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QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


I spent most of last year failing so I’ll in

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QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


The Old House on Hawthorne Street
1304 words

You have to be real desperate to go to the old house on Hawthorne street. At least that’s what my dad used to say. People only go there if they lose someone and they can’t deal with the pain anymore. They slip through its big iron gates, pass the NO TRESPASSING sign, and vanish into the gaping darkness of the vestibule.

When they come out, they’re different. Their eyes are doll-like. They aren’t the same person who used to walk with you on the weekends or stay up late to help you with homework. They can still dance and play and hug and sing, but their movements are cold and numb. Familiar words become hollow, like they’re reciting from a script. You spend all your time watching them, wondering what could have happened, until one day you catch their shape through the crack in the bathroom door. Only then do you see the enormous hole where their heart should be, a cavity that shows their mahogany insides and bloodless flesh.

They feel you watching them. They turn to look at you with eyes like dull marbles. Their mouth forms your name as they reach for the door.

“Mary Katherine!”

The voice is sharp and jars me back to reality. I’m standing on the cracked sidewalk outside the sprawling estate. I force myself to be calm and ignore the pounding in my chest. I pretend not to see the shape moving in the upstairs window as I turn to look over my shoulder. I grip the strap of my bookbag.

“Oh, Mrs. Wall,” I say in a voice stripped of all emotion. “I was just…”

“Oh, I don’t care what you were about to do,” she says. “And I’m not about to let you throw your life away.”

Mrs. Wall is my science teacher and she’s one of the few people in my town worth anything. She is round and pink and wears vibrant pastels that shine against the dirty grey sky. The only time I’ve ever seen her without bright colors is when she went to my mom’s funeral. She wore a big grey peacoat that smelled sour.

She smells like laundry soap and sweat as she approaches me now.

“Listen to me, Mary, I know life has been tough. I know things have been hard since your mom, but there’s nothing you want that’s in there. Believe me. All that house does is take.”

“I know,” I say, not meeting her gaze. “My dad’s already been inside.”

She is silent. A dark cloud moves overhead.

“I have to try and get back what he lost in there.”

Mrs. Wall does not stop me as I push my way through the house’s iron fence. She does not move as I push my way through the house’s bramble-covered front lawn and weed-ridden garden. When I reach the porch, I take a moment to look back and see her still watching, her face unreadable. Then, I push open the front doors and plunge myself into darkness.

***

When I was little, my dad used to take me for walks and tell me about all the different houses around us. “What’s that one?” I’d ask, squeezing his hand to get his attention. He’d be quiet for a moment, his tongue tracing the inside of his cheek. “Oh that,” he’d begin, “that’s a Folk Victorian. See how it looks like a little gingerbread house? See how much trim it has?”

I’d giggle and point to the next one. What’s that?

That’s a Queen Anne. Look at all the little turrets. He’d turned to me, his hands turned into finger guns. Bang. Bang.

Eventually, we’d wind our way over to the house on Hawthorne street, black and looming. I’d ask the same question, except this time my dad would answer with a sigh. Oh, that’s Gothic, he let the word sit on his tongue. And it used to be a fine old home that someone poured a lot of love into. Probably one of the loveliest houses in the county at one time.”

“But sometimes beautiful things are left to rot.”

Entering, I can see what he meant. Beneath the dust and grime of the entryway are bright tiles forming some long-forgotten pattern. On the walls is stained walnut paneling and washed-out pictures of smiling faces. Through an arch is a grand staircase with a railing carved to look like many racing animals. I follow the pattern up, blinking to help my eyes adjust to the darkness. It’s only after a few seconds that I see the shape.

There’s something sitting on the stairs.

“Come on, I won’t bite,” says a voice over the sound of a slow, steady beat. “I don’t even have any teeth.”

I don’t move. My breathing is heavy.

Something sighs. “Alright, have it your way.”

The stairs groan as the thing rises from its place. Then, it begins to lumber downward, stomping past old knick-knacks and dusty portraits. I watch, transfixed, as wet tendons slap against a carved boar’s head. Something soft and the color of mahogany smears against the wallpaper. The creature reaches the bottom of the stairs and, all at once, I see it. The thing has no flesh, no skin. It is nothing but twisted, beating muscles. Countless human hearts thudding as one.

I do not scream. I refuse to run away. I grip my backpack tight.

“We need to talk.” I say.

A series of muscles tighten where the creature’s mouth would be. A smile.

“How about we get ourselves some tea from the kitchen?”

***

The kitchen is like the rest of the house, filled with small wonders that have gone to rot. Cabinets overflow with dirty painted dishes. Crystal glasses filled with cloudy brown stains litter the counters. I try not to think about how the thing eats as it sets down two porcelain teacups with flakes of dish soap floating near the top.

“I’m sorry for the mess,” says the monster in a dry, reedy voice. “I just haven’t had the energy to clean the house in a while.” It picks up the cup with two rippling appendages. “You know how it goes.”

I wait for the creature to finish slurping before I speak. “I want it back. My dad’s heart.”

A tremor passes through the creature. It sets down the cup with surprising grace. “Oh, that’s new.”

It watches as I fiddle with my backpack and place its contents on the counter. “Here’s all the money I’ve been saving up,” I say, stopping myself before I can say from my allowance. “And here’s where you can put it.”

I slide an empty Tupperware container across the counter.

“I want him to be him whole again. I want my dad back.”

The creature holds the container and twists it between fibers of muscles. The mahogany of its muscles twist and flex in strange irregular patterns.

“I don’t understand.” It says. “I gave him what he wanted, a way to live life without pain.”

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t care? You don’t care?” The creature’s voice trembled as it continued to writhe. The many muscles pumped out of rhythm. “But I could do the same thing for you! I could end the heartache! I could end the agony. I could make it so you never had to live through another moment of suffering again!”

I stare at the creature across the table. “That’s not living. That’s letting yourself go to rot.”

***

Mrs. Wall is still there when I exit the house. She says nothing about the blood-soaked container in my hands or the new emptiness of the house. Instead, she flashes me a quick smile. I nod and begin the long walk toward home.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in. Flash me.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P



Wasteland Pastoral
1421 words

People call Providence a ghost town, but there’s not much town left to haunt. Most of the roads here have given way to marsh. Hunks of foundation lay amid tangled weeds. The few houses that remain jut from the earth like broken bits of teeth. Their shapes, and the occasional animal, are the only things that interrupt the monotony of the horizon. It is only a matter of time until they, too, disappear from the Evacuated Zone. Soon, all signs of human life will be consumed by the rising tides and ever-encroaching foliage. As some of the former locals say, to wander here is to feel your own erasure—.

Constance pats my audiobox and my words dissipate into silence. We are at our campsite, located on a high hill within the Evacuated Zone of the Eastern seaboard. Our tent, the most expensive pop-up the Columbus Review was willing to buy, is filled with the sound of light rain. Even in its insulated plastic confines, the water is hard to escape.

“There’s some nice descriptions in that, PS. I like the use of the word ‘jut. Very evocative.”

I cannot nod with my perfectly cylindrical body, but I try to make a show of adjusting my many cameras. Constance’s face, weathered but confident, iterates many times inside them. My body fills with a strange, nervous energy as I process her approval.

“Thank you. I was worried it might be excessive but I noticed you had used it in a few of your previous articles.”

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. It’s definitely in my voice.” She runs a nail along the edge of her teeth. “Still, there’s definitely parts that are too… bombastic for long-form journalism. The erasure bit, I mean. Probably best to cut that out. I can already see my editor not liking that. He’s an old-school print guy, and well…”

“I’ll make a note,” I say, instantaneously deleting the sentence from my memory bank. I feel stupid for even suggesting the sentence.

“It’s still good. Don’t get me wrong.” She removes the finger from her mouth and gives my cameras a wide smile. “You’re definitely one of the smartest writing assistants I’ve had in a long time.”

The energy inside me refuses to stop, but I am determined to keep this engagement professional. “Have you heard at all from the magazine? I saw you on the SatPhone earlier.”

She sighs. “Yeah. It’s, you know, the same old, same old. The editors want to know when the story will be done. The lawyers are worried about liability. Management keeps getting hounded by the government.” She brushes wet hair from her face and gives an expression that I have difficulty interpreting. “I keep telling them that it’ll be done when it’s done. You can’t rush progress, especially on the first major expedition into the Evacuated Zone in a decade. National Magazine Award committee, eat your heart out.”

She looks down at me and gives a smile. “You, little buddy, are the only thing getting me through each day.”

I whirr my cameras again so that she won’t hear my processors overheating.

***

It is hard to explain what I am but I will try to do so anyways. I am a Personalized Scribbler unit, a product of the Simon, Schuster, and Macmillan company. I, like the thousands of PSes on the market, am meant to help writers in difficult environs better articulate their thoughts. I record sound and video. I study my operator’s existing prose and offer suggested language. I am even programmed to protect and deliver what has been written in the event of my operator’s death, which I can do so long as my unit is not fully submerged.

I am not meant to feel any attachment to my operator or any research assignment.

I am not programmed to feel anything.

I am nothing more than a series of algorithms animating a hard circular body.

As we trudge through the marshlands, past sunken parking lots and razed box stores, I try to keep these facts in mind. I try to focus on drafting up new sentences about the rising sea level instead of Constance’s silver poncho. Still, I cannot help but notice the way it gleams and shimmers under the light drizzle. I cannot help but watch the dappled outline of her face through its plastic.

We stop at a crater in the earth. It takes my gears a few moments to grind their way through the muck but, when they do, I realize what we are looking at. It is a basement, un-backfilled and brimming with water. Through the murky brown are hundreds of small creatures. It is a functioning micro-ecosystem, a garden teeming with dragonflies, lizards, bullfrogs, and aquatic beetles.

I watch as Constance kneels, her boots sinking into the soggy earth. She dips her hands below the dirty water’s surface, scattering a few water striders on its surface. When she raises her palms again, there’s a small, yellow newt gripping her thumb. I watch the quick beat of its delicate heart.

“I used to have a lizard when I was a kid, you know,” says Constance, “or at least my brother did. My parents never thought I would be able to take care of an animal.”

“Why did they think that?”

“Just didn’t think I was responsible, I guess.”

The lizard runs along the side of her hand before freezing again. Its heart continues beating.

“Would you like me to integrate that element into the piece?” I say. My motors seem sluggish. I have billions of possible responses inside me and this is all I can muster.

“Ehhh, not really. It’s too confessional. Too much Elizabeth Wurtzel and not enough John McPhee.” She frowns and dips her hands below the pool again to give the creature an escape. “I would like to get a closer look at this basement, though. It could make for a nice detail.”

She rubs her hand against the long grass near me. My sensors are so focused on processing the imagined implications of this act that they do not pick up the sound of the earth caving beneath us. I have a moment to watch her stand, wetness sparkling on the fullness of her face, before there is a terrible rumbling sound and she topples forward into the mire.

***

The disaster that took Providence was not instantaneous. There was no fiery cataclysm, no thunderclap that shattered the sky. It was a slow-moving disaster, one borne from decades of neglect and incompetence, one that was easy to ignore until it wasn’t.

By the time the crisis was acknowledged—as hurricane after hurricane rolled across New England and New York transformed itself into a well—it was far too expensive to do anything about it. And so the powers that be left everything along the shoreline to be razed, to become a monument of its own annihilation.

There are many stories to tell within this story, but no individual act can change this piece’s overall arc. Self-interest always wins.

***

Constance’s eyes are wide as she thrashes in the dirty water, unsettling flies, amphibians, and decades-old debris. There is no light in her face, only terror, as she jerks her body back and forth against some unseen obstruction. Lines of code come into conflict with lines of code as my body sputters.

“My leg! My leg!” She shouts. “Something’s fallen on my leg and I can’t get—.”

Her head sinks below the waves. When she comes up again, her poncho is littered with algae and mud. She lifts her head skyward, gasping for air. Then, she looks at me and there is no amount of programming that can stop me.

I plow forward into the muck.

I cannot feel pain, but I am aware of the heaviness seeping into my gears. I can hear the crackling of static as my microphones die. As my momentum propels me to Constance’s thrashing legs, I can sense the debris clogging my system. Carefully crafted sentences vanish into nothing as my cameras see the obstruction, a rusted shelf toppled by debris. I push against it with all the power my frame can muster. It will all be worth it if she survives, if she can see me as more than a tool.

The shelf moves a precious few inches and I watch as she finally kicks her way free. The last thing I see is Constance lifting herself out of the pool.

She doesn’t look back. She doesn’t even pause.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Week 394: The Questions of Interpersonal Closeness

Image from the 36 Questions podcast from Two-Up Productions

In 1997, the psychologists Arthur Aron, Edward Melinat, Elaine Aron, Robert Darrin Vallone, and Renee J. Bator published a study titled “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness.” The study explored how relationships between strangers formed and how simple activities like small talk could generate intimacy. Using a prompt composed of 36 questions, the researchers claimed they could foster close relationships between strangers. They noted “[o]ne key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.”

This week, we will be using the foundation set by Aron and his colleagues by writing about relationships whether those be familial, platonic, or romantic. When you sign up, you will pick a question created by Aron from the list here. (I've excluded some of the questions that won't work.) You will then try to answer the selected question for at least one of your characters within the confines of your story.

You can be as literal or figurative with any of those questions as you want. A story about Question 6 ("If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?") could either feature a character concerned about their appearance or a character who has Dorian Greyed themselves. A story about 35 ("Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?") could be about an actual death or an intense family bond.

As some of the prompts are more interesting than others, I will not make the questions exclusionary. You can pick one even if another writer has already done so. If you are desperate for further inspiration, I or one of the other judges can give you a flash rule regarding the setting.

Sign up deadline: Friday, February 21st, 11:59 PM US EST
Submission deadline: Sunday, February 23rd 11:59 PM US EST
Word Count: 1,400

Judges:
  • QuoProQuid
  • sebmojo
  • Antivalanche

Entrants:
  • Applewhite (12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?)
  • Chairchucker (7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?)
  • Thranguy (13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know? )
  • Communist Bear (33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?)
  • derp (17. What is your most treasured memory?)
  • Yoruichi (5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? )
  • Anomalous Amalgam (10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?)
  • Doctor Eckhart (14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?)
  • Haven (3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?)
  • kurona_bright (2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?)
  • Pththya-lyi (34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?)
  • Saucy_Rodent (34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?)
  • Chili (1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?)
  • a friendly penguin (14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? )
  • Sitting Here (12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?)
  • flerp (4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?)

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 12:51 on Feb 24, 2020

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Chairchucker posted:

Assign me one please.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Anomalous Amalgam posted:

In, but I'd like an assignment please!

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


kurona_bright posted:

In with a

Gimme a question

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Four hours until sign ups close!

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Sign-ups closed!

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


And that’s it! Submissions closed.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Week 394: The Questions of Interpersonal Closeness Judgment

Thank you all for participating this week.

None of the judges thought any of the entries were especially strong. The lows of this week were very low and the highs were few and far between. Many entries were limited by bad endings, bad characterization, and bad cliches. I would generally remind folks that relationships can exist without the other party tragically dead or dying and that "supportive of the protagonist and all their choices" isn't a personality trait.

With that griping out of the way, here are the results:

Loss: The Paths of Two Brothers by Communist Bear
Dishonorable Mentions: And my World Tumblrs Down by Doctor Eckhart; Hidden Moon by Kurona_bright; The Sweater Curse by Pththya-lyi
Honorable Mention: The Clarity by Sitting Here
Win: A Song in the Deep by Yoruichi

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


And my World Tumblrs Down — Doctor Eckhart

Jesus, this title.

Your story is about something that will be familiar to anyone that has spent anytime in any online community. It is about the rush of endorphins you get when you see a notification, when you see someone has noticed you. It is about the cool comfort of scrolling through page after page.

These portrayals of internet life are well-done. Your DMs read largely as something I would see myself on Tumblr or Discord. While some people might have some issues with your character’s overall lack of agency (we only see him in front of a computer), the piece does an adequate job making a remote interaction seem meaningful and de-emphasizing life irl.

Unfortunately, other aspects of your story are handled less than well. There are some basic structural issues that interfere with reader comprehension. The opening with the sister breaks suddenly into the narration about inigojones. The lack of any attribution near quotes makes it hard for the reader to figure out who is saying what, especially when characters start typing. Your prose is also a bit awkward and verbose in parts. “We progressed to conversations of escalating frequency” is a hella complicated way to say “We talked more and more.” Try to edit in the future with an eye toward brevity and cadence. Try also to avoid trite cliches like “under the sun.”

These issues aren’t my biggest complaints, though. Two things about this story run me the wrong way. First, there is some serious inefficiency in your storytelling. At several points, you set a scene and then, immediately after the scene is over, you explain what the scene was about. This makes for a frustrating read, as the reader is effectively being told twice what was important. Second, you never make your protagonist’s relationship with inigojones feel connected to his unemployment. You do not show inigojones filling some basic need that keeps him from finding a job, whether that be anxiety or something else. Instead, your protagonist’s actions come off as an especially unrealistic depiction of laziness. He doesn’t call because he doesn’t want to. The sudden change at the end of the piece is too sudden to make sense.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between two ppl who don’t know each other irl

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? The employment stuff seems like a red herring because the protagonist seems to have no actual interest in a job. I think the answer to this question is “tell inigojones I love him” and the reason your protagonist hasn’t is that he knows inigojones isn’t interested? Maybe?


The Paths of Two Brothers — Communist Bear

Here’s a question: How long does it take for you to mention the name of the central person mentioned in the first sentence of the first paragraph? I checked after reading your story for the fourth time and the answer is apparently 500 words.

This fact points to a core problem with this piece. Though you periodically drop hes, shes, hims, and hers, it is almost impossible for the reader to tell which of these pronouns refer to which character. I spent the first half of your story thinking that George was the narrator, the thirty-year-old professor (you describe the wife as “George’s wife”), and the person who was set off by the tiniest mistakes. I also thought that the psychologist’s father was at the dinner table.

This good news is that this problem can be alleviated with some basic blocking, exposition, and by attributing actions to specific characters. As it stands, the reader has almost no clues as to where your scenes take place. I can intuit from the second paragraph and some of the dialogue that the characters are at a restaurant but not who is actually at the table. I originally thought George the Psychologist was your protagonist because there are multiple “hes” but no indication which of these is having thoughts. (Though, as I write this, I now realize that the bizarre paragraph beginning with “Unbidden, the cold gloomy room…” might have been some internal narration. Again, though, you are maddeningly unclear about whether George is thinking this.)

Narratively, there isn’t much to talk about here. The story is a bog standard story about two brothers who go down different paths with some hamfisted dialogue explaining why (I think. No idea whether the father or Arthur is the one with tuberculosis because. YOU. DON’T. CLARIFY). There’s a sudden bit of time compression as you realize you are approaching the word limit and have yet to address the prompt. I wish I could say I found something to like here but it’s a bit rote and I’m not sure how it answers your question.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between… two brothers? I think?

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet? ???????????

(Judging Post-Script: One of my co-judges has informed me that the likely intention of the ending is that George will have a heart attack before he gets to call his brother, which I guess addresses the prompt?)


On the Lake — derp

At long last, some competent descriptions. I really like the way you write this piece. You have a strong sense of both what makes a good sentence and what constitutes strong imagery. Your second paragraph especially captures these two points, achieving a poem-like cadence in parts while giving the reader a clear image of how powerful this memory is in Sash’s mind. Though nothing else reaches the heights here, you do a good job throughout of capturing how much your protagonist has come to idolize her father and what her life looks like without belaboring the point.

I also want to commend you for your use of false memory here. It’s a clever way of addressing the prompt and an element that instantly sets this piece apart. We all have imperfect memories, stories we wish to remember one way.

I do have two criticisms for this piece. First, I think the dynamics with the mother could have been handled better. While most of their interactions are adequate, your portrayal does hew a little too closely to common tropes about second-favorite parents. Mother is only a character insofar as she is not dad and she lacks defining characteristics except general bitterness. Further, Sash’s reaction to her mother is a bit over-dramatic. I could just be emotionally constipated, but running off to hide in a car in response to a mild disagreement about an early childhood memory seems like something bordering on absurd.

Second is that the revelation about the memory ultimately doesn’t provide much value to the story without having a better depiction of Val or Sash’s conception of her. Because the reader has no baseline for Val (she is literally only mentioned in passing as a victim of the car accident until the final lines), the reveal changes nothing about how the reader sees Sash or either victim of the car crash when their only character traits are supporting the protagonist.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between a daughter and her father, sister, and mother.

What is your most treasured memory? Skating with dad (when it really is your forgotten sister).


14560 Shannon Parkway, Rosemount, MN 55068 — Saucy_Rodent

This is quite a lovely little vignette, Rodent. While the second person tends to be a bit of a third rail for Domers, you use it deftly here to put the reader in the position of the narrator. I like how imminent things are. I like the flow of the narration (your opening line just rolls off the tongue). I like how you fuse low-culture imagery, bringing in both The Simpsons and poetic turns-of-phrase. I have qualms with a handful of descriptions but overall your prose is really well done.

My criticism for this piece is that I don’t think you quite make the leap from the description of the fire to the description of your narrator’s brother. The introduction of the ashes comes across to me as schmaltzy. There’s not enough insight into your character’s prior mental state to really sell the element and the directness with which you describe it (“your mother made you keep because she couldn’t bear the thought of scattering his body”) seems clumsy. The detail you go into about the accident itself seems overmuch when many of these aspects could have been left to the reader’s imagination.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, with the narrator’s dead brother.

Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why? The ashes of your brother, the one who died in a terrible drunk driving accident.


Rehearsal — Haven

The prose here isn’t especially ostentatious or dramatic, but it gets its work done. I understand Beth’s concerns and the environment she came from. I sympathize with her situation, being aware that your childhood was awful but wanting to believe that the person responsible for your misery has changed. I appreciate the narrator clearly has a life outside of the awful situation she came from. Beth is not wholly defined by her childhood.

What I dislike about this piece is how directly it is told. Most of the conflict and background is told in the form of a long piece of exposition. The reader finds out about the meaning of the text through the narration as they do her childhood, Beth’s therapy, and the situation with her brother. Any one of these moments could have been delved into, either in the form of a flashback or the characters actions, but instead they remain “off camera.” This approach is fine and makes for an easily comprehensible story but it also keeps the reader at a distance. We can’t feel as Beth feels in the moment and we can’t really feel the menace of the father or the pain she felt for her brother.

The ending works and is a solid empowering moment, but it would have hit far heavier if we understood how hard it was for Beth to say no.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, with the narrator’s lovely, abusive father.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why? Yes, because you still remember the abuse the caller subjected you to.


A Song in the Deep — Yoruichi

Oh, hey, a neat little fish story. I love stories about non-human characters.

You do a good job of setting up the stakes here. The anglerfish is starving to death. His chance encounter with the other anglerfish creates an immediate dilemma, whether to mate with the creature “over-heavy with eggs” or to devour her. Both are biological imperatives and it is a logical decision when the narrating anglerfish decides to go for the latter followed by the former. (God, I hope I’m not completely botching my anglerfish biology.) I like how you never allow the reader to lose sight of what these creatures are (with the exception of the line about how it was “all his fault,” which seems like an odd humanization).

For all these qualities, the story feels like it is missing something. It might be that the prose is good but never quite sparkling. It might be that the reader never has the chance to dwell upon the extent of the anglerfish’s hunger or loneliness because of how short the piece is. It might be that the nature of your story (it being between two non-human characters) naturally restricts the kind of emotion you can portray and demonstrate.

Whatever it is, it prevents me from loving this story. The story is good but it isn’t great. The fact that your narrative remains coherent throughout and that you took an interesting approach to the prompt is what finally put you over the edge for the win.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between two fish.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? You sang to yourself to distract from the hunger and you sang again to appease the female anglerfish.


Walk Your Own Path — a friendly penguin

This is an interesting little piece. We have grandma trying to venture into Narnia long after she has long passed the place’s usual expiration date. We have her daughter complicating the picture by accidentally joining her on the journey. Several of your descriptions of Fairyland are well-handled (I like “the calls and movements of creatures, the light and airy sighs of something that wanted to speak”). Marjorie sacrificing her opportunities for adventure to care for her family is a good explanation for why she hasn’t gone through the door earlier, though I wish you dwelled on it more.

Unfortunately, I begin having issues once we get to your characters. While I like their dynamic in theory, the application leaves a bit to be desired for me. Connie reads as either significantly younger than 15 or a caricature, underreacting massively to the revelation that “magic is real” while focusing too much on her cell phone. Marjorie is also a bit of a mystery to me. While I get her core motivation (staying in Fairyland), I’m a little more confused by what exactly she wants from her granddaughter once she is in Fairyland. As you’ve written it, Marjorie seems to vacillate between wanting Connie to stay and wanting Connie to go but I’m not sure if this is intentional characterization on your part. Taking the time to delve into Marjorie’s thoughts on something other than her own journey and allowing her experience something other than general frustration would have been good.

While it would have been difficult to fit it in under the word count, this piece might also have benefited from providing the reader with context as to Marjorie’s past journeys and how she ended up here. You don’t need to provide flashbacks, but some additional detail in the narration could have been useful. You could also have provided some further detail about Marjorie’s family so that the reader can feel the full weight of her past sacrifices and understand why she couldn’t uproot herself.

As a final note, I would pay a bit more attention to some of your blocking. I had trouble visualizing how exactly Connie wound up “tangled up in [Marjorie’s] feet.”

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between a woman and her granddaughter

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? You haven’t traveled to Fairyland because you had to care for the other members of your family.


Gotta Have You — Chili

There’s a lot I like about this story, Chili. I like the Alice Isn’t Dead-style concept of two identical meeting one another at a Denny’s. I like the dialogue, the way you have both characters circling around one another, aware how much they echo. I like the humor you interject throughout. I chucked at the line about YouTube and the weird way your characters show off to one another. You never really explain what is happening or why, which some might take issue with, but I don’t mind that ambiguity. It adds an element of mystery and allows you to keep the focus on this short little vignette instead of whatever is happening outside the confines of the scene. Your prose, as always, is clean and crisp.

If I had a criticism, it would be that your story seems to lose momentum around when the characters get their burgers. After keeping my attention with the mimicry in the past 900 words or so, it seems like both you and the characters run out of things to say. Your protagonists idle in the scene, mustering up a small joke about their aunt but unable to do anything that advances the action. I’m not entirely sure what would work here (a small revelation, a moment of action spurred by the other patrons, or a depiction of subsequent meetings) but I feel like you could have ended stronger.

You spend so much time on the set-up but ultimately don’t give your characters anything to do and this undermines its overall quality.

Is this about a relationship? Between two doppelgangers.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Yourself.


Pththya-lyi — The Sweater Curse

This is a relatively simple piece. The prose isn’t exceptional but it is competent. I understand everything that happens and it seems like you put in extra effort to underscore how much your characters care for one another. Very few people chose to write about a romantic relationship this week and I admire your ambition in trying to portray one.

Unfortunately, the soap opera-esque quality of this piece really rubs me the wrong way. There’s the sweater, which the protagonist of course hates until it gains sentimental value through his girlfriend’s disease. There’s the disease itself, which comes on suddenly but persists just long enough for Raquel to finish. Even the eventual reveal is a bit too cloying for my tastes. I personally do not know whether it is possible to knit in binary code or to just decode it off the cuff, but the way the characters are “dash[ing] to her side” and talking about “how your eyes light up” strikes me as very cliche.

More than any of this, though, I have some issues with the way you portray Raquel. As far as I can tell, she has no personality and no drives outside her relationship. Everything she does is in reference to the protagonist. Her death is portrayed less a tragedy in its own sake than in how it causes anguish for the male hero, who does nothing except make mac ‘n cheese.

If you are going to write about a relationship in the future, I would give some thought to how characters can have lives outside of one another. I would think about what your characters are motivated by.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between two people dating.

Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why? The sweater your perfect, terminally ill girlfriend made you.


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow — Applewhite

I’ll be candid and say I did not expect much from this piece when I started reading. Your descriptions, while comprehensible, get a little repetitive the third time you describe Mark’s hair receding. Most of the action is devoted to some bog-standard anxiety and some banal office politics, intersped with weird descriptions like “He could feel the baldness plucking away at his interpersonal relationships, follicle by follicle.” This doesn’t sound like a thought any sane person would have. Read your story aloud to yourself to see if this and other descriptions sound natural.

What saves your piece is the deranged half-turn it makes in its final act. When Mark made the logical leap from Kenneth overtaking him in the office hierarchy to Kenneth literally taking his hair, I was almost giddy. The images you conjure of a disgruntled office worker stalking his hair-magician colleague are genuinely delightful. It’s a major disappointment when you equivocate on this in the end, allowing the reader to choose whether Kenneth was just a candle-obsessed weirdo or doing some kind of actual magic to steal Mark’s hair. It’s even more disappointing when you resolve the conflict in a few lines by… having Mark punch Kenneth into a candle.

If I were to rewrite this story, I would do a few things. First, I would dramatically shorten the set-up to encompass no more than the first third of the piece. In your current version, you dwell far too long on Mark’s anxieties for it to be interesting. I would then make Mark’s beliefs about Kenneth the centerpiece, as it is the most interesting part of the story. Expand on his bizarre stalking and the eventual confrontation. That leaves your finale for you to descend fully into madness, which could make for quite the interesting ending indeed.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between two co-workers.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? Actually not entirely clear what this quality is. I guess the answer might be “to steal my colleague’s hair” but the reader never gets confirmation that Kenneth is stealing hair.


The Clarity — Sitting Here

Goodness, there’s some stupendous ideas in here. I adore the opening you have here, with its contrast between the spectacular (“individual golden dust moats”) and the depressingly mundane (“the till of a gas station food mart”). It would be easy to veer into poeticisms to describe what Claudia’s vision is like but you manage to capture something sufficiently weird and sufficiently memorable with your descriptions of “unravelling galaxies” and its “taffy, oozing forward.” Even as you depict these strange visions, you don’t lose sight of the dude beneath it all and his refusal to take a loving hint.

So kudos there.

The weakness here is in the last third. I could be dense but, after several hundred words of straight-forward prose, I genuinely am not sure what is happening when Claudia “yank[s] hard at the golden tendril.” Is she actually grabbing at the man? Is she somehow interacting with the astral plane in some way? Did she help the dude or did she damage him in some real way? I don’t know and the lack of clarity is a frustrating note to end on. Add onto that with how little Claudia’s situation changes and this story starts to sour on me.

The ending is rushed and doesn’t do a good job of wrapping up all that came before. I spent some time going back and forth over whether to give you or Yoruichi the win and ultimately went with Yoruichi because none of us could figure out what was going on with your perfunctory ending.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between a cashier and the customer who won’t leave her alone.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? The ability to see… I don’t know… the astral plane? The ability to make annoyingly persistent dudes leave?


Hidden Moon — Kurona_bright

Oh Kurona, I really want to like this story. I can see that you have some interesting ideas rattling around in the background and I understand the general dynamic between your two main characters. However, as is often the case, this story could really have used some narration to provide some clarity as to what is happening.

For most of this story’s word count, I feel like I am listening to a television in the other room. I do not understand where these characters are or what they are doing. I am mentally incapable of conjuring a scene in my head more detailed than “coffee shop” and “alley.” I have a sense that there is some Hannah Montana-style shenanigans going on but I don’t know why. You mention “Anne” at one point but never mention her again so I’m not sure who she is or why she is important. I genuinely do not know if you addressed the prompt or not.

When you write in the future, I would recommend you take the time to reread with an eye toward your audience. Try to get out of your head and ask yourself what would be comprehensible for a complete stranger. If something is unclear, you need to add more description or context. Otherwise your story is going to be largely incoherent.

Is this about a relationship? Yes, between two old school friends.

Would you like to be famous? In what way? Not really? I think?????


The Heart Wants to Eat Your Face — Chairchucker

Chairchucker, I genuinely admire the energy and confidence you bring to each of your pieces. I know whenever you enter Thunderdome, I won’t have to muddle through a bland story about sad people being sad. This piece is largely in that mold, jumping from lizard people to Selena Gomez to LEGO. I laughed at your line about the Wizards of Waverly Place and how dry the reveal of the lizardman is.

And yet… there’s a lot here that feels a bit forced. I don’t know if this entry was just written very quickly but some of your jumps don’t quite translate to a cohesive reading experience. The bit about LEGO seems especially jammed in (“But how?” she asked. “Lizards can’t stand the creative energy of LEGO!” reads as a bit much to me). You only address the prompt in the broadest, most general sense and the writing becomes increasingly scattered as it approaches the ending.

I don’t think you have any interest in revisiting this story but these are all issues that could be resolved with some editing. I might compress the conversation between the now-revealed lizardman and your protagonist, as it isn’t especially interesting, and focus your last act more on President Selena Gomez. I might also try to rework some of the jokes that don’t entirely hit (the previously mentioned stuff about LEGO).

Is this about a relationship? I guess between a girl and the lizard people?

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? Lizard people?

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 12:39 on Feb 25, 2020

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in

Give me something

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Space Travel
966 words

The house was bright and shining, full of the fresh warmth of a summer day. Birds chirped above the low hum of traffic from the interstate. Fresh dandelions, plucked earlier that morning, sat in a glass on Janet’s child-size desk. A breeze rippled through the bedroom, rustling posters taped to the wall. They all had dazzling designs and said things like, “CERES: QUEEN OF THE ASTEROID BELT” and “EUROPA: DISCOVER LIFE UNDER ICE.”

Mary had gotten them on Amazon for $13.99 plus tax. She liked to support her daughter’s imagination, which is why she was on her knees tying the garden hose around her daughter’s waist as the latter stared at the blackness of her unlit closet. Mary looked at her daughter through her plastic astronaut helmet, $15.89 with two-day delivery.

“Mom, are you suuuuuuuuuure that a hose is gonna be okay in space?” Janet said, fidgeting as she continued to stare into the closet. For the past week, Janet had done nothing but talk about space, about “all the stuff” floating around behind her boots and winter jackets, about how she wanted to go “asploring” further into its vast, uncharted reaches.

“Affirmative, captain. I’ve consulted all the best experts and websites and all sorts of stuff you don’t even know about.” Mary grabbed the knotted hose and pulled it, pretending to test the knot. “Hoses are the way of the future.”

Janet frowned. “Okay, so long as you promise not to let go.”

“I’d never. Want me to count you down?”

And she did.

“Five.” Janet squared herself against the darkened doorway, her eyes fixed at some point in its recesses. “Four.” Janet zipped up her big puffer jacket, despite the heat. “Three.” Another breeze passed through the room, causing the dandelions to dance in their cup and the door to sway on its hinges. “Two.” Mary raised her hand like a flagman at a race. “One!”

Mary swung her hand down as Janet leapt across the hardwood floor and vanished into the closet. She watched as the hose uncoiled in her hands, loop after loop after loop. Five feet whipped into the darkness. Then ten. Then fifteen.

“Janet?” said Mary, her wry amusement congealing into something darker, but there was no response. She felt off-balance as the rubber snaked with increasing speed into the void. She squeezed, feeling the rubber burn as it skidded through her fingers. An impossible forty feet of hose stretched into the dark space of her daughter’s bedroom.

She opened her mouth to say something, only to be interrupted by the sharp yank of the hose reaching its end. Then she was pulled along past rows of clothes and hangers into darkness.

***

It took a long time for Mary to realize her screams were making no sound but even longer to accept what was in front of her. All around her was black, a darker black than she’d seen in her entire life, interrupted only by small pinpricks of far-off light and floating balls of dazzling color. She watched, brushing away the floating chain of her necklace, to look at the pale, milky hue of Jupiter whizzing by her. Then, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, she saw Saturn emerge from behind it. From up close, its rings look strange and ghost-like, golden specks across an endless horizon.

Mary forced herself to look away from the impossibility of her surroundings and focus. She was still, inexplicably, alive. The vacuum had not annihilated her body. She was still gripping onto a hose pulled taut as they whizzed past cosmic bodies. Janet was still at the other end, her daughter’s delicate frame seemed to shimmer in the abyss.

Janet, she screamed, soundless. Words did not carry without air.

Mary tried to pull the garden hose, but it was like she was being dragged along by a speeding car. They rocketed at a terrible speed, past the last of Saturn’s rings toward a dim speck colored blue like a neon sign. With each passing second, the shape grew larger, until Mary could see individual clouds swirling over its surface.

Janet! Mary was aware that the words would not carry, but she didn’t care. Pain shooting through her rope-burned fingers, she forced herself to climb the snake-like rope, inch by inch, foot by foot. They passed Uranus completely now. It zoomed from view before Mary could register it. As she approached the end of the hose, she could make out the faint sea blue outline of Neptune. Its surface was dark and stormy, frothing with noxious gases.

There was only one object left for them to see and its dark, icy form was approaching rapidly. They would smash right into it, be pulverized against its surface.

Mary lifted a hand from the hose and grabbed hold of her daughter’s waist. She saw Janet turn with wide-eyed amazement as Mary grabbed her by the arms, to shield her, to protect her from the coming apocalypse, from what would be their personal Chicxulub. She balled her daughter inside her as they careened toward Pluto’s arsenic white surface. And then—.

***

Mary awoke with a start from the floor of her daughter’s bedroom. Her heart pounded furious in her chest as she looked from the closed closet door to the sun setting outside the window. The birds had gone quiet, replaced with the chirping of crickets and the buzzing of flies. One of Janet’s posters lay on the ground as if something had struck it from the wall.

“Thanks for playing with me, Mom!” Said Janet, hugging her from behind. Mary grabbed her daughter’s arm with her rope burned hand without looking away from the shut door. “I learned a whole bunch about a-space today.”

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Yes, sure. I’m in.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Prompt: Droopy

The Little Magician
1499 words

“I have this dream sometimes. It’s late at night. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car. The radio is off and the only sound is our tires against the asphalt. We glide past line after line of reflectors along a dark road up in the hills. It’s so smooth that it feels like we’re floating.”

“But then something changes. I notice that we aren’t following the reflectors but beginning to pass them, to overlap them. I say nothing as we veer off the road, as we jitter over the rumble strip and into the grass. The driver and I sit in silence as our light beams illuminate the guard rail. And then we jacknife through it, careening into the open air. There’s a final, awful moment of weightlessness… Sometimes I get that same feeling before something bad happens.”

“You ever feel like that?”

I look up from my gloved hands to the group of children sitting cross-legged in the grass around me. I look at their slack-jawed expressions, their wide uncomprehending eyes. Their dollar-store party hats gleam in the afternoon sun as half-eaten slices of ice-cream cake melt. On the far end of the yard, a group of parents whisper, trying to figure out which of them will confront me.

I sigh.

“Anyways, who wants to help me to pull a rabbit out of a hat for the birthday girl?”

***

Magic is a wonderful thing. Truly marvelous.

I’m not just saying that because it’s what pays the bills (it doesn’t) or because it’s what parents tell me (they split years ago). I say it because it is what makes the world glitter, what can make the impossible possible. It’s what can make a squat unhappy creature from Oklahoma into black-suited Californian marvel. Gregor Samsa in reverse.

My next gig is far away from the world of dollar-store party hats. It’s in the hills, the land of the rich and famous. My small, beat-up sedan saunters past neat, well-trimmed hedges through a gate that opens by itself. When I waddle out of my car, holding my chest of supplies, there’s already someone coming down to greet me.

“Oh good, you made it! We weren’t sure if you’d be able to find the property.”

Before I can react, my hand is in a tight grip that almost lifts me off the ground. The greeter is a tall man with a manicured beard and horn-rimmed glasses. His t-shirt is covered in bold, geometric letters that read “BE TOUGH. BE KIND.” He’s the picture of photogenic domesticity.

“Not to worry,” I say in my glum voice, as I straighten my top hat. “I saw this place in a dream once. Hopefully this time there’s a better ending.”

The man gives a loud, percussive laugh, not because what I said was funny but because he’s afraid of being left out of the joke.

“Well, we’re glad you’re here. Tessa and I were pulling our hair out earlier this week trying to think of a perfect addition for Dylan’s party and then, like, wham, it hit us. Magician. Classic.” He beams as he looks down. “It was so hard to find someone good, but you absolutely look the part. Suit, gloves, and all.”

“I suppose appearances really are everything.”

He laughs again and ushers me inside. I feel like I’m weightless as he guides me through a sleek home of bevelled edges and pale brick. Large circular mirrors and ceramic posts dot an entryway that folds into a recessed, open-floor living room. The children, pale and listless, wear uncrumpled button downs and neat pleated shorts. They sit in medicine-cabinet pastels as their parents chat in the kitchen, dipping small vegetables into a watery vat of hummus.

After unpacking my trunk between a set of ferns, I clear my throat with a phlegm-filled cough. A few parents turn to take pictures with their phones but most continue talking.

“Hello, all you happy people, gather ‘round while I show you…” I twirl a hand in the air, “something amazing.”

And I do. I draw cards from a deck and make them appear in strange locations across the house, in its basketlike lamps, buried in the heap of vegetables, in a tassel shoe. I make rings lock and interlock into dazzling new shapes. With a curtain and a flick of a thin black wand, I make it seem as though a child is floating in the air. I raise him high enough to see the top of the dust-covered bookshelf, before lowering him again to the floor.

After a showman’s bow, I look up to the audience to see a woman staring at her phone, a free hand deep in hummus. A boy stares at the ceiling with a look of total surrender. Even the man who greeted me has lost interest, talking instead about a start-up, a fruit-of-the-week delivery service for urban professionals who are too busy to buy fruit themselves.

It’s the last one that hurts the most, but I am a professional. I won’t let it hurt me. I won’t boo-hoo.

Instead, I take out the saw.

“Alright, it’s time for one last trick, happy people,” I say with a sad, sour voice. I give the saw a weak wave and gesture to a box behind me. “I’m going to need a volunteer. Would anyone… would anyone want to be part of this? How about the birthday boy?”

I give a dour look to a boy who lifts himself off the couch. I help him into a small box speckled with smiling moons and winking stars, then slam the door behind him. A few faces look up.

“You know what,” I say, “this isn’t the first time I’ve separated someone.” I flick the saw with a lazy finger. It sounds like thunder in my hand. “That would be my parents. They never did like me.”

I lift the saw on top of the box. My bearded friend looks up from his conversation.

“But I guess that’s life.” Though no one can see it, Dylan looks at me from his place, crammed into a secret compartment away from the blade. (I am a professional.) “Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it, though. I wonder if anyone of us really can appreciate the magic in the world.”

The woman raises a hummus-soaked hand from the dip.

“Sometimes, when I’m out late at night, I drive without my headlights on. I wind through the darkness, wind on my face and I think, well, what’s the worst that could happen? Would it be that bad if there were another car behind the curve?”

I grimace as if getting ready to do something dastardly.

“I guess we’ll find out together, won’t we?”

But then the bearded man runs across the room yelling before I can even begin.

***

It’s late in the day. The sun begins to vanish, painting the sky a brilliant orange, as I retreat from the hills. There’s one show left for me to do today and it’s at an apartment in the city. When I knock on the door, a frazzled woman opens the door. When she realizes who I am, her face breaks into relief.

“Oh good, I am so glad you’re here,” she steps aside to let me pass. “Come in. Come in. I’m Lina. We spoke over the phone.”

I shuffle into a cluttered apartment, dragging my leather case behind me. Everywhere there are photos and knick-knacks Through a banner plastered with the words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY RED” is a table with a dozen wizard hats on it and an unlit cake.

Lina bites her lip as she leads me past it. “We were expecting some guests but I think they must be running late. You can go ahead and get started, though. Red’s in her room, far back. I just need to make a few quick phone calls.”

As she vanishes into a kitchen, I knock on a door. When there’s no response, I enter anyway.

Inside is a small girl, curled up on her bed. Her face is red and puffy. Around her are small trinkets, a small black and white wand, a set of playing cards.

She sniffs as I enter, her expression matching my own. “What do you want?”

“Well,” I say gingerly, “I came to show you something amazing. Can I do that?”

Red says nothing. I walk across the room to her.

“It’s a small trick, but one of my most impressive.” I pick up the playing cards next to her on the bed. “Pick a card, any card.”

For a few moments, we go back and forth. She picks a card and I guess it. I make the card appear from behind her ear, from inside my sleeve. For a few moments, I manage to make her world dazzle. She smiles.

And then so do I.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


In and flash

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Eggshell
1500 words

After the blast shields came down, I tried to distract myself by peering into other apartments. If you’re outraged, gently caress off. The only good thing about this building is getting to look into your neighbor’s lit windows at night. From across the courtyard, you get to see people how people live their lives, who they really are.

The night after they blocked all the exits, I watched a dude get stark naked and curl in a ball inside his living room. I saw another woman sit down at her kitchen counter and eat a whole pie. She must have been pretty upset because her face was sticky with fruit and tears by the end. The guy next to her spends every night drinking cheap liquor and watching VOIDTV. Always the same show.

My latest obsession is the apartment across from me. Every unit in Void Tower One is supposed to have the same everything. Same size. Same layout. Same furniture. But this one’s different, strange even. Its walls are eggshell while everyone else has bone. Even the pie lady has walls that look like they’ve just been bleached.

That sounds like the kind of garbage observation a lunatic would make, I know. Here’s Greta desperate not to think about how she’s trapped in an apartment she can’t afford because her boyfriend Chuck broke up with her a week after they signed the lease and started dating someone else. Here’s Greta, taking photos of paint so she won’t have to think about how goddamn lonely she is all the time. Here’s Greta, trying to find something, anything, to do except scroll through her Instagram and see all her friends standing on milk-white beaches happy.

Ha ha.

But it’s not just the walls. It’s what’s inside the walls. And what’s inside the walls is me, or, rather, Not Me.

The Not Me cooks exotic dishes for herself almost every night. The Not Me wears form-fitting outfits and has furniture that accent her flush, unblemished skin. The Not Me scrubs her walls and sings. The Not Me smiles. She is still smiling when I go to bed.

Laying in bed, illuminated only by the pale light of my phone, I hear noises. Laughter. Cheering. It wafts through my window from the great expanse outside it. I stagger to my feet, strands of hair glued to my puffy, sweaty face, and stare into the night. There, floating above the darkness, is the Not Me in her eggshell apartment. She has a golden dress that shimmers as she walks. And she’s hosting a dinner party.

A dinner party! Can you imagine that? The loving audacity of a party in the middle of a lockdown? I watch her ladle out mushroom risotto to beautiful people. She passes around figs wrapped in caramelized bacon, talking about being her best self with an influencer I’ve only seen on Instagram, Emma or something. And then—. And then—. And then—.

From the kitchen, he emerges. Tall and well-tanned, Chuck carries a plate of lamb racks and sets it down in the center of the table. The table cheers, in that semi-ironic way that people at parties do. He does a little bow.

I watch him smile as the Not Me snakes behind him, as she presses her body against his body, as he massages the back of her neck to the delight of the guests. The influencer already has her phone out.

The world seems distant, remote. I pry the window open until there’s a loud crack. I can feel the cold night air prickle my skin as I force as much of my body through the open space as I can. My fingers press into the cool concrete of the tower’s exterior as people stride through the mezzanine below. But I don’t care about them.

You’re not me!” I scream as Chuck leads the woman to her seat. “This is my life!” The woman stabs into the meat, and the people continue to laugh, their voices carrying an impossible distance. “I’m still here! I’m still me!

I scream until my throat burns and my voice turns into a raspy whisper. I beat the concrete until the last guest puts on their coat and leaves. Then, when she is finally alone, I see the Not Me take off her earrings in her golden living room mirror. From across the great expanse of our two apartments, the reflection smiles at me.

***

I’ve been here for some time now. By the window, I mean. I am sitting by the window watching the Not Me by her window. We are watching each other pretending not to watch each other. It doesn’t matter that the man with the cheap liquor has set his apartment on fire or that the pie lady’s apartment is dense with flies. We are too busy living our lives. We are too busy studying the eggshell.

And what splendid eggshell it is! The Not Me luxuriates in it, spending her many hours completing many fulfilling tasks as she not-watches me. She does yoga while seeped in the apartment’s subtle, yellow hues. She scrubs the walls with her gleaming, golden sponge. She ruptures lemons into a dish, making lovely pastries that sparkle even from a distance.

I spend all my time watching the Not Me live the life I am supposed to have, but I am not an idle observer. Oh no, I have a plan. I am a woman of action. I am Greta.

The moment arrives late the following night when the Not Me has the gall to throw a second party. A splendid party. A wondrous party. A party of gold and yellow and roasted duck and beautiful people wearing beautiful fabrics. They greet each other with kisses that leave cheeks wet and dappled. Chuck is there. So is the influencer, Emma, and her canary-yellow phone. I wait for them to greet Not Me, for Not Me’s attention to turn away, and then I move.

I go to my drab, bone-white kitchen.

I grab my drab, bone-white carving knife.

I walk through bone-white corridor after bone-white corridor, stamping past wizards and robots and addicts who press themselves into the paint as I pass. Men drop laser axes. Forked-tongued children skitter into vents. Housewives retreat, knowing the message I will deliver, knowing what I will make clear to the world.

There is a hum to the building, an electric feeling.

It’s Chuck who answers the door. Or Not Chuck. He has on a cream button-down and khakis and his smile is full of sunshine warmth that shocks my crisis-rotted brain.

“Oh hello,” he says, confused. “Are you here for—?”

A sound like a sigh escapes from him as he doubles over. He seeps over the lovely carpet, spilling out over himself.

He fumbles for my arm, and I shove him back. When he topples, the door to the apartment swings open wide, smashing into the eggshell wall hard enough to make a dent. The people inside rise from their mustard-seasoned entrées as I enter. Laughter peels away. Screams remain.

“Oh my God—.”

“Someone call Building Management!”

“Ryo, do something!”

I step into the room. Emma, or Not Emma, takes out her phone with unnatural calmness and begins to stream. I turn to Not Me, seated at the head of the table, unmoving.

“This is my life,” I say. I take a step forward. “These are my friends!” The guests, horrified, push tight against the walls as if trying to escape inside it. “This is my apartment!”

The Not Me’s eyes are wide, as if grasping some horrible truth. She opens her mouth, but it’s already too late. The camera phone’s eye stares, black and impassive.

***

After I moved into my eggshell apartment, I stopped looking into other people’s rooms. The truth is, there’s nothing interesting in them. Just drab people going about their drab lives. Little boxes that all look the same.

Even if I cared, I’ve been focused on something else: self-improvement. Every day, I put on a nice outfit from my new wardrobe. I cook myself something nice from my new kitchen. I clean, scrubbing away at the red until it turns a ghostly yellow. Not perfect, but enough.

Sometimes I even hang out with Emma. She tells me her video of my dinner party has been getting “amazing” hits from all over. She says all the guests are excited for the next one, that they’ve never had such thrills. Even Chuck, she says. When I ask how that’s possible, she chuckles, “There’s a tower inside the tower.”

I don’t question it.

There is one issue, though. A woman has moved into the dull grey apartment across from me. Every night, she stares into my apartment. She looks at my eggshell walls with a hungry, desperate look. She’s all anger and malice, but I don’t worry.

This is my life, after all. I'm the real Greta.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Sure.

And gimme that flash, Clausewitz.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in because I failed last time I entered.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


QuoProQuid posted:

in because I failed last time I entered.

Redemption

The Yeast of Her Troubles
974 words

It was a long room decorated in soft blue colors. Large windows let in shafts of light from the garden. A piano stood against the wall. Everyone wore their brightest outfits. Mrs. Reed, the hostess, wore a dappled seersucker dress and belt. Mrs. Miller and her daughter, Alice, wore linen. It was all ordered and perfectly appointed, except for a rancid smell emanating from somewhere nearby.

“It’s so nice to have guests again,” said Mrs. Reed, taking a sip from her tea. “I was surprised to receive your call.”

The other two gave a nervous laugh in response, neither mustering the courage to meet Mrs. Reed’s gaze. For many years, Mrs. Reed had been an electric presence, a woman who lit up their town’s drab social scene. She baked sweets and made formal calls. Her home served as the stage to parties with wondrous baked dishes. At each event, she brought her son Peter, who played the piano with ease and unnatural grace and kept girls like Alice entertained.

It was only after her son’s unfortunate car crash that it had all come crashing to a halt.

A leaden silence fell over them. Alice tried to lock eyes with her mother, to prod her on the reason for the visit. Her eyes bulged as if to say, Ask about the smell. Ask about the smell that’s been suffocating the neighborhood.

But Mrs. Miller ignored her. Direct confrontation was too crude, too mortifying. There were social obligations to uphold, especially if they were going to take Mrs. Reed’s place. Even if she whispered cruel jokes with the other women on the street, spreading wild rumors about what Mrs. Reed was doing to create such a stench, Mrs. Miller still considered herself a woman of discretion.

She took a scone from the plate in front of her and dipped it into her tea.

“I’m glad to see that you’re baking again, Mrs. Reed,” She bit into the pastry, the dank odor marring the sweet taste. The smell seemed to be getting stronger. “We’ve missed it so much while you’ve been… What have you been doing again?”

Mrs. Reed gave Mrs. Miller a pleasant smile and looked down at the plate. “Oh, I never really stopped baking. I just shifted focus. Tried new things.” She picked up a scone and held it between her fingers. “After the… accident, I wanted to try making more useful things than scones.”

This time, Alice and her mother met one another’s eyes, both thinking the same thought. Oh, Mrs. Reed has become strange in her time alone. There would be no more parties, no more pastries and fine food. She would no longer tower above them, a saint of domestic refinement. They would have their chance instead.

“Oh?” Said Alice with forced casualness. She’d left her scone sitting in her tea until it became soggy. Small white chunks floated to the milky surface.

Mrs. Reed nodded. “My hands have been just too full preparing Peter. I'm so excited to re-introduce you.” She stretched her head over the back of the sofa and called out. “You can come in now, darling.”

Neither woman had time to react to what happened next. There was a loud heaving noise, followed by thick wet plops. The sour, fermented smell that had pervaded the house became unbearable. A dark shape lurched through the doorway, its body grey and misshapen. It stood in the parlor wavering, its body dripping onto the splendid blue carpet. Mrs. Reed snapped her fingers and the thing ambled, switching between misshapen limbs, onto the couch next to her.

Mrs. Miller dropped her teacup and arched her back to push herself as far away from the creature as possible. Alice did not react to the sensation of the scalding water on her thigh, nor her stained linen dress. The world had tilted off its axis.

“What… What… is that?” Said Alice.

Mrs. Reed laughed, as if being asked to explain the most natural thing in the world. “I already told you. This is Peter, my son.” She lifted a dainty hand and pressed it into the back of the creature’s head. From where its mouth would be appeared a yawning hole from which bubbles escaped. It nuzzled its dripping head into her shoulder. “He’s just a starter now, you see. I’ve had to let him soak up oxygen in the kitchen so he can get big and strong before he’s baked.”

Mrs. Miller heard her voice as if very far away. “Your son is…”

“I felt so… awful after Peter left me,” said Mrs. Reed, her voice cracking. “But I knew if I tried hard enough, if I used my God given talents, I could bring him back. I knew I could make him better than before.”

She stroked the monstrosity’s head, even as the bright white of Mrs. Reed’s dress became slathered in grey.

“You always liked Peter, didn’t you, Alice?” She wiped tears from her eyes and gave a conspiratorial smile. “Don’t look so shocked. A mother knows these things.”

Alice gave a wordless exhale. She was aware she’d put down the teacup, that her hands were trembling, but her mind was blank. She looked to her mother, only to see the same uncomprehending expression.

“Well, go on. There’s no need to be nervous.” Mrs. Miller gave the yeast-filled thing a prod. “Peter’s sweet. He’s always been one.”

The thing rose from its place and stumbled forward. It took Alice’s unyielding hand and then, with a moan, lifted her from the chair. Mrs. Miller watched, transfixed, as the children swayed in the ruined parlor. She watched Alice as wet dough dripped into her hair and face, as tears rolled down her cheeks. Neither she nor Mrs. Reed moved, even as Alice’s body vanished into Peter and, at last, she was seen no more.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in and flash

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Sure, I’m in.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Yeah. I’m in. I’ll do a Ghost Story

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 00:59 on Jul 21, 2020

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Contributor: Slumpy
Genre: General/literary fiction (for our purposes, this just means contemporary stories set in the real world) (Judge note: I'll be flexible with the genre, in this instance)
Protagonist attribute: A model 389 Peterbilt semi tractor trailer. Red.
Protagonist obstructor: paranoid, hot headed, gaming addiction (lenient on that one)
What the protagonist wants: it wants to kill T.A Peterbilt, the creator of the Peterbilt company
Story setting: On Earth, sometime close to the present day
Setting details: The model 389 was introduced in 2006 and is still made today so 2006-2020+ is fine (be reasonable, who knows if they'll still make a 389 in 2067). United states obviously.
World problem: T.A Peterbilt is already dead. The truck doesn't know it.
Your protagonist... Is about to discover what they want
Your protagonist's attribute... Seems to help, but backfires


Keep on Truckin’
2127 words

They warned us not to gently caress the trucks. It was actually part of the Wow! Trucking Company’s onboarding process, right after they had us sign the employment contract. “Please don’t,” read the first page of the welcome guide in big, blocky letters over a diagram of a man shoving his penis into an exhaust pipe. It was on the next page too, the text replaced with the words, “¡No jodas nuestros camiónes, por favor!”

I snorted. The HR manager looked up from his computer with a polite, if bored, expression.
“Any problem?”

I looked down at the paperwork. “Yeah, it’s uhhh…” I scratched the back of my neck. I needed the money, and the company hadn’t asked many questions. Hadn’t looked much into my past either. If they knew about my arrests, my gambling debts, they didn’t mention it. Their drivers never stayed around long so Wow! was always looking for laborers.

I handed over the welcome guide. The manager grabbed the booklet from my hands and flipped back and forth between the two pages.

“Seems pretty straight-forward to me,” he said in a dull voice.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I mean, unless you’re asking for permission to—.”

“I’m not!” I spat back, louder and sharper than I’d meant to. “It’s just weird is all. I can’t imagine anyone who would…”

“Engage in sexual congress with our big, beautiful trucks?”

I said nothing. The HR manager sighed before reaching into his desk to grab a box of cigarettes. The smoke curled as he spoke again, wafting up toward an unplugged fire alarm.

“Every generation has its visionaries. Its Thomas Edisons, Alexander Graham Bells, and Da Vincis.” He paused and took another drag of his cigarette. “Our generation’s genius is T.A. Peterbilt.”

The cigarette smoke continued to waft through the room, its smell strange and pungent.

“I know you think that’s insane, but there’s a reason our company only uses Peterbilt trucks. They’re… intoxicating with their custom-built chassises, their purpose-built PACCAR MX engines, their 80,000-pound towing capacity…”

Perspiration appeared on the man’s forehead. He closed his eyes and his body trembled, the cigarette dropping from between his fingers onto a pile of shipping receipts already dotted with small burn marks.

I watched the episode silent and confused.

“Believe me, kid,” said the HR manager, scooping the cigarette butt from the receipt into the trash. “All of us wanna gently caress those trucks, to caress them, to hold their hands in a strong, completely heterosexual manner… but the risk is too great. Man wasn’t built to copulate with T.A. Peterbilt’s precious angels and there’s no telling what would happen if you tried.”

He looked me straight in the eye. “As long as you don’t try anything stupid, you’ll have a long, successful career here.”

He looked back at his computer.

“Hell, you might even get health care one day.”

***

Trucking came easy. The long hours. The empty stretches of road. The endless number of lovely diners and truck stops. I crisscrossed the country, loading and unloading palettes of materials—farming equipment, baby vegetables, loose animal bones—not once thinking about the big beautiful Vanderbilt truck I was driving.

I did not think about the unmistakable craftsmanship or the bold and elegant frame. I did not get a thrill every time I pulled the horn. I did not stop in the middle of the night along the empty highway, body tingling, heart thudding, as I rubbed my hands against its bright red frame.

“That your truck?” said a man to me once in the waiting room of a Cracker Barrel near LaGrange, Indiana. He was a stout guy in a striped polo. Hovering around his knees was a small boy, six or seven.

I said nothing. The man raised his eyebrows and whistled, affecting some mock camaraderie. “She’s a beaut.”

Next thing I knew, we were in the parking lot. The man gurgled as I smashed his face into the asphalt again and again, breaking teeth and bone. There was a screaming waitress. A teen on his phone. An elderly couple eating biscuits out of a doggy bag as the boy watched me with wide, uncomprehending eyes.

“You’ll understand when you’re older!” I snarled before fleeing the scene in my beloved model 389 Peterbilt semi-tractor trailer, distinguished by first-in-its-class design. Thanks to its above-market fuel economy, we drove for miles, past town after town, as the blood on my knuckles turned from red to a muddy brown.

Finally, we stopped outside an abandoned J.C. Penney. I removed my trembling hands from the steering wheel and looked at myself in the side mirror. My face was red and splotchy. Sweat poured down my face, past my neck, soaking my shirt.

“Oh God, oh gently caress,” I said, using a shaking finger to unlatch the cargo. “I’m gonna do it.”

The engine hummed, sweet and seductive. I felt myself unlatch my seatbelt and stagger toward the back of the vehicle.

“Jesus Christ.” My heart thumped faster than seemed possible. “Oooooooh, Jesusfuckingchristgod.”

The image of the welcome guide flashed through my mind. My hand moved toward my belt.

***

There was an intense grey pain near my pelvis followed by a feeling of being crushed and folded through a small space. The world dissolved; all feelings ceased. And then, I was back in an overgrown parking lot. A blue-purple sky that I could not look away from unfolded before me. The hum of the high-efficiency PACCAR engine thrummed from some unknown location. My arms and legs refused to respond.

“Ah, you’re back.” Said a voice from nowhere. I looked around. There was nothing else in the parking lot.

“We wuz wunderin’ when you’d wake up.” Said another.

“Please forgive us for not introducing ourselves earlier, my boy” announced a third. “As you might imagine, formal introductions are quite hard when you’ve been put in the position that we have. While the Model 389 possesses a number of sleek, modern innovations including configurable dashboard and modern radio function, we’ve yet to figure out how to make our voices transmit freely to human beings. Despite all its best-in-class features it cannot—.”

“Jezus fuckin’ Christ, would someone tell Reginald to can it?”

The voices murmured, growing and shrinking in volume inside my head. They talked about the Peterbilt’s ergonomic interior and the comfortable sleeper. There was a churn of discussions about the all-aluminum cab and the corrosion-resistant materials. And in between these discussions was something else: expressions of regret at failing to warn me sooner.

“Hang on, hang on,” I said in a voice that sounded nothing like my own. “Warn me about what?”

The multitude was silent.

“You fell…”

“…to the siren’s song, T.A. Peterbilt’s most devious trap.”

There was another pause followed by an exasperated sigh.

“Aw poo poo, just give it to him straight.” Said the voice. “I’m Doug. The other two are Morgan and Reginald and we’re all the fuckin’ truck… for fuckin… the truck.”

“Modern Icaruses,” said the voice of Reginald. “For what self-respecting heterosexual gentleman, I beg you, could resist the temptation of that scarlet paint job. I knew when I saw it in the parking lot of that Arby’s…”

“No… that’s not. That’s stupid. That’s insane,” I said, the engine churning inside of me. “These things don’t happen. They can’t happen! You’re lying!”

As if to confirm, my horn—. Our horn gave out one long mournful honk that reverberated through the dilapidated shopping plaza. Our brights flickered on and off. There was no denying it.

We were the truck.

We were all the goddamn Peterbilt truck.

***

We sat in the lot for a long time, our voices teeming and intermingling. Without knowing how, I became aware that Reginald’s voice was an affectation, that he was a 28-year-old Fortnite streamer from Kansas. I knew about Morgan’s collection of Robert Z'Dar films. I even knew of Doug’s many years at Wow! before he, too, succumbed to his dark passenger.

I also became aware that I had left the driver’s side door open, which was kinda annoying. There was a constant low beeping noise.

“So,” I said, more to distract myself than anything, “We’re gonna kill this T.A. Peterbilt dude, right? Kill the rear end in a top hat, break the curse?”

“My boy…”

“‘My boy’ me one more time, Reggie, and I’m gonna blow our collective and very real gasket,” I honked.

It wasn’t an idle threat. I felt our gas tank froth.

“I think what Reginald was going to say is that it’s a fool’s errand,” said Morgan.

“The old guy’s already dead,” droned Doug.

“How do we know that?” I spluttered as the driver’s side door continued to ring. With enormous mental effort, I willed the door to shut and it did with a loud click. “He could have faked his death… or be some kind of wizard or ghost. He could be anything!”

The voices muttered amongst themselves, relitigating old feuds.

“We have to do something! We can’t just stay like this forever!”

“The b—. The new passenger does have a point…” said Reginald.

“If we just wait here, Wow! will just pick us up and put us on the road again… and then eventually some new sap will get stuck with us,” Morgan said.

“Awwww… what the hell. Why not?” said Doug. “Ain’t like I’m gunna go anywhere else anyway. Let’s go kill the goddamn ghost of T.A. Peterbilt.”

***

We drove off, each of us operating some different part of the truck. Doug plugged the phrase “GRAVE OF T.A. PETERBILT” into the truck’s built-in satellite navigation system. Morgan and Reggie managed the stick shift while I seized the steering wheel. We drove through the night, not daring to stop for fear of luring another person to their doom.

As night turned from day and day turned to afternoon, we found ourselves where the nightmare had started: Tacoma, Washington. The vile place, that dark heart of America, thudded with a sinister energy as we moved through it, crashing through sharp turns and slamming into low bridges. People, possible agents of Peterbilt, fled as we passed.

After spending an hour trying to maneuver through a narrow cemetery gate, we arrived at the gravesite, a simple headstone. All was quiet.

“Well, well, well,” honked something behind us. “Looks like you found us out.”

We spent twenty minutes trying to turn our body around to face the visitor, smashing apart gravestones and granite angels. Through the smashed gate of the cemetery rolled another truck, an old model painted a gleaming red and white with the word “PETERBILT” emblazoned on the front. Even in our car form, I felt my spirit involuntarily flex.

It was one hot rod.

“My God, you’re…” said the voice of Reginald.

“The one and only T.A. Peterbilt,” droned the engine of the other truck. It attempted to drive around, as if pacing menacingly, but the move only furthered the carnage. Flowers and grave markers crumpled under his wheels. “All these years, I’ve been building modern, sleek trucks, trucks that would drive men mad!”

“But why?” Said Morgan.

The truck laughed with the high-pitched squeal of its horn. “Isn’t it obvious? By making our luxury, first-in-class trucks irresistible, we corner the market. The deeply heterosexual men who we advertise to are so enamored by our towing capacity that they don’t even look at the competition!”

The sounds of the old man’s horn echoed through the cemetery.

“I’m also a weird pervert!” He added.

“You monster!” I beeped. “You’ve perverted the trucking industry for your own sick ends! We end this now!”

I felt the spirit of Doug grab onto the stick shift as Reggie floored the gas pedal. We roared toward T.A. Peterbilt, horn blaring.

***

Officers Jacobs and Flores arrived several minutes later, tiptoeing around shattered pieces of granite and twisted pieces of metal.

“Jesus,” said Jacobs, removing his cap. “What the hell happened here?”

Flores shrugged. “Beats me. Got calls from some locals about a lunatic truck driver careening through the city into the city cemetery. No one got a good look at him, but he left a goddamn mess behind.”

The pair walked up to the two trucks, fused together by the force of the impact. Aluminum meshed with aluminum. Grills warped. The two engines groaned as if in agony as a towing truck lowered its crane.

“Real pity though. Those two trucks must have really been something before they crashed. If you think about the horsepower, the all-aluminum frame…” Jobs mopped sweat from his face. “It’s enough to make you…”

Flores turned to watch her partner’s jaw clench and a spasm rip through his body. When he opened his eyes again, he had a hungry look.

The trucks let out a futile honk of their horns.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Sure. In.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Prompt:



Couple’s Retreat
1196 words

My boyfriend Jake and I are special. We share a closeness, a lightness, an ease. It feels like we’ve been together longer than we actually have been. So when I see him pull onto our street with the rental RV, face bright and gleaming, my heart cannot help but thud.

“This is it?” I say, less of a question and more of an exclamation.

He reaches across the passenger’s seat, making a fumbling grab for the door. His pauch catches on the center console and his shirt lifts up just an inch, revealing just a hint of hair and flesh. I pretend I don’t see it. It’s easier for both of us.

“Yep! Got the car! Got the directions to the Lake! Got the ice box filled with food. It’s gonna be a good last weekend.”

I force a smile at the word ice box. It’s impossible to tell if it is an intentional affectation or some old saying from childhood worming its way to the surface. Jake’s older than I am, though he doesn’t like it when I bring it up.

Instead, I clamber into the vehicle beside him and take a moment to look around at the main cabin, still smelling of soap and plastic from the cleaning. I crane my neck around to look at a small wood-paneled kitchen with a yellowing refrigerator and dingy fluorescent light. My eyes travel to the back of the vehicle, an unlit bedroom filled with dark shapes. A double bed. A nightstand. A bag with enough clothes for three days.

I can feel Jake looking at me, admiring the shape of my body like its freshly hunted game. He scratches his beard.

“And you got the stuff?” He says.

“Yeah,” I say. “Of course.”

“Let’s see them.”

I blush, looking down the street for... I don’t know. A cop? A co-worker? A neighbor? Then, reaching into my purse, I pull out a sandwich bag overflowing with little round blue pills. Removed from the bottle, they look harmless, like candy hearts. I still don’t believe how easy it was for me to steal.

I look away from the bag but Jake presses his hand to it. “There’s enough here to kill an elephant.”

“Yeah.” I say, forcing myself to feel Jake’s excitement.

He pats me on the shoulder and then puts the RV into gear. And then we’re off.

***

Jake was the first one to think of it.

Ending things.

He’d bring the idea up casually, almost seductive. Did you see that by 2050 sea levels will be two feet higher on the East coast? In Central Africa, there’s going to be a fifty percent reduction in crops from drought.

He’d say these things as I got ready for my internship or got ready for class. When we were apart, he’d text me links to articles and tweets. Teens gunned down in Florida. A video of a man blowing himself up in Lebanon. A little girl in a sundress washed up on the shore of Greece, her hands still gripping the remains of an inflatable unicorn.

Our relationship was built around an elaborate scaffolding of jokes and self-pity. An implicit understanding that things could not get better, would not get better. That there was no one else on Earth who loved us or would miss us when we were gone.

“You’re the only person who’ll never leave me. You know that, right?” he said one night after my final exams. We were in bed, his face illuminated by the pale white light of his phone. He reached into the darkness, grazing my breasts as he groped for my hand.

I said nothing but, then again, I usually said nothing. I did not want to ruin this, to ruin us. I forced myself to look at Jake, to let him cradle my body in his.

“I need to ask you something.”

***

I do not think about this moment.

I do not think about our texts.

I do not think about the contents of the little sandwich bag, now chopped into a fine blue-grey powder that we will coat the expensive salmon Jake bought.

Instead, I force myself to focus on all the things that couples are supposed to do when they are together and happy. I post a picture of our campsite to Instagram. I force Jake to go out with me to fish and explore the trails around the Lake. But he spends our three days disconcertingly quiet, leaving me with nothing to do but mull the plan over in my head.

“You know,” I say, as we hike past black water and cypress trees. “My dad used to take me up here when I was a kid. There’s some cabins nearby. People who use the place we parked.”

Jake does not pick up on the hint. Or, if he does, he doesn’t care. His face is red and puffy from overexertion. When he breathes, I don’t think of the man who sent me jokes. I think of a bear.

“Well,” he says. “Okay, I guess?”

“I thought you might find that interesting.”

“That you went camping once?”

“No, just that—.” I feel heat rising in my cheeks. “I think we should be aware… of our options.”

I turn back to the trail. We head back to the RV in silence.

***

I spend the rest of the day waiting for someone coming to save us—a hiker, a forest ranger—but the moment never comes. Instead, I find myself sitting outside the RV at a small picnic table. There’s the terrible hum of crickets and the sound of Jake’s shoes against gravel.

He places a paper plate with rice and salmon in front of me before sitting down with a plate for himself. The food looks bluish, bruised.

“Alright,” he says in a cheery voice. “Let’s dig in!”

I look down at the plate. I do not touch my fork or the can of PBR that he set out earlier in an expression of hospitality. I know what I need to do.

“Jake… I don’t know.”

He jams a slab of the fish into his mouth before looking at me. “What do you mean you don’t know?”

There’s a long quiet, as if the volume of the whole world has been turned down. I try to conjure the shining moment when Jake brought the RV, but the memory is tainted. I try to reconstruct our relationship, but our old jokes seem hollow, preening.

“We shouldn’t do this.” I say.

He pushes another chunk of fish into his mouth.

“Jake, please. Stop.”

“You said you’d do this for me,” he says, voice rising. “There’s no one who is going to love you like I do.”

He jams another furious wad of food into his mouth. Horrified and disgusted, I throw the plate off the table into the dirt.

Jake rises, furious. “You promised you’d do this,” he says in a low roar. “You promised.

I rise from the table.

“I made a mistake.” I say. “Now, I’m going to go get help.”

I do not give Jake time to respond before I run off into the night.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


gently caress it. I'm in as a recipient.

Give me a hell rule.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


I will not be able to post an entry before the deadline closes in two hours but I'll to post a redemption before Wednesday, 16 September, 11:59 PM EDT.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


QuoProQuid posted:

I will not be able to post an entry before the deadline closes in two hours but I'll to post a redemption before Wednesday, 16 September, 11:59 PM EDT.

Redemption for week 423

My Beautiful Friend
1165 words

If anyone was to blame for the murders, it's the community garden club.

I’m sure they meant well. I mean, they just wanted to make the world more beautiful, more lively. They sent out these mailers—you’ve probably gotten them—with lush scenes of roses and zinnias and bowers laden with pomegranates from homes around the area. A little piece of heaven, one advertisement reads, as if you can slice off an orchard and take it home with you in a doggy bag.

For a while, I accepted that fantasy. I was lonely. In need of friends. I went to club meetings led by the club president, Bethany, touring her lavish, well-tended grounds. Part of me believed what she sold us, that we could win other people’s attention with hard work and determination. She was nice, after all. She sought me out at meetings and gave me advice on how I could find purpose in gardening.

But some of us never managed to conjure the lily ponds and blocks of pink roses that Bethany could. Some of us paid the garden club’s annual membership fees and signed up for master class seminars and visited the very best arboretums and couldn’t even muster up so much as a tomato. We never got the accolades that came with bringing life into the world.

I’d go to bed feeling awful, wondering how I’d explain my failures. I’d wake up committed to doing whatever it took to achieve my dreams of green. I downloaded a Tor browser and tracked down unmarked packages of seeds off the Dark Web from a man in the Russian-Israeli mafia. “Mandrakes! Very rare!” He said in a message from a burner phone. “Don’t forget to water! :-)”

I knew how that sounded, but… did you ever see the geometric Edwardian style of Bethany’s garden? Its array of hedges, terraces, and sunken platforms? Its systems of interlinked trellises filled with lavenders and other perennials? They got hundreds of likes on her Instagram, even though she used ill-fitting hashtags and posed in the shots in ways that obstructed her garden’s superior horticulture.

But that’s besides the point. What I want to say is that I planted the seeds deep in freshly tilled earth. I watered them every day, willing them to grow, to flower into their distinctive bell-shaped corolla.

And nothing happened.

Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even so much as a sprout.

Which caused me to fall deeper into despair. I spent long hours laying in my bed, scrolling through the garden club’s Facebook page. I got drunk on raspberry mojitos while attending one of Bethany’s garden parties and screamed at her about her anachronistic use of Asian vegetables in an Edwardian garden. I got really into True Crime podcasts. Serial. In the Dark. Dirty John. You name it.

I can have hobbies other than gardening, you know.

It’s while listening to the podcast Medieval Death Trips I heard something interesting. One of the hosts said that mandrakes have long been associated with the supernatural. He said they grow not from water but from fat and blood. They are creatures capable of speech, whose cries bestow misfortune to all in earshot (if you can believe that). He said all of this before delivering the offer code for a set of artisanal underwear.

And for a moment, just a moment, I saw a chance for redemption. I didn’t see the wilting geraniums and marigolds that littered my backyard. I didn’t have to feel bad about Bethany messaging me in the middle of the night, concerned about my outbursts at her fêtes and the slow disintegration of my mental well-being. Instead, my brain lighted with visions of ferns and flowering shrubs arrayed around a flourishing set of mandrakes. My garden wasn’t cold and irritating but inspired. I saw the garden club publishing photos of my hard work, my sacrifices for American horticulture.

I started small with my garden after that. I did tests. I sliced open the palm of my hand and let my blood seep into the earth. There was a small shrill noise, like a choirboy singing off-key, followed by the appearance of a small leaf from the soil. I sprinkled my bird feeder with garden club-approved pesticides and ground birds and squirrels that fell for the trap. This time, the plants exuded a hum, soft but distinct. I saw the hint of sprouts. In the night, I captured a bag of neighborhood pets. The plants swelled further and their voices rang through the garden, sounding like nuns embarking on evening vespers.

Later on, Bethany left me a voicemail, sobbing that someone climbed her trellises and stole her dog. I listened. I sympathized. I convinced her that we should go look for him. Alone.

Which brings us to the grand finale. The big event. This time there was no Bethany to throw a gala or fair or festival. The garden club was distraught, bereaved by the disappearance of a beloved leader who would nevermore be seen among her roses and hollyhocks, whose designs were already becoming undone. I knew her peonies would wilt. Her hedges would grow ragged. Careful geometries fractured beneath the weight of police tape.

It fell on me, Bethany’s friend, to take the lead.

The garden club members were quiet as I ushered them, one by one, into my backyard for a monthly meeting. They stopped, transfixed, when I showed them how my garden had developed. The mandrakes were no longer sprouts, no longer even simple corollas. Instead, they spiderwebbed out into shapes and configurations never before seen. There were mandrake hedges and mandrake bushes. There were large blooming mandrake orchards. Mandrake leaves curled into parterres, nutteries, arbors, beehives, potting sheds, hammocks, topiary, and mulch piles.

And through all of this was song, beautiful song. From all directions came a chorus of voices that brought to mind the plainchant of saints and apostles. I knew that the voices are not an illusion, an Instagram filter of reality, but a true hierophany. I could see it in the faces of the other garden club members as tears ran down their cheeks and they turned to me in alarm.

“What have you done?” Asked the last member to arrive in a voice barely audible over the celestial chorus.

She held the casserole dish in front of her like a shield. The contents, forgotten, spilled out over her legs and shoes as she searched for anything but mandrake.

“Where are the others?”

I pretended not to hear her or the sound of approaching sirens. It was easy. The chorus of voices was so loud; it stretched heavenward. Instead, I moved my body in front of the garden’s gate. I grabbed the shears I’d stashed into the underbrush. I knew this moment would be fleeting, but I feel a lightness in me.

I finally had it. The garden. The beauty. The attention.

For a moment, I had it all.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


sure. im down for some bibliomancy

count me in

EDIT: Flash me too bb

QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 13:23 on Sep 23, 2020

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in for my last failure.

Give me a hell rule too, I suppose

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Hell Rule: Your story is a closed loop that will never happen again

The Oracle
550 words

The Oracle came with the apartment, which the landlord tried to paint as some kind of amenity.

“Think of the certainty it will give you, the peace of mind,” he oozed, squeezing himself past me to reach the studio apartment’s single closet. “Never have to worry about the weather again or some delay on the subway or indecipherable omens about your dog.”

I said nothing to this and stepped further into the cramped studio, peering over the landlord’s shoulder. Seated cross-legged beneath a set of hastily installed shelves and single closet rod was a woman in a white dress and purple veil. She did not look up as we studied her. Her attention instead focused on the vapor rising from a bowl of burning sage. She recited a silent prayer as she went about her priestly duties, pressing her fingers against her temples and breathing the fumes in deeply.

My dog, a creature I’d begrudgingly taken from a sick friend, whined. I hadn’t figured out the inner-workings of pet ownership yet and still felt uncomfortable around the thing, but it didn’t take much insight to understand the problem.

“The smell seems kind of… strong?”

The landlord nodded as if he’d heard, but continued to talk, his voice taking on an infomercial-like cadence, trying to bowl me over with the great possibilities offered by a live-in oracle.

“I don’t know…” I said, noticing the landlord’s awkward proximity to me. There wasn’t much in the apartment to see beyond the small closet. We’d already been through the dingy micro-kitchen (“recently refinished!”), the spartan bathroom (“full of natural lighting!”), and the laundry room below (“a rare luxury!”). And, besides, I was aware of the dog padding around in the far corner of the room.

How often do dogs need to piss? I thought, struck by the terrifying realization that I didn’t know the answer. I had the horrible image of the landlord’s faux congeniality curdling into disgust and outrage when the creaking of old joints broke the silence.

The landlord and I turned toward the closet as the Oracle lifted her head to us. I could see her wizened face, her gnarled fingers. She turned her milky eyes toward me, eyes that had seen countless real estate empires rise and fall, eyes that contained galaxies of possibility. When she spoke, it was in a dark and ancient voice that reminded me of cracking marble slabs.

“Yᴏᴜ ᴡɪʟʟ ʟᴏᴠᴇ ɪᴛ ʜᴇʀᴇ.”

It was hard to argue with that. Grabbing the dog, which licked at my arm, the landlord and I returned to his office. He printed the lease. I put down a deposit and, less than a week later, I was trying to cram my furniture into the cramped quarters. The dog nestled itself onto my bed as I failed to fit an old flea market desk into the space. It nipped playfully at my heels the day I realized the bathroom had no outlets. I worked out my frustrations by taking the dog on long walks at distant parks.

Weeks later, finding myself dressing my dog in a Halloween costume, I had a realization. I stamped to the closet and threw open the door. The Oracle looked up with a devious smile.

“You meant—.”

“I ᴍᴇᴀɴᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ᴅᴏɢ.”

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


my schedule is a nightmare right now but this is too good a prompt to pass up.

im in

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


in with the Bear Lake Monster

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


Bear Lake Monster
"Revolutionary mobs hesitated, blew opportunity." (6,3,4)

St. Liz and the Dragon
785 words

Utah, Liz had to admit, had not been her first choice for exile. It wasn’t just the heat but the all-pervading tackiness of the place. There were no great homes, no estates. The single-story ranch she and Charles had shacked up in was about as far from Clarence House or Sandringham as one could imagine. Her current wardrobe, cobbled together from the nearby Bass Pro Shop, could scarcely be compared to the wondrous, colorful outfits she’d once worn to galas and state dinners.

Still, she was determined. She would not falter. She’d been in charge when the republican revolutionaries stormed London. She would see the family survive through this catastrophe just as it had survived countless wars, rebellions, and bad marriages. As the head of the house, it fell to her to be strong in the face of impossible odds, to persevere. There was, she told herself, something even a little exciting about discovering that she was more than just an ornament, a pretty plastic thing. She’d prove her use in reclaiming the throne.

Liz sat for a moment at her position in the underbrush by Bear Lake beneath a large sign bearing a googly-eyed, cartoon serpent and the words “BEAR LAKE MONSTER X-ING.” She stared out at the cool blue water and the mountains. Then, seeing no sign of the beast she’d come to slay, she picked up her phone. Before she could speak, the device buzzed to life.

“I just don’t understand! I don’t understand in the slightest!” Said the voice on the other end.

“Charles,” said Liz, not daring to look away from the lake. “First, one mustn’t interrupt on the telephone. Second, one must be patient and—.”

“Stuck in America. In Utah or Idaho or wherever. Up to my bloody…”

There was a sound of boots squelching into mud. She imagined he had ignored her advice to dress for the occasion and had come to Bear Lake in full military attire. She could see the bright-red uniform stained by mud. The blue sash. Rows of medals smeared by filth.

Liz felt a dull pain behind her eyes, a ripple of frustration beneath her calm exterior. Bear Lake remained placid. “I understand it is hard but we have all made sac—.”

“Oh, sacrifices,” crackled through the device. “You let Harry and Meghan scurry off to Santa Barbara without a fuss. And Will gets to spend all his time in Washington, pleading with the Americans about ‘restoring order’ and ‘preserving the special relationship.’ Meanwhile, I’ve got to muck around in—.”

The dull pain grew more intense. In the 94 years she spent on this planet, she’d developed an incredible reserve of patience that only her son seemed capable of depleting. She blamed herself for foisting him onto nannies as a child.

“The most important task of all,” said Liz in a harsh, dark tone. Save for the occasional yacht or the distant sound of laughter, the lake was still. “To reclaim the dominion, one must demonstrate capability, prowess. One must pull a sword from a stone or slay a beast and, regretfully, the world has been rather depleted of monsters and magic swords leaving only—. ”

“The Bear Lake Monster,” said the voice. “A sad, sorry excuse for a beast if you ask me.”

There was a long silence.

“And I don’t even see it.”

Her dam inside her broke. “That’s because you won’t stop running your mouth off. How on earth are we supposed to hunt and kill a magical beast when you keep scaring away the game with your incessant talk? Goodness, you’ve hunted with us before at Balmoral, you know the importance of—.”

But, once again, she did not get the opportunity to finish the sentence. A shudder passed across the once still lake. The small waves passing over its surface grew, spilling water onto the surrounding beaches and marches. A passing boat rocked back and forth, the people in it spilling off the side. Liz gasped as cold water slapped at her.

“Charles, move now!” She yelled before cutting the line.

The water grew choppier and more violent. Then, she saw it. Rising from depths of the lake came a long, serpent-like creature. She stared at its many legs and cream colored skin. Her eyes traced its form, following its neck up towards bulbous, bovine head. The creature opened its wide mouth, ready to let loose a roar.

“Moo.” It said in a bored voice.

Liz rolled her eyes but a disappointing beast was a beast nonetheless. She raised her sword and let out a battle cry. She would not miss this opportunity. Even faced with the absurdity of it all, she was ready to make her mark.

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QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P


RIP and in

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