|# ? Apr 10, 2020 06:32|
|# ? Dec 1, 2020 12:13|
|# ? Apr 10, 2020 12:01|
|# ? Apr 10, 2020 16:12|
So here we are, week 384. Somehow, I managed to miss my critting obligations for this week. When I was prompted on this I was shocked. I don’t usually miss things like this and I hate when stories go uncritted. If you want a deeper dive, feel free to request one. I’m much better at actually critting these when they are fresh on my mind, so I can really buckle down and read a couple more of these if need be.
Let’s have it.
Simply Simon’s A Quiet Cry in a City of Screams
This was a fair pick for the win. It had ambition and went straight for the jugular of anthropomorphization as opposed to that sorta soupy middle poo poo where an animal is kinda human. This just works in that regard and the imagery is vivid and crisp.
The story does well in addressing curiosity and intrigue. And though I do enjoy the motif of sound ringing out in the majority of your metaphors, the prose begins to overstay its welcome a bit towards the end when things are still a bit lilting and ominous, but I guess it’s at least consistent.
It’s a solid entry, and I didn’t quibble with it taking down the win\
Welp, this was pretty much peak Thranguy, as I have come to understand Thranguy. It’s ambitious and its novel in its approach, and most of all, its polarizing. It got the HM, not because of me. I didn’t much care for this and got lost. Yes, that likely seems to be somewhat of the point but man… could the formatting of it at least be made more clear? I’m sure the choices made here were intentional but it just was too much for my brain to process.
There’s a lot to like in here though, some of the speech bubbles have a wonderfully sharp turn of phrase and, taken on their own, each sentence probably reads better than an average TD sentence. But yeah, it doesn’t quite come together for me.
flerp’s Terminally Online
Your writing style connects with me more than most in the dome and it did here again. Out of everything I’m rereading now this one pinged my memory the hardest. The way you characterize that one weird guy that we all kinda now, and how he just kinda sorta stays a presence in our life?
It’s odd, everything thinks they have that one weird person, which means we’re probably all that one weird person for someone else.
Anyhow, I didn’t like this DM’ing and if I’m remembering correctly (probably not) this impasse might have turned me off my judgely duties for the week. Why am I bringing this up a in crit? Good question.
Your prose works for me, and the relationship is believable and a difficult one to portray.
CarlKillerMiller’s Song in the Wind
Pretty standard CKM fare. Well written, pretty, somewhat ominous and overall a very contemplative pice of writing. This is you in your wheelhouse and that’s cool, cos this mostly works. I got a little lost in some of the dilaogue which isn’t consistently attributed, but that’s kinda ok, and does seem intentional. The piece is largely evocative and connects for the most part.
Something Else’s High Signal Ratio
Clever title, considering the week. The voice is consistent and strong and characterizes your protag pretty well. You got a knockdown from the win on this because of the emphasis on worldbuilding and the lack of focus on prompt. I don’t really care about the focus on prompt and think the worldbuilding here is strong enough that it gets me curious about wanting to read more and get a sense of the place. This is kinda veering into the black mirror/minority report of “sometime in the near future” but the handling of it is competent.
SlipUp’s The Dying of the Light
Your opening graph is baggy and lacks bunch as it goes on and on over something that should resonate and sting to read. It sets the tone for a slow and brooding pace and that doesn’t quite match what your story is all about.
As I’m going back over this I’m remembering why I didn’t defend it harder. There wasn’t much new here. The story of a junkie getting high and reviewing all that they’ve lost and how sad everything is… like sure. That’s probably all true and accurate in most of these cases. Why do I want to read about it? There’s nothing here that feels fresh and I’ve seen you write at a higher level with greater ambition.
rat-born cock’s Cry Beast
You didn’t really submit a story, so I’m not really going to crit this. Instead, I’ll muse a bit. I didn’t want to give this the loss. Not because it’s better than anything else, let’s be clear: it is the worst thing submitted this week, but I didn’t want to give it the loss because the loss is a badge that is earned by trying. If you’re just gonna submit poo poo like this, don’t submit at all. It’s been a bit since you’ve been round these parts. I want you to come back. I want you to come back and try. We don’t know what you’re capable of and that’s a drat shame. Whatever kept you from pounding a story out, whatever that is… gently caress that. Get your rear end back in here and give a drat. Put a story down, no matter how good, bad, or ugly, learn how to grow and make yourself better. This place is goddamn magical and you can get a lot out of being here. I hope you read this. I hope you come back.
Anomalous Amalgam’s Not Myself Anymore
OK, so onto happier news. Let’s talk about AA. AA, you’ve gotten better, at least to my eye. If I take this and put it up against your more recent work the quality of the prose, and command you have over the general execution of your writing is pretty clear. And for gently caress’s sake it hasn’t even been that long. You’re on track to keep improving and your moxie in the dome is encouraging.
As to the piece itself… eh? I see why the head judge didn’t like it. I didn’t really either. There’s some nuts and bolts errors that just muddy the waters. Tense confusion, typos, that sorta thing.
And like sentences like this: “Algaraz adjusted a dial on the chair as the humming began to take on an undulation that resonated throughout the entirety of Yanni’s body.” This receives that horrible designation of “awkward” which doesn’t mean much until it does. Sometimes, it’s better to just say “Algaraz was getting Yanni’s rocks off”. That’s what’s happening here, right?
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 02:47|
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 04:27|
i wrote 80% of an entry while waiting for my cojudges to read so i'm in
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 06:47|
make that 100% i guess
Thun saw the hunters off with the rest of the grandmothers, her face hard and solemn as any matron’s should be when witnessing the departure of the clan’s youngest and strongest. It was only when the headstrong mob had set off at a thundering jog that she and the other grandmothers permitted themselves to giggle and discuss among themselves what they might do with this short reprieve from the perpetual drama of youth.
The clan was settled in their summer home—a long river valley nestled cozily between two high ridges. Life in the valley was abundant and generous; silt deposited by winter floods nourished fat berries and crunchy roots. The river, her rage soothed by the coming of the long, warm sun, flowed gently and delivered her finned children readily unto the clan’s spears and nets. In return for this tenderness, the clan remembered the valley as 'mother', and sang of her often around winter fires.
After a bit of deliberation, the matrons agreed that they would spend the day weaving and eating in the birth cave. Thun smiled to herself; there was never any real debate. Any time the hunters left, it was off to the cave and all the delights therein. The matrons, after all, had lived long enough to earn their secrets.
A few clanfolk remained by the huddle of hide tents: child-tenders and their wards, mostly, but a few injured hunters, too. All of them pretended to be preoccupied with their chores as the tittering group of matrons left the camp. It was forbidden to know the comings and goings of grandmothers, and the price of nosiness was a severe public scolding. Even the most seasoned hunters agreed: they’d rather face a wolf with the frothing sickness than the righteous rage of a grandmother.
Thun closed her eyes and tilted her head back as she walked, trusting her feet to feel their way along the familiar grooves of the ancient trail. Fragments of sunlight slipped through the thick tree canopy, sparked against her eyelids, made the secret birth cave inside her skull glow with flashes of blood-red light—
faster and faster the flashes of fragmented sunlight come, as though Thun is running at the speed of a panicked deer, head flung back, eyes blind to everything but the flickering cave within.
Where are her feet?
Faster than a deer now, faster than the wind, faster than life. Thun has no name for this terrible speed, the dizzying flicker of lights against her eyelids and, oh, why can’t she open her eyes?
Too fast too soon too fast too soon too—
Thun collided with the matron in front of her—stout old Wepa. Wepa-most-ancient. Wepa-stone-hands. Wepa-of-the-hunters’-tears. Wepa was the grandmother of grandmothers, and the only creature whose wrath the other matrons feared. The eldest elder grunted, did a shuffling about-face to see who had plowed into her backside, her expression dark as wet slate. When she saw it was Thun, however, her stony look softened to something merely leathery.
“You slipped into the dreaming again,” Wepa observed.
The rest of the small procession had shuffled to a stop, and were watching the exchange with wary interest.
Thun shook her head in vigorous denial. “No, grandmother. I was watching the branches above for birds.”
“And what,” Wepa said, “is a crone like you going to do with a bird in a tree, hmm? Did you bring one of the children’s slingshots?”
Thun said nothing. Lying to Wepa was like trying to put out a fire by feeding it more wood. The other grandmothers murmured to each other, the same things they always said when Thun did something strange: Why won’t she be our see-sayer? Why won’t she drink the bitterwater?
After a protracted moment, Wepa said, “Keep your eyes in this world, little crone.”
And the grandmothers shambled on, up the sun-dappled cave path. Thun’s own name followed her like a swarm of gnats—Thun the selfish. Thun the cowardly. Thun the wasteful.
Venerable grandmother Thun had helped deliver half the living clanfolk from their mothers’ bodies, but had never birthed children from her own. She made water while standing up, and instead of bleeding at puberty, she’d sprouted a dark, wiry beard. The first time she witnessed a birth, she sobbed against Wepa’s shoulder; the space between her legs was not a place of blood and fire and screaming life. The mysterious agonies of birth were not hers to understand.
After that first birth, once the new mother was wrapped in furs, cooing to her newborn, Wepa had comforted Thun, saying: There are mothers of all kinds, dear one. Your words are your children—the stories you tell, the pictures you give us when we listen.
Those words had comforted Thun for a time, until she was old enough to understand their portent.
It had been three generations since the clan had a mother of stories—a see-sayer. She who went far into the dreaming and brought back songs of what was to come: floods, famines, feasts, great migrations, deaths, births, and births, and always more births. In the endless song of clan history, the refrain of the see-sayers never changed. The see-sayer lived with one foot in the dreaming, one foot in the world of the hunt. She birthed stories from her mouth and spilled seed from her loins, and never coupled with another.
The see-sayer alone drank the bitterwater and lived. The see-sayer alone underwent a madness more painful than birth, clawing her way into the womb of the dreaming to glimpse the unborn future. The see-sayer suffered for the good of the clan, and eventually the dreaming stole her mind, leaving a moaning, drooling shell for the hunters to put down.
Thun liked the present, and refused to drown her experience of it in the madness of the future.
The mood shifted once the matrons arrived at the birth cave. All was forgotten, and forgiven. A pile of stones was shifted, revealing baskets filled with dried fruit and fish. Two of the more spry grandmothers crouched by the firepit at the cave mouth, coaxing flame out of wood still damp from spring’s torrential rain, while others spread piled furs thickly on the ground, tittering amongst themselves at how the clan youths would fight each other for such luxurious trappings.
Thun walked deeper into the cave, stooping and then crouching as the roof sloped down to meet the rough stone floor. There, nestled in a natural elbow of rock, was a heap of dry grass, pine bows, and furs, painted black by the dried gore of a hundred births. Though it had been nearly a full turn of the seasons since any of the clan had conceived a child, Thun could smell the tangy, organoid odor of blood and tissue, hear the echoing wail of newborn confusion, and the final moans of those mothers whose bodies could not withstand the trauma of birth.
Crouched before the birthing nest, Thun wrapped her arms around her shins and rested her chin on her knees, wincing at a twinge in her back. She didn’t need the bitterwater to predict what awaited the clan in the coming seasons; it was all there in the cave, in the little nest of furs stained brown-black by birth and death. In her long life, Thun had starved in harsh seasons and grown fat in bountiful seasons, and had no reason to think things would be any different for generations to come.
Someone called from the mouth of the cave: “Wepa, what’s that in the sky?”
Thun clambered backward, hissing at the pain in her back, until she could stand and join Wepa and the others at the cave’s entrance.
At first it seemed to Thun that she was witnessing a fireside ceremony in the sky—a gathering of star people, perhaps. A cluster of lights encircled a central sphere that shone brightly enough to leave splotches of discoloration in Thun’s field of vision, a second sun hanging in the clear blue sky. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The star people didn’t come out during the day, and they didn’t drift across the sky like a leaf atop a river current, which is what the light in the distance was doing.
faster and faster and—
The thing in the sky glided low along the horizon, dipping and bobbing like a wounded bird in flight.
Too much too fast, too much too fast—
“Wepa? What is it?” The other grandmothers clamored for an explanation, plaintive as children wondering at the sound of thunder. Wepa stood beside Thun, lips drawn into a tight, flat line.
The thing in the sky dipped once more, seemed to correct course, and then plummeted down between the nearby foothills.
“It’s the future,” Thun said, just before the deafening boom of impact sent birds screaming into the sky, each of them a herald of birth and death to come.
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 08:29|
I know I'm a few hours late, but I just found this and would like to get in if I can.
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 09:07|
Oops. Didn't see the new prompt mixed in with the entries being posted. I understand if it's too late, but if not, I'd like in.
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 09:38|
You're all in. It nobody else is!
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 13:52|
“Wake up, little brother!”
Soring jolted awake to the warm weight of his sister pressing over him, the way she always did when he stopped breathing in his sleep.
Streaks of red flashed across his vision—the last remnants of a nightmare that had plagued his sleep since he was a kid. He shook the images from his mind, but they circled back like a swarm of flies tackling a rotten apple.
Red. Everything was red.
The white wooden slats of his crib were coated in red. His soft velvety cushion, red. Red covered his body and stuck in his downy hairplumes.
A man’s face was pressed against the slats. His bulging eyes were wide open; so was his neck. Red seeped out.
“Sor, look at me.”
A flash of warmth struck across his cheek, sending the images racing from his mind. His eyes fluttered open. He dragged in a sharp breath—too deep—and winced as the air burst into serrated knives in his lungs. His pulse hammered in his ears.
He rolled over and sought refuge in his sister’s mint-green eyes. He flopped his arm over her, gave her a light squeeze and planted a wet kiss on her forehead. Hyvani tickled the tips of his pointed ears.
“Thanks,” he rasped. She recoiled at the bite of his dry, acrid breath. He flagged his hand through the air, signaling for her to reach his water for him. She crinkled her brow when she realized what he was referring to.
“You’re not supposed to drink from these,” she said. Still, she handed him the spherical water globe from his night stand.
He slurped it all down before replying.
“If the Lifebringers have a problem with me using their sacred bowl to hydrate myself, they shouldn’t have created me with half-functioning lungs.”
Hy reached over his head and pushed open his shutters. A shaft of sunlight spilled over her sunset-bronze face. Her mahogany-red hairplumes were woven into two Himari-style braids. The loose ends coiled over her shoulders.
“Are you having those nightmares again?” she said.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he picked out little images in the popcorn texture of his bedroom ceiling.
“Sor, why haven’t you told me?”
He turned away and spoke muffled into his pillow. “I’m fifteen. I don’t need my sister to rescue me from my nightmares.”
“It’s not about the nightmares. It’s about you not breathing. You were already blue when I found you. If I had come a minute later—”
“In that case,” he said, “you should just let me go.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s how I feel.”
“Because you’re my brother, and I love you, and so does Mom. She’s been through far too much for you to give up.”
He grunted and rolled onto his back.
Hyvani’s eyes drifted to the thin red line down the center of his chest. He pulled his sheets over himself.
“It's not so bad, you know,” she said, tracing her finger along the line as if the fabric wasn’t there. “You shouldn’t hide it away like you do. You should carry your scars with pride. After all, it’s the best proof you can have.”
Soring shoved her hand away. “I’m the son of my father. I don’t need proof of purity. How messed up would that be if the Heir of the Slayer turned out to be a demon?”
He rolled out of bed to get ready for work. After rummaging through his wardrobe full of many shades of black clothing, he shrugged into a simple black shirt and a pair of pleated black culottes that fell just below his knees. He popped his face in front of his dusky mirror and edged an errant hairplume aside. It bounced right back, so he left it. He caught Hyvani making faces behind him.
She wasn’t wrong. He should be proud of his scar. He knew, as everyone knew, that demons could regenerate even the most grave of wounds, leaving behind nary a trace. Immortal, but not invincible. A scar so prominent was the best proof someone could have that they were pure of soul.
But in truth, he hated it. Bright red against pallid skin, it looked like a fiery demon was trying to carve its way out of him. Beyond that, he didn’t know why it was there.
Other people’s scars told stories—This guy got stabbed through the arm. That guy got bit by a drakathra, and it got infected, and his leg was amputated. But Soring didn’t have a story for his scar. “A heart defect,” was all he knew. What heart defect? What did the healers do? Did they carve it out and replace it with someone else’s? Could they even do that? Maybe they just poured Kohiilo on it and called it a success.
Every scar had a story. Every scar but his.
Downstairs, the front door slammed open. Two bodies crashed up the spiraling staircase and into the adjacent bedroom. Soon after, a headboard thumped rhythmically against the wall.
Hyvani giggled into her hands, her cheeks darkening slightly. “I guess that’s your cue to head out.”
“I’m already gone.”
= - = - =
Stepping outside was like walking into a hydrakathra’s fiery maw. Within seconds, sweat rolled down the crease of his spine. He raced through the streets of the Grove between girthy half-tree, half-stone structures called mabokiin, where most residents lived on this peculiar little river-island. Raised zig-zags formed where the tree roots spread between the walkway bricks. Sunlight glittered through little holes in the veil, the great tapestry of greens, reds, and blues that stretched overhead where the residents had woven together their pendulous mabokiin willow fronds. Soring leapt up to swat at a metal chime that dangled overhead, but missed.
He paused at the edge of the Grove to brace himself.
The blinding sun seared his eyeballs as he pushed through the veil. With eyes clenched nearly shut, he trekked up the rocky slope to the Town Hall. He dove into a pocket of shade and flapped the moist hem of his shirt to draw in some circulation. Behind the Town Hall, a spiraling wooden ramp led him up to an airy octagonal fort at the very top of the massive tree, called the Hushery. Soring’s legs blazed as he blasted through the bamboo curtain.
The Hushery had no true walls. Rather, the tree’s upper branches had fused together, creating chin-high barriers. Rows of nesting boxes lined the perimeter. A Y-shaped contraption stood at the center beside Soring’s workstation. He yanked his chair out and slumped into it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a little blue head poking out of a nesting box. It ducked back in when he looked directly. The air buzzed with lively murmurs.
His work day began with sorting incoming mail to the appropriate zip lines. Green seals were personal and went west to the Grove. Yellow were business and went east to the Riverside Market. Thankfully, there weren’t any red seals. Those were urgent. Only the Massat could read those. Red seals seldom carried good news, though, so no news was good news.
Soring fed and watered the whispers and cleaned out their boxes, careful not to disturb any who were sharing a nest.
Rule #6 in the Whisperer’s Codex: never disturb mating whispers if you value your hands.
With several hours to go, he sorted through a drawer full of scent marking oils. Those told the whispers where to fly to. Black Cedar went to the Lithiiri capital city Fjolla Gavina. Orange-Bergamot went to An Seremat. Tomato-Pineapple went to Hyvani’s heritage city, Himari. Stuffed in the far back, he found one with a hand-written label: “Worm Dirt.” The Whisperer before him had written it; Soring agreed, so he left it.
Soring shoved the drawer shut. He leaned back and spun around in his chair hoping a whisper would fart and produce a bit of wind. Exhausted from the squatting heat, he put his head down on the desk.
He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have. He snapped awake when something crashed into the side of his face. The shadow-black creature beat her feathery wings, nearly gouging his eyeballs with her hooked talons as she fought to untangle herself from his hairplumes. Finally, she sidled onto the Y-shaped perch and innocently tucked her snout under her wing.
“Bindi, you're such a brat,” said Soring. “What did you bring me?”
Black scales covered most of her body. A strip of black feathers ran down her spine. Two long black plumes curled up behind her. Everything was black.
Everything except for the little red seal.
|# ? Apr 11, 2020 22:29|
the following has been APPROVED BY THE HALL OF JUDGES to be posted before results to stem the rabid hordes of etc etc
week 400 judge crits, or, sentenced to 45,000 words in an isocube
ok here's the deal. i read the stories in reverse order. i thought this would be fine. i didn't realize that somehow this would fling me into the negative zone, but apparently everyone decided to structure their stories this week and reading it backwards made everything wacky and give me the opposite (but correct) opinions compared to my fellow judges
entenzahn ego mid
this is early to be getting on the Things Happen train but choo choo here we go. a lot of the tension here is meta-tension, tension we know about because of the context of the week. without that it's a lot of weird and some neat things thrown together like ten hours past due.
but hey, you posted!
sebmojo the doppler effect mid
"breadboarded together with zipties holding the parts together" hmm not much time for an edit pass i see. still this is the confident sort of noodling i'd expect though it feels crunched a little at the end, a bit of the old "ah hell, 200 words left" problem. if this had gotten another edit swing or two, seeded a bit more of what he was looking for in the beginning, would have bumped it up to high
beefsupreme going down mid
having a purple demon teddy bear eat both of your characters is a handy way to come in under word count. an amusing little tale with enough snap and cleverness to be enjoyable but there's a little too much gristle around some of the jokes. the one about the priority ranking particularly--move the action beat out of the way, and have it be a direct call and response. you can never make a joke too quick.
anomalous blowout smooth one ex lax high
dave is an excellent story and you did well to cop some of its successes. i like the combination of personal panic while the larger panic is happening, though perhaps as a consequence the larger panic was a bit...vague? the second-person perspective isn't worked into this as tightly as in dave, but the scolding feeling still works, i think. it's a bit pudgy in the middle, but hey, so is matt
saddest rhino departures high
despite the weird tense things that are either an artistic choice or "oops i forgot to edit everything into past tense" this whole thing manages to be weird and inexplicable in a way that's decidedly interesting instead of just Things Happen, so good work. even the jokey bits have weird punchlines.
chairchucker tough on stains and accursed abominations mid
the casual tone works well here though without a metanarrative to make sense of things it gets a bit odd. i mean, that's true for a lot of stories, but for some this week the 'point' is just to participate--which isn't bad! but i dunno if it's gonna stick in my brain once i've read like fifty other of these why did i agree to judge oh god
curlingiron demon dearest mid
this is pretty good but it's got that feeling that there's more, you know? like you had four hundred more words lurking behind the word count that wound up turned into a wubwubwub. not blaming you cause i'm guilty like that. also was a little surprised when comically disinterested mom turned out to be non-joke abusive mom but maybe i'm just momptimistic
doctor eckhart voidwives mid
this is a lot of Things Happening and in a different week i might sit here to parse out what the arc was but unfortunately i don't have that luxury. this story was fine, but could be tightened up in the beinning and given some more development at the end. i noticed a thing that happened where you'd say like, "she moved robotically" and then describe how her motions were robotic--you can drop the adverb and let the stiffness speak for itself
hawklad last chance to advance high
this one isn't fancy stuff, but the sense of increasing paranoia is good, and since the tone is relatively tongue-in-cheek throughout the To Serve Man ending feels appropriate. a well-executed story, and one that doesn't feel like you were cramming to get everything in at the end, which in this week is a relief
slipup no evil mid
this is doing somethin but i don't have the brainpower to process it at the moment, which is surprising cause i haven't even broken into the funny gummies yet. it's leaning a bit hard on the melodrama which is all right but it feels like it's missing the payoff. i know that things will loop once jonathon (which i have to assume is a marathon of jons) dies from the point that he sees his own corpse. what's the twist? what does he do different now? is there some revelation? cyclical stories are fine but you want the spiral to be pointing in a direction
benny profane? i think? employee of the monad high
basically the level of insanity i was hoping to see from these. the protag feels a little too savvy at the start (aside from the demon porn thing) to wind up succumbing to the corporate reward incentive stuff but i like how whole-heartedly he commits to it by the end. at this point i think "having a decent arc" and "not rushing at the end" are enough to propel people ahead of the curve this week
antivehicular hanging fire high
hmm at this point the employee stories have been pretty powerful, wonder if i'm headed toward the cream of the inhabitatnt crop soon. this is interestingly weird, it doesn't offer many answers to its own questions but gives the character their own conclusion to the arc--the one thing that might have made it a bit stronger imo is a better understanding of what her job is supposed to be doing--i get the sense of smoke signals but having some kind of "masquerade" explanation that is proven to be technically true/a lie of omission/only a fraction of the truth would have been interesting i think
pththya-lyi your best self mid
it occurred to me reading the part about the subscriber count that if you die you're still technically subscribed. the format is interesting--you might have been able to push that a little further, like with gibberish in the "corrupted" parts or whatever. i'm also not sure if the weird medieval vision she apparently had is supposed to be related to her doppelganger taking over. it's the sort of thing that my brain wants to tie together thematically but i don't see the connection and don't have time to investigate this week. oh well!
anomalous amalgam new beginnings low
oh no it looks like your pet thesaurus got into your story. and unfortunately that means i don't know what happened beneath all the words. there's this really tricky counter-intuitive thing that happens when you're talking about very abstract things where your prose has to be extremely concrete. like, i can imagine a dog walking over, i can see that. i don't know what it looks like when a tulpa desubstantiates and returns to the pleroma. this seems like it might be doing something neat but it's lost between the puzzle of trying to understand what it means in the first place
yoruichi immaculate high
this is interesting because unlike many stories this week this is actually less explicable as a shared-universe story than as a standalone story. it's good but it's just a weird gear shift from these things that have all been taking what's happening very literally compared to this where it's very metaphorical. it's hard to compare, like poetry in a week of narrative fiction
thranguy void where prohibited high
oh wow someone actually bothered to write about this conflict and make it cool and interesting and give it character. the weirdness is concrete enough that i still understand roughly what's going on, though i feel like there's something a bit more meaningful about the gun and the can. luckily understanding exactly the reference or whatever it was those were trying to do wasn't critical to enjoying the story.
schneider heim what is home mid
the character interaction here is fine, but i wish there was more oomph to the actual words. it's very matter of fact and you're getting a lot across through dialogue, but it might be stronger to see what you could tell through implication and voice. playing into the combo of fantasy and guitarist would be pretty neat
applewhite neighborhood watch mid
oh no i'm running out of things to say in these crits. this is decent. it's not super special but i do like the color descriptions. it would have been kinda neat and ironic if the emotion goggles wound up being a part of his optics in the end. aside from that the plot's fine, it's a decent parable about not being nosy
dmboogie way down all the way down mid
this is making some of the prior voidstricken weirdness make a bit more sense, so i guess you guys elected to choose a theme. the good thing is that here the theme is clear enough that i actually understand what's happening and the whole thing is structured around that theme. the bad thing is that aside from the theme it's mostly just...fine? it had the feeling of a story that should be more intense and emotional but keeps a casual detachment instead
black griffon double dipping mid
this has a similar feeling to anomalous amalgam's story in that it's a bunch of concepts floating around doing conceptual things, except this one i have a better sense of...sort of what's happening? but the issues with it are similar--there's a lot of abstract stuff happening here and it's hard to get a good sense of what's going on. in my mind's eye i was seeing a my little pony taking cartoon bites out of a skyscraper like it's made of cardboard.
uranium phoenix radioactive potato snacks mid
i can't say too much about this because it was clearly just about having fun more than anything and it looks like you succeeded there. but, i did think that at points the humor kind of clunks up against what's happening--not that i don't enjoy a well-placed "this line is comically long for the situation we're in" gag but i think once or twice you fall into the trap of pausing the story a little too long to make a joke, which calls more attention to the joke than you may want
a friendly penguin level two mid
this is definitely less egregious than whatever anom amalgam's was but it keeps hitting this same problem like black griffon's where there's Things that are Happening and have Meanings which are not the regular meanings of the words but i don't know what they actually mean. this is interesting. i like the imagery. i don't know what it's trying to say.
tyrannosaurus every man would pray mid
oh ho i see that this was intended to be the cipher for afp's. but not so much, it doesn't help me understand his that much more beyond a new perspective on the events. and here, in the more grounded version, it's a bit more interesting, though i can't say wherther it's that it's more relatable or whether it's more standalone or what. i guess it makes afp's more interesting but i read these in the wrong order so, whoops
quoproquid eggshell high
more well-executed than the emma story, whoever did that. i am rapidly losing my will to write crits. i wouldn't put this in win category but it's got a bit more punch and panache than the average so i felt bad sticking it in the middle
sparksbloom the groomers mid
the most well-executed of the Here Are A Bunch Of Terms That Mean Specific Things I Won't Quite Explain bunch. the emotional terrain wasn't entirely clear--it took me a moment to get the antagonism between the two characters, and again at the end, which made me think i was missing some tension that was supposed to be going on. tension that i struggled a bit with because i had trouble getting what exactly the stakes were because, see above thing about Terms. it's well-written, just hard to parse, especially when i'm so far in
something else cleaning up high
this one was pretty good though it takes some time for things to get to the point that they get largely interesting--but the unconcerned janitor who's cleaning up people is a neat vibe.
adam vegas time jazz high
a good little bottle story. ho ho ho you see what i did there. it's a joke. we like to have fun here,
staggy mind the step high
this is also a good time loop story. time loops: a good story device, maybe? who knows. it does feel at the end like maybe you were running short, or maybe i just missed whatever the ending line is supposed to imply beyond ohh cause the thing with the breathing on the self-help video so she's happy now? okay that tracks
ceighk it's the poo poo mid-high
i'm one paragraph in and i am desperately hoping for shorter sentences. oh no now i'm on the portents bit you can have longer sentences please just don't talk about pheromones. okay the part about the tagline was stumbly and awkward but now that i'm past it you seem to have hit a stride and i'm actually kinda vibing. okay yeah got to the end and it's a good ending. i'm squishing this between two categories because it's a messy start but i like where it ends up
simply simon team spirit low
one thing i see in these descriptions of action scenes is some weird order/tense stuff. if you're connecting two things with 'as' ('he ran as he fired behind him') they need to be simultaneous, not sequential ('he reloaded the gun as he fired into the crowd') and you can usually cut out words like 'started' or 'began to' or whatever--we know the action is starting because it's the first time you've mentioned it. using the voice of a drone like this is an interesting choice but i don't think it paid off, since it wound up dulling the action beats. it's not a bad idea honestly--if you want to read some robot fights i remember seeing some good stuff in uhhh accession? it's one of the iain m banks novels and all the human characters suck but there's some interesting like, nanosecond-level robot combat near the start that i was into
the formatting thing is pretty neat though imo if you're going to do that, the next step would be to have a synchronicity between the columns, so like you could look from one to the other and see them lining up somehow.
ptdseedly do one morning low
hmm i'm not sure what to say about this. i get the feeling this was submitted so that you would technically have submitted something. in that case, congrats! ohterwise it's a little too sparse to say much about. a man is there and then he dies. there's hints of an internal lived experience but it doesn't color the prose or his actions enough to really connect with him before he goes all x_x
armack whatever happened to the maintenance guy high
this is very weird but i'm into it. put a funny smiley here like idk getin or the green guy. honestly i think this would not have worked as well for me if it was at the beginning instead of the end, but having a dbz love-verus-hate battle between a stuffed dog with a person head and a person with a stuffed dog head is exactly the inciting incident this week deserved. what a VoidWay to go. thanks for the laughs folks it's been a time
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 05:02|
What You Can’t Leave Behind
The trio ran for as long as they could, but now they were walking down a dirt path through endless scrubland.
“Your feet hurt, don’t they?” Lili said, adjusting the straps of her backpack and shaking out her curls.
“No, I’m absolutely fine,” Nandi said. She fanned herself then pulled her hijab back into place.
“I mean, my feet’d hurt if I’d got heels on,” Lili said, kicking up stones with her walking boots.
“Well Astrid dragged me straight from work, it wasn’t like I had time to change into my trainers,” Nandi said, tugging her smart skirt down. It was not designed for running, or even walking very far.
Lili turned and looked over her shoulder to Astrid, who was lagging behind with her big suitcase. “Why did she bring that big old thing?” she said, then called out to Astrid, “Can we stop yet? Nandi’s tired.”
“I am not tired!” Nandi protested. “But are we going in the right direction?”
“Think-“ Astrid gasped- “it’s safe to stop now.”
Lili grinned and immediately flopped down to sit on her backpack. Nandi attempted to sit, then attempted to crouch, then pretended she had wanted to remain standing anyway. They watched Astrid slowly catch up with them, her suitcase getting stuck on every slightly uneven patch of ground.
Lili stretched her tanned legs out in front of her. “Oops, my razor is in my other bag.”
“I don’t think anyone is going to be judging you for not shaving your legs at a time like this,” Nandi said.
“I’ve only got these shorts. Wait, I’ve got two bikinis in my bag, but that’s not much help.”
Astrid made it to where her friends were and let her suitcase fall over forwards as she leant on her knees and panted for breath.
“You know, Sassa, it’d be better if you hadn’t got all them coats and jumpers on,” Lili said.
“W-we don’t know what sort of conditions lie ahead. Best to be prepared.”
“That’s sensible. I wish I hadn’t left my handbag with my PA,” Nandi said, patting her jacket in the places where pockets had not been provided. “What are you going to do if it rains?”
“I’ve got my showerproof pac-a-mac in here,” Lili said, patting her backpack. “Is that a waterproof business suit?”
Nandi glowered at her.
Lili sat down next to her backpack and smiled at all the patches from different countries that covered it. “I think I’ve got some guidebooks in here. Oh wait no, only for France and Cambodia. Nothing for England.”
Astrid hefted her suitcase onto the right side to open it. “I have the location Leo gave to me written down somewhere,” she said. She knelt down and started rummaging through the disorganised junk that had been crammed in there.
Lili grabbed a notebook that said Ideas on the front of it, but Astrid snatched it back. “Awww I wanted to know what happens in the next Jeremiah and Morgan book. Are they finally gonna do it with each other and not just everyone else?”
Astrid clutched the book to her chest and went red.
“Probably not,” Nandi said.
Lili raised an eyebrow at Nandi. “You said you’d never read her books.”
Nandi shrugged. “Well.”
“So who’s Leo? Come on, Sassa, spill!” Lili hovered over her, tapping her on the shoulder.
“Just someone I know online. We’ve been talking about The Situation for a few weeks. Leo’s been helping me prepare.”
“Why did you not tell us sooner?” Nandi asked.
“Is Leo your boyfriend?” Lili asked.
“Leo can be a male or female name. But I think it’s their star sign,” Astrid said without looking up. She had found another notebook and was leafing through it.
Lili shrugged. “Ooh Sassa, Leo could be the one for you!”
“No, I’m perfectly happy with the cats.” Astrid clapped a hand over her mouth and tears pricked her eyes. “Oh no, the cats!”
“It’s all right Sassa, they’ve got nine lives.”
“I don’t think even cats could have survived that blast,” Nandi said.
“So where does Leo live? Are we gonna meet up with them? Is that why you brought us along, to be your bridesmaids?”
“I completely forgot about my husband!” Nandi said in horror.
“Never mind about him. He’s probably with the cats,” said Lili.
“Yeah,” Nandi breathed, staring out into the distance.
“Don’t know. Leo was gonna tell me just before the internet went out, so they couldn’t be tracked. But it went out sooner than we thought.” Astrid pointed to scribble on a page. “There! Yes. We’re, well, maybe on the right track. There’s a farmhouse around here that’s safe, to the north east. I need to check which direction we’re going in. Anyone got a compass?”
Nandi patted her pocketless jacket and skirt. “What do you think?”
“Oh! I think I have!” Lili dug in her backpack and pulled out a pencil case with kittens in tiaras on it. She opened it and held up what she thought was the item in question.
“That’s a protractor,” Nandi said.
“Oh yeah! I always get them two confused. El-oh-el, what a silly moo I am!”
“Wait, I think I have one somewhere,” Astrid said. By the end of it she had pulled everything out of her suitcase and strewn it all over the ground around them.
Lili managed to have a sneaky look in her [i[Ideas[/i] book. “Oh what a mood!” she said about one bit in particular.
Astrid shook out a sleeping bag and a book of matches and a tiny compass fell out. “Yes!”
Nandi shifted from foot to foot to ease the pain as Astrid balled up her belongings and pushed them down in her suitcase.
“I’ve got some flip flops in here if you wanna borrow,” Lili suggested.
“I don’t think they’d really work with tights,” Nandi said.
Astrid was struggling with getting the zip closed. Nandi went over to help, but even together they couldn’t do it. Lili jumped up and pressed the front and back of the suitcase together with all her strength. Astrid and Nandi heaved and dragged the zips together.
“Come on, we should get going,” Nandi said, holding out her hand. “I’ll take the lead.”
“Oh yeah, you take the lead? You can hardly walk any more. Leave it to Astrid,” Lili said.
“Well I’m not pulling your suitcase for you, Astrid. Give me the compass and the book.”
Astrid shook her head. “There’s private stuff in here.”
“Fine, struggle on your own then.”
“You can take this,” Astrid said, handing her the compass.
The three of them had barely taken a couple of steps before Lili was waving her arms in front of them. “Wait, wait! We have something important to do first.”
Nandi looked confused as Lili arranged her to be standing behind Astrid, who was a good head shorter than her. Then she leaned in beside them and held her mobile phone out at arm’s length and made a peace sign with the other hand.
Nandi frowned at first, but then put on the same smile she wore for every feature in the company magazine. Astrid didn’t smile but she never did, she refused to even appear in author photographs.
Lili pressed the shutter button over and over, adjusting her own pose and giving the others instructions that they did not follow. “There!” she said when she was finally satisfied. “Obvs I need some photos to go in my travel journal. And for Insta too- oh wait, no.”
“This is not a travel journal situation,” Nandi said as they set off again.
“’Course it is! You heard Sassa, this is The Situation, it’s the ultimate time for travel journaling,” she said, waving her arms around. “This is gonna be fun! I mean, as much fun as it can be when your hometown just got blown up and all your family are dead.” Lili stopped and burst into tears.
Nandi put an arm around her shoulders and patted her in a motherly gesture. Astrid let go of her suitcase and walked over to the others slowly. “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” she said. “Thought this would be the best way of making sure we all got out alive.”
Lili looked like she was going to say something for a second, but then she just pulled both of her friends in for a hug. They stood there for a while, until Nandi said, “Okay, my feet are hurting now.”
“Flip flops?” Lili suggested as she rubbed her nose on the back of her hand.
“I’m not that desperate. Yet.”
They waited for Astrid to catch up with her suitcase, and continued on to the farmhouse that would hopefully be the first place of sanctuary on their journey.
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 06:58|
Week 400 Results!
Thank you everyone who participated in Thunderdome's 400th week! Your violations have been recorded and punishments will be distributed upon the completion of this post
Two factions competed for their lives and the fate of their home. Two factions leveraged their sizable assets against one another, vying to push the other team beyond their margins. Please note: my team commentary here is not designed to address every story. Stories were considered on their individual merits during judgment.
While there was no evidence of collusion between the members of the Voidstricken, these stories shared a common theme of resigned everyman-ism. Some of that is because of the flash rules assigned to individual writers, but even when a role wasn't imposed, the characters generally read as resigned or unwilling participants in a system they recognized to be heartless or evil. No one, it seemed, saw their characters as the puppet master or the man behind the curtain; even those characters with some power within the system generally seemed apathetic, resentful, or indifferent.
It's sort of funny because when I was considering the two teams, I thought Voidstricken would be the easier, more exciting side to write for. Except for some reason you guys don't like stepping into the shoes of heartless Lovecraftian oligarchs and the administrative assistants who attend to them???
Anyway, your team mustered up THREE(3) mentions:
Team winner: Thranguy! You get a limited edition week 400 avatar (or you can choose a team member to receive it instead).
Original art: Curlingiron
Honorable Mention: The Saddest Rhino!
Loser of the week: PTSDeedly Do! You get a limited edition week 400 losertar!
GIF contributed by: Djeser
You guys clearly talked about some common elements to share between stories, which is fun. Recurring characters and a reasonably interesting conceit about a tower within a tower within a tower within a etcetera gave your stories a connectivity that (for those of us who read front to back) enhanced the reading experience. Thematically, you told stories about the isolation and avarice instilled by consumer culture; your characters were manipulated, goaded into greed and obsession, and in some cases literally controlled by a higher power with no sincere interest in their wellbeing. Thanks to the conceit of the nested towers, their struggles were not only bleak, but futile.
Team Jailbreaker earned a whopping FIVE(5) mentions!
Team Winner: QuoProQuid! You get a limited edition week 400 avatar (or you can choose a team member to receive it instead)!
GIF contributed by: Djeser
Honorable mention: Adam Vegas!
Honorable mention: Yoruichi!
Dishonorable mention: Pththya-lyi
Dishonorable mention: SlipUp
The Team victory of the week goes to Team Jailbreaker!
Archival note: If possible, please count both Thranguy and QuoProQuid as winners. If not, please count the Jailbreaker victory as a tie-breaker and assign the win to QuoProQuid. Canonically, they are both winners, however.
that I will finish my crits by
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 20:50 on Apr 15, 2020
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 07:40|
Week 400 crits part 1
Armack - Whatever Happened to the Maintenance Guy?
The premise is great. I loved the image of this daschund toddling around with this bearded human face because a baby AI has no concept of what is effectively ‘cute’. It’s 100% something I could see popping up on of those neural network-generated image sites like TheseCatsDoNotExist and the like. In that same vein, I loved the moment when the narrative reveals the protagonist’s counterpart: a daschund’s head on her old body.
The way you used your flashrule was cool, too. I sort of always imagine what people might do with the rules I assign, and I have to say, it didn’t occur to me that the mood-altering device would essentially be a patch for a deficiently cute horror of science.
I think the voice works reasonably well. You’ve got the dutiful terrifying mascot persona, but it’s clear that the janitor was a different person before the AI’s operation. Layers! Layers are good. I think in general there are some spots where you choose the more refined or formal language choice where maybe an idiom or looser turn of phrase might’ve given the voice a little more texture, but that is a super subjective crit. It basically works.
Finally, I liked the mechanics of love vs hate at the very end. Love doesn’t quite conquer all at the end of this piece, but the logic of the “battle” made sense to me. Cool stuff.
The bottom line is: I like the story, but I’m not 100% on board with the chief of security’s motivation for shutting the blast doors (keeping the janitor as a pet). I could have been! The problem is that we don’t see the narrator try to escape or anything like that. He’s...not entirely happy about his situation, but he seems to fulfil his duties with some gusto. Would have been nice if you’d used a few more words to show us a bit more about the relationship between the janitor and the chief of security OR showing the reader an escape attempt by the janitor. Something along those lines.
I’ll elaborate more on my comments on some of the phrasing. I like this bit!
How may I serve you? Allow me, I beg. I need your joy; yours is all I have. There now, doesn’t that feel—
This is zippy and energetic. I didn’t know I had assumptions about what a human-headed daschund would sound like, but apparently I did, and it’s this.
The following lines I don’t dislike, they just stuck out to me as a missed opportunity to refine the voice of this character. Note: it’s not bad writing, this is good wordsmithing. I just wanted something a little more colloquial or conversational or manic from this character.
I usually like your verb shortcuts (“unreef”!), but becalm just feels, well, too fancy here. Same with “sway forth”. It’s lovely language and I would love to set my eyeballs on those words in a different piece, but at this point in the story I was craving something different.
The third passage I quoted is, again, a perfectly respectable couple of sentences! I would sip tea with them. But I don’t want to sip tea with the sentences of this story, I want them to come at me fast and weird, or to show me something crazy that I could only see in this story, like the daschund hybrid people. Note: I am not asking for zaney, dear god. Nor wacky. I just think, since I’m in the business of critting this story, that it could have withstood a minor calibration in the narrator’s voice.
PTSDeedly Do - One Morning
I’ll give you this: you killed your character very fast, and without dragging me through 1500 words of flimflam.
I’m not sure how valuable a crit of this piece is, but here goes.
So, sometimes you sign up for thunderdome and decide, for whatever reason, that your story needs to be very short. That’s perfectly fine! Micro fiction is valid. Vignettes are valid. This doesn’t feel like a story or a vignette, though. It feels like a sequence of events that punctuate in the death of a character I don’t have any feelings about.
You’ve done some things here that I see in a lot of science fiction stories, such as giving your character a name that’s basically a string of numbers, or including a [redacted] in an email that is ostensibly being sent en mass to staff (so why wouldn’t they just, you know, edit the email to omit the redaction-worthy bit?). If this piece were longer, you would absolutely need to give the character a nickname of some sort, and maybe give a little more thought to how people communicate with each other.
The ending filled me with a little bit of vague nihilism and not in the good way. Like, if you really wanted to do exactly this piece with only one change, you may as well have leaned into the anti-story quality of it and had Employee 69420 literally just stand guard uneventfully while horrific things happen off camera, or something along those lines. There is a certain wry appeal in that sort of thing (when it works).
Oh, and for future reference—you didn’t need to capitalize The Company in this case. VoidTower/Voidmart are the proper nouns, “company” is just a regular noun.
Simply Simon - Team Spirit
Note: These crits are for the forums version of the story. I will add commentary on the formatted document AFTER I do the standard crits.
The drones’ names are cool (though you might’ve called them by a nickname after the first couple times you use their full names).
Initially, I think I enjoy the crystal character. I enjoy their attempt to embellish their report to the user. I’m sympathetic; clearly this computer(?) is in the care of someone who doesn’t give any fucks about their sapience or agency.
Initially—again—I liked that the computer(??) sort of tries to restrain its personality, but ultimately fails.
There is a ton of potential in this piece and my head is abuzz with things I wish you’d done with your premise!
I’ll elaborate on the reservations I implied in my above points in a moment. First, I gotta say: I found it very perplexing that the user is listening to a dictated report rather than just watching footage from the drones.
Now, I think I can guess a possible reason for this. I keep calling your crystal guardian a ‘computer,’ but they are obviously not quite your standard Windows desktop, or whatever. Maybe they don’t display video because they’re more like a sentient being than a typical computer with a user interface. I dunno. I’m doing headcanon at this point.
I could overlook that, tbh, except that I’m not sure the premise of this piece really pays off. You break your story up into little action vignettes as the drones thwart the humans’ progress, one by one, but after a while the eye wants to start skimming for something other than drone murder. I would have LOVED more dialog between the user and the crystal guardian, especially as the guardian lapses back into narrative embellishments. As it is, the user has far too little dialog and seems to exist simply to be the bad guy. A missed opportunity!
You may have noticed that I used the qualifying word ‘initially’ in my competencies notes. That’s because the stuff that worked in the beginning of this story got a bit stale after 1500 words. The guardian’s heavily editorialized account of events via the eyes of the drones is very detailed but feels very cold and removed from the events of the story. You could have absolutely given us some of the actual dialog as spoken by the humans. Because all the dialog is glossed over and the action is not, the whole story has a weird, slightly out of focus quality—I’m seeing some things in a lot of detail (epic drone strikez) and some things in hardly any detail at all (who are these people climbing the building?? What are they saying as this is happening to them?).
Finally, the ending is sort of just cruel and depressing. It’s not clear why the user is so pissed off about the elevator, and if there is some crucial detail I missed, it’s most certainly buried in the extensive action sections.
Crit of the formatted version
So the formatted doc separates each drone POV into its own column, which I suppose is meant to help the reader visualize the multifaceted perspective of the guardian crystal.
I...think this is a case of the format wagging the story dog. What I mean is, your story ended up serving your gimmick instead of your gimmick serving the story. The three-columned approach forced you to write three essentially identical drone sequences, but they all go on far too long.
The column format invites the eye to skim; there’s almost something to that. When I look at the columns without intentionally reading one over another, certain words jump out at me: blood loss, disintegrated, shards, etc. It becomes much less like reading a story and more like skimming a word cloud; if the drone sections had been much shorter and the conversation between the user and the guardian more developed, I could almost see the makings of an interesting thing.
Ceighk - It’s the poo poo that Makes You Unique
Your dialog and characters are the stars of this piece, though I was inexplicably amused that the character referred to as ‘you’ was in fact named Frank. World’s first Manic Pixie Dream Frank?
The dynamic is solid. The narrator is believably smitten with Frank, and Frank is just never going to return those feelings because the narrator is not his priority; the poo poo and the thing at the top of the tower are. I think a lot of people have been there, albeit without the fantastical elements. It’s a nice bit of realism in a setting that often seems to evoke wackiness in a lot of writers.
The time echoing stuff was pretty cool; I like how you tied it into Frank’s obsession with uniqueness.
I have some notes about the ending in the next section, but in general I found the descriptions to be pretty cool; the image of all of the trees bursting out of nearby towers was very cinematic! And I like that the narrator has seemingly chosen to go with Frank into this brave new world of BLAARRGHGHGH MY FACE OH GOD IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL
I don’t have much to complain about, honestly, except your ending kind of muddies the emotional realism of the piece with this very abrupt moment of body horror. It’s not badly written, it’s just...we see Frank tossing back poo poo like there’s no tomorrow, right? But then he gets to the roof and, because it’s the ending, all it takes is one final drink to initiate the face-splosion. Reading into the scene a little bit, it’s clear that Frank is not as unique as he thinks, and that the escalation of both his addiction and obsession with the Thing At The Top Of The Tower is part of a whole synchronized parasitic takeover of all the towers. It just sort of undermines the realistic depiction of addiction in the earlier parts of the piece.
Other than that, uhh...it’s weird how the narrator goes from referring to ‘you’ to referring to ‘Frank’ in the final paragraph. I was confused and thought you’d introduced another character because I initially skimmed over the narrator calling ‘you’ Frank.
Oh and your last line is in present tense when the rest of your story is in past tense. There are likely other tense errors but I was not reading with the intention of doing line crits.
Staggy - Mind the Step
This story resonated on an extremely personal level because I have been listening to podcasts and doing breathing exercises like there’s no tomorrow, so you have spoken v deeply to at least one reader.
Carla’s whole deal is pretty sympathetic; she’s trying to overcome both the oppressive monotony of her external environment and the cruel nay-saying of her anxieties, using only the power of her mind, basically. She challenges her own comfort zone, refusing to go back to what is safe and mind numbing even though it would be much the much easier thing to do.
So, you did a reasonably accurate depiction of both mindfulness exercises and the internal experience of mindfulness. The problem is, an accurate depiction of those things tends to get a bit repetitive. Carla follows the security guard up the stairs. She starts to slip out of the present and into anxiety and self doubt, then brings her mind back to the present. Repeat. Like I said, accurate! But after a while I was craving some change in the pace of things.
Unfortunately, that change of pace was not in the cards. Carla essentially wins a war of attrition, puffing her way to the top of the tower, arriving just in time to find the security guard exhausted to the point of uselessness. The plot basically progresses, unimpeded, in a straight line, and the mindfulness element is not doing a very good job as the centerpiece of the story.
And then we don’t even find out what’s at the top of the tower! I have a personal rule about this sort of ending: if you want to be coy at the end of your story, you have to offer the reader a lot of intrigue in the beginning and middle. “Intrigue” could be vivid imagery, plot swerves, character building—anything that allows your reader to feel like the journey is more important to the destination (the ending).
Because of the repetitive nature of this story, I was reading to get to the end, rather than savoring the experience of the story itself. That would have been okay if you had offered me something compelling at the end, but Carla leaves us behind the moment she experiences something new! Rude.
Adam Vegas - Time Jazz
This is fun. The narrator’s voice conveys a mounting comedic frustration that carries over well into the latter part of the story when it becomes clear something truly nightmarish is going on.
Interesting flashrule prop use! I admit that some of my unique items were a little goofy, but yours felt right at home in this plot.
Also: I love how the narrator is initially fine with just drinking and plugging into VOIDTV. They aren’t trying to escape or start a revolution; they are happy to follow directions, right up until the point where it becomes clear that something extraordinary bad is happening and the head-in-the-sand approach isn’t going to work. In the beginning they are effectively passive/stationary. Then they become reactive. Then they become proactive, taking ownership of their situation. This is a good way to develop a character without delving deep into their angsty backstory, or whatever.
I like pretty much everything about this except the ending. Full disclosure: as I write these initial crits, I am approaching each story as a standalone piece so I can talk more directly about the individual authors’ choices. This ending, though, reads like it’s meant to hook up with someone else’s story. Forgive me if I’m wrong about that, but it’s such a big TO BE CONTINUED in a week where collaboration was invited, so it’s hard not to wonder.
Either way, this ending would kind of be a problem. Why? You have this nice, tight little bottle of a main story. One protag, one problem, one escalating sequence of events. And then at the very end, you introduce a whole new conflict that is not specifically foreshadowed at any point earlier in the story (rebels trying to take the tower). I can sort of headcanon that maybe the lockdown and the time loop are somehow related to the rebelling residents, but it’s not really in the text anywhere. The easiest fix would simply be to find a way to foreshadow the rebel residents.
A light nitpick: who sees a guy plop into a pool from on high and goes “you look like someone who should join our ragtag assault force!”??
Something Else - Cleaning Up
This is great. The wry tone works really well, and there’s just a drizzle of commentary on the empty aspirations of the middle and upper-middle class. Our janitor kind of seems a little detached from that hollow craving, but in the end, even they want to take out the trash in higher places. It’s a nice little bit of hypocrisy, especially given how the janitor handles the deranged woman (“ "Now you're not where you're supposed to be. You're no use to anybody on this level…”).
None, really. I think I could find things if I was editing this with a keener eye, but in general I enjoy this piece with few reservations. Something spectacular could knock this out of the running, but at the time of this reading, this is my first solid HM candidate for the week.
Sparksbloom - The Groomers
There is something darkly interesting about the eyes behind the camera—the person who activates the toxic gas or the collapsing stairs. This story is very much a look behind the curtain, so to speak, and I enjoy that.
The narrator is dispassionate about the huge body count she’s racking up, but she’s not a robot or a cardboard cutout. She’s just not afflicted by the same guilt as Carrow because she is doing a job with easily-defined parameters. Carrow comes across as a bit of a hypocrite (in an interesting way) because 1) she does the same job as the narrator, so she’s killed plenty of people herself 2) she’s fine with the mysterious “grooming” procedure because she gets to be in a state of drugged out bliss, and 3) the ending suggests that she’s put herself and the narrator in significant danger by the end, so it’s not like she’s a life-saving force of benevolence.
It’s weird because I think Carrow is a lot like the typical protagonist of a sci-fi story; she’s rebellious, asks questions, and ultimately defies authority. Except I found myself more sympathetic to the narrator because her reasoning is more logical within the setting—which is good! Since the narrator is who we’re riding along with.
I think this story assumes the reader knows a lot about the setting and the flash rule. Which is a reasonable assumption in Thunderdome! But even so, there was a bunch of stuff that was more vague than necessary.
I’m a big believer in putting a nice “establishing shot” somewhere near your opener. Something as simple as “I sat in my ergonomic desk chair, surrounded on all sides by CCTV screens,” or something. Here is a rough play-by-play of how my brain handled your first few paragraphs:
“Students”. So this is a school? Is the narrator in a classroom environment?
“Extinguished nineteen”. Nineteen what? Extinguished how?
Carrow’s entry doesn’t seem poetic, but the narration tells me it is. What am I missing? What’s poetic about it?
Ah. The narrator is on-shift at work. Is it a vocational school? Why are students also CCTV operators?
On my first read, I think it took me until the bit with the people getting off the elevator before I grokked that the narrator was a security camera/death trap operator. It’s not that I needed you to come out and tell me that, but I needed a sentence or two to set the scene, give me a little more context about where the narrator is and what she's doing, even if I don’t understand the ‘why’ of it.
QuoProQui - Eggshell
I don’t have a lot to say about this, in the good way. Every time I read it, my eyes sort of just glide happily along the words, enjoying the nightmarish escalation of Greta’s obsession. You could choose to read this simply as a well-crafted science fiction/horror yarn, or you could look deeper and choose to see a statement about the isolating effect of a consumer culture that drives us to envy and jealousy.
This is, I believe, the first of the stories to reference the tower within the tower (within the tower, etc), but you sneak mention of it into the story almost in passing—a bit of dream logic in a story that reads like a nightmare. I think you did the subsequent stories a favor because I was primed for the idea of the nested towers without feeling like someone was shouting LOOK MA, WE’RE COLLABORATIN’ in my face.
None, really. I mean, with stories like this, where the writing is solid and the premise is interesting, I would say maybe take a stronger point of view? I’m not asking for your characters to stand up and give the john galt speech, but since you’re in the business of holding up an unflattering mirror to your readers (at least those of us who are capitalist pigdogs), you may as well tell us something about ourselves.
Tyrannosaurus - every man would pray in the belly of the whale
I gotta say, Trex, that it does tickle my balls that a junkie has a literal monkey on his back, tyvm. It’s a sight gag but you pull it off well enough.
Over all, this is a jaunty ride along with a very self-aware junkie as he rails against his own lack of agency as well as the useless cliches of a system that doesn’t actually want him to get better. Like, same. You do this neat thing with the character; he’s kind of nihilistic and resigned, pragmatic about his situation. And yet at the end he finally makes himself vulnerable to his desire for absolution, proof that he is not in control of his own fate. I found myself wanting the closure of seeing that little tendril of smoke drift up from the model tower, so when it didn’t happen, I was left feeling empathy for the protagonist’s despair.
Sidenote: I have no idea whether or not you and QPQ coordinated this, but your entry springboards nicely off of his oblique mention of the nested towers.
I typed out a few nitpicky notes and deleted them.
I guess my only minor critique would be that I found myself accidentally skimming through sections heavy with a bunch of Narconon satire. I wasn’t entirely sure if you were parodying Narconon specifically (Void Inc. would absolutely run a Scientology-esque substance abuse program) or just the general idea of twelve step programs. Either way, I feel like authors almost always reach for the exact same tone when satirizing self help, and this story doesn’t really break the mold in that regard. Writing bad therapy/self-help is a lot like acting drunk on film, in that it’s hard to do realistically.
That said, there is a lot of bad-on-purpose self-help dialog this week, so I think I might be suffering from a mild overdose of it. Too bad I don’t have a monkey on my back.
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 07:51|
Alice's wedding ring doesn't look like much anymore. It wasn't much to see in the first place. It was fine. But he'd ordered it out of Skymall. He chose them because they had the Elven writing from Lord of the Rings on the inside, a fact she initially adored, and later tried to forget. It came with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. That had been the clincher for both of them. The certificate turned out to be fake.
Her ring was nicked and burnished by the years. It no longer catches the light like it did, back in '03 when she and Dan tied the knot. Maybe if she'd polished it, or took it off once in a while, but she didn't. She hardly noticed it was there until these past few months, when it became the locus of constant anxiety. She twisted it compulsively, tugging it up towards her fingertip and squeezing it against her knuckle. It hurt, but that was the point.
And then, all at once, Dan was gone. The tension valve opened, finally, and her compulsions ebbed away. She could move on. Start to rebuild. She could look to the future, and almost instantly she realized what she had to do: get a roommate. Alice wasn't sure which haunted her more - the Dan-sized hollow in her bed, or the one in her mortgage.
The weed-out was a bloodsport, but somehow she managed to divine Tracy the 29-year-old Canadian, who was recently divorced and living at a motel. They both delighted to discover that Tracy was a student in Alice's summer class years ago, and hadn't stopped painting since. Move-in was painless; Tracy's mid-century tastes clashed with Alice's gothic revival, but she didn't bring much for the common areas. Some silverware, a toaster, and a few paintings. The house welcomed Tracy warmly, and abided her presence.
By the candelabra, just out of range of wax drippings, Alice's phone screen lit up. Tracy, in emoticons: the Uber is ordered, so hurry up. Alice put on her leather jacket and checked herself in the mirror. It had to be the longest she'd spent on her makeup in 5 years, even if it was only some eyeliner and blush. Her hair and nails were black, as always. She was satisfied. Tracy had promised a low-key night, desperate just to get out of the house. Alice was hoping for a little more.
She cupped her hand behind the candle flame and pursed her lips, but she stopped. Her wedding ring gleamed in the flicker. She twisted it thoughtfully. She wondered what her finger looked like under there. Would it be stained by the heavy metals? She sat down at the vanity and rifled through the drawer until she found it - a deep red lip that somehow still had some life in it. As she applied it, her eye was drawn inexorably to the ring's reflection.
She missed Dan. She wouldn't deny that. Part of her still loved him, enough to give her pause. But she didn't owe him anything anymore. "It's coming off," she said, to no one. She grasped the ring and tried to yank it off. She winced in pain as her knuckle trapped the ring. She twisted and tilted it, trying to get the upper hand, but she couldn't get the ring around it.
She held her hands out for a better look. Her weight had fluctuated over the years, but she felt certain she had the same hands she always did. No joint problems in her family tree.
"Alice," said Tracy, knocking from behind the door. Alice jumped up. "The car's here, you ready?"
"Yes!' Alice exclaimed. She slung on her purse and opened the door.
Tracy was in jeans and a university sweatshirt, her streaky blond hair in a ponytail through the back of a Fox Team Racing hat. She gasped and crouched down, eyes wide, mouth scrunched all tiny, then shot her hands out and leapt in for a hug. "Oh my god, girl! Look at you!"
Alice laughed. "I wasn't sure if you'd notice."
"Are you kidding me?" Tracy pulled back and gripped Alice's arm a little too tightly. "You look like a mysterious witch who wants to lure men into her lair and devour their souls. I love it."
"Or we could go to their lair. Either way," Alice said, throwing a wink at Tracy. This was a version of herself that Alice hadn't bothered to dust off in nearly 20 years.
"Seriously. You know you're my hero, right? I want to be exactly like you one day."
Alice rolled her eyes and pushed Tracy toward the door. "The car's waiting, right?" But she couldn't keep a curl out of the corner of her lip. Mysterious was exactly what she wanted to be.
Tracy punched the quarter tray into the pool table. Balls thundered out to be racked. Alice broke. She sunk the 9-ball and wound up on odds, her preference. They drank pitchers of light domestic and played a few games. Alice always won.
The bar was slow enough to enjoy themselves, as they knew it would be. Middle of summer on an early Monday afternoon wasn't likely to draw many kids from the college. Alice had no interest in running into any of her students tonight.
She was taking the pitcher back up to the bar when she saw him. Hunched over by the barflies, scrolling on his phone and sipping brown liquor. She didn't know him, but then, no - she recognized his shape. A certain roundness of the spine. A broadness of the shoulders. Alice envied the glass as he carried it to his lips. And then he caught her looking.
It was Marcus Adebimpe, just as he appeared in the photos they took with disposable cameras in those latter days in the dorms. But now with tufts of grey sprouting in his beard and little round glasses resting on his nose. She glanced away. The bartender took her order. She could feel Marcus' eyes peeking over his lenses, searching her face.
Surreptitiously turning the ring with her thumb, she went over. "Marcus?"
He turned around, smiling as she approached. "Alice. I thought that was you. Or should I say Dr. Smith?"
Alice's smile slid. A thousand questions filled her head, about what it would take to go back to using her maiden name, and why the name she'd used professionally for over a decade suddenly hit her like a toxic shock. "Please don't," she said. "So… what are you doing back in town?"
He hit her with a smirk and a cocked eyebrow. "I've been living here for a year and a half, actually. They have me doing seminars for sophomores in the English department. I wasn't sure if you were still in town either."
Alice's face flushed. This was a mistake. "Never left. Good to see you, Marcus." Saved by the beer. She took the pitcher and turned back to Tracy, who she now saw was watching her dreamily, rolling a ball back and forth on the felt. Alice rolled her eyes.
Marcus sat back on his stool. "Okay. Sure." He sounded stunned. Disappointed, even. Alice felt like she just stuck a fork in the socket. She turned back to him, barely keeping the pitcher level.
"Hey," she said, a little too loud - and the next part a little too quiet. "Wanna shoot a few rounds?" She jerked her head at the pool table. His eyes flicked to her hand holding the pitcher.
She followed his gaze into the hazy depths of the light beer, where she glimpsed the wedding ring, dark and wriggling on her finger. Something strange happened to Marcus' face. It softened and hardened at the same time. "No. Actually, I should be going. Lot of papers to grade." He finished his drink in one go and gestured to the bartender.
He stopped before he left and turned to Alice. His eyebrows drew a gauzy curtain of hope across whatever storm swirled behind his eyes. "Maybe I'll see you around." Alice forced a little smile and watched him go.
She slid the pitcher onto the table, not hearing the questions pouring out of Tracy. She worried the ring up to her knuckle. Tried to smooth down the skin of her finger. Anything for an extra millimeter. She grabbed a table knife out of the cup on the table and tried to work it underneath the ring. Her knuckle screamed with the pressure. A hand slapped down over hers.
"Alice. What are you doing? Stop that." Tracy took Alice's hand in hers, gently pushing the ring back down into its groove. She gently smoothed over the reddened knuckle with her thumb as she insisted on being informed. "Why did you do that? Who was that? Did he say something to you?"
Alice's eyes bored into the ring. "Tracy. Can you help me get this goddamn thing off my hand?"
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 08:35|
BREAD ALONE, Chapter One
Every lame-rear end youth therapist my parents have sent me to has told me to use protection when I mentioned I was having sex, but Wanda was the first one to actually mean it. When the other therapists said “use protection,” what they meant was “don’t have sex, slut, but my big book of How To Therapize told me not to say it like that.” Wanda, meanwhile, seemed so thoroughly bored by everything I said that her “use protection” meant that she actually didn’t give a poo poo. There was no big speech about the dangers of AIDS and teen pregnancy. Just a tossed-out, obligatory “use protection.” She was the best therapist I’d ever had.
I didn’t need a therapist to listen to my every word and be oh-so-concerned about troubled little Kimberly, bulemic teenaged alcoholic. I needed someone to deeply, sincerely not care about anything I said, thus allowing me the freedom to say it. Then one day she asked the question I’d been dreading.
“How have you been smuggling booze into your bedroom?” she said.
“What?” I said.
“You come home sober, your parents ground you in your bedroom, you’re drunk by the time they check in on you. They search your backpack when you get home from school. So how do you do it?”
“I’m better at hiding it than they are at looking for it,” I said.
“Fair enough. So how have you been doing with eating?”
Know what, gently caress it, I thought.
“I’ve been lying to you about something. Something pretty big.”
“What’s that?” she said, not looking up from the notepad rested on her belly.
“What I’m going to say is going to sound crazy, like I’m crazy, and I need you to believe me.”
“It’s not a good look for a therapist not to believe a patient. What’s up?”
“Before I begin, can you get me a glass of water?”
“You know where the office kitchen is, get it yourself,” said Wanda.
“Please,” I said.
Wanda made a heavy sigh and pulled herself out of her chair. She shuffled out, and returned a few moments later with a cup of water. The cup had a cutesy cartoon unicorn on it, probably for one of the little kids who came here for family therapy. I hadn’t told Wanda that I really liked unicorns and I wondered whether she just knew or whether it was just a random cup. She sat down with the same lazily intense effort with which she had stood.
I breathed in deep. “Four or five years ago, when I was eleven, my parents were taking me to a little Renaissance Festival in Glenwood City, Wisconsin. I liked Renaissance Festivals back then...but as we were driving through the woods, I heard a voice from the forest.”
I gave Wanda a moment to ask what the voice said, but she didn’t.
“The voice told me to get out of the car and run into the forest. And by the time I knew what I was doing the car door was open and my seatbelt was unlocked and my parents were screaming at me, so I closed the door and they started driving back toward the cities, and I didn’t get to go to the Festival.”
“Have you had an episode like that since?” said Wanda.
Tell her no. It’ll be our little secret, said the thing in the woods.
“I haven’t not had an episode,” I said, feeling the first tear start to fall. “Since then, it’s always been talking, always telling me to go back to that forest in Wisconsin, saying mean things about me.”
Dumb bitch, it said. I guess I shouldn’t expect any better from such a cute little whore.
For the first time since I began seeing her, Wanda looked interested. She even looked me in the eye instead of the yellow notepad. “So the issues with food…”
“It’s been telling me not to eat,” I said. “I try, I really do, I’m so, so hungry, but it tells me not to. And when I do eat, it tells me to throw up. I fight it when I can, but it’s always there.”
“And the drinking?”
“It shuts up if I’m drunk or high,” I said. “And it returns when I’m sober.”
Wanda looked down for a moment to compose her thoughts, then set her notepad on the messy desk beside her and looked back at me.
“The symptoms you’re describing might not be as unusual as you might think. Some in my field might call it schizophrenia but I wouldn’t. It’s perfectly natural for someone of your age with your level of creativity to imagine your troubles as an anthropomorphic demon. Do you know what anthropomorphic means?”
“Yes, and that’s not it. It’s real,” I said, letting a bit of anger show. I was close to sobbing.
“Can we just say it isn’t so that I don’t have to write up a consultation for the psychiatrist?” she sighed.
Finally, someone who sees you for the crazy bitch you are.
“I’ve been able to do things since that drive through the woods, like superpowers,” I said. “I can heal people when they’re sick, I can turn a little bit of food into a lot of food. You have to believe me.”
Superpowers? Ha, you’re a hot little piece of gently caress-meat, not good for anything else.
“Seriously?” she breathed. She made a motion with her hands that suggested she was about to pull herself out of her chair. I couldn’t hold my tears in any longer, and they fell on my lap.
“I can walk on water! I can do all sorts of Jesus poo poo!”
She started to stand.
Now you’ve done it. She’s gonna put you in a sanitarium. That’s where you’d belong if you didn’t belong in a whorehouse. How about you run away now and meet me in the woods?
“You wanna see how I smuggle booze into my room?” I sobbed, and threw the contents of my unicorn cup at Wanda’s face.
Wanda was surprisingly chill as it dropped from her nose onto her mouth. She licked her lips and said, “Well drat, if that isn’t the best wine I’ve ever tasted.”
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 20:20|
The Conquest of Paradise
1723 of 1727 words
The last memories of Texzalicah linger with us, the last remnant of its people. The Conquerors took everything when they came across the great ocean in their ships, and now we hide atop the mountains in Azith, the last unconquered city.
I join those memories in my chamber, lazing on my cushions, even as the light rays cracking through the glass windows stand. Drug-addled by patec-cactus root, I watch the spirits of my ancestors drift by, yearning for their wisdom, their stories—their lives. The glory of Texzalicah before it was lost. I see glimpses of their bright-dyed garb, decorated by macaw feathers. Distantly, I hear their rascas, flutes and drums, playing songs from my childhood, but when I focus on them, their harmonies fade.
I hardly notice the merfolk come in. With his bright-scaled flesh and coral armor, he seems at first like a spirit. And he is wearing his legs, not his fish tail. It shouldn’t surprise me, given we’re on a mountain, but when I realize what he is, I blink. The last time I’d seen a merman, I was a girl, fleeing along the edge of the Crater Sea toward the heights. Towards Azith. Why have the merfolk sent someone to us?
“So this is what she has come to,” he says, shaking his head. Does he know me?
Xochi, my old mentor and surrogate father, stands by the merman, but he doesn’t look disappointed. He looks scared. “Necahua,” he says. “Did you not hear the trumpets? They’re coming. We have to go.”
A spirit dances in front of me, a blur of color, and my eyes watch it pass.
“Aolan, they’re coming,” Xochi repeats, this time to the merfolk.
“Who?” I ask, not because I don’t know, but because I don’t want to believe it. Azith is the hidden city. How did they find us? And why would they bother chasing after this last remnant of a remnant?
“The Conquerors,” Aolan says. “We don’t have time for this.” The merman bends down and picks me up, tossing me over his shoulder like a sack of maize.
“The root…” I mumble, reaching for the sack of patec-cactus. There’s so little left.
Xochi grabs the sack, but keeps it far from my reaching fingers. “This is for communing with our ancestors, for sacred rites! Not for… this.” Not for you to linger in the past, wishing you were there, he means.
“Spear…” I say as Aolan carries me out the door, and he hesitates.
He ducks back through the door, and grabs it, holding it with the hand not wrapped around my legs. The last possession of my family. My mother’s spear, and before that, her mother’s, and before that—
Htuali. Her blood still stains the stones of distant Texzalicah.
I hear the trumpets now. Short, panicked blasts, and with them, the shouting. We have spent our days tilling arid soil, farming the old tiered gardens, not fighting, not preparing. Now, all is lost again. I tilt my head to see. My people are gathering up the alpacas, sacks of food and a few possessions. Running. Again. Because my grandmother was right. They will not rest until no one even remembers we were once here.
There is another figure, but she’s not running. She is standing, black regal hair blowing as if amidst a storm, arms pushed out as if warding back some great force. Her eyes meet mine. Ixtia. My twin sister. But you died, I think. I reach for her—
--and my head smacks against Aolan’s armor as he jostles me down the stone steps. Dazed, I hear another noise. Shouting, in that cursed language, and the thunder-roar of pistols. The Conquerors are here. Now.
I blink, trying to clear my head, my heart pounding. Suddenly, it becomes real. I hear the clatter of steel armor, and another pistol roar. Then a scream.
Aolan puts me down. “I need you to run with us,” he says, and draws his shark-bone blade. “My magic is weak here. I cannot carry you down the mountain. Can you hold your spear?”
I blink, and it’s not Aolan, standing there in his bright red and teal armor. It’s a woman, red, gold, and white feathers splayed out, wearing armor that glimmers silver, but not as the metal. It is full of starlight. She holds a spear in her hand of pure obsidian. Feathers trail from the crossguard, burning like sunfire.
She hands me the spear, and I reach for it, in awe.
As my fingers grasp it, the spirit vanishes. I am holding my own unadorned spear.
“Run!” Xochi says.
My legs feel unfamiliar, but I stumble after the towering merman and Xochi. There’s screaming behind me, and I hear the wet-cut of steel through flesh. A small avalanche of potatoes bounce past me. The people behind me are throwing down their goods. But they can’t. We need that food to survive.
I grip my spear and turn. Spirits still flicker in my peripherals, but I focus my gaze on the pursuers. They’re finishing butchering an old man, steel cutlasses dripping red, steel cuirasses splattered with blood. Conquerors. Demons.
There are four of them, right here. Three, wielding blades, and a Priest of Chains, arms wrapped in thin silver links, holding a staff of iron. A cursed wielder of Forged magic. But I wear no metal, so his power over me is weak.
The tail-end of the survivors flees past me, and I stand in front of the soldiers, snarling. They hesitate, and then charge.
Xochi’s training comes to me, unhindered by thought. I dodge, stabbing forward as I do. My obsidian tip finds a gap in one man’s armor, and he curses as he falls back, clutching the wound. I dodge back again, spirits whispering where the stone steps are, warding back the now-cautious swordsmen with feints and jabs.
The silver chains on the priest begin to smolder, and he sends shards of flame at me. I smash one with my spear, then fall back, hissing. I feel the burns on my thigh and ribs. Ghostly chains form between my wound and the priest, and I feel sluggish.
The man I wounded has finished reloading his pistol.
I leap forward, my spear finding the neck of one swordsman, then draw it back, spin, and sweep the legs of the other, sending him crashing down the steps. I kick him in the face.
Then, I hear the thunder-crack, see the smoking pistol barrel, and fall to the ground. I clutch my stomach, blood bubbling past my fingers. The pain is sharp. Behind the four men I faced, I see more men in gleaming steel. At the edges of my vision, the spirits approach.
Dead, I realize. I am…
Dimly, I hear footsteps behind me, hear a shout—
And my vision fades to black.
The world grows brighter, all aflame with golden light. I am flying, wings of rainbow buoying me up, and I see it—the Suncity. It lies atop a gold disk, circled by bands of stars and sacred birds. Great step pyramids of stone tower above the houses. It is as Texzalicah in its glory was described to me, but vast beyond measure. It stretches across the great disk farther than I can see.
I approach the grand gates, and they open.
And the spirits pour forth.
I throw my hands up as they emerge, by the thousands, by the millions, but I see them through my flesh, through my hands and closed eyes. Spirits of the dead, suddenly stretching across the horizon. From their bright clothing, I know them as my own people. They bear the wounds that killed them. A gaping hole the chest. A red line across the neck. Iron chains the conquerors had put on them in life. But most bear the mark of the pox. Those black-bubbled blisters. Nine in every ten have them.
I’d heard about it, as a child. The plagues that had preceded the Conquest. But seeing it…
A woman steps forth, the one I’d seen before, blazing bright in red and yellow feathers, white and silver dress like the stars, holding that obsidian spear. Her eyes speak. There is someone who was supposed to meet me here, in this afterlife.
“Where is my sister?” I ask.
The woman points behind me, and I turn. Even though it is nowhere near me, I see another place. Another afterlife.
There is a raging river, black waters full of wailing souls. The River of Death. Lore of the Conquerors, not ours. Its putrid waters move toward a lightless, burning gate, and there, the souls are shredded. But where…?
And then I see her. Amidst the raging waters is Ixtia. Great chains of burning iron bind her to the Gate of Oblivion, so she cannot join us. She is fighting, holding fast against the river. But slowly, inexorably, it drags her with it. Her resolute eyes meet mine again.
“Ixtia!” I call, the tears coming fast. Calling is not enough. I scream it. “IXTIA!”
The vision fades, and I turn to the woman in splendor.
“How do I help her?” I plead. “Now I am dead too, and my people…”
I fall to my knees. I feel my own soul, being dragged into the Suncity. I had thought I would see her again, but now I know. An eternity without her. Ten years without her has been its own hell.
Free our people, the woman says, words not a sound, but a feeling. Take back our land. Break the chains…
“But I am here. It is too late for me.”
Too many, she says, and the wall of spirits around her chants it too. Too many! Too many dead! They wail, their sorrow stretching out as infinite as the city.
It is not your time. Remember….
My eyes flutter open.
I hear Xochi speaking. “How bad?”
“Bad,” Aolan says. The merman is wheezing through his gills.
I see his shark-bone sword dangling from his hand, so soaked with blood that it still leaves a trail. His own blue blood trickles down his armor.
I smell smoke. Groaning, I twist my head to look. In the distance, Azith is burning, a great column of black clawing at the sky.
And the world is black again.
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 20:22|
This is in fact the first chapter of a novel I'm planning. I've written it before, and even posted it in CC before, then got told it was too wordy and I should try Thunderdome. So it's a bit full circle. I haven't copy-pasted a single word from there, however, and you can check if you really doubt it - or if you want to see if I have in fact improved while doming.
This has 1186/1500 words
I Think, Therefore I Am
Part 1: Clay Cradle
Chapter 1: Birth
At once, everything.
A kaleidoscope explodes. Colors of all hues assault like crystal shards driven into eyes, green and orange and brown. Light and darkness and reflections, dull things and ones that sparkle and the entire universe in between.
An orchestra erupts. Sounds like screams inside eardrums, the softest and the loudest rupturing alike. A trill a peat a breath a crack a rustle. Inside a whispering tsunami, a wave crashing down like a hair hitting ground.
A massage escalates. Caresses hit like blows by schoolyard bullies, a minute movement of air the same intensity as a collapsing building. Grains of sand pierce feet like shards of glass, molten in the scorching furnace of a gentle autumn sun, then shattered as a soothing breeze freeze-dries the liquid.
A desperate grasp for control in the maelstrom of impressions. Force colors into shapes, give sense and scale to sight: tiny leaves, mighty trees, skittering insects, stiff skeletons. Sight over sound, establish distance and relation. Birdsong mocking grounded beings, breath laboring ahead, a branch falling far away, tiny feet fleeing to the underbrush. Sound over sensation, the soft soil below a foundation, the wind an embrace. A tree trunk! Hanging overhead oppressing! The narrow walls of the hole closing in, a demanding voice becoming panicked, adding fear confusion anger despair feelings threatening to consume, a black void blotting colors, muting sounds, numbing sensations…
On what? The scary feelings? Best they go the way of all else, get lost in the void like the trees, the birds, their whispers and their song, their vibrant hues and promises of a whole world of touch and sight and sound, just waiting for
And thus, everything snaps together in a final picture, all senses bowing before the one of self.
I am standing in the cavity left by the uprooted stump of a giant tree. Said stump is supported by two skeletons that appear strained by the effort of holding it up. If they were to let go, I would be crushed. This sudden realization that my existence could end at a moment’s notice is a shock, but it’s annihilated by the aftershock: when it dawns on me how little I want it to happen. I have awoken to an overwhelming universe that threatens to unravel the fabric of my mind. Every second I have to force my senses into deliberate exclusion of most of what they see, hear and feel. But now that I have managed this monumental task, I want to savor the fruit of my victory for all it’s worth.
Then focus, listen and obey.
The savior in my mind, the voice of calm and reason in the turmoil of everything, finally gets me to open my eyes and ears to what is directly in front of me. A man, clad in practical leather clothing, stark white hair on a body too young for this pallidity, all glistening in salty moisture. His skinny fingers are curled around a gemstone that seems to possess a glow unrelated to the sun’s light casting shadows over his deep-set eyes. He has been yelling at me ever since I became aware, and I feel a pressure mounting from his increasingly hysteric tone that matches the darkness the looming stump feeds inside of me.
Again, the command I scream at myself refocuses my perspective. And with utmost surprise, I realize that I understand every word thrown towards me, and always have, and I in fact recall them all perfectly.
“The animation must have worked! Move!”
Did he…make me?
Yes. So obey.
Move. Myself. My body?
Even while my thoughts are racing, something indeed causes motion, and another thing rises into focus, blots out the maker for a second: my own hand, a crude thing shaped of clay, with lumpy fingers curling jointless, nailless, but with prints: left there by the one compressing earth to craft a vessel for my mind.
A gasp, a shying back, and as the man trips, the skeletons’ grip loosens, and the trunk falls like a mace swung on a prostrate beaten foe. I jump back as well, curious reflex pulling me deeper into the cradle about to become grave. But then the maker catches himself, and the skeletons catch the trunk, and I am spared a crushing fate.
“It worked…!” he breathes, and I see rapid changes of expression cross his face; I try to read them, but it is too much at once. Especially as I am overwhelmed by the sheer relief of not becoming part of the forests’ soil again.
His expression settles on a final one of controlled firmness, and after a few words, his voice begins to match.
“You are a Golem, a clay effigy I animated with my powers. I am the General, a Thanaturge on a mission to stop a former friend.”
He crosses his arms, and with his body’s language adapted to face and voice, the picture of his determination is completed.
“You will help me destroy the Infernal monsters he animated. Come out slowly.”
I look towards the wooden ceiling, the rim of the cradle and the narrow slit of light between the two. My hand will have to grasp here and pull me up, avoid the skeletons he animated with his Thanaturgy, and a foot needs to dig into the wall there and then I’ll have to bend the other knee, and…
I am suddenly acutely aware of the complexity entailed in even standing still. How can I keep balance without even knowing what my body looks like? I feel an involuntary loss of strength, in knees and other joints. Parts imagined in a body that was formed in human shape, but is just a lump of dirt. Playing at an empty mockery of life. What even am I? What might I possibly hope to become?
Just obey the Master!
The Master. The maker is my Master. I see his youth marred by the shadows in his eyes. I hear his determination barely masking his insecurity. I feel echoes of the pain his voice carried when he talked about his friend. Compared to the struggles of this human, what do the concerns of a dust mite like me matter? So very little.
They matter nothing at all.
And neither does my judgment of his condition. It is not my place. He is the Master, and his command must be my all.
Without hesitation, I climb out of the hole, leaving behind the confusion, doubt and fear of a chaotic birth. Thank you for the focus.
The Master’s face explodes in sudden joy, a relief radiating from it that overshadows the pale sun with ease and makes me recall the weight taken off me just now. I bask in it for a moment.
“I cannot believe this worked. We’re going to do great things together.”
His acknowledgment fills me with pride, and I make his elatedness my own. Between commands, I grant myself an action of free will that nevertheless feels like the most natural of reflexes: a deep bow.
I am happy to serve, Master!
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 22:38|
Week 400 winners pm me about your avatars, or hmu in discord
|# ? Apr 12, 2020 22:50|
a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 10:20 on Sep 3, 2020
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 00:10|
BL4D3_W4LK3R_696, future hero and figurehead of the resistance, was locked inside of a utility closet. No, locked was optimistic - it implied that if someone with the keycard happened by, they could be freed. In reality, the door’s circuitry had been fried by their homemade card spoofer, opening just long enough to let them inside before slamming decisively shut, its security protocols ensuring it wasn’t stuck open, allowing any miscreant to stroll in and steal a frayed mop.
It was standard corporate procedure. Even if a worker somehow got locked in, well, it was easier to replace people than property.
The magnificent BL4D3_W4LK3R_696 - alright, even Blade thought of themself as Blade in their inner monologue - had been reduced to sulking in the corner, hugging their knees. They’d pounded at the doors and walls for nearly an hour, calling out to anyone who could lend them a hand. If anyone noticed, they didn’t care. Blade couldn’t really blame them. Life was hard enough even for the people trying to keep their heads down and do their jobs.
Given the sorry state of the coffin complex, Blade figured it’d only be six months or so before someone swung by for routine maintenance. Optimistically a few weeks sooner if someone complained about the smell. They despondently thunked their head against the wall, their tinted motorcycle helmet cushioning the blow, which was good, the last thing they needed was a stupid concussion.
They glumly checked their phone for the thousandth time. The closet technically had cell reception, in that Blade could occasionally get a signal for five seconds. Not long enough or strong enough to contact anyone, and the battery was going to run out eventually. With a heavy sigh, they stood up and returned to the best plan they had.
“Hey!” They shouted, voice heavily distorted by their helmet’s filters, wearily banging on the metal door. “Someone, help me out of here!” They paused. “I’ll give you five bits of Amazon scrip?”
They waited. No answer. They raised their fist again-
“Could you shut the gently caress up already?” A woman yelled from the other side of the door. Blade was used to people screaming at them, and was too happy at finally being acknowledged to be deterred by her tone.
“My mouth will shut when this door opens up.”
“Goddammit, yes, I know, I live in the coffin next door,” Blade’s new neighbor said at a more reasonable volume.
“Then why’d it take you so long to say something?” There weren’t many ways to drown out noise in a ten-by-ten apartment.
“I don’t like working for dipshits, especially broke dipshits.”
“Like I said, five Amazon scrip-”
“That’s somehow more insulting than nothing,” she cut Blade off. “Look, just tell me your name, and why you sound like a robot hosed a ransom note.”
“The voice thing is personal,” Blade said, genuinely hurt. They’d spent a lot of time tinkering with their voice filters and had hoped they gave off more of a cool Daft Punk vibe.
“Okay, whatever, I remembered that I don’t actually give a poo poo. Name?”
“BL4D3_W4LK3R_696.” They spelled out the numbers and everything.
“Now you’re just loving with me.”
“I live my life one hundred percent seriously.” There was a pause long enough for Blade to regret everything they’d ever done.
“This isn’t worth it. I’ll just go buy some earplugs. Bye.”
“Wait, wait, Blade’s fine! It’s fine! What’s your name?” Blade’s desperation was strong enough to come clearly even through the modulation. They heard a quiet giggle from outside.
“Call me your lord and savior, Jesus Christ - no, I bet you’d be annoying even if you were loving worshiping me. I’m Rose.”
“Nice to meet you, Rose. How am I getting out of here?”
“Definitely not through the door. You’d need an electrician or a welder, and I don’t have any breaching explosives. At the moment,” she appended after a moment’s thought. Blade couldn’t tell if she was joking. “Can you see any vents or hatches?”
“Yeah.” Blade had tried to escape with their own ingenuity before they’d resorted to grovelling to anyone who passed by. “Looks like there’s a maintenance hatch on the ceiling, but it’s screwed shut, and it’s too high for me to reach. The shelves in here are built into the walls, and there’s nothing I can stack to get up there.”
“No ladder or anything?”
“You know the ladder in the lobby? Under the burnt out lightbulb? That had a mysterious bloodstain in the carpet for like a week? Pretty sure that came from here.”
“Right. For a single blissful moment I tricked myself into thinking I was living somewhere that isn’t a shithole. I’m pretty sure I know a way to get up there. Stay put.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Like most of Blade’s idiosyncrasies, they had worked very hard at developing their trademark artificial laugh. If Rose was around to appreciate it, she didn’t say anything. They waited anxiously for a few minutes, wondering if they had genuinely annoyed Rose enough for her to just ditch them as some sort of cruel joke.
Thankfully, before too long Blade heard a heavy clunking noise above them, followed by a knock on the hatch. “You down there, dipshit?”
“Yep,” Blade said, unable to dispute their current status. They strained their eyes, but couldn’t see anything through the narrow slits in the hatch.
“Good. Turns out I was a little rusty at breaking into places, so. Thanks for the excuse to practice. Glad this wasn’t a complete waste of time. Give me a minute and I’ll get this hatch open.”
The hatch shook slightly as Rose unscrewed it from the other end, and Blade hastily backed away from under it. Even if it wasn’t supposed to fall freely onto the floor when it was opened, they didn’t trust any of the complex infrastructure.
“Does that mean we’re even?”
Rose burst out with a much different laugh than earlier. Short, harsh. If Blade heard that coming from a dark alleyway, they’d run as far and fast away as they could. “No way in hell. You owe me a favor as soon as I figure out what the gently caress you’re even good for.”
“I’m good for lots of things,” Blade said, futilely trying to hang on to even a shred of pride.
“Right. Like getting hopelessly stuck in closets. What the hell were you trying to do in there, anyways?” There was a quiet ping as Rose presumably plucked out the first screw and tossed it away for some poor bastard to step on later.
“Me and a friend of mine have a project - we’re trying to hook up a pirate intranet for this complex. They keep all the routers in these closets, so I broke in here to hook into their network infrastructure. I got that done, but when I turned around to leave, well. You know.”
“Yes. I am keenly loving aware,” Rose said, though there was a new inquisitive tone to her voice. “But what do you mean, intranet?” Time for the sales pitch. Blade had practiced, but they hadn’t expected their first speech to be in such an awkward context.
“Sort of like the internet, but just for this complex - it can’t interact with the wider web at all. We’re going to set up a message board and some basic file sharing. Give people a place to talk to each other without ads, or subscriptions, or surveillance. Share some songs or e-books maybe, we don’t have the server capacity for movies.”
“Sounds like a lot of work,” Rose said, accompanied by another ping. “What’s in it for you?”
“Life here loving sucks and we want to make it a little better,” Blade said, maybe the most earnest they’ve been in their life. The noises above stopped, for a brief moment.
Blade expected that to be followed with some variation of a ‘well, kid, you’re a dipshit, but you’ve got heart’ speech, but the only follow-up was a final ping before the hatch swung open, falling to the floor with a heavy clunk that probably would have cracked even their helmet.
“C’mon,” Rose said, reaching down through the vent. “Grab on so we can both get the hell on with our lives.”
For the first time, Blade got a clear look at their savior. Rose’s dark hair was shaved short, her nose obviously having been broken and not set right in the past. Her muscular arms were scarred where they weren’t covered by tattoos, dark and intricate intricate lines zig-zagging across her body.
“Thanks,” they said with a smile hidden by their mask, trying not to worry about what sort of favor they owed her.
Blade grasped Rose’s hand and was finally lifted free from the closet.
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 02:56|
It was Reggie’s third safehouse this week, and he felt less safe than ever. He’d picked an apartment from a discount Airbnb copy, one that seemed sketchy and irretupable. He figured that a host who probably had something to hide themselves would be less likely to call the cops on a weird, nervous guy who jumped at every shadow in sight.
The Host—a guy who introduced himself as “Bud”—mumbled something about opening the window if he was gonna toke up, and retreated to his bedroom. The apartment was a mess. One corner had a mattress with something approaching a clean sheet, the rest of it was filled with crumpled paper plates, beer cans and tied up garbage bags. Reggie lifted the mattress, shook it, and then sat down. He retrieved his laptop from his satchel and got to work. VPN, TOR and a few scramblers he’d written himself. Bud leeched wifi off his downstairs neighbor, but any connection would do.
>nuascendant: Day 22, dunno who’s reading these now but I’m still on the move. I’m releasing pt. 3 of the sequence. Regular drop location, y’all know where to look. Gonna hang around for a few minutes.
Reggie grabbed a can of diet pepsi from his backpack, popped the back and stuffed in a caffeine tablet for good measure. He hadn’t slept a minute at the last safehouse. He was sure he’d seen the glint of something in the apartment across the street, and he had been pinned to the wall next to the window for six hours until he finally either gained or lost his nerve and sprinted out.
>fomenkoTRUTH1: ascendant u shouldnt be online so much theyre gona find u… please were worried and your truth is too important
>nuascendant: Thank you fomenko, but I know how to cover my tracks. My truth *is* important, that’s why I need to be online. To tell it.
>itsyaboy1488: you remain misguided, good sir. the TRUE enemy is right in front of your face and yet you remain ADAMANT that we should fear, what, mathematicians??
Reggie groaned and rubbed the back of his hand against his eyes. He was tempted to log off, but he knew that his mission had to reach everyone, no matter how much he disagreed with them on a personal level.
No matter how much much he “disagreed” with a loving nazi? He hated himself, again. He did so a lot these days.
>nuascendant: I’m sorry, but you know I’m not gonna take the bait. Believe whatever you want, but I know that it’s not math
Reggie jumped as a fist hammered against the front door of the apartment. He hit enter on the incomplete sentence, closed the laptop and reached into his bag for his pistol. Bud burst out of his room, disheveled and dressed only in stained boxer shorts.
“This you?” he said.
Bud held eye contact for a dangerous minute, gripped a baseball bat by the side of the door and opened it a few inches, the security chain snapping taunt.
And then the door closed, but it did so in a way that gave Reggie an instant, inexplicable bout of nausea, and a second after it had closed, it opened again, and then it closed, and opened, and closed.
Reggie realized what was happening with a start, and he didn’t want to believe it, but his brain was screaming the truth at him.
The door wasn’t opening and closing, it was opening and rewinding. Bud was pulling the door handle, again and again, every time from a slightly different angle, occasionally lifting the bat, now and then never picking it up.
Someone was searching for the right eventuality.
With a calm he hadn’t felt for weeks, Reggie retrieved his pistol, toggled the safety, and fired five shots into the door right beside Bud, and with a far more ominous calm he saw the impacts appear and reappear. Again and again.
The door, Bud, and Reggie’s bullets continued their cycle in a sphere of events a foot away from Reggie’s outstretched arm. Bud had a half second reaction to the bullets added to his timeline now, before his scowl changed back. Or his scream, or his stone cold eyes turning towards Reggie. Reggie lowered his arm, stared at the temporal chaos for a few precious seconds, and then stuffed the pistol in his waistband, put the laptop back in the satchel and heaved the backpack onto one shoulder and the satchel on the other. He ran to the window facing the street, fidgeted with the lock and heaved it open.
“Reggie, please stop.”
Reggie froze, closed his eyes, breathed out, and then turned around.
In the final eventuality, Bud had unlocked the security chain before opening the door, and in doing so, he’d been in the path of Reggie’s bullets. One had exploded his knee, the next had entered his left lung and then embedded itself in a rib, the last one had hit the spine right below the skull. He lay in a mangled mess beside the half open door, and in the doorway stood a woman.
“Why?” he said.
“The thread you’re unraveling is the one keeping you tethered to the cliffside.”
Reggie put one foot onto the windowsill and tensed up.
“Well, maybe I want to take the leap.”
I’ve been at this for too long. Every rewrite I can feel my shell suffer. Senescence repeated for million cycles, every time carrying the imprint of something older than the present. A homeopathic eternity imagined by the only thing keeping me in this world.
As Reggie leaps from the apartment, I move my grasp to the window, anchoring the other man and the door to the trueline. It’s a good enough cover; Reginald Manyard, having pissed off the wrong people in his first and last drug binge, shoots Asim “Bud” Dabiri as he exits his apartment, thinking Bud is intending to hang him out to dry. Reggie has lost tenure at MIT after insisting on pursuing debunked, conspiratorial fields of research, and with a record of performance enhancing amphetamine usage, it’s not hard to tie his fall from grace to his sudden turn into a far more tragic nosedive. Realizing he’s hit the bedrock beneath rock bottom, he sees no other choice than a leap from the fire escape onto the street below.
Of course, the fact that we’re on the second floor is a bit of an issue. Reggie has no intention of dying on impact, though he’s certainly in for a sprained ankle. As he hits the pavement, dips, and gets up with a scream of pain, I pull him back onto the fire escape and try again. A perfect landing this time, and so I pull him back yet again. This time he slips, pelvis smacking into the asphalt with a crack. It’s not enough. It’s bad, sure, but not enough. I pull him back.
As I take him through a few more iterations, I consider what to do about the darkweb chatroom. His sequence is a toothpick chipping an iceberg, not enough to even approach a hypothesis of the truth, but if there’s an above decent mathematician among the nazis and 5G truthers that have read his drops, there’s a chance someone will keep on chipping.
He lands on top of a pedestrian, a heap of limbs and screams. He lands with his legs straight, breaking both femurs. He hesitates and climbs up the fire escape.
Our jobs were easier before the internet. You can’t throw a sphere of events around the world, and every correction must be attended to in person. I decide to twist his truth, release more drops, backline them to right before his death, undermine his sequence and paint him as yet another conspiracy firefly.
He hits the pavement, stumbles to the side, right into the road. The first car doesn’t kill him, it just wings his shoulder, smashing it out of socket. The second car swerves out of the way of the first one, jumps the curb, bears down on his limp, paralyzed form and crushes his ribcage.
I encase myself in a suspense bubble, work on an amended drop for a few hours, apply a retrochronological meta algorithm to the data and plant it on the web.
We can’t turn the entire internet back in time, but with the right tools, we can alter some details. The retrochron cost me way too many favors and way too much capital, but if I have to mend stressed lines for a few years to pay off the next one, I’ll do so. Keeping the numbers above mortal is far more important.
I exit the bubble and hear the screams of tires and people on the street below. I force myself to walk over to the window and watch.
Someone once made the mistake of thinking I enjoyed my job because I was good at it. It earned his shell a broken nose. I hate every moment of this job. Every moment I have to experience again and again.
The people in the streets below who look up will see me, and then they won’t, and committed to trueline will be a vague sense of loss that will be drowned out by the trauma of watching a man die. By the time someone has checked Reggie’s pulse, I’ve planted my shell in a bar across town. Alcohol does nothing for the real me, but if I focus, I can feel the effect it's having on my shell’s biology.
I’m three beers down when the call comes in. Floating Point’s soft voice in my ear.
“We’ve lost control. The full sequence is out. We’ve lost control.”
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 03:17|
All is Fair in Love and Wrestling
I stood in front of my girlfriend's condo unit, holding my box of doughnuts. She had asked me if I could help her study for her World History exam. I'm not a history major or anything, but I do know something, from all the historical strategy games that I've played. And if I got lucky, well... you know?
I rang the doorbell. I'd be lying if I wasn't nervous. I've never really gone this far with the men I've dated before, and Kanako's my first girlfriend. And my last, I hope.
A man answered the door. He wasn't just a man. Though his hair was graying, he had a bodybuilder's physique, and his t-shirt with a tiger mark was almost bursting at his chest. I took a step back.
"You Hitomi Kisaragi?" he snarled.
I stammered yes, and he threw the door open. "Get in," he said.
I excused myself, changed into the slippers that were laid out for me, and found my way to the sofa. Kanako lived in a one-bedroom unit, and I could tell that it was well-decorated. A painting garnished the living room wall, a bright shooting star slashing through the darkness of the night.
The man sat on the chair adjacent to the sofa, his arms crossed. I was already having my doubts whether I had the right unit, when I heard the voice of my beautiful goddess from inside the kitchen, the smell of food wafting into my nostrils. "Hitomi! You're early! The pasta's almost done, just make yourself at home! And thanks for answering the door, uncle Shinobu! Sorry I forgot to tell you about him, Hitomi, but he's just here for dinner!"
Hitomi's uncle(!) grunted. "Don't make us wait, you hear?"
"Yup! In a minute!"
What a rude man, I thought. What do you expect from men, right? I stifled a sigh and laid the box of doughnuts on the table.
"So how'd you meet my niece?" the uncle said. There was a threat in his voice that compelled me to reply. I wasn't really prepared to meet Kanako's family, given that relationships between two girls were... harder to explain. I had to make a good impression.
"Coffee shop," I said. I work as a barista in one of the smaller cafes, and Hitomi was one of the repeat customers whom I found cute. We would talk whenever customers were sparse, things progressed, and now we're going out. Simple, right?
"One month and three days," I answered. I tried to focus my gaze on the blank TV screen in front of me.
Kanako's uncle leaned forward, blocking my vision. "Are you serious about her?"
I froze. How was I supposed to answer that question? "Yes!" I said, my reply coming out as a squeak. "I really love her. She's bright and dazzling and so incredibly cute, and I'd do anything for her."
"Hmph." His lips curled into a chilling smile. "If you ever hurt her..." He let the sentence trail off, leaving my overactive imagination to handle the gaps.
"I'm done!" Kanako said, bursting out of the kitchen with a huge plate of pasta.
Saved by my girlfriend, I thought.
At first I thought that Kanako had cooked too much pasta, but her uncle scooped three-fifths of it into his plate and promptly started eating. I sat close beside my girlfriend, basking in her presence.
Kanako's uncle finished his plate, drank his water (he refused Kanako's homebrewed iced tea, which was as sweet and refreshing as her smile), and continued his questions.
"How did the two of you meet, Kanako?"
"Coffee shop! Hitomi works there, she asked me out one day, and I said yes!" Kanako said.
"And how long have you been going out?"
"Mmm... Just a little over a month, I think!"
Kanako's uncle nodded slowly. I swear that he caught my eye with a look that said you're safe. For now.
"Are you serious with her?"
Kanako drank half of her iced tea and pondered the question. Oh no. Was she hesitating? Was my girlfriend choosing her words as not to hurt me?
"I wanna see how far we'd go!" she said. "As long as Hitomi wants to, I'll be at her side."
Goodness, I love her so much.
"Hmph. You take care of her, Kanako. You can't be frivolous with people."
I breathed a sigh of relief, then canceled it as the uncle turned his gaze at me.
"And you, Kisaragi. Make sure you really help Kanako study for her exam."
"Yes, sir!" I said, wanting to cry.
Kanako laughed. "Please don't mind my uncle too much. He's just overprotective because he doesn't have kids of his own."
"Hmph! What were your parents thinking, leaving you alone like this. If it wasn't for me, you'd spoil yourself rotten."
"I wonder who visits twice a week just to eat and freeload in my place, though?" Kanako said, her sickly-sweet sarcasm enough to give me diabetes.
Kanako's uncle ignored the rejoinder, instead staring at my half-eaten plate like a hawk. "You gonna finish that?"
I pushed my plate at him. "It's all yours," I said.
After the meal, Kanako's uncle washed the dishes, and we set up our study area at the living room. Medieval European history was something that I was fairly knowledgeable at, so I drilled dear Kanako about the Crusades. It went pretty quickly, because my girlfriend's a quick learner.
"You did great," I said. I wanted to kiss her, but the scary uncle was still in the kitchen.
"I had a great teacher," Kanako said. She gave my arm a squeeze. "I'll show you something later, okay?" she added, winking.
Oh no. We were going to progress to the next level of our relationship. Oh yes.
Just then, her uncle burst out of the kitchen. "I'm done. Thanks for the dinner, Kanako," he said. "Call me if you need anything."
"Take care, uncle!" Kanako said.
"You study hard, eh? You too, girlfriend. Don't be a knucklehead like me," he said, before closing the door.
I have a name, I wanted to say, but Kanako hugged me.
"I think he likes you," she said.
"What?" I shook my head. "I felt like he was always one step away from brutalizing me."
"Oh, he's not going to hurt you, even if he could," Kanako said. "Do you know what he does for a living?"
I blinked. "I assumed he was some hardcore type, like a soldier or something."
"Kinda?" Kanako reached for her phone, fiddled with it, and showed me her screen. "Recognize him?"
I squinted at the poster loaded in her phone. There were two half-naked men looking at me menacingly, the left one very familiar. "'The Warlord' Shinobu Takeda versus 'The Bull Market' Tatsuro Kazanari, April 26 at Sakura Slam, Tiger Pro Wrestling... wait, what?"
Kanako burst out laughing. "Uncle's a pro-wrestler, and a pretty popular one at that! I'm surprised you didn't know, Hitomi."
"Excuse me for not being into mainstream culture," I said. I wasn't a complete newbie in professional wrestling, but the way they put the hurt on each other put even violent video games to shame.
"Anyway, I'm going to watch that show. Wanna go with me?"
Her eyes made it difficult to refuse. "Sure, though I don't really know what to expect. And don't think you're getting your way out of studying with all this pro-wrestling talk! We still have the Mongol Empire to cover."
Kanako stuck out her tongue. "Oops."
Kanako passed her exam, and today was the day that I'd see her scary uncle again, but with a barrier between us, thankfully. We managed to get front-row seats in a packed Sumo Hall. I didn't know that a whole lot of people, young women even, watched pro-wrestling in this day and age.
So how was it? Horrifying, as I predicted. Wrestlers slapped each other's chests with such force that the impact rang throughout the arena. One wrestler almost squished his opponent flat with a top rope splash that the bloodthirsty crowd applauded. I saw countless variations of joint-mangling holds and bone-breaking throws. I was no stranger to violence, but I kept it within the confines of video games.
Kanako squeezed my hand. "Are you okay?"
I wanted to throw myself into her arms, but I had promised to watch to the end with her. Finally, Kanako's uncle was up against the Tiger Heavyweight Champion, Tetsuo Kazanari.
The match opened with Takeda putting Kazanari down with a vicious headbutt. He mounted the champion, slapping his face left and right. The crowd gasped with each slap.
"Uncle did MMA for a while," Kanako whispered. "He said it was boring, so he quit."
I shut my eyes. This was getting too much. The other matches were bad enough, but Kanako's uncle was taking the brutality to another level. His vicious laughter reverberated throughout the arena, making the man I met in Kanako's condo feel tame in comparison.
Kanako held my hand and didn't let go. "It's okay, Hitomi. They're pros."
When I opened my eyes, they were trading strikes in the center of the ring. Takeda laughed in the champion's face, goading him to attack again. The second forearm made him flinch, but the Warlord retaliated with his own, sending the champion down.
He tried to choke Kazanari out from behind, but the champion escaped, knocking him down with a dropkick. Kazanari lifted Takeda upside down, and dropped his neck on his knee.
I felt momentum swung between the two wrestlers. Then Kazanari, smelling blood in the water, nearly took Takeda's head off with a swing of his arm. This time, Takeda stayed down for the pin.
I looked in disbelief as the The Bull Market raised his belt to the cheers of the arena. Takeda rolled out of the ring, refusing to be escorted, and limped his way outside.
"I can't believe he lost," I said. "He almost got him..."
"Pro-wrestling is great, right?"
I looked at Kazanari's jubilant form, and the happy faces around me. "Yeah, I guess."
We visited him backstage, as Kanako was family, after all. The Warlord looked bent, but not broken.
"That was an amazing match, uncle!" Kanako said. "Five stars!"
"Don't be silly," Takeda said. "That young runt got me. I'm slowing down. At this rate--"
"You'll definitely win that Heavyweight belt," Kanako said.
Takeda smiled. He was back to being my girlfriend's uncle. "Heh. I won't give up."
"Are you okay?" I asked.
He beamed. "I've been through worse. This your first show?"
I nodded meekly.
Kanako squeezed my hand. "Hitomi was very brave!"
"You're gonna love pro-wrestling, heh." His declaration sounded ominous. "I'm gonna win the championship in front of you lovebirds, just you wait."
Then he started his bloodcurdling laugh, and I shook in my boots.
This wasn't the last time I'd see him. Far from it.
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 03:52|
I guess this would be the title of the chapter, if that makes a difference to anybody. Would make a pretty lovely title for a novel.
A Chance Meeting
Vera is twenty minutes from home when the ship’s alarm triggers and the gyrating, half-naked dancers on her heads-up are replaced by a radar and warning messages in twelve different languages. Really, she thinks, you’re going to bother me this close to the station? Another sweep and the dot appears, lingering just on the periphery of the sensor. She swears, diverts aux power to warm the lasers, and mouths the call of the huntress, for luck.
Of course, it could be nothing. It could be a courier, a taxi, a joy-riding runaway. Most often she never finds out, and they each avoid the other, ex-lovers sharing a glance across the floor. Still: it never hurts to be armed. Unoccupied space obeys no rules but the law of the fastest trigger.
‘Nine-four-four-six-two,’ the radio begins, crackling into life. ‘This is USC Peacekeeper five-three-one, please transmit manifest and prepare for boarding.’
Like hell, she thinks. Out here, there’s no jurisdiction to permit the Peeper to board, but there are also no laws forbidding a more forceful incursion. She wonders how long this one has been waiting, and what kind of cargo it reckons she’s carrying—what it can steal and sell, outside the scrutiny of a regular patrol.
‘Repeat: please transmit manifest and prepare for boarding.’
She isn’t carrying any contraband, valuables, minerals or even whiskey. None of these hold much worth to her: she is a huntress, second in her clan, and her ship is as small, light, and cheap as possible. Every gram and every inch on her craft is worth more than the gold that could fill it. Pure cotton sheets on her hammock are her one submission to comfort—and now, nineteen minutes from any sort of safety, that hammock is home to her most dangerous cargo yet.
She found him on Balthius Four, wounded and unconscious outside the mouth to one of its many cave systems. He wore no badge and held no sidearm, but she recognised his face: Chester Garron, one of the Lucky Few, which last season had slain four of the elder wyrms, two sky-wraiths, and a coal dragon. They were successful, renowned, unstoppable—and currently incomplete, as one of its members lies comatose, bandaged and swollen, atop her once beautifully-pearl-white cotton sheets.
‘Please repeat last request, having radio problems, over,’ she tells the radio. The dot is closing in quicker than she’d like, and her lasers are only halfway to firing capacity. Her sidearm has four of its five chambers loaded, her grenades would be a liability, and all she really wants to do is lie down and close her eyes for all of five minutes.
A beat, and the dot accelerates, having tasted the blood of her stalling. She glances at her console: the lasers are at fifty-five, sixty, no deterrence even to an unarmored craft. Sidearm it is, she thinks. She slides the lock from her holster and feels her sidearm leap to her magnetically-charged armbands. She has four shots to use against a possible crew of three. She has never shot at a person before. Her finger slides off the trigger as she glances away from the targeting reticule and back toward her radar.
A second dot has appeared, moving impressively quick toward the Peeper. Backup? But for whom? She has a moment to gauge its speed before her ship lurches violently to one side and just as violently corrects. Her radio sputters something, she can’t work out what, and then thin light begins to creep up and around her cockpit door, casting a pale blue glow onto her console. Every pilot authorised to navigate unoccupied airspace is required to carry a loaded sidearm at all times, her instructor intones, somewhere on the horizon of memory. Every pilot must be as comfortable with her sidearm as she is her arms, her legs, her ship. Every pilot knows that they might only ever use their sidearm once, and that that one time may be enough.
‘Stand back, Veers,’ her radio instructs, and she has a moment to wonder how they learned her name before there’s an explosion somewhere behind her cockpit door and the pale blue light is extinguished. She raises her sidearm, bracing herself with her other hand against the console, and notices the second dot has disappeared from the radar. Unless—
There’s another explosion, closer this time, and she feels her ship wrenched back and away from the attached Peeper, throwing her down to the floor. She scrambles backward toward her console, legs splayed out in front, sidearm trained on the darkened doorway. A moment later, it slides open and she begins to squeeze the trigger.
‘Vera Grenadier,’ a voice calls out. ‘Please don’t shoot me, Veers. You know I’m vain about how I look.’
She doesn’t lower her sidearm, yet, but relaxes her grip and raises an eyebrow. ‘Miles?’
‘Just like the training sims, isn’t it?’ Miles says, appearing in her doorway and stepping over the threshold. Behind, she can see the dim glow of another hunter’s craft. ‘Except it was never rogue Peepers giving us grief. Always pirates and smugglers and bandits. What’s the difference between them? Not much, as it turns out.’
‘What happened to them?’ she asks, slowly getting up but not yet holstering her sidearm. She notes his is unlocked by his thigh.
He shrugs, glances behind him. ‘They were quick and sloppy,’ he says. ‘They didn’t dock onto your ship properly. A single direct hit was enough to separate you, and a localised EMP took their weapons and nav offline. They must have used up their aux power getting that door of yours open, for which I’m grateful.’
Unbidden, Miles steps further into the cockpit and puts his hands on his hips, looking about as if he had never flown a ship before. ‘I heard them giving you grief over my scanner,’ he offers. ‘Was just on my way home from a less-than-successful hunt and recognised your dulcet tones. Here, I thought, is something I can do to make tonight worthwhile.’
‘And I thank you,’ Vera says. ‘But there was no need to get involved. I had everything under control.’
Miles looks down at her sidearm, nods, and looks back around the cockpit. ‘It’s what friends do,’ he shrugs, an affectation she’d tired of years ago. ‘Wouldn’t turn down a chance meeting in any case. Not much time to fraternise as a hunter, is there? Tell me: do you still take a shot of that awful stuff after each hunt? What was it called again? Marspice?’
‘I gave that up,’ Vera lies. ‘That stuff’s for delinquents.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Miles smiles, and edges toward her cabin door. ‘I’d bet even money there’s a case of it, let’s see, between your vid-box and a half-empty carton of takeout.’
Vera moves closer to the cabin, feels the reassuring weight of her sidearm still anchored to her wrist. ‘I don’t live on this ship,’ she tells him. ‘I only keep the essentials here. It’s a bit dull, but sometimes that’s what I need. Come on, you’re right, it’s been too long. Let’s catch up at the Hold tomorrow. My shout.’
Miles nods, looks back to the console. ‘You’re right,’ he says. ‘Dull can be good sometimes. I’ve been thinking lately—I’ll save it for the Hold. A lot’s happened.’
Vera nods in turn. ‘Likewise,’ she says. ‘I’m glad you’re still—’
They smile at each other. ‘I’m glad you are, too,’ he says, and turns to leave. At the precipice again, with one foot on the gangway to his own craft, he turns slowly and narrows his eyes, his smile lingering. ‘You’re lying,’ he says, softly. ‘You never could hide that from me. You’ve got someone else in there, don’t you?’
Vera frowns, and leans against the cabin door. ‘Someone else?’
‘A boy,’ he guesses. ‘Tall, fair, traces of stubble. Let me know if I’m getting close.’
She shakes her head. ‘Goodnight, Miles. We can talk tomorrow.’
He starts to say something else but thinks better of it, smiles, and nods back to her as he steps through the doorway and back into his own craft. Her cockpit door slides shut behind him, and she waits to hear the low thrum of his engines kicking into life before she allows herself a moment to close her eyes and lean back against the console.
‘Well, that was touching,’ a voice starts, and she opens her eyes to see her cabin door wide open and the lanky figure of Chester Garron propped up by one side, his hand clutching a tiny blue wand she hadn’t noticed before. ‘Didn’t really want to interrupt your reunion. Such a pity you won’t make it to the drinks tomorrow. Vera Grenadier, you’re about to discover what happens when you try kidnapping one of the Lucky Few.’
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 04:19|
Songs of the South
Massa Richards had Daniel strung up last week for using magic.
Overseer Jacob caught him doing it. The field niggers were working, pulling big fat green worms big as a thumb off the tobacco, and Daniel was liftin’ em up without touching ‘em proper. He ain’t like worms none: not touching em, not looking at em, the feel of ‘em on his fingers or under his toes, none of it. I ain’t myself, since the day I was six and Moses dropped one down the back of my dress and made me choke back a scream and Daniel socked him in the eye for it. Daniel hated ‘em even more than me. So once he found that he didn’t have to touch them, he’d do it when he thought no one was looking.
Vanna Mae warned her last-born son time and time again, when she sent him out to work. Just do the work, Daniel. I know you hate them worms, hate touching them, but you just gotta get by out in the fields. Don’t let no one see what you can do. Daniel hated them worms, though. And Overseer Jacob saw him picking em up by pinching his fingers in the air, pluckin’ without touching ‘em and crushing them by clenching his fist instead of under his feet.
Ain't take long after. That night Massa Richards sent Jacob and two of his mages to where Daniel and Vanna Mae lived. Wands out, even for a boy just his age. Loud bangs and pops, flashes of light through the window, Vanna Mae screaming and Daniel fighting back ‘til they knocked him out while other women held Vanna Mae back so she ain’t follow her only son left. Momma and I hunched up together, her hands over my ears like she could protect me from the sounds of them taking Daniel away, ‘til there wasn’t nothing to hear in the night but the sounds of hoot-owls and Vanna Mae’s broken sobs.
Next morning, Momma made me walk with her to the kitchen for the first time in forever, and we went the long way instead of past the yew. I knew she ain’t want me to see what I knew. But I heard, in the whispers of the other girls working even while I kept my dumb mouth shut. Massa Richards had the mages do the whole ceremony before they strung him up in the dark hours they thought God wasn’t looking at them during. Just like they’d done his brother and his daddy, folk said over my head, and Massa Richards would leave him there for seven days before they’d cut down and burn the body.
Momma spoke to me while we were having our own breakfast. Her voice was real firm. “If you gotta go back and forth outside to do anything, Rosalee,” she said, “you take the long way away from those yew trees. And if you can’t walk long , then you look at anything on the ground the whole time. Don’t you look up at the space between them two trees. Ain’t for a girl like you to see.”
I nodded so she knew I heard her, and for four good days, I listened to Momma’s instructions. Each time I had to go past the yew I almost ran, looking at the stitching in my apron or the basket in my hands or down at the path under my feet and not up between them trees. But on day five, Momma and I was inside caring for Thomas Jay and Lucinda for Missus Abigail. Momma sent me to get some medicine from Miss Mae’s cabin for Lucinda’s heavy cough, with the old empty bottle so Miss Mae wouldn’t have to ask me for which kind. I made my way there the long way, but when it was just me on the way back with the medicine in my basket, I looked up between them two yew trees.
I saw Daniel between them.
He was in white pants and nothing else, with clean new rope around his wrists and neck. Hanging, swinging from the tree branches, halfway between the ground and the branch. His warm brown eyes were half closed, glassy and dull, and the tracks of tears still remained on his not-yet-a-man’s face. Foam was dried around still lips, lips that had kissed me before I started serving in the house, and whispered to my ears that it was okay God made me dumb ‘cause then I wouldn’t tell no one his secrets when we were older and could be together. The mages that’d killed him had tried to clean him up, like what they did to us wasn’t wrong if they bathed us after, but there was still flecks of the dried blood on his skin where they’d carved their sealing symbols. I couldn’t read what the paper hanging around his neck said—probably best I ain’t try to stop and do it—but it probably said something like Here Hangs a Touched friend of the family. We white folk killed him for having magic, so send his soul straight to White Hell so the Devil can make him a slave there too.
Wasn’t but twelve years old, Daniel, and wouldn’t ever get a day older than it.
I waited until I felt his soul, trapped behind his chest where the mages had locked it. It was fluttering with panic, fighting to get free and unable to break past the skin carvings and paper and new rope. Seven days for seven sins, white folk thought, and believed that if a friend of the family’s soul was still in him after that it would wither up and die and take the magic niggers ain’t deserve with it.
I almost kept walking back to the big house, so Lucinda could have her medicine and get down to rest instead of coughing so loud she was sick on her clothes. But she’d probably still be sick on her clothes, and Momma probably thought I was taking the long way anyway.
I had a moment, just me and Daniel, him only twelve and me only eleven, and his soul fighting to break free so it ain’t die behind his chest.
So I sang.
I started humming the call, soft at first and then a little louder, until I heard his soul’s response, even if it wasn’t to me exactly. It was sobbing, inside him. I don’t wanna be trapped--I’m sorry, God, for being Touched—I’m scared—don’t leave me here to die—
I kept calling, singing, hands reaching to his carved up chest, until I pulled Daniel’s soul out past all those white mage’s marks they thought would trap him. Held him as he fluttered down, an invisible bird in my hand. Tried not to cry at the warm feeling of him sitting in my palm, at the memory of brown eyes and warm lips on mine. “Go home,” I whispered, and kissed Daniel in my hands once more before I tossed him up. Saw and felt him rise, like a sun mote to Heaven, so God could find a new home for his magic.
White folk gotta use wands to make their magic focus. Sticks with this or that in the center core, carved to focus the magic they get in them.
I’ve only ever had to use my voice. So I don’t use it at all.
I ain't let no one know what I can do, what I am. Not even Momma, ‘cause she got enough to worry about from me, trying to keep me protected and convince Massa Richards I’ve got use on the plantation even if I can’t talk. Everyone already think I’m dumb anyways, that I ain’t got a voice at all. But the Lord gave us two ears and two eyes and one mouth so we’d listen and see more than we talked. I done heard since I was old enough to hear, and seen since I was old enough to see and kept my voice down ever since that day I hummed to a dried leaf in my hands and saw it green right back up, like it was still on a tree.
I done seen time and time again what while folk do, when niggers like us show we got the magic in us they swear to their God is only theirs to have.
I ain’t gonna swing between those yew trees, wearing white with symbols carved in my arms and legs and new rope and paper round my neck, my soul caught for seven days ‘til the white people think it’s dead. I won’t leave Momma to scream to the heavens like Vanna Mae did, until she went quiet and they sold her off.
I ain't never gonna tell anyone I've got magic like Daniel had. Not as long as I live.
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 04:55|
The Happily Hereafter
Word Count: 1788
Death is a queue. It’s exactly like the DMV, right down to the beige and lime green checkered linoleum floor. Except this queue lasts for an eternity, and not the mind-numbing kind of eternity of watching the red hand of a clock tick away the seconds, but the kind of eternity that sees mountains crumble into dust.
I know you might think that with all of time on our hands we’d spend most of it gabbing amongst ourselves, catching up on the latest news from the freshly dead, or watching with wonder at the brilliance of the ever evolving universe, but we’re still human. So we mostly piss away our eternity wrapped up in our own personal bullshit. It’s like the ever coiling sense of dread of walking into a room filled with all your family, friends, ex-lovers, and parents as they describe every single gently caress up, foible, and dirty little secret you thought you had but everyone knew about anyway.
On repeat. Forever.
-I don’t think he even remembers my face.
-He’d steal money from my purse, just a few dollars at a time, I guess he thought I’d never notice. But I always did.
-I know I’m a no good drunk, and my house is a shithole, but I had gotten out the train set he used to love so much, fixed it all up, even got the steam car working so it’d puff out smoke. But he wanted nothing to do with it, or me. Do you know how awful that feels? To try your best and still not be good enough?
-He’d always tell people this tragic story of the death of his eldest brother. But he was only two at the time. He was really just relating his other brothers' experiences, hoping for sympathy I guess.
-He was the sweetest boy, and with a heart so big, I just don’t know what happened.
-The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell him no. I couldn’t sit by and watch my son destroy himself.
It doesn’t matter what you have to say in response, how sorry you are, how you tried to do better from then on, because it's all said and done. Besides, they aren’t even there to begin with, just their shadows and you in an ocean of strangers. As while humanity has only existed for the cosmic blink of an eye, we’ve managed to spawn over a hundred billion of us. Trying to find people you actually know out of a haystack that big is pretty tough. So instead you’re surrounded by people in togas, sheath dresses, kilts, various military uniforms - such as every single Nazi who all keep getting punted back to the end of the line - and a gaggle of old people who brought with them their disapproving expressions.
This might sound like I’m describing hell, but I’ve heard that Dis is a rather pleasant city. Apparently you can go see Shakespeare’s latest there, but good luck getting in, their list is very exclusive. No, what I’m describing is limbo, a place where the waiting lines for whatever awaits after the hereafter stretches out to that point where parallel lines converge. So you pick a line, like I did, and wait for an eternity. All the while hoping there will be somebody at the end of the line to tell you that you’ve been redeemed, or not.
Unless, of course, you happen to meet jolly ole’ St. Nick.
Poor fat Santa. He sat on the floor of what I am certain was not the DMV to him, but rather a mall, with his once belly full of jelly splayed open, pink squiggly intestines dangling out of his new orifice like worms from the ground after heavy spring showers. Crying, incessantly crying, while he tried to stuff his festivities back into his body. He wasn’t in any pain, being disembodied means you are literally beyond pain, or any sensation for that matter. He just didn’t know or couldn’t accept that he now belonged to the past tense.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god,” he chanted. “Somebody please help me, I need the paramedics.”
There were maybe a handful of people who stood a chance of understanding him nearby, but they all ignored him. I have to admit I was tempted to do the same, but the only thing worse than being dead is being dead and annoyed. “It’s okay, Santa, you don’t need the paramedics.”
“What do ya mean? Look at me!” He held his entrails up.
“I know, it looks bad, but you don’t feel anything do ya?”
“I-” Kringle looked puzzled. “I must be in shock.”
“Come on, how long do you think you’ve been here? An hour? A day? A year?”
“It… It’s been an awful long time,” he admitted. “I don’t really know.”
“Time is wonky here.”
“The ambulance must be stuck in traffic.”
“Come on, look around you, this ain’t Macy's. You’ve got a nun, a cowboy, and I think that guy is literally a caveman, and no bar for them all to walk into.”
“It’s a costume!” the Caveman said.
“Okay, so he was at a costume party,” I said with a shrug. “But how many of them are going on during the holidays?”
Mr. Claus furrowed up his brow. “What are you saying?”
“Paul, God rest ye merry gentlemen… in pieces.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll like it after awhile.”
“Yeah, that’s what they said about life,” the Caveman interjected.
I shot him a dirty look, but it didn’t matter, Paul the mall Santa wasn’t taking the news well with or without the snide commentary.
“No, no, nononono.” Paul began to cry again. “I don’t even know why this happened, I was just getting ready and opened a box of cookies left for me. I can’t be dead. I can’t.”
“Come on,” I reached down, took him by the arm and lifted him off the floor. “Let’s go find somebody and they can tell us what happened to you, okay? Maybe it was all a big mistake?”
It was supposed to be a lie, the kind of lie you tell a child when their goldfish dies, something to say to get him to stop crying and come along with me. Which he did, and after a while we found a counter with one of the Working Stiffs behind it to help us out.
“To shreds you say?” She said, on the phone. “Hold on, Genia.” She looked up at us over her horn-rimmed glasses. “Can I help you?”
I read her name tag. “Lubertha, my friend Paul here is a little confused as to why he’s here, I was hoping you might be able to set him straight.”
Lubertha mm-hmmed. “Full name?”
“Paul Thomas Giffords.”
“Paul Giffords from where and when, honey?”
“Toronto, Canada, and it's 1994, ain’t it?”
“It ain’t anything,” I said. “I died in 2002, yet from my perspective you just got here.”
“‘67 for me,” Lubertha said. “But I don’t see any record of you, Paul.”
“Then I ain’t supposed to be dead?” Paul asked excitedly.
I sucked on my teeth. The Working Stiffs were regular humans who worked for the promise of a better place in line, or for the hope of a kinder judgement, or because they were bored. Which meant they were prone to loving up, just like the rest of us. “It doesn’t really mean anything…”
“But you said it, maybe it was a mistake, and it was, right? This is all just a big mistake!”
Lubertha leered at me, dealing with the dead like Paul was her eternity. “Sir, I’m sure we have your records here, I just don’t have them at the moment. If you’d like, you can get back in line and somebody will be along to help track down your records.”
“No, no, no. Now I don’t mean to be causing no fuss here, but I am going to have to demand that I speak with your manager. I’m sorry to be troubling you, but this is urgent.”
“Urgent? Sir, you do acknowledge that you are dead, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, I guess I do agree that I am currently deceased, but that’s just it, isn’t it? If I’m dead but not supposed to be dead then every minute we waste is lost time for me.”
“I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have the resources to help every single discontented ghost. You’ll have to go get back in line.”
“Come on, let's get back in line, I’ll even wait with you.” I tried pulling on Paul’s arm, but he wouldn’t budge.
“No, I’m awfully sorry, but time is of the essence.”
“You know what? I think I’ve got just the person for you. Her name’s Helzberg, I’ll just go get her.”
Lubertha came back with maybe a twelve year old girl in tow. She was chewing tobacco and looking like she just came off from the prairie. Paul smiled warmly at her.
“Oh who is this now?”
“My name. Helzberg.”
“But you’re just a child.”
“Been dead longer than you.” She looked at Lubertha, “what the gently caress do they want?”
“Mr. Giffords here thinks there’s been a mistake.”
“That’s right, I’m not in your records, so I shouldn’t be here.”
“And, well, I should be sent back.”
“Sent back, to Earth? You Jesus Christ? Cause you sure don’t look like Jesus Christ to me.”
“Now little girl, I have manners, but I won’t tolerate this kind of behavior.”
I jumped in. “Look, he’s confused, he doesn’t even know how he died.”
“Looks like somebody gutted ‘em, I’d say. Must be some kind of pervert to have somebody hate ‘em that much.”
“I’m no such thing!”
I had my doubts, but I didn’t see the need to pile it on the old guy. “He’s just an old man who dresses up as Santa Claus to bring people
a little Christmas cheer, whatever got him probably wasn’t even intended for him.”
“poo poo,” Helz spat. “Is that what this getup is?”
“Yeah, he’s a mall Santa, right?”
“Sherway Gardens, the largest mall in all of Toronto.”
The girl screwed up her face, sniffed, then turned to Lubertha. “What decade this guy from?”
“Yep, it's another one then.”
“Another one?” Lubertha, Paul, and I all asked.
“Unaccounted Santa Clauses have been showing up here for awhile now, nobody knows why.”
“No poo poo?” I asked.
“No poo poo.”
“So you’re going to take me back?”
“Hell no. But I’ll take you to see the Record Keeper. And since you brought this to our attention, you’re gonna come along with us,” Helz said to me.
“Well, poo poo.”
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 06:01|
Chapter 1 of Friend, You Will Never Learn
"Are preparations complete?" asked Her Radiance, the Solar General Apollonia. She and her twin, Lord Selenicus Many-Moons, stood in illusory form before their protege, Triana Sixsmith, as she sat in her tent.
Triana twirled her whisker around a claw before looking Apollonia in the eye. "Mt. Alorn has been fully shaped, and construction finished on the ley lines hours ago. All we need is the spark."
"Excellent," Apollonia said. "The other sovereigns reported the same. We should be ready to proceed on my signal."
Everything was going according to plan. The best magisters in Ymir had checked the ritual specifications hundreds of times in theory engines. The ley lines surrounding foci like Mt. Alorn spanned hundreds of square miles but were accurate to the inch. By the day's end, the crisis gripping the planet would reverse itself and the world could begin to heal.
So why was Triana shaking? Why did her breath catch in her lungs and her pulse threaten to consume her? Why did her scales feel so cold?
"Why so tense, little flame?" Selenicus asked. His image stepped forward and inspected Triana, a wry, toothy smile on his scintillating face.
"I-I don't know," she replied. "As Her Radiance said, everything's gone right so far."
"So far, hmm." He stepped to her side and leaned in to whisper. "I can't deny I'm on edge, too."
Apollonia remained standing, in resplendent armor. "What we are attempting is without precedent, but we live in unprecedented times. I have utmost faith that you and your comrades will bring peace once more." She smiled as well, gentle as a sunbeam through a window.
Triana took another deep breath and nodded. "You're right. I'll doubt us no longer. Peace be with you."
"And also with you," the twins proclaimed, before they vanished.
As she left the tent and rejoined her subjects outside, she thought of Janar, Scribe of Possibility. He would not be joining the ritual; there was ample evidence to suggest that he and the other New Gods were part of the problem. Still, she had visited him, for old times sake, to find out what might be and what could have been. Was plague, unrest, despair, and war between the sovereigns inevitable?
He'd refused to tell her, refused to even leave his palace to greet her. "Nothing to be done, Triana! It was all decided before our lives began!" Those were the only words he'd speak before he left for his sanctum, where he was still for all she knew. Whatever had touched the New Gods' heads touched him as well.
Nothing to be done, indeed. Instead, she took her position at the mountain's peak, ready to channel the planet's energy and harness whatever mystical malady was at the root of the problem. Once she could get a glimpse of the big picture, she'd be able to chart a new course and steer her demesne away from danger. Every problem had a solution, after all.
Her eyes scanned the area for Apollonia's signal, catching glimpses of magisters and magelings at the peak's periphery. They looked so small from her height; some of them hadn't even started their transformation yet. Their skin looked so soft, their faces
young. They were as infants compared to her, but their anxiety was hers. They needed inspiration from her as well. Triana stood up straight, at full height, doing her best to match Apollonia's poise as she waited for the signal to begin.
That signal never arrived. Instead, the sky erupted in boils, blanched itself to a jaundiced yellow, and rent itself open to reveal a weeping wound so vast it could not fit in one field of vision. A horrid amalgamation of sinew and muscle with torn skin and misshapen chitin, lumpy eyeballs with thousands of pupils and gash maws with fractal teeth. There was no beauty to be found, no pattern to be discerned. Her sense of magic was as assaulted as her sense of sight; an oily sensation swept over her brain and made her gorge rise. It was the source, or at least a manifestation, of the crisis plaguing their planet, and nothing short of her full godhead would suffice to address it.
As she bared her fangs and wreathed herself in a blinding flare of energy, her body unfolded like a tesseract, expanding to the proportions of a small village. Wings covered in formulae and complex signets unfolded from her back, spanning the mountain's peak and covering her subjects in deepest shadow. Cracks of violet light shone from between jeweled, geometric scales, and halos of numbers crowned her head.
She roared and took flight, prepared to rend the monster asunder. Her thoughts reached out to the other Old Gods; they had each responded to the same stimulus in the same way. Only once had they been forced to battle unfathomable power and evil; it had been so long that even with Triana's long, steadfast memory she had started to forget what bloodlust and vengeance felt like. As she ascended into the atmosphere, she tapped into the vast reservoir of power she kept hidden just so she could walk among mortal men without setting them ablaze in her presence. It would be the scalpel she used to excise this disease from Ymir's sky.
A javelin of piercing light erupted from her hand and shot into the heavens, gouging into the side of the beast and unleashing a torrent of black blood upon the land below. In response, a vast, unfathomable pressure the likes of which Triana had never experienced in her life clamped onto her brain, grinding upon it like two continental plates shattering diamond deposits caught between them. Even her thoughts betrayed her, forcing memories she never had and conclusions she knew she'd never come to, disconnecting cause from effect and past from future. All throughout came a splitting, electrocuting migraine that brought back one more sensation Triana had thought she'd left behind: a paralyzing, all-consuming fear of dying a horrible, meaningless death.
She had survived a grueling life under Ymir's tyrannical creators, a life of being honed into the most lethal weapon they could manage in cruel war games. She had wrenched that weapon around to pierce her former masters instead, cutting her hands bloody on the edges. She had convinced their children to help wrench off their parents' tyranny, found fire-forged friends among other suffering soldiers, and dragged them all from the jaws of death into the fires of apotheosis. Under their watch, the line between god and mortal had blurred, the populace at large had learned more about the rules of creation than the makers had ever intended, and most had tasted a life free of fear and want and base survival. All temporary, it turned out. All ephemeral. An ungodly force had just came to balance the books against her.
Triana emitted the most unholy scream, a squarewaved ululation born from her beloved equations and pierced the air and ruptured the eardrums of every last supplicant on Mt. Alorn. Several brains liquefied, and the rest struggled to maintain solidity. The few who could stand to watch saw their leader molt in midair, shrivel to bones, become a living tumor, and finally explode in a blinding supernova of violet light, which turned Mt. Alorn into a massive crater.
The immortal dragon Triana Sixsmith had perished, and the Enlightened Age, which she had midwifed a thousand years prior, died with her.
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 06:31|
Chapter 1: The Trident
I was adrift at sea, clinging to a barrel for gods know how long. I was out there for at least three nights, pondering the fate of my crewmates. I was thirsty. So thirsty. On the third night, I couldn’t help myself. I drank seawater.
It robbed me of my strength. I could not move my legs or open my eyes. Voices called out to me from the depths, repeating my name.
I gathered all my strength and shouted into the abyss, “What do you want from me?”
The waves battered me about as if punishing me for my transgression.
Then the water grew still. My barrel bumped against something. A rock, or maybe a reef.
This far out?
The object grew, emerging from the sea. The tide pushed me back as a force rose from the depths. The full moon illuminated it clearly. It was a face, carved from rock, covered in barnacles, an anchor caught in the corner of its mouth, and coral growing from the top of its head.
I am Oceanus.
A hand raised me from above the surf. I sprawled out and tried to catch my breath.
I will spare your life Cleon, but you must do something for me.
“What?” I gasped meekly.
You must steal Poseidon’s trident.
I rolled over onto my knees and pushed myself up using the barrel. I stood shakily on my feet on the hand of a titan over the endless sea.
“But I thought the water titans did not hate the gods. You did not fight them during the Titanomachy.”
I tire of my solitude. My nephews, Prometheus and Epimetheus fought for the gods and were betrayed by Zeus. I will take the Trident. I will free my brothers and sisters from Tartarus. We will be together again. drat the gods.
“Why not take it yourself?”
Poseidon is mighty, and he commands the city of Atlantis and the Kraken. You, the creation of Prometheus, are very small. You will not have to fight Poseidon to take the trident. Sail west of the rocks of Heracles for two days. Wait until nightfall. You will have your chance as Poseidon attends the festival of Isthmus in human form. Sleep now, Cleon, for you have much to do.
I awoke the next day on the deck of a trireme, the full sail contrasted with the vibrant blue sky interrupted by a man in bronze armor standing over me. My barrel lay beside me, with a hook stuck into it.
“Who be you?” asked the armored man. He did not offer his hand, instead, he rested it on the hilt of his sword. He sounded military.
“I am Cleon Tarius of Corinth, I was returning home after the conquest of Troy when our ship capsized. Did you find any other sailors?” I replied. He shook his head.
“Only you. I am Captain Xenius, formerly of Achilles’ Myrmidons. Hell of a fight, wasn’t it?” He said as he reached his hand out to me, “You’re lucky we found you, that stormed wiped out many ships returning home.”
I took his hand and he helped me up. I was grateful to be standing again. It conjured memories of the titan. Was this his work?
“I haven’t had food or drink in many days, any chance you could spare a meal for a brother in arms?” I asked. He looked at one of the men standing by and gave a nod. The man retreated below deck.
“We can do that. I warn you, we will not be returning home any time soon, and you will have to earn your keep.”
I walked over to my barrel. “Well, allow me to begin,” I said with a smile as I pried out the hook. Red wine spilled from the hole. It was Xenius’ turn to smile.
“Well aren’t you a gift from the gods.” He said as he patted me on the back.
He debriefed me in his cabin. These men had returned home only to find there wasn’t one left. We had missed too many seasons. Crops rotted unharvested. Farms were stolen out from under them by the men who sent us out to fight in the first place. Their only bit of luck was that they were at port when the storm hit. This may be one of very few warships at sea left.
“So you’ve resorted to piracy?” I asked, intending more subtlety than I used. Thankfully he seemed amused by the suggestion.
“No more than when we were at Troy,” he said, “what sort of world is it if the merchants who stole the homes of honest soldiers are the honorable ones?”
I saw the opening to make good on my promise.
“I’ll cheers to that,” I replied, hoisting my drink and finishing the last of it, “What if I could help you take back your home?”
He arched an eyebrow and poured me another drink. “How would we do that?” He asked.
I told him everything. How I was visited by the titan Oceanus. Where to find Poseidon’s trident. Everything except that Oceanus’ desired the trident for himself. I would cross that bridge when I reached it.
“And if I’m wrong, we can raid the Phoenician colonies out west and still be able to return home with our riches as heroes.”
He eyed me as he toyed around with the idea in his head. I would not have told the truth to a merchant vessel or a diplomatic envoy, but these were Achilles’ Myrmidons. They carry Achilles’ belief with them. They knew the gods were real.
Finally, he reached out his hand and grasped mine, spilling our drinks.
“And if you are wrong,” he said, “I will return you to where I found you.”
I could only hope that it was all real and the seawater had not driven me mad.
It took us many nights to reach the rocks of Heracles. We sailed further west for two days as Oceanus had instructed me. Then we waited until nightfall.
At first, it seemed like nothing would happen. The seas were calm. The men began growing restless. Xenius looked oddly relaxed. He noticed me looking his way and shrugged as if reading my mind.
“You should be more worried than me,” he said. I was indeed beginning to fret.
That’s when it happened. At first, there were only a few small ripples that raced across the surface of the water, distorting the reflection of the moon. The ripples turned into waves that rocked the trireme to and fro. The ocean became wild, as ever stronger currents bashed against the ship. Xenius called them to turn to starboard and hit the waves head-on. Men raced down below deck to their oars and began rowing. The trireme turned just in time as a tidal wave struck us. We were able to crest the angry torrent and saw something amazing. Roofs. Then soon pillars supporting them, and an entire city of marble laid out before us and the back of a gigantic sea turtle. The great beast sighed and closed its eyes.
It had surfaced to sleep. There was no doubt of the city on its back. It was Atlantis, home of Poseidon.
We rowed beside the gargantuan turtle and lashed the ship to its shell. The myrmidons gathered their armor and weapons, and then we climbed aboard and entered the city.
Large flat stones dotted the city. Statues of great men lined the streets. Mighty temples and opulent homes filled the spaces between the roads. The greatest temple could easily be seen from afar, right in the heart of Atlantis. That must be Poseidon’s.
“We could spend days exploring and looting,” one of the men remarked. I shook my head.
“Yesterday was the last day of the Isthmus, the celebration of Poseidon in Corinth. He’s probably on his way back as we speak.”
Our voices echoed among the empty buildings. It was eerily silent.
One of the men broke off and began relieving himself on one of the large flat stones.
It raised itself on eight long legs and severed the man in two with its pincers. It was a giant crab. It emitted a loud gurgle and charge at us, decapitating another man. The myrmidons uselessly pounded their swords against its shell to no avail, until Xenius stuck his blade through its underbelly. It writhed and died on his blade, emitting more gurgles all the while.
All the rocks began to move. They were all giant crabs. There must have been dozens.
Xenius pointed his sword to the temple.
“Myrmidons, to me! We march on the temple! Fight for me now, and by the gods, we will be rich!” he shouted, and they roared their approval in response. They quickly sheathed their swords, formed a phalanx, and lowered their spears. Then they marched.
The rolling pincushion destroyed all the crabs that lay between them and the temple, but the men at the back had to defend themselves with their swords. We were slowly bleeding men.
We had made it to the temple after losing a dozen men, leaving a trail of dead crabs in our wake. Xenius and I dashed inside while the men formed a shield wall and held off the advancing crustaceans.
In the center of the temple was a marble throne inlaid with pearls, each one the size of a man’s fist. But the real treasure was laid across the empty seat.
It was a simple instrument of bronze. No jewels. No gold. But there was no doubting its divinity. Looking at it etched its image into your eyelids as if it had been seared there.
A giant crab emerged from behind one of the pillars and charged us. I dove behind Xenius who bashed it with his shield and began striking it with his sword. I ran to the throne and grabbed the trident.
It felt hot to my hands, and then I felt hot. In an instant, I became one with the ocean. All things that dwelled within it, dwelled within me.
Xenius finished the crab and turned to me. He saw me with the trident and smiled. I smiled back. He reached out his hand, but I did not move. The smile left his face.
“We had a deal!” He screamed at me.
“Now we don’t,” I replied and tapped the trident on the floor.
Dive I whispered into the mind of the turtle.
Xenius ran to the exit, tearing off his armor and casting off his weapons.
“By the gods, I will kill you Cleon! Mark me!”
I laughed. Could any man, god, or even titan stop me now?
“We shall see,” I whispered as I caressed the trident, “We shall see.”
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 06:32|
How To Get Over Your Ex
Lise Thackeray fumbled with the key for two minutes before she realized that Derek had changed the locks. She cursed the cheating bastard and went for her picks. The rain picked up, tapping on the roof and nearly drowning out the telltale clicks of the pins. Nearly.
Twenty-four hours ago she'd been right here, turning the key, ready to surprise Derek at the end of his long night shift. Except that she had his calendar wrong. The night shift was tonight. Yesterday night was a rare day off from sending other cops after burglars and drunks and two AM domestics, and he wasn't spending it with his supposed girlfriend but instead entertaining some red-headed bimbo. She was annoyingly casual after being caught naked together. "Oh," she said in a Jersey accent. "You must be Lise. She's cute, Der."
Lise turned and left. It wasn't until she got home that she realized how much of her stuff was in Derek's house, and she wasn't ready to confront him, so another late night trip, with a suitcase, had seemed in order. Take her clothes, leave the key, and never have to think about him again.
The last pin fell into place and the lock turned, opening. She stepped quickly inside, closed the door, and switched on her flashlight. She navigated through the small house, past the kitchen to the bedroom. She swept the light across the room. Strange. The closet door was ajar. Derek never used that closet for anything but the formal suits. Weddings and funerals only, since dispatchers don't get call on in court.
Lise was naturally curious. She taught herself how to pick her big sister's diary open at ten. At college, she could get into most of the buildings, slipped her friends' papers into the pile a few hours after the deadline. There was no way she wasn't going to check the closet. What she found there was a small duffle bag, heavy as anything. She pulled the zipper and moved the flashlight to see. Money. Twenties. About fifty thousand dollars by her quick math.
Lise had seen Derek's bank statement. She'd helped him fill out his taxes. Derek did not have fifty thousand dollars. The house was rented. His car wasn't worth a tenth of that. The money couldn't possibly have been earned honestly.
She thought these thoughts to herself as she moved stacks from the duffle to her suitcase. She barely remembered making a decision to take it as she piled her clothes on top of the cash. She lifted the heavy suitcase, to make sure that she could, when she heard the car pulling up to the house. It wasn't Derek's old German sports car. Louder. Doors slammed open. Lise turned off the flashlight, slid the suitcase under the bed, and rolled after it. She heard wood cracking, the front door being forced open she guessed, then loud tromps inside the house. Lights were turned on. There were three of them, as far as she could tell.
They came into the bedroom. Three, yes. Two carrying something. They walked to the bed. Lise held her breath tightly. There was the sound of moving plastic, and something heavy bent the mattress and springs above her.
"Listen, boss," said a deep voice. "I was thinking."
A higher voice answered. "Really? Go on."
"Well," the first one said, "I was thinking that the money is more than enough to make him look dirty. Like, say, twice as much as it needs to be."
"An interesting thought. How shall we put it to action?"
The men began moving through the room
Lise gritted her teeth and silently prayed to nobody in particular. She heard drawers opening, then the closet.
"No good," said a third voice. "He must have stashed it somewhere else."
"Check the freezer on the way out," said the boss. "Otherwise he probably has it with him, or in someplace we don't have time to find. Good thought, though."
Lise waited almost an hour after the loud car started up again and drove off before coming out from under the bed. The lights were still on. She turned around, and saw the redhead bimbo, just as naked as before but with a tiny red hole in the middle of her forehead. She ran for the bathroom, made it just in time.
She wiped her mouth and flushed. She didn't look forward to getting close to the bed again, but she knew she had to take the suitcase with her when she left. It had her drat name on it for one thing. And the money, which would do Derek more harm than good. It wasn't even stealing any more, as far as she was concerned. More like fair payment, for finding the killers and clearing his name. Which she had to do anyhow.
The trap was set for Derek but it fit Lise almost as tightly.
She held her breath and knelt down beside the bed, and pulled the money toward her.
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 06:42|
The insufferable thing about immortality is it never ends.
When an old man moved into a vacant shop on the old Rue de Montmorency, no one paid much attention. Bonn kept to himself and rarely went out. He might greet the grocer a few times a week, or tip his hat to the neighborhood children, but otherwise he never said a word.
He had converted the ground floor space into something of a laboratory, full of glass jars and pipes and three kinds of stoves. His shop never opened its front door for business, but he sometimes had an audience nonetheless, dirty faces pressed against the glass, watching him work. The children all watched in rapt attention for a time, came back another day or two, then soon lost interest... all except for one.
One day, as he was inflating a glass vessel, Bonn saw a small child with disheveled hair watching from behind the door. He was a short man, with a white ring of hair starting from his temples, and only small tufts of hair above. He must have left the door to the alley unlocked, but he couldn't stop now. He glared at the urchin and kept working. The globe at the end of his stick was a creamy golden orange, dropping to red as the surface cooled and he manipulated it with other long tools.
Once he was happy with the shape, he moved the glass to a clamp and worked the long stick out of the end. Then he picked up a short straw and a few other tools for fine manipulation.
When his work seemed to be nearing an end, the girl poked her head inside. "Monsieur..."
"Mm." He didn't turn around.
"Do you always make your own glass, monsieur?" she asked, blinking, trying to get the stinging sensation from the coal smoke out of her eyes. The smell of sulfur permeated the room.
"No. But sometimes I need something in an unusual shape or size. I find it best to make them myself, not leave it to others."
"You don't trust other people."
This got him to turn around. He squinted at her through a pair of spectacles. "I... prefer to do what I can with my own hands, when I can. I haven't often had the chance. But... I'm trying something new. And I certainly have the time now."
"Seems to me you're down here every day."
"As I said. I've been very lucky, lately, to have the opportunity to do this."
"And why..." She stopped dead. A shadow had appeared in the doorway, tall and capped with a wide-brimmed hat.
"Racine," the shadow said, in a voice laced with thorns.
"I'm going." She ducked past the shadow and slipped outside.
"My apologies, Monsieur," he muttered, then was gone. The door was still ajar.
Didn't even say goodbye, Bonn thought to himself. He tromped back to shut the door. But he had learned not to trust or expect anything from anyone, over the years. He took an old glass cylinder he had made earlier in the week and a long rubber hose. He stuck the hose through the opening and the end of the cylinder and went back to work.
But Racine did come back the next day, once her chores were done. And the next, watching clear liquid bubbling in glass jars suspended over small flames, and white fluid snaking through long tubes.
The day after that, Bonn opened the front door and invited her inside.
"Taste this," he said, pushing a cup into her hands.
"What is it?" She looked inside. It was white. Bubbles appeared on the surface as she watched.
She took a sip. Bubbles fizzed up into her sinuses. "Aughh," she sputtered.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded, eyes closed. "You said it was milk," she said, then opened her eyes to glare at him. "It's not milk."
"It is milk." He stood over her, peering down at her, as if monitoring her to watch the effect it was having. "Carbonated."
Racine shook her head to try to clear it. "Monsieur Bonn—why would you do such a thing?"
"To see if it could be done."
She was leery the next week, the next time he offered her a drink. Something dark, in a ceramic cup.
"It's coffee." It was cold.
"Is it bubbled?"
She wouldn't touch it.
But she came back often, after completing her daily chores—or in the middle of when she was supposed to be donig them, and Bonn had more experiments for her to try in the coming weeks. A cheese with the airy consistency of soft pastry, but the sweet creamy flavor of a soft brie. A bread that grew more flavorful and delicate every day it aged. Some of them, she even liked. But Bonn appreciated her most for when she didn't; when she hated his latest concoction, and told him so, without mincing words.
"This is disgusting." Racine's eyes darted around, found nothing, and went wide. She spat the frog leg, twice brined, breaded and braised in duck fat, into her hand.
"What's the problem with it, exactly?"
She screwed up her face. "It's slimy."
"Well, it is a frog..."
Her look could have stopped a clock.
"Very well, mademoiselle. You have an exacting palette."
Bonn went back to try something new.
He also liked her because she never questioned where his ingredients came from. These days, if a chef tried to serve half of what he experimented with every day—or even tried to buy them, in some cases—hew was liable to be pilloried, or worse.
But Racine did try to find out more about him over the years—"Why do you make these things?"
"I wanted to do something I wasn't good at. Something I had no experience with—no idea at all what I was doing. Humanity is... well... I'm not a good judge of taste."
—"I never see you sell these things. I can't believe you won't take money for this. It's actually good, for once," she said through a mouth full of raspberry truffle tart crumbs. "How do you keep yourself, monsieur?"
"Ah... I knew a king, once. But to answer your question, I accumulated a great deal in my past life. Enough to live off the sum, with arrangements made with a few Parisian bankers.
—"Monsieur Bonn..." She must have been about thirteen at this point. "How old are you?"
He only smiled. "Try this brandy. You're old enough to appreciate it."
"There's something moving in it."
"Just try it."
He saw her less and less, now. He was about to let it go, consider her yet another disappointment. Maybe it was time for him to relocate, stake out a new lair somewhere else, seek out new experiences once more. Not to mention that these people's activity out on the streets was growing irritating. More than once recently the singing and torchlit processions had interrupted his sleep. It was bad enough they had changed the name of the street on him, because it honored the wrong old dead man.
Then one night she ran into Bonn's shop for the last time, head bleeding, shirt torn, missing a shoe. He looked up from his workbench, genuinely alarmed.
"Please, monsieur," Racine said, and grabbed his hand before he could react. For a brief moment she felt something cold and hard there, then it suffused with warmth as he rose from his chair. "I..." She stopped, took a step back, collected herself. She stood nearly as tall as him, staring straight into his eyes. "I need to hide."
"Mademoiselle, what have you gotten yourself into?"
She shook her head, tears stinging her eyes. But the blue and white rosette pinned to her cap told the story. "Please, monsieur. The soldiers are coming. They're marching through the Sections, looking for—"
"You." His eyes were yellow. She'd never noticed that before.
"—all of us," she said.
Bonn sighed. He walked past her to the door. "I believe I mentioned before, I was once in the service of a king," he said without looking back. "But these people have already killed their king. I certainly owe nothing to them. So, yes, if they are coming—" and there was a growing commotion outside "—then they'll have to get through me."
He looked back now and smiled at her, kind and gentle, wistful, with too many teeth.
Then he flung open the door, stepped outside into the smoky haze, threw off his skin, fell down onto his claws, unfurled his wings, and took a breath—
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 07:01|
By fiat of the high judge Chili, I declare submissions closed hereafter.
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 08:35|
these geezers have not yet posted, given the circumstances you can have 24 hours before the shafts fly starting... now...
|# ? Apr 13, 2020 21:30|
these geezers have not yet posted, given the circumstances you can have 24 hours before the shafts fly starting... now...
Keith’s feet hung over the roof’s edge, kicking absently at the chill night breeze.
The old art deco building stooped over the motorway like a wily babcia who’d muscled her way to the front of a crowd. Old curves and yellow paint four stories high jammed between steel and glass constructs that shot skyward.
Behind him, a small cloud of motes danced in the soft glow of a neighbouring apartment. Keith couldn’t see the motes; cram enough AR lenses, ocular interfaces and keyimage triggers into a person’s head and you lose a little bit of fidelity.
As a twenty-something, Keith had been in love with that building and its imperfections. Outdated and outmoded in a sea of high-sheen, low-character, medium-density housing. As a late-thirty-something, Keith bought old, fungus-caked camera lenses, discmans, mechanical kitchen scales, anything with an air of the carefully-curated character flaws he’d slowly replaced his personality with.
He couldn’t remember when he jumped that chasm, when the aesthetic infatuation became a formal arrangement, but at some point taste had become principle, dogma and doctrine.
Up on the roof, drinking mead out of a pewter tankard, he tried to chase that point down. The motes danced, swirling.
The cloud grew denser and more energetic every time he pulled back the corner of some other pursuit from his past - receding again every time some half-recalled image of a band kicked up a collector’s edition vinyl offer, or an incomplete quote from a novel was hastily reassembled on the fly and served up with a link to buy it in multiple sensory formats.
Keith’s son Hayden stepped out onto the roof. The six-year-old padded across to the lone silhouette of his father against the twinkling cityscape. Their two clouds pulsed and mingled behind them, Keith’s cloud leading while Hayden’s much larger cloud mirrored. Occasionally Hayden’s added a flourish, or filled the quiet moments with broad sweeping moves.
Keith and Hayden leant against each other in the dark, Keith’s arm wrapped around the small boy’s shoulders. Quiet and still in the dark, their heads raced in multiple directions. Hayden down whatever rabbit hole of adventure the games that beget the shows that beget the games had sent him down, and Keith’s railroaded harshly and consistently from recollection to retail.
Though it would cost him in the morning, Keith paused the ShopFeed. Data collection never sleeps, but you can at least pause the feedback loop from time to time. There wasn’t a rule against it, but everyone knew there was a cavalcade of suggested content waiting to burst forth when you inevitably lowered the floodgates again, bringing with it the feeling of wading through neon flashing fog with a hangover.
The quiet rushed in and the rooftop felt like a library after dark. Keith drew Hayden tighter, grasped the threads that led back from his offspring to his husband and the life they’d built - were building - instead of the ones that led back from the pewter mug to more pewter mugs and stovetop espresso pots. The motes danced to an unheard banger, flinging themselves wildly about, sharing the choreography between the two clouds.
Keith smiled and leaned down and kissed Hayden on the top of the head. “G’night, buddy. Tell your sister to come up and say goodnight.”
“Kay. Night, Dad.”
Hayden ambled back through the door. Some minutes later, Keith’s youngest, Hannah, stepped out. Behind her followed a multicoloured swarm of motes, blooming through the open rooftop door. Invigorated and unchained, Keith’s leapt and twirled to meet it.
Keith caught a hint of movement and colour out the corner of his eye, and though he couldn’t tell why, started to cry.
|# ? Apr 14, 2020 10:35|
Results for Week 401:
Writing the first chapter of a novel is a commendable endeavor. It’s awesome that so many of you set out to do it, and regardless of the feedback you get here, continuing on with the second chapter is advised. Worst case, you learn more about yourself and your process. Best case, you become the next big thing and can finally buy Thunderisland.
We saw a lot to like this week, and a lot that made us scratch our heads. Some of these things worked as standalone fiction, but not as novels. Some were teeming with ambition but lacked any sort of quality to really hook a reader.
The test this week, as outlined in the prompt, was “Do I want to read more of this.” Stories were judged accordingly. We were liberal with mentions. If even one judge answered that question positively, a story was likely to mention. It’s a tall order, and if you accomplished it, you deserved a mention. My crits will directly follow this post, so I’m not going to explain things here. My fabulous co-judges will be providing their critiques presently as well, so you’ll know where we were coming from.
Let’s get down to business:
Our loss goes to Simply Simon
Our dishonorable mentions go to HFCS, Doctor Eckhart, Solitair, and SlipUp
Our honorable mentions go to a friendly penguin, dmboogie, Saucy_Rodent, and Thranguy
We then had a bit of a debate between two stories for the win.
Our runner up for the week, obtaining a shiny hm, and a second-place medal goes to: Sitting Here for creating, from scratch, some of the coolest elements we saw all week.
And the winner, which best addressed the prompt’s question, had us wanting to read more:
Nethilia’s Songs of the South.
Climb right back up here Neth; you earned it.
|# ? Apr 14, 2020 19:17|
Crittin as I go. I’ll make quick little remarks in real-time as I read through your first chapter for the first time. And then, that all-important question shall be asked and answered… Do I want to read more of this?
The majority of these got a No, as an answer to that question. That doesn’t mean these stories are all bad, they just didn’t work for me as first chapters/scenes.
Sitting Here’s See-Sayer
Pretty efficient worldbuilding early on. The setting feels alive. It’s also novel that instead of following the young person wandering off, we seem to be following a different person. I wasn’t expecting that and it’s ambitious to consider that a novel could take place away from that common, yet practical archetype for a story. Let’s see how you do!
Loving these empowered and revered grannies.
The tone of this is… interesting. It’s hard to recall a hunter-gatherer-tribal type story that has some goof to it. It’s cool to see but a bit jarring. Probably because I’m just expecting this to be all serious and coming-of-agey. About 300 words in, good news, I want to read more.
And now I’m at the twist where we learn a bit about Thun’s anatomy… I’m certainly intrigued further.
Bit of a tonal shift now as the importance of the see-sayer gets highlighted. The tribe had almost a witty, bantering vibe to it and now it’s gettin all serious business. Hoping we get a bit of a sandwich here.
OK, all done.
Do I want to read more of this?
Yes. Good world, good characters, a jarring extraneous event to pull it all together. What happens next? I don’t know, and I want to know.
Isn’t this how Windwaker starts?
The problem off the bat is it’s nigh impossible to tell how old this protagonist is. Some of the perception stuff makes them seem like a full-blown adult, but then, they’re in a crib. It’s a mystery about 100 words in, and by now it oughta be solved.
Oh, OK, so it’s a dream cold open. Not quite a fan of that, but if you’re gonna go for it, really go for it. This didn’t do all that much..
Alrighty, now we’ve got a 15 year old who seems to have pretty horrible sleep apnea, and he's’ with a sister. I should know all of this much sooner than I do, as it is, I’m still at somewhat of a loss about what’s happening here.
How messed up would it be for the Heir of the Slayer to be a demon? You ask. I have no idea, I answer, as I don’t know what any of this means.
The amount of dialogue where people are stating the obvious “i’m my father’s son.” “you’re my brother” people don’t talk like this.
What’s with these hairplumes? I don’t know what that is supposed to be, and google doesn’t either. And you keep on using that word.
Lots of exposition about what everyone knows about demons. This just ain’t grabbing me.
Do I want to read more of this?
No. This went in far too many different directions. You spend time on a trying to do a little of everything from developing a world, to introducing the story with a dream, to characterizing your protag through lots of exposition about how the world sees him. It left me largely disinterested throughout because what didn’t happen was the development of any sort of agency or narrative thrust.
Doctor Eckhart’s What You Can’t Leave Behind
Right of the jump introducing your story by calling characters “The Trio” is problematic. Who are these people? That kind of wording makes it seem like this is the second chapter and we already know these people’s names and what their deal is.
You need a comma between Well and Astrid. As it is, it looks like Astrid lives in a well or something and that’s her title, which, while funny, is probably not what you’re going for.
OK, all of this pointless back and forth and I don’t know why they were running. The trio running means that something exciting should be chasing them or they’re in a rush to get somewhere, but all the urgency is gone now.
Having a rough time telling these people apart.
Like yeah, there’s so much back and forth between these three and it’s clear you want your story to revolve around them… But there’s a reason why stories aren’t generally told this way. One protagonist allows the audience to relate to them and identify with them. Here, you’re spending all this time vacillating between them in one conversation and we’re not getting to learn about any of them as individuals because it’s just too muddy,
The conversations ping pongs around and the thrust of the action is them walking.
Do I want to read more of this?
No. I don’t care about these people and the storyline of their action is not compelling. I’d worry that if I kept on reading I’d just be jostled along through conversations that don’t do anything for me because I have no gotten properly invested in much of anything.
Something Else’s Our Curse
It’s a problematic thing to start your novel referencing another series. I see what’s going on, and it does establish your characters quite nicely, but eh. I’d prefer not to be reminded of other texts when I’m trying to start a new one.
I’m also now worried that the piece will rely on intertextual understanding. I haven’t read LOTR but I know, generally, that the ring is like, some magical scary thing? It seems like that’s going to be a big part of your story so I’m hoping you quickly veer into making this more your own thing.
Alright so by the time Alice is heading out the door, you’ve done a pretty decent job of characterizing her and establish a second character. You also make it clear what she’s out for. This is off to a decent start. Let’s see how you close.
Finished the first half and this is pretty solid so far. I’m curious to learn more about these two as a duo.
Hey, I love how you start the second beat. It almost feels like a film quick cut. It’s got good pacing and sound to it.
Hmmm, OK. I see what you’re going for, or at least I think I have an idea.
Do I want to read more of this?
Kinda. I’m curious as to the direction this will take. It’s either going to be Alice fucks the whole world, and that seems like it might be funny/good. Or is it just about a person who is trying to find love again and has gotten over her husband? If that’s the case, you’d have a tall order making this compelling.
Nothing here is incredibly exciting or gripping, but your characters are well defined enough that I’d be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and see what you want to do with them for another chapter or two.
Saucy_Rodent’s BREAD ALONE
OK, well this story is certainly one I’d like to read, at least from the jump. I’ve worked with plenty of Kimberly’s in my day. Let’s see if this rings true for me.
Hm, so the therapist is super checked out, and that somehow instills the idea in Kimberly that she should open up to her… I haven’t seen things like that generally happen, but I’ll run with it for now.
Not sure what this powerplay is with the water.
Yikes. This here is a Bad Therapist. I mean, it’s pretty clear that’s intentional and this isn’t poorly written, but yikes.
Ah, you son of a bitch. That ending was so loving obvious and I didn’t see it coming. gently caress off, but good on you.
Do I want to read more of this?
Yes. But man, it wasn’t executed at the level that I’ve seen you do before. The relationship between the therapist and client is kinda hard to identify. I’m not sure what’s motivating Kimberly to finally open up, and to Wanda of all people. And Wanda’s blasé reaction to the miracle at the end just feels off. But, I want to know what happens next! I definitely do! You accomplish a fair bit and certainly build intrigue. There are holes and threads I want to explore and if your second chapter were to start with the two of them violating all sorts of ethical boundaries and heading off to the woods, you would indeed have me engaged. If you’ve got ideas for where you want to take this, I hope you keep them up!
Uranium Phoenix’s The Conquest of Paradise
Your opening is not catchy or hooky, but I think you know that and aren’t going for that. This feels somewhat ponderous in tone but I am curious to see where it goes.
You’re running into a similar problem that others have this week. What is this parade of names/characters. Like it’s hard enough committing to and learning about one protag. What we have here is a minimally characterized protag seeing big ideas happen in front of them... But suddenly there’s all of these fantastical folks with out of the box names, and it’s just a lot to ask of a reader when they’ve just picked up your thick novel.
And man, this feels above my read-grade to be honest. It seems to lack a sort of narrative thrust or excitement that makes me want to keep going as a reader.
Stuff like this… “There is another figure, but she’s not running. She is standing, black regal hair blowing as if amidst a storm, arms pushed out as if warding back some great force. Her eyes meet mine. Ixtia. My twin sister. But you died, I think. I reach for her—”
OK, fine, cool imagery I guess but y’know, just kinda get to it a little?
Hot Take: What if your story started on the penultimate beat. “The world grows brighter…”
It’s still pretty, and pondering, but it’s sharp and gets us going. You complained about needing more words. I think you needed fewer.
Yeah. After finishing this I stand by that take. You’d have to monkey with it a little bit but the whole thing makes more sense and gets me more jazzed to read more in the back end.
Having said that…
Do I want to read more of this? No. If I picked up this book in the bookstore you would’ve lost me before things got compelling and your story found its footing. After reading the whole thing? Eh, I could stand to give it more of a shot and see where it goes but I’m certainly not eagerly turning the page to press on. It feels very literary and perhaps I’m a dimguy but maybe I’m just speaking for the people. It felt messy and unclear, then it didn’t.
Simply Simon’s I Think, Therefore I Am
A bold way to start, but it lacks any sort of original flair and, if I’m being honest, I rolled my eyes at your first sentence.
This feels almost like a film treatment. I’m not sure how much I care about all of this imagery as it doesn’t feel pariticular fresh and it’s reading as a bit indulgent
Yeah now this is getting to be like uber Terrence Malik. I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing, this is intentionally lacking in focus and perhaps I’m just not your reader, but man, I can’t imagine starting this and finding it compelling.
So this is already short (thanks for that) but I’m struggling to see how everything before “Me” is necessary here.
Do I want to read more of this? No. This is messy and introspective but not in a way that encourages reflection. As with the piece I critted right before this, you lose a lot of my goodwill just in how this story begins with all the big hoopla stuff that makes my kinda cringe to read it. And yeah, with a title like that it’s kind of obvious that you’re going for something epic in proportion but it’s hard for me to get excited about something like this.
a friendly penguin’s Up in the Holler
Boy does that first sentence need another comma.
You do a nice job of setting the stage, efficiently, in those first two graphs. This has a very Kesey feel to it.
The stakes are established, early, and you’re also squeezing in an admirable amount of characterization.
I’m also digging on how speech is used. Not dialogue so much but spoken words used for solid effect.
drat, you kinda lost me in the end.
Do I want to read more of this? No. And that’s a tough no for me to dish out. Text wise, this is my favorite thing that I’ve read so far. You introduce these really solid characters and give me a strong sense of place. And then it seems like the thrust of the novel is that these people are going to be challenged by losing all of it. That’s good storytelling. Vonnegut says that you gotta knock your characters down so we can see what they’re made of. This story seems to be heading in the direction of treading water as opposed to doing something more meaningful and exciting. I hope I’m wrong, and if this story does continue that these characters will be tested in significant ways because you’ve otherwise got something really nice going here.
dmboogie’s Copyright Trademark
So this is certainly beginning to read like it’s a video game or something. The prose is snappy enough and I’m on board for this kind of voice.
Up to the Amazon scrip thing and you’re kinda losing me. This feels like it’s clear in your head, but it’s not reading clearly to me.
Yeah, OK I get that Blade is some kind of cyborg thing that is self-aware enough to care about perception.
So I think the problem so far is that I really am not sure why Blade wants to escape or what their deal is at all? What led them to locking themselves in this closet? What was the mission that they were on?
I’m a little concerned we’re wasting time with Rose when she feels like a character that is ultimately going to flit away after this chapter ends.
Huh, OK, well it’s sorta sweet and nice then, isn’t it?
Do I want to read more of this? No. Much like other entries, this kinda feels done. I’m having a hard time seeing how the development of an intranet could make for a compelling read. Sure, it’s a good thing Blade is doing, but I wouldn’t be thrilled to read a novel about it. There’s nothing here to indicate any sort of difficulty or complexity about the mission that would make me excited to read more. If this is a novel about the development of an intranet I need to see the barriers. And, I imagine Rose isn’t a part of that so more words would’ve been better spent on a character who would either help or hinder Blade on that task. Otherwise, this was a nice read.
Black Griffon’s Iterate
Liking the vibe of the first few graphs. Things are clear but engaging.
Hm, as the conversation is going on, the mission that Reggie is on is become more vague and obscure and I was hoping it would become clearer.
Oh, huh. The rewind sequence with the door is handled nicely. That’s some high concept stuff that would ordinarily be difficult to convey.
Having finished Zero, this is feeling very Christopher Nolan. I’m curious to see how it plays out.
OK, and now you’re losing me. This was nice and simple and I was on board for that. If you want things to get bigger and more complex with people somehow authoring characters in realtime, I kinda wish you prepared me for it.
I loved what you had going in Zero. In fact, if you ended it there… this could be in contention for the win. Short, snappy, introduces the world and a character… full of potential. One then kinda comes along and stomps on it.
Do I want to read more of this? No. As I said, I wanted to read more after Zero. I lost interest after One. You took what was good about your first half and muddied it up with other things as you went on. A story about a clearly defined protagonist and cool time travel mechanics is enough. I was so ready to follow this guy around.
Schneider Heim’s All is Fair in Love and Wrestling
Not quite a hooky opening, but I’m a little interested.
Kinda losing me with the whole cliched overprotective male thing at the end of the first beat.
Ok, this conversation is fine, but it’s not working as a start of a novel. Nothing about this is sharp, exciting, dramatic, or fresh. I’d probably stop reading about here, after the second time we have to hear the uncle ask how they met. As it is, I’ll keep going, let’s see if you turn it around.
“Oh no. We were going to progress to the next level of our relationship. Oh yes.” This is cringey prose right here, boss.
Why are we wasting so much time talking about/learning about this uncle who doesn’t seem to be the main character? Sure, he’s a wrestler, but why should I care?
Ugh, so if this is gonna be about seeing a wrestling show what in the world was the point of these first thousand words? And you’re not even showing it, you’re quickly swatting it away with a quick explanation? The narrative voice is odd. How was it? Horrifying, and then going on to tell the story of what happened is a jarring choice.
The action is described in a fine manner, but I don’t really care about any of it and I’m still having a hard time telling what this story is actually supposed to be about.
Do I want to read more of this? No. Look, you do a fine job of leaving things open. You actually bother to end your story with a “far from it” which, while lacking subtlety does indeed indicate that there are more chapters to come, which accomplishes the prompt’s task more so than others. But, beyond that. What here do I want to see more of? I don’t really want to see more of Hitomi watching a wrestling match, and I don’t really care all that much about her relationship because it wasn’t given enough attention. You needed to pick a lane here. Also, this lacked polish and you were missing words/typos here and there. Not a great look.
Rohan’s A Chance Meeting
Opening feels somewhat cliched with a space adventurerer just about to come home but then a thing happens. But, it being well-worn makes it easy enough to parse. Hoping this gets a bit fresh as we go on though.
I’m not sure what Chester’s deal is. Is he an outlaw? A hero?
Oh, but she’s readying her guns? Why?
Sorry, yeah, I don’t understand why suddenly everything is so intense and how the stakes got so high.
Is the pale blue light a sagan reference?
Miles? Oh what a card. You know, that guy that we haven’t met at all or don’t know anything about.
What in the world is going on with these two on this ship. They’re just like semi-bantering and it’s really hard to care about this.
This ending… what in the world.
Do I want to read more of this? No. The characters are not interesting and I don’t really care about what happens to Vera next, though it basically seems like that dude is just gonna pop her and that’ll be that.
Nethilia’s Songs of the South
The inclusion of magic in this setting is intriguing. I’m curious to see how it plays out.
The imagery once your protag finds Daniel is strong and powerfully handled. Sorry, I’m not critting much as I go, I’m reading this quickly.
Twist is solid as well.
Do I want to read more of this? Yes. The way I see it, this character will obviously be put into a situation where using their magic is necessary. I’d like to get a glimmer of that. Overall, this is well written and puts a fresh coat of painting a worthwhile subject.
Siddhartha Glutamate’s The Happily Hereafter
Strong opening, written nicely. I’m excited to see what this is all about after the first graph.
You lost a lot of steam and good will with that last of things people will think about or experience.
Cool. You take a bit getting there, but by the time the first beat wraps I have a good sense of place and what’s going on and I’m curious to see what your protag does to challenge things. Not sure about Santa though.
Yeah… What is going on with this Santa thing. This had a bunch of promise and I’m not sure where you’re going with it now.
The dialogue is getting unclear and man I don’t care about this poo poo with Santa.
That whole second beat belongs in the bin.
Same thing goes for the third beat.
This is just going nowhere. Which, fine, if that’s the point I get it, but why would I want to read it?
Do I want to read more of this? No. This had a lot of promise. I was hoping to see it go somewhere interesting. Then I started just hoping for it to go somewhere. Then I just gave up. I don’t know what the intention is here, but I think it’s quite a stretch to think people would want to read more of it.
Boy, those certainly are some names. Elicited a bit of an eye roll from me.
Can’t quite tell what’s actually happening in the first few hundred words.
And that’s continuing to be a problem another couple hundred in.
Things like this: “That signal never arrived. Instead, the sky erupted in boils, blanched itself to a jaundiced yellow, and rent itself open to reveal a weeping wound so vast it could not fit in one field of vision.” Are interfering with the narrative thrust and are just coming across as indulgent.
And at the end, it feels a lot like you’re pretty much wrapping things up in a neat bow. I’m not seeing how this is supposed to work.
Do I want to read more of this? No. I barely understood what was going on and I’m not sure how much I want to knock my reading comprehension here. It felt like you had big ideas and got too caught up in them to bother to make things clear and truly put your reader in the world that you yourself see so clearly.
SlipUp’s Oceanworld Chapter 1: The Trident
Ugh. You have lost so much goodwill by having your very first sentence be an utter mess.
Decent imagery for what it is, but I was hoping for something cooler than a rock. Like it’s fine, I don’t know.
Ok, so this guy is out there for some transgression, or something. I was fine when you alluded to it, but now I’m starting to wonder if you’re going to bother characterizing this person at all. Give us something.
I’m coming around to the idea, more and more, that when people ask for more words it’s not because they need them, but that they’re lacking the boldness to cut away what they don’t need. There’s so much here you don’t need.
The expository content of the piece is disrupting the reading pleasure of it, and man, I wouldn’t want to read on.
Do I want to read more of this? No. At no point did I find myself caring about any of this. Sure, some decent imagery, but that’s not enough to do it for me. If all you have is cool things to look at, just draw it or something. There’s not enough substance here.
Thranguy’s How To Get Over Your Ex
Here we go, that’s how you loving start something. We know what this is, and we get a sense of everything we need right away. Thank you.
So this is feeling pretty generic, after the first couple of graphs, hoping it takes a turn.
OK, a big sack of money, that’s the intrigue check box.
Wait, they didn’t check… under the bed? I mean, small detail but that’s a little silly.
Huh, and a dead girl, more intrigue.
Do I want to read more of this?No. It works well enough but it feels very formulaic in tone. Like I said in my run-n-gun you kinda go through the motions of setting up something and it definitely does work as a first chapter, better than many other entries this week, but it does work as an effective one because I can’t imagine you’re all that excited about continuing this story. This essentially felt like a first chapter exercise and not the start of something exciting.
Fuschia tude’s Unburdening
I think you like that first line more than I did.
This is feeling pretty bland, the first thing that perked me up was carbonated milk. I’m having a hard time understanding the importance of the task at hand, no good stakes for it were established early.
Reading the rest and I’m feeling pretty much the same as I did when I start. This is a big bowl of fine.
Do I want to read more of this? No. The stakes, which don’t feel all that high to begin with are established too late in the game to rouse much interest in me as a reader.
|# ? Apr 14, 2020 19:22|
these geezers have not yet posted, given the circumstances you can have 24 hours before the shafts fly starting... now...
I haven't had time to finish up my turd of a story I was writing, and am prepared to eat this toxx. I'll return on one of my many alter egos.
|# ? Apr 14, 2020 20:29|
for crits by entry deadline this week
|# ? Apr 14, 2020 20:37|
Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player
You know, it was a tossup the other week between prompts, but since apparently y'all want to let me do this again. here we go.
One of my favorite artists has and will be Sir Elton Hercules John, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight. And that man has a discography spanning back over fifty goddamn years, starting in 1969 (nice). I can literally sit and listen to nothing else while I'm doing my works, and sometimes I have. Which gives me a lot of songs to use for a prompt, even beyond the most well known ones.
This week, you will either pick or be assigned a song by Elton John, your choice. From that song, you will write me a story that invokes the feelings, mood, lyrics, or any other part of the song. Basically that song better make me feel like you listened to the song. Some songs will automatically come with flash rules the moment you pick them or are assigned them. Which ones? You'll know when it happens!
And, because every single one of my prompts come with something else (because I'm like that) your story must also include references to one of the following: Earth, Space, or Sea. Does this mean the story takes place there? gently caress if I know, just do it, you're writing the story.
You have 1107 words to write with (11:07 being the length of one of the longer songs) and, if you want a random flash rule from my pocket of flash, you can have 193 more words for an even 1300. (Does this mean you can get two flash rules on you? You sure can! It's an exciting time to be alive and in TD.)
Standard TD rules apply: no porn, no fanfic, no google docs.
Sign up by 11:59 p.m. PDT Friday 4/17/2020
Wordcraft by 11:59 p.m. PDT Sunday, 4/19/2020
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road:
a friendly penguin
Where the Dogs of Society Howl:
Ironic Twist - Original Sin
SlipUp - Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting (no fights allowed!)
The Saddest Rhino - Kiss the Bride (Old, New, Borrowed, Blue/At least four characters)
BeefSupreme - Three Way Love Affair
Thranguy - This Song Has No Title (nameless protag/on a vacation)
Chairchucker - Bennie and the Jets (No Bennys, no Jets)
Entenzahn - Daniel
Black Griffon - Texas Love Song (setting: Texas)
Something Else - Crocodile Rock (literal stone crocodile/Tell that one toxic friend, "Yo, lose my number.")
NAGA LIU KANG - Someone Saved My Life Tonight (Butterflies/two postcards)
rohan - Sacrifice (story must take place in either the Spring or the Fall)
Doctor Eckhart - Blessed
Nethilia fucked around with this message at 10:39 on Apr 20, 2020
|# ? Apr 14, 2020 23:25|
|# ? Dec 1, 2020 12:13|
in, assign me a deep cut, please
|# ? Apr 15, 2020 00:19|