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Jan 13, 2020



Jan 13, 2020

The First Science
1497 words

Redhair’s party had tracked the blurry image of a Swimmer moving under the ice into a small bay, moving slowly to avoid alerting it to their presence. If they could see it, it was coming up for air soon. They all trembled as the beast’s armored head bashed against the underside of the ice, smashing at it until it shattered. First the armored crown, then the fleshy neck, body and limbs slithered up onto the ice.

The hunters rushed it, bellowing war cries, their white cloaks billowing out behind them. They thrust their spears into the soft flesh around the Swimmer’s neck, beneath its armored crown. The beast wailed in pain, flailing its head back and forth to ward them off. Of all the hunters, only Redhair felt disturbed by the screaming; his own neck prickled as though he himself were being stabbed, and he had to resist the sudden urge to throw down his spear and tend to the creature’s wounds.

Suddenly, The Others rushed out from the woods on the far side of the dying Swimmer. Led by Thickbrow, the stoop-shouldered semi-apes galloped toward the scene on their hairy knuckles, screaming war cries of their own. Redhair’s gang, outnumbered, retreated from their kill. Thickbrow leapt and plunged his spear into the Swimmer’s neck, letting loose a ghastly spurt of red that froze on contact with the ground. The beast made a wet gasping sound and stopped moving. The usurpers hooted excitedly as they pushed their stolen kill onto their sled of lashed-together bone.

Redhair and his gang howled wordless protests at the injustice. Longarms rushed forward from Redhair’s side and grabbed at the sled to reclaim their bounty. Thickbrow jabbed at him with his spear in response. Longarms squealed and retreated, uninjured by the spear but killed all the same: the slippery Swimmer blubber sewn into his coat gushed out of the gash and onto the ice. Without its protective warmth he would perish within hours. He jibbered nervously as he rejoined his gang, his gaze wandering imploringly from one to the other.

Redhair averted his eyes. There was nothing they could have done: Longarms would freeze before they got back to the den even if they returned immediately, and the den still needed a kill to last the month. Still, the same unidentified impulse the dying Swimmer had inspired in him now made his eyes water and his throat hurt at the thought of his friend frozen to death on the ice. Longarms’ teeth chattered as he followed them back out onto the ice in search of new prey, murmuring meekly, not wanting to perish alone.


Out on the open ice, they came upon a strange sight: in the distance a shape loomed through the snow, monstrous in its proportions. Its great circular head, wide yet thin, hung imposingly over them. They froze, spears at the ready, prepared to charge or flee, silent except for their shivering. After a tense, motionless moment, Redhair edged closer to the creature. It’s long tapering neck led to a blockish body, all of it unnaturally straight and angular. He touched its neck; it didn’t move and its skin was cold even through his glove. Lights like small stars shone in a ring on the underside of its head. He stared up in awe, mind reeling in incomprehension. None of his party had ever seen a beast such as this, nor would they again after this day.

Snubnose stabbed at its chest with his spear, which clanged off without apparent injury to the beast. The shrill scraping of stone against the strange flesh startled them. From the far side of the beast’s body, they heard an unfamiliar cry. Each one flung themselves down, pressing flat against the bone-chilling ice and laying motionless, rendered nearly invisible by their white cloaks.

From under the edge of his cloak, Redhair saw a two-legged creature, the size of himself, treading cautiously beside the larger creature. Though the skin of its head resembled the scaly grey of a Swimmer, the skin it wore defied identification; Redhair had never seen such a smooth coat, but he was especially transfixed by its color: vibrant, like the light of the distant sun shining on fresh blood, like the color of his own hair when light shone through it. Nor had he seen the likes of the oddly-shaped tool the creature carried in its hand. Though it was too small and dull to be a club or knife, it still held the thing like a weapon.

Its four eyes darted around independently, searching. It edged ignorantly closer to where Redhair was lying, fear curdling in his stomach. When he was less than a stride away, Redhair let loose a bellow to mask his fear and rushed it while its head was turned, running it through the belly with his spear. The creature cried out and dropped to its knees, grasping fruitlessly at the wooden shaft sticking out of its abdomen. His fear melted and Redhair again felt the unnamed mix of sadness and guilt. The creature gasped, eyes wide in terror, and keeled over. Longarms rushed forward and stripped the corpse for its strange skin. Teeth chattering, he draped himself in the skin and smiled for the warmth, thinking he may yet survive the day.

Redhair continued eyeing the immobile beast. He strode toward the rear of the creature and came across a sight the likes of which none of his kind had ever laid eyes on. He readied his spear and growled threateningly at the thing, which sat on a small pile of wood. It was made of flickering tongues the same color as the skin the dead creature wore. After it made no effort to flee, Redhair wondered if it might be a plant, given the way it fluttered with the breeze.

His eyes widened as he stepped cautiously toward and became the first native being of his world to know fire. He felt the warmth of the den on his cheeks. He pulled the glove off his left hand and reached it toward the fire. His mind raced with visions of possibility: he pictured a great firepit in the center of the den, keeping all the tribe warm even on the coldest nights; he saw individuals and mated pairs building their own dens, warmed by their own fires. Flickers of insight, invention, and industry surged through his mind all at once.

Redhair curled his fingers around one of the tongues, mesmerized by its dancing. Before he’d even registered the pain he yanked his hand back with a betrayed yelp. The others, who had by now gathered around him, leapt back in surprise, but Redhair only stared at his hand as a painful patch of red began to pucker on his skin. New understanding dawned in his long-dormant frontal lobe. Synapses fired, connecting cause and effect, extrapolating and generalizing from this harsh new data. He turned to his gang emboldened, the power of malicious, newly born knowledge tinting his gaze with spite.


Thickbrow shifted in his kinsack to press himself against his mate’s naked back and draped a contented arm around her. Their smaller child cooed contentedly in the warm dark by their feet. He heard their older child laugh as she ran past his head, chased by the playful snarls of Nofoot’s oldest. Breathing in the familiar scents of his family that’d long settled into the fur of the kinsack, he closed his eyes and took in the sounds of the den. Contented sighs and the occasional moan from other kinsacks. Footfalls and laughter of children at play. Rhythmic scraping from the cleaning of Swimmer meat. All sounds of safety. Warmth permeated the atmosphere.

Then an alien noise caused his ears to prick up: a sharp sound, like ice cracking underfoot. He propped himself up on a hairy forearm and tried to pinpoint the origin of the sound. It seemed to come from everywhere. Small black spots had appeared at navel-height on the walls of the den. As he scrutinized them, they grew in size, gobbling up the walls. His nose scrunched up at an unfamiliar smell.

Then bright tongues appeared around the edges of the black spots, which were by now man-sized. Others in the den had ceased their activities to stare at them. For the first and last time in his life, Thickbrow was uncomfortably hot. The air turned grey and he coughed as he breathed in the greyness. A child ran to the entrance of the den and pulled open the pelt flap, only to scream in pain as the tongues licked her arms and legs.

The screaming child snapped everyone into action. Thickbrow and his mate leapt up, with their still-cooing child in their arms. They looked at each other in panicked confusion as others searched for exits only to burned by the tongues.

Outside the den, Redhair listened to the screams, watched the fire grow brighter, and felt no guilt.

Jan 13, 2020

Crit me daddy uwu.

Jan 13, 2020


Simply Simon posted:

Chromatic Nights
1498/1500 words

The harsh blue sunlight gave the horizon its special glow as it set, making the chromium snow sparkle. The flakes tinted heavy metal green had finished hurtling from purple clouds just an hour prior. Setting sun, retreating clouds and iridescent snow reflected in turquoise eye gems. Kraig stroked his companion gently from rear to front, up a sleek body, avoiding the connections to the six appendages that it sometimes used as legs. Krystal vibrated under his touch, and their eyes gained and lost iridescence in rhythm with his caresses. I like that you open by setting the scenery to be so alien, but I have no idea how I'm supposed to be picturing Krystal (is that the point?). It seems like an insect with the six legs but with the name all I can think of is the sexy fox from Star Fox Adventures. Is this his pet?

The perfect reward after a long day’s work in heavy snow, buffeted in his prospector suit by verdant Weird word choice here whirlwinds. Kraig had finally managed to uncover the ranger droid that had fell fallen down a cave hidden underneath a dome of potassium dichromate growths. Once the bright orange crystals had been cleared away, the droid’s antenna had sent an amazing set of data back to headquarters. Average temperatures, rare metal contents in soil, moisture levels: piece by piece, the puzzle of this planet made a coherent image. Good that you're continuing the colorful description

When he arrived here, Kraig had thought it would be one of hell frozen over This wording feels weird. I would replace 'here' with 'this world' or something. Punished with thankless slave work that might drive him mad before long, stuck alone on a wasteland of venom-green tundra for years. But Kraig had chosen this fate over one much worse. And eventually, he had found a perverse pride in his assignment, and clawed himself out of despair and depression’s depths by recognizing the alien beauty of this planet. He’d bitterly dubbed it Nyx on arrival, but when he first saw the moons reflected in the facets of Krystal’s eyes, he realized the allure of the Goddess of night, and fell in love with her. I know you're right at the word limit, but this needs elaboration. What kind of love is this, given that she's apparently an animal of some kind? 'Realized the allure' doesn't say enough

Kraig gave Krystal a final pat on their featureless head, and pulled his heavily gloved hand back into the protective sphere of his cabin. He got up from the metal folding chair he placed at the border between his and Krystal’s world every evening, and went back inside his home, a one-room cube that had assembled itself from the remains of his drop pod when he first arrived on Nyx. On the wall next to the food processor which fed him the same reconstructed gruel every day, his contract loomed. He had made some modifications. The first line took me a couple read-throughs to understand but I like the idea







I like the contract as a detail but I don't think this is a good use of your limited word count, and it doesn't explain why the alternative punishment was so much worse.

While Kraig pushed the button combination to activate the program hack he had implemented in the processor, the last number on the holopaper switched to a 4. The food machine reluctantly added lead salts, elementary vanadium and some crude oil-like substance as garnish on the second, smaller bowl of gruel. The detail that he's modded the machine is good. Makes him inventive and clever

He carried it outside to where Krystal was still waiting for their dinner. It had taken Kraig a long time to determine what his alien pet liked as a special treat, but time was the least he lacked alone on Nyx This wording is weird. Illuminated by the happily glowing eyes of his friend, Kraig ate his own dinner. He really hadn’t learned his lesson, still taking more than his share of rations. But the punishment was not about reforming people, after all. Wait he's giving her food, why shouldn't he get to keep whatever he wants? I like the line about punishment not being aimed at reforming people

In the first few months, Kraig had been tortured every night by the thought of his family falling into poverty, which would inevitably lead his wife and kids to share his fate. A choice between indentured servitude with no chance of survival, or an extremely low one. But Nyx had taken him into her embrace – Krystal was his family now. Kraig slept well these days. This is the first and last time we hear about his family. Either integrate them more in to the story or cut entirely. I'd tend to the latter.

But today, his rest was cut short by an alarm. Kraig bolted upright and was halfway into his prospector suit before he realized his error. He ran to his console and slammed the button to receive the interstellar message from company headquarters, the first in years. With the shrill demanding bleats still ringing in his ear, he listened to what the higher-ups had to tell him.

For the next hours, he sat outside, watching the smaller moon ripple slightly behind the protective field’s distortion, its pale glow flowing over the chromium snow powdered hills, false-spectrum rainbows emanating where the rays hit just right. As the moon sank and the sun rose, the hues became warmer until their contrast became almost unbearable. Then, Krystal appeared, awaiting a friendly morning greeting. But Kraig sat frozen, ungloved, their border impossible to cross.

“They will extract me early, Krystal.” His unpracticed voice sounded like a chromate avalanche. “Soon, another pod will land, and take me away, and then…”

The harsh colors pierced into his eyes and she shut them hard. When he opened them again, he could only see Krystal’s soothing glow.

“Then they’ll send ramming ships. Giant claws with gigafusion engines. They’ll push Nyx into an orbit closer to the sun. Warm it up, to prepare for terraforming. Establish a quarry, maybe even colonize it. When I left headquarters, their ecosystem was about to collapse. They must be getting a little desperate.” Digging the 'push the planet closer to the sun to warm it up' idea. "A little" seems like a weird qualifier for an ecosystem collapse, unless it's meant to be read sarcastically

Turquoise was his world. Krystal seemed to loom over him, despite being much smaller. Nice little snippet

“My data gave them what they needed. They’ll surely be grateful.” Kraig whispered the last sentence as if he was buried under meters of beautiful toxic snowflakes. This is a cool descriptor at the end but it doesn't actually tell me he feels about this. Does he know it's as delusional as it sounds?

Krystal left, unpetted.

A week of languishing later, the extraction pod landed. Kraig stared into its opening which welcomed him with the yellow light of an almost forgotten home.

He lifted his folding chair high and smashed the transmission antenna of the pod with it, preventing remote control and observation. Almost immediately, the alarm screamed for attention with a message from headquarters; Kraig squashed it the same way.


The contract kept ticking down hour by hour, week by week, reminding Kraig of the time slipping away as he worked against the thousands of engineers in headquarters. While the moons shone their light of judgment on him, he modified the pod for manual control. Hacked its close-range transmission unit with circuitry from the droid and food processor. Fortunately, Krystal didn’t come demanding food anymore. I get that he has to explain to Krystal what's happening for the ending to work, but this action doesn't make sense to me if I don't know his plan while he's doing this

One moonless night, he collapsed exhausted against the pod’s black hull, raising a lone scream against the claw hands of the company that would soon pluck this gem from the night sky. When suddenly, a turquoise glow lit up the darkness.


His friend lay in a bed of powdery chromium snow, curled up, head resting on two limbs, crystal eyes shining as bright as they could.

“Do you know what I’m doing here?”

Krystal inclined their conical head and a wave of light ran from their left eye to the right and back.

“I’ll modify the transmitter to send a scrambling signal to the ramming ships!”, Kraig yelled, his eyes aglow as well. “When they come, I’ll fly up to meet them. Tell them they are not welcome. Make them miss the target, get lost in space!”

His glow faded. He fell to his knees. “At least I’ll try. Will you help me?”

A flash of turquoise.


One night, months later, Kraig bathed in the shine of two moons and two eyes, and he saw it: two new stars, scratching a path through the firmament.
In his prospector-cum-space suit, he waded out into the chromium snow one last time, bent down and hugged Krystal with utmost care.

“I’m so sorry. I’ll try to make it right.”

He turned and ran into the pod, the turquoise glow haunting him until the yellow light drowned it when the doors closed.

And then, space. Kraig saw the ramming ships through the viewscreen, twin claws almost as big as the smaller moon, titanic hands extended towards his jewel. With a deep breath, he pushed the button to send the hacking signal.

He could almost imagine the left claw quivering a little. But they both kept going, grasping, on their inevitable way. His painful breath forced itself out, and Kraig deflated to a puddle on the floor of the pod. He had failed, and doomed Nyx, the verdant winter jewel.

Then, he noticed a light from the viewscreen. Kraig jumped up, switched off the yellow lamps, and got bathed in turquoise.

All over Nyx, islands of the shine from eye gems appeared. They grew in intensity with every second, moving together until the entire planet burned in the pastel light.

Then, a beam of it shot up, focused itself on the pod, and split in two. Suffused in its warm glow, Kraig was not blinded; he saw clearly how the twin beams met the ramming ships, but then he had to blink, and when he opened his eyes, the claws were gone.

And so was the pod. Kraig floated in the beam, beholding the sparkling planet from space, as the beam took him back down gently, sinking into Nyx’ embrace.

I think your imagery and description are all good. You've got a consistent theme with the colors and the metals/chemicals, and with the exception of Krystal I have a strong mental image of what things look like.

I can dig the idea that this guy is charmed by this colorful planet into defending it, but that idea needs more room to grow. What about it is so charming? You say he 'realizes the allure' but that's the beginning and end of it. Since this bond is what motivates him in the climax, it needs more elaboration.

Having his relationship to the planet personified (insectified?) by his relationship with Krystal is a good idea, so I'd like have seen it develop more. When we first meet him they're already chummy which feels like a lost opportunity. If his arc is about being beguiled by the planet and Krystal is the personification of that, we should see their relationship develop instead of being set from the get-go.

Him being a convict of some kind doesn't really impact his actions, so I would cut that. He could just be a regular employee doing a job. I think that'd make his decision to switch sides to Team Nyx more impactful since as it is now he has no loyalty to the people who put him there.

1,500 words is a tight limit. Getting a story that's about a developing bond between a person and a strange planet in that time is a tall order. I think that by cutting down passages that don't play up that bond you could do it.

Jan 13, 2020


Saucy_Rodent posted:


836 words

He’s running in a way that you gotta know something’s up. Night is too near for him to be running late to anything anyone would be upset about him being late to, and he’s not dressed for such an occasion anyways. It’s obvious he’s not a nighttime jogger. No, he’s clearly running for a weird reason, and the correct thing to do in any polite society is to quote a certain line from the 1994 Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump so that he can feel bad about his weird running and so that you can feel good about your own perfectly normal methods of locomotion. You're taking a long time to explain he's running in a weird way. I know it's building up to the introduction of the Raincoated Thing, so maybe this paragraph could be written from it's perspective?

A tall thing grabs him by the back of his shirt. It’s wearing a long hooded cloak of bright yellow plastic, a wide-brimmed yellow hat, hardy yellow garden gloves, and matching yellow boots. It is dressed in a perfectly ordinary outfit for such a thing to be dressed in. It hands the weird runner a post-it note that says in big letters “RUNNING ALL WEIRD.”

Now, if you are handed a Citation by a Raincoated Thing, you are supposed to post it to your forehead for the rest of the day for the benefit of your fellow citizens, then file it away in your records until you receive ten, in which case you must attend Resocialization Camp. But this young, awkward running man pushes the Raincoated Thing aside, says “gently caress off,” then continues running as weird as he was before. All the other folk on the sidewalk have never seen such a bizarre sight, and the only thing they can think to do is say, “Run Forrest, run!” at him, though the sound of a dozen people yelling that quote simultaneously is arguably weirder than the man’s running. This system is a cool concept. It's a little weird that this guy is so apparently blasé about brushing this thing off when nobody else is. I'm not in love with the Forrest Gump bit; it seems dated to me.

The Raincoated Thing calmly pulls a yellow plastic whistle from one of its many pockets. He blows it, and many more Raincoated Things emerge from the stores and restaurants and fortune-tellers.

The weird man runs into a dance club. He pushes his way through the people dancing in flashing lights. The Raincoated Things file in behind him, and the people keep dancing. There is very little a Raincoated Thing hates more than people not having fun at a place that they’re supposed to be having fun. I like this sentence a lot

The weird man looks around frantically and apparently sees what he’s been looking for, because he darts off towards a staircase. When he’s at the top, he continues to make his way through the crowd until he comes to a young woman.

“Athena!” he shouts. “I’m such an idiot. Breaking up with you was the dumbest thing I ever did.”

She sees the bright yellow cloaks of the Raincoated Things flicker in the strobelights.

“Dear God, Blake, what did you do?” she says. She takes his hand and they flee further into the crowd.

She pulls him into the women’s bathroom, where girls are doing all the normal things they’re expected to do in such a place, like using the toilets, reapplying makeup, and doing cocaine. Athena pulls Blake into a stall.

“Maybe they won’t find you here. What are they chasing you for?” she says.

“Running all weird. Look, I thought we were falling out of love, but we were just...” he starts.

“Falling into the boring routine that comes with intense familiarity?”

“Yes!” says Blake. “And it’s better that we learn how to deal with that than to throw it all away and repeat that cycle over and over.”

“Yes, I agree, I miss you too, but how are we going to escape these Raincoats?” Most of the dialogue comes off as just campy but this line doesn't feel like how people talk

The stall door is broken open. The Raincoated Thing takes out its whistle and brings it to its hood.

Athena charges the Raincoated Thing and tackles it to the floor. She grabs its whistle and tosses it to Blake. The other women in the bathroom really, really want to look, but fear Citations. Weird to me that Athena will bum rush this thing when other people won't even look at them, but it makes for a very funny picture

The Raincoated Thing starts unbuttoning its big yellow cloak. It tosses it away, revealing its many, many hidden legs, each ending in another bright yellow rubber boot. It’s arms, each carrying a pair of long scissors, bulge from its fleshy thorax. GROSS. I dig it

“We have been watching you a long time, Blake Halverson,” it snarls. “Always standing against the wall at parties, picking the labels off your beer bottles, wearing a RenFest costume out to just like, a regular bar. You have no place in this world.” Okay I laughed when I read this but this seems at odds with their roles as keepers of the peace

“His place is by me,” says Athena. She grabs the Thing’s wrist and pushes its arm back against its torso. The spiders wriggle out of the hole she punctures, and soon, it’s just a bit of fleshy skin lying in its own raincoat. Well that was weirdly easy. Where are the rest of them that came out from everywhere?

Blake and Athena collapse into each other. They’re tired of each other, bored with each other, frustrated with each other, and very much in love. If they manage to get out of this club, they’ll have to hide their love from the Raincoated Things, because love is supposed to look a certain way. They won’t be the only ones. Good that you end on your theme of the horrors of keeping up appearances

This is a great idea in a less-than-great story. I'd love to read a longer piece about how this plays out, but as it is there's just too little plot for it to grow. I'd say your humor 60% lands and 40% comes off as postmodern-but-unfunny.

Jan 13, 2020

The doctor is in

Jan 13, 2020

1719/1750 words

The cries of merchants hawking their wares and the excited haggling of buyers and sellers filled the air of the bazaar. The scents of great sacks of spices mixed with the sweat of the crowd to assault the nose. Vibrant silks from far to the east hung for all to see.

Within this din, Farrokh shouldered his way from one stall to the next, inspecting the food and arguing with sellers. All who knew him gave him a wide berth despite how tightly packed they were in the enclosed market. All those who didn’t took their cue from those who did and avoided the gruff-looking man.

Farrokh ignored them as best any self-respecting man could. He held his head high as he left the row of foodsellers and turned to a cloth merchant, pointing confidently to a bolt of tastefully patterned fabric and offering a shrewd opening bid for it.

Now the two groups began to gossip.

“Is that Farrokh? What’s he doing there?” one old woman asked her daughter. “What does a man know of cloth and sewing? Where is his wife? Where’s Yasamin?”

“Don’t you know mama? His wife has a sickness. She never goes out anymore,” the daughter answered hushed, conspiratorial tones.

“My cousin got a look at her last month. He says it’s a venereal disease he saw when he traveled to Samarkand.”

“I wonder if he has it too then…”

“He doesn’t look sick. Then again I hear they no longer share a bed.”

“Maybe it’s a punishment from God. Before she was so pretty, and so proud. Perhaps God is smiting her for such pride.”

The rampant, unfounded speculation swirled on the air from their chattering mouths to Farrokhs’ ears as he haggled with merchants. He clenched his teeth, fists tightening around the strap of his bag. Shame prickled the skin of his face.

“I heard from my sister’s friend Beeta that he’s killed her. He wants to get married again. That’s why he stares at the women so.”

“You know, I think he’s rather a handsome man. It’s a pity he’s shackled to that sickly wife of his.”

“Did you know that…”

Their petty chatter faded as Farrokh exited the bazaar down a wide alley. Around the threshold of an open door sat a few men playing at dice, smoke curling from long pipes they held in their hands. The one sitting in the position of authority smirked as Farrokh approached carrying his purchases.

“That’ll make a lovely dress! Can’t wait to see you in it,” he said, provoking laughter from his friends.

Farrokh didn’t acknowledge them and walked faster.

“Oh what’s the matter Farrokh? Feeling pent up? Is Yasamin failing that wifely duty too?” he lilted salaciously, to increased crooning from his goons. “Or is she not interested now that you’re doing woman’s work?”

Farrokh trained a fearsome glare on the men, stepping aggressively toward them and drawing up to his full imposing height so that he towered over them. “Feh, what would a layabout like you know about women, Javad? What are you good for besides gambling and smoking? No woman would have you. Any of you.”

He kicked their dice away down the alley, causing them all to flinch. He snorted and stalked away from the group, shouting “A real man does whatever needs doing” loudly so they didn’t not hear the quiver of shame in his voice.


“Farrokh, my dear! I’m so glad you’re home” called Yasamin as she hurried to greet him at the door. She embraced him tightly and he felt her ribs beneath her clothing. “I’ve been so gloomy trapped in this prison all day,” she said, gesturing to the walls. “I was worried I’d go crazy before you got home.”

“Well I’m home now,” he mumbled. She gazed up excitedly at his rugged face. He tried to focus on her elegant nose or high cheekbones but saw only her grotesque left eye staring at him, the once-white region now saturated an angry red, a sliver of milky opacity creeping up the iris.

Yasamin shied away as Farrokh bent to kiss her. “Darling please, not now, my sores hurt terribly. I have barely been eating.”

He leaned back in a huff. “Yes I can see. If you ever went outside, people would say I was starving you.”

“Then it is good I stay in here?” she asked sharply. “Where no one can point and whisper about me and how ashamed you should be of me?”

Farrokh stumbled for words. Yasamin turned away from him brusquely, snatching the sack containing his purchases. “It’s bad enough that everyone else reviles me when I go outside. I won’t suffer it in my own home from my own husband,” she said defiantly as she marched into the kitchen.

Farrokh stood still, debating whether to follow her and apologize. Once he heard the crackle of a cooking fire and the washing of rice, he decided against it, reclined onto a sofa by the window, and closed his eyes. The late afternoon heat quickly put him to sleep.


A gentle shaking awoke him. “Farrokh, my dear, I need your help in the kitchen” he heard Yasamin softly cooing. He roused himself and sat up. The sun had sunk below the horizon and night was falling fast. She was taking a long time to make dinner. With a sigh he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“What is it darling?”

Yasamin looked at him with her diseased eye. “Would you help me cut the peaches? Last time I slipped on the pit and cut my hand and it hurt so terribly” she pleaded as she cradled her left hand in her right. He thought back to last week when she had moaned endlessly about the pain the tiny cut had caused her, how she had thrust the offending hand with its disproportionate inflammation toward him and cried “Oh Farrokh it is festering. Surely it will fall off. Perhaps I should see the doctor.” He felt weary just remembering it.

Farrokh gave an exasperated sigh. “Have I married a woman who cannot cook? Must I take on this duty as well?” He meant to stop there but this hole in the dam of his patience became a geyser for his simmering resentment. The ringing of the whispered gossip in his ears drove him on. “Already I am mocked outside my home for shouldering all the duties my wife should be bearing. Now must I do this womanly work too? In my own home?” His voice had risen to a shout. “Would you have me don a veil and dance the raghs-e parcheh? Do you wish that I were a woman?”

Yasamin stood back, hand pressed to her chest and mouth agape in shock. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, turning the diseased one slick and reflective.

“Do you think I want this?” her voice quivered. “Do you think I like how they talk about me? They think I don’t hear them but I do. They say I am a worthless woman, that I cannot keep my house in order, that my husband reproaches me because I disgrace him. That he eyes other women because I cannot satisfy his desires. That I cannot bear him children.” The silence rang out deafeningly. Yasamin placed her hand over her belly. “I mourn the child who died in my belly, Farrokh. I mourn him every day. I think of his laughter, his footsteps, that we never got to hear. I know he would have been adventurous and full of sunshine, just like I was before…” she trailed off into a somber silence.

Neither spoke for a moment, Yasamin holding back tears while Farrokh looked past her into the doorway of the bedroom, where the crib he had built for their child lay in a corner out of sight. Neither could bring themselves to throw it away yet.

Finally Yasamin spoke. “We are a team, Farrokh. Your joy is my joy. Your success is my success. I want everyone to respect you. I want to be a good wife and give you many children, so everyone can see how wise a father you are.”

Farrokh took her hands in his and gazed into her diseased eye with as much love as he could manage. “Then let us make another. Let us fill this house with children!”

Yasamin smiled wanly at her husband. “Darling I want to, but I can’t right now.” She placed her hand gingerly over the hidden ulcers on her loins. “My lesions haven’t healed yet.”

Farrokh’s jaw jutted outward as he turned away, Yasamin’s hands grasping after him. The warmth of the tender moment vanished. Javad’s jeers roared in his skull. “Always you say ‘not now’. ‘Not now’ today, ‘not now’ last week, ‘not now’ this whole month! A man has needs, Yasamin. People already say I look at other women. Perhaps I should give them something to talk about.”

At this Yasamin gasped, looking betrayed. He smirked inwardly; he had the power now, and out of an abundance of frustration and a shortage of patience he chose to press his advantage.

“Besides, there is nothing good in this life bought without pain!” he proclaimed in the tone of a schoolmaster, waving his hand dismissively.

A tense moment passed in silence as the room darkened around Yasamin. “Do not dare talk to me about pain!” she bellowed suddenly with a power Farrokh did not know she had. He nearly stumbled backward from the force of it.

“My whole life is pain! Pain beyond your imagining! You think it makes me weak, but it has made me strong. I have learned to bear more than you could know. I can bear the revulsion of everyone around me. I can bear my body decaying. But I will bear you no longer.”

Yasamin had quickly donned her veil, cloak and shoes and flung open the door before Farrokh’s astonishment wore off enough for him to move. He stood in the threshold to block her exit.

“Where are you going? What will you do?”

Yasamin glared at him with her diseased eye gleaming an angry red. “I don’t know yet. I just know it will be away from you.” She pushed past him out into the warm night.

Jan 13, 2020

I'll expect my invitation in the mail

Jan 13, 2020

Consider the Sandwich
500 words

Smoke curled upward from the glowing end of the joint into the warm night air beneath the old oak as we passed it back and forth between coughs. The lights of the skyscrapers twinkled, miles away.

“D’yever hear how there’s no definition for a sandwich that makes sense when you, y’know, really dig into it?” you asked.

“What? Sure there is,” I responded, passing the joint. “It’s a loving sandwich.”

“Okay then, hit me with a definition.” More smoke wafted upward. We were the only people for miles.

“A sandwich is food between two slices of bread,” I said dismissively, taking the joint back and sucking on it. “Dude quit gumming it. This thing’s soaked.”

You pushed me playfully and I almost dropped it. “I’m not gumming it you’re gumming it. Gummummumming it. But okay okay, what about like...a whole cake between two slices of bread. You’re not gonna tell me THAT’S a sandwich are you?”

I could eat a whole cake right about now. “Okay maybe not. What about the definition in the dictionary?”

“Nah man. Me and Dr. Schwarz spent like two hours talking about this after class on Tuesday and he agrees.” You pantomimed adjusting his Coke-can glasses and mimicked his voice to say “Ze content of ze dictionary is a matter of robust debate vizzin ze linguistic community.” I laughed so hard no sound came out. “CheckMATE motherfucker. Dude’s got a PhD in philosop-, phisophilo-, philingui-”

“Dude you’re so stoned” I gasp between laughs, leaning back on the grass. “Philosophy of linguistics. Use your words bro.”

“But seriously man. Just...think about it. If there’s no agreed definition on what constitutes a sandwich, is it even a meaningful concept?”

I stared up into the night sky at the handful of stars we could see. No one else I knew asked these kinds of questions.

“And like, if something as simple as a sandwich can’t be properly defined and conceptualized, what about something more abstract? What about love, dude?”

I sat up to look at you. “What about it?” I asked, “Something up with you and Michael?”

You gazed into the distance, brow furrowed, for several seconds.

“How is love simultaneously so important and so ill-defined? Nobody can tell me what it means to love someone, and all the ‘loving’ relationships I see look completely different. If the word ‘love’ can apply to contradicting things, does it even mean anything to say you love someone? What I intend when I say ‘I love you’ might not be what the other person hears. How do I even know if I love someone if I can’t even say what love is?”

The full moon came out from behind a cloud. “I guess… you two just have to find your own definition,” I said. “I suppose in the end love is what you make it.”

We laid down onto the grass, looked up into the night, and imagined all the varieties of love life had in store for us.

Jan 13, 2020

Saucy_Rodent, your mere existence is an affront to me as a cat person. Let's brawl.

Jan 13, 2020


Jan 13, 2020

brawl against Saucy_Rodent

Big Green
1243 words

Every summer since the age of seven, Mary and Lizzy would escape from the boredom of their hometown for two weeks at Green Mountain summer camp. Green Mountain existed in a place out of time for them. The four hour drive from their hometown had become a yearly ritual of cleansing themselves of worldly worry; they’d eagerly chatter about the games they wanted to play and the hidden places they had to revisit. Most of all, they’d muse on the possibility of winning the coveted title of King of the Mountain, awarded to whichever team of campers amassed the most points in the various competitions of running, swimming, shooting, and a dozen other traditional camp pastimes.

This year, however, the ritual was unobserved. Three new faces crowded into the backseat of Mary’s parents’ car. Power couple Cedric and Tina along with aspiring quarterback Mark, all of them the cream of the middle school social hierarchy, had befriended Mary over the course of the year and she’d eagerly invited them along. They exuded the effortless cool of youths to whom puberty had been kind. Caught up in the heady thrill of being in the orbit of the cool kids, she’d neglected to ask her longtime companion her opinion before inviting them. Now the four of them gabbed away while Lizzy looked out the window in silence.

“So are the camp counselors cool? Will they care if we sneak out of the cabins at night?” Mark asked.

“Yeah just stay away from Susan and you’ll be fine”, Mary responded with the easy air of an expert.

“I heard there’s an old abandoned log cabin where some guy killed his whole family and then himself”, Tina said breathlessly.

“That’s a myth. It’s just an old house,” Mary answered.

“Well maybe the four of us should...check it out”, Cedric said, lasciviously eyeing Tina. Mark looked eagerly at Mary, who blushed at the attention and averted her eyes. In so doing she caught Lizzy’s gaze. Her old friend looked at her pitifully.

“Can...Lizzy come too?” Mary asked apprehensively.

The three cool kids looked at each other, then at her. “We’ll see”, Cedric said. None of them even looked at Lizzy, who stared back out at the window. Mary raised no further objection.

The icy car-ride set the tone for the rest of their stay. When they found a small lizard in their cabin on the first night, Lizzy made the mistake of revealing she’d always loved the little lizards and had even taken one home as a pet one year. Once she mentioned this they all started calling her Lizard, which they all thought was terribly clever.

At breakfast the next day, the tension escalated. Mary watched anxiously as Lizzy’s eyes darted around the mess hall, searching out her friend. Lizzy eagerly trotted over once she saw Mary, only to stop dead in her tracks once she saw her erstwhile friend surrounded by the three usurpers. Hesitantly, she approached.

“Hey, can I sit with y’all?” she asked. Mary winced at the uncool twang she put on the last word. The three looked up at her coldly. Mary looked down at her plate.

“Sorry Lizard, there’s no more room,” Mark said. The three spread themselves out to absorb the remaining room on the benches.

Lizzy looked at them in turn, and then at Mary, who gazed up at her old friend pleadingly but said nothing. Her bottom lip quivered. “Fine” she barked, marching away toward Kerry, José, and Luna, old camp-friends who welcomed her with open arms.

The three snickered as they watched Lizzy leave. Mary sat in silence, cursing her own cowardice.

At the end of breakfast, the lead counselor clapped her hands loudly to signal for quiet and explained the familiar rules of the King of the Mountain competition. At the conclusion of the speech, the campers darted around in search of friends they could group up with. The Three remained seated, cool and aloof as ever.

“Hey, can Lizzy be on our team?” Mary asked hesitantly.

“Nah, we don’t need her,” Cedric said dismissively.

“We’re allowed five if there’s an odd number. C’mon, she’s cool,” Mary urged.

“Look if you wanna ditch us go ahead,” Tina said.

Mary remained seated.

Over the rest of the week the competition raged. Mark and Cedric’s athleticism carried Mary and the Three to victory in the foot race, but Lizzy’s dogged determination and Tina’s fear of heights ensured Lizzy’s team won the ropes course. Back and forth, the two teams vied for dominance. Mary endured shouts of derision from Mark and Cedric when her slowness lost them the relay swim to The Losers, as they’d dubbed Lizzy and her new friends.

“I didn’t realize Jose was so fast”, Mark muttered after barely losing the obstacle course. “Maybe he’s propelled by farts from all the beans he’s eating. Dirty beaner.” The three cackled. Mary laughed hollowly along with them at this and every other mean-spirited joke, which seemed to be the only kind they made. How could such beautiful people be so cruel?

On the final day, the Losers and Mary’s team sat side by side in canoes, staring each other down, finalists in the race for the crown. Decked out in all their most colorful attire, the other campers lined the sides of the river screaming encouragement.

Mary looked over at Lizzy while the Three jostled for position. Lizzy didn’t return her gaze, instead huddling with her team. They gave a cheer and broke huddle as the lead counselor shouted through a megaphone to take their marks. Still, Cedric and Mark pushed at each other to Tina’s general disgust. Mary gripped her oar tightly.

“King of the Mountain, here I come”, she chanted to herself.

“GO!!!” boomed the counselor.

Mary rowed as fast as she could while Cedric, Mark, and Tina slashed inexpertly at the water. She could see the muscles standing out on the boys’ arms and hoped they were strong enough to overcome their ineptitude.

“Stay in sync! Stroke, stroke, stroke” Mary called rhythmically, trying to get them in a groove.

“Quit shoving!” barked Mark.

“I’m not shoving, you’re shoving!” shouted back Cedric. Neither heeded her call.

Still, she could feel them picking up speed. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Losers pulling ahead. Though they all seemed too fat or too thin for any athletic challenge, their perfect rhythm let them glide effortlessly through the water.

“We’re losing! Hurry up!” Mary shouted, voice hoarse. They were a full three-quarters of the way to the finish line.

“Quit splashing me, rear end in a top hat!” Tina spit. She pushed Cedric, who toppled forward onto Mark. Their canoe slowed to a crawl as Mary rowed for her life.

Her eyes watered as the Losers’ canoe neared the finish line. Her best chance at winning King of the Mountain was slipping away. Strangely though, no tears fell as the megaphone announced the Losers had won. Defeat didn’t taste as bitter as it had in years past. Lizzy was happier than she’d been all week. Seeing her celebrate her deserving victory with faithful friends filled Mary with a warmth that smothered the pain of losing. When Mary joined in the applause, Lizzy beamed at her.

Mark slapped the water in frustration and started, “Ugh, I can’t believe we lost to those-”

Mary cut him off by tipping the canoe sideways and sending them all into the river.

Jan 13, 2020

In with whodunit

Jan 13, 2020

Genre: whodunit

Taboo words: Detective, murder, dead, house, family, weapon, mystery, relationship, motive, library

A Most Unsavory Brood
1750 words

In a field in Northern England stands the once-lordly estate of the newly-late Harold Kingsley Devonshireson, now empty except for Audrey Bloomington, Devonshireson’s personal attorney, who waited on the lawn for the Devonshireson offspring to gather for the reading of the will.

Priscilla Cunningfort, willowy and well-dressed, arrived first. She alighted gracefully from her chauffeured luxury SUV and was halfway to the door when she turned to the car and screamed “LIAM. SYLVIA. GET OUT HERE NOW”.

An unshaven teenager in an untucked shirt fell out of the backseat, pushed by a sneering young woman who stepped out after.

“Get up, you idiot”, she hissed.

“Shuddup you watery tart”, he snapped.

The bickering children trudged sullenly as a limousine rolled up to the estate. An irritated young woman, casually dressed, got out and slammed the door shut. Edmund, Priscilla’s younger brother, stumbled out the back a with a woman in a revealing red dress.

“Dad, hurry UP”, the black-clad woman urged.

“Yes Aurora daddy’s coming just one moment sweetheart”, he replied, kissing his companion’s neck.

“Everyone can see you!” Aurora shouted. She stalked toward the others while Edmund and the woman laughed. Priscilla sneered.

Mr. Devonshireson, we’re already behind schedule,” Bloomington boomed.

“Coming!” he replied as he pushed his companion into the limo and jogged over, cheeks rosy.

“Jesus, Eddie, I can smell the whiskey from here”, Priscilla spat.

“Bite me, you shriveled handbag. I can’t bear you sober”, he shot back.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll follow me to the office, we’ll read the will”, Audrey interjected. The auspicious Devonshireson brood filed down the hall into the dusty office of the dusty mansion.

“Now, we may address the matter of inheritance”, Audrey said as she opened the document, “Thank you all for gathering on such short notice. I knew Harold for many years and he was always-”.

“A git”, Edmund slurred. “Skip to the good part.”

Priscilla sighed dramatically.

“Now don’t you start that. You hated him most”, Edmund spat.

“You’re drunk,” she said without looking at him.

“But I’m not wrong!”

“Very well!” Bloomington shouted. “I will skip my prepared remarks. I know how busy you all are”. Edmund glared at Priscilla, who looked stoically forward projecting saint-like patience. Bloomington thumbed ahead several pages and began to read. “‘I, Harold Kinsgley Devonshireson, leave my home, my assets, and all my belongings…”

Priscilla clutched at her purse. Edmund looked away in disgust. The children paid no attention.

“ my wayward son Edmund”.

The room erupted. Bloomington remained seated while Priscilla and Edmund screeched past each other. Eventually, she continued with the will and the two warring parties quieted.

“...for though he has often been led astray, he possesses a good heart. Priscilla, you have built an impressive life all on your own. It would only cheapen your accomplishments for me to lavish you with money you don’t need”.

Edmund laughed maniacally, pointing at Priscilla. “Serves you right! You’ve always been showing me up!”

“You think this was ever about YOU?” Priscilla shrieked, “I clawed my way to the top over hundreds of men better than you”.

“You don’t crush people to prove anything. You do it because you can.” Edmund hissed.

Priscilla turned to Bloomington. “Please, this must be a mistake.”

“No mistake, Mrs. Cunningfort. I notarized this document. Your father signed it in front of me. Now, if I may continue: ‘Edmund, it is my sincere hope that you will support your daughter’s ambitions, whatever form they take. I treasured my long, thoughtful conversations with her. She’s a bright young woman in search of direction, and needs your support”. Bloomington folded the document and surveyed the room. Priscilla was dumbstruck. Liam and Sylvia scrolled disinterestedly on their phones. Edmund chuckled to himself while Aurora tugged at his sleeve excitedly.

“Dad did you hear that? Grandpa would have wanted me to go to the Royal College of Art!” Aurora whispered eagerly.

Edmund snorted. “He most certainly would not. Mixing with the lower classes?” He paused to belch noisily. “He would roll over in his grave. No, we shall hear no more of this”.

Aurora stood up angrily. “How can you be this way? Why can’t you let me live my own life?”

Edmund scoffed. “I’m doing you a favor! Now shut up!”

Aurora ran crying from the room. Edmund produced a flask from his jacket and took a healthy swig.

“You’re a brute and a monster”, Priscilla sneered.

“I don’t see you helping her”, Edmund shot back. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be upstairs surveying my haul.” He smiled at everyone, to no response. “You all have ten minutes to get the hell off my property”. He drained the flask and stumbled up the stairs.

“This is booooooring”, Liam whined.

“Yeah, the wifi suuuuucks”, Sylvia groaned.

“You ungrateful swine don’t even know what’s going on here, do you?” Priscilla screamed.

“Duhhh, we didn’t get anything. Who cares? Lighten up, Mom”, Liam said dismissively.

“LIGHTEN UP?!” Priscilla shreaked. “This is about respect, you nitwits! I earned this!”

“Shut up!” Edmund shouted from upstairs.

Priscilla inhaled, held it for a moment, and exhaled. “I will have a word with Edmund, and then we will leave”, she muttered, and left swiftly. Bloomington began collecting her documents.

“Ugh, finally!” Sylvia whined, alighting from her seat. “Shall we ditch Mom at the airport and go to Nice?”

“Sorry Sis, Cunninfort Strategies isn’t going to run itself,” Liam answered.

“Is that what you’re calling yourselves? Did Cunningfort Bitcoin Scam not sell?”

“Shut it you lazy-”

Bloomington was almost grateful for the thump and scream from upstairs. She dashed toward the sound while the children followed excitedly.

“Do you think someone’s been offed?” Liam asked.

“Oh I do hope so!” Sylvia chirped.

Bloomington crested the stairs and burst into the room to see Edmund’s bloody corpse contorted before a desk. A hefty-looking statue of a hawk, splattered with blood, lay beside him. The screaming came from Priscilla, who was standing just inside the door, finger pointed at Aurora, who stared at the body of her father in shock.

“She’s killed Edmund!” Priscilla screamed.

“No! I just found him like this! It must have been her!” Aurora pleaded.

“Lies! I saw it all!! Take her away!” Priscilla screamed as she swiped Liam’s phone from his hand. “Hello? 999? There’s been a killing! Hurry!!” She eagerly gave the address while Aurora watched helplessly. Then Priscilla whirled on Bloomington and bore down on her with ravenous intent. “Edmund’s snuffed it. His money should go to her but she can’t profit from her own crime, right? That means it’s ours, right? Right??”

Bloomington saw that Edmund’s arm seemed to be reaching toward a drawer. “I think it’s best if we let the police determine what happened. Take Aurora downstairs and keep an eye on her. We don’t want her contaminating the scene. Besides, you’ll need to plan your statement to the police,” Bloomington urged. Priscilla frowned, but obeyed and led the children and Aurora away.

Bloomington hurriedly slid the drawer open, revealing a single folded paper. She read the contents, thought for a moment, and joined the others downstairs.

“It appears Mr. Devonshireson amended his will,” Bloomington announced, “It is surprising he did not file it with my office, but it is notarized and, therefore, a legal document”.

“Well what does it say, drat you!” Priscilla shouted.

Bloomington’s eye twitched as she unfolded the paper. “Addendum: in the event that Edmund predeceases me, one third of his share should pass to his daughter Aurora. The remaining two thirds will be split between Liam and Sylvia, on the condition that they share none of it with their mother.”

“WHAT? Why?” shrieked Priscilla, Liam and Sylvia in perfect unison.

“HA! Now I can finally get my startup off the ground! First we’ll need a new office. With beer on tap. And loads of sexy secretaries!” Liam cheered.

“HA! Now I can finally get my fashion line off the ground! First I’ll need a sweatshop in China. No, Bangladesh! And loads of sexy models!” Sylvia cheered.

“Bloomington, do something, you useless moron!” Priscilla screamed.

“I’m dreadfully sorry, but my hands are tied”, Bloomington responded, feeling a headache coming on.

Priscilla approached her children, hands upturned. “Sweethearts, darlings, you wouldn’t leave your mummy out in the cold like this, would you?”, she pleaded.

“Bit me, you shriveled handbag!” they shouted in unison.

Priscilla’s eyes flared. “I didn’t smash Edmund’s brains in for you two ingrates to get everything!” She produced a knife from her sleeve and plunged it into Sylvia’s abdomen. Sylvia fell to the floor, blood gushing from the wound.

“Mom! What the hell! Severely uncool!” Liam shouted, snapping a pic of his dying sister.

“SHUT UP!” Priscilla screamed as she sliced his neck open. He fell lifeless to the ground.

In the distance, police sirens sounded. Priscilla surveyed the results of her frenzy. “My god, I’ll never survive in jail! What have I done?!”

She swallowed gravely, and tried to jab herself in the heart, but the blade stuck between her ribs.

“Ow gently caress, ow motherfucker.”

She twisted the blade back and forth until, finally, she found a proper angle. “Ah, there it goes”, she muttered, before collapsing on the floor.

Bloomington gaped in silence as the police rushed in. She answered questions as best she could as the officers carted the bodies away. Soon she and Aurora were alone again. She looked down at the document in her hand, which she’d been unconsciously gripping throughout the bizarre melodrama. Now something about it seemed off. She’d handled hundreds of wills in her time as a lawyer. This one was wrong. She scrutinized the paper until it dawned on her, clear as day: the notary stamp had smeared in an unusual way. It might smudge or blur, but it never smeared like this. It hadn’t been stamped at all. It had been forged by a sure-handed artist.

“You’ll never be able to prove it”, Aurora said quietly.

Bloomington paused, thinking. “Prove what?” she asked.

Aurora chuckled. “Since the supposed witness to my alleged crime has chuffed it, I get everything as next of kin. What a pity. Liam and Sylvia were so young! So much potential!” she laughed.

“You killed Edmund”, Bloomington said.

That is a serious allegation! I hope you have proof”, she chirped.

“How’d you know they’d react like that? Moreover, why? It would have been all yours someday anyway,” Bloomington asked.

Aurora smirked. “Simple: because they were diiiiiiiiiiicks”.

Jan 13, 2020

In, item plz.

Jan 13, 2020

A Rich Tapestry
Object: Needle

791 words

“Stop! Thief!” yelled the bald man as he chased the offending teenager down the sidewalk, sweating and panting as he lunged after the nimble kid who laughed with frantic glee, the box of ice cream sandwiches tucked under his arm.

A lonely woman across the street looked up from her phone to rubberneck at the scene and bumped into a well-dressed lady. She blushed as she stuttered out an apology. The well-dressed lady smiled back and told her it was fine, and the lonely woman felt less lonely.

“Lookin’ good sweethearts!” a man yelled from a passing car as he flicked his lit cigarette butt out the window. He accelerated to shoot a gap between two cars ahead of him and passed them by amidst a cacophony of honking, which he drowned by turning up the radio.

From across the country a DJ hammed it up in between tracks before introducing this week’s hottest single and dropping the needle onto the vinyl. The needle pulled life from the lifeless disc and sent it screaming up the radio antenna to be flung into the world.

The song blared out of cheap speakers into the frat house as the shy kids guzzled drinks, standing with their backs to the wall in silence, each waiting for another to initiate. They watched the beautiful kids dance and entwine, unburdened by self-consciousness. The growing line for the bathroom grew irate as a freshman vomited the last fluids from her stomach into the bowl.

The vibrations pounded up to the roof, where a pair of young strangers shared realizations they didn’t yet know everyone had sooner or later; they’d fallen in love with an ideal they’d constructed instead of the person themself, or seen their mom crying when she thought everyone was sleep and it dawned on them how terribly human she’d always been, or they’d learned that nobody was born special. Then they looked out onto the neo-gothic buildings of the campus, and beyond into the endless forest of pine.

Out in the forest, a man trudged through the snow, hugging his jacket tight to him. His daughter waddled along behind, layered so heavily in coats and scarves that she could barely move.

“I’m running out of patience. Just pick a tree so we can go back. It’s getting dark,” he said.

“DAAAaaaAAAd we have to get the right treeEEEeee,” she whined.

“We’ve been out here for an hour”, he barked. ”These look just like the trees we saw half an hour ago, which look just like the ones outside our door. This is wasting my time. You have sixty seconds to pick one from what we can see here and then we’re going back,” he said.

The girl began to cry.

“Now cut that out.”

The crying continued.

“Now sweetheart, what’s the matter? Any one of these would look great,” he said, his tone wheedling and supplicative.

“It’s not that,” she said between sniffs. “I don’t wanna go home yet.” The man knelt to her level. “I didn’t pick moving here, I didn’t pick my new school, I don’t get to pick anything!” she said, building up another sob. “So I really like getting to pick the tree.”

The man hugged her. “Would you like to pick a movie when we get back? And then maybe you can pick a cookie. We’ll even let you pick a present to open Christmas Eve. How does that sound?” he asked.

She wiped away tears and snot with the back of her mitten, where they congealed and froze. “Yeah, I guess,” she mumbled.

The man’s mouth twisted indecisively. “And...we can keep looking,” he said.

“Yay!” she squealed before waddling over to the nearest tree. “One of these will probably work…” she said. The man suppressed a groan. “Dad, do you know the most important thing to look for in a tree?” she asked.

“It’s gotta be full and symmetrical?” he ventured.

“Well, yeah… but after that!”

“No, tell me,” he said as he sat down.

“Well!” she said with pedagogical flourish, “You gotta make sure the needles aren’t gonna fall off.” She grabbed the trunk and shook as hard as her little arms would allow. Snow tumbled from precarious balances amidst a mild sprinkle of needles.

“See, we can’t take that one. All the needles will fall off!” she said.

One by one, she shook all the trees in the vicinity. Each one gave up at least a few needles. The man grew fidgety as she approached the last untested tree.

“I hope this one works,” the girl said.

The man winced but said nothing.

She touched the trunk and gave it the gentlest tug. No needle fell from the branches.

“This one’s perfect,” she said, smiling.

Jan 13, 2020

In, Die Hard.


Jan 13, 2020

We’re All Staying Late
Word Count: 997
Beloved Movie: Die Hard

Maria’s eyes darted frantically from the guns to the faces of the men brandishing them. She reflexively held up her hands and tried to look unimportant. All around her, nervous coworkers likewise attempted to avoid provoking a reaction from these men who had corralled them all into the center of Nakatomi Plaza. Her mind raced: who were they? What did they want? Was she going to die here?

“Now everyone, let’s try to remain calm,” her manager Carl droned from behind her. She turned to see him standing by the fountain, hands up as if to quell a rambunctious budget meeting. “We’ve clearly been taken hostage,” he continued, sending a nervous murmur through the small band of Maria’s coworkers encircling him. “There’s no need to panic. If they were just going to kill us they’d have done so already. Let’s all try to stay calm. The police will be on their way, and they’ll negotiate for our release. They have every reason to keep us alive.”

Maria put her hands down. That made sense enough.

“In fact, I think it would be best if we used this time productively. Don’t forget, we have end-of-year reports to file with New York. They’re allocating annual advertising funding January 5th. And we all know how Steve hates being unprepared for a meeting.” A couple people audibly chuckled.

Huh?? Maria gaped up at Carl, who stared back with his dull, I-will-wear-you-down look that had haunted her every Friday 5pm meeting he’d ever called at 4pm because he “needed to go over a few things”. You motherf-

Jerry sat down, pulled budget projections from his briefcase, and began scanning them, making notes with a pen. Estelle turned to George and asked about supply chain management in South Korea. All around Maria, her coworkers resumed what they had been doing 15 minutes ago. She pushed her way to the fountain.

“What the hell Carl?” she blurted out without a follow-up in mind.

His dull eyes trained on her and he held up a thick folder. “Oh Maria, could you look over these sales repor-” She smacked the folder out of his hands.

“No! Wha-... What are you THINKING?” she shrieked.

He blinked slowly. “I’m thinking that Steve and Charlotte are going to be up a creek if they don’t have those growth projections in time for the 5th,” he said in the same bored monotone she’d heard him speak in for what she was realizing was seven years. Seven years of listening to this man ask for growth projections…

“We’re up a creek now! Jesus Carl I need to call my husband and my kids. Oh my God, they’re probably watching this on the news! Where’s Ellis and that goddamn cellular phone he’s so proud of?” She whirled around as the tension vanished and it became pre-Christmas crunch time again. No Ellis.

Nerves trembling, she approached the gunmen, who went from grim-faced to snarling.

“Please! I need a phone! I need to talk to my family!” she begged.

“Sie können das Telefon nicht benutzen! Kommen Sie zurück mit den anderen!” he barked.

Maria retreated, eyes watering. Marcus was going to college in September and still needed someone to help him structure his classes to graduate on time with a good major. Who would help Alysha struggle through math homework? She’d fallen into the remedial track and after 8th grade they lock you in. Dominic would never know about the abortion. Her mom was slowing down and would she need a full-time nurse or would she need a nursing home so many of those places are so terrible...

There was so much left to do, so many words left unsaid to so many people she loved and used to love. So many plans planned and set aside for Another Day, when this rough quarter is over, when she finally got promoted to regional, when she finally secured the Johnson account, when the goddamn Becker lawsuit was over.

All the inhibitors that loomed so large at the time dwindled to nothing next to the yawning chasm in the family that would be left behind. She looked down at her hands; they were so much older now. How did it all happen so fast?

“Ah, there you are. Maria I’m serious if we don’t get these numbers to Steve by end of day he’s-”

With a shriek she shoved him backward, not hard, but hard enough that he stumbled. Hard enough that the knee-high lip of the fountain caught him, and he flailed blindly behind for something to grab. His bovine eyes went wide that’s the most alive he’s ever looked and he pitched backward with a splash, then a thud.

Maria shuffled forward and saw blood leaking out of the back of his head, where it had crashed into a pointless step in the tile of the fountain bottom. His face was three inches below the surface of the water. Bubbles emanated from his twitching mouth. He convulsed as he sucked in water, gasping for breath. The hands twitched, the eyes bulged to bursting, and then he went still. It all happened so fast.

“Wir brauchen ihn nicht, oder?” one gunman asked the other as he pulled out a cigarette.

“Wir haben noch 40. Es wird uns gut gehen,” his partner asked, lighting it for him.

Everyone around her watched the blood pour out of the corpse she’d made, to be sucked into the vents and regurgitated out of the spout in a ghoulish shower. The crowd turned their eyes to her. Maria searched for the words to explain herself, but none came out. What have I done?

“Oh great, thanks Maria. Now who’s gonna negotiate with Phoenix?” Jim asked.

“poo poo, who else on the 14th floor can get me a meeting with Alex?” Tyler muttered.

“You couldn’t have done this last week? I thought that contract would NEVER get signed!” Kayla shouted.

A hearty laugh went through the room. The pace of work redoubled.

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