Katie and the Whirlwinds 1097 words
The crowd roared their appreciation as they walked on the stage. Some people held up signs pledging their eternal devotion, other chanted their names, and a large group of fans had built a diorama of double life size depicting the three of them playing, which was very impressive to have done in just the half hour the fans had been allowed in the stadium, and also maybe a little bit of a fire hazard.
“Should we consider getting the diorama removed?” asked Fiona.
“No way,” said Katie, “that’s amazing.”
“It is,” said Fiona, “it really is. But.”
“Yeah,” said Katie, “I get it, but come on, it’s awesome.”
Megan didn’t say anything, because she was busy checking on the pyrotechnics in her drum kit. She hadn’t told the others about the pyrotechnics, because they’d just complain about safety regulations and the legal repercussions if she accidentally caused another incident, and who needed that hassle?
“You ready, Meg?” asked Katie.
Megan nodded and crossed her drumsticks in front of her.
Fi adopted a power stance, axe in hand. “I was born ready.”
“Hello Sherwood!” said Katie. “We are Katie and the Whirlwinds! Are you ready to get down and get crazy?”
The crowd agreed that they were.
“One! Two! Three! Four!” yelled Megan, punctuating each number with a clack of her sticks, and then Fiona let out the first power chord and Katie let out her first gut wrenching scream.
The energy was high, Katie was in good voice, and the crowd was singing along to every song. It was pretty much the perfect gig, so far.
“All right Sherwood, this is our last song, you’ve been fantastic.” Katie winked at Fiona and Megan, the conspiring wink of someone who knows that actually, it’s not their last song because they have an encore coming up.
Megan gave a knowing smile, the smile of a drummer who had an illegal and unsafe amount of pyrotechnics stashed in her drums. Their ‘last song’ was a ballad. Megan grabbed her lighter and started a gentle sway, Fiona made her guitar cry and Katie sang about how some jerk had wronged her most grievously. The crowd swayed and sang along, and as Katie sung the last note and dropped the microphone, Fiona put down her guitar, still crying out its final notes, and the three of them walked off the stage.
“Whirlwinds! Whirlwinds! Whirlwinds!” chanted the crowd.
“You know what, this has gone pretty well so far,” said Fiona.
Katie nodded. “I was worried about that oversized diorama,” she said foreshadowingly, “but clearly there was nothing to worry about.”
“So how long do we wait?” asked Megan.
Fiona shrugged. “I think we just kinda feel the vibe or something, right?”
“Yeah,” said Katie, “just sit and soak up this adulation for a bit.”
Fiona nodded. “Hey, did we wanna do a costume change?”
“I didn’t really bring another costume,” said Megan. “This feels like the kind of thing we really want to plan in advance, not just be spontaneous.”
“We could just swap with each other,” said Katie.
“Is that weird?” asked Fiona.
Megan had already taken her shirt off and handed it to Katie. “Oh,” said Katie. “You really work up a sweat there, huh?”
“Little bit. Drummer life.”
“You know what, you keep it.”
“Suit yourself,” said Megan, and dropped her shirt over the back of a seat. “I think I’m just gonna go out there in my sports bra rather than put that back on.”
“Ooh,” said Fiona, “that’s a bit saucy, I think I’ll do that too.” She took her shirt off and put it next to Megan’s.
“I dunno about saucy,” said Megan, “I’m just hot and don’t wanna put a soaked shirt back on.”
“Yeah,” said Katie, “I’m not going out on stage without my shirt.”
“Speaking of which, I think they might be getting a little restless,” said Fiona. “I think we’ve just gotta get out there.”
“I’m gonna put your shirt on,” said Katie.
“Next time,” said Megan, “let’s actually organize a proper costume change instead of whatever this is.”
She walked back on and waved to the crowd, who gave a cheer, as if they’d have expected them not to come back. Fiona walked back on and picked up her still weeping guitar, and continued playing the same note, and the crowd cheered again. Katie walked back onstage in Fiona’s shirt, picked the microphone up and yelled out at the crowd, “Thanks for sticking around, Sherwood! I guess you’re not done rocking with us?”
The crowd cheered a cheer that meant no, indeed they were not. Katie looked back at Fiona and Megan and nodded. Fiona played a power chord, and Megan pressed the pedal that made the pyrotechnics in her drum kit go off.
For the most part the pyrotechnics were fine, except the one that shot out of the bass drum, landed in the diorama and set it on fire. The crowd around the diorama initially tried to put it out by blowing or spitting on it, but as it became increasingly clear that this was not going to work, and the flames grew increasingly higher, started to ripple out away from that part of the stadium.
Katie stopped singing and the other two stopped playing, and Katie and Fiona looked at Megan, the disapproving look of two bandmates who had told her plenty of times that we have professionals who are paid to do that kind of thing, Megan, and we don’t need these kind of shenanigans.
“Yeah okay,” said Megan, “that’s my bad guys.”
“Guess we better bug out before this whole situation gets out of hand,” said Katie, and Fiona pressed down on a pedal nearby. Before long, a helicopter was hovering overhead, and had dropped a rope ladder.
As they watched Sherwood Forest burn from their helicopter, Megan said, “All right, but the pyrotechnics looked pretty good before we burned everything down, right?”
“It looked extremely cool, Meg,” said Fiona, who’d had time to calm down. “Very rock and roll.”
“They’ll definitely be reading about us in the magazines,” said Katie.
“drat, I left my shirt down there,” said Megan.
“At least I’ve got yours, Fi,” said Katie, then took it off and gave it back to her. She was wearing her own underneath.
“All right,” said Fiona after she’d put it back on. “We’ve gotta talk costume changes for our next gig.”
“And pyrotechnics,” said Megan.
The other two looked at her.
“All right, no pyrotechnics for a bit.”
|# ? Apr 20, 2020 13:03|
|# ? Dec 1, 2020 12:38|
Week 402: Judgement
Sweet, short, and neat. Like the number of entries this week.
BeefSupreme – Everything in Its Place
Thranguy - At Night
SlipUp - Ketamine
NAGA LIU KANG - Dualism
Have the throne and don't do anything cool, Beefy. I have two weeks of crits to run up and if I win so fast again the throne's going to mold to my rear end.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 09:08|
I livecritted these, which means I jotted down notes as I read, and then wrote a more concise full crit based on those. You'll get the latter in the thread, if you want the notes (they contain example "bad (imo) sentences" and might be useful for you), you can find them here.
Ironic Twist - Glass Eyes
I enjoy the chemistry between your two characters and you build their relationship nicely, though the exposition of their remembrance goes on a little too long. Honestly, though, I expected something different - they are apparently only smoking buddies, despite the romance you set up at the start, and that seems to hinge for me on two things: Katy’s “lesbian” line, and the once-mentioned-by-name Deanna who I have to assume is her partner, and who gets prioritized by Katy over her friendship with Vier.
That does not really land for me, because they were joking so much at the start (which you nailed the tone of!) that I assumed Katy calling herself a lesbian was also a joke.
Imo, you might have overdone the lightheartedness in two ways. One, what I just mentioned; two, I could not quite buy the tone shift towards Vier being disappointed, then menacing. I never thought he’d actually be ocean-power-mad at her, and actually curse her, making the final twist joke (after mayo, and...well, NOT lesbians but that was still a funny punchline despite her actually being one) have less impact. Vier trying at intimidation might have been realistic with him being a little bit of a stoner goof, but Katy’s tension and fright isn’t conveyed enough for me to make me believe along with her for even one second that he might be serious.
Finally, your ocean-surface-as-clouds metaphor is way too forced and the one part where I was going “huh?” at your otherwise well-written story.
Overall: characters well done, the plot itself needs a little more tone policing to work properly.
Something Else - The Mesozoic Hop
This is generally a fun little romp, with some excitement and some fun word choices. You set up that tone pretty well at the start with sound descriptions (thumpety!) that keep being interesting and I’d have been happy to see even more.
Some of the sentences go a little overboard, however. Unfortunately, the first one is such a sentence (I find the metaphor to be contrived and it ends up using too many words to convey too little of an image), and the cringe cringe cringe line, and also the “toxic friend” line at the end is just a little too twee for my tastes.
I also get that you use Howard to basically set up Suzie’s choice to stay in the past at least for a while and party with their newfound dino friends, but for most of the story he’s just irritating without serving too much of a purpose. Overall, the issue is probably that he can only impotently scream and never moves too much beyond that. He is ultimately threatening to never send Suzie back, but can’t force them to return to the present, so they never lose power over their fate, diminishing the tension.
Overall, I feel like you could work that tension a little more efficiently; not only for what Howard is doing, conflict- and pressure-wise, but also e.g. in the T-Rex chase; it’s resolved a little too quickly. Even for a story that’s ultimately about having a little fun away from stuffy academia or whatever, danger doesn’t need to be absent. Again, their chameleon suit AND the life support system seem so “overpowered” that I never really felt Suzie be threatened, and that hurts the excitement!
NAGA LIU KANG - Dualism
(Someone Saved My Life Tonight)
Phew, that was a bit of a rough read. As you might notice from the live thoughts linked above, I had to stop myself a bunch of times because the language was getting in the way of me actually reading your plot. It’s unfortunate, because it’s not bad - an alien creature warping (or something) but wrong, and it desperately has to force the locals to piece together its broken body. That horror aspect is really cool, and I do like the words you chose specifically for that.
But you do need to proofread better. There’s a lot of very avoidable mistakes in there. Others, like word choices, phrasing, sentence length and content, are harder to get better at. I did cite the most obviously problematic (to me, at least) ones not to beat you down, but so you have specific examples when I say “uuuh write better words” which ones I mean. This could be gruesome fun, make something out of it.
Oh, and lose the intro in the process. It serves zero purpose except make me wonder at the end if all the people visiting the town just...left while their object of attention lay broken for days and forced a loud-rear end murder in the middle of its stay.
Doctor Eckhart - A Life Well Lived
There is very little to this story, but I’ll try my best to not give you less of a crit just because you wrote less words. In broad strokes, what’s happening is that an old woman is dying, but she’s okay with it, and her young (presumably) nurse is not, but the older, experienced Sister is. Then, the old woman does die, and is “collected” in a scene of wonder.
You’re keeping the collection deliberate vague, which I get. You’re also not letting Mary have much space as well, which I get too (her death is central, but she is not), but that leaves little meat. You seem to want to fill that with your protagonist’s understandable difficulty at letting go of the woman she took care of, but even that seems underdeveloped to me. Her protests are quickly shut down by the no-nonsense Sister, and there’s little chance of conflict developing. Her fixation on the TV is downright comical - you are way overemphasizing the supernatural, wondrous aspect of the story without ever trying to lean into it and actually talking about it. “Heard voices but, get this, they were NOT on TV!” is pretty weak to me.
And finally, the last line reads like the next one should be CHAPTER 2 and set ten years in the future. Is this a leftover from last week?
SlipUp - Ketamine
I didn’t really enjoy this story, truth to be told. That’s mostly because things are going too well. I don’t know if this is wish fulfilment from someone stuck in quarantine (I get it!), but it doesn’t land for me - your resolutions are not set up, I’m not feeling relief because there was little tension beforehand. You set up a possible point of conflict in one sentence and topple it in the next. Catheter? No problem, put it in a bag. IV? Just put a coat on it! And so on.
It becomes really comical when both the night guard (or janitor or whatever) AND the doctor one after another just ignore those two leaving, with the protagonist very obviously not being in a state to do so - you do not have to spell out “I’m not supposed to leave.”, he’s drugged up, bandaged and was on a heart monitor. Speaking of which, does his comatose roommate just have double monitor pads on him then? Was there space?
Cindy seems fun if a little over-the-top, but apparently she knows that there will be no consequences for their reckless behavior. That’s fine, she’s fine. I don’t get much from the protag, though. He is an incredulous rear end according to the last line, and that’s pretty much it - I can identify strongly with him because he’s as bewildered as I am for everything going smoothly like a lubed shark.
Thranguy - At Night
This story hinges on something very important: a reason for the alien to befriend and follow this one specific protagonist. The reason seems to be a simple, friendly “hello”, followed by a willingness to just go along with what is later described as “dates”. I think this is on the one hand a refreshing angle - they are not winning over the alien by being especially kind, or moral, or misguided-about-to-get-a-lesson, they are simply the one person who is almost pathologically unaffected.
This, however, has the great risk of the protag ending up kind of bland and just going along, which is exactly what is happening. Subjectively, I actually really get that, I’m not impressed easily by things and I feel like I could do the exact actions the protag does, but I also know I’m pretty weird like that, so maybe this is not a story many people could empathize with, go “man this guy really is cool/likable/understandable/interesting”, you know what I mean?
Especially when his detachment seems to be turning into a superpower as government and other officials keep demanding things he just ignores, and there are just no consequences - he seems to be safe in his vaguely-explained secret hotel room, and all they can do is call him, which he, again, shows no reaction to. That strains my immersion a bit, it’s like thinking the tax man will leave you alone if you just don’t care about their forms real hard.
And finally, protag has been told that the alien ship is incredibly dangerous and, by the words of his date partner, might incinerate everybody on the planet but him, which is how I read it at first. It ends up “just” blinding and giving super cancer to hundreds of people, which seems like it should be read as a blessing compared to what could have happened if everybody was just a curious dick to the alien instead, but...come on, that dick could have warned people? Everybody would have listened to a simple “close your eyes okay”, with the world watching him?
Overall: apart from some spelling errors, it’s generally written fine, in a confident, crisp style I could read more in. But the drive of the story itself leaves me a little confused, I cannot get a handle on your protag despite even identifying with him a little, I don’t know how well other readers would react to someone just not giving even the slightest amounts of shits…
BeefSupreme - Everything In Its Place
So, there wasn’t much live critting, because I actually really liked your story and wanted to read and not write - it’s not an urge any other story has woken in me, so kudos for that. I can’t crit you well, therefore - there’s little I have to offer as constructive criticism. The one thing I noted while reading is that it’s sometimes a little hard to tell who is talking. You mostly make it clear enough because you clearly know how to write, by little gestures and words like “Sweetheart” only the protagonist uses, but it did cause me to stumble occasionally.
If you fix this, you have a really nice anti-polyamory pamphlet going. Great characters, great dialogue and excellent use of nonlinearity. I’m a fan, ‘s all I can say!
Chairchucker - Katie and the Wirlwinds
(Benny and the Jets)
I’m not sure I get the point of your story, gotta admit. I think you’re trying to basically portray this group (well, a literal band) of women, and their characterization is the story, and in the end I’m supposed to be excited to have witnessed a part of their cool life.
Sadly, I’m not the target audience for this kind of story, so it leaves me a little cold. But even without my personal issues (not an aversion, but it’s just not doing anything for me) with that kind of character-heavy, plot-light stuff, I feel there are some more objective problems in your piece. First of all, the viewpoint. It switches from what seems to be Fiona’s (it mentions the diorama being a fire hazard, and she’s the one voicing objections right after) to what seems to be Meg’s (with her the only one in the know about the pyrotechnics, and so is the narrator) but then settles in a more detached omniscient narrator voice.
Secondly, I’m having a hard time getting a grasp on the characters individually. Fiona is set up like a stickler for procedure, but ultimately doesn’t end up caring (like, it feels it should be her insisting on keeping her shirt on, but it’s Katie); Megan is a rebel with the secret fireworks, but nobody really calls her out on it except for a little “oh you” bit. And so on.
Finally, where you completely lose me, is after a little lighthearted jabs at each other - but generally a story that’s so grounded in reality I might even call it mundane, what with the shirt bickering following a freaking rock concert - it suddenly devolves into a fire that’s so telegraphed Chekov would just throw away the gun in disgust, and they take a helicopter? Which they apparently had prepared?! So suddenly the characters become way larger than life, seem completely detached from reality, and I cannot be into this anymore, I’m sorry.
Overall: tone and purpose issues just leave me befuddled.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 09:22|
Crits week 402
Alright, Thunderdome, listening to music makes me sad (yes, all music) so your stories better have made the sadness worth it.
Ironic Twist (Original Sin) – Glass Eyes
As I read it, this story is a simple one about friendship. The only thing that really makes it different is that one of the friends is a mer-person. Though, he might just be using her for drugs. It could be read like that. It’s a very well written story about friendship. Your pacing and details are spot on. You reveal just enough and just at the right time to keep readers from wondering too long about pearls and shells in a beard.
The whole thing is sweet. The beginning and end are endearing and make me smile. The middle with the description of their first week together is too much of two people who know what already happened, saying it out loud so that the reader can understand something about them. The story adds to the sweetness, but it comes across less like remembering and more like the exposition that it is.
I smiled at the ending because it’s the kind of gesture that I would appreciate. And there’s a lot of call backs. (You smell like salt.) So it’s a pretty great self-contained piece. Not bad.
Something Else (Crocodile Rock), must have a literal stone crocodile, toxic friend – The Mesozoic Hop
This isn’t a bad thing, but this story reads to me like one for elementary school students. Your use of language is fun and for example, the last sentence, with all of those verbs, reminds me of something that is meant to give students lots of action to imagine and connect to. I think the sound of all of those words together is great. Immediately a rhythm starts in my head.
With all of the action it would be easy to lose track of where Suzie is and what’s happening, but you’re very clear with what is happening and who it is happening to. And with the added hurdle of having a they pronoun, that can easily be confusing for readers.
But in the end, the action is really the only thing happening in this story. Howard is a bit over the top as a toxic person. Imbecile is an insult that cartoon villains use for their henchmen. But he is the main antagonist, even despite the protagonist almost being eaten. And he’s not even that potent of a threat considering they are separated by millions of years. They can just mute him. Obviously there are consequences when they return to the present, but anyone could argue that the data retrieved is better than whatever his weak arguments were. This story needs to buff up his reasons for being such a jerk. Because it seems like it’s nothing but wanting to control a situation from millions of years distant. And if that were the case, then he would have just gone himself.
A fun bit of action, just missing a greater purpose.
Naga Liu Kang (Someone Saved My Life Tonight), butterflies, two postcards – Dualism
Your imagery is so evocative and potent! I wish the storytelling were the same. This story is 90% telling the reader the setting and how the characters are feeling about their situation. And I think the story, the events that actually take place, without adding anything else to it, would be better if you dropped most of the telling bits (like the three paragraphs of exposition about what the town was like before the alien invasion). I like the story you’re trying to tell. I found myself feeling genuine creepiness and disgust when the people had been taken over and started eating the jelly. The dead postman adds horror to the situation. The feeling of it all is very real.
But then the story is slowed down by Deborah and Jed feeling like they want this to come to an end but they know that this thing is sustaining them and oh how wonderful it will be and etc. I think that this story in particular needs very little explanation at all. I think the reader could do a whole lot with just the images of these possessed people feeding on the excretions with haunted looks in their eyes and hungry bellies. And when the butterfly emerges there is rapture but also death. Oh yeah, there are so many things that this story could be with just images.
I think you should rework it a bit. Some of the sentences are overwrought. Doesn’t even need the meteorological setup even. Random thing comes through the TV is just fine for me.
Doctor Eckhart (Blessed) – A Life Well Lived
Now this one is short but that’s because it hardly has any exposition. Only at the beginning and end of the story. I think the exposition at the beginning does perfectly to introduce the character and the actions of the story quickly and efficiently. The end, however, doesn’t bring the story to a close so much as set up another chapter. While there can obviously be much more to this story (what with this being only her first death) I think there was enough here for it to stand alone, just needed a defining statement at the end. Perhaps something about the nature of the voices. Since we can imagine what they are, but it might be nice to have that mystery at least a little bit solved.
The rest of the story is competently executed and does actually evoke a nun-run hospital in lots of little ways, including the meekness of the main character and the no-nonsense manner of Sister Charlotte. I wonder at the emphasis on almost being 100. Since it’s repeated in a story of less than 500 words that would seem to indicate that 100 might be important for some reason?
A short, clipped piece that could go a few more places or say a few more things and probably should since it doesn’t have the emotional weight of a full story.
SlipUp (Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting), no fighting – Ketamine
Good opening. Drops the reader right into the action. Well, at least it should. The action portions really do get the reader hyped for what’s about to come, but the background bits slow things down. The explanation of why he’s in the hospital, while only a few lines mostly serves to shift the emphasis from what is happening right now to what happened in the past. And while that can be useful, since that’s not what this story ends up being about, it’s distracting.
With all of the Wonderland references it gives the narrative a more nonsensical feel, which I think works with the idea that this would be a great caper to escape the hospital. I just wish you had more words for more capers. As it is the only true obstacle that they get to encounter is the security guard and Cindy deals with him by herself off camera.
This story is missing some sort of manic energy. The short paragraphs work in its favor but the sentences might actually be too involved. There are a lot of progressive combinations (started pushing, started pulling, etc.) that interrupt the action before it starts. There is a lot of fun in the story, it just needs smoothing out.
Thranguy (This Song Has No Title), no name protagonist, on vacation – At Night
I find the first sentence a little confusing. Not immediately, but after the story is finished I have a hard time knowing exactly what was two years after the first sighting. The taking the alien around the city? The sun flash? I originally assumed the former, but later in the narrative when there’s a first time and then a second time, that kind of clashes with the setup of the “two years after” sentence as if they are still two separate concepts. I don’t know why this niggles at me. It’s really not that big of a concern. But clarity around this point would be nice or a different opening line.
“didn't reach until the scientists” – Is “reach” supposed to be “react” here?
A couple more typos “memorisls”, a missing space.
But these are quibbles! Because this is a good story. The voice is consistent across the entire thing, though the perspective of the human is very much downplayed to allow the alien a starring role. So much feels like it happens in so few words. You have humor and connection and the freakin’ cosmos all in there. And if anything embodies an Elton John song, it’s this. Expansive I would say.
Your details are very true to life and logical. Because absolutely an alien would become part of city lore and there would be imitators and gawkers. Absolutely government agents would try to use the situation to their advantage and then take possession of what remained after it was done. I have some other small questions, but they’re questions that form out of a story where I want to know more rather than questions that impede my enjoyment of the story. And maybe a lot of it has to do with time and space and the weirdness inherent in them. And in the end, the person becomes more studied than the alien and maybe understanding dawns on them in that moment of just what the alien was doing there on Earth.
BeefSupreme (Three Way Love Affair) – Everything in Its Place
Laura is a very exacting lady, always in control. She wants things the way she wants them and will not tolerate any other way of existence, including with her lovers. Which kind of makes me smile thinking about how out of order the scenes are. She probably would hate that. Your main character is hopelessly in love with this perfect image of a woman and the way you mix up the scenes adds to the readers’ sympathy with his predicament.
We already know that things don’t go well by the time we’re seeing the dates where he first said “I love you” and when he first met her. The first meeting part reads almost like a diary entry, which seems a bit out of sync with the narrative of the rest. But the whole arc does show a progression in the main characters’ life. I wish we got a similar glimpse into Laura’s motivations. The mirroring of various portions helps to make connections for the reader, but there are also a couple of spots where you could remove some redundancies.
“What do you mean?”I say, and look down at my dinner. I pull my hand back and shovel a forkful of veggies into my mouth and proceed to chew them into non-existence. “We live together. I’m confused.”
You can drop the “I’m confused” and Laura has a similar reaction at the end where she says “What do you mean, I don’t understand.” The mirroring is fine, but that’s a place where you could tighten up the dialogue.
While the mixed up scene choice is fairly integral to the working of this story, I was at first not sure whether each of the narratives were from the same perspective. After rereading, the narrative voice is strong enough that I can now easily tell that it is, but that might be something to focus on for future editing passes is making sure that there is no doubt that the narrator is the same. The only one that was truly questionable was the first date, where, like I said, it sounds more like he’s telling someone about it rather than living it. And that shift made me question whether they were all from the same viewpoint.
I’m having to talk through this one more because as I was reading the story nothing really jumped out at me as particularly great or particularly bad, in terms of the actual story which is always what I read for first. But now that I go back through and analyze for structure, character, pacing, etc. I see that there is a lot of depth to this story and I appreciate it a lot more. It is good practice for me. Thank you.
Chairchucker (Bennie and the Jets) sans Benny – Katie and the Whirlwinds
I enjoyed this because I didn’t put much thought in while reading it. It was a fun story about a band. It was predictable and mostly served to inform the reader about what kind of people each of these band members are. It’s kind of an introduction to further adventures with these rocking ladies. I’m thinking Jem and Holograms. (Not sure if they had that cartoon where you are.) A little hard to believe that they clearly planned an encore but did not plan what to do. They’ve burned a forest but aren’t being kept and held accountable. They “have people for that” yet these people are invisible in every other portion of the story.
Let’s leave it at that. A story that one can enjoy as long as one does not stare at it for too long.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 10:27|
Thank you for the crits
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 13:43|
Thunderdome CDIII -- Fight Night, Round 2
(me stopping your bad words)
I am who I am, Thunderdome. Last time you let me win, I made you write fights. And, well, here we are again. I love action, what can I say?
You have 1100 words to write me an action scene.
That's it. Any kind of action you want: a sci-fi shootout, some fisticuffs, an old-timey horse chase, a taught Cold War spy thriller. It doesn't matter, so long as your scene has some real, physical, action. What does matter is that your characters are human (though not necessarily literally). That is the criteria on which your works will be judged--can I relate to your character? Do I care about the stakes?
All great action movies have great action; the best ones have great characters. Why is Die Hard the best ever? Because John McClane is a relatable everyman with marital problems. What makes Lethal Weapon great? This really, really intense scene. What about Aliens? Goddamn Ripley, that's what. It is the characters that elevate these movies, because they give us someone to connect to, and they make the stakes real.
So write me some good action (that's a prerequisite, of course), and make me care about it.
-I don't like superheroes, really. So if a win/HM is your goal, you either better be really good, or choose something else.
-The best action always has a sense of humor, whether they're comedies or not
-You need to write a story: beginning, middle, end. You can set up the sequel, if you want, but I need to be satisfied at the end of this story.
-Clarity is really important. Pay attention to your blocking. Leave the shakycam to Jason Bourne.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
WORD COUNT: 1100 words
SIGNUP DEADLINE: Midnight PST on Friday 4/24
SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Midnight PST on Sunday 4/26
DECISIVELY ENGAGED: for 150 bonus words
FOG OF WAR: Flash rules for 150 bonus words; ask at your own peril
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE: I will handpick you a classic action sequence for inspiration, you will get 150 bonus words.
BANNED, PER THE GENEVA CONVENTION: Erotica, fanfic, poetry, political screeds, Google docs, weird formatting
Doctor Eckhart +150
Ironic Twist +150
NAGA LIU KANG +300
Simply Simon +150
Uranium Phoenix +450
BeefSupreme fucked around with this message at 17:21 on Apr 28, 2020
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 20:59|
And gimme that flash, Clausewitz.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:03|
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:06|
In, tactical engage me.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:06|
in, tactical advantage
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 23:16 on Apr 22, 2020
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:12|
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:15|
In, flash, tactical,
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:17|
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:22|
In, decisively engaged, fog of war
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:24|
Note for Judges
If someone fails a for a week that you are judging, hit the report button on the toxx post. I'm not bloodthirsty about these and I'll mostly give people another day or two to avoid the ban, but comes time you need to pay the piper.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 21:50|
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 22:21|
In. Fog of War and Tactical Advantage please.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 23:09|
In, Tactical Advantage.
|# ? Apr 22, 2020 23:13|
In, with tactical advantage
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 00:13|
In, tactical advantage
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 00:20|
A few more week 400 crits
Since I read the week from the beginning, I knew about Emma from other stories, so it was neat that she got to be center stage.
You took on a pretty challenging format! Telling a story via transcript is hard because it takes some common tools out of your tool box. You have to tell the story entirely through Emma's monologue—no scenery description, no blocking of the characters in space. On the other hand, telling your story entirely through the voice of your protagonist gives you ample opportunity to characterize them through their word choice and overall tone. Emma comes through very strong in this transcript: she's perky, she's peppy, she is full of all the cliches you'd expect from a frivolous YouTube personality. There's also a disingenuousness to her, the sense that she's kind of just doing a job to sell her products and generate ad revenue. In short, Emma is the distillation of modern-day influencers, which is good if you don't particularly want your reader to empathize with her.
So, like I said above, you took on a challenging format! I question the wisdom in telling this story this way. As I mentioned above, an advantage of this type of transcript format is that it's essentially all about your character's voice. Emma isn't very interesting to ride along with because she's such a boilerplate instagram influencer type; she's not even hawking dubious Void products (other than the one I assigned you), it's all just tea and hair color, pretty standard fair for someone in her "industry".
Here's the thing. It's not enough to take a thing from reality and plop it into your story without zesting it up. In this case, the YouTube shill. You have to take that character and slap some exaggerated stage makeup on them, twiddle the knobs until they are not a 1:1 likeness of a contemporary internet cliche. Emma doesn't really reflect anything about the setting or her situation; you could imagine this character getting by just as happily in a real-world setting rather than a sci-fi one. It's not bad to write about realistic types of people, but internet celebrities are associated with a particular sort of vacuousness, and Emma doesn't break that mold at all, which doesn't make her a very compelling character to read about.
The confrontation with her other self is another opportunity to imbue Emma with some unique flaws. Her other self would know all her deep dark secrets, yeah? The stuff about her resenting her fans isn't really news to the reader; not only is it obvious on the page, it's what we expect from this type of character. The whole conversation needs a little bit of tuning up to get away from the cliches define Emma throughout the whole piece. The confrontation also strains the realism of the piece (which is ironic to say since I was just talking about getting away from boring real world cliches); it's hard to believe this usurper would just step into Emma's place when there is an audience and a transcript showing an assault and presumably murder.
Bottom line, I think telling this story via transcript was a tall order!
Antivehicular - Hanging Fire
I’m a sucker for stories that find a reason to do color porn. The differently colored smokes added a lot of pop to this story, which is like candy for those readers who are highly visual. The VoitTower setting lends itself to steely colors—gunmetal, black, grey, rust red—so I appreciated the multichromatic set pieces. I like the concept of the smoke room because, while I don’t have any idea what Charlie is accomplishing when she correctly racks the smoke, I don’t really need to understand it. There’s a specificity to her chore, but also a compelling mysteriousness.
I’m hard pressed to pin down why this wasn’t on my HM shortlist. It’s technically good, and there are a bunch of little details I like.
Charlie herself is part of it, and I think it’s more of a POV issue than a Charlie issue. I think this story needed a tighter third person limited POV—more acute emotional data, more of Charlie doing things “on screen”. The first section never really places Charlie in a specific set or moment—it’s kind of a general rundown of her situation at the time of the story. It’s not bad, as exposition goes, but I think it might’ve been more effective, in this case, to show Charlie compulsively checking her wrist monitor in between racking up the smokes (or something like that). I think “show, don’t tell” is prescriptive bullshit but you got to admit that sometimes show is the way to go.
Fortunately, the second, longer section has Charlie moving around on screen, as it were.
That brings me to my other issue: I love the image at the ending. The void swaddled in multi-color smokes, surrounded by the melted stumps of broken pipes is cool as poo poo to imagine. I’m just...not sure what I’m supposed to take away from it. I’m okay with not knowing the purpose of the smoke, but I’m not sure what it means that the pipes are broken, or whether the void is operating as expected. Since nothing really changes for Charlie (well, aside from her deep deep anxiety), it’s hard for me to put my finger on the implications of what happened at the top of the tower.
Profane - Employee of the Monad
Boy this story just kinds of bounds forward like a happy golden retriever, and the confident humor of the voice instantly demands attention. The pacing is great; it goes down like a 500 word story even though you used the full 1500 word count. I didn’t feel an urge to skim or tab away while reading. There are a ton of fairly quotable lines, too. I think my favorites are:
I close the door, turn around, and experience a multidimensional butthole clench that I only recently learned was possible when I see, on my countertop, a prettily wrapped box with a bow on it.
It feels like I’ve touched my exposed frontal lobe to a frozen pole all Christmas Story style because wrenching my gaze away leaves me feeling like I’ve torn my brain in half.
I think what drives this piece is the narrator’s sheer gently caress YEAH even when he’s more or less aware that he’s being manipulated by Voidmart technology. He’s not exactly a flag-waving company man, as such, but he knows that he has to play one and he does it with the gusto of a born shill. And from Void inc.’s perspective, he does everything right! Unfortunately, ‘right’ in Voidmart’s book is ‘morally repugnant’ in everyone else’s, and poor Patrick gets chucked down the long cornhole of a stairwell.
I only have one real criticism but it’s kind of a fatal flaw. As soon as Patrick is set loose in the hallways, it’s clear that he’s going on a gamified killing spree. Aaaand...that is where the momentum of the plot runs out of steam. Yeah he’s smashing his way through brand mascots, but there’s a low hanging fruit quality to it; like the story is nudging me in the ribs going “hey, hey, it’s that capitalism thing you’ve heard of, getting PUNCHED.” I think Jeff Bezos was officially the point of overkill for me. Bezos is a little bit like Elon Musk or Trump, who are themselves like a pungent fish sauce: a little bit in the pan will stink up your whole house, so you better be using it for a real good reason. They tend to overpower stories in which they appear.
I would have accepted a paragraph or so of mascot antics, but I think the story needed to do one more pivot before the end.
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 02:40|
You know what? I haven't written here in far too long.
Let's loving go.
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 03:29|
Your story involves a heist.
In, tactical engage me.
in, tactical advantage
In, Tactical Advantage.
In, with tactical advantage
In, tactical advantage
In, flash, tactical,
Your story features a child
no physical combat/fighting (though it may be threatened, or be near to it, your story never comes to blows)
In, decisively engaged, fog of war
Your story takes place at sea
In. Fog of War and Tactical Advantage please.
Your story includes a mother and a daughter
You know what? I haven't written here in far too long.
BeefSupreme fucked around with this message at 07:43 on Apr 23, 2020
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 04:02|
in, with a Fog of War
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 04:07|
Your story includes friends on opposite sides of a conflict
in, with a Fog of War
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 04:12|
WEEK 401 CRITS -- PART 2
Part 1 here, including explanation of my crit methodology, if you are curious.
Not all the rest will get so thorough a treatment, especially since I've got another week of judging incoming. Sorry about that.
Plot Summary: Alright, this is gonna take a minute… Triana Sixsmith is making a report to her superiors, The Sun and the Moon about the preparations for a ritual to repair/heal the planet. She is nervous, which her masters remark upon. They depart. Triana ruminates on the problem at hand, the New Gods, her interaction with Janar, and what was to come. She takes her place in preparation to begin, and awaits a signal from The Sun, which never comes. Instead, their enemy, the source of the disease infecting the planet, arrives, a terrifying sky-monster beyond description. Triana transforms from humble, nervous scientist into a gigantic math god-dragon, a form she keeps hidden so she can walk amongst her supplicants. She flies into the sky and attacks the demon, who responds by breaking her mind and crushing her skull. It is then revealed that she had been a weapon, trained by the creators of Ymir (the planet?), who had led a revolt against those creators, and led the people of Ymir into unprecedented prosperity and freedom, and intimacy between gods and men--as we learn moments later, the Enlightened age. Then Triana dies in a horrifying explosion.
Story Analysis: This is a story about the futility of progress--or would be, were it to end here. I can’t imagine that is your final intent. This is about the foolishness of those who believe in peace and prosperity. I suspect Ymir’s creators have something to do with plague on the land, given the current inhabitants came into their rule by wrenching it from the creators.
Triana Sixsmith has some conflicting characteristics (as CurlingIron pointed out, given she is apparently an immortal dragon-god. That she would be so skittish at the start is seemingly unbecoming from the person who apparently started a revolution and shepherded the Enlightened Age; not impossible, but strange, to be sure.
Commentary: Holy hell there is a lot going on here, and not in a good way. It’s kind of a bummer, because you’ve obviously got an imagination and a vision for this story, and there are some good bits. Unfortunately, it’s just really hard to read.
I get your desire to build the world and do so quickly, but it’s just way too much. It’s apparent you’ve put thought into this story, and there are some ideas in there, but it is really, really, really hard to keep track of all the details you’ve put in here. Too many new names, places, power structures, all in 1200 words. It makes the story incoherent, honestly.
I am curious as to whether Triana will return, if you expand this. Killing your protagonist at the end of the first chapter is definitely an option, but a tricky one. I need to know the stakes of what’s happening, understand her character, and the significance of losing her, all very quickly. And despite how much plot you’ve put in here, I’m not sure I do. I don’t understand her role beyond the ruler of this particular region, her place in the power structure, or what it means for her to die. If she does return, that’s also tricky… Creating relatable characters who are definitely not human is a challenging task. Perhaps that’s why you make her so nervous at the beginning, but it doesn’t really work for me because I come to learn that she is a god, and that makes me question why she would be so nervous.
I would really consider a change in tense for this story. When I read this line the first time, I was actually confused for a moment:
I had to puzzle this out for a moment, because I was reading what was happening in present tense in my mind, but the words are in past tense. It makes sense, but I think the past tense robs the action here of some of its immediacy. You want the reader to feel the panic in this moment, the tension and the intensity. Writing this in the past tense means the narrator is looking back on these moments, as opposed to putting us right in the thick of the action, as present tense might do. Just a suggestion.
That signal never arrived. Instead, the sky erupted
Your story is sort of a classic DM candidate: big ideas, competent writing, but it absolutely has to hit. This draft unfortunately did not. You have big ideas and this whole new world you want to communicate, and you actually have some really nice writing in here. The prose is ever-so close to being purple at times, but I think that is a function of the breakneck pace required by what you’re trying to squeeze in.
This reminded me, in content and ambition, of NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which is quite good. I would recommend you read that, if you haven’t.
Siddhartha Glutamate’s The Happily Hereafter
Plot Summary: The Narrator (not sure whether it’s a man or a woman, or what his/her name is, but I will use him/he pronouns for simplicity’s sake, and since I read it in that voice) finds himself in the afterlife, which is like the world’s longest DMV line. The (dead) people there, instead of talking, spend the time ruminating on all their personal screwups, and experiencing anxiety over what everyone else must think, even though they never actually see anyone they know. Everyone is waiting (they think) for judgment, at which point they will learn whether they are headed to Dis (a city in hell? I think?), or… Not really sure.
The Narrator then meets St. Nick, or, more accurately, a mall Santa Claus who is not yet aware that he is actually dead. His entrails are hanging out, and he is asking for the paramedics. The Narrator comforts him, and steers him to a help desk, where he will, hopefully, get some answers about his death. The lady there has no record of him, but Paul (our mall Santa) thinks that means he shouldn’t be there; he asks to speak to a supervisor. Lubinthe (the lady at the help desk) summons Helzberg, her superior, a 12 year old prairie girl with a sarcastic mouth. After some digging, she connects the dots that Paul is another mall Santa arrived from the 1990’s, with no records.
Story Analysis: This is a story about how people who are bored out their minds (lives? souls?) can barely be bothered to help their fellow man, despite having, apparently, more time than they could possibly fathom. The Narrator only does so because he doesn’t enjoy the prospect of being annoyed by Paul’s crying, in addition to his persistent boredom. This is also about how everyone hates Nazis, even if they have no context for understanding their existence, given the breadth of human life that exists in limbo.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what sort of themes this story is shooting for. Perhaps the goal here is explore the boredom of our existence, through the lens of this limbo reality--to turn the mirror on humanity, as it were. Perhaps the ambition here is just to have a fun little romp searching for the clues about The Great Mall Santa Disappearance of 94. Perhaps this is aiming to be an introspective look at The Narrator’s past life, and him looking to find redemption for some misbehavior, or just a pattern of average badness.
Commentary: The biggest problem with this story is that a story about the boredom of eternity is just… well… boring. There just isn’t much action. This is mostly dialogue, and expositional dialogue between characters, all to get us to the end point: a bunch of mall Santas are appearing in limbo with no records. I grant that you need to set up limbo, to let us know that Santa here is dead, as is everybody else, so that you can set up your central mystery. But you need to do so much more efficiently. This is the first chapter of a novel, so you’ll have plenty of room to expand on the setting; here in this first chapter, you just need to get me hooked to want to read more about it.
Either Chili or Curling mentioned that you have too many names for Santa, and I agree. I thought it was actually Santa Claus at first, because there is not enough clarity that it is just some rando mall Santa, and the pile of names you use for him does not help. Why shouldn’t it be the real Santa Claus, here in limbo? (Also, if Helzberg is aware that mall Santas have been showing up all over, why doesn’t she immediately recognize that might be what’s happening here? It sort of just seems like you wanted to give her more dialogue to show of her precociousness.)
The consensus between the judges, if I am remembering correctly, is that the first half was decent, but the shift to Mall Santa Mystery was a downturn in the effectiveness of the story. I believe that to be true. That isn’t because there is a flaw with the idea; I just think there is no momentum to the storytelling there. Like I said above, it’s a lot of whiny Paul dialogue with characters from different time periods.
I almost want to say this isn’t weird enough. I wonder if you just haven’t spent enough time on this yet; a lot of the weird limbo details seem a little half-baked, like the mention of Shakespeare’s theater. There are these little details like that which, in a more coherently constructed world, would be more flavorful, but as it is those details seem a bit random, and stick out negatively. The internal logic of the story doesn’t always hold up, and seems to take backseat to jokes, like Helzberg’s “Been dead longer than you.” That seems an odd piece of information, which nobody remarks upon, even though the Narrator has previously mentioned that time is funky in limbo.
The intro bit works better. You’ve got these ideas (which need more polish, but the seeds are there) about this limbo world, and the way that it reflects things about our own reality/lives. I didn’t fully understand the list of thoughts--were those thoughts people were having about him? Were they randomly selected thoughts? Not entirely clear. The setup makes it seem like they are his thoughts, or directly related to him.
This feels like something Don DeLillo would write. I would recommend reading some of his stuff; White Noise is a particularly good one. His brand of cynical satire would fit well with some of what you are trying to accomplish here.
Nethilia’s Songs of the South
Plot Summary: A young slave, Daniel, was caught using magic (forbidden to slaves) to remove worms from tobacco leaves, so the masters had him hung. Daniel hated touching worms, so he avoided doing so when possible, though his mother Vanna Mae warned him against doing so. Overseer Jacob and two mages came, subdued Daniel, and took him away. The next morning, Rosalee (our narrator, and as far as we know, mute) is told by her mother to either take the long way, or avoid looking at Daniel hanging by whatever means possible. Rosalee does so for four days, but eventually she cannot resist: she looks. He hangs there, bathed as if to absolve the white masters of their sin, with a paper of warning around his neck. His body is scarred with the marks of the mages, who hope to kill his soul by trapping it in his dead body, so that his magic will die with him (as they believe it belongs only to white folk). Realizing she has a moment of solitude, she frees his soul by singing. Rosalee, though to this point mute, actually is only hiding her voice, in order to hide her own magic. She will not use her voice, because she does not want to leave her mother like Daniel’s mother.
Story Analysis: This is a story about the cruelty of slave owners, and the lengths they will go to preserve their own power. This is about the self-deceptive tales (magic belongs only to white people) and the desperate rituals they cling to in order to convince themselves of their own righteousness and superiority (i.e. bathing Daniel’s body). This is about the cleverness and resilience of youth, as seen in our precocious narrator, Rosalee, as she discovers early in her life (I mean toddler early, as another crit pointed out) both the power of her voice and her need to hide it, for fear of the consequences.
The white folk in this story are prettied up, they live in the big house, they possess powerful magic, and they believe in their own goodness, but they could not be uglier or weaker, upon close inspection. Conversely, the slaves in this story (particularly Rosalee), despite all attempts to strip them of power and dignity, are ultimately full of both, and nobility on top of it.
Commentary: I must admit, the first 20 words of this story had me quite nervous. There are very few domers who could tackle such a sensitive subject, and when you’re reading in judgemode, you don’t see the author. So, I read this story with much trepidation, and it definitely spoiled my first read-through. Upon second and third readings, I liked this story much more, and obviously concurred in judgement with Chili and Curling.
The strength of this story, to me, is in the back half, with Rosalee and Daniel’s body. It is where we see her character burst forth, and declare to us her quiet heroism, in revealing the power of her voice and her life’s necessary deception. The strongest worldbuilding happens here, and this is a good example of worldbuilding within the context of the story, as opposed to pure exposition. We learn about this world, about the power structure, about the magic of the white masters and the black slaves, the injustice of the system, all within Rosalee’s experience of the present moment.
The same can be true of the first sentence, as well. It establishes much about the world very quickly: the perspective (a slave, which we can presume by the use of ‘massa’), the setting (plantation era, roughly), the power structure, and also, magic (and that it is illegal for slaves to use it). That’s a lot of stuff in… 11 words.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the first half was not as immediately compelling to me, though take that for whatever it’s worth. Perhaps just my own cautious reading is all it was. I also can’t figure a different way for you to structure this chapter, as the reveal of Rosalee’s voice relies on us believing her to be mute, and quickly. It all is necessary setup. So I don’t really have any advice here, and maybe you don’t need any--by the end, I was bought in, and that’s all a first chapter needs to do.
Rohan’s A Chance Meeting
Plot Summary: Vera Grenadier, a huntress (?), is on her way home when a radar alarm alerts her to the presence of another ship in sector. It is a USC Peacekeeper, hailing her for an inspection, despite their location in unoccupied space giving them no jurisdiction to do so (although, conversely, no oversight to prevent them from doing so). They prepare to board, and Vera’s defenses are not prepped in time to prevent them; she has no contraband, nor really any cargo of any kind, aside from Chester Garron of the Lucky Few (a famous… hunter? I’m guessing?), who she found, wounded (I think? Though Chester seems to think he was kidnapped). She prepares her sidearm to fight off the boarders, but then another ship comes to her rescue--a former classmate, Miles, as she will soon discover. Miles boards her ship, and Vera remains wary, but eventually convinces Miles to leave (though he does figure out that she’s hiding something/someone). After he leaves, Chester arrives in the cockpit, awake and in no mood to make friends.
Story Analysis: Trust no one. Seriously, you can’t trust the authorities, or your classmates, or the people you’ve rescued/kidnapped. Of course, this is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel. Don’t watch porn on the job, Vera. Her weapons aren’t charged, she’s mostly defenseless, and she’s going to have to resort to extreme violence (as it seems sidearms are a significantly powerful weapon?) in order to fend off these rogue ‘Peacekeepers’.
Given Vera’s seemingly basic tactical failings, I must conclude that either she’s gotten lucky to rise to second in her clan, or her clan sucks. She doesn’t even notice Miles in her sector, either, (nvm I just reread and she does see a second dot) and he quickly dispatches with the Peacekeepers, and boards her ship, and has her on her heels, despite him seeming to believe Vera is somewhat notable in the hunter world. She also either didn’t take necessary precautions in securing Garron. She’s bad at her job, I think.
Also, cops are dicks.
Commentary: I am a sucker for sci-fi, so this story had an advantage. Unfortunately, I think it mostly fails to deliver, which is more a matter of execution than of ideas.
I’m not sure what the big ideas of this story are/will be (I hope you know!), but I am not out on any of the world building here. It’s fine, though not exceptional. The problem is that too much is too vague, so I don’t know the stakes (and there are a couple of confusing bits, too, which I will get to). For example, what is a huntress? A bounty hunter? A literal hunter, like animals/monsters (as I am lead to believe by the description of the exploits of the Lucky Few)? An assassin? Not clear. I am also not super clear on the power structure as it relates to the Peacekeepers; it seems sort of like an Empire kind of situation? But what would the ramifications be of her killing (I’m guessing) three cops?
Confusing things: if her ship is “as small, light, and cheap as possible”, how can it also be “worth more than the gold that could fill it”? These seem directly contradictory. Is she saying that the ship is worth more to her? Or is she saying that her ship is actually incredibly valuable, as a tool, for it’s size and weight, and I should ignore the cheap bit?
Second confusing bit: is Chester Garron being kidnapped? This is actually a huge problem. I have no clue, and as a consequence the stakes of the story are all screwed up. My first reading is that she found him wounded, and is rescuing him, but if he is kidnapped, the presumption would be that she bested him and caused his wounds. The final bit hinges on my understanding the stakes here; if she actually kidnapped him, then she effed up and is now answering her own failed precautions. If she is rescuing him, this is all a big misunderstanding. Also, I don’t know whether she is a bounty hunter; if she is, am I to presume that Garron would be worth something to the Peacekeepers? Since she has no contraband, why is she not interested in the Peacekeepers boarding her? If she is just rescuing Garron, couldn’t she just hand him over to the Peacekeepers? Or, if he’s wanted, turn him in for the bounty? Or perhaps they would take him from her, and tell her to bug off? A lot of questions.
I also just think too much happens in this first chapter. There are like, three plot twists? None of which is bad on their own, but it all just happens very quickly. Since I have no pre-existing reference points to this world, you have a lot of world building to do, but more important is that I have a reason to care. The first chapter needs to get me there, and then you can worldbuild to your heart’s content.
Schneider Heim’s All is Fair in Love and Wrestling
Plot Summary: Hitomi Kisaragi, a girl of indeterminate age, stands outside of her girlfriend’s apartment with a box of doughnuts. She knocks, and is greeted by a very large, intimidating middle aged man, who gruffly invites her in. Kanako, the girlfriend, is in the kitchen. The man turns out to be Kanako’s uncle, Shinobu; he proceeds to grill Hitomi while they wait for dinner. Then they eat dinner, and Shinobu proceeds to grill Kanako. He then gives his gruff approval to the pair. Kanako and Hitomi then study for a while, and Kanako reveals that her Uncle Shinobu is actually a professional wrestler. She invites Hitomi to go watch one of his matches. Hitomi agrees, though she is not a fan of the violence. Kanako passes her exam, and they go to the wrestling match. Shinobu is wrestling against the champ, Testuo/Tatsuro Kazanari. He loses. Kanako has a great time. They visit Shinobu backstage; he is upset, but Kanako encourages him. He vows to win the championship in front of Hitomi and Kanako.
Story Analysis: Big scary men are actually really nice, under their gruff exterior? Pro wrestling is really fun, despite its appearance of brutal violence? Honestly, this is pretty thematically thin. Instead of focusing on the potential themes, I will give you a little more character study on how these characters read.
Hitomi: shy, and perhaps a bit sheltered from broader culture (outside of video games). She is new to pursuing women romantically, and despite having previously dated men, she is relatively sure (or at least very hopeful) that Kanako is The One. She is absolutely infatuated with Kanako, and actually declares that she is in love with her. It is unclear how long they have been dating (the implication, based on her having never been to Kanako’s apartment or met any of her family, is not long), but it definitely seems like she is out over her skies, as she actually is pretty uncertain of Kanako’s feelings toward her. Also, she is hoping to get laid? Feels a little incongruous with the rest of her feelings.
Kanako: Confident and capable, Kanako has been living on her own for a bit, despite her youth, a point of contention with her uncle. She definitely is reaching down to pull Hitomi up, as it’s not immediately clear what draws her to Hitomi. She is not shy about sharing her feelings about Hitomi publicly, despite not having previously shared those feelings in private with Hitomi, and despite Hitomi being nervous about coming out about their relationship. Hitomi is apparently not worried about the implications.
Shinobu: Big, strong, gruff… Tsundere, I think, is the term? Actually a warm teddy bear under his intimidating pro-wrestler exterior. Very straightforward and blunt, though perhaps not particularly self-aware.
Commentary: Honestly, I spent more time on the previous section than I should have. I’m not really sure this warrants significant analysis, because I’m not sure this is really a story for the written format. This reads like it’s actually supposed to be a manga or an anime. It is so full of cliches and tropes, exaggerated reactions, and is completely lacking in subtlety. I don’t really know what the purpose of this story is, and what it is even trying to set up.
I considered doing a line-crit for this story, because there are a lot of small stylistic choices that bugged me about the writing. I will still do this, if you want, though it will have to wait until after I finish all my other crits and judging for next week. An example, though:
Since Hitomi is in the room observing, you don’t need that. Saying she could tell implies that you will follow with how she could tell, but in this case, it’s because she is actually there.
Perhaps you intended this to answer the previous line, but there are two issues. One, you’ve got some busted grammar here. There are a few ways you could solve this: it could read any of the following ways:
A painting garnished the living room wall, a bright shooting star slashing through the darkness of the night.
The real issue, and why option 3 is the best, is that this sentence gives little value to the story. It doesn’t tell us enough about the apartment to give character to Kanako; similarly, we actually don’t know enough about the painting to derive any symbolic meaning from it (which it must have, because it sticks out as a detail). Another point in favor of a rewrite: the sentence(ish) as written attributes whatever value the painting brings to the painting, and not to Kanako; that is, The Painting garnishes, rather than Kanako having garnished her wall with the painting.
1. A painting of a bright shooting star, slashing through darkness of the night, garnished the living room wall.
My biggest issue is that nothing really happens; or rather, nothing happens of significance. There is a plot, to be sure, but there are hardly any stakes. Anything that might raise conflict is quickly quashed. Hitomi is concerned about revealing her and Kanako’s relationship; Shinobu (the only family of Kanako’s given any weight, by the story) doesn’t bat an eye. Kanako needs to study for her test; she passes. Shinobu loses his match; Kanako is not concerned, and encourages her uncle, who is momentarily bummed but then totally fine and utterly resolved. (I don’t know if pro-wrestling is different in Japan, and perhaps it is not fixed, though the story beats seem to indicate that it might be--in which case, there are no stakes at all.) Your end beat is flat, as well--of course she will see Shinobu again; she’s dating Kanako, who has made it clear that Shinobu is over often for dinner.
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 07:31|
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 16:18|
|# ? Apr 23, 2020 17:16|
Signups are CLOSED.
|# ? Apr 25, 2020 08:33|
To Win Her
Over the fresh carcass of the beast they’d slain together, Sinder stares with adoration at his betrothed’s blood-adorned face.
“Got something on here?” Cirra raises a mocking eyebrow. “Getting tired? I can row again.”
Sinder grunts. “You keep cleaning our wedding feast.”
She reaches into the water and wipes the blood off her brow. “Can do.”
They share a wild grin. For years, they had been brothers-in-arms, had hunted bigger and more dangerous game. Bounty hunters, bandits and other monsters had been brought low by them. But Sinder’s hardest challenge had been admitting to Cirra that his feelings had grown beyond collegial.
“Our night on the island…”, he begins, but she reaches across their prey and silences him with a soiled finger that tastes like victory. “Someone’s waiting on the shore.”
Sinder looks back and spots an imposing figure, an armored titan, white hair under high helmet, standing straight almost two meters tall, shouldering an undulating blade. To snap Sinder out of his surprise, Cirra has to touch his face again. “Keep rowing!”
On the beach, Sinder sinks a knee into the soft sand, leaving Cirra to pull the half-dressed corpse off the boat.
“Had a good hunt?”
“We bagged a good one, father.” Cirra tries to sound cheerful, but Sinder knows her too well.
Ascirros seems a steel tower about to collapse. “Do you know what comes next, Sinder?”
He looks back at his betrothed, but she just shakes her head.
“We got the roast, I paid the dowry. Next is…the wedding?”
Ascirros’s flamberge slams down next to Sinder, making sharp sand fly like Sinders of a bushfire in his face.
“You think you can wed a knight’s daughter without proving yourself?”
Sinder glances at the flame-sword. “You follow the code?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Cirra came with me on my feast-hunt.”
“I allowed her this breach, my right as father. You won’t get such leniency. Stand up, get your weapon, and we will fight for her as warrior code dictates.”
With shifting sand threatening his balance, Sinder gets up. He turns to Cirra – but she is next to him already. Presenting his sword and shield.
“How can you agree with this, Cirra? Shouldn’t this be your decision?”
“We both admire my daughter’s conviction”, Ascirros says. “But even the strongest wills cannot flaunt tradition.”
Said daughter nods tersely. In a stupor, Sinder takes his weapons.
“Now. Are you man enough to take my daughter from me?”
Sinder looks from Ascirros’s hardened face, the wrinkles like a dry canyon maze, to his betrothed, with rivulets of barely-dissolved blood still making a fierce mask. He makes a grimace even fiercer.
They face each other on the sand, weapons drawn.
“Man enough to kill me for her?” With this roar, Ascirros charges, flamberge lifted high.
It descends like an eagle on his prey, but misses Sinder by a centimeter, who has turned away and to the side. He brings his own sword up, a pitifully short affair compared to his opponent’s. But he slips on sand, and Sinder stumbles backwards. The flamberge shoots up in a diagonal arc, and Sinder barely manages to deflect it with his sword. The brutal force almost disarms him.
“Are you sure you got it in you, boy?”
Sinder grits his teeth. All for Cirra. He sees her stony face, the mocking grin on her father’s lips, and he jumps back, plants his feet and assumes a fighting stance.
The flamberge comes, and Sinder twists his stance, covers his side with the shield and lunges forward. His weapon deflects off an armored shoulder.
Only the face under the visorless helmet and some joints are open. Sinder will have to strike a deadly blow, or none at all. He disengages.
“Do you really want me to kill your father in front of you?”, he asks his love. Cirra answers with downcast silence.
“Start with an attempt to wound me!”, the old man yells, and Sinder has to dodge another wide sweep. “And stop questioning the simplest of traditions! You win, she’s yours. I win, you die!”
Sinder storms into the opening left by Ascirros’s last attack, to get into the greatsword’s range. Indeed, the unwieldy blade is trapped, and Sinder’s own shoots freely towards upwards. But this is not the first time someone has aimed below the old man’s belt; so Ascirros simply reverses his grip, and the flamberge’s pommel rams into his opponent’s kidney.
Through the sudden veil of pain and tears, Sinder desperately tries to focus, on Cirra, always Cirra, but he only sees the grinning face of her tyrant father.
And yet, he also sees a different face. Ascirros, laughing over a shared mug. The three of them grilling a whole pig, as the men mock a story from Cirra’s childhood. Later, with her fast asleep, Ascirros’ stern but gentle expression as he shares his struggle with Sinder. How his pride constantly wars with his fear of losing her. The tears the men both shed when they realize that this unites them.
How can this Ascirros be the one taunting Sinder now? A caring father upholding a tradition that Cirra would castrate Sinder for if he ever invoked it?
But does it matter, once Sinder has killed him? There is the opening he was looking for! Ascirros puts everything into a heavy overhead swing, expecting his expectant son-in-law to falter, but Sinder has finally started to understand the sand, and he uses it to buffer the blow when he brings up his shield with the perfect timing, bats the flamberge aside, and stuns Ascirros for that precious moment.
The sword shoots towards the eye that used to twinkle with pride and joy at his warrior daughter.
This moment of hesitation is all Ascirros needs to turn the fight. A kick to his stomach, and Sinder lies in the sand, and a blade comes to rest at his throat.
“You had me! Why stop? Do you not want my daughter?”
Sinder closes his eyes, and in the blackness her wonderful face flashes, fierce and proud and full of love he lost.
“Not enough to kill her father and my friend.”
“Surely, your father as well?”
His eyes shoot open, and Sinder sees the real Cirra bent over him.
“But I lost?”
“No, you passed her test.” Ascirros chuckles. “I’ll let her explain. See you at the wedding, son.”
Cirra helps Sinder up. Ascirros leaves inland with a jolly tune on his lips.
“Of course he doesn’t believe in blind tradition anymore. I beat that out of him long ago.”
“Then why this charade?”
“Because I’ve met many men who swear they admire my strength and independence. But once they realize what my freedom really means, they deny it to me. And they have a code to back them up.
“Because it would be against tradition for you to keep fighting.”
She nods. “The easiest of arguments. So I present them a father who reinforces this, gives them a simple way out. Just fight. For me as property.” Her spittle wets the sand.
“What if one of them won?”
“I stab them.”
Sinder desperately looks for a joke, but only finds steel in Cirra’s eyes. And realizes why she was so close to him right after he had thrown the fight.
He gulps. “Good thing I didn’t win then.”
“You did win.” She draws him into a kiss and an embrace that both take Sinder’s breath, and they sink onto the sand.
|# ? Apr 26, 2020 21:58|
It had been a long winter in Osaka, mused Yumie as her daughter hummed some unknown tune, arms out at her sides as she runs about the path. The Tokugawa had retreated to lick their wounds after forcing a surrender with the Toyotomi, confident that the war was finally over, unaware that he was already building up another force in secret. And to build an army, he'd taxed the people heavily. It had been hard enough staying unnoticed over the Winter, keeping their meager stores of food safe from bandits and samurai alike, let alone keeping Yukiko indoors all that time.
But the sun at her back was warm and pleasant, and a breeze picked up from the South. A break in the weather gave them time enough to pack their things and head east. The pottery in the case on her back shuffles gently with the promise of profit, and she thanks herself for teaching her daughter how to sculpt simple things to pass the time. They'd have to hurry, as the sun was beginning to dip down towards the trees, or they would have to sleep outside again.
Yukiko cries out from up ahead, the girl having pulled herself away from a toad squatting on the side of the path to tell her mother that she hears a river, and Yumie reminds her to stay close by. The roads weren't safe in times like this, after all. But the bridge comes into view, the soft stirring of the river's current a welcome sound, bringing a smile to her face. Yumie holds out her hand and Yukiko runs back over, holding on dutifully, body nearly turned completely to watch the river flow.
They held one another's hand as they begin to cross.
It doesn't take Yumie long to track the movement in the trees on the other side of the bridge, rustling branches adding to the river's song. She can see glints of metal in the gaps between branches. She stops, feeling Yukiko jerk on her hand before looking up to watch a man emerge from the trees, his broad shoulders carrying an odachi, a Toyotomi handguard polished and shimmering in the light of the sunset.
Other figures, less impressive, emerged from behind him. A man holding an infantry sword, this time embossed with the Tokugawa seal. A spearman, limping slightly on his left leg, using the wooden shaft as a walking cane. All of them had rotten smiles, spreading themselves to block the bridge as they walked towards the pair.
The spearman's limp keeps him in the rear. The swordsman's hands are shaking despite his smile, possibly starving after the long winter. This shouldn't take long.
Yumie kneels down and tells Yukiko to stay back, out of sight. With resolve, the little girl nods, heading towards the end of the bridge as Yumie unties her pack, setting it down gently, gazing back at those derisive sneers. She comes to her feet and grips her cane, eyes moving from leader, to swordsman, to spearman. She says a single word, the leader's eyes changing from sadistic glee to fury.
The leader's odachi is an unwieldy thing, leaving him exposed as Yumie tucks her shoulder in, and meets his charge with her own. Her shoulder hits him in the ribs hard enough to send him spinning, the charge breaking as her next step brings her to the spearman. His attention was on his boss tossed aside by the shoulder, not seeing the blade pulled free from its sheath until it had sunk into his ribs. She can feel the metal grind against his bone as it tears into his organs, a single thrust forcing the blade down to the guardless hilt. She lets the blade go, gladly accepting the spear from his hands as he clutches at his side, gasping for air.
The swordsman had barely any time to turn when Yumie had her thrust lined up, catching him just underneath the armpit, his cry of pain turning into a choked gurgle. She can feel the blade bite and catch, the muscles contracting, unable to pull it free as the leader rights himself and wheels to face her. She let the spear go, stepping away as he flails and falls to the ground, blood gushing onto the rough planks.
That massive figure barely pauses to step over his dead compatriot, his sword making a wide sweep aimed at her head, Yumie narrowly ducking out of the way as she feels the wind blow past her hair. She steps back, keeping out of his range, every footstep shaking the planks beneath her feet as she reaches into her sleeve and pulls out a dagger. A small thing, nowhere near suited for a fight like this. She can see the gleam in his eyes, victory assured as he uses both hands to line up a swing, ready to bring the blade down on her head.
His gaze changes from joy to horror when Yukiko's dagger sinks into his kidney, his body rigid in shock. He curses, letting his odachi clatter onto the planks as he reaches desperately to grab at her. She keeps her head low, her long dark hair just out of his reach, both hands gripping the blade as she presses in further, making him howl in pain. Yumie's blade slides upwards, passing through his ribs, puncturing his heart, the beat-beat-beat of his pulse throbbing in the handle, fading as the light drains from his eyes. He slumps. It goes quiet.
It's hard to explain to Yukiko why evil men exist. Why there were people who would prey on the weak. Or why people like Toyotomi would lie and steal from others, especially from their Shogun, who had graciously let him live.
Sometimes, Yumie explains as she pulls away a coinpurse from the leader's corpse, people just do not learn when taught.
Yukiko, however, wasn't one of those bad people. She'd taken her lessons to heart; staying out of sight, striking when the time presented itself, showing no mercy to the enemies of the Shogun. Yumie was proud of her, patting her on the head before cleaning her blade on the rags of the spearman, setting it back in its sheath. Yumie would have to tell the head of the Clan how brave she was on her first mission.
Once they had everything of value, they pushed the bodies over the side of the bridge, their lifeless figures flowing downstream and into the afterlife. Yumie prayed to the Buddha in their stead, hands in front of her face, head silently bowed, and Yukiko followed suit. Then, they were alone once again, Yumie picking up her pack of pottery and crossing the bridge.
They'd have to hurry to make it back to Iga. But at least the winter, and soon the war, would end.
|# ? Apr 26, 2020 22:44|
The Standing Stone
1243 / 1250 words
At nearly eighteen and captain of the school chess club, Carl felt too old to be fighting over a girl and too square to be fighting much for anything. He’d half-expected that meeting Maxim after school in the clearing with the standing stone would just be an embarrassing pantomime: they’d make enough clumsy swings for Maxim to get whatever it was out of his system and then sheepishly scuttle home, making up lies about where they’d been as if they’d sneaked out for a covert hook-up. He certainly didn’t expect Maxim to hand him a knife.
“Are you serious, dude?” asked Carl.
“Yes,” said Maxim, holding his own blade forwards like a dead-eyed fencer. “Fight me.”
Before Maxim moved school, Carl had thought that the two of them getting into a physical fight for Heather’s affections was all but inevitable. Always the three nerdiest kids in the class, he and Maxim had shared crushes on her since before they knew what that meant - and although their arguments and confessionals looked in retrospect like embarrassingly macho drama, Carl could remember how raw they’d felt at the time. When Maxim transferred to a private college for Sixth Form, Carl promised for the sake of their friendship not to go after her. A few months later, when he and Maxim had already drifted apart and Heather made it clear she was interested, Carl allowed himself to forget he’d ever said anything.
As Carl got to know Heather better, the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ he’d once made seemed increasingly absurd - just arrogant boys making proclamations about something they could never understand. Learning to love the real Heather made him realise that what he and Maxim had felt hadn’t been love at all, least of all love for a complicated human being. Still, the guilt of breaking his promise continued to gnaw at him - enough for him to agree to Maxim’s odd request, made after they’d run into each other for the first time in over a year, to finally “settle this like men” among the rusty cans and scattered needles in the woods behind the radio tower.
“Raise your weapon,” boomed a voice from behind him. Carl glanced at the ring of figures just past the treeline, encircling them like gladiatorial spectators. When Maxim had told him to come alone, Carl had assumed that meant both of them, but evidently his old friend hadn’t seen it the same way. From the way their prim scarlet blazers clashed uneasily with their greasy hair and stick-and-poke face tattoos, Carl could see how the students at Maxim’s new school had acquired such an odd reputation.
“Come on, Maxim, what is this?” said Carl, testing the weight of the knife that had somehow ended up in his hand. With a handle of spiralling steel and brass, it looked more like a fancy letter opener than a weapon. “If you wanted to LARP with me you could have just asked, man.”
Maintaining his duellist’s posture, Maxim began to close the distance between them. “You said you would fight me, Carl. So fight.”
Carl backed away. From the centre of the clearing, the carved standing stone watched over them like a mute referee. Carl knew the Victorian fake wasn’t as old as it looked, but still its presence unnerved him. “Not like this, man,” he said.
“What’s the difference?” called Maxim. At that moment Carl’s heel caught in a tree root and he stumbled backwards, only to find a firm palm against his back, holding him upright. Below it, he felt the prick of something cold and hard.
“This isn’t a choice,” said an unseen voice, then with a rough shove the speaker sent Carl staggering towards Maxim’s outstretched blade. Carl twisted his body to avoid impaling himself in the fall, only for Maxim to flick the knife out with his wrist, ripping his shirt and nicking the skin beneath.
“What the gently caress, man?” Carl shouted, dodging back towards the centre of the clearing, but Maxim didn’t give him time to think before lunging forward for another strike. Carl jumped out of reach, raising his own knife to contest the space between them. Is this really all about Heather? he thought. If Maxim had kicked the poo poo out of him, he’d have been hurt, but he’d have sort of understood it. All this was something else.
I might die here, he though. The realisation gave him clarity: suddenly he felt the way he did in the cold heat of a chess match, when the knotty concerns of his life became distant and nothing mattered except the board and the logic that ruled it - flat, geometric, bloodless. And this was a chess game, in a sense: if the space between them was the board, their blades were their best pieces, trying to find the position from which they could move in for the final blow. When Maxim played, he’d use his Queen to contest the centre, but only as a feint. The real attack would come from a flank. A second after he thought this, Carl spotted Maxim swinging his left hand in for a hook to the face. Stepping aside, he let Maxim’s momentum send him careening clumsily forward, then dashed him hard between the shoulderblades with the hilt of his weapon. Maxim staggered for a second but spun around, knife before him once more. “You’re holding back,” he said.
As Carl caught his breath, the pounding blood in his ears quietened enough for him to notice that the forest was no longer silent, and possibly hadn’t been for some time. The trees around them echoed with an undulating guttural chant in a language he didn’t recognise, that forced its way into his head and made the whole surreal situation feel almost like a dream. What on Earth have you got messed up in, Maxim?
Then Maxim lunged forward and Carl snapped back into the moment. Everything else would have to wait: all that mattered was the shape of the space between them, the unruly geometry of their thrusts and feints. Clocking the trajectory of his opponent's swing, Carl deflected the incoming blade with his own then stepped forward, forcing Maxim onto his back foot. Undeterred, Maxim tried to move in again, only this time he slipped, or maybe Carl flicked his wrist out just in time, but either way Carl found that the knife in his hand was lodged up to the hilt in Maxim’s chest, and blood was pouring out of the wound and running across his hand and spilling onto the grass between them.
The chanting erupted into a screaming crescendo and then stopped. Maxim slumped to the ground, coming to rest against the standing stone. Carl wondered whether it had always been that close, or if it had somehow moved when he hadn’t been looking to be sure it could soak in the spilt blood. Leaves crashed in the forest for a few seconds as the watchers left their posts, and then everything was silent except for Maxim’s ragged breathing and the call of a wood pigeon. Carl sat down next to his old friend, unhurt but dazed. The abstract state of mind he had inhabited during the fight was ebbing away, replaced by the crushing complexity of reality.
“What the gently caress do I do now?” Carl asked his friend, but got no reply. The trees around them looked like the bars of a cage.
Ceighk fucked around with this message at 23:17 on Apr 26, 2020
|# ? Apr 26, 2020 23:08|
The Incident on Vascon 9
My brother and I were near-exact opposites, despite sprouting from the same genetic stockpile. While I grew up big and quick, Throy was stunted, and preferred to study at a library terminal rather than compete with me under the Skydome. I had my own sort of cleverness, though. I figured out fast how to suss what Authority was really evaluating in the test sessions. But Throy was on another level. He always had projects going, stuff I never got a handle on. Maybe I never really tried. As I sat crouched behind the vent grate high up on the wall of his laboratory on the Vascon 9 orbital, I realized I should have.
His workspace was a mess of tubing and wires, bubbling iridescent cylinders, and steam sublimating off of freon pipes. It was impossible to tell the finished projects from the works-in-progress from the scrapped refuse. And there, in the middle of that chaos, Throy worked feverishly to connect a tank of orange fluid to a coiled copper mechanism. He was baldin, finally. It disgusted me. That imperfection. It was enough to tell me that his time had come. I was sent to arrest him, and if I couldn't do that, I had to kill him.
"You can come down, Kirion. I'm just about done," he called, not looking up. He knew I was there, of course. It was Throy, he had to know - knowing was what he did.
I slashed through the grate with my heatblade and dropped clumsily to the floor, smashing a crack into a wooden tabletop with my hip. Throy turned to me, smirking. I could feel my face flush - the fall hadn't hurt, thanks to sensory dampeners I had installed, but it wasn't graceful. All part of Throy's plan. He designed this whole orbital - he gave the room vents wide enough for me to fit as a path of least resistance, and put them high enough up for an unmanageable drop. The severely anachronistic wooden tabletop was a private joke, I had to assume. Throy always wanted to win as many little victories as he could, especially against me.
"That's a shame. I was hoping you'd go right through it. Maybe you've lost weight since last you accosted me, Kirion."
"I had to," I said, jabbing a thumb over my shoulder. "Authority scanned your vents as a little too small for me. An oversight." I tried to sting him. Normally he would flinch, but it seemed to roll off his back. Something was different about Throy this time. He smiled sadly and flipped a switch on the machine he'd been tinkering with. The copper coil began to glow and the orange liquid bubbled.
"Just like that? No speech?" As the words left my mouth, I could feel something was wrong. My voice sounded unnaturally deep, and slurred, as if my tongue and jaw had come disconnected somehow. Throy let his white coat fall to the floor, fluttering like a foulard on a riverbank. Underneath he wore a bodysuit of webbed black cables, interspersed with orange metal panels. It was a prototype, the chunky power packs jutting out on his back ruining the otherwise striking silhouette.
I had walked into a trap.
I pulled my heatknife from its thigh holster and flicked it towards Throy. He watched it leave my hand and pivoted in place, allowing it to sail past his chest like a slow-going barge. It melted through the far wall to the limit of its inertia, harmless. By that time, Throy had activated the power packs on his suit's hood and right arm. His left arm moved slowly, like mine, but his right arm gained a quickness as he moved to activate the other packs.
"I thought I'd save the speech for after the coup-de-grace, this time." He had no trouble speaking. I tried to rush him, but my legs could only begin to engage. "It's called a gravitron decelerator. Could you guess at what that means?" I had taken one step in his direction. With all of the power packs on his suit activated, he could stroll around the laboratory like nothing had changed.
"Nevermind. I don't want to wait that long. You were always a bit slow." He laughed, an arch guffaw. "Now your body matches your wits, Kirion!" I tried to change direction to face him, but couldn't properly account for my momentum and tripped over my feet. I tried to say 'You're under arrest,' but I only got as far as 'un--'
"I'm under arrest? Yes, I'm aware. I don't know why Sector Authority insists that you're the man for the job. You're perfectly predictable. But then, it's your personal quest, isn't it? You must know just what to say to convince them. That was your aptitude - just enough to be excused so you could get back to the Skydome," Throy said, smiling sadly. "You could never connect the dots, though. Authority kept you in line, made you play by their rules, and you thanked them for it. You play the rules like a twelve-string guitar. But they keep you tied. You can't become anything else but what they can imagine. It's sad, really. And it ends here."
Usually his speeches would give me time to make a plan, some way to surprise him with my speed. It worked last time, when he thought he had me cornered. It was Authority's internment officers that let him escape. My mind raced as I pulled myself to my feet, but without the physical advantage, I hit dead-end after dead-end.
And then Throy had a gun. A long-barrelled six-shooter, another anachronism. I could see his arm tremble - it was heavy for him. This was my chance. He'd given in to affectation, and it could be the opening I needed - the opening Authority needed. I initiated a leap, and as my legs flexed down, I opened a commlink and tried to accomodate for the slower working of my vocal cords. "Authority, destroy the orbital."
Before I finished the sentence, Throy had fired the gun, straight at my center mass. My feet left the floor as he wrangled with the recoil and tried to force the slowed mechanisms back into ready position. He aimed again, and fired at where I was going. He fired again and again, before the first bullet had even impacted. One of the bullets exploded out of the side of the barrel. "Vascon," he screamed. "Ready my escape pod!" I smiled as the first bullet pierced my shoulder, feeling nothing, ready for the searing light of Authority's Justice Cannon.
|# ? Apr 26, 2020 23:22|
Those Untouched By War
1545 words of 1550
Somehow, they know Orenda is being smuggled in through the border. I’d smuggled two dozen people through the Irin-5 Gate Station before Orenda, but I’d never seen anything like this. Two Unity military frigates, circling the refugee ship we’d come in on like vultures. When we exit onto the station, there’s Irin-5 soldiers everywhere, arms cradling shock rifles, decked up in mechanical-assist suits and body armor. They stand everywhere in the terminal, looking just as metallic and inhuman as the chairs and the cleaning robots. Maybe they expected Orenda to be escorted by a brigade, but it’s just me and Atsila.
Atsila is just a girl, but she’d seen the war back home. There’s an underground group on Irin-5 taking in orphans like her. I’d forged her paperwork, but this security wasn’t about her.
“Are they going to start shooting?” Atsila asks me. I feel her hand tighten on mine.
“Everything is going to be okay,” I tell her.
You shouldn’t lie to her, says the voice in my head. She’s just trying to figure out if she should be ready to run for cover.
That’s Orenda. Former Hathka government agent. Unity wasn’t technically part of the Hathka War. They just were responsible for the trade embargo. Hathkans were inherently dangerous to galactic stability, you see. They had to be contained for their own good. They were all supposed to stay on their own planets and die properly.
It never sat right with me.
And that’s why I chose you, Micael, Orenda tells me.
There are two ways to transport the neuro-imprint of someone’s brain. One is with fancy medical equipment. That’s the legal way. The other is to plug their neuro-imprint directly into your own brain. That’s what I’d done. There’s a partition between our minds that keeps her from controlling my body, and me from reading her memories. I don’t know why it works that way, but it does allow thoughts to go back and forth. That’s why Orenda already knows I’m entirely unprepared for the new security protocols ahead of us.
Keep walking as if nothing’s wrong. We don’t want to draw attention.
I know that much. I hadn’t made the eight trips back and forth through war zones and warp gates by being a total rube. What has me worried is the new bioscanners they have set up. Millimeter wave scanners don’t detect the neural-imprint that’s been surgically inserted into my body. But these things will find the synthetic gray matter spiraling around my spine. Maybe they won’t know it’s Orenda, but they’ll know I’m smuggling someone.
“Dad,” says Atsila. “Those soldiers up ahead look different.”
That’s our cover—father and daughter. Atsila plays her role well.
She’s right, Orenda thinks. They’re wearing black clothes, sleek body armor, and mirrored visors. Those are ballistic rifles. And those are Unity Home Security uniforms. They aren’t looking to take prisoners.
Home Security, a hundred light years from their home. It disgusts me that Irin-5 allows these foreign agents in their territory, but I get it. No one wants to feel the wrath of Unity.
They stand just beyond the silver pillars, as unnatural with their single shining eye as the white plastic façade of the room “How strange,” I say, and with my pinky finger, I draw a symbol in her palm. Atsila squeezes my hand twice to let me know she’s gotten the message. She’ll be ready to dive for cover or start running if the moment comes.
When, Orenda says. I’ve seen how these stakeouts end before. I’ve been on the other end of them. If you give me control…
There are five of them that I can see. With the mirrored visor, I can’t tell if they are looking at me.
There’s plainclothes agents mixed in. If we’re going to survive this, I need control.
I can’t see who she’s talking about, but I keep the partition up. There’s a chance the bioscanners don’t pick up the implant. I don’t want to lower the partition. I’ll risk my life on my own terms. I like people, but I don’t trust them. It’s kept me alive this long. And it feels better. If you don’t trust people, they can’t hurt you.
We’ve trusted you with our lives. Trust us.
I ignore Orenda. It’s gotten easier to do with these weeks of travel. But as we walk forward, a swelling chill consumes me. It seems like a hundred eyes watch us as we approached the bioscanners. The noise of the milling crowd fades. I can’t find the plainclothes officers Orenda says are hiding. I can’t see a way out. I’m trapped. Prey. I’ve never felt like this before. None of my other trips have gone this wrong.
You’re worried about Atsila, Orenda knows.
If it comes to shooting…
It will. She knows it already. You don’t know it because you haven’t lived through war like we have. That’s why you can’t see the hidden officers. I don’t have time to describe them and point them out. The bioscanner is almost in range.
I let the pressure off of Atsila’s hand. I hadn’t realized I was squeezing it. Orenda’s right. She’s stoic, despite it all. I wonder how many death’s she’s seen with her own eyes.
But I still resist. This is my body. My life. If I bring down the neural partition, Orenda might be able to wrest control of my body permanently. How can you know for sure that the person you’re trusting won’t let you down? My husband had done that. I still remembered walking in on him, on feeling that twisting knife in my gut when I realized what he’d done. I’d healed, but—
You didn’t heal. You might not.
Stop, I think back.
You never can know for sure. You just decide to trust them. It’s the most terrifying thing in the world.
And why did you want to leave? I think at her. Hathka trusted you, after all. Haven’t you betrayed them?
There’s silence in my mind as we pass between the bioscanners. I try to keep my head high, my face passive, but the visors all start turning to look at me. Some fancy feed on their HUDs is lighting up and saying this guy. This one isn’t right. But they can’t know it’s Orenda.
But as I see a finger curling around a trigger, I realize they don’t care. I’m just some criminal to them, not a person.
I joined the war because I was an idealist. Still am. But after all these decades, there’s no ideas being fought for anymore. Hathka forgot that it was about people. Their people.
Slowly, their weapons are coming up.
So maybe if all the people who don’t want to fight anymore leave, there will be nothing left to fight over. Or maybe the war just follows us. But I had to try running.
Panic rises in me.
For the sake of all the Atsilas who deserve better.
I close my eyes and throw down the neural partition.
Locked away in thought, away from my body, I feel the tension that was twisted in my every fiber release. I feel my hand—under Orenda’s guidance—squeeze three times on Atsila’s. My eyes open.
I see them now, the way Orenda does. Her eyes that had spent years deciding if someone was friend or foe don’t know it by thought, but by instinct. There’s a plainclothes officer, a man, reaching for a pistol, but he’s close. Too close.
When Orenda moves toward him, it’s not the way I move. Instead, we’re a serpent made of water, uncoiling.
Atsila runs and dives behind the silver bioscanner pillar, and she’s behind it as my hand closes around the man’s wrist, twists, and takes the pistol. There’s rifles coming up, pistols being drawn, but Orenda is too fast. I feel the recoil of the pistol in my hand over and over like an avalanche. A half-century of training, of twitch reflexes, of war, all brought to bare on this moment. Orenda’s done firing before the screaming starts.
The Unity agents fall to the ground, red-splattered. Five of them, armor unblemished, faces torn up by hollow points. Four others, too, who are so obviously agents I can’t imagine how I didn’t realize it before, pistols fallen out of their clammy hands.
Orenda feels an intense disgust at them. They were never touched by war, she tells me. They just preyed on the innocent and thought that made them soldiers.
“Atsila,” she says. “Run with me.”
They both stoop to pick up rifles as they run. I feel sick seeing Atsila’s scrawny arms clutching the gun, but I realize this isn’t the first time she’s held one.
There’s shouting behind us. Shouting ahead of us. The war is here now. Maybe now that it’s touched this place, the people here will understand. Maybe not.
So Orenda runs, and I hope with all my heart that my trust in her was right. As I see Atsila running, something about the look she’s giving me, giving Orenda, gives me the crazy idea that my trust wasn’t misplaced, and maybe together we’ll escape this war.
For now, I watch, and hope, because sometimes, that’s all you can do.
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 02:19|
i'm halfway through my story and i feel like quitting so here's a late
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 03:08|
"I will host this brawl," I said. "I will judge it!" And then worms ate my brain, and also the world incidentally exploded, and it was not judged. In this strange aeon, this will be corrected.
Both stories this week were solid efforts for a weird prompt. arbitraryfairy's piece suffered from a touch of lack of focus and clarity, as often happens when writing about dream topics; cptn_dr, on the other hand, skewed the other way, delivering a horror piece that felt a little stodgy and conventional. I applaud both entrants for their entries, but arbitraryfairy wins.
Detailed crits on request! It's been a while, and my brain is still full of these goddamn worms.
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 03:46|
Troy walked onstage, grabbed the mic away from the lead singer, and shouted into it as everyone in the room covered their ears: “Hey, I’d like to dedicate this next one to my friend Jai, who’s not going to leave this place alive.”
He pointed right into her face, sitting alone at a table with her drink. Everyone was already running out of the room, panicking and screaming and then slapping their hands over their mouths, but Troy kept going. “This is now an Accelerant production, so I’d suggest that anyone who doesn’t want to go deaf or mute for the next month should get the hell out.”
He waved goodbye to the crowd shoving themselves through the exit doors, then held his hand out to Jai. “Feel free to sing along to this one--”
The air in front of Troy rippled, and he fell backwards, knocking the mic to the floor, where it let out a high pitched squeal. The unmanipulated sound energy streamed out through the speakers in thick currents. Jai dropped her tuning fork on the table and shot both hands out in opposite directions, trying to catch the sound waves. She needed to finish this quickly, or this would get ugly.
She stuck her hands out in front of the streams of sound, then brought them together and flexed her muscles. The sound energy surged from her palms, making the air distort as it shot towards the stage, blasting a hole through the grey curtain hanging over the back wall. Particle board signs stating NOISE MUST NOT EXCEED 70 dBs fell to the floor, ragged edges fluttering.
Troy stood up from behind the drum kit.
“Take that peashooter they gave you and stick it up your rear end,” said Troy, twirling a drumstick in his fingers. He held the stick over his head, paused, then brought it down. “Then listen to this.”
Jai lunged back to the table, reaching out for her tuning fork, and then the breath rushed out of her lungs. The ratatat of the snare drum knocked her back, sent her skidding across the wood floor, through the sawdust and cigarette butts. She convulsed, then rolled over to the side, just dodging a flying metal chair propelled by the noise of the kick drum. Troy was whaling now, sticking his tongue out, performing the world’s worst drum solo with one hand and hurling the noise in her direction with the other. She huddled behind a knocked-over wooden table, watching raw sound cut swathes through the air. The sight almost hurt worse. Like watching someone take a flamethrower to a library.
About as subtle as bare-knuckle heart surgery, thought Jai. She held a hand to her chest, struggling to breathe. The air felt thick and deadly.
Then the sound stopped.
She peeked over the edge of the downed table and saw Troy take another couple whacks at a cymbal. It vibrated and shook, but made no noise. He tossed the drumstick in Jai’s direction, and it hit the floor without clattering.
Jai ducked down, crawling towards the bar at the back of the room.
“We can do this all night, J-Bird,” said Troy, picking up a lime green guitar and hanging the strap over his neck. “I’ve got a whole backup band on my side, and I’m tired of slow dancing. You came here to take me out, so either die mad about it or take me out.” He grinned. “I know you won’t.”
He raked a clawed hand over the fretboard, grabbed the screeching sound out of the air and shotputted it in Jai’s direction. She scampered behind the bar just before it hit, wood splintering off the bar’s corner, stools and half empty glasses flying. Jai sat with her back against the rack of well liquors, breathing heavy. She didn’t want to do it this way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be, Jai,” said Troy. He clawed at the guitar strings again, and the air convulsed. Tables and chairs scattered away from the stage. He pointed the neck of the guitar at her like it was the barrel of a rifle. “We’re growing stronger every single day. The Preservationists are going to lose, and you can’t change that. Come out and die with some dignity.”
Jai shut her eyes, anger building inside her.
She thought back to them walking through the forest, shoulder to shoulder, right after the rain had fallen, nature throwing a heavy coat over every noise, every snapped twig, every leaf trembling in the wind, every bird calling through the overhanging tree branches. Troy knew every birdsong there was to know, the robins, the cardinals, the bluejays.
Jai pictured the tree limbs breaking, splinters of mossy wood slicing through the sky, leaves and flowers crumbling in an invisible hand, birds taking flight away from danger, their throats slit with knives made of air, songs fallen silent.
Okay, thought Jai. Okay.
She stopped herself from screaming.
She stood up, a bottle of Triple Sec in her hand.
“What--” said Troy.
Jai smashed the bottle against the bar’s edge, the noise of broken glass ringing in her ears.
She grabbed a fistful of sound and threw it behind her, then ducked down.
“Hey, wait--” said Troy, striking down with his right hand against the guitar’s fretboard. The guitar strings rang muted, flat.
Bottles shattered one after the other, the mirrored back wall spider-webbing, wooden shelves breaking, a cascade of sound upon sound upon sound, a match thrown into a field of grass. Bits of glass rained down into her hair, blood ran down her forehead, and raw, deadly sound piled up behind her.
“Jai--” shouted Troy.
She reached her hands behind her, held on tight, and threw them forward.
There was a sound like the world’s largest lightbulb exploding. She slammed against the bar ribs-first, and the edges of her vision turned black.
The barroom lights went out, and everything was silent.
Troy was crumpled up at the edge of the stage, the neck of the guitar twisted and bent underneath him, his right leg bent in a similar way. He was crawling towards the front of the stage, trying to find the tuning fork she’d left behind. She glided towards him over the fragments of glass and wood, making no sound.
He looked up at her as she approached. “Jai,” he said. “Join us. The Accelerants--we need people like you. We’re winners. We--rrrrgh--we--I don’t know where you learned how to do that--” He arched his back, pain spasming through him.
“Sound is made to destroy, weapons all around us, weapons for the taking, and you need to be on our side, please, Jai, we need--” He stopped as she took the words right out of his mouth.
“Troy, I’m sorry,” said Jai. Her hand pulsed with his dying protests, and she flung them towards the ceiling, towards the emergency sprinklers.
Water sprayed down, a gentle hissing descending on them both, collecting on her upturned palms.
Jai held them over his face, watching the sound fill his throat.
She saw him struggle, convulse, fight to breathe, then lay still.
The water kept coming down.
She could scream, sob, break things, or she could simply stand in the dark and listen to the beating of her heart.
No one would hear them, either way.
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 04:09|
The crowd is here for me. I can’t see the signs or the t-shirts, and I can’t make out the yells, but I know what they’re chanting.
They’re doing the gesture like they always have. Fist clench, arm drop. Classic. Timeless. Me.
My engorged biceps make flinging The Flamboyance about an easy task. Yeah, he might be working with me, but I launch him into the ropes like a ragdoll.
He whirls back at me and flashes fire in the arena. The crowd knows what’s next: The Hammerfall. We’ve been dueling for three minutes and they’re anxious, anxious for justice. They’re ready to see their old hero take out this hotshot kid who knows nothing about the show.
I curl my arm into an L and admire my studly muscles, giving them my signature approving kiss. I feel the tap on my shoulder and in seconds, I’m on the mat, I put myself down there after a bitch slap and a nipple tweak from The Flamboyance. He whips his head around and a strand of his stupid white-boy dreadlocks catches my lips. Chemical product pools on my tongue as I taste the product he’s shoved into his scalp to get whatever ‘look’ he’s going for just right.
I lie there and watch. I watch him climb the turnbuckle and try to rouse the crowd behind him. Piteous approval, that’s all it is, as they roar and applaud a little kid who is outclassed by a consummate professional. They know, just like I do, what’s about to happen. But The Flamboyance, he’s clueless.
He turns his back on me; step one in The Razzle Dazzle, and begins his complicated dance move atop the corner of the ring. I know what’s supposed to be next, a backflip into a landing grapple that twists me into a pretzel. He’ll call back to this sequence later in the fight, conclude it, and thus The Razzle Dazzle will give birth to wrestling’s next big star. A star born in my ashes.
I launch to my feet, grab him by the thighs, and toss his orange and pink panted rear end to the ring. He’s up as quickly as he fell and he dives at me, pulling me into a grapple.
“This really gonna be a shoot match, old man?” he whispers.
I show him what kind of match it's gonna be. I grab him by his dreadlocks and flip him over my shoulders.
He lies there for a moment, and I’m ready for him to run from the ring, crying foul. Now’s my time to give the people what they want. I climb the turnbuckle and raise my arms, ready to bask in the crowd’s welcoming of their hero. I warm up my biceps and prepare The Hammerfall.
Jeers. Boos. A coke can whizzes past my ear. I squint through the lights and see scowls and small children yelling and screaming. At me. The Hammer.
I’m lifted off my feet and feel myself fly backward through the air. My experience saves me but I still land awkwardly enough on my hip to send pain shooting through my spine.
“Get up, old man!” The Flamboyance yells as spit flies from his mouth. He’s seething, undisciplined, and ready to get his rear end kicked.
The pain can’t keep me down. I handspring back up and launch my right leg up toward his neck. He ducks, sweeps my left leg, and puts me on my rear end.
He’s fast. Faster than me. I can’t beat him this way. I punch the ground and grunt as I stand back up. I reach my arms out and dare him to come back for more. He does. He charges at me and grabs my shoulders. I grab him right back. Suplex time. I tighten my abs and hoist upwards. He shimmies free, spins around toward my back, and launches me out of the ring.
The crowd roars in approval. My crowd.
I look up to the ring and see the X marking the side where I know a chair has been strategically placed for The Flamboyance. Lucky me. I reach in and grab it and use it to help prop myself up. More boos. I’ve lost my crowd. If I’m going down, I’m not getting written out like a chump.
The Flamboyance looks down at me and smirks. He brushes his dreadlocks out of the way and points to his neck. I see something I hadn’t ever noticed before, an X made of hammers. My logo. The very logo on my classic red trunks. He nods at me and reaches down through the ropes, extending his hand.
I drop the chair and grab it. He hoists me back up, over the ropes. I land on my feet and turn to look at him.
“Let’s make it loving count, huh?” he says to me.
I wind up and go for a series of face slaps, but it’s a show again and they only connect just enough. He sells it and stumbles through the ring, regaining his composure with each step. I fly back into the ropes and rocket towards him with a clothesline. He slips under it and reverses me into a ground armbar pin.
“One!” screams the ref, as he pounds the floor next to my head.
“Get up, you old son of a bitch!” The Flamboyance hollers at me.
I kick out, spring up, and revel in the jeers from the crowd. They’re all in on this, each and every one of them. They need a hero.
I slam my foot into The Flamboyance’s back and send him careening into the ropes. A move of no significance to the crowd, but sends a clear message to my opponent, we’re back in the sequence. He brandishes a menacing smile and nods. I swing him into the corner, propel myself at him, and he dodges at the last second, leaving me crumpled, facing the crowd.
I know what he’s doing behind me, and I don’t get, or need, to see it. The callback to The Razzle Dazzle. I keep my eyes on the crowd, watching as a new star is born. The admiration on their faces and the roars of approval are still mine to share for only a few moments more as The Flambloyance scoops me up, heaves me over his shoulder, and sends me down.
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 04:12|
Virtue & Vitriol
Sigrid rowed slowly. Curling blankets of mist parted as the canoe moved forward through the cool, dark, water. Elof coughed at the rear of the canoe. He was bundled in furs, struggling with fever he had took on prior to Ulfgar the Great Wolf’s siege of their home.
Nearly spanning the length of Elof’s frail body was a long-hafted axe called Vithar, and it had been coated in more than one man’s blood. Even so, the silver filigreed head of the axe glinted in what little light hung over them in the clouded fjord.
Then the bird songs, sparse though they were, ceased altogether, and the fish streaming past the canoe were nowhere to be seen.
Sigrid’s breath began to show as the mist became so dense that only the water surrounding them was visible.
In the distance there were small ripples forming where the mist cleared off the water. Just beneath the surface of the water, pressed against it but not breaking through, something began to inch forward.
A wild sprawl of ink like hair contrasted against the pale flesh of a nude, elderly woman became visible. Its spine flattened and its arms and legs outstretched as it skittered towards the canoe on the underside of the water.
Sigrid reached for Vithar and stood at the center of the canoe feet on either side of her brother Elof. The canoe glided forward as the water hag made her presence known.
Staring up at Sigrid were two hateful, pitch-black beads stuck in sunken in jaundiced eyes that were glossed over with the sheen of death. A long-crooked nose with slack, water-logged skin twitched as a centipede broke its way free of a nostril and floated up towards the surface the water. Rotting and broken teeth made for a gnarled grin of decaying fangs in receding grey gum.
Sigrid’s heart was in her throat. She wanted to scream, but she tightened her grip on Vithar and kept her eyes on the hag as the boat drifted through the straight.
The hag opened her mouth and creeping rot bubbled out from it exploding into disconnected words on the surface of the water.
“Children… blessed of… Baldr… Hel awaits.”
Sigrid grit her teeth and raised Vithar overhead but the hag vanished, dispersing into worms and leeches in the water.
Sigrid lowered the axe slowly and got settled back alongside her brother Elof and took up the oars once more.
* * *
The inlet eventually let out into a forested clearing that led deeper into the mountains, but small columns of smoke and the scent of cooked meat promised signs of civilization. They had rested along the shore of the clearing until Elof had enough strength to travel on foot, and then they set off.
Warm sunlight diffused through the snow-burdened branches of massive pines and thin ice crunched underfoot.
The scents of a camp were drawing closer.
“Where are we headed, Sigrid?”
“To the East.”
“But where will we go? What are we to do?”
“We head East, away from Ulfgar’s conquest. Away from all of this.”
“But why? For what reason? Our parents are slain, our home destroyed, why must we go on?”
“Mother demanded it. She said ‘Sigrid, guard your brother’s life with your last breath, go East. Protect the Pure Dawn’.”
“Not this prophecy nonsense again, we’re not special Sigrid. We are refugees. Victims of a senseless war! Not some heroes of old–”
Elof’s protestations were cut short as he and Sigrid came across an empty camp. Flames from a waning fire still licked the underside of a spit-roasted boar. There were knapsacks and provisions left unsecured, out in the open.
Before either Elof or Sigrid could act, brigands, hiding in the surrounding trees, came out with notched axes and rusted swords.
Elof stepped nearer his sister and Sigrid unslung Vithar from its housing on her back. She flourished the large axe spinning it once across the front of her body before planting its weighted iron end into the frosted soil.
“Well, well, well… look at what we have here.” A bold bandit said stepping forward. His skin was pockmarked and covered in a layer of grime. He was missing more than a few teeth and had jagged ridges of smoothed flesh where an ear used to be.
Elof spoke up, “We don’t want any trouble… we’re just refugees. Our home was destroyed by Ulfgar, we are just looking for a village to lodge in.”
Some of the other bandits laughed.
“Ay, lad. Most people don’t want trouble, but it’s found you.”
“We…we’ll give you everything we can spare, but please just let us pass.” Elof continued from behind Sigrid.
He fell into a coughing fit then and braced himself against Sigrid who eased him towards the ground as he tried to regain his breath.
“Just a sick boy and a little girl. Easy pickings, eh Olaf?”
Olaf, the leader of the brigands had been silent during the encounter. Sigrid identified him immediately and he had been the one she issued challenge to.
While Elof pleaded and the others slavered at the prospect of violence, Sigrid had engaged in a silent duel with their leader.
Sigrid’s sharp green eyes met Olaf’s and the dispassionate glares they shared carved out a battle bloodier than either of them had expected.
While others looked on at two helpless children, Olaf saw a battle-hardened warrior serving as ward to one helpless child.
He saw in those calm eyes, heads crushed under pummeling blows from the blunt end of an axe too unwieldy for the girl using it.
He saw limbs severed, and throats rent open into crimson geysers as the specter of death itself hovered over the girl in her berserk approach.
He saw himself, overwhelmed, Sigrid burrowing her feet into his chest, biting into her lips until blood beaded up at the corners as she burrowed her axe into his skull, the iron biting through the bone, finding purchase in the soft grey matter.
Olaf felt fear staring at Sigrid.
“Let them pass.” He finally said, weakly like a whimpering dog.
Sigrid pushed past the bandit using Vithar like a walking staff, and Elof followed behind her looking back at the bandits who grouped around them like a pack of wolves.
Olaf spoke again with thunderous authority in his voice. “Let them pass!”
Then softly, almost inaudibly, he said “Hel awaits those two.”
And Sigrid and Elof continued East.
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 04:47|
|# ? Dec 1, 2020 12:38|
Flash: Nobody dies
The Queen’s General
General McClafferty was cornered. Behind him, through the airship’s open door, was nothing but empty sky. In front, a circle of raised musket barrels. He clutched the royal baby tighter to his chest.
“Hand her over,” said rebel Captain Bearston. “And we’ll give you a clean death.”
McClafferty slid his hand into his breast pocket. Bearston jerked forward and raised his sword. McClafferty paused, then slowly withdrew a small silver flask. It was engraved with the royal crest and dented from the bullets it had stopped over the years.
“Surely you’ll let a man have one final drink?” he said, unscrewing the cap with his thumb and forefinger.
The Captain nodded, but didn’t lower his sword. His shirt was soaked with blood and sweat; McClafferty had not gone down without a fight.
McClafferty raised the flask to his lips and let the liquid fire run down his throat. He looked down at the baby. The heir was tightly swaddled in green and gold, the colour of the Queen’s livery; and her eyes. The last time McClafferty had seen those eyes they had been full of tears, but the Queen’s lips had naught but quivered. That woman never gave up, and neither would he.
McClafferty checked his grip on the baby’s wrappings, smashed his fist into the nose of the nearest rebel scum, and jumped. The wind whisked a single tear from his eye as he took a last look at the majestic HMS Loyalty. Then he punched the remote detonator, twisted in the air and dove.
He heard the boom of musket-fire over the roaring wind and gritted his teeth as hot lead bit his calf muscle. Nothing a dram of whiskey won’t fix, he thought, glancing down to make sure the babe wasn’t hit. He scanned the vast woodland below, looking for a landing point. The Queen and her retinue were down there somewhere--
Captain Bearston slammed into McClafferty’s ribs, knocking the baby from his arms. The two men locked together and tumbled through the air. As the azure expanse flashed past, McClafferty saw the rest of the brigands escaping the doomed airship. They buzzed into the sky with black silk wingsuits stretched taught between splayed arms and legs.
McClafferty grappled Bearston, pulling him in close enough to smell the man’s breath; sour cabbage and disloyalty. The rebel Captain saw his opportunity and his eyes went wide. McClafferty grinned, showing his teeth, and let Bearston close his fingers around his muscular neck. The wind roared in his ears as Bearston pressed his thumbs against his windpipe. McClafferty tucked his knees to his chest, gritting his teeth through the burning pain from his wounded calf. He planted his feet and with an explosive roar ripped the would-be murderer’s fingers from his throat and sent the Captain hurtling into one of his minions. The two rebels flailed, desperate to separate from each other and re-engage their wingsuits.
McClafferty turned to face the onrushing forest and felt his blood turn to ice. The bundle containing the Kingdom’s last hope was a bright dot against the dark pinewood. Two more of the rebels were diving straight for her, like arrows pointed right at the Queen’s heart.
McClafferty fumbled for his pistol. The holster was pinned beneath the straps of his parachute. He wrestled with the heavy fabric of his uniform, but he couldn’t free the leather straps that held the pistol snug to his side.
McClafferty’s hands were shaking. The rebels were closing on the infant. He was falling slower than they were and his pistol may as well be a thousand miles away. He thought of his Queen’s eyes, full of tears. There was nothing he could do, nothing--
The explosion ripped open the sky and the shockwave punched General McClafferty in the chest like the fist of a giant. The roar and heat followed a moment later as the HMS Loyalty was engulfed in an enormous fireball. McClafferty hurtled though sky as the rebels struggled to control their wingsuits. He was accelerating towards the ground, and there, just beneath him, was the princess.
McClafferty stretched out his arms, fingertips reaching. He could hear the baby crying from inside her protective wrapping. A tuck of gold fabric tore free, and with a lunge that felt like it might tear his shoulder from its socket McClafferty grasped the flapping fabric and hauled the baby to him. With his arm tight around her and the deadly tips of the trees now clearly visible beneath his feet McClafferty yanked the ripcord of his parachute. He gasped as his weight slammed into the harness. Winded and steering with only one arm, McClafferty sent them spiralling into the forest below.
Pine needles stung his cheeks and branches whipped his sides as they crashed through the canopy, McClafferty’s body curled tightly around the baby. The parachute snagged in a treetop and McClafferty jerked to a swinging stop, his toes a metre above the ground. Snapped branches crashed into the undergrowth followed by a rain of torn leaves. Then the forest fell silent, save the creak of McClafferty’s harness as he swung gently back and forth.
The infant princess’s eyes were wide and her cheeks were frozen. McClafferty huffed on his fingers to warm them and then pressed them against the babe. She wriggled and screwed up her face, then with a mighty inhale she opened her mouth and let out a wail fit to wake the dead.
“Shhh, hush,” McClafferty whispered at her, glancing around the dimly-lit tree trunks. The baby ignored him. Grimacing at the feeling that his harness was about to cut his legs off, he held her out and tried a few experimental bounces. High in the tree above him something cracked and he dropped half a metre closer to the ground. The sudden drop shocked the princess into silence and she gave McClafferty a wide grin.
“That’s better, good baby,” he said. With his uninjured leg he pushed against the truck, rocking them back and forth.
Running footsteps - men and horses - rang out from between the trunks. McClafferty froze. With his free hand he groped again for his pistol. He had his hand on its grip and was yanking madly against the trapped holster when the first man stepped into view.
The soldier was dressed in green and gold. McClafferty sagged with relief. More soldiers jogged from the trees, forming a line. They snapped to attention as the Queen strode towards McClafferty.
Wordless, he handed her the baby. The Queen took her daughter and with expert fingers loosened the swaddling, her eyes and fingers checking her tiny belly, limbs, cheeks. The princess began to cry and the Queen pressed her lips to her forehead.
“General McClafferty, you seem to have lost something,” she said. She smirked up at him, swinging helplessly back and forth in his harness.
He gulped. “The Loyalty. Yes ma’am, I’m sorry, I--”
The Queen grinned and held out a silver flask. As if by magic she produced two tiny cups from her riding clothes and, her daughter nestled in the crooked of one arm, poured a measure of whiskey into each.
Burning fragments of the HMS Loyalty drifted through the shadowy forest like fireflies. The shouts of the scattered rebel fighters echoed between the trunks.
“Shall we, ma’am?” said McClafferty, raising his eyebrows in the direction of the nearest voices.
The Queen flashed him a wicked grin. “Cut him down!” she called to the soldiers. “Let’s go!”
McClafferty tossed back his whiskey and felt the liquid fire run down to his belly. Rebel Captain Bearston was out there somewhere. The Queen never gave up; and neither did her General.
|# ? Apr 27, 2020 04:53|