In toxx flash
|# ¿ Feb 20, 2019 23:23|
|# ¿ Dec 11, 2023 09:38|
Even though Dad and my little brother Ivan were coming for dinner, I still hadn’t gotten a kitchen table. I knocked on the door of the lady next door to see if I could use hers, but she just sized me up -- how long have you lived here? and said “we’re using it.” So, like I always do whenever I’ve hosed up beyond saving, I gave Zachary a call.
“Hey, Kels. I’m at work. What’s up?”
“Sorry, babe,” I said. “You got a table we can borrow for dinner tonight?”
“An -- I’m sorry. A table?”
“You know there’s nowhere to sit in my house.”
“Why don’t we just go out? How about that nice sushi place that’s like three blocks from your house?” In the background, I could hear the overlapping noise of three other conversations, the grappling hook of “ma’am”s and “sir”s of sales calls not going well. I could hear the same wheedling notes in Zachary’s voice.
“Dad wants me to cook him dinner,” I said, though I was the one who’d suggested dinner. But if I told Zachary that, he’d want me to walk that back, and goddammit, I wasn’t going to walk this back with Dad before we’d even started this whole shebang.
A silence. “What are you making?”
“Thought I’d figure that out after we had a place to sit.”
“Kelsey,” he said. “Blow them off. You’re not--”
“They’ve come all the way down from New York, I’m not going to blow them off. I just need a table. And something to cook for dinner. And chairs, probably.”
“Okay, look, how about -- ah, heck, sorry, Kels, I’m getting a call. I’ll call you back.”
He hung up, and I walked out to the bare kitchen. I tried to see it as Dad would -- the windowsill with the flaking corpse of a geranium, the bare mustard walls, the sliding pantry door that had been wrenched from its track long before I moved in. There were even a couple of mouse droppings on the floor that I’d pick up, except I didn’t have a broom.
Zachary was right, I knew, and I should have just rescheduled for that sushi restaurant, but I’d already told them I’d make food. Because why not? People do it every day, in all sorts of living situations -- they just throw some things together and voila, good to eat tasty treats.
I went down to the bodega down the block and picked up food that people cook -- a whole chicken, the least sad tomato I could find, a couple bags of Uncle Ben’s minute rice. The bodega clerk looked at me with these I know all about you looks and I just kept it real cool, pretended I hadn’t seen the glimmer of pity in her eyes. Only when I’d made it back up to the apartment and unpacked my bag, that cold carcass of raw meat, the lonely tomato, the bright orange beacon of convenience and depression from good Uncle Ben, did I realize I had no idea what I was going to do with any of this poo poo. I started a pot of water boiling, and it wasn’t even at a simmer when Dad called.
I looked at the phone, considering the possibility of just letting it ring out -- oh my god I’m so sorry I was in the shower -- but I have a hard time sitting with that guilt so I picked up anyway.
“Hi, Dad,” I said. “Everything okay?”
“Love to hear your voice, sweetheart. I can’t believe how good traffic was, and wouldn’t you know it, we made real good time.”
“Oh good,” I said, cutting the plastic encasing the chicken with my car keys. “That’s -- real good.” Knowing Dad, he’d left two hours early out of an implacable fear of traffic. “Where are you now?”
“Well, I’m having a real hard time finding your street, but I think I’m in the neighborhood.”
The chicken came loose from the plastic and landed with a plop on the linoleum floor -- a safe distance from the mouse droppings, thank god. I dug around in the kitchen drawer for two forks, and, while holding the phone against my ear with my shoulder, I hoisted the fallen bird up with the forks and dropped it in the pot of almost-boiling water. It splashed all over the stove, and I tried to suppress the yelp as the splatter hit my shoulder.
“Everything okay? Did I catch you at a bad time?”
I ran the sink, hoisting myself up so I could catch my upper arm under the flow of cold water. “Just cooking up a storm,” I said. “Didn’t expect you so soon, you know! And Zachary won’t be able to make it for a while. Gosh, you guys should go and see the city, just take a walk, it’s a beautiful--”
“Honey, it’s raining.”
I looked at despair at the packets of rice and the single tomato, still on the counter, the half-submerged chicken carcass, the pool of water on the floor, and the still-relevant lack of a table. And although the stream of cool water was helping, my skin was still burning.
“Okay, here’s the thing. Don’t hate me! But I forgot dessert, and I know it’s your favorite, and I’m the worst--”
“Hey! Hey, hey, hey, slow down. I don’t care about that. I’m just happy I get to see my only daughter again after way too long. And -- aha! -- I think I just found Sullivan Street!”
The chicken pot boiled over, pouring more fizzy hot water and liquifying chicken fat onto the range. I was still holding the forks in my fists, and I half-heartedly spun the chicken in the pot. I left the forks crossed on top of the range while I dug out a plastic bowl, dumped the rice in there with some water, and set it to microwave as the doorbell rang. I left the tomato on the counter, like a memory.
“Kelsey!” Dad said, as I opened the door. It had started raining -- his grey hair was matted down by the downpour, exaggerating his bald spot. Ivan lurked, partially behind him, but he gave me a shy head-nod. I ushered them both inside, hugging them both, and as we walked up the stairs, I wondered if things would actually be so bad.
And then we opened the door to the apartment and the air was rich with the nagging smell of boiled flesh and I wanted to retch, and I couldn’t even look at the faces of Dad or Ivan. I just mumbled “excuse me,” dashed over to the kitchen, and, looking into the pot at the blanched, pale chicken, tried not to retch into the trash can. Then I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed Zachary again.
“Heyyyyyyy Kels,” he said, answering after the fifth ring. “Something urgent come up?”
I took a deep breath, turned on the exhaust fan for noise control, and said “I hosed everything up and I burned my arm and dad and Ivan are here early and I just need you here right now, dammit,” I said.
A long silence, with just the whirring fan, and the knowledge that somewhere behind me, Ivan and Dad were shuffling and settling into the blankness and nothingness. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it home,” Zachary said, quietly. “I’m so sorry. I’m not trying to feed you a load of garbage, I’ve really got someone very honcho-esque I think I might close on, and--”
“Got it, thanks,” I said, and hung up. It was time to drain the chicken, but when I turned around, Ivan was sitting on the counter, holding the tomato in one hand and tossing it to the other.
“Nice place,” Ivan said. He was looking at the dead geranium.
“Taking a poo poo. What’s for dinner?”
I picked up the pot of chicken, tiptoed by the now lukewarm puddle on the floor, and drained the chickenwater into the sink. Behind me, I could hear the pat pat pat of the tomato getting tossed back and forth. I turned around, still holding the pot of chicken -- nearly empty, with just a half-inch of water on the bottom -- and locked eyes with Ivan. “What?” I asked him.
“Just wondering if you’re okay. You seem, uh, not-okay.”
“Nice to see you too, buddy.”
“Not the one who ran away once you had the chance, but okay.”
The bathroom door flew open, and Dad’s boots stomped into the kitchen. He’d clearly had time to examine himself in the mirror -- though his hair was still damp, he’d tastefully covered the bald spot in a stylish comb-over. “Well,” he said, “After that drive, I’m famished.” He looked skeptically at the pot that I was still holding. “That’s dinner?”
“It’s chicken,” Ivan confirmed.
“And rice,” I added, opening up the microwave.
There was a brief silence as Dad observed the room, his eyes landing on the puddle on the floor, the tomato in Ivan’s hand, and then back to the pot of chicken. “You know,” he said, “I did see what looks like a five-star sushi restaurant not too far--”
I should have felt relief, but instead I felt rage, white-hot rage at being shut down just the way I knew I would be, and I said “No. I made chicken.”
And we sat down on the floor, I washed a couple forks in the sink, and we ate the chicken.
|# ¿ Feb 25, 2019 02:06|
|# ¿ Jul 9, 2019 23:36|
When Mom died, I squirreled away in the musty little storage closet in the garage where she kept all her diaries, and I spent all summer reading that bullshit. I’d take a bag of mixed nuts and a big bottle of seltzer and a little book light, and I’d just read about all the vampires and ghouls and skeletons she’d vanquished. Most of it didn’t make much sense, but it didn’t have to – I just needed something to latch onto. They were supposedly going to foreclose on the house, so I wanted to hide away somewhere I wouldn’t hear the knocks, somewhere I wouldn’t have reception for the phone calls, where I could sit and read something familiar.
About a week into that routine, the itching started. I thought I’d brushed up against some kind of strange fungus at first. First it was just my wrists, but then the weltish nagging rash spread up my arms, down my back, and, after reading through everything for a fifth time, I realized it wasn’t getting any better, and I figured I’d need to go to the clinic.
Someone had left some notices on the door, and I crumpled them up into little paper balls without looking at them.
“You don’t like ska, bro?”
Julio, the next door neighbor, was watching me from a safe vantage point, a stack of fliers in his hands. I squinted at him, then opened up the notice I’d crumpled up.
“Sorry,” I said, looking at the flier for a house show. “I thought this was something different.”
“It’s cool,” he said. “Don’t see Ms. Rosa around here very much anymore. She’s all right?”
“She’s dead. They got her.”
He looked at me appraisingly. “Got her, huh?”
“They got her good medical treatment for her medical conditions.”
“Oh,” he said.
“But not good enough.”
In the little dank garage I was covering myself in two kinds of creams when, from outside, I heard the laughter and the crash, and there was Julio, pale white, two little dots on his neck, his glasses smashed in front of him.
“You don’t clean up?” I said, just in case the vampire was still alone. “You can’t leave people just around.”
No response. Didn’t think there would be – and I was still itchy. The doctor didn’t know what to prescribe, so they provided some hydrocortisone, some anti-fungal crap, and prayer.
“They got you, huh?” I said. “And not the good medical care. The transformed-into-the-undead kind of ‘got you.’”
“I suppose,” I said, “that I’m supposed to do something incredible. Destroy your decaying body, save your soul, kill the bad dudes.”
“But you won’t?”
I thought about it. Honestly, Mom was terrible at explaining how to do these kinds of things. Mostly she was interested in bad sex (thanks to the diaries, I now had my own field guide to the half-glanced nameless guys I’d seen growing up) and she tended to leave out the practical details when it came to work.
I was seized by a whole-body itch, and from the itch came a well of rage. “I will,” I said. I picked up a stick and, very carefully, I inserted it into Julio’s nostril. Then my phone rang.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello. We’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s warranty, which is about to expire. To renew your car’s warranty now, please press one to speak to a representative.”
I pressed one. I didn’t want my car’s warranty to expire.
On my tenth read-through of the diaries, Julio started to moan again. I’d developed a very careful method of reading the diaries so I could ignore the itching. My goal was to reach the end of the sentence without noticing the itching, and I wasn’t successful very often. Behind my elbow, the scratching and the rash had coalesced into a throbbing, leaking blister. I knew I should go back to the doctor, but they’d just throw more creams at me that wouldn’t do anything, so I figured close reading would work as well as anything.
Anyway, I was trying to focus enough of my attention on the diaries to figure out what do do with Julio – the stick in the nose thing didn’t really seem to be working, based on the irregular moaning and twitching.
“I know,” I said out loud, after half-skimming her account of selling cocaine and also killing a vampire with a woodchipper. “I’ll say a prayer.”
I didn’t know many prayers, so I closed my eyes and said, “Please, let’s stop the itching, and see if we can deal with this vampire.”
“Are you talking to me, buddy?”
“No, I’m praying,” I told Julio. Then I looked at my phone, and there was a long silence.
“How’d Ms. Rosa die?” he asked.
“She was out on a hunt for ghosts, and she went into a pretzel shop. She asked the proprietor of the pretzel shop if the pretzels were haunted, and he said ‘no.’ Five days later, she was dead.”
I tossed Julio the volume of mom’s diaries I’d just finished reading. I figured that he could use some interesting reading material. He looked at the diary for a second, and then adjusted the stick in his nose. “I thought you said she had medical conditions.”
“Oh, sure. Hypothyroidism, hypertension, paranoid delusions, the works.”
“Okay. Hey, buddy? Can you help me with one thing?”
“Anything,” I said.
“Can you insert this stick further up my nose?”
I hesitated. On one hand, it was only the ethical thing to do – finish the job I’d started. What right did I have to hold this vampire on the boundary between life and death? But on the other hand, finishing this job would mean taking up Mom’s legacy, of following in her footsteps. I didn’t know if I had the skills. The talent. The balls.
“Okay,” I said, and did it anyway.
|# ¿ Jul 14, 2019 18:27|
In flash me please
Also thanks for all the crits!
|# ¿ Jul 15, 2019 22:46|
Blood-eater/the shambles/killing a sacred bull
Jordan and I were polishing off our gas-station tacos on the side of a Pennsylvania backroad when we heard the infernal mooing. It was the sound of cows, yes – even I knew that – but cows in pain, an extended, drawn out pulling-out-your-fingernails wail.
I wiped a spot of beef juice from my chin and crumpled my taco wrapper. “Let’s get going,” I said.
Jordan took her own trash, folded it neatly, and placed it in her carrying bag. She gazed out at the horizon, towards the ruckus, squinting at the setting sun. “I bet there’s a slaughterhouse around here,” she said. “I grew up near one. I remember the noise. The smell, too.” She sat like that for a second before rising all at once, then nodding her head to the car.
I didn’t want to tell Jordan, but I was exhausted. I’d been driving sixteen hours a day for the past month, shuttling people around the country, and I needed a break. But I’d always get a text after dropping someone off – don’t know if you’re anywhere near Memphis, but I’ve got a friend who needs to get away from her family yesterday – and I couldn’t say no, not when I knew it was a thing I could do.
Even with the windows rolled up, I could still hear that bovine bleating, like a subwoofer in the night. Jordan put in earbuds as I started driving again, away from the bleating.
“Does your aunt know you’re coming?” I asked Jordan. At first, I thought her music was blocking me out, but then she removed one earbud and said:
“It’s a standing invitation,” she said.
“You’re lucky,” I said. “I mean, it’s a lucky thing to have that. Someone who understands, who’s got the space, in a city where you can get away. Not everyone’s got that sort of thing.”
Jordan was silent for a while, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ventured too much – god drat it, Kathleen, you can’t impose your own story on everyone – when all of a sudden Jordan screamead, and I saw the cow in the middle of the road.
I swerved, thanking God for the first time that the streets here were buffered by corn and not cliffs, and managed, narrowly, to miss the cow. We came to rest again at the side of the road, and I just took a deep breath. My head was swimming, both with sleep and adrenaline, and I closed my eyes for a second to get my bearings. Then I heard the car door open and slam shut.
“Jordan?” I got out of the car, and, in the filter of dusk-light and shadow, watched Jordan approach the cow. I walked up behind her, feeling all the while that this was a waste of time, that we just needed to get out of here, make it to a motel, do some praying, and that this would all be okay.
“It’s sick,” Jordan said, her hand under the cow’s muzzle, staring intently.
I didn’t know what gave Jordan that impression. I did notice that the animal was wounded, though; half an ear was missing, and, near its buttocks, the cow’s flesh was scraped, raw, bleeding. From its mouth came an unearthly low moan, a low bass note from the symphony we’d heard earlier.
“You know what happens,” Jordan said, “is that the slaughterhouses don’t want to get caught with sick animals on their inspections, so they just find some cornfield or whatever and let the animal die.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” I said. My eyelid was starting to twitch. “Wouldn’t they just kill the animals themselves?”
“Not for cows,” she said, “not since mad cow disease. No, you bring the animal out far enough that no one will know if it’s your cow or someone else’s cow. You burn off the brand mark, chop off the ear, and strand it somewhere to die.” I was looking at the cow’s exposed flank again, my stomach churning with rest-stop meat. “But,” she said, “at least it’s not in a slaughterhouse anymore.”
She was looking the cow in the eye with such intent, such purpose, that the idea entered my head unbidden. “Jordan,” I said, though I knew I shouldn’t, “does your aunt know you’re coming?”
The cow was still moaning, low and guttural. Jordan didn’t look at me, just rubbed the animal’s muzzle, knelt down, and kissed it between the eyes. Then she reached into her jacket, and I barely had time to catch the glint of metal before she stabbed the cow in the neck.
“Let’s go,” she said. The pocket knife was still in the cow’s throat.
I should have said a prayer – for the cow, for Jordan, for the cursed land between the slaughterhouses. But instead I turned away, my head down, as I retraced my steps to the car.
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2019 01:47|
In! 16 16 16 for character condition, song, and RFT. Also
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2019 11:52|
The Top of the Hill
Central Character is… A STARVING ARTIST + 78 WOords
Song is… Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Nina Simone +104 Words and a... DIAMOND CAPSULE
RFT are… Death Traps! +139 Words and... DIAMOND CAPSULE
The clouds of dust from Elena’s car are still in the air when Gordon opens the ranchhouse door to greet her. She’s not at all like he expects; most of his clients seem already extinguished, their eyes downcast, with some relative beside them who doesn’t stop talking while he takes the photographs. Elena, although she’s leaning on her cane, looks bright, clever, even warm, as she extends a gloved hand. “I hear you’re good with a camera,” she says.
In less than four hours, she’ll be dead. You can even see the top of the Euthenasia Coaster, its topmost exhilarating peak sticking out beyond the mountain pass, like a threat, or a promise. And strangers only knock on Gordon’s door when they’re on the way to the Coaster.
“My aunt Gloria came through here last year. You sent me her photos,” Elena says, her eyes scanning the one room, alighting for a moment on the termite-chewed front facade. “I suppose you probably don’t remember, but you’d got her to laugh, somehow, and I thought, well, it’s nice to know she was laughing right up until the end.”
He remembers Gloria for the same reason. A blank-looking teenager hauled around her oxygen tank, while Gloria, evidently delighting in a new audience, catalogued the people she’d outlived and each of their delicious vices. “When I meet them in Heaven, they’re all going to understand why I won.” And when her energy started fading during the shoot, he’d woken her right back up with by asking her “What are you going to say when you meet Claudia in heaven?”
And how she’d laughed. Gordon had watched the top stretch of the Coaster that night. From his window he could make out the tiny pinpricks of the Coaster in silhouette, climbing ever-so-slowly and descending in a final long low drop.
And none of the newspapers wanted the photos.
Now he smiles benevolently and pulls his camera from off the shelf, holding it sheepishly in one hand as if to say yes, that’s me.
Together they walk around back, onto Gordon’s studio. It’s where he’s painted three different backdrops on the faces of the ranch’s truly abandoned buildings: one of the Pacific ocean, one of the Scottish highlands, and one of the Amazon rainforest. He likes the idea of giving folks a choice, if they want it, to pretend they’re somewhere else in these photos, but Elena shakes her head when offered the choice. “I know where I’m going,” she says. “I’m not ashamed.”
And they spend twenty, thirty minutes taking photographs, with that curl of the Coaster in the background, the empty desert in the foreground, and Elena, magnificent and bright, her brooch shining in the sunlight. She waits under an umbrella while Gordon fiddles with the sticky latch of the back gate, as he goes into the house, waits impatiently for his ancient computer to load up, and prints out the best of the photos. She looks through portraits and shakes her head. “I look like I’m auditioning for My Fair Lady.”
He asks Elena for any contact info of next-of-kin, she just laughs, scribbles down her son’s address – “not that he’ll give a whit about it, believe me,” – and she climbs back in her car, driving off through that mountain pass.
Three months later that son shows up at Gordon’s shack. The facade of the house is covered in plastic sheeting this time; Gordon’s used some of the money he earned from the photo to fix the termite rot. When BuzzFeed bought it seemed like an extravagance, but then the folks from the Pultizer committee had called. And it was only then that Gordon realized I never sent the photos to the son.
He’d sent the email then, but the damage was done.
Now, Gordon doesn’t shake hands with the son. In fact, he’s not even sure he knows the son’s name. It’s either Henry or Harry, something old-fashioned that doesn’t mesh with the shaggy haired boy with acne scars. But he invites the kid in, offers him a beer. The kid refuses. Gordon cracks his own and drains nearly half of it.
“Okay,” Gordon says. “I want to say that I apologize from the bottom of my heart for not getting in touch earlier. It was unfair to you, and it was unfair to your mother.”
The kid shrugs.
“And I’d like to go further,” Gordon goes on, “and offer you 50% of whatever this photo makes in royalties.”
“It should be a hundred,” the kid says, “but it doesn’t matter. I’m not here for an argument. Take my picture.”
Gordon finishes his beer and looks out the window, over the mountain pass.
“You’re too young,” Gordon says. “You don’t have a doctor’s note. They won’t let you.”
“My mom wasn’t sick,” the kid says, “and they let her. That’s what all the articles are saying – surely you’ve read them. Your pictures are all over them.”
This is far beyond Gordon’s paygrade. He wants to tell the kid that he’s the guy who takes the photos, and that the rest of the world is free to draw their conclusions about whatever he depicts. And he knows that if the attendants at the Coaster had seen the Elena that he’d seen, the Elena committed to a final still image, then they wouldn’t have let her on without checking that everything was according to order.
“It would mean a lot to her that you came by,” he says instead, turning to a desk buried in scraps of paper, of those inkjet low-quality proofs he’d hand to his clients, searching for the one of Elena. He has this image of the kid holding the same printout his mom did, and that somehow healing everything, of breaking a curse he’d been wrapped in. “I want you to see what she saw.”
When he finds the photo, he turns to the kid, but he’s gone, his nerve diminished, driving away from the pass, away from the ranch. He turns and gazes up at the Coaster, and sees a car just seconds from the top. He closes his eyes as it falls.
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2019 01:00|
Thunderdome Week 365: Leo Season
It's a dialogue week, and that means I want you to write a story that's about half dialogue (or more!) Vignettes are fine; what I'm looking for are memorable characters who want something, and the shape of their arc is less important.
Every entrant will be assigned a profile of a mystical or pseudoscientific personality type: right now I'm thinking astrology, MBTI, and Enneagram, although maybe I'll think of something else. Please use these as a jumping-off point, not a D&D character sheet. If you toxx, I'll assign you a second type for your second character.
The theme for this week is an unexpected guest.
Entries close at: 3:00 AM EST, Saturday, August 3rd
Submission close at: 7:00 AM EST, Monday, August 5th
Max words: 800
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 19:31 on Jul 29, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2019 19:27|
okay fine but i hate fantasy
Your character is an Enneagram 8!
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2019 19:39|
poo poo, that gives me an idea. In.
No extra words at this time. Your character is an Enneagram 3!
Scorpio Sun Cancer Moon
So is the intent a told story a la The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (where most of the story is technically someone telling a story to another) or more like They're Made Out of Meat?
I'm not sure what either of those things are buuuuuuut basically I'm looking for a story where two (or more!) characters are having a conversation about something. Your personality type is Enneagram Type 2!
Sun in Pisces, Taurus Ascendant
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2019 20:25|
I fuckin' love dialogue, I'm in.
Aries Sun Pisces Moon
Yeah if someone wants to trade me a SA gift cert for the Pony Island code I'm open to that, also.
|# ¿ Jul 30, 2019 01:36|
You are an ESFJ!
o yeah in
You are a Taurus Sun Aquarius Moon
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 23:24 on Jul 30, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 30, 2019 23:22|
Hellrule me. Right in the face.
Libra Sun Virgo Moon
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 22:37 on Jul 31, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 31, 2019 22:34|
Oh look the kiwi thinks he's tough. Does Mr. Mod wants to play? What ya gonna do, tell me to write dialog without using any nouns? Bitch, please, I don't even know what nouns are.
|# ¿ Aug 2, 2019 00:16|
Entries are closed! Write your things.
Also, sure, please put my story from luck week in the zine.
|# ¿ Aug 3, 2019 12:27|
Hi all please include your prompt at the top of your post to save the archivists some work! (If you've already posted please don't edit your post tho.)
|# ¿ Aug 4, 2019 19:07|
Submissions are closed. Judging will more than likely happen at some point
Edit: Siddhartha Glutamate, if you post a story before judgment I won't call in the toxx
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 12:08 on Aug 5, 2019
|# ¿ Aug 5, 2019 11:52|
My bad, I was phone posting. No toxx necessary!
|# ¿ Aug 5, 2019 13:52|
Week 365 Judgment
Good dialogue can make you understand exactly what two characters are to each other. It both portrays and betrays who these people want each other to be. It’s funny, it demands to be read out loud, it sticks with us and helps us remember our favorite fictional characters far more than any narration. I love it to death, and I’ll devour otherwise medicore books if they’re full of fun or meaningful dialogue.
Good dialogue was in short supply this week. I guess Mercury was in retrograde or something.
To be fair, new-agey personality types, things that are deliberately written for each one to accurately describe almost every single human, aren’t the most specific inspiration. But look – very few of you delivered on “memorable characters who want something.”
DMs go to Doctor Zero and Davin Valkri. These were both stories that weren't a good fit for dialogue week -- especially since they were both all dialogue.
The loss goes to Vinestalk.
Siddhartha Glutamate gets a DQ for going over word limit, unfortunately. We'll still crit this story, though!
HMs go to Thranguy and steeltoedsneakers. These stories both had lively, engaging dialogue!
And the new Lord of the Blood Throne is Tyrannosaurus! Take it away.
|# ¿ Aug 6, 2019 12:27|
A TITLE VOUCHER
OK I'm calling this DIAMOND CAPSULE in now. Your title for this week is going to be "Grandpa's Special Mouthwash" have fun.
|# ¿ Aug 7, 2019 01:26|
week 365 crits
Out of this World
This story could easily have been told as a first-person account from the, uh, the person who’s not the minister and it would be basically the same. Here’s the issue – there’s no tension between these characters, because character A is just relaying a story to the Minister. And so not only does this rob the story itself of an immediate, visceral, emotional effect, but it makes the minister’s “quite so” questions feel just perfunctory and a little bit silly. And hey, maybe it’s supposed to be silly! Wow, gas giant aliens discover humans and the humans seem alien; that’s a workable concept, although it took me several re-reads to get what you were going for here. I definitely don’t think it’s a good fit for dialogue week, especially because the minister doesn’t seem that interested, moved, or affected by the account at all. It makes this story feel a little lifeless, clever but not fun or engaging to read.
The Inn by the Dark Lord’s Castle
Holy heck, there’s some tonal shifts going on here! The first half of this story feels like lighthearted riffing, complete with monologue about the lighter side of Dark Lords, and then it shifts to the deep enduring sadness of the lonely innkeeper. It’s distinctive, and I like how each half accomplishes what it’s going for, but it’s pretty jarring and makes the piece feel less distinctive as a whole. That said, the piece is fine, has an element of tension and conflict between the characters, and there’s some energy to the thing, which lands this squarely in the middle of this week.
This is a very well paced shaggy dog story, and I laughed at the ending. I’m genuinely impressed with the pacing here, even if the whole story is just built around leading up to the punchline. That said, it’s about as substantial as cotton candy, and yet the ending makes this story much more memorable than almost anything else written this week.
This reminds me of the Black Mirror Christmas epsiode, although I’m sure the concept wasn’t original for them, either. I think this is pretty competent, and it delivers on the emotional level. I’m not a huge fan of the ticking-clock of the noises and commotion around the character, though, especially because the broader context here is pretty vague and difficult to fully understand. (I’m not sure if Sam is some kind of vigilante, private investigator, or something else.) But yeah – I like that the story values and acknowledges the emotional lives of both of your main characters and treats them with respect.
Help Me, Help you
There just isn’t a lot of depth here, unfortunately. It’s very short, and yet it still feels padded. The back and forth could definitely be cut down a little bit, and the whole point seems to be that Are Hero is a crooked cop, which is fine, but there’s just no reason to care, no real stakes or understanding for these characters. There aren’t even any wisecracks here, and c’mon, you can’t have a hardboiled interrogation without some wisecracks. All in all, this feels more like a sketch more than a story, which would be fine, except it feels like it wants to be a story.
This was definitely one of my favorites this week! The emotional arc is very solid, and I think this story is clear enough about what’s going on without digging deep into backstory here. It’s weighty but not maudlin or sentimental, and it’s slightly uncomfortable and unsettling in a way I really like. I guess I just wish the dialogue was a little punchier, that there was a little more specificity and immediacy in the pacing, but on the whole this is a very solid offering.
The Elephant in the Room
So I think this is pretty good, and definitely nails the experience of feeling like an outsider in your own family. It’s a little on-the-nose, which I chafed against on my first re-read, but on revisiting this I think the story tolerates it due to its brevity. (Although not brief enough to escape a DQ, alas.) I actually don’t have too much to say here – the prose is workmanlike for the fable-like story, and if there was a little more complexity here it definitely would have ended up as one of the top entries this week.
The People v. Courtney Allan
This story just wasn’t a good fit for this week, unfortunately. It’s definitely daring to put a mid-air action caper in a dialogue driven week, and to tell that mid-air action caper with one-hundred percent dialogue, but this story doesn’t pull the gambit off. The effect goes from confusing (it’s very hard to get a sense of the blocking) to dull (dense with plane jargon) to just plain silly (everything that ends with an exclamation mark.) In a week where I was looking for intimate character detail, with real thought to character motivation, this story didn’t deliver.
Here to Help
Honestly, this story mostly reminded me of this Internet-ancient ACLU video where a guy tries to order a pizza and finds they have his whole life on file. Both this story and the video ask us to sympathize with a hapless schlubby dude in the face of a total lack of privacy. And it’s the kind of thing that makes you uncomfortable, sure, but it also doesn’t really make sense. You’ve got a protagonist who’s completely unaware of the world he lives in, and it works as a fable (or as an ad for a non-profit) but not especially well as a story.
This story uses its flash rule very well, with the interruptions bolstering the dialogue. The dialogue feels fast, these characters feel lived-in and complex, and the setting is sketched in with just the right amount of detail. I wish it was just a little bit tighter (the third section feels mostly unnecessary), but other than that, this is a very solid entry and my initial win pick.
I sneezed on your baby
On one hand, the whole “who am I to deal with this baby when I am a disgusting germ-filled worm” thing is pretty relatable. Unfortunately the resolution isn’t super satisfying. I’m not saying the baby needed to die of pneumonia, but I feel like some additional clarity on why everything’s OK for the protag afterwards would be helpful. That said, I get that the relief of not having to sneeze anymore probably contributes to this? Anyway, the prose is clear, but I think calling this a dialogue-driven piece is kind of stretching it, which lands this pretty solidly in the middle of the pack.
As Titania, my time
This one was big in my book for the clear, evocative prose, even when you’re describing trippy stuff happening. And yeah, the dialogue between the protagonist and the girl is snappy, moving right along, hitting the right sentimental spots. That said, eh, I find myself wishing there was a little more grounded-ness going on here; there’s hints of things that aren’t ephemeral to the trip, but they’re wispy and leaves the story with a lack of real resonance or stakes. The last line doesn’t help, either. And I don’t know if the story needs more than that – a moment of mutual healing in an acid-haze – and so this is still a great winner, but it makes me wonder what more it could have been.
|# ¿ Aug 10, 2019 20:13|
in toxx line
|# ¿ Aug 12, 2019 23:05|
Don’t you know the higher you climb, the colder it gets? // All characters must be female and none can be related.
As far as I could tell, no one who walked through the door ever got approved for their loan. Probably I’m wrong, and maybe Sheryl just shuffled the lucky ones out the back, onto the service elevator, but all I ever saw were the poor saps who made their way all the way up to to forty-ninth floor, checked in with me, waited thirty more minutes than they should, and then, as soon as Sheryl took them into her office, trodded out again five minutes later, dour clouds about them as they took the long elevator down
Honestly, even when there was no screaming and swearing, it was soul-destroying. I’m not sure if Sheryl passed that point or if she never had a soul to destroy; when I asked her if it ever got to her, she looked at me like I’d been drooling on my keyboard and said “It’s not hard to make good financial decisions.”
All this is to say that I was craving a change, a big one, when I saw Polly the Window Washer for the first time. I’d been focused into deciphering Sheryl’s runic accounting when I heard the thwack! of a collision of Polly onto the window, a blur of motion and a look of mild alarm on her face, underneath a set of tightly cropped black curls and a thick insulated jacket. And then she’d steadied herself against the building, the alarm peeled off, and in its place bloomed this check-me-out cocky grin.
She must have seen me looking, because the grin widened. I looked away, trying to focus again on the document on my laptop, but Polly was still there, drawing a squealing Squeegee against the window, fishing for eye contact.
“Nell? Nell, what are you looking at?” Sheryl had asked at the time. “Our clients need our attention.”
This was so patently untrue that it verged into the absurd; one client had showed up without an appointment, and Sheryl had resolved that he wouldn’t been seen that day (“It sends the wrong message,”) while the other client was ready to be seen, and although Sheryl apparently didn’t seem to be doing anything, she wasn’t being seen yet.
“Just saw something out the window,” I told Sheryl. “Sorry about that.” In Polly’s direction, I gave a big, theatrical shrug, and mouthed the words my loving boss. I don’t know if she could lip read, but she seemed to get the gist; when Sheryl walked over to the windows and yanked the blinds down, the last thing I saw was Polly with an exaggerated “nooooo!” expression as she vanished from view.
I made the name Polly up for her that night. I was looking at the windows of my house, and I think they were made of polymer siding, so the name Polly just seemed appropriate, given the circumstances. I had this vision of her busting through the window the next day, puling me out from my desk, hoisting me onto her back, as we rappelled down to the ground, and I thought okay, this is the best of all possible worlds.
Of course, it was not the world I was actually living in, as my friend Judy said when I called her and told her all about the encounter with Polly the Window Washer. “Honey, are you doing OK?” Judy said. Judy was a nutritional consultant for someone she called an “A-minus celebrity,” but she’d never give any clues about their identity; in any case, she still believed it made her very important and more interesting. “It seems like you’re in a really dark place right now.”
“I’m allowed to have a crush, okay?” I didn’t know why I was being so defensive; when I’d told Judy the story, it was so full of asides like “I know this is going to sound stupid” that I’d started to half-accept that this was the end of the rope, and it was time to move on.
“Of course you are, but Nell, we’ve been down this road, and this sounds like you’re talking yourself into not quitting your high-rise hell job.”
“So I know this sounds crazy, but I was thinking of actually quitting, except I’d quit to become a window washer. I just don’t know if they put you on the same building, like if you have a choice in the matter, or if it’s – I’m kidding. I’m kidding!”
“As long as you leave that job, you can drink the window washing fluid if you like.”
Three weeks later I’d done nothing of the sort. I hadn’t seen Polly again, either, and despite that spell of madness, I was well on my way back to normal – digesting a steady diet of garbage, drinking two to three drinks each night, calling Mom and Judy and giving them Sheryl war stories – when I heard the news from the intern when she came in with coffee. A window washer had been washing the windows on the 41nd floor when the ropes, brittle and worn under the best occasions, snapped due to an excess of ice. Cause of death: falling.
I didn’t need anyone to tell me it was Polly. It had to be. It just made sense.
“Did you hear about the window washer?” I asked Judy that night, while I was making Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese for one. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think this is my window washer.”
“I thought it was a dude,” Judy said. “They said on the news it was a man in his forties, right?”
“Wrong,” I said, although I hadn’t seen the news.
That night I drafted my two week’s notice and the next day I handed it to Sheryl. “I think I’ve accomplished all of my major goals, and I’m ready to move onto other projects,” I told her.
“Okay,” Cheryl said. She looked at the piece of paper for a moment. “Please maintain the quality of your work during this transition period.”
And so, as I was sitting in my usual desk, looking through Cheryl’s accounting for what I’d hoped to be the last time, avoiding eye contact with the woman who kept breaking out in tears, it was hardly a surprise when I heard that familiar knocking on the window. I thought my rescue had come too late, for both of us, Polly and myself.
And when I dared – really dared – to look and meet the eyes of the window washer, I had to rub my face, because the window washing professional could have been anyone at all.
|# ¿ Aug 19, 2019 02:29|
|# ¿ Aug 30, 2019 22:50|
Maggie came into my office, arms crossed, wearing one of those hats that billowed black steam in a fuzzy funnel above her head. She frowned and adjusted the brim of her hat, one hand on the plush armchair across from my desk. “You can’t be the doctor,” she said.
“What makes you say that?” I gestured for her to sit down, reached into my desk’s cabinet, and took out a bottle of Scotch.
She blinked. I knew from her application that she was in her mid-thirties, but the gauntness beneath her eyes, the sallowness in her skin, made her look much older. The hat covered what seemed like a homemade buzzcut.
“You’d hide your own number,” she said. “With whatever you do, or with one of these hats, or – well, something. You wouldn’t just proclaim it. Especially if you’re at Five.” Still, she took a seat, and eyed the bottle of Scotch. I obliged and poured her a glass.
“Five shameful acts,” I said. “How do you feel about that?”
“You’re so young.” She downed the Scotch at once, and I refilled her glass. If we proceeded with the Reduction, Maggie would need to be thoroughly sloshed, and I suspected she had a high tolerance.
“Maybe I just have a low tolerance for shame,” I said. The cat, the girlfriend, the father, the fire, the gun. I downed my own Scotch and refilled my glass, topped Maggie off. “Where’d you get the hat?”
Maggie didn’t answer right away. “I’m a teacher,” she said, at last. “Second grade. The parents look at you funny if you’re not at zero. Nearly got fired from my last job after a concerned parent made noise to the school board, but the background check came up clean. I left anyway, though. They’d find something to pin on me. Anyway, moved to Milwaukee, and I guess the principal had a hard time finding Zeroes, because he started requiring that we all wear these hats last year.”
I smiled. “I see a lot of teachers,” I said, as Maggie drank. I’d seen one earlier that morning; a real marathon session, a man who was at Three (the peanuts, the camera, the friend), whose Reduction, despite my hard work, could only take him down to Two (the camera, the friend).
“I’ll need you to take the hat off, Maggie.”
“You have my paperwork.” She poured her own refill this time.
“I know what you’ve put down. But I won’t know if the Reduction is working unless I can clearly see your number.”
Maggie steepled her hands. I knew she was thinking about leaving. Sometimes people did exactly that – just walked right on out, once you pushed just a little bit. I never blamed anyone. The whole process was ugly, revolting, like stripping flesh from a limb. But Maggie acquiesced, taking off the hat and laying it on the ground, where a wisp of black smoke continued to gush out. “I can’t turn it off,” she murmured, looking down at the spewing hat.
“I remember,” I said, eying her Number, keeping my face neutral, “that, when I was in school, my teachers would always complain about extra credit. They’d say that people who needed it would never take advantage of it, and it was always the kids that were hovering around perfect grades that would snap it right up.”
“You know there’s only one Number that matters. If you’re not at Zero–”
“You’re garbage,” I said brightly. Of course Maggie was a One. Ones were always desperate for Reductions, and they were always the hardest to Reduce. Once you reached Two, or Three, you’d want to save a bit of face. Beyond that? No one really saw a difference between a Four or a Five. And if you were Ten or more, you were probably just dramatic.
Maggie cleared her throat. “Well, anyway,” she said. “You can start whenever you’re ready.”
I just put my hand on my cheek and looked at her until she shifted in her chair. “You know how this works,” I said. “You’re in the driver’s seat. I’ll give you directions when you need them, but you’ll have to hit the gas. Do you know your shameful act, Maggie?”
“I killed my daughter.”
She steepled her hands again, looking back and forth between the discarded, billowing hat, and my face. I kept my face stony, a mask. “How old was she?”
“Four months.” The baby. “I left her with my brother while I went to a loving casino – where I lost five hundred dollars, by the way, which I shouldn’t care about but it still stings – and when I came back she was face-down and – you know what? – I didn’t even notice! Not until the next morning, where–” She downed her remaining scotch. I didn’t refill it for her, this time.
“Sounds like your brother’s shameful act.”
“He’s at Zero,” Maggie said flatly.
“If you watch the news, there’s war criminals at Zero.”
“It’s all...” She waved a hand. “Well, they have mirrors and lighting working for them. Like this loving thing.” She kicked at the hat, still producing its tarry steam. “Or, who knows, maybe they go in for weekly Reductions. Maybe you Reduce them.”
“Do you know how Reduction works?” I asked her.
“Yeah, you shift the blame to someone else, or confuse people enough about the details of whatever happened, and boom – you’re more shameless than you used to be. Guess it didn’t work for you, though. Five. That’s a lot, you know?”
The cat, the girlfriend, the father, the fire, the gun. I pushed that to the side, but I couldn’t help it – she’d nicked me with that. “We definitely try to help people self-Reduce. To see things in a clearer, less distorted light. But I can tell you’re too smart for that,” I said.
Maggie was squinting at me, searching for irony. “I’ve gone over it a thousand times,” she said. “Whatever the examiner said–”
“You killed her.”
She looked up again, one of her hands clenched, her eyes wide; half you understand me and half how dare you.
“You were too busy blowing your savings to make sure your baby was breathing. That’s it, we’re done here.”
I poured another tall glass of Scotch and drank it all myself. Maggie stood up. “What the gently caress do they pay you for?”
“People who deserve it get a Reduction. But not degenerates like you. Not if you’d rather drink and gamble and throw your only child at your shithead brother, and then come back and not even check on her. I mean, who does that?”
A pallor had come upon Maggie, one evident even on her sallow skin. Above her head, her Number had begun to flicker, between a One and a Zero, and her eyes were fixed over my head, both of her hands clenched.
“Admit it – you’d been just hoping that something like this would happen. Without a baby, you could lose five hundred dollars every night, not just the ones where Harold gives in babysitting. That baby could have just vanished at any time, and I’d be happy.”
And there it was – Maggie’s One became that nice round satisfying Zero, and, in the reflection of her horrified and fascinated eyes, I knew that my Number had just become a Six.
“That’s it?” she said.
“You should go.”
The cat, the girlfriend, the father, the fire, the gun, the baby. The baby was going to be another one of my bugbears; hard to purge, once I’d gotten in there. But I could try.
She stared for a long moment, her mouth opening like she wanted to say something, before she bent down, picked the hat up off the floor, and turned around, leaving a trail of black steam in her wake.
|# ¿ Sep 2, 2019 03:17|
|# ¿ Sep 2, 2019 22:31|
Hellrule: In your story, the simulation has broken down - your story must break down too
The Party Never Ends Here
Smriti was having some friends over, which never ended well. I’d been spending all afternoon working up the courage to cut my own bangs in the mirror, but as soon as I heard from Smriti I put my scissors away, splashed water in my face, and counted backwards from ten.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Smriti’s friends; it was that they were ten times as funny, interesting, and beautiful than I was. Last time Smriti threw a thing, I overdid it: wound up throwing up in the sink, Smriti holding my hair back, and she’d had to carry me up the stairs.
I opened up the medicine cabinet, picking at the cardboard on the old box of nasal strips, and frowned at the bag of pills that I’d squirreled away inside. I knew I should have just been busy, should have gone to the movies, taken a walk, stayed over at a friends’ house. I knew I was making a bad decision as I dry-swallowed two of
Atilla had brought a boquet of flowers and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, which instantly made her my favorite. I took both of them into kitchen, handling both with care, while Smriti came up behind me.
“Quick question, Aly: if you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be?” Smriti asked.
What kind of flowers were there, I wondered, as I side-eyed Atilla, who was mixing up drinks. She had an infamous heavy pour, and when she’d asked if I wanted a second drink the “no” in my head – you’ve already taken something, Aly, you don’t need this – gave way to the “yes” of the moment.
“A tulip,” I said, my eyes still on Atilla’s bottle of Bombay Sapphire. “Wait, no – a daffodil, because I’m the first taste of spring,” I said, fluttering my eyelashes, all high camp, pretending I didn’t care if it meant anything.
Smriti laughed – “that’s you, one hundred percent” – but something changed on her face, some new sense of gravity. I was about to ask about it but then Atilla came up, drinks in both hands, and
Then the music kicked in and it still wasn’t enough, even though I was priding myself on managing to speak uninterrupted with some girl I didn’t know for a whole fifteen minutes (or at least what felt like fifteen minutes) without running upstairs to pet the cat and Mindfully Breathe – now there was sound and people were dancing, so many smiles and carefree grace and here was my impossibly weighted scarred adjunct body and there was Smriti in the center, effortless and free, really unhindered, not looking at me, and I felt the heaviness of the Less and –
“Kill a goat,” someone said.
I turned to see Atilla. “Do you smoke?” she repeated.
“In college,” I said. I’d forgotten the question. “She was wonderful. When I was being nothing – which, gently caress, that was almost always, she’d–”
“Make you something,” Atilla said. There was something wrong with her face. Not just the sadness. It was like there was something about to vanish – an eyebrow, a nostril, a dimple – but the exact object was still in limbo. “Ask that perfect question to bring you back to your body when you’d just about left it. I get it. I’ve literally been there.”
“Do you?” I asked. “You’re loving gorgeous. I mean it.” She’d passed me a joint again. I waved it away (*****(#b( blew out a long cloud of smoke.
“You will stand in the same spot for so long that you will begin to see the once-impossible forces acting upon you only as weather,” Atilla said.
I blinked. “What?”
“Watch your b
dancing, could not possibly remove that smile from my face, an actual conduit for the music, for feeling, for humanity, I understood what it was like to be Smriti, to channel that impossible loneliness into an actual network of people. She was nowhere to be seen but from across the room I noticed Atilla, gently swaying, and I was seized with the need to make her understand what it was like to vibrate with every beat, and I’d seized her hands and no moment could be any better
“I just feel so bad for her, you know?”
I was sitting on the landing trying to keep the poison the poison the poison inside me when I heard Smriti’s voice, but she wasn’t anywhere around `(
“I don’t know what you’re doing with her,” Atilla said. “You don’t want to keep her.”
Footsteps from down the stairs &&&+( hiccupping white girls *_*_ rubbed my head ######d nausea (the poison the p))))))))))
“I do,” Smriti said.
“You’ve barely looked at her all night.”
“I don’t want to keep her like you. Not for – not for nights like this, where I want to have fun.”
“Because I’m so much fun.”
“Oh, Tills, you can at least put up the appearance. I could make something out of you, you know? Aly… she just wants to talk, like she’s allergic to fun, and--”
Atilla @****$# something and ********9****((
More footsteps @@@@%#% a dude double-fisting Solo cups knelt }}}}***&* scent of wine (the poison the poison) slowly shook my head back and forth and
“But it’s the way she looks at me, Tills.”
“She doesn’t belong in this night.”
Hands on my shoulders. A row of stairs. Weightlessness. Smriti – the lies – been here before –
“Aaaa,” I said.
“Shh,” Smriti said. “Next step.”
“I’m not – I’m not –”
Flashes of this same stairway. The same acrid scent of wine and vomit. How many times had it been? Once, I’d thought. Or was there a cavalcade of nights: killing the party, the crush of dancers and Atilla vanishing at the end?
“gently caress you,” I said. I liked that I could articulate that, so I said it again. “gently caress you.”
I struggled against their hold, but I couldn’t command my body to struggle in a single direction. And though my body wouldn’t obey, lucidity was trickling back in. “You – this – tomorrow?”
“Another big day tomorrow,” Smiriti said. “Sure.”
They seized me tighter, continuing the lift up the stairs. I let myself go limp.
“Aly,” Smriti said, sighing. “Come on. I don’t want you to be like this. Embarrassing yourself. It’s not fun.”
“gently caress you. I don’t – have to – ”
“You have a very specific script and you’re not following it,” Atilla said. And at that she squeezed very hard on my shoulder, and sensation came back.
Atilla leaned down, following her script, and I twisted just enough to bite down hard on Smriti’s ankle. She gasped, and fell backwards, landing first on her back, then sliding backwards, her head into the wall, and I could just hear Atilla’s thank you as
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
|# ¿ Sep 8, 2019 23:39|
|# ¿ Sep 11, 2019 01:56|
Overhead and Southbound
The kids were in the backyard playing hide-and-seek when, in a fluttering hush, the first shadows of the starlings appeared over the horizon. It was hubris to think that we’d be safe today, but the evening was beautiful after it’d rained for a straight week, and kids need a chance to run around.
Now I just hoped that Judy and Michelene still had the strength to run, that they could read the signs as the rooks dropped from the sky and plummeted into the pines. I’d forced Judy through drills twenty, thirty times – the best route to the tunnels, the posture to take to fool the drones, the tricks with your breathing you’d have to practice if you came face to face with a crow. When she struggled, when she didn’t pay attention, I’d squeeze her hand so tightly she’d squeal, and I’d just say Remember what happened to Daddy. But Michelene was only five, and I didn’t think she had the muscle memory yet.
I’d lost them in the wood; and perhaps, under the shadows of the trees, they wouldn’t even notice the near beating of the wings, the silent alarm of the driverless ambulances as they pulled up beside each house, the unified stark bolting of the town’s rows of houses.
The drones would be here in less than a minute, and I should have plied open the trapdoor beneath the porch before I’d be caught. You have to take care of yourself, Leo said. If you don’t take care of yourself first, I’ll haunt you.
Instead I pulled my hood up, took a deep breath, and took off at a running sprint into the forest.
The woods were dense with the corpses of broken-winged birds. Their bodies would drop from the boughs, a few every second, an avian rain of flesh, feathers, and claws. There was no sign of Judy or Michelene. No childish yelps, no calls of Mom!.
Probably they’d gotten away. We’d walked through all the entrances in the drills. There was one in the gardening cabin on the outskirts, which was easy to find in an Event. I’d walked Judy past it before and she’d declared it Her House, so I hoped she’d recognize it now, know what to do, help her sister inside. I hoped, I hoped, I hoped.
A blasted-eyed raven, still half-twitching, fell on my head as I made my way through the thicket toward that cabin. Its claws opened up a slash of a cut in my cheek, and I swore loudly as the bird dropped to the ground. And, as I looked up, I caught the hole in the canopy, the sunlight blotted out by the stream of falling blackbirds, and – my heart jumped – the metallic propellers of a medical drone.
The net was on me before I could react; heavy and sticky, pressing me down against the forest’s floor, feathers, blood, and pine needles pressing into my face.
Judy was four years old when Leo was netted. Leo’s car had broken down on the road leading into town, and he’d had to walk. It had been just a year since the last Event, so he thought he was safe – and then the birds came, and then their tailing drones, and he’d been captured, stuck on the side of the road for eighteen hours without food or drink until he was collected.
Three days later we’d gotten a notice that he was afflicted; a month later, we got the notice of his passing. I thought about what he must have felt as he lay there, while I lay still under the net, meeting the cold black eyes of some unidentifiable blackbird. Mostly I’d underestimated the stench. The birds smelled like sewage, like they were coated in poo poo. I didn’t understand how there were always more of them.
And then, even as the birds continued to fall all around, adding weight to the net, I heard it – just once, but there all the same:
“I want to go home.”
Michelene – it had to be Michelene, probably trapped under another net, screaming out for help. I struggled, twisting the accessible strings of the net between my fingers, probing for a weak point, but I’d never figured out what to do once we got to this point, once the net had actually fallen. All of my preparations involved getting us the gently caress out, away from the birds and the drones, the panic.
“Baby, I’m here. We’re going to get you out of this, we’re going to get out. Where are you, baby?”
“I’m right here.”
I opened my eyes, and let out a high squeak. One of the eyes of one of the dead birds had turned human, iris and twitching pupil. And from its beak came a strained, androgynous human voice:
“I want to go home. I’m tired of the same routine.”
Not Michelene. A different voice, something that reminded me of everyone I’d ever known.
At the edge of the forest I could make out the flashing lights of a driverless ambulance, but the forest was too dense for it to make it through and collect me.
I hoped Judy was cradling Michelene inside of a warm tunnel right now, eating a can of Spaghetti-Os and telling fairy-tales for memory. When I turned to the bird, a phrase on my tongue, I tried to forget that, and I listened carefully to the secrets of the universe.
|# ¿ Sep 16, 2019 01:17|
|# ¿ Sep 28, 2019 01:25|
The Dubuque Performers had just given their last performance, and we were gathered in an Applebee’s getting smashed to celebrate. Andy, who’d handled the animals before we got rid of them, had driven in from Chicago for the occasion, and he’d covered the first two rounds. “It’s the least I could do,” he kept saying, slapping each now-unemployed performer hard on the back. “Might be we had the best circus left out there. ‘Course, no one wants to see a circus without tigers and bears, but you did an amazing job keeping the lights on.”
I’d only come because I knew Andy would be there, and I suspected that if I sucked up to him hard enough, he’d pull on his connections and I’d find another clowning gig somewhere else. Generally, my idea for a good time didn’t involve spending time with your fired coworkers and a fried onion. I would have gone home and drank half a bottle of Jamison while watching Law & Order: SVU reruns, but I had rent to pay at the end of the month, and there’d be time for treasured rituals after I’d found something better.
“Andy!” I called out, as I waved at the bartender for another whisky and Coke. “My man Andy. Making it for himself. I heard someone called you about training animals on a TV show – you’ve got a reputation for yourself, dude!”
Andy squinted at me. He had a bald spot, which was new, and a hideous goatee, which wasn’t. “You’re the clown, right?”
“I never thought you were very funny,” he said. “Ah, well, here’s to moving on.” The bartender passed me my drink, and Andy muscled his way over and laid a $10 bill on the table.
I cleared my throat. “Well, thanks,” I said. “But seriously, man, how’s it going? Big city life, different lifestyle, all that?”
“I sell cocaine. Crack cocaine.” Then he laughed for a really long time, as I took a long drag of my drink. “Right as rain, brother! Fuckin’ loved the good people here but that’s about it. Once they stopped letting me mess with tigers, I didn’t look back,” he said, eventually, treating me to the overdue hearty backslap.
I squinted at him, unsure of where to go from here. The grapevine held that Andy was now a wild animal consultant. (“He’s like, the go-to guy in the tri-state area whenever you want to do something with a tiger or a bear. They call up Andy and he makes sure the bear doesn’t take advantage of you,” is what Jennifer told me when we were smoking our pre-show cigarettes.) “But you’re still working with tigers now, right?”
“Nah, chief, no one wants to gently caress with tigers anymore, they’re endangered and poo poo. If you want the truth, my bro Rudy hooked me up with a bullshit office gig.” He eyed me up and down. “What, you looking for work? Clown work? I’d like to see less clowns working, if you ask me,” he said, then laughed for a long time again.
His laughter was punctuated by a volley of gunshots. We both fell to the floor as another round sounded above us. Andy growled, low and long, and I had the flash of Andy facing down that tiger, slamming the wrought gate on the trailer, his poo poo-eating grin as the creature flew at the gate. If they hadn’t shut down the animal program, he would have gotten eaten.
“No one move. Everyone’s got to do what I say,” someone said. I looked up and it was Jennifer, the oldest acrobat, brandishing a gun at strangers and carnies alike.
“And what’s that, girlie?” Andy asked.
Jennifer whirled around and fired twice, one round passing by just a few inches above my head. She kneeled down and pressed the tip of the weapon hard against Andy’s skull. “Don’t say anything else, fuckface,” she said. “I’ve got nothing to lose and if I want you dead in a loving Applebee’s then it’s going to happen. No one says anything unless I say you can talk.”
Then several things happened at once. A toddler let out a loud sob, and Jennifer turned her head and started to say something. At the noise, Andy reached down and retrieved his own concealed gun and fired in Jennifer’s direction; she turned around and fired a volley of rounds, one of which landed in my forearm, and at least one of which ended up in Andy’s head.
Jennifer knelt to pick up the gun, and I bit down on the pain to ask her: “Would you like a balloon animal?”
She looked at me, gun still in her hand. She wasn’t looking at the twitching figure of Andy beside me. Then she shrugged and said “Why not?’
Behind her, someone was standing up slowly, lining up their own line of fire at her, but Jennifer heard the squeak of a chair, turned around, and fired off another three rounds. She stood with her back to me. “An otter,” she said. “I’ll know if you go for the gun. Just make me a loving otter.”
I carried around the bag of balloons because it’s the one thing a clown does that most people like; it’s a fun party trick, and people like when you’re good and fast at something like that. I’d never made a balloon animal after being shot, though, and my right arm wasn’t responding very well. Still I pathetically blew air in each balloon, one-by-one, tying them off one handed as Jennifer repeatedly turned around and waved her gun at the people who were now too scared to try anything.
I looked at the pile of balloons in front of me like they were an entree at Applebee’s: extremely unappetizing. “I’m not going to be able to do this,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Figures,” she said. She didn’t even seem mad anymore. “This is the end for me, you know. Even before I fired anything. Even before…” She waved the gun to my left. I was starting to feel the dampness of the blood on my skin. “But no one was ever going to hire me. There’s no acrobatics jobs out there anymore. You know what I like about the circus? No one gives a poo poo about your criminal record, as long as you’re willing to move wherever, whenever.” She was silent, for a bit, staring right past me into somewhere else. “And I don’t even get a balloon animal.”
“I’ll teach you,” I said. “I’ve blown up the balloons. You just need to pick them up and twist them.”
She hesitated. And then she put down her gun and picked up the balloons, and I gave her instructions until the police shot her in the head.
|# ¿ Sep 30, 2019 00:26|
|# ¿ Oct 8, 2019 11:12|
Flash: 67, your number corresponds to time before the end
A Credible Threat
When it was announced that they would release the fatal virus at the end of the month, I knew I couldn’t let Cassidy get married to Gordon and spend the rest of her time on this planet married to the dude who would make her mom happy. I’d made it a little late – there was standstill traffic all the way up 95 – but, in the end, I’d made it to the saddest seafood restaurant in Rhode Island just in time to crash the wedding party.
It looked like all of the restaurant staff had decided that they didn’t want to spend their last days cooking. There were about a half-dozen minivans in the otherwise-empty parking lot, and the “Harborside” sign looked like it was supposed to be illuminated, but in the near-dusk you could barely make out the outline. When I walked in the door it looked less like a wedding party and more like a funeral party; a gaggle of elderly men and women were tending delicately to Cassidy’s mom, who accepted a brimming wine glass with a chilly nod. A news broadcast was murmuring details about the release of the virus, which I couldn’t bring myself to care much about.
I couldn’t find Cassidy right away, but I caught Gordon’s eye. He was sitting by himself, arms crossed, zoning out and looking at a plastic anchor on the wall. He’d shucked off his tux jacket and was now profusely sweating into his undershirt. Cassidy had once called him “the nicest end-table I’d ever met.” Last time I’d talked to Gordon I’d called him an “overgrown Boy Scout,” an “ant of a person,” and “everyone’s mom’s favorite pet,” so I didn’t much want another conversation with him, but he started walking towards me with this weird, lopsided gait. He wasn’t drunk – this was just the way Gordon walked.
“Angie,” he said, a few yards away from me, “what a pleasure. You shouldn’t have come here.”
“Hi, bud. Any idea where Cassidy is?”
“My wife is outside,” he said, standing up tall, “is getting some air.”
The weather had been unbearably hot and muggy this week – which was apparently ideal for spreading the virus, according to something I saw online – so I doubted that he was telling the truth. I turned my back to him and peered into the kitchen, which had a light on. If I knew Cassidy, it’s exactly where she would go to hide from her mom’s drama, Gordon’s insipid conversation (“I was cleaning the sink, and you’ll never guess what I found in the drain”), and the impending end of all human life. All the better if she could get in front of a gas range with a huge pantry of soon-to-be-expired-but-who-cares goodies.
“I’m gonna go say hi real quick,” I said. “Don’t wait up.”
“Is there no place you’d rather be?” he said. “I think it’s kind of sad that, less than three days until the end of days, you drive all the way up here to stir poo poo at someone else’s wedding.”
“And I think it’s kind of sad that she’s getting married to you because her mom thinks The Gays all end up burning in hell.”
“You’re right,” he said. I cocked my head. “I hate that it’s happened like this, too, and I didn’t want things to happen this way. But come on, Angie. Who’s going to be happier if she runs away with you? Her whole family is going to miss her, she’s going to miss them, and her mom’s still going to believe that she’ll burn in hell, and soon, too. Everyone’s going to be miserable except for you, which is why I’ve asked you why you couldn’t find anyone else to spend these last 67 hours with.”
“Not everyone has a loving family to bunker down with, and not everyone wants to spend three days babysitting the feelings of their rear end in a top hat relatives. Anyway, thanks for the unsolicited advice, but I’m going to go drive my girlfriend somewhere less depressing.”
I pushed open the swinging double doors into the kitchen to find Cassidy just where I’d expected her, prepping vegetables on a cutting board while a pot simmered behind her. She was still wearing her wedding gown, though it was already looking worn and grease spattered. I whistled a couple of notes – Here Comes the Sun, halting and out of tune – and waited for her to complete the melody. Instead, without even turning around, she said “Oh, Angie. You shouldn’t have come here.”
I approached, looking into a pot of boiling potatoes, and put my hands on my hips. “Come on, Cass, let’s try again.” I whistled the notes again, smiling, waiting for her to finish it like she always had.
“It’s… it’s flattering that you’ve come, I mean, I’m glad you…” She cleared her throat. “Look, Angie,” she said, still not meeting my eyes, “I made a choice. I know where you were, I could have come to you. But I wanted to give my family something to be happy about in the end.”
“Ah, yes, the joys of Armageddon and heterosexuality.”
Now she looked at me and took my hands in hers. “I wanted to give them some excuse to have a party and not just wallow alone. My mom would have drunk herself to death before a single person contacted that virus, and you know that as well as I do.”
I didn’t say anything for a bit, because I didn’t think she’d take “who gives a poo poo” very well. Instead I looked into the pot. “What are you cooking?”
“Minestrone,” she said, and poked at a potato with a fork. “All the fish spoiled, if you can believe it. Someone left the fridge door open before they walked out the job. I don’t know if it was a statement or something. But at least when all the fish spoils, you still have root vegetables.”
“Is that a metaphor?” I asked, and as soon as she smiled I kissed her for the first time in three years, her hands tightening around my back. I’d never kissed a married woman in a wedding gown in the kitchen of an abandoned seafood restaurant before, but there was a first time for everything.
“That was nice,” Cassidy said, “and I’m glad you came. But it doesn’t change anything. I’m not going to run off with you.”
“That’s okay,” I told her, “because I’m not going to leave, and Gordon and your mom are just going to have to deal with it.”
I whistled the notes one more time, and this time Cassidy whistled back.
|# ¿ Oct 14, 2019 02:45|
|# ¿ Oct 22, 2019 10:41|
In, The Moon,
|# ¿ Nov 15, 2019 04:00|
flash: “No words longer than three syllables”
precious thing: The Moon
On a quiet night with an empty sky, Samantha waits on a bench perched above the bay. She hasn’t brought a coat, and there’s an Arctic breeze spilling in over the still sea. She has an hour, maybe ninety minutes, before her mom gets bored of the crime show on TV and wanders upstairs instead, unsheathing a scalpel in search of cauterized wounds. Now a dullness pools in Samatha’s temples, a kind of blank muffled scream, and she shivers, tensing and untensing each muscle in her body to take her mind off the unwelcome feelings.
Below, the stagnant waters begin to ripple, and a scaly arm searches for a grip. Wilbur clambers out of the depths, his usual greenish hue muted and sickly, a stench of rot pungent and insistent. It doesn’t scare Samantha, and she hurries down the sandy steps to greet him. There’s a leech peering out of one of his eye-sockets, and Samantha, who feels it would be rude to acknowledge it, instead fishes a can of tuna from her backpack and hands it to Wilbur, avoiding eye contact.
“I don’t have much time,” Samantha says, “or much food. But I hope this is enough.”
Wilbur takes the can of tuna between his thumb and forefinger and with a loud crack he breaks open the can. He puts the opening to his lips and he sucks up the salty tuna water first, then uses his fingernails to scoop out chunks of the flesh.
“Thank you,” he says, looking down. “You’ve been doing so much. You know you don’t have to do this.”
“Hey,” Samantha says, coming closer to him. Even though he smells putrid, he’s still familiar, and she remembers driving with him in his pickup truck before the curse, before the moon vanished, before her mom unscrewed her bedroom door. “Nothing’s changed, you know. You’re still the best thing in my life.”
Wilbur holds the tuna can and stares out across the ocean. The glint of reflected light from the lighthouse swings past them. After a long silence, he says “I’m going to look for a river. I don’t know if I can handle freshwater, but I think it has to be better than poisoned water.”
“I don’t know about any rivers around here,” Samantha says.
Wilbur is silent for a while. Samantha can feel the blankness in her head thickening, the bracing sensation of the sand beneath her feet falling away. She wants to ask Wilbur if he blames her, but she’s afraid of the answer, and she hates this image of herself, anyway – the ignorant, ugly, gently caress-up of a girl, begging for absolution from the victim of her shoddy magic – and so she keeps her mouth shut and fills her lungs with more decaying sea air.
It was stupid, what they’d done. She’d stolen a bottle of wine from her mom’s cabinet and she’d taken Wilbur down to the beach, where they’d drank and kissed and argued over whether banana pancakes were better than blueberry waffles. If they’d left it there, it would have been fine, but Samantha had felt how finite that evening was, the time slipping away from her, and she’d pulled out a deck of tarot cards and lit some candles, grabbed Wilbur’s hand and told him she was a powerful witch and that she could manifest a better reality.
And in ten minutes from when she’d begun the incantations, the moon had cracked and vanished, the sea had stopped moving, and Wilbur had grown gills and scales.
When Samantha walks back to her neighborhood, she sees the flashing lights in front of her house from a block away. It isn’t the first time she’s done this – call the police when Samantha isn’t where her mom expects her to be – but Samantha thought she’d had time, and the blankness in her head starts to curdle now. Couldn’t it have been her fate to swim in the poison sea instead of Wilbur’s? Wouldn’t that have felt right?
“She’s always trying to sneak away. Doesn’t like rules. Can’t pay attention – no real sense of discipline. And the lying and the secrecy. When I was her age I told my mother everything. But I’ll ask her the smallest question: ‘what were you doing this afternoon?,’ for instance, and I get a snotty ‘nothing.’ ‘Studying.’ I’m sure you know the type, officer,” her mother is saying to the police offer.
“I think she started drinking at twelve. Isn’t that young, officer?”
She figures she has three options. She can present herself to them. She will curl up into the blankness and say as little as possible, and lay there in the viscous blank through the screaming, the denied meals, the church services. She knows she can do this because she has done it before.
Or she can sneak off into the distance, hide in the ruins of Wilbur’s truck, until her mom drinks enough to forget the sin of Samantha’s absence. If she’s lucky, she can time her return to a Happy Drunk, reach a jubilee and her escape can be forgotten.
She doesn’t do either of these things. Instead she walks away from the flashing lights, away from her home, and enters the last payphone still remaining in town. She places two quarters from her pocket and dials 4-1-1.
“Hi. I need to find the nearest river.”
She still has a deck of cards in her pocket. She still remembers some incantations. She supposes that, if everything is just right, she can gently caress things up in the same way again, but she can strike inward this time, corrupt herself to an aquatic life. Or she can summon the moon again, repair the damage, release the flow that she’d stopped up. Everything is possible in an ending, she thinks, as she steals a bike from beside the library and pedals off into the night.
|# ¿ Nov 17, 2019 22:38|
|# ¿ Nov 28, 2019 19:01|
|# ¿ Dec 11, 2023 09:38|
The Very Best of the Pineapplettes
I live in constant fear that someone will find out I’m not vegan. Hundreds (and soon to be thousands – fingers crossed!) know me on YouTube as The Pineapple Vegan. Really I’m more of an apple person, but the Apple Vegan was taken so I had to improvise. Anyway, I couldn’t do it, even when I started eating things that weren’t pineapples. I went to the supermarket three days in and bought a package of Kraft Singles and ate them plastic and all. I recorded it, too, but I deleted the video in case anyone wanted to use it as blackmail.
The point is that I’m not vegan – couldn’t do it or hack it – but even when I was just fifteen subscribers deep there were the people. I call them the Pineapplettes. Here are some nice things that the Pineapplettes said about my recent What I Ate Today video:
Love your videos! You make being vegan look so easy.
DUDE!!!! LOVE THE SWEATSHIRT
can you make beefaroni vegan
I sent each and every one of them a personalized thank you for engaging with my content. Most of them didn’t understand, but that’s okay. There’s a special kind of person who becomes a Pineapplette. You have to be sensitive enough to be curious about veganism, but you also have to have a consumerist taste – in other words, a thirst for content.
But my favorite Pineapplette is Jean. When I thanked Jean for her kind, insightful, really wonderful comment on my latest video (“love the argyle sweater! do you know how to cook any vegan recipes that don’t include pineapple? my sister is vegan and allergic”) with complimentary vegan recipe for rice and beans, she wrote back.
Thank you so much! My sister is going to love this so much. She just started doing this vegan thing and she’s telling me I should give it a try but I’m sooooo lost lol.
To which I responded:’
JEAN! You are my favorite Pineapplette. Taking care of your sister, doing extracurricular research just to find a recipe that she could eat – let me tell you, you sound like a truly wonderful person. If you ever need any other help, please, please, please let me know.
I’d just sent this message out when my roommate started knocking on my bedroom door. I cracked it open just enough to make eye contact with him.
“Oh, hey. Uh, I just wanted to check in – it’s about two AM, and… I’m sorry, it’s just that you’re typing very loudly.”
I didn’t say anything for a while – I know you have to really drag these silences out so everyone knows what’s “what” – and then I said “got it, thanks.” And to my (very welcome!) surprise, Jean had already gotten back to me.
What could it mean? When I was writing thank you notes to each of the nineteen (!) comments on my latest video, where I review various vegan whipped cream substitutes, I struggled, at times, to come up with an appropriate response, and quite honestly “k” did not cross my mind as an appropriate response.
I immediately began recording another video about Pineapplette Etiquette. In the video I discussed my own personal ethic, which had come to me very quickly after beginning my channel, which was to avoid suffering, etc., etc., but also to communicate with a one hundred percent full heart at all times. “Do not let me down,” I said. “It’s not the Pineapple way.”
My roommate was knocking at my door again, but I didn’t have time for him – it was time to post. I posted the video and waited for the responses to roll in. I refreshed the page. I refreshed the page. I know that YouTube can sometimes take a little while to reflect views accurately and so I tried to hold off and made it three minutes and forty-three seconds and still there were no views for “PINEAPPLETTE ETIQUETTE - KNOW THE RULES!!!” I had a good thumbnail and everything. It was three in the morning so I understood, of course I understood, that it would “artificially deflate” the numbers, but zero was extremely deflated in my opinion.
I spent the rest of the evening refreshing the page and recording in a tape recorder ideas for other videos. Then it was six AM and the Starbucks at the corner opened so I went and grabbed myself a coffee. When I returned I had received another message – from Jean!
Hey sorry about earlier was in a rush. Saw the most recent vid and hope you weren’t thinking about me. Um I hope this isn’t too forward but I hope everything is okay. It sounds like you might be going through something. Let me know if you need to talk
My phone started ringing and it was my mom and I put it on silent, because my mom can be extremely dramatic on the phone. As I thought about how to respond to Jean it hit me that she had seen the video. The Kraft Singles video. I know I shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have taken it, but I absolutely had to (I think I needed the protein and I wanted to remind myself that I had the protein) and now Jean and probably the rest of the world wide web had seen it. And horrors of horrors my new video was now getting new comments.
crazy vegan is an oxymoron
HI…. DO YOU LIKE VIDEO ABOUT PINEAPPLETE ETIQUETTE… LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE TO MY CHANNEL
My mom had also texted me some bullshit (I could just see the preview: “hey just wanted to make sure you were still taking…”) but I was focused on the Internet. They’d found out my secret and it was all over for me, each and every Pineapplette torn asunder from what we had.
I knew that Jean deserved an answer so I responded:
“JEAN THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU FOR CHECKING BACK IN. (Sorry about the ALL CAPS!) Listen you might hear it from the news so I wanted to let you know first, since you’re so kind and thoughtful, that it’s true. I’m not vegan. I ate a whole package of Kraft singles and they have VIDEO EVIDENCE. Jean, you are better than the entire world.”
It was all over. The comments kept rolling in.
like if reddit brought you here
drinking game: count all the times he says “pineapple way.” pro tip call an ambulance
delete your account
Yes. I was going to have to delete my account, and since they knew my shame even that wouldn’t be enough, I would be paying for this for the rest of my life. I went to my account settings when I receive one more message from Jean:
“hey being vegan is hard! what matters is you’re trying. Quick question: have you had anything to eat today? it sounds like you’re really upset about this and I know a snack can make me feel better. sorry just more of a stranger being nosy.”
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten. I’d been making videos, working on the Pineapplette community, for three days straight, and I hadn’t eaten anything. I ran a vegan cooking channel and I was neither vegan or cooking, which of course was why I was deleting my account, but didn’t I owe it to Jean, my most loyal Pineapplette, to give her advice a try?
I started recording another video, went to the kitchen, walked right past my clenched-fisted roommate, and poured a bowl of cereal with oat milk.
|# ¿ Dec 2, 2019 01:28|