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Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

In with About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt .


Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt

Things Are Gonna Change
1495 words

We’re waiting in line at the rental car counter, Sara and me, glued to our phones and half-listening to the guy ahead of us get upsold on a Mustang. Sara’s juggling multiple conversations, because she has the kind of memory where she remembers everyone’s birthday and the names of their kids, and so there are multiple group chats going where everyone’s excited that we’re in town.

I tell myself that it’s just about the kinds of friends that Sara has. My friends don’t stay in constant contact. There might be an email or a text message every six months, or every other year, maybe. I assume people are fine and doing their thing.

I make a resolution every year that I’m going to be better about correspondence, but that’s become more of an in-joke. Still, as soon as the deluge of Sara’s incoming messages started after landing, I felt a little flare of unpleasant envy, and so I sent The Obsessor a text saying that I’d just arrived in town on a surprise visit, the surprise part being a minor fabrication. Fully expecting no reply, to be clear, but I know myself well enough that I will probably get sulky about not seeing any of my old friends while in town, and the first thing that Sara’s going to ask is well, did you bother to let anyone know that you were coming this time?

But that’s not what happened, because later on when we’re standing in line at the rental car counter, I’m zombie-scrolling through Twitter to see whether the whole climate change thing has gotten worse while we were in the air, and a small pile of text messages from The Obsessor start coming in.

hey man great to hear from you

i’m actually getting married on thursday

would love it if you wanted to come to the afterparty

I nudge Sara, show her my phone.

“Who’s Paul Mason?” she asks, looking at The Obsessor’s real name at the top of the chat.

Back in high school, Paul got his nickname because he really wanted to be friends with Simon Albury, who was the most popular kid in our school, who went on to be the prom king, all that stuff. Paul wasn’t unpopular, because he was pretty good at sports and that counted for a lot, but he was no cool kid either. Anyway, Paul decided on one fateful Saturday to be proactive and call Simon Albury’s house to ask him to be friends, but no-one was home and his call went to answering machine — this was the nineties, so people actually used answering machines, and Paul left Simon an extremely awkward message, or at least so I heard. And then, when Paul didn’t get a response after an hour, he called again, trying to smooth over the awkwardness of the first message but flubbing it again. And then there was a third message half an hour after that.

Or at least so the legend was told on the following Monday morning, when Paul became The Obsessor. And because Paul made the crucial error of getting upset, it stuck.

“No poo poo,” says Sara. “Do you think he married what’s-her-face?”

“Heather,” I say. “No, she was pretty unambiguous in her rejection.”

“Well if you want to go, we’re technically open that evening.”

“I mean, I have no idea what we’re getting into, but it’s The Obsessor, and I wouldn’t rule out a shotgun wedding scenario -- at the very least, it’s going to be ridiculous.”

“I’m in,” says Sara, going back to her own phone. After a beat, she turns back. “Who the gently caress gets married on a Thursday?”


I’m driving, and we’re stuck in after-work Thursday traffic on the way to the afterparty. I’m in a bad mood because I don’t like driving at the best of times, and Sara’s in a bad mood because she hadn’t brought any good wedding clothes with her and is trying to do her mascara in the vanity mirror behind the sunshade.

“I’m just saying, if you had actually written The Obsessor when I asked you, two weeks ago, to think about letting your friends know we were coming, we could have known about the wedding ahead of time and packed nice clothes.”

“We look fine,” I say, but it comes out short, and Sara shoots me a glare that I pretend not to notice. This is what we do now, ten years in. We bicker like old people. Worse: we bicker like our parents.

I take a sip of my coffee right before there’s a cascade of brake lights ahead. Sara, a nervous passenger, does this sharp intake of breath thing which never fails to freak me out, but the brakes are twitchier than our car at home, and I end up braking too hard.

Everything’s fine, just mildly jostled, but I’ve now got a coffee stain spreading across my chest from where the cup spilled.

“Smooth,” says Sara, in that tone that I used to love when she deployed it on other people. “There’s a mall at this exit, if you want to get off and buy yourself a new shirt.”

And it’s a good idea, but I am not emotionally prepared to try on shirts in front of Sara. She’ll suggest that maybe I should try an XL just to see if it’s a little less tight, and I am emphatically in denial about no longer being an M.

“We’re already late, we’re not stopping,” I say, and it’s exactly what my dad would have said.


The Obsessor’s wedding afterparty is in the backyard of a house, and we’re barely through the gate when I’m clocked by The Obsessor’s dad, Doug, who greets me with a “Hey, it’s Rat Boy!”, which was an old childhood nickname that I had almost forgotten about and had until now successfully kept secret from my wife. A giant grin positively erupts across Sara’s face.

“Still having trouble drinking from cups, I see,” says Doug, indicating the stain on my shirt. “And who’s this?”

“Sara,” I say. She’s giving me a solid I told you so look about the coffee stain. “My wife of, uh, ten years.”

“Oh, you’re far too pretty for him,” says Doug, and Sara smiles and says she’s aware.

“You just missed Paul and Sidney by fifteen minutes,” says Doug. “They left with the photographer for some golden hour shots. But there’s tons of food, so get eating.”

We load our plates and find a little table to stand around. I don’t recognize anyone.

“Sidney, huh?”

“Beats me,” I say. “Figured it probably wasn’t the right time to ask.”

We’re standing at our table under strings of fairy bulbs as the light goes from golden into twilight, stuffing our faces, and people are starting to dance on the flagstones in the backyard when a cheer explodes from the gathered assembly. It’s the Obsessor, and he looks really good, positively glowing, and he’s holding tight to a handsome man that I will later note bears a passing resemblance to Simon Albury. It takes me a beat longer for everything to click than it does for Sara, who cheers louder than anyone close by.

The grooms promenade through the adoring mob, and even though we’re off to the side by a good margin, the Obsessor sees me waving to him and flashes that same huge smile he had as a kid.

Paul and Sidney are conveyed onto the dance floor, and they’re good dancers. The DJ throws on Blur’s Girls and Boys, and I head to the bar because we’re both way too sober for dancing with strangers.

I’m waiting in line when there are suddenly arms wrapping around me and lifting me up onto my toes, and when I turn around it’s The Obsessor, and he looks happier than that New Year’s Eve where he drank a fifth of Stolichnaya in the parking lot behind the Safeway and spent the next three hours hugging strangers on the street and telling anyone who would listen that it was the best night of his life.

“I’m so, so glad you’re here,” he says.

“Me too,” I say, and I’m surprised to find that I really mean it. We spend a little time catching up, painting in the years with broad strokes, but there’s obviously too much to cover and so we promise each other that we’ll catch up for real soon. And as he’s whisked away, back onto the dancefloor, he’s Paul again, his old nickname feeling like some kind of cruel orthodontic device, no longer fitting.

And then I see Sara, who never dances sober, twirling and spinning under low golden bulbs, stars come down to play just above her, and I feel this upwelling of a simpler, older, unencumbered love, and the world feels tiny and beautiful as I leave the line for the bar behind and follow my feet out onto the dance floor.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


This week you’ll be writing stories about anthropomorphized non-human societies embedded within modern human civilizations, in the vein of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox.

Four constraints by which your stories must abide:
  1. Non-human characters cannot communicate with humans
  2. Non-humans have a limited perspective on human society. They understand only the facets of the human world to which they are directly exposed, and then only imperfectly.
  3. Stories must be set in approximately modern times
  4. No downer endings. Let's keep this 2020 positivity train rolling.

Flash rules for protagonist species available upon request.

Standard rules apply as set out in the OP, read them carefully if you’re new.

Word count: 1500 words
Signups Close: January 10th, 2359 PST
Submissions Due: January 12th, 2359 PST

Mean Farmers:
Barnaby Profane

Staggy -- raccoon
Doctor Eckhart
Anomalous Amalgam -- seagull
Chairchucker -- gecko
Something Else -- cow
Carl Killer Miller -- magpie
magic cactus -- tarantula
cptn_dr -- elephant
Ironic Twist
Freakie - research chimpanzee
Thranguy - bluefin tuna
flerp - stray cat
Adam Vegas - termite

Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 11:32 on Jan 9, 2020

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Staggy posted:

In and flash me.

Your protagonist is a raccoon!

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Anomalous Amalgam posted:

Fine, :toxx: and flash please

Your protagonist is a seagull.

Your protagonist is a gecko.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Something Else posted:

In plz flash thx

Your protagonist is a cow.

Carl Killer Miller posted:

Cool prompt, gimme a flash

Your protagonist is a magpie.

magic cactus posted:

IN and requesting a flash

Your protagonist is a tarantula.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


cptn_dr posted:

In with a flash and a :toxx:

Your protagonist is an elephant.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Freakie posted:

In with a flash and a (3 years late) :toxx:.

Your protagonist is a research chimpanzee.

Solitair posted:

I'd like to judge this week.

Glad to have you!

Thranguy posted:

In, with flash

Your protagonist is a bluefin tuna.

flerp posted:

in flash

Your protagonist is a stray cat.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Adam Vegas posted:

I’m in. Flash me.

Your protagonist is a termite.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Signups are closed.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Submissions closed.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

:siren: TD388 Judgment :siren:

Winner: Ironic Twist
HM: Staggy
DM: Anomalous Amalgam
Loss: Carl Killer Miller

Detailed crits for all entries to follow.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

TD388 Fantastic Mr Cockroach Crits

Because of my tardiness, everybody gets extra crits. Did your story age like a fine wine, or turn to vinegar? Let's find out!

:siren: Saucy_Rodent - Stingslinger

First impression:
Pulp fantasy with wasps, classic story of wandering blade entrusted with the life of a helpless monarch, a bit of palace intrigue, some backstabbing -- hits all of the right notes, pacing is decent. Overall effect is a bit cotton-candy, there are a number of opportunities to stretch or twist the format that go unexplored.

Later thoughts:
This didn’t occur to me initially, but I’m now wondering whether this is a wasp-based homage to R.A. Salvatore -- it’s not just the similarity between Bzzzt and Drizzt, but also the general theme of lone fearsome warrior improbably sticking it to power (it’s been literal decades since I read those books, but that’s my memory of what those books are like). Coming back to this story, I think something that would build this story up better would be if Bzzzt’s motivation for coming to Plum Tree were better established -- there’s a lot of grim clenched-mandible monologuing that takes up a lot of the air in this story, and I think that space would be better put towards building some relationship between the Bzzzt and the larval queen, as well as giving Bzzzt a better reason for wandering into unfriendly territory with such a vulnerable and precious traveling companion.

:siren: Doctor Eckhart - A Song From Over The Floorboards

First impression:
There are a lot of characters here, and they don’t get much opportunity to develop. Plotting is all over the place, stakes feel limited. A decent first draft, but needs a lot of tightening -- too many threads left hanging. What they want is food and clothing, and it seems like despite all of the moving parts here, they get what they want without much difficulty.

Later thoughts:
For me, the opening dialogue in this story is a little too flabby -- there’s a lot of it there, and the tone is a bit too generic to have it feel like it’s establishing important character details. Ideally you want for dialogue to reveal something interesting and plot-critical about the nature of the characters populating your story, and while this dialogue feels like it’s hitting the right tone for your standard “mouse family living in the walls” story, it’s not giving me enough differentiation between the characters. I’d cut a good two thirds of the dialogue that’s here right now, and tighten up the remaining third to ratchet up the stakes in the story. I also think you could do with a bit more danger in the scene with the Bigs -- aside from Mote almost getting stepped on, there’s not much there. Your standard formula for this kind of story would include the Bigs seeing the two young mice, blocking their escape route back to their home, forcing them to defy a multitude of dangers as they search for an alternative way home, etc etc.

:siren: Yoruichi - This is a true story, about a spider that lives in my basement

First impression:
Decent femme fatale story, envy and anger are well broadcast, but feels like it’s running down the clock -- the pieces are there for a good tight setup and confrontation between the two spiders vying for the human’s attention, but too much of the story is constrained within the weaver’s POV. Could use more direct action.

Later thoughts:
This story slots into the angry loner’s diary formula and, while the pacing is good and the language well chosen in several parts, there’s a pitfall to the format that the story doesn’t escape. The action is tightly confined to the weaver’s point of view, hemmed in by its constant interjections telling the reader exactly what it feels at every turn instead of trusting the reader to infer the spider’s emotional state from the context. At least half of this story occurs entirely inside the brain of the weaver, and that gets exhausting when not broken up by a bit of external action.

:siren: arbitraryfairy - Mixed Messages

First impression:
There’s a lot of hurt and fear and confusion in this story, and you’re forcing the wheel too hard in the attempt to bring the ship around to a somewhat happy ending. There’s a fair bit of flab on this story, which is one of the problems with giving out a large wordcount -- there’s not enough in here to fill out 1500 words, feels like there’s about 700ish words in here.

Later Thoughts:
I think the main issue with this story is that its tone is all over the place -- it can’t decide where it wants to sit on the serious-to-cute spectrum, and that leaves the story with a dissonant feeling that doesn’t suit either end. There are also a *lot* of characters in this story, and for me they’re just contributing clutter -- if the central conflict in this story is about a cat that attacks a kid and then fears retribution, this isn’t a story that needs an army of supporting cat characters. I’d either cut most of these other characters and tighten the focus down to Zoro, or build up the stakes in the conflict so that it’s something that all of the cats in the Home have a real role in.

:siren: Freakie - Exit… Cage Left

First impression:
Bad title. Missing any sense of agency on the part of the main characters, or clear definition of character. The stuff that happens in this story happens outside of the context of the characters’s understanding, which robs those events of their weight. Bringing the relationship focus to Anne and Milo would make this stronger, by way of drawing Anne’s decision to free the animals closer to Milo’s perspective.

Later thoughts:
The setup of animals caged in a research lab is a little cliché, and this story doesn’t bring much new to the table to elevate it beyond the confines of its setup. Dialogue is always an opportunity to bring interest to characters through voice, but most of these characters express themselves in fairly generic tones. And the big issue, as noted in the first impression, is that the conflict in this story belongs to Anne, who is an auxiliary character in the story. Either Anne’s decision to release the animals needs to derive from an important interaction with the protagonist of your story, or there needs to be some additional array of conflicts faced by the caged animals that is tilted by Anne’s actions.

:siren: Pththya-lyi - The Escape

First impression:
A pair of rabbits escape a garage fire and engage in some questionable firefighting techniques. Feels like a first draft that’s still finding the right hook, and hasn’t quite worked out its balance between realness and gonzo; it plays the idea of rabbits stealing a car and busting out of a garage with a straight face, and that creates a weird tension in the piece. It feels like you’re tiptoeing around the inherent humor in the piece with the attempt to put out the fire with what turns out to be a flammable tarpaulin, and I think you’d get better mileage out of this piece if you really leaned into the joke opportunities.

Later thoughts:
I still think that leaning into the jokes would be the right move for this piece, but I would also recommend thinking a little harder about how to instigate the action in the story without resorting to a deus ex machina house fire. Setting the house on fire is a lazy way to build stakes in a story, but you can give it a bit of depth by giving your characters some agency in that event -- think about how you could make the rabbits responsible for starting the fire, instead of just reacting to it, and I think you’ll find that the story will feel much more fleshed out.

:siren: Adam Vegas - Help Me Be Captain

First impression:
These male attacking ants grate on my brainfolds worse than its/it’s. Also not sure what’s going on with these honeydew storing termites. Looks like you got interested in nasute termites and autothysis, though, so we’ll let it slide.

What we end up with is a war story, with a similar feel to Stingslinger. But here the stakes feel lesser -- the conflict with the invading ants is resolved neatly through no action from the protagonist, and the fight between Colonel Winston and Captain Percy never feels dangerous. Percy’s never sympathetic enough for his betrayal to feel other than mechanical, and Winston apparently feels little compunction about dispatching him.

Other issues -- takes too long to get going, the initial bar scene feels too generic to get any traction.

Later thoughts:
This was in my low pile going into judging, but one of my co-judges had it tagged for a potential HM, so we ended up sliding it through without mention. Coming back to it again, it still feels very plodding in the early bar scene, and the betrayal plot device still feels generic and turn-key to me -- but, as a caveat, pulp military fiction isn’t really my thing at all, and so for folks that really enjoy the genre the parts that grate on me might just be interpreted as conforming to genre expectations. If my crits here don’t feel like they’re resonating, I’d recommend maybe shopping it around to folks who are more steeped in the genre to see what they think about it; I may just not be the right audience for it.

:siren: Staggy - One Man’s Trash

First impression:
This is confidently presented and well paced, with some very good turns of phrase. Hits the right feel for the week, drawing on the universal burden of guiding a child’s development. That said, could push harder on the stakes -- there’s a lot of tension that’s set up here with the risk of the raccoon family’s discovery, as well as Racdad’s fibs and half-truths catching up with him, and that tension still feels unresolved at the end of the story.

Later thoughts:
For anybody else that I’ve called out on dialogue in these crits, I would suggest reading this story as an example of really effective dialogue. This story succeeds because it uses only as many characters as it needs to tell the story, and the dialogue is carefully crafted to both push the plot along as well as distinguish the characters and reveal the conflicts between them. It’s quite well done. It still feels like it’s building up to an interesting resolution that’s left out of the story, which is why I didn’t push for this story to win, but I think this a rewrite or two away from being a very good story.

:siren: Tyrannosaurus - sympathy & symphony; or, the twelve days of christmas but each verse gets a little jazzier

First impression:
Two enemies jazz it out on a wintry evening. Really enjoyed the tight focus here and distinct voicing for the characters. Stakes feel a little unresolved; we get several references to Fox’s hunger, and that’s left unresolved. And their chance confrontation outside a jazz club window feels a little pat at present, like it would help if there were more of a plot reason for why their final confrontation happened to occur there. But the mirroring between the escalation of the jazz music and the confrontation between Rabbit and Fox is very nicely done.

Later thoughts:
There’s a very familiar feel to the setup of this story -- the idea of mortal enemies inspired to set aside their differences temporarily for the sake of a shared connection to beauty is a well-worn trope, but this story hits the right beats. This story did stick around in my brain for a while after reading it, and coming back to it I still like it quite a bit. I think I would like it even more if there were a bit more establishing details around the beginning, setting out a reason beyond mere chance for why their encounter happens to take place outside of the jazz club.

:siren: cptn_dr - The Elephants in the Room

First impression:
As good a time as any to plug the good work done by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust! You can help make sure adorable baby elephants don’t need to hatch elaborate heists for milk formula by tossing them a few bucks here:

But while it’s a cute vignette about some mischievous baby elephants, it feels a bit lightweight; could’ve leaned harder into the orphans side of thing, or created some more real human danger for the orphans to face in their quest for more milk. As it is, stakes are low.

Title bad.

Later thoughts:
The big issue here is that all of the tension in this story, as we follow these two orphan elephants on their quest for more milk, leads up to Kauwi stealing a hat and eating it, and then the story cuts away immediately -- it’s not a strong structural element to hold up your story. It feels like something that might happen at the beginning of the story, an instigating element rather than a culmination of the story. All of the pieces here are cute enough, but I think it’s so charmed by the cuteness that it becomes monotonous -- there’s some real darkness under the surface that could be mined to add a little depth and perspective to the tale (these elephants are orphans, after all), and mixing in a little of that danger and darkness might help the story stand out a little more.

:siren: Something Else - Cows’ Consciousness

First impression:
Muddled -- Bessie’s fractured attempts to bring about a rising of the bovine proletariat don’t connect satisfactorily with the ugly violence of the human love triangle. The two halves don’t feel like they line up well against one another, and having the cows save themselves by working together is a lightweight punchline that didn’t need all of that setup. Also starting to reach my limit on mid-point fires as stakes escalators.

Later thoughts:
I didn’t remember much about this story coming back to it, which isn’t a great sign. I think the reason for that is the lack of cohesion in the narrative - you have a bunch of parallel threads and story ideas that are all individually fine, but they're not linked together well at all. The payoff for all of Bessie's early agitating is that the cows end up working together to save themselves from a fire, but it's not like that's dependent on their embracing the socialist ideals that Bessie promulgates early on - I think even a pile of libertarian cows, faced with the prospect of burning to death, would be easily convinced that working together to escape death is a good move. And then, if there's a point to the somewhat horrifying parallel thread of the farmer being murdered and his lover dragged off into the woods, it's still lost on me - you could cut out all of that stuff and have a fire start by accident, and that wouldn't affect the cow plot line in any significant way (note that I am emphatically not endorsing accidental fires as a plot driver).

:siren: Anomalous Amalgam - Divine Providence & Infernal Wisdom

First impression:
That is one purple opener. And then this is really not an animal story, but rather a story about some biblical figures that are stuck in bird bodies for reasons that are never made clear.

Later thoughts:
Going into judging, this was my original pick for the loss. It misses the prompt, in that it's not an animal story but rather a story about angels and demons that are cursed to inhabit the bodies of birds, otherwise carrying on as though they are human-ish. The language is overstuffed in places to the point of parody, palpably straining to reach for a portentous biblical tone and falling short. It feels like it's aiming for a target along the lines of Good Omens or Dogma, but there's no backdrop of imminent apocalypse to build any real stakes into the story - it's just a bunch of angels and demons being tragically boring while hanging out as seagulls for some reason. And come on, a seagull has so much potential to be a hilarious animal story protagonist, and there's nothing in this story that makes use of any of that opportunity - it would be the same story if they were rats or blue ringed octopuses. In retrospect I think I probably should've stuck to my guns, but consider this one a close shave, I guess.

:siren: Carl Killer Miller - The Ritual of Haast

First impression:
For a second I was hoping we were getting a magpie themed version of Home Alone and I got very excited about that idea.

Also ritual sacrifice and an Of Mice and Men retelling where Lennie ends up getting burnt in a fire is not quite what I had in mind w/r/t keeping things on a positive track for the week.

The shifting camera back and forth between magpies and burglars gets a little exhausting, and could be significantly tightened.

Also magpies don't chirp, ya dingus.

Later thoughts:
So, I didn't actually have this one in my low pile going into judging. I thought it was a little goofy, and so far off from the appropriate tone for the prompt that I figured you might just be stirring the poo poo a bit with it. And I've got a soft spot for stories that are confident enough to thumb their noses at the prompt. My cojudges, however, were way less forgiving of the excesses of this story, dinging it both for making extensive use of human POVs as well as spectacularly failing to maintain a positive tone.

Anyway, there's a lot of fat on this story to be trimmed - Quiffles' grandstanding gets old quickly, and the reaction of the magpie parliament is just all over the place tonally. The dialogue between the robbers is decent in places (another reason why I didn't initially have it low), but it'd have been nice if those same chops had been applied to the magpie dialogue, which feels mired in molasses from the getgo. And I would've liked to see some stronger characterization from the other magpies as well - Quiffles sucks up all the oxygen in the room, and giving him a strong opponent to play against would give this story a structure to work with.

But yeah, despite not having had this marked for the loss, there wasn't much for me to reach for in its defense either. So it goes sometimes.

:siren: Ironic Twist - The Sloth Who Saw His Hands

First impression:
I like this. It’s a telling of a sloth myth that feels authentic, like it’s believable that sloths would construct a mythology that centered around the connection their claws form with trees and extend that to the connections that they share with their ancestors. The dead sloth in the center is a creepy twist that comes in right as the reader’s starting to wonder where this is all going, and keeps the momentum. I think you could lean harder on the mythic role of the dead sloth and bring in more of an overt supernatural element.

Later thoughts:
I still really like this story coming back to it. What works so well about it is that the cadence of the storytelling, and the craft of the narrative structure, feels patient and languorous in a way that mirrors the movement of a sloth. And yet, despite having that slow feeling, it's in no way boring - underneath all the styling, there's a tight plot that's cranking along and hitting some really effective beats. This is a great story, probably the sort of thing that's a bit too niche to shop around as short fiction, but I think it could form a strong basis for a short novella.

:siren: Thranguy - Friends of Luca

First impression:
Tuna noir. Crustacean gangsters. I love the inversions of the gangster tropes, with inconvenient fish being put on hooks, and the idea that the crab gangsters learned their criminal trade from the unfortunate exemplars of their terrestrial counterparts. In terms of what’s holding this back, the voicing feels like it’s at a distance, it’s a story that’s being told from a position of relative safety, and the stakes shift a lot in a short span -- the death of Johnny Garlic is really just there to make Joey Deadline the big bad, whereas I think you could have kept this story a little tighter by keeping the conflict with Johnny Garlic, and having Charlie 2na go to the cops then.

Later thoughts:
I liked this one at the time, and I still like it now. My cojudges weren't as enthusiastic about it, and I get why - it's a little too clever for its own good, trying to cram as many tropes and references in as it can, and ultimately that spirit of excess crowds out the actual story itself. There's some genuinely funny stuff in here, and I will go to the mat for crustacean gangsters; I don't know if it's just that the setup and tone reminds me of Eric Powell's The Goon, but I think this would make a fun comic.

:siren: SlipUp - Roomy

First impression:
OMG another house fire.
A heroic roomba that dies in a factory explosion and has its consciousness (?) transferred (?) to a Hellfire drone (??) is a, uh, curveball for the week’s prompt, I’ll give you that.
Despite the ill fit of the story to the prompt, the pacing isn’t terrible and the stakes are escalated competently -- need to take about twenty percent off though.

Later thoughts:
These are some primo 'Dome bananas you've got here. It's gleefully dumb, unable to resist escalating the stakes into the upper strata of absurdity. One of my co-judges was so taken with it that they wanted it to HM, even. Coming back to it, my feeling was "oh right, this one" as opposed to feeling excited about reading it again, so - at least for me - it wasn't a story with a lot of staying power. But it is classic thunderdome to crank things to eleven and go out on a robot explosion slash consciousness transferral, so good job there.

:siren: Chairchucker - Through the Sound and In and Out the Valley

First impression:
Despite myself, and maybe it’s just because there isn’t a goddamn house fire in it, I like this. The dialogue is funny, the action is slapstick and absurdist in a cartoon-y kind of way, and it’s fun to read. There are any number of ways in which this could have been too self-amused, too cornball, too lol-random, but for my money you’ve managed to pilot your way through those shoals almost unscathed.

Later thoughts:
I enjoyed reading this again - it's got a freewheeling improv flair that succeeds on the merit of its confidence. I can tell you had a good time writing this, and that feeling extends out to the reader nicely. You're not going to win any lit prizes for this sort of jam, but it's good solid entertaining fun.

:siren: sebmojo - With the Wisdom of Owls

First impression:
Good language in the back half, doesn’t overstay its welcome, cute, but feels like it needs more time in the oven to get some closure on Colin’s character arc; he’s established as gloomy, and presumably he’s less gloomy post getting some, but it feels like the story just kind of peters out on a half-hearted sex joke.

Later thoughts:
I'm pretty sure you're going for parody with that opening paragraph, but if there's depth to the joke I've missed it on both reads. Feels like a shot from the hip that misses the bullseye by a good margin.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

In, flash.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Employee of the Monad
1497 words
Team Voidstricken
Flash: Secondary Motivation, obtain recognition from Management.

I’m looking at the instructions slipped under my door shortly after that whole howling noise started and the blast shields went kachunk-kachunk up around the tower. I, Patrick Brodsky, am first and foremost to not open the door. Step two is to log on immediately to my Voidual Redactality viewer for specific instructions on how to proceed through the lockdown. Problem being that my VR device has a virus on it that I picked up in one of the seedier corners of the Abyssal Web and now I can’t log into anything and all the screens around me just blast hardcore cyclopean porn at me 24/7. I had been expecting a repair person to show up shortly before the whole thing with the howling and the blast shields started.

There’s a knock at the door, and I go to check the video intercom to see whether it’s the repair guy I’m expecting, but instead the video feed just shows me eldritch genitalia because the virus is, of course, in there too. There’s a knock again, and I’m thinking the fact that they’re knocking in a polite sort of fashion probably pushes the needle more towards repair person than extradimensional horror, so I crack the door a smidge.

The hallway’s empty outside. I open the door just wide enough to stick my head out the whole way, but if there ever was a repair man out there he’s not there anymore.

I close the door, turn around, and experience a multidimensional butthole clench that I only recently learned was possible when I see, on my countertop, a prettily wrapped box with a bow on it.

My first instinct is to open the door and throw the box out into the hallway, but I stop myself before I get too far down that path by reminding myself that opening the door was how this started in the first place.

Throwing the box out the window isn’t really an option either, because a) that would be highly irresponsible, this being the 137th floor, b) the blast shields are up, and c) even if the blast shields weren’t up the windows don’t open anyway.

This leaves me with the options of opening the box to see what’s inside, or exercising self control and leaving the box for however long it takes before the blast shields go down. Historical precedent lends me little confidence in Option B outside of theory, and so I decide to rip the bandaid off and open the box.

There’s a card on top, which I read before I tear the wrapping paper because I was raised right, but on the inside of the card there’s just a standard smiley face drawn there, and it has all the hallmarks of an official Voidmart communiqué because the smiley face eyes start drawing me into their inky void. It feels like I’ve touched my exposed frontal lobe to a frozen pole all Christmas Story style because wrenching my gaze away leaves me feeling like I’ve torn my brain in half.

After opening the box and finding inside it not a weird mess of psychic fungus or a tiny doppelganger of me claiming that I’m the imposter here but rather a comparatively normal-looking top of the line ThirdLobe augmented reality headset, I go ahead and power the thing on and put it on my head.

This being augmented reality, what I see is my own familiar Personal Void Unit, except there’s also a grinning purple gorilla spinning a burning green eyeball on the end of its finger.

“Well hey there, PATRICK BRODSKY,” says the gorilla. “My name’s Balbezorgd, but you can call me Buddy!”

“It’s a, uh, pleasure to meet you, Buddy,” I say, unsure of the correct protocol here but suspecting that my responses are being monitored and uploaded to VoidHQ.

“And likewise! Looking at your lifetime purchase history, it looks like this is your first ThirdLobe headset. When you’re ready to begin the mandatory tutorial, just say ‘I, Patrick Brodsky, hereby grant Voidmart my medical power of attorney.’”


After half an hour, my Personal Void Unit has been extensively decorated with virtual representations of High Quality VoidMart Products, billed in very real dollars to my credit card, and let me tell you: I have caught the wave of the future. I can’t imagine ever going back to boring old non-augmented reality.

“Boy we’ve come a long way together, haven’t we Patrick? Are you ready to compete against loose acquaintances and total strangers for the chance to be named Employee of the Monad?”

“Am I ever!” I say, and the enthusiasm, let me tell you, is genuine.

“Great! To begin, proceed through the door marked EXIT.”

I turn, and the word EXIT is blinking on the door out to the hallway. “Hey Buddy, just want to double-check here, you know we’re not supposed to leave the apartment, right?”

Buddy’s smile doesn’t change, but the burning eye perched on his upheld fingertip flares with irritation.

“These kinds of questions don’t bode well for your performance review, Patrick.”

A cold resolve comes over me. I fling open the door, and charge out into the hallway with renewed purpose. There are raucous noises coming from the stairwell at the end of the hall.

“What’s going on, Buddy?”

“VoidTower One is being invaded by Comparison Shoppers, Patrick.”

“But Voidmart’s range of products and low prices can’t be beaten!”

“That’s right, Patrick! Now, charge these malcontent ingrates and tear them limb from limb! Demonstrate your devotion to VoidMart by throwing your body against the hordes!”

“.... We’re talking virtually, right?”

“Do you want to be Employee of the Monad or not?”


The things they can do with graphics these days is truly astounding. The stairwell looks like a warzone, cluttered with debris and crumpled bodies. I’m tempted to take the ThirdLobe off, just for a second, to see the stairwell returned to normal, but the device delivers a painful shock to my fingers and my head-up display announces a demerit of 100 VoidPoints against my Employee Record.

And then I see them, slinking up the stairs, mascots of competing big box stores and product lines not carried by Voidmart. A berzerker rage comes over me, and I launch myself into a giant can of Mountain Dew, my fists following the targeting prompts provided by the headset. The can feels strangely fleshy on impact, and arcs of green ichor spatter the walls.

“You bring this into my house?” I growl, my fists a blur, the can of Mountain Dew crumpled beneath me. “The only canned beverage for me is REDACTED BLUE RIBBON!”

Buddy cheers me on. My head-up display lights up with the “Hostile Takeover” achievement, +250 VoidPoints. I’m in the flow now, my fists are dripping with the green blood of my enemy.

A group of other mascots approach menacingly. “Oh yeah?” I say, staring them down. “You want some of this, Captain Crunch? How about you, bag of Doritos?”

Their ranks part, and a shirtless Jeff Bezos steps forward, with a dome so shiny it’s blinding and a ripped physique that is frankly shocking.

“Kick his rear end,” mutters Buddy, like I need to be told.

Look, I’m going to square with you, it does not go super well. I get in a couple good hits, like it’s not a total wash, but I definitely underestimated the street fighting skills of Muscly Jeff Bezos, because he pins me down pretty quick.

“Get that thing off his head,” screeches Wendy, shameless purveyor of square burgers.

“I’m trying,” growls Tony the Tiger. “Ow! It shocked me!”

Joe Camel stubs out his cigarette on my side, which makes a clicking noise and sends rippling electrical shocks through my body. The headset display flashes brightly once, and suddenly the mascots and lesser multinational CEOs are gone, replaced with ordinary folks.

No head-up display. No points. My new world, taken from me. I’m pinned down and numb from the taser shock, but I’m furious, yelling into the concrete against which my face is pressed. “My employee points, you bastards, I was going to be Employee of the Monad!”

Someone says something about not having time for this, and I’m being lifted, pitched over the railing, and then I’m falling down through the empty space in the middle of the stairwell, the landings zipping past faster and faster. The wind howls around me.

I want only to know my final score, to see my list of Employee Achievements. I mash at the power button on my ThirdLobe, begging it to come back to life, and miraculously: it does.

“Buddy! Did I do well? Was I a good Employee?”

Buddy smiles, falling beside me. He reaches into the purple fur of his chest, and retrieves a golden medal, emblazoned with the words Employee of the Monad, and hands it across to me.

I clutch it to my chest, and the tears streaming from my eyes are from happiness, not just the wind.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

In, throw me a bone.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

They Don’t Play Honky Tonk in Harkus Bend
1108 words

‘Course, you wouldn’t know it to look at me, seeing as how my appearance has been charitably described as unkempt, and my home is less stately manse than a rusted shack on the edge of the Badlands, but I do in fact trace my line back to aristocracy and I’ll thank you not to forget that overly quick. Grandma on my mama’s side was Eleza ren Dorff, of those ren Dorffs, and while Grandma never liked to talk much about her early life -- so long ago, she’d always say, can’t hardly remember what was real and what was childish daydreams -- the strong implication was that the proverbial silver spoon had been firmly lodged from day one.

Like all bright children, she went through a phase of being real into dragons, visiting the Imperial Museum in Voorma as often as her nannies could be compelled to take her, spending hours drawing pictures from memory -- all of them terrible, I must admit, it was for good reason that I was expelled from Radifa Academy at nine years old -- and reading every book she could get her hands on. A childish infatuation, her family had said, she’ll grow out of it in no time. But here they were wrong, for neither the first nor last time, because Grandma entered the University of Anket at the age of sixteen and went on to be recognized as something of a paleontological prodigy. Seems every kid dreams at some point of being a dragon scientist, but for Grandma the dream came true.

Or so it seemed; as a young paleontologist, because she came from money, Grandma felt like her colleagues treated her differently, like her family’s money was part of the reason for her admission to the university, not just academic merit -- and of course it was, because nothing’s ever black and white that way, but that’s the sort of thing that’s hard to sit with when you’re young -- and so when it came time for her to pick a dissertation topic, Grandma decided she was going to aim big. She was going to go to the Badlands, in search of a complete Boraeozoic fossil. Her advisors tried to discourage her, to shepherd her in the direction of safer, more genteel research topics, but Grandma would have none of it. She hopped the next cyclotrain to Hota, and then hauled via nuclear wagon all the way east out towards the Badlands, dragging trunks filled with dig equipment behind her.

This was way back in the middle of the nuclear renaissance, remember, when folks could still find hot rocks just laying around on the ground. By virtue of a suspiciously generous grant awarded by a ren Dorff subsidiary agency, Grandma commandeered a top of the line sandwalker to carry her out into the wastes. Folks knew how to travel back then. Folks with money, that is. But all the money in the world couldn’t change the Badlands from being what it’s always been -- rugged, hard territory, blasted over by electrical storms and howling twisters. Back in Anket, they figured Grandma’d last a week, two tops.

Grandma spent an entire year combing the badlands, stopping into frontier towns to resupply and send reports back to her advisors in Anket. And she made a few finds here and there, plenty of coprolites, a fragmented -- but complete -- baculum, a scattering of Mekrassian-era teeth with preserved serrations, but nothing like the big find she was looking for. And so it was with a low mood that Grandma first arrived in Harkus Bend.

Harkus Bend, at the time, weren’t nothing more than a few shacks huddled around a mostly dry well, and those of you smartasses snickering that little’s changed in a hundred years don’t know how good you got things nowadays. But you can’t call yourself a town without having a bar, and as Grandma’s sandwalker staggered into town on the last rays of a low red sun, the Harkus Bend Saloon was jumping.

Now, even after a year of hard living, there was no denying that Grandma was a looker -- it’s from her that I got this attractively shaped honker, which some’d say was my mug’s sole redeeming feature -- and she was no stranger to attention. Grandpa said that when she came through them swing doors and shook the silt out of her long dark hair, everybody’s jaw just about hit the floor. And the band, of which Grandpa called himself the leader, plumb forgot about their instruments for a hot minute.

But for all the jaw-waggling in the bar, the most caught off-guard was Grandma herself, because up there on the tiny little stage by the end of the bar was the most devilishly handsome man she’d ever seen -- let’s not forget that I’d been in the Badlands for a year on my own, now -- with a pair of hammers held loose between long, graceful fingers, standing in front of what was unmistakably the entire rib-cage of a Boraeozoic Ammopterus juvenile specimen.

Well, Grandma wasted no time and marched right up to Grandpa, put her finger in his face and demanded to know just what the hell he thought he was doing, banging away on a priceless specimen for the sake of some dusty honky tonk. And those of you that knew her, you know how she could be when she got riled. Most ordinary folks would’ve just handed over the bones right then and there with a heartfelt apology.

But Grandpa weren’t ordinary folk, he was Ebor Jukkora. And Ebor Jukkora most certainly didn’t play honky tonk. So he smiled right back in Grandma’s face, teeth yellow from years of chewing mong, and he offered her a deal -- he’d play her a number on the bones, show her what he could do, and if, when he was done, she still wanted to take his bones back to some faraway museum in Voorma, he’d give them up gladly.

To hear Grandpa tell it, he played for Grandma like he never played before, like he was taken over by the spirit of some ancient dragon, evoking a spirit that had been stranger to the Badlands for aeons. Noone ever played the bones like Ebor Jukkora did that night, not before, not since. The bottles shattered on their shelves, and the toughest men and women alike in that joint were driven to awe-struck tears, at least in Grandpa’s telling -- isn’t that right, he’d say to Grandma, back when they both were alive and old together, shooting the dust on their porch as the sun went down. And Grandma would smile at Grandpa, and she’d say: yeah, you were alright.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

On a steel hellrule I :toxx:

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Dicko’s Last Grind
1173 words
Flash: your outlaws have forgotten how to break the law

Seps was the last to arrive, late as always, and me and Nige pretended to be interested in something on the ground while he rummaged around behind the kid seats in the back of his station wagon and emerged with his old skateboard. He walked over, and barely mumbled hello before bumming a smoke off me, which under the circumstances I didn’t mind.

And there we were again. The old crew reunited, some twenty odd years later. A bunch of punks with skateboards dangling by our sides under the grim sodium light in the Safeway parking lot. Except for Dicko, of course.

“Is that him?” said Seps, and his hands were shaking a bit as he lit his smoke.

Nige was holding what was left of Dicko in a beige plastic box with a little round pop-top like a juice carton. He offered it to Seps to hold, but Seps took a step back and looked a bit pale.

It was the first time I’d ever held anybody’s cremains. They’re both lighter and heavier than you’d think. None of us knew that Dicko wanted to be cremated. None of us even knew he had a will.

He’d written it ages ago. I’m not sure I feel much like dwelling on why he would’ve been so attentive to writing up his will back when he was that age, but the language was pretty clear.

As for my remains, my ashes are to be spread on the concrete barrier by the trolley return at the Keswick Safeway. My skate crew (Paul Seppelt, Stuart MacKenzie, and Nigel Burnett) will then, in turn, do some sick grinds on my ashes.

Apparently it doesn’t matter how old a will is. It was the only will Dicko ever wrote, and the lawyers said it was legit.

Nige had stayed reasonably close to Dicko, so he’d gotten the call first. loving heart attack, out of the blue. Dicko wasn’t in the best of shape -- none of us were anymore -- but it’s not like he was obese or anything. He wasn’t even forty.

I’d been hoping that maybe the Keswick Safeway would’ve been remodeled in the last twenty years. It’d have been convenient if it had been torn down, but of course the Keswick Safeway hadn’t seen so much as a coat of paint since our day. The old concrete barrier we used to do tricks on was still there, crusty with wax from generations of skaters.

And so then there we were, a bunch of fat balding dads, holding our ancient skateboards and the ashes of our friend, and none of us was ready to be the one to back down first.

The concrete barrier came down from the upper parking lot which was slightly uphill. It had a good slope to it so you could get some speed, and it spilled out onto the lower parking lot which was usually empty if you came at night. Which we had, of course. The fewer people around to see this clownfuckery the better, especially seeing as how there was a very large sign stating that skateboarding on the premises was strictly forbidden.

“Right, well, no sense in loving about.” Nige walked to the top of the barrier, popped the lid off Dicko’s little beige plastic box, and shook out a bunch of what was left of Dicko along the length of it, as casual as if he was shaking out pepper flakes on a Subway sandwich.

“Who’s going first?”

None of us was too keen, as our skating days were well behind us and I for one was pretty sure that skating’s a bit different to riding a bike vis-a-vis remembering how.

“gently caress it, I’ll go,” said Seps, always the bravest if not the brightest.

He dropped his skateboard midway up the parking lot and rolled it back and forth a few times underfoot. He looked just like he did when he was a kid, visualizing his approach, psyching himself up under his breath. He flicked his cigarette away, spiraling a shower of orange sparks, and I tried to think when the last time I’d littered was.

He was a bit wonky on the approach, but Nige and I were cheering him on and it looked like he might have a bit of the old magic left, but he slammed the tail down too hard and ended up sliding to a halt with his front trucks in the air.

“I’ve fuckin’ forgotten how to ollie,” said Seps.

“You gotta be lighter on your toes,” I said. “Drag the board up with you, don’t just stomp on it.”

“Alright, you do it then.”

From midway up the parking lot, the barrier looked tiny under the flickering yellow light. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and Nige and Seps were dim blurry ghosts. I picked my line and kicked off, and for a second it did feel like riding a bike. The wheels buzzed like bees across the cracked asphalt, and my knees popped a little as I crouched down coming in.

For the record, I definitely got all four wheels off the ground at the same time for at least an instant, but it was nowhere near enough to get up to a grind on the top of the barrier. I came off and fell on my hip, landing a lot heavier than I used to, and my skateboard went sailing off into the lower parking lot.

“You right?” asked Seps, laughing.

“loving sanded the rivet off my jeans,” I said, and did my walk of shame to go collect my board.

“Someone’s got to actually hit this thing,” said Nige. “We already scattered Dicko’s ashes.”

Nige trudged up to the same place where Seps and I had started from, and lined up his board. Nige was the sensitive one, used to play his guitar at parties until enough people asked him not to and he got the hint. He was never the best of us at skating -- that was Dicko, of course -- but I daresay he looked a bit more confident on the board than me or Seps did.

He came clattering across the parking lot, crouched down low, and popped up clean to a 50-50, gliding along the edge of the barrier with a glittering cloud of ashes rising in his wake, and for a second the cloud of Dicko hung there in the air under the dark Safeway logo and the flickering sodium lamp. I’m not much of one for woo-woo poo poo but I hope some part of Dicko saw it too, because it was bloody majestic.

The moment was short. There was a sudden spotlight and a tinny voice blaring metallic about trespassing, and I was scrambling about how to reasonably explain all of this to law enforcement when Seps proudly brandished both middle fingers and yelled GET hosed PIGS the same way Dicko always used to when we got busted, and then we were all running, scattering into the dark beyond the edge of the dying yellow light.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


This week I’d like to read scenes inspired by field recordings. When you sign up, either pick a sound to your liking from the immense archive at, or :toxx: with your sign-up to be assigned a (challenging) sound.

Sound should be integral to the scene that you describe, and I’ll be reading especially for evocative, interesting, and stylish depictions of aural experience. Also, please note that I am looking for a single scene, and as such you should not feel pressured to present a complete and resolved plot. However, your scene should at least allude to a story that it inhabits, and as such there should be a sense of a plot being advanced or characters developing over the course of your scene.

Word Limit: 800
Sign-Ups Due: Friday, July 10, 2359 PST
Submissions Due: Sunday, July 12, 2359 PST
Additional Rules: As detailed in the OP

Barnaby Profane


Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


sebmojo posted:

In, sound me

Tuulivoimala, siivet / Wind power, wings of a high windmill in a wind farm rotating, swishing

Simply Simon posted:

This sounds ( :razz: ) really interesting, guess I gotta :toxx: in on this

Inside an abandoned lead mine

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Metal Farm Gate in Wales; Bent Metal

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Hawklad posted:

In, and I'll take a sound.

Creaky dock - Underwater Hydrophone Recording

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Ambience, Florida Frogs Gathering, A

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Saucy_Rodent posted:

In this round, with a sound

Distant Demolition

BurningBeard posted:

In for a penny, in for a sound. Whatcha got?

Fish Scales Scraper

Thranguy posted:

In, sound me up.

Sailing Boat, Bow Wave

Tyrannosaurus posted:

In. Sound me, please.

Zaanse Schans Sawmill


crimea posted:

redemption arc here we go

in :toxx: let the sounding commence

Lego Bricks Dump

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


steeltoedsneakers posted:

In. :toxx:

Smack me round the ear chops with some audio.

good pormtp and wordcount combo, btw. nice.


Australian Magpie

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


kiyoshimon posted:

In for a sound, I'll :toxx: since i missed one .

Manoa Ambient Test

Ironic Twist posted:

yeah sure in, give me something good

e: oh ok :toxx:

Under The Highway

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Sitting Here posted:

fuckit in :toxx: for a sound

Ocean Waves at Point Reyes

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Signups are closed.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Submissions have closed.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

:siren:TD414 Judgement:siren:

I had opened my heart to sound this week, daring to hope for a cacophonous blaring of prose trumpets, but for a week focused on sound it was awfully silent, and not particularly deadly. As a quick reminder, the extremely short and adequately clear prompt requested a single scene in which sound was integral (which I would interpret as “more than just set dressing, forming the focal point or backbone of the scene”) and described in ways that were evocative, interesting, and stylish. A surprising number of entrants went with primarily visual descriptors stretched out over multiple scenes, which was certainly a choice. Very few utilised sound in a way that could be described as integral to their scene.

But before we get to the rankings, let us blow raspberries at the failures: sebmojo and BurningBeard both had the audacity to ask me to spend at least fifteen seconds hitting the “random sound” button on, and rewarded my labours with crickets. I’m sure the fine folks at freesound would appreciate being the recipients of your donation toxxes:

At the low end of this week, bonus points awarded for actually describing sound were not enough to save kiyoshimon’s buzzer beater entry, [Untitled]. Good job getting your submission in, but I’m afraid you’re the loser of the week.

Some spirited judgechat swirled around the murky bottom, but in the end we settled on AlmightyDerelict’s mouthful Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and… to be singled out for a Dishonorable Mention. Special demerits were awarded for failing to fulfil the promise of the Chekhov greatsword, and a much-ballyhooed unspeakable tale of woe that boiled down to a cabin burning down and a horse getting spooked.

Like skin on cooling soup, a few stories rose higher than others. Sea to Sea by Sitting Here earns an Honorable Mention, largely on account of the sheer audacity of building a metaphor for the sound of the ocean on string cheese. Another Prick in the Hall by Ironic Twist also HMs, not only for its lavish office furniture erotica but also because sound was integral to the story, which, again, not to harp on it, but that was really the one thing I asked for.

Our winner this week, though, is sparksbloom. Scourge Them With Roses is economical with its words but deep in its development of character, propelled by an elegant interweaving of sound throughout. Congratulations, and ascend to the throne!

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

:siren:TD414 Crits:siren:

Mocking Quantum - One More
This will become a theme with the crits to follow, but the single directive for the prompt this week was to write a single scene where sound was integral to the progression of that scene, with emphasis on the evocative, interesting, and stylish depiction of aural experience. While sound does eventually feature in this story, it’s not until the last scene (note that there are several scenes here). That last scene is quite nicely done; adjectives like “skirling” and “swaddling” are good and interesting choices, the latter being especially unusual and evocative of the relief the protagonist feels upon finally finding a habitable world. But because the entirety of the story up until that point is establishing a kind of desperate and cold sci-fi world, it feels a bit mundane to have the doors open at the end and have it just be frogs -- setting aside the biological implausibility of the parallel evolution of amphibian life on a wholly separate alien world, it feels like a lot of effort spent building up to a relatively pedestrian punchline. I think the issue here is probably feeling compelled to hew too closely to the provided sound; I think that the story would work better if a somewhat less literal approach were taken to interpreting the nature of the frog sound. Still, not bad at all.

Simply Simon - Echoing Questions
The narrative construct of representing Xiaolin’s mind as a cavern is an interesting touch, and I like the way the use of repetition evokes the echoing of the original sound sample. There’s always a danger, though, when fiction is staged within the imagination of a character; fiction is already an exercise in shared imagination between author and reader, and when the author is asking the reader to imagine the imagination of an imagined character, it starts to get up-its-own-butt Inception-style awfully quickly. It would have been rather simpler, I think, to set this same scene during the interrogation of Xiaolin, which would have given you more word-count to get into the sonic space of the real scene, as opposed to focusing on abstract representations in an imagined scene. I’d also suggest that the characterization here doesn’t have a lot of flavour; it’s a pretty standard (and rather dinosaurian in TYOOL 2020) damsel-in-distress setup where a tortured lady refuses to give up the goods on her rebel beau, buoyed by the power of her love. It felt a little bland to me; some extra spices would help give the mix some zazz.

Saucy_Rodent - A kinda weird thing that happened while I was on a backtracking trip in Israel
This felt tonally all over the joint to me. The basic plotline is that an American tourist of Arabic descent manages to wander nonchalantly onto the active demolition site where Israeli construction workers are demolishing an Arabic village that was abandoned, as it’s implied, for fear of violence. This tourist then manages to get the workers to stop briefly so that he can pray one last time in the still-standing mosque. That’s some pretty heavy and hot-button subject material, and one of the reasons why it’s dangerous territory for a two-page story is that there’s an immense amount of background cultural complexity that is actively resistant to simple distillations. And you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this, but the idea that an Israeli demolition crew is going to call some Arab-looking tourist “bro” and be totally cool with stopping work so that this guy can go pray in the mosque for a second feels almost comically off-base. I don’t really see how the characterizations or dialogue would change if, instead, the story was about a guy who decided to stop in at one of “the little country churches you see driving across America” that was about to be demolished -- and that feels like a somewhat insensitive construct to transplant into modern Israel. I’ll also note that setting a story in a place like Israel gives ample opportunity to work with descriptions of sound, but sound was not at all the focal point of the story here.

Tyrannosaurus - the axe forgets
I love me some good body horror, and I always have time for some Alien-style stickin’ it to the man, but this one didn’t hit the mark for me. The cuts back and forth between the Zuckerberg-testimony and the warp-mutated Working Joe reduced to barfing up teeth were a little on the nose, even by the standards of the genre -- that said, the corporate contrition was almost uncomfortably pitch perfect. Where I get sad here is that this is a week where sound is the thing. You’ve got a splattered mess of somehow still conscious human goop being literally ground under the unyielding piston of capitalism and doomed to cough up radioactive teeth: the sonic opportunities here are, to understate things wildly, ample. It just feels like a bit of missed potential.

crimea - Excerpt from the serialised adventures 'Fortune in the Mind's Eye'
There’s some fun pulp work here, and I do like the idea of human brains exploding into gnarly mucosal labyrinths stuffed with Lego bricks; it does feel, however, that the attempt to cram an entire story, complete with reversals of fortune and inevitable betrayal, into the limited word count left you with little room to expand the descriptions. Most of the descriptive work here is visual, with the primary sonic backdrop being the description of the Zone’s breathing. I’d be inclined to slow things down a little and give the narrative a little more room to breathe; as it is, it’s a bit of a chaotic sugar rush. Also, watch out for some odd turns of phrase -- things like “Jude laughed humorlessly” are a bit of an oof, and I don’t think you actually meant for Jude to “upholster” his rifle during their mission.

steeltoedsneakers - Threads
The opening here was great, but I don’t think it really fed into the tone of the story all that well -- you’ve got this wild chaos that sets up a promise of a dynamic and full-blooded scene, but I feel like it’s let down by the relatively mundane nature of the story being told, which is a fairly quiet yarn about some magenta shorts. So, there are some really quite good flourishes here, but they’re not balanced by the structure of the story they inhabit -- the effect is kind of like when character actors emote way too hard in a movie, except here it’s a sewing machine. Still, there’s some good sound work here, and I think that it could have worked very well in a more red-blooded kind of story.

Hawklad - The world does not care about us
This is another story where the subject material is extremely heavy, and the story that is woven through it feels too slight to carry it. You’ve got these characters who’ve, as you tell us, suffered unimaginable trauma and terror for months, and through further disaster have somehow found themselves alive, but in a highly precarious situation. This is really, really heavy stuff, and the way the story builds and ends on a note that broadcasts as triumphant (because Zakide manages to catch a bit of wind in a hand-held sail on a life-boat in the middle of the ocean) doesn’t feel like it’s treating the trauma that these characters have been through with sufficient respect. The realist details that are woven throughout don’t match with the almost cartoonish flavor of the plot progression. Those issues aside, with specific regard to the use of sound -- it’s generally fine, but not what I’d call integral. The sound work adds adequate flavor to the scenes where used, it’s set dressing rather than a primary driver.

sparksbloom - Scourge Them With Roses
I thought this piece was quite good -- it had the strongest character development of the week, and the allusions to the larger story surrounding the scene were, I thought, quite tastefully done. I didn’t initially have it marked as a winner, though, largely on account of the fact that while there is plenty of sound going on in the scene, the sound isn’t the primary driver here. The external threat presented by the magpies, true, is what helps Michaela reframe her perspective, but it’s more about being physically attacked by the birds rather than something explicitly tied to the sound of their calls. It’s a good story, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly solid exemplar of the narrative power of sound. I’m also not quite sure what an affirmative skid of bike tires is -- I at least flicked through some sub-definitions of affirmative looking for clues but didn’t come up with much. Anyway, it’s a good story and a deserving winner, but I’d say there are some further opportunities to explore the sonic spaces presented in here.

AlmightyDerelict - Beyond the Glittering Wall, Chapter III: Speak of the Devil and...
There’s potential here but it’s pretty rough -- you’ve the bones of a decent fantasy horror story, but there are a lot of issues. Personally, I think the use of present tense gives it a kind of casual feel that doesn’t fit as well as a past tense would, and using past tense would also let you explore the space of memory a little more effectively. As a sound exercise, sound is the instigator for why Gregor goes outside, and it contributes some decent flavor but falls short of driving the narrative. But the primary reason why this story landed shorter of the mark than others this week was a matter of construction; there’s a build-up towards the reveal of the demon at the end of the scene, and the circle of goats with their hoofs intertwined is pretty cool, but then our valiant knights-to-be just… run away? There was foreshadowing with Gregor’s sword, and with the poker game, and Gregor’s story (which didn’t really feel as terrifying as Gregor was selling it to be), but none of it felt like it paid off. This comes down to what people mean when they talk about the importance of keeping your story promises -- every story makes some kind of promise to its reader in the way that it opens, and the art of writing a satisfying story is making sure that you keep those promises.

a friendly penguin - Laugh
There’s a lot of sound in here, and it’s clearly an important part of the story with regard to how Ilje survives, but there’s an overreliance on onomatopoeia that doesn’t end up working particularly well. There are only so many sounds that are amenable to being sounded out with syllables in the mind, and unfortunately most of the sounds you’re trying to convey here are not among them. I’m not sure if that was the idea behind Ilje thinking about recreating noises with his synthesizer; that part was an interesting juxtaposition between the worlds of water spirits and music technology, and I think that if you had leaned harder into that idea this would have been more successful. The coming-of-age trial that instead formed the focus of the story felt a bit well-worn, but I would have loved to read a scene about some kid plugging a water spirit into his modular synthesizer.

Ironic Twist - Another Prick in the Hall
I liked this one a lot, the balance between funny and cruel was very nicely done, and it’s got a killer opening line. The description of the murder maze reconfiguring itself and sounding like an orgy of angry filing cabinets in the process was both exactly the sort of thing I was looking for prompt-wise, and funny to boot. I also liked the bleak humor behind the idea that Holm was fine with being forced to work reception at the murder maze, funnelling would-be wishers to their gruesome deaths at the hands of Bruno, but that the headphones breaking was the last straw that made this whole gig untenable. On the less-good side, the memory game stuff took up a fair bit of the story space, and I didn’t feel like the payoff for that was particularly strong -- presumably it indicates that Holm has a good memory, and therefore is in good shape to escape the maze? But still: sound was actually integral to this story, and I am extremely grateful for that.

sitting here - Sea to Sea
This is characteristically earthy and rich work from you, sh, but I also think this wasn’t much of a stretch for you -- like, there’s maybe a few unusual spices in the fondue, but the curds are all classic magic-girl-makes-a-pact-with-the-moon-and-becomes-the-ocean. It’s good, but it’s more like a dependable Monterey Jack than a funky Stilton or a creamy burrata. Still, if there’s one thing that I will take away from this week, I will never again hear the ocean and not think of string cheese, and what a marvelous gift that is.

Thranguy - Turbulence
I thought the premise here was interesting, with a creepy and pompous academic taking his harem of students (“classmates” seems to imply undergraduates, so maybe this is a study-abroad program gone creepily wrong?) on a border run to Cuba, but I got bogged down in all the action and ended up being mostly confused about it all. I wasn’t sure why Geoff was angry with Martins, or why Li was threatening to jump ship, or what exactly the relationship was between Martins and the other students, or how Martins managed to survive with a broken arm in the ocean, etc etc. Sound-wise, I didn’t feel like this one really made much of a go at the prompt; the descriptions of sound are good, but they’re not propelling the story forward.

kiyoshimon - [Untitled]
This feels like a pretty low-effort scribble to get under the deadline, and to its credit it actually does feature sound quite extensively -- I’m not entirely sure what any of it has to do with the protagonist and her bicycle, though.


Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Week 415 Crits

So this week in the middle of writing crits I got a call from a friend who'd just been surprise dumped, so folks who submitted later get drunk crits. Generally a decent week, though, all up, good job 'dome. All crits were done using Low Tech Judgemode, in which an empty notepad window was used to cover everyone's avatars.

I liked the explicit links between the cycle of abuse in master-student relationships and the temptation to seek shortcuts through forbidden magic, and while it’s a bit underdeveloped in its current form I think there’s a solid story in this setup. As it is, the story gets way too bogged down in exposition, where what it needs is more examination of the relationship between Marcus and Charlie. There’s discussion of how Marcus had it rough when he was learning, and that he’s applied a similar model in his mentorship of Charlie, but that doesn’t ever really reach a head -- the dialogue between Marcus and Charlie at the end would have been a good place to unpack some of this. I also didn’t completely buy the responsibility that Marcus felt for Charlie -- sure, he’d been asked to serve as a kind of guide, but surely the Master bears some responsibility for his young students running around finding improperly filed tomes of eldritch curses and forming pacts with cosmic mind parasites, no? But the Master seems kind of checked out here.

So basically, a lot of exposition that ends up being less relevant, a lot of action (running, tears, clods of earth, etc) that lacks an emotional context.

Is a monster slain? Nope.
Is it emotional? Yes.
Is it too emotional, though? It’s a little overwrought, but the main issue is the lack of plot support for the emotional core.

:siren:You’re It!
Decent bit of psychological horror, leans a bit too hard into the cliches but the buildup of tension from Troya’s imaginary friend to Kamesha realizing her own internal voice is that same entity to Andre physically embodying it is a good three-act structure, and has that familiar satisfying feeling that three-act stories tend to. The characters are a bit one-note -- Troya is the difficult kid/emotional MacGuffin, Kamesha is the underslept single mom, Andre is the violent father, etc. There could be more complexity here; having Troya run wild in the laundromat isn’t a strong enough opener to land Troya as squarely difficult, and the hipsters in the laundromat don’t add much to the story beyond some foreshadowing that you don’t need. Kamesha’s sleep deprivation is nicely done. Andre’s physical manifestation as Smoky crosses the line into corny, but that’s a personal taste thing -- I’d have preferred it if it were less clear whether it was real or whether it was sleep-deprived psychosis.

Is a monster slain? Yep!
Is it emotional? Yep
Is it too emotional, though? It’s a bit by the numbers, but I wouldn’t call it saccharine.

:siren:Ugly Stars
This is a real jumble, and it’s not helped by the extensive craft issues. Best I can tell is that we’ve got a navy guy who experienced some kind of war trauma and is now in a hospital and doesn’t know where he is anymore. It’s not emotionally resonant so much as just plain confusing, which may be an apt choice given the particular struggle the protagonist is going through, but it’s impossible to latch onto.

Is a monster slain? I don’t think so?
Is it emotional? Not really.
Is it too emotional, though? N/A

:siren:How to Survive the Giant Robot That Wants to Crush You
A guy avoids being crushed by robocapitalism by freshening his game and getting up to date with modern plumbing. I liked the imagery in this, and the details were good. The messaging is seriously bleak, like our protag is essentially labouring in the shadow of a robo-Sword of Damocles to make enough money to avoid being crushed, and it’s hard to imagine that not being traumatizing in the long run. Also wasn’t clear on the whole robots-real vs robots-imagined thing -- the fact that our guy is using tools made from salvaged robot parts points to real, but it’s hard to see how people could think these things were extinct if they’re still coming for the plumbers.

Is a monster slain? Nope.
Is it emotional? In places.
Is it too emotional, though? It’s a bit saccharine.

Patrick O’Brian does Moby Dick: a reluctant sailor goes Inigo Montoya on the seabeast that killed his pop. The naval action is decent, but the plot feels contrived, and I’m not entirely sure what you were going for with the angle on memory here. Our guy needs his grandpa’s key to reclaim his memories of his father, but it seems like other characters in the story remember details of Lachlan Rosewind just fine -- enough so that name recognition alone gets our guy on board. It also lets down the dreamy nature of the piece to have the Gray Behemoth brought down by shooting its teeth out with cannonballs. Needed more payoff to finding dad’s key at the end, there are a lot of questions left over.

Is a monster slain? Yep
Is it emotional? I mean, I guess, but in a very *manly tears* kind of way
Is it too emotional, though? It feels a bit manipulative in that Hollywood “men also cry” way.

:siren:Tough Leather
A kid finds out his hero dad was a war criminal. It’s hard to imagine that the kid had zero inkling of any of this until searching for himself in IT class, but that’s a minor thing. The plotting is suspect, but the core idea of a kid realizing that the dead father he idolized was not the person he thought is a good foundation for a story. There’s too much faffing about, though -- after the reveal of Bad Dad, we spend too much time in the kid’s head, and there’s no payoff with all of the family characters here. This story needs to start much closer to the kid finding out about Bad Dad (or even finding out about Bad Dad from Peter Cullen instead of IT class), so that there’s more room to let the family drama play out -- there’s obviously a lot of unspoken emotion boiling under the hood with Granny, Sue, and Eddie, and that’s the real rich soil in this piece that’s left unturned.

Is a monster slain? Sort of, if you squint -- Bad Dad was a monster, and I guess in a sense the last good memory of him that existed was slain by IT class, but it’s a stretch.
Is it emotional? Yeah, although there’s a lot of setup for not much punchline
Is it too emotional, though? It’s a bit cardboard, but it’s not too over the top.

I don’t totally get what’s going on here, but I like it anyway -- the worldbuilding info is nicely woven into the action so that it never feels infodumpy, and the stuff about the valve at the base of the neck and the launcher are all really fun details. I like the descent into the weird and horrific post-whatever drowned city, and there are some choice descriptions about the monster that make it just weird and creepy enough. I lost track of the plot at that point, though, and I couldn’t really follow the action at the end -- it seemed like the monster was kind of glomming onto the protag and assimilating them, but I wasn’t entirely sure what the significance of the protag being a Fib was, or why they signed up for such an apparently dangerous gig in the first place. There’s a lot to like here, but it could use some tightening up in the back end.

Is a monster slain? I think so? Or maybe it doesn’t? When the protag says this bullet “misses [their] head”, is that to indicate that they’ve been assimilated, and so the monster isn’t slain? I’m still confused.
Is it emotional? Not so much.
Is it too emotional, though? Definitely not.

:siren:Opening a Door
There’s a lot of “when are they going to get to the fireworks factory?” going on here, which is a shame because it’s quite lovingly festooned with great details -- the ramp on the tension is very slow out of the gate, which gives it a rushed feeling by the time we get to the showdown with the Edimmu. I’d also waggle a palm at the choice of protagonist voicing here, which vacillates between journalistic and an almost adolescent “what I did on summer vacation” (e.g. “I got to spar with a Swiss Guard on Day 3”, which feels very nonchalant for a young preacher from Kansas being trained as a demon slayer). Still, the basic concept is cool, and there’s a fun pulpy Indiana Jones kind of vibe to all the globe trotting and “day at the museum” history/mythology dumps.

Is a monster slain? Yup!
Is it emotional? No; I’d go so far as to say our protagonist is almost eerily dispassionate for the most part.
Is it too emotional, though? Nope.


:siren:black knights and dragons, girl
This opening is rubbing me wrong. It just feels a little too pat, a little too contrived -- like, it’s good, but I can see the seams at the same time, and I can see the show that’s being put on. The whole southern gentleman plus prison tats jam feels like a bit of line stepping, like how far can I take this little character mashup before eyebrows start getting raised, and I for one am not buying it just yet, but let’s see how it rolls out.

The 14/88 thing seems coy, like you have to know about nazi poo poo to know what that’s about, feels a little wink wink, like why not just have it be a badly pinstuck swastika?

Dialogue feels a bit contrived, a bit community theater -- like, objectively it’s good, it’s adding flavor, it’s advancing the plot, but it also feels a bit forced.

“the chemo’s got you emotional” is a good line.

Alright, that’s pretty good, you got me in the end there. I still feel a little manipulated by it, but it’s kind of like getting played by a magician at a dinner table, you know there was a trick there and you kind of saw it happening, but it was pretty good anyway.

Is a monster slain? Yeah, and it was clever too, the old last minute switcheroo was a good touch.
Is it emotional? I’d say so.
Is it too emotional, though? That was a finely walked line, well done.

:siren:A Sword Called Deathwish
  • This title is going to need some serious backup.
  • “thrift shop home of treasures and curses” is not as good a line as you think
  • $20 in her pocket are you loving kidding me
  • I do not buy that a joke sword purchase from a thrift store twelve years later is going in the car instead of the dumpster
  • Erika is mentioned by name *a lot*
  • “stuck in the kind of fantasy novel” oh boy we’re doing the wink wink thing are we
  • I’m about halfway in and I’m bored, and this is a story about a probably magic sword, so that’s a crime
  • “if it wanted her to be ready to die, it shouldn’t have brought her somewhere she was loved” this is a good line, but it’s not earned here.
  • tellanashin / tell her: nah, shin / teller gnashin’ / tell hannah she nuh[thin]... yeah I got poo poo for this if this was a cool joke it sailed past.
  • I see you trying to shoehorn in some kind of metaphor at the end here and I am not buying it for one second.

Is a monster slain? I don’t think that dragon actually died, but I’ll pay it.
Is it emotional? I’m going to say yes, but I’m not thrilled about it.
Is it too emotional, though? Not in a saccharine kind of way, but in a kind of baldy manipulative way.

  • this opening is just annoyingly coy, like ooh lah lah, look at me, hiding details from you, it’s a mystery, aren’t you just *dying* to find out what *really* happened and the answer is very much no
  • I don’t know who adam or joshua are and I don’t much care either
  • “Dylan always loved the rain” gently caress right off with this poo poo

Is a monster slain? I think it was a plant of some sort? With eyes?
Is it emotional? It didn’t work for me.
Is it too emotional, though? on the contrary, I should say.

:siren:Magical Nega-Girl: Triskelion!
  • and here was me doing this poo poo anonymously to try and atone for my judging sins, and then there’s this title. what up sh.
  • Opening line: there are tentacle monsters, and I’m watching them on TV. This could be stronger
  • you wouldn’t be a monster about feeling good about LA being hosed up by purple negamonsters, LA sucks and we all know it.
  • San Francisco-based therapist -- I am so sure that this is sh right now that I’m going to call this out as a very Seattle take on the intra-californian supremacy dispute between LA and SF.
  • ok I am digging olivia so far, let’s see if this lasts
  • reminding us via dialogue attribution that olivia kicked the door down makes me like her less, sadly
  • this is lovely but I’m just going to own it that Petra is a crap protagonist name
  • OK now that Celeste has shown up, I feel like I still want to be annoyed about this but the mezcal says I’m on board.
  • but seriously, “on the cover of a magazine” what magazine? Tiger Beat? The Wire? US Weekly? There are at least several magazines.
  • “Our first argument as adults” when are they going to get to the fireworks factory
  • “I’ll be the first to say that it looks really, really cool” well you were the one who couldn’t get up from the couch because you were sitting on your hair so I guess I’ll just have to give you that one
  • “So much for the power of friendship” about here is where I’m starting to wonder what the endgame is
  • Kudos for not capitalising Californians, showing some PNW superiority there
  • I will never give up my dry couch ramen habit

Is a monster slain? Uh, I think maybe? There was a nega demon at the beginning and then there was some Voltron poo poo, I think maybe something got smacked in there.
Is it emotional? There was a lot about the power of ~friendship~ but I don’t think that “She-Ra but even more anime” was precisely the brief here.
Is it too emotional, though? This feels more phenylketonuric than saccharine and yes I am proud of myself for that one.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012



Contributor: Dr. Kloctopussy

Genre: Sci-fi Western

Protagonist attribute: Train enthusiast

Protagonist obstructor: Single-minded

What the protagonist wants: Money

Story setting: Somewhere in a universe you invented, and it's all sci-fi and poo poo

Setting details: [none given]

World problem: Serious Drought

Your protagonist… Used to have the thing they want, but now it's gone

Your protagonist's attribute… Helps them gets what they want

Your protagonist's obstructor… Doesn't seem so bad, then it gets worse

At the end of the story… The world problem is no longer relevant to the protagonist

The Magic Sword: A Love Story
2420 words

The world wasn’t always this way.

Once there was water everywhere, miles deep, all across the surface of the world. I know, because that world was mine. I was a dragon, once. I wanted for nothing. I slept on a bed of pearls, and a small army of merfolk attended to my scales and maintained their silver shimmer. I was worshipped by the lesser creatures of the world, and I tolerated their veneration in exchange for their treasures and service.

When it came time for me to die, I laid my bones in the abyssal sands at the bottom of the world, to become one with the stone. This was the way for my kind.

Ages passed. I became compressed by the stone, my molecules packed into the crystalline form that I have to this day. A stone, dense with the energy of a dragon’s soul, carried in the slow ooze of rock.

After millions of years, I was startled by a rapid scratching around me, metal teeth nibbling at stone, distant and tiny at first, then larger and louder as they got closer to me. In what felt like an instant, for my sense of time had become geologic in its spanse during my time underground, they were upon me, glowing lamps in a dry darkness, tearing me loose from my tomb.

I emerged into the world as it is now, dry and desolate, the oceans that once blanketed the earth gone. The humans clutched me in their grubby hands, scuttling upwards through their worming tunnels, bearing me as a prize.

I passed hands many times. The mine’s owner locked me in a metal box and took me to a cutter. The cutter held me in soft and ruthless hands, pressing me up against spinning saws and abrasive stones. I begged for mercy, not that any good came of it. I was mutilated savagely by that man, and I vowed my revenge. But he is long dead now.

I felt grotesquely angular and exposed, but the humans now held me differently, gentle and careful, holding me up to the light. That was the first human emotion that I began to understand: greed. These humans desired to have me, as though I were a pearl or an exceptionally fine shell, and I resented them deeply for their ignorance, for not seeing what I truly was.

From the cutter that had mutilated me, I was delivered to the swordsmith. His hands were rough and thickly calloused, but when he peered into my depths I knew that he saw something there, that he had a glimpse of the power contained within my soul.

The swordsmith worked sky-metal into a blade, folded thousands of times back and forth across itself, and socketed me within its pommel. And so, I began my next life as a sword. He tested me, swung me, made adjustments, and tested again. I became an extension of his will, but so too did my own will extend into him. He was the first human to truly love me, and the first human that I ever loved in turn.

When an army came in the night and surrounded the swordsmith’s home, he carried me out to meet them. His fingers tightened around my handle, and he told them that he would never give me up while he still drew breath. We slew many of those soldiers. It was my first real taste of human blood, not a nick on a thumb to test the sharpness of my blade, but the deep blood in their hearts. I felt myself coming truly alive, even as the swordsmith finally succumbed to the spears that jabbed from all around him, even as his fingers went slick with blood.

I was given to a wealthy merchant, who added me to his treasures, and I felt that stirring of desire that had once consumed me in life. The meagre holdings of this merchant were nothing compared to what had once been mine, but nevertheless I felt a blooming of purpose. I would rebuild my fortunes in this new life, to regain what I had once had.

The merchant gave me to his son as he lay on his deathbed, and commanded the boy to train in the use of me, to become a soldier. The boy was only twelve, sensitive and weak-wristed, and though he diligently attended to his lessons in the years that followed, he had no natural talent for the sword and he left his training sessions bruised and sobbing.

The boy held me at night, tears flowing over his smooth copper cheeks, and he begged me to help him become a warrior, to help him honour his father’s dying wish, and in truth I might have done it, if I had loved him. But I lusted for riches, and saw the boy as only standing in the way.

I misjudged him terribly.

When the boy was seventeen, he endeavoured to travel to the City to make a name for himself, and booked passage on a train bearing tankers of water from the shrinking oases in the outer lands. He carried me at his side; the years of training had not been entirely without result. He would never be a great swordsman, but he had learned to wield me competently enough.

This was early in the days of trains, when their silver blades had just begun to carve their ways across the desert. In their long, sinuous forms, twisting across ancient seabeds and bellowing to the sky, I felt an echo of the form I had once held. The boy sat by the window in his carriage, watching the expanse of nothingness stretch to the horizon, and I could feel the nervousness in his heart, the fear of what tests might await him in the City, and whether he would overcome them.

But the boy was not to reach the City, not on this trip. As the train wound up through the high badlands, we were attacked by bandits, swarms of them crawling over the length of the train like the merfolk that had once attended to my scales. They siphoned precious water from the tankers into skin bags strapped to the sides of enormous beasts, overpowering the guardsmen that attempted to defend the train.

The portal to the passenger carriage burst open, framing in silhouette a lithe bandit with long matted hair and golden skin caked with alkaline dust. The boy unsheathed me from my scabbard. The bandit drew his own sword, a simple work of ordinary steel pocked with evidence of regular use. We clashed, the bandit’s sword and I, and while the steel of its blade was weak and brittle, the hand that held it was strong and skillful, and the boy was quickly disarmed. I clattered to the floor as the boy fell to his knees, defeated.

The bandit picked me up then, and understood in an instant what the swordsmith had known, and what no-one since had. His hand gripped me tightly, and I swooned. The boy began to cry, anger and disappointment rolling off him in waves.

The bandit held me out so that my tip lifted the chin of the boy, touched against the soft skin of his neck, threatening to draw blood. The boy clenched his jaw and prepared for death, but the bandit spared him. He said the boy was inexperienced, but that he had not fought terribly, and the bandit offered the boy a place among his gang.

The boy’s eyes went cold at this, and he grasped my blade in his soft coppery hand and guided the point down to his breast. I could feel his heart beating against my tip. The boy said: I would rather die.

The bandit tightened his grip around my handle, and I prepared to end the boy’s life, but the bandit then laughed, and pulled me back. You’re a brave one after all, he told the boy, and then we left together, the bandit and I.

Our love blossomed like a desert flower after a long-awaited rain. I felt as though I was made for his hand, and when he swung me I could hear the tiny pops of molecules in the air being cleaved by my passage. The age of trains progressed, forcing the gang to stay on the move, but the bandit was intelligent and thoughtful, and as he slept at night I whispered to him in his dreams of where to strike next. We were greatly feared by the water tycoons, and loved by the parched villages outside of the City walls. The villagers paid what they could, which was often almost nothing, but I was in love, and drunk on the righteous pursuit of justice that dwelled in the bandit’s heart.

I tried to convince myself that it was enough, that I had no use for treasure when I had love. But love fades with time, and gold shines forever.

The trains became larger, more impressively defended, propelled by ever larger and more powerful engines. Spears and swords gave way to crystal-powered plasma rifles held by the train guards, and over years the bandit gang began to suffer defeats with increasing regularity, pushed back deeper into the desert. The bandit gang grew into an army as more village wells ran dry, leaving their survivors with little alternative to pursuing a life of banditry.

When we were victorious, the bandit cared only for the water. Treasures were dumped out in the dirt and left glinting in the sun, and I came to resent the bandit for this. In one carriage we found a portrait of a young man with copper skin and deep brown eyes, wearing a fine coat and sporting a necklace of jewels, and I recognized in his face the face of the boy to whom I had once belonged. I felt a welling of envy for the boy’s wealth, and hated myself for it. But I hated the bandit even more when he drew my edge cruelly across the canvas, slashing the now-grown boy’s visage to ribbons and ruining the valuable painting.

I whispered in the bandit’s ear that night as he slept, and sowed the seeds of a new plan.

A week later, the bandit army had stolen back across dangerous territories into the high badlands between the City and the outer oases, along the same line where the bandit and I had first met years ago. We had learned that the boy, now a full-fledged tycoon, was traveling to attend the wedding of the High Magistrate in the City, his train laden with treasures and gifts to be exchanged for political power. The bandit army had been increasingly outclassed of late, and we understood that attacking the tycoon’s own train was tantamount to suicide. But as I had whispered into the bandit’s dreams, it is better to die a hero’s death than that of a worm.

The train came into the rutted valley where we laid our ambush, and I could feel the fear in the bandit’s heart. The tycoon’s train was enormous, perhaps even as large as I had been, in the ages when I was a dragon. Its sides gleamed with polished silver, and pearly white smoke billowed from its stack.

The bandit gave the signal to attack and his army swarmed from all sides through a hail of plasma bolts. The attack was spirited but desperate, and many of them fell before reaching the train.

The bandit and I, we waited for our moment, and catapulted onto the moving train. I could feel the blood flowing in the bandit’s veins, and he moved like a shark through the guards, sliding between hot bolts of plasma. My blade sang as he moved, finding the gaps in the guards’ armor, and the channel of my blade ran thick with blood.

I pulled the bandit forward through his enemies, dismembering them left and right, and I felt foolish hope stir in the bandit’s heart. I shared none of his desire -- ever since the bandit had forced me to defile the boy tycoon’s portrait, mutilating the canvas as once a gemcutter had mutilated me, I had longed only to prove myself worthy of a new owner.

The bandit staggered, winged in the shoulder. A second blast took his knee out from under him, and I went skittering across the top of the train carriage to be caught under the boot of a guard.

The wounded bandit was dragged into the tycoon’s personal carriage in the middle of the train, trailing a smear of blood behind. The guardsman carrying me followed behind him.

And then there he was, no longer a boy but a man, his dark hair hanging in curls down to his shoulder. The boy who had held me and cried at night, who had protested the unfairness of it all. The guardsman held me out by my handle, and the tycoon reached out for me with soft hands. He lifted the bandit’s chin on my tip.

I should have killed you, said the bandit, his voice ragged. I felt myself plunging downwards, guided by the tycoon’s hand, down into the bandit’s heart. I felt his last life ebb away against my edge.

The tycoon withdrew me and looked deep into my crystalline depths. Incredible that so many could only see your beauty, and be so blind to your power, he said. I felt a stirring of love, like we were seeing each other for the very first time.

But once again I had misjudged him.

The tycoon pried me loose from the pommel of the sword, and the separation was as cruel as when the miners had plucked me loose from the rock.

A shame to consume something so beautiful, said the tycoon, but such is the price of progress. Put it with the others, if you please.

And that was the last I saw of him, the boy tycoon, standing over the body of the bandit I had once loved, the bandit whose life I had taken. I was taken to the engine, where the engineer opened the door to the fuel vault.

Inside, thousands of crystals were piled on the floor. I recognized these as other dragons, dirt still clinging to their rough edges, humming with the power of their trapped souls.

The engineer tossed me onto the nearest pile and shut the door, leaving me in abyssal darkness, reverberating with the thunder of the engine.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Week 203 was a cool prompt that didn't get enough entries. In to write some teen mystery.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Tyrannosaurus posted:

You have an almost perfect record when it comes to giving crits. I, on the other hand, have an actual perfect record. Are you leaving poor SlipUp out in the cold out of deference to me? Touching but unnecessary. Take care of that then write me a story where something critical has been missed. Also, most of your stories seem to be about white people. Take care of that, too, please.

Dunno chief, that crit record looks pretty perfect to me. A rare archival slip-up, I suppose.

The Ones Who Sing For The Sharks
Prompt: Week 203 // Teen Mystery
1710 words

The uncles were down on the beach putting out fishing lines, which was boring to me and cousin Malcolm, so we went climbing up along the rocks at the end of the beach and up onto the cliffs to watch the boats motoring out of Port Augusta. Sun was setting behind us, and the sky was the same color red as the rocks under our toes, and the fishing boats were sparking up their grey green lights the color of fish bellies.

“Wish I could get a job on one of them boats,” Malcolm was saying. He was picking up rocks and tossing them out over the bluff into the ocean, plonk.

“I thought you liked working the bottle shop,” I said. That was where I saw Malcolm most times, working the trolley job at Liquorland, unloading slabs of West End into the back room. Malcolm looked at me and spat to one side.

I looked out at the boats. “Used to be Barngarla men stood up on these cliffs and sang to the sharks,” I said, changing the subject.

“Yeah?” said Malcolm, bored as could be. He had a ciggie hanging off his lip, shaking down an empty lighter for one last flame. I didn’t know he smoked.

“The old Barngarla word for sharks was goonya. The men would sing to the goonyas, call them into the shore, and they’d herd in the kingfish close enough so that the fishers in the shallows could spear ‘em.”

“Uncle Robert says goonya when he’s talking about the whitefella,” said Malcolm. His skin was lighter than mine, not that mine was even all that dark, but we were still blackfellas, no mistaking. “No way you catch me singing to whitefellas.”

“Same word for different things,” I said. We could hear the motors of the boats out on the Spencer Gulf, some of the boats had their radios on, scratchy snippets of Cold Chisel drifting by.

“No wonder nobody speaks Barngarla no more. Not enough words,” said Malcolm, and there was anger in his voice. “Singing songs to sharks? Yeah right. Probably just a bunch of us blackfellas out here singing goonya goonya goonya.”

“They’re starting to farm the kingfish now, down south, I heard,” I said.

Goonyas love their fences, suppose it was just a matter of time until they worked out how to put them in the water.”

“They put a fence around Uncle Harry, didn’t they?”

“Prison’s a bit more than a fence, Jonno.”

“How long they going to keep him there?”

“Dunno. Long as they want.” There was an old grey gum tree up the way a bit, burned out from fire and crumpled, like it had been trying to crawl to the ocean to put itself out but hadn’t made it. “Back in the old days, up north, they used to lock up blackfellas in boab trees. Find a hollowed out one, put some bars in the holes, leave a blackfella in there for all the goonyas to laugh at.”

I thought about that, tried to imagine, but we didn’t have boab trees anywhere around down here, just stories. “Auntie Marree told me about a sorcerer who caught a magic fish and put it in his mouth, and as long as he held it there he could appear and disappear from any waterhole he could see. But the fish tricked him, and he got stuck inside a boab tree, and he couldn’t get out.”

“Auntie Marree talks a lot of poo poo. Where’d she hear that? I never heard that story.”

“That’s another Barngarla word: wadlada means tree, but it also means talking, yarning.”

“You’re wasting your time with that poo poo, Jonno. You still going to school? You’re old enough to get a job now, aren’t you?”

Back past the dead grey gum, well off into the distance, the big lights at the Baxter Detention Centre were coming on.

“I’m glad they put Uncle Harry in the normal prison,” I said, changing the subject again. “I’m glad they didn’t put him in there.”

“That place is for boat people. They don’t put blackfellas in there, you galah,” said Malcolm.

“The prison where they put Uncle Harry looks like just some houses with a fence,” I said. Baxter looked more like something out of a Yank movie, all fences and barbed wire and bright lights. “I don’t get why they need all that for boat people.”

“When the goonyas were taking the land from the blackfella, they locked up the blackfella in a tree, so all the other blackfellas could see. Other blackfellas don’t want to live in a tree, so they do what the goonyas told them.”

A truck came down the highway, single trailer, probably broken off a road train come into Port Augusta earlier that day.

“Now the goonyas have all the land, and they don’t worry about the blackfella anymore, they worry about boat people instead. But you can’t lock up boat people in a tree, because they come from far away. Gotta lock them up in a place with big fences and bright lights, big enough that the boat people can see from far away, then they do what the goonyas say.”

A scrap of white fabric had caught my eye round the base of the old dead gum, poking out around the grey wood against the red dirt, in and amongst the dry scrub under the blueing sky, and I went over to look while Malcolm flicked his butt over the edge of the bluff.

“Malcolm, there’s a brown fella in this tree,” I called out.

“Piss off,” said Malcolm, but he came over when I didn’t say anything back.

I wasn’t taking the piss. In the burned out hollow of the old gum there was a skinny brownfella who looked half dead, but he was breathing shallow and shivering still. He didn’t look like anybody from Port Augusta, and his lips were sewn shut with thread, the holes punched through still ragged and red.

“Bugger me,” said Malcolm.

“We gotta take him to the uncles, yeah?”

Malcolm didn’t say anything, like he was weighing his options.

“Malcolm, we can’t leave him here. He’s hurt.”

And so, as the first few stars began twinkling on the horizon, and the flow of boats out into the gulf from the Port slowed to a trickle, Malcolm and me, we got either side of the ragged brownfella and carried him back down through the scrub and over the rocks to the beach where the uncles all stood around the barbecue. There were a few fishing poles stuck in the sand, their lines out in the water, but no-one was tending them, and the only thing on the grill was wrinkled brown Aussie Choice sausages out the packet.

The uncles sized up the brownfella quickly and circled around Malcolm.

“Shoulda left him, mate.”

“Take him out by the road, someone’ll be by.”

“He’s seen us now, what if they think we was the ones who broke him out?”

“Take him back to Baxter I reckon.”

“Someone should get the coppers.”

They started arguing and spitting and talking over themselves, and I tuned them out, sat down next to the brownfella on the beach. He wasn’t old, I reckon maybe same age as me even, fifteen or so, but skinny as. He was waking up a bit, seeming a bit more lively on account of seeing the ocean and the fishing boats going out into the Gulf, maybe.

“You right, mate?” I asked him, but the words felt stupid in my mouth, and it didn’t seem like he understood anyway. He had big eyes, wide open, and a thin nose, not like any person I’d seen before. I couldn’t stop staring at the stitches on his lips. I’d heard the boat people did that sort of thing to themselves in the detention centres, as hunger protest or such, but it was something else seeing it close.

The aunties were mostly ignoring what was going on, but Auntie Marree came over to us with an old Nippy juice container that’d been refilled with water. She took a drink, poured a little out on the ground, and said: “Water.”

The brownfella took the bottle and poured some over his lips. A lot ran down the side of his face, hard to see if much actually went in his mouth, but he seemed to get at least a little bit.

“You want me to cut them stitches?” said Marree, and she held a little knife with a blue plastic handle up against her own mouth, miming cutting threads. The brownfella shrank back at that, afraid, and covered his mouth with his hands.

“Suit yourself, no-one gonna force ya.”

The uncles kept on their arguing, and it was looking like there might even be a fight. Marree and me, we sat either side of the brownfella, and Marree started humming a little song there on the beach, and I joined in too, none of us loud enough for anyone else to hear, certainly not over all the shouting.

“Oi! Watch the line!” someone yelled, and sure enough one of the fishing rods was all bent over toward the sea, and cousin Malcolm, who won the hundred meter dash in Year 8, went sprinting over the sand to grab hold, and the uncles chased after with their nets and knives, wading out into the shallows to help bring it in.

“Gotta be a kingfish, pulling this hard,” said Malcolm. I felt some old words stir loose in my throat, watching those blackfellas wade out into the water, backlit against the slow parade of lit-up fishing boats. Forty thousand years, the whitefellas say, Barngarla people been fishing these coasts.

I’d only taken my eyes away for a minute, I’d’ve sworn it, but when I looked back beside me the brownfella was plum gone. Disappeared entirely, vanished. Nobody saw him go -- everybody else was yelling good on ya to Malcolm, who had his heels dug in with the rod bent all the way over.

Everyone except for Auntie Marree, who was sitting in the sand and looking down at her crinkly old hands, which cupped a bit of water with a little silver fish in it.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

TD437: The Dome Who Came In From The Cold

Let’s pour one out for John le Carré.

Give me 1200 words of Cold War style spy intrigue, and let’s keep it focused on suspense and coded language. To assist with tone, this means no on-screen violence.

Sign-ups due December 18th, 2359 PST.

Entries due December 20th, 2359 PST.

All standard rules apply.

Barnaby Profane
a friendly penguin

Tinkers, Tailors, Soldiers, Spies:
Sitting Here
magic cactus
Nikaer Drekin

Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 09:21 on Dec 21, 2020

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

Profane made his way across the wet grass and sat down at the end of the bench. His counterpart, T.D. Bot, had been there for some time already, judging by the pile of crumpled Gauloises by his feet. He continued looking out over the water, where a squadron of ducks squabbled over scraps of bread.

“Look at them,” said T.D. Bot. “What a life it must be, to be untroubled by bad words.”

“It’s too cold for your non-sequiturs,” Profane grumbled. “Do you have them? The signups?”

T.D. Bot sighed. He slid a manila envelope along the bench, and then tapped a cigarette from an almost empty packet.

Profane lifted the envelope. “Feels light.”

T.D. Bot shrugged. “Cold war spy intrigue… It is not, as you say, honey pot.”

“Those things will kill you, you know,” said Profane, as he tucked the envelope into his coat.

T.D. Bot snorted, and pulled heavily on his cigarette. “If only it were that simple.”

“I’ll put the call in,” said Profane. “See you in forty eight hours.”

T.D. Bot said nothing as Profane left.

In the phone booth, Profane lifted the receiver and punched in the number for the drop line. “Sign-ups are closed,” he said, and hung up.


Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012

"That's it. You can close the gate now," said T.D. Bot.

"But -- but no," said Profane. "There were supposed to be three more. Three more, T.D. Bot."

"They're not coming. Close the gate, you'll draw attention."

Profane pinched the skin between his eyebrows and signalled to the guards, who pulled the gate into position. The sign on the gate, half-obscured by the falling snow, read Submissions Closed.

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