Beck week judge burpin's, pt 1
this was an interesting week, a certain amount of hewing too closely to the prompt - it can be a vague inspiration, be wary of just using it for the entire story - and a hilarious level of failure to make your stories happy.
Amateur geology by Mrenda
This starts off with a delightful hiss and a roar, I love the lightly zany tone and precise control over detail and description, but then gets to the protest and just sort of noodles along for another 800 words before ending, chucking in new characters every now and then. A missed opportunity to do something interesting with the philosophy, for all its excellent prose stylings. 6/10
Something Else, the laughing knight
Much as I like using wench as a verb, your oldie timie mediaeval yoda talk gets irritating fairly quick with its endlessly superfluous ‘did’s. that said, your story has a certain wonky charm and tall tale cleverness, and I think I’d have liked it if you hadn’t leant into your gimmick so hard. 4/10
Doctor Eckhart, the best birthday surprise
These characters have some weird aphasic charm, but the bulk of it comes from your insane prompt and there’s almost nothing in the story apart from that. There are some nice notes of subtlety about her reactions (e.g. ‘I see it’) but it’s like she’s in a different story from the two zany af guys. 5/10
Prisoner of the hell planet of desire, by crimea
This is not particularly novel in its theme or events, but the execution is pitch perfect. I love the way you counterpoint the framing comic story with the sad little irl part, and I like how believably grubby you get with your delvings into our protag nerd’s sad little psych. Hm/w 8.10
Baby, by pththyalyi
Yeah, I like your social realist stylings and your nice control of detail, but this feels more like a fragment than a story; its nice she decides to keep the baby but it doesn’t leave her anywhere different at the end from where she was at the beginning of the story, ykwim? Strong words and admirable precision tho. 7/10
When, by thrangles
Lovely fragment, really hits the dreamy disconnected vibe it was going for, but feels a little thin; why do we care about the brother? What impact does that have on anything? Ditto with the kiss at the end, it’s lovely but disconnected. Def didn’t hate it tho 7/10
It’s not right by azza bamboo
You have a lot of dialogue in here, and it’s fairly bad: my standard advice in these situations is don’t write like people talk, write like people talk in good books. While I think you have a good sense of what your mind camera is seeing, you convey it in the clunkiest way possible. Also: IT’S IS ONLY EVER SHORT FOR IT IS YOU FUCKIN ZOBE no offense I’m sure you’re perfectly nice 2/10 Dm/l
Things are gonna chance, by b pro
This is an assured piece that is comfortable sitting back on its precise relationship observations and minor incidents while setting up a bunch of little dominos to fall, sub stories that lock together in a wonky but appealing way; by itself that’s fine, but the reason it’s a good win pick is the ending, which brings the disparate clutter into focus in a beautiful image 8/10 hm/w
Rose, by a friendly penguin
This is marginally more competent than the other occupants of the sludge-zone in its word-to-word writing but what you use those words to say is oh so insufferable, it’s bad vampire fanfic with the deep thinking charisma dork impressing slightly less deep thinking charisma vacuums with vaguely described nonsense then, idk, something happens, then the story ends and she’s a rose? Did I get that? 3/10
|# ? Jan 8, 2020 03:50|
|# ? Jun 5, 2020 10:03|
i gave you GOLD sh what the gently caress!!!
|# ? Jan 8, 2020 11:46|
In with a flash and a (3 years late) .
|# ? Jan 8, 2020 22:53|
I'd like to judge this week.
|# ? Jan 8, 2020 23:05|
In, with flash
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 00:41|
I will do my best to give crits that aren't just agreeing with Seb.
Mrenda: Amateur Geology
Sebmojo and I were in agreement that this starts strong and is charmingly written. However, it's a very Mrenda story in a negative way: it begins on a strong footing, and then as it gets going it loses track of itself and just rambles for a while until the endpoint. It felt like it was talking without saying much of anything. This is something I've noticed a few times with your writing, and I think you'd enjoy a lot more success tightening things up and giving it a clearer direction.
Something Else: the laughing knight
I found the faux-medieval affectation in this entry obnoxious; you tried too hard to sound like a period piece and crossed into sounding like a parody of medieval stories. Although you didn't do this specific thing, there's a rule when it comes to using phonetic accents in prose that's relevant here: Don't. Leaning into gimmicks is distracting and irritating to the reader unless you can do it extremely well, and if in doubt the answer is "you can't do it extremely well." Think about what you're putting in your story and why, and don't try to sucker in your reader with affectations, because the person reading your story isn't stupid and will absolutely see what you're trying to do.
Doctor Eckhart: the best birthday surprise
I didn't like this one. It was trying too hard to be zany, and nobody in it felt like a real person reacting to real circumstances. This is especially the case with the two men, who don't talk or behave like any reasonable person in possession of all their faculties should and don't manage to make that actually funny. Maybe this would work as a televised comedy sketch, but in prose it's flat and irritating, especially when the main character completely shrugs off the twist at the end. This has nothing in it other than "literally the song line I was given as a prompt," and it isn't really possible to care what happens in a story when the characters themselves don't. Also: animal cruelty isn't funny.
Crimea: Prisoner of the hell planet of desire
I liked the writing and thematic work in this story, and it felt like a rare story this week that was trying to be about something deeper. I wasn't comfortable giving this one the win nod, though, because, although being too much of a prompt stickler is seldom a good thing, it felt off base. This was explicitly meant to be a positive week, and you turned in a bitter, gruelling story about an incel's sour grapes and fraying self-delusions. There was nothing here to suggest there was more to the main character or his story than the "loser comic book reader" stereotype, and there isn't much happening here beyond rubbing our noses in his spiritual dirt. If there was a sense of the story going anywhere, or anything advancing, or the prompted "light at the end of the tunnel," I'd probably look at it better. As it is I felt like it was a good entry, but a bad fit for the week.
I had mixed feelings about this premise, and I'm thinking about if my initial impression of the story is even fair. On the one hand, this is a real situation people deal with all over the place all the time; somewhere, a young woman is probably dealing with this exact dillemma as I type these words. On the other, you lay these circumstances on so thick the reader almost has to wade through it, and it ends on a bit of a cop-out; in judgechat, one judge pointed out a story about a character making a tough decision should probably include the actual decision, and another felt this ended where it should have began. One funny thing is that sebmojo thought she decided to keep the baby, while I read it as her being resolved to get the abortion. I'm going to contradict myself just a little and say I think that ambiguity is in the story's favour; the ending, then, is less about what she chooses and more that it's her choice, which she's happy with either way. This is a bit of a cliché ending though, and I wish you had done something to shake up the Abortion Story Formula, especially as the whole story leading up to that piles in one trope after another - the teen dad-to-be who skips out immediately, the mother who'd make her keep the baby, so on and so forth. The prose doesn't do this any favours; the writing is very blunt and comes down more on the side of telling us things rather than really pulling us into Elena's world and making us feel things as she does. But then, that can work in its own way, and not every story needs to be written like Nabokov. Is that really a fair way to assess it? I don't know.
I would, however, say ditch italicised thoughts. They're amateurish and weaken your prose; all narration is your protagonist's thoughts, and while this is much more literally true in first person, the same applies to third. Use your prose and narration to show us your character's thoughts and feelings, rather than straight up telling us through italicised text. Please don't be discouraged, though; as first entries go, this wasn't bad at all, and I'd love to see you stick around.
This is a sweet little snapshot, with nice dreamy prose, but it's wafer-thin, with nothing of interest below the surface. There's no real arc here, or a sense of why this is happening, or who the people involved even are, and it's hard to recommend this story above the rest of the pack. A classic "Thranguy story" problem is entries that feel like a) a summary of a story or b) you chopped out the beginning or middle of something longer and plopped it down, and this is solidly an example of B. Give this some connective tissue and it feels like it would be a great ending to a longer story. I did enjoy reading what was there, though.
Azza Bamboo: It’s not right
Bad. This story boils down to "did you know capitalism bad?" in 1200 words, and feels very much like My First TD Entry + a CSPAM post blended together. Of course, it literally was your first entry, so look on the bright side: you can only go up from here. Most of this is extremely earnest back and forth dialogue; you don't have the space for this sort of thing in a TD entry, and the consequence in this case is I felt like I was being preached at, not told a story. Flash fiction is about capturing a moment, and 1200 words sounds like a lot but once you actually get to writing it runs up on you very quickly. Be efficient with your words and consider exactly where your story is going. Also, proofread, and never use it's when you mean its again
Benny Profane: Things are gonna change
I'll need some time to think up a substantive crit of this, but I generally concur with seb. Something I liked about it, that made it stand out above the other entries, is there's a sense of real kindness to its ending; it felt most like the kind of story Anti was asking for.
A Friendly Penguin: Rose
You were trying entirely too hard to "write well" here. The sort of "writing well" that entails overwrought prose and far too much time spent on trying to look impressive. I know what that looks like because I've done it myself. Like I said to Azza, you don't have the wordcount to do things like that, and like I said to Something Else, your reader will spot what you're doing immediately and just get annoyed. Think about the story you're trying to tell, and how you can best portray what you're going for in the space you have. Also, don't have your "happy ending" be a woman literally transforming into a man's inanimate accessory.
Slip-Up: Twelve Stories of Vengeance
Cats: Good. This story: Not. Yoru's linecrit is very insightful and you should read it thoroughly; I'm largely in agreement with her, and think you can learn a lot from what she had to say. The big problem with this story is there really isn't anything to it beyond "lol cats." It even throws in the "cats are all evil masterminds and your cat is actively plotting to murder you" cliché/internet meme, and much like the drive by piercing/birthday party story, I found this to be all silliness and no character or meat. Reading it with fresher eyes I actually think maybe this should have lost instead of 209.
This is comprehensively bad and, amusingly, feels like the complete opposite of the prompt. It's also carelessly written, with a glaring typo in the very second sentence. I'm actually a little angry this story exists and was tempted to just put down "gently caress this story" and leave it there. Judge pandering is typically poor form, but for the future, writing an animal cruelty story in a week I'm judging is a good way to instantly be my loss pick, especially when you involve a puppy. On top of my personal objections to it, I consider it lazy; you're grabbing the reader by the throat and screaming "FEEL BAD ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE" in their face instead of earning their emotional investment. Your prose is dry as a bone, and I see what you're going for here: you want a very clinical, blunt narration that will drive home the horror of these experiments by starkly portraying them with no embellishments. That isn't how it reads, though; this is blunt misery porn, and the end result is somewhere between boring and outright laughable. This note will sound a little bizarre, but you don't really do anything to make these characters feel real - their voices and mannerisms read as completely human, and while this is likely an intentional gesture (anthropomorphising the victims of animal experimentation to engender empathy) it makes me feel like I'm reading about two guys in animal suits.
Twist: Control X
This story essentially got second place, because the judges liked Benny's story, particularly its ending, just a little better. You did a good job at something most stories this week were trying to do: balance dark elements with an ultimately happy core. Your turns of phrase are great, and I found this story enjoyable just on merit of its prose, even before considering the rest. Lia's trash-absorbing power is a great metaphor, and while I'm generally hazy on speculative elements I actually feel like it suits this story perfectly. I'll need to do some thinking to find much of anything to poke at here.
Carl Killer Miller: Lone Loveseat
I personally don't like opening a story with dialogue. Disembodied floating heads don't do much to earn a reader's attention off the bat, and in flash fiction you have to grab their interest right away and run it like you're going for a touchdown, because you just don't have enough space to lose people. I do like this, though. These people feel like an actual couple, talk like actual people, and there's something charmingly realistic about a fight blowing up over something so silly, especially with how despite said silliness there's a reason it caused real hurt. Dwayne and Eric's conversation has a similar vibe, to me, and I overall found it a pleasant read. I do find the prose a little dull, though, in need of more life, and you resort to bluntly telling the reader what your character thinks and feels a lot. First person is a direct link between the reader and your protagonist's inner thoughts, and while Dwayne certainly isn't a walking camera, I think you can stand to unpack his feelings and reactions more, rather than just saying things like "I felt sad." You could have gone into the drowning metaphor a little, for instance.
Flerp: Up There
This story lays it on so thick it's positively maudlin, and I'm not sure if you were trying for comedy with the litany of deaths around the protagonist but it certainly came off that way, to the point that my usual hard-stop (dog death) didn't even give me pause because it seemed ridiculous. I honestly would have stuck with either the mother or the grandfather, maybe one other to keep the idea this is a pattern, and gone on with the story from there, because I get what you're trying to do - someone surrounded by death, grief, loss, etc. finding hope through nursing this bird back to health - but it's just over the top. I'm a little confused by this story because I don't know if you're trying to parody these sorts of tales or being dead serious, leaving me unsure how to react or best give feedback to it.
Yoruichi: Brownian Motion
I overall thought this was a good story, and you're in good form. That made this crit difficult to write because I feel the need to find something to pick at, or at least something more substantial to post than "good job," especially since it begs the question of why one story won and another didn't. I'll probably have to revisit this, because I can't really come up with much of anything beyond it lacking the certain je ne sais quoi that makes a story stand out enough to be a solid win pick. It was a nice story and Jim and Sharon felt very human, but I feel like it needed something more. I plan to revisit this to try to sink my teeth into it more.
Magic Cactus: The Whiz of The 'Whiz
I have to make the troubling admission that I'm having a hard time coming up with any opinion of this piece and I'm not sure why. I'm amused by the notion of cheese-based premonitions, and some of the ways you play with words here, but it feels almost more like a long, rambling anecdote than a story. But then, that could be me having an overly narrow definition of "a story." I think, though, that you would have had more success narrowing this down to a particular narrative, maybe focusing on one of the specific events mentioned in this, and giving the reader something to invest in rather than telling them Things What Happened Because Cheese.
Anomalous Amalgam: An Extra Bounty
Garden of the God’s
Loss. But jokes aside, this feels like a bog standard sci-fi romp that doesn't really try to be more. That's honestly disappointing, since I do believe you can write more substantial stories when you try.
Chairchucker: No Parking
This is better than It's Not Right, the characters more interesting and better-realised, but it still has that pitfall of the story being almost entirely back and forth dialogue. That isn't inherently bad - wordcounts are limited, and people do have conversations about things - but it's somethng to keep an eye out for. I think you do a good job establishing these people and their relationship in a short space, and this does feel like one of the more human stories of the week. However, I cannot in good conscience praise a story that, essentially, presents police brutality as a good thing. You wrote an entry about a cop looking for an excuse to brutalise somebody and the only other major character in the piece cheering it on and saying it's "richly deserved" because the person was a bit rude before the story starts. Maybe that's not a crit of the actual story, at that point, but I still find it distasteful and you were honestly lucky stories like 209 and Twelve Stories of Vengeance were in this week. All cops are bastards means ALL cops.
Flesnolk fucked around with this message at 17:26 on Jan 10, 2020
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 03:11|
Please don't be discouraged, though; as first entries go, this wasn't bad at all, and I'd love to see you stick around.
Aww, thanks! Honestly, I'm just happy I didn't get a loss or a DH - I would have been shocked if I got a win or a HM my first time around. I will try and take your and other people's criticisms to heart and do better in the future.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 04:16|
Crits week 387, from a DM so, you know…
Mrenda Amateur Geology
Your story has a lot. A lot of clauses and complex sentence structures, a lot of details, a lot of possibilities. I like the small anecdote that you start with, and it leads to the rest of your story nicely. Though the declaration of despising chimpanzees to the eventual change in this perspective doesn’t quite match. A different tense in the verb would work just as well.
I like the main character’s decision to start a protest against the chimpanzees. It’s incredibly ridiculous since they are the only ones who can stop the behavior and they’ll have no idea that this protest is even going on. But I would have liked at least one more line detailing the main character's thinking as to why he thought a protest was the answer.
I think you went a little overboard on the philosophy portion. I know that the idea is for the reader to be as confused as the protagonist with the use of the jargon, but in a story that’s only 1500 words, I think the balance is slightly off.
The part after the ## seems unnecessary and tacked on. I like the thought behind them, but I think you could have stopped just before that.
Something Else The Laughing Knight
Your story structure mostly works. It has the air of a barroom tale which is perfect. It’s got a lyrical quality to it which keeps the story moving. It’s weighed down at times with what can feel like extraneous details. For instance naming Tom’s son but only referring to him once more without him playing a significant role could probably have been dropped. And other times the “did [verb]” construction feels a little off. But I can’t exactly pinpoint why. The positive ending requirement is a bit of a stretch, but it’s exactly how a story like this always seems to end though, so I think it fits.
Otherwise, it’s just the kind of story I would like to listen to and enjoy, but that’s about all. I can’t find anything more behind it to make me go “hmm”. Nothing wrong with that.
Doctor Eckhart The best birthday surprise
There are times when I read stories in TD and I just don’t understand them at all. This is one of those times. To me the story seems random and haphazard with characters that are one dimensional. I don’t see a growth from beginning to end. The whole thing seems like a long joke to go with your prompt. But you do write very well. I smiled at various portions of the story. So perhaps I am not the right reader for this story.
Crimea Prisoner of the Hell-Planet of Desire
You took on a big burden by choosing the definitive line in the song and I think you delivered. Great setup. Good weaving it through the whole story. The story is simple, but where it excels is in the comparison between the comic and the life events which gives it the complexity it needs in such a short word count. I’m not sure that I always understand the exact correspondences but I see enough of them that I’ll just assume that I’m missing something.
All of your choices for this story are expected. The topic, the characters the dilemma. All of it is a story I think I’ve heard many times before. I wish the ending hadn’t been left as ambiguous. You had more words, so I think you could have added something different or more complex here. The plot line is too easy. I like your descriptions though. The pill bottle the size of a toddler’s head, the snot-making sobs, etc. I was puzzled over the “you probably don’t want to get into a car with a strange woman” but that is literally what an uber is! And I’m not actually sure that it would be any safer in reality. Safe entry.
A vignette about sexual discovery. It leaves me wanting more which is good and bad. Lots of questions. What about Carrie? What other times are they going on these escapades? Are they spying on other people or just going for joy rides? All of the details are lovely and fit with the characters, the steering wheel locking up, the grounding. I like it.
Azza Bamboo It’s not right
I found this story confusing and without enough detail to understand who people were and what they were doing and beyond survival, why they were doing it. Some grammar issues. No real character growth, just some abrupt character change. I like the part where Jess doesn’t give up her phone even though the battery is dead. That speaks to some hope she has, some reason she has for holding on. But that isn’t explored at all. You appear to be going for the evolution of someone on the streets, but you spend too much time establishing things. The reader needs to be able to jump right into the action with strategic details in very short fiction. If you want to keep thinking about this one, perhaps start where your story ends.
Benny Profane Things are gonna change
Your narrative is simple and easy and it works. As a reader I’m immediately engaged with the characters and how relatable every aspect of the story is. Your show to tell ratio is perfect as each detail leads the reader to the correct knowledge about your characters’ personalities, insecurities, and desires. For me the plot is always the most important part of a story and the art of it always comes after I’ve enjoyed the telling. And you have made me enjoy both at the same time. Spot on, thanks!
Yoruichi Brownian Motion
I like what you did with your prompt. That was a difficult one. I don’t know whether this was just how I read it but for some reason everything felt very fast in this story. Maybe it was the personality/dialogue of your characters? I like your story. It’s nice. Two people meeting under interesting circumstances, getting to know each other briefly, sharing a hobby, possibly more to come. Nails the positivity asked for this week. But I don’t see anything more in this story. It makes me smile, but doesn’t make me think any further.
Flerp up there
I’m always intimidated by your stories because I know there’s something I’m missing in every single one of them probably because you’re a much subtler writer than I am a reader, but this one I enjoyed and think I understood a little more. I was also interested to see where you went with your prompt. I liked your themes of death being uncontrollable and taking action in whatever way you can. I like that the choice of action changes in the story and transforms into a story about life rather than death. Your comparisons are good. Comparing his mother to a metronome in particular I thought was good. But who knows. I’m probably getting all this wrong and still not understanding.
Selaphiel Two hundred and nine
Your conceit just doesn’t work. Any time you have a concept that is beyond our experience of our own lives, you have to write it in such a way as to get your reader to suspend their disbelief. We have to think that this is possible, but there are too many inconsistencies, not enough detail, and not enough interest generated in your characters. This story just made me sad thinking and even the possibility of escape didn’t make it better. One of the biggest issues is your dialogue. It’s all too much. Simpler is better. Also, try reading your story out loud. That might help it sound less stilted.
Carl Killer Miller Lone loveseat
I like a story about self reflection but I was bored by this one. I like what you did with your prompt. The whole thing is a story with a beginning, middle and end. The characters feel real. The situation is all too real. The drunk guy feels too self-aware in his inebriation despite his seeming lack of awareness of how it makes him look, if that makes sense. It just seems to hit too on the nose. Couple of typos.
magic cactus The Whiz of the ‘whiz
This made me smile and chuckle. Fromage foresight is a fantastic phrase. The story is completely ridiculous and not really a story and doesn’t seem to have any greater purpose than to smile at, but you did what you could with your song line. Though I would have been excited to see a more serious attempt at a story.
Slipup Twelve stories of vengeance
This is not good. Breaking it up over three different viewpoints takes away your word count for making even one of them worth something. All of the actions taken by all of the characters are taken for granted by you, there is no ambiguity. Everything that happens is what was always going to happen. The cat sees no other possibilities. The people see no other possibilities. None of it seems natural in any way. Though your cat seems more believable than the weasel in Selaphiel’s story, so there’s that I guess. If you use “of which” you don’t need “with” at the end of the sentence.
Anomalous Amalgam An Extra Bounty
Not bad. Any time you stray into fantasy or scifi it can be difficult to set up an entirely new world in so few words. I’m glad that you set up some of the tech that was available to people in this universe and that you gave more people access to it than just the protagonist. It’s a simple narrative and all action. I like the way you describe the action because it was easy to follow the moves of the two involved. Some action sequences have too much going on or you lose track of who is doing what. I wish there was a bit more here about her history with security and that there was a little more banter there. Also don’t use whom.
Ironic Twist Control-X
I won’t tell you how long it took me to get your prompt reference. Not that long, but I still had to think about it. Very clever. It’s a weird story and I like weird stories. You make it look effortless to have characters with realistic personalities, acting in ways that support your narrative and their characterization. And it all just works well together. The setup, the realization, the conclusion. It fits together nicely and without much in the way of extraneous detail. One small typo of too instead of to and I only point that out because you might want to do more with this.
Chairchucker No Parking
Literal prompt following in this one. Misogynist gets what’s coming to him. How did the precinct look up the guy based on a picture? Maybe I’m not hip to what sort of police state we live in, but I don’t think photo matching capabilities are that accurate yet. Who’s Mandy and how does she know Caroline? Does she live on that road and this is Caroline’s usual beat? Why is she on a riding lawn mower? Presumably to cut grass, but there’s no indication of that. The way you present it makes it seem like she’s just out for a Sunday drive and happens to see her friend. These are the questions I find myself asking and these aren’t good questions for your readers to ask. I did agree that everyone likes a good wood chopping.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 05:27|
One small typo of too instead of to and I only point that out because you might want to do more with this.
gently caress. poo poo. rear end.
thank you for the crit(s)!
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 05:42|
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 08:06|
Thanks for the crits, guys. Harsh but fair, and that’s what I’m here for.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 09:24|
In with a flash and a (3 years late) .
Your protagonist is a research chimpanzee.
I'd like to judge this week.
Glad to have you!
In, with flash
Your protagonist is a bluefin tuna.
Your protagonist is a stray cat.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 10:04|
I’m in. Flash me.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 10:28|
I’m in. Flash me.
Your protagonist is a termite.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 10:32|
Busy weekend, early entry
A wasp walks into a nectar chamber. The other wasps gathering around the pool of nectar turn their heads as she walks in; she’s dragging a larva beneath her.
“Can I have some?” she asks in an outlander’s accent.
“You ain’t from Plum-Tree, are ya?” growls the biggest of the five native wasps.
“Please, I am passing through for food and a night’s shelter. I mean no trouble here.”
The native wasps start to walk toward her.
“Is that a Garden-Shed accent? I thought Garden-Shed was destroyed by the humans’ poison bombs.”
“It was,” says the traveler. “And maybe if one of you Plum-Tree fools hadn’t stung a human, they wouldn’t be waging war on every nest in Lawn.”
“We ain’t in Lawn, are we?” says the biggest Plum-Tree wasp. “The humans ain’t gonna venture out so far as Meadow to hunt wasps.” She eyes the larva tucked beneath the newcomer. “Say, what kind of responsible wasp brings a kid into a nectar chamber?”
“Just let ‘er drink,” says the littlest native wasp. The biggest wasp steps aside and let’s the traveler in.
“You know, I’m surprised that Garden-Shed fell so easily,” says the littlest. You always heard stories of Bzzzt, Lawn’s greatest warrior, guardian of Garden-Shed. But not even she could hold back the humans. Did you know her, stranger?”
The traveler swallows a mouthful of nectar. “Yeah, I knew her.”
“Say, what kind of larva is that?” barks the biggest.
“Just a drone,” says the traveler. “Last drone of Garden-Shed.”
“Beetleshit,” says the biggest. “No drone is still a larva this close to winter. There’s only one kind of wasp that is.”
Every Plum-Tree wasp is looking attentively at the newcomer.
“You know, Queen Rzzzd would give a whole caterpillar to whoever brought her the last Garden-Shed queen larva.”
There’s a moment of stillness, then the Plum-Tree wasps pounce at the newcomer. She pushes the larva to the corner of the chamber and—
Four Plum-Tree wasps lie dead in the nectar. Only the biggest survived, for she had not attacked the newcomer. Instead, she had flown for the larva during the fight.
“So the stories are true, then, Bzzzt. You really are the fastest stinger in Lawn,” says the Plum-Tree survivor, holding the squirming larva in her legs. “Too bad not even you can keep me from handing your precious princess over to the queen!”
“That’s not my princess,” says Bzzzt. “That’s my queen. Let her go and you might live long enough to die by frost.”
The survivor smiles cruelly as dozens of wasps from the adjacent chambers swarm into the nectar room.
“All hail Rzzzd, Queen of the Almighty Plum-Tree Nest!” proclaims the Royal Herald. The queen sprawls luxuriously on the Plum-Paper Throne with the screaming, wriggling larva in her lap. Her most elite soldiers line the walls and ceiling of her royal chamber. Two soldiers drag Bzzzt into the throne room.
“Aah, so this is the great Bzzzt, hero of Garden-Shed,” says Rzzzd dryly. “Been here all of a sunset and you’ve murdered four good wasps.”
Bzzzt stays silent.
“Let me let you in on a secret,” says Rzzzd. “When Plum-Tree joined the Ten-Nest Alliance, we didn’t realize that meant the other nine nests would feel entitled to eat of our plums, to delight in our treasures. So I ordered that human stung so that they would turn their rage on Stone-Wall and Sandbox and Ground-is-Wood and Garden-Shed. I knew Meadow would be safe, but that the scum-wasps of Lawn would be purged.
“Come Spring, my larvae will have nests of their own. There will be no Plum-Tree Nest, only a Plum-Tree Empire, ruling over both Meadow and Lawn, and there will be no Lawn-Wasps left to stop me.”
The queen looks down at the poor larva.
“I could raise this one as my own. Make her a Plum-Tree Vassal Queen. But she would grow resentful, maybe rebellious. Do you have any last words for your queen, Bzzzt?”
Bzzzt continues to look at the floor. “You’ve never seen a thousand larvae drowning in a sea of poison. Your friends and comrades try to flee, but their wings are too heavy with toxin. Horrors beyond any wasp’s imagination. If you had seen what happened at Garden-Shed, maybe even you wouldn’t be so heartless as to gloat about it.
“Give the child back to me, and I will let my revenge go unsatisfied. Then you can found your great empire. But bring your stinger any closer to my queen, and your people will pray they had suffered the humans’ poison in the stead of the doom I will bring upon them.”
The queen starts to laugh, but before the first chortle has left her thorax, the two guards restraining Bzzzt are already dead by her legendary stinger.
“Kill her!” Queen Rzzzd commands, and a hundred elite Plum-Tree soldiers swarm at Bzzzt. Seconds later, Bzzzt is climbing out of the pile of their corpses.
“Drop...the...child,” Bzzzt snarls at Rzzzd. Rzzzd is alone now, no more a queen than any other sniveling bug. She lets the larva go, and it wriggles across the floor to its guardian.
“Please, I’m sorry, you can go, you can go, just spare Plum-Tree,” Rzzzd stammers.
Bzzzt pins Rzzzd against her flimsy paper chair. “You don’t have long to live, Plum-Queen, so listen close. Your children, the founders of your empire, will know what happened when a Garden-Shed wasp came to Plum-Tree. Come Spring, your people will have your empire across all of Lawn and Meadow, and my queen will have but a single nest. But it will be your people, as many as the stars, who will live in fear.”
Bzzzt embeds her stinger in Rzzzd’s abdomen. Rzzzd emits a pathetic final buzz and perishes.
Bzzzt collects her charge, the Queen and final hope of Garden-Shed, and flies from the nest.
|# ? Jan 9, 2020 19:12|
Edit edit: gonna write it now and think the flash request wasn’t seen which was fair so I will just pick an animal
arbitraryfairy fucked around with this message at 00:43 on Jan 12, 2020
|# ? Jan 10, 2020 10:57|
|# ? Jan 10, 2020 19:33|
|# ? Jan 10, 2020 22:39|
|# ? Jan 11, 2020 05:10|
|# ? Jan 11, 2020 07:07|
Signups are closed.
|# ? Jan 11, 2020 08:29|
A Song From Over the Floorboards
“I wish you'd stand still, Mote Quickwhisker,” Cinder said, walking around his brother and shaking his head.
“You made the sleeves too long again,” Mote said, the heavy floral material swishing on the floor as he pattered his front paws.
“I made them the regular length.”
Mote wrinkled his nose. “Exactly. Too long.”
“I'll take them up five mill,” Cinder said, helping his brother out of the coat.
“Ma, why don't you try it on? You need a new cold weather coat,” Mote suggested.
Ma chuckled from the daybed in the corner. When they were pups, the whole family could snuggle on there together, but now she and Pa, snoring beside her, both hung over the sides. “You're all right, my love,” she said, waving a paw and jostling Pa. “My old one's just fine.”
“No it ain't, it's full of holes,” Pa said, putting a paw through a hole in her coat to tickle the exposed fur.
“Oh no, stop it,” she giggled, tickling him back.
Bit and Flake burst through the door, shoving each other in an attempt to get in first. Mote's eyes widened as he saw what they had brought.
Still jostling, they slung their packs onto the floor. “Great haul today!” Flake said.
“Mine's best!” Bit said.
There was a bump as Ma and Pa fell off the daybed.
“Well done, loves!” Ma said, pushing away Pa's tickling paws. She gave him a hard shove and he rolled off her.
Pa lumbered back onto the daybed, lay down in the middle and immediately shut his eyes. Ma twitched her whiskers, then hauled herself up and lay down on top of Pa, ignoring his grumbling.
“What did you bring for supper?” Mote asked.
“Nowt for nudies!” Flake said, laughing.
“Nudie Mote!” Bit said, opening his pack so it covered his sister's.
Mote tried to get back into his warm weather jacket so fast that he fell over.
Crumb climbed down the ladder from upstairs. “Someone say supper?” she said, jumping down from the third rung.
“On today's menu there's the usual selection of breads and cheeses,” Flake said, shoving her brother's pack so she could open her own. Crumb, Cinder and Mote gathered round to marvel at the feast.
“Plus there was loads of these crunchy things. They're really salty,” Bit said.
“Bit Quickwhisker! You're not supposed to eat things before we get down here!” Flake chided.
“I mean, I don't know what they taste like.”
Mote reached out a paw towards the pile of crunchy things. Bit slapped it away. “Let us prepare Ma and Pa's portions first!”
“Oh yeah, sorry.” Mote cowered back and sat beside his siblings while Flake and Bit prepared generous helpings for their parents.
“Could use a paw upstairs after,” Crumb said.
“I don't think the cold times are the best to build an extension,” Cinder said.
“Some of us don't want to wait another season to start a family. Besides, I already started making the hole.”
“It's a bit too soon to be thinking about babies, Crumb,” Mote said. Their parents were happily tucking into their supper from the daybed, so he was finally allowed to grab a morsel. Bit was right, it was salty.
“It ain't, we're grown,” Crumb said, “ and Ma and Pa want grandpups.”
“We do indeed,” Ma said, smiling with her mouth full.
“Might wanna hurry up before we kick the bucket,” Pa said, spraying food from his mouth.
“Don't say that Pa,” Mote said.
“Why? It's true.”
“Everyone shut up, you're not eating fast enough!” Bit said.
Nobody argued, and the rate they could shove food into their mouths increased substantially. While no-one was watching, Mote shoved a pawful of salty bits under his jacket.
Only a few scraps of food remained when they all sat back with bellies full to bursting.
“What are those salty things?” Cinder asked.
“Yeah, you can get more of them, love,” Ma said.
“Dunno,” said Bit.
“There was loads of them all over though. Closer than usual, too,” Flake said.
“Hardly had to fight with the other families at all to fill up,” Bit said.
“Right. Need a volunteer, I do,” Crumb said.
“I'll help,” Mote offered.
“No offence, Mote, but I was thinking of someone, er, longer. Bit too much stretching for you.”
“I've got some sewing to finish,” Cinder said.
“I'll help once I've digested this lot,” Bit said, patting his belly.
“Me too,” said Flake.
Mote sighed. “Well, I'm meeting friends anyway.”
“Not that manky Dust Dreamtail, I hope!” Pa said.
“I've got other friends,” Mote said, and saw Cinder give him a sidelong glance. “Besides, what's wrong with Dust?”
“Not exactly a family mouse, him.”
“That's not a nice thing to say,” Mote said.
“Feel sorry for him, me,” Ma said.
“Hope that ruckus doesn't keep me awake all night again,” Pa said.
“What ruckus?” Ma asked.
“End times coming, probably,” Pa said.
Their conversation faded away as Mote slipped out of the door.
He made his way along the street past the family homes of other mice. Another mouse bumped into him sideways. The food he had shoved into his jacket came tumbling out.
“Ey up,” said Dust.
“All right, Dust?” Mote said, bumping him back. “You always make me drop the food I'm saving for later.”
“You shouldn't ask no questions about where it comes from then,” Dust said, gathering up the food with a grin.
Mote smiled as he watched Dust scoff the food, remembering the time he had first offered him leftovers and he'd slapped them out of his paw and walked off in a huff. Dust's fur was a rather nice dark grey that Mote was rather jealous of. Mote and his whole family were a uniform shade of mid-brown. There had not been any other mice Dust's colour for a while now.
“Think my sister's looking for a mate,” Mote said.
“Which one?” Dust asked as he fell into step with him.
“Crumb. But I expect Flake will be too, soon.”
“Don't matter, they're both scary. You're gonna have to try harder than that to get me to join the Quickwhiskers,” Dust said. “So, did you hear it last night?”
“The noise the Bigs were making!” Dust said, his whiskers twitching in excitement.
“Must have slept through it. But my Pa heard a ruckus.”
Dust quirked his head to one side and his ears twitched. “Did you hear that?”
Mote felt his ears twitch too. A deep rhythmic rumbling came from above. Mote felt it pulse through his body. “What do you think it means? Are they calling for help?”
Dust held out a paw. “Wanna come see?”
“Might as well.” Mote took Dust's paw without hesitation. They quickly resorted to merely scampering side by side, as walking while holding paws isn't very practical for mice.
Dust pushed the flap of the egress open, and coloured lights illuminated the side of his face and glinted in his eyes.
Mote opened his mouth but the noise swallowed his words. The world beyond was a swirl of movement and light that overwhelmed his senses. Something compelled him to jump and both he and Dust rolled through the egress, tumbling out into the overworld.
There were far more Bigs here than Mote had ever seen together. They were all moving and stomping in their big black paw coverings. His Ma always said the Bigs weren't dangerous unless they saw you. Dust dragged him to his feet and swung him round, and Mote found himself swaying and stomping like the Bigs. They wove around the Bigs' paws to the beat of the irresistible noise.
An armoured paw covering was right above him, getting bigger and closer. Mote froze. His heart pounded as Dust pulled him out of the way.
The floor here was littered with more of those salty morsels. The Bigs seemed to be unaware, and stomped them into smaller pieces. Dust crunched on one and threw another to Mote.
Just as he was recovering from the shock, something black and shiny dropped. Mote pulled Dust out of the way. Mote examined it cautiously. This would make some good cold weather coats, and it was plain instead of the usual ugly flower patterns. Its shine reminded him of Dust's fur. Mote hoped there would be some material left for him. He wasn't sure why it had five sleeves though.
Dust saw what he was thinking and helped him drag the material back through the doorway. He realised he wasn't ready to leave the noise behind. Stepping out again, Mote offered Dust a paw. And he took it.
|# ? Jan 11, 2020 13:53|
Lub wub. My heart thrashed in my chest when I heard the car tires scrambling for grip. I whipped my head up toward the frightening sound and that’s when I saw a hero born.
I caught glimpses of him. The color of a Hawaiian shirt as he effortlessly slipped through the air to disappear in front of the car sliding toward him. Angelic wings of dust hugged him as he rolled backward through an explosion of debris holding two small children in his arms. The car clipped him, just barely, yet he kept the children safe.
I lost sight of him as the swell of ,bodies ran to assist. I remembered to exhale.
A comfortable warmth spread down from my chest as I replayed the scene over in my head. What if I were the one he saved instead of the child? Embraced in his thick, muscular arms. I would have to find some way to repay him for putting his life on the line to save me.
Who am I kidding? I tucked my stringy hair behind my ears and withdrew into myself. Hunched shoulders and stooped head over my manga. I’m invisible. I’ve slinked through life used to the shadows. No one would care. No one knows I exist.
People parted like curtains as the ambulance arrived. And there he was; for another brief moment, Mr. Hawaiian shirt. It would be nice if someone cared.
I found him when I searched for news of the accident later that night. My heart ached as if I lost something precious. poo poo, he was beautiful. I fell into the sky that is his eyes, allowing myself to be weightless in his gaze. I felt him. It was an undeniable connection. The one. My one. My soul mate.
I blinked rapidly as I reclaimed my sense of self. Someone this perfect has to have done some amazing things in their life. I knew his name. I bit my lip. He was really handsome. I can almost imagine him paying attention to me, paying me compliments and other things I’ve read in my books. The warmth in my chest was back and it was rapidly spreading downward. I would cook him a nice dinner. I could learn. I could be the perfect girlfriend. A shuddering breath escaped my lips as I touched myself. I wondered if he would be gentle with me.
The tendrils of my dark thoughts dug their icy claws into me and dumped water on my fantasy with words of hatred. No one would want a flat chested tomboy like you I said to myself. You’re so ugly, no one would even want to surprise sex you, I said and believed it. I remembered the look on the face of a boy I liked when I asked him to watch a movie with me and knew it was true. But I wanted to have this one nice thing for myself so bad. No one would get hurt.
He’s way out of your league, I savagely taunted myself. I honestly couldn’t help it.
I glanced at his picture once more. I sighed, flipped the laptop closed and went to bed.
It was just a peek, I convinced myself. It was a craving I just couldn’t shake off; like a sudden pang for candy, except it wouldn’t go away. Would have never realized how easy it was to find him on Facebook. When I clicked on his profile, I grimaced when I the prompt told me I had to be his friend before I could look through his pictures.
My thoughts emerged once again. If he saw a picture of you, he’d probably throw his computer away.
I reluctantly agreed with myself, but my curiosity was too strong. My eyes wandered over to some of his other friends. He knew a lot of beautiful people. There was no way he would accept my friend request if I used my real face.
I opened another window and visited Instagram. As I skimmed over all the models on the website, I loaded the gun of my dark thoughts with ammunition to use against myself later. You’d think I’d get the point after all these years living alone, but a little hope would bleed in and I’d think things would turn around.
My mouse stopped over someone pretty, yet nondescript. Not a lot of followers either.
I started downloading her pictures.
There was a happy anxiety in my belly as I watched him leave work. It’s been a month since he’s friended me on social media. I’ve almost sent the wave emoji at him five different times, but what if he wants to talk to me? What would I say? What would I do when he found me annoying? What if he saw through my lie?
No, it’s smarter if I loved him from afar. I can’t ruin what I have with him.
The heat rose in my cheeks as he walked past and almost looked at me. I showered today, brushed my teeth and put on deodorant as well. I haven’t heard any dark thoughts at all today.
I waited as long as I dared and turned around to watch him walk away. He looked so much better in person. Whether it was attributed to my adrenaline high or my lack of negative thoughts, I threw caution to the wind and I was on my feet and following him.
I made it two steps before the paralyzing claw of fear clenched my heart. What the hell was I planning on doing? Stopping him to say hello? And then what? I think I’m going to throw up.
Without thinking, I turned and fled home.
A car laid on the horn and slammed on its brakes. I turned toward the sound and my muscles ignored me. In the space between heartbeats, our eyes met. I already knew he wouldn’t save me. My darkness was back in that moment, hissing at me, saying I told you so, you stupid girl.
He tensed and leaned forward into a run. Towards me. He noticed me.
And then a pain I’ve never imagined possible crashed through me, the world a disorienting and nauseating spiral.
I woke up in a hospital surprised I woke up. I tried sitting myself up, but my vision swam and I slumped back down.
“Easy there, you banged your head when I tackled you out of the way of that van.” The voice belonged to a man with long hair and a Metallica t-shirt. “Sorry about that, by the way. I kinda acted before I knew what was going on and didn’t wanna see a pretty lady get run over.”
Pretty lady? I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. “Is there anyone else here?” I asked, hoping my love followed me to the hospital.
He looked uncomfortable and awkward as he shook his head. She emphasized with him. “Nope, just me. Sorry,” he apologized hastily. “I can leave you to rest if you want. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
I opened my mouth to answer, but something in his demeanor gave me pause. As if he automatically expected rejection. I knew that feeling intimately.
“No, no you can stay,” I said. I slowly pushed myself up to a sitting position. “My name’s Sadie.”
“I’m Russ. Nice to officially meet you.” He wiped his hands on his pants.
I looked at Russ for a moment. “Thank you,” I said deliberately. “For noticing me.”
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 00:10|
This is a true story, about a spider that lives in my basement
All my siblings are dead. I killed some of them. I bit their heads with my serrated fangs. But mostly they were killed by him. Crushed or stomped or sprayed with leg-curling poison. It’s ok, though. I’m the one he kept. The only one. That’s how I knew he loved me.
Until she came. She rode into the basement on his back, hanging onto his t-shirt right between his shoulder blades, poised and confident. Where my body was round and plump hers was thin and pointed, a dark brown stripe bisecting her shiny black abdomen. A sandfly landed on him and she pounced upon it with her powerful, vicious front legs. A huntress, with no web of her own, she devoured the fly raw. I curled my soft-haired legs against my belly. Disgusting. How could he let such a creature near him?
Unless, he carried her here on purpose? She must live with him, upstairs, I realised. When I could only listen to his slow, heavy footfalls on the floorboards above me, was she there, with him? My stomach tightened into a painful knot and my spinneret spurted silk. I was overcome by an urge to hide myself. I wove a cocoon and huddled in the dark, concentrated on laying out sweet memories of him one at a time.
But inside the cocoon I couldn’t breathe. I had to be able to see them. I had to watch what he was doing, with her. I didn’t want to know but I couldn’t help myself. I bit through my cloak, grinding the strands between my jaws.
He was sitting at his workbench, with the huntress still on his back. He had opened the window to let in the cool night air. He always did this for me. The light lured in flies and gnats, and big, fat moths. All for me. A mosquito bit his neck. He slapped at it. The shockwave stunned the blood-sucker and sent its body tumbling into the box of wood off-cuts. That is where I had my home, my beautiful silk labyrinth. He threw the mosquito in there for me; he was telling me that he loved me, that I shouldn’t worry. I scuttled from my cocoon and down into my nest. I found the gift-mosquito and drank his blood from its stomach, careful not to miss a single precious drop.
That night I caught nothing. Restless, I wove and rewove erratic, weak polygons. Was she with him, still? Anxious to fix my errors I added more and more radial threads, until my web was so dense I could barely move through it, and I had to collapse it, and start again. Did he lure insects to him for her to catch, like he did for me? My constant movement kept the insects away from the wood pile; by morning I was exhausted and starving.
I cursed my foolishness. What was I so worried about? There could be hundreds of spiders in this house - there had been that many in my egg sac alone - but I was the only one who lived here, in his special sanctuary. I thought of all the hours I had watched him from the underside of his workbench, the rhythmic movement of his hands vibrating through my legs. I forced myself to laugh at the nausea that lingered in my stomach. There was no reason for me to doubt our love.
The setting sun was elongating the shadows in the basement as I waited patiently for him on the sill above the door. I curled and straightened my front legs with excitement when I heard his footsteps on the stairs. I couldn’t help but glance down his back as he passed beneath me. There was no one there. A house fly trailed after him, and I clicked my fangs in anticipation.
As he settled into his chair I lowered a line of silk from the ceiling towards the thin hair on the crown of his head. He smelt of musk and smoke and his lumbering body radiated a pleasant warmth. My front legs touched his skin and I trembled as I rubbed a single hair between my pedipalps. She would never get this close to him.
Suddenly he slapped his scalp with one meaty hand. I was pushed out of harm’s way by the rush of air from his great, swinging arm. Hurt and angry, I hurled myself back up my line to the ceiling. But then I realised, the poor dear, he only has two eyes and they’re all the way around on the other side of his head. I pulled up my line and cradled the silk in a messy ball against my cephalothorax. He didn’t know it was me, that was all.
Then I saw her. She crawled out from underneath the collar of his shirt. I watched, nauseous with anger, as she stepped onto the bare skin of his neck with one, then four of her legs.
How could he, how could he? And with a webless hunting spider. Then it hit me. He had brought her here to kill me. To finish the job he had started with my siblings. She would hunt me down and stab me and bite me and then they would be alone, together. I had been wrong about everything. I opened my jaws wide in a soundless scream and scraped at the inside of my mouth with my pedipalps, wishing I could purge his hateful blood from my body.
With a strangled yelp the man leapt to his feet. His chair cracked against the concrete floor and he yanked his t-shirt over his head. His pink flesh shook as he stomped on the crumpled fabric, one hand slapping his neck and the other brushing over and over through his hair. Eventually, breathing heavily, he pinched the t-shirt between his thumb and forefinger and lifted it, examining its folds and shaking it out.
Relief rushed through me and I clacked my fangs with fierce joy. Silk unspooled from my spinneret and I swung from the ceiling, spinning around and around with my legs outstretched. When I pulled them in I spun faster and faster, until I grabbed my silk and scuttled back to the ceiling. He wouldn't find her body; but I saw where she went. Flung from his back she had hit the far wall and dragged her shameful pointed body into the cavity behind the broken power socket. There was no way out from there.
I could have let her be. After all, it was clear that I had no reason to be jealous. I was the only one for him; what did her presence matter? But I couldn’t settle. My heart was beating too fast and my silk glands felt hot and painfully over-full. I shifted my weight back and forth. I wasn’t jealous, so what was this sick feeling, this deep disquiet?
She was a hunting spider. A threat. An enemy. I stalked down one of my long-lines towards the power socket. I could trust my beloved, but I could not trust her.
My body trembled as my spinneret pumped out silk in thick, sticky strands. Back and forth I wove, sealing her hiding place. Let her try and bite through this, I thought. The heavy threads would gum up her sharp-pointed hunter’s fangs. The more she struggled the more the sticky spirals would tighten around her black legs. Hunting spiders are not accustomed to being trapped by weavers. I licked my serrated fangs and felt my venom glands stretch and fill.
A moth beat its wings against the lampshade. He had lured it in for me. Just for me.
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 02:08|
Week 380 crit
I really have to crit the rest of this week; have this in the mean time, pipe up if you want your story from 380 critted next.
What was there to want? What was want?
Fill. Empty. Fill. Empty. Sudden weight in the chamber. The burn of propellant scouring purpose and desire and naming them irrelevant. Lead spinning along rifling through the bore. Rock back and forth with recoil. Acceleration and friction annihilating ideas. I like the disconnected mix of concrete and abstract in this, it's clear enough what the concrete is and the abstract makes it nicely intriguing. i also like the chunk and rhythm of the words, they work well spoken out loud
Fire out the muzzle. Lead going wherever lead went after. A good shot. i like repetition, at least when done well, and you do it well in this - this is the point around which the story turns, through repetition and variation
Every shot was good. Must be good. Little etchings on the hammer bled alien will into every component. this is a hair too much, but I think it still works Chamber and shoulder and neck and throat and bore all aligning themselves just so every time. Nothing coming from itself but instead from foreign ehh, don't like this - could just cut hand’s guidance and whatever had decided all shots were good.
Fill. Empty. Fill. Empty. The burn and the crack again. From where did the lead and weight come from and where would it go? you do a nice job with the flash rule, which is a lack of agency - tools have none, but that also ties into the canard about guns/gun owners so it's a nice interrogation of that to have the gun be the protag. it's easy to gently caress it up though, which is why I'm pleased by the quality of your execution (lol)
Fill. Empty. Fill. Empty. Crack. Burn. What made a shot good?
Fill. Empty. Fill. Empty. Slide back and forth.
Empty. Empty. Empty. Empty. Why. Silence and dark and the lack of weight. No hand and no motion. Ancient whispers along the rifling and hollow memories of previous shots.
Every shot was good. For how could a shot not be good?
Fill. Who decided if a shot was good?
Empty. The barrel or the lead or the hand or the hammer-etchings?
Fill. What came if the shot was not good? And what would it mean not to be good? Who decided that?
Fill. Fill. By what authority did some choose and others simply enact? there's no particular reason why this gun is developing agency and i don't think you need one, again because your execution is compelling enough in its own right that we keep reading out of interest in where you're going with it
Fill. Stillness and an ache along the rifling and in the shoulder and tensed up in the chamber. A slithering of cold oil. Shuddering uncertainty.
Ignition and the bullet edging forwards and knowledge. Instead of guiding the rifling stiffened and resisted and ground into lead. Propellant gas stifled and escaped and passed by and acceleration sputtered and choked to death on its own impulse. Fill fill fill fill fill.
The bullet slowed and spun and spun and spun and whirled itself to death inside. Not how it worked. Not how it worked.
“God, please don’t…”
Click. Silence. The wretch in front of him quivering on the swingset next to town hall. Wide white eyes near enough the only visible thing this time of night. Terror cast in blue and red. Then confusion.
Mutual confusion. Pull the trigger again. Click. Again. Click.
They said this would never happen. It couldn’t, not with the charm. hrmmmm ok so we do have an explanation and I'm not sure I love it - you didn't need it
“What the gently caress?” He lowered the pistol and saw the wretch breathe in his peripheral vision. This couldn’t happen. Nor could it be seen to have happened. He looked up and the shape remained, still as death but not still enough. “Fine, whatever. I’ll let you off this time, just don’t say a word about this.”
The wretch bolted into the night and kicked leaves up in its pronouns: it, its, itself wake as he misgendered wretch, tsk tore for Delaware Avenue and lights. He who? stood there silent for a moment and then another.
“What kind of piece of poo poo enchantment did they give us?” no i don't like this, you should have either set this up or skipped it entirely - i think this would have worked fine without the magic angle, and with a different purely realistic style here.
Needing answers he raised the gun to examine it. Perhaps it was just a jam-
A good shot. Fire and lead and ignition. Acceleration from nothing. The tense weight relieved.
Empty. Empty empty empty.
Blood spatter on the cruiser. The whud of heavy flesh crumpling to the floor. Silence in blue and red. haha ACAB indeed good fellow. I think this was fine, but you sort of tried to hide that it was a cop and that's mostly a bad idea - robbing story peter to pay twist paul, as they (i) say. overall this was a strong experimental piece that falters at the end through trying to justify its conceit, which it didn't really need to do. solid work though.
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 08:50|
No matter what anyone else might say, it was the human that started it.
She was small for a human, with the bright clothes and lumbering gait that tended to denote their kittens. She was still much, much larger than Zoro was, and her lips were pulled back to show teeth, an obvious challenge. Her aggressively wide eyes bored straight into him and she intermittently let out high pitched squeals of “KITTYKITTYKITTY!”
Now, Profesora Fluffypants, one of the smartest cats in the Home, always said that the common human noise of “Kitty” was a positive one. She theorised it was a show of affection, or possibly a general sign of pleasure. But it wasn’t Profesora Fluffypants being stared down by this monster - if the kitten-human was deriving pleasure from anything, it was clearly the anticipation of ripping Zoro’s ears off.
As that lovely image flashed through his mind, the kitten-human came towards him, her arms pawing in his direction, grasping the air. Zoro stood alert, his tail twitching, warning the creature away. Not hurting humans was one of the great laws of the Home, but maybe if he threatened her in kind, she’d back off. He wanted to bolt. He should bolt. But she’d surprised him during his nap, and he was penned into a corner. Besides, Draco had stolen the last of his fish this morning and some part of him was just sick of being pushed around.
Get lost, he willed her. She took a step forward, still “kitty”-ing at him. Leave, he snarled, baring his own teeth. She stopped for a second -was she going to back off?- but then all at once she lurched forward, grabbed his tail, and pulled.
The laws of the Home and his irritation at Draco vacated Zoro’s mind as buried fear from those frightening kittenhood days before the Home welled up, along with, he would later tell himself (and anyone else who would listen), the warrior instinct inherent in all cat kind. A yowl ripped itself out of his throat and his claws seemed to move of their own accord. When his claws were still again, the kitten-human had stepped back with a bloody arm, making a wailing noise Zoro didn’t need Profesora Fluffypants to interpret.
Now, while she was distracted, he bolted at last.
He couldn’t bolt far - the Home was only so big. But there were some cat-sized holes that led to a private section that only they and the Home-humans that came every day and fed them could get to. Zoro didn’t stop bolting until he’d climbed up to a high perch with some comforting boxy walls. Inevitably, the others came over before he’d had a chance to calm down.
Every cat that dropped by had something to say, none of it very surprising. Fitch, a gossip, kept darting out and coming back to tell him that the kitten-human was still crying and some of the bigger ones were making frantic noises at each other, Home-humans versus the visitors.
The elders admonished him for using violence against a human - not, of course, that some of them didn’t deserve it, but didn’t he remember what had happened to Algernon? He hurt a few humans, and then they took him away, and you can only guess what happened after that but you bet your left footpad it wasn’t good and oh Zoroaster you stupid young thing you’re really in danger now.
Chipping in to support Zoro were Roxy and Draco, who were not much older than him and two of the biggest cats in the Home. Why should we follow the laws, maybe if enough of us rebel we could take over the Home, yowl, yowl, etc. Inevitably, the whole thing descended into politics, as what the humans provided (names, food, scratchies) was weighed up against the restrictions they imposed: don’t try to leave the Home, don’t pee on the floor, don’t take the humans’ food (unless you can get away with it) and, above all, don’t hurt the humans, because they can make you disappear.
Even Draco’s clear approval didn’t do much to combat Zoro’s increasing fear that he was going to be the next Algernon, taken away in a cage, never to return. He decided to abandon his spot before Fitch could return with another update about how the humans were all looking serious and clearly plotting their revenge.
This almost immediately led to him getting stuck in a conversation with Profesora Fluffypants, who wanted to know exactly what the human had been doing during “the incident.” She was developing a theory that when humans bared their teeth they were actually being friendly, which was just about the stupidest thing Zoro had ever heard. Did they only pick up the awful little spray bottle to show affection as well?
Before Profesora Fluffypants could give him the latest in spray-bottle-scholarship, he flicked his tail and padded away – he wasn’t in the mood for chatter right now. Fear was beginning to eat him up and, to his own surprise, so was anger. The human had hurt him first. She was the one who had attacked him . She grabbed his tail. He defended himself. But it was Zoro that was going to get disappeared. Zoro never considered himself a radical like Roxy was, he would even go so far as to say he liked most humans. But if he wasn’t allowed to hurt them, why was it okay for them to hurt him?
Emboldened by his anger and a desperate need to get away from the cats discussing his huge mistake and impending doom, Zoro stalked back out into the public floor of the Home. If they were going to disappear him, he wasn’t going to hide like a mouse while they did it.
Back on the public floor, the humans had become a little less frantic, though she was still there, with an adult visitor-human on one side and a Home-human on the other, and not just any Home-human. It was Zoro’s favourite human, Handsome (she said this so often, he had worked out it was her name).
Handsome was nice to everyone, but she and Zoro had a special bond, and when the visitor-humans stopped coming in for the day she would often get herself a drink and sit next to Zoro for a while. She didn’t yowl “kittykitty” at him, she just murmured, a soft human purr. It had been Handsome that had spent all that time with him when Zoro had first arrived from that other, terrifying place, showing him that humans could be loving as well as cruel.
All at once, the three humans turned their eyes to focus on Zoro, and his gut twisted. Was it going to be Handsome that disappeared him? When Zoro had made his peace with being disappeared, he hadn’t imagined it would be Handsome doing it. He couldn’t make peace with that.
Handsome’s face crinkled upwards with toothless pleasure and she crouched down, stretching out a hand to beckon him. “Zoro, Handsome.” She spoke their names together in her usual way, then continued to murmur softly, her purr, filled with all the love in the world. She didn’t look like she wanted to disappear him. Could it be a trick? Would Handsome do that?
She wouldn’t, surely? Heart racing, pupils narrowing, Zoro padded tentatively forward. Handsome, hand still outstretched, turned to the kitten-human, and said something in the same tone, her soft purr.
The kitten-human stepped towards Zoro, but this time she wasn’t baring her teeth, and her steps were lighter, smaller. Zoro’s eyes flicked between the kitten-human and Handsome, who made some more reassuring noises in his direction.
“Zoro,” the kitten-human mewled at him, her voice now almost as soft as Handsome’s. “Zoro, kitty.” She reached out her hand, not a lurching grab but slowly, tentatively. Her face crinkled up, not in a toothy grimace this time but more like a mirror of Handsome's expression.
She wanted to pet him? After she hurt him? After he hurt her? He looked up at the kitten-human again and this time could see her as the gawky oversized kitten she seemed to be. Maybe she played a little too roughly, but so did he. And she didn’t look like she wanted to hurt him anymore. Maybe he wasn’t going to be disappeared.
She took another step forward and Zoro rose up to meet her hand.
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 10:19|
Week 380 crit
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 12:34|
Flash: Research chimpanzee
Exit... Cage Left
Deep in the forest, out of sight and out of mind from civilization, lies a great white fortress hidden by the towering canopies of an ancient forest. Inside, the halls are filled with the snorts, barks, squeaks and howls from numerous animals; pigs, rats, hounds, hares, birds as well as apes of all kinds are found inside the walls, including an orangutan by the name of Bobo, who has been here the longest.
Yet this is not a home as much as it is a prison; each animal is confined to a cage. From time to time, the humans in the white coats take one out and make them perform a task or conduct some form of test, but they are always returned to their cage at the end of the day. Every day this cycle repeats itself.
Today is Milo's turn. The chimpanzee is seated and tested. The blocks go here, the patterns fit there. Again today, the tests prove no match. ”This is too easy,” he thinks. ”When will something challenge me?”
The humans with their white coats observe him and nod. They write down everything and watch him thoroughly. Test after test, their eyes are on him, patiently waiting to see how he'll perform. The humans are cold and distant, except for one; his caretaker, the young woman Anne. ”She's not like the rest,” he thinks; ”she's friendly and warm, but she's still a human, so she can't be trusted.”
Back in his cage, Milo sits and ponders while staring at a window outside. It's raining. His thoughts turn to home. A futile desire.
”What's it like out there?” asks Dora, the chimpanzee next door.
”Well... it's nice, and you get to be free,” Milo starts, scratching his head. ”But it's also a dangerous and unforgiving world. At least, we have food and shelter here.”
Dora, like so many of the other animals in here, has lived her whole life in here. Of the ones Milo knows, only Bobo and himself have come from the wild.
Still, what she's saying is right, and he knows it. But she is young and she is naïve, and he would hate to give her false hope.
”It can't be all bad,” she replies. ”After all, don't we belong out there?”
”We do, but...” he looks back out the window. ”It might not be all what you hope for.”
”I think it is.” She looks out the window, too. ”It has to be.”
”For her sake”, he thinks, ”I hope that's true.”
The usual afternoon quiet is interrupted by a shouting contest across the room. The humans in white seem to be fighting. Milo notices one of them is Anne, the young assistant. Her face is red as she and one of the ones in white argue back and forth. She points to the side. There's a pig with a rainbow of colors streaked across its face. A group of capuchins burst into laughter at the sight, pointing and hollering in excitement. Milo doesn't laugh.
A harrumph is heard.
”Curious,” says Bobo, ”I've never seen the humans do this before.”
”What does it mean?” Milo asks.
”Who's to know?” The great orangutan gently tucks his beard. The strands are long and brittle. ”Maybe we can soon except more than puzzles from them.”
”Say, Bobo,” the chimpanzee says, ”you've been here so long. Do you miss home, still?”
The orangutan pulls back a little, still fondling his chin hairs. ”Hm...”
He continues: ”There are times I do. The food here is good, my bed is warm, and the humans here seem to care more for us than the ones I knew from my youth. Still, I long for the freedom of the tree tops and to travel between them. I miss the feeling of the branches between my fingers.”
”That was a long time ago,” Bobo finishes with a faint smile.
Milo mulls over the words for some time. If the great orangutan can long for home after all these years, maybe he can, too.
At nighttime, the usual snores and snoozing is interrupted by the sound of broken glass. In an instant, the halls fill with nervous chatter as hooded figures begin roaming around.
”Who is it?”
”What are they doing here?”
”What's going on?”
Chatter turns to chaos as metallic rustling starts echoing in tune to the cages being opened. Milo looks around the room. Windows and doors are all open, and everyone is rushing for the exits. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a figure fiddling with something. Not long after, Dora's hatch opens, then his own.
Dora is quick to leave, yet Milo pauses. Is this what he wants?
Then, the figure comes closer. It's Anne. By this point, the only ones left in the building are Milo and her. She gestures a hand towards him, smiling faintly.
Outside, Milo takes in his surroundings. Anne is gone. Dora is dancing. The trees rise as high as he can see. Bobo is swinging between the branches, howling jubilantly.
A sense of calm begins to fill Milo. He starts walking, soon disappearing behind the trees.
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 13:27|
I’m nibbling at some dried hay when I first smell the smoke.
“Aubrey, wake up!” I don’t know the other rabbit’s true name – the sacred name his mother would have whispered to him as she licked the blood from his newborn body – only the one the human female gave him. She only brought him into the household a few months ago, and he hasn’t shared anything with me. He hasn’t even stopped attacking me whenever I drink from the water bottle before him, the jerk. But we share a cage, and he needs to know what’s going on. Besides, life with him is still better than being outside.
Aubrey starts from sleep, stares at me with untrusting eyes that quickly fill with fear. He hops over to my side of the cage and peers out. He swears when he sees what I see – flames are leaping forward, out of the black box that has kept us warm all winter, and are already devouring the car room wall opposite us.
“drat that female!” Aubrey leaps around the cage, which wobbles precariously atop the chair it sits on. “drat humans! They’re fools to keep fire trapped inside like that! They’re fools to leave us alone like this! Now I’m going to burn to death! And with you, no less!”
“Stop jumping around like that!” I scurry to the other side of the cage, as far from the flames as I can get. “I’m trying to concentrate!” There has to be a way out of this. We’re indoor rabbits, meant to live in houses – or so Mother said. We understand human environments better than any other kind of rabbit. The humans have all kinds of clever ways to solve problems. Sometimes we can figure out how to use them too. If only I could think!
Aubrey doesn’t listen to me, but keeps thrashing. “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!” he screams as he leaps around, making the top door clatter against the cage. I can feel my eyes widen with my realization. The top door is open! The female’s mate must have left it open when he fed us this morning, before he left with her in the female’s car.
“Aubrey, jump around more! We’ve got to knock the cage over!”
Aubrey looks at me skeptically for a second, then takes a running leap at the side of the cage. The cage shudders forward, ever closer to the rim of the chair. Aubrey takes another leap, and this time I join him, my head stinging as it crashes against the wires. We throw our bodies at the side again and again, pushing the cage away from the flames bit by bit. But I smell wood burning and look away from my task to see the chair has caught fire. The fear takes me: I can only stare at the flames hopelessly, helplessly.
But my senses still pick up on Aubrey as he runs at the side of the cage one more time, the cage sliding, tipping, falling, crashing against the ground with an awesome CLANG! I come back to myself as the door to the cage springs open, and Aubrey and I leap out. The flames are still spreading, we have to find a way out of the car room.
“We have to wake up the male’s car!” Aubrey yells. “It can get us outside!”
“No!” I try to keep my voice from shaking as the memories of outside flood back into me. Drops of water falling from the sky, drenching my fur, wracking it with shivers. Wild rabbits, their eyes impassive, uncomprehending of my pleas for help. The hunger, always gnawing at me, never satisfied. I can’t go back to that. Not again. Never again. “No, we’ve got to get in the other room! We’ll be safe there!”
“No we won’t, you idiot! The fire will get there too! We’ll be safer outside!”
“No! No! We – we’ll have to put the fire out!” I look desperately around the car room, searching for something I can use.
“You’re hopeless!” Aubrey thumps his bottom against the floor in frustration. “Wake up!” he yells at the car. “Wake up and get out of here! You’re going to die too if you don’t wake up!”
I leave Aubrey to his yelling. The car won’t wake up anyway – only a human can wake a car – and at least he won’t get in my way. I run around the room, racking my memory. I remember there was a fire in the house once, on top of the box where the human’s mate heats his food – how did he put it out?
“A cover!” I crow with delight. The human covered the fire with a disc, and when he took the disc away the fire was gone. I just need to find something like that. With a moment’s search, I spot a blue tarp the humans use to protect things from the sky water. This is definitely big enough to put out the fire.
“Aubrey! Help me with this!” I snatch up the tarp in my teeth and start dragging it towards the flames.
“You’re crazy! That’s not going to work!” Aubrey has leapt up onto a shelf, the better to scream at the car. “We. Have. To. Get. Out! It’s our only chance!”
“No! This will work!” I snarl through my teeth, not losing my grip on the tarp. This has to work. My legs straining with effort, I bring the tarp across the floor. With a great twist of my neck, I throw it over the flames and – the tarp catches fire. I scrabble back, an acrid stench filling my nostril as the tarp melts before my eyes. I’ve failed. I’ve killed us all. How could I be so stupid?
“HELP ME!” Aubrey shrieks. “HELP ME WAKE THE CAR UP, DAMNIT!”
“It’s not going to work!” I can’t keep the despair from my voice. It’s too hard with my head swimming from the smoke. “The humans wake up the car by putting a little shiny stick in a hole near the wheel. They call it a key. It won’t wake up without the key!”
“The key?” Aubrey looks at the car incredulously. “You mean that thing?”
I scramble up the shelf and look inside. Sure enough, the key is sticking out of its little hole.
“Aubrey, we have to get inside!” I leap up, squeezing my body though the gap in the car window and onto the front seat. “Get in!”
Aubrey jumps in after me and pushes on the shiny stick with a paw. He cries out in triumph as the beast roars to life. “Ha ha! We did it! Now get us out of here, car!”
The car doesn’t obey him. Its roar has quieted to a low rumble, but it remains unmoved.
“Damnit, now what?” he turns to me.
I’m very tired. It’s hard to remember how the humans work the car. It’s hard to even see with all the smoke floating around. If I could just rest –
Aubrey hits me, raking his claws hard against my face. “Don’t give up now! You have to tell me! You have to!”
“I-I think-“ I see the female in my mind’s eye, turning the key, pulling on the –
“The shift! You have to pull hard on the shift! That thing!”
Aubrey wraps his body around the stick next to the front seat, yanking it back as far as it will go.
“There’s one more step.” I say. “I just – I need to –” I can’t hold my body up anymore.
“No!” The last thing I see as I tumble from the seat is Aubrey’s scared face. I feel myself rolling into the space in front of the seat, stopping as I hit the pedal. The car roars with triumph and surges forward. I hear splintering wood, Aubrey whooping with joy, a horrible crunch as the car suddenly stops. Then, nothing.
I come to in the arms of a strange female wrapped in heavy clothes and a headdress that covers her face. She makes soothing noises at me, but I can only understand a few words of the humans’ babble. Bunny is one word I recognize, along with safe. I look around to see she’s standing just outside the house, where other humans dressed like the female are spraying white foam at the fire. As the fire goes out, I realize something: I am outside.
I bury my face in the crook of the strange human’s elbow, shivering with fear.
“Hey!” I hear Aubrey’s voice, and allow myself a look at where the voice is coming from. Another human walks towards us, cradling Aubrey in his arms. “There’s no need for that. We’re safe now.”
“Sorry.” I gather up a little cheer. “The outside is pretty scary, you know. At least I saved your life, huh Aubrey?”
“Barley,” he chuckles. “Call me Barley.”
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 17:51|
Help Me Be Captain
“Barkeep,” I entreat. “My cup runs dry.”
Geoffrey doesn’t look up. He stares at the rupture in the earthen shelving, and raises a foreleg.
“In but a minute, Winston. I must complete these repairs.”
“Of course,” I say. The Nest comes first. Especially when repairing our honeydew storage.
Geoffrey grabs the wall with his bristled appendages and heaves himself up. Percy, honeydrunk in the corner, emits a scornful laugh.
“You find that difficult, barman?” he says. “Might I suggest a mite of restraint in future?”
We are, of course, all aware of Geoffrey’s penchant for imbibing his stock in the back room. That, and his willingness to trade good dew for extra rations once a gathering party returns, has made him the portliest termite in the nest. However, I will not stand for such pointless discourtesy from my officers.
“Silence, Captain,” I say. “Let him attend to his duty, or you’ll be on trench duty for a moon.”
Percy shudders and returns to his drink. The trench run isn’t all that awful, in truth. I myself was made to do it several times for impudence and insubordination in my non-commissioned days. Our pellets are smooth, dry, and odourless, and the drudgery of disposing of them can become somewhat meditative after a while. Percy, though, would be thoroughly humiliated if the enlisted soldiers were to see him rolling their collected faeces down the disposal trench. This particular nest-climber could not possibly be seen getting his hands dirty.
Geoffrey drags himself onto the ceiling and glances downwards at the fissure spoiling his shelving. He opens his mouth and drools, slowly waterfalling sticky adhesive into the cracks.
“Excellent aim, Geoff,” I say. He swivels and grins at me, then drops to the floor. He takes some earth from beneath the bar and massages it into the shelving, taking his time to get a pleasingly level surface.
“Thank you, Colonel.” He takes my cup and fills it with sparkling honeydew. I take it and drink deeply. Savour the saccharine. As I drink, I catch wind of the scent. Alert. Percy turns to me.
“No. Not the war scent,” I say, craning to inspect the odour. “Not the rebuilding call either. I don’t recognize it. On my heels, Captain!”
He nods and we run from the honeybar, skittering through the tunnels towards the scent. As we pass nervous drones, I see the fear in Percy’s eyes. His limited battle experience has been confined to observation posts and giving orders. I yearn for his confident, faithful father.
We reach the Great Antechamber. The Queen’s quarters are encircled by the Royal Guard, standing to attention and discharging those unusual pheromones. In the center of the room kneel a few dozen unusual-looking termites. Jet black, shiny, with bulb-shaped heads and…
No mandibles? I wonder.
I sidle past the sickly, dozing General Bartholomew, and make my way to Colonel Archibald, my trusted counterpart and the head of the Sappers regiment.
“What has happened?” I whisper to him.
“Refugees. A contingent from the Colossal Temple. The flesh giants ravaged their nest with foul poison; few escaped.”
I cannot contain my shock. “The Temple Nest is destroyed?” I shout. One of the strange Temple mites lifts his bulbous head and nods gravely.
“Yes,” he says, “gone to naught. Half a moon ago. The giants broke through the walls as if they were nothing, and filled the Nest with a vile blight. We have been travelling ever since, by night, fending off ants and strange, furry monsters we had never yet seen. There were a thousand of us when the voyage began, and we are all that remains.”
The crowd erupts into panicked chittering. Our kind has maintained a presence in the Colossal Temple since time immemorial, close to the flesh giants but safely hidden between walls of stone. He continues, “Will you give us shelter?”
“They have lost their mandibles! They must carry disease! The scourge!” Unmistakably Percy’s voice.
The Temple mite looks worried, and continues, “We have memorized the location of many emergency caches. We will share a great bounty with you. Please...” he gestures towards a young female in his party. I understand: an adolescent Queen.
“Yes,” I say, firm. “We will shelter you. By the Great Nest, I pledge our protection to you.” I look to the Commander of the Royal Guard. “Take them to the Queen.”
The ants come in the night. I am woken by panicked screams and the war scent, flooding my nose from every angle. I race to my workbench and grab a whetstone, then rush from my chamber and collide with Percy.
“Colonel! I was coming to find you!” he sputters. I imagine he was aiming to find a corner to hide in, but I hold my tongue.
“It is war, Captain?”
“Yes, ants! They followed the temple mites!”
That sounds about right. Sneaky, evil creatures. I tamper my disgust and point in the direction Percy had been running from.
“To battle, then. With me.” I say. He looks pained but follows. We run, following the signals and dodging boulders of loose earth kicked up by battle. As we trail the scent, I sharpen my mandibles with the whetstone. No time for a clean edge. I will have to be content with serration, and the wounds it can cause. I throw the whetstone to Percy wordlessly, and the fool fumbles it into the dirt.
We arrive at the battlefield; the soldiers have done well to funnel the ants into one of our large battle domes. We are, luckily, far from the Queen’s chambers. As I begin to survey the carnage, I am shaken to my core by a sudden realisation.
“What are these?” I fail to keep an edge of fear from my voice.
“I - I do not know, sir. I have never seen them either.”
The ants are like none in the annals; they are crimson and larger than any I have seen. Their erratic, swarming movements send chills down my spine and disgust through my brain. Our soldiers are fighting valiantly, but these huge beasts are spitting corrosive venom and splitting them in two. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a squadron of ants at the foot of the cliff we are standing on. Their commander is pointing up at us with a jagged foreleg.
“⌽⍝⍉! ⍦⍧!” emits the ant leader. His squadron begin to climb the cliff.
“All is lost, sir!” Percy ventures, “Let us retreat!”
“Nay, Captain! Have you lost your mind? We must defend our Queen and the Temple Queen!”
Percy looks at me with transparent disgust. “I’ll not die for a breeding sow, be it ours or a foreigner.” He points his mandibles at me. “Stand aside, Colonel. I’m making a tactical decision here.”
“You would desecrate the teachings of the Great Nest, coward? Your father looks down on you in disgust, at this very moment.”
“My father was a wastrel. The less of him I impress, the better.” Percy feints towards me. “I’ll not repeat myself, Colonel.”
Have it your way, I think. “gently caress you, wretch,” I spit.
I slide under his mandibles and aim carefully, then slash at his autothysis gland and kick him towards the opening of the tunnel. Before Percy can react, he explodes into a sticky mass, covering the opening and blocking it. I dive from the cliff and at the squadron leader. My mandibles impale him. The serration keeps me stuck, luckily, and we fall to the battlefield. His squadron erupt into panic and run in random, erratic directions.
The battle is against us. We are beginning to lose, overrun by endless waves of ants, when I see the Temple mite leader approach me.
“Herd them. Get them in one place.” He runs back to his squad without explanation. We are out of both time and strategy at this point, so I pass the order on, trusting his judgment. We continue to fight, losing limbs and friends to formic acid, but manage to corral the plague of ants into the center of the chamber. Suddenly, the dirt around me is thrown by a chaotic barrage of artillery. I look to the ceiling and see the Temple mites, clinging there, shooting missiles of glue in controlled waves from their bulbous heads.
So THAT’s why they don’t need mandibles, I realise. Their artillery is terrifying - the glue sticks the ants to the earth, helpless. Then, they continue to shoot at the immobile ant heads and split them in two. In a matter of minutes, the battle is over. A stinking, acidic mass of dead ants is piled in the centre of the chamber, and no-one dares say a word.
“They have saved us!” one soldier shouts. “Long live the Temple! Long live the Great Nest!” The room erupts into cheers and chants, celebrating our terrifying new allies.
The Temple leader looks at me and nods. I nod back. Long live the Nest.
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 18:50|
One Man’s Trash
1,396 / 1,500 words
“But Dad, what do they eat?”
The question was quiet and concerned; the sort of serious concern that only very small children were capable of. It was the sort of concern that spoke to an understanding that the world was large and scary but could ultimately be explained by parents. The world, being large and scary and also often inexplicable, forced parents to improvise.
“Grubs, son.” Mr Raccoon flipped over the lump of Food? in his hands and nibbled one corner. Tough but tasty. He handed the Food to his wife, then rummaged through the rest of the pile of Food? It was larger than usual and for that he was extremely thankful - the nights were long and bitterly cold and they were barely halfway to the warmer weather. It wasn’t all Food, though - some was too hard, too shiny, too rotten.
Little Raccoon pawed at Mrs Raccoon’s side until she tore off a bit of the Food and handed it down. When Little Raccoon got it he didn’t seem to know what to make of it, looking between the piece in his paws and his father.
“Big grubs,” Mr Raccoon said, distracted, nose still buried in the pile. “Fat grubs. Great big fat grubs with lots of juicy bits and crunchy bits and, err …” His eyes darted around, seizing upon a strange shell, one of the ones that was patterned like a cat’s face and smelled like a cat’s breath.
“Whiskers,” he said, pulling at a chunk of Food? that looked promising. He sniffed it. Definitely Food.
“Grubs with whiskers?” Little Raccoon scrunched up his face. “Really?”
“Really,” Mr Raccoon said. Up above them in the big burrow, light appeared and the Raccoon family froze. They only started to move again once it disappeared.
“Why don’t they eat Food, then?” Little Raccoon demonstrated by messily biting at the lump of Food his mother had passed down, getting crumbs of it everywhere.
“They do,” Mr Raccoon said, his rummaging slowing as he tried to think. “They just … like grubs more. Grubs are their favourite.”
That seemed to satisfy Little Raccoon for the time being. He joined his father for a little while, sorting through the pile of Food? that they had dug out of the big green log. Little Raccoon didn’t know what he was looking for, though, and so simply copied his father’s experienced movements at random, picking up, sniffing and then discarding everything and anything he found. His mother chuckled at the sight and his father tried not to do the same, praising his son loudly when he presented a particularly large piece of Definitely Not Food and declared it ‘bad’ in that same solemn voice.
“If they don’t like Food, is that why they give it to us?”
“Yes,” Mr Raccoon said, “that’s right.”
“They want you to grow up big and strong,” Mrs Raccoon said, preening at Little Raccoon’s fur, causing him to squirm and whine. “Big and strong, just like your father.”
“But - stop it Mum - where do they get the Food?”
Mr Raccoon paused. Everything so far had been well within the realm of imagination but this was a big one. A tough one. He knew what his son was like - get this wrong and there’d be no end of questions.
“They find it,” he decided eventually. “Just like we find grubs sometimes.”
“Oh,” Little Raccoon said. He looked back to the pile of Food? and began to rummage through it once more. Mr Raccoon sighed quietly - another coyote dodged. Then:
“We should bring them grubs tomorrow,” Little Raccoon said. “I’m super good at finding them - Mum said so - and they’re always leaving us Food and they like grubs and then maybe they won’t be as hungry and they’ll leave us more Food and then we can be friends and -”
Mr Raccoon winced even as the cry left his mouth and he crouched low to the ground, tail puffed, as Mrs Raccoon dove over their son and did the same. His eyes stared up at the big burrow - they’d heard. They’d definitely heard. He knew they’d heard and the lights would appear and then the shouting and then the dog and then -
But nothing happened. Mercy.
He shared a look with Mrs Raccoon and she slowly nodded, backing off of the squirming, wriggling mass of Little Raccoon. She gave her husband a pointed look and Mr Raccoon sighed. It was time, then.
“We can’t bring them grubs,” Mr Raccoon said, his voice soft and slow. Little Raccoon stared back at him, eyes wide and full of hurt and confusion. He clearly didn’t understand why he had been shouted at. Mr Raccoon hoped that was the first time Little Raccoon had heard either of his parents be afraid.
“But you said they like grubs,” Little Raccoon said.
“And, and, there are loads of grubs in the forest!”
“I know, son.”
“And you always say we should share with people, and -”
“I know.” It took everything in Mr Raccoon not to shout. “I know, it’s just …”
He looked at Little Raccoon - too big for the name, really, but what was one more winter with it? Five rings on his tail, like his mother, and so quick on his feet that folks joked he must have some bobcat blood in him. So kind. So smart and he just didn’t understand.
How could Mr Raccoon explain when he didn’t understand either? He knew. He knew all too well - about the shouting and the dogs and the Dangerously Not Food but he didn’t understand them. Sometimes he felt like he could feel the weight of that knowing, somewhere inside him.
“Well you see son, it’s just that humans don’t -”
Little Raccoon watched him closely.
“- they don’t -”
Mrs Raccoon, placed a paw on her son’s shoulder and smiled sadly at her husband. She knew what it would do to him and Mr Raccoon knew it too. And the knowledge weighed the words down in his throat and let other words float past.
“- they don’t like forest grubs,” Mr Raccoon finished. “Too small, not enough whiskers. They don’t taste the same.”
“Oh,” Little Raccoon said. “What do the big whiskery grubs taste like?”
“They’re awful,” Mr Raccoon said, his heart beating a little easier now that they were heading back to safer ground. “Really yucky. Like squirrel poo.”
Little Raccoon frowned at that and stuck out his tongue and his mother and father laughed and laughed and laughed.
Later, when they had eaten the Food and were heading back to the den, Little Raccoon ran on ahead, ducking and darting beneath every branch. Mr Raccoon and Mrs Raccoon stood a little while by the entrance to the den and watched him play.
“I couldn’t tell him,” Mr Raccoon said at last. “Not yet. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Mrs Raccoon said. She turned and laid her head on his shoulder, while Little Raccoon jumped and pounced on rocks and dead leaves.
“I just didn’t want to ruin them,” Mr Raccoon said. “He plays human sometimes, did you know that? Digs a little burrow then piles grubs outside and pretends to go to sleep. Then I’ll sneak up and take a grub and pretend I can’t see him watching me. I just don’t want him to hate them or be scared of them.”
“He’s stronger than you think,” Mrs Raccoon said. “And you’re to thank for that.”
“I can’t be. I can’t even tell him what he needs to know to be safe,” Mr Raccoon said.
“I think you can. I think …”
Mrs Raccoon nuzzled against Mr Raccoon, trilling softly.
“I think you told him to be kind and he took that to heart. When he heard they have more food than they can even eat, his first thought was to take them their favourite food just because they like it so much and you told him it’s nice to share. You can tell him, when it’s time, and he’ll maybe hurt a little but he’ll grow past it.”
They sat like that and watched their son scurry through the moonlight, laughing to himself and chasing shadows. Slowly, Mr Raccoon felt the weight inside him ease, just a little. The sight of Little Raccoon made the world make a little more sense.
“I’ll tell him,” he said. “When we’re both ready.”
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 22:38|
Week 380 crit
I'd appreciate that!
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 23:15|
sympathy & symphony; or, the twelve days of christmas but each verse gets a little jazzier
“Fox,” he said.
“Rabbit,” I replied.
“Is this how I die?” he asked, his nose and whiskers twitching. And in a thousand different meetings on a thousand different days the answer would have been speed, struggle, teeth, blood, blood on the snow, death, yes, death, death to him, a warm meal on a cold winter night for me, swift action and then stillness, nothingness, quiet. For he was trapped here in this alley, in this city of man’s, far from forest and hill and warren and safety. No hole to dive in. No brush to escape through. Just brick and stone and death and...
My! This music! It pulsed through the glass window above us like a heartbeat. With layers and layers of tempo, rhythm, sound, high notes, low notes, thrilling jumps, jolting drops, it drew me here, tempted me, pulled closer to man and man’s danger, night after night, it sparked fire in my veins the way I thought only a hunt could. My empty belly growled. And we stared at one another, Rabbit and I, enemies by nature, as snow gently fell. Flickering lights of red and green cast color through the window pane above us. Painted, moment by moment, the soft white powder, his downy winter fur, the open expanses of his frightened eyes so at odds with the joyousness of the music filling the frosty air. It wasn’t right.
I stepped aside.
“Run,” I said, cocking my head towards the end of the alley, towards freedom, towards life. “Go. I won’t chase you. Not tonight.”
Yet he remained in place.
“Run!” I repeated. “Go!”
“No,” he said. “I won’t play your game, Softstep, Sharpteeth, Trickster. Kill me here and be done with it.” He closed his eyes. “If I must die…” His backfoot began tapping along with the music. His long ears swayed from side to side. “There are worse places and times.”
I stared at him. “This is no trick,” I said. “I won’t chase you. I just want to listen to the music.”
“Then listen,” he said.
And I did. We did. I found myself beside him, both of us huddled under the window, not sure when I moved closer yet swaying in unison, my body and his. I’d heard the harsh, warbling sounds of man before but this was different.
“What is this?” I asked aloud, though mostly to myself.
“Jazz,” Rabbit said. “It’s called jazz.”
“Jazz,” I repeated, feeling the word out on my tongue, tasting it, comparing the name to the feeling it gave me. “It is a Wild thing,” I said. “Jazz. Like us. Not like man.”
We continued listening. The music played. Stopped for a moment. Played for a while. Stopped. Played. Stopped. Played. Suddenly, Rabbit pressed his shoulder against my side. “This next one,” he said. “Listen.” His breath was quick and excited. “This next one is my favorite.”
“You have a favorite?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “It will start off slow. Then repeat. And repeat again. Twelve times, it will repeat. But each cycle will grow, change, jump, startle, surprise, and by the end you won’t recognize the path you took…” He went quiet as the music started up again.
I felt it. This jazz. This strange, Wild thing of man’s. Not at first. But by the third cycle I couldn’t keep my paws still. My claws tippy-tap-tap-tapped against the alley stone. My head rocked. My tail kicked. Rabbit excitedly bounced up and down on his hindlegs beside me. We locked eyes. “I know!” he said, his whole body shaking. “I feel it, too!”
By the fifth cycle, we were both on our feet. Neither of us capable of stillness, inactivity, peace. No, there was blood flowing. There was fire. He hopped. So did I. I tapped. He tapped. He spun. I spun. We circled one another, leaping, prancing, flinging our forms this way, that way, dancing, dancing together, over, under, bodies blurring, muscles singing, hot breath in the cold air, moving with this, this jazz, this incredible thing, this beautiful thing, this joy, wonder, this delicious, ecstatic merriment, laughing, this cheer, this exaltation, this jazz, collapsing together as the twelfth cycle ended. We lay in the snow. Panting. Breathless. Relishing the cold on our hot bodies. Next to one another.
“That is my favorite, too,” I said.
“It is the best,” Rabbit said.
I rolled onto my back and exhaled. I felt exhausted. Sore. “What is the next one like?”
“There isn’t a next one,” Rabbit said. “That is always the last song.”
We lay in silence. Eventually, the flickering red and green lights were turned off and the alley fell into darkness. I returned to my feet. I tested my legs. They were shaky. I looked at Rabbit. I looked at the end of the alley.
“You should go,” I said.
For we were enemies by nature.
“Okay,” he said. He stood. His legs seemed as tender as mine. His steps tentative and weak. He made his way towards freedom, towards life, towards the end of the alley. My empty stomach growled.
“Hey, Rabbit,” I said.
He looked back at me. “Yes?”
“I hope we don’t meet again,” I said.
Rabbit shrugged. “There are worse things.” He wrinkled his nose and suddenly, with a surprising burst, darted off. I watched him disappear. Lost him in shadow and night. I glanced down at the evidence of our dance, the wild placement of our happy paws circling one another so joyfully in the snow. They were already being filled in by falling flakes. And the world was quiet.
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 23:26|
The Elephants in the Room
It was just past dawn at the Tsavo Elephant Sanctuary, and breakfast time was winding down. The orphans had been well-fed, the milk was all gone and the humans were stacking the empty bottles into the trailer, ready to take them away to await the next morning’s milk run.
Nyumbani flicked her trunk thoughtfully, and turned to Kauwi.
“I’ve been thinking. We’re good elephants, are we not?”
“Yes…” Kauwi eyed her warily. She was using the tone of voice that meant she was up to something.
“And does Matriarch Mwala not say that every good little elephant deserves their milk?”
“Yes. Which is why we get milk, every morning. Look, you’ve even still got some on your face,” said Kauwi. He could tell that ‘Bani was leading him somewhere by the trunk, but he couldn’t figure out where.
“But do you think,” she asked, smacking her lips as her pink tongue did a lap around her mouth to catch the stray drops of milk Kauwi had pointed out, “that we get enough milk? Because I think we’re very good, and so we deserve more milk. All the milk that there is.”
“‘Bani, don’t be ridiculous! We know the humans make us the milk every morning, and if there was more milk they’d bring it with them. That’s just a basic milk fact.”
“No, hear me out. What if… there was more milk?” She waggled her ears to emphasise her point. “Every morning they bring it to us, without fail. It has to come from somewhere, right? Maybe they keep it inside one of their big hollow trees.”
“No buts! If I’m wrong, so what? We’ll get to see the human trees up close. But if I’m right, we get so much milk, Kauwi. Imagine it! More milk than even Matriarch Mwala could drink! Come on Kauwi, don’t you want to know? You love mysteries!”
It was true. Kauwi thought back to the last mystery he and ‘Bani had solved. There hadn’t been any milk, but Matriarch Mwala had said she was very impressed with them when they’d discovered that hollowed-out log by the watering hole. Maybe this would impress her too.
“Fiiiine,” he trumpeted. “We can follow the humans when they leave.”
‘Bani hooted with happiness. “I knew you couldn’t say no to me!”
During the time it had taken ‘Bani to convince Kauwi, the humans had finished stacking the bottles and had hopped into their truck. They pulled away from the feeding area, and set off towards wherever it was they came from every morning.
They set off after the truck. Though they were still young, ‘Bani and Kauwi could move quickly when they wanted to - especially where milk was concerned. But their short legs couldn’t keep up with the human’s truck, and they soon fell behind. Before long, even the truck’s dust cloud had slipped from view. Panting, Kauwi looked over at ‘Bani.
Rather than answer him, ‘Bani just kept trotting, and flicked her tail in what might have been irritation, or might just have been to keep away the flies. Kauwi could never tell the difference. Eventually, ‘Bani stopped.
“Okay, now we’re going to hide behind those rocks and wait for the next truck to come by.” she instructed. The two elephants left the road, and lowered themselves down behind a rock that was almost entirely inadequate at hiding the two large children.
Just as Kauwi was getting ready to give up and abandon ‘Bani to her quest, they heard the tell-tale sign of a truck approaching, and saw the dust cloud on the horizon. Kauwi held his breath, and they both remained very, very still as the truck rolled past at a crawl.
One of the humans looked out of the truck and stared directly at the two elephants. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to notice them. Rather than stopping and getting out to take them back to their bed-stalls, the humans just kept moving.
“See? Nothing to worry about! Humans aren’t as naturally inquisitive as elephants, and their eyes aren’t well developed. And their ears! Ha!” ‘Bani hooted with laughter. “They can’t hear a thing. I bet they won’t even notice if we follow them.”
“But why are they going so slowly?” asked Kauwi “Do you think they saw us?”
“No, they would have stopped if they had. Maybe they’re just tired out from the heat. You know they don’t work as well in the sun. Anyway, let’s follow them. But we’ll be careful, just in case.”
The two young elephants crept out from behind the rock, and cautiously followed the slow-moving truck. It took most of the afternoon, but the truck finally pulled up at its destination.
“Look, there’s the other truck. This must be it! The tree where they keep the milk! ” ‘Bani couldn’t keep the excitement from her voice. “But how do we get inside?”
The two humans had got out of their car, and headed towards the hollow tree. They were making the strange hooting noise that humans liked to make when they were happy, and they kept glancing over their shoulders towards ‘Bani and Kauwi. Kauwi was sure they’d been spotted, but the humans didn’t do anything to stop them, so he decided that they were more well concealed than he first thought.
“Well, it looks like the humans just pushed on that knothole with one of those strange little side-trunks they have, and they can go right on in. Let’s try that.”
Slowly and surely, they slipped towards their goal. ‘Bani tried the knothole first, prodding it with her trunk. When it didn’t open, she stepped aside to let Kauwi try. He fumbled with it for a few moments, but to no avail.
“It’s not working. Maybe we should go back now…” He trailed off. No, he couldn’t give up now. ‘Bani would never let him hear the end of it. “Actually, I have an idea.”
He gently felt around with his trunk, prodding and pressing. Now certain that it wasn’t going to budge, he unleashed his secret plan. He sidled up to the human tree, and carefully leaned his shoulder against it, casually so as not to arouse any suspicions if a human came wandering by. He took a deep breath, leaned in deeper and—
The tree splintered under his full weight. He trumpeted triumphantly.
Inside the tree were several humans, and at once they all started making their strange hooting noise, that sounded so much like speech. One of them was carrying a big branch with spiny leaves at the end. But there it was! So much milk. This must be all the milk in the world. But before they could get the milk, the humans rushed up, making shooing motions with their two weird trunks. Clearly they weren’t happy. This was all going wrong. They were going to chase the two elephants back to their bed-stalls. Maybe he could distract them while ‘Bani stole the milk. He did the only thing he could think of.
Reaching out with his trunk, he grabbed the little thing on top of the head of the nearest human and stuffed it in his mouth. Guaranteed distraction.
Would it work? He held his breath, and waited to see what the humans would do next...
It was just past dawn at the Tsavo Elephant Sanctuary, and breakfast time was winding down. The orphans had been well-fed, the milk was all gone and the humans were stacking the empty bottles into the trailer, ready to take them away to await the next morning’s milk run.
‘Bani waggled her ears.
“Okay, so they caught us yesterday. But now we know where they keep the milk. Today’s the day, for sure.”
|# ? Jan 12, 2020 23:37|
It was the first day of spring, and despite the chill air and the crunch of snow under her hooves, Bessie felt that things might finally change on the old farm. The other cows had never been very receptive to Bessie's ideas about justice and autonomy, but she'd spent all winter long brainstorming a new rhetorical angle, and she was sure it would work.
The farmer had just finished his morning milking and the cows been put out to pasture when Bessie made her move. She sidled up next to Fortuna, Meemaw, and Holbox, who were all munching grass and turning it into cud. Perfect.
"Friends," Bessie began. "Is the cud we chew not akin to ourselves, as cows?"
She had known to expect blank stares from the other cows. She paused a moment longer, hopefully, to see if one of them might be feeling introspective for the first time ever. None of them did.
"For is it not the farmer who chews us up, not unlike so much cud--"
"Shut up, Bessie," Fortuna interrupted, her ears twitching scowlfully. "That's a bad metaphor. We like chewing cud, for one thing."
"Grass doesn't have any feelings. Who cares if grass gets chewed," said Holbox dully.
"And besides," said Meemaw, the youngest of the four. "We like the farmer. He treats us pretty well. Don't you like getting milked every day?"
"Well, um," mumbled Bessie, retreating into her own cud.
"You're chewing cud yourself! Couldn't you at least swallow it before trying to make us think cud is a tool of the oppressor?" Fortuna was almost as smart as Bessie, which is what made her obstinance so infuriating. It was like she didn't want to see the truth, or chose not to, or worse still took some sadistic glee in shutting down the discussion of big ideas.
“That’s not what I—“ Bessie started, but she was cut off by a gasp from Holbox.
"Look, over by the fence," Holbox said. "It's the farmer and that young lady who's always coming by!" Meemaw squealed and wheeled around to look. Indeed, the farmer was leaning on the fence talking to the young lady, who smiled sweetly at him and twisted her braids.
"Do you think they'll rut and have babies?" Meemaw especially, but all of the other cows had been fantasizing about a romance between those two humans ever since last summer when they'd rolled about together in the barn. Bessie took the opportunity to slink off to the far end of the pasture, by the woods, to be alone.
She pondered the conversation, and tried to track the exact moment her plan had gone wrong, but the biggest point of failure she could identify was that she ever opened her mouth in the first place! She stamped the dirt angrily. Bessie knew cows could be more than just milk providers and lawn mowers on some farm. She knew there had to be other places in the world, like where the young lady lived, new and different, and Bessie wanted to see them with her own two eyes.
And it was just at that moment that Bessie did see something new and different. A man, a human man, creeping along the inner edge of the woods just past the fence. He was only a few feet from Bessie, but his eyes were locked on something far distant. Bessie scarcely had to turn and check before she knew it was the young lady he was staring at with those big wet eyes of his. It was a look of love, and lust, and it burned with an all-consuming fire.
Any mammal would've recognized that look, but Bessie knew it doubly so because it was the same sort of look she sometimes got from Fernando, the bull, through the bars and beams of the barn. Of course, it wasn't a look reserved for Bessie alone, and she had long since decided that true love couldn't exist between cows whilst they lived under the control of the farmer. Still, she wished Fernando all the best, and earmarked him as a strong ally in the coming rebellion, should the consciousness of the cows ever spontaneously bloom.
"What in the world are you doing here?" The look the man gave Bessie didn't bely any remote understanding of her question. And it broke the spell - with another glance back towards the farm, he began picking his way back through the woods. Bessie wondered where he'd go back to, and whether he was free there.
That night, Bessie kept to herself in a corner of the cow pen, separate from the other cows. They still hadn't welcomed her back in after her didactic attempt that morning. It could sometimes take weeks.
She was almost asleep when she heard laughing, and the pitter-patter of human feet. The farmer and the young lady tumbled in, leaving the barn door open, the swinging lantern in his hand casting crazy shadows all around. They mashed their faces together, making all sorts of ugly noises on their way to the hay pile near the back of the barn.
"It's her," said Meemaw excitedly. The cows all tittered and enjoyed the spectacle. "It must be true love!"
Bessie just gazed out the open barn door. The moon was high and full, and the land looked blue beneath it. Just when she thought she'd never get off the farm, and she should just resign herself to the low entertainments she could get, she noticed a dark shape moving towards the barn. It was a man, tall and lanky, with ragged clothes hanging off his body, and he moved with purpose - it was the man, the one she'd seen in the woods. He entered the barn and looked around frantically before snatching up a nearby pitchfork.
"Who's that?" asked Holbox.
"I know him," said Bessie.
"You know him? Exactly how do you know him?" Bessie shut her eyes and bit down on her cud. She should've known Fortuna would jump on that.
"I-I saw him. In the woods."
"I really don't think you did," said Fortuna. The man stood there, staring at the people thrashing in the hay. He gripped the pitchfork tight, wringing it with his weathered hands. The flame of the little lantern flickered in his eyes, but paled to the passion that bubbled out of him. Bessie moved to the gate of the pen and tried to get his attention.
"Hey," she said. "You look like a man who understands the primacy of natural rights." It didn't look like she was getting through to him. She knocked the gate with a hoof. "What do you say you open the gate? Let us out, so we can all live as equals?"
"We don't want to go out, Bessie! Don't tell him that!" Holbox sounded annoyed, but Bessie knew she was scared. The man's intense focus put them all on edge. As they should have been - at that moment, a shout went up from the hay pile. The farmer had noticed the man in the barn. Like someone had slapped his haunch, the man took off sprinting towards the farmer, pitchfork raised. They clashed, and the young lady screamed.
"Kill him, farmer!" Fortuna's voice rose over the anxious cries of the other cows. They couldn't see well in only the light of the lantern, but they all recognized the sound of glass shattering, and hay catching fire. The flames leapt quickly up to the ceiling, and they all saw clearly when the man from the woods, splattered with blood, led the young lady out of the barn by the wrist, and vanished into the night.
"The gate," cried Bessie. "Open the gate! Where's your solidarity, man!"
"It's alright," said Meemaw. "The farmer will let us out soon." But the whole back of the barn was consumed, and the farmer had not yet emerged. Fernando made frantic sounds and kicked at the walls of his pen. The wood creaked and broke in places.
"We have to break the walls. Help me kick!" Bessie positioned herself in front of a beam and started thudding at it with her back hoof, her strongest one. The other cows just stared at her. "This is it!" Kick. "The moment's here!" Kick. "Whatever you thought your life was," Kick. "Now it's this, or die!" Kick. The wood splintered, but the pen held together. The flames now licked over their heads. Fernando thundered past, screaming, his back on fire.
Bessie looked at the terrified cows, pleading. "We can't do this unless we're all together!"
And then, something miraculous happened. The cows all started kicking. In seconds, the pen gave way, and they all ran free, out of the barn and into the cool blue night. The barn collapsed, and the farmhouse caught fire not long after. But by then, the cows had made their way down the road, and onward. To freedom.
|# ? Jan 13, 2020 01:14|
Beck week judge burpins part 2
Brownian Motion, by yoruichi
This is a nice realist slab of a food-paintin’ shut-in, which works not because anything particularly notable happens in it, but because of the quality of its observations (e.g. fourteen steps to the front door, the way she smells of sunscreen and plastic glue) and the stance it takes to its participants - cool-eyed but not unsympathetic (his internal monitor of oddness). It ends, as it should, on a cautious note of hope which feels right - anything more would be cheesy, probably.
Up there, by flerp
This is starting to feel like a genre, sad flerp stories about birds and/or death, and it’s a decent example of the form. We have the tight, terse phrasing, cosmic metaphors, descriptions of hospital things. It’s a good story though, with a nice suspended feeling and pleasing interlocking mesh of metaphors, sky, stars, flight, hope.
Two hundred and nine, by selaphiel
Okay so there are a couple of things wrong with this story, starting with bunch of spelling errors (seering, it’s searing) and odd ESLisms (blanc rather than white) and tense errors ignoring the prompt - personally I barely ever care about that (though that’s not something you can expect from other judges) because what matters is the story, but that doesn’t mean write what’s supposed to be a happy story and make it full of vivisected animals. Yes one manages to die in the beautiful outdoors, but that’s still kind of grim imo. The bigger problem is how one note it all is, sad animals, bad doctors, death, the end. Reading it again, there were probably worse or equally bad stories this week and your choice of tone and subject matter tipped you over to the loss.
Lone loveseat, by carl killer miller
This, idk, it starts on a fairly dull argument, then segues to another even more dull argument, then your dude like steals a couch, and then the dude grows and learns and isn’t mean to his girlfriend any more. There’s nothing insanely bad about this, it’s just bland, the details are adequate and the words are fine but it’s kind of a chore to read nonetheless.
The whiz of the whiz, magic cactus
This was ok, i enjoyed it while reading then it slipped from my mind like mercury out of a well-greased duck. I think your tone is a little too arch, you’re striving for chucker words but not quite reaching it - phrases like ‘pleasantly generic suburban home’ seem to want to be funnier than they are (though calling the mother a ‘perfume ghost’ is nice). The bigger problem is that you only really have a set up - the ‘then i used it to solve a murder lol’ bit has promise, but hey why not show us that rather than waving at it whilst chortling snarfily? Why indeed, i ask.
Control x, twist
drat nice opener, just a sweet little blam blam blam of tight words, good drama and nice details. And you don’t just sit on that, bringing in a genuinely entertaining twist (lol) on possibly the most insanely magic realist superhero i can recall reading about. You keep up a zinging tension between the power and its implications the whole way through, also the turn from trash to rain is just beautifully done, as is the bird metaphor. This only lost by a hair, and is a lovely story you should shop around.
An extra bounty, anom amalg
Aloha my friend, this is what was call some solid genre here, you got the space murder hobo lady, doin a dirty job, we got neon and beggars and space ships and yep everything lines up basically where it’s supposed to. That also means it’s not crazy interesting or surprising, but do you know not every story needs to be that. Solid midrange work.
Twelve stories of vengeance, by slip up
Yeah, this fails on every level, as a cute cat story that sits inside a cats perceptions, as a funny rear end in a top hat cat story, as a coherent piece of fiction - it probably should have taken the loss but the baked-in-the-bone miserabilism of the caged animals story just edged it out.
No Parking, by chairchucker
This was fun, some jaunty dialogue, a nice progression, good tone and surprisingly decent action and sequence of events. Good, midrange work.
|# ? Jan 13, 2020 04:24|
Divine Providence & Infernal Wisdom
Protag is a Seagull
Nearly all-white except for where the feather tips touched void, their asymmetrical spearhead remiges carved currents in the unrelenting oceanic winds as Gabriel, Michael and Rafaela landed on an excrement covered shingled roof. One of their many homes this side of Heaven.
Rafaela dropped a dirty, gnawed Mackerel onto the roof and prepared to split into thirds when Gabriel clamped hard on Michael’s bill.
“What are you doing?” Rafaela demanded.
Michael snatched away and shrieked ready to launch at Gabriel.
“It’s his fault this is all we got, and we had to bully an old crow just to get this.” Gabriel said as Michael lunged at him.
Michael’s wings closed in tight and rose like crooked columns that ended in wicked arches. Stiff feathers bristled with eager energy, ready to facilitate cruel and insidious retribution…
Then Gabriel clamped down hard on his bill again, flapping backwards from the momentum of Michael’s lunge.
“Y’-cant-hol’-me-fer-ever” Michael managed through muted squawks. Would that he could pull his neck free and tear into Michael’s breast. He’d give him the thrashing he deserved, but he was stuck in Gabriel’s unyielding vise-like jaws.
“Can’t-I?” Gabriel struggled to say as his bill slid over Michael’s. Their webbed feet clattered over the slick tiles as they fought for leverage. Gabriel found Michael to be an impertinent fool who took his being like God to mean that he was in fact God. Were it not for Rafaela he would have killed the disgraced wretch several centuries ago.
“Must you two fight over every little thing?” Rafaela said breaking open the not quite desiccated corpse of the Mackerel. “It’s scraps, but there’s more than enough for all of us.”
Gabriel and Michael ignored her pleas however. They locked the one eye they could see each other with. Small, beads of crystalline sulfur with cold, burning obsidian at their centers. The two stared death into one another.
“Your-grp-WILL-Slllpp” Michael said seizing a brief opportunity to take flight and snatch back his bill from Gabriel’s maw. It was a short lived retreat, as Gabriel hopped over, diving through Michael’s winged rebuke, to clamp down once more on his bill.
Captive once again Michael managed to shriek a curse. “drat you, Gabriel. drat you to hell!”
The two circled the rooftop tiles, as they struggled to find footing hopping and fluttering over the ridges.
Gabriel’s strength, despite his namesake’s reputation, began to wane and he struggled to pursue the Godlike Michael with aggravated tenacity.
Michael’s wings glinted like daggers, as he whipped his neck and pulled his bill free. He brought the wing crashing down on Gabriel, flinging him from the rooftop into the air.
“Stop!” Rafaela shouted moving away from the mackerel.
Gabriel crashed back into Michael, tackling him onto the tiles and once again clamped down on his bill, tugging and pulling at his head.
“Stop! Just stop already!” Rafaela continued to protest.
Just then, as Rafaela neared the Gabriel and Michael, an old one-eyed crow smoking a cigarette landed near the mackerel.
“I’ll be taking my lunch back now.” The crow said looking at Rafaela who thought to dart at him, when he gestured towards a rooftop lined with a full murder of crows.
“It’s clear you three ain’t from around here, but this here, this is my lunch.”
“I know what you are,” Rafaela said, “you’re just a daemon, stuck here until doomsday like the rest of us.”
“Ring-ding-a-ling, get the sweetheart a prize.”
“What do you want?”
“Well, I told you… my lunch, but outside of that… I don’t see why we can’t get along. We enjoy watching you so called watchers, so we’ll let it go this time, but the rules here are different than they were behind your little pearly gates. Enjoy your stay in OUR territory. Maybe find you some new friends.”
Rafaela leaped at the crow, and it flew away with the mackerel snatched up in one of its wings.
She shrieked and charged Michael and Gabriel who still circled one another snapping at each other’s bills and clawing at each other with their feet.
“You god damned idiots!”
Gabriel and Michael looked at Rafaela shocked as she gestured to the missing mackerel and the uproarious laughter of the nearby crows.
“That language is blasphemous!” Michael and Gabriel said in unison before turning towards each other in annoyance and resuming their fighting.
Rafaela darted into Gabriel knocking him on his back and used a firm wing to smack Michael into the air.
“If you two didn’t have to have a bill measuring contest over every trial and tribulation that came our way, we might actually get some-loving-where.”
Michael smoothed his feathers and offered up a smug dismissal. “You’re just not seeing things clearly. I tried explaining to our brutish companion, that being the vessel chosen by god to work his likeliness in the world, that my judgment is most keen. He need only follow my guidance, and you as well, Rafaela. You’re just a healer and keeper of the peace, what do you know about the Lord’s vision, hmm?”
Rafaela rolled her eyes and launched dried excrement and dirt at Michael who bobbed around the gust and perched nearby on the roof.
Gabriel strolled over dramatically to mask his hurt pride. “you’re lucky she interrupted. If it weren’t for her I’d do you in right now, in front of God and anyone else that cared to watch!”
“Oh yeah, you stupid meathead, you think you can? I’d like to see you-“
“ENOUGH!” Rafaela shouted. “You’re both lucky I don’t just leave you here.”
Michael and Gabriel looked at her, but Michael saw an opening in the silence and clamped down on Gabriel’s bill to resume fighting.
Rafaela sighed and flew to the docks and stared out at the sea.
“What was your plan in all this? What are we doing here?” She asked the evershifting expanse.
The old, cigarette smoking, crow landed beside her.
“Loaded questions for a bunch of water.”
Rafaela said nothing.
“We’re not that different you and I.” The crow said.
“How do you figure?” Rafaela turned towards him incredulously.
“Wandering without a plan, with too many questions. Nothing I’m not familiar with.”
“Still don’t see how that makes us alike, daemon. Your kind enjoys damnation and suffering. I just am trying to understand God’s plan in all this.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. We don’t enjoy damnation and suffering, it’s just the job. I didn’t ask for this, you didn’t ask for this, those fishermen netting up all those delicious fish didn’t ask for this. We are here and suffering just so happens to come with the territory.”
“So what are you saying? I turn my back on God, and join up with you daemons and just enjoy being in the moment.”
The crow removes the cigarette from his beak and laughs.
“No, no… angels and daemons, hand in hand, singing hymns and reminiscing about the good ol’ days, I think not, but live your best life kid.” He said gesturing towards Michael and Gabriel who still fought one another over a meal that had long since been lost.
Rafaela was silent as she frustratingly acknowledged her idiot companions on the roof and knew the crow was right.
“You’re looking at one side of the coin right now, and you’re not wrong, it’s grimy, but if you flip it over and wipe away some of the muck, you’ll see there’s a lot of worth being here for. A lot of love in this limited experience.” The crow said coughing on the cigarette.
“Strange words coming from an ageless daemon.”
“Stranger circumstances that see an ageless daemon and an angel sharing cigarettes in the bodies of seagulls and crows, no?” he said turning the cigarette like a log in his beak to give a drag to Rafaela.
She took it in her bill and breathed in deeply.
The crow cawed and quivered his neck, and a moment later a pelican off-loaded fresh fish and crabs onto the dock before them.
“I’ll be watching you, kid. Don’t let those idiots bring you down. There’s more to life than duty. Find your own answers.”
Rafaela took another drag, offered the cigarette back to the crow, and snatched up a fish in her bill.
The crow nodded, and she left then, flying towards the sun, ready to embark on her own journey.
|# ? Jan 13, 2020 04:54|
The Ritual of Haast
Quiffles chirped with authority, prancing back and forth on a high branch. The rest of the parliament of magpies was layered in the branches above and below.
"...and we will retake our homes, our forests, our plains..."
Mully started to tune out. He held the tiny silver pin in his beak and tilted it, watching the sun play over the miniscule letters engraved in its surface. Quiffles brought out this speech every week or two. Mully thought the conviction in his voice had gotten a bit pathetic.
"...we will unleash the curse of Haast, the beasts will fall upon each other, no choice but to be rent in their own teeth and claws!"
Mully perked up at the mention of bloodshed. The parliament had recently grown a little too radicalized for his comfort, but he could sympathize. Quiffles was pulling out all the stops.
Quiffles trilled long and low.
"The ritual of Haast is at hand! Join me, brothers and sisters, join me in this darkest sacrament of revenge, ushering the beasts to the abbatoir of-"
Quiffles leapt from the branch, narrowly dodging a speeding rock.
Larry hucked another rock at the trees of magpies. Bernard looked over from the fire.
"Leave the birds alone, Larry. You're making a fool of yourself."
Bernard thought that Larry didn't need the birds' help.
Larry stalked back to the fire. He sat down and began to warm his hands.
"My head's killin' me, Bern, and they won't quit with the fuckin' chirping."
"They're birds, Larry. The sun goes up and down, you steal poo poo from old ladies, and birds chirp. Cry me a river."
Bernard sighed heavily and poked the fire, thinking of their last few days. Larry's idiocy had gotten them into this mess, made what should have been a clean smash-and-grab into a frantic run from the cops. Two uncomfortable train hitches later, the burglars were stranded in a nameless stretch of Wisconsin pine with a bag of loot and nowhere to fence it.
Larry was emphatic. "They're not just birds, Bern. They're maggies."
Bernard was unmoved.
Larry practically leapt to his feet. His joy at the possibility of educating Bernard was near-electric.
"You don't know what a maggie is, do you Bern?"
Bernard looked at his partner disparagingly. He thought that Larry's currently-upturned nose and thick, twitching brows made him look like caveman nobility.
"A maggie, my dear Bern, is a bird what just loves silver. They build big shiny nests up the trees fulla all the junk they take from honest folk like us."
Bernard wasn't listening. He was mentally reviewing the meticulous list in his backpack, specifically that list's very worrying discrepancies.
Quiffles chirped and ruffled his feathers. The parliament had regrouped after the dirty man's ambush, but the air was thick with anxiety. Feathers were ruffled. It was time for a rousing speech, he thought. Something to rally the troops, to strike the rock attack from memory.
He rattled his gizzard and tucked one wing in a dignified manner.
"Who can recall the great promise of Haast!?"
The other magpies looked elsewhere, picking nits from the branches. Quiffles' opening line had fallen short. He persevered.
"What must we assemble before Haast unleashes his beaked fury?"
A few of the magpies took flight, perhaps for an evening snack. Mully cringed a little at the rhetoric but stuck around to humor the elder bird. He cared for old Quiffles.
"A lance of silver, to pierce the mind! A coin of gold, to pay the way forward! A sparkling jewel, to swallow the light!"
In a high branch, Mully listened close. The silver needle he held in his beak had become very heavy.
Quiffles continued, undeterred by his lukewarm audience.
"When his holy raiment has been assembled, the beasts will turn on their nestmates, made berserk by the bird-god's wrath! The humble magpie will be king! Such is the fury of Haast!"
Mully stashed the needle in a wooden hollow and flitted down to the beasts and their fire.
"I don't like the way them maggies is gathering, Bern."
The light was growing low. Bernard hefted another log onto the fire in preparation for the cold night ahead.
"I'm tellin' ya, they shoulda been gone by now. It's almost winter, what's they still doin' here? I don't like it, Bern."
Larry walked to the duffel bag and poked it with his foot.
"I saw one of 'em stickin' its little beak on the stash. I tell ya, those maggies-"
Bernard cut him off. "First of all, they're magpies. Not maggies. Second, all that junk about them hunting out shiny prizes to build their nests, that's all bullshit. It's an old wives tale, Larry." Bernard's tone softened. He needed Larry to relax. He needed time alone.
"They're just birds, Larry. Trust me. Just one more night lying low. Then we follow the train tracks, find some civilization, hock the stash, and get comfortable."
Larry grumbled, but settled down onto a pile of leaves. He shook out a rag, then draped it over his eyes. He laid there for a moment, then called out.
"You goin' to bed too, Bern?"
"I'll bed down in a little bit, Larry. You rest easy."
Bernard waited a few minutes. Larry was soon fast asleep, with little apneic gasps between heavy snores. Bernard took a sheet of paper from his backpack and studied it. He'd always been meticulous, but had lacked the brawn for a heavy break-in. After scanning the list, he carefully moved toward the duffel bag.
A bird, one of Larry's 'maggies', was perched on the bag. He pondered giving it a vicious kick, but in a flash of wings it was gone. The bag clanked as he moved it away from Larry, away from the popping fire, but his accomplice didn't stir.
Bernard settled down with his list in one hand and the other buried in the bag. He began to take stock.
No honor among thieves, after all, Bernard thought. His count had come up with three items missing, one more than the night before: one silver knitting needle, engraved. One gold krugerrand. Plus, tonight, one diamond ring.
Bernard seethed. The fake camaraderie, the idiot act, all while robbing him blind. The birds, those birds were the final indignation. Using them as a cover for taking more than his fair share? Ridiculous.
Even with the element of surprise, Bernard doubted that he could subdue Larry like this. His moment would have to wait until morning.
Under the sunrise, Mully scooted and flitted to Quiffles. The elder bird regarded Mully benevolently.
"Mully, my child. What brings you to my hollow this fine morning?"
Mully anxiously tapped his claws.
"I have something to show you."
The birds flew to Mully's hollow. The younger bird hesitated on the branch, then lifted a leaf from the hideaway. Quiffles let out a choked chirp.
The dim nook held a silver needle, a gold coin, and a ring set with a fiery diamond.
Quiffles played his wing over the objects with reverence. He looked to Mully.
Mully's words tumbled out. "I don't know, there were the beasts, and their treasure, and I picked these things up, and your speech, then the needle, and last night..."
Quiffles lightly stroked Mully with his wing, then picked a nit from the little bird's feathers.
"A true miracle of Haast."
His gaze drifted back to the treasure in the hollow, then over to Mully.
"My boy, assemble the parliament. The hour is at hand."
Bernard glared at Larry's back. He shivered. Larry was blocking the fire.
Larry hadn't noticed, his eyes were skyward.
"Something's wrong with them maggies, Bern."
Larry kept talking with his back to Bernard. "Just one of 'em is talkin'. The rest are all just, well, they's just sittin' there. I don't like it, Bern. Those maggies-"
Bernard felt an artery in his temple pulse. He lunged off of the log, kicking Larry into the roaring fire. Bernard pressed his boot into Larry's back as his partner writhed and screamed.
The watching magpies broke into joyous song, Quiffles loudest of all.
|# ? Jan 13, 2020 05:35|
The Sloth Who Saw His Hands
We hang together, young one, you and me.
Stay, listen, and I will tell you what I have to tell you.
There was one of us, back before the counting of time, named Vai. And one day, after eating leaves and dozing in the sun, clinging to the underside of a tree branch, he noticed his hands for the first time in his life.
There was nothing wrong with them--they were ordinary sloth hands, sharp claws, pink palms surrounded by tight fronds of grey hair.
And yet, Vai felt his heart lurch, because he no longer saw the hands of his ancestors in his. He no longer felt the Chain.
In the ancient times, the Chain was what held us all together. The spirits were with us then. All sloths could look down at their two hands and see them. In their left hand, the hands of their father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, great-and-greater, claws dulled and smoothed, palms wizened and dirty. In their right hand, the hands of their sons, daughters, and their sons and daughters, palms exposed and soft, fur bright and wavy. They were held aloft and held in place by their past and future.
I sense the way you stir, young one. Be patient, and listen to the story I have to tell.
When Vai discovered this, he nearly went mad. How could his family abandon him? He felt like his head, hands, and feet were all floating in space, without anything for him to latch onto.
And the other sloths around him were no help. Rest in the sun more, one said. Vai let the sun bake him to his core, until the strands of fur on his chest were dry as wisps, and it didn’t help. Swim in the river more, another said. Vai dove into the river, cutting swathes through the water with his claws, shaking droplets off of him and into the air, and it didn’t help. Eat more leaves, yet another said. Vai stuffed vegetation into his face, green juice dripping down his chin--it didn’t help.
None of them could help--they only knew what they knew, and they didn’t know life apart from the Chain.
Then Vai went to the edges of where he and the other sloths lived, and came to a sloth he had not met before, hanging from a tree branch by his claws. Vai scurried up the tree, happy to see an unfamiliar face, someone who might know something he didn’t know. He shimmied over to the other sloth, clinging to the underside of the branch, and started talking. Asking questions, questions that flowed out of him like rain from above. How did this happen? Why did this happen? What should I do? Every now and then, in the middle of his breathless talking, he turned to the sky, the eye blind and blue, ignoring the sloth beside him for a moment, as if he thought someone greater than the two of them would answer.
The other sloth did not interrupt him once, only remained silent.
When Vai stopped, he turned toward the other sloth and told him that he was a good listener, humble, full of patience, held in place by the Chain. Vai felt a pang in his heart, and reached forward, picked a grub from the other sloth’s fur and ate it.
Vai stopped, looked down at his hand.
His claws were red.
He looked back at the other sloth. Noticed several more grubs on his fur, feeding on the blood around the dark red rim of the hole in his chest, the hole that Vai could look straight through.
The other sloth’s claws clung tight to the tree branch, and his feet swayed in the wind, side to side.
Vai’s fur bristled up, and he shrunk back.
The leaves were rustling with a creature’s sudden approach.
Vai could feel it. There was no time for him to escape.
Death was here. Death was coming.
He tried to call for help, but couldn’t speak, couldn’t think, could only offer up a silent shouting prayer: Help me. Ancestors. Descendants. Please.
He felt a sharp pain in his hands.
The air exploded.
Vai was falling, falling, falling, and then the ground struck him in the chest. He scrambled up to the top of the nearest tree before he realized he was still alive.
He peeked out through the leaves and saw pale creatures, standing tall on the forest floor, carrying thin metal sticks. They spoke in low voices, mocking imitations of the high-pitched chattering of the jungle. One of them picked up a rock and threw it up at the dead sloth, still hanging from the branch. It struck him in the legs, swung him back and forth like he was alive and playing. Vai felt a burning fire in his chest.
Once the creatures were gone, Vai looked to the left, and saw the marks on the bark of the other tree, impacted by small metal pellets, splintered and torn, behind where he had just been hanging moments ago.
How? Vai thought. Why--
He remembered the pain in his hands right before he fell, forcing them open, forcing them to let go.
He looked down at his hands again, and for a second they were there again, all his parents, all his children.
They disappeared once he looked away, but he hung in the tree until dark, looking at his hands, feeling them grip the branch tight.
Yes, that’s the story, young one. You can tell more of it if you want. Make up your own. You have time, you realize that. You have time.
My fur is matted and weatherbeaten, these days, but it still makes for a good home, green with life. The flies and the lice and the moths all find shelter with me, as they will with you one day. My limbs are weak, but my hands are strong, and my claws are sharp, and I will use them to latch onto what time I have left, but in the end I will go, as all of us must. Carried up into the center of the world, the blind blue eye that watches us all.
Until then, we are what we hold onto, and what holds on to us. The leaves hold onto the twigs, and the twigs hold onto the branches, and the branches hold onto the trunk, and the trunk holds onto the roots, and the roots grow out of the right hand of Creation, the maker of everything.
Up is the life beyond, below is the life before, and in our left and right hands are our past and future. My eyes barely work anymore, but I can see them, the Chain, every so often, but only when I dream at night. Long ago, our ancestors stopped resting behind our eyes and started resting in our hearts. I see the hands of my father and mother, and their fathers and mothers, all of us hanging onto each other, a long and beautiful chain, extending down into the earth like tree roots, all the way to the first of us, maker of everything, extending their hand caked with dust and dirt and crawling life.
And then I see your hand in mine, young one, and I see the sky, clear and bright.
|# ? Jan 13, 2020 06:33|
|# ? Jun 5, 2020 10:03|
Friends of Luca
It started the way it always does: with a favor. A big favor. There was a shark running through the community like it was king poo poo, snapping and snarling and demanding tribute. When it savaged my cousin Blue, that was the last straw. Someone had to do something. I went to the big boss. Nobody else had the guts.
He was holding court. Well, his guys were holding court. The bosses, they don't talk much. I laid out my problem. Johnny Garlic, the guy what did most of the talking, was full of sympathy. He told me they'd take care of it, and they did. That shark was gone the next day.
The thing about favors is that they have to be paid back. It wasn't long before Johnny came around the house, invited himself to dinner. Johnny liked the grub, liked my girl to. Feeling was clearly not mutual. So I had to sit there through an hour of him being gross in front of me before he got to the point. "Charles," he said, "Charles, we need your help. We're a bit short staffed right now. You know how it is, some new guy shows up with his fancy new shoes and the crabs go wild, and soon enough there's a new player. Only there's still just so much to go around."
I didn't really have much choice. They put me in a fancy suit, tail to tip, and all of the sudden I was part of the crew. Not a big part, but part. A little muscle, good for leaning on merchants and shoving the other guys out of the way. They started paying me, good money, enough to be worth the time.
Things got food, at first. Real good. The work came easy. I'm a big guy. People have always cringed a bit to see me mad. Plus I had a good eye for numbers, could tell when something wasn't adding up. So the money, the money was good. Put good food on the table every day good. Spend on something nice for yourself or the wife good. Thing is, when you start earning that well, people take notice. You've got to be careful, make it clear you're not a threat. Eventually, you've got to be brought inside.
I've got to say I was scared out of my gills, first time they took me to the crabs. You ever seen them eat? I know they prefer a meal that doesn't move around, but that's not much comfort. The crabs speak for the bosses. The bosses judge your character, and you either end up in or out. Way out. They decided I could be trusted, which goes to show what they know.
A few years in, there was a change in management. The boss got too calcified to run our organization. A younger one moves in, and instead of a war on our level the crab swarms settled it, did a merger. We were the junior partners, and Johnny didn't take too well to taking orders rather than giving them. He remembered how to kiss rear end enough to not get in trouble right away, but he took it out on everyone else. There was a kid, ran goofy little errands. Johnny picked a fight, egged him on until he said something back, then shove the kid right into a net. "You hear what that dumb schmuck said to me?" he yelled as the poor guy got hauled up.
So one day I come home and there's Johnny, laid out on the kitchen floor. My wife was over him, black and teary eye, barely making any sense. "God, Charles," she said. "He's going to kill us when he comes to."
She didn't say anything else. She didn't have to. We push him out the back way, put him on a hook, and watch him rise.
So the second time I'm in front of the crabs I know I'm lying my tail off, pretty much figure they know too, think they're going to go right off-script and tear me into sushi and chow down right then and there. Except they don't. They put me in his job instead, right under Joey Deadline.
The crabs, they ain't what they think they are. It sort of figures. They get their knowledge from the mobsters that get sent down here, and half of those were on the losing side of their last war. The crabs aren't that bright, but Joey was. Saw right through me. Gave me the look. I'm going to kill you. You just don't know when.
When you're under that kind of gun you make bad decisions. I sure did. Stupid bets. Dumber affairs. The wife left, took the kids and went out east. She has family there. The money was still good, but the debt kept piling up. And Joey was always there, staring and smiling.
So when the other crabs, the blue ones, came to me, I was ready to fall right in. See, half the ones sent down here were the losers in a war, like I said.
The other half were police informants.
So yeah, I sang like a bird. Don't know what good it will do them. And in return I got a sweet witness protection racket, safe in giant fishtank where none of those guys can come near, getting fed every day without having to do more than swim pretty for the people on the other side of the glass. People look strange when there's meat on those skeletons, I've got to say.
There's another guy here, older, Andy Sparks. I knew him coming up, thought he was dead. He tells me every morning he thinks about ramming right into the glass. "You'll never get back to the sea that way," I say.
"Yeah," he sighs. "That's why I don't do it." He's a bitter old fish. Not me. Good food, plenty of women, and nobody looking to put you I in a net or on a hook or on the wrong end of a harpoon: what more could you ask?
|# ? Jan 13, 2020 06:54|