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Ceighk
May 27, 2013

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2022


JUDGEMENT

This week was a good showing where even many of the lesser entries had something enjoyable about them. Unfortunately there is one clear exception here with our loser, Salgal80. Honestly, we were on the fence about disqualifying this entirely on the grounds that a) it isn't really a story and b) you didn't seem to care about losing. However given that the other weaker this stories this week weren't all that bad, we felt comfortable letting you eat the loss for their sake. Please try harder next time.

Next we are going to dishonourably mention Pththya-lyi's La Belle Dame Sans Merci. This isn't awful, and in another week could probably have scraped through without notice, but it suffers from being very predictable, without much depth or a particularly satisfying payoff.

Honourable mentions go to Anomolous Blowout's very sweet Tipping The Scales and Tyrranosaurus's deftly written other people.

Finally, the winner is Sebmojo with the deep and delicate Liminalia. Sebmojo, the throne is yours.

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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Crits! I promised dramatic readings for people who submitted before the deadline but the audio did not turn out especially well so I'll put those on hold; I might loop around and re-record later this week.

crimea - you will wait for the rest of your life

First, the prose here is indeed very impressive. I’m especially fond of “I wish I had seen back then the wild dogs which had marked their territory in your cracking and bubbling head.”

I’m not sure if the protagonist here is insane or if they’re just imitating insanity to get revenge here. It sounds like probably a little of column A, a little of column B. Clearly whatever’s happening with Daddy shows they’re a little unhinged.

I think the story needs more momentum in the beginning. It’s not until we get to the “It was when we had all reached adulthood that you finally spun your trap and did what you did” paragraph that we have any clear clue that the protagonist is conducting revenge for an event that actually has bearing in reality. While I get that the ambiguity is the point here, I know when I read a story about a character that sounds completely insane I start wondering how much I have to pay attention; my laziness aside, more of a reference to the actual events they’re avenging earlier on would be helpful!

Salgal80 - If Thunderdome was a Surrealist Painting of Words

This is an essay, not a story, and the prompt asked for a story. As an essay, it’s not bad, and I like the way the dream wraps around to make a full-circle ending. I don’t want to critique the theses of the essay here, because that’s just arguing on the internet, so I’m going to crit this like it’s actually a story.

I don’t know what this character wants. I think this character doth protest too much. While they state several times that they don’t care about the success of this story, sentences like “The judges took a knife to it and so now it hangs in the museum with shreds of canvas dangling down, this way and that, and some people think that’s part of the painting. But that’s called contemporary art” indicate that this character feels unfairly maligned and misunderstood, despite their protests that they don’t really care. My feeling about this character is that it’s unusual that they’ve entered a fiction contest when they don’t seem interested in receiving feedback. This is an interesting theme and idea for a character, and I wonder if it would be possible for this character to reflect on this a little further.

I also think that the character’s sense of not caring means that there are no stakes for this story, which makes it difficult for a reader to be truly invested.

Mockingquantum - Monument

This is another piece with strong prose, though there’s a couple of typos strewn about. It captures the kind of folktale/parable quality of this story well, with these kind of just-so sentences.

The folktale quality of the story is kind of where it loses me, though, as come on – when has the effort for eternal life ever worked out? So the story is a little predictable, which I don’t think is the worst thing, but it means the story isn’t super memorable to me. I wonder if characterizing the priest with a bit more specificity would help give this story more personality. What if the thing motivating him wasn’t just a fear of pain, but something else?

Tyrannosaurus - other people

I loved everything about this story: the POV of the main character, the pacing of the paragraphs, the way the story seamlessly weaves in that character’s dialogue, the fun, punchy dialogue, the hilarious last line. I loved the cute little cat-isms, though I can see another reader thinking they fall on the wrong side of “too twee.”

I especially loved the shark passage, the way this story veers between the comedy of our protag enjoying being an angry, chompy shark to the real regret that they never got to say any nice things to their wife.

Pththya-lyi

This left me somewhat cold. The prose is solid: sentences like “I sang to the mortal of fruit-laden boughs and flowers that carpet the meadow, of birds sweet-calling, of lover’s whispers, of the sunlight fading in reds and oranges and pinks and yellows into cold, blue night—to draw her ever close” are great. My issue is the character here, who doesn’t seem to have a lot of stakes here. They’re just a predatory, smug fairy who gets preyed on instead.

Basically, it leaves me with a “so what” reaction, unsure of what this story is trying to say. I wonder if it would be possible to make there be more of a do-si-do between the woman and the fairy, so that this is more than a cat-and-mouse, instead of the fairy brooding over their desires and then getting whacked with a horseshoe; basically, I think the story needs more events to make the pacing work.

Obliterati

This has a strong opening, and I love the voice of the mother and the contrasting voice of the daughter. I liked the “I don’t speak chirp” runner, and I thought the whole frame of Frank’s absentee fatherhood helped give the story some nice structure.

The undersea action didn’t do a lot for me, since I don’t know if I’m sure what exactly these two are trying to achieve. I think they’re looking for more things to modify Roisin’s modular body, but I suppose they could also be looking for Frank, and I’m not sure why Mike is attacking the two of them. On the whole, though, this is pretty good, with enough humor, voice, and a distinct sense of setting to elevate this beyond a standard pulpy story.

Nikaer Drekin

The emotion of this one won me over by the end. Rosanna’s protestations and bargaining feel very real, the depression and survivor’s guilt seem on-the-mark.

I’d thought that Susanna had taken the pills at some point in her four day reverie – like, not the whole bottle, but some of them – so the ending had me a little tripped up. I also wish that the ending had involved more agency from Susanna, but I also think her working through her feelings is a kind of agency in this story.

hexwren

This piece is successful at sketching the community and its history with just a few words, leaving room to introduce the conflict, Cara’s blindness preventing her from working. I like the ambiguity of the town allowing the alchemist to remain, despite his, uh, evil nature.

The turn of her having black eyes that leave people to exclude her after the treatment feels unsatisfying to me, though, and I think that’s because she doesn’t really take any action or make any decisions in this story, nor does she change how she thinks about things. This is especially true because the story makes it clear this isn’t the first time she’s gone through this process. The last line is good, but the story doesn’t leave much of an impact due to this lack of a pivot.

Thranguy

This piece is a little scattered, and it mostly succeeds at what it wants to do. The sense of given-up longing the protagonist has that has him melding with the tree works; the ending is very bleak but I love the small glimpses of images that tell us a lot in just a few words. “The house was toxic. Black mold and dysfunction, allergens and abuse.” “[T]he hammer caked with hair and blood and brain.” It’s great dark stuff.

The echoing, though, is confusing, and I’m not sure if it’s confusing in a way that works for this story. On one hand, I do like the sense of anticipation it creates. On the other hand, cutting the story into two – with the protag’s quest to become a tree mostly connected to their tragedy through the echoing – feels like it’s missing the chance to make more efficient parallels.

sebmojo

This ends up doing a lot with a little, and I like how much of this story comes from what’s unsaid or only hinted at. I don’t know the significance of this log, I don’t know exactly what the frogmen are, but the log-sitting woman’s sadness and wish for the ocean to swallow her up is wistful and lands all the same. We’re only checking in on these two on a quiet moment, but the story easily gives us an idea of who these people are to each other.

The sense of aching, of existing on the skin of things, makes this one of my favorite stories this week, substituting a quiet moment and conversation for long exposition. Nice work.

Anomalous Blowout

This is a very skillful story, and although it took until the second section to really grab my interest, the story gets its strength from the nuanced relationship between these two folks and the well-done setting of this trash-strewn beach. The prose here is great. I think this is the best line of the week, across the board: “It shuddered as its gears began to turn, sifting through inch after inch of sandy detritus, crushing and twisting the wreckage of bottle caps and cigarette butts and forgotten Big Gulps, all hoovered up into its gullet.”

I’m not sure these characters really change at all through this story, other than Alain getting the words to articulate his sense of purpose. Without the sense of the story driving toward some sort of pivot and with few events, the story does end up feeling a little like a (very well written!) vignette. I was also confused by Alain “snagging” his wife’s hand toward the end – it initially read to me like a violent gesture and made me re-read the ending.

Sitting Here

This story absolutely succeeds at what it aims to do, which is to capture the overlap between the kaleidoscopic wonder of the universe with the same kaleidoscopic wonder of love. And even in a week of very strong prose, the language here is exceptionally good, precise, emotional and descriptive at the same time: “We are out on the frontier of time-space, where raw creation churns tirelessly, painting itself over the blank canvas of the void. We’re atop a desolate mountain on a superheated planet, watching bismuthinite fall like snow onto the high peak. We are inside a dew drop.”

I did get slowed down a little bit by the jargon here, and I think the story could lose a paragraph or two of exposition and probably not lose its ultimate effect. The psychedelic ending lands just right, though, and I’m impressed that the story earns its universe-scoping grandiosity. This is good work.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004


Crits for the Surreal Week

crimea - you will wait for the rest of your life

I like the intention of the protagonist, to get revenge inside a sanatorium. That's pretty cool. But I don't think the opening line fits the tone of the piece, it feels tacked on. Word choice throughout is a little herky-jerky, it feels like you're going overboard to try to do justice to 'surreality' as a concept. The twist ending reveal that he did the original crime and sought revenge on himself is neat.


Salgal80 - If Thunderdome was a Surrealist Painting of Words

Okay so I think I'm starting to get that going meta is the Salgal80 gimmick? Or at least the gimmick is engaging with Thunderdome solely for the purpose of pre-empting criticism? Even so, last time you tried to tell an actual story. This reads like a speech that goes on way too long without a point. If the forums did shut down and this was one of the last things ever posted in Thunderdome, it would be a complete disgrace. You should be ashamed of yourself.


MockingQuantum - Monument

This is a great premise, and I love the visuals of the tough climb up to the Monument, the shifting nature of the Monument itself, and the evil twin that he meets inside. At first it didn't really track to me that the person who discovered it would become its priest - like was he a priest before he found the Monument? When he references God is he talking about the Monument's God or a prior religion's God? Regardless, the story was compelling enough that I didn't mind. Finally, I think there's a chance that this in-media-res-plus-flashbacks structure is not the best form for this story - I wouldn't mind seeing the recklessness of the townsfolk in real-time, perhaps at the expense of the priest's cheating-death subplot, before he hikes up there this final time.


Tyrannosaurus - other people

I like the visuals of this world, and it's a funny idea, a Hell that's a gnarly place where bad souls go, and they get reincarnated endlessly, only within the confines of Hell. We never find out what, if anything, would get you out of the cycle of animal violence, or properly out of Hell, as this is the story of a failure of a man. Pitiful and worthy of nothing more. Part of me feels that this is plenty for the story, the setups pay off well, the moral is clear - and part of me somehow wants it to be something more - perhaps more universal, or to refer back to ideas of Hell that are more readily understood. I'm not explaining this well but my point is I like it.


Pthythya-lyi - La Belle Dame Sans Merci

I like that the voice of the narrator and that of the mortal are very distinct. I would not say that this story has a nice sense of flow. It's kind of one thing, and then another thing, without both things blending into each other. It's possible that the first half of the story just takes up so much time and air that the brevity of the second half feels unsatisfying or unequal at least. All the florid words in the first half certainly doesn't wind up meaning much by the time we get to the real purpose of the story, aside from setting up the narrator's blind confidence ad nauseum. Maybe this story would be better with a cutaway from the mortal's POV at some point? As it stands her whole deal just kind of tumbles out and then it ends.


Obliterati - RE: WHAT IS SHE DOING DOWN HERE

I like the narrator's voice and the paragraph about "you're making crab-sharks and manta-squids but our daughter is something else" really drives home that aspect of the premise well. The blunt address of these super-scientist creations is funny. That being said, I have only the vaguest idea what's going on after the conversation in italics starts. I guess the dad is deep in the Irish Sea and the daughter is trying to reach him by mutating further and further? And this is an email to the dad? It's a bit confused, because it seems like the narrator doesn't understand it either, but by the end of the story she does, and it's unclear at which point she's writing the email.


Nikaer Drekin - I See You

This sort of feels like something around the edges of a story. It seems like you couldn't figure out what's actually going on, and we wouldn't mind if we didn't either. Which is a shame because despite some weak word choices, I like the setup and the connection with the later paragraph that describes Kristen and her baby. It just doesn't really go anywhere interesting.


hexwren - Curative

This is a bummer of a story! And really it's only a fragment of a story - an intriguing image, a world I want to know more about (what else does the Alchemist do?), but no narrative arc to speak of. I'm left wanting more, but only tentatively so. There isn't really enough here to criticize, aside from I think the description of putting in eyedrops takes way too long, even in the context.


Thranguy - Magnolia Gothic

This story is cool. A person turns themself into a tree to escape the pain of human trauma. Taught by another in the line of Thranguy's down-to-earth, single-subject magicians. The echo device works insofar as it triggers good moments like "Something trying to tell me someone," and the traumatic memory underlying everything.


sebmojo - Liminalia

A touching piece wherein the narrator's POV matters, the setting matters, and the dialogue really hits home. The imagery here serves the narrative in a way that few other stories this week can claim. My heart is breaking for this story!


Anomalous Blowout - Tipping the Scales

This is the second story in a row without supernatural elements, and that kind of context doesn't mean nothing when it comes to Thunderdome judging. But it also stands on its own merits. It's a sweet story about good-hearted people, told with ease and brevity. The plots, between Alain's snake quest and his relationship with Viv, entwine so well. So why does this not truly compete for the highest honor of the week, in my capriciously subjective view? Because it ends before we get to see the joy on this man's face when a baby snake pops out of an egg.


Sitting Here - Universe is Here

I'm interested in this story. I feel like it makes explicit something that today's most commercial sci-fi wants to take for granted - that human emotions matter to the universe. And I'm into the journey - the language is superb, the voice is solid. However, the plot doesn't quite get there for me. In this narrative, any conflict is already deep in the past. There doesn't seem to be much at stake. Possibly, it would have helped for the journey through emspace to be the catalyst for a proper resolution. As it stands, You loved the narrator before the journey, and afterwards. Furthermore, the visual descriptions inside emspace left me wanting something less tangible, more alien.

Ceighk
May 27, 2013

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2022


Crits

Crimea - you will wait for the rest of your life
There is something compellingly strange about this story, but I’m having a hard time thinking through how much of that is because of the way it is written - warts and all - and how much is despite it. If this story was going to succeed, it would do so on merit of its voice and style, and although I get what you’re going for stylistically - you do convincingly convey the Hamlet paradox of narrating from the point of view of a character who is both pretending to be and actually mad - it is unfortunately held back by an overall sloppiness, both in the copyediting, where a few words seem to be omitted or incorrectly substituted, and in the sentence construction, which can be grammatically unwieldy with a few questionable word choices.

There were a few moments where I really winced at clunky sentences, with the worst being “After I am force-fed mushy medication I am being jolted and pushed into a great hall”. The tense here is jarringly odd, and like a few other the sentences here it ends up at this unfortunate point of seeming both overwrought and under-considered. I don’t have an issue with relatively ‘purple’ prose per se, or with expecting the reader to do a bit of work to find out what’s ‘really going on’, but when you’re writing like that it only makes it more important that you are precise and economical with the words you choose: both so that the reader can enjoy the prose for its poetry and so that they will trust you that it’s worth the effort to sift through and find hidden nuances.

Also, while the Neutral Milk Hotel drop does fit the mood if the reader is familiar with that album, and I sort of liked how much it doesn’t make sense in context, it is a bit egregious to just throw in there, especially in a piece this short.


Salgal80 - If Thunderdome was a Surrealist Painting of Words
Man I’m not opposed to the idea of doing a metatextual essayistic story about the process of its own creation, but this is absolutely not how to do it. If you’re going to attempt this sort of writing you have to do something to elevate it into a story over a rambling blog post, but sadly you don’t: Italo Calvino this is not. If for some reason you did have to submit a blog post rather than a story it could at least be a good blog post, but for the most part this is pretty boring (the comparisons between Thunderdome and surrealism are trite and unearned), with a sharp turn into ‘yikes’ with the extremely clumsy reference to some very serious accusations in the final paragraph.


Mocking Quantum - Monument
This is good. It’s a bit slow to get going and there are a few clunky/imprecise word choices early on (e.g. “a brace of features for each of his flock”), but it’s solid: a compelling central mystery with a satisfying payoff. The slow start works to build tension, but I wonder if there would be a way to make the early going a bit more interesting - or perhaps just shorter - without sacrificing what works: possibly by injecting the priest character with a bit more personality, or by raising the stakes somehow early on. Perhaps you could more clearly set up the idea that his congregation are young and fun loving - possibly even to the point of the priest finding them juvenile or annoying - which you can then contrast with the aging / decrepit populace of the town before he found the monument, making his decision seem more understandable as well as just injecting a little colour. But yeah, this is mostly solid, and a very satisfying response to the picture given.


Tyrannosaurus - other people
This is a good, very tight story about guilt and hell being a prison we construct for ourselves. The twist it takes toward the end, where it goes from being a story about the possibility of redemption to a story about being damned by your own actions, is very smoothly executed and a total sucker punch. On top of that, the dialogue is sharp, the characters are very clearly drawn, and the whole thing moves along at a very nice pace. Personally I wonder if you could drop the last line - I think it’s clear enough what is happening here without having to explain the title - but that’s a minor issue and maybe something worth asking other readers to get a consensus on. Other than Sebmojo’s story being very good, the only thing holding this back from a win is that out of the stories here, it’s among the ones I have the hardest time seeing the prompt image in. Aside from that though it’s a very solid piece.

Pththya-lyi - La Belle Dame Sans Merci
This story isn’t offensive, but it does have a core issue in the fact that we aren’t given a reason to care about the reversal that takes place when the faerie goes from the hunter to the hunted. We don’t feel the triumph of the maiden because we don’t know anything about her until she’s already won, and we don’t feel sad for the faerie because there’s no depth to her character beyond being an immortal being that drains the life force from mortals every so often, for whatever reason. Like, the faerie brought her punishment on herself, sure, but we don’t even know why she cares so much about abducting people and stealing their youth. Is she terrified of getting older? Of dying? Does she hate humans for some reason, logical or otherwise?

She underestimates them, sure, but there’s not really an exploration of what it means for the speaker when she realises that humans are actually more than she thought they were, other than being mad that she’s been locked up for however long. Does it make her sad that the people she’s been murdering show themselves to have agency? Does she feel like she deserved this fate but couldn’t control her need to kill? Sorry for all the rhetorical questions, but something like that would have done wonders in making this story more interesting. If you’re going to write something like this from the POV of the monster, you really need to give the reader a reason to care about them, or else you’re better just sticking with the victim/hunter’s POV from the start.


Obliterati - RE: WHAT IS SHE DOING DOWN HERE?
Okay that title/opening paragraph combo is killer: extremely funny and sets up a strong hook, compelling voice, and really great tone right off the bat. I am so here for shapeshifting mother-daughter drama deep underwater, and I found some moments extremely funny: “We would talk about this little outburst later, when I had a larynx” is a 10/10 line, as are the daughter’s convincingly teenage written retorts she does with her tentacles. Also the mum accidentally doing echolocation while trying to tell off her daughter is such a smooth transition from one moment to the next.

Unfortunately, it all gets a bit confusing later on. For a story this length, I think the stuff about the dad being a supervillain(?) and the kinda drawn-out fight with the diver guy are a bit extraneous. What works here is the clash between the all-to familiar tone of one parent arguing with another about what they’ve been letting their teenage daughter get up to, and the fact their daughter happens to be able to transform into a Lovecraftian squid monster, questing deep into the ocean for some incomprehensible reason. Really, that dynamic is so good that anything that doesn’t directly add to it feels like a distraction: the story would probably work better if you laser-focussed in on that relationship and cut out or severely downplayed the rest. Still, there is the core of something really good here, and I would urge you to keep chipping away at it until you can really bring it out.


Nikaer Drekin - I See You
There’s a real emotional intensity here and a good amount of plot and character stuff, but unfortunately what’s good about this story does get a bit buried under a certain sloppiness of presentation. The conversation at the start reads a bit like expository dialogue in a TV show, which isn’t necessary in a medium where you can just explain what’s happening and save actual dialogue for more interesting conversations. Similarly, while I like the ambition of the main character’s para-theological vision quest / descent into inner space following a traumatic event, I’m not sure this presentation quite allows the nuggets of real ‘stuff’ hidden away in it the chance to shine with the intensity they should, given the effort it takes to dig them out and the general disjointed experience of reading it.


Hexwren - Curative
This isn’t bad, but it’s very slight. You set up the premise well, but it doesn’t end up going anywhere unexpected - or really anywhere at all. One good twist at the end would make this worthwhile, but there really isn’t one: her getting shunned because she has weird eyes just feels weak, with the last line being particularly limp. As it is, this almost feels like the first third of a story you ended up not having time to finish.


Thranguy - Magnolia Gothic
This is solid, though it took a couple of goes before it really clicked with me, and even then I feel like it doesn’t quite break through as much as I’d like it to. There’s a whole lot of ‘stuff’ in here that really works - the guy who trades tree serum for a vodka, the descriptions of the process of transformation, the utterly brutal violence right at the end, but I feel like it doesn’t quite hang together quite as well as it could.

I’m not sure what exactly the issue is, but I wonder if this is really the best way to structure it. I get why you’d want to have the scene of his parents’ muder suicide at the end as a climax, but the narrator sort-of-but-not-really repressing the memory feels a bit too easy, and the decision to have that stuff come so late in the story means that the narrator’s decision to return to the family home to become a tree has much less weight to it in the first half of the piece.

Also I don’t really understand what the bolded words are doing - if we’re meant to read them together as a hidden little sentence then I’m not sure the message given is quite clear or interesting enough to work.

Sebmojo - Liminalia
This is a hard piece to crit because it’s just so focussed and assured - a very beautiful, quiet vignette on grief and depression and trying to talk about them without talking about them. I like it enough that I want it to be longer, but it’s also such a perfectly rendered little moment that I’d worry that would ruin it.


Anomalous Blowout - Tipping the Scales
This is very sweet, with a compelling central theme - a guy’s desire to ‘do good’ where he can, to counteract the sorry state of the world on the smallest scale. The relationship between him and his wife is well rendered as well, and we get a good sense of their different but complementary personalities in a short space of time.

The two issues I do have with this story are that a) the first section drags a bit and can probably be trimmed somewhat, and b) the last section very nearly verges on being too sweet - it mostly makes me smile, but there is a cynical part of me that also rolls my eyes in the way you do when you have to spend time with two people who very clearly love each other, and I could imagine other people having those two responses but to the opposite degrees.


Sitting Here - Universe is Here
The first half of this story is a great set up, and the second half does adequately well at conveying something that is by its nature extremely difficult to convey. Articulating the inexpressible expanse of the great cosmic mind was never going to be easy, and I respect the attempt to do so in a unambiguously positive emotional register - as defined by love rather than horror. Even so, the second half doesn’t quite break through to the extent that it could, either as a meditation on the nature of the universe or as a portrayal of this couple’s relationship - we get some cute moments they share, but not really that clear a sensation of who they are as individuals or their relationship dynamic. Still, this is a very endearing piece over all that ends on a deservedly affirming note.

Ceighk fucked around with this message at 19:40 on Jun 29, 2020

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk







:siren:Thunderdome Week 413: Outlaws!:siren:


hi thunderdome, how you doing. been a while.

these are strange times, and I want some strange words.

give me, oh, 1200 words about outlaws. they can be any kind, western, space, motorcycle gangs, plucky kids thwarting the evil principle, but the protagonist(s) gotta be somehow flippin the v to the man.

enter by friday, post by sunday, 2359 pst, you know the drill. :toxx: for a hellrule, failure will require evidence of a :10bux: donation to some worthy cause or a one week probe

LAWGIVERS
me
uranium phoenix
...

OUTLAWS
flerp
sparks
mockingquantum
yoruichi
anomalous blowout
kurona
burningbeard
something else
almightyderelict
thranguy
flesnolk
simply simon
barnaby profane

sebmojo fucked around with this message at 09:28 on Jun 30, 2020

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!




in :toxx: but no hellrules for me please im on a diet tyvm

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


:toxx: I'm in

MockingQuantum
Jan 20, 2012





In

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




In :toxx:

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In!

kurona_bright
Mar 21, 2013


in :toxx:

BurningBeard
May 10, 2013


In

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004


I’m in :toxx:

AlmightyDerelict
Jun 14, 2020

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2020


In :toxx: , not sure what a hellrule is but i'm ready.

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!




In, :toxx: 4 hellrule

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Can't be outlaws without someone to flip the bird to. As an irl bird, I will be judging the quality of your flips.

They better be good.

Flesnolk
Apr 11, 2012

h

In, hellrule toxx

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

scanning for good game design


:toxx: ing in

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


On a steel hellrule I :toxx:

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk








your outlaw is rebelling against time and space


your outlaws can't walk, crawl or fly


every character has guns for hands - no robots


your characters are clouds

AlmightyDerelict posted:

In :toxx: , not sure what a hellrule is but i'm ready.

your characters speak in smells

Thranguy posted:

In, :toxx: 4 hellrule

no spoken words or gestures in your story

Flesnolk posted:

In, hellrule toxx

your outlaw is fighting against the concept of failure


your entire story takes place within a single second

Barnaby Profane posted:

On a steel hellrule I :toxx:

your outlaws have forgotten how to break the law

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

In :toxx:

Ceighk
May 27, 2013

to ride eternal, shiny and chrome

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2022


in hellrule :toxx:

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk








your story takes place on the surface of a pool ball

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk







Ceighk posted:

in hellrule :toxx:

your outlaws don't understand the concept of time

Idle Amalgam
Mar 7, 2008

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021

In :toxx:

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED



your story has 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person points of view

crimea
Nov 16, 2012


In :toxx:

Pththya-lyi
Nov 8, 2009

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2020

In

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED



your story takes place over the course of three thousand years

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


In :toxx: hellrule baby

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


Saucy_Rodent posted:

In :toxx: hellrule baby

no characters or places in your story have names

The Saddest Rhino
Apr 29, 2009

I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning




sebmojo posted:

:siren:Thunderdome Week 413: Outlaws!:siren:


k in

BabyRyoga
May 21, 2001

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2021


Seems as good a time as any to reappear

In, :toxx:

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007


RADIOACTIVE DUST SURGE DETECTED


BabyRyoga posted:

Seems as good a time as any to reappear

In, :toxx:

there is no light in your story

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




Flash: your outlaws can't walk, crawl or fly

Fool’s Hope
730 words


Cas Pappomida held his breath. Like all space capybara, he could withstand the vacuum of space for as long as it took his body to die of thirst. He’d never thought it would come to this. An optimistic fool, right to the end.

The lights of his murderers’ ship were lost amongst the glittering backdrop of stars. They’d pushed Cas out the airlock as soon as they were far enough from the last station to guarantee he’d be out of capybara inter-planetary telepath range. drat rangers. They’d probably tell the authorities he’d tried to escape custody, that jettisoning him to die in deepest space was an accident.

Truth was, Cas deserved the rangers’ revenge. That sting he’d pulled on Ark-9 had disabled a weather-cone and caused a dozen ranger families to freeze to death. It had never crossed Cas’s mind that they wouldn’t evacuate, that the rangers would stay and defend their ships even as the alarms screamed and the temperature plummeted. Cas pictured Kep, holding their pups close as winter closed its fist upon them, no one coming to help. He shuddered, a deep tremor in his body’s state of stasis.

He’d hoped that this time he’d bring Kep back some good news. That the rangers’s fleet had lost its gunners and the capybara could fly safely, for a time. That things were going to be better for their pups. That he’d gotten paid.

Except Cas had relied on a fool’s hope now a bunch of people were dead, and he'd be joining them soon enough. Cas drifted. The stars this far out were incredible, unmarred by the stations’ harsh geometry. He wondered how long it had been. How much longer it would be. Focusing inward, Cas again compressed his will into a single word - help! - and then released it in a last-ditch, all-in telepath shout.

Nothing. The stars were white eyes in the faceless universe. They stared fool at him. He was never going to see Kep again. Cas longed to scream. He could awaken his frozen body, but leaving stasis would hasten his death to mere minutes away. Cas felt as if he were being crushed by the stars’ glare. He wasn’t sure could bear the wait.

A song from his childhood drifted into Cas’s mind. He’d sung it to his own pups. A sob caught in Cas’s imobile throat. He was never going to see the pups again. Cas closed his eyes, and let his last breath out. The movement of his lungs inspired his heart to beat, and the last of his warmth animated his limbs. Cas lifted his arms and arched his back. He swung his fists against his belly. He beat out the rhythm that he’d played for Kep the night the pups arrived. Then, it had been a boisterous proclamation of life. Now, it was pointless. A final, futile, spark of hope that somehow, someone would hear him.

Cas opened his mind-stream and broadcast the song into the vastness. The cold bit at his toes and tail and Cas beat harder, concentrating to amplify his signal. Never before had he poured so much energy through his mind-stream. He was dizzy with the effort of stopping his consciousness from flaying itself apart.

A matching beat thrummed down Cas’s receivers. I’m hallucinating, Cas thought. A byproduct of the precipitous load he was placing on his mind. Cas’s drumming slowed. He was running out of stored oxygen and his arms were growing sluggish. But the beat didn’t slow. It crackled though Cas like hands clapped right next to his ears. Then it changed, adding layers in response to what he had laid down, in a way that only one capybara ever could.

Kep. The telltale lights of her ancient skiff played across Cas’s face as the ship materialised from hyperspace. Kep’s voice slipped into Cas’s mind, as welcome as the spring sun through snow.

“I hoped I might find you out here,” she said.

Cas grinned, feeling the drag of the ship’s intake pulling him into the airlock. Black spots were crowding the edges of his vision. His arm feeling like it was moving through treacle, Cas lifted a paw and flicked a rude gesture at the gawking stars, before the airlock slammed shut behind him and he tumbled, gasping for breath, into his family’s waiting arms.

MockingQuantum
Jan 20, 2012





Of the Swamp

archive

MockingQuantum fucked around with this message at 05:44 on Jan 5, 2021

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Hellrule: your outlaw is rebelling against time and space

A Tourist
1154 words

When Alyssa cuts through time to visit Candace before the cancer, she feels like she’s taken a handful of toxic pills. She feels both the euphoria and the lead in her blood vessels, the clue that somehow, Time will have its revenge for stealing this moment that it had tried to tuck away. But for the moment, Alyssa dons her favorite pair of sunglasses, checks her smile in the reflecting pool, and ducks her head into the gift shop where Candace works.

Worked.

Alyssa is beginning to lose sense of which days she’s visited and which ones she hasn’t. She had notes, once, but one day they weren’t there. It’s possible that Time closed a bubble around them and swallowed them up. Seizing the contraband. But it’s equally possible that the notes never really existed. Ever since she’s been standing up to Time, the fuzziness in her head has gotten louder. Sometimes all she can remember is that she lost Candace too early. They probably would have been married by now.

Inside the gift shop, Candace is dusting old stacks of tchotchkes. Lobsters wearing sun hats. They’d met outside this gift shop, though the date has been erased from Alyssa’s head. But she remembers the rush of spotting the confident butch fixing the hurricane damage of a downed awning, the way she’d sat at a picnic table by the beach, absent-mindly speaking with a friend she can’t recall, sneaking glances of Candace lifting stacks of 2 by 4s all by herself. Now, it’s September (is it?) and it’s almost the off-season, so the place isn’t teeming with streams of children. There’s a few elderly couples scattered about. Alyssa walks up to Candace, the grin on her face almost alive, and she says “Hey, stranger.”

Candace doesn’t look up. “Be with you in a minute.”

She’s too young, she realizes; Alyssa only knows this hairstyle from photographs. Alyssa is always doing this, now that the notes are lost – cutting through to the wrong year, before they’d met. She feels the body load now, the water hammer of redirected time exerting its shear pressure on her cells. Candace smiles this hapless, generic customer service smile, and even as Alyssa knows that Candace is generifying her, Time knows something different – that a notion that shouldn’t exist has been planted in the mind of Future Candace, the “haven’t I seen you there before?” idea.

The whole gift shop quakes with the fragile rage of Time. Still Alyssa tries to act normal. “What’s this called?” she said, pointing to the figure she’s dusting. The red-shelled animal. The word was in her head, but now it’s not. Hasn’t she seen one of those before?

“I’m sorry – are you talking about a lobster?”

Alyssa’s vision swims. I knew that word. She blinks, and says “Of course. Senior moment.” She’s thirty-one, but she smiles and tries to recapture what they’d have some day. “Are there any other things you might recommend? For my mother. She’s sixty. Lives in Canada but wishes she didn’t.”

Candace smiles. Alyssa has just described Candace’s mother, a sunbird who couldn’t abandon her house in the Toronto exurbs. “What does she like?”

“Oh,” Alyssa says, and waves her hand. There were words here – what does Candace’s mother like? Her searching mind fills up with junk. Moth candy. Banana toothpaste. Miniature horsemen. And then she feels the slip; Time bucking wildly, pushing Alyssa out of this place she doesn’t belong. “She’s not picky.”

“Can’t go wrong with a jigsaw,” Candace is saying, crossing the floor. Even as Time fights, turning Alyssa nearly blind and the gift shop’s fixtures to silhouettes, Alyssa still admires Candace’s swagger, and it reminds her of the first time Candace cooked her dinner, grilling swordfish on the deck on a muggy summer evening.

And then Time seizes its fist around Alyssa, and in the flashbang of purging light, the afterimage suggests a black tendril crossing Candace’s outline. Cutting. Excising a memory that shouldn’t exist.

When Time deposits her on the library’s bathroom stall, Alyssa’s head erupts in a horrible flood of agony, as if Time has burst a thread of polyps nestled in clever lines across her brain. The images in its wake are the things Alyssa never tries to visit. A hospital bed, Candace with an infected line of sutures encircling her head. The vast emptiness of the beach without her, the empty bodies and screaming children, and splashing that doesn’t serve any purpose. The empty boxes in their shared bedroom, little vessels to swallow up the last of her things. She vomits into the toilet and braces herself.

She will not be humbled. Time thought it was justice to give them two years together before the sickness. Two years? Two years is less time than it took to construct the vacationer’s condos across from Alyssa’s house. Two years is less time than it takes to make a blockbuster superhero movie. Two years is about as long as a white collar offender stays in prison. Not enough time to learn anything.

She splashes water in her face in the bathroom sink. A blood vessel has burst in her left eye. She likes the way it looks. Beaten down by an indefatigable enemy.

But not enough to stop her.

The bathroom door swings open, but Alyssa is already cutting through time again. The pain in her head is so thorough and overwhelming that she retches again, dry-heaving in the folds of space-time. When she cuts through, this time at the crest of a hill above the beach, looking down at a roaring bonfire piercing the blackness of a new-moon night, she is so weak that she can barely stand. But she pulls herself up and looks for Candace.

A woman is playing guitar and singing off-key; every strum sends another wave of nausea through Alyssa. Has she been here before? When she thinks of Candace, she doesn’t think of fire. She was a Pisces.

The shadows of the people around the bonfire are indistinct, dancing figures; Time has caught her scent and is already pulling at her, blurring her vision and twisting knives in her brain. But she stumbles through the noise, gawking at the indistinct faces, searching the profiles for a familiar softness in the nose, an elegant jaw.

And then she spots her – Candace, spinning in a drunken dance with a woman Alyssa knows to be her younger self, though she no longer possesses this memory. Alyssa trods through the sand, her flip-flop coming off in the beach, and she rushes into the pit of the noise, tries to feel some rhythm in the crushing noise and the fire ants in her head. She feels Time snatch at her, but she taps both Younger Her and Candace on the shoulder, and then they are dancing, dancing, dancing, for at least a few moments more.

Simply Simon
Nov 6, 2010

scanning for good game design


Hell Rule: your entire story takes place within a single second

Work Life Program
1199/1200 words

Eternal office, virtual cubicles stretching forever. Digital work purgatory. Steven’s avatar strapped to an electric ergonomic chair, performing for goals that did not exist. Each year for the company, one more decoration allowed: photo of woman and two kids. Potted plant. Analog clock.

Steven no longer remembered who the people in the photo were. Today, for a tiny moment, he’d forgotten why that bothered him. In the desperate clarity that followed, Steven knew he had to get out at any cost. He had to activate Ben’s program – and he’d just done that.

Ben was three cubicles over, smiling a vacant smile as he swallowed the information the screen projected into his mind, all thoughts of escaping from this virtual hamster wheel gone, erased like the rest of his personality. The managers had discovered his work, Ben had been called in to a talk with the boss. Days later, he had returned like this. And Steven would be next, if the program didn’t work. How long since he’d activated it? He wrested his eyes from Ben’s empty shell to glance at the clock.

None. It had taken no time.

The hands stood there unmoving. Slowly, still unwilling to entertain the possibility of hope, Steven looked around him.

Time stood still in the simulated office. The endless server cycles grinding away at his soul had frozen, allowing him to breathe freely for the first time in as long as he could remember.

Now Ben’s words were clear. “The program will stop the gears for just one second. Then we can slip through them.” Steven looked over to the avatar of his friend, with its rictus grin.

One second. Don’t waste it, no matter how long it feels. Frantically, he looked for the option he needed. When he had first logged into the virtual world he now inhabited at all times, there were still menus, with items like “Call in Sick”, “Take Break”, “Open Private Chat” on them. And of course, the golden option: “Log Off”. The first one they removed. It must be there, in the code somewhere, buried under layers of obfuscation, user interface updates, sheen after glossy sheen painted over a rotten foundation until the virtual world looked and felt exactly like Real, but with no conversation, no breaks, no sick days, only work and mandatory rest then work again nonstop no free days no

Steven slammed his hand on his desk, the simulated pain jolting him out of his dissociation episode. They had gotten more frequent. He needed out. Needed to log off. Where was the option? Under here? He swept the unfinished documents off the desk, the stack that never got smaller. The desk was spotless, why would they simulate dust after all? The neon light from no bulbs pierced his eyes with its merciless uniform reflection. Not real, nothing real, its impossible perfection trying to hide the cracks in the façade, but actually…

He saw the seams in the textures, where the wood finish repeated. Jammed his fingernails in there, felt them deform, splinter, but he gritted his teeth, non-teeth, non-fingernails, his body was in a virtual reality office chair not unlike this one in a company skyscraper in the Real, this was not real pain, not real blood flowing from ruined fingertips, and the dissociation between the images the server forced into his brain and what he knew to be true almost shattered his mind again.

And then Steven managed to peel off the surface of his desk, and beneath the lacquer, the plywood, which deformed like rubber and rippled like water in an early 2000’s videogame, he saw the golden option. The button labeled “Log Off”.

Echoes of a real life rippled through Steven, a held breath, a quickening heartbeat. This was what Ben’s sacrifice had given him. With reverence, Steven extended his finger.

A stack of papers slammed down on the button, obscuring it and the hole in the desk completely. Steven jumped back, looked up.

Mark smiled down on him like a shark villain from a children’s movie. On his meticulous shirt, the manager badge gleamed like a laser cutter aimed right into his victim’s eyeballs.

“You seem to have dropped these, Steven.”

Steven was frozen like the office had just been. Mark leaned in conspirationally.

“Did you think the boss wouldn’t notice? Your second of fun is over. But don’t worry…”

He patted Steven on the back, and artificial body odor hit his fake nostrils from under Mark’s pits.

“…I put in a good word with them. Ben was a bad influence, I get it.”

Mark looked over at Ben, and Steven’s head turned along as if remote controlled. Frozen grin.

“Don’t be like Ben, and you won’t become like Ben.”

The bad breath hit Steven before Mark’s whispers did. “We both know that you didn’t only break the law, you violated company policy and I could have your pathetic excuse for an ego wiped from this server at the drop of a paper clip.”

Steven felt despair rise like a cloud of flies off the corpse of his hope. Mark’s lips almost touched his ear as Ben’s empty face seemed to expand to fill his entire world.

“I’d like to show you something.”

He placed the photograph in front of the clock. The image on it had changed; it showed a virtual office chair, the setup in the Real. And in the chair, a desiccated corpse.

“The boss can still access the cameras in the old complex. Guess what this is?”

Cubicle 26-L-187…

“It’s me,” Steven managed to squeak out. He felt sick, rotten like his corpse, and then the fundamental impossibility of feeling anything hit him, and he just became numb.

“It’s all of us, buddy. We’ve become ghosts in the machine. These memories of our personalities are all we have, are all we are now. Trying to log out means death. Succeeding also does.”

Which memories? The ones slipping away like fine sand in Steven’s fingers? But didn’t that mean he just had to work harder to keep them, here, online, the only place they still existed?

“Just do exactly what I say from now on and we’ll be best friends. Forever.”

Steven would have to become an eternal office slave, or get turned into nothing more than subroutine like Ben poor Ben frozen Ben

The dissociation hit, and Steven contemplated just giving up, until he realized something. With his body dead, what was there to dissociate from? Ben’s grin came back to focus.

Frozen grin.

Like the rest.

Steven’s arm lunged to the side, making Mark jump back. The grim photo tumbled away. The clock was clearly visible again.

“The simulation’s still stopped,” Steven whispered. “You’ve only managed to force a personal chat override, and are using it to stall until the program’s one second runs out.”

Mark righted himself. “Nonsense! I’ll overlook this if you -”

Steven scattered the papers like fine grains of memory. The golden option was still there.

“You’re still dead in the Real!” Mark screamed.

Steven looked at Ben, who had become an empty shell just a little earlier than otherwise.

“I’ll take my chances,” Steven said. “I resign.”

He logged off.

AlmightyDerelict
Jun 14, 2020

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2020


Hellrule: “your characters speak in smells.”

What’s That Stench?
1035/1200 Words

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make the world a better place. I remember feeling discouraged as a kid. Believing there couldn’t be many problems left for me to solve, surely the adults of the world had a firm grasp on what was happening, what needed to be done. Of course, I quickly learned how naïve and sheltered I was to believe the world could be that way.

My disillusionment with society began in school.

In history I learned about one political party’s “final solution” which was a palatable euphemism for the extermination of roughly ten-million Jewish people. I was spoon fed a story about how people banded together, ridded the world of that evil. But all my teachers were unable to explain why some still believed as that party did, were still chanting and saluting as they did.

Civics told a similar tale about the civil rights movement, where millions of people protested to demand equal rights for black people in America. I was told that after the tragic assassination of a famous black reverend, people came together and agreed to end racism, then black people everywhere in America were given equal rights and opportunities. Because who doesn’t love a tragic story with a happy ending.

But that wasn’t the end.

If it were, I wouldn’t have had to learn about a black man who was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis, just eight blocks from the flower shop. I watched the public execution on my computer, just hours after it happened. I don’t know what was more disturbing, watching a man who was supposed to “serve and protect” slowly crush the windpipe of a human being like he was casually trying to deflate an air mattress, or the sound of that human being pleading for his life, crying out to his mother with his dying breath.

In the days that followed the flower shop was as busy as ever. Scores of people came through our doors to buy roses, cut flowers, and arranged bouquets to decorate the street where the execution took place. I became a florist because I wanted to make the world a more beautiful place, so admittedly a small part of me was proud to see people coming together to lament this tragedy and do their part to make this ugly world smell sweet, appear more colorful.

But my pride was nothing compared to my rage.

I had heard stories like this before, people coming together, well wishes and prayers, surely after this disaster things were going to change. But I know better than most that flowers are not pungent enough to expel the stench of corruption, the reeking decay of injustice, or the rancid odor of racism. Society had been sweeping the filth of history underneath the carpet since its conception, and I was fed up with trying to mask the miasma of its festering problems with my flowers. I wasn’t going to watch history from the sidelines any longer, it was time to show the system that even those without voices could still scream.

Being mute had always been challenging. But I never felt as handicapped as I did when I couldn’t shout the names of all the black lives ended at the hands of police, when I couldn’t chant along with protestors as they declared that black lives matter. So, I found my own way to yell, a way to bring all the filth out from under the rug and force it up the nostrils of the system so that it could experience the same disgust I felt. I bought and gutted a dozen fish, but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to blend their entrails into a liquid. The consistency was too thick and there wasn’t enough of it, so I added pickle juice and nearly expired milk to the concoction, in total I filled approximately fifty small balloons with my vile smelling liquid of outrage.

I stayed out past curfew, throwing my putrid packages at police barricades and abandoned cop cars. When the police fled the third precinct, I was there handing out my gifts to protestors. We made sure to shower the patty wagons and armored vehicles with the stink they deserved as they sped away, curled tails between their legs. I couldn’t help but smile as the precinct slowly burned to the ground, the bittersweet smell of burning upholstery, insulation, and carpet filled the air; and in a strange way, I felt proud to be an American, if not for a couple days.

Protests are still going on, but the rioting has stopped, and so my vile vigilantism is on hiatus. It has been the largest civil rights demonstration to date, with protests occurring all over the world; the history books will certainly tell a grand story about the events of this year. I look at social media and see that people are posting less about black lives and police brutality, must not be as trendy as it was a month ago. People might not be buying as many flowers, they might be patting themselves on the back, celebrating in their self-satisfaction, but I’m not satisfied. There is something rotten in America, something still makes my nose hairs curl when I breathe deeply.

That’s why this weekend I’m going to Mount Rushmore, I’ve got a date with a very colorful person, an orange man with a penchant for self-serving compliments and inciting violence. Armed to the teeth with newly made screams, I’m not sure what I’ll do once I arrive. Maybe I'll drench the cars in the parking lot with my disdain, maybe I’ll muster the courage to throw my voice at the man himself. All I know is I must be heard; I’m not going to stop until America wakes up and smells the blood-stained roses. There is a good possibility that I will be arrested this time, hell I could even be killed. If it’s the latter I wonder if people will buy me flowers, give their prayers to my family. Sooner or later though, I’m sure I would end up like all the rest, just another black body to be swept under the rug.

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crimea
Nov 16, 2012


Battle of Aphek
1200 words
Flash rule: Your story takes place over the course of three-thousand years.


The lash cut the air and sliced through the skin on my back. My body recoiled against the braces which affixed me to the x-shaped wooden stand in the war camp’s central clearing. As the lash swung around for another blow, it whipped up a cloud of dust which rose menacing from the ground and seeped into my wounds.

As I squinted past the pain, past my tear-stained lashes, I saw the rest of the men in their tunics and sandals stare at me impassively. Some had been the friends of the man I had fought. Others were friends of mine. All were strangers to me in that moment.

The punishment would’ve been much less if I knew my own strength – after my swing met his head, the uncouth drunkard fell to the ground and bled from his ears. I only meant to teach him a lesson.

It was cruel, I thought, to do this to me before the battle, weaken me this way before I even met my enemy. Iron-tipped spears and battle standards all rocked back and forth like reeds in the wind. I focused on the rolling reeds, and took myself away from my blistering body.

Later, after the battle, my bloodied and raw hands placed the Ark onto the cart. Over the chest, I placed ropes to tie it down and knotted the ends to a plank of wood underneath. A red shawl I had snatched earlier was draped over the Ark, some cheap concealment. The donkey at the lead huffed and whined impatiently, and I froze in place, squatting over my prize. For a moment it looked like the dumb animal would really get me caught.

I strained my cramped legs to their limits moving soundlessly over to the little patch of bushes between the tents which separated me from the rest of the war camp. I had become acutely aware of a burning ache in my cheek – my tongue explored the cavity to find a sharp and bloody remnant of a tooth in back of my jaw. This competed in my nerves with my still-pained back. On the other side of the brush, olive-skinned men dragged through the dirt two corpses I recognised as the sons of the enemy judge, Eli. The men laughed and joked with each other, the adrenaline of the fight wearing down into bliss. Behind them, a band of soldiers approached with mugs and goblets in hand, triumphantly cheering the name of Aphek, site of such a great victory.

It was when I had judged for myself that I was a safe distance away, when the sprawled encampment started to fade into the summer haze, that I stopped the cart. Apart from the donkey I was alone, perched on top of a dusty hill which overlooked many other dusty hills, with little patches of green shrubs dotted around, and to my east a valley of twisting olive trees. I disembarked and went around, thinking to inspect the Israelite’s precious box. Two winged statuettes on the lid, which I reached over to open.

My fate was sealed as soon as I cracked the lid. Inside was the beginning of everything, and the end. My voice swam through the infinitely vast olive valley like a mist; “Dagon? Is that you? No… no, it’s not.”

The enemy’s god ate my time and pulled it back out of His stomach.

+++

It was grey and overcast when I was released. The guards stood statue at their places as the bell rung and the gates of HM Prison Northumberland opened. The concrete grey walls, decked with barbed wire, were the last remnant of an old world; fortifications were now only for lonely places like this.

I was still expected in their courts, I supposed. This confinement had lasted only a few months, thanks to a parole fund of several lifetimes I had accrued. Having made clear to the captors where I was to go first, I perched in the solitary bus stop which was planted like a withered weed beneath the shadow of the prison walls.

In the village cornershop I bought some new world luxuries – a chocolate bar and cigarettes, still tasting as intoxicating after all these years. The cobblestone road led down to the carpark at the periphery of the dunes, looking over the mouth-dark sea. Half-damp sand captured my footsteps as I walked through the little valley the dunes made; between the tall grass hid little pillboxes, preparing for an invasion that never happened, and behind me looking down on all of it was a regal castle of about eight-hundred years. Both fortifications were nothing but relics now, but the sea had always been the same.

I sat down, and despite the weather I removed my tracksuit top and bore the old scars to the sky, feeling the cold sea breeze course and careen over my shoulder blades. To my left, black slabs of rock jutted from the sand, little pools and seaweed forests dotted amongst. To the right, the beach went on for about another mile or two until it reached another village made mostly out of dull holidaymakers. In front of me was the sea, which, in its ever-changing tidal dances was the greatest constant I had ever known, and in its utter vastness, uncomprehending depths, seemed the closest to the Israelite God, whose people had eventually butchered mine and made our very name an insult. I could not be bitter too much. There had been a long time to make peace with it.

“Excuse me, mate,” a plodding voice flittered into my perception just as was about to get lost again. “It’s Phillip, isn’t it?”

I turned. Rectangular spectacles framed a rounded face; a beige suit and work-shirt were ruffled by the wind. The man leaned towards me appraisingly. “Phillip Stein? I’m your parole officer.”

I nodded in recognition and turned back – the man tramped over about five feet away from me and sat down himself. “Can I help you?” I asked.

“It’s Chris,” he said, responding to a question I didn’t ask, “and, well, I just thought that since we’d be seeing more of each other I’d just introduce myself and start our relationship on the right foot.”

I was impassive. “It’s nice to meet you.”

He chuckled awkwardly. “Yeah, yeah, same to you! Say, aren’t you cold? You’ll catch your death like that.”

I didn’t respond. “Anyway, mate, there’s no need for fear or anything – I’m a very understanding guy, you know? And I’ve been doing this a while. I’ve seen all sorts, so there’s no question of me looking down on you for whatever circumstances – you know.”

“There’s lots of violent men around.” I said, offering him something to think about for once.

“Boys will be boys. Sometimes you get into a situation – ah, you know better than me, eh? I’m just here to help you out.”

“How old are you?”

“Me? I’m thirty nine. Coming up on the big four-oh in a month! Dreading it.” He laughed, then added; “You’ll know what I mean when you get to my age. Appreciate your youth there!”

I looked at him and twisted my lips into a semi-smirk. “Alright then. For now I’d appreciate if you left me enjoy my day at the beach.”

Jumping to his feet, the suit began wiping off the sand from his clothes. “Right! Right, of course. Don’t mean to impose at all.”

He turned back to me as he crested the dunes and pointed – “Don’t get into trouble now!”

Some half-joke. I smiled and gave a wave back, before returning my focus to the sea, and assigning that boring man into the same forgotten place ten thousand pests reside. The present and its pleasantries I found exhausting. Imprisoned men stay the same, at least.

I didn’t even kill the drunkard this time, but I got some new scars for it anyway.

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