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Nov 15, 2012

What will you say when
your child asks:
why did you fail Thunderdome?


Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Chili posted:

Just a quick reminder to all story starters in thunderstone christmas! Get your half in so your closers have time to finish things off! So far, only one has been submitted and passed along to a closer.

Don't post anything here. If you have any questions or concerns, message me directly!

Quoting for the new page

Sep 15, 2010


That's just a bullshit word.

Mar 14, 2012

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Sign ups closed.

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

📡scanning🛰️ for good game 🎮design🦔🦔🦔
Angry words about week 382

Alright so I got an HM for this week and was elated and thought "awesome, that means I beat all these other people!!!" and saw it wasn't that many entries, so I decided to read through them all and give some crits and also jerk myself off because I overcame so many other worthy opponents

and you know what? I'm super mad now because there's SO MANY BAD WORDS in this week, like seriously, makes sense that I won with a dialogue-only entry despite being utter garbage at dialogue (as professionally noted by the head judge man himself)

so here's me making GBS threads all over you in an extremely objective manner, don't you dare thank me for the crits

Mrenda - Internet Dating Fifteen Years After Having Been Raped

Now that's a title. It does an incredible amount of work, it's so blunt and sets the tone immediately and it's possibly the best sentence written this week despite not actually being IN a story. Good job.

But that's a conclusion I came to after having read the rest of your story. If you had written badly, the title would have sucked, it's funny how these things worked. And I was prepared to go "lol this is set up to be garbage" after the first few paragraphs, admittedly, because it took me quite a bit to get into the style you're using, how disjointed the sentences are, how much of a mood painting you're establishing instead of telling a more traditional story.
It overall works, don't get me wrong, but it's a bit of a hard sell. It doesn't help that this story's Bad Words (I'm gonna single those out for everyone don't worry) are right at the start.

"It’s not libidinal; it reminds me every time I log in. It soothes me a little. More than a little: this deep blue, this light yellow. It’s bold text with lighter, delicate words beneath. The site is a whole world to me; safe I guess. Its blue and yellow is calm. It’s my world. It’s me and my face. Like it’s normal to list your loves. ‘Loves’ is such a strong word. Such a strong sentiment. What do I love? Can I love?"

This crosses the line from stream-of-consciousness writing to utter nonsense. I have no idea how "libidinal" (fundamentally awkward word on its own) features into what it MIGHT refer to (the words "You're Beautiful" right before), and the second part of the sentence ("it" reminds me, what's it again?), and what comes after. Also, the colors, the text; it's probably meant to tell me how the dating site looks like, but you jump from words to color to text back to color, and I'm just here imagining an actual dating site that looks blue and yellow like presentation slides made clearly by psychopaths who think that black on white is just too casual and I'm out of it.

Fortunately, your story then finds its voice and focus and I can start enjoying it. The horny messages might be cliché, but it's something that objectively happens, a lot, and that grounds it again in a reality I get (as an observer, I'm male after all), and I can begin to feel what your protagonist feels.

What I'm saying is the old adage of "delete the first few paragraphs".

One small thing that took me out again (sadly, because I was in it now, her musings about making the profile are way stronger than the way too on the nose "I want to feel loved" parts at the start) was the "Ro" - it didn't read as a name to me and confused me for way too long. I think just a simple "Ronan. Ro." would help AND convey that she's started to give this one dude a nickname.

It's at this point where the lack of chronology in the storytelling becomes a strength rather than a source of confusion. Especially when it becomes grounded in a moment again, that gives it a sense of tension and urgency. It's good stuff.

I hesitate to call the story overall "realistic" because it's really not my place to judge that. But it reads believable, and the text and style work really well together with the few things that are actually happening to paint a picture of the protagonist and her fears and urges, and that's all encapsulated in the title, again. High bar set at the start that obviously nobody managed to clear.

sephiRoth IRA - Tribal Council

We start a trend here which I'm extremely guilty of myself, and that is terrible invented usernames. I don't know why it always makes me cringe to see another [StoryRelatedName][number], but it does, and it's weird innit? Maybe it's because it's honestly a bit of an outdated cliché that people on the internet are called xXx_S3x_Goku_69, I feel like that was very early day internet (and I realize I'm talking to someone named after loving Sephiroth, yes). Nowadays, popular internet people are called stuff like "The [X] Guy" or "Andy", and even tons of goons are either "Pigballs With Cream" or "Arwenithia". I don't know, it irks me, and because you're the first to do it you get to read this weird screed. Sorry_not_sorry_1989

So anyway your actual story - its main problem is that it wears its premise on its sleeve and then just spools that down rather bloodlessly. It's like reading a QCS thread, and that weird dichotomy between "extremely realistic" and "but in real life" rather leads to making the real life (and therefore exciting, because there are real people not accounts!!!) parts more dull instead of making the realistic (for an online forum) parts more dramatic. This is, of course, due to Bad Words.

"The youth screamed again, keening over the wind, but it would not stop the swing of the club. The stone cracked against his skull, showering him in blood and sending him into the depths of unconsciousness. The users pushed his insensate body over the side of the cliff and it crashed to the rocks below."

A scream is not a keen. Of course it cannot stop the club, it could maybe make the wielder hesitate, but that's not what you say. Cracked "against" his skill devalues the impact. The rock doesn't shower him in blood, his own blood does. It reads like the rock is showered. "Depths of unconsciousness" is both a cliché and a spoiler, it already tells us he'll survive. What the hell kind of word is "insensate".

And it ends with a weird tangent about having to choose a new username, like what does that want to convey? I don't get it and I don't like it. Word better.

Simply Simon - Catching Up

In the name of fairness, I looked for my own Bad Words. Here:

"<Steph-O 10:58 PM> didn’t you tell me not to give personal details
to strangers on the internet
i was so young when we met
you taught me to be cautious
<Steph-O 11:01 PM> real life did the rest"

This is clichéd and unsubtle and makes me want to die for having written it. It's typical for me to struggle with a paragraph, just squeeze something out to keep the writing going, and I really really need to get into the habit to mark these difficult paragraphs and go back later and fix them to not be garbage. Maybe that can serve as a reminder for other people to do the same. It's extremely rare that I struggle with something and immediately find a good solution to the struggle.

Carl Killer Miller - As We Soar Into the Burning Eye

As other people said, it's impossible to keep track of who any of these people are. Just from remembering my first pass, you have Eva the child, Monica the concerned woman, Howard who survives for the longest due to inaction, and other people who get killed off along the way. Also I just summed up their entire characters.

I read in an early crit when I was just starting out that it's always a gamble to have more than even two characters in a TD story, because it's extremely hard to get a hold of even one agonist's personality within a few hundred words, let alone three. You show a clear example for how this is most of the time extremely true.

As for the story itself, you waste a lot of time with people just chatting, and here's a big secret: small talk tells you nothing about someone, that's what it's explicitly meant for. You can talk to Andy from Accounting (that's the Andy from your story btw, it's probably the same guy) for literal years about his opinion re: the weather, the local sports team, and what he's gonna have for lunch, and not actually KNOW Andy. This is what's happening at the start. Oh right I forgot that Monica likes to drink that's a substitute for a personality right?

The creepy messages are so hilariously over the top that I cannot take them seriously at all, and neither do the characters so ya know why would I (your Bad Words are all of them). It's utter gibberish that's meant to sound ominous and foreboding but just looks like a bot got fed some apocalyptic ramblings by random cult scripts. The only thing that kinda works is that Eva's mom is connected to the cult itself, but as the cult itself, its goal and everything else in the story doesn't make a lick of sense it really doesn't help. If I were to suggest conscructive critique, I'd say keep the idea of a flight doomed willingly by most of its own passengers, but ramp up slower, use less people, and think of a more grounded reason than "weird apocalyptic cult" for what's going on.

sparksbloom - The Very Best of the Pineapplettes

This is another typical example of a godawful first paragraph, it's rambly, full of exposition, and spoils something that could really be introduced later as a bit of a twist. Also, who the gently caress even in their most "cheese"-starved state of derangement (I'm 95% sure that Kraft Singles are vegan due to not being cheese btw) would eat the plastic wrapping? Instantly out of the story, sorry.

Your story overall suffers from plot threads that are ephemeral at best, just float by with little reason to be there. What's up with the roommate who's just slightly annoyed by the protag? What is the purpose of Jean, is she the personification of the fanbase or the One Good Fan, or the one who's TOO invested (despite all of them being)? Why pineapples even? The entire Kraft singles video (WHY HAS IT BEEN RECORDED?) is utterly baffling to me, I don't even get if the protag did in fact upload it or not or is just wildly paranoid and delusional that their followers barely cracking the 1k mark would somehow find out.

These are your specific Bad Words that exemplify my issues with your story.

"My phone started ringing and it was my mom and I put it on silent, because my mom can be extremely dramatic on the phone. As I thought about how to respond to Jean it hit me that she had seen the video. The Kraft Singles video. I know I shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have taken it, but I absolutely had to (I think I needed the protein and I wanted to remind myself that I had the protein) and now Jean and probably the rest of the world wide web had seen it. And horrors of horrors my new video was now getting new comments."

I don't get the purpose of the mom, the protag is jumping to conclusions that might seem paranoid but maybe not, because his decision-making and conclusion-drawing is so detached from reality that I honestly thought until the re-read that he actually did upload the Kraft singles video by accident because they were vitamin-starved or whatever.

Someone in the thread finally mentioned that this is all due to the protag not taking their meds (which is part of the Bad Words quoted) and I'm sorry if this is super obvious to someone with mental health issues (again, not my place to judge) but the entire thing just left me with a huge ??? in a way that Mrenda's story, despite also being about an experience I can't even begin to imagine, didn't.

Anomalous Amalgam - Becoming Close

axe the first paragraph jeez (it has been noted but it's really weirdly specific and useless)

This story was extremely forgettable to me (I had to re-read it just to remember what it was even about), because I feel like it's going nowhere and its emotional core is not hitting me at all. This is all due to your Bad Words:

"A: Well, he’s my mom’s baby brother. My mom got married and my dad moved us for business reasons but kept us in Europe. My mom’s brother left home early on, never looked back. Only sent my mom and I care packages from time to time.

J: Sounds like an alright enough guy. What’s the hang up?

A: Dude was weird. In the weird uncle kind of way.

J: poo poo man, I’m sorry. That’s really hosed."

The first message is very long and detailed and clunky, and it makes me think about who's whose brother for way too long, so the "twist" hit me out of nowhere. I don't know how Julia sees a "hang up" in what August says, for me "lives on another continent but does keep contact through mail" is enough reason to not visit someone often. I would also have instantly accepted "weird uncle" as a euphemism for ANYTHING but what Julia jumps to - he's got questionable hygiene, he collects model trains at hoarder level, he is secretly gay and his sister resents him, whatever - but Julia zeroes in on "oh poo poo that means he molested you as a kid" and is somehow correct?

For me, this kill the story, because it deals with August's unwillingness to see the uncle despite him being a good excuse to come to the states and maybe possibly cheat on his wife with Julia. There's a lot of tension there and it would be a good thing to explore if I wasn't still baffled by how a conversation between two internet aquaintances can go from "I don't see my uncle often because he's weird" to "I'm so sorry he molested you" within a blink of an eye.

Thranguy - Or Have I Found My Place

oh hey, UsernameNumber strikes again. You can tell again how much you as well struggled with finding good internet names because Halcyon's number switches from 205 to 215 in the middle of your story.

Anyway, it's a very bare-bones goon meet story that does not begin hopeful but ends in tragedy but the other way around, which is fine but leaves me a bit cold. I feel like there's too little conflict in the story to develop any kind of tension, making it even more bizarre when you introduce it:

"Not all of us could, of course. One thing we knew about Hal was that they hated planes. Well, 'knew' is too strong a word. But they never once posted a picture of an airplane, maybe even 'shopped them out of skies according to MythicTree77, our resident imaging guru. Lots of trains, a few cars and boats and busses, but never a plane. And they probably read those discussions, could have dropped a picture of a 737 to prove us all wrong. We decided it would be wrong to fly there. If one of us couldn't get there on land, they'd go on someone else's phone."

In these Bad Words of yours, you think you need to establish a reason why some people can't show up to the funeral of a stranger - even if you accept that literally everybody wants to, there's no reason to explain that some can't without introducing the plane phobia. Plane rides are expensive! Some people can't take vacations! But it goes even further: it's completely bizarre to me that people would deduce from "no pictures of airplanes" that this one guy just utterly loathes them. You justify it with some internet detective work they did which at the same time seems flimsy from the premise and leaves me wanting - I could have imagined a paragraph of two about the community pooling their obsessive resources to basically doxx Halcyon posthumously, making them work to even find the funeral, but the address is just given to them freely. Instead the community effort is spent to explain why some of them can't come due to needing a plane but not deciding to take one. It's so weird.

Because you don't take a single opportunity to establish tension, conflict or tragedy, I'm left to wonder what you even wanted to tell with that story.

Something Else - Never Log On

The final story has the final opening paragraph that needs to just go, it reads weird, it tells us nothing except for one incredibly unsubtle final sentence. No! Bad words! But not the Bad Words I want to focus on.

"There’s no straight line that can be drawn from these obscenities and the product of my loins without breaking all known laws of physics."

These are your Bad Words. Good Lord is that a terrible sentence. It's my personal favorite bad sentence of the week. Line, loins, physics. Remarkable.

This is a central problem of your story: exploring how a parent realizes that their son is falling in with a bad crowd online, pointing out (as the author) in a subtle way that this is due to their own bad parenting, but keeping that realization (for the protag) just dangling out of reach, that's good stuff. I really liked your small details hinting at this, like calling the kid "my little prince", showing how spoiled they must be, but you fail to stick the landing of this great premise because the words are too clunky too often.

You seem to mostly struggle with writing a protag that does not understand the online world, because you of course do understand it. This is similar to (bad) fish out of water stories, where clueless protagonists try to find wide-eyed explanations for things that are hilariously mundane to the viewer. This is extremely hard to get right, and you don't, I'm sorry. The boomer parent becomes a cliché out of a political cartoon. A little conservative and prude, a little too into guns themselves, a little doting, and out of touch of course - it doesn't add up to a coherent character.

Another example for that is the Dirger-Prime username, which is "a reference I have to count on Plato not to understand" - you want to establish that the protag thinks in old references, thinks the son will not get them because Kids These Days, and is somehow too dumb to just choose ANYTHING ELSE that does not require obfuscation because it is not a reference to anything. It also doesn't help that *I* don't get the reference.

And yes, the ending is completely out of nowhere and a bizarre conclusion unless you accept the protag as a boomer cliché who obviously thinks guns are a coherent answer to any problem.

Overall, it's weird that internet natives like us struggle so much with writing stories about the internet, but it does make sense if you think about it
- many of these stories are things that can and do actually happen all the time, which we know about, or have read about, or even have experienced, so it's tough to write something that is also a good story and not just a retelling of That One Time We Had A IRL Meetup And Two Of Us hosed.
- Goons have always kind of hated the wider internet and transitioned quantum leap like from "first to be extremely online and thinking about the meta effects of the internet in a pioneer way" to "completely left behind by the grander internet trends because we don't get it and don't want to".

Anyway I hated almost all of these stories, write better next time, maybe about cities, that should allow you to tell stories about foreign and exciting experiences because you all never leave the basement!!!

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

Rain on the Bodhisattva’s House

730 words

Lilian Ng paced across the city, trying to outrun the images of her ex-lover with his arms around another woman. She wove between lunchtime shoppers, breathing hard in the oppressive heat. Her neck ached from nights of bad sleep. She couldn’t stop seeing his hands twined through the woman’s hair, his fingers on the skin of her waist. His mouth pressed against her lips. Lilian hid her fists in the pockets of her loose-fitting shorts and dug her fingernails into her palms. Tears blurred her vision. Her sandal caught the edge of a cracked paving stone and she stumbled, knocking into an elderly woman pulling a handcart full of vegetables. Face flushed red, Lilian fled from the woman’s sharp-tongued admonishment through the green-tiled gateway to an old temple.

The temple was walled in on three sides by towering apartment blocks. Its vermillion front pillars were faded and peeling, and its tiled roof had been patched with sheets of corrugated iron. A rusty vending machine offered incense sticks to visitors. Lilian ran her hand through her short-cropped hair, tugging at it while she sniffed back her tears. The heat was making her nauseous. She fed the machine a handful of coins, and stepped into the temple’s shade.

The temple was dimly lit by bare bulbs strung from blackened roof struts. Ceiling fans dragged their tips through the smoke-filled air like fingertips through water. Lilian heard the sound of a radio drifting from a back room. She walked to the far alter, her hand clutched around her trio of incense sticks. Lilian didn’t recognise the female bodhisattva; her grandmother would have scolded her for that. The cracked vinyl kneeling cushion squeaked as Lilian squatted on it, and wrapped her arms around her knees.

His words came back to her. I never meant to hurt you.

Pinching the incense between her thumb and forefinger Lilian jabbed the sticks into a basin of sand before the altar. She took a lighter from her breast pocket. Her hand was trembling and it took her several attempts to flick the flame to life.

But you did, she thought. You did.

The incense smoke curled through the still air. Lilian hugged her knees and lowered her chin onto her forearms, lips pressed together to stop them shaking.

Fat raindrops plinked against the temple’s roof with a sound like plucked guitar strings. The first few notes rose to the roar of a tropical downpour and the temple darkened as the daylight from the door was obscured by storm clouds.

A gust of wind made the tips of the burning incense flare red. Lilian looked up at the glowering bodhisattva. Her grandmother used to make the same face. Once, Lilian had come home from school crying after some girls stole her lunch. Her grandmother had scrubbed the tears from her face and told her to forgive them. Lilian, horrified, had asked why her grandmother was taking her persecutors’ side. The old woman had clacked her prayer beads. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not for them, she had said.

Lilian jumped as rain dripped from the patchwork roof onto the back of her neck. Water was dripping on the bodhisattva, leaving a dirty streak like the wooden woman had spilled something on her robe. Lilian tsk’d. She stood up and glanced around the deserted temple, then shucked the cuff of her cotton shirt over her hand. Leaning her belly against the altar rail she stretched forward and wiped the dust from the carved statue. Satisfied, Lilian rolled up her sleeve to hide the grimy cuff. Her fingertips ran through her hair, straightening it out where her sweat had dried. Her stomach growled and she realised she hadn’t eaten all day.

Lilian stood in the temple doorway and lit a cigarette with a single, easy flick. She watched the downpour ease to a light rain that danced on the steam from the hot pavement. Across the street the old woman with her burden of vegetables emerged from the shelter of a shop doorway. A sui mai cart with a hastily erected taupaulin was making its way down the street trailing mouth-watering steam. Lilian blew a lungful of smoke into the rain-cooled air and smiled. She flicked the butt of her cigarette into the swollen gutter and stepped back into the flow of the city.

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:

When We Went Back Home
1160 words

The first time I met my grandfather, my Ajoba, I cried inconsolably. My uncle put me in a rickshaw and took me from my grandparents' cramped apartment to our maternal family home, The Brahmin Society. He asked me why I cried, what was wrong, but I couldn't answer him.

My grandfather is blind and crippled. My dad lionized his father when I grew up. Told me he was a great man, a community organizer, a savvy businessman. When I saw my Ajoba sitting in a stained nightshirt, his eyes rheumy and opaque, his toothless smile sunken and hollow, I froze. He hugged me. He was thin, skeletal, smelled of age and acrid betel nut. I couldn't handle the closeness of his humanity. I cried and wouldn't stop.

I grew up in a town northwest of Chicago. The suburb was safe, the school district good, the people easy and friendly. My parents' home was and is spotless. I'd walk outside and the air smelled like nothing. When I was ten, my mother began hauling suitcases from a cabinet under the basement stairs. The family would spend the next month in India.

I had been there before, but I was too young to remember anything substantial. I had snatches of memory: a truck gifted on my birthday, fireworks in our courtyard, the swaying trees in roaring rain, the stray dogs on the streets.

At Brahmin Society, my uncle took out his front false teeth with his tongue, waggling them grotesquely while arching his eyebrows. He was trying to make me laugh. It didn't take. I was ten years old, a man, I had come of age, and I cowered like a child. He left, frustrated, and I had Brahmin Society to myself.

Thane, where my parents grew up, is a bustling city an hour from Bombay by train. Street hawkers and congested sidewalks add to the din of greasy trucks and rickshaws, but Brahmin Society is different. Down a side street, through a back alley, a stone passage opens to a tranquil courtyard of ancient flagstones, where tropical trees shelter it from the outside noise. Here, it is quiet. The family residence is up a staircase with banisters wearing rusted busts of Queen Victoria, relics from our colonial heritage. There are other apartments in my family's home, sectioned off over the years. The inhabitants are quiet, shadowy people that I rarely saw. The woman downstairs hadn't spoken to the family in years on account of some fuzzy quarrel, our other neighbor left before dawn to drive his rickshaw and returned far after I'd fallen asleep. There were others I knew even less.

Brahmin Society exuded calm, the eye in a storm of noise. Today was different. I felt shame at my childish rejection, confusion at not being able to hold him. I hoped I hadn't hurt him, this man that life had hurt so badly. I searched the house for something familiar.

Upstairs, outside of the main house on the roof, is a little stone outhouse with the home's only 'American-style' toilet. I sat on that toilet with the lid closed. It was as close to home as I could get. A fat cockroach flitted across the floor. The room smelled of thick heat, Marlboros, and Pear soap. I settled in and began reading the back of the soap box, then the shampoo and conditioner. We'd brought them from America. They were my aunt's favorite. I calmed myself. I'd finished the warning on the back of the Marlboros when I heard a call from downstairs.

"Are you up there? What happened?"

It was my father. I left the toilet and walked down the narrow stairs, my head full of shame.

"Yeah Dad, I'm here." My Marathi was better back then, but I needed to speak English. He looked concerned, not angry. I felt guiltier. I sat down on the sofa downstairs and put my head in his lap, then curled my body into his. We were quiet for a moment, then he spoke.

"He loves you, you know. Can I tell you a story?"

He stroked my hair, deep in thought. I couldn't tell my him that Ajoba sightlessly grasping in my direction had scared me. Dad didn't wait for my answer.

"When I was younger, when Ajoba was more able, we went on a walk. He wore thick, black glasses and used a cane to skirt around the beggars, the sewer grates, the trash. Without telling him anything, I tried closing my eyes as we walked."

I sat up and looked at him. He was in his own world.

"I couldn't manage it for more than five seconds. I was terrified of running into something, getting hit by a rickshaw, or even being snatched up off the street. Your Ajoba didn't say anything, but you know what he did? His grip on my arm tightened. That grip wasn't for him. It was for me."

I was near tears again, but I held it together. My dad finally looked at me.

"Try and think of him that way."

We returned to my Ajoba's apartment, our rickshaw zipping around potholes and women laden with shopping bags on the dusty streets.

His apartment was up six flights of narrow, dark stone stairs, likely unnavigable for a blind man. How long had it been since Ajoba had been outside? I began to walk slower. My dad sensed it and gripped my arm to walk with him.

The Hindu convent next door to my Ajoba's apartment started chanting with the sunrise and, as far as I had heard, didn't stop until sunset. I walked up the stairs, the walls stinking with urine and tobacco spit, seeming to pulse with the rhythm of nearby prayer.

Inside, my grandmother ushered me into their tiny kitchen to have a cup of afternoon tea, just me and her. She was a proud, rigid woman. I picked at the skin that developed from the fatty milk. My grandmother had been a schoolmistress her entire life. Her cadence still carried it. She told me how proud they were of me, how she'd read my report cards out loud for my grandfather, how happy they were that their son had made a family in America. I watched a dipped biscuit vanish into the hot tea.

She looked at me. Her eyes were bright green, rare for Indians but carried down my father's entire side of the family. My grandfather's had reminded me a rotten milk.

"Let's go. No more crying."

My family fell silent in my grandfather's bedroom. They didn't speak, but I heard the message:

"It's time to grow up."

My grandfather seemed to understand the tension. He scooted over on his bench and patted the seat next to him. I sat down heavily. He looked at me, blind. He had put in his dentures while was gone, though he hadn't been eating. It broke my heart.

He gripped my arm. Tight.

Anomalous Amalgam
Feb 13, 2015

by Nyc_Tattoo
Doctor Rope
Life in the Fast Lane
696 Words

The engine of my Kia comes to life as I key the ignition, and it lets out that low, familiar, hum. It’s an economy car that doesn’t have much in the way of bells or whistles, but it gets me from point A to point B with little fuss.

I put it in gear and start towards the highway. I’m on my way to pick up my son. He’s spent the weekend visiting his grandmother in Oklahoma, and it’s the first time I’ve let one of my children be away from me in that capacity.

It’s one thing to leave them somewhere in the DFW where it takes at least 30 death-defying minutes of travel to get anywhere, but it’s something entirely different when my baby is four hours away from me. His safety and well-being completely out of my control. It makes my stomach hurt.

He’s only been gone for an evening and a day, but it’s long enough. 3 going on 4 isn’t exactly world traveling age, and the fact that I equate a trip to visit grandma to something like a life and death journey probably highlights my own trust issues and rampant paranoia.

I don’t want my children to be shut-ins like myself. Too afraid to live, and too hurt when my fear of living proved reasonable. I try to be strong for them, but it’s difficult. There’s always been a lot to worry about, but the near persistent streams of bad news make it seem worse than ever.

My grip tightens on the steering wheel, and I focus on my breathing because I feel myself getting tense. Just thinking about something going wrong is enough to get my blood pressure up. It makes my eyes heavy and sting with tears, and I really don’t feel like crying, but I can’t help but to worry.

I feel a bit of philosophical guilt in the fact that I’ve procreated. I don’t want my children to suffer, but I believe suffering is in inseparable part of living. I don’t want them to have hardships later in life, but I’m just trying to make sure that they get to later life, and knowing just how powerless I am in that equation, knowing that I’ve subjected “this” on another, not once, but twice… it eats at me.

I want to do the best I can for them. Their mother is part of the picture too. Our love is more laborious these days. Where there was only time to dote on one another, it’s now split. We work all day for a few hours with our kids and each other, and it’s difficult. Moments shared fewer and further between as we work to live, when it feels like living to work.

Still, there is love there. A warm touch, a comforting hug, an unexpected peck on the cheek… Something to hold on to, something worth fighting for.

I swallow hard, uncomfortable with my own thoughts. My eyes are more tired than anything, but I’m close now. It’s been less than 48 hours since I’ve seen him, but I can’t get to my little man fast enough.

I’ve spent about 14 hours a week for the last 8 years commuting these hellish Dallas roads, so I’m well acquainted with the reckless assholes that ride alongside me. Each of us in a hurry to get somewhere in the sprawling metroplex. Live out in the boonies, drive an hour both ways to work a lovely job in the “Big” city. Yes, I’m more familiar with that routine than I care for, but it’s my routine. Worst of all, I’m probably just another reckless rear end in a top hat on someone else’s commute.

Not tonight though. Tonight, I’m picking up my baby and that’s all that matters, and when I see him. I’m going to pick him off the ground and hold on to him, and tell him that I missed him, and how happy it makes me to see him even though I just saw him a day ago.

Most of all, I look forward to telling him that I love him, and hearing him whisper back, sleepy from traveling, “I love you too.”

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.
Fin De Siècle
825 words

In a nondescript bar on a nondescript street corner, two men watch the last known baby phoenix crawl across a countertop. One man watches carefully through ice-chip blue eyes, pausing only to take a sip from his glass of beer. The other watches trembling, though whether from anticipation or sickness only he can say. The blue-eyed man takes a sip of his beer and speaks.

“Long live the revolution.” He says with quiet conviction.

The trembling man nods slowly, gently picking the bird up from the countertop. It mews at him and he feels the briefest flash of pity, his hands tingling a little from the warmth of the bird’s body. Before he has time to form a doubt about his actions, he stuffs the bird in his mouth and chews, the faint popping of bones sounding like fireworks, blood thick and heavy on his tongue. He gestures for the beer and takes a long drink.

“Christ. It tastes like poo poo.” he mutters, belching slightly.

The blue eyed man smiles wryly back at him.

“All is fair in love and war, non?”

The trembling man glares.

“Spare me your bullshit Abelard. How long do I have?”

Abelard taps his fingers rhythmically on the bar.

“2 hours. It should be enough for someone of your legendary athleticism to get the job done.” He smirks.

In answer, the trembling man spits upon the bar floor, turning around and limping toward the exit.

“gently caress you. And gently caress your revolution” He says loud enough for the bar to catch. If the other patrons hear him, they give no sign.

He steps outside and sets a course for the end of his world.


By the time he joins the foot traffic headed for the city square, he is invisible. Other people do the work for him. He no longer has to try. What is wrong with this man? he imagines them thinking. They can’t fix him (nor, he thinks tiredly, would they want to), so they fix the space around him, editing him out of their stories, their lives. He passes by beggar, a hollow-eyed street mother, and drops a fat gold coin into her tin cup. She looks up in silent thanks and he nods once, a brisk acknowledgement of two people who fell through the cracks, before he is once more swept away by the ceaseless human sea.

He had always been invisible, he muses as he turns onto the main thoroughfare. At first, he’d hated it. He remembers long, tear filled nights as a young boy, a single sobbing question asked over and over.

Why can’t they see me?

In time, pressure and heat turned sadness into a pure, crystalline rage. As a young man, he’d discovered invisibility had its perks, mainly in petty crimes and vandalism. No one suspects the boy with the limp. One he’d had something like conviction, a voice, a ceaseless, willing hunger to make the world right. But that was a long time ago. Briefly, he thinks of the tired street mother. Her children might stand a chance. Perhaps they will be better, kinder, thanks to what will happen here, though part of him knows that no matter how good or kind they’ll be, there will always be those who slip through the cracks, others who tremble in ways seen and unseen. For them, the future cannot be fixed.

In the depths of his gut, he feels something begin to burn, and he quickens his pace, ignoring the twinge in his hip. Hands shove him roughly from behind, punctuated by the cruel laughter of children, and he goes down hard on the cobble stones, his face hitting a puddle of stagnant water. He waits on hands and knees, looking at his reflection in the muck. He gets up slowly, painfully, waving off hollow offers of assistance. The fire in his gut is spreading to his lungs and he takes great big gulps of air as he arrives at the city square.
The crowd is dense and full of life, most of them clustered around the shining new clock tower, bought with gold and lies and innocent blood. The trembling man feels tired as he looks upon the symbol of the new age. Every inch of his skin is on fire. Birth pangs wrack his body. He leans against the clock tower, feeling its sun-warmed stonework beneath his raw palms. He draws a deep, guttural breath and hacks up a beautiful scarlet feather. Around him passersby gaze out of the corner of their eyes, their faces twisted in naked disgust. His skin begins to crack and flake off from the heat, and the acrid smell of burning flesh floods his nostrils. He closes his eyes.

At the stroke of noon a sound like God clapping his hands is heard, and an explosion rocks the city center.

The last phoenix takes flight, and for one brief moment, the trembling man is finally seen.

Sep 30, 2006

stayin c o o l
The Night Train in Calgary, Alberta.
One-thousand two-hundred fourteen words.

I stepped out from an old house lodged between two sky scraping condo units into the dead of night. The house was a fossil of another time, consumed by the ever sprawling city. Staring at the towers gave me vertigo so I looked down and tried to keep myself from puking. I zipped up my leather jacket and walked over to my car, a blacked out civic. It took me three tries to get the key in the hole and I scratched the poo poo out of my paintjob but I make it inside.

I couldn’t believe I was alone, again. I hated being alone. There wasn’t any reason either. I wasn't hideous or dumb. There were girls at the party. I just couldn’t make a move. I don’t know why. It’s probably the anxiety in my gut, the overpowering fear that I'll try and it'll go so badly that they'll all laugh at me. I'd never be able to show my face in the art rock scene again.

I placed my keys into the ignition. I just wanted to race down the wrong side of a highway and smash into a semi truck trailer at speed and dash my brains all over the pavement just in time to blow up everybody’s morning commute. At least then the world would stop for just one loving moment while I got off this sick carnival ride of a life.

I pulled the keys out of the ignition. I hated that I just thought that. I was throwing myself another pity party instead of taking action. If I wasn’t able to ask out a girl I’m not going to have the balls to kill myself and give some old bastard PTSD in the process. I got out of the car and walked to the transit station three blocks over, sat in a glass waiting area, and waited for the next train to pull in.

There was a little heater on the ceiling. I pushed the button for warmth but it sputtered and died. Cold air blasted between the glass panels. I tried to stay warm, but the bench was cold and metal so I waited for my train standing up despite the protests of my gut. The sign said the train is only two minutes away. It said that for thirty minutes before it finally arrived.

The train car had a bendable middle section with plastic seats on either side. There’s one other rider, so I sat on the opposite side of the train and stared out the window at the river. Reflections of the lights from the condos sparkle on the surface of the black water like goldschlager in a torrent of bile getting pumped out of some idiot teenager. The train hummed a control group approved tune and it resumed it's lonely night trek through the empty city. The jolt of inertia sends my guts reeling. I had to cross the river and downtown, then I’d be home.

The train sped out over the river and the new pedestrian bridge came into view. They paid some hotshot German artist millions to put the thing together and it looked like a Chinese finger trap. I'd hate it but that was cliché. Everyone hated it. They even protested city hall and asked them to cut art funding all together. They wanted to let the developers turn the city into a concrete desert to save a couple bucks on income tax. I didn’t want that, but I did wish they'd stop handing out millions to idiots to try to internationalize the cities image instead of building something natural. You couldn't even see the river from inside the pedestrian bridge and since the tunnel-like shape blocked cell service, gangbangers used it to mug people.

“Hey baby fucker!” screamed the guy sitting at the other end of the train car, “I know you from your last life!”

I waved politely at him and got off at the next stop. It's downtown but I figured I'll take the next one instead. I exited out of the train in front of a half burned out neon sign of a stereotypically Italian man that held a slice of pizza and bathed the entire station in red light. It’s the kind of thing that would be totally racist if anybody cared enough to raise a fuss but gently caress it, I’m drunk.

I got inside and the middle aged dude who worked the counter hooked me up with a slice from the spinning carousel. They only had vegetarian left, which wouldn’t be a problem if they had left off the pineapple. I guess it was more of a ‘whatever leftovers we got’ pizza.

I pay the man and look for a seat. There's one other customer, a girl. Woman, I mean. She's facing me. I notice her braided hair, dark skin, and Washington Redskins jacket. She feels my stare and looks up. I usually shy away from eye contact but her gentle brown eyes pulled me into a trance. I smile and sit down in front of her. She gives me a side eye and I realized I must have seemed like the creepiest motherfucker on the planet.

“poo poo, sorry, thought I recognized you,” I said calmly as internally I was desperately trying to think of something to talk about. I thought my head might implode in front her. At that point I hoped it did. At least that would be interesting.

“Oh yeah, from where?” she asked.

“Uuh, the game," I said, pointing at her jacket.

“I'm not a fan,” she replied. poo poo, I thought to myself.

“Oh you reppin' DC?” I asked. She shook her head.

“I'm Native American.” She answered. I mentally kicked myself. No poo poo moron, it was obvious. Or is it actually not obvious and I'm the idiot for thinking that it was just now? My stomach curdles inside of me.

“You don’t find the Redskins offensive?” I asked in a surprise tone that belied my nervousness.

“Why would I?” she said, answering my question with her own and putting me on the spot. I considered for a moment about telling her what I knew of Native American oppression before I realized that was probably the worst idea in the world. I ditched that option. I noticed she hadn’t moved away, laughed at me, or pepper sprayed me, so I figure gently caress it. I thought of the pedestrian bridge and decided I might as well be natural.

“Because they suck!” I said. She had a surprisingly deep laugh, but I liked it. We talked for an hour about our jobs and the pizza. Finally the dude who ran the joint kicked us out into the pale blue early dawn. We were going in different directions, and I don’t know if it was the liquor or the adrenaline but I managed to get her number before she left. I spent the time waiting for a train staring down at my hand and admiring her choppy writing.

Finally I puked all over the train tracks in front of me. I had just enough time to wipe my mouth on my sleeve before the train pulled up in front of me.

The door opened and the train was empty. I was fine with that.

Dec 30, 2011

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

The Eavesdropper Walks Home
982 words

The florist outside my train station is my favorite: all the best gossip, with a loud, clear voice even in the din of the square. As I step out of the station, I catch her in the middle of one of her stories. "All the guts were coming out of his arm!" she says, with such force that I glance her way by reflex; she's holding onto her own arm, in demonstration or sympathy, and the woman she's talking to is mirroring her gesture. It's all I can do not to do it myself. The image of an arm spilling guts -- noodly horror-movie intestines slick with blood -- has the awful, stupid intensity of an intrusive thought.

Sometimes I linger by the florist's when she's got something really juicy, but I don't want to know where this story is going, and I stride through the square. It's all commuters this time of day, and I'm comfortably invisible in the crowd, a ghost in a plain blue hoodie and earbuds. My phone's streaming a low murmur of local university radio, whose young DJs seem to either be terrified to be on the air or totally oblivious. They haven't played a song in 15 minutes; instead the DJ and her co-host, connected through some patchy VOIP, are playing Minecraft together. The co-host has finally gotten his cat to board his boat. I love these stupid children dearly, and I hope they stay oblivious.

I eavesdrop -- on gossips, on crowds, on radio DJs who seem to barely know they're broadcasting -- because it lets me get outside my own head. It's something beyond the gnawing cycles of anxiety, the acute awareness of the space I take up, the unconscious hunt for shelter and escape routes. Moving across the city to my new neighborhood helped, but I still need the sweet city noise to let me relax enough to enjoy it.

It's a nice neighborhood: still alive post-white-flight, but not close enough to downtown to attract the gentrifiers quite yet. My neighbors sit on folding tables outside convenience stores, or on the stoops of their townhouses, and talk to everyone about everything. Sometimes they hail me over, and I'm a part of it for a moment, but tonight is a bad one for everyone. The end of the month is here, and that means benefits processed, applications denied, bills coming due. I overhear a woman standing in her doorway, complaining to her phone: "... I tell the lady, this is what I have, all these papers, and she says 'do you have any serious evidence..."

A part of me wants to stop and tell her I understand. I still think so often of those dingy charity offices and their cold-eyed "advocates," where the best you could hope for was a decent bureaucrat who'd do her job without faking compassion. We could share horror stories all night -- but she's not speaking to me, or calling out for a stranger at all. She's on the phone, and if she's letting herself be overheard, that's her right. We all have the right to not be acknowledged. Some days it seems like being invisible is the only thing that keeps me alive.

Three blocks from home, I pass my favorite cafe, and my thoughts drift to dinner. As I'm reminding myself of what's in my fridge and closest to expiring, a man on the patio leans back and gestures broadly to his companions, a king in his castle. Their waitress passes out another round of bottled beer. "Let me tell you a sad story about a ribeye," he says. His companions lean in -- two women and a man, amused but unsurprised, clearly familiar with the sad steak story about to come -- and it's tempting, so tempting, to go in for takeout and listen to the whole thing. No, I've got chicken breasts thawed in the fridge, and I'm four days out from payday. Takeout on Friday night, I decide, and maybe a beer or two.

I'm past the cafe, down another half-block, before I can remember the last time I ate with another person. Five years, at least, with Maggie back at the shelter, when we'd both managed to get bunks for the night. My new coworkers have asked me to lunch once or twice; if they ask again, maybe I should accept. What could go wrong?, I think, and when my eager brain spins up to start providing me with a dozen answers, I turn up my phone volume. The college DJ has discovered a Minecraft village with a chest full of ham steaks. Her voice is nearly squeaky with joy.

I let the college radio escort me home; by the time I step inside the foyer of my building, they've remembered to play another song, something electronic and floaty. It's good music for the edge of night. My neighbors are the same hoodie-and-headphone ghosts that I am, and four of us ride the elevator together without a word. This is a building for those who are happy to be ignored; I've never felt safer anywhere.

My hallway is deserted, and soon I'm in my apartment, fastening my deadbolts with a satisfying clunk. I'm completely alone for the first time today, and I'm in the only place where my mind will lower its defenses. Outside my window, it's sunset in the city; before I move on to dinner, I step out onto my narrow balcony and stare out over my neighborhood. There's the smell of grilling carried on the wind, and I think again of the cafe king and his sad ribeye. One day, I tell myself, I'll have friends. We'll sit on stoops and patios and tell stories, and maybe some eavesdropper will find some strength in that.

"Be safe, everyone," I say, not caring that I'll never be heard. Sometimes, even I have to talk. "I love you."

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Silent Hamlets

500 words

Business transacted, it emerges from shadowed alleyway onto the street, shoes sticky on dry concrete. It notices shame in itself, and wonders that it is still capable of it. Such things should be left behind, against the messy walls with the other detritus.

A brisk walk, a turn, another walk, and it is there, waiting at the intersection as the lights slowly shift. It feels like home, near to a hundred cars stopped in their turns, a community of the moment, each singlet or pair sealed into metal shells, communicating only their most crude needs and wants through flashes light semaphores and impudent honks. An interloper threads among them on two unpowered wheels. The community growls and bellows their disapproval, murderous but held in abeyance. It wonders if it can truly be a citizen, on foot. Perhaps a serf, then.

It crosses the street, according to the signal lights. It knows its place. It enters the concrete tunnel and descends beneath the ground.

Another silent community speeds sporadically, beneath the city streets, invisible as well as unheard, accepting waves of immigration and emigration at every station stop. Nobody talks, but in groups that joined together, and but the insane, babbling belligerent nonsense into the void. The void and the community do not answer, heeding only the mechanical priestly voice of the car itself, announcing stop and delay and the inevitable end of line.

It ascends again, into too-bright sunlight, across town. Near its destination, just a short walk through a few more intersections, too small and untrafficed to be home to true communities. Silent monasteries, perhaps. Pilgrimages dispersing in all directions.

At the second someone breaks protocol. A woman, a young face but with ash-grey hair. Approaching it. It thinks at once Does she not appreciate the danger and There is no danger, not here, to her. It has a type, after all, and this one does not fit it. She continues to approach.

"Hi," she says. "Have you ever-"

It brushes rudely past. She dodges the attempted shoulder-check, darts around it. It tries to guess her angle. A madwoman? The windup to some short con?

"Excuse me," she says. It suppresses the urge to bolt, feels sweat on its brow.

"What," it snarls, voice cracking, like a puppy that imagines itself a wolf.

"I just wanted to say, have you ever seen such a beautiful sunset?" she says. It blinks. "They say it's the smog that does it. Funny world."

It nods, twice, then rushes away. Its vision narrows. It reminds itself to breathe, and the haze fades.

It reaches its destination, an unsecured and unobserved dumpster, associated with apartments even less well-kept than its own. It puts the bag inside, a collection of garbage unappealing to even the most desperate scavenger, camouflage for the soiled gloves, destined shortly for an anonymous landfill and incinerator.

It turns and starts the walk to its boxy little apartment, passing through a dozen more silent hamlets without interaction, just as it prefers.

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat
City of Refuge
521 words

Another pull forward, another pull forward. The air surrounds and passes like a river; my breaths are swept instantly away in the current. It is a cold day for this, but I do not care; it is never too cold to be free. (Maybe on a damp day. Right now, the white sun is enough.) I am still as the ground shivers beneath me. Another pull forward, another pull forward.

All around, the city pretends to push in. The racing towers crush each other above; the cars and pedestrians crowd together in lines, clumps. It would like to swallow me up, but I travel in it like a tapeworm, happy to take from it. Another pull forward, another pull forward. I stand tall and fall ahead toward the silver rainbow in the east, the gleaming gateway. I compress and swing up, extend. There is no thinking but doing. I am free as a god.

But I do think. I can get away from anything but myself. In slow motion like a bad movie I see the bridge explode. The pink elephant that I can't not think about. The latest headstone in a cemetery that sprawls wide and wider. Is there a way to dig that corpse back up?

An overpass wraps past, and I tear myself back out of the broken web. All around, the city pretends to push in. The light changes ahead, and I loosen my grip (I didn't even realize that I had squeezed) and fly effortless, a superstar on the widest screen, past the rooted audience at 24 faces per second. Keanu on wires.

It's pathetic, bathetic. I know that I am really Keanu in rags, pasty and frail when I don't have the luxury of pretending otherwise. The city is a strange place – only out in the crowd can I imagine that I'm alone. When I withdraw back into my own space, away from the noise and press, a mob surrounds my mind and corners it. Another pull forward, another pull forward.

I veer and surge. Here I am cold; the buildings block the sun and the rainbow alike. It's funny how small the city is, reduced to a few blocks, now that it's so big around me. A kind of reverse foreshortening. Maybe this is how all big things are, all cities and crowds. The mob means nothing if I fight it one at a time.

Cars are crossing now; for the first time, I have to skid and settle. I look back at the miles of territory that I have conquered foot by foot. I am not frayed and sparking here. I had been skirting my own thoughts in fear, but the problems begin to shrink timidly from me into resolution. I am not going to disturb any graves, try to jump any bridges. Here, I am not stupid enough for that anymore.

Another pull forward, another pull forward. Above, sun again and the gateway looming in seraphic light. I shift and curve against the air, swept seamlessly over the rustling ground as I cross the threshold, loop back, flick twice for the climb.

Mar 14, 2012

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Submissions closed.

Mar 14, 2012

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

Judgement Week 383

If there’s something I learned from this week it’s that the complexity of your inner machinations are in no way reflected by either your storytelling or prose. There were stories that achieved for a few lines, maybe towards the end when they picked up on their own internal mood, maybe when they turned a particularly loved phrase, or maybe by catching onto a wider fate of society. The problem was for every one of these moments it was preceded and followed by badness, or the idea wasn't developed.

This was a week where you were asked a lot and left to your own devices. By setting a quiet prompt there was a question of mustering depths from silence. This didn’t happen. Instead of finding something human you either found something humdrum and mechanical, or if you did find something human you wrote it in the most banal manner.

The judges had a difficult time and the results are mostly compromise (with a little fiat.) There were three stories all judges agreed could be losers, and two faltering stories that could potentially win. In fact one judge didn’t even pick winner candidates, just saying that these few somewhat successful stories were the only ones that merited no comment (although I thought they were just a little, an incy wincy, teeny tiny bit better than that.)

With that, the winner, for managing to combine both the beginnings and endings of a story (which is easy mode for this prompt, but sometimes easy done well works out) while also managing to fit in the feel a city, is Magic Cactus for Fin De Siècle.

The loser, for aiming for the depth of emotionality and coming up with scattered prose, a slap in the face final line, and generally making me hate both adults and children (and thus all humanity) is Anomalous Amalgam for Life in the Fast Lane.

There will be no DMs this week because it’d be a little unfair to dishonourable mention most of you, while there are no HMs as there was no real judge agreement on the few stories we individually like and so which of you merited it. You’re all lucky you got a winner and loser and not a head judge throwing in the towel.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.
Thunderdome CCCLXXXIV: Needle In The Red

Howdy 'Domers!

As anyone who has had to read my terrible words knows, I'm interested in noise. Now, "noise" can cover a wide variety of concepts. For instance, there is the idea of the noises in your own head, or thoughts, or the noise of conversation, not just the sound of screeching guitars and poor production. So this week, I want to see what you guys can cook up when writing about Noise. If you Toxx I will give you an effects pedal to write about. How you choose to incorporate it into your piece is up to you.

Signup Deadline: Friday 12/13 by 12:00AM CST

Submission Deadline: Sunday 12/15 by 12:00AM CST

Word Count: 1,500 words max

Good Luck!

SlipUp :toxx:
Something Else
Anonymous Amalgam :toxx:
rat-born cock :toxx:
Thranguy :toxx:
Carl Killer Miller
Simply Simon
flerp :toxx:

magic cactus fucked around with this message at 19:49 on Dec 16, 2019

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Here’s my crits for the week. Run and gun are my real time reactions, then I’ll react overall. Find me in discord or IRC if you want to chat further, always happy to talk!

Yoruichi’s Rain on the Bodhisattva’s House

Your opening is decently kinetic but I’m curious what kept you telling this story from a 1st person perspective. It seems like your story wants to exist in Lilian’s mind so far.

You’ve got a lot of unecessary, passive phrasing in the second paragraph that, if corrected, could sharpen up things. “The heat was making her nauseous” to “The heat nauseated her” for example. Got a couple more in there.

Yeah, like look at your third paragraph. See how much better your second sentence is than the first? “The temple was dimly lit…” vs. “Ceiling fans dragged…” one of those is very good, the other is not.

Hm, and passive phrasing is continuing to bog this thing down. I don’t remember that being an issue for you but I’m seeing quite a bit of here.

Alright, all done. Let’s move on.


Didn’t feel like this was a great effort from you. For one, it didn’t really address the prompt. The bulk of the story occurs in a quiet setting, away from much of the city. But, more importantly, it doesn’t evoke much. I’m seeing the scene fairly well but I’m not feeling for your character or seeing her react in a way that interested me. 

A fair bit of that may come down to prose, and lack of impactful choices. Go back and make these things punch and I think you’ll have something much more worthwhile. As it is, this isn’t really working for me.

Potential DM candidate

Carl Killer Miller’s When We Went Back Home

The story starts and it kinda sounds college essayish. The tense shift in the first two sentences of the second graph is jarring.

Yeah, now onto the third graph and it’s still sounding like a college essay. Very distant way of telling the story and I’m not quite seeing how it’s helping you as this feels very personal and I want to be on the inside of it. 

Alright, so I’m getting suspicious that this is somewhat autobiographical, like more so than most writing. Problem is, I’m several hundred words in and the stream-of-conscious approach of glimpses of memories isn’t really doing much to build intrigue in the piece.

I’m also really not into the general scene setting that’s going on for Thane. Why are you telling us what this place is when you can put your protag there and have them discover all of this? There’s no need for this kind of exposition. Make it happen in the story.

So yeah, now the story is happening in a bathroom and I’m still hardly seeing a glimpse of the prompt. I’m normally not one who cares too much about that, but I was interested in this one!\

Little more telly than showy in this graph “"Yeah Dad, I'm here." My Marathi was better back then, but I needed to speak English. He looked concerned, not angry. I felt guiltier. I sat down on the sofa downstairs and put my head in his lap, then curled my body into his. We were quiet for a moment, then he spoke.”

Man, I don’t know I’m not feeling much at the dad telling the kid the story. I want to, but it’s lack a sort of evocation I’ve seen you dole out before. As a rule if your character is crying as a reaction to something you better make it big because you don’t want your character’s reaction to eclipse the reader’s.

And there’s a few typos towards the end as you’re trying to land a punch.

Overal I wanted more story and less exposition. Again, this feels personal and yet distant. We’re rarely alongside the character but more being told what’s happened. I can’t see a good reason to tell this story as a piece of reflection. 

There’s just too much descriptive, recalling, worldbuilding. I wanted more showing and more action.

Potential DM candidate

Anomalous Amalgam’s Life in the Fast Lane

Oh that’s not fair. As we speak, my toddler is spending the night with my parent’s. OK, gonna try and stay objective here.

Hm ok, all we’ve got is whinging so far and we’re already halfway through this. I’m also not getting any sense of place here, which is annoying because I really want someone to catpure that and I’m just not getting in it.

This is starting to read an awful lot like one of my neurotic journal entries. This isn’t really much more than one person kvetching and perseverating

Come on, just read this out loud “Not tonight though. Tonight, I’m picking up my baby and that’s all that matters, and when I see him. I’m going to pick him off the ground and hold on to him, and tell him that I missed him, and how happy it makes me to see him even though I just saw him a day ago.”.


Uh… this isn’t really anything more than neurotic musing. Seriously, what is this? The prose is functional and it’s fine but there’s also proofing errors. This went nowhere and you had a premise that was ready to deep diver right into my heart. Kind of a letdown.

Potential DM candidate

magic cactus’s Fin De Siecle

Hm, starting up a story that’s supposed to have a distinct sense of place with two non-descript locations is…. An interesting choice.

Alright, so after the first beat I’m curious to learn more about the hell is going on. I’m hoping this comes together.

Couple of proofing problems scattered about, could do with some polishing.

So far, this is addressing the prompt more than anyone else has. 

Finished the rest pretty quickly.


Well… I don’t know, it’s not bad but you had a lot of words left to accomplish a bit more. As it is, you don’t really use the phoenix enough to justify it in the story. This would read better if he were a simple terrorist, or if there were more magic to play around with. As it is, the magic is kinda niether or nor there

You do a decent job of painting this person’s picture and showing us who they are and how they are perceived. On that basis alone, this is the strongest entry thus far, but it still needs some work.

SlipUp’s The Night Train in Calgary, Alberta

A cliche in your first sentence is not gonna help generate much goodwill. It’s YOUR first sentence, use YOUR words. 

I’m hoping we can find a good reason to root for this character. About a few hundred words in and I’m worried we’re drifting into incel territory.

I appreciate what you’re going for with this “Reflections of the lights from the condos sparkle on the surface of the black water like goldschlager in a torrent of bile getting pumped out of some idiot teenager. “ but it’s baggy and cumbersome.

Misused ‘it’s”

Halfway through and this is just whiny and angry but it sounds kinda high-school. Like an even more pissed off Holden Caulfield.

And we go from Catcher in the Rye to the Childish Gambino video for Sober.


I don’t get this. How exactly did this guy turn the corner and get what he wanted? He was bitter and hateful throughout the whole story and it’s hard to imagine him not giving off major creeper vibes to anyone.

On the positive, you addressed the prompt and even though much of it was mean spirited and lacked development, we did a get glimpse of a character in transit. 

Antivehicular’s The Eavesdropper Walks Home

Things start off at a pretty good clip in this. Your character is moving and reacting in real time to the events around them. Good.

You lose me a little bit when the talking head starts and we hear directly from the character. This is all stuff that I’d rather be shown than told.

Yeah, the rumination in the middle isn’t quite doing this for me anymore. The story had a sense of kineticism in its opening and then it starts to slow down in reflection. 

The motif though, of this person just kinda embedding themselves into other people’s social lives and stories is well handled and depicted.

Drowning out the negativity with loud stimuli is also handled well and something I see often. This person feels very real.

Good ending, unsatisfying in the right kind of way.

Overall You gave us a realized sense of place and a realized person moving through it. This firmly addresses and delivers on the prompt and it doesn’t take long doing it. If there’s a weakpoint to this story it’s the explaining and telling that you lean into, on ocassion. Like the action of her turning her headphones up enough to silence her inner demons… that’s all we need. That kind of stuff is good whereas you having the characters explain themselves, is less good. Trust the storytelling to do the work.

HM Candidate, maybe the win

Thranguy’s Silent Hamlets

The choice of detachment and depersonification is compelling enough to get me into this. This feels different from everything else and that’s welcome.

Sorry, not as much on the fly comments for you. Read this fairly quickly.


Similar to the story before this one, this actually accomplishes what I felt the prompt was looking for. I like the style of this and distance and objectification. The interaction with the woman…. A touch on the nose? I’d rather her thing be maybe a little less otpimistic and whimsical cos it kinda felt not as truthful as I wanted it to. But, apart from that, this kinda works and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

HM Candidate, maybe the win

Sham bam bamina!’s City of Refuge

The repetition is not quite landing for me. My sense is that you’re trying to unmotivate the action as though your character is just being being moved.  I understand that much but like… I get it, you don’t need to keep on at it.

This is difficult to follow, but that kinda seem intentional. If so, this isn’t quite working for me as it’s somewhat stream-of-conscious reaction doesn’t allow me to get any sort of sense for what this person is actually experiencing. We’re getting a lot of their take and their subjectivity but with nothing to compare it to that feels more straightforward, it’s hard to get a sense of how this character is behaving.


By the time I got to the end of this it becomes more clear that there is some kind of structure here, and that your character was building toward something, but it’s very difficult for me to parse much of what that is. This still more directly addresses the prompt for this week though, so that’s doing you a lot of favors in judgement.

No Mention

Sep 30, 2006

stayin c o o l


Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

I’m in for this week

Anomalous Amalgam
Feb 13, 2015

by Nyc_Tattoo
Doctor Rope
Oof. fast, fair judgment.

In :toxx:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.
Gonna put out the call for co-judges if anyone is interested

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Electro Harmonix Big Muff Fuzz

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Anomalous Amalgam posted:

Oof. fast, fair judgment.

In :toxx:

Electro Harmonix Bad Stone Phase Shifter

rat-born cock
Apr 3, 2017

"Garbage! Trash! Offal! Debris! Come and get it! Nothing whole or undamaged! Crap, tripe, and useless piles of shit. You know you want it."
Hi, I'd like to wIN this thunderdome.

I would also like to :toxx: for the musical peddle.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

rat-born cock posted:

Hi, I'd like to wIN this thunderdome.

I would also like to :toxx: for the musical peddle.

Dunlop Crybaby GCB-95

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In and :toxx: for a pedal.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Thranguy posted:

In and :toxx: for a pedal.

The legendary Lovetone Meatball envelope filter

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:


Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

📡scanning🛰️ for good game 🎮design🦔🦔🦔
I just had THE winning idea (guaranteed!), so in I am.

Sep 30, 2006

stayin c o o l
Chili Jon Space brawl pushed back one last time to sunday.

Feb 25, 2014
in :toxx:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Boss RE 20 Space Echo

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.
Sign Ups are now closed. Good luck and don't suck!

Dec 30, 2011

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

Today I received a package from an embroidery company. "Funny," I said, "I don't recall ordering any embroidery." So I open it up:

A nicely wrapped embroidery piece and a card! I wonder what the card says?

... Ominous.

Welp, better see what I've got:

I feel like I should probably be answering this with a brawl challenge, but I am timid of heart and will accept the gift as is. Thank you, Rhino! (And sorry about the bad photography!)

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

Put it all together. Solve the world. One conversation at a time.

Yes! I'm so glad you got this (there's something else but the shop has yet to respond to my latest email). There's history to this that went down and Chili was there to watch me shout a lot in our private chat, where i bought an initial gift and then received an email where



CHILI: Yes, my child?

RHINO: i bought on etsy something I thought was a finished stitched product, it turns out they just send a pdf with the pattern on it!!!

CHILI: oh gently caress
CHILI: lol
CHILI: that's irritating

RHINO: i mean, i did wonder why it cost that little but STILL
RHINO: it has the highest rating when i searched "thunderdome" so i thought it was a real product
RHINO: the classic scam!!!!!

This was what I bought initially

and now I possess the embroidery pattern in a pdf document. I'm happy to send it to anybody who sends me a PM here, on Discord or wherever else.

I am still MAD!!!! the bit about it being just a digital pdf is hidden halfway in the description that you won't notice immediately, and when i msged them saying "hey can i send this with a gift message" they said "sure" and I wrote "dear forum goon the antivehicular you can never leave love a rhino" and then they send me the email one week later AND THEY NEVER EVEN INCLUDED THE GIFT MESSAGE, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS TO MYSELF

anyway i'm very glad i didn't get scammed again and the embroider for this was very nice and didn't ask why i said i'm a rhino, also she thought your name is Whelk which i found very funny

Sep 30, 2006

stayin c o o l

SlipUp posted:

Chili Jon Space brawl pushed back one last time to sunday.

Did I say today? I meant tomorrow.

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

📡scanning🛰️ for good game 🎮design🦔🦔🦔
A Quiet Cry in a City of Screams
1496/1500 words

The city paints a picture of sound. Like a background of rolling hills, the ebb and flow of growling traffic. Car horns like irregular trees. A merry river of giggles, children in an alley. A masterpiece, a serene landscape, made special by the little details: a splendid bird in the foreground, the crinkle of cash notes. There, a cave, sinister presence; a domestic argument, overheard through shuttered window. And amongst it all, a little bunny hopping quietly along.

The critter returns from a grocery run, twenty minutes every day submerged in a cacophony of life and struggle and success and happiness and the opposites. Like the prey animal, he used to be terrified of the dark forest of the noise, predators hidden in every murmur, shout and scream. But as a bunny who survives the winter becomes a veteran, he has learned. How to see the layers in the painting, the dark bass line underneath the vibrant melody and the bold strokes of percussion. Sort the sources by loudness, nearness, urgency, make sense of the chaos. Chip away at the noise wall and rearrange it, pebble by pebble, into a pleasing mosaic. And so, slowly but surely, arrive at the current state: a deep appreciation for the symphony that the city composes every day anew.

Twenty minutes are enough, however. He arrives in his den, a basement furnished with only the necessities: mattress minifridge microwave desk chair computer internet soundproofed walls speakers. He gently pours a stale cup of water; the fizzing of drinks, he found out early, disturb his concentration. Soon, a simple meal consumed, he immerses himself in total silence. And then begins to work.

From his speakers, fresh music flows. Already, more pieces exist than anyone could ever hope to listen to; he never has to repeat a song, and never does. The entire discography of an obscure Mongolian band is on the menu today, served up by custom algorithm. Among modern beats, he finds a melody sung by an igil, its two strings caressed by a horsehair bow. But there is tension in this particular one, a compelling dissonance. He pauses, rewinds, focuses his hearing. The other tracks fade in the background, only the igil is allowed to speak; he allows himself to empathize with its internal struggle, and it spills its secrets: one string made from a sheep’s, the other from a goat’s sinews.

Pleased, he stops the playlist to build on his discovery. Cuts away at the track with pruning shears of editing software, isolates the igil’s song; polishes it to shine without compression. He rifles through his library of samples, chooses just the right ones to work with the igil like a well-contrasted palette. A new track for his Soundcloud, to please his by now ample followers who he’ll never meet, never have to listen to, a perfect life.

His work done, he blankets himself in darkness and silence and sleeps.


Yesterday’s success elates the bunny. He even dares, for a moment, to stop on his foraging run and soak in the city’s noise, the neverending composition this modern world pens. A bike’s bell loudly chimes, but he still understands two lovers’ whispers; construction is done nearby, but crane engines can’t drown out a coin dropping three storefronts further. He practices and hones his talent daily; soon, he’s sure, the world melody will start making perfect sense to him. Already, he almost feels like he can predict…

A harsh sound interrupts his self-satisfaction. Like fork on china, it makes his bones ring with displeasure. It’s oh so faint, but clear like a crystal’s chime to him. A child, a toddler, trapped, imprisoned, desperately crying out for help it knows won’t come!

He drops to his knees. The ground kisses his ear as he rubs it along fresh concrete to find the exact location: there! Where the sidewalk got repaved recently. Someone must have used this opportunity to seal away a victim, of kidnapping or worse.

He jumps up, seething. His own basement exile is willing, and he is happy having found a way to cope with the drone of life. But sometimes, he still longs for the freedom these tone-deaf normal people can enjoy. To deny this to someone else is like having a teenage boy, voice mid-crack, sing Verdi’s sparkling arias.
He bounds towards the store as usual, but returns no food. Instead, a worker’s instrument: a sledgehammer.

Immediately, he begins to crack the concrete, each blow ringing with the righteousness of a sonata’s final gong. But very soon, between the strikes, he hears the world becoming dissonant. Within the constant hum of city noise, discordant strings and mistimed triangle chimes. They coalesce into words intruding on his concentration: “…madman…” “…get away…” “…drugs…”, and he hears the counter-melody mounting ever louder, coming closer, a crescendo leading to catastrophe.

Just before the climax descends on him, he bolts, towards his safe basement den. Weeps for the child, abandoned unsaved, crying loudly for its would-be savior. But he cannot bear the full force of the city’s noise directed against him. He cannot raise his weak voice against those who scream because they didn’t learn to listen.

He overrides the algorithm, has his speakers fire Russian Metal. But through its screams, the baby’s cry rings clear, circles every note with haunting insistence, until he feels it bounce off his soundproof walls, resonating with itself to become deafening, and he has to flee, hammer in hand.

It has gotten dark in a lonely street. The afternoon’s ruckus echoing in his mind, he smashes down the hammerhead. But the city is now quiet, and every strike is a thunderclap. Almost instantly, he feels the noise zero in on him: “…late…” “…stop…” “…police…”. Buffeted by this assault, he collapses next to the pathetically tiny hole in the sidewalk and shivers, the cry from beneath jabbing accusing daggers into his eardrums. How could he possibly break through to the child’s prison without alerting everyone around, in this noiseless quiet night?

A car speeds by, a drunkard shouts, and as they make the cry fade for just a second, ease his suffering through painful but familiar noise, he realizes that the city is never truly quiet. Its voice now lowers and raises in waves, every sound amplified against the subdued background, but that’s a chance as well!

With great struggle, he tries to tune out the insistent cry. Attune himself instead to the patterns of the noise. Feel how the world takes in a breath before a snore, gauge how long the pause can possibly be before the global conductor throws down his arms and allows the orchestra to play again. He feels it coming, the tension mounts to bursting, and he brings the hammer down RIGHT as a cat knocks off a metal garbage lid, a normal instrument of the city, and nobody complains.

With patience trained in many sessions listening to Kinkade-esque pop music, poised for that one non-generic harmony that needs preserving, he becomes a living statue on the sidewalk until he feels the world’s urgency to make noise become unbearable. An ambulance drives by with siren blaring, and down the hammer goes. And back up until someone walks into a street sign, a bang some swears a punch to metal. With perfect timing to those, concrete cracks and nobody bats an ear.

But soon dawn will also crack, and the hole is getting bigger but so slow. Again, despair cackles in his ear, and together with the ever-louder cry keeps him from timing hammer strikes correctly: the city will wake, the day’s noise will resume with people walking by, he’ll have to stop and abandon the child, possibly for good.

He screams and brings the hammer down, the answering screams from the windows damned to hell by his fury. The imprisoned cry produces its shrillest pitch yet, and it’s too much, and he collapses, head futilely tucked in with covered ears but it is too loud too urgent too desperate too inhuman

He freezes and truly listens.

Slowly, he composes a smile as everything falls in place. He leaves the hammer and the fading cry behind, and gets from the freshly opened store white paint to give the hole the empty mark of someone taking care of it. This will buy the child the time it needs.


Ten days later, the cry has turned to joyful singing, an ode to hope and freedom and life itself. He kneels down and liberates the child from its concrete cradle. A plant, so fragile yet so strong, whose unbroken will had made it scream its cruel fate to a world with barely anyone who listens. But this buried seed had found the ear of someone who lifted its heavy coffin’s lid just enough.

And now, its savior has a companion in his lonely basement den, who can sing in duet to his music, with a voice so quiet yet so rich and deep and beautiful.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

617 words

"Has anyone seen Claire?"
"Couldn't keep up with him, you see. Not intellectually and certainly not sexually."
"So I said, what the cook told me was that she never let him so much as touch her."
"That's not what you heard downstairs."
"Does anyone know where the girlie with those pigs in a blanket went off to? I could murder a couple of those right now."
"Mostly just lies there. I'm sorry."
"Pink hair! With long blue bangs that had to have her blind as a Chinese bat! Of course, I asked to speak with her manager."
"Now, Fallen's idea of a swinger orgy was just having everyone in the neighborhood gently caress their own wife in the same room."
"Six percent return per annum just won't cut it these days, so I-"
"You insufferable little, little... piglet!"
"Did Marie just throw a drink in Marv's face? I thought that only happened in movies."
"Always seemed like a waste of perfectly good alcohol."
"I'm sure Marie was sensible enough to use the cheap stuff."
"Now that would make for a proper party. Get everyone out in t-shirts and jeans, armed with low-end martinis and let them have at it. Hand them a towel, and back in the line they go."
"What was that?"
"The boy couldn't keep down a job at a record store. Do I need to tell you anything more about him? You have to blame the mother, of course."
"That's definitely blood."
"You can't go wrong with leather. A good, solid strap."
"Does anyone have the key to the rear ground floor bathroom?"
"Have you ever seen that movie? The one with Bugs Bunny playing basketball?"
"I mean I'd drive a Prius, but I wouldn't want people to think that I was, well, the sort of person that drives one."
"If you really want to see, we could head to my condo. You know, after. Or if you're not that patient, there's always the coat closet."
"I think Claire had the key. Has anyone seen her?"
"Bust it down, just one solid thump will do it-"
"God, Nathan, don't embarrass yourself. Let me by. I used to date a guy in college whose dad was a locksmith."
"That's a distressingly large amount of blood."
"Six different rooms, and I still had to deal with those creak-creak-creak sounds out of the air conditioner every thirty minutes. Like clockwork."
"Okay, nobody should go in there."
"Shouldn't someone call the police?"
"I called my lawyer and he'll call the police."
"What did you see in there?"
"I need a bucket. Now!"
"Don't watch. They say it's contagious. Like sneezing."
"Or poverty, am I right?"
"Oh do shut up Norman."
"What did-oh God, is it Claire?"
"No. It was, it was, it was Fallen. And his, his, his-"
"Spit it out, girl."
"Not the best choice of words, love."
"Shut up."
"He was naked. And gutted like a turkey. And his, his you-know was sticking right out of his forehead like he was some kind of unicorn."

"It really isn't funny, is it?"
"I mean, it shouldn't be. But I have to know. What about his balls?"
"Dangling right over his left eye. God, what's wrong with me?"
"The police won't be here for about an hour."
"I wonder how he got it to stick."
"She, surely."
"You think it's Claire?"
"Well, she isn't here, right? Probably halfway to Mexico or France or wherever people go, West Cayman."
"That's for money, not people."
"I don't know. Someone would have seen her go, and her car's still parked outside."
"Super-glue. I mean, that's what I'd- what any reasonable person would use to stick a severed penis onto a forehead."

Feb 25, 2014
Terminally Online

flerp fucked around with this message at 18:59 on Dec 30, 2019


Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:

Song in the Wind
1480 words

I turn on my microphone in the morning. There it is. Wind rustling over nothing. Sometimes I think I can hear the sun, a dull and crackling roar overhead. I always turn the mic off at night, some small refuge from the roar. I despise that wind.

I've been talking to myself a lot to keep out the noise. I had this crazy idea that I might be the last man left alive. The keeper of the English language. I hope I'm not losing it.

The microphone picks up a low whistle. The same wind dripping through the same rocks under the same sun, every morning. Maybe I am losing it. I start my day trip.

We crashed on a completely unremarkable rock on a rocky planet covered in rocks, all the same color as blood-tinged mud.

"Have you ever actually seen blood-tinged mud?" the voice in my head says.

I start walking out from the wrecked ship. It deployed an airbag right before we hit, a big white pustule that's been shrinking and draining over the past months. I haven't gotten back inside our capsule since the crash. I know the chief is in there, same with Maynard. Maybe they're dead and whole, maybe they're all churned up into some sort of impact-slurry. Don't really want to find out.

I'm not sure what I'm looking for on my walks, but I figure I'd probably hear it before I saw it. Haven't heard anything yet, besides the low, hateful groaning of aimless air. I scan the pale pink sky every now and then. Nothing but a boiling sun that feels too big for its allotment of space.

"Maybe someone else crashed on the other side of this place. Maybe they're walking too."

It was a familiar thought. Someone new, someone fresh, someone to cut through this pervasive-


I'm walking in a new direction today. I pick one degree on the compass for every day I'm out here. Someone's got to come for me before the year is up.

"They forgot about us."

"They think you're all dead."

"No one's coming."

"Maybe you are dead."

"Maybe this is what real death looks like."

"Only kidding. Look, I'm sorry."

Can't shut myself up sometimes.

When the sun sits a little low, I begin heading back. Another day. Another wander. Another noisy nothing nowhere.

"You should leave the mic on tonight."

Same thought every night. And every night, I switch off the mic. I get eight hours of guiltlessly ignoring the wind. But not tonight.

I settle into the cozy little cot I've made for myself. My eyes are closed before I know it, before I mute my mic.

I hear a flat, brief song.

I don't get out of bed at night, but I throw off the covers and just start walking. The song came from everywhere at once, or maybe my ears are shot, atrophied. Maybe I didn't hear anything at all.

"You definitely heard it. It came from two hundred degrees."

I stop dead.

I know what I know, and I definitely don't know that. Two hundred degrees?

"You should start walking."

I always talk to myself. I always set out in the morning. I always find nothing. I always switch the mic off.

"I'm telling you. Listen."

I shine my light out at two hundred degrees on my compass. It pierces the darkness a fair way, but I can't tell if it's twenty feet or fifty. The wind is howling hard, screeching up dust. I peer into the beam and take a tentative few steps. My mind is quiet. I walk with a little more confidence.

I left a blinking diode alive at my cot. I feel like I'm swimming in a turbulent sea. Can't lose sight of shore. Soon, the diode is faint, then my lifeline is gone. Should've brought glowsticks.

"Just keep walking, you'll be there soon. It'll be okay. I'm not a space monster or anything."

I turn off my mic, cutting off the harsh night wail. This is a bad idea. The voice in my head, assuredly not a space monster, it doesn't say anything at all. I start to walk back to camp and the voice comes back.

"Please. Don't turn back. I need you out here."

The voice is softer, more feminine. It's not my voice. It sounds like my ex.

I want to talk back, but this feels real wrong. Besides, talking back to a voice in my head, out loud? I've lost it. A hundred days on this sun-blasted hellscape has permanently cooked my brain.

"I've been alone for so long," the voice says.

I dip my toe in. "Who are you? Why can I hear you inside my head?"

"Well, I don't have a mouth. And this wind!"

The voice pauses, giving me a little space, then continues.

"I'm, well, I'm a rock. I wasn't always a rock, but I'm a rock."

Crazy bullshit. It definitely sounds like my ex. But I'm going to respond anyway.

"Why not just ask me during the day, I don't know, three months ago? If you're so lonely and sad, we could've had this fixed."

I believe the rock was thinking it over.

"Well I couldn't just say 'Hey! Come find the singing rock!'. You'd never believe me. And then tonight happened and it was just perfect."


"You left your mic on. And this morning. You haven't thought about your chief in a while. Haven't thought much about being alone."

I find the rock oddly persuasive and start walking to two hundred again. "What does the mic have to do with anything?"

"I'm strongest at night. Not in a creepy way. The sun just, it does something to me. It's too loud. I can't hear myself think. I'm louder at night. I can sing."

I turned my mic on during the 'rock's' explanation. The wind was still roaring, but there was something else. Humming? Faint, a little off-key, a tune I couldn't place.

"Doesn't explain why you're a talking rock on a planet god-knows how far from home."

The humming stops.

"Maybe we're not from the same planet?"

The humming starts again, but it's not just one voice. It's a chorus and after a hundred days of blowing wind, it spikes into my eardrums. Too much. I turn off the mic again. Silence.

"Come on pal, keep walking."

"You're from a planet of talking rocks, then?"

I think the rock harrumphs. "Well, maybe you're from a planet of talking jerks."

I trudge onward and click my mic. The rock starts humming again. It's pleasant but off, like a busted ukulele. The wind provides a chaotic backdrop to the music and I click the mic off again. I've come to hate the perennial whistling roar.

"Yeah, right over there. That outcropping, up that hill to your right. Shoot, my right. Your left."

I scan the hill with my light. It's a little steep, but not too bad. I start climbing up when I see it.

There's a rock about the size of my fist sitting on a pile of other rocks. Only, it's not red. It's a light gray. It'd look a little unremarkable back home. I get closer. There's a little face carved into the rock. Two eyes, one winking, and a small, crooked smile.

"My smile isn't crooked."

"I wasn't thinking that. Well, I guess I was. It's not a bad smile. It's a very nice smile."

At this point, I am full-on talking to a rock, but norms went out the window when the rest of the crew became canned crash-meat.

"C'mon, just take me with you. We can chat, you and me."

"Well, Mr. Rock, it's been a little lonely. And I think I've started to lose my mind."

If the rock could have shrugged, I think it would have.

"Well, it's gotta go sometime."

I pick up the rock and start to put it in my pocket.

"Hey, hey. A little dignity."

I hold the rock and carry it back to camp. I make sure that my palm is on the side without a face. Soon, I see the blinking diode again.

The rock hasn't said much. I'm exhausted. I want to ask it how it got here, where it came from, and a dozen other things. I lie in my cot and gently put the rock on my makeshift nightstand. We're silent for a while, then the rock pipes up.

"Hey, you. Thanks."

"You're welcome, rock. Say, you think I'm going crazy? Like this is all in my head?"

"Well, I don't think I could really convince you one way or another. How about you turn on your mic for a little bit?"

I flip on the mic. That maddening wind has died down just a little.

I'm staring at the stars and the rock starts singing.

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