.
Rowan stumbled, barely preventing himself from falling. "You are a blind old fool, Actaeon!" The title of 'Lord' was clearly absent. "We have been made stronger! Darwin has evolved the New World deer. Don't you see?" Rowan's sides heaved, struggling to catch his breath.
"See what?" Actaeon shouted, madness and blood crept upon his face. "See that Darwin has made a mockery of us? Made us look like hind? Left us without our natural order?"
Rowan shook his head. "You are lost in the old ways. Darwin has rid us of war. Taken the tools that threw us into disarray, controlled us season by season. We are free, the ley lines led us to believe we had to fight for our way of life. It is not so anymore," Rowan finished.
A cacophony of murmurs gave way amongst the herd. Some seeing the truth, others coming to grips with their new reality.
A trio of calves stumble out from underneath the protective legs of their mothers. This was their first season, thrown headfirst into a world without guidance. Tentatively they approached Actaeon, heads bowed—a sign amongst the young that they wished to speak.
Actaeon peered down at them, confused. "Thistle, Elian, Wind. You wish to speak, so speak. Make it quick, the council of monthlings in only so desired."
The smallest of the group, Elian, stepped forward. His fur mottled brown with flecks of white.
"Father, you have spoken in such a way that belittles even your own blood. You fail to see that all of us... all of us are equal now. Stags and does, calves... we are all alike. Nothing separates us." Elian looks almost scared for a moment, "Father, I have never had antlers. We do not know what you have lost..."
"But we know what you have gained," Thistle pitches in.
"We know that we are all Changed. But it is for the better, no more suffering," the albino fawn named Wind murmurs. Her red eyes glint with a knowing look. Something about her is different.
Actaeon steps away from her, giving his head a slight shake. His once proud face has fallen, his twelve seasons showing. He looks around at his kind, his herd he has led through many hardships. He is no longer the proud and resilient stag that fought his way to the top. No, he is tired. He does not have the energy or the strength to lead his kind through this Changing.
His blood paints the snow with a stark contrast. The herd is silent, awaiting his next words. Instead, Actaeon approaches Rowan. He speaks—not just to the lone red deer—but to all.
"The past season have been a reckoning. I do not pretend to see the justice in Darwin's theft, perhaps one day." Actaeon hesitates, "I am tired. I do not know which way I lead some days." His confession is solemn, the two-legs homesteads and chimneys a vast contrast to their usual backdrop.
"Rowan. Rowan, I ask you to lead the New World deer. I cannot, I do not know..." Actaeon sighs," I do not know what the future holds, but I am no longer able."
Soft gasps ring out, but nobody contests this declaration. The appointment of a new leader through non-battle is sacred.
Rowan is silent for only a moment.
"No." The one word casts a shadow on Actaeon's face, but before he can utter another word Rowan continues.
"As I said before, our time is different now. We are all equal. We lead together, our strengths and our weaknesses are our bond. Actaeon, you may be our last Lord but we need you."
Wind nudges her way back to the forefront, "Darwin smiles down on you two tonight. Darwin seeks not to abandon his children, but to teach them that life is only as hard as one chooses to make it."
Her eyes glow only briefly, but it is enough to reassure the herd that they are on the right path. They are not alone.
Lord Actaeon looked to the sky, flakes of frozen crystal beading on his brow. He had the stars to guide him, as nature intended.
It was time to take his herd home.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 06:00|
Low-key suburban magic, no blood, kitchen appliances are watching everything. What do they know?
Small ripples in the ink black coffee eventually formed a small whirlpool contained within tacky porcelain walls.
A print of a cute yawning cat, and a Hallmark approved idiom about Mondays had begun to fade where Kevin’s fingers gripped the cup.
It was a cheesy, sweet gift that Mark had got for him after he had awkwardly doted over it during a date. Kevin came to love the cup and remembered those early days of their relationship fondly.
His eyes lingered on the faded cat. The pink of its open mouth slowly being replaced with stark white. The striped brown and black fur disappearing in a blank ceramic snow that had always been beneath the lustrous porcelain.
Kevin heard Mark’s laugh echo out somewhere in the empty kitchen and he smiled briefly only to have that feeling replaced by a gnawing sensation that felt more like pangs of guilt than the endless decaying of his sorcerously bound organs.
He frowned then and felt quick cooling drops of warm coffee wash over his knuckles; a vortex whipped violently inside the cup.
Focusing on the cup, the coffee stilled. Kevin cut his eyes to the coffee maker, then slowly towards the microwave and then to the toaster which hummed in knowing recognition.
Not long after, toast erupted from its twin rectangular mouths, only to be suspended in air by a quick hand gesture and snatched with annoyance.
Kevin cut his eyes at the toaster and harrumphed before smearing a pad of avocado on one slice and fig marmalade on the other.
The reflection of a well-dressed, goose-footed lion stared back at Kevin before vanishing into chrome.
Kevin rested his head in his hands for a moment too long, and his supervisor, Dan, came trundling over.
“Long night, Kev?”
“Just the usual…”
“Well, try to be more energetic, if you can. We sell coffee, wouldn’t want customers thinking our coffee put you to sleep!” he said clapping Kevin on the shoulder.
Kevin groaned and turned towards his boss with a plastered-on smile. “Sure thing.”
Dan nodded with an equally artificial smile and made his way towards the deli.
Kevin began muttering vinegary words that sparked as the syllables passed his lips. An accompanying finger wag saw Dan’s shirt rebuttoned and his shoes retied.
He smirked and turned back towards the counter when the bean grinder whirred briefly of its own accord.
Kevin tossed a towel over the machine, pleased with himself and rested his head back into his hands as he watched Dan predictably stumble and trip over a cat food display.
Kevin’s mind turned to his faded mug at home, then to Mark’s aftershave, then to the feeling of his arms wrapped around his waist, or the sweet smell of his breath hitting his face in small gusts as he slept beside him.
The microwave dinged, and its door popped open. Kevin sighed. The goose-footed lion smiled in a nearby sink.
Kevin returned to a dark apartment. Smaller than the idyllic home he and Mark shared, but he could barely even afford this. Not needing to eat helped cut corners, but coffee seemed to be the one creature comfort Kevin couldn’t get rid of; he had even made it his day job.
Kevin made a cup to ease his nerves, and then pulled a second cup down from the cabinet. Mark’s cup. Swaths of brown and crimson stained the once white ceramic interior of the cup. The exterior was yellow, with ‘You are my Sunshine’ written in journal worthy cursive.
Next, Kevin scraped his palm with a flat knife over the cup, added a pinch of salt and poured in water. Last, he pricked his finger and squeezed. A thick, black bead of blood oozed onto the tip after several seconds of squeezing and he swished his finger in the water to thin the near coagulated blood into the mixture.
He snapped his fingers and the concoction blended into a goblet of fresh blood.
The ice maker started up like a dog growling a warning and Kevin weakly made his way down the lone hall of his one-bedroom apartment, wanting to have heeded it. His hand hovered over the handle to his room and he hesitated.
He could hear what was left of Mark sniffing inside the room, clawing against the inside of his impromptu luggage-case coffin.
Kevin fished the key from around his neck and entered the room. The elongated trunk that served as Mark’s coffin fell silent and then rocked gently as the key sawed its way into the lock.
He remembered Mark’s goofy smile and dried tear ducts tingled where a tear wanted to form.
Mark exploded from the luggage like a wild dog, and his claws pierced Kevin’s side while his forked tongue flittered in the darkness, eager for that life sustaining essence.
No blood ran from Kevin’s wounds, and no sooner had Mark made them, had Kevin silently sealed them back up.
Kevin ran his cold hands over Mark’s transformed arms. He locked eyes with that ravenous, blood-lusted thing that held onto him, and for a moment saw a glimpse of the man he once loved. Mark’s monstrous grip lessened, and it nuzzled his head against Kevin before it calmly begged for the cup.
Kevin handed it to him, and stroked his hair as he drank it all in. Then as Mark lay there sated, Kevin turned his own faded coffee cup in his hands and struggled to remember easier times that had all but faded away themselves.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 06:02|
SlipUp fucked around with this message at 21:24 on Dec 30, 2019
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 06:09|
curlingiron fucked around with this message at 08:57 on Dec 29, 2019
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 06:24|
Standing Under Waterfalls
I was 16 when I heard the sound of God for the first and only time in my life. My friend Ray had dragged me out of the suburbs to see a local punk band. I was hesitant at first, thinking it wasn’t my kind of music, plus crowds made me anxious. But Ray dug into the space between hesitation and just needing to be pushed a little until I had confessed that yeah, a punk show seemed pretty cool after all, compared to our usual Friday night routine of sneaking tallboys of Bud Lite out of his Dad’s fridge and playing video games until our eyes hurt. So the next Friday night I dressed as punk as I could muster, which wasn’t much, and waited for Ray to pick me up with butterflies in my stomach. The telltale backfire of his beat-up Volkswagen signaled his arrival, a goddawful racket blaring out of the speaker system.
“This the band?” I shouted as I settled into my seat.
“Hell yes. Agoraphobia.” He turned it down a few notches, bobbing his head along to the thump of the kick drum. “Honestly” he said as we drove off, “the band isn’t anything special, but just wait until the guitarist shows up. Fuckin’ unreal man.” He turned it back up and I settled in to listen as the miles between us and downtown grew shorter. The drums cut off for a split second, replaced with the strangest sound I’d ever heard in my life: It began with a soft hiss, like radio static, and then a sound like sheet metal being slowly torn in two, pinning me to my seat. Two notes, quick as lightning and warped all to hell, and then the drums kicked back in. I turned off the soundsystem, my hands shaking.
“What the hell was that? I feel like my eardrums just got hosed by a jackhammer”
Ray beamed at me from the driver’s seat “That.” He said, nodding at the stereo “was Johnny Two-Tone”.
I laughed, too stunned for words. I clicked the stereo on again and we drove on, letting the music fill every corner of space with sound.
“Gotta make one quick stop before we hit the gig” Ray said as we pulled in to an abandoned-looking strip mall. “You got that blood coin I asked you to whip up last week?” I fished around my pockets, tossing him the coin when I found it. Ray held it up to the light and nodded approvingly.
“Good poo poo. How’d you like that ritual?”
“Fuckin’ pain in the rear end. Literally. Pricked it for the source.”
“Oh my god, what the hell is wrong with you?” he laughed “Addie is gonna get a kick out of this. C’mon”
He led me to a tired looking video-rental place, walking right in with no hesitation, while I hung nervously in the background, peering at dusty tapes, trying to see which ones I recognized from their covers.
“Yo Addie! Get your rear end out here!” I jumped a little at Ray’s shout, the echo seeming to multiply, or maybe I was just nervous and imagining things. A slim blonde girl I vaguely recognized from school walked up to the counter, fire in her eyes.
“Ray, if you tell me to “get my rear end over here” ever again I will turn you into a mouse and feed you to my snake, I loving swear.” She glared at him for a minute and the air was heavy with tension.
Ray was the first to laugh, diffusing the silence, Addie joined in. I stood silent, wishing I could be anywhere else.
“So what do you need?”
Ray pointed at me. “Taking my buddy here to his first show, thought you could whip him up a fake.”
Addie nodded. “No sweat. You got coin?” Ray plunked my blood coin down on the counter.
“Guess what genius over there picked for the source”
“Ray please don’t---”
“His rear end. You’re dealing with rear end magic!” He guffawed and I felt a blush creeping up my neck.
“rear end magic huh?” Addie rolled her eyes. “Get over here rear end wizard. Let me take a look at you”
I walked over, my knees shaking.
“Relax O Posteri-mancer. I don’t bite. You got ID of some sort? School ID will do.”
I fumbled my ID on the counter.
“Awesome. Close your eyes for a sec.”
In the darkness her hands felt warm on my face as she muttered words too low for me to catch.
“Aight we’re done, go ahead and open ‘em”
I did, seeing my face in reflected back at me in Addie’s tiny compact mirror, older but not unrecognizably so.
“What the gently caress. This is crazy” I grinned.
“Pretty neat huh? It’ll last for about three hours or so, more than enough time for you to have some fun. Okay that’s it for me. You guys enjoy your show.” She waved goodbye and disappeared into the backroom.
Unsurprisingly I had no trouble with the ID check at the venue, and even less trouble at the bar. Ray waved off my offer of a drink.
“It’s all you tonight man” he said. I bought a tallboy of Bud Lite in a fit of nostalgia and wormed my way through the crowd, looking for a good vantage point. Just as I found my place the house lights went down, plunging the venue into split-second darkness, before a familiar kick drum rhythm assaulted my ear drums. The baseline hit me like a punch in the gut. The band cut out and I held my breath, waiting for what would come next.
The first note felt like it tore my head in two, the second like it had split the earth. Johnny Two-Tone himself was barely visible, hidden behind a wall of amplifiers, his guitar emitting waves of screeching feedback that just sucked you in deeper and deeper into an auditory black hole. Noise, signal, all of it blended into one, impossible to tell apart, a singular, guttural roar that consumed all of your body, your mind. Time stretched out, the two notes hanging in the air forever, playing counterpoint to themselves, the other instruments subjugated to their tyranny. After what felt like an eternity, the house lights came on, I looked at Ray with a dumbstruck grin and rode the high all the way back to the car.
The tape played all through the drive back, but something was missing. The bass and guitar still thrashed in tight lockstep, but Two-Tone’s guitar was nowhere to be heard, erased off the recording, or maybe due to hearing damage, even though I’d worn earplugs. I was mildly worried, but Ray told me it would sort itself out in the morning.
To make a long story short, it didn’t. I could hear everything perfect, but I was never able to hear Two-Tone's guitar again, try as I might. I even tried to pick up the guitar myself, and Ray and I formed a few short-lived bands before girls and the twin chaos of time and distance drove us apart. I tried so hard to play his noise, his tones, but all that would come out was silence, the dry hiss of a powered on amplifier turning into mocking laughter until I packed up my gear and went off to college. Every now and again, I listen to those old recordings, trying to catch the faintest note, the least little shard of texture, but I don’t think I ever will.
In all honesty, maybe it's better that way.
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 06:25|
Ink Is Thicker Than Blood
Shelly Northquist appeared in her new home and, in minutes, flagrantly defied several of her HOA’s bylaws. Her wooden shutters flipped inwards, her mailbox began singing arias, and peculiar patterns shredded into her lawn.
Complaints were filed. Mostly, over what the neighbors called “Witchy Business”. The complaints grew until, one day, Barbara Sperling, the HOA president, had to put on her flashiest pearls and pointiest rings and knock on this troublemaker’s door.
Barbara walked past the mailbox as it sang a spirited rendition of Nessun Dorma, and knocked on the door. Shelly answered, Barbara gasped. Many of Shelly’s features were instantly recognizable: her shock of red curls, persistent cheerful smile, and diminutive stature alone gave her away, and then there were her trademark green-framed glasses. Shelley didn’t mind being recognizable, so long as she had something to close between her and the rest of the world.
“That’ll be all then?” Shelley asked, cheerfully. And swiftly, yet softly, shut the door.
Barbara turned. “It’s Shelly Northquist!” she said aloud to the gaggle of nearby neighbors who were casually leaning on trees and pretending to find the clouds interesting.
From inside, Shelly chuckled, turned around in her foyer and ran her hand along the balusters as she glided up the stairs. Cardboard moving boxes beckoned Shelly to be opened as she entered her library. She ignored their whispering pleas and approached her desk. Atop the desk was Lex, her famous typewriter. Though the world knew it by name, few knew of the power endowed within it.
She consulted her calendar. “Ah, Taurus’s blessing for the next few weeks. My hands shall be free to knit.” Shelly sat down and held her hands above Lex. She thought of an opening sentence. The keys fell and clicked as if pushed by invisible fingers as they imprinted ink onto the paper.
As the words flowed, Shelly reached into a drawer, withdrew a spool of powder-blue yarn, and absentmindedly began knitting a scarf. She slipped quietly into a rhythm and lost her sense of time.
Shelly soldiered on for months. Hard at work, she held onto a blissful ignorance of the neighbors who found many occasions to ‘misplace’ items in her yard, or knock on her door with concerns of ‘siding rot’ that would certainly need to be addressed immediately. In the wee hours of the night, Shelly collected the mail. She discarded the bills, and the junk but took all personally addressed pieces up to her study, and deposited them in a slot within a cabinet next to her desk.
Shelly was hard at work finishing her penultimate chapter, the blessing of Leo provided a delicate warmth within her fingertips with the punch of each key. As she concluded the chapter, a familiar emptiness swelled in her stomach. Shelly wandered over to her cabinet below. When she opened it, thousands of envelopes spilled out.
Three days later, 17-year-old Elizabeth Wright knocked on the door of Shelly Northquist’s house. Shelly greeted her with a hug and whispered in her ear “I’m so proud of you!”
The clandestine mystique of Shelly’s writing process melted away at this moment. The world was well aware of how she ended her novels.
Shelly prepared a Monte Cristo sandwich in a pan for Elizabeth while they spoke in her kitchen.
“So, dear, any guess as to why I chose your letter?”
Elizabeth smiled. She spoke, quickly.
“I can’t imagine many took my approach. I suppose you weeded out the countless letters that tried much of anything else.”
Shelly knew exactly what Elizabeth was talking about, but was thrilled to hear more.
“And what might that approach be?”
“I wrote you a story, and nothing else. I didn’t explain why I’d be a good choice, I showed you. I’ve read everything you’ve written and scrutinized your interviews. It’s always about the story, isn’t it?”
Tears welled up in Shelly’s eyes as the griddled sandwich turned a perfect golden brown. She plated it, set it in front of Elizabeth, and sat across from her.
“Always. And don’t you ever forget that, you beautiful thing.”
Following lunch, Shelly ushered Elizabeth to her library.
“Are you ready, dear?”
Elizabeth, seemingly endowed with unyielding confidence was suddenly reserved, and quiet.
“I... erm… I didn’t think we’d get started right away.”
“We must! I have a deadline, you know.”
Elizabeth's face twisted in confusion. “You still have deadlines?”
“Of course I do! How do you think I get so much done! Open her up, my library is yours for the next three weeks.”
“You’ll help me, right?” Elizabeth asked.
“You have my full support, dear. I have a great many ideas about how to close off this novel, and I am happy to share as many as you need, but the typing, that shall be your task. I won’t censor anything, I will only do my best to guide you.”
Elizabeth nodded and pushed open the door.
The darkness of the room caught Elizabeth’s attention.
“In here too then, huh?” She asked, pointing at the shutter-covered windows.
“That’s my process.”
“What, living in darkness?” Elizabeth frowned.
“It’s not about the darkness. I’m not as brooding as all that. It’s about peace. Shall I show you what I mean?”
Shelly walked to her window and pushed the shutter outward. A bright camera flash instantly filled the room, followed by the shrieking of the HOA’s own, Barbar Sperling, who was standing in the neighbor’s yard, along with a dozen others. Some held up baked goods, as they loudly prattled. Shelly pulled the shutter back in.
“I’d say they mean well,” she shrugged. “But, they don’t.”
Shelly drifted towards her typewriter and rested her hand on the return.
“By discarding all distractions from my life, I have managed to do some remarkable work.”
“But, aren’t I a distraction?” She asked.
“Yes,” Shelly said. “But a welcome one. My process works, and so far as I know, it’s the only way that works for me. But, I’m hopeful that by helping you develop your talents here and now, you will be able to, one day, create all on your own, without giving up as much as I have.”
Shelly beckoned Elizabeth to sit in the chair. Elizabeth tentatively sat down and Shelly stood behind her, and gently placed her hands on Elizabeth’s shoulders.
“Over the next month, you and I shall create together. We will work together. We will do our best to be of one mind and one heart, all in the name of that illustrious goal: The Story. How does that sound?”
Elizabeth trembled as she squeaked, “OK.”
Shelly stayed true to her word. Elizabeth, like the others before her, did indeed have the authority over the ending of the novel.
Elizabeth typed, without any blessings, as Shelly sat on the couch nearby. When Elizabeth finished a page, she’d hand it to Shelly who would review it, mark it up, and hand it back to Elizabeth.
“Try again.” She’d say.
Elizabeth did, over and over again. Some days hardly any forward progress was made on the novel, but Elizabeth grew.
When Elizabeth handed Shelly the first shot at the ending, Shelly nodded.
“No corrections needed, dear. Well done.”
Shelly signed the bottom of the last page and handed it to Elizabeth who signed it as well. Shelly walked over to her cabinet and pulled out her knitted sky-blue scarf.
“This is for you, my dear. I hope you fondly remember our days together.”
She handed the scarf to Elizabeth who nuzzled her face in the soft yarn.
Shelly smiled at Elizabeth “Dear, before we close off this draft, and we go our separate ways, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Of course, anything,” Elizabeth responded.
“When I’ve passed. Please, speak well of me.”
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 07:15|
Flesnolk fucked around with this message at 00:59 on Jan 2, 2020
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 08:53|
and that's a perfect week
ya dun me proud TD, i look forward to slowly and thoughtfully savoring your entries
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 09:08|
|# ? Nov 18, 2019 09:17|
jonjoe sniffs butts sometimes
|# ? Nov 19, 2019 04:55|
jonjoe sniffs butts sometimes
this is true. also, brawl me.
|# ? Nov 19, 2019 04:56|
Chili Jon Space Brawl
In a galaxy were good is good and evil is evil there are epic battles waged across worlds deciding the fates of trillions. You two are going to give me an epic space opera for the ages. You have 2500 words and until 11:59 MST December 6th, 2019.
Good luck, the fate of humanity rests in your hands.
|# ? Nov 19, 2019 05:10|
|# ? Nov 19, 2019 05:11|
|# ? Nov 19, 2019 05:12|
|# ? Nov 20, 2019 06:45|
This is why I stopped participating in these. I can’t write stories for poo poo. At least it’ll give me a chance to fix the spelling of “Gekko” in my avatar
|# ? Nov 20, 2019 06:57|
sephiRoth IRA posted:
This is why I stopped participating in these. I can’t write stories for poo poo. At least it’ll give me a chance to fix the spelling of “Gekko” in my avatar
The secret of TD is that the only way to get better at writing is to keep writing, so keep it up!
|# ? Nov 20, 2019 07:02|
|# ? Jun 3, 2023 05:09|
The secret of TD is that the only way to get better at writing is to keep writing, so keep it up!
I know, it’s the same as any other skill I’m too sensitive about it. I guess if I leave the avatar on I have nothing to lose for the next contest.
|# ? Nov 20, 2019 07:04|