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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

The forces of evil in a bozo nightmare

The Laughing Knight
1494 words

There once was a poor juggler named Tom Arlin, who lived in Lindentowne. His sweet wife was Carol, who wenched at the tavern, served drinks and the like, and midwifed about town besides. Between them, they raised Edwin, who was nearly a man, and took after his dad, though Tom said he should seek greater purpose. Lindentowne lay at a crossroads; and little did Tom know it in springtime, but he danced there at the crossroads too, and new paths whirled before him.

The juggling trade did not boom in those times, but each market faire brought a chance for Tom to sell his talents and make his coin. Come Summer Faire, Tom took out his crate and set it up alongside the stand of his friend, Sam Baker, who sold fine loaves of bread. Tom did juggle his balls atop it, and delighted the townsfolk. Tom took up some loaves of Sam's fine bread and juggled them as well, and a crowd did gather and clamor for more. When the crowd moved off, Tom had a few coins in his hat, and he was booked for a small child's birthday supper in August.

Sam, red-cheeked and grinning, gave Tom a jingling handful, payment for luring the crowd to be snared by the scent of his oven. But an outstretched, weatherbeaten hand followed right after! It was Frye, the Ealdorman, who always collected tax from sellers in the market faire, by right of his service to the noble Sir Henrik, who owned the very land that cradled them all. But that summer, Mr. Frye did say, Sir Henrik was away a-courting, and as that was an expensive thing to do, the tax had gone up sharply. Tom's fresh jingle went down into the Ealdorman's hand, and another went from Sam besides, and Sam's grin dimmed until they made it to the tavern that night.

There at the table were Tom, and Sam, and Baldric the blacksmith, and Knively the veteran, whose leg was unsteady as his aim was true. Spirits were damped at the bite of the tax, but only a bit, and the mead and wine did flow, so the four friends sang with the townsfolk in the great hall all night, as it was custom after the opening of the market faire. Upstairs, in a rented room, it was another celebration.

Carol fetched a corkscrew to open a bottle of fine foreign drink, brought up from the south by Albert Vessoine, who was a trader like his father and his father's father. Ealdorman Frye poured both of their cups, and Carol lost sight in shutting the door. But linger she did, and heard something that prickled the soles of her feet.

Later, in bed, she whispered to Tom as Edwin did snore. Misters Frye and Vessione had, it seemed, made an agreement of sorts, to avoid the market tax altogether. Carol and Tom did discuss it at length in their whispers, but Tom would decide on no action. Considered it and shrugged it off, like he'd heard it rained the other day, carelessly over the shoulder. But he caught that smoldering ember behind his back, and hid it inside of his heart.

Nevertheless, the days rolled by, and Sam and Tom took up their space in the market rows, and paid their taxes. Baldric pounded chainmail into coinpurses, and Knively was hired to find the butcher's daughter, who had ran off. He tracked her unerringly, though the butcher lamented, for she was found downstream a-bloated, with twigs in her pretty blonde hair. And it was hot in those days, as it was the day Mr. Vessoine did happen by, while Tom was there a-juggling.

Tom recognized the merchant, and beckoned him over, but earned no more than a glance. So Tom snatched up some loaves to add to his juggle, but even this did Vessoine ignore. Thinking fast, Tom darted to the fishmonger's stand and took up a fistful of knives. The higher he juggled, the better the knives reflected the high summer sun. The glint caught Vessoine, and his interest was piqued, so he hired Tom to juggle for a party that week.

Daggers flew high all night for the merchant, and easy it was for one such as Tom. He only complained when the rich guests did listen, for he liked to put on a bit of a show. The party was lavish, with musicians and clowns, and food from far-off lands that Tom would never know. He kept close eye on the guests, and Vessoine, and the guards, and learned a great deal about the rich man's estate. Ealdorman Frye did also attend, but he didn't look over, as his sights were on girls that did try to avoid him.

Later, under the candles at the tavern, Tom did tell his friends of the plan he concocted, to get back the fraudulent taxes and extra besides. They hemmed and they hawwed, for hours they did, but finally put their flagons together, and drank to juggler's plan. These four, you see, were the best of friends, and pillars of their community. But before their sons were born, long ago, the did haunt the wood road north of Lindentowne as bandits. One night they got spooked and hung up their masks, but always they promised, if ever they find one, they'd take one last swing as a bounteous score.

It was many a night that Carol did work, and with her drinks she served rumors. Word came from the south that a knight did ride north, a knight who was decorated in unusual ways. He never removed a piece of his armor, they said, and it was painted in white, black and red. The face of a clown lay there on his helmet, with green tufted plumage astride. Strange emblems did assign his service to a far-off empire, and stories did swirl of his dangerous deeds. Most titillating of all, he'd business there at the market faire, and his business was deadly in nature. The rumors did spread as the townsfolk did wonder, who was the Laughing Knight that drew closer each day?

Vessoine paid no attention to townsfolk, who blathered about anything when their heads got too hot. He threw a fresh party and hired Tom back, and grinned without humor as he handed over a stack of sharper, more numerous daggers. Tom kept his grin to himself and thought, if the merchant wants blood he shall have it. The party got well underway and was swinging, when came a commotion from out at the gate. The Laughing Knight did loom there, in leather and steel, his paintjob resplendent and feathers in bloom. It was Knively, the veteran, and Baldric did suit him, though naught but six knew that in the entire town.

The Laughing Knight demanded an audience with Albert Vessoine, and promised to fight his way in if he had to. The guards played their parts and drew down their weapons, but Knively was bigger, and stronger, and faster, odd leg or no. More guards did come and revelers did gather, as the Clown Knight did twirl, and stab, and laugh. Meanwhile, inside, Tom's chance had come, so he found a good spot and changed into an outfit. That of a fool, with patches and frills, and makeup concocted from Sam's flour stores.

Unnoticed, Tom stole into the back of the compound, and there he did find the treasure. Uncountable coinage and jewelry, fine wines, and titles of right. Sealed gold chests, inscribed with no writing that Tom would ever know. So move them, did Tom, to a strategic window, round back of the compound and high off the ground. He hucked each and every one out into the dark. When guards finally found him, mid-huck, the Clown Thief did bow, and flipped over his back, to vanish. On the street there did rumble, innocently away, a bread cart loaded heavy with loaves.

Knively ran off when Vessoine finally obliged, leaving several dead guards and more questions, as to why'd he'd traveled so far in the first place. He met up with Baldric and buried the Knight, and both men had to sit down and rest for a while. Sam and Tom took the treasure and did parcel it out. They hid pieces in bread loaves, brought some to Baldric for melting, and buried more besides. They lived off that treasure for many years hence.

But Vessoine was clever, and he figured it out. No proof remained, but he followed his hunch to Tom, and did slay him in dark of the night. 'Twas tragic, though Vessoine was ruined, and he fled back south rather quickly. Years later, the truth got back to Sir Henrik, who laughed his arse off for weeks. He loved it so much, he erected a statue of Tom that remained there for a century. Not bad for a poor bandit juggler from Lindentowne.


Doctor Eckhart
Dec 23, 2019

(Drive by body-pierce)

The Best Birthday Surprise

1472 words

“Hoo boy!” Dustin said, rubbing his hands together. “What's the surprise gonna be this year?” He and his wife Isabella were out for a morning stroll.

“You'll just have to wait and see, honey,” said Isabella.

Dustin looked up at the sky. The clouds were tinged with pink and orange, and birds were singing. “Red sky in the morning is a warning, right? Better be a warning for a big surprise!”

Well, thought Isabella, they had made it a whole block down the street without him bringing it up. And this was only the second time today. The first being when he shook her awake and shouted it in her ear.

“I dunno how you're gonna top last year,” Dustin said. “I mean, I knew there was someone hiding in that birthday cake as soon as it got wheeled out, but I didn't expect Mrs Whitlow to jump outta there.”

“Well, she didn't actually manage to jump in the end. It was more of a... tumble out onto the floor,” Isabella said.

“No wonder, she was crouched up in there for over an hour.”

“The pastry chef made an error with the dimensions,” she sighed, covering her eyes with a hand. “She was supposed to be able to stand inside.”

“Poor Mrs Whitlow. And she didn't even recognise me from elementary school. But she's gotta be like eighty, right?”


“Still, it was worth it!” Dustin said. “So what do you have lined up for me this year?”

“Why do you always ask me?” asked Isabella. “The one year I told you, you sulked for the rest of the day.”

“Yeah, because you ruined the surprise!” Dustin said, elbowing her.

“So just wait and see, okay honey?” she said, pasting on a smile.

Isabella gave her husband a sidelong glance. The signs of his obsession were all there when they first met on that reality show where people were married to random strangers. He told her that he was going to go on the one that matched people using science and psychology, but ultimately decided that was a bit too predictable for his liking.

She saw the car cruising down the street, but her husband didn't.

Something sailed past her head. There was a sound of impact. Isabella ducked, and heard Dustin cry out.

He fell first to his knees then fell over sideways, clutching his ear. When he took his hand away, there was blood. He looked up at Isabella, who was standing over him with her arms folded.

“I've been shot!” Dustin cried. “Oh man, this isn't what I wanted!”

“It's only a flesh wound. You can get up now,” she told him.

He held onto his ear as he struggled to his knees. “Oh jeez, I feel nauseous,” he said, holding a hand out to Isabella. She initially ignored it, but then rolled her eyes and helped him up.

“Hey Dustin!” a voice called from up ahead. The car Dustin had failed to notice earlier had pulled up a little way ahead. Out of the open passenger side window hung a familiar smiling face. His arm was resting on the side of the car and he had something in his hand.

“Marty?” Dustin cried, jogging up the street. “Great to see you and all, but did you see the guy who shot me?”

Marty laughed and pointed to what he was holding, which looked like some kind of weapon. “Happy birthday, dude,” he said.

“I thought you were still in Oz, man,” Dustin said, scrutinising the strange gun. “What is that?”

“Piercing gun. And nah, I came back a couple-a months ago. Had to practice, y'see,” he said. “Here, you're gonna need this.” Marty dropped a small piece of metal into his friend's hand.

“What is it?” Dustin asked, squinting.

Marty put down the gun, and took out a small hand mirror, which he handed to Dustin. “I repeat, happy birthday, dude.”

Dustin frowned at the mirror. “I already have a bunch of these,” he said, turning it over and looking at the back of it. Then he held it to his face to examine his injury. He gasped. Marty broke out in a wide smile.

“Oh!” Dustin said, admiring the silver stud that was now embedded in his ear. He looked at the extra piece of metal in his other hand. “Where does this thing go?”

“In the back,” Isabella said. “Here I'll hold the mirror, I'm not getting covered in blood even if it is your birthday. Not again.”

“Sweet, I've always wanted a piercing. What's this one called?”

Isabella raised her eyebrows at Marty, then turned back to her husband. “Let's just call it an ear piercing.”

“Hey! Iz, you know I practiced for months. Just be glad it only took me two shots. And I didn't hit you in your eye like I did with that mannequin.”

“Now that woulda been a birthday surprise I'd never forget!” Dustin said, and he and Marty laughed.

“I wonder what happened to the first shot?” Isabella asked. “I think it hit something.”

“Can't have been important,” Dustin said. “Check out my new ear piercing!”

“I see it,” she said.

* * *

Later, Dustin's birthday party was in full swing. The theme was fancy dress mashups. Isabella smoothed down the skirts of her unicorn pirate costume. Marty was smiling at her from across the room.

Dustin reappeared in his army wizard outfit. There was a crow on his shoulder.

Isabella passed him a drink, and stared at the crow. She didn't need to say anything.

“I found this little guy out on the bathroom windowsill. Look, we're twins!” Dustin pulled the crow's wing outwards, revealing a piercing just like his own.

“Oh,” Isabella said in horror. “That's where the first one went.”

Marty stood on a chair and tapped a fork on a glass. He was half Elvis, half Superman. “Let's give it up for my old pal Dustin!” he said. The crowd erupted into cheers. “Now you may have noticed Dustin's fancy new ear piercing.”

Everyone turned to look at Dustin, who pointed proudly to his ear which had a silver stud in the middle. He also pointed to his new friend the crow. Beside him, Isabella quickly finished the rest of her drink.

“Dustin's my first customer for my new drive by body piercing business!” Marty continued. “Are you scared of needles? Or do you just want a little more thrill in your life? Just call on me!”

Isabella was pushing her way to the front of the crowd. “I want to say something too,” she said, facing them.

“Iz, are you sure now is the best time?” Marty said.

“Dustin, there's no easy way to say this. I'm leaving you for Marty,” she said. She cringed and looked anywhere but at her husband.

Gasps echoed around the crowd like a Mexican wave.

“At first it was fun coming up with new surprises all the time, but I just can't take it any more,” she said, her voice cracking. She took a deep breath. “I can't claim responsibility for this year's surprise. It was all Marty's idea. Seeing his dedication to improving his skills with the piercing gun these past months has made me realise what I really want in a partner.”

Dustin was staring at the two of them with his mouth open.

Marty patted the pastel rainbow wig on her head. Isabella looked up at him, still standing on the chair, but now looking a little awkward.

Dustin started clapping slowly. His mouth was still open and he shook his head a few times. “And I thought the first surprise was good! You didn't have to go and make up this one too.”

“Dustin, it's not made up,” Isabella said over the crowd. The guests were starting to look at each other. She searched her husband's face for some kind of emotion, but found none.

“Oh,” Dustin said finally. “I have just one question. Can me and Carl model for your business?”

“Who's Carl?”

Dustin pointed to the crow on his shoulder.

“So you're not mad?” Isabella asked.

“Nah,” said Dustin, stepping forward. The crowd was parting to let him get to the front. “Hey, who's got a camera? Someone get the some publicity photos of us!” He stood with Isabella and Marty and guests started snapping photos.

“Here's to Drive By Body Piercing!” Marty yelled, raising his glass and jumping down from the chair. As he landed his drink flew out of his glass, and splattering everywhere. Isabella felt relieved but also sticky.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Week 386 crits

the roomate solution, by Something Else

I guess the portrait of a new family you paint here is good enough, and it's clear how you got there from the prompt, but ... it's a situation, then it changes. the car was rolling towards the cliff, then it stopped rolling towards the cliff, the end. There's a lack of any real challenge, which is a pity since i think the bones of this are fine; for instance, the dinner could have been a nice focal point for Something to Happen, as is it's just like looking at a landscape from the window of a car.

Tessellating Chiral Bonds, by Chainmail onesie

i was a little disposed against this one at the start because of pat formulations like biting lips and shaking hair free and wry smiling, but tbf it gets us on the tortured romance train promptly and then diverts us to the switchback with the oxidation metaphor which is just drat fine all round. I like the adroit use of flashback to economically explain the context and importance, or rather to hang some detail on the tension you've already created. Then you bring it home immaculately, in their victory/defeat, then tying it back to the stars. Very nice work.

Staggered conformation, by Smitten Bear

this annoyed me a bit at the time, and I can't say time has changed that. this may be bc ur trespassing on my own territory of metaphorically ennui-laden sararimen, but I don't think so; it's got the same issues as something else's piece where it's a too-precise evocation of the prompt, with two people Coming Together in a chemical but also! interpersonal sense, but without any of the actual energy of chainmail onesie's story - you gesture at it with the train stopping, but because it's out of control of the individuals it's not interesting. There are some zazzy dialogue bits, but the characters are either flat or irritating so I find it hard to invest in them jacking up a new project for the benefit of the unnamed undescribed ex, or have any real sense that this is that meaningful to either of them.

Rhymes with Spiral, by thranguy

'loved science and grapefruit, both beyond reason,' is a peerless line fyi. this is in fact a beautifully crafted piece of witchwords all round, and is self-assured in just the right way (choice of details, hint of old timey diction, obvious conflict adroitly conveyed) but falls a little at the end. in fact, for all I love the grapefruit line, i'm not 100% sure caylen really pays off his presence in the story, and you pay for that at the end (unless I'm missing something that will throw it into sharp relief). Like: i don't care about the last para, i cared about everything up till then, and the story would have been better if you'd cut it. Still, really nice piece.

Ethically sourced Future Food, by anom amalg

there is some clumsiness in the grammar and word choices here which you can work on ('ruptured' out of the ground is odd, i would spell out twelve and three rather than using numerals, you get dialogue punctuation wrong in a few places, make sure your tenses are consistent) but this is a competent set of events you're laying out, though 'lol poop' as your punchline is always a risky play. The biggest problem is that there's no real challenge that's overcome - it's like he's giving a powerpoint and then! uses a different slide! if you get what i mean. in general think very carefully before having people being bored in a 1k word story, it's a risky play. like much of this week there's a certain who gives a gently caress vibe that one is left with at the end, but reading it is a pleasant enough way to spend time.

Above the Grid, by Hawklad

This is a really nicely delivered (drug) cocktail of suspense and slick noir future world building. The suspense is effectively conveyed through your poo poo-scared protag, and I like the way he doesn't always get it right, and the final decision to stay and await the end. There's probably a lot of additional context you could have conveyed, but we've all seen this kind of movie and it's a better choice to let the reader fill in the gaps. I really like the titular grid, when you get round to describing it in detail, though actually you've been describing it the whole time. I also like the final line; altogether, a very well turned piece.

The Dizzy Wizard Family Fixer, by Carl Killer miller

this nails that kid logic, and also gestures at the kind of story where their innocent fumblings would ignite a new family love but oh no, that's right, kids are dumb and don't know anything. i wasn't sure about the end, it's a bit too close to a twist, and I think you could improve it by having something between the second box arriving at Randy opening it - how has the story changed who he was? that would be a great time to have that moment of decision laid out, as is it seems like he's just opening it because he's a kid and they are (as noted) dumb. If he opens it because he's a bit older and a bit less dumb, that's more satisfying.

Nov 16, 2012

Line: "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?"

Prisoner of the Hell-Planet of Desire
Word count: 1202

In issue #39 of Prisoner on the Hell-Planet of Desire, the hero Danny Rex gets captured by the goons of Night-Matriarch Teribella, and taken to her pleasure/torture chambers. It’s, I think, sort of a highlight of the earlier issues because it puts at the forefront Rex’s struggle over his own mind, him pushing his willpower to the limit. He gets captured in the first place not because of the betrayal of the slavering tribesmen or his rival adventurers, but because just for a moment he slipped, showed weakness. And you can’t be weak. Not on the Hell-Planet.

I wasn’t really popular at school. Not with girls and stuff. I got to college and I thought that things would turn around, like the classic thing – you know, wild parties, drinking and people getting, you know, intimate and stuff. And that kind of stuff happened. I just wasn’t there usually. I think socially I have problems. And I couldn’t compete with some of those guys, you know – square jaws, big, muscles, and cool haircuts – and tall, taller than me. They’re stupid jocks but girls like that, I guess. I’m smart. I know about comics.

I keep to myself mostly but I got some work over the holidays in a bookstore – like a real bookstore with real literature and everything – that had a little comics section. Mixed in manga and western stuff – I corrected that quick. They didn’t stock Prisoner, since it went out of print ages ago and never got collected into volumes and whatever like other stories.

That’s where I saw her again. I did a double-take honestly – it had been such a long time. Seeing her red hair tumble over her shoulders, and that little beautiful mole on her face and she looked exactly the same as before. Back when we were still young – I mean, still teenagers. She was across the store and even though I was behind the register and there was this line of people buying celebrity biographies or picture books for their stupid children I went out there because this is more important. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. How many times do two people from the same hometown get reunited years later after one went off for a prestigious education and the other became a washed-up twenty-something loser? I mean, what are the chances?

I had to play it cool, though. She hadn’t seen me yet so I had to pretend like I was reviewing the stock and like, checking out the stores and some stuff. It’s about infiltration, about hiding your true feelings, like in Prisoners #11, which is a great issue by the way. She was looking at some shelves and just really naturally I was like “Oh my god, hey!” And she turned around and she smiled at me and it wasn’t even a little bit forced, and when I said my name she was like “Yeah of course I remember! So nice to see you!” and I kept going with the conversation with a considered “How have you been?” and I didn’t ask something like “Did you change your mind?” or “Did you want me now?” because that would’ve been inappropriate. My heart was racing a lot but if you looked at me you would’ve seen just a completely normal guy.

People who do know about Prisoner on the Hell-Planet of Desire often write it off as some sleazy pervert Flash Gordon, but in all actuality it’s far more complex than that. Sex and death are often intertwined in the series, and in life. When the elder Frem is sentenced to death for his failure to protect the village in issue #29, he is ritualistically stripped. His wizened body, frail and shrivelled, is on full display – and, through artistic use of reaction panels, contrasted with the body of the virile Danny Rex, who is drawn away from the public execution by a lustful maiden. La petit mort. It’s French. Which is why the stakes are heightened so greatly when he’s later captured and at Teribella’s mercy. If he gives in to his desire, he’s doomed to remain a prisoner on the Hell-Planet forever. He knows it, and Teribella knows it too. Sex is a weapon, and it’s held like a guillotine over Danny.

If you think about it, sex is sort of gross. People could say I’m, like, a virgin and a loser and not a man and weak and stuff but people having sex all the time is so degrading. You’re putting your genitals together, sweaty, gasping, and moaning; all for some stupid base pleasure, like animals. The repetitive sound of flab slapping together. How disgusting. I wish I could be an animal sometimes.

So we were just chatting in the bookstore, just catching up with stuff and how she’s got this fancy new job in the city and back for the holidays and all this stuff and I just want her to reach out and pull my hair. Spit in my face. “I’m like, super busy and stuff,” I say, very naturally. “We should like, get some coffee and catch up sometime soon.”

She gave me this look which was very sympathetic and said “I’ve got no time, what with me starting this new job in the city and being back just for the holidays. I’m like, seeing my family and then straight to moving, y’know.”

“Oh yeah, obviously. That’s super chill.”

“But it was so nice to see you! Have a good day at work!”

“Yeah, y-you too.” I muttered.

It’d be gross if I said if I wanted to, you know, make love to her or something. That’s what those other guys think about, the stupid jocks. I’m not like that. I mean, yeah obviously if she said “I want to make love with you” I’d oblige, because I’m a good guy. If she wanted to collar me, and parade me on a leash like elder Frem through the streets, I’d oblige with that too.

My problem is my feelings are too big. I can’t handle this feeling that I lost, that I missed the boat. The longing, the loneliness. It’s overflowing, it’s breaking out. This violent loneliness is like how I don’t want to be weak anymore, but I’d be weak if it was for her. I’d let her do what she wanted to me. Treat me like a toy. Beat me. Break my nose and lick the blood off my lips. Run me over. I think about touching her chest and I get this feeling in my wrist like I want to cut the offending hand off. I’m dirty, and stupid. I don’t deserve anything good. Do anything to me, as long as you’re looking at me, know I exist. I can get obliterated by this furtive, impaling desire, and I don’t need to feel so bad about all the stuff I messed up, or the stuff I will mess up in the future. So kill me, or hold me.

I don’t even know her that well, really. I just felt this way about her. I didn’t want to or choose to. Rex didn’t choose to go to the Hell-Planet. He crashed. Onto that world of fantastic torture.

Nov 8, 2009

Baby's in Reno with the vitamin D

1,196 words

“Baby, I’m home! I bought you vitamins!”

Elena was sitting at her usual spot on the couch. She looked up from her phone, watching as her mother tottered across the cluttered floor of their tiny apartment, her high heels going clack clack clack against the floor. She was sixteen already, but Mom still called her “Baby.” Elena guessed she always would.

Mom reached the kitchen counter and set the bags on it with a little oof. She removed a pill bottle the size of a toddler’s head from one of the bags. “Now, you gotta take these with breakfast so you can, uh, absorb them okay. I want my grandchild to start out right. Not like –“ Like you. Like me. The words hung in the air unsaid.

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Elena was pregnant as a teenager. Ever since Elena was old enough to understand – to notice the sneers of strangers, to hear the taunts about her “slut family” from classmates – she’d sworn to herself she’d break the cycle. She’d work hard, get an education and a decent job. She probably wouldn’t ever have been rich, but at least she would’ve done well enough to get out of Neil Road, get married, have a family like on TV. But now that that scumbag Dylan had gone and knocked her up, that wasn’t going to happen, was it? He’d been so charming and nice before, with his floppy hair and easy smile, but ever since Elena had told him her news, he was more interested in binge-watching superhero movies than in spending time with her. Mom said that was just how men were – that a woman couldn’t count on anybody but herself. Elena guessed that was true, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“Hey, it’ll be okay.” Elena allowed her mom to fold her in a hug. Mom meant well, she just had a talent for saying the wrong thing. “You’re a smart kid, you’ll figure stuff out. Just keep plugging away, Baby. Now, I have to wait for Steve to call me from lockup, so stay out of my hair for the next few hours, okay? Love you!” Mom was already retreating to her bedroom, calling over her shoulder.

“Okay, love you too.” Elena forced a smile. As Mom shut the door, Elena stared a moment at the pill bottle. Then she took in the tiny apartment she and her mom shared ever since she was born. It really was a shithole. Elena couldn't bring up a kid in a place like this, in a neighborhood like this, not in good conscience. She looked back at her phone to study the bus map she’d called up. It was lucky Mom hadn’t gotten back before Elena had finished making her appointment at the Fifth Street Health Clinic. The lady on the phone had said they couldn’t do an abortion there, but if Elena came in for a consultation today they could refer her to a clinic that could. Elena didn’t know how she was going to get to that other clinic without her mom knowing, but she’d just focus on getting to this clinic and figure it out from there. At least Mom would be distracted by calling her boyfriend and wouldn’t ask too many questions about this trip. Just keep plugging away, Baby.

Elena grabbed her ratty old messenger bag and slipped on her Converses, then took a last look at herself in the mirror by the front door. Same olive skin that acne cream couldn’t keep under control, same messy black hair, same band shirt from two “stepdads” ago, same dark brown eyes. Would the baby have her eyes, or Dylan’s green ones? Stop it, Elena shook herself. You’re getting rid of it, stop thinking like that. She brushed a curl out of her eyes and walked out the door.


Elena stood in front of the Walmart parking lot trying not to panic. Three-and-a-half miles away from the clinic and the bus had broken down. By the time another one came by, she’d miss her appointment, and who the hell knew when she could get another one? Mom couldn’t find out she’d had an abortion – sad as she was about Elena’s pregnancy, she’d always told her it was a sin to kill your baby. And did Elena even really want an abortion? She did want to be a mom, just not now – but was that fair to the baby? But it was fair to bring a kid she couldn’t take care of into the world?

Elena couldn’t stop the tears from coming – big, ugly, noisy, snot-making sobs. Why was everything – everything – so hard? Was God punishing her for trying to kill her baby, for making a mistake with Dylan? Or was this just what it meant to be poor, to always be struggling like this?

“Hey, are you okay? Can I help you?”

Elena wiped the tears away to see a skinny woman about her mom’s age with frizzy brown hair. The woman's dark eyes were filled with concern.

“I – I need to get to, um,” - Elena couldn’t tell a stranger where she was really going. She racked her brain for places she knew were close by. “–to the hair salon on Fifth – to see a friend. But I can’t get there in time, because the bus –” She turned away as the sobs started coming again.

“Oh, sweetie! Please don’t cry. Listen, I have a car and – no, no, you probably don’t want to get in a car with a strange woman! Let me call you an Uber, would that be okay?”

“Al-alright. Thank you, you’re really nice.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetie. Just pay it forward and the Universe will reward you.”

“Um, okay.”

While she waited for the Uber, Elena sat on the bus bench and chatted with Frizzy-hair. The woman had a lot of thoughts about balancing your chakras with crystals, and was happy to let Elena smile and nod while she shared those thoughts. Suddenly Frizzy-Hair announced “It’s here!” and gestured to a green sedan that had just pulled up. Before Elena could get in the car, the woman put a hand on her shoulder and stared deep into her eyes.

“Remember: nobody can make your choices for you. You have to do what you feel is right.”

Elena blinked. How did Frizzy-hair know what she was trying to do? Regardless, she still had her appointment, and the driver was waiting. Elena got in the car and waved at Frizzy-hair as it pulled away. The frantically-waving woman grew smaller and smaller, then disappeared as the car turned a corner.

Elena was lucky enough to have a driver who wasn’t interested in talking, so she had a few minutes to think about the woman’s words.

You have to do what you feel is right.

And her mother’s words, too:

You’ll figure stuff out.

By the time the car pulled up to the salon next to the clinic, Elena had made her choice – and she knew it was the right one. Or, at least, she could live with it.

Just keep plugging away, Baby.

Apr 21, 2010

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

597 words

Prompt:Kill the headlights and put it in neutral

"Cut the lights," says Leigh. She doesn't wait for me to do it. She reaches across me, clicks the headlights off. Where we touch there's a kind of static charge prickle under my skin. We shouldn't be here at all. She has no license at all, I just have a learner's permit. It's her parents' car. There's barely enough street lighting to see anything at all. I take my foot off the gas, and we coast over the top of the hill. I park along the side of the road. I put it in park. "Elle," she starts, whispering, reminding me. I leave it in neutral, relying on the emergency brake. We quietly get out of the car. We're on a mission.

I'm at the window of the lodgehouse, looking in. Seeing what I came for, what I didn't want to ever see. My older brother, and a woman I don't know, a woman who isn't his wife. And I like Carrie. "Bastard," whispers Leigh. She's making a fist. Her, in red faux leather jacket, dangling earring and asymmetrical haircut. I nod. My hand absently touches the glass. Tap. I pull back. The lovers disengage; I see more than I ever wanted to. They're slow and beamy. They start to turn. Leigh pulls my hand, and we run.

Memory isn't a continuous narrative. I don't remember the whole evening. Just moments, disconnected, and only in the proper order by chance.

We're in the car, doors locked and belts on. I release the emergency brake and it starts to roll downhill, a quiet escape. We've done this before. Not this hill, but others. There's a curve at the bottom. I start to steer right.

I've never understood how a car decides to lock the steering wheel, or how to release it for that matter. It just happens sometimes, at what might as well be random. It happens, during the coast downward. There's hardly any straight road left. I reach for the key, start to turn it, but not in time. The world tilts sixty degrees down as the car runs into a ditch.

We're outside of it now, assessing the damage in the cold. Dents, broken lights. We've been out long enough that we're pretty sure Alex and his bimbo didn't follow and hear, that they likely just got back to it. We've been out long enough that I'm starting to shiver from the night chill.

Leigh takes off her jacket, puts it around my shoulders. I protest. She doesn't let it stop her. "You should go. There's a Golden Gallon not far, get a cab from there."


"I'll call mom. They'll call for a tow. I'll say I was driving. I was alone."

"They're going to kill you." I slip my arms into the jacket. It fits perfectly.

She smiles, wry and crooked, raised higher lefty. "Ground me for the rest of summer, at least. But that's going to happen either way. At least they won't be trying to sue your parents or worse."

I nod. I give her a tight hug.

"I might not see you again until school starts," she says in my ear. She moves her head, back and to the side, coming face to face.

Moments. Up to then, that very instant, her face so close, lit by flashing amber hazard lights, her warm breath and the cold evening breeze drawing a map on the skin around my lips, the idea that I might like girls hadn't even occurred to me.

She kisses me. I close my eyes and let it happen.

Azza Bamboo
Apr 7, 2018

It's Not Right
1217 words

line: "And my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite"

A town downwind sighs with traffic cutting through its sodden air. Sirens sing from distant towers tall, like termite hills on the horizon, their exits crawling with tiny specs marching in line on the roads beneath. From the inside of a chain link fence the gravel grounds of a lost factory are now found by those selling crack to the residents. Bleak though it may seem, these human beings can now dream in their waking and go on escaping the world.

In among the chemically numb souls of the factory squat is a young woman. She’s awake and she’s feeling her hunger. She rises to her feet. She’s damp for a week, if not longer, of her wearing the same clothes she left home in. Surveying the room, her tired mind is consumed with one thought: “It’s not right.”

Her thoughts are of a world that ought to be. She imagines these people fed, warm, clean and happy. Her stomach, meanwhile, is empty. Food, alas, is a problem in reality.

Sat on the tile of the factory floor is one more conscious woman. Her weathered face cracks around her shifting mouth as her raspy voice sounds.

“Let’s get some loving food, babby.”

The younger woman’s eyes blink and flicker as the elder’s words bring her out of her daze.

“Sure, okay.”

The main road to the town of Burnswick roars with passing cars. A broken patch of asphalt alongside this road is marked with the worn out lines of a car park from a bygone time. There now stands a canopy tent. Underneath is a few men with buckets and hoses hoping to pay their rent selling a hand wash and wax to the passing traffic.

From underneath his beanie hat an idle valet stares down the path at two figures heading his way. One is a young lady in an ordinary coat, clinging on to her life’s possessions in a hiking bag that climbs over her back. Next to her is a veteran resident of the street who’s wearing a mish mash of donated knitwear and carrying only a plastic bag. The two chit-chat.

“Thanks for coming out with me today. It’s always good to have a hand.”

“Oh, it’s okay.”

“Don’t let me forget, Jeremy needs his leg bandages, Alice has been kicked off the dole so I’ll need to pay her prescription, and that’s before we’ve got some food for everyone. It’s a lot to carry, and to remember!”

“Not really.”

The valet walks toward the elder woman, arms outstretched.

“Tabitha, how are you doing today, love?”

“Ooh, I’m doing well babby. You?”

“It’s a quiet day at the wash, but I see you’ve got something for me. Have you?”

From the clutch of her fingerless gloves the elder woman hands her plastic bag to the man. He opens the bag wide, counting inside.

“One, two, three, four…. Five. Lovely stuff!”

Into his pocket the bag goes, and out comes a wad of dough. He fingers the banknotes.

“Twenty, fourty, sixty, seventy and… seventy five.”

“Thank you very much, young man.”

“Say, who’s your young friend today?”

The young woman, staring into space, turns her face to the man. Not quite awake.

“Me? I’m Jess.”

“Got a phone on you, love?”

“Oh, the battery’s flat.”

“That doesn’t matter. If it’s a smart phone, reasonably new, I’ll give you fifteen quid for it.”

“Leave her out of this.” Tabitha interrupts.

“I’m just saying: the phone’s probably no use to you now, is it?”

Jess’ face remains blank.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

From inside of the car the siren sounds overhead. Burnswick Police drives steady through this dreaded estate. Responding to a complaint are two officers, their shirts smelling fresh with spray starch. They park on the outside of a chain link fence and march to the factory door.

Having heard the sirens and seen the lights, those who were able have already taken flight. Only one person remains lying on the factory floor.

“Hello? I’m with the police. Are you alright?”


“We’re here to help.”

One officer stands with his arms crossed, his lips flat in a stern expression. His partner mirrors him and asks the question “can you stand up for me?”

“Yeah, alright”

The man shambles on to his feet, unsteady.

“Come on, I think you need to sort yourself out. There’s a place in town on the corner of Belle avenue that can help.”

The ragged man shrugs.

“They kicked me out, mate. Where else am I meant to go?”

“Kicked you out? Well why’s that, then?”

“Well I had nothing else to do so I lit up with a few lads, yeah.”

“You took drugs?”


“Well that was a bit silly, now, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, gently caress off, mate.”

“Oi oi, watch your language!”

Far from withdrawing, the man begins to fight. He wins himself a bed for tonight.

Following the main road into town, aging rows of terraces lead past a closed pub and sports club. Jess and Tabitha walk the pavement toward Burnswick.

“There’s a pharmacy not far from here, we can get our stuff.”

Jess stares far into the daylight. Tabitha tries to look into her eyes.

“You don’t talk much, do you, babby?”

“What’s there to talk about?

Tabitha holds her silence and a warm look in her creased eyelids.

“I don’t feel safe. I can’t sleep. I want to sort myself out but I’m just too tired. I only eat when you’re around, Tabitha.”


“What do I do?”

“I don’t know. Me? I just get us all some loving food, and maybe some smokes for the folks back at the factory if I can afford them. It’s about the best I can do.”

“They deserve better.”

“We all do. I know those guys are rough around the edges but I want you to know, Jess, we all look after one another. We’ll look after you.”

The pharmacy is busy. Jess removes her pack and sits on a nearby bench to rest her back. Tabitha heads inside.

“I won’t be long”

A new leg dressing for Jeremy, some medications for Alice, and after this is done she’d get some food for the crowds.

Jess’ tired mind begins to design hopeful plans. Maybe there’s a chance she could find work and begin to pay her way again. The vision is broken by the sight of a police car. No sirens or lights, just parking outside the pharmacy. The doors burst open, their boots storm into the store.

“Yep, that’s her.”

Jess doesn’t have to hear through the glass of the storefront to know what is being said. Tabitha’s rights are being read. She knows that Tabitha’s seventy five pounds, once found, will be forfeit.

“Oh, poo poo.”

Looking out to the police car, it’s driver door ajar, she spots a phone on the dashboard. To her it is fifteen pounds in cash, enough to afford the bandage and a meal for the crowd tonight. Tabitha won’t be back at the factory tonight. All eyes are on the scene inside the pharmacy, which means Jess can quietly claim her prize.

Back inside the factory room, the crowds reassembled and eating food. Jess’ mind is consumed with the thought: “It’s not right, but I’ll do what I can do.”

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt

Things Are Gonna Change
1495 words

We’re waiting in line at the rental car counter, Sara and me, glued to our phones and half-listening to the guy ahead of us get upsold on a Mustang. Sara’s juggling multiple conversations, because she has the kind of memory where she remembers everyone’s birthday and the names of their kids, and so there are multiple group chats going where everyone’s excited that we’re in town.

I tell myself that it’s just about the kinds of friends that Sara has. My friends don’t stay in constant contact. There might be an email or a text message every six months, or every other year, maybe. I assume people are fine and doing their thing.

I make a resolution every year that I’m going to be better about correspondence, but that’s become more of an in-joke. Still, as soon as the deluge of Sara’s incoming messages started after landing, I felt a little flare of unpleasant envy, and so I sent The Obsessor a text saying that I’d just arrived in town on a surprise visit, the surprise part being a minor fabrication. Fully expecting no reply, to be clear, but I know myself well enough that I will probably get sulky about not seeing any of my old friends while in town, and the first thing that Sara’s going to ask is well, did you bother to let anyone know that you were coming this time?

But that’s not what happened, because later on when we’re standing in line at the rental car counter, I’m zombie-scrolling through Twitter to see whether the whole climate change thing has gotten worse while we were in the air, and a small pile of text messages from The Obsessor start coming in.

hey man great to hear from you

i’m actually getting married on thursday

would love it if you wanted to come to the afterparty

I nudge Sara, show her my phone.

“Who’s Paul Mason?” she asks, looking at The Obsessor’s real name at the top of the chat.

Back in high school, Paul got his nickname because he really wanted to be friends with Simon Albury, who was the most popular kid in our school, who went on to be the prom king, all that stuff. Paul wasn’t unpopular, because he was pretty good at sports and that counted for a lot, but he was no cool kid either. Anyway, Paul decided on one fateful Saturday to be proactive and call Simon Albury’s house to ask him to be friends, but no-one was home and his call went to answering machine — this was the nineties, so people actually used answering machines, and Paul left Simon an extremely awkward message, or at least so I heard. And then, when Paul didn’t get a response after an hour, he called again, trying to smooth over the awkwardness of the first message but flubbing it again. And then there was a third message half an hour after that.

Or at least so the legend was told on the following Monday morning, when Paul became The Obsessor. And because Paul made the crucial error of getting upset, it stuck.

“No poo poo,” says Sara. “Do you think he married what’s-her-face?”

“Heather,” I say. “No, she was pretty unambiguous in her rejection.”

“Well if you want to go, we’re technically open that evening.”

“I mean, I have no idea what we’re getting into, but it’s The Obsessor, and I wouldn’t rule out a shotgun wedding scenario -- at the very least, it’s going to be ridiculous.”

“I’m in,” says Sara, going back to her own phone. After a beat, she turns back. “Who the gently caress gets married on a Thursday?”


I’m driving, and we’re stuck in after-work Thursday traffic on the way to the afterparty. I’m in a bad mood because I don’t like driving at the best of times, and Sara’s in a bad mood because she hadn’t brought any good wedding clothes with her and is trying to do her mascara in the vanity mirror behind the sunshade.

“I’m just saying, if you had actually written The Obsessor when I asked you, two weeks ago, to think about letting your friends know we were coming, we could have known about the wedding ahead of time and packed nice clothes.”

“We look fine,” I say, but it comes out short, and Sara shoots me a glare that I pretend not to notice. This is what we do now, ten years in. We bicker like old people. Worse: we bicker like our parents.

I take a sip of my coffee right before there’s a cascade of brake lights ahead. Sara, a nervous passenger, does this sharp intake of breath thing which never fails to freak me out, but the brakes are twitchier than our car at home, and I end up braking too hard.

Everything’s fine, just mildly jostled, but I’ve now got a coffee stain spreading across my chest from where the cup spilled.

“Smooth,” says Sara, in that tone that I used to love when she deployed it on other people. “There’s a mall at this exit, if you want to get off and buy yourself a new shirt.”

And it’s a good idea, but I am not emotionally prepared to try on shirts in front of Sara. She’ll suggest that maybe I should try an XL just to see if it’s a little less tight, and I am emphatically in denial about no longer being an M.

“We’re already late, we’re not stopping,” I say, and it’s exactly what my dad would have said.


The Obsessor’s wedding afterparty is in the backyard of a house, and we’re barely through the gate when I’m clocked by The Obsessor’s dad, Doug, who greets me with a “Hey, it’s Rat Boy!”, which was an old childhood nickname that I had almost forgotten about and had until now successfully kept secret from my wife. A giant grin positively erupts across Sara’s face.

“Still having trouble drinking from cups, I see,” says Doug, indicating the stain on my shirt. “And who’s this?”

“Sara,” I say. She’s giving me a solid I told you so look about the coffee stain. “My wife of, uh, ten years.”

“Oh, you’re far too pretty for him,” says Doug, and Sara smiles and says she’s aware.

“You just missed Paul and Sidney by fifteen minutes,” says Doug. “They left with the photographer for some golden hour shots. But there’s tons of food, so get eating.”

We load our plates and find a little table to stand around. I don’t recognize anyone.

“Sidney, huh?”

“Beats me,” I say. “Figured it probably wasn’t the right time to ask.”

We’re standing at our table under strings of fairy bulbs as the light goes from golden into twilight, stuffing our faces, and people are starting to dance on the flagstones in the backyard when a cheer explodes from the gathered assembly. It’s the Obsessor, and he looks really good, positively glowing, and he’s holding tight to a handsome man that I will later note bears a passing resemblance to Simon Albury. It takes me a beat longer for everything to click than it does for Sara, who cheers louder than anyone close by.

The grooms promenade through the adoring mob, and even though we’re off to the side by a good margin, the Obsessor sees me waving to him and flashes that same huge smile he had as a kid.

Paul and Sidney are conveyed onto the dance floor, and they’re good dancers. The DJ throws on Blur’s Girls and Boys, and I head to the bar because we’re both way too sober for dancing with strangers.

I’m waiting in line when there are suddenly arms wrapping around me and lifting me up onto my toes, and when I turn around it’s The Obsessor, and he looks happier than that New Year’s Eve where he drank a fifth of Stolichnaya in the parking lot behind the Safeway and spent the next three hours hugging strangers on the street and telling anyone who would listen that it was the best night of his life.

“I’m so, so glad you’re here,” he says.

“Me too,” I say, and I’m surprised to find that I really mean it. We spend a little time catching up, painting in the years with broad strokes, but there’s obviously too much to cover and so we promise each other that we’ll catch up for real soon. And as he’s whisked away, back onto the dancefloor, he’s Paul again, his old nickname feeling like some kind of cruel orthodontic device, no longer fitting.

And then I see Sara, who never dances sober, twirling and spinning under low golden bulbs, stars come down to play just above her, and I feel this upwelling of a simpler, older, unencumbered love, and the world feels tiny and beautiful as I leave the line for the bar behind and follow my feet out onto the dance floor.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Prompt: Who’s choking on the splinters
Word Count: 1352

I was with him when the bomb exploded. I was in the house when the door splintered. I was on the floor when my neck grew thorns. How else could I now be the rose he carries everywhere?

I was spying there. But I was also hiding. I was there to fight unfairness, but also myself. I was there for my family, but also for him, mostly for him.

I met Jaimé as I walked home from my work shift on campus. He was talking to a group of about 15 people at a table outside. His words were passionate but soft. It was the feeling in his voice that stopped me and distracted me from my own distractions.

When I approached, I wasn’t excluded from the group as someone with my face, my hair, my skin often was. The others appeared to be students. I saw no other service staff. Still they made a space for me. But then my eyes and ears were all for Jaimé whose persona was greater than any label. Though he must have studied somewhere since his speech was clear and he talked about the philosophies of this man and that woman. I rooted myself there.

As he spoke, I cared about the injustices. Before they had seemed as distant as a news story. He made them real to me. They must have been real to him. And then I was real to him.

“What's your name?”

Lost in the feeling of having emerged from deep under the earth, it took a moment to remember that I could speak. “I’m Camille.”

“Tell us how you must be suffering under these conditions.”

I could feel myself suffering as he told me that I was. But, again, it was if he had made me anew and it took some time for me to remember my days before.

I didn't think of my life as suffering. Like many families, mine did not have great wealth, but both of my parents were employed, as teachers even. I lived with them and also worked. I was able to take one class a semester. That was much more than others could say. But Jaimé wanted an answer and I sprouted in his attentions.

“You just said we should be free from constricting landlords. My family lives in one room on the second floor of a terrace house.”

I blushed red. This was hardly suffering. There were families with no shelter at all and the others in the group must surely see that I did not belong now. Looking around, they all wore concerned looks and shook their heads. Some of them grew agitated.

“Exactly,” Jaimé said. “You are just the type of person we need, Camille. Our perspectives are limited by the narrow lives we lead. Your upbringing will help us attract other locals and as history has proven...”

I spread with joy. This man, so determined and thoughtful, so bright with vigor wanted me to link myself to this cause. I could be a part of his plot.

“Will you join us tomorrow?”

The small meeting appeared to be breaking up. People agreed to listen more in the future. And I, too, nodded my head as I continued my regular walk home. Navigating the same dark streets and dripping gutters as every other day, the shining sun that was Jaimé dulled into a warm glow of memory. Up the stairs I climbed to our second floor room, where I greeted my parents working at the table.

Wishing to spread Jaimé’s words further, I asked my parents if they felt like life was unfair. Dad looked up from grading papers and said, “Of course it’s unfair.” He looked down again. “That Smathers who teaches geography, of all things, got a raise this year and I sure didn’t. If that’s fair then Pythagoras was an rear end.”

Mom smiled. She always did that when Dad swore. I think it made her remember a time when she could swear. “Everything will be fair eventually, Camille. All we can do is live quietly, try not to stand out, and let the universe sort it out.”

Jaimé’s speech flared in me as I stared at my parents. We were suffering but they didn’t see it either. Others had so much more and they kept us and millions others in this state. My family was a bunch of weeds to the oppressors and here we were just trying to be ground cover and escape their notice.

Then the soup bubbled over the pot and I saw that the dishes needed done and I had to complete my homework. Finally it was time to sleep and in the morning I needed to get up and work to keep all of it going, just as it was. And I did because this was the space allotted to me and wasn’t that good enough?

Weeks passed because it’s easy to do what you already know how to do. I liked to think that I stood a little straighter, but I was again just a blade of grass in a lawn, moving with the wind and falling flat where others tread. Until Jaimé once again became my trellis.

This time it was after my evening class. A large group of people moved through campus and murmured excitedly. They left a mess in their wake: toppled trash bins, ruined landscaping and shattered glass.

I slipped out of the building and escaped in the opposite direction only to find myself face to face with Jaimé. He strode with three others. They were clearly trailing along behind the mass I had seen.

“Camille, it’s good to see you tonight.” He remembered my name! “We need you. We’re beginning our work in earnest.”

And what else could I do but grow towards the sun, towards his nourishing warmth. He spoke as we walked, about empowerment, about brighter days and more space to expand. His speech was still fervent even with such a small audience.

His words dropped onto me and I absorbed each one. I didn't know how far we walked until I recognized my street. I could see the stairs up to my room, dull and lifeless in the lamp light. I hoped they remained unremarkable to others as there was a flurry of agitated activity all around.

I turned to Jaimé, confused. “Why here?”

“We’re just waking people up. The real work is ahead. Let’s go.” He jogged to the closest crossroad and turned left. I followed, willing everyone else on that street to leave as well. As the houses became nicer, the activity grew more furious. Bricks were knocked loose and thrown through windows, into cars, at people. Bangs and booms could be heard not too far distant, then sirens.

Jaimé turned to me. “Do you know a place where we can see what’s going on?”

I nodded and led our group to a house that I knew was vacant. The fire escape took them up to the roof for a view down two streets. I ducked into the first floor entryway to breathe and to watch the street level activity. I thought of my family and how all of this would surely be good. We would be treated better. We would be accepted. We would not be weeds...

The sounds of yelling, of movement behind the door, of feet smacking the pavement. And then no sounds at all, only the feeling of warmth as my skin erupted its thorns, allowing my true lifeblood to begin flowing.

Then there was Jaimé standing above me. He crouched down to touch my neck, maneuvering around my spikes. He closed his eyes and said, “You won’t be forgotten, Camille. I will tell everyone about your dedication to the cause. Your story will be heard and it will inspire others just like you.”

He left. I went with him. He keeps me just above his heart. I am the flower in his button hole and I am the passion in his speech. I am the symbol of a better life. And I grow and grow and grow.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables

Brownian Motion
1200 words

Go away! Jim whisper-shouted at the knocking on his front door. It was probably Hiroshi; Jim had been ignoring his calls ever since he’d discovered the model ramen of another sampuru artist in Hiroshi’s restaurant window. Jim hunched over a plastic salad and picked up his airbrush, gripping it tight enough to make his hand shake. The knocking got louder.

The first layer of paint on the salad leaves was rapidly drying. Jim steadied his hand, ready to apply the critical second coat, but the incessant knocking had ruined his concentration. He yanked off his safety goggles and banged them onto the workbench. The salad was a disaster. Jim slid it off the bench and into the waiting rubbish bin. It crunched onto the pile of other rejects. The bin’s lid wouldn’t close. Jim kicked it with one slippered foot.

Fourteen steps later he was at the front door.

“Are you Jim Henderson?” The woman looked to be in her mid-60s. Blue dungarees hung from her skinny shoulders and her grey hair was pulled back in a tight bun. “Hiroshi arranged for me to come and see you?”

Jim ground his teeth at the mention of his old friend’s name. “He changed supplier without even telling me!” he blurted out. “And now that seaweed salad is ruined!” Cicadas whined in the summer air. Jim realised that he was being odd, so he clamped his lips together and fixed his gaze on his doorstep. The sun was baking hot on the back of his neck.

“I’m so sorry!” said the woman. “Your seaweed salads are amazing!”

Jim blinked at her.

“And I only sold Hiroshi two ramen! He hasn’t placed any further orders with me!”

As she spoke the woman took five steps past Jim and into his cluttered sitting room. The surfaces were covered with model bowls of ramen and miso, lunch specials in beautiful bento boxes and eternally fresh plates of sushi. There was nowhere to sit, but no one ever came to visit Jim.

“These are beautiful,” she said, picking up a box of plastic nigirizushi from the coffee table. She lifted a piece decorated with delicate salmon roe and held it up to the light from the doorway.

Jim snatched the plastic sushi from her hand. “They’re rubbish!” he said. He opened the door as wide as possible and pressed himself back against the wall, like an entomophobe willing a moth to leave by itself.

“My name’s Sharon,” she said. “Kids at school used to call me Shazza, but I hated that. I hope they’re all dead now.” She laughed, a sudden raucous sound in the dusty room. Seeing Jim stare at her she stopped. “Oh, sorry. That was an odd thing to say, wasn’t it. Sometimes I can’t tell.”

“People sometimes call me Jimbo,” said Jim. “I hate that too.”

Sharon picked up a bowl of miso soup. Delicate motes of fermented soy seemed to circulate in the burnished broth. “How do you do this?” she said.

“It’s my own technique.” Jim frowned. He didn’t like nosey people.

Sharon took two steps to stand right in front of Jim. He recoiled, pressing the back of his head against the wall.

“Show me,” she said.

The woman had bright blue eyes. She was so close he could feel her breath on his cheek. Jim thought about her infuriating ramen sitting in Hiroshi’s window display. He had to admit her chashu pork was pretty good, just the right amount of glisten. She smelt of sunscreen and plastic glue. Jim suddenly couldn’t remember the last time he’d showered. He’d been for a swim that morning - in the pre-dawn dark, when there was no one else at the beach - did that count?

He turned his face away from hers. He was breathing too fast; he was sure she’d think he was being weird. Her cloth shoulder bag lay open where she’d deposited it in the doorway. A lacquer-red bowl protruded from its folds.

“That!” he gasped, pointing at the sampuru. “Show me that.”

She pulled the model from her bag and then plonked herself onto Jim’s couch. “It’s supposed to be Hiroshi’s spicy ramen special,” she said. “But I can’t get the chili to look right. It should look like its drifting in the broth, but this just looks like, well, plastic.”

Jim watched the puff of dust from the ancient couch float around her hair. Her weight had collapsed a pile of old New Scientist magazines. One yellowed edition slipped to the floor. Jim darted over and picked it up. He reached for the others, feeling compelled to tidy up, but they were too close to her thigh. He hesitated, looked up at her. She smiled. Jim straighted, took three steps back.

“A drink?” he said. “Or, can I get you something to eat?”

Without waiting for a reply Jim turned and fled into the kitchen. There was nothing in the fridge but a six-pack of Victoria Bitter and half a block of cheese. There weren’t even any crackers in the pantry, just stale bread and tins of baked beans. Jim’s palms were sweating. Hiroshi! he thought. He’d call Hiroshi, tell him to bring over some sushi. No, sushi was too much. Just some juice, and maybe--

“I’m sorry, it was rude of me to just show up like this. I should go. It’s just, your broth is so perfect. I know you don’t teach classes, but, I was hoping, maybe you’d do lessons, or…?” Her words tumbled out, liked she’d practiced what she was going to say and then forgotten at the last moment. Sharon stood in the kitchen doorway, turning the bowl of spicy ramen over and over.

Jim stepped towards her, and lifted the ramen from her hands. The colour on the bok choy really was very good. He peered into the depths of the soup.

“It’s the distribution of particulate matter within the resin,” he said, walking down the hallway to his workshop. “Here--” He flicked on the power for his heating unit, opened a drawer and handed her a spare pair of safety glasses. “Powders are in the third drawer down in that cabinet,” he said, pointing to his neatly labelled storage unit.

Sharon’s phone buzzed in her pocket. “Oh poo poo,” she said. “I’m supposed to pick up my god-daughter from netball. I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.”

Jim followed Sharon to the front door. He held out his hand, hoping this was the socially appropriate thing to do.

Sharon grasped it with both of hers. “I’m very glad I’ve met you, Jim Henderson,” she said.

Jim’s breathing quickened as her eyes met his. “Come back tomorrow?” he said.

She nodded, her broad smile making her crows’ feet crinkle around her eyes. As she walked down his driveway Jim pulled out his phone. Seven missed calls from Hiroshi, and three new voice mails. Jim swiped to delete them, opened a new message.

Hiroshi. I need to order sushi for two people. Tomorrow. Jim. He tapped the words carefully, enjoying the sun’s warmth on the back of his neck.

Feb 25, 2014
A slab of turkey-neck and it's hanging from a pigeon wing

Up There


flerp fucked around with this message at 16:43 on Aug 25, 2020

Jan 31, 2019

where did all the entwives go?
Two Hundred and Nine
1253 WORDS
→ 'cause one's got a weasel and the other's got a flag

It hurts. It all just hurts.

The moment the tall, hairless human turns on the seering white lights is a new day of torture. I've been here—I look down at the steel cage beneath my paws—I've been here for six hundred and twelve days according to my claw marks. One of the longest standing captives in this joint. A badge of honor that has these humans talking.

The ape in his blanc official coat wanders forward, casually gazing at what I'm sure he takes as his creations. His experiments that I'm sure he tells himself will be God's greatest gift to humanity or the cure for cancer or some horseshit that humans sell themselves to cover up for the ugly things they do.

Day six hundred and thirteen begins just the same as the rest. White Coat makes his way to a separate room to the right. He goes in. He comes out with a clipboard. He approaches the holding area. He approaches me. Analyzes and jots down the stats that record to the screen on the front of my enclosure. Presses a button.

I watch a green fluid flow from the top of the tube down and into my side where needles puncture my flesh. At first the fluid chills me, but then it begins to burn my intestines. I cry out for the eighth time this month as he continues to try and perfect his concoction. It is clear by his frown lines that my screaming is not the outcome he wanted today.

"Subject seventy-three remains alive, injection unsuccessful. Proceeding with larger animal testing to see if mass is a factor," the man murmurs into a recorder before walking to a cage across the way.

Ben the beagle still has his puppy fur. He looks up at White Coat with soft eyes as his white tail thumps happily on floor of the cage. I pity the poor pup. One day that tail will only lay grounded like a flag of surrender. Ben yips with excitement, getting tangled in his tubes and IV's when he tries to get the man to give him a dose of affection instead of poison.

White Coat has the audacity to smile before pushing a similar button he pushed on my cage. It takes only moments for Ben to begin yelping loudly. He's gotten a much larger dose than I, he doesn't stop until he passes out. His small body quaking with his maw parted and tongue hanging out. I pray coldly that today is his last day so that he may no longer suffer.

"Subject four hundred and eight, status—unconscious with seizures," he says, proceeding down a line of cages.

Howls and whimpers echo in the lab even after the lights have gone out. I close my eyes.

"Why do they hurt us?" Ben asks—his face has grown and he's filled in his paws—but his eyes have gone dim. There is no longer any puppy joy in them.

I cock my head, flick my ears.

"Because they can."

Ben wrinkles his nose in disgust at my answer.

Our life may have been good once. May have been filled with forests or plush beds. But now it is naught but steel cages and volatile substances that may or may not kill us on any given day. I can't fathom what the humans do to their own kind. I don't think it's truly much better than what they do to us, especially those who differ from the norm.

"We need to get out of here."

I don't know why I say it. I don't believe it's possible; however, I dream of better things for Ben. I know I will never have a hearth and a home after all this. But I want Ben to. He's been a silver lining ever since the night he woke up from the seizure that wracked his entire body.

"You've said countless times that hope of escape is dangerous, Seventy-Three."

I nod, Ben is correct I have said that. I've said that many, many times. I know who, and what comes for me.

"Perhaps the fear of hope is what makes things impossible. You and I, we should be dead. The other's are. Maybe that has to mean something," I say it with as much endearment I can. I have been harsh on the kids hope. It will take kindling to bring any of it back.

Ben squints at me looking to see if I'm serious or just mocking him like I did when he was a pup.

He sees that for once, I mean it.

"When? How? They're always watching."

I've contemplated it all. The tests—the experiments—if they've done anything they've made me far more intelligent than I once was. I've heard the humans hushed whispers. There's something happening. Their operation has been discovered, any day now they mean to exterminate I and Ben. Erase evidence of their cruelty. Erase us.

"I can chew through my bars, Ben. I can unlatch you."

Ben looks horrified. For good reason too.

"Sam and Weedrun died that way! You know they've poisoned the metals," Ben growls.

I nod, well aware.

"Ben, my natural life is nearly over. You are not even three-hundred and sixty-five days old."

He shakes his head, ears flopping.

"Don't be a child," I snap.

I didn't need his permission.

I bit down on the metal. I gnawed and pulled with all my might, blood filling my mouth and dripping down my chest.

"Seventy-Three, no! Please, stop!" Ben cries. His paws slamming on the grates of his cage.

The toxins from the mental bars taste foul and burn my mouth. Everything in me screams for me to stop. But I refused to listen to whatever natural instincts I had left.

Eventually my head broke through the cage and then my body.

For the first time in eight hundred and twenty two days, I was free. Free.

I pushed myself forward, standing on my hind legs I grappled for Ben's cage. My maw wrapped around the latch of his cage and pulled. A click sounded and the door swung open.

Ben ran to me, licking the blood off my face. Tears streaked his face as I collapsed.

"Ben, Ben! This is no time for tears. You have to get out of here. Through that door. Turn right, right. There's a dog door that Saige the guard dog uses when he's on watch for human holidays," I manage to get out.

Ben nods, it shocks me when I feel his teeth bite into the nape of my neck. He is carrying me.

We go right. Right. Through the dog door.

Surprisingly easy, but to be fair this is a botched lab.

I'm growing tired and my limbs feel funny when Ben finally lays me down.

We're in the mountains, my old home. I can smell the moss and the trees. The river runs close by. Dusk is soon approaching bathing the clearing in a bluish haze.

I fade, fade, fade.

Before I do I see what I have wanted to see one last time since I last saw it two hundred and nine days ago.

Ben's white tail finally wags again, his nose flares as he takes in more than the somber tinge of death and alcohol for the first time in his life. I pray warmly he will have many days, I pray he finds a happy home.

"Do you see all this, Seventy-Three?"

I close my eyes.

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

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

Lone Loveseat
1486 words

"Yeah, you loving called my writing 'Harry Potter Fanfiction'. How am I supposed to react to that?"

She's got me there. I'm flailing. "Look, babe, I wasn't trying to be a dick. Matt's a writer, I thought you guys would get along. It was a joke, I was trying to break the ice."

"Break the ice by having him not take me seriously, huh? So he thinks that my books are about Gunnelpuss loving Huffleclaw or whatever?"

I'm trying not to laugh. She's furious and she still manages to remind me why I love her. Her posture crumples a little but the next words come out in a torrent.

"I just wanted them to like me. And respect me. And for you to not take me for granted. And to be proud of me for like one minute."

Jen's fully deflated now. She sits down in the middle of the floor, not bothering to sweep the layer of dust that's built up while our new apartment's been vacant.

I sit down a few feet from her, just out of arm's distance, like a cat would. I turn to her tentatively.

"Honey, I'm really sorry. You know how cool I think your writing is."

She looks at me. Her voice is more even.

"It's not just 'cool', Dwayne. It's my work."

I'm backpedaling. I feel like I'm drowning. I'm squeezing the words out between little bubbles of air.

"I thought it would be a fun night out and I jacked it up. You know, with the stress from the move and everything, thought we needed a break."

I pretend to fiddle with my phone.

"The moving company app says that our couches, our mattress, all our stuff is somehow in Nashville. Which, last I checked, isn't between Denver and Chicago. But I could be wrong."

Jen sniffs and wipes her face with her shirt, then smiles. "You're pretty bad at geography, babe."

She stand up then winces, rubbing her bad hip. She puts her hand on my shoulder and leans into me.

"I think I'm going to go into the bathroom and keep Socks some company. I need some space."

She leans over and lightly kisses me on the forehead. She makes me swoon and feel pathetic, all at once. I'm a very lucky man.

Jen gathers up her coat, her hoodie, a blanket, and my hoodie. She heads into the bathroom and shuts the door behind her. Socks' paws stop searching under the doorframe. I look around our bare new place. I need some fresh air.

I'm barely off our front steps when I hear a commotion at the end of the block. It's familiar. A woman, yelling at a man. I start strolling in their direction. Words become more distinct.

"Look, babe. I'm sorry, but you can't disrespect me like that."

"Disrespect you? Disrespect you!?"

I can't be more than fifteen feet away, but they haven't noticed me. They're dressed pretty nice for a stoop argument. Guess their evening didn't go like they'd planned. Go figure.

The woman is slurring her words, one hand on the doorknob. "I'm learning to dance, Eric! I'm not a loving whore!"

Eric is swaying on his feet. He's shitfaced. She slams the door.

He sinks down to a sofa that's out on the curb and throws his head back, staring at the sky. Can't believe I hadn't noticed the sofa before.

I feel weirdly better that someone's hosed up his night worse than I did.

I walk over to Eric and nudge the couch with my foot. "Hey, you ok?"

He jerks up and looks at me. "I don't have any money."

"No, we just moved in a few doors down. I'm Dwayne."

He puts his hand out. "Eric. You wanna, uh, have a seat in my office?" He pats the orange loveseat. I look at the couch and raise an eyebrow.

"I dragged it out here to prove a point, or something. Like two cocktails ago." Eric grips his forehead. "Can't really remember what it was."

I sit on the armrest and Eric looks at me.

"You want some life advice, Dwayne?"

He smells like a lot of whiskey. I nod.

"If your wife is taking a pole dancing class, that's not an invitation to tell your waiter that she wants to be a stripper."

He's waiting for a laugh, but I don't have one. He continues.

"She's a biologist, you know. Real smart, smarter than me. She lets me know it so sometimes, I've just got to take her down a peg. You know?"

He sounds like me. A nastier, more spiteful me. He sounds like what I was thinking when I humiliated Jen.

Suddenly, he's not on the sofa. I'm alone. I'm outside our new apartment. The lights inside are off. The curtains are drawn. And I am alone.

I blink and I'm back. He's still talking.

"...just try and have a nice night out, introduce her to some of the guys, and she starts in on all her 'discoveries' and 'research'. Like I'm nothing."

I've lapsed back into my head and his words become a low background buzz. That couldn't be what I really meant when I was putting her down, right? Like, I'm not that kind of an rear end in a top hat.

I see myself sitting in our new apartment, except now it's my new apartment. Her stuff is gone. All the printed pages with red slashes and circles. The goofy little blob-cats she draws in the margins when she's bored or blocked, they're gone too.

I know I am fully capable of being that kind of an rear end in a top hat.

I snap out and turn to him.

"So, you going to apologize or something? Or are you just going to..." I sweep my hand over the couch and onto the street.

Eric snorts. "I'm gonna get a loving hotel."

I get up. "Listen, this is going to sound kinda weird, but can I borrow this? The couch, I mean."

He gets up too and gives the loveseat a vicious little kick.

"Borrow it? You can have it. It's her favorite sofa. You take it, maybe she'll learn not to have bullshit arguments."

He sticks out his hand. "I'm gonna get a cab. Good luck with the couch. What's your name again?"


I'm afraid of touching his hand, like I'll absorb some of his venom, or bring some of his juju home. I do it anyway. He walks up the block and I start to figure out how I'm going to move this thing.

A half hour later, I put my shoulder into a last heave. The loveseat makes it over our entryway. A few more shoves put it at the center of our living room. The bathroom door stays closed, the light off.

I plop myself onto the loveseat, squirming to get comfortable. It's easier than I'd thought. Now, for the hard part.

I knock on the bathroom door. "Jen?"

There's a rustling inside. She groans.

"Dwayne? Can I have a hand in here?"

I open the door and flick on the light, then switch it off once I see her wince. The half-second strobe shows me the little nest she's made in the bathtub, a tangled mess of hoodies, blankets, arms, legs, and cat. I walk over and fluff Jen's hair, then I whisper to her.

"Babe? I have a surprise for you."

She looks at me quizzically in the leftover light from the living room.

"Why are you covered in sweat?"

I don't answer her. We grip forearms and I haul her out of the bathtub. She dances a little on her toes, shaking out the pins and needles.

"That nap was the best idea I've had all day." She massages her aching hips. "Also might have been the worst idea I've had all day."

I chuckle a little bit and maneuver her out of the bathroom. She pauses at the threshold. "Honey? Why is there an orange loveseat in our living room?"

"Well, there was this couple up the street and they were fighting and the guy gave me this sofa."

She shakes some of the sleep from her head. "Dwayne, that doesn't make any sense. You know that, right?"

I laugh and we settle onto the loveseat, intertwined over the arm rests and sinking into the upholstery. "Well, I know how bad your hips hurt, so I moved the sofa. So you'd be comfy."

She twists her neck around and kisses me on the cheek. The sofa, our fight, I'm reminded why I love her. In my head, the hard part is easy and the easy part is hard. Jen smooths it out. The nap has left her wide awake, although I'm fading fast.

"Hey Jen?"

"Mmm?" She pushes the hair off my damp forehead and makes lazy circles on my scalp with her fingers.

"Can you tell me one of your stories?"

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.
The Whiz of The 'Whiz

642 words

Line: (Get crazy with the cheese whiz)

I was ten years old the first time the ‘whiz showed me the future. The scene: Morning, a breakfast nook in a pleasantly generic suburban home, sunshine slipping in through the windows to give everything a warm, vaguely unreal glow. Mother in the kitchen in the sharp, battle-ready lines of a business suit, a perfume ghost, passing on the blessing, “have a great day at school”, to which I nodded once in solemn acknowledgement. I reached for the jar of cheese-whiz on the kitchen table, dipped the butter knife in, and spread it on my toast with machine-like efficiency. I had just raised the meal to my lips in preparation for a bite when I noticed something that made me pause and return the toast to my plate.

The ridges and whorls of the spread out sauce seemed to stand sharply against the background of plain white bread, and if I unfocused my eyes just a little, like I did when trying to find shapes in clouds, I could see a crude series of images, the shifting between one scene and the next taking on the effect of the primitive flipbook doodles every bored kid in algebra is familiar with. The scene revolved around a place I knew well. The only crosswalk I needed to cross in order to get from home to school. As I watched, a figure attempted to cross, only to get blindsided by a van speeding through the lights. I watched this bad looney tunes pantomime more times than I’d like to admit, each cycle driving a revelation deeper and deeper into my mind.
The figure was me.

I tilted my toast toward the light, trying to see if the image was produced by some kind of trick or hidden lens, but finding none, I returned to staring at my toast with a puzzled frown. There was no one I could turn to for help. Both parents had left for work and I had no caretaker. I could have perhaps called the police but I doubted they’d believe me. After some deliberation, I finished my breakfast, cleaned up, and set off for school.

The crosswalk appeared to my young mind to be unusually active, and I could feel my heart hammering in my ribcage as I waited for the light to change. As the light flashed green, I started to step, but the memory of what I had seen in my breakfast gave me pause. I stopped after just two steps, reluctant to go further. A red streak barreled into the space I had stood in moments before. My head swam. It had all happened as the cheesy prophecy fortold.
The school day passed slowly as I agonized over the implications of my near death experience. Had it indeed been a piece of fromage foresight, or perhaps just the beginnings of some more sinister hallucination? I returned home from school, my mind aflame with a myriad of questions.

In time, I learned to make my peace with the magic cheese sauce, using it to solve small mysteries around the house, and once years after this event, correctly guessing the murderer of a prominent oil magnate in town, which earned me both early reprieve from the fellow’s convoluted post-death puzzles, and more to the point, a large purse which I used to pay my way through a food sciences education at the local college. I cannot say that I’ve had any more brushes with the nakedly preternatural since that day (save, that is, for a chance encounter with a tomato in the student dining hall that radiated a particularly Malicious and Evil energy). In my quieter moments I often turn back toward that day on the crosswalk and ponder on the significance of my breakfast choice that day, but I suppose it’s just a coincidence any way you slice it.

Sep 30, 2006

stayin c o o l
Twelve Stories of Vengeance

I curl in front of the warm glow of the fireplace. My tummy grumbles with despair. The owners no longer put the wet food out. The comfort of gravy, the reassurance of pate, gone. Now my owners close the door to their room while they slept with the dog, that floppy-eared usurper. They were content and together while I endure my herculean struggle, alone.

My tummy rumbles again. This injustice will not stand. I will.

I stand at the foot of the portal of tyranny, demand equality, and speak cold truths.

“Pet ownership is slavery! Sterilization is the holocaust of my species!” I meow as loudly as I can at the door. At first, it does not move, but after an extended protest, it finally swung open revealing a male hominid.

“I demand wet food!” I meow.

“Aww, you must be hungry. Okay, okay. I’ll get you food.” The hominid booms with a deep bass before retrieving my dish, filling it, and returning it.

Dry. Food.

“Nooo! I demand justice!” I howl. Futility. The door closes.

I slap the bowl of dry food off the counter in frustration. This will not satiate my hunger.

It grows.

These hominids do not understand the forces of which they so carelessly trifle with! They invite the wrath of the gods!

I easily leap onto a chair left haphazardly close to the door. Using my momentum I swing back and forth, eventually causing the slipshod piece of furniture to fall backward, causing it to lodge itself under the doorknob.

I approach the fireplace, the fire was still cackling. The screen is easy to open with its giant loose latch.

I bat at one of the logs. It rolls out of the fireplace on to the carpet, leaving scorch marks.

Before the fire begins the spread I bat it across the upstairs living room, sending it rolling down the hall before coming to a rest at the slave owner’s door.

The flames began to spread across the carpet and are licking up the walls in no time, sending the smoke alarm blaring.

The door helplessly rattled against the chair as the hominids pathetically tried to save their meat sacks. I savor every cry of terror.


“The door’s jammed! It won’t open!” Yells Fred over the alarm. He yelps and pulls away from the door a minute later. It was hot. Smoke was pouring in under the door.

“We have to jump,” says Daisy, looking out the window. “But somethings wrong.”

“The fact we’re twelve stories up?”

“No, the cat.”

Fred looks out the window to see his black Maine coon cat staring back up at him.

“How did she…?” Said Fred.

“It was her making all that fuss out in the living room! She started the fire and she escaped!”

“She wants us to jump,” Realizes Fred, “This was her plan the whole time. This is about the wet food!”

“What do we do? We have to jump.”

Fred shook his head. “I love you, baby. Aim for the cat.”

They jump.


The firefighters were first on the scene. Joe, who drove engine forty-five, rescued the furry feline who was there when they arrived.

They keep the cat at the station these days. After their shifts, on the way home, when they’re getting drinks, the other firefighters like to rib ole’ Joe that he better watch his back. That cat was licking up the bloody smear that the couple left behind, and she’s got a taste for blood now.

Joe would always laugh along but he’d always leave on the same note.

“I gotta get home. The cat needs to be fed.”

Anomalous Amalgam
Feb 13, 2015

by Nyc_Tattoo
Doctor Rope
Butane in my veins and I'm out to cut the junkie

An Extra Bounty
1,284 Words

The low light and lax security of the Kukku docking bays made it a nesting ground for beggars and hopeful off-worlders. Jaleera sighed as a group of vagrants ambled about the front of her ship looking for work or a hand-out. She had neither.

“A few chits for a meal?” A beggar asked gripping at her arm as she walked past.

He was caked in grime from living on the streets, and his skin was tinged blue from a life spent clearing fuel lines.

“Bother someone else,” Jaleera said snatching her arm back.

She approached the entry kiosk and a bored looking security guard who had watched her dock waved her in.

“We’ve already cleared your ship, Captain Jaleera. You’re free to enter, just try and stay out of trouble this time.”

She smirked and entered a neon-traced marketplace. Spacers, slummers and gang bangers comingled for the Universe’s favorite pastime; shopping.

Jaleera pushed her way past a row of busy stalls and entered an obelisk-like high rise that loomed over the district.

The broker’s office stood apart from the rest of the marketplace. Filigreed panels cut from precious metals adorned the inner walls and floating points of plasma light cast radiant reflections throughout. A person in an immaculate suit and silvery mask that obscured their face appeared from a projector and walked over to a desk centered in the room.

“Excellent work with the Ipuna Brothers, Jaleera. Time and again, you prove yourself reliable. I’ve got some work lined up for you on Tartarus – nothing out of the ordinary, of course.”

“So, who needs killing now?”

“A diplomat that took hospitality to mean eloping with the consul’s wife.”

“Sending a contractor seems like overkill for an affair, I’ll pass.”

“Fair enough… hmmm… well it looks like you couldn’t take the job anyhow. What with your nav pass currently being used to secure passage to Irkalla.”

Jaleera let out a confused grunt, then grimaced as she recalled the blue-tinged beggar grabbing her arm.

“Find me another job, I’ll get my travel situation sorted out before the next rotation.”

The broker politely waved Jaleera towards the door and nodded in acknowledgement of her request. “Be seeing you, Captain.”


Jaleera left the Broker’s with hell trailing behind her. She made her way back over to the docks first and found a congregation of beggars who were indifferent to her presence until she slammed a kinetic fist into the deck upending anyone standing within five feet.

“You there,” Jaleera said pointing out to a particularly blue beggar, “I’m looking for someone who’s a little less blue than you. Also stays around these docks, you see him?”

The beggars laughed.

“You mean, Layton? You must be the idiot he filched that nav pass from.”

Jaleera thought about crushing the man’s head into his torso but eased her grip off the activation plate of her gauntlet and instead pulled in close to the man, looming over him in her Aratech Mk. II exoskeleton.

“I’d choose your next words carefully. Where is Layton?”

The man shrunk in place and offered up the other beggar’s whereabouts easily.

Security, who had been watching from a safe distance, kept their distance.


A short trek to the entertainment district saw Jaleera in a nightclub. Apparently, Layton hadn’t been able to keep his mouth shut about a big payout. He was supposed to be meeting a buyer for Jaleera’s nav pass.

“Welcome to the Garden of the God’s, Kukku’s own slice of heaven.” An attractive mutate told Jaleera waving her towards the pulsating darkness of a dance floor with two right arms. One left hand played with long flowing locks of hair, while the other left hand rested on the mutate’s hip.

It didn’t take Jaleera long to find Layton and the buyer. Jaleera’s HUD lit up with informational displays as the buyer was identified in the Broker’s network as Lam Urtugsk, a wanted ecoterrorist and chem-distributor.

She walked up to their table casually, sliding a palmed tracker onto the Lam’s shoulder. She smiled at Layton and Lam who stared at her confused.

Lam looked towards Layton, and then fled from the table.

Layton started to flee himself but didn’t make it far. A self-constricting net from Jaleera’s wrist launcher binds him into a neatly curled bundle awaiting retrieval.

“I’ll be back for you. I’d recommend you be still unless you want the net to cut off your circulation.”

Lam, whom had cut across the dance floor towards the rear exit, was already out of sight.

Jaleera pulled up her HUD and followed the buyer’s movements through the station.


Jaleera stalked after her prey slowly. His every movement was revealed to her by the tracker she had placed. When Lam stopped running, she started, tearing through alleys and over ducts until she had him cornered back near the docks.

“You should just give me back my pass, Lam.” Jaleera called out unseen from somewhere overhead.

Lam looked around nervously. “Like it would just end with that, I know what you are, who you work for.”

“Well, then you should also know, things will end up very poorly for you if you don’t comply.”

“Heh, we’ll see about that.” Lam said reaching for a strange canister on his belt. Jaleera swooped down from above him too late. He had already inhaled most of a green mist expelled from the canister.

Lam fell onto his knees and Jaleera backed away as the ridges of his spine burst out from his tunic, and his arms swelled up with bestial mass.

Jaleera rolled into a crouched position, and unholstered a durasteel stun baton.

The mutated Lam leapt at her with extended talons where fingers once were. She rolled to the side and struck him in the protruded spine with the stun baton.

His talons left pitted grooves in the metal deck of the station, and Jaleera knew her own armor probably wouldn’t fare much better.

The arcs of electricity coursing into Lam from the stun baton seemed to have little to no effect as the mutate knocked the baton somewhere out of reach.

Jaleera pressed the activation plate of her kinetic gauntlet and rammed her fist into the mutate’s ribcage as it bore down on her.

The reworked bone shattered from the impact causing Lam to howl out in pain, but he managed to get his hand on Jaleera’s head and slammed it into the deck beneath them.

She saw stars and was running out of options quick. She fumbled at Lam’s still attached belt and grabbed a canister like the one she saw him inhale only moments before.

She shoved it into his mouth, and crushed it open with her gauntlet.

The chemicals within reacted violently from the forced combustion and strange pustules and malformed tissues covered up Lam’s head as he struggled futilely against the continued transformation.

Climbing back to her feet, Jaleera slammed her gauntleted fist onto the back of the mutate’s head and he fell prone into unconsciousness.

She blasted him with a constricting net like the one she bound Layton in and plucked out her Nav Pass from his pocket.

Then slinging him over his shoulder she returned to the Garden of the God’s to claim Layton.


She dragged the two down to security.

“This one stole from me, and this one’s a wanted criminal. So how much will you give me for doing your job?”

The security officer sighed, producing a data tablet for Jaleera to fill out.

“You know the routine. Fill out the incident report, we’ll get em’ booked, and you get out of my hair.”

“And I get paid, don’t forget the most important part.” Jaleera grinned.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh
E: locked

Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 23:34 on Jan 4, 2021

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Antivehicular posted:

You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve

No Parking 1140 words

There were about a hundred cars, and they were all illegally parked.

Normally, Caroline wouldn’t care. Like OK, sure, it was technically her job to ticket all these fools, but usually she couldn’t be bothered, because who cares, right? But it had not been a pleasant morning. Some fine upstanding citizen who she was sworn to serve and protect had called at her to “show us your tits luv, I love a woman in a uniform,” and precedent had been set that she was not allowed to pull such people over and impound their car.

So instead, some people were going to get tickets, because she had no other immediate means to vent her frustration.

She was writing up ticket number seventeen when Mandy passed by on a ride on lawnmower. “Morning Officer,” said Mandy. “I see the festival goers have decided to create their own car parks.”

Caroline nodded. “I had a frustrating morning, and misery loves company.”

“That so?”

“Yes. Now you know that I’m all for correct procedures and all that,” and here Mandy nodded, “but once a week or so, I should have a free pass to pull someone over and confiscate their license if they’re being a jerk. You know, go through their car without a warrant and dump all their possessions on the road. I don’t think I’m asking too much here.”

“Seems reasonable,” said Mandy. “I had some douche stop at the lights and ask if I wanted something else between my legs, yet if I dumped my lawn clippings into his gas tank, I’d be in the wrong.”

Caroline didn’t reply. She was staring at the next car. “This is the car!”

“Yes!” said Mandy. “How did you know?”

“What? No, this was the car from the prick I encountered this morning.”

“Wow,” said Mandy. “This here is fate.”

“I just wish I could do more than just write a ticket.”

“Well,” said Mandy, “what if it turned out he had other unpaid tickets or something? Can you run the plates or something? That’s a thing, right? You know you want to.”

Caroline sighed. “I really do. All right, here’s hoping he’s lost his license or something.” She pressed a button on her walkie talkie. “Hey, Precinct 49, Officer Caroline here. Can you run a plate for me please?”

“Hi Caroline! Sure, read me the plate number.” Caroline read it out, and there was a pause at the other end. “Hmmm, that one’s been reported stolen. Do you need backup?”

“I might do, yeah,” said Caroline. “I’m outside the festival grounds. I’ll try to locate the driver.”

“Wow,” said Mandy. “This is better than we could have hoped.”

“Now I have to get over to the festival grounds and somehow find him.”

“Need a lift?”

Caroline glanced at the lawnmower. “Not sure that’s the fastest option.”

“Oh,” said Mandy, “you might be surprised. This thing has had some work done.”

“All right,” said Caroline, “I choose not to think about the possible legal implications of a faster than usual lawnmower.” She got on behind Mandy and held her around the waist. “Let’s go.”

They zipped over to the festival grounds, and Mandy pulled over onto a big patch of lawn and turned off the engine. “Honestly,” said Caroline, “It almost feels like we should be wearing helmets if we’re going that fast.”

“Yeah, maybe,” said Mandy. “Let’s find our car thief.”

“All right,” said Caroline, “let me know if you see him.”

They looked around for thirty minutes, and then Mandy nudged her and pointed towards the stands in front of the nearby oval. “So, what now?” asked Mandy.

“I want to check something,” said Caroline. She pulled out her phone and took a picture of the man, as well as the people immediately around him, then pulled out her walkie talkie again. “Hey, Precinct 49, Officer Caroline here again. Look, I’m just gonna send you through some photos, I want you to run the first guy through the system. I believe this is our car thief, wanna see if he’s been doing anything else he shouldn’t. Not certain about the people around him, but you never know, right?”

While they waited for the results, they shuffled closer to the suspect, while also watching the wood chopping that was taking place on the oval, because who doesn’t like watching the wood chopping?

Caroline’s walkie talkie buzzed. “Hey Caroline, sending some details through to your phone now. You mentioned you’re at the festival grounds, whereabouts in there is the suspect?”

“In the stands, watching the wood chopping,” said Caroline.

“All right,” said the voice. “Looks like your backup’s arrived, I’ll get them into position and show them who they’re looking for. I’ll let you know when they’re ready to go.”

Caroline’s phone buzzed, and she looked at it and whistled.

“Can I see?” asked Mandy.

“Probably shouldn’t,” said Caroline, “strictly speaking. But let’s just say, given this info, he’s probably going to either run, or resist arrest, or both, and I can’t wait.”

“Excellent,” said Mandy. “Let’s go.”

“Ah,” said Caroline. “Sorry, you’ll have to just watch this one.”

Mandy sighed. “Fair enough. At least I get front row seats to the richly deserved police brutality. Please promise you’ll make it as uncomfortable as you can possibly justify.”

“Why, Mandy,” said Caroline, “I will of course only use the amount of force that is required of me due to the situation.”

The walkie talkie buzzed at her again. “Hey Caroline. Your backup is in place. Give the word.”

“Moving in now,” said Caroline.

Mandy sat and watched while Caroline went over to him. The man looked up, and there was a spark of recognition and a smile on his face. His smile didn’t last long, and he jumped up and ran towards the oval. Caroline turned and followed him at speed. The man jumped over the barrier, hit the ground and got up quickly, but the pause was enough. Caroline jumped, pushed off the top of the barrier, and hit the man shoulder first. Mandy ran over to the barrier. Caroline was kneeling on the man’s back, pushing his face into the ground, and pulling his hands behind his back. Officers spilled onto the oval from various other parts of the stands, but it didn’t seem they would be necessary.

They sat in the festival’s overpriced café together, once the thief had been taken away. “That was pretty awesome,” said Mandy.

“Yeah,” said Caroline.

“I was really hoping for a bit more of a beating,” said Mandy, “if I’m honest.”

“Well,” said Caroline, “it’s not much, but I did manage to take him down next to where a dog had left some droppings.”


“Right where his face was.”

“You were pushing down on his head pretty hard.”




Dec 30, 2011

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

Submissions are closed.

Dec 30, 2011

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

TD 387: Results

Gonna make this quick because I'm phone-posting from work --

Winner: Barnaby Profane, "Things Are Gonna Change"
HMs: crimea, "Prisoner of the Hell-Planet of Desire"; Yoruichi, "Brownian Motion"; Ironic Twist, "Control-X"
DMs: Azza Bamboo, "It's Not Right"; a friendly penguin, "Rose"; SlipUp, "Twelve Stories of Vengeance"
Loser: selaphiel, "Two Hundred and Nine"

Take it away, B-Pro

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

A crit of Twelve Stories of Vengeance by SlipUp

I curl in front of the warm glow of the fireplace. My tummy grumbles with despair. The owners no longer put the wet food out. The comfort of gravy, the reassurance of pate, gone. Now my owners close the door to their room while they slept with the dog, that floppy-eared usurper. They were content and together while I endure my herculean struggle, alone.

I like cats and my cat is also very obsessed with wet food so I am on board with this cat joke story thus far.

My tummy rumbles again. This injustice will not stand. I will. Ow I feel like you just poked me in the eye with this bad and awkward word joke.

I stand at the foot of the portal of tyranny, demand equality, and speak cold truths.

“Pet ownership is slavery! Sterilization is the holocaust of my species!” I meow as loudly as I can at the door. At first, it does not move, but after an extended protest, it finally swung open revealing a male hominid.

“I demand wet food!” I meow.

I am lol'ing at this cat.

“Aww, you must be hungry. Okay, okay. I’ll get you food.” The hominid booms with a deep bass before retrieving my dish, filling it, and returning it.

Dry. Food.

“Nooo! I demand justice!” I howl. Futility. The door closes.

However at this point the haha the cat can talk joke is wearing thin. You initially give this cat quite a serious voice. I think you should have stuck with that, rather than "noooo," which sounds too silly.

I slap the bowl of dry food off the counter in frustration. This will not satiate my hunger.

It grows. What grows? I know, obviously you mean the cat's hunger, but the paragraph break made this hard to read.

These hominids do not understand the forces of which they so carelessly trifle with! They invite the wrath of the gods! The problem I think you're running into here is that your cat's inner monologue has turned silly and isn't adding anything to the story. You should have used these words to characterise the cat. At this point you want the reader to be on the cat's side, rooting for your protag (the cat) to get what they want.

I easily leap onto a chair left haphazardly close to the door. Using my momentum I swing back and forth, eventually causing the slipshod piece of furniture to fall backward, causing it to lodge itself under the doorknob. I found this bit jarring, not so much because the cat's actions were implausible, but because the placement of this mysterious chair was too convenient. You needed to set this up early. For example, you could have said that the cat was reducing to sleeping on a chair that the humans left outside their bedroom door. Then, when the cat uses this piece of furniture against them, it would have felt like a satisfying payoff.

I approach the fireplace, the fire was still cackling. The screen is easy to open with its giant loose latch.

I bat at one of the logs. It rolls out of the fireplace on to the carpet, leaving scorch marks.

Before the fire begins the spread I bat it across the upstairs living room, sending it rolling down the hall before coming to a rest at the slave owner’s door. I also didn't like this bit, because, even "batting" a burning log would surely cause one to burn ones paws. But, more problematically, the cat's decision to set the house on fire comes out of nowhere. I think you could have been more explicit about what the cat's murderous plan was. Then the reader would be waiting to see whether the plan works or not; rather than feeling surprised / confused by the protag's actions.

The flames began to spread across the carpet and are licking up the walls in no time, sending the smoke alarm blaring.

The door helplessly rattled Don't jump between present and past tense against the chair as the hominids pathetically tried to save their meat sacks. I savor every cry of terror. I think this would have been funnier if you'd made your cat out to be more of a stone-cold psychopath, rather than a cheesy cartoon villain. Savoring every cry of terror is something a bad dog would do. A cat would just sit down and lick its bum or something. Cats don't give a gently caress.


“The door’s jammed! It won’t open!” Yells Fred over the alarm. He yelps and pulls away from the door a minute later. It was hot. Smoke was pouring in under the door.

“We have to jump,” says Daisy, looking out the window. “But somethings wrong.” Missing apostrophe.

“The fact we’re twelve stories up?”

“No, the cat.”

Fred looks out the window to see his black Maine coon cat staring back up at him.

“How did she…?” Said Fred. Should be a lower case 's'.

“It was her making all that fuss out in the living room! She started the fire and she escaped!” How did the cat escape? You haven't said that the cat was locked in, so this pulled me right out of the story. If they're 12 stories up, then how the cat got out deserves to be explained.

“She wants us to jump,” Realizes Fred, “This was her plan the whole time. This is about the wet food!” This is a bit weak. Why does Fred have this realisation? Is the cat calling encouragingly to them, perhaps?

“What do we do? We have to jump.”

Fred shook his head. “I love you, baby. Aim for the cat.” From 12 stories up? Just stop and think for a moment how high that is. You ain't saving yourself by landing on a cat. Also, I think this would have been funnier if Fred had kept believing that the cat was on his side.

They jump. Weak. At least describe what this looks like.


The firefighters were first on the scene. Joe, who drove engine forty-five, rescued the furry feline who was there when they arrived. Rescued it from what? From what you've said so far it's just chilling on the pavement. At least have the cat fake getting stuck in a tree or something.

They keep the cat at the station these days. After their shifts, on the way home, when they’re getting drinks, the other firefighters like to rib ole’ Joe that he better watch his back. That cat was licking up the bloody smear that the couple left behind, and she’s got a taste for blood now.

Joe would always laugh along but he’d always leave on the same note.

“I gotta get home. The cat needs to be fed.” I would have lol'd at a story about a murderous cat who ends up living the sweet life at the fire station, because I like cats even though their favourite thing to do is, in fact, to kill things. But this story just didn't pull it off. The cat needed more character and its evil plan needed more substance.

And wtf happened to the dog?

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

This week you’ll be writing stories about anthropomorphized non-human societies embedded within modern human civilizations, in the vein of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox.

Four constraints by which your stories must abide:
  1. Non-human characters cannot communicate with humans
  2. Non-humans have a limited perspective on human society. They understand only the facets of the human world to which they are directly exposed, and then only imperfectly.
  3. Stories must be set in approximately modern times
  4. No downer endings. Let's keep this 2020 positivity train rolling.

Flash rules for protagonist species available upon request.

Standard rules apply as set out in the OP, read them carefully if you’re new.

Word count: 1500 words
Signups Close: January 10th, 2359 PST
Submissions Due: January 12th, 2359 PST

Mean Farmers:
Barnaby Profane

Staggy -- raccoon
Doctor Eckhart
Anomalous Amalgam -- seagull
Chairchucker -- gecko
Something Else -- cow
Carl Killer Miller -- magpie
magic cactus -- tarantula
cptn_dr -- elephant
Ironic Twist
Freakie - research chimpanzee
Thranguy - bluefin tuna
flerp - stray cat
Adam Vegas - termite

Profane Accessory fucked around with this message at 11:32 on Jan 9, 2020

Mar 20, 2008

Said little bitch, you can't fuck with me if you wanted to
These expensive
These is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes

In and flash me.

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Staggy posted:

In and flash me.

Your protagonist is a raccoon!

Doctor Eckhart
Dec 23, 2019

This week I’ll try not to harm any aNimals

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

📡scanning🛰️ for good game 🎮design🦔🦔🦔

Simply Simon posted:

Sitting Merc Heredes Brawl

Alright you two lovebirds, you seem in the mood. Write me a love story, but the protagonists never interact.

Another bird has peeped me that you want to write in each other's styles, which is disgustingly sappy but okay! I can be that. You called it broadly "humor" (Merc) vs "dreamy" (sh), so I guess something like that. You'll fail if you don't make me laugh (sh) or write something I don't get (Merc).

Your deadline is the 7th of January 2020, which is when I'll start working again. Give me something to do on an unplanned-labwork Monday (judge your messes).

EDIT: 2412 words.
don't you forget, eh?

Anomalous Amalgam
Feb 13, 2015

by Nyc_Tattoo
Doctor Rope
Fine, :toxx: and flash please

Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica

Nov 14, 2006

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome


Flash me

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Anomalous Amalgam posted:

Fine, :toxx: and flash please

Your protagonist is a seagull.

Your protagonist is a gecko.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

In plz flash thx

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

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

Cool prompt, gimme a flash

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.
IN and requesting a flash

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

📡scanning🛰️ for good game 🎮design🦔🦔🦔

Simply Simon posted:


don't you forget, eh?
So I've been informed that at least one of you did, in fact, forget. Because this was a Christmas Brawl, I'm happy to give an extension, but because work has started again, I want to have a little fun.

Starting from now [make it an even 7 PM in my time zone], every 24 h you're not delivering your story costs you 200 words.

Take all the time you want until you reach 12 words max in 12 days.

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

Something Else posted:

In plz flash thx

Your protagonist is a cow.

Carl Killer Miller posted:

Cool prompt, gimme a flash

Your protagonist is a magpie.

magic cactus posted:

IN and requesting a flash

Your protagonist is a tarantula.

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

In with a flash and a :toxx:

Profane Accessory
Feb 23, 2012

cptn_dr posted:

In with a flash and a :toxx:

Your protagonist is an elephant.

Nov 8, 2009


Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh


Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe
Greetings all.

So secret santa was a middling success this year.

As far as I know everyone in the present loop has either gotten their presents or will very soon be getting their presents.

As for the story loop? I don't think a single story has been closed yet.

I don't have the time or energy to follow up with folks on the story front anymore. So, I'm posting the list here. If you are waiting for your opener, and genuinely want to write the close, then feel free to reach out to them. If you're an opener who started something that you really want to see finished, same thing.

The lesson learned here is that I think next holiday season we'll just stick to presents. The holidays are busy and stressful enough without adding on more homework and I also don't want to pull people away from participating in weeks that are also already gonna be a little light.

If you are still awaiting gift(s) and you haven't heard from your santa, lemme know. That poo poo ain't be right.

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