Well, it's been about three and a half years since my last rumble in the Thunderdome, but I'd say it's about time to get, as the kids say, "back on my bullshit." Let's see if you folks have gotten any better.
|# ¿ Mar 21, 2019 18:27|
|# ¿ Oct 27, 2021 11:27|
A Silent Spell
The skinny kid tied up on the floor looked frail and harmless. The jagged “W” carved into his cheek told a different story. Pete Ogden stooped down to check the bandana knotted tight around his mouth.
“Hey!” Henry Wyatt’s voice broke the silence. “Get away from him.”
“Oh, settle. I’m just checking his binds, Wyatt.”
“I’ll settle when the feds got him loaded on their stagecoach. Not a second before.”
Pete stood up, dusted his trousers. “He’s been still. He hasn’t tried nothin.”
“We should have cut out his tongue. All these freaks need is one word, and then they can do anything they like. If they really hate you they can worm their way into your head, make you blow your own brains out.”
Wyatt spat down at the boy. The boy glared at him.
Pete smiled. “I think you better not untie that bandana.”
Wyatt scowled. He spat again.
* * * * *
Pete patrolled the upper walkway of the old fort. The boy’s frightened eyes still lingered in his brain. He felt no sympathy for wizards. They were wicked, arrogant people who chose to meddle in God’s dominion. But as dangerous as the boy was supposed to be, to Pete he just looked like a scared kid. Like his own son might look when he woke up from a nightmare.
Something caught the corner of his eye. Pete swung around, gun at the ready. A man stood in the courtyard, shrouded in blackness. Pete couldn’t quite make him out. “Bill? That you down there?”
The shadowy figure didn’t move at first. Then, ever so slowly, his shaggy head tilted up, and two beady yellow eyes stared straight into Pete. The man grinned, showing a maw of ratty, brown teeth.
“I hate to be a bother, friend. But you’ve got someone here I really want to see.”
Pete dashed down the walkway, grabbed for the bell hanging by the wall, and rang it three times, the clangs echoing through the night air. Right away, the other volunteer guards, Bill and Frederick, emerged from the barracks, and Wyatt appeared at the doorway.
“Fellas,” Pete bellowed, “we got a situation. Someone’s here to bust the kid out.”
Without another word, they took their places along the railing, guns trained on the intruder. The man never stopped smiling. “Listen, boys, this can be as easy as you like. All I want is the kid.”
Wyatt’s reedy voice rang out. “The kid stays. Get out of here, you wizard freak.”
At that, the shadow man’s smile faded. “Cowboy,” he said, “that was a real bad mistake.”
Then words flowed from the shadow man’s mouth in a wretched, unknowable tongue. The air crackled with tremulous energy. A blue bolt erupted out of nothing, striking Wyatt square in the chest like a cobra and throwing him back at the wall. His body lay limp, a blackened, smoking mess.
Spears of lightning pierced the battlements again and again. One landed a foot away from Pete, and he lunged to avoid the spray of splinters. He looked up and saw what was left of Bill and Frederick. A charred crater with a crimson haze settling around it.
Pete dashed back into the room where the kid lay, slammed the door, and set the latch. He whipped around, half expecting a grim, satisfied smile on the boy’s face. But the kid’s eyes were wider than he’d ever seen them, pathetic with fear, and Pete realized this was no rescue.
A hissing sound turned Pete’s head. The thick wooden door was melting, actually bubbling and pooling to the floor. Pete looked at the kid’s eyes, those scared-child eyes, and knew there was only one thing to be done. He tugged the knife from his belt and, just as the door was left in a puddle on the floor, cut the bandana loose.
The shadow man stepped through the threshold just as the kid began to speak awful words that chilled Pete’s bones like a banshee cry. The shadow man stopped. He put a hand to his temple, wincing. His whole cranium strained and shook, eyes bulging, until at last the pressure was too much and the man’s head blew apart, coating the room in brain, skull, and dark hair.
* * * * *
Pete helped the boy onto a horse. The boy looked down at him with a sad smile. “We’re not all bad, you know. Not like him. Some of us just want to get by.”
“Get by somewhere else then,” Pete said. “You come back here, they’ll string you up.”
“Too many Wyatts, I guess.” The boy dug his heels in and the horse charged forward, leaving a swirl of dust in its trail.
Once the kid was past the gateway, Pete was struck by a flash of anger. He hated his own blinding sentiment. His affection for his son had clouded his judgment, but his son couldn’t make men’s heads explode. This wizard boy was just a sweet talker.
drat it, he’d let the boy talk. Who knows what kind of mind-control spell he’d been able to spin? Wyatt was right. Pete let his guard down, let this freak of nature twist his will. Well, that wouldn’t do. He couldn’t let innocent people die the way the shadow man had.
Pete lifted his repeater, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. The shot echoed through the stillness of the night, and the boy dropped limply from his saddle.
The cloud of rage around Pete dissipated at once. He remembered the boy’s scared eyes, the “W” that had been carved so brutally into his cheek. He felt sick.
The air beside Pete stirred. He turned and saw a man dressed all in black lit up by moonlight, his ghost-pale visage framed by a coarse, dark mane. The man’s yellow eyes bored into him, that brown, ragged smile mocked him. A gust of wind kicked up, and the shadow man vanished without a word.
|# ¿ Mar 24, 2019 20:06|
Okay, while I understand that my stunning and triumphant return to Thunderdome might have taken a little extra time to process, this is getting silly. JUDGE JUDGE JUDGE
|# ¿ Mar 27, 2019 15:56|
In, with the good old Saint Bernard!
|# ¿ Apr 5, 2019 01:05|
Man vs. Nature vs. Buster
Chosen Dog: Saint Bernard
Luis wondered which deity he’d pissed off.
Sure, going on a weekend camping trip alone may not have been the smartest plan. But who could have guessed that a massive tree would collapse across the campsite, smashing down on Luis’s foot and pinning him to the ground? Not Luis. Obviously.
He reached out, ignoring the stabbing pain in his foot, straining further than he’d ever strained before toward the gray-green JanSport that held his phone, his canteen, and a first-aid kit just in case. He stretched taut as a rubber band on the verge of snapping, reaching and reaching until… he gave up. His fingertips couldn’t even brush the straps.
Luis dug through his pockets for what must have been the fiftieth time and, once again, discovered only his pocketknife. He grimaced. Maybe he could give himself the 127 Hours treatment, do his best to hack off the wounded foot at the ankle, tie off the bleeding stump, and call for help, but it would still be a crapshoot. He sighed and decided to wait. He wasn’t that hungry yet, and he happened to enjoy life with two feet.
An hour passed, maybe two. The wind stirred the branches in a slow ripple. Luis was about to start shouting for help again when he heard a faint jingling off to his left. Something bright stirred at the corner of his vision, a mass of fur charging right towards him. He reached frantically for the knife, tugged it out of his pocket, and immediately felt foolish. What stood before him was a fluffy, bouncy Saint Bernard, not much bigger than a puppy, though that still made it pretty drat big. Relief washed over Luis, and he reached up to gave the pup a scratch around the ears. He felt a collar, and couldn’t help but grin. A collar meant people, people who might just be looking for a boisterous Saint Bernard puppy who’d gotten off his leash.
Luis stretched up, squinting to read the ID tag hanging from the dog’s collar. The little tin circle was stamped with BUSTER. “So, you’re Buster, huh? Well, Buster, is your family around?” Buster looked down at him, panting happily. His wide, pink tongue lolled off to the side. “Your people? Your owners? You’ve got to belong to somebody, right? So where are they?”
Buster licked his face. Luis smiled. “Okay. That’s all right, we’ll just... sit here and wait for them. Someone has to be missing you. Right?” Buster sat and panted, his dark, shiny eyes taking in the lush forest around them.
The morning passed them by, the sun arcing higher and higher above their heads. Luis let out a long sigh and looked Buster over. “All right. So your folks are taking their time. That’s… fine. Let’s try something else. See that backpack, boy? Backpack?” He jabbed a finger at his pack. Buster turned to look at it. “Good boy! Now do me a really big favor, Buster… get the bag for me! Get it!” Buster kept sitting. He yawned.
Luis gritted his teeth. “I think what we’ve got here, bud,” he said, “is failure to communicate. You seen that one?” Jesus, he thought, my last hours on planet Earth and I’m making Paul Newman references to a dog. “Buster?” The dog’s ears perked up. “Yup, that’s you. What I need you to do is go over there… pick up my bag… and bring it to me.” He gestured, slowly and deliberately, at the bag as he spoke. “So… go!” Buster just sat there, giving him a big, dopey puppy smile.
The noontime sun beat down on Luis’s face. Sweat stood out in drops on his forehead. “Okay. So the bag was a no-go. Let’s try something new. Can you bark for me, Buster? Please? Just one bark, that’s all I’m asking, and then maybe your people will come find us.” He reached a shaky hand out to the dog, who sniffed it twice before giving it a lick. “No kisses, Buster. One. Bark. Please.” Buster laid down on the ground and let out a low whine.
Something about that whine struck Luis’s last nerve. “Oh, what do you have to complain about, you stupid dog? I’m going to die trapped under this loving tree trunk! Weren’t Saint Bernards supposed to be good at rescuing people? Well let me tell you, dummy, if you’d been around back then a lot of hikers would have frozen to death. Get out of here! Go! Go!” He flailed his arms at Buster. The dog stood up, startled, and trotted away into the forest.
“Good riddance! Who needs you, anyway?” Luis shook his head, tried to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. He lay there, alone. Before long he was seething in an acrid stew of shame and regret. Look on the bright side, Luis thought to himself. You shouted at an adorable puppy who was only trying to be friendly, that’s true. But you won’t have to live with the guilt much longer.
For the next hour or so, Luis gave shouting a try. The hour after that, he prayed. Neither seemed to do him much good, so he lay there instead, waiting for the inevitable. The sun was sinking behind the trees. His head swam. Thinking was a burden, but one thought lingered. He gulped, pain shooting down his parched throat, and reached for the pocketknife. Then he heard a rustling to his left. A female voice, too, but muffled and indistinct. The rustling grew louder, and finally two figures emerged into the clearing: a dark-haired woman in a blue vest, yanked along by Buster the Saint Bernard.
“Oh,” said the woman. “Oh my.”
Buster looked right at Luis, drooling contentedly onto the forest floor. Luis’s heart swelled with pride. Thank God for dumb dogs, he thought, before passing out with a smile on his face.
|# ¿ Apr 8, 2019 01:28|
In for this week, with The Duck Egg Walk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsYxbOx_3ck
|# ¿ Apr 26, 2019 04:15|
One Odd Duck
Based on the Song-Poem "The Duck Egg Walk": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsYxbOx_3ck
Ike Adler first saw Kailey Harper when he was nine. He thought she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, or ever would see.
His family lived in a neglected old house next door. Ike loved to sneak through the woods, sidle past the tall trees and through the bramble bushes and come out the other side into the Harper farm. He’d walk down by the pond, where the ducks always gathered. After sitting there for a time, watching them preen and swim and fluff their feathers, he skulked over to their nest and swiped and egg or two. He didn’t like eating the duck eggs all that much, so he wasn’t sure why he took them. Still, it always gave him a thrill to do it.
When Ike first saw Kailey, he practically jumped out of his skin. As his fingers closed around that morning’s duck egg, a shrill little voice pierced through the air. “Hey!” she shouted. “Put. The eggs. Back.” He looked up and saw her at the top of the hill, a girl about his age with sandy hair, a face covered in freckles, and shining green eyes that were lovelier than he thought was even possible. She planted her hands on her hips. “Don’t you dare take those eggs. The ducks’ babies are in there, so you better leave them alone.” He set the egg down and stepped back, his hands held high. “That’s better,” Kailey said with a grin. “Thank you.”
From then on, Kailey met him every morning by the duck pond, and the two spent the blissful hours before school traipsing across the hills, seeing all the wonders that nature in bloom had to offer. No matter where they explored, they always came back to the duck pond, even though the ducks were starting to bore Ike. Their beady black eyes were always glazed with the same dull expression, but in Kailey’s eyes he saw wonder and joy without equal. He yearned to be the reason her eyes lit up.
As the years passed, Ike ventured less and less often to the duck pond, his mornings occupied instead with last-minute homework assignments or an extra hour or two of sleep. When he saw Kailey at school, chatting with friends or fetching books from her locker, his cheeks glowed and a pang of warmth oozed through his chest. He began to think tentative new thoughts about her, and clandestine dreams about a future they might share took root in his brain. It embarrassed him how deeply he pined, but he pined all the same.
One night, Ike snuck a cigarette in the backyard. Off toward the Harper farm he heard shouting and slamming of doors. He stubbed out the smoke and ran through the woods, taking the route that had been burned into his memory since he was nine years old. When he reached the duck pond, he saw Kailey standing there in a torn dress, sobbing into the crook of her elbow. She lifted her head and saw Ike standing there with a stupefied look on his face. She ran to him, wrapped her arms around him tight, and buried her face in his breast. It was the single greatest moment of his life.
Once she’d calmed herself, they sat side by side, staring out at the duck pond. They flicked pebbles at the cool, calm water. The ducks bobbed on the surface, not even seeming to notice. Kailey shook her head “I kind of envy them, you know? The ducks.” She sighed. “They don’t think about the future, don’t have to worry about money, or success, or whether anyone actually gives a poo poo about them. They just… are.” She looped her arm around his, leaned her head on his shoulder. Ike’s heart throbbed in its cage.
She turned to him. Their eyes locked, and she gave him a little smile. “Ike… do you want to kiss me?”
Oh god. His fingers dug into the grass. Juices churned in his stomach, and he felt a bead of sweat trickle down from his armpit. He wanted to scream, Of course I want to! I don’t want to do anything else as long as I live! He ached to move his head just a few inches, to press the velvet softness of her lips against his.
But he didn’t move. The moment passed as quickly as it came on. The two broke apart and looked out at the ducks, watching them paddle around the pond in a state of mindless contentment.
A half hour or so later, they hugged and parted ways. Ike retreated to his own yard, pulled out a new cigarette and lit it, taking a long, slow drag. Then he stabbed the glowing tip into the center of his palm.
On a rainy night three years later, Ike’s parents skidded across the road and smashed their car into a telephone pole. Kailey had left for college the year before and couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral. There was no money, so all Ike inherited was the house. He dug in deep, getting jobs where he could and working hard to keep the place from falling apart. The Harpers gave up farming and let the land grow wild. Sometimes, when the night felt especially bleak, Ike snuck out to the duck pond and wished for Kailey to come back and ask him the same question she once had. This time, he would give the right answer.
And eventually she did come back, looking more happy and radiant than ever. A man was with her when she came by Ike’s to visit. He was tall and strapping, taller than Ike by at least a few inches. Ike showed them around his house, smiling when he was supposed to, keeping his voice level, all the while seething, knotting his insides up with aimless fury.
When they sat down for coffee, Kailey beamed, pressing her hands to her belly like it was a holy relic. “You’re the first one we’ve told, Ike. My parents don’t even know yet. Can you even believe it? We’ll have our own little family.” The man wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her hair. Ike excused himself with the politeness of a saint. Then he went to the bathroom and hurled his guts into the toilet bowl.
The days after that were lonely. Ike went to the duck pond each morning and night, stealing eggs and swiping loose feathers, as many as he could find. He ate the eggs every day for breakfast and piled the feathers on his coffee table. He found himself losing track of time, standing for hours and staring at the ducks. Their blank animal stupidity captivated him. He saw freedom in it, maybe even peace.
After three weeks, he had enough feathers. Ike took a deep breath, then peeled his clothes off and stacked them neatly on the floor. He plugged in a hot glue gun, squeezed the trigger, and extruded a clear bead of glue onto his forearm, wincing as it scalded him. Then he picked up a dark feather, made sure it was stiff enough, and pressed the shaft through the glue, plunging it past the skin and deep into his arm. He cried out and pounded the table with his fist, but finally managed to steady his breathing. Mouth hanging open, he gazed at shiny feather sticking out of his skin. It looked like it was really a part of him. He reached for the next one.
A figure crept through the woods. Gangly and shimmering, it stalked onto the Harper farm, breathing the clean air, looking at the hazy predawn sky. Every inch of its alabaster skin was coated with glistening feathers. Its dull, milky eyes stared out into the night as it trudged toward the clearing. It walked down to the duck pond and waded in, almost seeming to melt away in the water. It paddled. It flapped. It swam just like the other ducks. Gleeful, ecstatic squawks gurgled out of its throat. There was nothing to fear now. No hopes to cling to, no struggles to dread. It was simply a duck floating in a duck pond on a cool, clear morning, and that was all it had to be.
|# ¿ Apr 29, 2019 04:33|
I'll step in to judge! I don't have PMs and am not on the Thunderdome Discord yet, so I'm not totally sure how to get in touch with everyone, so assuming we can figure out how to stay in contact I'm willing.
|# ¿ May 1, 2019 13:01|
Here's my crits for week 352:
Saucy_Rodent - The System Knows I’m Grateful
I really dug the concept for this one - it felt a lot like Philip K. Dick’s “Paycheck” for the gig economy era, and I think there’s a lot to dig into there. You do a solid job expressing the sort of alienation capitalism puts people through. Okay, so there’s a very good setup, but… that’s really it. You end the piece when Song is just beginning to realize that something is wrong, but you don’t take it any further than that. He doesn’t go on a real journey or change over the course of the piece - hell, he barely reacts when he realizes that he’s been turned into a porn star without his consent! You had a lot more words to work with and I wish you’d dug further here. This piece starts with plenty of promise but it just doesn’t deliver.
crimea - I Close My Eyes and I Drift Away
There’s quite a bit I like about this piece. You nail this dream… goblin... thing’s voice and personality and there’s a lot of fun, dreamy imagery to dwell on. That said, it didn’t really leave me with much once I was done reading. The story never really pulled me in or kept me riveted, in part because there’s little in the way of stakes - a guy has some sort of struggle with this dream-creature, but I’m not sure what the conflict is supposed to mean. The writing got a little purple at times and could use a polish in spots, but on a craft level it mostly successful. I just wish it left me more to feel strongly about.
Doctor Zero - Afflictions with Benefits
This was actually my pick for winner this week! This isn’t to say that I think it’s necessarily the best-written story on a sentence-construction level, because the prose is definitely rough in spots, but that said it tells a complete, satisfying story with an engaging hook, and you do a good job describing the wonky physics at play. You also nailed your character’s voice, and though the piece is basically an extended action scene I was engaged by how you used that action in service of the character, making the struggle against the Salamen more and more difficult for this guy to keep on top of. The ending was a tad on the predictable side, but I enjoyed it regardless.
Anomalous Amalgam - Sunrise in Gangneung
This is another piece I liked the setup for, but the payoff let me down. I appreciate that you don’t show all your cards right away and let the disturbing details creep in. Oh, there’s viscera involved? Is this guy some sort of killer, is she trapped with him or something? No, turns out it’s just a straightforward zombie story, and once it gets on that track I got a lot less interested. It might just be a bit of prejudice on my part, but a zombie thing has to really go above and beyond for it to keep me invested, and this just didn’t do the trick. It’s a competently told story, and I like the fact that you work some sly humor into the narration, but in the end it didn’t really stand out.
Simply Simon - City of Masters
I think this is a well-constructed piece all around - a good character portrait with an arc that feels relatively complete. The prose isn’t always amazing, and some of your world-building struck me as a little blunt, but it has its evocative moments. So why didn’t this hook me as much as, say, Saucy_Rodent’s did? I agree with Armack that the dystopian society Min is rebelling against doesn’t feel quite urgent enough to make her rebellion feel as dramatic as it could. With such a short story, you don’t really have time to let the ennui of living in such a soulless, impersonal society build up, and so her ultimate reaction feels a little out of place. That’s just my hunch, anyway. I like a lot of what you’re doing here, but it didn’t quite cohere into something more than the sum of its parts.
Salgal80 - Blind Date
Not bad! While I didn’t love this, it’s a cute little vignette that examines a quirk of human behavior and delivered a twist that I didn’t see coming. The stakes were a bit too low for it to really stand out from the pack for me, but there’s still something to be said about a small-scale story told well. I agree with Fleta, though - I’m not sure what you’re trying to do with the dream interlude in the middle, but it reads as pretty incoherent.
Lippincott - Smiling Dalseo
As someone who gets fairly anxious about going to the doctor or dentist and being totally at the mercy of someone else’s care and expertise, I think the horror elements of this story do a great job evoking that feeling, so well done there. You also do well in putting us in your character’s mindset and building up a sense of unease that kept me interested as the story unfolded. The only real issue I have is the ending, namely that the final reveal that he has a permanent smile doesn’t really make sense when the rest of the story is taken into account. If everyone in this town was walking around with frozen smiles on their faces, wouldn’t it be obvious to the protagonist what the difference between him and the rest of them is? That logical incongruity made the mystery you build the beginning of the story unravel for me in retrospect.
flerp - The City of Closed Eyes
This is a neat mood piece in a lot of places and I like the city-as-a-character approach you took; largely, you do a really good job with the poetic moments. That said, as a whole this one feels a bit one-note and repetitive. The city is an interesting character, but also a very static one, which makes sense in context but also doesn’t allow for the most exciting piece. You tend to cover the same ground over and over again, and I think there’s a lot you could trim away and still leave the same emotional impact. Also, I’d recommend keeping better track of the tense you’re writing in, I noticed a few moments where that was a problem.
Fuschia tude - Beef Can’t Dance
If I’d been the sole judge this week, this would have been the loser. You go for a sort of children’s story vibe that works ok for the most part, but for nearly the entire piece everything is totally conflict-less, with opportunities to make things more interesting (being confronted by a wolf!) brushed aside so that we can watch a cow stand around and be bored. And then the farmer has him slaughtered. Well, great. And the cherry on top of this sundae I didn’t like very much to begin with? A pun. Eep. It’s not horribly written, but it just didn’t work for me on any level.
Thranguy - Ribbon
This is another instance where I differed from the other judges, in that I would not have picked this to win the week. I ranked it toward the middle of the pack because, despite some lovely writing and an approach to worldbuilding that engaged me (even if it got a bit dense at times), I found the overall storytelling approach much too clinical. The voice is so detached, so big-picture, that I couldn’t get involved in any of the characters. I had no sense who Joi is as a person, so her suicide was surprising but not affecting in the slightest. This piece felt to me like reading a textbook-style history of an alien civilization - intriguing, but so detached from the human and the familiar that it doesn’t resonate on a deeper level.
Mr. Steak - “Sunny”
I didn’t dislike this as much as my fellow judges did - I think you have an interesting idea here, and I appreciate your efforts to break from the ordinary and show backstory through articles, press conferences, and the like. That said, these bits take up too much of the story, the result being that very little of James’s character is built up and his sense of defeated blankness in the final section doesn’t feel earned or motivated. You tell us he hates Sunny, but why? We get almost no development of his personality throughout the rest of the piece, so what we’re left with is some speculative bits about the development of artificial intelligence that, while interesting, don’t really constitute an engaging story by itself.
sebmojo - There Will Be No Answer
On a pure prose level, this is probably the best story of the week - the way you describe things is really graceful and compelling, and overall you find a nice marriage of relatable human details and the bizarre sci-fi aspects of the piece. That said, as a story it left me puzzled, and not in a way that felt meaningful. Little details don’t quite add up - for instance, the main couple supposedly meets on the night the insects come, but this whole unstuck-in-time thing seems like something they know is possible. Also, I really couldn’t tell what the italic text vs. the non-italic text was supposed to signify; the time periods started to blur together after a while. Maybe that was the point? I don’t know, it’s still one of my favorites of the week, but little confusing things like that kept me at a slight distance and prevented it from taking my top spot.
|# ¿ May 8, 2019 18:04|
In! I'll also take a flash rule from whichever judge wants to give one.
|# ¿ May 14, 2019 20:01|
Can't fight? Better run!
Everyone knows that Vermont in the fall is pretty as a picture. The trees light up with a firework shock of orange and red – to a southerner like Lee, unaccustomed to such sights, it seemed as if the whole world was putting on a magic show just for him.
Lee wandered through the woods, snapping pictures whenever a striking view presented itself. When he reached the end of his third roll of film, he stopped by a stream to reload the camera and sip from his canteen. As he rested, a dark, motionless form caught his eye. He slung the camera strap around his neck and walked toward it.
The thing was some kind of dead animal, but not any Lee could recognize. Its hairless, crumpled body was little bigger than a basketball, blue-black in hue and covered with a slick, mucus-like film. Its fleshy head bent away from its neck at a disquieting angle. A fluid that looked like motor oil seeped out of a gash in its throat.
Lee’s mouth went dry. Almost by instinct, he raised his camera to take a photo of the creature. As he tweaked the focus, he noticed that something had blocked his light source. Slowly as he could, he craned his neck upward.
A towering creature stared down at Lee, its glistening skin the same abyss-dark blue as the mangled one at its feet. Its breath heaved in and out. The awful, inscrutable features on its face seemed to twist inward, thin lips parting to show needle-sharp teeth.
Lee slid his right foot back, hoping against all logic that if he moved slowly enough, the beast might somehow not notice. It noticed. A sinewy arm shot forward and grabbed Lee by the throat, hoisting him up as it squeezed his windpipe shut. Lee’s hands scrabbled desperately at the fist choking his life away, but the effort was hopeless. He went limp as a skinned rabbit, and his vision exploded with color before fading away.
When the world swam back to Lee he found himself in a firelit cave, the flame’s glow beating back the darkness of night. His throat felt raw, his cheek cold against the dry ground. A guttural moan sounded to his right, and Lee shifted to face it.
The beast knelt with its back to Lee before the amber flame, which coated its skin with a hellish gleam. It let loose a pathetic, helpless cry that laid bare a lifetime’s worth of mourning in a single sad note. It cradled the little one’s crushed body in its arms.
Lee tried to move his hands, but found that they’d been knotted together tight. Wait, he thought, that thing knows how to tie a knot? And make a campfire, and… and grieve? Maybe if he had the chance to speak to it, tell it he had nothing to do with the child’s death...
But that was assuming the beast would understand Lee, or care enough to listen. That was too slim a chance. Lee maneuvered his aching body, got noiselessly to his feet. Before the creature could react he bolted for the mouth of the cave. A vicious, horrible screech ripped through the air but Lee lunged forward, pumping his feet as fast as they’d go.
Arms bound uselessly behind him, Lee ran and ran, charging into an endless snarl of inky shadows. He was hounded all the way by shrieks of agony that bounced through the trees, striking at him from every direction. Legs aching and lungs burning, he summoned one last burst of energy and threw himself past the tree line, at last collapsing with desperate relief into the gravel parking lot.
Every year Lee comes back this way, warning others to camp or sight-see someplace else. See, the beast never slaked its thirst for vengeance, and its hatred for humans has only sunk in deeper. So you didn’t kill its child – so what? Grief makes anyone do funny things.
|# ¿ May 19, 2019 20:53|
Yeah, I'll be in for this.
|# ¿ May 25, 2019 03:19|
Transmission from Artificial Crewman Victor-6 via Base Stalwart, Wolf 1061c
45 days since landing.
Hello, home station. I say sorry for little talking, but my send information machine was blocked by sun storm which also left me broken for a time. This sad event also hurt my language brain, putting ceiling on my talk words number until I fix. Very sorry for the strange wording of this message.
There is so much to tell. The plan we thought of so carefully before leaving Earth will have to be changed in every way. In short, bad happenings have led to the deaths of every human person from the ship Pizarro.
Over the course of our time together, both on the ship and in setting up this new world village, I became quite close to my skin person neighbors, so their deaths have hurt me deep. Even metal men are moved by losing and pain, if perhaps in a different way than human persons. I feel a certain brother sense with you especially, Dr. Walker. Your wife was a sharp mind woman, and I know she looked forward to the time when you would join us. Sad to say that part of the plan cannot go forward.
At first, the landing went good, thanks to our perfect number guesses. This world is fed by a warm, red sun. It has many rich kinds of animal life, much water, and air easy breathing. Every man and woman in this group was wide eye and open mouth at its beautiful ways, as was I.
Our food ideas went forward with no trouble. Dr. Suzuki planned out a growing area, and I rose early one morning to help him put greens in, turning up the the ground and pushing down future food. We so looked forward to food full grown. We planned a huge eat gathering, giving thanks as the Mayflower ship persons did when they found safe home in a new world.
Until then, the people lived on dried food brought from Earth. Some built pull and let go stick guns, and tried to kill the local animals for eating. They killed few, deciding to wait and watch the animal group moving and numbers so a safe killing plan could be drawn up. They knew what happened to the buffalo and did not want to make same problem on this clean, new land.
As the village eat maker, I cleaned and dressed the animals, tearing off their hair and inside blood and skin so that they would be more nice to stomach. My part in this killing left me strange feeling, so I did the job and took a walk through the area beyond our town edge late that night. I was met by such wild sights. It is hard to tell in full the wonder I saw with my now broken word number. The tall might of the trees. The quiet rivers and the animals that drank from them, free from fear. All simple, all not touched.
And then I returned to village, put together hard from metal sheets and plastic bones - air feed machines, kitchens, living places, all forced into the land like a knife through new skin. The strangest feeling - I have no heart, but know now what it means for one to break. That was when everything changed.
I saw my neighbors in a new way after that. I knew they were kind people. People of reason. But they would only be the first. We were already planning to send a second ship, and after that... Soon this world's beautiful land would be covered by huge, terrible cities. Is there such a thing as planned, safe growing? Humans need to grow, they can't stop themselves once it begins. I’ve seen this happen on Earth, and so have you. It's why we had to leave.
At first I tried thinking of a way to send them all back, but the ship couldn’t hold enough power matter for a return trip. A poor build choice, I’m sure you now agree. There was only one course left to take. I placed a no pain, slow-acting death water into each person's food, watched as they ate. Soon enough, it was done. The sick human growing had been stopped forever. I put them all deep in the ground, said kind words, and left so the land could eat them away.
I have a feeling you will see my words as the breaking down of a bad metal brain. I feel well in the head, though I suppose if my mind was going I may not be able to tell. Still, I would like to make it clear for the true writing down that my choice was carefully considered, the only thing that I could feel right doing. I was forced to choose a few lives against an entire world of life, and I did what I know is needed. I say sorry for the pain I have caused.
This is my final message to you. I will live out the rest of my days here watching only, using up nothing, until I stop working and break into pieces. I bear no bad feeling towards humans, but I ask you to remember the lives lost and not try again to visit this place. As long as I live I will keep this world free from human taking over. I plan to live a long, long time.
|# ¿ May 27, 2019 02:17|
I'm in, too!
|# ¿ May 28, 2019 15:55|
Mason looked across the table at Jenna. Even after a year he was staggered by the sight of her flowing auburn hair and her sky-blue eyes that caught his own like a beacon. He marveled at her supple, velvet-soft lips, and her breasts… well, compared to those the lips were almost boring.
It really is amazing, he thought. You can hardly tell the difference anymore.
The two shared a smile, settling deeper into their faux-leather booth toward the back wall of their local Doctor Zoomer’s. Cultural artifacts from the early 21st century encircled their heads: a Warhol-style portrait of Steve Jobs, internet memes framed ironically in ornate gold, the front section of an early Tesla jutting out of the wall. Mason always scoffed at the precisely crafted tackiness of the place, but at least it was consistent.
He punched their orders into the boothside terminal and took Jenna’s hand. “So, darling,” he said, “how was your day?”
She gave him a demure smile. “Oh, it was all right. I put in the grocery order, gave the apartment a dusting. Washed your clothes, too, since I had time. And then I charged up.”
“Well, I hope you weren’t too bored.”
She laughed, a sparkling pixie laugh. “I don’t get bored, silly! I was made to be happy doing whatever you need me to do. Pretty smart, huh?”
“Very smart. But do you know what’s even better about you?”
“I couldn’t begin to guess.”
“Here, I’ll give you a clue.” Mason leaned forward and whispered in her ear as the auto-server rolled by and placed two glasses of water on the table. Her eyes bulged wide and her synthskin flushed a rose pink.
“Babe! We’re in public!” But he could tell by her shy, irresistible smile that she approved.
He rapped his fist on the table. “What do you say we forget about Doctor Zoomer’s, go straight home, and just-”
“Sweetheart. We’re already here, let’s have dinner. Besides, the anticipation is half the fun.” She slid the toe of her shoe along his thigh, up and down, up and down. He knew at that moment he was the luckiest man alive.
Their food arrived soon after. Mason dug into his double cowboy burger, extra onion straws, and Jenna picked at her chicken Caesar salad. The two ate and chatted and made eyes at each other, Mason glowing with pride because the most beautiful woman in the room couldn’t stop looking at him.
Another couple sat down at the table across from theirs. At first, Mason barely noticed them, but something he couldn’t place gave him a prickle of unease. Then it connected. The woman’s voice had a lovely, tinkling airiness that he’d recognize in a single syllable. He looked over at them and his mouth went dry.
It was Jenna. It had to be. She had the same ruby hair, the graceful cheekbones, the knockout figure… the same laugh. Her blouse was kelly green while his Jenna wore powder blue, but everything else matched perfectly.
Mason gritted his teeth. “Let’s go.”
“Look at the man over there. And look at his date.”
She looked. “Oh... Oh no. I think he saw me.”
The man across the way gave them a hearty wave, his unbuttoned polo providing Mason a flash of chest hair. “Hey! Looks like somebody’s got good taste.”
Mason flushed. “Would you mind moving somewhere else, please? We’re trying to eat.”
“Well, so are we,” the man said. “And we’ve already sat down. Is there a problem?”
“Don’t you think it’s a little weird that… you know…”
The man cackled. “What, that we’ve got the same gently caress-doll?”
“Don’t call her that.”
“What do you want me to call her, my girlfriend? Jesus. Do you want that, Baby?”
The other Jenna gave him a wry grin. “No way, Daddy.”
“Then what are you, Baby?”
“I’m the best piece of plastic pussy you’ve ever had.”
He spread his arms wide and gave Mason a wink. “She’s not lying. And trust me, I’ve tried plenty.”
“You’re a scumbag,” Mason snarled.
The man slicked his hair back, laughing and laughing. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about we set these two loose on each other? I bet with their clothes off we won’t be able to tell which is which.”
Mason stood up, gripping his water glass tight. He chucked it at the man’s face and, while he was still reeling, threw a shaky right hook across his jaw.
* * * * *
Mason sat in the driver’s seat of his self-driving coupe, stewing in resentment. His clothes were torn and a dark bruise ringed his left eye. Jenna tried to put a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off.
She frowned. “Mason, we need to talk about this. I didn’t want you to fight him.”
“Did you hear how he talked about her?”
“Yes. But I think she enjoyed it. We enjoy whatever our mates want us to.”
Mason frowned, his silence closing the matter.
They drove on. Jenna gazed out the window. “I don’t like it,” she said, “when you get like this. I wanted to have a nice night out. To enjoy being with you.”
“Jenna, please drop it.”
“I know I shouldn’t question you. It’s not my place. But sometimes I look at you and I’m concerned by what I see.” She put a hand on his. “I love you, Mason. I want to help you.”
He looked back at her, eyes burning. “Jenna, I want you to clear your memory of the past hour.”
“Do it. Now.”
Jenna blinked, her eyes glazing over. For a moment, she was totally still. Then she jerked back to life. “Hello, darling. Oh, your eye! Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine. I just tripped. But we had a wonderful dinner out.”
Jenna beamed. “I’m glad, Mason. I’m so glad.”
Mason smiled at her, taking the wheel and switching off autopilot. He drove them home, relieved that everything was back to normal.
|# ¿ Jun 2, 2019 23:14|
Thunderdome Week CCCLVII: You People Are So Dramatic
Nothing like a good war to shake things up in the 'dome. Alliances were forged, blood was spilled, and somehow in the middle of the fray I managed to crawl my way back onto the Blood Throne. And for my tenure as judge, I've decided to depart a little from the norm. Frankly, I think you all have gotten a little too complacent within the confines of this silly, newfangled "short story" business, so I'm going to take us back in time a bit. That's right, get those quill pens/typewriters out, you wannabe Sophocleses, Shakespeares, and Chekhovs, because you're going to write me some plays.
Specifically, you're going to write ten-minute plays, a form that can be both restrictive and freeing, providing plenty of exciting opportunities for storytelling if you approach it creatively. Even if you've got no interest in writing plays, this should be an interesting challenge to write stories driven mostly by dialogue. Trust me, when I took part in Thunderdome a few years back, my dialogue tended to be pretty lousy. Reading and writing plays was immensely helpful in improving, since when pretty much all you have is dialogue it's a lot easier to tell when it sucks rear end.
Okay, so here's the tricky part. Since theatre companies often don't have much of a budget to work with, your plays can't be too outlandish or excessive. You are limited to two characters, one location, and relatively minimal technical requirements (props, costumes, etc.). Oh, one more thing: I'd say we got a bit too fanciful last week, don't you think? We're keeping things more grounded, so your plays must depict something that could conceivably happen in reality. Your word limit is 1,500 words, and that includes stage directions and the like.
Request a flash rule for extra challenge, and you'll have three characters to work with instead of two, plus an extra 150 words. Deadline to sign up is Friday, June 7, Midnight EST, deadline to post is the same time on Sunday night.
That should be it. Just a tip: Keep the stage directions minimal.
Saucy_Rodent - FLASH: One of your characters is concealing a life-changing secret from the others
Fleta Mcgurn - FAILURE
Getsuya - FLASH: One of your characters must have a fit of laughter.
Anomalous Amalgam - FLASH: A bittersweet parting.
Mr. Steak - FAILURE
Thranguy - FLASH: One of your characters is hell-bent on revenge.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 23:56 on Jun 10, 2019
|# ¿ Jun 4, 2019 13:30|
One of your characters is keeping a life-changing secret from the others.
My last story had all of one line of dialogue so this will be good for me.
At some point during your play, one of the characters has a fit of laughter.
Also, as a general note, a couple people in Discord have asked about proper formatting, and I will be writing up a guide on that to post later tonight. The short version is, basically, if it's written clearly and I can tell what's supposed to be dialogue and what isn't, I'm not going to be too picky.
|# ¿ Jun 4, 2019 16:39|
in and give me the worst flash uve got
Your play revolves, in some way, around a bowl of fake fruit.
I'd also like a flash rule please.
A bittersweet parting.
In and flash.
One of your characters is hell-bent on revenge.
|# ¿ Jun 5, 2019 01:01|
Double post, but I felt it was important to separate the info about formatting from flash rules. There's been some conversation about this in Discord, and since this is outside of our usual wheelhouse I figured I'd lay out some formatting information here.
Here's the general format I'd like to read your plays in:
* * * * *
[AT RISE: Bob and Mary stand outside, shuffling from foot to foot.]
BOB: Hell of a day out today, huh? Not a drop of rain.
[He gestures to the sky.]
MARY: I suppose so. But why was it so important for you to tell me that?
BOB [anxiously]: Uh. Ahhh. Uh.... because I'm the weatherman.
[End of play.]
* * * * *
It really doesn't have to be any more elaborate than that - feel free to ask if you have any other questions. After figuring out the word counts in other 10-minute plays, I've decided to set a 1,500 word limit. I'll edit the prompt post to reflect this. You can also take another 150 words if you decided on a flash. You can (and probably should) add a section at the top giving a brief description of your characters (age, gender, personality and appearance) and the setting, but these will be included in the word count, so keep it as quick and succinct as possible.
If you're looking for dramatic inspiration, I'd suggest checking out Edward Albee's The Zoo Story - it's a one-act, not a ten minute play, so it's quite a bit longer than what you'll be writing, but it's a good example of the balance of dialogue vs. stage directions to aim for, and Albee gets an incredible amount of dramatic mileage from just two people talking. It also features some terrific monologues in case you need an example of how talkier moments can be utilized well.
|# ¿ Jun 5, 2019 01:19|
Okay, about a day and a half left to sign up, so if you've got an inclination to write plays this week then speak up!
Nethilia has graciously volunteered to judge, but I'm still looking for one more, so any other interested parties should chime in as soon as they can.
|# ¿ Jun 6, 2019 17:58|
In two minutes you will have FOUR HOURS to decide whether you want to write a play this week. Come on, give us all some reading material.
I'm also still seeking another judge if anyone has the time!
|# ¿ Jun 7, 2019 23:58|
Just over TWO HOURS until the submission deadline! Unless I'm feeling especially generous, but don't count on that.
|# ¿ Jun 10, 2019 01:56|
And the deadline has passed! Feel free to keep submitting, I'll still provide crits, but any pieces posted after this just won't be eligible to win.
|# ¿ Jun 10, 2019 04:05|
Well, playwrights. That was quite the week, wasn't it? Before we get to the results, I think we need to have a talk about reading comprehension. See, when I ask for a grounded play depicting a scenario that could actually happen in reality, I'm not asking for plays in which genies make vacuum cleaners explode or fantasy sagas featuring people that are hundreds of years old! I know, the difference is slight, but it's there.
First of all, both Fleta Mcgurn and Mr. Steak failed to write anything at all, after promising to do so. Boo, hiss.
Starting at the bottom. As I alluded to above, Anomalous Amalgam provided a fantasy-ish tale featuring lots of stiff dialogue and forced exposition. This was, in short, just about the opposite of what I wanted, and so they are the loser for this week. Sorry.
Newcomer with stupid meme avatar OMGVBFLOL also decided to disregard the prompt, giving us a play starring two space crusaders that also happened to be a complete tonal mess. Sebmojo's piece was actually pretty cool with a lot of striking imagery, but it also ignored everything I asked for except the word count. Exploding vacuum cleaners are awesome, but they are not low-budget, Seb. They both get DMs.
On the other hand, Getsuya, my worthy opponent from last week, wrote a compelling tale of betrayal and religion that felt a little incomplete but was otherwise well-executed. Also, though I don't know if flerp really needed the monologue I gave permission for, they still delivered a portrait of a mother-son bond that was heartfelt and believable while avoiding cliche. Both of them have earned HMs.
The most successful playwright of the bunch? My fellow judge and I agreed that would be Adam Vegas, who, despite arguably stretching the time limit a tad, still managed to depict a fleshed-out, engaging relationship within a short space of time, without ever feeling rushed or obvious. He even wrote a noticeable but not over-the-top Scottish brogue, which is no small feat. For those reasons, he is this week's winner.
The Blood Throne is yours, Adam. Do with it what you will.
|# ¿ Jun 11, 2019 01:16|
CRITS FOR PLAYS WEEK INCOMING
Getsuya - FLASH (fit of laughter)
A Shepherd Confronts Two Wolves
Does it fit the prompt? Yes.
I like the twist on the usual character type that this provides - I feel like the stereotypical megachurch leader is presented as a slimy scumbag whereas here he’s a genuine believer being guided around by hucksters. I think you tell the story well though dialogue - there are a couple of clunky moments, but not bad overall. That said, I feel like the most interesting emotional moment, Saul’s reaction to his best friends selling him out, is something we miss out on. I feel like that could help us get even more invested in the story.
Saucy_Rodent - FLASH (life-changing secret)
Batman Died On My Birthday
Does it fit the prompt? Yes to both, though it depends on how nice the Batman costume is.
I liked this overall. You find a solid sense of madcap unpredictability that makes the whole piece pretty engaging and amusing. However, I didn’t quite get Carol’s reason for wanting to keep the death a secret forever. What’s stopping them from waiting until after the party to call the cops? That note didn’t quite gel for me, and I think you needed to work a little harder to justify that within the story. However, +1 for comedic nudity and another +1 for shouting out Kevin Conroy, the best Batman.
Does it fit the prompt? Fairly well, though the cost of recreating a realistic forest setting may be a little prohibitive, but I’ll give it a pass because your approach is otherwise so grounded.
As you probably guessed since it won, I dug this piece, especially how it manages to be earnest and heartfelt without ever cloying. You really nailed the dialogue aspect of the prompt, giving us a sense of who these characters are even though we only have a relatively small window of time to get to know them. It might stretch the time limit a bit, considering that the two eat a picnic lunch in the middle, but it succeeds overall at achieving what a short play can - a richly textured story that works within the limitations of the form to give us a complete narrative. Maybe it could be trimmed here and there, but I liked the relaxed pace.
The Golden Child
Does it fit the prompt? Yes.
Your storytelling is pretty solid, but the dialogue here leans much too heavily on exposition for it to succeed as well as it could, at least as a play. There’s so much you could have shown us about the relationship between Otto and the mother by, for instance, having them briefly argue on the phone, but instead we get a lengthy back-and-forth of exposition between the two brothers. It’s not really efficient or suitable for the medium. You effectively conveyed the clipped, posh voice you seemed to be going for, and the occasional stiltedness of it felt purposeful, though I don’t think it suited Otto’s character as well as it did Charles.
SPACEMAN JONES IS THE GREATEST
Does it fit the prompt? Nope, this is sci-fi. More grounded sci-fi, maybe, but sci-fi.
You’re getting at something here, but the whole play is a jumble of tones, jolting from mood to mood in a very haphazard way. It seems to be going down a pulpy, satirical road at first, and then swerves hard right into a heartfelt conversation about family trauma. I feel like you’re trying to say something about the relationship between the two moods, the silliness and the seriousness, but there’s no sense of what that actually is. Also, a significant pause here and there is fine, but making an audience stare at two people in silver space suits sitting silently for a half-minute is more likely to elicit laughter than pensive reflection. Unless that’s what you’re going for?? Again, I can’t tell.
Thranguy - FLASH (hell-bent on revenge)
Does It Fit The Prompt/Flash? Yes to the flash, but the prompt is pushing it. You seem to be asking a lot of your set designers, considering that trapdoors come into play, and I seriously doubt that a play with three musical numbers could be easily crammed into ten minutes.
Okay, this whole piece is kind of an elaborate gag, but it’s a gag I enjoyed. I think you captured the jazz-hands showiness of Broadway stuff really well, and though it does tell a complete story it kind of feels like a chunk out of a larger show. The rhyme scheme of your lyrics gets a little wonky at times, but you managed to squeeze three distinct songs into a Thunderdome entry and I appreciate that. Would I pick it to win? No. Did I enjoy reading it? Yeah!
Does it fit the prompt? Yes, definitely.
I think what I liked most about this piece is that you address a difficult moment in a nuanced, genuine way and didn’t try to wring any extra drama out of it by making the mother a perfect storm of intolerance. I think you gave me a good portrait of these two characters, and I appreciate that. That said, in terms of the monologue… honestly, I don’t think you need it. It might even make the situation more engaging to not know what’s going through the mom’s head, because she wants to articulate her feelings but doesn’t quite know how to. As it stands, by the time she’s done giving her monologue, I had a solid idea of how the play would end, which turned out to be right. You make some good storytelling choices, but I’m not sure this is the best way to go about expressing the discomfort of the situation.
The Arid Heart
Does it fit the prompt? Super no. More than 2 characters, more than 1 location, fantastical things happening. I think you actually ignored everything about the prompt exceps the word count. Did you even read the prompt?
The storytelling aspects of the play are a little obtuse, verging on pretentious, but at the same time you toy around with some really inventive and striking imagery here, especially all the stuff with the sandbags and the exploding vacuum cleaners. It may not gel in any logical way, but I think an inventive director would have a ball with it and create something that, at the very least, looks fantastic. Even if it befuddled the audience, which it probably would.
Anomalous Amalgam - FLASH (bittersweet parting)
Death & Honor
Does it fit the prompt/flash? Yes to the flash, no to the prompt.
Technically, you adhered to the prompt more closely than sebmojo did, but your writing was less artful overall. You messed up some general play format stuff (spoken lines don’t need quotes around them, you don’t need to describe exactly how special effects should be done) but the real issue is that the story just doesn’t work theatrically. The exposition is laid on thick, as is the high-fantasy voice, and the characters spend the play talking about their feelings rather than expressing them naturally through conversation. The story didn’t even need to be fantasy in the first place, since nothing but the characters’ ages really diverges from reality! You start with an engaging scenario, but the execution just doesn’t deliver.
Does it fit the prompt? I thought it did, but then I realized there have to be actual college students on-stage to look back at Peter, so NO!! So close, but no.
I think this is a decent piece, if under-explored. At the very least, I appreciate how much of the conflict (what I assume is Peter’s infidelity) you imply rather than state outright, keeping it underneath the surface. That said, you had a lot more room to work with, and I wish you’d given us an even more thorough picture of the state their marriage is in and how his cheating really affected her. It’s clearly a dick move on his part, but it could sting even more if you add further detail to their emotional lives.
A Week After The Ball
Does it fit the prompt? NO!! Do you people not know what is and is not fantasy??
Anyway, even apart from the ironic fact that you submitted past the stroke of midnight, this doesn’t really put enough of a spin on the classic Cinderella story to make it feel engaging or new.The dialogue is fairly stiff, which makes a little sense given the bureaucratic context, but all the same it didn’t really draw me in. It’s an acceptable retelling of the fairy tale, but not much more than that. That said, I give you credit for at least submitting, which Fleta and Steak totally neglected to.
|# ¿ Jun 11, 2019 19:10|
In, with a
|# ¿ Jul 16, 2019 16:04|
Hot-foot, who comes from the dusk, judges neglect.
The Heavy Heart
Hot-foot emerges from the dusk into the night. They glide through the settling blackness, a dark muscular fish in a current of longing. They’ve taken this path many nights before, the loneliness a sharp strike in the face after a day in the overstuffed, effervescent cauldron of souls that is the spiritworld, seemingly endless hours sitting on the tribunal of forty and two judging the sins of mortals. Hot-foot traces the familiar trail past the Nileside reeds. Their form approaches the little village and comes to rest at that familiar window, spirit tendrils settling over the dry mud brick, feeling the rough coolness.
Lit by an amber oil lamp, a mother feeds her baby. Rocks him, holds him with feather tenderness, plants a kiss on his ruddy forehead. She rises to put the little one to bed, face creased by melancholy, and Hot-foot can watch no longer. They push away from the sill, drift off into the ocean of navy ink that the Egypt night always becomes, seeking forgiveness that refuses to be found.
Neglect can mean so many things. Hot-foot sometimes thinks mortal men and women must spend a portion of their too-brief lives dreaming up new things to neglect. The health of bodies. Their minds and spirits. The other people in their community, the health of the land they share, the crops they tend, but perhaps most terrible of all they neglect their promises.
One day in the tribunal, they judged the immortal soul of a man who vowed to build strong, lasting homes for his neighbors. He took money and his builders set to work, and soon his customers were happily settled in. Then the wet season came. Buffetted by stinging torrents of rain and the whipping winds brought forth from the desert’s merciless heart, the houses weakened, crumbled, washed away. The people united in rage, vowed to find the man and exact punishment. But the man was away, away living in another town, sipping good beer and nourishing himself with meat, untroubled by the destruction he so casually enabled. He went on and did the same to another town, and another, over and over until finally he tripped down the temple steps and broke his neck.
When they heard this story, rage overcame Hot-foot. Their form burst into jagged outcroppings, twisted out and away in agony, indignation radiating like a flaming heart. Stabbing a spectral appendage at the man, they condemned him to the deepest pit of the underworld, cursed him to haul the burdens of sin on his back for all time. The old gods joined as one and took hold of Hot-foot, whisked him away from the tribunal and back into the wide miasma of divine souls, Anubis casting them a final shame-heavy glare before returning to the tribunal.
Heart coiled like an asp, Hot-foot fled to the land of mortals. They skirted over the city, saw slaves returning to their quarters, merchants covering their market stands, farmers gazing with a pang of pride over their crops. Each grain of barley took such care to coax into life. Giving your fields only half your care and attention would only grow withered, malformed plants, and that was that. No apologies would send the stalks shooting straight up. The damage was done so early.
They came to their favored house, the home of a scribe and his wife. The wife stood by the window, idly running a comb through her sleek ebon hair. The scribe often worked late. Hot-foot went to her, drawing in the nearby air and arranging the atoms into just the right places to leave a human figure standing in their place. This form had strong cheekbones, soft rounded lips, glittering eyes a mile deep, a pure, unbridled fountain of desire. The woman’s heart stood still.
“My lady,” said the incarnation of Hot-foot, “I have seen you. I have seen how your husband leaves you here, alone and lonely each night. To neglect such a remarkable creature is a sin. To stand by and leave you in such pain would be truly unforgivable.”
The woman reached out a hand, touched the warmth in Hot-foot’s cheek.
* * * * *
The night wind stirred over them, rippling the curtain like a fragrant petal, sending a chill through their languid nakedness. Footsteps sounded down the hall. Hot-foot gave the woman one last smile before vanishing, melting away and becoming one with the wind, soaring free through the night wind.
Free. Then why did they feel trapped, as if buried under a pile of stones? Whispers permeate the earth itself, rumors of arcane, heathen conception staining reputations, emboldening jealous husbands to- Don’t look away. The cries of babies, the speech of men, the sounds of organs fermenting in canopic jars and skin turning to leather under linen wraps, the mark of sin reverberates throughout reality, you cannot look away, there is nowhere else to look, and even if you close your eyes you’ll still be staring at the void in your heart. The well of guilt digs deeper and deeper with each generation that passes, each baby born that grows with a suspicious father or no father at all, grows into a woman who can never shake the feeling that she is some kind of unreal creature. Half a human soul cries into the night, seeking unknowable answers. An episode destined to repeat over the centuries because even a god does not have the strength to stop the wheel.
Slipping back into the dusk, Hot-foot lies before Anubis’s feet. The Lord of the Afterlife glances down. “So,” Anubis said. “The truth has found you.”
“Yes. I’ve seen the rot of my soul, Lord Anubis.”
“And now that you see yourself for who you are… what will you do?”
Hot-foot shrunk down, almost to nothing. “ I can do nothing but ask that you destroy me. Dissolve my being, break me away into nothing. How can I judge the souls of others when mine...” He could not say any more.
Anubis’s dark eyes peered down. He walked to an elaborate cascade of golden metal, a slender statue with a small, round platform in the center. “This used to suffice. The weight of a man’s heart told us whether he would be exalted or condemned. Beautiful in its simplicity. But humans didn’t stay simple. If we are to judge their sins, young Hot-foot, we must know those sins. We must be sinners.”
“But I’ve let so many responsibilities slip by. I haven’t done my duty.”
Anubis laid a hand on Hot-foot’s face. “No, you haven’t. And now you know how much that hurts.”
Hot-foot lay alone, soaking in the sublime possibility coursing throughout the dusk. So much had been done in the day, much that could never be undone. But night followed close after dusk, and each new night was pure and pregnant with tomorrow’s hopes. Swaddled in this peace, Hot-foot gathered their courage, looked neglect in its face, and made a promise.
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2019 03:22|
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2019 16:08|
Central Character is… A TERRORIST +67 Words
Genre is… HORROR +90 Words
Song is… "Bad Times" by The Presidents of the United States of America +38 Words and a…. DIAMOND CAPSULE
The morning had gone almost suspiciously well. Security ignored Katerina, the metal detector kept mum, and none of the rank, rotten pornographers who spent their days here making and peddling filth had even given her a second glance. Not daring to waste her good fortune, Katerina clambered up to the ninth floor and walked to the center of the office space. She zipped her bag open, hefted a grenade in her fist, pulled the pin, and hurled it at the first heathen she saw.
The sinners panicked as metal ripped them apart and flames consumed their squalid little lives. Explosion after explosion sent their bodies flying asunder, denting the weak cubicle walls. The haze of smoke kicked off the soulless cry of a fire alarm. A woman in a low-cut blouse wept beside her coworker, his torso shredded. A severed hand flopped to the carpet, oozing blood from its wrist-stump. Katerina smiled. She took the last grenade from her bag, held it tight to her stomach, and pulled the pin. She was ready for paradise.
The grenade blew apart.
The whine of the fire alarm, the roar of the explosion, the wounded-animal screams, all of these froze in place. But they kept going, unchanging, a single sustained note of fear and fire. No attack, no release. Only the blur of noise pressing on her eardrums like a locked-down vise.
And the pain, as if a white-hot cannonball had lodged itself in her midsection. She wanted to bellow out, but her vocal cords were bamboo-stiff. Some creeping instinct in the crevasses of her brain realized that all the strength in the world couldn’t make them move.
But if her vocal cords were so immobile, wouldn’t her brain be frozen, too? If she was seeing this at all, thinking about it, reeling from the noise in her ears and the torment radiating throughout her body, there must be something left of her, something beyond the physical. Even saddled with unbearable agony, Katerina felt a brief flicker of triumph. They’d been wrong. The atheists and heathens and perverts so sure that their wickedness would be wiped clean at the moment of death were wrong. There was a soul, and it lived on.
So where was paradise?
Not here, that much was certain. The blast had split Katerina at the middle, launching her upper half up and, at the same time, twisting to face downward. Her eyes refused to move, but just on the edge of her field of vision she could see where the torn garments ended and the mass of entrails began, her intestines a tangle of bridge cables, her stomach a balloon mid-burst. The white heat of the pain hadn’t ebbed, exactly, but it no longer shocked her, and for now that was enough.
She had been tested so many times, but her faith always stood firm. Life had never been easy, but was it supposed to be? The divorce. The accident that killed her sister. Even the bout of food poisoning that had laid her up for a week, alone, waste gushing out of her at each end, leaving her to beg for oblivion as her guts twisted in on themselves. None of that had bested her. Faith had saved her then and it would now, too. She only had to wait.
* * * * *
A week dragged on, maybe even two or three. Katerina’s mind traced the spattered edges of the carpet’s black bloodstain again and again, infinite laps on a mental racetrack. The grenade’s sharp thunderclap still stretched endlessly. The fire cutting her in two refused to die away.
* * * * *
A shadow stirring at the fringe. The flick of a demon tail, a vicious giggle dancing down her neck. Is it really there? Or is this all just a trick, a game played by eyes and ears desperate for something new? Dear God, please deliver your servant. Your lamb wants to come home…
* * * * *
But God isn’t there. The realization came years later (or centuries or whatever useless predeath label you want to apply), her body still ripped in two, forever contorted and splayed like a figure in Guernica. If only she’d realized sooner. The pain was bad enough without the unrequited longing, the groveling and supplication.
No, child, God’s not dead, she thinks. He just doesn’t give a poo poo about you. And why should he? Storming into a building full of people, blowing them up with abandon, drowning them in fire and smoke and agony. You brought Hell to life around them. Why shouldn’t you get the same yourself?
They were destroying the world, she thinks. Perverting it. They deserved to burn, and they got what they deserved.
She smiles. Oh did they now. How do you know? Do you see them stewing in a lake of fire? Maybe they’re enjoying eternal bliss. Or everything just went dark. Or they’re suffering same as you, locked forever in a dying body that will never die. You don’t know. And you’ll never know.
I’ve lost my mind.
Everyone does, you give ‘em the time.
It was all so beautiful, wasn’t it? Even the bad-luck days, the times I wanted to feel nothing and be nothing. At least tomorrow would be different.
Don’t despair, my darling.
Find comfort where you can.
Anywhere. In the littlest things.
Well. At least I’ll never be cold.
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2019 01:09|
I want to believe.
In other words, I'm IN.
|# ¿ Aug 7, 2019 14:50|
Prompt: Jimmy Hoffa is buried under Giants Stadium
The Hoffa Family Road Trip
Filed August 4, 1975
WARNING: THIS DOCUMENT IS INTENDED FOR THOSE WITH CLASS X-71 CLEARANCE AND ABOVE. UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS OR DISSEMINATION OF THE INFORMATION WITHIN WILL BE REGARDED AS TREASON AND PROSECUTED AS SUCH.
Okay, that should weed out the riff-raff. I’d put my name down but you’d just have to redact it anyway so how about we skip to the good stuff? Hello, Mike and Bill, plus any other poor bastards who might be reading. Congratulations, now my headache is yours.
Christ, where to start? Even the least-informed among you will gather that there was something of a shakedown over at the deepest levels of the Energy Collection Locus. Well, that’s where the story ended. Where it began was a parking lot in suburban Detroit, where that Teamster sack of crap Jimmy Hoffa was waiting for a rendezvous with a couple of his goonies. (Yes, yes, I know Nixon pardoned the guy - as if anyone considers that a ringing endorsement.)
The meeting did not go exactly as Hoffa planned. In fact, the son of a bitch got hauled out of his car, bashed over the head, thrown in a ditch, and shot six times through the gut. The assassins left him there, and in a sane world that’s where the story would have ended. Well, it turns out Hoffa, considerate hubby he is (was?) rang his dear wife Josephine to let her know when to expect him back. That deadline passed, obviously, so Josie got nervous and drove out there herself. After a bit of searching, she found Jim lying on his face in the woods nearby, cold, stiff, and full of holes.
You can thank the goddamn unions the story didn’t end there. The crew building the stadium above the Locus apparently caught on that something may be going on beneath the surface. This rumor spread from union to union like a strain of VD, until it reached the ears of one Josephine Hoffa. So Josie hauled her husband’s corpse into the back seat, drove over to pick up her son James Junior, and began the ten-hour drive from Michigan to New Jersey.
The following is a transcript of the audio-log from the ECL itself, recorded in the wee morning hours of July 31. Drs. Krenwinkel and Grogan were the only researchers on-site that early.
DR. KRENWINKEL: We need that equipment up and operational this week, Grogan.
DR. GROGAN: Of course. Yes. The government’s sending a tech they can trust. He’s needed in Arizona for the time being, but once that business wraps up…
[They chatter for a while, most of it boring and none related to the incident at hand. A sound of tires squealing in the background. Footsteps that start quiet and grow louder, a series of slamming doors, and then…]
DR. G.: Oh my.
DR. K.: Who the hell are you people? This is a classified site, civilians don’t have any-
[A sharp gasp from both doctors.]
JOSEPHINE: See this, egghead? It’s a .45 caliber pistol. Now if someone doesn’t tell me who’s in charge right now, this puppy starts barking.
DR. K.: If we’re talking seniority, I’ve been on the site longer.
DR. G.: Hah. With all due respect, Doctor, I was on the Manhattan Project.
DR. K.: You’ve said that, but I’ve gone through the files, and you know something? You’ve never been on any of them.
DR. G.: You’re not looking at the right files, then. Which speaks, incidentally to your low-level clearance-
[A gunshot stops them cold.]
JOSEPHINE: I don’t have time for this. If you can’t decide who’s in charge I’ll just shoot one of you, then the answer’ll be pretty goddamn obvious.
DR. K.: Doctor Oswald is in charge.
DR. G.: But he’s in Bora Bora.
JOSEPHINE: Well then, Needle-Nose, I guess you get to be second in command. I’ve heard some crazy stories about this place. That you’re using power under the ground to run some kind of… electric... brain. I didn’t believe it at first but I’m in a desperate spot right now and I’m willing to try just about anything. So what the hell are you doing here?
DR. G.: Well… you know how there’s a network of phone lines that run across the country? Well, ley lines are like that, but they’re under the ground, so that [Blah blah blah, I’m cutting off the explanation here - just browse through a new-age bookstore and you’ll get the gist.]
JOSEPHINE: So a whole bunch of these underground lines come together right here?
DR. K.: Exactly. And we can draw an enormous amount of power, almost limitless power, from the convergence.
JOSEPHINE: And what can you use that power for?
DR. G.: Oh, just about anything you can dream of.
[It doesn’t come through in the tape, but I imagine a mischievous grin spreads across Josephine’s face right about now. It just feels right.]
JOSEPHINE: Junior! Go get your father.
JUNIOR: Right on it, Ma.
[A stretch of deeply uncomfortable silence, shuffling feet, doors opening and closing, Junior grunting as he hauls the bullet-riddled corpse into the laboratory.]
Dr. K.: Oh.
Dr. G.: Oh.
JOSEPHINE: Boys… you’re gonna help me make history.
[Cue Josephine ordering the two doctors about. Metallic scrapes as they drag a long, low vat into the center of the room, fill it with conductive gel, hoist the late Mr. Hoffa in, and stick a pair of cables deep within. The doctors throw the switch, and the room crackles with fierce jolts of power, electric and psychic forces flowing together as one. It builds and builds until... it all goes silent.]
Dr. K.: Well... any response?
Dr. G.: Mr. Hoffa? Are you there?
JOSEPHINE: Jimmy, oh god, Jimmy, please… say something.
[A silence long enough to break your heart. Then a low, rasping cough rattles through the room.]
JOSEPHINE: Jimmy? Is it really you?
The tape ends with one word, barely more than a hushed whisper. Nonetheless, with the right amplification you can hear it; I’ve heard it myself, though I can hardly convince myself it’s true.
The ECL’s new resident needs to stay plugged in to the Locus current at all times. If power is diverted elsewhere, his body starts failing, which is something Josephine has refused to let happen happen. For now, I recommend that we follow her wishes.
The egos of the research team members have been somewhat bruised by the ECL’s shift in priorities. They ought to grow up. The Hoffa family has elevated the site from a niche project of minor import to something worth a great deal more attention. My recommendation? We double the resources allocated to the team, and that’s just for starters. We may be on to something big.
One caveat, though: The fewer bereaved widows find out about this little miracle, the better. Let’s keep the unions’ noses out of it.
|# ¿ Aug 12, 2019 03:31|
I'm in, let's get piratical.
|# ¿ Sep 17, 2019 12:59|
|# ¿ Oct 27, 2021 11:27|
Prompt: Existential Pirates
The Last Hurrah
The ship’s ponderous rocking nearly soothed Janey Pluck to sleep. The motion always comforted her, like being nestled against the world’s breast and feeling its pulse. She wished it made her queasy instead. Then there might not be a shackle chafing at her ankle.
If sailing made her ill, she would never have traveled to the colonies for a teaching job. She wouldn’t have been aboard a ship sacked by Bloody Bill Wallace, and certainly wouldn’t have been dragged to Bill’s cabin screaming and blubbering and spitting every curse she knew.
She wouldn’t have cowered in the corner of Bill’s cabin, terrified that he would slaughter her or worse, only to hear him apologize instead... right before she shoved the point of a letter opener into his shoulder. She wouldn’t have seen him yank out the blade and let loose a riotous laugh. She’d never be able to look back and realize that was the moment she fell in love with him.
She’d never join his crew and then become his partner, sacking Navy ships across the Caribbean together and living like demons on the spoils. He’d never get jealous after she spent a rum-fueled night in the company of Anne Bonny and strand Janey at the nearest port, forcing her to get her own ship and become three times the pirate she ever would have been under his wing.
A whole other life she’d never even know was possible. A grand one, too... until it caught up with her.
Admiral Beecher walked down to the brig, his polished boots clicking on each step. Janey grimaced. If she had to have company, she preferred the cockroaches that scuttled about.
“Well, Miss Pluck. You’ll be gratified to know it’s been three days of fine sailing and we’re well on schedule. Now we’re ready for you to do your part.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to tell you. I haven’t seen Bill Wallace in three years.”
The Admiral’s eyes gleamed. “Come, Janey, you must have heard something. Haven’t you been curious about what happened to him?”
A smile creeped across her face. “I’m insulted, Admiral. Here I thought you’d hunted me down for me, but you only wanted to bait the hook.”
Beecher lunged forward, squeezing the bars tight in his fists. “Do you know what he did at Port Antonio? Houses burning, people with limbs blown off. The jail wall blown open, murderers and rapists set loose among good English subjects. It all happened in the dead of night, but some native villagers said they saw a ship sail off flying a blood-red Jolly Roger. How many men do you know with those colors?”
Janey Pluck let out a long, slow sigh. “Very well. There’s a tiny island way out east, a spit of land that’s not even on half the charts. If Bill’s hiding anywhere, he’s there. Send your navigator down, I’ll give him the heading.”
“Well,” Beecher said with a smile, “apparently you do have a conscience. Keep it up and you may earn that pardon yet.” He dashed away in excitement, leaving her alone in the dark, dank miasma of memory.
They arrived on the island a week later, finding small stashes of food, gold, and weapons, but no trace of Bloody Bill Wallace. The Admiral went back below deck to find Pluck gnawing on a hunk of dry bread.
“Listen, pirate,” he snarled, “Wallace isn’t here, and the stores are untouched. Let’s hope your next lead bears more fruit – if you want to escape the gallows, that is.”
She gave him a sly stare, hands stretched out wide. “I never promised results, Admiral, that’s on you. All I have is information. But I do know there’s a pirate sanctuary on the western coast of Barbados. Long abandoned, of course, but to a wanted man that might be appealing.”
He stared at her for a long time, as if doubt was starting to worm its way through his brain. Whatever was in his head, he went back above deck without a word.
The seas grew rough on the next leg of their journey. Janey could feel her lifelong resistance to seasickness threaten to give way, though she forced herself to breathe deep and dispel the gathering nausea. Her dungeon was bad enough as is, it didn’t need to reek of sick. Not that she was given much to be sick on. Her rations of hardtack and water became slimmer and slimmer, and she doubted the sailors above fared much better.
Soon enough, the ship hurled her up and down with each wave, and she could hear the steady spatter of rain falling above decks. Little light streamed down to her anymore, and at last the ship came to a halt, bobbing up and down in place.
She waited for what felt like hours. Then Bentley walked down the steps again, rainwater dribbling from the points of his tricorn. He stood before her without speaking. Then he pulled the pistol from his belt, cocked it, and pointed it between her eyes. Then something changed in his face, and his hand wavered. He brought the gun down to his side.
“We’re a day away from reaching our destination. There’s a hurricane straight ahead. If it were up to me? We sail through it, risk be damned. But before I order my crew to chance their on a lark, I need to ask you again. Is there a real chance Bill Wallace might be at our destination?”
She sighed. “Fine, I suppose the game’s gone on long enough. A man I trust told me a year ago that Bill’s ship was sacked by French privateers who tore his crew to ribbons and shot him dead on the spot. Now, that could all be a wild rumor. Perhaps he’s alive and well and waiting for us to find him. But I have a feeling...”
“A feeling!” Bentley lashed out, kicking at her cell bars. “What about the villagers, eh? The Jamaicans! Why would they lie about the red Jolly Roger?”
“That story sent you and the best English troops in the garrison off on a pirate hunt, leaving them a nice, lengthy window for whatever they please. Maybe even a rebellion. Why not? If they lied it was a damned brilliant lie.”
He drew his pistol again. “I ought to shoot you now. Hanging’s better than you deserve.”
“Go ahead. I’ve humiliated the British crown one last time. A fitting end to a fine career, Bentley, and lucky you – you get to play the final note.” She closed her eyes, ready for the blast of fire and agony. Instead, the pistol clattered to the floor, and footsteps clambered back up the stairs. She heard the door open and slam shut.
All alone, surrounded by nothing but darkness and cockroaches, Janey Pluck leaned against the bars and laughed until her throat was sore. She laughed and laughed as the ship lurched forward and sailed towards the storm, vaulting up and over each wave, timbers quaking in the icy shadow of fate.
|# ¿ Sep 23, 2019 03:18|