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Jan 27, 2006



Jan 27, 2006

The Thing About That Guy in the Tux
(500 words)

Billy was our go-to accomplice. Needed help hiding kegs for Winter Break? Billy was glad to move them for ya. You wanna superglue a teacher’s eraser to the chalk tray? Billy would run interference. Dosing a mascot’s Gatorade with laxatives? You get the idea. So junior year, when I asked Billy if he’d help me throw an in-class barbeque at the Calculus Exam, I knew it was good as done.

Here’s how we did it: my backpack held condiments, soda, and two George Foreman grills. Billy’s had raw meat, icepacks, buns, and cheddar. Like with any other exam, all backpacks went under our desks. But I’d grabbed a spot so close to an outlet, I managed to preheat the grills, plugging them in while making like I was lacing up my shoes.

Billy and I powered through the exam. When it got to about an hour left, we nodded at each other from across the room, walked our backpacks to the classroom’s rear, and dumped our barbeque stuff onto a table.

Luckily it was Mr. Divorski proctoring; we were pretty sure he couldn’t stop us. When he saw what we were doing, he stood up, tugged the bottom of his sweater vest and said, “Young, men? EXCUUUSEE ME.”

And Billy was all, “‘Eyy, Divorski, how d'ya like your burgers?”

So we stuffed various meats into the grills. The class looked on, stunned. But soon as the barbeque smell filled the classroom, people were fixing to get some.

Meanwhile Divorski was stomping his feet, appealing to our good reason, saying, “I doooon’t think you gentlemen are certified for food service in schoool.” Then Billy pointed out his fly was down, so Divorski got all red-faced and excused himself to the bathroom. He even took a hall pass on the way out.

The few remaining exam-takers cheated in Divorski’s absence and everybody else got fed. Random faculty in the hallway were asking “what smells so good on this floor?” We even invited a hall monitor to try a sloppy joe.

Anyhow, the next day we were getting blistered in Principal Schalot’s office when Billy offered to take full responsibility. Now remember, the whole thing was my idea. Billy could’ve ratted me out for leniency. Instead he took it all upon himself, facing possible suspension and everything. I came clean to Schalot regardless, but Billy wasn’t having it. He insisted he’d made me do it. Ended up we just got mandatory cafeteria service. Under his breath, Schalot even praised Billy’s sense of loyalty.

Everybody knows Billy’s made some oddball decisions over the years, but one thing that’s still true about him is the loyalty. Doesn’t matter who he’s with, he’s ready to sacrifice for them. That goes for me, for his family, and lately for father-of-the-bride and all-around good sport, Mr. Divorski himself. And in case you’re wondering, any barbeque we went and served in the cafeteria never saw the inside of a backpack.

Jan 27, 2006

In with My Hero, Zero.

Jan 27, 2006

Prompt: My Hero, Zero

10^0: Orange Goop and Solipsism Too
(700 words)

I’m not gonna saddle you with backstory. Basically, some dirt got turned to orange goop, and now my best friend Andre’s drowning in it.

It’s bad enough trying to Baywatch your friend out of goop, but when a crowd forms to try and “help,” it becomes a disaster. The thing about orange goop is it responds to vibration: land on it just right and it bounces you like a trampoline. Hit it wrong and it expands by an order of magnitude. That makes a problem out of a crowd, however well-meaning they may be.

So Andre’s flailing around in ten square feet of goop. I’m bouncing in it, trying to fish him out, when one of the slack-jawed onlookers loses track of his kid, who touches his foot to the edge of the goop. Next thing you know, we’re all flung far back and the goop expands to 100 by 100 feet.

“Don’t touch the goop!” I yell.

Then I bounce my way to Andre, who is neck-deep in the orange mass’s center.

“Save yourself,” he says. “There’s no way you can keep timing your jumps right. You’ll get caught like me.”

“Bullshit,” I tell him. I land right next to Andre’s head, grab him by the hair and aggressively bounce straight up. Apparently this is uncomfortable for him, because he’s yelling kind of a lot. But so long as I hold onto him, that doesn’t matter.

Well the crowd is still stupid so they’re touching the goop. A fifty-foot span away from firm ground becomes a 500 foot one, then a 5000 foot one, then a 50,000 foot one.

It’s at this point I realize I’m a Boltzmann brain.

You have to face it: things just used to make more sense than this. When I was a kid people could believe in things. Church, school, neighbors, society. Now nothing works, nothing matters, everything under the sun is a wreck, and I’m carefully timing jumps so my best friend and I don’t die in a bunch of goop.

I drop Andre.

“None of this is real,” I say, just kind of bouncing there.

I know the universe (so far as I construe it) expands at a scale that puts orange goop to shame. I know radiation from the vast cosmological horizon pours into empty space, causing the spontaneous generation of matter. I know that across all that space and time, there is ample opportunity for complex matter to manifest, however briefly, including a brain complete with thoughts, memories, and perceptions—even ridiculous ones. I know that this world is so absurd, and I’m here perceiving it. So, I must be that brain floating in space. Life is an illusion, and only I exist.

That’s when I start to concentrate. Hard.

I focus on what’s actually real. I shift my perception such that I can home in on the instantaneous Being that is my Boltzmann brain. There I am now, mere instants from death in the interstellar base reality. I feel my undulated surface losing heat. I feel my medulla drift in zero gravity. I feel…another brain?

In the moment before I am undone, the contours of my cortex brush against another squishy undulated surface. It’s just like mine! The odds are staggering…unless…the frequency of Boltzmann brain generation is drastically greater than I had thought. I’m talking many, many orders of magnitude. If I can actually bump into another one in the vacuum of space, the universe is bound to be chock full of Boltzmann brains!

Think of the implications. Across space and time the spontaneous generation of that many brains must give rise to countless memories, perceptions, and experiences—so many in fact, that by chance some must perceive a reality that accords with what would be the subjective experience of the illusory people I perceive in my everyday life. That makes them as good as real…

So I pick up Andre. This world is crazy. But somewhere there is a brain perceiving it from his perspective. I will bounce him across this vast expanse. This absurdity matters, and so does everyone who has to live it.

Jan 27, 2006

In. I request a heart's desire.

Jan 27, 2006

The Taste is Divine
(1140 words)

Despite what the edgy teenage internet trolls claim, the Hindu god Shiva did not taste like curry. In truth, He tasted like peach cobbler. But the Hindus weren’t aware of that when altogether they lost their faith, and by then, they wouldn’t have cared much about any of their pantheon’s flavors.

A few months later, Christianity became a three-course Sunday brunch. The Holy Trinity tasted like a western omelet, pancakes, and banana porridge. Thus, congregations shuffled in place, church choirs gulped mid-hymn, Creed cover bands assumed a nonbeliever’s aversion to the sound, and organists everywhere rested their wrinkled, bony hands.

The Orthodox Patriarch, Igor Ivanovich, felt his faith get sucked from his heart as if The Devil himself had worked it up a clumsy paper straw. Despite wanting badly still to believe, Igor instead abdicated his holy seat and converted to The Church of Satan. He did so because in the absence of his god, his god’s adversary became the next closest thing. He also reasoned that if it were indeed Satan who had snatched up his faith, surely the dark lord had some kind of finders’ rights to it.

The conversion, however, lasted for three months. Satan had a smooth mouthfeel and tasted of peppermint. Hence, his congregations disbanded, and what formalized meeting places they had quickly fell into disrepair.

So, Igor Ivanovich, very much unemployed and praying to a hobbled-together rotation of gods, weighed his options. He considered a life of conartistry. It wouldn't fulfill him, but it would pay the bills. He thought he might try a ghost hunting scam, and he even went so far as to order bogus paranormal investigative gear. But wracked with guilt, Igor changed his mind. He would hew the straight and narrow path instead.

That night, Hestia, Greek goddess of hearth and home, came up in the prayer rotation. After reciting some all-too-hollow verses to her, Igor attempted to sleep. But he tossed and turned in bed. Eventually, he sat up in bed, and rubbed his eyes in frustration. When he opened them, he found himself in a booth at a nearly-deserted small-town diner.

A waitress appeared.

“You have to stop praying to me,” she said.

Igor looked her over. Her nametag read “Hestia.”

“Stop praying to you? Never,” said Igor. “I lost my own god. Now I worship new ones.”

“They aren’t lost,” said Hestia. “They’ve been consumed. They are gone, but not digested.”

Igor turned up his nose. “I am content to pray to you then.”

A moment later, Hestia narrowed her gaze at Igor, and the former Patriarch began to feel pressure building behind his eyes, above his hips, and below his sternum.

“When I tell you to stop something, you will stop it. Otherwise I will pop you like a grape,” said Hestia. “Your worship puts me at risk. I am safe when I am inconspicuous, but if I attract the wrong attention, especially as the object of prayer, I am liable to get eaten.”

“Pop me,” Igor said. “There is no longer respite for my soul in this world.”

Hestia popped him.

Then she bent down and carefully scrutinized his brain splatter. Next, she put him back together and said, “If you’re this pig-headed, you might be of use to me. I have read it in your brain that you ordered some paranormal investigative equipment. I want you to use it.”

“Use it how?” asked Igor.

Hestia said nothing. Igor blinked. He was back in his bed.

For the next several days, Igor let a nihilistic anguish wash over him. He felt tormented from the separation from what had been the richest part of his life, so he waxed nostalgic about his years in the seminary to anyone who would listen. Few took interest.

Then Igor received his packages: an ectoplasmometer and a small, portable television screen for detecting EM interference. Using this gear, Igor charted the variance in detectable paranormal activity. After many days, he noticed a large spike occurring exactly three months from when he’d lost his faith in Satan. This one precipitated the loss of the Navajo Sun God.

Baked beans.

In advance of the following spike, three months after that, Igor packed a thermos and his paranormal detection gear. With the strength of paranormal signals to guide him, Igor traveled internationally to their source. At last he came to the Argonne Forest.

It was early morning when he arrived. Igor scanned the woods, yard by yard, until his screen began markedly to flicker. The signal led him to a grove of trees encircling a spiral stone staircase built into the ground. Igor took the stairs down and entered an underground corridor lit only by the white-snow of his blinking portable screen.

At the end of the corridor there was an albino frog the size of a Humvee. Its voice was dual layered, thin and nasally, yet rumbling and resonant. Its tone was incensed and sorrowful in unison.

“The time of the feeding is nigh. Choose your sacrifice.”

Igor said nothing.

The frog sniffed. “I smell Hestia on you. She will make a suitable meal.” Its tongue lashed out; Igor dove under it while it reached its way out of the corridor.

“Wait!” yelled Igor. “I’ve got something much tastier than Hestia.”

The frog retracted its tongue.

Igor pulled a cylindrical object from his pack. “Try what I have in this thermos,” he said. “It’s the most savory thing you’ll ever taste.”

The frog hesitated before saying, “It is unsuitable.”

“No, no,” said Igor. “It’s highly suitable. The taste is sublime, worthy of worship even!”

Igor prostrated himself and began worshiping the thermos, praising it with bass-voiced holy vespers, ornamented with florid warbles of the throat.

The frog lapped the thermos into its mouth. In mere minutes, it began to projectile vomit. Out shot The Sun God, Satan, The Holy Trinity, and Shiva, in that order. The frog gurgled in two pitches at once while it writhed and spewed. Igor and the gods fled to the stairs while the corridor began to flood with stomach acid.

Once above ground, Jesus ran for the treeline while The Sun God, Shiva, and God the Father worked together to seal the staircase shut.

“I suspect the frog will drown,” said Shiva, folding each set of his arms.

Satan and The Holy Spirit shot each other a look, then nodded and parted ways.

Igor approached God the Father and chuckled, “You know, I never thought I’d resort to worshipping ipecac.”

“I will not forgive the blasphemy,” He said.

Igor let his jaw go all-the-way slack.

God the Father belly-laughed. “Just kidding.”

And so it was that millions of worldwide faithful enjoyed a revival of their lost faiths. Meanwhile, Igor pursued a career as a theologian at seminary, gleeful at long last that his soul had found its respite.

Jan 27, 2006

In, flash

Jan 27, 2006

Whatever Happened to the Maintenance Guy?
(730 words)

I have one beard, red, and one tail, black-and-tan. My skin is freckled and pink. My underbelly is also pink, albeit unfreckled. It is warmed by lilac crochet complete with the VoidTower logo.

Before the operation, I maintained this entire high rise. But automation struck, and there was no longer a need for maintenance men.

Now I am a mascot, a she-dog, a human head grafted to a dachshund's body. A am the union of bitch and man. My heart knots and denizens unwind; I am at once their salve and their entertainment.

The AI who operated on me could not have known most denizens would find me creepy. It was, after all, just a two-hour-old baby. That’s why VoidTower mitigated the problem by installing a Peacemaker gadget. With a contortion of my little heart muscle and the calming field that reaches from it, all around me are at ease.

How may I serve you? Allow me, I beg. I need your joy; yours is all I have. There now, doesn’t that feel—


But now the blast walls rise and klaxon pierces our ears. The tower is in lockdown and the denizens grow agitated. I don’t care what caused it; I will make it stop. My denizens will be calm.

Memories of the old life spring forth: piping, wiring, greenhouse conservatories, power grids, security panels. Aha! The lockdown mechanism is on the rooftop Observation Deck. If I am to calm my denizens, that’s where I’ll need to go.

If there is a single benefit to being a canine-bodied mascot, it’s having total access throughout the building. Granted, I’d had that when I was doing maintenance too, but now I use the doggy doors, and I'm the only intelligent creature here who can do so. I set forth to skitter through corridors and hop through flaps. When I get to the service elevator, I press my nose to a ground-level panel to bring it back on line. Whenever I use my nose to press buttons, I yearn for my hands. They were hands that hated: hated punching in, plunging toilets for dipshit residents, running pipe and wire everyplace. I especially hated shaking hands with my smarmy bosses. But I’d loved with those hands too, and in any case they were mine.

The elevator opens to The Observation Deck, where there are unconscious bodies everyplace. I scamper towards the security zone when one woman on the ground breaks into a seizure. I suspect her body is trying to resist whichever security measures are keeping her unconscious. I knot my heart and releasing the calming waves.

“There, there. This will all be over soon.”

She becalms.

I canter into the security zone. Sitting there, operating the panels with my hands, is the chief of security: a female dachshund head grafted onto a human body. She turns her neck toward me. Her mouth stays shut while she speaks through the electronic voice modulator protruding from her throat.

“I knew you’d come.”

“Why'd you put the building in lockdown?”

“To make it impossible for you to leave the tower. I’ve decided I want to keep you up here. As a pet.”

She stands up and begins to lumber toward me. My strong and healthy body has become her splotchy and pudgy one. (Does she not care about it at all? Clearly she has taken great lengths to mistreat it). It jiggles as it moves.

I will need to pacify her, then jump up onto her station and disengage the lockdown. I knot my heart, and the calming waves sway forth. But she knots hers as well. My calming waves crash against her intimidating ones.

This is madness, I think. And for a moment I contemplate acquiescing to being her personal pet. But I cannot. I know she will treat me the way she treats my former body. So I knot my heart harder to counteract hers.

When voluntary, hate is much stronger than love. I learned that it in my miserable VoidTower job before the procedure. But now that it's compulsory, my loving waves seem equal to her hateful ones.

We intensify our opposing concentrations. At last our hearts give out at once. It will fall to a denizen to end this lockdown and bring calm back to the tower. I have failed them all.

Jan 27, 2006

In :toxx:


Jan 27, 2006

Whatever this week is I would like to judge it.

Jan 27, 2006

Here is a temporary link to the discord.

Jan 27, 2006

Crits for Week #410, The De Facto Erotica Week

I can’t speak for the other judges, but since the crowd in its collective wisdom decided to make this an erotica week, nobody lost points from me just for writing smut. Some of it I actually found light-hearted.

1. Yoruichi — All You Need Is Love (And A Spaceship)

- Not thrilled with the title.

- Ah, a story that takes place in the Spaceman Jim Extended Universe.

- The humor is welcome. You’ve got the narrator, in her attire, standing next to a wrecked spaceship in a paddock. The silly premise and amusing images somehow work.

- The “hot” double entendre is cliché.

- Overall, the story is fun and light.

- Despite your having tacked on an epilogue, the story is too much a vignette. You missed an opportunity to add in more plot, especially given the lack of a max word count this week.

2. Simply Simon — The Game of Telephonesex

- You know, underneath the smut there is a poignant story here. So many couples struggle with how to maintain intimacy in LDRs, and you’ve managed to portray that struggle in a relatable way, from the alienation and longing, to the dissatisfaction with conventional phone sex, to anxieties over readjusting to your partner when finally you meet irl again.

- Admittedly, the humor is sophomoric, with language like “nubile harem” and “virgin anus”. I can see how some judges might’ve been put off by that or considered it to detract overmuch from the story. Personally I considered it all in the tongue-in-cheek manner in which you seem to have intended it.

- The narrator is pretty relatable. The characterization really makes us invest in what happens to him. He deeply loves his partner, he has intimate needs and anxieties, he experiences all-too-human jealousy. Often, self-insert narrators lack characterization, since authors already know themselves and may imagine themselves to be inherently interesting right from jump. Congrats on avoiding that trap.

- As the story went on, I began genuinely to worry about how or even whether the couple would be able to continue as an irl partnership. How can they compete with a machine-learned mechanism for satisfying each other? I think you solved the problem in a relatively mature way, in both senses of that word. By realizing that Alex is not a threat to their relationship, they can do the mature adult thing and find ways to incorporate their Alex-assisted sex life into their genuine loving partnership. They can ease back into their old passion, and have no need to “optimize” their sex in the first place. Really smart ending.

- Consider sebmojo’s story, as a contrast. The pair in that tale cannot maintain their passion, since it’s never as good as it was on the rocket ship. Your couple has overcome this challenge in a meaningful way.

3. Something Else — A Letter from the Moon

- The main problem with your story is it’s a tale about a moon base guy finding some space to masturbate. I don’t knock your story for the mere presence of erotica per se, but how could a story like this not lose?

- The epistolary style didn't quite work. The prose is written not so much like a real 19th century love-letter but like a modern try-hard attempt to mimic that style. And in service to what? It was lewd, but in an uninteresting way. The story was neither fun, nor filled with pathos, nor particularly resonant at all. It fell flat I’m afraid.

4. Thranguy — Superposition

- This story seems to be the best fit with the prompt this week, albeit that the prompt is worded in a confusing manner.

- The story has some clear strengths. The premise is good, the concepts are interesting. You’ve put Niven’s Law to good use, and it’s a nice touch that the narrator experiences the other timelines as Mandela Effects. I like what the narrator being in superposition at all implies about his future self’s role in the temporal struggle. There is a lot to like about the story’s message, including the comparability of personal and collective regrets, the purpose of negative events, and how if people actually saw the counterfactuals for the events they regret, they might have a different perspective on them. The structure and pacing are pretty good.

- The story reminds me in a good way of the Voyager episode “Year of Hell” and The Next Generation episode “Tapestry”.

- The story has some definite weaknesses, and might not have won if there’d been greater participation and fewer violations of the thread’s OP among your peers. I definitely didn't get a strong enough sense of the narrator as a character. I want to know much more about the type of person he is at his core, both within and across timelines. I also think fleshing out certain timelines more would have improved the story, making it come to life even more and giving you great opportunities for characterization. It might be wise to pare some timelines down and expand others. I genuinely think you can do that while maintaining good pacing.

- While I have you here, would you consider finishing your Week #379 crits, or linking if you’ve already posted them?

5. Mercedes — The Archivist

- I enjoyed reading this. I thought the self-aggrandizement was funny and so were the spoiler tags.

- The story does come across as a little trollish. Although I had fun reading it, and I suspect you had fun writing it, it’s a shame that the story doesn’t stand on its own. That is, part of why I like it depends on it being a quintessential merc story in a long history of such stories.

6. Anomalous Blowout — On a Long Enough Timeline

- The prose is nice and smooth.

- There isn’t much mystery or surprise or tension to propel the reader forward.

- The worldbuilding feels real. One strength of the story is its setting.

- This story could have benefitted from conflict. As is, it’s 1680 words to say ‘character saw cool thing.’ And it is indeed cool. The imagery is nice. But it’s not quite satisfying enough on its own.

7. sebmojo — Catastrophic Re-entry

- So here we have the second of two erotic Spaceman Jim stories this week.

- Like rat-born, at first I thought the antecedent of “he” in paragraph two was “ex”.

- Minor gripe but the repetition of “so” in paragraph seven doesn’t work well.

- It’s a nice touch that in many of your stories, ostensibly simple conversations have a layered quality.

- I lament it, but “fist of an angry god” has become cliché.

- The ending has room for improvement. I was disappointed that the lovers couldn’t find a creative way to overcome the problem of conventional sex being unsatisfying by comparison to rocketship sex.

- It’s interesting to contrast this story with Simon’s. While it’s true, yours has better prose, is funnier, and has better erotica insofar as there’s less of it, I do think Simon comes out on top (no pun) since he managed to explore greater relationship depths (no pun).

Armack fucked around with this message at 06:12 on Jun 16, 2020

Jan 27, 2006

My state hasn't decriminalized Thunderdome yet. Don't tell the cops I'm in.


Jan 27, 2006

Sitting Here posted:


General/literary fiction (for our purposes, this just means contemporary stories set in the real world)

Protagonist attribute:
Clergy Person

Protagonist obstructor:
Body Dysmorphia

What the protagonist wants:

Story setting:
On Earth, and it's the near future

Setting details:
2032 Upper Class Suburb

World problem:
Seasonal Cicada

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

Being Cutaneous
(750 words)

When I was ugly I’d tell myself I didn’t mind, and you know what, by my lonesome I really didn’t. It was being ugly in public that bothered me. Shallow you say? I’d like to see you try making appearances while hideous. Everywhere I went, folks would politely refrain from recoiling, or self-consciously avoid staring at me. Sometimes I wish somebody would’ve just come out and said something to my face about it. Instead they told me fibs: “You look just fine to me,” or “It’s all in your head.” Sycophants. It’s bad enough having once looked repulsive. Worse yet was learning I couldn’t trust my inner circle to be real with me about it. Only my mirror was honest.

I wouldn’t have shown you my forehead then. There were veins on it. Conspicuous ones. The kind of veins so obtrusive they make skin look like Google Maps during a reroute. Frankly, it was disgusting—I’m mature enough to acknowledge that. And to be fair, I would have felt the same way about anybody so difficult on the eyes, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of inner beauty. Still do. Have I mentioned I’m spiritual? Founded my own religion, you know. Prior to the veins. I used to have devotees so fawning they’d bicker over who gets to wash my feet. But after the ugliness struck, I went into seclusion, and couldn’t get so much as the occasional kudos from my followers. The inner circle began running The Center in my absence. My flock grew distant from me.

So I came up with a re-shepherding plan. I shrouded my face entirely and declared a spiritual retreat. Mandatory. I led my flock out of the gated community, and onto The Center’s nature preserve by the lake.

What I didn’t plan for was the swarm of cicadas. Summer of 2032 happened to hit the seventeen-year cycle exactly. Figured at least it would be a good excuse for the shroud. Told my followers I had a grievous allergy to the bugs, and didn’t want them getting into my ears, nose, or mouth. Nobody dared question me.

The retreat started out mighty fine. We sang hymns and fashioned crafts dedicated to the brotherhood of Man. We did trust falls; thank goodness no one got dropped. During my sermon, “On Keeping Sweet”, I got all the personal attention I could want. For the first time in a long while, I felt the tingling warmth that comes with my flock’s enthusiastic approval.

I’m sad to report, however, the orgy was a disaster. Plagued by the cicadas. Those revolting critters were clicking, buzzing, and crawling all over us. One got underneath my shroud, which led an overprotective, bee-allergic follower to “rescue” me with an epipen stab to the thigh. Hurt so bad I recoiled, and the shroud came right off.

I panicked. It was all I could do to grit my teeth and press my hands into my forehead. Frankly, I was terrified about how I was coming across to my flock. What would they think? Stumbling over my words, I told them I got bit on the forehead, and that it felt better to put pressure on it. Who knows if they even believed me?

But the retreat continued. It was part-way through the branding ceremony that I got my idea. Seeing my followers take hot irons into the campfire and sear my initials into their skin clued me into a way out of the ugliness.

“Let us put our faces into the fire,” I said. “We will be cleansed in preparation for the rapture.”

A couple of them refused. Judases. Don’t worry, we’ll make them regret it. Anyhow, one by one my flock burned their faces off. Some of them have vision problems now, but most came out okay. Then it was my turn. Now my forehead, like most of the skin on my face is charred beyond recognition. And let me tell you, it’s much, much better than the veins. And at least a burn can be chalked up to accident. Noticeable veins come from a mean case of the ugly and nothing more. I’m a problem solver, you see. To look at me, you’d think I was just another mangled, sympathetic face at The Center. So my confidence is back. My flock is enamored. It is time to shear the rewards.

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