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Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Harnessed Loyalty
Prompt: Dog
Words 800

Rook was a lithe thing, all muscle and legs as most Alaskan Huskies were. He was a gentle soul, named for his dark coat and raven-like eyes that watched Sarah with fierce intensity as she set down her skis and began to put on her gloves. The dog at her side had memorized all these little rituals, and as he noted the progression, his excitement ratcheted up.

Attached by a belt and line to his harness, the dog ran to the end several times with yelping whines that seemed to scream at the blue skies, “Do you see how slow she is?” Every fresh surge of his muscle hitting the harness dragged her sideways, making it nigh impossible to lock into her skis. This was part of skijoring with Rook though, and she had developed a patience for it.

With both skis clipped on, she took one last deep breath and called ‘Ready?’

Rook answered by hitting the line with all he had, jerking her forward before she could call out the command to go. Her shout of ‘ok!’ only made Rook dig in deeper, his paws spreading wide on the icy snow as his elbows hit the ground with the force he was driving into the harness. In four paces, they had reached a sprint and Sarah’s legs locked into a balanced stance.

This was their life every weekend. Together the two had covered hundreds of miles since she had purchased him from a kennel up north years ago. As his first owner tearfully said goodbye to Rook, he had looked up at Sarah and warned as gently as possible, “They are one-person dogs. Once he chooses you, you’ll know.”

Rook had not chosen Sarah. He'd chosen eating towels, killing her backyard flock of chickens, and escaping to gallivant about the neighborhood for several hours. The dog was wicked smart in all the right ways, which included learning ‘sit’ in a day but also mastering how to open cupboards and steal entire loaves of bread in an afternoon. He had little use for people unless they were holding a harness, skirting human touch with disdain and skulking outside whenever Sarah looked at him too long. Eventually though, Rook came to understand Sarah always held the harness.

As they passed the four-mile mark, Rook had settled into the distance-eating lope his siblings used to conquer the Iditarod, and Sarah could finally stand up in her boots. Her knees shook from the effort to keep upright during powerful sprint at the beginning of the run, and she let out a happy trill of laughter that Rook responded to by quickening his pace and leaning harder into the harness. Hurtling around the corner, Sarah noticed the approaching skier and strange dog from a distance off. Rook had no concern for another dog, his only focus being on pulling and the trail ahead. She called out, “Leash your dog!”

The dog heard. The owner didn’t. The gait shifted on the approaching animal, speeding up to intercept them even as Sarahs’ voice rose in ferocity and desperation. “Please, LEASH YOUR DOG.”

But it was too late. The other dog barreled into Rook, halting his forward motion by shoving him over and into the snow with a snarl. Rook hit the ground even as the momentum sent Sarah sprawling. Looking over at her dog pinned to the ground underneath a halo of teeth poised above his head, she could see Rook’s hackles rise and his eyes harden. Rook grew up in a yard of thirty dogs, and Sarah knew he would fight this dog. If he did, he would fight until one of them lay bloodied in the snow. As she struggled to get off her skis, screaming at the other dog attempting to scare it off, it loomed over Rook.

As a last prayer, Sarah called out “Wait!”

Rook froze. His brown eyes met hers. For that moment, they were the only two things that existed in the world. Not the other dog snarling over his head, or the approaching owner shouting for their dog to come back. Rook’s body relaxed. As the attacker realized there was no fight, it trotted away with a half-hearted grumble as its owner shouted an apology.

They left Sarah tangled in the snow shaking. She ran a hand over Rook’s black fur, finding saliva and quivering muscles but nothing harmed. Rook shook himself off and trotted out to the end of the line again, regarding her with a quizzical “You coming?” expression. Sarah laughed and dragged herself to her feet as she shook her head, still wondering over his choice to abandon self-defense at a single command.

“You’ll do anything I say so long as we get to run”

It was the only thing Rook needed people for.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
In. Hit me with a sentence - they're all so wonderful I can't choose.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

ThirdEmperor posted:

Brawls will continue until the inkthirst of the Dome is quenched.

-slaps Steak with a pork cutlet-

It has come to my attention I have never brawled.
I accept the terms.
Do you turn your head in disgrace or accept this invitation to tea?

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Voice Thief Crit for Mercedes

I believe this story suffers from inadequate footing at the beginning and stumbles through 800 words. I don’t know what a FUPA is, I don’t know how big Brad is as a result, and I don’t know why Dan is able to ‘sigh inwardly’ in one breath as if he’s inconvenienced by having to barricade himself into a bunker and then have panic claw up his throat in the next. We will come back to the bunker.

The urgency and terror that Brad is stricken by doesn’t match Dan’s attitude about the situation. There’s a brief attempt to match these seemingly separate narratives as ‘a sudden panic clawing up [Dan’s] chest with a realization’, but it is immediately squashed back down because he ‘needs to think clearly.’ Naomi has value in one sentence, but a paragraph stretch later, Dan isn’t willing to risk anything more than his son’s neck guard to save her.

Here we come back to where I think exposition could have engaged the audience. Instead of repeating ‘What the gently caress’ twice or adding in ‘the park?’ in the dialogue, a few more words to help me understand if this is a house (it has a banister?) or a military compound (it air locks?) can assist the audience in realizing what the stakes are. We still don’t know why Brad was naked and banging rocks over his head, and while I appreciate that nod to the prompt, including bestiary references should enrich the central plot and feel of the story – not detract from them by making the panic stricken Brad who has lost his love seem witless or silly. Without context, running around naked banging rocks over your head qualifies as both.

While Voidmart is an interesting name, it’s another distraction and it reduces the feel you’re trying to build. It reminds me of the setting in the podcast “Bubble” that Maximum Fun puts out, which is not horror or suspense. If Dan and Brad are so panic stricken, and a woman’s life is on the line, then ‘it’s like the wild west inside that store’ is a waste of words that could be put towards understanding what kind of a setting we’re in and why ‘mating season’ is significant.

The shift of perspective is awkward. I’m not sure why I care about Brad the silent guy or his wife but now I am forced to. More development/setting would have potentially eased this.

The written action in here is concise, clear and forms a solid climax. It would have had more power if we knew how big Brad was to begin with (see my FUPA complaint earlier) and that the neck guard was a piece of armor and not sports equipment. There’s also no reason to mention ‘four shots left’ unless you’re going to go through each of the shots. He blows the first one and the second, smacks the wolf upside the head and then gets into a wrestling match with the wolf. I’m not sure where he lost the gun, but I assume it’s the final shot that Dan uses to put the animal down. That’s the only piece of the overall action I got confused by, otherwise I think you write action sequences well and enjoyed the fisticuffs with a monster.

The one thing I disliked in the action sequence was Naomi. Not enough effort went into why I cared, so she shows up and has the ill effect of being a damsel in distress clinging to a 500 lb strong man sobbing with gratitude. If you can’t develop 3 characters in 800 words, use her as a plot device and consider just killing her. Dead Naomi may also explain why Brad can’t aim a shotgun earlier and needs Dan to save him.

The final sentence helps me realize why you left out words for Brad earlier because it’s a good zinger at the end.

Structure isn’t bad, action is solid, would definitely benefit from a bit of fleshing out if you had more words to work with and/or really paring down some of the pieces I mentioned earlier to focus on providing context for the audience.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

onsetOutsider posted:

-slaps Lippencott with whatever the gently caress a lippencott is-

How dare you confuse everybody by using my discord nickname in this thread! Brawl accepted!

edit; this is now the official LAST brawl post until more people sign up


Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Mushroom Hunting
Prompt Eldritch Horror and Tea, Brawl with onsetOutsider
Words 1,975

“You have to cut it in half to be certain-”

Hazel carefully pulled the bulbous base of the mushroom from the soil as she spoke.

“-but I’m pretty sure this is a Lycoperdon of some sort.”

The Latin rolled off her tongue easily, and I turned to regard her wizened features. She caught my quizzical expression and clarified, “A puffball of some kind.”

Usually we forage for edible portions of the forest closer to home, but it was too early in the season to find what we were looking for at lower elevations. Bored of chanterelles and morels, Hazel agreed to help me navigate the difference between a Puffball and a Destroying Angel. Their common names were self-explanatory as to why proper identification was critical.

As she turned the mushroom over in her experienced hands, I waited for the deliberations to complete. Underneath the thick canopy of the old trees, the light was poor and guttering. I pulled out my cell phone and thumbed the flashlight on, illuminating the cross-section of white fungi in Hazel’s hand. A crown interrupted the otherwise smooth flesh at the top of the bulb and Hazel tapped the demarcation with the knife’s tip.

“Is it?” I ask, unable to hold my enthusiasm back any longer.

With a sigh, Hazel shakes her head as she brings the specimen closer to the light and clarifies. “No. This is Amanita. Likely Western Destroying Angel.” She holds it out and once again taps the place where faint lines disrupt the interior flesh of the mushroom. “This is where the cap will spring from. It’s in a button stage now, often mistaken as a puffball, which is why you have to bring an old broad like me along.”

I take the mushroom with my free hand, considering the hidden structure of a future cap. While the buttery taste of chanterelles first drew me to foraging, it was the Amanita who solidified my respect and fascination. What I held in my hand could destroy my internal organs with no remedy or antidote. The symptoms of poisoning lied too, producing the typical cramping shits initially after consumption. Those subside after a few days, giving the illusion that all has passed, but damage continues to occur. Death ultimately seizes the poor idiot who ate one anywhere from a week to two weeks after consumption.

“You don’t see these often, right?” I queried as I dropped the remains of the mushroom into my pocket to photograph more closely at home. Hazel nodded and wiped the blade of the mushroom knife off.

“No, but you certainly want to recognize them when you do. Come on; let’s gather some elderberries for tea and start back home before that rain rolls in.”

Together we made our way back down the winding game path. Hazel’s foraging basket bounced against her hip as it dangled from an elbow, and I regarded its meager contents with wry amusement. Three hours of hiking, two of driving, and we had less to show for it than twenty dollars would secure at the grocery store. The bed of thick pine needles muffled my boots, the anticipation of a storm quieting all sounds of life in the forest. In the distance, I heard the rain begin to pelt the trees.

The path was tight here and overgrown. As Hazel gathered, I continued to look back from whence we had come, confirming we were still pointed in the right direction. Edging around the bushes and ferns that clawed apart the path, we struggled through bramble clusters and across old rotted logs. I pulled my pack forward and reached inside for the map and compass I had stowed to check our bearings. Hazel turned when she heard me sigh.

“I forgot the map and compass.” I admitted guiltily. “Well, I remembered them, but they are still in the car.”

The wrinkles around her eyes creased with a gracious smile and she looked owlishly out from the cowl keeping her hair dry. “Oh, I think we will be okay. I’m pretty certain we came from this direction.”

Hazel had also been ‘pretty certain’ the Western Destroying Angel was a puffball, but I dutifully followed her circuitous path. Elderberries for the thick purple tea she often brewed for a sore throat filled out the basket that weighed down her elbow.

The wind whipped through the higher branches, pressing the trees down under the weight of the storm despite their groaning protests. The boughs twisted about one another and in the distance, I could hear the snapping of limbs as the skeletal denizens of the forest resisted the wind’s pressure. I huddled tighter in my jacket, trying to discern the path from the undergrowth.

The mud sucked at my boots, and as rain permeated the forest floor, the thick smell of wet rot hit me. Hazel must have sensed it too, because she paused and looked over her shoulder at me with a disgusted sound in the back of her throat.

“Seems like we may be close to something we shouldn’t be. Likely a bear or a cougar stashed something up in the rocks here. Let’s be on our way.” Her voice was loud, projecting through the deluge to warn whatever beast we may have surprised of our presence. I doubted any forest dwellers would brave this weather for two wandering morsels. I shouted back over the next gust of wind, “I don’t know where we are.”

A moment of indecision skittered across her face as she second-guessed herself. It vanished with her smile and she simply chimed, “Oh we only have a bit farther to go. It’s just up here to the left some more, and we’ll find the road.”

Left and right directionals are useless in the woods. Without a compass bearing, we needed to start looking for shelter. I opened my mouth to say as much, when a sheering scream of splitting wood and tearing fibers announced one of the gnarled trees had breathed their last. It collapsed maybe fifteen paces ahead of us, where we would have stood if not for Hazel’s wandering step while foraging. The ancient trunk sagged through the other trees as their boughs attempted to hold it up. It broke through their grasp with shotgun blasts of bursting wood. As it settled into the earth with staccato pops of final limbs snapping, the odor of old meat left in the sun hung heavy in the wet air. Hazel fell backwards into me, dropping the foraging basket as she attempted to cover her nose with a sleeve. The elderberries spilled across the rank mud.

The puddles forming under our feet were fetid and black, roiling with the pelting torment of the raindrops. Wherever the smell had originated from, it pervaded in the soil among this grove of trees. I swallowed thickly around the bile forming in the back of my throat from a mixture of revulsion and fear while thumbing on my cell phone’s flashlight. “Here, we just need to get around the tree and head left. If we can’t find the road, we will turn back and shelter up in the rocks.” I nervously offered. Hazel nodded mutely, picking up the now filth-stained basket and shaking as I held out my hand to steady her. “It will be fine,” I tried to assure both of us; “It’s just a storm. Nothing we haven’t seen before.”

The light flickered in my hand, popping in and out of existence in a warning strobe. I looked down at my phone and groaned at the low battery symbol. It had been almost full only an hour ago. Had I accidentally left the flashlight on in my pocket? I turned it off to conserve battery in case we could find a signal to phone for help, and moved to guide us both around the tree when Hazel went rigid against my arm.

As if the mud itself had reached up to root her to the ground, she was staring down at the place where the elderberries had spilled. Her jaw hung slack with mute horror, the usually soft-lined features drawn tight around her widened eyes. I followed her gaze and stared uncomprehending. White pinpricked the shiny, black skin of each berry where it had fallen in the muck, set like pupils against the dark purple color. The berries shifted and turned with inexplicable sentience, as if attempting to focus their newfound sight. Expecting a trick of the light, I looked up to the murky skies with a confused, “What the-?”

Hazel screamed. Every elderberry was riveted upon me, their ability to focus undeniable. As Hazel’s scream strangled into a whimper, the wet earth under our feet boiled, pressing the swarm of black eyes together. The mass of mud and forest detritus gurgled upwards, pressing the berries on top of a periscope head. Mud leaked down the horror’s sides in slow oozing clumps like puss draining from a wound. The ‘head’ canted to one side, following Hazel’s voice as a dog may a high-pitched whistle. It regarded us for a long moment.

The smell hit me in full, as if by birthing the monstrosity, the forest had to retch up buried and decomposing flesh from the mire. Despite my instincts begging my panicked mind to run, I vomited. My legs locked in place, but I heard the wet squelch of Hazel tearing herself out of petrified fear and scrambling to run away. The construct of mud and rot surged over my head, spraying my rain slicker with black sludge that should have been nothing but wet dirt. Yet it clung hot to my face, and deep in the grit of it, I could feel things moving and wriggling like louse trying to burrow through the fabric of my skin. I writhed while screaming wordlessly, stripping away my clothing in a desperate attempt to get away from the fetid parasites nudging against my pores.

My scream was joined by Hazel’s, high and sharp like a rabbit’s shriek as the monstrosity smashed down upon her fleeing back and broke against her like a wave on the shore. It cut her wail in half and suffocated out any further sounds under a wet squelch. I lay still in my own terror-spawned refuse, listening to the suckling noises of thousands of mouths pulling apart flesh underneath that horrible collection of eyes and filth. I let the cold of the forest floor erase all memories of how hot the creature’s touch was, hoping the earth would swallow me whole and bury me before that thing did. I waited to die with the grim determination of a mind that knows there is no surviving such things.

I don’t recall when the hikers found me there. I overheard the hospital staff say I was deep in hypothermia when the rescue crews arrived. With every change of the staff, they told me how lucky I was to be alive after eating the wrong mushroom and getting lost in the woods. I couldn’t sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes in recovery, I saw the blackness rising up behind my eyelids and felt the hot splatter of thousands of mouths nudging against my skin. When I screamed, the doctors told me this too would pass, assuring me my hallucinations were the last effects of a psychedelic in my system. They kept asking me if I knew where Hazel was. There was no trace of her but the basket, empty and covered in mud.

Recovering in the hospital bed, I asked the nurse to pass me my coat. Digging into the interior pockets, I pulled loose the remnants of the Amanita button and pressed it into my mouth. I chewed slowly to ensure the bland flesh was nothing more than a paste. Then I swallowed.

They were wrong. She was the lucky one.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

"'Crime,” declared the police captain, “'is everywhere, crime, crime!'"

Whenever the Captain talked about crime, she had to repeat the word thrice. The words were a familiar ‘caw’, like the ravens she resembled with her black shawl draped over her shoulders and dark eyes. Ignored in the corner of the room, she would resettle on her perch after a few raucous shouts and go back to staring out the window.

Today the rain pelted the windowpanes, the whole common room subdued by the grey light filtering in. The fluorescents hummed over our heads, one in the middle occasionally buzzing out of frequency with the rest of the accompaniment. I carefully aligned the checkers along the bicolor board in front of me, their familiar ‘clack’ distracting me from the unsynchronized background noise.

At the entry of the ward, a short bustle of activity drew my focus. Cowed by the white coats flanking him, the huge man hunched over a shortened stride and the jerking motion reminded me of a boar’s gait. He held in his hands a single pillow, so yellow and threadbare that it could no longer serve its intended purpose. The Boar clutched it close to his chest, as if squeezing comfort from what few feathers still remained. He sank onto the couch between the Captain and myself, ignoring my curious regard and the Captain’s intense stare.

I turned back to my checkers.

The light over our heads guttered a few times with a weak pop before the bulb went out. For a moment, the silence previously filled by the dysfunctional ballast’s hum sucked me in. I paused in setting down a checker, my hand shaking as my brain caught up with the new consistency of the room. I realized the Boar was watching me closely. I swallowed thick saliva and set down the checker. My shaking hand knocked it askew to the right of center. I adjusted the checker until it set perfectly centered in the white square. My exhale was slow and relieved, releasing the frustration of the previous moment in a grateful second of clarity. When I set down the next checker, my hand steadied enough to place it dead center on the first try.

“Are you playing checkers?”

I looked up. The Boar’s shadow loomed over my board, the pillow still clutched to his chest. His eyes were dark brown, set back in broad features and a strong jawline. I noticed his tusks were yellow as he tried to smile at me. I didn’t feel like smiling. I turned back to the board, and set down another checker. The table shifted as the Boar sat down across from me. The checkers shifted too, and all six twitched just a bit off center. I froze, staring down at my ruined hard work and feeling my chest constrict. I glanced up at the Boar and he noticed my glance, his smile broadening as his grip softened on his pillow.

“No thank you.” I managed to murmur weakly. I started to move the checkers back into their squares, but my hands were shaking again. It took twice as long to center one.

“What was that?” The Boar leaned in to hear me better. I could only hear the sound of my pulse in my ears. The table canted a bit more under his weight. The three checkers I had managed to place nudged just out of alignment.

“Please. Stop.” My voice strangled out as a whimper, but he was close enough I could smell old sweat on him. I know he could hear me, because his smile faltered, the tusks of his teeth disappearing. He grasped his pillow closer and leaned back, but he didn’t leave the table. Watching me silently, he dropped his eyes from my features to my hands as they moved to center the first checker in its square once more. I shrunk in on myself, shoulders curving around my work while my body hunched to guard it as a dog with an old bone.

No matter how I tried to center it though, I was shaking too much. I couldn’t get the smell of him out of my nose, the weight of his attention pinning me to my chair like tiny needles through a butterfly’s wings. I struggled through the shakes with breath tight and quick, focusing on making minute adjustments until I could finally lean back and regard my work with a deep sigh of satisfaction.

A massive hand appeared on the periphery of my vision, and I looked up to see the checker the Boar held out for me. His expression was apologetic, heavy brow knit in quiet concern, his other hand wrapped around the pillow he clutched to his chest like a shield. He bobbed the proffered checker in the air insistently, waiting until I reached out and carefully plucked it from his meaty grip by the very edges, to avoid touching him. When I set down this checker, my hands had steadied enough to center it within a few minute movements. Another appeared in front of my nose, and this one I took without looking up. The lights hummed quietly in the background as the familiar ‘clack’ of the checkers hitting the board fell into their usual rhythm.

The new checkers appeared underneath my nose and the Boar held them carefully pinched so I could pluck them without touching him. When I leaned back and regarded all 64 circles in their squares, I risked a glance up at the Boar. He was also staring at the board and smiling, the pillow fallen loose in his lap. I felt my lips quirk upwards, and bumped the table with my knee making him jump in surprise as the checkers bounced out of place and fell askew. He looked up at me with concern, but caught my eye and the smile. We both started laughing quietly as he reached to collect the checkers once more and hold one out to me.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

[…] In the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog, and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

This week our stories will be exploring places of power.

Ley lines, ancient burial grounds, spots where settlers ate one another or giant dinosaur sculptures are all up for grabs. At the center of your story should be the feeling that the fantastical is accessible through a physical place, preferably one that exists in this plane of existence though it may give access to another in your story. Fantastical can be real, imagined or somewhere in between.

As per previous entries "No erotica, fanfic, topical political satire/screeds, archive-breaking formatting, or dick pics. Other standard TD rules apply."

Word Limit: 1000
Flash Rule You may get 500 additional words if you allow the judges to assign your place of power.
Signup Deadline: 11:59 PM Pacific, January 25th, 2019
Submission Deadline: 11:59 PM Pacific, January 27th, 2019

Questions that have arisen:
Q. "I like my Flash Rule but do I have to set the story in the stated location or can it be the same thematic event set somewhere else?"

A. The judges have been working hard to establish USA places of power and not-USA places of power since the 'places of power' narrative gets consolidated in Europe and USA and the judges hoped to spread out the settings a bit more.

We won't be a complete hard rear end about the location being exact for flash rules, though deviation from the flash rule should be weighed against how much the deviation can improve your overall story.
aka don't set the doll forest on a space island and then write me a bad doll forest space island story.

There are some locations where the setting is directly influenced by the location (e.g. The Mug Tree set outside a town of 100 people in the Midwest) and those are more difficult to replicate in a different setting because the oddity of it existing outside that small town makes it a place of power. If you have questions for the judging team, don't hesitate to reach out.

Q. 'My location was assigned as a flash rule, can I write a duplicate?'

A. Please. And write it better.



1. Rad-daddio
2. Tharanguy with Flash The Megaliths of Weris - Belgium
3. onsetOutsider with Flash The Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA
4. Sebmojo with Flash The Enchanted Forest - Turner, OR
5. SlipUp with Flash The Mug Tree - Yale, IL
6. Dolash
7. Sham bam bamina!
8. cptn_dr with Flash Dog Suicide Bridge - Dumbarton, Scotland
9. anatomi with Flash Maryhill Stonehedge - Maryhill, WA
10. Devorum with Flash Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, TX
11. Bad Seafood with Flash Salvation Mountain - Niland, CA
12. SurreptitiousMuffin with Flash Prada Marfa - Valentine, TX
13. Pham Nuwen with Flash La Isla de las Munecas - Mexico City, Mexico
14. QM Haversham with Flash Las Pozas - Xilitla, Mexico
15. Saucy_Rodent
16. magnificent7 with Flash North Yungas Road, AKA Death Road, in Bolivia
17. vannevar
18. Flesnolk with Flash Bagh-e Sangi, or the Garden of Stones - Sirjan, Iran
19. CascadeBeta with Flash Angor Wat - Cambodia
20. DJ Dublell with Flash Great Serpent Mound - Peebles, OH
21. BabyRyoga with Flash Singing Oak - New Orleans, LA
22. Tyrannosaurus with Flash Smith Mansion - Cody, WY
23. Simply Simon

Lippincott fucked around with this message at 00:38 on Jan 26, 2019

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

anatomi posted:

gently caress it, I'm in. Flash me.
Maryhill Stonehedge

Devorum posted:

In, Flash me.
Cadillac Ranch

Bad Seafood posted:

I'm in.

Hit me up senpai.
Salvation Mountain

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

in and I would like the judges to gently caress me up
Prada Marfa

Pham Nuwen posted:

In and flash me please
La Isla de las Munecas

QM Haversham posted:

I'm in. Give me a place, too.
Las Pozas

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

DJ Dublell posted:

Bad idea, but I'm in this week, with flash.

The Great Serpent Mound – Pebbles, Ohio

BabyRyoga posted:

I'll go in with a flash please!

Singing Oak – New Orleans, LA

Sign ups are not closed. Lippincott doesn't know what day it is.

Lippincott fucked around with this message at 17:12 on Jan 25, 2019

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

Tyrannosaurus posted:

In with a flash please

Smith Mansion - Cody, WY

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Entries Closed for this week. Thank you to all that managed to slap their keyboard until enough words spilled out to be judged.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
The real losers of this bunch were the nine folks that failed to post a story. If you are going to waste our time with the assignment of a prompt, then at least force us to read your word vomit. Failures, all of you.

For DM's, we felt that Saucy_Rodent's was a Simon and Garfunkle song fic instead of a place of power. There is a glimmer of an interesting idea, but half of the judges couldn't determine if the place of power was the moon or the childhood home. You are joined by Devorum who wrote a story riddled with tropes that we had to invest more than five minutes into internet research to determine if the story was racist or not. Not a good sign.

Neither of you lost, which goes to Simply Simon who dropped us into the middle of a Fantasy Key Word Bingo Night. This would have fared much better as a Road To El Dorado fan fiction. At least we would have understood what the characters meant to one another and the stakes would not have felt hollow. There are inconsistencies in this story that can be improved, which we will address in crits.

There were a few stories that we were incredibly pleased with this week. Pham Nuwen is a very tight story that develops a solid narrative that executes consistently. The judges were unsettled, which is a difficult sensation to build in writing because it demands subtlety. For this, you HM'd this week. The judging panel was deeply divided on the other story offerings, and it was escalating to 'words' at which point we all agreed that SlipUp's story had the most consistent reaction across all of us. We enjoyed it. It was a poor connection to the prompt but it was creative, concise, and we all laughed. Take our gratitude in an HM.

The win this week goes to Tyrannosaurus. Your story has some structural issues, but it evoked strong emotions in all of us. None of us could actually remember the title, and so it was renamed several times, but we all took something away from it. It is a very strong story framework, and it deserves to be fleshed out further. This story reimagined a prompt, gave the place of power a new interpretation of origin, and elevated value in otherwise mundane details.

Congrats Tyrannosaurus and thank you all for participating.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
in this week. May the gods smile upon me.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Pieces and Parts
CYBERpunk week
Words 1,995

I wasn’t supposed to be at the party. The security agent for the market district leans over the kit table between us while he reiterates this. I have the same table in my studio.

“You should be grateful they did such a clean job. Nice and professional. You have coverage, right?”

My hands are shaking on the cup of coffee I’m cradling. It’s still piping hot. I only get ten minutes with the agent, enough time to quote payment plan for additional follow up if I want my case investigated further. I shift uncomfortably in my seat and stare into the black drink. I wasn’t offered any sweetener.

“It… lapsed.” I admit weakly.

“Oh, well rough deal there. I think they offer a buy in for emergency circumstances. You can petition the Adventa Corporation if you go down the hallway and take a right. They have a representative there.”

Another surcharge of credits I can’t spare. I reach up and run my hand through my hair, the tails spiked tall for the party now hanging limp over the shaved portion. I still have five more minutes of this agent’s time. I set my coffee cup down, and regard his smiling features. He hasn’t mastered feigned empathy yet, and is presenting a strong customer service smile to make up for it.

“There’s no way… You could find it?” I implore, hating how pleading I sound.

“I wish I could offer you something more but-” He spreads his hands as if helpless, shaking his head with the smile unwavering, “-the aftermarket on that organ is particularly high right now. There’s a good chance it has already been installed, which is why coverage is so critical. Especially if you’re going to be participating in high risk activities.”

The party wasn’t supposed to be high risk. Nitrex had called me. We met in an abandoned shop front, all the wares pulled loose by looters when their security bill came due and it couldn’t be paid. The interior lighting was dim and flickering, bare wire ends refitted to dangle little bulbs of flashing light. The music reverberated through my teeth as a constant electronica hum. I danced, or did something like dancing, pressed in among the other bodies. I didn’t even drink, but the agent says they don’t need you to drink anything. Just a slick of narcotic tranquilizer across my sweaty skin, and I dropped like a stone. Out like a light for the whole procedure, until I woke up dazed on an empty countertop.

They had the decency to redress me and tuck a thank you note into my tablet through the data slot.

I presented the note so confidently when I entered the station, certain that it would lead to a thorough investigation into my stolen organ. Once it leaves the body though, any organ becomes property and it is a matter for misdemeanor agents. I waited in the hard metal chairs underneath the white lights for an hour while I shook from the come down, heavy sedatives still depressing my natural heat regulation with a cold hand. I couldn’t stop shaking.

The agent’s voice pulls me back to the table.

“But the good news is, from what I can determine, it was a clean enough job to work for a while. I actually got mine replaced just two years ago. Super nerve-wracking, but I suppose having the switch done to you takes out the guesswork.”

I stared at his smiling face, and the shudder working through me was anything but cold. Indignant rage rolled my gut, my mouth opening in a snarl that was cut short by the crisp ‘ding’ of the wall clock.

“Oh times up! Here let me get you the card for Adventa. Ask for Julie and let her know that Fred sent you. We’re good friends. She will get you on the short list for a prosthetic. Standard issue is 17 centimeters, which is much better than what most of us are working with. Am I right?”


Julie can’t help me.

She explains this while looking over the tablet held out to me with a two hundred screen application displayed. The waiting period is six months for emergency prosthetics, and since the surgical site was so carefully prepped and the expertly completed – this isn’t an emergency. Of course it feels like an emergency, which is why Adventa offers bridge coverage. It can be implemented at any time during a policy lapse, and it has a competitive rate of roughly my rent cost for the studio.

Whatever I was drugged with is wearing off, and despite the crisp cauterization, I can still feel the phantom weight where I used to be whole. Shifting on my couch, I scroll through the application Julie sent me home with to complete. The questions are deeply personal in nature, a scrutiny of how frequently I used the organ prior to its loss, what enrichment it adds to my daily life, how crucial it is to complete my regular work for the company that has sponsored my residency in the city. It’s not like a lost a hand, after all, and my fingers are still installed in the correct number and arrangement.

I pause while scrolling through the screens, tabbing into a new window to distract myself. The classifieds for the neighborhood scroll on the small screen until I flick a finger sideways and they dance to life on the wall opposite me. Peeling off my clothes, I start the shower. The flickering images of salvaged parts and services catch my attention in pieces. As I step under the calibrated temperature of the spray, it finally chases the cold out of my limbs. I stare at the wall. I stare at anything other than my incomplete body.

Just an aftermarket feature, really.

Nobody uses them anymore.

I lather and rinse. Then repeat. I stand in the steam until the pro-rated fifteen minutes have expired and then I numbly wrap myself in a towel and collapse on the couch. My eyes stay transfixed on the classifieds that parade across my screen.

Black Ice Hardware scroll Kenmari 95 Deck scroll A left hand – lightly used scroll

I almost don’t recognize it when I see it on my wall. Dismembered and large enough to take up the entire space. 16.2 centimeters in length. Well bodied and full but on sale currently due to an excess of inventory. They cut me apart and put my pieces on flash sale.

I don’t even think as I quickly navigate through the screens. I don’t have the full amount to purchase outright, but they will take a deposit. My credits empty in seconds and I set the pick-up installation appointment for thirty minutes from now. If I get it installed today, it’s an additional 20% off.

I pull on my clothes and dry my hair, arranging the green peaks in a careful trispike before lacing up my boots. My hands shake as I stumble down the stairs.


It isn’t until I’m standing outside the building that I realize it’s the same one shared by Adventa and the security offices for the market district. Second floor instead of the first this time. I wait for the elevator with my toe tapping. When the door slides open, I cling to the last shred of self-control I possess to keep from sprinting down the hallway. I’m well within 30 minutes when I arrive and a greeter bot offers me its painted on smile.

“Hello, you must be TRISTAN.” The pronunciation of my name is mechanical, clashing with the carefully calibrated greeting.

I nod.

“Go through the double doors. Callie is waiting for you.”

Callie is an older woman, her nursing scrubs faded from too many washes on hot. Her smile is hollower than the one affixed to the bot. She greets me as cheerfully as anyone can manage with only an hour left in their shift.

“You must be Tristan. It’s so great that you could make it quickly. We could have put the part in deep storage, but they don’t tend to keep as well. It is wonderful that you could take advantage of the special promotional pricing too. Do you have a place in mind for the installation? Traditional or?”

“Traditional.” I choke out.

She smiles genuinely now and offers in a conspiratorial tone, “I’m a traditionalist myself. Right this way.”

The room she checks me into is half the size of my studio but clean. Cleaner than the abandoned storefront where they left me when they uninstalled the part I’m paying for now. I wait while she talks about the surgical prep, the sterilization procedures, and the aftercare. Eventually she circles around to the final point, “And I see you’ve paid your deposit. How would you like to handle financing the other half of the balance?”

I take my tablet out as if I am going to show her my financial application, thumbing through the last few hours of hell in my life until I find it. I turn the screen and wait, watching her read the words ‘THANK YOU’ emblazoned across the white background. She tilts her head, perplexed.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand?”

I wait a long moment. The silence thickens with the hum of the machine behind us warming up in preparation for the procedure. When I finally speak, I hope it carries the weight I feel in my chest.

“You have something that’s mine. I can prove it is mine. I received this thank you note as payment for it. I think it should be worth at least the remainder of my balance.”

She takes my tablet, still playing confused. She turns it as if the screen will shift and display more information. Finally, she moves to hand it back to me. I ignore the effort and stare her dead in the eye while I bluff without any inflection in my voice to betray my nerves.

“I’ve already spoken with a representative of Adventa and the security agency. They are both aware of this situation, and willing to pursue an investigation. We can complete this installation, at deposit price, or I can ask for a return of my deposit and forward the credits to their agencies to pursue this investigation further.”

Now it is her turn to be silent. Callie raises a finger and slides a call button sideways on one of the many monitors perched throughout the room like vultures. There’s a pause as I hear a mic input click to life as she asks, “Did you get all of that?”

A masculine voice stirs within the speakers in the ceiling, “We have updated the pricing for the procedure. Have a good day Tristan.”

I note that the voice belongs to a human being this time, his pronunciation of my name too clipped with impatience to be an AI. There’s a pause as Callie hands back the tablet to me, her lips pinched in a pained expression as she abandons the effort to smile politely.

“Well, now that all that messy business is taken care of, let’s finish this up.”

She steps out of the room and closes the door. I don’t remember falling asleep.

I do remember waking up. Tucked in on my own couch after being ferried home from the clinic by a taxibot. The clinic sent notes to my employer. They know not to expect me into work today. I have four hours until the grace period resets and my shift starts. I drag myself out of the cushions of the couch groggily and tap the shower to life.

For the second time, I stand underneath the steam - lather and rinse. I leave the screens off, taking a long moment to go over my pieces and parts restored. My hands pause then traverse the occupied space where I had been pulled apart. I go over myself again. I begin to shake.

It’s not mine.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
In for this week because dogs.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
CCCXXXVIII Places of Power Crits

“Last Night” by Saucy_Rodent

I would encourage the first section to be significantly truncated – Surya doesn’t add much to the story and could have been written out on a work trip. I appreciate what you are trying to do with the dialogue to set the scene, but many parents wouldn’t bring up a pending natural disaster on the moon with their child before bed. It weakens believability of the characters. The dialogue portion about how the moon residents will run out of air has it’s stakes cheapened by being at a child explanation level. It may have set up better as a post-child asleep reflection with a glass of whiskey in one hand.

Side Note - The most unbelievable thing in this story is a parent exists who would be cool with their child waking them up after drinking enough whiskey to necessitate being carried up the stairs. There is no game in existence that would ‘sound fun’ if my kid woke me up.

There’s a bit too much reliance on the song lyrics in the middle portion to ‘set’ the tone.

“Our visitor, it seems, had left” – is distracting. Combined with the repetition of “Nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah..” and ‘all of shadow’ are lost opportunities for more impactful words. You lost about a sentence or two of description that would have fleshed out this scene and made it stronger.

I like the premise of moon colonies dying off and being observed from earth but the idea of a childhood home holding power isn’t strongly tied to the death of moon colonies. I do see that you mentioned how important the old music is to the protagonists though, and that could count as a ‘visit’ to the power that this home holds/a way to maintain the power of the memories in the home. It feels like the story wants to be about moon colony death but we added a ghost in it so it could become a ‘place of power’ story.


“Carhenge” by Rad-daddio

Your build is excellent. Honestly, I’m invested in this 1978 Trans Am by the 5th paragraph when you introduce it. I know why the character is here, and what he’s waiting for. The first sentence is a little clunky – I think you’re trying to emphasize the sensation of loneliness but it’s a bit long. ‘Isolation that befalls someone who was just seeing their world’ is wordy and doesn’t match the rest of the story’s tone. There’s a lot packed into the first two paragraphs that sets the stage – we know why Zeke is there, but not necessarily what he’s planning to do, which keeps the reader invested.

There’s nothing about this story that is exceptional or interesting. The table of judges concluded it feels like a made-for-Disney-Channel movie. I’m fine with that, to be honest. It is tight enough in terms of what happens, what background we are given and balancing dialogue and description to be neither remarkable nor terrible. It also fleshes out the assigned Flash Rule theme. I ranked this one higher than the other judges because it was clean and easy to read.


“Somewhere Else” by vannevar

The setting is solid, but the tone is so conversational I got distracted a few times. ‘That seemed like a dumb thing for people who were supposedly so smart’ and ‘Everyone’s heard about their little monster movie marathon after the last plane leaves’ are wordy without adding a lot to the characterization. In fact, they confused me a bit. Does the POV think he’s smarter than the other folks there? Or stupid for going? There isn’t quite enough context for me to figure out what a ‘beaker’ is and if the POV thinks they are also one. The characterization suffers some consistency issues due to how conversational the account is, which I think impacts the audience’s ability to relate to them

There’s also a bit more in the first half than there needs to be. ‘unload the planes – in summer months only-’, ‘Like you’re going to make it into the office to celebrate […]’ are just examples of sentences that would not have been missed. The 150lb weight limit, the description of streaking in 100 below and the comparison to astronauts in space is strong.

There isn’t a plot here. The tone is consistent though and I think it could be a valuable part of a larger piece. I particularly like the theme of the ending. I struggle with this story because it definitely captures the ‘feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.’ Portion of the prompt. However, I am unsure what drew the character to Antarctica in the first place or what the stakes are – what do they lose by being unable to change the stars?

Compared to some of the other stories that had very tight narratives and rising/falling actions though, this story placed low for me.


“A Good Friend, a Guardian Angel” by Simply Simon

I want to like this story from the beginning because I’ve been on a drat near two month binge of the show ‘Lucifer’

However, this story suffers from Fantasy Key Words. Instead of focusing on developing the characters/setting, you assume since the audience knows what an angel is that we are invested in these weird character names and can keep up with their pell-mell escape from an undead army’s advances.

Showing through dialogue is great, but not when the audience feels like they are going to be quizzed later on what a ‘papal capitol’ or ‘being enraptured’ is. I still don’t know why Astor and Peroxi are ‘common people with ideas way above their station.’ There also isn’t enough characterization in either of them for me to follow the banter, which weakens how the banter characterizes them and builds to their short struggle over the Focal.

Who am I rooting for? The skeleton army at this point, I guess?

The choice to swap between a local ‘angel-cursed’ curse and ‘loving’ is a bit clunky. You get to choose one and since there are biblical references, I’d go with weird curses in your pseudo-fantasy setting and find a different way to add emphasis than using the word ‘loving.’

There’s a lot more that could have been done here – speaking as someone who has physically exerted themselves long enough to collapse. Shaking knees, ragged breathing, and the weird cold feeling that happens when adrenaline is finally spent. Any of these details would have characterized Peroxi more and added stakes. As it is, they’re just chilling while a skeleton army rolls up to kill them.

Like why hasn’t Peroxi just killed his weird friend and left his dead body with the focal? Problem solved.

If Peroxi can still bolt upright, the last of his strength didn’t leave him. Same with being able to run away.

I dunno man, Astor wins for being a pious dick and Peroxi gets vaporized? I wish the skeletons had won.

The tie to the prompt is weak – the nod to the ordinary becoming extraordinary is legit just describing the location as a ‘random clearing.’ There’s too much background noise for the location to matter – it just happens to be a location the characters needed to move the plot forward, not a central theme of the plot itself. We also have no idea why it matters to the Focal point – none of that was built out. These dudes basically collapsed in the a clearing somewhere, pulverized a skeleton army because ‘angels’ and then one of them peaced out.

For a reference – I still have no idea how Astor Reines and Peroxi Ornando are ‘two common people with ideas way above their station.’ This is the idea that you could have spent a lot more time on instead of moving two characters through a ton of action. Create stakes that explain why Peroxi doesn’t kill and abandon his friend with the focal, and what is really lost when Astor decides to invoke a being that vaporizes his friend but seems totally okay with that loss.


“Isla de las Muñecas” by Pham Nuwen

I read the title. I whisper a prayer, ‘Please don’t gently caress this up.’

And you didn’t. Yay!

The tone is a passive – a lot of exposition and not a lot of action, but it’s consistent. I think the story could have built a bit more with different diction choices. ‘One day’ and ‘finally’ chop up the flow of this otherwise creepy story of a kid losing track of time because he’s becoming slowly obsessed with repairing dolls.

‘As soon as he stepped into the canoe he felt a great sadness’ could be enriched by communicating the depth of the feeling - ‘as soon as he stepped into the canoe, a weight settled in his chest. As he paddled to the opposite shore, it weighed heavier and heavier until his cheeks were covered in tears.’ I want a more visceral connection to the character besides ‘sadness’ and tears, but perhaps the removed perspective was purposeful to make the slow devolving into doll-making madness cleanly show.

I think that the overall story has nice structure and enough action to keep the reader invested without dialogue, which can be hard. I like the concept that as he fixes these dolls, he gains calm and control despite the fact that he’s descending into madness, but ultimately gains control over death itself. Even if that wasn’t the intention when you were writing, you left me with a story I could interpret personally and enjoy, which shows a lot of depth for about 1,200 words.


“Come and Thou Shall Have They Come-Cup-Ance” by SlipUp

I don’t know what happened but I support it.

There’s nothing particularly bad about this story – the tone is consistent, fun, and the story is quaint.

There’s also nothing really great about the story either. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, there are no stakes, and it’s neither the prompt you were given or a ‘place of power’.

However, I really like coffee mugs so I’m a big supporter of the King of Cups.

I will state for the record that we HM’d this story because the other stories were very polarizing. There were better stories, but this one made us all laugh.

It may have been laughing out of sheer exasperation and exhaustion, but we still laughed.


“what madness are mountains to an imprisoned moon?” By Tyrannosaurus

Okay read your first paragraph out loud. “It was ultimately decided by someone, I don't know who, a judge, I guess, that five siblings shouldn't be split up in the foster care system so we were shipped off to our only living relative in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.”

This line is long, disjointed and doesn’t match the terse framing of the other next threes sentences. Break it up a bit. You create the right tone in the next paragraph with the ‘No one asked me to specify which one. I’m not sure I could if I tried. I’m not sure I could even find it again.’ Give the first paragraph the same flavor by fixing that sentence.

Aaaaaaaand you got me. The coin stacking and the word for ‘the nonsense’ is wonderful. Now I’m invested. I understand the stakes and I want these kids to get out. You have set this house up so well in 625 words. Bravo for structure.

The dialogue at the end is a little clunky – I would have removed some of the ‘alsos’ as it makes the situation seem humorous/conversational and they’re about to burn alive their aunt Agnes. It seems a little inconsistent with the rest of the ending.

Our main character is strong – I don’t particularly know who the other characters are besides Agnes, but the narration is enough to carry the story without having to know all the details. The concept of the Nonsense really made this a winning story for me, but it struggles from tone changing suddenly and a lack of characterization in the other siblings. The ending feels rushed and contrived to finish quickly. I think this story could do well if you fleshed it out more and polished it. It is very unique and there are pieces of it that balance horror with humor.


“Bear Witness” by Thranguy

I honestly shouldn’t like this story, but I do. The main character is the place, which I couldn’t ask for a better interpretation of the prompt. This is a difficult story to execute, and you decided to do so in elevated language which is equally risky. The execution struggles in a few places from being verbose – for example I re-read the first paragraph four times. I wanted the initial two sentences to better mirror one another, and the cadence of the second is too out of sync to do so.

I enjoyed it more on my second and third read throughs because I knew what to expect, so I believe re-working the first paragraph to better establish the reader’s footing before introducing the individual stories would help this story significantly. Move the line introducing the infant down, and focus on what the stones have seen with that space instead. Then when we enter the stories, we know we’re seeing a series of flashbacks and not supposed to be connecting the infant’s story with the King’s story, and so forth.

A few of the judges felt that the last line was a weak attempt to connect stories that were not otherwise connected, and would have preferred to see more continuity. I’m a sucker for the final line though because thematically that is one of my favorites. Perhaps it acted as a final plea to the judges, and kept me from nitpicking the structural issues and overall flow.


“fortune cookies are bullshit anyways” by flerp

‘most scared to see again’ is a weak word choice in the opening paragraph, especially considering it follows a ‘haunted by the truth’ cliché. Considering how short this first paragraph is, it should carry more impact.

The setting immediately takes shape though. I can understand that this is a place of power and that there’s a ‘draw’ that brings ordinary people back to something that seems unremarkable to receive something fantastical in exchange. This is accomplished with relatively little flair in a concise way that characterizes the mother, so bravo.

There’s no reason for ‘And I stared at the table and traced the floral tablecloth pattern with my fingers’ with the word ‘And’. While I don’t prescribe to general rules such as ‘don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction’, I don’t think doing so adds anything in this case. The same lack of polish is in the next paragraph ‘however many years back.’ ‘However’ could be eliminated if you change ‘many years back’ to ‘many years ago.’ Similarly, you could cut some ‘that’s out of here and save yourself a few words.

I like the setting you built, the characterization on the mother is good, but the ending feels like a zinger instead of an impactful conclusion we can understand from previously characterization of the POV.


“Froggy Went A-Portin'” by QM Haversham

I’m going to be straight with you, I cooed ‘Oh this is a clever way to do this’ when I realized what your prompt was and the direction you were going with it. Unfortunately, the execution is sloppy and jumps around too much for me to feel any connection to the stakes of the characters.

There’s some typos in the story (‘couldn’t been seen’, for example) and there’s a really odd tense shift in the middle where you go from present for the first part of the story to past for a few paragraphs, which doesn’t set you up well for the transformational paragraph where ‘pull’ is used in every sentence. Alternate word choice to create a bigger impact when possible, or cut out the descriptive sentence. The lack of proofing becomes more evident as the story continues.

I honestly think the ending falls flat – I want to know why this vacation matters to Ben. Why living this dream of being a water-bound amphibian matters so much to him, what the cost is to engage in it, and experience the fear and trauma from his perspective. The perspective shifts are rapid and don’t carry much weight – I don’t care about Annie or the travel agency and all the value added in the first section is lost/cheapened by trying to tie up the ending with a bow.

Stick with the frogman. It was stronger.


“The Cadillac Man” by Devorum

I don’t understand this story.

Native American Medicine Man with a drum is an overused and weak trope that borders on racist. You double down on the racism by making the characters racist.

The white kids take inspiration from the brown elder’s efforts.

Then one of them is disrespectful.

And nothing happens to him.

Coyote would have kicked these kid’s asses.

I suppose structurally there’s nothing wrong with this story, but it leans hard on racist stereotypes and doesn’t do anything to redeem itself for that laziness. This entire store could have been a quarter of the length and then had the actual focus of the story being coyote wrecking these white teenagers instead of inspiring them.

Even without the weird racist tropes, the focus is oddly balanced in this story and there’s no poetic justice to be had. If that was the point, then it’s lacking the tone of a ‘nothing matters’ piece due to how beautifully described the art and inspiration is.


“The Burden of Faith” by Bad Seafood

This is an interesting story that captured a few of our judges, but suffered from a disjointed feeling that didn’t contribute to the overall narrative.

It’s really evident in the second paragraph. ‘She wore her brother’s jacket and her hair cut short. Her hair was a vibrant bubblegum blue. No real reason. She just liked the color. If you didn’t like it, you could go to Hell.’ The short sentences combined with the jump out of a removed narrative set this up to feel a bit immature, which could have worked if that was the only ‘flavor’ that we added. Unfortunately, we start sprinkling in flashbacks.

It’s like combining meat and fruit in a dish – it works sometimes but probably needed longer to simmer. In this short of a piece, it made it feel chaotic and it was hard to track where the dialogue was coming from. Added to that many of the descriptions used to build the character reference a dog or a brother or a car shop, but we have only glimpses of them. They are effective glimpses, but set within the short sentence structure and interspersed flashback dialogue, they add to the disjointed feel of the piece.

This piece really pulls it together towards the end. The descriptions are incredible. Even without seeing pictures of the mountain, I can envision it and the word choices bring together the ethereal beauty of human faith while keeping that strained feeling of being separated from the divine - examples - ‘birthday cake fallen from heaven’, ‘technicolor terraces covered in prayers’, ‘thirty years of love […]’, ‘sun broke over the edge of the world’.

I think there’s a lot in this story that a bit more time and a higher word count could bring out. Stories about faith that aren’t contrived or tropes can be hard to find, and this one could definitely hit that mark with a bit more time.


“Undeath of the Author” by Dolash
I don’t know that this story particularly fits the week’s theme but it was a fun romp and took the idea of a dangerous road in a different direction. The humor in the dialogue at the beginning made me chuckle. It had good timing and formatting, which I point out because humor can be difficult to manage, especially when you place it in a campy D&D setting.

I can’t say that the story falls apart at the flare gun because I’m not sure it was super cohesive to begin with. The action is well timed, the pacing with dialogue is good – sure it should be a 30 minute television show, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t like the pacing shift at the *** break, I want to see the full effect of the woman’s work in its seemingly dark magic glory. As it stands, we cut to a woman squatting in the dirt suddenly and add air ships, but they are air ships harvesting mystical energy on a ley line.

I don’t hate this story. I honestly found it fun on my second read-through for critique, and nothing jumps out at me as particularly problematic in its structure and technicalities except that sudden pacing shift. I’m sure there is a very specific short-story competition out there that it would do well in with a longer word count to smooth out that transition and a bit more time to add more action balancing against the dialogue/humor. As it stands, it’s heavy in dialogue/humor and there’s not much meat to it besides that.


“Gone to Waste” by Sebmojo

I personally liked making a podcast endorsed mattress a place of power. The other judges were less impressed, but the novelty of the place of power gave me a chuckle.

There’s a lot of BEEPing in this story. It doesn’t work effectively for your word count, especially contrasted against ‘trivial bother’, ‘impossible beauty’ and ‘languorous’. The beeping is repetitive and I assume intended to be discordant and sudden. The other word choices are elevated.

The second paragraph struggles similarly– ‘came to realize, somehow’ and ‘couldn’t get himself together’ are wordy and conversational. This continues in the following paragraphs too with ‘nearly, very nearly.’ The other word choices aren’t particularly conversational so these ‘breaks’ from elevated diction jar me out of the story and wonder if you read the story out loud before submission.

The whole story suffers from this weird casual discussion and dialogue contrasted against an elevated word choice like ‘entreaties’ and ‘mid-life anomaly.’ I think this is supposed to be a funny story, but there isn’t much humor in it. It makes a few attempts but those fall flat, so it falls back on attempting to be a well-constructed story with elevated diction.

Go all in – write a funny story about a mattress that grants eternal life or write a story about the crushing lack of meaning in life where even the fantastical eventually wears out. Trying to do both doesn’t come together well.


“High on Idiot Hill” by sebmojo

This is a pretty story. It has strong structure, which can be hard in a ‘one-shot’ that doesn’t introduce any *** breaks or assumed gaps in time to move it along. It’s a single look into one person’s connection to the land with a suggestion of the fantastical at the edges. I also appreciate the unique take on the ‘place.’ I wasn’t expecting an origin story, but I really enjoyed it.

The emphasis on Oregon imagery is succinct but strong – the time that’s taken to examine the dirt, talk about the soil after a rain, and a passing nod to larch saplings set the scene without leaning too much on the ‘place’ to move the story.

How well established the imagery is makes the dialogue feel weak towards the end. This well constructed nod to the Faerie through things you can see out of the corner of your eyes and what lives under the hills is fantastic because you took time to build the feeling through dialogue without expressly saying it. I think it falters at the ‘What, like walking tours? It’s just a hill, Roger?’ because the whole story ends on this note of – ‘Don’t know, we will find out.’

I think it’s been established that they both want to share that feeling of almost seeing something that doesn’t exist, that there’s a power in cultivating that in a place, but the sentiment falls flat at the very end with the equivalent of a shrug. You almost pull it together with the bells imagery, but I think the dialogue could’ve used a bit less of a casual ‘don’t know’ and a bit more of ‘don’t know, but maybe it’s the kind of thing you can’t know?’

He is literally licking dirt to get closer to this place at the beginning and I could feel the weight of the earth under their feet with all the ‘unknowing’ it holds. I would’ve liked some kind of tie back into the ‘there’s a lot of ground beneath us, and it knows more than we’ll ever know’ at the end.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
God Loves a Terrier
Prompt Rat Terrier
Word Count 996

The largest of the area’s dairies, Marion’s housed hundreds of placid, brown cows with butter-thick organic milk. The manager Dwayne surveyed the heifers with a skeptical look, pursing his lips as he glanced to his milker.

“You sure?” Dwayne asked Tom.

Tom nodded and his lip curled as he repeated, “Yeah, it’s bad. Real bad at night. Sweep the east road with a torchlight and you can’t see the ground. Just bodies and their beady eyes. I think they got the cats. No kittens survived this spring.”

Dwayne regarded the milker with an arched eyebrow while he sucked chew against his gums. A long silence stretched between the two of them, punctuated only by the lowing of cows and the shuffling of heavy bodies across cement.

“Well, poo poo.” Dwayne finally spit. He pulled out his phone, thumbing through a long list of numbers. Settling the phone against his ear, he turned away from Tom and began walking back to the office. Tom turned to the cows, reaching out a hand to one of the curious heifers nosing at his pockets.

For every cow at the dairy, there were almost a hundred rats. Occasionally Tom would shoot into the dark alleys when the cows bedded down, and for every bullet, he would hit a rat. They outsmarted the traps, and poison meant they lost organic certification. Short of moving all the cows and burning down the property, Tom wasn’t sure who someone called for a rat problem of this magnitude.

The answer became clear three days later when a battered old van rumbled up the long driveway and parked just outside the office. A tall man exited, a history of hard work lining tanned features, framed by an overgrown beard. As Dwayne exited the office to greet him, the stranger smiled and met him with a handshake before they began to walk the dairy together. All the milkers had been asked to stay late, though they weren’t entirely sure why. Tom stood among the others in a perplexed jumble, armed with the shovels they had collected like a contingent of wayward soldiers.

As the stranger and Dwayne returned to the milkers, they put out their cigarettes and glanced curiously towards the van, which had begun barking shortly after the stranger left it. The stranger paused and faced the milkers, introducing himself in an unhurried drawl, “Hello folks. I’m Reed and me and my dogs are going to be doing a bit of work here today. Ya’ll are going to help... They will leave the cows, cats, chickens, goats, whatever else ya’ got here alone. They’re only hunting one thing and that’s rats. They need you to use those shovels to dig out their tunnels. Less time they spend digging, more rats they can kill. If you see a dog looking funny at a corner, then start digging.”

With no other explanation, Reed returned to his van while Dwayne dispatched a few of the milkers to start moving the lumber pile. As the back hatch of the van opened, the barking fell quiet and a line of noses materialized in an orderly row. The dogs were small in stature, the heaviest in the bunch twenty pounds, and all boasted an array of splotched coats in both smooth and wiry assortment. All of them bore the upright carriage of terriers, square and straight with musculature wound so tight with eager energy they practically vibrated. Reed’s beard parted in an honest smile as he cooed, “Ya’ll ready to kill some rats?’

As if he had opened the floodgates, the mongrel hoard surged out of the back hatch of the van.

There was no casual sniffing or distracted exploration of their surroundings. Every dog immediately sprinted towards a corner, a feed trough, or a pile of lumber with ears canted forward and an eerie silence as they hunted with murderous intent. Tom expected them to bark more, but the pack fanned out with intentional quiet, their focus so complete it did not waste effort on excessive noise.

The dairy erupted into chaos within seconds.

Tom had never seen anything like it. The dogs fearlessly flushed the rats into the open with snapping teeth and arcing sprays of mud. The rodents bounded frantically skyward, bouncing off walls and desperately seeking crannies to disappear into, but the dogs hounded them too hard to duck into tight corners. Just as it seemed a rat would escape, another mongrel from the pack would materialize and sink their fangs into the fleeing scourge.

Despite the varmints being near the same size as the curs, even the youngest pups in the pack were undaunted. As soon as their jaws closed around the rat, the dogs would start to shake, but if the neck didn’t immediately snap, the dastardly creature would turn and sink their teeth into the dog. Instead of yelping, the terriers snarled and shook harder until the motion tore the rat loose and left it dead. With jaws gaping in dog-smiles and the froth hanging to their lips stained pink, the dog would turn and dart back to the nearest shovel-bearing milker with an expectant glare.

‘Hurry up, human. We have a schedule to keep’ the busy beasts seemed to insist with their keen eyes.

Soon shouts and laughter filled the air, the milkers yelling rat counts to their colleagues in high spirits despite the late hour and hot sun. As Reed lifted a huge beam on the woodpile, he boasted proudly, “Sometimes old problems take old solutions, ya’know?”

As several rats scurried into the open, the dogs descended upon them in a coordinated wave. One of the pursued rats darted towards Tom, and he brought down the shovel with a satisfying crunch. The dog who had herded it to him regarded Tom with a twitch of its prick ears in seeming approval then pivoted to rejoin the fray.

Marion’s replaced their barn cats with terriers in the spring and never suffered from rats again.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Prompt 'Holes' by Whalley
Words 896

The city warned us this would happen. Dad swapped out the fixtures for environmentally responsible flow rates and planted succulents in the sand instead of grass. We received a credit on our taxes, but not enough to drill any deeper. Now, every Sunday we load up the truck with the storage tank and drive through sub developments littered with ‘For Sale’ signs.

Hartford Homes dug deep when they looked for water, deeper than Dad and I could ever afford to. They struck a water table and boasted it wouldn’t run out for years to come. We read in the paper that the development was a quarter sold when the faucets had nothing more to give. Dad bats at one of the wayward signs as we wait in the water line. Agua, a subsidiary of Hartford Homes, built the pump house, adding an electronic pay station and requiring purchase of their proprietary storage tanks. Before Agua purchased the water rights, the locals would gather at the dusty old pump and chat, but now the pay station frequently loses connection to the internet and jams up for spans of restless time.

“Think we should sell?” Dad asks me. My attention swerves from the book in my lap to fix him with an arched eyebrow. He laughs at my reaction. ‘Sell’ is just a different word for leaving. Nothing sells around here. I mentally review my father’s previous plans to leave. We got the car to Applebrook before the gas ran out. We walked to the orchards and worked for three grueling months just to limp back to the desert with our paychecks.

“We don’t have enough to get to Silverham. Without making that, there’s no way we could work the rest of the way to Buckwit by harvest.” I speak slowly, hoping he can tease apart some untruth in my statement and find opportunity. The sun crawls higher in the sky while we wait, and I can feel sweat dribbling down the small of my back. Dad simply nods, his eyes darting to the front of the line where Old Man Lane is swearing at the pay station and beating it with his gnarled, arthritic fists. Dad distracts from his hopeful reverie, frowning as he hops out of the car to join the others coalescing around the commotion with curious glances. The dust kicks up into a hazy cloud and I can taste the rust in the back of my throat.

“Yeah he’s sure he put his card in right. I did it for him three times. This loving thing just won’t work.” I can hear Greg shouting, defending Lane’s ability to use the machine. Dad wades through the fray as if he can actually solve pay station issues, kneeling at the spigot and running his finger inside of the faucet hole with a frown.

“Were you the first one here to fill up this morning, Lane?” He asked the wiry old man.

“Aye, and nothing came out. I put in over forty credits and nothing. Not even a drop.”

Dad coughs and enters his own card, despite the shouts ‘we already tried that’ and ‘it’s just going to steal your money.’ Into the slot, the card disappears, and the machine greets Dad with the three-syllable chime. Dad makes his selection with habitual motions and waits. Deep in the guts of the pump house the wheel whirs and gears clink, but nothing comes out of the faucet. The crowd riles into a fresh wash of restlessness, frustrated as Pavlov’s dog after the bell rings and no food appears.

The sun beats down on our backs, and I can feel the sweat spreading like sticky wings over my shoulders. Dad murmurs the error code, and reaches for the yellowed user guide swinging helpfully from a peg above the pay station. Still repeating the error code aloud, he matches it and his eyes dart between the screen and the flaking laminate several times.

“What is it?” Lane asks and the crowd echoes. Dad doesn’t say anything, just drops the sheet with a curse and starts walking back to the car. He’s not answering questions, just walking like he’s got somewhere important to be and I know better than to ask what’s going on. As we close the car doors, I can hear shouts from the pump house and people kicking the hollow sides.

“Dad…?” I ask, because even though I know the answer, I have to hear him say it.

“Water’s out.”

As he turns the key in the ignition and puts our car in reverse, I see Greg going for the shotgun in his car and realize a few other folks are getting tools as if prying off the pump house will help them get to the water. There’s nothing there though, just a dry old hole. Dad’s expression is grim as we pull off the old country road and onto the main interstate.

We don’t bother going home to try to pack up some meager possessions or make a better plan. We just start driving as the wind batters the side of our old truck. In the midst of dust and tumbleweeds, a ‘SOLD’ sign slaps across the windshield. I feel laughter bubble up from my dry throat and Dad joins in, both of us giggling like idiots as the windshield wipers dismiss the sign from our view.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
My story is titled 'Dusty Holes'

Sorry for the omission.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
In this week with "Smiling Dalseo"

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Smiling Dalseo

People always commented on Kim’s hands. They didn’t fit with his white linen shirts and pressed khakis; the palms were dark with callouses and dirt formed black half-moons under the nails. When Kim was younger, he used to hide his hands in his pockets so as not to garner attention. Yet as he gained mastery over his profession, they were freed to illustrate his stories about root systems and the delicate art of transplanting roses. Kim’s hands had earned him a position as a master gardener and lead groundskeeper, and he was quite proud of them now.

Yet nobody asked Kim about his hands after he moved to Dalseo-gu.

At first, he thought it was an odd effect of the city’s culture. The crowded streets were packed with vehicles and bicycles and tall apartment complexes leaned in on either side. It was a jarring change from the village he had spent most of his life. Yet when he traveled to the adjacent district for a seminar, his hands earned him a few smiling nods of fellowship from other gardeners in attendance.

In Dalseo-gu, everyone asked about his teeth.

Kim had average teeth. Straight enough to not distract and as white as expected from a regular brushing regime. He did not consider himself a man of sour disposition, and yet in Dalseo he was constantly encouraged to smile. He had a great many things to smile about – a clean and orderly apartment, a job working with the hands he was so proud of, and long days spent surrounded by beautiful nature. When told to smile more, he would spread his lips back and flash teeth he had never considered as significant. In response, their smiles would falter with a tightening in the corners of their eyes or a setting of their jawline harder than before.

“Have you seen the dentist yet?” They would ask through clenched teeth.

Kim had never thought his smile would provoke such a reaction. At night, he would finish carefully scrubbing the dirt from his hands before sliding a fingertip under his lips, pulling them back so he could peer inquisitively at the dentition. Try as he might, he could not find what inspired so many of his fellow citizens to recommend him to the dentist. Eventually he purchased an angled mirror mouth and slid it far back to study his molars, carefully scrutinizing how the gums clung to each tooth and obsessively flossing until his smile was a picture of dental health.

Yet still they asked, “Have you seen the dentist yet? He could help you with your smile.”

There were hundreds of dental offices in the city, but Kim was only recommended to one. The office was crammed into a tightly packed neighborhood just far enough off the river for heat to build like an oven between the buildings. The wash of circulating fan air in the waiting room offered a welcome respite from the sweltering bustle outside. The woman behind the desk greeted him with a picturesque smile, the sort Kim imagined a dental office receptionist was required to have. With pleasantries aside, she asked for his appointment time.

“Oh I need to make an appointment.” He clarified with a laugh, explaining that he was new in town but had been recommended to this dentist many times.

“I’m sure you’re scheduled.” She said, her smile unfaltering as her delicate fingers flew over the keyboard.

“This is my first time in.” Kim clarified, wondering if maybe she had misheard him initially. He provided his name before continuing, “I was hoping for an appointment-”

“You’re ten minutes early.” She cut him off, her dark eyes flitting up from the screen. The glow from the monitor made her teeth appear pearlescent.

Kim faltered and regarded her in silence, feeling the congenial smile shaped by his time in Dalseo tighten and fall away. Her own broadened in response, lips peeling back farther as little dimples formed on either side of the gleaming array.

“Ah, yes. You definitely need to see the dentist.” Her laughter was a soft tittering that felt hollow and choppy, like the mechanical whirring of the fans moving stagnant air.

Kim’s throat tightened and he turned to take a seat, reviewing his previous days in minute detail. It felt as if a conversation had occurred that could explain this, but whenever he tried to recall it in focus, the pieces fell into disarray. He stared down at his hands, turning them over and pressing the nails into his fingertips. He dug in hard until he could feel pain, grounding himself in the otherwise empty waiting room. Perhaps he had made the appointment and just forgotten? It was not like Kim to be forgetful, but it was summer and people’s minds tend to go soft in the heat.

Ten minutes may have passed, but when they called his name, it sounded fuzzy as if the hygienist were shouting it from underwater. The long curvature of the patient’s chair rose up to meet his frame, welcoming him to lie down while his feet were raised and his mouth illuminated under the examination light. Even though her mouth hid behind a blue surgical mask, Kim knew the hygienist was smiling by the way her crow’s feet pinched on either side of her dark eyes.

“Yes, the dentist will fix this right up.” She purred as she shoved rigid plastic into the back of his mouth, propping it open to leave his tongue flopping uselessly between the probing of her latex gloves. A dull ache formed from his jaw being forced into such an unnatural gape, and he tried to say something. Of course, it all came out garbled nonsense. The hygienist made a soft noise of recognition as if she understood him and suctioned saliva away from where it was starting to flood the back of his throat.

“Yes, you’re right, this will take a while. Here, I will get you some more gas.”

More? Kim could not remember when he agreed to a procedure that required gas.

When he tried to raise his hand to bat her away, nothing happened. As she pressed mask over his nose, he closed his eyes and struggled to remember where his hands were. The harder he tried to bear down on the effort to raise an arm, to swat her away, the more distant his limbs became. Despite the cloying sweetness on the back of his throat, he focused on moving one digit at a time, forcing the muscles into contracting around a singular effort escape the distant sound of a drill.

Time slowed and folded in on itself as he fought with his muscles and the sluggish recesses of his brain to move just one finger. He screamed, but no sound came out. Kim could only hear the drill. He knew he was screaming, his mind filled with the echoing panic of desperation to claw out of the chair. Yet even when the drill paused and the murky noises of unintelligible conversation could be made out, they couldn’t hear him screaming. Once he heard his voice, distant and weak as a mewling newborn as it bubbled up from the saliva collecting against his writhing tongue. The hygienist cooed as if she was soothing a child and twittered, “Looks like the gas needs to be turned up.”

Then Kim didn’t remember anything else.

His memory came back in short bursts while he staggered down the streets on his way home. In one hand, he held a bill for services rendered and a sheet of aftercare instructions. In the other was a plastic bag, filled with a toothbrush and several free samples he distantly remembered accepting. A blue toothbrush, this had been important. He had selected it from three other colors while his hands shook and he listened to the hygienist apologize for how long the procedure had taken. The heat had climbed to a fever in the late afternoon, but he couldn’t stop shivering. Making his way down the crowded city streets, he stared at the ground. His jaws ached, the wet sticky of his mouth constantly catching on his teeth as they dried out in the afternoon heat. He would run his tongue over their polished surface to wet them, trying to force his numbed lips into closure.

At the front door of his apartment, he looked up to meet his neighbor’s face, her radiant smile broadening as she held the door open for him and remarked, “Oh! You finally visited the dentist!”

Kim swayed in the heat, caught by his reflection in the glass door. Despite the sweat soaking his clean cotton shirt, the rumpled state of his khakis and his disobedient hands hanging lifeless at his sides, he was smiling. The smile was an open and joyous expression; the teeth still his own but whiter and polished past recognition. The expression reached into his exhausted eyes and forced his cheeks into dimples he never knew he possessed. Kim had never smiled like this before, so openly radiant and joyous.

And he couldn’t stop.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
in with Lachesism

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Lachesism: Longing for the Clarity of Disaster

Seat Belts
Words 1,374

I stopped wearing my seat belt.

It was after I worked through the entirety of the Dark Tower series by Steven King, but couldn’t remember what happened in any of the books. After King and I spent over a hundred-forty hours together, I switched to music for a while. The playlists played themselves out quickly, and even the new music discovery fizzled into looping recognizable patterns. I tried to look out my windows more, hoping I would see a deer or something but the only novelty on my route were new piles of trash and occasionally a rotting raccoon. Even the seasonal shift was unrecognizable from the concrete river the highway snaked along; buildings don’t turn orange with the seasons and billboards can’t bloom.

It was a waking dream of about twelve hours a week, robotically compressing the gas pedal and alternating to the brake while letting everything blur into unrecognizable shapes. I tried listening to public broadcasting, but it dulled my senses and made my eyes feel heavy on the drive home. Once I had to swerve into the emergency lane to avoid rear-ending the car in front of me. I un-clicked my seat belt while I sat there shaking, and never bothered to reattach it. The horns howling as their drivers moved past my stalled vehicle rang as an alarm that loosened a flood of adrenaline through my system. I couldn’t remember when I had last experienced something so vividly.

Ninety people a day die in car accidents and seat belts reduce the risk of death by forty-five percent. I reminded myself of this every day, willing my body to rouse the receptors in my animal brain to believing my commute was a life or death circumstance. Though I tried to manufacture the abrupt terror of imagining my body compressed between hunks of shearing metal like being shoved into a trash compactor, my brain didn’t care if I wore a seat belt or not. I remembered from a different audio book that our brain makes driving decisions habitual to avoid a constant stasis of constant fight or flight. The first ten minutes of the drive, I could force everything into imagined importance, but eventually the edges blurred together again. I moved between work and home in the stupefied state of the half alive.

That’s why I missed the warning about the fog. There’s always fog in the early mornings on the interstate, and perhaps my brain determined the letters ‘DANGEROUS DRIVING CONDITIONS AHEAD – REDUCE SPEED’ were not important enough to let through the haze of routine. I sipped my coffee, and I adjusted the radio instead of reducing my speed, which is why I hurtled into the wall of impenetrable grey at sixty miles per hour. The horns were multiplied a hundred fold from my last near-miss, a trumpets chorus that ignited panic the moment they were swallowed by the sound of metal ripping apart. I knew not to slam on the brakes, but even as I tried to arrest my speed, the red eyes of the car in front of me reared up out of the fog.

I yanked hard on the steering wheel to swerve into what I prayed was an empty lane, but I wasn’t fast enough. I caught the back end of a bumper, throwing my car sideways across both lanes. A lifted truck burst through the fog, bearing down to broadside my car before squealing tires spun the monstrosity into the emergency lane. There was a sick wobble of suspension as momentum gripped the swerve and suddenly the vehicle turned upside down in a seemingly impossible spin that carried it through the divider with roar of metal tearing through cement. It may have completed another turn had it not been immediately struck by an oncoming car. I watched as the two vehicles pirouetted across the highway lines like some mechanized ballet played out with steel and rubber set to the sound of metal frames imploding. Then the fog swallowed them up and I could only hear the continuance of the crash. It didn’t stop.

Every new scream of something trying to stop followed by the horrible sound of glass popping apart on impact made me jump in my seat. I closed my eyes whenever I heard tires screech, occasionally another vehicle bursting out of the fog only to hurtle into the grey ahead of me and then be lost to the sound of collision. The fog held its secrets, showing us none of the carnage but letting us listen to its construction. I heard people calling for help, but nobody dared get out of our cars. We sat in that grey alone and we waited while more cars smashed themselves into the graveyard and filled the cool morning air with the smell of split gasoline and leaking engine blocks.

Then as suddenly as it had formed, the fog rolled away like pulling back a curtain, and the distant cry of sirens called for an encore. It was all a mess of crumpled metal and broken glass catching the morning sun like diamonds tossed across the asphalt. I couldn’t see over the tops of the semi-trucks to gauge the span of the accident, but there was no hiding what was pinned beneath them. The scene could have been a modern Hieronymus Bosch painting: a whole roof obliterated under a big rig wheel with the passenger seat compressed fraction of its original size, a sedan that appeared to be serrated in half when it was t-boned, a motorcycle several yards off the highway with its wheel still eerily spinning.

Staggering out of my car, I stumbled through the wreckage to the closest vehicle, which I had clipped in my mad swerve to avoid rear-ending them. The front of the small car was crushed into the back of a much larger SUV, and as I came alongside the driver’s side, I saw a hollow eyed woman clutching her hair with a trembling hand. I reached up and gently rapped the window with my knuckle, her entire body shuddering with an instinctive jump. She peered through the crystallized pieces of glass left in the window, the remainder sprawled across her lap, “Y-y-yes?”

“I’m going to open your door if I can.” I warned her.

She blinked slowly as the words turned over in her head. My eyes considered her pupils dilated to black dinner plates and the thrumming of the pulse in her neck, but the remnants of her leg trapped in the crumpled forefront of her vehicle held most of my attention. I yanked on the door, forcing it open with a few purposeful yanks that broke loose more of the glass. It crunched under my shoes as I bent at the waist and surveyed the damage.

“Is it bad?” she asked, and I smiled and glanced up at her with a casual shrug.

“I’ve seen worse.”

She winced as I placed my hands on her leg, moving over the limb as I determined how it was trapped within the wreckage. “Are you some kind of doctor?” she managed through gritted teeth.

“Nurse.” I responded, clarifying my name with a reassuring pat on her arm.

She leaned back in her chair and let out a shuddering sob that I had heard hundreds of times before as I began to take her vitals. When I was done, I wrote them on the back of a napkin I had found in her backseat and pressed them into her hand with instructions to shout if she felt like her chest was heavy or she was having trouble breathing. I could see ambulances beginning to wade through the edges of the wrecking yard, and told her that help would be there soon.

I picked my way over broken glass and half-shells of bumpers to the SUV her car was crammed under. The adrenaline was ebbing out of my system, my hands steadying and my focus aligning along the motions of routine. By the time I reached the driver’s side of the black behemoth, not even the splattered gore across the windshield could stir me back into the clarity I could remember from within the fog.

I didn’t bother with triage. They hadn’t been wearing their seat belt.

Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.


Jun 28, 2018

You weren't born to just pay bills and die.

You must suffer.

A lot.
Don't Tell It On the Mountain
Words 664

I don’t like telling this story too close to the mountain. I was warned if I did, I would attract it again.

Mt. Hood is a well-trafficked mountain. It’s right outside of Portland, so you get a lot of folks that go up there for the day, take their selfies to put them on Instagram and that’s #mthood. But I grew getting lost in those woods, and finding skulls and forgotten little hollows where people went to disappear forever. It’s an unsettling forest off the trails; full of things you can’t necessarily feel until you’re standing in the middle of them and it’s pressing in on you. I’ve always loved that mountain, but it scares me.

When I was in college, I took a job up there working at a gas station. One night, I’m heading down the mountain to get groceries. It’s a mean highway. As a kid, I saw many cars wrapped around trees or semis plunged off the side of the curves. Once you drop below freezing, the rain falls in sheets. It’s so dark just outside the beams of your headlights that it feels like the forest is sucking you in on both sides. As I was coming down through one of the tightest stretches of the highway, my wipers were going as fast as they could and barely keeping the rain off my windshield.

All of a sudden, there’s something standing in front of my car. I thought it was a person because it was tall and bipedal, but it was impossible for a person to appear like that in the middle of the road. I slam on the brakes and even as I’m fishtailing out, I know I hit them. I had to have smashed right through them. I flinch and throw my arms up screaming, expecting to hear a body ricocheting off the front of my car. Except, there’s no impact. As I idle my car after coming to a stop, I’m saying to myself, “What the gently caress just happened?” I look in my mirrors thinking ‘it must have been a trick of the light’ because I know I hit something, but I didn’t hear an impact.

My hands are shaking and I’m pulling out my brick of a phone, hoping there’s service even when I know there isn’t. There’s definitely something crumpled up on the road, so I figure it’s a branch that fell or a plastic sheet blown off someone’s roof. I reach to open my door to get out, because I’ve got to clear it off the road before the next car comes. As I unlock my door, this thing in the road starts to collect itself in all the wrong ways. It pulls its limbs back underneath its body in disjointed right angles with the elbows and knees jutting out like it’s a insect. It’s not moving like anything I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely getting back up and approaching the bumper of my car in the red glow of my brake lights. I put my foot through the gas pedal. As I’m peeling out of there, I re-lock the doors and check my mirrors again except now there’s nothing there.

I felt like something was following me for months.

I asked a friend who lived up there what it was, when she described a similar experience of something stalking her on a night run. She told me we don’t talk about it on the mountain. Talking about it gives it power, it calls it to us, and then it can hurt us. It still doesn’t feel far enough away to be retelling it here, but she told me what to do if I see it again, which I feel like everyone who spends time in dark woods should know.

Pretend you don’t see it. Keep moving until it loses interest, but don’t run. It likes it when you run, and it won’t stop following you until you’re too tired to keep running.

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