|# ? Jul 14, 2020 16:31|
|# ? Sep 22, 2021 14:58|
|# ? Jul 14, 2020 18:14|
|# ? Jul 14, 2020 20:24|
|# ? Jul 14, 2020 21:46|
Fixing What's Broken
The Middle of the Night
Leaps of Faith
|# ? Jul 14, 2020 21:54|
|# ? Jul 14, 2020 22:02|
|# ? Jul 14, 2020 22:13|
UNRELATED REDEMPTION TIME
Thunderdome Week #290: Fiasco Week 2
An Easy Score
MockingQuantum fucked around with this message at 05:46 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Jul 15, 2020 01:42|
Late. With an edit. Incredible.
|# ? Jul 15, 2020 03:09|
Late. With an edit. Incredible.
dang I hosed up which week it was for and thought I could ninja edit it, but I was not agile enough.
|# ? Jul 15, 2020 03:17|
let's go, in
|# ? Jul 15, 2020 03:31|
let's go, in
|# ? Jul 15, 2020 12:10|
|# ? Jul 15, 2020 22:30|
|# ? Jul 16, 2020 02:24|
Here is a crit for you because writing redemption stories is good.
The old amusement park was a garden of dead leaves and broken rides. Bad opening sentence. It is good in that you have immediately placed the reading in the setting, but bad in that the description of the setting is bland and generic. It hadn’t operated since Sam was too little to remember, shut down after one too many had disappeared years ago. Danny’s older brother was one. Sam looked over at her friend, dressed all in black, his face set in a somber expression that looked too hard on his fifteen-year-old’s features. I found the phrasing in this opening para a bit awkward, I think you could have used more straightforward sentence structures. But also it's kinda dull - you've introduced the setting and the characters, but they're both just standing there. Opening with them climbing over a fence or something would have been more interesting, and would have created more opportunity to show what they're like physically (is climbing a fence easy or hard?) and what their relationship is like (is one helping the other, for example?).
She had been excited to join him. It had sounded like a thrilling way to break up the monotony of the summer, to finally wander through this haunted place. This para is a missed opportunity to tell me how Sam feels about Danny. Was she thrilled to come with him, specifically? Or does she not care about him but was so bored she decided to go anyway?
Danny got hung up on urban legends about the place, but for Sam there was a definite limit. To her, the stories they got from the weirdo at the movie rental place were just a laugh to pass the time. But for Danny they were always something more. A reminder, Sam guessed, that they were getting these stories from the 20-somethings who stuck around after community college, not from his brother. Again I want to know how Sam feels about this. Is she sad for her friend Danny, because he can't move on? Or does she think he's a dork for getting sucked into stupid stories?
The older siblings were gone, mostly. Disappeared when they were all younger, a lot of them at this park, never more than one, and never in quick succession. The disappearances were inconsistent enough, and hope for the kids’ return so high, that it took years for anyone to start asking if the amusement park was the problem. By that time, the damage was done, leaving a rift in the community and the hearts of so many families. Alright yes but what about Sam? How did the disappearances affect her? At the moment it sounds like she only just moved to this town or something, and that this is all something that happened to other people.
Danny was one who had never truly healed, a perpetually open wound, tender to the sting of memory. Now you can probably guess what I'm about to say at this point. This story is told from Sam's POV, but you're not giving me much insight into her emotional state. Does her heart ache that Danny was never able to heal, perhaps? Who knows, maybe they only just met.
It was no surprise Danny’s recollections of his brother would infect him. He had a feverish need for explanation. He was convinced that signs abounded, markers pointed to the cause of the disappearances. A string of signs had led them to the amusement park, or so he told Sam. It made a certain sense. They all disappeared from the park, so why not go to the park to find them?
He had been silent since they entered through the rusted gates into the drab, broken skeleton of the park. Sam saw the roller coaster. Danny had said it was the center of all the disappearances, in one way or another. Every kid that had disappeared rode the coaster beforehand. But what kid wouldn’t ride the coaster at an amusement park?
She supposed there were some who saw thrill as threat, but she had trouble understanding the viewpoint. Even this coaster, this snake-skeleton rising into the evening sky, filled her with a kind of excitement, as if any moment a string of cars would crest the structure to the tune of giddy screams. Sam is so weirdly nonplussed by all of this, it undermines the creepy vibe I think you're going for.
Their steps carried them to the coaster. A staircase ran alongside the first big rise. They started up the steps by unspoken agreement. It was right somehow, right and good. The steps went on forever. She stared at the back of Danny’s head, his fair hair. She saw him, and would not stop seeing him could not stop watching knew it would mean everything to look away just keep looking at This is the first moment that I started to care about this story. I think you needed to give this more space, up the tension that Sam might lose Danny.
The stairway’s handrail creaked and let out a rattle as some rusted bit fell to the ground below. Sam gasped and looked down, gripping the rail tightly as a sway of vertigo threatened to pull her down to the ground as well. She looked up to Danny to see if he was safe. He was gone.
He was not below. He was not on the stairs above her. He was gone. Gone like his brother, gone like the kids gone before them, gone to somewhere else and she just wish she knew why. She was certain he was gone, but somehow felt nothing, as if this was all an inevitability. Feeling nothing is extremely boring. I don't think that having her just accept Danny's disappearance as inevitable is necessarily a bad idea, but this needed to be better telegraphed (e.g. through more build up that they were being somehow pulled into the park), and I want to know how it feels for Sam. Feeling nothing in response to something horrifying is an emotional state in its own right, not just the absence of feeling.
The stairs creaked and groaned as she walked slowly back down to the entrance of the rollercoaster. As she stepped out from under the shelter that once kept the lines of thrill seekers out of the rain, she saw a figure down the pathway back to the park. She ran at the figure, praying it was Danny, that this was all an elaborate trick.
He looked like Danny, could have been Danny, but as she grew close, his features grew in clarity. They were darker, sharper, than Danny’s. She’d seen them in pictures over the years.
Danny’s brother Michael smiled at her. Where the heck did Michael just come from?? “Don’t worry. He may be gone, but he’s somewhere wonderful. Trust me.” Ungh, dang Michael, that's, erm, a pretty weird thing to say.
Ok so overall I think this has good bones, but needed more character meat. We needed to get more inside Sam's head for Danny's vanishing to pay off. Having Michael pop back into existence wasn't a satisfying ending, because he wasn't set up to be one of the people in the story that we cared about.
|# ? Jul 17, 2020 00:04|
UNRELATED REDEMPTION TIME
Ok I can't be bothered to line crit this one because, 1. there was nothing that offended me at a paragraph or sentence level; it read pretty smoothly, and, 2. because wtf is that ending. It's kind of delightfully silly how the ending comes out of absolutely nowhere, but it is still silly. Most of this story is background explanation for what our protag is up to, which, while not badly written, is still fairly dull, then there's a tiny bit of action with him actually doing the thing, then whammo he's dead. I suspect you see how this is problematic, structurally speaking.
|# ? Jul 17, 2020 00:48|
|# ? Jul 17, 2020 16:54|
The Kitchen Table
|# ? Jul 18, 2020 03:25|
|# ? Jul 18, 2020 05:30|
Entries are closed. Good luck! (I'm also still looking for a third judge, if anyone's interested.)
|# ? Jul 18, 2020 12:18|
prompt: The Middle of the Night
MockingQuantum fucked around with this message at 05:46 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Jul 19, 2020 18:16|
1798 words - The Laundromat
I've got three unchecked emails from Andre's divorce lawyers, a letter from the landlord waiting for me at home, and three hours of sleep, and on top of it all, Troya's running around the laundromat like an animal.
"What are you doing?" I sigh, pulling her away from a hipster couple.
"I'm playing tag with Smoky, Mommy!" she says, trying to pry my hand off her shirt collar.
The internet says it's normal to have an imaginary friend, even at her age, I remind myself.
"Where is Smoky now?" I say.
Troya points to her head. "He's in my brain, silly!" At least she knows he's not real. "Do you wanna play, Mommy?"
"Sorry, baby," I say. "They had me playing tag all day at work. I'm all tagged out."
She pulls herself out of my grasp and runs straight into the hipster man. "You're it!" she chirps.
"Control your kid," says the hipster. I apologize, and make sure Troya knows she won't get supper if she doesn't behave. The hipsters judge me for that too.
"I don't know what came over me," says Andre over the phone. I'm in the living room; news is on the TV, muted. Troya's in the bedroom; I can hear her jumping on the bed.
"Yeah you do," I say. "You think I don't wanna hit? Unlike you, I never did. Call off your lawyers, no judge is gonna take your side."
"I think a judge will side with the parent who can afford to feed her," says Andre, as I'm rifling through our bills to see which ones can wait until next month. I look up for a moment and see a familiar face on the TV. "Local man charged with murdering girlfriend." It's the hipster from the laundromat. I do my best to empathize with the poor woman, but I mostly feel vindicated.
I wake up and he's standing at the arm of the couch, and though he's only a foot deep, when I look into him the smoke goes on forever, a man of miles of misty landscapes, shrouded craggy mountains, lakes of black fire, a dream of tantalizing lostness…
"You're it!" says Troya, tapping me on the shoulder.
"What did I say about waking me up?" I shout. "Go back to your bed!"
She laughs and runs back to the bedroom. The smoky man is still there, and he waits for me to fall asleep again.
It would be so much easier if she'd never been born: we were doing so well before her. Andre was so nice; he only got mean after she came. I was in college with A's until she burst out of me.
It's not too late for you, Kamesha.
No, you're right. It isn't.
"MOMMY!" Troya screams, oh poo poo I'm in the wrong lane, I swerve away from the truck how much money do you spend getting her the right toys, there are lights and sirens, pull over when's the last time you had a night to yourself yes, sorry officer, I think it must be the car she weaseled her way into your life, the little parasite, and now it's not your life anymore the ticket can wait until next month you're it.
I've already got a line of customers when the phone starts ringing. It's Troya's school again. I ask my manager Steve to cover for me; he looks annoyed. I step outside and answer the call.
"Hi Kamesha," says the principal. "I'm sorry to do this to you again."
"What'd she do this time?" I sigh.
"A fight broke out with a number of the kids at recess. Troya was apparently the instigator. It started as a game of…"
"...tag, yeah, she's been obsessed lately," I say. "I'll make sure she gets a good talking to when she gets…"
"Not when she gets home, Kamesha, I'm gonna need you to pick her up now."
"That's not gonna happen, I can't miss another shift."
"If you can't come pick her up then we're gonna have to talk about a longer-term suspension."
I swear as I hang up look at all you sacrifice, and for what? I'm so sorry, Steve, I can take the graveyard shift tonight doesn't sleep sound nice? Think about how much you could sleep if she wasn't around yeah, I can fill in Tuesday too, whatever you want she's been eating you from the inside out ever since she was conceived.
"It wasn't my fault! Smoky made me!" She's sobbing, screaming, kicking the back of my seat.
That lying bitch. I would never.
"Shut up!" I yell. "There's no such thing as Smoky!"
"He talks to you too, he told me does!"
"YOU SHUT THE gently caress UP! I do EVERYTHING for you, and the only thing I ever ask for in return is that you leave me be sometimes, but apparently you're too stupid to even do that!"
And then it passes over me, and all the I'm sorry babys in the world aren't enough to stop the screaming and I spend two of the last twenty dollars in the bank account to get her an ice cream and I get paid on Thursday, that paycheck should be seven hundred so I can make a good-faith payment to the you're drowning shut up Smoky, fifty bucks should be enough for the electric company to keep the lights on for now you're the wine and she's the cork. Don't you want to be free? I do I do but we can talk about it later, the landlord's intern will let me fill out a payment plan, he doesn't know any better you need to listen when I'm talking to you, Kamesha SHUT UP SMOKY!...and I yelled that part out loud, didn't I?
"Mommy, I don't want to hang out with Smoky anymore."
"Neither do I, baby."
As I pull up to the apartment building, I see a familiar red Mustang. Andre is leaning on the hood, smoking a cigarette.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I bark as I step out of the car.
"Chill, Meesh," he says as he extinguishes his cigarette against the Mustang. "I fired all my lawyers this morning. I wanna settle this between the two of us. It's the right thing to do, ain't it?"
It's okay, Kamesha. He's telling the truth.
"Troya, I want you to go to your room. Andre, come inside."
We go into the apartment, and Troya, for once, does as she's told; she's rightfully scared of her father. I rummage through the fridge to find anything for Andre to drink.
"I've got a much nicer place than this," says Andre. "She'd be happier with me."
"No. You sent her to the hospital."
"It was a clinic, for six stitches, and that's not gonna happen again. It went seven years without happening. Look, if you can't do it for her, do it for yourself. Get your career back on track. Go back to school. Sleep in an actual bed."
He's right. This is an easy way out.
"Okay. Maybe she can stay with you for a few weeks, just to see how things…"
I look into Andre's eyes: the lakes of fire, the craggy mountains, the landscapes of smoke. He smiles.
"I sometimes feel like Troya is a cork," he says.
"Are you in there at all, Andre? Or is it all Smoky now?"
"I can seep out of her sometimes, into other people. But I won't be really free until she's gone." He takes his lighter out of his pocket. "And then we'll all be free to wander my world. No more bills, no more landlords, just the freedom of being lost." He ignites the window curtains. "Where there's fire, there's smoke."
"Andre, I should've known you'd be weak. TROYA! COME HERE! WE'RE GETTING OUT OF…"
Andre tackles me. One hand is around my neck, and the other is flicking the lighter against my shirt. I hear Troya scream, and then quick footsteps away from her struggling parents and the cackling flames, a door slamming. I scratch Andre's face, but his grip on my neck only tightens. I jab him in the eyes and he recoils. I kick him off of me and get to my feet. My shirt is aflame; sharp burns creep up my midsection. The whole kitchen is ablaze in black smoke. Andre charges me again, I kick him in his gut, then grab him and throw him into the smoke. He doesn't come out.
I throw my shirt off into the smoke go, this is your chance to escape stop it. TROYA! TROYA! If you go after her, you'll both die a world of smoke, how is being in a fire so dark, SCREAM BABY, I CAN'T HEAR YOU, YOU GOTTA SCREAM, the lightbulbs are popping concussively you're a fool shut up, I open the bedroom door heat of the metal be damned, I'm sorry, Kamesha. I'm going to have to kill you too I climb over the craggy mountains, I swim through the fiery lakes, and come out at Troya's bed, but she isn't there you can't shut me out, I am the air you breath I make way back across the lakes and mountains, to the bathroom door and…
"MOMMY!" Troya yells. What a smart girl; she filled up the bathtub and the spigot is still on. "The water's too hot!"
I snatch her up out of the water just as the first bubbles start to make their way to the surface. The poor girl's covered in burns. I turn around to make my mad dash out of the apartment and there stands Andre. Smoke is coming out of his eyes and mouth, and the closer I look, the less his skin looks like ash and more like Smoky's world. Andre is gone; he has become Smoky. Smoky lunges at Troya. I grab the spigot.
"YOU'RE IT, I QUIT, MOTHERFUCKER!"
The jet of water hits Smoky. He screams, then bursts into a puff of steam. I run, Troya firm in my arms, through the ashen hallway.
The firetrucks and ambulances are already there when we get outside. Before the medics can take Troya out of my arms, I clutch her tight. I don't know what comes next, but right now, the only two people in the world are me and my beautiful baby girl.
|# ? Jul 19, 2020 20:34|
Word count: 1194
Thundering sparks rang out the dark of my window. There’s me, I’m huddling under my covers like my dog Flora when she gets scared. Flora’s out for a walk now but I’m under the covers. The navy medals in the glass across from me twinkle like little stars. My hands are bathed in hues of red and blue. There’s me. The door to my room clicks open and in comes a young woman dressed in neat baby blue. She’s very beautiful, and she draws the curtains, then comes over to me and puts her hands on mine. “So sorry you were disturbed, Mr. Overman. They’re really making a lot of noise out there, some of the other guests were woken up too.”
I say “What’s all the ruckus out there?” The lines of her body are very calming, nothing sharp at all.
“People are celebrating the anniversary of our independence.” She says. “Do you want some, ear plugs, or something to help you get back to sleep?”
I’m watching from the window down at all the pleasing symmetry in the car park below. The grid of it is very nice, and dotted in there are all these shining sunshine cars, all sorts of colours. It’s ringed with little lines of hedges and an orange-painted wall. My dad’s Ford hasn’t shown up yet, which is good, ‘cause he’d be mighty angry if he found me and the guys with our beers like this. Danny’s telling a joke about the girl in our class, and we’re laughing but I know he’s only saying it ‘cause he’s sweet on her, I see him making eyes at her in the duck and cover drills. I try to focus on his features but it doesn’t work, just it’s him squatting in the dark under the desk, eyes without a face.
Two women open the door to my room and walk in. One of them is dressed in neat baby blue and the other one is wearing a cardigan – she’s not young, but she’s a little familiar.
“Hey there.” Says the cardigan girl. “How are you today?”
I say something, but it’s hard to get my mouth to move like I want it.
“That’s good.” She smiles at me. She’s wearing a cardigan. “You must be sick of being cooped up in here all day. It’s a lovely afternoon, wanna take a walk?”
Gee, sounds great! Let me put my shoes on.
“Oh, no, it’s alright,” the girl says, “Sit on the bed and I’ll get your shoes on for you.”
I grunt and grumble from where I sit as this nice girl tries to direct my feet into each shoe. I’m not angry. I feel magnetic. They’re leading me out of the door and down the stairs.
I shuffle out of the doorway and try to find some space on the ship’s deck which is packed to the girls with other enlisted men. I look over their heads as they crouch and see the empty sky and empty ocean just laying still. The officers are explaining not to look directly at the explosion. The officers are making their way back down the stairs, closing the door behind them. I look around me and each sailor’s face is featureless as an orange.
I’m watching the empty sky from my window. Somewhere there’s music playing. The navy medals on the wall twinkle in the blades of light streaming in. In my chair, everything feels so heavy. The bones in my hands, all this weight I’m carrying around. All my skin is like burned wax which is slowly melting. My brain has some kind of lock in it, like traffic jams. The amber evening is keeping me company.
Haven’t I got somewhere to be? I can’t just sit here all day, nice as it is. Dad will expect me home any minute now. Man, will he ever give me a good hiding if I’m late.
I fumble through the dark to the door, which opens up to a hotel-lit corridor. I stand there for a moment, then I’m remembering it’s that way.
This corridor is so long – I’ve been walking for ages but every step is like nothing at all. I pass by an open room where three men are sitting on opposite couches, throwing balloons back and forth. Most of the other doors are closed, and it’s still going. My eyes haven’t been too good recently which is maybe why I can’t spot an exit sign. It’s just straight lines going all the way, like motel architecture.
I’m standing in front of an elevator door, lathed in fluorescent light from the ceiling. My trembling hand reaches for the ‘down’ button but when I find it, nothing happens. There’s a keypad above the buttons. I’m whining now, and rubbing my head ‘cause I’m searching it for some code. Come on, let me down. My dad’s gonna be so mad.
“Mr. Overman? Are you lost?” A lady in blue comes up beside me. “You look tired. Why don’t you come have a sit down?” She puts a hand on my shoulder and turns me back down the corridor.
Some ways off the side of the ship the calamitous bang erupts from the ocean and screams white high into the sky. All the arms swing up to cover the faces. It’s so drat bright. I can see the bones of my wrist through my paper skin, it’s so bright. It’s like they rang all the bells and broke all the clocks and stained all the lines.
A couple guys wait until it fades to stand up. Then comes the shockwave, which punches us hard and sends those guys flying across the deck. The whole ship shakes and we’re crawling all over each other. There’s a voice crying out for mommy.
I’m sitting in the doctor’s office with some strangers. The man hands me a clipboard and asks me to draw a clock, but there’s nothing there. My hands put down a jagged crescent moon, and a smattering of ugly stars. He smiles sadly over his spectacles when he takes it back from me. The strangers in the room look sad too, even though I can’t see them. Maybe I feel sad, but there’s some kind of gulf in my head where the wind blows through.
Somebody says, “I’m sorry, Audrey. I don’t want to forget you.” It’s a man’s voice, confident and heart-sleeve. “I don’t want to forget any of it.”
My eyes wander out the clinic windows, where I’m riding past on my bike. I’m speeding past all the hotels that stand so tall and beautiful, looking up into the symmetrical windows and imagining all the people in there, how they can afford such fancy expensive places. It’s like a dream, up there.
I’m riding home as thunderous sparks shoot out from the shore, like pretty artillery. My skeleton is on the ship, and my ending is by the window, looking out. I don’t have time to waste. The wind’s in my hair, my free lungs. I know there’s someone at home who is waiting for me. I love them, whoever they are.
|# ? Jul 19, 2020 20:58|
How to Survive the Giant Robot That Wants to Crush You
We've all heard stories about people getting crushed by giant robots. But that was in the past, right? When I started out as a plumber, they said giant robots were extinct. The tools I trained on were made out of the parts salvaged from robots. That was all the proof I needed. So imagine my surprise, when I came to find out I had my own giant robot, waiting for me.
It was just about dusk on October 19th last year. I was on Highway 20 past Chitwood, going east. If you've spent time on the central Oregon coast, you know about the fireflies. That time of year, they're crazy bright. Some nights you can turn your headlights off and still make your way. Other nights, you gotta stay focused. The way the roads in that forest twist & turn, it would only take a split-second distraction, then boom. It's over. You lost it all. You're dead.
All of which is just to say: I was doing some very focused driving. I had my eye on the center line, my mirrors, and nothing else. Radio tuned to sports talk, volume way down low. Tight grip on the wheel. Maybe it was that tuned-up condition I was in that made me react so bad when I saw it.
Way off in the distance, behind the Corvallis haze, pink from the last rays of the setting sun. My robot, or at least its head. That first night, I didn't see its whole body. Just the head. And to be honest, I didn't really even know what I was looking at. For a second, what I thought I saw was a giant industrial faucet, all done up with that crap my son puts in his gaming computer. Imagine that, right? Giant faucet that size, it would constantly be having leaks somewhere on it. Not to mention trouble with the lighting. You could work for your whole life on a faucet like that. I'd have killed for that kind of stability back then. Dream come true. Anyhoo. Wasn't that.
It was the robot, looking me dead in the eye. I don't know how I knew that, what with the distance and my general lack of robot knowledge. But I felt it. A promise, from it to me. It was out to crush me, and it would be here soon. I stared at it, not breathing, until the trees rose up in front of it. My hands were sweating. My eyes couldn't find the center line. The jackhammer in my chest started pounding in my ears.
I think some crap fell off the racks in the back of the truck, the way I swerved onto the shoulder. But I had to get a handle on myself. I nearly dropped my phone, I was shaking so bad. I called my wife.
"Harris? What's going on, baby? You don't sound right," said Crystal.
"I'm afraid," I sputtered. I was on the verge of a total breakdown. No filter. "I'm scared, I-- I don't wanna get crushed."
I still feel bad about doing that to her. Must have scared her to death too. What a mess that would've been. Two scared-stiff parents and a couple kids who wouldn't figure out what happened until the power got shut off. But Crystal, like always, she knew just what I needed to hear. She put on her soothing voice. The type of one where you can feel her warmth on your back when you hear it, you know?
"Come home, baby. Have some dinner. You can tell me all about it. I want to see you."
I can tell you, I got my focus back real quick off of that. And I made it home in one piece.
I didn't wind up telling Crystal about the robot that night. Didn't want her to think I was crazy, or start asking questions I didn't know how to answer. I made up something about the fireflies getting in my face. She didn't buy it, but she also didn't push it, and life went on. Only thing that changed was the robot was still there. Every day I went out, got to a high enough vantage point, I could see it, still there on the horizon. A little bit more of it every day.
I practiced in my van, looking myself in the mirror. Tried to form the question without letting fear leak out the corners of my eyes. I couldn't do it. I hadn't cried in years, not since my son was born. I thought I was a real tough guy. But I didn't have any tools for this. Knowing that made the fear even stronger.
The next couple of months went by in a blur. I stuck to my usual routes and kept my eyes off the horizon. When the robot snuck into my peripheral vision, I convinced myself it was just an electric tower, or some bougie new condo going up.
Crystal could tell something was off with me. Of course she could - it's Crystal we're talking about, for Christ's sake. She knew when I didn't eat lunch, or ate too much. One night, after the kids had cleared their plates, she caught me staring into the ice at the bottom of my glass.
"Okay, mister deep sea diver. Come up and talk to me."
She put her hand on my arm. "You know what I mean. You're bothered by something, tell me what it is."
The ice in my glass rattled until I set it down. I tightened up those leaky valves in my eyes as best I could. The back of my neck prickled as I tried to come up with a lie. I knew she would clock my reaction soon.
"And don't lie," she said.
"I was just," I started, taking a deep breath. "I was thinking about you. And the family. I was wondering if you're happy."
"Of course we're happy. The kids love you, I love you."
"But if I died tomorrow, would you be alright? Would you have enough?"
"I've had enough of that kind of talk," she said firmly. "I know we don't have much, but as long as we have you, it's plenty, baby."
Crystal rocked my world that night. I felt kind of bad about it, but I felt kind of good about it, too. Something about the way she held me, gripped me with her fingers, it was like she was desperate to hold on. Not that I'm such a catch. But I felt it, and I knew I couldn't let her down.
In the morning, I woke up early with something ringing in my ears. All day I tried to make sense of it. That evening, driving home on Highway 20, I caught sight of the giant robot, and this time, I couldn't ignore it.
Standing tall over everything, it looked down on me. It didn't have arms, just a gray metal cylinder for a body, studded with flashing lights. And now, for the first time, I could see its legs, long and curved, infinitely jointed so they could form any angle. Instantly I knew what the sound was that had woken me up that morning. It was the robot's heavy foot, coming down to crush the land beneath it. That would be the sound I heard when it finally came for me.
I called Gabe in a panic. Guy from the old neighborhood, he's a few years older than me; it was actually him who got me into the plumbing trade in the first place. We met up in a parking lot in Blodgett.
"Yeah, they're still around," he said, coolly, after I had worked up the nerve to let my insanity spill out. "You didn't know? Yeah, lots of folks see 'em after a while."
I think I stood there staring at him for a solid minute before I said anything. I might not have even blinked. It bubbled up and came out as a shout. "This is happening all the time? People getting crushed?! Why doesn't anybody talk about it?"
Gabe waved it away. "People don't want to think about it. One minute you're wrecking the giant robots and making them your bitch, next minute there's a whole other wave coming over the horizon? It's too much. People would give up."
"Or we could join together, figure out a way to stop all these things, for the good of humanity." My hands were spread out, pleading. Begging for a scrap of comfort.
"Good of humanity? Where do you think the robots come from? Outer space?" He said that like it was the silliest idea you could have. It sounded reasonable to me. "Other people make 'em, and they're never gonna stop. There's no winning for guys like us. That's not the world we live in. There's only surviving."
My mouth went dry. My gaze drifted to find my giant robot, standing mid-stride, just one suburb over from mine. It was already watching me. "So," I said with a gulp, "how do I survive this thing?"
"Money," Gabe said. "Just about the only thing that helps is money. The more you have, the less you get crushed. It's that simple."
I wondered how much I could get for my kidney. Gabe wrote something down and handed me a slip of paper. It looked like nonsense. "Ask your kids," he said. Then he got in his van and left.
I spent the whole night lying next to Crystal, wide awake, listening to her breathing and thinking about how far I'd go to stop from being crushed. I thought about all the crimes I could and couldn't bring myself to do. In the early morning hours, I sobbed. At least I knew I wasn't crazy. At least I knew there was a way. That shrunk down the fear, and without the fear, everything else rushed out. At some point I must've woke up Crystal, 'cause I felt her rubbing my back. I told her everything.
In the morning I went out to my truck, and the giant robot was there. Towering above our little house. One massive foot raised high in the air, blocking the sun, ready to crush me.
Turns out what Gabe gave me was a website. I moved my son's gaming rig onto the kitchen table and studied. Every waking moment between clients, I read up on new tools, fresh techniques, sales tactics. I had to go to school all over again. But it's working. Maybe it's just slowed down, or maybe the robot's foot hasn't moved an inch since I started. Either way, I can't stop. What choice do I have? I owe it to my family not to get crushed by the giant robot.
|# ? Jul 19, 2020 23:16|
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:38 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Jul 19, 2020 23:27|
We had no pictures of Dad in the house, and everyone else seemed to have forgotten him. Even Beth, who cried for days when he died, and Granny, who used to mention every time we saw her how brave he was, now acted as if he had never been here at all. Uncle Eddie still talked about him, but since him and Mum didn’t get on we were rarely there to hear it.
Sometimes even I forgot to think about Dad. It was hard to remember him as anything more than the feeling of waiting, punctuated occasionally by surprise trips to Chester Zoo or Alton Towers. I think he wanted to make up for all the time he was away by making the few days we had with him as memorable as possible, but if that was his intention, it didn’t work as planned. Instead, the days themselves overshadowed his presence in them, making it impossible to disentangle him from the whirlwind that came alongside.
As I saw it, the difference between me and the rest of the family was that I wanted to remember him. I wanted it constantly, with a dull ache that intermittently solidified into a hard, unbearable, need. When it did, I would wait until Mum was engrossed in the television or some chore and sneak inside her wardrobe, climbing right to the back. There, where his uniform still hung as if he had only just stepped out of it, Mum’s pink and white dresses formed the eaves of a shrine to a forgotten religion, and I its only parishioner.
Our secret creed had precious few relics. In Dad’s left boot I kept the only photo of all four of us I could remember seeing: a man in a buzzcut holding a baby, a young woman resting her head on his shoulder, and a little girl - Beth would’ve been five at the time - sitting on her mother’s knee, smiling in that way kids do before they learn how to make it look natural. Now, the scene was bisected by a white cross from being folded and refolded countless times, with each of our faces partitioned off in a separate square.
I would place his heavy boots under the dangling legs of his trousers and pretend he was standing over me as the stern but caring masculine presence I knew he would have been if he was alive. The boots embodied his personality as I imagined it: strong and reliable, like tough leather, but soft within; designed to protect, to keep safe. When I knew I wouldn’t be heard, I would talk to them like he lived inside them.
Any movement from the house below was a sign I should cut short my communion. It was never worth the telling off for Mum to find me there.
I got in much worse trouble than that protecting his memory. It wasn’t that I got angry often, but when Peter Cullen tried to badmouth Dad on the playground I felt myself explode uncontrollably, like I had become engulfed by cold flames. I pushed Peter to the ground and squatted over him, pummelling his chest with my two balled fists. The other boy was too surprised to resist.
When Mum drove me home she didn’t speak once.
A few weeks later, Uncle Eddie’s car was in the driveway outside Granny’s house when we got there. “You didn’t tell me he was here,” Mum said when the door opened.
“Come on, Sue, don’t give me that look,” said Granny. “I’m sure the two of you can get on.” Beth and I stood behind them, unsure what to do. It was always strange to think of Mum as someone else’s child.
Mum told us to wait by the car while she and Granny disappeared inside. A short time later, Mum stuck her head round the doorframe to invite us in.
Uncle Eddie didn’t join us for lunch, but Granny’s house was scattered with signs of his presence. His dark leather boots - a scuffed replica of the pair in the back of Mum’s closet - were messily abandoned by a chair in her otherwise neat, bright, living room. On the coffee table next to them, her beige desktop computer lay half-disassembled. My life was haunted by the half-presences of men and the things they left behind.
After lunch I went out to play in the back garden and there he was, smoking a cigarette behind the tool shed. “Your Granny thinks I’ve given up,” he said, glancing at the burning tip. “You won’t tell her, will you kid?”
“I won’t,” I said. It felt very mature to keep a grown up’s secrets.
“Good,” he said, giving me a conspiratorial wink. “You’re a good lad. She told me what you did at school, you know. You did good. Even if our Mums don’t agree, it was very brave to stand up for your Daddy like that. This country needs more brave men like you and your Daddy.”
I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t felt brave when I knocked Peter down, only angry. But I hadn’t felt scared, either. Maybe that was how it felt to be brave - how Dad and Eddie had felt all the time.
Uncle Eddie rolled up his right sleeve. “You see that?” he said, pointing to a smudge of black ink on the inside of his forearm, cigarette gripped in his teeth. “Your Daddy had a tattoo just like that. It was the patch of our company. I’m not ashamed of it, no matter what anyone says. He loved this country and he died protecting it. Don’t you ever forget that.”
At that moment, a firm hand grabbed my wrist and Mum pulled me back to the house. Uncle Eddie laughed bitterly and stamped his cigarette butt into the mud.
When I was eleven, we searched our own names in IT class. That’s when I found out what Dad did, and how he died. It is impossible for me to explain how it felt to see his name in black and white on that grimy LCD screen, contained within an article that was only more horrifying for how little I understood it. Anything I say now will be a false projection, a narrative that has retroactively accumulated through the thousand times I have relived the moment in my head, or relitigated the arguments that followed.
All I remember is that a barrier suddenly appeared between me and the world, as if I was six feet into my skull in every direction. I didn’t speak for the rest of the day. When I got home, I waited until Mum gave up on getting me to tell her what was wrong and had retreated into the glow of the television, then snuck upstairs and back into her wardrobe. It felt like saying goodbye. What I had read, and the images I had seen, was impossible to square with the vision of him I had constructed.
I took the photo out of the boot and realised he was smiling less holding me than in the photo I had found online, where he wore a horrible, savage grimace that didn’t reach his eyes. Were these the same boots he wore in that photo, standing on the neck of a distraught woman while his buddies jeered, electrical wires clipped to her exposed skin, blood covering her bruised face? Was it a belt like this he had used to hang himself after the pictures leaked rather than face the consequences?
I don’t know how long it was before Mum found me. It felt like an age. She tenderly picked me up from the darkness of the wardrobe and guided me to the bed, like I hadn’t grown at all since the day he had died. She held my head gently as I cried into her neck. For the first time I saw the unmentioned gulf that had been widening between us.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I said between sobs. “Why did you just let me keep loving him?”
She stroked my hair. “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out,” she said. Warm tears landed on my forehead.
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 01:04|
Out here in the middle is where the lean green smell is the strongest. Tons of chlorine, helicoptered over the lake weekly, sinking fathoms down and eating all the impurities hiding from the light of the day.
People think that the smell is from the chlorine itself, but it isn’t--it’s the smell of decomposition. It’s the odor from the gases that emanate and bubble up through the water when the chlorine dissolves and devours the impurities it comes in contact with. I love that smell, even though it makes my eyes water. It’s the scent of a job well done.
The air is cold, and the sky is grey. I drop anchor, and then I slide over the side of the raft, into the water, and it feels like breaking into another atmosphere.
I have feelings, but I keep them to myself, pack them tightly around my spine and let them galvanize me, like the acid inside of a battery, burning cold and clear.
The valve at the base of my neck opens up, the oxygen rushes out of me, and I descend. The loose skin balloons out from my neck, becomes porous near the tip, and bubbles of air float back to the surface, where the light is already fading away.
All Fibs are made for this job, but very few have the courage to actually do it. The best attribute one can have in this line of work is the natural ability to categorize, to know that you’re the one that’s able to call a germ a germ, call a virus a virus, determine what a disease is and then determine the best way to eradicate it.
I’m still sinking, and the valve trailing behind me is still working hard, filtering oxygen in and out.
My chin is against my chest, and before I know it, the city has opened up below me.
Towers with open window frames and doorways, made out of light blue cement, treated to resist erosion, covered in mosaic dulled by time. I’m scanning for a good place to land, but there’s no street, no ground, just roofs and walls and the occasional short ladder hooked to the side. I reach out and snag one of them, slow myself to a halt. There are words stenciled beside it in black paint:
220 FT BELOW
100 FT ABOVE
Now comes the fun part.
I freeze, pretend to be a bit of debris floating along, just another impurity even though there’s none left in the water.
The world is dark blue and silent.
I hear it--there.
A flash of skin, translucent and pale, darting behind a doorway.
I bend forward and kick off the side of the building, missile myself towards the face of the opposite compound, breaststroke my way through the empty space.
Once I’m inside, I unhook a glowstick from my belt and crack it, releasing a lime-green glow. There are bulbs built into the wall behind waterproof glass, but whatever power source there was ran out a while ago.
Something floats in front of my face, and I swat it away, hold the light up to it.
A laminated photo, still wearing away at the edges, but intact. Two kids and a mother sitting at a kitchen table, tossing apple-sized ampoules of orange juice at each other, seaweed trailing over the lip of the vase bolted to the kitchen table.
From at least a decade ago, judging by the color still left in their skin.
I stay still again, trying to track the thing I saw only a glimpse of. My hand grasps the edge of the doorway, and I ease myself into an empty corridor, holding the glowstick in front of me, sending refracted light up the cement walls.
Slow, slower, closer.
I pause, peek inside a doorway to my left, trying to catch the faint sounds traveling through the water.
They’ve stopped, faded off into nothingness.
I swim another inch forward, raise my glowstick again, and in front of me are several pearlescent fleshy mouths, bellowing with anger below milky-white eyes.
I lurch back, hand scrabbling to my belt, but the thing is already gone, moving through the water, turning a corner and floating down a stairwell. If I can just trap it--
My feet and hands are aching from propelling me through the water so fast, but I can’t let up. There’s only so far it can run.
I swim into the stairwell, the glowstick bright between my teeth, hand-over-hand pulling myself along the metal railings, pulling myself down, down, down. 120 FEET ABOVE. 100 FEET ABOVE. 80 FEET ABOVE.
The screaming, pale white face is seared into my brain, and I think of the launcher holstered to my hip, with one wax bullet inside. The hammer pierces the wax, and the compressed air shoots it forward. High potency acidic solution, enough to purify and disintegrate everything in a ten-foot radius. I imagine firing it right between those pale, unseeing eyes.
I recognize that face. I’m used to seeing it by now.
The blind eyes, skin pale and sloughing, chin stooped low. Everyone down here had that face, after the chlorine in the water changed from a confidential, trace amount to an open deluge, when other measures needed to be taken.
That’s another skill you have to bring to this job as a Fib--the ability to look at nature, and the natural world, as being above qualities such as good and evil. There’s no sense in meeting a natural disaster with anger and sorrow. No room for shifting rock and cleansing fire to have a conscience.
So many other Fibs backed away from the fight, ended up joining the losing side, because they decided to have a conscience. Because they forgot they were special, and that the above world needed us more than we needed them.
Needed someone willing to do a job, and do it well.
Green light filters between my teeth, and I’m grinning so hard my face hurts, down in the depths where nobody can see.
By the time I reach 40 FEET ABOVE, I can hear it again, see a trace of glimmering flesh trailing from around another stairwell corner. I creep closer, slide my hand down to my belt holster. It’s been too long. It’s been far too long.
I spit out the glowstick and it floats in the space between us, sending shadows spinning across the walls.
I take aim.
The cloud of flesh tenses, then bolts.
I lunge forward to follow, before I realize it’s not running away.
Something soft and smothering plasters itself to my face, and air escapes my screaming mouth.
Then all is silent again.
My limbs tense up.
Something--aching and sweet.
The ghost is gone.
The ghost--ghosts--are in me.
Red and blue. Rage and sorrow. Searing heat and extreme cold.
Thousands of harmonic howling deaths.
Water slips down my throat, and I choke.
They did this.
They did this to me.
My hand, the one holding the launcher, is moving, inch by inch, towards my head.
I realize that I’m still the one moving it, fighting for every inch.
I will not let them win.
I will win.
I have a job to do.
My thumb presses down on the button, and I shut my eyes.
The bullet misses my head, torpedoes down the stairwell and out of sight.
All of the muscles in my body relax.
I laugh in a voice that isn’t mine, and then I cry in a voice that isn’t mine, the impurities flowing through my body, all the impurities that need to be disintegrated, dissolved, destroyed, and I move to swim towards the light but my arms won’t work and my legs won’t work and the only light is the glowstick, floating down into the murky depths of the stairwell, end over end, twirling and green, until it floats into the radius of the acid, and then the acid eats it up, and then there is nothing.
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 02:08|
Opening a Door
Prompt: Leaps Of Faith
Word Count: 1768
On May 30th of 2017, I was blessed with The Rites of Ordination, officially becoming Father Colin Mulvaney of St. Michael’s Parish in Atchison, KS. One year later, I found myself sitting in a cheap motel outside of Cairo, watching my Vatican-appointed translator haggling with an Egyptian blacksmith and an Iranian occultist. The longer I stared at the iron ore they bickered over, the more I heard the clanging metal and smelled the burning coal of a Pagan god’s forge. I hadn’t picked up much Arabic by then, but I had just started picking out the phrase “qatal al shayatin.” My translator said it meant “demon slayer.” Roughly. Of course, they’d always say it while looking at me and chuckling, so that helped me recognize it.
I couldn’t blame them. I know the idea of me trying to fight a demon was absurd. But it was a decision I made after hours of prayer in the hospital. During April 29th, 2018 mass, St. Michael’s was destroyed in what as far as anyone outside knew was a tornado. As far as the local news was concerned, the only strange things about the incident were how localized the damage was, and how many of the survivors were suddenly anemic. A few did mention the young priest who was miraculously unharmed, other than a few minor bruises from shattered wood, and what they believed to be the impact phase of PTSD. When Bishop Durante visited me in the ER, he’d heard I was pulled from the wreckage screaming about ghosts in the wind. And that I spent most of the initial disaster swinging an incense burner like a medieval mace.
It’s difficult to explain to someone you respect that you not only saw a strange corpse-like specter in the winds, but that it felt right when you attacked it. That the winds seemed to slow as you flailed around like an idiot. I told him too that I had a series of flashbacks during the event. Odd ones. Mostly of the boxing lessons I took a couple years ago and the time I joined the college fencing team. Seminary taught us that God speaks through gut instincts and flashes. The metaphor they often used was the magnetized puzzle. You still have to assemble it yourself, but all the pieces are pulled together. And the drive I felt in the church hadn’t left me. The same instinct to lash out at the demon in the wind was making me anxious in my hospital bed. I truly believed God wanted me to stop this creature.
The bishop’s expression killed me. He tried to keep his face as stone faced as he could, but the occasional twitch of his jaw told me how hard that struggle was. I tried to laugh the whole off as some weird panic-induced delusion, thinking if I at least admitted I was crazy he wouldn’t pity me as hard. But I gauged him wrong. He handed me a legal pad and asked for the names of as many parishioners as I could remember. He told me when I got out, I would be picked up by a black Oldsmobile. I was cleared the next day and the car was waiting. The middle aged Italian man driving handed me a plane ticket to Rome and drove me directly to the airport. We didn’t speak much on the way.
They set me up with a room in Corviale, though I didn’t see it often during my stay. I never really needed to adjust to the new time zone, since I spent my nights in a church office after hours. Most of these nights were getting questioned by Cardinals and Mother Superiors. Some were about the attack. Not only what I saw, but if I smelled or tasted anything during it. Others were about my fitness routines and various physical trainings I had. I got to spar with a Swiss Guard on Day 3. On Day 4, a local doctor administered a psych exam, asking if I was prone to flashbacks or if I remembered any particularly vivid dreams. The last day started with a visit from Bishop Durante. He wasn’t there to administer an exam. He just sat with me. Asked how I was doing. No one during the experience had been particularly warm until then. After a bit of small talk, He asked if I still wanted to go through with this.
He explained that God only opens doors if He believes you can walk through, but he never forces you through. Confronting the world outside the physical takes a terrible toll on both faith and sanity. Even from the most pious. He told me if I believed this task was too much, I was free to walk away right then and there. But if I passed this first threshold, even if I abandoned my journey immediately after, I would be fundamentally changed. I thought of the church. Thought of the panic in both my heart and the congregation as we ran towards the basement, through the shrapnel that used to be hallowed walls. I thought of the families turning pale, almost shrivelling as that horrible phantom seemed to drain the life from them, and the ones who weren’t so lucky. But somehow, I was more anxious speaking to The Bishop than I was fighting for my life and flock against a being I couldn’t fully comprehend. But I wasn’t anxious enough to say no. Bishop Durante asked me to pray The Apostles Creed with him. He then taught me a new prayer; one to Enki, Sumerian god of exorcism. Or at least the best translation he could get from the original cuneiform.
The monks in the Vatican archives thought what I described sounded like an Edimmu, a kind of vampiric demon written about in early Mesopotanian texts. But the corpse-like appearance, plus a few reports of survivors hearing their name called before the attack, suggested a vryolakas. Those were prominent in ancient Greece. That information was the first step in constructing a weapon. They bought iron ore from Mount Etna, associated with both the Roman smith god Vulcan and his Greek counterpart Hephaestus, from a group of Neo-Pagans out of Alessandria who apparently owed them a favor. Then we flew to Cairo to meet with the Persian, some sort of wizard they referred to when things were outside of the Christian understanding, and his wife, the Egyptian blacksmith who specialized in divine weaponry. She suggested invoking the sun god Ra, since whatever we were facing had vampiric properties. Her design was a khopesh with an eye accenting the hilt, scarab beetles decorating the crossguard. He insisted that the Sumerian udug-hul invocation was written in cuneiform on the blade. I was relieved, because I meant they would take the ore.
The ore made me uncomfortable. Often physically. The official escorting it kept it in a reinforced case, but I could still smell it. It could be in the trunk of a car parked outside, and there would still be that sooty metallic odor burning my nostrils as I inhaled. Until it was refined, that was the closest I could be to it outside the case. I would develop a fever. I would experience auditory and sensory hallucinations. I would hear what sounded a hammer striking iron. My mouth felt full of hot iron shavings and coal dust. Paranoia followed. I felt like I was trespassing just by standing close to it. These feelings never completely left, even after the sword was forged. But they dulled. It went from a feeling of trespassing to more of a creepy coworker. I still feel like I’m being watched, judged. But we both have a job to do, so there probably won’t be trouble during our shift. That was enough for me to push it to the back of my mind.
The final call came without warning. The monks had constructed a check list of odd phenomena that occurred in Atchison within a one week window, then applied those with weather behavior along the jet stream. Based on this, they had an approximate time for when the Edimmu would resurface. And a location: Harper, Liberia. I didn’t know this until after they had already put me on a light aircraft and flew me out of the country. Bishop Durante joined me. He prayed with me as we crossed the Mediterrian. When we landed, he had me recite the udug-hul, then anointed me with oils as I knelt on the tarmac. He booked a rental car and drove me to a church on the edge of town.
As the winds began to swirl, I felt the tension in my gut as I held the sword. I stepped out of the car wielding the khopesh. The memories of St. Michael’s flooded my head as the building before me seemed to buckle in the wind. As the storm shook my balance, I repeated the udug-hul. The rain that poured on my face seemed to slow and bend in the direction I walked. I enter the church with the sword cast forward. As the rain dampened my face and I struggled for balance, I felt as if I stood on the bow of the Mantchet, bringing the daylight past the gates of the sky goddess. Dust in the air revealed the Edimmu, arms opening wide as the hood of the viper Apep. I swung. The parishioners, many of whom had already been drained, made their way for the exit as I cut the air. I rebuked the beast in languages I didn’t understand, as if screaming with someone else’s mouth. Until at long last, the ghost crumbled, the winds stopped, and the clouds outside parted.
As the relief took hold of me, the sword in my hand shook. The odor of the forge hit my lungs. Liberia seemed to vanish as I saw temples crumbling in a far away desert and crosses raised in an early century. The sword burned in my hand as I saw The Nile turn to blood. The hallucinations stopped as I threw the khopesh to the ground, watching it shatter like a steel balloon. The gods had concluded their business with Mine and wanted me to know. It’s an odd feeling the wrath of the previously thought fictitious.
After my debriefing, I requested a sabbatical from the priesthood. I often feel nostalgic for Rome, a city I know little of outside a hotel and church office. I assume that is God opening a door. But nothing as of now has forced me through.
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 05:11|
black knights and dragons, girl
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 21:25 on Jan 8, 2021
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 05:14|
A Sword Called Deathwish
Prompt: Fallen Angels
The sword enters Erika's life in a thrift shop, the natural home of treasures and curses. She's killing time, staring at the art and knick-knacks while her prettier friends try on prom dresses, when she notices the sword hanging on the wall between two generic watercolor landscapes. It's a glitzy, chintzy thing, its red-pleather sheath covered in rhinestones, the hilt encrusted with pale green glass gems and wrapped in the same red pleather. Erika's first thought is, it's hideous. Her second thought is I need it.
There's no attendant watching, so she grabs the sword off the wall and slides the hilt down. the blade is shiny stainless steel, probably never sharpened. Erika reaches forward with a fingertip to test it, then stops herself. What if it's actually sharp? What if she bleeds on it, and then it costs money she doesn't have? How much does a sword cost, anyway?
It turns out to cost $10, and Erika has $20 in her pocket. The cashier gives her a trash bag to carry it home in, and she slings it over her shoulder like there's nothing more natural. Her parents are going to be pissed, but she thinks she can argue them down -- her grades have been okay, good enough that there hasn't been talk of boarding school for a few months, and it's just a stupid junk sword anyway. Why can't she have something fun in her life for once?
A dozen years later, as Erika sorts through the detritus of her life in a U-Store-It parking lot, she decides the sword is going in her car instead of the storage unit. She knows it's a stupid idea -- it's simultaneously not enough weapon to scare off a thief and just enough weapon to get her shot by a cop -- but something about it whispers safety, whispers last resort. Besides, she tells herself, she can keep it in the trunk while she's couch-surfing. It's just a little piece of her past, of ten dollars and a fight with her parents misspent. The sword doesn't look as chintzy now as she remembers, though; it's got a satisfying weight in her hands, and the grip feels like proper leather. The glass stones on the pommel seem to glow under the parking-lot floodlights. Erika feels a momentary urge to test the edge -- she knows, without unsheathing the blade, that it's keen -- but she forces herself to wrap the sword in a bedsheet and stick it in the trunk, next to a banker's box of old paperbacks. She doesn't have time for this.
After two weeks of couch-surfing, two arguments, and three restless nights in the back of her car, Erika wakes up lying on wet earth with the sword in her hand. She feels the warmth and weight of the hilt before she registers the howling wind or the sleet pounding down through the forest canopy above her. Numb and thoughtless, too tired for fear, Erika forces herself to her feet. There's a warm light in the distance, just barely visible between the trees, and she runs for it -- stumbling, staggering, but not falling. The light is coming from a farmhouse window; Erika clambers onto the porch, shivering and soaked, leaving bloody footprints on the front steps. There are voices from inside, and two figures step out onto the porch. One of them is holding a blanket, or a towel, and throws it over Erika's shoulders as the other guides her inside.
Erika lets herself be guided to a kitchen chair, and soon there are four people clustered around her. The inhabitants of the farmhouse are broad and androgynous, with squared-off features and flinty blue-grey skin; the language they speak sounds like nothing Erika's ever heard, with slurred consonants and crisp explosive vowels, but their intonation and body language is instantly familiar. They speak to each other in muted tones of concern, then to her with warmth and confusion. "I'm sorry," she replies, "I don't know. I just woke up here. Where is this?"
They stare at her, then one of them shakes their head. Great, she thinks, stuck in the kind of fantasy novel where the author likes making up languages. She wants to laugh, or cry, but she's barely got the energy to stay balanced on her chair. One of her hosts offers her a mug of something hot; it's the pink-orange of grapefruit juice, but the flavor is strongly floral, like spiced rose hips. She drinks deeply, and it's gone in three long swallows.
Erika's sword is resting against the wall by the door -- she didn't even realize it had been taken from her hand. In the warm light of the kitchen, the sheath and hilt look blood-red, and the shiny pleather looks well-worn, handgrip stained with skin oil. Erika isn't in any place to question that right now. All she can feel, as she's fussed over by her hosts, is a sort of dull relief that she's still alive.
All her life, Erika's been sure she'll somehow manage to figure things out later, when her life isn't so crazy. That's never happened, but she falls back on it again. There'll be answers in the morning.
There are no answers in the morning, but there's a set of clean clothes laid out for her, which is a decent start. Erika climbs out of the oversized plushness of her bedroll, dresses herself in the loose trousers and tunic she's been offered, and heads out into the main room of the farmhouse. There's a fifth chair at the table, now, and a plate of hot breakfast waiting for her.
She and her hosts don't figure out language in the two days before the storm comes again, but they barely need to. Her hosts speak to her warmly and kindly, and along with their gestures, their messages get through: continual concern, offers of food, and gentle refusal whenever she tries to help. Erika can't remember the last time she's been offered a meal or a bed without the promise of favors, and these people won't even let her do the drat dishes.
Midway through the third day, when Erika offers to do the dishes and the oldest of her hosts shoos her away from the sink, a dam breaks in her heart and she starts crying, ugly childlike tears of the sort she never cried even as a kid. She can't take the kindness. She doesn't deserve it, and she can't even respond properly, can't even express gratitude. "Thank you," she sobs, over and over. Her elder host puts an arm around her and strokes gently at her back, gurgling a syllable Erika can't pronounce. She can't remember the last time she was hugged before this.
Behind them, Erika's sword clatters to the floor, and a moment later a shrill scream rises from outside. Startled, Erika glances at the sword; the stones on the sheath are glowing.
That's the thing about stories like this: nobody gets sent to a fantasy world without a good reason. There's always a call to duty, always a quest. When Erika picks up the sword, the heat in the hilt is nearly enough to scald her, and when she unsheathes it, the metal looks hungry.
Erika runs out the door, into the wind and sleet, towards wherever the sword is taking her.
There's a dragon in the orchard: a long, sinuous iridescent beast, weaving through the trees and screaming its rage into the storm. It speeds towards Erika and her outstretched sword; it's on her before she even knows it, but another scream from somewhere in the trees tells her that's for the best. There are people out there, and she needs to keep the dragon away from them. That's her mission.
In all her years of sword ownership, Erika has never once swung the thing, but it feels natural in her hands now: weighty but effortless, like the sword's doing the driving. It has to be. Erika lunges at the dragon with a wide, brutal slash, drawing a line of blood along the scales, but it whips around her to snap at her flank; she throws herself away from it, barely staying on her feet, and her sword drives her forward again. She's a step ahead of the beast, but the sword keeps her blows big, sloppy, and bloodthirsty. It's keeping her off-balance and wide open.
The sword wants blood, she realizes -- but not the dragon's.
It all comes back to her in a flash: the sword finding her in the low sad mires of high school, dazzling her when she should've known better; letting her rediscover it in the hopeless depths after her eviction; the way she's always wanted to open herself up with it and let herself bleed. The sword is the stupid death she's always expected for herself, and now it's brought her here to die in the dragon's jaws, a martyr, a hero. That was its mistake. If it wanted her to be ready to die, it shouldn't have brought her somewhere she was loved.
Erika pulls back, bringing the sword up to block a slash from the dragon's tail; the weight that was comfortable a moment ago is leaden now. It knows. The dragon screeches in frustration, whirling around for another pass, its maw leering open. Erika sees her moment, and she charges. The sword is light in her grip once again, urging her into the dragon's jaws -- but she thrusts forward, with one last burst of adrenaline, and buries the sword in the dragon's open mouth. It hisses and shrieks, spraying hot blood and foaming spittle, and launches itself into the canopy. Erika can feel her strength ebbing, but she watches her death fly away with a smile on her face.
There's shouting from the treeline, and two of Erika's hosts rush to her side. One of them is crying messy, cathartic tears; the other one is beaming. "Ehh-rick-ah," they say, and offer her a shoulder to lean on. She tries to remember the word they'd used that first night, to introduce themselves, and makes the best effort she can manage.
It's mangled, but from Telha-nha-shenh's smile, it's close enough. It's a start, she thinks. She's got a lot of vocabulary to learn, and things to say she could barely express even in English, but she'll start with names -- and "thank you." And then, maybe, "let me do the dishes tonight."
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 06:49|
"Trust your memory," said Gaurav. Dr. Balan. Whatever. My therapist. We'd been making a lot of progress, getting past some of the gaslighting poo poo that my ex pulled on me over the last ten years. "Trust your memory."
Thing is, one of my most vivid memories is from back when I was thirteen, when I saw, when I saw my cousin Dylan ripped apart by something invisible right in front of me.
Now, I have spent my life convinced that it never happened, that when I saw his shirt tear and the skin beneath as well; when I heard his yowls of pain; when I felt the gravel under my scrabbling arms as I backed away, unable to stand, unable to look away as that final diagonal gash bisected him shoulder to thigh; when I saw strange shapes vaguely outlined in spattered blood move toward my unmoving body, then retreat into the evening twilight; that all of those memories were some nightmare I mistook for reality. Dylan died in a car accident, I was told.
Later, when I was a teenager, I went digging around at the edges of the event, of Dylan's death. There were always things that didn't quite add up about it, in the records. I was quite the girl detective, managed to talk my way into the police reports. I looked at the photos from the scene. No skid marks. No sign that he had tried to press the brakes, that he had swerved away from the tree. And Dylan wasn't the kind of guy who would forget the seat belt. He used to check and make sure I had mine on, when he drove me into town. So there was another story, one that I mostly believed up to about half an hour ago, one that learning about, confronting my family with meant that I was all but disowned, that I couldn't turn to them when I needed to get away from Adam last year. Dylan hung himself. His dad put him in the car, staged the wreck, came to an understanding with the sheriff. For the sake of appearances.
So we made a deal, my mom and my granddad and I. I kept the secret. My education would be paid for-state school only, nothing too fancy. And after that we'd have nothing to do with each other.
It was an easy secret to keep. I didn't really even believe it, deep down. I know what I saw.
It wasn't a nightmare. I never once had those memories asleep. Only waking, with a few particular triggers. The sound of a bicycle with a noisemaker counting spokes. The smell of gasoline fumes. Evening twilight. I stayed indoors a lot, which made everything that much easier for Adam.
Those years almost feel like a gaping void. Things happened. But I wasn't really there. Things happened to someone else. And I didn't much think about Dylan for a long time. Not until Joshua was born. No, not until the first time he spoke. It was like waking up, hearing his voice. Having a clear thought for the first time in ages. I knew I wasn't going to wait for Adam to hit Joshua. I started making a plan, started executing it. There were setbacks. It took a long time. And that memory kept rising, taunting me with my belief, as if to tell me maybe I was crazy all along. Joshua was six when I walked out the door. I carried a big wooden baseball bat on my back like it was a sword or something. Just in case. Felt damned silly. But just in case he somehow knew, wasn't at work, decide to lay in wait for me instead. He didn't.
It took almost a year to get my life back together. Working with Dr. Baian. Getting all the legalities settled. Adam wasn't interested in Joshua without me in the picture, thank God. After a few months, after the restraining order, he was ready to move on.
I wore the bat again, leaving the shelter, headed to the bus station and from there to a new city, new apartment, new job. It felt less silly that time. Joshua thought it looked bad-rear end.
The street was empty. Strangely empty, no cars or fellow pedestrians. Just crow-songs and the smell of stale urine. I heard a clicking from behind me. My chest tightened up. I turned around.
There was a stinging pain on my left cheek. I touched it and felt blood, saw red on my finger. "Get behind me," I said to Joshua. I awkwardly pulled the bat off of my back. I swung it, blindly, meeting nothing but air. Another hornet-sting, a shallow cut on my left leg.
The skies darkened and opened at once. A flash of lightning struck so closely with the thunder that it might as well have been inside me. And rain began to fall, first a few drops, some of which deflected strangely, then in great vertical sheets, limning the alien shape in front of me, a spiral of rope-like vines or tentacles, each one barbed with razor-blades every few inches, tied up it the center in a knot that extruded hundreds of small spheres, eyeballs as I imagined. With a target I began swinging in earnest. I played softball in college. Intramural, but I was the power hitter of the team all four years. I could swing a bat. I hit it, again, again. The blades cut into the wood, cutting grooves, tearing divots. I kept swinging. One ropy arm went limp on the concrete. I stepped forward and started going for the eyes.
I was blooded up thoroughly, soaked with enough rain that it didn't look as bad as it was. The thing wasn't moving, wasn't entirely invisible anymore, now covered in its own ichor. I left it there. The bat was a hunk of rough wood, barely a stick. I dropped it there, too, and took Joshua to the bus station. I'd change in the bathroom there, I decided.
It never rains here, not like that. A few days in April and November, sure, with plenty of warning. Not in the middle of summer.
Dylan always loved the rain.
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 07:30|
Magical Nega-Girl: Triskelion!
There’s a huge pile of sentient tentacles ravaging downtown nega-Las Angeles, and I’m feeling pretty good about my decision to stay home watching it on livestream.
Well, okay, there’s a huge asterisk on that ‘good’—I’d be a monster if I felt ‘good’ about the fact that all of L.A. is trapped under an impenetrable nega-dome of purple nega-energy, the people living in constant terror of nega-demon attacks—but I’m sure as hell not going down there to deal with the thing myself. The San Francisco-based therapist assigned to work remotely with me during the crisis thinks I’m self-flagellating by watching the demon battle streams, but it’s even more egotistical than that: I don’t want to help, but I feel like if I look away, that’s when something really bad will happen.
So I’m watching the destruction of my city by the latest nega-demon, which looks kind of like a mountain of angry spaghetti. And then Olivia just straight up kicks her way into my apartment. Like, door-flying-off-hinges, why-didn’t-you-just-knock? kicks her way in.
“Get off your rear end and help us,” she says, to me, in my own apartment, having just roundhoused my door.
She’s partially transformed into battle mode—the most she can manage without the other members of her triad. I make a show of craning my neck to look past her, at the gaping door frame.
“If we ever get back to the normal world, that’s coming out of my deposit.”
Olivia glares down at me, eyes backlit by purple nega-energy. “Do not pull your don’t-give-a-gently caress routine today, Petra. I just watched that demon murder three triads. Nine people, bloody smears on pavement.”
I take a crunchy bite of uncooked ramen. “Sounds like a good reason to stay home.”
“Help me help this city. You know I can’t do it without you.”
“And you know you can’t guilt me into getting back in the fight.”
It’s the same impasse as always, though I’ve never seen Olivia this fired up before.
She gives me a rueful look. “You’d help if Celeste asked you.”
The livestream is still going on my phone; there’s the tinny sound of rising screams from the speakers. I reach over and shut it off with a swipe of my thumb.
“Celeste wouldn’t ask," I say.
It’s an hour later and I’ve just finished putting the door back up. I can only bring myself to watch the demon battle streams in short bursts. Enough to know the fight isn’t going well.
“Hi again, Olivia,” I say without looking at the entryway.
“What the gently caress?” says Celeste’s voice. “Olivia, you told me we were rescuing a cat.”
In one incredibly smooth motion I stuff the pack of uncooked ramen under a couch cushion, attempt to rise, realize I’m sitting on my own thigh-length hair. Cool. I settle for staying seated.
Celeste is perfectly framed in the doorway, her stance that of an action hero, moss-green eyes bright against dark skin. Even dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt like she is, you could stick her on the cover of a magazine and no one would bat an eye. In the span of a second, I’ve reverted back to the high school girl who has a confused pseudo-crush on her worst enemy—do I want her, or do I want to be her?
A bunch of memories strobe through my head in the span of a breath. Growing up with Celeste, playdates and sleepovers. Her dad: an abuser. Me: her confidant. Also me: spreading Celeste’s trauma around in the form of gossip, just to prove to everyone that I was best friends with one of the cool kids. After that, it was total war, all the way to graduation.
Our ten year reunion, coinciding with the arrival of the nega-dome. Celeste, Olivia, and I backed into a corner, working together to fend off the demons. Our first transformations.
Those early battles; the thrill of turning friendship into power.
Our first argument as adults.
The realization that some wounds, no matter how juvenile, go too deep to forgive and forget.
I snap back to the present, realize Olivia is talking: “You two are selfish and stubborn and impossible to get into the same room, but I kind of need the hell out of you right now. Sorry for taking a shortcut.”
Celeste turns her green glare on Olivia, maximum intensity. “So you figured you’d trick us into the same room, and—what? We’d have no choice but to help you?”
“All the best teams are built around lies and manipulation,” I say, impressed at how droll I sound, because seeing Celeste has kind of sent me reeling.
Olivia looks between Celeste and I, pungent disgust on her face. “Demons are destroying our city. You two need to figure out your weird frenemy thing and then get back in the fight.”
To our credit, Celeste and I try.
We go up onto the roof of my building and do our whole battle mode transformation thing. I’m not gonna lie, having seen myself transform on recordings of livestream broadcasts, I’ll be the first to say that it looks really, really cool.
A bystander would see the following: As I activate the nega-energy inside me, I lift into the air on an unseen column of power. My hair stands on end, swaying like kelp in a current, then fans out into a pearlescent corona around my head, the strands fusing together to form a smooth, shiny mass. Meanwhile, my body is cocooned in a layer of light, which resolves into my battle outfit—a cream-colored dress with a tight bodice and a short, flared skirt, matching knee-high boots, and a mask of silver silk that drapes softly over the bridge of my nose.
The hardened corona of my hair glows with unearthly runes, whose nega-energetic emanations I feel as a constant tingle in my scalp.
Olivia and Celeste undergo similarly glamorous transformations. Olivia sprouts cool super-speed wings from her ankles, Celeste pulls twin rapiers out of her eyes. All three of us look fantastic, except—
I inspect myself in my phone’s selfie cam and frown. “I didn’t transform all the way. No hair gems.”
“None of us did,” Olivia says miserably. Her ankle-wings are missing their customary gems, too, as are the pommels of Celeste’s swords.
“So much for the power of friendship,” Celeste says.
The rapidly-emerging field of nega-energy science has deduced a few things about the freaky purple stuff. Ambient nega-energy is dangerous; it forms L.A.-sized domes, traps thousands of californians, and spawns giant demons from thin air. You take that same stuff and expose it to a human brain doing friendship? Magic. Literal magic—flying, throwing fireballs, summoning a rain of meteors from nowhere, shooting lasers out of your hair corona. You name it.
Three friends is the optimal number for full transformation, and once you lock in a triad, it’s impossible to fully transform with anyone else. I’ve tried.
In the distance, a skyscraper slumps to its knees behind a rising shroud of dust. Soon what’s left of downtown will be a crater, and the demon will move out into the neighborhoods where people like me are hiding out, praying for this to pass.
“I hate this city,” Olivia says, fists clenching and unclenching. “We could save it, if only people would get over themselves and be real friends for longer than ten seconds.”
“We could at least fly over to the front lines, see if we can pull any wounded out,” Celeste offers. I sneak a peek at her; she looks regretful behind her shimmering green mask.
“‘At least’,” Olivia echoes, then leaps into the air and takes off in the direction of the nega-demon’s cloud of destruction, leaving Celeste and I to follow.
We hit the battleground a solid two minutes behind Olivia. It’s clear she never had any intention of playing ambulance for the wounded; she’s fully engaged with the nega-demon by the time we catch up, flitting between its thrashing tentacles with hummingbird speed, flinging fistfuls of blue magic into the center of the thing’s mass. I can see it from here: she’s too slow, her magical volleys too weak to have any effect.
She needs the full transformative power of real friendship.
Celeste and I come to a stop mid-air, take in the scope of the destruction. I can’t even tell what neighborhood I’m looking at; it’s like the whole city has been pulsed in a food processor. Other triads fly around the demon in little squadrons, all of them in various states of semi-transformation. We’re not the only ones having trouble doing friendship under fire.
A tentacle grazes Olivia, sending her spinning through the air; she recovers, barely. Celeste brandishes her rapiers. “We have to pull her out of there.”
“Good luck,” I say. “You’d have an easier time just fighting the demon.”
“I envy you,” Celeste says, looking directly at me for the first time. “You never feel obligated to do the right thing.”
“How many times have I told you I’m sorry?” I snap. “I think you’re holding onto this teenage grudge because it excuses you from fighting.”
“Says the grown woman who hides in her nasty studio eating uncooked ramen.”
We glare at each other, on the verge of blows. Then—a shadow over head, something huge sweeping down from my top periphery. Celeste and I dart aside just in time to avoid the crushing power of an impossibly huge tentacle.
We share a wild-eyed glance, then burst into laughter, high and maniacal and taut with adrenaline.
“You’re not wrong,” Celeste says, dabbing tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes. “I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to die, and I hate that being your friend makes me powerful enough to matter.”
“My studio is pretty gross,” I concede. “And the ramen thing has got to stop.”
The runic itching in my scalp intensifies, and is accompanied by a pleasant ache in my hair corona.
“Well, shoot,” Celeste says, a wry half-smile on her face. “Looks like your gems are coming in.”
“Yours too,” I say, nodding at the pommels of her rapiers, where two moss-green nega-gems have appeared.
“I still kind of hate you,” Celeste says, though there’s no malice in her voice.
“Yeah, well,” I say, “the best friendships are the ones you can burn down and start over again.”
Olivia zips up to us, bloodied and breathing hard, her ankle-wings glittering with azure gems. In spite of her injuries, she’s smiling.
“Finally,” she says. “Now are you two ready to smite the hell out of that spaghetti monster with the power of friendship?”
We are, and we do, and it rules.
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 08:28|
Submissions are closed.
|# ? Jul 20, 2020 11:32|
This week was fine. Really, it was fine! I used the phrase “technically competent” several times in our judgechat. Congratulations on writing clear, readable prose.
What this week wasn’t was, uh, especially emotionally evocative. Most stories had an emotional moment or two, but the heart felt missing in the majority of the stories this week.
Thranguy’s Scourge is the sole DM this week. This story feels stuffed full of promising elements that didn’t coalesce into a thematic or emotional whole, and it left the judges puzzling out how it fit together, when we wanted to feel emotionally moved.
Even more confusing, though, was this week’s loss, which is crimea’s Ugly Stars. This piece baffled all three judges, who all struggled to figure out what was happening, and seems to lack even a metaphorical monster being slain.
One exception was Tyrannosaurus’s black knights and dragons, girl, which pushed the “too emotional” line right to the edge but didn’t cross it. The judges were moved by the central relationship in this story, which is why it wins an HM.
But the blood throne this week goes to Saucy_Rodent for You’re It!, which contains several truly transcendent moments in its characterization of its main character. Even though this character is troubled, imperfect, and complicated, we felt for her in her moments of stress, and thought this story evoked the essence of this week in pushing its emotion while zeroing in on the monster-slaying.
Saucy_Rodent, the blood throne is yours.
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 00:02|
slay monsters, read harrowing vignettes crits part 1
(will have the rest by Friday!)
mockingquantum - Endlessly
”Aboutness”: This story is about Marcus stopping Charlie from conducting a ritual to connect with the Endless One. On a more metaphorical level, it’s about trying to intervene in someone’s life when they’ve embraced nihilism. I’m having trouble identifying the slain monster here – the Endless One, or Charlie’s sadness and loneliness?
Character: Characters here are Marcus and Charlie – there’s a conflict here of Marcus feeling responsible for Charlie, but probably too rough on him. I wanted to understand more about this dynamic. The only clue of the dynamic they have prior to the summoning incident is “But the fist and the lash were the only way of teaching that Marcus had ever known, as evidenced by the scars he bore,” which paints the dynamic as somewhat sentimental but basically abusive; for the ending to work, we need more glimpses of the softness between the two, the sense of actual friendship between these two.
POV: Close third-person past tense, focused on Marcus. I think there’s a tendency in this story for the POV to feel somewhat distant, especially when we’re dealing with emotion: “churning disgust filled him,” we learn, and later “This was his doing, as much as anyone’s. He’d driven Charlie to be more than, when he should have treasured and fostered what he was.” What I wish we had here was more closeness here; Marcus appreciates this tender side of Charlie, but we never really get to see it.
Plot/Structure: The first half of the story balances exposition with Marcus approaching the summoning site. It means very few events are happening in the first thousand words, which is a big turn-off in a story that’s 1800 words long. Other than the flashback to Marcus asking the Master about the Endless One (which doesn’t add much to the story), the one scene is of Marcus at the ritual trying to get Charlie to stay. I think this is adequately tense, but I think this would be a much stronger scene if the story included actual scenes (flashback or not) of the two of them together before this ritual.
Scene and Summary: Basically covered above – the first half of the story contains almost no scene, other than Marcus getting closer to the ritual site. This makes the beginning of the story feel bogged-down and slow.
Style: Prose is clear and has a nice rhythm to it. I think you’ve done a nice job at keeping the blocking clear during the action; this next passage is strong, for example, although I’d be mindful of repeating the word “stone” in two different contexts: “He dug his fingers deep into the soil, soaking up what power he could from the earth around him, and channeled the power through the cold stone of fury within him. With a deafening roar, massive walls of stone rose around him…”
Overall: I didn’t love this due to the exposition-heavy first half and the ending that didn’t feel earned. (I didn’t cover this above, but the final few lines of dialogue just feel like they’re trying to do the work of something that would require more words – Marcus making the choice to sacrifice himself and Charlie suddenly changing his mind when Marcus says he’ll do this both feel like very abrupt decisions!) The prose is competent enough that I don’t think this screams “DM,” but I do think the piece requires some real structural tinkering to be effective.
Saucy Rodent - You’re It
”Aboutness”: Kamesha is a stressed, overworked single mother, whose stress comes to a head when her daughter’s imaginary friend possesses her ex-husband and tries to burn the house down. Metaphorically, capitalism and patriarchy is the monster.
Character: This story does a nice job getting at the different aspects of Kamesha. There’s a nice balance between the harried, stressed side of her and the very real, motherly guilt and protectiveness she has over her daughter, and we learn enough of her backstory in passing that she feels like a well-formed character. The other characters are basically foils to her, and I think that’s fine – Troya to evoke her motherly side, Andre to evoke her protective side, Smokey to evoke her doubts and insecurities, and in a piece like this, that’s all that’s needed.
POV: First person present. It works – the whole story is really about the stress and worry in Kamesha’s head, so we need to be in there. It also makes the sections where the POV is interspersed with Smokey’s manipulation more effective.
Plot/Structure: The second half of the story is one long scene that’s clearly the heart of the story, but the preceding scenes do a great job at building up to that last scene. Each scene raises the stakes until it all comes together in the last scene, and Kamesha gets tenser with each scene until it all comes to a head at the end.
One thing that would be worth thinking about is the possibility of adding more struggle in the last scene. We go from Kamesha dealing with doubt – handing the kid over to Andre/Smokey – but we don’t get to sit with that and weigh the consequences of that decision, because she immediately realizes he’s possessed and changes his mind. Could the story explore this moment a little more? Maybe dive deeper into Kamesha’s thought process?
Scene and Summary: This is a good balance of scene and summary. Most of the exposition and summary is conveyed through a connection to a scene, which makes this story really clip along and remain interesting, right from the beginning.
Style: Sentences are generally clear; this is particularly impressive during the stream-of-consciousness sections with multiple voices, as I never really struggled to determine the context for the different parts of these sentences. One thing that confused me was “You think I don't wanna hit? Unlike you, I never did,” which I thought referred to drugs rather than violence at first.
Overall: This is an impressive story, and I would definitely recommend doing some work on this and submitting to magazines. I love the sense of malaise and dread that threads through this. HM/win candidate.
crimea - Ugly Stars
”Aboutness”: On the Fourth of July, a patient with dementia travels between his hospitalized present, his mischievous youth, and his time as a sailor. On an emotional level, the piece is channeling the sense of loss around dementia from the perspective of the patient.
Character: I’m not sure we have a clear picture of Mr. Overman. I guess you could say that he doesn’t have a clear picture of himself, but lines like “I know he’s only saying it ‘cause he’s sweet on her” seem to be a one-off in terms of voice. I think the ending of this story would land harder if, as Mr. Overman spirals through time, he interacts with one of the people by his bedside, even if he doesn’t recognize them at the end.
POV: First person present. It’s necessary to the story’s whole conceit, so you can see my notes above and below.
Plot/Structure: Frankly, I think this story is more confusing than it’s worth. I do think this kind of exploration of dementia is interesting, but it’s very hard to follow, especially on the first reading. On the re-read, I’m noticing that the transitions between time and eras are blurred and abrupt, and the lack of unity between these phases – other than the sound of explosions – makes the story feel like it’s not really progressing. It makes me wish that the story followed some sort of logic in its transitions from scene to scene, even if it’s not chronological logic.
“I’m watching from the window down at all the pleasing symmetry in the car park below. The grid of it is very nice, and dotted in there are all these shining sunshine cars, all sorts of colours. It’s ringed with little lines of hedges and an orange-painted wall. My dad’s Ford hasn’t shown up yet, which is good, ‘cause he’d be mighty angry if he found me and the guys with our beers like this.” Here I think you could make this flow better with more associative logic, linking the moment together with emotion, rather than the parking lot connecting to dad’s car. As it is now, the reader is asked to do too much work without a satisfying payoff.
Scene and Summary: This story is essentially all scene, which I suppose reflects the character’s cognitive abilities. I would be interested to see the character try to contextualize things into more summary, which I think could help the flow of this piece.
Style: As I’ve mentioned, the story feels very unclear. You have good lines: “each sailor’s face is featureless as an orange,” and “I can see the bones of my wrist through my paper skin, it’s so bright. It’s like they rang all the bells and broke all the clocks and stained all the lines,” but I was just hungry for more clarity – let me get a foothold in the scene before time starts shifting. There’s also some copyediting issues, including the malapropism “packed to the girls.”
Overall: It’s hard for me to get past how confusing this story reads. I think there’s definitely room for ambiguity in a story like this, but we need something to hold onto, whether it’s a recurring character or some kind of emotional attachment. Here, we have no idea what Mr. Overman wants or what the stakes are, and we’re asked to follow him through these unmarked shifts in place and time anyway. It feels like a lot of work without a ton of payoff.
Something Else - How to Survive the Giant Robot That Wants to Crush You
”Aboutness”: Our main character worries about how to deal with a giant robot that crushes people. Thematically, I guess this is about existential dread and capitalism and the ways we avoid thinking about it.
Character: Harris is the only character of significance here, with Crystal playing the roles of the supportive wife and Gabe an expository friend. Harris seems pretty neurotic, and his anxieties about the giant robot are more generalized anxieties, fears of being crushed by the weight of everything. I’ll say that I found him somewhat whiny and unpleasant, which could very well be an artistic choice – but this is mostly because the other characters in the story don’t validate his anxiety. I was hoping for a little more verve and character in the dialogue. I think Crystal in particular could use more personality and more of her own voice.
POV: First person past. The effect of this is that we know Harris does not, in fact, get crushed by the giant robot. But it’s also awfully detached for a first person narrative, like the digression about faucets. This goes to highlight the character’s alienation here, but the net effect of this tone and POV is that the story feels stakes-less.
Plot/Structure: The story follows a series of scenes where the giant robot gets closer and Harris learns more about what’s going on. I think it’s structurally sound and escalates the tension appropriately; unfortunately, it doesn’t pay off, and although I think the image of Harris living under the foot of a giant robot for eternity is a good one, it doesn’t work for a story where the plot is buoyed by the robot getting closer and closer. I want more of a clue on why the robot just stops without Harris actually doing anything.
Scene and Summary: These are balanced well on this story; you breeze through time when needed and zero in on particular moments when you have to.
Style: The language here is clear but plain. Early on, there’s a sense of voice to this character, like with the fireflies, but the energy dissipates later on. I also really wish this story didn’t contain the line “Crystal rocked my world that night.”
Overall: This is a frustrating story, because I like what’s happening tonally here – this idea of everyday life basically going on as normal while this character panics about the impending crush of a giant robot that no one else in his life cares about. It’s thematically strong ("Money," Gabe said. "Just about the only thing that helps is money. The more you have, the less you get crushed. It's that simple.") On the other hand, the ending feels like an anticlimax, and there isn’t a lot of energy to the story after the opening section. I think the story would benefit from making Crystal a more dynamic character, and considering what opportunities there are to change the degree or flavor of Harris’s anxieties throughout the story – are there any obstacles that could make him more worried, or worried about different things? What would the story look like if it began with the giant robot’s foot poised over the house, and it just stayed there for the entire story?
Uranium Phoenix - Dauntless
”Aboutness”: Main character loses sailor dad and grows up to avenge him by slaying the monster that slayed him. Thematically I’m not sure – I want to say the story is attuned to this idea of growing up, becoming more mature, filling big shoes.
Character: A few different characters here, most of which are situational foils for our main character. Our main character strikes me as a bit generic, motivated more by archetype than any longings in his heart. Definitely wanted more clarity as to why the character chooses to become a sailor – looking at the ocean and deciding he had to, after he curses the ocean earlier, didn’t really do it for me. There’s some nice characterizing details for the mother, which I liked -- “I hugged her then took my coffee with cream and sugar, even though I’d told her a million times I liked it black,” and it makes me think that this story might have landed more for me if we understood the character’s relationship to others better.
POV: First person past, which helps establish this sense of wind-worn nostalgia that infuses the piece.
Plot/Structure: Each scene here hits a beat that moves time forward with the character’s relationship to the ocean. It’s pretty competent, but it feels a little uninspired to me – the story hits all the beats it needs to hit for this archetypal story, but nothing surprising. I did like the running element of the key, and the visit to the character’s mother was a highlight, since I think the emotional aspect of the story gets lost in the sea battling.
Scene and Summary: I didn’t notice any pacing issues in this story, so I think these are well-balanced. The story moves through long periods of time skillfully, although “Days passed, or maybe minutes as we battled” strains credulity.
Style: Prose is clear and often pretty. I liked all the descriptions of water.
Overall: This story is clearly skilled craft-wise, but I had a hard time connecting to it. The emotional current isn’t very strong, as the emotional throughline here is the character’s connection to his father, but he doesn’t really reflect on these emotions for most of the story. The scene with the character’s mother is a highlight and attempts to ground the story, but the character finding his dad’s key doesn’t move me because the story doesn’t convince me that this is something critical to our main character’s heart.
Ceighk - Tough Leather
”Aboutness”: War criminal dad. Should kids be shielded from the moral wrongs of their parents?
Character: Family triad here of the son, his mother, and Dad – there’s also uncle Eddie. I liked all of these characters; none of them are especially deep, but you do enough shading on them – their habits, the way they react to other people, their possessions – that they feel real and human.
POV: First person past, which gives the story a feel of looking back on an older memory. Actually, it feels very much like a Reader’s Write story from The Sun in tone and perspective. The language is full of nostalgia and, yes, emotion, and each scene is brimming with insight beyond the age of the character at the time.
Plot/Structure: The three parts/scenes here each move the story forward; we’re introduced to the stakes, they’re complicated (if not heightened), and then there’s resolution. Kind of. Our character is forced to understand that his father did war crimes, and we do get a good amount of him processing it. The very ending, with his mother, isn’t a satisfying ending, though; I think I would have liked to see something more contentious, as I don’t think the beats with his mother adds much to our understanding of either character. What would happen if this character ran into his Uncle Eddie again instead?
Scene and Summary: Most of the first and third sections of this are summary; a good portion of the second section is scene, which makes the second section feel faster-paced. I wonder if more scene in the last section would have made this story feel more “story-shaped.”
Style: Poetic, wistful, very much like the vignettes from The Sun. I’m not sure if this is an intentional riff on their house style, but it’s pretty effective, if so. And that’s not to cheapen the good writing here, which is precise, economical, and still emotional. I love “I wanted it constantly, with a dull ache that intermittently solidified into a hard, unbearable, need.”
Overall: I like a lot of this story, but it ultimately feels like a minor work. That’s mostly because the conflict is soft-pedaled for a lot of this story – it’s there (the tension between the way the character’s mother treats his dad), but it feels more like a distant concern than an immediate one, and the story loses focus because of it. And while the dad is a monster, and I suppose he was slayed by someone, the story doesn’t really fit the “slaying a monster” theme here.
Ironic Twist - Decontamination
”Aboutness”: Character is part of an elite squad of Fibs, which seem to be self-appointed ubermensch over a post-apocalyptic lake. Character is overpowered and left for dead. Story reckons with concepts of power and the right of control.
Character: We’re fixed pretty exclusively in our unnamed main character here, who is fairly hardened and above it all; they pride themselves on their stoicism and ability to make tough choices.
POV: First person present, which gives the story immediacy and a sense of being locked in to the character’s moral certainty.
Plot/Structure: The story here is a pretty straightforward narrative, just one long scene, but the context and stakes here are handled with a lot of subtlety; the complexity here comes from parsing what the photo means, the kind of agency and humanity that the flesh monster has, figuring out what kind of world this is. The effect is that the story rewards a couple of rereads, and it ultimately has a strong thematic core that supports these rereads, but it also means the story is somewhat frustrating and opaque on the first read.
Scene and Summary: The story is nearly all scene, except for when the character reflects on the role of the Fib. I like that this keeps long periods of exposition out of the story and keeps things moving along; given that this character seems to be trying to reflect as little as possible about their actions, it makes sense.
Style: Poetic and forceful. I wanted a little more clarity on what exactly the monster looked like – the photo clues us in that it’s human, or used to be, but “a flash of skin” and “pearlescent fleshy mouths” leaves things unclear on whether these things have bodies, if these are floating heads, or if they’re like, flesh jellyfish.
Overall: This story knows what it wants to be, half puzzle, half environmental disaster story. It reminded me of Jeff VanDerMeer’s Dead Astronauts, which I found similarly frustrating and rewarding. The competence of the story’s construction and the thematic work makes me like this story as a writer, but I don’t know if I love it as a reader.
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 00:04|
Week 416: Taboo!
When you enter, give me a genre, and I will give you ten words commonly associated with that genre that you are not allowed to use.
Example: Courtroom Drama
Banned words: Jury, trial, judge, lawyer, verdict, plaintiff, crime, defendant, plea, guilty
The words used in the genre name are also banned: "courtroom" and "drama," as well as "court" and "room" are illegal. Variations on the banned words are also banned; if I ban "ship," you may not use "spaceship" but you may use "friendship." This also goes for plurals, tense changes, etc. Synonyms are OK.
If you pick a genre that is too vague (like "comedy" or "horror" I will narrow it down for you ("political satire" or "haunted house story"). If you don't choose a genre, I will give you an extremely stupid one.
Word count: 1750
Entry deadline is Friday 11:59 CST.
Submission deadline is Sunday 11:59 CST.
1. QuoProQuid, Ghost Story: Spirit, haunt, life, death, tomb, business, help, wall, rest, evil
2. Rat-born cock, Last Man Standing fanfiction: Mike, Vanessa, Kristin, Amanda, Eve, sports, TV, neighbor, fence, lawn
3. Chopstick dystopia, noir: City, eye, detective, crime, woman, cigarette, street, car, boss, door
4. Ironic Twist, isekai: Alien, magic, portal, door, world, planet, dimension, creature, being (as in an entity, you're okay to use it as a verb), ship
5. MockingQuantum, pulp horror: Terror, town, monster, ghost, alien, being (again, only as a noun), forest, house, dark, man
6. Sparksbloom, near future sci-fi: Computer, internet, web, police, tech, online, corporation, war, virus, government
7. Astronaut Charlie, whodunnit: Detective, murder, dead, house, family, weapon, mystery, relationship, motive, library
8. Something Else, conspiracy thriller: Government, hack, water, code, corporation, mind, message, plot, plan, secret
9. GrandmaParty, swords and sorcery: Magic, battle, wizard, witch, dragon, barbarian, castle, king, queen, kill, peace
10. Ceighk, alien horror: Light, woods, machine, creature, mind, ship, space, night, stars, sky
11. Thranguy, magic realism: Fly, love, walk, body, back (all definitions), need, eyes, face, air, music
Saucy_Rodent fucked around with this message at 03:04 on Jul 22, 2020
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 00:50|
Yeah. I’m in. I’ll do a Ghost Story
QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 00:59 on Jul 21, 2020
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 00:55|
At the risk of winning again...
editing to say, thanks for the avatar! I was confused when I saw my post at first, haha.
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 00:57|
Hi, hello, I would like to join in.
I'll try to write some noir.
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 01:01|
|# ? Sep 22, 2021 14:58|
Yeah. I’m in. I’ll do a Ghost Story
Spirit, haunt, life, death, tomb, business, help, wall, rest, evil
|# ? Jul 21, 2020 01:05|