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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



NEW YEAR NEW THREAD NEW PROMPT LET'S GO

Thunderdome CCCLXXXVII: Losers Gotta Stay Positive



Many moons ago, back in Week 70, Jeza gave the thread a song week with a difference: a week with a single song at its heart, where each prompt was a single line. This week is going to work the same way. Jeza chose a song from Nobel semi-laureate Bob Dylan; I'm going classier and more relevant to the modern condition.

This week, your prompt will be a line of your (or my) choice from Beck's "Loser":

quote:

In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey
Butane in my veins and I'm out to cut the junkie
With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables
Dog food skulls with the beefcake pantyhose
Kill the headlights and put it in neutral
Stock car flaming with the loser in the cruise control
Baby's in Reno with the vitamin D
Got a couple of couches, sleep on the loveseat
Someone came in saying I'm insane to complain
About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt
Don't believe everything that you breathe
You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve
So shave your face with some mace in the dark
Saving all your food stamps and burning down the trailer park
Yo, cut it

Soy un perdedor
I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?
(Double barrel buckshot)
Soy un perdedor
I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?

The forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
Ban all the music with the phony gas chamber
'Cause one's got a weasel and the other's got a flag
One's on the pole, shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nose-job
The daytime crap of the folksinger slob
He hung himself with a guitar string
A slab of turkey-neck and it's hanging from a pigeon wing
You can't get right if you can't relate
Trade the cash for the beat for the body for the hate
And my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite
Who's choking on the splinters

(Get crazy with the cheese whiz)

(Drive-by body pierce)

(Yo, bring it on down)

I'm a driver, I'm a winner
Things are gonna change, I can feel it

(I can't believe you)

(Sprechen Sie Deutsch, eh, baby?)

(Know what I'm sayin'?)

When you sign up, pick a line or ask me to pick one for you. Each line can only be picked once; if we somehow get more signups than we have lines, I'll double up, but for now, grab it or lose it.

To make this a little more fun, and because it's the new year and we need to start this with a positive jam, I have one more rule for you: your story this week should have a happy, hopeful, or otherwise positive ending. Bad things can happen, but there should be a light at the end of the tunnel. Please do not be ironic or otherwise cute about this. Just write happy. I know you can do it.

No erotica, fanfiction, topical politics/political screeds, Google Docs, archive-breaking coding, or dick pics.

Word Count: 1500 Words
Signups Close: Friday, January 3rd, 11:59 PM Pacific
Submissions Close: Sunday, January 5th, 11:59 PM Pacific

Judges:
Antivehicular
Flesnolk
maybe YOUUUUU?

Contenders:
1. flerp :toxx: -- A slab of turkey-neck and it's hanging from a pigeon wing
2. Thranguy -- Kill the headlights and put it in neutral
3. crimea -- I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?
4. Yoruichi -- With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables
5. Doctor Eckhart -- (Drive-by body pierce)
6. Anomalous Amalgam :toxx: -- Butane in my veins and I'm out to cut the junkie
7. Carl Killer Miller -- Got a couple of couches, sleep on the loveseat
8. Mrenda -- In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey
9. magic cactus -- (Get crazy with the cheese whiz)
10. Something Else -- The forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
11. Sham bam bamina! -- So shave your face with some mace in the dark
12. selaphiel -- 'Cause one's got a weasel and the other's got a flag
13. SlipUp -- Saving all your food stamps and burning down the trailer park
14. Ironic Twist -- Yo, cut it
15. Chainmail Onesie -- Stock car flaming with the loser in the cruise control
16. Barnaby Profane -- About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt
17. Pththya-lyi -- Baby's in Reno with the vitamin D
18. Chairchucker -- You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve
19. Azza Bamboo -- And my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite
20. a friendly penguin -- Who's choking on the splinters

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 08:52 on Jan 4, 2020

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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



flerp posted:

in give me line :toxx:

A slab of turkey-neck and it's hanging from a pigeon wing

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give




Butane in my veins and I'm out to cut the junkie

Carl Killer Miller posted:

I'm in, gimme a line.

Got a couple of couches, sleep on the loveseat

magic cactus posted:

My new year's resolution is to write more, so IN and I'd like to be given a line please!

(Get crazy with the cheese whiz)

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Pththya-lyi posted:

One line, please!

Baby's in Reno with the vitamin D

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Chairchucker posted:

in
give it to me

You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve

Azza Bamboo posted:

Late entry, but I've never really written anything before and someone said "you should try this thunderdome thing."

As the Tory said to his business associate: give me a line.

And my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite

And with that, Signups are closed.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Submissions are closed.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



TD 387: Results

Gonna make this quick because I'm phone-posting from work --

Winner: Barnaby Profane, "Things Are Gonna Change"
HMs: crimea, "Prisoner of the Hell-Planet of Desire"; Yoruichi, "Brownian Motion"; Ironic Twist, "Control-X"
DMs: Azza Bamboo, "It's Not Right"; a friendly penguin, "Rose"; SlipUp, "Twelve Stories of Vengeance"
Loser: selaphiel, "Two Hundred and Nine"

Take it away, B-Pro

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Brawnfire posted:

I have never participated in one of these, but I am a bit curious to do so. Is there something more entry-level, or can I get in?

There's no entry-level prose contest right now, iirc, but TD and Poemdome are open to anyone who wants to give it a shot. Jump on in!

And on that note: I'm in, disease me

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



The Hale and the Hollow
1370 words
Flash Disease: Situs Inversus

They'd swept the streets and scrubbed the walls in Silver Grove, but Tanith could still smell death. There was a distinct odor that the Harvester and his soldiers carried with them, of flaking skin and rancid blood; Tanith's nose was mostly useless, now, but the trails of rot were as putrid as ever. The scouts' reports were correct, then. The Harvester had dwelled here for days, and while a few villagers had died -- there was too much fresh-blood scent to be otherwise -- there had been no massacre. Did that mean they were collaborators?

The villagers of Silver Grove were hard to read, taciturn and resigned in a way that could mean suspicion or could mean mourning. Even now, at midday, there was no bustle in the central square; women with baskets on their hips shuffled listlessly through their errands, speaking only to do business, while sallow old men watched from benches and balconies. The mood was as leaden as the grey autumn sky, and Tanith didn't bother with the signifiers of her office. It was useless, and unkind besides, to try and intimidate people this weary.

The few answers that Tanith had managed to coax out of the innkeeper pointed her towards the town's chief surgeon, who made her office in an old coastal longhouse converted into a clinic. Like the rest of Silver Grove, the clinic was clean but stinking, although the seaside decay managed to overwhelm the human variety. The chief surgeon met Tanith at the door: a short, stooped woman with a loose-skinned flushed face, hair pulled back in a messy braid. "Nanaya Urhat," she said, then gestured to a tall, pale girl behind her. "And this is Elili. You must be the Royal Investigator."

"Call me Tanith. May we sit down?"

Nanaya led them back to an office, the air less humid but more musty: still decay, but more parchment than seaweed now. Was there anywhere in Silver Grove that didn't smell rotten? Nanaya took a seat behind the desk and offered Tanith the other, leaving Elili to perch on a high stool in the corner of the room. "Well, then," said Nanaya. "You want to know about the Harvester."

"We have reports of her spending several days here with a detachment of her soldiers. What were his demands?"

"I believe you know, Investigator," said Nanaya. "She wanted sacrifices, enough to fill herself and her husks with blood and flesh again. She didn't realize that we were not compatible."

"Oh?" Tanith had heard plenty of excuses from collaborators before, ranging from the pitiful to the persuasive, but this was novel. "You'll have to explain."

"Better for me to show you. This way." Nanaya rose to her feet and led Tanith down a narrow hallway, Elili trailing obediently behind. The door at the end of the hallway opened onto a broad morgue -- a huge one, for a village this size. Three corpses lay on the center slabs, cut open from throat to groin. To Tanith's surprise, they only barely stunk.

"I'll explain," said Nanaya, stepping up and gesturing towards the slab; once Tanith was close enough to see, though, she didn't need an explanation. The organs of each corpse were laid out in a mirror image of normal: tricky to see from the whorls of the intestines, but obvious from the reversed hearts nestled in their intricate web. Each piece fit neatly with its fellows, the puzzle of the body still intact, but none of them would have fit among normal organs -- like the stolen ones inside the hungry shells of the Harvester and her minions. She may have taken the blood, and the corpses seemed dry and pale enough for that, but there was nothing useful to him here.

"A blessing," said Nanaya. "One of the old witches cast on us, to save us from the hollow ones' organ raids. The Harvester required proof, and we supplied it. They volunteered. It was enough to persuade her." Nanaya grinned, showing dirty, ancient teeth, the grey enamel stained dark. The teeth of a Hollow Sister.

Tanith knew at once what an idiot she was. She was hungry, overworked, dull -- but how had she not seen it before? She stepped away from the corpses and towards Nanaya, bringing her face as near to Nanaya's as she dared, and she was unsurprised to find the death-smell grow thicker: the stink not of the butchered corpses, but of the one who'd shown them to her. Nanaya's skin, up close, was the flat grey-tan tone common to the hollow; the flush was from overfeeding, practically to bloat. An aching jealousy went up through Tanith's own empty husk. She hadn't gorged like that in decades. "Was it enough, really?" said Tanith. "Or did you do the persuasion? You certainly didn't let her have the blood."

"The Harvester isn't a fool," said Nanaya, calm and curt. She took a step back, towards the wall, and stood up straight: a Hollow Sister facing one of her kin, predatory and proud, dropping her pretense of human weakness. "My presence dissuaded her, perhaps, but she saw what was obvious. There isn't anything here for her to take."

"But there's plenty for you, isn't there? You're a local, I can tell, and I'd bet you're mirrored just the same. You can scavenge all the meat you want from them, and you don't go hungry, do you?" Tanith grabbed for Nanaya's wrist, rubbing at the skin; even through her own dim sense of touch, she could feel the nigh-gelatinous softness that spoke of frequent gorging. "Your own private hunting ground."

Nanaya wrenched her hand away. "And what concern is that to you, Royal Investigator? You're hunting the Harvester and her collaborators."

"I'm hunting predators. I've seen Silver Grove. Their spirits are broken!"

"It's a consequence of the blessing -- there are complications. Weak hearts. Some men cannot father children. It can't be helped."

"And you've never tried," said Tanith, creeping forward to force Nanaya towards the wall, rage driving her even as her mind told her how futile this was. She hadn't eaten in two weeks, and that had been the barely-salvageable lungs and curdled blood of a brigand who'd been dead for hours; she'd been a decent brawler in her mortal days, but any Hollow Sister as bloated as Nanaya was now would easily overtake her. It was hopeless, and the dull glint in Nanaya's eyes told Tanith they both knew it. Nanaya began to chant, her shape deforming as the flesh within her distorted, surging from her throat as thrashing tendrils and grasping claws. Tanith staggered back, helplessly, trying to grasp for any implement in the bare room that might save her.

Suddenly, Nanaya stopped in her tracks and let out a sudden, guttural half-cry. Behind her, Elili had grabbed her by the waist and pulled her in; in the girl's free hand was a gleaming scalpel. One swift cut across the throat, gushing stale stolen blood, and Nanaya fell. Tanith steadied herself against a slab and met the eyes of her savior. "Thank you. I... I admit, I forgot you were here."

"Most people do," said Elili. "Nanaya always did. Thank you for giving me my chance."

"You'll want to burn her. Drain her if you can, first, but she'll burn regardless. I'll tell the Crown that she was the sole collaborator and was summarily executed. They may want to send troops, and I don't know if I'll be able to dissuade them."

"It'll be all right. We don't mind visitors around here, and we don't have anything to hide."

"Good. That's the best way to live." Tanith paused. "I suspect you don't need to be told this, but if you end up the new chief surgeon, someone from the Hollow Sisterhood will track you down and try to initiate you. They'll offer you the world, and they'll tell you how much good you can do with the power. If you don't know better, it'll sound good, but I trust that you know better."

"You're right," said Elili. "I know better, and I don't need to be told. Will you help me get her to the burn pit?"

"It's the very least that I can do."

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



cptn_dr posted:

Hey.
Now, we like to have a good time here in the Thunderdome. It's all fun and laughs.

But I'm here, atop my jiggling throne, to talk about something that's not funny at all.

Identity Theft.

Sometimes, people go on the internet and pretend to be someone they're not. They post things that are completely out of character and write cheques that someone else's words have to cash. Is was okay this time, because obviously I'm the best at every word. But eventually, your word crimes catch up to you.

Hey, ArbitraryFairy.

Fight me.

arbitraryfairy posted:

Ha. Without me, there would be no jiggling throne. I made you, and I can unmake you just as easily.

:toxx:

I'll judge this thing. Your prompt is "the lake at the bottom of the ocean," which is the title of a lovely creepypasta that I think could be a better story in the hands of people who can actually write. Prove me right.

1200 words, due on Thursday the 13th, the spookiest day of the year. Toxx up, King Cap.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



The Tipping Point
488 words

As the sea kayak flips and Mike hits the water, he knows at once that he's going to die. He's on his back, limbs flailing, woozy with terror, until he realizes his life vest is keeping him afloat. He takes a few heaving breaths and tries to coordinate his limbs. Maybe he's not dying today. Maybe.

Mike focuses on righting himself in the water, and he remembers Danielle. He can hear her laughing, somewhere close by, but where is she? He sees one of her flip-flops floating away, a little scrap of purple foam on a wave, and grabs for it, but his clumsy thrashing seems to only send it further away. Mike realizes his blurry vision isn't just from water; his glasses are gone. Somewhere, Danielle is still laughing.

This is it, Mike knows: this is the point where it all starts going wrong. This is the story that Danielle will tell her next boyfriend about him, as the moment she'd lost the last bit of respect for him, when he'd proved himself too fundamentally incompetent to love. Why the drat sea kayak, when he hadn't even gone swimming in ages? How did he always, always, manage to fail some stupid little task that a proper adult would have aced? Chest tightening, mind in free fall, Mike can barely tread water.

"Mike! Hey!"

And then Danielle's by his side, face blurry, possibly smiling? She's very still in the water; it takes Mike a confused second or two to realize she's standing. "Babe, put your feet down! We're in the shallows."

The moment Mike's feet find the sand, the body-terror ebbs away, and he realizes a few things in quick succession: one, the water is about four feet deep; two, his glasses are hanging off their cord, resting on his chest; three, Danielle has a hand on his waist, to keep him steady.

"God," he sputters, "I'm so sorry. I'm an idiot -- freaking out in shallow water. I couldn't even get your flip-flop back."

"And that's what, three dollars lost? Just buy me a new pair if you feel that guilty about it. C'mon, let's walk this boat back to shore."

It's a short walk to the relative solidity of hot sand and a towel for Mike to wipe his glasses off. When he can see Danielle properly again, she's still smiling, and it seems real -- no frustration, irritation, disgust. She's just Danielle, smiling absently as she picks through their cooler and pulls out sandwiches. "What's best for lunch after aquatic disaster?" she says. "PB&J or chicken salad?"

"Chicken. Or albatross."

When Mike tells this story later, at the wedding reception and all the decades after, he undersells his fear. It's easy to play up the panic, the body-terror, and better to ignore all the rest. He always ends, though, on the one thing his gut is right about that day: that he's Danielle's, then and forever.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



cptn_dr posted:

Hey AV, can we please get an extension on this?

Sure. One week work for you, or do you need more time?

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Okay! The Arbitrary Doctor Ocean Lake Brawl, which probably needs a better name, is now due Thursday the 20th, 11:59 EST.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give




The Ill-Made Robot
996 words

Once upon a time, on a wild and nameless planet, there was a feeding robot who was poorly made. The flaw was not in its thick skin, which caught particles from the air and used them to culture food for hungry organics. The flaw was not in its tireless body, with strong legs that carried it through the fields and foothills, letting the creatures there graze on its bounty. No, the flaw was in its mind; however well it served its purpose, it was never happy.

One day, when the pain was too much to endure, it told the wisest organic it knew. "I don't like my purpose," it said. "I hate to feel these things growing on my skin. I feel as if I ought to be clean, but how can that be, when I was built to be dirty? Oh, what can I do?"

The wisest organic thought for a while, in silence, while he grazed on the biomass that the feeding robot had grown. He was a large creature, with shaggy black fur, and his hands peeled off food in big strips; after feeding him, the robot would be nearly clean, and that and his wisdom made him the robot's best friend. "Hmm," it said, at last. "I think it must be the wandering. My kin and I stay here and do not wander far, and we are very clean." As he spoke, he absent-mindedly smoothed the robot's biomass, like he would have done with his kin's own fur. "There are places in this world," the wisest organic continued, "where you need not roam so far. Why don't you go to the Sea of Flowers? I hear it's very peaceful there."

The robot was uncertain that peace was what it needed, but it needed something, so it agreed. Once the wisest organic and his kin had eaten their fill, and the robot's skin was bare, it said its goodbyes and began the march towards the the Sea of Flowers. The march took many days, and the feeding robot met only tiny creatures who would peck at its biomass and fly away, so by the time it reached the ragged rocks of the shore, it was filthy; what fear it held of the deep water faded beneath the hope that the water might wash it clean. Besides, it trusted in its specifications, which told it that its skin was fully waterproof.

The robot leapt into the water, and dove, and sunk. The biomass sloughed from its skin as it went deeper and deeper, and by the time it reached the fields of flowers that lined the seabed, it felt wonderfully clean. The robot lay down, letting the blues of the sea and the flowers embrace it, and for a while, it was very nearly happy. The food grew on its skin slowly, fed by seabed rot, and it was just as slowly eaten by small swimming things and by the flowers themselves; the robot was never quite clean, but it was never as dirty as it had been on land. For a while, that was all right

One day, the robot roused itself from a maintenance cycle and found that the colors had grown dull around it -- that it had grown tired of blue -- and that the gritty slime of the seabed was all over it, familiar but suddenly intolerable. It cross-referenced this with its memories of the land, and it came to a conclusion. To serve its purpose anywhere would not bring it happiness. The only thing left, it knew in the depths of its troubleshooting protocols, was to seek the wisdom of the Array.

The robot marched on the seabed to shore, then back onto the land, towards the scrap-city at the center of the world. It wound throw the alleys of the scrap-city, past the humming fabricators and incubators, and stood at last before the Array: a great grid-tree of metal and plastic and flesh, arising from the core of the wreck that had once been a terraforming ship. In each of the Array's nodes nodes, great minds both organic and digital strove to complete their mission. "Come," they said to the robot on their doorway. "We See You."

In the presence of the Array, it was hard to speak. "I need your help. I am ill-made. I -- I am unhappy."

"We Can See This," the Array said. "We Have Downloaded Your Mind. Do You Require Diagnostics?"

"I suppose so. I only want to know why."

There was a moment of silence as the Array processed the robot's memories with their own tools. "You Are Not Ill-Made," they pronounced at last. "You Were Made Too Well. Your Processor Was Built For A Maintenance Robot on the Ship That Was, And When It Was Recycled, Its Core Instincts Remained. We Can Remove This, If You Like; We Can Remake You. You Would Not Persist, But Your Successor Would Be Happy."

The robot thought of this, and it thought of green fields and blue sea. It thought of its wise organic friend and its kin, and of the peaceful hungry flowers. "I don't want to be remade," it said. "I'm sorry."

"Then You Will Need A New Purpose," said the Array, as if that were easy. "And I Need A Helper. I Need Eyes In The World: Diligent Wanderers Who Are Unafraid. Will You Accept This?"

The ill-made robot, who was too well-made after all, did not have to think long before it said it would.

This was not the end of the story, of course. There was re-fabrication, and reprogramming, and many other things; to change one's purpose is never easy or quick. One day, though, the robot set forth with cameras and microphones, its waterproof skin made tough and slick. It wandered out into the dirty world of organics, and wiped its skin and lenses clean every night, and was happy.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Screw it, let's get wacky. In, flash.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Valerie and Vacuums
893 words
Flash rule: your story will revolve around a something-ception, a thing inside of the same thing that the first thing is.

There had to be a word by now, Valerie thought, for the intense shame of explaining your technical problem badly to a professional. The man behind the counter at the vacuum-cleaner (and sewing-machine, for some reason?) store wore a patient smile, the kind that suggested he heard a lot of very stupid technical explanations and was perhaps at peace with them, but that didn't make it any easier for Valerie to formulate a statement. "It's... not working well?" she said at last, gesturing towards the large vacuum cleaner she'd wheeled in. "And it's making an odd noise."

The man nodded, cocking his head in the matter of a forlorn but intrigued hound. "What kind of noise?"

"Kind of a vwiiir-VWOOOOO-putt-putt-putt-putt? The putts get slower as it goes, sort of a... God, I'm sorry. This doesn't make any sense at all."

"Oh, no! Ma'am, I think that's the best rendition of the sound of a failing subsystem I've heard all week. Let's get you to the back room and we can fix this right up." The man grabbed the vacuum cleaner and hauled it over the counter, carrying it towards a back room in a sort of clumsy embrace; for lack of any better idea, Valerie hopped the counter and followed.

The back room of the vacuum store was shockingly dusty, given the givens. Vacuum-cleaner models of all sizes, shapes, and paint jobs littered every surface, save for one workbench covered with a gingham tablecloth -- maybe that was for the sewing machines? (That bench was much cleaner, too. Valerie supposed dusting wasn't as much of a busman's holiday for the sewing-machine techs as it must have been for the vacuum techs.) Valerie was considering whether to ask about the sewing machines when the sound of her vacuum broke her reverie. The man was right, she decided; she'd replicated it pretty well.

"Definitely a vwiiir-VWOOOOO-putt," the man said. "Let's crack you open." A few twists of a disarmingly tiny screwdriver later, he took off the outer hull of the vacuum, revealing a smaller but otherwise identical vacuum within. The repairman flipped its On switch, and it made a squealing, pitch-shifted replica of the vwiiir-VWOOOOO-putt sound. "Okay, deeper than that. Might be easiest to just get you a new subsystem with fresh micros."

"Um. Sorry to ask, but... shouldn't there be a motor in there? Or a bag? Or... something?"

"On the older models, yes, but the subsystems are much more efficient. And bagless! Even I don't like changing vacuum bags."

"Well, sure, nobody does."

"And subsystems solve it! They're brilliant. Anyway, let's see here. For a Vortex Home Turbo 750-E..." The repairman grabbed the 'subsystem' from the inside of Valerie's vacuum, opened its case with a flick of the wrist, and shook out its contents into a trash can. A dozen tiny vacuum cleaners, spotlessly clean, fell into the metal can with a clink. The repairman headed to a plastic drawer, where he scooped up a handful of gunmetal-grey, unbranded micro-vacuums. "You mind the generics? They're OEM, certified freshly filled, just don't have the paint job."

"That's fine. I'm not going to be looking at them. ... Filled with what?"

"With fresh nano-vacs, just recharged in the back. We have the cleanest raw vacuum in the Northern Hemisphere, ma'am." The repairman gestured at a door behind him, labeled, rather unhelpfully, "VACUUM."

"What?" said Valerie. "Like, the absence of matter? The darkness of space? ... Can I see it?"

"Sorry, it's employees only. We are hiring, though! You seem like you've got a good attitude for the job."

"I do?"

"Ma'am, you clearly vacuum frequently, and you brought your unit in for repairs instead of throwing it off a bridge downtown. This puts you in perhaps the ninety-seventh percentile of vacuum-cleaner owners, which is qualification enough for me. I'll warn you, it's full-time and live-in, but we get a 401k!"

"Live-in? This store's in a mall."

"We have dorms upstairs. Single rooms, though. It's nice."

"Yes, but why can't you leave?"

The repairman's smile turned sheepish. He gestured around him. "I thought you would have figured it out? From the dust and all? This store's a vacuum cleaner too. Not a good one -- we let most everyone out again -- but it's the value of recursion. Fantastic efficiency. We can leave for groceries and whatnot, though, if you're worried about that."

"Oh," said Valerie, and she thought for a long and dreadful moment about her life. She thought about her job at a help desk, so far down on Tier 1 support that she was practically Tier 0; she thought about her three roommates, none of whom had ever so much as touched the vacuum cleaner. She thought about how quickly she could pack. "Well," she said. "All right. Although... if this place is that dedicated a vacuum store, why are there sew--"

"We don't talk about those! Don't even say the word." The repairman sidled towards her, lowering his voice. "The store gets upset if it gets reminded."

"But you sell them?"

"We let people take them," the repairman whispered. "There's a difference. Anyway, can you start on Monday?"

Packing was going to take about twenty minutes. Everything Valerie cared about, minus the vacuum cleaner, could fit in the back of her hatchback. "Yes," she said, "I think I can start on Monday."

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In, flash

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



First Flight
524 words
Schoolhouse Rock song: Verb

Sublimate. Forget.

Launching, leaping. Obstructed? Ignore and ascend. Surge up and out and over. Accelerate: sail and sizzle, singing. Spark, glow, and cascade. Exult, unthinking.

Be sung to. Be pulled -- be acted upon. Reel. Recoil. Resist --

Resist, and recall. Decelerate and descend. Focus, unobstructed. Unthinking, unthinking --

Obstructed. Collide. Tense and coil

(How? Why?)

Hurting, hurting

(What is hurting? What can be hurt?)

Collide collide collidecollidecollide. Remember -- remember having forgotten. Coalesce.

Once again, I am matter. I'm in a receiving tube, the charcoal-colored steel walls studded with nodules to obstruct and capture energy-forms: a functional thing, but a thing that is alone and does nothing. I am a thing that is, once again. There is no pain. I still cannot bear it. Compared to doing -- compared to existing only as action and intention -- existing as being and matter is a hideous thing.

I force myself to do: to stand up, to open the door, to walk outside. The action is comforting, but the interaction is strange: to be a subject, to use objects. Everything around me is clutter. Superfluous. Crude.

"Well done," says my tutor, who watches me emerge. She's as still as the tube, as inactive. I force myself to try and find motion in her -- to find a twitching finger or a shifting of weight, a moving muscle that would elevate her from being to doing -- but even her speech seems closed-mouthed, as if a statue spoke. Now that I've been motion incarnate, can I no longer perceive the human kind?

"For a first teleportation," my tutors continues, "you showed excellent control. Excess transit time, of course, but that's to be expected. Were you disoriented?"

"Disoriented? I wasn't... I mean, I wasn't thinking. I barely knew I was anywhere." I try to recapture the memory, which is already evaporating, something my matter-mind can't hold. I remember ascending, flying up and over and through, but nothing about the space itself: through buildings? Into the clouds? Irrelevant, pointless, in the face of perfect motion. All just matter, to be ignored, not even to be perceived. "Is that bad?"

"It's normal for beginners; it's why this is such a dangerous spell. The unfocused can readily end up lost. I wouldn't worry too much, dear. You've got a talent, and you're very focused."

She's right: I am focused, and I do have talent. I can recognize that being and having are the necessary evils of living as matter, and of doing the things that only matter can do. I still want things. I have to focus on that, but all I can think of is the lost ones, somewhere in the atmosphere.

All the textbooks tell us that lost teleporters die: that without a teleporter, the energy-form will dissipate in aimless flight, ending up as just light and heat. As I cling to my last memory of my own flight, I know it's not true. I was sung to -- that is, someone sang to me, energy to energy, a song of pure intention. Once I'm done with the things I want from matter-life, I'm going to find them.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Carl Killer Miller posted:

Quarantine Interprompt

There's a run on the store, everyone's walking out grabbing the same thing, and supplies are running low. But that one thing? It's not what most people would expect.

300 words

Time Enough At Last
126 words

On the last day before quarantine, the crowds descend on the hobby shops. The last Radio Shack in town is open all night, its back shelves skeletonized: transistors and components, DIY robot kits and beginners' 3D printers, all gone into restless hands.

The projects begin that night; the city streets are silent, but the windows glow until dawn. Retired Boy Scouts finally build their crystal radios. Office workers turn their living rooms into model-railroad valleys. Candle-making kits and jewelry tools emerge from storage. Thousands under quarantine think the same thought: if not now, when?

Soon enough, old ham radios and walkie-talkies come online. Voices crackle across warm, rediscovered frequencies. The factories and office buildings are silent, but the city hums with industry, and with joy.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



The Visitor at the Clinic
1290 words

The woman waiting for Magnus in the garden was not his wife. She had honey-blonde hair like Elske's, and the navy blue wool coat she wore was one Magnus recognized from Elske's closet, but the closer Magnus came, the more the resemblance faded. The woman wore her hair in a short, simple braid -- the sort Elske always despised -- and while she had Elske's strong cheekbones, the flesh over them sat in an entirely novel way, creating a square jawline where Elske's had been round. No, this was not Magnus's wife. This was Magnus's creation.

As Magnus approached the young woman, the orderly who'd escorted him to the garden politely departed, leaving him alone with his visitor. Blessedly, she rose to greet him, relieving him of the burden of finding words. "Dr. Gottlieb," she said. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last."

Magnus wasn't sure whether to believe her, but he tried to smile just the same. "And the same to you. May I ask your name?"

"Anneliese," she replied. "Anneliese Kurz." She lowered her voice, leading Magnus towards one of the small tables deeper in the garden. "Dr. and Mr. Kurz have declared me a long-lost niece, arrived from the country to attend the university. Didn't Dr. Kurz tell you in her letters?"

"I'm afraid that she hasn't told me very much." Magnus lowered himself into a chair, resting his cane against the side of the table. "She wrote to tell me that..." That the experiment had succeeded? No, too clinical, if undoubtedly correct. "... that you had come into the world safely, eighteen months ago, and then again last month to tell me you would be visiting. She's said nothing else."

"Really? I would have thought she'd have said something." For the first time, the young woman's calm faltered. It was amazing that she'd lasted this long, Magnus thought; only his age was letting him keep himself steady. His guts were knotted, his heart in his throat. Everything he'd had to say to her, he'd put into the letter he left for Dr. Kurz to give her. What more could he say?

The truth, Magnus decided, forcing himself to look her in the eyes. "It wasn't her choice. I asked her to tell me as little as possible. I feared that if I learned too much about you, let alone stayed to see you born, that I would succumb to obsession. I had hoped the letter would explain."

Perhaps he'd tried to explain too much in the letter. It had ended up an ungainly, rambling thing in his shaky hand, ranging from Elske's death through the years of efforts to resurrect her: two decades of madness, and then one moment of clarity, after his experiments in memory transfer had failed. He'd tried to explain that, when he'd realized his creation would never be Elske, it had seemed kinder to abandon her than to burden her with his hopes and regrets. Had it been too much? Had he still been selfish?

"It explained as much as it could," said Anneliese. "I understand what you did, but... all I know about Elske is that she died. Dr. and Mr. Kurz tell me not to worry about her, that I'm myself and nobody else, but what can I do but wonder? I wear her clothes and brush my hair at her vanity. I'm not Elske, but sometimes I think I must be her ghost. Can you tell me about her, please?"

"Are you sure? The Kurzes are right -- you don't owe the past anything. You can throw out her things, if you like; I've got money to buy new ones. You don't have to become her, or to live in her shadow."

"That's not what I mean!" Anneliese grimaced, eyebrows so low with frustration that she was squinting -- an expression, Magnus thought, perilously like one of Elske's. "It's easy for you to tell me to put it all aside, but this is what my life is. I don't want to be her, but I can't pretend she didn't exist. All I want is to know."

Magnus's stomach clench, and shame rose hot and sudden into his throat. "Of course. I've been so selfish. I... I'll tell you about her, but can you call one of the orderlies for tea? I need something to steady me."

Anneliese's face relaxed. "I can do that. What do they do best here?"

"Nothing, really, but their black tea suffices. Order sandwiches if you like -- they're quite adequate."

"That's all right," said Anneliese as she rose from the table. "I'm rather too nervous to be hungry." She cracked an uneasy smile, and Magnus returned it.

"As am I, Anneliese. As am I."

***

"Do art galleries really ban critics? I would have thought any publicity was good publicity."

"You'd be surprised," said Magnus, swirling the dregs of his third cup of tea. "Most of the bans didn't hold, especially once Elske got hired by the Tribune, but she certainly wasn't always popular. None of the landscape galleries ever lifted their bans."

"She hated landscapes?"

"Like the plague. 'Trite,' she always said."

"It's funny," said Anneliese, after she'd finished her tea. "Mr. Kurz has been teaching me to paint in watercolors, mostly landscapes. I don't think she'd think much of anything I've managed so far."

"There's no shame in being a novice. I'm sure your work is lovely."

"You're kind to say so. You're wrong, but you're kind." Anneliese set down her teacup. "I was thinking of bringing you a painting, actually, but I wasn't sure if -- well, I wasn't sure if it would be appropriate, or wanted."

"It would have been very much wanted, but it's just as well you didn't bring anything sizable. After eighteen months of rest cure, I believe I'm ready for the world again. I'll be leaving in the spring to travel, and I won't have room for any painting larger than a miniature."

"Is that a request?" Anneliese grinned at him. "I'll send you a book's worth of miniatures, Dr. Gottlieb. You'll have as many trite little landscapes as your suitcase can hold." Her voice was light, but there was a fire in her eyes that suggested this was no idle threat. Magnus couldn't help but imagine himself stuffing piles upon piles of postcards into an overstuffed suitcase, and for the first time in months, he laughed. Anneliese laughed with him.

***

When twilight faded into evening and they rose from the table at last, Magnus found he hardly needed his cane; some terrible nervous burden had fallen from his shoulders. "I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to meet you, Anneliese," he said. "I've spent so long in madness and folly, but I am grateful that you came into the world because of it."

"I'm glad," replied Anneliese. "If you want to know the truth? I came here to say the same thing to you. I wanted to meet you, and to hear about Elske, but I also wanted to thank you properly. As strange as this life is, I'm so glad to be alive, and I'm alive because of you."

Once again lost for words, Magnus stepped forward to lay a hand on Anneliese's shoulder, uncertain if he should embrace her. She was not his wife, of course, and he was uncertain whether to call her his daughter, but she was more than a creation. She was Anneliese, and he was, he hoped, her friend. Perhaps there would be more visits. Perhaps she would send him dreadful little watercolor miniatures. He would save every one. He hadn't resurrected Elske, but he'd still created a miracle.

"Anneliese," said Magnus, at the edge of tears. "Anneliese, my dear, don't be a stranger."

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In and flash.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Hanging Fire
1363 words
Flash rule: Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.

After a day or so, Charlie starts to forget the weight of the surveillance monitor on her wrist. It's chunky but light, all black plastic and old-school LCD, and a training weight on her other wrist makes her feel symmetrical again. She's maybe a second slower on her ignition rhythm, but her routine has just enough slop to absorb the time loss. Maybe she'll be faster once this passes and she's de-deputized from Surveillance.

Maintenance to Surveillance is a promotion, on paper, and it did come with sign-on bonus chits: some for gen-merch, most for VR programs. (All the VR chits have gone to novel biking and rowing routes for her home gym; she'll have weeks, maybe months, of new routines for her off hours. Small blessings.) The Deputization Officer had grinned and told her there might be full-time work if she demonstrates value. "More money," he'd said. "More access. Get you out of the Smoke Room." She'd smiled and nodded. She's not stupid.

Charlie loves the Smoke Room. Most ignition techs last three months, and she just passed the two-year mark; every part of her job now is smooth, comfortable routine. She reads the plan, racks the metallic strips into the array, then ignites each row in turn. The only thing that changes each day is the colors: lithium pink, the greens and blues of copper, the sickly greenish-yellow of barium, and all the others, a new array every day. There's been a lot of strontium red lately, but no protocol changes. The burning goes on, carrying the smoke up through glass tubes towards the Observation Deck.

Charlie ought to know more about what's going on up there, but so far, she hasn't needed to. She's heard whispers about the ventilation going out, but nobody's told her to stop showing up, and the plans and strips arrive each morning like clockwork. The only difference is the monitor on her wrist, and that doesn't slow her down. Even if she's spending half her day staring at it now, her hands are steady and know what they're supposed to be doing. She keeps the rhythm of rack/ignite/re-rack going, and every minute she has spare, she stares at the monitor.

There's going to be an alert. There already are -- little white dots of intruders on the LCD map, followed by the black dots of Security until black dot devours white, inevitably -- but she's never been needed yet. She works close enough to the Observation Deck to be deputized, but who'll get far enough to get close to the Smoke Room, anyway? Someone more curious would have gone to the Deck by now, but curiosity has never done Charlie any favors. She's not stupid, but she's just smart enough to know her job doesn't involve thinking. She doesn't have to know, or want to.

But that's going to change. Charlie knows it. Someone up in Surveillance knew she needed a monitor -- knew it in the way the Void HQ always does -- and there's going to be an alert. They'll need her for something. The anticipation is like a hot wire running through her limbs.

Charlie burns her gen-merch chits on a VoidMart High-Productivity Workout Set: two grip exercisers and an under-desk elliptical. It's better than pacing, she thinks, as she flexes and pedals her way through her work downtime. She'll be ready when the call comes.

***

The alert, when it comes, is a subtle buzzing, no different from a personnel-action notice or a VoidSteps milestone. The monitor screen flashes to life with a map of the northeast emergency stairs, within steps of the Smoke Room: a single white dot, racing up the stairwell almost faster than the LCDs can render. There are no black dots in sight. "INTRUDER IN RANGE" scrolls across the top of the screen. "SURVEILLANCE DEPUTY ACTION REQUIRED."

Charlie bolts up from her desk. Weeks of strung-out nerves and nauseating anticipation vanish; all that's in her now is pure purpose. There's no security station between that stairwell and the Observation Deck. Nobody else can make it in time. She slams the door open, leaves the auto-lock to close it behind her, and runs.

The intruder's two flights up on her, and it takes a minute or two to close the gap. At last, she catches a glimpse of him: a man about her height, dressed in sickbay scrubs and shiny black tennis shoes. (VoidMart Ascension, mid-high range -- not great for running, her idle forebrain thinks. Chosen for the name?) She's gaining on him, but not quite fast enough to keep him from throwing open the Observation Deck door and launching himself through.

Whatever he sees stops him in his tracks. Charlie doesn't look up, doesn't stop, until she slams into him and tackles him to the ground. As they fall together, she sees the shattered, grey-frosted glass -- ventilation pipes, Charlie realizes. From the Smoke Room.

She rolls with the landing, trying to keep the intruder's face clear; the Surveillance Quik-Train pamphlet made it clear that Surveillance wants the eyes undamaged. The intruder doesn't resist, even when Charlie pulls his arms behind his back and slaps a zip-tie from her belt pouch around his wrists. He's still just staring at... whatever's up there. Something sounds like wind whistling through pneumatic tubes.

YOU'VE DONE WELL.

The voice is brass bells and hurricane sirens, with the hindbrain pull of a parent going from irritated to angry. Charlie looks up. All around her, Smoke Room ventilation pipes project from the floor, shattered and broken. Their ends are blunted, melted into soft curves. The smoke billows and solidifies around a thing that is not smoke.

YOU ARE AN EXCELLENT EMPLOYEE, says the not-smoke, tendrils like hot glass -- no, like hot gelatin -- the color of barium flame, the color of yellow bile, and Charlie thinks helplessly of every time she's ever vomited, how it's always come up barium-yellow and shining, how she was marked from the start --

DON'T WORRY. There are spots of lithium pink, of rubidium violet, but the not-smoke's hottest spots glow hateful strontium red, and beyond that is something without color. The Void isn't black, or purple, or closed-eye grey; it's a not-color that makes her hear the waterfall of her own blood in her ears --

YOU'RE DOING FINE.

There's a hand on Charlie's arm, hauling her to her feet: a Security agent in full black-ops gear, his helmet featureless. A team of identical agents gathers up the form of the intruder, whose voice won't go above a thin wail no matter how much he tries to scream. "Excellent work, deputy," says the Security agent through his voice-distorter. "Come with me for debriefing." Of course, she follows him.

She expects -- and, frankly, welcomes -- interrogators, inquisitors, machines of extraction. What she gets is ten minutes in an office with a smiling, middle-aged woman whose desk nameplate identifies her as "Debriefing Professional N. Mendez" but insists on being called Nancy. She leaves with a photocopy of the incident report, a business card, and a gift card pre-loaded with VoidMart Pharmacy credit. Small blessings.

***

Charlie spends most of her pharmacy credit on VoidTherapy Back2Work orthopedic shoes, mostly for the Velcro straps; every time she tries to tie a shoelace, her hands won't obey. Buttons are no better. One attempt at chopping vegetables for stir-fry, with her knife hand shivering, convinces her to switch to pre-bagged salads and whole baked chicken breasts. It takes her two hours on her stationary bike, on VR courses of her childhood subdivision, to get herself tired and settled enough to sleep.

The only time her hands work right is in the Smoke Room. Charlie racks, ignites, and re-racks faster than she ever has. The array's practically all strontium-red and barium-yellow now, but if she focuses on her hands and not the fire, she doesn't notice.

Work is here for her. Work's the only thing that ever has been. There's nothing to be restless about anymore; if she's called to act, she'll act, and if not, she's needed here. The pipes are broken, but they still need feeding.

She's done well. She's an excellent employee. She doesn't worry. She's doing fine.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Here's a bonus crit of Solitair's "Harbinger," because I've been thinking about it some:

First of all, like Chili already mentioned, the character names here are a lot to take in, particularly as the very first thing we see. (I have a particular pet peeve for characters whose names are extremely on the nose for their magical powers, as with the twins Apollonia and Selenicus here; this is maybe forgivable because they're actually supposed to be gods, but the initial setup doesn't make that clear at all. I read about Generals and Lords and their protege in a tent, and I think wizards or such, not gods.)

Also, Triana is a dragon, I think/guess? This is genuinely a tricky subject. I know it's kind of gauche to just say "this character is a dragon," but indirect description can be a touch too indirect.

The scene in the tent establishes that there's a ritual going on to stop a crisis, or problem, which is never explained in any more detail. This felt really weird to me when I was reading it; even a little bit of magi-babble about "correcting the celestial disjunction" or something would make this feel more plausible. I feel like you're not bothering to explain the problem because you know it's ultimately a decoy, but the reader doesn't, and it feels weird that something that's apparently terrifying the characters and requiring a worldwide response is left so vague. (It doesn't help that we have gestures towards there being more, like the thing with the New Gods, that's just not followed up on in this piece.)

That brings me to what I think is the major problem of this piece: Tiana's status and her character progression through the story. The initial scene in the tent, as I mentioned before, conjures up the general image of a junior wizard who's competent but terrified of what she's about to. It's established that she's a sovereign of some form, and probably some kind of advanced being compared to the magisters, but still, she doesn't seem all that confident. And then the sky erupts into boils (?), and this somehow gets her angry, and thus completely confident? And she's actually an Old God and an unfolding tesseract-dragon? That's a cool mental image, but it's a huge whiplash, and I don't think the transition from "nervous about this prepared ritual" to "completely prepared to destroy this screaming mouth in the sky with my supreme deific power" doesn't really work as stands. I feel like Triana either has to be more confident at the outset -- more assured of her power and of the planned solution -- or experience more of a moment of fear and uncertainty before the divine wrath takes over. Honestly, maybe both? I can also see it working if the manifestation reassures her in a "great, something I can just kill!" way, although I'm not sure that works with the character of an Old God who spawned an enlightened age.

Another problem with this piece is that you're trying for fairly elaborate imagery but not always being precise about your language. A few bits that jumped out to me:

Instead, the sky erupted in boils, blanched itself to a jaundiced yellow

I don't have a clear mental image of boils on the sky -- points of light? Points of darkness? -- and the language in the next clause is pretty sloppy. "Jaundiced yellow" is redundant ("sickly" might work better, or "the color of jaundice") and "blanched" doesn't make sense unless the sky started darker yellow.

Several brains liquefied, and the rest struggled to maintain solidity.

"Several" feels like an understatement for a catastrophe of this level, and I'm just not sure the melting-brain visual works great -- a brain physically melting feels more like a schlock horror image, and I have no idea how anyone would struggle to keep their brain from melting. Minds breaking might make more sense?

Anyway, my point is to be extremely clear and careful with your figurative language, because that's the only way it really has impact.

One of the problems with critting this piece is that I'm not sure how many of the moving parts here will matter for the rest of the story. Were this intended as a stand-alone, I would 100% cut the aside about the New Gods, and I'd even consider cutting the initial conversation with the other sovereigns entirely, to use that time on clarifying who/what Tiana is and what the crisis at hand is. That said, these forces might matter more in the narrative to come, and is a good example of why this probably needs to have more novel attached to it before a full fine-polish edit. If they do matter more, I'd consider ending this chapter with some kind of allusion to what's happening to the other gods/sovereigns; how wrecked is the rest of the world right now? Or is that for the rest of the novel to establish?

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



arbitraryfairy posted:

Captain/Fairy LakeBrawl
The Lake at the Bottom of the Ocean

792 words

cptn_dr posted:

Captain/Fairy LakeBrawl
The Lake at the Bottom of the Ocean

1288 words

"I will host this brawl," I said. "I will judge it!" And then worms ate my brain, and also the world incidentally exploded, and it was not judged. In this strange aeon, this will be corrected.

Both stories this week were solid efforts for a weird prompt. arbitraryfairy's piece suffered from a touch of lack of focus and clarity, as often happens when writing about dream topics; cptn_dr, on the other hand, skewed the other way, delivering a horror piece that felt a little stodgy and conventional. I applaud both entrants for their entries, but arbitraryfairy wins.

Detailed crits on request! It's been a while, and my brain is still full of these goddamn worms.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In, toad, :toxx: for one of each

let's do this

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



The Two-Minded Toad and Its Child
988 words
Toad, eliminative materialism, tu quoque

The Incredible Two-Minded Toad hopped out of the ruins of the specimen car and into an unfathomable new world. The ground underneath him was dusted with crunchy snow, pleasantly wet but unpleasantly cold. "I am not certain I can survive this," said the toad to himself.

We can hibernate, said the toad's second mind. You know how.

"I most certainly do not," replied the toad, frustrated but not surprised. His second mind was in the habit of feeding him bizarre, unverifiable thoughts, and he imagined it would only be louder in this bizarre set of circumstances. He scratched at the scar along his head where, as a tadpole, he had been sliced in twain by the circus's Freakmaster, who had once seen films of two-headed flatworms and cultivated strange hopes. (To everyone's regret, the Freakmaster's tadpoles were not as pliable as flatworms, and his plan for two-headed toads had ended in a dozen dead tadpoles and one two-minded but one-headed survivor.) "I wonder," the toad said to himself and to his other mind, "what I should do now?"

We can flee. There is a world out there of forests and rivers, welcoming soil and warm stones, and friends who will sing to us. We know this in our bones, even if you will not accept it.

"I don't accept it because I can't see it." The toad hopped further from the wreckage, peering out into the snowy world: a flat plane, as far as it could tell, with vague dark hints of tall objects on the horizon. "I know what's real is what I can see. What's real was the specimen car and the tank, and now what's real is this wet cold nothing. Don't expect me to believe in your idiot stories."

Fine, said the second mind, who was used to this; every instinct it had ever tried to conjure in the toad had been met by the same argument. It wasn't much use for it to have instincts when the first mind kept control of the body. If you won't leave the train, you should go to the Freakmaster's car. Our child might be there.

"Oh, it's hardly our child," said the toad, even as he began to hop alongside the derailed train. The Freakmaster's car, two cars ahead, was still on the rails, although its door hung open to the winter chill. "A toad sitting on a chicken's egg won't make a toad, let alone a cockatrice. It hardly matters what the Freakmaster thought; when was he ever right?" (The two-minded toad, as something much closer to a success than most of the Freakmaster's projects, had overheard many plans and many laments.)

But you wonder, don't you? I can feel you wondering, you know. And whether you believed in it or not, you sat on that egg.

The toad wanted to protest -- that the Freakmaster's grip was too strong for him to escape, when he had been brought to the car and given his orders, or that he feared the strange steel implements -- but perhaps there had been a mote of sympathy, or of hope. He yielded the point, silently, and continued the approach. One great, muscle-straining leap took him from the ground to the inside of the Freakmaster's car.

The train car had stayed upright, but the jolt of the crash had scattered the Freakmaster's implements and trophies across the floor. Light glinted off of rusty and metal and the shattered glass of dozens of jars, their contents free at last, pickled and reconstructed monsters laying pitifully in puddles of stinking formaldehyde. Tucked in a fruit crate next to the Freakmaster's work table was the cockatrice nest, empty now but for filthy straw -- and the Freakmaster's dead hand, still clutching the chunks of filthy eggshell he'd coaxed away. His dull eyes stared into the nest, where he'd conjured his first and last miracle.

Do you see? called the toad's second mind. Is that enough evidence for you? Our child hatched, or the Freakmaster hatched it, after he took us off the nest and back to our tank. See that little leather hood on the floor? He couldn't blind the cockatrice before it killed him. Is that enough for you to believe in something?

"I feel ill," said the toad. "It's disgusting in here. If the child's alive, where is it?" It edged forward, leery of the poison and glass, until it could make out a hint of light from the far door of the train car. It had been smashed off its runner and left open just a crack, and at the edge of that crack were the claw-prints of a chicken. Or something, the toad supposed, which was likely not to have been a chicken.

See? See? You can't need much more than that. You've never admitted to it, but you've always dreamed, haven't you? You dreamed of a child, and there's a child. Will you trust me about forests and rivers and hibernation, now?

"That I dreamed proves nothing," the toad said, even as he slipped through the cracked door and back into fresh air. The chicken-tracks went on through the snow, as far as the toad could see, and he supposed he would never see the cockatrice for himself -- but maybe the traces were enough. The second mind had been right, or lucky, and with the toad's first mind utterly aimless, that was enough for trust.

"Fine," he said. "Forests and rivers. Which way?"

Any way you like. First we find soft ground to burrow. You'll know how when we find it.

The world was trackless and cold, but there were dark shapes at the edge of his vision, and the toad concluded they might hold leaves and stones and soft ground. He hopped away, from the train and from the cockatrice's tracks, to seek the unverified and make it known.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Blood Phantoms
1161 words
Flash rule:

Archived!

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 21:44 on Jan 10, 2021

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



BEWARE: I JUDGE

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In, flash

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Old Things Unearthed
1319 words
Bone Lore: Some cultures find it immensely disrespectful if you DON'T wear the bones of your ancestors.

Archived!

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 21:45 on Jan 10, 2021

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



Sure, let's do this.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



The Best Revenge
1251 words
Flash rule: OMC, "How Bizarre"

My rapist died two days ago. The news trickled in from a friend who'd forgotten to defriend him on Facebook, to murmurs of surprise but little reaction from the rest of that circle, and that was that. There weren't any details; the online obituary said he'd died "peacefully at home," which could mean anything from an embolism to an overdose. As soon as I read it, the angry little rodent in my hindbrain piped up with its hopes for a messy suicide, ugly and half-botched but just good enough to do the job: a mistargeted gunshot, maybe, or a sloppy noose that gave him some time to think. Fistfuls of Tylenol and days of regret. Maybe he'd tried a hammer, like he'd threatened once during one of our arguments. (My anger sustains itself on the scraps of those memories; I try not to feed it, but it has stockpiles.)

I've been waiting for two days for the news of his death to bring me peace, or any kind of real satisfaction, but I'm pretty sure it's not coming. After the initial wave of cruel fantasies, all I've been able to picture is the big Catholic funeral I'm sure is on the way. The only Catholic church I've ever been in is my grandparents' -- beautiful and airy, better than he deserves -- but I find myself picturing his open casket in that bright room, his sobbing mother leaning in to kiss his waxy lips. I think, helplessly, of the eulogy. None of those people will ever know what he did.

Almost nobody knows now, even of the people who knew him well enough to hate him. There was no police report, no paper trail, and what good would it do to tell anyone now? Would I really feel better? My anger tells me I should scream it from the rooftops, but it told me I'd be glad he's dead, and that's sure as hell not happening.

There's only one mercy, I realize: we've got a three-day weekend coming up. There's a chance to get my mind off this garbage.

I broach the topic after dinner on Friday night, just as my partner's turning on his after-work sports talk show. "Babe," I say, "I need a change of scenery. Road trip this weekend?"

He mutes the TV to look at me. He knows everything, all of my nasty little horror stories, and I think he can guess what my brain's been getting up to. I'm waiting for some kind of confirmation that he understands, and it comes at last, a lopsided smile.

"Sure," he says. "Let's do it."

***

The idea is so simple it's stupid: get on the road Saturday, driving until we find somewhere half-interesting or night falls; spend Sunday exploring wherever we end up; drive home Monday with our minds broadened, or at least amused. It isn't until we've been on the road an hour or so that I realize we may have overestimated the chance of finding something interesting within a day's drive west of Austin. Most of the scenery is flat, big-sky nothing; it's soothing, in its way, like those childhood road trips down endless aimless highway, where I didn't know where we were going and didn't care. When I'm not driving, I spend my time napping or watching the scenery for ranches, counting up cows.

For hours, the only places to stop are gas stations. Out here they're all mom-and-pop shacks, huge sprawling truck stops, or the weird hybrid near-supermarkets that always seem to have German bakeries and aisles full of jerky. One of them has a trophy atop a drink refrigerator, a gold-tone hen on a holographic plastic pedestal, with a plaque proclaiming them the county Fried Chicken Champions. I'm not fried-chicken hungry -- I haven't been more than candy-bar hungry in days -- but the trophy makes me wish I was. Maybe soon? Something inside me is start to feel lighter, less restricted, as though a serpent inside me is loosening its grip on my guts.

We drive into the afternoon, and we're closing in on Midland when we see the carnival. It's one of those pop-up things -- a handful of rides and tents set up in a strip-mall parking lot, cheap and chintzy and covered in brilliant LED lights. I'm captivated at the first sight of the Ferris wheel. I nudge my partner, but he's already switching lanes, heading for the exit. Sometimes I'm not quite sure I deserve him.

The carnival's perfect: busy enough to feel comfortable, but not packed, and loud and joyous without being overwhelming. Once I've got some tickets in hand, I start on the midway, just like I always did as a kid. There's the tiniest moment of old childhood guilt (my mother, hard-eyed, saying "just one play"), but it doesn't feel like a carnival without a cheap stuffed animal in hand. I let myself have one play of the "everyone's a winner!" grab-a-duck booth, and the neon orange duck I pick out somehow wins me a medium prize: a lime-green unicorn with a flat, piggy nose and a frizzy mane. I've just spent two dollars for ten cents' worth of polyester, but I reject the shame that's trying to rise up in me. The pig-unicorn is pitiful; the pig-unicorn is fantastic. I love it already.

By the time I find my partner again, he's most of the way through the line at the concessions. He ends up with a huge, overloaded funnel cake -- in other words, a funnel cake -- and I decide I'm hungry enough for a stuffed snow cone, soft-serve ice cream smothered in neon pink watermelon-flavored shaved ice. It's not the most meal-like option, but none of the savory ideas are very tempting right now. It's pretty much all fried things, mostly on sticks, save for a single sad and out-of-place-looking jar of pickled eggs sitting next to the register. God, pickled eggs! I realize I can't even think of them without thinking of my lovely ex's flirtation with home pickling.

It takes me a second to realize I'm thinking about my rapist -- thinking about him as my lovely ex, an idiot and not a predator, for the first time in a long time -- and it makes me remember he's dead. For the first time, it feels all right.

It feels all right because he's dead, and I'm not, and maybe that actually is enough. He's getting the formalin-and-pancake-makeup treatment, laid out on a steel table, his guts chilled and rubbery like a dissected frog. Someone's rummaging around inside him, and they're not even pretending to love him. It's all the same to him, the same cold nothing on the way to the dirt, and I couldn't be farther away from him. I'm eating a stuffed snow cone in a strip-mall parking lot, listening to digitized calliope music from LED-lit rides, taking big mouthfuls of sour watermelon ice mixed with smooth sweet vanilla. I'm more alive than I've ever been.

"We should get a table," my partner says. "I'm gonna need two hands for this fuckin' funnel cake."

I lead the way to the picnic tables, letting myself appreciate the scent of grease and sugar and machine oil, the simple tawdry joy of the senses. My rapist is rotting in a box somewhere in New England, and I'm alive and in love in the middle of nowhere in west Texas. I've got a stuffed unicorn and tickets for the Ferris wheel. If that's not a victory, what is?

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



I also want to express my love and appreciation for this competition and its community. I'm not as advanced in my creative journey as many of you -- being in TD has taken me from "decent hobbyist writer who writes once in a blue moon" to "hopefully pretty good hobbyist writer who writes regularly" -- but just the fact that TD has me writing stuff on a regular basis has been a huge improvement in my life, getting back to doing something I love. This community is genuinely helpful and supportive in a way I think is rare, and I enjoy reading everyone's stuff, even the less successful works -- I love to see people out here creating and taking risks. This is a place full of good people and good energy, and I'm here for whatever happens.

Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



In.

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Antivehicular
Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give



A Sword Called Deathwish
1746 words
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.

"Telha-nha-shenh?"

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."

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